Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Five Things to Know About the eRevolution

Following up on Nathan Bransford's two posts on the subject, I'd like to throw in my own $0.02 on the theory of making bajillions of dollars self/e-publishing.

Actually, since this is a Top Five List™, make that $0.10.

1. Self/e-publishing is no more a get-rich-quick scheme than traditional publishing. The only difference is that rather than ending up in a drawer or as a doorstop or in the trash bin, a sub-par manuscript can now be made available to millions of people on the Internet in short order. However! Consider this:

Traditional publishing: your book isn't very good or is unsalable. You pay no/few up-front costs, get rejected by agents, and make no money.

Self-publishing electronically: your book might not be very good or salable, but you still might make a few sales. You pay no up-front costs and possibly make a few bucks.

Something is better than nothing, but after awhile you have to ask yourself whether the opportunity cost of spending months writing a novel and then only getting $50 through Amazon is worth it.

2. Think of e-books like apps. A beautifully written app that doesn't fill a niche may sell, but probably not well. A shoddily written app that fills a niche will probably sell better, but probably not well, and the next app that does the same thing better will quickly overshadow it. A beautifully written app that fills a niche will sell well, and through the Mysteries of the Internet, some become phenomenal bestsellers that earn their creators bajillions of dollars.

Ditto e-books.

3. Think about the advance in advance. The advance you can earn through traditional publishing may or may not end up being more than you'd make electronically (odds are it'll be more), but the beauty of the advance is in the word itself: you get it before you sell a single copy. Many midlist authors use money from their advances to finance author events, tours, &c that the publisher may not cover. Since you won't have that benefit with self-publishing electronically, most of you will have to rely on cheaper (or free!) methods of selling yourselves and your work.

4. Consider getting outside help. Even assuming you're a great writer, that doesn't necessarily mean you're a great editor, marketing manager, sales(wo)man, or graphic/web designer. If you know people who are, hire them! (Or, if you're best bros with said people but can't afford to hire them, ask for favors.) This is where that advance (see above) would come in handy. Maybe offer to cut them in on your profits.

5. Learn everything you can about the tools you're using. If you're selling through Amazon, learn as much as you can about how their search systems, recommendation systems, &c &c work. Read everything you can on search engine optimization (SEO), on-line advertising, and keywords in order to make sure your work is readily available when its title or your name is entered into search engines like Google or Bing. If you don't have time to do this, maybe ask that best bro of yours to do it for you (see above). If your best bro is already pretty knowledgeable about these things, so much the better.

As I've said before, mes auteurs, self-publishing is not a ticket to easy street and most self-published novels, electronic or physical, don't sell many copies. If you write a great book and do your research, however, it's possible to do pretty well for yourself.


  1. Certainly not a ticket to easy street, just an opportunity. In the end, I think that's all most authors are looking for.


  2. Terrific advice, as usual. Nicely put. I've got work to do on #5, especially the ways of Amazon.

  3. I think one key to a successful self-publishing carer is hiring a professional editor. It is impossible to look at your own work and see it's flaws. The other is being able to promote yourself and your work effectively. But these days, even the big-time publishers do very little for new authors. Every author needs to self promote.

  4. So not interested in self publishing. Heck, what am I saying? We're doing that with a musical! *correction* I'm so not interested in self publishing anything else. =)

  5. I think its important to remember that, in terms of advance (which, in addition to promoting my print publisher's books, I often use for such silly things as food, housing, and electricity while I actually write the book for which the advance was paid... As an aside, this was the original, historical purpose of the advance against expected earnings) the total amount is usually paid in thirds, which can be spread out over a period of 18-24 months, although it's not uncommon for an author to receive the last one-third of his advance, payable on publication, three years after selling his book. In three years, you can sell an awful lot of e-books, and pays you every two months. I'm just sayin'....

    But I love your blog, Eric, and think you are very brave!

  6. Advance? What advance? Most of them are dwindling down to nothing. While it's still better than the alternative, most small to medium publishers give an advance that's little more than a token

  7. Wait, are you saying that getting an advance from a traditional publisher and using it to do their job (marketing) is a pro for traditional publishing? Seriously?

    1. Your analogy in #2 doesn't work because if I have a need for an app then once I get the app the need is fulfilled. I don't have any reason to buy another similar app. However, if I like a certain kind of book, my need for that kind of book never ends. I will buy many, many books of that kind over the years.

    2. I've never seen anyone say that self-publishing is easy or brings quick success. I've seen many, many people talk about how they worked to make it happen and how it took a considerable amount of time before their books took off and became successful. The idea that people think self-publishing is instant success is a strawman argument and really, really needs to go away.

  8. "Something is better than nothing, but after awhile you have to ask yourself whether the opportunity cost of spending months writing a novel and then only getting $50 through Amazon is worth it."

    As opposed to none if a traditional publisher never picks it up? As in, writers are going to stop writing as soon as they don't make $? I don't think anyone writes fiction just for the money. It's a passion.

    I see what you're going for, but you didn't quite get there. Seems to me that most of the most successful indies (few as they may or may not be) spent some time trying the conventional route and failed.

  9. I published my eBook "How to Succeed in the New Millennium" at Borders books not to become rich (especially at a $4 download) but to help others with their careers -especially college grads. I hear is a low cost way to get your book printed and many consultants now use that as a business calling card. ebook value supersized! Beats the hassles and time in getting published and having your book on a shelf. You need to self promote the book either way.

  10. Interesting post and comments. I do know that I need to spruce up my knowledge in area #5. Any suggestions? It would make good fodder for a subsequent post. :) BTW, I'm your newest follower. My blog is Life of Lois
    Best, Lois Brown

  11. E.J. sent me here and I have to say-I love your post!

  12. I have to agree with David. Writers don't tend to ask themselves if it was really worth it. They just want their stuff read. Since traditional publishing throws so many roadblocks in an author's path, self-pubbing is now an option to meet that goal. And if you get a few bucks in the process, that's just gravy.

  13. Traditional publishing has its own share of trash--especially if the author's name happens to be a celebrity and said celebrity has absolutely no talent for writing. So, that doesn't mean anything either.

  14. Wow. You sure can tell this was written by someone in "publishing". As someone who has a foot in both worlds I can tell you that alot of the above contradicts with my real-life experience. Bottom line...many (not just a few) but many self-published authors are making more money on their self-pubed works then they ever did on their traditional published works. I'm about to post an interview from someone who sold in 2 months more than an entire 2 book five-figure advance. And she gets it all in 60 days rather than spread over several years.

    I think those reading this should checkout just some of the athors mentioned on J.A. Konrath's blog:

    Michael J. Sullivan
    John Locke
    Zoe Winters
    Selena Blake
    Ann Voss Peterson
    John F. Merz
    Blake Crouch
    Victorine Lieskie
    B.V. Larson
    Terri Reid
    Lee Goldberg
    Selena Kitt
    H.P. Mallory
    L.J. Sellers

    There are just a few off the top of my head - I personally know dozens of authors that are making a living wage (and many six-figure wages) while their traditionally published counter parts still have "day jobs".

  15. I've been publishing my own books since November, 2010. I have two books out right now.

    1. I've made a few thousand bucks self-publishing. Had I wasted time with agents and traditional publishers, I would still be at $0. Yeah, with absolutely no promotion, you can probably get about $50 just from people passively finding your book.

    2. Yep, that's about the jist of it. Write a good book and promote it. Same as traditional publishing.

    3. Most advances are dwindling to nothing these days. I haven't heard of many people that weren't Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Stephanie Meyer (et. al.) who were able to book a national publicity tour off their advances. And, besides, it's an advance against royalties, so you don't make anything until you've "paid it back" anyway. What's so bad about the American way of building yourself up from nothing?

    4. True, professionals do help the process and make the book better. Some can self-edit, some cannot. Some get volunteers. Some pay for editing. There are plenty of options these days.

    5. I agree. Know your tools.

    The conclusion, I basically read as, "Just like anything else, you have a chance to make it big, but you probably won't."

    The same applies to traditional publishing, selling jetskis, selling cars, selling airplanes, or really anything. Basically, what you're saying is, you have a chance to succeed and a chance to fail.

    In places where the bar of entry is lower, your chances are naturally higher. Traditional publishers are taking on fewer and fewer new authors every year because of the risk. Self-publishing allows them to take control of their work and get it out there.

    They will probably make more than $50, though. There are books that have $0 in publicity, advertising, and etc. that are building themselves into cash machines for their copyright holders every day.

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  17. Do you work for the house that bought Snooki's book?

  18. You get your advance and then you never own your book again as the publisher keeps the rights locked up forever. It'd better be more than a token advance.

    Selling 20 copies a month at $2.99 nets an indie $42. That's $504 in one year. That's $5040 in five years. At 20 copies a month. Meanwhile you're writing that second, third, and fourth book.

    No, you won't get rich, but it can be some decent money.

    And one thing you don't mention: If your book takes off there's a good chance the publishers will come around anyway. There's really no risk in self-publishing.

  19. At the end of the day, you have to write a good book. Whether you're self-pubbed or trad-pubbed. That's the bottom line :)