Monday, June 13, 2011

E-BOOKS - RIDING THE WAVE by Gary Jonas

Gary Jonas, author of One-Way Ticket to Midnight, and the upcoming books, Quick Shots and Modern Sorcery, is our guest blogger for this week.
A few days ago, a friend and I were discussing e-books.  He’d noticed that my novel, One-Way Ticket to Midnight was available but that the rank wasn’t particularly impressive on Amazon.  He asked if I’d hopped onto the surfboard to ride the wave too late.
Some authors who never went the traditional publishing route have become self-published sensations - people always point to John Locke (author of the Donovan Creed series) and Amanda Hocking (author of the My Blood Approves series).  Amanda made a big splash earlier this year by signing with St. Martins Press for a two million dollar advance that had people raving that she’d made a bad decision.  Sorry, if someone offers you two million dollars to publish four books and it’s your first foray into traditional publishing, you are not crazy for accepting that deal.  This came the same week that Barry Eisler turned down five hundred grand to go self-publish his next John Rain novel (though that will now be published by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint - more on that in a moment).
Amanda is clearly a smart woman because she knows she can get the best of both worlds.  The big New York publishers are outstanding at pushing print books when they get behind them (and with a two million dollar investment they will get behind them).  This will increase her visibility to the general public who will then find her self-published e-books (or the print versions from CreateSpace) and buy those.  It’s a no-lose scenario for her.
With John Locke, he’s priced all of his e-books at 99 cents.  The Creed novels are very short, which works quite well for e-books.  Someone pays a buck and they enjoy a ride for an evening.  Locke knew he needed to have a bunch of books out before he’d get noticed, but that when people found him they’d want more books.  He was right.  While Locke is certainly not going to win any awards for his writing or his plotting so far (I read Saving Rachel, which had believability problems out the wazoo and was uneven at best, but one thing Locke has going for him is that he keeps you turning the pages … or pressing the button to get to the next page).  While I’m unlikely to buy the rest of his e-books, I can see the appeal.  They’re quick reads and he has some clever bits in them.  Give him a year or two and his writing will improve and his plotting will improve and I predict that before too long he’s going to be firing on all cylinders and will grow into a terrific novelist.  He hears the music - he just has to get tuned in the rest of the way.  I will sample him again next year to see how far he’s come.
Barry Eisler time.  When he announced that he’d signed with Thomas & Mercer a lot of people cried out that he was a hypocrite.  That was not my impression.  My feeling was that they must have made him a great deal and allowed him to keep a lot of creative control or he wouldn’t have signed with them.  When Eisler did part three of his ongoing blog-chats with Joe Konrath he went into great detail about why he chose to go with them.  Long story short, I was right.  Eisler is not only a terrific writer (if you haven’t read the John Rain books, you need to add them to your To-Read stack - you can thank me later), but he’s a smart businessman and he’s not afraid to go where he’s going to get the best deal regardless of what other people think.  For the record, he is still doing self-publishing as is Joe Konrath, they’ve both signed deals with Thomas & Mercer, but they can still do other projects on their own, too.
Those of us who’ve signed with Sky Warrior Books have our own reasons and goals when it comes to e-books.  Some people think we’re crazy for giving away what amounts to fifty percent of the royalties to a publisher for things we could get done for paying a flat fee once and then the rest of the money that comes in would be ours.  To some degree, those people are right.  Dean Wesley Smith is someone who talks about this quite a bit on his blog.
Using myself as an example here, by this time next year, I should have five e-books published by Sky Warrior Books.  That’s five books where I’m splitting the royalties down the middle with my publisher.  I could have taken One-Way Ticket to Midnight, Quick Shots, Modern Sorcery, Acheron Highway and Razor Dreams and done the self-publishing thing.  I could have paid a cover artist a flat fee to do the art and paid someone else to format the books for Kindle & Nook & SmashWords and the rest or learned to do all that myself, which is time spent away from writing.  I could have paid an editor to go over each book.  Then I could have uploaded them and done my own promotion, which as an author you have to do anyway, and the money that came in would be all mine.
Why didn’t I go that route?
For the same reason many authors aren’t putting their extensive backlists up as e-books right now.
It costs too much money.  To do things properly, you’re looking at spending a thousand bucks or so to launch an e-book.  You can do it cheaper, but your cover will suck and the formatting will be off and that’s all she wrote.  You can spend a lot more to get well-known cover artists or well-known content editors with plenty of experience.  So a thousand is going in on the cheap.
There is another viable method, but it requires a certain amount of trust.  That method is to cut the cover artist in for a percentage.  Obviously, if you’re just starting out and have no track record, that’s not going to work for you unless the artist is a friend probably just starting out, too.  The benefits here are many because with the artist getting a royalty, if the cover isn’t working, it’s in the artist’s best interest to do a new cover.  For authors with backlists, this could be an effective way to get going faster because you save so much on the up-front costs.  In many cases, the original cover artist might allow their original cover to be used (if they own the rights) - after all, what else can they do with it?  Might as well make a few extra bucks.  Regardless, there are still other options.  You may have a better idea (in which case you should share it with everyone—paying forward is a good thing).
My view is that Sky Warrior Books has top-notch editors, artists, formatters, etc.  All of that is done for me and I don’t have to pay for it.  I still have an incredible amount of input into cover art and every suggestion from my editors has been something that improved the book in question.  I get to talk to the artists about my cover concepts and they listen and work with me and improve on what I had in mind.  It’s awesome.
From what I’ve been able to tell, in order to have a real shot at making it and catching the e-book wave, you need to have at least six or seven books out there.  Ideally, they should be part of a series.  Readers love reading series books.  For me to get there, I’d need to invest $7000 before I could even begin to hope to have a decent return.  Some folks get lucky and make it faster and that’s great.  Most people put their books out and they don’t even make a splash.  They quietly slip into the water and sink to the bottom never to be heard from again.
This includes some good books, folks.
I chose to sign on with Sky Warrior Books because I respect Maggie Bonham and she’s already making money on her e-books.  Plus she has ideas about how to get noticed by the readers a lot faster than I could on my own.  It won’t happen overnight.  I fully expect that I won’t get where I want to be on the e-book front for a couple of years.  I have some promotion and marketing ideas that may set me apart faster once we get things rolling, but that remains to be seen.  For now I’m hopping on that surfboard and working to catch the wave.
Will I go the self-publishing route later?  Yes.  I already have a few projects simmering.  Will I still release books through Sky Warrior Books, too?  Probably.  For example, if the Jonathan Shade books take off and Maggie is the one who believed in them to help launch them, shouldn’t she and her company be able to reap some of the rewards?  I know for a fact that I would not have anything out as an e-book right now if not for Sky Warrior Books.  If she can make a few bucks and use that money to help other writers launch their e-book careers, too, I’m all for it.
Your mileage may vary.
I’ve talked before in various places about how any writer who owns the e-rights to their backlist needs to be getting those books up so they can catch the e-book wave, too.  If they can afford to launch them by themselves, great.  If not, then perhaps they should approach a company like Sky Warrior Books.  If you were writing a series that got canceled because your numbers dropped, but you know you still have fans out there who want more books, e-books may be your answer.  And if you can’t afford to do it yourself yet, perhaps it’s a good idea to hitch your wagon to a company like Sky Warrior Books so you can get a running head start.  Yes, you’ll have five years where your e-rights are tied to a publisher other than yourself (which until a year ago was not seen as a bad thing at all) but you’ll also have the opportunity to build your readership and get back to doing what you love - writing fun books.
And that’s what catching the wave is all about.

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