Editor’s note: I received an essay by e-mail from Steve Jordan, author and TeleRead contributor, who, by the way, will be posting it eventually in a different form on his Web site. Thanks, Steve! – Paul Biba.
I’ve just released my latest novel, The Lens, into the wild as an e-book, making my count of self-published novels an even dozen.
And as I have on previous occasions, I find myself asking, “Do I feel that all the work I put in—all the trouble of creating a story, preparing it for availability, putting it online, monitoring and crossing my fingers—was worth it?
Different authors have different answers to that question, because it depends on a lot of personal factors: How much of the work of e-book preparation do you have to do? Do you have others employed (or contracted) to do that for you? Do you have a publisher or contract to go through? Do the positive aspects of e-books outweigh the negatives? Are you skilled in the areas that require your extra input? Or do you simply not want to bother? And finally, do you get any satisfaction (emotional, financial, or otherwise) from the whole thing?
Many authors wouldn’t even consider the process I go through to produce a single novel… in fact, some may consider everything other than the actual writing as “beneath them.” Others simply consider it to be unworthy of their time. Maybe the difference comes in my point of view: I do not imagine myself as an artist who does one thing extraordinarily, and leaves others to fill in the gaps; rather, I consider myself a craftsman with a wide skill-set, and I apply all of my skills to the task of creating credible and professional material on my own.
In my case, that means that I am the sole producer of every aspect of my novels, from the text (obviously), to the cover, the marketing (the selling Web site, and entries in various Web sites and forums), copyright arrangements, the conversion process, decisions about product (pricing, formats and DRM), PayPal accounts, payment scripts, and the maintenance of the whole kit and caboodle. As you can imagine, after I finish a novel, I still have a lot of work to do, every bit of which must be done by me, or the novel isn’t going out at all.
Fortunately, I’ve worn a number of hats over the years, two of which include computer graphics and web production. The former has allowed me to create some reasonable novel art over the years, drawing mostly from stock art and my experience with Photoshop. The latter has allowed me to design and create my Web site, SteveJordanBooks.com, and to update it as new novels were introduced. And I understood enough about programming to be able to set up a payment script from a third party that works through my PayPal account to automatically e-mail the buyer with a link to their purchase. It’s a pretty involved multi-stage process, but I get a personal sense of satisfaction when it all works properly. (Hey, it beats maintaining a constant monitor on the account e-mail, and manually pushing people their books as the orders come in… which is exactly what I had to do before I set up the automatic system!)
One hat I have never worn in the past is that of marketer. As I am not affiliated with a publisher or agent, I have to do all of the work of promoting my books on my own. So far, I haven’t had a large budget available for marketing, something I hope to change in the future. But in the meantime, it means spending time on Web sites and forums, keeping my name circulating, drumming up interest in my novels, and leaving links to the SJB bouncing around cyberspace for people to find. So far, it’s been a lot of work for a small about of return… but without it, there would be no return at all, so it must be done.
In the current e-publishing atmosphere, creating e-books also means creating multiple formats, for the satisfaction of the maximum of customers. In my case, that means six e-book formats—ePub, Mobipocket, eReader, Sony LRF, MS Reader and RTF—plus tagged PDF, which I still create (because it’s easy) but no longer sell, because… well, no one ever bought a single book in that format! Some of these formats are relatively easy to produce, thanks to software created for the purpose. But most of them require some manual work to get just right, and some of them require extensive manual work. For six formats, I generally end up working the balance of a full day—not an office-type 8 hours, mind you, but a 12- to 14-hour day—to get it all done.
Once all of this is done, I can finally upload everything, do a quick Web site once-over and purchase-test, and finally allow myself to collapse somewhere and hope for the best! It’s out there, and it will sink or swim on its own. At this point, I’m faced with the downside to my situation: Making my novels instantly available from my website means that I get instant responses, in the form of customer e-mails, if (when) anything is wrong. This can be caused by anything from a problem with the website or the purchase script (usually my fault, caused by incorrectly editing or uploading the revised script), to typos in the manuscript itself (uber-embarrassing, especially as I often, and foolishly, do the editing myself).
The good news, however, is that we’re talking about electronic documents: Their greatest power comes from the fact that I can make edits, create a new document, and re-release it instantly (in concept… in my case, it may take me a day or so from start to finish to do the checking and all that conversion jazz). So my anxious, helpful customers can see a corrected novel in mere days… instead of waiting years, or maybe never, for a revised printed edition. My product has the potential for being better, and getting better faster, than printed materials.
And there’s the other positive note there: The fact that I am not actively contributing to the growing pile of waste upon our planet. Working with electronic files means that I am not consuming paper or shipping bulk products, thereby considerably reducing the carbon footprint of my efforts. When I re-release a book, I don’t lose any sleep over older versions of my books being thrown into a landfill to rot over a few decades (or more). As someone who is concerned about the condition of the planet, I get a lot of satisfaction from knowing I am not unduly contributing to waste and environmental damage.
And finally, the bottom line—actually, two lines. One of them is profit. Just like the Little Red Hen of fairy tales, if I prepare everything myself, that means I get all the bread, not just a cut doled out by my publisher. Sure, I may have run up some production costs… say, if I had bought copy written art for my cover, or paid for advertising. But es
sentially, the profit is all mine.
And the other bottom line, hinted at earlier, comes from those customer e-mails. The e-mails, combined with the actual sales, confirm that my efforts at marketing myself and my books are actually reaching someone (and occasionally they even tell me something about the people I am not reaching). Either way, it always warms my heart when I get an e-mail, or see a message in a forum, directed right at me instead of some anonymous comment box, that tells me how much someone enjoyed my writing and looks forward to the next novel I write… I never get my fill of that!
The intimacy of doing my own writing, producing, marketing and selling—without the help, hindrance, guidance or interference of anyone else—creates a sense of accomplishment that makes up for the relatively modest sales numbers I generate. I feel a closer kinship to my work, and to the customers who buy my work… I feel I am within the market, interacting in real time, not poking at anonymous wallets from outside of it.
So, when the question comes up: Was it all worth it? The answer, for me, is: Does an e-book fit through a wire? (My personal version of “Does a bear s**t in the woods?”) Hell, yes, it’s worth it! I’ll do it again, too! Just you watch.