Monday, September 17, 2012

When Traditional Publishers Go Digital

Lately I’ve been seeing this article making the rounds about how, for the first time, a traditional publisher has decided to open up a two-week window for un-agented manuscripts to be submitted and considered for their digitally published catalog

Now, I'm all for traditional publishers giving un-agented manuscripts a chance. Of course!  What bothers me about this solicitation is the fact that the manuscripts will only be published in e-book format. Don't get me wrong, I think houses opening themselves up to a digitally-published-only catalog can be a great thing for publishers and authors alike. 

But it does lead to some questions.

With free publishing options like amazon’s createspace for kindle, lulu, barnes & noble free publishing for nook, and smashwords, I have to wonder what a traditional publisher could possibly bring to the table for authors publishing digitally?

A few things to consider:

Free editing, formatting and book cover. 

With a traditional publisher, at least you can be sure your book will be clean and well presented.  But, this could also be a drawback. What if you don’t like the cover they’ve chosen? Would they be willing to change it? With self-publishing, if sales are low or your cover seems outdated you have the freedom to do something about it. 

Free marketing. 

I assume, if the book will be listed with a traditional publisher, it would receive the same publicity as agented and hard copy books from their catalog- a listing on publisher’s marketplace, epublicities on major book sites, entry into coveted reviewer blogs, swag, invitations to book conventions, etc…But something tells me a traditional publisher isn’t going to spend the same amount of time or money on a book that’s only coming out in ebook format. In any case, it’s something I’d be curious about.

Would the contract be standard?

How would the royalty rights be split? If the contract is at industry standards, why the solicitation for un-agented authors? Once the contract acquired, would the publishing house object to the author having an agent or legal professional take a look? Would they agree to negociations if the contract is found subpar?

It’s every author’s dream to see their book on a shelf somewhere. Would hard copy sales be an option if the ebook sold well? 

It would seem a shame, to me, to be signing over the chance to ever hold your book in your hands when you sign a digital publishing contract. 

What are your thoughts on traditional publishers opening themselves up to a digitally-published-only catalog? When weighing the options, do you think un-agented authors would be in a better place career-wise to go with a traditional publisher or head out on their own indie-stye?

33 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

Fantastic questions!

I think the royalty split would be the same: not very good for the author. I guess the upside is the validation, the status, the editing (like you said). But I wonder about the contract terms. I wonder if they're throwing spaghetti against a wall with only ebooks to see which ones sell. I'm sure if a book takes off they'll most likely switch it to print.

Again, it all comes down to an author's goals and what they want for their book.

Connie Keller said...

I'd be really curious to see if they're going to invest much in marketing and what their price point is going to be. I suspect that Laura is right--they might be throwing spaghetti against a wall.

Nickie said...

It does say that they're 'reserving the right to print physical copies', but that could mean so many things. You've posed some very good questions there, and I wonder if they'll be answered as this contest nears the opening date. I also wonder if this would push other big publishers to try something similar.

I'm a bit wary of entering something like this -- if books are only coming out in e-format, I;m not sure I see an advantage to doing this over self-pubbing.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Okay, my issue is a lot of teens don't have ereaders and don't read ebooks on their smart phones, soooooo for a YA writer, this would be no benefit to me. I write YA stories for teens. If they're aren't going to be reading them, I might as well write adult fiction (and I don't want to do that).

Ebook-only novels are doing well in genres such as romance. One winner at of the coveted RITA (Romance Writers of America award) this year was from Carina Press. They only publish in ebook format.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I agree with Stina as far as YA books go.
But I could definitely see an advantage of going with a traditional publisher--especially if the writer doesn't have much of a backlist or following. But you do lose the control that is so attractive with indie publishing.

SA Larsenッ said...

I love your thoughts, here. For a writer to go this road, the PH would have to bring something above and beyond what the writer could do for him/herself.

I also wonder what the motivation of the publishers are. Is this a trial and error thing?

Old Kitty said...

Gosh!! I'd definitely read the small print!!

Take care
x

Natalie Aguirre said...

I think you and Stina raise some great concerns about this. I would be sad to be with a publisher and have no print copies of my book.

Anne Gallagher said...

This is all such a sticky area. I think traditional publishers are trying to keep their heads above water and with the e-only pubbing, they're thinking of the long tail. E-books never go away and that means money for the publishers forever, whereas with a trad. book deal, the books usually never make it past the first print run.

I'd love to see the royalty split and the contract, especially if they retain the rights to paper as well as e-book.

Truthfully, this to me just sounds like a shady deal.

Jay Noel said...

I'm assuming the royalty split would be the same. But I completely see where some of the doubts rise up.

For me, if I was trying to get published, I'd consider it. It would be a foot in the door. Even if it's only in Ebook format. I think genre also matters. Science fiction, romance, adult fiction...these would do well.

YA - not so much.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

It is experimentation time for HarperCollins. I like my covers. I like my titles. I hate self-promotion. I am in the basement of marketing.

The royalty rate would hurt unless I sold decidedly more than what I am now selling.

As Anne said, the print run would be limited. Right now, I am on the market indefinitely. Lots to think about.

Sandra Almazan said...

I've heard about this and decided not to go with it. My WIP is a sequel to my self-published novella, so to me it makes sense to self-publish the entire series. I'd also be concerned about any non-compete clauses in the contract.

Meredith said...

Huh, I hadn't heard about this. That's fascinating, and you raise some great questions. It'll be interesting to see how this changes the market.

Jessica Bell said...

I think it's sad. But I also think they're beginning to really not have much choice. Digital dominates the market now. They have to make their money from somewhere. And yes, I do think they would give it the same amount of promo, if not more, because clearly, digital is what the majority is now buying. Sad state of affairs this is. *sigh*

LTM said...

Well, I tell ya, these are exactly all the questions that were (and have been) going through my mind since S&S Pocket offered me that book deal for ROUGE, which you might not know is ebook only. They *can* bring it out in print, but it's not on the agenda.

And now that I've got the indie out, I'm wondering even more if it was the right decision. Live and learn. I can say I was encouraged by several successful indie friends to take the S&S deal.

Perhaps I can do a compare/contrast post in a few months--early next year. It seems the marketing push is the biggest sell w/these deals. <3

Carolyn V said...

I really want to hold a book with my name on it. I don't know if an e-book would give me the same kind of satisfaction. But I know e-books are all the rave right now.

Matthew MacNish said...

I have no idea. I need a nap.

Lydia Kang said...

LOL at Matt's comment. Get that boy some sleep!

Like you've mentioned, there are a lot of things to consider. I'm not sure what I would do, honestly. But the free editing might be pretty priceless...

E. Arroyo said...

I think it's about brand. You get to be published under a brand. But your thoughts are valid. I'd personally like to hold my book in my hands one day. That's why I chose my publisher.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd guess that an eBook like that won't have much a of a marketing budget.
I only buy eBooks now, but I am grateful I got to hold my first two books in my hands.

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

This is also a problem if you write YA, because not a lot of kids carry around Kindles (yet). I guess it's this publisher's way of trying something new without too much risk...?

mshatch said...

I was tempted to submit. very tempted. But ultimately I want to see my book in print. Which is why I decided not to. Tough choice though.

The Desert Rocks said...

Great post but getting published by the Big Six and getting their attention sounds like it could lead to print. They would probably test the market with eBook sales.

Angela Ackerman said...

The one thing I found worrisome about that call was the bit at the end that the company reserves the right to publish in print. Does this mean then that they 'own' print rights, and can prevent an author from selling print themselves if they chose not to exercise them?

Angela Brown said...

Interesting, because I'm self-publishing my YA paranormal myself, no additional entities involved. Just me and the person(s) I contract with for various things such as cover design, any proofreading/editing, formatting for e-Book upload. It's as if this new offering opens up a new can of questions given the nature of the publishing industry. In the end, who gets what?

Melodie Wright said...

You really can't over emphasize the importance of having an editor. Esp. when you're an unpub. You'll learn SO much in the process and get face-time with an editing team for your next book. Sure, you can self-pub anytime. But that's the point - anybody can self-pub. Very few debut authors get taken on by a Big Six house. The question is - what's your goal? Just to see your MS in print? Or to grow as a writer?

TC Avey said...

You bring up some valid points. I've heard about this 2 week window and am tempted, but in the back of my head it seems too good to be true so there must be something wrong with it. Or maybe I'm just a skeptic.

D.G. Hudson said...

Yes, I want to hold my books in my hands too. But, I buy both ebooks and print books.

You've made some interesting points about weighing one's options well before jumping in.

Melissa Sugar said...

You pose some interesting questions about the issue. I like the part where they reserve the right to print physical copies, but I am not clear on the full meaning of the clause. I considered this, but I really want to see my book in print. Thanks for sharing.

Cherie Reich said...

To me, the point of going traditional is to get my books in places that I can't or would have a hard time getting them in, such as bookstores. If it is only a digital release, I just don't know what's the point. I can do that myself. Unless they were willing to do a lot of promoting, I can't see bothering with it at this point of time.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I have a publisher for my ebook - the cover and formatting was done, but marketing is a joint venture. Although I think most authors these days are required to take on a lot of their own marketing anyway, print or ebook.

Adventures in YA Publishing said...

These are all great questions. I think it's great that "traditional" publishers are dipping their toes into an aspect of current publishing that isn't going to go away--but are they going to be treating this as the new slush pile?

I've heard that idea being tossed around already, that publishers are increasingly turning to books that do well in epub/selfpub and then publishing them traditionally. But how does this then figure into your reporting of sales figures for your next traditional book--and how much promotion/marketing/support are they going to offer.

I'm not saying it isn't a good thing. Just that the contract needs careful reading. I'd love to know more!

Martina

Mark Murata said...

At Worldcon in Chicago, I learned about an even bigger problem for e-books. You're supposed to get so much for each copy sold. But you have to depend on the e-publishers's word on how many were sold. With no physical paper inventory, it is much easier for mistakes, accidental or intentional, to occur.

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