From The New York Times:
One chilly morning this month, Meredith Wild, the best-selling romance novelist, was sitting in her library in Destin, Fla., wrapped in a loose black sweater in front of a crackling fire. Most mornings, Ms. Wild writes her novels in this spot after her children leave for school, but that day she had other business to attend to. She had a call with a reality TV production company that is developing a show about her, and later, a conference call with a team at Waterhouse Press, the small imprint that is publishing her new novel in June.
Ms. Wild has an unusual amount of sway for an author, owing to her high-profile position at Waterhouse: She founded the company. After sales of her self-published erotic novels took off on Amazon and other sites, Ms. Wild created the press partly as a way to get print versions into bookstore chains and big-box stores.
“I wanted something that sounded like it was a real imprint, because nobody takes you seriously as an independent author,” she said. “I felt I was being discriminated against as an indie.”
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Her marketing abilities proved so effective — she sold 1.4 million print and digital copies — that she decided to expand her business by taking on other authors, in essence becoming a publisher herself.
Last year, Ms. Wild began quietly acquiring works by other self-published romance writers, including Helen Hardt and Audrey Carlan, and publishing their books under her Waterhouse imprint. The press will release at least nine novels this year, including two in Ms. Wild’s current series. She’s become a kind of value investor in erotic prose, pinpointing undervalued writers and backing their brands.
“We’re hoping to discover the next big person and replicate some of the success we had building the visibility of my books,” Ms. Wild said. “We’re interested in taking these diamond-in-the-rough type people and building their brands.”
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Ms. Wild’s path from becoming a self-publishing star to operating her own small imprint is the latest sign that independent authors are catching up to publishers in the sophistication of their marketing and the scope of their ambitions. Self-published authors can negotiate foreign-rights deals and produce audiobooks. A handful of the most successful independent writers sell print copies of their books in physical retail stores like Barnes & Noble, Walmart and Target, giving them access to a market that traditional publishers have long dominated.
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For decades, the literary world dismissed self-published authors as amateurs and hacks who lacked the talent to land a book deal. But that attitude gradually began to change with the rise of e-books and the arrival of Kindle from Amazon, which gave authors direct access to millions of readers. Over the last five years, close to 40 independent authors have sold more than a million copies of their e-books on Amazon, the company said.
Publishers and literary agents who once overlooked self-published authors began courting them with staggering book advances.
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After Ms. Wild’s self-published “Hacker” series took off in 2014, she was bombarded with offers from publishers, agents and film producers. She was earning so much by then that she told her agent she would entertain only eight-figure offers. She eventually settled for a bit less, agreeing to a $6.25 million advance from Forever, a Grand Central Publishing imprint, for five books.
Forever has sold nearly 500,000 digital and print copies of the “Hacker” series — a healthy sum, but far less than the 1.4 million digital and print books Ms. Wild had sold on her own, without any of the editorial guidance, marketing muscle or sales and distribution channels of an established publisher.
Perhaps that’s why Ms. Wild opted not to sell the rights to her other books. Instead, she’s publishing her current series through her own imprint.
“I’m more comfortable being in control of my successes and failures,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to be on the sidelines.”
Editors and publishers are adjusting to a new power dynamic, one in which even multimillion-dollar advances aren’t enough to ensure an author’s loyalty.
“It’s a challenge, because a lot of the ones who are very successful at it are making a lot of money, which in all honesty can be hard to match with the traditional publishing royalty structure,” said Leah Hultenschmidt, the Forever editor who acquired the Hacker series from Ms. Wild.
Publishers fighting to recruit top-selling authors have other reasons to be alarmed by the growth of self-publishing. As independent authors grab a bigger slice of the e-book market, digital sales by traditional publishers fell by 11 percent in the first nine months of 2015, according to data gathered from more than 1,200 publishers by the Association of American Publishers.
Last year, a third of the 100 best-selling Kindle books were self-published titles on average each week, an Amazon representative said. Some analysts attribute the dip in publishers’ e-book revenue in part to the glut of cheap self-published books, which often sell for as little as $1.
Link to the rest at The New York Times