Points from the meet

Some interesting things that came up at the UK GLBT writers meet in Milton Keynes July 23rd 2011 and my thoughts about them.

Claire Sienaszkiewicz, CEO of Total-E-Bound publishers did a presentation about eBook publishing, and raised the very interesting point that Borders, the US book retailer which has just gone out of business, didn’t have its own eBook reader, unlike the other big players in book retailing, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. A sign that Borders missed the boat?

Publishers who are primarily or solely eBook based price differently than the big publishers, who may for example price an eBook as the same price as the hardback and only reduce the price when the paperback comes out. This is a very interesting point for me, because I don’t necessarily think that’s only about the big publishers being stuck in the past and afraid of eBooks – though they might well be! But is it down to the difference in the books they are selling. There’s a big difference between a mainstream book from a famous writer, which will fly off the shelves and be #1 in the chart for weeks and book from a small press which is only available on eBook and is maybe in a small niche genre – like m/m romance for one!

If you buy a hardback you pay a premium price for it over a paperback. But you’re not only paying for the extra cost of producing hardbacks – you’re paying to read that book NOW. That is on the release date, not in a year’s time when the paperback comes out. So it makes a kind of sense for the publisher to price the eBook at the same or close to the hardback, even though the costs are much smaller, because you’re still paying the premium to have the book now, not later. Not saying I like it, but I think that’s the logic behind it.

Another thing raised by Total-E-Bound was the faster turnaround time for eBooks, so a writer can more quickly build up a readership and a backlist. Backlist is key with eBooks, because they don’t have to go out of print like paper books. You find a new writer you like and their books are all available in eBook, you can go buy them all! Aside from the really big authors you can’t usually do that in a book shop. They just don’t have room. Even an author’s latest book, unless they’re a bestseller will probably only be on the shelves for six months. If you haven’t made your mark by then, forget it. But with eBooks they’re available anytime a new reader happens to find them.

In the panel on writing historical fiction Alex Beecroft talked about how the key to authentic portrayal of the past isn’t just in the detail of the settings, but in the characters, whose minds and behaviour has to fit the time period. Many of us know the feeling of reading a historical and wondering if the main character is actually a time traveller from the presnt, since they seem so out of place in their own world. I think this is a useful point for anyone writing something set outside of the time and place they are most familiar with, whether it’s modern, but in another culture, or writing an alien who needs to be different from the humans not just because he has pointy ears. Characters carry their culture with them, even if they’ve left it, even if they’ve rejected it.

Clare London talked about marketing and promo and advised not to expect things in this niche genre to be like the mainstream, but to make the most of the enthusiasm of the readership for the genre. This intrigues me as it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. Some writers fret about the genre being primarily centred around eBooks. Or they think if only readers would be more open minded then m/m could break through more into the mainstream, at least within the romance genre. I’m not sure that the first worry is useful or that the second one is true. Should writers who want to write m/m romance work with things the way they are? The genre is growing nicely, but let’s be realistic, we’re not worrying the likes of Dan Brown and Nora Roberts. If you want to be a mainstream bestseller, then you can’t write books only a relatively small (or not so relatively!) number of people want to read. There is no squaring that circle. Books with gay protagonists do sometimes do well, win prizes and sell thousands of copies – but they’re going to be serious literary works, never romance. Just the way it is, in my opinion. Accept it and enjoy our exclusive club!

Also mentioned – the fact that there is no known direct correlation between online author promo and sales. I guess like any form of advertising it’s hard to pin down if it’s working. There’s a saying to the effect of 95% of all advertising is wasted. Unfortunatley nobody knows which 95%.

An interesting point came up about the fact there’s such a tiny amount of f/f romance compared to m/m romance. It’s not submitted as much and it doesn’t sell as much when it is published. Is the market for that even more niche than m/m? Is there a way to expand it, or is it likely to stay that way? If the market for m/m romance is straight women and gay men then technically the market for f/f romance should be lesbian women and straight men – but straight men generally don’t read romance – of any kind! So it may be doomed to be forever a tiny genre. The point was also raised that lots of m/m writers come through from fandom, where m/m slash is huge, and f/f slash very much smaller. So fewer writers of f/f are emerging from the fandom apprenticeship.

Well, this is already way too long, so I’d better wrap it up! Can you tell I’m frustrated by the lack of Live Journal this week? The meet was great fun as well as informative. We talked about way more than the few points I’ve mentioned here, and then talked a lot more at the restaurant and in the bar afterwards. Roll on 2012!

11 thoughts on “Points from the meet

  1. Interesting point you make about ebooks being priced the same as hardcovers – I wonder then, what Samhain’s rationale is for making their comparatively low priced ebooks available 10 months before the higher priced paperbacks…

    Promo is a strange thing, although I’ve certainly heard from authors who obsessively track their Amazon sales and website hits, that both of these go up after taking part in things like chat loops. I can only really go by own experience as a reader, but I know the more times I see a bookcover and hear an author’s name, the more likely I am to seriously consider buying their books. The more exposed I am to them, the more I tend to think: “they must be popular for a reason”. This has resulted in me buying a few real duds, but also in discovering some gems 🙂

    Re: f/f romance – Stevie Carroll also made the point that there is plenty of lesbian lit out there in the mainstream to keep the readership happy – people like Sarah Waters, for instance. There is plenty of gay lit too, but it doesn’t seem to have reached quite the same level of mainstream popularity as some of the lesbian lit.

    1. Ah, but Samhain don’t have the same business model as the major publishers, who are ones who price ebooks and hardbacks the same most often.

      That was a good point Stevie made about the mainstream having a fair amount of lesbian lit in it. But don’t lesbians want to read genre books with lesbian characters too? Main characters that is.

  2. One thing I learnt from the RNA conference about ebooks is that you need to have an ‘in print’ contract (There’s probably a more technical word for it but I can’t remember). With paper books, they’ll decide it’s no longer ‘in print’, (it’s probably in a contract that can renewed depending on the popularity of the book) and so you can then take it and sell to another publisher (say if you find a better publisher for a different book). With ebooks, there is a very thin line. Publishers could just hold onto your ebook, and you’d have problems moving it to another publisher, because technically they wouldn’t ever class it as out of print – so check your contract! So something to watch out for when you sign your ebook contracts – make sure there is a time period.

    You can get assistance with this via the Association of Authors Agents. Or someone like that. (Gosh I’m really helpful).

    As for the hardback and the buy it earlier… Isn’t that just a marketing ‘whizz’. Basically, they’re saying they’ll put the hardback out first, make more money that way, then bring out the paperback. You haven’t written your book quicker. It’s still going to take the same amount of time to get it in print, whether paperback or hardback. They could actually bring out the paperback at the same time, but know they’d lose money on the hardback. So I don’t think I ‘buy’ that ebooks should be the same price as a hardback. I would actually like to see ‘paper’ for that kind of money. The reason I buy an ebook is for a cheaper option. The ebook is quicker because it’s instant – and in this day and age, everyone so impatient, it’s perfect.. Hey, I don’t have a book to read, just download one. The reader hasn’t had to get in a car, on the bus or train, popped to a shop and bought a physical entity.

    Simon Petherick of Beautiful Books really believes there is a future in ebooks. He did change my perception about them… although I still dream of seeing a book of mine in a physical hard copy. lol!

    1. Good point about the contract. You have to make sure there’s a clause that says at some fixed point you can either agree to renew with them and let them continue selling it, or you can take the right back and can sell it elsewhere as a reprint, or, as is happening a lot more now, publish it yourself.

      I definitely don’t approve of ebooks being the same price as the hardback, but I see it continuing until the big publishers figure something out.

      It’s nice when ebooks are cheaper than paper ones, but I personally didn’t get mine or that, but rather because so many of the books in my genre are either ebook only, or are expensive as paperbacks, since they’re either imported or print on demand. Print on demand is great, but it is pricy!

  3. That’s a good point about accepting that m/m is always going to be a bit of a niche market. I don’t think any of us are in it because we think we’ll become bestsellers – we know it has limited appeal. On the other hand, I would be surprised if we had already expanded as far as the genre will go, because there are so many people out there who don’t know it exists at all. I’m sure a percentage of them would be our readers too, if they only knew where to find it.

    1. I agree there is definite scope for expansion to people who would like the genre, if they knew about it. I hadn’t heard of it myself until about three years ago!

      I suppose it’s one place the limitations of the ebook show up. Browsing in a library or bookshop it’s easy to stumble over something new. Not so easy online when maybe all you have is a link to a category that you barely even notice as you head for the books you usually read. Hmm, now I’m wondering about how to get the word out about the genre in general, not specific books.

  4. There’s definitely plenty of f/f genre fiction out there but it’s been around a lot longer than m/m romance and so tends to be more print-based perhaps? Which could be b problem now that a lot of bookshops are going under or downsizing their LGBT sections, etc

    1. Yes, good point. I know my local Waterstones used to have an LGBT section – though it was mostly non-fiction. Then they moved into a smaller building and that section seems to have been a casualty.

      I sometimes feel I’m one of those contributing to bookshops going under, being a Kindle user and an ebook writer. I’m the enemy! But it’s an economic trend I guess. Not much I can do to stop that.

  5. I’ve been reading quite a bit lately on where publishing is going. Let me recommend a couple of very informative blogs on the topic:

    http://kriswrites.com/ (Kristine Kathryn Rush, aka Kristine Grayson) – she’s written some very interesting things recently about trends in bookstore shelf space and their likely impact on print publishing, as well as contracts and agents. She notes a trend in the US toward less and less shelf space and thinks we’ll see smaller print runs, and big print publishers going under because they’ve printed books, and with Borders gone, about 25% of the market they’d planned to send them to has disappeared. Also they probably won’t end up getting paid for the books being sold off at cut rates during the liquidation, and it’s even less likely that the authors will get paid.

    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com (Dean Wesley Smith) – some of his positions regarding traditional publishing seem a little extreme to me, but he’s got a lot of great advice. He definitely sees ebooks as the way of the future for authors of fiction in any genre, simply because so few publishers want to keep backlist items available.

    As a side note, Borders did actually have an e-reader. They partnered with Kobo. I picked one up at a steep discount to try on the first round of store closing sales. It may be worth noting that despite being a very technically focused person (the day job is in IT), I wasn’t an early adopter of e-readers. When the price is roughly the same as a low-end laptop, it’s hard to convince yourself that it’s a good investment. It took dropping the price to about $50 to make me try it. I think ebooks will take off even further when the prices come down to the under $100 range for readers.

    1. Hi, Kathryn, thanks for those links. I’ll check them out. I agree the price needs to come down for ereaders to take offf. Personally I had to get one because so many of the books in my genre just weren’t available to me any other way, though I’ve become very fond of it. But I can quite understand people who don’t have that issue still hesitating.

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