E-pubbing Children's Books

by Hazel Edwards

No, it's not a pub-crawl.

E-pubbing is the current term for electronic book publishing.

As a children's author whose five junior mysteries The Frequent Flyer Twins have just been epublished by Bookmice.com, I'm fascinated by the process.

I'm not a novice author. In fact, I've had over 130 books with major publishers such as Penguin, Hodder and Random House, (who published the print versions of the Frequent Flyer Twins), but I find the e-process intriguing. An author must decide whether to use an electronic publisher or self-publish electronically, if you have the expertise. I don't, yet, but I'm on a fast learning curve.

1. Speed:

Firstly, it's quicker. There's been a six week's turn around from acceptance, through contract by email attachment, editing to creating hyper-text links. Now readers can click directly to my titles on the publisher's website. This contrasts with a minimum of seven months production time after a final edit on the fastest print-book with which I was involved. Others take up to two years.

2. Deciphering the code when you're not a computer techie:

When "e" terms like "Now available in HTML format and PDF (Portable Document Format)" are flung around and you don't have a clue what the difference is, let alone what each mean, you feel vulnerable. (HTML can be changed and PDF is protected.) I've found that just learning one term a day is the way to go. The day I said e-dress in conversation for someone's email address, I realised I was getting there.

That 65,000 new Internet users go online every day world-wide, doesn't mean as much as me being able to work out how to click onto a link within a story (which is highlighted in the text). This takes me to amazing sites, controlled only by the publisher's imagination as the one who makes the links. E.g., In my mystery Artnapping about smuggling artworks, "thief" takes me to the latest figures on art thefts internationally and "Rembrandt" takes me to the Rijks Museum with Dutch and English captions. On the other hand, "mule" (an unknowing courier smuggling through customs) takes the reader to the Mule Society of UK and how to look after four legged mules. I like that sort of quirky mind.

3. Links:

Washington-based publisher Aliske Webb explained on the Bookmice.com site that my books were written in Australian-English because I was an Australian author. I now add Australia after my address tag, because Melbourne is often unknown in the USA. The topicality of the Sydney 2000 Olympics tied in with the setting of my False Bottom mystery, and that was pure luck. Other settings include Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore and en route to Tokyo. International airports are great links.

Although I've had a website for two years, a computer "techie" updates it monthly. (I'm not the world's greatest in terms of electronic wizardry.) My epublisher has suggested the hyper-text links this time, but a researcher-author will need to learn that skill, too. Learning some HTML is just good time management, especially when you are the one who has already done all the research.

4. Publicity:

Marketing "virtual books" seems intangible. How can you have a booksigning when the story is in cyber-space? Conventional bookshops rarely stock ebooks, unless with CD covers, while most e-reviews are found on Internet sites. E-authors need to publicise both the medium and their books. Being a media-worthy author by providing bio, blurb, anecdotes for radio interviews etc has always been necessary. Now e-authors need to collect reviews, reader comments and visuals to go on Internet pages. They're more involved in direct marketing and attracting readers to their site and onto the publisher's site to buy via "buttons".

5. Suspicions:

Careful about giving out my credit card details, I was unsure whether "free" downloads could occur and whether others would "trust" details of their card with my epublisher, but reasonable security and mail options for buying are offered.

6. Financial Return to Author:

Realistically, I anticipated that e-sales would be like the print subsidiary rights such as translations, nice to have, but just extras. Generally authors receive 10% on the recommended retail price of a book so if a book sells for $10, they get $1. Then there are rising royalty clauses if the book sells well and reprints. Some epublishers are offering 50% royalties, paid quarterly, but with no advances and sales are yet to be proved.

Once the epublisher has the content and can design the appearance, the book is available for sale. Revisions are fast and possible. Compared with type-setting, printing, binding, warehousing and transport, e-pubbing is cheaper and quicker.

Ecommerce is growing. In 1999, the #1 Internet purchase in the United States was books capturing 11% of all Internet sales, followed by computer software (10.0%), music (8.7%) and computer hardware (7.7%). (Source: J.C.Williams Group.)

With this data, the commercial, logical part of my author brain kicked in. A big market. Maybe.

According to Henry Yuen, chairman and CEO of Gemstar which acquired NuvoMedia and SoftBook on January 1st this year, "within 20 years, 90 percent of reading materials will be distributed on electronic media."

7. Quality?

True. But it also means a lot of junk will go on the Net, unfiltered by objective editors. Maybe the editor "middle-person" is eliminated, but so are the quality controls. If online publishing is becoming an option for all want-to-be writers, what about the quality? Print publishers are conscious of their upfront financial investment and insist on quality editing whereas epublishers are often one-person, shoestring operations relying on fast response to orders.

Genre volume sales such as historical, romance or science fantasy seem best suited to epublishing. Educational titles which have Internet links to further facts interest educators so perhaps a faction series of airport-based mysteries such as my Frequent Flyer Twins would suit. Maybe niche marketing of family histories and poetry, the main print self-publishing areas in the past, will be viable for enthusiasts with technical expertise and equipment, but who are not concerned with profit. Esoteric literary works seem unlikely e-successes, but maybe fans will read them on free sites.

8. How are ebooks read?

After paying and downloading files from websites, you "read" them on your laptop, P.C. or hand-held personal reading device such as an e-Rocket (about $200 US). Some epublishers email their books as a PDF, (can be read with an Adobe Acrobat Reader, free from their website) or HTML file attachments. You can also purchase ebooks on CD-ROM. Ebooks are versatile for vision-impaired people because print sizes can be enlarged or back lighting altered. Other options for comfortable ebook reading include: Palm PC's or Palmtops -- which are mini-laptops with keyboards.

9. Why read ebooks from the Internet?

Because online bookstores are open 24 hours, you get instant delivery. Costs are lower (my mysteries are $4.95 US and CDs $6.95) because there are no printing, storing and distribution costs. Hundreds can be carried on a few portable disks in your bag. Educators can customize e-editions for students. However, this may have copyright implications for factual writers whose work will be more widely used for less recompense. Free sites for links may become rarer. "Greenies" are happier because ebooks save trees and remain available on disk indefinitely. Most ebook designs enable you to add searchable highlights and annotations to texts, so they're more versatile than oldstyle under-lining or scribbles in the margin.

10. The Future

Rights have to be sorted out. Epublishing works best for a professional author when re-publishing books which have already had a print-run, where rights have reverted, for quirky stories with international appeal or those with potentially intriguing links.

My Frequent Flyer Twins series appears to fit the international medium. The protagonists are ten year old Asian-Australian sleuths who are UMs (Unaccompanied Minors) flying to meet their eco-parents. Each non-violent mystery, such as artnapping, bird smuggling or idea-pirating relies on problem-solving skills. Internet links work well for reality-based stories. Occasionally the language level in the links may be higher than the simple vocabulary level of the stories. Not all sites are reliable and so it's good to have an ethical publisher checking "safe" sites for inclusion.

Hand-held ebook reading devices will be commonplace within ten years. Engineers are developing Star Trek-like readers, palm-size and waterproof for reading in the bathtub! As an aqua-readaholic, that decided me ... the fact that I could use a hand-held ebook in the bath ... no more wrinkled paperbacks!

**Best known for There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake (1980) Leipzig Picture Book Bronze Award (1982), and subsequent books, video, stage play Hip Hip Hippo and audio tapes based on the cake-eating hippo, Edwards also writes adult non-fiction, teacher educational material, junior and adolescent fiction and scripts. Her work has been translated into Finnish, Braille, Japanese and Chinese. She has been nominated twice for the AWGIE award for her children's original scripts and adaptations.

Stalker, a Young Adult thriller, is her most recent novel for young people. Just in Case...You Visit the Children's Court created with Michael Salmon is a new venture into factual cartoon style books. In 2000, Hazel will be writer-in-residence in Antarctica at Australia's Casey Station. Hazel's new ebook, The Frequent Flyer Twins, can be ordered from Amazon.com. You can visit her website at hazeledwards.com.

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