From Mike Shatzkin:
[T]he Hocking-Konrath-Locke story — an author managing all the pieces of their publishing program and and achieving a totally private success — is a Dodo bird. Unless we consolidate down to an only-Amazon ebook world, which, despite Amazon’s best efforts, doesn’t seem likely anytime soon but would undoubtedly create a whole new rule book if it ever arrived, the work and expertise required for successful publishing will lead inexorably to one of two results.
Either an author will get help to publish their own material — a distributor like Constellation or Ingram or a publisher — or they’ll find what they built to serve themselves would be better and less-expensively maintained with the work of additional authors to go along with their own. There’s enough work and expertise involved in what had first seemed to many such a simple process that it requires building a bit of a machine to do it. And once a machine is built, it is just wasteful to leave it idling between the works generated by any one writer.
This point was made by [self-published author Bob] Mayer when he told me that he is now recruiting other authors to publish. He started out by finding a partner to handle the technology component and mechanics of his efforts. In his already-substantial experience in less than a year, he has learned that proper editing is essential, as are eye-catching covers, as is the right metadata. He told me and our audience that a single complaint from a reader to Amazon about a typo in one’s book can result in the ebook being taken down for a required correction. He has learned, as others have, that maximizing revenue requires changing and re-changing your prices, which is more work.
Bob says he has even fixed plot errors that were pointed out by Kindle readers.
. . . .
Bob says books can disappear from major retail sites for no apparent reason as well. He says that anybody who believes that ebook publishing is like “sending the book to a printer, after which you can forget about working on it” is mistaken.
And he believes that any author whose work is good and wants to take a self-publishing route would be wise to cede a percentage of sales to him, or somebody else, who has learned what he has and equipped themselves to prepare books properly for sale and manage them after they’re launched.
This is establishing ever so much more clearly that publishers are right when they say there’s a role for them in an ebook world. Amazon itself makes that clear by the difference in the deals it offers self-published authors and authors it signs for its imprints. Although authors will continue to self-publish, the debate that matters in the future is what the basket of services will be that authors require and what will be the right price for them. The lines are drawn for that discussion and the opinions are really all over the lot.
. . . .
Amazon’s rules offer some insight on this. If you work with them through their KDP service, you get 70% (if you set your price within their accepted bands). But, as Mayer and others at our conference made clear, through KDP you can’t even purchase any special merchandising or promotion. But if you are published by Amazon’s imprints, the take is cut in half and the author gets 35% of retail, but you get lots of promotion by positioning. (Deals are private, and the details of Eisler’s deal have not been revealed, but the presumption would be that he earned out his rumored six-figure advance from Amazon at the 35% rate.) Thirty-five percent matches what a 50-50 publisher could deliver if they had an agency-like deal with the retailer.
. . . .
The comparisons get complicated, but, if a conventional publisher is providing the full range of services that our speakers said is needed to maximize sales: good covers, changing covers, dynamic pricing, constantly improved metadata, monitoring to catch glitch take-downs, as well as developmental editing, line-editing, copy-editing, and proofreading, the author wouldn’t be doing badly at all to get 35% of the consumer’s dollar for an ebook. Throw in real print book distribution and sales and the royalties and marketing from that, plus a publisher’s core marketing effort (being part of a “legitimate” list gets attention from reviewers, bloggers, library collection development, and other places that matter), and, perhaps, some dedicated marketing as well, and it can be a relatively profitable exercise for an author to be with a publisher for even less than that.
When agency publishers pay 25% royalties, they are giving the author 17.5% of the paying customer’s dollar. Everybody will draw their own lines, deal by deal, but that doesn’t strike me as totally crazy as long as print sales remain more than half the total and the publisher is paying an advance that carries with it some risk that the actual royalty paid will be higher than what the contract stipulates.
Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files
Mike is a smart guy and knows the publishing business inside and out, but Passive Guy thinks he’s coming to conclusions about where indie authors and Amazon and traditional publishers will end up much too early.
PG doesn’t think anyone can draw big-picture straight-line projections of the present conditions very far into the future. What worked six months ago probably doesn’t work today because the market has changed. What works today in indieworld in the face of traditional publishing’s current competitive advantages will be different a year from now when ebook use goes another 20-25 percentage points higher.
The biggest problem traditional publishing faces is that cheaper is king in a technology or industry being disrupted and traditional publishing is anything but cheap. Perhaps the Big Six can figure out a way to get cheap, but PG wouldn’t bet on it.
An indie author does have to undertake a lot more jobs than a traditional author does, but the indie author has far more freedom to experiment and isn’t just a passenger on big publishing’s bus. An indie author wants to drive the bus. The indie author wants to own the bus.
When the range of tasks an indie author has to perform in order to successfully run his/her business becomes better understood and at least a little stable, somebody will write a web application to do a lot of those tasks. Somebody else will set up a flat-fee business to do a lot of those tasks. Somebody else will set up a percentage-based business to do a lot of those tasks.
Allow PG to illustrate.
Twitter launched in July, 2006, and has grown to the point that a successful Twitter strategy is important for a variety of businesses, sports and entertainment celebrities and (PG believes) indie authors. Twitter is a big-time disruptive technology. Just ask the dictators on the receiving end of the Arab Spring rebellions.
What sorts of tools have popped up to make Twitter more efficient for serious users?
For one thing, PG thinks most power users don’t use the basic Twitter interface, the one you find if you go to Twitter.com. Tweetdeck became so popular, Twitter bought it. PG uses Hootsuite. He’s blogged about free tools to help you see how well you’re doing on Twitter. Here is a list of a gazillion different Twitter applications designed to help people use Twitter more effectively.
But Wait! There’s More!
Go to eBay and search for Twitter followers. You can buy them, usually by the thousand. One offer is for 4,000 new followers in 3-9 days for $88.99. PG will caution you that these may not be very useful followers for promoting your books, but your follower number will increase.
Maybe you need to hire a social media manager.
PG has gotten way too carried away with his disruption demonstration, but his bottom line is that indie authors are just getting started in the online world and smart people are barely beginning to figure out ways to help them be successful.
A few tools already exist for authors. If you’re an indie author, you should be using NovelRank to keep track of your Amazon sales, whether they are indie or trad-published. If you have a competitor you want to watch, you can put those books on NovelRank and watch their sales as well.