This week I’ve seen not one, but two separate articles about authors who went the self publishing route through digital channels and have made it big. These are people who publish e-books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other sites which sell electronic books. These novels are often sold for under $2.99 and sometimes as low as $0.99. For every sale, the author gets roughly 30%.
To the few authors who have managed to do this and sell hundreds of thousands of books, congratulations. You’ve written something the public is interested in reading and are reaping the rewards for your talent.
For those authors thinking of doing the same, hang on a sec. Let’s talk.
Before you start dreaming about the millions of dollars that you will rake in by providing your words to thousands of people for mere pennies, I’d like you to take a look at various websites like Amazon and the digital offerings on Barnes and Noble. Take a good steamy gawk at all of the books offered for $0.99 cents. There’s a handful there of some authors who have multiple books and they are selling well. Now please look at all of the other $0.99 offerings. There’s a lot of them, trust me. They likely don’t sell as well.
Welcome to the 21st century’s version of pulp writing. Much like the golden age of pulp, a couple of writers have sold a lot of books and are doing quite well; however, those books are just a couple drops in a sea of other offerings that are lucky to sell even a fraction of the number. When you buy an e-book for $0.99, there’s no guarantee of quality, no promise that an editor has even glanced at it, no assurances that the thing is even properly typeset in a font that doesn’t hurt your eyes.
The people who sell well, they are the outliers, the one’s who have ultimately beaten the traditional way of selling a book. They surely accomplished it through working hard, clever marketing, and maybe knowing the right people. They also had a heaping helping of luck and/or being at the right place at the right time. In terms of luck, it’s a lot like traditional publishing.
I’ve seen the people who champion these success stories as underdogs who beat the system and avoided the evil publishing giants, those dastardly people who likely take home all of the profits of the books they sell and stuff their beds with rolls of money, sleeping soundly on the hard work of the authors slaving away at their dead end word factory. No, those people are probably thinking of James Frey (this one, not that one). Are there disreputable publishing houses out there? Yes, but with the right market research, you can avoid them. But what can a publisher do for an author?
How about editing for one. No matter how good an editor you think you are of your own work, there’s still a bit of blindness about your writing. For example, I had a small excerpt run through a workshop which I knew needed work but I thought had solid bones to build the story. The very first comment on the story pointed out a massive logical flaw. I was completely blind to it, even though I revised it a couple of times and even read it aloud to see if I could catch anything. Still, I missed this major problem which made no sense in the timeline of the story. Having a good eye catch it was absolute gold to me. But what if I tried to publish it without anyone looking at it? I’ve seen my drafts and I’m not comfortable with having utter shit published, especially when it’s mine. Having an editor is critical.
Other advantages are the things I listed earlier: typesetting, promotion, cover work/art, other things that go into a book which are done by a professional trained for that sort of thing. On a published book, yes the publisher takes their profit, but other people get paid along the way too, not just the writer. It’s not a blind money grab by them and there’s enough competition on all levels of the business to insist on high quality. I’ve seen a few self published books and I can sum nearly all of them up this way; really good idea, shame there wasn’t more editing and it would have been nice if it were typeset properly.
If this hasn’t convinced you to slow down and rethink the whole self publishing thing, I wish you luck. I hope you are as successful as the top people in the field.