Going solo

Well folks, it’s been a busy week in publishing,  and if you’ve ever thought about publishing your work,  then this is the week to sit up and take notice. It was announced earlier in the week that ‘indie’ author (read: ‘self published’) Amanda Hocking has signed a £2m deal with St Martin’s Press for her next four books.  Yes,  you read that right,  two MILLION,  a figure that would cause a stir on any day,  but given that Hocking is a self published author,  it’s even more unusual.

Hocking started publishing her books via Kindle last spring,  and has enjoyed a massive success with them.  Her business plan? Write lots and sell for less.  It seems to work,  with her ebooks selling for between $.99 and $2.99 each,  and Hocking getting 70% of the profits,  she’s already made a small fortune for herself, with over 1million books sold so far,  and a personal fortune of around $1.5m amassed already.

Now,  before you all rush out and stick your books on Kindle,  let’s think about the work that’s clearly involved, and keep in mind that Hocking is an exception,  not the rule.

Most traditionally published authors can expect to sell less than 1000 copies over the  course of their book’s lifespan. Fact.

Most self published authors can expect to sell less than 100 copies of their book. Fact.

The figures are not awe inspiring,  and go a long way to explaining why most successful writers still have a day job to pay the bills.

The Kindle explosion has massively increased the amount of self published books out there,  as it’s so much easier to upload straight away and have your book available immediately.  Other self publishing outlets,  such as CreateSpace and Lulu,  (where your book is in print form) take time and money,  albeit a very small outlay compared to the old days of when self published authors could expect to pay thousands.  But here’s where things get difficult for the self published  author.

In a traditional publishing house the publisher has the book proofed and printed,  they get placement for it,  arrange distribution, marketing, promotion and keep track of sales and royalties etc etc etc.  A self published author has to do all of that themselves,  and without the clout that comes with being an established publisher.  That’s why so few self published books ever appear in bookshops or in reviews.  And,  in my own experience,  self published books tend to be of a lower quality, with less emphasis on good writing, grammar and spelling and often difficulties with formatting.  That’s not to say that there aren’t good self published books out there,  but the truth of it is that many self published books are books which have failed to find a publisher.

I’ll admit,  I like control. And I can understand why so many authors would choose self publishing as it gives them ultimate control over their work,  but the sheer amount of work involved is frightening and puts me off even considering it. Amanda Hocking has been quite franks about her decision to go with a traditional publisher,  quite telling is the statement she made in defence of her decision:

I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc.’

And I feel that this is something all aspiring authors have to realise before choosing the self publishing route.  You need to consider what your time is worth.  Can you afford to give up 5, 10, 20 hours a week to working on your books? In addition to the time it takes you to write them?  How much is that going to cost you? 40 hours a week is more than my weekly day job,  I couldn’t afford to give up my job to do that,  I have a family too,  all those things need time,  and perhaps this is where so many self published authors fail to see the success they are hoping for.  The simply underestimate the amount of time and,  let’s face it,  money involved in making their books a success.

There are some authors who go the other way,  moving from traditional publishing to self publishing.  This week bestselling author Barry Eisler turned down a £500k deal (co-incidentally also with St Martin’s Press) in order to pursue self publishing.

This may come as a surprise,  but think about it for a second.  Eisler is a good writer with a big following of dedicated readers.  For him going solo isn’t likely to have and effect on his sales,  as he will take with him the readers that he has gathered through his previous traditionally published books,  readers acquired with the marketing savvy and money of a big publisher. Eisler is now in the situation where he can afford to self publish, knowing that he has a secure reader base who will continue to buy and read his work,  regardless of how it’s published.

The upshot for Eisler?  Money of course.  He’ll make a much higher percentage than before.  And he won’t have to work anywhere near as hard in terms of promotion and placement because he’s already a name,  he already has those contacts and that following,  and isn’t struggling to make a name for himself in a saturated market.

Incidentally,  Hocking and Eisler gave a joint interview to Ted Weinstein this week,  where they each talk openly and frankly about their decisions and experiences.  It’s inspiring and sobering reading for anyone considering publishing,  and you can find it here: http://www.twliterary.com/selfpub.html

And, as always I have to remind you all,  in the face of several conversations I have had with readers this week that although self publishing has become more accessible through the upsurge in ebooks –

NOT all ebooks are self published

NOT all self published books are ebooks.

Whatever path you choose,  and for whatever reason, do your research – AbsoluteWrite (www.absolutewrite.com/forums) is an amazing,  free resource for writers,  with boards dedicated to every possible aspect of writing and publishing, and is populated by a host of writers,  from first timers through to NYT bestselling authors,  who are all willing to share their experiences and stories and warnings. I recommend checking them out.  Happy writing folks.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Going solo

  1. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Jacqueline Howett. If you haven’t heard about her massive meltdown, read this review and comments thread.

  2. Ah David, you know I would never miss something like that – see the post below entitled ‘Close your eyes and count to ten’ – I’ve covered a couple of public rants by writers. I think you’ll enjoy.

  3. Self publishing my Christian fantasy series (Forsaken Kingdom) definitely was a lot of work. I had to:
    1) Hire a professional editor
    2) Hire a professional typesetter
    3) Get artwork for the cover
    4) Get a copyright
    5) Print the work
    It was challenging, but fun. Even now, I’m spending as much time as I can promoting the book and my blog, hoping to eventually get a large enough following to garner the interest of a real publisher. But for now, I’m enjoying the learning experience of self-publishing. Thanks for the post! Some very interesting numbers I found useful as well, hoping to get to that 1000 book sale mark someday 🙂

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