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Will Authors Get Trampled by the March of Ebooks?

The march for ebook dominance continues. Author David Gaughran wrote about the ebook explosion in a recent blog post. He details the July 2011 sales numbers for adult books from the major publishers as well as year-to-date. Of interest is that In July, ebook sales outsold all other formats, including trade paperbacks. For the period of January 2011 through July, however, ebook sales are ahead of all other formats, except, but not far behind, trade paperbacks. I expect that early next year, once the numbers have been counted, there will be an announcement that ebook sales have officially become the dominant format. And this doesn’t even include many smaller presses and indie authors in the mix.

What does that mean for authors? Especially self-published authors that the advent of ebooks has spawned with renewed enthusiasm. And will it be a good turn of events for them? I believe it will, and here’s seven reasons why.

  1. An author’s work will stay in the market for years instead of three to five months. With tree-books, a publisher would get them on limited bookstore shelves. If they didn’t sell, or they moved very slowly, in around three months the bookstores would start returning unsold copies back to the publisher. Who then either had to store them, find other avenues to sell them, remainder them, or end up throwing them away. And once they were gone, they were gone. Out of print. But an ebook can sit on the virtual shelf for years because those electrons aren’t taking up that much space. They aren’t preventing another better selling book from sitting on the shelf. So a slow-moving book has time to build a decent income stream along with others like it over the years, or if it takes off at some point, it can find its audience whereas if it were a tree-book, it would have never had a chance.
  2. It gives the author real options. Prior to the explosion of ebooks, and the advent of POD (Publish On Demand) technology, if a publisher didn’t pick you up, your only other route was to pay the big bucks to get a printer or a “vanity publisher” to print up copies of your book, then painstakingly market them to bookstores one at a time in the hopes of selling some copies. Which meant for most people, you had to go through a publisher. Some may say that was a good thing, and lament the lack of “quality control” they provided. But it wasn’t as much about what the quality was as much as, one, what would sell, and two, do we have a slot for it? Though there are many books refused because of lacking skills at the craft, there were also a whole lot of quality books that were never printed simply because the publishers didn’t think that type of book would sell or they already had book similar to that on the list and feared another would divide the audience, causing both books to fail. Now, once the list of publishers are exhausted, the author has the option to put the book up him or herself and let the readers decide if the book works or not. And some authors are preferring this route, due to the flux of agents and publishers in this environment, to turn to self-publishing instead of going the traditional route. The rise of ebooks has made this possible.
  3. It levels the playing field. By being able to bypass the gatekeepers of publishers, a book can more easily find an audience, even if it is a smaller niche audience. You no longer have to be the “next big thing” to get on the charts. Each year brings new success stories of indie authors becoming popular with the readers, and causing publishers to take notice of them. These are people that might have never had a serious chance, except for the fact that their book can now sit “beside” bestselling novels in the virtual halls of online retailing.
  4. If one wants to be traditionally published, the route may now be through self-publishing. More and more publishers are scanning the indie markets to find their next big author, rather than relying on agents or a shifting through the slush pile. In essence, the reader helps them sort through the slush. And who better, since what a publisher wants to know more than anything is what will readers buy? And who to better determine that than the readers themselves?
  5. Self-publishing gives authors leverage in negotiating deals with the big publishers. The recent authors to rise to success in the indie market are finding publishers knocking on their doors, wanting to negotiate a deal. Nothing like a proven hot selling book to give the author some significant leverage come contract negotiation time. Something you can’t get unless you self-publish first. The rise of ebooks made this possible.
  6. The author keeps full control. All rights are yours, all the time. This and the next are more a benefit if you have self-published which ebooks have made possible. You want to change the price on your book? You do it. You want a different cover? Get a new one and update your book. Want to post the whole book for free on your blog? No need to get a publisher’s authorization to do so. (Not saying that is a smart thing, necessarily, but you can do it.) You don’t have to worry about your book being locked into a deal for years, maybe a lifetime in some contracts recently where publishers are out for a rights grab in an attempt to survive.
  7. The author will get sales figures and money much quicker. With traditional publishing, the author can expect checks on a six-month basis at best. And your sales numbers? Ha! It really hasn’t been until Amazon gave authors the ability to see their sales numbers themselves from all major sales outlets that the author has had any inkling of an idea. And that only shows you tree-books, not ebooks. When you self-publish, you get the sales numbers, in some cases, as soon as they happen. And you usually get paid monthly to quarterly.

So, fear not. The ever expanding ebook market bodes well for the author. More options, more control, more of the money, and exposure of your work to let readers decide what readers will like, instead of an editor in a New York office making his best guesses. The opportunities for authors are better than they have been in a long time.

What trends do you see ebooks either benefiting or hurting authors?