Ebooks have arrived. Of that there’s little doubt. Over the past decade many companies have tried to launch ereaders that would bring the book reading habit to millions, but it took Amazon and its Kindle reader to set the market alight. I believe it’s a splendid innovation that can only spread the reading habit. I’d go as far as saying that print publishers with their wits about them – and there are a few – will find that ebooks will increase the total market for books to such an extent that print versions will prosper on the back of the digital intruder. Competition often results in better performances from all players.
But ebooks also open up undreamed of opportunities for new writers. At last they can become published authors for a fraction of the cost that prevailed only a few years ago. I’m not saying this route will prove commercially profitable for most. That’s by no means the case. Success will be no easier, and the competition will be that much stronger, but the costs involved in converting a printer-ready computer file into an ebook listed for worldwide sale on Amazon dwarf the costs of printing, distributing, stocking and selling its printed cousin. Print on demand is the nearest equivalent, but the costs there, whilst manageable, aren’t comparable with those of ebook retailing. Print one book to order and your margin for profit is slim, . . . very slim.
The important thing to remember is that a lousy book will still be a lousy book, no matter how it’s dressed up or marketed. As the old adage has it – you can sell anything once. But turning out dross will inevitably come back to haunt you. Prudent new writers should embrace ebooks but pay the same attention to preparing a professional manuscript as they would if it were destined to be printed.
The benefits of ebook publication can, therefore, be anticipated from an early stage in a writing project, but the button to produce such a version needn’t be pressed until the last moment. And it won’t add much to your self-publishing budget, or take more than a week or two extra to see your name proudly on screen as a listing in the Kindle Store worldwide. Now that’s something to look forward to.
How do traditional publishers view the arrival of digital publications? Who knows, many are keeping their heads down, but they are all faced with the most dynamic retailing innovation to hit publishing in centuries and are having to come to terms with it fast. Some are finding it a step too far and may well go out of business. Others will grasp the opportunity and make even more hay with these new rays of sunshine as they explore their backlists and bring out digital editions.
For new writers, I see no reason why they shouldn’t take the plunge and publish digitally, with their first offering. No intelligent publisher will penalise new writers for proving the worth of their offering by backing it and personally publishing it online. And if, subsequently, a traditional publisher decides you should be offered a deal to join their list, your book can be withdrawn from sale in seconds, only to reappear ‘under new management’ a short while later, but this time with a powerful marketing budget to boost sales. Withdrawing a printed version just can’t be done like that.
If I were starting out tomorrow as an unpublished author my ambition would still be to obtain a deal for my book with a traditional publishing house, with or without the aid of a literary agent. But, and here’s the difference, the moment I submitted my draft to the trade I would prepare an ebook version of the book and list it on Amazon. This is not underhand. I would say I was testing the market. And it would be true. Once the publisher expressed an interest in my book I would withdraw the ebook version in an instant. Nothing lost. The rights for my book would be available in their entirety for the publisher to weigh up in the usual manner.
The change is a subtle one, however. That dreadful lengthy period when you are waiting to hear from agents and publishers no longer need trouble you. You can even be making a little, or even a lot if you’re lucky, on the side. Go for it, I say.
(This article is taken from Jonathan Veale’s latest ebook (December2011) now available on the Amazon Kindle Store – ‘How To Write A Book Or Novel – An Insider’s Guide To Getting Published’. Jonathan is Managing Editor of WriteAway Editing Services, an online service for aspiring writers.)