CAMP 2013: Becoming a digital author

Jane Friedman talks e-books at JAWS 2013.
Jane Friedman talks e-books at JAWS 2013.

By 2013 JAWS Fellow Arielle Stevenson

Publishing an independent e-book has its perks, most programs to create your e-book are free to use and non-exclusive. Updating or changing e-books at-will is relatively easy and typically unlimited. And putting an e-book together requires little technical expertise. You control the pricing and unlike traditional publishing, there’s no gatekeeper and you control the rights.

Jane Friedman acknowledged that success with non-fiction e-books has been limited, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.

The top e-book company is undoubtedly Amazon’s Kindle, with an average of 50 percent to 70 percent of the e-book market globally. Kobo, a fairly new e-book company, ranks as the most popular e-reader in Canada. And Apple’s Ibook store, a more multimedia-friendly option, also ranks relatively high. Apple, unlike Kindle and Kobo, may only be used on the iPad and iPhone, whereas both Kindle and Kobo may be used across platforms.

E-publishing services come in three primary forms. Device-direct or retail-direct services consist of uploading and selling an e-book with a retailer such as Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, etc. This form yields the highest amount of royalties but requires the most technical and managerial skill for authors.

Using a distributor reduces admin time, said Friedman, but costs more with upfront fees and middleman percentages.

Finally, there are book-builder and distributor sites. Book builder and distributor sites provide web-based tools for creating e-books. This process takes a bit more of your rights as an author away, so Friedman encourages research if taking this avenue. You don’t have to stick one format, either, since e-publishing is non-exclusive in most cases.

“Dealing directly with Amazon maximizes your money,” Friedman said. “That’s the most popular choice for independent authors. Combined with Smashwords (another e-pub site), this has worked for a lot of people really well.”

The factors that matter most when it comes to success in e-publishing comes down to marketing, pricing, cover art and the number of already published titles available (assuming you wrote a good book). All e-publishing services pay most on titles priced between $2.99-$9.99. Amazon pays 70 percent on titles in that price range. Go above that and royalties drop to 35 percent. Most models mimic Amazon.

Before publishing, e-books must be formatted. Friedman says with a little tech savvy and reading of e-pub style formats, most authors can format their own. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are plenty of services available.

The number of consumers buying e-books has grown drastically, going from 25 percent of the market in 2010 to 44 percent at the end of 2012. Meanwhile traditional publishing’s share of the market dropped from 33 percent in 2010 to 18 percent last year. (Friedman cautions that a chunk of that drop has to do with Border’s going out of business.) Still, more people are buying e-books. Having a traditionally published book in print ahead of e-book publishing can yield greater sales results. The more titles you’ve published, the more likely someone is to download your book. Cover art is important too, said Friedman.

“Print covers are designed for a different environmental than digital,” she said. “Make sure your cover stands out when it’s as big as your thumbnail. You need something that looks fabulous at that size.”

That means a high-contrast and clean design with big bold lettering. Investing in good cover art is important, and many authors often change covers to see what works.

But Friedman says, the absolute most important rule in independent electronic publishing is simply, “experiment.”

You may find Friedman’s presentation here.