I’ve welcomed a number of writers into my home in the last month, including Terry Brooks, Lev Grossman, C. S. Friedman, Scott Westerfeld, Peter Orullian, Blake Charlton and Erin Morgenstern. It’s always fun to do so because of the conversation—and as of late that conversation has been interesting.
Because one topic of discussion came up with every author who visited:
The growth of the eBook market and what it means to our future.
It is an amazing and intriguing phenomenon to observe. A few weeks ago, Publishers Weekly released the quarterly sales numbers for the industry and a glaring statistic leapt out: only eBooks grew in sales percentage. Hardcovers, trade paperbacks, and mass market paperbacks all saw declines. The eBook continues to marvel fiscally but it has led to uncertainty. We have already seen the major publishers and Amazon/Apple/B&N have discussions—sometimes tense—with one another about how best to proceed into the future with eBook pricing and rights.
Most readers don’t see what is going on behind the curtain. But some people in the industry are worried the eBook is shifting too much power in the industry toward writers/eBook distributors and away from NYC publishers, the extreme result the latter’s demise. Since a book comes together not only by the efforts of the writer but through very talented editors, copyeditors, layout artists and others, it is a legitimate quality-control concern for the future.
There are, however, some positive aspects to eBook growth that I want to showcase.
The first we’ve been talking about it for a few years. eBooks are a great vehicle for the writer who wants to self-publish. People who have been rejected by major publishers in NYC are finding they have a means to disseminate their work to the public where it can be purchased and read. This is a good thing. I’m a firm believer that a writer has a career not because of a publishing house but because of readers. After all, it takes readers to buy enough books to support the writer. Take the readers away from Terry Brooks, and he’d have to return to the practice of law to make a living. Writers who want to try self-publishing will sink or swim based on their storytelling and writing merits—the purest form of separating the talent from those who still need to work at their craft.
This is beneficial to publishers in an odd way. In the last two years, there have been several book contracts given to self-published writers based purely on their sales. Those writers are now building careers for themselves at NYC publishers.
There is a second group, however, interested in the growth of the eBook and that group might surprise you:
Writers who already pen for the major publishers in NYC are beginning to think outside of the box when it comes to their work and how it should be published. C.S. Friedman, for example, views growing eBook sales as another vehicle to sell novellas she otherwise would not write. For years, her fans have asked her to write sequels to her best trilogies but she has been resistant. She wants to write new stories, not return to old ones. That said, the growing eBook market and the ability to publish a short novella based on previous work—when it otherwise would have a hard time finding print in an anthology—allows her to satiate her sequel hungry fan base while still earning money for her time and effort.
There is a side effect to this, one writers and certainly NYC publishers need. When a genre author returns to a fictional world they are known for, it automatically drives sales for their previous work. For instance, when C. S. Friedman releases her novella Dominion—featuring her most popular character Gerald Tarrant—it will refresh in people’s minds the existence of her early 1990’s Coldfire trilogy. The result? Fans will go out, buy the trilogy again, and revisit a series they otherwise likely would not have.
That’s additional sales for the writer; that’s additional sales for the publisher.
And all because of an eBook novella that otherwise would not exist.
When I asked Erin Morgenstern, author of the already critically acclaimed The Night Circus, if she would revisit the black and white striped setting of her circus, she said no. She then quickly added that there were “stories to be mined” inside that tent and short stories or novellas would not be out of the question.
Again, a perfect place for eBooks.
Terry Brooks, who adamantly prefers long fiction over short stories, is even considering writing two or three novellas a year for eBook consumption, to be compiled at a later date into an anthology when there are enough of them.
These are things that would not exist without the remarkable increase in eBook sales.
Who knows what the future will hold? I certainly don’t. The good thing is, the authors I am friends with are all fairly adamant that while the publishing industry will continue to evolve, the eBook will not kill traditional publishing as we know it. Nor do they want it to. As I mentioned before, the books we read right now have been professionally edited, copyedited and proofed by the best of the best. Removing that work from a manuscript would surprise many of you.
In short, the eBook is making it an exciting time to be fans of the genre.
What do you think about all of this? Should there be concern? Is this a great time to be a writer? A reader? Do the positives outweigh the negative possibilities?
I know one thing. The eBook is not going away.
I just hope we use it wisely and to its best advantage.