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Publishing - We're All On the Same Side

There's a lot of talk about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing right now, and some of it gets a bit heated.

I posted some thoughts on this, to the extent that both traditional and self-publishing have strengths, and that as authors, we're all on the same side, over on my own blog. I'm going to leave the post there, so no one can mistakenly ascribe my words to Charlie.

And I'll be back tomorrow with a more substantial post.

Read: Publishing - We're All On the Same Side

21 Comments

1:

The current fad for self-publishing appears (to me, anyway) to be dependent on "ebook".

I'm a geek. I've been a geek for (counts fingers and toes) 33 years or so. I love the concept of ebooks. But I don't buy them. I buy dead trees.

(Similarly I don't buy mp3s, I buy CDs; I don't do amazon/whatever video rentals, I buy DVD/BD).

If I'm spending lots of money then I want something physical I can point at to say "that's what my money bought". Recyled electrons don't work.

Two of your books (Nexus and Crux) are on my Amazon wish list, waiting for the dead-trees to be republished; I won't buy the ebook.

I know a number of people with ebook readers (either dedicated, or smart-phone). Most of them don the eye patch to get their books. The majority try to keep to a sense of morality and only read the ebook that they've previously spent money on the physical hard copy.

The people I know who have spent most on ebooks are my parents; they got a Kindle Fire for Christmas and have spent a couple of hundred quid on ebooks already... more books than they'll ever read! And some they already owned in dead-tree. And mostly of authors they'd previously read.

In this market, are self-published ebooks a sustainable solution? Or are authors hoping form a shift away from "stuff-ists" like myself to a purely digital commodity?

2:

Personally I don't read self-published that doesn't come recommended from someone I trust (so I've read Hugh Howey and that's it). My to-read list is already huge, the gatekeeping done by publishers is plus not a negative for myself and probably most readers.

Medium-wise I don't really care... I end up reading mostly physical books because I like going to the bookstore.

3:

One good indicator of the self-publish (or, in that case, store-published) reach is the Amazon system of recommendations.

It's relatively dumb: for each item you purchased (or indicated you purchased), it adds weight to all the items already purchased people who really purchased the same item, then sort them by total, and voila: instant recommendations.

So what happened when I started buying ebooks versions of Tor and Ace and whatnot catalog? Well, some authors I never heard about started popping, and some garish covers that looked like they were made by non-artists started appearing in my Recommended pages.

And at this point, after almost 2 years of regular ebooks from Amazon, I get about 3/4 - 1/4 "brand" ebooks suggestions vs self/amazon-published ones. So, as a rule of thumb, that tells me that self-publications account for about one-fourth of my sub-market. If I'm not buying self-published ones, there's plenty of people who do.

4:

I don't read e-books, any e-books. This is because I don't like using any e-reader I've been exposed to.

5:

I sympathise. I loathed the early low resolution, low contrast readers such as the first generation Kindle. My first was a Sony reader, and I got that because we were taking the train across the Outback, and that leaves a lot of time for reading.

(And no, we really did not want to carry large numbers of books to Australia and back. The eReader's huge advantage is the ability to carry a library instead of a book.)

As a substitute for not reading, it was great. As a substitute for an actual book, I'm with you - not great. On that model.

The Kindle Paperwhite got better contrast, but still lower resolution than I'd like. I got my wife one, and she switched to it from the Sony.

And then I got the Nook HD+, which is a decent high resolution and high contrast, and which I'm quite happy to use. And my wife has flipped to using a Nexus 7 tablet.

What we don't do is accept DRM on any books we buy, because you'll note that we've been jumping from platform to platform. That's why I've ended up buying Mez's two novels direct from Angry Robot.

So, I'd recommend that you keep your eyes open. Even if there's not a reader you currently like, you may find the next generation is satisfactory.

Or maybe not.

Note: the most recently bought books in the house are from Folio. Physical books are a delight. We just don't want to have to move house. Again.

6:

I think I have said this before, but there is evidence of a difference between the UK and the USA.

From the UK, Amazon also looks rather less helpful for self-publishing. You end up dealing with a US company, working under US tax lawm and not in the way that OGH does when he sells a book to a publisher.

And Amazon in Europe are doing some sneaky stuff to exploit the VAT system. Currently lawful, but the EU Commission is at the "just a doggone minute there" stage of action.

tl:dr Amazon will only do business with the authors in the USA, and then exploit local tax systems when selling.

7:

It may not be worthwhile buying a dedicated e-reader. Anyone who decides a tablet will be useful for other reasons can add an e-reader app.

I have a Kindle. It's been useful. Most of my current ebook reading uses a tablet. If I wish to, I can crack the DRM on some formats and, on the tablet, use text-to-speech. It was useful after the last eye surgery I had.

I can imagine times when the Kindle would be a better choice: less weight and better battery life.

8:

Anyone who decides a tablet will be useful for other reasons can add an e-reader app

Yep.

The Nook HD+ is a tablet optimised for being an ereader, but it's still got Android underneath. It's not got all sorts of things that a generic tablet may have, such as camera, GPS and so on, so you've got a lower price and weight. But for my purposes, which is books/Twitter/web, it's great.

For GPS and camera and so on, I pull out my phone. Which is biiig. (Seriously, its screen has a larger diagonal than the original Kindle, though less area being a Full HD widescreen shape.)

Different people want different solutions. That's why I'd never go for Apple - they're a company that believes in coming up with a single solution, making that solution as good as it can be, and then trying to make everyone take it whether or not it fits them. And for me, they don't.

I think we've diverged somewhat from the self-publishing question though.

9:

I'm a geek. I've been a geek for (counts fingers and toes) 33 years or so. I love the concept of ebooks. But I don't buy them. I buy dead trees.

I'm going to assume you're 40 or older.

And much of the dead tree fascination seems to be tied to age. I'm 59 and still haven't read an ebook on any of my 5 computers or 2 mobile devices.

10:

And much of the dead tree fascination seems to be tied to age. I'm 59 and still haven't read an ebook on any of my 5 computers or 2 mobile devices.

Not necessarily - my mum is 73, and has a Kindle app on her iPad and a Kindle proper - both with about sixteen novel-shaped things on them.

I'm 41 - and I've read PDFs and Word docs of novels I couldn't find anywhere else, but I don't feel I've actually read them in the way I read a dead-tree variant of a book.

Also a lot of what I read isn't novels, it's non-fiction, often with lots of tables, maps, colour illustrations and black and white photos in them, which almost never come over well in any digitised format.

Which I why I'm surrounded by literally hundreds of recycled trees, some of them costings upwards of £75-£100 - most of them costing between £2.81 and £15 - and my mum isn't.

I'd rather read "Toast" or "Wireless" in book form, rather than as isolated stories onlines or as ebooks.

I still haven't read OGH's "Equoid" for this reason,

11:

I've got nothing against self-publishing, it seems to have become a (unfortunate?) necessity for some writers. I've bought Rudy Rucker's last two novels and one of his story collections that he has had to put out himself, since his publisher dropped him.
On one hand, self-publishing has moved away from the vanity press model, where someone would have to buy a minimum number of books which they take around trying to convince stores to put them on their shelves, and then end up sitting in boxes in their garage or basement.
On the other, you end up with the militant self-pub types leaving comments online, often showing that they don't know squat about the publishing business, or much about writing for that matter.

I haven't bought any ebooks. The ones I have on my iPad have all come from free sources --like 100 from Gutenberg.org, many of them are research items for different writing projects, though just as many are out of print books I've been looking for.
As for actually reading on the iPad, I haven't done much other than a few short stories, I have far too many print books to make that necessary. If I travelled more I'm sure I'd read from it more, rather than shlepping books around.

12:

Someone should speak up for the ebooks. I have thousands. Many public domain, some pirated, some purchased. I read on an old iPod a friend gave me (before the iPod, it was a Sony Clie PDA). I've been reading ebooks for eleven years, and helping make them that long, at Distributed Proofreaders. (Perhaps I should add that I'm sixty-six, so it's not just the young whippersnappers who like e. Indeed, if you need large print, e is the way to go.)

I also have thousands of deadtree books ... but I much prefer ereading. I can read wherever I go and carry dozens of books. I can read lying down, holding the iPod close to my face with just one hand. I can read in bed at night, on a backlit screen. The iPod turns itself off if I fall asleep reading. Deadtree books now seem bulky and inconvenient.

I already owned The Family Trade books in paperback, but I was happy to buy them all over again in e, as revised :)

I don't buy self-published books unless they're recommended by someone I trust. Too much low-quality junk out there.

13:

Got given a Kindle two years ago as a retirement present (I'm not young - over half a century) and I have no problem reading on it. My brain makes no distinction between a book and the Kindle; I often try to turn pages on the Kindle and mostly can't remember whether I read something on page or screen. I also use its .doc conversion function for proof-reading my own work - really useful. I've self-published in the past and probably will do again, but I currently have a novel out from a small-press publisher, so I agree that we're all on the same side.

14:

I used to like to have the dead trees version of the book, but now only get books in ebook form.

Why?

Because I had to move my library of dead trees - and realised it was half the weight and most of the hassle of moving. And I worked out I could have moved the whole lot, and had a backup, on on pocketable tablet.

I've read quite a few books on it by now and although I can see ways it could be better, it's plenty good enough to supplant mucking around with bricks of paper.

15:

One quick point of information: you can self-publish dead tree books, too. I did so last year, after my admittedly hard-to-classify alternate history/superhero novel _Armageddon Girl_ got rejected by mainstream publishers. Amazon's CreateSpace program allows self-publishers to release on-demand trade paperback copies of their books. There are no costs involved, although CreateSpace does offer a variety of services for people willing to pay for them.

I enrolled both in CreateSpace and Kindle Select. To date, I've sold several hundred e-books and just a handful of dead tree copies, so it does appear that e-books are the dominant form for indie writers. It does make sense: the electronic version of the book is slightly over 1/4 the price of the hard copy version, so people giving a chance to an unknown author are risking far less when buying a Kindle copy.

Still, releasing a book via CreateSpace costs nothing. Even though I haven't sold very many hard copies at all through Amazon, having the option to print copies allowed me to offer a nice reward for the (successful) Kickstarter campaign I launched to help pay for the book's art and editing.

Personally, I'd much rather have gone traditional, and perhaps if I'd been willing to wait a year or two while I kept submitting the book to different publishers I might have. I got impatient, and decided to test the waters via self-publishing. I had some small degree of name recognition through my work in the tabletop RPG field, so I figured I had little to lose. So far, things have gone fairly well - the Kindle sales aren't making me rich, but they provide a nice revenue stream and if they hold steady I should make more money this year than the traditional book advance I'd have gotten from a mainstream publisher. I totally agree with all eight points above.

CJ Carella
www.cjcarella.com

16:

I also have thousands of deadtree books ... but I much prefer ereading. I can read wherever I go and carry dozens of books. I can read lying down, holding the iPod close to my face with just one hand. I can read in bed at night, on a backlit screen. The iPod turns itself off if I fall asleep reading. Deadtree books now seem bulky and inconvenient.

Most of my books are art books: either displaying it, or explaining how to do it. That's an area of publishing for which ebooks don't seem well suited, yet.

17:

Ah yes.

Another example of how the whole argument so often forgets that books fulfil a huge range of different functions, and therefore a change that may improve things over in one area may be totally irrelevant or actively counter-productive in another.

In terms of the self/contracted publishing question, that's a field where I guess the production costs and small production runs probably mean that self-publication isn't really viable yet. On the other hand, I suspect there are potential cases where projects exist that no publisher would consider, for probably lack of return. A dissertation on the techniques of some bandes dessinées school, perhaps.

18:

Another example of how the whole argument so often forgets that books fulfil a huge range of different functions, and therefore a change that may improve things over in one area may be totally irrelevant or actively counter-productive in another.

Well yes. Ebook readers have stupidly tiny screens. A lot of my books' pages are roughly A4 in size, so for a double spread, I need at least A3. Then I want colour faithful to the original, and the original fonts too. Especially if the book was designed by a member of the Bauhaus School. It helps if the ebook reader can withstand accidental spillages of ink, paint, rain, mud, and cowpat; and has batteries guaranteed to not run out in the middle of Mount Athos or the remoter reaches of Trás-os-Montes. And, the ebook needs to be available. I was looking at the illustrations in a rather fine copy of "The Wonder Book of the British Empire" (1927 edition) yesterday. I can't find an ebook version anywhere.

So ebooks are OK if you want to snarf up a bit of Dick Francis or Barbara Cartland while your bus is stuck in a traffic jam; otherwise, they're disappointing.

Oh, and this also holds for children's books. Who ever would give their child an ebook version of "Orlando the Marmalade Cat"?

19:

I accidentally pressed Submit at that point. But I was going to go on and say that any form of publishing that requires publication to be electronic discriminates against the kind of book I was describing. Which includes books that tell a story (including Orlando and most bandes dessinées) but where appearance is crucial. So if self-publishing is mainly "e", perhaps that's not so good.

20:

@tontontms:

Just bear in mind that Amazon itself is a digital publisher, and a highly aggressive one taking clear aim at the traditional publishers. I'd assume their recommendation algorithms are favouring their own stable of self-published authors.

21:

I write non fiction for a very small market - technological occultism - and have two books in print, one $3 eBook and one dead tree at about $40. I make enough to cover my council tax, and I sell through a couple of London bookshops. I self publish via Lulu and both are available via the big chains eg Waterstones, B&N, Amazon etc.

Given that my estimate for the total number of people on the planet that would want to read the paper one is about 1000 self publishing is not only necessary but the only financially viable route. I make enough to pay my council tax, at least, and the book will sell for decades. BTW, they are The Praxis, and Technomage

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This page contains a single entry by Ramez Naam published on February 20, 2014 12:12 AM.

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