New Authors – Digital First?



A better title may be ‘Why New Authors May Wish to Consider Digital Only in the First Instance’. However, it is thought too unwieldy, despite SEO considerations.


In the midst of prevailing advice to publish in all formats, it may appear contrary to suggest otherwise, at least in the first instance. Nevertheless, there are potential advantages to the idea, especially for new authors. Established authors may also find the idea beneficial. Read on.

Just in case someone not familiar with book formats is reading this article, the following may help clarify the differences between them:

Hardback: A physical book bound in stiff covers.
Paperback: A physical edition bound in soft thin card covers.
Digital (e-book): An electronic version for digital devices.
Audio: A recorded rendering (mostly in CD or MP3).

Learning Curve

With any new venture there are normally skills to develop and assimilate. It is no different with the publishing industry. Beside the actual writing of a book, for which there are many aspects and advice not to be gone into here, there are several other matters to be understood e.g. formatting; metadata; cover; publishing platforms; etc. It can be mind boggling.

The format makes no difference to the actual writing but does start to impact when the time to publish arrivers. It may therefore be sensible, while still learning the craft, for new authors to stick with the easiest format which is digital (hereafter referred to as an e-book).

The majority of services offered to independent (indie) authors for self-publishing have easy to understand, and use, e-book software systems. There remains a learning curve but most sites also have clear guidance notes to assist the novice. A further advantage is, while entering all the information required, the new author is exposed to, and will undoubtedly assimilate, all the varied elements of publishing. This will greatly assist when the time arrives for them to prepare the book in other formats.

Paperback Requirements

In the self-publishing world what is commonly known as a paperback is technically a ‘print-on-demand’ edition. The term simply refers to the fact a copy is NOT printed until someone orders it e.g. there is no stockpile, which saves on costs and the possibility of having stacks of unsuccessful books to dispose of. Hardbacks are included in the paperback definition for the purposes of this article.


Paperback editions usually require some additional formatting, even where the publishing service offers to convert the e-book edition for the author. This is therefore something further for the new author to learn. As with all education, it is wise for topics to be broken into sections and for the pupil to learn utilising the building-block method. In this instance the author will be able to build on the knowledge gained when publishing the initial e-book.


Whereas an e-book only requires a front cover a paperback requires front, spine and back. Naturally, it is possible for an author to create these but the majority usually purchase them. Bearing in mind most of the services indie authors utilise come free of charge, and many of them have little in the way of resources, an outlay for a complete cover, in the first stages of becoming an author, may be undesirable.

Some of the services offer a free cover template an author may use. However, they will need to have some comprehension of digital art and how to combine the varied parts. In most instances it is not excessively onerous however, at first, it is time consuming and can be confusing. It may be advisable for the new author to have got all the other aspects under their belt before venturing into this additional area.

Book Shops

Except for a few independent book shops, it is extremely difficult, though not impossible, for books by indie authors to find shelf space in bricks and mortar book shops.

Naturally, there are many readers who prefer to hold a physical copy of a book in their hands however, many surveys show even they will frequently read in a mix of formats. Consequently, there is no pressure for the author to initially provide all formats. In fact, there are a number of authors who have found success without ever publishing physical copies of their books.


Instinctively, when considering a new publication, most authors will think of a complete one volume edition. However, there are those who suggest a serialisation to start. Serialisation has become a popular structure for all sorts of entertainment e.g. television, magazines, etc. The same is true for some books. The e-book format, by virtue of its instant accessibility, is the one that lends itself most to the serialisation structure.

It is accepted this method will not appeal to everyone but there are advantages authors may wish to consider before writing off the idea all together. A serialised story is a way of attracting readers to a new author’s work because: by nature, each part will be a shorter read thereby acting as an introduction to something new; and by virtue of its conciseness it will have a lesser purchase price (see under ‘Price’ below).

Serialisation has been a method many established authors have used for generations. Charles Dickens but to name one. Now, in the modern digital world, the serialisation structure is growing even more in popularity.


Finding a readership is a major challenge for all authors no matter who they are. Even established names constantly seek to expand their reach. How much more is this true for the new, upcoming author. This is where the purchase price may help. Few like to take a chance on an unknown where the price is substantial. E-books, due to them incurring no actual publishing costs, attract a much lower price tag than their physical counterparts. Consequently, they are more attractive to an adventurous reader who may be willing to try something new. (Note: Offering a book for free, for which there are varying opinions, is not under consideration here.) Many will be more willing to pay 0.99 as apposed to say 6.99 for something new.

Extended Exposure

Assuming the author will eventually wish to also publish in other formats publishing in digital first has an added advantage. The initial e-book will, naturally, be publicised and marketed to the fullest extent though, as with any product, that period will have defined limits. By subsequently publishing a paperback edition the author has a further opportunity to market meaning the book will be kept in front of readers for a much longer period. Of course, this is not limitless however, it will, hopefully, help the new author gain attention.


Publishing in e-book format first has advantages, especially for new authors. Of course, the choice is the author’s own and they may prefer to go for all edition options straightaway. There are no hard and fast rules.

Naturally, what has been shared above is not conclusive and there may be other advantages or disadvantages not discussed but it is hoped new authors in particular may find food for thought.

Audio has not been discussed because it really is a very different format with its own requirements. There is plenty of advice available for those who wish to also utilise that structure.

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