Why I Still Believe in Big-Press Publishing


I will try to get back to my “Back to Basics” series next week.  I had every intention of writing a new entry in the series this week, but over the past several days I have been reading the comments generated by Stuart and Edmund posts about self-publishing, as well as responses to a Facebook post I put up on Friday about Google’s latest assault on authors and publishers (this is the same Google policy that Faith referred to in her response to Stuart’s post).  When I sat down to write today’s post, I found that my heart wasn’t in it.

The growth of the ebook market, like the advance of global climate change, is happening faster and with greater ramifications than most people expected.  Unlike global warming, the ebook developments have beneficial consequences as well as detrimental ones.  (Well, I suppose if you live on the Cumberland Plateau, like I do, and you expect that pretty soon your yard will be considered ocean front property, I suppose you could say that global warming might be beneficial, too.  Otherwise, not so much . . . .)  Authors have more freedom to publish their own books, to take control of the packaging and marketing of their work.  I believe that epublishing opens up huge opportunities for short story writers, not necessarily because they can put out collections, as Stuart and Edmund are doing, but because they can sell individual short stories for various platforms.  Short story writers no longer have to depend upon the ever-shifting and gradually shrinking print short story market to sell their work.  They can market individual stories on, say, Amazon, and even if they are selling their short stories for $0.49 each and getting a 30% royalty on each sale, they need only sell 1500 copies to make over $200.00 for the story, which is comparable to the revenue from short story sales in many SFWA-sanctioned print markets.

For novelists, however, I would argue that ebooks are a far less certain bet.  And for established authors, I’m not sure that the benefits always outweigh the problems.

Let’s start by clearing up a few misconceptions that showed up in the comments this weekend.  Contrary to what several people have said, traditional publishing with a big-name publishing house offers tangible and substantial advantages over both small press and self-pubbing options.  One of them Edmund touched upon in his reply to a comment:  advances on royalties.  The idea of an author’s advance is that it gives an author something to live on while working on a book and during the time it takes to get the book in print.  Yes, I realize that with ebooks, the lag between finishing a manuscript and seeing it in print can be greatly reduced, but this is another problem that I’ll get to later.  The point is that even with a small advance of say $7,500.00 for a book, an author is getting some money up front.  And a corollary to this is that when we publish with traditional presses, we have no publishing-associated expenses.  We don’t have to invest any money at all in the process, except for the money our agent takes out of that advance.  There are (or at least there should be) no out-of-pocket costs.  That’s important to keep in mind because our traditional publishers do more for us than pay the advance.

Traditional publishers provide us with the following:  1) A professional editor who will read through and critique the manuscript, suggesting changes that will, without a doubt, make the book better.  They will also shepherd us through the revision process, providing free online and phone-access technical support for our writing.  No extended warranty purchase necessary!  2) A professional copyeditor who will further refine the manuscript, taking care of typos, syntactical errors, inconsistencies in plot, character, setting, etc.  3) Professional proofreaders, who will finalize the editing of the manuscript.  4) Jacket art by a professional artist.  5) Jacket design and layout services, as well as jacket copy (those plot summaries that we see on the backs of books) to help lure readers to the book.  6) Formatting, typesetting, and printing and/or electronic generation of the book, again by professionals.  7) (and the importance of this one simply cannot by overstated) Review copies compiled, printed, and distributed to journals, magazines, professional reviewers, and other publications often of the author’s choice, in order to garner reviews in advance of the book’s official publication.  In addition, earlier in the process, publishers will send out review copies, or even bound manuscripts, to established authors in order to get cover blurbs that can be helpful in drawing readers to the books.  8.) Advertisements of our books in magazines, journals, newspapers, and other print and online venues. 9) Nationwide (and at times worldwide) distribution of our books to physical bookstores, online booksellers, and ebook vendors.  10) And finally, accounting of our sales, shipments, returns, etc.

Now let me say that not all publishers do all of these things well.  Sometimes they royally screw up one or another of them.  But it’s not as though if we do this stuff on our own, we’re going to get all of it right the first time.  My point is this:  those 10 things I mention are valuable services.  They are worth something, and as an author with a traditional house, I have never had to pay for any of them.  What is each item on that list worth?  I have no idea.  Let’s say for argument’s sake that their average cost is $250 (which I am CERTAIN is incredibly conservative, but we’ll go with it anyway).  That means we’re not only getting that $7,500.00 advance, we’re also not spending another $2,500.00 on ten things that can help to make our book more successful.  We’re now talking about an up front difference of $10,000.00.

Do we need all of those services to put out a book?  Probably not.  We can skimp on the art, on the editing, on the publicity and the review copies and all that other stuff.  Someone said in a comment the other day that they had published their own books for no more than $300.00 per book.  I believe that.  But I also question how that book is going to compete in the marketplace without eyecatching art, without proper editing, without any meaningful publicity push.  We can do any of this stuff on the cheap.  But if the point of this is to sell books and make a living at this . . . well, that seems like a really tough road.

And I haven’t even started to address the gatekeeper issue.  In a remark I made in response to Edmund’s post on Saturday, I took issue with a comment that suggested authors could be our own gatekeepers.  The fact is, we can’t.  The idea behind the need for a “gatekeeper,” or for what my fellow MWers and I call “vetting,” is that we are all imperfect judges of the quality of our own work.  We need professional agents and editors precisely because we are all a bit myopic about the quality of what we write.  I’ve been doing this professionally for a really long time.  I’ve published a dozen novels, and while I trust my internal editor enough to do some preliminary revisions on my own, I would never self-edit a book and then put it on the market for general distribution.  All professionals, no matter how advanced, need some editing.  Those authors who convince themselves otherwise tend to put out crap. Small press and big press publishing provide us with that vetting process.  Self-publishing does not.  And for the record, readers are not gatekeepers, either.  If we’re relying on readers to do the vetting, we’re too late.  The damage has already been done.

Yes, there are trade-offs.  I would love for the first Thieftaker book to be out already.  The fact that it’s not, even though I finished writing it a long time ago, is deeply frustrating.  But editing takes time.  Building up the foundation for a strong publicity push takes time.  I’d love to get my books out as soon as I finish writing them — the turnaround times with self-epublishing are very attractive.  But I would be sacrificing things for that.  I believe that the quality of the finished product would suffer, as would my ability to market the book.

I do not mean to imply with any of this that Stuart and Edmund are making bad choices with the publishing adventures they began last week.  But that’s because they are going into their respective processes with their eyes open.  They both know that by taking the roads they’ve chosen (self-pub for Stuart, small pub for Edmund) that they are making certain sacrifices.  They are also making these choices as established professionals who are already known and respected in the field.  It’s easier for them than it would be for a writer with no publishing track record.

Are there advantages to self-publishing and the small-press route?  Absolutely.  I give up a lot of control over the marketing and packaging of my books when I sign with a big press.  I don’t deny that, nor will I deny that this can also be frustrating at times.  But do not fool yourself into thinking that there is essentially no difference between the traditional big-press route and today’s tech-intensive alternatives.  The differences are stark, they’re significant, and when you choose one approach over another, you should be fully aware of this.

David B. Coe

67 comments to Why I Still Believe in Big-Press Publishing

  • A valuable corrective reminder, David, thanks. As I said over the weekend, I continue to mull the option of doing one of my backlist titles as an e-pub, but remain torn. One of my concerns isn’t on your list, so permit me to add it. In publishing with traditional presses, track record is all. A low performing book can damage your credibility as you try to sell the next. Now, I realize the market is shifting but I believe that for most publishers (and indeed for most–not all–but most successful authors) there is still a considerable stigma attached to self-publishing in any form. People assume a self pub means the author failed to publish the title in a traditional way and went the self-pub route out of desperation. Most self-pubs (even those which earn resonable money for the author because of the higher royalty) aren’t going to sell many copies unless the author is very well established, so those low sales numbers further damage that track record I mentioned. Yes, a self-pub of a title you can’t otherwise sell might make you more money than leaving it sitting on your desk at home, but it might also turn out to be a career decision you hadn’t intended, if traditional publishers are wary of you thereafter.

  • I second virtually every word that you wrote, David.

    A couple of glosses that I’d add/emphasize: Different books may find different places in the New World of Publishing. A collection of short stories has different needs from an anthology, which differs from a first-ever novel, which differs from backlist. The self-epub that might work for a collection might be disastrous for a novel that has never before been published.

    Also, I worry that *way* too many people are being swayed by outliers in the epub world. I’ve heard from so many authors who are convinced that they’re the next Konrath-Hocking. I hear from people who are going to self-epub so that they can pay their mortgages, without getting a traditional job. I hear from people who are certain that they’ll be bringing in thousands of dollars a book a month, just as soon as they get their pixels out there. And I cringe, because the *vast* majority of self epub books clear single-digit sales a month.

    Years ago, Brenda Clough taught a writing course in D.C. One of her students was taking the class to learn how to write a fantasy novel, so that she could support herself until her ballet career took off. No matter what Brenda said, that ballerina would not believe that her dance career was *more* likely to support her than her writing career. Alas, I fear we have a whole lot of ballerinas out there, who haven’t studied the writing landscape enough to protect themselves…

  • I strongly urge our readers to re-read all three of these related posts (mine, Edmund’s, and now David’s). If you do, you’ll see that we all agree in general principle. I strongly believe the four key factors I laid out are just that — key. Yes, you can e-pub without them, but you are just making life harder on yourself and cutting yourself short.

    All of David’s points regarding the Big Presses are true. That’s why the factor I stress the most is making sure you’ve worked your way to the top and not gotten in before e-pubbing. You have to try. Yes, it’s true, that the majority will not get in the Big Presses. Even if you’re good. But you need to go through that Experience (see Edmund’s post) to learn and understand this business.

    Finally, AJ — I think there is a different standard being created for successful authors e-pubbing their backlist/unpublished material, one that is not a bad stigma. So many well-established names are doing it that the industry can’t look down on you for it. I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I’ve been getting of late.

  • Thanks, Stuart. I think you are probably right. I wonder how the industry generally feels about self-pubbing for otherwise unpubbed authors, though? I don’t believe they will think of it as a publishing credit that builds you credibility unless you can prove a LOT of sales as a result, and I suspect it could harm you, though I’m not sure. I have been guided away from some smaller presses by my agent in the past because she felt their sales numbers would ultimatley hurt me when I looked elsewhere.

  • David> Great, succinct post. Pretty much laid out all the reasons (and ones I hadn’t thought of too) that I’ve decided to go the traditional route first. A lot of it is that I have NO IDEA how to get marketing, a cover, a good edtior, etc. outside traditional publishing. I also don’t have the monetary means. I know how traditional publishing works. (Okay,I’ve got a solid idea of how it works).

    AJ and Stuart> Might I suggest a new term? Self-publishing one’s backlist isn’t so much self-publishing as self-REpublishing. That is, the material has been vetted, etc., and now it is being made available anew and in a new format. For that reason, I think the stigma is less of a problem, and if it goes well, could even help. Would it be encouraging to a publisher considering buying your latest novel if your self (re)published backlist was selling fairly well? I mean, it would mean that you have a provable audience.

    Also, I’d add on that the whole idea, that the coming wave of self pubs that will drown the old established publishing world, makes HUGE assumptions about the publishing world failing to change. We don’t know that it won’t change in ways we don’t expect.

  • I agree that big publishers have their place, but I am confused. I understood that while the publisher used to do all that, they no longer did. A lot of authors are under the impression that to get with a big publisher you need to pay an editor so that they will even look at it. Then when you get the deal you still have to do the marketing yourself.

  • Aaaaaand bookmarking this one too! Great info all around. It’s been a dream of mine from the time I was 15-16 to be traditionally published. I’ve come a long way in pursuit of that dream and I won’t be giving up on it anytime soon for what seems the easier road, or at least, shorter one. I owe it to myself to persevere.

  • A.J., I agree that the self-pub route carries the risks you mention — I was actually interested in writing from the perspective of what does big-press traditional publishing offer, rather than what does self-pubbing risk doing to a career. But yeah, you make a great point. The caveat we’ve offered before on this site, that there is a stigma attached to self-pubbed work, hasn’t vanished. True, there are more people out there going the self-pubbed route via Kindle and such, but if your goal ultimately is to find a publisher who will do all that stuff I mention for you, then you’re hurting yourself with self-publishing. I’d add that I agree with Stuart’s point: self-publishing carries far fewer risks for established authors than for aspiring writers.

    Mindy, thanks. I share the concerns you mention, and I like to remind people that just as you “hear all the time” about authors who are making it big after going the self-publishing route, you also “hear all the time” about people who have won the lottery. That doesn’t mean that buying lottery tickets is a sound financial strategy for the average household. Yes, occasionally self-publishing works. But these are the exceptions, not the rule. And assuming that you’re going to be one of the rare exceptions is not a sound career strategy.

    Stuart, thanks for offering that synthesis of the three posts. Very helpful. The experience you (and Edmund) mention is very important. But so is the point that Emily makes in the comment after yours. The assumption in all of this is that publishing world won’t change at all and that this new wave of self-pubbing people will take over. I’d say it’s far, far more likely that the publishing world will adapt and find a way to corner the epub world just as they did the traditional publishing world. And when they do, that stigma A.J. mentions will be just as prevalent as before.

    Emily, terrific points all the way through (see my reply to Stuart in the paragraph above — your point about the established publishing world not changing is spot on). I think the term self-RE-publishing is a valuable one, though as I mention to A.J., I think that established authors who self-publish even new, original material have an advantage over aspiring writers trying to get started via the self-pub route.

    Perry, I think you’ve been misinformed. I’m talking about the big-press traditional publishers (in our field of science fiction/fantasy I’m talking about Tor, DAW, Roc, Baen, HarperCollins, Ballantine, Ace and a couple of others). These publishers still provide these services, including marketing. Some authors choose to do more of this on their own dime, but all the publishers I’m talking about do at least some. And any publisher that is asking or demanding that you pay for editorial services is NOT a legitimate publisher.

  • Thanks for the comment, Daniel. We’re all hoping that your dream comes true.

  • I really like Emily’s distinction between self e-publishing and self-REpublishing. It’s a really important distinction that an author’s backlist has already been vetted and edited and proofed, etc etc. The only thing an author really needs to do to republish backlist books is come up with a new cover, since the rights to the old one are almost certainly still owned by the original publisher.

    Thanks for diving into this topic, David. This was a very much needed perspective.

  • Awesome post, David. It actually called to mind a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a guy who wanted to “interview” aspiring authors for a possible web-resource venture. Awesome idea, but he simply couldn’t understand why I still wanted to go through traditional venues when using the new internet-based module could allow me “so much more artistic freedom, integrity, and money”.

    I will be emailing him this post.

    Reading this today inspired me to write my own blog entry, in which I quoted your list. I linked back, so I hope you don’t mind! It’s here: http://lscribeharris.blogspot.com/2011/05/traditional-publishing.html .

    Thanks for the awesome post, David!

  • Edmund, thanks for the comment. I have it in mind to put out some of my backlist in e-format eventually, and I think I’ll have an easier time selling that than I would an original work. That advantage is compounded when you compare it to the challenges faced by an aspiring writer putting out new work.

    Lauren, thanks. I enjoyed your post (thanks for pointing us to it) and appreciate the link back to here. I think you’re wise to stick with the traditional route, for all the reasons mentioned in the post and in the subsequent comments.

  • henderson

    This post as well as the previous two posts have been very illuminating as to why self-publishing may not be a good idea for a number of reasons, including marketing, editing, and stigma.

    The question I have is that self-publishing market is getting more prevalent for some reason despite the issues and concerns raised in this post as well as the previous two posts.

    I think it would make this discussion more complete if a novelist who has done both self-publishing and traditional publishing could provide some input because I think such input would be very helpful.

    I don’t know if this is appropriate, but I read the a blog called WRITE TO PUBLISH and it discusses the business side of novel writing. Robin Sullivan, the blogger, gives an interesting perspective because she and her husband, Michael J. Sullivan, self-published his popular Riyria Revelations and they werea able to parlay that success into landing a six figure contract with Orbit. She also has her own small press publishing company called Ridan Publishing. Her blog is at the following link: http://write2publish.blogspot.com/

    I would recommend her blog for anyone who is interested in business and marketing aspect of publishing a novel.

  • I appreciate the (useful) distinction between e-pubbing and Re-pubbing electronically, but what of a new novel in an established, traditonally published series in which said publisher has lost interest? If an author continues to get e-mail from readers asking for another book in the series and HAS that book sitting RIGHT THERE but said author’s publisher doesn’t think the sales numbers of the series are good enough to justify another book, does an e-pub make sense? Hypothetically, of course… 🙂

  • @Henderson: I heard them interviewed on the Dead Robots Society podcast! She’s a seriously smart cookie.

  • Henderson, thanks for the comment. You’re right, self-publishing is growing, but I don’t think there is any mystery as to why. It’s all about the availability of low-cost technology. Self-publishing used to be prohibitively expensive and complicated. Now it’s relatively inexpensive and easy. So more people are doing it and more people are succeeding at it. The number who are doing well financially is still tiny in relative terms, but the absolute number is growing and those who make it are a Big Story. I agree with you that it would be helpful to have authors who have both self-pubbed and been published traditionally post here. But let me offer a couple of observations. First, people often point to the Amazon bestseller lists as proof that self-pubbed authors are doing great. And if you look at the KINDLE bestseller lists, you’ll find that there are some self-pubbed titles on there. (If you look at the list of the 100 top Kindle FREE downloads, they’re almost ALL self-pubbed, which I think is telling.) Not a majority by any means, but a surprising number — 20 out of the top 100 maybe. Thing is, you can spot those titles pretty easily because unlike the bestselling Kindle titles from established publishers and established authors, which tend to sell for between $9 and $13, the self-pubbed titles almost all sell for $0.99. “So what?” you might say. “They’re getting a better royalty rate.” Yes they are. 30% versus 15%. But that means that for each sale, they’re getting 30 cents. For each sale of a $9.99 book, the author is getting $1.50. So those self-pubbed authors have to sell five times as many books to earn the same amount, and that’s not taking into account all those expenses I mentioned before that they have but traditionally published authors don’t. As for the Sullivsns, I have no doubt that they did well and parlayed their success into a big contract. But I think it’s possible that you give the secret of their success in your comment: “She also has her own small press publishing company called Ridan Publishing.” She had many of those services I mention in place already, and she could provide them to her own book at a reasonable cost. That’s huge.

    A.J., I think that if the series you’re talking about has a following, and the author in question has a fan-base, self-publishing the book in e-format makes all kinds of sense. I would tell this hypothetical author, whose work I respect and enjoy, that he (forgive the assumption) should go for it….

  • Great post, David. You clearly illustrate why traditional publishing is still viable and still the best choice for many writers.

    Just not for me. I want the control self publishing gives me. Control over the timing, control over the quality, and control over the product itself. Most of all, I want control over the profit.

    Being traditionally published versus being self published is like being an employee versus being a business owner. I happen to relish the responsibility of operating my own business.

    When you go with a traditional publisher, you are a cog in their content wheel, and they treat you like one. If your book is successful, the money it makes is mostly for the benefit of corporate shareholders (in foreign countries much of the time).

    I became self employed years ago, partly because I hated the idea that my hard work mostly made money for someone else. I got paid for the hours I worked, but the long term benefit went to my employer.

    I’m sure you can see why self publishing would appeal to me.

    But you are absolutely right. All authors must make this decision for themselves. That means they must learn what they can about both paths. That’s a real challenge when there’s so much misinformation on both sides. But neither choice is “right” or “wrong.”

  • henderson

    The interesting thing about Riyria Revelations is Michael J. Sullivan shopped his first novel, Crown Conspiracy, to all major and several smaller presses. Only one small press expressed interest. The small press published the first book, but could not keep up with demand. A month before the second novel was going to be printed, the small press went out of business.

    During this time, Robin Sullivan was researching the ins and outs of publishing. She realized that it was still feasible to release the second novel on time, and that is when she established Ridan Publishing. Each of subsequent novels were released, with a pretty good marketing plan, the sales increased,including sales for the previously released novels.

    Before the sixth and final book was to be released, the Sullivans had their foreign rights agent put together a package and several major publishing companies expressed interest. They decided to go with Orbit. Orbit will be releasing the six book series in duologies in November and December 2011 and January 2012. The last duology will include the still unreleased sixth novel.

    Now, I know their situation is an exception to the rule with regards to getting a novel or novels published. However, the success of Riyiria Revelations only happened because these novels were self-published and there was an agressive marketing plan. When the first novel was published, the author did not have a platform. The books were not edited by an editor from one of the big publishers. They did their own marketing. If they accepted their fate when the traditional publishing companies rejected the first novel, I probably would never had the opportunity to read Riyria Revelations.

  • D.R., I certainly agree that if you have decided that self-publishing is right for you, then that’s the way you should go. But you should know that I AM self-employed and that I am most certainly NOT a cog in any publisher’s “content wheel.” (To be honest, I’m not even certain I know what that means.) I run my own business and am a contractor with Tor, with Bella Rosa Press, with DAW and Tekno Books for the AFTER HOURS anthology, with Dark Quest Books. Some of these are large presses, some are small. But I assure you that I am a business owner; I am not anyone’s employee. Ask the IRS. Every publisher treats its authors differently, so making blanket statements about how authors are treated makes little sense. Self-publishing versus traditional publishing is not the difference between being self-employed and being an employee of a company. To be honest, I’m not sure there is a suitable analogy. You are right that there is much misinformation about the two paths, but for some people self-publishing IS the wrong choice. Because it does have serious ramifications for those who hope someday to make a career of writing.

    Henderson, that is an interesting story, and you make a second point right up front that points to an important distinction in the Sullivans’ story. The first book sold to a small press. It was vetted. It made it past one of those “gatekeepers” we hear so much about. Yes, they went the self-pub route when this fell through, but they had already proven themselves to the publishing world, and that would make all that followed easier to attain.

    Folks, please try to understand: You can find examples of people who have made it big self-publishing. You can find examples of lots of things — JK Rowling was rejected 22 times (or something like that — the actual number is unimportant) and then become a billionaire. Does that mean that it COULD happen to you, too? Yeah, sure. Does it mean that it will? No. Generally speaking self-publishing for aspiring writers is a shortcut to false legitimacy and illusory earnings. False legitimacy because others in the publishing industry see self-pubbed books as unvetted and of dubious merit. Illusory earnings because in order to make money you first have to spend money. The Sullivans, according to Henderson’s story, started their own publishing company to make this work. Is that what you want to do? Don’t you think that this would involve a significant expense? The exceptions prove the rule.

  • David, thanks for the personal advice and for sticking to your guns on teh larger issue in ways which–I think–readers on both sides of the fence will find interesting and constructive.

  • Well said, David. I just wanted to add an observation which also ties into the point I keep re-making to cut through some of the emotions — the self-published darlings like Hocking, Konrath, and now, the Sullivans, all attempted the traditional big press route. In Konrath’s case, he succeeded and was a mid-list writer for some years before being dropped. The point: they didn’t write their first book and just self-publish it. They tried to get an agent, to find a publisher, and in doing so, learned the business side quite well, so that when they decided to self-publish it wasn’t as an end run around the “gatekeepers” (as it is for many) but rather there was no where else to go. And as I point out in the last paragraph of my post, my decision to self-publish a short story collection isn’t an end run either but rather a choice to “test the waters” in case my final attempts at the traditional route (both big and small press) fail.

  • Thanks, A.J. Pushing a big round stone up a steep hill . . .

    Stuart, exactly. The end run is seen in the industry as just that. I do think that for some who have made it, the end run approach will work. But again, they are the exceptions, and in the greater scheme of things, there are so few of them as to make their examples more valuable as cautionary tales.

  • @David: I apologize for the “cog” comment. That was excessive. I honestly don’t see much of a difference between being a contractor and being an employee (having been both), but the fact that you do have the potential for residual income (e.g. royalties) your situation is definitely a step up from dollars-for-hours.

    My comment about the way publishers treat their authors was a generalization, and as such, it was wrong in specific circumstances by definition. Apologies again. I made that statement based on the way I’ve heard certain “publishing people” speak about their authors. I have been personally offended (as were others who heard the same remarks) by the condescending attitude that was exhibited. I’m glad you haven’t had that kind of experience.

  • Thanks for the apologies, D.R. Not necessary. As I say, if this is the route you’ve chosen, go for it with passion and energy and commitment. All of us here at MW will be rooting for you to succeed (and will look forward to having you as a guest poster to tell us exactly how you did it!) But please, go in with your eyes open. Understand that while you might have the greater control and freedom you’re looking for, those things come at some cost. And understand as well that those of us who publish traditionally have chosen to do so, and to continue to do so, for substantive reasons. In other words, make sure this is a fully informed choice and that you know the potential risks and rewards of both approaches. None of us here at MW has a vested interest in giving advice on this one way or another. We really are trying to help.

  • This post was a pretty great survey of the current state-of-affairs of the publishing world. Things are definitely changing – but there’s very little evidence that they have changed sufficiently for the vast majority of as-yet unpublished novelists to make a decent living by self-epubbing (as opposed to Pea Fairy’s self-repubbing).

    Those facts are a big part of why I am focused on the traditional route. That… and there’s only one well-known story of a successful self-epubbing author making a lot of money that I’m aware of – and she decided to go with a traditional publisher the first chance she got! But stories of traditionally-published authors making it big abound… Chances are still pretty slim in either case, but… I just don’t have a lot of faith in the e-book market, yet, to believe in a sustainable future for self-epubbers. There’s really no data supporting that conclusion, yet, despite what self-epubbing’s cheerleaders are saying.

    I also take issue with D.R. Marvello’s intimation that authors working with traditional publishers are somehow not self-employed. I firmly believed that the only successful authors (in the traditional publishing world) are those that approach their author careers as business-owners. Authors are content creatives that produce intellectual properties and then sell licenses to that property. That’s all a traditional publishing deal is: an intellectual property license. If authors don’t know how to take advantage of the cards they hold in these business dealings, they won’t succeed, and their business will flounder. But working with a larger company doesn’t make you less legit. That’s one thing that I keep firmly in mind: my author career is my own business. And that’s why I want to make the best decision possible for my business’s success. Right now, with the data currently available on the market, the traditional publishing model still looks like it will be the best deal…

  • David: You already have helped! I have learned a great deal from this blog. My wife was traditionally published before we started self publishing, so I do have a good understanding of that approach. However, I’ve learned a lot of things from you and your compatriots about what traditional publishing means to a *fiction* author (we’ve only published non-fiction).

    Thank you for this blog and your insights. I’ll try not to make too much trouble in the future.

  • Stephen, thanks. Clearly, I think that going the traditional route is a good choice, particularly given your goals and approach. Being an author is definitely a business endeavor as well as a creative one — and I think that’s true for writers working in all formats. I appreciate your comments.

    D.R., seriously — you’re not making trouble. This blog would be dreadfully boring if everyone simply agreed with everything we wrote. Thanks for your comments and keep them coming.

  • What are decent numbers for an individual title? A.J. mentioned in his very first comment on this post that a low-performing book can hurt your attempts to sell the next book, but for those of us without traditional publishing experience, what constitutes decent sales numbers on a good, midlist book? I’m not looking for NYT bestseller numbers, but what kind of sales do you need to turn over and in what timeframe do you need to generate them to keep from getting dropped?

    I prefer to think of my “end run” as “blazing a new trail,” and maybe in a few years self-publishing will be seen as the new submission method for unknowns :). I’m not currently worried about any potential backlash or ramifications against me because I chose an alternate method for getting my books out there for the world to see. We’re too new in this game to know what people will think of self-pubbed authors five, ten, twenty years from now. Opinions are changing quickly, and what was once merely a vanity effort is now an attempt to end run the existing business model. How long before it’s considered just another path to market?

  • And I promise to buy at least one round of drinks next week at ConCarolinas. Just tell me what bar to find you all in! I’ll be at the HeroesCon all weekend, but it’s only 15 minutes away if I hit every red light on Tryon St.

  • John, as you imply in your question, this is a difficult question to answer because it’s all relative. The midlist has a pretty broad range of figures and a lot of this depends upon the size of your advance, your initial print run, etc. But say you get an advance of $15,000 on a book — that would be quite high for a first time writer, but about right for a midlist writer. If you can sell 5,000 hardcovers at $25.95 each (assuming a standard 10% royalty rate for print hardcovers), you are going to earn back just shy of $13,000 of that advance. Then the paperback sales, if they get to say 30,000 copies at $7.99 each (and an 8% royalty rate) will earn you another $19,000. Those would be considered very good midlist numbers. Let’s try a second set of numbers: 3,000 hardcovers gets you about $7,800 plus 20,000 paperbacks adds another $12,800. You’ve still earned out your advance, so those numbers are good — not great, but good. Below 3,000 hardcovers and 20,000 paperbacks and you start struggling to earn the advance, and those numbers would be disappointing. Now, of course, if your advance is higher, you have to adjust the numbers accordingly. With a $30,000 advance, those first numbers are just adequate and the second set are disastrous. Hope that’s helpful. As for your second set of questions, again it depends. I believe, as Emily/pea faerie said earlier, that the traditional publishers are going to find a way to re-establish control over even the epub market, and when they do, those self-pubbed efforts might again be seen as a stigma rather than as a legitimate path to success. WILL it happen? Don’t know. But it could. That’s why I see the self-pubbed route as risky. Looking forward to seeing you at ConCarolinas.

  • Razziecat

    David, for me this sums it up: “I believe that the quality of the finished product would suffer, as would my ability to market the book.”

    To me this is huge. I have a day job which I don’t anticipate giving up to write full-time for a living, much as I might wish to (whether my job exists for another 10 or so years is another question, as I work for a newspaper). I don’t have the time to write AND do all the marketing & other jobs that a traditional publishing house would do for me. Even more important to me is the editing! I know my work has improved over the last three years, but I am not so confident that I believe I can go the ebook route without an editor to guide me.

    On a related note, I’ve recently been reading some very well-written fan fiction online. I’d love to see some original work by the same writer. This very talented woman already writes for a living (non-fiction) and had a beta reader. But as good as she was, the fanfic pieces could have benefited from professional editing. I don’t think you can over-emphasize the value of a good editor/publisher/writer relationship.

  • John, I’m not sure how you’re advertising beyond the events I’ve attended with you, but I have to say, from the numbers you’ve shared with me, I would say you are one of the self-pub success stories. (Course, talent does help there ^_^)

    That said, I think it will take a lot more success stories for the majority of opinions on self-pubbed works too change. While there are cases like yours (where we scratch our heads and wonder why you didn’t take the story to NY) there is still an overwhelming amount of slush that hits the market through self-pubbing that will probably never sell more than 2 or 3 hundred copies total.

  • I asked this question in Publishing — A Self-Publishing Adventure Part 1, but no one addressed it. I’m still interested in hearing what the pros have to say, so I’m asking again, here:

    This is a question for all the MW print-published authors with contracts signed within the last 12 months or so:
    How much of your electronic rights did the print-publishing house ask for and/or get as part of the book deal? I’ve heard and read that print houses are demanding e-rights and modifying ‘in-print’ terminology (as it relates to rights reverting back to the author) to include e-print, which basically means they have the exclusive forever. Would love to hear the pro take on that and how it relates to the self-e-publishing decision.

    Please understand, I’m not advocating self-e-publishing. I intend to pursue the traditional route. I’m just trying to relearn a business that has changed dramatically in the ten years I’ve been out of the loop.

  • Doggone it! Cut and pasting makes things you meant to say so easy to forget!

    David, Edmund and Stuart: Absolutely fascinating and educational series of posts! Thank you so much!

  • Thank you, David. This is exactly how I feel about the subject. I’ve been tempted by the idea of self-publishing and I even have access to artist friends who’d be happy to provide me with a nice cover at little or no cost, but (and maybe this sounds terrible) self-publishing kind of feels like giving up. (I’m not referring to Ed or Stuart here because it sounds like they’ve got neat things going with their short story collections, just in general with us out-of-the-spotlight newbies, and especially for novels.) I would rather keep learning, and keep trying, with traditional publishers first. I need that feedback and guidance.

  • Razz, I agree with you. When I contemplate self-pubbing stuff — and yes, I do have some books that I’m considering taking this route — the one thing that hangs me up is the question of how I would get the book professionally edited, and at what cost. All of us need to be edited, and I would feel uncomfortable putting out anything that didn’t go through a vigorous revision process.

    “…There is still an overwhelming amount of slush that hits the market through self-pubbing that will probably never sell more than 2 or 3 hundred copies total.” I agree, Kalayna.

    Lyn, I’m not exactly sure that I understand what you’re asking. My Thieftaker contracts call for a 15% royalty on the recommended retail price all e-copies of the book sold (so if the book is retailed at $15.00 for an ecopy, but it’s sold at a discount price of $10.00, I still get 15% of $15.00). As for the reversion clause, which is a totally different beast, I have a clause which says that if the book goes out of print, but is still available through POD or electronic versions, I have to keep earning at least $100.00 per royalty period from those sales for the book to be considered in print. If my earnings fall below that, I can get the rights back. Now $100.00 is a pretty low threshold, but at least there is a clause there that allows me to keep them from holding the rights in perpetuity. Is that what you were interested in knowing? And thanks for the kind words.

  • Thanks for the comment, Laura (we must have written our comments simultaneously). I know that for some, the self-pub path is the way to go. But I understand exactly what you’re saying, and would probably feel the same way if I was starting out now.

  • David, thanks for sharing that data, it’s the kind of invaluable info that is pretty hard to come by from the outside. If you do at some point decide to self-publish some projects, I can recommend some well-regarded editors for you to take a look at. There are folks available freelance that copyedit and proofread, and folks that do more developmental editing as well. The latter are significantly fewer, but there are some out there that I’ve located through referrals and other blogs.

  • A big point in all this is the Gatekeeper concept.

    As a reader, I don’t want to wade through 100,000 books to find the 10 that are up to scratch. Because self epub is so easy, there are literally (and I use that term literally) hundreds of thousands of e-books floating around. How do I know what to even look at let alone buy?

    I know that if I go into a bookstore, go to the fantasy / sci fi section and pick up a Tor book with cover art that looks like a Robert Jordan, that it will have been heavily edited and worked over and that it will probably be at least a reasonable read, even if not necessarily exactly to my taste. If I go to Amazon and hit “browse” I am faced with page after page of e-books. Most have reviews and almost none have only negative ones. So how do I know? It gets harder and that essentially means more expensive (since time and effort are money, don’t you know?)

    The future of e-books will be ruled by the person (or people/companies) that figure a way to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff in the same way the traditional publishers do.

    As a writer, I like to think I’m the wheat, but I recon every writer thinks that and the low acceptance rate of publishing houses would tell me almost no one is.

    But as a first time writer, is my chance of doing well higher if I submit to trad publishers or if I self publish? Without more information I’d say I have similar chances. I always say, you get out what you put in. I’ll never be traditionally published without a heap of effort and I’ll never make any real sales by self publishing if I also don’t put in lots of effort.

  • John, my pleasure. And thanks for the offer of that information. I might well take you up on it.

    Scion, I agree with you as a reader as well as a writer. Thanks for the comment. As for which gives you a better chance, I still think the traditional route does, because it keeps open all your options. I remain concerned that going the self-pub route can close doors in the traditional realm

  • @David Re: Lyn’s comments: I think what Lyn is getting at is the reversion clause, yes. That’s one of the things that seems to come up with the self-epubbing cheerleaders a lot. The story goes that traditional publishing contracts now have clauses which make offering ebooks as being “in print”, which effectively means the book is always in print and reversion clauses never kick in to revert rights back to the author. Basically, they claim that it’s an end-run around the authors to take a perpetual license to print ebooks, which according to their logic cuts authors out of a lot of the potential revenue stream these authors would have if they could control their own ebooks.

    From the perspective of those of us who are unpublished, it certainly sounds alarmist and worrying. As it goes in our head: “You mean… we can make a lot more per book sold if we self-epub/self-repub ourselves, but trad publishers are basically forcing us to take a deal in which they never give us back the ebook rights, so we can never self-repub and lose out on all that money? Scary…” That’s one of the big factors that can make us unpublished folks concerned… And honestly, it does sound like a catch-22: i.e. there’s good solid money is self-repubbing (as opposed to self-epubbing out of the gate; all the good evidence seems to support published authors repubbing their previously pubbed works), but more and more, we are told, traditional publishers are effectictively gobbling up de-facto perpetual ebook rights, which makes it impossible to ever get to that point for those of us who don’t already have a backlist…

  • Right, Stephen, thanks. Then that reply I offered about the $100.00 threshold covers it. There are ways to keep the publishers from holding on to rights forever. This is where having an agent is so valuable. Lucienne took care of that for me.

  • That’s why, although there are plenty of alarm-bells being sounded by, well, alarmists, I’m not too worried about it, myself. Because (a) as you said, that’s what agents are for and (b) inasmuch as this might be a bad deal for authors, by the time I get around to securing a traditional publishing deal for myself the authors who have gone before me will have figured this out already and contingencies will have been made. And, it looks like you have! Thanks for blazing trails 🙂

  • I read and tried to keep up with the discussion yesterday. Really excellent (and polite) give and take. And a lot of info shared.

    At one time publishers did ask for *in perpetuity* for writer’s e-pub-rights. Agressive action from agent’s orgs forced most pubs to back off from this.

    I’ll add that what my pub asks for in terms of reversion of e-pub rights is 300 copies. If I sell less than 300 copies in one year, I get rights back, which sounded good to my agent. Less good, is my publisher’s offering midlist and new writers only 20% of net of royalities received from e-book sales. I have heard that most pubs offer 40% royalties to bestsellers. Industry standards must rise into fair ranges for all writers.

  • Evil Avatar

    I tweeted about this a few days ago… I’m now officially well above (Double in fact) the $10,000.00 advance offered by UK publisher of Sci Fi and Fantasy Angry Robot. Like most publishers Angry Robot only offers new authors a $10,000.00 advance. They break that advance down into 1/3 up front, 1/3 upon completion of the manuscript and 1/3 upon publication. They don’t take unsolicited submissions which means you are also giving up 15% to an Agent, bringing your total down to $8500.00. Given that the publishing road takes around 24 months from acceptance to publication (closer to 28 months including the time it takes to get the contracts signed) an author is only earning $303.00 a month if they decide to publish with Angry Robot and few Angry Robot books will ever earn out their advance.

    I have a self published Sci Fi/Fantasy novel up on the Kindle and I’m earning well above $303.00 a month from that novel and I started earning that money the day it was uploaded to Amazon. I earned around $300 the first month and I’m way above that going into the second month. I don’t have a blog and I don’t do any promotion. I did pay $500.00USD for professional cover art and I figure it was a bargain.

    At this point I’m going to be earning well over double that $7500.00 advance you talked about in your article and I started seeing those checks coming in 60 days after I uploaded my book to the Kindle. While you mentioned 10 things that publishers do well, one thing they don’t do well is pay on time and accurately report earnings back to authors, something Amazon excells at.

    While it is true that some authors will upload their project to Amazon and be lucky to sell 10 copies a month, you take the same risks when submitting to a big publisher and I’m evidence that you don’t need to take those risks to earn as much (or in my case more) than publishers are offering.

    eBooks outsell print books now. Don’t be so quick to give up those rights to someone you can’t trust and who doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

  • Those are impressive numbers, Evil. What’s your name and what’s the name of your book?

  • Evil Avatar

    My name is Philip Hansen and I have a short story on the Kindle, Z is for Zombie, that sells about 150 copies a month. My pen name has a novel up on the Kindle and I’m afraid that is the book that is selling well for me and that pen name will have to stay a pen name for a while since She is doing so well for Herself.

  • Hmmm. I am not casting doubt, Phillip, but, ummm. No name no proof. You know?

    May I suggest you rejoin MW under your pen name? Then tell us the name of the book?

  • Evil Avatar

    FWIW: My short story has sold over 1700 copies on the Kindle since August of 2010 (1759 to date) at $.99, which puts me at around $598.06 in sales or about $.105 per word. That is killer money for a short story. I’m getting ready to publish another story in June.

    The irony of having a pen name is that I have had several people say that I’m a better writer than myself. I’m kind of jealous of my success.

  • What I find most surprising, Philip, is that these sales started at that level immediately with no publicity at all. Don’t tell our publishers because they’ll never put another ad out for any of us! What do you think is the key to why you’ve done so well? And what makes you believe that the sales will continue at their current level for the months to come? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re not claiming that you’ve already earned $20,000 on this book, but rather that over the first two months you have earned what that translates to in monthly earnings, right? That’s a VERY different thing. It would be nice if your earnings stayed at that level indefinitely, but don’t be surprised if they don’t. That is not the usual pattern for book sales — usually they have a spike early on and drop off sharply within half a year.

  • Those are good earnings on the short story. No doubt. But as I say, you began this exchange by saying that you had already earned more than a double a $10,000.00 advance, and now you say that the book has been out for two months and has earned over $303.00 the first month and may do better than that the second month. That is NOT the same thing at all, and I think you need to admit that. You’re assuming that your earnings will continue at this level until you’ve beaten that $10,000.00 advance (or actually $8,500.00, since you dismiss an agent’s fee without taking into account the things you lose by not having an agent). Urging people to give up on traditional publishing based on $600.00 worth of earnings because you think those earnings will continue forever is misleading.

  • Evil Avatar

    Hi Faith! No worries. I’m not trying to discredit David’s article or outright contradict his points, I’m sharing my story and my numbers for you to take at face value or reject as you please.

    You can find me on Amazon.com and on Goodreads. I’m the author of several video game strategy guides from publisher Bradygames and the Owner/Webmaster of a video game news page that has been around since 1998. I don’t have any reason to lie, I only want to keep some of my work separate from the rest of my work.

    At this point I can’t see going with a traditional publisher unless the advance were in the six figure range. If I can make $12k a year from each project without a blog, without social networking and without any kind of promotion or costs other than a damn good cover artist then what does a traditional publisher have to offer me other than money — and it would need to be a LOT of money up front to match or exceed what I can do on my own.

  • Evil Avatar

    I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. You are correct, I’m predicting that I’ll continue to move more than enough copies to beat out that $8500.00 advance from a publisher over the course of a 28 month period. (It isn’t $600 worth of earnings, it is $1400 in two months… I’ve sold another 10 copies since I made my first post this morning.)

    This is what I’m earning now and I haven’t made my book available on Pubit or the iBook store. I’ve got a lot of room for growth.

    My personal experience and what I have read is that most of the time eBook’s don’t act like traditional books. They don’t spike at the beginning and then fall off over time. They start out slow and gain momentum usually leveling off during slow months and then hitting a spike around the holidays (or any time Amazon discounts the Kindle). The more projects you have available, the more Amazon will drive readers to your projects using that big “Other readers purchased” thing. With the Kindle the #1 best selling product on Amazon of all time and eBooks are now outselling print books.

    Your eBook doesn’t land in a store and get stripped and returned 60 days later like a traditional mid-list paperback. eBooks are forever and forever is a very long time.

  • I’m sorry for the tone of my last comment, Philip. I think I probably went a bit overboard. But let me point out, in addition to my issues with the numbers that I brought up in that last post, that you are in fact already traditionally published. You have books out. They may not be fiction, but they are books, and so your experience is actually much closer to what Stuart and Edmund are talking about in their recent posts. You know the business and have mastered your craft. You bring to the table experiences and credits that few aspiring writers have. That makes a difference, too. Again, my point is that saying you’re experience is evidence that aspiring authors can make it self-publishing just as easily as they can going the traditional route is not quite right. Once more, sorry for my previous comment. I should have been a bit more diplomatic.

  • Philip, it does sound a little hinky when you say you’re making gobs of money on a book that you can’t tell us the name of. It comes off a little like the class nerd who keeps insisting he has a hot girlfriend in Canada. *smile*

    If you’re doing well, that’s great, and we’re all happy for you.

  • Evil Avatar

    I don’t think I have a secret to share, I think the key to success is category and cover art. While I write some stories because I fell in love with the idea I also write things I feel have commercial appeal. If you write in a HOT category and then you match that with attractive cover art you are going to pop out at people who like that kind of book when they are browsing Amazon.com.

    Paranormal Romance is a hot category, thrillers are a hot category, military SciFi is a hot category. People writing weepy literary fiction where some character laments the fact that their son is a drug abuser for 600 pages are going to be those people selling the 10 copies a month. Remember, I’m not waiting 24 months for my fiction to land in a book store. If I know there is a TV show that is burning up the airwaves and I can write fiction in that same genre and have it available before the 2nd season of that show starts (The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Dexter, True Blood, etc.) then you are bound to see some success.

    And the measurement of success is different for everyone. I’ve seen small press horror signed & numbered hardcovers that sell for $50 take six months to sell out 250 copies. I had sold 200 copies of my short story by the 3rd month. Granted the price is VASTLY different, but I reached the same number of readers. That has to count for something.

  • Philip, I don’t understand why you won’t share with us who your alter-ego is? First, doing so is free advertising! I can’t buy your book, if I don’t know about it. Second, you undercut all your arguments by remaining incognito. Third, we try hard at this site to be open and forthcoming with the “secret” information in this business. Unraveling the truth from the myth of epublishing will be helped by being open. Fourth, unless you’re writing porn that you’d be ashamed of (as opposed to porn you’re proud of, I guess), there’s no real “confusion” issue. Lots of authors use multiple names. Faith and David are two. So, please, give us a little more information, so we can approach what you’ve been saying with a clear understanding of where it’s coming from.

    Hope that was clear. My brain feels a bit foggy at the moment. 😛

  • Philip, that is an interesting point, and one I hadn’t considered. With epub you can respond more quickly to trends. Interesting. I hope your success continues and that you will eventually share with us your alter-ego’s name so that we and our readers can check out “her” books.

  • “It comes off a little like the class nerd who keeps insisting he has a hot girlfriend in Canada. *smile*”

    She lives in Canada. She has no morals. I don’t like that in a girl.

  • David and Faith – thank you so much for addressing my question.
    My concern wasn’t so much about how much you could be losing (10-20% from the publisher vs 70% from Amazon) but about not ever regaining the rights at all.
    I have a friend who, many years ago (pre e-pub), sold a trilogy. The contract was written in such a way that she had to earn out her advance AND have 12 months OOP before rights reverted. The publisher did a short-run on her books, though, so unless almost every book sold, she wouldn’t earn out. Years later, she sold a second trilogy in the same world to another house. It took an (new) agent, a lawyer, money and grief to get the rights to the 1st trilogy back, even though the books had been OOP for over 5 years. When she did win them back, the 2nd house immediately bought and re-released them in print.
    As both of you mentioned in your responses, having a GOOD agent (which my friend obviously did not) and understanding completely what you are selling is obviously paramount.
    As others have also mentioned, so much of what you read ‘out there’ is from proponents for or against, with the Spin to support their cause. I was asking the question because several of you have been to the negotiating table and can be trusted to provide honest NO SPIN answers.
    Thanks again, for that. And for a place where we can ask these questions.

  • David, thanks. I think that all publishers have been painted with this Big Publisher brush. Good to know that it ‘s not true about all traditional publishers.

  • This was interesting. Dean Wesley Smith posted a cool idea on his site: ebook gift cards. http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=4154

  • My feminie alter-ego sent David a screenshot of our US sales for this month. Thanks to everyone for being such a great group to share info with.

    All the back-and-fourth here bled over onto my twitter account and another writer I’m familiar with (Kenn wrote the Soldier of Fortune 1 strategy guide and I wrote the Soldier of Fortune 2 strategy guide) decided to work together on a new Kindle novella.

    I still think the place for most new authors is Direct-To-Kindle. Amanda Hocking got the attention of big publishers through her Kindle sales. This is the playground where you can build your sandcastle and show off to the big kids on the other side of the fence. Instead of letting some random Agent who is more obsessed with thier own blog and their own twitter account tell you that you aren’t good enough — let readers decide if you are good enough and if you are it instantly puts money in your pocket.

    I love print, I love the feel of paper and I love collecting books and I have a huge collection of signed limited editions, but I don’t see any reason to play games with indifferent publishers and snarky agents when I can build a platform and an audience on my own.

  • Philip: Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve been keeping up with several self-published fiction writers, and your expectation of continued sales is right in line with what they have experienced. As you said, it seems that with ebooks, you don’t see the spike and then trail-off of sales. They usually start slow and continually increase over time, with periodic or seasonal sales dips and spikes like you described. When the sales level off, that’s when you play games with pricing to stimulate new interest. Market saturation appears to be a non-issue.

    According to what I’ve seen, the BEST thing you can do to increase your sales is keep writing more books. The more presence you have on the virtual bookshelf, the easier it is for readers to find you, and the more you can earn from readers who become fans.

  • Oh, and lest I be accused of painting too rosy of a picture here, let me be clear that I’m not talking about the sales behavior for ALL self-published ebooks; just the good ones. As many have pointed out on this blog, a lot of crap (or more diplomatically, “commercially nonviable”) material gets uploaded to Amazon. Those books have a sales plateau as well, but it lies closer to 0. 😉

  • Hello all,
    My husband stumbled upon this yesterday and skyped it to me. I would like to add my own perspectives to this very important topic. The first and most importand is that all three paths (big-six publisher, indie press, and self-publishing) has positive and negatives associated with them. There is not one “right answer” and I believe strongly in all three – as evidenced by the fact that we self-published Michael’s Riyria Revlations, I run my own indie press, and Michael has signed with a big-six publisher.

    In the past, and as little as six months to a year ago, the only real choice for making money in publishing was the big-six. Most small presses didn’t sell many books and even successful self-published authors (my husband being one of them) were making modest money from their work.

    The digitization of the written word is not just “one more format” for books – like mass market paperbacks or trade paperbacks. It is completely redefining the business of writing. Traditional publishers models were based on marketing to corporate buyers at bookstores. In “the old model” self-published and small pressess were at an extreme disadvantage. With the “new model” barriers to entry have crumbled and because bandwidth limited the number of titles that could be released per year we are now seeing an explosion of work available (some of it is good, others are dreck) but the important thing is that now…for the first time in a long while there are viable choices for authors.

    In May, one of the Ridan authors sold 17,000 books (across six titles) and earned himself over $20,000 and $8,500 for Ridan (yes our authors make more than we do per title). I agree that Hockings and Konraths are outliers but there are many new authors such as Michael Sullivan, Nathan Lowell, Marshall Thomas, B.V. Larson, David Dalglish, Thomas Deprima, and many many more that are all what I term as the new e-publishing midlist. None have made the Amazon Top 100 and yet they all are earning more than enough to quit their day jobs and make a good living from writing.

    Bottom line…there are now “viable” options to making a living writing. If self-publishing isn’t for you – seek out a good small press that is selling well and offers good terms. If you are an entrepreneur then go that route. But the mere fact that there are now options is a VERY good thing.

    Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing