Have We Reached A Tipping Point Where Self-Publishing Is Better Than Getting A Book Deal?

from the trend-watching dept

Ross Pruden points us to a recent post by author Joe Konrath (whose musings on why authors shouldn’t fear file sharing, as well as his own experiments with “self-piracy” we’ve discussed before), in which he goes back on his previous views against self-publishing and makes the argument that authors should self-publish. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but the crux of his argument is that if you self-publish at a low price, you’re likely to get more sales and you get them started much, much, much sooner than if you go through the hellish publishing process, which can delay actual publishing by years. There are some other arguments, including the financial viability of the big publishers, as well as the rise in ebook popularity, which makes it such that you can self-publish just in ebook form and solve a lot of the distribution questions (a la the music industry).

Of course, there are some implicit assumptions that Konrath makes that I’m not really sure apply across the board. He seems to assume that it’s easy to sell 1,000 ebooks per month (which is the basis for his calculations). If you have an audience already, that’s possible, but if you don’t, it’s a lot harder. A publisher can really help an unknown author with marketing, and that’s certainly not something that should be diminished. Now, obviously, that doesn’t mean everyone has to do it that way. There are certainly other ways. Some authors may be naturally good marketers themselves, or they can outsource the function to someone else, at a lower “cost.” Separately, while Konrath notes at the top of his post that in the past he hated self-published books because the quality was almost always low, he doesn’t seem to mention that again. The editing process can be pretty important (though, again, there may be other options there).

So I think the real point of his post is that self-publishing can be right for a certain segment — but others may still want to go the traditional route (but certainly with open eyes).

What actually struck me as much more interesting is what his post really says about pricing. He notes with self-published ebooks, you can keep the pricing significantly lower than otherwise. So his books run $2.99 — which he says means a bunch of his books sell 2,000 to 3,000 copies per month at that price. He points out that a traditional publisher will never price an ebook that low. This does make me wonder if the market for ebooks will continue to bifurcate in interesting ways. It’s already well known that the most popular books on the kindle are the freely available ones. It was also a big story earlier this year about how the big publishers pushed Amazon into finally increasing the pricing on ebooks, so they could sell them for more than the previously standard $9.99. But what Konrath is seeing suggests that pricing direction is all wrong. Not surprisingly, the size of the market grows quite a bit the cheaper the book gets. If traditional publishers keep trying to increase the price of ebooks, while a growing contingent offers cheap or free ebooks, the ebook market may become very different than the traditional book market very, very quickly.

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Comments on “Have We Reached A Tipping Point Where Self-Publishing Is Better Than Getting A Book Deal?”

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64 Comments
Moz says:

I hope so

Marketing is done, dude. I’m already finding that I know way too much about new releases from my favourite authors simply by reading a few of the better author blogs in the field (hard SF). It’s a bit frustrating that someone will mention in passing that they have a pre-release copy of something and then I find that in a few months it might come out as an ebook and if we’re especially lucky then within a year or two might make it to Australia as a deadwood edition.
The flip side is that people like John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell get a stack of those pre-release books so there’s a healthy demand for the retail version right from day one. Smaller authors are already releasing direct to ebook buyers and it seems to work (or at least they keep doing it ๐Ÿ™‚ Which suits me fine, it’s much better to have an ebook reader and get books ASAP. Well, aside from the impatience thing. ASAP is not soon enough.

Karl (profile) says:

Yes.

Not to diss you too much, but… well, duh.

The publishing game changed immediately once Lulu.com entered the picture. Suddenly, you didn’t need a publsher – just a word processor and an internet connection.

It’s kind of ironic, because copyright was originally supposed to protect authors only. Musicians and film makers weren’t protected at all under the 1909 copyright act. Yet they’re now more protected than the publishers that copyright laws were written for.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

But

That would be a shame if it persisted – but I think that as more attention shifts to the self-publishing sphere, there will be enterprising editors who start pitching their services in that direction (and in more affordable packages). And the authors who prudently make use of good editorial services will rise to the top, and soon quality will be as firmly established in the self-publishing sphere as the traditional one.

John says:

@Miff,

Sure, that can be a problem. However, I think word-of-mouth is usually a reliable way to gauge whether an author is worth your while – especially if you get a recommendation (or a “stay away at all costs” warning) from people with similar tastes. I can only speak for myself, but that’s how I’ve discovered most authors I like.

Then again, editors seems to be very reluctant to be brutal in their critiques (constructive or otherwise) when the author has become famous enough. Either that or the author in question just won’t listen. Just two examples of authors that really should have more independent editors and/or less of an ego springs instantly to mind: Stephen King and J.K. Rowling.

John Duncan Yoyo says:

But

Or another model adding an editor and a publicity savy e-publisher who markets an ebook. Keep the prices low around $5 per book with smallish percentages for both might have them all come out a head of the current model.

Niche fields like SF are prime for this sort of model. An e-publisher who gets a good reputation for finding good authors like Del Rey did for Ballantine Books could easily develop a following.

Anonymous Coward says:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but with a book deal you are guaranteed money, up-front. Self-publishing, you are guaranteed to have up-front expenses. Not to mention responsibility for marketing and business. This makes writers no longer writers. They are writers only a minority of the time, spending the majority promoting, marketing, and focusing on business. It is a more ideal world where writers write, and publishers publish.

RD says:

Re:

“It is a more ideal world where writers write, and publishers publish.”

Of course you would think that. That way, its WAY easier to pay authors scrap (below poverty wages) and reap 90% of the profit for yourself. After all, fuck the author, he didnt do any of the important work anyway, right? He didnt take the “real” risks, right? So f-em, he gets pennies. Its how it should be anyway, keep those arrogant pricks in their place and chained to the keyboard.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Why I like self-published ebooks

For the last year I have fed myself on a steady diet of self-published books. I read them on my Nexus One; even my 50-plus year-old eyes can handle it.

The price is certainly attractive. I also like the fact that you can read a significant portion of the book (sometimes up to 50%) before you pay for the rest of it. In the past there have been a lot of times that I paid good money for a dead tree book and then discovered that I didn’t like it. That hasn’t happened to me yet with self-published books. By the time I decide to pay I have a pretty good idea about whether I will like the rest of it. And, at $3 to $5 I am not going to feel bad even if I decide I don’t like the book after I pay for it.

Editing quality varies greatly among self-published books. From reading the blogs of various authors it looks like a lot of authors do find editors. They are often amateur editors, but some of them are quite good. Spouses, faculty members at local colleges, coworkers, and fans of previous books seem to be doing a lot of the editing. There is also a “crowd sourced” type of editing where an author releases a book and fans send in editorial comments. The author implements the changes they want to make and re-releases the book. The neat thing about all of these amateur editing systems is that the author retains total artistic control. It is different with a contract with a major publishing house; unless you are a really big author there are generally contractual commitments or at least a great deal of leverage that forces most authors to accept editorial changes.

Personally, I find myself gravitating to the mid-range editorial styles. I like books that tend to have an earthy, wild-west feel to the editing. I find that I like to have the really rough edges knocked off by some editing, but I still like to feel that I am reading the author’s own words, not the totally proper style that some editors seem to force on writers.

If you want very polished books, they are also available. The reader comments published with most books is a good place to start.

Majel Redick says:

Re: Why I like self-published ebooks

Thank you. It presents entirely new perspectives to me. The self-publishing industry has gained credibility very quickly. Just a couple of short years ago, I thought it was all scams. One thing not mentioned in your article, when a writer decides to self publish, it’s more difficult to find the “tried and true” companies, whereas the big traditional publishing houses have brand name appeal. Writers must be Very Cautious. Thanks to your piece, I’m going to start reading more self-published (and e-books, too)
Thank you.

Allen Harkleroad (profile) says:

Self Publishing

I’ll have to say self publishing, both print and eBook formats has worked well for me. Mind you I don’t sell 1,000 books a month and the lowest price is 9.95 for eBooks and 24.95 for print.

I do my own marketing for the books so sales are based on how hard I work to promote them. Editing though is very important and it isn’t hard to find qualified out-sourced editing for an affordable cost.

One problem I see is pricing books too low, once you set a low threshold then readers (of the particular author) will always demand low priced books. The author then gets stuck in a price rut.

A books contents in my opinion should set the “value” or price of the book. What I write is primarily niche information and many times the only reliable source of information, thus I can price a book higher than other book genres can.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Correct me if I’m wrong… Self-publishing, you are guaranteed to have up-front expenses.

Well if you are truly unfamiliar with what the self-publishing options are, then perhaps you should investigate it a little.
Self-publishing is like most anything else, there are options and possible compromises.
It is possible to self-publish a book with Lulu for virtually nothing, with each (paper) book being printed on demand as customers buy them.
Of course, you could purchase an up-front package of options to add things like editing, additional formats, ebook versions, etc; and your per-book printing costs could be reduced by committing to up-front money as well.

Chris Eastvedt (profile) says:

AC #11

This myth of writers doing nothing more than writing books for a living is a huge load of crap. The amount of money authors are “guaranteed” up front grows smaller and smaller every year ($10,000 is standard; hardly enough to live on if it takes an author a year or more to write a book), while at the same time they’re expected to assume more and more responsibility for their own marketing and PR- this is the reality. Unless an author is a sure thing, meaning they have a proven track record of great sales, publishers won’t throw any support their way past the bare minimum because they don’t want to gamble away their investment.

When partnering with a publisher, authors sign away their rights as to what can be done with their work and how much is charged for it, and then get only a small percentage of the royalties (15% of what’s left after the middlemen take their shares is pretty standard for paper copies). Authors are also expected to help support the publisher’s marketing and PR efforts, and invest their own money when the publisher falls short, while at the same time continuing to research/write the next book to fulfill their contracts.

Even if they do have a publisher, the responsibility for successful sales lies primarily with the author. An author serious about success/making money can’t afford to treat their work like an artist; they must approach their careers like businesspeople. Yes, the up-front costs for self-publishing are often greater, especially when you add in freelancing fees for cover art and editing, but if authors have to get involved in the business of writing anyway, they might as well keep the control for themselves, and maximize their profits as well. Self-publishing is the lesser of two evils.

Chris Eastvedt (profile) says:

Ugh, no thanks

Having your book in a physical store doesn’t mean it will sell- the competition is far too great for a limited amount of space. Unless authors pay for special displays or advertising, most people probably won’t even know the book is there.

Physical stores are over-rated because their prices are often higher and inventory is limited; they’re really only good for customers looking for instant gratification. Other drawbacks are that many physical stores won’t carry self-published titles and expect the right to return books they don’t sell for up to a year after the initial purchase (an accounting nightmare). Online opportunities, however, level the playing field. Bookstores like amazon.com and the like not only link up readers reviews to each book, they give the author space for book trailers, blogs, and search inside features. Marketing is much more author-friendly in cyber space than in the real world.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m probably just a weirdo, but I find Amazon’s book pricing on the Kindle to be so prohibitive that I refuse to buy one. I thought the idea was cool, but then I started noticing that the prices were the same as a new, physical copy. So explain to me again why I would pay 40 bucks for a digital copy of a book that I won’t get a redundant copy of and that I could buy used for 15. I like technology, but I’m not stupid.

Darryl says:

So there is a tipping point, ie, the publishers are efficient, more so than independent !!

Have We Reached A Tipping Point Where Self-Publishing Is Better Than Getting A Book Deal?

Good question, or to put it another way.

Has ANY alternative form of publishing (ie self publishing) been as successful and efficient, and effective as using established publisists.

The very fact you ask that question, results in it’s own answer, If you have to ask that question, and frame it that way.

You are admitting that as yet, there is no viable alternative to having your work published.

You’re asking is there any way that is more efficient than getting a book deal, that is more effective or efficient, than gain a book deal with a known publisher.

The answer is no, therefore still the most effective way to make money, and sell books, (or music or movies) is to gain a deal with a publisher who has the contacts, and has the finances to take on the risk.

It may be different for an allready established writer, but they are established, BECAUSE of previous book deals, so either way, without a book deal, you will not really be very big or successful, generally.

And asking if we have reached the point where there are more effective, and efficient methods of getting your work to the market.

Clearly the answer is no, not for music, movies or books, In any of those fields, you only ‘make it big’ if you get support by someone who is capable of assisting you to get big..

So to say “there is a tipping point” is an admission that as yet, no other method is as efficient or effective as the professionals who do it all the time. And who do it right.

No one forces a writer, or a musician to sign a contract or a ‘deal’ they do it because it is the best for them, If they cannot get a deal with a big mob, they have to resort to alternative methods.

And a crappy book will go no where, if independently produced, as it would if produced by a known publisher.

But the difference is the known publisher will asses the book before they risk money on it, and may reject it as not viable.

Due to quality of content, not any other reason. If an author cannot get a book deal, then he/she has to start to ask themselves why not ??

May be it is just because what they write is crap, and a publisher does not want to touch it, in that case if its done indepently it will fail just as quickly.

You do realise now, I hope, That asking if the tipping point has been reached, as an admission that there IS a tipping point, and at present, the commercial book publishers are better at playing the game, than those who are not professional publishers…

Thankyou for admitting there is a tipping point, and raising the question as to whether that point has been reached.

Its better than just saying the alternative method is better, when it is clear that is not the case.

It’s a nice admission from TD !!! ๐Ÿ™‚

Darryl says:

Cheaper does not always mean more sales

People simply will not pay any price (even free) if they do not want something, the opposite is not true, it is clear alot of people are willing to take something they want and not pay for it.

But the idea that if you reduce the price, you will increase sales is often false..

Remember the Concorde ? that really fast jet ?

It was failing, due to lack of customers, their prices were relatively low, yet no one was using the Concorde.

They surveyed rich people, and business execs and asked them what they thought the price of a ticket on the Concorde would cost !

Most did not know, (most had people to book flights for them), but when asked to guess, they said a price much higher than it actually was !!.

Ie, the exec’s the price for a concorde ticket was much higher than it actually was.

So what did british airways do ?

Thats right they put the price of the tickets up to the value that the exec’s thought it was Much more than they were charging..

The promoted it as an elite and executive service, and charged accordingly. It saved the concorde, and they made alot of money, by putting up the price to what the clients thought they should be paying.

Not by reducing the price, to less that what was expected.

So the theory that if you make it cheaper, you will sell more is not the case, alot of the time. Most of the time.

People are happy and willing to pay for product that they want and that is WORTH it, making it cheaper generally does not work, unless it is not a item that quality matters.

The eejit (profile) says:

Cheaper does not always mean more sales

No, Concorde failed because its image as ‘the fastest, safest plane in the world’ tooka hit, what with the one the exploded and all.

And cutting prices can considerably increase sales. Steam is a classic example of this. In July last year, they had a Sale. In that sale, they made more profits for both big-name publishers AND indie games, such as Recettear: a Shop’s Tale (an RPG where you play the shopkeeper in an RPG world).

It’s not just about selling shit. It’s about shovelling good shit, and making sure people can roll in it. :p

greatsheelephant (user link) says:

pricing

The assumption that you can price lower if you self publish isn’t really correct. I’ve just self published using Lulu and I would have liked to price print copies substantially under standard UK pricing for paperbacks but it simply wasn’t possible because of the large chunk of money Lulu takes for each copy printed. Also, I’d love to know what it would take to sell 1000 copies a month. I’ve used a variety of social media platforms to promote my book, not to mention intense emotional pressure on friends and associates and I’ve barely sold any copies at all (and that’s not because the book is bad – it isn’t). Unless you are already a well known author with an established readership, I would say that such figures are impossible, especially if you are publishing fiction.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cheaper does not always mean more sales

One issue with self-publishing and all that comes with it is that the volume increases, and most of it is (as you say) shit. The same issue is currently happening in music.

I like to think of it as the noise level rising. Good books are the signal in the noise. For every writer like, say, Greg Bear, you have a hundreds schlock artists pumping out poorly reserched, poorly considering SF that is all but unreadable. I like to think that what actually gets published in books by name companies is at least slightly higher quality, because someone with a critical eye towards the end product got involved and checked to see if it was any good at all.

Vanity presses have been around forever, or almost. Selling books through alternative methods has existed just about as long as well. It does nothing to increase the quality of writing or give us better products, it just gives us more noise.

It is a great feeling for those who write to get published and have 20 people buy their book, whatever. The biggest risk for writers is that these lower end products destroy the market place, by setting an unrealistically low market price for books, which in turn means that it is harder to keep publishing companies in business. What is lost is quality control. Yes, you would get more books, but you would get mostly more crap books. Is that really helping?

Allen Harkleroad (profile) says:

pricing

I use CreateSpace.com for print and sell my own eBook (PDF) in my own store (with the exception of Kindle). Not sure is CreateSpace is available to overseas authors though. The pricing is much better than Lulu.com and I have more control over the books, including price changes, etc. They also have an expanded distribution where the book shows up in other online retailers besides Amazon.com and I’ve had quite a few brick and mortar booksellers ordering books as well via CreateSpace.

Self marketing wise I sell around 200 books a month (print and eBook combined).

Not an electronic Rodent says:

Re:

Then again, editors seems to be very reluctant to be brutal in their critiques (constructive or otherwise) when the author has become famous enough. Either that or the author in question just won’t listen. Just two examples of authors that really should have more independent editors and/or less of an ego springs instantly to mind: Stephen King and J.K. Rowling.

Actually that seems to me to push in the direction of editorial as a service rather than part of “publishing” process. In the “new world” perhaps an editor can be almost a rate-card service…. ?x per 100 pages for initial report…. follow-up “consultations” as desired at ?y per hour. The market would sort of for itself whether a particular author needed to avail himself of these services and to what extent and if a “famous” author can get away with writing trash and selling it, well that too is a market function – you get to sell what people will buy.

As for “should authors self publish”? Maybe not quite yet – hard to say, but I’m not sure there’s enough sauration of serious readers (and the “killer gadget” I don’t think has let come to the fore – Kindle’s close but it has limitations) for e-book to make it totally viable – maybe it’s a sector thing. I’d imagine statistically there’s a higher e-book readership in certain areas like e.g. Sci-Fi.

Certainly once that saturation point is acheived (if it’s not yet) I’d have thought the answer to the question is “Well…. Duh!”, the tricky bit is spotting that point.

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

Another Example: Me!

I self-publish a popular line of Android application development books. While I do sell print editions (pro tip: read Aaron Shepard’s Aiming at Amazon and POD for Profit), most of my sales are digital.

However, since I am writing in a subject area that is evolving rapidly, I publish on a subscription model. A $40 “Warescription” gets you a year’s worth of updates to the books, which get updated almost every month. That also gets you access to occasional “office hours” online chats (CwF/RtB) for direct support on Android programming issues. While that price is much higher than Konrath’s price point, it is a much better deal than print alternatives (3 books totaling ~1500 pages with frequent updates versus one print book with no updates). The price point plus the subscription model means I do not need quite the number of fans to be a success.

I do no traditional advertising. Rather, I give away my expertise frequently: ~3,100 answered questions on StackOverflow, thousands of posts on official Android support Google Groups, a bunch of open source components, etc. Despite a lack of advertising, I outsell traditional publishers — I sold print rights to my original book to Apress, and I sell more Warescriptions than they sell print copies. That comes despite the fact that Apress gets their books in bookstores, university libraries, and such, plus has a real marketing budget.

I cannot speak across the board for self-publishing. However, in tech topics, if you are serious about it, you can do fairly well.

John Cressman says:

Self-publishing

I’ve self-published several books and eBooks, as well as published multiple iPhone and Android apps. I have found that your return is equal to what you put into marketing.

I’m not getting a huge paycheck every month, but it’s extra income that I really don’t have to work very hard for. A press release here, a review there and sales continue.

Stephen K. Hayes (user link) says:

Authors paid scrap

(Author of 18 published books on martial arts and meditation chuckles and nods his head knowingly)
RD is right. The pay is miserable. Fat cats rule.
On the other hand without a publisher to get me rolling in 1980, I would have had a hard time attracting attention in the market.
At this point I am seriously considering self-publishing, so I am intrigued by this article’s implications.

Stephen K. Hayes (user link) says:

Authors paid scrap

(Author of 18 published books on martial arts and meditation chuckles and nods his head knowingly)
RD is right. The pay is miserable. Fat cats rule.
On the other hand without a publisher to get me rolling in 1980, I would have had a hard time attracting attention in the market.
At this point I am seriously considering self-publishing, so I am intrigued by this article’s implications.

JEDIDIAH says:

It's gonna go over like a lead balloon...

> The answer is no, therefore still the most effective
> way to make money, and sell books, (or music or
> movies) is to gain a deal with a publisher who has
> the contacts, and has the finances to take on the risk.

Yeah…

Any time I see a writer out there doing their own marketing, I just have to laugh at this kind of statement.

There is a certain stigma associated with self-publishing. Beyond that, I really don’t see the point in bothering with a middle man if they will force you to do most of your own grunt work anyways.

If you don’t already have a completed work that multiple publishers are willing to start a bidding war over, then you are just going to be bent over and brutally taken advantage of.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cheaper does not always mean more sales

The Concorde wasn’t cheap.
At it’s lowest, it cost about 10X what another commercial ticket would cost, and ranged up to 20X.

Oh, and believe it or not, the average wealthy doesn’t always just blow money simply because they can. How do you think they got there –> spending less than they earned.

Anonymous Coward says:

Self-publishing (Books, Music and Movies) is great if you set up a good distribution deal. If you have a manager or an agent to help with the contacts.
Otherwise you are counting on providing your own Advertising, Promotion, Business meetings and Distribution. That’s a tall order for any person in business.
Let’s also be realistic and ask the question. How many Artists, Writers, Singers and creative types are actual business people? 95% of the artistic types I have met in my life don’t have the ability to manage their own business and be artistic at the same time.
Business runs on a schedule and creativity does not.

Gail Jones (profile) says:

Self Publishing

I don’t think self publishing will ever completely take over as every author aims for main stream publishing and the prestige which goes with it. (Not necessarily fame but more the acknowledgement of the quality of writing – Many people still look down on self published books without even reading them.)

I’m self published through YouWriteOn.com I therefore didn’t pay to be published but I did pay Cornerstones Literary Assoc to edit my books. They have main stream published authors edit your work and I’ve found it absolutely invaluable. I’ve had only extremely positive comments from readers, but still find them often infavourably pre-judged by those who haven’t.

I agree to some extend with comments above – royalties are extremely poor from publishers. My royalties are fantastic from YouWriteOn, but I do have to do my own marketting. This is, as stated above, extremely time consuming and leaves little time for writing the sequels.

Maybe there’s room for agencies offering reasonably priced publicity packages to the self published?

I think the move to epublishing will increase though. My first book is on kindle and is much cheaper than the printed copy. As self published authors offer lower prices, readers, who otherwise would have ignored their work, may well give them a try because what have they got to lose? Just a couple of pounds/dollars or less.

warren (profile) says:

Promotion & Marketing

I’ve been writing and illustrating books for about 30 years. I’ve published with several huge houses and one very dedicated independent. I’ve been on the NYT Bestseller list and sold over 3 million books. So who does most of my promotion and marketing? I do. The publishers expect it. They don’t have the staff to support any but the huge bestsellers. I’d say that at least 80% of my time and energy go into promotion, leaving very little time to actually write and illustrate. So don’t be fooled into thinking that a contract from a major publisher guarantees that you’ll get marketing support. More than likely, you won’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Promotion & Marketing

No, but you will get distribution, which is key. All the promotion in the world for a book that isn’t readily available. I see plenty of authors doing book tours, signing tours, etc, and many of them are doing it for “fees” or even charging for signatures in one way or another. Without the distribution, it is unlikely that you would be getting those sorts of deals.

For the overall topic, I would say that at small volumes, some self publishing would probably work fine (there are some examples in the thread here) but that as more and more people get on the self publishing bandwagon, we are once again going to see the signal to noise ratio reach a point where perhaps little sticks out above the noise, hurting everyone. Good for early adopters, perhaps less useful later on.

The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

But

I’m more or less with both you and Mike on this. My suggestion would be much smaller firms that switch from publishing as a focus to primarily publicity/management and editing. You could cut a lot of overhead and lower the prices right there. You could even split the two and lower your overhead even more.

I know several authors and talk to even more. Most of them prefer the current system where they get an advance up front but I think they could probably do fine on a smaller percentage advance if it meant it got paid off sooner and they started getting royalty checks quicker. That would let smaller cap agencies into the game as a viable alternative and leave more of the money in the authors’ hands.

Plus they wouldn’t have to assign the copyright to anyone else. One friend of mine recently got stuck with a publisher who didn’t want to publicize her novel as much as she wanted to but she couldn’t release it for free online for promotional purposes herself because she’d assigned away the copyright. She had to go with releasing an earlier draft manuscript since that hadn’t been assigned away.

That worked out well enough but it still pointed out a severe flaw in the copyright system. Copyright is supposed to be there to encourage the artists, it shouldn’t be able to be assigned away even in non-work-for-hire situations. Exclusive contracts, fine, but the actual right should remain with the creator unless it was legitimately a work-for-hire case.

amy reiley (user link) says:

Self Publishing/Boutique Publishing

I self published my first book and wound up starting a boutique publishing house as a result. I made much more money self publishing than I would have with a traditional publisher and retained control.

I really think self publishing will be the best option for most types of books in the future. However, authors must be careful to keep quality high. Get a great editor and use a professional designer. The small outlay of cash will pay off in the long run.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re:

…with a book deal you are guaranteed money, up-front.

Assuming that you can fine a publishing company willing to pay you royalities up front, and not quarterly (or even yearly).

Self-publishing, you are guaranteed to have up-front expenses.

Unless you use Amazon, Lulu, or one of many print on demand services, in which case your up-front costs are zero.

Carolyn Jewel (user link) says:

The answer is: It depends

I am a print published author. (I write for Berkley Books and Grand Central Publishing) I recently got the rights back to several of my backlist books and I’m about to get my backlist into digital format. In preparation for this, I have had very lengthy conversations with authors who are already doing this, several of whom are making a lot more than Konrath. See, however, YA author (not print published) Amanda Hocking who this past December sold 99,000 eBooks Here’s the link with her documentation of these sales: http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/2010/12/pics-or-it-didnt-happen.html

That said, the tipping point came when established print-published authors, realized 1) their publishers continued to do nothing with their out of print backlist and 2) there was now a way for them to monetize that backlist and use it to seed print sales of frontlist titles as well as original digital content. The authors I’ve spoken to are almost all traditionally published (but not all) with a fan base, and all continue to print publish. What you can’t do it throw up a book and sit back and wait for the cash to roll in. It doesn’t work that way. Sales are very sensitive to cover art. Bad covers don’t sell, good covers do. Facebook ads make a difference as do an author’s personal outreach to her (or his) established fans. Authors who also offer a POD version see an additional set of sales for those titles — because not everyone wants the eBook.

It also helps to be a great writer and storyteller, and that’s actually a fairly small group. All the authors I’ve spoken too are also paying for editing and proofing before they ePublish any original content.

With all respect for others who have commented, the authors I’ve spoken to ALL said that the price point for their fiction that sold books is 5.99 to 6.99 but less if the work is short (less than say 50K words). Any more than that and sales drop off. Less than that makes little to no difference in sales. (This would suggest that Konrath could raise his price to 5.99 and see NO drop off in sales.) Print publishers who insist on charging the same as the print book are making a mistake that is hurting their bottom line.

Free titles do indeed sell books. Every single author I know who has had a digital book offered for free on Amazon has seen thousands of downloads AND a very large jump in sales for their books that aren’t free. For those who provided numbers, that bump is sales has been in the mid thousands of eBooks sold.

It’s not true that all publishers won’t budge on pricing. While, in my opinion, the Big 5 are overpricing digital frontlist titles, one of my publishers has routinely offered my series backlist titles at 1.99 to 2.99 when I have a new release in the series. Downloads jump for those titles. It’s a great way for someone to start the series at a low cost before they pony up far more for the new book.

IANAA says:

I’m not an author, and don’t play one on the net. But i wonder how trad publishes apparently burn through gross receipts? Scanning through these comments, it seems tradpubbed authors may bear some PR costs. And lulu (?) publishes on paper (sometimes?), which removes the ebooks cost comparison factor.
So where does the customers’ money go?

oh, nvm
TAXES! TAXES ARE ALWAYS THE VILLAIN! THE BUTLER HAS DIED FROM DECADES OF NEGLECT! AND HE DESERVES IT FOR BEING A COLLECTIVIST UNION GOON! (-:

Nick Dynice (profile) says:

I wonder if some publishers want to increase the price of ebooks so that physical books become more attractive. For just a little more money you can get all of the benefits of a real book: no drm, re-sellable, lendable, no electronic obsolescence, can be displayed on a bookshelf. Even if they don’t do this, I am sure this plays out in the minds of some readers.

DigitalBookman (profile) says:

self publishing

Many of our self published authors have sold over 5,000 books. Most start small and test the market before ordering more. When you work directly with professionals who deliver quality work an author can manage their own success. The POD companies are a great place to start but if you want larger profits, offset runs can lower your unit costs to maximize your return.

Claire Ryan (user link) says:

Careful now

If anyone here is looking at self publishing, google Zoe Winters and check out her blog – she’s an indie author, publishes her own ebooks, and she’s just released an ebook on how to self publish.

(Disclaimer: I hate her stuff. Paranormal romance is not for me. But I appreciate how she’s making a living as a writer outside of traditional publishers.)

One other thing you should definitely know about – avoid places like PublishAmerica and iUniverse and the other random scam companies that will sell you overpriced marketing crap. Read the Writer Beware blog at http://accrispin.blogspot.com/. Victoria Strauss is pretty much the last word on whether someone is legit, and if you’re still not sure you can ask on the Absolute Write forums.

TL;DR – Self pubbing is HARD LIKE ROCKS, and is just starting to turn into a viable alternative to mainstream. Make damn sure you know what you’re paying for and research the hell out of everything.

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