Features
Krieg Barrie

Digital dynamite

2013 Books Issue | Once a curious novelty, e-books have exploded in popularity

Issue: "Terrific and timely," June 29, 2013

WORLD’s 2000 books issue explored the then-unprecedented idea of electronic books, heralding it as an opportunity for Christian authors to get their books out without the cost and hassle of going through the publishing process: “E-books are where the internet was in 1994: Everybody knows something really cool is coming, but they don’t know exactly what.”

Thirteen years later, many writing newcomers are publishing e-books, often losing money in the process but sometimes finding a market. Karen Baney, a software engineer by day and Christian romance writer by night, made $75,000 last year from selling her self-published e-books. No publishing company, no marketing team, just a laptop and business savvy. 

Baney penned her first novel about a romance set in 1800s Arizona in 2010, and has since written three more books in the Prescott Pioneers series, as well as a contemporary Christian romance novel and a book on how to market self-published e-books. If she had pursued the traditional publishing route, “I might be lucky if I had one book out, and I’d probably make a royalty of about 12 percent.” Instead she keeps 60-70 percent of e-book sales.

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As e-books make up a larger portion of book sales—an Association of American Publishers’ StatShot study shows that 22.6 percent of book sales in 2012 were e-books—more authors, both professional and amateur, are turning to self-publishing e-books for creative freedom, high royalty rates, and convenience. The question now is how to make a book stand out in the ever-growing crowd.

One experienced writer, Brian Godawa, the screenwriter of To End All Wars, is self-publishing a biblical fiction series that originated from an unused screenplay. Godawa wrote the screenplay for a movie about Noah, but realized the movie would cost too much and would have to compete with another upcoming Noah movie. So Godawa turned the screenplay into a novel and published it himself. He decided to skip the traditional publishing process because “I’ve been published, I’ve had movies produced, but still I come up with a novel and I have to start from square one when I’m trying to get a publisher.” 

Realizing that readers enjoy series, he wove together a larger storyline, looking at Genesis’ mention about the Nephilim, giants that were the offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men.” From that he created a fictitious narrative based on major Bible characters such as Enoch, Noah, and Joshua. 

It took about a year to finish the first book, Noah Primeval, as he had to adapt the screenplay, hire editors and cover designers, and figure out how to market the book. But after that “each of the three books [in the series], took about three months of full-time writing, and the great thing about it was I didn’t have to wait a year for each book to come out. I could release them as soon as I finished writing, so I got my series going within a year.”

The books have stayed at the top of biblical fiction rankings on Amazon since their release in 2011. He said he’s made about $20,000 from book sales, which has supplemented his income as he works on other movie and writing projects. His hope is that as more people get excited about the stories, Hollywood will get interested, and he’ll already have the scripts ready for production. 

Struggling writer Ann Miller tried breaking into the publishing world for 10 years with her coming-of-age Christian romances, but found that as more authors and readers bypass traditional publishing companies, publishing houses are cutting back and only looking for bestsellers written by well-known authors. “I started despairing,” Miller said about her difficulty landing a book deal even with the help of an agent. “Before I was too proud to self-publish because I thought, ‘I got a degree, I can do this.’”

In early 2012, Miller swallowed her pride and hired a freelance editor and a proofreader to look through her writing, make changes, and clean up the manuscript. A friend painted her book cover. Miller uploaded her book onto Amazon’s Kindle Direct Press (KDP) and Smashwords, a self-publishing platform. She gave away for free her first book, Kicking Eternity, to get readers interested in her series. She priced the next three books in the series at $4.99 and released them in succession, hoping that once readers bonded with the characters they would want to continue reading. So far the free e-book has had 83,000 downloads and Miller has earned about $2,000 in e-book sales.

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