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December 15th, 2007

1:44 PM

Those little minnows in the epublishing business

Crocodile businessman

I stumbled upon this exchange in the EREC site blog. This is about a new publisher, Circle Dark Publishing.

Says Angelia Sparrow, one of their authors (so far, from what I can see, the only one having a book out with them):

"I know the folks behind Circle Dark. Part of that is humor, part of it is truth. They do have day jobs, and this is just starting up.

"They spent the last year squirreling away bits of their own paychecks so they could pay the authors of Twilight and Thorns. We were paid the Monday of the week it came out.

"My Nikolai, their next release, is a royalty item. I don't expect the first check on that until March.

"They do plan on going print, eventually.

"All that said, check out Twilight and Thorns."

Then comes Anonymous to spoil the feel-good party:

"They have day jobs....gives me a TON of confidence that the company will be run as a company should be run.......

"They spent the last year squirreling away bits of their own paychecks so they could pay the authors....ditto, a TON of confidence...NOT. They are using their personal cash to run a company? A LOOMING DISASTER!!!!!!!

"One of the owners (Heidi Something or Other) is supposedly a multi-published author with various e-pubs? Really? Googling her name turns up nothing no titles whatsoever.

"All confidence-builders...good luck to all the authors who get suckered into this mess-waiting-to-happen."

Angelia Sparrow responds:

"So, anonymous: saving the seed money, working nights and weekends to bring a dream to fruition, and taking a small business full time only whe it is turning enough of a profit to replace a day job is doing it wrong? I thought that was not only the American Entrepreneurial Dream, but also how the vast majority of small businesses got going."

You know, I can see where Ms Sparrow is coming from, but I am with Anonymous on this one. If I am an author, I will be very wary of signing any contract with a publisher who admits to having no start-up funds and are dependent on their day jobs to get the money to run their publishing business. This gives me the impression that the publishing business is either a "side-income" thing or a hobby. It lacks a show of dedication that I'd like my publisher to have. What happens if something happens to the day job? American Dream or no, I'm not going to risk some story I've worked hard over.

The problem with new electronic publishers is, from what I can see, this: the publisher has an uphill battle to win audience. I said it a long time ago but back then I was screamed down by authors who are now currently stuck in all kinds of litigation matters with Triskelion, Mardi Gras, and other charming companies - readers stick to an electronic publisher or two that they "trust". By "trust", I mean they know that the books sold by the publishers are the ones they will most likely enjoy. An author can only expect her readers to follow her from epublisher to another only after she has built up a loyal following. I don't see the point in an author submitting to so many houses hoping to get visibility because the best visibility can only be found at the big fish like Ellora's Cave, Samhain Publishing, Loose Id, and a few other houses.

Not many people want to admit this, but a new epublisher will have a hard time getting visitors/actual book shoppers especially when they do not have any big names writing for them. Nobody is going to see some online announcement that New Publisher A has opened its door and then rush to the website to go on a shopping spree because things don't happen like this. Electronic book shopping is not the same as real life book shopping. Because buyers can't browse the books (and no, some measly three-chapter excerpt is rarely enough) and because buyers have been burned many times by sloppily-edited and badly-written stories, eventually they will stick to buying favorite authors and trying out new authors at their favorite electronic publishers.

Unlike a bookstore where it is actually a pleasant experience to wander around for hours looking at book covers and browsing through books out of curiosity as well as interest, surfing through the websites of electronic publishers can be a time-consuming chore, especially when many new epublisher websites look like they are the result of a HTML Chernobyl. Are there many readers who actually do this? I know I personally only check out a handful of epublishers for new releases every week. If you must know, they are Loose Id, Liquid Silver Books, Samhain Publishing, Ellora's Cave, New Concepts Publishing, and Awe-Struck. Everything else... well, maybe I'll look if I have time once in a while and when I remember their names.

That's the problem I see with many new epublishers nowadays. They don't offer anything new to excite a reader like me. It's more or less the same old erotic fiction yarn, only by people I have never heard before so you can bet I won't be so eager to spend money to try out these books. Many of them have poorly designed websites that fail to convince me that I can trust them with my credit card number. Many of them are set up with the purpose of collecting submissions rather than getting the reader to buy their books, judging from how the submission link is often at the top of the page while the books displayed are so disorganized that shopping can sometimes be a pain in the rear end.

If a new publisher opens its doors and sells me formulaic erotic tripe, only with ugly sloppy examples of bad Photoshop works for covers displayed on a website that looks like hot mess, why should I bother with what they are selling when I could be shopping at Samhain Publishing?

A new epublisher has to offer something really special for me to care. At the very least, the website should look like a real business website with all the proper "you can trust us with your credit card number" icons and seals from the usual suspects displayed appropriately. Please don't give me that "we can't afford it!" sob story because if some joker can't afford to hire a professional web designer, that person really shouldn't be running a business, much less asking me to give him my money. If you can't afford a professional website, can I believe that you can afford to hire good editors? To get a secure shopping cart?

Frankly, I don't have much sympathy for people who moan that they are too poor to run a business well because business is not a democracy. No one is entitled to run a successful business. If you don't have the money to do things well, maybe you shouldn't be doing those things at all until you have saved, collected, begged, or stolen sufficient start-up funds to do things well from the get go.

I'm not saying that getting published with new companies is a bad idea. It depends, I think. This decision makes sense if the story written is more suitable to a niche market. But any new epublisher on the block has better offer something that cannot be found at Ellora's Cave because otherwise it makes not much sense to get published there instead of Ellora's Cave or any of the other high-tier publishers out there. An author wishing to submit to a new epublisher really should visit the publisher's website and think to herself whether, as a reader and consumer, she is willing to buy anything that is for sale on that website. If the answer is no, what makes her so sure that her books will sell at that very website?

16 user comments.

Posted by Sara M. Harvey:

I have a story in TWILIGHT AND THORNS, the CDP debut e-book. I have been treated by these folks a damn sight better than my "legitimate" print publisher who never paid me my royalties and felt free to break contract on their end and flaunt it in my face yet made me fight tooth and nail for the protections due to me by rights by the same contract.
CDP paid me, they put the book out on time, they have returned every email, and followed through on every promise.
I have done some convetion and online marketing for the ebook along with my other novel and there has been an increase in sales of the work at CDP, so obviously people are buying.

So...what's the problem?
February 5th, 2008 @ 9:57 AM

Posted by SJ:

Hello, I'm an e-book reader and writer (nearly had a work published by Mardigras).

I would rather work with a small and -honest- e-pub than a bigger company which

1) doesn't answer emails and can't even compose a template rejection letter

2) churns out the same templated stories (EC and Samhain especially)

that being said CDP didn't even reply to my email either but I would still rather work with them just because they seem more sincere and upfront about their finances. Sure beats the crook who ran MGP!
January 26th, 2008 @ 1:06 AM

Posted by Mark:

Of course they do.

Just because a publisher lets authors tell their story doesn't mean there is no editing. You should know better...
January 13th, 2008 @ 10:15 PM

Posted by An erotic romance reader:

Angela Sparrow wrote:
adding a publisher, one who will let me tell my story in my way, without totally missing the point (as Loose ID and Ellora did with Nikolai) struck me as a reasonable move.

So, they don't do editing at this new house? Awesome. Makes me want to run right out and buy it.
January 3rd, 2008 @ 6:45 AM

Posted by Treva Harte:

Darn it. I never check in on stuff when it's timely. But, without demeaning a new epub in any way, if you use your own money to start up a company, you are not starting off in the black. I can't imagine any company could start off in the black. You owe someone -- even if it's the owners of the publishing company. The trick is how quickly you can get in the black. (Loose Id has made a profit ever since its second quarter in business, btw.)
January 3rd, 2008 @ 3:48 AM

Posted by An Erotic Romance Author:

Many people do not buy their e-books directly from the publisher...Fictionwise is a huge gathering of many, many publishers, and I have met people/read about people who only buy from this one site b/c they hate having to jump around from site to site to purchase the books they want. This means that there will be less emphasis on the publisher and more on the writer. The writer can publish through several different epubs (big ones & small ones) and still get the sales because many customers are more interested in the author's books than who the publisher is.

EC & Samhain and some of the other big epubs are definitely more of a guarantee of good books, but this doesn't mean some smaller epubs aren't also putting out quality books with great editing and really professional covers!

Many epubbed authors, in order to make a living at this type of writing, spread themselves around so that they can have more releases per year than if they stuck with just one publisher. Also, some of the larger epubs won't take shorter works, or have specific guidelines about the themes of these books (see EC's submission page), so authors go elsewhere to sell these books and get them out there.

I wish you wouldn't denounce all small epubs as fly-by-night companies with crummy books. Just because it's not EC or Samhain doesn't make it crap. They started out small, too. The good writing and good publishers will grow and rise to the top...and, yes, some crappy ones will fail. That is the way of any competitive business.
December 19th, 2007 @ 11:44 PM

Posted by Karen Scott:

I wish you well and certainly hope that you will do your research a little more thoroughly in

You're new to Romanceland aren't you?
December 18th, 2007 @ 3:05 AM

Posted by Heidi McVay:

It stuns me the lengths you will go to in order to make your point. Not once did CDP receive any contact from you regarding this matter. Thus, you don't know the reason why we have dayjobs or why we used money out of our own pockets to start the company.

To assume that we are in the to rip people off, is a slanderous accusation at best, and a blatant lie at worst.

To set the record straight, we pay out of out own pockets so that when that first book went live for sale, we started off in the black. How many small businesses can say that they did that? Every dime we make, according to our rather detailed business plan, goes back into the company for the first five years. This means we have no loans to default on, no credit cards to pay, and no investors to disappoint if we fail save ourselves.

Honesty and integrity are intrinsic to our mission, and yes, in our eyes, it is a revolution. If we succeed, we do so on our own merit. And if we fail, we know we have done our very best. And that is more than some small publishers can say in this world. To assume ill motive is natural I know, but to infer such without even attempting to get the truth is not only insulting, it's also just plain wrong.

As to the topic of dayjobs, yes, we do work. We do not rely on others to support us. Sabrina works in the health industry and I have taken this year off to deal with matters of an intensely personal nature. Namely, two failed adoptions. So I'm sure you can see how delicate a balance we must maintain, and I believe that any of the authors who work with us will agree that we maintain it well.

In the future, I'm sure that other companies would agree, that criticism is not only acceptable to a new business, but it's also craved. However, criticism is not what you have done here. Here, you have painted us as thieves who are only out for profit. And that is simply not true.

I wish you well and certainly hope that you will do your research a little more thoroughly in
December 17th, 2007 @ 9:10 PM

Posted by CDPSabrina:

It's always amazing to me how people's first reaction is to insult and belittle. You don't know us. You could have asked for an interview. Instead, you choose to demean what we're doing without trying to know us as people, or as business people. In the end, though, that’s all right, because we are going onward anyway, and you getting the name of Circle Dark Publishing out there will only help.
December 17th, 2007 @ 9:02 PM

Posted by Angelia Sparrow:

I write for Torquere Press, Ellora's Cave and Phaze. And I write for Circle Dark.

I'm reasonably prolific. And adding a publisher, one who will let me tell my story in my way, without totally missing the point (as Loose ID and Ellora did with Nikolai) struck me as a reasonable move.

I promote my all my work the same way, in hopes that readers are willing to cross between publishers, from EC to Torquere or Phaze to Circle Dark, to get the stories.
December 17th, 2007 @ 9:38 AM

Posted by December Quinn/Stacia Kane:

*applause*
December 17th, 2007 @ 7:00 AM

Posted by Ciar Cullen:

After some gruesome time at Triskelion (and some good times, must actually cop to that), I am at: Samhain, EC, and Loose ID, for the reasons you state. I followed the writers I liked and that's where they were. I have found jewels, however, among smaller companies. I can think of at least five in the last few months. But does anyone find them? Dunno. Pretty sure your point is right on.
December 16th, 2007 @ 4:18 AM

Posted by Jules Jones:

Piece of advice I got from older and wiser writers a few years ago -- "look at this with your reader hat on, not just your writer hat". It's a useful piece of advice that works in a lot of situations. Your last paragraph is a good example.
December 16th, 2007 @ 3:33 AM

Posted by Rhianna Samuels:

I’m new to e-publishing. I chose Samhain Publishing because I heard one of their editors speak at a convention eighteen months ago. Someone from Trixy Lion was at the same panel, but when I walked away, I left with a card from the Samhain editor. She was warm and enthusiastic about the business. (The fact that she had Lilith Saincrow on the panel with her, didn’t hurt.)
There were several editors there from the large NY publishing houses. I was interested to hear what they had to say. In truth, I’d been listening for a while. I don’t ever forget it is a business, and the big houses work like machines. I was looking for my first experience in publishing to be less cog and wheels and more relationship based.

I found that not only is Samhain a well run business, with great people making smart decisions; It is also filled with staff that cares about the story and making it the best. Their tag line is, “it’s all about the story” and it is. That is why they are one of the top E-pub houses.

*kneeling in prayer that my novel doesn’t make a mockery of that statement.*

Rhianna
:):):)
December 16th, 2007 @ 2:28 AM

Posted by Gennita Low:

I liken epublishing to the view of "the brave new world" to many people who have no idea what it means to be in a business. They love or enjoy the product, understands the basics, and are willing to spend energy in it to see whether it can be profitable.

It's akin to the computer tech business in its infancy. I was "working" for a young geek in the very early eighties. He knew a LOT about computer hardware and software, something about building a business, but nothing about accounting or in general, how a LEGAL business worked. But he was making money from something he knew about (the computers), I was pocketing side income, and there was a huge new market opening up due to the new toy called a desktop computer, so it felt as if anyone could start an online computer business and be young millionaires. And many geek upstarts made quite a bit of money for a year or two, till that lack of business skills (or willingness to learn them) did them in. There were just as many online computer stores going belly-up as epublishing right now.

And you know what? It's been 30 years and I'm still amazed at how trusting people are in giving their credit card numbers when they order anything--online or on the phone. Back then, I just wrote the info down, no security check, and every evening, I copied them out into the carbon order sheets--hundreds and hundreds of customers' private info and card numbers.
December 15th, 2007 @ 3:04 PM