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Friday, August 6, 2010

My expedition into epublishing by Marsha Canham

I got out of this business 6 years ago because I was literally burned out dealing with 20 yr old editors telling me what I should write and how I should write it. It was stifling, both in terms of creativity and in mental strength.  I was never one to back down from a good argument with an editor whether it was over content (editor:  "Take out all the battle scenes, the book is too violent."  Me:  "The book is about the Battle of, pray, does one cut out the major focal point of the book?")  or artwork  (I do believe the uproar I made over my Forty F**king Flowers cover still resonates in a few art departments).  That being said, Ebooks open up a whole new world of possibilities, starting with the content.  There is no one but your own creative spirit to tell you what to write and what not to write.  If I want to write the sequel to The Iron Rose, then I will damn well write it without having to field it past editors who claim "Pirate books won't sell".  If I want a title that actually reflects what the book is about, then that too is at my discretion.  Ditto with the artwork.  How refreshing not to have a blonde on the cover when the heroine is a brunette, or not to have a cartoonish travel brochure cover (The original print cover for Swept Away) instead of artwork that actually fits the mood and period of the book.

Like many print authors, I did not hold ebooks in very high regard when they first came out.  In their infancy, the readers were big clumsy things and screens were small and unclear.  Now however, with the advent of Kindle and Sony and Ipad readers, the clumsiness is gone.  I am still a dinosaur in that I love the feel of a book and turning pages, but I'm not so adamant that I can't see the benefit to new and established writers alike.  In my case, I have four out of print books which have simply fallen by the wayside for a couple of decades.  Efforts to have them reprinted never went very far even though I heard time and again that they were impossible to find, even through used book stores.  The first three were, oddly enough, my first three books:  China Rose, Bound by the Heart, and The Wind and the Sea.  All three were hammered out on a typewriter and no discs existed for any of them. The fourth, Swept Away, I happened by luck to find stored on a floppy, thank goodness for that, but the first three I am in the process of retyping into the computer in order to make them available for digital re-issue.  The first, China Rose, I tackled as an experiment.  It took me a month to retype it, and admittedly the process would have gone faster if not for the fact that I took the opportunity to edit as I was going along, updating some of the prose etc.  Friend and fellow author, Julie Ortolon, (who I fully blame and thank for giving me a push in this direction)  had also been redoing her out of print books, so I fell happily into her footsteps, following along as she learned the process step by step, and generously blogged about her progression into this fascinating new world.

Having the opportunity to fix, edit, update, and in some cases correct errors in an original publication was one of the first benefits I discovered during my own learning process.  1980's purple prose...Gone!  Throbbing manhoods...Gone! (not that I ever used that particular phrase, but I had a few that were iffy).
Formatting was tricky, but again, thanks to Jules, I managed to struggle through and keep most of my hair.  The second benefit--and a glaring one to any who, like me, have been cursed with some purely dreadful covers--is that I got to design and create my own cover!  Who knew there were websites that sold stock photos!  Who knew that for as little as five dollars, you could purchase rights to use a photo and crop it, expand it, layer it any way you liked in order to make it suit your cover needs? 

And now to the most intriguing part...the financial aspect.  It never, ever made sense to me, in all my 22 years of writing and being published, how publishers could justify the archaic system of shipping 25 books to a store, hoping to sell 2.  The 23 that did not sell were not even sent back to the publisher.  The COVERS were torn off and sent back for a credit, and the body of the book was tossed out into the dumpster.  How many other businesses would remain in business if they treated their product that way?

In this age of electronic tracking, especially, the flaws in that system are monstrous and it’s no wonder publishing houses are finding themselves in financial difficulty. Ebooks do away with  all of that.  One download, one sale. Simple.  Plus the author recieves 70% of the royalties instead of 10%. Okay, so there is no huge cash advance up front, (which isn't even paid "up front"  but doled out over 18 months) but I suspect the days of those multi-million dollar advances for “big name authors” are fewer and farther between too. I found it interesting a year or so ago that my former publishing house sent out an addendum to my contracts allowing for Ebook distribution through their own book club. Had I known then what I know now I wouldn’t have signed. I would have handled the digital distribution myself.

Would I recommend other authors take a good hard look at their out of print books?  Yes, absolutely.  Would I recommend writing directly to ebook format?  Ask me in about six months when I finish the sequel to The Iron Rose.

Marsha Canham

About the Author: I live north of Toronto Ont, have 17 books in print and have won numerous awards for historical romance through Romantic Times, Affair de Coeur, and Publishers Weekly.  Have appeared on the USA Today bestseller list often.  I have one son, three grandchildren, six birds and two dogs *s*

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