On Ebook Relevancy


Every so often, something happens within my own personal web-surfing zeitgeist; I’ll be screwing off, looking for the latest excuse to not work on one of my numerous projects, and some shit will just jump in front of my face. Today’s burst of just that is brought to you by the letter E, for E-Book.

The first news article I came across yesterday morning was this writeup of literary author Jonathan Franzen voicing his thoughts on e-books at some festival in Cartagena, Columbia. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring.

“Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

This sounds more to me like the guy doesn’t like technology, and is using his personal foibles to invalidate a cultural change that will increase his (and  other authors’) readership. Does he really think that no one has to work “really hard” to make sure an e-book is displayed “just the way they wanted it?” That just reeks of someone running their mouth about something without doing their homework. When someone gets an e-book they’re getting one of two things:

  1. The digital file from which the print books are created;
  2. A digital file formatted specifically for proper display on an e-reader,

either of which requires meticulous attention to detail. I would know, because I have formatted electronic files from which POD books are printed, and have turned manuscripts into digital files for use on Kindle, nook, etc. I had to work really hard. I promise. Because either my own reputation as a creator was on the line, a client paid me $1,200, or both.

Franzen, whose career-spanning four novels were released in  ’88, ’91, ’01 and ’10, doesn’t really strike me as a “working author,” the sort of person to whom e-books present an awesome opportunity. This might help explain his opinion, as well.

And, before going to work last night, I came across this (from another guy named Jon, no less…tell me there ain’t no balance in the ‘Verse):

I’ve been writing since 1994; I’ve been a traditionally published author since 2002. In the ten years I tried to play the game by New York’s rules, I’ve seen so much ridiculousness, it amazes me the publishing industry has lasted as long as it has. Midlist writers (that is to say those who are not gifted with million-dollar advances and groomed for the supposed bestseller lists) are treated like indentured servants: crummy advances that New York insists are “livable,” crappy royalty rates, contract clauses that are meant to provide steady income for the publisher not the writer, and an accounting system woefully behind-the-times and deliberately complicated so as to render auditing it both costly and intimidating for the average writer.

In the year since I’ve been publishing as an indie, I’ve made more money than at any other point in my writing career. I’ve sold more books than at any other point in my writing career (over 20,000 copies of my Lawson adventures JUST on the Amazon US marketplace). And I’ve been able to engage and meet more fans than at any other point in my writing career. And I’m not even as succesful as other indie ebook authors – some of them are making thousands of dollars every single DAY.

Now, I haven’t read a Jon Merz novel as of yet (nor a Franzen one, though I’ll let you guess which is more likely to occur), but it’s easy to see which of these guys depends on his writing for his living. Merz’ first novel was published in ’02, and he’s published around 14 between then and now. I’m not privy to the details of either man’s personal life, but Franzen either had a day job at least from ’88-’91, or else got one of those crazy million-dollar first novel advances that most authors never see.

Which dude am I going to believe? The one that, for whatever reason, is able to write a novel every six years on average and still eat? Or the one who’s making his way the same way most authors, statistically speaking, will?

It doesn’t take a rocket doctor. I don’t think print books are going anywhere. I wouldn’t want them to. But I’d never want to go back to not having digital books, and I don’t think the reading public, as a whole, is ever going to want to, either. Your thoughts?




Book Signing FAQ


Author’s Note: Here’s another holiday reprint, a FAQ based on some questions I answered in my old, and now-defunct, online forum. There’ll be a couple more of these FAQs next week.


Once more, one of my critique group partners bounced a few questions off me on our forum, and I’m presenting them here for the edification of the masses. This group of queries pertains to the joys and pitfalls of coordinating and attending book signings. Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments section!

What do you normally do? Just call the bookstore (Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.) and ask?

Yup. Call and ask! The worst thing they can do is tell you to piss off (and sometimes it happens, though not usually in such plain terms!).

Who do you talk to about it? A manager I assume?

You do talk to the manager. Barnes & Noble stores typically have a CRM (Community Relations Manager) specifically for putting together signings and other activities at the store. A few place these duties on the store’s general manager. FYI, if you go on the B/N site, search for stores and highlight the links, each URL has a four digit store number at the end. The email address for the CRM will always be, where XXXX=store number.

Borders, however, does not empower each store to order their own books, etc. Therefore, you make contact with the manager and they’ll get in touch with the regional ordering rep… it’s an extra step though, and make sure you stay on top of them. The independent stores I’ve worked with typically reserve event planning for their managers, as well.

And you can sell your books at these things?

Yeah. The best arrangement for the author is when the store orders the books. Most stores won’t do business with you if your publisher doesn’t offer a 40% discount and a return policy, so make sure your publisher offers those. If they do, there’s no earthly reason why a store shouldn’t be willing to order your books, though several managers have given me an unearthly answer or two. There’s no risk to them; if you don’t sell out, the return policy means the publisher will take the unsold books back.

The other way is to sell on consignment. You bring the books and the store takes a cut. Your local indie might just give you your share out of the drawer, but the big chains won’t, and you’ll have to wait for a check from corporate. I’ve done this once, and only because the store hadn’t ordered the books as previously agreed upon. I had copies in my truck and wasn’t about to tell my wife we detoured to Mississippi with a two year-old for nothing!

What does the store get out of it? Your promotion bringing in people to hopefully buy other stuff?

They get profit on the books you sell, and yeah, some people might come in to see you and leave with other merchandise. That’s always a plus! Also, like I said before, the store is venturing NOTHING. If you only sell one copy, you both win.

What are some tips or things to look out for when getting this going?

Depending on your publisher, you can sign at three Barnes and Nobles and still have a fourth tell you they can’t order your book because it’s Print on Demand. All this means is that the publishers print the books when ordered, thereby saving themselves warehouse costs, etc. Corporate logic still seems to equate this to self-publishing. Be patient while they finish shooting themselves in the foot, and just call the next store on your list.

Schedule signings at least a month out; most stores put together a calendar of events, print a poster, etc. and also need time to order the books.

Stay on top of the managers even after the signing is scheduled. Sometimes, they forget to order the books. Sometimes, there’s an ordering/delivery snag. Always, they forget to call you about these things until either the day before the signing or not at all. And guess who looks like a moron because they’ve posted on Facebook, blog, etc. about the signing that is no longer happening? Not them. YOU. I hate that shit.

Do a press release for the media in the area surrounding the location of your signing. I’m not going to lie; unless you’re famous, 9 out of ten media outlets you email won’t give a damn, but one is better than zero, right? I’ve done newspaper, radio and Internet interviews in conjunction with various signings and book releases. It’s fun, gives you more material for your website, and increases awareness of your work, even if only by a small fraction.