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