On Publishing an eBook
June 1, 2010 2:50 AM   Subscribe

Questions regarding publishing my (already published) book as an e-book.

A couple of years ago a book I wrote was published by a reputable albeit smallish publishing house in a small country. (I realize it would be helpful to be more specific, but we're talking about a tiny market here... Suffice it to say this is a small language area within the EU, and the publishing industry is probably somewhat different than in the English speaking world.) The book got good reviews but wasn't a hit; I was left frustrated with their marketing efforts and the deal has made me little money.

I retain all the rights for the manuscript. The contracts I've signed with the publishing house have concerned the publishing rights for each specific edition. The book has now been sold out for a while (although the publishing house is offering a contract for a paperback edition coming out next year, for which I'll again be paid laughably poorly).

Now, e-book readers - at least Kindle - are about to enter the local market within a few months. (There are virtually no e-books for sale in the language in question yet, but that'll obviously change soon.)

I've contacted the publishing house to hear what their take is on me publishing the book as an e-book myself. They've stated it is within my legal rights. They also revealed that they're planning to bring out digital editions later this year, and would like to make me an offer. (Based on previous experience, it'll probably suck again.)

My editor at the publishing house included this in their last email [translated]: "If you make a deal with Kindle, be careful with what you agree to and for what price. E.g. Google published digitized books last year and got into trouble because authors' rights were violated. So, think about it carefully, although the decision is yours to make. And perhaps you already have a good grasp of contract law."

It sounded... just a little intimidating.

- Should I go ahead and publish the e-book myself?
- If I do, what should I know about this, and where could I find out more?
- I can't see how the contract law they referred to could be a huge stumbling block - the author's rights are mine, after all. What could I be missing here?
- What should I know about the technical aspects?
- And what could be some of the "unknown unknowns" I'm not even considering?

PS. I'm fairly confident I'd be able to market the e-book to the main retailers, since it's already been published and thus vetted (and they've all already had it for sale as a hardcover anyway).
posted by sively to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm afraid I can't answer your question specifically, but I think this recent New Yorker article could be of interest. It covers the ebook business in general, and also Amazon and Kindle and the iPad. It even briefly explains what your editor was saying about google.
posted by hazyjane at 4:28 AM on June 1, 2010

Publishing an ebook is really a lot like publishing a web page, but with a much more limited set of html command information. I've used Mobipocket to turn a pdf of a book I liked into a version I could read on my Kindle. It was surprisingly simple.
posted by crunchland at 4:46 AM on June 1, 2010

Your publisher is trying to scare you regarding your rights. From the New Yorker article hazyjane posted, emphasis mine:
Publishers have another recently converted ally: Google, which not long ago they saw as a mortal threat. In October, 2004, without the permission of publishers and authors, Google announced that, through its Google Books program, it would scan every book ever published, and make portions of the scans available through its search engine. The publishing community was outraged, claiming that Google was stealing authors’ work.
So for him to tell you "watch out what you agree to" and citing a precedent where Google did something without agreements from publishers or authors is silly at best.

Your contract really doesn't have any language about rights for digital editions? When I briefly had a contract in place for a book back in 06/07, there was a clear language about rights for digital editions. If you contract is really free and clear, and they have no rights to editions beyond those that they've already published, then you are likely OK to sign up for digital distribution if you want. Obviously, go over the language multiple times and make sure that you won't be infringing on the publisher's rights. And since you mentioned they're going to make you an offer, knowing what your royalties would be on both sides of the coin will help you negotiate.

In terms of the technical issues, generally some time and energy is needed to make sure the text gets laid out properly when converting into digital. I know Amazon provides tools for this if you're going to the Kindle marketplace, but it's still a very manual process.

posted by Remy at 4:50 AM on June 1, 2010

The ebook section of mediabistro might contain some helpful info.
posted by yarrow at 7:19 AM on June 1, 2010

If your contract and your publisher agree that the rights are yours to do with as you please, then they are.

One word of warning regarding Kindle self-publishing: the Kindle is currently the #2 choice for reading e-books (PC is first, in PDF format). That may not always be the case, and Kindle's proprietary format will preclude readers from transferring it to other devices. Do you want to tie your readers into one distributor?

There are dedicated e-book publishers who offer 50% of net receipts and offer the content across all platforms. Personally, that's where I'd go. The iPad gained 12% of e-book marketshare in one month; I don't expect Kindle to be around forever, and I'd hate to have my content tied to an obsolete format/device.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:35 AM on June 1, 2010

Joe Konrath's blog might make for some good reading -- he's taken many of his previously published books and put them out for Kindle (and a variety of other places as well). It sounds like keeping his e-book rights and putting his books out there himself is working really well.
posted by themissy at 6:59 PM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for what looks like some very useful information. I'll have to study it all a bit before deciding what's best for me to do now.
posted by sively at 1:07 AM on June 2, 2010

You might like to research offering your ebook in more than one format: the Kindle format (AZW) isn't supported by many (any?) other e-readers. The epub format isn't accepted by the Kindle but most other devices will take it, so it'd be a good second choice format. I'm guessing that once the Kindle is available in your market, all the other e-reader types will flow in as well as people look for a cheaper option.
posted by harriet vane at 4:57 AM on June 2, 2010

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