An Autumn eBreak

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Honey!”

Now what?

“Yes, dear?”

“Did you get my prescription?”

Whoops, I knew I forgot something. Sigh…

The Comptroller

The Comptroller

Ah, the sweet sounds of home life. No matter how many times I stop at the store, I never seem to get everything necessary to buy me some writing time. It is the never ending line of the American Consumer. Perhaps I should move to another country, one less affluent. Nah!

Last month, I promised to begin the process of how to use Microsoft Excel to manage your writing tasks within a spreadsheet. I lied. I didn’t purposely lie, I simply was distracted by a bright shiny object! Okay, not a shiny object, an electronic object. eBooks to be exact.

Now, don’t misunderstand, I already publish all my books as eBooks, so this isn’t something new to me. In fact, future blogs and future editions of my non-fiction book will contain detailed information on how to publish eBooks. No, this month I would like to discuss an incident that occurred at the recent AuthorFest of the Rockies writing conference I presented at.

This was my third year in a row presenting at the conference, and at each event, I have a wonderful time networking with aspiring and established authors. While I am not always welcomed into the inner circle of established authors, I am self-published, I do have an occasion to discuss various aspects of writing with them. I garner great information from them and hope to give them something they haven’t always thought about.

Well, this year was no different. I presented how to create paperback books for proofreading using the free online services at Lulu.com, and sat on a discussion panel with my writing group discussing how our group functions and all its benefits. It was a wonderful time, and as always, I am already planning what I will present next year.

However, the interesting part of this event was during the author book signing. I was seated next to an established author traditionally published with fourteen mystery novels to her credit. Now, I am not here to bad mouth her, I bought one of her books and can’t wait to read it after Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, but the incident underscores the dramatic shift in publishing that is gathering speed.

This author, who shall remain nameless, because again, I am not here to put her down, refers to herself as a mid-list author, and is quite happy to live in that comfort zone. She is still actively publishing novels and having a very successful career. Kudos to her, but she is an anachronism. She represents an older, shrinking world of publishing that many still work hard to penetrate. All right, enough rambling, let’s talk about the incident.

This author was talking with another author during our book signing, and since I had no one currently seeking an autographed copy of Why Can’t I Get Anything Done?, I took advantage of the calm to look this author up on my Amazon Kindle. This seemed innocuous at first, but what ensued was an interesting dialog between myself and this author.

After she completed her discussion with the other author, I leaned over and showed her the list of books she had available on the Kindle. I asked her which of the books listed would be the best one to start with. She responded by asking me what the device was. I told her it was the Amazon Kindle eBook reader, and she showed surprise that her books were available on the device (note author’s lack of information about what her publisher does with her books).

After describing the device and service Amazon provides, she told me she was against eBooks, and technology in general. I told her that I published eBooks and that I believed it was the future of writing. Her comment was that it was a fad that would soon end after everyone discovered the damage it was doing to their eyes. When I remarked that I had been working with computers regularly since college (20+ years) and still had perfect eyesight, she changed tact and chastised me for stealing royalties from authors by buying a reduced price eBook.

I love technology, so I must admit I was bristling at her obvious disdain for anything technological. I suppose, in hindsight, I should have let it go, bought one of her books and dropped the conversation. But I couldn’t, because I love my Kindle and want everyone to understand the power and beauty of eBooks. So, I explained how eBook publishing has virtually no cost to the publisher, thus more royalties to the author. However, I doubt that is the case with her publisher.

Now, I am no expert on publishing contracts, so please comment and correct me if I am wrong, but I believe they get a straight percentage of wholesale sales regardless of how or where it was sold. In this case, she was right, I would be stealing royalties from Dan Brown’s book I bought for my Kindle at $9.99 instead of paying the full hardcover price on Amazon.com of $16.17. You can see that 20% of 10 is less than 20% of 16. Add this up over many thousands of books, and it is a sizable chunk of change.

But wait, I wasn’t stealing this difference from Dan, his publisher was! The publisher, at least an honest publisher, should be paying authors higher royalties on eBook sales because of the reduced cost to produce (no cost). But unless the author has a savvy agent, I doubt that is the case. Maybe for Dan Brown, but not likely for the author at the conference.

I’ll stop retelling the rest of the conversation with the author, because we didn’t come to blows, and it ended amicably. But as I said earlier, it underscored the tremendous shift in publishing that is sweeping away the old models of how authors publish and get paid. As an author, it is a very exciting time, but also very frightening. Unlike any other time in human history, our writing can now find an audience around the globe as long as the person has access to a computer and the internet.

This story converges with a presentation I saw yesterday about 21st century literacy and how it impacts education. As a teacher, I am always looking at how technology will affect our children and how best to harness it to educate them to deal with our changing landscape. The presenter, Karl Fish, is a technology specialist for a school district here in Colorado. The presentation, there are different flavors, is called Did You Know?/Shift Happens.

The take away for purposes in this discussion is the fact that he describes the change in publishing. As he put it, we were originally a filter then publish world where publishers and agents filtered what would be published. Now, however, we have changed to a publish then filter world, where everything is published, for good or bad, and the consumer must filter what is valuable, good, or correct. Yes, I am afraid you can find inaccurate information on the internet:)

Shift does happen, and I remember the famous quote from Ken Olson, the founder and CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation who said in 1977, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Wow, talk about missing the boat! But it sounds so similar to the author I spoke to at the conference who told me eBooks were a fad, or somehow dangerous to our health. Really? She missed the boat with Ken Olson. By the way, Digital Equipment Corporation is no longer around. Hey, shift happens!

Look, I am not saying all readers should abandon their dead trees in favor of an eBook reader, but the next generation will. They are hardwired to our world, for good or bad, and they will demand eBooks instead of dead trees. After all, despite being a renewable resource, how long can we keep killing trees to fill libraries and book store shelves with something that will turn yellow and smell bad after a couple decades. How may people still buy albums? How many still buy CDs? Our children don’t, they download it all from the Internet.

When Amazon announced the larger version of their Kindle eReader called the Kindle DX, it was a solid line in the sand for the future of publishing. Now students could read textbooks and non-fiction on this larger display. Next, they will have color, and the circuit will be complete. What kid will want to lug around 30lbs of books when they can lug around a few ounces of an electronic device? Oh yeah, and you can play games on it, access the Internet, call your friends, publish, … Yes, it is coming.

I went on this diatribe to show you that a shift is happening and you need to understand it and be prepared to publish within this new paradigm. In the coming years, I will help you along the way through this blog and my book. It is both exciting and frightening, but a journey we can take together. If you are a technophobe like the author I spoke with, seek help, because unless you plan on dying soon, technology will be subsuming every aspect of publishing.

Before I rush off to Target to get my wife’s prescriptions, I want to assure you that I will be back on track next month. I will spend Nov and Dec describing how to use my spreadsheet to help you manage your writing. It will be a great way to end the first year of this blog. However, I want you to think about this blog and how it will impact your writing.

I’ll further leave you with this interesting statistic from Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. He recently reported that for all books they sell that have both paperback and Kindle versions, the Kindle purchases have gone from 32% of total sales to 48% of total sales for those books.

“Okay, honey, I was just heading over to Target to get that!”

Oh joy, perhaps I’ll stop at the DMV while I am at it! Sigh…