Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Year in Review: Part 4

I'll admit it: I've been hard on self-publishing. And not, I don't think, without good reason: the average self-published book is of significantly lower quality and sells far fewer copies than the average traditionally published book. There's a reason (many reasons, actually) you want an agent and an editor and a marketing/publicity/sales team on your side.

That said, with the rising popularity of e-books (which I think will comprise 50% of the market by 2015), my theories and reasoning regarding self-publishing will change somewhat.

First, my words of caution re: unscrupulous self-publishing companies (read: vanity publishers) don't necessarily apply to the world of e-books, since nothing really stops you from just typing up a novel, converting it to the appropriate format, getting an ISBN, and uploading Ye Olde Lyfe's Worke all by yourself to any of the major e-book stores popping up on this swiftly tilting planet of ours. Easier yet, you could just convert the file to a .pdf and sell it through your personal website.

Second, since everyone in the industry is still getting their e-legs, they tend to scrutinize sales of electronic books a lot less severely than those of physical books. This means that if sales of your self-published e-book don't exactly blow up, it probably won't really hurt you (whereas a poor track record with a self-published physical book could definitely harm your prospects). This will probably change as e-book sales become the norm. (Trust me, while they may be the norm for you, they're not the norm for the industry.)

Third, self-publishing electronically is not (unlike physical self-publishing) a colossal waste of your time and money, since it can be done relatively quickly and cheaply (or even for free). The margin can also be very high, so you won't need to sell a huge number of copies to break even or turn a profit. In fact, if you don't count your writing time as time (and therefore money) spent, you can turn a profit after selling only one copy.

Now, the new caveats:

First, concerning uploading your book to Amazon/the iBookstore/&c or selling it yourself on your website: don't be shocked if nobody buys it. One of the major reasons authors develop into brand names is because a traditional publisher with good editorial, marketing, publicity, sales, and art teams has vetted the novel, gotten it into the public consciousness, possibly put it right at the front of the (e-)store, and slapped an eye-catching cover on it. You, as a début author whom know one knows and whose work hasn't been—in a word—legitimized by a traditional press, can't expect to see fantastic (or even decent) sales until and unless viral word-of-mouth sets in. (Hint: this is rare.)

Second, self-publishing electronically is easy—in fact, almost too easy. Don't be tempted to send your dear novel out into the e-ther early. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Have beta readers. Maybe even hire an editor. The good news: you're the boss! (The bad news: you're the boss.)

Finally, don't get your hopes up that electronically self-publishing will lead to your next book being picked up by a traditional house (complete with five- or six-figure advance), a movie deal, fame, glory, riches, or anything of the sort. Not that I expect you to—I just want to be sure we're all firmly grounded in reality.

Tomorrow: the (publishing) World of... Tomorrow!


  1. Self-epublishing seems to work best for established authors with an out-of-print backlist: stuff that's already vetted and edited, so the reader isn't taking such a risk. And the author has nothing to lose--plus a whole lot to gain.

  2. From what I've read on various sites, formatting isn't nearly as easy as most think. If you want to sell your book yourself, you will need to do a considerable amount of research for each format (Kindle, iPad, etc.).

    Personally, I'd never recommend self-publishing for most people, but if you choose to, do your homework and be willing to learn a whole new set of skills to you'll do a proper job of it.

    There are a number of sites and listservs where the serious self-pubs hang out and will answer questions. Here's one--

    Self-publishing resources:

  3. I leave a comment more as a question for those who stop here. My bent is to be published traditionally. I feel it is a matter of time, talent and a bit of luck. Great ... me and thousands of others. Still I am determined to be one of "the ones."

    However, what if, as a traditionally published person, I wish to also have a web page for several older titles and market them as e-books?

    Can it be but another fantasy to believe that it is possible to do both? Afterall, the traditionally published works will eventually become available as e-books ... why not have a couple of titles to add to the list.

    Please tell me, oh great learned ones, am I making any sense in focusing my writing career in this manner?

    I'll be back later to see if anyone will weigh in on the subject with me.


  4. I'm hoping to try a foray into Kindle-land and Smashwords with some books that haven't done well with my publisher (for various reasons). It's very possible they didn't do well because they aren't well done, but they have been thoroughly edited and I have gotten awards for them. So I figure I have nothing to lose by trying that route.

    As for my new books, I'll stick with my publisher, at least for now. Who knows what the future might bring, though?

  5. I self-published on Kindle and Smashwords just over a month ago. Your comment "don't be surprised if nobody buys it" sounds un-researched. I think it would be rare for a self-pubbed book to have NO sales whatsoever. (and I'm not counting the author buying their own as sales)

    I queried my book all over, but it isn't a hot genre (read, it's not YA) and after reading about the smaller and smaller advances, the chances that even if I obtained an agent, and it he/she managed to find a publisher, and my book landed on store shelves over a year later, the likely outcome was a short stint in the bookstore, then it would go out of print. If the book was published as an e-book by the publisher, my royalties would be paltry and the e-rights would then be tied up for who knows how long.

    I decided to go it on my own. Will I sell thousands? Maybe not, but there have been enough Indie authors who have sold thousands to make me realize it isn't nearly as rare as you seem to think.

  6. Thanks for the informative post.

    Tomorrow's post sounds interesting. As The Publishing World Turns...

  7. Florence, a lot of published writers are e-publishing backlist titles these days. JA Konrath at Newbie's Guide to Publishing is the guru on this subject. BUT you need to take a good look at your initial contract and make sure you have the e-rights. And ALSO that you have rights to your cover art. You probably don't, so you'll need a new cover. Still, it can be lucrative, according to Konrath.

  8. I think your judgment of self-publishing has been right on target, but that may just be because I have a similar opinion and confirmation bias. Also, have I mentioned I love the term "e-ther"? May have to steal that one.

    @Florence: Are you talking about e-publishing your future backlist on your own website? If they're books that will have been picked up by a traditional publisher, it will be a question of who has electronic rights. If the books go out of print and the rights are yours, it'd be a great idea to make them available that way. If you're talking about manuscripts you wrote but that were never bought by a publisher, you could put them on your website, but you might want to consider why they didn't sell. Do they represent the best of your ability and will they reflect positively on your skills as a writer?