Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Rick here.

The title of this piece is mostly a dirty word among "legitimate authors", and of course, "real publishers". By its very nature, the sobriquet has been earned for the most part. There's a saying you hear when literary people get together that novels are self-published for a very good reason: no professional publishing house would touch one of these books with a ten-foot cattle prod. Many people who self-publish don't know what they're doing.

Okay, before we go any further with this discussion, I have a wee confession: I self-published my first two novels. Were either of them worthy of publishing? The second, yes, the first, probably.

With the rise of computers, the writing game, like many other things, was fundamentally changed. Writers could suddenly produce manuscripts with far less labour (Typewriters, and the inherent typing errors, are no fun when it comes time to produce a final draft). You can cut and paste, organize, check spelling, format and produce multiple copies with ease.

At the publishing end, layout, from cover design to page design to printing, became easy to the point where many half-trained typographers and designers can now produce reasonably good-looking books. Lots of experienced people lost their jobs.

The only thing that really hasn't changed much is the marketing and selling of books, except of course for being able to order instantly at online sources.

Was all this a bad thing? I don't think so. It HAS, though, really changed the number of books that are now out there. Publishers are awash in either manuscripts or enquiries about manuscripts, lots of stores (especially small, local ones) stock self-published books, even book distributors will handle them.

The real question is: are they worth reading? For the most part, too seldom. However, there is the opportunity for these books to be VERY good. It all depends if the writer is good, hired an experienced editor, designed a professional-looking product.

Okay, back to my two novels. They looked good (I had some expert help and I have some ability of my own.) and they did okay. Even the reviews weren't all that bad. But at the centre of this discussion is this: did I make any money?

Yes. The first book, _Knock on Wood_, has sold about 800 copies (Wanna buy one?) and the second, _The Lark Ascending_ is completely sold out, meaning I sold 1500 copies. I also learned a hell of a lot about the way the publishing industry works. I did all my own promotion and learned a lot there, too, especially valuable since I still use that knowledge and those skills every time a new book is published. If I'd actually sold, say 15,000 copies of that second book, I would have made A LOT of money. The average author gets a royalty of between 10% and 15%, with the majority closer to the lower figure. You sell books, generally, at "retail less 40%", meaning that the publisher gets 60% and the store 40%. With a print run of 1000, plus order fulfillment, costs of producing the finished book (designers and such), and promo costs, you can realistically expect to wind up with 20%, maybe 25% of the gross as profit. That's not bad, but you do have to work really hard to get there.

Would I do it again? Yes, if I could devote all of my time to the project. I've always said that the easy part of being an author is the writing of the book. After that, the REAL work begins. When you self-publish, your workload increases dramatically. Unless you hire people to do the promo for you, you have to get out there and sell your book all by your lonesome. You have to convince reviewers to read it. You have to hustle interviews and book selling wherever you can. See what I mean?

Now here's something I'd like to see: one of the big name authors deciding to self-publish. I'm here to tell you that it's the publishing industry's worst nightmare. Obviously, with computerization, it takes far fewer people to produce a book. An author can hire just the right people: a production manager (and maybe one or two temporary office staff) who will hire designers, an editor, deal with the printer, and arrange for promo, anything book production needs. These people can all be hired on a job by job basis. The better known the author, the easier and more effective the promo will be, too. When you get to these lofty heights, the volume of the printing also brings those costs WAY down. The only thing our intrepid author would have to worry about is that he/she would have to front the initial costs. That would be a substantial amount of money, for sure, but I think it would be a good investment to make. Conservatively, the return could be 30% to 35%, maybe even more if the book is a huge hit. Now, that's way better than what ANY author gets from their publisher. This author also wouldn't have to work very hard to walk right by that bad reputation self-publishing efforts normally get. Perhaps the best thing is that the author would control ALL rights to his work. That is a very substantial plus -- especially if Hollywood comes calling.

It works in the indy music business and it could work in publishing. What we're seeing now is the thin edge of the wedge. Want proof? Check out Deadlock Press: Their two books so far are very good, very professionally done and are selling well.

1 comment:

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