Exploring Options: E-Publishing

Last week, my grandmother asked me when my e-short (launched next month by Disposable Fiction) would be out and in which bookstores she can buy it. I told her that it’s coming soon and that she’ll be able to get it from any of the major ebook retailers and read it on iPad, Nook or Kindle. Her response:

“What’s a Kindle?”

Now, this points to the fact that, obviously, more than 60% of book sales are still made in a brick and mortar bookstore, and that the books sold are still bound with paper and cardboard, and that people still enjoy holding a book in their hands. However, anyone who’s anyone in the publishing industry can’t deny that e-publishing (that is, publishing and distributing books online as digital files, and reducing print copies to a print on demand model, or not at all) is slowly building momentum. It’s a very new advent, and most e-publishers are less than two years old, but when even the major publishers are establishing their own digital only lines, authors eager to get published have to admit that e-publishing is becoming an increasingly viable option, especially for publications that would usually be rejected by a print publisher for being too costly or risky to produce (such as my 2500 word e-short, or a novel by a new author who isn’t yet proven to be able to generate public interest).

When consumers already go online to buy movies, music and even groceries, is it too far-fetched to suggest that an online only market for written works can be a lucrative avenue as well?

My personal library. It also doubles as a phone and music player.

For new authors, or authors whose work isn’t completely marketable to the mainstream brick and mortar market. E-publishing can be an easily accessible and rewarding alternative. For me, personally, e-publishing has allowed me to enter into the publishing industry and make contacts I might not have been able to make otherwise. My short stories are published in online publications, and this has helped me build up an online presence, which is useful for promoting my works, while being the Managing Editor of a literary magazine that is only available online has put me in touch with several people who know what they’re doing in the industry and have given me lots of helpful advice.

E-publishing allows your work to be available to your readers worldwide, and it means your readers can enjoy your book anytime they like, and also that your book will never go out of print or run out of stock. Whether an author is self publishing online (perhaps through the popular Smashwords platform) or through an electronic publishing house, they are able to publish work that would otherwise be impossible to publish in a stand alone form. Since e-publishers don’t have to pay money to print books on paper, they’re more willing to accept works deemed too short by print publishers, or works that fit into a niche market that doesn’t have much of a print following. This also means the books themselves are cheaper, which entices consumers to buy them, and as production costs are lower, the author often gets a higher royalty. Some e-published books (here I point to the recent Shades of Grey trilogy — whether or not you believe it’s just Twilight with millionaires instead of vampires) even sell so well that they end up being signed on by print publishers, and they can be best-sellers in their own right.

However, it’s important that anyone considering this route is also aware of its downsides. As indicated before, the majority of book sales are made on physical books in a physical brick and mortar bookstore. The benefits of a physical bookstore cannot be ignored; readers can see books right there on the shelf, and they can touch and flick through them, and the physical format is geared towards them making impulse buys on books they never would have tried if they hadn’t been there on the shelf to catch their interest. Online, readers don’t often know a book exists unless someone directly points them to it and tells them to try it, or they’re already familiar with the author. This means that, more so than with physical books, excellent marketing and aggressive promotion are important in the world of e-publishing. The main challenge an e-published author will face is that nobody knows about his book, and therefore, it isn’t selling. He’ll have to work hard to promote it; establish an online presence, blog regularly, plug his book via social media and forums, go the extra mile and submit it to all the reviewers he can find for that extra bit of publicity — and all this is neccesary to make the ebook have a chance of even matching the sales of its physical counterpart (that’s essentially the reason I have a blog — I’m promoting myself to potential readers, and now you know who I am).

That said, it’s all down to what each author hopes to achieve with his or her work. If you want to make money (and perhaps be the next Stephen King), then it seems that brick and mortar publishing is still the way to go. On the other hand, if you just want to be read, and get your name out there, and build up a loyal fanbase who may be there to harness later on down the track as you go into bigger and more lucrative contracts, there’s now an easy way to do it. The question is: which one is for you?

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