E-Book Revolution

By Beacon Staff

There’s a famous story, among writers at least, that 28 publishers rejected John Grisham’s first novel. Finally an obscure upstart company in New York took a chance on the new author and published “A Time To Kill.” Since then Grisham’s books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide.

Aspiring authors often face the same grim prospects Grisham did. Writing a book is one thing. But having it published is a whole other mountain to climb.

That age-old process is rapidly changing, however. Thanks to an evolution in technology, there’s a revolution happening in book publishing.

Just ask Kalispell resident Roxanne McHenry. Working from her computer inside her kitchen, McHenry has been helping a dozen local authors achieve their dreams and publish their works, not as traditional hardcovers but as electronic books, or e-books.

In last few months, McHenry has helped two authors in particular – Kathy Dunnehoff and Deborah Epperson – achieve best-selling status on Amazon.com, one of the top-selling book outlets in the world. With the help of McHenry’s online savvy, both women have found success.

“I think we’re really at the beginning of something,” McHenry said from her home recently.

McHenry, a wife and mother living in Kalispell and working from her kitchen “office,” is blazing her own trail in the online world. Her job is so neoteric she has a hard time characterizing it.

“We all joke that we don’t know what to call me actually. E-book consultant? E-agent? Marketing coach?” she said.

However you describe it, the job appears to be worthwhile.

The popularity of e-books has truly exploded in recent months. Thanks to innovation in tablet computers like the iPad and Kindle, the number of people reading online is skyrocketing and is now close to surpassing traditional reading. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of adults in the U.S. who owned tablets or e-readers almost doubled from 10 percent to 19 percent between December and January. Analysts believe that number will continue rising dramatically and, as a result, the e-book industry will keep expanding.

Recently USA Today reported that e-book sales reached a milestone this month, outselling other copies for each title in the top 10 best-sellers list for the first time.

Revenues from e-book sales show similar growth. In 2009 e-book sales led to $551 million in revenue and are expected to reach $3.3 billion in 2012, according to a report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers International. By 2015, those revenues are predicted to hit $5.57 billion.

Call it an evolution or a revolution; McHenry has been involved pretty much from the outset.

The Kalispell resident became familiar with Amazon in the late 1990s when the website first went online. She became a frequent user, reviewing products and watching how items were sold and marketed. Building on her online expertise, she began working with websites to help them get discovered in the vast sea of the Internet.

She began hearing about e-publishing years ago. The industry had not yet amounted to much because technology had not caught up to the idea. That began changing after the original Kindle was released in 2007 and the industry soon cemented itself as a viable one. McHenry’s interest was piqued.

“Authors and writers are waking up to the idea of (e-publishing),” she said. “But who do you go to that can give you the basics of what you need to do?”

That’s where McHenry comes in.

After graduating with a master’s degree in writing from the University of Montana, Dunnehoff picked up a New York agent and a traditional publisher. But she struggled to meet the selective tastes of the publishing world while working as a part-time teacher at Flathead Valley Community College the last 19 years. Then she met McHenry and the two became friends. McHenry mentioned e-publishing and the thought stuck in Dunnehoff’s mind. Dunnehoff retrieved the stories she shelved throughout the years, made a few revisions and handed a novel over to McHenry, who formatted the book and used her knowledge of marketing and Amazon.

Last May Dunnehoff published her first novel, “The Do-Over,” and it reached No. 2 on the list of best-selling romantic comedies on Amazon. Again working with McHenry, she released a second book, “Plan on It,” in December, which found similar success and won the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s Zola Award for Best Novel. She has a third book being released just before Valentine’s Day.

“Like a lot of people, I grew up with this dream of being traditionally published and it’s hard to let that go,” Dunnehoff said. “With e-publishing I thought, ‘I’ll just give it a shot and see what happens.’ I thought I would like it. But I didn’t know I would love it.”

Dunnehoff now gets to work on all aspects of her books, from the cover to the marketing, something most authors don’t get to do in the traditional publishing world.

“I loved doing all the aspects of it,” she said. “I like being responsible for my own business.”

Since May, over 6,000 readers across the globe have downloaded Dunnehoff’s romantic comedies, either through purchase or as temporary free purchases. One of the great appeals of e-books, McHenry pointed out, is the low price, which typically ranges around a few dollars compared to over $20 for hardcovers.

In that regard, like authors who are traditionally published, e-book authors face the age-old challenge of making a living.

But, in McHenry’s mind, that’s a worry that can come later.

“People who say I love to write and all I want to do is write, well here’s your chance,” she said. “I think this will be a great year for someone to get started. If they have a file folder with a bunch of books they’ve written, I think they’re sitting on a gold mine.”

For more information on e-publishing, visit www.eroxanne.com.