Top Ten Things Every Author Should Know About Digital Publishing

TOP TEN THINGS EVERY AUTHOR SHOULD KNOW ABOUT DIGITAL PUBLISHING

Whether you believe digital publishing is revolution or evolution… the plain fact is that it represents the future of the book.  As writers and artists, we need to educate ourselves to meet the creative challenges and greet the new opportunities industry changes bring our way.

1.  CHILDREN ALREADY KNOW THE DIGITAL LANDSCAPE INTRINSICALLY.

If you’ve ever watched a toddler happily operating a parent’s iPhone at the grocery store, you already know this.  The trick is that we, as adults, need to play catch-up in finding our comfort zone with today’s digital technology (or ‘platforms’) upon which tomorrow’s stories will be told.  Knowing how the Nook, the I-Phone, the I-Pad, the Kindle, etc. present the type of creative content that you now produce for print format will help you immensely in re-tooling your skill set to fit digital formats.

1.  THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN E-BOOKS AND APPS.

Applications (‘apps’) are little computer programs designed to entertain or educate a child—hopefully, both.  E-books are at the very least, the print version of a book displayed on a screen, to be read sequentially.  E-books can be enhanced, however, with video, links, music, etc. Vooks (video books) offer a combination of written word and filmed sequences.  No telling what will come to the marketplace next!

3. THE DIGITAL PUBLISHING MARKET IS ALREADY A BIG MARKET AND IT’S GROWING—QUICKLY.

Despite a bad economy, e-book sales are up 170 percent in the first quarter of 2011 and expected to go up 140 percent further later this year.  Industry experts predict that digital publishing products may make up 50% of total books sales by 2014.

4. ROYALTIES VARY BUT, IN GENERAL, ARE MORE FAVORABLE FOR CREATIVE TYPES.

The industry standard is 25 percent of the net for works released through traditional houses.  Some companies may pay more.  For self-published e-books and apps, it can be 60 to 80 percent.  Right now, publishers, agents, authors and illustrators are trying to work out the fundamental issues related to any publishing endeavor, digital or not:  rights, royalties, pricing, distribution, marketing and sales.  Stay tuned!

5.  IN THE DIGITAL PLAYGROUND, THERE WILL STILL BE GATEKEEPERS.

True, in the very beginning, there were not many guidelines for reviewing what was out there digitally and not many professionals guiding parents/teachers/young readers to digital content that gave a meaningful experience without technical difficulties.  That’s changing.  School Library Journal, and other established print media review sources, are assembling teams of qualified editors, librarians, digital art experts, and the like to evaluate and recommend choices for readers of all ages.

6.  CREATING DIGITAL CONTENT OPENS UP STORYTELLING OPTIONS.

What wonderful news for writers and illustrators.  Briefly, as in writing anything from the picture book to the novel, it needs to be a linear experience:  there must be connecting elements for the reader to be able to follow the story.  That means characters, settings, images…but could also include sounds and movement. Game play could be mixed in with storyline.  There might be downloadable extras such as coloring pages, quizzes and puzzles.  As always, the first step is to keep the age of the intended reader in mind.

7.  CREATIVE TALENT WILL STILL BE THE MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT FOR DIGITAL PUBLISHING SUCCESS.

Digital publishers still need writers and artists who can work with software programmers to bring the best reading experience to readers, no matter which hardware they choose to view it on.

8.  DIGITAL PUBLISHING MEANS MORE BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE TO READERS THAN EVER BEFORE.

With digital publishing, no title need ever be out-of-print. Readers choose from a database, and download to their heart’s content. Out-of-print and original work both benefit from today’s technological advances.  For readers who still prefer the printed page, various print-on-demand (POP) options, some available in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, allow similar flexibility and speed of purchase.

9.  THINGS KEEP CHANGING, AND THEY CAN CHANGE FAST.

Distribution streams, business models, and technology change in the digital world with warp speed. How can you keep up with it all?  It won’t be easy but a little surfing on the internet, and subscription to resources that will hit your email in-bin daily, can help. There are many free e-newsletters to which you can subscribe for publishing news, but the best I’ve found are School Library Journal, Publisher’s Lunch, Shelf Awareness Pro, Harold Underdown’s ‘The Purple Crayon’, and Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf.

Many organizations, from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) to the American Booksellers Association (ABA) to the American Library Association (ALA) to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), are getting in on the debate.  All have recently added programming to their annual conferences to discuss how everyone in the book business can adapt, survive, and serve readers more effectively.  Reading the websites of such reading/publishing/literacy organizations will yield information about trends, issues and upcoming workshops with a digital publishing focus.

Many editors, authors, illustrators, literary agents and other bookselling or publishing professional now produce blogs.  A Google search will help you find them.  No one has time to read all that’s out there of course—but, a few carefully-chosen blogs to follow will help you immensely in your quest to keep current.  Similarly, following selected professionals on Twitter, or other social media, may give you insights into the digital landscape.  LinkedIn, too, offers the chance to join groups with a digital publishing focus.

10. STORY STILL MATTERS.

No matter the platform in which it is presented, young readers will always want to identify with the characters, relate to the story’s theme, and have that story resonate long after finishing it. As Emma Dryden—former publisher of Anteneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, and current digital publishing guru—commented in her keynote speech at this August’s SCBWI National Conference, “What I’ve learned first and foremost…is that story matters most.”

For more writing tips, go to DianneOchiltree.com/coaching

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