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[whitespace] Book Reading Terminal Muse: 'Book publishing will be dead in 10 years.'

Photograph by Christopher Gardner


Novel Technologies

The virtual world of online technology provides fertile literary ground

By Irina Reyn

This summer, packing your bag with some good reading for the beach, you may be likely to throw in your ... laptop? The electronic book industry is booming, and many of its purveyors believe that one day it will be a serious rival to book publishing as we know it.

"Book publishing will be dead in 10 years," John Routledge, CEO of Dead End Street Publications, stated confidently. "Sure, you will want to curl up with a good book, but this time it will be one you printed out of your printer." The electronic book is emailed to an account and then loaded onto a handheld organizer, laptop or computer.

The draw of e-book publishing is its increased value for both the customer and the author. With both hardcover and paperback prices rising, the customer can save money by downloading e-books, which can cost as little as $3. "Electronic books will replace paperbacks," says Robin Danek, publisher of Yellow Creek Publishing. "Paperbacks are not inexpensive anymore."

Authors benefit greatly from e-book publishing, which provides them with a place to be published when more and more publishers are taking fewer risks with new writers. "There are a lot of talented new authors who haven't found a niche in print publishing with their narrow guidelines," says Mary Wolf, publisher and editor-in-chief of Hard Shell Word Factory. The publisher has received a few awards for its authors, including the nomination of Dream Thieves by Steven Lee Climer for best first novel in the International Horror Guild Awards, a first for an e-book.

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E-Publishing How-tos: Getting your work published with an e-book publisher.

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Electronic books have become a venue for more experimental and alternative writing, competing with a book industry often criticized for publishing "safe" literature under an increasingly corporate climate. "E-book publishers are in a place to take more risks," says Marty Gallanter, whose novel A Little Lower Than the Angels is being published by Dead End Street Publications. "The experimentation that created great books will be happening in electronic books. E-book publishing is an opportunity for authors to experiment and for the public to access alternative literature at a decent price."

Mitch Hoffman, an associate editor at Random House, thinks that all publishers are in some way risk-averse, but feels there is plenty of room for the e-book publishing industry in the marketplace. Instead of competition for the book-publishing industry, he sees e-books as a positive sign that there are more outlets for readers and writers. "I don't think one [industry] will succeed at the expense of the other," Hoffman says. "E-book publishing will only create more opportunity for writers to be published and will bring more readers into the book-buying fold."

E-book publishers pay their authors a higher royalty than does the average book contract and allow them to keep all subsidiary rights to their book. While a book publisher will usually pay an advance and a 10 percent royalty on the first 5,000 copies sold and 15 percent thereafter, e-book publishers will pay no advance, but pay royalties instead, sometimes as high as 40 percent. Also, while an author rarely retains first serial rights, in the e-book publishing industry, when subsidiary rights are sold abroad or to a magazine, the author benefits. With the risk eliminated on the publishing side and the payoff equally necessary for both parties, the book can receive an e-book publisher's full attention.

E-book authors admit to feeling more personally connected to the process of editing, promoting and selling their book. While many authors of trade books complain of getting lost in the shuffle--having little contact with their editor, few publicity efforts on behalf of their books, and sometimes not seeing their own covers--e-book authors speak to their editors often and are encouraged to voice their opinion without the complications of bureaucracy. "I like the way you are treated," says Diana Kirk, an author for Hard Shell Word Factory. "You're treated as a human being. I get so much attention, it spoils me."

Kirk, like many e-book authors, first tried the traditional route of getting a book published, but frustration with rejection letters finally gave way to the excitement of being on the ground floor of a budding industry. She was also drawn to the notion that her books would never be out of print and she would keep all rights. Kirk's latest book, Bad Medicine, got nominated for an Artemus Award by the Romance Writers of America, and an English publisher, Uverlscort, is seeking large-print rights for her Murder in Music Land.

Since many e-book publishers rely on niche markets for sales, they make romance, science fiction and horror their staples. "This is a good forum for popular fiction," Wolf said. At the same time, most stress that they are not vanity publishers (who show no discrimination in whom they publish and sometimes charge the author a reading fee), and they weed out manuscripts as carefully as trade-book publishers. Dead End Street Publications, for example, employs a three-person committee of editors to pore over manuscripts. Next year, they plan to submit Gallanter's novel for the National Book Award.

Fans of the e-book think that the final argument for printed books--portability--ultimately will be weakened by technology. Hand-held devices like the Rocket eBook and Softbook are making it just as easy to flip on a switch as to flip open a hardcover. "I like being published through Rocket books," Kirk says. "I like the ease of reading in bed without turning on a light."

However, others feel that the e-book will never replace the printed book as the ultimate reading companion. "I think it's a nascent technology and the potential is vast, but I doubt it would ever replace print books," says Michael Berlyn, publisher of Cascade Mountain Publishing. "No one is going to take a computer to the beach" .


Sites for publishers mentioned in this piece:
www.cascadepublishing.com
www.hardshell.com
www.deadendstreet.com
www.e-pulp.com

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From the August 30, 1999, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.




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