Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Further Thoughts on the Kindle Millionaires

Thank you so much to everyone who weighed in on yesterday's post about Amanda Hocking and the e-book self-publishing success stories!! It was a fascinating discussion, and I'm going to call out a few of my favorite comments in a second.

But first, I wanted to clarify a few things from the post.

- As Amanda Hocking pointed out to me via Twitter, I actually have read her work. When I was an agent I requested a full manuscript for Switched. I ended up passing, but suggested some changes (which she took and was super-gracious about yesterday, as is her wont). I had thought this was the case, but since I don't have access to my old e-mail I wasn't able to confirm. Well: confirmed!

- Some people were asking about the $1.50 figure for print and distribution. I was going off of my (possibly hazy) memory for that one, and it may be a tad on the low side for your average hardcover, though it may be in the ballpark for one with a very high print run. Back when they were blogging, HarperStudio pegged the average amount around $2.00 and Mike Shatzkin recently posted about how per-unit cost will inexorably go up as print runs fall.

But the general point remains: whether it's $1.50 or $3.00, in the grand scheme of things losing paper/shipping isn't saving publishers a boatload of cash when we're talking $24.99 vs. $9.99.

Now then! Here is some more awesome food for thought from the comments section about what the self-publishing upstarts mean for the future of publishing:

Anonymous @ 7:28:
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 @ 9:55:
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.
Sommer Leigh:
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?

(UPDATE: By request) Elizabeth C. Mock:
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.

Any more thoughts on these comments and where the future is headed?


Matthew Rush said...

This is utterly fascinating. A little bit scary too, for those of use who are relatively new to the game, but still very interesting.

I find it incredible that Amanda became a millionaire off of $0.99 e-books. That would mean she would have had to sell more than a million copies. I wasn't aware that ANY book sold that well. Even if you count the $2.99 e-books, that's still a minimum of 333,000 sales.

Nothing short of amazing.

Sierra McConnell said...

The more I read about self-publishing vs. traditional, the more I think I'll just write for fun and post it on a blog...

Because traditional publishers do sound like a bunch of stick in the mud jerks who have made their money, don't want anyone else to have any of it, and are beating away everyone who has a dream of telling their stories. They have lost the magic of why they got their in the first place and become greedy old cynics.

There is no room for business in art. And that's the problem.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Anon of the six "advantages" offered by traditional publishing. There is actually only one, and it is rapidly becoming moot--presence on bookstore shelves.

Advance? No, you get paid by Amazon and BN LONG before a publisher's check would ever arrive, so if you consider the advance getting as "Getting paid beginning in two months," then ADVANTAGE: Self-pub.

Marketing? NY taught us for more than a decade to be our own marketers. We're better at it than they are, and we know our audience better All they have is somebody else's money.

Stamp of Approval? Nathan just admitted he (and many others) passed on Amanda Hocking. Millions of readers think otherwise. Whose stamp would you rather have?

I was traditionally published, but for the first time in my life I am a full-time professional fiction writer. I was one of those lucky midlist writers who scrambled when the getting was good, and luckily I had a stack of books that no industry professionals could be bothered to read but readers seem to find quite acceptable, and that's plenty enough for me.

Regarding pricing, it doesn't matter a bit what publishers or authors would wish it to be. Readers took control of this long ago and this is just a blip--in two years this current era will be as distant as 2009.

Scott Nicholson

Josin L. McQuein said...

One thing I've wondered about with Kindle especially is, since the content is completely controlled by the person doing the uploading, if someone could take say 3 chapters or 75 pages or whatever they chose as a good-sized sample, put it up as a free download and then, if the demand is high enough, put the full book up as a $.99 or $2.99 download a couple of months later.

It seems like that would build an audience of people who have nothing to lose by trying the excerpt for free and might find themselves a new author to follow.

You can't do that with a commercial publisher, but it might make up for the gap in advanced word-of-mouth that commercial publishers can generate with things like reviews.

I can see a lot of people toeing the water with trunk manuscripts under pennames to see if things work out for them or not.

Monica-Marie Holtkamp said...

While I see the e-publishing business booming like cell phones had once upon a time, I also see that print copies will more or less likely NOT go out of style. Why you might ask? Simple. There are many many authors out there that can't see publishing with a self-publisher due to marketing issues. While I'm not published (I am actively seeking it.) I've been told time and time again that marketing will fall ultimately on MY shoulders. Granted, I don't mind that per se, but if you don't have the "resources" to self-market, then there's just no point in trying to go that route. Yes, social media has stepped up our outreach as nothing else could have, but you still have to be able to "rub shoulders" with the "right" people to get your product out there.

There is also the people that someoe else had mentioned, those people that ARE best-sellers that have their books in every brick and mortar store from bookstores to the grocery store check out. They are doing quite well exactly where they are, why would they change this?

Personally, I think that it will be the authors themselves that hinder e-sales. If you can get more from traditional publishing, why not hold out for it? Yes, there will probably be a ton of authors willing to go that self publishing route & I wish them all the best, but since someone like myself can't bank on being able to sell her own work, well forgive me while I hold out for that traditional publishing. Now, except when I'm writing I'm not an uber creative person, so I'm thinking that there are quite a few authors out there that feel the same way.

Hopefully there will be a way to have both venues co-exist happily with each other and not have that rivalry that's famous in our armed forces. All in all we'll be working for the same people, the readers.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

Sommer's "old dudes dragged along by their dentures" impression rings true for me, anyway. I started querying about five years ago, and I found it strange that so few agents and publishing houses accepted electronic queries. Some of them didn't even have a website or an email address. Seriously, I thought? You'd rather stick with pieces of paper that will take days to physically deliver than make use of technology? It definitely made me wonder what the heck traditional publishing is thinking. If that industry is so slow to adopt new advances, I can see why the current market might seem like the end of days.

Neil Vogler said...

Following up on a comment I saw yesterday, I too am waiting for a high-profile agent to wade into the self e-publishing market and make a huge splash with an author that has produced something that the traditional publishing houses believe they can't sell.

It may be that self e-publishing eventually becomes the "second marketplace" when the primary marketplace passes on the manuscript. This theoretical agent, perhaps working now with a slightly different agreement in place with the author (let's say, a percentage of net profits for argument's sake), goes to work with a niche team of e-marketers -- or goes to work themselves, if skilled enough -- to publish the ebook and get eyeballs upon it and ebook users clicking "buy". The economics will be wildly different in the second marketplace, but if the agent believes the book is good enough to sell, then theoretically it could be worth the effort.

It would only take one or two high-profile agent/writer success stories to change the whole landscape of the market -- wouldn't it?

The tough nut to crack would remain the same, however: how do you market your book effectively without the support of major publishing houses?

Perhaps writer/agent/niche promoter teamups operating in the second marketplace are one possible future?

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Good points being made. I especially like the idea that Publishers should be the ones coming up with new gimmicks to have Amazon etc. chase after them. I'm not sure they 'have time' (if they already don't have time to edit), but it would make more sense.

crow productions said...

It seems to open up the possibilities especially when someone like me is looking to find an agent. With every reject letter comes the realization of what a silly frivolous pursuit it must be. All the snarky snobbish ego destroying agents are telling me I suck. Yeah, I could see why we would turn to self publishing. It's just that no matter how hard they knock me down, I still believe in my story.

bowenwriter said...

I have written two novels. I sent query letters, partial manuscripts and full manuscripts to many, MANY people. Only once out of those times did I get anything more than a form rejection letter and that one time led to a three month wait to say the book wasn't good enough.

So, I decided to start my own marketing. I use for my books and they have info on their site for electronic publishing. My books can now be found on Kindle, Nook, iPad and in eBook format.

I have sold a few hundred books so far and I am beginning to think that publishers won't really help me anyway. I have enlisted the help of a few editors who have agreed to provide their services for a percentage of the total sales up to a certain amount.

As for providing a "free" sample, it is easy to do this on Kindle. Anyone can read the first chapter of my books at no charge. I also allow the book to be "shared" once. This means that you can transfer it to one other Kindle for free. I charge 9.99 and have had readers say they would pay 9.99 every time, rather than pay 20 or more. Storage of previously read books can be an issue for someone who reads a lot.

Next, I suggest donating books to libraries. It is a good way to get your name out there in your community and I had three libraries do a display that included my books. I think of it as an investment that could lead to better sales in the future.

Finally, write because you love to write. Don't sit on new ideas because you haven't 'sold' your first book. Keep writing, practice makes perfect.

-Shane Bowen

Megg Jensen said...

I find it interesting to watch the traditional publishing community debate over the validity of e-pubbing when some of us have already taken the leap and gained a foothold.

I released my book, Anathema, less than a month ago. I've already hit the top 100 on the teen list for Barnes & Noble's PubIt! list (features more than 2,000 books, by the way).

I didn't give up on traditional publishing, I simply chose a different path. I don't hate agents. In fact, I'd still love to nab one who can handle audio, foreign, and movie rights.

In the last three weeks, I've gained 100 FB fans, more than 300 people have marked my book as To Read on Goodreads, and my blog is gaining followers too. Doesn't sound like much to you? Considering I had zero followers at the beginning of February, I'm happy.

It's not about taking down the established publishers. I like to think of it as blazing a new path to readers. I'm not a traitor, a cheater, or a loser (yes, I've been called all three by traditionally published authors). I am simply a writer choosing to try something new.

Will I ever be a millionaire? Don't know. My goal is to make readers happy and so far, I feel I've done that. I hope I can continue to do so. :D

Megg Jensen

K.L. Brady said...

I originally self-published my novel, and a publisher acquired it in a two-book deal. I can see the pluses and minuses from both sides. On the plus side for the major houses, not having to worry about the book cover, editing, distribution, etc., I could actually spend a lot more time writing. Since signing my contract with my publisher I’ve written two books and two screenplays. That’s huge for me. I know I couldn’t have done it otherwise. On the negative side, the traditional side much slower in terms of getting your work out. I feel like I’ve lost a lot of momentum since pulling my novel off the market and it’s A LOT of work trying to build that back up. Moreover, I have two additional books that could be on the market right now that are just collecting dust until I’m told what their fate will be. As a self published author, they’d be on the street right now. No question. Of course, as a self-published author, I might not have finished both novels either. Catch 22.

My main reason for going with my publisher was distribution. I felt like I had a chance to reach a broader audience with a traditional publisher. My book is due out in 21 days, so soon I’ll see whether, in this market, my perceived benefit meshes up with the actual benefit.

One thing I know for certain is that I have choices. My writing career is not dependent whether an editor falls in love with my literary brilliance (ha ha). If I hit a dead end on the traditional publishing route, I will not hesitate for a second to go back to indie publishing.

As a matter of fact, I have a YA novel that didn’t get picked up that I will soon put out myself because I love the story. In this day and age, there’s no reason to let your work collect dust. If you believe in it, put it out there and let the audience decide.

Mr. D said...

Never was interested in self-publishing. I promised myself I would never spend a dime to get published. And I'm glad I will be able to keep that promise.

Anonymous said...

For everyone imagining publishers as old dudes counting their money... you may want to revise your vision to young women working long hours and making low salaries. All the publishing folks I know feel lucky to be doing what they love, but they're definitely not cigar-smoking villains.

I think Amanda Hocking's post on this was incredibly gracious and bang on -- it doesn't have to be self-publishers vs. traditional publishers. There's room for both.

Ted said...

Whether you self-publish, or go with traditional publishing, step one remains the same: write a really good book. The issue is being able to identify, in a very subjective arena, what a good book is, and who is the filter to manage the slush pile. Once, it was the publisher, but at some point, they outsourced it to the agents. Now, ereaders are moving that to the general public. One future may be that ebooks become something of a proving ground, and traditional publishers will offer print runs of books doing well in electronic format. What better predictor could traditional publishing have that a book will sell, which is clearly their main concern, than the fact it is already selling well in e-format.

Henri said...

I read a lot of yesterdays blogs, something I rarely do at this site. This topic is very hot right now, for 2011 may well turn out to be the year that the e-book market takes off. Even Andy Rooney was talking about e-publishing on the CBS program 60 minutes.

D.G. Hudson said...

The discussion yesterday was enlightening, reading the comments from those who have self-published. I think self-pub is starting to lose it's bugaboo image.

In time, we may even rise above the 'caste system' that now exists by which many judge your book's success (trad or self-pub?).

I think there's room for both, and self-pub seems to be a good testing ground if one wants to test the waters (as Josie mentioned).

I'm concerned though that quality isn't always an issue. Teens & YA just want to read about people their age, and most don't care about grammar or typos. This could set a bad precedent for future writers. Is accepting 'lesser-than' quality another knife in the literary heart of writing?

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling there's going to be an explosion of self-published books in the next year that might even surpass flipping houses.

Jeff said...

I posted my reply to this on my blog yesterday. Your math is fundamentally flawed because post-scarcity goods like ebooks don't conform to supply&demand economic theory.

Carolyn said...

As of today, it's been 17 days since I put one of my recently reverted backlist titles on Kindle (and elsewhere). I'm about to break $1000 in royalties just from Amazon. In 17 days.

I have 4 more reverted titles to get out there.

L.C. Gant said...

I love the dialogue on this topice. Both of the Anon comments you posted brought up some fascinating points.

Personally I think the traditional vs. self-pub debate can only mean good things for authors, regardless of who wins in the long run. As self-pubbing grows more popular, traditional publishers will have no choice but to find new ways to stay relevant for writers (i.e., offering higher advances, better marketing, etc.) or risk going the way of the dodo bird.

By the same token, if self-pubbing continues to produce higher-quality work and more success for new and midlist writers, we'll see more and more authors getting their shot at the limelight with (potentially) bigger paychecks. Either way, I'm one happy camper. No complaints from me!

Dan said...

Bookstore distribution is the primary advantage of commercial publication. There's almost no amount of hustling a self-published author can do to get a book on the shelf of a Barnes and Noble 3 states away. Independent booksellers are also a huge segment of book sales, and possibly the centerpiece of marketing efforts if your book is the kind of book that independent booksellers would hand-sell to people.

Publishers have the institutional knowledge to get books placed in these stores nationwide, and that capability is extremely valuable as long as bookstores sell most books. That's why you haven't seen an author like a James Patterson break off from a publisher.

If bookstores are on their way out, the publishing model as it exists is going to have to transform radically as well. I don't think it's necessarily going to put power in the hands of writers, either. Publishers are right to be concerned that these cheap e-books are undermining the idea that stories have value, and we're going to see repercussions of that.

The $2.99 price point is possible because of Amazon's 70% royalty, which is the lever Amazon is using to convince authors who might pursue real publication to sell the cheap e-books that are driving Kindle sales. But once $2.99 is established as the value of the book, that perception will be much harder to strip away than the 70% royalty, which Amazon may reconsider once it has weakened its competitors.

The Internet "democratizes" publishing by offering ways for people who could not get published commercially to give their writing away for free or near-free. As we've seen in the newspaper and music industries, the internet creates a few opportunities for a few people to break through from the margins to the mass audience, but what it does for most people is erode the perception of value.

McKenzie McCann said...

Thanks for posting the average royalty rates. As an agentless author, that was very helpful. I read her post on the matter too, and there was something oddly elating about her saying agents and editiors don't really know what is going to sell. Next time I find myself shaking my fist at the sky going "why editors? WHY?" I can remember that statement.

Munk said...

A digression...
Referencing your current read--Into the Wild is awesome. Krakauer's internal dialog while hanging from the Devil's Thumb is pitch perfect.

Shauna Granger said...

Dude, Nathan, how did you not bring up the comment from the woman who's approaching her 100,000 e-book self-pub sale?

Jackie Barbosa said...

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, midlist 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 your print runs are in the 20-30k range, pretty typical now for midlist mmpbs from what I hear), 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 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.

Julianne MacLean said...

Hi Nathan - I enjoyed your post yesterday and today, and yes - I'm making more money on my self-published book than what I make on my traditionally published books.

After 3 weeks, I have already earned double the advance I receive on a contracted book (which is paid out in thirds, over a period of a year and a half, vs the check that will come from Amazon in its entirety in 60 days). And at this rate, by the time I recieve that check, it will likely be five times my normal advance.

While this is all very exciting, and I love Amazon's royalty rate and the opportunities they are providing for authors, I certainly don't want to see the publishers disappear, because if Amazon becomes the only game in town, that would not be good for authors. I really hope the publishers can remain viable and compete for the author's work, and that B&N remains a strong competitor with their Nook, and Apple works everything out so that there are options for readers and authors alike. Competition is good for everyone.

Avon/HarperCollins announced yesterday a new digital line called Impulse, which will not pay an advance but will pay a higher royalty rate on books sold (50% after 10K copies, which is an improvement over the usual 25% rate). I think this is a step in the right direction, and I'm glad to see them making changes. It's not perfect, but at least it's progress.

Anonymous said...

I've got nothing against epublishing and self-publishing, but am worried about the growing attitude that simply writing a book entitles one to publishing success.

Someone above commented that no one cares about art anymore. Can't the same be said about authors who spend more time talking about marketing and networking than character arc?

Jackie Barbosa said...

Julianne MacLean wrote: Avon/HarperCollins announced yesterday a new digital line called Impulse, which will not pay an advance but will pay a higher royalty rate on books sold (50% after 10K copies, which is an improvement over the usual 25% rate).

That royalty rate is a little misleading, though. It's 25% or 50% of NET, not list, which works out to a "real" royalty rate of somewhere between 12.5%-17.5% and 25%-35%. Not what I'd call a smashing deal for the author, although it certainly does offer a platform for a new author with the Avon "cachet", and that might be worth something.

Zoe Faulder said...

I know this is one point out of many but I'm very surprised at the comment about publishers not having time to edit. We take editorial very seriously and strive for the highest quality book possible.

Personally I don't see eBooks shouldering physical books out of the market entirely. There will be a lot of change in the way things are done - no doubt - but books and book stores may still be a factor when authors are looking to be published.

Nathan Bransford said...


I agree that e-books from major publishers aren't yet priced on e-book economics. As I said in the post, they're focused now on not letting prices erode in part because print is more profitable. You're right that you don't have to make as much of a profit on e-books per copy because there's no scarcity. But what my post hopefully illustrates is that publishers have a lot of costs that go into a book irrespective of paper and distribution. The price at which they can make a profit per copy probably isn't as high as $10.99, but it's not $2.99 either.

It's like that economics joke about taking a bit of a loss on every copy and making it up on volume.

Nathan Bransford said...


Thanks for the suggestion, added that one.

Jackie Barbosa said...

I know this is one point out of many but I'm very surprised at the comment about publishers not having time to edit.

I suspect this was directed at me. However, my experience with traditional publishers (and that of many of my traditionally published friends) has been that all CONTENT revisions occurred either prior to sale or were made not at the editors' request, but due to input from critique partners or our own sense about what parts of the book weren't working. We all had a round of copy edits and a final galley, but I have been edited "harder" in terms of content by my small digital press than by any traditional print publisher I've worked with.

I genuinely feel that editors at most print houses won't OFFER contracts to books that they feel have any significant flaws. Why would they? That's not to imply sloth or meanness, but rather to say that given the range of books they have to choose from, it makes more sense to publish the books that require the least amount of work. Unless there's some hint of "blockbuster" in the core of the story that trumps the other issues with the book, I have a hard time imagining editors/publishing houses offering a contract on a book they consider to be significantly flawed, especially since I've received plenty of rejections for books that were praised as well-written, but simply not "marketable" enough.

Eric Christopherson said...

I recently had an exchange with Shatzkin in the comments section of his blog in which I suggested that before long the Big Six would only be publishing big books, i.e., 7 figure deals and such, because it's only there that a barrier to entry exists and the Big Six would only compete with each other. They'd also cherry pick the best sellers from among the self-pubbed ebooks and offer to distribute for a cut. They'd take after the big movie studios, in other words. Shatzkin did not disagree, but cautioned vaguely that the Big Six are not without weapons. Well, they better whip 'em out fairly quickly here, whatever they are.

ICQB said...

I have some self-published ebooks out there, but I'm not breaking records in sales yet. The process takes time.

It's hard work building a platform and making your name and your books known. Very hard work, and it's all the harder when you're on the shy side.

For everyone out there who is considering self-publishing, realize that you will spend HOURS each day with your bum in a chair trolling for reviews and smoozing all over the internet.

If everything you do clicks, then your book may sell well. But you need a solid presence.

Going 'indie' obviously works for some people. Just make sure you're able to put in the work that it takes to get there. I'm still working on my presence and platform. Success doesn't come overnight.

Kim said...

It's as if with self publishing, authors start with 100% royalty and contract some of it to the online distributor they choose. What if editors and agents, cover designers and marketers were willing to work with similar contracts with the author, each earning a percentage per book sold. Then everyone would make money directly connected to book sales. Wouldn't everyone involved work harder to sell more books? I know there's only so many ways to divide 99 cents, but if you have a team working together to sell more, it might work.

Jackie Barbosa said...

Traditional publishers do have a lot to offer in terms of helping a new author to build a following. The fact that the books is published by a major house gives most readers some confidence that the book has been vetted and is "good". This, in turn, makes it easier to market and sell when the author is as-yet an unknown quantity. Starting as an indie and "breaking out", though entirely possible (in addition to Hocking, there's HP Mallory, who just signed a 6-figure deal with Random House after failing to sell the exact same series to NY through an agent just a few years ago), is undoubtedly harder than starting in traditional publishing and then taking your audience with you to indie.

My prediction for where traditional publishers will go is as follows:

- Advances and digital royalty rates for the reliable bestselling authors will go up. The last thing publishers want is for their moneymaking authors to jump ship when their print:digital sales ratio start to tilt consistently in favor of digital (and they will).

- As Eric Christopherson predicts above, publishers will court bestselling indie authors (again, already happening) and try to woo them into the traditional publishing fold with contract terms similar to the bestselling authors. What remains to be seen is whether their audiences will follow them to higher-priced traditional formats. I suspect some of these will be reasonably successful, but an equal number will be spectacular flops.

- Midlist authors will either fail to be recontracted or jump ship of their own volition. We're already seeing it. For example, Bella Andre *chose* to self-publish her most recent book rather than to sell it to NY at what she and her agent saw as less than favorable terms.

- Debut authors will receive rawer and rawer deals. Publishers cannot do without new authors, even if they slash the number of books they are printing. But they will not be willing to pay much for those new authors, because 1) a fair proportion of those authors will take even the most appallingly bad terms because they want the legitimacy and credibility of being published by a "real" publisher and 2) the publishers will know that a significant number of those authors will "use" them to build an audience and then leave to self-publish. (By the way, I expect many publishers will start adding clauses to their bolerplate contracts that specifically prevent the author from self-publishing under the same pen name or from self-publishing at all for some period of time after the last book in the contract is released.)

In other words, I see this whole publishing revolution as a mixed bag for both authors and publishers. As always, some will do much better than otheers. But publishing has always picked its winners and losers in a manner that seems capricious and unfair.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

lotusgirl said...

Great comments. What an interesting discussion.

YoungMasterCK said...

"but am worried about the growing attitude that simply writing a book entitles one to publishing success. "

What other criteria should be used, other than writing a popular book? Notice I didn't say "good book", I said "popular book". That is and should be the ONLY criteria for publishing success or any mass media.

Mark Terry said...

One of the things that doesn't get discussed too much is the reality of traditional print publication the majority of writers. The figure that often gets bandied about is that the average first novel advance is $5000. Assuming that's true (and I'm somewhat unconvinced), you have to realize that when you have some first novel advances that are 5 and 6-figures and the AVERAGE is $5000, then there are an awful lot of novelists who are getting $1000, $2000, $3000 advance--or less. And their books don't sell through and their agent takes 15% and you spend 30% of what's left on taxes and then you're supposed to maintain and support a website, travel to conferences and/or booksignings and do other types of marketing.

And I'm afraid that this describes MANY, MANY, authors. Many who you may have assumed were actually making big bucks.

So they look at e-books and think, "Hmmm, I can get cover art done for $100 to $250, and pay someone to do really nice layout for $150 or less, and I can e-publish, sell the book for $2.99 and get a $2.00 royalty."

Since the author was only getting $1000 or so, how many e-books do they have to sell to make that much money? 500. And they get the money every month and they really don't have to do much if any marketing. And although they probably won't sell 500 copies right away, it's quite likely they'll make at least that much money in the course of a year or two and continue making money. And every time they e-self-publish another book sales increases a little bit, generally speaking.

No, it's not the same story as JA Konrath and Amanda Hocking, but it becomes a fairly persuasive argument if you're on the bottom end of publishing's bell curve to take a hard look at your options.

Allen Appel said...

I'm an author who has published 12 books in paper editions. My agent has two novels that over the last several years he has been unable to sell, so a few days ago I put one of them up as a Kindle edition. It will be interesting to see what will happen, though I'm sure it will be nothing like Konrath and Amanda. I'll be blogging about this process as it goes along on my Thriller Guy blog, I am also blogging about a young writer I helped with editing and marketing to an agent; last week his first novel sold for one million dollars. So it still happens. The writer's dream is still alive.

Gisele said...

Josin L. McQuein said...

"One thing I've wondered about with Kindle especially is, since the content is completely controlled by the person doing the uploading, if someone could take say 3 chapters or 75 pages or whatever they chose as a good-sized sample, put it up as a free download and then, if the demand is high enough, put the full book up as a $.99 or $2.99 download a couple of months later."

Josin, perhaps you are a little unfamiliar with eBooks. Take a closer look at the Kindle store on Amazon or; the Nook store on B&N and you will notice that ALL eBooks already have a free downloadable sample available.

eBook readers are already used to downloading a sample of the book and if they like it they will purchase the book as a whole. So it's necessary to have the sample and the book available at the same time and not, as you mentioned, available a "couple of months down the road." Otherwise, you'd loose the sale...

I suggest you take a look at one of the eBook samples to get an idea of how it all works. You can download eBook samples to your computer if you don't have an ereader.

Also, while I have your attention, I'd like to suggest you take a look at the book pitch for "Run" by Blake Crouch. Something about it sounds very familiar to me. I have a feeling you'd agree...

Mira said...

Great - really great - discussion - and I'm glad you continued it to today. And I thought the comments you selected were just terrific and made great points.

It's totally fun to be involved in such an intelligent and complicated debate.

Sadly, I think I have nothing more to contibute, everyone is pretty much saying what I would say....

Well....I guess I will say one more thing. This is totally out of left field, but it's something I've wondered from the beginning.

A long time ago, Marilyn posted a whole list of who owned publishing. The REAL owners. The BIGGIES. And when I see how slowly publishing is moving to deal with this - so slowly they are hurting their image, like Sommer says.....

I sort of interpret today's post, Nathan, as your attempt to bash publishers over the head with a club to get them to wake up. I could be wrong with that interpretation, but that's what I see, and then I wonder if even that will work.

Here's my out of left field thought - I wonder if the people who REALLY own print publishing care about saving it. Publishing is such a small drop in the bucket for them, and they have their fingers in so many pies. Maybe they just want to squeeze as much money as they can out of it before it goes.

Frankly, I can sort of see it. I suppose the big publishers do have some good weapons, but they aren't using them. Why not??

Yes, publishing is slow as molasses, but if the powers that OWNED publishing really wanted to light a fire, they could. There is no question about that. They didn't earn multi-zillion dollar mega-corporations by sitting around and crossing their fingers.

I just wonder if they care.

Anyway, just a thought. Thank you so much, Nathan, for hosting this dicussion and letting people like me share their sort of off-the-wall thoughts! It's so interesting!

Gisele said...

Sorry the link isn't working but look for the book on Amazon.

Mira said...

Oh - quickly -

Who owns Amazon? Who owns Barnes and Noble? Who has stock in Apple?

Do the people who REALLY own print publishing also own some of e-publishing?

Just another thought.

JaysonC said...

Having been on the long and winding that is my novels first draft I realized something. I think only a handful of people have enough serious dedication to make being an author i.e. to make enough money at it to never work again and dedicate them selves solely to their chosen craft.

Having written that, I don't think money is the issue here, it's prestige. Personally, I would choose to go through a traditional publisher because of well, the tradition. Brad Bird who directed The Incredibles said this at his first day at Pixar.

"Pain is temporary, animation is forever"

I think that quote also applies to publishing in that money comes and goes but your words remain till the end.

Anonymous said...

I looked over at Amanda's blog and saw that she has published nine books so far. That's roughly 110,000. a book. That sounds more reasonable and also still above and beyond most self-pub expectations (so far).

One thing for sure, in this economy, I can't buy the more expensive books, for myself or my daughter (who just got an off-brand e-reader and is eager to acquire e-books for it), so at this time, I am looking through,perusing, the unknowns in the more affordable waters.

This is the MOST hope I have had for myself as a writer. Just losing the stigma of self-pub as necessarily the stamp of the amateur is a huge liberation.

So I am cautiously optimistic. I still strongly believe that most self-pub writers will have to go the way of a pro-team (editing, layout,cover and advice) to avoid that above classification, but God, there are writers in the water saying" "come on in!"

Stuart Clark said...

It seems funny to me now that writers forum boards a couple of years ago all seemed to be warning people off from self-publishing citing there was a certain stigma that came with it. It seems that Konrath and Hocking have well and truly buried that stigma. But whereas Konrath used his platform as a traditionally published author to then go it alone, Hocking seems to be an altogether different story and a case in point.

I think Hocking's success is more of a commentary on technology use than it is about ebooks. I think we will hear other success stories like hers and here's why...

I think popular thought is that traditional publishing offers some degree of "gatekeeping" ie, only good books make it into print - I'm not saying that's necessarily true, but I think the general feeling is that if you buy a book that's been traditionally published you're going to get a "good" end product - whether or not it's a good book is a matter of taste, but you will know that it's been well edited, proofed, given a decent cover and put together nicely.

However, with self publishing you never know what you are going to get and with anyone and everyone able to self publish a book, I think it's safe to say that very few of them are going to be really good. So how do you find that diamond in the rough? Same way that you always have - word of mouth, although these days word of mouth has become word on the net. Whilst both of these can snowball and grow exponentially, word on the net is infinitely more powerful than simple word of mouth because it reaches so many more people in such a short period of time. The difference with ebooks is, if someone says this is a gem and it has an extremely low price, it's easier just to go buy it than wade through mountains of other, unknown work. It's for this reason that successful ebooks/series will literally explode on the web because people will want a recommendation instead of having to go look for something.

Like it or not, columns like yours also spread the word across the net. I had no idea who Amanda Hocking was until I read your posts but already I've looked her up on Amazon, read her reviews and sampled some pages. I'm not a sale, but I'm sure there are plenty of others who are willing to drop $2.99 just to give it a try.

Mira said...

Nathan - fyi - your twitter links don't work.

But your Switched link does. I clicked on it and thought - "It looks fun, it's a buck, and I enjoy this genre". So I bought it, and I'm going to read it.

Cathryn Grant said...

Someone above commented that no one cares about art anymore. Can't the same be said about authors who spend more time talking about marketing and networking than character arc? @anon

The industry changes over the past few years pushed authors into this situation, as it became commonly accepted that new authors bear most of the responsibility for marketing their work.

I expect most of the discussion around character arc goes on in critique groups and on writers' blogs devoted to craft.

Jaysonc said...

To add, is the debate between traditional and self publishing more about money and less about producing some of quality. I'm not necessarily saying that traditional publishers always put out the best work but I figure if one of them buys, prints and sells my book I must have done something right.

On the other hand, if an author goes the route of self publishing he or she is the sole judge of their work.

YoungMasterCK said...

"On the other hand, if an author goes the route of self publishing he or she is the sole judge of their work."


Actually, in the Self Pub world the reader is the judge. And aren't they the best judge of what they want to read?

Jaysonc said...

"YoungMasterCK said...

Actually, in the Self Pub world the reader is the judge. And aren't they the best judge of what they want to read?"

Let me clarify, what I meant to write was that in terms of someone seeing value in the work that is to be published. In other words if say Random House decides to publish your book then they are deeming it worthy on some level.

On the other hand if you self publish then you as the author are the only one judging it's worth. Neither perspective is a bad one and while ultimately it's up to the read to judge whether or not the work is good I still think that any new author needs the opinion of professionals and not just money.

Marilyn Peake said...

I wrote a long post, but Blogger says it's too long to post, so I'm going to break it up into two posts. It's in response to Mira's comments (yaaay, Mira!), so I'll start with the quotes from Mira...

Mira said:

"A long time ago, Marilyn posted a whole list of who owned publishing. The REAL owners. The BIGGIES. And when I see how slowly publishing is moving to deal with this - so slowly they are hurting their image, like Sommer says..."


"Here's my out of left field thought - I wonder if the people who REALLY own print publishing care about saving it. Publishing is such a small drop in the bucket for them, and they have their fingers in so many pies. Maybe they just want to squeeze as much money as they can out of it before it goes."

Marilyn Peake said...

Blogger still won't accept the second part of my post. I'm going to have to divide it into more posts.

Jayson said...

Marilyn Peake,

I wouldn't necessarily categorize it as apathy or lack of caring about their industry but as we've seen in the last decade any sufficiently large industry is often slow to change.

I mean how slow to change has the music industry been since Napster or television since the advent of the DVR and Hollywood since high speed Internet.

Basically, I think eventually the publishing giants will change but the change will be slow and painful but they will change.


Marilyn Peake said...


Mira, I was so delighted and amazed that someone actually noticed and remembered something that I said, and something from a while back, too. Thank you! You just made my day! Sometimes, as most people on the internet probably feel about their own comments, I wonder if I’m just typing into a void where all my words remain invisible.

Marilyn Peake said...


Mira, I totally agree with your assessment of how much the owners of publishing care about what happens to it. I think they (and by owners I mean the top owners, the true owners, not the managers or heads of subsidiaries) care as much about it as the owners of the big oil companies really care about oil. As you said about the publishing world, I think the same is true of the owners of big oil: "Maybe they just want to squeeze as much money as they can out of it before it goes." If wind power was as profitable as oil, right now, today, most of those companies would abandon oil in a heartbeat. I don’t think they’re staying with oil for the benefit of their customers or employees any more than the owners of tobacco did years ago.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Thanks for publishing these comments, Nathan. So much can get lost in a stream of 50+ comments, but all of these commenters had excellent points to highlight. I still plan to pursue traditional publishing someday, but as I get older and life gets busier, I find myself just wanting to tell stories, so Elizabeth Mook's comment was of great interest to me. I was also struck by the comment about midlist authors switching more to e-distribution, because, let's face it, most of us will be lucky to become midlist authors someday, so this affects us. But the marketing dollars needed to produce the next Nora Roberts still will probably come from traditional publishers, so it's a tricky issue right now. Hmm, we'll have to see how it plays out. I find I am way more likely to try new authors if their books are more easily affordable, and imagine that quite a few will end up racking up a large volume of sales on Kindle or similar devices in this way.

Marilyn Peake said...


Most of the really big publishing houses are owned by a handful of people. I’ve noticed recently that Pulitzer Prize winning journalists are beginning to map out and discuss who owns what and how these companies are now connected to our politicians and our news media, with hundreds of billions of dollars at stake (a few years ago, I had talked about billions of dollars, now there are hundreds of billions of dollars involved).

However, most people ignore the Pulitzer Prize winning journalists as booooooring. The regular media news (owned by the billionaires) hints at these stories, but only briefly. Most cable news features political arguments and petty bickering between politicians, celebrity news (Oh my God, Charlie Sheen!), and enough frightening images of world events to keep us too frightened to think clearly or speak up.

I feel we’re living in the era of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Most of us have chosen to completely ignore the oligarchy taking control and ownership, and how much greater control one person can exert with hundreds of billions of dollars at their disposal. We talk about the world as if this situation doesn’t exist, as if the heads of corporations aren’t pulling the strings. Maybe because most people don’t really believe that there are people who own hundreds of billions of dollars, or can’t really imagine what you could do with hundreds of billions of dollars, that you could actually buy news outlets that report things you don’t like people discussing. Most people can’t even imagine hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s like the Pulitzer Prize winning journalists are saying, "Hey, faeries are real and they’re in charge." To which people say, "Oh, yeah right." To most people, hundreds of billions of dollars don’t seem any more reality-based than faeries.

And to answer Nathan’s question about where the future is headed, I think that bubbles will keep arising in areas that the billionaires are not yet squeezing for profit. That’s when common people like Amanda Hocking can become millionaires. Once the billionaires buy out the companies making those bubbles possible, the bubbles burst. A recent example is The Huffington Post which burst onto the scene as an alternative to corporate-owned media. Recently, The Huffington Post was purchased by AOL for $315 million. Now, AOL is not a single entity. It has merged with Time Warner, a merger that involved a $163 billion company merging with a $120 billion company. Time Warner owns 292 other companies, including CNN and Little Brown, publishers, and has joint ventures with some companies, including Amazon. After the purchase of The Huffington Post, I noticed that their tweets on Twitter had changed from hard-hitting news to celebrity news.

AOL is owned by Steven Case and Time Warner is owned by Gerald Levin. I doubt either spend too much time agonizing over the rise of eBooks at the expense of paperbacks or hardcovers.

I think, right now, books about celebrities and teenage girls' angst are huge because it keeps people occupied. It keeps them from reading hard-hitting news. I think that the top owners of news and book publishing benefit from this because it keeps people occupied with escapism, and I think that this bubble is being fed by adult customers who don't want to see the adult world as it is. If teenage girls’ angst ever becomes a threat to the oligarchy, someone will buy out those books.

Marilyn Peake said...

Thanks, Nathan, for opening up a great discussion. And thanks, Mira, for taking it in a fascinating discussion. I wish my comment had fit in one post instead of four. :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

For everyone imagining publishers as old dudes counting their money... you may want to revise your vision to young women working long hours and making low salaries. All the publishing folks I know feel lucky to be doing what they love, but they're definitely not cigar-smoking villains

Hear-hear. Thanks for getting our perspective out there.
Signed: Poor young publishing girl

Margo Lerwill said...

There's a bit of a fallacy at work that all good writers have made it past the agents and editors and gotten published by the Big 6, and all indie authors suck so bad they've never had an agent and never made it to the point of having an editor pitch to his Big 6 employer. There are indie authors from both ends of the spectrum (and everything in between). Plenty of midlisters (who have that stamp of approval on their work already) are trying out the indie route. More writers are looking at indie without ever having approached traditional publishing. And in between you have writers who made it past the agent stage and maybe made it past the editor stage, only to get shot down by the marketing department. Which stage conveys the stamp of validation?

I think writers should stop worrying about what other writers think. (Ain't that an ironic statement?) Make your choices based on your own personal career goals. Go in with open eyes and without delusions. If you're going indie, don't do so because you think it will bring the Big 6 to your door. Do it because the indie model is the best for your goals. If the big boys come knocking, keep your head and make a business decision that doesn't involve ego.

It's also be great if we stopped acting like it's a competition and only trad or indie comes out alive.

Anonymous said...

Anon @1:31 PM - The publishing company owners aren't the "young women working long hours and making low salaries" - Those women are the ones working hard to make the owners rich, while defending the system, kind of like the fifties secretaries in Mad Men.

Jaysonc said...


I think what it should come down to for any writer is a good story. To be sure, the business aspect is important but the story is what really counts and I suppose confidence in one's own written word is what really counts in the end.

Marilyn Peake said...

Ooooops, Mira, in my last comment, I meant "taking it in a fascinating direction".

Marilyn Peake said...


That might be true, but not in regard to mergers and buyouts – those are happening with lightning speed. What I find most interesting is that the large companies move very quickly in buying out any company that threatens it, and that includes news media outlets. Everything that doesn’t matter to them moves very slowly. For instance, newspapers switching from paper to online publication might be slow, but buyouts of hard-hitting internet news outlets happen very quickly once those outlets become popular.

This has even happened in the movie industry. Maybe change has been slow in regard to formats, but a couple of the big companies poured money into advertising campaigns against certain documentaries. I find this rather fascinating.

Jayson said...


So they quickly buyout the competition instead of actually adapting to it. It's the equivalent of sweeping the problem under the rug and blaming the rug when you can't hide any more dust beneath it.

Margo Lerwill said...


I'm not sure where 'good story' conflicts with 'business decisions'. Perhaps you could elaborate?

Jayson said...


"There has always been a struggle between art and commerce and let me tell you, art is getting it's butt kicked"

I don't necessarily think there is a conflict as much as it is a side effect of selling your book and making a profit from it.

Marilyn Peake said...


Actually, I think it's the equivalent of buying the rug and the dust and using both to make more money.

YoungMasterCK said...

Also notice that you are talking about a "good story" being the most important part, that isn't necessarily "good writing". :)

The writing only needs to be "good enough" not to distract from the story. There are many best selling authors that I can't stand. I am sure we could all name a few. As an embarrassing example, I don't like Steven King, but I love Josh Lanyon. I know empirically that SK is a better writer than JL, but that really doesn't matter to me. I haven't bought a Steven King novel in about 20 years, yet I own everything Josh Lanyon has written. By the way that isn't about genre I do like horror.

Jaysonc said...

Good point in that being able to tell a good story isn't the same as being able to write a good story. I know that so many people love "Sometimes A Great Notion" but I can't stand Ken Kesey's writing style but I love Dan Brown.

Margo Lerwill said...


Ah, I see what you're saying. I think that's probably a bigger issue for some writers than other and for some genres more than others. It would depend on the writer's relationship to the writing, first of all, and how the writer prioritizes the story as art versus the story as a form of communication. I tend to think writers who strongly believe in the story as art would probably be more fulfilled as indie authors or (perhaps even more so) as web fiction authors.

Michael Offutt said...

Your napkin math reminds me of dps discussions on Elitist Jerks website.

Julianne MacLean said...

"On the other hand if you self publish then you as the author are the only one judging it's worth. Neither perspective is a bad one and while ultimately it's up to the reader to judge whether or not the work is good, I still think that any new author needs the opinion of professionals and not just money."

Just want to comment on this. I was talking to my agent today, and she told me the story about The Hunt For Red October, which was rejected by all the major publishers, then got picked up by a smaller press, and the movie deal happened.

Later, the agent who sold that book was having lunch with a big time editor, and the agent asked, "So what are you looking for right now?"

The editor said, "I'd love something like The Hunt For Red October."

The agent replied: "But I sent you that book the first time!"

The point here is that not all agents and editors are always the best judge of a great book. Sometimes they are wrong and they make mistakes. Most of them admit to this. (I don't need to mention Harry Potter here, but I will.)

And I would sincerely hope that anyone who self-publishes a book is savvy enough to have it edited and critiqued by someone worthy of the task. (Because I agree - you you are right about a new author needing the opinion of a professional.. or its equivalent. How else can you learn and hone your craft?)

If a new author doesn't have the book edited, and the book is not up to snuff, then the readers/consumers will be its judge. Which is not that different from decades past. Word-of-mouth has always been the best vehicle for selling books.

Now a book can get out there if the author has the "entreprenurial spirit" that Nathan mentioned in his blog yesterday. That's a huge part of this, because it is without a doubt a huge risk to take such a leap of faith, and believe in your own work, when NY rejected it.

Sadly, business and art do have to gel together in this day and age if an author doesn't want to fall into the category of a "starving artist."

On the upside, it's really not necessary for an artist to starve these days with the internet so readily available for any artistic venture. And I love that.

ENTREPRENURIAL SPIRIT. Let's remember, that's how each of the big publishers got started so many years ago.

Marilyn Peake said...

I haven’t read the excerpt yet, but I found it as I Googled online to add to the discussion on Nathan’s Blog today. The excerpt is from a book by Ben Bagdikian, a journalist and author with impressive credentials, including The Peabody Award which is equivalent to the Pulitzer in broadcasting. His credentials are too many for me to list, so here they are: Ben Bagdikian. He’s been published through mainstream outlets. In 2004, he published a book through indie press. Here’s an excerpt, THE BIG FIVE, from his book, THE NEW MEDIA MONOPOLY: THE BIG FIVE. I read part of the excerpt; and it is so incredible, it’s almost as though he’s saying, "There are faeries." But here are Ben Bagdikian's credentials. One of the awards he’s received is a Citation of Merit as "Journalism’s Most Perceptive Critic" from the American Society of Journalism School Administrators.

Marilyn Peake said...

OK, last comment from me, and then I’m heading back to my science-fiction-writing cave. I have not followed all the mergers and acquisitions in the past few years, apparently. I was wrong about Gerald Levin still owning Time Warner and Steven Case still owning AOL. (Where the hell have I been these past few years? Oh, yeah, right, I’ve been working on my sci fi novel.) AOL and Time Warner spun off from each other after devastating losses a few years back when the stock market crashed, and apologies were offered to investors who lost money. Jeff Bewkes is now CEO of Time Warner and Tim Armstrong is CEO of AOL. However, mergers and acquisitions continue, e.g. AOL recently acquiring The Huffington Post. Jeff Bewkes doesn’t like Apple’s 99 cents model and he doesn’t like Netflix, comparing it to the Albanian army, saying it won’t take over the world. I know one thing: the 99 cent model for becoming a millionaire through Kindle eBooks is probably a bubble that won’t last forever. It’s hard to even keep track of who owns the bubble. Once a bubble bursts, the owners sell the bubble-making equipment and move onto other things. OK, now I better get busy, finishing the writing of my 99 cent novel.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Great comments here. After querying for two years, I self-published my memoir, Bastard Husband: A Love Story, and am happy I did. The incessant marketing is a pain in the ass and I could do a lot more if I had the time, but I sell a couple of books whenever I do stand-up and many more when I speak to women's groups. I've found having a low ($2.99) Kindle price seems to work well, and my hard copy Amazon sales have increased since it's been on Kindle.

I haven't quit my day job as a technical writer, so we're not talking a ton of money. Self-publishing is a lot of work, but the satisfaction of hearing from readers who love your creation makes it all worth it.

If you truly believe in your product, make the effort to get it out there somehow. Don't give up! And if you don't believe in your product enough to make that effort, better to take up something like tennis.

Marilyn Peake said...

So, I left the discussion here and checked into Twitter. Has anyone else seen this story? ... Apparently, Rupert Murdoch has made a bid to buy half the British mass media, which would apparently result in Rupert Murdoch owning half the world’s media. Does anyone else here know about this? This would be a huge development that could change everything we talked about on Nathan’s Blog today.

Tricia said...

It's important to note (and I can't see all the comments so forgive me if someone already has) that if you use a self-publishing service such as iUniverse or CreatSpace they do, in fact, offer every service that traditional publishing offers. Of course it's all at a price but you can get some pretty good deals if you contact them. I did and wound up with a great deal that included editing services and cover work. I decided on self-publishing after figuring out that I didn't want a mystery agent deciding whether or not the public would want to read the story. I think I'll let the public decide for themselves.

Anonymous said...

There's something missing here in NB's assessment of the profit margin of dead tree publishing vs digital and that is: overhead! Sure, the dead tree publisher may be making a few more bucks per copy sold, but he is spending many more bucks on his real estate, distribution costs, warehousing costs. The overhead for the e-publisher is astonishingly low. A publisher like Open Road Media or Avon's new e-line can produce their books for minimal costs then spend a hefty amount on promotion while sharing generously with the author on royalties. Producing for minimal costs means more room for failure and taking a risk. That equals more chances for more unknowns. So effectively, the author gets the best of the old world (expert editing, professional packaging and promotion) plus the best of the new (online retailing and social network publicity). Sorry, NB. The dead tree guys just can't compete. . .

Sarah McCabe said...

I don't understand this attitude some have that people who write a book shouldn't be allowed to try and sell it directly to their real customers: readers. What is the difference, essentially, between going through the publishing houses and getting rejected there because you didn't write a good book and making your book available to readers and not doing well because readers didn't like your book? The answer is: the difference is who holds the power. In the first case the publishers hold the power and in the second the readers do. I think it's a good thing for readers to be the gatekeepers since they're the ones buying the product. I think they should be the ones deciding whose books succeed and fail and I think every writer deserves the opportunity to either succeed or fail on their own merits. That's capitalism.

You can go on and on about art, but once you start trying to sell your art and make a living by it your art has become a product. Let's not be so high and mighty about it, please, and let the customers sort out the wheat from the chaff based on what they arbitrary standard.

Sarah McCabe said...

*based on what they like, not some arbitrary standard.

Adam Minter said...

Fantastic discussion. Just a quick note, however, that the world of publishing extends far, far beyond the shores of the US and other developed countries. And that's worth keeping in mind. For example, here in Shanghai, e-books have pretty much zero penetration, while the bookstores are overflowing. Yes, e-books are cheaper than printed copies, but e-book readers are not. So long as the fastest growing populations of readers are in places where gadgetry is out of reach for hundreds of millions of people (if not more), traditional publishing will have a future. It just may not be in the US.

Anonymous said...

I think New York publishing is now for folks that want to buy lottery tickets. Unless the book is going to sell lots and lots of units, a writer is better off going the self-pub route. This is especially true of mid-list writer. You know, the writers that you cannot find at the airport bookstore. The advances are just too low, and New York overhead is just too high.

As for the quality argument. This is completely subjective. Ultimately, it's up to the readers to vote with their dollars. And if you're not being read, then what's the point?

Anonymous said...

Adam . . . Shanghai is irrelevant because China doesn't recognize our copyrights. Neither does Russia, and neither do many other countries.

If your book would sell in Shanghai, it will be immediately eclipsed by a pirated version, under a legal system that doesn't consider that a problem. So worrying about how to penetrate that market's a waste of time.

Other Lisa said...

@Marilyn Peake:

I feel we’re living in the era of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Most of us have chosen to completely ignore the oligarchy taking control and ownership, and how much greater control one person can exert with hundreds of billions of dollars at their disposal.

Are you channeling me or something? ;)

(or maybe I've been channeling you all this time!)

It's a very interesting discussion. What I take away from it is that there are a lot of options for writers now that didn't used to exist, that successful self-pubbing still takes a crap-ton of work, and that we should all be wary of the potential for a monopoly in this model as well as any other. Because I do think to some extent that the window for Kindle millionaires may not be open indefinitely, not if one large corporation controls the distribution, if this is a tool to help drive down eBook prices to both sell devices and establish an overwhelming presence in the marketplace.

It also seems to me that this model works best for authors who either write quickly or have a large backlist for which they control the rights.

Of course other channels for distribution can arise, and the whole situation is very fluid right now. It's going to be interesting (and kind of stomach-clenching) to watch what develops.

I'd like to propose another model that I think has a good chance of success in this new era (whatever it turns out to be), and that is the well-equipped but lean indie press. I think that companies with a basic infrastructure and resources for design, marketing and distribution, but that are still nimble and lower on the overhead are a great way to go.

Marilyn Peake said...

Other Lisa said:

"@Marilyn ...

"Are you channeling me or something? ;)

"(or maybe I've been channeling you all this time!)"

HaHaHa! I love it when I find others on the same wavelength as me. :) Must be why I love following you on Twitter and why I love your insights in ROCK PAPER TIGER.

I agree with your statement that the window for writers to make millions on Kindle will work "best for authors who either write quickly or have a large backlist for which they control the rights." I don’t have a large backlist. I'm sucking at writing quickly right now, but I am trying. Nathan's Blog and all the discussion the past two days has me very excited ... and not because of the millions that can be made because that is such a crapshoot, but because there’s a very exciting new indie way to publish.

Tominda Adkins said...

I read an article recently about the "disappearing stigma of self-publishing". In it, there was mention of a growing opinion among agents: "We're starting to accept and represent formerly self-published books, if they've proven successful."

Am I the only self-publisher who finds that insulting? I was under the impression that it was an agent's job to recognize a marketable work and then find a publisher for it. Not sit back and wait for me to spend money, time, and elbow grease to prove first that my work is marketable. No thanks.

No offense, Nathan. You're clearly a helpful, thoughtful, and encouraging exception to the stereotypical "snobby agent". But with the advent of self-publishing as a standard, aren't many agents panicking? Losing relevance? I just wish the publishing industry was healthy enough to support more of you, more innovative agents in general, so there could be less competition for sure best-sellers and more focus on finding promising first-time authors.

Jaysonc said...

Having some time to think on it, I think self publishing is a good thing. I don't believe it's a sign that the end of traditional publishing is nigh but it simply represents another option.

Anonymous said...

"But with the advent of self-publishing as a standard, aren't many agents panicking? Losing relevance?"

They are panicking because writers realized they should and must dictate. Agents are getting 10-15% for nothing. Most of the publishers also rip you off, delaying your work for a year or two, then they ruin it with loosy, rookie marketing. With self-publishing you get 70% and your work will be released immediately.

"published by the Big 6"

Sounds like a cartel. People hate cartels.

Hillsy said...

I’ll keep it brief as, lets be honest, I’m writing to myself here.

Overall I’ve got nothing against self-publishing as a mechanism. Its people I don’t have any faith in (a projection of my opinion of myself many would say). If you have faith that authors will not self-pub a book because, after all the money, editing, sweat & promotion, they think it’s not good enough, well, I hope you’re correct. I’ve no doubt that good writers will pull out all the stops and be utterly professional about it, but I fear their credibility will be undercut by a factor of 10.
This is why peer reviewing in Science is so vital, because they cannot let their credibility slip or everyone suffers.

Just some other points that have either been missed or not really delved into that I think anyone with a forthright opinion on this should consider.

Hugely ignored by almost everyone is the fact that a publisher will have read the entire book before deciding if it is worth the money. If kindle worked that you paid a fee if you thought the book was worth the money, comparing sales to the publishing stamp would be fair.

There is another point that’s been overlooked: the safety net. A talented Author makes a plot mistake (it happens) and the book bombs. With publishing an agent/publisher might see the talent and sign the author purely because of it, having no intention of pitching that particular book, but the next one the author writes. In self-pub the book goes out, gets 1 star reviews, and the author will get skimmed over in any book search because he’s at the bottom of every list. Ironically, you’d actually be better off selling zero copies of a flawed book than drumming up support, making sales, but being ultimately disappointing.

A constant gripe of the average anti-publishing is that publishers only want hack, and those that don’t fit into a narrow band of genre/style/vampires find their inherent talent ignored.
In self-pub, those that have success will be their own or buy their own marketers, editors, salesmen, lawyers. Therefore anyone who doesn’t fit into the narrow band of forthright, confident, law savvy writers, or has the money to buy all those things instead, will find their inherent talent ignored.
Is that really progress?

Contract Vs Exposure:
Self-pubbing to take control of your finances and self-pubbing to give yourself a better chance of reaching readers. These are not the same arguments. It almost seems the major difference between Konrath & Hockin: Konrath was published, but wanted money/control/freedom, whereas Hockin tried to sell, couldn’t but self-pubbed and came good. Put simply buying a self-pubbed book from a published writer is utterly different than buying from an unpublished one.

As one final anecdote: I read 155 comments yesterday and counted 15 authors mentioning their unpublished books by title. Oh, how I loathe your egotism and envy your confidence.

Istvan Szabo, Ifj. said...

"In self-pub the book goes out, gets 1 star reviews"

This sounds as a cartel system, just as anonim mentioned above. If you're not willing to work with the "book cartel", you will get one star reviews from our paid reviewers (I get this, based on your response.). What publishers forget, this will fire backward at them, just as it did yesterday with a great gaming publisher. Paid newspapers gave around 80-90% for the product as the great publisher spent a lot for advertisements on those sites and their operatives are also trying to write nice reviews about the product... but the user reviews are mirroring the truth; app. 30% on Metacritics on all three platforms (PC, X360 and PS3).

Publishers believe they can fool the customers and control them. The reality is; they can't. The same applies for novels. If a novel is a quality product, published or self-published, it will get the proper review from the readers. Now, if publishers are willing to play dirty and paying people to give one stars, the readers will play dirty too, that's a guarantee. The difference is; the readers' word will be the last one.

Hillsy said...


I meant 1 star reviews from the readers who bought the book. That will kill a new author's career deader than anything the media can do.

At least in the paper publishing model someone else is looking to turn your talent into better-than-2-star reviews: a death knell for a writer.

Sometimes not printing a book is better than printing a bad one. And can you honestly say there will still be as many first novels in the trunk with self pubbing? because without them you cuold be the 1.3 star reader rated novellist no one will read.

Istvan Szabo, Ifj. said...

I know how you meant, but this is how it sounded.

"I meant 1 star reviews from the readers who bought the book. That will kill a new author's career deader than anything the media can do."

It can happen with published authors too, because of various reasons (Copy-cat works, expanding a franchise without innovation are primary reasons.).

"At least in the paper publishing model someone else is looking to turn your talent into better-than-2-star reviews: a death knell for a writer."

Do they? I'd like to see that one day...

"because without them you cuold be the 1.3 star reader rated novellist no one will read."

With them you can be the same too. And because of them your novel can be the one that people want to read, but they can't (Personal experience.).

Anonymous said...

Hugely ignored by almost everyone is the fact that a publisher will have read the entire book before deciding if it is worth the money. If kindle worked that you paid a fee if you thought the book was worth the money, comparing sales to the publishing stamp would be fair. It's possible to ask for your money back on a Kindle purchase from Amazon if the book has formatting problems or you think it is worthless. It shows up as a return on the author's royalty statement.

Anonymous said...

Hugely ignored by almost everyone is the fact that a publisher will have read the entire book before deciding if it is worth the money. If kindle worked that you paid a fee if you thought the book was worth the money, comparing sales to the publishing stamp would be fair. It's possible to ask for your money back on a Kindle purchase from Amazon if the book has formatting problems or you think it is worthless. It shows up as a return on the author's royalty statement.

Anonymous said...

Hugely ignored by almost everyone is the fact that a publisher will have read the entire book before deciding if it is worth the money. If kindle worked that you paid a fee if you thought the book was worth the money, comparing sales to the publishing stamp would be fair. It's possible to ask for your money back on a Kindle purchase from Amazon if the book has formatting problems or you think it is worthless. It shows up as a return on the author's royalty statement.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the double post- it may become a triple post. I kept getting a Google "Server Error try again" message.

Jackie Barbosa said...

Hugely ignored by almost everyone is the fact that a publisher will have read the entire book before deciding if it is worth the money.

Not always. My three-novella anthology had only one novella completed when the publisher bought it. And although it's rare for a publisher to buy an unpublished authors work on proposal, it's the norm for published authors to sell on proposal (synopsis plus first three chapters/50ish pages). And honestly, most agents/editors know by the time they've finished the first five pages of a book (if not the first page) whether or not it has potential.

People who fear the self-publishing model act as though they're going to be forced to buy/read these books, but that's hardly the case. If you don't want to buy self-published books because you're convinced they'll all be poorly edited drivel, don't buy them.

Ermo said...

I have just one comment about this in terms of "stamp of approval." I think there are two different kinds - one for authors and one for readers. For authors, I think they crave industry professionals to approve their work. The author could just go straight to the marketplace but the odds of getting significant reader approval are slim (and many others scoff at the commercially successful books anyway).

Readers, on the other hand, will accept book approval from anywhere - publishers, book blogs, best seller lists, recommendations from friends/family, etc. I don't think any reader has ever received a book recommendation and then asked, "well, wait, who published it?"

JaysonC said...


You raise an interesting point in that the issue of traditional publishers vs self publshing is really more about the writers than anyone else.

I agree that the readers at large won't be affected by the outcome of this fight if you can call it that. For now, it's as I had written, another option.

JDuncan said...

Such an interesting topic. The one thing that struck me most about Hocking's post is that she stated how much her efforts at trying to make success have cut into her ability to have time to write. For me, this is the biggest drawback to the whole self-publishing business. I love the idea. I cringe at the massive amount of time and effort required to have any chance at success.

Honestly, I'd rather be writing. My chances overall are still greater through a publishing house, and they do their best to take care of things I'd rather not take the time and effort to deal with. I'm not a full-time writer. I work, have a family, and such, so writing is not a full-time job. Self-publishing is not a "do it on the weekend" gig, not if you want to have a chance at success. It is it's own business, and unless you can afford to hold down two jobs, I still don't recommend this as a first or best option for writers.

Sure, it's fine if you are just wanting to get your story out there, and yes, good things can happen. They do and will continue to do so, but I don't believe a lot of writers get how much beyond the writing it can be to deal with all aspects of putting a well done story out there.

For now, I'm very happy letting others take care of many of the things I don't want and can't afford to be involved in. Perhaps one day, if I'm selling well enough to cover the costs of living, raising kids, having insurance, and so on, I'll delve headfirst into this realm, but for now, I'm content with a paper publisher (and yes, they'll have an e-version available), and having the time to write more stories.

R.D. Allen said...

The more I hear about self-publishing via sites like Lulu and Amazon, the more I want to go with that instead of possibly wasting the time of some already super busy editor/publisher/agent. It's just the way I've been brought up: if I can do it myself, I might as well, instead of having someone else do it.

But I'm extremely concerned about the editing. I know that my editing job, as far as it's come, in no way does my story justice. So, without an editor and agent to look over it, I'm sort of out of luck as far as a good editing job. I don't know anyone who has time to look through it as meticulously as I'd like them to, even though I'm on several writing websites.

So, what I'm really wondering is, since the e-book industry gives us a way to publish our books ourselves, what revolution will it start to help us improve their quality? Will there be a sudden jump in freelance editors, better ones with cheaper prices?

Melissa said...

One thing that no one can possibly know is how many of these 99-cent eBooks ever get read by the people who download them. I have 99-cent apps on my cell phone that I've never even used. I downloaded them because I was bored, they looked cool, and they were less than a buck. So this is where the whole "reader shall judge" argument falls apart.

Another thing bothers me. If an indie writer was rejected by the entire publishing industry, including agents and publishing houses, does anything really change about the quality of their work once they e-publish? Not really. Their work still didn't meet a certain standard the industry expects from writers. Why should an indie writer's Kindle sales sway the opinion of the industry? If there's serious money involved, it's okay to compromise standards?

I haven't even started the query process yet. However, I expect agents who pass on my m.s. (and many will) to stand by their decision. If it's no good to them now, absolutely nothing -- not even mad e-publishing success -- should change their minds.

Mira said...

Marilyn - hey. Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner - I was in class until late last night, and super-busy today. It's finals week. :p

Of course I notice your posts!! How can I not, with all of your wonderful research and links!

I have to say, though, I sort of disagree with you and Lisa about the 99 cent bubble disappearing quickly. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. There are alot of very. very good reasons for Amazon to let people do that, and I don't see why they would stop. It's a powerful weapon in the war that's going on right now.

But I could be wrong - I have been before!

Once again, very interesting discussion!

DearHelenHartman said...

Late to this but I HAD to comment on the cover being a publisher plus. Not so much. My first single title from Mira showed up with a stock cover shared by a YA out less than 6 mos earlier - their response was - LOTS of books a reused covers (they did change it for the mmp)and proceeded to give me a list. If you keep your eyes open, they are everywhere.

Anonymous said...

I have to comment on the notion that things are published in NY having been read through. (I'm the first anonymous quoted in the post.)

Along with buying my first book, my publisher also bought a second & third, sight unseen. This is typical.

I handed in the second book, and waited for edits. Which didn't come. What I got instead was a copy-edited manuscript.

I handed in a boat-load of changes, and had to get my agent to fight to let me make them. There were MASSIVE continuity errors--the kinds that slip through when you make a handful of changes at some point and don't make them throughout--that nobody caught. A grandmother was living at the beginning, dead in the middle, living at the end--that kind of thing.

My editor told me with a straight face that she didn't have time to edit and when I handed a book in I should expect it to go straight to copy edits.

So, not so much on the editing, folks.

If you want to know what agents do to earn their 15%, they make sure that *I* can make my books the best they can be, because the publisher sure as hell didn't care. My agent had to threaten my publisher to let me make changes to a manuscript that were necessary for a coherent storyline.

This is surely not nothing.

jesse said...

Amazing post(s), both of them.

The self pub boom may be beneficial to authors and agents, when it comes to negotiating with publishers.

As "Anonymous @ 9:55" said, publishers are offering less to authors and still taking the same cut of the pie. Perhaps, if they wanted authors to continue paying for their services, they will offer more, or take a smaller cut of the pie.

This seems incredibly unlikely, but authors are starting to wonder if they're getting good value from the traditional publishing model.

Abdullah Khan said...

I always have nightmares about being self published or published by a vanity publisher. So, my resolution is never to self-publish.

I will keep trying to find a respectable imprints for my yet-to-be published book.

Bella Andre said...

Given that I was on that "kindle millionaires" list - and since I noticed I was used as an example of the future of publishing in one of the comments :) I thought I'd drop in to comment.

In addition to the 8 Bella Andre books that were published in the past few years by S&S and Random House, along with the new Bella Riley women's fiction/romance trilogy that Grand Central Forever will be putting out in September 2011, and the 2 new Bella Andre erotic romances they will release in mm ppbk starting summer 2012, I currently have nine self-published ebooks (and POD through Createspace) out at Amazon, B&N, iBookstore, Smashwords, etc. 3 of these books are by a new pen name (yes another one!) that I will be formally unveiling shortly. They are Young Adult/chick lit books.

I have sold *a lot* of these 9 self-published books in the past 11 months, on the order of 1,000+ a day lately. (Yesterday, I sold 1164 books. One of my ebooks sold 479 copies yesterday and was the 2nd best ranked self-published book at Another sold 273 copies. I'm happy!) My books range in price from $.99 to $5.99, so at 70%, my per book average isn't bad. :)

With that said, at the same time, I'm still totally invested in the "traditional" print market. Why? Well, first, I have 5 books coming out in mass market in the next year and a half. And I have this dream...I've always wanted to see lots and lots of my books at Walmart and Target and Safeway, along with the bookstore chains - and I've always wanted lots and lots of people to buy them. :)

So here's what I hope happens - I hope my publisher will utilize my self-pubbed e-book success when they are selling in those 5 new books and that they'll be able to go out to the accounts that felt they couldn't take a risk on me before and say, "Here's proof that she sells and sells big." My agent has been talking with my publisher about this very thing quite a bit lately.

Whatever happens, it has been a truly thrilling ride so far! Just the thought of reaching over 1,000 new readers every day blows my mind.

:) Bella Andre

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