I know a lot of authors are asking these questions today, especially with all the hype created by some indie ebook authors doing very well for themselves. I’ll do my best to present the pros and cons of the business.
I’m a relative newcomer myself (published my first two fantasy novels last month and have only sold about 150 ebooks so far), but I’m cautiously optimistic about the possibilities. That said, I want to present both sides here.
Pros and Cons of Indie Ebook Publishing
It took me about a month from first deciding to publish an ebook to having it go live. In that time, an editor proofread it, an artist created a cover, and an ebook formatter turned my Pages file into something readable on the kindle, nook, ipad, etc. When I uploaded the files at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords (a distributor that gets your ebooks into the stores that require ISBNs), it took a maximum of two days for them to go live.
Compare that with a year to two-year wait for print publishing (assuming you have to spend several months hunting for an agent, who will probably suggest revisions, who will then go on to spend months hunting for a publisher, who will then need months to prepare your book, etc.)
Money can be a pro, if you do well! As an indie, you earn roughly 70% of the list price (it varies a bit, depending on the retailer, but that’s what Amazon offers for kindle book sales). While you do have to pay for an editor and cover artist, everything after that is profit, and it’s a much higher cut than traditionally published authors get per book.
As an indie author, you have control over every aspect of the publishing and marketing process.
You get to set the prices of your ebooks, and you can change them on a whim. This means you can experiment to figure out if you sell ten times as many books at $0.99 as you do at $2.99, or you can raise your price to $3.99 or $4.99 to see if people will still buy.
I’d never price my ebook at $8 or $9 (just look at all the angry reviewers on Amazon giving one star because traditionally published ebooks cost more than paperbacks), even if I was a big name author.
You can also see novel sales as they’re happening, which gives you some insight into what marketing tactics are paying off and which are flopping.
Because you have full control over the content of your books, you can write the stories you want to write with no pressure from higher powers to take things a certain way or change X,Y, and Z. The only higher powers are the readers. There are no deadlines. You publish the next book when you want.
(I will point out that having no higher ups means bypassing people who might have made great suggestions, so this could be a con, depending on how much you value the editorial input from your agent/editor.)
I’m no Nostradamus, but with ebook readers taking off, this feels like the time to jump on the e-publishing bandwagon. Actually, I wish I’d jumped on a year ago, because some of the people who did are making their livings as indie authors now! Still, with more and more people grabbing kindles, nooks, ipads, etc. the market should only grow.
Downsides or “Cons” of E-Publishing
As I said in my introduction, e-publishing isn’t a no-brainer–it’s not for everyone. I don’t want to imply that it’s all roses and you should ditch your agent right now, thank you very much. There are certainly downsides. Here are a couple:
Unless you’re artistically inclined, you’ll have to pay for cover art. You’ll also want to hire someone to edit your work, since you’ll never catch everything yourself. The formatting is something you can learn to do yourself if you want to save a few bucks.
I paid $600-$800 to put together each of my novels, and I’ve seen people pay more if they had heavy line editing done. You need to be confident in your marketing skills and your ability to earn that money back (and then some!).
You’re on Your Own for Marketing
While many traditionally published authors will tell you they’re almost on their own for marketing, too, nobody’s going to stumble across your ebook on a bookstore shelf. If you’re not willing to push your book and to network online, this business is not for you.
That said, I’m a hardcore introvert who isn’t that comfortable with selling, and I’m doing all right so far. It’s up to you to decide if the pros outweigh the cons. Either way you go, good luck!