I sometimes lead writing workshops. Folks who sign up are a diverse group – women and men, young and old and everything in between, folks from just about any walk of life you can imagine. There’s one thing in common: they write and they passionately want to be published.
I try to be honest with the folks in those workshops, and until fairly recently, I had to describe how difficult it is to get a book of any stripe into the hands of readers. I warned them about unscrupulous agencies that will offer to read your manuscript for a hefty fee, then blithely tell you there’s not a market for it. Companies that will promise to publish your book (for an even heftier fee) and market it (another big fee). They ship you boxes of books, and that’s it. Little or no marketing or promotion. You’re on your own. I had to tell them how difficult it is for a first-time author to find an agent, how hard it is to get an editor at a reputable publishing house to even look at your work.
In short, publishing these days is a daunting affair, and many good, worthy books never make it into print. For a first-time writer (and even for some grizzled veterans like me) it can be a crushing experience.
But now I can give my workshop friends some really good news. I start the first session of a workshop by saying, “If you want to be published, you will be.” Faces light up, the energy level in the room goes way up.
The reason, of course, is the e-book: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple. The traditional publishing houses have embraced it. John F. Blair Publishers is making my new novel, The Governor’s Lady, available in both hardcover and e-book editions.
But the e-book phenomenon has given new life to literally millions of people who don’t – or can’t -- go through a traditional house. They publish an e-book themselves – straight from computer file to internet. It’s not hard to do, and other than some initial out-of-pocket expenses (cover art, copyright registration) it’s free. Kindle, Nook, and the like welcome your work and walk you step-by-step through the process. I put my first four novels on the internet last year and did the vast bulk of the work myself, with some great guidance from writer friends who had already done it.
The big challenge is those millions of other people self-publishing e-books. Some of it is sheer junk, some so-so, some really good. As a new author, you have to compete with all those other folks to find readers, and there’s no traditional publishing house putting its muscle behind marketing and promotion.
The first thing you have to do is make your work as good as it can possibly be, to separate it from the junk and so-so. When readers find something they like, they tell other readers. Then too, there are lots of resources out there – Websites such as Goodreads, how-to books on the internet – to give you marketing ideas. People who’ve done it successfully are eager to share what they’ve learned.
By some accounts, half the fiction sold in America is now on e-books. Fiction is easier because it’s usually just text. Non-fiction and children’s books are harder because e-books don’t handle pictures, illustrations, charts and graphs very well. But that’s improving. We’re just at the beginning of the e-book wave.
I’ve heard writing described as a disease you can’t cure. I like to think of it as a passion that’s both maddening and exhilarating. For so many of us who scribble, the e-book makes it possible to show the world what our passion has produced.