Why I Went Indie With My E-books

It’s a question that’s come up a bit since some of my stories came out as e-books on Monday: why did you go with an indie publisher? The answer’s bigger than a tweet, so here I am.

It’s not as though I didn’t have e-books already – my Australian publishers have been releasing them for a few years, and with The Fix we put the p-book and e-book out simultaneously for the first time. It hasn’t been a dream run though (for some of the details, please see my earlier blog ‘So, why are your e-books so expensive’). It’s not easy to compete when your e-book goes out at $32.95 and Amazon is pricing a lot for $10, some for much less and some classics for nothing at all. Okay, so that $32.95 was commonly discounted to $17-23 and Amazon has business reasons for using a lot of e-books as loss leaders, but that’s beside the point. It’s hard to sell books to people other than committed fans if it appears that yours cost three times as much as those of other writers.

But there was something else at stake as well: I wanted to sell my wares in the world’s big English-language e-book markets, and my experience at home had me thinking about how best to do that.

My background is in using agents to sign my work up to big publishers for whatever advance they’ll commit to, and seeing a mixture of results beyond that. I’ve worked with some great people, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve got a job out of it. I’m not ungrateful. And big publishers still have some things that can potentially work in their favour in the world of e-books – they have scale, brands, budgets and the value-add of some great editors.

But we’re facing the biggest changes in the book industry since 1450 and it’s happening at warp speed, and the big multinationals that mastered twentieth-century publishing will need to be agile and as fast as change itself to leverage any advantages their heritage gives them. And that’s not what they’re known for.

Then I took a look at who’s dominating the Kindle Store, and I saw vampires, the James Patterson franchise and a bunch of brand new names who must be doing something right and who generally aren’t being published by the big publishers. I’m not James Patterson, and I don’t do vampires – not yet, anyway – so I wondered if I needed to be one of the other people, even though I wasn’t brand new.

I couldn’t see my backlist and my short fiction being a US mega-publisher’s top priority. On top of that, I’m probably not operating in the right genre. I could maybe aspire to be slotted back into a mid-list that’s  shrinking faster than a Do-Not-Tumble-Dry garment in a tumble dryer, but I didn’t want to vanish with it.

So, I thought, is there somewhere I’d matter more? Somewhere that wants to take all this change as a chance to find a new way of doing things, and a way that might fit with what I’m looking for? Somewhere that’s putting practically all its eggs in the e-basket and that has to make it work? Somewhere that sees it as a world of opportunity, rather than a demon to wrestle, stare down or try to push past? Somewhere that sees this seismic shift in the way we bring stories to market as a chance to find a new way of doing business as well?

A while back I made a wish list of features that company might have – I tried to be fresh in my thinking too.

I wanted someone who knew e-books – both the product and the business – and who had that as their primary concern. I wanted to matter to them, and I wanted them to need to sell my e-books.

I wanted someone with a new licensing model, rather than someone pasting an e-books clause in to the old rights model that’s evolved over the 300 years we’ve had copyright.

I wanted someone who, if they had or heard a great new idea on a Monday morning, could already be some way to implementing it by Monday afternoon, rather than have to explain it over and over to people in committee meetings for a year or two before getting the go-ahead (or not).

I wanted someone who wanted to sell my novels AND my novellas AND my short stories, and who knew that kind of thing was already happening, how to do it and how to price it, rather than someone only having ideas like that as 2011 comes to a close (or later).

I wanted someone who would bring all the passion and enthusiasm for my work that the best in-house editors of Big Publishing bring when they think they’ve found a diamond in the slush pile and take it to a jaded marketing meeting planning to fight for it to their last breath.

And I wanted someone my agent, who knows more about these things than I do, was happy for me to work with.

And that’s why I made the choice I did – both to go indie and to go with Will Entrekin and Exciting Press. While I’m not for a second backing away from paper publishing or from my home market or from bricks-and-mortar booksellers – I still shop there myself, after all, and I still read paper books – I need to be in the US e-book market, I need to be there now and this feels like a great opportunity to take my stories on a new adventure.

That’s not to say I won’t work with big US publishers as well in the future, if they want me and I want them and we agree on the terms. Some publishers, I know, are setting up e-only divisions that might have some of the agility authors are looking for. Some might well be doing great work right now, without having to do that. But I don’t have the time to do endless research to discover who’s doing what, and then try to catch their eye. I want to be a writer, not an expert. I want to write stories, I don’t want to have to spend all my time unraveling how an industry’s working (or not) and understanding the intricacies of DRM (for one recent view on that, please see this from Charlie Stross: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2011/11/cutting-their-own-throats.html)

It’s time to make my move, and I’ve moved. And I’ve glad I’ve made the move I have. I’m in the game, and now I can again direct all my creative energy to the writing, in the hope of turning out the best stories I can.

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3 Responses to Why I Went Indie With My E-books

  1. Jenny says:

    Congratulations on making a good, challenging choice. I published with Smashwords – you just have to get the formatting right and they don’t even read it – and they’ll publish anything from a Spanish novel about purple socks for aliens to a guide to painting your cat, written in Norwegian.

    Best news is you’re still planning to turn out good stories. No matter what format, that’s gotta be worth it!

  2. Carmel Bird says:

    It sounds as if this will really work. I was so pleased to see you had written about it. Nice and clear.

    • nickearls says:

      Thanks Carmel. I think it’s an approach that’s worth a go. It feels as if it’s not hard to publish an e-book, but probably quite easy to get lost. I hope this will decrease the likelihood of that.

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