Moss Rock Review – April 2011

Local authors are thriving in a rapidly-changing book world

Everywhere one goes in Victoria, there are interesting people with fascinating stories. “You ought to write a book!” is frequently heard. Many are seizing the moment and writing out their insights and experiences to inform and help others. Most are surprised to discover that publishing is much easier than ever before, and their prospects for “success” (personal and financial) have never been better.

The book industry is being rocked by enormous pressures to its business model that are causing some publishing houses, distributors and bookstores to fail. Entire chains, such as Borders in the USA, Waterstone’s in the UK, and Angus & Robertson and Whitcoulls downunder, are in bankruptcy. Yet delightfully, most changes are unfolding in the individual authors’ favour.

I’ll provide some examples of the upheaval. Remember the prediction of the “paperless office”? And how people have scoffed at that idea? Well, maybe your own desk in still cluttered with paper, but overall our society is consuming far less paper. In 2000, North American commercial printers used up 48 million tonnes of paper. By 2010 that amount had dropped by fully 1/3 to only 32 million tonnes, and industry predictions are for further decline over the coming years. Clearly we are shifting our paper consumption patterns, and consuming fewer newspapers, magazines and… printed books!

Sales of electronic books [eBooks] are skyrocketing. Simon & Schuster reports that eBook sales are now between 15 to 20 percent of its revenues. Random House reports digital sales at 10 percent of US revenues. Over 25% at O’Reilly Media. Hachette says 23.5% of sales are eBooks. Since most eBooks are priced much lower than their print edition counterparts, we can assume that eBooks are selling almost as many units as – if not outselling – print books.

How does this help the new author? By levelling the playing field. A 26-year-old Minnesota writer named Amanda Hocking has made this abundantly clear. She’s been writing young adult paranormal romances for years but couldn’t interest a publishing house or an agent. So she decided last spring to self-publish her series as print-on-demand titles and as eBooks through Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Through the magic of Facebook and other social media, word spread quickly and she sold 185,000 copies by year end, earning herself well over $100,000. Sales continued to climb in the new year until at one point her books occupied spots #1, 2, 4, 7, 11, 12 and 14 in the list of top 100 paid romance eBooks on Amazon. If she maintains this pace, she’ll earn millions from her self-published eBook sales in 2011. All without a publicist, without any advertising, without any books in bookstores. No publishing house.

But Amanda’s story gets sweeter. An agent asked to represent her. He arranged a bidding war between the largest publishing houses. St. Martin’s Press won, paying Amanda a cool $2-million advance for a new 4-book series. It will take a year before the printed edition appears in bookstores. By contrast, when Amanda is self-publishing, she can write a novel in three weeks, then publish it as an eBook within a few days. But she wants to concentrate on writing, and not on supervising an editor and online promotion. And she wants to experiment at having one romance series promoted by a big name publishing house.

It is interesting that one of the losing bidders was Amazon itself. The online behemoth has since struck a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt whereby Amazon will find and promote new writing talent for its Kindle store, and then subcontract to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt the publishing of the printed edition to bookstores (expected to bring in less revenues than eBook sales). Suddenly eBook rights – which had been a minor “subsidiary right” [or not mentioned at all] in writers’ contracts – have become the major focus in publishing deals. And, as Amanda Hocking has cleverly demonstrated, a writer doesn’t need a major publishing house’s help to exploit the eBook market’s potential, or to publicize.

For many Victoria writers, it is becoming clear that there is little point in following the old approach of applying to the big publishing houses, hoping to get “picked up”. Why wait for rejection letters? Instead they are using the rich local talent pool of editors, illustrators and publishing services, and controlling their own literary destinies.

Mel Anthony, who lives on his sailboat in Sidney marina, released Pranksters at Play: Tales Out of School in October with the pledge that all his royalties would go to his charity His novel was based on his own experiences at boarding school in Ontario in the 1960s — so he targeted alumnus from that school. Within two months his plan has borne fruit: Mel’s charity received an initial royalty cheque for $2,259.29. More importantly, the book’s promotions are raising awareness for CORP and large donations are flowing in.

Local architect Alan Roy is another take-charge person. He’s already built two schools in Africa, with more planned, and will publish an account of this amazing work in June. From Clay to Classrooms tells how transforming these projects are – for the children and for Babu Alan himself. Primary Schools for Africa is the name of Alan’s charity.

  • Linda Hunter who has organized dry grad events at Parkland Secondary is selling copies of An Unforgettable After-Grad: Your guide to creating and operating a successful all-night safe, dry, grad event to parent committees around the world.
  • Caroline Whitehead’s sequel to Surviving the Shadows is Rowland: A Heart of Sunshine.
    Tom Morison just released a novel, In Search of Her Ayah which is set in Oregon, India, Tibet and Victoria.
  • Leanne Jones has written It’s Cool to be Clever, an inspirational children’s book about Edson C. Hendricks, who was bullied as a boy but went on to invent the network design for the Internet.
  • Lori Holmes-Boyle’s Second Seraph trilogy features the second coming of the Christ child – but this time it’s a girl….

Next time you meet someone around town with a fascinating story, you can ask when their eBook and printed book editions will be available.

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