Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Experiences in Ebook Land

Barbara here. In these hazy, hot days of summer, the work ethic often takes a back seat to crisp white wine spritzers and languid patio chats, but while most of the world snoozes, the Ladies Killing Circle has been hard at work on a new project. First a brief historical note. The Ladies Killing Circle began twenty years ago as a group of six aspiring Ottawa writers looking for a critiquing group. After a few years of critiquing each other’s stories, they decided to put together an anthology of crime short stories by local women writers and pitched it to an area publisher. The inaugural LADIES’ KILLING CIRCLE was published in 1995, and was so successful that six other anthologies followed over the next 13 years. Besides garnering numerous nominations and wins for Best Canadian Short Story at the annual Arthur Ellis Awards from Crime Writers of Canada, the anthologies helped launch the solo writing careers of some of Canada’s most successful female crime writers, including the six members of LKC itself – Mary Jane Maffini, Joan Boswell, Sue Pike, Vicki Cameron, Linda Wiken and myself.

The last anthology, appropriately titled GOING OUT WITH A BANG, was published in 2007, and since then we've resisted all pleas to make another. Time constraints, other writing commitments, and new challenges are all factors. But we’ve watched the rise of the ebook with interest, particularly the ease with which unusual formats like novellas and single short stories can be made available on the web for minimal fees, opening up new ways to make old stories accessible again.

A few months ago, we idly mused about the possibility of packaging our stories from the original anthology into a mini ebook. A sort of ebooklet. The anthology is now out of print and its wonderful stories are lost to new readers. In addition to containing the very first story most of us had ever published, it contained a story from Mary Jane Maffini that won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Short Story that year.

The idea caught fire, and before the month was out, the stories had been selected, a cover had been designed, and we had found someone with the expertise to convert our files into the required formats and upload them onto the ebook sites. The result is LITTLE TREASURES, a collection of seven short stories, one by each of us as well as the title story by Audrey Jessup, an original LKC member who sadly passed away in 2003.

The process was not without challenges, the first being to find the original digital files of the stories. All of us had gone through several computers between 1994 and 2011, and some of the stories were lost in the moves or stored on unreadable floppy disks. Several were in archaic software like Word Perfect 5.1. Fortunately, I still use Word Perfect, albeit the X3 version which can convert back and forth to Word. Also fortunately, Linda Wiken had an old computer lurking in her basement that had a floppy disk drive. Between us, some of the stories were salvaged, but others had to be scanned and still others re-typed. An interesting lesson on the vulnerability of our technology.

A second challenge was the pricing of the ebook. The print anthologies ranged between $14.95 and $18.95, as do our individual novels. Since this is not a full-length book, we planned to price it much lower, perhaps around $3.00 to encourage new readers to take a risk. We quickly discovered two things about the ebook marketplace. First, there are billions of short stories, novels, novellas, and collections on the web. Billions. The chances of getting noticed, indeed of even getting found, in this cluttered marketplace are next to nil. Second, in their attempt to get noticed, writers have lowered their prices so much that full novels are being offered for 99 cents. 99 cents! For a work that would have taken at least a year to write. Even if one were to sell 50,000 copies of that ebook – improbable at best - one wouldn’t make a living wage.

The only ones likely to profit from this bizarre marketplace, where supply so far outstrips demand that hard work is valued at next to nothing, are the few big name authors, and the platforms themselves like Amazon and Apple. Hopefully a new equilibrium will sort itself out and new channels will be developed like online review sites, which help interested readers wade through the flood of offerings. Meanwhile, there is a lot of very good material available for pennies on the internet.

Including, very shortly, LITTLE TREASURES by The Ladies Killing Circle. So watch for it. It’s a bargain.

1 comment:

Vicki Delany said...

Good post Barbara. I'm watching the pricing of e-books with much interest. I recently paid $19 for an e-book by a well known writer that's about three years old. I believe that I got my $19 worth of entertainmnent. It seems to me that successful and well-known authors are NOT selling their books for .99 but keeping them at a living wage level. Short stores are different, as you said, and I expect the LKC book will do well.