An ebook is a book in what may be, for some, an unfamiliar format. This necessitates the reader to get used to different methods of reading and storing books, but the end product is still that of a story. The writer has other differences to consider between electronic and print markets.
First, there are seldom advances. Some publishers have introduced a small advance but generally, this is not the case and don’t expect the type of up-front payment as the ‘big six’ might offer if they feel a book has the potential to be a bestseller. To be fair, many mid-stream print publishers aren’t so free with initial payouts. When offered, these prepayments aren’t always as large as they once were and based on a number of books a publisher ‘expects’ to sell. I’ve heard of huge advances withdrawn if an acceptable manuscript isn’t delivered and, in some instances, if books simply don’t retail well and meet expectation. Advice is, don’t spend an advance — bank it for a good while.
Print books are often also released electronically now whereas predominately electronic books aren’t going to make the shelf in a local bookstore, not unless they eventually go to print, or the shop has the facilities to offer electronic books as part of its ‘stock’. Maybe not even then. Many printed books never make it to local shops, either, and require ordering, but let’s not forget technology is advancing. Predictions are one day a book ‘shop’ may consist of a catalogue and a screen from which to order, the books appearing ‘magically’ as some sort of electronic download or almost instant POD (Print on Demand. While this sounds like science-fiction such scientific applications are being considered and in development.
The good news for the writer is royalties on ebooks are higher and here’s where the ebook author has a difficult choice. Print books are wonderful and many writers will say they long for their titles to be in print. They may read ebooks themselves and love them, but the writer wants to hold their work as something ‘solid’. Touch makes something feel more actual. It may be why many mistakenly conclude the electronic markets aren’t real publishing, while others love being able to cart a library around on a small device that fits into a pocket. In context, there are those who say emails aren’t real letters but the technology still transfers information effectively. However, the writer also needs to consider he or she can earn approximately 25, 35 or 50% in royalties from an ebook. From a print book, royalty payments can be as low as 7%. Let that sink in for a minute before I add a writer can earn more in royalties from an ebook but these titles may not have such a wide distribution, so the potential to sell fewer copies, though this has improved through distributor networks more recently. As more mainstream titles appeared in electronic formats so more companies became distributors just as they would with print, and even printed works can have the same problem with limited markets and outlets.
Now we move to why ebooks cost so much. After all, they skip the printing stage. Yes, they do, but this is another matter for those who scorn ebooks to consider. Printing is the ONLY element that the ebook skips. This is a rough guide only based on experience but consider the levels a story goes through before release.
When submitted to a publisher the submission goes to a reader. A reader may be an editor at the publishing house or a reader only, but either way, from a synopsis and first three chapters, a reader will decide whether to ask for the entire manuscript. If the reader likes the draft, they’ll pass it on, discuss it with others in the publishing house including management, and a team will decide whether to offer a contract. This is especially true if the writer is an unknown name to them. An editor is assigned and the work goes through the editing process. Some publishers allow a writer to work with a single editor for all work submitted. Sometimes, publishers simply hand the next book scheduled for editing to an available editor. I much prefer building up a relationship with an editor, to learn how we both work, and where we can trust each other. This can make for less friction and time wasted. Depending on how much attention the work needs, it may go through one, two, three, or more edit rounds before the line-editing department provides a fresh ‘set of eyes’ to look the story over. This time, the book is specifically checked for punctuation errors, house-style etc., and even obvious story problems. When one or two line editors are finished, the work is returned to the main editor who will look at the changes before sending them on to the writer. The writer and editor collaborate and, once happy, send the work to the proofing department. A final effort is made to spot any errors before the book is formatted* and ready for release. The writer may or may not get to proof the final galley. (*Some formatting is often left to the author, but I’ll not go into that this time.)
While this sounds like a leisurely process, it isn’t. I’ve grown used to “Can we have this yesterday?” It’s often a fraught time. Think of all the effort that goes into this editing procedure. As much as I love my books when I’ve gone through all the revisions I do prior to submitting and all these edits, and considering that I try to re-read at every opportunity, by the time the book is published I’m feeling a little sick of it. Also, keep in mind most writers work part-time if not full-time as well as write. Many editors do likewise. In some instances, so do the publishers. Many companies, with the exception of extremely large publishing houses, are run as secondary businesses. Management, editors, line editors, proofers, and the authors all give of their so-called ‘spare’ time — a phrase that quickly becomes an in-house joke. When considering the number of man-hours, it makes the financial rewards paltry.
There’s also the cost of cover art. Early on the writer may be required to submit a cover art request to provide an idea of the book’s subject. Providing the artist with enough details takes considerably more thought than many expect. Some publishing houses ask the writer to ‘okay’ the cover, some don’t. I’ve heard of some authors being extremely upset by their book covers. I’m sure there are good and bad examples in all markets but, so far, my comments have almost always been taken into consideration. Covers can range from quite cheap to expensive.
Wait. We’re not finished. Who writes the blurb? That’s the short teaser on the back cover of a printed book to get the reader interested in buying. Often, that’s the job of the author, too. A publisher may change the blurb completely or simply tweak it, but the author has to provide an original and full blurb. The writer also has to submit a new story with a synopsis and usually needs to maintain a website. The author needs to promote, though if with a good publisher the company will do at least of a portion of promoting, too. Some now request a whole marketing strategy along with a manuscript. I’d be wary if the publisher asks for this without any indication of what they will do in return, but it is a part of modern-day publishing. A writer’s best ability is to be accomplished at marketing. Promotion shouldn’t be left entirely to the author but any ‘wannabe’ needs to know they are expected to play their part. For the writer who envisages the romantic image of sitting at a desk tapping happily away, one work after the other, nothing could be further from the truth.
This still looks as if I’ve not answered why ebooks can cost as much to produce as print. One reason is the difference in those royalties, but we’re not talking millions made by the writer or publisher. Not these days. What this means in terms of actual money, I’ll cover another time, but in brief, an ebook goes through the same or similar process as most printed books. Only the final stage — the format it’s produced in — differs, and this can take ‘more effort’ because there are many types of files available now. Glitches can happen. Returns for errors create more work and cost.
As for whether to read ebooks…as much as choosing what book to read is about choice, so should choosing the format in which one wishes to read be an act of free-will. I’d be devastated to see print books disappear, but I like to own a collection of both if for no other reason than much-needed space. Something else to consider is that I made my decision to write for an e-publisher based on what I could see happening to the book market in general. Although erotic publishers were at the forefront and the mainstay of the e-publishing market for a long time, books face strong competition. Many people struggle to find the time to read. The way ALL books are produced is changing, with even large mainstream publishers turning to POD technology and electronic formats. I own the works of Poe both in print and ebook. When considering publishing I decided not to turn my back on what might happen to the future of books. I could see many who sneer being taken by surprise. The author who turns their back on the idea of change could risk being left behind, and may miss out on some wonderful opportunities.