Is Electronic Publishing for You?

If other publishing venues (traditional publishing, self-publishing, etc.) just aren’t cutting it for you, or if you simply want to get in on the latest option, you might consider e-publishing. This is when you make your work available through a royalty-paying publisher that distributes books primarily in electronic format (HTML, Adobe Acrobat, Open E-book and others).

E-Publishing Resources



MISCELLANEOUS Home of Open eBook Forum, an international trade and standards organization for the electronic publishing industry. Community for authors, publishers and marketers of e-books. Visitor-submitted directory of e-book titles. Home of EPIC, the oldest professional organization for e-published authors. Industry information and news; e-book reviews. Home of All About e-Books, a free e-zine. Home of the Internet authors Network, which offers advice on promoting e-books and shares industry news.


An e-publisher won’t ask you for a financial contribution, and your e-book will typically be available through online bookstores and the publisher’s Web site. People will read your book on their computers, personal digital assistants or dedicated e-book readers.

While this venue has been slower to catch on than some publishers would like, major players such as are confident that it has a bright future. HERE ARE seven indicators that you’d be a good fit with this niche market.

1. You have a completed manuscript

This is non-negotiable step one. The submission process for many e-publishers is much the same as that for traditional publishers and agents: The author submits a query and, if the response is favorable, she fires off several chapters for review. If that gets a good response, she sends the complete manuscript. This process can take many long months—sometimes even years—with traditional publishers and agents. Many authors understand this time lag and use it to their advantage. It’s not unheard of for some writers, especially nonfiction writers, to have only the first three chapters done and then start sending out queries and synopses.

But this won’t work in the e-publishing world. E-publishers are likely to ask you to send the entire work immediately if they like your query. (An electronic file containing a complete work is just as easy to handle as a file containing a partial.) If you don’t really have that manuscript ready, you’ll lose all credibility.

2. You’re willing to accept greater responsibility

As an e-published author, you’ll be responsible for the correctness of your work. While traditional publishers often employ proofreaders to check for grammatical, spelling and other errors, most e-publishers don’t. Their content editors do double-duty with the expectation that the author has done more than simply clicked the spell-check button.

3. You’re an unpublished author, or a published author with a backlist

E-publishers are very open to new/unpublished writers, and there’s no agent required. And if you’re a published author who retains rights to your backlist (say, you sold the mass-market paper rights but not the hardback rights), here’s a good way to reach a new audience. Although you won’t see an advance, your works will be back “in print,” both electronically and on paper in the trade paperback print-on-demand formats offered by most e-publishers.

The cost to you is your time and energy. The monetary rewards, while small in comparison to your original advance, are greater than what you’re earning now on those works.

4. You have a story that doesn’t fit traditional genre definitions (or maybe it does)

Unlike traditional publishers, most e-publishers welcome fiction that more aggressively crosses genre lines. In fact, many consider this their trademark. Your well-written romantic/suspense/vampire/time travel/western may have its best chance at being published with an e-publisher.

On the other hand, if your story does fit a specific genre but traditional publishers con-sider that market closed to new titles (because they have enough already to stock bookstore shelves), you may find e-publishers more receptive. The only market they have to serve is their readers, not bookstores.

5. You don’t require an advance

E-published authors aren’t going to receive an advance, because most e-publishers are small businesses with tight cash flows. But the accelerated process of e-publishing means you could see royalties much faster than you would with traditionally published work. These royalties won’t compare to an advance, and may only buy you dinner at the local fast-food place, but hey, they’re yours. Your work earned them.

6. You’re willing to doa lot of the footwork

E-publishers hold authors responsible for most of their own promotion. While you’ll have to fund promotional costs out of your own pocket, online promotion is exceptionally inexpensive. You’ll also find that other e-published authors are generally happy to share with newcomers the many cost-effective promotional techniques they’ve learned.

7. You’re looking for faster results

If you follow the submission process for agents and traditional publishers, you’re looking at an average of two to three years from the day you send out that query letter to the day you see your work in print. And that’s if everything goes smoothly (which, of course, it rarely does). E-publishing can dramatically shorten this process.

While it’s true that many established e-publishers have their lists full and are booked solid 18 to 24 months in advance, newer e-publishers will be more open to submissions and take less time. How long? Think weeks—not months—for each step of the process. This means a new author can see his work published in 12 months or less.

Eyes wide open

Electronic publishing has its disadvantages. You’ll have to have a thicker skin and a bit of pioneer spirit: This format is still something of a second- or third-class citizen in the eyes of the industry. Although e-book sales increased more than 200 percent last year and are exceptionally popular in Asia, they account for only 3 percent of U.S. book sales.

As in traditional print publishing, there are deliberate scams and incompetent agents/publishers out to rip you off. And as of yet, there’s no standard format for reading e-books, nor is there a clear standout in the machines on which e-books are read.

But if history is any guide, in a few years we’ll see improvements in technology that’ll make e-book reading as common as listening to CDs.

This article appeared in the December 2003 issue of Writer’s Digest.

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