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:
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?
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
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.
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?