Head or Heart? Part 1: The Digital Publishing Revolution

Part One: The Digital Publishing Revolution

Fifteen years ago my very first submission to a literary agent was not a romance, but a young adult science fiction space opera novel. It has more characters than the bible and was over 100,000 words long. And I had already written an even longer sequel and was planning volume three… ah, foolish youth.

I recall how crushed I was when the agent simply sent a rejection card inside the envelope containing my proposal package. But undaunted I sent a freshly printed new copy out to another agent and one of the few science fiction publishers who were taking unsolicited submissions at the time.

I did receive a kind reply several months later from the second agent telling me that she liked the story but did not know any publishers would were interested in buying that kind of work.

I was so thrown and crushed by the rejection that I put all of that science fiction work to one side and started developing ideas for crime and romance stories which I also loved to read. As far as I was concerned there was no future in writing science fiction for teenagers. I had to write stories that literary agents could sell to a publisher who would invest in producing my printed book some 18 months down the line. I could not afford to write a book and simply hope that someone will buy it.

Every single one of those facts has been swept away by the Digital Publishing Revolution.

 Old desk - Photogen

Photo credit: ‘Old fashioned desk’ Photogen.com

What is driving the move to Digital Publishing?

a. The English speaking world has developed an insatiable hunger for the written word and demands to read those words on every kind of reading device created.

Dedicated e-book readers, desktop and lap top computers, tablets and smart phones are everywhere. Technology has made it possible for my books to be read in chapters downloaded onto smart phones, translated into manga graphics and audio books and increasingly shared on multiple devices at the same time from a digital library held in “the cloud”.

b. Online booksellers offer millions of electronic books and print titles, at big discounts and free delivery to your door. And with digital e-books you can be anywhere in the world and as long as you have an internet connection you can download the book you want in minutes and read it on the device you want.

c. Self- publishing has been made respectable by the large online booksellers who sell e-book readers.

Amazon with their Kindle devices, Kobo’s dedicated KOBO readers, Barnes and Noble and the Nook and Apple iPad, iPhones and tablets all need authors to sell books through their devices. 

It is in their interest to offer authors a publishing platform and high royalties to publish material directly through them – especially in digital format, where they get the cut the publishers used to receive and readers love them because they drive prices down and offer an efficient service.

d. Self-publishing has given new life to stories which a traditional publisher would never be interested in.

There are now more markets for our short stories, novellas, novels and multi-volume series in niche markets and cross-genres which do not fit easily onto a bookseller’s shelf. Technology allows an author writing for a niche market to create interactive reading experiences with video, graphics and animation into the fabric of their book.

e. Traditional publishers have woken up to the new publishing paradigm and created digital only publishing lines.

These lines offer authors the editorial and production advantages of a large publisher with the royalty rates which are usually double the rate the author could receive from a print version of the same book.

f. Authors are no longer locked into one publisher and one genre under the same pen name.

Many authors are now producing work for several publishers, in several genres and pen names at the same time, and have built careers in both traditional publishing and self-publishing working in parallel to find new readers for their work.

g. Sales of Electronic Books are slowly overtaking sales of print books in many markets.

We have seen almost a 48x increase to 3 billion U.S. dollars in e-book sales in the 4 years from 2008 to 2012 with hardcover and paperback sales remaining relatively level. While hardcover sales declined slightly between 2008 and 2012 (from $5.2 billion to $5 billion), eBook sales grew at an astonishing clip during that period, rising from $64 million to $3 billion.

h. Writers are discovering the creative freedom that comes with being able to share innovative work.

Authors now have the freedom to innovate and experiment with content, format and methods of delivering their message. Multi-media and graphic novels? No problem.
And the best news? Their books will never be out of print!

The next result of these seismic shifts in technology has been an explosion of digital products and especially eBooks and self-published print books, created by Independent [ Indie] authors.

marking the rise of indie authorship

Image Credit: Mark Coker. Smashwords.

Market and business savvy authors see their future in digital publishing.

It is astonishing and brilliant!

But all of that material creates a very serious problem.

The proliferation of reading devices and content has created such a deluge of material, that book sellers of all sorts around the world are involved in a daily price war. There is a glut of eBooks and readers expect to pay either very little for those books or even get them for free. This is especially true for genre fiction.

And we are now in a global recession where books are a luxury item.

Authors need to become more prolific. More in control of their careers. And more willing to market and promote their work than ever before.

And as for those young adult science fiction stories? I kept them locked away, waiting their turn to be revisited and reworked.

How about you? Do you have stories burning inside of you that you cannot wait to share with readers? 

Then there has never been a better time to be a writer.