Ebook-Originals, the Next Step in Traditional Publishing Strategy

Guest Post by Sue Brower

Our guest today is Sue Brower. She is Executive Editor at Zondervan in charge of fiction and thinks she has the best job in the world…she gets paid to read all day!  Zondervan is currently looking for completed manuscripts to fill the Zondervan First fiction eBook platform.  The ideal stories will primarily have romance-driven plots and vivid, realistic characters.  We are also looking for proposals in the Contemporary, Historical, Suspense, and Romance categories for our print program.  Sue lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband Todd, dogs Pepper and Ollie, and cat, Shep.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much the book market has changed in just a few short years.  Some bad, but mostly good because of all the new opportunities for innovation and creativity in publishing. Traditional publishing (print books sold through retail stores) is holding its own, but now there are so many more vehicles for authors to get published: print, epub-only, self-pub, etc.

A diehard fiction fan, I swore I would never give up my printed books and I didn’t believe that there would come a day when I wouldn’t be able to spend hours in a bookstore just browsing.  I love the way books smell; I love the way they feel.  Then the company I work for, Zondervan, gave me an IPad so that I could get comfortable with the format and so I could experience books electronically.  For a while everything I read was on my IPad; current books, as well as manuscripts I was considering for publication.  I thought it was so cool…for at first.  Then, a book was being released by my favorite author and I just had to have it in hardcover.  It wasn’t enough to have it loaded in perpetuity on my IPad, I wanted to be able to hold the story in my hands.  I enjoyed it more, become involved in the fantasy just as the writer intended.

So now, where do I read the majority of my books?  I would have to say, that my “disposable” reading is done on the IPad. Novels I want to “experience” are going to be in printed format.  If I want to be absorbed in what I am reading, it has to be on a printed page.  But boy is it fun to now have millions of titles at my fingertips whenever I want them.  E-publishing has done that for me.

What does this mean for the writer?  Publishing is about more than just traditional novels.  We are now content providers in a variety of formats.  As an acquiring editor I can look at publishing short stories, and novellas as well as serializations.  I can acquire more new authors and midlist authors.  I don’t have to wait a year to release a manuscript—I can do it in three months.  What I can’t and won’t do is sacrifice good storytelling and editing.

I am having so much fun playing in this new publishing field.  With our new imprint, Zondervan First fiction, we are able to provide readers a quality reading experience from a variety of new and established authors. We will publish original stories in the eBook format for the Christian audience.  Authors will have a chance to be edited and published by an established publishing house and readers will be introduced to new voices.  What more could you ask for?  I would love to hear your comments on ebook publishing and how it has changed the way you approach your writing career. The first title in our Zondervan First program is Love in Three Quarter Time by Dina Sleiman, one of Tamela Hancock Murray’s clients.

Oh, and by the way, we are still printing books for retail sales!  While electronic sales are growing exponentially, print still outsells electronic in every category.

For more information on Zondervan First fiction and our submission guidelines, please go to www.zondervanfirst.com.

30 Responses to Ebook-Originals, the Next Step in Traditional Publishing Strategy

  1. Diana Harkness July 19, 2012 at 4:34 am #

    I would love my book to be published as an ebook. I like to click on links to find out more. I love the convenience of footnotes in ebooks. I like the ability to highlight and quickly retrieve my notes for review or discussion. At the moment, I am reading a print-only book, and have discarded snail mail sticking from the pages marking the places I want to return to for further study. The only thing I don’t like about ebooks is the necessity to charge them. I read both fiction and non-fiction ebooks. The only print books I purchase are those with pictures and those I want to pass on to others.

  2. Timothy Fish July 19, 2012 at 4:39 am #

    What is it about the electronic format that makes it possible for you to “acquire more new authors and midlist authors?”

    • Susan Brower July 20, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

      It has to do with the cost of printing of books. The bigger the print run, the lower the cost. Unfortunately, with fewer bookstores to sell to and high storage costs for inventory, our print runs just don’t make it profitable for new or midlist authors. With ebooks, you still have costs of editorial, design, and marketing, but the biggest cost is production and that is now eliminated.

  3. Debbie Lynne Costello July 19, 2012 at 5:45 am #

    That is exciting news! I’m am like you though, I do love to hold the book in my hand. I love the smell and I love the feel of the paper between my fingers. But ebooks are wonderful when you have an app on your phone and your stuck waiting for an appointment. Is your new ebook line going to have POD’s for those who do want to hold the book in their hands?

  4. Dina Sleiman July 19, 2012 at 5:58 am #

    Hi Sue,

    Thanks for the shout out! I have a traditional kindle with electronic ink that will read to me, and that has become my favorite reading (and editing) method. If I really love a book, I probably read it on kindle first and then buy the print book to keep on my shelf. I usually won’t spend more than $5 for a kindle book, though.

  5. Jennifer Dyer July 19, 2012 at 6:08 am #

    It’s fun to see all the new opportunities opening up. Thanks for sharing, Sue. 🙂

  6. Ane Mulligan July 19, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    As a diehard reader, I’m the same. I savor books by my favorite authors. I even re-read many of them, although I don’t have as much time to do that any more. But I much prefer an electronic galley for review to the large print ones. My iPad is so much easier to hold.

    Be sides, if the book doesn’t keep my interest, there’s always Angry Birds. LOL

  7. Jeanne July 19, 2012 at 7:19 am #

    Sue, what an interesting post. I like having dozens and dozens of titles at my fingertips with my Kindle. But, I’ve only read a few of them so far (I have a very big TBR pile). I must have hard copies of my favorite authors to read, keep on my shelves and share with others. 🙂

    As a writer, I’m still trying to understand all I need to consider with e-publishing.

    I appreciate your thoughts here, Sue!

  8. sally apokedak July 19, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    This is wonderful, I think.

    It’s good for the customer. Lower priced books that come out fast, but readers can still buy print if they want.

    It’s good for the writers. No advance, but also no learning curve, no having to format or pay freelance editors and designers. 25% royalties, are decent, I think.

    It’s also good for the publishers. They aren’t putting out money up front. If the books fail they aren’t losing nearly as much as they normally would, so they can take greater risks.

    Win, win, win.

    I love this idea! I think this could be the wave of the future for the midlist.

    Is there a downside I’m missing?

  9. sally apokedak July 19, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Hmm. I see I didn’t say it would be good for agents.

    heh heh

    I suppose agents might press for an advance.

    • sally apokedak July 19, 2012 at 10:03 am #

      Or maybe agents would be fine with a percentage of royalties.

      What about it Steve? Is 25% royalty on e-books good enough for agents to be happy with their cut? I don’t know what that work out to in dollars per book.

  10. vannetta chapman July 19, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Sue, like you I read in both formats.

    If I’m travelling, I’m sure to have plenty of good reads on my iPad. i’m also excited about the advances libraries are making in this format, which ultimately makes our writing available to more readers.

    HOWEVER, more often now I find the need to unplug, to read a paper book so I’m not tempted to constantly check email, social sites, etc. I think for moth readers it will not be a matter of WHICH format, but balancing the two.

    Thanks for the post!

  11. Thomas Allbaugh July 19, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Thanks for the insights. What’s interesting from this, though, is that the new ebook line does not mean any changes in the typical CBA genres. It sounds as though you are simply publishing more of what is published the traditional way. I suppose someone with a literary, but still Christian, bent, would still not be considered for this.

    • Susan Brower July 20, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

      Yes, we are planning on POD for all of our ebooks.

    • Susan Brower July 20, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

      Initially, we are looking to traditional CBA genres to introduce and grow the line. However, I would hope that soon we will be able to broaden the scope of what we do–short stories, novellas, sci fi, fantasy, and even literary. I hope that someday I can say I would never turn a good book down, no matter the genre. What won’t change is our mission to provide resources that glorify Jesus Christ and promote biblicals. That is the ultimate screen for all of our books.

  12. Cara Putman July 19, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    Great point, Vanetta. Because we were in Germany for 8 weeks this summer, I couldn’t travel with all the print books I would need to read. So I bought an iPad. I did some reading on it. But I still love print. the tower of books waiting for me when I got home means my iPad hasn’t even been turned on since we got home a week ago. And I’m okay with that. 🙂

  13. Rich Bullock July 19, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    99% of my reading is now ebooks. I use my iPhone for all the reader software, but we did recently get an iPad. I think I’ve only finished 1 print book in the past year. I forget about them because they aren’t with me all the time. Ebooks sales will continue to explode–just sayin’.

  14. Annette Irby July 19, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Thank you for this great information, Sue. I’ve always loved books, but when my first book came out both in print and eBook formats in 2007, I started to appreciate eBooks. Since then, I’ve gotten into reading on my Kindle. Currently, I do 90% of my reading there. I find I read faster and more often on my Kindle. I can read in bed (where I do a lot of my reading) without a clunky book light. It’s lightweight and convenient, easier to hold. I still have overflowing bookshelves–what book lover doesn’t? But I’ve been almost completely won over to eBooks. One of the best things about the e-book marketplace is the added opportunity, for writers and readers. I’m excited about Zondervan’s First fiction eBook platform. Thanks for visiting here today.

  15. Christina July 19, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    I have a Kindle with 121 titles on it. I’ve read only a few of those books. I’m just too attached to the paperbacks. I do like to download books for research because I can highlight items of interest to come back to later.

  16. Peter DeHaan July 19, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    I’m not sure why, but I prefer reading fiction on my Kindle and non-fiction in print. And I think I read quicker on my Kindle.

  17. Katie Hart July 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    I think it’s awesome that Zondervan is taking this step. I am curious why they’re focusing on romance novels and (according to their FAQ) only want novels around 70,000 words. With ebooks offering so much flexibility, I’d expected there to more genre and length options. Do they plan to expand in that area in the future?

    Also, a three-month wait seems like a lot for an author who is deciding whether to go with Zondervan First or epublish on their own. Is that just a worst-case scenario for submissions, or are the majority of rejections handled that way for this company?

    • Susan Brower July 20, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

      Frankly, the 70,000 word count and romance focus is new for us. Most of our books are in the longer 80-100K range. Again, these are guidelines. If a novel is submitted that does not fit exactly to the guidelines, but is compelling and well written, we will take a look at it.

      The three-month wait is a worse case scenario. Right now we are reading through submissions much faster. However, we do have too many to respond to individually. So if you hear from us, it will be good news!

  18. Jeanette Edgar July 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Informative post. Thanks for sharing the news here. I’m excited to follow Zondervan First and read the offerings (Shout out to Dina, I met you at Blue Ridge Conference in 2010, can’t wait to read the upcoming book!)

    For me, it was hard to begin reading ebooks because I love to hold the book, underline my favorite parts and place it on my shelf like a trophy (or loan it to a friend someties). But, when I received my Kindle as a gift, I enjoyed it very much. I read about 50/50. I like the simplicity of buying a book with a click from home.

    As a writer, the ebook world encourages me because it does add another avenue for more great work to be published by more great writers.

  19. Mike Manto July 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Thanks Sue for the very informative post. I so sympathized with your feelings about ebooks vs print. I have 3 different e-readers, and have used them all – and I like them to an extent – but for serious reading I’ve switched back to print. I prefer print when I have a book I really want to get into.
    Also, your comments on midlist and new authors makes complete sense. The low cost of e-book production will allow a publisher to ‘take a chance’ on new or midlist writer that would otherwise be too risky with print due to the up front costs. It’s exciting to think that through ePub the midlist can be revived.

    Have you considered expanding the genres for Zondervan First to include futuristic thrillers, SF ?

    Thanks again for the post!

    • Susan Brower July 20, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

      I never say “Never” on publishing genres. When I did–several years ago and it was for Amish, I was soon swayed by the masses:)

  20. Kara I July 19, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    Hi Sue,

    Thanks for such an informative post 🙂

    After years of insisting I would never give up my beloved print, I recently acquired a Kindle due a two week work trip requiring 60+ hours of flying. I loved it far more than I imagined – especially how light it was and the ability to have so many books to chose from.

    However, like you, for books by my favourite authors that I want to savour, I’m all about the real thing. The beautiful covers, the smell of a new book, the joy of discovering someting that isn’t a bill in the mailbox, Kindle definitely can’t beat that 🙂

  21. Mary Hawkins July 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    I only read yesterday this exciting new venture by Zondervan. How things have changed since my very first manuscript was accepted for Zondervan’s old Serenade line of inspirational romances. Sadly it was one of several who just missed out as the line closed. Thankfully, a few years later it did become my first release with another publisher. I hope I am right in thinking this new venture may open the door wider to books from writers internationally because international readers will now have much easier access to our books?

  22. Sarah Thomas July 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    I think this, like most new things, is exciting and a little scary all at the same time. My goal has always been to be traditionally rather than e-published. So, which is this? It’s publication by one of the top Christian housse, but in an e-format. Hmmmm. Food for thought!

    Would Zondervan likely print hard copies of a Zondervan First e-publication that did exceptionally well? Would a First author have something of an in toward future works? Seems like a great way to “test the waters” with a new writer . . .

    • Timothy Fish July 22, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

      That was my concern when I saw the statement that it would allow publication of more new and midlist authors. While, in theory, the lower production costs would allow the full treatment of works by those authors, I suspect the natural tendency would be for the editors to give less attention to works they don’t believe have as good a chance of success as others.

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