I am not a risk-taker.
Just ask my former bosses. Risk-taking was always on my “opportunity” list. And ask anyone who’s seen me trembling in fear at the top of a steep ski slope before I find a nice easy green instead.
So when I told my friends that I was going to self-publish my novel, I think they all thought I’d lost my rockers. I certainly never thought I’d go down this path. Self-publishing is for people who can’t get published in New York. They’re terrible writers. They have terrible books. They don’t understand the business. They’re taking a terrible risk that probably won’t pay off.
Or so I thought.
J.A. Konrath, already published in print, sells 1500 e-books a month on his own. Amanda Hocking, who only started self-publishing last April, has sold close to a million copies of her books. In less than a year. She’d never been published before. And you know what? If she’d gone through the traditional route, she still wouldn’t have a book on the shelves.
Once you sign a contract, it can take up to two years before your book is on the shelves of bookstores. Why? Mostly because of the long lead times the reviewers require to review your book (6 months in advance). And, the sell-in time for the sales force. And the behemoth that constitutes the publishing biz. I understand it. I used to be a brand manager for a major food company. It took us at least that long to get a new product on shelves. But now there are e-readers. And anyone can have a book published in only a few days. For someone like Amanda Hocking, that’s a lot of dollars to give up.
Okay, so we can’t all be million dollar sellers in our first year of publishing (although we can hope). So, for a newbie author, what are you choosing between?
Well, if you go through NY, you need to get an agent first. Then, they sell to the editors. The publishing house gives you a nice upfront advance. $5,000 is about the advance they’re giving to unpublished authors these days. Your agent takes 15% of that. Then, they sell-in your books to bookseller. Then, a few years later, your book comes out. With no marketing (not even a website), because you’re a new author.
Most mass market paperbacks have an initial print run of 20-30,000 copies. Bookstores generally only stock those books for 8 to 12 weeks before returning them for 100% of the cost they paid for them. Yup. 100% of the cost. In fact, they have two years to return them. Because of the financial difficulties (Borders anyone?) that many of the bookstores are in, I’m hearing horror stories of some books being returned as soon as they arrive in the store. Not even being shelved. Oh, yea! So that takes down your sales.
If you sell 50% of your print run, you’ve done well. That means, 50% have been returned for a full refund. Let’s say you have an initial print run of 25,000 copies. You sell 12,500 copies (50% — great for a newbie author). You make 6-8% royalty rate on those books. Let’s say they price it at $7.99. So, you’ve made $6,991. Hey! That’s more than your advance, so you get another $1,991. But that’s several years later. And your agent hasn’t taken her commission yet. So, maybe four years after you’ve finished the book, you’ve made a grand total of $5,942.
I quit my day job for this?
But, that’s print. And everyone knows that Amazon now sells more kindle books than print books. Print books are being overtaken by e-books. Well, Kindle takes 30% of the price you sell your book for. Your publisher takes 75% of that (they’re generous and give you a 25% royalty rate for e-books). Your agent takes 15% of that. So, if you sell a book for $5.99 on Kindle, you get $.89.
Now, let’s say you self-publish your book on Kindle. You earn 70% of the list price. So, for the same price book, you’d earn $4.19. Even if you price your book at $2.99 (which seems to be where most self-pubbed e-books are settling), you still earn $2.09 per book. And you probably sell more books on the Kindle at that price than the publisher at $5.99. And guess what? The publisher is probably going to have to drop their price to $2.99 over the long-term too. Then, you’d be making a whopping $0.44 per book. You’d have to sell almost 5 times as many books through a publisher versus the number you’d have to sell on your own to make the same amount of money. And, long-term, if you become a big author and start selling your backlist, you’re going to much happier that you’re earning $2.09 per book, rather than $0.44 per book.
So, obviously, you must be getting something for all that money you’re paying to the publisher, right? It’s a full-service shop, so they give you 1) Editing. 2) Cover Design 3) Copy editing (misspelled words, grammar, etc.) 4) Marketing. But wait. They don’t market you unless you are already a NYT Best-selling author. And, I can pay someone to do my editing, copy editing and cover design.
Then what are you getting that you can’t get on your own? Distribution. Which is definitely a plus. But, like I said, you’re only on the shelves for a few weeks/months before you’re gone. And, with booksellers going out of business and e-readers starting to sell in big numbers, I don’t know how long that benefit will last.
You also get the prestige of publishing with a Big 6 publishing house. But, frankly, I’d rather earn a bigger salary. I love to write, but at the end of the day, I still need shoes. And clothes. And a house-cleaner. I’m dying for a house-cleaner. You’ll know I’ve made it, when I tell you I’ve hired someone to clean the house for me.
I’ve heard a lot of authors say they’re worried that Amazon is going to cut the royalty rate. Well, if they do that, they’ll do it for everyone, so you’ll be earning less with your NY publisher too. And, some authors fear that NY won’t take them if the e-publish. But that’s not true anymore. Amanda Hocking got offered a deal. She turned it down because it would take too long to get her books published.
And, what if you don’t sell? Well, you might not sell with a traditional print deal either. There are no guarantees in publishing. And, I’d rather find out now, so I can improve my writing and make adjustments, rather than wait several years. Plus, there are so many stories of authors who’ve taken a book that was turned down by NY, self-published it, and it’s selling gangbusters.
So, I’ve stopped trying to sell my manuscript in NY. I’ve hired an editor. I’ve hired a book designer. I’m working on my marketing plan. And turned myself into an Indie author.
At the end of the day, I think it would be risky NOT to self-publish.