PDA

View Full Version : "Indie Publishing"--Their words, not mine--getting a little press



ElaineA
03-20-2013, 06:20 PM
I'm sure this is nothing new to people on AW (we all know about 50 Shades and other epub books making the jump to print) but I thought it was worth posting since this author held out and got a unique deal. Maybe another subtle shift in the publishing landscape.

http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/big-book/best-selling-novelist-youve-never-heard

shadowwalker
03-20-2013, 08:20 PM
Every time I see "indie publisher" - well, self-publishing is not what I think of.

At any rate...

Undercover
03-20-2013, 08:32 PM
That's so cool they were willing to work with him.

willietheshakes
03-20-2013, 10:09 PM
Oh I get it! It's something else that conflates "indie" with "self publishing". Isn't that quaint.

JoBird
03-20-2013, 10:19 PM
How is something self-published not indie by definition? Just curious because I don't see the delineation.

In regards to the link, I read that the other day and found it interesting. I feel like I'm hearing more and more about how self-publishing is a viable way to go. Personally, I'm an idiot when it comes to marketing so I'm not sure how I would go about such a process.

But more importantly, at least to me, is that there's no gatekeeper weeding out the weaker novels. So buying a self-published book always ends up feeling a little bit risky.

ElaineA
03-20-2013, 10:21 PM
Oh I get it! It's something else that conflates "indie" with "self publishing". Isn't that quaint.

Huh. Being relatively inexperienced, I didn't realize there was an issue with the wording here. Should I change the title to include quote marks around indie?

I honestly am not familiar with what it is that is leading to this response. I was focused on the ability of an author who's reached a sort of critical mass via independent distribution (which I took for epub in whatever form) to negotiate terms with a print publisher that are favorable to himself. This seems to be the general desire, from everything I read here. Let the money flow to the author. What is the faux-pas in this article or is it my post?

Just looking to learn, not trying to be a smart alec.

Terie
03-20-2013, 10:23 PM
How is something self-published not indie by definition? Just curious because I don't see the delineation.

'Independent publisher' has been used for a very long time to mean a publisher not associated with the Big 6 5. Self-publishers, trying to mimic the music industry, have glommed onto a term that actually already means something different from what they mean.

shadowwalker
03-20-2013, 10:28 PM
How is something self-published not indie by definition? Just curious because I don't see the delineation.

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=249332

By industry definition, indie publishers are small publishers, not part of the big publishing houses (and I've got a brain fart as to whether there are 4 or 5 of those now :rolleyes:)

JoBird
03-20-2013, 10:41 PM
'Independent publisher' has been used for a very long time to mean a publisher not associated with the Big 6 5. Self-publishers, trying to mimic the music industry, have glommed onto a term that actually already means something different from what they mean.

Okay, fair enough. I see what you mean.

I guess I've just grown to accept the term indie as having been subsumed by the self-publishing crowd.

There's something enticing about the idea of (as another poster put it) 'letting the money flow to the writer'.

I really feel like the market could use some trustworthy reviewers who are dedicated to vetting self-published works.

At the end of the day it seems almost certain that the big publishers are going to have to figure out a way to sweeten the contracts they're offering to writers.

ElaineA
03-20-2013, 10:47 PM
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=249332



OK, understood. I've altered the title but I guess I can't do much about the article. ;)

Cyia
03-20-2013, 10:59 PM
Incidentally, the author in question used to post here a bit, so he's an AW'er.

Phaeal
03-20-2013, 11:10 PM
Bottom line: If you've already sold enough self-published e-books to attract Big Dog notice, you may have a good shot at retaining your e-rights. All depends on whether BD thinks the paper rights alone are a winning deal. Obviously, S & S thought they were deal enough in Wool's case. Also, from what Howey says, he was in a financial position that allowed him to be choosy. Good for him.

Terie
03-21-2013, 06:14 PM
There's something enticing about the idea of (as another poster put it) 'letting the money flow to the writer'.

So, erm, how exactly is commercial publishing not 'letting the money flow to the writer'? I'm paid twice a year by the (actual) independent press that published four of my novels, and I'm paid monthly by the (also actual) independent e-press that published a fifth novel. Oh, and the (UK equivalent of a Big 5) publisher pays twice yearly for the commercially published memoir I co-ghostwrote.

Yog's Law, 'Money flows to the writer', is talking about not paying a vanity press to produce one's book. It isn't about legitimate commercial or self-publishing.

quicklime
03-21-2013, 06:28 PM
There's something enticing about the idea of (as another poster put it) 'letting the money flow to the writer'.

I really feel like the market could use some trustworthy reviewers who are dedicated to vetting self-published works.

At the end of the day it seems almost certain that the big publishers are going to have to figure out a way to sweeten the contracts they're offering to writers.


1. the phrase you are using came from scams like PA, and was in fact used as an argument FOR those big publishing houses, where you don't pay to have your book printed. And with a big publisher, the money DOES flow to the writer. At the same time, they aren't a charity, nor are they a treasury, so the marketing they do, legal, printing, etc. costs them money. And they take their cut. Whether you feel they DESERVE that cut is another matter (I do; I don't want to be my own Marketing department) but the money absolutely flows to the writer....there's just overhead.

2. The problem with this "reviewer" thing is there's so much crap to wade through. The great equalizer of self-pubbing didn't equalize anything, it allowed anyone to flood the market, no matter how bad. There's some truly great stuff self-pubbed, but if my assignment was to try to find those needles in the haystacks of self-pub, I'd probably start self-mutilation and abusing narcotics just to keep from taking my own life. There'd need to be some way to winnow, and the ability to escape that winnowing is sadly what fuels a lot of the self-pub works out there....

3. Why would this force them to do anything different? they've always sweetened deals to folks they felt offered greater returns, always been scouting for new talent on a low-level sort of effort, etc......

SeaSerpent
03-21-2013, 09:28 PM
I could be wrong here bacause the terms seems to be getting muddied, but I've always taken and 'indie publisher' to be one of the smaller publishing houses like Robert Hale or Strident here in the UK. I've always assumed the self publishing crowd were calling themselves 'indie authors'. But I guess if they're setting themselves up as a business then they feel entitled to use the first term. Which is where I find it very confusing.

Little Ming
03-21-2013, 10:03 PM
...
I really feel like the market could use some trustworthy reviewers who are dedicated to vetting self-published works.

I think Old Hack has a review blog for self-published books.



At the end of the day it seems almost certain that the big publishers are going to have to figure out a way to sweeten the contracts they're offering to writers.

In general, I don't think so. Yes, if you bring significant leverage to the table, as the author in the article did, then the publishers will be more willing to give you what you want. But I don't see this happening for the vast majority of authors who don't have the same leverage.

Just take a look at the recent Random House digital-only-imprint contracts debacle. Even the revised contracts are nowhere near what I'd call "sweet". And yet, many authors will still sign.

JoBird
03-21-2013, 10:20 PM
Hey, I just noticed the responses.

Terie,

You wrote:


So, erm, how exactly is commercial publishing not 'letting the money flow to the writer'?

First, I was quoting another poster when I used that phrase. But I don't think there's a lack of logic embedded in the phrase. Sure, commercial publishing pays authors. No one, to my knowledge, is arguing otherwise.

The argument seems to be: how much? How much is the author getting paid by the big publishers in comparison to how much overhead actually exists.

An author might make 10% off of a hardback, less than that off of a paperback. That same author publishing their own e-book is going to make around 70% of the sale. Thus, more money is flowing to the author.

***

quicklime, you wrote:


1. the phrase you are using What phrase? came from scams like PA, and was in fact used as an argument FOR those big publishing houses, where you don't pay to have your book printed. And with a big publisher, the money DOES flow to the writer. At the same time, they aren't a charity, nor are they a treasury, so the marketing they do, legal, printing, etc. costs them money. And they take their cut. Whether you feel they DESERVE that cut is another matter (I do; I don't want to be my own Marketing department) but the money absolutely flows to the writer....there's just overhead. Just to be clear, I don't want to find myself in the position of defending either self-publishing or big publishers. I think both are viable. That being said, let's talk about overhead. How much are we talking? The thing is, the contracts that pay writers today are pretty much the same contracts that paid writers twenty years ago. The difference is: times have changed. It's easier to do smaller print runs (less excess stock), the cost of e-publishing is extremely low. But still these old contract terms dominate the big publishing market. To put it simply: the cost of overhead has changed, but the percentage payout to the author (on average) has not. It's possible I'm mistaken. But that's what I'm led to believe. My sources are varied, but I can point to a couple off the top of my head. One is Michael J. Sullivan who has a lot to say on the benefits (dollar wise) of self-publishing. The other is R.A. Salvatore who recently spoke out on the subject in a Sword & Laser segment. I'll track down the links if you're interested. The point is: this is the information I'm hearing. And it makes sense on an intuitive level, at least to me. I'm certainly open to evidence otherwise.

2. The problem with this "reviewer" thing is there's so much crap to wade through. I agree. The great equalizer of self-pubbing didn't equalize anything, it allowed anyone to flood the market, no matter how bad. There's some truly great stuff self-pubbed, but if my assignment was to try to find those needles in the haystacks of self-pub, I'd probably start self-mutilation and abusing narcotics just to keep from taking my own life. There'd need to be some way to winnow, and the ability to escape that winnowing is sadly what fuels a lot of the self-pub works out there....

3. Why would this force them to do anything different? I think it's more than reasonable to say that publishing is experiencing a major shift at this point in time. I think a lot of publishers are worried; I think a lot of folks are waiting to see which way the wind blows. I've heard publishers and editors talk about this: at conventions, on panels, on their blogs, on facebook. This isn't news. Self-publishing has called a lot of issues into question, not the least of which is compensation to the author. I dare say this isn't just me mouth breathing. It's a legitimate issue facing the world of publishing today. I don't claim to be an expert, but I certainly try to follow what's going on when and where I can. And I'm certainly open to the possibility that I've missed something crucial that's stabilizing the market. they've always sweetened deals to folks they felt offered greater returns, always been scouting for new talent on a low-level sort of effort, etc......

Ryan David Jahn
03-21-2013, 10:47 PM
Sure, commercial publishing pays authors. No one, to my knowledge, is arguing otherwise.

The argument seems to be: how much? How much is the author getting paid by the big publishers in comparison to how much overhead actually exists.

An author might make 10% off of a hardback, less than that off of a paperback. That same author publishing their own e-book is going to make around 70% of the sale. Thus, more money is flowing to the author.


"Money should flow toward the writer," is a sentence I've heard for years, and what it has almost always been meant to imply is that writers should not pay for publication. Historically it has had less than nothing to do with commercial publishing.

Keep in mind too that you're comparing hardcover sales to ebook sales. The writer who self publishes an ebook is making exactly zero from any hardcopy sales because he or she doesn't have a book in bookstores.

Amazon accounts for something like 30% of book sales, period (or did last time I looked), and if half their sales are ebooks, then the writer who publishes an ebook there is tapping into 15% of the potential market.

Also, commercially published writers are provided with editing, copy editing, cover design, typesetting, distribution, which I alluded to above, and some amount of promotion.

To turn a self-published manuscript into presentation-quality book, even a presentation-quality ebook, the writer must pay for all these things out-of-pocket, which is money flowing away from the writer. Those are costs the self-published writer must recoup, which means he or she is starting out at a negative balance while the commercially-published writer is at worst starting out at zero.

As to how much publishers are taking off the top: profit margins for publishers, last time I looked, were something like 4% on average, so the answer is, not as much as self-publishing advocates would like to pretend.

I'm not saying commercial publishing is a dreamland of candy-flowers and rose-scented sunshine. It isn't. But it's still, generally and with exceptions noted, the best way for a writer to make a living writing.

Little Ming
03-21-2013, 10:57 PM
First, I was quoting another poster when I used that phrase. But I don't think there's a lack of logic embedded in the phrase. Sure, commercial publishing pays authors. No one, to my knowledge, is arguing otherwise.

The argument seems to be: how much? How much is the author getting paid by the big publishers in comparison to how much overhead actually exists.

An author might make 10% off of a hardback, less than that off of a paperback. That same author publishing their own e-book is going to make around 70% of the sale. Thus, more money is flowing to the author.


Actually, I think the "argument" is more complicated than that.

A self-published author might be making more percentage of a sale, but you still have to factor in that generally, an author going with a well-established, bigger publisher will sell more books than a self-published author, and in the long run make more money than the self-published author. A self-published author will also have to pay all the upfront cost (such as editing, cover, etc) out of pocket, so there is significantly more risk to self-publish.

This is not to say self-publishing isn't a better option for some authors, but I don't think the "argument" is as simple as you seem to be implying.

ETA: Or, you know, what Ryan said. :D

James D. Macdonald
03-21-2013, 11:08 PM
Which is larger: 10% of a thousand or 70% of a hundred?

I don't see a triumph for authors in going from a situation where ten people sell a million copies each to one where a million people sell ten copies each.

thothguard51
03-21-2013, 11:13 PM
An author might make 10% off of a hardback, less than that off of a paperback. That same author publishing their own e-book is going to make around 70% of the sale. Thus, more money is flowing to the author.

First you're forgetting that with the big 5 and many smaller indie publishers, the author gets an advance up front. Small or large, or in between, it does not matter, they got the money upfront. The big boys will not even start paying on royalties until the book has earned the advance back.

As to percentages, what is your time worth? The big boys don't want writers to be marketing genesis, artist, copy editors, or spokes persons. They want the author doing what the author does best, writing the next novel.

With self publishers, many can not afford what they consider the luxury of paying for an editor, a copy editor, a proof reader, an artist, a publicist, or some of the other little things the big boys do that never gets talked about.

In a majority of cases, self publishers will never get on the book shelves of the brick and mortar book stores. They will never get into public libraries, or book club selections. In some cases, its not because they are not good enough, as much as it is they do not have the sales force that puts their name out there for these buyers to take notice.

Yes, a few self pubbers have gone on to make it big with the big boys, but when you consider the numbers of self published books, the percentages are less than .01 percent.

I am not against self publishing, but I am hesitant on swallowing the self publishing benefits cool aid some self publishing guru proclaims is a sure fire method to sales. Hell, even the big boys can not claim 100% sure fire sales, but they do have the financial backing, experience, and marketing savvy to improve the odds that their book is going to do better than some self published book of equal writing quality...

But of course, every writer has their own goals and expectations of what success means...

thothguard51
03-21-2013, 11:15 PM
Which is larger: 10% of a thousand or 70% of a hundred?

I don't see a triumph for authors in going from a situation where ten people sell a million copies each to one where a million people sell ten copies each.

You've been reading Authors House slogans again...

JoBird
03-21-2013, 11:23 PM
Disclaimer: I have never self-published. I actually don't have any current intention to self-publish. I'm simply regurgitating self-publishing arguments I've heard that I happen to think make a lot of sense. In fairness, I'm sure there are far better people equipped to make the arguments I'm making than me.

***


"Money should flow toward the writer," is a sentence I've heard for years, and what it has almost always been meant to imply is that writers should not pay for publication. Historically it has had less than nothing to do with commercial publishing.

I'm strongly opposed to scams that try to bleed money out of authors. In fact, I'm for authors getting as much money for their efforts as possible. And I've been hearing more and more arguments about how self-publishing seems to be the way to do that.

Does that make the argument true? I don't know. But it's clear that self-publishing is becoming more and more viable as we move forward, and I think it's reasonable to discuss a subject like this in terms of the long run.

Again, my usage of that phrase was taken from a previous poster, and the context of my usage seemed clear to me.


Keep in mind too that you're comparing hardcover sales to ebook sales. The writer who self publishes an ebook is making exactly zero from any hardcopy sales because he or she doesn't have a book in bookstores.

This is certainly a reasonable point. But I'm not sure that I agree with your numbers below.


Amazon accounts for something like 30% of book sales, period (or did last time I looked), and if half their sales are ebooks, then the writer who publishes an ebook there is tapping into 15% of the potential market.

If half their sales are ebooks . . . that's a big if. I don't know that I accept that figure. But even if I did I'd point out that a decade ago not even 15% of the market was found in ebooks. The point: the ebook market is growing, not shrinking. The hardback market is shrinking, not growing.

I recently heard a Baen editor talking about this at a convention--he predicted that paperbacks will soon be a thing of the past. His prediction put ebooks as the new paperback, with trade paperbacks and hardbacks being the only hard print left.


Also, commercially published writers are provided with editing, copy editing, cover design, typesetting, distribution, which I alluded to above, and some amount of promotion.

What this conversation is lacking is hard numbers. It's easy to point to all of the things provided, it's slightly harder to point to the value of these things.

Successfully self-published authors have certainly paid for editing. Those services exist, and they don't cost tens of thousands of dollars. The same is true of cover designs. To my understanding someone can get their ebook formatted at home with next to no issues. Distribution is being done over the internet, and the argument is that internet purchases will inevitably be the way of the future.

So, now we're down to promotion. How much promotion do you figure a new author gets from a publisher? Sure, the publisher puts the new author on a book list so book stores can consider buying copies. But is that promotion? The author is the one out there beating the streets, going to signings, attending conventions, trying to be awesome, writing a blog, etc.


To turn a self-published manuscript into presentation-quality book, even a presentation-quality ebook, the writer must pay for all these things out-of-pocket, which is money flowing away from the writer. Those are costs the self-published writer must recoup, which means he or she is starting out at a negative balance while the commercially-published writer is at worst starting out at zero.

Again, when we use hard numbers this 'negative' cost isn't exactly enough to break the bank. At least from what I've heard.


As to how much publishers are taking off the top: profit margins for publishers, last time I looked, were something like 4% ob average, so the answer is, not as much as self-publishing advocates would like to pretend.

I would have to look into this number. To date, I've never set down to scrutinize any of the big publishers finances. So I just don't know.


I'm not saying commercial publishing is a dreamland of candy-flowers and rose-scented sunshine. It isn't. But it's still, generally and with exceptions noted, the best way for a writer to make a living writing.

Many successfully self-published authors would disagree with you. Many authors published by big publishers also disagree with you.

That's not to say that you're wrong. It is to say that there's a debate on the subject, and I happen to think it's a healthy debate.

***

A note on the term 'indie' publishing:

Independent publishers are publishers that exist outside of the big 5.

What are you when you self-publish? Are you not a publisher? Did you not just publish a book? I'm not talking about some scam that's designed to make a few quick bucks off of some wide-eyed writers. I'm talking about you going into business for yourself, acting as an entrepreneur, and financing the publication of a novel. Doesn't that, by definition, sort of make you a publisher (albeit a small one)?

At some point the baggage on a word just doesn't seem very relevant. At least to me. If indie publishing fits then it fits.

In the example above, would the term be more appropriate if you opened up a company and financed the publication of someone else's novel? If so, why? Because that's all indie publishers are doing: financing the publication of someone else's novel. Well, instead of someone else's, your company is financing your novel. Big deal, right. You're still an entrepreneur financing the publication of a novel. It just happens to be one you wrote.

So, at the end of the day, I don't have a lot of problem with the use of the term as a marketing device for authors who have chosen to self-publish.

Weirdmage
03-21-2013, 11:28 PM
An author might make 10% off of a hardback, less than that off of a paperback. That same author publishing their own e-book is going to make around 70% of the sale. Thus, more money is flowing to the author.

Why do people who advocate self-publishing always say this? You are not making 70% profit on each sale, you will have an investment to recoup before you start making money. The lowest remotely realistic figure I've seen for putting out a quality self-published book is $2,000. And I know that is a figure at the lowest end of what you would be paying. A more realistic figure starts at $4,000-5,000 for production at the level a publisher provides. On top of that comes PR/marketing. In the revised Hydra contract Random House say they will cover $10,000 in "marketing activities undertaken specifically on behalf of the book", some industry professionals have said that money will be gone before you know it.

So if you want to compare what you get from a publisher with what it costs to do the same yourself, that is the figures you have to start out with.
A publisher will, according to all the figures I've seen used, give you (for the larger publishers at least) a $5,000 advance that you get to keep even if you don't sell a single book.
Paying for the same services yourself means you have an realistic outlay of (at the lower end) about $14,000. That's money you have to earn back before you start making a profit. -And don't forget to deduct taxes from the money you are paid from the bookseller(s) before you start adding up the revenue you will bring in.

Yes, there is self-publishing success stories, but a typical self-published book will not earn the $14,000 it will cost to put out a book that can be directly compared by a reader in quality to one from a publisher. On top of that a book from a publisher will have the potntial to reach more people. -Something to think about before an author makes her/his choice.

quicklime
03-22-2013, 12:16 AM
Which is larger: 10% of a thousand or 70% of a hundred?

I don't see a triumph for authors in going from a situation where ten people sell a million copies each to one where a million people sell ten copies each.


I guess this is the biggest thing that seems to get overlooked.

As for "times changing but royalties not" yes, smaller print runs are easier, but I would also wager marketing has gotten far more expensive, and competition has kept margins down. You (JoBird) talk a lot about "intuitive sense" but here's the rub: If you are using intuition, exactly how are the Big 5 simultaneously paying less and less to authors (or the same, while saving on print runs and e-distribution and whatnot), and yet also becoming less and less profitable? Because they have been hitting some tough times.

shadowwalker
03-22-2013, 12:18 AM
Let's also not forget that trade publishers are not just selling print books - they sell ebooks as well. So acting as though the ebook percentage is somehow only beneficial for self-publishers is ignoring a big piece of the equation.

Re: indie publishers - they represent more authors than just themselves. If one is only 'representing' oneself, one is a self-publisher. Personally, I find self-publishers calling themselves 'indie publishers' somewhat dubious - why hide the fact they are self-publishing, especially if it's such a good idea?

Ryan David Jahn
03-22-2013, 12:18 AM
If half their sales are ebooks . . . that's a big if. I don't know that I accept that figure. But even if I did I'd point out that a decade ago not even 15% of the market was found in ebooks. The point: the ebook market is growing, not shrinking. The hardback market is shrinking, not growing.

I recently heard a Baen editor talking about this at a convention--he predicted that paperbacks will soon be a thing of the past. His prediction put ebooks as the new paperback, with trade paperbacks and hardbacks being the only hard print left.

Even if 75% of people shopping on Amazon mostly bought ebooks, you'd still only be tapping into one retailer of thousands, and one format out of four sold by that retailer, so the point still stands.

And predictions of the future have very little to do with making a living today. Counting eggs that unborn chickens might someday lay won't put an omelet on my plate. I'd have no problem publishing ebooks exclusively if it made financial sense for me to do so. At this point, it simply doesn't.

I'll continue to publish in multiple formats, ebook included.


What this conversation is lacking is hard numbers. It's easy to point to all of the things provided, it's slightly harder to point to the value of these things.

Successfully self-published authors have certainly paid for editing. Those services exist, and they don't cost tens of thousands of dollars. The same is true of cover designs. To my understanding someone can get their ebook formatted at home with next to no issues. Distribution is being done over the internet, and the argument is that internet purchases will inevitably be the way of the future.

Internet purchases might inevitably be the way of the future -- that's not something I'd argue against -- but, again, they don't make up the majority of book sales today.

As for the cost of putting a book out independently, there are no reliable hard numbers that I know of. Someone certainly can do it on the cheap. But can someone working on the cheap put out a book of the quality put out by commercial publishers (in terms of editing, copy editing, and cover design)? I've never seen it done, but would love to be pointed toward an example.


So, now we're down to promotion. How much promotion do you figure a new author gets from a publisher? Sure, the publisher puts the new author on a book list so book stores can consider buying copies. But is that promotion? The author is one the out there beating the streets, going to signings, attending conventions, trying to be awesome, writing a blog, etc.

Again, when we use hard numbers this 'negative' cost isn't exactly enough to break the bank. At least from what I've heard.

I pay to go to conventions sometimes. I've also been flown to them and put up. I've also had publishers send me on books tours, paying the way at every step. They also put out ads. They print galleys and send them to reviewers. They get you assignments writing articles and essays for papers and magazines under which your bio can appear, notifying readers of your latest release. They set up interviews. Even their no-money contributions to promotion aren't negligible.

Finally, and as a side note, no one ever seems to discuss foreign sales in these talks. I simply have no idea how a self-published writer hopes to sell in other territories. Hire a translator and manage the process from beginning to end all over again? Ten times? Twelve? Fifteen?

Foreign sales make up a big chunk my income. By self-publishing I'd be excluding France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, China, Spain, and several other foreign-language territories where my stuff is currently sold, even further shrinking my potential sales.

The ebook market is a percentage of book sales as a whole, and the English-speaking market, while significant, is a percentage of the world market.

By self-publishing to Amazon, you're tapping into a lot of potential sales, sure, but you're excluding even more.

I suspect this is part of the reason why the big self-publishing success stories have mostly been about writers whose sales were so great they got picked up by commercial publishers. I mean, if self-publishing is so awesome, why do the biggest successes keep signing with the majors?

It's almost as if self-publishing their work was just a stepping stone.

Momento Mori
03-22-2013, 12:51 AM
JoBird:
How is something self-published not indie by definition? Just curious because I don't see the delineation.

An indie publisher is usually an advance paying house that publishes a number of authors. Self-publishing is usually you publishing you.

There are plenty of good indie publishers out there (e.g. in the UK there's Tindal Press and last year Salt Publishing got a book shortlisted for the Booker prize).

To complicate things, a self-published author who starts publishing other authors can become an indie, but I don't think I've seen it to date.

The waters are murky however. Things aren't cut and dried anymore.


JoBird:
I really feel like the market could use some trustworthy reviewers who are dedicated to vetting self-published works.

There are people like Old Hack who review self-published books but the dedicated blogs tend not to last for many long because (and with apologies for how this sounds) so many self-published books are badly written and/or badly produced. Add to that the fact that some self-published authors take any criticism badly - even when they've taken the decision to submit their book for review - it means that you have to think long and hard about taking a look at them.

FWIW I run a book review blog but I have a policy of not accepting self-published books because it's just not worth the hassle.


JoBird:
At the end of the day it seems almost certain that the big publishers are going to have to figure out a way to sweeten the contracts they're offering to writers.

They already do - it's called an advance. :)

Seriously - you look at the self-publishing success stories who've taken commercial publishing deals - they all got very big advances for their books, including republishing rights for books they previously self-published.

There are alternative deals being done re ebook rights and I'm not surprised because authors are content providers and they want to get a better slice of the cake than they've previously been given.


JoBird:
The argument seems to be: how much? How much is the author getting paid by the big publishers in comparison to how much overhead actually exists.

An author might make 10% off of a hardback, less than that off of a paperback. That same author publishing their own e-book is going to make around 70% of the sale. Thus, more money is flowing to the author.

As others have said, authors get an advance prior to that royalty rate kicking in. Often that advance is about as much as they could hope to make self-publishing (bearing in mind that the average money made by self-published authors is about $100). I saw a blog post yesterday by a guy whose book was a bestseller on Amazon for about a week but he still made only $12,000 - yes, it's a fair chunk of cash but a commercial publisher in the US may have paid a bigger advance on that and he wouldn't have had to do everything himself production, marketing etc wise.


JoBird:
That being said, let's talk about overhead. How much are we talking? The thing is, the contracts that pay writers today are pretty much the same contracts that paid writers twenty years ago.

Not true. Rachel Gardner did a blog post this week about how publishers contracts are changing virtually every few months as they try to keep track with the market. Contracts can't be the same because electronic rights didn't exist 20 years ago - hence so many mid-list authors have been able to get their electronic rights back for books sold even only 7 or 8 years ago.

Added to that the fact that contracts have always been negotiable, which is why a good agent or a good publishing attorney should be there fighting your corner.


JoBird:
The difference is: times have changed. It's easier to do smaller print runs (less excess stock), the cost of e-publishing is extremely low. But still these old contract terms dominate the big publishing market. To put it simply: the cost of overhead has changed, but the percentage payout to the author (on average) has not. It's possible I'm mistaken. But that's what I'm led to believe. My sources are varied, but I can point to a couple off the top of my head.

But costs of production aren't the only overhead that publishers have to cover. There's the cost of employees, the cost of renting/owning and running a building for those employees, there's the costs of marketing books (including producing marketing materials), costs of storage because print runs still need to be done and books still need to be stored etc etc etc. As for electronic production costs - the employees who'd do that for print books, still do those jobs for electronic ones so the overhead does not significantly change. The only thing you lose is paper and print costs and storage costs but they were never the bulk of the overhead to begin with.

In that respect self-publishing may be better because you're only taking up your time and your money and you can run to a budget. Commercial publishers don't have that luxury because they're dealing for all their books - both new books and old ones.

Do I think that authors should get more? Sure. I dislike the lowering advances and I think that authors should get more percentage points on the royalty rates. But publishing is a business and the big 6 publishers have investors who are looking at their already low margin rates and who are going to want to know why any publisher would want to reduce that even further.

I strongly recommend you check out MERCHANTS OF CULTURE by John Thompson - it tells you a lot about how the publishing industry really works and for a book by an academic, it is not a dry read.


JoBird:
I think it's more than reasonable to say that publishing is experiencing a major shift at this point in time. I think a lot of publishers are worried; I think a lot of folks are waiting to see which way the wind blows. I've heard publishers and editors talk about this: at conventions, on panels, on their blogs, on facebook. This isn't news. Self-publishing has called a lot of issues into question, not the least of which is compensation to the author. I dare say this isn't just me mouth breathing. It's a legitimate issue facing the world of publishing today. I don't claim to be an expert, but I certainly try to follow what's going on when and where I can. And I'm certainly open to the possibility that I've missed something crucial that's stabilizing the market.

I agree that publishing is currently in transition but the thing you're missing is that all the commercial publishers just let self-published authors take all the costs they'd normally take to establish their own market, then they move in and hoover them up for a better advance.

Self-publishers aren't taking market share off them and most publishers are posting healthy profits at the moment. The publishers I've met and seen at events aren't scared by what's going on, they're seeing an opportunity to do better business for themselves.


JoBird:
But it's clear that self-publishing is becoming more and more viable as we move forward, and I think it's reasonable to discuss a subject like this in terms of the long run.

I don't think there's any doubt that self-publishing is easier for people to do and becoming more viable as an option but the big problem remains: how does a self-published author get people to buy their book?

At the moment, you're hearing of the big name self-published authors because they're still scarce enough to be unusual. Most self-published authors aren't making more than $100 for each book and they'll have normally spent a lot of time and money to make it.


JoBird:
If half their sales are ebooks . . . that's a big if. I don't know that I accept that figure. But even if I did I'd point out that a decade ago not even 15% of the market was found in ebooks. The point: the ebook market is growing, not shrinking. The hardback market is shrinking, not growing.

Actually the current evidence is that the ebook market is beginning to stabilise and some publishers are talking about it having reached its plateau. This is partly because a lot of the people who want ebook readers pretty much have them by now so we're in the situation where manufacturers are beginning to target each other. There is increasing growth in several book markets - most recently YA and children's was posting double digit growth quarter on quarter.

However hardcover books seem to be bearing up well and it's noticeable that in YA and children's, more publishers are putting out a hardcover first and then a paperback for the book and they're doing well out of it because the margins are better on them. Check out this story from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2012/12/10/e-books-hardcovers-holiday-book-sales/1754039/


JoBird:
Distribution is being done over the internet, and the argument is that internet purchases will inevitably be the way of the future.

It's not internet distribution that's the issue. It's discoverability. If you go to these panels then you must have heard about it - it's all publishers have been talking about for the last 4 years and it's a big problem - how do you find a book on the internet?

This is why book stores are still important. People find books in them. They might shop for a better price on the internet but many of them do their browsing in real stores.


JoBird:
Again, when we use hard numbers this 'negative' cost isn't exactly enough to break the bank. At least from what I've heard.

The cost is what you're willing to pay but it's not money that's the problem: it's time. All that time you're spending sourcing editors, cover designers, formatters etc is time you could be spent writing. That's why Amanda Hocking took a commercial deal.


JoBird:
Many successfully self-published authors would disagree with you. Many authors published by big publishers also disagree with you.

That's not to say that you're wrong. It is to say that there's a debate on the subject, and I happen to think it's a healthy debate.

I agree with you that there's a healthy debate on it. What I find interesting is the number of people who go from self-publishing into commercial deals because they don't want the hassle any more. They want to focus on their writing.

MM

Round Two
03-22-2013, 04:28 AM
The big boys will not even start paying on royalties until the book has earned the advance back.


For clarity's sake -- an advance IS a pre-payment of royalties. Publishers pay additional royalties (above and beyond the advance) once the book has earned enough in royalties to earn out the advance.

Weirdmage
03-22-2013, 08:22 AM
Charles Stross put up a blog post today entitled "Why I don't self-publish" (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/03/why-i-dont-self-publish.html). In it he goes into the time aspects of self-publishing vs trade. In the comments he also talks about the money involved, both in investment for self-publishing and in earnings for trade vs self-publishing.