Tuesday, April 5, 2011

E-Pubbing: When Does It Make Sense?

Disclaimer: This post is half "promo" and half "there's a point in there somewhere, I promise." If you'd just tell your friends to send queries, I wouldn't resort to this. Or to more gratuitous pictures of cute horses later on if you don't send more queries soon... 

Many of you know I have a cross-genre women's historical novel with romantic elements that I've peddled for awhile. What with its fabulously crafted query letter, *wink* it received several requests from agents and editors alike for partials and the full. The full received revision letters from two agents and made it to pub board meetings twice. But no one picked it up.

Coincidentally, both this novel and SECTOR C got same-day requests for the full on the very first query I sent out for each. Just a reality check for anybody waiting around because one agent has your full.

I tried pitching it as a romance first, under the title SPOIL OF WAR. After the first revision letter that suggested it was maybe more women's historical, I started pitching it under that genre as CAMELIARD RISING. It got multiple requests and good feedback under both guises from agents who read the full, such as:
  • "I really enjoyed the read and literally could not put the manuscript down. You create a compelling world and do an even better job of illustrating why that moment in time is so fascinating and placing it in a larger context. I really enjoyed what I learned by reading your book. I also thought the characters, especially Elsbeth, were quite compelling."
  • "I read CAMELIARD RISING with much interest and think that your voice is fantastic. Equally good are the plot elements. In fact, I like the novel so so much."

Acquisition editors also admired the writing ...
  • "It was actually read by three individual acquisitions editors. While ultimately, the team did decide not to acquire your novel, clearly there was something here that the editors saw and appreciated ... They felt you showed crisp, engaging writing that resulted in an eminently readable book."

Sadly, I can share these observations with you guys here on the blog, but, of course, can't use them as actual reviews ;o)

Interestingly, agents mainly saw the issue with the book as not following the typical conventions of today's romance story (it stays firmly in the heroine's POV, for instance) or including too much romance in an historical novel, while editors seemed to focus on fit with house standards: many of the imprints wouldn't accept a married hero and most imprints didn't think readers would be willing to read a subplot that includes the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old, no matter how sensitively handled it is.

So, I appeared to have a well-written book with good plot, compelling characters and fantastic voice that was unlikely to ever find a traditional home because it isn't enough like other reads out there to be neatly catalogued. What to do?

Well, if you've seen my sidebar, you'll know. Rather than tearing this book down completely and turning it into something it was never meant to be, or abandoning it completely, I've put it out as an e-book. I tried to give it a cover and a description that plays fair with potential readers and doesn't promise what it's not. I gave it a subtitle so romance readers would understand there's more of history to it (and to helpfully attract people looking for Arthurian fiction). I've included that it has some controversial content, but also emphasized that kind of content isn't the focus of the book. I've given it an appealing price to entice readers to try it out.

And I put a quote on the cover. I am deeply, deeply indebted to NT Times Bestselling Author Jennifer Blake for supplying a truly terrific blurb for the book:
"SPOIL OF WAR is a fascinating account of early Britain, a gripping tale of lust, love and the horrors of ancient warfare. Beautifully written, filled with myriad period details and compelling characters, it takes you deep into the heart of a brutal era -- and into the nature of feminine honor, feminine courage. I was enthralled."
JENNIFER BLAKE, NY Times Bestselling Author
One of my crit partners even said that simply having the quote there on the cover makes the book feel more legitimate. What do you think?

I do plan to continue to pursue traditional/legacy opportunities for my latest WIP, an historical romance with fantasy elements, and for SECTOR C, which is high concept and should be an easy sell from a marketing perspective. However, to my mind, SPOIL OF WAR: An Arthurian Romance is a poster child for when it makes sense to self-publish. It's a book that's gotten positive industry feedback about its overall quality, but controversial content and its cross-genre-ness make it a tough sell marketing-wise.

EXTINCT DOESN'T MEAN FOREVER was, of course, an e-project from its inception.

Can you think of other instances when it makes sense to go the self-publishing route? Is it something YOU would do?


Michelle4Laughs said...

I agree that it is something I would do. I just haven't reached the point of having a great MS rejected. My first work wasn't exactly great and the second isn't finished.

I am wondering if you submitted to e-publishers first before you decided on going the ebook route alone. I think I would rather have the work done by an e-publishing house as I question my skill at catching all the little errors and typos. In other words, I'm chicken.

Michelle4Laughs said...

And also, I think the cover is amazing. The quote does give it that boost. I love Arthurian Lit, took a class on it in college. Makes me think Mist of Avalon, which is a favorite.

Chrystalla Thoma said...

The cover is eye-catching and having a blurb from a known author is a plus. I am also biased because the mention of Arthurian legend on its own is enough for me to buy it. ;-)
As you may have seen on my Facebook page, I am torn - not as to whether to self-publish (I have decided I will) but as to whether to publish my first novel in English the traditional way or the indie way.
But I must say, awesome, great job, and is the book out yet? Because I would like to read it. :-)

David North-Martino said...

I think we’ve reached a time when the technology and distribution channels make self-publishing a very good option. Barry Eisler just turned down a half million-dollar deal (for 2 books) to self-publish because he thinks he can make more money in the long run.

I’m planning on putting out a novel by the end of the year. Of course, I’ll make sure it’s professionally edited. I haven’t decided if I’m going to use a pseudonym (especially since Extinct helped me to get an author page, under my real name, set up on Amazon) but I’m definitely willing to take the chance and see what happens. The idea of building my career independently is also very appealing.

I suggest checking out blogs by JA Konrath, Barry Eisler, Scott Nicholson (all originally traditionally published) , and Amanda Hocking (began by self-publishing and now has a $2 mil dollar deal).

Konrath took all the books that NY rejected, self-published them, and is now making a six-figure income.

Exciting stuff!

Matt said...

The blurb on the cover definitely gives it an air of professionalism. But at only $1, you're underselling yourself, no? I don't have a kindle yet; what's a good ebook sell for these days?

David North-Martino said...

$0.99 e-books tend to sell well. They make great impulse buys. When you sell a lot of e-books you have the potential to get onto top 100 lists at Amazon, and that can get you noticed by a ton of readers.

Right now you don't want to price an e-book above $2.99 (that's the current wisdom) if you want to make a lot of sales. You get 70% so you have the potential to make in volume. JA Konrath makes six figures off of e-books priced from .99 to 2.99.

Kay said...

I didn't know it was available yet. I had to leave the blog to purchase

I don't understand why a piece of work that draws that much attention has to be pigeon-holed into a strictly formatted category. How frustrating! Are you the next Amanda Hocking?

Good for you for self publishing. Cover is great. Quote is awesome. I'm almost finished with Extinct so I can start it tonight. Yeah!

Matt said...

Interesting. Thanks for the info, David.

Phoenix said...

@Michelle: I did submit to e-publishers first, but many of their editorial policies prohibit the content in my book. Honestly, it isn't exploitive or erotic -- and it does have an HEA. But the thinking is that romance readers don't want any real issues in their books.

FYI, Marion Zimmer Bradley, who wrote Mists of Avalon, was my first editor :o) This book does have some of that same women's historical feel, but is more romancy.

I bought the license for the cover image and did the design myself. My crit group rapped my knuckles over a couple of more amateur-looking attempts and forced me to up my game on it. I'm pretty happy with the result.

@Chrystalla: I'm still a fan of traditional/legacy publishing first, except in special niche situations. I don't think your novel falls into the niche category, so no reason not to try to get an agent or editorial buy-in first!

@Dave: Just keep in mind it took all these folk a lot of years and promotion to get them where they are today. A healthy list of available books has a synergistic effect in moving all titles.

Promo is tough, too, as many destination review sites, even in genres like SF, fantasy and romance still won't review ebooks, and the few that do will only on a case-by-case basis. So having a name beforehand helps. A lot.

Phoenix said...

@Matt: what's a good ebook sell for these days?

Well, my obvious answer here is that there's at least ONE good one selling for $0.99. ;o)

I do plan on raising the price if I can get a few reviews up and more copies sold. But I won't raise it above $2.99. With royalties for paperbacks at about 8-10%, most pb's earn only about $0.50 - 1.00 per book for the author, while the author's take for a $3 ebook is $1.80 - 2.10.

I think that's pretty fair. I don't want to devalue my writing, but I also think the more books readers can afford, the better off all writers are.

@Kay: LOL! I think this is a good book, but it's not a breakout novel given its subject matter. Unless it becomes a trendsetter ;o)

Thanks for buying it! And thanks for reading Extinct! BTW, would you be willing to post out an honest review for Extinct on Amazon and/or BN? The authors are all really nice folk and I'm sure no one will go postal on you no matter what your opinion is in the review.

I'm not sure how to put a widget on my site so you don't have to leave the blog to buy the books. I'll look into that tonight, because 1) I'm a geek and 2) yay! another procrastination excuse for not working on my WIP.

Kay said...

I'd be happy to do an Amazon review--will probably be tomorrow. Even if they go postal they can't find me in TN I mean FL.

Maybe we could even figure out a clever way to do a post about it on my blog. If you or any of your authors have an idea let me know--something different from a traditional review or interview.

I wasn't complaining about having to leave the blog to get the e-book. Heck, you had a link to Amazon. How much easier could it be? I just meant I did it right then before I read any more blogs. Geez. I don't think this counts as a pass for procrastination so back to WIP ;-)

David North-Martino said...

@Phoenix--Absolutely. I'm under no delusions of grandeur. : ) Not everyone is going to come close to some of these authors. It takes a lot of hard work and a little luck. But I still think ebooks offer an incredible opportunity.

Here's a blog post by a former marketer who decided he was going to become the worlds greatest 99-cent author. Interesting stuff.


fairyhedgehog said...

I love the title you settled on. It sounds like it really reflects the book and it sounds good. The cover is professional-looking too.

This is clearly a great candidate for self-publishing: a book that publishers agree is publishable but not by them!

My only hesitation is that it is so not a genre that I usually read. But at 79p I've bought it anyway. I may get drawn in and end up writing a review on it or I may not, but what's to lose?

Congratulations on getting it out there!

Phoenix said...

@Kay: Oh, a post on your blog would be fun. A couple of the authors lurk here, and I'll throw it out to the whole group to see what we can come up with that's unique!

@Dave: Thanks for the link. I've been subscribed to JAK's blog for awhile now. But I hadn't gone back and read all the comments in that post where Locke answered everybody's questions. I'm still not sure what the secret sauce is, though...

@FHH: How kind of you to splurge on the book! Has it gone up to 79p? It fluctuates on Amazon UK based on the static US price. I wish I could make it stable there, too. If you get into it and it doesn't interest you at all, please put it down and move on to something else. Life's too short and there are soooo many good books to be read in every genre! I'll buy you one you may like instead.

David North-Martino said...

@Phoenix--If you find a bottle of that secret sauce let me know. I want to buy some! ; )

fairyhedgehog said...

I lied. It was 71p but my brain fogged up.

I haven't started it yet because I'm reading Chasing Windmills in between bouts of crocheting and playing online!