The bittersweet reality of a digital-only publishing deal
Words by Jody Sabral
I clearly recall the nightshift I was working at the BBC when the email dropped in my inbox from my agent congratulating me on being offered a publishing deal for my debut psychological thriller I NEVER LIE.
I actually cried. The sense of relief that swept through me after years of rejection was too much. It wasn’t a great look, crying while running the BBC Foreign Desk, but my colleague sitting alongside me, who has been an avid reader of my work for many years, understood what a momentous occasion this was. She grinned from ear to ear, gave me huge hug, and simply said, ‘You’ve done it!’
After hugging it out, I read the details of the email. It was bitter sweet. The publisher was Canelo, and I was being offered a digital publishing deal.
I won’t lie: my first reaction was a muted excitability. The only digital publisher I’d spoken to in the past – after I won the Debut Dagger in 2014 – wanted my book The Movement, but when I asked what they could do for me, they replied that they knew about algorithms. I asked them what that meant and they couldn’t explain. The conversation stopped there because I didn’t see why I should give them a cut of my carefully crafted novel when they couldn’t explain how they could help me.
I wanted a print deal. I still do. Doesn’t every writer? And that’s because I dream of giving up the day job and writing full time for a living.
Traditional publishers offer a financial advance for your manuscript, which buys you time. Time to write the next book. And that’s the dream I’m chasing, because I know there are more stories in me.
"Digital publishers can put out a book in three months. So if you can deliver a book a year, or even two, or a novella for your fans, you’re well on your way to writing full time for a living."
Yet reading the contract from Canelo, the royalties offered came as quite a surprise. In my case, I was offered 50%, compared to the 10% that I knew many authors in the traditional publishing industry received.
This is potentially golden should the book sell; obviously you need to be patient and wait for that income to generate but the potential to earn a reliable income from a series of books is real. The turn around for digital publishers is much quicker than that of traditional publishers, which can often take up to two years from reading your manuscript to publication. Digital publishers can put out a book in three months. So if you can deliver a book a year, or even two, or a novella for your fans, you’re well on your way to writing full time for a living.
However, in my opinion the most challenging aspect of digital publishing remains securing spots with reviewers on broadcast and print media.
No one can deny that this has an impact on book sales. I watched my book shoot up in the charts overnight after The Sun gave it a four-star review. That review came through my publisher, but they are tricky to nail down.
Reviewers tend to lean towards paperback and hardback books, ironic given how digital our lives have become and how much we read on our devices, but there’s a culture that works this way in the industry and it’s going to be hard to change.
Having self-published two novels prior to I NEVER LIE I’m glad I went with a publisher this time around. The editorial and marketing support I received got me across the finish line. Selling a book is a full time job and one that as an author I’m not skilled at. Do I dream of seeing my book in print? Of course I do, yet, for now, I’m patiently waiting for this book to bear the fruits of my labour just as any author would, be it in print or digital.