Beyond the Smoke
Tamela Hancock Murray

Tamela Hancock Murray has been with Hartline since 2001 and has placed authors’ books in both CBA and ABA. Her client roster includes award-winning, best-selling authors as well as new authors. A Virginia native, she is an accomplished writer who has authored many inspirational romance novels and novellas and several nonfiction Bible trivia books for children and adults. She is honored to write for the inspirational market and enjoys encouraging new and established authors. She earned her degree in Journalism (with honors) from Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia. Tamela is based at Hartline Literary Agency’s office in Manassas, Virginia. Learn more about Tamela’s work as an agent and author at tamela [at], or write her at 10383 Godwin Drive, Manassas, VA 20110.

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On The E-book Front

My colleague, Terry Burns, recently shared an article with me about a literary agent specializing in e-books. I find this development interesting to note and watch. Will Christian agencies soon follow with agents specializing in e-book acquisitions?

E-Readers, E-Readers Everywhere

This past month, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble announced a partnership allowing Best Buy to be the exclusive distributor of the Nook and to offer customers goodies such as free downloads. All of this is just in time for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduations, and the summer reading season. I am excited about Nook, as well as Kindle, Sony Reader, and iPad. My daughter loves her Kindle. She lives overseas, so she doesn’t want to ship books between there and the States. An electronic reader is perfect for her.

I’m less motivated than other avid readers to hurry to purchase an e-reader. Because I’m a literary agent, I’m blessed with a large stack of books I keep in my personal library. I plan to purchase an e-reader soon, after I complete research on the benefits and drawbacks of each brand and style. My father, an electronics technician, always buys the introductory version of every new gadget. This is why he paid $85 for a calculator in 1975 that only added and subtracted, and too much money later for a big screen television that had three or four 8-inch monochromatic projectors beaming at the screen, taking up half the living room.

Though Daddy is really cool to own the first of everything, I tend to buy second and third versions of electronics. Readers with habits similar to mine are probably waiting for a more perfect version, with lots of potential to build an impressive library at a reasonable cost. Consumers for whom price is the primary consideration will wait for budget-friendly companies to introduce versions that may offer fewer features, but will do the job for much less. With marketers such as Best Buy and Barnes & Noble actively seeking new customers, this will happen soon, and the person who doesn’t own an e-reader will be an anomaly.

Lovers of Obscure Classics, Unite!

Books in print form are portable, easy to read, and have few drawbacks, so convincing a good number of readers to switch to electronic format requires aggressive marketing. I liken the process to creating a market for sweetened condensed milk. When you think about it, who has a pressing need for condensed milk with so much sugar added that it’s as thick as molasses? Yet is there anyone who doesn’t know and love Seven Layer Bars? Chalk that up to savvy marketing. E-readers marketers have been aggressive in providing downloadable books. This week I was looking for books by a minister whose writing peaked in the 1920s to ’40s. A search of my large public library system came up empty. Yet when I visited, I found his books available as Kindle downloads.

Readers of classics will be delighted with a massive effort to re-issue downloadable vintage books. This move will broaden readers’ horizons, since a number of classics are no longer available at public libraries and not everyone has personal space to devote to a well-rounded library. Considering I recently spotted a beautiful vintage edition of The Oxbow Incident for $1,000, the cost of buying a number of rare books would also break the average household budget.

Not Just for Published Books

Smart people are finding other useful applications for e-readers. An editor recently told me she would be downloading a proposal I sent to read on her Kindle. For reading large chunks of text, this is more convenient than even the smallest laptop. And of course, new apps are being introduced to make the machines more useful. Readers can purchase apps for as little as 99 cents, or $14.99 for others. Users have complained about the steep prices for higher end apps, so I imagine that, in time, the free market will address that concern.

Piecing Together the Puzzle

What does all this mean for agents and writers? Agents concentrating on e-book publishing only will be slow to develop as a career option. I think the most favorable marketing plan is

for a book to exist in both print and e-book form. By offering both formats, publishers will reach the broadest audience. I believe the market for e-books will prove to be larger than the audiobook market, which is healthy and certainly a huge blessing for many. Not everyone is audio-oriented, so I believe the audiobook audience will always be more limited than the e-book audience, because e-readers are closer in format to traditional books.

The question is will e-books make a draconian cut in the traditional print market? I think there is potential for that to happen, but it will take time. Print books will always be a large piece of the publishing model, perhaps remaining the largest piece. In many instances, books are superior to electronic format. For example, you can loan a book to a friend, but not a download—at least not without loaning the entire library stored on a machine, and who wants to do that?

Authors cannot sign a book download.

People with no desire to connect to the Internet will never download a book.

Some readers object to the fuzzy picture quality on some photo-heavy books, although I think this is one of the upgrades we will see in the near future.

As for my place in the publishing industry, I’d rather not limit myself to either print or e-books. Current publishers’ contracts offer provisions for e-publishing, and my goal is to see that a writer’s work appears in print as well as other formats, including e-books, and that the writer is well compensated regarding all formats.

New Approach to E-Books

E-book publishers, publishers making original books available to the public, are well positioned to claim a large stake in this fast-growing market. The job for e-book publishers now is to maintain and increase the quality of their books. A few years ago, some e-book houses were considered throwaway or last resort houses for books writers couldn’t sell to traditional publishers. Because making books available online is much cheaper than printing and distributing a book, e-publishers could take greater risks as to topics and plots. I think change in reality and attitude is on the horizon.

As e-readers become more popular, the market for books will expand beyond making print books available for download. Books no longer in print will find their audience once again through e-readers. E-publishers will still take more risks and attract a niche audience but will make enough profit to pay respectable author royalties. On the same token, e-publishers taking fewer risks will find a larger audience, which could result in the book going to print format and becoming popular in that format as well.

I predict that e-publishers will find a greater number of superb manuscripts in their slush piles, thereby increasing their quality and popularity even more, and garnering them increasing respect. As this process happens, breaking into some of the larger e-publishing houses may become difficult for writers as editors become more selective. The hierarchy in e-publishing houses will become apparent and well-known, and will mirror the hierarchy existing in the print publishing domain today. I anticipate seeing changes in how e-publishing contracts are written, making provisions for printed copies.

A Positive Development

No doubt e-readers are a positive development for the reading public and the publishing industry. Whenever a new, up-to-date outlet becomes the norm, it serves only to increase our audience. This new format will make reading more appealing to some who otherwise wouldn’t pick up a book. The challenge for us in the publishing industry is to continue to provide quality books for our audience, no matter how they are reading the words.