Pottermore or Less?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Last week bestselling author JK Rowling unveiled plans for a new e-bookstore and fan focused website called Pottermore. The Guardian book blog called the move pure ‘marketing genius‘ while others expressed disappointment that the webpage didn’t live up to all the anticipation and hype (so far you can only register interest, full details aren’t available on the website as yet).

The current description is that Pottermore will provide a ‘free website that builds an exciting online experience around the reading of the Harry Potter books’. Exactly what that will entail isn’t certain – although what is certain is that JK Rowling was very savvy when it came to withholding digital rights to the Harry Potter books until now. With the Pottermore website, Rowling has sidestepped all the middlemen to maintain control over content, pricing and distribution for all her Harry Potter e-books. Pretty impressive.

Wired Magazine hailed the move as book publishing’s ‘Radiohead moment’ (in reference to their self-released album) pointing out that JK Rowling is the most significant author yet to turn her back on the established publishing houses when it comes to digital books (although she is maintaining links to her traditional publishers Scholastic or Boomsbury). She has even come up with a digital watermarking system that links the identity of the purchaser to the copy of the e-book, and as her books are apparently going to be available in a compatible form for all e-reader platforms, the books aren’t tied to any particular e-reader device.

Although Rowling called her move a ‘way to give back to the fans’ clearly she stands to make a great deal more money going it alone that she would if she were merely receiving royalties for e-books from her publisher. I also think she will be able to cleverly direct fans to additional interactive content that will no doubt expand her readership as well as entice those who already own her books to purchase e-book copies as well.

All in all, I feel this may well be a watershed moment – one that a number of bestselling authors (and lesser mortals) will be watching carefully. What do you think? Could this be the final ‘aha’ moment for the publishing world?

E-Pub versus Indie Pub

My last topic here was on The Self-Pub Adventure. Here are my conclusions so far.

For three backlist titles in my futuristic romance Light-Years Trilogy (Circle of Light, Moonlight Rhapsody, Starlight Child), I went with Belgrave House to convert my books into digital formats. For no costs up front on my side, I had them scan the printed book, send me the file for proofreading, got a decent but simple cover, digital conversions, and all the titles uploaded to numerous e-book sites. My titles are priced at $5.00 each and I split the profits 50% with the e-publisher. They only accept works by previously published authors who have reversion of rights.

For my last remaining backlist title, I’d decided to try the indie route. One look at the Smashwords Style Guide, however, and I changed my mind. I would probably screw up my Word program forever if I followed their directions. Better I should hire someone to do the conversions than spend hours figuring this out. But once the file is ready, I’ll still have to upload it, as well as do all the marketing. 

With a cover and a conversion, this is likely to cost me up to $300…unless I stick to paying for the cover alone and uploading my doc file just to Kindle. I’ve hired a cover artist and for $125, she’ll make me a custom cover. I wanted one that’s competitive with the paperbacks out there. 

Let’s say I pay for conversions as well as a cover. If my indie published backlist book does well and I make this money back, it would be worth going the indie route again for original works. But if not, I would rather submit to a legit e-book publisher than go it alone. I’d have to give up a certain percentage of my royalties, but I need the services they’d provide. Indie authors make everything sound easy and profitable. But for how many, or how few, is that true? 

The Wild Rose Press gave me a beautiful cover for Silver Serenade, editorial assistance, digital conversions, and publicity opportunities. I get a 35% royalty for books bought at their site, where my title costs $7.00. On my own, I could be making double that amount on Amazon and control my own sale price. Yet their price point is somewhat understandable considering they have to pay cover artists, editorial, etc. as part of their publishing costs. But they also have no overhead in terms of office space, warehousing, etc. And readers want to pay $5.00 or less for an e-book.

It’s a very tough choice to make, whether to step off the gangplank on our own or swim the calm waters of having a publisher do all the work for us. You have to know what you’re taking on. But my adventure isn’t over yet. Once I get my new cover, I’ll see how it goes with uploading the file for this backlist title myself.

Here’s a great discussion on some of these topics: http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/pod/

And if you’re in Florida—or not—you may want to attend this important publishing industry event: http://www.ninc.com/conferences/2011/panels.asp