by Louise Cusack
eBooks were little more than a curiosity a decade ago when my agent Selwa Anthony tested the Australian publishing waters to sell my Destiny of the Light fantasy novel. eReaders were clunky and expensive so the limited number of eBooks available were mostly read on computers. ePublished authors were rarely paid advances, so their contracts were considered by most to be a form of vanity publishing. They were marginalised at writing conferences where they failed to receive the elusive 'published author' nametag that allowed entry into Author Only events. Back then no one made money selling eBooks, and though people ‘in the know’ were touting them as the future of reading, few in the industry were convinced it would happen quickly, or happen at all.
I was a short story author and wannabe novelist at the time with stars in my eyes for a big print publishing deal. eBooks weren’t even on my radar. All I cared about was getting a big Australian publishing house to buy my fantasy romance trilogy, after which I wanted it to sell across all the English speaking territories and then be made into blockbuster Hollywood movies, hopefully directed by Baz Luhrmann - a dream as vast as the fantasy landscape the novels were set in. Five Australian publishing houses were interested in the series with two bidding strongly for publication rights. Simon & Schuster offered ‘lead title’ status, wanting the series to spearhead a new fantasy line. They impressed us with an enviable promotional strategy and we accepted their offer. Not only did Shadow Through Time sell well in Australia, it was selected by the Doubleday Book Club here as their ‘Editors Choice’. Fan mail flowed in from both fantasy and romance readers, but it didn’t sell overseas and eventually went out of print.
Time moved on but I never gave up on the characters or their story, my enthusiasm bolstered by the continuing stream of fan mail from readers who had found my novels in libraries or second hand bookstores. Despite the fact that the books had only been sold in Australia and New Zealand, I even received an email from a fan in Texas who’d found the opening novel in a second hand bookstore and wanted to buy books two and three.
Years passed and eReaders became more sophisticated. In 2004 Sony introduced the Librié with electronic ink technology, simulating words on a page. Then in 2007 Amazon released the Kindle, and eBooks took off. I bought a Kindle myself and began to devour e-Books, loving the convenience of an instant download and also the price, which was often half that of a paperback. Globally, eBooks were trending, and by January 2011 Kindle eBooks overtook paperback books to become the most popular format on Amazon.com. In May of 2011 the company announced that eBook sales were outpacing hardcover and paperback books, combined.
Big name authors like Stephen King, James Patterson and John Grisham were all in eBook format. It had finally become respectable, so in August last year when Macmillan Australia contacted my agent to say they were opening a digital only imprint, Momentum Books, and wanted to contract my backlist trilogy for a worldwide digital release, I was excited. The technology and timing made eBooks a perfect medium to bring my trilogy to the world - and to a whole new readership.
Having just returned from the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne the month before, my head was full of information I’d gleaned from big name US publishers, authors and agents, all talking about the state of eBooks and their potential to become 'the new mass market paperback', so after getting my rights back from Simon & Schuster I put together a checklist of conditions that we used to help forge the deal:
1. A limited term on the contract (eBooks can never go ‘out of print’ so you need to know you can get your rights back at some point);
2. A reasonable royalty rate as compared to other ePublishers;
3. A reasonable price point on the books (I’d seen a big Australian publishing house put a $22 price tag on a young adult eBook by a new author, when I’d bought the top selling YA at the time, The Hunger Games, for under $6);
4. Release straight into the worldwide market (because selling it into only one territory will infuriate readers who may have been prompted to purchase by a review of your book online, only to find they can’t buy it on Amazon because they live in the US or UK territory);
5. New covers that would better highlight the strong love stories in the novels and also be purpose-designed for the thumbnail marketplace that eBooks fit into.
Coming to the table well prepared brings its own rewards, and I’m delighted to say that my new contract exceeded all my expectations. The novels went on sale when Momentum opened its doors on February 15th, and are listed at AUD$4.99 each, repackaged in fresh, striking covers. They’re available in a worldwide English-speaking market in every e-Book store you can imagine: Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, and more. And as I write I’m busy spruiking their virtues on Facebook, Twitter, my website and blog, and via that onto Goodreads, LinkedIn and soon Youtube.
My biggest lesson from this eExperience is that you should never give up on a good story. Those characters had amazing adventures and passionate, satisfying love stories. They deserve to meet an international audience, and I’m thrilled that they’re now achieving that potential in a format I’d never have envisaged a decade ago.
My vision to see them reach the big screen will be the next leap forward, and while I can’t make Baz Luhrmann option my books for films, I can always dream.
And of all the things that a storyteller does, that’s possibly the most important.
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