Tuesday, November 05, 2013

In Which I Get Brutally Honest and Try to Explain Formatting and Why It's Not Always Up to Me

This post was prompted by a reader email asking me when I was going to make all of my books available in paperback. I've been receiving variations of this question more and more frequently lately, so I thought I'd lay it all out there, and hopefully clear the air on what's available and how.

True Fact: Unless I self-publish something, the issue of format is not up to me

Format is the way in which the book is presented for sale. Format possibilities include: mass market paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, digital, and audio (plus a lot more that are way too expansive and make my eyes cross a little bit when looking at a contract).  But for the moment, these are the most popular formats.

For-sale format is, in the end, up to the publisher and what they contracted the book(s) for.  This means that Bantam picked the format for Dreg City, and Pocket Star picked the format for MetaWars.


The first four Dreg City books (Three Days to Dead, As Lie the Dead, Another Kind of Dead, Wrong Side of Dead) are all available in both digital and mass market format, through any major retailer. If you can't find the books on the shelves at your local bookstore, the bookstore can still order them.

It is no secret that book sales directly influence whether or not a publisher will contract an author for more books in a series (or if they will take a chance and buy a new series from the same author).  And while Three Days to Dead did and continues to sell well, interest in the rest of the series has....well, dwindled. A lot. Readers weren't finding books two, three, and four, for whatever reason, so Bantam chose to not issue a contract for more Dreg City books.

I chose to digitally self-publish the fifth book (Requiem for the Dead) so that the story could continue in some format. And yes, I am considering a paperback format through Createspace. Why haven't I done it yet? Because self-publishing costs money. I have invested not only my time, but also money into the cover, the ISBN, and formatting the book for various platforms (because Kindle does not take the same formatting as for Nook). File formatting is beyond my capabilities, so I had to pay someone else to do this for me, and it isn't cheap. I will have to pay someone to format for Createspace. And I honestly can't tell myself that the cost for creating a printable file will be recouped in sales.

I hate having to think like a publisher and worry about money, but when you self-publish that's what happens. I have to hope I sell enough copies to recoup my investment and maybe go have a steak dinner.


MetaWars is a little trickier.

Trance and Changeling were contracted together for mass market and digital release. But the sales were pretty terrible. I'm being honest here. Maybe superheroes simply don't translate to print as well as comics or movies. Maybe the books weren't marketed correctly and people wrote them off as more fluffy urban fantasy. I don't know. In terms of availability, I believe Trance is still available in both mass market and digital, but Changeling did not go back for a second printing, so those copies are dwindling.Changeling is available in trade format through a print-on-demand service, but once the mass market copies are sold out, that's done.

When it came time to submit a proposal for more books, Pocket chose to only offer to publish books three and four (Tempest, Chimera) in digital format. I accepted the offer because I love these characters, and I love their world, and I wasn't ready to say goodbye. Digital only is better than nothing at all. Did I know going into it that I would lose readers? Yes, and I'm sorry for that. But I was going to lose readers no matter what.

Again, it's all about sales. Publishing is a business, and despite good reviews across the board, my books aren't selling well. When that happens, publishers go to a simpler format, or they don't offer another contract. Sometimes with digital first imprints, a book may be offered in print at a later date if the digital sales are good. This type of contract is happening more and more frequently for mid-list authors, as evidenced by a recent Publisher's Weekly article. This is the type of contract offer I received for my most recent submission to New York publishers (which I will talk about more when I am able). It's an interesting shift that reflects our changing times, when ereaders and smartphones are taking over our lives and our society.

I often have folks tell me they don't own a Kindle, or another e-reading device. The good news is that even if you don't have an e-reader, there are lots of free apps that allow you to read digital books on a smart phone, tablet, and even on your personal computer. For a long time, I read digital-only books on my laptop, because being able to read those stories was more important to me than having a paper book in my hands (then I finally saved up and indulged in a very basic Nook).  There are ways to read digital books without buying an e-reader.

Digital is simply another format, much like hardcover or trade paperback. And digital is not going away. For some writers, it's becoming our lifeblood and our only source of income. Do I wish I could make all of my readers happy and give them the format they want? You bet your ass, I do. Can I? No. I don't wield that kind of power.

The only real power I have is to craft the most entertaining stories that I can possibly tell, and then do my best to get them into the marketplace.

After that, it's out of my hands.


Lisa Spangenberg said...


This is completely negotiable, Your agent should be able to help, but many publishers assume authors prefer hardcover exclusives because of the higher royalty rate.

Ask, via your agent. Report/copy the requests from readers. Moving from hardcover or trade paperback to mass market is likely the easiest shift for a publisher to make.

So ask.

Kell Andrews said...

Great post, Kelly. Thank you for letting us see the decisions and tradeoffs to keep your characters alive and get your stories to readers. It's a tough business and getting tougher.

Carla Krae said...

Good for you for sticking with your characters. About formatting, I'd suggest only sticking money in an Epub version. It's very easy to make a clean HTML file to upload to Amazon. As for CreateSpace, their templates are actually really easy to use. The trick is to paste your clean file onto their formatted template file and presto - a file you can easily tweak that meets their standards. Stick to investing in your cover art to be at the same standard as your previous books in the series. As a self-publisher for 4 years, I can assure you that it's only as expensive as you want to make it. Good luck!

Jennifer @ The Book Nympho said...

I don't care what format your books come in as long as they keep coming!!