Print, ebook, or both? By Judy Alter

TroublesigningBack before electronic books turned the publishing world upside down, status for an author of fiction was having a book published in hardcover (between the boards, as we used to say), followed in twelve to eighteen months by a trade paper edition. Today fiction authors, particularly genre fiction, are lucky to get a trade paper or mass market edition. Many small publishers proudly bill themselves as “e-book only” or “primarily an e-book publisher.”

My publisher for my Kelly O’Connell and Blue Plate mysteries tells me the house sells ten e-books for every print copy; consequently, print is low on the priority scale and sometimes doesn’t appear for months after the electronic version.

I may be old school, but I find this a marketing problem. With my first mystery, print followed closely on the heels of the e-book, and I had a huge signing at a local restaurant—sold seventy-five books. Today the gap is several months, and I barely sold twenty-five at the last signing at the same restaurant. Each book that goes out that restaurant door, with a bookmark, is not just a book sold—it’s a chance for effective word-of-mouth advertising if the reader enjoys it, talks about it, shows it to a friend. Today I have an e-book of the newest one, Murder at the Blue Plate Café, but no print, and friends and (ahem!) fans are asking when the print will come. I afraid by the time print appears it will be anticlimactic and they’ll have lost interest.

I’m all for e-books and indeed do most of my reading on an iPad, but there’s something about holding a book in your hands. Of course, I market my e-books as best I can, with guest blogs like this one, on Facebook, Twitter, my own blog, bookmarks scattered across the globe, whatever and wherever, and I’m grateful for the response I’ve gotten. But I’m uncertain how effective I am. I’d feel better with print that I could launch at a signing, show to friends and send to reviewers that I know. I don’t have time to write, follow all the myriad marketing leads we get on Sisters in Crime, and live my life. So I’m not on the various Kindle lists and I have yet to figure out Goodreads, though I make a valiant effort and do post there.

Maybe it’s all ego—authors are famous for that—and I should put ego in the closet and concentrate on business, sales figures and the like. But that’s not why I write. I write so readers will enjoy my stories.

What about you? Do you find print editions important for marketing?


With Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Judy Alter launches a new cozy mystery series, Blue Plate Café Mysteries. She is also the author of MurderBPlate_JAlter_MD(2)the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, and the forthcoming Danger Comes Home. Her fiction and nonfiction about women of the American West has won numerous awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award from Western Writers of America.

Now retired, she was for years the director of a small academic press. She is the mother of four and the grandmother of seven and lives in Fort Worth, Texas with her Bordoodle, Sophie. Follow her at,,,!/pages/Judy-Alter-Author/366948676705857?fref=ts, or on Twitter, where she is @judyalter.



7 thoughts on “Print, ebook, or both? By Judy Alter

  1. LM Preston says:

    This is a constant struggle for most small publishers. The cost / benefit of print is not longer as strong as it was before. I do believe in doing both since as many formats as a book is available readers can purchase it. However, the days of large print runs are long gone. I too enjoy holding a book in my hand, and if your publisher doesn’t want to use the print rights, maybe you can sell them to another publisher or do Print On Demand yourself.

  2. Judy, I agree totally. Since my “To Die For” novels are set at major tourist destinations in Arkansas, an print edition is doubly important for me, both in promotion and selling. Most all these places stock the book featuring their location in their gift shops, and several have now asked to stock others as well. (Ozark Folk Center State Park even sells anthologies I have contributed to.) And I love doing signings in non-traditional locations where simply standing behind a poster giving info about e-books would be ridiculous. For example, in the grocery chain that welcomes me, I am a regular vendor along with the Pepsi folks, produce deliverers, etc. ( Can you imagine e-potatoes or cans of beans? 🙂 Hmmm.)

  3. Have you checked out CreateSpace? When I publish my first novel I intend to have printed 10’s of copies for local book signings, as there are a couple of independent bookstores around here I frequent.
    And through CreateSpace you can sell print copies of your book through Amazon.

  4. I prefer print copies and would rather read a paperback than hard cover. Easier to carry around but I also have a kindle and a fire and enjoy reading on both too.

  5. judyalter says:

    Thanks all. I love my current publisher, and if I ever leave it will be very reluctantly. They have first refusal on future volumes in the two series I write for them and I want to keep writing those series. But if I ever do a stand-alone, I’ll use Create Space. I started as a publisher in the ’80s, and I well realize the changing economics and the disappearance of big print runs except perhaps in art books or others with fine requirements. Mine are genre books and POD is exactly the right idea. Interestingly, my publisher uses Create Space for print.

  6. Judy, if your publisher uses CreateSpace for print, I don’t understand why they don’t have the print and ebook come out at the same time. Now that I’m self-publishing, that’s exactly what I do. I can get both formatted within three days for under $100. The cover and editing are already done, so I don’t understand why your publisher doesn’t just go ahead and do the print version. Maybe you could offer to pay for the formatting and even to put it up at CreateSpace yourself? I agree, print is invaluable for promotion, even now. Good luck with it all!

    • judyalter says:

      Jan, they don’t want to outsource (much to my dismay)–afraid of errors.. I don’t know that such an offer from me would sit well. I’d do it in a flash.

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