Hardback versus ebook: Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Today is the official publication of SWORD OF LIGHT, Book 1 of my Pendragon quartet for young readers about King Arthur’s daughter, published by Templar.

I’m unreasonably excited by this because:
 * it’s my first new book since “I am the Great Horse” back in 2007 and
 * it’s a hardcover… a beautiful, shimmery, pearly blue hardcover with artwork by the talented Scott Altmann.

Unlike most other books listed here, it’s not an ebook yet (the ebook is scheduled for when the paperback edition comes out in the summer), so why am I talking about it here? Well, because I think it’s interesting to compare the publication journey of a traditional hardcover such as "Sword of Light" to that of an independently produced ebook like the others on this site.

I started writing my Pendragon series and developing the characters back in 2009, when the TV version of Merlin was just a glimmer in the eye of BBC3. In the absence of an agent (my lovely agent Maggie Noach having sadly died in 2006), I reworked the story and, when I felt it was ready, sent it out to selected editors and a few agents in 2010.

Being a shy sort of author who hates nagging people, this process was no doubt slower than it might have been – typically my proposal and sample would disappear for six months into a publisher’s slush pile, and only emerge after I contacted them to say I’d received an offer, although a couple of agents and editors made helpful comments along the way. I signed the contract with Templar in early 2011, and the book went into production, passing fairly rapidly through the editing process to meet its publication date this month... if all this seems slow to you ebook people, it can take much longer, believe me!

If I’d been an impatient kind of author, I suppose I might have published an ebook version back in 2010 when I'd finished the writing, cutting out the months of extra work required to query, wait for replies, rewrite, negotiate the contract, and edit the manuscript with my publisher. In that time, I probably could have written the rest of the series too – but they would not have been nearly as beautiful, or half as good books, and the lovely Templar edition of "Sword of Light" would not be in the shops today:

The obvious advantage of publishing traditionally is that many dedicated people help bring your book to readers, so you do not have to do it all alone. A good editor is invaluable, of course, and I’d like to thank Helen Boyle and Emma Goldhawk at Templar for their work on the manuscript throughout 2011. The book was also professionally copy-edited and proofread, and Templar commissioned New York artist Scott Altmann to produce the cover illustration and some hero shots of the characters:

Rhianna Pendragon, Prince Elphin, squire Cai, and Arianrhod.
They also engaged freelance PR Nic Wilkinson to organise a publicity campaign, which is ongoing at the moment and will include a "blog tour" starting today, and later an author tour visiting schools and festivals. Nic also worked with Templar to produce a brilliant press release, mocked up as an ancient newspaper called the “Merlin Messenger”

there's more... but I can't work out how to get the pdf into Blogger!
Templar will also be advertising my book in the Bookseller and other places, and doing a myriad of other expensive and time-consuming things that are difficult or inappropriate for authors to do themselves, such as taking the book to the book fairs to sell translation rights, sending review copies to the press, and making sure the world knows about it. So if you’re thinking “I don’t need a publisher these days, I’ll just publish my manuscript as an ebook with amazon or smashwords...” then you might like to think twice before you take the plunge. If you need to get something out quickly to catch a trend then an ebook might well be the right route to take. But other projects deserve the extra patience and perseverance to bring them to market with a publisher behind them, and I think children's fiction especially benefits from this.

“Sword of Light” should now be available from all UK bookstores – and if they’ve sold out of copies on the shelf when you go, then you can always order it at the counter and collect it later. Independent bookstores should be able to get a copy for you within a couple of days. I'm not sure if you'll find it in your local supermarket... though the shimmery blue cover might look good in Tesco! You can also can buy a copy online just as you would an ebook, but bear in mind that it’s hardcover and won’t download magically to your Kindle within three seconds. You’ll need to pay for postage if you want it quickly, and there’s a danger of damage if the postie tries to squash it through your letterbox… plus the “grrr!” factor when he takes it back to the depot if you’re not in.

I don’t know how they managed it, but Templar have kept the price down to £9-99, the same as many traditionally published ebooks. You might find it discounted even further, bringing the cost down to that of an average paperback. Given a choice between an ebook and a beautiful hardcover for the same price, I know which I'd prefer to spend my money on... and if you’re buying the book as a gift for a child, a "real" paper book wins every time.

For the author, the downside is that hardcovers and paperbacks traditionally published in this way do not earn nearly as much per copy as an ebook published independently, especially if they are discounted. But with a publisher behind it, your book should sell many more copies than it would as an ebook original with no publisher to promote it. Plus you get an advance, which means you're not living hand to mouth while you write the next one... an advance in the bank is worth two in the Kindle, I always say!

Some early reviews of SWORD OF LIGHT can be found here:
For updates, follow Rhianna Pendragon on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PendragonGirl

My debut novel SONG QUEST (winner of the 2000 Branford Boase Award) is reissued this month in paperback, and (to prove I'm an electric author) most of my other backlist titles are now available as ebooks:
Further details of all my books can be found on my website at http://www.katherineroberts.co.uk/


Linda Newbery said…
Congratulations, Katherine - it looks beautiful!
julia jones said…
It looks lovely Katherine. And who couldn't agree with you about the pleasure of working with a supportive and expert team. Someone ELSE to organise the promotion - what bliss. Authors Electric is a welcome step along the way but personaly I yearn for the day when one can put one's ebook into the hands of people with promotional knowledge and flair. After all that's a skill in itself. Some writers may have it in addition to other talents but by no means everyone.
My main message is congratulaions and long live variety of formats!
madwippitt said…
Congratulations! There is something wonderfully exciting about your book being something tangible you can hold in your hands, isn't there? Yes, e-books are great, but they lack that tactile something - and the smell of a paper book of course! (Maybe eventually the smell-e book will appear ...)

I shall trot off to town at the weekend and once again attempt to use my SOA card at Waterstones to buy a copy(for some reason it causes first the till and then the till assistants to have a panic attack, followed by the appearance of a manager and the comment 'Never seen one of those before.' !!! )
Jennie Walters said…
Looks lovely, Katharine - best of luck with the series. Yes, the joy of holding a physical book in one's hands can't be underestimated.
Thank you for all the good wishes... I was a little nervous about posting about a "real" book on an e-book blog.

But yes, it is nice to actually hold the book and smell it (my copy still smells "new"). Holding my Kindle somehow doesn't have the same thrill! Though I am certain reader-select ebook smells are just around the corner...
Susan Price said…
Congratulations, Kath! Hope it sells and sells!
Dan Holloway said…
This looks absolutely gorgeous.

As for the pdf - you can convert it to a jpeg using zamzar.com and then upload that
Rosalie Warren said…
Congratulations - wishing you tons of success.
Debbie Bennett said…
Seems like forever since I first read it! Congratulations. And the cover looks lovely.
Thank you all. (And thank you for the tip, Dan - will check out zamzar!)
Hywela Lyn said…
Congratulations, Katherine, and what a beautiful cover!

I'm pubished with a small press in the US who release all their books as ebooks - but full length novels go to print, so I was lucky to have the hard work done for me and to see the finished result in paperback as well as on Kindle and Amazon. There's still nearly as much promotion to do as if it were self published though.

I have a soft spot for the Arthurian legends, and in fact Merlin starred in my novella which I published on Smashwords.

'Sword of Light' sounds wonderful and I wish you loads of success with it.
megan said…
i love it u came to my school today i loved it ! thanks !

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