The Grand Conversation on ebooks: Alan Baxter

Let us begin the Grand Conversation about ebooks! As a reminder, throughout February, I’ve invited luminaries from all sides of publishing to discuss every conceivable ebook-related topic.

Australian author Alan Baxter is the first cab off the rank. He embraced ebooks early on when he self-published his novels RealmShift and MageSign, and later, his novella Ghost of the Black: A ‘Verse Full of Scum. Recently, Alan launched his own small press, Blade Red Press, and to date, he’s published ebook and POD versions of the anthology Dark Pages (ed. Brenton Tomlinson) and Bill Congreve’s collection, Souls Along the Meridian. Alan lives on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia. He writes dark fantasy, science fiction, and horror, and when he’s not, he’s riding a motorcycle or teaching Kung Fu. You can read extracts from his novels, novella, and short stories at his website.


“The Aussie early adopter”

As part of his Grand Conversation about ebooks, Shane asked me to write something about my experiences. I was an early adopter of the whole ebook phenomenon. A long time fan and writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, I welcomed the future wholeheartedly.

I do love paper books. I love the smell of them, the feel of them, the weight in the hand. I can spend hours fossicking about in secondhand book stores just wallowing in the magic of books. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the new digital age, too. If someone loves to collect antiques, they don’t get berated for going home to watch television. The world moves on and things change. People change with it, driving that change and responding to it.

Whether people like it or not, ebooks are the future. Within a few years, ebooks will be the standard, mainstream format for the consumption of stories. Kids now, growing up with touchscreens and digital content, will consider paper books to be old fashioned things, the same way we look at 12” LPs now. People will still be into them, people will still buy and collect them, but they won’t be the standard.

I decided to embrace ebooks as one angle of promoting my own work. My first novel, RealmShift, was originally self-published using Print On Demand technology. I then made the ebook version available through Smashwords. I now have two novels out, RealmShift and the sequel, MageSign, both of which have been acquired and published by Gryphonwood Press. They’re both available as ebooks from Smashwords and on Amazon Kindle. You can find them in a variety of other places, too, as Gryphonwood has adopted the ebook revolution wholeheartedly as well.

As part of building my author platform, that web presence that helps me get my work noticed in a sea of digital noise, I serialised a noir sci-fi novella on my website throughout 2008. It’s called Ghost of the Black: A ‘Verse Full of Scum. I plan to write more in the Ghost Of The Black series as time allows. The whole thing is still available on my website, but I made it available as an ebook, too. For the first year after release (2009), I had it on Smashwords for free. Subsequently, the ebook is now available from Smashwords and on Amazon Kindle for 99c. Even though it’s still freely available to read on my website, I’ve moved around 2,500 ebook versions and it’s got several reviews on both outlets, averaging 4/5 stars or more. However, almost all of those 2,500 “sales” were when the book was free. Making any kind of money from ebooks, without the backing of a big publisher, is still hard. Not impossible, but hard. Like the birth of anything, there are pains involved.

I also run a micro publisher called Blade Red Press, which specialises in dark speculative fiction. It’s under the Blade Red banner that I made Ghost Of The Black available (in print and ebook) and I’ve also published two other books, Dark Pages, an anthology of dark spec-fic by a selection of truly great writers, and Souls Along The Meridian, a single author collection from Australian dark fiction author Bill Congreve. Both those books were available as ebooks within weeks of the print editions being published. As far as I’m concerned, publishing these days means print (be it POD or offset) and ebook.

Blade Red Press uses POD technology for the print side of things and I see this being the norm before too long. If you want a print edition of something, you can have one, made and sent when you order. That’s the beauty of POD. But I see most people buying almost exclusively in digital format and the old-fashioned offset print runs will be exclusive collector’s edition hardbacks, signed and numbered, for the real bibliophiles out there. Which does include me, because however much I love reading ebooks, I’m still a tragic bibliophile.

The other aspect of the ebook revolution that’s really important is the delivery device. The development of e-ink, the quality and affordability of readers like the Kindle, the Nook, the Kobo, and so on, along with the massive increase in tablets and smartphones, means that reading ebooks is easy. I read my ebooks on my iPhone. I’ll be getting a Kindle before long, too. It’s likely that you already have a device that you could read ebooks on, even if you’re not doing it, besides the computer screen you’re looking at right now. An ereader like a Kindle or Kobo will be as common as a mobile phone or MP3 player within a few years.

So you can see that I’ve been working as a writer, reader, and publisher, with ebook and Print On Demand for a few years now. To me, they’re all part of the same thing – the delivery of stories. While the industry morphs and shifts, we have to play along and keep up. It’s an exciting time.

And if you’re reading this saying, “Yeah, well, I’ll never read an ebook because I hate reading on a screen”, well, I’ll make a bet with you: Before this decade is out, probably within the next two or three years, you will read an ebook. Before long, everyone will be reading ebooks and no one will consider it strange. Remember how MP3s took over the music industry? It’s happening to books right now.



Alan Baxter’s ebooks are available at Smashwords and Amazon.

Drop by Alan’s website and feel free to tell him what you think – about anything.


The Grand Conversation on ebooks will run here at www.jiraiya.com.au until February 28. If you’d like to contribute a guest blog post, email me at shane@jiraiya.com.au.

4 Comments

  1. Greg Chapman says:

    Too true Alan, e-books are the future and the future is now (gee I sound like the Cable guy), but on a serious note, e-books are simply another new TOOL for publishers to disseminate their work. In the end you have a choice of which product you want to buy.

    Damnation Books in the US (which is publishing my novella “Torment” in March) sells its works in ebook and POD formats and one of their collections just made the prelim ballot for the Stokers. For some reason some authors think novels/novellas are inferior because they come as ebooks and frankly that’s crap…it’s a tool! Look at Brian James Freeman’s The Painted Darkness…he put it out there for free as an ebook before it was printed as a book and the books sold out.

    I say bring on ebooks. I say keep books alive. Keep publishing alive in all forms! You have to adpat to survive.

  2. I’m glad you mentioned Kindles, Kobos and other eInk devices. More and more people seem to be forgetting it in their vision of future eBooks. Sure, some might read off backlit screens but eInk makes people who are more reluctant, more open to the transition. The Kindle screen is amazing and already I read a lot of articles I used to read online via my Kindle by wirelessly emailing it to my device. Much better on the eyes!

  3. Alan says:

    Hi Greg – absolutely. It’s all about the stories. Ebooks are just another vessel for the delivery of stories. Before long, they’ll be the mainstream norm. But at the end of the day, it’s the stories that matter. I don’t care how people read my novels and stories, as long as they are reading them, and hopefully enjoying them!

  4. Vicki says:

    Alan, as the person to recommend Smashwords to me, I owe you a huge thanks.

    THANK YOU!

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