Just How Dodgy Is Digital Publishing?
You can always tell when someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes – they don’t give you a straight answer. It seems that habit has spread to ebooks.
‘I became a superstar from digital publishing!’ some dubious ‘writer’ regularly screams in the press, until you do a bit of fact-checking (remember that, journalists?) and discover they stuck a book online for one cent and hubristically spammed all their friends, earning almost nothing. Every time I try to get a handle on what’s actually happening in the world of digital publishing the stories change, the figures slip and nothing quite makes sense. The answers may well be out there, but for all the surveys and interim reports, it’s unclear if anyone’s making money other than Amazon.
Meanwhile, many publishers continue to have a head-in-the-sand approach to social media, and would rather send authors to half-empty libraries than talk to them about their online presence. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing libraries, but they’re hopeless as far as economies of scale go because you mainly reach pre-converted readers.
There are almost as many self-help articles on the subject of online fame as there are ebooks. The Guardian’s latest is ‘How To Become A Digital Superstar’, here, which contains some good advice (‘Only target relevant bloggers’), some blindingly obvious advice ((‘Don’t just rely on Twitter’) and some dubious advice (‘Use Tweet Adder’) as well as some very contradictory evidence – is fantasy bestselling or not? And if people are making names for themselves so easily, how come they’re only making about three grand a head on average?
Now, I’ve written books for less than that amount in the past, but it’s becoming clear that there’s no super-easy fast track to making big cash with ebooks – for most genuine authors that’s not what it’s about anyway. But it’s no coincidence that the writers who are doing best from it are those who have day jobs in web design and internet-based marketing. The problem is that internet careers and writing careers aren’t really very compatible, and most of those rare big successes come from internet writers who live at this crossover point.
It’s a punishing, thankless slog going around all the social media sites to publicise your work without becoming a thorn in everyone’s side; any job that involves selling is always more demeaning than one in which you’re the buyer. There are some sites achieving success, like Unbound, but in many ways they simply offer traditionally created books on a different platform. The hard work – the writing – is carried out just as it always has been, with a committed author working hard at a keyboard.
Two friends have had very different experiences. My mate Peter Jukes has written ‘The Fall Of The House Of Murdoch’, and is selling it with great success on Unbound. Meanwhile, my friend Polly Hope has grasped the nettle and republished her wonderful novel ‘HERE’ online through Amazon Kindle, designing the cover herself, and the ebook is selling for just £3 while the hardback is £15. We’ll watch what happens – meanwhile, I do urge you to read it, as it remains a prescient, eerie and devastatingly strong story.
In September the public has the opportunity to pitch their ideas for ebooks directly to the Guardian publishing team with the opportunity to have their ebook published by that newspaper. They’re running a two-day seminar on 15-16 September 2012, that’s a Saturday & Sunday; 10am-5pm, at Guardian HQ, 90 York Way, N1 9GU, price: £199 (inclusive of VAT and booking fee).