Thursday, February 9, 2012

Navigating the e-book swamp

According to Wikipedia, reported sales of e-books (for Kindle) outnumbered sales of hardcover books for the first time ever during the second quarter of 2010 (it sold 140 e-books for every 100 hardcover books--even including hardcovers for which there was no digital edition). By January 2011, e-book sales at Amazon surpassed its paperback sales.

In the overall U.S. market, paperback book sales are still much larger than either hardcover or e-book; the American Publishing Association estimated e-books represented only 8.5% of sales as of mid-2010. On the other hand, that's a leap upward from 3% the previous year---and the percentage will certainly keep growing.

So self-publishing your novel as an e-book sounds like a great option, right?

It is. But ONLY if you are a well-established writer with many loyal fans who will faithfully follow you from print to digital format. However, if you are a new, unknown author, your e-book will take its place as a tiny minnow within the deep sea of 400,000 digital titles offered by Amazon, and 1 million e-books available from Barnes & Noble. How will you get your unsung story to stand out?

It would be much, much better for your writing career if you could land yourself an agent who could sell your manuscript to a print publisher. That way, you'd get to use the editing, packaging and marketing services of the publisher. Probably, the most valuable of these services for you would be the help of a skilled editor. 

You see, compounding the problem of the sheer numbers of e-books is the fact is that most e-books SUCK!  (Okay, that's my opinion, but it's the educated opinion of a former Senior Editor of Men's Health magazine). Perhaps 95 percent of self-published novels are badly written: disorganized, misspelled, ungrammatical, illogical, factually incorrect, cliche-ridden, poorly plotted---the whole stinky mess. There is no gatekeeper to say, "This novel is soooo not ready to publish."

Just as in the days of print-only books, when savvy readers knew to shun "vanity press" authors, today's smart readers EXPECT self-published e-books to suck---and they're right most of the time. (Do the math: 95 percent of 1 million crappy novels is 950,000 crappy novels available for you to buy for your e-book reader.)

I don't write crappy novels. I've paid my dues, I've learned my craft. But I'm nearly unknown. How can I get shoppers for e-books to discover my stories? That's my challenge. And if I learn any useful solutions, I'll share them with you.

Meanwhile, the most strategic move I can make is to write the biggest novel of my life. The blockbuster. 

That's the novel I'm working on now. Between classes. 

Got to get back to grading freshman papers. 



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