My friend and fellow author, Genella deGrey, shared a wonderful article called The 7k Report, written by Hugh Howey of Author Earnings. It's a long read, but WELL worth it. Go ahead. Go read the report. I'll wait. *Arial gets up and grabs a cup of coffee, peruses her e-mail and does a little marketing while she waits*
There! See? Very informative and pretty thorough = wonderful. There are two reasons I'm sharing this article, and I will thereby summarize the article for those who aren't ready to spend the time to read the entire entry:
- Actual Data – Finally, we authors can see a fairly reliable source of information that lets us know whether or not writing for ourselves is worth the plunge.
- Prove a Point – I have always touted to my author friends that traditional publishing is not worth anyone's time or effort unless the publisher is willing to do the work to sell your books for you. My explanation to follow.
Admittedly, today is a bit of a rant. Many representatives of the Big Five1 have been quoted as saying eBooks and self-publishing are killing the publishing industry2. At a minimum, many articles in general have been waving that colored banner rather vehemently. I will say such chatter has died down as of late, especially from the Big Five…but that's because everyone has definitely called, “Bullshit” on their claims. Wasn't it just last year that Amazon announced eBooks outsold print?? I'm just sayin'.
The article above illustrates just how much money publishers are making on the backs of authors. What has always burned me is how those publishers have complained like a whiny kids at a lemonade stand that their sales have dramatically declined and they blame eBooks and self-publishing. What specifically ticks me off is it's completely UNTRUE!!! Well…in all fairness, it was a twisted truth. Their PRINT sales dramatically declined. But while they were whining and wailing to the world about their woes, tons of money was coming in through the back door of their digital sales. Self-publishing didn't invent eBooks. It just made it more lucrative and accessible for the author. Publishers were already putting out their own eBooks. Self-publishing just made it a popular purchase.
Like I said, the article is long but well worth the read. However, a quick summary of the post is the co-author of the article created an application that combs the internet (specifically Amazon.com) for rankings and sales figures. The article then goes in depth with charts and information generated from a sample of book data – the top 1000 or so bestselling books – then breaks it down into which of those books are ,”Indie Published, Small/Medium Publisher, Amazon Published (from imprints like 47North), Big Five published, and Uncategorized Single-Author.” Honestly, I'm not sure how they are defining “Indie Published” versus “Uncategorized Single-Author.” I've sent them a message to get clarification.
As it turns out, even though the Big Five publishers are getting the lion's share of the sales, the amount of money the traditionally published authors actually pull in from the haul pales in comparison to the royalties gained from self-published/indie authors.
Amazon gives 70% of the sale price for self-published books priced at $2.99 – $9.99, and 35% outside of those price ranges. Whereas the average royalty an author gets from the Big Five is 25%. Howey says what I say…it's worth it to self publish! And he even goes into three scenarios of the self-published author who…
- doesn't make anything and their book(s) get lost in the plethora of books in Amazon's catalogue.
- sells enough to at least pay their bills.
- is hugely successful.
All three scenarios – even #1 – sound better than a contract with the Big Five.
My Two Pence
To Traditionally Publish or Indie/Self-Publish? No Question for Me
I use indie and self-publishing as interchangeable terms, for the record.
So why I am all down on the Big Five? Would I ever turn down a contract from them? It depends on the situation, which I'll ‘splain in a sec. Would I actively seek a contract with them? No. There's no reason for me to do so…and many authors are in my boat. In all honesty, no publisher would approach me right now because my novels don't have the kind of sales they're looking for. So the only kind of contract I could hope to get from the Big Five is the no-money-down, 25% royalty rate AND I do all the marketing. As such, why would I want the contract?
I have many author friends I know personally who have Big Five contracts and they're getting little-to-no advertising or marketing through their publisher – especially from the new digital imprints. For clarification: These are contracts where the author receives NO book advance and a 25% royalty rate. As mentioned above, any publicity for such contracts are usually through genre-related ads or blog posts on the publisher's website.
When was the last time any of you went to Random House's blog – or the blog for Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan or Penguin – and checked out their latest releases. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?
Sorry, authors…you can't count the times you went there to see if your own or your best friend's announcement was posted. This is specifically if you went there because you find the blog entertaining and want to know the latest releases so you can run out and buy them, being an avid reader. TOR might qualify, though…it definitely has such an appeal.
I also have friends who have Big Five contracts, which included a cash advance and a sometimes better than 25% royalty rate. And each of them are definitely successful. Why? Because the publisher pushed their books.
Please note: Of those author friends of mine who are EXTREMELY successful, every one of them were successfully self-published first. Now, that's just in my world, but it says a lot to me. The only advantage of a traditional contract these days is the book advance. If the advance was enough to cover my expenses for at least long enough to write the next book, then I would go for it! Otherwise, it's not worth my time. I give the same advice to other authors. It's not that we should reject the Big Five…we just need to be smart with our choices. Being an author is, after all, running a business.
My Publisher of Choice: ME
Self-publishing is a great testing ground for publishers and agents. If a self-published book is hugely successful, then the publisher has less to gamble in giving away a book advance with no guarantee they're going to make that money back. And I get it…it's business. They don't want to fork over four to seven figures and not have some confidence they'll get an ROI. IF a publisher gives an author an advance, they'd be stupid not create specific or focused ads for that book. They want to make their money back, so if an author is going to get a Big Five contract, my recommendation is, “Show me da money!” Their investment in an advance proves they're going to push the sales of your book. And today, publishers are only going to give a large advance if they have a guarantee.
As such, there is absolutely no reason NOT to self-publish…period. If I'm the one who has to bust my tukass to get my books out there on blogs, go to conferences and peddle my POD (Print On Demand) books and throw ads all over the place – all at my expense and time, which takes away from my writing time – I'm going to want 70% of the cut because I'm doing 70% or more of the work. If the same efforts are going to get me the same sales, I'm going to want to make sure the money is coming to me. Make sense?
Let's do the math and let the numbers speak for themselves:
Author A – Traditionally Published
This author has a Big Five contract with no advance and 25% royalties. As described above, the author has to do most, if not all, of the promoting. They have three books under their belt with said publisher and sell 25 copies each of their books – a total of 75 books by the end of the month. The sale price of each book is $3.99 (Big Five publishers usually price their books more than this – as noted in the aforementioned article – but let's compare apples to apples for the sake of argument).
Also for sake of argument, we're going to say the author gets 25% of the $3.99 shown here. They actually get it off the wholesale price which is less, but since publishers charge higher AND that elusive “wholesale” price is hard to nail down, the solid 25% should not only make up the difference, but even put the traditionally published author in a more favorable bracket of figures.25% of $3.99 = $0.99 ($0.9975 to be exact – ouch) x 75 books = $74.81
Author B – Self-Published
This author has created her own cover, has a reliable editor friend and the author knows how to do her own formatting (we'll get into expenses in a minute). She also knows how to publish her books in the various formats and posts them on the various venues – Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc. (which means she has a more limited retail outreach than trad. publishers). She has 3 books under her belt priced at $3.99 each and has also sold 75 books at the end of the month.70% of $3.99 = $2.79 ($2.793 to be exact) x 75 books = $209.47
Wow! Quite the difference, no? That right there should have authors clamoring to get their books self-published. At least that's how I felt once I saw this explained to me. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and my own income from my books has definitely been an enjoyable bowl of succulent pudding…comparatively speaking. And I look forward to enjoying more than just dessert as I continue to write and promote.
The biggest argument people have against self-publishing is the author doesn't have to put any money into their books when they go through a traditional publisher, and self-publishing has expenses. Granted, those expenses are up-front, but authors most certainly pay for the editing, cover art and the publisher's contacts with retail stores through the huge royalty cut they take, so don't think traditional publishing doesn't cost you anything. You do pay. It just comes out of your back end on the sales…uh…I mean your sales through the back end. (Heh…even that sounded bad.)
The more you can do on your own, the less expensive it is to publish your own book. All-in-all, I will say you can easily spend anywhere from $100 to $2000 per book if you pay people to edit, format, publish and design the cover for your book. Definitely shop around and if you have skill to offer inside or outside of publishing, you might be able to exchange services. Example: An author friend of mine needed some editing and we needed some construction work done on our house. He helped my husband and I tear down and put up drywall and I edited his short story collection. We both saved each other a lot of money and accomplished our goals.
Now, I will never be the one to advocate a book going out there without any editing. I'm a firm believer in getting your book edited before the public sees it. But don't let that expense stop you. Fifty Shades of Grey was HORRIBLE in structure, grammar, storyline and character development and collectively the series has sold over 15 million copies. I'm just sayin'. I've seen plenty of grammar, spelling and typing mistakes in Big Five books, so they aren't perfect either. If you can't afford an editor now, afford one later. Get your stuff out there! BUT a good cover is crucial! Spare no expense into a getting professional-looking, quality cover. THAT will be your primary point of sale. If your cover looks bad, you won't sell books.
Read my article on To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish for more information on what it takes to self-publish.
I don't know about you, but I can pay my car insurance and gas bill from that income mentioned above…and I do! Not only does self-publishing offer greater returns, the self-published author has more flexibility. The author can experiment with pricing, can give away as many copies of their books as their little heart desires and can even do the “loss leader” where at least one title is perma-free or at a discounted price (I'll have to do another post on that one and other marketing strategies). Though some digital imprints are letting authors give away as many copies as they want, most publishers (even small presses) limit how much you can give away. And some do experiment with pricing, but you have to ask them. Call me a control freak, I want to price my book my way. It's working for me so far.
Do you have a publishing success story you'd like to share? Traditionally published or self-published. Do you agree or disagree with self-published authors making more money? I'd love to hear your comments.
That's my two pence…
1 For those of you who aren't familiar with the term “Big Five”, be advised it used to be the “Big Six”. These terms refer to the largest players of the publishing industry. See Valerie Peterson's article on About.com for a more extensive explanation.
2 Visit the article eBooks are Killing Publishers, and Other Post Facto Nonsense at the Digital Reader Blog