Ask The Editor

October 26, 2009

Sales of ebooks nearly triple from 2008 to 2009

The headline says it all. E-Reads reports that, from August 2008 to August 2009, ebook sales shot up from $5 million to $14.4 million.

This may be bad news for traditional publishers but it has the potential to be excellent news for the small publisher, especially the one-person shop, publishing his or her own title.

It means that there is a market for ebooks and that market is growing like kudzu.

It does not mean you can simply publish and hope that people find your books, buy them, and recommend them to their friends. You still have to publish a book that is compelling enough to rise above the pack, with a great story, well-told, and a satisfying ending. You still have to promote the hell out of the book. Otherwise, no matter how great it is, nobody will know it exists.

But if you can turn out something that others will want to read and if you know how to reach potential readers, you have an easier entry now that at perhaps any other time in history.

– Anita Bartholomew

February 20, 2009

James Patterson gets 28 new co-authors

According to

Best-selling crime author James Patterson will release a new kind of novel next month – one that’s been collaboratively written with the crowd. Called AirBorne, the upcoming novel will feature 30 chapters, each written by a different author except the first and last – those will be written by Patterson himself.

The co-authors each won the right to pen one of the chapters in a contest co-sponsored by Borders Australia and Random House. The book will be released, one chapter at a time, on the web, of course.

January 16, 2009

Should you write for free II? (HuffPo edition)

An article about a political writer who blogs for the Huffington Post without pay has almost every writer I know weighing in. Arianna’s business model, for those who are unfamiliar, is to pay not a cent to contributors¬† (presumably, she does pay staffers). To say that this makes Ms. Huffington unpopular among some professional non-fiction writers I know is like saying that Bernie Madoff has somewhat miffed his investors.

Despite the antipathy toward her among some authors, Huffington has no trouble getting people to contribute to her success by contributing free text. Even several established writers who make decent rates elsewhere agree to write for HuffPo for the “exposure.” One writer friend suggested I write something here about the issue. So, here’s my take, for anyone who might be weighing whether the exposure is worth it.

For a celebrity, say Bill Maher or Michael Moore, who simply wants to exploit Arianna’s ability to attract huge numbers of political junkies in one place, a guest appearance on the Huffington Post is like free advertising.¬† While there, they can pitch their next project. And it will pay because people reading HuffPo really want to buy whatever Maher and Moore are selling.

Contributing a post to HuffPo would also make sense for an established but lesser known author of a book about a political topic.  Excerpt your book on the site or paraphrase something to tempt members of this huge audience to buy the whole thing.

It’s similar to appearing on TV or radio without pay to plug your project.

But, if you’re hoping to establish yourself by working for free for Arianna, and you have nothing to pitch to her audiences other than your free copy, you are probably doing little or no good for your own career. You may even damage your brand by establishing your price for the world to see: Zero. Also, you’re lending a hand to exploitation by contributing to its success.

December 30, 2008

Reports of the book’s death have been greatly exaggerated

A colleague sent me a link to an essay on the fate of book publishing that appeared last week in The Washington Post. Its author, Andre Bernard, was formerly an editor and publisher at Harcourt, a major house that’s suffering through significant problems. It’s not surprising then that he views the downturn at his old house and other venerable publishers as perhaps signaling the end of book publishing:

“… I can’t help thinking that as this year gasps its way to its merciful end, something terribly sad is happening, that a vague, general shift in the cultural landscape will alter how or what we read in some still indefinable way; that a quirky, creaky, financially insupportable business that in spite of itself produces that most desirable and perfect of objects — the book — is perishing, and that we are yet to fully feel the loss.”

Here’s the thing. Books aren’t going away. Yes, book publishers are in serious trouble. Bookstores are closing. But the book lives on. The books we read will indeed change but they always do. Books have changed in response to markets and technology since the first authors scribbled on papyrus.

We can predict some changes because they’re already happening. Major publishing companies are focusing even more on big “sure-thing” books. But other books are getting published as well, some by the authors, themselves. And some are doing quite well in their niches. Local independent booksellers are disappearing. But books are spreading to shelf space in general retail establishments.

Books are being sold via websites. They’re being touted in clever videos on YouTube and in blogs and promoted directly to online book groups.

Just as we’ve seen the web open up opportunities for writers of shorter forms of news and commentary, we will inevitably see electronic formats open up more opportunities for writers of long-form fiction and non-fiction. With costs such as printing, shipping and returns no longer an issue, publishing will be economically feasible for just about anyone who is willing to invest time, money and energy into promotion.

So, take heart. The book will not perish. It will change. As all things change. Be prepared to adapt so you can take advantage of the opportunities that the changes present.

Happy New Year to all.

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