eBooks – In Detail

eBooks – The Writing Is The Easy Part


The electronic book, or eBook, has taken over from the printed, paper and ink book with more eBooks sold last year than printed editions. Up until even four or five years ago the chances of a fiction book selling (eFiction) online to a mainstream audience was pretty slim. eBooks had been the purview of the How To and Self Help crowd for a decade or so, really starting off back in 1995 when the World Wide Web revolutionized the Internet and made going online a much more widespread activity. Today, nearly two decades down the track the rate of change is always increasing and the marketplace for eBooks is huge.


Along with the growth in the end product, there has been huge growth in the means to make and market that eBook. When the author published his first eBook, ‘StreetWise Philippines’ in 2003 there was no Amazon.com with its Kindle eReader or Barnes& Noble with their Nook, or web sites like You Tube, Facebook and Twitter. In fact, eBooks were very much looked down upon as some sort of second cousin to the much maligned vanity press. Self publishing was commonly held to be the last resort for those whose writing was not good enough to justify a ‘real’ publishing house investing enough in it to have it see the shelf of a bookstore.


The truth of course is always different to the perception. Publishing is a business and the fact remains a lot of excellent writing is ignored, rejected or simply never gets in front of the right eyes. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by all the big publishing houses before a relatively small imprint took it on and the rest, as they say, is history. Similarly, the author knew his book had a limited appeal, a niche market as they say. He was advised it would take several months to find an agent, if there was one who felt the manuscript was worth their time and effort. Then the agent would take a long time to find a publisher and even then, the editorial team would take their time to make changes and of course, the marketing and sales afterwards would require the author to be available for book signings and other promotional tours. The decision was made to self publish as an eBook and the author hasn’t looked back since, selling over 3,500 copies of that and several other titles in the series, all as electronic downloads.


What has changed is the acceptance of eBooks as a legitimate media and a lot of the credit has to go to Amazon and their Kindle. Competition for both Amazon and their eReader has expedited the growth of the media to the point where in May of 2011, Amazon announced they had sold more Kindle eBooks in the previous year than printed editions. eReaders themselves have become more and more popular and commonplace with an IDC study released in March 2011 claiming over 12.8 million eReaders sold up to 2010, 48% of these being Kindles.


In 2003, eBooks had to have a 3D cover image or else sales would simply not happen. For some reason buyers felt they had to con themselves they were getting something that looked like a book (od CD or DVD set) and not just a file or document. The covers were not as simple and straightforward to create as one might think. After being composited in 2D, the image had to be moved on an angle and given a spine to make it look like a book viewed ¾ on. Some images included a shadow to enhance the 3D qualities. These covers were always colourful and enticing, yet of course the customer never received anything that remotely resembled the 3D book image.


Making covers required good Adobe Photoshop skills, or you could struggle with some of the free software on offer or hire someone. Covers were charged out anywhere from $25 to hundreds of dollars . Thankfully that has all changed and a simple 2D image of the cover is acceptable. Perhaps eBook buyers have matured or are more sophisticated today and while the cover art still helps sell the eBook, it is no longer necessary to pretend the customer is buying a print style book.


Why e?


The budding eWriter who is keen to get their first eBook out there for the world to read and love should ask themselves, why e? Why publish electronically? There is a huge market for print editions and most of us do harbour a love of the book itself as much as the contents. I am sure when Gutenberg came alone those scroll makers scoffed at his new format and method of reproduction. Just as those papyrus reed document makers had scoffed when vellum became the media of choice for scrolls, or how thy had been mocked by the clay table makers and so on. Electronic publishing is simply the next step in the evolutionary journey for writers and publishers. Because we are right in the middle of the change over things are in a state of some flux and so these are, indeed, exciting times if a little confusing also.


The problem with traditional print publishing houses is that they have a budget. A publisher can only accept so many manuscripts each year. These have to be edited and worked on to make them into marketable products.  Certain number of them must make a profit for the publisher to be in business next year. All of this takes time and money and of course, the publisher has the distribution channels, the arrangements with the retailers and so on. The entire world of book selling is undergoing massive change and some retailers are feeling the competition from online outlets and going under, just as some publishing houses, newspapers and other links in the chain are disappearing. Yet there is an ever growing number of writers if only because the internet and computer word processors have made it so much easier for writers to write. In time the whole thing will find its own level but at the moment there is still a lot of uncertainty and flux.


Electronic publishing and specifically self publishing gives the writer full control over most aspects of the business but it also means the writer has to handle the business end also. Not all writers are interested in the selling part, they just want to write and be paid to do so. Fair enough and that is where agents and publishers come into their own. Even if the outlet is going to be mostly online, there are plenty of people you can hire outright or who might see sufficient merit to work for free until there is money made for them to share in. If you don’t want to have to invest the time and effort to learn the market and the business, you don’t have to and your eBook will still be out there to be bought and read much faster than a print edition.


Some writers are actually all about the selling and write for a targeted market, as well as enjoying the sales and marketing process. Others see it as a part of the whole; marketing and publishing comes with the territory and is the price paid for the editorial and artistic freedom that you enjoy by doing it all your own way. Whether you pay someone to help you publish and sell your eWriting or you read the vast amounts of free information available online and do it yourself, the fact remains the writing is just the first part, the fun part, the easy part. You can write anything you like and publish it yourself on your own web site or blog, even have it printed in hard copy as a hardcover or paperback volume. Anyone can do that. What is more important is what is done with the writing once it is written. Making it into an eBook and then getting copies of that eBook onto the screens of desktops, laptops and eReaders everywhere is what takes the hard yards.

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