Transcripts

"Electronic Book Publishing" with Sydell Voeller

Thursday, February 8, 2001

Moderator is Kristi Holl, web editor for this site and author of 24 books and over 150 articles for both children and adults. Kristi also taught writing for 15 years.

Sydell is Sydell Voeller, who has published both traditional and electronic novels in both the young adult romance and women's fiction genres. Her three most recent electronic books are The Fisherman's Daughter, a romantic suspense novel, Sandcastles of Love, a teen romance, and Skateboard Blues, also a teen romance.

Names color coded in blue are viewers who had questions.

Interviews are held on Thursday nights, 9-11 p.m. Atlantic/Canada, 8-10 p.m. Eastern, 7-9 Central, 6-8 Mountain, and 5-7 Pacific

Moderator: Good evening! Welcome to the Professional Connection Room tonight where we have with us Sydell Voeller to talk about "Electronic Book Publishing." It's something we're all hearing a lot about lately. Is it right for you? Tonight we'll find out! I'm Kristi Holl, your moderator and the web editor for this site. I'd like to now welcome Sydell Voeller!

Sydell: Thanks, Kristi, and hi, everyone. It's great to be here.

Moderator: How did you get started writing, Sydell?

Sydell: I started writing about 15 years ago after I read an article in The Writer about how to write teen romances. I'd kept a detailed journal during high school, and I figured it'd serve as a great resource.

Moderator: Did you work with traditional publishers first?

Sydell: Yes, I did. My first publisher was the YA line of Silhouette, Crosswinds.

Moderator: Since you've already been published with traditional book publishers, what made you decide to pursue electronic publishing?

Sydell: I wanted to increase my opportunities in publishing. Also, the manuscript I'd been submitting to traditional publishers at that time just didn't fit the marketing "formulas". They were looking for "babies, brides, and cowboys." My romance contained none of those.

Moderator: Can you give us a few titles of your e-published books available?

Sydell: My first adult romance is The Fisherman's Daughter with Hard Shell Word Factory. I've also sold two YA romances, Sandcastles of Love and Skateboard Blues.

Katonah: How to you find the names of e-publishers?

Sydell: There are many writing Web sites that list them. I'd suggest putting a search out on the net in order to track some sites down.

JaciRae: How do you do that?

Sydell: Just go to your favorite search engine and type in electronic book publishers. There's also a great Web site for folks interested in e-publishing at www.eclectics.com/epic/index.html There are several e-pubs listed there.

Moderator: Okay, now for the nitty gritty! Can I expect to make any money in e-publishing?

Sydell: No one is getting rich yet! Actually most e-authors make 2-3 figure incomes. We're paid royalties on a quarterly basis, but the money isn't enough to convince you it's time to quit your day job.

Moderator: How long does it normally take to hear back from an editor after you've submitted a manuscript to an electronic publisher?

Sydell: A couple of years ago, when I first started submitting, I'd usually hear back in 3-5 months. Now that e-pubbing is catching on, it's taking quite a bit longer, sometimes up to one full year (just like with the traditional publishers).

Moderator: How would I submit a manuscript? By paper or electronically?

Sydell: I've done it both ways. For my first submission to Hard Shell, I sent my ms. as an E-mail attachment. I also sent a hard copy back-up, because there'd been some problems with formatting conversions.

MBVoelker: Is e-publishing just for novels or are there short story markets too?

Sydell: Yes, there are also short story markets, but I've never worked with any.

Katonah: I just got my first acceptance from an e-mail publisher for CD's; is this a good venue?

Sydell: Yes, I would think so. I know that many children's e-pubs are going the CD route.

Katonah: Yes, they promote their new interactive program story-based CD as teacher aids in schools.

wendymh: Please explain about the use of CD's in the children's book publishing market. This is new to me.

Sydell: I'm not too familiar with the CD's because all my books so far have come out in disk form or as a direct download. I recently judged a contest for e-books, though, and the CD's for the children's books were delightful. Many were interactive.

wendymh: Are they like audio books on tape?

Sydell: Not really. There was no audio capacity with the CD's I read, at least.

Moderator: Does your publisher help promote your books or are you entirely alone in this?

Sydell: Hard Shell always sends out 6 advanced review copies to Web sites that review e-books. My second e-publisher, New Concepts Publishing, ran a "special" on my book, which helped with sales. I also do a lot of my own promotional work.

Moderator: I've heard that e-publishers will take just about anything sent to them. Is this true?

Sydell: No! Especially if you're submitting to a royalty-paying e-pub (nonsubsidy). For Hard Shell, they usually accept about 5 or 6 books each month from the approx. 150 they receive.

Moderator: What, in your opinion, are some of the major advantages of working with an electronic publisher?

Sydell: First, e-pubs pay higher royalties than traditional publishers, usually about 15-70%. Secondly, as I said earlier, e-pubs will take books that don't necessarily fit tight formulas or marketing trends. Also, because my contracts usually run for about a year, I have a much longer "shelf life" than I would with traditional paperback markets.

JaciRae: What do you mean that your contracts run for a year?

Sydell: I sell my electronic rights to the publisher for only one year. At the end of that time, I'm either free to renew the contract for an additional year or pull it. If I pull it, my e-rights are reverted to me and I'm free to sell the e-rights (and any others, of course) to other publishers.

Moderator: Are there specific things to be aware of when looking for a good e-publisher?

Sydell: Yes, several. First, make sure they don't require any up front fees. (There are subsidy e-pubs out there, so you have to do your research. Secondly most reputable e-pubs have sample contracts on their Web sites, so be sure to take a good look at them. Speaking of Web sites, that's another way to evaluate a potential e-pub. Is their site professional appearing? Another way to check out possibilities is to look at e-book reviews. Which pubs are getting the highest ratings? Finally, one of the best ways is to check with other authors who have already signed contracts with e-pubs.

wendymh: Is there a market in e-publishing for nonfiction of all kinds and science articles in particular?

Sydell: Yes, many book e-publishers publish nonfiction. Most run a variety of books. There's also room for good science books, and I would imagine articles too (for the article e-pub market).

Katonah: Do you see e-publishing as the "wave of the future"?

Sydell: Definitely. The acceleration of news stories about e-pubs is making it difficult to keep up with the news. E-books are becoming a global phenomenon.

Moderator: Once you've sold a manuscript to an electronic publisher, how long does it normally take until it is published?

Sydell: That can vary, depending which publisher you're working with. In my experience, it usually takes 6-8 months.

MBVoelker: How does a reader actually get his or her hands (eyes?) on an e-published book?

Sydell: The best way to get an e-published book is to log onto the publisher's Web site. There you can order a direct download or a disk. Also, most of the major online bookstores sell e-books. I understand that Barnes & Noble is even starting their own e-publishing business.

Mom of 3: At www.amazon.com/microsoftreader you can download an e-reading device and around 30 different e-books for free.

Moderator: Thank you! Sydell, you've already talked about sending out advanced review copies to help showcase your book. What other things do you do in the way of promotion?

Sydell: Having a good Web site is one of the most important selling tools. I make a point to include graphics showing my book covers, list reviews and sample chapters. I also post announcements about my books to various Web sites that feature books and/or e-pubbing. And I send out flyers, post cards, and "refrigerator magnets" (with the cover graphics) to conferences all over the nation. I've also given talks at bookstores and community groups about e-pubbing.

JaciRae: Do you have to get permission to post sample chapters if the book is contracted to the publisher?

Sydell: All my contracts with Hard Shell and New Concepts already make provisions to use the first sample chapter (no more) as promo material.

wendymh: Please share with us your Web site.

Sydell: www.sydellvoeller.romance-central.com

Moderator: Are there always specified time limits on your contracts with electronic pubs? (You mentioned one year earlier.)

Sydell: Yes, there should be. That would be one point you'd want to pay close attention to if and when you're offered a contract with an e-publisher. You wouldn't want the time period to be open ended. Of course, it's always nice, too, to have the option to extend the contract for another year, if you want to.

Moderator: How would I go about ordering an electronic book? This is all so new to everyone. Do you use your credit card like with amazon.com or snail mail an order?

Sydell: You can do it both ways. If you're ordering off the publisher's Web site you can supply your credit card info (it's a secure system) or you can print out an order form, and mail it (via snail mail) to the publisher with your payment. I think the procedure is similar with Barnes & Nobel, Amazon, Powells etc.

JaciRae: How do you keep people from downloading your e-book and then just forwarding it for free to their friends?

Sydell: Although I don't understand the technicalities of "encryption", I do know that each publisher normally provides encryption safeguards with each download. That means the book can only go out once per order. Also, you cannot make a copy from a disk, due to the encryption safeguards.

Moderator: How would I read an e-book?

Sydell: There are several ways First, you can read it off your computer screen or print it out, so you can curl up in your favorite chair while you're reading. Also, there are several hand-held e-book readers on the market which provide another alternative. I understand that e-books can even be read on Palm Pilots. As for me, I own one of the earlier e-book readers, and I love it. I can understand why folks wouldn't want to read off a computer screen, especially if they sit at a computer terminal all day for their job.

Moderator: Aren't you worried about someone pirating your books? They do have software for e-publishing your own work that could be used, right?

Sydell: While the possibility of pirating does exist, I'm not overly worried about it. Because of the encryption no one can just 'copy' the book. And I don't believe that a person is any more likely to sit down and reproduce my electronic book any more than he or she would want to go to the trouble of typing an entire traditional book.

Moderator: When you make a sale to an electronic book publisher, exactly what rights are you selling?

Sydell: Electronic rights only. You are still free to sell print rights elsewhere, if you want to.

wendymh: I have heard that Stephen King is side stepping the publisher by offering an e-book on his Web site and charging $1. to $2. a chapter. What do you think about this? Does this put the area of publishing in a whole new light and give new freedom to an author?

Sydell: Yes, it certainly does, if an author wants to go that route. There's been a lot of controversy about Stephen King and the e-book scene, but I think that on the overall, he certainly put e-pubbing in the limelight, and that's a good thing for most e-authors.

Moderator: Were you required to supply your own artwork for your book covers?

Sydell: No, I wasn't. Both of my publishers employ professional artists, just as was the case with my traditional publishers.

Moderator: Are any e-publishers interested in children's books? What kinds?

Sydell: Yes, both Hard Shell Word Factory and New Concepts Publishing take children's books as well as books for teens (commonly referred to as young adult in the publishing world.) There are several other e-pubs that specialize in children's books. And again, if anyone is interested in their names, I'd suggest using an Internet search engine. The Web site I gave earlier (www.eclectics.com/epic/index.html) would also list e-pubs that take children's books.

JaciRae: I like to illustrate. Would I be able to interest an e-publisher in my art work? Should I send scanned art or what?

Sydell: I haven't had any experience in illustrating, but I have heard of one e-pub for children's books that contracted the author to do her own artwork. I'm not sure how you would send it, but the best advice I can give is to query the particular publisher and ask about it.

Moderator: Are their articles available where viewers can read more about electronic publishing?

Sydell: Yes, as I said earlier, there's been a recent explosion of articles. Recently there was an e-book digest published on the web that gives a compilation of many of the latest articles. The Web site for that is http://www.timestwopublishing.com.

Moderator: Since this is so new, are there any professional writers' organizations yet to help a new e-author learn more about the industry and how to go about promoting his or her book?

Sydell: I belong to a professional organization called Epic and it's a part of the Web site I've shared earlier. Again, you can read more about it at www.eclectics.com/epic/index.html. I also belong to several writers' lists on the web where we share news, promo tips, book reviews, latest articles etc. I've learned most of what I know about e-pubbing because of these lists and organizations.

wendymh: Please share about the writers' lists and which ones are the best.

Sydell: Epic is the main list, and it has recently divided into two separate lists, one for social news and the other for business. It's open to anyone who has published electronically or is interested in electronic publishing. There's an annual membership fee. I think it's around $30 or so.

Moderator: Lately I've been hearing a lot about POD contracts for electronic book authors. What is this all about?

Sydell: POD stands for Publish on Demand. This is a new technology that many of the e-pubs are beginning to embrace. What this means is that a person can go into a physical bookstore like Barnes & Nobel and request to order my book as a POD. The customer simply waits for the order to go through while the book is printed out. The bookstore would in turn work with Ingrahams (a major book distributor) in obtaining the POD's.

JaciRae: Does it look like a book then, or a stack of 8 X ll papers?

Sydell: I've never seen a POD (like I say, this is still very new), but I do believe it would appear very much like a paperback with standard binding.

MBVoelker: Some time ago I wrote a number of articles for the web site of an organization I belonged to. This was a donation. I am wondering how much of a market there is for articles to be published on web sites. Can you talk about this aspect of e-publishing?

Sydell: I'm not familiar with Web sites that publish short stories or articles, but I would encourage you to keep pursuing this, if it interests you. Similarly to e-book pubbing, even if there's little money in it now, I'm confident that there will be in the near future. Check the Writers Market or writersmarket.com for this type of writing.

Ridley: If I were to go to B + N and ask for a POD, would I ask for a P-O-D (Pee Oh Dee) or a pod?

Sydell: I'd just ask for the print on demand option. Unfortunately, though, I understand that there are many bookstore employees that understand little or nothing about it, so be prepared to have to explain what you want.

Moderator: How accessible are your editors? Do you feel you work more closely with your electronic editors compared to your traditional ones?

Sydell: My e-book editors are very accessible, normally just a mouse click away. However, within this past year, both companies have grown increasingly busy with ms. submissions, orders etc., so sometimes it takes a while to hear back. At Hard Shell, we also have a writers' list for the authors and editors, so often times, "news" about current policies and procedures is distributed that way.

Moderator: Do you think that electronic books will eventually take over traditional ones (what with the high cost of paper, shipping, storing books, returns, etc.)?

Sydell: Some folks are predicting that in another ten years, e-books will indeed take over traditional publishing, especially as the kids of today, who are comfortable with the technology, grow into adults. As for me, I believe that traditional publishing and e-publishing will co-exist. Having both increases the options for both the readers and the authors.

Moderator: How easy is it to "back out" of an e-book contract? And why might you want to?

Sydell: It's reasonably easy, especially if you're working with a reputable e-pub. For instance, if 3 months or so into your contract, you want to pull your book, you just send your publisher a certified letter requesting to do so. If the publisher agrees (and most will), they have 3 months to remove the book from their site. The main reason an author might want to pull his or her book would probably because he was unhappy with the sales.

Granny Jannie: I have a niece who is legally blind. Could she read an e-book?

Sydell: No, not the e-books I'm familiar with, but for the e-books in PDF via Adobe Acrobat reader, I understand there is a feature to make a reader easier for those with impaired eyesight. Also, she might want to check into audio books for some further options. PDF is one of the several formats for e-books. It is used with Adobe Acrobat, which can be obtained as a free download from many Web sites.

Katonah: If you cancel the contract with the e-pub what about the costs he incurred for art work?

Sydell: As far as I know, the author is not responsible for any costs incurred. Again, this would depend on your individual contract, so when shopping around, be sure to read carefully the sample contracts that are posted on the e-publisher's Web sites.

Mom of 3: I have seen 30 e-books. None of them had art work, even if the hard copy versions do. Is this the norm?

Sydell: If you're talking about e-books for adults, then yes, this is typical. The only artwork that comes with my e-books is the cover art. For children's e-books, however, there might be many illustrations.

Moderator: Can readers buy your e-books anywhere else than just the publishers' web sites?

Sydell: Yes, as I mentioned earlier, most of the major online bookstores carry my e-books: Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's, Peanuts Press, just to name a few.

Moderator: Can you tell us some more about hand-held reading devices? What types are available and what features do they have?

Sydell: My dedicated reader is one of the old Rocket readers, which is no longer on the market (except for when you buy it used.) Recently, however, there's been an "offspring" to the Rocket Reader called the RCA REB 1100. It only weights 18 ounces, connects to a standard phone line (you don't need a computer as you do with my Rocket reader) and it has features that allow you to make notes, consult a built-in dictionary, underline, and make bookmarks. My Rocket Reader has those last 4 features too. There's a great Web site that includes interactive demos, if you'd like to read about more of the details. It's www.rca.com.

JaciRae: How big are they actually? Is the print tiny?

Sydell: My Rocket reader is about the size of a standard paperback. There are two print size options, and I always use the larger font. I love it.

Moderator: How expensive are they?

Sydell: That's still a big problem, and partly why it's taking the general public so long to embrace this new technology. The new RCA REB 1100 costs $299 and another reader by RCA (with a lot more bells and smells) costs $699.00. I understand, however, that another reader called the E Bookman (manufactured by Franklin) will be coming out for $130 for the lower end models and $230 for the higher end. While the E Bookman isn't for sale yet on the general market, I understand that you can place an advanced order for one at Amazon.com.

Moderator: Will the prices come down anytime soon, do you think?

Sydell: Hopefully. Last summer, everyone was waiting for a new model to come out before Christmas that would cost less than $100. Unfortunately, when the two RCA readers came out (that I just talked about), the cost was much higher. I think for the time being the E Bookman will be the least expensive option for hand-helds. In addition to all the traditional electronic device functions, it also has an address book, date book, can record messages, and has audio capabilities. To read more about this model, you can go to www.franklin.com.

MBVoelker: This may sound silly, but I'm a mom with young children and get little peace. Is it safe to use an e-book reader in the bathtub? Also, are they fragile or tough enough to take some abuse?

Sydell: I've heard of folks reading in the bath tub with their readers and keeping the reader inside a Zip-Loc baggie to do so. Yes, most models that I've seen are fairly tough. I've dropped mine a few times, and there's been no harm done. My rocket reader also comes in a well-padded leather case, which is a nice feature.

JaciRae: After you're done reading a book on your hand-held reader, how do you get rid of it and make room for another book?

Sydell: My reader will hold up to 10 full size books at one time. When I'm ready to make room for new books, there's a delete option on the reader, and it's simple to use. Some of the new readers, I understand, can hold many more than 10 books at one time.

Moderator: I read an article recently that talked about a new problem regarding e-book reading devices. It said that different devices support different formats, which can result in lower sales for e-book authors. Can you explain that a bit further?

Sydell: Yes, I agree. This can be a problem. The recent explosion of different formats for e-books has really muddied the e-book waters. For instance, my Rocket reader can accommodate any script that's formatted in HTML. The PDF we talked about earlier used with the Adobe Acrobat reader is another format. Additionally some e-book formats are done in RTF, which means it can be read from any word processor--but that, of course, would restrict the person to having to read from a computer screen. This could hurt e-book authors' sales if their particular book is only published in one format only.

Granny Jannie: When you delete a book is it gone forever? Suppose you want to re-read it at a later date?

Sydell: Yes, the book is gone from your reader, but not from the Rocket Library software that's on my computer hard drive. Anytime I want to "bring the book back" to my reading device, all I have to do is download it from the Rocket Library on my computer to the Rocket Reader.

JaciRae: How much space does a Rocket Library take on your hard drive? A lot?

Sydell: No, hardly any space at all. I have probably 20 or more books on mine.

JaciRae: Are there books in the public domain, like classics, you can get for free on the Internet to read on your Rocket reader?

Sydell: I believe there are some Web sites that are offering free books, although I can't recommend any specifically.

Moderator: Where can I actually buy a dedicated reading device?

Sydell: You can buy the devices from the RCA and Franklin Web sites I listed earlier. Also, I believe that many of the major online bookstores are selling them. I've seen ads recently for the RCA readers at Circuit City.

Moderator: I'm sorry to have to interrupt here, but we're out of time. This has been so informative to me personally, and I'm sure to our viewers too! Thank you so much, Sydell, for coming and sharing your expertise about e-publishing. We appreciate it!

Sydell: It's been a pleasure! Thanks for asking me.

Moderator: Do come back in two weeks when we'll be hearing from Veda Boyd Jones on "Writing the Inspirational Romance." Veda enjoys writing for readers of all ages. Of her 27 books, 8 have been inspirational romances. She has also written 5 inspirational romance novellas. Her most recent romance release was "The Best Christmas Gift" in the Give of Love anthology from Barbour Books for the 2000 Christmas season. I'll look forward to seeing you back here then! And now, good night!

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