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Thoughts on Self Publishing?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Nathan J. Lauffer, Mar 23, 2011.

  1. Dreamhand

    Dreamhand Troubadour

    BAM! Great post, Bob... and some very interesting statistics. Deeply ironic that the independent bookstores cry "foul" against the big box stores but still pander to the big box publishers. I get that they're trying to pay the rent, but your right... they apparently don't want to promote books, just be an outlet for selling them.

    I wonder if the continuing evolution of the self-publishing/small-press phenomena will inspire indie bookstores to re-evaluate that model. One would think that someone out there would see the change coming and move to capitalize on it.
  2. Dreamhand

    Dreamhand Troubadour

    Some interesting observations regarding e-books, indie book stores and Google Books in this article... Resolved: Kick the Amazon habit in 2012 .

    The market continues to evolve, shifting and heaving like a giant squid with harpoon in its head (just watched Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for the first time in years). I take comfort in the fact that the emphasis seems to be expanding options for consumers with tech leaders responding to user demand rather than perpetuating a (dying) paradigm. Everyone's still trying to make a buck, but the trends seem to support a more "open market" mentality.
  3. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    "Expanding options" - That's the ticket! At the beginning of 2011 I was still leery of self-publishing, as you might see in the beginning of this thread. Now I've changed my mind enough to give it a try, and I certainly hope to become a true believer before long (as that would mean I'm selling things!) :).

    JA Konrath recently published some numbers for his December sales, and gives a nice encouraging little blog post on it. Now, obviously this should be taken with a grain of salt by true newbies like me - Konrath has been around a while, and has many fans already - but still, the numbers and the conclusions he draws are heartening.

    I wonder if, by the end of the year, I'll even want to publish traditionally any more? As you said, the paradigm is dying. I keep expecting them to do something drastic to stick around, but they keep making all the wrong choices.
  4. I don't want to publish traditionally at all. Well, not at all, I just mean I'm not planning on ever going hat in hand to the traditional publishers. If I get successful enough that they come to me, I'm not going to turn them down on principle (although if the terms aren't favorable enough, I will).

    (puts on prognostication hat)

    I don't think the traditional publishing paradigm will ever die completely; the majority of the world still does not have e-readers and distributing paper books is still going to be pretty cheap for a while. Even in the wealthy West we're still going to have a lot of people who like paper books for a long time; it'll be a generation or two at least before paper books die.
  5. I don't think traditional publishing is going to die anytime soon, either. But that's because it's a $24 billion business in the USA alone - I mean, really. ;) It's not like indie writers are suddenly going to start writing tech manuals and college biology textbooks. (Yes, some will, some already are, but large publishers have a big edge there and will for a while yet, due to reputation.)

    What will change? Fiction. Hugely.
    - Most estimates place fiction at 50% ebook in the US sometime in the first months of 2012.
    - Some estimates place ebook fiction at 80% of the market within 2 years. I concur.
    - This will force most bookstores to close. B&N will be gone as a major chain within three years. Most indie bookstores will die sooner than that.
    - Traditional publishers will have ups and downs. Once the big name writers begin jumping ship - which could happen in 2012, but will happen by 2013 at the latest - publishers will be hurting. Many imprints will close. Publishers have lost substantial market share already, and will continue to lose more before things settle down.
    - However, somebody is going to figure out a way to slip themselves into the revenue stream. There's too big a margin going to writers at the moment - it represents a business opportunity that someone is going to take advantage of. Hopefully, they will offer good value for the share they take (I'm think of publishers who learn to specialize in marketing to readers, instead of marketing to bookstores as they do today - this represents the best avenue for publisher success, I think). Writers as a class tend to be fairly poor businesspeople, however, so I'm watching carefully to see where the axe is going to fall. Ideally so I can figure out a way around it. ;)

    Paper books might last for generations - after all, LPs are still around. But within five years, I suspect most books (even textbooks) in the US will be ebooks. And within ten, that will be worldwide.
  6. morguloth

    morguloth Dreamer

    A friend's dad self published. It takes a LOT of motivation and time.
  7. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    ... and now Konrath has followed up the previous post with another, containing some clarifications and even more inspiring words. Do your best to keep your head out of the clouds when reading this one.
  8. boboratory

    boboratory Minstrel

    I'm with Morguloth, self publishing takes alot of energy and time, and as more people do it, the energy needed to stand out enough to make a living becomes greater and greater.

    I don't expect that the "Industry" is going anywhere anytime soon... (arguably) they market well, have deeper rescources, and if it makes life easier for the writer to continue to write, then there will always be a place at the table for them. They just have to get their game face on now, because they need to offer a compelling opportunity and advantage to prospective authors...

    One one of the other forums I follow, there was a writer who was fabulous and posted a complete record of her experiences self publishing, I am not sure if I posted that link here (let me know if you want it and I will), it was fascinating to read through her posts, because they were real time as she learned, and she taught me alot about offering books (for free) and the impact it can have on your sales. She was a romance writer, so the genre's are different, but the lessons I think are universal.
  9. boboratory

    boboratory Minstrel

    The irony of this, is that indie bookstores are turning to Google for their eBook solution- Google, who offer the books as well through their own Android marketplace, effectively making the indie bookstores nothing more than promotional tools for Google's eBook offering...

  10. The question is, does working with a major publisher actually save you any time and free up more time for 'justthe writing'? That seems highly debatable. The additional headaches involved in dealing with agents, dealing with nasty clauses in publishing contracts, dealing with publishers orphaning work, dealing with slow production schedules and attempts to limit your productivity all seem to add up to quite a few headaches all on their own.

    And part of the trouble of course is that major publishers are NOT good at marketing books. They're good at marketing books to bookstores, which are fading fast. They're rather bad at marketing to readers, in general, and that's the important form of marketing today.

    In other words, unless you snag a six figure advance, figure on having to do most of your own marketing anyway.

    Right now, self published ebooks dominate 72-92% of the Amazon genre bestseller lists across every genre I checked. At this point, trade publishers have a lot of work to do just to catch back up with Indies. They're behind, losing market share monthly, and not showing many signs of changing their methods.

    When B&N starts mass closure of brick and mortar stores, which is almost certainly within the next 2-3two years, publishers will have run out of breathing room. They have only until then to create a new business model which will be viable in the new market.
  11. boboratory

    boboratory Minstrel

    I would disagree with some of your assessment. I don't believe local bookstores, or even chains for that matter, "market" books. The model of the book store is predicated on being the place where people go an buy a book they were "sold" on in some other way. Sure they know, about books, but beyond subsidized marketing (often provided by publishers), I don't see bookstores as effective marketers of books, or even themselves at this point at the rate they are closing.

    The evolution of the bookstore in the last couple years, to a "cultural center" with events extending beyond the occasional author signing is a clear indication that bookstores are having to learn new skills to bring people in.

    To arbitrarily dismiss a multi-billion dollar business as unable to market is a little questionable to me.

    I also wouldn't necessarily place alot of faith in Amazon's "Best Seller" lists, which are based on algorithms of limited timeframe. So, a book that pops 10 sales in one hour could certainly appear on the "best seller" list for awhile, then disappear for six months with no sales at all. For some insight, look here or here The NYT Bestseller list clearly continues to demonstrate an entrenched presence for traditional publishing houses, so surely they are convincing someone to buy their books...

    As for the issues dealing with Agents versus going alone, I'd have to defer to writers that have experience is such matters, I have not had an agent, and thus, could not comment on whether it is beneficial or detrimental to writers. I would say that self published authors, in place of those challenges, have the challenges of actually getting into stores, formatting and editing their works and in essence, running their own publishing company.

  12. Graham Irwin

    Graham Irwin Sage

    Per my own experience with self-publishing:

    I am still finishing the third book of a trilogy that I started in 2005. I really wanted to get out the first two books, in some form, for feedback and for my close friends and family, so I put up my book on CreateSpace and Amazon.com. I've sold a few copies online, enough to make some money, which is pretty cool. My big idea is to finish up 3 and then take all the advice I've gotten and rewrite the whole thing, or at least send it all into publishers, once I revise everything and make sure it all lines up and has dealt with the themes I want to properly.

    We're in an age when self-publishing can be a great tool for promotion. I created my website, it gets about 100 hits a day, many of them turn into sales. I'm building a brand recognition for my fantasy world, The Legend of Alm. Then, when I'm ready for the big-time, I can take my small audience with me to the bargaining table with a legitimate publisher.

    All in all, if I have one hard-bound, fully illustrated copy of my trilogy on a dusty shelf somewhere for some young person to read and understand, I'll be happier than happy :)
  13. I didn' t say bookstores were good at marketing books. I also didn't say big publishers were bad at marketing. Big publishers are in fact excellent at marketing books to bookstores. This is their primary area of expertise: getting big retailers to buy lots of copies of their books.

    Where publishers tend to fall down is in marketing to readers. And that's logical; they haven't needed to. Bookstores sell what's on their shelves. Publishers just needed to get the books on those shelves.

    Past tense. "Needed."

    As brick bookstores crumble, that model is fading. Online bookstores of print or ebook don't generally require one to market to them. They take everything from the latest hot book to great aunt Hilda's memoir. As book buying moves online, marketing to bookstores - the primary job of publishers for decades - is losing importance, being replaced by marketing to readers. A job which has mostly been done by writers for the last decade or so. Publishers have a lot of catching up to do in that arena.

    I'm glad you mentioned the NYTimes list. I assume you're aware they solicit data from publishers for the ebook lists, right? There's no central tracking for ebook sales. Publishers report the data, NYTimes prints it. But they only solicit from major publishers. The reason so few indie books show up there is because the only one's they grudgingly add are the ones which get so much media attention that it embarrasses the paper to.not list them (as happened last spring when USA Today called them on it about Amanda Hocking).

    In a world where the top ebooks were mostly sold by big publishers, that wouldn't matter. But we're not living in that world anymore.

    The Amazon list does track very fast. It's updated hourly. Books move up.and down quite a lot. Except at the top - top ranked ebooks tend to stick for days, weeks, even months.

    But even if they didn't stick. Even if every day it was a new crop of indie books in those top 25. It would still mean that indie books are not only consistently holding most of the best selling seats in the house; it would mean that the share of top seats Indies hold is growing week by week.

    The reason many trade pub authors still scoff about ebooks is because their royalty statements still don't show many ebook sales. But more often than not, the reason those ebook sales are low is because the book is trade pub - or rather, because big publishers continue to mismanage ebooks.
  14. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I've only started my current WIP last night, so perhaps I shouldn't think about publishing yet, but...

    I'll probably go the self-publishing route because I've already posted an excerpt of my WIP on MS's Showcase for critique, and it's my understanding that old-school publishers don't like it if you post excerpts of your stories online. Unless they're willing to make exceptions for this message board, I'm stuck with self-publishing even if it isn't the best option.
  15. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    Kevin is 100% right here.

    Also agree.

    I think they are also getting some numbers from Amazon and B&N otherwise Rick Murcer (an indie thriller writer) couldn't have gotten on the NYT and USA today list - and they have. But you are right in that the VAST majority of the indie sales are not taken into account.

    Without question the indie books are dominating the "bestselling" lists. Most are doing so based on low price points ($0.99 and $2.99) The real test comes when indie and traditional titles are evenly priced. The interesting thing though...is that due to "cross selling" the indies seem to do better at the low price point than the big boys. Several houses lowered pricing on books for Christmas. Some to $0.99 and others to $2.99 - interestingly enough the "indies" at that range were still beating out the "top titles" from the big-publishers.

    My publisher is reporting 10% - 25% (I've not seen my royalty statment yet) I don't know that they "continue to mismanage" it is true that they still "price them higher than indie" but I've never been fond of the $2.99 or $0.99 price point. Now it may be that I'm out of touch with the market - which might be expecting that price - and in that case pricing at $7.99 and $9.99 would be mis-management. But I woud hate for the lower price to become "the norm" as I don't think many writers will make a living wage off of $0.34 per book sold.
  16. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    You are not "stuck" with self-publishing...you can...but the fact that you posted in MS's Showcase WILL NOT prevent a publisher from picking it up.
    Jabrosky likes this.
  17. By mismanage, I mean price out of the market. Books above $6 seem an especially hard sell, yet publishers are still staying above $10 for many newer releases. This is *killing* them in ebook sales.

    FWIW, with the current market share estimates, an indie putting a 99 cent book up on Amazon and then via Smashwords to everywhere else is earning about 42 cents per book sold, on average.

    Which incidentally is very close to the same price many writers get for a trade published mass market paperback that sells for $8. ;)

    I agree - writers being paid 42 cents a copy is a TERRIBLE number. Writers have been putting up with that number for decades now, and it's awful. Ironically, publishers have spent decades training writers to be OK with earning that little per sale, and are now reaping the rewards of those actions.

    One of the best parts of going indie is that the income per sale should be enough higher to make it so writers don't need to sell as many copies to make a good wage. Going at 99 cents defeats that.
  18. Codey Amprim

    Codey Amprim Staff Article Team

    Okay, so I've been worried about this for quite some time. I've read a page or two on here but haven't had the time (or attention span) to read all of the pages to see all of the info. I know I am sounding quite lazy when I ask, can somebody make a pros and cons table for traditional vs. independent publishing? I am very curious to see where my road as an aspiring writer may take and what I am to expect. Or should I just make a new thread altogether?
  19. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    This is a bit difficult as it depends on what each author's value systems are based on. For instance in traditional publishing someone else does everything for your (editing, cover design) etc. Some writers consider this a huge positive...others a huge negative (because they want full control). Also one has to consider if you "can" get traditionally published. Many toil for years, or even decades without getting "picked up" but in self-publishing there is nothing standing between you and getting a book out there.

    Traditional Pros
    - Widespread distribution
    - Easier to get foreign language translation deals
    - Full staff for editing, marketing, sales, (public relations - sometimes)
    - Credibility
    - Advances (5,000 - 250,000)
    - Eligible for awards

    - Hard to get an offer
    - Low per book earnings ($0.48 - $2.50)
    - Long time to market (12 months to 2 years)
    - Paid 2x a year

    Self-publishing Pros
    - Higher per book income
    - Faster time to market
    - Full control
    - Paid monthly (60 days after sales)

    - No advance
    - Up-front investement for editing and cover designs
    - Self-publishing stigma
    - Only online distribution (ebooks, Amazon online, B&N on line )
    - harder for foreign sales
    - harder to get reviews
    - Have to do ... or hire all activities

    Notice I didn't put the $'s in either category because that will depend on "how good" the books are. If your talking a "midlist" title - then there is no doubt in my mind that you'll make more money self-publishing than traditional. But if you are talking a "breakout novel" then you'll probably make more money in traditional.

    I also didn't mention "marketing" as I think regarless of which approach you take the author needs to dedicate themselves to promotion of the work.

    Achieving "success" (read good income) is...in my opinion...easier to obtain when self-publshing (assuming a good book and dedicated self-promoter). Getting a traditional contract is difficult (and rare) and it is no guarantee of good sales (and sales have to be much higher than self-publishing) as you are making just a fraction of the income. Bottom line - you don't have to sell nearly as many books when self-published as you do when traditionally publihsed to makes the same amount of money.

    I've done both...and like both...but I have a REALLY good publisher and they've given me a much higher than normal advance and they do actively market the books (beyond just buyers at bookstores). I've been ranked high on Amazon both as a self-published $4.95 - $6.95 title and as a traditionally publishined $9.99 - $14.95) title. But I would say in general that my success in both cases - were better than most. In other words I wouldn't expect similar results. I like to think of my example as "achieveable" but not necessarily "expected". If that makes any sense at all.
    Argentum and Codey Amprim like this.
  20. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    Yeah I suspected that's what you meant. The "above $10" is too high - but the majority of big-six ebooks produced are $7.99 - $9.99. Martin's latest is $14.99 but seeing as it's been in the top 100 since release - I think they are obviously getting that amount for them. His other books are $8.99.

    FWIW - my rankings as a $9.99 traditional book are about the same as they were at a $4.99 self-published book. I make about 1/2 as much money but I also have much higher paperbook sales. Will that offset the loss on ebook revenue? Not sure - don't have a royaltly statement yet. But I didn't go traditional to make more money (in fact I predicted I would make less) I did it to expand a brand and reach a larger audience - and I do think that has indeed happened.

    Close...a $0.99 makes .3465 per book a $7.99 paperback makes .6392 - but the mere fact that a book is being produced in mass market format is an indication that the publisher expects to sell a lot of them (30,000 - 50,000) copies minimum with an expectation of 100,000 - 300,000. Are you more likely to make a living wage at $0.99 ebook or $8 mass market? I say neither. If we pick an arbitary $50,000 a year income then the $0.99 ebooks would have to sell 147,000 books and a mass market author 78,000. Both are pretty tall orders and I don't "the average" author will hit either of thos goals.

    I don't subscribe to the "publishers" training authors that it is okay sentiment. Traditional publishing, as it has existed, is a venture capital business where most projects will fail and therefore the "backer" takes a higher cut of the winners to offset the losers. The amounts they are offering maks sense given their risk/reward potential. Do I think authors should get more?? Hell yeah, but I understand why they have typically priced that way in the past and agree that to be competitive in the future they will make adjustments to their business models and payment terms.

    Right now it is the traditional publishers who are keeping the price of ebooks off the very bottom levels of $0.99 and $2.99. I think this is ultimately a good thing for authors. In a world where all books are $0.99 and $2.99 VERY few authors will make a living wage. The volumes required at that level means that a very narrow band of authors will achieve this. If we can allow a price point of $4.95 for authors...THEN there is real money to be made and a larger number of authors will earn well.

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