E-publishing is short for electronic publishing, referring to a type of publishing that does not include printed books. Instead, it takes the format of works published online, on a compact disk, emailed, or provided in a file format compatible with handheld electronic readers. This is an alternate form of publication especially attractive to new writers, and it has both advantages and disadvantages over traditional printed books.
Some of the advantages of e-publishing include the following:
- Negligible investment by the publisher translates to a greater willingness to take on untried writers and non-traditional characters, story lines, and manuscript lengths.
- Faster publishing time for accepted manuscripts. Rather than waiting up to two years for a manuscript to see print, this method generally publishes work within a few weeks to a few months after acceptance.
- Greater flexibility within the writer/publisher relationship. E-publishing affords more say to writers in preparing works for publication. A paper publisher might ask a writer to change a character, plot line, or other features of a story to make it more marketable. An e-publisher might also make suggestions, but the writer will generally have more say. The writer might also be instrumental in providing graphics for the work, such as an electronic jacket.
- Writers have the ability to update the text often and easily at virtually no cost. This is particularly handy for works related to fast-moving industries, such as computer technology. Since the publisher does not have an investment in printed books already lining shelves, text can be electronically updated in seconds.
- E-publishing offers greater longevity for works with slower sales. While paper publishers will remove slow movers from active status (print), electronic storage affords unlimited archiving. This gives new writers time to build a following by having their entire catalog available over extended periods of time.
- Works published electronically have an ISBN number, just like printed books. This means anyone can walk into a storefront bookstore and order an electronic copy of the book.
- Writers often get a higher percentage of royalties through this method because the initial financial layout for the publisher is so much less than for a paper publisher. Some writers receive as much as 70% of the profits in royalties.
- With e-publishing, writers normally retain all other rights to the work, such as the option to go to a paper publisher later, adapt a screenplay, or use the work in some other capacity. Paper publishers, on the other hand, tend to covet as many rights as possible from the writer in the initial boilerplate contract.
If this all sounds a little too rosy, this form of publishing does have a number of disadvantages:
- Electronic works generally sell far fewer copies than paper books. Many people aren’t aware of e-publishing and others prefer reading a book from print rather than electronically. Good sales, according to one e-publisher, amount to 500 copies for a successful manuscript.
- Writers are typically responsible for providing their own ongoing marketing for e-published work. A book might be great, but if nobody knows about it, it won’t sell. Authors also can’t count on the public seeing their books on shelves or in store windows.
- E-published works do not always carry the same weight as traditional paper publishers. The sense is that the bar is somehow lower for these works than for printed works. This may change with time, however, as the industry becomes more established.
- Writers do not receive an advance. This is not just a financial disadvantage, but might disqualify e-published authors from participating in certain organizations where membership requirements include works paid by advance. That said, sales royalties are often paid more frequently by e-publishers, such as quarterly rather than annually.
- Piracy is another concern in the industry. It is a fairly simple thing, technically speaking, for a recipient of an e-work to edit the file, make several copies, and sell the work out from under the nose of the e-publisher and author. Some e-publishers counter that the relatively small market for e-works provides little impetus for this.
- Prices are not always significantly cheaper for e-works, despite the lower overhead. This might be a deterrent to sales.
Despite the disadvantages, e-publishing can be a good way for a new writer to gain a following. Romance, science fiction, murder mystery, and fantasy are all popular electronic genres. It is also ideal for How-To books that must be updated frequently. Businesses can also save money on employee manuals and training materials by providing them electronically. An added advantage here is that works can be clickable — the table of contents and indexes can all make navigating through technical e-books a breeze.