Tag Archives: publishing

Reasons for Declining Ebook Sales: My Update on the Ebook Industry, and Musings on My Participation in it

In 2011, I wrote a blog post titled, “The E-publishing Experiment.” This was at the very beginning of my ebook publishing journey, and at the time the hype over the future of ebooks was high. Several ebook authors had begun to make enough money to be noticed by the publishing industry. Bloggers all over the internet were encouraging new authors to jump on this ebook publishing bandwagon. While everyone held some nostalgia for the printed book, the idea was that the ebook tide, spurred by the Amazon Kindle, would just rise and rise and rise—until almost all versions of the printed book had been swept away.

 

This week, the Observer published an article entitled, “Are E-Books Finally Over? The Publishing Industry Unexpectedly Tilts Back to Print.

 

I’m actually not surprised at a decline in ebooks sales, for several reasons:

The first is that the online hype over ebooks seemed to have died down.

The second is that my personal peak in sales was several years ago (though this is due to a variety of reasons), which supports the reports of a decline in sales.

The third is that every reader with a deep love of books that I talk to expresses their love of the printed version over ebooks. Ebooks are vaulted for their convenience while travelling, but not for the experience the reader has while using them. There are a few exceptions—I’ve heard of at least one pastor who actively promotes the advantages of ebooks. But I don’t know him personally.

The fourth is that I work in a library, and many readers express their frustration with incompatible ebook technologies. For example, in Canada you cannot check out library books on your Kindle. This is besides the technological complications that often come along with reading ebooks. Many, many ebook readers have no tech issues with their ebook reading—but many do, and troubleshooting their ebooks becomes a barrier to their use of their service.

  • Further evidence of ebook decline is that the library used to lend out ereaders as well as ebooks, and this was initially so popular that the waiting list for these devices stretched out for months. Now the library has discontinued this service. This was partially due to the incompatible technologies most ereaders have—making it hard for multiple library patrons to use the same device—but it was also due to a reduced level of interest. A reduced level of interest could indicate that all the patrons bought their own device instead of getting it from the library, but I have not observed this to be the case.

The fifth is that ebook prices are usually not much cheaper than printed books. On one hand, this seems fair, since the author’s words have just as much value whether they are printed or displayed on a screen. But on the other hand, from a customer’s perspective—if the experience of reading an ebook is so greatly inferior to the reading the printed version, a customer can’t help but wish the price would reflect this fact. Unfortunately, there’s also a whole thriving network of websites ripping off ebook authors by publishing their work for free—and I assume a good number of readers flock to sites like these instead of paying $20 for words on the screen. Just a reality of life.

The sixth is that, sadly, interest in reading overall seems to be declining (see this New Yorker article for more information). This is backed up by what I know of library stats. While libraries remain immensely popular for other reasons, their rates of actual books or ebook checkouts as a whole are declining slightly every year.

 

I always maintained that the printed book would never die. I wanted the ebook to succeed to a certain extent, since I’d published several short stories in the ebook market, but even in 2012 I asserted that the worst case scenario was that printed books would be reduced to limited runs of high quality volumes. Physical book enthusiasts will always exist. I’m very glad that the market for printed books is still so healthy, and even gladder that independent bookstores appear to be doing well.

 

As for my prediction for the future—I believe the ebook industry will survive. In nonfiction, especially in academic areas, ebooks are incredibly useful since they are searchable. In fiction, ebooks are portable—many young people read ebooks on their phone. However, the fact that a reading culture is more easily constructed around physical books, especially when nurtured in the environment of an independent bookstore, leads me to put more emphasis on the physical book once again.

 

As I mentioned before, my sister and I collaborated on a physical, printed booklet this year, and I was incredibly pleased with how this was received. I hope, in the future, to do more with beautiful, physical, printed items. My work in electronic format will remain available, but stay tuned for more information on physical forms to come! And thank you to everyone for all your support during my many years of my publishing journey. I think we’ve all learned a lot!

 

Here’s a few posts I’ve published on ebooks, if you’re curious—I find it kind of fascinating to see my reflections on the ebook industry as it developed:

The E-Publishing Experiement (2011)

Will Ebooks Kill the Printed Book? (2012)

Let’s Call the Ebook Something Else—It’s not Really a Book, Anyway (2013)

Ebooks Have Not Killed the Printed Book (Yet) (2014)

Independent Bookstores Have NOT Disappeared—They’re Doing Fine, Actually (2014)

 

To end off with, I’m going to post an old infographic that a commenter posted on my blog in 2012—it’s fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the ebook industry then and now.

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Finding a Home for Your Writing–The Struggle for Publication, and My Latest Projects!

The way you’re supposed to know you’re a writer–or any type of artist, really–is if you just can’t stop creating. Even if you receive no recognition or payment or readers, you can’t help but write. In fact, the world is so overwhelmed by writers that you’re really advised not to dive into the world of writing unless you truly do feel this drive. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who writes incessantly, whether or not anyone cares. And I understand the struggle to launch bits of your work out into the world where other people can see and enjoy them. Finding a home for your is work can be more of a struggle than the actual work of writing.

The only advice I can give to aspiring writers is just to keep trying. Successful writers have proven themselves, and they may have people falling all over themselves to invite them to write something, but until you reach that point you have to keep proving yourself. And to prove yourself you have to keep searching out opportunities, which can be hair-pulling-ly frustrating. But the benefit of this is that you can be involved in all sorts of unexpected projects!

One of the most fun projects I involved myself in this year was a collaboration with my sister, who is a graphic artist. We created a small illustrated booklet of a memoir piece I wrote, and printed a limited run in hard copy. We had a great opportunity to display it at the Edmonton Design Week! And though I was not sure how sales of a hard copy of my work would go, since my experience has all been in electronic markets, I was pleasantly surprised to see there was a small market for the kind of stories we created after all! It’s funny how just the smallest bit of support can give a writer encouragement to keep going.

Here’s a great quote from Neil Gaiman about the writing life that really connects with this idea: “A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.”

So all in all, my experiments with launching my work into the world has provided me with amazing learning opportunities, as well as great experiences. Maybe this is why creators have to go through the struggle of finding openings for their work, as it forces them to be creative and try things they might never have tried otherwise. In my journey, I’ve gotten to observe enthusiasm from my readers, and received reassurance that what I do can benefit at least a few individuals. I’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t in marketing (though I’m far from an expert). I’ve learned about various ways you can get your work out there. And most importantly, I’ve learned that by trying I can not only learn, but that trying feeds back into my writing, and my writing gets better.

If you’re interested, my recent work includes not only the story booklet collaboration, but also two articles where I explored the impact of my faith in my life: “You Too? What Friendship Is and Why It’s So Hard to Find” (for the Reformed Perspective), and “On Not Hurting Anyone While Dating” (for Christian Connection). I’m excited for a few other nonfiction projects I’ve got in the works–we’ll see what happens in 2018! Previously I also explored the world of ebook publishing, which you can explore here. And of course this blog is my primary platform for putting my thoughts out into the world! Blogging itself is an experience that provides growth in writing, and this I really value.

Finding a home for your work can be the most frustrating part of being creative, especially if you prefer to give yourself to the world in a way that benefits the world, rather than create for your own sake alone. I’ve spent days searching for places to submit my writing, and come up with empty hands. However, when I’ve imagined there was nowhere for me to go, and all opportunities were blocked, it was never the end of the story. I hope you can relate, or will be able to as your journey goes on.

 

Are you working on any unique writing or creative projects? Can you relate to the struggle of finding a home for your work?

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Ebooks Have Not Killed the Printed Book (Yet)

Two years ago, I asked the question, will ebooks replace the printed book? Will we turn into a world of readers who stare at the glowing screen, instead of burrowing our noses in the musty pages of a hardcover? And I predicted that the good old printed book will never go extinct. Not completely. If vinyl records are still being used by music lovers, why wouldn’t printed books stick around for all of us book lovers? And it looks like, so far, the evidence bears me out.

I obviously have a vested interest in whether ebooks are read by anyone – I’ve published several short stories in this format. But, as a reader, I will never lose my fondness for actual pages. And recently Time magazine reported that printed books are not dying, despite all dire predictions. And, as a bonus to me, ebook sales are still increasing alongside. So the conclusion basically is–ebooks are a great, portable complement to printed books. People don’t feel like they have to choose only one or the other. And really, that’s great. There’s no reason this has to be an either-or situation. It just makes a good story to declare this an all-out war.

Of course, this study is just a snapshot of how things are right now. Everything and anything could change in the future. People might start exclusively buying ebooks. Or ebooks might just turn out to be a fad after all. But at the moment, it looks like both the printed book and the ebooks have staying power.

What about you–do you find you read both ebooks and printed books, or only one or the other?

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Let’s Call the Ebook Something Else – It’s Not Really a Book, Anyway

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle Touch, by IntelFreePress (CC BY 2.0)

“We need a new word for ‘e-book,’” Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich declare in Slate – basically arguing that process of reading things electronically is so fundamentally different from reading the printed word that they shouldn’t be compared.

Well, they do have a point. When I read stuff online, I frequently fall down a rabbit hole in a way I never do when reading a book or magazine. I follow link after link, and discover I’ve learned a truckload of information on, say, Les Miserables, when I did not intend to do so when I sat down at that computer. But it was just so interesting. And, Finn and Eschrich argue, ‘e-books’ have the potential to tap into the fundamentally different world of electronic reading, by experimenting with crowdsourcing, embedding videos, and faster publication. And this ‘reading experience’ should be known by another word than ‘book.’

Yes, a book is different than electronic reading in my experience too. When I turn back to print, I have to consciously shut off my ADD tendencies learned from online reading and link-skimming, and commit. Frequently, I force myself to finish books just so I don’t succumb to a short-attention span completely. And, the amazing thing is, once I shut off the ‘skim-reading’ part of my mind, I can suddenly fall into a deeper reading experience than I ever do with online/electronic reading.

 To be clear, I love BOTH types of reading – the exhilaration of link-skimming and information overload, and the deeper experience of committing to a book. But I mean to underline here that I agree the two experiences are very different – and that currently e-books exist in a funny kind of limbo between the two types of reading. And that the world of e-books could be broadened in a way that makes them bigger than their current existence as electronic copies of printed books (though whether this will happen is a different story). But if this does happen, a new name for e-books could help people understand how e-books are different than books, and take advantage of the fact they are electronic.

 However, I have a couple things to say about Finn and Eschrich’s choice of a replacement word for ‘e-book.’ They want to call it a codeX. First, what I like about the word, and then what I don’t.

 I like the roots of the word, in ‘codex.’ I love history, so a term with a long history behind it, and a reason for using it, makes me feel warm and cozy instead. (I am just naturally drawn to stuff with a history, that’s just the way I am. Anything brand-new makes me feel empty and sterile).

 Now, for the bad – I really, really hate the CamelCase. CamelCase is random, capitalized letters in the middle of a word. In many cases, especially in things like URLs, using CamelCase does make things easier to read and remember (for example, HarmaMaeSmit.com instead of harmamamesmit.com). But in this case, it looks like the X is random, and it would be pronounced the same way no matter which letter is capitalized.

 Secondly, ‘X’ is pretty much shorthand for making things sound science-y, modern and technology – ‘X-rays,’ ‘Xanax,’ and ‘Xerox.’ (both ‘x’ and ‘z’ are prone to this – see the number of drug names with those letters in it). This runs the danger of making the word look out-of-date when the technology is no longer brand-new – see ‘X-ray’ and ‘Xerox,’ above –and I can definitely see the word codeX falling into this. For example, in the nineties’, it was cool to put ‘e’ in front of everything technological, and then it was cool to put ‘i’ in front when the iPod came out, and now brands who did these look like they just jumped on a bandwagon.

 To follow up on that point – we don’t need to make books sound cutting-edge to make people want to read them, and many people who read lots don’t care about being cutting edge. I’d be okay with just calling it a ‘codex,’ though I can see people might be afraid it sounds too academic. After all, ‘e-book’ sounds familiar. It sounds like something you already have experience with.

Basically – if we have to a a new word for ‘e-book,’ let’s make sure it doesn’t sound gimmicky, shall we? 

But don’t worry, I haven’t seen any signs that vast hordes of readers are rallying behind this new name for e-books, which means the name probably won’t change any time in the near future. But I do think the idea of emphasizing how different e-reading is from print reading is an interesting one. In a world where Apple is patenting a way for authors to electronically authorize e-books, and most electronic publishers are slavishly trying to copy every aspect of a print book, the idea of trying to find a new path for electronic publishing that takes advantage of the very ‘electronic-nish’ of it could change publishing forever.

It’s just that no one’s quite figured out how to do it yet.

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Is the Paperback Really Dying?

Maybe It Isn’t

E-books are taking over and traditional publishing is dying, or so the current narrative goes. E-book sales are going by leaps and bounds – apparently 2011’s sales were double that of 2010’s- and this clearly doesn’t bode well for the sales of cheap paperbacks. Readers might shell out for nice hardcovers if they want a physical copy of a book. But why shell out for a paperback?

Enter the article, “Is the Paperback Dead? Readers Still Love Them, But Publishers Want Them to go Away.” And why do publishers want them to go away? “[B]ecause paperbacks are the most common books to be bought secondhand…  A paperback copy of, say, Eat Pray Love can be sold and resold ad infinitum, thanks to Amazon and your local used book store. But for multiple people to read that same book on a Kindle or Nook, each of them has to buy it for $10.”

So it’s all a conspiracy, then! We’re doomed!

There might be a smidge of truth in this. After all, wasn’t the gaming community up in arms at recently over the way the new X-box restricted the use of used games? And apparently some court ruled MP3s can’t be resold. So – it does make sense for a company to want to reduce the ways other people can make money by re-selling their product.

But people still love paperbacks. Paperbacks are less of a wrench to give away to someone you know will never give them back. Used bookstores are exciting places to find a new read – and are one method of “discoverability” that the internet will have trouble replicating.  And, well, as long as enough people buy them, they probably will still sell them.

Therefore, I wouldn’t bank on the fact e-books will immediately and irreversibly replace the paperback in the near future. After all, the last telegram in the world will be sent in India on July 14. In this age of cellphones and even plain old landlines, some people still rely on the telegram! Technology does not a die a quick death. And I wouldn’t say the paperback’s death is absolutely guaranteed.

So get ye down to the bookstore and check out these old-fashioned things called ‘books’!

Harma-Mae Smit is an author of e-books, but she has a very soft spot in her heart for paperbacks and used bookstores as well.

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Writers Who Don’t Publish Must Be Crazy, They Say

On Authors Who Don’t Publish

They’re making a movie about J.D. Salinger – a man known for publishing The Catcher in the Rye, and then nothing else. Or, more excitingly, a man known for writing The Catcher In the Rye, a few short stories, and then reportedly a treasure-trove of unpublished works that could possibly be just as good as The Catcher in the Rye. Imagine if we could read them! Why didn’t he ever publish anything of it?

That is what the movie is about. Apparently the idea that anyone could write something, and then never publish it, is mind-boggling to a lot of people.

Publication is the lofty goal of aspiring writers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Having a goal gives you something to work for, and a reason to improve. But if publication isn’t what drives you, and you write just because you like writing, that shouldn’t be mind-boggling.

Apparently J.D. Salinger once said, “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing … I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”

I don’t find that at all crazy. The joy of writing is enough in itself to keep you writing. And I’m sure there are millions of unpublished authors out there who’d agree – they do write out of the sheer joy of it.

Well, I do publish, and I know there is a unique thrill in reaching one more reader than you did before. But I also write things that I hope won’t be published (like my diary, or ridiculous unbelievable story ideas). I write them because it’s fun.

There are other reasons J.D. Salinger might’ve not published. It might’ve been too personal. It might’ve been too controversial, or too bleak, or too different from The Catcher in the Rye. He might’ve felt he could never live up to The Catcher in the Rye’s success. Or he might never have managed to arrange the words in a way that he felt actually got across the message he wanted to get across.

I would never presume to say I know what he was thinking. I would only say that – I can think of a million reasons myself for why an author wouldn’t want to publish. None of these reasons are enough to base a mystery-thriller style movie around (do see the trailer, it is rather strange).

But, oh well. They need to sell tickets to the thing, right?

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Haven’t You Heard of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog?

Haven’t you heard of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog? It is the world’s biggest bestseller, or it should be, if this old saying from the publishing industry was true. Apparently book about Lincoln, books about doctors, and books about dogs all sell extremely well (at least before the internet came along, and fell in love with cats instead…) So clearly a book about all three of those things should be amazing.

Everyone knows this is a kind of silly way to look at manufacturing a bestseller. I agree, and so does the Amrah Publishing House – their latest post, Manufacturing a Bestseller, pokes several holes in this theory. Clearly I, along with several thousand other authors, would’ve written a highschool vampire love story if we’d known beforehand what a big hit Twilight was going to be. But that’s the way of these things, they’re somewhat unpredictable.

All the same, I know many of you reading this blog did enjoy Why Polly? when I posted it chapter-by-chapter here. Well, I’ve been busy editing and polishing it some more, another part will be available on Kindle on Friday. It doesn’t contain a doctor, a dog, or anything about Lincoln, but I think it’s a pretty entertaining story all the same.

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Another E-book Prediction Link

So I’ve spent the last three days trying to fight off a nasty virus of some kind, and though my head is swimming with all kinds of great ideas for blog posts (thanks to the stress of exams finally being over), I have almost no energy to write them. Therefore, I will follow up on my previous post, ‘Will E-books Kill the Printed Book?‘ by sharing this link on how book design will change as a result of e-books. It comes to similar conclusions my post did – that paper books probably will continue to exist, even if just for a high-end market of paper book snobs. It’s far more pessimistic than I am though. While I can see such a future might happen, I am by no means convinced it will. But either way – enjoy.

‘What Will Become of the Paper Book?’ Slate.com

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Half a Million Words of Garbage

The villain of one of my awful fantasy novels, as drawn by my talented sister, Paulina D.

They say every writer has half a million words of garbage in them, and you need to get most of them out before really establishing a writing career. This makes me glad I started writing early. (My earliest memory of writing is sitting at the kitchen table, asking Mom to spell each word out individually so I could write a story about Santa Claus. That story probably never got finished, but it certainly started me on the way to half a million words!)

So, to help everyone feel less ashamed about going through this process, here are some samples from my first half a million words.

1) James and Dan: This was a story written entirely in dialogue. Entirely. Just the words the characters said and only the words the characters said – without any descriptive sentences, sentences not in quotation marks, or even “he said” or “she said.” Yeah, somehow I got it into my head that a truly great story would contain dialogue and nothing else. To be fair, I was in Grade 2. Here’s a sample (I fixed punctuation a bit):

 “James, I want meat, cooked meat.”

“Fine, Dan.”

“James, look! Buffalo! We can kill one and eat its meat and it will last forever! Throw rocks at it, then it will die.”

Wham, whip, wham.” (author’s note: this was meant to indicate them actually throwing rocks)

“Dear me, it’s going to chase us…”

“Quick! Run, heeeeelllllllllp! Heeellp! AAA! Aaaaaa!”

“Oh, bear! It’s going to kill us too!”

etc, etc… (for approximately eighteen notebook pages…)

 2) Rags and Riches: The plot was a decent idea, it was fun to write, and collaborating with three of my best friends to write this wasn’t the problem either. The problem was not setting this story in any specific time period or place. The four of us were deliberately trying to imitate Christian historical romance novels, without knowing much about history. And I do mean history in general, since the story was a mish-mash of elements from the eighteenth century (such as dancing gavottes) to the nineteenth century, and included other unbelievable elements such as attempted suicide, and the male protagonist giving a tearful goodbye to the heroine while slowly dying from a broken neck. A recommendation – don’t try this if you want to get published. I’ve got a drawer full of rejection letters to prove it doesn’t work.

 “Nice evening, isn’t it?” Joshua said conversationally of the late summer weather. Selene stiffened. She was in no mood to talk to this banker’s son, not when his father, Mr. Stirling, was inside her house with her parents, discussing foreclosure. All her life she had lived in relative prosperity, and now they stood to lose it all because of debt, and here Joshua Stirling was, making small talk!

“You probably know what they’re talking about inside,” he said. Selene nodded, her mouth tightening with dislike for the person in front of her.

“Things may be hard for you,” he told her.

Selene’s eye narrowed. “We shall lose everything,” she said shortly.

“Have you thought of getting married?” he asked. “You’re young, you’re pretty. You could easily catch a rich husband.”

Selene turned to stare at him in shock. Anger bubbled beneath her calm exterior. In front of her Joshua stood confidently.

“Excuse me?” she asked quietly.

“Selene, I want you to marry me,” he told her. His dark eyes turned towards her, as if sure of her response.

Selene drew herself up at his nerve. Her face quivered with shock.

“How dare you,” she hissed, spots of colour appearing on her cheeks.

He looked at her in surprise, then said slowly, “Well… I thought since your father had debts…”

“You think I would desert my family for you?” she shrieked. “How dare you! I would never do so!” She brought her hand back and smacked Joshua’s cheek hard enough to leave a glaring red handprint. He stared at her, open-mouthed.

I’ve also: Attempted to re-write Romeo and Juliet as an overblown melodrama where the Montagues and the Capulets launch a civil war and Juliet has to learn how to be a nurse (she also was supposed to fall in love with Mercutio). Started a sci-fi kidnapping story inspired by Star Wars, despite the fact I know nothing about space and have a love-hate relationship with sci-fi. Wrote a fantasy trilogy that starts in a magical school, like Harry Potter, and ends in an epic battle, à la Lord of the Rings. And so on, and so on…

What’s the most embarrassing things you’ve ever produced?

 

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Your Name in Print

When I was younger (and more naïve about the difficulties in getting published), I wondered why anyone would write for something that didn’t pay you for your writing. What was the point of writing for free? Of course, I didn’t even dream of the rise of blogging, where thousands of people write everyday for no reason at all except that someone might read it.

Of course, I was pretty wrong. Writers don’t (or shouldn’t) write just to make money. They write for readers. They entertain, they put abstract ideas into words, they share ideas, they share their life. Readers give you a purpose for spilling words out all over a page. And all writing gives you experience, and, possibly, feedback.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing this is that I recently had an article published in this magazine. Considering I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been published (and some of that was poetry), I’m pretty happy with it. And resolved to write more.

Besides, there is a certain thrill to seeing your name in print.

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