Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rebel ePublishers

Rebel ePublishers is the name of an originally South African publishing company, but it could as well be the name of a movement.  While the major publishers are grappling with the issues raised by ebooks and Amazon, many small publishing houses have sprung up precisely to take advantage of them. 

From an author’s perspective, what do we really want from publishers?  My guess is that the consensus would be good editing, marketing, efficient distribution, and, last but not least, a fair return.  Also a reputable publisher gives status to the author and to the book i.e. the book shouldn’t be rubbish (despite plenty of counterexamples!) since it’s been through a rigorous selection and editing process.  That doesn’t mean that it is better than a random self-published ebook, just that the probability that it’s better is higher.

For readers, it’s price and availability.  In South Africa it’s often quite hard to get treebooks from even well-known international authors.  That’s understandable; the market here is small and transportation is expensive so local publishers and distributers tend to focus either on books with local interest or on the “big names” from overseas.  (A “best seller” here is around 5 000 copies.  We’ve never been close to that with any of our books.)

The real question is how much are we – authors and readers - willing to pay for this process?  Royalties on paperbacks (hard covers are definitely an endangered species) are usually less that 10% of the cover price.  The reader pays around $10 to $15 and the author gets a buck.

Enter Rebel ePublishers.  Started by a group of South Africans, its business model is that ebooks should be affordable, and that authors should get a fair share, and it fulfills many of the big-name publishers’ functions.  I had the pleasure of having lunch with Jayne Southern, Rebel ePublisher’s editor and South African principal, who explained the set up.
JT Lawrence author of murder mystery
The Memory of Water
“The company has moved to Detroit, Michigan,” she told me.  “Amazon has a very different business model for the US and for the rest of the world.  For US ebooks they take 30% and give you 70%.  In the rest of the world the ratio is pretty much the other way around.”  Rebel’s books are listed at $4 and they split the profits with the author.  So publisher and author each get around $1.40 a book.  The treebook publishers would be paying authors about $1 on print books and $2 on ebooks.  So not a big difference....except that the book is selling for a third of the price.  Hopefully that would translate into a lot more sales, especially from buyers taking a chance on a new author.  No advances, but those are dwindling with the big fellows also.

The ebook is the flagship edition, of course, although print on demand is available in some countries.  In fact the major publishers are heading the same way.  In an article for Huff Posts Books, Stephen Power, senior editor at Wiley, notes that it makes lots of sense for publishers to bring out the ebook first and maybe not bring out a treebook at all:
“E-books are quickly moving towards 50% of a title's sale and could go as high as 75%. So publishers need to bite the bullet and make the first edition the ebook. This would let them go from manuscript to ship in only twenty weeks, half the time it usually takes to produce a print book.” 
Treebooks, he believes, will always be around, but Power says they will become “luxury items”.  The clear implication is that readers will need to be prepared to pay more for them. (You can read his full article at Huff Posts Books .)

Cat Connor writes the Terrorbyte series
Jayne selects the books from worldwide submissions, does the editing of each book accepted, and is pretty active on the marketing front also.  “Authors aren’t pleased with all the marketing they have to do these days,” she noted.  “They feel it’s on top of their real job.  But it’s on top of my job too.  We’ve just employed someone in the US to help with marketing worldwide.”  She got her books to my attention by following my ITW newsletter in The Big Thrill.  She mails out announcements, and offers ARCs to reviewers, but notes that they often demand a paper copy – which pushes up marketing costs - before they’ll read the book.  This even applies to some of the online reviewers. 

Jayne says the publishing industry is full of rebel epublishers, and some make it and some don’t.  Her company’s business model is clearly to keep costs down and go for volume.  I asked if it wasn’t demanding covering all the bases as she does.  “Yes, but I love it!” she replied. “I read everything that’s submitted to us.  I ask for a synopsis, three chapters (first, last, and you choose), and try to get back to the author in four to six weeks.  If the book seems to have potential, I ask for the full manuscript, and if we decide to publish, we try to get the book out within 6 months.”  And that’s pretty much what Power felt should be the aim.
Jayne can be contacted through the website:

Wilf Nussey
So what are the books like?  I’ve enjoyed several of Rebel ePublishers African titles.  I was very impressed with Wilf Nussey’s action thriller DARTS OF DECEIPT set in southern Africa in the death throes of Apartheid and the birth pains of Mozambique.  Wilf was a foreign correspondent and editor for a large South African newspaper group and knows his stuff.  He’s done a guest blog here already, and he’ll be writing another about being caught in the middle of the Mozambique war.  

If you feel like being introduced to some talented new authors, take a look at Rebel ePublishers’ book estore at 
If you do so by 15th August, the books are just $1.99 each.  I just bought a couple to try at that price.

In so many areas, the internet allows a lot of new models to develop because it doesn’t require a lot of money to get going.  While the big publishers are agonizing over the future, some people are already inventing it.

Michael – Thursday


  1. Michael, 'twas ever thus. The biggest and best adapted to the status quo are the last to adapt. I just hope my treebook publisher and yours don't go extinct before they get with it or we figure out the best new home for our work. BTW, is the "Rebel" in Jane's company name pronounced like the noun or the verb. I prefer verbs myself.

  2. In my experience, a career in publishing has never been about the money. And I'm talking about the whole enchilada: writer through bookseller and all the corporate types in between. Sure, there are the big success stories, but there are also lottery winners and for one willing to invest the time, energy, and brainpower it takes to build a successful career, there have always more lucrative ladders to climb.

    Having said that, adaptive, forward thinking entrepreneurs like those behind Rebel ePublishing are doing precisely the sort of thing that a few years down the line will have many in the industry wondering "Why didn't I think of that?"

    The better question is, "Why aren't you doing it now?"

    There's no doubt publishers could change if they committed, but when practically everything they've taken for granted is no longer, and new challenges arise every day, a "wait and see" approach can be alluring. For others, such times are the opportunity of a lifetime.

    I'm happy to say that my treepublisher is way ahead of the curve on this e-book revolution, in marketing, pricing, and fair treatment of it's authors. And they did it thoughtfully.

    As the old adage goes, "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is today."

  3. I think my main question is why ebook authors need any publisher at all. Unless they do a really sterling job of online marketing, the author has just given away 50% of the income for services he/she could have secured for under $1,000 -- proofing, file conversion, and cover design.

    Perhaps they offer a really thorough editing process, up to the standards of the tree-pubs. If they do that AND handle the online marketing, it might be worth it. But I've been making out like a bandit with ebooks I published myself and am keeping all 70%.

  4. Tim, would you have done everything yourself for your first book?

  5. Stan's question is also mine. We have New York Mystery Writers who are getting rights back to their back list and reissuing eBooks of their earlier work themselves. They say, as Tim does, that it is financially the best deal they have had. But our first-time self ePublished folk are struggling to legitimize their work, and asking traditionally published writers to blurb and recommend and review their work. (Not that we treePublished don't beg for the same things). It's hard to see four feet in front of one's face. On the other hand, Jeff's point speaks to me. For my part, this is the worst paying but the VERY best job I have ever had. If I had to I would get another day job, but I would never give this up.

  6. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments.
    I have to admit that I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to self-publishing. If the author is someone I've never heard of, and has never been through any sort of editing process, I guess I'll pass. There may be a brilliant book out there, but how will I choose that one from all the others?
    Having met Jayne, and read the authors she chose to epublish, I'd rather pay $4 for them "blind" than $1 for "blind" blind. That gives talented new authors a chance.

  7. This post is really nice and informative. The explanation given is really comprehensive and informative.

    Epublishing Services in UK