Friday, January 14, 2011
The Great Digital Land Rush!
Disclaimer: I'm no expert here - but I have to share what I've learned both as encouragement and as a warning. The encouragement is to help you find the motivation to start publishing your stories and illustrations digitally. The warning is that if you don't do it soon you might have regrets in a year or two or sooner.
I've been doing a lot of reading of various blogs and web pages about self publishing digitally and most agree that we are seeing a change in publishing the likes of which we haven't seen in our life times. Until now the gate keepers have been large traditional publishers. They held the keys because they could afford to put up the tens of thousands of dollars to print large runs of picturebooks. Also, they had established complicated distribution channels that an individual author/illustrator would be hard pressed to compete with. Most of this hasn't changed. The day of the large publisher is definitely NOT over and I'm glad - I like the publishers I work with and most of them have been very good to me.
What has changed is how inexpensive it is to publish your work which means that one of the two cards publishers held has evaporated. Now the only real advantage a large publisher has is a distribution channel. I'm not underestimating how important this channel is either. Large traditional publishers have relationships with stores that you and I do not. They have publicists working for them to promote our books and editors to polish the final products. They have customers that they've established long before you or I ever worked with them. They know the business better than us. They submit our books to all the major book awards and from what I've been told that list is well over 200. Imagine trying to research, compile, address, and pay for 200 give away books and shipping just to put them in the hands of jurors who probably won't pick your book anyway. And I'm sure there are a lot more things that they do that I'm overlooking.
Having Said all that - I still see a huge opportunity that isn't going to last forever. Like the Oklahoma pan handle rush of 1889 there was opportunity for a limited time and then it was OVER. For the first time in our lives a new platform is emerging that is giving the early birds a distinct advantage. I'm sure that you've all thought about ebooks - I have been for the past year or more. However, I never realized how important it is to be first to market until I started reading and researching. It only takes an hour or so poking around on Amazon or Barnes and Noble to see self published books doing extremely well. One in particular featuring a dragon has been flirting with number one in ebooks on B&N for the last month.
If you've been reading my blog you know that I just published my first ebook - Monkey & Croc and that it's doing pretty well on B&N. The only reason it's doing as well as it is - is because of the lack of competition. Right now there are a little over 500 ebooks for children ages 3-5 on B&N. Crazy right? Think of how many thousands of books there are in hard copy in that group. Look, I don't even own an ereader but you can't ignore this new format - it's coming on strong. Amazon says that for any particular book that they sell in physical format - they sell 48 digital copies of the same book. That number is growing every month.
Aside for being early to market you can afford to sell an ebook for only a few dollars because the only cost you have is your time. Right now the big publishers are selling their ebooks in most cases for about the same price as their hardbacks. This is another reason to get your book to market quickly. While they sell their books high - we can sell ours low and create an advantage for the buyer. Think about it...if you bought a new ereader or ipad and you wanted to load it with content wouldn't you gamble on a few unproven $2 and $3 books since the alternatives are $12.99 books that you might already own?
My belief is that if you can create a following due to timing - your book could gain the kind of momentum that could build a franchise. If this happens there's also a good chance that a traditional publisher would want to buy your book and print hard copies. Another option is that you incorporate a print on demand publisher and offer hard copies on your own. Either way the future is bright for self published books. I think that there will always be a place for large publishers but now there is a much larger place for self publishers.
Some drawbacks: You won't have the benefit of an editor and this places a great responsibility back on your shoulders. My suggestion is to acquire the help of a professional writer and/or join a critique group that can help you polish your story. Another obstacle is finding software that will easily let you turn your jpeg images into an ebook. This was a very frustrating process for me and without the help of my brother in law I don't think I would have been able to release Monkey & Croc. There has been talk about Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Itunes holding back publishing software and only releasing it to large publishers. Monkey & Croc suffered a bit with a few minor hiccups because we couldn't get that software. I think that this will soon change as open source programs become available. Where there is a need someone will fill it.
I published Monkey & Croc on Barnes and Noble's Pubit.com site. They take 35% of every sale but they give you an account for free and you can check your sales in your back office any time you like. It's neat to go in and check every day or so. My friend Julie Olsen and her husband Rhet are developing an app for Monkey & Croc for the itunes store.
Finally for those who don't think that parents won't turn their kids loose with an expensive ereader to beat up you're right. However think of the advantages - Carrying an unlimited amount of picturebooks on a plane, train, or automobile will keep kids passified much longer than the few books parents can carry in hard copy form. And how nice will it be for the parents who have long commutes with children in tow to and from day cares. How long do you think it will be before they develop the kid proof ereader? I suspect it's around the corner.
At the beginning of my illustration career I was asked to complete an illustration about email - I asked the art director, "What is email". It's happening now.