I’m 100% on my New Year’s resolution to buy only electronically delivered books. And all except one have been from what I’ll call Epublishers (that’s a whole ‘nuther subject, right?): Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, Loose ID, Freya’s Bower, Drolliere, even Smashwords. All purchases were easy, smooth transactions. Stories bought and downloaded. Only one complaint. I don’t want these stores holding my name, address, phone number, etc. When I walk into a building and purchase a book, they don’t collect that info from me (and I do only buy with cash generally). Once in a while they’ll ask for my phone number. I always refuse. I don’t think any epublisher needs that information if you are paying with Paypal. Allow me to choose if I want to have an “account” at your online store. Sorry. Get rid of that one.
So, slight rant aside, why did I buy the books I did? Sure, a few were written by friends. I went to a few sites and was so turned off by poser covers or what I (this is my old-fashioned bias, for sure) consider crass titles, that I immediately clicked off the site. That is a matter of taste, but for this buyer, titles and covers count. A lot. No blurb or pen name would push me past a crass title or poser cover. Not one.
If I didn’t know the author, I might pick up a book because the cover and title were great. I’d move to the blurb, and if it hit the right note, purchase sealed. Oh, wait. Price point. I have not paid more than $6 for any title this year. Am I broke? A little, maybe. Do I expect ebooks to be less than paper titles. As a writer, no–why should I? As a buyer, you bet I expected that.
I enjoyed all the books I bought except for one. I have not suffered as a result of missing the latest “Kickass heroine” in an urban environment slaying/mating with/trading quips with the hero. I will be reviewing a few of the books I read in coming days.
So, what does this reader want? Good covers, good titles, good blurbs, and the good read that those things promise, at a good price. I have bought about two ebooks a week, and estimate that I’ve saved a few hundred dollars shopping that way. (I also go back to some of my paper favorites–finishing my complete Sherlock Holmes, that sort of thing.)
Now, as a writer. So much has been said that I can’t possibly be more articulate than the seemingly hundreds of authors who tell you what to look for when submitting your work to a small press. Since the T-days (the company which must not be named), or maybe because of those experiences, my expectations for a company and myself have risen. I don’t think I’m alone.
My most recent and best experiences have been at Loose ID and Samhain. I’ve been treated fairly, beyond what I’ve deserved at times (writers are neurotic, and I’ve had a neurotic year). Great editing. Great, great covers. Smooth and quick communication. Fine contracts. And overall, that “warm and fuzzy” factor. I’m not talking about “we’re a family, so don’t air dirty laundry” masquerading as warm and fuzzy. I mean smart people who don’t get too bent out of shape over things and want the best for their company. They have enough confidence to give you a spoonful of sugar with the medicine, rather than banging you over the head with their positions. Because, as I think fellow writers will tell you, we feel vulnerable.
I watched a great Nova about stress last night. It showed that lack of power and control is the major contributing factor to stress. Lowest rung on the ladder? You’ll feel stressed. Climb the ladder and still have no control? Still stressed. Submitting for the first or 100th time will put you in a powerless position, unless you have several companies bidding for your great novel. You really have to keep your head screwed on straight, better than I have.
So, given my experience this past year submitting, what do I want from a company? Smart people who understand their business. I don’t need to know every move they make. Hell, I don’t have time to keep up with their full time jobs. Smart people who are making obvious fiscally sound decisions. Harder to track, but you can see classic warning signs of looming trouble: staff shakeups (no, I am absolutely, positively not talking about Samhain), backstabbing, late payments, switching directions suddenly, and loads of whiny writers.
I want a company that puts out good stories. By writers bigger than me (ha ha ha, don’t even go there…). I always follow better writers to companies. It does not hurt to let someone do a little beta testing for you. Good covers. A good web site. No trash (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not me). Plans to manage growth (you can spot this too). The key is managing growth, not suddenly try to take over the world. I’ve seen a lot of publishing houses fail (I used to be in print publishing) because they didn’t know how to balance the books. Seriously. If you don’t know what cash is going to come in, you’d better be careful how much you skim off the top or spend. And then that warm and fuzzy thing. Real people who aren’t on power trips. They are doing their job, but not in their job to make people feel small (or they manage to hide it–that’s fine too).
So, I don’t really write the hot stuff, never did. Ellora’s Cave is out for me, except for the softer imprint Cerridwen. The lovely quad at LI it taking its company in a direction that will make my stuff not hot enough. Samhain’s best sellers are the hot stuff as well, but the treatment I’ve had there has been stellar, so I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t try to publish more there. Quartet seems to be doing the right stuff in their planning stage.
Sorry this has been so long. Joycian stream of consciousness, without the brilliance. Getting to the point: there are very few houses that seem open to my level of talent (ahem, stop laughing) and my heat level. There are absolutely more writers trying to get published electronically. Feeling the squeeze, anyone? This means, of course, that many of us are going anywhere that will accept us. Bad covers, bad editing, bad treatment, no warm fuzzies, bad business practices. And of course, ultimately, as Piers would say “and now they’re gone.”
So, the time is really really good to open an epublishing house. Maybe for fantasy. Maybe for YA. I wish I had the brains and the funds.