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Splendad
04-19-2011, 11:17 PM
I've been getting a lot of questions lately about self-publishing, so I thought I'd put something general out here that I can refer folks to.

This is one man's opinion, and will be anything but technical.

First, if you really, really, really want to be a mainstream author, as of this moment, your best bet is to go ahead and follow the formal procedures of going through years of writing, edits, rejection letters, and publisher dictatorship over your stories and covers. Statistics show that that is more likely to get your name into lights than self-publishing.

However, I firmly believe that great writing cannot and will not be held back. I don't care how you get it out there. If it's great, it will work. Probably half of the all-time great names in literature that most of us are familiar with have self-published. What would you do without Mark Twain's Huck Finn or Thoreau's, Potter's, Twain's, or T.S. Eliots self-published works?

I have heard many arguments stating that self-publishing is career suicide for a would-be novelist. Absolute hogwash. Again, if you are unsure, go the old-fashioned, formal route. But if you know you have great writing, and you're ready to get into print right now (no upfront fees are necessary) then there is no reason not to go for it.

It seems to me that there is a smothering texture to the attitude that most naysayers display about self-publishing. Here's really what they are saying: "If you self-publish, your work will never be accepted or respected. Either people will believe you weren't 'good enough' to get published the old-fashioned way or you'll lack that proper foundation of editing/revising that a traditional publisher would offer and for that reason, you'll fail."

If you want to believe that, go ahead.

Within the past six months, I've written and self-published three books (to be fair, one was only a collection of articles I had already written). My sales have been slow but steadily rising. All my friends and family are absolutely fired-up about having my books and having them autographed. I've been listed in the local newspapers three times for book signings. I've built a loyal following of hundreds of people that await my next book with the help of promotional giveaways (and, of course, I am always working to make that thousands, then many thousands of fans...).

Here's what I say; if you have the fire in your heart and you've done the rejection-letter dance with traditional publishers, go for it. Don't hold back. Just do it. You have one life, and you aren't getting any younger. Write it, publish it, sell it, repeat.

My 2.

movieman
04-20-2011, 01:08 AM
First, if you really, really, really want to be a mainstream author, as of this moment, your best bet is to go ahead and follow the formal procedures of going through years of writing, edits, rejection letters, and publisher dictatorship over your stories and covers. Statistics show that that is more likely to get your name into lights than self-publishing.

The problem I see is that by the time your book is ready to appear on the bookshelves after five years of working through the system, the system may not exist anymore.

I think in five years we'll be able to see much more clearly which route is the most likely to work for a new unpublished writer, but today if I had a novel sitting around which was good enough for publication I would be thinking very hard about whether I wanted to spend years waiting for it to come out or self-publish as an ebook and spend those years building up a readership.

zegota
04-20-2011, 01:45 AM
Probably half of the all-time great names in literature that most of us are familiar with have self-published. What would you do without Mark Twain's Huck Finn or Thoreau's, Potter's, Twain's, or T.S. Eliots self-published works?

I really wish people who stop pushing examples that not only are over a hundred years old (I'm sure car companies use the realities of the transportation industry in the late 1800s to make business decisions), but that don't even really fit. Huck Finn was only self-published by a very liberal definition of the term, if I recall, and the same can be said of most of the others that plaster the websites of vanity publishers.



All my friends and family are absolutely fired-up about having my books and having them autographed.

No offense, but I could print a chapter out of my home printer and my friends and family would be "fired-up." That's what makes them friends and family.

I'm genuinely glad for your success, but I take issue with you casting people who are wary of self-publishers as be-monocled people living in high houses, jealous of how easy the self-pubbers have it. I think a lot of traditionally published authors (and authors looking to be traditionally published) are truly concerned with people going down the self-published route with bad expectations, only to be wrecked a year or so later. We've seen it all too often.

scope
04-20-2011, 02:08 AM
However, I firmly believe that great writing cannot and will not be held back.

To believe is fine, but unto itself isn't it simply an opinion? And, I can't agree with the above when each year over 99% of manuscripts submitted to trade publishers and/or agents are rejected. Now I agree, the great majority of this 99% isn't worthy of publication -- for a variety of reasons, but I do believe that thousands (?) rejected are worthy of being published. And to me, 'great writing' begins when professionals recognize a work and make the determination to invest people, time, and money into it. The rest will be decided by the public.

I don't care how you get it out there. If it's great, it will work.

Assuming it is 'great' it won't be recognized as anything unless the public knows the book exists. This is one of a trade publishers tasks--which they can do quite well. This is the writer's job (promote and market) when they self-pub or
e-pub. Pick your poison.

Probably half of the all-time great names in literature that most of us are familiar with have self-published. What would you do without Mark Twain's Huck Finn or Thoreau's, Potter's, Twain's, or T.S. Eliots self-published works?

And what about the millions who went nowhere while investing a whole lot of time and money, or simply did nothing while falsely believing the sp company would take care of same? Do we forget about them? I have absolutely nothing against self-publishing as long as the writer realizes s/he has started a busines, one s/he has to run and has the ability to run, has a lot of money to invest with the understanding that it may all be lost, and has the know-how and ability to promote and market their book.

It seems to me that there is a smothering texture to the attitude that most naysayers display about self-publishing. Here's really what they are saying: "If you self-publish, your work will never be accepted or respected. Either people will believe you weren't 'good enough' to get published the old-fashioned way or you'll lack that proper foundation of editing/revising that a traditional publisher would offer and for that reason, you'll fail."

I don't beieve that, but in the majority of cases it probably applies, although there are things I'd add to your list.

Within the past six months, I've written and self-published three books (to be fair, one was only a collection of articles I had already written). My sales have been slow but steadily rising. All my friends and family are absolutely fired-up about having my books and having them autographed. I've been listed in the local newspapers three times for book signings. I've built a loyal following of hundreds of people that await my next book with the help of promotional giveaways (and, of course, I am always working to make that thousands, then many thousands of fans...).

To be frank, what a writers friends and family think is not all that important. That is, unless that's the reason one
self-publishes. From a business standpoint hundreds of sales is unacceptable. And while it may be fine for some, which I understand and have no disagreement with, I can't understand starting this type of business without knowing how to reach and make that thousands of sales. But again, I fully understand that all of this depends on one's reasons for self-publishing.

If I may, let me ask you two questions:
1) Do you believe your book would have been purchased by a trade publisher and made into a paper book (and other forms) if it was originally presented to them?
2) If so, why didn't you go that route?
Just curious.

Good luck.



ss

shadowwalker
04-20-2011, 02:09 AM
... going through years of writing, edits, rejection letters, and publisher dictatorship over your stories and covers.

... Again, if you are unsure, go the old-fashioned, formal route.

... and you've done the rejection-letter dance with traditional publishers, go for it

Seems it's not just the self-publish 'naysayers' who have a a certain 'tone' to their opinions. :Shrug:

James D. Macdonald
04-20-2011, 04:08 AM
If you aren't sure whether to self-publish, ask yourself what you want.

Yes. And set concrete goals, with objective criteria by which you'll know whether you've achieved them, and a time frame when you'll take your measurements.

MonikaRuth
04-20-2011, 08:07 AM
It seems like this debate could get very heated, and probably has on this board before I got here.

It's very interesting to see both opinions.

movieman
04-20-2011, 08:55 AM
It seems like this debate could get very heated, and probably has on this board before I got here.

Yes, but ultimately the conclusion of the debate is really all summed up in Uncle Jim's post above yours.

quicklime
04-20-2011, 04:38 PM
It seems to me that there is a smothering texture to the attitude that most naysayers display about self-publishing. Here's really what they are saying: "If you self-publish, your work will never be accepted or respected. Either people will believe you weren't 'good enough' to get published the old-fashioned way or you'll lack that proper foundation of editing/revising that a traditional publisher would offer and for that reason, you'll fail."

.


funny, maybe we read different boards.

most of what I've seen have been the very simple caveats that:


1. if you self-pub you are now in charge of all of your own marketing, editing, etc.--basically, you are no longer free to just be a writer, you are also your entire business....which takes time from the writing itself.

2. if you're looking to self-pub because there is no gatekeeper and you don't have to wait, you can get a move on, you aren't just one face in a sea of thousands, but of millions and millions....and again, with all the marketing entirely up to you. No house is getting you a fancy book cover, or professionally editing your work, and no house is getting you shelf space at B&N or paying for ad space for your book or sending it out for reviews. Have you just randomly browsed e-books under "thriller", or do you go looking for recognized names like Grisham or Harris? Nobody to help you get recognized or elevate your position besides yourself if you self-pub, and that is fine, but remember, all that work is yours.

3. if you're looking to self-pub because gatekeepers "don't appreciate your genius", not only do you again have to make sure your head bobs above the crowd, you have to be damn sure, and realistic, that you aren't confusing genius and golden word syndrome.


Nothing wrong with self-pubbing, but there's no getting around the fact you'll have no marketing help, you have to become your own business instead of just an employee, and you are taking time from your own writing to do so. Some folks absolutely love that level of control; outside the world of writing, they would be the ones intent on starting new biotechs or opening their own restaurant, instead of just being a R&D scientist or head chef at an established restaurant. But for me, I'd rather devote that time to more writing and learning how to do it better, instead of taking on all the peripheral work. that's only my decision, there is no right and wrong about it, but that seems to be the con the self-pubbers who border on religious sort of shoo away. I want to write, not run a business.


I do think telling us what Twain did and using it to justify slapping something out in smashwords is silly, sort of like suggesting since the Wright Brothers built the very first plane as a small collaboration and they were nobodies, you and your buddy with an engineering degree and an arc welder might as well throw your hat in the ring and sub a bid next time the Pentagon wants a new jet...

Roger J Carlson
04-20-2011, 08:43 PM
3. if you're looking to self-pub because gatekeepers "don't appreciate your genius", not only do you again have to make sure your head bobs above the crowd, you have to be damn sure, and realistic, that you aren't confusing genius and golden word syndrome.
Quite true. Writing is all about communications. If you can't get a gatekeeper interested in your work, then you should seriously consider whether you have communicated as well as you think you have.

When you read your own work, you have the mental picture of what you are trying to communicate. Other people don't, and if you haven't put that picture into words well enough, they never will.

When family and friends read your work, they will slog through to the end because they love you. Strangers won't do that. At the first sign of the story flagging, they'll bail.

That's what makes gatekeepers useful, even necessary.

Old Hack
04-20-2011, 11:25 PM
The problem I see is that by the time your book is ready to appear on the bookshelves after five years of working through the system, the system may not exist anymore.

Why do you assume it'll take five years before your book comes out?

A friend of mine started submitting to agents at the end of January: she got an agent a month ago and now has several book deals in place (home and translation rights), and her first novel will be published before Christmas of this year in this country with her next coming out within the next 18 months.

movieman
04-21-2011, 12:08 AM
Why do you assume it'll take five years before your book comes out?

Because plenty of books do take that long, or longer. I suspect you'll find at least as many books that took several years as you will people who were in print within a year of beginning submissions to agents.

The real median time from starting submission to hitting the bookshelves would be interesting to know if you have any numbers for it.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 12:19 AM
Why do you assume it'll take five years before your book comes out?

A friend of mine started submitting to agents at the end of January: she got an agent a month ago and now has several book deals in place (home and translation rights), and her first novel will be published before Christmas of this year in this country with her next coming out within the next 18 months.

That seems as unusually fast as five years would be abnormally slow. ;) Most fiction writers I know talk about two years from contract signing to books in bookstores. Publishers are able to jump faster - I've heard of times as short as nine months from book turn-in to bookstore for novels based on films, or special seasonal material. But those seem to be the exception, not the norm.

Although maybe things will speed up. Honestly, I don't see any reason why they can't... As publishers push forward into the digital age of publishing, I think we'll see a lot of the process get faster. There's no real reason for a book to take two years; it's a legacy of old processes that don't really work anymore. I suspect successful publishers in the future will have managed to start moving at a less glacial pace.

scope
04-21-2011, 01:03 AM
The problem I see is that by the time your book is ready to appear on the bookshelves after five years of working through the system, the system may not exist anymore.


How in the world do you come to such a ridiculous conclusion? Could you please elaborate?

Old Hack
04-21-2011, 01:18 AM
That seems as unusually fast as five years would be abnormally slow. ;)

Absolutely. But that was kind of my point.


Although maybe things will speed up. Honestly, I don't see any reason why they can't... As publishers push forward into the digital age of publishing, I think we'll see a lot of the process get faster. There's no real reason for a book to take two years; it's a legacy of old processes that don't really work anymore. I suspect successful publishers in the future will have managed to start moving at a less glacial pace.

I think you're wrong here. The reason it usually takes a while to bring a book to market is that there are several rounds of editing to go through, sometimes a re-write; design also takes a while to get right; and then you need to give marketing time to promote the book effectively, and so on. Very little time is wasted on that road to publication: it's all needed to make the book as good as it can be.

scope
04-21-2011, 01:22 AM
Because plenty of books do take that long, or longer. I suspect you'll find at least as many books that took several years as you will people who were in print within a year of beginning submissions to agents.

The real median time from starting submission to hitting the bookshelves would be interesting to know if you have any numbers for it.

If you have no idea of the 'average', why make an emphatic statement that it may take five years before being published by a trade publisher?

Over and over again postings in a variety of AW threads reveal to me a defensiveness and too often a lack of knowledge by most who want to self-pub or epub and who dismiss or put down the trade publishing route. Why? I believe that any point or opinion I espouse is always backed by experience, knowledge, and reasoning. If anyone wants to change my opinion I would like them to do so in a similar manner. Is that asking too much? If anyone feels it's too early for them to draw any conclusions re alternatives to trade publishing, all they have to do is say so, rather than jump to conclusions

scope
04-21-2011, 01:33 AM
Although maybe things will speed up. Honestly, I don't see any reason why they can't... As publishers push forward into the digital age of publishing, I think we'll see a lot of the process get faster. There's no real reason for a book to take two years; it's a legacy of old processes that don't really work anymore. I suspect successful publishers in the future will have managed to start moving at a less glacial pace.

I also believe that the time frame will lessen in the future. Basically trade publishers can bring out any one book as quickly as they want without compromising anything they normally do. However, in the future, if they are to do so with all their books and continue to perform all the functions they do, it will be a challenge in many ways, including costs. We'll see.

jacket
04-21-2011, 01:34 AM
I've been seeing a lot about this sort of thing lately. Self publishing is now easier than ever--especially with the e-book market and such. It costs the author almost nothing to get their stuff out there themselves. Toss in the odd success story (Amanda Hocking comes to mind) and the appeal to forgo the pain of queries and rejections is great. So everyone is highly motivated to put together arguments as to why self publishing is just as valid a path as traditional publishing. It used to be that self publishing would sort of tarnish your record if you sought a traditional deal later, though I think that isn't the case so much anymore.

The way I see it, as far as self publishing goes, the appeal is that it is seems so easy. You don't have to worry about anyone else's opinion. No middle man. Just get your stuff out there. This of course opens the door for anyone who writes anything to have a book up on amazon regardless of skill.

The drawback is of course trying to get a big readership via this route. You are sitting in a crowd that hasn't been through any sort of screening process and if no one knows your name, and you don't have anything beyond your word going for you, why will people buy your book? If your writing is really solid and your story has some sort of mass appeal, then perhaps you might be the one in a million who can grow an audience that way, but I would venture to say it is much harder to find success going that route. So, easy to get published-->very difficult success.

Going the traditional route is daunting to say the least. Most queries are insta-rejected. It's all about the stars lining up just right--your book has to not only be good, but has to be what a given agent/publisher is looking for at the exact time when they aren't overwhelmed with other things so they actually do look at it. But, if you get to that point, then you've got editing and marketing and a name bigger than yours backing you up. It still doesn't guarantee success, but I think it sets the stage for success being much more easily obtained.

ResearchGuy
04-21-2011, 01:53 AM
. . . It costs the author almost nothing to get their stuff out there themselves. . . .

If their standards are low enough OR if they have all of the necessary skills and tools and put little value on their time and resources.

--Ken

jacket
04-21-2011, 02:16 AM
If their standards are low enough OR if they have all of the necessary skills and tools and put little value on their time and resources.

--Ken

You're right on this--you can actually end up spending a pretty penny self publishing if you pay for professional editing services and hire someone to do cover art and etc.

ResearchGuy
04-21-2011, 02:23 AM
You're right on this--you can actually end up spending a pretty penny self publishing if you pay for professional editing services and hire someone to do cover art and etc.
A friend of mine recently stated that he spent something like $15,000 on editing, design, printing, etc., for his first self-published book. Grossed $90,000, though, and after other expenses cleared $50,000 (pre tax). He has done better on more recent projects. Still spends a bunch to get a book out the door, though.

--Ken

movieman
04-21-2011, 02:40 AM
If you have no idea of the 'average', why make an emphatic statement that it may take five years before being published by a trade publisher?

Feel free to post some actual median numbers if you have them.

jacket
04-21-2011, 02:47 AM
A friend of mine recently stated that he spent something like $15,000 on editing, design, printing, etc., for his first self-published book. Grossed $90,000, though, and after other expenses cleared $50,000 (pre tax). He has done better on more recent projects. Still spends a bunch to get a book out the door, though.

--Ken

Wow--kudos to your friend. Indeed it can be done, but I'd be curious to see the statistics on how often authors find success that route compared to the traditional route. Also, someone who garners that kind of success by themselves often has great leverage if they want to go the traditional route later.

I'm sure putting up the money for editing and marketing play huge in the potential for success though, which is a reason I'd shy away from it personally. I simply don't have the cash laying around and I'd be too scared of losing everything invested if I did. I've been lucky enough to secure representation and am getting my editing for free at the moment.(if we don't count the 15% that comes off of future sales...if it sells)

Did your friend try querying first or did he jump straight to self publishing? Does he intend to continue publishing this way?

I'm mostly talking out of my rear end when I start spouting vague opinion, so I stand to be schooled, but it does still seem to me (or at least I have seen) that people often flock to self publishing out of impatience or desperation. Not always, but often. And half the time I hear people spout off about the benefits of going that route it sounds as if they are desperately trying to justify a choice they are unsure about. --instead of conceding that their writing could stand improvement, they say that traditional publishing knows nothing and self publishing is the better way to go. I don't know--that's certainly the stereotype anyway.

FocusOnEnergy
04-21-2011, 02:48 AM
The way I see it, as far as self publishing goes, the appeal is that it is seems so easy. You don't have to worry about anyone else's opinion. No middle man. Just get your stuff out there.

Easy? There is no big round red EASY button included in self-publishing.

I've found it very challenging. Some will find it daunting, others impossible. I just decided to create a new self-published book for a contest, that is insanity mode-I nearly cried when I saw how fantastic last year's winners were-I'm really going to have to pull out all the stops on my typography to have a chance.

You have to make a lot of decisions, including "do it myself or hire it out". Not everyone is good at that. It is also expensive in terms of the self-publisher's time and/or the cost of out-sourcing what they can't do themselves.

You can't just get it out there, either. "If you build it, they will come," only works if you are trying to attract ghostly baseball players.

You need to do the marketing piece and that's where trade/commercial publishing has a big advantage, because if you don't know how to self-promote and market a product, self-publishing probably isn't for you.

And you have to worry about the most important opinion of all, the reader's. It doesn't matter if you think what you've written is the greatest thing since sliced bread, if they think it is crap, it's crap, because customer perception is market reality.

Self-publishing isn't easy, it isn't cheap and there are no guarantees.

Focus

jacket
04-21-2011, 02:57 AM
Easy? There is no big round red EASY button included in self-publishing.

I've found it very challenging. Some will find it daunting, others impossible. I just decided to create a new self-published book for a contest, that is insanity mode-I nearly cried when I saw how fantastic last year's winners were-I'm really going to have to pull out all the stops on my typography to have a chance.

You have to make a lot of decisions, including "do it myself or hire it out". Not everyone is good at that. It is also expensive in terms of the self-publisher's time and/or the cost of out-sourcing what they can't do themselves.

You can't just get it out there, either. "If you build it, they will come," only works if you are trying to attract ghostly baseball players.

You need to do the marketing piece and that's where trade/commercial publishing has a big advantage, because if you don't know how to self-promote and market a product, self-publishing probably isn't for you.

And you have to worry about the most important opinion of all, the reader's. It doesn't matter if you think what you've written is the greatest thing since sliced bread, if they think it is crap, it's crap, because customer perception is market reality.

Self-publishing isn't easy, it isn't cheap and there are no guarantees.

Focus

Perhaps I should revise my previous statement--I meant that it is easy to do in terms of not having to jump through any middle men or convince some agent/publisher to like it--you're the only one you need to convince at first to get the ball rolling. Also, one could slap something together haphazardly through Lulu, or epublish or whatnot easily. Doing it WELL--not so easy. Which was kind of my point--finding success this route I think is probably far more difficult than the traditional route because of all the work involved in actually finding success that route. I think people are drawn in by the fact that they have the power to just do it themselves, but they fail to realize that success isby no means easier.

ResearchGuy
04-21-2011, 03:13 AM
. . . someone who garners that kind of success by themselves often has great leverage if they want to go the traditional [i.e., commercial] route later.
. . . .
Neither that fellow nor the others I know with big sales (tens of thousands of copies -- one over 100k for a single title) have any interest in reducing their income by signing their books away to commercial publishers. Historical novelist Naida West explicitly rejected commercial publication. Two others I know (nonfiction authors / publishers) rejected buyouts of their companies. But it varies all over the map. Another was happy to trade in a self-published book for a contract from an independent commercial publisher for a revised edition of that book. Another self-published a book on his specialty, it was seen by a large publishing house, and he happily signed a contract for a bigger, flossier new book in the same subject area. (He was thrilled at the graphic design expertise they brought to it.)

And on and on and on.

Hang around with scores of self- and independent publishers for a few years and you learn a few things.

BTW, I do not offer myself as an example of anything but idiosyncratic learning experiences and low-key (sometimes frankly facetious) publishing efforts. But this year I am improving my game (upgraded software, block of ISBNs, Lightning Source account), and I have a couple of (relatively) serious projects in process (niche, but pretty good niches). I'm never going to be in the league of some of my publisher friends -- they are far more entrepreneurial and far more energetic, including the one in his mid-80s (he's the guy with the top seller at over 100k copies).

--Ken

ResearchGuy
04-21-2011, 03:14 AM
. . .Did your friend try querying first or did he jump straight to self publishing? Does he intend to continue publishing this way? . . . .
He is a businessman with NO interest in losing his work to commercial publishers. His business/technical books are integrally connected to his business. (And his other books are tangentially connected, and one involves a second business.) He will continue until his last breath.

--Ken

ResearchGuy
04-21-2011, 03:18 AM
. . .it does still seem to me (or at least I have seen) that people often flock to self publishing out of impatience or desperation. . . .
It seems to me that you are absolutely right. Sometimes I fight a losing battle to get them to slow down and do what it takes to pursue commercial (trade) publishing. Some have no realistic prospect of succeeding in that pursuit (for a variety of reasons -- limited audience, limited lifespan . . .).

--Ken

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 03:19 AM
OK, on the speed up thing, here's my thoughts.

Right now, there is no financial imperative on the part of publishers to publish fast. They invest a lot in a book, so it's actually more to their advantage to push them out slowly, at a sedate pace. That's a major part of why writers who want to actually write full time often have multiple pen names, so they can write multiple books per year...

Digital publishing changes that. Each new book coming out does not effectively remove another book from the shelves; rather, the potentially profitable shelf life is basically the duration of copyright. So there is instead an imperative to begin recouping investment as soon as possible, because the longer a book has had rights purchased but is not in print, the longer it takes before the publisher will begin recouping that investment.

Digital is a very different business model, much more focused on long tail, building author names as brands, and focusing on writers who can produce a number of high quality books per year. I think we'll see publishers begin adopting some of those tenets as digital grows in importance over the next couple of years. The result would be somewhat faster time to publication - not talking about a month, here, but anything over a year is just too long. There's no reason for it. Multiple editing passes take weeks, not months. Layout takes days, not weeks (yes, I've done layout professionally, albeit not for books - and once you have a set of house templates in InDesign, book production for print should be a matter of minutes to set up, then hours to tweak and fine tune - one person in a day or two).

Point is, there was no financial imperative to move any faster before; so publishers did not move faster. I think we'll see a financial imperative to move faster soon, so I think publishers will react to that...slowly. ;) But they'll react. When it becomes clear that publishers who are able to produce books in six months from contract to in-readers'-hands make back their investments much faster (and therefore are more profitable, if you understand accounting principles that makes sense) than publishers who average two years, publishers will start moving faster.

But that's just my guess. I could be wrong. ;) Small presses are already moving in this direction, though. I think the bigger boys will come along too.

ResearchGuy
04-21-2011, 03:26 AM
. . . publishers who are able to produce books in six months from contract to in-readers'-hands. . . .
Throwing away any chance of reviews in major venues in the process (they need ARCs four months before publication date) and throwing a monkey wrench into planning for seasonal catalogs and trade distribution procedures. There are other players in the process.

Some things just take time. (And, IMHO, it will be a long time before digital-only books get anything like the respect accorded to hardback first editions.)

--Ken

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 03:48 AM
Some thoughts on the rest of those comments:

1) Self publishing is easy, that's why you should do it.
No, not really. Self publishing is hard. You have to first write the book, which is hard. Then you have to get it edited, by a competent person, which is not simple. Then you have to navigate the mess of scam-based "self publishing help" companies, realize they are scams, avoid them, and go direct yourself - this is not easy either. Then you need to learn digital formatting. Doable, especially for those of us with heavy HTML experience - hey, I used to hand code websites on Notepad. Formatting for Kindle? Could almost do it in my sleep. Not so easy for lots of other folks, though. (HTML? What's that?)

Then you need to get a good cover artist. No, not some guy with a hacked copy of photoshop saying he's an artist - I mean a designer, who understands book cover design. You can find these guys for $250-500, if you know where to look, but that takes time and effort and reasearch. Not easy. You can also do it yourself - which is even harder! Or hire a college kid to do a drawing for you, but then you still need to know good design principles. I studied design in college. I have done professional Photoshop work for game companies. Book cover design is still taking me a ton of effort to learn. Not Easy.

After all of that, you need to figure out how to market the thing. This is something all writers face, regardless how they're published - but not easy, not for most of us.

I miss anything? This is Not Easy. Most people will fail. Then again, most people who submit to publishers or agents don't see print, either. I'd guess the percent of solid self-pub success stories is a similar percent to that of people who submit to agents/publishers and win through to a contract for their book. I'd be guessing, but I think it's a reasonable guess.

2) Marketing is a big edge for corporate publishing.
Sorta true, if you can get it. Outside the marketing required to get into the diminishing number of chain bookstores, and if you're lucky a few copies of the book sent to reviewers, what does the average novelist get for marketing dollars from a publisher? I'm asking. The folks I've talked to told me"zero". My only book credit is non-fiction, and what we got was zero (although seeing it for sale in B&N was nice - and that in itself is a form of marketing, and still a powerful one).

If you want marketing, as a novelist, odds are pretty decent you will have to do it yourself. If you're a known name author, things can be very different; but for most writers that's just not the case.

So regardless whether you publish a book yourself, publish it through small press, or publish it with a big house, odds are very good that you will need to do most of the marketing on your own. Most writers hate that. Get used to it. It's part of the job, sorry.

3) A thought about the whole "sea of books" thing.
I hear that tossed out a lot. "But if you self publish, your book will be out there in a sea of other books; how will it get noticed?" How does any other book get noticed? The functional difference between being on a rack spine out in a bookstore next to 500 other titles and being one of a 30,000 new ebooks released in April is really not that extreme. Readers still are going to have a tough time finding your book over some other book.

And the higher that percent of digital sales grow, the more the balance becomes even between self published and corporate published books (assuming equal quality!). They're all plunked down in the same big "sea of books" for readers to sample and buy and review.

I don't have all the answers on this one. I know writing a good book helps (obviously). I know having a professionally produced cover and blurb helps (whether you make it or a corporation produces it). I know having a good price helps - again, regardless who publishes it, $4.99 sells better than $9.99. I know having a bunch of books out helps an author - each book acting as an ad for the others, so publishers will likely start thinking more in terms of wanting writers who can write a lot of books, not just one. But those are only some bits of the puzzle.

It's a big puzzle.
Nobody has all the answers.
Seriously though, if this is something you're interested in, go out and STUDY hard. Learn what the people who are doing this well are doing, and emulate them, or modify their tactics for your own use. There's a lot of random people out there spouting random advice. I'm one of them. ;) My strong advice is to go learn from the folks who are doing this right, and are achieving success as a result. Just like you would in any other trade.

FocusOnEnergy
04-21-2011, 03:58 AM
Perhaps I should revise my previous statement--I meant that it is easy to do in terms of not having to jump through any middle men or convince some agent/publisher to like it--you're the only one you need to convince at first to get the ball rolling. Also, one could slap something together haphazardly through Lulu, or epublish or whatnot easily.

Based on the questions that people ask on the CreateSpace forum, even slapping it together isn't easy. Most people still (still!) are not proficient when it comes to their computer skills.

Focus

FocusOnEnergy
04-21-2011, 04:04 AM
Seriously though, if this is something you're interested in, go out and STUDY hard. Learn what the people who are doing this well are doing, and emulate them, or modify their tactics for your own use. There's a lot of random people out there spouting random advice. I'm one of them. ;) My strong advice is to go learn from the folks who are doing this right, and are achieving success as a result. Just like you would in any other trade.

Agreed. There are an increasing number of successful self-publishers out there. I don't think their success is due to having kissed the Success Fairy. They are all working hard to achieve that success. YMMV, and you may emulate them and not achieve the same success, but you'll probably do better than if you didn't try using the same process/techniques that they did.

Focus

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 04:30 AM
Throwing away any chance of reviews in major venues in the process (they need ARCs four months before publication date) and throwing a monkey wrench into planning for seasonal catalogs and trade distribution procedures. There are other players in the process.

Some things just take time. (And, IMHO, it will be a long time before digital-only books get anything like the respect accorded to hardback first editions.)

--Ken
Good point for things as they are right now, Ken. But...

Reviewers are already beginning to prefer ebook formats for ARCs. I predict in a year most ARCs to reviewers will be ebook versions. Why? Easier for the reviewer, easier for the publisher, cheaper to send, and fast to produce once the edits are done (like, an hour).

Plus, you're still thinking about book-as-event. Under current conditions, publishers need to treat books as events, because they need to crank up early sales as much as possible. So reviews need to come out around the same time as the book - a review six months after a book is out doesn't do much good when B&N has already stripped the book off the shelves.

But ebooks don't go away. So when ebooks (or even online book purchases in general) represent over half of the book buying industry - and it's close right now, if you add up all online purchases, ebook and print - book-as-event stops being so important, and books start becoming more valuable over the long haul instead.

Likewise, when more than half of your books are sold via stores that you upload the product to digitally, the catalogs will change. When you don't need to 'sell' the product to the retailer to get them to sell it, it gets a lot easier on the publisher, and lead times for catalogs can drop substantially.

But we're talking ahead to the future for this. Next year, maybe. ;)

ResearchGuy
04-21-2011, 04:53 AM
Good point for things as they are right now, Ken. But.... . .
But we're talking ahead to the future for this. Next year, maybe. ;)
Indeed, we live in interesting times. Don't know about next year, but in five the landscape will be very different.

--Ken

scope
04-21-2011, 06:00 AM
OK, on the speed up thing, here's my thoughts.

That's a major part of why writers who want to actually write full time often have multiple pen names, so they can write multiple books per year....

Not only have I never heard such reasoning, I think it's wrong and for many reasons doesn't make sense.

scope
04-21-2011, 06:21 AM
What's that?)

2) Marketing is a big edge for corporate publishing.
Sorta true, if you can get it. Outside the marketing required to get into the diminishing number of chain bookstores, and if you're lucky a few copies of the book sent to reviewers, what does the average novelist get for marketing dollars from a publisher? I'm asking. The folks I've talked to told me"zero".

Based on the assumption that your work is excellent--which more than likey it would be if taken on by a trade pub), things such as a professonal done work (e.g., vetting, editing,
proofreading, design, cover art, etc.), arcs,
promotion and marketing expertise, an advance, reviews (more than a few), subsidiary sales, and much more.

If you want marketing, as a novelist, odds are pretty decent you will have to do it yourself. If you're a known name author, things can be very different; but for most writers that's just not the case.

That's right, and since the overwhekmng majority of SP writers have neither the time, money, knowledge or expertise to do so it's no surprise tat just about all fail.

So regardless whether you publish a book yourself, publish it through small press, or publish it with a big house, odds are very good that you will need to do most of the marketing on your own. Most writers hate that. Get used to it. It's part of the job, sorry.

Yep.
And the higher that percent of digital sales grow, the more the balance becomes even between self published and corporate published books (assuming equal quality!).

I'm just tired of replying to such reasoning which attemts to justify and equate SP or e-publishing to trade publishing. Maybe someone else will reply.



ss

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 06:31 AM
Not only have I never heard such reasoning, I think it's wrong and for many reasons doesn't make sense.

That's the only problem you had with the whole post? ;)

There's quite a few writers who use pen names so that they can write multiple books per year. Publishers tend to frown on putting out more than one, maybe two books a year from a writer. Writers use pen names to enable them to write more books. Happens all the time, has for a long time.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 07:01 AM
@Scope.

OK, we can discuss that, too. I was talking more about marketing specifically there, but...
Vetting: Consumers have shown, again and again, that they are perfectly happy to vet things themselves. More specifically, readers tend to read *authors* they like, and with a few notable exceptions not publishers they like. Most readers don't even look at the publisher of a book. So vetting is something a book gets by reviewers, friends, family, etc. It's never been something given by a publisher; plenty of publisher backed books fail because readers refuse them.

Editing, proofreading, design, cover art: Are all available for hire. Yes, they cost money. Copy editing plus design plus cover art can run a thousand dollars, which is a steep investment. Content editing, even more. But they *are* available for hire, at the same quality which large publishers use. This is not a publisher exclusive.

Advances: Advances are a loan against sales. Publishers do not pay you more in advance than they expect the book to earn in royalties. You just get it a little faster. It's nice to get the money up front; but it's not essential.

Subsidiary Sales: There's a number of self published books out there who've sold movie rights, and more who've sold audio rights, and even MORE selling foreign rights. Which subsidiary sales in particular did you think were only salable by corporate published writers? Yes, only the most successful self published books are having options taken on the movie rights; which is true in either form of publishing.

Back to marketing...
ARCs and reviews: Which small presses have done for decades now. And any self publisher can do as well as a small press. Do they have the reach of a large publisher pushing a book hard? No. But we're not talking about publishers pushing a book hard (in that case, you've got a huge edge! no argument - they can put hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, behind marketing your book). We're talking about most books - which are often left to the writer to find reviewers.

"That's right, and since the overwhekmng majority of SP writers have neither the time, money, knowledge or expertise to do so it's no surprise tat just about all fail."
You missed my point. What I said was, most books require the same level of marketing from the writer, regardless whether they were published independently or via a large publisher. Why it's no surprise that most self published books fail is because most self published books are badly written in the first place, just like most books submitted to agents/publishers are badly written in the first place. The only difference is that in one method, agents/publishers weed out the bad books; in the other, readers do. The effect is the same in the end. Good books sell.


About the last bit (digital sales as a leveling ground), let me explain a bit. Digital - online sales in general - balance the playing field for *equally well made* books. That's critical. That doesn't mean any old self published book will do as well as any corporate published book. It means that if a self publisher - or, just as pertinent, a small press - is able to produce as high a quality product as a large corporation, they have an even selling platform in digital and online print sales. Before, small press was often blocked from getting into chain bookstores, and was usually blocked entirely from supermarket and Walmart-type store sales. Digital and online gives small press/independent writers a major retail outlet which will sell their books.

If 75% of the market is buying books online in some form (a number we'll probably hit in the next few years), then almost all of the market becomes an even playing field for any professionally written/designed/produced book. Big publishers can still spend massive dollars on huge marketing campaigns for the books they want to try to make into bestsellers, just like they do today. And often, they'll be able to do just that. But for the majority of books, they don't use that sort of muscle, and I don't see that changing. That means for the majority of books, the equality in being able to get into the selling space equates to the ability to compete on the same level.

Compared to before, that is an enormous change.

jacket
04-21-2011, 07:47 AM
If your work really is good enough to be successful via either the traditional or self-publishing route, it seems like it’s a lot less work (after the querying, anyway) and a lot cheaper (in terms of upfront costs at least) for the writer to go the traditional route. This is why I am going the traditional route myself. I know many have made lists of the benefits of going the self-pub route over traditional and maybe there are fair pros and cons to be weighed (and of which I could stand to be educated on), but I feel like it only makes sense to weigh such pros and cons if you are addressing a novel that is good and would find success via either route. There is a big difference between choosing between the two options vs failing to find an agent/publisher the traditional route (possibly because the writing isn’t there) and hence self publishing instead, hoping that somehow all those agents you queried failed to see your genius. That is the heart of why people look down on self publishing—it is seen as what people do when they can’t handle having been told they aren’t good enough, and if it is the case that they really aren’t good enough, then self publishing isn’t going to work for them either. They’ll have a published copy of their book in hand, which may be satisfying, but they’ll be the only ones holding a copy. And all the arguments they make against the evil traditional publishers sound like sour grapes. What percentage of self publishers have books that are of good enough quality to be published, and how many are publishing their books themsleves because they failed at the traditional route (or are afraid that they will fail via that route and so are picking a venue in which their failure is delayed until they actually try to sell the printed copies)?

dgaughran
04-21-2011, 06:19 PM
Hi all,

I just want to make one separate point here that I think everyone will agree with (or at least I am hoping).

I spent 18 months on the query-go-round with maybe four different drafts of my book. I got close to getting an agent a couple of times, and once, thought I had an agent, only for it to fall apart for reasons that are still mysterious to me.

Now, all of that sucked, but it made my book way better. I got some great feedback from professionals, encouragement from agents and editors, went back to the drawing board a couple of times, and now I am at the point where I can be confident in saying I have a strong piece of work.

I only seriously started considering self-publishing as an option in the last couple of months. However, if the market had taken off to this point a year ago, I would have considered it then, and published something that was very, very far from ready.

It would have sold poorly, been poorly reviewed, and I could have given up writing forever.

So, even though I had some agent experiences which left me feeling bitter, overall, the process improved my book immeasurably, and toughened me up, and now I know a hell of a lot more about the business.

I am still pursuing a trade publishing deal (I have four fulls still out there - all ticking on seven months now, agh!), but I am giving strong consideration to self-publishing.

I have decided to self-publish some shorts, some of which have been published already, some not. I am doing it as cheaply as possible (while still using professional editors and designers), and I hope to cover my costs eventually. What I am really hoping to gain from it is knowledge. Because, one way or another, I think this is all useful stuff to learn.

For me the biggest thing about self-publishing is a fourth potential income stream for short stories (after first rights, reprints, and anthologies). I am doubtful as to how much money is in it, but if I can cover costs, then I figure I am ahead, and the education I receive in return will have only cost me time. And I advise people to sell their short stories in that order - magazines first, then anthologies/reprints, then look to self-publish (assuming you can't get an agent interested in a collection, which is a tough market).

I know I have argued with people on this forum on self-publishing. But I know their motivation comes from a good place - they don't want to see writers making mistakes that could damage their careers and damage their wallets (and their work). I can understand that. But I want them to know that my motivation comes from a good place too, that I am only trying to share what I have learned, and what I hope to learn in the future (and I have a hell of a lot to learn).

In fact, one of my greatest worries is that newbies will publish their work before it's ready, which is why I emphasise on my blog, and on my posts here, and on the UK forum where I am active (where they have a lot to learn about the realities of self-publishing), that people must learn how to self-edit, use critique forums, use betas, listen to what they are being told, and revise, revise, revise, especially when they are starting out. And when all that is done, and you have the best story you can write, then explore your publishing options.

Also, if someone came to me for advice, I would still advise them to pursue a traditional deal. And if they were writing short stories, I would still advise them to submit to magazines first. There is a lot you can learn from that process, in your writing, and as a person.

After all, you can trunk a manuscript that agents reject en masse, and write it off as a practice novel, or return to it at a later point, but those Amazon one-star reviews are forever.

Dave

ChaosTitan
04-21-2011, 06:39 PM
The result would be somewhat faster time to publication - not talking about a month, here, but anything over a year is just too long. There's no reason for it. Multiple editing passes take weeks, not months. Layout takes days, not weeks (yes, I've done layout professionally, albeit not for books - and once you have a set of house templates in InDesign, book production for print should be a matter of minutes to set up, then hours to tweak and fine tune - one person in a day or two).

In theory, what you've presented here makes sense. However in reality, no.

It's easy enough to say editing a book should take a few weeks, layout a few days, and bam! Book's done. The thing that folks who continue to argue this seem to forget is that editors work on more than one book at a time. They have a list of authors and they have a queue. They work on the books as they are received and in order of their publication date.

The only way to speed up the process as it stands now is to either hire more editors to get the job done faster, or to buy fewer books and cut authors from their lists.



Advances: Advances are a loan against sales.

Actually, no. "Loan" is the wrong word, because loan implies the money is temporarily given and it's expected to be paid back. Advances are just that--an advance against expected royalties. You don't give it back if the book doesn't earn out. Once you cash the check it's yours.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 08:01 PM
It's easy enough to say editing a book should take a few weeks, layout a few days, and bam! Book's done. The thing that folks who continue to argue this seem to forget is that editors work on more than one book at a time. They have a list of authors and they have a queue. They work on the books as they are received and in order of their publication date.

The only way to speed up the process as it stands now is to either hire more editors to get the job done faster, or to buy fewer books and cut authors from their lists.

If that's the case (and it's really a 2-year backlogged queue of editors and staff working full out to get books done), then all they'd need to do is hire some temps, or send some of the work out to freelance editors, and catch up. Once they were caught up, say down to a nine-month queue, all they'd need to do is continue to trundle along at the same rate, just with a faster time to production.

Easier said than done, I agree! That costs money. And unless it's going to *make* the company money, it makes no sense. Under the print->bookstores model, producing books faster doesn't increase income, because each book they put out has to replace some other book they already put out, which then stops selling. But under a digital model, every month a publisher has a contract in hand but no book available for sale *costs* them money in lost sales, because its not out there selling for them, and once it IS out, it stays out earning money, potentially for decades.

Consider this model for a digital small press in the not-so-distant future. Every book you produce creates a revenue stream. Not a huge one, but it's more revenue. Ebooks cost you something like $3k each to produce and upload, so even though you're selling them for $5 a pop and making only $1.75 a pop (splitting income 50-50 with writers), it doesn't take a lot of sales to break even, and after that all income is profit.

Income on those books continues, for some unknown but really long period of time. Longer on writers who keep writing - and the more those writers produce, the more each of their books will sell, in general.

So your goal, then, is to produce as many of these revenue streams as possible. You'd also ideally like to produce multiples by the same author name/brand, if you can - writers who can produce half a dozen good books a year will be cherished. Your functional limits on book production are your available funds to produce books (at $3k a book, this means you can produce a LOT of books with very little investment); your available staff hours to work on books (which you will probably grow as your revenue streams grow - the more staff, the more streams you can produce per year, which means you can hire more staff - a self-feeding system); and the number of good submissions you get.

When a publisher is putting $200k on the line for a new book, they think very carefully about what book they want to produce. When a publisher is putting only a few thousand - OK, let's jump it up and say $10k, even - and those books stay for sale for duration of copyright - and those books don't replace other books, but sell alongside them...

It's a very different way of looking at publishing, let's just say. ;)

scope
04-21-2011, 08:15 PM
Kevin,

Re your post #39. Without continuing to knock my head against a wall, let me ask you one question. Do you see any value in being published by a trade house vs self-publication? If so, does what you believe apply to both successfuly trade published authors and the unpublished?

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 08:24 PM
There is a big difference between choosing between the two options vs failing to find an agent/publisher the traditional route (possibly because the writing isnít there) and hence self publishing instead, hoping that somehow all those agents you queried failed to see your genius.

It's a good argument, but I think it falls down because it assumes that agents and publishers reliably know what makes a good book, and that's demonstrably inaccurate.

They know what makes good books a *lot* of the time. Maybe even *most* of the time. But they print books with a big push that don't sell; and they miss books that would have (or do, when self published) sell.

They're human; and book quality is not an easily measurable thing. I couldn't do their job any better than they are, so I'm not *blaming* anyone. ;)

In the end, I guess you have to ask "where's the harm in trying?" Worst case, you're out $100 for some cover art. Odds are good, you can coerce family and friends into buying at least 50 copies so you break even. If the story was pretty good, and just got passed over because it's a cruddy market right now, well, maybe you make a couple thousand from it. Maybe more.

But no harm in trying. Doesn't hurt you (if you get those nasty 1 star reviews, and write something better you want to publish or submit, Take The Old Book Down - voila, 1 stars gone; you can even take it down, edit and fix it, and put it back up again, also removing the stars and reviews of the old edition). Doesn't hurt anyone else. Why not try?

kaitie
04-21-2011, 08:53 PM
I think the harm comes in that if you don't succeed, you've pretty much hurt your chances for that book in the future. See, I can try to query agents and publishers, get rejected, and then choose to self-publish, but the alternative doesn't really work. If I self-publish and fail, but then decide that because it didn't work, I want to have a go at agents and publishers, it's going to be incredibly difficult to actually get anywhere (more so than usual).

It may not seem like there are consequences, but it can be a problem.

Can you actually remove one-star reviews and such on Amazon? I think it's more difficult to get things like that changed, but I could be wrong on that. But, think of this as well. You do the marketing, you plug your book everywhere, and get a few sites to do reviews. Well, what if the reviews are terrible? You can't take that back. That's still out there and still attached to your name. I know the same holds true for commercial publishing, but I think erasing all traces of an old, bad copy is a little harder than what you're considering.

I think the better thing would be to hope for obscurity if the book just wasn't good enough. If only a hundred people ever bought it, then you hope they forget your name, remove the book, and try to remove associations of it to yourself. Might be harder to do if you've done a lot of online marketing (since once something is online it's pretty much forever), but at least then you have a chance still of doing better with the next book.

Is there anyone on here who couldn't sell copies of an early book, but then found success with a later one? I'd be interested to hear what they did to accomplish it.

jacket
04-21-2011, 08:55 PM
It's a good argument, but I think it falls down because it assumes that agents and publishers reliably know what makes a good book, and that's demonstrably inaccurate.

They know what makes good books a *lot* of the time. Maybe even *most* of the time. But they print books with a big push that don't sell; and they miss books that would have (or do, when self published) sell.

They're human; and book quality is not an easily measurable thing. I couldn't do their job any better than they are, so I'm not *blaming* anyone. ;)

In the end, I guess you have to ask "where's the harm in trying?" Worst case, you're out $100 for some cover art. Odds are good, you can coerce family and friends into buying at least 50 copies so you break even. If the story was pretty good, and just got passed over because it's a cruddy market right now, well, maybe you make a couple thousand from it. Maybe more.

But no harm in trying. Doesn't hurt you (if you get those nasty 1 star reviews, and write something better you want to publish or submit, Take The Old Book Down - voila, 1 stars gone; you can even take it down, edit and fix it, and put it back up again, also removing the stars and reviews of the old edition). Doesn't hurt anyone else. Why not try?

You are right that agents/editors may pass up perfectly good books. Any book that does eventually get published has probably seen multiple rejections along the way. So the fact that a book has been rejected is not an absolute statement of it's quality. But if a book is pretty bad, it will (we'd hope anyway) most certainly get rejected. If a book is good, it may or may not find a publisher. What percentage of books that face repeated rejections, however, are actually missed gems vs actually deserving of the rejections?

Again, you are right that it doesn't hurt anyone to try (except you may be out of money--and a lot more than $100 from what I've read--if you tried to do it right). But in a way, this argument almost sounds like Pascal's wager--if you believe (that self publishing will work for you), no harm can come from believing (you either will succeed or you won't; all your bases are covered), and if you don't believe (that self publishing will work for you) then you will have forgone possible grand success. But I wonder if far too many people may be jumping to self publishing out of desperation or impatience at the expense of focusing on improving their writing. I wonder this because I feel like I see people doing this constantly. This is really the problem I have with it. How does someone determine that their stuff really is good and has simply been overlooked?

I have a hard time understanding why someone would put the effort and expense into putting out a self published book when that effort could have been put toward finding an agent/publisher and working on the writing itself. I get that people have their reasons and my own ignorance of the business of self publishing may not be allowing me to understand those at the moment. I concede that there may well be a good deal of viability to self publishing, it's just that it seems like such an easy way for people to delude themselves. What percentage of self published titles are actually successful compared to the percentage of traditionally published books that are successful? How do you know, as a self publisher, that you aren't deluding yourself?

jnfr
04-21-2011, 09:01 PM
Everyone has to make that choice for herself, of course. I was just reading this interview with John Locke (http://thewritersguidetoepublishing.com/welcome-to-the-wg2e-john-locke) about his self-publishing adventure and his attitude is that anyone who isn't absolutely certain that they want to self-publish shouldn't follow that path, because as with any small business, you need a level of confidence to succeed. Of course your confidence could be pure self-delusion, but that's true for every endeavor in life.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 09:34 PM
Kevin,

Re your post #39. Without continuing to knock my head against a wall, let me ask you one question. Do you see any value in being published by a trade house vs self-publication? If so, does what you believe apply to both successfuly trade published authors and the unpublished?

OK, that's a loaded question, but a great one. Can I answer "depends"?

Yes, there are some *huge* values in corporate publishing. No, not all writers published by a large house get all of those benefits; they don't apply equally to everyone.

Advances: Can be enormously valuable. For some non-fiction, an advance received before the book is written can be the difference between being able to write it and not. For fiction writers, a nice 5-6 figure advance can spell the difference between eking out 4-5k words a week or producing that much work per day over the next year. At the same time, even large advances are obviously not enough to tempt some writers (Eisler, for instance); and a small advance likely means a small print run, very limited marketing, and not a lot of return for your investment writing the book.

I would see very little point in taking a four figure advance, for instance - it's small enough to not be life-changing; small enough that the print run will be tiny and the book receive little if any marketing; and small enough that if the book is competent enough to print in the first place, it would probably make at least that much self published. But different writers will have different views on at what level advances are an advantage.

Editing: I've had the privilege to have some of my short fiction edited by experts before. It's an enlightening process. If you're getting an expert editor who is interested in developing you as a writer, I think the editorial experience can be incredibly valuable. One way to get that experience as part of the package is to publish through a corporation. I see this as one of the big benefits they offer, honestly.

However, I'm disturbed by things I hear. I talk to acquaintances who say they are no longer getting comprehensive content editing help. And I'm seeing a trend toward less competent editing in many books I read, even those from major publishers.

If you can get a good editor, it's a huge benefit.

Marketing: Related to the advance. If your book is getting a good push from a publisher, it's a huge help. Most books don't. One of the best ways to see if a publisher intends to push your book hard seems to be the advance they offer - the bigger the advance, the more books they need to sell to recoup their investment, so the more marketing dollars they will tend to spend. At $500k a book, Amanda Hocking is going to get a big push for each of her SMP books (which incidentally will REALLY help the 3-4 books she says she intends to self publish each year alongside the SMP on). At $5k for a first novel, Joe Newbie can be pretty much guaranteed limited marketing money. It depends.

Incidentally, the Ms. Hocking mention was intentional - I see that combination of using a big marketing push from a large publisher with multiple self published (and therefore higher profit margin for the writer) books as having great synergy. I think we'll see a lot more of that.

Trade Org. Membership: This is one that gets overlooked a lot. Most of the trade orgs (AG, NINC, SFWA, etc.) don't allow self published books as credits for full membership. Even those orgs like the RWA which do allow self publishers to join don't give them full membership. I think that will either change, or new orgs will form and solidify to fill this gap. But for now, at least, there are still some noteworthy advantages to membership in these groups, and they're limited to corporate published writers only.

I'm probably missing some, but this is already overlong. ;) I'll be glad to respond to any replies or thoughts. These are just my feelings, and I'm certainly open to debating them.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 09:46 PM
I think the harm comes in that if you don't succeed, you've pretty much hurt your chances for that book in the future. See, I can try to query agents and publishers, get rejected, and then choose to self-publish, but the alternative doesn't really work. If I self-publish and fail, but then decide that because it didn't work, I want to have a go at agents and publishers, it's going to be incredibly difficult to actually get anywhere (more so than usual).

But if the book failed via self publishing, how likely would it be to have been picked up by a publisher? Even fairly mediocre books are finding audiences of thousands of readers right now. Many of those books would probably not pass muster at a major publisher, but they *are* finding readers. I think it's extremely unlikely that a book which outright fails in self publishing had a snowball's chance in heck of getting corporate publication.


Can you actually remove one-star reviews and such on Amazon? I think it's more difficult to get things like that changed, but I could be wrong on that. But, think of this as well. You do the marketing, you plug your book everywhere, and get a few sites to do reviews. Well, what if the reviews are terrible? You can't take that back. That's still out there and still attached to your name. I know the same holds true for commercial publishing, but I think erasing all traces of an old, bad copy is a little harder than what you're considering.

Yes, you can remove a book from sale, and this removes all old ratings and reviews from the selling site. Good point about outside reviews; but then again, how many corp published writers don't have some bad reviews too? I do see what you're saying here; an enormous smashing pile of bad reviews could hang over your head for years. But how likely is that bad a book to actually get reviews by prominent reviewers in the first place? Assuming you don't do something dumb like start an argument with the reviewer on her own blog (like one writer did recently), I think you should be OK in the long run.

kaitie
04-21-2011, 10:01 PM
Well, a book's failure or success is determined by a lot more than just how well-written it is. I mean, maybe it bombed because my blog sucked lol. ;) But seriously, a book can be revised and edited. I could even send revised versions to agents who have already rejected it after a year if I wanted to (not always advised, but not an instant reject,either). Maybe the book didn't succeed with agents because I gave up too soon, or because it wasn't quite right, etc. The thing is, if I've already published it, even if I revise it and improve it, the book was still out there on the market. Short of completely rewriting it so that it's nothing like the original, I couldn't submit it to agents and publishers and expect much success with low sales.

It's a similar situation to people who get sucked into something like PublishAmerica. There are no doubt, just judging by sheer statistics, at least a few books in that 40k authors that would have been good enough to be commercially published. The books don't sell, and those authors are now basically screwed for that book. They have to let them go.

I've said before that I had one book I would have thought was ready to go, only to come here and find that it still needed much more work. If I'd self-published it, even if I came to the realization later on and did the revisions, it still would have ruined any chance I had. I haven't been published yet, but right now that book still has a chance. If I'd self-published it in it's original form, it wouldn't. I'd have lost that.

Dgaughran said something similar upthread. And really, books don't sell well for many reasons other than quality. It could be something as simple as the cover sucked and no one wanted it. That book is still basically going to have lost it's chance with commercial publishing. Unless the author sells thousands of copies, it's not going to be considered a risk worth taking, unfortunately.

Some people may not care about that, and that's cool, but I'm not someone who likes to close doors.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 10:02 PM
But I wonder if far too many people may be jumping to self publishing out of desperation or impatience at the expense of focusing on improving their writing. I wonder this because I feel like I see people doing this constantly. This is really the problem I have with it. How does someone determine that their stuff really is good and has simply been overlooked?

I worry that too many people who might be great writers someday if they tried longer and harder will put up an early work, get no sales, get discouraged, and give up. My early works were *terrible*. =) I'm very glad my 17 year old self was unable to publish to Kindle two decades ago!

But then I remember that tons of people get discouraged by a stack of rejections on those early works, too. And that the people who get discouraged by the one are likely the same folks who get discouraged by the other, so it likely all works out in the end.


I have a hard time understanding why someone would put the effort and expense into putting out a self published book when that effort could have been put toward finding an agent/publisher and working on the writing itself.

Mostly, because it's about as much work to properly research agents and publishers and wade through that end of the business as it is to self publish. It's just a different sort of work, and different people prefer different types of work. For me, I like things with an entrepreneurial flair to them. I've run three businesses. I enjoy the challenge of that sort of work. So self publishing has a real appeal. Heck, running a small ezine has appeal right now. Or running an epublishing press to get lots of authors' work out. See, that sort of thing is my bread and butter - I run up new business ideas about as fast as I do new novel ideas. ;) It's not for everyone, though.


What percentage of self published titles are actually successful compared to the percentage of traditionally published books that are successful? How do you know, as a self publisher, that you aren't deluding yourself?

The first question is the wrong question. You're comparing apples to oranges. A better one would be: what percentage of self published titles are actually successful compared to the percentage of books submitted to agents/publishers which are successful?

Think about it this way: self publishing is a submission process; you're just submitting the book to the readers, rather than to the publisher. There's a high number of shlock self published books, just like there are a lot of bad books submitted to agents/publishers. If anything, right now the self published success rate is actually quite a lot higher than the success rate of agent submissions, as near as I can tell; of the couple thousand new self published ebooks each month, at least a couple hundred seem to be doing quite well.

How do you know your work is ready? You can get a decent idea by using workshops or beta readers, but it's not perfect. Odds are good though that if you put up two chapters and half the readers want to see the rest of your book that you're on the right track. Likewise, if you've had books or short stories already published, you know that in general your writing is probably good quality.

In the end though, even the best agents and publishers are guessing. It's the readers who make the final call, and only by publishing can you know for sure.

ResearchGuy
04-21-2011, 10:04 PM
. . .I have a hard time understanding why someone would put the effort and expense into putting out a self published book when that effort could have been put toward finding an agent/publisher and working on the writing itself. . . .
Have you tried talking to some of those folks? I've named names. They are accessible. For example:

Bill Piper (literary novelist -- a very good one)
Naida West (historical novelist; she is quite outspoken, by the way)
Alton Pryor (historical nonfiction)
Ben Gay III (business nonfiction)
Carolyn Singer (nonfiction on gardening)
Bill Teie (textbooks on firefighting)
Karl Palachuk (nonfiction -- business/technical and self-help/inspirational)

Here are a few more:

Phil Silver (children's fiction)
Denise Branco (memoir)
Margie Yee Webb (photo-illustrated gift book)
Bob Quinlan (nonfiction self-help/relationships)

The reasons vary, but all have made informed (and in some cases wildly successful) decisions.

Heck, you could ask me. If I ever write a book that I think has commercial potential AND that I cannot do better with on my own (I have one in the works that might meet those criteria), then I'll query agents. Meanwhile, I am quite content with low-key, locally oriented experiments, including anthologies of my weekly columns for a local paper. If I sell a few copies, fine. If I ever feel like doing more promotion and better marketing, I will. But I see no reason to fool myself into thinking the books have commercial/trade potential. I revise my booklet on "The Pursuit of Publishing" so often that it would be crazy to seek commercial publishing (and it is too slight for the purpose anyway).

The books I have published by others might have had commercial potential, but one author was dying of the malignant melanoma of which he wrote in his memoir (and died a few months after I published the book; it had to be done quickly) and another was 80-something (and went into health decline and died) without any realistic possibility of pursuing agent or commercial publisher (good novels, fine for a micropublisher like me but not suited for commercial/trade publication).

I can work with books (by myself or others) that I believe are worthwhile and that stand a reasonable chance of making a profit (even if a small one), and I have to spend my time doing something, so why not this? I'm not going to bang my head against a wall seeking the unsuitable, nor am I going to nag authors I work with into wasting years on the unachievable. Some good books just are NOT commercial material, and some authors are NOT ever going to have sufficient platform to interest a commercial publisher. That does not mean there are no other alternatives or that getting the books into print on a micro scale is not worth doing.

--Ken

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 10:24 PM
Well, a book's failure or success is determined by a lot more than just how well-written it is. I mean, maybe it bombed because my blog sucked lol. ;)

How much impact do you really think a writer's 50-hit-a-day blog actually has? ;)

Real world example. Friend of mine, with a blog that gets around that 50+ hits a day. No previous publishing, and he's been avoiding spending money on marketing. Mostly, the book is just selling itself. Mind you - it's a good book. Good pro cover, good blurb, good writing.

He was making about 24 sales a day the beginning of April, a slow build from a November release.

Anecdotal, but I see a lot of these anecdotal bits. ;) And the more I see, the more convinced I am that good books sell. Period. It doesn't seem to require a ton of marketing. If a year has gone by and your book has sold 10 copies, odds are good your writing has something to do with that.

I know that's not a popular thing to say, but I think it's true. If the book is good, it will sell. If the book is not selling... Well, go write another one, and get some more practice in.

Amarie
04-21-2011, 10:35 PM
Some good books just are NOT commercial material, and some authors are NOT ever going to have sufficient platform to interest a commercial publisher. That does not mean there are no other alternatives or that getting the books into print on a micro scale is not worth doing.

--Ken


I totally agree on this and follow all these threads with interest because of the huge upheaval going on right now.

I just wanted to address a few points I feel competent to comment on.

A year is a fast track for a big publishing house to get a book out, but it does happen. Two AWers that I know of have books coming out in the fall with that timeline. Most are from 18 months to 2 years, but not five, because houses don't plan their lists that far in advance.

Whatever the timeframe, the ARCs of the book need to be printed 6 months in advance of the release date so they can go out to the big reviewers, and so they can be handed out at trade shows and conventions to the people who make buying decisions. The reviews are important to getting the books in bookstores and libraries.

I don't know who posted about rumors of editorial input going down at major houses. That isn't true at all. After my latest was considered done by my editor and me, four more people at the house went over it word for word, and believe me, they can comment on a single word. Even after that, my editor called me a couple of weeks ago on a weekend because she found one sentence she thought was still unclear. Now I feel like the book has been polished until it is shiny. Hire the best editor you can afford if you are going to self-publish. They are invaluable.

jacket
04-21-2011, 10:41 PM
The first question is the wrong question. You're comparing apples to oranges. A better one would be: what percentage of self published titles are actually successful compared to the percentage of books submitted to agents/publishers which are successful?

Interesting. My version of the question was getting at the fact that I was seeing self publishers as people who felt they were qualified enough to deem their own stuff publishable. I'd be curious to know the answer to yours. I would suspect you would see more success on the traditional end simply because I think it's more common to try the traditional route first--so the trad pubs pick up a lot of the good authors while the remains move on to self pub. I have absolutely no data to back that up, though. However, this disparity in question gets at what I think part of the appeal of self publishing is--that you can have your printed book in hand without having had to jump through hoops, and I think many people equate having that with some form of success. Having a published copy you can hold, even if it failed, is maybe more satisfying than a stack of rejected queries.

I should probably stop talking out of my rear end here. I'm mostly just playing devil's advocate and tossing up all my vague contradictory opinions.

Anne Lyle
04-21-2011, 10:44 PM
Re turnaround - five years is way, way over the mark. On the other hand, I think 9-12 months is a bare minimum that's practical. I signed a contract last month, and the book comes out exactly 12 months later. Turnaround for the sequels is even faster, around 9-10 months after the manuscript deadline. Admittedly that's with a smaller publisher, not one of the Big Six, and with the benefit of digital ARCs, etc.

Publishers don't have some mystical backlog that they have to work through in order to catch up - they have a rolling production schedule that depends on bringing together a lot of disparate processes. (I know - I used to be a production editor.) Their top choice of cover artist is going to be booked up well in advance, the editor's feedback has to go back to the author for revisions and returned (which could take 2-3 months alone) before copyediting and proofreading can even be started...

Even with digital ARCs, they still have to go out months ahead of publication so that reviewers have time to read them, write the reviews and then fit them into print magazines' schedules. And just because ebooks don't disappear from sale after a few weeks doesn't mean that publishers and authors are going to sit on their hands and not promote a book to the hilt from the day it becomes available.



I would see very little point in taking a four figure advance, for instance - it's small enough to not be life-changing; small enough that the print run will be tiny and the book receive little if any marketing; and small enough that if the book is competent enough to print in the first place, it would probably make at least that much self published. But different writers will have different views on at what level advances are an advantage.


Good luck on getting more than a four-figure advance as a debut genre novelist. It does happen, but not to many.

Sure it's not life-changing, but it's cash up-front and I don't have to put any of my own money or time into editing, cover art, etc, etc. No idea of the print run, but it won't be "tiny" (real, in-store distribution across the US and UK, in addition to ebooks in all major formats) and there will be marketing, albeit not big bucks: reviews in major magazines and online, book signings, podcasts - none of which I have to organise. I'll be doing self-promotion, sure, but all writers have to do that nowadays.

What is important to me right now is not the final total earned, but a) no financial risk to me and b) wide exposure as part of a dynamic, high-profile imprint. And I get to focus on writing more books, so I can build up a backlist that just might allow me to give up the day-job and do it full-time.

I'm not arguing against SP - just pointing out why commercial publishing is my first choice by a long chalk.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 11:05 PM
Good luck on getting more than a four-figure advance as a debut genre novelist. It does happen, but not to many.

First off, great points (and thanks for some of the clarification in some of the earlier bits of your post).

And yeah, that's pretty much exactly my point. Odds are good that as a new novelist, you're going to get four figures. Which means a four figure print run, much of which will be returns. If you're lucky and good, you'll sell about as many copies as you got dollars in advance (more or less), the publisher will be happy, and will offer you more money next time.

Thing is, if your book was good enough to jump through all the hoops to get bought in the first place, I think the odds you can make at least that much money self publishing are pretty good. Slower, yes; but you've still got your rights, then, and you're still earning 4x or so the income per sale afterward, for however long the book keeps selling.

So if your book was good enough to sell 5k copies for a $5k advance from a corporation, you only need to sell about 1700 copies @$5 each to make back that money plus $1k in production costs (pretty typical). Can your book do that? Dunno; but if it was good enough to be picked up by a publisher in the first place, my guess is probably yes.

I think the advance can be a big bonus for folks who get large ones; and even a small one is income - it's nothing to sneeze at! But I don't think small (4 digit, low 5 digit) advances are something I'd consider an advantage of corporate publishing over self publishing.

Anne Lyle
04-21-2011, 11:29 PM
As I say, it's a trade-off - you say that a SP book could earn the same, but that ROI doesn't factor in all the extra time required to do the non-writing work. I have a full-time job that I need to keep right now, so I don't have that time to invest. But the equation would be very different for someone with, e.g., lots of time and energy on their hands. Neither route is a one-size-fits-all solution.

I'll be in a better position to give numbers on print runs and sales in a year or so - right now it's all speculation.

Solivagant
04-21-2011, 11:35 PM
But I don't think small (4 digit, low 5 digit) advances are something I'd consider an advantage of corporate publishing over self publishing.

I agree that a good book has just as much potential selling either traditionally or self-published. The problem is reaching that potential when you step outside of being an author and decide to become a publisher.

One thing to keep in mind with an advance from a traditional publisher, is that it's guaranteed money in the authors pocket. Deciding to self-publish that same novel is always going to be a gamble. The odds of which will only change depending on that individuals personal abilities when it comes to being the publisher as well as the author.

No matter what, the author will have to invest their own money, and they will have no guarantee they'll ever get that back. Actually making money is a different story entirely.

I'm all for self-publishing in certain scenerios, but the only time I'd advise someone to turn down any advance is if they are already an established author with a dedicated fanbase. You would be taking a lesser gamble that way, knowing that you're guaranteed at least a few sales.

If your an unknown debut author, with no knowledge of publishing and you just turned down an advance so you can self-publish, then you better learn fast or be ready to pay those that know what they're doing.

Roger J Carlson
04-21-2011, 11:48 PM
I know that's not a popular thing to say, but I think it's true. If the book is good, it will sell. If the book is not selling... Well, go write another one, and get some more practice in.Interestingly, this is very much the sort of thing that Jim Macdonald says about trade publishing. If your book is good, an editor will buy it. If no one is buying, go write another book, a better one.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 11:48 PM
I agree that a good book has just as much potential selling either traditionally or self-published. The problem is reaching that potential when you step outside of being an author and decide to become a publisher.

One thing to keep in mind with an advance from a traditional publisher, is that it's guaranteed money in the authors pocket. Deciding to self-publish that same novel is always going to be a gamble. The odds of which will only change depending on that individuals personal abilities when it comes to being the publisher as well as the author.

No matter what, the author will have to invest their own money, and they will have no guarantee they'll ever get that back. Actually making money is a different story entirely.

You're right. And some of that might be a temperament thing. I mentioned elsewhere - I've run a couple of businesses before. Had some successes and a failure. So in a way, I'm used to thinking about that gamble on myself as being normal.

If a commercial publisher offered me $5k on a book, I would probably politely thank them, say no thank you, and go self publish - because I'd already know I had a commercially viable product (or the publisher would not have offered), and I've got plenty of experience selling commercially viable products on my own. So that sort of gamble would feel very comfortable to me.

I can definitely see how that would *not* be true for everyone, though.

And the larger the advance, the more I'd seriously consider it. Any advance large enough to allow for a greater investment in future writing time would be a good deal (for me - not for everyone), because more time writing = more product = more readership and more income.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-21-2011, 11:55 PM
Interestingly, this is very much the sort of thing that Jim Macdonald says about trade publishing. If your book is good, an editor will buy it. If no one is buying, go write another book, a better one.

He's a smart man. ;) I think a lot of the same truths that exist for corporate publishing hold true for self publishing as well. Folks who want to throw out the baby with the bathwater in the rush to shout "down with the man!" do so at their own peril. It's still the same industry; only the distribution system has changed.

Anne Lyle
04-22-2011, 12:00 AM
Absolutely. If you're the entrepreneurial type, SP may well be the best way to go. But an awful lot of writers aren't (especially, I would argue, fiction writers) and I feel they may be setting themselves up for disappointment if they expect the same level of SP success as someone with experience of self-employment.

Hence the value of an open, friendly debate that presents a range of views. Too many people see their preferred route as the only valid/sane/insert-loaded-adjective-of-choice option...

Solivagant
04-22-2011, 12:03 AM
I can definitely see how that would *not* be true for everyone, though.

I think we're so many go wrong is that they are unable to see the realities of self-publishing clearly enough to realize if it's right for them or not.

You obviously have experience, and from that know what to expect if you were to self-publish. Knowing what you do, it then becomes a question of what your time is worth and which way you'd make more. Knowing your means well enough to make that decision is a vital talent more self-publishers need.

I always feel bad when others throw money at some company to put their books up in as little time as possible, and then are heart-broken when nothing comes from it but debt and the occasional negative review.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-22-2011, 12:12 AM
If there's one thing you learn from owning small businesses, Solivagant, it's that some ventures fail. Seth Godin talks about that in a very positive way in his "Poke the Box" (which I recommend, btw). Disney had it right in the old "Nutty Professor" film, too: "If a person falls flat on their face, at least they're moving in the right direction - forward!"

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But if you don't try, you never win, and never get to learn from the mistakes that made you lose.

Anne Lyle
04-22-2011, 12:17 AM
I'm certainly not risk-averse - as long as it doesn't involve large sums of money, or the roof over my head. I've been skint in the past, and I don't like it :)

Solivagant
04-22-2011, 12:20 AM
If there's one thing you learn from owning small businesses, Solivagant, it's that some ventures fail.

I'm a little over 5k invested in my own self-publishing endeavor at the moment, so win or lose we'll see how things go!

jnfr
04-22-2011, 03:52 AM
The world is full of disappointed writers. If some are disappointed by the SP route, that doesn't change much.

Anne Lyle
04-22-2011, 01:20 PM
Actually, if I'm being honest, what I want above all things is to see my book on shelves alongside Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin and all the other heroes of my youth - and no amount of self-publishing success is going to give me that.

Yes, it's an old-fashioned ambition, but it's mine, and I'm only months away from seeing it come true :)

Osiander
04-22-2011, 01:39 PM
Reviewers are already beginning to prefer ebook formats for ARCs. I predict in a year most ARCs to reviewers will be ebook versions. Why? Easier for the reviewer, easier for the publisher, cheaper to send, and fast to produce once the edits are done (like, an hour).


I disagree with this, at least as far as the major outlets are concerned. Reviewers rarely get paid for reviewing books, or when they do, get paid an amount so small you need a microscope to see it. I had a review column in a major magazine for eight years and still review occasionally, so I know this first hand. Part of the attraction of reviewing is the free hardbacks and audiobooks. Honestly. It's that venal and I've spoken to lots of fellow reviewers about this. This doesn't apply to the full time literary critics, who are overwhelmed with books, but they don't do most of the reviewing. They farm out specific books to specific people, and that's where the freebie thing comes into it. Recently the publicist of a friend of mine tried to get her e-book reviewed. Nothing doing. The reviewers just weren't interested.

I'm sure that will, like everything else, change. But even when it does, the major reviewers won't be reviewing self published books. Just dealing with the published ones is overwhelming enough - there just isn't room for the DIY ones as well.

Osiander
04-22-2011, 01:46 PM
If a commercial publisher offered me $5k on a book, I would probably politely thank them, say no thank you, and go self publish - because I'd already know I had a commercially viable product (or the publisher would not have offered), and I've got plenty of experience selling commercially viable products on my own. So that sort of gamble would feel very comfortable to me.


Here's why it would be a good idea to accept the money, even if you later went and self published: you'd be learning at someone else's expense.

I know Konrath et al claim that their publishing experience didn't offer them a ready made audience when the self published, but it's striking how many of the early self-published successes had been published previously. They'd been through the ropes - they had an idea of how editing works and what happens to a book on the road to publication. I can't believe that experience wasn't incredibly helpful and now more people are learning from their experience.

Publishing isn't about widgets. There's an art to it that makes it completely different from a normal FMCG. Publishers do some things spectacularly badly - PR is usually awful, for example. But they know about books and the best way to bring them to market, and that's information that's worth gleaning first hand.

dgaughran
04-22-2011, 03:46 PM
Actually, if I'm being honest, what I want above all things is to see my book on shelves alongside Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin and all the other heroes of my youth - and no amount of self-publishing success is going to give me that.

Yes, it's an old-fashioned ambition, but it's mine, and I'm only months away from seeing it come true :)

And and top of all that Anne, you actually have the best of both worlds.

For anyone who doesn't know, Anne's publisher, Angry Robot (http://angryrobotbooks.com/), is great. Someone asked me on my blog the other day if I thought any of the smaller presses in Europe were handling the changes well, and, it's not my area, but the first one that popped into my head was Angry Robot.

Not only do they produce beautiful print books, they also sell DRM-free e-books at very cheap prices for a trade publisher, with no territory restrictions. The covers are lovely, they are very savvy with social media and so on, and they seem like all-round nice people. They also have their own webstore, which is clean, easy to navigate, cheap, and looks good.

If more trade publishers could take that approach, there wouldn't even be any argument about how well they will do in the future.

Medievalist
04-22-2011, 07:16 PM
Actually, if I'm being honest, what I want above all things is to see my book on shelves alongside Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin and all the other heroes of my youth - and no amount of self-publishing success is going to give me that.

This is true for me as well, though the author names are different.

I've self-published in the past. I'm admirably suited to self-publish--I'm an experienced typesetter, I've been making commercial ebooks since 1989, I know many graphic artists who do book designs, and I'm an admin for a very large well-established review site.

But there's no way I could get my books on tables and end-caps at Barnes and Noble, featured by Apple in their stores and in the iBooks store, or translated, both the print and ebook versions into other languages, including Chinese. Nor could I afford to print a book with over 100 color images.

Nor could I do all that within a month. The second edition was finished on April 8, and substantially revised.

The book will be for sale on May 8 in Barnes and Noble and Apple stores, and various online stores, and shortly after that in the iBooks store.

The publisher is already promoting the book, and has sent out mailings to book buyers, and has it in their printed catalog and sell sheets. They work with us terms of online promotion and community outreach.

Also, both this edition and the previous edition, the publisher worked with us on cover art and copy.

scope
04-22-2011, 09:23 PM
Think about it this way: self publishing is a submission process; you're just submitting the book to the readers,

I don't see it this way. Of course to SP a book is always a writer's choice, but it's not always a SP writer's intent to obtain a wide array of readers? There are many reasons for SP'ing. On the other hand, when a manuscript is submitted to a trade publisher, and said trade publisher decides to print it, it's only because they believe the book has an audience to whom the work will appeal and sell.

There's a high number of shlock self published books, just like there are a lot of bad books submitted to agents/publishers.

I agree.

If anything, right now the self published success rate is actually quite a lot higher than the success rate of agent submissions, as near as I can tell; of the couple thousand new self published ebooks each month, at least a couple hundred seem to be doing quite well.

I'd be very interested to learn how you came to this conclusion, especially because I don't think it's true. How do you define 'success rate?' If it's simply percentage of books SP'ed vs SP books writers attempt to have published, the answer's probably 100%, but that's perfectly understandable since the writer is paying the SP'er to print his book.


ss

KevinMcLaughlin
04-22-2011, 09:46 PM
I disagree with this, at least as far as the major outlets are concerned. Reviewers rarely get paid for reviewing books, or when they do, get paid an amount so small you need a microscope to see it. I had a review column in a major magazine for eight years and still review occasionally, so I know this first hand. Part of the attraction of reviewing is the free hardbacks and audiobooks. Honestly. It's that venal and I've spoken to lots of fellow reviewers about this. This doesn't apply to the full time literary critics, who are overwhelmed with books, but they don't do most of the reviewing. They farm out specific books to specific people, and that's where the freebie thing comes into it. Recently the publicist of a friend of mine tried to get her e-book reviewed. Nothing doing. The reviewers just weren't interested.

I'm sure that will, like everything else, change. But even when it does, the major reviewers won't be reviewing self published books. Just dealing with the published ones is overwhelming enough - there just isn't room for the DIY ones as well.

I think we'll see a shift to ebooks for reviewers just because most people, once they start reading on an ereader, tend to prefer that to print. I'd think that would be especially true for a reviewer who gets dozens of books a month sent - and then has to store them. Lot easier to do that digitally. ;) Many of the smaller reviewers already prefer ebook formats to print, and I know some agents are beginning to like epub or mobi formated submissions from writers, too. It's just an easier way to read, when you're dealing with *huge* masses of submissions.

But I think you're dead on about which books major reviewers will read. Mostly, they'll be from major publishers (in fact, it's possible major publishers might start subsidizing reviewers with a reviewing fee, to encourage that).

But then again, Kirkus has a new section for "Indie" books - which notably *does* include self published books. Interesting. Hadn't seen that before. Anyone else see similar changes at other major reviewers?

It's also important to think about how broad a base there are of reviewers out there. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them. And most of them accept books from indie writers right alongside large publishers and small press. Most of these have smaller readerships, in the hundreds or low thousands. But then, most readers don't read Kirkus and the other big reviewers, either - reviews help because *some* people read, buy, like, and then spread word of mouth. The same effect can be won by smaller reviewers.

The most important reviews are the ones on the retailer site. The stars and reviews there bring the book up in visibility and encourage (or discourage, if the book is bad in some way) buyers. That leads to more reviews, more stars, higher bestselling rank, and more "readers who bought this also bought..." hotlinks - all of which again boost sales. That's not to say major reviewers are unimportant (definitely not!). But I don't think they're essential, either, unless you're trying to manufacture a blockbuster bestseller, which most indie writers are not.

Medievalist
04-22-2011, 09:52 PM
But then again, Kirkus has a new section for "Indie" books - which notably *does* include self published books. Interesting. Hadn't seen that before. Anyone else see similar changes at other major reviewers?

Those are essentially paid placements; authors pay from $425.00 up for those 200-300 word reviews. They send two bound copies of the book, and after 7-9 weeks later receive the review. There's no guarantee that Kirkus will actually publish it; they might, or they might not.

http://www.kirkusreviews.com/indie/about/

ResearchGuy
04-22-2011, 09:53 PM
. . . publishers might start subsidizing reviewers with a reviewing fee, to encourage that. . . .
Grotesquely unethical, to say the least.

--Ken

KevinMcLaughlin
04-22-2011, 10:15 PM
@Scope. Have not figured out how to quote in your comments here, so I'm doing the best I can with a reply. ;)

* Yes, I think it's the intent of most self published writers to gain as large an audience as possible, just like writers who submit to agents have that intent. So self published writers put the book up. If it's good, it finds readers. If it doesn't find readers? Well, odds are high that it wasn't good enough to pass the agent/publisher bars anyway. That said, I think trade publishers will *always* have a higher success rate than self publishing, because they weed out all of the obviously bad submissions. Self publishers take a gamble; is the book really good enough? Or is it one of those "obviously bad" ones that readers will avoid? Personally, I'd suggest a stack of beta readers, in this case. If you have twenty people who like your genre read the first two chapters, and ten of them ask for the rest of the book to read, odds are good you've got something decent in your hands.

* Defining "success" is tough, which is why I avoided it before. ;) I will say though that the "since the writer is paying the SP'er to print his book" is inaccurate. If a writer is paying a *subsidy press* (iUniverse, Author House, Westbow, etc.) to produce a book, they are a) not self publishing b) badly informed about the industry and c) being ripped off.

What IS success in writing? Is it having fifty people buy the book? A hundred? Ten thousand? If the first, then most self published books are successful; if the last, then most corporate published books are not.

I think I would define success as a good return on investment. Suppose I write an 80k word book. I spend ten hours outlining it, 80 hours writing it (I avg about 1200 words an hour), and 60 hours editing and revising it. That's 150 hours. Suppose I want to earn $50 an hour for my efforts. My book now needs to make a profit of at least $7500. I do the formating myself (add an hour to the costs, so $50), pay $250 for a nice professionally designed cover, pay $250 for copy editing, and uploading is of course free. I also elect to spend $250 more for ads, maybe a sponsorship at Kindle nation or something. Total costs are now $8300. I elect to sell the book at $3.99, making about $2.70 a copy (a little under 70% because B&N, Apple, etc. pay a bit less). So I have to sell 3075 copies to break even on my investment, including my time spent (if I wanted to sell for $2.99, I'd need to sell something like 4150 instead). If I'm working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, that means I make about $400 a day or about $100k a year before taxes IF I can sell enough copies of the books I write to meet those expense numbers.

Of course, it might take a couple of years to get to those numbers. Self publishing is a long term investment of time; not an immediate burst of sales, in most cases. You also have to look at what sort of time span you are willing to accept for a return on your investment, AND if you're doing the accounting right you might want to account for the loss created by the delay in earning the return (the longer the wait before you have cash in hand, the more you have "lost" in terms of being able to use and reinvest income).

These are all numbers pulled out of the air, of course. You have to decide what your own numbers are. My point is really - DO THE MATH. Figure out what success means for you, as an independent business owner, set up a spreadsheet which shows how you will get there, and then set about doing the work to make it happen.

Self publishing is just like any other business. If you approach it as a business, your odds of reaching success - however you define that - are much higher.

ResearchGuy
04-22-2011, 10:27 PM
. . . I think trade publishers will *always* have a higher success rate than self publishing, because they weed out all of the obviously bad submissions. . . . .
As a plain matter of fact, that is false. Beware of absolutes.

--Ken

scope
04-22-2011, 10:51 PM
* Defining "success" is tough,

I couldn't agree with you more, and I imagine the reasons range all over the place. Speaking for myself, it's a combination of writing a manuscript that a trade publisher picks up, puts in print, promotes and markets--the book sells enough copies so I can earn a living from same--and particularly since most of my work has been and continues to be nonfiction, that it brings a new, needed perspective to the targeted audience. That it 'makes a difference.' In an ideal world I would place the last reason first, but the reality is I can't.

Self publishing is just like any other business. If you approach it as a business, your odds of reaching success - however you define that - are much higher.

Well said.


ss

KevinMcLaughlin
04-22-2011, 11:25 PM
ss


As a plain matter of fact, that is false. Beware of absolutes.

--Ken

You caught me in an absolute! Ack, I usually manage to self edit most of those out. ;) Sorry.

Is that false, though? Let's forget 'always' (hehehe), but right now: is the percentage of financially successful books produced by corporate publishers higher, lower, or the same as self publishers?

scope
04-23-2011, 12:26 AM
You caught me in an absolute! Ack, I usually manage to self edit most of those out. ;) Sorry.

Is that false, though? Let's forget 'always' (hehehe), but right now: is the percentage of financially successful books produced by corporate publishers higher, lower, or the same as self publishers?

Need to know your definition of 'right now' and
'financially succssful.'

jacket
04-23-2011, 12:47 AM
Suppose I write an 80k word book. I spend ten hours outlining it, 80 hours writing it (I avg about 1200 words an hour), and 60 hours editing and revising it. That's 150 hours.

Seriously? I must be really slow or inefficient. My 95,000 word book took me nearly two years to write, probably averaging at least ten hours a week. So that's what, closer to 1000 hours? And that doesn't include the time I'm spending on edits with my agent right now. At your rate, working 40 hour weeks at it, you would have a completed, polished manuscript every 3-4 weeks! By your math, you're pushing out 13+ books a year to make your 100K! Is there anyone out there with that sort out output?

ResearchGuy
04-23-2011, 12:50 AM
. . .Is that false, though? Let's forget 'always' (hehehe), but right now: is the percentage of financially successful books produced by corporate publishers higher, lower, or the same as self publishers?
I don't know percentages. But I (personally, not just by reputation) know author/publishers with sales in the tens of thousands (one over 100,000 for his best-selling title), and one who has stated that his top-grossing book pulled in $400,000 (so far). I also know an author whose New York commercial publisher completely botched both promotion AND marketing (although the latter might have been remedied -- too little too late? -- with a change of distributors a few months ago), kicking the crap out of sales of a book that should have sold tens of thousands. (Their screwups cut that by 90 to 99 percent.)

If in my little corner of the world, here in the Sacramento, California area I know writer/publishers who have REJECTED commercial publishing and have REJECTED buyouts of their companies because they were not going to throw away the profits and the control of their projects (and I do), do you really think there are no others?

Spend some time with http://www.ibpa-online.org/ -- do you really think that all of the members are delusional eff-ups?

And do you really count as great victory that the average first and ONLY printing of new commercially published books is 3 to 5 thousand copies? (Source: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop and Jason Epstein's memoir, and presumed confirmation in American Publishers Association's non-response response when I asked. I've heard many times (but cannot document this) that commercial publishers lose money on most titles that they publish.

Bear in mind that I am not a mindless cheerleader for self-publishing. My advice to writers with a book that has commercial potential and who have credibility is to start with the agent/commercial publisher quest -- UNLESS they want to have a publishing business and have entrepreneurial skills and spirit. Most will fail in that quest. Year after year after year they will fail. And of course they cannot make a living from a single commercially published book (with exceptions as rare as snow in the Sierra in July).

Take with a grain of salt: http://www.humorwriters.org/startlingstats.html . Interesting factoids. Maybe even true.

--Ken

ColoradoMom
04-23-2011, 01:02 AM
If a commercial publisher offered me $5k on a book, I would probably politely thank them, say no thank you, and go self publish - because I'd already know I had a commercially viable product (or the publisher would not have offered), and I've got plenty of experience selling commercially viable products on my own. So that sort of gamble would feel very comfortable to me.



Exactly. If they have enough interest in it to offer that (to me pathetically low) amount, then a dedicated person with the skills required to publish would stand to make much more. In fact, I'd question how much a publisher would offer in the way of marketing and other expenses with such a low initial value on the advance.

Selling anything, books included, is all about exposure. Sure, some really good products, books included, get little exposure and then catch on (Amanda Hocking for example) but the real success comes with MASSIVE exposure. Which is also what Amanda Hocking experienced with her top spot at Amazon.

As far as books not selling goes - well many people believe that Twilight is crap and look at how many books have sold. So I personally don't think that crap vs. non-crap is a well defined parameter for book sales/success (unless of course you define success as something other than sales...which many people probably do).

I didn't read twilight, but the story isn't horrible (from the movie anyway) but I once stumbled upon a really pathetic website that literally took lines from her books word for word just to point out she was a grammatical idiot. (Why anyone would waste their time putting others down when they could be productively contributing to society is beyond me).

So, if Stephanie Meyer can be thought of as a grammatical idiot by many (possibly even the majority) of writers, and she is defined as commercially successful, then the matter of what constitutes a "good" book is far too subjective to pin down because the writers of "crap" have been outselling the "literary" prose crew for ages.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-23-2011, 01:50 AM
Seriously? I must be really slow or inefficient. My 95,000 word book took me nearly two years to write, probably averaging at least ten hours a week. So that's what, closer to 1000 hours? And that doesn't include the time I'm spending on edits with my agent right now. At your rate, working 40 hour weeks at it, you would have a completed, polished manuscript every 3-4 weeks! By your math, you're pushing out 13+ books a year to make your 100K! Is there anyone out there with that sort out output?

Jacket, are you sure of those numbers? I mean, 1000 hours for a (first draft?) 95,000 word novel means you only wrote 95 words an hour, average. If you're adding in rewrites (say it takes you 100 hrs per draft and you do ten(!!!) drafts) I could see it getting that high... Or adding in research for a big nonfiction book, I could see it jumping really high.

Like I said, you need to plug your own numbers in there, whatever they are. If it takes you 1000 hrs to write a book, start to uploaded and selling, then plug that number in, factor in the hourly wage you want, and do the math. The numbers I used were randomly tossed together as an example, not meant to be indicative of a target for any particular person. ;)

But yeah, there's a lot of pros who finish a book, from start to submit, in 4-8 weeks. It's not something every pro manages, but it's not unusual. John Scalzi, Kevin Anderson, Dean Smith, and others write at that level. Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath are close. It's a level of skill and discipline I aspire to, but am unfortunately nowhere near. ;)

jacket
04-23-2011, 01:58 AM
Jacket, are you sure of those numbers? I mean, 1000 hours for a (first draft?) 95,000 word novel means you only wrote 95 words an hour, average. If you're adding in rewrites (say it takes you 100 hrs per draft and you do ten(!!!) drafts) I could see it getting that high... Or adding in research for a big nonfiction book, I could see it jumping really high.

Like I said, you need to plug your own numbers in there, whatever they are. If it takes you 1000 hrs to write a book, start to uploaded and selling, then plug that number in, factor in the hourly wage you want, and do the math. The numbers I used were randomly tossed together as an example, not meant to be indicative of a target for any particular person. ;)

But yeah, there's a lot of pros who finish a book, from start to submit, in 4-8 weeks. It's not something every pro manages, but it's not unusual. John Scalzi, Kevin Anderson, Dean Smith, and others write at that level. Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath are close. It's a level of skill and discipline I aspire to, but am unfortunately nowhere near. ;)

95 words per hour includes all the editing and everything else--your estimates were for total time spent on the novel start to finish. So for every 95 words of final draft, there may have been half a dozen different versions of those 95 words and another 95 words that were written and cut, together with serious consideration of plotting and outlining, together with research and such. I don't believe my numbers are absurd in the least. I also don't believe any of those authors you list have churned out anything close to 13 completed books in a year from start to finish (please prove me wrong). At my rate of writing, if I were to do it full time, I could possibly churn out maybe 2 books in a year.

Medievalist
04-23-2011, 02:44 AM
It's not something every pro manages, but it's not unusual. John Scalzi, Kevin Anderson, Dean Smith, and others write at that level.

Are you thinking of Scalzi's books derived from previously published content like his movie columns, or his blog posts?

Because that's not at all what I've heard him say at Viable Paradise about how long it takes him to write a novel, nor does it jibe with this (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/06/24/why-new-novelists-are-kinda-old/).

jacket
04-23-2011, 02:51 AM
I've done just a preliminary look-up of some of the authors you name and I'm seeing more like 3-5 books realeased per year. In some cases these are co-authored books and in many cases these are serialized books (so a continuation of the same world/characters). And even you said these are the extremes. I think it's more common to put out one book every year or every few years.

scope
04-23-2011, 02:54 AM
UNLESS they want to have a publishing business and have entrepreneurial skills and spirit. Most will fail in that quest. Year after year after year they will fail. And of course they cannot make a living from a single commercially published book (with exceptions as rare as snow in the Sierra in July).


--Ken

This is my point.

ss

scope
04-23-2011, 03:07 AM
[QUOTE=ColoradoMom;6066492]Exactly. If they have enough interest in it to offer that (to me pathetically low) amount, then a dedicated person with the skills required to publish would stand to make much more.


I don't doubt that most writers are dedicated, but I doubt that the majority have the skills required to run a business, publish a product, promote and market, much less the money and/or time to do so.

Asuming that everyone who self-publishes has a quality book, how many of 100 people (random) do you think have the skills necessary to make their book a financial success?

scope
04-23-2011, 03:09 AM
But yeah, there's a lot of pros who finish a book, from start to submit, in 4-8 weeks. It's not something every pro manages, but it's not unusual.

Not unusual?

ResearchGuy
04-23-2011, 03:13 AM
Not unusual?
Not for hacks.

--Ken

jacket
04-23-2011, 03:25 AM
[QUOTE=ColoradoMom;6066492]Exactly. If they have enough interest in it to offer that (to me pathetically low) amount, then a dedicated person with the skills required to publish would stand to make much more.


I don't doubt that most writers are dedicated, but I doubt that the majority have the skills required to run a business, publish a product, promote and market, much less the money and/or time to do so.

Asuming that everyone who self-publishes has a quality book, how many of 100 people (random) do you think have the skills necessary to make their book a financial success?

Even more than that--imagine that the publisher offers a 5000 advance because they are assuming you will sell enough books that your percentage of the take is 5000. To sell the same number of books self publishing, you need to have the same level of prefessional editing, book cover design and etc in additon to the marketing, ARC-reviews and the clout that comes with a recoginzed publisher name on the spine. To achieve all of these involves a large financial investment on your part (more that what the publisher would invest financially in the same project because they are set up to do this sort of thing on a much larger scale). I think the time, effort, and money involved in getting your book the same sales numbers the publisher would be able to achieve might well offset any additional profits you would see over that 5000 advance.

And the thing about the advance is that even if the book flops, you still get to keep that cash--you aren't out anything out of pocket.

The only way I think self publishing would bring out ahead here is if the book sales far exceed what it takes to make the advance. Then your take per book being greater than what it would be for a traditionally published book would eventually win out after overcoming the start up costs. But it seems like a huge gamble to me.

The publishers are offering an advance based on how well they think your book will sell. In some ways it almost makes more sense to reject an advance if it is larger--because this indicates that they believe your book will sell very well and that you would likely benefit greatly after shelling out the start up costs.

ResearchGuy
04-23-2011, 03:32 AM
. . .you need to have the same level of prefessional editing, book cover design and etc in additon to the marketing, ARC-reviews and the clout that comes with a recoginzed publisher name on the spine.. . . I think the time, effort, and money involved in getting your book the same sales numbers the publisher would be able to achieve might well offset any additional profits you would see over that 5000 advance. . . . .
Not so on several points. There is so much misconception there that I despair of trying to correct it.

--Ken

jacket
04-23-2011, 03:35 AM
Not so on several points. There is so much misconception there that I despair of trying to correct it.

--Ken

Please do try, or I'll just remain ignorant... I am teachable, I promise.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-23-2011, 03:55 AM
OK, guys - I wasn't trying to suggest the numbers as a goal every writer should be trying to reach. I thought I was pretty clear about that - those were *example* numbers. A sample of the math. Do your own math for your own work. It's going to vary from writer to writer. The point is not to compare with other people, but to do the math for your own business.

Anyway, re: productive writers. Scalzi just finished his latest book in six weeks from start to submission (most of his writing time is spent doing freelance nonfiction, not novels). Anderson writes about regularly taking 6-10 weeks a book. Dean says he produces 750 words an hour writing 4-8 hours of new words per day most days. It's not hard to do that math. There's quite a few others. These are major award winning writers, not "hacks".

If you chat with pro writers long enough, you'll realize that there's quite a good number of them writing 3-6 new books per year. They're often writing under as many pen names as they produce books each year though, so it's not always obvious. Book a year writers are only rarely working full time at writing; most of them have a full time job that pays the bills.

It's worth noting that one major change from digital books, for any form of publishing, is the removal of limited shelf space and the reduction of expense in book production. Ebooks, once published, stay up forever. So there's no reason to NOT publish as many books as you can, given enough staff and enough quality submissions. And since the more books a writer has up, and the more often new ones go up, the more each of that writer's books tend to sell, there is a strong economic advantage to writers who can produce more. It's a big change, and will shake things up even more than the whole self publishing thing has, I think.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-23-2011, 04:16 AM
Even more than that--imagine that the publisher offers a 5000 advance because they are assuming you will sell enough books that your percentage of the take is 5000. To sell the same number of books self publishing, you need to have the same level of prefessional editing, book cover design and etc in additon to the marketing, ARC-reviews and the clout that comes with a recoginzed publisher name on the spine. To achieve all of these involves a large financial investment on your part (more that what the publisher would invest financially in the same project because they are set up to do this sort of thing on a much larger scale). I think the time, effort, and money involved in getting your book the same sales numbers the publisher would be able to achieve might well offset any additional profits you would see over that 5000 advance.

And the thing about the advance is that even if the book flops, you still get to keep that cash--you aren't out anything out of pocket.

The only way I think self publishing would bring out ahead here is if the book sales far exceed what it takes to make the advance. Then your take per book being greater than what it would be for a traditionally published book would eventually win out after overcoming the start up costs. But it seems like a huge gamble to me.

The publishers are offering an advance based on how well they think your book will sell. In some ways it almost makes more sense to reject an advance if it is larger--because this indicates that they believe your book will sell very well and that you would likely benefit greatly after shelling out the start up costs.

OK, let's look at this.

You're assuming publishers get services cheaper than authors. That's generally incorrect. Because large publishers have very large overhead and expenses, they're often looking at substantially higher costs for the same services. A writer might end up paying $1000 for a cover, copy edit, and POD formating. A large publisher might have paid $10k or more to produce and distribute the same book.

You're assuming you need to sell the same number of copies.
But if you're making 4x as much or more in royalties when self publishing, that's not true. You only need to sell a quarter as many copies to break even. Or, if you're making the same (for instance, selling a $2.99 ebook earns the author the same royalty as a $11.99 ebook through most major publishers), you have a much better chance of selling *more* books, because of your pricing.

You're assuming that keeping the advance for a flop is a good thing.
Generally, it's not. If the book flopped, you DO keep the $5k - but your career is in danger. You might be able to make a comeback under a pen name, but it'll be hard. Whereas, with self publishing, if the book flops no one cares. Bowker is not tracking 90%+ of ebook sales, so no publisher or agent will ever be able to see your sales record unless you show it to them. If you take the book down later because your writing has improved, it's gone - poof. Recovery from failure is a lot easier for the self published writer.

You're assuming that advance size is based on expected book sales or book quality.
It is - sort of. Your advance dictates how many copies of the book the publisher will print; where it appears in their catalog; how much their marketing folks will push it; whether you'll get special marketing attention by reviewers and in bookstores; etc. Not every book with a big advance/big push will sell well. But almost no books *without* a big advance/big push sell well. A $5k advance is pretty much the kiss of death for that book. It's also about the average advance for a first novelist. ;) (Edit: Actually, let me phrase that better. Advance does not *dictate* those things; it is in most cases an indicator of the publisher's plans for your book, however.)

You're absolutely right that self publishing is a gamble, though. You're betting your work is salable quality. You're betting you have commercial level writing skills, and that you can put together a commercial level package. The good news about getting a $5k offer and then turning it down is, you have won half the battle! If you've gone through the hoops to get to that point, you can be pretty darn near 100% sure your writing is commercial quality. At that point, all you need to do is package the thing professionally. Half the gamble most self publishers face is gone.

ResearchGuy
04-23-2011, 04:25 AM
Please do try, or I'll just remain ignorant... I am teachable, I promise.
I would have to write a book. Almost eight years of hanging around with folks like Alton Pryor, Karl Palachuk, Bill Teie, Naida West, Ben Gay III (by email; never met him in person), Bill Pieper, Carolyn Singer, and many more (not to mention meeting and hearing from folks like Clint Greenleaf, Dan Poynter, John Kremer, and Dominique Raccah, plus a great deal of reading and a great deal of observing, AND not to mention what I have learned from various commercially published book authors -- and those seeking that status -- over those years and more) have taught me a lot more than I am going to try to fit into posts here. (And to be perfectly frank, a great deal more than I have the energy or dedication or risk-acceptance to apply myself.) I really mean, I despair of trying to correct the misunderstandings to which I alluded. It is futile.

If you can think of a variation on the publishing theme, it probably exists. Blanket statements about what is best or what is possible are unreliable. The only all-purpose phrase is, "it depends."

Anyway, see if there is a local affiliate of IBPA (http://www.ibpa-online.org/pubresources/affiliate.aspx#affil) in your area. If so, spend time with its members.

Pardon the syntactical contortions above.

--Ken

jacket
04-23-2011, 05:33 AM
I really mean, I despair of trying to correct the misunderstandings to which I alluded. It is futile.

So instead of offering an actual counter argument or explanation, you've simply labelled me a lost cause? I'm fine with you saying that the situation is far more complex than it appears on the surface and pointing me to resources, but telling me its futile adds nothing productive.


If you can think of a variation on the publishing theme, it probably exists. Blanket statements about what is best or what is possible are unreliable. The only all-purpose phrase is, "it depends."

Anyway, see if there is a local affiliate of IBPA (http://www.ibpa-online.org/pubresources/affiliate.aspx#affil) in your area. If so, spend time with its members.



This is more like it. Also, you should totally feel free to point out that my arguments are all based on unfounded assumptions. I am quite capable of basic reasoning skills, even if I fail to use them on occasion. I've been tossing out devil's advocate arguments. I don't really have an issue with people deciding to self publish--afterall, it doesn't hurt me. I'd just like to understand what's really behind the motivation to do so. I will seek to be less annoying and avoid tossing out made up assumptions. I suppose I was jumping on a make-your-own-arbitrary-assumptions-and-reason-from-those bandwagon.

jacket
04-23-2011, 05:38 AM
I guess the real point I was trying to make is that it doesn't necessarily make any more sense turning down a 5k advance vs turning down a 100k advance. One could make arguments for or against either. I tried to frame an argument around a rigid set of assumptions, but there are far two many variables in play perhaps for sweeping statements.

jacket
04-23-2011, 05:42 AM
OK, guys - I wasn't trying to suggest the numbers as a goal every writer should be trying to reach. I thought I was pretty clear about that - those were *example* numbers. A sample of the math. Do your own math for your own work. It's going to vary from writer to writer. The point is not to compare with other people, but to do the math for your own business.



This is good. I think if we all started cranking out 13 books a year, the market would saturate pretty fast! ;)

ResearchGuy
04-23-2011, 06:33 AM
So instead of offering an actual counter argument or explanation, you've simply labelled me a lost cause? . . . .
No, just that I cannot take the time it would require to sort through the issues and explain my views. You raised so many points that require lengthy discussion as to exceed my available time.

I do the best I can, but I do have real work and other interests.

My booklet on "The Pursuit of Publishing" touches on some of the points, and the resources cited in it amplify.

There really is no substitute for getting to know folks like Karl Palachuk and Alton Pryor and Naida West. But I am confident that every area of the country has people like them.

I am working on a revised and expanded version of "Pursuit," and maybe I can tackle the sorts of issues you raise in that. It will take a year or more to do it right, what with other projects underway (and hopefully more clients needing editing and book formatting). Maybe two years. Oh, why would I publish that myself rather than look for agent/commercial publisher? Because I CAN, for one thing. Because I can control my own schedule, for another. Because I would have sole say over content and design, for another. And because the odds against a commercial deal are very long in any event. I've got a completely different book in the works that I might seek an agent for.

I will comment quickly on one thing: that bit about a big-name publisher's name on the spine. Most readers do not care who the publisher is. Karl Palachuk's Great Little Book Company is scarcely a household name. But in his area of expertise, HE is a familiar name. He can sell books at 90 bucks a pop that might cost ten dollars each (including a CD) to produce. If he sells 100, he's paid for an entire 1,000-copy print run already. The one-man company Deer Valley Press specializes in -- well, you can look them up -- and sells nationally and internationally. Not exactly a household name. Bridgehouse Books (Naida West)? She presold the entire first printing (3,000 copies) of one of her books, and she has sold tens of thousands more copies of her books. Not one of her readers wants or needs a Big 6 colophon on her books. (And she is outspoken about having rejected commercial publication.) If I know examples like those in my little corner of the world, there are many, many more out there--and probably a lot you see in bookstores and have no idea were published by their authors.

--Ken

Medievalist
04-23-2011, 07:31 AM
You're assuming that keeping the advance for a flop is a good thing.
Generally, it's not. If the book flopped, you DO keep the $5k - but your career is in danger.

This is a bit of an over statement.

An awful lot of books don't earn out--but just because the author doesn't collect royalties, doesn't mean, at all, that the book was a "flop."

It means that marketing and acquisition have done their P and L (Profit and Liability or Profit and Loss) spreadsheet with exceeding accuracy.

This is a bit outdated, but here's a reasonable scenario about how a commercial/mass market fiction publisher does this kind of calc (http://www.annagenoese.com/article_series/demyst/free_articles/article_p_and_l.html).

One of the reasons that all authors should like the block buster reliable sell throughs like Jordan, or King, or Patterson et al is that they make up the difference so that publishers can take a chance on new authors.

Here's another resource on average genre fiction advances (http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2005/10/05/author-advance-survey-version-20/) for SF and F.

I should also note that commercial advances for non fiction are not the same as commercial advances for fiction.

scope
04-23-2011, 08:12 AM
Not for hacks.

--Ken

How true.

scope
04-23-2011, 08:37 AM
Anyway, re: productive writers. Scalzi just finished his latest book in six weeks from start to submission (most of his writing time is spent doing freelance nonfiction, not novels). Anderson writes about regularly taking 6-10 weeks a book. Dean says he produces 750 words an hour writing 4-8 hours of new words per day most days. It's not hard to do that math. There's quite a few others. These are major award winning writers, not "hacks".

You insist on giving us the names of a handful of authors who you claim not only write well, but with amazing speed. These few (even if it's hundreds) versus the millions of other writers who take 6 months to 2 years to complete their works. If you agree, why should anyone care enough to try and accomplish something which they're incapale of doing? Beyond the abstract, what's the point?

If you chat with pro writers long enough, you'll realize that there's quite a good number of them writing 3-6 new books per year. They're often writing under as many pen names as they produce books each year though, so it's not always obvious. Book a year writers are only rarely working full time at writing; most of them have a full time job that pays the bills.

I've been a freelance writer for many years, have worked in a variety of positions for trade publishers, and have owned and operated three book packging houses of my own. I tell you this because in all my experience I've never come across the type of writers you describe. That doesn't mean there aren't a few here and there, but to say they are prevalent is just not so.



ss

scope
04-23-2011, 08:43 AM
...and a great deal of observing, AND not to mention what I have learned from various commercially published book authors -- and those seeking that status -- over those years and more) have taught me a lot more than I am going to try to fit into posts here. (And to be perfectly frank, a great deal more than I have the energy or dedication or risk-acceptance to apply myself.) I really mean, I despair of trying to correct the misunderstandings to which I alluded. It is futile.

--Ken

I say, BRAVO!

Medievalist
04-23-2011, 08:44 AM
Scalzi just finished his latest book in six weeks from start to submission (most of his writing time is spent doing freelance nonfiction, not novels).

This really doesn't jibe with Scalzi's record, or his own words.

His current release from Tor is a re-write of a classic 40 year old SF novel.

jacket
04-23-2011, 08:57 AM
No, just that I cannot take the time it would require to sort through the issues and explain my views. You raised so many points that require lengthy discussion as to exceed my available time.

I do the best I can, but I do have real work and other interests.



Apologies for launching an ignorance-laden bomb upon you. You do have me thoroughly convinced you know your stuff in this realm. It's nice when people can back up their statements with solid experience. Hope I didn't come across as an arse, even if I've been speaking out of mine.

Old Hack
04-23-2011, 11:21 AM
Let's forget 'always' (hehehe), but right now: is the percentage of financially successful books produced by corporate publishers higher, lower, or the same as self publishers?

I'd say it's higher: much higher. Although more than half the books published in the US are now self-published, the majority of books which get talked about are from trade publishers; the majority of books which hit the best seller lists are from trade publishers; and the majority of books which you see on people's bookshelves are still from trade publishers.


And do you really count as great victory that the average first and ONLY printing of new commercially published books is 3 to 5 thousand copies? (Source: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop and Jason Epstein's memoir, and presumed confirmation in American Publishers Association's non-response response when I asked.

If that's the case then the books I've written, and all of the books my friends have written, are way above the average when it comes to print runs.

That might be true for debut literary fiction, for example (and I'm talking about UK print runs here, not US ones which are usually significantly higher); but it's certainly not true for commercial fiction of any genre, or non-fiction for that matter.

I'd also not assume that the APA was agreeing with you when it failed to reply to you on this point. I think it's more likely that they get many queries of this sort, but they're too busy carrying out their professional obligations to respond.


I've hears many times (but cannot document this) that commercial publishers lose money on most titles that they publish.

I've heard this many times too, but it's simply not true.

I think the confusion arises because people confuse "earning out" with "making a profit". Around 70% of books fail to earn out their advances; but publishers usually make a profit well before that happens. Think about it: would a business which failed to make a profit on most of its products stay in business for long?


On a separate note, I'd be very careful when relying on Dan Poynter for advice. He might know self publishing but many of the claims he makes about trade publishing are way off. So far off, in fact, that they are seriously misleading.



Not so on several points. There is so much misconception there that I despair of trying to correct it.

--Ken

Ken, that's not helpful at all and in my opinion you're forgetting to RYFW. I know you can do better than this.

ResearchGuy
04-23-2011, 08:00 PM
. . . If that's the case then the books I've written, and all of the books my friends have written, are way above the average when it comes to print runs.. . .
I'd also not assume that the APA was agreeing with you when it failed to reply to you on this point.. . . .
If you have more reliable figures, I'd appreciate hearing them and knowing their source. Mine are dated (albeit from two men with decades of industry experience), and of course the APA non-response is a very weak argument (no dispute there).

And for that matter, averaging literary fiction, self-help, mystery, memoir, reference, and so on, is a dicey proposition.

(I would be quite willing to grant that you, Old Hack, and your friends, are more outstanding than the average. And please bear in mind -- and I think you do understand this -- that I am trying to be as even-handed as I can. There are pros and cons on both sides, and the phrase "it depends" rules. I encourage pursuit of commercial/trade publishing, via an agent, as first choice for an author/book with commercial-publishing potential. Many, even with worthwhile books, are NOT candidates for commecial publishing and never will be. Niche, local, no platform and no chance of ever having one, too old, never going to write another book, etc. But I have read my share of such books and found value in them even though they could not, ever, be commercially, competitively trade-published.) As for my despair of that moment -- it was heartfelt and regretable, but I was deep into editing a long, not particularly interesting, but paying-project manuscript, and taking an AW break. The manuscript is by a fellow without a prayer of commercial publishing -- he will take it to Createspace -- and without a prayer of selling more than a couple dozen copies, if that, but nonetheless a long, serious, and on the whole not badly written book with interest to several people. And Poynter? Yeah, gotta take him with a large grain of salt. Ditto Ross. Ditto with chocolate sprinkles Kremer. Anyway, I followed up as best I could. To do it right, I really do have to take a couple of years fully researching and writing a vastly expanded version of my booket. It is in the queue along with other projects.)

--Ken

ColoradoMom
04-24-2011, 06:29 AM
[QUOTE=scope;6066829]

Even more than that--imagine that the publisher offers a 5000 advance because they are assuming you will sell enough books that your percentage of the take is 5000.

I can make $5000 in less than 6 months on my own self-published books - so for me, that number just doesn't work.

scope
04-24-2011, 07:52 AM
I can make $5000 in less than 6 months on my own self-published books - so for me, that number just doesn't work.

When I read something like this after all that has been intelliently discussed on this thread--by those pro and con SP--I wonder if it makes any sense to even reply. I can't diagree that for many, especially those who depend on the craft to earn their living (like me), the bottom line is how much money one can make from the publication of a book, but to assume that the amount of an advance from a trade publisher will determine that just isn't true.

rsullivan9597
04-24-2011, 08:19 AM
First, if you really, really, really want to be a mainstream author, as of this moment, your best bet is to go ahead and follow the formal procedures of going through years of writing, edits, rejection letters, and publisher dictatorship over your stories and covers. Statistics show that that is more likely to get your name into lights than self-publishing.

While on a pure statistics standpoint that may be true I just want to pointout that there are a higher number of deals showing up in publishers marketplace from previously self-published authors than there used to be.

Some recent deals that I know of: Michael J. Sullivan, H.P. Mallory, D.B. Henson, Amanda Hocking, Samantha Hoffman, R.J. Jagger

KevinMcLaughlin
04-24-2011, 09:47 AM
@Old Hack: I'm inclined to agree with you on the success rate thing (self vs corp publishing success rates) - although I want to note that I was specifically referring to self published consumer books placed for sale in the major markets. There's plenty of folks doing their own (mostly nonfiction) books and selling them via email, websites, etc. What I'm really talking about are consumer books sold via major retailers. If the book isn't up on Amazon and B&N, it's not in that category.

That said, I'd have to guess that corporate publishers have a higher percent of success, just based on the vetting process. Even if they're wrong sometimes, they still have double-vetting that removes most really bad books out of their system. Books that just won't sell, period. Self publishing doesn't have anything preventing even the worst story from being uploaded. You could have your cat dance on your keyboard for a few hours, call it a novel, and upload it. ;) I've done some editing for periodicals, and even judged a couple of fiction contests. Most submissions/entries are *terrible*. Like, "read the first sentence and knew it was going to be bad" sort of terrible.

So yeah, I'd guess that by weeding those out, corporate publishers have a higher success rate. That said, I think the books which are good, will do well regardless how they're published. And I think the numbers are playing out that way in the market.

I also completely agree with your statement on "earning out" and "making profit". The publisher's profit number is usually quite a bit lower than the author earning out an advance. That's *why* most books don't earn out their advances, folks! Once the publisher has made the profit level they're targeting, unless the book is showing a steep increase in sales (which is unusual), they stop pushing the book. The book gets taken off shelves. It's done. Most writers don't earn out their advances; most books do, on average, at least break even.


An awful lot of books don't earn out--but just because the author doesn't collect royalties, doesn't mean, at all, that the book was a "flop."
It means that marketing and acquisition have done their P and L (Profit and Liability or Profit and Loss) spreadsheet with exceeding accuracy.
I wasn't talking about breaking even though - I said "flop", which means the book didn't break even for the publisher. If that happens, the publisher can drop you and any future books they had planned with you in a hot heartbeat, and you may have a tough time getting a new contract with another publisher. It happens all the time; and some writers recover from it just fine. Others don't. It *can* be a career ender, but it isn't always.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-24-2011, 10:08 AM
OK, at you folks beating me up about the productive writer stuff - back at you. ;)

Re: Scalzi: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/03/08/new-novel-followup/

For the folks who like to indulge in process geekery, I started writing this novel on January 3rd and completed it on March 7th, for a total writing time of nine weeks. Most of you know by now that my plan was to write to a quota every week day (2,000 words) or until about noon.
Scalzi is the president of SFWA, and an award winning author. (And the novel he's talking about here is not the "Fuzzy Nation" reboot, but a new novel in a new setting.) He was asked about the speed in his comments sections, and responded that he edits as he writes, so the final product was ready to submit the day he finished writing it, after one more scan for major errors.

Kevin Anderson talks about the math of productivity quite a lot here. He's had about five books a year published, on average, over the last twenty years of writing. Not short things, either - a good chunk of his books are 150k+ words. This is a very well known author, with 19 books on the NYT bestseller list and a bucketload of major SF&F writing awards.
http://kjablog.com/?p=1257
I was going to snag some good quotes from the blog, but honestly - the thing is inspirational, interesting, and well thought out enough that I recommend you just click the link and read it. *Really* worth the reading, for any writer who wants to do this as a career instead of a hobby.

I don't know that most writers really want writing as a career, or maybe better put can really handle having writing as a career. Writing as a career means spending 40 or so hours a week generating books. *shrug* It just does, at least for most writers. If you're not willing to write full time, then be happy with writing as a hobby, like many other writers are, and be happy with hobby/second job type income.

The guys I mentioned are career writers with a LOT of years of practice. But Anderson's been producing at that sort of speed for a long time now. Mostly, it's just about putting in the hours.

Medievalist
04-24-2011, 10:18 AM
Once the publisher has made the profit level they're targeting, unless the book is showing a steep increase in sales (which is unusual), they stop pushing the book. The book gets taken off shelves. It's done.

This is not at all my experience as either a bookseller or an author.


I wasn't talking about breaking even though - I said "flop", which means the book didn't break even for the publisher.

I think you're misinterpreting a number of things. Also, "breaking even" is not the way it works. A P and L statement is designed to show what it takes for the publisher to make a profit, not break even.

Hence not selling through--not earning back the advance, isn't at all a disaster for the publisher. The advance is based on what the publisher realistically expects to be able to make/sell, and it's based on both the experience of the publishing company, and an amazing array of data from the industry about who is buying what, and where.


If that happens, the publisher can drop you and any future books they had planned with you in a hot heartbeat, and you may have a tough time getting a new contract with another publisher. It happens all the time; and some writers recover from it just fine. Others don't. It *can* be a career ender, but it isn't always.

It's actually not all that common--but it is one of the reasons for a single author with multiple pen names.

The most common "career ender" is an author who can't meet contracted deadlines, especially for a subsequent novel.

Many authors have one book in them, and that's it. Multiple completed books, whether fiction or non, are not common. That second and third book are tricky; tricky to complete, and sometimes, tricky to place.

Medievalist
04-24-2011, 10:23 AM
OK, at you folks beating me up about the productive writer stuff - back at you. ;)

Re: Scalzi: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/03/08/new-novel-followup/



Scalzi just finished his latest book in six weeks from start to submission (most of his writing time is spent doing freelance nonfiction, not novels).

Dude, nine weeks is not six weeks; it's half again as much.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-24-2011, 10:30 AM
I think you're misinterpreting a number of things. Also, "breaking even" is not the way it works. A P and L statement is designed to show what it takes for the publisher to make a profit, not break even.

Hence not selling through--not earning back the advance, isn't at all a disaster for the publisher. The advance is based on what the publisher realistically expects to be able to make/sell, and it's based on both the experience of the publishing company, and an amazing array of data from the industry about who is buying what, and where.

I think we're agreeing on this, and I just wrote in a less than clear manner, sorry. =) Yes, publishers generally have a profit point below the writer's earning out point in sales. Most books don't earn out for an author. Some books (not a ton) don't earn out for the *publisher* though. If that happens, it can make placing another book under that author's name much more difficult. I can't speak for how common it is; I don't have data on the subject beyond collected anecdotes.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-24-2011, 10:32 AM
Dude, nine weeks is not six weeks; it's half again as much.

Yup, quite right. I stand corrected, had recalled it incorrectly.

Of course, that's still five books a year, working half days five days a week. ;)

Old Hack
04-24-2011, 10:47 AM
And for that matter, averaging literary fiction, self-help, mystery, memoir, reference, and so on, is a dicey proposition.

Exactly. There are different averages for different genres, and also for different publishers: if your literary fiction is published by a small independent press it's going to get a much shorter print run than a crime novel published by Macmillan. The latter is likely to sell three times the former's print run in its first week on sale. Which is why it's so difficult.

If it's any help at all, I've ghost-written several non-fiction books (none of them remotely highbrow) and they all had initial print runs over 50,000. One (a mythology reference book) I think had a first print run of about 350,000, has been reprinted five or six times, and is still out there on bookshop shelves, twenty years since it was first published.


the phrase "it depends" rules.

Yep.


I'd have to guess that corporate publishers have a higher percent of success, just based on the vetting process.

The success of books from trade publishers comes about because they carefully select the books which they think are going to sell well; then they spend a lot of money bringing them to market; and finally, they do a really good job of getting them in front of the people who might want to buy them. Most self publishers are going to struggle with every single one of these points.


Even if they're wrong sometimes, they still have double-vetting that removes most really bad books out of their system.

Having read an inordinate amount of slush I promise you that the vetting system removes ALL of the really bad books. I know that not all books are to everyone's taste, and trade publishing sometimes makes mistakes; but the really bad stuff doesn't get anywhere.


I think the books which are good, will do well regardless how they're published.

Sadly, this isn't the case. I've seen some fabulous books from trade publishers fail to sell because for some reason they've failed to catch the reading public's attention; I've seen some really lacklustre books take off and do incredibly well. But it's all relative: those fabulous books which failed probably only sold a thousand or two copies: for trade publishing that's not good; for most self publishers, that would be a very good level of sale.


Once the publisher has made the profit level they're targeting, unless the book is showing a steep increase in sales (which is unusual), they stop pushing the book. The book gets taken off shelves. It's done.

No: you're wrong here. This is one of those myths that I've seen pushed by many self publishers, and it's just not logical.

Think about it. If a book is selling well then why remove it from those shelves just because it has paid for itself? Sales from that point on have a higher profit level for the publisher than those early sales.


Most writers don't earn out their advances; most books do, on average, at least break even.

Most books don't just break even: most books make a profit for their publishers. Again, think about it: what sort of business could flourish in the way that publishing has if it failed to make a profit on most of the products that it sold?

Medievalist
04-24-2011, 07:51 PM
I posted a link to several P and L statements up thread; those are worth looking at.

These days publishers have very elaborate formulae for making these calculations, but an old hand can do it on the fly.

The goal is not to "break even" but to make a profit. The advance is based on a careful prediction of sales that the publisher is confident about getting.

HapiSofi
04-25-2011, 10:03 AM
is the percentage of financially successful books produced by corporate publishers higher, lower, or the same as self publishers?
Books from conventional publishing houses have a much higher success rate than self-published titles. There are many reasons for this, including inadequate sales and distribution systems, higher costs, and simple amateurishness, but the biggest one is that the self-published book category includes hundreds -- quite possibly thousands -- of books that were rejected by conventional publishing for not being good enough.

This may not be true of every self-published book, but it's true of more than enough of them to depress their overall success rate.

HapiSofi
04-25-2011, 10:25 AM
I also know an author whose New York commercial publisher completely botched both promotion AND marketing (although the latter might have been remedied -- too little too late? -- with a change of distributors a few months ago), kicking the crap out of sales of a book that should have sold tens of thousands. (Their screwups cut that by 90 to 99 percent.)

That is, you know an author who says all that. I have my doubts.

No one who knows what's what speaks lightly about a change of distributors. No one sticks with a bad distributor because it's simply never occurred to them to switch to a better one. It's always a potential catastrophe. Being without a distributor during a changeover can wreck a publishing house.


And do you really count as great victory that the average first and ONLY printing of new commercially published books is 3 to 5 thousand copies?
I count it as a not terribly relevant statistic. If the average is 3,000 - 5,000 copies, they're including very small and marginal publishing operations in the count. The big trade publishing houses have considerably higher average print runs.


I've heard many times (but cannot document this) that commercial publishers lose money on most titles that they publish.

If that were true, you'd really have to wonder how we stay in business.

HapiSofi
04-25-2011, 10:40 AM
If you chat with pro writers long enough, you'll realize that there's quite a good number of them writing 3-6 new books per year. They're often writing under as many pen names as they produce books each year though, so it's not always obvious. Book a year writers are only rarely working full time at writing; most of them have a full time job that pays the bills.

Writers who can crank out three to six books a year are rare, and ones who can do that for year after year are extremely rare. Some writers do have a naturally high writing speed. What they don't have is that much content in them.

A book a year is a much commoner pattern, and can provide an established writer with a livable income.


there's no reason to NOT publish as many books as you can, given enough staff and enough quality submissions.

Market saturation.


And since the more books a writer has up, and the more often new ones go up, the more each of that writer's books tend to sell,

It's very optimistic to assume that that tendency can be indefinitely extended. If it were true, Piers Anthony would be the best-selling author in the genre, and no book by Edgar Rice Burroughs would ever go out of print.

ChaosTitan
04-25-2011, 05:34 PM
I don't know that most writers really want writing as a career, or maybe better put can really handle having writing as a career. Writing as a career means spending 40 or so hours a week generating books. *shrug* It just does, at least for most writers. If you're not willing to write full time, then be happy with writing as a hobby, like many other writers are, and be happy with hobby/second job type income.


This is a fascinating misrepresentation of the majority of published authors I know, myself included.

Fact: some professional writers simply cannot afford to write full-time. Often times, other employment offers such useful benefits as medical insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, and 401k plans. These jobs also provide extra income that cannot always be provided by writing, and no single person's financial situation is the same. Just because one person could afford to live off of $25k for a year, that doesn't mean a man supporting a wife and four children can do the same.

Fact: some professional writers enjoy their other job and don't want to quit to write full-time. I know writers who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and all sorts of other things in between. They like what they do, so they continue to do both.

So no, writing as a career does not mean spending 40 hours a week producing books. It means spending the time you have available writing, editing, and promoting your books. A published writer who's able to make their sole income off writing, without holding down a second job, is no more or less a professional than the published writer who works 40 hours a week outside of the house and squeezes in two hours of writing a day before bed.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-25-2011, 05:49 PM
It's very optimistic to assume that that tendency can be indefinitely extended. If it were true, Piers Anthony would be the best-selling author in the genre, and no book by Edgar Rice Burroughs would ever go out of print.

Ah, but that's entirely the point. No book from Edgar Rice Burroughs (or anyone else) *will* ever go out of "print". Ever again (unless the writer wants to pull it down, for some reason).

The virtual shelves will continue to swell to hold new books as they're written. I don't think anyone really understands all the long term implications of that. My guess (which IS just a guess!) is that writing new works will be important in selling backlist. Readers are tending to use the "released in last 30 days" or "released in last 90 days" sorting controls a lot when looking for books. So new books are still going to attract more attention than older ones. Your older works will tend to attract attention by way of selling the new work, which gets a new fan who then buys some of your backlist.

I don't think productivity will ever be the only factor in writer success, but I think productivity is going to be a larger factor in coming years than it has been in the past couple of decades, because of the changes to the industry from digital book dominance.

KevinMcLaughlin
04-25-2011, 06:01 PM
This is a fascinating misrepresentation of the majority of published authors I know, myself included.

Fact: some professional writers simply cannot afford to write full-time. Often times, other employment offers such useful benefits as medical insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, and 401k plans. These jobs also provide extra income that cannot always be provided by writing, and no single person's financial situation is the same. Just because one person could afford to live off of $25k for a year, that doesn't mean a man supporting a wife and four children can do the same.

Fact: some professional writers enjoy their other job and don't want to quit to write full-time. I know writers who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and all sorts of other things in between. They like what they do, so they continue to do both.

So no, writing as a career does not mean spending 40 hours a week producing books. It means spending the time you have available writing, editing, and promoting your books. A published writer who's able to make their sole income off writing, without holding down a second job, is no more or less a professional than the published writer who works 40 hours a week outside of the house and squeezes in two hours of writing a day before bed.

ChaosTitan, I'm not trying to put down writers who can only put in a couple of hours a week. I'm one of 'em. ;) But I think it's unreasonable to equate that level of commitment with being one's primary job, one's "career". If you do one job for 40 hours a week, and another job for 2 hours a week, most people are going to agree your career is the one that your're doing for 40 hours a week - especially if that's the one paying for your insurance and most of your bills.

Anyway though, that wasn't the point of what I was trying to say, which is something like: Writing as your sole occupation is not something just anyone can do. Most of the time success at full time writing seems to mean working as many hours a week as you would at any other career, and a lot of people don't have the discipline or even the inclination to write that much. It is, in my own experience, much easier to sit down and write for an hour of spare time than it is to sit and write eight hours a day for several days in a row.

Roger J Carlson
04-25-2011, 06:03 PM
I don't think productivity will ever be the only factor in writer success, but I think productivity is going to be a larger factor in coming years than it has been in the past couple of decades, because of the changes to the industry from digital book dominance.Define success. Are you saying that quantity will be more important than quality?

ChaosTitan
04-25-2011, 06:12 PM
Anyway though, that wasn't the point of what I was trying to say, which is something like: Writing as your sole occupation is not something just anyone can do. Most of the time success at full time writing seems to mean working as many hours a week as you would at any other career, and a lot of people don't have the discipline or even the inclination to write that much. It is, in my own experience, much easier to sit down and write for an hour of spare time than it is to sit and write eight hours a day for several days in a row.

I can agree with the spirit of this, but this wasn't what I got out of your earlier post. It may have had to do with how you framed your argument with false absolutes. Your post seemed to say that if you don't write full-time, forty hours a week, then you're not a real writer and you're not career-minded. Which I disagree with.

However, I agree with you that not every career novelist has the discipline or stamina to write full-time. And that's okay. Not everyone needs to write full-time to be considered a career novelist--and that's my point.

ResearchGuy
04-25-2011, 06:28 PM
That is, you know an author who says all that. I have my doubts.. . . .
The author (http://www.dandelionthroughthecrack.com/pages/author.html) (a close friend since I first read her manuscript in 2005), the publisher of the first edition (http://www.willowvalleypress.com/) (a close friend since 2003), and close observation all along. I wrote the most complete review of the first edition (http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/knowledgequest/kqwebarchives/v36/361/361umbach.cfm), in a national professional journal.

Call me a liar if you wish. I invested a large part of years of my life in seeing that that book was published, and was deeply disappointed at how the second publisher (http://www.sohopress.com/) effed it up in so many ways. Believe me or not, I have stated the truth.

--Ken

kaitie
04-25-2011, 07:45 PM
Just an interesting thought about backlists living on forever. Many writers look back on earlier works, even earlier published works, and cringe. In twenty years, you'll hopefully have improved to the point that the earlier stuff looks like sheer crap by comparison.

Dean Koontz has a ton of books that went out of print. I've heard him comment that his first published book was terrible (I've never found a copy of it, so I can't attest first-hand), and I know for a fact that many of the early books he wrote were actually rewritten to his improved standards before he released them under his own name.

As a writer's quality improves and sales improve, having a lot of weaker early books could actually be a detriment, could it not? I know there are plenty of writers out there who have early books in print (I'm not a fan of Stephen King's earlier works, but they still sell a ton), and there are some writers whose quality decreases as time goes on, but I can just see some logical reasons why an author may not want his work to stay out there forever, or why it might not work in his favor if it did.

I could be wrong on this stuff as I'm just speculating, but it seems logical.

ResearchGuy
04-25-2011, 08:03 PM
. . . speculating, but it seems logical.
Very reasonable views, IMHO.

FWIW, John Lescroart's first book, Sunburn, was long out of print. Eventually he revised it and it was released in mass market paperback with the revisions and a new introduction. I don't think that he wanted that first effort to be seen again without revisions, and it took him (or publisher or both) a bunch of years to get around to that.

--Ken

scope
04-25-2011, 09:09 PM
Ah, but that's entirely the point. No book from Edgar Rice Burroughs (or anyone else) *will* ever go out of "print". Ever again (unless the writer wants to pull it down, for some reason).
.

So what? Isn't writing an excellent, desirable book the idea? Who cares if an awful book stays in print via e-pub forever if people don't want to read it? I sure don't.

Medievalist
04-25-2011, 09:23 PM
Ah, but that's entirely the point. No book from Edgar Rice Burroughs (or anyone else) *will* ever go out of "print". Ever again (unless the writer wants to pull it down, for some reason).

File formats aren't static. There have been four different Mobi file formats, caused by changes to hardware platforms, and six or seven Adobe file format changes, and at least two for ePub file derivatives.

They required re-generating ebooks to meet the new standard.

There have been even more changes to various DRM systems, which, for publishers who favor DRM, also meant generating new files, and in some cases, additional licensing.

That's a lot of work if you're a publisher with hundreds of titles.

If publishers are doing it right, there needs to be some human-driven QA before offering the book for sale.

There are also storage costs, and archival requirements--you need to archive and maintain the production files that are used to generate the new ebook files.

scope
04-25-2011, 09:24 PM
Writing as your sole occupation is not something just anyone can do.

I agree.

Most of the time success at full time writing seems to mean working as many hours a week as you would at any other career,

I don't agree. I've been writing for my living for many years, but there is no way I could spend 40 hours a week doing so, at least not effectively. Eight hours a day Monay - Friday, no way. It's too draining, too structured, too demanding, can easily lead to disappointment, and way too much for me and every other author I know or have ever met. On average a couple of hours a day doing research, editing, rewriting, and a couple of hours a day writing new material. And there are days when I shut it down completely because I realize Im producing garbage--for whatever the reason. And that's a good thing.



ss

zegota
04-25-2011, 09:50 PM
ChaosTitan, I'm not trying to put down writers who can only put in a couple of hours a week. I'm one of 'em. ;) But I think it's unreasonable to equate that level of commitment with being one's primary job, one's "career". If you do one job for 40 hours a week, and another job for 2 hours a week, most people are going to agree your career is the one that your're doing for 40 hours a week - especially if that's the one paying for your insurance and most of your bills.

An argument could be made that the person who finds time to fit in writing even after going to their 9-5 job is even MORE committed than the person who makes it their sole career.

ResearchGuy
04-25-2011, 10:33 PM
An argument could be made that the person who finds time to fit in writing even after going to their 9-5 job is even MORE committed than the person who makes it their sole career.
Consider John Lescroart (http://www.johnlescroart.com/). (Yeah, I mention him a lot. Terrific writer AND a really nice guy.)

Eventually, he could quit the day job, and did.

(I think that the same applies to John Grisham. Probably a lot of other familiar names, too.)

--Ken

RobJ
04-25-2011, 10:50 PM
An argument could be made that the person who finds time to fit in writing even after going to their 9-5 job is even MORE committed than the person who makes it their sole career.
By that definition, I'm more committed to writing than Stephen King. Doesn't sound like a very convincing argument, does it.

shadowwalker
04-26-2011, 12:16 AM
This is kinda like saying mothers who work outside the home aren't as good as mothers who stay home with their kids.

Yeah...

movieman
04-26-2011, 02:50 AM
So what? Isn't writing an excellent, desirable book the idea? Who cares if an awful book stays in print via e-pub forever if people don't want to read it? I sure don't.

It's also worth noting that tastes in writing change and old books aren't necessarily going to sell very well. I've been trying to read 'Moby Dick' recently and I honestly just can't do it; I'm sure it's as great a novel as it's made out to be if you get to the end, but so far there have been far too many words with far too little happening for my taste.

Sheryl Nantus
04-26-2011, 02:57 AM
It's also worth noting that tastes in writing change and old books aren't necessarily going to sell very well. I've been trying to read 'Moby Dick' recently and I honestly just can't do it; I'm sure it's as great a novel as it's made out to be if you get to the end, but so far there have been far too many words with far too little happening for my taste.

Grab some of the original Conan novels. My husband's going through them all and starts laughing hysterically every time Conan speaks...

"By Crom!" he ejaculated.

for example.

:D

KevinMcLaughlin
04-27-2011, 12:38 PM
One of the first books I downloaded for my Kindle was "Skylark of Space". Old, public domain now, and FULL of "Tom Swifties" and bad science.

Still a fun read though, even though we're the better part of a century past the publication date. ;)

I don't think *all* books will have that sort of longevity, mind! But I think we're seriously lacking right now in evidence about what the new longevity will be. Konrath talks about maintaining his current sales on all his books for 10+ years. Will he? I don't know. Neither, really, does anyone else. One factor that I think will matter a great deal is the writer continuing to produce new work. The more in the public eye a writer remains, the more likely the writer is to get new readers - and new readers who enjoy a new book might well go back and buy some older stuff too.

But if you're not producing new work regularly (how regularly? no one knows yet - but I think more = better, so long as the quality remains high), then I think the longevity of your work will suffer in many (most?) cases.

It's all guesswork for now though. Ebooks as a dominant market is brand new. Trying to predict how books will sell ten years for now is probably a futile effort.

HapiSofi
05-04-2011, 05:15 PM
Ah, but that's entirely the point. No book from Edgar Rice Burroughs (or anyone else) *will* ever go out of "print". Ever again (unless the writer wants to pull it down, for some reason).

The virtual shelves will continue to swell to hold new books as they're written. I don't think anyone really understands all the long term implications of that. My guess (which IS just a guess!) is that writing new works will be important in selling backlist. Readers are tending to use the "released in last 30 days" or "released in last 90 days" sorting controls a lot when looking for books. So new books are still going to attract more attention than older ones. Your older works will tend to attract attention by way of selling the new work, which gets a new fan who then buys some of your backlist.

You're not thinking straight. You've put together a system where every box on the flowchart leads to "...and then my books will sell more copies!!!" It doesn't work that way. The market is finite. Reader attention is finite. You've got stiff competition from other writers. The midlist is as crowded as the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Frankly, the fact that you're self-publishing general titles makes me think your books can't be all that great. If so, writing a lot of them is not going to help.

The rise of electronic self-publishing means the market's choked with sort-of-okay books. What you're calling "productivity" just adds more motes to the swarm. It's a strategy that would have worked better in the early days of the paperback revolution, when there was a huge appetite for new titles, and authors cranked them out as fast as they could.

That was then, this is now. We swim in an ocean of easily available books. What sells are the standouts: books that are remarkably good, or good in some rare or special way, or that have some unique value.


I don't think productivity will ever be the only factor in writer success, but I think productivity is going to be a larger factor in coming years than it has been in the past couple of decades, because of the changes to the industry from digital book dominance.
No. If you want to sell some copies, write fewer and write better.

HapiSofi
05-04-2011, 05:34 PM
As a general tendency, you know what the difference is between self-publishers and conventional publishing types in online discussions?

Most self-publishers can go on talking for half of forever without mentioning readers. People who work in-house conventional publishing can't avoid talking about readers: what they want, what they'll buy, how much and under what circumstances, et cetera. Even when they're not explicitly talking about readers, what they say is conditioned by them.

That's a lightbulb. Turn it on if you want.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-04-2011, 05:57 PM
You're not thinking straight. You've put together a system where every box on the flowchart leads to "...and then my books will sell more copies!!!" It doesn't work that way. The market is finite. Reader attention is finite. You've got stiff competition from other writers. The midlist is as crowded as the Black Hole of Calcutta.
You're misunderstanding me. I don't think that every book will continue to sell more and more copies, alongside every other book doing the same thing. The math doesn't bear that out, in the long run.

Right now, we have ebook sales growing at such a substantial rate that it gives the illusion of "eternal growth". But new user growth at current rates is not sustainable. So yes, I agree with you. ;) There's stiff competition out there, and only the best books are making sales.

Of course, almost half the bestselling ebooks are self published.


Frankly, the fact that you're self-publishing general titles makes me think your books can't be all that great. If so, writing a lot of them is not going to help.
Luckily, most readers seem to disagree with that first opinion. ;) Self published titles are doing quite well, really. Are performing very well in the competition, to borrow from your words.


The rise of electronic self-publishing means the market's choked with sort-of-okay books. What you're calling "productivity" just adds more motes to the swarm. It's a strategy that would have worked better in the early days of the paperback revolution, when there was a huge appetite for new titles, and authors cranked them out as fast as they could.
Precisely! Welcome back. =) Readers are beginning to follow very similar patterns to those days. Inexpensive books. Lots of 'em. You're right on target.


That was then, this is now. We swim in an ocean of easily available books. What sells are the standouts: books that are remarkably good, or good in some rare or special way, or that have some unique value.
No, that's what *used* to sell, when books cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce (minimum) and there was limited shelf space. Now instead we're in a world where book production is much less expensive, and where books don't "come down" off the shelves, so there's a financial imperative to produce more books, not less.

You will *never* hear me advocate for producing lower quality. That's a surefire way to tick off readers and lose them, in my opinion. But as I've commented before, the writers who can produce quality work at higher production rates have a strong advantage in the digital publishing age.

Terie
05-04-2011, 06:37 PM
Self published titles are doing quite well, really. Are performing very well in the competition, to borrow from your words.

What percentage of self-published titles are doing 'quite well', and what's your definition of 'quite well'?

Also, how do you quantify 'performing very well in the competition'?

KevinMcLaughlin
05-04-2011, 06:39 PM
What percentage of self-published titles are doing 'quite well', and what's your definition of 'quite well'?

Also, how do you quantify 'performing very well in the competition'?

25-60% of the top 100 bestselling ebooks in every genre and category.

movieman
05-04-2011, 06:53 PM
The rise of electronic self-publishing means the market's choked with sort-of-okay books.

No, it's choked with bad books. I'm not that worried about having to compete with 90% of the self-published ebooks I've looked at because no-one in their right mind would buy them.

Terie
05-04-2011, 06:54 PM
Self published titles are doing quite well, really. Are performing very well in the competition, to borrow from your words.

What percentage of self-published titles are doing 'quite well', and what's your definition of 'quite well'?

Also, how do you quantify 'performing very well in the competition'?25-60% of the top 100 bestselling ebooks in every genre and category.

In other words, several hundred out of the hundreds of thousands -- maybe millions -- of self-published books, which is a tiny fraction of one percent of self-published books, are 'doing quite well, really' and 'are performing very well in the competition'.

Also, again, how are you defining 'performing well'?

Perspective matters in people's decision-making processes.

Sheryl Nantus
05-04-2011, 06:57 PM
25-60% of the top 100 bestselling ebooks in every genre and category.

Where are you getting this from?

I get the NYT Book Review every week and when they list the top ebooks I don't see any self-pubs.

Source, please?

ResearchGuy
05-04-2011, 08:12 PM
Where are you getting this from?

I get the NYT Book Review every week and when they list the top ebooks I don't see any self-pubs.

Source, please?
Look closer. There is one.

--Ken

kaitie
05-04-2011, 08:37 PM
What Terie said. Even if one book hit the NYT bestseller list, which is awesome for that book, the question is whether or not the vast majority will even have close to a chance of reaching even half that level of success. How many self-published books are out there? Once upon a time Amazon had an advanced search feature that let you narrow by publisher, but I can't for the life of me find it anymore, so I can't check. If anyone can point it out I'd appreciate it.

But yeah, at the very least there are hundreds of thousands, so you're still only talking about a fraction of a percent. What's happening is a few books are performing well with the competition, and the vast majority are not.

I also think we're still overlooking two main components here. One is that the more books are out there, the harder it will be for each individual author to gain exposure, meaning as time passes it might become harder for any reader to find a particular book. The second is the theory of polarized sales, which it looks to me like what you're pointing at. If sales are polarized and growing more polarized, the sales are going to a smaller percentage of books in general. So in that case, you can't really argue that "self-published" books are performing well against the competition. You can argue that a few self-published books are, but you can't generalize that to all self-published books.

movieman
05-04-2011, 08:39 PM
I get the NYT Book Review every week and when they list the top ebooks I don't see any self-pubs.

I thought they didn't include self-published ebooks in their list?

KevinMcLaughlin
05-04-2011, 08:51 PM
I thought they didn't include self-published ebooks in their list?

Bingo. NYT has been getting a lot of flak for that, actually. Surprised you hadn't heard about it - other papers have been blasting them for biased reporting, and only naming bestsellers by companies which pay them for ads, and such. Don't know about that, but they have not been reporting ebook bestsellers accurately, only reporting the ones from selected large publishers, not the actual bestsellers.

Go to Amazon. Pick a genre, any genre. Examine the top 100 books. At least a quarter of every list I've looked at is self published, and several (romance and science fiction are stand-outs) were over 50% at my last survey. Now go do the same at B&N, if you want a more accurate report. Amazon is about 70-75% of ebook sales; B&N is another mid-teens percent or so. Together they stand for about 90% of ebook sales.

Amazon alone is actually more accurate for ebooks than Bookscan is for print, which only tracks 50-70% of print sales.

Caveat: I've been looking exclusively at fiction, not nonfiction; not sure the breakdown there. Should have made that more clear in the earlier post, sorry.

Terie
05-04-2011, 09:11 PM
Once upon a time Amazon had an advanced search feature that let you narrow by publisher, but I can't for the life of me find it anymore, so I can't check. If anyone can point it out I'd appreciate it.

First do a search for any book, and when you get the search results, you'll see the Advanced Search link in the toolbar.



Go to Amazon. Pick a genre, any genre. Examine the top 100 books. At least a quarter of every list I've looked at is self published, and several (romance and science fiction are stand-outs) were over 50% at my last survey.

And yet, 25-50 individual books represents a miniscule percentage of the total of self-published books in any of these genres. All your posts are doing is proving just how little chance a self-published author has of 'doing well' (which you still haven't defined despite my repeated requests that you do so).

And for kicks, I just looked at the top 20 for paid Kindle sales for fiction.


Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
Dead Reckoning: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel, Charlaine Harris
10th Anniversary, James Patterson, Maxine Paetro
The Lincoln Lawyer: A Novel, Michael Connelly
Something Borrowed, Emily Giffin
The Throne of Fire, Rick Riordan
Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, Todd Burpo et al
Bossypants, Tina Fey
Vegas Moon (A Donovan Creed Novel), John Locke
The Sixth Man, David Baldacci
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
The New York Times
Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography, Rob Lowe
A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One, George R.R. Martin
The Paris Wife: A Novel, Paula McLain
No Time Left, David Baldacci
The Fifth Witness, Michael Connelly
Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games), Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games), Suzanne Collins


Two of those are self-published, down from three this time last week, which was down from something like ten a month ago.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-04-2011, 09:22 PM
In other words, several hundred out of the hundreds of thousands -- maybe millions -- of self-published books, which is a tiny fraction of one percent of self-published books, are 'doing quite well, really' and 'are performing very well in the competition'.

Also, again, how are you defining 'performing well'?

Perspective matters in people's decision-making processes.
OK, Terie.

There are under 100k self published ebooks actually out on the market. Around 50k on Smashwords. A little more than that on Kindle. If you're not in the market, you're not "in the competition". Counting self published books that aren't up for sale on the major ebook retailers is a bit like counting old trade print books that are out of print. If customers can't see the book to buy it, it's not in the game.

The overall rate of top placing seems to be about 30-40%. About that percent of ebooks "in the money" are self published. However you define "in the money", you're gonna find the breakdown is about in that range, on average.

Since there are an AWFUL lot less self published books for sale than there are trade published ones (maybe as high as 10% or so), owning 30-40% of the top seats is pretty impressive, don't you think?

Carmy
05-04-2011, 09:26 PM
I've read through this thread but I'm not siding with anyone on the 'discussions' going on. All I can do is tell you my experience.

For years, I supplemented my income by selling non-fiction articles and ghostwriting. My fiction was going nowhere. In the days before I was allowed to submit by email, I spent a fortune on printing and postage to agents and publishers. When I retired, I decided NO MORE! What I wanted was a physical book in my hand. I self-published. (Three so far and another out soon.)

I can't say I've made a fortune by self-publishing -- but I've more than made up for what it's cost me, and I've made back a fair amount of what it cost to submit to agents and publishers. More importantly, I have books in my hand. That was my main objective, not making money. And 99% of my sales have not been to family and friends.

I may not be making a fortune, but a friend who publishes non-fiction is regularly making $50,000 a year and has been for several years. No, I won't give you his name.

I admit that several self-published books are crappy -- mostly because some writers have such huge egos that they don't ask for or accept help with grammar or anything else. Some of those books haven't even been run through Spellcheck. True! For me, I contact beta readers on AW before I even consider publishing a book. I tell them that I will probably self-publish so it's up to the beta reader if he or she wants to spend time on my writing. That's only fair after all. What amazes me is that I've used a few of the same beta readers, and they have no problem giving me feedback. I also offer myself as a beta reader here. (Please, no requests as I'm backed up with novels after I had computer problems recently.)

I am very happy being a self-published author. The satisfaction of getting good reviews makes up for any damning comments I read around about self-publishing.

My first efforts at making covers were dismal. My third was made by a friend who knew what he was doing. The first two are being redone, and a few typos corrected, so they will be re-released soon.

My books are available in paperback and as ebooks. They're available all over the world and in on-line sites I'd never heard of before. That's much better than having manscripts sitting around in boxes.

I see some traditional publishers in trouble, and I think it's about time. For too long, they've lorded it over us. Also, I've read a few books lately produced by a few of the 'biggies' and I can tell they've cut down on their editing costs. When I read books they published and, half way through one, a female character suddenly becomes a male . . . or I find loads of typos and spelling errors, I have to ask myself how they are better than self-published books.

Onwards and upwards. With self-publishing the future is rosy.

veinglory
05-04-2011, 09:29 PM
How do you know how many books that are on these platforms are self-published?

I see a lot of self-publisher work in Kindle YA and erotica, not so much elsewhere.

And it does seem to me that people only on Lulu or some other non-platform should still 'count' somehow. because the issue with self-publishing is that it's success is closely linked to how capable one is of being a 'publisher' (i.e. knowing what to do to reach customers)

KevinMcLaughlin
05-04-2011, 09:30 PM
And yet, 25-50 individual books represents a miniscule percentage of the total of self-published books in any of these genres. All your posts are doing is proving just how little chance a self-published author has of 'doing well' (which you still haven't defined despite my repeated requests that you do so).

And for kicks, I just looked at the top 20 for paid Kindle sales for fiction.
(snip)
Two of those are self-published, down from three this time last week, which was down from something like ten a month ago.

And just for kicks - 39 of the top 100 fiction bestsellers are self published right now. ;) Assuming I didn't miss any - I think I spotted most of them, though.

Big publishing is still dominating the very top, barring the occasional runaway break. But the overall field is very split at this point.

As for defining "doing well" - how do you define it? I think most folks define it differently. All I was saying in the post you quoted was that self publishing seems to be doing OK, competition-wise, holding as many top brackets as it does.

scope
05-04-2011, 09:31 PM
I see no evidence pointing to a reason why we should take as gospel any source that reports sales of SP'ed ebooks. I mean Amazon's numbers for anything have always been incredibly vague, secreted, complex, and a basic joke. So why should I believe anything they say about ebook sales? And while I won't stick up for the NY Times list, where's the evidence that there reported numbers are inaccurte? Perhaps we should slow down and wait for an accurate source of info to be developed--if it's developed at all--and take everything else with a grain of salt.

veinglory
05-04-2011, 09:33 PM
I still think people know that the Amazon rank number is based on sales volume and a top 1000 rank in a general category like fiction means a lot of sales.

Besides, no matter how it is calculated it is applied equally to each book and so a reasonable basis of comparison.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-04-2011, 09:40 PM
I see no evidence pointing to a reason why we should take as gospel any source that reports sales of SP'ed ebooks. I mean Amazon's numbers for anything have always been incredibly vague, secreted, complex, and a basic joke. So why should I believe anything they say about ebook sales? And while I won't stick up for the NY Times list, where's the evidence that there reported numbers are inaccurte? Perhaps we should slow down and wait for an accurate source of info to be developed--if it's developed at all--and take everything else with a grain of salt.

No, Scope's got a good point. I mean, especially with the recent reports of some major publishers underreporting ebook sales to their authors by as much as 90%, and reporting print sales *less* than the number of sales Bookscan is reporting (which should be only 50-70% of the total).

Unfortunately, the numbers are fairly unreliable pretty much everywhere you look, right now. It is wise to be cautious of any number a corporation is throwing at you, and verify as best you can yourself.

movieman
05-04-2011, 09:45 PM
And yet, 25-50 individual books represents a miniscule percentage of the total of self-published books in any of these genres.

Only 100 books can be in the top 100.

And 99% of self-published ebooks I've looked at are barely readable, so the number that could get in the bestseller lists is far less than the number that are available.

Roger J Carlson
05-04-2011, 10:05 PM
And just for kicks - 39 of the top 100 fiction bestsellers are self published right now. ;) I'm getting confused by the definitions, sources, and numbers thrown around here. Are you saying:
According to Amazon, 39 of the top 100 all fiction bestsellers are self published.
According to Amazon, 39 of the top 100 ebook fiction bestsellers are self published.
According to <some other source>, 39 of the top 100 fiction bestsellers (print and/or ebook) are self published.
Can you provide a link to the figures you quote?

James D. Macdonald
05-04-2011, 10:14 PM
New York Times Combined Print and E-book Best Seller List (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2011-05-08/combined-print-and-e-book-fiction/list.html) (fiction)

New York Times Combined Print and E-book Best Seller List (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2011-05-08/combined-print-and-e-book-nonfiction/list.html)(non-fiction)

New York Times E-book Best Seller List (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2011-05-08/e-book-fiction/list.html) (fiction)

New York Times E-book Best Seller List (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2011-05-08/e-book-nonfiction/list.html) (non-fiction)

shadowwalker
05-04-2011, 10:26 PM
I've given up trying to make sense of the numbers. It seems to depend on which site one looks at, which list on that site - and some sort of algor-something that determines who sold what. It would be nice just to see "Number of books sold". Period.

Amazon lists 275,087 fiction ebooks (as of a few minutes ago :tongue). So the top 100 is less than 4% of those. So that's cool for whomever is in that group. But what about the rest of those books? Who are the authors and how did they publish and what's their "standing" in all of that? Then add in all the other ebook sellers. Monumental task (and probably impossible) but until we look at the whole picture (or at least a representative snapshot) the numbers (from either SP or commercial or small press) don't really tell me anything, other than these are the numbers people like to toss around because it suits their side of the 'argument', whichever side that happens to be.

Terie
05-04-2011, 10:27 PM
As for defining "doing well" - how do you define it?

Like this:


As you say, 'well' is impossible to define and will be different for every person, but I think there's a point at which we can all agree. For example, let's take the person I quoted earlier who (at the time of her OP) was selling one book a day. To some people, that might be considered selling well; I'll frankly admit that none of my commercially published books sell even one per day, and if they started to do so, I'd be happy at this point.

But nown let's look at how much time that person was spending self-promoting to get those one-per-day sales: two to three hours. After her full-time job. She made $.50 per sale, and was spending two to three hours per day to earn that. As she herself said, that comes out to less that $.25 per hour.

To put it another way, let's say someone is earning $15 per hour at their day job. In my view, their work time is, therefore, worth $15 per hour. If that same person is spending two hours per day self-promoting their work, they'd need to be selling $30 (profit) to make that work break even. At $.50 per book, that's 60 books. In those circumstances, I would personally judge that selling 60 books per day was NOT selling 'well' due to the amount of time being spent to generate those sales. If they'd never self-published the book and were not spending two hours per day self-promoting it, they'd be getting exactly the same thing. If a commercially published author, who didn't have to do anything publishing related other than work on their next book, was selling 60 books per day, they'd be doing it without having to spend those two hours per day.

Okay, this is a theoretical difference, I realise that. But I was raised to believe that time is money. If you're not getting sufficient recompense for your time spent doing something, it's not worth doing it. This isn't to say that money is the only recompense. For someone who enjoys doing all the self-promotion, their enjoyment could be sufficient recompense, as is reading, eating, gardening, and all the other things we do in our leisure time that we enjoy. But for someone who can't stand self-promotion, it's pure work, and why should they do it if they're not making the sales to recompense them adequately?

In the case of the example I quoted above, the hope is that sales will improve to make that expenditure of time worthwhile. Furthermore, how many future sales will have to be made to recompense all those hours spent at first? And there's no guarantee that sales will rise; the book could, sadly, peak at two or three per day, then fade away. (I certainly hope not, but it's a very realistic possibility.)

At the same time, a commercially published author got an advance and is already starting out in the plus column.

All this to say: 'selling well' ought to be defined as selling reasonably more than the effort effort required to get those sales. If I'm spending two hours a day doing it, I'd damn well better be either earning back a lot more than my current hourly wage (which is substantially more than $15 per hour) or else having an awfully good time doing the work.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-04-2011, 11:07 PM
I'm getting confused by the definitions, sources, and numbers thrown around here. Are you saying:

According to Amazon, 39 of the top 100 ebook fiction bestsellers are self published.

Can you provide a link to the figures you quote?

That one. Actually, not "according to Amazon". At the time I posted, 39 of the top 100 bestselling fiction ebooks on Amazon were self published. It's usually sitting in the high 30s somewhere, has been for the last two months, although the books have varied.

Link. (http://www.amazon.com/Fiction-eBooks-Kindle/b/ref=amb_link_355831402_6?ie=UTF8&node=157028011&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=left-1&pf_rd_r=0H935K40VA2S0MQJE525&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1296854122&pf_rd_i=1286228011)

KevinMcLaughlin
05-04-2011, 11:25 PM
Like this:

OK, $15 an hour. We can work with that. Please keep in mind, everything here is entirely hypothetical. Plug in YOUR numbers, not THESE numbers.

You write a book. It is 60k words long. It took you sixty hours to outline and write the draft. It took you another 60 to revise based on some beta reader thoughts. That's 120 hours or $1800 you owe yourself.

You then sent it to a copy editor, who proofread it for $250.

You make a cover, which takes four hours and you pay $10 for some base art to modify. Total cost $70.

You upload the book, which includes a $10 fee to get an ISBN registered to your publishing company on Smashwords.

Costs so far: $2150

Over the month following release, you spend twenty hours doing targeted advertising via social networking and forums. Since these are taking time away from writing, they cost your company money; cost, $300.

For month two and three, you spend five hours a month keeping some minimal mention of the book going, continuing to send copies to reviewers, etc. All free stuff, but time is money: $75.

By month four, your next book is due out and you're promoting that instead (new balance sheet). Sales of that work should help sales of your past work as well.

Total costs? $2525
Your book is selling for $3.99. You make $2.80 a sale. You need to sell 901 copies of the book over its lifetime to break even on your costs, including time spent (although personally, I think you're underpaying yourself - I use $50 an hour in my own calculations).

The big problem - and this is a problem for big publishers as well as small ones - is figuring out how long it will sell. Or to put it another way, how fast you need to make back that money. There's just not enough data yet. Nor do sales follow predictable patterns. One book with a big early push might sell a couple thousand fast, then drop to fifty a month and stay there for years. Another might sell a couple dozen, then slowly build until the book is selling a thousand or more a month, and stay there for years. There's just not enough data collected to make reliable predictions.

But you can do a cost and profit analysis on each book over time. Look back over the last three years of sales, and determine if you made your target or not.

((((***Stressing this again - the above numbers are made up and not meant to be demonstrative of actual costs for a book. They might be radically different from your own costs. I know I would never consider a $15 an hour job successful, for myself. Plug in your numbers, do your own cost and profit analysis.***))))

KevinMcLaughlin
05-04-2011, 11:27 PM
New York Times Combined Print and E-book Best Seller List (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2011-05-08/combined-print-and-e-book-fiction/list.html) (fiction)

New York Times Combined Print and E-book Best Seller List (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2011-05-08/combined-print-and-e-book-nonfiction/list.html)(non-fiction)

New York Times E-book Best Seller List (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2011-05-08/e-book-fiction/list.html) (fiction)

New York Times E-book Best Seller List (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2011-05-08/e-book-nonfiction/list.html) (non-fiction)

Which are, as was mentioned, demonstrably falsified and completely without credibility, yes.

veinglory
05-04-2011, 11:31 PM
Which are, as was mentioned, demonstrably falsified and completely without credibility, yes.

As was *asserted*--an assertion I would not agree with. Most estimates and brag lists have more than no value and less than perfect value--and are better than closing your eyes and throwing a dart if you want to get some idea of what is going on.

Books on those lists have, pretty clearly, achieved something in terms of sales volume.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-04-2011, 11:41 PM
As was *asserted*--an assertion I would not agree with. Most estimates and brag lists have more than no value and less than perfect value--and are better than closing your eyes and throwing a dart if you want to get some idea of what is going on.

Books on those lists have, pretty clearly, achieved something in terms of sales volume.

Math doesn't really require one to agree with it. It just is. *shrug*

But yes, the NYT listed books have certainly achieved something in terms of sales volume. No fault of those books or those writers that the NYT is misrepresenting the data by leaving the rest of the bestsellers off their list.

scope
05-05-2011, 12:08 AM
I still think people know that the Amazon rank number is based on sales volume and a top 1000 rank in a general category like fiction means a lot of sales.

Besides, no matter how it is calculated it is applied equally to each book and so a reasonable basis of comparison.

Yes, but we all know that Amazon's sale of one or two books dramatically effects the sales rank number. Just today, on Amazon, two copies of an old book of mine were sold and it's rank went from 155,000 to 35,000.

jnfr
05-05-2011, 12:26 AM
I've given up trying to make sense of the numbers. It seems to depend on which site one looks at, which list on that site - and some sort of algor-something that determines who sold what. It would be nice just to see "Number of books sold". Period.

Amazon lists 275,087 fiction ebooks (as of a few minutes ago :tongue). So the top 100 is less than 4% of those. So that's cool for whomever is in that group. But what about the rest of those books?

While numbers would be nice to have for the sake of discussion, they really don't matter to me. I don't worry about the thousands of books that will never sell more than a few copies, any more than I worried about other writers who were submitting to commercial publishers at the same time I was.

All I can worry about is my own work, making it as good as it can be, and doing what I can to get it to readers who might enjoy it. I have to choose for my own circumstances, and the state of publishing as a whole is secondary to that.

Sheryl Nantus
05-05-2011, 12:33 AM
Math doesn't really require one to agree with it. It just is. *shrug*

But yes, the NYT listed books have certainly achieved something in terms of sales volume. No fault of those books or those writers that the NYT is misrepresenting the data by leaving the rest of the bestsellers off their list.

So, to be clear - you're saying that all the bestseller lists that don't include self-pubs are intentionally leaving them out in a conspiracy to hide how well self-pubs are doing.

Is this in the wrong thread?

;)

Terie
05-05-2011, 12:38 AM
Total costs? $2525 (snip)

The big problem - and this is a problem for big publishers as well as small ones - is figuring out how long it will sell. Or to put it another way, how fast you need to make back that money. There's just not enough data yet. Nor do sales follow predictable patterns. One book with a big early push might sell a couple thousand fast, then drop to fifty a month and stay there for years. Another might sell a couple dozen, then slowly build until the book is selling a thousand or more a month, and stay there for years. There's just not enough data collected to make reliable predictions.

Kevin, the big problem that you keep ignoring is that any sales AT ALL are purely speculative. You keep talking as if good sales will follow and the only unknown is the curve, but the bottom line is that very very few self-published authors are selling more than a handful of books. The vast majority of authors will NOT earn back that (hypothetical) $2,525.

Yes, the handful of self-published authors doing really and truly 'well' by anyone's standards is bigger than ever before, but it's still only a handful.

I remember when my dad explained to my teenage self about increases in profits. Energy prices were skyrocketing, and the local gas and electric company had just posted a 100% increase in profits. I said, 'See, that proves it that they're ripping everyone off.'

My dad said, 'You can't say that just because of the profit increase. If their profit last year was five cents, and this year they made ten cents, that's a 100% increase, but it isn't very meaningful.' Sure, he aknowledged that the G&E company certainly hadn't made a mere five cents in profits the previous year; he was using the analogy to teach me about how statistics can be skewed.

And that applies equally well to self-publishing right now. A year ago, a teensy tiny number of self-pubbed authors were doing 'well'. Today it's probably ten or maybe even twenty times that number. But the number is still incredibly small.

Pretending otherwise to yourself is fine; but continually making posts as if anyone who gets their manuscript edited and gets a good cover will automatically do well is just plain deceptive.

movieman
05-05-2011, 12:50 AM
You keep talking as if good sales will follow and the only unknown is the curve, but the bottom line is that very very few self-published authors are selling more than a handful of books.

But 99% of self-published ebook novels I've looked at are so bad that they're lucky to sell a handful of copies, and self-publishing fiction in print has been a losing proposition for decades.

The first two things you need to be a successful author are books that people want to buy and an efficient means of distributing them so people can buy them. Most self-published fiction authors fail one of those two requirements, and some fail both.

I'm not surprised by how small a percentage of self-published writers are making reasonable amounts of money, but by how many are out of the 1% of books which are actually worth buying.

Terie
05-05-2011, 12:52 AM
Math doesn't really require one to agree with it. It just is. *shrug*

But yes, the NYT listed books have certainly achieved something in terms of sales volume. No fault of those books or those writers that the NYT is misrepresenting the data by leaving the rest of the bestsellers off their list.

Funny how you say that. Here's the Amazon list of a few hours ago:


Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
Dead Reckoning: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel, Charlaine Harris
10th Anniversary, James Patterson, Maxine Paetro
The Lincoln Lawyer: A Novel, Michael Connelly
Something Borrowed, Emily Giffin
The Throne of Fire, Rick Riordan
Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, Todd Burpo et al
Bossypants, Tina Fey
Vegas Moon (A Donovan Creed Novel), John Locke
The Sixth Man, David Baldacci
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
The New York Times
Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography, Rob Lowe
A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One, George R.R. Martin
The Paris Wife: A Novel, Paula McLain
No Time Left, David Baldacci
The Fifth Witness, Michael Connelly
Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games), Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games), Suzanne Collins


And here's the NYT bestselling e-book list:


WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen
THE SIXTH MAN, by David Baldacci
THE LINCOLN LAWYER, by Michael Connelly
SOMETHING BORROWED, by Emily Giffin
THE FIFTH WITNESS, by Michael Connelly
EVE, by Iris Johansen
A GAME OF THRONES, by George R. R. Martin
THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett
CHASING FIRE, by Nora Roberts
THE PARIS WIFE, by Paula McLain
I'LL WALK ALONE, by Mary Higgins Clark
THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETíS NEST, by Stieg Larsson
QUICKSILVER, by Amanda Quick
MYSTERY, by Jonathan Kellerman
LOVE YOU MORE, by Lisa Gardner
THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson
SOMETHING BLUE, by Emily Giffin
SAVE ME, by Lisa Scottoline
44 CHARLES STREET, by Danielle Steel
THE LAND OF THE PAINTED CAVES, by Jean M. Auel


(bolded books appear on both lists)

Considering how different the sources are for these lists, they have a remarkable number of shared titles.

Pesky ol' facts.

dgaughran
05-05-2011, 02:46 AM
Maybe there is another way to look at this.

I sold 17 books at a steady pace in the last 24 hours, Amazon US, all one title.
I climbed the rankings pretty steadily (I had sold 3 the day before).

I peaked at just outside #5000 overall ranking for the Kindle Store. That means, that there was 5000 products in the Kindle Store selling greater at a rate of 17 a day.

17 a day is a reasonable amount, if something could maintain that average for a year, they would sell over 6,000.

That's only on Amazon US.

That's only for one title.

I think it's safe to say there are a lot of successful people out there. The question is, how many of those 5000 are e-books, and how many are self-published?

That, I don't know.

On the other point re costs and what not, my short story cost $90 to put up. Today was the first full day it was on sale. If I have 9 days like today I will cover my costs (bar time). I am an unknown, unpublished writer.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-05-2011, 02:46 AM
Funny how you say that. Here's the Amazon list of a few hours ago:
(snipped)

Considering how different the sources are for these lists, they have a remarkable number of shared titles.

Pesky ol' facts.

Never denied that most of the top seats are still being held, most of the time, by big publishers. That's a fact, and anyone who scans those lists periodically can tell that. But a couple of other "pesky ol' facts":

- NYT did list one self published book briefly, back when they first started their ebook bestseller list. They took it down as soon as they realized it was self published. (Edit: Unsure if they've listed any others since, only heard of that one.)

- They specifically state at the bottom of their chart (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/e-book-fiction/list.html)that self published books are excluded.

- The top 100 ebooks have consistently had over a third of the spots held by self published books for over two months now.

I won't speculate on their rationale for some bestsellers being fit to list while others are not. But it's biased reporting, and undermines their credibility as any sort of reliable source of data on the subject.

scope
05-05-2011, 02:47 AM
.... but the bottom line is that very very few self-published authors are selling more than a handful of books. The vast majority of authors will NOT earn back that (hypothetical) $2,525.

Yes, the handful of self-published authors doing really and truly 'well' by anyone's standards is bigger than ever before, but it's still only a handful.

A year ago, a teensy tiny number of self-pubbed authors were doing 'well'. Today it's probably ten or maybe even twenty times that number. But the number is still incredibly small.


For what it's worth, I completely agree.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-05-2011, 03:06 AM
Kevin, the big problem that you keep ignoring is that any sales AT ALL are purely speculative. You keep talking as if good sales will follow and the only unknown is the curve, but the bottom line is that very very few self-published authors are selling more than a handful of books. The vast majority of authors will NOT earn back that (hypothetical) $2,525.

Vast majority of writers won't earn anything no matter how they want to publish. Most of that expense was in the time spent making the book - the actual cash output involved in publishing an ebook is dwarfed by the cash value of the time spent writing a book regardless which publishing route you take. And that's not including scores of hours spent researching agents and learning to write good query letters (which admittedly is mostly an initial investment - once learned, easily maintained, but is still a cost).

Point is, most of the expense of making a book is shared by both self published writers and writers targeting the agent/publisher model. The odds of making back the couple hundred bucks of actual cash spent on self publishing (even w/ mostly sales to family and friends) is pretty decent. So the expense is mostly an even deal between the two.

The risk is mostly tied up in the effort spent on writing and revising the book. That's a huge risk, yes. Most people will put in that effort and never be financially repaid for that, yes. Either route. Does that mean you think that no one should try to write professionally, because the odds suck?


Yes, the handful of self-published authors doing really and truly 'well' by anyone's standards is bigger than ever before, but it's still only a handful.
Looked at that way, only a handful of people make a living at writing books anyway. I mean, it's only a few thousand people, and probably only a few hundred of them self publish for that income. Out of literally hundreds of thousands of people who write books each year; not good odds.

You're right. Give up now. Less books competing with mine. ;)


And that applies equally well to self-publishing right now. A year ago, a teensy tiny number of self-pubbed authors were doing 'well'. Today it's probably ten or maybe even twenty times that number. But the number is still incredibly small.
Do you have a reference for that? Citation anywhere? 'Cause I'm looking at ebooks selling $90 million or more a month (http://infodocket.com/2011/04/16/aap-publishers-february-2011-sales-report-popularity-of-books-in-digital-platforms-continues-to-grow/), and self published books representing a big fraction of all the fiction bestseller lists. That math looks pretty good to me.


Pretending otherwise to yourself is fine; but continually making posts as if anyone who gets their manuscript edited and gets a good cover will automatically do well is just plain deceptive.
Never once said that. Need to write a good story first. ;)

Still not automatic, even then. But the odds are pretty good. Better, I suspect (and challenge you to find stats saying otherwise) than the odds of publishing via the agent/publisher route.

scope
05-05-2011, 03:28 AM
- NYT did list one self published book briefly, back when they first started their ebook bestseller list. They took it down as soon as they realized it was self published. (Edit: Unsure if they've listed any others since, only heard of that one.)

- They specifically state at the bottom of their chart (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/e-book-fiction/list.html)that self published books are excluded.

- I won't speculate on their rationale for some bestsellers being fit to list while others are not.

Trying to be as objective as I can, I can't deny that many outfits never have and still don't recognize self published books, paper or ebooks. Nothing new about that, and I imagine they take that position for a number of reasons, including a founded belief that anyone can self publish without any "professional" vetting by agents, editors, and trade publishers, and that 99% of what's self published is junk--in a variety of ways. Sure those who take such a position may have other agendas, but I don't think we can or should deny what we know to be true. That doesn't mean that a writer should dismiss self publishing, although it might be wise to do so (I realize many here disagree with me, but again, at best they are amongst the handful), or that I or anyone else knows what the next 5-10 years has in store for us.

I understand the desire some my have to rush to publication and how easy that is with self publishing, and that often we can make numbers say and mean what we want them to. But until I see otherwise I believe that the majority of that handful of excellent self published writers would in the long run make more money, have greater success, and be able to devote far more of their time to writing, and not have to, amongst other things, have the knowledge and abiltiy to run a business.

But.....we will see in the years to come.

kaitie
05-05-2011, 04:06 AM
Kevin, the risk isn't in my losing money because I took time to write. I have plenty of hobbies that don't pay anything and I don't consider that time lost because I wasn't working. So it might mean that instead of playing a video game for two hours I wrote. I'm substituting one activity I wouldn't have gotten paid for for another. Yes, you could argue that I could be making money with that, but I haven't lost money unless I'm quitting work to write.

On the other hand, if I have to pay an editor and cover artist, etc. in order to have my book published, then I have lost something. That's a risk, IMO.

James D. Macdonald
05-05-2011, 04:36 AM
- NYT did list one self published book briefly, back when they first started their ebook bestseller list. They took it down as soon as they realized it was self published. (Edit: Unsure if they've listed any others since, only heard of that one.)

- They specifically state at the bottom of their chart (http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/e-book-fiction/list.html)that self published books are excluded.



That's odd, given that I count four (out of 35) self-published e-books on the NYT E-book fiction best-seller list that I linked to:

DIARY OF A MAD FAT GIRL, by Stephanie McAfee. (Stephanie McAfee.)
LETHAL PEOPLE, by John Locke (Telemachus)
THE SPELL, by Heather Killough-Walden (Heather Killough-Walden)
HER LAST LETTER, by Nancy C. Johnson (Penwyck)

(They also state, in that same block of text, that crossword puzzle books aren't actively tracked. Are there a lot of e-published crossword puzzle books?)

shadowwalker
05-05-2011, 04:47 AM
... if something could maintain that average for a year, they would sell over...

It's the if that seems to be a catchword for self-publishers. Saying if this happens does not mean it will happen. And yet many (not saying you, specifically, because I can't recall that you have) keep drawing conclusions as if this were a given. Like one month's sales means they can quit their day job.

If I win the lottery tomorrow...

dgaughran
05-05-2011, 05:18 AM
It's the if that seems to be a catchword for self-publishers. Saying if this happens does not mean it will happen. And yet many (not saying you, specifically, because I can't recall that you have) keep drawing conclusions as if this were a given. Like one month's sales means they can quit their day job.

If I win the lottery tomorrow...

I take your point shadowwalker, but I would also bet that those top 5000 don't completely change every day.

I could see as I was approaching the 5000 mark that you had to be consistently selling every hour to break in. That kind of sales pattern doesn't appear and disappear in an instant.

jnfr
05-05-2011, 05:54 AM
The history remains to be written, but I do think there are outlets now for self-publishing that are far more promising than ever before.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-05-2011, 10:22 AM
That's odd, given that I count four (out of 35) self-published e-books on the NYT E-book fiction best-seller list that I linked to:

DIARY OF A MAD FAT GIRL, by Stephanie McAfee. (Stephanie McAfee.)
LETHAL PEOPLE, by John Locke (Telemachus)
THE SPELL, by Heather Killough-Walden (Heather Killough-Walden)
HER LAST LETTER, by Nancy C. Johnson (Penwyck)

(They also state, in that same block of text, that crossword puzzle books aren't actively tracked. Are there a lot of e-published crossword puzzle books?)
That is indeed odd. ;) Think this is a change of course for them, or just a quick nod? Wonder why they seem to be listing some books, but not others? Interesting stuff.

Sorry if I perseverated about this a bit. I find "cooked" numbers especially frustrating because there are so few accurate numbers out there now for epublishing; deliberate misinformation just makes that worse.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-05-2011, 10:26 AM
It's the if that seems to be a catchword for self-publishers. Saying if this happens does not mean it will happen. And yet many (not saying you, specifically, because I can't recall that you have) keep drawing conclusions as if this were a given. Like one month's sales means they can quit their day job.

If I win the lottery tomorrow...

A better way to put it, in fact, is to say: I must make X sales over Y time in order to make back my expenses and make my planned profit in the time I have allotted.

This is a success/failure metric, one that's fundamental to business. Don't say "if I can sell X copies a month for Y years". Determine what the desired level of success is, the period you will allow that success to take place (or not), and go. At the end of the period, evaluate success or failure based on whether or not you met those goals.

Setting those goals is a little harder, because you have to know what sort of target numbers will be possible and practical. To some degree yeah, that's guesswork. You do your research and then make your best guess, just like every business from the smallest mom and pop to the biggest Fortune 500.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-05-2011, 10:33 AM
Kevin, the risk isn't in my losing money because I took time to write. I have plenty of hobbies that don't pay anything and I don't consider that time lost because I wasn't working. So it might mean that instead of playing a video game for two hours I wrote. I'm substituting one activity I wouldn't have gotten paid for for another. Yes, you could argue that I could be making money with that, but I haven't lost money unless I'm quitting work to write.

On the other hand, if I have to pay an editor and cover artist, etc. in order to have my book published, then I have lost something. That's a risk, IMO.

Well, yes. But if you look at it that way you're paying $250 for copy editing and $100 for a cover, for one book a year, well, a lot of folks spend much more than that on their hobbies, too.

Here's why I used the time investment, and why I think writers (who want to make money writing) should. If you are or want to be a professional writer, your time spent writing is an investment in your writing business. You are logging hours, just like any other self employed person, even if you're not yet getting a paycheck from it. Count (at least roughly) the hours spent on a project. Without those hours, you'll never be able to realistically figure out what the return on that investment of time was. It also encourages productive use of time instead of daydreaming when you're supposed to be writing, because you're "on the clock". ;)

Old Hack
05-05-2011, 10:39 AM
A sound business plan would say "If I sell X number of copies per month for X period of time then I would achieve X and here is how I'm going to achieve it, and why I think it's achieveable."

That last bit is really important. It requires research, proof and an understanding of business, statistics and marketing. It's what most people seem to ignore, but it's the bit that makes the difference between businesses succeeding or failing.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-05-2011, 10:45 AM
Yup, completely agree. Unless you're doing good research, and are basing your plans (and yes, your guesses) on the best information you can acquire, you're setting yourself up for failure. In any business.

Medievalist
05-05-2011, 11:06 AM
Well, yes. But if you look at it that way you're paying $250 for copy editing and $100 for a cover, for one book a year, well, a lot of folks spend much more than that on their hobbies, too.

I would be deeply ashamed at paying a professional copy editor or proofer such horribly low rates. I'd be equally ashamed to pay a graphic artist or designer so poorly.

Their time is worth as much as mine.

Terie
05-05-2011, 11:20 AM
I would be deeply ashamed at paying a professional copy editor or proofer such horribly low rates. I'd be equally ashamed to pay a graphic artist or designer so poorly.

Their time is worth as much as mine.

Also, 'you get what you pay for'. I wouldn't trust the quality of work at such low rates, particularly copyediting at $250 for a complete manuscript.

I'm proofreading a set of manuscripts right now for a self-publishing project. I'm not charging for it, because the author, who was a beloved friend, is deceased and her husband is self-publishing the books to give as gifts to her friends and family, with any income that happens to come in going to the charitable fund he established in her name. If I charged my usual proofreading rate, it would be several thousand pounds, but for this situation, I consider my work a donation and am giving it as a gift to my dear, now-departed friend and her lovely husband.

If I ever decide to self-publish something, I will pay fair rates for the services I hire, because I want the job done right, and because I'd also want to support another person's small business.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-05-2011, 12:21 PM
If I ever decide to self-publish something, I will pay fair rates for the services I hire, because I want the job done right, and because I'd also want to support another person's small business.

"Fair" is what the professional is asking for. If someone quotes me $4000 to fix my roof, I don't feel a need to offer him $8000 because I think he's charging too little (although checking his references would make sense, of course!).

Also, remember that the quality of your work will impact copy edit costs greatly. If they're correcting one error every page or so, vs an error every third sentence, your costs will probably be very different. Producing clean copy in the first place is vital for keeping editing costs down, and a good skill for indie writers to learn.

Terie
05-05-2011, 01:41 PM
"Fair" is what the professional is asking for. If someone quotes me $4000 to fix my roof, I don't feel a need to offer him $8000 because I think he's charging too little (although checking his references would make sense, of course!).

Or perhaps your definition of 'professional copyediting' is different from mine. No professional copyeditor of my acquaintance (and, um, I'm actually a high-level tech writer with almost 25 years experience in the field, so I know lots of editors of all sorts, both corporate and freelance) would charge $250 to copyedit a manuscript, not even one as clean as mine typically are. (To give you an idea of how clean my work is, the last book of my YA series had exactly 12 copyedit changes, and I'm sure the copyeditor's salary for the time she spent working on my manuscript was more than $250.)

By the way, are your own self-published works doing 'well' by your own definition, that is, earning you more than $50 per hour of your non-writing work time associated with the publication after paying your costs? I'm not including writing time, because that's always done 'on spec' and something that we presumably do because we love it and would do it even if we knew we'd never sell it. I'm only asking about the time you've spent as the publisher, doing the tasks a commercial publisher would do. Have you earned back your hard costs? Are you making more than $50 per hour as a publisher? Are your own self-published books doing 'well'?

Old Hack
05-05-2011, 05:15 PM
Also, most manuscripts need a lot more than a swift copyedit: they need structural edits first, which are a lot more expensive as they're so time-consuming to do properly.

Sheryl Nantus
05-05-2011, 05:36 PM
Also, most manuscripts need a lot more than a swift copyedit: they need structural edits first, which are a lot more expensive as they're so time-consuming to do properly.

Yep. My editor caught a few timeline problems and character oopsies and made the book so much better for pointing them out to me.

I have no problem in saying that all my books would be much less successful and much less enjoyable if I had just gotten them copyedited and tossed them out there.

But then, I'm just a poor commercial author who can't afford to self-pub my novels.

;)

James D. Macdonald
05-05-2011, 05:50 PM
That is indeed odd. ;) Think this is a change of course for them, or just a quick nod? Wonder why they seem to be listing some books, but not others? Interesting stuff.



I think that the block of text...


Among the categories not actively tracked at this time are: perennial sellers, required classroom reading, textbooks, reference and test preparation guides, journals, workbooks, calorie counters, shopping guides, comics, crossword puzzles and self-published books....migrated intact from their print-book list.

The reason self-published books generally would not be actively tracked would have been because of poor distribution: Even if they found a marvelous book and raved about it, readers wouldn't be likely to be able to obtain a copy. That isn't a consideration with e-published books.

As to why some books are listed and not others, I suspect that the availability of data varies.

jnfr
05-05-2011, 06:26 PM
I've never in my life made $50/hour. I guess I've never been successful. But at least that frees me to have lower expectations, and to take chances that might not pay as well.

Terie
05-05-2011, 06:45 PM
I've never in my life made $50/hour. I guess I've never been successful. But at least that frees me to have lower expectations, and to take chances that might not pay as well.

That question was targeted directly to Kevin, who specified profits covering $50 per hour of work would be what he considered to be 'doing well'. I'd probably say the same, because that's closer to what I make on my day job. My hypothetical use of $15 per hour in my earlier posts was to reflect something a little closer to an 'average' hourly wage.

The point I'm trying to make is that spending a lot of time doing non-writing work that results in a miniscule hourly wage is only worth doing if one actually enjoys performing those tasks. For example, most of us would write even if we never sold anything, so we do that for the pleasure of it. An effective hourly wage is irrelevant.

But if one decides to self-publish and therefore takes on the job of being a publisher, one should make a reasonable wage to recompense for the work. $.25 per hour isn't sufficient to get me to do two hours of work every day after my day job. For me personally, $15 per hour isn't enough, either. $50 per hour would. So if I spent two hours per day doing self-promotional and other non-writing work, I need to be selling enough books to earn $100 per day. If I had a Kindle book that earned me royalties of $2 per book, I'd have to be selling 50 per day for it to be 'worth it'. And 'worth it' is less than 'doing well'.

These definitions are different for everyone. Would you be happy with a wage of $10 per hour of non-writing work? How many books would you have to sell to earn $10 per hour? If you spend two hours per day, five days per week, and it leads to only $5 per hour, how long before you would stop? Would you consider $5 per hour 'doing well'? Heck, a minimum wage job earns more than that (though probably isn't as enjoyable), and few people think that having a minimum wage job is 'doing well'.

The point I'm trying to make is that someone in a forum like this stating 'self-published books do well in the marketplace' without any kind of numbers to back up such a claim isn't helpful to people trying to make a decision.

What's helpful to do is to devise a business plan that quantifies what you consider to be successful, what you are willing to do to reach that, how likely it is, and so on.

For me to think I was successful and 'doing well' with self-published books, I'd have to make enough money to be able to quit my day job; at $2 per book in royalties, I'd have to have several books consistently in the top 100. There are some self-published authors doing that, and kudos to them...it's fantastic! But how likely is it for a given writer? Not very. Possible, yes, but not enough to quit my day job on.

movieman
05-05-2011, 07:07 PM
The point I'm trying to make is that someone in a forum like this stating 'self-published books do well in the marketplace' without any kind of numbers to back up such a claim isn't helpful to people trying to make a decision.

Assuming the claim that 39 out of Amazon's top 100 ebooks are self-published is correct, they would seem to be selling well. My question would be whether they're $0.99 cheapies and therefore not making much money compared to the high-priced trade publisher ebooks on that list, or are actually making as much in royalties as the competition.


What's helpful to do is to devise a business plan that quantifies what you consider to be successful, what you are willing to do to reach that, how likely it is, and so on.How can you expect individuals to do that when even long established trade publishers seem unable to figure out whether a book will sell well?

The business plan for most self-publishers seems to be 'I'll put some books up and try to sell them and if I make enough money I'll quit my day job to write full time'. I don't really see a problem with that, given how much luck is involved regardless of whether your books are on the shelf in a bookstore or are ebooks on Amazon; the only thing you can do is write a good book and try to get people to look at it.


For me to think I was successful and 'doing well' with self-published books, I'd have to make enough money to be able to quit my day job; at $2 per book in royalties, I'd have to have several books consistently in the top 100.In which case, you'd need at least as many books in the top 100 to do that going through a trade publisher, because your royalties would probably be less than $2 a book. Given that we're fairly sure that at least some thousands of people make a living from writing novels for trade publishers and they can't all have multiple novels in the top 100, clearly something is wrong with this picture (one possibility is that print books make much more money than ebooks, but recent sales numbers imply that's not the case).

Terie
05-05-2011, 07:39 PM
In which case, you'd need at least as many books in the top 100 to do that going through a trade publisher, because your royalties would probably be less than $2 a book. Given that we're fairly sure that at least some thousands of people make a living from writing novels for trade publishers and they can't all have multiple novels in the top 100, clearly something is wrong with this picture (one possibility is that print books make much more money than ebooks, but recent sales numbers imply that's not the case).

I was talking about the top 100 sellers of self-pubbed e-books -- the context of this conversation is self-publishing, not commercial publishing. There is a small handful of self-published authors who, in the last several months, have boosted their income enough to quit their day jobs and are doing exceedingly well indeed.

This undeniable fact is being lauded over and Over and OVER (here and elsewhere) as the new paradigm of publishing: 'Self-published books are doing well in the marketplace.' Yep, a few dozen certainly are. Mankind is exploring outer space, too, but it doesn't mean that everyone with a telescope can expect to become an astronaut.

scope
05-05-2011, 07:40 PM
How can you expect individuals to do that when even long established trade publishers seem unable to figure out whether a book wiourll sell well?

The business plan for most self-publishers seems to be 'I'll put some books up and try to sell them and if I make enough money I'll quit my day job to write full time'.


To help achieve any goal it helps to have a plan. While it doesn't guarantee success, it's a measuring stick, and a whole lot better than pot-luck.

kaitie
05-05-2011, 07:59 PM
Yup, completely agree. Unless you're doing good research, and are basing your plans (and yes, your guesses) on the best information you can acquire, you're setting yourself up for failure. In any business.

And this is partly what I see with the problem of a lot of the online dialogue right now. If you read the news, they're saying "A good business plan is to put your book on kindle and you'll get rich!" Sure, research will show that it's not necessarily the case, but the big newspapers are all basically saying the same thing. Maybe not so directly, but they're saying it.

So you go online and you start looking, and you find Konrath's blog. Konrath says you need a good cover and an editor, and while he occasionally says that he's referring only to books that are well-written, much of his language sounds so inclusive (and you still have that issue of everyone thinks his book is well-written), and the message he's often giving is, "Don't publish traditionally because you'll get nowhere and if you want to be a success do this."

The biggest blogs out there right now, and the biggest names of the industry, seem to all be saying "Go do this it's easy and great and you'll make money."

That's what I mean when I say it's like the real estate gurus from five or six years ago. If you used to listen to those guys (and I did, and I used to read about why they were scams), they made it sound like this was an easy task and you could make a lot of money without much effort just by jumping into this plan.

Even with commercial publishing, there is so much misinformation out there that we're constantly correcting it here, right? And the problem is that this is so new that there just isn't much good information because it doesn't exist, and a lot of the big sites are playing the guru game.

Personally, I'd like to see people who want to encourage others to self-publish to put in the same caveats we see elsewhere. "This isn't going to be easy and a lot of people will fail. You might only sell a few copies. Are you okay with that? You need a good book. How do you know your book is good? Let people other than your mom read it. Get feedback. Edit over and over, then pay someone to edit it again, then rewrite again. You need a good cover, and that requires investment or a lot of skill. A bad cover will kill your book. Also having a scantily clad woman on your cover probably wouldn't hurt." :tongue

But you know what I mean? Of course people should do the research, but there is so much evangelizing over how great the medium is that real information on how to accomplish it and what it takes and how to know if it's a good business decision or not are limited.

There are consequences to every action. If I take a huge advance from a commercial publisher, that's a risky bet because if I don't sell many copies I'm screwed. It's a different kind of screwed from "I spent my savings having my book published and now I lost it all," but it's still screwed. I feel like the consequences should be part of the dialogue because they're part of risk assessment. You can't decide if you're making a good business choice or not unless you know all aspects.

Nothing is ever as easy as it looks, and if anyone tells you something is easy, they're probably trying to sell you something.

kaitie
05-05-2011, 08:12 PM
The business plan for most self-publishers seems to be 'I'll put some books up and try to sell them and if I make enough money I'll quit my day job to write full time'. I don't really see a problem with that, given how much luck is involved regardless of whether your books are on the shelf in a bookstore or are ebooks on Amazon; the only thing you can do is write a good book and try to get people to look at it.

The problem is that most of these are quick decisions and don't consider what it takes to succeed. Yes, the same thing happens with commercial publishing. You have people who send out queries, get lots of rejections, then rather than rewrite or revise or anything of that sort, blame the agents or whatever for not seeing their genius and get angry.

So let's say that in order to succeed at self-publishing, you need a good book, a good story, a good cover. We know that, right? Now, a lot of people seem to be just putting their books out there. We already have discussed that most of the books aren't very good.

So maybe what an author would need to consider is how to determine whether their book is good. They'd need to get a lot of crits, beta reads, have their work looked at in SYW. They'd need to take that crit that says, "You tell too much and need to show more" and do some research and spend some time learning how to do it, and then rewrite accordingly, then have it read again and repeat the process. And then when that's been done several times and everyone agrees that the book is pretty well written and the story isn't filled with holes, they should go pay a content editor and a copy editor to spruce it up some more.

They need a good story, so that means researching other books in the field. Did you basically retell LOTR? Did you find out that your awesome clever way of telling your story is almost exactly like Dexter (so annoying) and you can't use it anymore? Did you write a book that goes so far in the opposite extreme that readers of the genre wouldn't like it? Did you follow every cliche in the book in terms of plot? Or did you make sure your romance ended with a HEA ending so you don't piss people off?

Then you need a good cover, but that goes beyond just image. Most of the self-published covers I've seen I wouldn't buy. I'm sorry, but it's true. Even some of the big famous guys have covers I cringe at, but I suppose they work for some people. So a business plan should involve paying an artist. But maybe it should also involve looking at the covers of other books in the genre that are selling well and trying to determine what characteristics they share. Similar font? Similar color schemes? Similar artwork? Should you have something that fits those? Then what about the blurb? Has that been read and critiqued? Because I'll tell you, I've seen some great covers with blurbs that are awkward, and I won't read past that. If a blurb is written awkwardly, the book probably is as well.

And a blurb is even more important than a query letter and probably just as hard to write (I've never done one). I've seen blurbs that are confusing because they try to tell too much or they don't tell enough, or ones that describe a series of events or characters that don't sound important and make me wonder what the story is about. Have a lot of people read and vetted the blurb to make it good?

I mean, this is all what should be going into business plans, right? And that hasn't even touched on marketing and promotion and how you'll get your book to stand out against the other 300,000 out there, right?

Yes, a lot of self-published authors seem to follow the rule of "I'll put it out and see what happens" but that is a problem. Yes, even the best laid plans aren't guaranteed to succeed. There are always outside factors that determine sales that are beyond the author's control, but don't you think plans should exist beyond just "Let's put it out there and see what happens?"

Don't authors think their work deserves better?

KevinMcLaughlin
05-05-2011, 08:23 PM
In which case, you'd need at least as many books in the top 100 to do that going through a trade publisher, because your royalties would probably be less than $2 a book. Given that we're fairly sure that at least some thousands of people make a living from writing novels for trade publishers and they can't all have multiple novels in the top 100, clearly something is wrong with this picture (one possibility is that print books make much more money than ebooks, but recent sales numbers imply that's not the case).


I was talking about the top 100 sellers of self-pubbed e-books -- the context of this conversation is self-publishing, not commercial publishing. There is a small handful of self-published authors who, in the last several months, have boosted their income enough to quit their day jobs and are doing exceedingly well indeed.
No, the context of this conversation is publishing. The top 100 self published ebooks are outselling over 99% of trade published ebooks right now (over 25,000 new trade ebooks published in the last month alone - top 100 self published ebooks outselling all but about 150 of them - the math is not hard).

If you're in the top 100 self published ebooks, you're about in the top 250 or so ebooks. Which puts you in the top fraction of a percent of ebook sales overall. Given that ebooks are a third of sales and rising, that's "pretty good".


This undeniable fact is being lauded over and Over and OVER (here and elsewhere) as the new paradigm of publishing: 'Self-published books are doing well in the marketplace.' Yep, a few dozen certainly are. Mankind is exploring outer space, too, but it doesn't mean that everyone with a telescope can expect to become an astronaut.
A few THOUSAND, Terie. A few thousand.

Terie
05-05-2011, 09:59 PM
No, the context of this conversation is publishing.

This thread is in the Self-Publishing and POD forum. Therefore, the context of the conversation is self-publishing not commercial publishing.



The top 100 self published ebooks are outselling over 99% of trade published ebooks right now....

Please cite a source for this claim.



A few THOUSAND, Terie. A few thousand.

Please cite a source for this claim.


Please review AGAIN the guidelines for this forum:


[LIST=1]Please check your facts before posting here. That means, don't believe everything you read on the internet (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=6019522&highlight=grisham#post6019522); don't try to disguise your opinions as fact; and don't make claims which you cannot verify. For example: if one more person states (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=3050999#post3050999) here that John Grisham self published (http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2009-06-21-john-grisham-a-time-to-kill_N.htm), my head will explode. There's a useful thread here about successful writers who are said to have self published (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=211703).

Roger J Carlson
05-05-2011, 10:11 PM
No The top 100 self published ebooks are outselling over 99% of trade published ebooks right now (over 25,000 new trade ebooks published in the last month alone - top 100 self published ebooks outselling all but about 150 of them - the math is not hard).You're comparing apples and oranges. To be a fair comparison you should:

Compare the sales of the top 100 self-published ebooks to the sales of the top 100 trade-published ebooks.
Compare the sales of all self-published ebooks to the sales of all trade-published ebooks.
Comparing the top of one category to the whole of another doesn't mean anything.

movieman
05-05-2011, 10:34 PM
I was talking about the top 100 sellers of self-pubbed e-books -- the context of this conversation is self-publishing, not commercial publishing.

I thought we were talking about the top 100 ebooks, and you were saying that you couldn't make a decent living if you didn't have several books in that top 100? I've reread what I replied to and it still seems to say that.

Given that ebooks are reportedly selling within a factor of three or four of paper books now, I don't see how you can claim that you'd need several books in the top 100 ebooks in order to make a living, yet we seem to accept that at least some thousands of people are making a living in trade publishing, which only sell a few times as many copies. They can't all consistently have several books in the top 100, or even the top 1000.


Self-published books are doing well in the marketplace.' Yep, a few dozen certainly are. Mankind is exploring outer space, too, but it doesn't mean that everyone with a telescope can expect to become an astronaut.If you believe that you need to be in the top 100 ebooks to be doing well, then by the same argument only a few dozen trade published books are doing well, because you can only fit 100 books in the top 100.

Again, assuming the numbers posted earlier are true, the fact remains that despite all the marketing muscle and connections trade publishers have, 39 spots in the top 100 ebooks are apparently held by self-published books. I find that quite amazing.

movieman
05-05-2011, 10:39 PM
Comparing the top of one category to the whole of another doesn't mean anything.

But people are effectively doing that when they compare trade published books to self-published ebooks, because the trade published books are from the top few percent of all novels being written. If trade publishers were to dump their entire slush pile into bookstores, you'd find that most books sold only a handful of copies and people would be saying that you could never make a living selling print books because 99% of them made less than $100.

Old Hack
05-05-2011, 10:40 PM
Moreover, for those statistics to be of any real use at all, we need to be able to look at two variables: the number of copies sold; and the price they're sold at (and so the amount of wonga the sales generate). Both variables can be said to prove that sales are "better", but they each prove different points.

scope
05-05-2011, 11:17 PM
Again, assuming the numbers posted earlier are true, the fact remains that despite all the marketing muscle and connections trade publishers have, 39 spots in the top 100 ebooks are apparently held by self-published books. I find that quite amazing.

I don't think this is amazing since trade publishers are first beginning to take a serious look at the ebook market to decide if it's a viable place for them to make a significant investment of time and money. Although they have always had ebook rights-with a few exceptions-it's never been a significant market for them. This is why I've said numerous times that if they decide to go after this market, they will own it, just as they have the paper book market. Unfortunately, independent writers simply cannot compete with them. Accordingly, I think it's wise for those who champion SP ebooks to wait a bit before declaring this marketplace the greatest thing since sliced bread for independent writers.

Terie
05-05-2011, 11:27 PM
I don't think this is amazing since trade publishers are first beginning to take a serious look at the ebook market to decide if it's a viable place for them to make a significant investment of time and money. Although they have always had ebook rights-with a few exceptions-it's never been a significant market for them. This is why I've said numerous times that if they decide to go after this market, they will own it, just as they have the paper book market. Unfortunately, independent writers simply cannot compete with them. Accordingly, I think it's wise for those who champion SP ebooks to wait a bit before declaring this marketplace the greatest thing since sliced bread for independent writers.

This goes exactly to a point I made elsewhere. A month ago, virtually all the top 10, maybe even top 20, Kindle paid sales were self-published. There was a day when John Locke's books were something like 6 of the top 10.

And yet yesterday a mere month later, 18 of the top 20 were commercially published e-books. I personally believe that we're seeing exactly what I bolded above in Scope's post.

Only time will tell whether the pendulum will swing back to self-publishing's favour. I personally wouldn't bet on it, though it will certainly be interesting to watch.

Old Hack
05-05-2011, 11:33 PM
Trade publishers are investing a significant amount in their e-book lines. Millions. They're on their way.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-05-2011, 11:40 PM
This thread is in the Self-Publishing and POD forum. Therefore, the context of the conversation is self-publishing not commercial publishing.

Please cite a source for this claim.

Please cite a source for this claim.

Please review AGAIN the guidelines for this forum:

I cited the math for the first.
You can check the second yourself on Amazon easily enough. ;)

Did you cite your source for
"'Self-published books are doing well in the marketplace.' Yep, a few dozen certainly are."? Funny, perhaps I'm not the one who should please review AGAIN the guidelines for this forum. ;)

KevinMcLaughlin
05-05-2011, 11:56 PM
This is why I've said numerous times that if they decide to go after this market, they will own it, just as they have the paper book market. Unfortunately, independent writers simply cannot compete with them. Accordingly, I think it's wise for those who champion SP ebooks to wait a bit before declaring this marketplace the greatest thing since sliced bread for independent writers.

I'm not sure I buy that argument. They'll certainly be able to push for a large continued share. Completely agree. And there's no "if" - they basically have little choice. It's go after ebooks or see their business shrink in importance each year until they become insignificant in publishing.

To keep hold of their "name" writers, publishers will need to boost their royalties. Boosting their royalties (probably to about 50% net/35% cover) cuts into publisher revenue on ebooks.

To compete adequately with indie writers, publishers will need to cut prices on books. It's becoming more clear that books over $10 are a tough sell, and books at $6 and under seem to sell much better. So the $12-20 ebook range that many publishers are still playing with right now are going to be tough sells. They can do it, with the right author and the right marketing. But tough for most books. So, assume most ebooks drop to about $6, of which the publisher will get about $2.10, which needs to cover all their expenses and make a profit.

Doable, but they need to find ways to slash costs heavily.

And since it's unlikely that the door for writers having equal ability to upload books is going to close - those books will still be competing on even ground with a bunch of 99 cent to $6 books put out by indie writers. Many of which are bad, yes, but a good number of which are not. And the big publishers have more marketing dollars, but they also have to recoup those costs.

Every major writer who "goes of the reservation" like Barry Eisler is going to cost them, too. And writers like Amanda Hocking who plan to use a book-a-year at a major press to get big marketing dollars to support their OTHER 3-4 books a year are going to make life interesting, too.

It'll be fascinating to see how it pans out.

shadowwalker
05-06-2011, 12:35 AM
I'm just not sure how many "big name" authors will jump on this SP bandwagon. Unless they're terribly unhappy with their publisher (and if they've been with the same one for years, it would appear they are not) and have the interest, time, and acumen to become publisher, I imagine they'll more likely be more assertive about ebook royalties and otherwise stick with who they know. Frankly, if I could get a good deal on ebooks, combined with print, the distribution levels, along with all the other bells and whistles a commercial publisher gives me - why on earth would I jump ship?

Basically it still boils down to those who want to be writers and those who want to be writer/publishers.

scope
05-06-2011, 01:14 AM
To compete adequately with indie writers, publishers will need to cut prices on books. It's becoming more clear that books over $10 are a tough sell, and books at $6 and under seem to sell much better. So the $12-20 ebook range that many publishers are still playing with right now are going to be tough sells. They can do it, with the right author and the right marketing. But tough for most books. So, assume most ebooks drop to about $6, of which the publisher will get about $2.10, which needs to cover all their expenses and make a profit.

Doable, but they need to find ways to slash costs heavily.

And since it's unlikely that the door for writers having equal ability to upload books is going to close - those books will still be competing on even ground with a bunch of 99 cent to $6 books put out by indie writers. Many of which are bad, yes, but a good number of which are not. And the big publishers have more marketing dollars, but they also have to recoup those costs.

If ebooks are the future, I think it's reasonable to assume that given the might of trade houses, they will have no problem closing the doors to independents. I can't see how independents will be able to compete on any level, including retail price points and commission rates to writers. If we assume that book sales will eventually break down to something like 50% paper and 50% digital, a publishers cost to deliver digital books will be near zero, even though I doubt they will say so to the public. Once a paper book is produced the digital form of same is negligable. Am I happy to believe this from a purely objective standpoint? No, because even though I have no independent involvement with ebooks and leave that marketplace to trade houses that publish my books, it once again puts all the marbles in the hands of agents and trade houses. Business as usual. In time.

scope
05-06-2011, 01:20 AM
I'm just not sure how many "big name" authors will jump on this SP bandwagon. Unless they're terribly unhappy with their publisher (and if they've been with the same one for years, it would appear they are not) and have the interest, time, and acumen to become publisher, I imagine they'll more likely be more assertive about ebook royalties and otherwise stick with who they know. Frankly, if I could get a good deal on ebooks, combined with print, the distribution levels, along with all the other bells and whistles a commercial publisher gives me - why on earth would I jump ship?

Basically it still boils down to those who want to be writers and those who want to be writer/publishers.

I think your post is excellent and tells it like it is, at least the way I believe it is.

zegota
05-06-2011, 01:25 AM
Basically it still boils down to those who want to be writers and those who want to be writer/publishers.

Agree. For some people, it all comes down to the money, and that's fair. In the future (maybe even now, in some cases), you'll be able to make more money self-publishing than through a trade publisher. But then, publishing is not writing. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week writing and 40 hours a week publishing any more than I want to spend 40 hours a week writing and 40 hours a week programming, even if it gets me more money. I'd rather be a writer who makes $60,000/year than a writer/publisher who makes $120,000 a year.

jnfr
05-06-2011, 01:37 AM
I wish we had some comparative stats as to how many writers of whatever kind make $60,000 a year.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-06-2011, 01:43 AM
If ebooks are the future, I think it's reasonable to assume that given the might of trade houses, they will have no problem closing the doors to independents. I can't see how independents will be able to compete on any level, including retail price points and commission rates to writers. If we assume that book sales will eventually break down to something like 50% paper and 50% digital, a publishers cost to deliver digital books will be near zero, even though I doubt they will say so to the public. Once a paper book is produced the digital form of same is negligable. Am I happy to believe this from a purely objective standpoint? No, because even though I have no independent involvement with ebooks and leave that marketplace to trade houses that publish my books, it once again puts all the marbles in the hands of agents and trade houses. Business as usual. In time.

Hmm. First off, I strongly suspect that we'll see the ebook/print breakdown reach fifty-fifty within the next ten months. If it hasn't happened by then already, sales of reader/tablet units next December will finish the job. That said, I don't think that's the final depth of saturation. I think we'll see growth slow at that point, but I think ebooks will continue to displace print over the following 2-3 years until almost all print is via POD orders from online bookstores.

The collapse of Borders and coming likely collapse of B&N (at least their brick retail stores - the online may continue to do well) will push this move. Indie bookstores on average already *lose* money each year (citing ABA statistics here). A loss of even the current 29.5%-ish in sales is going to pretty much spell the end for most indie bookstores. Which leaves Walmart, supermarkets, and other variety chains as the only major outlets stocking print books. Again, once digital passes 50%, we'll see them gradually reducing print book shelf space as print sales get less profitable.

Already a substantial portion of print sales happen online (roughly 1/7th of all print books in the USA are bought via Amazon, for instance). I think that will accelerate as more and more print book sellers shut down or shrink.

As for the rest, I'm curious what your rationale is? Why do you think retailers will suddenly reverse course and stop allowing ebooks to be uploaded, and print books sold, by independent publishers and writers? There doesn't seem to be any financial incentive for them to do so: in fact, the opposite seems true. Strongarm tactics by large presses would likely be fought by small presses in the courts on the basis of anti-trust and/or creating an unfair business environment, much like the indie bookstores did with success vs the large retail chains.

But the bottom line is the financial motivation. Retailers don't have any reason to shut down small/indie presses, and I can't see one likely to surface.

veinglory
05-06-2011, 01:49 AM
I see no evidence that B&N is in trouble to the point of 'collapse'. they are, as far as I have seen, running in the black with secure supply and good inroads into digital.

Medievalist
05-06-2011, 02:02 AM
I see no evidence that B&N is in trouble to the point of 'collapse'. they are, as far as I have seen, running in the black with secure supply and good inroads into digital.

I'm interested in the new, forthcoming ereader. I'm hearing some interesting things about file format support that might grab iPad sales.

I also note that if you look at the recent quarterlies, and the filing last night, that they're positioning themselves and their reader and stores, very carefully.

Their chunk of college bookstores text book sales has given them a major entry point into text book sales, and they're grabbing and running with it. They're offering deals on their hardware to students at those campuses whose stores are run by B and N, and have a fabulous direct outreach program for on campus faculty.

I wouldn't give up on them.

ResearchGuy
05-06-2011, 02:12 AM
I see no evidence that B&N is in trouble to the point of 'collapse'. they are, as far as I have seen, running in the black with secure supply and good inroads into digital.
They now have negative net tangible assets.

See http://finance.yahoo.com/q/bs?s=BKS+Balance+Sheet&annual

Cash flow over the last few years looks dicey: http://finance.yahoo.com/q/cf?s=BKS+Cash+Flow&annual

Stock market does not seem too impressed: http://finance.yahoo.com/q/bc?s=BKS&t=5y&l=on&z=l&q=l&c=

Handy overview here: http://finance.yahoo.com/q/ks?s=BKS+Key+Statistics

"Collapse"? Maybe not. Thriving? Not exactly.

"Barnes & Noble Bankruptcy Index" here (scroll way down for the chart): http://www.ecolibris.net/bnindex.asp

--Ken

Parametric
05-06-2011, 02:26 AM
... a publishers cost to deliver digital books will be near zero, even though I doubt they will say so to the public. Once a paper book is produced the digital form of same is negligable.

I used to think this too, but I'm currently interning at a major trade publisher, and I've been discovering just how much work goes into making ebook versions of existing books. I've tried several times to come up with a list of everything you have to do to an ebook and frankly even thinking about it is exhausting. One anecdote: I spent eight hours straight proofreading an entire 100,000-word ebook so closely that I spotted missing spaces between sentences and that one pesky roman letter in an italicised word. Then, once you've sent back the corrections, you have to check the revised file to make sure the corrections have been input properly. So I laugh hollowly at the idea that it costs nothing to make an ebook of an existing book. :tongue

scope
05-06-2011, 02:28 AM
....but I think ebooks will continue to displace print over the following 2-3 years until almost all print is via POD orders from online bookstores.

Which leaves Walmart, supermarkets, and other variety chains as the only major outlets stocking print books. Again, once digital passes 50%, we'll see them gradually reducing print book shelf space as print sales get less profitable.


As for the rest, I'm curious what your rationale is? Why do you think retailers will suddenly reverse course and stop allowing ebooks to be uploaded, and print books sold, by independent publishers and writers?

But the bottom line is the financial motivation. Retailers don't have any reason to shut down small/indie presses, and I can't see one likely to surface.


Could be, only time will tell, but does it really matter? Assuming everything you say is correct, the only change (or emphasis) I see is how trade houses produce, and where and type of books consumers buy. As has been discussed, the numbers we see are deceptive, and I don't think they take into account a gigantic market for books--school and library sales. Will they have the money and other means needed to deliver books to children in a digital format? Maybe in time--perhaps a relatively long time.

As far as retailers and ebooks and paper books and independent publishers and writers, retailers exist to make a profit, and when push comes to shove they couldn't care less how and from whom the product is delivered upon which they will make a profit. And if all this poduct comes from trade houses, so be it.

As for large presses, small presses, and the courts, I don't have enough knowledge about same to even attempt to give you a logical reply.

I agree that retailers don't have any reason to shut down small/independent presses, but if as you believe the overwhelming majority of books sold be through digital format, and if trade houses can sell digital books at the same price, if not less, and in addition offer retailers other incentives (e.g., marketing, promotion), then why would retailers want to buy from small presses and/or independents?

scope
05-06-2011, 02:36 AM
I used to think this too, but I'm currently interning at a major trade publisher, and I've been discovering just how much work goes into making ebook versions of existing books. I've tried several times to come up with a list of everything you have to do to an ebook and frankly even thinking about it is exhausting. One anecdote: I spent eight hours straight proofreading an entire 100,000-word ebook so closely that I spotted missing spaces between sentences and that one pesky roman letter in an italicised word. Then, once you've sent back the corrections, you have to check the revised file to make sure the corrections have been input properly. So I laugh hollowly at the idea that it costs nothing to make an ebook of an existing book. :tongue

Perhaps I shouldn't have said "zero". Of course there's always a cost, but the cost for a publisher (time and personnel included) to go the production of a paper book to a digital version of same is extremely minor.

Parametric
05-06-2011, 02:44 AM
Perhaps I shouldn't have said "zero". Of course there's always a cost, but the cost for a publisher (time and personnel included) to go the production of a paper book to a digital version of same is extremely minor.

Can I ask what you're basing this comment on? It doesn't seem to reflect what I'm seeing at work every day, but I'm a lowly intern - perhaps you work at a different publisher? It's clearly very efficient, and I'd be fascinated to learn more! Mine is only a brief stint at one of many publishers, so I'm sure there are more efficient working practices out there than the ones I'm seeing. :)

Medievalist
05-06-2011, 02:45 AM
One anecdote: I spent eight hours straight proofreading an entire 100,000-word ebook so closely that I spotted missing spaces between sentences and that one pesky roman letter in an italicised word. Then, once you've sent back the corrections, you have to check the revised file to make sure the corrections have been input properly. So I laugh hollowly at the idea that it costs nothing to make an ebook of an existing book. :tongue

Yes; and you do format the text differently for the screen. There's also the differences in front-matter and end-matter, and, if you do it properly, how notes are handled, and images.

You may have rights issues, and licensing costs, above and beyond cover issues (iBooks ePubs can handle covers, but they need to be at the very least adjusted for screen resolution; a 24bit color cover dithered down to 16 shades of gray for Kindle is probably not going to look at all good).

Then there's quality assurance; does the TOC work right? Are images handled correctly? What about ellipses?

It's much easier if you can fork the production than if you have to generate the ebook(s) retroactively.

And that means, you need to have file archiving set up so that when the file format specs change, you can re-generate the new file with as little additional work as possible.

Every time humans touch a file, there's a chance of introducing more errors.

Parametric
05-06-2011, 02:50 AM
Yes; and you do format the text differently for the screen. There's also the differences in front-matter and end-matter, and, if you do it properly, how notes are handled, and images.

You may have rights issues, and licensing costs, above and beyond cover issues (iBooks ePubs can handle covers, but they need to be at the very least adjusted for screen resolution; a 24bit color cover dithered down to 16 shades of gray is probably not going to look at all good).

Then there's quality assurance; does the TOC work right? Are images handled correctly? What about ellipses?

It's much easier if you can fork the production than if you have to generate the ebook(s) retroactively.

And that means, you need to have file archiving set up so that when the file format specs change, you can re-generate the new file with as little additional work as possible.

Every time humans touch a file, there's a chance of introducing more errors.

Yes, exactly! And my company compiles an ebook report to keep track of which ebooks aren't listed on which sites, or at the wrong prices, or with the hardback cover instead of the trade paperback cover, and somebody has to chase people up to ask them why they haven't listed our books, and then you notice that the aspect ratio is off on all our covers listed at a major retailer and all the covers look weird and how did they even do that and pretty soon you need a drink. :tongue

shadowwalker
05-06-2011, 03:05 AM
I found this the other day, dated November 2010.

http://michaelhyatt.com/why-do-ebooks-cost-so-much.html

KevinMcLaughlin
05-06-2011, 03:08 AM
Yes; and you do format the text differently for the screen. There's also the differences in front-matter and end-matter, and, if you do it properly, how notes are handled, and images.

You may have rights issues, and licensing costs, above and beyond cover issues (iBooks ePubs can handle covers, but they need to be at the very least adjusted for screen resolution; a 24bit color cover dithered down to 16 shades of gray is probably not going to look at all good).

Then there's quality assurance; does the TOC work right? Are images handled correctly? What about ellipses?

It's much easier if you can fork the production than if you have to generate the ebook(s) retroactively.

And that means, you need to have file archiving set up so that when the file format specs change, you can re-generate the new file with as little additional work as possible.

Every time humans touch a file, there's a chance of introducing more errors.
Yes, I agree completely. This is made more complex, is my understanding, by publishers doing a "print first, then export to digital" workflow right now. But as the tools and paths get better, it'll be easier to convert. I don't think it'll ever be *free* though. And digital has to carry its share of the cost of cover, editing, promotion, etc. as well.

Medievalist
05-06-2011, 03:15 AM
Yes, exactly! And my company compiles an ebook report to keep track of which ebooks aren't listed on which sites, or at the wrong prices, or with the hardback cover instead of the trade paperback cover, and somebody has to chase people up to ask them why they haven't listed our books, and then you notice that the aspect ratio is off on all our covers listed at a major retailer and all the covers look weird and how did they even do that and pretty soon you need a drink. :tongue

Also, they need to use unique ISBNs for each digital edition--the Kindle edition shouldn't share an ISBN with the ePub edition.

I've written before about weeping, quite literally, at seeing what's happening to some books.

But it's getting better. More and more when I talk to publishers, and evangelize, they get excited when I explain about QA, and checkpoints.

They do QA and checkpoints now in commercial/mass market trade publishing, but don't realize it. Ebooks are half in the world of print production, in terms of workflow and tasks, and half in the world of software.

I'm seeing more and more ebooks from mainstream publishers using a version control number; this is a fabulous idea.

I'm also getting more and more questions about proper data archiving; also good.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-06-2011, 03:39 AM
Could be, only time will tell, but does it really matter? Assuming everything you say is correct, the only change (or emphasis) I see is how trade houses produce, and where and type of books consumers buy. As has been discussed, the numbers we see are deceptive, and I don't think they take into account a gigantic market for books--school and library sales. Will they have the money and other means needed to deliver books to children in a digital format? Maybe in time--perhaps a relatively long time.
How books are made and where they are sold *are* big changes. But there's two other big ones.
- Shelf space is now effectively unlimited. There is no financial reason to retailers to not stock more books, and plenty of good reasons to stock as many as their search engines can handle effectively.
- Distribution locks are gone. It's just too easy to get books made. Yes, it's harder to make *good* ones. But much like the Gutenburg opened up publishing from hand copying one-of books into something broader, digital publishing opens up book making another notch, making it accessible to virtually anyone with a computer and even nominal word processing skills.

That said, I think your point on textbooks is very valid. (And as someone noted, B&N with their college stores and Nook experience is well positioned to take advantage of this.) At least two states have already documented plans to switch their entire K-12 student body over to ebook/tablet textbooks by 2015 (Florida and Texas, there may be others by now too). Colleges are excited by the prospects of this as well. But textbooks are a lot more complex than fiction - they require a lot more vetting of the material, and publisher reputation is something watched very carefully in the education sector. This is an area where I think publishers will lock in a very high majority of sales (exceptions will exist), and one reason why I think some folks talking about the death of the major publishers are not seeing the whole picture.


I agree that retailers don't have any reason to shut down small/independent presses, but if as you believe the overwhelming majority of books sold be through digital format, and if trade houses can sell digital books at the same price, if not less, and in addition offer retailers other incentives (e.g., marketing, promotion), then why would retailers want to buy from small presses and/or independents?
As good a question might be, what incentive would they have not to? Hosting items for sale by small presses and indie writers costs retailers almost nothing; but earns them money (even if most only sell fifty copies average, like the old guess at vanity sales, multiple the profits of that by 200,000 ebooks a year and it adds up).

On the contrary, Amazon is pushing for *more* open access to their retail store, encouraging bloggers to syndicate their blogs via Amazon, new ezines to sell subscriptions, self publishers to put up books, essayists to write things for Amazon Singles distribution, etc. And most of the other major retailers have been very happy to work with Mark Coker to accept distribution of the Smashwords collection of books. These are not the acts of someone who doesn't want these things - these are the actions of companies which recognize that hosting these items costs them basically zero, and therefore any income from them at all is almost completely profit.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-06-2011, 03:42 AM
Also, they need to use unique ISBNs for each digital edition--the Kindle edition shouldn't share an ISBN with the ePub edition.
Do large publishers actually take out an ISBN for Kindle format? I mean - Amazon doesn't use an ISBN (nor does B&N) for any ebooks; they don't track by ISBN, don't report sales to Bowker... It seems like buying an ISBN for a Kindle format is a waste of money. Even though it does cost just a buck, that seems like a dollar a book in wasted money.


I'm seeing more and more ebooks from mainstream publishers using a version control number; this is a fabulous idea.
I really like this, too. I'm thinking this will - hopefully - grow into general practice.

Medievalist
05-06-2011, 03:49 AM
Do large publishers actually take out an ISBN for Kindle format?

Your average mass market publisher buys ISBNs in blocks of 500. And it's not like they go stale, either.

It makes tracking much much easier in terms of work flow if you've got a book in multiple file-formats, and it means the books are automatically included in bookstore inventory/retails systems (B and N will happily tell a customer that a book being ordered is "available for the Nook," for instance) and library cataloging and ordering systems.

And that makes it much easier for OverDrive and similar providers to license the book.

It can get complicated when a book is available in English, French, Chinese and German print editions, as well as English, French, Chinese and German ebook editions for .pdf (online and off), Kindle and ePub. Having a unique identifier that isn't internal is downright convenient.

And this isn't really unusual. Having a universal system that is already in barcode reading systems for inventory etc. is worth it, especially when you buy multiple blocks of 500 ISBNs at a time, when a universal identifier begins to look pretty cheap.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-06-2011, 04:02 AM
Blocks of 1000 are only $1000 (Bowker doesn't actually sell blocks of 500 as a standard block). They sell specialized blocks of 10k or 100k, no idea what the cost per unit is on those. Low. Probably VERY low. ;) So yeah, I could see it being just a cheap way to ID books in house, even if the retailer doesn't use the number. Plus they can use that to track the mobi if they sell a mobi on some other site (or on their own, like some publishers are doing).

Haven't even looked into Overdrive yet. Now that Overdrive is taking ebooks direct from Amazon, are they going to require ISBNs on those books, or just use the AZIN's for those books? I need to look into that, I guess.

Medievalist
05-06-2011, 04:10 AM
Blocks of 1000 are only $1000 (Bowker doesn't actually sell blocks of 500 as a standard block). They sell specialized blocks of 10k or 100k, no idea what the cost per unit is on those. Low. Probably VERY low. ;)

If you're Random House and you're buying thousands of ISBNs, and you want to have a unique signifier for each line, they'll serialize them in blocks of 500 for you, though now, only for ISBN-13s.

There's at least one publisher who is using unique ISBNs for digital ARCs as a way of tracking them "in the wild."

scope
05-06-2011, 04:11 AM
Can I ask what you're basing this comment on? It doesn't seem to reflect what I'm seeing at work every day, but I'm a lowly intern - perhaps you work at a different publisher? It's clearly very efficient, and I'd be fascinated to learn more! Mine is only a brief stint at one of many publishers, so I'm sure there are more efficient working practices out there than the ones I'm seeing. :)

Sorry. I reread your post and noticed that you are dealing with conversion from exisiting books, not books of initial publication. For that I don't doubt there are costs of which I know little. However, when it comes to a new, first publication, the publishers cost to produce same as a paper book alone is of course 100%. If you have a new 50/50 split of sales and income from paper and digital, that 100% cost can be divided in whatever manner the publishers deems fit (e.g., 50/50, 70/30). Accordingly, while the retail prices for the paper book and the digital book remain static, the actual cost to produce each is less than the 100%. That's a far too simple (or complex) an expalnation.

scope
05-06-2011, 04:29 AM
[QUOTE=KevinMcLaughlin;6112495]

As good a question might be, what incentive would they have not to? Hosting items for sale by small presses and indie writers costs retailers almost nothing; but earns them money (even if most only sell fifty copies average, like the old guess at vanity sales, multiple the profits of that by 200,000 ebooks a year and it adds up).
QUOTE]

I don't disagree, but I wonder if the space we refer to is infinite or if in some way it has a limit. Maybe no actual limit, but how much is too much for the buyer of retail books?

KevinMcLaughlin
05-06-2011, 06:19 AM
I don't disagree, but I wonder if the space we refer to is infinite or if in some way it has a limit. Maybe no actual limit, but how much is too much for the buyer of retail books?

I think the answer to that question depends upon how strong their search engine is, and how competent their sorting algorithms are. At the core, I think those are some of the main differences between Amazon and other ebook retailers. Amazon has the search systems down better than anyone else - like, orders of magnitude better, I think. It's my feeling that the wide variety of interconnected mechanisms designed to help readers find books they will enjoy is one of the fundamental reasons for Amazon's success.

Much like Google is able to (generally) help people quickly and easily find the information they are looking for, a good book search feature set does the same for books, but takes into account reader taste, genre preferences, and other bits about the reader. If retailers can continue to make that work well as it scales, there's no reason why total numbers of books could not eventually climb to something matching the total number of websites Google catalogs, and still be functional.

scope
05-06-2011, 07:59 AM
If retailers can continue to make that work well as it scales, there's no reason why total numbers of books could not eventually climb to something matching the total number of websites Google catalogs, and still be functional.

I don't disagree with you, but on the other hand I'm perplexed by what the future might have in store for ebook buyers at the retail level. As we know it, albeit less each day, we go into a book store with either a specific paper book in mind, or an author, or to browse. While this is something I want to continue to do, I can understand that it might not be the way people buy ebooks in the future. But at what point might the process become just too much? At what point does it cease being fun or an enjoyable experience to book shop, in this case ebook shop? Do I want a retail ebook world where I can literally have access to millions of books? Do I want a retail ebook world that's sort of sterile and one where I might have to type something into a computer (or something) at some sort of kiosk? I know it's tilting in that direction, but as a buyer I don't like it-not that what I like means a row of beans. As a writer, would a dramatic change in ebook buying habits be advantageous to me? I have no idea.
I can understand doing this at home on my computer but I have my doubts about a retail store. But as we have said many times before--who knows what the future has in store? Perhaps retail ebooks stores will be entirely different from anything I can now envision.

Old Hack
05-06-2011, 09:31 AM
I wish we had some comparative stats as to how many writers of whatever kind make $60,000 a year.

jnfr, if you search my publishing blog (link in my sig) you'll find a couple of blog posts about writers' earnings. The stats are from 2000 and 2005 so are now out of date, but they're pretty depressing.

KevinMcLaughlin
05-06-2011, 10:47 AM
I don't disagree with you, but on the other hand I'm perplexed by what the future might have in store for ebook buyers at the retail level. As we know it, albeit less each day, we go into a book store with either a specific paper book in mind, or an author, or to browse. While this is something I want to continue to do, I can understand that it might not be the way people buy ebooks in the future. But at what point might the process become just too much? At what point does it cease being fun or an enjoyable experience to book shop, in this case ebook shop? Do I want a retail ebook world where I can literally have access to millions of books? Do I want a retail ebook world that's sort of sterile and one where I might have to type something into a computer (or something) at some sort of kiosk? I know it's tilting in that direction, but as a buyer I don't like it-not that what I like means a row of beans. As a writer, would a dramatic change in ebook buying habits be advantageous to me? I have no idea.
I can understand doing this at home on my computer but I have my doubts about a retail store. But as we have said many times before--who knows what the future has in store? Perhaps retail ebooks stores will be entirely different from anything I can now envision.
Retail ebook stores will probably look a lot like they do now, in ten years. They'll be online. I cannot imagine much if any advantage to having a brick and mortar site for ebook retail.

Much as I hate to say it, I suspect that the brick and mortar bookstore is dead. The signal just hasn't perpetuated yet, so the body is still twitching. I don't see any possible way that B&M bookstores can survive in an environment where half or more of books are digital.

What you might see are digital kiosks where you place an order for a print book, and fifteen minutes later the POD version is printed and you pick it up. But those might be automated additions to some other big store - sitting in the corner of a supermarket like the Redbox kiosks do right now, or something like that.

As for searching and finding, I think it all depends upon the quality and quantity of the tools being given to users. There's over 900k ebooks on Amazon right now - already, that's "more books than I could ever possibly look at". The difference between 900k and 9 million, for me, is almost insignificant, *assuming* that good tools exist to help direct me to the sorts of books I want to find. Amazon has a good start on that. B&N is getting close. The other sites...not so much, but I think they'll catch up in time. But those tools will have to continue to grow over time, to get more efficient and focused. And since there's a strong economic motivation to point readers at books they will like, I think retailers will make that happen.

jnfr
05-06-2011, 08:19 PM
Thanks very much, Old Hack, I'll hop over and take a look. Any chance you'll be updating the info any time?