Thursday, September 20, 2012

Introducing the brave new (and often perplexing) world of e-publishing

As I mentioned yesterday, my writing pal Mary Gillgannon conducted a program about publishing and e-publishing tonight at the library.

We heard about Mary's path from traditional publishing (and early success) to kind of a publishing black hole that coincided with the corporatization of the publishing world, and then the advent of digital publishing. 

About a year ago, she decided to transform her backlist titles into e-books. Most were not in electronic form, so she had to pay to get them scanned and formatted, and then new covers created. She tackled the "painstaking editing process" which included some revision as "after 15 years, you want to change some things," presumably because you're a better writer.

She then launched the books into the digital world. 

She promotes them on her own web site and through organizations such as Romance Writers of America and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Since many of her titles are either "Celtic Romance" or "Regency Romance," she often wears period costumes when she reads and signs her books. The colorful green dress she wore Thursday night she bought at the Renaissance Festival in Colorado.

She spent an entire year entering the e-book realm.

"I didn't have time to write," she said. "I became a publisher instead of a writer."

She is back to writing now and now has a new self-published book to her credit. It's called "The Silver Wheel: A Novel of Celtic Britain." It was a book that she tried to sell to traditional publishers. Editors and agents told her that it didn't fit neatly into any category. It was too long. The ending was too depressing (lots of people died). They thought that her heroine was weak.

So she went back to the drawing board. She changed the working title to "Sirona," the name of her heroine. She got rid of the lead male character. As a result, the book became more Sirona's book than anyone else's. 

Still, it didn't sell.

"I decided to put things back in that I took out," she said. "Then I had the book I wanted."

She was selling copies of "The Silver Wheel" Thursday night. It's a beautiful book. I bought a copy for my wife, Chris. I'd read it in a previous incarnation as a member of our shared critique group. It had changed, but because I know the quality of Mary's writing and storytelling skills, I told Chris she would like it. 

Among our critique group members, Mary is leading the charge into this new technology. She's selling books, too, but not the ones she thought would be hot properties. 

"My Regency Romances are selling at a faster rate than the other books," Mary said. She's sold up to 200 titles of one of her Regency titles, while the other romances limp along in single-digit sales figures.

But she's in it for the long haul. She's spent quite a bit of time and money in this pursuit. She's beginning to make that money back, slowly but surely. 

She's discovered a few surprises along the way. When you get your book on Amazon, it's offered five days for free. As it sells, it moves up the "free list." People notice the author's name and book title and also figure that the book is worthwhile so they "take a chance" on it. Often they will actually buy the next title in the series. And they may refer their friends to the series and those people may buy both titles. 

"It's a bizarre marketing technique, but it works, " she said.

Mary has noticed that the promotion of her books is a never-ending task. Of the half-million books on Amazon, 13,000 are historical romances. 

"To be noticed, you have to have a presence on the web," she said, noting that she's upgraded her web site and provides direct links on it to her books on Amazon. At this point, she doesn't sell directly from her web site.

Meanwhile, the hunt continues for traditional publishers.

"I still have a couple books that I'm trying to sell to publishers. But even if they decide to publish them, they will expect me to heavily promote them. Authors can't just sit in their offices and write any more."

She has eight more finished books that she could put out as e-books. She also has more than a dozen book proposals at various stages of completion. 

"My challenge is to live long enough to do all this," she concluded.

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