Too e-asy?

Let’s start with the assumption that writers want to see their work in print. For poets, novelists, biographers and writers of memoirs, the lure of type on a page, their name as author stated boldly on a cover designed by some-one who understands what makes books sell, holds a place in their aspirations. We could make an exception for script writers, for whom a greater motivation than a compelling font is hearing the words they have created spoken on screen or stage.

Just twelve months ago, Amazon reported that for the first time, sales of e-books had outstripped hard- back sales in the US. Like all new technology that works its way at speed in the daily routines of millions, the e-book has its detractors and supporters. Most are surprisingly passionate in their views, some to the point of irrationality. Love the e-book or hate it, it has become part of how the reading public reads: not a replacement for paperback, hardback, newspaper and journal, but an alternative.

For authors, though, does publication of an e-book generate quite the same thrill and sense of achievement as a traditionally published book? Is the e-book somehow a diminished book, not quite a real book? And does an e-author see him or herself as a bona fide author if the work in question doesn’t go through the paper publishing mill before it hits the Kindle screen?

OCA painting student Nana Nielsen published her first novel, Nell’s Dragon, through Kindle in April this year. It’s a work of fantasy fiction for young adults, an audience Nana understands well, having studied interactive media in her native Denmark. She now makes her living as a designer of computer games, and is co-author of The Game Maker’s Companion, an instructional book on game development published last year by Apress.

As the author of recently published books in both formats, Nana is unequivocal about which wins out: ‘As a writer, you do get a kick out of publishing a book on Kindle. It’s similar to the pleasure you take as a painter when people see your work at a local exhibition. To be honest, though, an e-book doesn’t feel the same for an author as a paper book. Being published by a third party gives your work a stamp of quality, as the publisher has chosen to invest in your work to bring it to market. In the end, money talks.’

In the same way that readers embrace or reject e-books, writers are free to do the same. As the e-book is unlikely to be consigned any time soon to a dust-free virtual archive, perhaps the question for writers is not about how they feel as authors about e-books , but about how authors can benefit from the way in which e-publishing is changing the relationship between writers and publishers.

From the financial point of view at least, e-publishing favours the author and traditional publishing the publisher. Taking Nana’s two books as examples, she personally receives 70 per cent of the £2.00 cover price of Nell’s Dragon, paid directly to her every month. As one of four co-authors of The Game Makers’ Companion, which has a recommended retail price of £31.49, she receives 50 pence from each copy sold, with payment made from time to time. Even then, 20 per cent of royalties are retained by the publisher for returns, as is standard.

It would of course be unwise for a writer to say publicly that publishers have had it easy for too long. What may well be wise instead is for writers to embrace the e-book as the lever that will, in time, make publishers’ lives trickier, writers’ lives easier and the lives of the reading public more diverse.

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On another topic, I was particularly pleased this week to see OCA’s Creative Wring Course Leader, Jane Rogers has made the long list for the Man Booker prize with The Testament of Jessie Lamb. You can hear her talking about the novel here.

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Image by Iván PC on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

12 Comments

  1. CliveW 27 July 2011 at 2:08 pm

    I’ve only ever bought one e-book, a rather expensive textbook.

    After three accesses the Digital Rights Management decided I wasn’t authorised to access it. No more e-books for me from then on.

    That stance was harden when purchased annotated books reportedly went ‘missing’ from e-book readers, apparently pulled remotely.

    When I’ve bought a book I want to own it, not provisionally borrow it.

    It’s rather analogous to OS vendors who engineer retaining more rights over your machine than you do.

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  2. vicki loader 27 July 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Does an author get as much thrill from having an e-book published as they do from a real book. Maybe not, I remember when I had my first one published. I visited every bookstore I could just to see if it was on the shelves; and then would just stand there looking at it, brimming with pride. Maybe the rest of the people in the bookstore thought I was a loon, but I did not care.

    But I am now an e-book convert! I love buying real books, I have shelves full of them; but being able to take my books with me, is such a bonus! Whenever possible, I now buy the PDF version of a book and it gets loaded onto my iPad which is stuck firmly to my side.

    I am fussy though. I bought ‘The Photographer’s Mind’ as a kindle book; and I was disappointed. Kindle is good for novels I think, but not for books where the order of the book is not necessarily displayed on the screen as it is in hard copy. Illustrations and photographs were just not where there should have been; and when zooming in, the quality of the images was abysmal.

    But for me PDFs are a different story; I can read them on my monitor or carry them with me; using Acrobat, I can highlight and write on the pages – something I would never do in a real book. I don’t need to use sticky pads to make bookmarks – all of that I can do on screen.

    So, novels = kindle, tech and reference books = iPad; beautiful monographs = real book please!

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  3. Peter Haveland 27 July 2011 at 7:06 pm

    For me, a lot is about economics. I can buy a lot of books for the price of a Kindle and even more for an iPad added to which I don’t have any problem carrying a book around but the various bits of electronic kit seem to take up too much space and weigh too much…added to which the battery always runs out at the most inconvenient moment!

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  4. vicki loader 27 July 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Ah Peter, therein lies the problem! My iPad came courtesy of my partner who could see how my eyes lit up each time I saw one. Hence no cost to me. As for weight, I tend to be reading four or five at the same time – that’s a lot of book in a handbag!

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  5. Peter Haveland 27 July 2011 at 10:56 pm

    but I only have pockets, so one at a time; the other four or five that I am trying to read sit at home, a sort of forced dicipline. If I have an electronic book, every time it got a bit difficult, I would start a new one and then where would I be?

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  6. Sarah G 28 July 2011 at 11:09 am

    I love ebooks, and having had an ereader for nearly 2 years, I have to say that I love its convenience. It hasn’t stopped me buying printed books, in fact I seem to buy more now as I get the ones I’ll want to keep and re-read. I am quite nerdy in which I’ll have both ebook and paper copies where available for my favourite authors, but some of the smaller, quirkier genres I like are not yet available on ebook.

    Of course when it comes to art and photography books, nothing in my view will beat good old printed paper.

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  7. RobTM 28 July 2011 at 11:26 am

    I’ve just bought Tokyo Suburbia for iPad/Phone – ok, it’s not the same as the real thing, but it cost me £6 rather than £600. For that sort of thing, ebooks are excellent.

    Reply
  8. Mike everett 28 July 2011 at 11:32 am

    Having owned both an Ipad and an E-reader, I find that when reading an Ebook I read the words but don’t take in what they say the same as when I read a book, the exception to this is with text books when I find them very helpful in that ican carry them around with me

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  9. Paul Vincent 28 July 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Further to Peter’s comment about ‘forced discipline’, I would probably have abandoned several of the more ‘difficult’ books I’ve read simply because once out of sight, they’re quickly out of mind. A book which is challenging might end up back on the bookcase for a while, but is still there staring back at you like a gremlin until you can take it no more! I began to read a classic novel through project Gutenberg last year, and after getting half way through I abandoned it. I re-discovered the file months later and decided to instead buy it from Amazon. A week later I’d finished it and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There’s something about a physical book that makes ‘it’ want to be read. I don’t get that same feeling of encouragement when reading from a screen.

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  10. Peter Haveland 28 July 2011 at 12:27 pm

    There is a different issue though. One of my daughters has difficulty reading and was diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome in her mid teens. She finds that a page of text is daunting but has taken to reading a lot on her smart phone. Not only can she adjust the screen but the small amount of text on the screen at any one moment is less off putting for her.

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  11. Nana Nielsen 29 July 2011 at 12:18 pm

    That’s a good point, Peter.
    I don’t like reading on my phone or on the computer screen, but an e-reader is different, more relaxing to look at. Setting the font slightly larger makes it even better.
    And the battery in mine lasts a good month. Can’t fault that.

    Doesn’t make me stop buying paper books, though. Love them too much for that :o)

    Nana

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  12. Jan Morgan 30 July 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I have a Kindle which is more convenient than a bunch of bulky paperbacks for taking on holiday. There are two things wrong with the Kindle. One, it is too easy to turn the page accidentally if you are reading in bed. Two, I like to know how many pages I have read and how many pages I have to go, but this is not possible.

    My first love will always be paper books, they are so tactile and more relaxing than the e version.

    I look forward to the day I can go on a cruise and see everyone relaxing around the pool reading copies of MY novel.

    Reply

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