Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Cheap Shortcut To E-Oblivion

He’s an award-winning author and an agent, and he self-publishes his own ebooks, but it may be coming time for some enterprising publisher to employ Allan Guthrie as a commissioning editor. Allan was one of the contributors, along with Stephen Leather, Susanne O’Leary and Victorine Lieske, to a feature I had published in the Irish Times yesterday on the subject of epublishing, where he suggested that the publishing industry is missing a trick in not utilising the new technology to its own advantage. To wit:
“I find it odd,” says Guthrie, “that at a time when ebook sales are escalating, more publishers aren’t setting up ebook-only imprints and acquiring titles for those new lines like there’s no tomorrow. It seems like a no-brainer to me that you could put out cheap digital editions first, see what flies, and produce paper versions of the more successful ones (and print on demand for the others). So to me it seems that digital and print can be complementary. But then, I’m not a publisher. At least, not of anyone other than myself.”
  For the rest of the feature, clickety-click here
  There’s a podcast that dovetails with the feature, in which yours truly, Anna Carey and Fintan O’Toole chat about epublishing and the future of genre publishing in Ireland. Both Anna and Fintan make the same point about epublishing, as did a number of people who contacted me from the publishing industry in the wake of the feature’s publication, which is that epublishing isn’t as simple as it looks, particularly in terms of the need for an editor. With which point I agree wholeheartedly - my own ebook, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, was a previously published title which benefited from having an editor. I’d further suggest that an editor isn’t the only requirement: if you’re going to successful at self-publishing as an e-author, you’ll need (among other things, including a bloody good book) a professional to design your cover, another to format / typeset the work, and you’ll also need to invest heavily (time or money) in promotion. In other words, readers are fully entitled to expect the same quality from their ebooks as they would from a conventionally published title. Any writer who believes epublishing is a cheap shortcut to getting published is taking a cheap shortcut to oblivion.
  For that podcast, clickety-click here


Melissa said...

Sorry to bust your bubble Dec, but if the last sentence of your post has any truth to it, then how do you explain Amanda Hocking? Her books are poorly edited, not necessarily well-written and she designed her own covers (and you can tell!) and yet she still somehow found a huge, devoted, and loyal audience who loves her work. Maybe you're not quite as expert as you'd like to appear to be?

Declan Burke said...

Hi Melissa -

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

As for your query about Amanda Hocking - and she's by no means the only 'indie' success story - I can only say that there's an exception to every rule, although I'll also say that I haven't read any of her books, so I'm in no position to comment on their quality.

I do know, though, that Amanda Hocking employed editors to work on her books. If you're saying that those editors did a poor job on her stories, I'll have to take you at your word.

Without having read Amanda Hocking's books, I'd suggest that her success - and good luck to her - was at least in part derived from the fact that she spent in excess of 40 hours per week promoting her work.

In the long run, and looking at the big picture, and as with any other success story in any other creative endeavour, the vast majority of people who succeed will be those who play close attention to detail and presentation.

Finally, it's entirely probable that I'm not quite as expert as I'd like to appear to be. Few people are. But if you believe that there is a cheap and easy way to succeed in publishing, I'd very politely suggest that you're wrong.

Cheers, Dec

Damaris said...

I'd have to agree with Declan that there's not a "Cheap and easy" way to self-publishing success. The first rule is as it always has been: write a good book, and that's not easy though not financially expensive. (Unless you count your hours working on the book as billable hours.)

I spend dozens of hours editing and formatting and making the covers for my ebooks. Let's say at a minimum 50 hours (after the writing which involves a lot of editing as well) and if I were to be paid $10 an hour, that would be $500 invested. And I would not say I've achieved "success" yet. ("Ever hopeful," says the man with the betting slip in hand...)

Dana King said...

Guthrie may be understating his point. It's more than odd, it's ignoring the elephant in the room, and it shows why publishing has been such a mess. They're behind the curve, and they like it there.

I think of Amanda Hocking more as a lottery winner than an e-publishing success story.

John McFetridge said...

Lately I've been looking at the covers of pulp novels from the 50's and 60's. "Rex Parker has a great blog.

It's possible that the self-published e-books are to publishers today what those pulps were to publishers then. Almost an entirely seperate market.

Anonymous said...

How did you get the idea Amanda Hocking spent 40+ hours a week promoting her books? That couldn't be further from the truth.

All Amanda did (and this came straight from her in a bewildered email) was to as a few book blogs to review her novels. From there it was all word of mouth. She did nothing special (other than re-write Twilight with Trolls instead of Vampires) and worked no harder than the guy next to her selling 10 copies a month.

Declan Burke said...

Damaris - Counting your writing time as 'billable hours' is as good a way I know of going slowly insane. I can totally commiserate ...

Dana - I think Amanda Hocking is the exception to the rule, definitely.

John - There's a strong element of truth in the idea of self-pubbed ebooks being an almost separate market to the mainstream industry, but your analogy is in line with Al Guthrie's, I think - the best and / or most popular writers will be co-opted by the mainstream.

Anonymous - Try googling 'Amanda Hocking 40 hours' for the lady's own take on this.

I don't know the ins and outs of Amanda Hocking's story, but given that I've been scrabbling around the margins of the publishing industry for the best part of a decade now, I'd imagine it took a hell of a lot more work than asking a few book blogs to review her books. Maybe the guy next to her is working every bit as hard as her, I really don't know. It's possible she worked smarter, or had better books to sell.

Cheers, Dec

John McFetridge said...

Yes, I think the most popular will be co-opted by the traditional publishing industry - or will at least be made offers. Some, like Ms. Hocking will take those offers, others may not.

One thing about Ms. Hocking that I think is also a factor is the amazing output she's managed. Her Wikipedia entry says she wrote 17 novels while working full-time. Not many writers can put out 17 good novels in their whole lives. So, like Stephen King, she is different than most of us and probably can't really be used as an example.

But e-books, like the pulps, offer a way for some writers to make some money. Some will probably do it under pen names and some will never break out into the mainstream.

Michael Malone said...

Another good example is Gordon Ferris. He apparently sold about 50,000 e-books over the xmas holidays and then got a mainstream deal. Thing is, the hardback release was so quick I have suspicions as to how the whole thing came about.

mk carver said...

Perhaps what the first poster was trying to say, in more polite terms if you will, is that the rules in terms of presentation, formatting and quality and their relation to a title's success have changed a bit. The price point at which Amanda Hocking offers her books, (at $2.99 and below) offers her more leeway shall we say in terms of the kind of quality that readers are willing to accept.

I have read several comments on her books in the Apple iBookstore of readers complaining about the frequent misspellings in her work but who also write that they were willing to overlook those flaws because the book was $2.99 instead of $12.99. So long as mainstream publishers stick to the agency model and seek prices at their comfort-level, there will likely always be room for writers like Hocking who price their work more cheaply.