I haven't included all the articles I've written here. Every publication doesn't give me permission to do so and I prefer to be known for my novels, not my articles. I prefer to keep this section fairly small. I actually hadn't updated it in awhile, but I removed and added articles I think will be of aid to writers, and readers, in July. Those added include one on selecting Webrings and one on selecting an e-publisher. I'll probably split this page in August or September. July, 1999
Article for the National Writers Union Newsletter 5/25/98
The New Book Market
Electronic publishing has begun to be a predictable topic of conversation in every gathering of writers, whether that gathering is a critique group meeting or a writers' bulletin board on the internet. There's a great deal of information on contracts and rights for electronically published articles and other short works, but not much on book length work. Why? The surprising answer is most electronic book publishers consider writers partners in developing a new market and establishing e-books as professionally published work. Their contracts are so fair and easy to understand many writers nervously look for 'a catch.'
There is a catch, but it isn't in the contracts. It's in finding e-book publishers that are professional in their criteria for publication and their dealings with authors. How does one locate the professionals among the large number of e-publishers which would be called vanity presses if they produced books in print, e-publishers which charge writers a fee to publish their work and accept any work from a writer who pays it? The publishers are looking for an answer to this question as well. How do they distinguish themselves from both the vanity publishers and those who put any and all submissions on their websites for free and call themselves publishers? The old adage "you get what you pay for" isn't enough to convince readers to purchase books from them because too many are selling work that has had no investment in good editing.
The publishers have begun to get help from writers. Romance Writers of America accepts e-published writers into their Professional Author Network, but the publisher is checked carefully before the author is admitted. There are two webrings which also check publishers carefully for professionalism before writers are allowed to join. The Author Ring accepts only published authors. 3rd Millenium Pros is a webring established specifically to differentiate between professional e-publishers and e-published writers and all others. The criteria for membership is strict and submission guidelines, published works and author contract are all checked before an e-publisher is admitted. Writers can join the ring even if their publishers are not in it, but those publishers must meet ring criteria. How strict are those criteria? There are only about a dozen e-book publishers which meet them.
Most good e-book publishers believe they have a mission. Most see themselves as stepping into the large hole left by the loss of so many small press publishers. Some of them accept only work they believe to be "substantive fiction." By their definition, that is work of literary or social import which would not generate mass sales in print. All are trying to give readers a wider choice of good books than they now have.
Dr. Stanley Schmidt said in his editorial in the January issue of Analog, "Writers whose work appeals strongly to a well-defined but relatively small market segment no longer have an outlet; the readers who constitute that market segment have no place to find what they really want. Writers get a few chances to produce a bestseller; if they don't, they then sell nothing or they write media spinoffs to pay the rent. Readers learn to love the "lowest common denominator" books or they do without; those with minority tastes are not worth publishers' attention." This market segment is exactly who many e-publishers are trying to serve. They are publishing well-written books which appeal to specific markets. Dr. Schmidt's editorial specifically addressed the lack of science fiction for mature, educated, tastes, but it's applicable to nearly all other genres, most notably romance.
A common misconception among writers is that any book suitable for print publication is suitable for e-publication. An e-published book must either appeal to a specific niche audience or it must be more; more action, more mystery, more suspense, more romance. An e-published book isn't laying on the table to remind the reader of the story. It's tucked away in a file on the computer. It has to call the reader back to the computer to find out what happens next. It has to be faster paced. It has to hold the reader's interest and keep them reading as fast as they can. It has to hold their attention against the siren call of the internet just a mouse click away. You believe your book can do that. Should you submit it to an e-publisher?
One of the most common worries voiced by writers when the subject of e-publishing arises is piracy. The real answer is it wouldn't pay enough to be worthwhile. Many e-publishers purchase encryption programs that prevent copying. Until this time, most of those have been rather expensive and added significantly to the price of a book. That just changed. A new e-publisher, determined to do everything right, commissioned a programmer to write an encryption program that would prevent even copy and paste in DOS. It works well and the programmer intends it be within the budget of every good e-publisher. Of course, any encryption can be broken, but it takes a great deal of work and there's not enough profit potential in copying and selling a $4-5 e-book to make that worthwhile. If an unscrupulous person is going to pirate a book, it's far simpler and more profitable to scan a $30 hard cover bestseller into the computer and sell copies by the download or on disk for $4.
E-publishers don't pay advances, but they pay royalties of 35-50% per book, the contracts are for a limited time period, usually one or two years, the contract is usually specifically for electronic publication rights and most have a provision for ending the contract if the author sells the work to a print publisher. However, there's a catch. E-publishers don't have marketing departments and huge budgets for artwork and advertising. They don't have 'connections' with publications which employ professional book reviewers. How do they overcome these limitations?
Much of the answer to that question is they don't. We do. Digital artwork for the covers of digital books would seem to be obvious, but it's a surprising idea to both the e-publishers and the artists. I told two terrific digital artists I wanted them to do covers for my books, then I told the e-publisher I'd asked them and introduced them via e-mail. They're happily expanding 'my books' to include a number of others and I'm looking for more good artists.
After I found artists to create covers which would look as attractive as any on print published books, I found reviewers for my soon to be published e-books. All that was left was advertising. How does one translate ads in magazines and book signings to promotion of e-published books? It begins with a web page.
The internet has been described as the most effective marketing tool which has ever existed. There are hundreds of web sites dedicated to providing information on the effective use of a website to promote a product. Why then do most authors' web sites look like the back cover of a book? Is it because most authors don't think of a book as a product to be sold? No, but most don't really understand advertising and marketing. That book back cover web page works if a person is following a webring of authors and looking for a book. It doesn't bring people who aren't looking for a book to the web site and get them interested in buying one.
Nothing brings more traffic to a web page than a 'Cool Site' award, but those aren't easy to get. It takes more than the ordinary. It even takes more than very good. It requires the web site be spectacular, an entertainment worthy of the award and the designation. It requires graphics and music beyond the norm and presentation of content in a way that interests and holds the attention of the web surfer. It requires the site be well planned and easy to navigate. It requires the person who created it submit it for every award for which it could qualify.
There is no doubt the new market is going to grow and become profitable for both publisher and writer. Dedicated electronic book readers are in the development stage and there's a race to see who can get one on the market at a reasonable price first, but there are a lot of books in public domain which have been scanned in that are available for free. How do they compete with those free classics? How do bookstores compete with libraries? We provide what they need to compete. We give them excellent new stories and a superb chorus of new voices telling them.
Sharon L Reddy
How do I select a webring? I will not join any that require they be on the front page or that require the page URL I list for the ring be the one on which I place the ring. I don't want people coming in the exit. I want them coming in the front door. That front door is a work of art and I don't put anything on it. Rings which require either are NOT interested in increasing traffic to your site, just in their webring. There's a link to my webrings section in the navigation table on every page but the 'front door.' If people want to leave from there, they can back up. I don't like rings that take up a huge part of the page either. If a ring sounds right, but it's huge, I ask to edit it. If I get a no, I don't join the ring for the same reason as above.
In general, I don't join large webrings. If there are three hundred sites in a ring, unless your site just happens to be listed on the first two pages or just a few down from one on which someone noticed the ring, you won't get enough traffic from the ring for it to be worth the space and maintenance it requires. I'm in Dream Weavers and PWOTW because I've been in them since they were new on the web. I'm in Web Guard because it's a statement of my position on copyright infringement. If I get traffic from any of them, it's a surprise. Once in awhile I get a bit from Bad Girls and I've been in that one since the start too.
I do get traffic from the Crescendo ring, but it's totally unmaintained, you have to find another member to put you in and my site is on the front page of the list. There are a couple hundred sites in the queue, but I'm really good at picking who'll do a quick favor, and will still know their password.
Look for rings that 'fit' your site that are in bold letters on the Webring Index and have fewer than 150 sites, and that's a bit high for most types. Choose unusual rings if any of them fit. I get quite a few hits from The New Beat Generation ring, but I've been in that one since there were five sites. I've been in several others since they started as well. I get more traffic from fantasy webrings than science fiction webrings. Fantasy sites are usually very well built and have great graphics, so a lot of people choose those rings to surf. However, all the other webrings total don't bring me the traffic in a month that any one of the erotic fiction rings do in a week.
My own ring brings more than they do and there are only forty-one sites in it. It's a very heavily traveled small ring because it's a specialty ring with very tight criteria, and I'm very good at writing enticing descriptions and chose the name carefully to assure it was high on the Webring Index and sounded interesting. Placement is important.
Keywords and site description are also very important. A lot of people do keyword searches in the Webring index. Almost all read site descriptions. Webring does not mention those descriptions have a character limit. A lovely long description of your site does more harm than good if Webring cuts it off in the middle of a word. Check it and change it with some frequency and, if you can write one short enough that's still interesting (every character including a space is counted), link a graphic if not totally inappropriate for the ring and you've got a good one.
Don't use the same description for every ring. Tailor each for the people who are most likely to explore that ring. One of my site descriptions is 'Turn up the speakers and take along a snack, Baby.' Another is a carefully constructed very short 'educated' dissertation.
Check your webring links often, up and down at least five and don't forget to check the ring homepage. Sometimes they have nice new graphics for their rings. Make sure all graphics are in your directory, not being pulled in from somewhere else. That way, no one will get a little red x instead of a graphic. If your directory isn't accessible, your page isn't.
Now, this is where site statistics come in. I pay for the most comprehensive site statistics available for a reasonable price. I pay 'up to x0,000 hits,' not for a specific number of pages. I have seventy-four pages on my web site and there's a little bit of code on every one of them that gathers info on where 'surfers' came from, and when, what browser, what operating system, what resolution, how many colors, what words were seached if they came from a search engine, and how many times pages were reloaded. Those are totals, not personal information per visitor, but I don't want or need that. If someone comes from a page to which I know I'm not linked to a page within my website, that's a bookmark and I don't need a cookie on their computer to tell me. I also get a summary for the whole site. And I have one little visible counter that I make sure always has the actual number of people who came through the front door, even if it's not on that page.
Sharon L Reddy
May 5, 1999
And Confusion Reigns
Recently, The New York Times reported the Authors Guild had sent its members a warning about e-book contracts. In the next line, they said e-book manufacturers and 'unfair to authors and publishers.' What are they talking about? It's probable they're talking about the contracts to produce books formatted for handheld electronic book 'readers' and, if that's the actuality, they're quite correct, but the piece is confusing, shows a lack of understanding and research, and damages good electronic publishers.
Most professional electronic book publishing contracts are extremely fair. There are no costs to the author, other than obtaining their own copyright. The author royalty is 25-50% of the sale price per book sold, royalties are paid frequently, the contract is for only electronic rights and for a specific term, usually a year and thereafter renewable.
Do note the use of the word professional in the preceding paragraph. What defines a 'professional' e-book publisher? In one word, editing.
Every professional e-book publisher doesn't have a 'great' editor, but all have the best they can find and afford. It's not easy to find 'great' editors who will work for a share in the company or of the proceeds per book sold, but there are many good ones willing to aid in the building of this new industry, and some e-published authors are quite sure the editor they worked with is more than just good.
In many ways, e-publishing is a return to the days before print publishing companies became huge corporations, before the advent of mass distribution to bookstore chains. Before mass market demographics and 'bottom line' economics made 'formulas' for every genre the norm. In those times, one chose books by publisher and editor as well as by author.
Some publishers and editors were known for their encouragement of bold experiments in style and content. Some were known for publishing books of fast paced action. Some were known for books which explored philosophical concepts. Some were known for devotion to beauty of prose. As professional e-book publishing has begun to be acknowledged as a legitimate form of book publishing, e-book publishers and their editors have begun to be known for the style and tone of the books they publish, as well as emphasis on particular genres.
Still, confusion reigns, as exhibited by the article in The New York Times which confused e-book contracts with contracts to provide e-books for electronic book readers. Contracts which all professional publishers of new books, not previously print published and often out of copyright books, consider unfair.
Sharon L Reddy
Considering E-publishing? Rest Stop Writers Newsletter
Electronic publishing is suddenly 'the wave of the future.' That's quite different than 'everybody knows that's not REALLY being published.' Why? Two reasons. The first is the major print publishers are moving into it rapidly. The second is people have begun to actually buy and read e-books and are spreading the word that some of them are very good and very different. Different sells well because of the constraints imposed by the economics of print publishing. All writers seriously pursuing print publishing know the basic 'formula' for their own genres. If your book is 'different,' consider e-publishing.
Choosing an e-publisher isn't easy. To start with, you don't know what they sell or how well they sell it. It astounds me that writers will buy forty books from various print imprints to see what those imprints are publishing before they submit, but they won't buy ONE book from an e-publisher to find out what type of book they publish. They don't examine the contracts of several to see what's 'standard' for e-publishers either. They don't check for price range and so forth.
Standard contract length is one year renewable and for ONLY electronic publishing rights.
Two: The only thing you should pay for is your own copyright. If you want special cover art, you can pay for that and give it to them to use, but ordinarily they'll do their best to give you a good book cover because it helps sell your book.
Three: Though there are exceptions, most good e-publishers pay 40-50% royalty on each book sold, and they pay that at least quarterly.
Four: Look for 'editor' in the submission guidelines. If the book is accepted 'as is,' it won't be as good a book as it could be, and there may be a lousy book in the catalog that will hurt the sales of your book and your reputation as a writer.
Five: Look for references on the e-publisher. Sales aren't as important, at THIS moment, as what various writers' resource sites have to say about an e-publisher. Sales are rising rapidly for e-books and every good e-publisher is sighing in relief that they 'hung on' long enough. Actual sales always depend on how much work the writer does to promote the book. That's no different than for print publishing and I find it interesting every writer asks about e-publishing sales, but none ask about print publishing sales. How many writers have YOU asked if their print published books sold enough to 'earn out' their advance? How many have you asked how much actual promotion a print publisher did of their book and how much they did 'on their own at their own expense?' How many have you asked if they got an annual royalty check without having to ask for it? Or get an attorney to ask for it?
Six: Look for 'formats' for the new e-book readers, especially Rocket and Librius Millennium. Seven: READ some e-books to find out if the e-publisher sells what you write!