Publishing — A Self-Publishing Adventure Part 1

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Last weekend I was in Florida and had the joy of eating dinner with my cousin, Joel Goldman. Joel is a successful mid-list author in the mystery/thriller genre. Funny thing, though. His publisher is getting less and less interested in furthering his career. It’s happening to a lot of mid-list writers lately. So, as his old books go out of print, he’s snatching back his rights and will be releasing them as self-published ebooks over the coming months.

For decades, the phrase Self-Publishing was a dirty, ugly word used by those who couldn’t get published in even the smallest of presses. Nobody in the industry would touch those works except on the very rare occasion that said work began selling enormously. But the publishing world is changing lightning fast (which is terrifying to an industry known for its glacial pace). And the last 20 months has changed things dramatically.

Almost.

Several factors in the ebook world rewrote what was possible. Obviously, cost and access are two of the biggest factors. Another huge factor was the creation of the Kindle (and later the nook and other e-readers). Suddenly, reading on a screen no longer sucked. That was all nice and good, but the real game-changing factor came when Amazon began its e-publishing program which gave the author a whopping 70% royalty off the cover price of any book sold for $2.99 or higher. The result: over the last 20 months, as many major publishers are tightening their belts, squeezing the mid-list harder and harder, a new avenue burst open. For many established mid-listers, significantly more money can now be made selling a book themselves rather than via a publisher.

Almost.

Here’s where this is all going (this being this post) — I’m putting together a collection of short stories called 10 Bits of My Brain which will include seven previously published stories and three new ones. Later this summer, I’ll be releasing it as a self-published ebook. And throughout the process, I will report back here as to how the whole thing works out. I’ll even include my sales numbers — no matter how impressive or embarrassing.

So, what’s with the whole Almost thing?

Well, while I do believe the new concept of self-publishing can be far different from the old, the old concept still exists for many writers. If you’re a beginning writer, self-publishing should still be a dirty word. To make that clear, let me show you what I have going that makes it a legitimate choice for me (and many mid-list writers) and not for a beginner:

  • I’ve been published. Many times. Notice that my short story collection contains mostly previously published material — work that’s been vetted and edited already. I could easily have made the collection entirely of previously published material, but I wanted to include some new work for those who already have read my stuff. And as much as I may still go through moments of self-doubt, the fact is that deep-down inside, I know I can write. I’ve been validated before. I know that the product I put out as an ebook will be written at a professional quality level.
  • I’m well-connected. I’ve been in this business eighteen years and I’ve networked. Serious self-publishing requires, at the very least, a good editor and a good graphic designer — both of whom understand books. Depending on your skills, you may also need a copy-editor, promotional people, formatting specialists, and a host of others. I have the connections to get quality people for those roles. Like all publishing, serious self-publishing requires strong marketing and promotion — and that is made far easier by being well-connected.
  • I have a platform. Between Magical Words and my podcast, The Eclectic Review, I have a weekly audience that can reach close to 10,000 people. I also have my website, a Facebook fan page, and a Goodreads page. While not all of those people are going to buy my book when it’s released, if I’ve done my job right, a significant portion will (that would be you all!).
  • I’ve been to the top already (and fell). I’ve been published. I’ve had an agent. My books have been read by the top editors of the top publishers, and I’ve been told over and over that I’m a great writer but that they weren’t going to buy what I had to offer. It took me years to decipher that one. It means, I can write but that they don’t think they can sell 20,000 copies of it and don’t want to take the financial risk (self-publishing in today’s e-world, however, costs very little, so what would be a big risk to them can be a small risk to me). The point here is that there’s no connection I can network that will get my books any higher up the food chain. I’ve gone to the top of the traditional publishing world, and they weren’t interested.

If any of the above points does not fit your situation (especially the last point), then I believe you should still be trying to go the traditional route. Because if you don’t, then you’re cutting your chances down without a valid reason. Somebody is going to be the next Neil Gaiman or Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. It could be you, and you won’t discover that by self-publishing. Not yet. Things have changed a lot in the last two years but ebooks are not there yet.

Almost, but not yet.

To add a little more perspective — This past Wednesday, I had lunch with our own Ed Schubert.  Like me, Ed is putting out a short story collection, but his is being published through a small press.  We had a fascinating talk on the subject of self-publishing vs small press and where, in the coming new age of publishing, the small press will fit.  Tomorrow, Ed will be picking up this topic and, if you all are interested enough, we’ll continue the dialog as our projects continue.

And to add even a little more perspective — I’m still trying to get an agent, still trying to get published traditionally. If the next run fails, then I’ll be considering publishing my novels via ebooks (depending on my experience with the upcoming 10 Bits of My Brain), but only because of the above points. Without those things in place, it truly would be vanity publishing, and that will always be a dirty word.

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54 comments to Publishing — A Self-Publishing Adventure Part 1

  • Stuart – I didn’t realize how nicely our posts would dovetail! I agree with your caveats whole-heartedly. In the same way that many people approaching traditional publishers imagine that they’ll be Rowling or Gaiman, many people approaching modern self-publishing imagine they’ll be Konrath or Hocking. Virtually all people in either publishing world will be somewhere *much* further down the list. In self-publishing that might mean having spent a fair amount of one’s own money (buying the services of those very necessary professionals that you mention) with little to show in the end. I’m particularly interested in watching your project because you’re aware of all this *and* you’re tackling a collection — a notoriously hard sell in the traditional publishing world. Best of luck!

  • Mindy — Thanks! While I do know that a collection is a harder sell, I’m not convinced that will be as much of a problem in the ebook world. One of the major problems with short story collections in print is cost and how that translates to the book’s price. After all, who wants to spend $20 on a book that’s only 150 pages? But as an ebook, I can set the price far lower (think $3.99 perhaps), make more money than I would in print royalties, and appeal to the short story readers wallet. At least, that’s what I’m hoping will happen!

  • I see what you are saying about no-name fiction authors, Stuart, but I’m willing to give it (self-publishg ebooks)a try anyway–especially after a recent conversation I had with a fellow who is doing just that. He’s starting to see a month or two of money that is good enough to pay the monthly mortgage, and he doesn’t have to wait longer than 60 days to reap his money. That’s satisfactory to me.

    When I get my stuff up, I’m willing to be the no-name fiction author comparison to your numbers. I am a published author, but my numerous publishing credits are in the tabletop roleplaying game field. I don’t know if I’ll be able to draw in any fans from that background. Time will tell. I may still seek some traditional publishing opportunities, but I want to take most of my writing future into my own hands.

    Thanks for your post. I’m looking forward to hearing how your experiment goes.

  • All of the reasons given (by all of the writers involved) are perfectly valid, but I can’t help but be concerned anyway. With EVERYBODY

  • okay, the computer decided I was done typing…

    What I was going to say is that with EVERYBODY rushing into the market with self-pubbed ebooks, there’s going to be a serious glut of them. This runs the risk of flooding the market with garbage, which will reinforce the idea that self-published works are inferior. They aren’t inherently inferior (no more so than books published by the traditional big houses in NY are all superior) but I fear that that will very quickly become the perception, hurting the prospects of the people like Mindy or Stuart for whom it might really work.

  • For my part, I’m working toward traditional publishing. But like everyone else these days, I’m paying attention to folks who are doing the self-pub route. I’m very interested in learning how the different variables work here for everyone. Thanks for including us, Stuart and Edmund.

  • I look forward to reading Ed’s perspective on the connection of where Self-Publishing & Small Press publishing fit into the overall ecology of the industry. Which is how I see it: as an ecology with many options.

    I have a number of Small Press credits and I’ve edited and self-published seven issues of my sporadic ‘Zine, The Dyslexicon, which so far has been produced in true Xerographic punk rock glory (if I make future issues they will come out via Print-On-Demand and PDF, which will cut down significantly on the up-front costs). The great thing about this last project is that I didn’t have to seek anyones permission to do it. Meanwhile I’m still submitting work to professional markets.

    Many opportunities abound and there are plentiful connections to be made. I look at this plethora in terms of creating a healthy ecology for writers and those involved in literary creation.

    I explore Indie Publishing at greater length in the Open Letter on Indie Publishing I wrote which was posted by Sean Farrel and the good folks at Adventures In SciFi Publishing, available here:
    http://www.adventuresinscifipublishing.com/2011/03/an-open-letter-on-indie-publishing/

    Regards,
    Justin

  • Sorry. I meant: Thanks for including us Stuart and for the other side of this with the small press, Edmund.

  • I have a bit of bad news about the market to share, that could make the e-book *and* traditional publishing market fall apart.

    From Richard Curtis (huge agent in the biz) we have this link today. I *really* suggest we all read the article.
    http://ereads.com/2011/05/game-over-google-insists-on-linking-to-pirate-sites.html

    Then go to Google and search for, I don’t know, maybe Faith Hunter e-books. Or David B Coe e-books. The top ten sites will likely have pirate sites.

    Even Amazon cannot compete with places that steal and then sell for half of Amazon.

    Based on this horrible bit of info, I deleted Google from my search engines. I will no longer use Google. I will not buy products that advertise on Google. They are helping people break the law. And that means that indirectly Google is stealing.

  • Guys, RPG companies were some of the first to realize the benefits of ebooks. They have been publishing through them for several years now. Some folks have even quit their day jobs to self-publish through their own ebook gaming company, making use of the POD capabilities as needed. Because the RPG market is a niche one, they aren’t making money hand-over-fist, but they are making a sustainable living or a good supplemental living.

    And, of course, pirating is something they’ve had to deal with. They generally squash web sites when found, but are otherwise accepting that pirating will always be a problem. Heck, there were pirated copies on the Web of the 3 core 4th-edition D&D books before the hard copies even hit the stands. But they still sold. Some people may have even purchased copies after having viewed the pirated ones. Some game companies say pirated copies can sometimes lead to sales.

    As to the glut, there are numerous gaming companies out there publishing ebooks through sites like RPGNow and Drivethrurpg, but the cream rises to the top. Face it: Word of mouth is really what sells books. This is what blog supporters of self-publishing are saying, too (like JA Konrath and Mike Stackpole, etc). Also, they say print writers are still lost within a sea of books within the bookstores, so they aren’t really much better off.

    I’m still reading up on the topic, but I agree the publishing market is changing. The gatekeepers aren’t as important as they used to be. At any rate, I’m intent on giving it a try. I just need to make sure my material is up to snuff so that it can benefit from word of mouth.

  • Faith, Google has really been misbehaving of late in their treatment toward authors. Time to find a new search engine.

  • I’ve just changed my search engines, too. Google has declared war on authors — it started with their efforts to digitize our work without our permission, escalated with the so-called “settlement” that was designed to buy us off cheap, and now this.

    Stuart, I look forward to following your e-book enterprise as it progresses. Best of luck with it.

  • Christina — You bring up a point I did not which is Why are you writing? If you are writing for money (usually not a successful way to go about it), then my criteria does not apply necessarily. Go ahead and try ebooks — some people are lucky and make good money doing it. The main thrust of my post is to say that if you haven’t given it everything you’ve got to get that chance of being Stephen King, keep trying. Don’t sell yourself short. After all, when I write a short story, I send it to the top markets first and work my way down. I don’t start with a new magazine that has 3 readers. That makes no sense. Your journey toward the top will help you network and build the platform so that if ebooks becomes a choice for you, you’ll be more than ready. Too many writers are just leaping into this because it seems like an easy way to avoid paying your dues. I have no doubt, though, that ebook publishing will kick an author’s butt every bit as hard (if not worse, because you’ll see the numbers).

    Ed — See above. Yeah. There’s a ton of crud out there and it’s more accessible to the general public. However, avid readers might be gleaning on to this. One avid reader (3-5 books a week) told me she won’t buy any ebook selling below $4 because she’s been burned too many times. This is why a platform becomes so important. Readers want a name they can trust.

    ek — Yup. This has been a real mind warp for me. A year ago, I didn’t really buy into the ebook thing, but it’s changing so fast. Like you, I keep going the traditional route yet keep an eye on ebooks. Only now I’m dipping my toe in the pond, too.

    Justin — I think you’re right that for a lot of us, it won’t be one way or another. We’ll be published in a variety of forms. I’ve been in small presses for awhile through anthologies and non-fiction (you have your copy of How To Write Magical Words, right?), and now I’ll be in ebooks. I doubt I’d ever turn my nose against traditional print publishing. They’re simply different models with different needs that serve different people. Good luck with your own endeavors.

    Faith — Wow. Don’t know how to react to that. On one hand, Google shows such hubris that I suspect we’ll live to see the fall. However, I also think Curtis is overstating things to suggest it’s the end of days for us. Piracy has always been a problem, but I’m a firm believer that most (not all) sales you lose to piracy were never actual sales to begin with. Those people would never pay for a book. That’s not to excuse google or piracy, but merely to say that while this news sucks big time, is angering, and will have detrimental effects on the business, it won’t destroy things completely — just make them harder. BTW, I did google “Faith Hunter ebooks” and got all good sites including your website, amazon, goodreads, and fictiondb. No pirate sites.

  • Y’all added more comments while I was typing!

    Christina — It sounds like we’re coming to the same conclusions from different angles. I would only add that it’s wrong to think there are still no gatekeepers. There are. It’s just that the gate and its keepers have moved. The gate used to be what you had to do in order to get published. Now, with that gate removed, the bigger gatekeeper — the readers — become more powerful. I can publish all the ebooks I want, but if nobody’s buying I might as well not be there — the readers can shut the gate every bit as hard as the publishers.

    David — Like I said to Faith, I make no excuses for google. They really do seem to have it out for writers. They are becoming EVIL! So, any suggestions for a good alternative?

  • Stuart, I’m really just echoing comments I’ve read on those bloggers’ sites. Yesterday, I read one of the posts on Barry Eisler turning down a half-million dollar contract from St. Martin’s Press, deciding he’d rather publish it himself: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/ebooks-and-self-publishing-dialog.html

    Here are links to some of the topic’s proponents for those interested:

    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/
    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/
    http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/
    http://www.stormwolf.com/

  • Stuart> Great and interesting post. I’m in the middle of trying the “traditional publishing route” right now. I can’t imagine self-publishing my stuff. I have no audience but my friends, and they’d probably just *give* me the four bucks if I asked them, even w/o getting a book in return. I don’t have a platform yet from which to sell and so I don’t see how it would benefit me.

    I also don’t really buy ebooks. I’ve bought one or two and read ’em on my phone when I’m trapped somewhere. But I don’t have an ereader (okay, I’ll go ahead and add “yet” here). I’m waiting to be able to put by textbooks on an ereader and be able to easily annotate them (and that’s “easily” by MY standards, not theirs).

    I don’t buy non-vetted work as a rule, unless I know the author well. So, with little exception, I don’t buy self published books. I’ve had too many people I know have too many bad experiences with them. I’ve gone and looked at Publish America authors, and then ones I’ve looked at have typoes in the first lines, pov switches, all sorts of problems that wouldn’t get an agent or traditional editor past the first page! So why would I spend ten cents, let alone multiple dollars for it?

    That said, with authors I know, like you all here, I’d have no problem buying a self-pubbed thing because I know the quality I’d be getting.

    I guess what I’m saying is, as a reader, I totally agree because my buying habits match what you suggest could or would happen.

    And as for piracy, I have friends (not me, I don’t pirate stuff at all) who download stuff like music or books or tv shows, and then if they like it, they go buy the matieral: the book, the cd or record, the tv show on dvd. So there is a tiny bit of truth to the pirating can lead to sales, at least for some folks. That said, I think Goggle linking to pirating websites is a huge problem. Can someone sue them for aiding and abeting a crime?

  • Deciding on the “why” you write is certainly important. I have no grand illusions/delusions that I’d be the next Stephen King, but I think I can entertain some readers and make some money while doing it. There’s no reason why I necessarily have to give the power to traditional publishers to decide if I’m capable of doing just that. Plus, as David bemoaned one day, it really takes a long time to even get those folks to respond to your works–and he HAS an agent. Konrath would say that you could have had your work out there earning you money instead of sitting in some slush pile. Of course, many of those guys are keeping their feet in both worlds. I think it was Dean Wesley Smith who said you might want to publish traditionally, accepting that book’s sales as a loss leader, to propel readers to your ebooks.

    Obviously, there are a great many things to consider in trying this route, but those guys cover a great deal about all sides of the topic. They all say they are just trying to make a living, and traditional publishing has not allowed them to do that.

  • Stuart, that makes me feel better, I googled myself for e-books (for the last time) day before yesterday and found 4 of the top 7 sites were torrent and pirate sites.

    For the last 18 months, Google is giving signals that suggest they are above the law of protecting property ownership, yet they fight in court to save and protect their own intellectual property rights. They elected to help cheat others but then hide behind the very laws they are helping to break, to the detriment of writers everywhere.

  • Faith, Sounds like what’s-his-name (Julian something?) the guy who founded and runs the site that released all those classified/diplomatic documents that raised such a ruckus not too long ago. He screamed loudly about freedom of information and all that, but when he was facing sex-crime charges from Sweden and someone leaked information about him to the media, then he was all about an individual’s right to and expectation of privacy. There’s no argument quite so compelling as one that relies on a double-standard, eh?

  • I’ll be very interested to follow your experiment, Stuart. Like many others, I’ve set my sights on the traditional publishing model. But more and more I’m interested in seeing how things shake out in the digital world. So far, it seems like the data on the new e-publishing model is mixed… but there’s really not a lot of good, reliable data on it at all, generally. So I’m interested in learning about the experiences of those who are taking this journey.

    Regarding what Edward said: I think that’s already happened (the glut of low-quality stuff). A little too late to stuff that particular cat back in the bag; there was a glut of low-quality stuff even before the market took off. What’s interesting, so far, is that some good stuff has had the opportunity to rise to the top, anyway. What’s consternating is that some good stuff has not. It’s so difficult to predict or understand, it seems.

    I also wanted to add that I did a few quick google searches and came up with mixed results. Searching for “David B Coe ebooks” brought up all legit sites, searching for “Faith Hunter Books” brought up legit sites (and reviews), but searching for “Faith Hunter ebooks” brought up a mix of legit sites and torrents.

    If there’s a viable alternative to Google (i.e. one that is not also evil and/or stupid), I’m not aware of it. What’s more, at this point Google is big enough (and rich enough) that they can do pretty much anything they want, and they will get away with it. And they’re rich enough that they’ll be able simply to buy any upstart technology that threatens Google by providing more relevant and useful search results. Sadly, that’s the way of a world that has bowed low before its corporate masters and accepted the corporation/profit-motive uber alles.

  • Faith, I did that once too when the RPG supplement I wrote came out. I was looking for review sites to mention in my blog and the first 6 sites that came up were people asking for the torrent on torrent sites. A little discouraging, but since I had a one time payment it wasn’t too bad. I would think it’d be a bigger blow to see that as a self-pub, honestly. You’re already a needle in a needle stack, so to speak, and even though some of those getting your book through torrents may just be trying an untried author to see if they like it enough to buy it, there’s an equal number of people who will just grab everything you put out from torrent sites.

    I’m working toward the traditional route (I’ve always wanted to be traditionally published and I think I’m good enough now to try), but I have waffled off and on with the thought of self-pub, even as an untried. I have a lot of artist friends who know other artists, and those all know people who read, and they can spread word through the network. We all do that for each other now because we’re all just trying to make sales on our various projects. I would also make sure I have a good marketing plan in place before I went the self-pub route, not to mention an artist and an editor on hand. With all the great artists I know within my local friends, I think I’d be able to find one of them who would do my covers for me for a sales percentage. In other words, I’d end up treating my self-pub as even more of a business than traditional pub, which is also a business but with more of the decision making in other hands. Might even be tempted to take a course in running a small business.

  • Christina — A lot of mid-listers are feeling the same way — that it’s no longer good business sense to stay with traditional publishers. And some of them happily tell everybody that we’re all going to be rich and successful if we go the ebook route. While I’m optimistic for my short story collection, in this post and in other venues, I try to speak a bit from the other side of the spectrum because I see a lot of starry-eyed writers who think they’ll go from struggling to Amanda Hocking status merely by putting out an ebook. Ebooks and what they’re doing to this industry might end up being the most wonderful development in centuries, but most of us will do well to keep at least one foot on the ground while our heads are in the clouds. All this is to say that if I sound negative against ebooks, I’m not. I just don’t want a lot of MW readers to think it’s time for all of them to give up traditional publishing.

    Stephen — Reliable data, indeed. That’s the big problem right now when authors make claims about the success or failure of ebooks. Nobody knows exactly, and nobody will know for several more years. Anything that happens now could be typical or an outlier. No way to be sure until we rack up a lot of data.

    Daniel — Knowing artists is a great help. Any kind of network you can utilize for either services or sales is part of your platform. One cool thing about ebooks, it seems, is that a small network of a handful of artists (something a major publisher would think little of when considering the large numbers they have to deal with) can be extremely valuable and productive on the small scale. Good luck.

  • Fascinating post and thread, Stuart, though the Google stuff is pretty demoralizing. I’ll probably chip in on the epub thing soon as it’s something my agent and I have been discussing with regard to a particular title I’ve had sitting around for a little while. If we move forward, I’ll share the results.

  • Edward? Who’s Edward?

  • @Edmund: Dang me for not looking up to the top of the thread one more time or at least copying/pasting your name. My apologies for being a bit of an ass, there. I feel like I have egg on my face.

  • Minor detail; no worries Stephen.

  • Piracy sounds scary. Lots of fear that it’ll put writers out of business. Yikes.
    I’m not sure it’s quite the problem that people fear though. Especially if authors and publishers handle things right.

    For the most part, I think people really want to do the right thing. If you let them do what they consider to be the right thing, they’ll gladly do so.

    iTunes proved that for music. Dollar songs and iTunes gift cards put a serious dent in music piracy. The musicians are still getting their hard earned money, and it’s easier to find lesser known great musicians due to Genius and other stuff like that.

    I suspect if authors price their eBooks reasonably, their fans will still do the right thing.

    For those who do pirate ebooks, well, they probably wouldn’t have bought them anyway. And, at least some of them may become fans, may come to your blog, may start engaging with you, and may start actually buying your books.

    As far as self-published quality, well, I’m not sure I’d necessarily run across those problems myself so much with my ‘reader’ hat on. I don’t go to publishers and look through their lists to find what to choose. I choose based on recommendations from friends, from favorite authors, and even from reading authors contributions to blogs such as this. (Just finished Skinwalker…happy happy…thanks Faith.) Heck, I even look at ratings and comments on Amazon.

    I’ve done pretty well so far on choosing dead-tree books that way, avoiding the awful traditionally published books that are also out there.

    It’s all about making sure you get those recommendations, participate in your genre’s community and interact with your readers, I’m guessing.

    (Ok, so I’m not published yet, but I’m working hard to polish my stuff up. I am a voracious reader, though.)

  • Edmund asked Edward? Who’s Edward?

    Oh, he’s tall and brooding and he sparkles in the sunshine. Okay, yeah, he drinks blood but hey, none of us are perfect.

    *grins, ducks and scampers away before Edmund can swat her*

  • henderson

    I have looked into self-publishing a great deal over the last several months, and I think it is a viable alternative to traditional publishing.

    I think the concerns about gatekeepers is valid, but I think there are ways to address that issue. A person interested in self-publishing could get editing, marketing, and other services, and, probably, at the same level of quality as through traditional publishing.

    I think one of the incentives in going through the self-publishing, especially in the fantasy genre, is that it won’t take nearly as long for books to get to market. I have heard in traditional publishing, and if the writer’s initials are not GRRM, the lag time could be as long as eighteen months from the time the editior receives the manuscript to when the copies of the book are on the shelves in book stores.

    A good example is D.B. Jackson’s THIEFTAKER series. I believe David has already written the first novel, and we won’t see it until May 2012. For me, that is too long to wait.

    With traditional publishing, a writer is at the mercy of the publisher. I have read many stories about how a book is ready to ready to go only to have the publisher, for some reason, decide not to release the book (an example is Ian Tregillis and the sequel to Bitter Seeds). Another is example is Tor not publishing the MMPB edition of the fourth book in the Long Price Quartet, which is a great series.

    I think any writer who wants to be published wants to have there books read by as many people as possible. Some writers feel “that they have not made it” until they see their books on the shelves of book stores. I think traditional publishing is the preferred way to go for these writers. Other writers may not care that their books are not on the shelves of book stores, but still want people to read their novels. Self-publishing may be the preferred way for them.

  • But had Stephen addressed Edmund as Edward in an IGMS submission, would Edmund be so nonchalantly dismissive about the mistake? Lol!

  • Roxanne — Very well put. I think a lot of readers are like you — that they go by word of mouth, author’s names that they trust, and reviews/recommendations. That’s why a good platform can help so much in spreading the word.

    Misty — Talk about Harry, I don’t mind. But Edward and whoever the other guy is . . . argh! The only Twilight I wish to discuss is The Twilight Zone.

    henderson — there’s a lot of trade-offs between the two publishing models. While David has had to wait a long time for Thieftaker to be put out and while he has no control over cover or price, he also gets all the artwork, editing, etc, done without digging into his own wallet and the book gets put on shelves. That’s not just an ego thing. As you said — writers want to have as many people as possible reading their work. Well, people still browse bookstores, and with a good cover, people still pick up books they never heard of. Having even one copy in a couple thousand bookstores across the country can be powerful. One thing Amazon learned quickly is that they can’t reproduce the same experience. It’s difficult to browse Amazon and still get the same “stumble upon something” experience as a bookstore. It means that word of mouth is going to be even more important for a self-published book. But, like I say, it’s all a trade-off. Ebooks are faster, cheaper, and the author has far more artistic control.

    The more I respond to all these comments, the more I think having a strong platform is extremely important. I’ll have to go ponder for awhile.

  • Razziecat

    I still want to be published the traditional way. Nothing is so exciting as the feel and smell of a brand new book, and to see my own work on those printed pages would be the most satisfying thing I can imagine. I do a Kindle, but I use it sporadically, and I also bought a few books that turned out to be kind of “meh, who cares?” I even deleted one because I felt it was that bad. On the other hand, our local paper just had an article about an author who’s making money through ebooks. She writes romance, and apparently romance novels are really taking off on ebooks. She had already published a couple of books the old way, though. So it seems that really helps- people who like your work will usually buy more, in whatever form. That provides a foundation to build on for ebooks.

  • I believe David has already written the first novel, and we won’t see it until May 2012. For me, that is too long to wait.

    Not meaning to sound ugly, but why is it too long? Is something going to happen between now and next May that will prevent you from reading the book then? Believe me, I understand that waiting can be torturous. Heck, my favorite author only releases a book every six years or so. The wait hasn’t killed me yet. Anticipation is good for the soul. 😀

  • henderson

    @ Misty Massey

    David has posted an excerpt of the first THIEF TAKER novel on his DB Jackson website. I read it, and I would have purchased the book as soon as I was done reading the excerpt. Unfortunately, I can’t because the book won’t be released until next year.

    I think this is also part of a bigger problem in the fantasy genre. If I read a book in a series, and I really enjoyed it, then I would want to read the next book immediately. Unfortunately, the next book is not available until at least the following year. Sometimes, the writer has written the book, but the publisher decides to wait until a slot opens up in publishing schedule before publishing.

    @ Stuart

    Even if the publishing company does pay for all the important services like cover art and design, editing, and marketing, the author still has to do what is necessary for the book to sell. We have all read about author’s need to have a presence on-line. They need to go on book tours. Sometimes, new authors would send copies of the books to reviewers hoping to get good buzz.

    If an author self publishes, the author would have to pay for cover art and design, editing, and marketing. However, the author has control over the cover art and design and marketing. Self-published authors still need to maintain an on-line presence. No book tours. Self publishing is a way for an author to control all aspects from writing the novel through the novel hitting the market.

    The downsides of self publishing, besides what has been discussed above, are self published novels would not be eligible to be nominated for any of the major book awards and a self-published book will not appear on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

  • Oh Misty, you poor, sparkly-smitten fool…

    (You can make it up to me with some of those fabulous cookies you make.)

  • Henderson> I think you might be underestimating the cost. I certainly can’t afford to hire a real editor (and I mean someone who I know is worthwhile, not just my friends or family), a real marketing company, a real artist to do the covers. Unless I’m seriously underestimating, that would cost literally thousands of dollars. I mean, no professional editor is going to edit for free. I edit for a small press, and I get paid peanuts, but I don’t do more than one or two ‘scripts a month and very few are novel-length. I had someone ask me to edit her manuscript for money and I said no, not because I couldn’t do it, or didn’t need the money, but because I don’t have the time. Why would an editor who works at that for a living edit a book on the side? Money. Plus, there are a lot of scammy “editors” out there, so finding a legitimate one may be harder than you think. And what happens if they do a poor job?

    So, let’s say it costs $1500.00 (and I think I’m underestimating) to get my book edited into “good” (what people would call traditional publishing level) shape, get some marketing, and get a good cover, pay for my webpage and whatever advertising I’ve done. If I sell my book for $4.00 (I know, I know, it would be $3.99, but the math is easier for me this way), I have to sell 375 books to break even. That doesn’t account for the fact that the marketing costs will be ongoing, as will web-pages, etc.

    It also doesn’t account for the time I have to spend doing it. Suddenly I’m NOT writing the sequel. I’m making sure my marketing co is doing its job, I’m doing my own marketing, I’m probably doing my own accounting, too, or checking the paypal numbers. I’m doing all the things traditionally published authors do, PLUS what the publisher does, what the editor does, etc. On my own time and dime. (And, let’s be honest, I’m working my day job, too.)

    Now, I agree, if you already have an audience platform, then the numbers will be easier to get. But establishing a name? Really, why would I pick up your self-published book? (and this isn’t a sarcastic rhetorical question!) There are thousands of them out there, and a lot of them, in my experience, are poor. Why should I spend four bucks on yours, when I can walk into a bookstore and pick up a book I’ve not read with a blurb from Faith or Misty on the cover, or some other author I like for only $3.00 more in mass market pb?

    And I’ve bought books at cons from authors I’ve met–but they were all traditionally published. I found all the MW authors because of Con Carolinas. So the “no book tours” (I don’t know if that includes cons) seems like it might be a bad idea. Though cons now (from what I’ve seen) are hesitant to have self-published authors as guests and give them hallway or exhibition space. And if they do, they cost money. Hundreds of dollars for registration or table rental (or both, depending on the fee structure for guests), for the hotel room, for travel, for food.

    Even with all this, I’m not saying don’t do it, but you make it sound a lot easier than I think the reality is. If you don’t have a fair amount of disposable income or a lot of time (or, even better, both) I see it being a really tough row to hoe. Probably even as tough or tougher than the traditional publishing route, witch makes me think that giving traditional publishing at least a try is worthwhile.

  • Pea Faerie, some of those professional writers on the blogs are saying they are inputting about $600 or so to get their books up. I know editing alone can be costly, so perhaps they are trading off editing duties with other writers…not sure in that regard.

  • henderson

    @ pea fairie

    You may absolutely correct about how much it would cost for a book to be self-published all the way to market.

    Having said that, more and more want-to-be authors are going to self-publishing route. We have heard of the more successful self-published authors such as Michael J. Sullivan, Amanda Hocking, and Konrath. Yet for every successful self-published author, there are a much larger number of self-published authors who are less successful. I am sure it is the same for traditionlly published authors. For every J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin, there a larger number of published authors who are less successful.

    Self-publishing, at least to what I have read, is becoming a more and more viable option for writers who want to be published as opposed to traditional publishing.

    Finally, I have read on more than one site that most profitable price point for a new self-published author is between $0.99 and $2.00 for an e-book. A reader may be willing to take a chance on a book for that price.

    The more established writer who self-publish might sell their book at a higher price point, such as Amanda Hocking, and still thousands and thousands of books.

    I have read about self-published author such as Amanda Hocking and Michael J. Sullivan who have been able get lucrative publishing contracts from traditional publishers because of the number of their self-published books sold.

    However, there are many authors who have had their books published by traditional publishing companies that have decided to self publish. Some have decided to self-publish because it is more lucrative. It also helps that they are known. Another reason is that the rights to their backlisted works have reverted to the author, and there is still a demand for those works.

    For the writer, I don’t know if self-publishing is easier or better than traditional publishing, but self-publishing is probably worth considering as an alternative to traditional publishing.

  • 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.

  • Y’all are touching on a whole mess of different issues. As for cost — from talking directly with authors doing this, it runs between $1200 and $2000 depending on who you choose. The most expensive part is editing. In my case, the content editing has already been done because the stories have already been published. My cost for straight copy-editing (spelling, typos, punctuation, etc) is going to be near $200. A good graphic artist for the cover will run around $700. And formating can be $200-$500. In my case, I’m doing the formatting myself. It’s relatively easy, if you’re comfortable with HTML, but quite time consuming (especially the first time around, learning curve and all). But I love learning new computer stuff, so for me, it’s fun.

  • henderson said David has posted an excerpt of the first THIEF TAKER novel on his DB Jackson website. I read it, and I would have purchased the book as soon as I was done reading the excerpt. Unfortunately, I can’t because the book won’t be released until next year.

    Which doesn’t answer my question. Why can’t you read it when it comes out? Do you plan to ignore the book when it does arrive on shelves, just because you couldn’t buy it right away?

  • Tom G

    Hey, I just picked up D.B. Jackson’s THIEFTAKER on a torrent site.

    JOKING!!

    I hope I didn’t just give David a heart attack, but evil is as evil does.

  • henderson

    @ Misty Massey

    Sometimes buying a book is an impulsive purchase. For example, I checked out RULES OF ASCENSION from the library, and I read over two days. I really enjoyed the book, and I wanted to read the next book. I was able to see that the rest of the books in the series were published and avaiable on-line, and I bought the complete series right then and there. If only the first book was available, I would have returned RULES OF ASCENSION to the library and probably not picked up the rest of the series because I would have had to wait at least another three or four years.

    To answer your question, I probably don’t know if I will buy the first book of the THIEFTAKERS series when it comes out. I will probably wait until the series is complete before I purchase all the books.

    I have learned, and I am sure I am not alone when it comes to fantasy series, that it is sometimes better to wait until the series is complete before reading the first book. There are some authors that take quite a long time completing their series, and us readers would rather wait until the series are complete before starting to read the first book.

  • Stuart is right on with regard to the cost of self-publishing a book. Well, doing it right anyway. You should budget $2,000.

    Is that too much? Well, if you don’t believe in your work and the potential of your writing career enough to invest $2,000, then you probably shouldn’t bother. Go back to your day job and call it good.

    That isn’t to say it HAS to cost $2,000. You can do many things to keep the costs down, but it will take extra time and effort on your part. That two grand figure is with outsourcing most of the work to competent professionals. You can also easily spend $10,000 if you want top-of-the-line everything.

    Self publishing is NOT easy. If you expect to be successful, you have to treat it like a business. If you want control over your own work, you have to be willing to expend the effort it takes to exercise that control.

    As for platform, you need one of those regardless of whether you plan to self publish or traditionally publish. Platform is a big buzzword these days. Big Publishing expects you to have one too. After all, you are the one who is going to have to market your book regardless of who publishes it. Did you think the publisher was going to take care of that? Dream on!

    All writers/authors need to be making decisions on what is happening now and what is going to happen in the future, not on what has happened in the past. Bookstores are dying. Distributors and publishers are in trouble. Some aren’t just paying their authors slowly, they’re not paying them at all. But they still hold those book rights!

    In the first quarter of this year, ebook sales exceeded mass market paperback sales. Amazon now sells more ebooks than hardback and paperback books *combined*. This is not a fad. This is not a bubble. This is the beginning of the future.

    One last thing on piracy. Don’t worry about it. As Mark Coker says, obscurity is a bigger danger than piracy for most authors. Just make sure you give your readers a fairly-priced, legitimate alternative to the pirate sites. People who go and buy from pirate sites anyway were never your customers to begin with.

  • Okay, one last, last thing. Regarding the glut of crap books on the market and being able to stand out. It’s not an issue.

    The market is already flooded with crap. It’s been hitting the market for years, from both self publishers and traditional publishers. But you know why people think about this being a future problem and not a current problem? Because they don’t realize the problem has already been solved.

    Readers have *always* been the true gatekeepers. Good books get found, get attention, and get bought. Sure, the author sometimes needs to get the ball rolling, but no amount of marketing will take a book (good or bad) into bestseller status. That level of sales is reserved for good books that go viral.

    When readers make a buying decision, they don’t have to weed out the crap because the crap never gets placed in front of them to begin with. The books that don’t make the cut face the worst of fates: they are ignored.

    Oh, and since pricing came up, just thought I’d mention that I won’t pay more than $3 for an ebook. Not fiction, anyway. That means most traditionally published ebooks aren’t on my radar.

  • Tom G

    @Henderson

    I see a flaw in your reasoning. If we only buy completed series, the sales numbers will be so low the publisher will drop the series before it is finished.

    Instead, I suggest you buy each new release in the series as they come out and put them in your TBR pile until the series in complete. Waiting to buy is not supporting our favorite writers. In fact, I would highly suggest buying within a week of official release.

  • @Henderson: I get what you are saying. I tend to do the same thing myself regarding buying series…but here I am writing a series anyway. To deal with the kind of thinking you describe, my plan is for the first book to stand completely on its own, and to not make a big deal out of the fact that I plan to write two more in the same world with the same characters.

    To entice readers into giving me a try, I’ll price the first book at $0.99. The others will be progressively more when they are released ($1.99 and $2.99). Once all three are out, I’ll periodically make the first one free for brief periods of time.

    It sounds like you are writing fantasy as well, and that you read fantasy (naturally!). Would you be willing to try a new author at $0.99? I know I have and will continue to do so.

  • henderson

    @Tom G

    I have a limited disposable income. I have to be judicious with the my book purchases. Instead, I may wait to check the second book in the series from the library. If I like the series and it is complete, then I would probably buy it like I did with the WINDS OF FORELANDS series.

    @ D.R.

    For $0.99, I would be willing to try a new author. I have heard of self-pblished fantasy authors selling their first book in a series for $0.99 or for free to generate interest. Of course, the next couple of books are also avaialbe, and the reader, more than likely, would buy the next few books in the series on impulse. It seems like a great deal.

    You are also right about me writing a fantasy series. I have been writing a series of stories since 2009 NaNoWrimo. I am currently writing the fifth story. I don’t know how stories will be in the series, but I am going to finish before I even think about publishing it.

    I have seen authors that have planned a long fantasy series, and, for whatever reason, have been delayed in completing the series. We have heard about GRRM, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, and other well-regarded fantasy authors that have taken quite a long time to finish their fantasy series. As a reader, I find that frustrating. Of course, the authors do not owe the readers anything. They are going to complete their series when they do, and people will probably still read them, including myself.

    When I decided to start writing, I kept that in mind. I see authors such as Adrian Tchaikovsy with his Shadows of the Apt series. The first book was published in 2008 and the seventh book will be released later this year with only three more books after that. I see L.E. Modesitt (sp?) who is able to produce consistently year after year. Brandon Sanderson is a workhorse.

    I am not sure I can do that, but I read an interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky and he said that he wrote the first four novels in the series before he sent query letters for this series. His thinking was that if he showed that four novels in the can, a publisher would be more likely to sign him. I like want Adrian did, and I am looking to do the same.

  • @Henderson: Best of luck with your series! I guess I don’t always wait for all books of a series to be available. I followed the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind faithfully, waiting impatiently for each book to come out. I did the same with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series until I reached the tenth book, which was supposed to be the last and then wasn’t. Then he died after completing one or two more books, but without finishing the series. I was so glad I quit when I did. I have no intention of leaving my readers out in the cold like that.

  • henderson

    @ D.R.

    Thanks. Best of luck to you, too!

  • Just checking in here and thought I’d comment on the whole Thieftaker thing and Henderson’s view on the wait for these books. I agree that it’s too long to wit, Henderson. Believe me, I do. But Tom is absolutely right. Waiting until a series is done (for instance the Winds of the Forelands series) doesn’t help me. My publisher wants to see the numbers early. Late sales don’t help an author nearly as much as early ones do. I can totally understand not wanting to read an extended story arc until all the volumes are done and available in paperback. But then, when the the PB has been released, buy the books and put them away.

    As it happens though, this doesn’t apply to the Thieftaker books. It is a true series, not an extended story arc. Each book stands alone. You could start the series with book 4 (if there is a book 4 — jury is still out on that) and it would not make any difference in how you experienced the series. So go ahead and buy them as they come out. Because it is definitely true that if books one and two don’t sell there will not be a book three or four or five….

  • So the thing I love about this discussion is that it’s civil. There’s precious little of that going on these days. I’m self-published, three books in the past twelve months, all of them doing fairly well. I think I’m probably the guy Christina referenced in her first post. I’m more than covering my mortgage and truck payment the last few months with my books sales.

    Regarding the costs, here’s what I’ve experienced. Editing is the greatest cost, but can be had for anywhere between $400-1,000 for quality work. I plan to use a freelance editor for my fourth book and my current estimates put the cost for that book (c. 65,000 words) at around $400-450.

    Good cover art can be done very inexpensively. I have yet to pay more than $200 for any of my book covers, and they are all original pieces, not manipulated stock photography. I suggest searching DeviantArt for artists that are willing to work within your budget. Yes, you can easily pay someone well into the thousands of dollars for a painted book cover, or you can collaborate with a less renowned artist, spend more time on revision, and get out with a cover that costs just a couple hundred bucks.

    Formatting should be something you spend nothing on, because it’s fairly simple (especially if you write the book using Scrivener, which exports an epub or .mobi file). But if you’d like to pay someone, I’d recommend Rob Siders at 52novels.com. He’s very reasonable, offers lifetime error corrections, and did my first two books for $150 each. My third and subsequent novels I did myself, and it took me just a few hours each time. I’m a little bit of a computer dork, so my learning curve wasn’t too steep, but like I said, there are tools that make it easy.

    So I anticipate my fourth book will be my most expensive, because I’m using a new editor instead of doing it myself, using an editor on spec or using beta readers (all of which I’ve tried). But I still think it will cost me less than a grand when all is said and done. And if current sales hold, I’ll be in the black within 60 days of publication. That’s at a $3.99 price point, BTW.

    But I don’t expect current sales to hold. I expect them to grow, because I’m working very diligently on growing my platform and increasing my visibility. I also use pricing to help increase visibility. The first book in my series is priced at $.99. It’s my “gateway book.” The second is $2.99, and my stand-alone novel is $4.95. I plan to price subsequent novels in the series between $3.99-4.99, which still falls into the impulse buy price point, but makes me a decent royalty.

  • henderson

    David,

    I will pre-order the first THIEFTAKER book when it is available.