Tag Archives: epublishing

Updating your ebooks?

About a month ago the internet got all aflutter when it was leaked that George Lucas had messed with his classic once again for the blu-ray release. As you probably know you can’t even buy the original Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi anymore — without Lucas’s little “updates.” He’s added scenes, cgi, and, of course, the imfamous “Noooooo!” Darth Vader utters above.

Some people are cool with these changes. Heck, the kids who watch the films today have no idea a more muppet-like, less special effects Star Wars ever existed. But others are furious that he would mess with a classic…without even allowing fans to purchase the old version. “It’s a moment in time,” my husband says. “And it’s okay if that means today it’s outdated.”

I feel for George. I really do. As an author who loves to ply her novels with pop culture references and slang of the day, as the years go by, the novels can end up sounding dated. So when my publisher told me they were repackaging the first three books in my Blood Coven series, I thought GREAT! Let me fix them! I went through and updated all the pop culture references so the book would seem brand new and of our time. A couple years later, they repackaged the first two books in one volume. Again, I was allowed to pull a George Lucas and update them, much to the annoyance of my husband.

But while I only have the opportunity to update books once every couple years with physical, traditional publishing. With ePublishing, I have the opportunity of always staying fresh. A celebrity mentioned dies? No problem. A slang term goes out of fashion? Fixed! A technology is replaced? No problem. For a writer like me, this is a heavenly prospect. And now I can thumb my nose at anyone who insists books should be “timeless” without slang or pop culture.

Yeah, I wasn't even allowed to play this on the "tame" level....

The other thing that may be possible in the future? Different versions of the book for different audiences. I remember when I was a kid there was an old video game, produced by the makers of Zork called “Leather Goddessses of Phobos.” When you started the game, you could choose your level of “naughtiness” from tame to lewd. Now I don’t know who actually played the game on “tame” (if anyone) but I imagine this could be a huge hit with eBooks, especially amongst romance readers. Some like it hot – others like it sweet and up until now, they have to choose their books and authors by sensuality, rather then plotline. What if authors created two versions of their ebooks? One sweet, one spicy. One that closes the bedroom door and one that pulls back the sheets for you. It could bring the author a ton of new fans.

I think everyone is so busy talking ebook sales and ebooks vs. traditional publishers in terms of advances and author rights and all that. But we really should also be looking at the content possibilities. I mean, Choose your Own Adventure eBook anyone? Piece of cake with hyperlink technology. The possibilities are endless. And I, for one, plan to take full advantage.


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Choosing your role models: Gemma Halliday

There are a lot of articles appearing on blogs and in newspapers these days about authors raking in thousands of dollars a month by putting their backlist or frontlist eBooks up online. Usually these articles are really interesting reading–especially since many of these authors are actually talking real numbers and real money–which is hardly ever done in traditional publishing. They’re also usually pretty inspirational and get me very excited about the possibilities that are out there in the wild, wild west of digital publishing.

But, I realize, I also have be careful, when reading these articles, to look at who’s writing them and what their background might be. For example, it’s amazing that Barbara Freethy just sold her one millionth eBook. Or that Maya Banks is banking $35,000 PER MONTH on digital sales.  And how many freaking books has Amanda Hocking sold now? (By the way – reading and LOVING Hollowland!! Currently free on Kindle or Nook.)

But those aren’t necessarily realistic goals for me. Barbara Freethy is a #1 NYT Bestselling romance author. Maya Banks is also a NYT Times bestseller and has been writing erotica ebooks for years through online publishers. Amanda Hocking started from nothing–she was completely unpublished and built her empire entirely through digital means. (Until recently when she scored a 7 figure contract from St. Martin’s and will add print to the mix.)

None of these authors have the same background as me, so it’s likely my experiences in the epublishing world will differ from theirs. So I try not to create goals based around these success stories. Instead, I look for authors with similar backgrounds. Midlist authors who still publish with traditional publishers but have delved into epublishing to put their backlist online and maybe started doing some frontlist on the side.

"Smart and Stylish!"

And I’ve finally found the perfect poster child! Gemma Halliday. She actually started publishing around the same time as me and though she does mysteries, we have a similar chick lit style. In fact, her editor asked me to do an author blurb for her first book, Spying in High Heels.  (Which I loved and called “Smart and stylish!”)

And lest you think Gemma is just a good writer–she’s also an amazing person. When my house burned down in 2005 and I lost everything, she volunteered to help coordinate a huge writer auction on my behalf. I owe her big!

Well, now it seems that good karma has come back her way. Last year, she put her backlist online as ebooks as well as some new frontlist titles and recently posted a huge milestone. 500,000 ebooks sold–in one year!!  So amazing! I’m really proud of her! (She talks about how she did it — really simply with no upfront expenditure! – here.) And just FYI, she didn’t quit print to do this. She somehow manages to keep up her print contracts and self-publish as well. Exactly what I aim to do.

Talk about a perfect role model. A girl who came from the same humble publishing roots as me. Probably suffered lost royalties from her publisher as I did. But she didn’t cry over spilt cash. She made it back…and then some! Now this is the kind of writer I need to emulate.

Will I be able to also sell 500k next year, just because Gemma and I have a similar background? Who knows? But at least I’ve found someone in my sphere to model myself after and look up to. Someone who has been there, done that, got the “publishing sometimes sucks” t-shirt–but didn’t give up. And is now living the dream.

So Gemma – congratulations on your milestone! I’ll be hopefully following in your footsteps soon! 🙂 And the rest of you? Go check out Gemma’s eBooks. I guarantee you’ll get a great read–and she’ll get closer to her next milestone. One million books!



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Golden Handcuffs

So if digital first publishing is becoming such a force to be reckoned with and self-published authors are raking in the big bucks, why aren’t more traditionally published authors jumping ship and embracing this brave new online world? In a word: advances.

Advances are golden handcuffs for midlist writers. They know if they come up with an idea for a book, write a quick synopsis–maybe a few pages–viola! They get money in the mail. Sure, it isn’t a ton of money. Sure, it takes forever to actually get it. But it’s guaranteed income and permission, of sorts, to continue their writing career.

Self publishing is much more of a gamble. You must write the entire book on spec. Without any advance. Without any guarantee of any money whatsoever. And then there’s the opportunity cost involved. If you’re busy writing for yourself, you’re not writing for a publisher. And not getting advances.

But let’s crunch some numbers here to see if those advances are really worth it. I apologize in advance for any math mistakes and feel free to correct them if you see them. I’m a writer and we’re notoriously bad at numbers!

Let’s say you make a decent $10,000 advance per book and you’ve just received a one book deal from your publisher. It sounds like a windfall, right? Well, not exactly.

Usually publishers will divide up advance payments into thirds. One third on signing. One third on delivery and acceptance. One third on publication.

So your first check, will be $3,333 minus your 15% agent fee. $2,833. Reserve a third for taxes and you’ve got a whopping $1,983 to spend.

Oh and don’t spend that check just yet. First your agent and publisher will have argue over the contract for a few months. Contract negotiations can take a long time–especially with all the new digital clauses publishers are trying to put into them. It’s not unreasonable to assume you won’t see the final contract for 3 months from agreeing to the deal.

Once you sign the contract, you’ll probably have to wait about another month for that check to be processed. So you’re now four months into the process. The point where many genre writers have already finished the book in question. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed in a manuscript before signing the contract.

Then there’s D&A. Authors mostly focus on the “D” –if I ideliver on this date, I’ll get paid. But not so fast. Many editors are so overworked it takes them months to get to your manuscript. I know one author who passed her book in back in April and finally got edits in October. That’s extreme, but still, on average it’ll take your editor at least a month to get to your book. Then you’ll get the revisions. If you’re a genre author, they might not be so heavy. But with YA and middle grade, there might be several rounds of revisions before the manuscript is accepted.

So even if you turned in your book 4 months from the time you agreed to the deal, it could be six months or later before you see that second check.

And then there’s the “on publication” check, which usually comes a month AFTER publication, from my experience. Which can be over a year from when you passed in the book.

So let’s say you get your offer November 1st, 2011.

  • * First check – Februrary 2012
  • * Second check – June 2012
  • * Third check – July 2013

So that $10,000 dollars (or really $5,950 after agent commission and taxes) is spread out over a year and a half minimum.

And then there are the royalties. Which you won’t see for another six months to a year. And even when they do come and you’re lucky enough to earn out? They’ll hold a good percentage of your books “in reserve” just in case a bookstore ends up sending them back and they’re not really sales. And many books don’t earn out at all.

Now let’s look at ePublishing.

You start writing the book November 1st.

You finish the book March 1st.

You hire a freelance editor who gets the job done in 2 weeks. You bang out the edits, have a copyeditor give it a run through, and it’s ready to go up online April 1st.

On May 15th you get your first online check.

Now let’s talk royalties.

Your traditionally published book sold 10,000 copies. You make 75 cent a copy. (Trade paperback based on a standard 7.5 percent royalty rate.)

You’ve made $7,500 and are still $2,500 in the hole on your advance.

Your eBook sold 5,000 copies in the first month – HALF the copies of your traditionally published book.

You make $2.10 a copy. You receive $10,500. And you receive it on May 15th, 2011. In cash. Direct deposited to your bank account.

At this point, you’ve only received your $2,833 from your publisher. And your traditionally published book won’t be out for over a year. But with your eBook you’ve already got  $7,667 in your pocket — money you wouldn’t have collected from your publisher in total for another year and two months.

And that’s just the first month. If you keep selling your ebook monthly – you’ve got a whole extra year to be pulling in income before your traditionally published book even hits store shelves!

Where's Waldo? Or, I mean, my book? Look hard!

Oh and by the way – for those you thinking – but with a traditional publisher, I’ll have my book in the bookstore! That has to count for something, right? – think again. With Borders closed and B&N tightening its belts, many midlist traditionally published books never see the inside of a mainstream bookstore. And if they do? It looks something like this on the left. Can you find my book in the stack? Will readers be able to?

Of course there is one advantage to advances. You don’t have to pay them back. So if you sell ZERO books, with a traditional publisher you’ll still have $10,000. (And a very unhappy publisher.) If you sell zero books online, you won’t make a dime. So there is a risk there, I won’t lie.

Bottom line: are advances really something a midlist author should remain dependent on? Or should we remove the golden handcuffs and take a chance on writing something on spec, for the digital first market? What will end up making us more money in the end?

Only time will tell. But as they say, “Those who dare, win.”

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