The Argh Interview: Barb and Jenny on E-Publishing, Part One

Barbara O’Neal (aka Barbara Samuel and Ruth Wind) and I have been talking about the e-publishing over the past week. Today and tomorrow we’re posting the transcripts from the chats (edited because we wandered off topic). Because we’re sure everybody wants to know what we think. And because we need blog posts.

Jenny: Hi. I’m Jenny Crusie. I’ve written twenty novels with traditional print publishers, and I’m watching what happens in digital publishing (especially author-originated digital publishing) with interest and not a small amount of envy.

Barbara: Hi. I’m Barbara Samuel. I’ve written forty novels in 3 subgenera of print publishing. I’m currently writing women’s fiction for Bantam as Barbara O’Neal. I’ve also dipped a toe into the digital market with seven backlist books.

Jenny: A toe? You’ve dipped a whole foot.

Barbara: It felt like a toe, but now it’s really a leg, I have to admit.

Jenny: In it up to the hip. Maybe that’s what we should call this post: Hip Deep in Author-Originated Digital Publishing.

Barbara: I love it.

Jenny: Please notice how careful I am to avoid the term “self-e-publishing.” Barbara and I have been having one of our traditional heated discussions online, this one on the phenomenon of authors doing their own publishing.

Barbara: We do have some heated discussions.

Jenny: How many years have we been arguing about things?

Barbara: Starting back on GEnie in what? Somewhere in the 90s.

Jenny: The point is, if you hear us yelling at each other later, we do that a lot.
With a great deal of warmth and respect (g).

Barbara: We do yell and scream and really disagree, but I think somebody has to disagree with her.
With love. Like sisters.

Jenny: Absolutely. So our current heated discussion began when I posted on my blog my thoughts about authors doing their own publishing digitally. Which I was calling “self-e-publishing” a clunky but still descriptive term.

Barbara: And I would like to it call indie publishing, which has become a standard, although some people dislike it, too.

Jenny: I think it’s confusing because I think it also refers to small press publishing, but mostly it doesn’t tell people what it is. Which is authors taking the publishing process back from traditional publishing houses and publishing their work themselves on the internet. Except, you know, shorter than that.

Barbara: I’ve never heard that term in reference to small presses, I’ve only heard it in reference to people publishing themselves in electronic format. Either way, we are referring to the same thing. Terms are important here because the paradigm is shifting, and language is a way to reflect that.

Jenny: I agree. Barbara raised a really good point during our previous discussion which is that “self-publishing” and “e-publishing” have generally not been highly regarded in publishing circles. So calling author-originated publishing “self-e-publishing” is kicking a brand new world of opportunity in both knees right off the bat.

Barbara: And I can hear a lot of the forerunners chortling in the background. Turns out they were right and they fought hard to get respect. Which they really did not get

Jenny: Well, I’ll debate “right.” E-publishing then is not what e-publishing now is. There was good reason that the current state of that kind of publishing wasn’t respected. It’s a whole new world now.

Barbara: They were right that things were changing rapidly and we would all be reading e-books.

Jenny: Yes, but they said that for fourteen years.

Barbara: Right. I would agree with that. It was not the same world at all, which is why we are having this discussion. Things have come a long way.

Jenny: I remember arguing with one group back in the day, telling them that they’d need a game-changer to make e-publishing really relevant. And they told me that all they needed was one big name like mine. So I published a short story on the net as a test. Sold five copies. The audience was not there. Of course, I’m not that big of a name.

Barbara: She said ever-so-modestly. Stephen King tried it, too, and I’m not sure he did that well in the long run.

Jenny: And then came the Kindle.

Barbara: Kindle was the game changer. And I remember when I saw it for the first time, I knew it would be.

Jenny: I resisted it. It looked clunky. But you cannot pry my iPad from my sweaty little fingers.

Barbara: I, too, am completely besotted with my iPad.

Jenny: So now all of a sudden, e-publishing isn’t just viable, it’s taking over the place. Half of the sales of my first week hardcover sales were e-sales. That settled down to about 20% later, but that’s still a huge chunk. We were surprised (g).

Barbara: That’s an amazing percentage, and illustrates how fast things are changing.

Jenny: The thing is, we still don’t know if those who bought the e-version that first week are people who dropped the hardcover purchase to buy, or people who would have bought the paperback and went for the lower price, or people who just like e-books. Which is why this so fascinating. NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

Barbara: Absolutely. Nobody knows ANYTHING. Which makes it all terrifying and scary and exciting and confusing, especially for people who have been in the business a long time and don’t have any other marketable skills.

Jenny: Except Barbara knows because she’s been doing this. One of the things I wanted to talk about was indie publishing for different levels of writers. So let’s start at the top with you. You’re a multi-published writers with bestseller status and a well-known name with many Ritas. How many Ritas? (For those of you not in the know, a Rita is the Oscar of the romance-writing world.)

Barbara: Six. And they’ve been a help in my digital adventures, since one of the books I have for sale is Heart of a Knight, which won the RITA.

Jenny: Six. Not that I’m jealous. So you were sitting around one day looking at your backlist and your significant other said, “There’s this thing called the internet . . .”

Barbara: He’s a computer geek. He kept chanting, “backlist, backlist, backlist.” I so did not want to deal with it. Too much trouble. Too many software things to deal with. Scanning…Covers….Ugh! I wasn’t going to bother with it. The thing that changed was that my blog and websites all crashed and I could not get them back. My cousin Sharon, a computer geek who happens to have lots of artistic talent, got irritated and went to bat for me.

Jenny: Went to bat. Tell me what’s involved in that.

Barbara: What’s involved in an e-book publication is first, an electronic copy of a book. Since my books were on older computers, I didn’t have copies, so they had to be scanned. Then proofread. Then turned into an electronic file. Then uploaded to three different sites in three different forms. See why I said forget it?? No. Freaking. WAY.

Jenny: When you say “scanned” do you mean face down on a plain old scanner, page by page?

Barbara: Yes!

Jenny: Oh. Argh.

Barbara: Horrible. I paid someone to do the first couple of books, In the Midnight Rain, I think, and A Bed of Spices, and they were EXPENSIVE. Like $700, so I said, no. That’s crazy. I have absolutely no patience for the detail work involved in proofreading. I hate it, so that wasn’t going to happen, either.

Jenny: $700 just to scan? I’d have rolled over in bed and said, “You know that idea you had? The scanner’s over there.”

Barbara: And the scans were horrible. There are much cheaper ways to do it now.

Jenny: Well, they were already proofread, right? Because they were published?

Barbara: No. They were not proofread, because the scans don’t read that easily. They have lots of glitches and there is no software to read and correct.

Jenny: Already, I hate this.

Barbara: Exactly. No way. I’m a writer. I LIKE writing. It’s my favorite thing to do.

Jenny: But you kept on going. Good for you.

Barbara: But I didn’t keep going. My cousin and my beloved kept going. They kept saying, “Let’s do this. Let’s find a way. I bet we can do it. Come ON.” So Christopher Robin, my beloved, talked Sharon into the scans and all that, and she hates it, too, but she’s detail-oriented and I paid her.

Jenny: It’s amazing what family will do for you if you pay them.

Barbara: She designed the covers, which I think are simple and clean and beautiful, but it took us many versions to find a look that we liked. (And there are issues, here, too, since there is not much artwork for historical novels).

Jenny: And that’s really important, even in e-publishing. It’s the first look at the book.

Barbara: The covers are extremely important. I see a lot of bad artwork out there. Not art that you might like and I don’t…just bad. It’s just not good for the format.

Jenny: I agree. It makes it look amateurish which is the impression you’re already fighting historically.

Barbara: Really good point. The art has to be better than what you’d find on a paper book. And you might not get it right the first time out. Learning Photoshop would be a very good idea, which my assistant did.

Jenny: So the first thing I’m noticing here is that you have back-up.

Barbara: A lot of it.

Jenny: All the stuff writers hate to do, you strong-armed family into doing.

Barbara: I also want to say that I had some money. Not a ton, but enough to hire help and buy good art and pay for somebody to do the annoying parts.

Jenny: That’s a really good point. You need capital to become a business. And that’s what publishing yourself on the net is, a business. You’re not putting on a show in the barn, this isn’t a hobby, this is part of your career, your brand.

Barbara: It is. You do need capital and you need assistance. You have to do good work and make it look good so you don’t drag down the rest of your brand. And, this comes later, probably, but because I had already been through a very rigorous editing process, editing, line editing, copy editing, I had a lot of confidence in the product. This is very specifically backlist publishing.

Jenny: More than that, READERS had confidence in your product. So now you’ve got scans and a cover. Then what happened?

Barbara: I uploaded most of the books over the fall, and they sold small numbers. Then–this is the classic Kindle story….I decided to experiment with lowering the price to .99.

Jenny: Wait a minute. “You uploaded . . .” ‘Splain that to me, Lucy. Pretend I know nothing. Because that’s what I know.

Barbara: I didn’t upload. I can’t explain it. My cousin, who is now my official assistant in all things web and e, and has a lot of experience, did it all for me. She uploaded the files to Kindle, Smashwords, and Nook. They are all slightly different, I gather. I have heard from others that it is not difficult. I just don’t want to deal with any of it.

Jenny: Ah, the excellent staff. Okay, moving on. How many books did you upload at once? And did you experiment with the price point with all of them?

Barbara: They went up a couple at a time. They sold modestly, but gathered steam as we posted more, and now we have six historicals and my first women’s fiction. We started experimenting with price, lowering the price on half of them to see what would happen. Those books caught, then brought the numbers up on the others. You have to understand, I had no expectations whatsoever. This was–is–just play for me. I have my traditional books and they are doing well, and I love writing them. But I wanted to see those historicals available. I loved them and the market wasn’t right for them at the time they were published.

Jenny: Why do you think those caught? The lower price point? How did that get them to the readers’ attention?

Barbara: I don’t know. That’s the honest truth. Nobody knows why things work, why that works, and then doesn’t work. NOBODY KNOWS.

Jenny: What I was fishing for was, did the $.99 price point put you on the e-books bestseller list
thereby alerting readers that you were there?

Barbara: It did. And then they bought like crazy. There are lists that alert people to cheap books, too, and the 99c point seems to be an impulse buy, like a song on iTunes.

Jenny: And now CR goes around singing, “I told you so,”

Barbara: Boy, does he ever.

Jenny: LOL. Did you do other promotion? Your blog? Reader lists? Goodreads? Mention it on Smart Bitches? Interviews?

Barbara: When a book went online, I posted to my blog and Facebook, but that’s it. I am not a marketing person for the most part. It takes too much time.

Jenny: So it was pretty much the price point that got the word out.

Barbara: Yep.

Jenny: This also sounds like it got you new readers, not just Barbara Samuel fans who wanted the chance to glom you in e-versions.

Barbara: A lot of new readers. And I know people howl about this, but honestly, at 99c, I’m getting the same royalty I got per book in print.

Jenny: Let’s talk about the howling tomorrow because that’s interesting, too. Right now, I want to talk about how this is going to have a terrific impact on your traditional publishing, too. Except for CR gloating, it’s a world of win out there.

Barbara: I hope so. I hope it draws readers to my print books, to the new titles.

Jenny: This explains why you’ve been wearing that T-shirt that says “ASK ME ABOUT INDIE PUBLISHING!”

Barbara: (Laughing.) I don’t think I have been wearing the t-shirt. I think I’ve just been arguing that there are some opportunities there. And I think you ARE jealous, mi amiga.

Jenny: Why would I be jealous of a six-time Rita winner living with a cute Englishman who’s making a fortune on her back list? Jeez. So this has been a huge success for you. Do you think that indie e-publishing is always better?”

Barbara: I do NOT think indie publishing is always better. Or even most of the time. But in some cases, it’s a very smart, real, deal. Especially with backlist.

Jenny: So what kind of things would traditional publishing have to offer a writer for her backlist to make it better than indie publishing?

Barbara: The pluses in indie publishing are speed of publication (the books can be published next week instead of next year), the speed of payment…getting paid within 60 days instead of the next 12 years, and getting money every month in a reliable way.

Jenny: It sounds to me that unless the publisher is going to sweeten the deal considerably, there’s no upside to traditionally publishing your backlist. Of course, that’s assuming you have the resources to do it well, but we’re assuming that. I don’t own any of my backlist or I’d be trying it, believe me. Next topic: Would you publish a new book this way?

Barbara: I don’t know. I loved doing historicals so much, and in indie publishing, I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to attract such a HUGE audience. I could publish my medievals and find the readers I love. Or finish the Georgian series I had completely mapped out.

Jenny: So one of the benefits is not worrying about sales. I mean, a lot of sales are nice, but your career isn’t over if they’re not huge.

Barbara: Right. The downside is editorial.

Jenny: Agreed. I don’t want to write a novel without Jennifer Enderlin.

Barbara: My editor is one of the big reasons I’ve had success. She’s brilliant and she pushes me. I also have an agent who is brilliant and pushes me and holds me back from the cliff. I don’t know how you find that without traditional publishing. That’s a grave concern. I’m not sending a book out raw—I want a really good editor to read it and help me shape it.

Jenny: I agree absolutely. That’s where some of my skepticism about indie e-publishing wiping out traditional publishing comes from. Editors and agents are not decorative, they’re necessary.

Barbara: Amen. And they are not a dime a dozen. You can find copy editors all over the place, but a great editor has a particular talent and ear that’s quite rare.

Jenny: Yep. I’ll leave Enderlin when she pries my cold dead fingers from around her editing hand. So even for well-established writers, indie publishing is going to be a risky route for new work. Of course so is traditional publishing, but I think the risk is great in indie. Backlist is almost a no-brainer, but the new stuff would take some careful thought.

Barbara: It would take a support structure I’m not sure exists at the moment.

Jenny: But tune in tomorrow because everything is changing so fast. So enough about writers with names; let’s look at midlist. These are authors who have been published in traditional publishing, but haven’t established the name and the readership that you have. And a lot of them are hurting because mass market is dying underneath them. Midlist has always been purgatory for writers, but now it’s more like hell.

Barbara: It’s a very tough place to be writing.

Jenny: So a lot of them are looking at indie publishing. Which is where I start to get worried. Because they are less likely to have the money to get that support group you’re talking about and less likely to know publishing well enough to know how it works let alone indie publishing which is a whole new ball game. I’d never say, “Don’t try it,” but I think a lot of the evangelists for indie publishing are promoting it as a can’t-lose proposition, and that’s not true. So pros and cons for the midlist writer who wants to go indie. Over to you, Barbara.

Barbara: What I would say is that there are probably some possibilities in indie publishing that don’t exist in mass market, and there are chances in mass market that don’t exist in indie publishing. The biggest advantage to writers in mass market is the access to editorial guidance. I know some formerly midlist writers who are doing amazing things with indie publishing. One of them, Bella Andre, showed up in the Washington Post, talking about the challenges and rewards in indie publishing. (Note how hard she works!)

Jenny: I saw that. She’s clearly loving the whole experience and having a lot of success, but as you say, she’s working incredibly hard. I was glad the Post journalist did her homework on the success rate in general, though, like the Smashwords founder pointing out that they have fewer than fifty writers making over fifty thousand a year, and that many of their authors never sell a single book. Which brings us to the question of how is the midlist writer is going to sell books on the net if she can’t in print?

Barbara: The same way she sold mass market books–by being compared to other writers like her, by being reviewed by online publications, by showing up on blogs. She can be referenced by listmanias and show up on recommendations.

Jenny: But if that didn’t work for her in traditional publishing, why will it make a difference now?

Barbara: I personally find a lot of books through the recommendation lists on Nook and Kindle…”you bought this so you might like this book, too.” Remember, it doesn’t have to be as many books to create success in the epublishing model.

Jenny: Yes and no. It doesn’t have to be as many books to make as much money, certainly. But if you define success as readership, then it does have to be as many books/readers.

Barbara: Does it? Why?

Jenny: Let me rephrase: If you define success as the money you make, yep. If you define success as the number of readers you get, then it’s the same problem as mass market. Unless there’s something about e-publishing that makes it easier to get readers.

Barbara: What if you define success as reaching the readership that will love your books and making enough money to live on? That has not been possible in the current marketplace for very many writers, while it could be quite possible in a digital world. That’s part of this discussion, though–that success as it has traditionally been defined is not necessarily the way it will be defined.

Jenny: I think every author defines success his or her own way. There really isn’t one yardstick. I’d rather have fewer readers and less money and the freedom to write whatever I want.

Barbara: Of course. But I would say that artists define success by supporting themselves by doing the work they want to do. Would you agree? I have that now and that’s success to me.

Jenny: Nope. I would not trade making a living at this for having the freedom to write what I want.

Barbara: What if you could have both? Not riches, necessarily, but a living wage.

Jenny: Are you saying that e-publishing can give me that? (Although I have to say in the interests of accuracy, SMP is giving me that and has been giving me that for a number of years. ) What I’m not seeing is how indie publishing is going to give that to those midlist writers. It’s worth trying, sure. I just don’t see how their chances are better in indie publishing than in traditional publishing. They both have the lost-in-the-crowd problem. So what would you tell the midlist writer who’s frustrated with her career and sees mass market slowly disappearing?

Barbara: I would tell her to give indie publishing a try. But to do it judiciously, and hire editors and good help. If she can’t do that, go the traditional route because traditional publishers have some things to offer, like distribution and the chance to make a name for themselves. That’s big. And if they’re going to do indie publishing, remember : covers, editors. Covers, editors. Covers, editors.

Jenny: I think a lot of midlist writers think the traditional route has disappeared. In which case, they’ve got nothing to lose. But I think they do have something to lose if they don’t remember, quoting you now, covers and editors. And marketing. If they don’t do indie publishing well, they’re going to look unprofessional.

Barbara: They will.

Jenny: Because indie publishing really is still fighting that stigma you were talking about, the idea that if these authors were any good, they’d be in print. That idea is obsolete, but it hangs on. So I think indie publishing actually has to be shinier and more professional that print publishing.

Jenny: And now we come to the people I’m really worried about: unpublished writers. They’ve always been the most vulnerable, and the people who are holding out indie publishing to them as a path to millions make me . . . angry.

Barbara: I agree with you. I am more worried about the new writers than anyone else.

Jenny: So what would you say to a new writer?

Barbara: This is very similar to the things I always say about agents. A great experience is nirvana, but a bad one is worse than not having one at all.

Jenny: Yep.

Barbara: It’s agonizing to be aspiring, and fear you might not ever publish, but far worse to publish work too early.

Jenny: Or badly.

Barbara: One of the worst things that happens to a new writer is the Freshman Rush, when a newbie is rushed by a publisher and gets a lot of money and attention and then…the book doesn’t perform. It could be for any reason… Bad timing, bad cover, bad editing, bad whatever… But the author is then scarred for life.

Jenny: Yep.

Barbara: You can never redo your first book. It’s hard to get published. It’s always been hard. But it takes time to learn what you need to learn. Takes time to hear your voice. Find your stories.

Jenny: Just plain learn the craft.

Barbara: I worry so much that new writers of great talent are going to be demolished by the ease of self-publishing and no editing. Maybe they will find their voices in public, but ow. So my advice is to stick with the traditional method for as long as you can. Traditional publishing does have cachet, after all. And access to things digital publishing does not.

Jenny: One of the things traditional publishing tells you is that you’re not ready yet. They’re not always right, but a lot of the time, they are. I’ve been eternally grateful to every editor who turned me down in the beginning. I would not have wanted those books to have been made public even though I thought they were great.

Barbara: Oh, me, too!

Jenny: But sometimes you’ve written a good book and they turn it down because they think they can’t sell it. Even if your book is good, you’re going to need good production values. And no matter how good you are, you’re going to need an editor. You can’t edit your own stuff. It’s like taking out your own appendix. It doesn’t work.

Barbara: Editors. Editors. Editors. They do not get the attention and appreciation they deserve. [Yawns} I need to call a halt pretty soon. I turn into a pumpkin at 10.

Jenny: Okay, let’s wrap this up for today. My advice to a debut author would be to spend a helluva lot of time researching how to publish a book. Then find a good editor (more research) and a good cover designer (more research) and if you can afford it, a good marketing team. And then work your ass off promoting the hell out of the book everywhere on the net following that marketing guidance. And then when you don’t sell as many books as you’d hoped, you pick yourself up and do it again with the next one. And the next one and the next one.

Barbara: Very good.

Jenny: Because indie conventional wisdom says you need about seven titles before you’ll stick. And those need to be GOOD books so that people come back.

Barbara: Really? I didn’t know that.

Jenny: Also, you are not Amanda Hocking.

Barbara: Just as you are not JK Rowling or Stephanie Myers.

Jenny: Give me time. I have this idea about a wizard that sparkles. But really, every time somebody says, “Amanda Hocking made millions from her first novel so I can, too,” I want to say “Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France; even though you have a bicycle, I don’t see you doing that, too.”

Barbara: She’s very lucky and very smart and very, very determined.

Jenny: She’s amazing. A phenom. And she worked her butt off for that success. The stuff that makes me crazy in all of this is the idea that this is EASY. It’s not easy. It’s just a different kind of hard.

Barbara: I love her blogs. She’s the real thing. She’s so devoted and so intense and such a WRITER.

Jenny: And so damn smart. And she took a publishing contract for her next series.

Barbara: Smart choice, IMO.

Jenny: The take away I’ve gotten from talking about this all week is that all of these venues are options, and writers should take advantage of every option they can. But do it with open eyes.

Barbara: The more you know, the more choices you have. All of us have. That’s true even of publishers.
If you choose indie publishing you need as much information as you would if you choose traditional. Indie means INDIE. You’re doing it, all of it. That’s money, but also so much work. Like a restaurant owner.

Jenny: Traditional publishing isn’t dead. Indie publishing isn’t the grail. But indie publishing is very exciting (g). Okay, I am jealous of you. Satisfied?

Barbara: Well, I guess. But I’m still Crusie.

Jenny: No, I’m Crusie. You’re Samuel, Wind, and O’Neal. Lucky CR. It must be like having a harem.

Barbara: Still NOT Crusie. LOL I’m fading.

Jenny: We’re quitting for tonight because Barbara can’t remember who she is, but we’re going to do this again tomorrow because we have more aspects of indie publishing to talk about, specifically the emotional aspects of the revolution.

Barbara: More! Later! When I have a brain!

Jenny: And goodnight all.

Barbara: Good night.

41 thoughts on “The Argh Interview: Barb and Jenny on E-Publishing, Part One

  1. Hi, Long time Reader of Jennifer Crusie but first time commenting.

    I have a Nook and the only reason I got it was because I can get the new release as soon as it comes out. Like at midnight I can download it just laying in bed and be reading it in a minute. It was an added bonus that the books would be cheaper but Im an impatient reader who doesnt want to wait for the stores to open or to get there and the store not have it.

  2. I have this idea about a wizard that sparkles – bahaha! That made me laugh out loud (when you write that out in full it sounds silly, because it’s always out loud when you laugh, right? Still…)

    Thanks for the discussion, ladies. These are scary waters for everyone, but thanks for mentioning the unpublished too. Gulp.

    1. When Crusie mentioned the sparkly wizard I had thought of Glittery Hoo Ha’s. I will be laughing for a while.

  3. Really interesting discussion and I’m curious to see what happens tomorrow! First I have some remarks about covers: I have a second generation Kindle and I almost never see the covers of the books I buy on it. They are, when I’m looking for books, a small thumbnail, which tells me almost nothing. And when I buy a book and open it, it goes immediately to the first page. I have to click backwards to see the cover, acknowledgment, table of contents, etc. So the cover is irrelevant for me. I don’t know if this is true for later iterations of the Kindle or for the other e-book readers. Hardcover, paperback – covers count, e-books, not so much.

    The 99 cent books seem to be a kind of gateway drug for me. I will, when trying to find a new book to read, look through that list on Amazon and if something looks interesting, I’ll buy it. A book that is 99 cents or even $1.99 won’t break the bank and won’t make me cranky about shelling out for a book I may not like. And, if I do like it, I will then search for other books by the same author and be more likely to buy them even at a higher price.

    I wish all authors would make their backlists available. If I read a new book by an author and love it and want to find other books by them, it is intensely frustrating if the library doesn’t have them and they are out of print so I can’t buy them either. What are the costs vs. the benefits of having your backlist available?

    From your discussion and from others I have read, it seems that the two biggest reasons to go with traditional publishing are editing and marketing. What is it that makes a good editor? or a bad one? How can you tell as a new writer? Can a good critique group substitute for an editor for someone going for e-publishing?

    There are traditional ways of marketing books, but there are also new ways that traditional publishers don’t seem to exploit. There are authors who have a cadre of dedicated fans/family who tweet for them, post on Facebook for them, keep up their entries in Wikipedia and Goodreads, etc. all of which would take a great deal of time and energy to do by yourself. How do you decide what your best options would be?

    1. I do my own blog, Facebook, and tweets. You do what you either like to do (the blog) or don’t hate doing (FB and tweets, although they’re the same thing).

      The answer for the rest of your question was so long, I’m doing it as a blog on Wed. Good questions.

      1. I know, I’m sorry my post got so long. I will say one really fun thing about the e-reader is having a book I ordered way in advance show up on the publishing day. Particularly if I’ve forgotten I ordered it. Love surprise presents! I got Maybe This Time that way.

        1. No, no, it wasn’t your comment that was so long, that was fine. It was that the answers would be long. I talked to Barbara and the answers will be up tomorrow (Wed.). Your comment was great.

  4. Fascinating – I suspected no one had any real data on this, and that really makes it difficult for authors to do any kind of cost/benefit analysis.

    Know what I see here? A great business opportunity for free lance editors and artists- maybe some kind of cooperative. It would have to start with established editors who help mentor new editors (just like the publishing industry used to do). Ditto for proofreaders. And there are a ton of really talented art students who are geniuses with CGI. Because not everyone is lucky enough to have a family with those skills.


    Looking forward to the next several blogs on this subject!

    1. There are also a bunch of web designers who could vastly improve the ebook experience. Keeping in the context of the Kindle eInke screen for non-computer-glare readability, I think if ebooks are to command a premium price, they should offer a premium service. For instance, I was reading a fantasy novel the other day that had a map in it. I couldn’t zoom in on the map. Why not? It was also difficult to flip back to the map – not impossible, just more effort than I wanted it to take. It would be great to push a button to switch from ordinary text to linked text – say all the place names (or at least their first 1 or 2 mentions) have a link back to the map which can then be zoomed in an out, then returned to the place I left off.

      Also, I bought a “Jenny Crusie Bundle” of 4 books and there was ZERO effort at user convenience. I had to read straight through. Not a challenge since they were fun (SBP, GROB, WTLW, CAN) and I wanted to read them all, but the usual “push the 4 way button to skip chapters” didn’t work because there were NO INTERNAL references. And various copy edit errors. They couldn’t have done less work on this if they’d tried. Why not have chapter breaks in bundled books, and a “shift+right arrow” to shift to the next book? I don’t know how useful this bundle will be – I don’t even know which book the “go to chapter one” function will select.

      Right now, ebooks are great for fiction, but terrible for when I want to skim anything. There’s a marker for “furthest read point” but once I flipped to the end to read the authors note and from then on, the book didn’t know how to get back to where I was reading when I had to go back a few pages to check on something. Why not have a way to say “don’t save this point” or have some way of saving multiple places so in a non-fic I can read one chapter, skip the next, read another chapter and have it know which parts I skipped over. Then be able to mark chapters or sections or paragraphs as “quick index” points.

      I’m no longer patient with pictures, but the sparkling wizard comment made me think it would be supercool to click on an HP spell command and have a wand appear and flick and send out sparkles. Maybe.

      I think a website designer could team up with the editors and proofreaders in your cooperative, and really build something worth paying extra for. But for as long as reading an ebook is a somewhat riskier way to get the story than a book, I think they should cost substantially less than books. Maybe an indie publisher could really go all out with pushing for format upgrades to make their way in the muddy waters?

      1. Surprised about your copy of the Crusie Bundle. I got it from the library’s digital collection, and I could use the table of contents feature to select which book I wanted, and which chapter within the book. But I was using Adobe PDF on my PC, so I suspect this may be a format issue. Not familiar enough with e-readers to know how the formats differ.

  5. Great timing and a great discussion. I guess my take-away is:

    You have to do the work.

    Looking forward to tomorrow. Thanks.

    1. What a great Conversation..It was like reading one your books..I am not finished yet..But so far its been the Best Discussion about This Whole New World of Publishing.etc..Be Back and Thank you..

  6. Thank you for the post. I was wondering in re: to midway writers, the ones who get stuck in too much – wouldn’t they be more popular if they were better (fix certain writing/plotting mistakes) or is it there a huge luck of the draw factor?

    also, I would really enjoy if you and Barbara did posts talking more about the writing craft. you’re all smart and stuff.


  7. also, if I may bombard you with questions, how do you translate classic mystery books and voices (i.e. agatha christie) to modern day? to me it was all description and looong compared to audience’s attention span now. So, on one hand there are classic mysteries and then there is hardboiled fiction, which is all short and to the point. What’s the sane way to combine that and generally, how would you define modern mystery? thank you!!!

    P.S. I’m still hoping you’ll start teaching like Lani even if it’s a short workshop 😀

    1. Lani and I are talking about my doing some workshops through StoryWonk, so stay tuned on that.

      From working on the Liz books and from the PopD analyses we’ve been doing, I’ve come to the conclusion that modern story-telling is faster and more dependent on character, especially in mysteries where the Golden Age prized puzzles (although the best of Golden Age has both puzzle and character). Compare the Maltese Falcon film to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang with Robert Downey, Jr.

      1. Thanks, that helps. When you say faster would that mean more information is compacted into short bursts or do you leave more out and simply focus on the nitty gritty? I suppose it’s pacing I’m most confused about. Especially with noir style. Does that mean it’s sort of “dead” now that story telling has picked up speed? Sorry to be so annoying but I value your observations – what elements would you say most define noir?

        P.S. So watching those films side by side this week.

        And THANK HEAVENS, I’ve been hoping for a class of yours for ages! I have an MFA and I learned way more about writing from you. THANK YOU for making information so accessible.

        1. Faster pacing in that anything extraneous is cut out. Much more showing, much less talk, and the talk that’s there is all moving character and plot, not explaining things.

          Noir is it’s own genre; it’s dark and male and has a real fear of powerful females along with a real sense that the world is corrupt in general and that only the men who walk the mean streets who are not themselves mean can make any sense of it. Modern noir tends to be a little less anti-feminist and a little more hopeful, but not much.

          Oh, and any workshops I’d give would be beginner level, so you probably wouldn’t get much from me. It would definitely be stuff I’ve already talked about here. But thank you so much for the compliment!

          1. You’re the best!! Thank you, you’ve got my wheels turning now. I’m not typically good at summarizing someone’s work or in this case, genre, so it helps a ton to have someone else’s input.

            Also, I’m first in line for the workshop. As Christina Aguilera sings, “Going back to basics.” I feel like you can never hear enough about the foundation of writing. Until it’s innate, it’s not enough. SO A BIG AWESOME THANK YOU for helping me today. Lots of positive sparkly thoughts your way.

  8. This is a really interesting discussion. I think nothing is the grail–and like all business models, you need to adapt what you do to depend upon your own temperament and available resources.

    For example, some people say that stocks give the best ROI in the long term. That’s great, and it may or may not be true–but if you’re my mom, you hear a stock has a high stock price, you buy it, then it tanks and you frantically sell. It’s the way she works emotionally: she buys things that other people are buying, and sells if it doesn’t work out. Stocks may give a great ROI, but not if you buy high and sell low. She keeps doing that, even knowing, logically, that this doesn’t make sense. Finally she realized that she doesn’t have the kind of temperament necessary to invest in stocks, so she plunked her money in an index fund. More modest returns, someone else takes a management cut off the top, but it doesn’t trigger her emotional response.

    I think indie requires a certain temperament. And, for example, I think Amanda Hocking has it. This last week, she posted that she’d been getting one of her earlier books ready for publication–but after reading it the fifteenth time, she decided she wasn’t going to post it, because it wasn’t good enough.

    I wanted to stand up and applaud her for that–because if you’re going to do indie, you have to be able to make that kind of determination, and caring about your brand. Someone else would have said, “I’m better off earning money than having this sit on my hard drive,” and could have ruined a very promising brand.

    And most importantly–indie or traditional publishing are business models, not religions. It’s not like you have to be one or the other. You can invest in stocks AND real estate AND pork belly futures.

  9. I would like to offer that an author doesn’t have to have a team to handle everything if s/he is educated on the process, has a bit of affinity for the technical, and doesn’t mind getting down and dirty. 🙂

    I scanned my two backlist books, ones for which I no longer had the manuscript file, and the program I used had them coming out nearly squeaky clean. (Note: the scanning program can make all the difference in the world.) The actual scanning took a couple of days. Reading through took a few more, but it wasn’t a long or difficult process.

    I did have the file for my third backlist book, but that meant I was dealing with the unedited version, so it took a much finer toothed comb to go through.

    I recently uploaded my first original digi short, and that process was similar though different in that everything was new including my current “voice.”

    I formatted in html for Kindle, converted to ePub for Nook, and then used the Smashwords guide for the version there that goes out to Sony, Kobo, Diesel, and iBooks. Feedback has been very positive on how the books have looked in all platforms.

    And, I did all my covers (but I have 8 years of web design under my belt). So, yeah. I definitely feel like an indie publisher. 😉

  10. Very interesting. Very.

    Nobody bought me an e-book reader or an iPad yet, so I still can’t comment on ebooks. It is/was my birthday today and I asked for every book Jenny’s published ever.

    Come to think if it, nobody bought me those either. Will someBetty or someCherry interpret/divine/scry to determine what that means, neither iPad nor printbook a gift be.

    I made my obligatory trip to the *hardcopy* library as I do, often! Obligatory to my mind, as it makes me happy.

  11. This was an interesting discussion, thanks. For an established author to indie pub a backlist seems to be sound advice. The author has already recieved a publisher’s advance, has received (hopefully) some royalty checks over the years, and so has made some money to justify her efforts, plus she has built a name, and has a platform to work from. To get those rights back, and indie pub her backlist, why not?

    The new writer, not so much. If it’s about making money, do the math. If you’d recieved an advance from a trad publisher of say $5,000 after you’d put half aside for taxes and a bit of promotion, you’d be financially ahead of the e-published or indie published author, by $2,500, because the indie is starting with $0. The indie author would need to sell 2,500 e-books at 99 cents a piece to even be at the same starting gate, and that’s not even considering her start up costs. The trad pub advance is cash in hand, it’s distribution, and some promotion and marketing. The indie publisher has to spend her own after tax dollars to build her self/indie publishing business. And she has to promote, and market her product, or pay somebody else to do that. It’s damn hard work. In addition, she has to produce the product she’s selling, that is, the next book. And I think that’s where the whole thing can collapse, if the second book is rushed, or doesn’t get the same editing.

    Few small businesses succeed, if they try to grow too fast. I say this because back in 2002-03, I published two books in a partnership-publishing deal (subsidy publishing). The books could have had a stronger edit. I could have waited and learned more of the craft before publishing, but hey, I was younger then, and in a hurry. ; ) You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and I blew mine. It was a ton of work. I did announcement cards, bookmarks, built a website, joined organizations, did everything to get my name out there, and spent a ton of money doing that. I laugh now at how I used to drive to locations miles away from my Los Angeles home to speak at a library or women’s club, and sell and sign a few books afterward. I learned about niche marketing, I promoted the hell out of my books. For the most part, I’d come away from the event with ten or so books sold, and a bill for gas and lunch that didn’t come close to the money received for the books. But, I continued on, and sold my books, but never broke even.

    So, I look at all of this, nod my head, and smile. I know everyone’s journey is different, and we all make choices based on our own needs and understandings. I did learn a lot about myself, enjoyed my little adventure into publishing, became more comfortable with public speaking, and made a ton of new friends. It wasn’t all bad. It just didn’t give me the extra income that I’d figured it would. There were a few authors in the self-publishing world, back then, who had huge success, and went on to accept a trad pub contract. Today, there are authors who’ve had fabulous success with indie/e-book publishing. But we’re talking of a very small percentage. I’m still playing the wait and see game, and I think it will be years from now before we can see true results.

  12. Love these discussions. I think you’re right that the experience is different for established authors putting out their backlists vs new authors. Maybe when you’re done with this chat, you could have another with an indie author who was previously unpublished.

    And to answer your question about who bought Maybe This Time as an ebook when it first came out, count me in that 50%. But my purchase didn’t affect hardcover sales. I wouldn’t have bought a hardcover then because I have to budget, so without the ebook option (that was on sale at the vendor site where I bought it), it would have likely been a library book for me. I also have some of your older books as ebooks (that were also on sale at different times) and all the others as audiobooks (before I had an ereader). I think I have your entire fiction library, and not one book is on paper! I much prefer the ebook versions over the audio, though, and will buy all your future books that way–for the format, the convenience, and the instant access. Plus, they’re more affordable and price matters. I like to read, and I’d rather get three or more books with my $30 than one hardcover–which is a win-win for both author and reader as far as I see it:)

  13. Indie publishing = publishing done in either digital or paper format by an indie publishing house (aka small press, aka independent press), i.e., not one of the New York big six (or however many there are left now). Examples are Ellora’s Cave, Indiana University Press, Bleak House, Tyrus Books, Cabinet Des Fees.

    An author repubbing their backlist, or even new works, electronically isn’t necessarily an indie publisher unless they’re providing the same service for other writers under their imprint. Rather, that author is just releasing their work in digital or ebook format. Definitely a semantic issue around the negative associations with self-publishing vs. increasingly not-so-negative associations with digital/electronic publishing, but I pretty much never see something labeled as self-published when it’s been released by an indie publisher, or vice versa.

  14. I think you need to spread out the word – Indeepnedent publisher. Because both are important. But independent doesn’t mean you can’t hire someone to help or. Blackmail or whatever. And digital and paper publishing has independents and I really hope to keep both in business. We have too many monopolies as it is.
    This has been a terrific post and I look forward to the next.

  15. Huh. $700 to scan a book? But there are several places that will do it for $35.00 so I wonder if your Google-Foo needs some work. I’m a print published author who started getting my backlist ePubbed this past February. While I don’t have RITA wins, I have two RITA noms (both last year) So far, my backlist sales are making me smile. A lot, and thats only for 2 of the 5 reverted books I’ve gotten out there.

    My costs are modest, I only had one book that had to be scanned, and that cost me $35.00. I bought 2 copies of that print book (used, of course) 1 for the destructive scanning process and 1 for the person I am paying to proofread the OCT file for me. Then I’ll spend another $35 for a Smashwords-ready Word File (because I don’t have the time or talent) and then $65 to have that Word doc converted to the file formats I don’t want Smashwords to pub for me (Kindle and ePub) I do my own file customizations for those two vendors. I’ve paid anywhere from $300-400 for a cover, so my sunk costs per book are about $500 plus my time for the file customizations. So far, I make back that money and more in the first week.

    There’s no question that epubbing is work. It is, which is why I’m outsourcing as much as I can since I also have print contract obligations. But my ePubbing sales have so far made me, and I am not kidding, 10x what I made in print. For books that earned out.

  16. One of the worst things that happens to a new writer is the Freshman Rush, when a newbie is rushed by a publisher and gets a lot of money and attention and then…the book doesn’t perform. It could be for any reason… Bad timing, bad cover, bad editing, bad whatever… But the author is then scarred for life.

    With the exception of “lots of money”, you could have been talking about me, right to the “scarred for life” part. Thankfully, I’ve changed that to “scarred for several years”.

    This was a great, thoughtful, informed discussion and sharing of experience. Thank you!

    One term to throw out there for those of us who have regained rights to our backlist and are putting them up electronically — Some of us call it Re-published.

    I completely agree with you about putting up work that has not benefited from professional editing. My books went through an edit process with the independent publisher that originally purchased them and I still found errors, but at least they weren’t put out with zero editing. When I finish the next book, I will hire an editor to look at it. I need that expertise.

    I had the electronic files of my books and went through them again to fix as many glitches as possible. I hired to format/code them to produce a .mobi file for Kindle and a .epub file for Nook. I then took the Word file they provided and followed the very easy Smashwords guidelines. I uploaded the files to the three companies myself.

    I am more techno-goober than accomplished geek. I am amazed that the upload process was so easy. Do not fear the upload!

    Barbara, I think your points about the number of titles you have up adding to your success are invaluable. Joe Konrath has 40 ebooks up. That’s a lot of virtual bookshelf space and it has helped him build to the phenomenal momentum and success he’s now enjoying.

    I have two books up. In terms of Internet presence, this is sort of like when my books were in stores next to Danielle Steele’s acre of shelf space and titles. 🙂 I need to put up more content. My first ever completed manuscript never sold, and when I look at it with more experience and years behind me, I can view it objectively. It wasn’t good enough to sell to publishers then and it sure isn’t good enough to offer to readers now.

    I’m working on a volume of a few short stories that are semi-connected to the other books. When finished and packaged, I plan to put up the volume for .99. I think there are readers who will take a chance on a relative unknown for that low a price. If they like what they read, they might extend that chance to a full length novel for 2.99.

    In the first month or so of my repubbing journey, I sold over 80 books, mostly on Amazon. (Jenny, I can attribute at least 10 of those to you linking to them from your blog. Thank you for linking. Thanks to other Argh people who purchased them.) I’m not setting the cyber world on fire but on the other hand, after a couple of months, nobody’s going to yank my books off the Internet store shelves, rip off the covers and return them for a refund. They won’t be remaindered again.

    I have advertising that will kick in this summer. Getting up additional content will also help. I’m only at the beginning of the adventure and republishing is forever.

    In the meantime, insightful discussions like yours help everyone.

  17. Wow, very interesting and enlightening discussion. I am a reader, who has no aspirations of being a writer. I received a colornook for Christmas this last year. I have bought new releases and backlists from favorite authors mostly. I find like JGroves, impatience is a big motivator. I pre-order new releases so I can have them ASAP. Prior to the Nook, I would pre-order or be at Costco on Tuesdays, but i cannot say that the e-book has stopped by buying hardbacks. I have been been to signings and gotten my Nook cover autographed as well as hardback copies. I will always get “real” books for the emotional connections but love the immediacy of the e-books.

    My big frustration is in not finding backlist of some favorites books that I would love to have in the Nook for the portablility. What is the motivation and decision process for publishers to publish backlist. Don’t they have the last 30 years of books or more on some computers somewhere that could be converted. I want to be able to have any book I have ever read on my Nook for instant fixes of great reads!

    I would be very unlikely to purchase an unknown Author-Originated Digital Publishing edition unless it wass recommended by friend or blog I respect. I think marketing of some sort would be an absolute necessity.

    I agree about the graphic art leaving much to be desired on a lot of e-books, but I also miss not being able to read the jacket synopsis of the story. A free download of the first chapter does not do it for me…I like the teaser version from the jackets to whet my appitite for the story.

    I am looking forward to the remainder of your discussion. Thank you both for your thoughts and knowledge!

    1. There are a lot of reasons that publishers don’t put backlists into e-format, but I think the biggest one is that they don’t see enough interest in the titles to justify the expense of re-publishing them. Most publishing houses have huge numbers of backlist titles, many of which will eventually revert to the authors because the publisher hasn’t kept them in print. But some titles will never revert and they get lost in the inventory. That may change now that there’s a resurgence of interest in backlist re-publishing by authors, but you’re talking about thousands and thousands of titles. Unless the author seriously pursues them, most of them are going to stay lost.

  18. Thank you, Ladies, this is a Good and Necessary discussion. As an indie author with no traditional publishing background you might be surprised that I agree with you both, more or less. What makes a great book has always been, and still is, a catchy cover, title and description, some degree of marketing push and excellent writing with input from a good editor. Oh, and a bit of luck thrown in too. Not much has changed there. The real difference is in the numbers an author needs to sell to make a living. Nor is her career over if she doesn’t sell enough of the first book.

    I won’t comment on mid-list and bestselling authors putting out their backlist, but I think I can safely comment on the unpublished writers who’ve trashed their query letters and decided to go all-out indie. I believe they fall into 2 categories:

    Category 1 – the unpublished writer who hasn’t been at this game very long. She’s written a few novels, has the sort of crit group that strokes her ego rather than pushes her to do better, and hasn’t quite got a handle on writing an entire book although her first chapters might do well in contests. Her stuff might be good, it’s just not great.

    Category 2 – the writer who’s been trying to get published for more than ten years and has countless manuscripts under her belt (most of which she now knows are dreck), who has had agents at various times (top ones at that, not fly-by-nighters), and received “fabulous” rejection letters from editors who ultimately couldn’t accept her work because the sub-genre isn’t hot anymore or they just published one like it, or… You get the idea.

    Are these writers just as good as traditionally published authors? Maybe, maybe not, but at least the readers can now decide for themselves, not editors.

    If you have a look at the Top 100 historical romance books on Amazon (I mention this category only because it’s the one I track), you’ll see that it has a few indie authors with no traditional publishing background making appearances. They must have good sales to reach that high and continued good sales to stay there. Are they there because they wrote a bad book? I doubt it and I think the proof is if they have more than 1 book selling well. Readers are obviously coming back for more. I personally don’t put much weight on reviews or ratings unless there’s many. These things are easy to manipulate.

    Sorry for the long post. I love this sort of discussion, it’s healthy and informative and I can’t wait to read what else you have to say. Oh and Barbara, you are so right about covers. Finding stock photos for historicals is hard, finding good ones for the Renaissance is almost impossible.

  19. Wow! Great information from Barbara and Jenny, and the comments generated add even more. Thank you, all!

    Mary Stella, I started out ten years ago with Silhouette Romance, a few years before the lined closed. So far and as far as I’ve been able to tell, Harlequin hasn’t taken them digital. I don’t have any idea why or if they ever will. For me, it’ll be a while before rights will reverse. I’m not holding my breath. 🙂

    For those readers who wondered why all authors aren’t taking their backlist digital, sometimes we can’t. It depends on how far back the backlist goes and whether the publisher is still selling any of the books–even in foreign languages–and continues to own the rights.

  20. OT Request. I need one or two beta readers. I committed myself to writing a novel in serial installments on my blog. The first post went up last Friday. I decided to do it partly because writing had become less than fun and dammit if I can’t make a living at it, I want it to be fun.
    So I’m posting an installment of 3-5000 words every Friday for the next 20-26 weeks, whatever it takes to finish.
    It’s kind of scary cause I really believe in the importance of editors and this is going out unedited.
    However, I have one really excellent beta reader. She doesn’t just read and say this is good. She isn’t afraid to hurt my feelings. Which is good. Because real constructive criticism doesn’t hurt my feelings.
    But I don’t want to be solely dependent on her because that puts too much work / pressure on her and she is already a busy person.
    So, is there anyone out there who would be willing to beta read for my modern gothic romance serial novel? If you go to my blog you can read the first installment as a sample;

  21. This is a great chat – thanks for posting it! Firstly, I’m totally in awe of you both, you could fill any bookshop with your titles alone! Next, this whole area is definitely one that is rapidly changing, and very important for all writers to consider and be aware of. I sold my first romance last year to an e-publisher. For me, this was a great option, because I scored a fabulous editor, a great cover artist, and the support of a team behind me who had experience in the whole business. I didn’t get a paperback to hold though, or space on shelves. :(. My next one also went to an e-publisher, but they produced it in paperback. But still no ‘traditional’ distribution, not on shelves, just available ‘to order’ from the usual places. My debut is on the Joan Hessayon Award shortlist, and I’m off to London on Wednesday to see how it fares. Hopefully a bit of high profile stuff might goose up sales. I’m very much a newbie still, but have sold a book in April, and another one last week, so should have more on the virtual shelves later this year. I think in an ideal world the best way to be is published in multi… trad, e-book and self. Someone who’s had considerable success going the indie route is Catherine Howard, who blogs about how to do it (nuts and bolts) on her blog, Catherine Caffeinated. Her next book is just about to be out which details it all, and might be worth a look.
    Will look in tomorrow, and see if you two come to blows!


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