Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Friday, January 14, 2011

To Epublish or not Epublish, that is the Question?

Epublishing a Chance for Writers?

Greetings my well regarded readers, all several of you, I hope that this New Year celebration and holiday has left you relaxed and refreshed rather than frazzled and stressed out. If the later then a good firkin of methaglyn will definitely restore the balance of the humours and good cheer. I thought today we’d discuss a vexing subject of our literary times; whether it is nobler to published in print or suffer the slings and arrows of epublishing.
As many of you will have seen before Christmas and since there has been an absolute hysteria from both the publishing and retailing industries regarding the proliferation of ebooks and their electronic readers plus the growing impact of online purchases. Here in the Antipodes it has even prompted large retailing chains to howl indignantly over the apparent unfair GST (Goods and Sales Tax) status of on line purchase. Apparently their extremely expensive marketing consultants completely missed the steady growth of companies like Amazon or Ebay and the increasing strength of the Aussie dollar over this last decade.

One wonders how every one else appeared to pick up this trend while senior executives and consultants missed it, are they perhaps they’re still living in a pre digital pre internet world? Though maybe that’s not so surprising, this same collection of highly qualified and experienced commerce experts also totally missed the six months or more of warnings of the Great Economic Meltdown so perhaps we should allow them some latitude in relation to the internet.
After all the siren song of voodoo economics is so hard to give up.

There done that, vented my spleen now on to e-publishing.

On my way up to my old friend Nick’s funeral I spent quite a few hours with many of my old school friends, and as expected we swapped stories about families and current pursuits. All of a sudden I found that I had to condense four plus years of trying to get published the traditional way and going along the new e-publish path into a very short explanation, and to be honest it wasn’t that easy. I found that a lot of myths had grown up around the getting published process, ones that now I examine them are very difficult to accept.
Now in a very light hearted and satirical fashion the good doctor covered the perils and processes of publishing in a prior blog (see Publishing Gregory House), so just regard this as part 2.

Publishing, The Sequel!

The Query Tread Mill

Long accepted practice has the aspiring author send off a two hundred word or so grovelling query letter outlining their brilliant literary masterpiece along with a brief outline of qualifications, suitability and marketability to an agent or publishing house. On the surface this is a sound practical process and has been so for over a hundred years. It is meant as a sorting mechanism to winnow out the literary wheat from the chaff, however real life proves more quirky.
Most agents and publishers make it very plain in their web pages (those that have them, which is by no means all) that your query will be handled in due course ranging in time from weeks to months. After that little flash of truth you’re then informed that during this lengthy process of deliberation if during that time you get tired of waiting for a reply and decide to send your query to anyone else. The original recipients will trash your query and put a big black mark next to your name.
Alright lets do the maths lets say you’ve narrowed down twenty A grade ‘potentials’ and give each a two month turnaround (this is an average period, some claim one month turnaround other three or longer). That’s three and one third years!
Excuse me? Let me get this right, you want ‘me’ to put my business proposal on hold for how long? Until you’ve deigned to notify me if my proposal has even been ‘reviewed’ before I can send it to someone else? I mean, is this for real? Isn’t that a touch monopolistic as well as incredibly un-business like and impractical? Not to mention woefully Dickensian?

Quality Assured?

Over the Aethernet one apocryphal tale does the rounds, a well known author as a test sent off hundreds of query letters based on an already popular and published work. The result was dismal, not only did they gain few replies, most of those hadn’t twigged to the apparently obvious clues. Oh dear human nature strikes again!
The other point in queries that always concerns me is that while query letters make time management sense, I’m not sure the ability to churn out a two hundred word bite is necessarily the same as that required for a one or two hundred thousand word novel.
To give a comparable real world example, it would be like judging a student’s year long efforts solely on a two paragraph submission. As if any teacher could get away with that! Opps, bad example but you get the drift.


Some of the complaints from the publishing industry have focused with a ferociously rabid righteous indignation on the expected drop in editing and story quality with the anticipated flood of e-published books surging tsunami like into the market. If they are to be believed the rampant barbarian hordes of almost illiteracy are howling at the gates, battering rams swinging, slavering with eagerness to defile the chaste virgins of literature. Well maybe not quite like that, but that’s not far off the level of hysteria as currently portrayed. The advent of the personal computer over twenty years ago was heralded as the dawn of the new age of literary expansion, more talented writers would be able to produce a greater volume and diversity of stories. So it has proved, however we are now told most of them are functionally illiterate without the guiding hand and steady editing pencil of the experienced agent and publisher.

Having taught high school and university level courses there is a shadow of truth there, but perhaps no more than in any generation of complaints about education quality. Now I strongly agree that editing is the key to any successful writing, god knows I’d be in a pickle without my uber-editor Jocelyn to rearrange the commas or sort out the phrases and adjectival clauses. However I find the strident proclamations of the publishing industry as bastions of writing and language to be somewhat hollow.

Several books of my recent acquaintance proved to be the denizens of strange and unusual realms of grammar, one book of a popular adventure genre had a three page sentence before the first full stop. While a recently highly praised and awarded literati winner swapped around tenses more frequently than serves in a ping pong match. This may be postmodern démodé but it made the story impossible to figure out who was saying what to whom and why. That of course is the extreme or maybe not. Perhaps I’m being too picky, but after spending twenty plus dollars I like a story to be:
a) Interesting
b) Well written
c) Coherent
d) Entertaining or scary, or gut wrenching, or full of pathos, or even thoughtful
e) Edited, in that the main characters retains their own names throughout the story
f) Or we do not display the Tudor attitude to spelling (a very ‘individual’ approach)

After twenty dollars plus I have found there is rarely a guarantee of quality, so as for being guardians of the public weal of language and quality products I would have to rate them as a dismal failure.

Publicity, Marketing and… Distance

Traditional agents and publishers frequently promise to handle all the publicity and marketing of your literary creation. Well that’d be fine if only you could trust they’d do a good job, I mean I only have to mention the plethora of headless bimbo covers of previous blogs. Oh dear sorry about that, the sarcasm gear slipped into overdrive again. Damn that dicky clutch! What I meant to say was that publishers and agents will ‘encourage’ you to do book signings and engage in marketing and promotions as well as set up a website and of course social media is a must! Hang on we’ve got a slight problem there. Isn’t that exactly what I have to do as an e-publisher? Well what do you know it actually is! And I don’t get charged a marketing percentage or agent’s fee and its all tax deductable to me, wow amazing! Why didn’t I think of this before?

As an Aussie I understand the tyranny of distance. It’s a damn vast place with a thousand kilometres between each major city. So travelling around for me isn’t unusual. Authors are frequently told they have to get out and market their work via book signings and media events. Now this may be easy for those living in Capital cites like London or the New England to Richmond Va. region or even L.A (sometimes). However if you don’t, like a very large number of aspiring authors, then distance is your enemy in so many ways. One of the greatest obstacles is surprisingly prejudice based on region. Unfortunately a significant number of urbanites, their life circumscribed by concrete and pavement, frequently regard your queries and submissions as coming from deepest Hicksville or Uppercumbucka West and sneeringly automatically bin them. Sorry seen it.

The solution of course is simple, use the internet. The action however is another matter requiring intelligence, forethought and dedication.

Money !!!
Now we enter the sordid world or finance where the purity of art is soiled by grubby commercial considerations. Ain’t it wonderful! Now in the current market the author, that’s the person who slaved away for months to produce the work is the least compensated, garnering usually a lot less than twenty percent of the ‘net’ profit more often fifteen or ten. Now lots of publishing companies will huff affrontedly over that ‘figure’ claiming the high cost of printing, distribution, marketing and publishing expenses. In some case they may even have justification, however according to ‘modern’ accounting practices whether the author’s work sells or not they still make money on it. Now we arrive at e-publishing placing a book in the electronic market place does not involve either distribution, or printing. So the question is how can a publisher still claim such a high percentage? Personally I’ll cut out all those expensive and superfluous middle men and go with Smashwords, who guarantee that around 80% of the sale price goes to the authors. Thanks Mark Crocker for returning power to the authors keep up the good work!

So we’ve had a very satirical cruise through all the reasons why I’m going for e-publishing. I must add that the publishing world is not all bad. Out there in publisher land there has to be some decent hardworking agents and publishers. However their impact on the market has unfortunately been minimal. I, like many other authors, am now exercising my ‘free market’ rights and going digital, so hope to see you soon on an ebook reader of your choice!

As the good doctor says keep taking the pills!


  1. Oh dear oh dear oh dear, I have so many thoughts on this/these topic(s). Let me just force two of them on you.

    Quality assurance of published novels... of course, that publishers can guarantee this is in question. Less and less time is spent on editorial attention, especially where sales are a perceived priority. This also assumes that an independently published novel is more likely to be lousy. True, but not nevessarily. My own bottom line is that I think readers should get to decide this.. I have a sort of poopulist approach to what's out there. I ask, "What do you want to read, and how did you like what you read?" A publisher's imprimatur is definitely not the deciding factor for most readers.

    The other topic.. and let me say first that independent publishing and ebook publishing are not the same thing. But you knew that. I will sing hosannahs to one aspect of ebooks.. thay are almost always readable by people who are print-impaired, in my case because of a visual disabillity. If blind etc. people seem like a tiny readership, let me point out that in my experience they/we are some of the most voracious and engaged readers you will find.. and my Kindle has been my savior since I have pretty much run through all the books in my preferred genre at the library for the blind. Plus I just prefer to be a customer rather than a charity case.

    I do have a few posts on my own blog, , about ebooks etc, including one post about all the benefits.

    In conclusion, I adore my Kindle 3 which reads aloud to me.

    Nan Hawthorne

  2. Thanks Nan for filling in the areas I had to leave very brief. I have actually finally convinced my father of the print advantages of Kindle and am about to order him one.