In February I was able to access my author’s account information. How many copies had I sold? I’d launched my new web site only a few weeks ago and though it wasn’t listed in the major search engines yet, it had made it to the minor leagues. I tapped my fingers on the keyboard as I waited and noticed a few paragraphs of verbiage. I scrolled down, my trackball mouse taking its sweet time. I got to the columns. How many? Thousands, hundreds, a dozen…? Nope.

‘e’ is for Embarrassing
By June 2001 eNovel was allowing anyone to download a manuscript to their site in less than 15 minutes. You could become an instant "published" author at eNovel. Literary merit, be damned! The sages at eNovel boasted: "We pass no judgment on the merits of any work submitted to eNovel. If it’s okay by the author, it’s okay by us." So if it was a piece of crap riddled with plot holes, authored by a person who didn't know how to spell, punctuate or string together a sentence, then publish it! Maybe I should compile the essays and poetry I wrote back in the fourth grade and, without even a backward glance, let them be offered to the unsuspecting public. My cat had a few thoughts about what would make a good book, especially if it dealt with the topic of tuna. She could type out her ideas and upload 'em!

Desperate to make some money, eNovel was offering Print on Demand [POD] books for all the authors. Many eNovelists responded in a tizzy of excitement, asking about the process of submitting graphical designs of their covers, wondering when the breathtaking event would occur. The catch? A $100 setup fee plus $25 per year for maintenance. Don't have cover art, don't worry! For only $500 one was custom designed for you.

Around the beginning of July I found someone who was willing to review my book sans an ISBN number. It received an excellent write up and the people at eNovel were so impressed that they featured a summary [still no book cover had been added] and a link to the review on the front page of their site. The result? Nothing! It proved to me that the site was a farce. Only people who were interested in being published and authors checking up on their books visited eNovel.

Realizing my book had apparently no sales potential as it was basking in anonymity on their site, I wrote them this letter and sent them a copy of my contract:

"I’ve advertised my book and eNOvel since October 2000. When I was with AOL I had more than one website devoted exclusively to making people aware of my novel. I included excerpts of my work, provided direct links to eNOvel, issued press releases, wrote articles, placed ads, and traded links. I even found a reviewer who would review it with no ISBN number. I have done a great deal to promote my novel yet for all the effort I exerted I’ve sold one book. Also, I find it hilarious that a book selling one measly copy is ranked 48th out of almost 400 titles!
Where is all this promoting eNOvel is doing? Other than listings in major search engines, I find no records of interviews, press releases or any other information past October 2000.
I’d like to make it very clear that I’m withdrawing my book completely from the e-book market. When it’s removed from your site it will no longer be available.
I would like to remove a book that is languishing on “the world’s biggest eBook site,” even though I’ve put forth a great deal of effort to make it known to the general online population."

Alex Papajohn, the attorney/president responded:
"Jack Singer received a letter from you dated August 22 requesting that we remove your book from our website. You also stated that you did not want to "renew" your publishing agreement with us.
I'd like to ask you to reconsider your decision. The publishing agreement we have with you is not a one year renewable agreement. The agreement gives eNovel electronic rights in your work unless eNovel decides to relinquish those rights back to you. Thus, you are not in a position to "renew" the publishing agreement. And we like your book and still believe in its potential.
You also state that we are a vanity-publishing site. I wholeheartedly disagree. eNovel does not charge a fee to get published--a sure sign of a vanity publisher. And eNovel's filtration system allows good content to rise to the top. In fact, two of our top authors have just signed print publishing agreements. Over the long run, if a book does not sell well, we will remove it from the site and relinquish the rights in the book back to the author. Thus, over time the bad books are no longer to be found.
You state that you have only sold one copy of your book. I'd like to ask you a question. Why do you think that only one copy has been sold despite your marketing efforts? Maybe your book needs better cover (we can help you)? Perhaps it needs further editing (again, we can help)? Where and how did you send out press releases (soon, we will offer those services)? Were they actually published anywhere? Where have you placed your links? The bottom line is that if your book is really good people will want to read it. We want you to become a success--that's the only way eNovel will be successfull [sic]!
Please contact me further about your book. In the meantime, I am not at liberty to remove it from the site.”

So I fired off another letter. “I’m e-mailing you this letter, along with sending you a hard copy, in order to facilitate the removal of my novel. The reasons for doing so are many, but the main one entails the lack of sales. Since October 2000 I’ve sold exactly ONE copy. This is sufficient reason to retract a book.
Also, I’m in disagreement with your policy of how you accept books. Uploading a book onto a website now puts you into the category of vanity publishing. As a published author, I don’t wish to be associated with what amounts to as a pay per read site such as The Vines and the now defunct Themestream.com. The reasons those companies have failed stems from the mixture of writing styles to be found – professional quality, sometimes, but on the whole, amateurish. Some of the works that are to be found at eNovel would be rejected from other e-publishing companies.”
Note: My contract was signed on 8/25/00 so it has been almost 1 year.

“I do not have time to respond to your letter in full. However, the marketing that our firm has promised--in print, TV--is coming. You just need to be more patient. And our automatic upload system does NOT make us a vanity press. Vanity press's REQUIRE people to pay in order to get published. Is that what you want us to do?
You also cavalierly suggest that we hire editors to screen content first. Well, that would cost money...and the ePublishers who have tried that method have gone out of business. Second, we are not believers in having editors determine the fate of our authors. Editors are wrong nine out of ten times. We let the market of readers determine a book's success. What could be more fair?
Finally, we mention services that may help you sell more of your books. We can't afford to do everything for free or we would go broke.
As I told you earlier, I am not at liberty to remove your book from eNovel. I continue to offer my assistance to help you sell your book.” AlexPapajohn

February 2002 Update: "Due to the realization that the works that we recieve [sic] are not in a form that can be easily used, we will be forced to raise our fees for Print on Demand effective January 31, 2002. Since it takes eight hours or more to make a book ready for POD, we will now charge a $100 formatting charge to create a Print on Demand book. This fee is on top of the setup charge of $100 from the POD company and the $25 annual server storage fee.
If you choose to make your work available in print, you will be charged $100 for formatting, a $100 setup fee, and $25 per year maintenance fee."

By the way, the $250 DOESN'T include that $500 cover design fee! As of February 4, 2002, my novel was removed from the site.

keyboardMeanwhile, I’d parlayed some nonfiction articles I’d written for Themestream into an eBook. After all, the $501.78 I was owed needed to be recovered somehow. Owners Roger and Nell Stoker of RJ’s eBooks, located in Hong Kong, snapped up “The Joy of Melt & Pour Soap Making” and approximately a month later it was available for sale online. They had no affiliations with Barnes & Noble or Amazon, and they were trying their best to stay online with only a few dozen titles. It was a small fry ePublishing company but the owners never pretended otherwise. Roger and Nell’s candor about their situation was evident when I asked about my book being distributed in a paperback format. They managed to put together a booklet—something they had never done for any of the authors before. I wrote another book, this about bath and body products, and a few months later it was for sale. Eventually I had a third nonfiction title printed in booklet format. Then in 2003 the company went out of business, never even bothering to inform the authors of this. Any money owed to us, copies of our eBooks, whether on CD, disk or booklet, were suddenly no longer available – even to the author. They were out of print. What caused the demise of this company?

· Closing down for 5 weeks as they did last summer clearly was a way to lose income.
· Accepting virtually any manuscript sent to them with no professional editing.
· Not being an affiliate with such major online bookstores as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
· Publishing booklets with stapled spines, poorly reproduced cover art and fonts.
· Being located overseas. Even on the ‘net location counts for something.

‘e’ is for Easy
One of the best selling eBook legends of Internet history had a free website. The author had sold more than 40,000 eBooks yet upon searching the Amazon site’s rankings, the book numbered in the 1,200,000 region! Upon visiting the person’s site, I was convinced that the illusion of the ‘net was engulfing. Romance writers had “lace” backgrounds on their websites and sentimental MIDI music was often heard. Shamelessly gaudy covers of Fabio-looking men and busty women beneath painted backdrops lured the potential reader into their make believe terrain. One e-author had a photo of himself prominently displayed on his home page and the accompanying writing style was admittedly professional and humorous. Not all e-authors were hacks; the ‘e’ well, maybe it stood for easy. Wasn’t it easier to download a manuscript than to print it and go to Kinko’s and make copies? Wasn’t it a lot less costly to e-mail a book rather then send it via snail mail? And if sent courtesy of the USPS, wasn’t a diskette or CD-Rom lighter than a couple of pounds of printed paper? I eventually realized that even though it was simple having books published online, that people without computers didn't understand what an eBook was, and people with them thought they should be free!

‘e’ is for Ephemeral
The ‘net was a perpetuity of sorts awaiting words, photos, music, video, anything it could suck up and rid the vacuum that cyberspace abhorred. But it often spat out what it received, resulting in dot gones, sites that had large followings and when you logged on and clicked one of your ‘favorite’ buttons, no site appeared. So idealistic ePublishers, many of them frustrated writers themselves, saw their opportunity to help themselves and each other. Would-be writers and those who had negligible success in the past suddenly found that they were in demand. On the frontier of the new publishing, akin to the Guttenberg press in some people’s eyes, the writer had so many choices of places to store their manuscript that the AUTHOR was REJECTING PUBLISHERS!

I rediscovered some short stories I’d written over the years and thought they’d make a good collection, especially with a couple of new ones I was inspired to write. I saw that DiskUs Publishing would accept that genre and they also were affiliated with major online bookstores. When the owner of DiskUs accepted my collection of short stories, I was pleased. I didn’t celebrate, what with the 0% advance, nor would I. Contrary to the signed contract, I never received free authors copies or artwork. I had no idea if the book was edited, as I didn’t get any correspondence during the 6-month wait from acceptance to cyberspace appearance. Never saw the cover art, of which I was supposed to approve.

The short story collection was supposed to be a new release in February. DiskUs was pretty good about updating their website around the first of each month. Yet the exact date of my short story collection wasn’t known to me or anyone else, and it wasn’t updated to a live status until the last day of the month. For the first four weeks it was up there, anyone looking at the new book assumed it was ready to sell but the ‘one click’ ordering button wasn’t activated and who knew how many sales were lost? Especially since the book had received an admirable review at the Book Review Café and was linked to my book page. A prospective buyer would assume that there was something wrong with the book that’d been in the New Release section too long; in their minds it was an Old Release. Their attention would be steered to another new book. At the end of the month it was not only an Internet has-been, it was relegated to being filed along with all the other books. No one accidentally winding up on the site would notice the book on one of the front pages.

Confronted with the ephemeral qualities of the internet, I clicked upon The eBook Catalog, whose stately philosophy proclaimed that they were: "United To Bring You Their Best eBooks." It once was a large web site that boasted hundreds of book titles. But all that remained was their company's mission statement. "This catalog is a joint venture between electronic publishers from around the globe, we have put together a catalog of the best ebooks available anywhere, all in one easy to read catalog." Upon clicking on their domain name, I discovered that it dove into pool.com, a company specializing in deleting domain names, having over 19,000 to their credit -- or discredit.

When contacting writers on the subject of being interviewed about ePublishing, the next day I received several responses from interested authors who mostly went into raptures about their online ePublishing experiences. Annoyed with such a Pollyanna-like array of e-mail, I posted another query to the authors, guaranteeing privacy to anyone who wanted to come forward with ‘not so happy’ experiences about ePublishing. I got two mixed responses.

ePublished author Darrell Bain, an online presence since 1997, unfortunately shelled out money for a couple of Print on Demands which turned out to be a scam. His advice for anyone seeking online publication? “Never pay for publishing, including POD.”

Children’s book e-author Dorothy Thompson wished to help novice writers by offering this advice: “Instead of waiting around for a traditional publisher to pick up your book, try going it electronically first.”

In March 2002 I interviewed Jerrod Balzer about his ePublishing experiences and he responded: "I had to pay to publish my book with The Internet Book Company. The prices to get published with this company range from $120 and up. I personally, paid over $300 to get a designed cover for my book (I told them what I wanted and they worked with me until they created one I approved of), a spot on their webpage with a synopsis, a sample reading, a place for reviews, and a place where I could submit a picture and tell a little bit about myself."

Unprompted by me, the author claimed that: “Lately I've had a little trouble receiving my royalties on time…”
2004 Update – The Internet Book Company is no longer in existence.

‘e’ is for Ego
The problem with sites that cater to authors and would-be author’s egos was due to the Internet’s gluttonous nature. And it also stemmed from the need for instant gratification. Where else could a writer be literally published overnight? Or in mere minutes? When a writer was invited to download his/her work, whether it was a three-line poem or a 300-page manuscript, the thrill of seeing their effort onscreen in a Times New Roman, Verdana or Arial font, well, it became real. The illusion of publication was no more—a URL for the writer’s book or article indicated that. The almighty www.iampublishedthereforeiamawriter.com. The figment of online reality was strengthened when the author had an actual website, whether free or paid for, and the links guided you to their work. People who didn’t have the money to invest in vanity publishing or POD were suddenly “authors” free of charge. The Internet was home to a myriad of delusions.

To keep those dreams afloat, an author could have their book covers added to T-shirts, mugs, mousepads, etc. “CafePress.com allows sites of any size to sell a variety of merchandise at absolutely no cost. No need to pre-print products or deal with shipping hassles, credit card orders, or customer service - CafePress.com takes care of everything.” Another ePublished author had devoted a site exclusively to marketing keychains, jewelry, bookmarks, bumper stickers and other promotional gadgets supposedly guaranteed to enhance eBook sales. Maybe I was being cynical, but a bumpersticker advertising “Love’s Neverending Passion: The eBook” on a vehicle probably wasn’t going to ignite sales figures.

'e’ is for Editing [or Lack Thereof]
Of the writers I interviewed, all but one claimed their books were edited free of charge. “Some were well-edited, some weren't. Depends on the publisher. I will say that now it seems most ePublishers make an honest attempt to edit their books, at the very least for spelling and grammar.” Darrell Bain.

Launching myself through cyberspace, I landed upon an ePublisher’s site where I read the following summary. Only the names of the characters were changed, the rest remained exactly as I found it: “The destitute, nothing it lasts except for the misconception when the whole world goes On ’n’ on. Maria got the disaster she went on, while Tom given a big shake. Jake still magniloquent, standing behind Jennifer. She’s still the one in him, Vincent has to say nothing but good-bye to…the flower dipped inside mushy mud yet drained off. Longing for the silky tone of his speech, care, mischief’s, notorious looks, and love… her oneself. Alberta stretched out her tomboyish ness ’cause Tamara got lost in her Spousage. Ellen went lost in the war fought against her love for…”

That hackneyed writing style was the result of some uncaring ePublisher slapping it onto their site in the hopes of making money. Who, other than the “author’s” friends and relatives, would care to waste five bucks to download that?

Amongst the self-publishing sites, the now-defunct Written By Me had authors posting samples of their prose and I happened upon this example just before the site imploded: “’I noticed," said the girl behind the register. Apparantly, the can of corn had not rang up right. So she punched the bar-code numbers in herself, never once looking up into the face of the old lady.”

Bad writing and editing was prevalent in published hardcover books. A recent book written by a musician of sorts featured this sentence: “He was cute as a button and had a heart of gold.” Cliché alert! Was the editor napping during that section or was the author contracted as the sole editor of his own book?

Back when I was affiliated with eNovel, I visited their message boards and read what others had to contribute about various publishing topics. Editing was mentioned and a Tom Clancy wannabe wrote that no matter how many times he read his manuscripts, he just never was able to find any mistakes. Even more amusing was the wannabe’s habit of writing sentences that always seemed to contain a typo and/or misspelling.

Editing was an extremely touchy subject for most authors, especially those who’d found their niche online. When shopping around for an ePublisher, I contacted a writer who was published at the aforementioned RJ’s eBooks. I asked this person how the editing process worked and he jauntily wrote back that his manuscript didn’t need editing.

“Whether you plan to self-publish your book or work with an ePublishing house, you need to invest in your work. Almost none of the online publishing companies edit books to the extent that every book needs to be edited.” From the paperback book “How to Publish and Promote Online” by M.J. Rose and Angela Adair-Hoy

A European author of a book about eCommerce admitted in the survey I sent her that the book wasn’t edited. Unable to read the language the book was available in, I was unable to comment on the quality of the excerpt.

Also in response to the question about editing, an ePublished author replied: “Luckily, mine was good to go. In fact, the whole process was done on a reasonable time frame. I believe it took a month for acceptance and a month later, I had my book. So much faster than traditional print publishers.”

“First-time authors must submit publisher provided galleys/files. Authors of self/subsidy published books must provide one scene in advance to be evaluated before the book will be accepted into the queue…We apologize for the inconvenience of these requirements, but the influx of poorly edited work that has been submitted of late has forced us to be stricter or risk losing our wonderful staff of reviewers.” From the Scribes World Reviews website.

‘e’ is for Elusive
When asked about the future of ePublishing, all the e-authors were cautiously optimistic.
“I believe ePublishing does have a future and will continue to grow as more people get comfortable reading on screen. I believe the future of ePublishing can be seen on ‘Star Trek, The Next Generation’. On ‘Star Trek’ most reading is done on small devices that look like PDAs and only older, antique books, are read in print.” Lori Enos

Jerrod Balzer commented on the future of ePublishing: “…eBooks are not only perfect for those who love books but don't have enough space in their homes for all of them, plus they cut down the cost of publishing drastically. I don't imagine the trees don't mind being saved as well.”

“The ePublishers I'm dealing with now for the most part are much more professional than at the beginning of the industry. One thing I don't really understand is that some ePublishers manage to get their books on line very quickly and others rival print publishers in the length of time it takes.” Darrell Bain

“As an experienced author and sales executive and publisher, I have to warn authors that the hardest part of publishing is not in writing the book, but in selling and marketing it. Alas, ‘Many are called--but few are chosen.’” John J. O'Callaghan, Entrepreneur’s Network, Inc.

writer‘e’ is for Everybody
Just because someone spent time and effort writing a book, does it mean it that manuscript was ready for publication? Did everything have to be published? Did the writer write because it was a calling, or to assuage the ego? One ePublished novelist who responded to my questionnaire for this article expressed this: “For me, the best part of ePub is getting letters and reviews from people who have finally read something of mine, who never would have otherwise. Pretty much one and all they ‘love my book!’”

Praise—certainly a byproduct of writing, but how helpful was it for the author? Other than gratifying that ego, it only deepened the illusion that authors sought out any means in which to receive the affirmation that what they did was worthwhile. Writers often didn’t think well of most reviewers throughout the world of arts and entertainment. Online publishers were seeking content, the filling of space, so how could you trust the good reviews? Like a horny drunken man in a bar at closing time just looking to score with any available woman, would he be considered honorable in the morning? Mostly unpaid reviewers wanted free books, and their words and websites noticed. Like print reviewers worldwide, write-ups ranged from asskissing to asskicking. Everybody at one time or another imagined they had the ultimate story to tell. That their life was so unique, fun-filled, tragic, hip, whatever, that people would line up around the block to buy their book. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote a song entitled “Paperback Writer” twenty years before ePublishing was in its infancy.

“If you really like it you can have the rights
It could make a million for you overnight
If you must return it, you can send it here
But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer.”

Change ‘paperback’ to ‘Internet’ and what do you have?

Read Part 3 in this continuing saga of ePublishing!

Also, be sure to visit this new page about PublishAmerica

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