By Cindy Landrum  

SEPTEMBER 12, 2011 11:56 a.m. Comments (1)

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Having had three books published in the traditional way, author Carl T. Smith resents e-books.

“When e-books came out, I thought they’d be like books on tape and kind of a flash-in-the-pan,” Smith said.

But Smith, after conferring with some big-name author friends such as Tom Robbins and Pat Conroy, has conceded electronic publishing is here to stay and he will publish the third part of his Sam Larkin trilogy as an e-book next month.

“It’s something I didn’t want to do,” said Smith, who moved to Greer in November. “But e-books are the way the industry is going. Economically, it’s the only thing feasible.”

The e-book market has shown explosive growth in the past three years.

In 2008, e-books accounted for $113 million in sales, according to the Association of American Publishers. That increased to $878 million in 2010.

In adult fiction, e-books are now 13.6 percent of the net revenue market share, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Random House, the largest publisher in the United States, says more than 20 percent of its revenue in the first half of 2011 came from digital sales.

And, eight of the top 20 titles on the USA Today’s list of best-selling books for the week of Sept. 1 were e-books, including two that were self-published. One self-published e-book, “Blind Faith” by C.J. Lyons, was fourth on the list.

Hub City Press, a nonprofit independent press in Spartanburg, will release all of its future titles in an electronic platform as well as hard copies, said Betsy Teter, executive director.

“We’re not going to fight e-books,” she said.

Hub City’s nonprofit bookstore also sells e-books through its website, she said.

“Our mission is to promote reading,” Teter said. “If the bookstore is a showroom for good books and they download them to read on a Nook or an iPad, we’ve done our job.”

Self-publishing, whether in hard copy or electronic formats, is increasing the options for authors. Rather than waiting for a publisher to accept a manuscript and then waiting an additional 18 months to two years for it to get published, authors pay to get their stories out on the market.

There were 133,000 self-published books in 2010, a three-fold increase in five years, according to USA Today.

“We get 20 times the number of submissions than books we can publish,” Teter said. “It’s nice folks have other options.”

Self-publishing an e-book is cheaper than self-publishing a hard copy book.

“That’s a blessing and a curse,” Smith said. “Every teenager and every housewife thinks they can write a book. There’s a lot of junk out there.”

But sometimes selling a lot of e-books can pay off.

Amanda Hocking uploaded her first paranormal romance e-book last spring. Her 10 tales of trolls, vampires and zombies had earned her $2 million and a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press worth another $2 million.

“Publishers are trolling e-books for authors,” Smith said.

Smith says the popularity of e-books with publishers, authors and readers comes down to one thing – economics.

E-books typically cost no more than $12.95 and some can be downloaded for as little as 99 cents.

“Even at 12 bucks, you don’t feel terrible if you don’t like the book and don’t read all of it,” Smith said. “If I pay $27.99 for a book, I’m going to read it even if I really don’t like it.”

Authors make more money, too.

“Lowcountry Boil,” Smith’s first novel featuring Sam Larkin, an ex-wildlife officer and ex-con, listed for $27.99. Smith received less than $2 for each copy sold. For a $2.99 e-book, he’d receive $2.15.

Smith is editing “Carolina Fire,” the third in the Sam Larkin trilogy, now.

“Louisiana Burn” was the second in the trilogy.

Writing is Smith’s fourth career, one that was encouraged by author Tom Robbins. Smith and Robbins started a literary magazine at The Richmond Professional Institute of the College of William and Mary.

But Smith pursued theater and music after college. He spent time in the 1970s in Nashville writing music with other struggling songwriters, including Kris Kristofferson, before “organized crime moved in and changed everything.”

His first novel, “Nothin’ Left to Lose,” is loosely based on that time.

The book received tremendous reviews, but booksellers began calling Smith to tell them they couldn’t get the book. After trying to reach the publisher for three weeks, Smith finally found out the company was bankrupt.

He took a truck and wire cutters and, in the dead of the night, stole 1,000 copies of the book until he could buy them from a bankruptcy court.

“Lowcountry Boil” was rejected 46 times before Smith signed a contract with River City Publishing in Alabama.

“Conroy once told me there are better books than you and I and Faulkner and Hemingway ever wrote sitting in a drawer because someone couldn’t take the rejection,” Smith said.

But with the emergence of self-publishing and especially e-books, all that has changed.

“I’m disappointed ‘Carolina Fire’ is not going out as a hard book,” Smith said. “But that’s the way the industry is going.”

 

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