So, Self-E-Publishing. What’s Up with That?

Apr132011

Recently there’s been a lot of hoo-ra about self-publishing in e-book form because some people (Amanda Hocking) have been successful at it and some successful people (Barry Eisler) are trying it. There’s even a contingent shrieking that traditional publishing is dead and that unpublished writers should stop going through the hell of submitting to “the Big Six” and just do it themselves, thus getting all the money. (“Big Six” is almost always said with a sneer, along with that other Fox-News-worthy term, “legacy publishing.”) That smelled distinctly of fish to me, so I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts and articles, trying to come to a conclusion and what I’ve decided is this: I think e-publishing is going to be a huge part of publishing in the future, but it’s not going to be all of publishing (anybody who banks on the Big Six going belly-up while writers become their own publishing houses is deficient in his or her understanding of the marketplace) so the decision to try self-e-publishing is like everything else in the world: it depends on the situation. To be more specific:

1. Anybody gloating about the fall of “Big Publishing,” talking trash about “the Big Six”, or sneering about “legacy publishing” is too emotionally involved in the discussion to be seeing the situation clearly. These are angry people who are not thinking things through because they’re angry. Anger about publishing is not new–we’ve all thrown foaming fits in the privacy of our own homes–but it’s usually about a specific publisher who has done a specific thing. Demonizing the entire traditional publishing industry while evangelizing for e-publishing because “you’ll make more money that way” is not only short-sighted, it’s kneecapping yourself. The smartest people I’ve read on this are Nathan Bransford and Amanda Hocking. They are clear-eyed and far-sighted and they have the numbers to back up what they’re saying which is pretty much that there are two roads to publishing at the moment and each has its own rewards.

2. Most of the people who are trumpeting their success as self-publishers started in traditional publishing which means that their experiences are not going to be applicable to most other writers. Their names are established. Most of the hard work of publishing has been done for them. They can put “New York Times Bestselling” author on their covers; they have review quotes and blurbs from other well-known writers ready to go. For them to say, “Hey, you newbie unpublished writer, this is working for me, so this is the way to go for you” borders on cruelty. And even beyond that, I think they’re short-sighted in their evaluation of what traditional publishing does for them, even at their levels of success. Unless they really like designing bookcovers, arranging their own PR, and doing their own marketing, they’re coasting on the legacy bequeathed them by their legacy publishers while they’re gloating about leaving them. That’s a little like a divorced spouse bragging about how well he or she is doing while living on alimony.

But even so, they’re making a lot more money, right? Maybe, but depending on their situations they may be losing a lot more in intangibles than they’re gaining in short-term cash. I’m moderately successful so their plan should fit me perfectly, and yet I wouldn’t dream of publishing my new fiction myself. SMP’s marketing and PR, their distribution, their sheer ability to sell books trumps anything I could do, especially in a market where the projected percentage of e-books at the end of 2011 is still only 35%. (That’s a huge leap from last year, and that percentage can only grow, but that means that even if the projected growth figures are correct, you’re still ignoring 65% of possible sales.) SMP still excels at the one thing I’d have to work full time to do half as well as they do: Tell people my book is out there. But okay, let’s say I could market my own book riding on the coattails of everything my publisher has already established for me. SMP still holds one trump card: Jennifer Enderlin. I don’t want to write a book without Jen. She makes me a better writer. Yes, I can hire an outside editor (nobody can edit her own work well), but who knows if she’ll be as good as Jen (she won’t be) and there goes more of that “pure profit” everybody keeps talking about because a good editor who takes the time my manuscript needs is not going to cost me a couple of hundred bucks. So even if there was a profit there, I’d still go with SMP because what Jen does for my books is worth more than extra money. I understand that all writers can’t work with Jen at SMP, but there are a lot of good, smart editors out there working for good, smart publishers, and I think that’s still that’s the best way to go for most traditional books.

3. Self-e-publishing works, but only if you know what you’re getting into. Let’s say you’re a multi-published author with a big backlist that you’ve regained the rights to. Should you self-publish your backlist? It depends. Is there a publisher who’s willing to give you a great deal with guarantees to promote the hell out of it? Then I’d go with that. If not, then you don’t have a lot to lose by self-publishing and you have a lot to gain if you do it right. But doing it right means getting somebody who knows what they’re doing to do your covers (since your old cover art is owned by the publisher, not you), pricing your books decently so you don’t devalue your brand, and spending enough time and money to market the books so people know they’re there. If you’re still published by a traditional publisher, you’re in luck because they’ll promote your latest book and when readers go to see what else you’ve written that’s available in e-format, they’ll see your self-pubbed stuff.

A second good reason to self-e-publish is alternative publishing. If you have a book that has such a small, focused audience that traditional publishing can’t afford to take it, or a novel whose subject matter/protagonists/setting/all of the above are deemed unpublishable by traditional means, or if you’re doing something that’s so far off your usual brand that print publishing the title might hurt your career, then self-e-publishing may be a good option. In other words, if print publishing is not possible for this work, and the reason is not that it’s a lousy book that’s going to destroy your career, then self-e-publishing may be the way to go.

I say “may be” because I believe strongly that the way you are published establishes your professional reputation. If you’re published in e-format with a beautiful cover, great production values, and solid marketing that reinforces your brand, that’s better than being published in a lousy mass market paperback format with a cover that’s all wrong and a binding that falls apart. But it’s not easy to do quality publishing and most of the self-published e-books I’ve seen are not something I’d want my name on.

I’ve talked before about the idea Mollie had to put all the first chapters of all my novels in e-book form with introductions explaining how I came to write them. Nobody would want to publish that; for one thing it’s basically a promo catalog and for another it’s going to be about 150,000 words which is too large to be feasible in print. But as a free e-book, the fact that it’s promotional doesn’t matter (it’s FREE!) and the fact that it’s a doorstop doesn’t count in a place where all the doors are made of ether. That’s a perfect self-e-publishing project for me. But this is not something I would ever do by myself. I’m a fiend about cover art but I don’t kid myself that I can design it by myself. I’ve been working on marketing and PR for twenty years but there’s no way I have the skills or knowledge to plan a marketing program on my own. So this free catalog we’re putting out will have a professionally designed cover and a marketing plan designed by an internet marketing consulting firm Simple Progress. (Not trying to sell you anything there; they take clients by referral only). Without that professional support, I wouldn’t put anything out there with my name on it even if it is promotional and free. That’s my identity out there, I can’t afford to do anything that looks cheesy or amateurish.

If you want to read more on e-publishing, the smartest people I’ve found have been Bransford, who is always smart on publishing, and Hocking, who is very clear-sighted, knows exactly what she’s doing, and doesn’t attach anything personal to the transaction. These are people who see self-e-publishing for what it is, a business that provides a service that may or may not be appropriate for an author. They know that, like everything else in the world, your e-publishing decision comes down to your situation and your personality: who you are, what you need, and how you are best suited to get it.

Now, what do you guys think?

Addendum:
I’ve had some private correspondence since this was posted, and although I truly thought I was being clear, I’m going to try again:

I think self-e-publishing is a good decision in some cases. I think traditional print publishing is a good decision in some cases. I think that writers who have been successful in print publishing and who are telling other writers who haven’t that self-e-publishing is the smart thing to do are doing a disservice to those writers by not mentioning the tremendous amount of work they’re going to have to do just to get to the place where those print-published writers were when they began self-e-publishing, if they ever get there, so self-e-publishing should not be seen as the One Right Way or even The Wave of the Future. It’s another publishing option, not the Grail.

And what I didn’t say but should have (Nathan Bransford said it better) is that you really need both print and e-publishing, whether you go to a publisher or self-publish in either format. But that’s another blog post.

Filed in Deep Thoughts, Publishing

130 Comments to 'So, Self-E-Publishing. What’s Up with That?'

On April 13, 2011 at 3:07 pm Maria Lima said...

I like what Jim Hines said; http://jimhines.livejournal.com/567532.html – (in a short comic).

I’m traditionally pubbed (5 novels); epubbed (1 short story) – and yeah, mostly, it is what it is and I do what works for me. I’m planning to epub some more short stories along the way, but I’m hoping to get another book contract from a traditional press, too. I’m neither Hocking nor Eisler, nor any of the people on the far ends of either spectrum. I’m a midlist author who works a day job so I can afford to write.

IMHO, as Jim so perfectly pointed out, readers don’t give a flying patootie about all of this. They just want books.

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On April 13, 2011 at 3:15 pm Jenny said...

Exactly. It’s always about getting the book to the right reader in the best possible way.

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On April 13, 2011 at 3:23 pm Bill Peschel said...

Your thoughts are measured, considered, rational and, in my opinion, correct. Which is why nobody will notice while “the end of publishing is nigh” crowd will get the attention.

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On April 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm Jenny said...

Well, let’s face it, they’re a lot more fun to read.
But thank you!

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On April 13, 2011 at 3:33 pm Megan said...

I read Nathan Bransford. And sometimes, on dreary, grey days, I just click on his site to stare at the picture of him in the California sun…

I am not published, but I’ve been reading all the discussion. I think Bransford is objectively focused on making the writer successful. His blog is always honest about the difficulty of making that happen, but he wants his readers to have a leg up, so to speak.

I can’t imagine a day when printed books will cease to exist. I think we forget that not every single human who wants to read owns a Kindle, or frankly, a computer! The publishing houses aren’t going anywhere. Or, at least, I hope not before I have a chance to introduce myself.

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On April 13, 2011 at 3:46 pm KM Fawcett said...

I’ve been reading a lot about this topic (love Nathan Bransford’s blog), and agree that each author needs to make the best choice for his/her own career. There are so many variables to consider. I think it is silly to do something just because it worked for someone else. It has to make sense for the individual.

On the other hand, I’m secretly hoping all the big names and midlist authors self publish so that my manuscript my agent is shopping has a better chance. ;)

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On April 13, 2011 at 3:52 pm Victoria said...

DIY e-publishing follows Sturgeon’s Law. (90% of everything is crap.) This means that Amanda Hocking inhabits that top 10% of non-crap DIY e-publishing. I’d also like to add an observation. That 90% ranges from “only stinks a little bit” to “rank, foul and downright gag-worthy.” Anyone surfing through the DIY pub list will have to do the equivalent of reading a slush pile. That’s why publishing houses will never go out of business. Their product has already passed through crap detection filters and that 10% of good stuff has been filtered out. In the mean time, self-publishers will have a second way to try to get people to pay for their works.

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On April 13, 2011 at 4:04 pm carolc said...

90% of the books I buy now are ebooks from the (relatively) small epublishers. This is not exactly self publishing – it works pretty much like the big Six, just on a smaller scale, with editors, marketing, etc. But they publish books the Big Six wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole, usually because of subject matter, or it doesn’t fit into a niche.

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On April 13, 2011 at 4:17 pm Jenny said...

Right. This argument is about whether to go with traditional publishing or self-publishing in e-book format, but it does leave out the dozens (hundreds?) of small print and e-publishers who are producing terrific niche books.

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On April 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm Corrina said...

Gin Jones just gave our local RWA chapter a wonderful lecture on all of this–though she divides it now between Big, middle, small and self-publishing. She’s the smartest person I know about all of this and she tracks it and, yes, it’s exactly as you say.

One thing I would mention is that while ebooks are expanding, if you look at the ebook bestseller lists, it is very reflective of the *print* bestseller list. Meaning, if you’re selling well in ebooks, most of the time you are already in print by one of the big publishers. I think Maya Banks hit the USA Today ebook list with a Samhain book but it should be mentioned that some of her other books are published by a big NYC publisher.

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:22 pm Jenny said...

Another thing about e-books is that a lot of best-sellers were created with $.99 pricing. That worked for awhile, but as Lani has pointed out, the more writers who do that, the more e-readers are going to look at the glut of cheap books and go for established names again. And the $.99 price only works once; if the book is bad, those readers are not going to keep that writer on the bestseller list even if she’s giving them away for free.

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On April 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm Sure Thing said...

“I’ve talked before about the idea Mollie had to put all the first chapters of all my novels in e-book form with introductions explaining how I came to write them. Nobody would want to publish that; for one thing it’s basically a promo catalog and for another it’s going to be about 150,000 words which is too large to be feasible in print. But as a free e-book, the fact that it’s promotional doesn’t matter (it’s FREE!) and the fact that it’s a doorstop doesn’t count in a place where all the doors are made of ether.”

Love this.

The whole post is an excellent analysis.

Also, Made of Ether is my Air Supply cover band.

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On April 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm Sure Thing said...

Supply. And dammit, why’d the italics not close?

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On April 13, 2011 at 4:47 pm Jenny said...

Fixed.
On this platform, for some reason, italics are done with the greater than/less than symbols with an “em” in between them. (I can’t write it out or it disappears and the whole comment ends up in italics.) No idea why the whole comment went to italics.

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On April 13, 2011 at 5:19 pm Louis said...

Bob Mayer has some thought on E-Pub on his blog. Very insightful.

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On April 14, 2011 at 10:57 am Mary Stella said...

Bob also guest-posted on JA Konrath’s blog. http://www.jakonrath.blogspot.com.

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On April 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm romney said...

Good analysis. Theres still a long way to go for e-publishing. Worth getting involved with, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket (either way!) yet. Of course, the sort of people that read blogs on the internet are likely to be more biased towards e-books than the average – but I’ve never read one yet. Still have too many books to read without adding to the pile an infinite number of out of copyright works…

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On April 13, 2011 at 6:15 pm Gail said...

I’ll be interested to see how Connie Brockway’s experiment with self-publishing e-books goes http://www.likesbooks.com/blog/?p=6169#more-6169.
It’s clear from that interview that she’s thought through the major pitfalls and she does have an established name/devoted fan base to help her.
On the other hand as one of the many readers who hasn’t converted to an e-reader (and isn’t likely to in the near future) I’m part of the audience she’s temporarily sacrificing access to. Part of the equation in success vs failure is what portion of your base has made the conversion (or will soon).
I have to bring into this conversation another successful example of self-publishing that I’m familiar with, the comic Girl Genius. http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/info/newreader.php
The authors Phil and Kaja Foglio had a print comic they were self-publishing to the delight of a small but devoted audience on a (very)irregular schedule. Distribution issues, cost of publishing for their higher end editions of the comics, etc all led them to make a radical change in business model to stay afloat.
They took their entire backlist of the comic and put it online. For free. They made the commitment to publish new pages 3 days a week (again, free). This actually increased the amount of material coming out, but the regular schedule apparently made it easier for them to manage. They dropped the individual comic issues to solely publish collections in trade paperback. The existing fan base rejoiced and adapted to the change without blinking.
Within the first 6 months of the change their readership tripled and continued to grow as increased accessibility of the material and the online word-of-mouth gave them momentum. Sales of everything they had already published jumped dramatically (remember they had print inventory on hand when they made this switch). They also carefully put together a merchandise catalog to go with the comics. They’ve since won numerous webcomic awards including a Hugo.
This a hybrid model between e-publishing and print, and similar to what SF publisher Baen does. For those unfamiliar with Baen they have a large free e-library on their website full of backlist titles. Authors who have titles in that library consistently report jumps in their print sales after making things available. Baen also has the habit of sticking CD-Roms full of DRM free e-books in their hardcover editions.
I bring those examples up because I beleive the future exists in that kind of balance. Print isn’t anywhere close to dead and electronic readership is growing. If you can find the way to straddle the bridge between them then you are in the best position you can be in.

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On April 13, 2011 at 6:58 pm Jenny said...

Exactly. The optimal solution is both print and e-publishing. The question is do you do it yourself or go with an existing print publisher or do you do some kind of hybrid? And there is no one right answer because it depends on your situation.

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On April 13, 2011 at 7:30 pm Gin said...

A lot of discussions conflate epublishing with self-publishing, and tend to forget that the Big Six are now doing ebooks too. For instance, one argument in favor of self-publishing via ebook is something along the lines of “Look! Ebooks stay available for long periods of time, so you can accumulate sales over a long time, instead of just during the release month.” Which overlooks the fact that Big Six publishers are also releasing books in e-format, so that those books are available in e-format, even if the paper books have been taken off the shelves. So, it’s not a matter of comparing “sales in the first month” versus “sales over seven years.” It should still be “sales via print for however long it’s on the shelves, even if it’s a category novel that’s stripped after thirty days” PLUS “sales via ebook for the duration of the contract” versus ONLY “sales via ebook for the duration of the contract.”

Arguments about the long tail also overlook the pattern that seems to be standard among the existing digital-first or digital-only publishers (e.g., Ellora’s Cave, and presumably Carina, although I haven’t seen any numbers for Carina sales), which is that a book by a new author (established authors may follow this pattern too, but already have hit the magic number of releases) will have a chunk of sales during the release month, when most of the publicity happens and the book is new and shiny, because it’s just been released, and then the sales fall off a cliff until another book is released by that author, at which point the sales of the first book will rise again during the release month for the second book, and then both numbers will fall off a cliff again. And there will be similar peaks with the release of each subsequent book. (Assuming, of course, that the books are good.)

I don’t have hard numbers to back it up, but the corollary to this, especially for slow writers like me, is that without subsequent releases (between three and seven books are purportedly the critical numbers to hit), sales will not keep increasing from month to month, regardless of how much promotion the author does, contary to the theory of the long tail. The total sales may grow, perhaps, but I’m not seeing any indication that the RATE of growth (e.g., 10 books in the first month, 20 books in the second month, 40 in the next month, and so on and so on) will also increase without subsequent book releases.

Anyway, my theory is that we should talk in terms of big publishers, small publishers and self-publishers. Electronic publishing makes self-publishing more viable than paper publishing, with its cases of books stored in the garage and sold out of the car trunk, but the discussion should be the pros and cons of “commercial publisher v. self-publisher,” rather than focusing on the format (paper versus electrons).

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On April 13, 2011 at 7:39 pm Jenny said...

Print on demand is available to supplement e-books, I’m pretty sure. So you can have both.
But absolutely, the focus is on external publishing vs self-publishing not print vs. electronic. I think the confusion comes in the fact that often self-print-publishing isn’t economically feasible because of start-up costs and distribution (although see lulu.com and others like it as a possibility) whereas self-e-publishing has much lower start-up costs.

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On April 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm Jill said...

Two words. Dara Joy. A print on demand nightmare.

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On April 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm Corrina said...

oops. Sorry, Gin, didn’t realize you’d already posted. :)

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:22 pm Jenny said...

Hey, good comment, Cory, no apologies necessary.

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On April 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm CrankyOtter said...

Since I like to surf relatively few places and have the information come at me rather than meticulously research every new thing that is coming out, I think self-e-publishers have a tough row to hoe. Mostly because you need access to distributors/contact lists. (95% of my email newsletters just go straight to trash, so it has to come through a value-added source to reach me.)

The other is temperament. Jenny, you had a blog post previously about how “the things that make me a good author” are “the things that make me a bad salesperson/self promoter”. I think it’s the rare person who will both write and promote their book successfully, at least without a professional support team. I notice that even for your self-e-publishing efforts you’re looking to hire on the folks to do that heavy lifting. Even my friends who write for the smaller publishers barely make enough to cover the costs of chocolate, let alone live off some very fine stories.

Lastly, make it EASY to buy and download. It would help if I didn’t have to fill out a 50 line questionnaire just to buy the smaller publisher’s ebooks… speaking of which, I need to go buy a friend’s back issues – I gave up on the checkout process last time. I would pay an extra $20 not to have to fill out forms to buy eBooks that I don’t even know if I’ll be able to transfer to my new Kindle or iPhone. All the DRM stuff does for me is make me less likely to buy something because I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to access it. (Yes, I’m talking to you, iTunes.)

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On April 13, 2011 at 8:00 pm Jane George said...

I’m grateful for the options available now, especially for projects for which there are no available marketing slots in traditional publishing. The options can only improve. These changes are good for publishing as a whole, and I really don’t get the divide, whether it’s elitist sneering or rah-rah David vs. Goliath. Publishing is publishing.

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On April 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm Jan O'Hara said...

I was wondering what you thought of the present options, especially since you seem to be one of the people who’d be able to do well through self-pubbing, if you were so inclined. Thanks for answering my non-articulated questions.

I learned to be skeptical of decisions made with great emotion and heraldry in medicine, where I can’t count the number of drugs (or foods!) that were initially marketed as miracles, then found to be unhelpful or worse, outright dangerous. I worry there are going to be a lot of disillusioned and poorer people among those who leap to self-publishing; but that’s their right, I suppose.

And yes, many thanks are owed to the people who articulate the pros and cons of the choices now available in an unbiased manner.

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On April 13, 2011 at 10:02 pm Jenny said...

I think a lot of people expect too much from publishing. I keep hearing people complaining that they can’t support themselves on what they make from their books, but the truth is that the vast majority of writers can’t support themselves, most novelists have a day job. Publishing never promised anybody a living wage, they just promised a fair share of the profits. (Okay, some don’t give a fair share, but most houses do.) There isn’t nearly as much money in publishing as people think there is, especially right now.

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On April 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm Barbara Samuel said...

I can’t quite get around this one, Jenny, that writers expect too much of publishing. Editors make money (not a huge amount in many cases), publishers make money, booksellers make money, everybody makes money from the work we do. It seems logical that the writer should be at the top of the pyramid not the bottom.

I love traditional publishing, but I have come to love digital publishing on my own, too. It’s fun. It gives me some freedom, gives breath back to books I thought would never get the audience they deserved. I hired people to help me, because I do believe quality counts, and I’d NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS put out unedited work.

But I am having a blast. I loved writing historicals and unfortunately, the market turned in a direction that wouldn’t support the kind of books I was writing. Now I can offer them to the group who will love them and we’re all happy. The day A Bed of Spices passes its in-print number, I am going to have a major on-line party, because that is what a lot of this is about: the pleasure of the wild wild west.

I have no desire to give up traditional publishing, either. I don’t know why we can’t have the west and the east, and everyone can choose what works best. I do hope that any earnest, intelligent, devoted writer will do her homework and decide what course is best…if you have no audience, how will you build one? If you have art, make it good art. Study what works and then decide.

But a writer has a right to make a living. I have a right as an entrepreneur to do what’s best for my business. I have a right as an artist to seek the realms that best support my work and let my art live. Which means the artist has to eat, and a second job is really tough. Stories are highly valuable.

And maybe that’s a side issue, but I don’t think so. Why shouldn’t writers make enough to live on?

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On April 16, 2011 at 12:08 am Jenny said...

Hey, babe, how you doin’?

I don’t think I ever said writers shouldn’t make enough to live on. I think I said that there’s no expectation of a living wage in signing a publishing contract. Those are two different things.
But to answer your points individually:

“It seems logical that the writer should be at the top of the pyramid not the bottom.”
It’s not a pyramid. It’s a partnership. The writer contracts with a publishing company to produce her work. The publishing company puts up the money for editing, marketing, pr, and production with the expectation that those costs will come off the top of gross profit, and the writer agrees. The publishing company then sets price on the book that is the sum of that overhead, the bookseller’s discount, the writer’s percentage which comes out of the gross profit (the sales price of the book) not the net, and its own profit. There is no pyramid anywhere there, it’s more like a loaf that gets sliced. Forty percent goes to the bookstore for overhead and profit, ten percent (or whatever is negotiated) to the author, and fifty percent to the publisher for overhead and profit. The more books that are sold, the higher the profit for everybody. It’s not “everybody else gets their cut and the writer at the bottom gets what’s leftover.” There is no pyramid.

“I don’t know why we can’t have the west and the east, and everyone can choose what works best.”
That’s what I said, too. Self-e-publishing is another option, a choice, but it’s not a solution for everybody.

“But a writer has a right to make a living.”
Nobody has a right to make a living. This is probably a semantics quibble, but no matter how I parse it, I can’t make that work. In a good world, people would be paid well for good work; if it were a fair world, garbage collectors would be paid more than hedge fund managers; but in the real world, people make what they earn according to contracts they have signed. If you sign a contract to take X percentage of publishing profits, you have a right to that percentage. If that percentage is not a living wage, your rights have not been violated. And to flip your point over, nobody has said that writers do not have a right to make a living because that’s equally indefensible. If they can generate enough profits to live on, good for them, nobody’s trying to stop them.

Barb: “I have a right as an entrepreneur to do what’s best for my business.”
Absolutely and nobody is quarreling with that. I’ve never heard anybody on any side of this question say writers don’t have the right to self-e-publish.

“I have a right as an artist to seek the realms that best support my work and let my art live.”
Absolutely and again, nobody is denying you that.

“Which means the artist has to eat”
No, it doesn’t. Your right as an artist to seek the realm that best supports your work does not mean that an artist has to eat. It’s a non-sequitur. Nor, if I try to work that out a different way, does it mean that finding the best way to make your art public means that that way should grant you a living wage. I agree that you have to do what’s best for your art, I just don’t agree that that should guarantee you enough money to live on. The world does not promise artists that they won’t starve.

“A second job is really tough.”
I know. I remember working a second job when I was a single mother and my first job was teaching school fulltime. Taking a second job so I can write does not compare. We do not automatically deserve a career in which we do not have to take second jobs because we write wonderful stories.

“Stories are highly valuable.”
Doctors are highly valuable to everybody. After that, I’m hard pressed to think of any profession that is highly valuable to everybody, and within the writing profession I’m hard pressed to think of any writer who is valuable to everybody. There are millions of people out there who wouldn’t give a damn if I stopped writing novels tomorrow because they’ve never heard of me; in fact there are millions of people out there who wouldn’t give a damn if EVERYBODY stopped writing novels tomorrow because they don’t read books. We value stories; that doesn’t mean that it’s a given in the world at large which should therefore give us enough money to live on.

To go back to my original thesis, I never said that people should not try self-e-publishing or criticized those who were doing it. I said that people should stop evangelizing about it as one-size-fits-all solution to publishing and financial problems because it’s misleading people. Self-e-publishing is just another choice which should be made as carefully and as thoughtfully as any other business decision.

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On April 13, 2011 at 10:05 pm Rosa said...

I am so, so grateful that some of my favorite writers whose backlists weren’t getting reprinted have been self e-publishing them.

But those were already professionally-edited books, mostly, with occasional short stories that never saw print before.

I’m as leery of self-published e-books as I am of self-published books in general. Most people need editors!

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On April 13, 2011 at 10:13 pm RSmith said...

I love my ebook reader so much that I am one of those people who pay extra for the ebook when I know I can get the print book at Walmart cheaper. But I am not willing to pay money for a self published ebook unless it is an author I am familiar with. I have purchased some awful books from the big publishers, but I am more willing to trust a book from them than something completely unknown.

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On April 14, 2011 at 5:37 pm Eliza said...

I got my ebook reader for Christmas, and I love, love, love it also. (But until somebody can work out a reasonably-priced waterproof one, I’m still going to have to have print books for my longest uninterrupted fiction experience–in the bathtub. I have twice that I can remember dropped books into the bathtub, but even now mass markets are up to $7.99 that still is an acceptable risk level for me, while somewhere over $100 is not.)

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On April 14, 2011 at 9:55 pm Jenny said...

They really do have to invent a submersible one.

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On April 15, 2011 at 9:28 am Flamingo Cherry said...

I put my kindle in a gallon size ziplock bag when I want to read in the bath. So far I’ve not dropped it but it has gotten splashed, & the baggie works like a dream.

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On April 13, 2011 at 10:54 pm Mary Stella said...

Jenny, if you’ll permit me to share a little on why I’m doing what I’m doing right now with the e-publishing venture, I have a bit of a different perspective and different reasons.

I’m going to preface this for everyone by saying that I’m not debating Jenny’s points. This is only a retelling of my own experience and your mileage may vary. :-)

In 2004, a small, new, independent publisher offered me a contract on my contemporary romance All Keyed Up. This had originally been rejected by a couple of bigger houses, so I took a chance on a young, hungry company. Subsequently, they bought my second book, Key of Sea. They released a quality product. People either loved or hated the cartoon covers, but that’s not unique to my situation. The company paid out a ton of money in print ads and made big splashes at BEA and other trade shows. The books received terrific reviews. Nobody ever came up to me or wrote me and said, “Your books suck.” Instead, I got great reader mail.

It was the most unbelievably joyful time. Then the royalty statements started coming over the months and the bottom line sales were dismal. The company promoted the hell out of all of their books and made a huge, splashy presence, but all of that wasn’t enough to counteract small print runs and poor distribution. Even with Amazon and BN.com, it proved very difficult to grow a readership when the books weren’t available in stores and weren’t all that noticeable if they were on shelves.

As an author, it didn’t matter that logically I knew that I’d written the best books I could at the time and that I’d done everything possible to promote and market them and myself. (My background is in P.R./Marketing/Advertising. I know how to do this work.) Print runs and distribution were not under my control. Still, when I looked at the pitiful numbers, the message I internalized was, “You are a big, effing loser. You suck. You failed.” I kept trying to write the option book but I couldn’t maintain the motivation. It took some time for me to admit that I didn’t see the point of putting all of the effort into another book that was likewise destined to fail.

I started to wilt inside everytime someone asked me when the next book was coming out. I felt like a fraud. All my joy in writing evaporated. The books were eventually put out of print. They were now dead in the water with absolutely no future.

The depression over my career was horrible and the only saving grace was the wonderful day job that I love. I stopped going to RWA conferences and took a break from RT because I felt like I had a visible, giant L on my forehead. I finally sat myself down and gave myself permission to quit for a year and just stop obsessing over the failure.

That turned out to be the healthiest thing in the world for me.

I’ve read J.A. Konrath’s blog for years so I was aware of his e-pub “experimenting” from the beginning. I met him at an RT Convention (I started going again to see friends.) and we became conference buddies. He was the first person to say, “Ask for your rights back and put your books up online.”

I thought about it, but it wasn’t until the Amazon Kindle was released that I really started paying even closer attention to the changing state of e-publishing. I continued to talk to Joe, and then other authors I know and respect. I watched and followed the growth of e-pubbing by authors putting up their backlists.

Last summer, I finally thought, “I have nothing to lose by trying.” I wrote and requested reversion of my rights and satisfaction of contract. The publisher agreed. Last fall I embarked on what I dubbed My Big E-Pubbing Adventure. (My friends and I also now refer to it as re-pubbing.) I hired an artist for new covers. I had the books professionally formatted and converted for Kindle and Nook. (Last night, I formatted them for Smashwords so they can be converted for the other e-readers including Sony, Apple and Kobo.) I had my website redesigned.

My books, with their new covers, have been available on Amazon and BN.com for a little over two weeks. I studied the pricing model of a number of authors and chose $2.99. I don’t consider this a devaluation of my work. These are not new product, but I’m trying to attract new readers and I don’t have the established name and fame that makes me an auto-buy for thousands and thousands of people. Besides in terms of economics, I make more on each $2.99 e-book I sell than I did in royalties on the print books that were priced at 9.99 (trade size) and 6.99 (mass market). I think readers might be more willing to take a chance on an unfamiliar author when they can download a book for less than their double cappucino triple pump coffee.
So far, with no advertising other than mentioning it on Lucy March’s blog (Thank you!) and Facebook, I’ve sold over 40 copies. Once they are truly available for all e-readers, I have some additional promotion lined up.

Am I rich? Not in money. However, I have regained something of even greater value. Taking control of my work has empowered me. I am newly energized, enthusiastic and confident. I am holding my head up again about my career and am newly inspired to write again. I have plans for future books. First up, I’m going to write the story of two secondary characters from Key of Sea that everyone expected to be the third book. This will be self-published.

After that, I’m digging into a book that has been in my heart for awhile. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do with it when it’s finished. The publishing world is changing so quickly, that things could be completely different by the time I’m done. I don’t have to decide right now whether to venture back into traditional publishing or hire a professional editor and publish it myself.

I know that publishing is a business and I shouldn’t have so much emotion invested, but that’s how this rolled out for me. For today, the big bold “L” is gone from my head and from my heart. I believe that my books will sell and my readership will build, but even if they don’t, e-publishing my books has already accomplished so much.

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:18 am Jenny said...

First, everybody is welcome to disagree with me at all times, so no problem about that. And I agree with everything you’ve said except the loser part (well, you knew that was coming).

I have seen so many good writers destroyed by bad publishing experiences because they think their success or failure rests on them. It doesn’t. It can’t (unless you’re self-publishing, and then it’s not a writing failure, it’s a marketing failure). You have no control over sales and you have no control over distribution. Being published does not make you a better person (trust me, I know some really horrible people who are very successful) and not being published does not make you a loser. I don’t think my arrogance is an attractive part of me, but it’s been invaluable in publishing because every time somebody rejected me, I’d think, “Well, that was a mistake on your part, boy are you going to be sorry.” Publishing has nothing to do with writing, period.

So here’s my next question: When you got those rights back (absolutely the right thing to do), did you try to find another print publisher first? It’s not that I think print publishing is always better than e-publishing (see blog post), but I think you should look at all options and evaluate them. Even if a print publisher had offered you a deal, the e-publishing might have still been the right choice, but you have to find out. If you’re going to manage your own career, you have to look at all the opportunities available. And then if the print publishers turn you down, well, they’re wrong. If they offer you a lousy advance, they’re wrong. But if they offer you a good deal, there’s nothing wrong with taking that and using it to sell the other two books.

But if I look at your post without my publishing glasses on, I can see that this was really empowering for you, to take back all that control after you were used so badly, and I’m all for that, too. I just think it’s important to separate the emotional from the financial. It sounds like in this case the emotional was much more important that the financial and that it was the right decision. But when the financial becomes important again, don’t discount print publishing entirely. Although ironically, with your marketing background, you can probably make it work.

Whatever happens, good luck.

Edited to add:
I added links to your comment. Hope that’s okay.

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On April 14, 2011 at 8:31 am Mary Stella said...

Jenny, first of all, thank you for graciously accepting my comment and for the generous adding of links. I woke up this morning with more than a little anxiety that you or other readers might think that I hijacked the blog comments for self-promotion. I very much appreciate you seeing that this was solely sharing of my experience and journey.

You asked:
So here’s my next question: When you got those rights back (absolutely the right thing to do), did you try to find another print publisher first? It’s not that I think print publishing is always better than e-publishing (see blog post), but I think you should look at all options and evaluate them.

Last fall at the NINC conference when the buzz was all about e-pubbing, repubbing of backlists, etc., an editor said to me that she’d be interested in seeing my backlist. I thought about it and decided to stay with my decision to do it all myself. Emotion played some part in the decision. I’d just worked to get my books back and wasn’t eager to give up control again. However, I also saw and heard of her pursuing the backlist of some much bigger, more established, big list-hitting authors. (Hey, she’s in business. It makes sense for her to go after big names.) Realistically, if you’re XXXXX Publishing and you have “thismuch” money and resources to promote an author’s backlist, of course you’re going to devote the big slice to the big name and not the lesser known name. So, rather than risk getting lost, I stayed with my plan.

The argument can be made that any promotion from an established publisher would have given me a higher profile than I can generate for myself and thus result in better sales. So, I’m back to the self-empowerment, emotional restoration thing. Whatever shakes out, I’m comfortable with my decision and have no regrets.

Looking ahead, I honestly don’t know what the plan will be for the future book that isn’t connected in any way to the first two. Publishing is changing and I will consider all options. I don’t want to see print books and book stores go away. I believe that print and electronic formats are both necessary and desirable. I do believe that print publishers need to rethink the deals they offer authors on the e-rights.

I also believe that too much arrogance either side is counter-productive. Some authors are seeing great success in their e-pub efforts and that’s terrific. I’d rather see graciousness over sneering at the print industry. Likewise, I’ve listened to some publisher reps at conferences and behind their words picked up a pretty obvious, “Screw you, author” attitude which makes no sense. We all want books to succeed so it behooves us to work together on the common goal.

Thanks again, Jenny. You are a goddess.

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On April 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm Susan said...

Mary Stella, I downloaded both your books. I see what you mean about the covers too. Although i got confused at first. I thought I was already searching in the kindle store when I found them, and then I wasn’t too impressed with the cartoonish covers. But I tried to keep an open mind. Then I looked closer and realized those were the paperback copies. I like the kindle covers very much. Very classy. The books look like fun reads. And since they were very reasonably priced, I got both right away.
I just don’t understand why some kindle downloads are the same price as a new book. Can anyone explain that? Or is it posted on here already and I missed it?

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On April 18, 2011 at 6:40 pm Jenny said...

Nathan Bransford talks about it here:
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2011/03/amanda-hocking-and-99-cent-kindle.html

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On April 19, 2011 at 9:58 pm Mary Stella said...

Thank you so much for buying my books and for your compliment on the new covers. That was an interesting process for me. I have no artistic skill, but I know what I like and I can usually describe what I want or at least provide some examples. The cover artist I used was good to work with, once he understood that I did not want an image of a man groping a woman’s butt and that the woman in Key of Sea could not have a perfect body and be in a bikini since she has issues with not being as slender as she was when she was in her 20s.

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm CrankyOtter said...

As for the “hijack”… I’m known to write too-long comments myself, but I rarely read too-long comments. (I’ve started severely editing or just not posting when I go too crazy.) But in this case, you told a relevant story for the discussion which added to the discussion rather than derailing it. Ansince your storytelling skillz in the comment were sound, I bought your first book for my Kindle. Which I wouldn’t have done if your comment was just a long rambling diatribe used to hijack the thread.

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On April 14, 2011 at 4:06 pm Mary Stella said...

Thank you so much, Cranky Otter. I hope you enjoy it.

Thank you for the reassurance about my original comment, too.

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On April 14, 2011 at 5:48 pm Jackie said...

MS, I’m off to look for your books. I’m not sure I’ll buy them, but I like to read a variety of stuff and I’m a big believer in buying from small businesses.

Additionally, Jenny is right about not giving up on paper. I’m not as a reader. I’m frustrated – and always have been – that the right format of book isn’t available at the right time for me as a buyer. I am not surprised that this continues in e pub as well. I’m still waiting for better print on demand.

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On April 14, 2011 at 9:19 pm Mary Stella said...

That you’ll even take a look means something. Thank you!

Have you, or anyone else here, seen the new machines that will print and bind a book for you right in front of you in a bookstore? I haven’t either, but I heard someone describe them at a conference last week. I’m intrigued and interested in seeing what degree of quality they produce.

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On April 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm Jackie said...

ME TOO!!!!

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On April 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm Micki said...

I am a reader who is not a huge fan of reading long things on-line. I much prefer a book, but I am starting to see the attraction of a no-weight library. So, from a conservative reader, here are some plusses and minuses.

PLUS of e-publishing for a reader
1. More of a chance to “get my kink” — in my case, I love SF-nal romance. Self-publishing should mean there’s more out there.

2. Might be better artwork involved, especially for books that don’t usually get pampered by the art department (no more headless babes in high heels).

3. Publishers act as a filter, and some creative impulses that aren’t commercial enough under the old system might make it through the new one.

4. How many times have you heard of the excellent author who received double-digit rejections? Self-e-pub might encourage the authors who would give up on the 12th time.

5. CHEAP BOOKS!!! In theory, with no major paper or distribution costs, it should be cheaper, right? Why do so many e-books cost so much??

MINUSES

1. A lot of writers can’t copy-edit for sh*t, so if typos and changing eye color bothers you, look out! OTOH, we read stories about the copy-editor from hell who changes all the French to garbage . . . so maybe this would even out.

2. An excellent editor can improve even a very good manuscript — the insights and discussion must be very invigorating sometimes! However, self-e-pubs might be a golden opportunity for the good editors to freelance their services. ($200? Oh, no, I think paying $2000 for a good editor is on the lower-end of the ballpark. Perhaps a percentage of the profits?)

3. Publishers act as filters, and most of us enjoy pretty much what other people enjoy — I always thought I was a maverick, until the internet showed me just how many people out there like what I like. I was just hanging out with the wrong literary crowd (-:.

4. Traditional publishing gives an author less incentive to work on a rejected novel . . . which may be a good thing. For every golden nugget in the dust, there’s a lot of dog doodies out there that don’t deserve to be published in paper.

COMMENTS: Maybe there will have to be trusted review sites that consolidate the self-e-pub reviews in one place — with reader comments. I know this system could be abused, but it could also mean a lot of publicity.

Also, maybe self-e-publishing will be like vaudeville, and the Hollywood Big Six will skim the best of the best and publish them. “Flylady” Cilley’s “Sink Reflections” is an example of this.

Can’t stop the tide; it’ll keep rolling in. But . . . it’s good some people are working on levees to help guide the new wave.

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:20 am Jenny said...

Why e-books cost so much:
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2011/03/amanda-hocking-and-99-cent-kindle.html

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On April 14, 2011 at 5:40 pm Eliza said...

The science fiction author Charles Stross also has some interesting comments on this subject, but I read them in a hardcover published by the small publisher NESFA Press. I don’t know if Mr. Stross has also put them up on the web.

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On April 15, 2011 at 3:01 am Micki said...

Oh. Well, paying about the price of a paperback is not an outrageous price, IMO. I was under the impression that e-books from many companies were costing about as much as a hardcover. (-: That’s what I get for putting in my two bits about something I know very little about. Sorry!

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On April 15, 2011 at 3:14 am Micki said...

*boggle* I just read the explanation why e-books are more expensive than some hard covers.

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On April 14, 2011 at 4:24 am Julie said...

If this discussion was happening anywhere else (and obviously it is) I would avoid it like the plague. But it’s you Jenny, so I read the entire thing, then I read all the comments. See… the thing is, I don’t own an e-reader, and most likely never will. I don’t read very many things on line that I can read “in person” (blogs are their own category, to me, and yeah, I’m “special” -all over the damn place). If I have something on the screen that is more than two pages long, I’ll print it (use only soy-based inks in recycled/refilled cartridges, on the backs of already recycled paper).
I hope the printed books never go away, I’d be shit out of luck. As I am nearly now, with neighborhood video stores.

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm Jenny said...

Printed books aren’t going to go away. Mass market might, though. That’s just a guess, but it seems to be taking the hardest hit at the moment.

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On April 14, 2011 at 2:17 pm Bharti said...

Sigh…Reading things on a little (even big) screen for too long is hard on my eyes. Mass markets fit so nicely in a purse/backpack. I wonder if they will join floppy disks, film and VHS tapes in the “I was killed by technological advancement”cemetary.

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On April 14, 2011 at 10:54 pm Office Wench Cherry said...

I work in a small town library and people ask me all the time if e-readers are going to kill books. I tell them that we can read the Epic of Gilgamesh in the original Sumerian (that is, cuneiform script) on ancient clay tablets and it’s four frickin’ thousand years old and I can’t access a digital copy of my BA thesis from 1995 because it’s on a 5.5″ floppy disc.

And then they look at me blankly because they have no idea what the Epic of Gilgamesh is.

I’ll keep buying (and borrowing) books because reading on a computer screen is uncomfortable for me. With any luck, I will die an old, old woman with a (finished)
book in my hand.

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On April 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm Katie said...

I really hope not. That’s the format I buy almost everything in. The only new hard cover I’ve bought in the last 4 or 5 years is Maybe This Time. I take books with me everywhere and hard cover is heavy. Even trade paper is pretty bulky.

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On April 14, 2011 at 9:55 pm Jenny said...

I’m not sure why it’s taking such a hit but it is. Numbers are way down.
The lightest way to carry a book is an e-reader. Seriously. It’s my preferred way of reading now.

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On April 16, 2011 at 7:24 pm Jackie said...

No, it’s the lightest way to carry over a dozen books. Not to say that’s a bad thing, especially for me. The best way to carry a single book is still a MM paperback. Take that from someone who walks and reads alot.

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On April 14, 2011 at 9:56 pm Deborah Blake said...

I hope not, too. I have a lot of Mass Market on my shelves. My favorite these days is the trade ppbk format, but I like them both.

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On April 14, 2011 at 10:02 am McB said...

I need to go back and read all the comment yet, but I wanted to say THANK YOU for writing a rational, well thought out, and informative post on the subject.

I think it boils down to something that’s bigger than just publishing: our culture has lost the ability to think in moderation. Everything is all or nothing. Either something is sublime and straight from the hand of God, or it’s the root of all evil and anyone who even considers it is going to hell. I think the problem is that we want (a) instant gratification even if we haven’t earned it (and here I’m thinking of all the times you’ve talked about gaining your writing chops, the lessons you still continue to learn about writing, etc.), and (b) we are addicted to the adrenaline-like fix that is the mixture of anger and self righteousness. Which is why people seldom read up on any subject, and are careful to only read views that coincide with what they already think.

To sum up, there’s a large percentage of people out there who prefer ignorance on any topic. As I said, I haven’t read through all the comments, but Bill’s did catch my eye up there and I agree with what he said: your post makes way too much sense for the doom and gloom crowd to pay any attention. But those of us who don’t prefer a diet of angst and anger really appreciate knowing that we aren’t alone out there. Thanks again.

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On April 14, 2011 at 11:03 am monique said...

Thanks for this post! It is great to hear what an established author thinks about this situation. As someone who works in a library, and who buys print books with great reviews, there are tons of wonderful books that never go anywhere. Sometimes it is the right book at the right time. Sometimes, it just circulates because you just grabbed something to put on a display. And sometimes folks only want a book by the Real Housewives of New York. (sigh)
People have to realize that books are competing with a lot more out there for entertainment now days ( TV-Internet-Gaming etc.) E-books are only going to bring more titles into the equation.
But with all the hype abbout e-books and readers – people forget that these early adapters are obviously heavy readers anyway. There is a huge part of the population that DOES NOT READ for leisure. How do you reach them? That is the question!

Thanks for bringing up this topic/conversation!

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:18 pm Jenny said...

Audience plays a huge part in publishing and it’s getting lost in all the money talk. If, by best estimates, only 35% of books sold go to e-readers, then you have to look at audience. They’re probably not 35% of the reading population because as you point out, they’re heavy readers anyway. Meanwhile those who are only in e-books are losing Julie and the others like her who want to read on paper. And you can analyze that even farther by looking at readers who read because of subject matter (the Real Housewives books, Glenn Beck, etc.) and readers who read for story and readers who don’t read much but will read something if it gets big enough (The DaVinci Code). The whole idea of discussing publishing as a simple either/or is way too reductive, there are so many things in play.

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On April 14, 2011 at 11:06 am Kate George said...

Jenny said “SMP still excels at the one thing I’d have to work full time to do half as well as they do: Tell people my book is out there.”

This is so true. I can either promote or write. And if I promote in the morning I’m too exhausted to write in the afternoon. If I write in the morning I forget to promote in the afternoon. It’s hard work and an uphill battle. But it’s what I have at the moment so I’ll keep at it.

As I’ve said before I’d give a lot to work with Jen Enderlin. I’m convinced that woman is genius. She certainly knows how to pick authors. She’s worth every cent she gets.

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:19 pm Jenny said...

Jen really is the very best there is.

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On April 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm Tawna Fenske said...

This is one of the smartest posts I’ve seen on this subject, so thank you for spelling it out so clearly. I busted my ass for years to go the traditional publishing route. With my first book hitting shelves in just over three months, I’ve been getting a lot of pitying, “tsk-tsk” reactions from people who now see self e-publishing as the holy grail, and the route I should have taken all along. While I don’t believe that, it’s tough to convince people who are only hearing the battle cries of the Eislers and Konraths of the world.

Thanks again for the insightful post!

Tawna

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm Jenny said...

People are going to be second-guessing you for the rest of your career. “You should have gone with this house.” “That cover is awful.” “You should have put a dog in there.” Really, just smile and nod and keep moving.

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On April 14, 2011 at 12:59 pm Flamingo Cherry said...

A couple of other places to go for insight into the benefits and problems with both “traditional” and self-publishing are http://www.deanwesleysmith.com and http://www.kriswrites.com. Dean and Kris (Kristin Kathryne Rusch) are multi-published career midlist writers across numerous genres, as well as having owned a publishing company (back in the 80s or 90s). Kris has also been an award winning professional editor.

Both of them have series going related to publishing. Both of them are self-publishing their reverted backlists, and both of them are maximizing their uses of both traditional publishing and self-publishing for their new work. Both have experience on multiple sides of the publishing industry.

I think they are both very interesting to read. They are sharing their experiences, their opinions, and what they both freely admit are uncertain opinions about the future of publishing because things are happening so very fast that’s it’s impossible to see into the future. there will be some things many writers disagree with, some things many writers agree with, but there’s a lot of food for thought. They’ve been covering this issue for a good year, plus other publishing-business related issues for even longer.

Michael Stackpole (www.stormwolf.com), a noted science fiction author, also has blog posts about self-publishing and e-publishing. he has a post called “9 Must Have Clauses for Digital Rights” that was very eye-opening.

Derek Canyon (www.derekjcanyon.blogspot.com) is a relatively unknown YA & scifi author documenting his more modest progress with self publishing.

JA Konrath is a huge proponent of self-publishing, doing extremely well, and comes from a traditionally published midlist background. Over the past couple of months he’s been allowing guest posts of known and unknown authors who are self publishing. The 2 posts by Guido Henkel are particurlarly interesting because Guido has not been terribly successful despite all the things he’s tried. While Konrath is having a tremendous amount of success, if you read through his blog he acknowledges that self-publishing is not easy, that not everybody is going to have the same success, and that you have to focus on the long game. He’s a lot more rah-rah than some other authors are, but I think he’s being honest about his experiences.

Sorry for the long, long post. There are a lot more authors who are talking about their experiences in e-publishing, but the ones above are very prolific on the subject and provide some very interesting viewpoints, and I thought I’d share the website info for them if anybody else here is interested in further reading. This is a topic I’m incredibly interested in, and it’s been fascinating reading the perspectives of so many different authors. Thanks for weighing in with your analysis, Jenny!

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:24 pm Jenny said...

You really do need to read across the spectrum on this, get as many opinions and read as many experiences as possible, so thanks for the links.

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On April 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm Flamingo Cherry said...

I should also say, especially with Dean and Kris, take the time to read through the comments. You find a lot more writers (some known, some unknown) who share their experiences as well. I learn almost as much from the comments as from the blog posts.

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On April 14, 2011 at 2:01 pm Diane L. said...

An unsolicited suggestion: :)
With regard to your promotional catalogue, be sure buyers know what they are getting. I bought a “novella” by Jennifer Weiner from Amazon for my Kindle (and had looked at the length and other descriptors) but it turned out that it was barely a short story and the rest was just first chapters of lots of her other stuff (which I already had because I love her work). Even though it was Jennifer Weiner whom I generally admire tremendously, I was annoyed and felt ripped off. In fact, I was so annoyed that I’ll be getting any new stuff by her from the library instead of buying it. I’m a librarian and I definitely kow how to read a description of what I’m buying and it was not fairly described. If it had been free, I wouldn’t have felt ripped off but I probably would still have felt annoyed. But if yours is going to have new content (introductions), I’d probably be willing to pay for it.

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On April 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm Jenny said...

I was thinking of calling it “First Chapters.” It’ll definitely be free. And what I’m thinking of doing is talking about what happens between each book, a sort of solo He Wrote, She Wrote, so that it’s not so much about me but about what I remember of the publishing process, the kind of stuff people ask about. I haven’t started writing the intros yet, but the bulk of the book will be first chapters which the description will make very clear. Plus, it’s free.

But you raise a good point because expectation can be a killer if you don’t make what you’re giving the consumer very clear.

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On April 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm Jill said...

But if I want it in print ?

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On April 15, 2011 at 2:40 am Jenny said...

I think it would be prohibitively expensive in print. The chapters that Mollie has pulled together right now are over 150,000 words. Then there’s the first chapter of Sizzle if I’m allowed to use that, the first chapter of You Again, the first chapters of Lavender’s Blue and Rest in Pink. so you’re at about 170K. Then there are my introductions which, knowing me, will probably run long. So figure at least 200K. That’s twice the length of my single titles, so imagine a book twice as thick as my hardcovers, most of which is first chapters. It’s too expensive to print to give away and nobody’s going to want to pay fifty bucks for a bunch of first chapters. That’s why e-publishing is perfect for it, and without e-publishing we wouldn’t be considering it.

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On April 15, 2011 at 3:07 am Micki said...

There’s been a resurgence of interest in bookbinding. I think a lot of people will be printing things out on nice paper, and binding it with art they like in the future. Which makes something like this “free” promotional book potentially hugely expensive, but . . . (-: Why not? It’s a hobby AND a book.

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On April 15, 2011 at 11:42 am Kelly S said...

You could locate and try an “Espresso book machine” by which I mean a machine that may likely be found in a library, probably a university library, where you supply a file and it will print it in book format for you. Of course there is a fee for doing this. MPOW will be having one installed over the summer.

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On April 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm Diane L. said...

I problaby shouldn’t have used the word “buyers” in the post above. I understand that you are talking “free.”

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On April 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm Jenny said...

Yeah, but downloading 200,000 words of ebook and expecting one thing and getting another is going to ANNOY people, so it’s good advice. I’m already re-writing the description in my head. Thank you.

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On April 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm Sierra said...

Until they make e-readers that you can drop in the bathtub with no ill-effects, I will continue to purchase mass markets. They’re easy to hold and inexpensive to replace when they fall apart due to said tub-dropping. Mass market is the only type of book I can accidentally destroy without feeling massive waves of guilt.

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On April 14, 2011 at 7:37 pm Peggy said...

Ziploc bags. :) A gallon ziploc will work with most e-readers.

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On April 14, 2011 at 9:22 pm Mary Stella said...

I have a sealable bag. I also have one for my iPhone that I use when I’m out on the boat.

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On April 15, 2011 at 12:29 pm Sierra said...

I know there are bags, but I am still hesitant to try them. I’m remarkably talented at being klutzy…

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On April 16, 2011 at 7:40 pm Peggy said...

As a klutz myself I understand your hesitation. :) I’ve found my Nook to be quite resilient about falling. The reason I am a died in the wool e-reader fan is because I travel a fair amount for business and pleasure and it’s so nice to just have one reader and not have to decide which book to bring. Or if I’ll be able to fit a new book in my luggage if I succumb to temptation. Also I dream of the day I can see the walls in my house and not the bookshelves. I’ve stopped buying almost anything in print format.

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On April 14, 2011 at 2:43 pm Florence Fois said...

It is refreshing to hear a successful author weigh in on this subject. As an aspiring, I am not inclined to think self-pub (self e-pub) is good for a person with no readership, no name recognition and next to no resources in terms of self-marketing.

I might be showing my “vintage” … but I still believe in the traditional … query an agent, get an agent, find a publisher and get between the boards.

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On April 14, 2011 at 10:02 pm Deborah Blake said...

I don’t own an ereader, although I just bought a tablet, which will double as one. I much prefer to read on paper. I spend enough of the day staring at a computer screen, thank you. And I just like to hold a book in my hands. What can I say; I grew up in libraries.

This isn’t to say that I will never read anything in eformat. But I want to read most things in print. And I want to be published in print, too.

I worry about the quality of epubbed books (although goddess knows I’ve read plenty of print books put out by the “big 6″ that were crap). And I’m not sure how you would weed through all the available titles to find out which ones were and which ones weren’t.

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On April 15, 2011 at 2:36 am Jenny said...

Word of mouth is still the best selling tool out there. The problem is getting the word to the mouth which is where marketing comes in.

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On April 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm Jill said...

I think Chris Merrill’s Need to Know did well on Lulu. I think you have t be careful which self pub venue you use.
I am buying Bob Mayer’s new books that he is self pubbing in print and on kindle.

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On April 15, 2011 at 7:27 am Clever Cherry said...

OT To be eligible to win a free copy of No Such Thing As A Secret by Shelly Fredman, go to http://noveltruths.blogspot.com/ and post a comment today, Sat. or Sun. (15th, 16th, 17th ). Shelly will pick one winner from the comments and I will announce the winner on Wed. the 20th.
(Incidentally, Shelly is an author who has an excellent editor, self-publishes, print-on-demand.)
Thanks. As you were.

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On April 15, 2011 at 10:12 am Flamingo Cherry said...

RE the concerns about purchasing self-pubbed “crap” — I’m a big fan of downloading the free samples; you usually get a couple of chapters for a novel to see if the writer is at all competent before you have to pay. There’s always the chance that you’ll get good writing but discover you just don’t like the story halfway in, but that happens to me with print books, too, and I don’t feel as bad about not finishing if I’ve only paid $3.

I also read the synopsis — self-pubbed writers have to write their own “back cover copy” too, and if they’re a not particularly skilled writer, you can tell pretty quickly without even getting the sample.

I will also scan the reviews, especially if they are low starred, just to get an idea of why it is tanking … are readers peeved at the pricing, which often gets bad reviews even if the book is good. Are there lots of problems with formatting? Is the writing (not the storytelling, but the technical bits like spelling & grammar) clumsy? I bypass other readers’ opinions of the story, because that’s something where I like to make up my own mind, but if there are lots of complaints of formatting errors, bad technical writing issues, or misrepresentation on the author’s or publisher’s part, that sends up a red flag and I move on to something else.

In some ways, I actually find it’s becoming easier to “investigate” the quality of a book from an “unknown” author through the e-book world, because there is so much information right there in one place, and once you get comfortable with the format of Amazon/Kindle’s or B&N’s or iBookstore’s market place, it’s pretty easy to navigate.

It doesn’t take all the risk out, but as a voracious reader, years ago I made peace with the fact that some of the books I bought that appealed while I was in the bookstore just weren’t going to gel for me once I got into them. It’s the same with e-books, and even when I use the many tools available to try to evaluate them, there’s still going to be a percentage that just don’t work for me. That being said, I find it’s pretty easy to avoid buying the badly written stuff, but your mileage may vary. ;=)

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On April 15, 2011 at 1:13 pm Mary Stella said...

Smashwords, which distributes to multiple e-book platforms including Sony, Kobo, Apple, BN.com, and Diesel, highly recommends that authors permit potential customers to sample their books. I think I set mine for a 15% sample. Hopefully that will give people enough of an idea to decide whether they want to invest $2.99 for the entire book. I know you can sample my books on Amazon and BN.com and I believe its the entire first chapter. I also have the first chapter of each book posted on my site.

So, the more people who read and sample, the better.

This made me think about buying patterns. When I browse the shelves of a bookstore and see a cover that interests me, or recognize the name/title of a book that I’ve heard some buzz about, I pick up the book and flip it over to read the back cover. If I’m intrigued, I might put it in my shopping basket, or I might read the first page.

Online, I buy a lot of books on buzz and am more willing to take changes on authors that are new-to-me. So far, I go online, read the description and then read some of the reviews I”m yet to pay attention to the free sample. I wonder if this is because I’m so sold on the description, or it’s just so easy to push the buy button. Also, the prices are lower online, so that might factor into “Buy Now”! mentality for me.

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On April 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm Jenny said...

I read the free sample on everything I buy no matter who publishes it. If I finish the free sample and I don’t HAVE to click “Buy” I don’t. So I’m probably passing up a lot more e-books than I did in print, but my reading experience is better because of the way I choose. I think that’s another plus about e-buying.

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On April 15, 2011 at 10:50 am Kate George said...

OT, but still about books – My daughter has squirreled away my copy of MTT which I was going to read in bed to wind down last night. So I picked up Agnes because I hadn’t read her in a while, and gosh darn it, even though I’ve read AatHM several times I still stayed up way too late reading.

Curse you Crusie, I’m blaming you for my crankiness today! BTW, when does the next one come out?

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On April 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm Robin said...

I’m glad I’m not the only one whose daughter scampers off with Jenny’s books.

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On April 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm Jenny said...

Kate, shame on you. You’re a writer, you know better than to ask that. The proper comment is, “Take all the time you need, dear, no pressure.” AARRRRRRRRRRGH.

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On April 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm Kate George said...

I know I feel awful! People have been asking me that since CAS came out and I feel like screaming “That one just came out!” and “If you would promote my books for me then I’d have time to write then next one!” So my apologies and take all the time you need, dear, no pressure!

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On April 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm Jenny said...

Thank you, Kate.

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On April 15, 2011 at 1:47 pm EmmeSulis said...

I’m not a writer, but I am a voracious reader. So far, I have resisted the e-readers because I LOVE books. I love the whispery cracking sound a new hardcover makes the first time I open it, the feel of the soft pages of a paperback I’ve read a dozen times, the woodsy smell, the weight of it in my hands. I like seeing them in my shelves with their colorful dust covers, remembering a favorite scene and grabbing the book to experience again. I love leaving my local library with a new book and feeling like I’m getting away with something. I like knowing that, even if I didn’t really like the book, I can pass it on to a friend or a thrift shop.

I’m glad writers and readers have so many options, but for me it will always be an actual book.

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On April 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm Robin said...

Amen.

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On April 16, 2011 at 12:22 am Katie said...

Ditto. Just not the same on a screen.

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On April 17, 2011 at 11:56 am McB said...

My keeper, auto-buy authors I am still buying in hard copy for this reason. I love the whole “bookness” of books. But there are a lot of my personal midlist authors that maybe I don’t want to spend hardcopy dollars on but can’t easily find them in the library either. I’m finding ebooks are good for that. Also some non fiction. I don’t have the same sentimental attachment to nonfiction. I’m more impressed with the Kindle than I thought I’d be; but I’m not ready to give up on paper and print entirely. Sometimes I just have to have the actual, real thing in a book because it’s part of the reading experience.

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On April 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm Siri Paulson said...

As an unpublished writer, I’m planning to play both sides. For my novels that fall neatly into an established publishing category and length, I’ll go the traditional route (hoping that’s still an option by the time I’m ready to send them out!). For short stories, novellas, and “in-betweens”, I’m already trying the self-published route, because why not?

I’ve teamed up with a few other writers to pool our talents (for example, one of us does the techy stuff, and I’m an editor in my other life) and our marketing power in what we’re calling a “self-publishing collective”. We’re selling ebooks and print-on-demand via CreateSpace — no piles of books in our garages. We’ve made sure to put up free preview chapters and bonus content. It’s an experiment, and we’re all gaining skills…many of which will, we hope, help us when/if we land that contract with a regular publisher.

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On April 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm Jenny said...

I think that’s a really smart way to go. Short stories are a notoriously hard sell to print publishers because they don’t make money. Novellas have to be packaged with other novellas to make a big enough print book to make a difference. That’s the kind of work that e-publishing is perfect for.

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On April 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm Courtney Milan said...

This is a great discussion, but I just want to comment on the 35% digital/65% print number, because I think this is a case where statistics are misleading.

For many authors, particularly romance authors, that “65% print figure” includes trade paperback and hardcover releases–markets that we will never, ever see. For February of 2011, e-sales were twice the size of print mass market sales. And midlist authors don’t get distribution in all the mass market outlets.

I’m not saying this means we should abandon print. But I’m not sure that print won’t abandon us first.

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On April 15, 2011 at 6:28 pm Jenny said...

I agree that romance sales are a different story from fiction-in-general sales. But your e-sales/mass market comparison doesn’t take into account that mass market isn’t just down in romance, it’s down everywhere whether there’s an e-competition or not. Mass market is dying, period, and that can’t just be attributed to e-sales. It’s the financial climate in general that’s kneecapping traditional publishing. Plus before any romance author considers concentrating on e-publishing because print isn’t what it used to be, consider that romance authors may not always be romance authors; if you go to women’s fiction, mystery, suspense the percentages change again.

For me, the most important gap isn’t between print/e-pub sales, it’s between print/e-pub readers. That is, the majority of readers still do not read on e-readers. And if you don’t provide a print alternative, you not only lose those readers, you annoy those readers (see Jill and Julie below).

Print is not going to abandon romance, romance sells like crazy. The only way that could happen is if readers abandon print in which case all genres go down and which I don’t see happening any time soon. This whole magilla is made up of interlocking parts and when one of them moves, the others do, too. So half of my debut sales on Maybe This Time went to the hardcover version and half to the e-version, but I need them both because neither one does everything I need. It almost doesn’t matter what the percentages are, as long as readers want both formats, I need to provide both formats. And there are going to be readers wanting printing formats for years yet.

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On April 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm Courtney Milan said...

There’s a big distinction between what you said–print is not going to abandon romance as a genre and what I said–print is going to abandon some romance authors. Walmart is taking fewer books. Bookstores have changed their buying habits and are buying fewer copies overall. Borders is out of the picture. Target is shifting from carrying mass markets. I don’t believe print is going to go away, but I do believe that the number of authors that will be able to get their book in physical stores will decrease.

I can’t say much more without starting to pull out anecdotes about friends who are in current contract negotiations, but I can say that for me, personally, there is no guarantee that my publisher will put future books out in print–even though they are definitely willing to buy them. I can draw a best-fit line through my print runs for my first three books, and there is a point in the not-distant-enough future when the number of copies printed hits zero. Just over the last two months, I’ve seen a huge number of rumblings that suggest that electronic with POD distribution will be the new mass market. Some of these are clearly public–at this point, Harper Collins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harlequin all have announced digital-only publishing arms.

Romance as a genre, of course, will continue to be printed. But I think the change we’ll see over the next year is that some romance authors–successful romance authors with major print houses who make good money on their contracts–will have their books available as electronic and print-on-demand versions, and will not have their books in most physical stores.

All I am trying to say is this: Every midlist author right now needs to be aware that unless her contract requires a minimum print run, there is no guarantee that her next book will actually be printed as anything other than a print-on-demand version that can be ordered online.

It happened to Dorchester authors already. And I am very, very confident in my prediction that we’re going to see this happen to other authors over the next year– both because some choose that course willingly and because others have it unhappily thrust upon them.

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On April 15, 2011 at 11:49 pm Barbara Samuel said...

Great post, Courtney.

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On April 16, 2011 at 12:31 am Jenny said...

“There’s a big distinction between what you said–print is not going to abandon romance as a genre and what I said–print is going to abandon some romance authors.”

Yes, but that’s always been true and certainly not just in romance.
But if what you’re saying is that self-e-publishing may be the only answer, that the collapse of mass market is forcing those abandoned midlist writers into self-e-publishing, I disagree.
Self-e-publishing is not always going to be the best option even if it feels like the only option. There are several time-tested choices: writing under another name and starting your career over, pulling back from publishing for awhile and working on something new, taking a break from publishing and re-evaluating your career strategy before you try again, and now, of course, self-e-publishing. Writers have gotten clobbered in midlist, climbed out of the abyss, and gone on to success before the e-revolution and they will again. It just takes a strategy (and a hell of a lot of luck) that does not of necessity entail self-e-publishing.

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On April 16, 2011 at 9:44 am Courtney Milan said...

But if what you’re saying is that self-e-publishing may be the only answer, that the collapse of mass market is forcing those abandoned midlist writers into self-e-publishing, I disagree.

I never said anything like that. I’m not talking about abandoned midlist writers. I’m talking about successful midlist writers who will be offered deals where the publisher continues to want to publish them and give them an advance. My prediction was that in the next year, we would see successful midlist writers being offered deals with an advance by traditional imprints where the only print copies of their books will be available through print-on-demand.

I’m not talking about people who will have to regroup and change their name. I’m saying that publishers are beginning to realize that even if print is 65% of the market, they can only get their midlist authors in front of 5% of the print readers, but can get them in front of all of the digital readers.

And this is what I’d like you to think about–I think you’re conflating digital publishing with self-publishing with failure. Maybe not explicitly, but when I talk about someone going mostly digital, your first response was to think that person had been “abandoned” and should consider reinventing herself or changing her name.

That’s not what I meant. I meant authors who have sales that are strong enough to support another advance, whose publisher wants to continue to promote them–but where the realities of the print market mean that printing would just not be worthwhile any longer. I think that possibility is just not computing for you–you hear that and think “how is it possible for someone to be a success but for their publisher to not want to print books any more?”

Just imagine someone who came out in hardcover initially. The publisher decided hardcover wasn’t going to work, but the mass markets sold nicely thereafter. The publisher then offers the author a straight-to-mass-market deal, and the author continues to (happily) write for the publisher for years thereafter and breaks out and becomes a success. Is that author a failure? No–the publisher just needed to find the right format for the author to succeed.

Right now, there are authors that can sell a fantastic number of copies online, but who don’t have enough print penetration to make printing worthwhile. Why would an author walk away from the kind of success that meant she could sell tens of thousands of copies online? Digital publishing doesn’t mean self-publishing. Digital publishing doesn’t mean failure. Digital publishing is just another format.

But when I say “digital publishing” you hear “failure” and “abandoned” and you assumed I was talking about self-publishing.

I have the utmost respect for you. I adore your books and I have read your essays over and over again. But you’re reading the word “abandoned” where I have explicitly used the word “successful” simply because the word “digital” is also attached. You’re assuming “self publishing” where I’ve explicitly used the words “authors with major print houses.” I absolutely do not want this to come across as an accusation of any kind, but can I ask you to take a step back and question why you’re seeing failure and rejection and self-publishing when I’m talking about success and people making money with publishing houses?

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On April 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm Jenny said...

Courtney wrote:
“I never said anything like that. I’m not talking about abandoned midlist writers. I’m talking about successful midlist writers who will be offered deals where the publisher continues to want to publish them and give them an advance.”

Okay, I missed that completely, my fault obviously, and fixated on the example you gave of Dorchester. So first, I apologize. Second, we may be missing on how we define “successful.”

You said: “My prediction was that in the next year, we would see successful midlist writers being offered deals with an advance by traditional imprints where the only print copies of their books will be available through print-on-demand.”

See, this is where the “successful” definition comes in. If they’re successful in print, why wouldn’t their publishers produce them in print? If the publisher is going broke and can’t afford a print component or if the publisher is choosing to go to e-pub and POD only, then that’s a choice the author makes, go with that publisher or seek out one that’s still doing regular print publisher (because if she’s successful in print publishing, other publishers may very well want her) or go the self-e-publishing route. If other publishers don’t, it’s (probably) because they don’t see her or him as being successful. Since “successful” is so much a matter of perception, especially in publishing, it’s a slippery term to use (and we both used it, it’s all over my original blog post), but in my admittedly reductive mind, if somebody is successful in print publishing, print publishing will want to put her into print. That doesn’t mean I think print publishing is always the best choice or that going to e-publishing is an admission of failure (see next point).

“I think you’re conflating digital publishing with self-publishing with failure.”
Barb thinks I’m doing this, too, but I’m really not. Self-publishing in print has always had a flavor of failure about it and I’ve been very up front in saying that it depends on what you want from publishing, and the same thing applies here. You cannot get the same things from e-publishing that you can get from print publishing, but you can’t get the same things from print publishing that you can get from e-publishing, either. The flavor of failure in this isn’t digital publishing (although that was the red-headed-stepchild until the Kindle came along), it’s self-e-publishing as a holdover from self print publishing, aka vanity publishing. I can’t make this any clearer: I think self-e-publishing is a very viable OPTION, but it is not the only option and it’s not always the best option.

“Maybe not explicitly, but when I talk about someone going mostly digital, your first response was to think that person had been “abandoned” and should consider reinventing herself or changing her name.”
Actually, I got the “abandon” from you: “But I’m not sure that print won’t abandon us first.” And then you followed up with the nightmare of Dorchester. If you look at my original post, I don’t think there’s anything in there that is dismissive of self-e-publishing. What I said was that’s it’s not as easy as many people are saying it is, and that it’s not a good option for everybody. I’ll stand by that.

“That’s not what I meant. I meant authors who have sales that are strong enough to support another advance, whose publisher wants to continue to promote them–but where the realities of the print market mean that printing would just not be worthwhile any longer.”
I’m trying to understand why a print publisher who wants to promote an author whose sales are strong in print would also decide that print just isn’t worthwhile. I know Dorchester did that, but that decision was based on the fact that Dorchester was going down for the count, not because a solid publisher looked at numbers and said, “This person’s sales are strong, let’s take her out of print.” Now, if a publisher looked at numbers and said, “This person doesn’t sell enough in print to make that worthwhile, but her e-numbers are great, let’s put her in digital and POD (print on demand),” that’s another matter, but that person is not successful in print sales. If I were that author, I’d say, “Thanks but no thanks,” look for another print publisher (because of the chunk of the market that only buys print and I want my books available to 100% of the market) and then if I couldn’t get a good enough deal from a print publisher (because of that market, not because print is intrinsically better), I’d go the self-e-publish route with a POD source, but only because I have access to editors, designers, and marketing people I trust.

“Just imagine someone who came out in hardcover initially. The publisher decided hardcover wasn’t going to work, but the mass markets sold nicely thereafter. The publisher then offers the author a straight-to-mass-market deal, and the author continues to (happily) write for the publisher for years thereafter and breaks out and becomes a success. Is that author a failure? No–the publisher just needed to find the right format for the author to succeed.”

Right. And by putting her in mass market, he manages to get her to 100% of the reading market. But if he puts her in e-publication only, he gets her to a fraction of the reading market (I’m not quoting numbers because that sucker changes every day but it’s nowhere near 100% yet). And it’s not just the smaller market to take into consideration. All formats are not the same because of the reading market. The people who buy and read hardcovers are generally not the same people who buy and read trade paperbacks who are not the same people who buy and read mass market. Of course some people buy across formats to get a specific book, but in general those are three different audiences which is why those formats are considered different bites at the same apple. E-publishing joins that list of formats with the same caveats: not all formats are created equal, their success depends on the kind of audience that’s best for the book. The choice of format is really important but it always comes down to the same thing: getting the most books possible to the biggest right audience, the audience that will like it and create good buzz and come back for more. It’s always about reaching the right buyers in the greatest numbers.

” Why would an author walk away from the kind of success that meant she could sell tens of thousands of copies online?”
I’m pretty sure I didn’t say she should in all cases. But if restricting herself to selling tens of thousands of copies online means she passes up the chance to sell more tens of thousands in print (which of course it doesn’t always), then she has to look at the numbers. Which is where we go back to Amanda Hocking. She’s made over a million dollars in a very short time self-e-publishing, but she recently chose to sign with a print publisher because of what that print publisher can do for her which appears from her blog to be taking over the work of publishing and reaching print readers. She sells hundreds of thousands of copies online and she chose to sign a traditional contract. That absolutely does not mean print is always better, but it does mean that even if you’re wildly successful at self-e-publishing, sometimes the better choice is still traditional print.

“I absolutely do not want this to come across as an accusation of any kind, but can I ask you to take a step back and question why you’re seeing failure and rejection and self-publishing when I’m talking about success and people making money with publishing houses?”
I didn’t read any of that as an accusation. It’s just a good discussion and every point you brought up was absolutely fair, so no worries there.
But honestly, I am not seeing failure and rejection, although that’s something that comes up a lot in conversations offline with other writers who are self-e-publishing, that sense that print publishing has let them down, failed and rejected them, and the exhilaration they’ve felt because self-e-publishing has given them control over their careers again. I’m all for that. As I’ve said over and over again, I think self-e-publishing is a viable option (not an alternative to print, but another format, another publishing option).

I think I’ve lost the thread of our original (polite professional) argument; which I THINK was the idea that traditional print is going to be out of reach for a lot of midlist writers in the future. And my response to that, which I lost my grip on, is that that’s always been true, that there are always shake-ups in publishing, the bottom drops out of a subgenre market or the economy swerves and houses cut back, and at that point, authors who are no longer being offered print contracts by their houses have always had to regroup. (I’m giving up on the word “successful” because of the above-mentioned slipperiness of the definition.) If authors are offered contracts by publishing houses that don’t give them what they want, of course they turn them down and go look at their options. Nobody was ever forced to sign a publishing contract. I really think my disagreement goes back to this: “I’m not saying this means we should abandon print. But I’m not sure that print won’t abandon us first.” And looking at that again, I think it’s the idea that print abandons authors (and I realize that was a figure of speech). Publishers, both print and electronic, abandon writers all the time for financial reasons. The idea that print publishing as a whole may abandon the midlist as a whole didn’t work for me. When you wrote, “I don’t believe print is going to go away, but I do believe that the number of authors that will be able to get their book in physical stores will decrease,” I agree completely. When you wrote, “I can say that for me, personally, there is no guarantee that my publisher will put future books out in print–even though they are definitely willing to buy them,” I could say the same thing about myself; my print publisher has rejected books that I had contracted to write for them, and I know damn well I can lose my publisher at any time; we all can. You wrote “Just over the last two months, I’ve seen a huge number of rumblings that suggest that electronic with POD distribution will be the new mass market,” and that also makes sense; I agree that that’s a very possible future scenario. I don’t think we disagree on most things.
But I think maybe our current disagreement is founded in my perception that you were deingrating print publishing for abandoning authors and your perception that I was denigrating e-publishing as second-class publishing. I don’t think either of those is true, but I think that may be where we went adrift.

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On April 16, 2011 at 8:40 pm Courtney Milan said...

I think that’s basically right–I’m not trying to denigrate print publishing for walking away from authors, or even from walking away from a print component for authors, and I’ll accept on face that you’re not denigrating digital publishing.

I can come up with an easy scenario in which a publisher wouldn’t print an author’s books any longer. Let’s say Author X writes trade paperbacks that have done very well–for the last one, the publisher printed about 20,000 copies, and sold 15,000 of those print copies. The author also sold 30,000 copies digitally.

Of the 15,000 print copies sold, 12,000 were sold in Borders.

Now, if you were the publisher, would you continue to publish this author? YES. YES. YES. This is pretty awesome for a midlist author. Now, would you publish this author in print? You know that you can, at best, place 5,000 trade paperbacks–because who will count on Borders?–and since every bookstore is taking fewer and fewer copies, you might not even get that.

Of course, reality is a little more complicated. But you can construct numerous scenarios: You used to be able to get the top 3 of your mass markets in Target, and all of your line in Walmart, but now the market has constricted and you can get 1 book in Target and the top 4 in Walmart; B&N is taking fewer copies of certain books than they even sold. The print market really is contracting right now. The author has always sold well in print, but they’ve never had big print runs, and you know that you will not be able to get nearly as many copies in stores because of changes in the market, and not because of the author. If that “nearly as many copies” becomes small enough, it just stops being worthwhile to do a print run.

I’ve heard of people whose second print run has been smaller than the total number of books sold in the first cycle–and we’re not talking about people that had huge print runs in the first place; we’re talking about someone who went from 30,000 books printed and 24,000 sold to 18,000 printed. (I’ve fudged those numbers to protect the innocent, but those are basically real.) That’s a real contraction in the print market at play, not a lack of authorial success. The author’s sales in that circumstance are damned successful–and if her digital sales are good enough, the publisher knows this author is going to make them money, and will want another book.

I still think that we disagree on a few things.

Like: “Right. And by putting her in mass market, he manages to get her to 100% of the reading market.”

I think this is wrong, and I think the reason we disagree is that what matters is not format but distribution channels. I think I tried to say that initially but wasn’t as clear as I could be. If I’m in mass market, I am not in front of 100% of the reading market. I’m in front of the readers who see my book in the stores where my stores are. So if I’m in just Barnes and Noble, I’m in front of people who shop in B&Ns. If I’m in Walmart, I’m in front of a totally different set of readers. If I’m in airport stores and grocery stores and gas stations, I’m in front of even more readers. And even then, there are some readers who will never, ever read a mass market–they see hard cover as a mark of quality and will not look at mass market books. (Yes, these people exist, even though they boggle my mind.)

Format is not the same thing as a channel of distribution, and it’s the channels of distribution that determines what % of the reading public sees you. The channel is tied to format, but merely because you are in a particular format doesn’t mean you’re getting in front of everyone.

So no midlist author is in front of 100% of the reading public. Much of the reading public will never, ever see a novel by a midlist author. I’m not bemoaning this–it’s business, and it makes sense–but if I’m going to be evaluating this whole thing unemotionally, I can’t look at the fact that print is 65% of the market and think, “I’m giving up 65% of the market.” My books aren’t distributed to 100% of the print market. They’re distributed to maybe 5% of the print market–and most midlist authors are at the 1% to 10% range.

So if I went purely digital, I’d be giving up maybe 6.5% of the total reading public, not 65% of it–and maybe less, because I could always release my book in POD so that my fans who read in print could get it.

All I am trying to say is just as individual authors may make the decision to walk away from 6.5% of the reading public, I believe that publishers may make the decision to give up 6.5% of their author’s reading public if the channels of print distribution narrow enough for the midlist.

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On April 16, 2011 at 11:13 pm Jenny said...

“I’ve heard of people whose second print run has been smaller than the total number of books sold in the first cycle–and we’re not talking about people that had huge print runs in the first place”
This is a huge problem for everybody and it started when bookstores started ordering only as many books as they’d sold of the author’s previous book. Since real sales are only a percentage of the books printed, often as low as 50%, and since print runs are based on orders, that meant everybody’s next printing went down. If the print run went down under the number of books sold, that’s lousy math on the publisher’s part or a definite vote of no confidence, but every writer I know is experiencing lower print runs. We’ve all been screaming about it.

Like: “Right. And by putting her in mass market, he manages to get her to 100% of the reading market.”
I think this is wrong, and I think the reason we disagree is that what matters is not format but distribution channels.”

I think I phrased that badly. Distribution is crucial, but what I’m talking about is the ability of the reader to read the book. If a reader doesn’t have an e-reader or doesn’t want one and there’s not a print production, that reader can’t read that book. Add to that that online outlets like Amazon make the fact that some books can’t get into B&N/Borders/etc. much less powerful and while distribution is still important, it’s not as crucial as it once was.

“So no midlist author is in front of 100% of the reading public.”
I’ll give you that. I think Amazon and B&N combined with the bricks and mortars store get her pretty close to that, though. And the fact that remains, that if she’s only in e-print, she’s shut out a good percentage of her audience by only choosing digital. (Of course, the same is true of an author who is only published in hardcover: lots of people refuse to buy hardcovers. It’s not intrinsic to e-publishing, but it is a big drawback.) Just to clarify, the 35/65 figure came from projections of book sales, not book readers. Also, if you’re releasing you book in POD, you’re not losing audience because you’re not choosing only digital, so I think we agree on that one. The point of disagreement, if we have one, would be saying, “I don’t need print readers,” but I don’t think that’s what you’re saying.

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On April 16, 2011 at 8:42 pm Courtney Milan said...

Oh, and I just want to thank you. This is a really great discussion–it’s made me think, and I really appreciate the fact that while these things can so often descend into nuclear war, that you’ve been very open and nonjudgmental in your responses. My apologies for reading more in.

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On April 16, 2011 at 11:16 pm Jenny said...

No, no, no apologies necessary. Like you, I’m getting a lot from this discussion and I’m grateful you’re taking the time to have it with me. The whole point of conversations like this isn’t to win or dominate, it’s to hear another viewpoint and understand it, and I think we’ve been doing a crackerjack job at that. I think the informality of this kind of exchange often leads to sloppy semantics on my part, so asking me to clarify is really good for focusing my thinking, double-checking my assumptions. Thank you.

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On April 15, 2011 at 7:20 pm Jackie said...

I am a new ereader – I got an iPad for xmas. :) I hust made the discovery (personal dicovery – it was probably obvieous to others long since) That I could buy the flashy new books of my favorites in ebooks rather than hard cover – a format I rarely buy except for truly beautiful books (i.e. the art of book binding, printing) and then still get the MM paperback when it came out for my purse or the tub or the bus. This is much better. I may be able to find anything in my room past the books….

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On April 16, 2011 at 6:22 am AgTigress said...

There is a whole lot of valuable and thought-provoking information in this discussion, and I am aware that what I am going to say will seem slightly off the point, but it does still impinge of the wider subject of writing, publishing and reading, and the relationship between physical, printed books and an image on a screen. The normal way of reading a novel is to start at the beginning, carry on until you come to the end, and then stop. But that is not the only way of reading or even ‘using’ a book; some books are simply admired and ‘looked at’ rather than ‘read’, while others are used by continual dipping within them, flipping back and forth, and comparison with other volumes.

Not all books are novels.

In non-fiction publishing, both popular and academic, all sorts of different parameters apply, including very different balances between production costs and retail prices, and, at the reader’s end, different ways of reading/using the final product. Whether we are considering a large-format glossy coffee-table book with beautiful colour photographs, or a dry scholarly reference work with plans and diagrams and an intricate web of cross-referencing a multitude of footnotes and citations, e-readers cannot yet begin to compete with a printed volume. In certain kinds of work, you need half a dozen reference books or more open in front of you at a time. Although I am thinking here of books that come out in tiny print-runs by fiction standards and cost an arm and a leg to buy (I was really pleased when my publisher managed to keep the retail price of my last major catalogue down to £60), there are also quite long print-runs of popular non-fiction, such as travel books, art books, and books putting into permanent form the salient points of a successful TV documentary series, all of which depend on the appeal of high-quality production as physical objects. Such books are often valued as souvenir objects in themselves. I dread to think how many glossy picture-books of the forthcoming Royal wedding in this country will be flooding the market, and will actually be passed down within families in the future!

I can envisage being quite willing to do my regular re-reading of Heyer, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers etc. on an electronic screen, but even if they brought out an e-reader with a 12″ x 8″ format, superb colour resolution, and sophisticated tricks to enable one to look at text, footnote and bibliographic reference simultaneously, while writing a quick annotation in the margin and searching in the index (all of which are undoubtedly possible), books are still going to last much longer because they are not dependent of changing technologies. I regularly use books that were published long before I was born. As someone commented above, the computer technology we were using even 20 years ago is now obsolete.

This is a tangential approach, I know; my point is that although electronic access to the printed word will undoubtedly come to dominate publishing more and more, I shall be extremely surprised if ‘the book’ becomes obsolete in the foreseeable future.

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On April 16, 2011 at 6:19 pm colognegrrl said...

Maybe it’s like when everybody thought that video would make the cinema obsolete – it didn’t because the emotional experience of going to the movies is different. Many people mentioned that having a real book is just different from scrolling down a screen.
I can’t really relate because I don’t own a reader and e-books haven’t become so popular yet in Germany – even on Amazon, they are hard to find. But I think it’s harder to be a midlist author than it used to be because the business is getting tougher. I hear that’s not only true for literature but for other sectors too, like music or art. Either you manage to be a bestselling artist or else…
On the other hand, everybody who has ever visited a book fair has to be amazed about the huge amount of books that are turned out regularly. Who is supposed to read all those, particularly when the choice of entertainment besides reading is so gigantic? I can understand publishing houses who decide to go for “less is more”. The only thing is that they still haven’t found out a fool-proof recipe for success which still forces them to go for trial and error in a lot of cases, and of course every single one of us authors is hoping to be the non-error success like Joanne K. Rowling was.

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On April 16, 2011 at 7:14 pm AgTigress said...

“Maybe it’s like when everybody thought that video would make the cinema obsolete – it didn’t because the emotional experience of going to the movies is different”.

Good point, Colognegrrl. And why didn’t the cinema itself make the live theatre obsolete? Or longer ago, how come photography failed to replace drawing and painting, as so many people feared and expected at the time?
In the creative arts, new technologies extend choices and create new perspectives and opportunities, but they don’t normally replace the basics. The physical format of the book has been with us for a couple of millennia, since it replaced the scroll for most purposes. It may disappear some day, but I don’t think its demise is imminent.

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On April 18, 2011 at 11:42 am McB said...

Owning my agree. E-books are wonderfully convenient and their popularity will likely only increase. But physical books have been around for a few centuries and I think this is because it’s already a near perfect format. A book printed 100 years ago can still be read today, barring care and climate issues. Plus you can even up a table leg and press flowers and they don’t need recharging. I think e-books add another option in the same way that paperbacks are a lighter weight and less expensive alternative to hardbacks. But hardbacks didn’t disappear entirely and so I don’t think hard print will, either. It may be that it becomes that much more special. They may even be trendy some day in the way the e-readers are now!

And here I’m remembering how popular digital watches were when they first came out … and expensive. People often don’t wear watches as much now because clocks are everywhere, included on our phones and in our cars. But watches are not yet obsolete, and analogs came back into style fairly quickly because they were already a near perfect format and a clock face seems to appeal to us in a way that a digital read out doesn’t. But there’s room for both; and I think there will be room for both e-print and hardcopy for a long time to come.

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On April 16, 2011 at 11:59 pm Mary Stella said...

I hope this link works: http://www.murderati.com/blog/2011/4/15/neil-nyren-is-back-the-5th-annual-state-of-the-industry-inte.html

Neil Nyren, Publisher, Senior V.P. and Editor in Chief of Putnam shares his thoughts on the state of the industry, epubbing, self-pubbing, etc. Very thoughtful interview.

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On April 17, 2011 at 5:48 am AgTigress said...

That’s a very interesting interview. Three things strike me: one, the fact that nobody really knows which way all this is going. Everybody, however eminent in the field of publishing, is feeling his/her way.

I like this quote, “she was a little fed up with spending 40 hours a week answering emails, formatting books, designing jackets, hiring editors, and all the rest of it. She just wanted to concentrate on writing”. Because the first thing I thought when I read about ‘self-publishing’, in e-format or any other, was that writing is, in itself, a highly demanding process, and even if you are good at it, you are not necessarily good at, or even interested in, all the many other processes that are required to get a book into circulation. As anyone who has dealt with conventional publishers knows, they are sometimes inclined to forget that the writer makes any contribution at all, because there are so many people and processes involved after the author has handed over the ms. It may be a bit more so for my kind of books (lots of illustrations, for example, which makes the design/layout process rather different from text alone), but all manuscripts have to go through a lot between being written and being available as a book. I’d rather leave that stuff to the professionals.

Third point. Nyren mentions an estimate of ’15%’ of books currently being read in e-format. I think this is misleading, because he doesn’t say what definition of 100% he is using. I think he means 15% of the fiction market (because he specialises in publishing fiction), and furthermore, he may even mean 15% of the fiction market in North America. And I didn’t quite grasp how that percentage reflects the case of the books available both for download and in print. But I would guess that if one set the 100% to include all books, fiction and non-fiction, in English, worldwide, the percentage of e-books is still minuscule at the moment. Even less when one factors in books in other languages. The academic tomes and the glossy coffee-table books are nowhere near even being available in non-print formats yet. I know that doesn’t change the fact that a new technology has emerged and will continue to evolve, but it does somewhat reduce the fear of rapid and irreversible change.

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On April 17, 2011 at 1:14 am brandy said...

I will be the first to admit that I know very little about the publishing world, but as an avid reader, I don’t believe that they will go ‘belly up’. My favorite thing to do with a book when I first buy it is to smell it. So, I know this is weird and I even have my son doing this before reading it :O)… but the bottom line is that I can’t hold and flip and SMELL a digital book. This is just me, but until they put a ‘smell option’ on the e-book readers and such, I’m sticking to the ‘old fashion’ books. :O)

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On April 17, 2011 at 8:49 am Mary Stella said...

Actually, I like new book smell, too. When I moved to the Florida Keys, I realized that the closest chain bookstore was over an hour away. The closest other store that sold books was also a health food store and those scents blocked the book smell. After a couple of months of withdrawal, I drove to the Borders in Key West. When I first walked in, I stopped for a moment because, that quickly, the book scent was evident.

Right now, there is technology developing that allows authors to “sign” e-books. Maybe someone can work on a scratch ‘n sniff feature.

I don’t see myself giving up print books for e-books. I buy a lot of books in e-format for Kindle now because of the convenience given that previously mentioned lack of full bookstores in my area. When I go up to the mainland, however, I always hit at least one bookstore. I also picked up books at the RT Convention, including one gritty, dark mystery by an author named Stephen Jay Schwartz. I am totally engrossed by the writing. He has a real gift for imagery. The main character’s internal demons are dark and dangerous and yet his core strength as an LAPD Homicide detective runs strong and true. I digress, but, wow. What a book so far.

Whether print or electronic, I’m all about the story.

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On April 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm Lora said...

No way could i ever self-e-publish. FIrst of all, the idea of having to selfpromote and cross my fingers that someone besides my mom would read it sounds impossible to me. Second, I feel like if I’m not getting published by a “Legacy” publisher, there must be a reason. I’m sure there are people whose highly clever and insular works deserve to be published and made available to their small but eager audiences. That ain’t me.

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On April 17, 2011 at 9:29 pm Clever Cherry said...

Jenny – I love how you don’t get defensive. It sets the stage for people to disagree and agree with each other, everyone feeling heard and no on having to posture.
It’s a gift and we’re lucky you have it and offer it up.

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On April 17, 2011 at 9:30 pm Clever Cherry said...

Sorry – no *one* having to posture.

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On April 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm Robin said...

I am with Clever Cherry on this. I am not a writer; I am a plant and animal person. And yet I have come back here everyday because the “chat” was informative from all points of view with no hostility or nastiness of any kind. It really is a rare thing.

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On April 18, 2011 at 6:37 pm Jenny said...

It’s pretty much the Argh Way in general. People here have strong opinions, but we’re nice to each other while trying to browbeat each other into submission.

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On April 18, 2011 at 10:09 am Jim said...

For a trip in the time machine, the “Prime Palaver” essays at the Baen Free Library (http://www.baen.com/library/prime_palaver.asp) were debating issues of e-publishing vs copyright vs piracy vs DRM a decade ago. They’re still pretty relevant.

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On April 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm Jenny said...

Excellent, thank you.
One of the great things about this dicsussion has been the links to other writing on it.

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On April 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm Sure Thing said...

I forgot to mention, and I don’t know if anyone else did – Chuck Wendig, over at his Terrible Minds blog posted a great roundup of what free e-books do for authors. I’ll try to look for the link if anyone cares.

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On April 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm Jenny said...

I’d love to see it, but I can google for it.

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