I wrote the following letter in July of 2010. I found it in my files, and I thought it needed to be shared. I didn't even have a crystal ball. :)
My name is Ginger Simpson and I’ve been invited by your instructor to share information with you on how to become a published author. If you would like to check out my accomplishments, please visit my website at http://www.gingersimpson.com or my blog at http://mizging.blogspot.com. I never dreamed in a million years that I would have achieved so much, and I’m happy to assist anyone interested in seeing their own dreams realized.
Have you considered the pros and cons of the e-book industry? I’ve been published with internet companies since 2003, and although that seems like a long time in dog years, the industry is still in its infancy. Why? I would like to preface the following conclusions by owning them. These are strictly my own opinions and experiences:
First, the number of techno-smart people are very young. Ipods, Iphones, new and improved video games and machines all reach out to this generation, and sales soar for the things they enjoy. Let’s face it, if you’re over forty…when you were a teenager or in your early twenties, did it occur to you how wonderful it would be to own something that allowed you to download a book? I don’t think so. We marveled at eight-track stereos and Pac-man.
Secondly, for those who do enjoy reading, books are a comfort item. People have grown used to holding something in their hands and actually turning pages. Garnering enthusiasm for something that obliterates what you’ve grown to love is never easy. Add in the stigma attached to e-book publishing: the bad press caused by companies that weren’t serious about making their mark in the publishing world, and you have a big reason why e-books have been slow on the uptake. That’s changing.
Face it, tons of Americans sit in front of their computer all day long, so the last thing they want to do is plant themselves there at night and read a book. Hand held readers are offering new horizons, becoming less expensive, and even old dogs are learning new tricks. Consider traveling with three or four paperbacks in your carry-on, or three hundred downloaded on a gadget that fits in your purse or pocket. The explosion of the ebook industry is looming. The younger generation is eager to explore and more likely to approve of new technology…especially when e-books are eco-friendly in so many ways.
It’s not going to be long before schools realize the value in doing away with all the textbooks and putting everything on a handheld reader. Doing so would save millions used for purchasing books, eliminate the need for lockers, and certainly improve the posture of all those back-pack toting teens. But then you’re messing with history, again, and people tend to growl when you do that.
I think small press has done wonders in overcoming the stigma that they will publish anything submitted to them. Competition has grown very keen, and rejections are an everyday occurrence. There are still some publishing companies who will accept everything sent them, because they hope to make up in quantity what they lack in quality. The shame: they’ve tarnished the reputation of those houses that have a good editorial staff in place and want to present the best of the best for their readers. The reality: They don’t have a good reputation, and legitimate authors avoid them like the plague. The stigma is also shared with self-publishing businesses. Authors who utilize this avenue are often looked upon as writers who couldn’t make the grade. Not true! Self-publishing allows a promising author to write “outside the box” that mainstream has created and a format that some e-pub houses tend to follow. Still, creative liberty is a big reason to appreciate most e-publishers from the author’s standpoint.
For years, New York has been the hub of the publishing world, but now, even they are beginning to see value in POD (print on demand) books. Harlequin has introduced a line that is digital only, and several companies have signed with Apple to be featured downloads on their new IPad.
Small publishers choose the Internet route because most are small-scale, even run out of private homes, and there is no room for stocking multiple copies of their authors’ works. Thus, Print on Demand books cost more than mass-market paperback runs—small operating budgets don’t allow for large print runs. In fact, to save overhead costs, many don’t offer print at all, but hope that “downloads” will continue to grow in popularity.
With the economy bottoming out and paper costs rising, you’ll find more NY authors offered on Amazon.com along with e-published authors. The sad thing for our industry: as NY authors move into the forefront of our “turf,” we are also seeing a swing in promotion. With Barnes & Noble recent takeover of Fictionwise, you’ll note that most of the advertisement on their home page has shifted to the well-known names. Not fair!
Promotion continues to be the number one requirement for sales, and in Internet publishing, all the expense and time falls mainly on the shoulders of the author. To avoid being known as a “vanity press” houses must pay the set up expense for the books, but after that their monetary input is minimal. Face it, people can’t buy what they don’t know about, and as e-pubbed writers who don’t enjoy the benefit of advances and promotional help, we often are stymied about what to do next. I blog, maintain a website, have my own pages on several author sites, belong to other mega-groups, loops, have author days, participate in interviews, have my books reviewed… I pretty much do whatever I think might help my sales climb, but unfortunately I’m still struggling to find the money to pay for my own promotional endeavors. In the first year alone, I spent over three thousand dollars to establish my website, attend a conference, and purchase promotional items and copies of my own books. The return on my investment was disappointing, and it hasn’t gotten much better despite my continued great reviews and encouragement from my peers and fans. I write because I love it, and there is great satisfaction in knowing I was able to query a publisher and win their favor. Pride is a good return on any investment.
I don’t know the answers. To me the big PRO is that internet publishing keeps you humble and you make awesome friends. The networking opportunities are endless, and the learning never ends. The CON, in my opinion, continues to be the return on the time and effort I invest, the lack of recognition by those who don’t value our industry, and, despite all my accomplishments, feeling a need to achieve that one final goal that puts a print copy of my work in a REAL store. I feel guilty for wanting to be a print author in a download world, although most of my work is available in print…just not available on an actual shelf.
Despite feeling defeated at times, I remind myself that while I may not be raking in the bucks, if I count the many friends who struggle along with me, urge me onward and support what I do, then I really, really am a millionaire. And, as the old cigarette commercial geared for women used to say, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”