We Are Digital People, Living In A Digital World

It seems every week there's another journal or small press publisher launching, just as every week there's another journal or small press publisher folding. And with how e-books are catching on, it's no surprise that more and more e-book publishers are popping up. My question is: why?

It's pretty clear by now that "self-publishing" is becoming more acceptable, and with certain platforms -- like Kindle and Smashwords -- it's almost too simple for an author to upload their work to be read on different e-book readers. I don't pretend to be an expert on e-books, but from my limited experience, all you are doing is formatting a Word document and uploading it. Yes, it's a little more in-depth, but still, that's the basic idea.

So why, exactly, would some authors feel they need a publisher to publish their e-books? Is it because they feel there's still that awful stigma of "self-publishing"? Is it because they just aren't aware they can easily do it themselves?

Last week the New York Times did the breakdown of just how much it costs to make an e-book. Yes, we'd all love dirt cheap e-books, but the truth is a lot of time and effort is put into them, just as in print books.

No print publisher is the same. Each has a different style and look and feel. Many small press publishers are going the POD route nowadays, but some are still staying with the traditional way of printing books.

Electronic publishing, however, is a bit different. What stays the same is the actual text; how it appears on different e-book readers varies from person to person, as one is able to play around with the font and the size and whatever else.

A few weeks back I saw an author post that they were happy to have signed with a new e-book publisher, which would bring a particular previously published work out as an e-book.

I thought: Hmm, okay ...

I Googled the publisher. The website was pretty impressive, at least in terms of most crappy websites that publishers have. They seemed to have been signing a lot of authors, too, but had yet to even release a book yet. Interesting.

After talking with some online friends about this particular publisher (one person said, "It's just two guys with a PC"), I decided to do some digging of my own. This is what I e-mailed the publisher:

I'm curious to know what more XXXXXXXXX does for their authors that those authors can't do for themselves, in terms of uploading their work onto Kindle or a website like Smashwords.

This was their vague reply:

Many things that I cannot discuss because we do not talk contract terms with anyone but our authors. There is a reason why authors sign with us. :)

I thought: Well that's a bunch of bullshit, and sent back this e-mail:

Okay then. Well, seeing as how Smashwords is able to offer writers 70% royalties, if XXXXXXXXX is matching that or even coming close, I'm happy for your authors. Good luck with everything.

That seemed to have struck a nerve, because this ended up in my in-box a couple hours later (note that I have not touched it up whatsoever):

We already know/have known about smashwords for a long time. You should know that they do not get your book in to devices unless you sell a certain amount of books and meet criteria, the majority of material released through smashwords does not get on to ebook readers, or distributed through amazon, sony, barnes and noble, etc. They also do not provide covers, art, or formatting, which most authors cannot do on there own, or have the budget to pay someone to format properly in to the main formats (.epub, .mobi, .prc, .pdf) which can run hundreds of dollars. (see kindleformatting.com as a quick example, or bookmasters, a company the mainstream companies use, and which charge hundreds of dollars minimum per release just to set up.).

Now, there are a lot of things there I don't quite agree with. For starters, the nice thing about Smashwords is that it pretty much formats your e-book in almost every format (epub, mobi, pdf, etc.). Yes, they are only available then through the Smashwords website, but an author is then able to earn over 70% royalties. Places like Amazon and Sony and Barnes & Noble are starting to make it somewhat easy for authors to self-publish their own works onto their websites too (and if they haven't yet, they'd be fools not to).

True, those places do not provide cover art either. But you know what? It's not that hard to find cover art. My friend Wyatt did the cover art for my two e-books just for fun. I'm sure if I didn't have his kind generosity, I could have found an artist to come up with something for a decent amount. Plus, say if I were an established author and looking to self-publish an e-book and I approached some artists about doing a cover. How many do you think would be willing to do it for a reasonable price, if not free?

Yes, formatting can be a bitch, but I'd rather spend a couple of hours doing it on my own and keep that 70% royalty then to have someone else do it and only earn ... well, we don't know how much the authors earn, obviously, though you'd think the publisher in question would go with a standard publishing contract. Ah, but we'll never know for sure, not unless we become one of this publisher's super lucky authors, right?

Anyway, read into their lengthy response any way you want, but to me this publisher is basically saying some authors are too stupid and lazy to do it all themselves. Then again, maybe there is a good reason why authors sign with them. Maybe this publisher is the greatest publisher in the world. Maybe James Cameron still isn't crying his eyes out for losing to his ex-wife.

Whatever the case, writers do what they want to do. If they want to sign with an e-book publisher, good for them. If they want to try to do it themselves, good for them.

What should one take away from my little investigative reporting? Quite simply that with e-books on the rise, one should be more conscious of the different types of options out there. Remember, what works for one writer doesn't mean it will work for another.

Now, if you haven't done so yet, go do yourself a favor and watch The Hurt Locker.