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Monday, February 7, 2011

Reporting on the ebook revolution...

This blog is about the process of getting a story out of an author's brain and into yours. That's what the subtitle says--"sometimes you don't really want to know how books are made" and we all know that the purpose of a subtitle is to explain what the catchy main title actually means.

Anybody who has been paying attention to the publishing world, even peripherally, is aware that ebooks are coming on strong, print publisher are struggling, and behemoth bookstore chains are having trouble paying their bills. Where is all this headed? Are we moving toward the day when paper books are anachronisms?

Well, yes, we probably are. If you watch an episode of the original Star Trek series from the 1960s, you'll see that paper hasn't fit into our image of the future for more than 40 years. (Except for that one episode where Captain Kirk whips out a piece of paper and reveals that his writers were born during WWII, or before.) But I don't think any of us expected books to go out of style within our lifetimes, and now I'm not so sure.

Watching my own young adult children, I see them socialize on the internet. I see them get their entertainment and news on the internet. And then I see them pick up a paper book to read for pleasure. We may be a generation away from Captain Kirk's paperless world. And I don't think you can read an ebook in the bathtub or during the fifth day of a power outage after a hurricane. (Yes, I live in Florida.) Still, if economic forces bankrupt bookstores and print publishers, we may be forced in that direction quicker than we think.

Since I make my living by shoving words around on the page, I've decided to shift my laserlike focus to the world of electronic publishing, and I'm going to take you people with me. If you know people who'd be interested in this little tour, please tweet the link or Facebook it or whatever, because I'd really like to see some conversation between writers and readers and, hopefully, publishers and agents and other industry professionals.

I'll start this process by revealing some of my own sales information. I self-published five electronic books in April of last year--a thriller called Wounded Earth, a mini-collection of three of my previously published short stories called Offerings, and three individual stories, "A Singularly Unsuitable Word", "Mouse House", and "Starch."

I had a lot on my plate last year, so I did no promotion for the ebooks at all. A handful of them sold each month, generating about enough income to cover my Hershey bar habit. Actually, it probably wasn't even that much money.

Last month, I decided it was time to promote the things and, coincidentally, Offerings was recognized by a prominent book blogger as the best anthology of 2010. I sold more ebooks in January through Amazon than I sold in all of 2010. January numbers aren't in yet for Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, and Apple. I expect to see some sales, but far fewer than on Amazon. Based on that, I estimate that my ebooks paid the bill for my cable internet in January. Others are reporting that their ebooks are paying their mortgages, and I plan to get to that point (narrating the process to you people as I go), but any day when my writing is paying my bills is a good day. If I wanted to be a starving artist, I'd have been a musician.

This month, I am putting my money where my mouth is. I hired someone to do a professional redesign of the cover and interior of Wounded Earth, and I bought some ads on sites and newsletters that cater to ebook readers. One of them hit on February 2 and I sold more books that day than I sold in all of the month of January. Recall that I sold more in January than I did in all of 2010. This is what one calls a geometric progression. Please pray with me that it continues...

The businesswoman in me says that I should report net income. I spent money on those ads and that redesign, so I will likely go in the hole for February. However, as I read other writers touting their ebook success, it appears to me that they are mostly reporting gross income, so I shall do the same. And the beauty of ebooks is that, once I recoup the cost of that redesign, they cost me nothing to sell and distribute, so any losses are temporary.

With that in mind, I boldly project that I will gross enough this month to pay the bill for my pricey iphone data plan. February's a short month, so we'll see how it goes. And we'll see how long it takes me to get to that coveted status where those ebooks are paying my mortgage.


  1. I am looking forward to your reports. My prayers are with you. Right now I have to go and get that anthology.

  2. Thanks for the prayers, Mary. They're always appreciated. And I just went back into the post and fixed the broken link for the anthology, Offerings. Amazon has been a bit touchy today. They process a lot of data every day, and there are times when the system's hiccups are quite visible.

  3. Got to admit I love paper books, don't own an e-reader and have never read an e-book. That said, all that will change because electronic distribution makes environmental and economic sense. I think hardcover books will persist and return to their old status of artisanal works for collectors, reserved for special and revered texts. Thanks for starting this dialog.

  4. My publisher, though small, seems to be a little ahead of the curve when it comes to this kind of change. Or maybe it's because they're small. My current book, STRANGERS, was released in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio simultaneously. The notion of releasing hardcover and paperback at the same time is a new one, and the rationale is to cater to the collector who wants a hardcover without making economy-minded ebook and paperback shoppers wait a year. I'll find out whether this was a good plan when my royalty statement arrives.

  5. Hi Mary Anna...Thanks for the interesting post. I'm a TradPubbed writer of Contemporary Women's Fiction & a NYTimes bestseller who's just put some of my backlist on Kindle. I wonder if you would mind telling me where you bought ads & how much they cost. If so, I would appreciate it. If not, I understand and wish you the very best of luck...Ruth

  6. It is true that you can not currently read an ebook in the bathtub. But, in a not too distant future, waterproof covers similar to those for using cameras underwater may become available.

    You should be safe during the fifth day of a power outage, at least reading-wise. A full charge of my BOOKEEN Cybook Opus ebook reader lasts up to a couple of weeks (I got 19 days once), and a week or so with my Kindle 3 (with networking off). The only downside is that e-ink displays require a reading light at night, be sure to have plenty of batteries handy.

  7. Hi, Ruth,

    No, I don't mind at all. Only one paid ad has come out yet. It was through Kindle Nation Daily, and they have information on the different kinds of ads available on their site. I've purchased an ad on KindleBoards and The Frugal Ereader which haven't appeared yet. I also got some sales by being mentioned on, which was free, but you have to approach the bloggers and they decide whom they will feature. Also, your price has to meet their criterion for "cheap," and I forget what that is.

    Hope that helps!
    Mary Anna

  8. Great, Paolo! If I ever experience a power outage lasting more than 19 days, I imagine I'll have bigger problems than being unable to read electronic books. :)

  9. Hi Mary Anna, thanks for this post. As a new indie author I find the journey of others fascinating. I'm also considering buying ad space so to hear that your experience was positive is good news.

  10. Actually you can read a Kindle in the bathtub by putting it in a zipper-locking bag. Works great. Yes, I, too, am an indie author with 5 books in paperback and e-version plus 2 more in e- only. I work sporadically at promoting them and can usually count on enough income to knock off a few bills each month and keep me in fuel-for-my-fire (a.k.a. books). Thanks for your series. I'm adding you to my blogg role and look forward to more..

  11. Good luck, Mary Anna! I look forward to following your progress. :-)

  12. Fascinating topic, Mary Anna, and I wish you much success.

    I am a writer whose novel is currently on submission. I'm also a diehard reader of print, and supporter of bookstores (Last year I began Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and I co-host a literary series at my local independent).

    And yet--I see indie authors having terrific success with electronic versions, and certainly want to reach readers who prefer their stories taken digitally.

    My hope is that both can coexist--and that the next generation still knows the unique pleasures of a book. I have young kids myself and although their peers like their DS and their Wii, I see them all reading a great deal as well.

    I'll follow your series with interest--thanks!