Home » David Farland, Self-Publishing, Writing Advice » New Struggles in Self-Publishing

New Struggles in Self-Publishing

24 June 2015

From author Dave Farland:

I hesitate to mention problems with self-publishing. In some genres, such as romance or self-help books, the industry is doing great. But for those who are trying to sell fiction, it seems that the markets are contracting, and it appears that things will go from bad to worse.

If you’ve been self-publishing for the past few years, you probably remember the good old days. For example, a few years ago I put my novel The Golden Queen up as a free e-book for a week and forgot about it. I was going to mention on my social media what I had done, but seriously got busy with something else. Three days later, I got an email from someone who said, “Why don’t you take your free e-book down and let someone else have a shot at the #1 spot.” I’d given away 15,000 copies in three days, and had sold thousands of dollars in inventory on the other two books in the series.

. . . .

With e-books, you can’t sell them unless you can advertise them. Of course, the folks at Amazon try to set their rates at about $1.70 a click on their advertisements. If every potential buyer who clicked on an advertisement actually bought a book, that would be a good deal. But in most cases, fewer than 1 in 10 people who click on a book ad will actually buy the book. Unfortunately, in my studies, Facebook ads don’t pay for themselves, and neither do any other kinds of ads that are sold online. That’s why we don’t see a lot of ads for books from major publishers online.

. . . .

Let’s say that you put your new book up for sale on Amazon. You tell all your friends and family, and get folks to announce it to their friends. You do a big blog party and get blogs up on twenty sites besides your own. Your book comes out … and it’s a blip on Amazon’s radar.

Amazon has lots of other books for sale. You’re a little blip. How do they know to promote your book?

Well, they have to look for independent verification. So they look at the number of reviews that you have on Amazon and on Goodreads. They try to make sure that the reviews are from real buyers instead of sock puppets. They look at the ratings given to the book in the form of stars, and then they decide whether to begin cross-promoting your book.

If you’ve got a book that has a high velocity of sales and an extremely high customer satisfaction rating, they’ll help promote your book, and that can be a great thing.

But here’s the problem: The people who get the highest velocity of sales almost always already have a pretty good customer base. They’ve got say 50,000 fans. If you’re a brand new author, you might have a great book, but you very likely don’t have 50,000 fans. So even if you do get picked up for promotion, you won’t get promoted heavily or for very long.

Meanwhile, let’s say that a new author comes out with a traditionally published book in hardcover and it gets put on the New Release shelf at Barnes and Noble. Hundreds of thousands of book buyers will walk by the shelf and see it. That book has visibility that your book doesn’t. Indeed, if people like it, they can take a picture of the ISBN number and order the book as an e-book right away. That’s how many e-books are bought.

Of course, the big publishers charge more for your e-book than you would like, but Amazon respects that. In fact, their algorithms will place higher-priced books onto the bestseller lists above books that are sold above deep discount. Thus, if you put your book online for 99 cents and promote it widely, you might make lots of sales, but you won’t make traction onto the bestseller list.

Link to the rest at David Farland and thanks to Christine for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Farland’s books

David Farland, Self-Publishing, Writing Advice

92 Comments to “New Struggles in Self-Publishing”

  1. Another one? Must be ‘you need real publishers’ week … or is that weak?

    • I think Dave’s showing a few blindspots here, as other commentators have noted, but I think his overall point that it’s getting tougher is absolutely true. I’ve been telling people for a while that they really need to read Anita Elberse’s book, Blockbusters, which is grounded in plenty of hard data and ten years of research. At the very least, you should watch her twenty-minute interview with Charlie Rose, where she hits most of the high points of her book:


      If you can’t even do that, then here’s the basic takeaway: Chris Anderson was wrong about “the long tail,” and there is even more concentration toward bestsellers than the pre-Internet days. She goes to great lengths to describe why this is. In most digital marketplaces 85% of the income is made by 1% of the products, 95% by 5% of the products, and the bottom 75% make virtually nothing. This concentration is actually *increasing.* It also means that just putting out a lot of products, by itself, is not a winning strategy. You’ve got to have a discoverability strategy to go along with it.

      The good news is that the playing field is more open to newcomers than ever before (no gatekeepers). So while Dave is right that it’s getting tougher, the same is going to be absolutely true on the traditional side as well. Personally, as someone who’s done both, I love the control I have on the indie side, and it will take a lot for me to go back.

      • Yikes! You’re scaring me, Scott.

        • Sorry. 🙂 Might be why most writers, after I tell them the book’s conclusions, say it sounds depressing. But I don’t think it has to be. Think of it this way. If there are really 3.6 million ebooks on Amazon (taken from their own site), then that means 180,000 of those books are making 95% of the revenue, and 36,000 of those books are making 85%. Based on what I know about how their rankings translate into sales (with the usual caveats), this seems about right to me, and probably translates similarly to the other retailers.

          Yes, getting into top 36,000 or 180,000 is not easy, but that’s a pretty big pie, and those spots are often rotating over time. And there’s still money beyond it. Just not as much as some might have thought who subscribed to the long tail theory (I was one of them early on, and I admit I was wrong).

          I just think the biggest takeaway for me was that you can’t just put out a lot of products. You’ve got to have some kind of strategy about what you write and how you go about marketing it.

          P.S. I didn’t even mention that she found that the top .02% of products account for 40% of sales and the top .2% account for 70% of sales. That’s not two percent, by the way. Those are fractions of a percent. That means 720 ebooks on Amazon account for 40% of the sales. Wowsers.

          • …If there are really 3.6 million ebooks on Amazon (taken from their own site), then that means 180,000 of those books are making 95% of the revenue…

            Ah, now that gives me a little more hope. I often have one title or another that pops up for a while above the 100,000 mark and/or makes one of the subcategory lists. Not so much this year, because I haven’t released anything new for about a year. But when I’m releasing regularly, then yes.

            I just think the biggest takeaway for me was that you can’t just put out a lot of products. You’ve got to have some kind of strategy…

            That makes sense. I’m thinking you mean things like product funnels (which I am working on) and how to make contact with your potential audience (which I am also working on).

            Thanks, for elaborating, Scott. Your additional thoughts are very helpful.

            I suspect you may not remember me (it’s been 3 years), but I attended the “Think Like a Publisher” workshop on the Oregon coast in July 2012. You taught us about cover design and gave me some personal help on my cover for Rainbow’s Lodestone, which I really appreciated.

            That cover has evolved since then, following the principles you taught. Here’s a link to it, if you’d like to see it in its current incarnation. 😀 (It won a gold star in one of Joel Friedlander’s monthly cover contests.)


            • Ah, I thought your name sounded familiar! Yeah, those were fun workshops, and we helped a lot of people get started on the indie publishing journey. I think Dean and I did four or five of them and there were 20-40 people at each, so they are a bit of a blur. A lot has changed since then, but much of the fundamentals still apply. You’re definitely right to up your game on the covers. You could get away with so-so covers back then, in the early adopter days, but the competition is too fierce now. And that’s part of what I’ve changed my mind on. Some of the sales averages we talked about might still apply, but only because you can have a couple titles selling very well and whole bunch that don’t sell at all — and there’s your average. The key is to keep trying things until you get those titles that sell well. 🙂

              And yes, I’m talking about loss leaders, writing in a series, book bundles, understanding metadata, knowing when and when not to go exclusive, the value of taking risks as a writer … There’s a lot there. OF course, that’s part of the fun.

          • That estimate is very wrong. Just look at the AE data. The consumption pattern for ebooks is very different from the patterns for the digital goods that Alberese studied.

            • The long tail always has a tall head. So yes, best sellers are going to make more than ever. All tools that the self-publisher has, the big publisher has in spades and more. The audience for ebooks is growing, and so are profits at the top.

              But, to me at least, this was never about indies wiping out best sellers. Or spreading the money from the top 1% down to the little guy.

              This is about the fact that if you write and want to express yourself, pursing traditional publishing was a huge waste of time for most writers. Now, the self-publisher has a real chance of being read and making money from their work. That has been proven over and over. It doesn’t matter what the top get.

              Also, the presumption that writing more isn’t the answer, is flat out wrong. It may not improve your chances of having a 1# best seller (and I’m skeptical of that), but it logically, and empirically, it does improve your chances of growing your fan base and making more money. Obviously, one requirement is that you write well and that readers like your books. But that’s always a key issue.

              • All true, Mackay. My point was that you can’t *just* put out a lot of products these days if you hope to do well. I recalibrated my own writing career a year ago partly based on what she talks about in this book and my income went up tenfold. I don’t write to market, it had nothing to do with that; it was more about taking stock of what I love to write and being a bit smarter about the projects I select. Then coupling that with a discoverability strategy. But yes, obviously being smart about your strategy *and* prolific is even better. 🙂

            • How wrong, William? You made the assertion, so it’s incumbent upon you to provide the analysis. 🙂 How do those percentages work out with the AE data? Perhaps Amazon is better at spreading the pot (they are the best at helping indies with dicoverability), but I doubt the numbers shift very much. It’s definitely following a power law pattern. You’re right that she studied music and video, but her theory was that this extrapolates to other sectors (and she specfically mentions publishing).

              Even Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and an early believer in the long tail strategy, eventually recanted: “So, while the tail is very interesting, the vast majority of revenue remains in the head. And this is a lesson that businesses have to learn. While you can have a Long Tail strategy, you better have a head, because that’s where all the revenue is.”

              That was taken from this article, which is a good primer on what I’m talking about:


              I’m more interested in whether the theory is true than quibbling about the percentages, but if ebook consumption is widely different, I’d love to know why.

              • I don’t disagree with the theory. I came to the conclusion that the shape of the power law curve for units sold for a particular type of digital good is determined by a combination of:

                1. The ratio of avid consumers to casual consumers.

                2. The relative barriers to entry in the marketplace.

                3. The structure of the directed graph of recommendation networks.

                I spent some months analyzing raw data provided by Pew Research on reading habits in the U.S. The percentage of units consumed by avid consumers of pbooks and ebooks is quite high. I developed a model that predicted that the outlook for ebooks is better than you would expect based on Elberse’s work.

                The easiest way to see what I mean is to look at the difference between the romance genre and all other ebooks. We know that romance is advantaged on all three of my measures, but especially on the avid to casual reader ratio. And, in fact, the shape of the income curve is measurably different.

                Also, I really enjoyed your Garrison Gage stories.

                • That’s a pretty cogent theory, William. To translate that a bit more into laymen terms, because the ebook marketplace 1) has a lot of power readers, 2) is easier for artists to create and sell goods (compared to music or video, which takes more expensive equipment and more advanced technical knowledge, and 3) our consumer recommendation processes are fairly advanced (Amazon’s algorithms, reader reviews, Goodreads, etc), the power curve gets flattened a bit and the money/units sold get spread out among more authors.

                  You may be right. I have to admit I only took a cursory look at the AE data and saw that it *seemed* to match Elberse’s theory, but I’d love to know how much it deviates. What’s your take on how those percentages would translate? And I’d love to know if the trend is increasing (as Elberse predicts) or decreasing over time. Maybe Data Guy could add the question to his next round.

                  Thanks for the kind words on Gage. He’s definitely the top of my power curve. 🙂

  2. With all due respect to Mr. Farland, but so what?

    Book publishing is a tough business. It’s always been a tough business. Finding readers is tough. It’s always been tough. Actual publishing is easy these days, but the tough parts remain tough.

    So what?

    Writers write and readers read, and those aspects remain constant. Everything else is going to shift and change and transmute and go up and down. Some writers will find their sales slumping while others experience the joys of bestsellerdom, and then that will change.

    What’s the alternative? Quit? Find another pool to play in? Pfft, to that.

  3. You know what? This is not a new problem. This has NEVER been a new problem. Even when self-publishing was the Great New Shiny Thing, this has been a problem. I mean, come on — people who are successful get momentum, and that momentum generates more momentum, and they’re held up as The Way To Succeed, and the rest of us are hoping maybe we’ll get that momentum too.

    I mean, this is a thing. I don’t know why people are suddenly discovering this. It’s been a thing for ANY branch of the arts, especially online, whether it’s webcomics, or self-published novels, or YouTube videos, or computer games, or ANYTHING ELSE.

    And I’m not saying it isn’t a real problem — I struggle with it constantly, and am one of the vast unknowns who have not benefited from the momentum associated with success. And I do admit I get a little annoyed when I read successful self-publishers talk about “the things you need to make sure you’re doing” because each post carries the unwritten and probably UNINTENDED promise that “if you do these you will succeed like I have,” when it’s more accurate that if you do all those things, you’ll be more likely to get more mileage out of your initial momentum, and get even more mileage if you’re lucky enough to stumble into MORE momentum.


    This is not new! It’s not something that suddenly happened now that the market is changing, or now that the glory days or over, or whatever. It’s a risk that was always there, and it was a risk that — I hope — people willingly took on when they stepped into this arena. Self-publishing is not a get-rich quick scheme. If you’re serious about doing it, you’re also serious about realizing you can do it and fail. That sucks, and it’s more than a little terrifying, but it’s not new!

    • All things are new again to those that haven’t tripped over them before. What’s new is that they can pretend that things were different in days of old. Oh, for a pair of rose colored glasses …

      Since they can no longer bash Amazon without looking the fools, we’ll be seeing lots more ‘real publishing with real publishers is better!’

  4. “Of course, the big publishers charge more for your e-book than you would like, but Amazon respects that. In fact, their algorithms will place higher-priced books onto the bestseller lists above books that are sold above deep discount.”

    Um… what?

    • It’s true! Amazon works with publishers long before they’ll work with a lowly author. Farland is absolutely right. My experience parallels his. (Only, of course, I didn’t really get publisher-paid display on the new releases table either).

    • In fact, their algorithms will place higher-priced books onto the bestseller lists above books that are sold above deep discount.”

      That kind of accusation needs backup. He uses the plural. So what specific list(s) is he talking about?

      • Yes, proof would be nice, but it makes sense to assume that publisher-pubbed books at high pices will populate the bestseller list. Those authors stayed with their publishers for a reason. They got very good deals incl. heavy promotion.

        • Heavy promotion is one thing and easily seen. He’s accusing Amazon of rigging the best-seller list for money and that’s not proven. (Yes, how to do that is a problem, but I’m not the one making the accusation.)

        • We see all kinds of independent,low priced books on the best seller list that ranks books by unit sales.

          What can we observe that tells us Amazon is not applying the same formula for sales ranking to all books?

          For that kind of accusation, proof isn’t nice. It’s necessary.

    • My thoughts exactly, Gene. It sounds like Mr Farland is repeating something he heard someone say.

  5. I love David’s books, but I have to wonder, when I see advice like this from authors who’ve trad pubbed, if they’ve forgotten just how difficult it is to get an agent, let alone a trad pub contract. Maybe for some it was easy and not the soul crushing, endless droning of silence or rejection that it is for 99.99% of those who pursue it.

    I saw an article the other day where the author said, “… and I started to get personalized rejections from editors, which encouraged me to keep at it.” This person was actually excited by a personalized rejection. I’m sorry, but that’s just sad.

    Yes, self-publishing takes work. A lot of work. Many don’t and won’t succeed. But the chances are astronomically better than submitting to the aging goliath that is trad pub. Self-pubbers can get honest feedback on their work, while actually earning a few bucks, rather than revising a work time and time again in hopes of getting a “personalized rejection letter”. Even then, you have no guarantees and little hope of ever grasping that irrevocably tarnished brass ring the Big 5 like to dangle in front of those swimming in the slush pile.

    And that book that “hundreds of thousands of book buyers” walk by on the new release shelf? Nine times out of ten is gone within a couple of weeks, never to be heard from again. Meanwhile, the author is powerless to do anything to help it, like change the price, or the cover, or anything else that might help it get more attention and sell.

    Yes, I probably sound bitter, but not because I spent years on the query-go-round. I hopped off that ride in short order. The bitterness comes from those who are successful claiming that their way is the best way because it worked for them, not realizing that times have changed and new ways are constantly being developed. Some will work and some won’t, and almost all will involve hard work.

    Anything worthwhile does.

    • And that book that “hundreds of thousands of book buyers” walk by on the new release shelf? Nine times out of ten is gone within a couple of weeks, never to be heard from again. Meanwhile, the author is powerless to do anything to help it, like change the price, or the cover, or anything else that might help it get more attention and sell.

      Or even write a sequel and self publish it, seeing as the publisher owns the rights and won’t allow you to publish anything in that universe, even if you’re off the shelf.

    • I don’t know much about the guy and I haven’t read anything by him.

      But a quick search of his site reveals that in 2013 he was advising writers to spend $20 to get a list of agents to submit to, and to never submit to more than one publisher at a time (because publishers don’t like that). Oh, and he’s dismissive of self-publishing.


      So, today, he says it used to be good in self-publishing but it isn’t any more. (Back when he dismissed it and said pay $20 for agent lists and slowly submit to traditional publishers?)

      He brings up the issue of sock puppets. Yep, it’s a problem when people have a message they want to get out into the world and find puppets who are willing to just put it out there, right or wrong. The big publishers right now are very determined to keep saying self-publishing doesn’t work.

      There’s a pattern to these anti-selfpublishing pieces. They can’t go straight out and say don’t self-publish, that doesn’t work anymore. So they start by saying there are problems. Then they explain those problems are getting worse. Then they talk about how traditional publishing doesn’t have those problems (never mentioning all the other problems). Then they always end on a little note that says self-publishing isn’t so bad, if you must. (This is so when they are attacked for being biased, they can claim you didn’t read the whole article.)

      You see it over an over. Sometimes the problem is discovery, sometimes that the “Kindles are full,” sometimes bad people are gaming the system, sometimes Amazon is just evil. But the pattern is the same and his post fits it like a glove.

      • David Farland has been dispensing writing advice—good writing advice—for a long time before epublishing was ever a viable option. His first novel, published under the name “Dave Wolverton,” was On My Way To Paradise, and is one of the best sci-fi novels I have ever read. For about a decade, he taught a writing class at Brigham Young University that mentored Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Stephanie Meyer, among others. He is a longtime judge for the Writers of the Future contest, which he won with a shortened version of On My Way To Paradise, and frequents a number of sci-fi conventions in the intermountain west, where he’s well known as a successful SF&F author.

        He’s not anti-self-publishing at all. He’s actually self-published quite a few of his own books, and runs his own press. Whether his self-publishing advice is any good or not is another issue (it’s a new trick and he’s an old dog). But he’s a very intelligent and experienced man, particularly about the craft and business of writing, so I wouldn’t be so quick to discount what he says.

        • Huh. “On my way to paradise” is available in short-story form for 2.99 for the kindle. The full length novel is only available in paper.

          One wonders…

        • As I mentioned in my comment, I love Dave’s books. The Runelords series was really original, fun fantasy. And his writing advice is top-notch, but, based on this post, I have to wonder about his writing business advice.

          Given the state of the industry, awful initial contracts, and dwindling advances, how can he advocate the trad pub route?

          Yes, it’s getting more and more difficult to get noticed as an indie author, but it’s still orders of magnitude easier to build your own audience than it is to be a successful trad pub author. Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong-headed here, but from what I’ve experienced, I don’t think so.

        • I took Dave’s week-long in-person Novel Writing Workshop a few years ago. He’s a fantastic teacher.

        • I didn’t do an exhaustive search of Farland’s site, but I couldn’t find anything clearly in favor of self-publishing and quickly found another post dismissing it years ago. If he wrote a blog post in favor of it, I would love to know about it and will admit I’m wrong.

          But to not talk about it in a positive light, since it is the biggest single change in the world for writers this decade, would be particularly irresponsible for someone who gives writing advice.

          The fact that he is a smart guy, a good writer, and a good teacher makes this piece and the other border on malpractice. To come up with fairly flimsy arguments against self-publishing while failing to point out the problems in traditional publishing tells me he knows not to bite the hand that feeds him.

          Of course he also self-publishes. Virtually every writer who gives advice to other writers does because self-publishing is such an incredible option. And yes, many of the people attacking self-publishing also self-publish, particularly books filled with writing tips. It’s too good for them to pass up the profits but the more they do it the more it shows their hypocrisy.

          • Dave Farland: The Future of Publishing is Self-Publishing

            Google Dave Farland self publishing. It’s the fourth link from the top, after the ads.

            Also, just because he disagrees with you doesn’t make him guilty of malpractice, hypocrisy, or personally attacking you (though you seem to be guilty of at least two out of three). Sheesh.

          • Reality: lots of people, including some of the selfstyled persons, who say “I know the way, this way! no, that way, no this other way! of the indie movement, who are at varying top games, dissed not only indie publishing at one time, but also the kindle when it first came out.

            People evolve in their thoughts.

            To test the thesis, “arguments against self-publishing while failing to point out the problems in traditional publishing” we’d have to hear in depth and inquire from some of the well known indie authors saying what probs are with his/her trad publisher and with indie publishing.

            Most hybrid authors enjoy the income from both. Those who left trad pub have another view. Those happy to have made recent trad contracts while also being indie, have a story that doesnt mesh with those who left trad pub upset that their work was dropped or rejected or did not sell through from lack of trad pub supports. There are reasons why new hybrid pubbed ‘indie’ authors dont proclaim ‘the probs with trad publishing.’

            On another note, there are now a ton of selfannointed ‘advisors’ about how to write, what when where to do ebooks, under the ideal that everyone needs their help. For some holding themselves out as “teachers,” it’s mere hype with self promo first in line. With others, its actual helps individually in personal one on one. Dave Farland has a strong strong track record of the latter. For years.

      • Mackay Bell, you are my kind of guy! You did what I preach. Before I accept a word as gospel, I check where and who it is coming from and usually there is an agenda. What a scam…trying to sell authors a list of agents for $20. I can get a list of 100s of agents out of Writer’s Market or reference books in any library. I like Alan Tucker’s: “The bitterness comes from those who are successful claiming that their way is the best way because it worked for them…” My idea of success is usually not another’s idea. I know an indie author right this minute who has #1 Best selling author splashed across the top of all of his book covers. He said he has the screenshot to prove it. Show me. He did. #1 in the the title’s genre on FREE in the UK. How many downloads did it take to get #1 FREE in the book’s genre. 38. Laffin’.

        No Perfect Fate
        FREE Globally June 25-27, 2015

        • Your link to “No Perfect Fate” is malformed. I got it to work by deleting the characters %20/ at the end.

      • I’ve had the pleasure – and it was every bit of that – to attend a seminar with Dave Farland. While he may favor a traditional model, he was nothing if not encouraging of my efforts at self-pubbing. He is also an incredible resource for those looking to improve their writing, regardless of publishing preference.

        Perhaps rather popping off on a three hundred word condemnation of someone who doesn’t support our confirmation bias, and blowing it off with a fast preface of “I don’t know much about the guy and I haven’t read anything by him,” we could actually stop and process the information offered.

        I really hate the character assassination that takes place on the internet. It’s beneath us. We should be supporting each author to become better writers and more successful, not ranting when someone disagrees with our world view.

        Want to disagree with Dave Farland? Then gather your facts and present an argument on the merits. But sliming a person’s reputation for offering his honest opinion isn’t an argument, it’s a tantrum and akin to shooting messengers.

        • This.

          Dave is one of the ‘Old Timers’ to self-publishing. Those of us who’ve been around since 2010, can see his point. Things are very, very different now than they were in the beginning of the Indie Revolution.

    • I saw an article the other day where the author said, “… and I started to get personalized rejections from editors, which encouraged me to keep at it.” This person was actually excited by a personalized rejection. I’m sorry, but that’s just sad.

      That is the start of the coveted nurturing.

  6. Note to self: Email people in the top 100 and guilt them into moving out of the way so I can succeed

    (Who does that? and why would anyone LISTEN to them?)

    Amazon favors higher priced books? I figured they went by volume (units sold) rather than $.

    The last time I was in a BN bookstore (YEARS AGO), I walked right by the front table.

    People go to book stores? There isn’t a book store where I live, and my city is the largest in the county. Hmm. I wonder what that means…

  7. What if the bookstores would have physical shelves that could contain all the books in print. And no book is returned but kept on the shelves until it sells out, because there is no problem not having enough bookshelves in this imaginary bookstore. A reader would have to use a scooter to roam this immense bookstore. In this case what’s the difference between what we have now and what I illustrated above? None. A sea of books, which today increases by millions every year. What are we to do? Keep writing, because in the eBook world once the book is written it costs you nothing. But that contributes to the problem. Sure it does, but this is no different than being born and increasing the world population. There are just too many people in the world today. Who volunteers to die and reduce the population? Who wants to stop writing and remove their books from Amazon to reduce competition?
    When it comes to writing, painting, music, acting, you name it there will always be more output from creative people than there are consumers. Well, I do writing, painting and music and when I’ll stop amusing myself I’ll stop, or die. Whichever comes first.

    • What if they ran the bookstores like comic shops? You’d have your standing orders and the clerks put anything from Bernard Cornwell, Hugh Howey or Barry Eisler in your box in the backroom. I’d go for something like that, assuming they could keep track of what I’ve already read…

      Ah, there’s the fatal flaw in my clever scheme. I cant keep track myself so why would I expect some teenager to know?

      Never mind, nothing to see here. Just my own mental flatulence…

      • Actually, a lot of UK/Irish bookstores used to do stuff like that. You’d subscribe to X kind of books or Y authors, or even just “I thought you’d like this book,” and every so often you’d get a book parcel and a bill.

    • “A reader would have to use a scooter to roam this immense bookstore.”

      Or they could just hire someone to ride the scooter for them and send them the books in a nice minions box.


    Really, all these rants are variations of the tsunami myth.

  9. A new author gets a first novel published in hardcover? Plus thousands of dollars in marketing support and front-of-store placement? That happens to one author in a million.

    More likely that first book will be a paperback, placed at the bottom of some shelf in the back of the store — two copies, spine out. When it doesn’t sell, the covers will be torn off and returned to the publisher for full refund. The poor sales will be blamed on the author, who will be dumped. Then she’ll go indie.

    Why not just skip all that pain and suffering and go indie in the first place?

  10. I don’t mind people mentioning how hard it can be. I read one writer’s blog this week where his book sold less than 20 copies despite having a lot of readers of his online work. He wasn’t ranting but was definitely disappointed.

    Having a conservative outlook on your prospects doesn’t hurt your planning if you are going to do it anyway because you love it or whatever your personal reason is.

    I pointed him towards DWS and KKR’s blogs.

    • Just like having people listen to songs on the radio doesn’t convert into CD sales (though it got one heard so it might drive some sales — just not one listener = one sale type things …

  11. Great observations. Alas, you’ll have to be torn apart for them.

  12. The rules have changed somewhat. 2 years ago I had 12 titles up and averaged $15k a month in profits with a high month of $27k. This year I have 24 titles up and just received a check from Amazon for $5k. In those 2 years I have greatly increased my social media presence as well.

    So, what happened?

    1. Facebook throttles back reach unless you pay for it.
    2. Amazon is much more competitive, as is Bookbub.
    3. Kindle Unlimited
    4. Amazon seems to reward new releases in a series more than new releases in a new series.

    We are playing a game. A game with invisible rules (algorhithms) that change constantly. I have made some changes with consideration to the above, and I am happy to say that I’ve done $15k last month and on track to do the same this month.

    Look for opportunities, not excuses.

    • good to read you Roark

    • Good advice, and an object lesson to save your pennies, kids. Income is going to be uneven.

    • Roark is absolutely right. I also blame Amazon for the erosion of my earnings during the past year or so. They play their own games and authors are the least of their concern because we’re not likely to go elsewhere.

    • Roark, good information. Are you on other platforms and if so, did your sales experience similar patterns? Asking, because some people speak well of Kobo.

  13. “…it seems that the markets are contracting, and it appears that things will go from bad to worse.”

    I do not grok “appears” or “seems” without data, a la Data Guy.

    • I’d like to know what Data Guy thinks of the book mentioned upthread by Scott William Carter, Blockbusters by Anita Elberse.

      I tried the link, but the video was having buffering problems, so I couldn’t watch it. I’ll try again later.

    • I’m with you, Mr. Bell. Show me the facts!

      Or, admit it’s just some crap you wrote to get hits on your blog, because you know TPV will pick it up.

  14. I wonder if he looked at the bestseller lists on Amazon for science fiction, saw that self-published authors are kicking major butt, and realized there is something wrong with TRADITIONAL publishing these days.

    But since he’s locked in with most of his stuff, he’s trying to stem the tide of what’s completely outselling him, as he begins to transition to self-pubbing, which is dominating science fiction right now.

    If so … I can understand his points.

    If not … he isn’t making any sense.

    • He has been self-publishing part of his work.

      I think the important part to take away is that ‘discovery channels’ are fragmenting as more become available. There’s a lot of competition for Bookbub now for example. Fewer people go to Goodreads due to some of the toxicity. Same as when book blogs started and then exploded. It’s not particularly a bad thing unless you relied on them. More choice should lead to serving the individual needs of readers in the end.

      • He has been self-publishing part of his work.

        Oh sure. I’m sure he has nothing against self-publishing, as some of his very own books are self-published!

        Indeed, if people like it, they can take a picture of the ISBN number and order the book as an e-book right away. That’s how many e-books are bought.

        So ISBNs are pretty much functioning as QR codes?

        From what I’ve seen of Farland, he’s a veteran writing advisor kind of like Shatzkin is a veteran publishing consultant.

        • Smart Debut Author

          From what I’ve seen of Farland, he’s a veteran writing advisor kind of like Shatzkin is a veteran publishing consultant.

          Zingo, Will.

          One look at Farland’s Amazon sales ranks and the number of reviews on his books told me everything I needed to know about the value of his “self-publishing advice.”

          Those who can, do…

          • I’ve seen other self-publishing bashers who self-publish “How to Write” ebooks and then use those efforts to inoculate themselves against claims of bias.

            And traditionally published authors who self-publish the stuff their agents reject, or short works for which there are no outlets, and use these self-publishing efforts to shield themselves from claims of bias.

            These authors are drenched with a sense of being “good enough writers” to self-publish, while their fans and other aspiring writers are unwashed masses who are best left to the slush pile, so they can be weeded out.

            So yeah, I’m lumping Farland into that box until I see evidence to the contrary. Anyone who starts off criticism of self-publishing by saying “Hey, I’ve also done this” sounds to me like, “Hey, I’ve got a gay friend, but the Bible clearly says…”

            • Hugh, I read all the “but, but, he self-publishes too!” along the lines of “I’m not a racist, I have black friends!”.

            • Exactly, Hugh. Though I think it’s less about a claim of bias than a lack of awareness about their own privilege. It’s generally the same people who so often opine that authors should explore all their options and publish in a variety of ways. You should self-publish some stuff, but you should also sell other stuff to a publisher, and you should also contract to write media tie-ins, and hey, maybe send some smoke signals while you’re at it, too! Nobody else is really doing that — be smart and own the smoke signal market.

              They also tend to wring their hands about Amazon (bc U CLERLY THINK THEIR UR FREND 4EVER BUT THEIR NOTTTT!!!11!) and Kindle exclusivity that comes with Select et al.

              And yes, I sense the same overtones in that verbiage as you and Sheila do.

              • “Hugh, I read all the “but, but, he self-publishes too!” along the lines of “I’m not a racist, I have black friends!”.

                I think that’s getting a little harsh. Dave has done all kinds of good for writers over the years, and I think it’s important to look at his comments in that larger context. He just has a few blindspots and biases, as we all do. When I think of all the writers who came of age before the indie publishing revolution, a huge portion of them haven’t been able navigate the transition at all. Dave’s trying. This is just my opinion, but I think responding to posts like Dave’s with empathy goes a lot farther in changing minds and hearts than lobbing insults and vitriol. Otherwise what we end up with is just another echo chamber.

    • I have a pet theory, no idea how I could prove it, that most people in trad pud never really knew how well a book sold. This is based on the layers in the trad pub business (retailers, agents, printers, publishers, etc.), the system of returns and the appallingly poor bookkeeping (PUN!).

      I’d even go as far as saying that trad pub intentionally obfuscated how well books sold based on how they would control the markets, pay for co-op, slush fund royalties between authors, or pay for advances based on perceived literary merit rather than actual sales.

      I think they even distorted reader tastes creating major genres where they thought one should exist but that never really had much actual interest. And it worked because scarcity, co-op, and full control over the supply side.

      I don’t think there is a contraction, rather I think the money in the market is moving in very unexpected ways, very rapidly.

  15. “…it seems that the markets are contracting, and it appears that things will go from bad to worse.”

    Everything after that statement supports the idea that markets are expanding, not contracting.

    What he describes is supply increasing at a higher rate than demand. Competition among books then shifts revenue from one eBook player to another.

    Expanding markets are neither bad nor worse. They are good. They provide more goods to more people at lower prices.

    • Expanding markets are neither bad nor worse. They are good.

      It’s good for readers, but not for those who’ve been part of the Elect for years and relied on scarcity of product to sell large numbers of books. Readers can now find exactly what they want, rather than having to pick between whatever choices the publishers give them.

  16. Smart Debut Authur

    Sometimes the barking you hear is an old dog who tried to learn a new trick and failed.

    Sometimes it’s an old dog growling impotently at the puppies stealing his food dish.

    And sometimes it’s just some tired old dog.

  17. With every passing day we’re seeing more and more of these ominous warning stories and criticisms from people who have no credible platform to be offering such “advice” from.

    Indie-publishing isn’t about putting out a story or two out there and forgetting about it for months at a time. Indie-publishing is about thinking and acting as both author and publisher, creator and business person. It is about thinking and acting in terms of brand and career as well as storytelling and craft.

    It is becoming increasingly obvious that certain segments of tradpub are getting squeezed by Indies. You see it in the actions of Agents, of the tradpub apologists, of the publishing-dependent media, and most recently the old school SF&F writers. Especially the ones tied to the BPHs.

    We are hearing entirely too much about self-publishing from people who are used to just writing and letting the universe take care of them. People who *aren’t* Indies ir even true hybrids.

    Much like last year’s Hachette campaign, it feels like somebody passed out a set of talking points to be circulated and parroted.

    I’m getting a sense of panic.
    Like something poked the anthill.

  18. All of these issues continue to be not a problem for me. I still earn more from my indie titles than trad titles. But I expect the market and my strategies to change incessantly. 2012 is never coming back again. As long as you don’t expect it to still be 2012… you’re fine.

    • @ Libbie. On long cattle drives, same advice holds to get where one is going. Change directions here, there in a wide or narrow swath, just keep driving toward the destination by veering here and there mostly because of weather, regardless.

  19. psssst

    Hey, Bub! Yeah, you. Over there near the KDP button. Come over here…

    ::::leans forward, lowers voice dramatically::::

    The sky is falling.

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