Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lit Fic and Digital Publishing

From Dear Author
"Of all the genres, literary fiction is supposed to be above the concepts of commercialism, the idea of writing for filthy lucre. Literary fiction writers are compelled to write, not for the money, but because the story inside their being simply cannot be contained in their corporeal self.
Literary fiction has the power of perception on its side. It is the hallowed field of publishing. If literary fiction would embrace digital publishing as a model and work to find new voices and release them to the reading public, digital publishing would take on the imprimatur of respectability. What’s stopping you, literary fiction?" Read full article here.
So what is stopping us? I agree that I tend to be a bit stodgy and old fashioned when it comes to my writing style not to mention theory and the academics of writing. However, I read digital books for review, and I actually prefer them for the simple reason in that it's efficient: I can read and make notes and write the review at the same time while ideas and thoughts are fresh in my head versus trying to decode my hand written chicken scratch after the fact. My own work is available in Kindle format, but why haven't I embraced Smashwords or Scribd? Yes, there is the piracy issue: I do want readers but at what cost? Haven't I bled enough writing the damn book? So yes, that concerns me. As a business person with only myself on staff, it's one more site to police and manage; frankly, that takes time away from the writing, which is the part I live for. Maybe I am a control freak, but when Emily recently found her work on a hacker share site -- almost all of it mind you -- my stomach fell straight out of my ass. It's not a warm and fuzzy feeling, and I am sure it's closely related to how the authors felt about Google scanning their books without authorization. Obscurity doesn't feel good either just less tainted, so I am not sure which is the lesser of the two evils at this point. I might try a run at Scribd, that is, once I get my teeth unclenched. Maybe the old-school literary snobs are more attached to the art, but I don't think so. Is it that Literary works more so than others tend to plumb the depths of the psychological dark side, and authors of such works are generally more personally interrelated to the work in that way? I don't know. I know why I am uncomfortable about it, and I don't think it has anything to do with the genre I choose to write in. Authors, help me out here -- I am on the fence and the nails are diggin' into my ass. What's your personal take on it?

Cheryl Anne Gardner


duskpeterson said...

The only way to completely prevent piracy, alas, is not to publish. I see that you have books in print. I could scan, OCR, and upload your book to the Internet in the space of an hour.

Scribd apparently has an optional DRM system in place if you want to use that. (I tend to think that DRM scares away honest customers and doesn't deter dishonest customers.) On the other hand, I don't think you need to feel guilty if you simply prefer to see your book in print rather than in electronic form. I'm partially sighted, yet I still buy paperbacks I can't read during half the year. There's a certain aesthetic pleasure in printed books.

Perhaps, too, it's the wildly chaotic nature of sites like Scribd and Smashwords that makes you feel uneasy? I suspect that Amazon is going to look more and more like that as time goes on, but certainly bookstores that are aimed specifically to sell items by self-publishers do tend to have a higher dross value. I'm not bothered by that - I figure it makes my writings stand out all the more - but I can see why some authors would be.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Thanks Dusk, I appreciate the level-headed commentary. You are right. It must be the chaos that rattles my musty old-school brain,and the fact that I am overly close to the work, but the world order is changing, right? I will always buy print copies: some books are worth keeping and reading again and again and those are worth passing them down like my father did with his old books. What good are they if you can't share them.

My work was made available on Kindle at the same time the print copies were released, so at least my feet are wet. I should just close my eyes and dive in, and I probably will.

evecho said...

The reason I am staying away from Scribd from sites such as Scribd is because I don't think they are established enough yet and haven't got their act completely together. They're building on interest on a 'see how we go' attitude. Scribd started as a story sharing site, and now it wants to be a bookstore? Next, it'll be a POD. What distinguishes Scribd from many other start-ups, and is it really offering anything innovative or just another network we have to jump on to, in addition to the others already out there and coming?
Cheryl, if it's reader interest you want to get, perhaps uploading excerpts are the way to go. But I'd hold on to your publishing rights as long possible.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

People can read excerpts on my website, on Amazon, and buyers can download a sample from Kindle, so my publishing rights aren't an issue. I own my own imprint, the publishing rights are mine and always will be mine even if I grant non-exclusive rights for companies to provide excerpts and distribution. So at this point, it's all about distribution and exposure. Smashwords, Scribd, and eventually Google will just be yet another e-commerce site for authors to gain exposure and sell their work. It's not rights I am worried about.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Secondly: The "building on interest and see how we go" attitude is what Indie Publishing is all about, isn't it?

Indie is about being an agent for change "the hip, not afraid to try a new approach trend-setters." So wouldn't an Indie artist want to work with companies that share the same philosophy. If Scribd started as a story-sharing site, then their foundation is rock solid. Why? Because their users are readers and writers, so the platform has always been about words. With 60 millions hits per month, that isn't anything to shake a finger at and ignore. 60 millions hits a month means their platform is established and the e-bookstore is a logical expansion of that already existing platform. If they go DIY self-publishing like Lulu down the road, that would also be a logical expansion, but, I see more money for them in publishing house contracts like the Simon and Schuster deal, not to mention the legitimacy of being the chosen e-book site for NYC publishers. That has more clout and more dollar potential than Pod. said...

If someone pirated one of my books, I'd be flattered -- for about seven seconds. Then I'd ask them nicely to take it down.

If they said "eat me", then I'd ask them not so nicely.

I'm not about ready to give away the farm just because other people believe they are desperate enough to do so.

evecho said...

"The "building on interest and see how we go" attitude is what Indie Publishing is all about, isn't it?
Indie is about being an agent for change "the hip, not afraid to try a new approach trend-setters." So wouldn't an Indie artist want to work with companies that share the same philosophy."

Having an indie philosophy is one thing (it's about being different to The Man, being unafraid to be unconventional), but the other hat artists don't wear often enough, the one that's important to set their indie philosophy as a long-term viable enterprise is to also have a business plan runnning concurrently or as soon as the 'experiment' gathers speed.

When Scribd started out, it was one of many sites that allowed writers to upload their books/writings. It still is. I must've missed the part where they set out their long-term plan to tie in publishers and eventually be a POD and an e-bookstore. Scribd could be opportunistic at the right time, good for them, but speaking for myself, I'd want to see some serious partnership terms before I consider Scribd as my de facto publisher. I notice that the article mentions S&S but not any other major publisher. Even if there were, as publishers change their acquisition methods, Scribd will just be one of many resources. In fact, Scribd could be seen as a market facilitator a la Amazon. And we know Amazon will take anyone. In addition, do you think indie authors will be getting the same terms and benefits as the big players on Scribd?

There comes a stage where you might consider if you're spreading yourself too thin to be everywhere. Ask yourself, what's your business plan?

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Well, for Indie publishing there is no de-facto publisher but yourself, unless you use a subsidiary/vanity press. Scribd, Createspace, and the old Lulu -- they are not publishers. They function more as printers and distributors in the grand scheme of things. iUniverse and other true subsidiary publishers function more along the lines of a traditional de-facto house, offering marketing, editing, and other such services. The ISBN belongs to them. If you own your ISBN then you own the rights, and you may grant distribution rights as you see fit. Piracy is a different concern.

Onto the spreading yourself too thin. If we treat these e-commerce distribution sites as what they are, then they are the technological equivalent of bookstores. Virtual Bookstores is what they are and like traditional publishing, the goal is to be in as many as possible. Exposure is key here, and it allows readers to decide their purchasing venue of choice.

Yes, the publisher -- that being you the Indie author -- will have to manage all those e-commerce relationships, and that's where the spreading too thin might come into play. However, that doesn't apply to distribution of the work. There is no such thing as spreading too thin when it comes to exposure.

So it really boils down to comfort level. Scribd, Smashwords, Amazon, and eventually Google are not just opportunistic at the right time, they are and have always been looking at the big picture and the shift in reading habits. An Indie author, as part of their own business plan, also needs to look at the big picture, see the trends, and adjust their business plan accordingly. A stale outdated business plan isn't a viable business plan. Yes, there is risk involved. A new venture always comes with some risk. Simon and Schuster are the first to assess that risk on a large scale with Scribd. Others will follow. Scribd authors make 80% less transaction fees. Smashwords: 85% less transaction fees. Authors don't make that much with Kindle, and who knows what Google will end up charging. For print books, the Indie authors make even less, but having a pod print option is a good thing. People still buy print books. Options and Exposure, Options and Exposure.

Therefore, what I am saying is that an Indie author's business plan needs to be fiscally responsible while still offering a variety of options and points of sale for the customers. Indie authors have the advantage of being small and flexible. We can move and change with the trends much faster than a huge publishing house. We can and should take advantage of that.

When I first started, I offered only print editions. Then the Kindle came out and people seem to love it. We also have the iPhone, the Sony reader, not to mention good old PDF. I saw the trend, like Scribd did, and I took 10 minutes for format for Kindle. Then in walking around the message boards, I noticed that people don't necessarily want to be locked into Kindle: they want options. So, to load my work to Scribd also cost me nothing and took less time than formatting for Kindle, as I could use my existing print formatted PDF. Yea, I could get paypal and sell from my own website, but frankly, why wouldn't I want to take advantage of the hit count on an already established site??? One whose revenue split makes good fiscal sense.

I want to thank the authors who have participated in this exchange. I am always reassessing my business plan to keep it fresh and current. Dialog like this is beneficial to the decisions making aspect of things.

evecho said...

All the best, Cheryl.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Thanks, your comments helped a lot. Sometimes I talk myself in circles assessing the playing field, but in doing that I always end up at a decision. I did choose to load one test project with Scribd. We shall see what happens.

Piracy is still a concern, always will be, I suppose, but like Dusk said, if there is a will there is a way. All and Indie author can do is stay educated about their "rights" and register their copyright.

Good luck to you too evecho. I stopped on by your blog. Very Nice.

evecho said...

Thank you. I appreciate your, and other's, posts on craft and publishing.
Re Scribd, I don't think it would be a loss to post samples of your work, or sell there, the same way you do on Amazon. And if you're writing a series, a sample book - usually the first in the series - is a drawcard. I know that works for me as a reader.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I could do nothing all day but talk about the art of fiction. I can get lost in the theory. Unfortunately, sometimes I forget that besides being an avid reader, I am a writer ... who needs to get back to it. :)

I did post my first novella The Kissing Room for 1.59 same as the Kindle price. It's been out 3 years now in print and only a few months on Kindle. It's a quick short read, shorter than most of my other novellas. I thought it might be a good starting point to test the water.

duskpeterson said...

Evecho asked:

"What distinguishes Scribd from many other start-ups"

Originally, what distinguished it was that you could embed a preview of your Scribd-distributed work at other sites. But the latest news is that Google Books has just offered that capability as well (which shows how successful Scribd's experiment was).

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

BookBuzzr offers that as well. So I guess it was pretty successful.

Richard Sutton said...

Interesting commentary and speculations, here. I know that stealing someone else's words has been a reality since the first Neanderthal stood up on a large rock to make a public comment. Gutenberg just made it easier.

It seems to me that if concern for your being pirated [prevent you from publishing, then your stories didn't have much of a pull upon you after all. For me, if I don;t put them out there for readers, I might as well not write them in the first place.

The US government agency that maintains copyrights has made it a simple, US$35 online process to register your authorship. Beyond that, "you pays your money, you takes your chances!"

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Agreed Richard. As far as taking chances. I think writing is all about taking chances like any other art. A work can have too much pull on an author as well.

I have always copyrighted my work, back when it was $45.00 and the online version wasn't available yet. I spoke of that as recently as this week with Amazon's new policy to verify ownership for DTP publication.

As of this article in June, I released my work with Scribd as well as Smashwords. I have also had sales with Kindle. I read a lot of e-books, so, even an old stodgy reader and writer like myself has to adapt to the times.

I just recently posted an article to that effect about Smashwords, advocating the service. So all the comments I received here did in fact help me move forward ... with tentative baby steps over many months, but it was a move forward.

I even plan on buying a Nook.

Emily Veinglory: said...

I take a slightly different approach.

My work has been on pirate/share sites for years, yet about 90% of what I earn from writing (to the tunes of at least a few thousand per year) still comes from ebooks. Piracy is a nasty fact of life but not a deal killer.

My approach is that I do not register copyright. In the US copyright is needed only to sue for damages, which I do not envisage doing. I just send a DMCA take down notice when I have some time and can be bothered, it either works or it doesn't. All that requires is that I assert that I hold the copyright.

My situation is that so far I have used third party publishers who I think should cover the cost of copyright registration, and if they don't--I don't either. All of my self-published work is distributed for free which makes monetary damages a moot point.

I would also note that outside of the US copyright registration is not required to sue for damages.

Many of my colleages do regioster their copyright, but not doing so has so far not been a problem and has saved me about $1000.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I was glad I registered mine, especially in light of Amazon's DTP platform now starting to verify copyright ownership before publication. I like that.

Because I am registered, I didn't have to jump through hoops to verify I am the rights holder.

I don't anticipate ever having to sue for damages, but having to prove I own what I own is a different story. Registering takes care of it without question, hence, my amazon issue was a non-issue.

In traditional publishing, the publisher takes care of that for the author, but a lot of authors pre-register their work before submitting it into the query process.

It's a personal decision really, but in the event I die and I want to transfer rights to my family, I can't do that without a proper registration. So it has more advantages to it than just being able to seek damages in the case of theft.

Emily Veinglory: said...

On the US and for a self-publisher certainly. But for different types of author is may not, especially for us furinners ;)

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I know, it's weird. When I was checking around on various other countries' laws on the subject, I found some dramatic differences. In some registration is done by a corporate entity and not a Gov. entity. Some charge a fee and some don't, and in some countries, there is no official law at all, and so the authors register in the U.S. anyway.

For self-publishers, I would say it is a good idea. Definately.