Digital Publishing Moves Mainstream: Is Your Publisher Playing the Professional Game? … by Heidi Cullinan

At RWA[1]’s 2012 national conference in Anaheim, a digital-first title won the contemporary single title RITA[2]. The RWA board introduced new, protective language into the bylaws, specifically stating that “membership shall not be denied to adults because of race, color, gender, age, religion, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, or political affiliation.”[3] The board also announced that beginning this fall self-published authors earning $5,000 in total sales or more will be eligible for the Published Author’s Network (also known as PAN), something the organization has long resisted.

While self-published authors are not yet eligible for the RITAs, the goal is to make this happen as soon as is logistically possible. At the Passionate Ink party, speakers Sarah Frantz and Eve Berlin spoke about the popularity of erotic romance, specifically BDSM, and how since Fifty Shades of Grey that popularity has gone through the roof, reviving dead erotic lines at major publishing houses and seeing erotic authors resigned to living in the midlist being courted for foreign book tours, all expenses paid. Frantz also moderated a panel called “Alternative Goes Mainstream,” featuring m/m author KA Mitchell, f/f author Kim Baldwin, m/m/f author Lauren Dane, Heather Osborn of Samhain, and Radclyffe of Bold Strokes Books. The panel attracted mostly those already writing LGBTQ romantic fiction, many of whom hadn’t yet met each other or joined Rainbow Romance Writers (RRW), the RWA chapter for LGBTQ romances, and authors wishing to learn more about and possibly to try their hand at LGBTQ romantic fiction. Meanwhile, at this same conference Romantic Times Magazine was present distributing free copies of their current issue, which just so happened to feature articles on male/male and female/female romances.

I’ve attended RWA conferences since 2002, and the 2012 conference at Anaheim was like nothing I’d ever seen or felt. Gone were the images of “important authors” drifting by to power lunches while the rest of us looked on. Everyone was in an important meeting, and everyone had as much chance for power and influence as anyone else. In fact, all the movement and opportunity seemed to be happening within what had in the past been the ghetto hangouts of digital and erotica. There was, essentially, a digital-first and LGBTQ romance wave, and we were where everything was happening.

Unfortunately, there were very, very few of us surfing that wave compared to those of us who could have been. Of the publishers of LGBTQ romantic fiction only Samhain had a major presence, followed by Loose ID and Bold Strokes Books who had representatives taking pitches and/or on panels. Had the rest of our LGBTQ posse been present, it’s impossible to say what we could have accomplished, given that with what little we had—those publishers, a few handfuls of authors, and me as RRW president attending every event possible to network—we did rather a lot.

There has been a seismic shift in the industry. We felt it at the Romantic Times conference in April, and this reality has only swelled at RWA nationals. For authors and publishers both, the time to act is now. We no longer need to keep trying to reinvent an LGBTQ friendly wheel. We have a serious spoke in the very large and powerful wheel already rolling, and if we band together as digital-first authors and publishers, we can probably start driving more than we ever even hoped to imagine.

But we must do this together, and we must step out of alternative and into the mainstream. Which means we need to start playing, at least a little, like the mainstream plays. Publishers must be competitive. Publishers must be mindful of the industry around them. Above all, digital-first publishers must acknowledge they are in competition for their authors, that more and more it is we who interview them, not the other way around.

The following is a bullet list of things digital-first authors should be looking for in their publishers and which digital-first publishers should be doing or working towards doing as swiftly as possible. It is by no means ironclad nor is it inclusive. All authors should, however, consider each point and decide why they agree or disagree. Publishers too, should take notice.

Standard promotion: Professionally-minded publishers provide books for contests, conferences, and charities.

Authors frequently travel to conferences all over the world to promote their books, often at great personal expense. One of those expenses, however, shouldn’t be providing their own paperbacks for promotional giftbags and charitable sales. Some publishers will also provide authors with postcards and paper flats. All these items go into goody rooms and in attendee gift bags. If you’re an LGBT author at a conference where we are still “other,” you’ll find these freebies go faster than anything else other authors and publishers are trying to give away. People are curious about us, and there’s nothing that says “try me” like a free book.

Marie Sexton and I recently attended a small reader conference where we were the only male/male authors present. While we received some eyebrows, mostly we received a great deal of interest. Both of us made some sales, but what really moved were the stacks (and stacks and stacks) of books Dreamspinner Press provided for giveaway. I also had a stack of postcards provided to me by Samhain. In a room where more than a few people were giving titles away, I was one of the very few who left with an empty table. Free books, especially at conferences, work, and I commend Dreamspinner highly for donating hundreds and hundreds of dollars in free copies for my—and their—promotion.

Individual promotion: Professionally-minded publishers provide ads and effort on your individual behalf.

I was interviewed for the above mentioned article in Romantic Times magazine, and when I saw the final copy I was thrilled to see Samhain had taken out an ad within the article, using one of my titles in their ad. It impressed me firstly that they were connected enough to RT to know about the article and get an ad in, and secondly that they chose to use that moment to promote not just the house and its LGBT authors but my career too. This isn’t above and beyond the call, however: it’s what should be done. It’s simple business sense, because it lifts us all up. Samhain has also repeatedly asked if they could take out advertising on my blog with Marie Sexton, Coffee and Porn in the Morning, most recently to promote KA Mitchell’s upcoming release. This kind of attention to its authors and keeping up with the pulse of the romance business is what I love about Samhain.

Some houses will say they can’t play favorites, that they must promote all authors equally or not at all. While this sounds like lovely sentiment, it’s horrible business sense. Authors generating buzz should have that buzz pushed further. Authors who bring big sales—or appear as if they could potentially do so—should indeed be favorites. They are who carry the lower sellers, the authors starting out, or the authors whose work is a niche within a niche. “Fair” is wonderful on the playground, but it’s not that simple in publishing.

Professionally-minded publishers participate at conferences and events for authors, readers, and industry.

At the Romantic Times conference this year, several of us from RRW who attended were dismayed to see that the only publisher attending with promotional push was Samhain, and they didn’t promote any LGBT titles. Changing that reality became one of our number one goals, especially since we as a chapter and as the LGBT romance community became so high-profile at the event. We grew our fan base at the con entirely by hand-selling ourselves and by participating until we nearly collapsed with exhaustion. Think what we could have done as part of a groundswell, not making our own wave.

Within the romance community, the biggest industry and fan conferences are Romantic Times and RWA national, and for LGBT specific events, GayRomLit and other smaller cons like Authors After Dark. Publishers should be at industry events too, the kinds of places authors themselves rarely go. Such conferences include Book Expo America and the American Library Association. There are a myriad of other professional conferences as well, and some publishers take advantage of those connections. It’s a good idea to find out if your publisher is one of them.

Digital-first publishers could and should be banding together too, because as in all things we’re greater in unity, and what lifts up one of us lifts up us all. When we show up en masse at an industry event, people take notice. We have more power together than we do separately, both authors and publishers.

Professionally-minded publishers value authors at their houses and give them their support whenever possible.

This can be one of the most important tells that your publisher is—or isn’t—playing in the big leagues. “When it comes to my publisher, I like to feel as if they actually value me as an author,” says Marie Sexton. “I like to think they value my contributions to their house.”

I know of several authors (who asked not to be named) who left publishing houses because every time they had to talk to the publisher they felt “spanked or slapped,” even when pointing out misspellings in cover art. These same authors have also attended events with the publisher, spoken at panels at the event—and then had five copies only of their books provided for sale by the publisher while other non-attending authors had stacks upon stacks. It’s not unacceptable for an author to expect to be valued, nor is it inappropriate to leave when it’s clear you aren’t.

Professionally-minded publishers make every attempt to get their authors’ work reviewed by important review sites, including Romantic Times, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, and even for the blogger-reviewed sites, they make the Advance Reader Copies available in a timely manner.

Your publisher should be at least attempting to get your books reviewed by the big guns, and much as we love our blogger friends, they are not the biggest game in town. By the same token, if your publisher isn’t constantly looking for new places for exposure, your books are only ever going round and round in the same circles, never expanding. Make sure your publisher is doing the simplest kind of promotion possible: providing review copies to the important places—all of them. They can’t guarantee a review. But they can try to get you one.

As of the writing of this article, I’ve heard the magazine end of Romantic Times is still saying they don’t take LGBT romances, which is very troubling, and RRW is addressing the issue. The web reviews, however, are very open, and the magazine did just print a very LGBT friendly article. Hopefully with increased pressure the magazine’s refusal to acknowledge LGBT romances ends soon.

No matter who is doing your review, however, it needs to be provided in a timely fashion. If your publisher’s idea of Advance Reader Copy (ARC) is a week before launch to toss an HTML document to a handful of blogs, they’re doing you a horrible disservice. To get into those review sites I mentioned above takes months of advance notice—for print magazines like Romantic Times it can be as high as six. Not all publishers can follow that model, and authors may not want them to. But even smaller blogs need time to work you into not just their reading schedule but their reviewing schedule.

“Most of the publishers I work with are digital first and I typically get review copies anywhere from a week or two prior to release to days or weeks after,” says Jay of Joyfully Jay.  “While I am happy to consider a book for review whenever it arrives, it can be difficult to schedule a review around the release date if I don’t get the review copy early enough.  Typically my review calendar is scheduled 3-4 weeks ahead, and we are usually reading a week or two in advance of when the review is published.  Although occasionally we are able to squeeze things in last minute, typically it is difficult to turn a review around in less than a week or two.  So if publishers don’t make books available early enough, the reviews will not run until after the books are published, in some cases by several weeks or more.”

“[Digital-first] publishers, with very few exceptions, rarely send out their books for review until they are actually released,” says Wave of Jessewave. “Samhain is the only publisher that sends out books for review months in advance of release, which allows the reviewers to schedule their reading and review writing without feeling pressured. If more publishers had the facility to pre-order their books this would be a major incentive for them to send out the books a lot earlier, because they want those advance sales. The majority of reviewers on any site have full time jobs so it’s very difficult for them to find the time to read a book and write a quality review in two weeks, and we need a minimum of 4 weeks on this site. The more time we have to read and review the books the better the content and quality of the review, which would be to the advantage of the publisher and the author.”

Don’t forget about libraries, either. Ebooks are increasingly part of their circulation, and print books remain an excellent way to have a reader find you and want to own you for their very own. Digital-first publishers particularly are in a good position to outreach directly to libraries. Does yours?

Professionally-minded publishers provide authors with cover art in a timely manner.

Personally, I want my cover art at least a month in advance of my release. I use it to make book trailers, buy ads on blogs, and publishers should be using it for ads as well. I have had, several times, cover art come in with less than a week to go. I’ve heard of people getting cover art hours before release. Nothing about that is professional, and it hurts everyone.

“I need my cover art at least a month before publication in order to help create a buzz about an upcoming title,” says an author who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s incredibly important to me in helping market the book and building awareness in reader’s minds, not to mention ordering swag for giveaways at release time.”

We all know that what we want more than anything is to see ourselves in that coveted top 100 for book sales at Amazon and ARe. Hell, we want the top ten. But how can you get there if your publisher is whipping out art in the eleventh hour? Forget ads that publish as your release goes live, and never mind that they should have been up weeks before your launch. And heaven forbid anything goes wrong, say a character turns up as the wrong race or the cover is essentially nothing at all like your book. Mistakes happen, and they can be fixed. But we—and our publishers—need to be in a position where we’re practicing fire safety, not constantly putting out fires.

Professionally-minded publishers provide solid editorial (not anonymous) which allows a dialog between editor and author. Editorial should be contracted by the editor herself, and failing this, she should only edit work she loves. If said editor is also an author, she needs to take clear pains to separate her authorial persona from her publishing one.

It’s important to note that while the ideal might be objective, autonomous editorial from non-authors, we all know in digital-first that’s simply not a realistic possibility right now. This means, though, that our editorial should work that much harder to make it clear it is aiming at the professional.

“I have a couple of experiences of ‘double blind’ editing and I didn’t like it one bit,” says an author. “I treasure the relationship I’ve built up with my editor at Samhain, and find it much easier to work on edits with someone who loves my work.”

Many, many authors who double as editors do a good job of separating their authorial and editorial lives. Several whom I know personally have found they love editing more than writing and have made it their focus. There are editors who double as authors, however, who are truly reprehensible.

Recently I heard the story of an editor at a small house who flat out told an author, “I have to finish my book before I have time to work on yours.” That same editor, when she finally got around to doing her job, essentially tried to rewrite the story to her own style and tastes, not holding the author to a professional standard but only her idea of what “writing” was. This, clearly, is a situation to avoid.

“I don’t have anything against authors working as editors/publishers,” says another anonymous author, “but I’d certainly want to make sure they were putting my work first when wearing their editing hats. I’ve heard stories from authors at author-owned houses who are convinced their releases have been delayed because the owner had a new project to work on. Whether or not their suspicions are right, I couldn’t say, but I believe authors who are publishers need to take real care not to give this impression.”

In addition to author/editors, publishers need to take care that their editors behave professionally at all times. Shortly after I became published, I also did some contract editing for Dreamspinner Press. Lynn West holds her editors to a hard line of professionalism, and when she felt I was inappropriate in my comments—quirky humor, sarcasm, anything that even remotely slipped from professionalism with an author I didn’t know—she called me on the carpet. This is exactly how it should be.

Unfortunately I have heard of instances of editing, both content and copy, so rigid that authors feel threatened. Sometimes it’s tone—sarcasm, near brutality—sometimes it’s a failure to understand that editing is as difficult a dance as writing, if not more so. Editors who cannot respect the difficulty of it—and who cannot respect the authors whose work they hold—should not edit. I left editing when it became clear that it got in the way of my own writing, and when I felt myself trying to edit authors into “my style.”

Professionally-minded publishers provide books for preorder on their websites and on third party whenever possible.

Not all publishers’ systems currently support this, but if they don’t, they need to be working on it. Because when the author—and the publisher—are running their advance promotions, readers should be able to hit the coveted “preorder now” button and give us all some money in the bank, a sale already in the bag. Some readers will need repeated exposure before they try us, but some will want to simply click and go. We want that to be able to happen.

Examples of publishers currently allowing preorder are Random House (on publisher’s site, at third party), Samhain (on publisher’s site, at third party), St. Martin’s Press (on publisher’s site, at third party).

Riptide and Silver Publishing are two publishers who allow preorder on their websites, but currently Amazon and most (if not all) third party sites don’t allow that feature for smaller presses, or as Riptide put it “little guys like us.” This is another example of how, especially as the wave of digital and small-press publishing continues to build, digital-first presses could band together to put pressure on retailers. It won’t come easily, and it won’t happen overnight, but it will no doubt be a great deal easier with all of us working together.

Professionally-minded publishers do not deliberately delay releases to third party sellers.

This is a contentious issue among digital-first publishers, and I understand there are charts and figures which “prove” delaying to third party is good for publishers and author sales. While I respect those figures, my personal experience and that of many others disagrees. When my releases are concurrent with publisher and third party, I hit bestseller lists and my sales are amazing. When I don’t, they slag and I don’t hit any lists at all.

More significant though is the experience of my readers and my own experience in buying books. I stumble across books all the time that I’d like to try, but if it isn’t available on Kindle, I don’t buy it. Call me lazy, call me what you like—it won’t make me hook up my device to the computer, find my credit card, and clunk along.

Which translates to that often I forget books and don’t buy them, and I’m not the only reader doing this.

“I have 3 booksellers that I will buy from, if I can’t get the book there, I don’t buy it!” says reader Mandy. “Although I have a favorite and will always check there first. It’s not like there isn’t enough out there to make my [credit card] go running the other direction.”

“I use Amazon exclusively because it’s easy,” says reader Heather. “I’ve already had my debit card number stolen once and it is not an experience I’m willing to repeat. I also use only Amazon because I can download straight to my Kindle and not have to jump through any hoops—which is another reason I downloaded the LIAW stories here, because I had the option of downloading in Kindle format.”

“Unless there is a benefit to the author, I don’t think that the publishers should do something which benefits them but probably harms the author,” says reader HJ. “They should be ensuring that the book is easily available to all readers ASAP, including those who browse the big sites and buy on impulse, or on sales rankings. Unless they are die-hard fans, readers may well not know that an author has a new book out, and won’t find it until later (if at all). Rankings seem to play an important part in buying decisions, so a slow release which dribbles out over weeks probably harms authors, especially if sales which should happen all at once with a couple of big retailers are dissipated over several weeks in other places. It makes for an unfair playing field, as the authors will be competing with others whose publishers have a different policy.

“Finally, some readers will read a blog post or review and decide they’d like to read the book, only to be deterred when they realize that it isn’t easily available. It seems that in those circumstances it isn’t even possible to pre-order on Amazon (I’ve noticed that pre-ordering Kindle titles is often impossible). Unless the reader is really keen and is prepared to create a reminder, they probably forget all about the great review and never buy the book. So the author’s hard work in promoting the book or the publisher’s effort in circulating ARCs is wasted, and a sale is lost.”

Another Goodreads reader said, “First, it’s a big hassle having to juggle multiple accounts across different publishers’ website. It’s much more convenient being able to buy from one big retail place and have all my books there.  Look, I love for authors to get the maximum percentage of royalty they can have but sorry to say that love doesn’t go farther than the love of convenience from buying at a big retail place like Amazon. My free time is precious. Unless I am a hardcore fan of that author, I refuse to waste time hunting down a certain book on a certain website. Not as if I don’t have enough books to read or other books to buy. Second, not every publisher uses Paypal. The more publishers I personally leave my credit card information to the bigger target I become for payment shenanigans. I don’t want that.”

“Higher royalties on an unsold book are still zero,” said reader and moderator of the Goodreads M/M group, Jen McJ. “Lower royalties on a book that you sell at a third party that you wouldn’t sell on your publisher site is still better than zero.”

It’s not just readers who want immediate release to third party; authors do too. “As an author I prefer immediate release to third-party sales,” says Marguerite Labbe. “I think that more venues equals more sales and more exposure all around which benefits everybody. Ideally I wouldn’t mind if everyone went to my publisher and bought direct, but I know that it’s not realistic. I’ve also noticed a difference when third party sales opened up and if I did, I’m sure the publishers noticed the same.”

In a recent episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart mocked both Viacom and Direct TV for thinking that viewers were interested in their programming war. “I’ve got news for you. None of this matters. None of this is indispensable.” If readers can’t get your book in the way they’d like to get it in the time frame they’d like to get it, they’re not going to make lists and set reminders, not most of the time. They’ll simply find other things to read.

The greater issue here is also growth, both for authors and publishers. Again, the goal is to become a big enough player, at least professionally, to compete with not just other digital first publishers but New York and the Big Six.  This will never happen by circling the wagons around a small pond. The standard model of sales has always been around exposure and word of mouth; Fifty Shades of Grey is a crazy-bestseller at this point because it’s the book you have to read to “play” as part of the current culture. Not reading it is also playing; yet we’re still all talking about it.

In digital publishing, the goal is to create a long tail. An initial big sale or moderate sale, with a book well-written enough to generate buzz, fanned by strong promotion and exposure. This sort of model generates an initial small sale from publishers followed by, in a few months when third party comes in, large, sustained sales. Books that do well live on the top 100 on Amazon and ARe for months. This can’t happen if books dwindle and die on publisher lists, counting on readers going directly to the site to generate a sale.

Professionally-minded publishers understand that contracts are never ironclad and are always negotiable.

Anytime a publisher says nothing in their contract is negotiable, it’s probably a good time to walk. The only exception is if their contract has withstood intense scrutiny by author organizations and/or lawyers representing authors and not publishers. This is the case with Harlequin Enterprises. Their contracts are notoriously impervious, but they’ve also all been gone over by a million agents and RWA with fine, fine toothed combs.

That said, they’re currently the subject of a class action lawsuit. So perhaps the “no ironclad contracts” is a good rule of thumb no matter who you are.

“I believe that everything is and should be negotiable,” says agent Eric Ruben of The Ruben Agency. “It just depends on the bargaining strength of the parties involved and the point at which they’re at in their career. Some publishers believe that there are a great number of writers who will be grateful for any contract they’re given just to get their work published. Often they’re right. After all, in some cases it makes sense to get your foot in the door. However, each situation needs to be considered on its own merits.”

Professionally-minded publishers will work with agents.

I’m amazed I even have to type that, but it’s true that many digital-first publishers don’t like working with agents. Some flat-out refuse. Some say they’ll work with them but treat the agents like pariahs. This, I hope I don’t have to tell you, isn’t professional.

Agents are there to protect the authors and get them the best deals. Agents are like Realtors or yentas: they are the go-betweens who negotiate things that authors may be nervous to ask for and publishers wish they wouldn’t. They’re also there to make sure what everyone wants and needs is communicated clearly and articulately and is understood from the word go.

“Authors are not fast food burgers,” says Ruben. “They are not a product to be pumped out, each one the same as the next. Each of my clients is a unique individual with their own needs, perspectives and talents. Successful publishers and editors understand that. They also understand that to build a lasting relationship with talent, both parties need to be happy. A one-sided deal will invariably lead to a very short relationship. That’s why both parties need and deserve professional and quality representation. And with today’s more complicated publishing landscape, I think it’s crucial for authors to have a lawyer on their side of the equation. After all, the publishers have teams of lawyers working for them.”

“Authors’ needs change as their career changes, and what was not important at the beginning of their career to get their foot in the door can certainly become a deal-breaker later on,” says Saritza Hernandez of The Corvisiero Agency. “Having an advocate who not only ensures you’re getting the best deal but also has your best interests at heart is crucial to a professional author. Any professionally-minded publisher will want their authors to have someone in their corner to help expand their career and thereby making everyone more money.”

Whether or not you have an agent or are interested in one, if your publisher feels authorial representatives are a problem, I encourage you to ask why author advocates are discouraged. “They make things more difficult,” by the way, is not a reassuring answer.

Professionally-minded publishers understand that we are in the Era of the Author.

At the 2012 RWA conference, author Stephanie Laurens gave a keynote speech that moved her to tears as she gave it and garnered her a standing ovation from the audience. Her main point was that authors have never, ever had more power and have never needed industry less. And in an age where self-publishing becomes easier and more accepted every day, when many of us are making livings off our digital-first sales, when we’re in the part of the publishing industry that’s growing instead of dying—well, her words ring all the more true.

In a world where there is no barrier between our houses, when Random House and Riptide Publishing all have equal footing at RWA, there’s no more reason to make excuses for our “little publishers.” There simply is no such thing any longer. The greater the digital wave and the greater the rise of self publishing, the more our smaller portions of the publishing pie expand and the more the wheat will be separated from the chaff. Smart, strong, professional publishers will survive. Self-serving, author-unfriendly, unprofessional ones will not.

How’s yours doing?

 

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Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. Heidi currently serves as the chapter president of Rainbow Romance Writers, special interest chapter of Romance Writers of America. Though she’s written since she was able to hold a pencil, Heidi has taught writing since 1991 everywhere from elementary school to college and has studied both the nuts and bolts of writing and the publishing industry since 1995.

When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and ten-year-old daughter. Heidi also volunteers frequently for her state’s LGBT rights group, One Iowa, and is proud to be from the first midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage. Find out more about Heidi at her website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, or email her at heidi.cullinan@mac.com.

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Endnotes:

[1] RWA is the Romance Writers of America, an organization started in 1980. From their website: “37 writers came together with a common goal of trying to find ways to grow their writing careers in romance fiction. At that time, there were very few writers groups or conferences, and those that existed largely ignored the romance genre.” Read more about RWA and its history here.

[2] The RITAs are the category-specific contests hosted by the Romance Writers of America to “promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding published romance novels and novellas.” See a full definition at RWA’s website. See a description of the categories, including contemporary single title, here.

[3] Some have complained that RWA should do “something more” than add this to their bylaws; having sat in three days of meetings about tax laws and non-profits and incorporations, I can assure you this is about the most they can do and will explain in greater detail if asked.

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

40 comments

  • Thank you so much for this post Heidi. I know you’re mainly talking about LGBTQ but this applies to all who are publishing with digital-first publishers. I have raised these exact issues with one of my publishers but you have said it so much more eloquently and with excellent back up from readers.

    Reply
  • this should be required reading by every person who ever thought about publishing a book. I’m going around plastering it on the internet.

    The one thing I’m not standing up and applauding– the release of a book at all venues. Like someone said above, it’s not always a choice. Plus it could be argued that it’s a different, yet legit, business model to try to get people to come to the publisher site first.

    Someone has to be the next Amazon, eh? (plus there’s the nice extra profit to publisher and author) Yes, it might keep authors from getting on best-seller lists, but if there are enough best-selling authors on the publisher’s list and readers know to seek out the author there and only there, then maybe it’ll introduce a new way of buying.

    Of course if the publisher has an awkward way of delivering books or doesn’t allow a lot of different formats (or doesn’t have a wildly popular device of its own), it’s not gonna work.

    I do think the delay shouldn’t be two full weeks.

    Another sign of professionalism: publishers (and authors) shouldn’t get into public debates that get nasty.

    Reply
  • Hi Heidi– Great post. This is an exciting time for authors–we have both more power and more responsibility than ever before. The Big 6 are waking up and smelling the coffee. The digital-first publishers must propel their professionalism in order to protect themselves and keep their authors. As in all markets, the winnowing of tiny, slap-dash digital publishers will happen. Authors need to follow your advice. Respect ourselves and find publishers who do the same. Thank you for all the time, effort and intelligence you expend on our behalf. : )

    Reply
  • Hmm, I usually just lurk but this is an important topic to me: the ebooks I buy are from American publishers and I live in Europe. So that not only means that geographic restrictions from traditional publishers for my non-mm books annoy me to no end fairly regularly, I also have to pay a fee for using my credit card abroad. Which means that if I have to buy my books from different sites, I have to pay that fee every single time. And that means money I have to spend without getting a book for it. Now, I want authors to get paid fairly, after all, they provide me with stories. But I also have a limited book budget and am not willing to spend a part of it on credit card fees (at least not more than absolutely necessary). The result is that if a) I can’t get the book from a 3rd party seller or b) I don’t have a bunch of books I want from one publisher or c) I have to wait for a book, then that means a) I won’t get the book, b) I might not get the book or c) I might not get the book because I forgot about it. Plus, as someone else mentioned, I hate to have accounts at so many different places. And if there are only a couple of books from one publisher that are only available there that means I won’t get the book because it would mean a new account (plus those fees).
    I don’t know if publishers are even interested in the opinion of people from outside the US because I don’t know what percentage from buyers do not live there but I couldn’t resist saying something here.

    Reply
    • I know we are. I understand completely the problems of purchasing from outside the US. Amazon is currently looking into a glitch for us. One of our Pacific Island readers said the Amazon books suddenly stopped showing up in his area. It wasn’t due to anything we did, since the books are still set for worldwide, and Amazon will probably have it cleared up in a matter of days. Unfortunately, there tend to be more problems abroad inherently.

      Reply
  • One more note about pre-loading. ARe/O (AllRomanceeBooks/Omnilit) does allow pre-sale of books, but… And this is a big but! If you pre-sale, it will not show the “new release” on the front page of ARe/O on release day. It will show it on the day pre-sale starts. Unfortunately, many readers don’t pre-purchase (especially where there isn’t some benefit to doing it), so that one is a rock and hard place problem.

    For what it’s worth, when iBookstore is working properly (their software issues are a blast some days), we do use their version of pre-sale, and I think other distribution channels should take note that feature.

    Reply
  • There are very good reasons to delay the third party release on ebooks. And yes, they benefit authors, though it may well annoy readers to wait a few weeks to read a new book from their favorite sale site. I sympathize with the problem, but as long as the wait isn’t extensive (3-12 months as it is in some conglomerate presses) and the publisher does all he/she can to accommodate multi-platform users from their own site on day one…and as long as the publisher is choosing worldwide distribution wherever it’s available, it’s just something we have to balance.

    Beyond the fact that authors earn more on books purchased at the publisher site than they do on third party distribution channels, some sites have issues that further marginalize early sales of the book. Amazon allows returns on ebooks that have reached a fever pitch, as pirate sites have started advocating using it as a “lending library” to avoid paying for anything in ebook. Seriously, if you want books on Amazon on day one, complain to Amazon about the damage this is doing to authors and to Amazon’s own bottom line! That’s the only reason Amazon is currently being hobbled by many publishers. Coffeetime Romance puts a discount on all new titles, which means (were they to post the same day they post on the publisher site) the authors would lose an ADDITIONAL percentage that the distribution channel discounts off the top (they do anyway, when the books post for sale) and would have people going to CTR on release day just for the discounted price. Last I checked, random discounts were also commonplace at Fictionwise, which is adverse to an author in the first week of release or two, but since FW hasn’t taken on new publishers for well over two years now, this isn’t an issue for many readers and authors.

    And…not to be indelicate, some distribution channels do not have instant loading of the information entered by distribution depts…or even within 72 hours, as B&N and Amazon have. Some of them will take up to three or four weeks just to put the book up for sale that was loaded at or near release day. Worse, when you take into account the fact that some distribution channels are conduits to others and how long it takes to make it from channel A to channel L is not at all in the publisher’s control. The only thing we control is when it loads on channel A. However, there is the misconception that the date it appears on any given site is the date it was loaded there.

    With some of these sites, you can’t even bank on how long that will take, which means they cannot be loaded there until release day, on the off chance the site is fast that week and does it in less than a week instead of four weeks. The last thing a publisher wants to do…ever is have the distribution channels show the book for sale before it is available to those who pre-order it on the publisher site. That just hacks off the loyal readers pre-ordering. Never hack off a loyal reader, if at all possible.

    I hope this clears up some of the decision-making problems with regards to loading books on distribution channels.

    Thanks for the good word about the pre-sales we do. It is greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • Does that mean though that you would prefer I will not buy your book at all? Because I will be very blunt – I saw your name couple of times but I have not had the slightest inclination to try your books. Not because something on the blurbs turned me off or I have something against you as a public person ( never read your blog or journal ). The market of mm books is over flooded. I have gazilions of choices every week to choose from and instead of intiicing me as a reader to make it easier for me to try your books, you are justifying why there are good reasons to delay to put the books on Amazon? My TBR alone is about 200 books as I said on another thread. It used to be closer to 500. If I do not want to buy right now I will have reading material for about a year and that will not be counting the books I review. I also have the very long list of the authors I trust whose work I will always check out when I want to buy. I practically do not buy new authors these days unless that amazon allows me to lend the book first or I check out the reviewing copy first. I guess it boggles my mind that instead of trying to attract new readers you woul rather not or at least this is what I am getting from your post. Trust me – unless readers already love your work they will move on instead of waiting for it to appear – I know I always do that.

      Reply
      • Sirius,

        We give you plenty of incentive to try us. If you choose to make your purchasing decisions based on nothing more than when the book is available on Amazon, that’s your personal choice and nothing I can help. Keep in mind I load when I’m told to load, but I do appreciate the underlying reasons for why publishing companies make this choice, and I can’t dispute that they are sound choices in situations that are not ideal, no matter what you choose to do.

        A book is still a new release on Amazon when it is loaded there, and anyone familiar with the ebook industry knows that ebooks do NOT depend on a limited shelf life as print books on a B&N shelf do, sticking past 4 or 6 weeks only if they become NY Times Bestsellers. Reviews that come later or promo that comes later or subsequent books that come later all result in spikes in sales on ebooks. For that reason, ebooks are (in my experience) LESS dependent on everything lining up to the release day than print books are.

        So, what do we do for readers to encourage you to try us?

        For one thing, we have delivery to Kindle wirelessly from our site. It is your CHOICE to purchase from Amazon. You don’t have to do it to get wireless delivery. If you have an Kindle Fire, you should be able to purchase via the browser and then click to download to your Kindle right from there. The set-up to do this is very simple. Just two steps, and we lead people through it all the time.

        Another? We have reward points people earn by purchasing from us…double points on pre-order of ebooks. A dollar of purchase is worth 10 cents discount on another title later…20 cents on pre-orders. You are limited on the percentage of a book you can discount with reward points, but read on for more chances to discount.

        Another? We offer weekly free reads, on any week our authors write them and send them in to us. Knowing what blog this is…please be aware that these free reads are MM, MF, and any other pairing you might be able to imagine mixed. Yes, you do have to scan and figure out which stories you want to read or not, but they are free and often include 3-6 stories per week. Since we’ve started it earlier this year, there has only been one week where we have not offered free reads (this coming release week, actually), because the authors didn’t send any in. These free reads are not taken down at the end of the week; they continue to “sell” indefinitely, allowing people discovering them later to download the full set and start reading anytime. This gives you a free taste of all authors participating…and it’s a taste that can be delivered wirelessly to a Kindle.

        Another? We have a VIP program for customers that make a lot of purchases on our site. The VIP program will give early release on ebook (6-36 hours before the official release time everyone else gets, depending on your purchase level…so you get to read even earlier than other customers), free ebooks, and discounts on purchases, in addition to reward point discounts. Told you there were more discounts available.

        Another? An automated system that emails the customer when a pre-ordered book releases for sale, so you don’t forget to download it.

        Another? A permanent bookshelf of your titles on Silver’s site (and another on the Silver Stream site, when it opens, if you also purchase non-sensual/erotic titles from us) that will allow you to download all your Silver titles again in case of a catastrophic loss, change of tech/replacement of tech (just as you do with Amazon Kindle if the Kindle goes down and you purchase another Kindle), or to download multiple formats, so you can read your Kindle and Nook and PDF for your laptop…all of which you own. It also allows you to download another format if you switch tech or software, to avoid losing the books stored on the original and to avoid doing lengthy conversions and possibly DRM breaking to switch over your books from one to the other.

        Another? We offer a sum total of 12 formats of ebooks…9 on our own site and three that are specific to certain distribution channels. We even sell defunct formats that people still use, like LIT.

        Another? We distribute worldwide from day one, save where the internet is blocked. We don’t artificially hobble our customers with blocking purchases in certain countries.

        Another? Yes…more. We have “gift” purchasing of ebooks and audio books. If you purchase copies as gifts, you can email a link to download an ebook or audio book to a friend you’d like to gift a book to. Though the system stops you from accidentally ordering the same book twice (note that Amazon doesn’t have that interlock currently), you can have a single personal copy of an ebook or audio book and multiple gift copies in your gift list. Not many systems allow that sort of interaction with the system.

        Basically, we go out of our way to make dealing with us a very pleasant experience. It seems to me there’s one unpleasant thing for you. If that stops you from trying us, it’s unfortunate.

        Reply
        • Okay, as a rule these days I do not buy anything from your publishing house. I am simply not happy with overall quality of the product you put on the market. There are few authors here and there I may buy from time to time, but frequent purchasers’ discounts is not the initiative that is useful for me for your publishing house. Remember what I said about the fans who will buy your work (or your authors’ work) no matter where and when it is published. I am a reader (an example of the reader) you need to lure in, not an existing fan, and I am telling you that my preference to get a book from the publishing house which I buy from very rarely is to get it from Amazon. I just confess to not understanding the reluctance – it is not like I am suggesting to take your books from your website and let them be only on the third party vendors, I am suggesting to put them in as many places as possible, as *fast* as possible. Are you really telling me that for example 100 customers buying the book on Amazon and authors getting paid less per book is worse than ,I don’t know, 10 customers buying it on your website?

          Heidi Cullinan is accidentally one of the authors whom I will follow anywhere, if she is going to say that she is selling her books from the website in Timbuchtu and nowhere else, I will so go there. I followed Marie Sexton to the Total-e-bound, the publisher from whom I have not purchased a *single* ebook till she published her “Song of Oestend” with them and right now my total amount of purchased ebooks with them stands at *one*. My total amount of ebooks I purchased over the four (I think) years for the comparison is around 1600-1700 right now (that is of course including some short stories).
          If Tamara Allen will decide that she will publish only in print and I basically cannot buy paperbacks anymore these days (no space)- I will *find* a space for every one of her books. If she decides that she only takes a Visa card for the purchase of her books, I will *open* the Visa card since I only have Master card these days. No, I am not kidding and no, I will not go to such length for many authors, but for some I absolutely will.

          None of your authors are on my list of the authors I am willing to give such credit of trust yet, even if some of their books I really liked. They need to earn it from me, but you are not making it easy for me to do that. It is indeed unfortunate, only not for me, but for your authors.

          Having said that, if your publishing house was already giving me the product I like, I would have been very happy with direct wireless connection and getting the book right away with one click (I do not think anybody offers it not on Amazon so that’s awesome).

          But the fact that Amazon lets me return the books I appreciate just as much. And no, I am not using the Amazon as lending library, unless I am doing kindle loans with my friends, which I indeed do often. I can barely count on the fingers of my two hands the number of books I started to read and did not finish (NEVER the ones I finished) that I returned to Amazon. But if the few pages sample was the best edited part of the book, you bet I will be returning it with no hesitation whatsoever.

          I already mentioned before how happy I am with the enticements Riptide puts forward and that I mostly order from them, but I am also mostly happy with the quality of the original work they put on the market, so in this situation all I need is the incentive and I am there. There are two tiny publishing houses who do not even offer incentives – Manifold and Blind eye. Manifold books do not appear on Amazon at all, and of course I do not like that, but they compensate it with superb overall quality of their books as far as I am concerned and they have me as a customer. Blind eye, well, I do not even know how long we have to wait for their ebooks to appear. Months? But the few titles a year they put up? Let’s just say that their book this year is amongst my top favorite books of the year.

          Please note that of course I am speaking only for myself, but I would think that it is not such a stretch of imagination to assume that there are may be some readers in the same situation like mine, who are reluctant but willing to try given maximum convenience.

          Let’s be very clear – I am writing these comments because I am just so surprised that somebody would not want to give paying customers what they think is more convenient for them because apparently it is not enough for the reader to be ready and eager to part with their money, reader also has to shop whether it is more convenient for the author. I do not, I cannot stress it enough, care in the slightest either way. I will go to at least five or six publishing houses before I will pay any attention to yours, unless the author whose work I already love will decide to publish with you.

          I guess I am just too accustomed to having a mindset which basically translates to “whatever my client wants I will do” unless it is illegal and I am just having trouble understanding the different one, that’s all.

          Consider all of this an expression of my bewilderment, nothing more, I am not attempting to get anything out of it.

          Reply
          • Sirius,

            It’s interesting that you mention how much you like Marie Sexton’s work and claim to have a knowledge of our books, which you also admit you have never purchased, but you don’t seem to know that Marie herself has three titles with us in ebook and one of them in print. That indicates to me that your knowledge of our authors and books may not be as extensive as you believe it to be.

            Your opinion is your opinion, and yes, I do find it lamentable that you feel the way you do. Sure, some other readers share your opinion, but considering how many are content with knowing our books hit Amazon a week after release on our site, I really don’t think you represent the majority of readers we deal with. In fact, I’ve only heard one other reader complain so far that it takes us a week to load to Amazon, so no…I can’t buy that most people are passing on our books because of that short delay. I don’t disregard that you feel that way or minimize it, but we already bend over backward to accommodate readers, and no publishing house out there is going to be what every reader wants in every way. It’s simply not possible, so we go with what our readers have proven happy with. Of course, we also go out of our way to try and incorporate what our readers would like to see…on our own site, of course. Believe me, if Amazon showed themselves to be the least bit responsive to what readers want, I would have seen a lot of changes readers ask for repeatedly…everything from a place for publishers to enter word count and page count on ebooks loaded to letting us load free reads for our customers on Amazon. You’ll have to pardon me, both as a Kindle reader and as someone that loads there for myself and for a company, for feeling Amazon falls far short of other distribution channels in several ways.

            As to your idea that I have no concern for you… Considering some publishing companies take months to have ebooks appear on third party retailers, it amazes me, counter to your complaint, that some readers expect to have every book from every publisher available on every distribution channel on the day of release. Our books are loaded on distribution channels between a week and two weeks after release on our site, a week on Amazon. I cannot conceive this as a terrible hardship for readers to wait that long to read a book, if they insist on purchasing from Amazon. If we were expecting you wait months, I could appreciate your point. Right now… Not so much. No offense intended to you.

            Reply
            • Nope, had absolutely no clue that Cinder and Blind space are her titles published with you lol. Just shows how much I love her books that I will buy them without checking the publisher. Never claimed extensive knowledge of your authors though and did say that there were some authors I liked, but that absolutely did not include Marie Sexton, so I guess there is definitely one author I love.

              I also did not say that I represent majority of the readers – I would never be so arrogant as to claim that I spear for anybody but myself, I just said that it could be a fair assumption to make that there are some readers that share my views and situation. That assumption could absolutely be wrong, because I do not know that for a fact.

              And I guess I have nothing else to say.

              Reply

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