dolph

Congratulations Again to Nick Earls (with further thoughts on indie quality)

In addition to winning Best Adult Fiction ebook for Wisdom Tree, I’ve just learned that the collection also won the gold eLit award for literary fiction.

The eLit awards are intended to “illuminate digital publishing excellence.” From the site, “The eighth annual eLit Awards are a global awards program committed to illuminating and honoring the very best of English language digital publishing entertainment.

The eLit Awards are an industry-wide, unaffiliated awards program open to all members of the electronic publishing industry.”

These are, in other words, digital-specific. Even the FAQs mentioned that if you absolutely must send a hard copy, you can, but . . .

Which I think is terrific. That’s what I intended Exciting Press to do. I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a print book; I used to say it’s been five or six years but I feel like I’ve been saying that for several besides. We’re a specifically digital publisher, and I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.

What’s more, though, is that I think it’s awesome for venues like this to recognize indie literary fiction. “Literary” is a weird genre, unlike most others. You know with fantasy that you’re getting fairies and with science fiction you’re getting spaceships and with crime you’re getting a dead body in the first chapter (and yes I just oversimplified all those genres but bear with me here), but what are you getting with “literary” fiction? I think a lot of people dismiss the idea of literary as a separate genre as snobbery, and perhaps that’s a response to a perceived condescension, because there’s a thought that writers who aim for literary would sniff at genre fiction as trashy, as “oh, I don’t read that. I prefer LITerachure.”

But I’ve said before I’m desperate for discussion of quality in the indie world. Far too often coverage of indie success stories is positioned as “Self-published author sells go-jillion copies, sells book to HarperCollins.” This is the lazy sort of narrative that lumps 50 Shades of Grey into the indie world (it wasn’t “self-published” — it was posted in fan-fiction forums before it was picked up by a small Australian publisher, who later sold it to RandomHouse).

I think I get why it happens. Because anybody can click that publishing button, there’s no longer an impedance, so the corporate publishing industry and those associated with it want to maintain an illusion that there’s a separation of wheat from chaff, if you will. That sure, anyone can put some chaff out there, but without that “refinement” it will never be wheat. And the indie world, meanwhile, still wants a seal of quality, a way of demonstrating legitimacy, perhaps,  and so it falls back on the only objective measurements it can — sales and Amazon rankings and a lot of numbers more related to algorithms than to stories or books.

My hope is that one day we’ll talk, simply, about great books. That one will be able to open the NY Times or Atlantic, or tune into NPR, and will hear a story about a great book, and when one goes to find that book, it’ll turn out to cost five dollars on Amazon and the author of that book will get 70% of those royalties when readers get it for their Kindles.

And you’ll notice never once do I hope that who published a book will be part of the discussion. And sure, one could try to argue it’s not now, that NPR never mentions X book was published by so-and-so, but often that’s because media venues are, by policy, closed to what they consider “self-published” titles. They don’t just not want to cover them — they outright don’t want even receive anything. Book blogs, lots of awards . . . “Sorry, we don’t accept self-published submissions.” They’re the ones who will write about indie success only when there are sales numbers behind them.

If you sense a frustration here, you’re right, but moreso I’ll argue this is my hope. This is why I founded Exciting Press. To bring great indie fiction — and not just titles we’re publishing — into a conversation about fiction and quality that may never even consider an algorithmic result or a moment-to-moment ranking on some list or other.

It’s also my hope that congratulating the others I’m working with on more accolades becomes something of a habit.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. And don’t take the eLit or Ippy awards for their word, either.

See for yourself how terrific Wisdom Tree is:

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dolph

On Plans & Agility & Ippy Awards

Updated Wisdom Tree cover featuring gold Ippy seal

This post was, as of even as late as mid-April, intended to announce the availability of the second installment of Nick Earls’ The True Story of Butterfish. I’m looking very forward to uploading those installments and sharing that book with you, but barely more than a week ago we learned, as we shared last post, that Wisdom Tree had won the Independent Publishers gold Ippy award for Best Adult Fiction ebook.

That night, I got to talk to Nick by phone for the first time. We’ve been working together for going on seven years now, but all our communication has been digital. It’s mostly logistical; given Nick’s location, he lives not only around the world but technically tomorrow from me most of the time, and that’s not to mention that though a cell phone can call basically anywhere, they’ll sure charge you for it, and I think I paid nearly five bucks a minute to deliver the good news by voice (WORTH IT).

Within that initial excitement we were still able to discuss current plans a bit, enough to note that we’d planned for Butterfish‘s launch in just a few days, and to rethink that. We’re excited to make it available digitally, and hopefully for it to find a new audience.

In fact, that’s what we’ve been hoping for ages; that Nick’s work will find a new audience. I’ve long held that Nick’s work deserves it — I’m thrilled that Nick has one in his native Australia, but his work isn’t so very Australia-specific that it should find its only audience there.

That’s why we’re holding off on Butterfish for now.

The Ippy award is big. There are an incredible amount of entries, and previous awards have recognized authors like Dave Eggers and Ayelet Waldman and publishers like McSweeney’s, Grove, and Dzanc. It’s basically a who’s who in indie publishing.

So it’s a huge honor for Exciting Press (and me) for Nick’s work to be recognized in that context. We want to celebrate Nick and that recognition.

Which is why we’re for the moment postponing Butterfish. We want to focus for a few weeks on this cooler than cool (ice cold) news.

The good news is that’s the benefit of agility, and Exciting Press. We may be small, but we can pivot quickly when we need to, update sales info and cover images within hours, instead of days or even weeks.

dolph

Platform Games

So, how are ebooks doing, really? In recent years, we’ve heard stories – maybe even seen data – that say sales have peaked and are declining, but are they? I wanted to get behind the headlines and find out what was really going on. And it turned out to be more interesting, and more complicated, than some of us might have expected.

For ebook sales to peak, or appear to peak, first they had to surge. Ebooks dawdled for the first few years of this century while we all waited for a user-friendly ereading platform. The Kindle arrived in late 2007, and ebook sales took off, provoking a response from established publishers that amounted to around 2/3 fear and 1/3 excitement. Maybe slightly more fear. Then the iPad came along in 2010, and soon tablets were everywhere, and a great platform for reading. So, over a period of maybe four years, ereading soared.

What’s happened since?

Some technological evolutions, but no revolution. Bigger phone screens mean more phone reading, but that’s not as big a deal as Kindles and tablets. In the absence of great tech leaps forward, there haven’t been the drivers of ereading that kicked in a few years ago.

On top of that, big publishers changed their deal with Amazon on pricing ebooks. And they put their prices up. Amazon had spent years habituating ebook purchasers to a $9.99 ceiling, and prices above this proved a barrier to quite a few. Also, publishers shifted their ebook prices much closer to their paperback prices, drawing readers back to paperbacks.

But that’s far from the whole story. The ebook market was also evolving.

Those stats you see on falling ebook sales? They’re almost all from a limited range of sources, none of which measures the ebook market as well as it measures the paper book market – Nielsen surveys, Association of American Publishers figures, other studies tracking sales by ISBN. When paper books were the market, those measures stacked up reasonably well. But they don’t for ebooks. The AAP might have 1200 members, but it’s not the ebook market, which has an uncountable number of indie publishers, self-publishers and other people bringing books to market without AAP membership or ISBNs. The Kindle Store is full of books that are ducking under the stats radar, and it’s not the only place that works that way. The quarterly updates at the Author Earnings website give a much better idea than some of the figures that are widely talked about.

The book industry is split in two: the companies the mainstream media  often view as the book industry, and the epublishers who are happily doing business anyway and, overall, selling many millions of books a year. While newspaper articles often say ebook sales are falling, they’re actually still growing, if you add them all up, even if not at the spectacular rate they were in 2010-2012.

For the foreseeable future, books will come on paper and as a digital ebook file – and audiobook file – and authors need to think through at least all these formats, if not more.

In my PhD-student capacity, I’ve  written way more about that here at TEXT, but it also made sense to drop in here and spell some of it out, and to say it’s clear that ebooks aren’t going away. Many of the prophets of doom may have a vested interest or have skim-read the stats. Whatever the reason, I think they’ve got it wrong. The ebook market is evolving, as it was always going to, but it remains a place where authors need to be and where readers will go to find them.

 

Nick Earls was the second author signed by Exciting Press, and the first who didn’t also own the company. His novella series, Wisdom Tree, has just been awarded the Adult Fiction Ebook gold medal at the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Vancouver, one of the novellas in the series is currently shortlisted in the Christina Stead Prize at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and also a contender for the People’s Choice Award. We’re not going to be subtle about it. Please click here and choose it, people!