Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, March 7, 2011

Amanda Hocking and the 99-Cent Kindle Millionaires

As Amanda Hocking said herself, "I don't understand why the internet suddenly picked up on me this past week, but it definitely did."

And how.

The writing world is abuzz about Amanda Hocking, the 26-year-old self-published author who sold over 450,000 copies of her e-books in January alone, mostly priced between 99 cents and $2.99. She's now a millionaire. The writing world has been abuzz for a while about J.A. Konrath, who has very publicly blogged about the significant amount of money he has made selling inexpensive e-books.

Many people in the last week have sent me links about these authors, wondering...

What exactly is going on here? How in the heck are these self-published authors making so much money? Is this the future? And does this mean the end of the publishing industry as we know it?

The News That's Fit to Print

Before we delve into what this means for the world of books, I feel like it's important to take a deep breath and splash some cold water on our faces.

The reality: This is still a print world and probably will be for at least the next several years. Even as some publishers report e-book sales jumping to between 25% and 35% in January, the significant majority of sales are still in print. As I wrote in my recent post about record stores, over a decade after the rise of the mp3 the majority of revenue in music is still in CDs.

So let's not get out of hand (yet) about the scale of this e-book self-publishing revolution, if it is indeed one. Yes, this is real money we're talking about. Yes, these authors deserve all the credit in the world. And yes, these authors are also making money in print as well.

But we're still a ways away from self-published Kindle bestsellers making Dan Brown, James Patterson, Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling kind of money, the old-fashioned way, through paper books in bookstores. It's not as exciting a story to remember that traditionally published franchise James Patterson made $70 million between June '09 and June '10, but it's still worth keeping in perspective.

Let's also not forget that Hocking, Konrath and a couple of others are the tip of a very large iceberg of self-published authors, the overwhelming majority of whom are selling the merest handful of copies. As Hocking herself writes:
I guess what I'm saying is that just because I sell a million books self-publishing, it doesn't mean everybody will. In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books. I don't mean that to be mean, and just because a book doesn't sell well doesn't mean it's a bad book. It's just the nature of the business.
Yes, it's new, it's a big deal, it's seriously awesome for Hocking, who seems like a super nice and humble person. But let's not also lose our perspective about the scale of the shift taking place. The book world is changing in a big way, but it still ain't done changed just yet.

The War Between the Worlds

So. Now that we are all sober and erudite, let me shock us back to life with this statement: Hocking and Konrath and others like them represent an existential threat to traditional publishers.

To understand why, we're going to need to take a look at how much it costs to make a print book vs. an e-book.

There is a perception out there, repeated endlessly around the Internet, that e-books should cost almost nothing. Electrons are (basically) free, so why should an e-book cost $11.99?

The reality, which I shall bold, italicize, and underline for some emphasis: Paper doesn't really cost very much.

Let's start with your basic $24.99 hardcover, the most profitable format. Of that cost, only approximately $1.50 goes toward the paper, printing, and distribution and all the stuff that publishers save with e-books. Repeat: $1.50 out of $24.99. E-books just don't save publishers gobs of money.

Let's look at a back-of-a-napkin breakdown of a print book vs. an e-book (all numbers approximate):
$24.99 hardcover:
$12.50 to the bookstore (roughly 50% retail price)
$2.50 to $3.75 to the author (between 10-15% of the retail price)
$1.50 for paper, shipping, distribution (again, approximately. UPDATE this would be for a high-print-run book, HarperStudio cited $2.00 as average)
=
Around $8.00 to the publisher, which is split between overhead (rent, paying editors, copyeditors, etc.), marketing, other costs, and hopefully some profit assuming enough copies are sold.

$9.99 e-book (agency model):
$3.00 to the bookseller (30% of the retail price)
$1.75 to the author (25% of the publisher's share)
=
Around $5.24 to the publisher, split between overhead, other costs, and hopefully some profit

You can see why publishers aren't exactly leaping onto the cheap e-book bandwagon when there are hardcover sales to be had. They make a lot less money per copy sold. They're worried about cheap e-books eroding their more profitable print sales. Electrons aren't saving them much money.

Print is still where it's at for them, and they're not crazy to behave accordingly.

For now.

Here Come the Insurgents

That $8.00 vs. $5.24 per-unit print vs. e-book consideration? Overhead? "Other" costs?

Hocking and Konrath don't care.

They don't have overhead, unless you count rent, an Internet connection, the services they contract out, and a laptop. They're not paying for an army of editors, assistants, lawyers, marketing teams, sales teams, and executives. They're not beholden to shareholders.

They write books, they figure out the editing and cover design on their own, they blog to try and spread some buzz, and word of mouth does the rest. They can afford to sell their books at a low price.

And because they cut out the middle man (and because publishers' e-book royalties are low), self-published authors make more from self-publishing a $2.99 e-book (70%, or $2.10) than a traditionally published author makes from a $9.99 e-book (25% of the publisher's share, or $1.75).

You read that right. More money to the author per copy at $2.99 than a traditionally published e-book at $9.99. Many self-published authors are laughing their way to the bank on that one.

If you aren't going to be published in print in a big way and you have an entrepreneurial spirit, what's the point of going with a traditional publisher? Why not undercut the competition and make more money?

The Perception of Value Problem

And yet...

Despite the glaring e-book royalty situation and some notable authors opting for self-publishing (such as Seth Godin), there has not yet been a mass exodus to self-publishing. Most of the biggest bestselling authors are sticking with traditional publishers. Not only is print still where the bulk of the audience is, publishers still provide an indispensable array of services that many authors (such as yours truly) simply don't have time to handle on their own.

But there's a problem that publishers are up against as we move inexorably into the e-book era: Perception of value. 

Publishers can explain their costs and how e-books don't save them much money until they're blue in the face, but on a gut level many people simply don't believe an e-book should cost $12.99. It feels too expensive. A lot of people will simply not buy one or even go and pirate a copy because they feel like they're being ripped off.

Why could that be? Yes, you can't put your hands on an e-book or resell it, but people willingly plop down $12.99 to go to a movie and you can't put your hands on that or resell it either. Why have books suddenly become exorbitant at $12.99? Why is that too much to pay?

Well, it's partly because $12.99 is competing against the upstart $2.99 Kindle bestsellers and some other lunatics named Charles Dickens and Herman Melville and Jane Austen, who are giving away their books for free!! (Which, ahem, may be because they're long dead and in the public domain).

And therein lies a big challenge for publishers.

The Price of "Good Enough"

So.

On the one hand you have publishers who are clinging onto the print world as long as possible and literally can't afford for prices to erode. They're counting on their quality control, their marketing, and their curation of what they feel are the top books in order to charge consumers a premium and hopefully instill a perception of value that new e-books "should" cost between $10.99-$14.99.

And on the other hand you have the self-published upstarts, who are willing and able to undercut publishers' e-book prices all the way down to 99 cents or even free.

Will publishers be able to maintain their prices or will they have to come down? And if they have to come down, how far will they have to go?

As always, the answer will be determined by consumers and their individual choices.

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight for $8.99 or Amanda Hocking's Switched for $0.99?
Harlan Coben's Live Wire for $14.99 or J.A Konrath's Shaken for $2.99?

Different people will make different choices, and I don't presume to know how that will play out (and for the record, I haven't read any of the prominent self-published authors).

Some consumers are more than willing to pay a premium for their favorite authors. I'm reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer right now, and it's so unbelievably incredible that no matter what I paid for the e-book it wasn't enough.

For other consumers, no book is ten times better than the other and they aren't willing to pay a premium. Many consumers just aren't that worried about the writing quality (as perceived/judged by the publishing industry), don't need the publishing industry deciding what to read for them, and just want a good story.

When the world moves toward e-books and print distribution is no longer where it's at, publishers are going to have a fight on their hands justifying the cost of their services to authors at their current e-book royalty rates.

They'll have a second fight on their hands as they try to adapt to a world where there are good books for sale for just 99 cents or less.

What do you think about the new Kindle millionaires, and what do you think it means for the future of books?






243 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Kudos to Hocking and Konrath and all self pubbed authors who are fighting back against the system that would never have let their words see the light of day. I understand "gatekeepers," and yeah, I appreciate not seeing total garbage in stores (and yet...why is there still such garbage being printed? Oh yes, because people will buy it because Snooki wrote it, etc). At the same time, I HATE how agents hold authors' careers hostage if they have just the slightest doubt that the author's book won't be a three-quel, movie tie-in mega blockbuster. No one cares about literature anymore, it seems. Writers have to write...and writers need their words read. Agents and editors have been holding writers back and I am thrilled to see them getting out from under the yoke of the oppressors who really just want to use their talent to make money off them...while ignoring the masses who still have good things to share.

Ted Fox said...

I say huzzah for them. I've always viewed self-publishing as something of a last resort, but clearly, that doesn't have to be the case. That said, I'd hate to put all that work not only into writing a book but editing, formatting, and designing it, only to see it move 57 copies at 99 cents a pop. Talk about a Buzz Killington. For now, I'll continue to pursue that most elusive of creatures: the literary agent.

David Kazzie said...

I think that the most important thing to remember is that for every Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath, there are a truckload of self-published authors not making squat.

Breadline Books said...

I wonder, how do these self-published e-book authors go about marketing their books? Do they have large marketing budgets, or are their books so good that word-of-mouth is enough to make them millions?

Also, if anybody wants a free book, no strings attached, or knows someone who could use a free book, check out my blog.

Tana Adams said...

It's a strange phenomenon on many levels but if you uncover the basic underlying principle of why these novels have seen spike of success I think it boils down to price point. Face it, when you're options are a 9.99 e-book, or more (I've seen them for 14.99, and a select few for 19.99), the .99 options feel almost free. It's the impulse buy of Kindle e-book shopping.

What does it mean for big six publishers? Perhaps nothing. Maybe they'll increase output in an effort to keep up with consumer demand. Books are consumable. Most readers finish a novel in days. They want the sequel available upon demand. They want more books from their favorite authors. In this fast food nation waiting for a novel to come out in a year or two feels like some kind of unimaginable eternity. So the reader goes elsewhere.

I think at the end of the day the writer will come out the ultimate victor. Whether its with a big publisher who gives only a portion of profits back to the writer, but whose distribution is high, or for the self-published author whose garners a lion share of the profit, but distribution is limited (if indeed you can call the Internet limited and in this case I think you can), the writer is still at the nexus of the equation.

I posted about this today as well.

Jamie Wyman said...

Authors like Hocking and Konrath are doing well, and rock awesome for them. But, they're still the exception rather than the rule. I think self-pubbing has its place, but it's a matter of what you want out of your writing career. As you said, Nathan, I know that I am not a one-woman publishing house with editors, marketers, PR, legal etc ... I know that for the career I want, a traditional publishing deal is the way for me to go. As the business evolves, I can adapt, but print/tradition pubbing defines where I (personally) want to be right now.

(And I'm tired of my well-meaning friends sending me the articles on Hocking telling me that I should drop my agent and go Kindle.)

Vivacia said...

The danger of success stories like Amanda Hocking is that people then think "I can do that too". Sadly, it isn't that easy, and even those that managed it don't exactly know how they did it.

Personally it's left me confused about what to do with my novel (assuming I ever finish it). I'm inclined to go the traditional route purely because I trust the feedback I'll get will help me improve, and thereby increase my chances of success. I'm not convinced the same could be said for self-publishing...

Robb said...

Well said. I've recently come out of the newspaper industry, which seems to be about 5 years ahead of book publishing in the disintegration mode, eaten by the Internet and electronic news dissemination, along with bloggers/independent journalists and the consumer changing to the opinion that news should be a free commodity, not something you have to pay to get. I think traditional book publishers have about 3-5 years to figure out a solution or they'll be following newspapers into the dust bin of history. And there are upsides and downsides to that.

L.G.Smith said...

Hocking says she spends an enormous amount of time on promoting the books. She's invested heavily in social networking and it has paid off.

I haven't read any of her books, and probably won't, but what's 99 cents? Or even $2.99? I'm so used to downloading songs at that price that it wouldn't even faze me to buy two or three books at a time if they were that cheap.

I think publishers should use the Netflix model. Get people to sign up to have ten dollars debited from their account each month and allow them to download a book a week. Guaranteed money.

Project Savior said...

What is really going to totally change the system is when one of the top agents bucks the system and e-publishes a line of kindle books. After all the agents do half the work that an author gets from being professional published.
You'll get your quality without the overhead.

HBIC said...

As I walked by my computer this morning, I noticed that a friend had sent me the link to the Hocking story on Huffington Post. I saw "self published millionaire" and continued my walk into the kitchen.
As a first time author seeking publication for my first book, I have to admit- I looked into self publishing before I ever considered sending off a submission to a established print publisher. I am many things- A mom, a wine-sipper, a journalist....What I am not, is an optimist.
I have seen several first time authors that have yet to complete their first book and have already stated that they will self publish- no doubt- no need to even consider an agent, or even publishers that allow submissions without agents.
Here is what I think about not even trying to get your book published through a publisher-
When I was in my early 20s, I was poor and depressed. I was awake one night and I caught an informercial for SMC...Tom Bosely was the spokesman, and come on- If the dad from "Happy Days" says you are going to make money- it must be true.
We saved and saved and instead of investing or just living a bit better- we sent our money into SMC and, gosh darn it- we were going to be rich like that little old redneck man in the feathered cowboy hat. If he can make millions, we could rule the world via household items and gifts.
( I think I just heard Charlie Sheen yell, "WINNING!")
As it turns out, those results are not typical as the little man in the feathered cowboy hat seemed to make it sound, we were even more poor than before and I was now set with plenty of candles and dragon shaped incense warmers to unload on ebay for next to nothing.
Hocking may have made the mother load with self publishing ebooks, but to me, she is the old redneck in the feathered cowboy hat.
I want my book in print, with a publisher. I want to smell the pages of my freshly printed novel. Kindle and Nook can not offer the reward of smelling the pages of my book.
Not to mention, if you do not have enough faith in your own writing to at least attempt to have a publisher consider it, why are you writing?
Hocking did try to get published the "old school" way, and I do admire her for not giving up...but to never try the route of print publishers, to me, it seems to lack a certain part of the journey.

Anonymous said...

Gulp....there's so much to consider now. I prefer traditional ways because the outcome is more predictable.

Anonymous said...

I'm prognosticating that it's not Nora Roberts and James Patterson who will consider leaving traditional publishing first. They have so much penetration into the print market, with their books in every corner grocery store, that it won't make any sense.

It's the midlist mass market authors who have the most to gain from this. Because, see, that 25-30% figure of print--that varies per author. For Nora, it's probably closer to 5% (guessing), just because she is EVERYWHERE.

But for your midlist author who is no longer being carried in Walmart because Walmart halved their book section? The author who used to be in Target, but isn't anymore because Target's shifted more to trade paperbacks? The midlist author whose books may disappear from Borders? The midlist author who isn't in the grocery store or the pharmacy?

For that author, electronic sales might end up close to 50-60% of her sales. For some authors, that point has already come. For others, it'll be here in a few years.

If you get $1.40 from your publisher selling your e-book at 25% of agency net, and you get $1.99 selling your e-book yourself at $2.99, assuming that you sell as many copies of your book at $2.99 as at $7.99, you make more in royalties when e-books make up 53% of the market.

Of course, you may sell fewer copies because you don't have a NY house behind you. And you may sell more, because your book is $5 cheaper.

Of course, you'll have more expenses (like editing and covers). But you'll also save on some of the money you spend on print promotion.

When USA Today Bestselling author Julianna Maclean/E.V. Mitchell announces that she has made more on her self-published book than she makes on a print book, print publishing is in very real danger of losing its midlist.

So, no. I don't imagine that Nora Roberts will walk. What I do wonder is... Where is the next Nora Roberts going to come from?

Anonymous said...

I think it's great that both options are open to authors - but I dislike the hatred against publishers from Konrath and his followers, as if publishers were the Devil incarnate.

Publishers have and will serve a purpose for years to come. I have a good contract with a small publisher that nets me 40% royalty on my ebooks right off the top. I'm not scrambling to do all the work myself and can spend more time writing. And I'm happy to do so.

Konrath et al have such a hate on for publishers and claim that they can produce the same quality with two weeks worth of editing, a few hours paying a cover artist and spamming their friends. Uh, no.

Self-pubbing is a great option for certain genres and for certain people. But let's back off on the hatred for those of us who wish to get a traditional contract with a publisher. Don't call us stupid, mentally ill or deluded nuts who need the approval of NYC to continue living.

I'd love to see more failure stories about writers selling their 120K novels for less than a buck and failing miserably. Not because it's bad writing (and let's not kid ourselves, 90% of all the self-pub has to be crap, if not more) but because he/she doesn't have the resources a good publisher has.

I'd name myself here but don't want to get hate mail from all the self-pub gurus and their followers claiming they've made a million dollars this year and I Can Too.

scott neumyer said...

Good article, man. Nice and balanced and interesting. As someone who's gone the Hocking/Konrath route since December, I have to say that I never expected to sell the amount of Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town as I have. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made. I can also say that, without the initial price of $0.99 (it's now higher), there's no way I'd have over 50 reviews on Amazon for the book in only 3 months (34 of them five-star reviews). It was the impulse buy that got it into the hands of readers and now word of mouth is keeping it selling... even at $4.95 on B&N.

The thing about Hocking is that she's truly a good, down to earth person with a big heart and a mighty pen. It's great to see her success and for what that might mean for more people. I agree that there are a lot of people jumping into this world with garbage books, but my thought is that the cream ALWAYS rises to the top and it has for many of these authors.

If you write good books, they will sell. Bottom line. Indie authors have NOTHING against traditional publishing. It's just nice to see that there's no longer one viable path to successful publication.

Kudos to them all!

Scott Neumyer
Author of Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town

Anonymous said...

While I agree with the points you make in your article, I'd like to add that many publishers could avoid some of the Amazon and chain store overhead by selling e-books on their own web sites. My publisher does this, and is able to pay 39% royalties.

That being said, my publisher also does zero marketing of the titles it produces. This means that unless an author has a substantial back list, they usually make about $500 total on a book before it is yanked from the site, or the publisher tries to get the author to offer it as a free read! Consequently, I can see how it might be preferable to own my work, perhaps sell 500 copies on Amazon.com for 99 cents each, and call it a day.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@7:26-

Check out Amanda Hocking's blog, she's very a refreshing antidote to the publisher-as-devil sentiment that you see around the Internet.

kathrynleighaz said...

I'd be lying if I said I'm not all-of-a-sudden feeling warm and fuzzy towards self-publishing. As an aspiring author about to finish polishing my first manuscripte 'til it sparkles - and we're talking way more sparkle than even gorgeous vampires achieve - I'm planning to query the agents on my list and if I don't find representation within the year, I'll probably take a long, hard look at self-pubbing.

Rick Daley said...

I think this illustrates the new opportunities afforded through self-publishing and ebooks. But it's important to remember that this level of success does not come without hard work, and if you want to look at the percentage of writers who self-publish and strike it rich like this compared to all writers, you may have renewed faith in lottery tickets.

Mr. D said...

I think eBook are the inevitable future. But like in that Star Trek, OS episode, "Court Martial," that funny lawyer made a big deal of his preference for "real" books. There will always be people like that around. I think I'm one of them. At least, for now.

Maryann Miller said...

Very good article with a balanced viewpoint. Thanks.
I applaud the authors who are doing so well at self-pubbed e-books. While $1 million isn't that much compared to $70 million, I would be happy to add that to my yearly income. LOL

Amy said...

I wonder, how much of a traditionally published book's price goes to pay for things like the inefficiencies of the return system, and offices in New York? Isn't that some pretty expensive real estate?

Elizabeth C. Mock said...

I'm a self-published author at the beginning of my career and I decided to self-publish right out the gate. I never searched for an agent or a publisher. It wasn't necessarily because of the money I thought I could make, but because I have some friends in the industry and I know how much of getting published has to do with luck and timing. I just wanted to be able to share my story. I didn't really care how. Less than a year ago, I published my debut novel (the first in a trilogy) and last month I breached 100,000 downloads/sales. My decision to self-publish had everything to do with wanting to publish on my terms. I don't mean that to sound petulant in any way nor do I mean to demean traditional publishing in any way. I just love my day job and want the freedom that self-publishing affords me. I definitely agree with the sentiments that have already been voiced. I know a lot of self-published authors who have only sold a hundred or so copies of their books. I really think that with this low-priced e-book movement we're seeing market forces determining the success of the self-published authors. People want good stories and if a story resonates with people, then it will sell regardless of its origins in traditional publishing or self-publishing. If a story isn't good, it won't sell. I will freely admit that it is a lot of work and requires the backing of a lot of good people to put out a good product with self-publishing. Though the name is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion. I just know that I have been extremely happy with my results and look forward to see what my sales look like this summer when I release book two in the series. I think when weighing self-publishing and traditional publishing what a person needs to ask is what their priorities are in telling their stories. I think both venues have strengths and weaknesses and that while Hocking's story is not the norm, the potential is out there. As with any entrepreneurial venture, however, you have to be prepared to put in the long hours to reap the potential benefits.

Kelly Bryson said...

I did a post on Knorath and Hocking last week- there's definately a buzz right now about self-publishing. Amanda Hocking said (via her blog) that she's written 15 or so books, 9 that will never see the light of day, I think. She's very upfront about how hard she has worked. Congrats to her and Konrath both. (PS- Konrath had a list on his site of 100+ authors who are making a good living epubbing their books.)

Nathan- do you think we'll see agents representing self-pubbed ebooks? Wouldn't agents make more on a 2.99 ebook if the author is making more, too? Or would that get an agent blacklisted by the publishers for competing so directly?

Barbara Kloss said...

"...some other lunatics named Charles Dickens and Herman Melville and Jane Austen, who are giving away their books for free!!"

Haha! (have all of them on my Kindle. I squealed when I saw they were free. Really.)

Great post. I find this encouraging...in an 'adventurous' sort of way. It's always nice to have options. Just in case.

Gretchen said...

Fascinating post, Nathan! Thank you for detailing it all out like this. It is very interesting to see where the industry is heading. Exciting stuff, this changing world of publishing!

If you like "Into the Wild" you should read "Into Thin Air" next. His best, in my opinion, and I'm a huge Krakauer fan.

Lance C. said...

I'm surprised that in all of the recent debate about the rise of self-epublishing and what it means to the traditional publishing industry, no one has looked at the last time this happened -- when paperbacks burst on the scene in the late 1930s.

The paperback was as much a threat to the hardbound as epubs are now to the paperback. Their low price and general disposability helped reset what people considered a "fair price" for books. The "99% of self-published books are crap" argument had a direct parallel in the "paperback original = crap" belief in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet trad publishing managed to embrace the new format and make quite a lot of money from it.

I'd love to see a good analysis of how that came about. Is that analysis circulating around the offices of the Big 6 today?

YoungMasterCK said...

5 things:

1) Amanda Hocking has great professional covers.
2) Amanda Hocking has great prologs/first chapters (that bit you can get in the sample).
3) Amanda Hocking has 9 books published.
4) Amanda Hocking whole library can be purchased for under 14.99.
5) Nearly all authors sell under 10 copies a day.

SB said...

I think the "perception of value" issue is going to mean success for both self-published authors and traditionally-published authors. I read e-books constantly and have read gobs of self-published e-books (not just on Amazon, but free stories published on blogs, etc.).

Although I enjoy these self-published books, I can tell that they would have benefited from a publishing process. I often find that the books have lower intrinsic value, due to editing mistakes, formatting mistakes or, sometimes, sloppy writing. But I am willing to read them because they're free or cheap and they tell good stories.

But I am also willing to pay $10-15 for an e-book that I heard was great from a traditional publisher. These books generally feel slicker and read easier. You can tell that there is just a higher VALUE -- the value given to a book by a good publisher.

That's why I think there's room in the market for both. Self-published authors are like local bands we hear at a bar and buy the CD from, while traditionally published authors are the CDs we buy after hearing their songs on MTV. As with the music industry, it takes a lot for an unknown author to break into the market. As consumers, we should support good authors by buying their books, whether they're self published or not.

Bob Mayer said...

I've made the switch after 20 years in traditional publishing and with over 40 books. I actually have a major mass market paperback coming out in May from St. Martins. But I released my latest thriller, Chasing The Ghost myself, will be releasing my Civil War trilogy: Duty; Honor; Country next month on 12 April for the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War (something a traditional publisher would not be capable of doing) and my next thriller The Jefferson Allegiance on the 4th of July. It's just the reality of the inefficiency of traditional publishing. I just saw a book on PW Daily that was contracted for publication in 2014. Talk about SLOW. And as you showed, the number don't add up. 25% royalty on an ebook isn't going to stand. I've led with two books at .99, the rest of my fiction at $2.99 and sales have multiplied six times what they were four weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

Konrath and Hocking have agents already. Not sure what they do and I'm sure Konrath's roaring hatred towards publishers has had his agent apologize more than once behind closed doors.

M.J.B. said...

For the first time, I'm seriously pondering using my current standalone book "The Breeders" as an experiment in eBook publishing.

I have Adobe InDesign. I learned how to make eBooks over the weekend (designed as I want them, not just ground up in the Smashwords process). It's pretty darned cool, and I've been lucky enough to fund (via my photography business) professional tools for web design, marketing, video production, and all that jazz.

I'm starting to think it cannot hurt to experiment, if the current agent reading my manuscript doesn't want it (and assuming the other few queries out there reject me).

Now, there are some amazing books out there from traditional publishers. But there are also some really-not-so-good books out there as well. Flat (or unrealistically "quirky!!") characters, cookie-cutter plots, etc. As Nathan said, people may not want to be "told" what to read anymore, because the filters in New York might actually be imperfect.

I still have a book series I'm working on. They're the books I'm truly passionate about. So, why not use a book as a test and possibly make some money off of it under my own publishing company? It could be quite interesting.

Keary Taylor said...

I've been really really surprised at all the writers that I hear about lately that have decided to forgo traditional publishing and go straight for Indie. I think what some of them need to realize is just HOW MUCH work they have before them. As an Indie author myself, I've sweated blood for every sale I get. And my stuff was up for probably 9 months before I started to see anything happening and BOOM! All the sudden it took off in the UK!

And yet I find myself torn on what I'm going to do when I finish my current WIP. Everyone around me assumes I will publish this Indie as well but I am leaning toward looking to get an agent and publisher again. I've grown thick enough skin it won't bother me to get rejections again like it did with Branded before I did go Indie. The more I read about the whole market the more torn I feel. I know I can do great Indie, but I also know it is very unlikely that I will do as great as I could if I went Traditional.

Should I go Indie or Traditional? My constant internal debate as of late.

lotusgirl said...

I think people are much more willing to take a chance on a new author at .99, but without the publicity of big publishing behind them it's hard for anyone to hear about them.

It'd be interesting to see some percentages of how many self-pubbed books actually sell more than a couple hundred. I haven't bought any of those super cheap ebooks so far. I worry about the quality of the writing. A buck is still a buck and my reading time is incredibly valuable to me. I don't want to squander it on something that hasn't had some rigorous editing. That's not to say that all self-pubbed ebooks are not well edited and all traditionally pubbed are, but it's more likely on traditionally published books. (I have read a great self-pubbed book recently that was very well edited, but I probably never would have heard about it or read it if it hadn't been written by a friend.)

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I think it's tremendous and I wish them and all other writers who have the abilty to take matters into their own hands the best of luck. I just downloaded a novel by James Henderson called "Baby Huey: A Cautionary Tale of Addiction", for .99 cents. It is the best novel I have read in the last couple years and he couldn't get a publishing deal, so he did it himsef. It's now climbing the kindle rankings. I only found out about it from and "indie" review site. Oprah should be calling this guy!

Mercy Loomis said...

Thank you for the excellent breakdown! The industry is changing faster than I think any of us thought it would (I expected numbers like these in another 3-5 years, not now) and the big houses need to figure out their future game plan NOW, or they'll be like Kodak during the rise of the digital camera.

Hart Johnson said...

I hadn't realized what a small percentage of the total cost was hard copy cost... though the eBook DOES eliminate the waste of books over printed and shipping for returned copies.

Still, I feel like the quality control on the traditionally published books is important to me as a consumer. The self-published stuff I've read all reads several iterations short of 'done' because it is just too easy for us (myself included) to think we've FINISHED the next big thing when there is no layer of reality check besides our crit group who loves us. Until some system of quality control crops up, I am commited to the traditional model, both as author and reader.

Rosie Lane said...

I'm thinking hard about self-publishing because I hate pressure. I already have a job and a family and I suspect I would fold trying to jump through the hoops of the traditional publishing route when all I want to do is tell stories and maybe knock a few quid off the endowment disaster that is my mortgage.

I probably will have a crack at the agented route first, but if it doesn't happen, I won't be crying. I just won't be putting a deposit down on a sports car either.

Carrie said...

great post. With e-readers and e-book sales increasing I can see more self published authors seeing success if they are good.
I think that mp3s and the internet made it easier for indie and local bands to have success and build a following. It used to be that maybe these bands had to go through one of the big record labels and now there are a lot of smaller labels out there.
Just because the internet made it easier for people to get music out there doesn't mean that all the music is good. I think the same is true of self published books.
Just like many musicians bypassed the gatekeepers of the music world I think that some writers will chose to bypass the gatekeepers of the writing world.
I think it is interesting to see how publishing and books will redefine itself in a digital age.

Rebekah said...

While I am impressed with the numbers that Hocking and Konrath have, and great for them, I am still going to keep sending my own manuscripts to traditional publishers.I have no intention of going in without editors, marketing teams, agents and all of the other trappings of traditional publishing. There are millions of self published books collecting virtual dust on servers all over the world because bottom line, it isn't the actual printing process that gives a traditional publisher the advantages - it is the army of editors, agents, copy editors, marketing teams, art departments and all of the rest that make a book successful.

A.C.Heron said...

I was hoping you would pick this up when I first heard about Hocking last week. It's certainly made me think more about different ways to get exposure to my works outside the publisher system (besides the experience of a good friend who has tested the self-publishing system himself, Jamil Moledina).

Thanks for your detailed breakdown of things!

sinisterechoes.com said...

My problem with self-publishing is that, in spite of Hocking and Konrath, people still have this stigma about it. "Oh, guess you weren't good enough for an agent" type thing. Yes, I know that's not true and it is unfair, but the problem with self-publishing is exactly that, ANYONE can do it, including your Aunt Mabel, who wrote a novel about her cat Tiddles. It's the rotten apple, that spoils the lot.
Alannah

Jake Bible said...

Nathan,
I think the movie analogy is the best way to look at this.
Everyone said that movie rentals would put theaters out of business. It didn't. People still go see movies at the theaters and always will. Why? Because you can't get that experience at home. But will I pay $6-$12 to see every movie at the theater? Not a chance in hell. I see only those movies I really want to see right now in the theater. And those movies need to be Big Screen quality, not home viewing possible.
Now apply that to books.
I will purchase a hardcover (or $15.99 ebook) if I want that book right now and really want to read it. Whereas, I will wait for a cheaper version down the line (used books or cheap ebook) if it's no big deal for me personally.
We'll see a happy medium soon, just as we did with the movie industry. Will print books go away? Nope. Never. Will ebooks replace the mass market paperback? Quite possibly. Only time will tell.

And, in all fairness, I have indie published my first novel, and short collection, on Kindle, Nook and Smashwords. I've seen 100 times return in the month it's been up compared to the eight months it was in print with a publisher (I was lucky to negotiate my contract termination). But, I also have a literary agent and am shopping a YA novel to traditional publishers.
I think too many people are drawing lines in the sand (writers and publishers alike) when they should look at this as an expansion of the market, not an either/or situation. As a writer looking to be successful (profitable) in the business, I'll go where the money is. If it's ebooks for one novel then great! If it's traditional publishing for a different novel then I'm all for it!
Everyone needs to take a deep breath and just chill. No one knows where this will land, but we'll all be landing there at the same time.

Cheers!
Jake

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I agree with David Kazzie, we only here the few stories of how people made it big. And why do we hear those stories? Because it IS so shocking. It still comes down to the fact that they must have done something right in their writing (or so I hope).

The most important thing will always be to write the best you can. If I wrote a crappy book and it sold millions I think I would feel a little silly accepting money for it. But if I wrote a fantastic novel that everyone else praised and didn't make much, that would mean more to me than all the gold in Donald Trump's vault.

Lisa Yarde said...

As a self-pubbed author, one thing trad authors will always have over me is some sort of marketing budget and mechanism. I've had to discover how to do those things on my own; hell, I'm still learning everyday. Hocking, Konrath, etc. are the exceptions to the rule and I applaud their efforts, but I don't believe that everyone can duplicate them. Still glad to know some of "us" are making it.

Toby Neal said...

I got a kindle for Christmas, and went a little nuts with e-books. THe heady instantaneousness of it! The cheapness!
Then, I found I struggled to "get into" reading like I can with print. I think my brain isn't used to processing the information the same way, and recently saw an article that discusses this in Scientific American Mind- retention is lower in electronic format among students than print.
I also began to miss being able to just pass on a book I liked, something I've always done. I then discovered that many of the .99 cent "bestsellers" were worth just that: .99 cents- while my favorite authors continued to be "worth" more. Reliable excellence.
My book is being shopped for traditional pub deal by my agent. It's hard to sit and wait, and hope, when right an left "everybody" is running out and getting their stuff "instantly" on line and peddling it. But in the end, I want substance. A book in my hands, in stores, with a future of becoming dog-eared by passing it around.
Self pub will continue to be a last resort for me. Call me a gambler...

Rowenna said...

I wouldn't be surprised if the next move in the e-book world isn't pulling the plug on a lot of self-publishing through major carriers, restricting it, labelling prominently with publisher/self-pubbed, or segregating it to a "special" section of Amazon and B&N and the like. As a consumer, I would actually appreciate this--call me a cynic, but the quality on average of self-pubbed books is below that, on average, of industry-pubbed books (note--on average. There are always exceptions). I'd rather not wade through dozens and dozens of self-pubbed books when I'm e-browsing, which is often the situation I find myself in. At the same time, they should have an outlet. I think this is going to continue to refine as retailers tweak the e-book shopping experience.

J. R. McLemore said...

Lately, the news of Konrath and Hocking have changed my perception of self-publishing. Before, I thought of self-publishing as a last-ditch effort to have a book published, an admittance of failure because editors didn't think it was commercially viable. However, I think these self-published authors are disproving that and in a big way. So the editors didn't like their work. It seems that there are consumers out there that thought otherwise. Hocking and Konrath took it upon themselves to find their readers and delivered. I'm seriously considering self-publishing for my first novel.

Sommer Leigh said...

I think there is another perception to take into account as well- most authors currently perceive being published traditionally as providing the validation that self-publishing does not yet offer. However, as more authors head out west into the self-publishing unknown and strike it rich, the perception of self-publishing as a 'last resort' is going to wear away.

What I think all this means is that everything is going to shake up and shake out in the next couple of years. When I hear stories about the big publishers trying to nickle and dime libraries (of all buyers!) and holding out e-book releases for more hard back sales, I get the mental picture of a bunch of old dudes sitting around great marble tables clutching at piles of money ala Scrooge McDuck and bemoaning all those "meddling self-publishing upstarts."

I think these old publishing dudes are going to have to start injecting some Apple innovation and imagination into their business images. Part of the reason consumers love buying Apple products when they could be paying lots less and why so many love Google is because of the inspired and creative image these businesses project.

"We are always changing and thinking up new ideas" seems to be the motto of the current beloved brands. Consumers want this and I think the image of the moneymongering old publishing dudes holding onto the old ways is going to have to give way to something young and new and embracing of technology and change. Right now it seems like everyone else is changing the publishing field with new gadgets, applications, and ideas and publishers are being dragged along by their dentures. I wonder how much better it might be for them if they took control of the innovations and forced distributors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, self-publishing authors) to chase after them instead?

Katy Madison said...

As someone who worked hard to be print published, I'm now stradling the line of both and having surprising success with my e-book. I do little to no promotion for my e-book, which was edited and published traditionally almost 10 yrs. ago. I doubt it would do so well, were it not traditionally published in the first place.

I do think it is unfortunate that people can throw any old thing out there, and sadly most will make little money. There is something to be said for breaching the gates of traditional publishing. The effort and persistence it takes just makes better writers. The process weeds out many writers both good and bad.

Although the idea of having to contract for editing, copy editing, cover art and so on for self-publishing gives me the heebie-jeebies, I may do that for previously unpublished work, but nothing beats the package that a publishing house can give you.

I'm curious why the comparision is always Hardback to e-book, and never includes the picture for mmpbk compared to e-book. I do think publishers are going to have to adjust their margins or writers will take their e-marbles and play elsewhere.

Jon F. Merz said...

Yeah, I'm an old traditionally published author who was full of suspicion about ebooks as well. For the longest time I was selling perhaps $100 per month over the 19 or so titles I had up on the Amazon KDP system. I hated reading Konrath's blog about how much cash he was making. I justified all of it by saying that it was not a viable business model if it couldn't really be replicated by another person.

I went so far as to call Konrath out on his blog. He invited me to guest post about my experiences, which I did, and titled it "Tales of an EBook Nothing." Then while I was waiting for Konrath to run the piece, I decided to put up my hardboiled Lawson Vampire backlist with a new array of covers - priced between 99 cents for stories to $2.99 for novels and novellas - about ten titles all together (the four novels had all come out through traditional publisher Kensington in 2002-2003).

That was right at the end of January.

In February - the shortest month of the year, mind you - I made $3200 on my ebook sales. Yesterday, I sold my 1000th ebook of the month and stand to earn almost double what I did last month.

The fact is, people like Hocking and Konrath are not the only ones enjoying a LOT of success. The 5th installment of my Lawson Vampire series, The Kensei, is actually out from St. Martin's right now in stores everywhere and I think my ebook sales are far better than my print sales at this point.

Traditional publishers need to realize that the crappy 25% royalty on ebook sales isn't viable any longer. And don't forget that agents take their cut out of that 25%, so in reality, authors are getting screwed even more on the agency model.

Selling ebooks the way I do right now is giving me a fantastic income - better than the income I've earned from writing about twenty traditionally published novels over the last decade. And it gets directly deposited into my bank account net 60 days, which is pretty awesome and about as close to a writer having a constant paycheck as you can get given that the traditional publishers still cling to archaic business models that fail to address the economic reality of writers.

Times are changing. And thank god they are.

David H. Burton said...

As always, the answer will be determined by consumers and their individual choices.

Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT for $8.99 or Amanda Hocking's SWITCHED for $0.99?
Harlan Coben's LIVE WIRE for $14.99 or J.A Konrath's SHAKEN FOR $2.99?


The question, when it comes to consumers, might be better framed as:

Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT for $8.99 or Amanda Hocking's entire Trylle trilogy for $6.97?

Harlan Coben's LIVE WIRE for $14.99 or 5 of J.A Konrath's books for $14.95?

Kathryn Magendie said...

Whether they self-pubbed or not, Hockings and Konrath's numbers (income) can be an enviable outcome for writers whether they've self-pubbed or signed with a royalty-paid pub! Dang! Lawdy be.

But, yup, there's more to it than the price, or else all 99centers 2.99ers would be enjoying their income or even half of it. Something else is in the formula.

If I could figure it out, I'd use it, and then bottle up the formula and sell it for 99cents :-D

Matthew Rush said...

Excellent analysis Nathan. It's got my head spinning a bit, but much less so than if I had heard about it somewhere else. So thanks for that.

Emily Hill said...

Rowenna,

Your comments and observations regarding self-published work is taken to heart by all thoughtful IndieAuthors. We *know* the bane of typos and poorly designed fast-to-market work and have self-collected around web communities such as Independent Publisher, Self-Publishing Review and other web-spots where IndieMentors meet to discuss these hurdles - and more!

With publishing industry experts predicting that 50% [fifty per cent] of all tomes will be in eReader format, with established authors (Lisa Gardner to name just one) slipping their titles away from their agents to try their hand at self-publishing, you may find that the quality you seek. And with book bloggers such as Alan Rinzler forecasting that self-publishers will soon own the mid-list - I believe the future is here. As individual IndieAuthors find their own level, I believe that the quality in formatting and design you so hunger for will be close behind.

G.P. Ching said...

I think people underestimate the opportunity that is available to the publishing industry if they were to embrace this phenomenon. The traditional publishing model is the best at delivering high quality works to a broad market. But the efficiency of the self-published author means good things for the reader-- a more diverse range of voices, faster time to market, and a cheaper price. It's not a giant leap to see that publishers and bookstores could create a win-win situation by partnering with self-pubs that bubble to the top. What's called for is an innovative business model that leverages the power of entrepreneurship rather than pretending it isn't a force to reckon with.

Mandi Kang said...

I see self published books advertised all the time. You know the ones, they hide in the sidebar of your favorite blog. The author is trying to make a buck selling his eBook, and using his blog. The problem I have is, you get what you pay for. The stigma here is that someone, somewhere really liked that traditionally published book enough to publish it. You have to wade through a lot of self published books to find the diamond in the rough, because let's face it, lots of them are just crap.

I see the publishing world doing a compromise. Publishers will begin to break out writers in an eBook format for a cheaper price - say $5.99, without all the hoorah that goes with a paper bound version, much like a paperback novel. Readers will be relatively assured that the book they are buying at least got someone's attention (and an editor).

Nathan Lowell said...

A lot to digest.

First most writers (self, indie, big6) never break out. They publish a book and sell 10 copies to family. It doesn't matter what venue. Saying that most indies will never sell more than a hundred books ignores the scads of mainstreams that never earn as much in royalty at 8% as the indie selling 100 books.

The reality? Most writers will never make it through the gatekeepers. Agents are trained by publishers to accept what the publishers think will sell to bookstores. This talk of "new voices" and "break out novels" is right up there with "campaign finance reform." It makes good copy but nobody's actually looking at the systems that are preventing it from happening. Occasionally the system *breaks* and something interesting leaks in. That's not a design feature.

Yes, the barriers are lower for indies. No, everybody won't win. There are too many books that are just not worth reading regardless of who publishes them. The difference is who gets to decide what's worth reading. In mainstream, it's the agent, then the editor, then the marketing department, then the bookstore, then the reader. In self-pub, it's the reader.

Talk about cutting out the middleman.

Does mainstream do a better job of vetting content? Possibly. They make the bar much higher to entry and have more people who need to be paid in the process. Does that, in fact, make the books too expensive? Possibly. It certainly increases the overhead for producing the books.

Second, it's not the margin, it's the volume. Mainstream arguing that they "don't make that much" is lame. You make what you make. Buyers think it's too much (restated: You're trying to sell above the supply-demand curve).

That's a losing strategy. If the price of your goods are above the curve you have to make it up in volume. This is just normal business economics. If you can't promote enough to get the volume you need at the lower price point, you need to lower your overhead.

The problem is that Big6 houses have too much overhead. That's easily solved and a lot of people before me have pointed it out. Get out of NYC. Distribute your staff electronically. If your economy of scale is not scaling (or not economy), there's a structural problem in the company. Address it.

Learn from the people who are working on a shoestring instead of letting them take Ghandi from a baby.

"First they ignore you,
Then they laugh at you,
Then they fight you,
Then you win."

Most of mainstream is at stage one or two.

Key point, if you don't *need* to sell more than five thousand units a month to double your day job salary then why wouldn't you write for a living.

Restated: How much of a $350million dollar market do you need to live comfortably?

Consider that the average income for the bottom 90% of US citizens is about $34,000 a year. (mother jones). Do the math? How many books do you need to sell to make that? At 2.99 it's only 1250 a month. About forty a day. There are over a 1000 individual books above that level now on Kindle alone.

And that number ($350m) is only what's reported. Hocking, Locke, and Konrath aren't included in that, nor are the hundreds of others who are selling a few thousand units a month.

Any bets as to how much that number (350m) is understated? 10%? 40%?

Any bets on when they start fighting?

Emily White said...

I recently decided to self-publish my book because I really do have that entrepreneurial nature. I have just always liked the idea of owning my own business and I'm really enjoying having everything in my control.

I know there are some people who feel strongly about traditional publishing or self-publishing, but I don't. I say you should go with what works for you.

Although, I will also say that I find it wonderfully exciting that self-published authors are finding a great deal of success. Sure it's rare, but it's also rare for traditionally published authors to get on a bestseller list. This is such a wonderful time that we live in where authors have so many choices.

Zan Marie said...

Thanks for the details, Nathan. It makes you think about self-publishing an ebook. I keep hearing that unless an author is top of the list, the big publishing houses do very little in the way of marketing. The mid-list writers are doing much of what was considered part of the deal back a little as 10 years ago. Like I said, makes you think.

Jill Kemerer said...

You brought all of my random thoughts together to make sense of this issue. Thank you for such a well-written, understandable post.

Jon F. Merz said...

I also think there's far too much credit given to "supposed" experts in NYC when it comes to deeming what is worthy of being published and what is not.

From personal experience I've found that many of these so-called experts are completely out of touch with the reality of their customers and the things they want to read. This is another aspect of the backlash that is helping indie writers rather than harming them.

Case in point, I have a boys' adventure series being circulated right now and the editorial remarks have shown a complete lack of understanding of what boys would be interested in reading. One editor: "I don't get ninjas." Well, fine for you, but boys happen to love ninjas - and they'd love a series written by an author who has spent his last twenty years actually studying the authentic system. That sort of comment shows that as much as the industry claims to know what people want, they actually do not. They put out what they think will be help perpetuate their own existence in an industry using failing business models, an attitude towards change that would best be described as catatonic, and an inability to affect that change even in the face of hard data with regards to the number of ereaders being sold, the exponentially increasing share of ebooks being sold, etc. etc.

MichelleWarren said...

If a self-published author has done their homework and has a great a marketing plan, professional cover, website, and a great story, the regular consumer will not know the difference between their indie book and a traditionally published one. With competitive pricing, I believe those indie authors will be successful.

Gregory K. said...

Great post. I agree the perception of value issue is one big key moving forward. Here, the role of gatekeepers as curators - a "guarantee" of quality in some sense - will be a potential advantage as the market gets more crowed. .

And I think there's the possibility of another type of disruption, too: a change in the way we consume written material. I'm not sure what this will look like, but iTunes, for instance, moved music from an album business to a singles business in a big way. Will these reduced price points lead to some other shift like that in publishing?

I can see niches, lots of niches, filled by self-pubbed or new types of publishing companies taking advantage of the ability to sell, and trying to control areas by using price as an advantage. I don't profess to know how it'll play out, but I think it's worth keeping an eye on.

Suzan Harden said...

Thanks for providing a balanced view, Nathan.

Writers are going to need to sit back and analyze what's best for theire career. That means taking a hard, objective look at their product. Some product is best suited for the Big 6, some would do better going independent.

The knee-jerk reaction from both sides doesn't help anyone. And it makes all writers look like a bunch of nutcases to not involved in the industry.

Shawn Lamb said...

E-books are something publishers must consider and venture into now or the fights you spoke of will be more intense if they wait.

Dustin Wilson said...

I see comments suggesting that the dangers of Amanda Hocking's success is that other people will see it and say "I can do that to."

How, if you don't mind me asking, is inspiration dangerous? We could say the same thing about Stephen King, James Patterson, Jonathan Franzen, or Neil Gaiman.

The biggest successes in self publishing right now are by and large authors with the most book. Amanda Hocking has written nineteen novels, and she only has nine published. Why? Those are the nine that are good enough. Konrath has nineteen books published as well, but he is an industry veteran who had plenty of backlist to pull from.

Are self-published books lower quality? Yes. If you made a scoring system and scored every book based on quality of prose and tightness of story, I'm almost certain the average for self-pubbed would be lower. But, the thing is, I'm not reading the bad ones. Amazon scores, and book blurbs do a good enough job of showing me who can write, and who can't.

Kaitlyne said...

Thank you so much for this article. I've been questioning people about this very idea for a few days, and it seems that a lot of people don't consider it a potentially dangerous thing that readers might get used to being able to buy a book for ninety-nine cents. Great information, as always.

Lexi said...

I've self-published, and sold 16,800 copies since August last year. I'm just finishing my next book, and will put it up on Amazon when it's ready.

I'll also send it to a couple of agents who turned down Remix but asked to see my next novel. I'll tell them my sales, and won't be too eager to accept a deal, should one be offered.

I'm not as successful as Amanda Hocking - but I love what's happening in publishing right now. In recent years, publishers seem to have lost the plot.

Jane George said...

The rabid anti-publishing sentiment is a reaction to the dismissive disdain of traditional publishing toward self-publishing.

As a businessperson, (writers are businesspeople), it doesn't make sense to divorce yourself from one avenue or the other. Opportunity is opportunity.

Istvan Szabo, Ifj. said...

The general problem with publishing is the following; the writer is creating the story, the writer is writing the story and because of the present bureacratic system, the writer is the one who get almost nothing after each sales (As we see Nathan's numbers, everyone get much more then the writer.). And publishers are wondering why writers are turning to self publishing. Well, don't be surprised.

It seems if you really care with literature you must leave the following two elements behind; agents and publishers.

Anonymous said...

In terms of perception of value, one of the most valuable commodities these days is time.

If you read the reviews on many of these cheap books, there are readers warning others not to waste their time.

Reading a book is a commitment. In our modern society, time is money. However much money a publisher puts into a book, the reader is putting in more.

So I think it's understandable that people want cheap books. I went a long while where I didn't buy new books because I was routinely disappointed by many of my favorite authors.

So, sure, I shelled out a dollar to read Amanda Hocking's book. Whether or not it's worth my time...

We'll see.

Anonymous said...

I keep hearing about "such talented writers" who "can NOT even get an agent" and "especially in THIS changing marketplace."

So, I wonder, if Rowling was trying, today, to find a publisher, would she have gone to over 100 attempts (or something like that, I've heard) or would she eventually just go self-pub?

If the dynamic didn't change soon, we were only going to have a few top-top sellers and many voices who gave up before they were ever heard.

Viva The Independence Day.

veela-valoom said...

Maybe I'm the odd duck but I just wasn't that impressed by Hockings book. It was good. I've read worse. But I value my time. While I read Switched I could have read a bunch of books that are probably better.

I love e-books and I love my Kindle. And I admit that spending $12.99 on an ebook when Amazon has the hardcover marked down to 9.99 just FEELS ridiculous. I can't explain why but it feels so wrong. But if I love a book/series I'll pay for it on e-book. I don't even know what I paid for "Monsters of Men" the 3rd Chaos Walking book because I was so into the series and NEEDED the book so much I just didn't care.

Having read a cheapo e-book I'm a little put off by them. I see the value of having an editor/agent/more eyes on your work.

However the classics for free--I am all OVER those books. But other free/cheap books I'll consider very closely before clicking buy.

K. C. Blake said...

Well, I decided a few months ago to self-publish my vampire series because I tried the traditional route and it didn't work. I had an agent at Trident Media Group who loved the books. She tried her best, but editors repeatedly told her they didn't want to take a chance on another so-called vampire book at this time. We were stunned. I had an interesting hook, so it isn't a Twilight replica.
I've had two books published the traditional way. Yes, it was great to hold them, turn the pages, smell them, but in the end the fact is Vampires Rule was sitting on the computer doing nothing. I want them to be read and enjoyed, by thirty people, a hundred people or a thousand. I'll take whatever I can get at this point.

J. Viser said...

First, congratulations to entrepreneurs like Konrath, Hocking and others! Ebooks are what what American culture is all about - work hard to create a quality product, bring it to market and earn your financial success.

Self-publishing is here to stay, it is only a question of market share now.

That said, I agree with your premise that there will always be a market for printed books. Even self-published success stories like J.A. Konrath are contemplating (or doing, by now) offering limited editions of print versions of their ebooks. It is hard to sign a Kindle :).

I don't think your post was sobering as much as it was defending the status quo. The beauty of self-publishing is that there are no gatekeepers between authors, the creators of content, and readers. There are plenty of excellent books that traditional publishers will never take a risk on for their own various reasons.

The potential for ebooks is that it will bring many good, self-published works to market for readers to enjoy. Works that might not ever be picked-up by the traditional publishing world. Bad ebooks will simply not sell well and bad writers will have to improve their craft if they want to make a living as a writer.

Here's the deal - most readers know that a self-published work by an unknown author is a gamble, but they will be willing to risk 99 cents or a few bucks to find their next great read. I've bought plenty of print books only to find out after getting through them that they sucked. Every reader has a story like that, so to say that a printed book written by a represented author and published by a tradtional house is a higher quality product really doesn't hold much water.

At 99 cents, the risk/reward ratio works very well for readers and success stories like Hocking's and Konrath's encourage other writers to take a risk and bring potentially great ebooks to market. After building a fan base with one ebook, the perceived value of an author's works increases, allowing that writer to raise prices in the future.

Sounds like a win-win to me.

Sarah Woodbury said...

2009-2010 were the worst two years in history to try to break in with a traditional publisher. The industry cut 30% of their staff and bled money. Borders went bankrupt. Thousands of good books went unbought.

For me, it isn't choosing indie publishing over traditional publishing, it's that my three books that are selling very well as ebooks were all rejected by traditional publishing houses over the last 4 years. If I didn't indie publish, they'd still be languishing on my desktop, unread and unloved. Why NOT indie publish? Why not share my books and my stories with people who email me daily and tell me they loved them? I'd love to make a ton of money, but far, far better is that I am no longer writing in a closet by myself, for editors who like the characters, like the plot, like the writing, but think my books are 'between genres' or 'not marketable in the current competitive climate'.

The great thing about ebooks is that you can download a sample. If the writing is bad, the plot uninteresting, you don't have to buy it! The reader is king! HOw cool is that?

Anonymous said...

I think the big problem with traditional publishing is they seem dead-set on making themselves irrelevant. You get several things with traditional publishers that are difficult to get self-publishing:
1) Professional editing
2) Placement on brick-and-mortar store shelves
3) Marketing
4) An advance
5) Cover design (art and copy) and layout
6) Stamp of approval

Well, more and more we're being told that publishers don't have time to edit books. We have to self-edit before sending them in.

Brick-and-mortar stores are going away.

The marketing budget of a book basically goes entirely into store placement (and maybe not for *your* book). Authors have been taking an increasing role in marketing for years and years—and it's getting worse.

Advances are getting smaller and smaller.

It's basically coming down to cover, layout, and that stamp of approval.

Cover and layout I can take care of if I need to. It won't be as good as a publishing team, but they mess up sometimes, too. I'll at least control the process.

I think it's still worth it to go traditional—though having never been through it, I can't say for sure—but it's rapidly becoming a bad deal for authors who are not automatic best-sellers. The amount of work looks the same to me: I have to market my book single-handedly no matter what.

Sheila Lamb said...

I like having self-pub/kindle books as an option. I'm trying the traditional route one more time...then will consider Kindle-ing it. Don't forget the CreateSpace paperback option for kindle/amazon self-published authors. I still prefer paper and have bought self-pubbed books in those formats from Amazon/CreateSpace. I have a hard time with the "agents as gatekeepers" theory 100% (maybe 90% true) when Snooki is out there instead of some really good, talented authors.

D.G. Hudson said...

Anon (first comment) has some good points and identifies how a lot of writers feel. But we must remember, Konrath and Hocking are smart and savvy. Everyone who self publishes doesn't automatically acquire those traits. They are also lucky to be some of the first to reach the top of the heap but as they both say -- it took a lot of work on their part.

I think self publishing will appeal to more writers if they don't succeed with traditional publishing.

One writer I know is going to back away from trad publishing and try selling on her own for a while. She self-published, then tried print publishing, and is now going back to self-publishing.(if you're not an internet personality, established writer, a go-getter like some, or God forbid, a vacuous celebrity, who has time for you in publishing?)

Frustrated writers will do what they feel they have to do. Publishers will do what they have to do, but perhaps they should consider giving the NEW writer more priority, while pushing for quality in the writing. Publishing has to cut what's not working, perhaps 'flattening' their organizations like so many other industries which were too 'fat' in personnel, especially in management.

Right now, I'm just sitting on the fence, and gathering data. Both will survive IMO, but perhaps in different incarnations.

D.G. Hudson said...

Loved Sommer Leigh's take on this post. Scrooge McDuck!! And dragged along by their dentures! What a mental picture - thanks for the chuckle.

Anonymous said...

One thing to remember about self-publishing is that a lot of the services that traditional publishers provide can still be purchased by the self-publishing writer.

Need a professional-looking cover? You can pay for one. Need an editor? New York pros are out there selling their services.

The biggest thing traditional publishing does is print books and push them into bookstores. At some point down the road, that will be much less important.

I don't think big publishing will vanish, but they are going to have to slim down a bit and reduce their infrastructure costs so they can sell ebooks at more affordable prices.

Akila said...

The future of publishing? I don't think it's going away even though people like Hocking and Konrath are making money. I read Hocking's book a month ago before the big buzz started. While an interesting read with a creative plot, I wished that a publisher had looked at it, first, because if it had been subject to a strong editor, it would have made for a much better book . . . perhaps something that could rival Twilight in popularity. Aside from major typos, inconsistencies (at one point in the book, a character suddenly changed from female to male which I account for as an editing snafu rather than an unexplained transgender operation), the characters were not as fully fleshed as a strong editor could make them. I hope that the very first thing Hocking does with this money is to hire a good editor to help her with her subsequent books.

Second, while I understand publishers' reluctance to embrace new technologies, I frankly think that their desire to stick with paper is the same sort of backwards thinking that led Blockbuster to their demise, in favor of operations like Netflix and On Demand. For example, the most recent book in Robert Jordan's New York Times Bestselling Wheel of Time series came out in November 2010 but the publisher wanted to hold out on Kindle sales until November 2011, expecting that people would buy the hardcover and the Kindle version. Instead, many loyal readers (including me) refused to purchase the hardback book, which led the publisher to cave and release the e-book in January 2011. All in all, the publisher looked stupid and the new technology won.

E-books are here to stay. The publishers better get used to it.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Interesting. I don't think I have the entrepreneurial nerve to self-publish yet, but it's fascinating to watch these developments. Even if Konrath and Hocking are the tip of the iceberg, they could also be the start of a new model that will have tremendous ramifications on the existing structure.

I've had to set a few people straight lately about the "high" cost of ebooks. The problem is that most people don't see why they should have to pay for art or craft. This is across mediums. I've got friends who are artists, make jewelry, etc., and people are always trying to get them to give away their work for very cheap or even free because "they could do it themselves", "the artists like doing it", "it doesn't cost that much for beads/paper/etc.". I think some of the same attitude extends to literature. Too many people think they are paying for the paper in a print book, not the time and labor of the author and any editors, agents, design artists, and so on involved in the project. Take away the paper, and they just don't see why they should have to pay. It's ridiculous.

Karen A. Chase said...

For authors, getting our writing into the hands of readers (or message out to our audience) is the mission behind what we do. True there are some who just write dribble for cash, or who want to brag about holding a book they wrote. But primarily authors have a story to tell, one they want to own, and one they want others to read. It's not about a book. It's about my collection of words, telling a story, and getting it into the hands of readers. Authors want to be read. The medium is simply the method of distribution. And it's one I can chose without layers. Without giving up 85-90% of sales. And without losing the copyright to my own work.

Mira said...

Great post, Nathan, very thoughtful and very informative. I also love how you tend to dive into these sort of waters - its brave and far-seeing.

I don't think I have much to add to your post or the comments - alot has been covered here. I just think I want to add two main point.

The first is: for writers, it's not either/or. Amanda Hocking just signed with a literary agent.

The second is: there has not YET been a mass exodus to self-publishing, but I would just give it some time.

The first Kindle was released in November, 2007. That's just three years!

Wait until a few more Amanda Hockings come to the forefront, and also for the current culture of publisher loyalty to fade....

I truly believe that the biggest threat facing print publishing today is not the failing of bookstores, the low price point of e-books or the e-book market in general.

It is the pretty much inevitable movement of authors toward more money, more control and more freedom.

When this occurs, publishers may begin to offer more competitive packages. Whether that will be enough to stem the tide of attrition - I don't know. I tend to think they'll move too slowly and be too late - to be brutally honest, but I could be wrong.

P A Wilson said...

It's always good to hear about successes and publishing is the same as everything, for every huge success there will be hundreds or thousands of people who are not huge successes.

I think one thing that gets missed in the calculation of cost between print and ebooks - the author takes a long time to get the book into publishable state. It's debatable whether it's cheaper for the big houses to go e-book, but for small houses and individuals, e- is definitely cheaper.

Cathy Yardley said...

I think that if we look at it as "can we become millionaire bestsellers as self-pubs" then yes, it's a recipe for failure. But I look at it this way: as a traditionally published author, becoming a bestseller or at least escaping midlist is crucial, because I won't keep getting contracts otherwise. If I'm self-publishing and making the same sales I was making as a "failing midlist" author, I can actually not only make a decent living, I'm not waiting on reserves against returns, not waiting for my bi-annual royalty statement that if anything lacks transparency, and I'm not living in a constant state of "will they like my option book? Do I have enough audience?" It gives me the flexibility of responding to the market more quickly. Yes, it means more up-front costs and an uphill battle... but we're doing the promotion work anyway, or should be. THe business is hard on either side of the fence. For authors who are more entrepreneurial and who perhaps have a background with traditional, this seems to give more of a chance to control more variables in our income stream. It depends on the level of risk we're comfortable with.

Diana said...

I've read through all the comments and there is a major point missing to this discussion.

Self-publishing is NOT a new phenomena. John Milton self-published Areopagitica in 1644. Some well known authors of classic literature self-published their first work including Benjamin Franklin, Virginia Wolf, Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce and a smattering of others.

Looking back over the past 20 years, one can see that every few years an author rises out of the self-publishing world and goes onto commercial success. The ones that immediately come to my mind and that I can point to without looking at Wikipedia or googling for answers are: The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield and Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Amanda Hocking and J A Konrath are the current names to add to the list.

A complete list of self-published authors who have gone on to commercial success is small.

Self-publishing has been an option for almost four hundred years. So far it hasn't toppled traditional publishing. I doubt the ease of e-publishing will kill it either.

In fact because it is now so easy to self-publish electronically, the probability that I will take a risk on a self-published author and buy one of their selfpubbed books is diminished. I know how many writers are out there who think that what they write is absolutely brilliant when in fact it is absolute garbage.

Regardless of whether a book is traditionally published or self-published what makes an author rise out of obscurity and onto the bestseller lists is talent. Even if your name is Snooki, your book won't sell if there isn't some talent behind it.

just4kix said...

Writers feel that being trad published will validate their worth as a writer, but the truth is that most trad published books turn out to be damp squibs (only the chosen few are vigorously marketed.) I learned that after being trad published myself. So, tired of being told But Can You Drink The Water? was not commercially viable, despite it winning awards, I decided to e-publish. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done as a writer. I’ve sold over 5500 books in three months and am now selling over 100 a day on Amazon UK. At 71p ($0.99) it is earning more money than my trad books brought in over several years. Why waste time looking for an agent or a publisher when you could be selling eBooks? There’s nothing to stop you doing both, but if you have good sales you are going to wonder if it’s worth even having an agent or publisher.

Loree Huebner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Loree Huebner said...

Very interesting post. Much to consider about publishing vs self-publishing.

Karen Cantwell said...

So your question is what do we think about the Indie Millionaires and what does this mean for the future of publishing? Well, I'm not an Indie Millionaire, but after publishing my humorous mystery on Kindle in June of 2010, I am now taking in a monthly paycheck that allows me to pay my mortgage and a new car payment with a little left over. It also helped me find an agent with a respected NY agency. So I think that self-publishing ebooks is a viable option for those who haven't had luck via traditional routes IF they're willing to do the self marketing and IF they're willing to do the work up front to put out a professional product.
What does it mean for the future of publishing? What I think is going to affect the publishing industry PERIOD, is the advent of the eReader. We indies have only been able to take advantage of an offer originally made possible by Amazon, but it's the owners of eReaders that will force the industry to change. People just don't want to pay high prices for books that aren't printed on paper. That's not a guess -- I see readers posting this complaint continually on various discussion threads and social networking sites. I think it's human nature for people to resist change, but it's coming, that is for sure.

mardott said...

No, Nathan. It's not because some ebooks are going for $2.99 or less. It's because the very same book is selling for $8.99 in paperback, but the publishers wants $12.99 for the ebook.

I will NOT pay that. Which means I don't buy that book at all, because I'm swearing off physical books. I have no more shelf space. I'll wait to check it out from the library.

Which also makes me angry. I'm an aspiring writer - I want to support other writers. I wonder if I can send the author a donation if I check the book out instead of buying it?

Nathan Bransford said...

mardott-

That's not the fault of publishers, or at least not entirely. For print, publishers set a suggested retail price, but Amazon decides what to charge consumers. Publishers DO set the e-book price with the agency model. So if Amazon wants to charge customers less than the e-book price for a print book publishers can lower their e-book prices, but for the reasons I outline in the post they're reluctant to do so (and would be happy for you to choose the paperback). So you end up with a bizarre stand off.

I agree that it's extremely confusing for the consumer.

Chuck H. said...

I have been considering self-publishing since the Literary Lab did a series on it a while back. Your post has me wondering if I could actually make a living at it. I don't need a million dollars, just enough to be comfortable here in central Missouri. Must go cogitate.

J. T. Shea said...

Careful, Nathan! If you splash water on your face before delving into the world of books you'll get the pages wet. Or short circuit your I-Pad.

Seriously, beware of journalists' estimates of other peoples' 'earnings'. People have enough difficulty counting their own earnings for tax returns and so on. How can journalists know someone else's debts and expenses and taxes, payment schedules and conditions governing advances, and so on?

Your report of Reuters' report of Forbes' report of James Patterson's earnings is a case in point. For example, how can Patterson's supposed 2009/2010 earnings of $70 million include a $100 million dollar deal?

I've criticized the book to music comparison before, but I won't repeat myself now.

Only $1.50 to make and print and distribute a $24.99 hardcover? That's lower than any estimate of such costs I've seen for a mass market paperback. Where did get your figure, Nathan?

Hardcover to e-book is the extreme comparison in windowing terms. Both author and publisher do better on the $9.99 e-book example than on a $12 trade paperback or $8 mass market paperback.

Charles Dickens books were being pirated in the USA during his lifetime. Legally, due to US copyright laws, which remained among the most lax in the world as late as 1988. Dickens went on US lecture tours to recoup some of his losses. Today's Longtailers would love him!

Anyway, I thoroughly agree 'traditional' paper publishing is very far from dead. Now I must go down to my dungeon...basement to see how my slaves...ghostwriters are doing on my next 17 books.

Samantha G said...

I always thought as the whole e- book fad as a way to exploit the author and the author to loose money- based on the fact that some people give their books away for free. This post has made me more confused because I don't understand where the money lies for the author (I understand the whole lower price + e-book = unhappy publishers.)

So, where can the author REALLY make the most money?

Nathan Bransford said...

J.T.-

First, on Patterson, those deals are paid out over time, hence the income discrepency for one year.

$1.50 may be on the low side for unit cost and shipping (HarperStudio cited $2.00 as average), but unit costs vary depending on the print run. For a bestselling book, I don't know that $1.50 is so far off (though the four months since I left agenting may have wrecked my memory).

nilla|utanpunkt said...

You are saying that paper and print cost is only 6-7%? Well, not this side of the Atlantic. I am a designer who has been involved in book publishing, and I have never seen such a low figure, certainly not on a hard cover.

On the ebook millionaires, they are the lucky pioneers in a very new market, where kindle owners seem to suck up whatever books come their way. And for $0.99 I guess you dare take a chance. I think there will be a flattening of the market though, when hundreds of thousands of titles will be out, and more difficult for unknown authors to make a dent. But the ones that have something ready to go already now can rape the seeds.

callingcrow said...

There’s another aspect to this whole Kindle induced upstart Indie (self-published) eBook writers. As an old mid-list writer, I believe that the big houses have failed in their mission, if their mission is to provide a voice for new, interesting, and, even controversial authors. Everyone knows the story of A Confederacy of Dunces, but for those that don’t, in a nutshell, writer John Kennedy Toole wrote his heart out, started sending it out, receiving rejection after rejection, till he finally killed himself out of heartache. (His mother later had the book published with the help of literary novelist, Walker Percy.) Well, there are probably thousands like Toole, good writers who pour their souls into their work, maybe writing things that are controversial or politically incorrect. And when they approach the gate keepers (publishers), things shut down. Rejection. Rejection. “We’re looking for female PIs now. You got any of that?” Or, “How about YA? That’s all that’s selling.” Or, “Vampires.” Not to single out one genre, but it seems that publishers are always chasing the latest trend.

This is all pretty sad and discouraging for a writer with a serious tale to tell to grown up audiences. I remember reading about a writer that won the James Jones Literary Society’s annual award. Serious book people pronounced his book worthy. But several years later he had still not found a house. His story and others like it are all too common.

Yes, the print folk have lost their way and are now blinded by the dollar signs in their eyes. But now at least we won’t have as many broken hearts and dreams, and yes, even suicides. Using the web, the Kindle ereader and others, and sites like Amazon, these writers can now get their words before appreciative readers. And that’s every bit as significant a change as genre writers making millions on $0.99 to $2.99 books.

nilla|utanpunkt said...

Sorry, unintentionally rude there with my typo, rake the seeds.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Sorry that I don't feel like reading all the comments, and someone may have mentioned this but why is Mr. Bransford comparing ebooks with hardcovers rather than paperbacks? It is a much more logical comparison.

He also kind of ignored the many other ebook authors out there who are doing very well. Victorine Lieske who has been on the NYT bestseller list may well be doing BETTER than Amanda Hocking; it's hard to tell. Will most eboon authors become millionairs? Obviously not. But one thing is for sure. This evolution in publishing is going to change things and it's a long way from over.

Nathan Bransford said...

J.R.-

Because for new releases hardcovers and e-books are (usually) released at the same time and are competing against each other.

J. R. Tomlin said...

That's true, Mr. Bransford, IF the novel is released in hardcover. But come on. What percentage is these days?

By the way, I don't know the answer to the question but it can't possibly be a very large percentage.

kcyarn said...

Another piece of the equation is book sellers. On paper, they make more off print sales, but do they really? After you take shipping, storage, and repackaging costs into consideration, e-books are a better deal, especially for e-retailers like Amazon. They'd rather pay for server space than warehouse space, which means they will continue to push e-books over traditional books.

Using your numbers, it looks like only two parties benefit from traditional book sales: traditional publishers and physical book stores. Given Borders recent bankruptcy filings, I have to wonder how significant the benefit is. Would Borders have benefited from investing in smaller retail spaces with larger coffee shops, wifi, comfortable chairs, and maybe an on-site daycare so patrons could buy and discuss e-books in a comfortable environment without the muchkins underfoot? Possibly, but this is the same conundrum faced by the traditional publishers. Do they produce/sell a good or a service?

According to the traditional publishers, they produce a good: books. When you look at their financial filings, they report their revenues as book sales, not author services. Unfortunately for them, consumers don't buy books from traditional publishers. Consumers buy them from bookstores, including Amazon. If supporting the traditional publishing model isn't in the bookstore's best financial interests, they will create their own publishing platforms. We've already seen this with Amazon.

The "good production perspective" is, as you pointed out a fallacy in an post-Internet economy. Publishing houses act as gate keepers, editors, and marketers. These functions are outside their self-defined mission, but they still provide value. I can see a future in which the publishing houses are down-sized or split into many companies. As subcontractors, they could oversee quality control in the e-book marketplace, most likely at the behest of e-publishers like Amazon that are inundated with material. While they might not have the authority to delete works, they could guide the best books to the top for a fee. They might also work directly with authors, excepting a percentage of sales or a flat fee in exchange for their expertise.

This assumes they wake up and realize their corporate value is in their expertise, their people, not physical books. Until then, they will be service providers masquerading as goods seller in a service economy. The smart ones will learn from the software companies, many of whom have already undergone this transition, and survive.

Of course, a decent agent could easily offer the same expertise, which makes me wonder if we will see the death of traditional publishing or agents first. My gut says traditional publishing. Literary agents already understand that they provide a service, and some are already filling roles, such as advertising, that were traditionally handled by the publishing house. As small businesses, it's more likely that some of them will adapt their business models to the new paradigms and do so years before the traditional publishers, who are shackled by both tradition and bureaucracy.

Dorothy said...

I think it's a supply and demand thing. You don't supply me with a NY contract and I'm going to demand a new way of publishing, a new way of really making money instead of those laughable royalties and I'm going to demand you to listen to me when I say buy my ebook for 99 cents. With Facebook and Twitter, but mainly Facebook I have found, you price your ebooks lower than what people pay for paperbacks and I mean really lower so that people will buy that instead, you stand to make a big hunk of cash.

Marilyn Peake said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your detailed analysis of the present world of eBook publishing. I agree with everything you’ve said. I realized something the other day, with all the buzz about authors who have sold millions of copies of their eBooks by self-publishing them on Kindle: now is probably the time to strike, while the iron’s hot. This may be a temporary bubble. Things are changing so quickly and radically in the publishing world, the 99 cents price could be eliminated farther on down the line through all kinds of possible developments, e.g. all the major bookstore chains go bankrupt and Amazon raises prices after those competitors no longer exist, Amazon gets bought out by another company that believes in agency model prices, etc. I hope to get an agent and a traditional publisher for the science fiction novel I’m writing; but, if that doesn’t happen, I’ve made up my mind: I’m self-publishing that novel directly to Kindle. I hope to have the final edit on that novel completed within the next few months. I know from experience how quickly a bubble can burst in publishing.

When self-published paperback and small indie eBook publishers were brand spankin’ new, in a time that seems so long ago now – the year 2004, I had my first books (middle grade fantasy novels) published, first by a self-publishing company, then in both eBook and paperback by a small indie publisher. A distribution company opened up that catered to self-publishing and small indie publishers, and my books were distributed through them. I did lots of book promotion and enjoyed that immensely. After that, my books started selling like hotcakes. I received emails from all over the United States, telling me that libraries had purchased my novels, that one library had even put my books on display as alternatives to the Harry Potter novels, that children were writing book reports about my books, and many more wonderful things like that. A two-page article and interview with me was published in TBD, the print magazine associated with Io, the University of Glasgow Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. I was interviewed by radio stations across the United States and in Canada. Excerpts and book covers of my novels were included on a CD with Stargate novels and handed out by Stargate authors at a convention where they appeared with actors from the Stargate TV show. It was an awesome time! It was also short-lived. A big bookstore company bought the distribution company, and my book sales dwindled. One library contacted me to tell me they were trying to purchase my books but were having trouble getting them through a distributor; and, after a few months, they gave up trying. I know what it’s like to think a trend or bubble will last forever. They rarely do, and the 99 cents price for self-published eBooks may end ... or there may eventually be so many 99 cent eBooks, that very few single books sell more than a few copies. I would like to be part of a bubble while it’s new and shiny, not when it’s just about ready to pop.

Rebecca Stroud said...

As patience is not my strongsuit, after my one and only agent rejection (thank you, Nathan), I decided to "learn" how to epublish. I conquered HTML and my covers/blurbs are descriptive; being a former reporter/columnist, I was already well-versed in editing.

No, I do not make millions...or even thousands. I do, however, have four books on Amazon's Kindle site. And that is four more than I ever would've had if I'd waited for a trad publishing deal (if that even happened).

I do agree that marketing is a bitch (for me, anyway) but I'm learning that, too (thank you again, Nathan). And I only have one "popular" genre book for sale; the others are short stories and a collection of my pet-related columns (I am a dog lover). So I can understand why I'm not anywhere near the rocket-ship sales of Amanda or Joe or...

In any case, I'm writing what I love not hoping for validation by a system that unequivocally states I must write what they (monetarily) love.

And although I know my work is professional, I also know it may take some time for it to gather momentum (if it ever does). But, again, I'm writing...not waiting.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I think the major publishers are under estimating the commraderie that exists among independent authors. It is like a huge underground network where the writers support each other, have decent blogs, interact with each other, and it keeps growing every day. So many "established" writers have blogs to promote themselves, but hardly every respond to comments made by visitors. No one is getting rich, but their work is getting read and word of mouth is the most powereful tool around. I think most writers would rather spend their time writing, reading, and getting to know other writers than agonizing over the insane rules of a query letter. The turning point for me was when I was following a bunch of agent blogs and so many of them complained about how bombarded they were with queries.

Ruth Ann Nordin said...

Well, I enjoyed the objective approach in this article. I'm self-published. It wasn't because I hated the traditional publishing route but because self-publishing felt right for me. There is no right or wrong, and I don't understand why we can't support both avenues. The point is, we write because it's what we enjoy.

I don't see print or publishers ever leaving. Some readers want paperbacks from traditionally published authors. Some want self-published ebooks. To me, the reader and writer can win. Do what feels right for you.

And regardless of how one publishes, there will be bestsellers, midlists, and those that don't sell much at all. That's why if you're pursuing the method you're passionate about, you're better off. Better to shoot for the stars and fail than to never shoot at all.

Dan said...
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Dan said...
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Dan said...

I don't know why Amanda Hocking has been so successful. Her cover design is noticeably more proficient than most other self-published books, but I looked at her first chapters and the writing is very poor. The dialog is wooden and there are serious grammatical issues, including a lot of shifting verb tenses.

These books were rejected by everyone for a good reason: they don't meet the minimum standard of English-language proficiency that agents and publishers expect of a novel. Many of the reviews of top selling e-books by Hocking and others also complain of significant plot-holes and inconsistencies, and of wooden characterization. These are, to put it bluntly, worse than every single urban fantasy and paranormal romance that got published. But Amanda Hocking is now a lot richer than most traditionally published authors.

We may be entering a world where the quality of the writing isn't really a significant part of the calculus; readers of e-books are clearly willing to tolerate inexpert writing in exchange for a price point below $3. Either the readers who are buying this stuff do not perceive a disparity in quality, or they are price-sensitive and not very picky about their reading material. I doubt Hocking's audience was ever buying a lot of $15 hardcovers.

I think a lot of the readers turning to low-price Kindle e-books were mass-market paperback readers; voracious consumers of cheap fiction who never paid more than five bucks for a book, even before Kindle. I also think that cheap e-books have converted a lot of buyers who formerly bought up used books and remaindered books, so it's not clear yet whether these cheap e-books are cutting into sales of traditionally published fiction.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Yes, that pretty well sums it up. A few other take-home lessons:

The biggest danger to authors in this scenario is the erosion of the perceived value of books. If there becomes a widespread belief that written work should be free, then making a living from writing will not be possible (not that it's easy now). Unless, perhaps, some sort of advertiser-subsidized model evolves, which is the way that TV and radio operated for years: free content, with ads.

The biggest challenge to authors has always been, and will always be, marketing--i.e., finding readers. If traditional publishers and booksellers fold, this does not mean that gatekeepers vanish. It means that the gate will move elsewhere.

There will always be a gate because nobody will ever scan through millions and millions of available books; they will rely on some sort of filter.

J. T. Shea said...

Thanks for your succinct explanations, Nathan. And don't worry about your memory, you sound as sharp as ever.

Harper Studio's $2 is for 'the paper/printing/binding of most books', though they do go on to instance a $26 'physical' book, presumably a hardcover. They do not include distribution in the $2. The comments on the Harper Studio article are interesting and debate returns and remaindering and so on.

In any case, I thoroughly agree paper bestsellers can make a vast amount of money and the physical costs related to paper books are much less than people think.

Project Savior, your wish is granted. Richard Curtis has been e-pubbing out-of-print books for years. And Andrew Wylie set up an e-pub operation as a bargaining chip with publishers.

Scott Neumyer, yours is an interesting example of reverse windowing. Cheaper first, more expensive later. There's more than one way to skin a horse!

Amy, I doubt Amazon operate out of a hovel somewhere.

Elizabeth C. Mock, impressive record! And you're right about 'self-publishing' being something of a misnomer. Printing, binding, and selling a book out of the proverbial trunk of one's car would be true self-publishing.

Lance C., interesting that hardcovers are still with us at all, over seventy years after paperbacks first appeared.

Sinisterechoes.com, my Aunt Mabel is very offended by your comment. And so is her cat Tiddles.

Anonymous 9:44 am, Christopher Little was the second agent J. K. Rowling queried.

Sarra said...

In the above comments, HBIC posed the question "Not to mention, if you do not have enough faith in your own writing to at least attempt to have a publisher consider it, why are you writing?"

As a self-published author, this kind of comment really ruffles my feathers. I'm writing for the readers. Not for the publishers. Publishers don't just automatically publish every quality book that comes to them. They select which books to publish based on a lot of factors like marketing and how many other books have a similar topic and whether this genre is hot.

Just because I never tried to get a traditional publisher or an agent doesn't mean that I don't have faith in my own writing. In fact, I feel it's just the opposite. I have enough faith in my writing to publish it on my own and take it straight to the readers. I don't want an editor who might possibly change my title or make me take out my favorite scene or change something I love about my own work. I want to be the final decision-maker and believe me when I say, that takes a huge leap of faith.

I am sure I will make a lot of mistakes along the way, but I'm learning and my sales continue to grow (over 7,000 so far in just a few short months). I feel so incredibly lucky to be writing now when I have these choices available to me. That's one of the things I like best about this post - that Nathan is acknowledging the fact that authors now have a CHOICE about how they want to publish. Both writers and readers have more choices than ever, and only time will tell how the market will change.

Anonymous said...

Dan.
"We may be entering a world where the quality of the writing isn't really a significant part of the calculus"

Since when quality matters to agents and publishers? Agents are usually rejecting quality materials too. Writers start to believe agents are using a coin to decide instead of reading the queries and the samples.

Something is definitely not good with the present system and the self-publishing can be the final nail in the standard publishing's coffin. Why? Because it's much more profitable, you keep the copyrightm there are no restrictions, you have greater freedom and you don't have to write to hundred agents whose maybe, just maybe read your letter and your work (And even take the time to send you any sort of response.).

"this does not mean that gatekeepers vanish. It means that the gate will move elsewhere."

Or the gatekeepers should learn they're working for the writer and the not the writer is working for them. But yt seems the writer is not important at all. In this damned system everyone is living from our ideas and our writings. And we're getting less and less, because everyone is starting to be greedy as hell... and actually we're doing the 75% of the work. Then the writers ask the following; why should we work with agents and publishers. They do nothing, but preparing their pockets to be filled and they're telling us what should we do with OUR work.

Agents and publishers are riding the horse backward these days. If writers are turn to self publishing, no one can blame them.

Sarra said...

After re-reading my comment when I posted, I realized I made it sound like I don't think editors are valuable. I am sure that editors make a lot of books better. But quality editing can come from many sources. Not just publishing houses.

Personally, I use a critique group that is invaluable to me. I think the main point I was wanting to make is that it's all about what you are looking for as a writer. I don't hate publishers or have any animosity there. I just am glad I have a choice in how I want to get my books in front of readers.

Jackie Barbosa said...

The most common outcome of publishing--all kinds--is that you don't get rich. Whether you go with a big traditional print publisher, a small press, or self-publish, the chances that you will make a healthy profit from your book are really quite tiny.

Just because Amanda Hocking hasn't made JP Rowling or James Patterson money yet doesn't say much about self-publishing or digital books, because the vast majority of authors published by traditional print publishers will never make that kind of money, either.

Michael Offutt said...

Nathan Bransford = Buzzkill

But...I still luv you :)

Shelia A. Huggins said...

There's something about the "90% of self-pubbed material is crap" statement that sort of bugs me. I'm not sure why some people believe that one way of publishing is better or worse than another. I think it's up to the individual and what that person's goals are. It's unfortunate that some people will think my book is crap without ever bothering to pay 0.99 to read and make a judgment at that point. Then again, people might not buy because they don't like my hairstyle either.

Eli Collins-Brown said...

Well, there's also the fact that you can carry 1000 titles on a Kindle and also on your iPad and iPhone, which also synchronizes between the three devices. So I can pick up where I left off on my Kindle the night before (Kindle is easier to handle when I read in bed at night) on my iPad when I'm enjoying coffee in the cool street cafe (which provides free wireless, unlike BN), and then again when I'm sitting in the waiting room in my doctor's office and pull out my iPhone to pass the time. Hum.........

Stephanie said...

Could you conceivably get your book published through a traditional publisher for print, but not sign away your electronic rights, and then self-publish the e-book version, as a second serial?
I'm guessing publishers would want to avoid this, but is it possible/legal if you negotiate the contract correctly?

judith said...

It's shocking to see you're price breakdown when we continuously are hammered that shipping, warehousing, transportation, and yes, paper cost, are the HUGE factors on the massive cost of today's hardcovers and paperbacks.

I've been harping on the price of e-books for as long as e-books have been around.

If I think $10 is too much for a paperback, and gladly buy them used at Half-Priced when they hit the $1 shelf, there's no damn way in hell I'm paying for something that's not 'real' and has few overhead cost in terms of what physically has to be done to the book.

Patrick Neylan said...

"consumers just aren't that worried about the writing quality … and just want a good story"

There you have James Patterson's career in a nutshell.

Donna Ball said...

OK--reality check. I just completed a year long experiment re: how much a regular midlist author with a solid backlist, a moderate following and four books in print in brick&mortar bookstores (which were presumably being actively supported by a NY publisher) could realistically expect to make by self-publishing on Kindle. The results are posted here: http://awriterreads.blogspot.com/2011/03/great-e-book-experiment-results.html
--with real numbers and real $$ amounts. And if you don't want to read the whole thing, rest assured that neither Ms. Hocking OR my print publisher have anything to worry about.

Yet.

Larry Marshall said...

I think the biggest problem the big six are going to have in adapting to the new world of books is their overall approach to authors and their catalogs.

If eBooks had become a big deal back in the 60s or 70s, when the publishers approached money-making by growing large numbers of authors and their catalogs, we'd see:

1) fewer authors saying things like "wow, I can get everything I've written for the past decade back into circulation

2) fewer consumers saying "the selection is amazing"

As it is, if you removed the last three releases from the top 50 authors from most bookstores, you could turn them into bowling allies. Until publishers come to understand that part of the problem is their 'all the eggs in a few baskets' approach, they will not come to grips with the digital world, whether the prices are 99cents or 20dollars.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I saw an online comment by Amanda Hocking that you had rejected her manuscript after reading the full. I'm the Anon who said the other day that her books seem to have broken quite a few of your rules. I find it interesting that you're now giving her book tons of publicity just because she sold so many of her books through self-publishing.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I'll talk a bit more about that tomorrow. I had an inkling I had, but since I don't have my e-mails from my old job I wasn't positive. Amanda confirmed today.

I'm not sure what you're taking away from that though?

John Barnes said...

The model you're describing of the publisher's situation pretty directly implies a discontinuous function, i.e. one with a "catastrophe" (mathematical term for the idea popularized as a "tipping point.")

So what your analysis actually forecasts is that there will be a steady decline for traditional publishing until it abruptly, in a very short time, drops the rest of the way down the toilet. Sort of like being in a soap box derby racer that is rolling down a gently sloped, smooth road, but somewhere farther along -- no one knows where -- there's a drop of a few hundred feet.


If there's a lesson in that, it's probably that anyone sticking to traditional publishing should be preparing to brake and jump.

Incidentally, I have somehow managed to achieve midlistness in the new publishing world; my self-pubbed ebook PAYBACK CITY (http://www.e-junkie.com/shop/product/25109.php, salvaged from a traditional publisher that stiffed me, and after it was not picked up by anyone else) has so far made me a couple grand. Not enough to have paid for writing it, but a couple grand more than I had when I got stiffed. I priced it at $4.00 back in 2007 and any number of people told me that was silly, far too low; nowadays I'm thinking about dropping it a bit. I'm also thinking about braking and jumping.

Backfence said...

I'd just like to hear how she managed to promote her ebook into that many sales!

Anonymous said...

The final word in this discussion will be uttered by the inexorable free market. Pontificating on how much a product “should” cost does no good. If it can be made and sold at a profit for less, someone will do it and will put the company that insists on charging what it “should” cost out of business. Publishers had a strangle-hold on the business of books, but technology has broken their hold.

S. Edward Brown said...

I still have this unquenchable desire to see my words in print - almost like a badge of honor...or at least a nod that says "Yes, you're an author...we're vouching for you...and now Tony the Bouncer will let you into the Club." Even if the book flops and copies end up on the cheap table in the bookstores, it means something to me. It means I did it. I made it. I'm an Author.

That's the publisher's ace in the hole - their dirty secret - their value added to their product. Credibility. There's definitely a perception in the industry that you haven't made it as an Author until you've been published by a traditional House.

Yeah, I could make a million dollars self-publishing - and that'd be awesome - but I'd still feel deep down inside that I'm successful in the Minor League, but not in the Majors. Not quite the same feeling. There's credibility with the Houses that you still can't find on the outside. Maybe that credibility is eroding, but self-publishers as a whole still lack that intangible Thing that the Houses can offer.

And I want that credibility. But I also want to make a million dollars...*sigh*

Anonymous said...

Millions of Dollars!

I have to have a serious talk with my publisher now about dropping prices :)

Anonymous said...

Nathan, what I'm taking away from it is this: Quite a few agents are providing an immense amount of free publicity for books that make a lot of money, rather than devoting more of their blog time to books they feel have outstanding literary merit. Many people interpret blogging about a book in enthusiastic ways as an endorsement. I'm pretty sure that Amanda Hocking's book sales are about to go through the roof after all the articles and blogs written about her this past week, even though not one article or blog I read mentioned anything at all about the quality of her books.

- Anon @5:05 PM

karen-w-newton said...

I have not read all the comments so I don't know if anyone mentioned this, but, although I am sympathetic to publishers need to make a profit, there is a certain disingenuousness (if that's a word) at work here. Publishers have FOR DECADES priced books according to their format. If they brought a new author out in mass market paperback in 2010, the book was mostly like $7.99 or $8.99. If the new author was published in hardcover, the books was at least $22.99 or maybe $24.99, unless the author had a built in platform, and then it was more. And yet they seem shocked that readers would assume ebooks should be cheaper. Well, duh! They need to be more upfront about why they want ebook price higher. They are, after all, the authors of the perception that format drives price.

Anonymous said...

SB already made most of my comment: "Although I enjoy these self-published books, I can tell that they would have benefited from a publishing process. I often find that the books have lower intrinsic value, due to editing mistakes, formatting mistakes or, sometimes, sloppy writing. But I am willing to read them because they're free or cheap and they tell good stories."

I own all of Hocking's books, but it's clear they suffer from a serious lack of editing. Spelling and grammar mistakes abound and I find myself want to make the same notes I leave on my student's papers about pacing and plot.

I'm happy for her success and for less then a week of coffee I now own everything she's published. But I think she really could utilize the shaping that comes from a traditional set-up. I think because the ROI can be so little a lot of self-published authors are loath to invest in editing and the other services.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Wow. You've done it again. Try as I might, I can't stay away.

I especially found the back of the knapkin breakdown extremely interesting. Because the cost to the traditional publisher, in the models you set forth, still include bookstores--presumably, profiting from both distribution, and display. Some piece of the pie they're not apt to get with ebooks.

Just as the paperback didn't end traditional or hardcover publishing, I don't believe ebooks will either.

But, speaking as someone who hasn't made millions as a self-published author (we all prefer the term "Indie," I imagine), I'm also struck by the reasoning used for arguments for and against. Because they all boil down to money. James Patterson's $70 million in one year certainly is eye-popping. Does that mean he's a good, or great writer? Or that he's capable of being marketed and recouping costs and then making a profit?

I'm not surprised Hocking has made a million dollars offering books for 99 cents to $2.99.

Nor, frankly, am I surprised I haven't.

I never got into writing to be rich. Some might contend that's why I've never been and may never be rich, including at least one ex-wife.

What ebook publishing--particularly thanks to Amazon, which I contend has a vision and is seeing it through--is doing is making writing more available than ever to readers.

That was the original goal of paperbacks.

How many authors would be glad to get 70% of 99 cents from ereading potentially loyal fans, as opposed to having those readers read their hard-hewn art in a library, for free?

Celebrity culture has hurt literature and writing far more than epublishing ever has or will. Everyone wants to be famous, everyone wants to be rich.

James Joyce's friend Sylvia Beach had to publish Ulysses, not because no one could understand it, but because traditional publishers were afraid they'd never be able to sell a book with such profanity in it. She didn't publish it to get rich. She published it because she could, and she loved Joyce as a writer. And the book still fetches a high price, despite Joyce being dead many years now.

There will always be those "who know," whether they say they know literature, great writing versus bad quality, or merely "what will sell."

If your goal is to get your novels read, rather than make money, and you can make some money by offering your valuable words and insight for less than a soda at a vending machine or a Grande at Starbucks, ebooks are the greatest invention since sliced bread. Literally. Even better than microwaved popcorn.

Our trade deficit alone should be enough to convince people that reality is consumers want cheap goods, or even better they want quality goods cheaply.

When I made $200 on the print-on-demand and ebook versions of my first novel, I decided I'd made my first goal of publishing: to earn as much money as Ernest Hemingway's advance from Boni & Liverite for "in our time."

Before Boni & Liverite published it, his friend Robert McAlmon published a small paperback run of 300. A copy of it interested Boni & Liverite, who thought they'd better get a deal with Hemingway so they could make some money off him.

That's the other goal of the Amanda Hockings and other indie authors like myself. To be noticed by a "traditional" publisher, to have our work validated by someone we still think "who knows" what great or good or quality writing is. Not someone who thinks they can get a cheap product for a steal that they can sell for as much "as the market will bear."

Anonymous said...

My work has value and I do not like seeing authors rushing to prostitute their work for $1 a trick.

It will be better for all of us if most self-published, cheap books continue to suck. The more they suck the better. The more of them that suck the better. I hope that good $1 books are harder to find than gold nuggets.

Mark said...

I don't think self-publishing can make a professional author. Konrath already was one. That's a big deal. With no editorial feedback almost every book by anyone is potentially just crap or merely riddled with it.

Remilda Graystone said...

I'm not a fan of e-books nor am I a fan of audio books. I've always preferred hardbacks/paperbacks for various reasons, so if I want a book, it's only one way I'll be getting it.

I get why people might be mad about paying more for an e-book than they would a hardback, but, as someone mentioned in the comments above, I think they're forgetting that writers are still working as hard as before, regardless of which route their work is pushed through. You're paying the writer for how much effort they put into their work, most times, and not the paper. And the effort doesn't change just because the paper isn't there.

I'm not really surprised that Hocking has sold a lot of books. They're priced at 99 cents. It's not really much of a leap of faith, now is it? Compared to 10+ dollars, 99 cents is nothing. If it turns out to be crap, I think what'll really hurt is just how much time you wasted on it. Although if it's crap, you'll probably be able to tell early on and therefore save yourself time.

If I ever get over the whole you-can't-flip-or-feel-the-pages thing, I think the next reason I'd be hesitant to read an e-book priced that low (or one that wasn't backed by a publishing house) would be because just about anyone can publish in that way. I agree that crap gets published traditionally, but I'm thinking a lot more crap gets published through the alternate route. It reminds me of sites where they allow you to publish your book through them when they don't actually provide you with anything other than the means to get the book bound.

Of course, there are self-published writers who, I'm sure, write/have written books that aren't filled with plot holes and inconsistencies and typos, but I'm not sure they're the majority.

I'm not really worried that e-publishing will take over, for many reasons, and I think publishing the traditional way still has its appeal for many people.

To me, e-publishing essentially boils down to this: It's no different than looking at my story on the computer screen. And that's not what I want. If others want to e-publish, kudos to them and good luck. I think every writer should go about things in the way they feel is best.

Anyway, thanks for the even-handed and thorough post. I learned a lot.

neolo said...

Konrath gives away many of his books for free, and they are...well, how to say this...they are horrible. Ugh. His truculence against traditional publishing doesn't really help. At the same time, the business seems prime for innovative people to develop new business models, whether working on their own or with industry professionals.

Anonymous said...

Amanda Hocking's sales ranks on Kindle are amazing right now. She has the #1, #2 and #3 sales ranks in Romance, and the first book in one of her trilogies has the #6 sales rank for ALL Kindle books, better than Kindle books by James Patterson or Stieg Larsson. Her other two books in that trilogy are currently at #15 and #16 for sales of ALL Kindle books.

Victoria said...

As a writer, I want to make the standard of print publishing. I want the legitimacy I think it confers. I don't want to be explaining to people that I went the non-traditional route because I wasn't good enough to make it in the big leagues, and regardless of whether that's the reason authors go that way or not, that's how I'm feel about it.

As a reader, I want to read published books. I want the quality I think traditional publication confers. I've read plenty of unpublished novels trawling through online writing groups like OWW and Authonomy, and I really do think that only the best get past the agents and editors into press. I'm okay with that.

I don't believe there are thousands of wonderful books not making it past the 'gatekeepers' because experience has shown me that that isn't so. I suspect there are thousands of writers convinced their works are wonderful (when they're simply not up to scratch) though. And they're the ones ranting and complaining about who has the keys to the publishing world and why they can't get hold of them. A good book gets through the gates. I want to write them, and I want to read them, so it's traditional publishing for me on both fronts.

And that's a different argument from e-books and print books. Yeah, I know they're tied together but... I want hardcovers of my favourites and I'm happy with e-books of books I wouldn't want to read again. Easy to dispose of without the guilt. I don't care what I pay, though yes, I think non-print should be cheaper, because I don't get to keep it, for real. I know, I KNOW, but that's my perception no matter what the reality of print costs are.

Not on any day am I going to trawl through Amazon or anywhere else looking for $1 reads. Time is precious, and I want to spend that time reading quality. Next book to buy will be Pat Rothfuss' 'The Wise Man's fear.' In hardcover AND ebook. You just can't get that kind of quality in a self-pub. You just can't, people.

McKenzie McCann said...

I would be a happy girl if my book sold 450,000 copies in a month.

Delle Jacobs said...

I guess I'm one of those authors everyone is so busy debunking right now. Yes, you're right, most indie authors won't have much success, but the ones I know are all doing better than they were under the traditional model. And let's not forget, not very many of us can become the next J.K. Rowlings, either. Writing is one of the very few careers in this country in which we can truthfully say most of its followers can't make a living at their profession.

A little over a year ago I decided to give Kindle and Smashwords a try with four of my previously published works. The results were modestly good at first. But in October, sales took a giant leap for two books. It seems Kindle had put them on the Free Reads list, and in the five days they were up, they downloaded over 10,000 books each. After that, all my books sold much better, but sales were slowly dwindling. I could see people liked my books because they were coming back to buy others. So I re-set my prices at 99 cents, hoping to have high rankings for the after Christmas rush.

That's what happened. Readers found one, then hunted up the others. Maybe this is just a fad, but my sales have climbed to over 10,000 last month, and the rate of sale now is even higher. And my books by other publishers, with of course much higher prices, are also climbing quite nicely.

Now I'm realizing I can actually do better by self-publishing, and I've changed my mind about the new works I had planned to submit to trad publishers. I'm okay with people thinking I'm probably not good enough because I know most people who read one of my books will go back to find more.

As far as the editing goes, I'm sure most readers aren't aware that the indie authors who are most successful these days have ways of getting outside edits done. I always have an independent edit done before publishing a book. And I'm a cover artist anyway, so I can take care of that angle. What I can't give you is the traditional story New York prefers. But then, that seems to be what my readers like. Something unexpected.

C. R. Hindmarsh said...

I'm going to take the middle ground on this one and say there's enough room in the market for ebooks, print books, self-pubbed authors and traditionally pubbed authors. Each different format offers advantages and disadvantages to writers and readers, so I'm doubtful of anyone who claims that one side of the divide is doomed to failure.

I congratulate anyone who is successful in their writing, no matter how they distribute their work (or how they define successful). In the end, readers will decide for themselves.

mbdcares said...

I scrolled down all these positive, "yeah, for e-publishing comments, but other than Veela Veloom Jon Merz, and another individual that read one book from Hocking and didn't like it, everyone else seems to be fishing here. So what everyone should do tomorrow is go read Hocking, Konrath or Merz pushing their publishing numbers up, and then come back with answer based on reality. I've read Hocking, Konrath and I'm finishing Merz' Parralel right now and I'd rank them low, middle and upper middle enjoyment, respectively. (Nice job, Jon) Tomorrow after everyone has downloaded these as a .99 experiment, I think you should have this talk again without all the 'atta boy, Nathan' postings and only allow those who have downloaded one of these books to weigh in. Konrath and Merz between them have a lot of years of writing books and Konrath has a very informative blog that has lots of traffic. But what happens when every Tom, Dick and VERY Hairy with a lap top submits an e-book to Amazon? There has to be some kind of threshold for this kind of success. I'm not trying to be negative, I'm only trying to find the ledge where reality dips off into the e-byss here.
Mary Beth Baron

Anonymous said...

Not only does Amanda Hocking have the top three best-selling Romance books on Kindle, 7 of her books are now in the top 20 best-selling Romance books on Kindle!

abc said...

I had never heard of Amanda Hocking before you mentioned her (apparently I've been a little bit busy at work), but I have been reading her blog today and that girl is awesome! She's honest and authentic and funny and down to earth and full of heart. Go Amanda Hocking!

Jeannie said...

The odd thing to me is how much is going to the bookstores--I mean $12.50 out of $24.99?

Here's the problem: They could seriously move more books IF they'd drop their price point--and maybe two hundred Borders outlets would still be in business. There is no way I pay $24.99 for any book unless it's so rare I can't get it any other way. $16.50? Maybe.

I understand bookstores are struggling to stay afloat, but until new print books come way down, they're going to continue to struggle, because too many buyers will just wait for the $4.99 used copy on Ebay.

And yes, I know there's a lot of overhead with being a brick and mortar store. But. They'll have a better chance of meeting that overhead when they come down to what the buyer can/will pay.

Anonymous said...

Let's put this into perspective. Mid-list writers aren't making millions

Mid-list writers will make more money this way. Editing services and cover art are not expensive when your paycheck goes from around $10k to a $100k for a book.

Also, print on demand services are improving each year.

Skipping the old gatekeepers now makes better business sense. Why should writers deal with publishers with New York overhead?

BelleBooks said...

Great article Nathan! And a great discussion from the commenters. I'm in the middle here: former NY author (35 pubbed romance novels, pretty successful career with NY pubs) now a successful small (tiny) press publisher with about 100 titles in my list and lots more on the way. I've had great success with ebook sales on my authors' titles in the past couple of years, especially at Amazon, for Kindle. I'm a big supporter of ebooks, indie authors, small presses and positive creative rebellion. I see the traditional publishing industry as a wasteful dinosaur and I predict the industry, and the traditional bookstores, are doomed by their resistance to change.

I love what Amanda Hocking and others have accomplished and I cheer for them. But I get really annoyed at the naive hatred of publishers and the "Who needs em" attitude I hear. One commenter here said authors only need an agent cause "the agent does half the work of publishing, anyhow." Huh? In what world is that? Also, agents are not suddenly going to start playing publisher and throwing open their arms to legions of aspiring novelists with finished books. No, they'll continue acting as strong gatekeepers, and pick and choose only the most marketable and best-written books -- yes that's a subjective judgement and many fine books are rejected by the system.

But as a longtime author, contest judge and editor I can tell you that at least 80 percent of the unpublished material I read is unpublished for a very good reason: it's ordinary, boring, mediocre, etc.

Imagine if everyone who simply WANTED to play professional golf could show up at a tourney and compete. Not only would it be chaos, it would hardly represent the best of the sport.

While many hardworking authors deserve to get published but don't, many half-baked, naive, amateurish, lazy aspiring authors don't deserve to get published, period.

There's a reason that most successful authors (including Amanda Hocking, who even at the tender age of 26 reports a long history of failed writing projects and determined apprenticeship)are successful: they stuck with it, learned the business, worked hard despite rejection, honed their craft.

The average self-pubbed author hasn't done that, and it shows.

Regarding the role publishers play: I predict here and now that Amanda will sign with a bigt NY pub soon. Why? Because the management of mega-successful books requires a lot of expertise. I believe she already has a major agent and/or attorney. Yes, she's got big deals to negotiate, but even at the level of my small press there are endless contractural and business tasks to sort through, including liability insurance for our authors.

I wonder how many self-pub authors have sad tales of being sued over copyright, plagiarism or libel issues because they didn't have a knowledgable editor? And how many self-pubs are getting screwed by bad ebook deals and predatory contract terms because they don't know any better? A lot, I suspect.

The world of print pubs may be doomed, but the world of publishers is far from unneeded. Some hybrid will emerge.

Anonymous said...

What is the difference between an indie work and a so called professional? Only the support background. But the content quality of a novel is never depended on the background. It's always depended on the writer . Writing is maybe the only profession where the support background count nothing at all. Your work won't be better if you're working with agents. They're holding you back instead. Your work won't be better if you're working with publishers. They force you to make quantity instead of quality. So if any of you believe your work will be better because of the agents and the publishers, think again. Your work will be better because of you, the writer.

J.C. Martin said...

Great post! I'd be lying if I said it didn't leave me with a touch of optimism. I'm in two minds about this. For one, I'd ultimately like to get my novel published traditionally, just so I can see it on bookshelves. Plus, the support in terms of cover design, marketing, etc. is all there. On another hand, I am seriously considering the self-pub route for one of my novels, because I know how slow it takes for a traditionally published book to come out, and I have time constraints on this story (namely, it has to be out before June 2012 to coincide with a certain major event). The fact that you cut out the middleman and take most of the profits is a big draw, too! I just have to pray to be just as successful as Amanda Hocking...:)

Melissa said...

Dan wrote:

"I don't know why Amanda Hocking has been so successful. Her cover design is noticeably more proficient than most other self-published books, but I looked at her first chapters and the writing is very poor."

Everyone tip-toes around this issue and suggests that mayhaps these books just need a tad bit more work. I agree with Dan. Shame on you, Dan, for distracting me from my original comment. ;)

Nathan, excellent blog. I'm a freelance writer. I got my start in print in national publications and dailies. So while my way of thinking tends to be more old school, there is one thing that should be said about successful indie publishers: they know how to target the market. Splat! I've read countless literary agent blogs specifying "NO MORE BOOKS LIKE 'TWILIGHT!'" And yet here's Hocking, proving that what American tweens and perhaps even their parents want is precisely that. In a slightly different incarnation. It doesn't even have to be well-written. They're desperate for more of the same. Take careful note of this, because I see it in my field as well.

So what literary agents and publishing houses can take away from successful indie publishers is important information about their target markets and what said markets want to read. It's an indicator of trend. Whether people who download the 99-cent eBook actually read it could be debated (hey, I have 99-cent apps on my iPhone I've never even used, but I saw them and thought, "Hey, that looks cool!"). But the point is, these eBooks appeal to people for a very specific reason. The year-long + gap that can occur between the time a new writer is represented, has a m.s. sold and is ultimately published, can make all of the difference in missing that trend entirely.

I propose that the publishing industry will eventually -- not just yet, but one day -- have to adapt to a certain degree by learning how to cut the cost of e-publishing and getting digital content to the market, post-haste. The industry has all of the tools it needs at its disposal. By working together, the Big 6 could easily figure out a way to delineate eBooks that are thoroughly vetted and edited from those that are not -- even if they have to establish their own Amazon.com-like platform.

India Drummond said...

I started learning serious writing skills at university... 20 years ago. So I grew up under the "self-publishing is for those who can't sell to a real publisher" regime.

This year will be the release of my debut novel from a "real" publisher.

Although I do appreciate the work my publisher has done with my book, I've decided to go indie on future books. I realised a few things:

1. There's nothing my publisher is doing that I can't do myself or hire done.

2. For all the talk about how wonderful traditional publishing is, most of their authors still have day jobs. So just as Hocking is an anomoly in indie publishing, Rowling and Patterson are the same in traditional publishing. I'm not looking to be a millionaire. I want to make a living. I have a decent chance at that with self-publishing.

3. Publishing myself, I can put out 2-3 books a year, building that ever-important backlist. Sound fast? Maybe, but I have the experience to write quality work quickly. I have several books written in past years that I can go back, edit, and release. I have lined up a group of pros to edit and design. So I know I'll be putting out professional work I'm proud of.

I just wish this had all been possible 20 years ago. I am glad of the experience gained over those years, but not the frustration. I've never been happier or more confident now that *I* am in the driving seat for my writing career.

Anonymous said...

India. Thank you for sharing your experience. I liked point #1 the most. I also meditate to go indie... after I give one last chance for the gatekeepers to read my work. In the last one and a half years I'm getting letters from all around the world from future readers. They want to read my work and they're asking when is it going to be released. But they can't and I don't have a clue when is it going to be released because some gatekeeper is lazy to read queries or novels (And they're whining on twitter and blogs, because they must work.). Right now gatekeepers and publishers are working against writers, but foremost against the readers. Honestly, if they're rejecting again without any reason, I gladly turn to indie and put a nail into the standard publishing's coffin, because as you said, we can do the very same. The only difference is; we're working for the readers.

Anonymous said...

The problem for this independent route, is that the work needs to be vetted. This does not mean by a writing group of peers that don't want to offend the author or, in many cases, are needing that person's reciprocated love for their own writing, and potentially later when they are trying to market themselves.

Vetted means that the darling sentences or chapters that need to go, must go. It's not a suggestion, but it'd advice given by someone with a professional interest in the success of the writing.

This doesn't mean that all self-published work is automatically bad, but I've been in enough of those writer group relationships to know that many writers can't see their own trips. Those writers need a higher voice of authority and they can't even recognize this.

That hubris extends to things like cover art, where because this creative person owns a copy of Photoshop, they think they are now also a designer and artist. This is possible, but probably very rare. If the cover isn't to a professional standard, I doubt very much that the writing is either.

"Good enough", in any of these disciplines, is simply not good enough. As a consumer, I want great.

Renee Pace said...

Excellent blog and very thought provoking. I'm an e-pubbed author and considering self-pub but one thing for certain making sure your book is polished is essential. I've read a few self-pub e-books lately and you can tell they skipped the editor/copy editor phaze. It does show. My parents in their late 60's both bought a kindle - now that's telling.

Megan Maynor said...

We just got Kindles. My husband was reading when we got ready for bed last night.

"What are you reading?"

"It's a series about trolls. A girl who's a troll."

I told him about this post and the "Kindle Millionaires." We discussed how $10 feels like a good deal for a book in a book store, but once you're on an electronic device, you're in an itunes state of mind and things should cost around $0.99.

"How much did you pay for that book?"

"$2.99"

"Who's it by"

"Let's see...Amanda...Hocking?"

Istvan Szabo, Ifj. said...

"That hubris extends to things like cover art, where because this creative person owns a copy of Photoshop, they think they are now also a designer and artist."

So true. Creating arts and a designs is my second profession, yet I still consider myself as someone who need to learn much in this profession (After 10+ years of experience). There is a huge difference between creating arts and arts, especially when you're creating a cover art. Using Photoshop is not making you to an artist at all.

"Vetted means that the darling sentences or chapters that need to go, must go."
But I can't agree with this one. The writer is writing sentences and chapters because of some reason. Who is the publisher or anyone else to tell the writer how to write and what to write. Writers are not puppets. It would be good if some people would stop handling us on this way.

"writers need a higher voice of authority and they can't even recognize this."
I have to disagree with this. Writers don't need any higher voice of authority, especially not any sort of self-proclaimed higher authority. If a writer want to hear higher voice of authority, they become a writer for hire or go to work into an office depot.

Cliff Burns said...

Hocking, Konrath...these folks are DREADFUL writers and if you want to pay 99 cents to read drek, if you're just looking for cheap titles to stick on your e-book for down times, by all means, go for it.

However, for those of us who still value a good read and writing that is not the equivalent of a juvenile wet dream, the self-published marketplace is a no man's land. E-books and print on demand SHOULD be the domain of ground-breaking, literate authors who are either tired of the corporate publishing world or who want to breathe some life into their older, out-of-print efforts.

Unfortunately, those folks are nowhere in evidence as one skims through the various e-book catalogues--instead we find a world populated by newbies, wannabes and never will be's.

Ms. Hocking may be humble and sweet (at least, that's the way her supporters portray her) but she is also someone who publishes prose that is vacuous, painfully inept; the kind of writing a high school student might produce, if given the resources and the proper venue. As I've written elsewhere, scribblers like Hocking used to write "fan fiction", with a limited readership (groupies of "Star Trek", "Buffy" or whatever), except now, thanks to new technologies, she has access to a far larger audience and a cheap means of delivering it.

She's to be commended (I suppose) for making gobs of money but, in the process, she has committed grievous crimes against the printed word and merely exposed the fact that there are a lot of people out there who will read ANYTHING as long as it's CHEAP.

Is that admirable, even desirable? Is she to be emulated or condemned?
Your point of view will reveal much about your reading tastes, your intelligence quotient AND your respect for the legacy of fine writers that labored long and hard on their efforts, putting their heart and soul into their work.

Caveat emptor.

Cliff Burns said...

P.S. I hope everyone is taking note of the fact that the discussion around people like Hocking and Konrath centers on how much money they make and NOT the quality of the work they produce. As a matter of fact, when one does criticize their semi-literate drivel, you're always taken to task for being "elitist" and "hurtful".

That's instructive, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Cliff. You may have a quality work if the corporate agents and pubishers are playing the excluding behavior, cartel type approach and they're not willing to read your work, because you're not in the gang. I do know many who actually writes better than most published writer and they never got a single chance because of the snob gatekeepers.

People also must live from something. If they must choose between 30-40% (Corporate style) or 70% (Self-publishing), they'll go with self-publishing.

Hocking and Konrath maybe not the best writers, but they have better incomes than most writer with publisher and agent support. Self-publishers also have full control over their property.

Jackie Barbosa said...

The problem for this independent route, is that the work needs to be vetted.

Do some independent authors slap up books that aren't ready for prime time? Absolutely. But many of the "new" independents are authors who've been published by New York in the past but have chosen to self-publish for various reasons--because they can make more money at it (especially if they're midlist authors), because they have a significant backlist that's out of print, because New York wouldn't buy this book, or because they didn't get recontracted and aren't willing to take their chips and go home.

Despite what many authors (especially the as-yet unpublished) would like to believe, all good books don’t find a home in traditional publishing. I’m sure Nathan can attest to having tried and failed to sell books he thought were terrific. In fact, for every book that was deemed “good enough” to publish, I’d bet there are two or three others that are just as good and yet are languishing on the authors’ hard drive for want of a contract.

Traditional print publishing is get smaller. Shelf space is shrinking (it's not just Borders closing stores; B&N is not renewing leases on many of its brick and mortar outlets, meaning they are reducing their shelf space, too). Print runs have dropped by half in recent months, even on books by New York Times bestselling authors. Midlisters are either not being recontracted or are being recontracted at considerably less favorable terms than in the past. Fewer and fewer books by debut authors are being contracted and for much smaller advances.

Digital publishing, conversely, is on the rise. I read David Baldacci's most recent release (hardcover) sold 75% of its copies in digital format. Many romance authors are reporting print/digital sales breakdowns in the 50/50 range.

In this environment, authors who've acquired any sort of fan base at all in digital would be foolish not to give indie publishing a shot. New York is still offering pathetic royalty rates on digital sales (15-25% of list seems to be the norm), while Amazon will pays 70% (less a file transfer fee for each download) and B&N pays 65%, provided you price the book between $2.99 and $9.99. For authors who are already seeing fully half their sales in digital and print runs in the 20k-30k range, this is a no-brainer.

Will authors lose some sales volume by not being available in print? Sure, but when the print copies are only paying you an 8% royalty and the digital 25%, simple math tells you if you sell half as many copies at 70%, you're going to make WAY more money than you ever earned from selling more copies of that print book.

As for all this vaunted editing that's supposedly done to ensure traditionally published books are top-notch--um, in my experience and that of many of my traditionally published friends, it either doesn't exist at all or is minimal at best. Traditional publishers are, by and large, only buying books they feel are "good to go" with a few minor tweaks here and there and some copy edits. They don't buy books that they think have big plot holes that will have to be fixed (although that doesn't mean you can't find plenty of traditionally published books with plot holes big enough to drive an elephant on a semi through) or other issues that will need significant revision.

In short, the advent of indie publishing with truly favorable terms is finally giving authors options. It's not a shortcut to success, fame, and riches (hint: there are no shortcuts), but it does mean that authors now have a choice other than sticking their unsold manuscripts under the bed. That, in my book, is a win.

Harry said...

I've been following this pretty closely as well, especially since Ms. Hocking lives near my area. I'm not sure I get why people seem to need to have their stuff "legitimatized" by the legacy publishers. Put it out there, and let the market decide!
That's the way every other business works......

Jackie Barbosa said...

P.S. I hope everyone is taking note of the fact that the discussion around people like Hocking and Konrath centers on how much money they make and NOT the quality of the work they produce.

Frankly, the standard by which New York publishers determine whether books are "good" or not is by how much money they make. That's, quite honestly, the only standard that really matters, because publishers are in business to make money, not art.

Arguably, you get better art from independent artists than from corporate conglomerations. Charles Dickens had to self-publish "A Christmas Carol" because no publisher of his day was willing to take a chance on it. Most of the Impressionists were considered hacks in their own time. No one thinks independent musicians who haven't been signed by a major record label must suck. Indie films are typically considered higher "art" than studio-produced blockbusters.

So, honestly, if you want art, you might be better off looking to the independent author than the traditionally-published one, because the traditional publisher cares WAY more about money than "quality."

By the way, that's not an indictment of traditonal publishers. Publishing is a business. Publishers SHOULD care about money. Profit is what KEEPS them in business.

Cliff Burns said...

Jackie:

The vast majority of books produced by traditional publishers are crap, BUT they also subsidize the work of fantastic literary talents like Don DeLillo, Colson Whitehead, Zachary Mason, Jim Shepard, Walter Kirn...where are their equivalents in the self-published world? Nowhere in evidence.

Yup, most of what the trads release is awful but almost ALL of the self-published stuff out there is embarrassingly bad, the worst muck, spewed out by people who either have learning disabilities or were dropped once too often as infants.

I want no part of being included with such scribblers. I abhor their amateurism, their greed and their arrogance.

Comparing those gits to Charles Dickens will have the old man spinning in his grave like a lathe. He deserves far better than that.

Chris Northern said...

I could wait a year for a publisher to say no. Usually, I really liked this but... But what?!

I could wait another year for another publisher to say no.

And so on. And on. And on.

Or I could, and have, sp'd in ebook and sold copies right off the bat. No waiting. I am making MORE money because I am making some money NOW. No more maybe's, no if's no but's. Me, vendor, reader, job done.

So I don't make a living... so what? Most TPd writers don't either.

This isn't Monty Python's - What did the Romans ever do for us? eith a long list of answers. - There is no irony here. What did the industry ever do for us?

Nothing.

TP = a few houshold names who make serious money.

SP = a few houshold names who make serious money.

Next tier down the same, and the next tier down the same. Remind me again, someone, anyone, what exact difference is under discussion and why is anyone discussing it? The only difference is once there were a group of people who made a bunch of money in what they thought of as a comodity market. Then, not yet but soon, there were not. The buggy whip analogy comes to mind.

This is the last comment I'm making on this subject anywhere ever. The trial is over; the verdict is in. Goodbye publishers, you are not needed here.

Shevi said...

Thanks, Nathan, that was very well written.

I've been struggling for nine years to get one of my seven novel manuscripts published. Nine years of rejection letters and banging my head against doors that won't open. Nine years of "We enjoyed it, but we didn't LOVE it."

I feel like a gambler who's been at the table way too long, losing time after time but still hoping the next roll will win it all back. No more. This is no longer the only game in town. Writers have options now.

The main advantage of ebook self-publishing is the main disadvantage too: it's all in your hands. I can't make publishers believe in me and my work. But I can believe in myself.

Regge Ridgway said...

As with any new technology, there will be people wanting to test out their new Ipads and ˚Kindles they got for christmas. That they chose Hocking over other great authors is due to feeder frenzy. If you see hundreds of others downloading an ebook, their is a spontaneous impulse to purchase without fully investigating the choice. Plus the price is right. I still get sticker shock when I go into Barnes and Noble and see a new release at 25 bucks. Seeing a book for less than 3 bucks and you don't even have to get out of your PJs is a no brainer. Anyway I just hope my books sell like that.

Ty Hutchinson said...

I researched both avenues and I can't find a reason to go the traditional route. I'm self-publishing. I like having the control over my book. I think once it's published, it'll be just like any book. It'll have to fight for an audience.

To the people who say most self-published books are bad, well I'm sure there are a lot but last time I checked, not every book in a B&N was selling like hot cakes either. There are a lot of discounted books in the bargin bins that the author is not making any money off of.

For me, it came down to the royalty split and the control. I want to make money writing and I don't want to turn over the bulk of the profits to a publisher. When talking with other authors who want to go the traditional route, if their being honest, it's because they want the validation. They want someone in publishing to tell them they can write. In my opinion, I think I rather have the general public tell me I can write because they love my books.

Jackie Barbosa said...

Cliff said:
The vast majority of books produced by traditional publishers are crap, BUT they also subsidize the work of fantastic literary talents like Don DeLillo, Colson Whitehead, Zachary Mason, Jim Shepard, Walter Kirn...where are their equivalents in the self-published world?

Since I've never ready ANY of the authors you mention, I can't possibly name or guess which self-published authors you would consider to be their "equivalents." Notwithstanding, all of those guys might be better off if they DID self-publish (do they really need trad publishers to subsidize them if they're so awesome and will their publishers even CONTINUE to do so in this shifting environment? I think that's a pretty big and open question).

More than that, however, unless you've read a wide swath of self-published books (maybe 10-20 times as many different authors as you mentioned above in similar genres), you can't claim with any authority that such quality doesn't EXIST in the indie community.

By the way, although I did digitally self-publish a short story which is otherwise only available in a traditionally published print anthology, I'm still pursuing publication through traditional means for some of my work. Notwithstanding, I LOVE knowing that my choices are not "sell to a publisher or put it under the bed" any more. I have another option now, and as an author, I appreciate that.

Marie Gilbert said...

This story was an eye opener on the changing world of publishing. I want to thank you for giving out this information as I need to sit down and decide the road to take to publish my first completed novel.

Allen B. Ogey said...

Looking at it from another perspective I see an opportunity for agents in this changing industry.

In the old days publishing houses separated the wheat from the chaff in the slush pile, then they provided every service required (editing, cover design, marketing, etc) that transformed a raw manuscript into a quality book in a reader's hands.

Some of that gradually shifted to agents plowing through query letters, chapters and manuscripts to select quality submissions, then many agents do at least basic editing and massaging before submitting to contacts at publishing houses. Part of the services provided by publishers have been downloaded to agents.

Now look at an unpublished writer deciding to e-publish: Every task has been downloaded to the author to move a manuscript to a(n) (e)book in the reader's hand. Amanda Hocking writes in her blog linked to by Nathan that she is so busy with all the tasking required to self-publish that she hardly has time to actually write. I looked at Nathan's recent topic of the web page, blog, Facebook and Twitter pages that I should be doing and heaved a weary sigh - I really just want to write.

Re-enter the agent, who like everyone else is trying to stay standing while the ground shifts under her feet.

It seems to me that an agent could very well set up a template-style e-publishing option for her clients that would operate under a kind of label of its own, let's call it Hip Agent. Hip Agent winnows through queries, reads manuscripts, and offers representation just as before, then discusses with Author whether they will be seeking traditional publication, e-publication, or both.

If e-publishing then Hip Agent works with Author on editing, or sends the manuscript to her own editor contacts, works on cover art or uses contacts, etc. Then Author takes Hip Agent's internet templates, fills in her book's stuff, and starts blogging, etc.

The agency contract would cover such things as e-royalties, commissions, and how Hip Agent's out-of-pocket costs would be recouped.

With time and quality e-books I imagine Hip Agent's banner having marketing value at Amazon and other e-book sources because as a reader I am leery of investing my time in a self published book from an unknown, but if I've read a few good Hip Agent titles I'll start to look for them because I'll know that Hip Agent doesn't offer trash.

Among other things this would allow Hip Agent to market books she was unable to sell to a traditional publisher and she would be able to take chances on manuscripts she likes but doesn't believe she could sell to print.

As an author I would love to be taken on by an agent who could say, "If print publishing doesn't work out we will be able to go e-publishing if you choose, here's how we would make that happen."

With regard to e-publishing much of the load would be taken off the author's shoulders, the agent would still have a rice bowl, and consumers would have a way to find high quality e-books.

beverley said...

I've had two book traditionally published, and now I'm going to self-publish my third book (and 2 novellas) this year. This wasn't my first choice because I was hoping my publisher would pick up my option book, but they did not. I can't tell you how happy I am now that they did not. I welcome self-publishing as an option and I'm so glad things worked out the way it did.

John E said...

You're not factoring in a few things.

With paper books the Big Six publisher doesn't just pay for the actual paper. The publisher must also pay for:

- shipping to the bookstore
- returns from the bookstore
- insurance
- warehousing
- getting rid of returns/excess stock/overprints, whether it's sending unwanted books to the Dollar Store or recycle/shred.

So publishers' dollar profit per hardback is less. Especially with newly released hardcovers. They're like newly released movies. Maybe they'll go gangbusters, maybe they'll tank. A lot of returns happen.

Plus, with terms to bookstores for paper books, publishers have to wait 30-90 days, sometimes more, to get their money. With ebook sales, it's same-day.

Publishers make the bulk of their revenue on steady-selling-authors like Stephen King, etc, in paperback. Most of the Big Six's profit comes from those volume sales, not on supposedly high-margin hardbacks.

So if you start comparing a $8.99 paperback to a $8.99 ebook, it's a whole different number game.

In that comparison, both the publishers and their authors would make far more money selling ebooks.

Holly said...

I congratulate these self-publishing authors. Ebooks have given writers options, particularly if your work falls into the non-commercial category. With some clever marketing, you can still reach your target audience. You might not make a fortune, but that might not be your goal anyway.

With regards to the standard of self-published material, I'm with the previous poster who said, "let the market decide."

Ross Slater said...

Interesting analysis and totally agree with JohnE.'s comment that there are a number of other "costs" that weren't factored into your calculations – like the return rate of books (25% or more), so the actual cost of a print book isn't as low as the $2 average.

Your point about the transition timeline rings true – the transformation from print to e-book will take a long time. However, it is likely to be faster than the music industry transformation because there isn't a loss of fidelity (preceived or actual) in "quality". And consumers are technologically smarter and more comfortable now than they were 15 years ago.

Publishers need to figure out their value proposition because consumers are questioning it – not a good thing...

P.S. Wrote a blog post about the 3-Format Future of Books a few months ago and it seems to be holding true – http://www.highspotinc.com/blog/2010/06/the-3-format-future-of-books/

Anonymous said...

It's called access; isn't it?

What's wrong with writing an entertaining story, securing good copy editing, and publishing it for readers? What's wrong with readers buying a good book for 99 cents or $2.99 or more? Nothing.

It's called time to market, people. The big six think they still have nothing but time and they've circled the wagons around NYC to prove it, clinging to their agency model and keeping the gates closed. You need some kind of golden ticket to enter. Whatever. They don't own time and it will lead to their demise over time, just like Borders and others.

The publishers stick with their big name authors out of fear of betting on a debut author whose work might not sell. They refuse to take that risk too often, so traditional publishing remains with big-time authors for the most part while the majority of finished novels languish.

In the meantime, the Amazon's of the world (Google and Apple and Smashwords) are providing direct access for authors to their purchasing reading public and eclipse the time to market for any writer. (Bonus!)

Other than writing your best work and getting it to your readers; what else should you care about? The cocktail party in Manhattan celebrating your debut? Nah, they don't do those that often anymore. Giving fifteen percent to an agent you never even met because it is unnecessary? No. The only thing unnecessary might be what lies behind the gates in New York.

I've gone the query route, I've won the contest, I provided the fulls on my manuscript and still, I wait. For what? For someone behind the gate to tell me I'm good, sign me, and then take another three years to get my book out? Why? So my ARC copy has a imprinted page with one of the big six imprints on it?

Be careful criticizing Amanda Hocking, she's a success willing to share her story. Writing is an individual taste and personal thing, don't be bitter, Cliff, or judgmental. Just take away the lessons that you can and figure out what you're going to do with more wisdom.

Holly said...

Anon,

"Other than writing your best work and getting it to your readers; what else should you care about?"
Precisely.

One of my favorite books is William Kotzwinkle's satire of the publishing industry--The Bear Went Over the Mountain. A bear finds a manuscript under a tree and heads to New York where he becomes a celebrated author. Bizarre premise, but it works. Sheer brilliance.

I just had a lightbulb moment. Maybe I should leave my manuscript under a tree...let a bear do all the legwork for me...oh wait...that'll never work...I live in a country where there aren't any bears...darn...

Holly said...

But who needs bears when there are kangaroos! And they have that cute little tummy pouch which would be an ideal place to stash my manuscript and all those contracts etc, as they hop their way to fame and fortune...

Oh wait...that'll never work...I live in a country where there aren't any kangaroos either...bother...

Cyndi Tefft said...

Nathan, you may not be an agent anymore, but you have a beautiful way of summarizing what's going on in the publishing industry like no one else can.

I am jazzed about Hocking success for a couple of reasons. First, she tried several times to get an agent and failed. That gives hope to those who have gone that route and came away empty-handed, that there is a way around the wall. Secondly, her success is helping to eliminate the stigma of being self-pubbed. All good things for authors.

As for ebook pricing, I believe that the market will drive it down. It does not cost the same to produce an ebook as a print book, and I don't want to pay print prices for electronic copies. Period. I think others will feel the same.

Not everyone will have the success that Hocking has had, but the future looks bright for those who were kept out of the party altogether before!

SphinxnihpS of Aker-Ruti said...

Interesting post and comments. I believe that Hocking is more of an anomaly in self-publishing world like King and Rowling are in the traditional world. They happened to hit it off well with massive amounts of people. Most people on the bookstore bookshelves aren't bestsellers, either, after all.

But even so, I decided against traditional publishing. My books, though I believe are good, are not going to have the mass appeal the traditional publishers need. For one, I write shorter books than fantasy publishers require. For another, my books are more niche.

But I write what I love to read and what I try (and usually fail) to find on the book shelves. So self-publishing opened up opportunities for me I wouldn't have otherwise.

I don't think traditional publishing is wrong. Nor do I think it is the only validation worth anything. It works really well for some people. But for people like me, I think self-publishing works far better. Besides, with seeking the self-publishing route, the final validation comes from producing a good work after hard effort and finding readers that agree.

Jodi

Donna said...

Anonymous @ 9:55 mentions: "Well, more and more we're being told that publishers don't have time to edit books. We have to self-edit before sending them in."

No, no, no. You are way off base. Publishers are editing books. Believe me, the difference between a self-published, self-edited book and a book put out by a publisher is easily spotted.

Yes, authors are being told to get rid of grammar, language and punctuation errors before submitting. OF COURSE. It is common sense to look as professional as possible. It does not follow that publishers are not editing their books.

Today, no one's book is not going to be "edited" the way Catch-22 or Look Homeward, Angel was edited... but that's a whole different thing. Most authors would scream at that treatment, anyway.

Mister Snitch! said...

I think you did a good job putting the money and soaring sales of a few new authors into perspective, and balancing that out with the real sea-change that's underway.

One aspect of epublishing is getting ignored in all this noise. (That is - as far as I can tell, it's getting ignored. or at least getting short-shrift. But I have not read every single post on every blog on this subject, so let that serve as full disclosure.)

That aspect is the ability of writers to build their own reading audience, as opposed to signing with a traditional publisher for a share of THEIR audience. That's been the role of publishers vis a vis writers, after all: You need readers (to pay you, to connect with, etc.), we have them.

In a similar vein, I once worked for an ad agency whose owner privately said: "We control the client." By which he meant he (and his account execs) was the conduit between the paying client and the creatives who actually did the work being paid for. The owner maintained his circumstance by positioning himself between the clients and the creatives.

Agency heads can't always prevent their clients from building relationships directly with their creatives and account execs, and so they do make off with the clients from time to time, and open up their own shops. It happens (see Mad Men). It's been a lot tougher, though, for a writer to connect directly with readers - for reasons that are probably pretty obvious. The writers' 'enabler' - the publisher - had a secure position.

The tools for writers to build direct connections with readers have existed for decade or so now. What's changed is the end product. That is: A bound book was once the preferred medium of product delivery, even over laptops (with their instantaneous delivery).

In a similar way, CDs were vastly preferred to online downloads for years. Not so today.

What changed in the music business was the acceptance of iPods as a device for listening to music. That's exactly what's changing in publishing: Tablets have reached the point where they are not only being accepted instead of books, but they are being PREFERRED to books.

It's no coincidence that Amanda Hocking's meteoric rise coincided precisely with the rise of iPads.

Writers are now free to build their own audience, and then (if they wish) offer their audience to the publisher of their choice, in a classic reversal of roles.

That's the big news here. Not that you might become a millionaire (as Hocking says, most won't), but that your fate is now, truly, in your own hands.

jeniferj said...

I'm very curious why, if paper, ink, machinery, storage, machine maintenance, machine labor, storage, and shipping of a physical product is just pennies of a book price, is there such a big descrepency between a $24.99 hardback and a $7.99 paperback? Doesn't that tell us that publishers could sell ALL ebooks for $7.99?

kc lauer said...

Kudos to Hocking and J.A. Konrath. I hope to follow in their footsteps with my book Bad Girl Gone Mom.

I wanted to get the book out there as fast as I could. For me it is a platform to help other girls who struggled with growing up.

It was published 12/10/2010 and I have sold about 50 soft and hard cover and another 20 ebooks.

Anonymous said...

I don't know that the .99 cent e-book works for children's books (not Young Adult, I'm thinking middle grade or lower).

A quick overview of the top 100 e-books on Amazon for 9-12 year olds shows no self-published books that I could see. I didn't check, but I imagine that trend is true for lower ages as well.

Curious to know how many self-published books are out there in non-fiction, biographies, sports, etc.

There are lots of genres other than vampire fiction or murder mystery thrillers.

Paul R said...

Critics of ebooks citing Hocking and Konrath as exceptions don't understand that many mid-listers are making good incomes with ebooks, and that those who do not have to be compared with the slush pile of authors who never get an agent or print publishing contract. Not everyone will succeed -- in print or ebook.

The difference is that for some authors, the personal control, especially on the marketing side, can be a big plus.

Cliff Burns said...

K.C. Lauer said:

"I wanted to get the book out there as fast as I could. For me it is a platform to help other girls who struggled with growing up."

Judging from the sub-literate standards one associates with romance writing, the risible quality of most chick-lit, there are a quite a few female scribblers out there who have "struggled with growing up".

How about instead of writing and releasing work FAST, you concentrated on spelling, punctuation, syntax, editing, worked long and hard to release a GOOD, well-crafted book that might just pass as literature?

Maybe then you'll be taken seriously as a writer.

Mister Snitch! said...

Nathan Lowell wrote:

"Does mainstream do a better job of vetting content? Possibly."

What actually happens, though, is they homogenize content. Their collective (if not individual) POV is "what will sell?". And this is of course based on what HAS sold in the past, and this naturally filters out the New, the Groundbreaking, and the Different.

Case in point: The iPad. Nothing of its kind had been successfully done in the past. Therefore, anyone flying such an idea past the 'gatekeepers' of the consumer electronics industry would be not only shot down, but ridiculed for 'not understanding the marketplace'.

As it happens, Steve Jobs is both a visionary AND a gatekeeper, and that's why you can now buy an iPad - the biggest out-of-the-gate seller in electronics history.

But wait, you say. The gatekeepers will learn! They'll adapt, they'll change!

Well, the gatekeepers of consumer electronics did not learn, adapt, or change because of the iPod preceding the iPad. Oh, they copied. They know how to copy. But they did not adapt, and they certainly did not change.

Gatekeepers are what they are. Change won't originate with them. Ever.

Anonymous said...

While people are commenting on the 'quality' of writing or lack thereof of our Indie powerhouses, we seem to be neglecting something.

Technique/Craft is one thing. Poor Dialogue. Stiff descriptions. Editing. Even plot holes all speak to technique and craft.

What people find appealing about these books despite all that (I'm not commenting on their quality one way or another) is that they enjoy good STORYTELLING. We have forgotten that sometimes people just want to have a good story. A story that is fresh and relatable.

I've heard indie writing today compared to the pulp days of yester years where storytelling ruled a lot.

For the record, I find Hocking's style readable. But I don't like her paranormal romance genre, so it doesn't appeal to me at all. But then again, I'm also someone who doesn't care for Stephanie Meyers writing ability at all and I've long held the belief Stephen King wasn't great either (so watching him bad mouth Stephanie Meyer just left me blinking). Yet, he's lauded as super amazing by many. So one person's crap....

Stefanie said...

You know the reason people will pay $12 for a movie(even though they can't touch it) is for the experience. Well, really, they are touched by the experience of it. $12.99 for a book is understandable because you can hold it, the book itself explains the cost. However, an e-book is digital and holds far less value. What the book is about has value, but not $9.99 worth. .99 for the ebook meant to people there wasn't much to lose if it was bad so they bought it. Now she is a millionaire. Simple to understand really.

Anonymous said...

I read about Amanda Hocking and she reminds me of this book my sister downloaded for free. She called me, I downloaded it and then I told several co-workers and so on. Nicky Charles is self-published and The Mating is one of the best books I have read in over a month hands down. I just wish she would do it in print because I like to hold my books. My point is that there are alot of great writers out there and only so many slots available for printing. I cheer the really great books by commercial publishing and self-publishing. If the book is good, the word gets around. Free or low priced, quality is quality.

J. T. Shea said...

33,000 words, people! Nathan and we 200 or so commenters have written half a book. Not the most comments on a Nathan post by any means, but this must be one of the highest wordages.

I may have finally reached the end of the Long Tail.

Anonymous said...

So is Jacob Wonderbar going to be available as an E-book?

If the answer is no... then somebody please shoot Nathan for me.

(Huh? You've got to be kidding me? I go to publish this comment anonymously, as is my right to do so, and what do I discover - only that I have to enter a word verification in order to do so. And what's the word verification? It's this: "Gotoamzaonandpreorderjacobwonderbarandthecosmicspacekapow." Yeah, whatever.)

Such a type-A. Such a type-A.

J. T. Shea said...

Anonymous 8:01 pm, you spoiled my solitary Long Tail's End Party! Now I have to comment again.

Be careful trying to shoot Nathan. He could belong to the MG Mafia, who make the YA Mafia look like school kids.

Now, I'm going to shoot the next commenter.

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