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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

thinking aloud, the e-book

We at JABberwocky put up our first e-book this week, for Simon Green's Beyond the Blue Moon, which is now available for the Kindle. Why when I knock the Kindle early and often is this first? Well, Amazon has had a one-time NYC editor Dan Slater working in their digital department for many years, Dan has always been available to us and pushing and prodding on getting content for Amazon, first for their Amazon shorts program and then later for Kindle. He's there to meet with us, he's there to put us in touch with people if we need help, or even if we really don't need the help but it's nice to have the person there at the other end (kind of like the security of having the music in front of you even when you know the song by heart). Barnes & Noble, emails vanish into the mists and there's nobody to talk to without writing a certified letter to the head of the company to get some attention. Some other places even worse. We'll have more books up soon in more formats/stores, including for Nook, iPad, probably Kobo, and we'll have to start digging through into Google's new e-book store. Five other Simon R. Green books, and Hot Blood anthologies and other titles from Jeff Gelb and/or Michael Garrett. Want to have as many in as many places come Christmas as we can, but also do see Beyond the Blue Moon as a kind of cold launch where we can see if the files have been well-converted and figure out the process. I felt a little bit the dummy not to realize until we were partway through the upload process for this that we'd need cover copy, as an example, and that's something to spend more time on earlier in for the next book.

In general, as we got closer and closer to having the first book up, the process seemed to become bigger as we found all the little things beyond just sending a book to a conversion house that needed to be done. And the process as a whole was a goal for 2010 that I envisioned reaching fruition earlier than the last month of 2010. Some of the things we've looked at: where to go for file conversions; where to go for cover art; whether to have an exclusive release somewhere in exchange for promo support; how to share costs of the conversions with the clients; what price we'd put on the books; which books to start with; and oh -- yeah, you need cover copy you idiot.

Simon was the obvious lead choice for the program. because books like this have been unavailable and have people wanting to buy and tie in to other books that are in print, in this case the obvious being Blue Moon Rising. Alas, that isn't available in e-book right now because the contract is so old it didn't talk much about e-books. So we're reaching out to the publisher to address that, but it will be several months before both books are available as e-book.

We're pricing Beyond the Blue Moon at $9.95. A physical copy of Blue Moon Rising costs $16, and Amazon sells that for $10.88, so we are charging less than physical for a fairly similar book. With the cheapest used copies around $7.50+ after the S&H charge, it's not like any other copy can be had for much less. We're charging more than the $6.99 cost on Kindle for his mass market backlist titles that Penguin has in print. My initital thought had been to charge $9.95 across the board, but I might go down a bit for some of Simon's shorter books like Down Among the Dead Men, or might go down after we've generated sufficient sales to have fixed costs (conversion & cover being the bulk) covered.

Covers, we wanted to have things that were a distinct upgrade from a lot of the other small house POD/e-book covers that you can find out there, while also recognizing that we can't go around paying thousands of dollars or even many thousands of dollars to have Michael Whelan or Chris McGrath. For the Simon R Green books we ended up reaching out to Isaac Stewart, an illustrator and cartographer who's done interior art and maps for Brandon Sanderson and others. For other titles, we secured John Fisk, a friend of Eddie's, who has a great sensibility.

In general, we feel the e-book business is now mature enough where it's important for any literary agent to be invested in it. We see this as a service that we can and should offer to our clients. In part, this is because I do believe e-book royalty rates offered by the major publishers need to increase from their current 25% of net, or at least to escalate at some point in a book's life from that, and offering some e-books of our own might help to accomplish that over time. In a nutshell, when authors have more options they have more leverage in a negotiation. That being said, our goal in the e-book program isn't to be directly competing with or stepping on toes of our publishing partners. These aren't books where the rights situation is vague. These are books that we've tried to get Simon's publisher to do at various points. I'd argue that Simon might sell more e-books for his books with Penguin when there are no longer availability holes in his backlist, where people can buy a Blue Moon Rising somewhere but not a Beyond the Blue Moon.

There are conflict issues. We don't intend to be the originating publishers for things, at least as we're thinking of it right now, but we are still now the publisher for this book as well as just the literary agent for it. We don't intend to become an eReads, the e-publisher that agent Richard Curtis started many years ago, doing books for a wide swath of authors. I think the business of actually being an agent selling all kinds of rights throughout the world is still too critical and important to want to have an entire huge side business. For most books moving forward, we will only be able to get the rights reverted from the publishers if the books are failing to meet certain sales or royalty earning thresholds, and I'm not sure even as the e-book business matures that there's a lot to be gained investing in books that are having trouble selling 350 copies a year. I'm not sure it makes sense for us to reach out to former clients with a book or series we liked just for the sake of having more product, but I've been very tempted by that idea nonetheless.

The big next thing is to gear up promotional efforts. Minimally, that means having a page on our web site either for Beyond the Blue Moon specifically or for Simon Green as a whole where we can put up more information on our ebooks and have robust links to the various places to buy them. Do we take out banner ads or key words somewhere? For the Hot Blood books, we've reserved an entire domain name to promote but aren't sure yet what we're actually going to do with that domain.

We've purposely chosen to keep these efforts in-house, but I think the question of the day is whether that will always be so. It's only with the experience of what we're doing now that we can see what the trade-offs are. Obviously we and the author make more money per copy doing e-books ourselves. But will we sell fewer copies because we aren't a destination like an eReads? Will our e-book efforts divert us from other agently things to where we're making more money on e-books but losing bigger sums elsewhere? Maybe tomorrow we'll end up looking for an actual e-book publishing partner, maybe not.

The JABberwocky Digital Rights Manager Jessie Cammack has been on the front lines of our efforts and deserves a lot of credit for this, and she and Eddie and I have batted around a lot of stuff together in the office.

Maybe this approach makes me the literary equivalent of the dude who gets loster because he won't stop for directions or floods the kitchen because he wants to fix the sink before calling the plumber. I hope not. My instinct for a while has been to put an investment in this ourselves when the time seemed right. But we'll see. Feel free to put in your two cents in the comments here, or to contact us in the office.

1 comment:

Maria said...


One note: If you are going to upload to Apple, all prices must end in x.99. :>) To keep uniform pricing it is just easier to choose a .99 in the beginning. Of course, they may make special deals with various individuals and you may be able to avoid the .99 rule. (Book of the Day) and Kindle Nation Daily seem to be good, inexpensive markets to advertise.

If you run "specials" where the book is under 5 dollars for Kindle, you might try getting the book listed on -- wonderful site.

I think it's great that you are helping your clients get onto Kindle!!!