Effective insulation in your home
I love books. Some of my best friends are books. Proper books, the printed ones, with real pages.
Yes, I know I’ve been talking lots about ebooks, and I’ve just published a novel as an ebook with no plans for a print version. Yet.
But books aren’t about to fade away. Here are 12 reasons why, in no particular order – and I’m counting on you to send additional reasons so we have a list of at least 20:
- You can touch books. Each one has its own distinct physical identity. Somehow, that makes the story real.
- You can smell them too. Books smell like proper books.
- Your books let your visitors know who you are.
- My book annotations let me know who I am.
- Without books, coffee-tables would look empty.
- Without books, there’d be no libraries. Without libraries there’d be nowhere to shelter from the rain – except McDonalds.
- Books make great gifts. It’s somehow not the same giving someone a voucher, or telling them you’ve gifted them an ebook.
- When I’m reading a book I can wrap up with it. I don’t want to wrap up with my email, Twitter and a zillion other things. (That’s why Kindle, a dedicated reader, is likely to be more popular amongst book afficionados than the multi-purpose iPad.)
- Books are permanent. Electronic communications tend to be transitory. (How much of the material you had on your computer 5 years ago is still there today?)
- Books are safer in the tub – not that I’m recommending dunking, but your book will survive.
- There’s still no single ebook standard. What if the e-reader you choose today has no future tomorrow? (Remember all those Betamax videos that you suddenly couldn’t play because there were no Betamax machines any more?)
- Books are a great way to insulate your home. For passing on this important information, thanks to the wonderful Boing Boing and Cory Doctorow.
Specialist e-readers, like Kindle and the iPad, will address some of these issues. Some already allow annotations; some are dedicated only to reading; an e-publishing standard, known as EPUB, has already been established. But there are plenty of other reasons in the list for readers to prefer print for their permanent library of favorite books.
If I’m so convinced that printed books have a future, then why have I decided to publish The Lebanese Troubles as an ebook – first on Smashwords, then on the iPad, and from today – April 9th – on Kindle? Because, at this point in my young writing career, e-publishing checks all the boxes.
My story – of expatriates caught up in a war that’s not theirs, and entangled in a byzantine web of relationships – is the first in a series of novels I’m planning to write. My objective for the next 12 months is to find and engage readers who enjoy the settings and themes I deal with. The Middle East – unfamiliar, unmapped, poorly understood. Politics and religion as drivers of human conflict. Nationality, friendship, loyalty. The isolation of the outsider. I’m hoping too that other writers will enjoy my experiments with literary style, as I attempt to create novels that read like playscripts, and let my characters tell their own stories, without author intrusion. Above all, I want to find readers who just enjoy my stories. If I can engage them with my first novel, then perhaps they’ll be looking out for my second, third and fourth.
Nothing about me or my book suggests that The Lebanese Troubles is going to end up on the best-seller lists. I’m not a media/sports star – I haven’t got a stellar following on Twitter or Facebook. I’m not even Joe the Plumber. And my novel’s not exactly mass market material. There are no vampires or extra-terrestrials or people with magical powers or romantic heroes. All-action? All-reaction, more likely. One gun. Not much death. No happy ending. And as for Lebanon? Who cares?
That’s the way publishers are likely to see it. They might love the story, admire the writing style, but they don’t publish books just because they love them. They have to be convinced that there’s a substantial market as well, so that they can recoup their investment. For years, publishers have been wringing their hands and complaining that only one novel in ten makes money. With the perceived threat to their market from ebooks, they’re going to be even less inclined to take a chance on a new author than ever before. And if publishers are cautious, agents will be even more so. They get no credit from publishers for recommending books that don’t sell.
So what do I do? Send off the manuscript to an agent and sit waiting for an answer? For me that seems a bit like sending out a message in a bottle. Sure, someone might see it someday. Could be next week. Could be in fifteen years time. But it’s all a bit hit and miss.
Or I could self-publish or print on demand. But without the distribution network and marketing power of a publisher behind me, how many shops are likely to stock the book? Why should they give their limited space to my novel which might sell a copy or two when they could use it to display a highly promoted best-seller, whose sales will be fifty times higher. Booksellers are feeling the economic crunch too. They’re not likely to take chances either.
So the third alternative is e-publishing. What does that offer?
- There’s no financial risk. All it takes to publish on any of the main e-reading platforms is time, not money.
- I can actualize my book immediately. I’m finding readers today, not waiting till next year or the year after.
- I can target high-potential readers directly. By tagging my novel ‘expatriate’, ‘Lebanon’, ‘relationships’, literary fiction’, ‘Mid-East politics’, anyone who’s searching in any of these categories will see my book listed. Similarly, it’s not too difficult to build links with other books similar to mine. Someone who enjoys journalist Robert Fisk’s books on Lebanon for example, would likely enjoy my novel.
- I can see immediately which elements of the marketing strategy are working and which not, and adjust the campaign accordingly. Is the cover making an impact? How many pages of the sample are people actually reading? Is the pricing right? Should I add an index? Is the blog persuading people to go take a look at the novel? It’s all under my control, and I can micro-adjust till I think I’ve got it right.
- The share of revenues from most (though not all) e-providers is reasonable, and you’re likely to begin making at least a little money from 3 months after publication.
But for me there’s one fundamental reason why e-publishing is important – and it’s BECAUSE ‘electronic communications are transitory’. The way I see it is that people are going to use their e-readers for the ephemera of life – the daily newspaper, magazines – content that means a lot today and probably won’t tomorrow. For many, I think it’ll be the same with ebooks. They’ll use their e-readers to sample authors, perhaps spend a few dollars buying a book or two. If they think these books are just OK, then no big deal. But when they find a writer they really like, that’s when they’ll go and buy the proper printed books. Because they’ll want those around always.
There’s a good deal of evidence, from the pioneers of ‘free’, suggesting that low-priced ebooks actually help to promote their print sales. I’ve quoted a couple of examples at the bottom of this post. My ebook is not free – because I have no print version at this point. I allow readers to sample up to 50% of the novel, but then set a price that makes it an easy buy, yet is high enough for readers not to feel it’s an inconsequential giveaway. My objective is clear: to use the ebook to build interest and gather attention that will later give me – or a publisher – the confidence that there is a market for my printed books.
So, here’s a new model for publishing fiction. Very few novels make money. Fine, then make the cost of actualization as low as possible – if there’s no cast-iron guarantee that sales revenue will cover costs, then bring out an ebook. Then, publishers and agents, work with the author to build a readership. Set the price low. Help the writer to build a good website or fan page. Make sure there’s two-way communication between writer and readers. Use your marketing skills to guide and advise. If you get the success you’re hoping for, then print the book – or perhaps print the author’s second and third books first, then the first later.
Sounds easy? It’s not. When I visited the Kindle store this morning, I noticed that there were over 122,000 other e-novels vying for attention with mine. Imagine a very large department store. My novel’s in the darkest corner at the top of the tallest shelf in the smallest, least visited department … the question is how to get it out of there and make it a display item in the shop window. That we’ll deal with in the next posts.
To me, the approach I’ve outlined – using ebooks to build a market, particularly for a new writer – makes sound common and business sense. And yet – maybe I’m missing something – I see most traditional publishers moving in the opposite direction entirely. They’re continuing to take risks by bringing out the print version first and delaying the ebook for a few months – so it doesn’t impact the print sales. They’re pressing for digital rights management (DRM) on the grounds that this will make copying more difficult. They’re wrong – copying will always be possible, and all they’re achieving is making ownership more difficult. And just to be sure they do motivate the pirates, publishers are trying to drive ebook prices up – to around $14.99 – instead of down to build markets. Anyone would think they were trying to kill off ebooks to preserve print.
If that is the plan, publishers won’t succeed. Ebooks are here to stay. So are printed books. But the publishers themselves – will they survive? I’m not so sure. Not those who don’t quickly recognize the new realities, I suspect.
Cory Doctorow and the philosophy of free (Please ignore the first sentence on ‘socialized medicine’ – that’s another debate)
Study: The Short-Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales – Journal of Electronic Publishing
Publishers delay ebook releases – New York Times
O’Reilly e-book sales increase after dropping DRM - Boing Boing
Ebook price increase may stir readers’ passions – New York Times