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Authors exercise their “write” to self-publish

10 December 2012

From CBS News:

Richard Paul Evans went from a 700-square-foot Salt Lake City house to a much larger one, all because of a little tale he wrote for his daughters.

Did he think he could sell it and that everyone would fall in love with his book? Negative, Evans said.

“The idea of being a novelist is really romantic, but it’s kind of the same as being President of the United States – it’s not gonna happen,” he said.

But it did happen for Rick Evans. You may remember “The Christmas Box,” a mega hit 20 years ago.

Evans first printed only 20 copies of the book. But in the days before the Internet took off, friends started passing dog-eared copies around – and bookstores started asking for it.

“At that point I thought, you know, maybe I should send this to publishers, and they all quickly rejected the book,” Evans said.

So Evans self-published, and only after his book hit the bestseller list did a major publisher buy it, for a reported $4 million. So in a way he became a godfather to a whole new generation of authors who are writing the next chapter in the saga of self-publishing.

. . . .

It’s one of the strongest trends in publishing, with estimates that more than 200,000 books were self-published last year – authors like Bond, by-passing the traditional publishing houses.

“For the longest time publishers have been able to dictate what is on the shelf,” [author Stephanie] Bond said. “They’ve been the gatekeepers.”

But not any more. Bond did have 60 books – mostly romance novels – published the traditional way, before she struck out on her own.

Was it a little scary? “It was,” she said. “But at that point I really didn’t have a choice. My publisher decided that they were going to drop the series that I had written, and I didn’t have any money coming in.”

But now, with romance one of the hottest categories for self-published books, her novels are flying off the virtual shelves. This past week a Bond book, “Stop the Wedding,” was number 2 on Amazon’s Kindle bestseller list.

Although she no longer gets advances, or upfront payments for her work, she gets royalties of up to 70 percent, instead of the 10-15 percent publishers usually pay.

And even with charging only 99 cents for some books, Bond says she made more than half a million dollars in the last year.

. . . .

“When you price a book at 99 cents, $1.99, I personally think it devalues the author’s time and effort,” said Jamie Raab, the chief of Grand Central Publishing, part of Hachette books. Her label puts out books by a lot of heavy hitters, and many lesser-known writers, too.

“There is almost a movement amongst some popular writers who are self-published to say, ‘Don’t go to publishers, they rip you off, they don’t really promote your books unlike they’re a really big seller.’ Don’t those authors have a point?” asked Braver.

“No, they don’t,” Raab laughed. “I’ve worked in publishing a long time, and I see what happens to a book when it’s acquired. First of all it’s copyedited, it’s proofread. They have a team of professional artists and markets that come up with a wonderful package, who try to figure out – even for books we don’t spend a lot of money on – how to get them to the public.”

But Raab is well aware that she is part of a shrinking industry, and even without the backing of a big-time publisher, a number of self-published authors are racking up huge sales.

Does that worry her at all? No, she said. “As a matter of fact, editors and agents are now looking at the Amazon bestseller list, and they’re looking at the New York Times bestseller list, and they’re looking for potential new authors, too. We’ve bought a couple of them.”

Link to the rest at CBS News and thanks to Barb for the tip.

Big Publishing, Self-Publishing Strategies

28 Comments to “Authors exercise their “write” to self-publish”

  1. “There is almost a movement amongst some popular writers who are self-published to say, ‘Don’t go to publishers, they rip you off, they don’t really promote your books unlike they’re a really big seller.’ Don’t those authors have a point?” asked Braver.

    “No, they don’t,” Raab laughed. “I’ve worked in publishing a long time, and I see what happens to a book when it’s acquired. First of all it’s copyedited, it’s proofread. They have a team of professional artists and markets that come up with a wonderful package, who try to figure out – even for books we don’t spend a lot of money on – how to get them to the public.”

    How sad. She’s having a complete psychological break with reality. This statement is all too easily disproved.

    • LOL DH was watching the program with me, and at Raab’s statement, he yelled, “She’s lying out her ass!”

      • Oh, it was hilarious to see her “deer headlights” look turn into her “lie hard” look, and then into her “practiced easy laugh” look. You could do a great slo-mo.

  2. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, instead, I’d rather you joined me by sticking your head in this bucket of sand.

    You’re right Barbara, it is sad, kind of like watching a successful celebrity that you once liked slowly become a train wreak.

    “I’ve worked in publishing a long time.” Sooner or later she will come to realize that this statement is not nessesarily a positive thing.

  3. Wow. CBS news wrote a pro-indie publishing piece! And they expose the Publishing Insider’s answers as dumb. This is awesome, even the mainstream is getting it.

    What I liked about the interview with the Publishing Insider was this:

    “When you price a book at 99 cents, $1.99, I personally think it devalues the author’s time and effort”

    Really? See I think giving author slimy contracts and paying them virtually no royalty rates devalues the author’s time and effort.

    But that’s just me.

    On the other hand, saying that they are: “…looking for potential new authors, too. We’ve bought a couple of them.”

    is lovely.

    I always feel truly valued when I’m thought of as a commodity who can be “bought”.

    • “When you price a book at 99 cents, $1.99, I personally think it devalues the author’s time and effort”

      Well, there is some truth there, but the solution is simple: Indy authors ought to price their books at $2.99 & up. Still would be a bargain against the traditional publishers usual prices. ;-)

    • If the publishers were really concerned with “the author’s time and effort”, then all advances would be the equivalent of the US national average salary, with perhaps a little variation (say, +/- 20%) to take into account the range between absolute beginner and bestseller.

      And with royalties on top, of course, so the true bestsellers do get rewarded appropriately.

  4. “When you price a book at 99 cents, $1.99, I personally think it devalues the author’s time and effort,” said Jamie Raab…

    Really? Wow. The same people who… Oh never mind. Anyone who’s been published by a large publishing house (and many of the small ones) knows EXACTLY how much they are valued.

    You know what, Ms Raab? You just keep buying high and selling low, you’ll be free of your corporate overlords in no time at all.

  5. Some of the comments on the article are gold. Here’s my favourite, from ‘japanorama’:

    The cream will rise to the top?

    The problem is that what New York acquisitions editors consider to be cream is considered by most Americans to be industrial graywater.

  6. As someone who once worked for two “Big 6″ who are merging, I have an understanding of the internal trenches, and it’s not all cocktails and gossip. I think the industry’s choices are strangely self-defeating, but every acquired manuscript does indeed go through the process of editing, proofing, etc. Every manuscript turned into a book has to have a marketing plan to hand off to the sales force. (And yes, sometimes the authors are stubborn, don’t accept editorial guidance, and refuse to make the necessary edits; they are allowed to do that (haven’t you ever been given poor advice). And yes, sometimes the editing is less than stellar and proofing is rushed or sloppy–human error, poor project management, etc. You’ve probably worked with slackers, too, not to mention the brain drain.)

    It is true that not every title gets the $$$ publicity; it’s not about the money spent, it’s how it’s spent, and a lot of the money isn’t spent (imho) strategically. Plenty of plans are executed simply in the same old, same old way they’ve been done for the last few decades. While some younger and more savvy marketers or publicists think outside the norm, I’d bet that most are shot down for the tried-and-true method even if the new idea might generate new revenue/eyeballs/fans/whathaveyou. And not all those unapproved ideas come from inside the house–stores share that stain, too. I’ve heard marketers come up with a great out-of-the-box plan that was not accepted by a retail establishment. They didn’t want to do it, and so, that idea was tossed.

    The people in the trenches–editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, layout & design, cover artists, interior designers, marketing team, sales reps–are not the enemy. They are doing the best job they can possibly do. But they are not the ones who control the budgets, the shareholder demands, the accounting, etc. None of those people go to work M-F thinking, “How can we screw the author?”

    I’m a big supporter of independent writers who want to publish themselves. I’m a freelance editor who wants to help writers get better. And I highly recommend writers self-publish. I also heavily stress the importance of education and flexibility. Do your homework. If you don’t like Amazon, don’t feel pressured to pub there. You can pub in lots of places. You can build your own site. You are the boss.

    If you get a pub deal, I wouldn’t run from it, I’d just hire a lawyer to go over the contract and establish ground rules–what will it take to refuse? How much back-and-forth is necessary before this deal is more toxic than acceptable? Only the individual writer can make that decision.

    But in the end, the industry is a business and they make business decisions, not creative ones. And right now, some of those decisions are just terrible. The idea that publishers are the purveyors of culture is malarkey–it’s never been that. Or maybe a millennia ago, the smartest of the smart sat at the round table in the Algonquin and pontificated ad nauseum about the wonderful ideas they could put on paper and sell to the masses. I admit that Dorothy Parker had her moments. But that time has passed and perhaps there are still those who yearn for that bygone era.

    They need to get over it and come into the real world.

    • Thanks for your comments, Jenni.

    • The 3rd book of my Wish You Were Here series went from the first draft I sent in to galleys. I would have liked some confirmation from Berkley that they had at least READ it.
      So not everything is edited and proofed and had awesome editor sauce poured all over it.

    • I agree–I worked in publishing and it was very frustrating, because you had no power over the business decisions that often resulted in the company going down and a lot of talented people losing their jobs. I’m hopeful that a good hunk of the people who work in publishing do what you did, and set up their own shops serving indie writers. There’s definitely still a need for editors, copy editors, and art–and self-published writers are willing to pay for those services.

    • “If you get a pub deal, I wouldn’t run from it, I’d just hire a lawyer to go over the contract”

      I agree. It’s not as if there are no good deals and no negotiations worth having, just as it’s not a case of ALL deals being good and ALL publishers negotiating reasonably. This is business, the companies are individual, the projects they’re interested in are very individual–and an individual writer needs to be good at business and have the spine to review offers and contractual clauses intelligently.

      Depending on one’s workload and abilities, it’s also entirely possible to work on some books with publishers and to work on others as self-publishing projects. (One thing this requires, obviously, is that you negotiate your publishing contracts well enough to ensure that no house has a contractual right–real or delusionally claimed–to interfere with your self-publishing program.) I currently write new books for a publisher and am self-publishing my backlist (which is taking me longer than expected, what with one thing and another). When that’s over, self-publishing frontlist is among the prospects I’m interested in–while nonetheless hoping and intending to maintain a long and fruitful relationship with my publisher, too, where I am paid well, published well, and with which people I really like working.

      “But in the end, the industry is a business and they make business decisions, not creative ones. ”

      I agree with that, too. Every single day, it seems, I read industry news and just shake my head and the sheer, costly, short-sighted stupidity of so many publishers and literary agencies these days. (And also in the past. Much of my career has been spent struggling against bad publishing practices and bad agenting practices. Much of the career of MANY writers has been spent doing this.)

      • “Much of my career has been spent struggling against bad publishing practices and bad agenting practices. Much of the career of MANY writers has been spent doing this.”

        This.

  7. “As a matter of fact, editors and agents are now looking at the Amazon bestseller list, and they’re looking at the New York Times bestseller list, and they’re looking for potential new authors, too. We’ve bought a couple of them.”

    There’s the money quote: We don’t want to take risks anymore, so you take the risk and when you’ve proven yourself, we’ll try to buy you out for cheap. See also: Indie vs. studio film.

    • Larry – exactly. The fly in the ointment is the assumption that the author will always want to sell. As authors get smarter, and realize they can make more money if they DON’T sell, that assumption may not always be right.

      • What do you suppose they’ll do now that the NYT has put its first indie-pubbed title on the bestseller list? I wonder if there will be weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth?

  8. Isn’t this awfully old news? Where have they been for the last three years?

  9. “When you price a book at 99 cents, $1.99, I personally think it devalues the author’s time and effort,” said Jamie Raab

    And when you can pull in an annual income of $500,000, it TOTALLY devalues the author’s time and effort.

    Seriously, what is Jamie Raab smoking? I know someone who just recently quit Grand Central to self-publish because their latest contract was so dreadful and actually did devalue her time and effort. And yet, here Raab is, telling us that it’s all unicorns and rainbows and puppies and ice cream!

  10. I started reading author’s blogs BEFORE the e-publishing revolution. For years now, I have heard how the proofreading and editing, even the publicity, was being put on the author. So when she started talking about what a publisher did, it made me say, “Maybe fifteen years ago. Not now.”

  11. Let’s get one thing straight. There is no price that you can set that will devalue your time and effort as long as you understand why you chose that price. Take a look at the Apple App Store. What’s the most common price for (non-free) apps? 99 cents. On average, it takes far more time and effort to produce an app than a book. And the opportunity cost for that effort is far higher than for most writers. There are no app developers who think that selling their app for 99 cents devalues their time and effort. And no one who sells software for thousands of dollars a seat is worried about 99 cent apps.

    If you think that 99 cent books devalue your time and effort, you are either stupid or ignorant. If you are ignorant, you need to learn basic principles of selling a product that has a zero marginal cost of production. You have infinite pricing flexibility. Sometimes free is the most profitable price. Quick example: almost any writer with a series of six or more novels will make more money by giving away the first in the series. That means your book, no matter what its price, will be competing against free books. Not to mention all the classics that are free and definitely better than your book. Does the fact that Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, The Tempest, etc. are all available for free devalue your work?

    • For that matter, does the fact that Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes, The Tempest, &c. are all available for free devalue the work of Austen, Tolstoy, Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, et al.? It would be a brave fool who agreed to take the affirmative side in that debate.

    • Someday, when I have a dozen books or more out, I will consider dropping the first book in my duology to a low, low price. Maybe even free now and then!

      But I will be kind. I will not jack the price of the second book up to compensate. I’ll just bask in the sound of shrieking and the late-night incrementing of the sales on the dashboard.

      #bethisnotkind #bethisreallyevil #donotbefooled

      (Honestly, I got to the end of the first book and went, “Okay, all done!” Wasn’t it clear what-all was going to happen after? But all my beta-readers screamed at me for some reason. *sigh* So I had to write the second one. I think I have 70-80% follow-on from the first book…)

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