Aug 12 2011

Ebooks Assemble! How Not to Screw Up Electronic Publishing

If you’ve been following the publishing industry at all lately, you know it’s not all wine and roses. It’s far, far from it. Borders is done, mid-list writers are being shown the door, and many agents are reluctant to take on new clients. It means your local bookstore (if there are any left standing) will be chock-full of books from James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, and Patricia Cornwell. You know, familiar authors who generate sales.

 

Where does that leave you? You’re probably a little like me. I’m barely an author. I’ve had my novel soundly rejected by several agents. I’ve had a few short stories published in admittedly obscure places. I have a modest blog and about a hundred Twitter followers. I’m fairly certain 60 of them are Ukrainian spambots. The others are my brother’s various, web-based alter-egos.

 

So what about ebooks?

 

You know…those things you can buy and read on a Kindle or Nook or iPad. The royalties are pretty good…authors get 70% for each sale from the Kindle store (as long as you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99). Maybe you think it’s time to explore the Nook Store or Smashwords. Maybe you want to experiment a little.

 

But is the timing right? What about the stigma of self-publishing?  You do know self-published works are of inferior quality, right? After all, books from the big publishing houses go through several rounds of edits. If you were to put one of your books up for sale, you’d be the only de facto editor. The possibility remains that you’ll misspell a word or fail to see some giant logic gaffe that kills the entire story.

 

Fortunately, that stigma is disappearing. Self-publishing is now a viable career path, although it’s not going to print money. Consider becoming a forward-thinking author/entrepreneur unshackled by the bonds of major publishing houses. After all, no one ever gets to read something perpetually stuck on your hard drive.

 

If you have any inkling of diving into the choppy self-publishing waters, heed the following advice.

 

Get beta readers. These are people of varied expertise whose insights would prove invaluable in refining you work. You’ll need some adept at grammar, others attuned to plot structure, some good at both, and a few unafraid to rip the work the shreds propose hundreds of potential improvements.

 

Even better, get an editor. The biggest downside to self-publishing, in my opinion, is the lack of editorial oversight. Writers fall in love with their own stories and can’t see their flaws. If you’re REALLY going to do it, let a freelance editor go at it. Sure, you have to pay for the editor’s time, but it will be worth it in the end because you’ll have a finished, polished product that can stack up against any professional work.

 

Don’t rush it. Last year, I got a full manuscript request from an agent. Obviously, I was very excited. I ended up rushing a book edit in hopes of giving my book a quick coat of polish. Instead, I mangled my manuscript by making the kinds of mistakes you’d find in a seventh-grade term paper. As you can imagine, the agent rejected my book. After re-reading my efforts to “improve” the work, I can see why. Take your time. Otherwise, you’ll scare off your readers—whether they’re agents or customers.

 

Just so you know, they do judge a book by its cover. In electronic publishing, the book cover really matters. Readers see a thumbnail on Amazon, the Nook Store, or Smashwords, and you have just seconds to make an impression. A great book burdened with a terrible cover will wallow in obscurity. Unless you’re a Photoshop god, hire a cover designer.

 

You’re now the marketing strategist. Just throwing your book up on Amazon won’t instantly sell a thousand copies. Heck, it probably won’t even sell five. You need to find fans and target them on blogs, Twitter, message boards, etc. You have to sell the book because no one else will do it for you. (That’s also true for most professionally published authors, by the way).

 

Learn more. How can you understand the impact of the Kindle/Nook/iPad/Sony Reader/Insert Ebook Reader Here if you’ve never held one? What’s different about ebooks from regular books other than the whole “electronic” thing? What works and what doesn’t? How do you format them? How do you price them? You must invest some time—and maybe some money—to really understand what these devices can do.

 

You’ve gotta stand out. According to one estimate, three million books were published in the United States in 2010.  That’s 8,200 books per day.  The ebook “revolution” now means even more people can publish their work. This crowds the marketplace, dilutes quality, and makes it harder for the cream to rise to the top. It’s very easy to get lost in the shuffle. This is where all that self-marketing comes into play. The cover, the kickass pitch/synopsis, author blurbs, blog tours, giveaways, a unique hook, etc.

 

And you need to step back. Electronic publishing is exciting. Don’t let the excitement get the best of you. Like you, I want to do things now, not later. Later sucks; later is stupid. But later can also be smart. Maybe now isn’t the time to get into electronic publishing; maybe your work isn’t quite there yet. That’s fine. Just make sure you learn about the current market and put yourself in a position for success.

 

Matt Adams is a TV news producer whose short stories have appeared in A Thousand Faces, Wily Writers for Speculative Fiction, and anthologies from Library of the Living Dead Press. He lives and works in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife and man-eating frog. You can check out more of his work at http://mattadamsauthor.blogspot.com or follow him on Twitter @statomatty.

18 responses so far

18 Responses to “Ebooks Assemble! How Not to Screw Up Electronic Publishing”

  1. Contra Gloveon 12 Aug 2011 at 6:45 am

    I’ve thought about doing exactly this, right down to the editor. Unfortunately, my current novel manuscript (which I plan to publish traditionally) has kept me tied down.

  2. Greg Adamson 12 Aug 2011 at 11:25 am

    Matt’s right. I do have a lot of alter egos.

  3. Chihuahua0on 12 Aug 2011 at 1:35 pm

    I’m worried about the future of hardcover and paperback books. How long do you think it would take until electronic publishing displaces traditional publishing and the latter goes the way of radio, present but in the shadow of other media?

  4. Mynaon 12 Aug 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Hmmmm… eBooks are a considerable threat to traditional publishing in America and the West, but I’d be willing to bet that in a lot of other countries (Middle East, Asia, Latin America) peoble will probably have traditional publishing for a very long time, if only because people in those countries won’t be spending money on eBooks. It would seem frivolous, I think, especially if it’s harder to get online books overseas than it would be here. My two cents.

  5. 1 L Loydon 12 Aug 2011 at 5:58 pm

    I lurk in various blogs about e-publishing. The consensus seems to be: write more, a lot more. E-publish but don’t worry about it for a couple of years until things sort themselves out.

    I like the idea of Write. It is my weak point, but is what is necessary.

  6. Wingson 12 Aug 2011 at 6:10 pm

    The idea of reading nothing but James Patterson for the rest of my life is enough to spur me back into action. My only problem now is learning to concentrate and focus on one thing at a time.

    (Anyone know how to stop having ideas?)

    – Wings

  7. Aprilon 12 Aug 2011 at 8:59 pm

    You’re right on all accounts, Matt. Thanks for sharing your story so we can all learn!

  8. B. Macon 13 Aug 2011 at 12:15 am

    “eBooks are a considerable threat to traditional publishing in America and the West, but I’d be willing to bet that in a lot of other countries (Middle East, Asia, Latin America) peoble will probably have traditional publishing for a very long time, if only because people in those countries won’t be spending money on eBooks.” I don’t know anything about publishing in relatively poor countries. My uninformed outsider’s guess is that there are some moderately wealthy countries that could have enough computers and readers in the next few years to affect traditional sales. For example, South Korea has 550,000 computers per million people, Saudi Arabia has 375,000, Mexico has 135,000, compared to 750,000 for the United States, etc).

  9. Mynaon 13 Aug 2011 at 5:29 am

    “I don’t know anything about publishing in relatively poor countries. My uninformed outsider’s guess is that there are some moderately wealthy countries that could have enough computers and readers in the next few years to affect traditional sales.” That’s true, and I know many people in those countries are getting computers, cell phones etc; but I feel like if eBooks are difficult to access in those places it’d seem silly to buy an eReader. My two cents though, I don’t know very much about publishing outside America.

  10. Nicholas Caseon 13 Aug 2011 at 10:22 am

    This article is actually really helpful! You are right about that though, nowadays anyone can publish no questions asked. Really helpful advice B.Mac!

  11. O.R.on 13 Aug 2011 at 11:45 am

    I think I can add the other ninety-six cents to the overseas publishing discussion, especially considering how I am overseas myself–namely, Mexico. The way I see it, eBooks aren’t as likely to become popular here anytime soon, but it’s not because they can’t afford them–it’s because they don’t want to. People don’t luuurve books–traditional or electronic. Living in a provincial city, it’s sad to see how bookshops are decaying faster that I’d like. Remember that rush of excitement you get every time you go into a Borders or a Barnes & Noble, the prospect of finding a new literary adventure that’s waiting for you in one of those shelves? It’s gone. The best books we get nowadays are political essays, children’s books and translations of NYT best-sellers (there are entire shelves dedicated to the Twilight books, go figure). If in the US the publishing industry is dying, over here it’s starting to smell.

    I like to think there’s hope though. Every time I show someone my Kindle–which only has books in English, which doesn’t help the cause at all–, they get intrigued and start poking its screen as if it was some (IMO) lowly iPad. People–young people anyway–are still open to new things. It’s only a matter for the concerning people to invest a little less on mass-media and a little more on books and culture. Sadly, that’s where things get grim.

  12. O.R.on 13 Aug 2011 at 11:50 am

    Huh, I just realized I sounded like an old geezer up there. FYI, I’m twenty.

  13. B. Macon 13 Aug 2011 at 12:34 pm

    “This article is actually really helpful! You are right about that though, nowadays anyone can publish no questions asked. Really helpful advice, B.Mac!” I’m glad it helped, but Matt Adams is the author, not me.

  14. B. Macon 13 Aug 2011 at 1:11 pm

    “I just realized I sounded like an old geezer up there. FYI, I’m twenty.” Haha, no worries. If readers had to guess my age, I think most would be 10-15 years over. (I think I’m around 23, but I stopped counting at 18. Plausible deniability).

  15. Nicholas Caseon 13 Aug 2011 at 1:54 pm

    ““This article is actually really helpful! You are right about that though, nowadays anyone can publish no questions asked. Really helpful advice, B.Mac!” I’m glad it helped, but Matt Adams is the author, not me.”

    Oh lol. I’m so used to you posting 95% of the content here. 😛

  16. […] considering self-publishing should read this article here from Matt Adams, which has plenty of sensible advice. You’re now the marketing strategist. Just […]

  17. Elaine Cougleron 15 Aug 2011 at 4:18 pm

    So glad to read this as I am contemplating epublishing and long to tear across the finish line. Slow and steady needed here. Thx.

  18. […] Superhero Nation: how to write superhero novels, comic books and graphic novels » Ebooks Assemble! …  […]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply