Saturday, April 10, 2010


Like everyone else I know, I've been following the developing e-book story fairly closely. For the record, I think that e-books will someday soon take over the publishing world, and when that happens, I think publishing as we know it will be forever, irrevocably altered. The whole system will change, and the old ways of business will become obsolete. I don't know what the future will look like—no one does, of course—and I'll save you the pain of another prognostication. It seems the Internet is full of people who are absolutely sure they know exactly what will happen.

But ... I don't know if you can relate, but sometimes I get this nagging feeling that I'm leaving opportunity on the table. I'm pretty high up the entrepreneurial scale by nature. In middle school, I started my own business selling wholesale lollipops to drug stores in my area (never amounted to much). In high school, I was in a different kind of business for myself. And of course now I'm a full-time freelance writer. So let's just say I understand the drive to be independent, and I'm not at all intimidated by the idea of selling things.

Yet I've also been just about 100% committed to pursuing a traditional publishing contract, with a traditional agent. To make it even harder on myself, I have a pretty solid idea what kind of publishing contract I want and which of the companies I'd like to publish with. I have little interest in dropping a book into the world just for the sake of it.

(By the way, I'm not saying this to snub anybody else's choices in their publishing journey. First off, I think the writer's journey is totally unique to each of us and what is true for me is not really true for anybody else. Second of all, it's ludicrous to think that everyone has the same goals, ambitions and definitions of success. I would never be so presumptuous as to judge someone else—I much prefer to support people as they make these decisions for themselves.)

Anyway, so I have a hypothetical question, and I'm really interested in gathering some opinions. Here's the situation.

I have a finished middle-grade manuscript sitting in my drawer. The book is about a boy who inherits a billion dollars and uses it to build a time machine, based on plans left behind by his brilliant and reclusive grandfather. Then he and his friends launch through American history, solving a series of riddles to unravel the mystery behind what actually happened to his grandfather when he vanished while escaping from Alcatraz.

This book was represented by a boutique literary agent, who shopped it around NY in '08. The first company that saw it, Dutton, was enthusiastic and immediately requested a period of exclusivity. The next, Knopf, liked it a lot but didn't publish time travel books. The third, Scholastic, really liked it, and I worked with a senior editor for 18 months, on two major revisions. The book made it all the way to acquisitions and there were meetings at the publisher level about it. Scholastic passed in early 2009 and I shelved the book.

I'm bothering to tell all this (if you don't already know it) to establish the book's bona fides. I can say with confidence this is a good book. It's been professionally vetted, and intensely edited by top editors—people who have bought and edited books that are still sitting at the top of the NYT best-seller list. Obviously, they opted not to buy it in the end, and they gave me reasons, but it's still a quality, fun book.

So the question arises in these mixed-up days in publishing about the wisdom of turning this into an e-book and selling it as a Kindle, iBook, Nook or whatever.

I can see two sides. On the "yes" side, it's a good book. I would retain the rights, so I could sell them later if I wanted to, and it would be a way to release a book I have a great fondness for (and one that actually made my wife cry at the end ...). From a financial point of view, it's all upside. If I make $2 on it, that's $2 more than it would make in my drawer.

On the "no" side, the Kindle market for middle-grade books is a fraction of the adult market, which is a fraction of the actual book market, so if it sold more than a handful of copies, that would be tremendous. And if I publish on Kindle, I would likely lose the ability to sell it later, to a print publisher. Finally, I'm a literary nobody. I know how to promote, but I have no built-in fan base. I'd be starting from zero, pursuing a market that is maybe .05% of the actual book market.

So ... would you put this book on Kindle?


Jude Hardin said...

Yet I've also been just about 100% committed to pursuing a traditional publishing contract, with a traditional agent. To make it even harder on myself, I have a pretty solid idea what kind of publishing contract I want and which of the companies I'd like to publish with. I have little interest in dropping a book into the world just for the sake of it.

You answered your own question.

I'm sure with everything it has been through, this manuscript is ready to be published. Still, it seems like self-publishing would be counterproductive to your goals as stated. I know it's tempting, but I would hold off on jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon if I were you. When you do get your first book deal--and I believe you will--you can offer this book as #2 or #3 or whatever. If still no takers, then you might opt to self-publish. Right now it just seems like there's little to gain and a lot to lose.

E. Flanigan said...

Ditto to what Jude said ....

Maribeth said...

It is worse to kill a dream than to wait. Jude told you what you needed/wanted to hear. Hang on! Your publisher is on his (or her) way.

magolla said...

Jude said it quite well and I don't have anything to add except when some publisher buys MG book #2, 3 or 4 and they want more, then you can say, "Why, yes, I have . . . "

I don't know for this for a fact, actually this is pure guessing on my part, but I'd hazard a guess that when J. K. Rowling sold Harry Potter, she didn't sell it on the first one. I think she sold #3, Prisoner of Azkaban first, which was why 1, 2, and 3 were out within a couple of months of each other and #4 took a year or longer before it was in print.

Natasha Fondren said...

I see Jude's point, but this is a book that's been shopped already, right? So it's not going to get you anywhere with NY, not at the moment. And you're not giving up on a dream: if I understand you correctly, you've already moved on to another project (or two?) for that dream.

So why let potential income waste away in your drawer? And you said yourself that you have no fan base. So price it low and build one.

What's wrong with diversification? You're a freelancer. You know how freelance economics work. I highly doubt you'd put all your eggs in one basket for your non-fiction career; why would you do the same for your fiction career?

Eric said...

I'm not a fan of the whole e-book craze, so my vote would be no. The reason I say this is because I see your passion for the book and I think it'd be a shame for so many potential readers to miss out on this simply because it's in an e-reader format rather than a regular book format. I would advise that you try getting it out there again through the publishing channels once more. If it made it as far as you say, I'd be willing to bet you could get it the rest of the way now.

LurkerMonkey said...

Interesting. Before I posted this, I figured most people would say, "Put it up on the Kindle." I'm a little surprised it's 4:1 against.

I'm sitting here thinking what I make of that—for all the heat and noise associated with ebooks, they are still obviously in their infancy. I also wonder if people's recommendations are related to how much e-book reading they do. Natasha, you're a heavy e-book reader, right? Anyone else?

Interesting also how little traction the "indie" argument has made among readers here. I see people aggressively redefining self-publishing as "indie" publishing all over the place, but it doesn't seem to have stuck, at least around here.

LurkerMonkey said...


Since this book, I've finished another book that has been shopped, and I'm just now working on final revisions to yet another. If the idea is to snag a top agent, I can't really shop this project again—even though it's only been rejected by a relatively few houses, it's my experience that agents don't want books with this kind of mileage from unknown authors. And if I was in a position later to offer it for publication, I'd probably rework it again. I'm a better writer now than I was when this whole thing went down.

Erica Orloff said...

Damn. Blogger ate my answer.

I am against it. So here were my reasons:

1) It hasn't been thoroughly shopped--it could go elsewhere.

2) With all due respect to Natasha, you have a family of four. What your "potential income" requires versus maybe hers or someone else's is likely different . . . I can't see it making a huge difference at $2 a pop.

3) Kids don't have Kindle access. They also still like HOLDING books, taking them on the bus, taking them to school for quiet reading time, whatever. Wrong audience.

4) For KIDS, you would be better off doing a POD trade paperback and selling through a cool site--but then--and we have gone round this many a time via email--you are in the biz of SELLING books versus WRITING them.

5) If you feel entrepreneurial, then upload a gardening book or something else and promo it. Or better yet, you and I could start an e-pub COMPANY and actually EDIT books and promote them (i.e., if you want a business, choose one that fits your audience and talents).

LurkerMonkey said...


Bad blogger!

I see #3 as the most compelling argument against the idea. For all the hoopla surrounding Kindles and e-books, I don't think they've penetrated the kids' market at all.

As for #5, could my title be "Lord Emperor" or better yet "Lord of the Manor"?

Natasha Fondren said...

I'm just going by Konrath's numbers and Zoe's numbers. (She put up a new one under a pseudonym that is brand new and has no following, and she's made $22 a day in the first two weeks. With no marketing. In general, ebook numbers don't go down, so she can pretty much plan on $20 a day for a long time.) My Kindle numbers suck, as my pubs refuse to lower the prices.

You might want to do some research before you go the POD route. I've read in two different places that ebooks for children were selling well, which blew my mind and I immediately rejected, but... I'm just rejecting it on principle, not on facts.

If it hasn't been thoroughly shopped, then get out there and do that, LOL.

In general, though, I'm not a big supporter of approaching my fiction career as a "dream," and I think a lot of people do.

LurkerMonkey said...


I've read Konrath's blog, but I tend to suspect he's an outlier.

I'd never POD. I work for a POD press as a contract editor so I've literally worked on hundreds of titles for them. I've yet to see one of these books (fiction and NF) sell more than a handful of copies.

The dream thing is interesting. Maybe I'll blog on it ...

Mark Terry said...

Want my answer? See Erica's. I'm completely with her.

Want to do a Kindle or self-pub that will probably actually make you money? Do a gardening book and self-publish.

The story sounds great. It doesn't sound like it's been thoroughly marketed and I wonder if the editors who saw it are even still at those houses. E-mail Nancy Gallt and tell her what you said here and say, "I have two friends who are novelists who feel this manuscript has not been thoroughly marketed. One of them also is a very successful children's author. Do you have an opinion?"

Another agent you might consider asking is Nathan Bransford, who recently signed a contract for publication of a children's book that I think has a tone like yours. And I've dealt with him re. e-mail queries and he's very responsive, particularly to folks who are already published as journalists and/or writers and/or nonfiction book collaborators.

Zoe Winters said...

Jumping in briefly (well, zoe-brief. So, not really brief.)

Only thing that gives me pause is that it's middle grade. I'm not sure what's going to happen with E in middle grade. I'm not TOTALLY sure what's going to happen in general, but I see a big shift in the tide.

As to Natasha's comment, I'd said that I made $22 in the first two weeks, not per day. I don't want people to think I'm inflating my numbers. I need to market that book (and that pen name) if I want it to succeed well.

But $22 in two weeks was more and quicker than I made with Kept. Though Kept has now made $2,000 and sold closing in on 6,000 copies.

But it "is" priced at 99 cents. So I know that makes "some" difference in sales.

I also think Nathan Bransford is made of awesome. If there was one agent left standing, it would be Bransford. (Yes, I'm a total fangirl.)

Unlike many though, I do think self-publishing is a good idea just on principle. I get that NY is the "dream" for most, but I love being indie. I know I'm not the only person wired like I am either.

If I'd listened to those who discouraged me from self-pub I'd be pretty miserable right now.

How well you can or can't do is really up in the air in the ebook era, but as you say, ebooks will likely take over at some point.

I'd rather be in the water waiting for the wave then up at the bar drinking a pina colada and wondering what the hell happened.