David Marusek: Much Ado About Ebooks

Welcome to David Marusek, our April featured author! David writes science fiction in Fairbanks. His second novel, Mind Over Ship, won the Endeavour Award in 2010, and he is currently working on his third, Camp Tribulation.

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring ebooks lately. I’m not exactly an ebook proselytizer, but I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned with you. One thing I’ve discovered is how long people have been trying to invent ebooks. The illustration above of an early ebook reader comes from the April 1935 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics. That ereader didn’t exactly catch on, but the microfiche tech it was based on did have a good run.

Another interesting discovery is how much resistance avid readers have toward Kindles and Nooks. Many of them tell me they dislike them, even despise them. Meanwhile, a majority of my writing colleagues are stampeding to convert their backlists into ebooks as quickly as possible. Why the disconnect between readers and writers?

The readers I ask invariably identify what they love about printed books, qualities that ebooks lack: the look and feel, ease of use (especially in places like bathtubs), and the joy of owning a bookcase stocked with their own personal library. Book lovers certainly wax sentimental over the physical object, as though a book were indistinguishable from its contents. (Does that mean it’s slightly less enjoyable to read a novel in a remaindered paperback than in its first edition hardback?)

I find this aversion to ebooks in both adults and teens. Teens may be even more resistant than adults, which seems backwards to me. I didn’t notice the same reaction to other recent breakthrough technologies: ipods, smart phones, tablets. There must be something seriously uncool about ereaders, no matter what the advertising says. Maybe they’re a fad that will pass out of fashion like other dubious bright ideas. (Anyone want to buy a slightly used CD-ROM encyclopedia?)

On the other hand, technological breakthroughs continue to hit the ereader market. Ereaders boasting reflective color e-ink displays have already been released in Asia, and flexible, plastic e-ink displays will debut in Europe this summer. The ereader will take novel forms in the near future. They may have the look and feel of glossy magazines. There may even be a waterproof model for use in the tub.

Whatever the future of ereaders, I, for one, never want to go back. Here’s why: For the first time since the invention of the printing press, an author can reach the masses directly, without the imprimatur of self-appointed custodians of culture or indenture to patrons or corporations. The gates of literary self-expression have been flung open, and hordes of new writers are bursting through. Hooray for literary democracy!

Wait a minute! Is that a good thing?

To get a sense of how big those hordes of newly published writers are, consider a couple of numbers from Bowker (the company in charge of issuing ISBNs). In 2005, the year my first novel was released, 282,500 new titles and editions (of all kinds of books) were published in the U.S. This is an astonishing number when you think about it. How could my hopeful little novel compete for limited reader attention with so many new books flooding the bookstores?

Yet, only four years later, there were 1,052,803 new titles and editions, an increase of 373%. Three quarters of these, or 764,448, were self-published books (mostly ebooks). Granted, this was shortly after the Kindle was introduced, and a lot of these titles were due to traditional publishers and authors furiously converting their backlists into digital editions, but the effect is the same. My second novel, released that year, had to compete with a million other titles. And because most of these titles are digital they are never out of print, compounding their numbers every year.

I don’t know how many titles will be published this year, but at least two of them will be mine. As I reported in an earlier post, I’ve launched my own tiny ebook imprint. If you knew me personally, you might have been surprised that I took this step. I used to hold the belief that writers should spend their time writing and let their peeps do all the soul-sucking business of getting their work into the hands of readers.

That changed last spring when Jeff Carlson, a colleague of mine who writes bestselling techno-thrillers, told me about his novella, “The Frozen Sky” that he put up on Kindle and Nook. He charged the minimal price for it, $0.99. This means that he keeps about 35 cents of each sale and Amazon or B&N takes the rest. The sales started slowly, but after a few months they exploded. I checked with him last month and learned that he’s sold an astounding 40,000 copies so far.

That’s $14,000! A tidy profit for a previously published story and no additional writing. With easy money like that, how could I not give it a shot? I’ve got stories. I’ve got an award-winning novella. Why not me too, Lord? It took a while to figure out the mechanics of self-epubbing, but I put my titles out there in February, and now I’m waiting for the cash to start rolling in. In the meantime, I thought you might be interested in how to make an ebook for sale online, in case you have a story or book to add to this year’s million.

It all comes down to Conversion, Cover, and Marketing, the topics of my next posts.

2 thoughts on “David Marusek: Much Ado About Ebooks”

  1. Wow! Those numbers almost make OP sound like a good thing. But then music seems to get by while being available forever…

  2. My resistance to ebooks, besides the usual "I like the feel of a real book", is based more on the amount of errors I find in them!

    Since the amount of words on the "page" is so much less, I wouldn't expect to even HAVE a category of Errors Per Page; yet, I do. It becomes a game of counting all the errors, which distracts me from reading the content, as do the very errors themselves.

    The formatting is many times skewed also. Tabs, indents, you name it: the consistency on so many is pretty dismal. I'm not sure why this happens. I'm not in the business of conversion of text to the many forms of ebooks out there.

    But it HAS kept me from finishing most of the books I have on my iPad.

    And I must admit that I read SO much slower on a screen than on a book. The way my brain interfaces with screening text is very different from printed text. After I realized that, I saw there are now studies on that very problem. There's even a bit of a disconnect on retained information. It seems that screen text is best for the kind of information gained from People Magazine and Facebook.

    So, yes, I still buy Real books. Though if your work is found only on ebooks, I guess that's how I will read them.

    I'm currently reading Counting Heads and loving it, btw. Thank you for writing it!


Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top