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Posts Tagged ‘eBook Legitimacy Issues’

In just nine short years, eBook sales will dominate the market. So says a survey from the Frankfurt Book Fair. Conducted last month, the survey polled 840 industry experts in connection with the fair, scheduled to take place October 14-18 this year.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is well known as the annual international meeting place for thousands of publishing industry professionals, a sort of RWA Nationals for agents, editors, publishers, film producers, and others who attend to buy, promote, and sell media and foreign rights.

In a post about the FBF survey, Bookseller.com reported:

Around half of those who responded to the survey said 2018 was the “turning point”, up about 10 percentage points on the same survey last year. In 2008, 27% were of the opinion that digital would never overtake print – now that number is only 22%.

The bullish prediction comes despite the majority of respondents admitting digital products still comprised just a fraction of overall sales – 60% esimated that “considerably less than 10% of their revenue” would come from digital sources this year – though this is expected to grow sharply over the next couple of years.

The vast majority – 80% – said they embraced “the radical change” digitisation brings about, rather than seeing it as a threat to the old guard.

I wonder how the Romance Writers of America awards committee will take the news, given their current stance on the legitimacy of eBooks?

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One of the biggest news stories coming out of RWA Nationals in Washington, D.C. last month was the flap over eBook discrimination within the RWA. Romance eBook programming was notably absent from the official schedule for the conference, and eBook authors within the organization took exception to this by holding their own Rogue Digital Conference, which attracted a sizable crowd.

rita_awardThe difficulty most eBook-only novels and novellas face in qualifying for the RITAs, continues to alienate authors who might otherwise join the organization. In a poll conducted on this blog during the conference, 51% answered Yes, they would join RWA if it offered the same rights to eBook authors as it does to print authors. Only 17% responded that they had no interest in the organization regardless of its stand on eBooks. Granted, this was an unscientific opinion poll, but it does demonstrate the interest eBook authors have in gaining respect for their format.

Quality and eBook Legitimacy

As discussed in Part I of this post, RWA and its 145 chapters strongly embrace the writing award concept. Awards assist unpublished writers by drawing the attention of agents and editors to exemplary writing. They also celebrate published authors and help them promote their work to the reading public. Yet the RWA doesn’t offer a single award for romance authors published in eBook format, and all but shuts them out of the RITAs.

Should there be a pathway to award recognition for these authors within the RWA?

Hardliners contend that only books from qualifying publishers should be eligible for awards (i.e. those that pay a $1000 or greater advance against royalties). eBook authors and publishers argue that this rule is outdated. Advances don’t fit the business model for this rapidly growing segment of the publishing industry, and bestselling eBooks often earn out well above the $1K threshold.

If money is being used as a determinant, and not the quality of writing, why not base eligibility on how well a book sells? Because hardliners could return that volley with an appeal on behalf of “deserving” books published by mainstream publishers. These, they would argue, may not have earned out or even come close, but evidently someone in New York felt passionate enough to lay out money upfront.

What is it exactly about an editor’s location, and the ability to purchase manuscripts with a large corporation’s money, that determines worth?

Do eBooks Need Their Own Awards?

It’s tempting to want to bypass the issue by establishing a different way to award achievement in eBook romance. Marginalized groups do it all the time, in a variety of fields, from acting to sports to business. They create their own awards to recognize excellence when the older, more established group ignores or excludes them. If you think about it, print romance writers already fit the definition of marginalized. How many romance novels do you think are going to find their way onto the nomination lists for the National Book Critics Circle or Pen Awards?

What would happen if RWA opted to create a special class of RITA Award or even a different set of awards all together? Let’s call them the GENAs (Good ENough for an Award). A dozen different award categories for the GENAs cover everything from subgenre (contemporary, erotica, fantasy, suspense, etc.) to entry length (novel, novella, short story). The main qualifications are that nominees are released as eBook-only during the award year, and that they aren’t self-published. No one on the GENAs committee cares if the entry got an advance or how many copies it sold.

First off, you would excite a hell of a lot of romance writers who up until this point had been completely shut out of the game. The impact on sales probably wouldn’t be that profound. I once had an editor tell me awards add absolutely nothing to the bottom line. Still, the effect on public opinion, while intangible, could bring in curious readers who until this time may not have even realized romance existed in eBook format.

On the other hand, I can already imagine the cries from some who would take offense at being relegated to a “special” category of awards. Why do I need an eBook ghetto award? What’s wrong with my work that I’m not allowed to compete with print?

Ghetto award or not, if offered, many would accept one with a gracious thank you. Nor would the fact that talent is being rewarded go unnoticed by industry media. eBook romance writers would incorporate the awards as just one more strategy to build the audience for their talent, until gradually they were on a level with mainstream members, and in some cases eclipsed the old guard. At this time, different awards for the two formats would seem redundant, even indulgent.

Not Really a Matter of Respect

I offer the above scenario not to advocate for it, but to illustrate that eBook authors, like a lot of marginalized groups, are determined. Give them award, don’t give them one, they’re still going to press forward with their work. Numerous indicators in the market suggest the tide of consumer resistance toward eBooks is turning. eBooks are the only segment of the book industry experiencing not just strong, but explosive growth (166.7% in the first five months of 2009 alone).

As much as I would like to say that the lack of acceptance of eBooks by the RWA constitutes a lack of respect, what I more firmly believe is that it shows an absence of foresight.

eBooks have the potential to level the playing field, democratize publishing. True, it isn’t that much cheaper for a publisher to produce an eBook than a print one, but other than server space, eBooks don’t have to be warehoused. Returns don’t constitute the gut wrenching financial worries they do with print. What the future of eBooks portends is a revitalization of the smaller publisher, reinvented for a new era, to replace those modest-sized print houses who found themselves gobbled up ten and twenty years ago by megapublishing groups.

Let Judges (Readers) Decide

Generally, editors at print publishers know their market. They tend to have finely-honed buying skills. Many possess degrees in English literature or creative writing, or years of experience working under someone else who has taught them how to critically assess the merits of a piece of writing. But so do editors working for eBook publishers. Should their tastes and judgment as to what does and does not constitute good, even great, writing be discounted?

Just because a print publisher has the advantage with a larger budget and deeper promotion pockets doesn’t mean it’s infallible. Both print and eBook publishers buy books that soar or bomb. Nor does a lack of an advance indicate a lack of respect toward the author, as long as that author is compensated in other ways, such as a higher royalty rate and faster payments.

Here’s the scenario I’d like to see happen. RWA calls in whatever committee has the power to make policy on the RITAs, and tosses out the old eligibility rules. Just tosses them. They refuse to ignore or separate eBook authors into a different class of awards. If they’re that concerned with money, they specify a publisher must fit one of two criteria to qualify, either the traditional publishing model (advance plus low royalties), or the new model (no advance, but high royalties).

While they’re at it, they create a couple of additional categories to accommodate the inherently shorter length of many eBook romance offerings. Finally, they don’t force eBook publishers to produce bound copies of their books for judging. What silliness in a time when RWA chapters routinely prefer electronic vs. paper entries for their own contests.

eInk is still ink. Give the judges both formats to read and let them decide what’s worthy of an award and what’s not. All authors deserve a chance to compete.

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Note: Wednesday’s bestseller lists are below. This post has been bumped to the top from its original posting yesterday.

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New York publisher, HarperCollins, whose eBook versions of many of their print titles appear in abundance on the bestseller lists here at Kindling Romance, announced Monday the creation of a new post, “digital editorial director,” to oversee electronic publishing at that house. Given the job was Margot Schupf, an associate editor at HarperCollins and former editorial director at Rodale Press.

Quoted in an article at Crain’s New York Business, HarperCollins Group Publisher Liate Stehlik explained:

Ms. Schupf will “develop original e-book titles, create new opportunities from the backlist, and work closely with the marketing team … to build our digital presence with digital tools such as iPhone apps.”

What does this mean for romance readers? HarperCollins plans to publish a line of eBook-only romance releases through its Avon imprint, (though no word if they’ll go to print at a later date). I find this tremendously exciting for the future of romance because it means that New York is finally “getting it,” with Avon being the first to board the Starship Enterprise to explore strange new digital publishing worlds and so forth.

Now wait just a lightyear, you might be saying. Harlequin is already doing this with the digital releases of their Nocturne Bites and Spice Briefs novellas. Yes, and no.

As the article at Crain’s points out, other major publishers already have directors of digital content in place, but they tend to approach the role differently.

Simon & Schuster recently appointed its longtime Touchstone Fireside division publisher, Mark Gompertz, as executive vice president of digital publishing, but his role is to serve as a bridge between the house’s traditional publishing groups and the digital production and marketing divisions.

To an certain extent, that’s how the Nocturne Bites and Spice Brief electronic imprints currently appear to be operating. I like these lines because they give me, as a reader, a chance to sample short work from a variety of authors. For new writers, they also offer the opportunity to a lucky few to wedge a foot ever so delicately in the door at Harlequin. However, as you look down the list of those who have written the Bites, for instance, you’ll notice that many are authors already in print at that house.

True, the Bites and Spice Briefs are original stories, but they serve a strong secondary function, a way to market print authors. They’re fully developed stories, but they are also samples of the type of print books a reader will encounter if purchasing from those specific lines. Even My Soul to Lose, by Rachel Vincent (gotta love a heroine who’s a banshee), which currently tops their eBook bestsellers list, is, in a sense, a teaser for the simultaneous print/eBook release of Vincent’s upcoming My Soul to Take.

HarperCollins, with the appointment of Schupf to their new digital editorial director post, says she’d like to try on a different head space with eBooks:

“I thought it would be interesting to come at e-books from a content perspective,” Ms. Schupf said. “A lot of people are coming at it from a marketing and distribution perspective.”

Though independent publishers such as Samhain, Lyrical Press, Red Rose, and Ellora’s Cave have been boldly going where no one has gone for years—with releases that are touted first as eBooks and second as print books—this news from HC may portend a shift ahead in the New York publishing establishment vibe.

Could this also be an important step in gaining traction for eBooks as a “legitimate” format  within the Romance Writers of America?

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Accounts coming out of the Romance Writers of America® National Conference last week point toward the sagging economy finally effecting what some considered a bulletproof sector of the publishing industry. Though there is no clear consensus, authors and bloggers have commented about their uncertainty as to the future of romance, where it’s going, how it’s evolving, how well it’s really doing.

Just fine, thank you, is the answer for those with contracts and sales. After all, it’s the one market that isn’t zinging off a cliff, and in today’s world, that’s saying something.

Those with doom and gloom on their minds, might spot certain signs of contraction in the market. An annual dinner scaled back to a cocktail party at the conference. New authors learning they need to prove themselves in two or three books, and if they don’t, being told a name change is indicated. Advances for print novels at New York publishers shrinking, and in one rumored case even falling below the $1000 RWA minimum per book.

Others see not disaster, exactly, but indicators of a certain crispy, overdoneness around the edges. Maybe too much paranormal romance out there. Erotica in decline. Editors and agents saying they’re looking for fresh material, something new from authors to sweep aside the sameness they bemoan continues to cross their desks.

Of course, editors and agents have been saying this for decades. If you went back through the archives of interviews and conference panel transcripts for, say, the past two millennia, could you find an agent or editor who wasn’t looking for something new, the next breakout book, author, subgenre?

Question: Can you tell me what you’re buying right now?
Agent/Editor: Oh, you know, same old, same old. Boy meets girl. Girl and boy have conflict. Conflict leads to crisis. Throw in some hot monkey love. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget the Happily-Ever-After.

I mean, come on. Even if that’s exactly what they wanted, needed, and were happy to buy, they’re not going to say it out loud. What I believe is often meant here is something new, but not too new. Certain elements are givens of the genre.

Romance readers want happy endings or else they’d all be buying Annie Proulx and watching creepy animations of a deceased Sylvia Plath reading poetry. Because they sell, publishers, editors, and agents all want HEAs, as well.

It’s the way we get to the happy ending, though, that matters. Contrary to what critics say, there is a deep level of craft involved in writing bestselling romance. If the voice isn’t distinctive enough, it’s tough to stand out. If an author doesn’t write from a place of conviction, it shows. If readers think an author has stepped over the line, they won’t hesitate to say so.

Überstar Christine Feehan’s latest novel, Hidden Currents, in which the heroine’s weeks-long torture and repeated rape is culminated in a brutal killing during forced oral sex, is a recent example. Some readers applauded Feehan’s bravery in tackling darker elements, while others left dozens of negative reviews about the book on a major bookseller’s website.

Such examples illustrate the difficulty inherent in not only finding new ground, a patch of untilled literary earth that isn’t already paved over by those who have gone before, but in trusting that ground’s stability beneath your feet.

A handful of new submarkets are showing promise. Stephenie Meyer of the Twilight phenom, has spawned a demi-category filled with vampires and other hunky ghoulies for teens. Even adult romance readers have co-opted the trend and are consuming books intended for readers half their age. Romance authors who’ve found themselves hooked on the novels of Charles de Lint and Emma Bull, are now working in Urban Fantasy, though it’s not always easy to separate UF romance from the vampire stuff. Another group would like Steampunk—the intersection of romance and the Victorian fascination with weird steam-driven contraptions that probably wouldn’t work in real life but are super cool anyway—to be the next Big Thing.

Vampires, Urban Fantasy, Steampunk, I love them all and will happily write the same, but, yes, I’d like to see something else, surprisingly different, come along. I sometimes wonder if we, the secret, collective we, ever become bored with the product in the pipeline. We’ve seen it before, I imagine us thinking.

Which brings me back to agents and editors asking writers to please, puh-lease send them something new. Do I think they mean it, really mean it?

I do. And I believe the reason partly stems from a factor almost completely unrelated to the stories romance writers tell. In comparison to other media, publishing is a dinosaur. Depending on how it impacts your life at any given moment, it can feel like T-Rex on a tear or a plush, non-Barney dino you want hang onto for dear life. My point is that the digital age is presently dragging an industry, whose very roots are grounded in wood pulp, lurching into the 21st century whether it likes it or not.

If romance publishing can find a new, truly fresh literary thing, it doesn’t have to worry so much about the implications of digital. The success of the one could offset the potential risks of the other, especially if this new thing finds a unique way to help publishing embrace and profit from the future of the book.

Opinions in the industry vary…To some, eBooks are a drab little segment of the market that doesn’t merit much attention. To others, they’re a way to market, though not necessarily sell books. For romance writers who haven’t yet gotten past the guardians at the gate and into print, or who choose to ignore print all together, eBooks equal money, a way to make a living, though not, as yet, complete legitimacy as an author.

Questions with no answers are many…Will digital book reading catch hold and find the same popularity as music downloads? Will electronic publishing have a Napster on its hands? How can the eBook model work in a traditional publishing environment? Could some Big Name Author publisher herself just as well in eBooks and POD formats, without a publisher, and put me out of a job next Tuesday?

Meh…I don’t know. My crystal ball is on the fritz and though I’ve called tech support, all I’m getting is someone in Sri Lanka who speaks English with a thick Lithuanian accent and is reading me the manual in its original Chinese.

I’ll tell you this, though. It’s not going to be next Tuesday. We’ve got time to sort this thing out. Publishing, steeped in old school business models as it is, has shown itself to be a less than nimble player. It tries, but it’s a vehicle with a lousy turning radius. Heck, there are still agents out there who don’t accept electronic queries or manuscripts, and insist on submissions that require, quite unbelievably so, postage.

I don’t think we’re going to see winds of change blowing through here any time soon. More like a turgid breeze.

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While most of us in the romance biz have been obsessed with the national conference this past week, Kindle made the news. In the spirit of playing catch-up, here are the some of the top ePublishing related stories hand-picked from the mainstream media and blogworld for Kindling Romance readers.

Amazon Reaches in and Zaps Books Off Your Kindle

As reported in The New York Times and elsewhere, Amazon suddenly and without warning deleted two books from every Kindle device in existence, thus raising ire with its customers who had purchased them from the Kindle Store. Ironically, the books deleted were by George Orwell, one of which was “1984,” the novel that spawned the term “Big Brother.” One particular customer, a high school student, not only found the book deleted off his Kindle, but his school work, as well.

“Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading ‘1984’ on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. ‘They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,’ he said.”

Examiner Writer Offers Her Top Ten Reasons to Read an eBook (Romance)

Though it’s not a Kindle specific story, Teri Thackston, a Houston writer on Examiner.com offers ten very sensible reasons to choose an eBook over a print book, in “Romance Novels Info 101-Should You Try an ebook?” Savings in money, time, and to the environment are all excellent examples, as are Reason No. 10, “Ebooks deliver exciting new voices – because epublishers take chances on authors who might not ‘fit’ traditional houses.” Publishers recommended by Thackston include Cerridwen Press, Ellora’s Cave, The Wild Rose Press, and Samhain among others.

Kindle to Come to the U.K.?

Many of us here in the U.S. may not realize it, but the Kindle is not a world wide phenom. (Or maybe you did realize it, and you’re just snickering at me right now. ) Soon, however, reports Mirror.co.uk News, readers in the U.K., that includes romance readers, may have a chance at buying a Kindle to download copies of Black Hills by Nora Roberts, or Demon Dreamer by Vivi Anna.

Analyst Predicts Kindle Sales Could Account for 10% of Total Amazon Sales by 2010

ZDNet.com carried a forecast from analyst Jim Friedland of Cowen and Co. which is bullish on the Kindle.

“We believe that Kindle sales are ramping up this year due to: (1) the elimination of major supply constraints that limited unit sales for the first 15 months after launch; (2) a large increase in content available on the Kindle Store; and (3) the Kindle2 and Kindle DX product launches. We estimate that Amazon sold 340,000 units in 2008, increasing to 900,000 in 2009 and 1.4 million in 2010. We believe that Kindle penetration could reach 10% of Amazon’s U.S. customer base by 2013, or 2% of the U.S. population.”

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God, I wish I could have gone to Nationals.

Sitting in my living room with my laptop last night reading the play-by-play action at the RITA and Golden Heart 2009 ceremonies on twitter (#rwa09), I could see how amazing it would be to be in the audience. Between Anne Stuart’s Buzzkill to Bling transformation onstage—recapped by Jane at Dear Author—to Gwen Cready’s acceptance for her win in Paranormal Romance—she told the audience she began writing when her sister passed away, and left everyone in tears—to Nora Roberts and her editor, Leslie Gelbman of Putnam, walking hand-in-hand up to the stage to accept the RITA, it sounds like quite the night.

If, like me, you couldn’t make it to Nationals this year, let’s vow to get our collective acts together and head to Nashville in 2010! In the meantime, check out these links to RWA wrap-ups and tidbits:

Neith over at Romance Divas was kind enough to point me toward the mother load of RWA Nationals 2009 photos, uploaded by Emily at Scorched Sheets.

Smart Bitches’ Sarah Wendell has a list of overheard snatches of conversation at the conference (examples: “I’m pitching Leprechaun shifter romance. Just the right height for gettin’ lucky,” and “Oh, yeah, that nipple was way too big for the cover.”)

Blogging National has done a top-notch job of gathering links to various RWA attendees blogging about their experiences at the conference. I highly recommend you head on over there for the many photos and first hand narratives.

Lastly, though it was written at the start of the conference, I didn’t have a chance to post a link earlier to Michelle Buonfiglio’s blog post, “H2H, RWA and the Digital Divide: It’s All About the Shoes,” at Buns & Noodle’s (excuse me B&N.com) new blog “Heart to Heart.” Buonfiglio’s post includes some very thoughtful remarks about the current skirmish within RWA over ePub authors being excluded from competing in the RITAs.

Kind of funny to think that the RITAs don’t accept submissions of books published solely in digital format, especially when one considers that the, oh, what are those thingies called again? Oh, yeah, the Pulitzer Prizes and Edward R. Murrow Awards both accept submissions of digital content.

True, with the changes to the RITA rules instituted during Nationals, the above is technically out-of-date. ePubs will be allowed in for 2010, but only if the ePublisher can: 1) be approved by September, 2) provide six perfect bound copies of each eBook on paper, and 3) the big publishers haven’t already nabbed all the available spots by the time 1) and 2) have been accomplished.

Don’t forget to scroll down to the comments section of Buonfiglio’s post, where the discussion continues with updates about the RWA hot sheet.

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With RWA Nationals underway in Washington, D.C., a good deal of contentious talk has circulated over discrimination against eBook romance authors, notably the lack of official programming for the format at the conference, and the difficulties eBooks face in qualifying for the RITA Awards. Romance Writers for Change, would like to see this change, and is playing a vocal role at the conference, advocating for better recognition, rights and opportunities for electronic romance fiction within RWA.

What’s your opinion? Are current RWA policies keeping you from joining the organization?


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