Publishing Your Own ebook
Curious about ebook writing? ELLEN WHYTE chronicles the decision-making process that convinced her to take the plunge and publish a romance ebook
I STARTED WRITING full-time back in 1996 because I fell in love. As we planned to travel, we decided that one of us should follow the formal career path and the other would take on an occupation that would stand being uprooted at regular intervals. He is the academic; I decided to try freelance writing.
We moved to Sarawak and I started with some tiny test pieces for the local paper. Then I took the plunge and decided to branch out. I approached Lim Chong at the Computimes with a series of six articles. He took the lot and asked me to write more. Under various pen names, I wrote about 1,000 education articles on information technology (IT) and I got four books out of it too.
When the IT market started to cool, I ventured into science and feature writing for children. I approached newspapers overseas and got 47 rejections and three new clients. I also moved into telling other people’s stories for women’s magazines like Women’s Weekly and Her World. But it wasn’t enough. I craved to write fiction.
Plunge Into Fiction
My modus operandi is to test small, then go big. I started with some short stories. Beware the Knight and Pearl Takes a Chance were snapped up by the Malaysian Women´s Weekly and Singapore Women’s Weekly for their 5-Minute Fiction series. Deciding to move on, but unable to make up my mind about two storylines that appealed, I wrote two romance novels: Blackmail Bride and Wildcat in Moscow. It took me about a year, as I had to sandwich it in between other work.
I was cheered when Jilly Cooper’s agent liked my letter and asked for the first three chapters. I was delighted when she asked to read the rest, but I came down to earth with a thud when she said no thanks but call us when you write more.
Of the 50 or so other agents, about 45 have ignored me, and five have told me they’d like to talk to me—when I move to their country. And sadly that has been the bottom line ever since.
It drives me nuts that I can’t get into mainstream romance publishing in the United Kingdom or North America because I know that my work is up to standard. Worse, some of the stuff on sale is so incredibly lacking in character and plot that I wonder how on earth these stories ever got into print.
Writing is a hugely personal affair, which makes submitting work to editors and publishers a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you happen to be shy. Luckily I am very confident, arrogant my friends tell me happily and often, so I’m not too down when my work is rejected. I just bounce back and move on.
I soon realised that writing two full-length novels had made me more confident about tackling big jobs. So I decided to write a new book, a detective story with a strong romantic line, set in Malaysia. I have outlined it and the book will be ready by the end of February. It’s got black magic, cunning murders, sultry sunsets, and lots of heavy breathing so I’m hoping it will be a huge hit.
I was planning to start hawking the new book around to the agents, and holding Blackmail Bride and Wildcat in Moscow in reserve for later. However, in October I got an intriguing email.
Into Ventures New
Gemma Thomas, founder of a new company Ink-Slinger.com, wrote to me to ask if I’d consider putting my two books, Katz Tales: Living under the Velvet Paw and Logomania: Where Phrases Come From and How to Use Them, into ebook format and selling them via her ebook portal.
My first impulse was to say thanks but no thanks. Then I hesitated.
In the US and UK, high street bookshops are now slowly losing out to online book portals. Part of this is because Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the like demand huge discounts from publishers, and then undercut traditional bookshops. Supermarkets are now doing the same. Plus, in 2009, ebooks outsold hardbacks at Amazon.
At the moment, the ebook business is still in its infancy. However, it has huge potential.
I was also intrigued because I had two books that were just sitting there eating grass. Putting one out there would give me an introduction to the business of e-publishing, get me some feedback from readers, and maybe also help me build a base for future publications. If I got lucky, I might even make some money!
From talking to friends in the US who were excited about e-publishing after the Kindle sales last year, I was aware that some ebook publishers were vanity publishers in disguise.
In my mind the distinction between a real publisher and a vanity publisher is very clear. When the serious publisher takes on your book, it’s a partnership. You provide the book and they do the editing, artwork, paperwork, promotion, and use their distribution network or a subcontractor to get the book out in the shops. They collect the money and at the end of the year the author gets a share.
The vanity publisher is a printer. The ebook variety charges a fee of RM1,000 or more to convert your text, and put it up on their portal, and then take a percentage off the top too. They make their money up front, whether your book sells or not. Vanity publishing is not my scene. Ink-Slinger, however, sounded okay. They do the converting and the hosting for free, process sales, and pay 70 per cent royalties. They also help push the book, but Gemma was up front about depending on authors pushing their work too.
I decided to take the plunge and offered Gemma Blackmail Bride. As Ink-Slinger applied for an ISBN, the only thing they charge is a fee of £5 or RM25, I was plunged into a frenzy of preparation.
Emanar Alyana, mixed media artist extraordinaire, designed the front cover in return for future favours as yet unspecified. As 10 per cent of all my books go to Friends Furry Farm, a no-kill animal shelter in Selangor, I contacted the cat blogging community and asked them to help publicise it. I wrote press releases and made lists of all the people to write to once Blackmail Bride was up for sale.
Then I called my mum to tell her I’d be using her name because Normanda Whyte sounds so much more romantic than Ellen Whyte. She said she should have thought of that when she named me.
Five days after Blackmail Bride was launched, more than 10 people have featured it on their blogs, and others have tweeted and clicked the Share button on Facebook for me. I was totally overwhelmed when the Zoolatry cat secretary gifted us with a special logo featuring my cats Au and Target as advocates for the book.
Gemma tells me that in that time Blackmail Bride has had 182 page hits (I think 175 of those are mine!) and four sales. More encouragingly, there have been 90 or so sample downloads of the first chapter.
In addition, it makes a nice gift. Blackmail Bride retails at RM7.50 and as buying a copy for a friend is easy, quick and doesn’t involve postage, I’m hoping there will be a lot of last-minute sales from people who forgot to buy something for cousin X or those who feel it’s too expensive to post something to pals currently overseas.
I’m very cautious by nature but Gemma is optimistic. “In 2010 ebook sales were roughly trebble hardback sales. With the sale of electronic readers forecast to double in 2011, I expect the growth in ebooks to rocket, with the margin between paperbacks and ebooks further narrowing, and to become level with paperbacks in the next three to five years.”
I hope she’s right, and that Blackmail Bride will be one of the world’s first ebook romance best-sellers. Once the market matures, I should be able to write four books a year. I’ve got plenty of ideas, and I’m dying to get started.