When it came to getting a book published and distributed to a wide audience, it used to be that publishing houses with editorial, production, marketing and distribution operations were in the driver’s seat. All but a select few authors could dictate where the relationship went, how fast and under what terms.
With the emergence of self-publishing as a viable option for wide distribution of books, things have changed. The number of authors who can plan their own route has increased and many authors who may have been at the mercy of agents and publishers had they been working decades ago are now selling hundreds of thousands of books on their own and making headlines with unprecedented publishing deals.
These hybrid authors bounce freely between self-publishing works to signing deals with publishers, depending on where they think they can get more money or creative control or whatever they’re after. They sometimes work with agents and sometimes don’t. Many of them have started their own small publishing operations to help bring other authors’ work to market.
One of these hybrids is Sylvia Day, the best-selling author of 22 novels and 20 novellas. Day gained reader and media attention in 2012 with her blockbuster hit Crossfire series, which started out as self-published and then was sold to Penguin. Earlier this year, Day made headlines again with a seven-figure ebook deal with Harlequin and Cosmopolitan magazine for two titles.
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JG: That’s a fast introduction to the industry. So, when did you start self-publishing?
SD: I started self-publishing when I got the rights back to two stories that had previously been sold to Ellora’s Cave and Amber Quill Press. Those were seven year grants of contracts. I repackaged them [the ebooks] and put them up. I also had done shorter stories that had been part of larger collections that didn’t have exclusive rights granted. I started out by reissuing published works. I did that for a few years and found that to be very lucrative.
Then I wrote Bared to You [the first book in the Crossfire series] which was my first work of original full-length fiction that I self-published.
I was pretty disenchanted with New York [shorthand for the publishing industry writ large] when I started self-publishing – getting paid every six months and the antiquated returns and consignment system that they have going from the great depression. All of my books have earned out and still it’s a shell game as to how many returns there are going to be on this particular statement versus the last statement.
With self-publishing, I’m getting paid every 30 days. I can live off of my self-publishing income quite comfortably. Living off my royalty statements every six months was impossible. It’s ridiculous to be getting paid twice a year.
JG: And what have been the sales results – self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
SD: I’ve sold a lot more books self-publishing*. And some of it is a head-scratcher to me. I sold a contemporary Christmas story to Ellora’s Cave in 2005. It had a seven-year grant of rights on it. They had the book for sale non-stop all the way from 2005 to 2012. It was everywhere, never unavailable. I had my edition ready to go when the grant of rights expired. I sent a note to them and they took their edition down and mine went up. As soon as mine went up, it became a New York Times best-seller for weeks. It became Kobo’s best-selling [self-published] book.
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* Note: As of now, Day has sold more units through Penguin’s acquisition of Crossfire than through self-publishing. Entwined With You, the latest in the series, comes out June 4 and has already sold one million units. The series as a whole is up to nearly nine million units
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JG: You mentioned that Kim Whalen helped you with the process. Can you talk about your relationship with agents and their value to a hybrid author like yourself?
SD: I’m on my fifth agent. I’ve had an agent with every one of my contracts.
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I never wanted to be someone who just sits down and writes just for the hell of it. This is my career. Being a long-term writer is so tremendously about strategizing and constantly switching your game and being proactive. And your agent is supposed to be a sounding board for that to hit the pavement. That’s their job. I didn’t think I was getting that. Their strategy was to sell as many books as they could while ‘She’s hot.’ They just said, ‘Crank out as many books as you can and you’ll get there.’
So I fired that agent and hired another. That agent came on board and saw everything I had on my plate and said, ‘I don’t even know what to do with this.’
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JG: What do you think publishers do well in the ebook era?
SD: I’m going to have to divide this up between paperbacks and ebooks. I don’t think publishers have any advantage whatsoever for ebooks. They’re at a huge disadvantage. They overcharge. They have complicated distribution agreements which limit them for offering ebooks in sertain areas. We have issues with ebooks being available to libraries. I honestly cannot say that it would be a wise decision for an author to sell a digital edition to a publisher unless they have some different terms in the contract to limit the disadvantages.
On the print side, publishers have a tremendous advantage. The print marketplace has not accepted self-published books. They don’t like books that are not returnable. They still go out in the system as a print-on-demand book. Distribution for self-published authors for print is abysmal. That said, it’s up to publishers to get print distribution which can be problematic. Simon & Schuster is having tremendous problems with Barnes & Noble right now.
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Publishers should use the paperback side to leverage the ebook side. They have to do a better job at distribution, marketing and promotion. Unfortunately, I’m not seeing that happen. This is still a learning curve for publishers. Some of them understand that they have to make themselves viable and relevant. Some are not.
But the world cannot survive without the publishing industry so I’m sure they’ll pull it together.