Electronic Publishing: an interview with Moriah Jovan, part II

In Part I of my interview with Moriah Jovan, she provided overview of the electronic publishing market as it currently stands as well as some of the overall issues the e-books market is facing. Here in Part II, we get in to e-books in the Mormon market as well as a some advice for authors and publishers and some prognostication.

Every Sunday, I see both men and women using smartphones or PDAs to read scriptures and lesson manuals. The Church actually does a decent job of providing electronic versions of some of its materials. Do you think e-books could sell in the Mormon market? Why or why not? What types do you think would do best?

I think e-books can sell in the Mormon market as long as people are conditioned to expect products in E. Thing is, storefronts for LDS materials are so few and far between (especially east of the Rockies) that it’s not even a thought in most people’s heads. If your temple happens to have a bookstore nearby, yay, but the pickings might be slim. I live 4.5 hours away from the Nauvoo temple, and invariably get most of my materials there. (I must admit that we have a new bookstore here in KC [not very far from where I live], but I haven’t been there yet. I’m annoyed that they spam email me and there’s only ONE way they could’ve gotten my email address. It’s been a deliberate choice not to go there for that reason.)

The key is to get members to understand that there are *other things* in E besides scriptures. Every week I see those men and women reading on their PDAs and smartphones and iPhones. They’re FASCINATED by my one-function device, my eBookWise, and they’re astounded when I tell them they can read books on their devices. It had *never occurred* to them. That’s what needs to change.

Deseret Book is in a unique position to be able to accomplish this. I thought they were going to start because about a month ago or so, I saw they had free PDF downloads of some of their books. The whole book. But here’s the thing: PDF is not an e-book. There is almost no device that renders PDF well and certainly not any of the devices I see at church. Nobody wants to read on the computer, even if they go ahead and do it.

So the trick is to make it available and train people to expect it to be available.

What is required to provide a good, enticing experience for consumers — it’s more than just creating a PDF file from a Word document, right?

You need these in combination: 1) a well-proofed and well-formatted e-book available in a format you can use, 2) ease of purchase, 3) lack of DRM [Digital Rights Management], and 4) ease of getting it on your device.

I qualify the well-proofed with the well-formatted because very often (it’s the traditional publishers who are guilty of this), the digital version is taken from the RTF or DOC that was used to then typeset the book, meaning it hasn’t gone through galley proofing yet. They don’t take the galley proofed version of the book and convert it to digital, so mistakes remain in the e-book that aren’t in the print book. Preparing a book for print and formatting it for digital are two entirely different processes and two entirely different skill sets, and only the e-publishers seem to have figured this out.

The key to e-books is IMMEDIACY at an attractive price. It’s an impulse purchase, like the stuff in the checkout lane at Wal-Mart. You don’t need it. You’ll put it on your Amazon wishlist and forget about it. You’ll think about having another book in the house. But with an e-book, it’s just so…easy. The easier you make it, the better the experience. Click buy, type in your Paypal password, pay, get directed to download. Boom, done. It all seems so…imaginary, like playing with Monopoly money in exchange for the promise of a good story.

You yourself are an e-book reader. What titles/publishers in the Mormon market have you passed on because you couldn’t buy them in an e-format?

Not in any particular order:

1. Altared Plans by Rebecca Talley (I must qualify that with the fact that we put our heads together and got that sorted out, but not because of any initiative on the publisher’s part.)

2. Deadly Treasure by Jillayne Clements

3. By Love or By Sea by Rachel Rager

4. Shudder by Jennie Hansen

5 & 6. Farm Girl and Uncut Diamonds by Karen Gowen

7. Heroes of the Fallen by David J. West (Again, this is getting worked out.)

My frustration with Anita Stansfield’s “Dance” series not being in E has a different genesis: I was in Nauvoo (where I end up buying almost all of my Deseret-ish books) and bought Dancing in the Light, not knowing it was part of a series. In fact, it was number 3. The book was not marked. Anyway, I started reading and right away knew I’d missed something, went online to Deseret Book and saw that there was one ahead of it. Okay, ordered it. Started reading. Figured out it wasn’t the beginning of the series. I put it down and never went back to it, and I probably won’t. If they had had any of them in E, I would’ve bought them all immediately. But really, this wasn’t a frustration of the books not being in E. It was a frustration with the publisher for not marking the series.

Also? Books from Deseret Book are awfully expensive, especially after you add in shipping.

What can consumers in the Mormon market do to help support e-books? What about authors — and how can they make it easy for their work to be converted in to e-book formats?

If the Mormon market doesn’t know that e-books exist outside of scriptures and what’s available on lds.org, they can’t support it. As I said, people who use their PDAs, smartphones, and iPhone/iTouch are amazed that they can read other books on their devices. It simply never occurred to them.

Most authors have no control over anything, not even in traditional NY publishing. Many romance reviewers who switch over to requesting e-ARCs have reported that they have a hard time getting them from the publishers to the point where the author will send the last copy of the manuscript they have, in RTF for easy conversion (by the reviewer). In the case of the books I noted above, the authors are also doing something about that because the publisher hasn’t made it available. Chris Bigelow made Angel Falling Softly available to me by DOC, so that was awesome.

I know of one LDS publisher who is making a move to digital to maximize her investment. I know of another who is taking full advantage of today’s political climate to put back into print a very popular (and rare) book that hangs on Ayn Rand’s skirts in an LDS context, and by the time I contacted him, he’d already taken steps toward digitization. So I’m not the only one out there who understands this, but it’ll be a slow process. In the case of number 1, she has to start from scratch. In number 2, he’s sitting on a potential goldmine, so I’m waiting eagerly to find out how he does. In our case (B10 Mediaworx and Peculiar Pages), our problem is that our offerings just aren’t classifiable, but we have time on our side to grow our respective audiences.

The e-book is in its infancy, true, but they’ve been around for the last 10 years at least, with the Peanut and Palm. But now they’re gaining momentum, largely due to the Kindle, but the Kindle has its limitations and what I fear happening is that people will begin to equate Kindle with e-book. Just as people say “May I have a Kleenex?” for a tissue, whether it’s actually a Kleenex brand tissue or not, I hope people don’t say, “Oh, I got a Kindle” in the context of having bought an e-book not of a Kindle variety.

What do you think the future of the e-book as a medium is?

For those who haven’t yet, read:  The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson.

Otherwise, right now, there is the Vook (I’m not crazy about this.)

In the between time, additions will be made to e-books little by little that will enhance them, like links within the text, pop-up glossary and footnotes, the prettification of the formatting.

Quite frankly, I would like to find some other word than “book” to express an e-book, because it’s a different experience. I imagine going from tablet to scroll, to hand-lettered and illuminated leaves, to printed and bound stacks of paper must have been different experiences. I don’t know, as I’ve never read from a tablet or a scroll, but reading from a hand-lettered and illuminated leaf is an entirely different experience from reading a paper book. Even reading a hardback is a different experience from reading a paperback.

E-books won’t supplant paper ever and I don’t want it to. There are some things E can’t and SHOULDN’T do, but there are some things that E is perfectly suited for, and one of those is fiction.

18 thoughts on “Electronic Publishing: an interview with Moriah Jovan, part II”

  1. Great article. I am quite interested in where e-publishing is going, especially since my publisher (Valor Publishing) will be releasing a Kindle version and MP3 version of my book sometime around or soon after the print release.

    I guess that means that I will be investing in a Kindle!

  2. But…why not any of the other formats? Or at least:

    EPUB (for the most universality)
    MOBI (for Kindle universality)
    PDB (eReader for all the other PDA/Palm/BlackBerry type devices and the Nook)

    ?

    Being on Kindle only is terribly short-sighted, IMO.

  3. As a niche publisher with 10 titles and more to come, I’d love to turn over the e-book possibilities of Zarahemla Books to someone who can accurately do the e-book formatting in various platforms (I would think Kindle and 2-3 others), set up the books for sale where best, and also market them. I would provide an RTF/Word file exported from the final InDesign file of each book, so it would have all final proofreading corrections, and I would pay this person a suitable percentage of royalties on e-book sales. Unfortunately, I don’t have any time or money to put into e-books myself, but I’m willing to compensate someone who can bring in some e-book income and, more importantly to me, get more readers for the books. If interested, contact me at chrisbigelow at gmail dot com.

  4. Excellent article with key, well-outlined points I can take back to the company I work for and hopefully get us on track with this. We’ve been talking about it for some time but made no inroads. This is one of the best summaries I have seen on the topic, especially with how it relates to the LDS publisher and reader.

  5. One more thing–you mention that you are working with authors individually to get their particular works to you electronically. How is this not in direct violation of a contract which assigns electronic along with other rights to the publisher? A publisher may give permission for the author to send an arc electronically for potential review, but it might be a fine line if electronic versions of the last edit are sent to random readers, not reviewers. Especially if the readers are paying the author for the privelege.

    The fact that a publisher may not yet have e-books in the mix should not be a reason for the author to perhaps violate the contract.

    This occurred to me after rereading the post. Hopefully it’s an intelligent question and not woefully obvious to everyone but me–consider that I am coming at this as someone who knows very very little about the whole e-book phenomenon.

  6. Kristine, I would really hope you could. I didn’t know anything about WiDo press before I got stomped on on my blog, but I still wish it all the luck in the world.

    If there is anything I can help you with, please e-mail me at moriah at moriahjovan dot com.

  7. Thank you Moriah, I would be glad for the opportunity to draw from your expertise to help us follow this e-book trail further. I’m not sure I understand the reference to stomping you on your blog though, because I have never visited your blog. However, if it has more on this topic, I would love to stop by regularly.

  8. .

    Kristine—not all rights are necessarily signed away in a single contract. Sometimes even hardback and paperback are sold separately. Although I suspect that doesn’t happen too often anymore. As the world Moriah’s prophesying comes to pass, I suspect both publishers and authors both will try to hold on to as many rights for as long a time as possible. Which of course sounds like the same world we live in now, but somehow I imagine it will feel differently.

  9. Preparing a book for print and formatting it for digital are two entirely different processes and two entirely different skill sets

    This is why we haven’t tried e-books yet. No idea where to even start beyond exporting the finished text from InDesign back to Word. Are there any how-tos out there? And how can I tell if the file looks the way it should without buying half a dozen different devices to view them on?

  10. Can InDesign export directly to HTML? That’s where you would start, if you can do it.

    I believe CS4 has a “save as EPUB” option? At least, that’s what I think I remember hearing.

    If it can’t, export to Word, then “save as HTML.”

    You’re going to have to learn how to do XHTML to do it.

  11. Side note or tip for those who like to read on their desktop/laptop. I use a FREE ONLINE TOOL called “Readability”. It gives me the articles [like this one], in VERY font, full page, novel paper background, removes everything but the article.
    I can sit back in my desk chair, in comfort, and read.

  12. Very cool, Eugene. I’ve been saying for awhile that anyone in PR and marketing should at the very least know some basic HTML and CSS. It sounds like authors should know some basics of formatting for electronic publication as well.

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