Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Evolution of E-Books

It is really exciting to see the big surge in e-book publishing and sales. It has been a long time coming.

My first e-book was published in 1997 with The Fiction Works, a new independent publisher who jumped on the early hype about how e-books were going to take off like wildfire. I remember the conversations with the publisher and the editor about how there were going to be kiosks in shopping malls where people would be able to buy electronic or print-on-demand copies of books and we would all get rich.

In the meantime, the books were produced on CDs and packaged much like music, with very nice covers. Customers had an option of buying the packaged CD or buying a direct download to their computer. One nice thing about the CD was that it gave the authors product to have in hand to take to signing events, and we were encouraged to do that kind of promoting. I was living in Nebraska at the time, and there were a few other authors with e-books, so we set out on a little mini-tour of the Midwest with great expectations. There we sat in bookstores with our books on CD, trying to interest people in electronic books, and they looked at us like we were nuts.

Needless to say, we did not sell a lot of books. A few people were mildly interested in talking about this newfangled approach to reading, but most just smiled and went on their way to the real books.

Unfortunately, books did not fly into customer's hands from the publisher's website, either. There were no dedicated e-book readers available at that time, and people did not want to read books on a computer.  Who could blame them? The Rocket eBook came out in 1998, and it was a pioneer in the dedicated-reader field, but it did not jump-start sales of e-books. After a dismal year where my monthly royalties would not even buy me a latte, I pulled my book and focused on traditional publishing. 

Now with the popularity of the Kindle, Nook, and other dedicated readers, sales of e-books are finally starting to really gain momentum, and I don't think it will be too long before they reach the levels predicted so many years ago. Few authors are currently getting rich on their e-book sales, but many are earning a comfortable living as e-book sales rise. And recent statistics are very encouraging. The Association of American Publishers reported that e-book sales jumped 158.1% in September and were up 188.4% in the first nine months of the year.  

I am betting on the future of e-books. I have three books and a short story available for the various dedicated readers, and I have made more in one month on their sales than I did on that early venture into electronic publishing.

Have you published a book electronically? What has your experience been like?


 Maryann Miller is a freelance writer and editor. Her e-books are: One Small Victory, Play It Again, Sam, and The One O'Clock Nap

 For information about her other books and her editing services visit her Web site.  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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  1. Hi Maryann,
    What a great story of your journey in e-books! I'm a new author, and my first book came out last fall as an e-book only. Most of my own family haven't read it yet because they don't think of it as a "real book."

    But statistics don't lie. And even my 75-year-old mother-in-law finally bought a Kindle... Books aren't going away but electronic publishing is the way of the future. We can kick and scream, or we can embrace it as another way to reach readers.

    Best of luck to you!

  2. No, I haven't but you have got me interested. I guess, Like Katie's family, I'm stuck in the 'real book' rut. Maybe one day real books will be viewed as stone tablets are now.

  3. Maryann, I'm excited for you. I too embarked on the brave new world of publishing my debut novel "Love of a Stonemason" this year as an ebook and a POD paperback. It's been a fascinating experience. Since I published the book as an independent author/publisher, trying it out as an inexpensive ebook version made a lot of sense. I fell in love with my Kindle reader and although I still love paper books as well, ebooks have opened a range of new possibilities for both authors and readers.
    Good luck with your books!

  4. I also began in the early days of e-publishing. One of the Big Forces in e-publishing was opening a mainstream imprint. I believe their thought was that readers would also cross over. Not so. At the time, there weren't many dedicated e-readers (I have the 2nd generation Rocketbook, the eBookwise) and it was a totally different market. Early e-books were predominantly erotica, and the ability to buy and read in the privacy of one's home was the selling point. Those authors were consistently bringing in monthly royalties in the 4 figure category, but there was virtually no crossover traffic.

    There's another change with this publisher; they're rebranding that imprint and moving it back into the Big House. I'm not sure how it will go.

    Meanwhile, I have one of my print backlist books and a number of short stories available where there's no publisher middleman, and I still have several e-books with e-publishers as well.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  5. Maryann,
    I remember well when the eBook talk started in the 90s. I was fascinated, but not in a position to give it a try.

    I joined the eBook market in May of this year, and now have 7 titles out for eReaders. Most are electronic versions of my print books, although I did a short book of poetry and short stories, and a novella that are only available for eReaders. I'm not burning up the sales charts, but it's steady.

    KatieO, I agree, we should utilize this as another way to reach readers. The marketing potential is infinite.

  6. Hi, Maryann,

    My first two novels were published as ebooks back in 1999 and I experienced the same disappointment that you did. I even bought a new laptop so that I could display the books at bookstore signings. I now have six ebooks and am considering placing my OT print books on Kindle.

    I just read this morning that the NY Times is going to start an ebooks bestseller list early next year. That is good news! It gives electronic publishing the respect it deserves.

  7. Hi Maryanne. that story made me smile. I am currently working with an editor to get my High Fantasy for Kindle this December.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  8. This personal history with e-books was a perfect follow-up to yesterday's facts and figures. Like so many "overnight sensations," this trend has been in the works for quite some time, and your tale shows this well.

    Like KatieO and Ian, I too was struck by the phrase "real book." It will take our language a while to reflect the change in reality: I guess we're not writing "books" any more. Stories, novels—those words are more descriptive anyway, and have never needed the modifier "real."

  9. KatiO, congrats on getting your first e-book out there. I think e-books are experiencing the same reactions that paperback had when they first came out. They were not considered "real" books, or at least not books worthy of the discriminating reader. LOL

    Terry, erotica seems to be the highest seller in e-books, but it is not something I have ever enjoyed reading or writing.

  10. My novels were first published electronically in 1994 on those big floppy disks. They sold pretty well at first, but the makers of the eBook readers couldn't agree on a non-proprietary format, so people were locked into one source for books or another and readers got frustrated and gave it up.

    I'm glad to see the market taking off like a big bird!

    The funniest thing, to me, is how everybody acted like eBooks weren't "real" back then, and now more and more people are saying, "You have an eBook? COOL!" lol!

    Marian Allen

  11. It is good to see the growing popularity of ebooks. I would like to give it a go but my husband won't let me until I've given traditional publishing a proper go. No matter how popular ebooks have become, there is still that stigma attached to them.

  12. I'm getting there, Maryann. I have the cover and the files, and just need to set aside the time to do the uploads and the review. Soon, very soon. Exciting stuff!

  13. My three books are both print and ebooks. Unfortunately, the publisher of my first two books is going through the transition to Digital Text Platform, a long time coming for them, at Amazon.com, so those are not available right now though they were before.

    My recent release, Killer Career, is doing well at Amazon, especially since I lowered the price to 99 cents. I did that after buying my own Kindle and searching for all the free books first, then the ones a little higher. I figure there are others like me out there also.

    I have print books at home, but usually read on the go with my Kindle.
    Morgan Mandel

  14. Interesting story, Maryann. I really admire those who've gone with ebooks. It all sounds totally scary to me,

  15. Marian, I remember those floppy disks. Wow, we really have come a long way since those early e-books.

    Morgan, is your book selling well enough at 99cents to offset the higher royalty authors get if they price their book at $2.99?

    Lynda, I don't think you lose respectability publishing electronically. Otherwise all the big name writers and publishers would not be putting their books out there.

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