Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why I'm not publishing books on paper

A guest reblog from bestselling thriller author Mike Wells

I had to make sure my readers had the benefit of Mike Wells' excellent essay on digital publishing.
At present, I only publish my work in digital format—ebooks and audiobooks. Since many of you are also authors or seriously thinking of writing a book, I thought I would explain my reasoning on this, as it might be helpful to you in making your own decisions.

The main reason that I'm a digital-only author is that if I publish my books on paper, I can't get them onto the shelves of physical bookstores.  It's virtually impossible.  Why?  Because I'm an "indie author," meaning that I self-publish my work outside of the realm of the traditional publishing industry.  Like  it or not, traditional publishing largely controls what's on the shelves of brick-and-mortar bookstores.  (Self-publishing my own work is a personal choice—for more about traditional versus self-publishing, see this post).

Also, I am an internationally-oriented author, and I have a large number of readers all over the world—in Australia, the UK, Europe, South Africa, Malaysia, Russia, India, the Middle East, etc.  This compounds the distirbution problem tenfold. Even the biggest U.S. publishers have trouble getting their titles onto the bookstore shelves in every corner of the globe. 

Thanks to digital retailer/distributors like Smashwords, ebooks provide an instant and elegant solution to the problem.  It's a great feeling to know that any reader, virtually anywhere in the world, has equal access to all my books at the touch of a button.

That said, I admit that it sometimes bothers me that I can't pick up a paper copy of my book and hold it in my hands, and that I can't send readers who want my books in paper format to a physical bookstore.  Some people enjoy collecting paper books and building a home library, and I can certainly appreciate that as well. 

While it's true that I could arrange to publish all of my 20+ titles on paper through a company like Lulu or Createspace, this does not fully solve the problem, neither in the USA or abroad.  Readers will still have to order the books online or through their local bookstores—copies will still not actually be sitting on bookstore shelves. 

My experience is that people who want paper books generally expect to walk into a physical bookstore, find the books they want on the shelves, and then take the books the cash register and pay for them.  Having to order and wait for a paper book is a "speed bump" that greatly lowers interest.  Today, most readers, when given the choice of ordering a physical book and waiting a week or two for it to arrive, or downloading the book instantly, in ebook or audiobook format, choose the latter.  Not all, but most.

Despite how easy companies like Lulu and Createspace make it sound, publishing on paper is still a lot of work and takes significant time.  I only have so many hours in the day.  When I ask readers, "Which would you rather I do—produce more new ebooks and audiobooks or slow down and offer everything I write in both digital and paper format?" the answer is always a resounding "More new books please!"  The vast majority of my readers are willing to read or listen to my books in digital format, even the ones who prefer paper.

Of course, there are some people who refuse to read anything but paper books.  I admire their tenacity, but I have to draw the line somewhere.  I believe that there will always be paper books, but I also believe that the number of people who refuse to read anything except paper books will steadily diminish, so that eventually I will reach 99% of the folks who are interested in my work.

But there is another larger, overarching factor in my decision to stay digital.  I struggled for fifteen years in the paper book industry—burned through four literary agents—and made very little progress.  It was the advent of ebooks and digital publishing that allowed me to take full control of my career and caused my book sales to take off.  While I'm sure it would be a wonderful feeling to hold all my novels in my hands and see them lined up in a neat row along my desk, I'm confident that the feeling I have from making a living as a novelist and being able to write full time is far more satisfying.

Perhaps things will change in the future and I will decide to publish on paper.  For example, maybe someday there will be a printing and binding machine sitting in every physical bookstore that can produce a high-quality paper copy of any ebook in a matter of minutes.  There have been attempts at this, but nothing has caught on big yet.  Or, maybe a traditional publisher will come along and offer to print my books as they are, without insisting on fiddling around with the titles and content, and they won't have a problem with me continuing to publish my ebooks and audiobooks independently.  Who knows? 

Never say never.

In summary, that's the logic behind my decision to keep my books in digital format only for the present, and it may or may not apply to your own situation.

Your comments are welcome. 

This post originally appeared on May 1, on Mike Wells Official Website.

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