E-books and self-publishing are NOT THE SAME THING!

I am currently working on a blog post tentatively entitled, “Why do We Even Need Publishers?” which I hope to have posted by Sunday night, but in the meantime I want to clear up a rampant misconception that I’ve noticed among writers AND readers.

Yesterday I was discussing the issue of self-publishing (or “independent publishing”) with another widely published writer, explaining how I felt that the writers’ organizations to which we both belong were not doing justice to the dramatic way in which the new opportunities for publishing were affecting our industry and improving opportunities for writers in the future. The friend said, “Well, [one organization] did have a few really good sessions on e-books last year.”

And that reminded me of a problem I have noticed over and over again in writers’ and readers’ forums and even in articles from some established media outlets. For some unknown reason, there seems to be a confusion among many people between electronic publishing and self-publishing. They are not the same thing at all, and aside from being co-incidental in that they are both arising in the past few years, and that they are part of the same transformation, they are entirely unrelated.

Electronic publishing refers to the production of an electronic version of your book. That is all it refers to. It doesn’t matter if you are self-publishing or if you are being published by Simon & Schuster (are they still in business?), there can be a print version of your book and there can be an electronic version of your book. There can also be softcover and hardcover versions of the print edition, and there can be an audio-book version. These are merely different formats: they do not indicate different publishing paradigms.

The confusion has arisen because many of those who self-publish choose to publish ONLY in an e-book version, which is short-sighted on their parts as I will explain later. But that doesn’t mean that e-book publishing and self-publishing are synonymous in any way.

If you are publishing with ANY established press, you must make sure that they are going to make an e-book version available at almost at the same time as the print version appears, that the e-book will be available to the different reader platforms that are now available: Kindle, Kobe, iBooks, Sony Reader, Nook, etc.

There is a big argument going on about how much writers should get in royalties on e-books, which is an issue I intend to explore as soon as I finish this series on the death of the traditional books industry. But in the meantime, don’t get locked into any particular royalty for e-books in your contracts with established presses for the time being. The Writers’ Union of Canada recommends that you allow for renegotiation of the clause in your contract that relates your e-book rights/income in two years or so when this issue has settled down a bit, and I agree.

More soon .  . . .

6 responses

  1. Mary, there’s a good practical reason why many writers who self-publish are choosing not to publish in book form — it’s both risky and costly. My novel was published both e-book and in print as a POD. I was able to use a cover that was done for free. My partner is an IT pro who learned indesign to do the layout. We both thought through the fonts and other layout issues. I bought an ISBN and went through Lightning Source getting the book into Ingram’s catalog and even agreeing to returns. But getting it onto store shelves has been nearly impossible and on line, while the Kindle version sells between 100-300 copies a month, I might see a sale of 1 or 2 in paperback (worldwide). Despite my better judgment I bought copies of my own book to give away, give to reviewers and sell online. Mostly, I’ve given them away. If you figure out how to sell your paperbacks, please let me know, but from what I can see, this is where writers lose money on self-publishing.

    • Thanks, Marion. I am so impressed at how many Kindle versions you are selling! Fantastic, and well deserved.

      I am going to devote an article to the reasons why I think self-published authors should make POD available, and I will incorporate and respond to your concerns then, but I can see your point. I heard a bookseller talking today about how she isn’t really interested in buying POD books — they are non -returnable and the technology means they are still not press-run quality, but I think both of these things will change in the next while. Anyway, more on that later. I need to do some more research.

  2. As far as returnability goes: through Lightning Source you can make your books returnable. It’s a risk, but because they are POD’s it’s unlikely they’ll be many returns. The main thing, I think that makes these books look not like others is the 6 by 9 trade paperback size which is actually larger than most print run books. However, to print the smaller size might be more expensive. I don’t know how much research has been done actually ASKING the book buyers for stores WHY they don’t want them. My purely speculative guesses would be (1) concerns about retunability whether founded or not (2) feeling that the covers look ugly or non-professional (3) they aren’t being marketed professionally with a rep coming in with a list or a personal relationship that even a small indie press would establish, and/or (4) they “smell” of self-publishing. Anyway, if someone were to go out and find out from the buyers, that’s a blog post I want to read!

  3. I choose only to publish in ebook form because I (probably naively) hope that I will make enough sales to interest a traditional publisher in picking up paper rights. I can just about cope with PR for ebooks, but have no experience, ability or budget to take on the big boys in the world of real books.

  4. Do people really think having ebooks and self-publishing are the same thing? If so, maybe we should just let them keep thinking it and stop them from breeding (if possible). How would we do that?

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