Print or E-Book? (and a giveaway)

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here with a question for readers of this blog. No, I’m not going to ask you which you prefer, print copies or e-books. Not in general, anyway. My query has to do with only one type of book—nonfiction, specifically reference books.

I gather you can make notes in an e-book, but for many people a print copy with post-it notes sticking out and parts highlighted in blinding yellow and handwritten notes in the margins, is still the only way to go. I have written nonfiction as well as fiction and two of those books, How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England from 1485-1649 are reference books for writers. Both are out of print in all but e-book editions, and in the case of the latter, written as part of the Writer’s Digest Everyday Life series, the e-book is not much more than a pdf file. It was produced for the e-book market way back in 2004—eons ago in tech terms. Officially priced at $10, most online sellers offer it for less—as low as $4.99—and it has sold at least a few copies every month since it was issued.

How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries: The Art and Adventure of Sleuthing Through the Past won the 2008 Agatha Award for mystery nonfiction and has been available in a trade paperback edition until last year when Perseverance Press, the publisher, closed its doors. I made a few updates (the marketing section, obviously, was completely out of date) and issued a new e-book edition last year. I thought about also self-publishing a print-on-demand paperback version but put that on hold. After all, there were still plenty of copies of the Perseverance paperback floating around. Now I’ve started thinking about it again. As for the e-book, which sells for $4.99, it has had some bumps. There is no Kindle edition because Amazon bots deemed it was available elsewhere for free. Where? I have no idea, but they say their decision is final. B&N, Apple, Kobo, and others are not so short-sighted. A print edition would be listed on Amazon, although Amazon would probably (based on my previous experiences) make it as difficult as possible to actually order a copy.

Anyhoo, I could do print-on-demand trade paperback editions of both these books that could be ordered online or through any bookstore or library or direct from me. I probably will, but I have other reprint projects in the works. I have to wonder if that many people really care if they have a reference book in a paperback edition.

Producing a print-on-demand version of either book wouldn’t be all that difficult. I’ll have to proofread the text again, but there shouldn’t be much that needs changing. Formatting is fairly simple thanks to the company (Draft2Digital) I use to produce my self-published books. They provide ISBNs and generate a table of contents. I just have to be consistent about spacing, font size, and so on in the text. Nitpicky stuff. It can be time-consuming, though. The templates are great but they are set up for fiction and tend to indent in the wrong places or start new pages where you don’t want them to. It usually takes me several tries, making corrections in the manuscript and resending it, before everything comes out looking the way it should.

I already have a front cover for the e-book of the How To, so all I need is the copy for the back cover. However, I will need an entirely new cover for the Writer’s Guide and will need to update the frontmatter, including adding an author note.

I was considering all those things and thinking This won’t be too hard when I remembered something. E-books are searchable. Print books are not. Each of these books originally had an index. The entries can be reused but the page numbers will no longer match. After everything else is good to go, I’m going to have to go through every dratted index entry, find the correct page numbers, insert them in the manuscript, resend it, and hope the spacing looks right when I’m done.

Good grief.

I need to do it right, too, because by the time I add in production costs per book and the cut Draft2Digital gets (both non-negotiable), these paperbacks will have to be priced almost as high as if they were traditionally published. Probably $15.99—so as much as triple what the e-book would set a buyer back.

The templates aren’t fond of bibliographies, either.

e-book cover

On the bright side, I can add back the illustrations from the original Writer’s Guide, since I own them. I added out-of-copyright illustrations when I reissued my juvenile biography of Nellie Bly and it came out really well.

So, at long last, here is my question, in multiple parts: Do you prefer print to electronic for nonfiction? Do you give up if it looks like there will be a wait to get a print copy of the book? How much more are you willing to pay for a print copy over an e-book?

Thanks in advance to everyone who weighs in on this issue in the comments section. I’m giving away a free paperback of the Perseverance Press (2008) edition of How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries to one of you. The drawing for the winner works this way: after three days (on June 4), the names from the comments on this post will be written on pieces of paper that are then crumpled and strewn on the floor. The one Shadow pounces on first will get the book. If I have your email address, I’ll contact you. If I don’t, you’ll have to check back here (in the comments) to find out if you’ve won. Best of luck to you all.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at and


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10 Responses to Print or E-Book? (and a giveaway)

  1. Julie Hunter says:

    Hi, Kathy. I strongly prefer print for nonfiction. It’s much easier for me to flip back and forth, juxtaposing thoughts and sources, as well as marking places that I use often. I can be very patient when waiting for a book that I really want. And I expect to pay a minimum of $15 for such a book, but I probably wouldn’t bat an eye at $30 to $35. $40 would probably be too much.

  2. Anonymous says:

    INteresting. I do Amazon exclusively. I also belong to a writer’s group/school. I’ve heard tell of a couple of programs that hunt down free or pirated books, of which there are apparently a bunch of pirated ones. I can’t recall the names of them. I’lll bet you can google into it. Me, I’m a paper person. AND the price of most paperbacks is now between 12 and 16 dollars, with a few a bit higher, depending on page count and any picture inclusions and such. Also, often times, you can bypass the bots at Amazon with the “contact us” by phone or email and state your case. Good luck.

  3. John Clark says:

    I’ll be ranting about Amazon in my June post. I have a ton of e-books, but hardly ever read any of them. I still like print, no matter whether fiction, or nonfiction. Since I do a lot of reading in bed, I like the feel of a physical book.

  4. kaitcarson says:

    Print for me. I have purchased non-fiction in eformat, but end up buying print because ebooks don’t work for my dinosaur brain when it comes to reference. I much prefer to run my finger along the spines that sit on my shelf to locate the book I need.

    As for price and wait – I’m good with $15.99 for a reference book I’ll use. I also don’t mind the wait. Delayed gratification equals anticipation for me.

  5. Print for me, though this weekend, when I came away without the massive tome I’m reading, I did put an old Dick Francis on my kindle. Silly, probably, since the place is full of books, but I do love Dick Francis. Dealing with Amazon can be incredibly frustrating, I agree.


  6. Jane Irish Nelson says:

    Definitely print for non-fiction, especially reference books, so I can go back and review what I’ve read much more easily.

  7. Crystal Toller says:

    I prefer a print copy for non-fiction so I can go back and review things I need to remember or know.

  8. Julianne Spreng says:

    What John said. I had a Kindle used once on vacation. Didn’t like trying to flip back to previous pages. Never used it again. I’d rather shlep a dozen physical books than a light weight e-reader. If it’s a volume I want or need price is secondary to content. So glad there is the publish-on-demand option for author’s work not handled by a traditional house. You can make your work available in a useful format to a smaller audience without a huge investment.

  9. kaitlynkathy says:

    The winner of a copy of HOW TO WRITE KILLER HISTORICAL MYSTERIES, 2008 print edition is Julie Hunter. Congrats, Julie. Please contact me at kathylynnemerson @ roadrunner .com with your mailing address so I can send the book to you.

  10. Pingback: Nonfiction Bonanza in July | Maine Crime Writers

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