for writers and readers….

I need advice and if you’ve ever bought a book, you’re qualified to give it

Creative writing ebookFour months ago I self-published BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL – an ebook of 30 writing exercises that I’ve developed over nine years of teaching on university undergraduate courses and in chilly church halls, on lottery funded community projects and in adult education evening classes. Self-publishing was a new experience for me and that was part of the reason why I did it. I knew from what I had read in other blogs and through talking with fellow writers that we are at a cusp where the relationships between authors and publishers and authors and readers is undergoing an extraordinary change and I wanted to see what it felt like.
Others are proud – and rightly so – of their ability to take control over every part of the process, but I decided that I wasn’t even going to attempt formatting my ebook. I’m very glad the technology exists but I have no desire to learn new skills to master it. It was a service I was happy to pay for and I also paid a little extra so I could have  my hand held over the easy-peasy business of uploading the finished book to Amazon – that’s how confident I felt.
I also listened to good advice and engaged a designer to produce a cover and I am so glad I did. Nothing shouts beginner and I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing more loudly than a book that looks as though it were part of a GCSE art project.
So what has it felt like?
To be honest, it’s no longer an interesting experiment and I can see self-publishing in some form becoming part of my writing strategy (which is a grand phrase to cover all kinds of haphazard lurches).
Encouraging daily sales mean that BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL has been number one in the Kindle education and reference section for something like two and a half months and in the top twenty for books about writing (that’s print books and ebooks) for even longer. It’s gained 36 five star reviews on Amazon UK and eight on Amazon US, but now I’ve been thinking about bringing it out as a print book: one that you can pick up and feel, turn the corners down on and scribble in the margins. (That’s not sacrilege as far as I’m concerned – this a working book, not an Austen first edition. The occasional underlining and penciled question mark  would be like grease spots on a cookery book – proof that it was useful.)
If I did bring out a print version I would want to add to it, rather than make it an exact replica of the ebook, I was thinking of including  about twenty per cent more in the way of exercises and guidance so it was genuinely a new edition.
This is where I need your advice.

Are print books on the way out?
I’m not asking if you would buy a paperback copy of  BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL, although of course I would be thrilled (and mildly surprised) if you jumped up and down and declared that this was exactly what you were waiting for…
No, my question is a bit more general. I want to know if you would consider spending more on any print book (how much more I don’t know because it depends on the number of pages, but I’m assuming about £5 more) when an easy to download  and cheaper electronic version was available.
It shows my deep-seated technical ignorance that it was only after publishing BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL I realised that Amazon has a free app that allows readers to download ebooks to computers, tablets and smart phones. In other words you don’t need an ebook device to read an ebook.

To put my question another way:
are ebooks and print books the equivalent of CDs and vinyl, especially when it comes to paying hard cash at the check out?
Or is Stephen Fry right when he says that the two are not in competition and that ebooks are no more a threat to real books than elevators are to stairs.

I know what I’d like the answer to be, but what do you think?

BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL Amazon UK  Amazon US Amazon Australia Amazon Canada

Juke Box Jury

photo credit: Record labels Olivander via photopin cc

photo credit: Juke Box Jury brizzle born and bred via photopin cc

34 comments on “I need advice and if you’ve ever bought a book, you’re qualified to give it

  1. Adam
    February 24, 2014

    I will happily buy both… my preference is always for a paper, real book, but sometimes it is convenient to have an ebook

    • bridget whelan
      February 24, 2014

      “I will happily buy both..” Is there a nicer phrase in the English language? Thank you Adam

  2. shiva
    February 24, 2014

    I bought the kindle version but I loved to buy a paper one, even £5 more than the electronic price. special a book which is for practicing…. Thank you.

    • bridget whelan
      February 24, 2014

      Ah, maybe this one is even better, thank you so much Shiva…but that convinces me that if someone were to buy both they deserve to have something extra in the printed version.

  3. ann perrin
    February 24, 2014

    To the Queen of creative writing tutors sometimes it’s best to rest on your success!

    • bridget whelan
      February 24, 2014

      My problem in a nutshell…I have other projects running and at the ideas stage. (Oh and thank you for the title!)

  4. Suzanne
    February 24, 2014

    I like to have a real book, one that I can take on the train with me, that I can underline and write all over, I would always be more than happy to pay more for a real life book than an e-book but that might just be because I am a bit of a philistine when it comes to technology. But I can say I would definitely buy your book as a real book and take it on my daily commute with me, would look forward to doing so in fact!

    • bridget whelan
      February 24, 2014

      Readers have just suggested on twitter and Creative Writing School’s facebook page (do go over and have a look) that I could make use of the notebook theme on the cover and add pages (lined pages?) so that you could use it as a working exercise book. Some exercises are too long and too open-ended but it would definitely work with others and thinking of your daily commute Suzanne has made me think about the possibilities. Thank you for your encouraging words (and there’s more than a bit of the philistine in my approach to technology – that’s why I needed so much long-distance hand holding).

      • Kym Lloyd
        February 26, 2014

        The working exercise book is a great idea. Personally, I would have plain pages (at least some plain) – ideas sometimes come in picture or diagram form, even doodles (I work that way with my writing anyway) and poems need space not lines to show ‘form’. I am an advocate of both print and e-books – they serve different purposes/situations – e-books are an extension not replacement in my view.

      • bridget whelan
        February 26, 2014

        Hmmm…good argument for white space rather than the restriction of lines, but in the end I think the decision about having any blank pages will come down to cost. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that they’ve paid too much. This needs thinking about (and I am thinking in new directions since putting this question – thanks everyone).

  5. victoriacorby
    February 24, 2014

    I’d buy the paper version definitely, much prefer them.

  6. bridget whelan
    February 24, 2014

    Really appreciate that thought…

  7. Laura Marcus
    February 24, 2014

    Yeah another one here who prefers print though I do buy e-books too. I also buy CDs AND downloads from iTunes. I’ve even been known to pay for a downloaded track on iTunes then later discovered I already had it on CD – d’oh!

    FWIW I think Stephen Fry is right. These are two different animals and both will jog alongside each other quite nicely, imho. Incidentally Bridget did you also pay to get your book edited? Good on you for paying for expertise to format, design and upload to amazon.

  8. bridget whelan
    February 24, 2014

    Thanks for your comments Laura. I like books too, but I couldn’t work out if my desire to go into print was sensible or if I was just fulfilling my own need to hold a copy in my hands. No, I didn’t employ a copy editor – I had a team of volunteer copy editors helping me out (well, maybe two), but I am well aware that’s not the same as hiring a professional. Do you think I should?

  9. Laura Marcus
    February 24, 2014

    If I ever do an e-book I will definitely hire an editor but that’s because my grammar isn’t all that though my spelling is pretty good. A second pair of eyes is always a good thing I believe. You did have that though with volunteer copy editors. It’s good that the standard demanded is rising all the time. I think a printed version of your book would sell – how would you do that? Would you go down the self-publishing route or try to get a trad pub interested?

    • bridget whelan
      February 24, 2014

      I might talk to my agent about it, but the royalties available through Amazon mean that self-publishing offers an attractive alternative. However, if a mainstream publisher came knocking on my door…

  10. Pat Burt
    February 24, 2014

    I would rather have a reference book in my hand than on a screen.. If my exams had been on computer I would never have passed. £10 seems very reasonable.. When I think of what a lot of my text books cost.

  11. Luanne
    February 24, 2014

    I only buy print books!

    • bridget whelan
      February 24, 2014

      And you’re not alone…so if I had a print version there’s a whole new market to discover.

      • Luanne
        February 24, 2014

        That’s right.

  12. kathmcgurl
    February 24, 2014

    I think non-fiction books like yours are better off as print books. People will want to scribble in it, put post-it notes on certain pages, have it beside them as they sit down to write etc. All of which is much easier with a print book than an ebook. And I’d buy a copy of your book in print, even though I’ve already read it as an ebook!

    I think people expect to pay more for a print book – everyone understands there’s a much higher production cost per unit. So this shouldn’t be a problem. People will still have a choice which version to buy.

    I’ve just been going through the process of extending my books and formatting for print. Darn sight harder than formatting for Kindle but I am getting there. My ebooks are priced at £1.53 which was the lowest I could make them. The print books will be around £5 – almost the lowest I can make them via CreateSpace. I’ll make less profit on the print books per unit.

    I’m not sure about including too many blank pages. It will put the cost of the book up without adding content.

    Hope this is helpful!

    • bridget whelan
      February 24, 2014

      I’ve been so impressed with the quality of your books Kath from the content to the cover to the home typesetting. You’ve got the whole thing under your control and what you produce is very professional. I just don’t think I can go down that road, at least not on the production side. You’re right that there’s a big difference between fiction and non fiction – my book is something you might want to dip into, refer back to, put aside for a couple of months and pick up again so that’s another big argument in favour of print.
      I do so like the idea of ruled blank pages but in the end it comes down to economics – no one would want to pay a lot for white space.

  13. The Proof AngelSarah Perkins
    February 24, 2014

    I buy ebooks for 3 reasons.

    1. Huge tomes I can’t be bothered to carry, like the complete works of Anthony Trollope. I’ll never be stuck without something to read, unless the battery goes flat. There is one thing more annoying than not having anything to read, & that is carrying 2 books in case you might finish the first.
    2. Reference books I might need when I’m out & about. Apart from anything else, searching is quicker than looking it up in a book.
    3. Things I know I’m only going to read once, so there is no clutter when I’ve finished.

    I’d definitely prefer a real book for any kind of working book, as it is so much easier to be able to highlight, jot & scribble. Working books that have extra space for the purpose are very useful, & it is quite common in craft books these days. Go & have a nose at some for ideas, as some can look a bit cheap, & you don’t want that, do you?

    I hope that last para makes sense, I’m on my iPad, & there is a lovely sign up message over where i’m typing!!

    • bridget whelan
      February 25, 2014

      Another vote for print and good quality print at that – is that achievable with CreateSpace (and paid typesetting) or would I need a more bespoke service – anyone know?

  14. E A M Harris
    February 25, 2014

    For a book that doesn’t depend on a lot of pictures, I always go for the ebook. The lower price is part of it, but the reasons I bought a Kindle in the first place were space and work. Paper books take up shelf space, are heavy to move around, have to be dusted etc.

    • bridget whelan
      February 25, 2014

      Good to hear from another perspective but must admit dusting has never stopped me from buying books….(but the thought of adding another to the pile has – like Sarah I now just want to buy a book there’s a good chance I will read again)

  15. kathmcgurl
    February 28, 2014

    The proof copy of one of my print books arrived today from CreateSpace. The quality is lovely – nice paper, good glossy cover. I can definitely recommend using CreateSpace. The formatting is hard work however – if you’re not happy doing it yourself then definitely get someone else to help.

    BTW I have added your book to my further reading lists in both of mine. 🙂

    • bridget whelan
      March 19, 2014

      How rude of me, forgot to thank you Kath for including my book in the reading list on your latest. Thank you too for all this hands-on information. Glad you’re pleased with the quality – weight off my mind.

  16. Jill
    March 2, 2014

    I much prefer ‘real’ books – ie paper – and even prefer paperbacks to hardbacks, as they are better to curl up with (and I curl up happily with non-fiction as well as the more likely novels). But despite having quite a large house to myself, I have run out not just of shelf-space, but of space to build more shelves. Also, when I had to have building work done recently, moving books was a nightmare.

    As a consequence I decided I had to learn to love e-books, and much to my own surprise it’s working. Best of all, you can always find the book you’re looking for – not always the case with my physical books! I suspect that soon I will have completely overcome any prejudice and opt for the e-version every time – unless it’s an art book.

    But no, even the notes/highlights/etc facilities are not the same as jottings in the margin and never will be.

    So – a long way of saying yes, do both! I thought your e-book, that I bought today, was incredibly generously priced, and think that it compares well with others costing three times as much even for the kindle versions. For a paperback, around the £7.99 mark would make me click rather than agonise!

    All good wishes and thanks for sharing your expertise.

    • bridget whelan
      March 19, 2014

      Ooops something’s gone wrong – my reply to Jill is below

  17. Ali Bacon
    March 3, 2014

    Hi Bridget
    I downloaded the sample of your e-book and very much like the look of it. In fact I just decided I woud like a copy but that I would invest in the print edition because although I’m perfelcty happy with Kinbdle novels/short stories and even some non-fiction, for a handbook – something practical I would want to leaf-through, skim and dip into, I would much prefer print. Not that I knwo there is no print version so far, you can guess which way I am voting.
    I don’t think blank pages are necessary as you can probably never have enough. I haven’t bought the kindle version but would probably pay up to around £7 for a print edition.
    Please let me know when it comes out! I’m @AliBacon on Twitter or contact me via
    BTW I self-published my own novel using Feedaread without any real difficulty using Word files provided by my e-book publisher, but I don’t know how the prices compare with eg createspace. Ali B

    • bridget whelan
      March 19, 2014

      Thanks for your thoughts Jill. Very interested in your comments about pricing. A very professional and highly successful Amazon bestseller gently suggested recently that I had got the pricing all wrong (she was more tactful but that was the gist.) Basically she was saying that most browsers would see £1.70 as a product that was cheap in every respect – quality as well as price. She felt that £2.99 sent a professional message out – this is something worth reading, something worth spending time on…Maybe I shoud go back to the drawing board on that one.

    • bridget whelan
      March 19, 2014

      Thanks Ali for being an almost “guaranteed” sale when (and it is when now, rather than if) I go into print. Your comments have given me a lot to think about – I’ll check out Feedaread too

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