Busting the Myths of Digital Publishing, Redux

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 8/20/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

First, a brief announcement. I’ve reopened my copyediting and eformatting service. I’ve kept my prices LOW. Former editing clients are preferred, but new clients are welcome too. For details, please click http://harveystanbrough.com/copyediting/.

Okay, back in August, 2012 I updated and republished a post titled “Busting the Myths of Digital Publishing.” According to some of the questions I’ve been fielding lately, it bears repeating. Enjoy.

There are many myths and false perceptions about digital publishing.

Some are being perpetuated by so-called Big Publishing, but many also are being passed around by what we Marines used to call barracks lawyers. Folks who purport to know what they’re talking about when in fact they know just enough to get themselves (and you, if you listen to them) in trouble.

As a writer, publisher, editor and writing instructor (back when I wrote this), it frustrates me to know that so many writers have been fed—and have actually believed—what is nothing more than pure, unadulterated bull cookies.

In this post I will endeavor to bust those myths and discount those false perceptions.

I tell my writing students often, Any time any instructor (or other alleged expert) says something he or she can’t explain to your satisfaction, run. The same goes for me. I can back up everything I tell you with real-world examples and facts.

If you don’t understand something in what follows, feel free to email me at harveystanbrough@gmail.com.

Here are the more prevalent myths about digital publishing.

1. I have to format my work as a .mobi or .epub file before I can send it to Amazon or Barnes & Noble (or Smashwords).

Wrong. You can send your properly formatted Word .doc to Smashwords and Amazon. (I recommend allowing Smashwords to distribute to Barnes & Noble.) Amazon converts your Word .doc into a Kindle (.mobi) file, and Smashwords converts your Word .doc into several eformats and then distributes it to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and Baker & Taylor and about 20 other stores around the world.

If you need help with this, click http://harveystanbrough.com/ebook-conversion/ and check my rates.

To learn to do it yourself, you can download my FREE ebook, The Essentials of Digital Publishing. I also recommend the Quick Guide to Self-Publishing and FAQs, also free. If you check out the Free Stuff tab on my website, you’ll find a lot of other things too.

2. Amazon is the best place to sell ebooks.

Not necessarily. Amazon is only one place to sell ebooks. Rather than hoping for a lot of sales in one venue, work for a few sales in a lot of venues.

If your ebook is for sale only at Amazon, that’s about 20 venues—Amazon US & Canada, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, Amazon FR and Amazon Italy—and your work is available only on devices that read .mobi or .prc files.

If you publish it through Amazon and Smashwords, it automatically sells through over 200 venues worldwide (Apple has 50 by iteslf) and is available on literally every reading device and in every electronic format.

In the case of book sales, more really is better.

3. My electronic book has to have an ISBN.

Wrong. Amazon assigns an Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN), and Barnes & Noble assigns a similar stock number to books they sell.

Because some of Smashwords’ partners require an ISBN, if you add “the Smashwords Edition of” to the front matter of your ebook and include Smashwords’ License Notes, Smashwords will assign a completely free ISBN for you.

4. Ebooks are a passing fad.

El Wrongo de Mucho. Today (this was in 2013) over 40% of American households have at least one dedicated ereader.

Dedicated ereaders are actual Kindle or Nook readers, iPads, and the various tablets. That doesn’t include Kindle- or Nook- or Apple-enabled telephones or computers that can read PDF files through Adobe Acrobat Reader, and it doesn’t include the free ereaders you can download to your PC or Mac.

See Reader Resources in the left sidebar on my website, then scroll down to Free Kindle and on down.

Additionally, in 2011 Amazon announced that ebook sales had surpassed paper book sales for the first time in its history. My own work has been published in three ways: traditionally, through POD, and now in ebooks. I have sold more copies and made a lot more money since January 2011 (the ebook era) than I made on all of my paper book sales since the mid-’90s.

5. I have to wait for my publisher to publish my book first, or my publisher doesn’t publish ebooks.

Wrong. Simply retain all ebook rights (all electronic rights) and publish the ebook version yourself.

Even if you’re self-publishing, which can take a month or longer from signing the contract to having the books in your hand, you can have your ebook published within only a few hours. If you do allow your publisher to publish the digital version as well, I recommend you negotiate for at least 50% of the royalties on ebook sales, and be sure it’s in your contract.

6. I’ll have to do all the marketing myself.

Okay, yes. This is true, but you have to do all the marketing yourself even with a traditional publisher unless you’re Stephen King. And you aren’t.

7. I can’t get my ebooks into brick & mortar bookstores, and I can’t sign my ebooks or sell them at book fairs.

Wrong. I recommend you purchase and read Dean Wesley Smith’s Think Like a Publisher.

8. Ebook selling prices are low compared with paper books.

Not necessarily, and the royalty rate on ebooks is much higher.

Even if you get a whopping 10% royalty on your print book, for every $14.95 sale you’ll make only $1.49. On the other hand, for every $5.99 ebook sale, you’ll make $4.67 (78%) royalty.

Those are the actual prices and royalty rates of my book, Writing Realistic Dialogue & Flash Fiction, in paper and in eformat.

When I’ve sold 100 paper copies, I’ve earned $149. Then I have to deduct the cost of gas and the hours of standing around at book fairs, etc. trying to sell them.

When I’ve sold 100 ebook copies, I’ve earned $467. Then I have to deduct the cost of about two hours per week online in the comfort of my own desk chair. Get the point?

9. You have to have a dedicated ereader to read ebooks from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Wrong. You can download a free ereader for your PC or Mac so you can read .mobi (Amazon Kindle) files and .epub (Apple and B&N Nook) files right on your computer.

Again, see Reader Resources in the left sidebar on my website, then scroll down to Free Kindle and on down.

Oh, and if you shop at Smashwords, you can download your purchases as Kindle, Nook or even PDF files.

10. But I like “real” books. I like the feel of the paper, the smell of the ink.

Yes, I know. So do I. But I’m not talking to you right now as a reader. I’m talking to you as a writer and publisher.

As a Reader, if you want to read only “real” paper books, pay more for them and lug them around, that’s fine. I have books out there in paper. I hope you’ll buy them and enjoy them.

But as a Writer, if you want to reach a much larger audience and provide your books in the format those readers are looking for, you need to get with the digital publishing revolution.

I personally love the smell and feel of a paper book in my hands, but I probably won’t ever buy another paper or hardback book. I’ve become addicted to my ereader, and I’ve become especially addicted to having literally thousands of books in my hand. I can open and read any of them at any time, yet the whole device weighs less than a standard paperback novel.

and the biggest myth of all is an outright lie perpetrated by Big Publishing…

11. Ebooks are not nearly as good quality as print books.

Wrong. This is an outright lie. In truth, the large traditional publishers also are producing ebooks today to keep up with all the independent publishers and with a reading public that is increasingly demanding ebooks.

And in truth, thus far when big publishers produce ebooks, they actually are lower quality than books that are produced originally as ebooks. Instead of actually laying out the book for use in an eformat, the big publishers simply scan the pages into a document, then publish it. Because scanners don’t read and translate actual letters, the results are often horrible.

As is most often the case, the truth is simple: Poor writing leads to a bad book, whether it’s traditionally or independently published. Quality writing plus quality layout and design leads to a quality book, whether it’s traditionally or independently published.

‘Til next time, happy writing and publishing!


I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

4 thoughts on “Busting the Myths of Digital Publishing, Redux”

  1. For #9 (dedicated e-reader), you can also download a free e-reader app on your smartphone or tablet, not only a computer. I don’t like to read on my computer (I spend enough time in front of it already, working or reading blogs), and even though I do own a dedicated e-reader, I found that I most often read on the smaller electronic device that I always have with me. It is just great to be able to fit a few minutes of reading here and there during the day (while waiting, on the bus, etc.).

    • Excellent point. Back when I first wrote that blog post, they didn’t have e-reader apps for smart phones. 🙂

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