My mini-crash course on epubs/dig pubs

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Okay, so I’ve had a lot of people commenting/emailing/DMing me about an article I had in the RWR-the magazine for RWA’ members. Basically, it was a look at the pros and cons of digital/epublishing.  Because it does have it’s pros and cons.

Now I’m getting some questions about what to look for in an epublisher/digital publisher, what makes a good contract, etc, etc, etc.

I don’t think I’m any sort of expert and please don’t take this as any sort of expert advice.

But if I was shopping for a new epublisher-and I’m not, so any epublishers who might be reading this, please do not take this as an invite to leave your info.  It’s not one…and pretty please, please take note that I reserve the right to redecorate/re-edit posts that come off as overly-spammy versus actually contributing to a conversation.  If you want to contribute, by all means, but that means…um…discuss, not just spam my blog. (Yes, this happens, it irritates me.  A Lot.)

If I was shopping for a new digital publishing…the first things I would do:

  • Investigate the potential epub/dig pub on Absolute Write-if the horror stories don’t make me run screaming, then I proceed
  • Do a google search for the ‘pub name’ + complaints-same as above-if there are more complaints than NON-complaints…eh, I proceed with caution
  • Check out the website.  If it’s professional, I proceed. If not, I stop.
  • Look at the covers.  If they are professionally-done covers, I proceed.  If not, I stop.
  • Read the excerpts. If they are well-edited, interesting, I proceed. If not, I stop.
  • I buy a book.  If it’s a hassle, I may well finish buying the book, but then I stop-this is crucial guys, because if it’s a hassle for YOU to buy the book, it’s a hassle for your readers.
  • I look at where the title can be bought…their site only? Nook? Amazon?  If just their site?  I’m gone.
  • I do more moseying around on the web because I want a feel for the publisher/web presence, although I do this all the time anyway and generally, I have a feel for a lot of them anyway.  This is a big thing for me, because some epubs have people in charge–not writers–but people speaking for them who tend to make asses of themselves.  That’s not who I want in charge of my books.

If all of this worked for me, then I’ll submit a book.  If it’s accepted and a contract is offered, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m signing.  Certain things will make me pause, and certain things will make me stop cold turkey.

Now one thing that doesn’t make me stop, at all, worldwide English rights–YOU WANT THIS.  In my opinion, at least, this is a good thing, because one thing my digital publishers helped me do was build a world-wide fan base and those readers were waiting for my traditionally published books the day they hit the shelves.  Without those digital books, they wouldn’t have even known about me.


  • Lifetime rights…I’m hesitant to do this with digital.  I just am.  Depending on the work, and what it would-# of sales, how I could get the rights back before, I may still sign
  • Right involving translations-depending on who, what opportunities I see coming from this, I might still sign.
  • Definition of out of print…needed to get my rights back, generally.
  • royalties not paid monthly or at least bi-monthly-this is one of the biggest pluses of digital publishing, and I’d be less inclined to sign with somebody who doesn’t offer that plus, because it also makes it a little bit harder to build that regular income that is such a positive for digital publishing.


  • Non-negotiable. If I’m told something isn’t negotiable.  Sorry.  Don’t want to hear this–even when I first signed with Berkley and all I had were digital titles to my name, they were willing to negotiate on some things.  Both of the digital presses I write with now have negotiated with me on my contracts, and I’m not  interested in signing with a digital publishing who won’t negotiate, especially since I know there are other digi-fish in the sea, so to speak.
  • Low royalties. My royalty rates range between 37-40% for direct sales and just a bit lower than that for 3rd party (amazon, nook, etc).  I won’t sign for under 35% percent royalties for direct and if I’m told I’d get less than 25% sales from digital publisher for 3rd party sales…well, that’s a big fat stop.  I mean, BIG. FAT. STOP.  My personal definition of low royalties for an epub/digital first pub? 30% and under for direct sales, and anything under 25% for 3rd party sales.  (One minor caveat?  If it was a shorter work that didn’t take me much time-and by short, I meant short story/novella stuff and I’d also be weighing in promo/exposure possibilities-but I wouldn’t be looking to build a career with a company that offers low royalties, not when there are better fish in the digital sea, and not when the sales from 3rd party vendors are becoming such a huge portion of sales, often 20-30 percent of my monthly income)
  • How do I get paid-net v. gross.  They can nickle and dime you down to nothing-I will not let this happen.  I also am not likely to sign if they have a reserve against return on ebooks, as generally ebooks don’t get returned.
  • Failure to have print plan in place. Especially if they are asking for print rights.  If they want the print rights to my books, then they have better be able to lay out their print plan to me.  If they can’t or aren’t willing, then they don’t need the print rights to my books.
  • First Right of Refusal.  This is a major stop for me-one of the reasons epubs/digital pubs work for me so well is because of the versatility.  If I lose that versatility, then things get bad.  So if I’m not doing first rights.

For a more comprehensive list of things I’d look for on digital pubs, you can check this post out.

My advice to those looking to digital publishing–talk other digital authors and hang out at the forums on absolute write, that sort of thing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and remember, it’s your book.

Don’t be so excited to get it published that you end up signing a contract that doesn’t get you the best deal you can get.

I don’t believe publisher contracts are out to screw authors over, but those contracts are designed with the publisher in mind, not the author. If you know how to negotiate, or get an agent who knows the ropes, you can work out a contract that benefits both of you.

If you don’t have an agent, make sure you get a contract attorney to review it before you sign.

2 Replies to “My mini-crash course on epubs/dig pubs”

  1. I can’t believe you had this post today–I was at a chat last night and met some authors, and people with a smaller digital publishing company. I’m afraid they didn’t meet quite a few of those things you spoke about. I haven’t been over to Absolute Write yet- for some reason I feel intimidated. Stupid I know because I’ve been online so long shouldn’t feel this way. Thanks for the advice- it really helped a lot.

  2. Well, some of the AW folks, without intending to, I think, can be intimidating, but you don’t even have to ask anything learn stuff. Just look around, do a search for the pubs you have Qs about. Sometimes that alone will find you the info you are looking for.

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