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Not Your Father’s Self-Publishing

Things in self-publishing have changed a lot just in the past couple of years. Awareness of, and respect for, self-publishing has grown to the point that it’s virtually gone mainstream. Yet based on some posts and comments I’ve seen around the web in the wake of the Harlequin Horizons/DellArte Press rumpus, it’s clear to me there’s still an awful lot of misinformation being spread around the web about self-publishing in comparison to mainstream publishing.

The Harsh Realities of Being A Mainstream-Published Novelist

The novelist’s traditional path to authorship is common enough knowledge. First, you spend months or years writing and workshopping your manuscript. Next comes months or years of querying for an agent. After that follows months of your agent trying to sell the manuscript, and for all but about 5% of aspiring authors, the answer is “no.” As for the 5%, their novels were chosen more on the basis of broad appeal and marketability than the quality of writing. But however disappointed the 95% are, the 5% may yet be more disappointed still once the initial rush of I’m-Getting-Published wears off.

Author advances are down and mainstream publishers don’t offer much in the way of promotional support to the great majority of their authors anymore. For the most part, debut authors find themselves on the hook to arrange and finance their own book tours, bear the burden of effort and expense for their author platform themselves, and if they want a publicist, pay for that themselves, too. Okay, so maybe they’re not getting much money up front and have to do most of their own promotion, but the 5% of novelists will still get the sales boost and status that come from having their books on physical store shelves, right? Well, sort of.

Turnover in brick-and-mortar bookstores is high and shelf space is shrinking all the time as more and more store real estate is given over to games, stationery, cosmetics, gifts, music, movies, and the like. It’s gotten to the point where landing a mainstream publishing contract is no longer even any guarantee of seeing your book shelved at your local Borders or Barnes & Noble. Among those that are shelved, with few exceptions, any newly-released trade book that fails to make the NYT bestseller list will be pulled from physical chain booksellers within three months to make way for the next batch of hopefuls. All sales must then be driven either online or through small, independent booksellers, which requires significantly more effort on the author’s part.

Woe betide the author who fails to put in the effort, since publishers will be looking long and hard at his first novel’s earnings when deciding whether or not to publish his second. Among the novels of that 5% which made it to print, only about 20% (or less, depending on who you ask) earn back the author’s advance, never mind turning a profit. If you do the math, you’ll find the authors in this group account for .001%—that’s one-hundredth of 1%—of the larger group of aspiring novelists who all started down the road to authorship together. Okay, but some of those books earn back the advance and a little profit too, and some authors do make the NYT list and end up being very successful, right? Well, sort of.

The Dan Browns, JK Rowlings and Stephanie Meyerses of the world aren’t just successful authors, they’re worldwide cultural phenomena around whom entire cottage industries of movies and merchandise have sprung up. So let’s just all agree they’re the rarified rockstars of lit, and deal with the realities for most mainstream-published authors, those who aren’t household names.

Thanks to the generous and brave posts of authors such as Lynne Viehl, Kimberly Pauley, Saundra Mitchell and others, something truly shocking has finally come to light: most successful mainstream-published novelists (meaning those who have been repeatedly published), including those who hit the NYT list multiple times, net an annual income on par with that of a fast food restaurant manager. Very prolific authors who can manage to get, and keep, multiple books in print every year fare better, but it’s the rare author who can produce quality work at that pace year after year. I don’t know what’s more jaw-dropping: that most mainstream-published authors earn so little (even those whose books hit the NYT list!), or the conspiracy of silence that’s kept this fact under wraps for so long.  From Lynne Viehl’s post:

On the statement my publisher reports sales of 7,550 copies and returns of 10,812 copies. The publisher released credits of 21,140 copies or $13,512.69 from reserves held against returns, but at the same time reserved credits against another 13,790 copies or $8,814.57, which reduces the credit adjustment to 7,350 copies or $4698.12.

Total sales for the novel now stand at 89,142 copies, minus returns of 27,479, for net sales of 61,663 copies. My credited earnings from this statement was $2,434.38 with no money due; it will probably take another six months to a year for the novel to earn out the last of my $50,000.00 advance.

So how much money have I made from my Times bestseller? Depending on the type of sale, I gross 6-8% of the cover price of $7.99. After paying taxes, commission to my agent and covering my expenses, my net profit on the book currently stands at $24,517.36, which is actually pretty good since on average I generally net about 30-40% of my advance. Unless something triggers an unexpected spike in my sales, I don’t expect to see any additional profit from this book coming in for at least another year or two.

Okay, but all those mainstream-published novelists still get the status that comes from being able to say you’re a Published Author with a Literary Agent and a Big Publisher, right? Yes, they definitely do. But the question of whether the status bump alone is worth all the years of time, effort, sacrifice, rejection and heartache that went into becoming a published novelist is well worth considering.

The Self-Publishing Alternative

The self-publishing stigma is losing its hold thanks to recent revelations about, and current challenges of, the trade publishing business. Between competing ebook formats, the battles over ebook pricing and DRM, emerging all-digital imprints, the Google Books quagmire, falling profits, bookstore closures and staff downsizings, it seems the future of trade publishing is murky at best. New ideas and new business models are needed, and self-publishing has become just one among many possible approaches.

Is it any surprise that authors as successful and well-known as Stephen King, Piers Anthony and JA Konrath have self-published, or are self-publishing? Konrath has found he earns far more on his self-published Kindle editions than on the Kindle editions released by his publisher, and I don’t doubt many more authors will soon be following his lead.

I’m not saying self-publishing is a slide on ice in comparison to the mainstream path. Many self-published books are of poor quality in terms of content or production—but so are many mainstream books. Most self-published books never earn a profit—but neither do most mainstream books. Self-published authors have to do all their own marketing and promotion—but so do most mainstream-published authors. Most self-published authors will never make a living off their books—but neither will most mainstream-published authors.

Self-published authors don’t get advance checks, but neither must they invest large sums out of pocket to publish. There are numerous Print On Demand service providers that don’t charge up-front fees, authors can publish to the Kindle for free using Amazon’s Digital Text Platform tool, and they can publish in multiple other ebook formats for free via Smashwords, Scribd and other outlets.

And given that self-published authors have access to the same distribution channels, quality production methods, marketing and promotion methods, and audiences as their mainstream-published peers, it should be very clear by now that the choice of whether or not to self-publish is, to quote Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, a business decision. Period.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    I see that you’ve mentioned me in this article but I think you missed my point entirely. I am a debut YA author and, quite frankly, I’m very happy with the numbers my mainstream published novel has pulled in. My publisher is too; they are publishing a sequel next year. The difference? I have realistic expectations for what a FIRST book can bring. And if you read the comments on my post, you’d have noticed that Ellen Hopkins posted her numbers and I have to tell you, I would be quite happy living off of what she pulls in (and her husband has retired). And she does that on one book a year — and she’s only about 5 years out in her career (i.e. since her first book). There’s no telling what my income will look like once I have a few books under my belt, though I’m not expecting Rowling or Meyer or even Ellen’s numbers. If my current numbers stay strong, I could quite possibly live off of my earnings as a writer once my third book is out. Personally, I don’t think that’s too shabby. I don’t know a single self published author of three books who can say the same thing (actually, I don’t know *any* self published author that can say the same thing).

    I completely disagree with your standing in this article. Self published authors DO NOT have access to all of the same distribution channels or other resources that traditionally published authors do. I know a great deal of self-pubbed authors (I’ve been a YA reviewer since 1998) both personally and professionally. The majority of self published books don’t go anywhere. Yes, it is the right choice for some. But to say that it’s just a business decision is disingenuous at best.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    And you also missed the point that Viehl’s books are MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS. There’s a huge difference between hardcover, trade paper, and mass market paper earnings.

  • Quentin

    You’re putting KONRATH in the leagues of Stephen King and Piers Anthony?!?

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!!

    Oh, man, if you hadn’t lost me by that point (and, actually, you had), that would have sealed the deal.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Kimberly -
    It’s a good thing that you went into publishing with realistic expectations, but most aspiring authors *don’t* have realistic expectations. There’s this pervasive perception out there that if you can sell a manuscript to a big, mainstream publisher, you can quit your day job and you’ve set with a career in authorship with longevity. Of course, neither assumption is necessarily true.

    Regarding mass-market paperbacks vs. other formats, your point is well taken but it’s worth pointing out, while the format in which your book is released does definitely affect your royalties, most aspiring authors don’t realize there’s a difference between royalties on a mass-market paperback vs. a trade paperback and therefore won’t be knowledgeable enough to try and negotiate “up” to a trade paperback release if their publisher is offering a mass-market contract. Even if they *do* attempt that negotiation, the answer may be “no”. Also, since it’s cheaper to produce and distribute, a mass-market paperback release is the reality that increasing numbers of debut novelists must face as trade publishers look for ways to decrease their risk and upfront investment.

    Regarding distribution, nowadays self-publishers can get their books listed in all the same catalogs and outlets (Bowker’s Books In Print, Library of Congress, Ingram, Nielsen, etc.) as mainstream-published books. Some of these distribution channels have only recently become available, so that may be the reason why your friends’ past experience doesn’t jibe with what I’m saying here. It’s important to note, having a book in those catalogs and listings doesn’t guarantee they’ll actually be *stocked* by brick-and-mortar stores or libraries. In fact, it’s the rare self-published book that *is*. However, as I point out in the article, even mainstream-published books disappear from brick-and-mortar stores pretty quickly, so in my opinion that early, approximately 90-day brick-and-mortar store presence is hardly crucial to a book’s overall success over its lifetime in print.

    And once again, let me be clear: I’m not saying, nor have I ever said, self-publishing is the right, nor better, choice for every book. As I concluded in the article, the choice of whether or not to self-publish is a business decision. I’ll add that it’s a business decision that each author must make for him- or herself on a manuscript-by-manuscript basis. All I’m saying is that in making an informed decision of whether or not to self-publish, aspiring authors need to know what they can realistically expect from *either* path (self-pub vs. mainstream).

    I did not mean to imply that you, Ms. Viehl nor any other mainstream-published author is dissatisfied with the proceeds from their books. The point I’m making is simply that the level of proceeds most published authors can expect to receive is *far* less than most aspiring authors expect it to be, and that’s important information that needs to be disseminated.

    I mean, if you set your cap on becoming a bank manager with the expectation that you’d be earning something like $50k a year, and everyone you knew believed bank managers earn around $50k per year, but then when you actually *became* a bank manager (after years of educating yourself, hard work, sacrifice and paying your dues), you learned that most bank managers only earn about $20k per year, you’d be pretty shocked and disappointed. This is the same type of scenario because most aspiring authors expect that if and when they “make it” into publication, they’ll be earning their living that way. Given more accurate information, plenty of us will still opt to head down that road, but at least we’ll go into it fully informed and with realistic expectations—which, as you point out, are the key to avoiding disappointment.

  • http://saundramitchell.com Saundra Mitchell

    I have to say, I’m baffled by the conclusions you took from my post. Because I’ve been a fanwriter for 15+ years. In fact, I was an incredibly *popular* fanwriter, in an incredibly popular fandom, and even then- I maxxed out at 600-800 readers.

    My book is a very small book, with a very modest marketing plan- and they STILL gave away over a thousand of my books, to reviewers and press, and bloggers, and awards committees and more. My publishers GAVE AWAY more copies of my book than I had readers in a self-published model. They’ve shipped almost 8000 – a number I couldn’t possibly hope to hit with a self-publishing model. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford 1000 copies of my own book to give away, even though I did still do marketing for my book.

    So you know, I’m all for self-publishing. I’ve written small books for my friends and my family, and been very happy to self-publish them. Obviously, I’m a big fan of giving away my work as a fan writer as well. But the exposure and distribution available to self-publishers is a tiny, tiny fraction of the exposure that your book will get, even if you’re a midlist author in a niche genre like I am.

    To say- hey, you’re not going to make a million dollars as a traditionally published author is the absolute truth. But to say that self-publishing has the exact same advantages and possibilities isn’t. Maybe one day- but that day is not now.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Quentin -
    I include Konrath because he’s a current, multiply-published and commercially successful author. His experience is relevant, as he’s precisely where most aspiring novelists hope to be if and when they are published by the mainstream.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    Agreed — but, honestly, that’s the author’s responsibility. To research and learn all of these things. If any prospective author does even the most basic research and joins organizations such as SCBWI (or children’s and YA lit), they would learn these types of things. And they would have realistic expectations. There’s no excuse for not doing your homework.

    Perhaps think of it like professional football. We all hear about their massive salaries, right? Well, not all professional football players make those types of salaries. Just the “big” names. There are second string and third string guys, right? And the guys that might spend almost their entire career on the bench.

    Not that I’m saying a midlist author is “on the bench” — just that trusting the stories in the media without doing any research is a silly thing to do and will always lead you to disappointment.

    And there’s a lot more subjectivity to what an author makes versus a bank manager or anyone in a corporate job. While a bank manager’s pay does depend on their skills, an author’s earnings are MUCH more dependent on them (not to mention a lot of other things that a bank manager doesn’t have to worry about — like audience reach and placement in bookstores, etc. etc.)

    At any rate, we’ll have to agree to disagree. In my own personal experience, I haven’t seen self-publishing work in an author’s best interests.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Saundra-
    I think you misunderstand my conclusions. Nowhere in the article do I say self-publishing has all the same advantages and possibilities as mainstream pub. Two advantages the mainstream has over self-pub are stated right in the article: self-pubbers don’t get an advance and they don’t get the status that comes with being mainstream-pubbed.

    However, newly-informed that the advantages of mainstream pub aren’t as great as aspiring authors have been led to believe (e.g., fame, fortune, glamorous book tours financed by the publisher, promo campaigns financed by the publisher, reviews in all the high-profile magazines and newspapers, quitting your day job, having an ongoing career in authorship once your first book is published, etc.), I think many aspiring authors will recognize that if their primary goal is to reach and build a readership, mainstream pub may not be the best way for them to achieve that goal.

    I say *may not be* because again, there is no one-size-fits-all solution here and different people have different priorities and aspirations.

  • http://peacock-king.infernalshenanigans.com/ Irk

    When you say Stephen King was self-published, are you referring to “Dave’s Rag” that was talked about in his book On Writing? Because something you contributed to as a child should count for life experience, yes, but he got his big break selling Carrie to a trad publisher. I don’t think King is a good example of how to make money at SP at all. Even if he did SP work now, he kind of has a huge name to draw off of by this point and doesn’t have near as much to worry about in terms of exposure/credibility/investment capital as a debut SP novelist. He’s an inspiration to me as a writer and encourages me to work hard at my craft, but other than that… I don’t think he has much of a place in your argument.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Kimberly -
    When authors began going public with their royalty statements, I can honestly say that I and every other self-pubber and aspiring author I know was totally shocked.

    I can also say that the mainstream-published novelists with whom I’m currently acquainted were also taken totally by surprise at the financial and sales realities they faced following publication. I’ve had countless emails and private messages from mainstream-published authors who are not household names saying that what I’ve posted here and elsewhere on the topic is right on target, and they wish they’d known what to expect before they signed the contract. Many express great gratitude toward the authors who are going public, since their courageous sharing will allow more aspiring authors to go into mainstream pub fully informed, as they wish they had been.

    Make no mistake – most (probably all!) *still* would’ve signed. But they wouldn’t have built up all sorts of unrealistic hopes and dreams around that contract, they wouldn’t have felt the huge let-down that comes of expecting to quit your day job and then learning you can’t (a disappointment to which most of us can relate, if we’ve ever thought we were going to get a job we applied for and then learned someone else was hired). Also, if this stuff were common knowledge, no newly-published author would have the embarrassing experience of answering to well-meaning friends and relatives who say things like, “So, I guess you’re pretty well-off now, huh?” and assume the author’s financial picture has suddenly had a major change for the better.

    If you knew exactly what to expect going in, I’m sure you didn’t experience these disappointments. But I also think you’re an unusual case, based on my experience and those of my acquaintances.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Irk -
    No, I’m referring to his experiments with self-publishing a serialized novel on his website a few years back.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Kimberly -
    You say that aspiring authors can learn all they need to know by joining organizations and such, but isn’t it true that most published authors are reticent to share their financial details—as is just about anyone, author or not, since it’s not considered to be an acceptable subject for polite conversation—?

    Even published authors I know well aren’t forthcoming with this information, and I’m not asking them for it because I think it would be rude to do so. Really, I can’t imagine how else I would’ve learned what I have from the recent disclosures some authors have chosen to make, coupled with the private communications I’ve had from authors on the subject. Those authors still aren’t providing specifics—nor would I ask them to—, they’re just saying that their experience is right in line with those of publicly-disclosing authors.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    There’s a wealth of general information out there, though not very much specific information. I will definitely grant you that. That was one of the reasons I posted my first statement. BUT anyone who does their research will easily find information about average advances and the like. When I said I went in with realistic expectations, it was from doing exactly that kind of research.

    It’s pretty similar to any job search — I don’t know exactly how much my neighbor makes, but I know a general range.

  • Justina

    I realize that you aren’t exactly neutral, but this last line actually made me laugh out loud:

    And given that self-published authors have access to the same distribution channels, quality production methods, marketing and promotion methods, and audiences as their mainstream-published peers…

    What…really? Because, to be honest, I have never, ever, seen a self published book in Barnes and Noble or Borders. Never.

    Beyond that, your article makes it sound like self publishing is the same quality as traditional publishing. And it’s not. Anyone who’s picked up a book off of Lulu or Amazon can tell you there are a lot of people who work with a writer to hone their craft that do not appear in self publishing. Copyeditors, publicists, professional artists and sales teams…these are all things that go into making a trade paperback such high quality.

    The biggest person you neglect to mention is an editor. Sure, you can hire a freelance editor to look over your pages, but is it really comparable to someone who is going to work with you to hone your work, and help you lay the foundation for the next book? You talk about this as a business decision, but folks who want to be in publishing for the long haul need to think about professional development as well as the bottom line. And the truth is, without working with people who know what works and what doesn’t, it’s highly unlikely you’ll grow as a writer.

    And any successful writer can tell you that becoming a better writer is more important than a few hundred dollars here or there. Period.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Kimberly -
    Knowing the typical range of advances isn’t terribly helpful, since every contract is negotiated individually and what one author gets has no bearing on what another gets. I mean, I can’t go into a contract negotiation saying that since Joe Writer got $10,000 for his novel I should get the same. Well, I guess I *can*, but I won’t get a bigger advance on that basis. Moreover, advances for debut authors have been pretty dramatically cut just in recent years, so a lot of what’s out there on the ‘net is stale-dated information.

    Also, while it’s pretty easy to figure what your agent’s 15% cut of your advance will be, or what amount of tax you’ll need to pay on your advance, it’s returns and publisher hold-backs against future returns that take some of the biggest, and least anticipated, bites out of a published author’s income. These are two items I’ve seen discussed online in general terms, but until I saw actual figures from real life, I had no understanding of how big an impact they can have.

  • http://willentrekin.com Will Entrekin

    “No, I’m referring to his experiments with self-publishing a serialized novel on his website a few years back.”

    Which kind of negates your point, doesn’t it? Didn’t he stop posting the serialization after a few installments? Isn’t it still unfinished after several years? I’m trying to remember if he included it, in its entirety, in any of his collections, but Wikipedia failed me there.

    Regardless, even if you consider The Plant an example of self-publishing (I think that’s stretching the term, truthfully. It was more like he blogged a short story at a time when blogs were just becoming popular. And sure, blogs are sort of self-publishing, but it’s not like he bound it and got it an ISBN and tried to get it into bookstores), it’s arguable that not even Stephen King managed to do it successfully.

    Publishing of any kind, self- or otherwise, is a business decision, or should be. The problem is that too many authors eschew business (I’m not familiar with the gentleman you quote in your final paragraph, but were I searching for support for claims I had made about business, I’m not sure he would have been my first citation), equating the thought of cash for product to a form of selling out. As for information: it’s not hard to come by. Try John Scalzi, Tobias Buckell, or Cory Doctorow to name just a few writers who are rather transparent not just about their advances and royalty statements but also their experiences with bookstores/sellers, the ways they publish, and with whom.

    “I can also say that the mainstream-published novelists with whom I’m currently acquainted were also taken totally by surprise at the financial and sales realities they faced following publication.”

    It sounds to me like your acquaintances haven’t done their homework. Just from reading online, I tend to not only know who has sold what to where lately, but also for how much and what the standard deviation from an average first advance is. Hell, googling “average first advance for novel” yields Justine Larbalestier’s highly informative blog on just that topic and that it’s roughly between $5000 and $10000, give or take (http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2004/12/24/average-first-novel-advances/). Subsequent links corroborate the number decently, and also highlight exceptions.

    Point is, any authors “shocked” by the numbers probably didn’t do their homework. And if, as you note, self-publishing (or as I extend, any publishing) is a business decision, I think that puts most authors, self-published or otherwise, at even more of a disadvantage, considering how few know anything about business.

  • http://www.stacylwhitman.com stacy

    Sure, self-published authors can be listed by a distributor, but you’re openly discounting the very real, very important influence on a book’s sales that having physical books in a bookstore has on a book’s sales, even if it *is* for only 3 months. Books are a browsing kind of purchase–people like to browse the shelves, pick up the book and browse the text, etc. Having your book sit on bookshelves is HUGE, and it’s the kind of treatment that a minuscule percentage of self-published books get. Bookstore presence isn’t something to just dismiss with a wave of your hand–a listing in a huge distributor’s catalog is NOT the same as having your book actually ordered into stores.

    Now, there are ways around this, but it requires a lot of publicity and a lot of legwork. It really isn’t comparable.

  • Philip L. Fowler

    April, Thanks for a sobering take on publishing today. I see those who are already mainstream published expressing their contempt as Ms. Pauley has. Apparently, once one is on the “gravy train” it’s easy to look down upon the rest of us who are yet to be published by a “mainstream publisher”. Sad, but true. You’re a credit to your art, Ms. Hamilton, for saying what needs to be said.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    Philip — I did not feel I was expressing contempt. I’m sorry you feel that way. I know many self pubbed authors, including some who write very admirably. I don’t look down on any writer, published or not. Why do you think I posted about my earnings in the first place? Because I feel that we ought to support each other and be as open as we can be in order that people do have the information that they need. Perhaps you might want to click through and read my posts on the subject rather than jumping to judge.

    But I do think that this article can be very misleading and discouraging to writers (when many of us are so easily discouraged as it is) — please check out the other comments. I couldn’t agree more with Stacy or Will or Saundra–not to mention the wealth of other articles out there on the web.

    And seriously? Traditional publishing is not a gravy train. Being a writer is a business and a job like any other business. It’s work. This is a hard, hard thing to choose as a career and honestly, I feel it is more of a calling than something people just think “Oh, maybe I’ll be a writer. Won’t that be fun?” You have to want it. And even “wanting” it isn’t always enough.

    Most of the self pubbed authors I know whose writing I admire could probably have been traditionally published but they gave up. Publishing is s-l-o-w. It takes a long, long time, no matter what some news articles would have you believe. I hate it every time I see some reporter talking about so-and-so who got a 6 figure deal while still in college on a book they haven’t finished yet. That stuff is incredibly rare, but it’s the type of thing that gets hyped in the news. Most of the authors I know have spent years and years working on their craft. It is not something that happens overnight.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Kimberly,

    Just one point, I know you’re talking about your personal friends who have self-published and so maybe their reason for self-publishing is because they “gave up” on traditional publishing. I can say honestly that once I learned all the realities of traditional publishing that I didn’t want any part of it. Low advances (compared to what you think you’ll get as a kid), miniscule marketing (and for most authors this is true), being stuck on a midlist you might get dropped from only to never get another publisher, complete loss of control over your content, your cover, your title, basically the book itself… those are not things I want for my life.

    While it is true that I may not reach as many readers as a trad-published author, that doesn’t matter to me. Since I studied self-publishing quite extensively before I hopped onto that path, I know I have to sell 1/5th to 1/4th as many books as a trad published author of the same type of book (trade paperback), to make the same amount of money. Will I reach THAT pinnacle? Well I don’t know, but with a backlist and a strong marketing plan working within all the distribution options available to me, yes, I believe I can do that.

    There are plenty of self-publishing authors that have done that. Many of them you’ve now heard of because they sold so well on their own, they got picked up by a larger publisher. Others you haven’t heard of because they started their own imprint and you just don’t know them. For example, a woman named Connie Shelton has been self publishing her own mystery series for years, even before POD became popular, under the name “intrigue press” and has gone on to publish others as well. (And if you think she had to publish others to make a bigger profit that would be untrue. Since she has to pay her authors a royalty and if she was just focused on writing and publishing her own books she’d have an even stronger backlist.)

    I fully intend to be one of the self-published authors that can make genuine money doing it. And while someday I would consider an offer from a larger publisher if my hard work earned me such a thing and the offer was good, that isn’t my goal or purpose in self-publishing. It would be a cool bonus, but it’s not why I do it. (Sort of like how you’d probably like to be a famous author but not being one wont’ stop you from publishing.)

    But then, I’m told by many of my writing friends that I’m not a “normal writer.” They call me a “publishing geek.” I love publishing. I LOVE the business side. Profit and Loss statements are sexy to me. I like ISBN numbers and all the minutiae I have to know to make publishing decisions. I like being in full 100% creative control of every aspect (which doesn’t mean I don’t know when I need to hire out. For example I hired an amazing cover artist for my first print release coming out in March.)

    Here’s my cover: http://zoewinters.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/bloodlust-frontcvr1.jpg (this isn’t the high-res version so there is a little bit of “jaggedy” look on part of the woman.)

    Anyway just thought I’d throw that out there. I know you weren’t saying it exactly, and you may not even have meant it, but in case you didn’t know, not every self-published author does it “as a hobby,” “to sell to family and friends,” “or because they gave up on traditional publishing.” For some of us self-publishing truly is an art and a business and it can be done well.

    If self-publishing can in ANY way work as a viable business model (and I’ve seen it done before so I know it can be done), then i intend to make it happen.

    Thanks for listening, sorry for rambling. :D

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    stacy -
    I think I pretty clearly acknowledged—stated explicitly even, more than once in the comments above—that being listed in a distributor’s catalog isn’t any guarantee of having your book stocked in stores. However, I disagree with you that brick-and-mortar store presence is terribly important, unless you’re one of those lucky few authors who’s going to get a big promotional push from your publisher. I blogged about it here:
    http://www.publetariat.com/sell/big-chain-bookstore-deathwatch

    This other article, tweeted by Publishers Lunch, addresses the issue of publishers “buying” prime brick-and-mortar bookstore real estate, which diminishes brick-and-mortar store rewards for authors who *don’t* get any of that bought real estate:
    http://bit.ly/4nEZ91

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Will -
    I quoted Guy LeCharles Gonzalez not because I imagine he’s the most influential person in publishing, but because I realized I happened to be re-writing his words verbatim and didn’t want to take credit for his words.

    RE: King’s experiment, yes, it was a failure. However, he did it at a time when ebook readership was pretty much in its infancy, when there was no such thing as a Kindle, Nook or Sony ereader. It was also a time when what few dedicated ereading devices there were, like the Rocket Ebook Reader, were very expensive and reliable, well-stocked sources for ebooks were catch-as-catch-can. Just as I labeled it, it was an experiment, not a celebrated success. However, more recently, authors are enjoying much greater rewards from epublishing, podcasting and publishing via POD. To dismiss my entire post on the basis of a failed ebook experiment in the time of ebooks’ infancy is pretty surprising coming from someone as generally savvy as yourself where publishing is concerned.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    Zoe — I can definitely agree with you and I salute you. There’s definitely a place for self-publishing, as Saundra also mentioned. You’ve done your homework and you chose the path that was right for you. A lot of it comes down to goals and you’re obviously realistic about yours and what your expectations are and what your hurdles are. Every writer is different and every path to publication is different as well.

    And April — as far as only getting “prime” real estate in a bookstore if your publisher buys it — that’s isn’t always true. I’ve had plenty of endcaps and my publisher (which is on the small side) did not pay for it (and while I’m very happy with what they have done, I don’t think you could call it a “huge promotional push” like you might hear about big publishers doing for “big name books”). I’ve done okay on Amazon, but I wouldn’t have had the (moderate, but still growing) success I’ve had without being in bookstores — including especially Indies, who put my book on the Kids Indie NEXT list last year. B&N has also been good to me. To me, at least, being in bookstores was terribly important. Teens especially might look online, but they shop offline (unless their parents are buying with their credit card). Perhaps it isn’t as important for those who publish for adults; I can’t speak to that.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Kimberly -
    The referenced article about buying store real estate primarily focused on the large displays at the front of the typical chain, brick-and-mortar store; those are ALL bought and paid for, according to the article.

    As for indie booksellers, it’s interesting that you bring them up because they’re one of the few brick-and-mortar outlets that tend to be receptive to self-published books. I’ll acknowledge that a self-published author has do his own salesmanship there, he can’t rely on a publishing-house sales agent to get his book stocked, but my experience and research has shown that it’s an outlet that’s very much accessible to self-published authors provided their book is of high quality and is a good match for the content mix of the store (e.g., a mystery book for an indie bookseller specializing in mystery/crime books).

  • Philip L. Fowler

    Irregardless of Ms. Pauley’s reply, I stand by my remarks. She feels it’s necessary to lecture those of us who haven’t been picked up by the mainstream publishers. That arrgance is unmistakable. The contempt is clear and obvious.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    All -
    I’m entirely willing to discuss the point of this article, which is simply that the mainstream path isn’t all it’s built up to be in most aspiring authors’ minds, and that the self-pub path, while challenging, can be an effective means for an aspiring author to reach his goals. But that’s really all I’m looking to discuss here, I’m not interested in going off on tangents based on things being read into the post that aren’t there.

    As I have repeatedly said, I do not claim that one path is superior to the other in general, and I have repeatedly stated that it’s a decision to be made by each author on a manuscript-by-manuscript basis. Neither have I said self-pub is inherently better than the mainstream route to publication: just that it’s a viable one that can, and does, work for some authors and some books.

    I stopped trying to convince the anti-self-pub contingent of the value of self-pub a long time ago after concluding that to do so is largely a waste of my time and effort, which are better spent in more productive pursuits. I’m not going to respond to any more comments or questions that are essentially aimed at questioning the validity of self-pub overall. That’s not what this post was about, and those who believe self-pub is a losing proposition are entitled to their opinion as I am to mine. It’s just not a discussion I feel is valuable or relevant to the post at hand.

    I don’t think a single one of the commenters who’ve dissented has explicitly disagreed with my overall assertion, which again, is simply that the mainstream path isn’t all it’s built up to be in most aspiring authors’ minds, and that the self-pub path, while challenging, can be an effective means to reach an aspiring author’s goals.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    I’m not anti-self-pub and I absolutely agree that it is the right path for some people. I am not trying to lecture anyone. The only reason I commented at all is because Ms. Hamilton referenced me explicitly within her post and in a way that I did not agree with (and, as I stated above, I’m perfectly happy to let us agree to disagree). I imagine that if someone referenced *you* within an article to support their thesis in a way in which you did not agree, you would also feel compelled to comment. In particular, she said “Thanks to the generous and brave posts of authors such as Lynne Viehl, Kimberly Pauley, Saundra Mitchell and others, something truly shocking has finally come to light: most successful mainstream-published novelists (meaning those who have been repeatedly published), including those who hit the NYT list multiple times, net an annual income on par with that of a fast food restaurant manager.”

    In particular, I did not feel that my numbers (or Saundra’s) should be used as any kind of comparison to Viehl’s because the numbers I posted were for a DEBUT (not repeatedly published) author in the YA field with a hardcover initial offering, nor am I on the NYT list. Viehl’s numbers were for her 7th or 8th novel, which was only released in mass market paperback format.

    If my numbers stay consistent in their growth and I continue to be published with a hardcover initial offering with a TRADE paperback followup, I will see potentially see much higher $$ numbers than Viehl’s, even if she continues to be on the NYT list and I never see the list at all. I have no idea what my numbers will be like after I am “repeatedly published” and on my (fingers crossed) 7th or 8th book, but I do not think that Ms. Hamilton’s post is clear that mine or Saundra’s numbers can not and should not be compared to Ms. Viehl’s on a one-to-one basis. We were offered up as an example in a way that I don’t think logically falls from the numbers.

    I have, in fact, always been a supporter of self published authors. For over ten years I have run one of the leading YA lit review sites on the Internet and we are one of the *very* few that accept in self published books for review. I can arguably say that I’ve read more self published books than most people out in the world at large, including most self published authors. There have even been people that I’ve directed towards self publishing after talking with them and learning what their goals were.

    But I’m with April in that this is pointless. People who have made up their minds will read comments on either side with their own take.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    And April — yes, I agree, it all comes down to what the author’s goal is. Self publishing is a viable alternative, depending on the author’s goals and expectations.

  • http://www.ellenhopkins.com Ellen Hopkins

    There is, no doubt, a place for self-publishing. Mostly, IMHO, it is a place for niche publications. As for trying to reach a mainstream mystery or romance market, probably not, which is why RWA and MWA have chosen to close the door to Harlequin and its authors. Philip, this is not to scorn writers who have yet to be published. As a regional adviser for the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), I give countless unpaid hours to mentor unpublished authors and illustrators, despite my relative success in this business. Success, which although it seems “quick” (because my first novel published with Simon & Schuster only five years ago), came with patience, growing my craft, focusing my writing, finding a unique voice, etc. That was many more years of WORK.

    While there are, doubtless, self-pubbed authors who are willing to work, a large percentage are not. They would rather shortcut their way to publication. The reason bookstores won’t carry self-pubbed books? Lack of editing. Lack of craft. Lack of an AUDIENCE, and there is the real downside to self-publishing. Who even knows those books are out there, without the kind of marketing a traditional publisher gives their authors? It is not true that a big house throws no support behind its authors, even its new authors. They have an investment there. And just BTW, it’s a two-way relationship. If a new author works hard and garners success, he makes money for his house, who will reward him with a larger advance and more marketing $$ next time.

    For most of us, it doesn’t happen overnight. For many of us, it won’t happen at all. But self-pubbed or traditionally published, shouldn’t it be about the writing? If it isn’t your heart, it will show, either way. Write a fricking great book. However it’s published, the money will follow. Or not. At least you will have written a fricking great book.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Kimberly,

    Not to beat a dead horse cause pretty much most of the people on this thread have agreed that the argument is pointless, but “self-publishing is a viable alternative, depending on the author’s goals and expectations” is no different than: “Traditional publishing is a viable choice, depending on the author’s goals and expectations.” I think we all agree that EITHER path is viable depending on the author’s goals and expectations.

    But I think your view continues to be (and if it does there is no point in arguing it cause I won’t win a convert and that’s fine), that if an author wants to make money in publishing, that they really need to traditionally publish. That always seems to be the underlying thing being said. Traditionally published authors repeatedly say that they don’t know of a single self-published author that has made any real money doing it. While I agree it is rare, it’s not impossible. And most mainstream authors aren’t making that much either. Maybe “low end money” for mainstream publishing is higher than “low end money” for self-publishing, but you still can’t live off it in the “low end money” situation.

    I feel that few people want to admit that someone who has some business sense and sets up their own imprint really “can” make decent money as a self-publishing author. And though I can point to examples of those who have done it, I can’t argue it from a point of true authority until I reach that mile marker myself. But once I reach it… good luck shutting me up about it. :P

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    April–Great article!

    The economy has affected everyting else, so naturally it has affected the publishing industry. Technology has a HUGE impact on every other industry too, writing and technology included (internet, ebooks, etc). Anybody who argues against that isn’t being intellectually honest

    You know how much money I made during the traditional route? $30.00

    I made twice that my first month, with my self-pub anthology. Albeit, I’m mostly a short fiction writer…
    Which brings up another point: The internet/indie publishing has opened a world of opportunities for me, since I do write mostly short fiction (short stories, flash, & novellas). As you’ve said, it’s different for every one.
    I intend to start a magazine very soon, and POD has opened that avenue up for me.

    Zoe–I also love the whole process of publishing. and Yes, it is a business decision :)

    To whoever said, self-pub writers don’t “hone their writing”…well that’s completely untrue. Self-pub authors have to work harder at perfecting their writing than any other author out there. It’s all on us to make our writing as perfect as it can possibly be. Every single story in my anthology went through the rigormarole of some sort of critique (writing group, etc). I wouldn’t have included it in my story if I hadn’t. I have relatives who are retired teachers, happy to provide a light copy edit for a very low fee…
    Professional editors in big pub houses…? well I give them credit for making it look llike a certain celebritante can actually SPELL.

    And yes, we can get our books in brick and mortar bookstores–it’s called consignment. Not only that, but listing with Ingrams, B&N, et al is just a mouseclick away nowadays…Especially if you run your own small press/indie imprint.

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    I meant I wouldn’t have included that story in my BOOK if I hadn’t …gah, this cold medicine is affecting me.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    Zoe — no, I wouldn’t say that was my point, actually. I can see how it might sound that way, since the arguments often seem to come down to that. I think the comments here have tended towards that since the only reason I even came here and commented was because Ms. Hamilton brought my name into it referencing my sales numbers.

    My personal goal as an author isn’t actually the money. I used to be a corporate manager and I made a bunch o’ money — and was miserable. To get my salary up to the same level as I used to earn is possible, but it will likely take me at least 3 or 4 books (and would be much easier if I wrote more than one book a year, which seems to be where I am now). I write because I love to write and because I want to reach readers. This is something Saundra touched on too — you yourself said that a self published author needs to see far fewer copies than a traditionally published one to make “X” amount of money.

    After a year of sales as a debut author from a smallish publishing house, I’ve sold over 40,000 copies. Many more people than that have read my book, between the review copies (which aren’t in that number) and the libraries who have stocked the book (which they did because my publisher took me to ALA — as a side note, I talked to a self pubbed author who had a booth at ALA this past year and she was very disappointed because none of the convention goers bothered to stop and check out her book once they figured out it was self pubbed; she had thought that if she was there, it would be like the magical “If you build it, they will come” thing) and even the ones I hand sold myself from the small stockpile I bought for that purpose (which also don’t count in my official numbers). Not to mention the teens that write me to tell me how they passed their copy around to all of their friends. If I had self published the book, my readers would be a fraction of that.

    As I’ve also said before, I can only speak from my own experiences. The self pubbed authors that I personally know have never seen numbers over 2,000. Many of them become discouraged after their first book and never get around to that second one. Yes, it is definitely possible and I hope you do it. But it is hard and it is a LOT of work. I spend a lot of time (and also money) now promoting my book. If I had self published, it would need to be much more. That’s time that I would rather spend either writing or with my family.

    And, to go back to money, I don’t think the numbers necessarily add up. Did you see Ellen Hopkins response to my blog post with her numbers? I sincerely hope that I hit similar numbers when I am on my fifth book (and so does my husband). As you know, it makes a huge difference what an individual’s royalty percentage is as well as what format their book comes out in.

    At any rate, I wish you and all other writers the best. The whole reason I had posted my first statement up in the first place was to provide information for my fellow writers that was specific rather than general.

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    Ellen–You are forgetting that many writers have successfully utilized self-publishing as an in road to traditional publishing rather than a way around it (many nay-sayers do). Jeremy Robinson for one, Christopher Paolini for another…

    You’re also forgetting that some (like me) really do want to become publishers themselves, albeit smaller indie presses.

    Self-publishing is a great proving ground for both.

  • http://www.stacylwhitman.com stacy

    My point was simply that distribution is not the same, and that bookstores really do make a huge difference in volume sales. This is not to say that other channels are impossible–look at the small presses who aren’t distributed in the chains, for example. (This is a model I’ll be approaching, by necessity, with my own new small press once we start publishing, because small presses can’t even *get* distribution deals until they have 5 or more books out.) And because of returns, a large chain or big box order is something a small press has to be wary about, because even if B&N takes 80,000 copies, they can return 79,000 and no one is out any money but the publisher. So it’s tough all around.

    Certainly there are segments who are doing the self-publishing thing successfully. A friend of mine, Howard Tayler has been doing the self-publishing thing successfully because his webcomic has a large established audience, and his experience seems to reflect a lot of independent comic artists’ experience when they self-publish and sell their books through their websites and conventions. However, fiction can be harder, because you don’t have the established 20,000 or more regular readers that boil down to the 1000 true fans thing (search Howard’s site for links on that–it’s a really interesting principle).

    As with Kimberly, I think self-publishing can be a viable alternative (after all, Howard’s supporting his family via self-publishing), but it’s important to go into it with the right information, knowing that you’re doing all the work a publisher has to do and then some. (And Howard’s wife, Sandra, who self-published a picture book, will rarely recommend the route to authors she talks to because she didn’t have the built-in audience Howard did.)

    We’re in the midst of a huge transition in publishing, and perhaps bookstores won’t matter as much in the long run if you’ve got other ways of allowing the reader to browse (I myself, for the aforementioned small press, am looking at a number of different options because I’ll have to sell those first few books without benefit of distributor, same as any self-publisher). But my point was that it’s important not to discount the importance of bookstore shelf space. Even in the non-coop areas of the bookstore, just having your book on the shelf is free advertisement in a way that an online ad/listing that people have to go looking for is not (and yes, most premium placement in chain stores is bought & paid for). This is also why indie bookstores are so important, because they tend to support books based on how well they like them and how they fit their community, unlike chains and big box stores.

    And as someone above said, self-published authors can sometimes get the attention of their local indies, which is a good thing, too–if the book is good, the book is good, whether it comes from a mainstream house or an author who self-published. I just think it’s important to remember that bookstores *are* important–after all, despite gains in online sales, brick and mortar stores are still estimated to sell 55-60% of all books out there. But for self-published authors, that attention will be painstaking and require a lot of legwork. A mainstream publisher will have already-established relationships with the buyers, and a team of salespeople working across the country (either in-house or via a distributor) that the self-published author won’t have access to. This is an important distinction, just as it’s important to remember that the self-published author won’t have the benefit of an editor unless they pay for it, and they won’t have the benefit of a good designer unless they pay for it, and so forth.

    By the way, Zoe, that cover is nicely professional–so unlike the vast majority of self-pubbed covers I’ve seen! It’s a perfect example of a service, though, that doesn’t always make sense cost-wise a la carte for the individual author–costs that a publisher covers as a matter of course, spread out across many books, utilizing people with industry expertise.

    It may happen that one day editing, design, art, and sales may just be outsourced directly from the author–who knows? But just as distribution tends to make more sense in a conglomeration, selling many books from one publisher rather than one book at a time, those services *tend* to be more cost-effective from a publisher. If an author wants to spend the money on services they don’t have expertise in to ensure that their books meet market standards, great! It’s just a lot of money to come up with, and the quality of the book will suffer if the author doesn’t have those skills him or herself–and the distribution simply isn’t equal. There are ways around that problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

  • http://willentrekin.com Will Entrekin

    “To dismiss my entire post on the basis of a failed ebook experiment in the time of ebooks’ infancy is pretty surprising coming from someone as generally savvy as yourself where publishing is concerned.”

    To be fair, if that’s what you took from my response, you missed its point as entirely as you seem to feel I dismissed yours. I took your post to be a calling out of the “harsh realities” associated with mainstream publishing, which you purport come as a “shock” to many writers, which is why self-publishing has viability. I was merely noting that anyone to whom the figures you cited come as a shock never did his (or her) homework.

    “I don’t think a single one of the commenters who’ve dissented has explicitly disagreed with my overall assertion, which again, is simply that the mainstream path isn’t all it’s built up to be in most aspiring authors’ minds,”

    Well, sure, anyone who thinks a mainstream publication contract will come with sunshine and puppy farts is going to be disappointed. But anyone who thinks that probably doesn’t know much about publication in general anyway.

    But look: self-publication can’t be a viable option for anyone who thinks mainstream publication is all sunshine and puppy farts solely because anyone who thinks so knows pretty much nothing about publishing, which means they don’t know when and how self-publishing might be a more viable option than traditional publication. If most aspiring writers think that mainstream publication is the ideal scenario, they are, quite simply, not ready for the reality that is publishing, no matter the prefix you stick in front of it. You have, in effect, destroyed your own argument.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Will -
    I did not know all the financial realities of the mainstream path until after I’d self-published. I still imagined advances to be quite generous (if not in the six figure range), and was unaware of publisher holdback-against-future-returns policies. I never would’ve suspected it was possible to hit the NYT bestseller list multiple times and still net less than $30K a year on your books, until I read those revealing, recent posts from some daring authors. I was aware of other factors I raise in this post, such as shrinking to nonexistent promo budgets that force most authors to do all their own promotion. I was also already convinced of brick-and-mortar chain stores’ declining importance, but only recently learned (from the first-hand experiences of author friends) that if you don’t hit the bestseller list you’ve got 90 days on those shelves, tops.

    I chose the self-publishing route for reasons unrelated to the issues of which I was largely unaware. Yet my ignorance in those areas did not prevent me from releasing some quality, very well-received self-published books, including one that was just picked up by Writer’s Digest Books to be published in an updated and revised edition in 2010.

    So…what does this new information do to *your* argument? ;’ )

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    April — Viehl never said that her total take was less than $30K a year on her books — just on the ONE book. She didn’t post what her total earnings were across all her books. She only posted numbers on ONE book. She’s making money on anything still in print and anything out there in foreign editions, etc. There’s no telling what her total income is from just the one book’s numbers.

    I’m nowhere near the NYT Bestseller lists, but next year when my second book comes out, I should definitely net more than $30K if my numbers just stay even and don’t grow (and they’re generally expected to grow when you release a sequel). I’m also going to start to see some income from audio and international sales as they hit.

    I’m not trying to argue, I just want to clarify. My book is also still in stores long past the 90 day limit (saw it yesterday, as a matter of fact, and it was actually face front). It came out in August 2008 and it’s still there.

    Every book is different, but I just don’t see the traditional publishing option as negatively as you seem to be painting it.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    My understanding from the article is that in the year the example book was released, it was the only book from which she was earning significant royalties. I think she even mentions somewhere in the article the difficulty of maintaining a comfortable income with only one new book (or less) going into print each year, and I believe there’s also mention of more prolific authors’ tendency to earn more.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    I just re-read her article to be sure, but I read that differently. She had a big “If” in there. And honestly, I find it hard to believe that she’d have only one book out in print in *any* language when she’s on her 7th or 8th book and on the NYT Bestseller list.

    But even if that was the case, really, it’s all individual. Ellen only publishes one book a year and her numbers are very different from Viehl’s. To quote just a portion of what she posted up:

    “I got an $8000 advance for CRANK. Low, also because it was unagented. The book came out in Oct. 04, and this statement is for the period ending March ‘09, so this is for four and a half years: Net units sold are 460,839 Net earnings are $354,379.33.”

    She also posted info on her other books and advances, which were earning her money alongside of CRANK. You can see it at http://kimberlypauley.com/2009/11/21/a-challenge-for-my-fellow-authors/ in the comments.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Kimberly -
    We’re kind of going around in circles now, so let me clarify my position. I’ve come to view the financial success stories in authorship as exceptional relative to the type of publication. In other words, authors who are making terrific money on their books are not the norm, regardless of who published them.

    I don’t doubt that there are mainstream-published authors who are not household names but are earning a comfortable living on their book advances and royalties, but I DO doubt very much that this is the typical outcome for most mainstream-published authors. Likewise, I know of many self-published authors who are supporting themselves and their families on their book earnings alone, but again, I think we’d all agree they are exceptional among their self-publishing peers.

    There’s nothing terribly new or controversial here. The only thing that makes it worth my while to post such a blog in the first place is the fact that (in my experience and research) most aspiring authors do not know, or believe, that authors published by big, mainstream houses are earning anything less on their books than an income sufficient to allow them to quit their day jobs.

    In my opinion, that belief is a big part of the driving force that keeps many aspiring authors toiling away year in and out, through countless rejection slips and disappointments. I’m not saying any of them should quit, just that before one commits such a huge chunk of one’s life, energy, dreams and hopes to a goal, she ought to know exactly what that the achievement of that goal means—and conversely, what it does not mean. There will always be those extremely talented and/or lucky few who break through to become hugely successful, but “common knowledge” holds that just getting your book published by a major house equates to, if not fame and outrageous fortune, at least a comfortable living. And for the great majority of authors, it doesn’t appear to be true.

  • http://willentrekin.com Will Entrekin

    “So…what does this new information do to *your* argument? ;’ )”

    Nothing, really. It wasn’t new; a perfunctory glance through the bio information of this post had already noted all that. I see your book there in the upper left. Writer’s Digest is smart and knows that it can bank on a guide that will help authors who want to self-publish through the process of doing so, and I hope your book helps prepare them for it, notwithstanding the irony of a mainstream publishing company distributing an Indie Author’s guide to anything, which you discuss well in your blog. I wish you, WD, and your readers all the best with it.

    I’m not sure I had an argument besides that it’s important for writers to do their own homework, and that the numbers you (and I) cited should come as no surprise to any writer. My argument, if I have one, is that this is our business and we should know it; it’s arguable whether anyone shocked by any aspect of it should be in it in the first place. They are certainly not a sign of decline in mainstream publishing or a reason to avoid it, which is what I infer from your post.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Will said:

    “My argument, if I have one, is that this is our business and we should know it; it’s arguable whether anyone shocked by any aspect of it should be in it in the first place. They are certainly not a sign of decline in mainstream publishing or a reason to avoid it, which is what I infer from your post.”

    Then I’m afraid you infer incorrectly. I’ll state my thesis yet again, this time with feeling:

    “…the mainstream path isn’t all it’s built up to be in most aspiring authors’ minds, and that the self-pub path, while challenging, can be an effective means for an aspiring author to reach his goals.”

  • http://stephencashmore.com stephen cashmore

    Very interesting discussion. Lots and lots about numbers, making money (or not), hard work (or not) and the awe-inspiring disappointment people feel when they find a mainstream publisher.

    But there’s something else. I read a lot – have done ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper (whatever that means). And recently I have read a handful of traditionally published books which were… um, let me think of the right word… I know. They were crap. Awful. Absolutely terrible. Characters were extraordinarily superficial; plots were transparent and gruesomely unrealistic; the writing itself was no better than average, and sometimes worse. I won’t mention names for fear of being struck down by a lawsuit, but believe me, these books were so bad that I THREW THEM AWAY. I didn’t even take them to a charity shop, thinking that someone on their uppers scarcely deserves to have that sort of book thrust upon them.

    To be sure, there haven’t been many. Perhaps half a dozen in the last couple of years. But my point is, how on earth does such utter rubbish get accepted for publication, while perfectly respectable books don’t? Oh, I understand that if you write a perfectly respectable Western, say (to echo comments on another post), you probably won’t get accepted because Westerns aren’t flavour of the month. But why do perfectly respectable thrillers, for example, get rejected, when awful examples of the same genre are smugly on the bookshelves? I don’t write thrillers, but I read them, and three of the aforementioned half a dozen were thrillers. I have read self-published thrillers which were MUCH better than these main-published grotesques.

    Don’t write saying this is all a matter of subjective opinion because – trust me on this – if I was to send you the half dozen books I have in mind, you’d throw them away too. So what’s the answer? How did they do it? How did (does) it happen? I have my own dark theory, but I would love to hear the opinion of the knowledgeable people who have contributed to this thread.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    Yes, indeed, we are going in circles. I’ll leave it that we’ll have to agree to disagree. My experiences just don’t match up with yours.

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    Stephen– I know what you mean. I have a bunch of traditionally published sf/fantasy books on my shelves that I can barely get through the first page of. I set them on the shelf, and never touched them again.

    I also wonder how some of the crapola gets published, …well two of the SF stories I know why. They capitalize on a well-known franchise. The rest thought…?

    IMO, I think publishers think of it like gambling; or more to the point the stock market. They want to put their money on what they think will earn them back their money. The “same old stuff” gets published over and over again, because they think it’s what’s making them money…and they are afraid to take a gamble on something that might be a little too unique.
    As for weak plots, and lame characters…I don’t get it. I wonder how many publishers in the large commercial publishing houses actually study fiction writing. You’d think so-called experts in the field would be able to tell if a story has a weak, mary sue protagonist or a lame, trite plot. Do they really think readers like that stuff??

  • http://www.ellenhopkins.com Ellen Hopkins

    “I wonder how many publishers in the large commercial publishing houses actually study fiction writing.”

    I would argue that of many so-called writers, actually.

    “You’d think so-called experts in the field would be able to tell if a story has a weak, mary sue protagonist or a lame, trite plot. Do they really think readers like that stuff??”

    Obviously, many readers do. Personally, I don’t read much commercial adult fiction (a la Patterson or Grisham, or any author who relies on formula), but huge audiences seem fine with those formulaic “easy reads.” Huge enough audiences, BTW, that Patterson and Grisham are making plenty of money in traditional publishing, as are their houses. I won’t argue that a lot of not good fiction is published every year. But someone’s definitely buying it.

    “friend of mine, Howard Tayler has been doing the self-publishing thing successfully because his webcomic has a large established audience, and his experience seems to reflect a lot of independent comic artists’ experience when they self-publish and sell their books through their websites and conventions.”

    Comics are actually quite often self-pubbed, and do realize much success this way.

    We’ve all sort of agreed to disagree here, but while many of you are arguing that people should be “warned” away from traditional publishing, I feel the same way about self-publishing. There are no shortcuts to success, or to making money from your writing. Anyone who has enough ambition to actually market a self-published book and make a success of it (and we all agree there are people out there who can/will do that) also has the ability to make his/her traditionally published book a major success.

    On the other end, for those of us who have chosen traditional publishing, the platform becomes less crowded with every person who chooses self-publishing instead. So yay. Encourage every wannabe writer into POD, please… that way we can also save trees!

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    Once again: Many writers aren’t using POD to circumvent traditional publishing, but as a way to attract agents & acquisition editors. A self-published title that sells over 1,000 copies will seem more attractive to a major publisher (who can use its marketing resources to double or even tripple that number) than a tattered, dog eared coffee-stained manuscript that shows signs of being sent around to many, many publishers…

    Once again: POD is a valuable resource for someone who wants to run their own small press or magazine.
    What was once only a pipe dream (for myself & others) has never become easier or more affordable.
    More small presses are popping up, in various genres…
    As Commercial houses narrow their gates, new ones open up.

    As far as bookstores: If someone wants to read your book badly enough, they’ll look wherever you have it available…
    be it B&N, Borders, your local indie book store, or Amazon.
    But, you better make sure you do the work to get people interested…and use Amazon availability, or whatever store you get consignment deals with as part of your marketing plan.

    As far as online sales: There may always be technophobics & people who don’t own computers…but they are few and far between IMO. consignment deals in 2-3 local stores suit thier needs as well.

    And, if I had a dime for every person who told me “I’ll find it on amazon” regarding any book they show interest in…
    I’d be able to fund my magazine without the help of my day job! LOL

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey Kimberly, I hear ya! I’ve had those times when I’ve been referenced on a blog and i go to respond and it goes in a totally diff direction than I intended it to. I’m also sorry for misreading what you said earlier. It can be very difficult to interpret what someone means in text in the flow of a conversation like this. I also agree with you that most self pubbing authors don’t sell more than 2,000 copies of a book. (Hey most don’t even get to 500) And I might not either, only way I can know is to try. I also think whatever the number is, will grow as I build up a backlist and explore different marketing opportunities. I’m definitely on a “10-year plan” here.

    Hey Stacy,

    I’m a big fan of the 1,000 true fans principle! I don’t think a writer could live directly off 1,000 true fans purchasing all their books, but the true fans tell all their friends and that’s valuable word-of-mouth advertising.

    Thanks on the cover! I had it designed professionally by a very talented cover artist, Anne Cain. And I got her for FAR less than she’s worth.

    Will,

    I think you make a very interesting and valid point when you talk about the people who think mainstream publishing is all sunshine and puppy farts probably wouldn’t succeed self publishing because they don’t yet know enough about publishing. There is far too much naivite among many unpublished writers still and many of them see self-publishing as a shortcut. I wish the truth were that most self-pubbers were doing it because they loved it and they’d crunched numbers and looked at all the factors for both paths and chose the one that was right for them, but sadly this is rarely the case. Most of them run out to Authorhouse or Lulu, spend a ton of money, design ugly covers, dont’ properly edit, etc. etc. don’t know how to market, expect to somehow get “picked up by a publisher to get rich and famous” and it’s just epic fail all the way around.

    Though, I also agree with April… while most of us don’t think most NY pubbed writers are rich, a lot of us DID think they were at least making a full-time living as NY pubbed authors, and that often isn’t the case. Maybe a supplementary income if they have a spouse that is the primary earner but it’s a rare published author (of any description) that can call it their sole source of income and live on it. But I wasn’t a noob author that was sending things in on pink scented paper. I’d read all the books on publishing, and considered myself one of the less tragically noobtastic, but you really have no concept of the numbers until people start sharing those numbers.

    But Kimberly made a good point about context of the numbers. i.e. how many books did the author have out/how far along in their career are they? What format is the book in? what is the royalty percentage? etc. etc. Lots of factors.

    Ellen, I also agree with what you’re saying to some extent. Though I don’t feel writers should be warned away from trad or self-publishing. I think they should be fully educated on both options and then pick the one that suits their temperament and goals. I think many people who go down trad publishing paths would be happier as self-publishers. But I think many self-publishers aren’t cut out for it and should have stuck with trying for trad publishing. I also don’t think it should have to be the Sharks and the Jets. There are authors who successfully utilize BOTH trad and self-publishing for different projects and I think too much extremism on either end either “ZOMG NO self publishing is evil!” or “ZOMG NO trad publishing is evil!” closes doors and opportunities that may have been found in both.

    K. Crumley, I LOVE that I can be a publisher AND a writer, that both of those doors have opened to me with lower barriers because I don’t think I could be happy doing just one of those things.

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    Zoe — I really do hope you succeed because you seem like you’ve weighed your options and made a decision that is right for you. So many of the self published authors I know really didn’t. They just jumped in and had huge expectations and were sorely disappointed.

    And you’re very right — whatever path a writer chooses, they need to do their research and figure out what works for them. There is no right or wrong.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Thanks, Kimberly! I hope you get ridiculously rich and famous. (Or barring that that you replace the income you made at your other job.)

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Kimberly,

    Checked out your blog and will definitely check out your books. I love paranormal stories and I read some YA too. Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampire series is one of my faves from that book category. Have you read her?

  • http://www.kimberlypauley.com Kimberly Pauley

    Zoe — LOL Thanks and the same to you. Though I’m perfectly happy with the level of “fame” I’ve got now (fan mail is the best thing about being an author by far).

    I haven’t read Rachel’s books, but I’ve heard great things about them. Tho my books are very different — all on the funny side. Think vampire accountants.

  • http://www.thefiddlersgun.com A. S. Peterson

    This has been an interesting conversation. Allow me to shed some light on a slightly different perspective.

    I decided to publish my novel, The Fiddler’s Gun (fiddlersgun.com), independently and it was purely a business decision based on whether or not I was sure that I could sell 1000 copies. I came to the conclusion that I could and moved forward. I hired an editor and cover designer and shopped around for printing options. I knew immediately that POD printing wouldn’t work. Terrible quality books. You can spot a POD book from across the room. I didn’t want that. Not to mention that the cost of POD books is incredibly high. From a business perspective, if you know you are going to limit your sales right out of the gate by going the independent route, it makes absolutely zero sense to find yourself in a position where your product is not only of substandard quality but costs twice as much to manufacture. Off-set was the only real solution for me.

    A print run of 1500 copies cost me $3500. That comes out to about $2.40 a copy for what turned out to be a beautiful book. The cover price is 13.99 which gives me a net profit of 11.49 per sale. That’s a profit margin that a traditionally published author can only dream of.

    That initial outlay of $3500 is pretty large, though. I certainly didn’t have that much money. What I did have was something of a fanbase that I’d spent the previous two years developing via an online community that I write for and my own website chronicling the publication of the book. So when the time came, I asked for patronage and sold enough pre-orders to more than cover the printing of the book.

    The book has been on sale, only via RabbitRoom.com, for less than a week now and I’ve moved about 350 books. That’s small potatoes to a publisher but that’s over $4000 to me in net profit. And I’ve scarcely tried to market it yet.

    If I can sell through the first print run of 1500 copies (and I will), that works out to a little over $17,000 net. That’s not bad, and that’s working on a fraction of the sales numbers that a traditionally published book has to pull in to see any profit at all.

    Now surely, my situation won’t work for everyone. It works because it’s a good product, and because I developed a core of people that trusted my writing and were willing to invest in the promise of the book to come. The point I want to make, though, is that it was a business decision. I looked at the numbers and I made it work.

    Frankly, I wonder why on earth more authors aren’t doing this. If an author with an established track record sold 20,000 copies of a book published this same way, the rewards would be vast.

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Henry Baum
  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    I LOVE funny paranormals. My stuff is all snarky mixed with pathos. And I know what you mean about fan mail, I once had a reader email me to tell me they’d read my novella 5 times. I just love the idea of someone reading something I’ve written five times, lol.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    A.S. Peterson, at the risk of starting a publishing methods war here, calling books using print-on-demand technology “poor quality” shows a lack of genuine research into the area.

    Lightning Source, the premiere POD printer in the US and UK (NOT an author services company), has VERY high quality printing, paper, covers, and binding. They even do a decent looking hardcover in POD. Many mainstream publishers use Lightning Source for their backlists and many smaller independent publishers publish entirely in POD with LSI. LSI additionally offers multiple distribution channels that just are not open to the average self-publisher using offset printing without a go-between.

    If you personally favor print runs and don’t mind the risk, more power to you, but to say POD is inferior quality printing, shows a lack of genuine research into the area. I have several books printed by Lightning Source on my shelf and I can say they are as high quality as offset print and only a publishing industry professional can even tell the difference in the printing. And then it’s not so much an issue of quality as just how the printing is done.

    As for editing, cover, and interior layout, that is the responsibility of the publisher to get right, not the printer. If someone prints an ugly book, the book may be ugly because of poor design which has nothing to do with the printing method which I know you know, but just throwing it out there. If you looked at an ugly POD book you may or may not have been truly judging the parts of the book the printer is actually responsible for.

    I think for most self-publishing authors an offset print run is nearly always going to be a financial disaster.

    *Goes to hide behind a rock and wait for the hand grenades*

  • http://www.thefiddlersgun.com A. S. Peterson

    I’ve certainly done my research. The Lightning Source factory is about 20 minutes from my house. I’ve been there, I’ve sat down and talked with their reps at length, I’ve seen the entire operation, and actually have an examples of every type of book they are capable of printing sitting on the bookshelf right next to the desk as I type this. They offer a great service, there’s no doubt about that. But, in my opinion, it really has to be viewed as a service instead of a product.

    Before I made my final decision to abandon the possibility of POD printing, I did a test, I asked people to look at books and comment on quality. With little hesitation, people easily picked out the POD books as the worst of the lot whether trade paperback, picture book, or hardcover (and I’m not talking design issues here, I’m talking paperstock, cover stock, cover laminate, binding, print quality etc.)

    I expect this to change in the future. Once LSI can offer options like lay-flat matte laminate covers, spot gloss, rough edged pages and other creative design elements, the differences will largely disappear. There are two very good reasons that publishers of the highest order like McSweeney’s don’t use a POD service: Quality and Flexibility.

    I printed up ARCs with LSI using the exact same files and artwork as the final off-set printing and if you saw the two versions side by side you’d be amazed. The LSI version is grotesque, to put it mildly, but the service was excellent. They printed up copies, one at a time, as I needed them and shipped them where they needed to go.

    Having said all that, POD is certainly the way to go for many, if not most, self-publishers. Most don’t have the skill set or peer groups necessary to produce a high quality product and take advantage of the options available with off-set printing. And certainly, in the non-fiction market, book design is generally a bit more…sterile…and lends itself more easily to the type of book that a POD printer produces.

    The issue for me isn’t the fact that POD books are either poorly made OR prohibitively costly, the issues is that with the current state of the technology, they are BOTH. I could probably live with a inexpensive yet poorly made product, and I could probably suffer a well-made but expensive product. The two in combination is something that I wasn’t willing to deal with.

    At any rate, I’m not interested in arguing. I just wanted to provide my perspective as it’s not one that I’ve often seen discussed.

  • http://willentrekin.com Will Entrekin

    “…the mainstream path isn’t all it’s built up to be in most aspiring authors’ minds, and that the self-pub path, while challenging, can be an effective means for an aspiring author to reach his goals.” Right. Got that. Which, it should be noted, you support with statements like “Author advances are down and mainstream publishers don’t offer much in the way of promotional support to the great majority of their authors anymore,” and “Turnover in brick-and-mortar bookstores is high and shelf space is shrinking all the time as more and more store real estate is given over to games, stationery, cosmetics, gifts, music, movies, and the like. It’s gotten to the point where landing a mainstream publishing contract is no longer even any guarantee of seeing your book shelved at your local Borders or Barnes & Noble.”

    My question continues to be how an aspiring author without good knowledge about the publishing industry can possibly succeed in it on his or her own. I know you think you’re doing a great service to such aspiring authors by revealing numbers and figures that will-shock-yes-I-said-shock-them!; I think the problem is in your juxtaposition of self-publishing against mainstream publishing late in the post, which seems spun toward the former by downplaying the enormous differences between the two models. I understand that you are attempting, in your way, to disseminate better information regarding publishing, and I think that’s terrific, but I think the conclusions you draw–that aspiring authors don’t know enough about mainstream publishing and what a viable alternative self-publishing can be–don’t quite align.

    But anyway, good intentions, and hey, great discussion generated, so well done there. Discussions like these are part of what keeps me coming back to this site.

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    Thanks, Will. Points noted. And—off-topic—I like your hat.
    - A

  • http://redweaverbooks.com Shane Durgee

    If I could pull in 30k a year by writing the type of crap I write, I’d be pretty satisfied with my life. Of Course I’d also have to marry one of those bread-winning bank managers…

  • http://stephencashmore.com stephen cashmore

    A final thought, as I sense this thread is fading. A lot of posts here have talked about the “mainstream option” as against “the POD option”.

    But the problem is that for a lot of people, mainstream publication ISN’T an option. A lot of people can’t even get an agent, never mind a publisher. As I pointed out before, there are loads of perfectly decent self-published books out there, and I bet if you polled the writers, 95% of them would say “I did this because I couldn’t find an agent or a publisher in the normal way”.

    So it really isn’t especially helpful to compare the two methods, as for the vast majority, there is only one.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    A.S. Peterson, and the reason I provided my perspective is because generally speaking among “serious self-publishers,” offset printing is the ONLY option that’s discussed. It costs thousands of dollars just for printing (and the author still has to get interior layout, cover art, and editing, however they get those things done.) It also presents major problems for getting into distribution channels.

    If you feel offset printing is that big of a quality difference and the way you’re selling makes the cost unattractive as well. then awesome. (i.e. those of us taking advantage of the LSI distribution channels find the cost much more attractive than offset, since with offset we have to figure in warehousing and shipping or paying a fulfillment company to do those things, as well as having to offer much higher discounts to the distributors who will take us.)

    While your friends may just be such paper quality buffs that they can tell a big quality difference in POD books from LSI and offset print, I still find it fairly doubtful that they weren’t, at least on a subconscious level, judging things that had nothing to do with anything like interior layout and cover design. It can be incredibly difficult to separate those two issues out in your head when assessing the quality of a product.

    But in your post you said: “Frankly, I wonder why on earth more authors aren’t doing this. If an author with an established track record sold 20,000 copies of a book published this same way, the rewards would be vast.”

    This implies that it is somehow easy or even do-able for most self-published authors to sell thousands of copies. (established track record or not, most authors are not publishers, nor do they have the aptitude to be.)

    And it isn’t. There is no guarantee of any number of sales on any book so for most people it will be a losing proposition. Most people who self-publish arent’ very savvy at all. And so to encourage them to publish with off-set is about like encouraging them to throw their money in the yard and run over it with their lawnmower.

    If you’ve made it work for you, great. Everybody has a diff method that works for them, but I’d be really leery about encouraging random people to do it. Most people just can’t.

    And I’m not saying that at some point I wouldn’t use offset printing. But it’s definitely not a place I would encourage any self-publishing author to start, mainly because if there is a quality difference, the average reader, just can’t tell it. If your friends can, they are in a whole other stratosphere of quality control than most of us.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey Stephen,

    I think you make an excellent point. The truth is that the assumption that “if a book is good enough, it will find a publisher” is no longer true. So acting like all good writing will eventually find a home and so traditional publishing is a real “option” for everyone, is false. There are many reasons a book gets rejected having nothing to do with quality.

    Now an author “may” be able to get published through a small press. But even in that situation, the average “successful” small pubbed book sells 500-3,000 copies. If i can’t sell 500-3,000 copies on my own, then there’s no reason for me to publish through any method. (my personal opinion on my personal writing situation.)

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    * Correction to A.S. Peterson: I meant to say: “If the way you’re selling makes the cost ATTRACTIVE as well” I said “UNattractive” which I would hope it would be clear that it’s a typo through context, but yeah. I should re-read before I hit send.

  • http://www.thefiddlersgun.com A. S. Peterson

    Zoe,

    I have no desire to encourage anyone one way or the other. I’m simply providing a different perspective, primarily because I was so surprised when I began looking seriously at publishing at how vast the cost/quality differences were between offset and POD. And keep in mind that my perspective is from a strictly business standpoint, not one of convenience or simplicity.

    I can say definitively that had I published my novel with a POD printer, I wouldn’t be making enough money to offset the cost of editing, much less cover design, profit margins are too low. It would have been business suicide. Shoot me your address (email me at zpeteman@hotmail.com) and I’ll mail you a copy of an LSI version and an offset version of the exact same book and you tell me which one you’d pick up in the store and buy. Then consider that the nice one costs $2 to make and the ugly one $6-10. As a businesswoman which makes more sense to you? Once again, remember than my business decision rests on my confidence in an ability to sell a minimum of 1000 copies, something that not everyone can commit to.

    I’m not encouraging folks to try it my way nor discouraging folks from going the POD route. I’m simply stating facts and interpreting them from a position of needing the book to make money so that I can continue to write without losing my shirt.

  • http://www.chooseomaticbooks.com Matt Youngmark

    Hi all,

    Just wanted to comment on A.S. Peterson’s post, and say that my experience has been quite different. My book is a trade paperback with b/w interior, and the POD version from Lightning Source looks wonderful. True, I’d prefer the option of a matte cover instead of their standard gloss, but I’ll put the print quality up against any offset book. I work as a professional graphic designer, and have a very critical eye.

    In terms of economics, another thing to consider is that printing POD with Lightning Source gives you access to the Ingram distribution chain, and although you’ll likely be ignored by brick and mortar outlets, amazon and other online retailers will carry it at a short discount. I’m doing an offset run in January for a distributor, who offers the book to retailers at a 50% discount, and takes another 10% for themselves. I may pay as little as $1.25 per book for printing (depending on the size of their initial order — wish me luck!), which means that I’ll gross 40% of retail and net around $4.75 per book.

    Meanwhile, amazon will be selling the POD version at the 20% discount I set through LS, and although the printing cost is higher, I gross 80% of retail and net 7.30 per book.

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Hey A.S. I can totally respect that. I made the LSI decision from a business perspective too, but… my book must be significantly shorter than your book because the profit margins for me are much better. Also I couldn’t pass up the distribution options LSI makes available. Though I would consider in the future using offset if it ever became the smarter business decision for me. i.e. at “this” point the risk is too great, but in a few years it might not be, who knows.

    And also, I wasn’t thinking about books that were longer like that. It’s true offset may be a much more financially wise decision for some people depending on all the particulars of their situation and since I want authors to be educated about all their options before committing to anything, that means ALL their options.

    I come at it from the angle of “all” i was hearing from people on self-publishing options was “expensive offset printing” (which it is an expensive upfront cost), or Vanity POD presses. And few people seemed to want to discuss LSI. So when I talk to someone and they talk about offset I’m really not sure if they are aware of the LSI option. I shouldn’t have assumed you weren’t aware of it and that you didn’t weigh it. My experience with self-pubbers who use offset had always been people who really weren’t aware of the LSI option.

    And sure, I’ll email you, I really would love to see a side-by-side difference and I appreciate your willingness to share it with me!

  • http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Zoe Winters

    Matt, this is more along the lines of what I came up with when I made the decision to use LSI. And I agree with you about preferring more options. There are some things you can do with offset: different paper edges, matte cover, foil stamping, really neat and attractive things, that you can’t get with POD. And at some point it would be really cool to do offset to get some of those nifty things, but not today. :D

  • http://kristentsetsi.wordpress.com Kristen

    “The reason bookstores won’t carry self-pubbed books? Lack of editing. Lack of craft. Lack of an AUDIENCE,”

    If this has been addressed and I missed it, my apologies.

    But, in my experience, bookstores won’t carry them because they don’t have a Traditional Publisher name on the binding TELLING them there’s an audience, an editor, a craft.

    A (self-pubbed) book of mine – after being read by someone who decides such things – was placed on the shelves of a local bookstore in general fiction (not local fiction – yay!) because the Decider thought the book had earned it’s place on the shelves. That the craft was there, that it had been properly edited, that there was, in fact, an audience.

    Understandably, most bookstores don’t have the time to personally evaluate every self-published book they would be handed were they open to regularly putting self-published books on the shelves. This is why they don’t take them. It’s not because the sp books haven’t been edited or are lacking craft or don’t have an audience; rather, it’s because the bookstore owners take the word of the publisher that the books will have that craft, that they will have been properly edited, that the audience is there.

    There’s a bit of a difference.

  • http://kristentsetsi.wordpress.com Kristen

    Edit: ITS, not it’s. Hate it when I make an error like that when talking about editing. Sigh. Whatever. This is a blog, not a book. So there. ;)

  • http://www.thefiddlersgun.com A. S. Peterson

    I wouldn’t buy that sentence. It hasn’t been edited well.
    :)

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    Kristen,

    I see your point. However, the very first self-published author I ever met was stocked in many bookstores. Her book wasn’t all that great. At the time (I was rather naieve) and I was so jealous, because I was still trying to go the tradtional route and getting very frustrated. Every bookstore I’d walk into had Mary Scott’s book!

    When I asked Ms. Scott about it, she told me she went through a Christian book wholesaler. (She also used offset printing since this was YEARS before POD, and the entire process cost her a few thousand dollars…but she was moderately wealthy).

    The shocking thing, knowing what I know now…is that it was blatanlty self-published. Meaning, she didn’t even use an imprint. The info (to this day) just reads “Author is the publisher.” (She’s an elderly woman, and didn’t want to go through the long process of finding a traditional publisher.)

    Fact of the matter is: You can get your book(s) shelved in bookstores on consignment, and/or working your own distro deals. But you have to put in the time, money and effort.

    It’s a blanket judgement that SP books aren’t edited. Most of us shell out good money for people to do it for us, or work out some kind of barter system. Everybody needs that “second pair of eyes.”

    In light of what you said about publishers: I can relate to this as I start up my own small press. My new book has to be PERFECT. If it looks like crap, people would assume that everything my imprint puts out will be crap…and I am standing behind the name. I want to be as professional as possible (which is why I spend a tremendous amount of time gaining feedback, opinions, etc).

  • http://www.publetariat.com April L. Hamilton

    The reason most chain booksellers won’t stock self-pub books is that for the most part, they’re unreturnable. That’s it. Booksellers don’t inspect mainstream books for editing/craft/audience, and as we all know, plenty of mainstream books fail on one or more of those criteria.

    It’s a simple matter of the booksellers’ entrenched practice of returns, which actually has mainstream publishers pretty hamstrung and is a big part of the reason for the current crisis in mainstream pub.

  • Shane Durgee

    I agree that the quality of POD, specifically LSI isn’t up to standard. Actually the problem I have is that it seems better than mass produced books. The cover is too strong and too shiny. The paper much heavier than say a paperback King novel. I honestly think that that’s what makes POD books stand out, especially that blinding gloss, which I wish could be changed to some sort of matte. But the POD print quality is pretty standard now, and I think good design can certainly balance the limited paper quality. In other words a casual observer can certainly tell the difference between the high gloss book and the one with the lay-flat matte laminate, but if all other factors seem to be of professional standard, and the glossy book seemed like a ripping read, would the cover quality really dissuade a potential reader?

    In other words, the reader isn’t gonna be looking at the POD cover held up against the same cover printed on organic linen or whatever, they’re gonna be looking at it held up against other covers of different sizes, colors, boasting different contents.

    I understand wanting to have the best quality you can afford, but is it a decision that really affects how many books you sell, especially when the majority seem to be sold on the internet?

    I think the better point A.S. Peterson makes is about the financial reimbursement under her model. I think the compromise would be to self-publish online and through POD until you’re sure that you even have an audience at all. If you know that you can sell, what 500 books, without a doubt, then it makes the initial costs of mass printing, professional editing and design, that much less of a gamble, and certainly the stronger choice. It’s particularly ideal for someone with a small cult following, someone likely to sell between 3000 and 5000 books every time. Small numbers for Harper Collins, and a pretty small royalty check to match. But put through Peterson’s equation and that could be a comfortable yearly income.

    I started a small press to publish my own work and the work of my friends. Until I’m sure that I can actually reach an audience, I’m playing it safe with POD. For my second book I could very well choose offset printing, assuming that POD doesn’t improved in price and quality in the next year.

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    April & Shane–Good points.

    Also, I know of (at least) one indie author who works out her own distro with “mom & pop” bookstores, and makes her books returnable to her.

  • Robert C. Nelson

    Wow! Sounds like a little bit of disagreement here. I can see both points to a certain degree,but it does appear we have some high noses at work. Why? It makes no sense to me. Why do we write? If it’s to make a lot of money,find another line of work.It’s all about the story, isn’t it? Tell your story and put it out however you want. I am completely intrigued with the whole self pulishing movement. It’s all about control. I want more control of my novels; I want control of my cover artwork; I want control of my editor; and I want control of my bottom line. If my book fails, I can slap myself around. If I do well, so be it. I’m a ways out from self-publishing one of my works, but I’ve already arranged to have it shelved in eight different brick and mortar stores. Big deal? I live in Wyoming. The largest city has 53,000 people .Not exactly your biggest market base. However, my novels do not just have local appeal, and big old Denver is a mere 100 miles away. As for hardly anyone seeing self- published books in a Barnes @ Noble book store, you’re not looking very hard. I’ve seen many. By the way, this is not a rant from a guy whose only option is to go the self-publishing route. I have had eleven novels published by the big boys, all under different psuedonyms; I did quite well, thankyou. But guess what? The big boys are taking the fun out of writing. More demands, less quality control , and a marketing plan that truly sucks. I spend a lot of time in my local Barnes @ Noble watching what happens to the new books, whther they be mid-list or super-author be-genious. Guess what happens? Even a Dan Brown isn’t kept front and center for long. They all move down the line and eventually to the storeroom. Super hits may be out for three whole months. So the way it appears to me is to do what you can in stores , go on-line, and hit E-books. Cover evrything. Also: advances don’t mean crap!! I recently turned down a $100,000 advance because I was literally told that if this advance was not recouped within six months I better shop around for another publisher the next time.Just a little pressure, huh? In other words, I was to be at the mercy of every brick and mortar store manager and employee in the country. Thanks,but no thanks. I’m not saying it’s wrong to go with the traditional mode. If you want the frustration, then go with it. I’ve been writing for eighteen years now. The big houses are not the future. Self-publishing and some of your smaller houses are the way to go. Also, for those of you who might get a bit discouraged by a lack of big sales, one of my novels sold a measely 150 copies, including the ones that I bought. My previous novel had sold 220,000 copies. Yes, they were under different pseudonyms, but it was certainly embarrasing, and my publisher had a meltdown. I returned the advance and got control of the novel in a couple of years. My agent gave me a call one day and said the publishers had changed their minds and wanted to give me back my advance. Lo and behold! One of the poor souls who had bouht my novel wanted to make a movie out of it. To keep peace- remember this was back in the better days of publishihing- I told the publishers I would gladly accept their kind offer under one condition: I be allowed to work on the screenplay and receive a percentage of thje movie’ gross. I made more on that one novel than the other ten combined. So never lose faith,and take charge of your own destiny.

  • Robert C. Nelson

    Sorry! I have a few extra letters thrown into a couple of words in my statement above. That’s why we all need editors.

  • http://www.ellenhopkins.com Ellen Hopkins

    I keep reading these comments, and have shut my mouth, but Robert C. Nelson has made me want to open it again. Self-publishing, for the most part, is for people who can’t cut traditional publishing. Argue otherwise all you want, but you’re being dishonest. Yes, some bookstores carry SP’d books. Most don’t. Yes, sometimes it’s because of a return policy, but mostly it’s because (and argue this, too, all you want) the MAJORITY of SP’d books suck. MAJORITY. There are exceptions, and no one here has argued that. But they are rare. And can I just say if you write a book and need to pay someone to edit it for you, maybe you’re not really a writer. You may or may not be a storyteller.

    Anyone who claims Dan Brown isn’t writing what he wants and making everything he needs to live and more (even if he isn’t “front and center,” though I’ve rarely seen that in the past few years) is seriously disingenuous. Advances that don’t earn out don’t need to be repaid. So, Mr. Nelson, if you turned down 100K in favor of self-publishing, good for you. And better for the industry. And sir, if one novel sold 220K copies and the next sold 150, there was a serious problem with the second novel. And that wasn’t about your publisher. That was about your book. Obviously you’re good at marketing, but who even knows who you are? Eleven pseudonyms? For what purpose? Now you’re in control of your books. 100% of 150 copies @ $20 each? Sounds like not enough to cover the cost of printing.

    I’m incredulous that this discussion has become about print quality. You forget about writing quality. The majority of books written every year don’t merit publication. Just because you can pay to publish them doesn’t change that fact. Neither do pseudonyms change facts. Poor writing is poor writing. It’s easy to blame “the big boys” or the economy or return policies. I haven’t seen your books. They just might be brilliant. But trashing traditional publishing is shortsighted. It is changing, to be sure. But, as a traditionally published author who is living my dream within five years of publishing my first novel (all under my REAL name), I’m willing to go along for the ride. I’m taking six figures advances, and earning them back within my first royalty period. I don’t have to knock on doors to do that. I’m doing it by writing great books, targeted to my audience.

    This isn’t about being “high brow” or thinking I’m better than anyone else. But when the argument comes down heavy in favor of SP because TP books aren’t good, or don’t deserve front of store recognition, I’m saying bullshit. But hey, that’s just me.

    • http://www.pattyghenderson.com Patty G. Henderson

      “And can I just say if you write a book and need to pay someone to edit it for you, maybe you’re not really a writer. You may or may not be a storyteller.”

      Ellen Hopkins, it’s too bad you walked into that pile of sh…

      If you independently publish, you will WANT to pay an excellent, professional editor to polish your book. This is exactly what non-independently published authors and detractors of independent books point to….poorly edited books. Unless you are brilliant and can deliver a manuscript that requires no editing, your publisher, my dear, will be paying an editor to edit your manuscript. Wow, you didn’t know that? Whether I choose to publish my own book or contract with a publisher, editing will be done, dearie. Common sense follows that if you are your own publisher, who will pay for the editor if not the author? What a complete waste of statement on your part. You should get your thoughts together before posting here.

      I write and publish in a small niche. Lesbian fiction. I have been under contract with the biggest of the lesfic publishers (but small potatoes to mainstream fiction) and with smaller publishers. I CHOSE to end my contract and independently publish my own work. My supernatural mysteries can compete with the best of them. I have a professional, high quality editor polish my manuscript (I am the publisher, afterall…LOL) and I also do the graphic work for my own covers. Check out my website and see: http://www.pattyghenderson.com. They can compete with any book on the market.

      I won’t bring money into this because I am not writing for money. I don’t begrudge those that write only for that purpose, but would suggest they seek a better avenue for that. I don’t want to play the “publishing game.”

      Please don’t make sweeping, generic statements lumping all independently published authors together in your cellar of the unworthy. Why don’t you really research independent publishing and some of the fantastic and talented authors choosing that path because they WANT to.

  • Shane Durgee

    Robert, are you gonna tell us what the name of your novel/ movie is?

    Can I add, since Robert mentioned it super-briefly, that as an artist I wanted complete control of the design and art of my book? I queried less than a dozen agents, basically the ones that represented authors I loved and that was a handful. Form rejections all. So, now, do I beg some stranger who represents authors I’ve never read, or have read and wished to forget, to read the first chapter of my novel? Well, maybe I could hit up the smaller publishers… and that’s when the eureka moment hit. Why would I go to a small press when I could do the same job- no better!- myself.

    And the real lure, the one thing that really got my heart pounding about it, was that I had absolute creative control over all aspects of the book. Of course, I spent torturous months laboring over the cover. I made three separate oil paintings. Worked up nearly a hundred sketches in Photoshop (not even close to an exaggeration… I had to constantly dump them to make room on my hard drive). Spent weeks just on choosing the type (and much of the type I had considered was hand drawn by myself and scanned in).

    Let’s not even revisit the interior design, please god.

    But I loved the work. I loved designing the visuals for my novel as much as I loved writing it. (I think most people would look at the end result and wonder what all the fuss was about, but it was highly difficult to make it look so simple and yet professional.)

    Here’s the thing. I can change the cover if I want. A revision is only $40, so if I decide that the current cover isn’t working or something else occurs to me while in hypnogagia, I can give it a face-lift. I would have much less control over the visual stuff if I were with a small press, and no control what-so-over if I were contracted to a big publisher.

    I can literally right this instance soil a piece of toilet paper, scan it, upload it to LSI and have that be the cover of my novel for as long as I wish. Hygienic or no, that’s real power.

    I also want to add that many small presses use POD printing with titles that are certainly available in B&N and Borders brick and mortar stores.

  • Shane Durgee

    That I’m not getting a 6 figure deal any time soon isn’t because my writing is bad. It’s because “literary Sasquatch memoirs” is still an untested genre.

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    Shane — That is right. a lot of the snobs and haters forget that NOT ALL TITLES ARE SUITED FOR MAINSTREAM. Like cross genre works, novellas, and anthologies.

    Piers Anthony self-publishes a lot of titles that his publisher isn’t interested in. Is that because he is a bad writer? No. Some of his titlels just fall outside the realm of what that publisher produces.
    And, a lot of people use both TP & SP models…depending on the book.

    To say that commercially published writers are better than self-published writers is to say Paris Hilton or Tori Spelling is a better writer than Jeremy Robinson, Christopher Paolini, Piers Anthony, et al.
    It’s just an archaic snob/elitist mentality that some still subscribe to despite the fact that things are changing in the publishing industry.

  • Shane Durgee

    I was being cheeky. I do think there is infinitely more crap in the SP pond than the TP pond, and that’s not counting the people who simply don’t understand any aspect of the English language and yet just had to get their 6th-rate Harry Potter rip-off into book form so their family and friends can nod approvingly with stone faces to hide their despair.

    But of course, self publishing is beginning to open doors to real unseen talent, assuming said talent is up to the task of editing and marketing and seeking out their own niche. I have to agree with Mrs. Pauly and Mr.s Hopkins that at this point it’s still wishful thinking to believe that your self-published novelist is even going to be in competition with your average published novelist, even if they’re equally brilliant. Financially speaking, the low end on the TP side seems to match the income of a banker. The low end on the SP side is… not selling a single book. And our low end is easier to slide down to.

    You almost have to do something truly unique in order to generate a small following and make it work. You’d have to sell a few thousand books in order for it to be a real success. On that tier, the advantages of self-publishing (bigger profit for each book sold, absolute creative control) seem to outweigh those of traditional publishing.

  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com Henry Baum

    Ellen, what a mess of bad information in your last comment:

    And can I just say if you write a book and need to pay someone to edit it for you, maybe you’re not really a writer.

    What? I’m sure most traditionally published writers appreciate their editors and think the editorial process helps to make the book better. I guess all those writers are hacks.

    The majority of traditionally-published books are crap. Twilight is crap – I don’t care that it’s sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It’s bad writing. You’ll get no argument from me about the superiority of traditional marketing and distribution, but we’re talking about actual book quality now. That something has sold well is not evidence of its quality – in fact very often it’s evidence of its lack of quality. I’m sure this puts me in the minority here because most seem to equate sales with success, but writing isn’t a widget, it’s a form of self-expression and putting only a monetary value on that is pretty empty. So don’t pat yourself on the back too hard because you’re “targeting your audience.”

    Frankly, as a bestselling writer I don’t know why you feel the need to crap on self-published writing by saying “Self-publishing, for the most part, is for people who can’t cut traditional publishing…the MAJORITY of SP’d books suck. MAJORITY.” As a successful writer, why do you care about dumping on those who are trying to find some way to break in? Self-published writing is getting better because it is getting more difficult for people to “cut traditional publishing.” Yes, there are many bad self-published books – always will be – but those books don’t represent my writing any more than bad traditionally-published books represent yours.

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    Shane–In my own, honest opinion I think it’s about 50/50.

    For every pink-fonted, mary sue featured SP book by a teenage girl…there is a Celebritante who wants her name on one more product. In this case, a book.

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    Ellen–

    “This isn’t about being “high brow” or thinking I’m better than anyone else.”

    I think that’s exactly what this is about. Otherwise, why would you be here? *shrug*

  • Robert C. Nelson

    I just sent out a rather long comment that vanished. Lot of work down the tubes. Checking to see if this one vanishes,too, before I write another one.

  • Robert C. Nelson

    Ahah! It appears I’m back up and ready to go. I had not expected this much reaction to what I wrote yesterday- most of it coming from Ellen and being rather negative. I’m sorry if I personally rankled you. Certainly the intent was not there. You have made your decision and are absolutely convinced it is the path for you to take. I wish you good luck and happiness in your writing. I am choosing another path. No more right or wrong than yours’. Your personal affront on me was strange to say the least. Why I chose to write under different psuedonyms was a personal matter concerning people I loved. I don’ really feal it necessary to explain it to you or anyone else. My decision; my choice. I’ll probably continue along the same lines; I haven’t decided yet. One book will be written under my name, however, so my children will know a little more about me from the words I write. As to my terrible selling novel, perhaps it did suck. I was writing gory horror at the time and decided to write a comedy/ horror novel. Oops! It didn’t work. I won’t do that again. Yes, I made money off of it, but it was the movie that generated the bucks. Pure, dumb luck. As far as saying that traditionally published books do not belong front and center was not said by me. You read my note incorrectly. I said that they don’t remain there for long. Big difference. As far as editing goes, I’m sure your publisher assigns one to you. Nobody is perfect. In self-pulishing, it’s a different story. It’s a polishing tool. Who wants to send out an inferior product? I know I sure don’t. Since no one else is going to provide this for you, An editor can tell you what you have: crap, a book needing some tweaks, or a major rewrite. Find an editor who also does reviews and you’re sitting even better. This ” seriously ingenuous ” writer has written enough for the moment. Good luck; good writing.

  • http://kristentsetsi.wordpress.com Kristen

    Ellen,

    What I understood Robert’s post to say was that if a writer has something good, the traditional publishing process may turn out to be less than they’d hoped or dreamed. People have expectations when it comes to being traditionally published that, for most people, won’t pan out. It’s lovely that you’re living your dream, but I know quite a few writers who have published with pretty impressive publishers (who have been bestsellers, even), but who still have to work their day jobs – they still can’t afford to stay home and write for a living. I often wonder if, like anything else, it’s a bit of a lottery. Some things catch on; some don’t. For the work that doesn’t, there’s self-publishing. Robert seemed to be advocating taking control of one’s own writing destiny since (as he describes it) traditional publishing probably won’t end up being the fantasy most writers think it will be.

    (If I misunderstood your comment, Robert, my apologies.)

    There’s really no reason for this to turn into an angry argument on either side.

    Kris

  • http://stephencashmore.com stephen cashmore

    Henry – I agree almost 100% with your comments. But I don’t think it’s right to say “The majority of traditionally-published books are crap”. I’ve got some 5,000 books dotted round my house, to the despair of my wife, and the vast majority of them are good reads. Maybe not all are wonderful, and maybe some aren’t great, but they’re all readable.

    I have a funny feeling that if I picked a random sample of 5,000 SP books, there would be a much bigger percentage of bad books. It’s pretty obvious why.

    Like it or not, traditional publishers do jump through a lot of hoops to make sure that anything they publish is going to be reasonably up to scratch – it’s their bread and butter on the line, so to speak. SP books don’t have to jump through the same hoops, so clearly there will be more SP books that simply don’t cut the mustard. It seems to be my day for mixing metaphors and juggling similes.

    Most traditional publishers aren’t looking for the next Shakespeare or Chaucer. They are just looking for something that is going to sell well. “Twilight meets Emmanuelle” is likely to sell better than “A collection of horror stories by SP Author”. It might not be as well written, but that’s just tough.

    To sum it up: a writer will write what he/she wants to write and **** the market. Someone desperate to be mainstream published will study the market like mad and write the aforementioned Twilight sequel. Usually, that’s not writing, it’s doing business and the heart and soul of the writing will be missing.

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    Stephen–

    Like I said, I think the good book/bad book ratio with both sp and tp is about 50/50.

    “Most traditional publishers aren’t looking for the next Shakespeare or Chaucer. They are just looking for something that is going to sell well”

    Exaclty. Publishers want what they know will sell (which is why there is so much celebrity-authored crapola in bookstores). I also think that the TP market is very trendy, and Twilight is the new trend. When this trend is over, a new one will take its place.

    It’s like gambling…or horse racing. They want to put their money on hte horse that won its last 2 races, (twilight, tori spelling…some other cheesy thing) rather than take a gamble on some horse they never heard of.
    When the dark horse pulls to the front of the pack and wiinds up wining the race you have a good chance of being noticed by an agent or editor.

    In light of not seeming hypocritical: Yes I do want to become a full-fledged publisher. No, I do not intend to publish crap by celebrities or current trends just to stay ahead. I plan to keep my integrity ;)

  • Robert C. Nelson

    Kristen; I believe you read me well. There are no givens in the publishing industry. One has to go with the heart. Ellen went with her heart and she’s living her dream. I’m happy for her. My heart doesn’t take the same path as her’s. Neither path is right or wrong as long as the destination is reached. Sometimes the journey itself is what’s important. I’ve been writing since the early nineties and there have been many changes on the publishing scene, unfortunately, not all of them good. Yes, I realize that advances do not have to be paid back if your book doesn’t earn it back. I did it because on integrity. I hadn’t earned the money; I didn’t want the money. Simple. You hit it right when you said it’s a lottery. Taking control of one’s destiny doesn’t necessarily mean taking the self-publishing route. No less a personage than Mick Rooney, who swings a mighty fine pen on this site, says to try the traditional route if you believe you have a quality book. I’m not about to dispute his point. If nothing happens, you can still self-publish. Nothing lost but time. I’m taking the self-published route with my next novels because I want to. There is one gory little bugger that I still might put out with a small house, but that’s because of content. Hone you skills and tell your story. Good luck to everyone, and like Kristen say’s- there’s no reason for arguments.

  • http://vjchambers.com V. J. Chambers

    April, I wonder if you’ve published your numbers as a self-published author? How much money did YOU make this year selling fiction?

    As a caveat, I’d like to state that I’m a converted indie author myself. I can’t imagine the circumstance that would make me “sell out” to a commercial publisher. But I do find the implicit message that self-published authors of fiction can make as much (or more) money publishing their own stuff as commercially published authors misleading and disturbing.

    Self-publishing is gratifying for the amount of control one retains over her work, for the personal interaction one can retain with her audience, and for the sheer “I-did-this-all-by-myself” factor. I don’t think implying that it’s financially gratifying is particularly ethical.

  • http://www.aprillhamilton.com April L. Hamilton

    VJ – Didn’t you notice this paragraph in the piece?

    “I’m not saying self-publishing is a slide on ice in comparison to the mainstream path. Many self-published books are of poor quality in terms of content or production—but so are many mainstream books. Most self-published books never earn a profit—but neither do most mainstream books. Self-published authors have to do all their own marketing and promotion—but so do most mainstream-published authors. Most self-published authors will never make a living off their books—but neither will most mainstream-published authors.”

    I don’t think there was any implication whatsoever in the piece that self-pub authors make more money, or have an easier go, than their mainstream peers.

  • daviddavid

    Greetings! New member here, first post.

    Fabulous discussion, all. I’m glad i discovered this site, and this thread alone has made it worth the price of entry. Errh…free?

    I know that i will have a tough time finding a traditional publisher because i write rather experimental cross-genre fiction. I do not believe it has anything to do with the quality of my writing but more the fact that it will, by nature, never draw a mainstream audience. My first book, Death by Zamboni (self-published in 2000), still sells a few copies a week via word-of-mouth, and i will be doing a second printing when i publish my second novel. At least i know that i can keep it in print for as long as i live.

    To Ellen, re: December 13, 4:17am. Wow. You could have used an editor for that scene because an editor might have recommended you soften your arrogant tone. Remember, a good editor doesn’t simply comment on grammar and punctuation (skills you apparently have) but overall style and technique. An editor might have suggested you re-write that chapter after you cool down. Consider the narratorial voice you are presenting. This persona is alienating to the audience and might not be the best approach to convince someone that your point of view is valid. And while this audience might be small, you have likely lost sales and word-of-mouth distribution will not be positive.

    To A.S. Peterson: Very informative process you are going through right now. I’d love to peep those two books, but I don’t want to ask you to go the expense of mailing them–perhaps a digital photo would show a difference? I know for me, using recycled paper for my second novel is of high importance, so i will probably need to go offset for that reason alone. POD printers don’t seem to use it, although perhaps some digital printers do. I’ll find out when i submit bids. I’m debating the digital vs. offset right now. Much like you, I have also started a blog on my Goodreads page at http://www.goodreads.com/daviddavid discussing my process of self-publishing vs. finding a traditional publisher. My plan is to pursue both simultaneously. Although i have only faint hopes for the traditional approach, i’m going to give it a good go. Like you, i’m confident i will make back much more than i invest, just as i did with my first novel. Can i live off either approach? Nay. To be honest, the only reason i’m even considering a traditional approach is that i have a vague hope in the future of quitting my current day job to become a creative writing teacher. I think a traditional publisher will give me more credibility to land that position. That, unfortunately, is a prejudice, if an understandable one.

    Happy Nearly New Year, all!

  • http://BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com Michael N. Marcus

    My situation is different from most of yours because I am not a novelist. I write non-fiction and humor.

    However, I can compare traditional and self-publishing.

    I have had books published by traditional royalty-paying publishers (starting with Doubleday in 1977), and am now doing my fifth and sixth self-pubbed books.

    I can definitely say that by self-pubbing I made more money, the books came out sooner, I received the money sooner, I like the books better, and I’ve had more fun.

    Your mileage may vary.

    Michael N. Marcus

    author of “Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press,” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742

    author of “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” coming 4/1/10. http://silversandsbooks.com/storiesbookinfo.html

    http://BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com

  • http://outskirtspress.com/TalesoftheTitmouse Pamela Barrett

    Self-publishing is not for everyone. For me this discussion is like this: I’m a hair designer with 34 years in the industry. I spent a lot of money on advanced training and put long hours into becoming the best one I could be. Through out the years I have met many good hair-dressers that went to work at Super__ or Fantastic___, and I tsk-tsked them for not taking the high road. I could go into the pros and cons of their decision, but the bottom line is it’s what worked for them. I researched before going into self-publishing so I knew what I was getting into, mainly marketing it myself or hiring a publicist. Sure some doors will be closed to me, and I don’t have a big advance or tour bus, but my book has already helped some people that needed a little hope.

    I found a great company to work with, loved the experience, researched what I needed and what I wanted to spend. You know, 20 years ago when I first started to put my memoir together I was told no one would buy it because I wasn’t famous. I knew I had an important story, and I had the passion to write something that could help others. Today there are wonderfully written memoirs by unknowns who would have died with the music inside if it wasn’t for the new influx of quality self-publishing companies. I own all the rights to my book, and with print-on-demand I don’t have a garage full of books, in fact I just order as many as I need. Thanks for having this discussion.

  • darkmistress

    “And can I just say if you write a book and need to pay someone to edit it for you, maybe you’re not really a writer. You may or may not be a storyteller.”

    Ellen Hopkins, it’s too bad you walked into that pile of sh…

    If you independently publish, you will WANT to pay an excellent, professional editor to polish your book. This is exactly what non-independently published authors and detractors of independent books point to….poorly edited books. Unless you are brilliant and can deliver a manuscript that requires no editing, your publisher, my dear, will be paying an editor to edit your manuscript. Wow, you didn’t know that? Whether I choose to publish my own book or contract with a publisher, editing will be done, dearie. Common sense follows that if you are your own publisher, who will pay for the editor if not the author? What a complete waste of statement on your part. You should get your thoughts together before posting here.

    I write and publish in a small niche. Lesbian fiction. I have been under contract with the biggest of the lesfic publishers (but small potatoes to mainstream fiction) and with smaller publishers. I CHOSE to end my contract and independently publish my own work. My supernatural mysteries can compete with the best of them. I have a professional, high quality editor polish my manuscript (I am the publisher, afterall…LOL) and I also do the graphic work for my own covers. Check out my website and see: http://www.pattyghenderson.com. They can compete with any book on the market.

    I won’t bring money into this because I am not writing for money. I don’t begrudge those that write only for that purpose, but would suggest they seek a better avenue for that. I don’t want to play the “publishing game.”

    Please don’t make sweeping, generic statements lumping all independently published authors together in your cellar of the unworthy. Why don’t you really research independent publishing and some of the fantastic and talented authors choosing that path because they WANT to.

  • http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com Jane Smith

    April, I might have missed the part where this was discussed in the comments (I’m still having vision problems and struggle to read this tiny font for too long), but just in case the point has not yet been made, very few self-publishers have access to anything like the distribution which big publishers rely on. You are completely wrong on that point, I’m afraid.

    Writer Beware carried this interesting piece about wholesalers vs distributors recently, which you might find of interest. It’s an excellent introduction to the subject.

  • http://www.aprillhamilton.com April L. Hamilton

    Jane -
    Actually, self-pubbers have access to ALL the same distribution channels mainstream authors do, with just one exception: they do not have a sales rep going out to brick-and-mortar stores, trying to get those stores to stock their books. A self-pub author can attempt to fulfill that role himself as well, but in all frankness, he’s not likely to succeed because self-pub books are generally non-returnable (a turnoff to booksellers) and those sales reps have true relationships with booksellers, which self-pubbers do not.

    But that’s really the only distribution limitation self-pubbers face, assuming they’re making the right choices in their publishinng process. It *is* possible—and not even all that difficult—to get your self-pub book registered with Nielsen, Bowker’s Books In Print, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Copyright Office, and any other catalog service. It just depends on your choice of print service provider (e.g., if you go with LSI they take care of getting your book listed/registered with all the major distribution channels for you), and/or your willingness to pay the fees (if applicable) and fill out the paperwork yourself.

    Some catalog services don’t want to work with individual self-pubbers and limit their listings to those coming from larger publishers and print service providers, but it’s easy enough to get around that problem by working with a service provider that already has an account set up with the catalog in question (e.g., LSI and Nielsen/Bowker). The print service provider gets the listings set up *for* you in that case.

    It’s true that if you publish through, say, Lulu, and go with a basic, no-cost POD production option, your distribution options will be very limited. However, even Lulu offers an expanded distribution option for a fee. These are the questions self-pubbers need to research early on, before committing to a service provider. If wide—even global—distribution is important to you, it’s entirely possible to make that happen as a self-pubber.

  • http://www.dragondreamzpublications.info K. Crumley

    New avenues are opening up for indie publishers. Createspace even offers a distro plan now. And, if you have your own small press/imprint you can handle your own distro…which IMO is better.

    Amazon is where you really want to be, imho anyways…and most Self-publishing sites (like createspace) get you on Amazon almost automatically.

    People say “not everybody has a computer” and “not everybody shops online” but a) Those people are few & far between now a days. b) where there’s a will, there is a way; but we self-pubs have to do the work to create an interest in our books. and c) a book store can order your book if someone asks for it (most of the time) and there’s always good old consignment.

    Also, there are a lot of TP books that aren’t easy to find in book stores…Small press publishers have the same issues Self-publishers do. For those books, people (as I’ve said above) have to just have the book store order them…or find them on Amazon.

  • http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com Jane Smith

    April wrote, “Actually, self-pubbers have access to ALL the same distribution channels mainstream authors do, with just one exception: they do not have a sales rep going out to brick-and-mortar stores, trying to get those stores to stock their books.”

    I still think you’re wrong, but I might well be missing something: or it could be that we agree, but we’re using different definitions for distribution. Here’s how I understand it works.

    There are several levels in the book distribution network. The most basic is inclusion in a reference catalogue, and anything with an ISBN is going to get included here. Next step up is the wholesaler, which holds stock of qualifying titles and fulfils orders when they’re placed. Distribution involves order processing, stock handling, invoicing etc (all explained in the link I provided in my previous post) and is a full step up from wholesaling; and having a sales force selling books into retail outlets is another step up again.

    Self-publishers can get their books into wholesale catalogues if their books have ISBNs, but do not generally have access to the full wholesale service (including stockholding) because the majority of wholesalers usually require a publisher (whether self or otherwise) to have a minimum number of publications each year, and to have achieved a decent sales revenue for those books, before they’ll add the books to their lists. The catalogue which self-published books are going to appear in is only used to look up books which have been enquired about: it’s not the all-colour catalogue which is used as a sales-generating tool, it’s just a reference with author name, title and ISBN—a bit like a phone book. Books which appear in this catalogue but are not held in stock by the wholesaler are only available on special order.

    “But that’s really the only distribution limitation self-pubbers face, assuming they’re making the right choices in their publishinng process. It *is* possible—and not even all that difficult—to get your self-pub book registered with Nielsen, Bowker’s Books In Print, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Copyright Office, and any other catalog service. It just depends on your choice of print service provider (e.g., if you go with LSI they take care of getting your book listed/registered with all the major distribution channels for you), and/or your willingness to pay the fees (if applicable) and fill out the paperwork yourself.”

    As I’ve said before, pretty much anything with an ISBN will get listed in the various catalogues which surround the booktrade. But having books listed in a catalogue, without any sales or distribution attached to them, is not going to bring the books to anyone’s attention, and if no one knows about the books, then they are not going to sell.

    “Some catalog services don’t want to work with individual self-pubbers and limit their listings to those coming from larger publishers and print service providers, but it’s easy enough to get around that problem by working with a service provider that already has an account set up with the catalog in question (e.g., LSI and Nielsen/Bowker). The print service provider gets the listings set up *for* you in that case.

    “It’s true that if you publish through, say, Lulu, and go with a basic, no-cost POD production option, your distribution options will be very limited. However, even Lulu offers an expanded distribution option for a fee. These are the questions self-pubbers need to research early on, before committing to a service provider. If wide—even global—distribution is important to you, it’s entirely possible to make that happen as a self-pubber.”

    I don’t know enough about Lulu’s “distribution option”, so can’t comment fully here. But as I understand it (and please correct me if I’m wrong) it does not involve any sales efforts, invoicing, order processing, returns processing, etc: it is just another listing that the books will appear on and then sit quietly waiting for people to notice them. And as I’ve already said, appearing on lists is NOT what the mainstream publishing world considers to be distribution. I do wonder if we only disagree about this because we’re using different terms for the various options, though.

  • http://www.aprillhamilton.com April L. Hamilton

    Jane -
    This is really getting down to semantics and hairsplitting.

    Self-pubbers *can* get their books into all the same bookseller outlets as mainstream-published books by having them listed in catalogs and therefore available for those stores to order. Is it *likely* that self-pubbers will achieve this goal? No. I’ve never said otherwise; it’s very, very difficult for self-pubbers to get their books shelved in chain brick-and-mortar outlets, but it’s not all that difficult to get them shelved by indie booksellers or make them available for order from *any* bookseller, chain or not.

    But as you know, I don’t think chain, brick-and-mortar bookseller store presence is all that important anyway. Even mainstream-pubbed authors are no longer guaranteed to have their books shelved in those outlets so apparently publishers have come to feel that mere ordering availability in brick-and-mortar stores and online is fine, too. Borders UK has already collapsed, and Borders and Barnes & Noble here in the US look more like variety stores that happen to stock some books than dedicated booksellers. Both I and Eoin Purcell have blogged about the death of the chain bookstore:

    http://aprillhamilton.blogspot.com/2008_06_01_archive.html

    http://eoinpurcellsblog.com/2010/01/04/bookshops-are-dead-and-i-killed-them/

    Even those mainstream authors who *do* get their books shelved in brick-and-mortar chains following publication will see their three to five copies disappear from those shelves to be returned to the publisher within 3 months unless their books take off to become bestsellers—and the vast majority do not. So the mainstream-pubbed author finds himself in the same “distribution” situation as a self-pubbed author very quickly.

  • http://www.aprillhamilton.com April L. Hamilton

    To clarify my above comment -

    When I talk about making one’s book available for order from any bookseller outlet, I don’t mean just available to the bookseller’s own buying agents. Having your self-pubbed book listed in the right catalogs/listings makes it available for any consumer to order from any bookseller (except maybe a used bookstore situation, but that’s true for mainstream-pubbed books, too).

    From the consumer perspective, it doesn’t matter what goes on behind the scenes with wholesalers, distribution chains and the like. Either you can walk into a store and order the book you want, or you can’t. Self-pubbers can easily put their books into the former circumstance, and that’s point I’m trying to make here.

  • http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com Jane Smith

    April, in my earlier comments here I was responding to your statement that self-publishers have access to the same methods of distribution as mainstream publishers.

    I’ve explained how, in mainstream publishing, “distribution” refers to a very specific service which very few self-publishers have access to. Either you were completely wrong in your original statement or you are not using the term “distribution” in the same way that I understand it. I hope it’s the latter.

    You now suggest that I’m hair-splitting, and state that bookshop sales aren’t really that important to you anyway. Which is an entirely different discussion.

  • http://www.aprillhamilton.com April L. Hamilton

    Jane -
    I think I said “channels”, not “methods”. There’s a difference, as you pointed out.

    The only thing that interests me in this matter is the outcome, not the means. To me, if a consumer can walk into a store and order a self-pubber’s book the same way he can order a mainstream-published author’s book, the question of how this came to be is irrelevant both to the author and to the consumer purchasing the book.