Photo of an e-reader featuring a picture of pencils
Take your book online
1 April 2012
Writers Victoria

Through epublishing, a digital book can be read worldwide without the cost of printing or distribution. They are becoming more popular every day but the market is new and for many writers it can be confusing.

Ebooks are made by taking a manuscript and converting it into a format that can be read on an ereader. Publishing houses will sometimes publish ebooks that can be read on many different devices (PDFs and .epub files), but more often they’ll be restricted to a single ereader (.mobi files).

A writer can also self-publish their ebook by converting it themselves using free online software (see helpful reading). The ebooks are then sold online at sites such as Amazon and the Apple iBookstore.

There are exciting new experiences for readers of eBooks as the form means that they can be enhanced with multimedia films and 9-hour-long soundtracks; translated into different languages; have the size and font changed; plus they’re also weightless.

Digital Rights Management

The temptation for most new writers is to go to one of the major epublishing houses – Amazon, Apple iBookstore, Google eBooks – and use their software to convert a Word document into the digital format that particular house prefers. The issue here is Digital Rights Management (DRM). Most of the big publishers have deals in place so that an Amazon ebook can only be read on a Kindle using the Amazon-owned .mobi format. DRM is used to protect writers from piracy, but it also has the effect of encouraging readers to buy from a single source and read on a single device. Writers who publish with DRM are therefore limiting their readership.

Advantages for the writer and publisher

Some advantages of epublishing may include:

  • Royalty rates for ebooks can be anywhere between 24 per cent and 80 per cent; significantly more than the 8 per cent of traditional publishing.
  • Potentially, ebooks can reach more readers because they are available for online purchase anywhere, at any time.
  • Unlike traditional book, ebooks can be for sale indefinitely. Online books are never ‘out of print’ as they don’t have to fight for shelf space.
  • Publishers can sell ebooks to readers internationally without printing or shipping fees. This helps the publisher pass profits on to the writer.

Challenges with ebooks

While it may seem like ebooks represent an amazing opportunity, the reality is that epublishing in Australia is a very challenging industry. International trends indicate that the market is growing, but Australian writers should be cautious before jumping on the bandwagon.

Things to be careful of include:

  • Most of the epublishing retailers are based overseas, particularly in the US. This means that you will probably never meet your epublishers in person and will be negotiating book rights via email.
  • Many readers are turned off ebooks due to all the poorly edited books that flood the marketplace. You’ll be compared to and competing with this kind of writing.
  • You will have to promote your ebooks, aggressively and creatively. Promotion and epublishing go hand-in-hand and if you are squeamish about pushing your book you may need to consider traditional publisher instead.
  • Success stories in ebooks are often the exception to the rule. Only a few Australian epublishers have made their money back in the last year, much less Australian ebook writers.

Success stories

In August 2012 Christopher Ruz quit his day job to write ebooks full-time (see The Victorian Writer Jan–Feb 2013; a copy of this issue can be found in our library).He now has eighteen books published on Amazon.

Matt Mason has made a career out of a book that he offered for free online. The Pirate’s Dilemma – which first sold on Amazon for a price of the customer’s choosing – has now been published in ten countries and counting.

A strong approach to epublishing

Before you commit to epublishing, consider the following:

  • Produce writing with a clear online market. Tailor the cover and content specifically for a reader of ebooks.
  • Get published in a variety of places, with as many DRM-free publishers as possible. Offer a print-on-demand service for all your ebooks.
  • Promote your work, online and in person, with links to all your other works.
  • Be proactive about maintaining your sales. Tweak prices according to demand. Connect with readers via social media.

Helpful reading