Monday, March 03, 2008

Why You Should Take Digital Fiction Seriously

The book publishing world is a hard if not brutal business. I know 50 outstanding writers that don’t stand a chance of getting published by the mainstream industry and of this group each writer in turn probably knows another 50 and so exponentially we’re looking at 1000 writers with books that under regular circumstances wouldn’t stand a chance of making it. But the good news is there’s a whole world of opportunities opening up in the digital publishing arena. Before I go into that I want to tell you the typical cycle from writer to literary agent to a mainstream publishing house.

The average literary agent gets 150 queries a day from writers hoping to get their book published. The agent chooses to represent roughly 1% of these books. Agents pitch these books to the publishers who get thousands of manuscripts a year to review. An editorial committee at the publishing house then decides what books to take, but that’s not the end of the cycle. The committee still has to convince marketing that the book will earn out its royalties and advances. One naysayer at a publishing house can literally kill the book’s chances of getting published.
Novels by the established, the well known, the trendy and celebrity types with ghost writers have a greater chance of getting a book published than many talented writers.

Fortunately, digital publishing has arrived on the scene and with the potential to revolutionalize the publishing industry. This means every word, image, sound, animation, and movie can be delivered as a series of digital ones and zeros. In a word, digital publishing has changed our definition of books.

Today digital publishing is anything from an electronic (e-Book), CD-ROM, to a paper-based book or hybrid with Internet inactivity. Many of you have heard the term print on demand. This utilizes digital technology. It’s a means many independent and small presses have adopted to get their books out there and so have the likes of Harper Collins. Often times when book stores today purchase books they are printed on demand to keep costs of production down. It’s a little known cost saving secret and how the publishing industry is evolving.

What digital publishing has done for the book world is to level the playing field and give independent presses a chance to publish the kinds of books they want. More importantly it gives readers a chance to read books beyond just what the mega-conglomerate publishing houses produce.

Most of the mainstream publishers go with what’s safe and proven to make money. It’s less and less about art and more and more about dollars. This is where small digital presses have a chance to offer readers something different and to in turn give new generations of talented writers a chance.

Yes, talent, that’s what you’ll find in the digital realm in my not so humble opinion. It’s fast becoming a home for bold fiction that’s not afraid to take chances much like independent films. As more and more legions of writers are shut out by the main stream publishing conglomerates they will have no choice, but to seek out other avenues. For this reason some may liken digital publishing to self-publishing. While it’s true that anyone can publish something digitally, it doesn’t mean that by association digital book publishers are places to shun or disrespect.

This neglects the marketplace and the recognition that there are a plethora of well respected independent publishers such as Double Dragon Press, Zumaya, Mundania Press, SynergEbooks, New Concepts Publishing, Boson Books, C & M Online, Samhain Publishing, Echelon Press, Silk’s Vault and countless others who choose to offer books digitally. Not to mention the major distribution channels established for ebooks, including Fictionwise, and Mobipocket.

Even the mainstream publishers recognize the dynamic medium that digital books offer. Most of them now have ebook divisions and are seeking to capitalize on the vast Internet audience, the massive amounts of people using PDAs and other mobile devices that support ebook readers. Last fall, Harlequin announced that 40% of its new titles would be issued as ebooks.

The September 5, 2007 article in the New York Times, Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books, talked about’s Kindle, an electronic book reader priced at $400 to $500. It mentioned that the Kindle’s ability to wirelessly connect to an e-book store on Amazon’s site is a significant advance over older e-book devices, which must be connected to a computer to download books or articles.

Google also has plans to start charging users for digital copies of books in their database. Despite these two major Internet leaders’ plans to further their reach in the digital publishing market along with the respected publishers in the ebook marketplace, legions of consumers still don’t view digital books as real books. Many consumers in turn are hesitant to purchase ebooks, even though they are vastly cheaper than their paperback counterparts, not to mention the environmental factor of saving trees. In turn many traditional book reviewers will not consider reviewing a digital book. The authors of ebook, digital produced print on demand bookss and even epublishers at times feel like Rodney Dangerfield uttering his famous refrain, “I don’t get no respect.”

It’s time to recognize digital books as real books and applaud digital publishers for giving talented authors a chance. Let’s recognize that they are entrepreneurs living out the American Dream and carving a niche in a difficult market. After all, thousands of very good books are turned down by the mainstream publishers every year for the basic reason that they are not commercial enough…i.e. they won’t generate enough cash.

If you love books, support a digital literary writer by reading and reviewing their books. Good books deserve to be given a chance. This is your literary future, your legacy.


Written by Julie Ann Shapiro

Freelance writer , flash fiction writer and author of Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries


Anonymous said...

Wiht digital publishing available on Amazon, the only bar to getting material to the reader is the mareketing ability of the writer, and that is just as true of analog books.

I'd love to interview and promote digital writers, so I'll be keeping an eye out on your blog.

lainey bancroft said...

Brilliant, Julie Ann!
Very well stated. I started an article for a magazine (Digital Journal) on this very topic. I may quote you...but not without contacting you first, of course.

And for the record, I hesitated to enter the epublishing world, but I am so, soooo glad I did. As a writer--I've had fantastic feedback--but every bit as importantly, as a reader. I can honestly say, the e-pubbed books I've read recently are equivalent, if not superior--to traditional publishers.

Hey, 20 years ago I wouldn't have imagined I'd be listening to my music on a device not much bigger than a potato peeler...the ebooks are coming!

Terry Odell said...

There are still obstacles to overcome: formatting issues and affordable readers, but even more important is to erase the stigma of an electronic book being 'inferior' to its print counterparts. Also, the misconception that POD equals "self published".

I think this is the beginning, and the industry is still in its infancy, but it should continue to grow.

As an author with books both in print and digital formats, and as a reader who just plain doesn't have room for many more books, e-books should fill a much-needed niche.