Pub Rants

Tectonic Shift

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STATUS: Halloween is going to be here before we know it. I’m not sure I’m ready for it to be the holiday season soon.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? UNDER PRESSURE by Queen (with David Bowie)

Or to quote Malcolm Gladwell, we may have reached the tipping point. As I mentioned earlier this week, October is a big royalty statement month here at the agency. All the publishing houses have different royalty reporting periods but the good majority of statements come in February/August, and April/October. In the last week, we’ve received a ton of statements.

And it’s always a happy time because with statements comes money.

But that’s beside the point. What I wanted to highlight tonight was that I’m reading a ton of statements from different houses, different authors, and different genres.

I’m noticing one big change. The amount of eBooks being sold in any given accounting period has risen dramatically.

I’ve been watching this for years. Four years ago, any author that sold more than 50 books in the electronic form (in one accounting period) was blowing it away and mostly I’d only see high numbers from our SF&F authors.

Now I’m looking at titles selling 500 to 1000 copies (and certainly sometimes more) in electronic form regardless of the genre. Even this time last year the numbers were not running nearly this high.

The tectonic shift is happening and it’s all clearly spelled out on paper—although one has to wonder how long those paper statements will last…

30 Responses

  1. Cody Tull said:

    Are most agents really busy right now dealing with royalty statements? I’ve got quite a few full manuscripts with different agents (unfortunately, not with this one!) and haven’t heard a peep. Although, it hasn’t even been two weeks yet for all of them. I know I’m being impatient. Just wondering…

  2. Anonymous said:

    I’m unpublished in the traditional sense and have sold over 400 novels in the last two months on Amazon Kindle without any website, blog, or marketing strategy, etc., without really trying.

    Interesting times (in the Chinese curse sense). I think e-book piracy is really going to be the new big publishing problem.

  3. Zoe said:

    When considering a book in my publishing house eBook potential is beginning to play a major role in our decisions. I imagine the Irish market is a few years behind the US and even the UK, (we are only now experimenting with eBooks) but anything due in 2011 is now being discussed with smaller print runs and eBook development in mind.

  4. Gordon Jerome said:

    I bought a Kindle almost as soon as they came on the market (Of course, I was two months on a waiting list to get it.). Now, when I talk about Kindle readers, people think I’m selling them, but I’m not, I’m just totally sold on them.

    You have to understand the consumer forces at work:

    1. The books are cheaper.
    2. Every book, just about, is available to you while your in the bathtub–no bookstore can do that.
    3. It’s physically easier to read a text-based book on a kindle than from any other kind of binding.

    So much so is this the case that the hardback book I bought and paid for by Megan Crewe (Give up the Ghost) I have stopped reading because it’s just too much of a hastle to read compared to reading a book off the Kindle. If her book comes out on Kindle, I’ll probably buy it again in Kindle format and read it then. That is the power of Kindle over books.

    Right now, I have four self-published/independent published samples of ghost story novels on my Kindle that I want to look at. If one keeps me interested through the sample, I’ll download and pay for the book. They’re all selling for less than four bucks.

    Barnes and Noble isn’t carrying those books! I couldn’t get them any other way. Oh, B&N has the latest James Patterson/ghostwriter corporate-produced novel. But Kindle is where the potential literature is.

    There are over 300,000 titles on Kindle. No bookstore carries that many different titles. Stephen King has written a novela called UR that is only available on Kindle.

    There are other e-readers coming onto the market, but they don’t have amazon’s bookstore power behind them. Nonetheless, I welcome them if they can do something worthwhile, and I’ll check them out. But unless they’re using the e-ink screen technology, forget it.

    Cheaper publishing.
    No returns.
    Cheaper books to the consumer.
    Easier buying.
    Easier storage.
    Easier reading.
    Almost no environmental impact.
    More privacy.
    I can carry thousands of books.
    More selection.
    A chance to sample before buying.
    I can search for titles like this:

    Fiction–Horror–Ghosts (800 titles)–list by publication date (access to the most recent works in the world)

    Try doing that in a bookstore.

    And to authors: You don’t have to die with the world never even getting a chance to read what you wrote. Self-publishing to Kindle is free. No printing costs; no distribution costs. 65% to Amazon 35% wired to your bank account for each book sold.

    One day, they’ll drop the price of a kindle from $299 to who knows, $50. Then everyone will have one. I bought mine when they were $399, and I had to wait two months to get it.

    Think about what that means in terms of consumer demand.

    Oh, and don’t be surprised if you don’t see them everywhere around. Only readers are buying them. Most people aren’t readers. But then, only readers are buying books.

    Based on what Kristin has posted and the author above this post who published to Kindle, I am going to get Caretakers of Eternity ready for publication to Kindle.

    I was and still am an independent publisher (though I’ve been inactive for a while), so I know what needs to be done. I have a publisher’s account with Kindle, and I understand how to work with DTP (the Digital Text Platform they use).

    So, maybe my next novel will find an agent and a traditional publisher, but this one is going to Kindle. I’m going to use it to learn the ropes.

    Maybe the more important skill for an author in the future will not be how to smooch pasty buttockes, and network using their own money to travel, but rather how to format a book using DTP. Maybe in the future readers will have access to quality literature again. Maybe, there will be a million-dollar prize one day that rivals the Nobel Prize or Pulitzer prize, or National Book Award, and it will only be for e-books.

    Kristin’s right: it’s a tectonic movement.

  5. said:

    Self-publishing to Kindle is free. No printing costs; no distribution costs. 65% to Amazon 35% wired to your bank account for each book sold.

    No kidding, Gordon? I mean: really?

  6. DebraLSchubert said:

    Kristin, Do you think this is a good turn of events? I’d love for you to do a post on this. (BTW: Heading to Denver today – meeting w/Bella & Karen C. for lunch tomorrow. If you can join us, call Bella.)

  7. MeganRebekah said:

    I am actually very excited for this ebook movement. I’ve been reading ebooks for about five years now.
    It started in college, as a way to sneak my romance novels without my studious roommates any the wiser 🙂
    Now I have a kindle and still download some ebooks to my computer. It’s so nice to have these books at my fingertips at all times.

    What concerns me are sites like, where entire books are available for the public to read for free. I don’t understand how that site is allowed to operate, with such blatant disregard for copyright laws.
    Yesterday I was searching for reviews on The Book Thief. I’ve heard great things about the book, but still haven’t read it. Well, google had a link to, where the whole book was available to read! I ran off to Amazon and bought the book, because I felt a little tainted for even opening the site with the pirated version 🙂

  8. Carradee said:

    Hey, if I weren’t paying off medical bills and school loans so I could finish college, I suspect I’d own an e-reader. I like reading on a screen.


  9. Rachel Aaron said:

    My big question about this new turn of events is are these new ebook sales a gain for the author, or simply the same people who would have bought the book in print now buying it electronically? Is it a trade off or a gain in readership?

    Frankly, I don’t really care how people read my books, so long as they read (and pay) for them 😀

  10. Christa said:

    I’m a voracious reader with a small library started in my home. However, I’m quickly running out of space. Last year I bought a kindle and LOVE it. Most of the books I buy now are ebooks. This is for several reasons:

    1) I don’t have to worry about where to store another physical book

    2) I can order it from anywhere, at anytime, and start reading immediately

    3) I can carry around over a hundred books on my kindle without pulling any muscles in my back due to excessive weight

    4) It’s better on the environment

    With that said, there are some books I purchased originally as e-books but after reading them, I bought a hard copy as well. This tends to happen with non-fiction books in which I want to be able to quickly browse through a book to find a specific section or two. That’s not easy to do on the kindle. Plus I find hard copies better if you want to grab something and look up a reference quickly.

    I realize there’s still a lot around e-books that needs to be finalized, but I do believe that it will become a strong presence in publishing in the coming years.

    I think the comparison people make to the music industry is a valid one. They tried to fight the on-line availability of music for years before finally working out the legalities and accepting this new avenue.

    Will piracy be an issue? Of course. Certain types of people will steal whether it’s a paperback, e-book, or audio CD. The movie industry still has cases of illegal copies. It will never go away. It’s simply a matter of formalizing acceptable laws and doing your best to enforce them.

  11. AE Rought said:

    I guess I straddle this fence. I am e-published through Samhain Publishing, and sold over 400 copies of my latest release in the first month alone.

    eBooks have many, many advantages. As for me, I will continue to strive for print. I love will always have a love affair with print, though, especially the two I have with my name on them. ^_^ There’s nothing like the smell of a new book, the feel of the pages, the weight of it in my hands.

    So, I’ll still publish with Samhain as long as they’ll have me, but I am still on the agent hunt for a print house to settle into as well.

  12. Karen McQ. said:

    I’ve been reading these comments with great interest. I’ve self-released three books (two novels and a collection of humorous essays) on Kindle and it’s been a wild and joyful ride. The experience has exceeded my expectations in every way. The sales have been outstanding, but even better than that is the validation in the form of rave reviews, reader emails, and blog comments.

    I originally went the traditional route–agented submissions with near misses, great comments from editors etc. I appreciated the efforts on my behalf, but ultimately it didn’t lead to a sale. Now my work is out there getting read and entertaining people. And every month Amazon makes a deposit into my account. I can do as little or as much promotion as I want, and I can see the sales in real time. I’d still love to be published traditionally, but even if that never happens, I count myself lucky to have had this option.

    If anyone is interested, my books are titled:


    I still love print books and my local bookstore and library, but I honestly think ebooks are the wave of the future.

  13. Haste yee back ;-) said:

    Y’all should google, APPLE TABLET. It’s waiting in the wings and, if rumors are correct, will be announced Jan 2010.

    It’s a multi-media iPhone… covers, books, zines, movies, the whole she-bang!

    10.7″ diagonal screen, high resolution, all touch with apps stretching here to the moon! AND IT’S COLOR CAPABLE!

    Haste yee back 😉

  14. Barbara's Spot on the Blog said:

    I love holding a book to read and although I love technology I’m not so keen to read from a computer screen. I get too much of that during the day time already… but I really the time has probably come that we shift to e-books more and save trees. I just wish someone would make an e-book that looked and felt like a paperback.

  15. Marlene said:

    I just know we can’t fit another book in this house. Not that that will stop us from buying them. But I really don’t want to be an old lady living with books and magazines stacked five feet high on every horizontal space.

    Which is where we’re heading.

    I need ebooks to save us from ourselves. I don’t see any other solution.

  16. David Kearns said:

    The alien lord and master (ALM) is destroying the written record of humanity, just prior to subjecting the species to slavery.

    “Kindle, Kindle Kindle” read: kindling, kindling, kindling.

    But, it’s all good. It’ll take a couple of decades to play itself out. Some of us will make a few bucks before it’s over.

    Read the future on

  17. Dara said:

    I’m one of those who is still torn about the eBook vs. traditional book.

    I hardly buy books now as it is (I generally get all my reading material from the library). However I do know that the company I used to work for partnered with Sony Reader to make library books available on it. That was the major thing for me–I have to be able to get books through the library. If I like it well enough, I’ll buy it 🙂 Hubby and I have started talking about purchasing an eReader for Christmas. I suspect though he’ll end up using it more than me 😛

    I think books will always be around in the traditional sense, but it makes me wonder–how will authors do book signings? You can’t sign an eBook 😛 At least not yet!

  18. Cam Snow said:


    I would love to hear more about this, specifically, how would an agent/publishing house view a work that has been “self-published” to the kindle. Example, Bob the Writer published a phenomenal book on the Kindle that sells 1000 copies digitally over 6 months and is well received by its reviewers. Bob, however, knows that his book is only reaching a small portion of the market because very few people have e-readers.
    If Bob were to send his query letter, and you loved the story, but then he told you it had already sold 1000 copies. Would you tell him sorry it’s too late for this one or would you help him sell the print rights?
    How does Amazons self-publishing 65/35 split compare to what you could get from a traditional publishing house for digital rights?
    I agree with Gordon above that e-Readers may well be the future of publishing. It also seems like it could be a HUGE financial bonanza to authors well-known authors.
    Hopefully piracy doesn’t crush the future of publishing the way it has music or movies.

  19. Madison L. Edgar said:

    I keep trying to avoid it… Who wants to read a book online? Plus plagiarism is a terrible consequence. I’m worried for us writers!

    I want my book to be published in PRINT because I want to see the words on the pages and hold the book in my hands and smell the beautiful scent of fresh print as I rifle through the pages… If I wanted to see it electronically, I’d just pull it up on my computer. Yeesh.

  20. Eva Gale said:

    Hear that? It’s the angels singing your name. E is here to stay.

    Madison, every book will eventually be e-published as well as print. You want your readers to be able to access your story the way they want to-it’s all about the reader. So, while YOU may not like e, maybe the person who wants to buy your book will only BUY e. And, if you don’t have it (in it’s many formats), you lose a sale.

    And e-readers are awesome.

  21. Anonymous said:

    Here’s a bookseller’s pov, if you’re looking for one:

    Bookstores are certainly getting into the e-book market. Borders started retailing an e-book reader years ago, and Barnes & Noble ( entered the e-book market a couple of months ago with the largest library of available e-books in the market– I think it was 700,000 at the beginning and they’re rapidly expanding it– which can be downloaded onto laptops, Blackberrys and iPhones– no e-reader necessary. So they’re not ignoring the shift.

    And it is a shift. Ask the booksellers. Some of us are starting to think about job security for the first time in our long and hitherto delightful careers. I don’t think the demand for printed books will ever entirely disappear, but I do think that it’s possible we have seen the glory days of the ‘book superstore.’ We may be on the other side of the trajectory now, where bookstores will start to get smaller again. Print runs will be smaller, prices will go up, fewer titles will be carried in the stores while more will become special-order only, and booksellers will become even more efficient at getting your book from the warehouse to your house very quickly. Those are my predictions, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

    Now that e-books are being sold which do not require the customer to invest in an expensive e-book reader, I think that the single greatest challenge to e-books is the threat of piracy. It will be a technology competition, essentially, but I hope (and suspect) that eventually it will become difficult enough to pirate and distribute texts that at least losses due to piracy won’t be much more than current losses due to shoplifting.

    I’d also love to hear the answers to Cam Snow’s questions.

    –Meredith B.

  22. Liesl said:

    This is so fascinating to me, and as an aspiring author I think about how it changes my approach to marketing my work. I still want to go through the traditional route of agent to mainstream publisher. I just believe in that system for a lot of reasons, but even then the who ebook thing changes the game. How does this changes things in terms of marketing? Obviously ebook readers don’t choose their book by browsing through the bookstore. What are effective ways to promote books when they’re not attractively displayed on the shelf?

    I haven’t jumped ship to go buy an ereader. But I’m getting there. I’m waiting for the Apple device!

  23. Gordon Jerome said:

    Get ready for the changes in publishing. Kristin was right; it’s tectonic in scope.

    I want to remind you all about one thing. Reading from a Kindle is not like reading from a computer or an Iphone, or anything else. It uses an e-ink technology screen (which is why they were originally hard to get a hold of). It is more like reading from paper. In fact, you have to have light to read it. It’s not backlit like a computer screen.

    It’s more like a computerized etch-a-sketch, if you remember that particular toy.

    Reading from a computer screen will never work for book length material. It has to be e-ink technology, like the Kindle or the Sony Reader. Unfortunately, the Sony Reader doesn’t have access to Kindle Books.

    Kindle also has a larger version of itself for use with textbooks and newspapers, but it’s close to 500 dollars.

    This shift is inevitable. Books, at least fiction novels, will go to e-books like Kindle. This is a moment in history similar to the invention of the printing press. You’ll either be part of it from the ground floor, or you’ll wish you had.

  24. Anonymous said:

    Liesl, I agree with you 105%– going the traditional route of agent and publisher is far and away the best way to ensure that your book is the best book that it can be before it hits the shelves, as well as the best way to develop a good relationship with your publisher and guide your career as a writer. Even with ebook technology, I don’t forsee that changing at any time in the near future. Thank God for agents and editors! 🙂

    Gordon, I agree that many people will want that technology, and I think that’s the way the entire industry is heading, but I think as far as getting the public used to the idea of an eBook, starting people off on their laptops is a great way to go. The current generation of readers needs to be sold on eBooks, and affordability and accessibility is the way to do that. The generation that is currently in primary and secondary education probably won’t need to be sold on the technology as much (provided it’s within their price range, which as you said above, it should be before too long.)

    Meredith B.

  25. Gordon Jerome said:

    Thank you Meredith, and you bring up a good point. Most self-published books on Kindle that I look at through downloading a sample, are not worthy of publication. Leaving the writing aside (because I see as much crap that way in B&N as I do through self-pub) it’s the quality of the publishing that makes me reject the sample.

    Right now, most of the self-publishers don’t know how to use the DTP system very well to format their text. I won’t read a book on Kindle that isn’t properly formatted and published that way.

    The major publishers seem to know how to use it. And I don’t know what’s so hard given that Kindle puts out all the instructions for doing so, but a lot of the self-pubs have no cover image, the margins are wrong, there’s no table of contents, no publishing information, no author information, that sort of thing.

    To be quite honest, minor grammar issues don’t bother me that much if the rest of the formatting and publishing is good.

    As for the writing? You know whether it’s worth reading from the first page or two of the sample. And a lot of books now, even published by the majors don’t get any editorial attention to speak of. I’ve heard this time and again.

    If one is going to self-publish, they really need to learn what it means to be an independent publisher. Most won’t do that, and so agents and publishing houses will persist.

  26. Madison L. Edgar said:

    Wow I didn’t know all that about the Kindle, Gordon. Thank you!

    Eva: I have nothing against e-book readers or about being e-published! If that’s the only way for me to be published, I will gladly do it! It’s just my dream to hold my book in my hands (as I described above).

  27. Gordon Jerome said:

    Interesting, isn’t it? We want a book for the immortality it brings. Because that’s what a book symbolizes, even when it sells 200 copies and the rest are returned and remaindered.

    Yet the way books are published, the paper in them probably won’t last a hundred years. So what about digital?

    One thing is for sure: if digital goes away, the functioning of human society as we know it will have gone away, and no one’s books will matter anymore at that point.

    Digital requires electricity and computer technology. The only way that’s going to end is if civilization ends.

    Books, however, after they are remaindered, and after you die and your kids throw them all out, do tend to rot over time. And have you seen the paper most books are printed on now? I think newspaper, while thinner, is actually of higher quality.

    The story is what really counts. There are good stories and bad ones. Only the good survive. Then only the the ones that can transcend generational changes really last.

    You should care about the story, Megan, not about the medium in which it is published. If the story is good, it will last.

  28. Li said:

    Paper books aren’t going away. My husband is a computer consultant and as big a geek as you can imagine, and even he says paper books have some significant advantages over e-books. Paper books don’t need batteries, they don’t crash, they don’t need special technology to access the data, they won’t ever be unusable because the technology has moved one (what will happen to your Kindle library when the Kindle becomes obsolete and is replaced by a new reader that can’t access the old data?). So yes, e-books are going to change publishing in a big way, but we are not going to have a paperless future.