A Note on My Absence – From the Editor

You may have noticed that Self-Publishing Review has been a little less than active in the past couple of months. I’ve been running this site for two years and needed a sabbatical.

In that time, there’s been an amazing amount of activity, with people claiming left and right that self-publishing has arrived along with amazing overnight success stories – the kind that used to be few and far between. And, weirdly, this hasn’t left me feeling elated, but actually like I’m losing something. Best analogy is being into a band before they got famous and then feeling left out. This change for self-publishing is inevitable: as self-publishing becomes more and more viable, it will also become more and more corporatized. Already that is what’s happening – the great success stories in self-publishing really aren’t that much different than the success stories in traditional publishing. That is, commercial fiction sells better.

While I’m glad that JA Konrath has found success, his MO seems to be to emphasize his business acumen more than the value of his writing. As if to say: I’m a success because I sold a lot of books, not because I’m expressing something that hasn’t been expressed before. And really: this is no different than traditional publishing. It’s emphasizing how much a book has sold more than the content of that book. That’s why I fled traditional publishing in the first place – how much can you sell? This isn’t progress. But, as I said, this is also inevitable.

Frankly, this kind of talk creeps me out. Since when is it OK to kiss and tell your bank account? He’s doing it to prove a point, and it’s worked for him, but there’s honestly something unseemly about boasting how much money you’re making.

As the year went on, Joe’s ebooks, and ebooks all over, began to sell in greater and greater numbers. Joe went from making $1000 a month, to $3000, then $6000, then $16,000.

Joe realized he could make more money without the Gatekeeper. He could write the books he wanted to, and he could publish them when they were finished, rather than having to wait a year for the Gatekeeper to publish them.

He didn’t have to rely on the Gatekeeper getting him reviews, or buying coop space in bookstores, or sending him on tour, or offering discounts. He didn’t have to compete for shelf space with the bestselling authors the Gatekeeper pushed.

For the first time ever, Joe had control.

I’m very happy to give the finger to the gatekeeper – but, somehow, “I can make more money than you” isn’t totally inspiring.  The implications of what he’s doing are immense – on balance it’s a positive development, but it also seems to be emphasizing the wrong thing: financial control, rather than creative control.

So I’ve felt sort of alienated from self-publishing. In that time, I’ve also created a site devoted to music (my other love) – Studio Multitracks – that’s gotten pretty successful pretty quickly. I’ve always bifurcated between music and fiction, and lately music has been winning. Anyway, that’s my story and why Self-Publishing Review has been more or less dormant. But I absolutely don’t want this site to fade away – it’s too good a community and self-publishing is growing too fast. So I’m handing over the reins to Todd Keisling, who will be assisting in some of the editorial work. Stay tuned for an interview with him about his book (which rules) and what he hopes to do with the site.

So…wanted to explain myself. And please don’t think this site is coming to an end.

  • Welcome back, Henry. No one tells the truth like you do. And Todd, don’t let him just dump the grunt work on you. Make him write.

  • I hear you Henry, I ranted on the same crap last year. I am so glad you found someone to take over.

  • I am so glad you wrote this! I have been feeling really frustrated by the whole 1000 sales per month club idea that’s been floating around the web lately. I can’t make those numbers… I’m in historical fiction! I have to keep telling myself I got into this to write, and if I make money from it, awesome. If I don’t, I’m still writing, and I’ve got a full-time job to support me.

    Just need to take a step back, breathe, and keep writing.

  • I’m glad to help out, Henry. I’ll try not to burn the place down while you’re gone.

  • Todd’s too young to take over the reins. Maybe if I stippled a beard on that face. Good luck with your music and your writing, Henry!

  • I have a different take on Joe Konrath and other writers’ willingness to tell their numbers. When I was deciding whether to go with self-publishing or give the traditional route one more try, it was Joe’s early posts comparing what he had made on his traditional books, what he was selling in ebooks through the higher price his publisher set, and what he was selling when he priced his books, that really gave me the data I needed to make an informed decision. Previously, I had found very little data that I could use to even evaluate the consequences of my decisions. I knew from friends that as a first time novelist with a genre novel, I was unlikely to make more than a $3-4,000 advance, but beyond that I couldn’t find out (and often my published friends weren’t even sure in their own cases), how many books would have to be sold in order to pay out that advance and actually start to make money.

    Joe’s data did give me some facts to work with, and was a large factor in my final decision to self-publish my historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune.

    Since then I have been one of those authors who routinely report what my sales have been. In part this was a kind of paying back-Joe’s willingness to give details helped me, so I hoped my details would help others. When my numbers finally began to increase (at the 5 month mark), I felt it would be useful for others to hear about what factors I felt helped explain that increase-again so they could consider whether those tactics might work for them. Finally, when I really began to sell more than I had ever expected, I confess, some of my blog posts about my sales numbers have come from just plain joy. But I have always been one for sharing good news, again in the hope that others might be encouraged in their own endeavors.

    One of the great things about being an indie author has been my feeling that I am part of a community of people who are extremely willing to help each other, rather than being a competitor for the few precious agents, publishing contracts, or marketing dollars that are available to the author who goes the traditional route.

    To me, sharing numbers-good or bad-is one way I can contribute to that community.

    I shared when I sold less than 100 books the first few months, I shared when I watched my average sales per day rise in increments, and I shared that I had a great November and December. It has helped me evaluate those holiday sales when I see that I was part of a trend. Because it tells me that I may not be capturing a larger part of the market-but simply that the market grew very rapidly over a 2 months period.

    And I will share if my sales dip this month (as they seem to be doing), because I think it might help other authors evaluate if they are witnesses similar trends.

    My book isn’t a thriller, it isn’t a romance, there aren’t any vampires, and I have no previous experience in publishing. I have no back list, haven’t done any book tours, virtually or in real time and space, I don’t tweet daily, and my facebook friends number less than 100. However, I believe my book is well-written, and I have been able to tap into the market for my kind of light, romantic historical novel through Amazon’s browsing categories. And I believe that my chances of getting my book into print and reaching those readers were greater because I took the self-published route. The money I made in this first year was certainly greater than if I had gone the traditional route, and this has permitted me to make some financial decisions that has freed up more time to write.

    I am sorry that some of you are feeling let down by what has happened in the past year, but I do think we will all agree, that anything that lets us write more and gets our writing into the hands of more readers is good, and self-publishing has done that for me.

    • You’ll get no argument from me that what he’s doing is important. And what you’re doing as well – congrats. I’m not frowning on success, I’m frowning on success as only being discussed in terms of money. There’s no problem with releasing your book sale figures – but there’s something in his vibe like a get rich infomercial.

      The real change in self-publishing is not when more small fries are doing it, but when Stephen King starts self-publishing. Konrath is proving that’s economically viable. It’s also viable for writers like Zoe Winters, who’s not hugely well known, but makes a living at it. This is a major change, and a large part why self-publishing is being taken more seriously – not because of the strength of writing, but because these books are successful. Money talks.

      But…his entire emphasis is on finances – and that’s not the gatekeepers main grip. It’s their intent on publishing work that is going to be a sure seller and for me the value of self-publishing is the ability to have an outlet for all types of work. Previously, I’ve butted heads with Konrath when he said you need a gatekeeper to prove you’re worth the investment. Otherwise how can you know that you’re a good writer – unless a “professional” says you are? Now he’s changed his tune – not because he thinks writers are any stronger, but because they can make cash at it. There’s something not so positive about that message.

  • Henry, here is one SPR member who will miss you. I think we all see what’s happening. Some independent authors, such as yourself, have acquired recognition in one form or the other. You should be proud of yourself for leading the way.