Saturday, April 25, 2009

To E-publish or Print Publish...Which is the Best Option?

Lesley-Anne McLeod has been writing for thirty years, around motherhood and a ten year career in bookselling. She free-lanced in business writing and published articles on antiques and collectibles.

For the past fifteen years Lesley-Anne has been able to focus her attention on fiction writing. Though she has written in a variety of genres, among them science fiction, contemporary and western, she has always been drawn to historical fiction. A life-long Anglophile, it seemed natural that she should write Regency romances, those uniquely English historical romances. She takes her inspiration from the work of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.

Lesley-Anne is married and has one daughter. She belongs to the Saskatchewan Romance Writers and treasures the support and friendship that group offers. She lives on the prairies of Canada which are distant from Regency England in time and thought, but her world retains an echo of Great Britain in history and tradition.

When I was pre-published, I knew one thing for certain. I wanted to be in print. Of course, I also wanted to be rich and famous and on the best-seller lists. But most of all I wanted to hold my printed book in my hands.

I had one or two problems with that. The biggest problem was that the genre which I most loved writing was disappearing from print. About the time I was ready to seek publication, most publishers were discontinuing their traditional Regency romance lines. They had been done to death, the quality of writing--and editing--had deteriorated, and publishers had other more lucrative fish to fry.

So my path was clear. If I wanted to write traditional Regency romances--sweet, historically accurate comedies of manners in the style of Jane Austen--I was going to have to e-publish. That is, seek an on-line publisher for electronic release only. Which I did, and I have been very fortunate with the result.

But it is a difficult question--whether or not to e-publish. And one that requires careful thought. The print publishing world is very small. There are fewer and fewer print publishers all the time as they merge and evolve. With that comes the challenge of finding the right place for your story, and often you need an agent to help. The e-publishing world is very large. With that comes a lot of uncertainty--fly-by-night operators, inexperienced business people, inadequately trained editors and publishers. There are no guarantees in either publishing world; it is up to the author in both cases to consider prospective publishers very carefully and sign with the one with the best reputation and track record.

I think I would encourage everyone to try for print publication first before attempting e-publication. For one thing print submission is an excellent exercise in networking, self-promotion and presentation. You have to (in many cases) find an agent, submit and submit and submit, and learn how to accept rejection. For another thing, the monetary returns will always be larger in print. And a third thing--people will understand what you are doing. If you can hand them a print book, they will understand you are an author. If you tell them you are electronically published, they will say "huh??"

To become print published you need drive, determination, resilience, and energy. And you need time and patience. This cannot be overstated. The quest for print publication is an arduous, time-consuming, stressful process. The waits are long, the rejections are many, and when you succeed the pressure is often (I am told) intense.

With e-publication, the road will not be so arduous, if your writing is strong and saleable. The response time from e-publishers is not so long, you don't need an agent, the hoops are not so many, and the time from acceptance to publication is about half that of print publishers.

Having said that, electronic publication is not second best. It is just different from print publication. If you want your story out there now, being read and showing a modest monetary return, consider e-publishing. If you have an intense desire to be print published, go for it. I would still like to be print published, but I don't think I have the drive and I know I don't have the energy.

E-books are rapidly expanding in popularity; e-book readers are improving and getting cheaper all the time. Print books will never disappear, but e-books will soon become a common option. Which publication route will you choose?


ban said...

good question - like you (and everyone else, i'm sure) i have the desire to HOLD a copy of my book, preferably with a cover painted by michael whelan :D but again, like you - i don't have the drive or energy needed to get the job done ... not sure what road i'll take, or if i'll ever get the chance, as i haven't even finished my first draft but - i think your advice is sound - try traditional publishing first, after all, it can't hurt ... too much. and who knows, by the time i'm ready, e-publishing will probably be common-place & everyone will have e-readers in their back pocket :D

Jana Richards said...

Hi Ban,
Jana here. Lesley-Anne has some family stuff to take care of today. She will try to check in with us if she can, but in the meantime I'd like to respond to your comment.

This is certainly an issue I struggled with for many years. For more than ten years I pursued print publishing. I wrote and completed at least five books (I started and didn't finish many more). But it seemed no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get through that door. I almost gave up.

Lesley-Anne suggested I try one of her epublishers, and I'm very glad she did. It's made a lot of difference to my confidence and I think to my writing.

That said, if I were given a print contract with a major publisher would I turn it down? No way! But I agree with Lesley-Anne. I don't know if I would have the stamina to be a print writer. There are a lot of expectations. I would love to hear from print authors to get their perspective on this.

Thanks for your comment, ban.

Karen said...

It is a very good question.

I think it will be very interesting to watch the e-publishing business continue to evolve and gain readership because who knows how the babies of today will prefer to read.

For myself, I'm pretty determined to see my work in print and I like to think I have the energy to make it happen. However, I also like to think I'm a practical soul and if it looks like a print book isn't in my future I would definitely turn to e-publishing as a satisfying alternative.

Janet C. said...

Good morning, Lesley-Anne (or afternoon - you're a busy lady today :). You already know how determined I am to get into print - and how I'm facing the rejection phase right now. I want to hold the book in my hands, but...

The more I read on industry blogs, the more I see that e-publishing is a viable option. And one I have in my strategy bag. I think if you come to this as a business, with a plan, publication will happen - in one form or another.

As a reader - I am intrigued by the e-books and the pocket readers. Downloading a ton of books onto a small device that can go anywhere with you is a tempting idea.

Great post, Lesley-Anne. Now, I'm off to S'toon to meet the gang for our writers group meeting. Have a great day - I'll check back in tonight and read all the comments :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen and Janet,
As an epublished writer I hope that epublishing catches on in a big way. One thing I've heard is that agents/editors aren't terribly impressed with epublished works, especially works epublished with small publishers. I've also heard that if you epublish first that might be a barrier to print publishing in the future, although I know authors who have proved that theory wrong. Do you think there is any truth in any of those ideas?


Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

I'm here briefly, between crises in the family--thanks everyone for their comments, and thank you Jana for holding the fort for me.

I think the key with epublishing is to finding a good reputable publisher. I respect both of my publishers greatly. Jude (an Honourary Chick) at Uncial Press is amazing, and a wonderful editor. Awe-Struck E-Books has just had a rejuvenation--it was purchased late last year by Mundania Press, a highly respected electronic publisher. I think print publishers worry because some little epublishers will accept any sort of manuscript and have no experience to edit it. That does no one any good--not the writer, the publisher, or the ebook business. The quality must be kept up or the credibility fails.

I'll try to check in later--I'm going to stagger to the next crisis now :)

connie said...

Hi Lesley/Jana
I guess it depends on who you are. My non-fiction book took a year of flat out work. It was asked for by a publisher so I didn't have that wait.
Now, I am 68. If I get motivated and finish anyone of four or five wsip, I will probably be a whole year older. Or More. If I wait 6 months to a year for each print publisher to say no, trust me, if a manuscript of mine is ever published, it will be way posthumously!
What happens if a writer submits to several publishers at once? Then a person could have a bouquet of noes rather than a nose bouquet.
(I admit that was really bad).
Thus, I will try ebooks first
and if I get with it, someday I may see my name on something other than a tax form!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Lesley-Anne, firstly I have to say the new author photo is gorgeous. Love it!

I definitely have that desire to hold a copy of my book in my hands. As you say, it also helps relatives get the whole author thing as opposed to thinking we're just typing words into a void and calling it work. I've seen a lot more attention on epubs developing though, so I imagine the balance will change in years to come. I don't necessarily think the book will disappear, but I think ebooks can certainly gain a viable foothold like mp3s/players.

I'm curious, with market trends, do things ever completely go away? Writing traditional Regencies, you said the market for them was folding when you chose to epublish, and I believe most Regency romances now are more in the line of steamy historicals set in that period, rather than true to the writing of the time. Do you think the popularity of classic Regencies will ever return? Do you think any current market gluts (like vampire novels) may fold completely when their day is done, or.... like the undead... will they rise again?

Sorry, bad pun. I suppose there's always Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Perhaps next will come Wuthering Heights and Vampires. Eternal love, digging up bodies, sucking the life out of people... it could work!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Hayley,
I agree, Lesley-Anne's picture is really great!

As far as market trends and what is selling, I find that it is cyclical. For a while paranormals were hot, then their popularity ebbed, now they're popular again. Tastes come and go, so you have to write the story you love rather than writing for a trend.

And I really agree with you about the relatives "getting" it if they can see a print book.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Lesley-Anne and Jana.

I definitely like your new pic, Lesley-Anne. Very professional.

As for my books, I haven't hidden the fact I want to be pubbed by Harlequin some day. However, they haven't picked any of my wips yet and I'm starting to lean towards The Wild Rose Press which is an epublisher that also put out print books if you have over 70,000 words. It seems the best of both worlds as one book can hit both markets.

As for having a book epubbed being a deterrant to a print publisher, I have to say it's the opposite for my friends. Since companies like Harlequin now have ebooks, the only deterrant seems to be self-pubbed books.

Molli said...

Hello there - I'm late chiming in, but maybe you, or Jana, are still checking. Either way, you asked which route will I choose, and my answer is probably both.

I'll try Harlequin print, of course -- that's been my goal all along, even when I took a deliberate hiatus for what has stretched to well over a decade. However, my main drive is to create a story that is good enough that people want to read it, and then want to read another. Stamina-wise, the print process is intimidating, but the e-pub process still involves the possibility/probability of rejection (then more rejection), and I expect that will increase as it has for print given the expanding audience. Something I take comfort from, if that's the right term, is the good company I'll be in when I finally send out another partial/ms. I fully expect I'll be looking for hugs and shoulders, and with our group I know I'll find them, so I'm already ahead of the game!

(BTW, I, too, really like your picture. I smiled when I first saw it--the expression is so true to you, and professional, rather than studied or insincere.)

Helena said...

Lesley, I'm thinking that you will be reading the comments later after you take a few breaths from the busy day (weeks) you have had.
So I am popping in (late) to say how much I appreciate your guest blog today. It is very telling that most people see e-publishing as a second choice, but I think it is encouraging that there are companies that provide both options. I too like the idea of holding my own book in my hands, seeing it on my shelf, and buying copies for my family. But my resistance to reading on the screen is breaking down, so I fully expect that e-publishing might become a real option in my future ... if I can't get published in print, that is!

I have no less admiration (make that envy) for the people such as you and Jana who have made it in the e-pub world. A publication credit is a publication credit.

I love the picture, too. It's so you. (A Regency lady in 21st century costume!)

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

I thought I'd like to pick up today what I missed yesterday. I'm so sorry about that--you really don't want to know the whole story!

Hayley, yes, I do think things come around again. There is still a strong market for traditional Regencies in libraries; no print publisher is filling that need right now. All these genres get overkilled, die away and then, as you say, rise again. I think this is the second time I've seen vampires come round.

You can write any genre and eventually it will come back. You just have to hope, like Connie, that you are still around to see your work get published in your chosen area!

Erotica has been so popular for the past five years or so; it will start to fade soon (hmmm, is anyone going to hold me to my predictions?)and something else will hold top spot.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

I hope you are right, Anita. I would despise a print publisher who automatically discounts a writer because of a previous e-publication credit. I think it will become more even-handed in the next few years.

Self-publication is a mine-field, I think. Having said that, I do know one Regency author who has been very successful with it. But oooh, the work involved. And no matter who you are, the credibility is always in question.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thanks, Molli, and everyone, for your kind words about my new headshot. My daughter did it; we had a giggle doing silly poses and serious ones and finally came up with this. It's the first photo of myself that I have liked for a loooong time.

About the support of a writers' group--it's priceless. Every writer needs the energy that comes from like-minded associates, and their support through the bad times. Thank goodness for SRW!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

You're right Helena, about resistance to reading on computers/ebook readers. Screen reading is different--and it will never replace holding a book in your hands. That's why I believe books will never disappear. But I love my Sony ereader. I have eighteen books on it right now, and it goes anywhere and everywhere.

I firmly believe ebooks and print books will exist side by side. And ebook publishers will improve as the fly-by-night, get rich quick folks realize publishing is a lot of work. They will disappear and the professionals who want to provide an excellent product will remain.

Let's work to banish the second best reputation of e-books and e-publishing!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thanks, Prairie Chicks, for the opportunity to guest blog with you. And my apologies again, for my absence yesterday!

All the best,

Silver James said...

I'm always a day late and dollar short but I'm home at last and finally able to get caught up on my blogging.

I'm lucky. My publisher does both. The books come out in e-format, DRM free. They are also available Print On Demand (POD) from Amazon, B&N, and other distributors. I'll have the best of both worlds when Faerie Fate is released.

Some of my RWA chapter mates are holding out for a "big" publisher. Don't get me wrong. I'd love to be with a major publisher. I still have hopes of doing so. In the meantime, Wild Rose wanted my work and after some research, I saw no reason not to sign. One gal from the OKRWA had several books with Wild Rose and just sold a book to Dorchester. It can be done.

Kate Pearce said...

My first book was published by an e-publisher back in 2005 when I was writing steamier Regencies than any of the print publishers would publish. That's why I chose to submit that particular book to them.
I learned a lot from that experience and I think it helped me make the jump into print publishing in 2007 when a lot of the NY publishers decided to debut erotic romance lines.

The funny thing is that all my e-books from EC are now available in print and all my print books from Kensington Aphrodisia are available as e-books so there is obviously some cross over :)

I'd also like to mention that I still write for my e-publisher when I get a chance, because I like the speed of publication and the chance to write in different sub-genres to the Regency period. Financially I'd also have to say that e-publishing for me has been very lucrative. I know of some authors who regularly earn more from their e-book sales than their print sales.
So a good e-publisher-(and there are some), can give you the opportunity to get a book that is not necessarily 'hot' in NY out into the world, build you a fan base, earn you a little money on the side and help you grow as an author.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

It was really interesting to read your posts, Kate and Silver. E-publishing and print publishing are getting more and more interwined, and that is as it should be IMHO.

And it's very encouraging to hear of authors crossing the boundary repeatedly.

That's the way of the future, I hope.