Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Nefarious e-Book Situation

I just came from the Writing for the Soul Conference in Denver. It’s always an awesome conference although attendance was down a little this year probably because of the rising costs we all face these days. Thanks, Washington.

At the conference several agents and editors sat around and talked about changes in the industry which of course centered on the emergence of the e-book. A lot of things came out of this discussion but the overall consensus was not how to work with the situation as it now exists, but the fact that it is a fluid situation and will continue to change as technology evolves.

What does that mean? The Kindle is king right now, driven by price point and the position that Amazon is commanding in the e-book market. Will that continue? Those in the discussion felt it depends on the evolving technology. There was a feeling that the current e-books are a first generation and the situation is up for grabs as the next generation arrives. The next generation is thought to be more like the i-Pad with expanded capabilities and features. So why isn’t the i-Pad leading the pack now? A majority of e-readers are being given as gifts and the difference between the price point of e-readers and the i-Pad is making that decision. But electronics tend to come down as production increases so that may change, and/or existing e-readers may evolve to close that gap.

More and more writers are deciding to go straight to Kindle with their book. I noticed back when I first started getting submissions from some who had taken that course and (though I felt like I knew the answer) I surveyed over 200 editors to see what their position would be on receiving such a submission. It was as I expected and over 70% said they weren’t interested in a submission on a book that had already been published, including Kindle. Some did say they might look at it if the sales were significant enough, but the Kindle version had to be withdrawn first as they required the e-book rights to be in the contract. So at present those who go straight to Kindle are giving up print possibilities to do so. We may expect to see some changes there as well, but who knows when?

This may be a factor in smaller conference attendance right now as well. Newer writers that don’t see the need to go improve their craft, who don’t see the need to network with agents and editors if they are going to go straight to e-book and spending the money they would have spent going to the conference getting the e-book out. I believe those who may be making this choice will soon realize they are making a strategic mistake. Most will not make the money that way that they would make with both print AND e-book, and with publisher support behind them. However, some are making enough money on just the e-book sales. Ironically, if they are having that kind of sales, some publisher will be interested. In publishing the success of a few that defy the odds and make it big always drive the dreams of those who want to do the same.

Still, nothing is as constant as change and this emerging technology is fascinating to watch. For example those in the industry know that women buy a majority of the books and that has strongly influenced acquisitions. But with e-book readers it is proving to be gender-neutral. What? Yes, as many women buying e-books as men. This will of necessity change the mix in what will be published.

I just saw a study report that had several other interesting facts: that there was no disparity between regions of the country, that urban book buyers bought more than rural ones, and while retirees say they have more time to read, the fully employed buy more e-books. That’s interesting.

The bottom line with the discussion was that we are not seeing the crest of the e-book revolution and change will be the order of the day. Are print books on the way out? No, there are still far too many who like a print book in their hands for that to happen any time soon. But it is a really interesting time to be involved in the publishing industry.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Numbers Guy

No, I’ve never thought of myself as a numbers guy. I had to throw my self on the mercy of the instructor to pass statistics so I could graduate college. But this morning I was noticing I seem to collect a lot of numbers, numbers that tell me things.

I noticed it when I entered my response to a submission into a log. I always put down key information in that log for future reference so I know if someone resubmits without my asking for it or if they are someone who has submitted to me before, or a number of other things. I also put down the word count if they give it but less than half provide that. It should be part of any query letter or proposal along with the genre, but it often isn’t.

At any rate, when I started the log I set that column to total at the bottom just for grins. I just looked and on this current log I have had over 103 MILLION words submitted to me from over 2700 submissions. I don’t read all of them, of course. Like most if not all agents and editors, I quit reading if I reach the point where I realize it just isn’t a fit for the markets that I’m presently working in. But still, that is an enormous amount of words and the number is probably 30% higher than that. Amazing.

Another number I get asked a lot is the percentage that I’m taking to represent. Out of this 2700 I’ve selected 75 clients (have 62 right now) and at present have 226 proposals out. Most of my clients have more than one project available. This is not the number for the agency, this is just for me and other agents at Hartline have as much or more I’m sure. I’m also sure there are agents who carry a much bigger workload than I do. Still, that means I’ve taken a little better than 8% of what has been sent to me.

What other numbers jump out at me? I’ve gotten a little better than half of my clients published, about 90 books, and I’m usually up in the top ten of agents getting debut authors started on the list over at Publishers Marketplace. That number means I need to get more clients who are not just getting started, but it also reflects my desire to help new writers get started. I’ve been an agent for about four years, but the first couple of years were pretty much learning experiences and getting things in progress that would take a while to come to fruition.

More numbers? There are numbers at the bottom of my web page with the counter registering over three million hits with more than 465 thousand unique visitors. The visitors have come from 115 different countries. If a few years ago you had told me some old cowboy over in West Texas would have people from this many countries dropping by to look at my stuff I would have thought you were nuts.

Maybe the numbers that are most critical are the ones at my bank and they could stand to be better, but between my writing and my activity as an agent I get to do this full time, and make a living at it. And I’m getting to do what I love.

The numbers that mean the most to me are one beautiful wife, five kids, ten grand-kids and one great-grandson on the way. And most important, my faith number would be the number three representing the Trinity. My faith is very important to me and it is part and parcel of everything I do in every aspect of my life.

Hmm, for somebody that is not a numbers guy I seem to collect and pay a lot of attention to them. Maybe I should have worked harder in that stats class.