Six impossible things

Learning About Ebooks

A while back, I did a post on electronic publishing in general, in which I stated that I didn’t know much, but nobody else does, either, yet. In the interim, I’ve learned a bit more, and I thought this would be a good time to share, because next week, the five Lyra books are being issued by Open Road as ebooks. And it’s been quite a ride.

One of the first things I learned, when my current agent and I started looking at getting some of my backlist into ebooks, is that when the books were published makes a really huge difference. Before the mid-nineties, hardly anyone had electronic subrights clauses in their contracts. After around 2005, everybody had electronic subrights clauses. In between…well, lots to argue over and interpret, and a number of things ended up in legal limbo.

Several of my backlist titles, including The Seven Towers and Snow White and Rose Red, had been picked up and reissued by new publishers, whose contracts included ebook rights. Another publisher came and asked for a contract addendum covering electronic rights, so that they could put out an electronic version of the omnibus when they reissued the Mairelon books. The Frontier Magic titles are recent enough that the publisher had the clause in their contract from the get-go. That left the Lyra books.

The Lyra novels are some of my earliest work; all except The Raven Ring (1994) were written over twenty years ago. The most recent printing was in 1997, when the first three came out in an omnibus edition, so it’s been a while since all of them were easily available in print.

Ginger (my agent) and I discussed the possibilities at length. Amazon offers a great royalty rate if you go straight through them, essentially self-publishing direct to e-book, but there are some down sides (including needing to do book design, covers, etc. all by yourself, not to mention publicity). We chose to go with an ebook publisher, Open Road. And thereby hangs a tale.

Initially, the experience was exactly like selling a book to a traditional print publisher: I said “Agent, we need to sell these as ebooks;” my agent said “I will get right on that” and did so. Some time later she came back and said “We have an offer; this is what it is and how it works,” and I thought about it and said, “Right, sounds good, send me the contract.”

That was when the first difference showed up: they emailed me the contract, and said I could use an electronic signature and send it back. Since I don’t have an electronic signature, and had no time to figure out getting one, I printed out the requisite copies, signed them, and FedExed them back instead.

The next interesting thing was that they wanted three copies of each book to scan. I pointed out that I’ve been working on a computer since my second novel, and had put the first one into my word processor when I revised it for the omnibus, so I already had electronic copy that really just needed to be proofread for the editorial and copyeditor fixes (which is WAY easier than scanning and using OCR software. OCR is lots better than it used to be…but a 1% error rate means an average of three typos per page, at best).

The Open Road folks allowed as how having electronic copy would be a big help. At which point, I realized that while I certainly did have electronic copy, most of it was…how shall I put this…not in any format remotely resembling modern WYSIWYG, or even Rich Text. No, it was old-fashioned ASCII, with in-line codes to mark scene breaks, italics, centering, etc.

So I spent a frantic two weeks or so cleaning up the files and sent them off. Hey, it was better than having to write 10,000 new words for editorial revisions!

Normally, I wouldn’t expect to hear from a publisher any more at this point, except maybe to send me cover copy and/or pictures of the cover paintings for informational purposes. The books were written and in final form; that’s all most publishers want.

Most traditional publishers, anyway. Open Road turned out to be a lot more hands-on, and a whole lot more let’s-get-the-writer-involved. I got emails from what seemed like everyone in the company, explaining what they were planning to do. I got two conference phone calls from their publicists; I got blurb copy to approve; I got author bio copy to approve; I got a two-page questionnaire (which I still haven’t finished filling out – honestly, what do they expect with questions like “describe each of these books in a paragraph”? I’m a novelist; it took me 80,000 words to describe each of them the first time!).

The pièce de résistance was when they sent a team of video people out from New York to Minneapolis to spend three days shooting footage of me, my cats, my closets, and whatever else took their fancy, in order to make a two-minute vid for their web site. They were lovely people, and it was a hectic, exhausting, and fascinating couple of days (and they got some wonderful shots of Cazaril, too; Nimue decided it was too much excitement and spent most of the time hiding). I haven’t had so much attention paid to me in, well, ever.

And once everything calmed down and I had a chance to breathe, I realized that that was the point. A traditional paper-and-ink publisher does book and cover design, but most of their efforts (and expenses) come from printing and distribution – getting those paper books into bookstores all over the country. Ebooks are a lucrative extra for them.

An ebook doesn’t have printing and distribution expenses. So what does an ebook publisher have to offer a writer in return for the license to publish the books?


Which is what all the blurbs and questions and everything are about. Remains to be seen how well it all works, but so far I have to say I’m happy with their efforts.

Next week is the official release of the ebook versions of the five Lyra titles – Shadow Magic, Daughter of Witches, The Harp of Imach Thyssel, Caught in Crystal, and The Raven Ring. I’ll put links up on the web site eventually, but right now I’m out of town, so this will have to do until I get home and get some breathing space.

  1. My daughter and I prefer ebooks for our nightly storytime since I can increase the font easily she can read along – very important to my little girl. She loves your books so we’re both *very* excited that the Lyra ones will be coming out in this format. (Now we just need the Enchanted Forest ones)

    I’ve always wondered how older books are selected for ebook format and it’s interesting to see where some of the challenges are.

  2. I like the covers for the ebook versions, and I’m glad you’re going through your backlist! One of the reasons I waited so long to get an ereader was because I wanted to get your Enchanted Forest Chronicles since I reread them so frequently, but I finally caved this Black Friday and got a Kindle.

    I can tell that the book I’m reading right now was scanned, since there’s an error on almost every page (eg. “lips” was written as “Ups”). It’s almost comical trying to figure out what it was supposed to say. Thanks for giving us some insight into the process!

  3. Learning (more) About Ebooks ?

    part 84, pricing is strange.

    For the US, Amazon price in their Kindle store is $9.99 reduced to $7.99

    For the price for non-US readers have all at £8.27 including 15% tax which at the current exchange rate of $1.54 is $11.07 net of tax.

    Thirteenth Child is £5.63 and Across the Great Barrier is £9.21
    that’s $7.94 and $12.33 net of tax
    actual US prices $7.69 and $9.49.

    The UK price for the reprints seems to be uncompetitive, checking the latest Elizabeth Moon, Orbit UK edition from last March, I found it was £8.99 in paper discounted to £5.69 and £4.49 in the Kindle store.

    Mike Dolbear
    Little Egret in Walton-on-Thames

  4. I’m assuming the new editions of the Lyra books are the updated versions published in “Shadows Over Lyra”, as you described in a previous blog entry.

    Will there be new print editions of those books? I had bought old copies of the original Lyra books and was really surprised to see how much was changed when you did that side-by-side comparison. If the new editions are coming out in paper, I’ll hold out for them; otherwise I’ll have to try to get a copy of “Shadows”.

    I don’t have an e-reader at this point, and I like hard copies!

    • Brenda – The ebook versions are the updated versions published in Shadows Over Lyra, yes. There aren’t plans for a hardcopy printing, but they have POD rights, so you should be able to order hard copy if that’s what you prefer.

  5. Interesting! I hope that they continue to justify their publisher’s cut. (I tend to hang out on the indie-favoring blogs, where it’s all about “flat fee for X, and keep the long tail all for your authorial self.” It’s useful to see what Open Road is offering their authors!)

    Nice covers, too.

  6. How exciting! I’ve never read this series and now have samples in my Kindle waiting to read. Yay!

    Now we just need The Mislaid Magician in ebook. 😉

  7. @7 Thanks Alex Fayle for mentioning the Mislaid Magician books.

    I checked and found Magic Below Stairs by
    Caroline Stevermer was available at a pb price and I bought it.

    Learning part 85, availability is strange

    I mentioned that The Seven Towers, Snow White and Rose Red are also Firebird but both are available in Spain etc but not the UK. A Matter of Magic is US only.

    Mike Dolbear,
    Little Egret in Walton-on-Thames

  8. I clicked onto this because I’m looking for an agent—my 3rd book (Shadow & Flames—I realise now where I got my own ideas for shadow magic, tho it’s different from yours, I hastily add) is before 2 publishers at the moment—& I’ve always loved your work, so I wanted to see who your agent is (a Writing Goddess’s agent has to be good, right?). So naturally I’ve been snooping round your website (nice!), & just wanted to say I’m so glad you’re putting out the Lyra books in e-format. I’ve read ‘Raven Ring’ about 4 times & lost or never got the rest (too many moves). Please give your cat Nimue my regards & tell her my heroine’s mother is the original Nimue.
    Please write more.

  9. Are there any plans to release The Enchanted Forest Chronicles in ebook format? I’ve been searching and all I can find are what I assume are illegal copies since they’re offered as free downloads. The series is one of my favorites and I’d love to be able to carry it around with me.

Questions regarding foreign rights, film/tv subrights, and other business matters should be directed to Pat’s agent Ginger Clark, Curtis-Brown, Ltd., 10 Astor Place, 3rd Floor New York, NY 10003,