The Non-Fiction Ebook Revolution

As a writer it’s been interesting to watch the publishing industry upheaval since my first book was traditionally published in 2007. Gone are the days of physically mailing query letters to agents or small publishers and waiting weeks or months for a response—if you got one at all. Instead you can now email queries and wait weeks or months for a response—if you even get one. J

But the biggest change to the publishing world has been the proliferation of ebooks. Ebooks, which only applied to a small niche audience in the pre-Kindle days, have gone mainstream. They’ve changed the way people read and access books and empowered writers to cut out the middleman and sell their book directly to readers. All of these are positive changes in an industry that, until recently, was partying like it was 1899.

When you read about success stories like Hugh Howey and other writers who have benefited from the ebook revolution, the success stories primarily focus on fiction writers. Rarely do you hear about non-fiction authors or how readers of there are responding to ebook upheaval.

Since I primarily write non-fiction, I’ve noticed that it’s taken a little longer for my readers to embrace ebooks. My audience is primarily female between the ages of 30-60. Some of them are avid readers but most of them probably read only or two books a year. (There’s nothing wrong with that. Most people in the world don’t read more than one books in any given year.) Most of them don’t own Kindles, Nooks, or other e-readers. Yet despite this, my readers are embracing ebooks nearly as much as avid readers. It just took them a few years longer to adopt.

Here’s what I’ve observed: When I turned down a traditional publishing contract in the summer of 2011 to pursue the indie route, I knew my audience well enough to know that that most of my readers still wanted a print copy. So when I released my first relationship guide in August, I made sure a print and ebook version were both available.

It turned out to be a wise move.

From the time the book was released in August 2011 to the end of the year, about 65% of my sales were from physical books—mostly sold through Amazon.  By the time my second indie title came out in April 2012, the number of physical book sales had fallen to 55% of my total sales.

Then, that fall, something changed. September of 2012 I noticed for the first time that ebook sales had overtaken print sales. It wasn’t by a lot. In fact, total ebook copies only sold a total of five more copies then the print versions. I thought it was a fluke.

Turns out it was anything but.

After I looked at each monthly report, the number of ebook sales continued to skyrocket while the number of paper copies sold fell. When I released my latest book back in February, physical book had fallen all the way to 40% of my sales. In May, the last month of sales that are available, physical books only made up 35% of overall sales while ebooks made up 65%--an exact inverse of my sales when I started doing things on my own.

And the trend shows no sign of slowing down.

Keep in mind, the majority of my readers don’t own e-readers. The reason they’re embracing ebooks, at least what I can discern from reader feedback, is that they read them tablets like the iPad or on their smartphones. Technology has finally made it convenient for them to take advantage of the price and convenience of ebooks. In addition, they like the privacy that comes with ebooks. (Who wants to be seen in public reading a relationship guide?)

That means if you haven’t sold your stock in Barnes & Noble, now would be a great time to unload it.

In the future, there will probably always be a (small) demand for print books and I have no plans whatsoever to discontinue making print copies available for my upcoming novel and other non-fiction projects. As long as readers still what to buy them, I’ll keep producing them.

But those who say still a war between ebooks and physical books are deluding themselves. The war between print and ebooks is over. Ebooks have won—big time. All that’s left is mop-up operations.

Non-Fiction Books and the Kindle

Me: For the first time since buying a Kindle for Marathon Girl, I’ve ordered hard copies of two books. They arrived— Question Man: Wait a minute. I thought you guys loved the Kindle. Why are you ordering hard copies of books now?

Me: We do love MG’s Kindle; so much so that we probably need a second one. Good thing Father’s Day is coming up next month. (Hint, hint, hint!) However, I have a hard time reading non-fiction books on the Kindle.

Question Man: Have a hard time reading them? Is there a formatting issue with the non-fiction books.

Me: No, it’s not a formatting issue. When I read non-fiction (with the exception of memoirs) I’m a prolific note taker. I underline a lot of passages, make tons of notes in the margins, and use my own shorthand for cross referencing purposes.

Question Man: Did you know you can highlight passages, take notes, and mark up Kindle eBooks just about any way you want?

Me: Yes, I know. The problem is that it takes considerably more time for me to take notes with the Kindle—at least twice as long if I had the paper book and pencil in my hand. It wouldn’t be a big deal if I was just highlighting a handful of passages or only had a few notes. However, my note taking gets pretty extensive. Hence the reason I ordered hard copies.

Question Man: Well why don’t you download a Kindle app for your computer and highlight and take notes at lightning speed?

Me: I have downloaded the Kindle App on my PC. It’s way faster to highlight and take notes. The problem is I stare at a computer screen all day for work plus the hour or two I squeeze in for writing. By the time I get around to reading, my eyes don’t want to stare at a backlit screen anymore. They need a break.

Question Man: So what’s your solution?

Me: Well, a second Kindle would help. (Hint, hint, hint!) That would give me more time to practice highlighting and note taking. But for now I’m sticking with paperbacks—at least for non-fiction. That means Story Engineering and Cool IT will reside in paperback on my shelf for now. Fiction however will always find a home on my Kindle. Hopefully I can find a solution before I need to buy another non-fiction book.

Question Man: Will you let us know if you find a solution?

Me: You bet. And if anyone out there has any tips, please let me know.

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?

According to The Daily Telegraph, writer Thomas Kohnstamm admitted to faking large sections of The Lonely Planet guidebooks he wrote.

THE Lonely Planet guidebook empire is reeling from claims by one of its authors that he plagiarised and made up large sections of his books and dealt drugs to make up for poor pay.

Thomas Kohnstamm also claims in a new book that he accepted free travel, in contravention of the company's policy. His revelations have rocked the travel publisher, which sells more than six million guides a year.

Mr Kohnstamm, whose book is titled Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?, said yesterday that he had worked on more than a dozen books for Lonely Planet, including its titles on Brazil, Colombia, the Caribbean, Venezuela, Chile and South America.

In one case, he said he had not even visited the country he wrote about.

"They didn't pay me enough to go Colombia,'' he said.

"I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern in the Colombian Consulate.

"They don't pay enough for what they expect the authors to do.''

If the pay was so bad, one has to wonder why Kohnstamm agreed to write the travel guides in the first place. If he was talented enough to fool The Lonely Planet’s editors, one would think he should have tried his hand at fiction.

But more striking is why a publishing company (in this case Three Rivers/Crown) would reward a writer who admits to defrauding another publisher with a publishing contract. With other non-fiction books having difficulty passing the truth test, I’d think that a publisher would be hesitant to publish a book from an admitted liar.

(Blog entry cross-posted here.)