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Self-publishing industry explodes

13 November 2012

From The Miami Herald:

The publishing world is being upended, and reinvented, by people like Hugh Howey, Ily Goyanes and Kristy Montee.

They are part of a movement using the power of e-books and the Internet to lead publishing into a new frontier, and through the biggest upheaval of the industry since Guttenberg’s press.

“It’s the Wild West,” Montee said. “It is literally changing at the speed of light.”

. . . .

Montee is a Fort Lauderdale-based writer better known to her readers — along with her sister and writing partner, Kelly Nichols — as P.J. Parrish, the pseudonymous author of the Louis Kincaid and Joe Frye thriller series. She’s among the new “hybrid authors,” with a foot in both traditional and the self-published worlds.

“For a long, long, long time in our business anything that you published yourself just had a stench of amateurism about it,” she said. “That was just for desperate people who couldn’t make their way through the labyrinth of the New York system, so they resorted to paying pretty much scam artists to publish their books for them at great expense. And then, Amazon came out with the Kindle, which pretty much changed everything.”

. . . .

As a “mid-list author” with 13 moderately successful books to her name, Montee felt the pressure when her publisher began trimming its author list to reduce costs.

. . . .

She and her sister regained rights to two of their early books to re-publish and have a novella in the works they plan to self-publish.

The advantages, and the profits, can be huge. The downside, of course, would make a Vegas gambler sweat.

. . . .

Self-publishing, however, is a double-edged sword for most authors. It offers freedom and control over the product from beginning to end, and heftier royalty rates.

But it also strips away any possibility of an “advance” against royalties. Those too, though, are shrinking at most traditional publishers.

“The trend for bestselling authors is higher than ever,” said Salkind Literary Agency agent Greg Aunapu. “But for new authors, mid-list authors, the advances are going lower and lower.”

A book that netted a $50,000 advance just a few years ago would be fortunate to snag a $10,000 one now. “They say that 50 is the new 40,” Aunapu added. “Well, in publishing, $10,000 is the new $50,000.”

Link to the rest at The Miami Herald

Ebooks, Self-Publishing

28 Comments to “Self-publishing industry explodes”

  1. How come every time I see an article with “Ohs noes! No advanzez!” I feel like I should have my bowl in my hands a la Oliver Twist. “Please sir, may I have another?”

    (Or was that Kevin Bacon in ‘Animal House’?)

  2. Wow, finally. An article that is actually fairly well-balanced about self-publishing.

    No pro-Industry agenda, that I can see. Alittle too much focus on the advance, but they have to have something to stir up some tension.

    Not too shabby!

  3. “The largest, by far, percentage of authors are making less than $500 a year self-publishing, because there’s a glut,” said M.J. Rose, a best-selling novelist and founder of the writer’s marketing company AuthorBuzz.com. “There’s over 350,000 books being self-published every year and readers are not finding them. There’s just no way to expose people to all of these books.”

    Everybody who buys a lottery ticket thinks they’ll win the big jackpot. Onoe or wo do in every drawing. Milions never do.

    • I wonder if e-tailers will start putting some kind of floor on sales for books eventually. I mean, storage is cheap, but commercial-quantity storage isn’t THAT cheap (Amazon does not use the same hard drives you buy at CompUSA for backing up your home computer.) And software to track all that ditto. Especially people in the $500/yr and lower bracket – seems like that’s the people who publish one or two things, then get distracted and/or discouraged and never do anything else. If you publish less than x books a year and you have less than y sales, maybe your books go into the equivalent of the remainder bin and don’t show up on primary searches or something. Or maybe they just get deleted. We’ll see, I guess.

      • As I recall, someone commented here previously that the cost to Amazon of keeping an ebook up was only in the cents-per-year range.

        • PG (and Mr. Pemberton:)

          Yeah, the actual bytes for the book itself, for text-based books, will continue to be negligible. That was an over-stretch. (Although people are getting into multimedia-based “books” at a surprising rate. Apple’s software makes it very easy, relatively speaking, and it won’t do anything but get easier.)

          I was thinking a little about that, but more about the cataloging/cross-referencing software. In another life I was responsible for a relational database which had as its main purpose keeping track of which customers liked what, which customers didn’t like what, which customers had already seen what, and which customers should see what based on what they liked, what they didn’t, and what they had already seen. The number of possible combinations grows according to various power laws. It gets real scary real fast.

          Given the computational power available to Amazon this might be another over-stretch, but I think it’s at least somewhat valid. Look at the rate of increase (more importantly, look at the second and third order derivatives) of titles at Smashwords. It’s redonkulous. Obviously, it can’t go on like that forever, but I’m not sure we know how long it can go on like that. If it keeps it up for another few years trying to keep track of customers and whats could be a daunting task for anybody.

          • Marc,

            Considering that search engines like Google and Bing have to basically index the internet and perform millions of operations every day across the world with millions of search users, Amazon shouldn’t have an issue with cross-referencing software. The general trend in software is to figure out how to manage/filter the growing amount of data available, not to try and cut out the base of data creation.

            My two cents 🙂

            • Agreed. The company I work for is investing heavily in this area – gathering lots of data and discovering relationships within it. You sometimes have to be clever about how you process the data to get answers in a short enough time to be useful to the business… but Amazon has a lot of clever people working for them.

        • A Terabyte holds 1 million megabytes. Given that most ebook files (text only, no pics) are easily less than 1 megabyte, I don’t seen Amazon or any other etailer having a problem with self-published storage capacity any time soon. I have a 3 TB hard drive (cost $130 to buy) at home and could probably store more than half of what’s in the Kindle Store.

          • That 3 TB drive has to go into a server, which needs electricity to run it and keep it cool, plus staff to keep it running and make sure it’s backed up. Over its life, the operating costs dwarf the initial purchase price. But the general point – that the cost of storing the books in the Kindle Store and making sure they’re available when someone wants to buy one amounts to a rounding error on Amazon’s balance sheet – still stands.

      • The files for most ebooks are so small that you could hold a copy of every one in the Kindle store, plus associated indexing, on one or two servers. Amazon measures their server capacity in warehouses*. The servers would pay for themselves with a few tens of thousands of book sales per year. If you identified the books that weren’t earning enough to justify having them in the catalogue, what would you do with the couple of terabytes that you freed up? And how much money would you have to set aside to deal with complaints from obscure authors who complain you’re censoring them?

        And then, if Amazon implemented a policy like this, what would they do when an author who’s been grinding away selling one book a month writes that elusive breakout novel, and suddenly the public wants to get their hands on everything else he’s written?

        * Not really, I just made that up. But I hope you see what I’m getting at.

  4. To draw on Peter’s point, here’s a question for the Passive Voice’s brilliant constituency: What are you, as a writer, working toward-that one break-out book or building an audience first?

    I’m genuinely curious and would like to hear your opinions because two writers I know have been debating this issue.

    • Both at the same time. I’m working on (another) (hopefully) break-out book while also releasing new content every month.

    • I publish most of my books – which, fair warning to the idle searcher, are explicit erotica – under this name. (This is NOT my “real” name. I’m not trying to go black ops here: I just don’t want my rather conservative relatives casually Googling me and seeing my erotica on the first page of hits.) That’s about putting out a consistent quality product which people will buy, recommend to other people who are interested in the same genre, and buy new releases when they come out. If one of them were to go all Fifty Shades, I’d be delighted, but I don’t even think about that when I’m writing. I write what I think is a good story, I get it in presentable condition, and I publish it. And then, to quote Charles Emerson Winchester III, I move on.

      I publish other stuff under another name, and while I don’t say I’m trying to write the next bestseller, in that regard I’m trying to do it the “regular way:” some of it I even submit to tradpub. While I still just try to tell the story that comes to me, I do consider things like “could this be a breakout sort of book?” a little bit more. Since I don’t know what makes one of those, it doesn’t influence me much, but I do think about it. Mostly even with more traditional stuff I worry about appealing to an audience who will come back and buy more and recommend me to their friends.

    • I’m busy writing content to keep up with the demand of the small following I already have. I gained the following rather by accident when I woke up one morning two years ago with an itch to write fanfiction (never had before) Eventually, many of my fanfic followers gravitated over to my original work, which is a huge compliment because people read fanfic for the characters/canon. To have them switch means they specifically liked my writing. Who knew? So now I’m busy building my library as my following increases. Several of my fans are awesome about pulling in new fans. :o)

      If I worried about trying to write the next big winner, I think my head would explode. People are insanely fickle. Insanely. Fickle. I’ve worked on the front lines of the public and can read and predict human behavior very well given a set of parameters, etc.

      However, predicting what a random person will or won’t like about a book… um… next to impossible. Almost as difficult as predicting what kind of jewelry my mom will like (she’s very fickle and picky and knows what she likes when she sees it. I’m about 50/50 on predicting that and we’re very close).

      I’ll just focus on writing and building my library and my fan base, maybe something will hit someday.

      • I think that trying to build catalog and reader base is actively helpful to the possibility of hitting the lottery, whereas chasing yesterday’s hit trying to duplicate it is actively harmful to the possibility of building a catalog and reader base. So in that regard doing the former is the best way to get to the latter, since doing the latter by itself probably won’t get you far whereas the former will make you some money in either event.

        Dean Smith has done some pretty good, simple math showing that unless your books are a total waste of electrons, it’s mathematically impossible NOT to make a reasonable amount of money at self/e-publishing if you keep at it for a while. In tradpub, that simply isn’t true.

      • Remember, even Hugh said he’d written Wool first, then kept writing other books before Wool took off on its own. He already had several books in his library.

        As for the changing pen names, I’m still on the fence about that. Every time you change your pen name you start over business-wise. Which can be good or bad. I can see wanting to keep erotica separate from mainstream fiction, yet many readers will cross genres for authors they love and get frustrated when they can’t find their name.

        Yet your argument is valid too.

        I think the changing pen name issue isn’t as important as it was prior to self-publishing. If an author works hard to brand themselves as a writer of multiple genres, and you have followers in each genre, some which cross genres, then changing your name will confuse people. (many people aren’t savvy enough to find you–trust me on that one) I work with the general public…)

        • Changing pen names but referencing both names is helping with not having to rebuild your brand while letting your readers know what to expect from the name. 5 years ago you needed a pen name for different genres. 2 years ago pen names for different genres was going away. Today they are coming back but you use both names in promotion, one website (new pen name is either a forwarding website or only list books and has a link to main website), etc. if you write kids books and erotica it is trickier okay to know whether to keep things totally separate. Have found the changes in this fascinating in such a short time.

          • Judy Blume is one author I can think of that did both children’s books and erotica under one name. (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing followed by other successful middle-grade books before writing Wifey). Although her erotica is a little more tame than what’s out there now. 🙂

    • For years I was crafting my break out book, which my agent loved to death but couldn’t sell and finally gave up on. Had I known what I know now, I wouldn’t have put all my effort into that one book. Now I’m writing as fast as I can, assuming it will be a while before enough books are out and there’s some critical mass. I’m going to publish two titles before xmas: one YA and one black comedy/mystery. I don’t know if there’s much overlap there, but they are both funny. I’ll have a more serious custody battle story (LGBT) ready early next year. So that’s three. Add another in development next year by June, makes four. None of these stories are in the same genre, so I guess I’m building an audience based on, I don’t know, people who like my stuff.

      It seems like the breakout successes are ones with several titles in clearly defined and preferably narrow genres, with series, even better. I don’t have that and probably won’t. (Except for my LGBT erotic/romance under my pen name, and even those titles are becoming pretty diverse – I’m liking the romantic comedy aspect and getting tired of writing sex scenes)

      • There is a very sound argument to be made for writing in extremely divergent genres under multiple pen names. The aforementioned Dean Smith discussed it on his blog as does Kris Rusch.

        If one of them hits, you just modify the covers on the other ones to say, “HUGE SUCCESS NAME writing as GENRE PEN NAME.” 🙂

        I’m not saying you “have” to, but you might consider it, since the last thing you want is a fan of Genre X to buy a Genre Y book, hate it, and decided you’re inconsistent before you’ve got enough Genre X in your catalog to keep them happy. Stephen King (no stranger to pen names) has a very funny little aside in the book “Rage,” which was written under a pen name, about exactly this happening to the protagonist’s father. He loves Author X’s manly adventure stories, but when the mother tells him Author X is really Author Y and he tries one of Author Y’s comedy detective stories, he hates it so much he won’t buy X or Y books any more.

        I’m pretty sure it was an inside joke.

    • Thank you, Mercy, Marc, H.G., Tasha and Larry! It seems that just as trad publishers view the industry through the “produce” model, too many writers view it as Peter’s “lottery” model.

      Sometimes I question my own sanity instead of everyone else’s. *smile*

    • I’m working on my erotic-romance pen name’s career for now. After it has a certain degree of… stamina (not sure if that’s the right word), I’ll be working on my primarily-fantasy career under this name. On course for that name to officially debut sometime next year.

      I’m not trying to write “the next breakout erotica title” (or fantasy in the case of the other name). It would be neat and great for my pocketbook if any of them did take off, but that’s not my goal. With that in mind, I suppose I’m going after “building an audience”.

      At no point is “writing the next break-out hit” in my head. It does not make sense to me because to me, “focusing on writing a break-out” implies there’s something different you’re doing for that project that you’re not doing for the others. And whether that “something” is putting in more effort than usual, writing fan/reviewer/movie-bait, trend-hopping, or something else I’m not considering at the moment, it seems like missing the point to me. (If I’m missing the point, I apologize. I mean no offense. And, furthermore, wish to add that “trend-hopping” isn’t even a dig at anyone.)

      So, yes. Audience. But, really, what I’m doing right now is learning a lot and building an inventory of titles. I don’t actually expect to have started truly building an audience (by which I mean a “sticking” audience rather than people who casually buy and keep going – I have the latter for certain) yet, though if they’re already there, I’m delighted to have them.

    • Audience.

      If a book breaks out, then great. But I’m really happy to get new readers, one at a time, right now.

      And getting books up there.

      It’s a long slog, but it feels very good right now.

    • Like Mercy Loomis, I was working on Both. Or, more prosaically… “It ain’t earning me any money sitting on the hard drive, and I know at least a few of my beta readers wanna see it as a book and promote it to their friends.”

      One of those early readers — a fan of my fanfic, I think, who picked up the book after I announced it — talked about it on a book blog, and suggested I should ask if they’d review it. As I’ve said before, Best C-minus Ever. Enough people were intrigued that it got on Also Boughts, which is a self-sustaining “advertising.”

      It’s good to have at least a little audience, I suspect. The more people you have, the more chances you get for that kind of breakthrough.

      Edit: By “both,” I mean that when the opportunity to promote a book dropped into my lap, I took it, with good results. I didn’t ignore it, nor was I oblivious. And when I was editing the duology, I was trying to do the “these must be good enough to drag eyeballs across the page because they are too darn long and I cannot get them under 100K” thing.

  5. Slightly OT, but can anyone recommend some good proofreaders/copy editors with a reasonable rate? Thanks.

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