Amused Authors

“Real” books? by Tymber Dalton
November 5, 2008, 8:14 am
Filed under: writing | Tags: , , ,

Maybe  it’s because I’m a digital girl. Even though state-of-the-art technology when I was in high school was a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer (remember those?) I quickly embraced personal computers as they evolved into the can’t live with/without beasts they are today. When someone asks about my books and I mention e-books, sometimes their eyes glaze over.

“Oh. I thought you wrote ‘real’ books.”

This is where my tongue biting skills (to keep mine in my head) come very much in handy and I resist the urge to tell them that as much blood, sweat, and typing went into writing my 100k e-book as a “real” writer took to put into their 100k “real” book. Maybe more.

Yes, as of right now my books are e-books but I do have print options on many of them, some of them will automatically go to print, some have “trigger” clauses after they hit a certain level of e-book sales. And frankly, I LIKE selling e-books. Why?

Let’s approach this from a different angle. Some uneducated writers I’ve conversed with, when I say I’m published in e-book format, raise their eyebrows and say they’re holding out for a “real” publisher.

Um, yeah, good for you. Meanwhile, I’ll go pay my mortgage because I don’t have rich parents or a winning Lotto ticket in my hand.

I’m a writer first. I’m a bill-paying homeowner second. My mortgage company doesn’t care if I publish e-books or ask if you want fries with that so long as the money appears in their hands at the appointed time every month. (So far, it has, thank the gods.) I know some e-book writers who make a decent living with their “fake” books, enough so they’ve been able to ditch their “evil day jobs” and write full-time.

Let’s look at some reasons why e-books are better.

1.  Better revenue for the writer. You might make (if you’re lucky) maybe 6% of net of cover on a paperback. On on e-book, you might make anywhere from 30-50% of net of cover (look at your contract to see how that’s defined and that it’s defined properly, sales price minus returns is usually standard) from books sold through your publisher’s site and anywhere from 10-35% on average of net third-party sales profit. That’s a LOT better than 6% net. You don’t have to sell nearly as many to make money, and you typically see revenue a lot sooner. Many publishers pay monthly royalties, some pay quarterly. No, you don’t get advances in most cases, but you also don’t face the risk of having to pay back advances for books that don’t sell, either. (An advance is just that—an advance. It’s NOT free money you get to keep with no strings attached if your book sucks and doesn’t sell. If you don’t get an advance and you’re making nearly 50% of net sales on each, you get to KEEP all that money, sans what the IRS sticks out their hand for, of course.) People are under the totally erroneous misconception that because an author is published with a “big house” that they are suddenly rolling in dough. Um, no. They get bigger press, sometimes, but frankly, unless you have a string of bestsellers or land a mention on Oprah’s book club, you shouldn’t quit your day job for a while.

2.  Availability. If someone talks with you in a chat room or on an email list, they can go right to a website and buy your book and have it on their computer/reader in five minutes or less, even if they’re in a different hemisphere, regardless of the time of day, and they never have to get dressed and leave their home. If you have print-only, they might or might not remember to buy it. (And then you make less money anyway.) E-books won’t go out of print or get remaindered. E-books are less likely to get backlisted because, frankly, they’re not taking up “physical” space in a warehouse. You have the WORLD as your potential market, not just the few hundred customers that might walk into a bookstore on any given day.

3.  Faster production. This doesn’t mean crappy editing. As a writer, you should research houses before you submit, and take an active, educated role in the editing process as your manuscript goes through the wringer that is production. But you can potentially have a book “published” in months, versus a year or more on average in “traditional” print media. This means you’re making money faster. (Any writer who says they don’t care about whether they make money or not either has an evil day job that pays their bills, a working spouse who can support them, is independently wealthy/retired, or doesn’t understand basic economics.)

4.  Ecologically sound. How  many trees have to die for your books? How is the ink produced? You have to dust them and move them and if a hurricane or flood wipes out your house, you have to throw them out. You can fit thousands of books on a hard drive (depending on the size of your hard drive) and never dust it once. E-book readers have come a long way in a short amount of time. Yes, format wars are still being waged, but a few standards have floated to the top of the barrel. You can read e-books on a computer or an e-reader in many cases.

5.  As a writer, you’ve got a better chance of getting published. Face it, large “traditional” publishing houses are in it to make money, pure and simple. And believe me, I’ve read great “real” books and I’ve read crap “real” books from “bestselling” authors. E-publishers are willing to take a chance on books that might not easily find a home somewhere else. Yes, in some cases this has meant less than stellar books have made it to print, unfortunately. But it also means some pretty great books that might not have seen the light of day otherwise have made it to market and done quite well.

6.  Got to start somewhere. Would I love to walk into any major bookstore in the country and see my books sitting on a shelf? Duh. Uh, yeah, of course. In the meantime, I’ll gratefully bank my royalties I make every month while some of my fellow wannabe writers are still trying to fight their way out of editor and agent slushpiles. Eventually, when/if I land a “traditional” publishing contract, I’ll have a pretty sweet backlist to my name to bring to the table, with a list of critical reviews and a proven track record. I might even have my RWA PAN membership by that time, something that’s a pretty big deal, for those who don’t know.

7.  Author control. You usually don’t need an agent to negotiate a contract with the publisher, and most likely you can easily talk with your editor/publisher about concerns you have. This doesn’t mean you can flat-out ignore an editor’s suggestions, but it means you’re not “just” an author, you’re more of a partner in the process. Because of the nature of the medium, it’s easier to get changes made pre-release than it might be in a “traditional” house. (It also means if you act like a friggin prima donna you’ll find yourself blacklisted from that publisher pretty darn quick.)

So there’s a few reasons off the top of my head. Is it “perfect?” No. But frankly, if you’re serious about getting published, take a look at your motivation before you turn your nose up at e-publishing. If you treat writing like a business—which it is—you should give it a second look.

Lesli Richardson

(Author of the vamipre romance, “Love and Brimstone,” with over five contracted books pending release for 2009.)


14 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Well said! I’ve gotten that glazed over look myself — more than once. It hurts to be brushed to the side like my ebook means nothing. Although the other day, I met someone who loves ebooks and her ebook reader. I almost had to sit down from the shock. lol Anyway, pointed her our way. Great blog, Lesli!

Comment by Cassie Exline

Good blog, Lesli. I also feel ebooks should be taken more seriously. Do I think aspiring writers should weigh the pros and cons before jumping aboard? Absolutely. As a writer, its essential to understand what epublishing can and can’t do for you. Its also very important to research an epublisher before signing that contract.

But for me, the bottom line isn’t about whether my books are “real” or whether I’m making large amounts of money off them. What matters most to a writer is getting their books READ. Yes, we’d like to make something off our books while we’re at it. How many people go off to their day job without expecting pay? No matter how much you love it, writing is real work and writers earn every penny they make. This isn’t just a hobby; its a business.

That being said, what we want more than the store placement and the advance checks that come from a traditional publisher is to know someone out there is reading and enjoying the work we’ve labored over for, in some cases, years.

Am I sacrificing the dream of seeing my work resting on the shelf of a brick and morter bookstore some day? Never. I’m just passing the time until I get there in the best way I know how: building a backlist and trying to reach as many readers as possible through my ebooks.

Comment by dara11

What a great post! I just loved this. I’ve got my first novel out for submission right now, and I’m already dealing with some family and friends who don’t really understand what I’m doing. You’ve put forth a few things here that I hadn’t really thought of yet, and I’m glad to have the extra back.

You’ve also made me feel fantastic about turning from my goal of mainstream publishing, and pursuing e-publishing at a level that I’m finding much more fun! Thanks!

Elle Parker

Comment by Elle Parker

Excellent post, well thought out and well expressed. I have heard this discussed a lot lately at conventions. Large traditional publishing houses are having a slight tendency to wring their hands and whine about e-publishing eating badly into their profits. I’m not sure this is the case; there are more books published every year, without fail.

Others scoff and say that it could never be like the cassette tape and the CD story, because people like their paper books too much. And it’s true that while the e-readers are all very well, there are some advantages the paper books have that the e-readers do not (such as the ability to drip food on them and drop them in the bathwater without feeling like you just lost 400 bucks). This wasn’t true of cassettes: CDs clearly had it all over cassettes and the price difference wasn’t much. So this isn’t the model to use. If e-readers were about to replace real books, it would have to be like the CD: all the advantages, none of the drawbacks, added value and similar price.

Personally, I think there is room in the market for both.

Comment by asherose

Actually Kathleen, you can pull that analogy a little further. Records were awkward, but for a long time it was the best you could do. Cassettes were great, but we all know the pain of pulling the cassette out and having a jumble of loose tape spool out after it. (Okay, those of us of a certain age.) CDs are great, but you scratch it and it’s a coaster. Downloads from iTunes? Priceless. You can get the song you want right now and you don’t have to buy the whole album unless you want to. That was a feature I never knew I wanted until I had it.

Paper books are good, but the selection of ebooks available is mind boggling. The portability is impressive too. On vacation I can read two, three, four books. Do I want to drag those around with me? No. What if you don’t like one of them? That’s a serious crisis. A Sony eReader can store 160 titles! Can you say end of luggage restriction difficulties?

I doubt highly that paper books will disappear any more than records have, but there’s room for change. EReaders also appeal to the geek in me. I feel like I’m on the USS Enterprise D and I’m looking for 10-Forward.

Comment by Charlotte McClain

what a great blog, very good points…..

Comment by Savannah Chase

What I can say is that without eBooks, I wouldn’t be published, which makes them important and significant and real to me.

Comment by Aubrey Leatherwood

Cassie – Next time you get that “not real books” comment, look at them strange and say, “Funny, they make me REAL money!” *LOL*

Dara – Exactly. E-publishing isn’t a dead end. And let’s face it, sometimes we have to be realistic that we want our books published and it beats fighting for years to get into a “traditional” publisher. Meanwhile, we’re making money, making sales, and onto the next book and building a backlist.

Elle – Educate them that there are many writers now making a decent living with E-books, especially if they have multiple titles out. Just because your friends and family haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they’re not able to pay their bills with the money they make. *LOL* Hey, it’s a business, and we have to be realistic.

Kathleen – Absolutely there’s room for both. And it’s funny that the “traditional” publishers are now frequently offering their books as e-books in addition to print versions. *LOL* They’re kind of shooting themselves in the foot that it’s ruining their business, when in fact it opens the market wider for them. Will “real” books go away? Not any time soon. But e-books are making great strides.

Charlotte – Yes, I love iTunes too (although it doesn’t like me and my non-Apple MP3 player very much *LOL*). It’s sort of how I used to scoff at people with XM-Radio (why PAY for radio?) and now that I have it, I never listen to local “free” radio anymore. Ever. *LOL*

Savannah – Thanks!

Aubrey – They are real books, and you put just as much effort and time into it as anyone else, so be proud of what you’ve accomplished.


Comment by Lesli Richardson

This is a great post and really hits all of the major pluses for the ebook market! I too have had to defend my choices, but that’s getting easier as ebooks become better quality, more accessible, and in greater formats–I’m so happy about it! And since I’m going to be writing either way, at least I’m making the market work for ME, instead of waiting for it to find room for me. AND, I’m doing it the smart way (at least I think so), by going with a reputable ebook publisher (with print options).

Comment by JK Coi

I’m in agreement on the frustration of explaining to people why ebooks are just as ‘real’ as MMP’s or TP’s, but I have to correct a few points you made.

First, payment on net is a bad thing. NY contracts are *always* on cover price, not net. Ebooks should be too. If your contract has you being paid on net, I sincerely hope it also lists very specifically what expenses the publisher is allowed to deduct before paying your royalty. Otherwise, it’s a big window to shaft the author. Always cover price, never net.

Second, you do not have to pay back advances. Period. Advances are usually delivered in segments, part at signing part upon release etc, but if a book doesn’t sell out its advance, the author is not obligated to pay it back. Nope. It’s a persistent misconception, one a lot of people like to throw around, but it’s incorrect.


Comment by Fae Sutherland

JK – Thank you! Yes, go in with your eyes open and do your research, there are a lot of great opportunities out there.

Fae – I should have clarified that – I meant net on cover, which is pretty standard in e-publishing and specifically defined contractually (or should be) usually as sales revenue minus returns. If a publisher does NOT define “net” in their contract, an author should not sign until they get a written addendum to the contract specifiying what “net” is defined as.

On advances – Thanks for the clarification. But I do know a lot of writers assume if they land an advance they get it all at once, no questions asked, regardless of how the book sells. So either way, writers should be aware that an advance doesn’t mean that it’s like hitting the lotto. *LOL*


Comment by Lesli Richardson

Fantastic post Lesli! I’m gonna link to it on myspace.

Comment by Nancy

Very eloquently said, Lesli!
Thanks for this blog 😉

Comment by Gracie

Nancy – Thank you!!

Gracie – I’m glad you liked it!

Comment by Lesli Richardson

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