Are e-books the answer?

May 14th, 2012

My last virtual guest at the very wuthering and windy Little Blue Hut was Andrew Crofts, best known as Britain’s top ghostwriter. Andrew has written over 80 books, dozens of which have been best-sellers – it’s known as the ‘Andrew Crofts effect’ in the trade. He’s ghosted books for celebrities, misery memoirs and in business, along with The Freelance Writer’s Handbook, where he shares the secrets of his success. Andrew has also written two novels, The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride and its prequel The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer, about a young girl running away from a humdrum family in search of love and fame, and who gets caught up in the rise of celebrity culture from the 1970s onwards.

I spoke to him in the week when Fifty Shades of Grey hit number one, which, like The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer, was originally published as an e-book. E-books have created an interesting area where self-publishing, small indie publishers and ‘author collectives’ offer an additional option to traditional publishing. ‘Electronic publishing is pioneer territory’, says Andrew, ‘like the Wild West and the goldmines of California.’ He’s part of an authors collective: Do Authors Dream of Electric Books. Twenty eight writers blog and pool their experiences, which gives them all more of a presence than they would have individually. Andrew says you can find similar groups by surfing the internet .

Andrew says that when he e-published The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer, he did get an expert to help him with the practicalities of getting the book onto the two main publishing sites: Kindle and Smashwords, but he knows many authors who have done it themselves. He also went to a professional for the cover design.

Paying for expert help emerges as a key tip: when Giselle Green published her fourth novel, Falling for You, as an e-book, she paid for a professional designer and a professional editor. Falling for You sold very well, she says – probably partly because of the author platform established for her by Avon, who had published her first three novels, establishing a loyal following for her. Catherine Ryan Howard, author of Self Printed, on self publishing (her blog is also a mine of information) also says that, although there are free cover designs available for you to adapt, they’re rarely good enough. However Fifty Shades of Grey’s cover was apparently designed by the author, and it has become iconic, so perhaps every rule is made to be broken – occasionally.

Myths have sprung up about how much money some authors make through publishing their own e-books, but Andrew Crofts is more realistic:  ‘the odds on making money from an e-book are about the same as on a printed one. A growing army of competitors is out there, and you have to struggle just as much to be heard. But if you write a good story and work hard on promoting it, and enough people like it, then electronic word-of-mouth will take over…but rejection, which originally came via crushing letters from agents and publishers, may dawn more gently for some authors via disappointing sales figures.’

If the pot of gold does materialise - as with Fifty Shades of Grey  – then it looks as if few authors can actually carry on without a traditional publisher. ‘I can’t do it all myself’ is the cry of those who find themselves writing, handling the technology, marketing, finding designers and editors, staying on top of selling, trying to think up the next book….so, if e-books are the answer, they’re clearly not the whole answer.

This is my last blog from the Little Blue Hut, with thanks to Creative Canterbury for my stay there. I’m going to start posting regularly on Fridays, and for the next few weeks I’ll be focussing on apps that authors can use to promote their books, such as Instagram (and Inkstagram), Audioboo and others. I’m the least techie person in the world, so if I can use them, you’ll find them easy-peasy.

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