Tuesday, December 28, 2010

There's a new career in town - self-pub authors

In his blogpost "Should You Self-Pulish Your First Novel?", Jude Harden has advised that authors should get a print publishing deal before trying to self-publish.

I don’t disagree that getting a print deal is a great thing. For many authors, it might be the right path. However, at least for me, self-publishing is better.
I'm a new author and I just self-published my first full-length novel, Dead Dwarves Don't Dance, I've sold 72 copies in 5 weeks. Nothing to jump up and down about, but I'm confident sales will continue to increase.
My novel is a science fiction cyberpunk action-adventure. Not something NY is looking for. But, it’s what I wanted to write. NY wants vampire romances. I don’t want to write that. Why should my creativity be forced to comply with the demands of a few people in NY? I want to write what I want to write. Then, let’s see if the reader, not NY, thinks it’s worth reading.
To Jude’s points:
1.       A print publishing deal proves you’re writing is good. I don’t know that my writing is good enough to be print published. But, it is good enough to be self-published. I’ll let the millions of Kindle owners decide how good it is, instead of a few people sitting in New York. If I fail on Kindle I wouldn’t have made it through NY. However, I don’t have to wait 3 years while print publishers consider my work.
2.       Print publishing = notoriety. I agree. However, that notoriety will arrive in 2-3 years when the print publisher finally gets my book on shelves. Instead of waiting that long, I can self-publish now and start building my own notoriety. The question is: can I earn more notoriety by myself over time than the print publishers deliver 2-3 years hence? I guess I’ll find out.
3.       In-house editors = better writing. I don’t need print publishers to work with an editor. Instead of paying a print publisher 85-94% of my revenue for all time, I can pay a professional editor $1000 to edit my book now. I still work with an editor, so my writing still improves.
4.       Print publishing deal acceptance call is nice. Yeah, that would be cool. But, I’ve learned that I don’t need the validation of one agent or publisher to boost my ego. I much prefer the validation of the readers. I sold 101 books so far in December. Not much, but it’s only my third month selling. You know what? It felt great! And it’s all thanks to 101 readers. I’ll get another thrill when I sell 200 books in a month, and then 500, and so on.

Another difference between print publishing and self-publishing is the revenue path.

Revenue path with print publishing: If I find an agent and publisher within a year, I can (probably) get an advance of a few thousand dollars. Definitely nice, but that’s a year away, minimum. Then I have to earn it back. Is my book a best-seller, probably not. So, it could take some time since the book won’t hit the shelves for 2-3 years. So, in a good case scenario, I get $3000-$5000 a year from now, and 2 years later my book comes out and I might start earning some more.
Revenue path with self-publishing: I have an initial outlay of $1500 for cover art and professional editing. That’s a big hit right up front, and it is a bit hard to swallow. But, then I am selling books and making money. I’ll need to sell 750 books to recover those expenses. After that, it’s all profit. Question is, can I start making a profit within a year? Can I make a better profit self-publishing at 70% royalties than at print publishing with 6-15% royalties? If I can sell 3200 copies in 3 years, I equal the print publishing revenue stream. I’m betting that I can do better than that.
Up till now, if you wanted a career as an author you had to go through print publishing and the gatekeepers in NY. That’s the print publishing author career.
But, there’s a new career in town. The self-pub ebook author career. It takes more than just writing skills, but it’s full of opportunity. Many authors will flourish in that new career (like JA Konrath and others).

If you're an author, the question is: which career do you want?


  1. Good stuff, homey. At midnight, I find myself having not much to add.

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head with all your responses. I feel the same way you do. I think I'm a good writer, but probably not good enough for some stranger in a publishing house to pick from 1000s of other entries. So, I'm good but not great. What do I do? How about sell on Kindle, NOOK, and Smashwords? Yes, thank you very much. So, this way, I get readership, reviews, money, and quick turnaround...and it will all get better as days go by.

  3. I'm taking the same strategy. Although I am aware of your problems with ads not paying for themselves, I'm wondering it it is worth it to try ads to kickstart some sales. I'm also thinking of offering the first book in my series for free from my website, in exchange for signing onto my list.

    Tara Maya

  4. Konrath makes some compelling arguements for self-publishing today, too.

    My biggest fear is that the rules of the game will change - as in the 70% author royalty - evaporating before I can get into the game.

  5. On the revenue stream: after dead tree publication, unless wildly successful, your work may be unavailable and you with no rights. Your indie work can keep growing and earning, providing a platform for future works.

  6. I self pubbed in November 2008 - has worked out well. Now to the Kindle world next week with that book (being formatted) & a new release s cing out within a few weeks (paper & Kindle). I covered all of my costs within 2 weeks of the 1st go round so it's been a good gig, & can only get better once the electronic versions are available ... I think/hope. Dave

  7. My keyboard is giving me fits - should say "is coming out" - Sometimes wireless sucks.

  8. JaxPop, good luck! Was that a kid's book? I have a YA action adventure I'm going to publish next year and I'm wondering what the market's like (it's not a vampire romance, so I won't be getting those kind of numbers).

  9. I am also reluctant to start paying for advertising. I'm going to focus on the sort of networking that I can do for free like the site http://bookblogs.ning.com where I can talk to hundreds of other book bloggers. Some do reviews or interviews, and I can gain exposure that way.

  10. Yup! I write for kids. Started out writing short stories for my grandson 3+ years ago - that morphed into a book, followed by a sequel & now a 3rd is underway - so it turned into a series by accident (Jack Rackham Adventures). No vampires, but since I live in a haunted seaside city, there's plenty of surfing, boats, ghosts & pirates. I have a pretty good niche market, paperback versions sell well locally, it's a very "touristy" kind of place. So now I'll get to see how this works in ebook world. Maybe I'll even try promoting.

  11. You'll hafta post something about your YA. Not too many guys writing YA.

  12. JaxPop, it's a middle grade young adult starring 4 12-year-old kids who go on a globe-trotting adventure. I'm trying to decide if I should use another pen name for it. My Dwarves stories are much more violent and suggestive. Not sure if I want to do both genres under the same name.

  13. I'd probably go with a pen name for the kid stuff so there's no confusion. You can read the back cover copy & prologue for my new book at http://jackrackhamadventures.blogspot.com/
    & a not so tame short story about South Philly Cheese Steaks (ingredients) recently posted at http://jaxpop.blogspot.com/

  14. Whether or not to self-publish is a very subjective process -- it's up to each author to weigh it up and come to an informed decision.

    Having worked in an editorial role and witnessed all the distressing nonsense that goes in the traditional publishing industry, I am, of course, rather jaded about it. So I'm definitely for self-publishing, and I will be for the immediate future. Only because I feel authors can serve themselves better by going down that route as opposed to tying themselves to a corporate sensibility.

  15. @JaxPop - hey, a kindred spirit. I write children's books, too. I have three wonderful kids that give me all sorts of crazy ideas and plots. All you have to do is play with them, pretend with them, and listen to them and you'll inundated with silly, funny stories. Nice to meet you.

  16. It's kind of like lasik eye surgery--I'll wait awhile and see how you all do with self-publishing.
    Until then, I'll be sending my queries to N.Y.