Writing in the Digital Age: It’s All About the Platform

A cou­ple of weeks ago, crime writer Seth Har­wood wrote a very pop­u­lar piece here — How I Sold My Book by Giv­ing It Away. Now he’s back and telling us about the new chal­lenge of writ­ing in the dig­i­tal age. Take it away Seth (and check out his new book JACK WAKES UP )

The num­ber of ebook read­ers and read­ing devices is grow­ing rather than shrink­ing these days. We’re enter­ing a world where indi­vid­ual read­ers will decide not only what books they want to read, but how they want to read them. And here there’s some­thing to think about for authors: As read­ers choose the read­ing plat­form they like best, they’ll see a cer­tain set of books in that space. Dif­fer­ent books show up at Wal-Mart than at your local inde­pen­dent book­seller. On the Kin­dle there are dif­fer­ent books—with dif­fer­ent prices—than on the iTunes App store. And even with­in the iTunes store, you’ll find dif­fer­ent books in the Audio­books sec­tion (owned by Audible.com), the Podcasts»Arts»Literature sec­tion (where many of the titles are free), and in the App store.

As an author, I want to be wher­ev­er a read­er can look. On every plat­form and every new plat­form, I want my book to be avail­able. My nov­el JACK WAKES UP start­ed out as a pod­cast (via iTunesRSS Feed, & MP3). Peo­ple liked it. It got to print on demand, and Ama­zon sold it in print and Kin­dle for­mats. Guess what? It did pret­ty well. Now, it’s out from Three Rivers Press, a divi­sion of Ran­dom House, and read­ers can find it at all the online out­lets, as well as brick and mor­tar book­stores nationwide—both big box and indy. But that’s still miss­ing part of the mar­ket: soon more and more peo­ple will be buy­ing their books on their iPhones as Apps—both audio and text—or on Kin­dle, Scribd, eRead­er and who knows where else. All I can do is work toward mak­ing JACK WAKES UP avail­able in as many places and ways as pos­si­ble.

At the Pub­lish­ing 3.0 pan­el ses­sion dur­ing April’s LA Times Fes­ti­val of Books, the experts spoke about the prob­lem of pub­lish­ing in the 20th cen­tu­ry being demand—how do you gen­er­ate the inter­est in your book and get peo­ple to buy it—and that the new prob­lem in the 21st cen­tu­ry is sup­ply. With so many books pub­lished, many will fail. There’s lit­er­al­ly just too much, a glut of books that no one has a good idea how to fix.

The oth­er sup­ply-side issue is plat­form. As the pub­lish­ing game steams quick­ly toward dif­fer­ent plat­forms, vir­tu­al­ly unlim­it­ed choic­es for read­ers, dif­fer­ent pric­ing mod­els, read­ing expe­ri­ences, and pref­er­ences, my duty as an author now involves mak­ing sure my work is offered on as many plat­forms as pos­si­ble to ensure my book is an option for the great­est num­ber of read­ers.

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Comments (4)
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  • alex lee says:

    I appre­ci­ate your efforts to make your work avail­able via as many chan­nels as pos­si­ble, but do you have any thoughts on how it’s avail­able for such dif­fer­ent prices. I can pay $13 on Diesel Books, or get it for free on Manybooks.net. Should­n’t a prod­uct be con­sis­tent­ly priced? Won’t read­ers feel ripped off if they find out they’ve paid more than they need­ed to. Free ebooks have proved to dri­ve phys­i­cal prod­uct sales so I’m just won­der­ing why you haven’t tak­en that option.

  • Seth Harwood says:


    I’ve seen the reports on free ebooks dri­ving phys­i­cal sales and I believed in it 100% before I saw them. Last year, I gave away free PDF’s of my entire nov­el across the net to the tune of 80,000 down­loads. I was hap­py to do it. This year I’m not because my pub­lish­er won’t let me. They don’t believe it yet.

    Fun­ny! I actu­al­ly for­got all about the Manybooks.net ver­sion of the PDF. I should take it down now, that’s what my pub­lish­er would have me do. Hmmm…

    I was mak­ing the point tonight at an event that you’re basi­cal­ly adver­tis­ing with good will by giv­ing away a free PDF. A small num­ber of peo­ple will read all the way through a PDF of the first three chap­ters of a book OR a free PDF of the whole book, but across the board, the peo­ple who got the whole book free will feel bet­ter about you and about your book. This def­i­nite­ly leads to sales.

    The prob­lem in pub­lish­ing in some sense is that peo­ple are hap­pi­er spend­ing mon­ey to adver­tise than they are with giv­ing some­thing away for free to adver­tise. This will have to change even­tu­al­ly, espe­cial­ly as bud­gets tight­en, and it is: my book is still avail­able as a free audio pod­cast, but it will also take time.


  • Seth Harwood says:

    On dif­fer­ent prices being out there, you can also buy it for $9.99 on Ama­zon’s Kin­dle. Oth­er than this Many­books anom­aly, you’re prob­a­bly always going to find the cheap­est ebook on Ama­zon. As I’ll dis­cuss in an upcom­ing post, they’ve got a ton of pow­er in the mar­ket­place. Per­haps too much.

    On the oth­er hand, the Kin­dle seems pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive to many peo­ple.

  • As an author/illustrator I’m frus­trat­ed by the lack of infor­ma­tion or avail­abil­i­ty of pub­lish­ing illus­trat­ed books in the new dig­i­tal for­mats. any news/ideas of this becom­ing a pos­si­bil­i­ty?

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