Have a great idea for a book? Publish it!

This post discusses the e-book: its pros and cons when compared with conventional paper books; and a few of the bigger issues associated with this fast growing medium.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dolmansaxlil/On the odd occasion many of us fantasise about writing “a book”. It might be to finally flesh out that great idea for a novel we have been mulling around for years; memoirs from our colourful past; or even to document some unique work-related insights and experiences that could increase our professional profile. Besides our claims of not having the time to dedicate to such as project, we are often at a loss on matters related to getting the book accepted by a publisher, and hopefully, commercially printed.

However, electronic books, also known as e-books, have become increasingly popular in recent years. E-book sales have been growing by up to three fold annually, whilst those for paper books have been steadily declining. Moreover, from around mid-2011, Amazon reported that e-books for its Kindle devices have been outselling all print books (hardcover and paperback) combined (Source: Reuters). Hence an publishing an e-book might be the best medium through which to finally be recognised as an author.

What are some of the pros and cons?

E-books offer some significant advantages over printed books, a few of which are summarised in Table 1. First, it is easier and cheaper to get an e-book published than a paper book. Although book publishers may agree to finance a book’s printing, unless you are a bankable writer, who has a track record of selling books, you are likely to pay considerable sums to get your manuscript printed.

Second, coupled with the high cost of printing, distribution of the paper publication can be riddled with challenges. Booksellers may not be keen to accept your book, and depending on the arrangement with your publisher, you might also be footing the bill for shipping and delivery.

Table 1: Select pros and cons of e-books and printed books (Source: ICT Pulse)

One the other hand, one of the distinct benefits of publishing an e-book, is that it can be relatively inexpensive to realise. They can also be published in a number of formats, including those listed below, and it even possible to prepare and publish your book at no cost:

  • EPUB –one of the most popular formats, which is supported by most e-readers, except Amazon Kindle
  • PDF – again supported by most e-readers, including Amazon Kindle
  • TXT – supported by some readers; notable exceptions are the Apple iPad and Barnes & Noble’s Nook
  • RTF – supported by some readers; but notable exceptions are the Apple iPad, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and Amazon Kindle
  • AZW – used by Amazon Kindle devices only.

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=503Although an e-book project might be relatively straightforward to implement, one of its deterrents has been the fact that a device is necessary to read the final product (the book). The electronic reader (e-reader) can be a software application on a PC or a device specifically designed for that purpose. However, with the drastic and sustained growth of the smartphone and tablet markets, there are a number of e-book reader applications readily available for free, which means most mobile device owners can read e-books with ease.

Additionally, with an e-book there is considerable flexibility and choice regarding sales and distribution. Popular online stores and platforms, such as Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble allow free publication and posting on their websites. Hence, authors are not limited to their own geographical areas; their e-books can be made available to the global market.

Finally, with such low production and distribution costs, and the ability avoid middlemen, for those who would like to sell their books, it is indeed possible to realise a profit. Moreover, for those who might be inclined to offer their e-books for free, in the hope of improved visibility (for example), they can manage their costs so that process is not prohibitive.

The wider context

Ultimately, the key benefits of e-books tend to outweigh those for print publications. As a result, everyone can be an author in their own right. More importantly, the barrier to entry to the publishing world has been lowered significantly, to the point where an e-book has become just another medium through which to share – similar to a blog, or other social media platform.

Finally, although there are several reports discussing the volume of electronic content that is being produced, there is still a need, particularly in developing countries to generate local (indigenous) content. As was noted in Is English becoming endangered online?, preparing Internet content can foster greater social inclusion and cultural protectionism. Moreover, in the Caribbean, where we are greatly influenced by media/entertainment from developed countries, especially the United States, e-books offers an affordable and accessible means through which we can, both individually can collectively, have a voice.

Hence publishing an e-book may not only fulfil long-held dreams about becoming a writer, it can also increase your profile in your field of expertise, and contribute to the growing body of global knowledge that its still developing.

Images courtesy of Sharon Drummond, flickr; Tina Phillips / FreeDigitalPhoto.net



  • This is less a reply than a sneaky advertisement. As a bookseller and editor and a wouldbe agent, I’ve found that though the things said here are generally true, and there is always somebody to argue pro and con, just getting your book online isn’t the entire solution. You still need ‘distribution’ of some sort, some way to mmake sure that your book gets to the top of the search pile and that people find out about it other than just by stumbling across it when they surf (do people still use that word)?

    But here is my real advertisement. Before your book gets on line, there is a huge amount of front end stuff to do? Have you checked it for quality, and readability, and just simply being worth reading? Here is where you need an editor and probably the one unchanging fact about editing is that you should never be your own editor.

    By editing i don’t simply mean proofreading for grammar, spelling and punctuation, as extremely important as though three things are. I am talking more about
    – are you really saying what you meant to say? And if you are, have you said it in a way that it means only that one thing you wanted to say, i.e., would a reader be asking, does he/she mean this or that?
    – Have you said it precisely? ‘Don’t use 7 words where 4 would do’ is still a very good rule.
    – Can the not very brightest people read your book? Your readers shouldn’t t have to be as smart as you to read your book. If they were, they probably wouldn’t need your book. And don’t take technical skill for the same thing as intelligence.
    – Are you saying lots of things like customers/men/women do whatever? Generalizations almost always need some qualifying, even if it is as simple as ‘the women I have asked all say…’ And there is quite a lot more.

    It is also common to think that you will write the book and then get the editor to clean it up. A really good editor can walk you through a lot of the potential mistakes before you even write them.

    What about an index? Would it help your readers? Did you think you could find software that would index it, zip zip? They have their limitations, just like spell check.

    In general, then, just as you would not launch a product without doing the diligence, don’t write your book without the front end work.

    • Andy, those are excellent points, but to varying degrees, they are a function of
      – how much the author is prepared to spend (upfront)
      – how much he/she is looking to charge for the final product, and
      – the extent to which it might be possible to recover those costs from the sales.

      For an untested writer, he/she might find that a publisher is hesitant to bear the editorial, production and even distribution costs (whatever those might be) until revenue is realised. However, for someone who is investing in his or her future by writing a book, or trying to make writing a career, it might still be worth it to secure some professional editorial and design assistance, even if in the end the ebook will be freely distributed.

  • Michelle, yes, I agree with this (which is frightening because when everybody starts agreeing it often means we’ve stopped thinking.) I would add only that these days even ‘good’ publishers are starting to ask you to pay to have your work edited; and, secondly, that self publishing is becoming more respectable these days, in which case there is no publisher to provide you with an editor. But we’re on the same page. It’s all part of the business decision you are making.

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