J.C. Martin, Fighter Writer

Reading, writing, and fighting–the three joys of life!

FoW’12: The E-Book Revolution


The rise of the e-book.
(Click for image source)

This was a discussion panel chaired by Harry Bingham, founder of the Writers’ Workshop, and featured panellists from various areas of the publishing industry: a British agent, an American agent, a publisher, and self-pubbed author David Gaughran. As can be expected, the debate swung towards traditional versus self-publishing, and it was a fierce one. Here are just some interesting points raised:

The Transatlantic e-book divide
  • There is mutual agreement that the UK is up to 2 years behind the US in terms of embracing the e-book. This Christmas is expected to bring about another e-book boom in the UK.
  • Based on the popularity of e-books in the States today, it will only be a matter of time before they take off here as well
  • Considering this, self-publishing is becoming more and more of a viable option for writers to pursue, resulting in higher royalty rates compared to the agency model
  • Agents and publishers need to learn to adapt in this fast-changing climate: publishers have had to review old contracts to include an e-book clause, and some agencies have become publishers themselves in a way by re-releasing their clients’ back-lists and out-of-print titles in e-book form.
Amazon monopoly

Amazon’s stranglehold on the e-book market.
(Click for image source)

The Amazon monopoly
  • Whilst the US has got the Nook and Barnes & Noble, here in the UK, the Kindle and Amazon appears to be monopolising the e-book market
  • Now that Amazon is becoming a publisher in its own right, with various imprints, competition has become even tougher for both publishers and self-pubbed authors alike
E-book price wars
  • With a smaller overhead, self-published authors can afford to sell their e-books at very low prices, something traditional publishers cannot compete against
  • But does this devalue the worth of an e-book, and the hard work of the writer?
  • Does a low price mean low quality? (Interestingly, here’s an article I came across about the most expensive e-books on the market)
  • It is also worth noting that despite the successes of many self-published authors, the top spots in the Amazon e-book rankings remain monopolised by books from traditional publishers
  • One suggestion for traditional publishers to remain competitive is to offer a free e-book copy to every reader who purchases a hardback of their book

“You shall not pass!”
(Click for image source)

Publishers as gatekeepers of quality
  • While the agents and publisher both agree that there are some very well-written self-published books out there, they are concerned that these are overshadowed by the masses of poor quality works. How do you make your work stand out from the crowd? How can a reader separate the wheat from the chaff? With so many e-books on the market, having a publisher’s name behind a title is similar to having someone knowledgable recommend a book to you
  • Self-pubber David Gaughran argued that the majority of readers may be able to name their favourite book and author, but how many can actually name the publisher said book or author is published under?
  • While publishers being gatekeepers of quality may by and large be true, there are examples of traditionally published  books by big-name authors with glaring errors in them
  • David Gaughran explained how he maintains the quality of his self-published works, including investing in a good editor and cover designer. After all, his name is his brand, and he would not want to tarnish it with low-quality products
  • He also mentioned the great flexibility allowed self-published authors to publish what they wish, regardless of market trends, and when they wish. (Susan Kaye Quinn has an interesting post on innovative self-publishers taking advantage of this flexibility)
  • The question was raised as to just how critical and honest an editor would be if he/she was being paid by a self-pubbed writer to edit their work. And with the lack of a gatekeeper, could the quality of the story and not the writing, limit just how much an editor can help polish up a book?
  • Finally, the agents assured us that they will happily consider a client who has previously self-published successfully, although the definition for “success” varies wildly between the UK and US: in the UK, selling 7,500 copies of your e-book may be considered a success, but in the States, they will be looking at 25,000 copies and up!
  • One word of warning though: the publisher explained that sometimes a self-publisher’s success could be their downfall. Publishers may not want to take on a self-pubbed title that has sold, say 7,000 copies, because that’s 7,000 readers that has already purchased the book, and so will not purchase it again when the publishers re-release the title.

As with many of these panels, it is fair to say that many of us came away with more questions than answers, but it was nevertheless an interesting panel.

What are YOUR thoughts? Is Amazon becoming the world’s biggest slush pile? Are poorly edited self-published titles giving reputable self-pubbed authors a bad name? Are there ways to assure the quality of a self-published e-book you purchase?

P.S.: In other news, The Bawdy Book Blog is featuring an excerpt of Oracle today! If you’ve not read the book, click over and check it out!


15 Responses to “FoW’12: The E-Book Revolution”

  1. I’ve read traditionally published books that were awful and self-published titles that were great. I guess you just have to read the excerpt before downloading to avoid bad ones.
    Isn’t the Nook coming to Europe soon?

    • J.C. Martin says:

      Same here. Some big six published books are terrible, and there are some awesome self-pubbed books out there. And you’re right, looks like the Nook is coming to WH Smiths, a local stationery store. Hopefully it’ll loosen the stranglehold Amazon has on the European e-book market.

  2. Budd says:

    Amazon is a huge slush pile right now. If you just search a genre, you have to wade through it and hope you get lucky. Blog reviews are becoming pretty important as you can go to amazon with a book or author in mind. Smart self published authors will spend extra money on a professional looking cover and charge $6.99-$9.99 (the going price for most publishing house e-books), thereby fooling people into thinking it isn’t self published.

    • J.C. Martin says:

      It’s true that genuine reviews are a useful indication of a book’s quality. However, one of the main talk of the Festival is the prevalence of paid-for or bogus reviews. Even bestselling crime writer RJ Ellory has been caught out in the act of “sockpuppeting”. It’s a shame that bona fide, well thought out reviews are being overshadowed by these “self” reviews.

      Smart self-published authors will not only invest in proper cover designs and formatting, they will also ensure that their work is of the highest quality possible. After all, it’s a business investment, and you gotta make a good first impression!

  3. Budd says:

    The blogs I was referring to are not necessarily book review blogs, but blogs that you read that also have book reviews. It is possible that someone that I follow is a paid shill, but not likely. Obviously, no book is perfect, so if are reading a reviewer and every book is, then you have someone that isn’t very trustworthy.

    I think Twilight and Davinci Code have taught us that the book doesn’t have to have quality in order to sell, but yes, if you are self publishing, you need to make your stuff the best you can, but my trick was for getting people to pick it up off the shelves (or eshelves or whatever). that $2.99 price point screams self published and most people aren’t going to look any farther than that. The link on most expensive ebooks also linked to free and cheap publishing house books. Just from a quick browse, I don’t want anything of the publishing houses at the free to $3.99 price points either unless it is something in the public domain. Pricing something at its value will generally sell you more than if you price it too low.

    • J.C. Martin says:

      At the end of the day, word of mouth from trusted sources are the way to go. How you can garner these positive reviews, though, is a whole new challenge. I agree that there are some poor books that somehow made it on the bestsellers list, both traditionally and self-published, proving that you really cannot predict what will sell and what wouldn’t.

      Although I do agree that a book’s price should reflect its value, I have read some excellent books priced at $2.99. Also, as someone who still holds on to print books, I find it hard to part with any more money for a packet of data instead of a bound paper copy.

  4. Duncan says:

    Hi JC,

    Yes I would say first impressions are the most important factor in selecting a book! But also with everythinf else in life too.

    • J.C. Martin says:

      True, Duncan. Which is why it surprises me that the market is saturated with shoddily self-published books with dodgy covers and typos galore, when in the long run it will only hurt their brand.

  5. Johanna says:

    Great break down of industry news. I wish there was some kind of review board for indie books, an indie reviewer for the indies. Sometimes it feels a little like wading through the slush pile which can be discouraging to people who are just discovering the indie market and turn them off from the amazing gems.

    • J.C. Martin says:

      Very true Johanna, however there are some indie review sites — plenty, in fact. Just Google “indie review sites” and you’ll see. The challenge is finding one whose opinions you trust.

  6. Angela Brown says:

    After reading high and poor quality books, whether traditionally or self-published, I just keep on swimming through the ocean of books out there.

    I stopped, long before there was this need to define gatekeepers or anything, focusing on publisher name. It is something I look at for the sake of looking at who is publishing what genre. But to make up my mind on what to get, I go by what satisfies my need at the time.

    • J.C. Martin says:

      I too mainly go by a combination of gut instincts, the book cover, and the back cover blurb, but even then I’ve come across books with fantastically intriguing blurbs but the story itself falls short. I suppose it’s down to readers to try and separate the wheat from the chaff.

  7. Thanks for the shout out! Great post. :)

  8. Interesting discussion. As a reader, I have the advantage of downloading samples of any books that catch my eyes. Those chapters are enough to tell me whether I want to read the book. This goes for both self-published and traditionally published books.

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