I’ve just published a print book – an eBook next? Part I

I’ve just published a print book – an eBook next? Part I


Just recently, some really nice people, having just had their first book published in print (and it’s a lovely book) asked me what they need to know before publishing an eBook version.

We spent the best part of the morning talking about some key points; I later wrote them down as a ten-point list. Afterwards I thought it might be useful for others to read too, so here is a more generalized version for all you in-print authors.

1. Do not, ever, give away the copyright to your material, either written or photographic. In publishing contract terms this is known as ‘the work’. It is yours; keep it. Or sell it for a ton of money.

2. If you do engage, for hire, someone to do other work for you, e.g. design, translation etc, make explicitly clear, in a written and signed agreement, that the work they do becomes yours. If they do it ‘for free’ or as part of a wider accord, for example the publisher’s team doing the design work for the book in exchange for sales commissions, then you may need to accept that, as part of the quid-pro-quo, their creative work is theirs, i.e. you cannot simply copy it or give it to another publisher. Either way, be very clear who has the rights of what.

3. Look at everyone as a provider of services to you, not the acquirer of your rights. Never lose control over the material, how it can be packaged and how it can be sold. Especially if you are doing multiple books. Think brand management, where either your name or the book series is the brand.

4. Always make sure contracts are in place, reviewed, clarified, agreed and properly understood before signing. Publisher contracts always try to get everything, forever, assuming you are ignorant, you don’t consult a lawyer, or you can’t be bothered with such things. Since most people write but one book, very often the contract appears to be a formality. Who knows, one day someone might want to do a movie based on your material; you could be blocked from doing so. It happened to one very well known English television presenter, a friend of my brother, who wanted to do a book with us: the media company she worked for would not let her use the material.

5. Don’t accept the first or only offer you get from an eBook publisher – and that means from NTP also. Check out what the market does, how, why and at what cost. We know we are very competitive and that we make, publish and retail eBooks both directly and with Apple/Amazon/Google – but you have to consider alternatives and feel comfortable with your service provider: books are very personal works of art, after all.

6. Some eBook publishers are ‘aggregators’ (we are one), which means they put the published eBook on multiple retailer sites like Amazon, Apple and Google for you. Some say this is part of their service; there is no opt-out. Sounds good, but this means that you, as an author, will earn much less in royalty fees as both the retailer and the aggregator may (not always, it depends on their pricing model) take their cut. Be careful that you don’t land yourself in possible conflicts of contract with multiple eBook aggregator/retailers, a risk that is possible if you do not properly coordinate and determine which publisher has the rights over what. If you want maximum roylt, then the only thing to do is put the finished eBooks, in their necessarily different formats up on the retailers’ sites yourself.

7. A digital book is not a print book. They have different ISBNs, and even between digital formats there are or can be different ISBNs. If the print publisher has the copyright over the print publication, partly because you let it do so as part of the deal that they ‘put it together’ for you, and has also registered the print ISBN in their name, this does not stop you making an eBook (so long as it does not use the creative design work of the print book) and registering the second and future ISBNs in your own name as author – as you should have done anyway.

8. A digital scan of a print book – the classic pdf file – is not the best way of making a digital book, or even a pdf version of one. Digital lets you do so many things, e.g. photo galleries, video, interactive images, dynamic navigation, that the challenge for the author is to learn to think differently as to how to present the book’s message for maximum impact. Even a pdf version can, and should, be different.

9. The retail price of a digital book is conventionally less than the print version, recognizing the fact that cost of production is less (cost of marketing/promotion is easily the same). What this lets you do is get to a wider market on price terms.

10. None of the above has anything to do with eBook formats, marketing and promotion. That’s for Part II.