Despite my previous rant about e-book pricing even I acknowledge that the Kindle is a game changer. Not the e-book reader in general, the Kindle – it’s pretty much single-handedly responsible for the acceptance and take up of ebooks and e-book readers. Is that going too far? No. And I’ll explain why and what impact it could have on people like me who write as a hobby.
Before the Kindle there were several e-book readers available. I bought my wife one for our anniversary in 2009 and despite her initial scepticism about the technology it wasn’t long before she threw herself whole heartedly into it. That was a Sony PRS-505 and cost £220 at the time, a not inconsiderable amount of money especially when you then needed to add a lighted case etc. No Wi-Fi, no 3G, no integrated book store, but even so she found it one of the best gadgets I’ve ever bought her – and I knew I was onto a winner when she said it was the only gadget that she would rush out and immediately replace if it broke (I think she secretly quivers around birthdays and christmas that I may buy her a gadget – I haven’t this year by the way).
As I’ve said before though my wife reads a lot, so the advantage of being able to carry around hundreds of books in something the size of an eReader was ideal for her. Now fast forward to 2011, she has a Kindle 3G and again it changed everything.
I didn’t pay full price for the Kindle, it was an unwanted raffle prize someone won at our Xmas party and I bought it off him. At the time it was touted as a WiFi model, so I paid a reasonable price based on that specification (I think it was £70, but can’t quite remember). When I got it home though it turned out to be the 3G model, so I did feel mildly guilty. To make it even worse I got hold of a standard case for her, but it caused the Kindle to reboot and drained the battery. A quick call to Amazon revealed it was a known problem and they swapped it for a lighted case (and you don’t get customer service like that very often). But to see the evolution of someone who, by her own admission, isn’t that tech savvy was remarkable. With access to the Amazon store via the device itself suddenly a whole new world opened up, wherever, whenever, whatever.
Before Amazon brought it all together the process to buy an e-book was to go to a store that supported your reader, buy the book, download the book, connect the e-book reader, copy the book over and finally you were ready to read. The software supplied wasn’t exactly brilliant so we used Calibre (which I’ve mentioned before http://calibre-ebook.com). Now though it’s as simple as either going to the Amazon web site (either on the Kindle or a PC), buy the book you want and it’s there ready to read in seconds. We still use Calibre for keeping copies of all the books we have, but to an extent the fact that you can retrieve any previous book makes it a secondary requirement, and with the new Amazon Cloud offering 5gb of space for personal documents even more so.
I’m not suggesting the Kindle is the only reader that can do this, but it was the first to pull everything together in one place and make it easy and more importantly accessible for the man in the street (or woman of course). And with the advent of the latest generation Kindle (the non-touch, non-keyboard version that’s sometimes called the Kindle 4 in the UK) it’s even cheaper. £89 for a quality e-book reader, albeit with only WiFi, but how many people really use the 3G (and most mobile phones support being used as a wireless access point these days, so you can connect the WiFi to the phone and then onto the 3G network anyway).
But that’s not all that the Kindle changed. Not by a long shot, and it’s this that’s probably more important to me and people like me.
The process for getting something published can be, let’s face it, traumatic. The basic process, assuming you follow the guidelines of sending to one agent at a time :
- Finish book
- Dig out the Writers and Artists Yearbook and work out which agent’s are best suited to your manuscript
- Prepare synopsis, rewrite synopsis, rewrite again based on the specific requirement of the agency (one page, two page, very brief, brief, detailed…..)
- Send required number of pages, introductory letter, required length of synopsis
- Wait for a couple of weeks (up to 6)
- Accept the rejection and start again from the beginning of the process (and I’m looking worse case here)
So if you do follow the guidelines you would get your wonderfully crafted novel read by maybe 3 agents in 3 months, and in all likelihood you’ll get back three ‘thanks, but no thanks’ replies.
But with the Kindle the process goes something like this :
- Finish book
- Register with Amazon
- Format book in required way for Kindle (and that’s a whole blog post in its own right)
- Set Price
Ah yes I hear people say, but your sales are likely to be higher going down the agent route. Maybe, maybe not. Unless you have a killer novel it’s possible you could get a publishing deal and sell very few copies, but on the other hand with a Kindle e-book you can set your own price, and that can drive sales. Many many people are prepared to take a punt on a 99p book who wouldn’t on a £4.99 book in a shop and the kickback for the author at those two prices is similar (from the research I’ve done).
I’m not suggesting for a minute that this is the right route for everyone, and I’m not suggesting there isn’t a place for agents and publishers, there is. But more and more people are taking the opportunity to publish their own work and bypass the traditional systems and that drives competition. As I’ve bemoaned previously the price of ebooks published by traditional publishing houses is excessive and with the EU now starting an investigation into e-book pricing this situation may change and that can only be good for the industry as a whole, after all someone is making more money just by virtue of not requiring printing, transport, warehousing etc and I’m fairly confident it’s not the author.
The more I think about it the more I consider just going straight down that route, I get to choose what I publish, when I publish it and how much I charge for it. If I want to put it on offer to push sales, I have control over that – after all 100 sales at 99p is better than 10 sales at £2.50. The ratings system on Amazon is obviously of benefit, but what if the first person to buy your book rates it 1 star because it isn’t their type of thing, you’re on an uphill curve immediately and you’ve only sold one book.
There are obviously other pitfalls as well for self-publishing. How do the public respond to it? What if the first self published book they read isn’t particularly well-edited or contains errors? Are they likely to return? I’m not suggesting here by the way that anything I write is perfect, that’s not for me to judge, but even mainline published fiction isn’t without errors or for that matter necessarily interesting. Personal opinion again, horses for courses.
It’s an interesting time ahead for everyone, from agents to publishers to authors but one thing is for sure, it’s the readers that will win in the end.
And on that note can I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.