Is it Magic? The Confusing World of Book Production

I’m still doing the happy dance after finding the paperback version of Dangerous Works on Barnes & Noble.  The rest of the world, if they are aware of me at all, probably scratched their head and asked, “Didn’t that book come out last year?”  Well, yes and no.  If you are a happy member of the magical world of electronic publishing and ebooks, then yes it did. It was released (or unleashed) on the world in ebook, or more specifically Kindle format. (“Kindle” is, of course, the name of the readers sold by Amazon.)  If not, then no.

Gerard_ter_Borch_d._J._001-220x300 Author's Blog

How you imagine I work? (Painting by Gerard ter Borch)

eBooks can be produced in a variety of formats and many are.  My publisher makes books available initially for Kindle-only since it is the most widely used platform for selling ebooks.  Let me back up a step and talk about publishing models in general, and perhaps it may explain the nine month gap between the release of my baby for Kindle and the release of the paperback version.  Call this “publishing for readers who wonder.” Writers know these things.

Stepping back into ancient times, say, before 2001, traditional publishing (also known as “New York” publishing) worked something like this. If an author was good enough and lucky enough (and you needed to be both) to get a publishing contract, your book was released in print. There are a number of sites that gave written eloquently on the strengths and more on the weaknesses of this model**. I won’t try to add to that canon. Very briefly, the author was given an advance (usually low four figures) on the royalty (usually 10% of copy price) he or she would eventually receive. If the book sold enough copies to cover the advance to the author the book was said to have “sold out.”  If a book sold out a second contract was likely. If not, not.  From the author’s point of view, the money came up front, the royalty per book was low, but the cost to the writer was zero. Writers got the marketing and distribution clout of the big companies and also got a book to hold in their hand immediately. libraries knew where and how to buy copies readers requested. However, the model meant publishers took few chances and were tough on aspiring writers.

Technology gave rise to small publishers in abundance. Companies such as Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, and Wild Rose Press sprung up using a straight to digital model. Certain fiction (largely fanfic and erotica) had been widely circulating on the Internet for quite a while. These companies gave those writers a home and commerce model.  While they initially tilted toward erotica and steamy, they began recruiting romance authors across a wide spectrum of heat levels and subtypes. These publishers fanned out to writers’ groups and made themselves available for pitches and submissions. They offered no advance and no print but higher royalties.  They attracted writers who were turned away by New York, and there were many.

Technology did what technology does. It continued to morph and grow. In 2007 Amazon released the Kindle. It gave publishers the opportunity (or coerced them, depending on who you ask) to put their book in a format that could be read easily with a reader experience very close (but not identical) to print. It was a huge improvement over older formats.  Competitors, including Barnes &  Noble, released competitors and file format wars ensued. Those are still not entirely resolved. The number of small companies multiplied. Soul Mate Publishing, which publishes my work, is one of them.

Around that same time print-on-demand (POD), which had been enabled by digital technology, began to mature to the point it was a viable option for publishing and small presses embraced it. In traditional publishing, publishers did an initial print run of thousands of copies of a new book. Remember those advances? They pretty much matched the print run with company gambling it would sell out. Woe betide the writer whose book did not sell out. POD enables smaller publishers to offer their authors’ works in print with little risk.  Since formatting for print is more time consuming than digital publishing, many publishers, Such as Soul Mate Publishing, release works to digital (usually for Amazon Kindle) first and other formats later.

(This is where you say “Aha! That’s why Caroline’s book is only now coming out in print.”)

But wait, you may ask, can’t you just publish it yourself? With all this technology and Amazon bending over backward to facilitate indie publishing, why don’t you just do it yourself? Good question. Every author has to decide that these days. Here are my reasons for not doing it several years ago:

1.  To sell well a book needs a “cover” even if it is only a digital graphic. That cover has to be attractive. A writer can hire one done or buy rights to graphical elements and make one. That is not my skill set and it would have meant an up front investment in a book I had no idea whether it would sell or not. Soul Mate has given me beautiful covers.

2. There is a lot of poorly written and poorly edited (or more likely never edited) material out there. That is a very bad move if you want to sell more than one book.  You have to approach self publishing professionally.  You may be able to find volunteer beta-readers to find flaws but you must hire an editor. I done enough business writing to know good writing requires a good editor and a good one costs in the thousands. Don’t get me wrong, they are worth every penny, I just didn’t want to risk the up front investment.  At Soul Mate my editor, Tammie Bairen is a joy. She makes my work shine and I love working with her to improve my work.

3. It sounds easy but self publishing involves not only writing but formatting and a ton of it. Putting an Indie book on Amazon is fairly straight forward but most successful writers use a variety of platforms and that involves software and a lot of reformatting. I can do that sort of thing well, but the learning curve would be steep. I also suspect every step provides space for errors to occur and proof reading is my weak point.

4. Lack of confidence. There’s something about Soul Mate taking me on and some people actually reading the darned thing that that problem to lessen if not disappear entirely.

I confess to you that I want to dip my toe in the indie-publishing sea.  I am working on a holiday novella set in Venice that I hope to self-publish later this year.  I will make my own cover and jump into that learning curve. Editing? That’s a conundrum. I may bargain or barter or just pray.  The results will be interesting.

In the meantime, I am enormously grateful to Soul Mate for their care, attention, and marketing advice. I’m grateful for readers and social networking friends who have taught me much this year. Soul Mate will release Dangerous Weakness in September. Some other projects are cooking with my peeps in the Bluestocking Belles. A new series is forming in my head. For now, however, one of my books is in print. Let the happy dance go on.

**Search the tern Traditional Publishing, and you will find a ton of material.  Be aware that much of it is written with an independent publishing bias, however.

2 thoughts on “Is it Magic? The Confusing World of Book Production

  1. Caroline, I found much of this information interesting, though I am not a writer. Thank you.

    One question I always had for a long time….is that romance novels some times have setback artwork that is never included in downloads on Kindle. I always felt cheated….there was no price break from paperback to Kindle for same novel and yet I didn’t get what a buyer of physical book had gotten.

    I asked various authors if they knew why…but I never received any information?

    In this last year Stephanie Laurens, last 2 romance novels came out with set back artwork. Yippee! I was excited that she and her publisher finally did the right thing.

    But now I wonder why only her works….and do other authors/publishers even care about their set back artwork…..because I do? I still feel cheated if I know there is set back artwork….and I don’t get it when I purchase the book.

    Do you know anything about this setback artwork?

    Thanks, Becky

    • Becky, alas, I can’t answer that question. My strong suspicion is that it has to do with each individual publisher, and the level of difficulty in formatting, but I don’t know that for sure. As I said in my post, the world of book production is confusing. Thanks for the kind words.

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Caroline Warfield, Author

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