Amazon Vs. Hachette: Fewer Middlemen Equals A Better World

31 August 2014

From TechCrunch:

By now everyone is well aware of the ongoing battle between Amazon and publisher Hachette. The thing is, we all know how this story ends; we just don’t know when it will be over. This one does not have a David vs. Goliath ending. Goliath is going to win — and that is a good thing for the world.

An investor in oDesk once said, “Two middlemen seems like one too many.” It was a pivotal statement that solidified the early focus on providing direct connections between employers and freelancers anywhere in the world. Everything we did in the early days of oDesk to support and benefit these direct connections paid off. Everything we did to accommodate other middlemen in the process was a waste of time.

. . . .

Hachette is a middleman. So is Amazon. There should be only one.

The arguments for Hachette go something like this: without great publishers, there will be fewer great writers, and emerging talents will have a harder time establishing themselves. For at least 900 authors, this is a scary proposition. Publishers do provide valuable services of talent discovery, quality control and distribution. But let’s look at each one of these points and see how things could be better with fewer middlemen.

. . . .

Take a look at Apple’s App Store. They’ve effectively destroyed the old guard of video game publishers. It’s only in the last few years that an independent game developer from Vietnam could end up with the No. 1 game in the world. That developer probably never would have been discovered by EA. Platforms like the App Store or Amazon can do a better job of talent discovery than the status quo, because they lower the barriers to entry for aspiring app developers or authors. They give everyone a chance. I don’t hear consumers complaining about the lack of good games available. On the contrary, mobile gaming is hotter than ever.

A platform like Amazon will get data about user conversion rates and user ratings much faster than anyone else and can let the cream rise to the top. Granted, they will not discover authors before they ever write a book, but as soon as a title is available for sale, Amazon can take care of the rest. An aspiring author that self-publishes a title that resonates with readers will rise to the top of the charts in a meritocratic platform like Amazon. We should be embracing meritocratic platforms.

. . . .

The bonus for the world is that eliminating middlemen makes the world more economically efficient and maybe even more educated. Prices come down and the amount of reading goes up.

The lessons for other marketplaces here are straightforward. Align the incentives of the buyer and supplier and, if possible, ignore the incentives of other middlemen.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

The Opposite of Legacy

30 August 2014

From Joe Konrath:

So I just read the latest drivel from The Guardian which completely misrepresents self-publishing. There’s no need for me to fisk it–Howey, Eisler, Gaughran, and others already shredded the stupid in the comments. And there was a lot of stupid. It makes me ponder how the mainstream media keeps getting so much wrong.

It also makes me ponder why self-pubbed authors care.

As far as mainstream media, I can point to lazy reporting, willful ignorance, nepotism, and not-so-hidden agendas. This blog has a long history of pointing out why legacy publishers do what they do, and their priorities often coincide with those of the legacy media.

. . . .

Years ago, Eisler used “legacy” to describe traditional publishing, and I’ve played a small part in popularizing the term on this blog. Indeed, the paper publishing industry is a legacy system. There are now faster, cheaper, and less-restrictive ways to get words to consumers than the antiquated method of acquiring, printing, and shipping.

The legacy publishing world knows this, and they have been putting up a continuous, united front to preserve this status quo while doing their best to inhibit the widespread adoption of ebooks. They’re so single-minded in this pursuit, that they are missing opportunities to capitalize as much as they can on this new tech, instead trading potentially higher profits to retain a paper oligopoly.

I call self-publishing a shadow industry because the mainstream has steadfastly refused to understand its scope and power. Self-publishing is the most serious threat that legacy publishers must face, but legacy publishers don’t realize it is a threat. They don’t see the money being generated. They don’t see the scale of authors adopting it. They haven’t been hurt enough to acknowledge that a revolution is even taking place.

. . . .

If the mainstream news is just as antiquated, biased, self-interested, and increasingly obsolete as mainstream publishing, isn’t it also a legacy system? Hachette isn’t reading my posts and admitting I’m right, then following my advice. Why would The Guardian or the NYT or PW listen to me or any other self-pubbed author? The legacy media are facing the same problems as legacy publishing; digital replacing paper, readers going elsewhere for information and entertainment, talent creating content without them and building their own followings and fanbases.

As a writer, I once craved the validation that came with a legacy publishing contract. I felt it legitimized me. Once I was accepted, I experienced a sense of fulfillment. Getting a PW starred review was a victory. Seeing my book on a library shelf was its own reward.

Now I realize how empty those feelings were. Getting paid well and being treated fairly is much more fulfilling that the approval of a clique. Having power and control over my career trumps seeing my book in Wal-Mart. I don’t care what the legacy publishing industry thinks of me, or of self-publishing. We’re going to outlast them.

. . . .

What is happening is an echo chamber on both sides. Legacy authors, and those who want a chance to be legacy authors, continue to defend the status quo. Indie authors continue to point out the stupidity exhibited by legacy authors, publishers, and media. The only time anyone will change their mind is when they have direct experience of one, the other, or both.

. . . .

Evolution isn’t about choosing sides. It’s about slowly adapting to new environments. The Guardian doesn’t want to adapt? They’ll be forced to deal with the consequences of their actions. Click bait and concern trolling isn’t going to pay their shareholders. Like the Big 5, the days of Big Media in its current form are numbered. There is still some money to be squeezed out of it, but status quo bias is an indicator of desperation, not growth.

Self-publishing may always be a shadow industry. The media may not ever discuss it. The Big 5 will continue to ignore it. And that’s okay.

As writers, we can continue to inform one another, share data, and point out stupidity. This is helpful.

But it isn’t vital. Change will come even if we all remain silent.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books

As usual, Joe makes some excellent points.

It doesn’t matter what the Guardian or the Times say. It doesn’t matter what a group of rich tradpub authors say. The PR strategies of Hachette and other large publishers will have no effect on the ultimate outcome of the disruptive change that is taking place in the way books are created and consumed.

Technology disruption is based upon some iron laws, some of which are relevant to the book business:

1. Cheap beats expensive.

2. Even if cheap isn’t as good as expensive at the beginning, it will catch up.

3. Bits always beat atoms for the dissemination and consumption of information.

The contents of books are information. Bits – the basis of digital representations of information – are virtually free. Yes, the infrastructure required to distribute and consume bits isn’t free, but once it’s in place, sending trillions of additional bits through that infrastructure is virtually costless.

Nobody charges you any more money when you download hundreds of ebooks from Project Gutenberg instead of just one book. It costs Amazon almost nothing to make and distribute 100 copies of an ebook file to sell to 100 different customers. Credit cart fees are probably the largest per-ebook cost for each incremental sale.

Traditional publishers are primarily focused on the atoms business – hard copy books. Traditional bookstores require a lot of atoms – bricks, bookshelves, etc. – to remain in business. Atoms cost money. The atoms for two bookstores cost more than the atoms for one bookstore.

The value-add of traditional publishers is all on the atoms side. Creation of physical books is an industrial-age process involving paper mills and printing presses and ships and trains and trucks moving boxes of books around, ultimately delivering them to those big stacks of atoms called bookstores.

Success in the industrial, mass-production world of atoms requires scale. Huge publishers dealing with millions of physical books have a substantial financial advantage over individual authors in a world where mass quantities of atoms are cheaper to create and deal with on a per-atom basis than smaller quantities of atoms.

Life is much different in the post-industrial world of bits. An author sitting at a personal computer can create all the bits necessary for an ebook without any assistance from any third party or any incremental cost. A personal computer costs as much if you use it for surfing the web as it does if you use it for writing a book.

Once an author creates the bits for an ebook, the author can send those bits to a dozen ebookstores for no additional incremental cost. An internet connection costs as much if you use it for surfing the web, etc., etc.

Once the bits arrive at the ebookstore, those bits can be offered for sale at an infinitesimally small incremental cost to the ebookstore.

The ebook monetization process includes no industrial-era components and no industrial-era advantages for Big Publishing. Not only is the author is the most important part of ebook commerce, the author is the only necessary part of that process other than an ebookstore.

At the moment, the atoms-world publishers are leeching off the bits-world of ebooks and ecommerce, but their ability to continue to do so is entirely dependent upon the willingness of authors to be hosts to which the leeches attach.

As Joe implies, the enthusiasm tradpub authors express for the legacy publishing business is in direct proportion to their ignorance of what is happening in self-publishing. To put it very directly, the dumber the author is about self-publishing, the more likely he/she is to be an ardent supporter of Big Publishing.

Why This Bestselling Author Decided To Start Self-Publishing

29 August 2014

From io9:

Author Karen Traviss has published a slew of successful books, from her own Wess’har Wars series to a number of Star Wars, Halo and Gears of War novels. But for her new techno-thriller Going Grey, she decided to walk away from a mainstream publishing contract and self-publish. She explains why.

. . . .

“Nobody else is going to do it for you.”

It was deceptively simple advice given to a group of aspiring writers at the MSU Clarion workshop. The wise words about taking charge of your own career came from author Suzy McKee Charnas: and one of the writers was me.

Brace for a few numbers. I like numbers. After 24 novels with Big Five publishers, 12 of them NYT best-sellers, I took Suzy’s words to heart and withdrew my 25th novel – Going Grey – from the schedule of a Big Five house and released it independently. The whole Ringer series will now follow the same route.

When my first book was published ten years ago, the technology to do that didn’t exist. The ability to sell e-books, paperbacks, and audio editions globally without the need for a middleman is something that’s only recently become a realistic alternative.

. . . .

But mention indie publishing – direct publishing, self publishing, call it what you will – and you’ll still trigger knee-jerk frothing among writers in opposing camps. Some of that is fuelled by partisan reactions to Amazon, the main driver of the rapid growth of the independent sector. One camp claims Amazon is the evil empire that destroyed bookstores, and all the indies it’s spawned are people who can’t get published any other way: the other camp says Amazon has dismantled the Berlin Wall of giant publishers and retailers – “Big Publishing” – to give more freedom to more writers.

Readers rarely care or even know who your publisher is, though. Why should they? Publishing is packaging and distribution. Consumers’ rational concerns are what’s in the package and how much it costs.

I’m in neutral territory, or at least I’ve seen both sides of the razor wire. I’m a commercial author who’s sold a lot of books through the Big Five. But I’m also an ex-journalist with a critical eye on big corporations, and I’ve had my share of bad experiences with traditional publishing. What follows is a non-partisan account of why more writers like me are finally waking up to another way to do business.

Initially, my decision to publish Going Grey independently related to a specific problem; it was taking too long to get it on sale, and I wasn’t willing to wait any longer. It was only after I acted that I realised how much the industry had changed, and how naive I’d been to think Big Publishing would look after my interests because I made money for it.

The traditional publishing industry is getting a serious kicking these days. It’s a common pattern in business. An industry enjoys a protected existence for years, mergers force the eggs into fewer baskets, and the players get complacent and flabby. They overlook new technologies and bolder business models creeping up on them – in this case, Amazon. Publishers thought they were the creators of books and that their customers were the book stores. They forgot that that authors are the sole source of books and that the only paying customers are readers. Everyone else in the food chain is replaceable.

. . . .

I’ve had some unpleasant experiences with publishers, including breached contracts and books left marooned “in print” but unobtainable, but I’ve fared better than many other writers. I’ve never had to languish in a slush pile, I’ve had advances well above the average, and I’ve never really been stopped from writing what I wanted. I never reached the stage where a publisher wrecked a book or buried my career, unlike friends I’ve seen sunk by inexplicable decisions and foul-ups.

But I’ve made more in royalties from one moderately successful, short-run franchise comic series than I’ve made in ten years of royalties from novels, more than half of which were best-sellers. That illustrates the reality of traditional publishing even for apparently successful authors. Unless you’re one of a small handful of mega best-selling writers, you’re not the one getting rich off your work.

Link to the rest at io9 and thanks to Chris and several others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Karen Traviss’ books

Ann Widdecombe’s Dancing Detective is debut self-publishing performance

29 August 2014

From The Guardian:

Featuring a “conceited brute” of a politician, a professional dancer named Beautella LaReine and a backstage murder on a popular televised dance contest, Ann Widdecombe’s first foray into detective fiction has just been self-published on Amazon.

The former member of parliament has released The Dancing Detective through Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing arm. Drawing from Widdecombe’s own experiences on Strictly Come Dancing, it is set around the fictional dance competition Lively Toes – and includes a character named after Widdecombe’s Strictly partner Anton du Beke, who Widdecombe writes has “graciously agreed to be the model” for her creation, one Anton Caesar.

“No judge or contestant is above suspicion,” when the murder is committed, according to the book’s description on Amazon. “As events escalate and it seems that the murderer may strike again, the crime-solving efforts of the police are supplemented with those of a mysterious dancing detective in a desperate race to discover whodunnit. Moving between past and present and unearthing long held secrets along the way, this is a case teeming with possible motives and in which nothing is as it first seems.”

. . . .

Widdecombe told the Herald Express in Torquay that she had been thinking about writing her Dartmoor-set detective story ever since she appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2010, “but had to stop writing it because the publishers wanted my autobiography done first”.

She chose, she said, to publish the novel herself because she has a series planned about the same detective, and “if you give it to a publisher it’s nine months before it comes out and nine months before the next one. With Amazon you can put them up whenever you like and there’s a lot higher royalty on the Kindle edition than any author is going to get in publishing.”

Self-publishing has become an increasingly popular route for writers today. According to Nielsen BookData, in 2013 18m self-published books were bought by UK readers, up 79% on the previous year. As well as Widdecombe, names including Steven Berkoff, Joe Simpson and David Mamet have all chosen to make their own way to market.

. . . .

Widdecombe has written novels before, but published them through traditional publishers. An Act of Treachery, in which a French girl is in love with a German officer, was released by Orion in 2002; The Clematis Tree, released by the same publisher in 2000, focuses on a child who suffers brain damage in an accident. It drew the following review from Ruth Rendell in the Sunday Times: “Widdecombe once memorably said of a certain home secretary that he had ‘something of the night about him’. She has something of a Sunday afternoon about her, but her book is readable and, not surprisingly, she is good on the political bits.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Here’s a link to Ann Widdecombe’s books

The Fate of the Novelist: A Reality Check

28 August 2014

From author Warren Adler via The Huffington Post:

The war between Hachette and Amazon was inevitable. Now, authors have joined the feud. Authors who are attached to major publishers are on the publishers’ side, while self-published authors, many of whom have been rejected by the traditional publishers, are siding with Amazon and other digital publishers. A recent petition signed by several traditionally published authors appeared in a double spread in The New York Times. With the exception of a very few of these authors, many others do not make a full-time living off their books. Self-published authors are even worse off, financially. It’s all about money. Mostly the publishers’ money. Whatever the resolution between Amazon and the big publishers, the author will be screwed.

I’ve been in the digital publishing game for the past 15 years, and I am happily independent. I’m a non-genre, mainstream novelist. Before I went independent, I had 27 published novels with major publishers.

. . . .

Over the past 15 years as an independent author, I have learned a few things. Some might disagree with my conclusions, but not to worry. I am used to being pummeled, rejected and contradicted.

. . . .

1. The print industry as we have known it, is a dead man walking. Printed books, including retail shelving space, are disappearing at an alarming rate, as are big chain bookstores. On the other hand, boutique stores offering personal service with discriminating taste will emerge in their place. Perhaps some small print publishers will also survive. We all knew this would happen. Some of us saw it years ago.

2. Advances are drying up. Fewer and fewer authors will be able to make a living from their books, even those authors published by the large traditional publishers.

. . . .

6. Even so called commercial fiction, the kind of books one found on best-seller lists in the middle to the latter part of the last century, is being replaced by genre fiction, which would not have made the cut in those bygone days. Lots of people enjoy genre fiction, and its power to offer escape into a predictable world. Good for them. My own preference for both reading and writing is for the original and the unpredictable.

7. There are simply too many books being published, especially in fiction. Among them are probably some really wonderful ones, but they are hard to find. The filters have become clogged. Book bloggers try their best to become taste filters. Some succeed in attracting a following, but one wonders if they affect sales.

. . . .

11. There is still great personal satisfaction in self-publishing. Most of those books will actually sell fewer than fifty copies. Many will be given away for free, but the accomplishment itself is worthy of personal satisfaction, and offers some element of prestige, regardless of the quality of writing. Such a sense of personal achievement will continue to attract many to self-publishing.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Here’s a link to Warren Adler’s books

Self-publishing more lucrative for authors

26 August 2014

From The Talequah Daily Press:

Tahlequah is home to dozens of published authors. But any one of them will likely say the process of moving a finished work to a published tome is complicated, at best.

Finding a publisher often proves difficult.

Isaac Porter, owner of Chapel Books and Gifts, empathizes with authors who are seeking publication. The store shelves are lined with hundreds of titles written by authors who live in Northeast Oklahoma.

“New authors are sometimes challenged by the formidable appearance of getting their works looked at,” said Porter.

. . . .

Some local authors become frustrated with the publication process, and often, after having a couple of works published, they resort to producing their own work. Karen Cooper is among that group.

“My husband [Jim Roiax] and I have a little publishing company,” said Cooper. “We haven’t publicized it much, because we aren’t able to handle but a few authors right now. We primarily started it to publish my works. Some authors form publishing companies to produce their own work, and by accepting other authors, it gets you away from the appearance of vanity publishing.”

Vanity publishing – a publisher that produces books for authors for a fee – is very different from self-publishing, which is gaining popularity today.

. . . .

Self-publishing is a route local authors Layce Gardner and Saxon Bennett have decided to pursue, and they’re delighted with the outcome.

“Saxon and I recently started our own publishing company, Square Pegs Ink,” said Gardner. “We have made 1,000 percent more in five months than we did in five years with a publisher. Publishers typically only pay an author 4 to 8 percent of the list price of a book. The publishers then take the remaining 92 percent for themselves.”

The couple said they both now make a living wage doing what they love: writing.

“We were never able to do that before, when we were with a publisher,” said Gardner. “Now, as a self-publisher, I make the pie and get to keep the entire pie.”

Link to the rest at The Talequah Daily Press


Please Stop

24 August 2014

From author Gene Doucette via The Huffington Post:

 To: Everyone writing about Amazon vs. Hachette

From: An indie and self-published author

Subject: Please stop

Dear everyone,

If you are an author who happens to be published by one of the “big 5″ houses, I offer you my congratulations. You are truly fortunate, and hopefully also a good writer, although one does not guarantee the other. I would be happy to hear your perspective on Amazon and Hachette, which I’m sure is interesting.

However: if the subject of self-publishing comes up in the course of this expression of opinion, you probably need to shut up. It is very likely you don’t know what you’re talking about.

. . . .

Here is the problem. You all seem to think self-published authors are bad writers, because bad writers are self-published. The thing is, bad writers are everywhere. I agree, it’s easy to find examples of self-published authors who are very, very bad, but if you think the traditional publishing industry isn’t also full of hacks and terrible writers, you’re either delusional, or you’ve never spent more than ten minutes in a bookstore.

Good authors do not always get the big publishing contracts. Good novels do not always find a way to major market success. Most importantly, being published by one of the big 5 says more about the marketability of a novel than the quality of it. The system has cracks, and they are large cracks.

Here’s a story. In 2004, I completed my novel Immortal, spent a year getting an agent and then spent another year waiting as that agent sent the manuscript to all of the major publishers. It wasn’t picked up, but that isn’t the point of this story. The point is: after it was rejected, I had no other options. I was advised to write a new novel and try and get that published instead. Under no circumstances was I to either self-publish or even indie publish Immortal because if I did it would have to be a runaway success or no major publisher would even talk to me again.

It wasn’t enough that the big 5 (I think there were 6 then) decided not to publish it. If I wanted to play the game I had to make sure nobody published it.

. . . .

Back in 2006, self-publishing was in truth only barely a viable option. That isn’t the case any more, and this is something else you’re going to have to understand, because the writers you seem to be complaining about — this vast legion of unedited, probably unwashed, no doubt delusional — are making a sound economic choice.

I currently have four novels out with a small market publisher, and the fifth is due out in October. Unless something dramatic happens, my next novel will be self-published. I say this because in the past six months I’ve written and published four short stories through Amazon’s KDP, and I make more per unit sold from those four shorts than I do from the four novels even though they’re being sold for less. Sales have not been a problem. I fail to see the downside to doing this.

. . . .

So the next time you sit down to write something about Amazon vs. Hachette, or the state of publishing or whatever you’ve got going on that might in some way cover self-publishing, please stop. The assumptions you’ve been making aren’t reality-based, and your condescension and/or profound naïvete is just making it worse.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Here’s a link to Gene Doucette’s books

Self-Publishing Confession: I have no idea why this book is selling.

22 August 2014

From author Sean Cummings:

My book Unseen World has had a wild ride since it first became available to purchase back in 2009. Lyrical Press, then a startup ebook publisher and now an imprint of Kensington Books was its first home.

. . . .

Anyway, the darned book didn’t sell. You couldn’t give it away, which is weird, because it’s really a pretty fun read – but then I’m biased. Anyway, Lyrical Press gave me my rights back – more publishers should give the rights back to books if, for example, that publisher closes their doors less than two years after opening to great fanfare. That was a pretty classy move on Lyrical’s part.

Unseen World came back two years later – this time in print with Snowbooks in the UK.

. . . .

Guess what … it didn’t sell. I think it actually sold worse than it did when it was published by Lyrical Press. But … to Snowbooks credit, they too gave me back the rights to all three of my books published by them.

. . . .

Flash forward another three years. I’ve just learned that Strange Chemistry Books is closing its doors. I’ve had two books published by them and I’ve got three books with the rights back. So I said to hell with it … I’m going to self publish Unseen World with a different title via Kindle Direct Publishing and with this cool new cover art that I whipped together.


And the strangest thing is happening … the frigging book is selling. For the life of me, I have no idea – maybe it’s that I’m selling it for 99¢ that people are deciding to take a chance on it. There haven’t been many reviews either on Amazon or on Goodreads, but there are a few more five star ratings so that’s nice.

. . . .

I really don’t know why it’s selling, but Marshall Conrad has been in the top 50 for Superhero books for nearly two months now and in the top 100 Dark Fantasy for nearly thirty days. It’s up there alongside big name authors like Stephen Blackmoore or Charlaine Harris. It has to be the price, right? Maybe? Okay, I’ve experimented over the last month and raised it to as high as $3.99 and it still held its own, remaining in the top 100 for Superhero fiction. I keep raising and lowering the price but it still seems to sell.

What kind of voodoo science is this? I just have no idea why it’s selling. I’m grateful though, you have no idea. Because after Strange Chemistry closing and my sales for Poltergeeks and Student Bodies being fairly abysmal, I was wondering if I should just walk away from all this. Very simply, the strong sales for Marshall Conrad have been a ray of sunshine in an altogether crummy year for me professionally.

Link to the rest at Sean Cummings and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Here’s a link to Sean Cummings’ books

There Is One New Book On Amazon Every Five Minutes

22 August 2014

From TechCrunch:

In an interesting post, writer Claude Nougat estimated the total number of books on Amazon – about 3.4 million at last count (a number that could include apps as well) and then figured out how many books were added in a day. Nougat noticed that the number rose by 12 books in an hour, which suggests that one new book is added every five minutes. And, most likely, it’s probably an indie book.

Let’s let that sink in.

What does that mean for the indie publisher? If you’re perpetually optimistic, very little. If you’re even a little bit pessimistic, however, you might want to rethink your career. As Nougat writes:

Now if life is tough for the more successful self-published authors, try and imagine what it’s like for the rest of us? The reason why? Basically the tsunami of books that buries every single newcomer!

This also means that this onslaught buries mainstream titles as well, which is something that should give the big five publishers pause.

. . . .

Even indie millionaires aren’t doing quite well. Amanda Hocking, vampire writer, made millions on her novels but now her titles are going for free or cheap and have fallen far on the rankings. Hugh Howey’s Dust is at 800th place in the pantheon of books, which might as well be the bottom.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Brandt for the tip.

PG tends to think in terms of the enormous world market where indie authors can sell their books through Amazon. Last month, Mrs. PG earned money from sales in the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, India, and Australia. Her monthly royalties from non-US markets frequently exceed total royalties she received every six months when she was traditionally published.

He’s also reminded that the playing field between indie authors and tradpub is being flattened more and more all the time.

The problem with self-publishing: “Just because there are lottery winners doesn’t mean playing lotto is my retirement plan”

19 August 2014

From Salon:

Anonymous asked: Is there a good reason to seek to be published through Little, Brown and Co. rather than self-publishing as an e-book?

This is a question I initially skipped because it seemed a little too practical, and I am by no means a publishing expert, or anything close to it. But then I found myself talking out my answer in the shower, and again at night before I drifted off to sleep, and I guess that’s an indication that there’s a lot more to this question than I initially thought.

So here are my initial, practical responses, the ones I would probably cite at a dinner party if we’d just met, Anonymous, and it seemed like maybe you were making chitchat since you’ve heard a lot about how digital technologies are disrupting traditional publishing and I maybe get the sense that the subtext of your question is that it’s a little old-fashioned or backward-looking to be doing business with a company that still primarily traffics in paper and glue (a scenario that, for me these days, happens about every other month):

1. Money

Yes, there are bestsellers that are self-published on Kindle, where the author ends up making enormous amounts of money on royalties because there are so few middlemen involved, and every time I hear one of these stories I’m enamored with them, amazed and filled with a kind of wild optimism about writers and readers and the narrowing gap between them, and the ability for words to find their proper homes in other people’s lives, despite things like the retail supply chain and its gatekeepers in tall glass buildings.

But just because there are lottery winners doesn’t mean playing lotto is my retirement plan. The fact is, a traditional publisher will pay you an advance — they’ll put their money up as a gamble and a gesture of their belief in the book — but more important, they’ll cover all the considerable expenses involved in getting the book to readers. As I’ve mentioned before, I had no idea how much work it was to get a book into stores (both physical and digital). It takes an enormous amount of person-to-person communication for this to happen, which requires relationships and trust and a reputation for not leading people astray, and all sorts of other intangible things that take time to forge. Also: money. It is possible to do this on your own, through social media, or by building a community of readers with a series, but I wasn’t writing a series, and working on a single book sucked up pretty much all of my time. So given the option, I’d still rather spend the time I have writing another book and let a huge, experienced company take care of a lot of the rest.

. . . .

3. But, really, money

There’s just no replacement for not being broke. And an advance allows you, on a very practical level, a chance to get started on the next thing. It buys you time.

But say I got the sense, at this dinner party, somewhere around the main course, that you’d decided to self-publish a few books of your own, books you were proud of but felt were maybe underestimated by the traditional publishing establishment and particularly the authors it supports. And say I liked you, which I probably would since in my little fantasy here you’re taking such an interest in me and we’re really getting along and genuinely laughing at the other person’s jokes and like some of the same books — in that case I would probably add:

4. I’m not sure I have the gumption to be my own book’s salesman, publicist and marketer

From my limited experience, publishing is about 10 percent making a book available and 90 percent talking about it. If it were just a matter of uploading a file onto Amazon and calling it a day, this would be different, but I know enough to know it’s a whole lot more than that, requiring time and skills, not least of which is a healthy dose of entrepreneurial salesmanship. If there’s anything in this world that seems to run counter to the persistent low hum of my natural self-doubt, it would be having to also constantly pitch people, to convince strangers one at a time that they should spend their hard-earned money on my writing. Nothing makes me quite as uncomfortable as being pitched (“Excuse me, sir, do you have three minutes for the environment?”), and the idea of doing that to other people about a book I wrote myself makes me want to just evaporate into a thin mist.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Marc for the tip.

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