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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do writers really need print publishers?

I’ve been asking myself for some time if I should pursue publication from traditional print publishers or if I should self publish. Yesterday, when I read the news of Barry Eisler turning down a $500,000 deal to self-publish the question in my head got significantly louder. The conversation between Mr. Eisler and Mr. Konrath about self-publishing is fascinating. If you haven’t read it go to www.jakonrath.com/eislerkonrath.pdf.

As a new writer who has yet to publish anything, the question is a bit different for me than Mr. Eisler or Mr. Konrath, but many of their points are applicable to me as well as all of you unpublished and published writers out there. A few of their major points that struck me are:

  • Amazon sold more digital books in 2010 than paperback
  • People aren’t leaving digital for paper, they are leaving paper for digital because digital is cheaper
  • Paper isn’t going to disappear. It’s going to become marginalized just like when electricity replaced candles, cars replaced carriages and cds replaced vinyl records. *This has been one of the things I pondered. Will paper disappear? The conversation between Mr. Eisler and Mr. Konrath made me see I was asking the wrong question. It’s not will paper books disspear but will they become marginalized, and all the trends we are seeing say, yes. Mr. Konrath says paper will become the niche and digital will become the norm, and frankly, I agree with this.
  • Publishers offer a 25% royalty on e-books, but Mr. Eisler and Mr. Konrath say it is actually 14.9 % that the author ends up getting. Why would I settle for that when I can get much more self publishing?
These are just a few of the points from the conversation. I am left to consider that as an unknown writer is it better to get my name known with a print publisher’s muscle or is it better to have as many books as I can on the virtual shelf right now with a ‘forever’ shelf life.

I would love to hear all of your thoughts and opinions on this fascinating topic.

Julie Johnstone
The Marchioness of Mayhem


  1. It's a VERY thought-provoking topic. I feel like we are teetering on the tipping point, and soon publishing as we know it will be a thing of the past. I just hope that I'll still have hope of becoming a full-time, money-earning author, as opposed to being lost in the millions who are entering the fray...
    Time will tell
    PS - no matter how things go, I still dream of holding a book with my name on it in my hands :)

  2. Erin,

    Well said. I have the same dream of the book in my hands with my name on it, but I do wonder if that makes us outdated?

  3. The trouble is, the digital haystack just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I wonder how or why anyone would ever find me there.

  4. I had this same thought, Sheila. Of course, when I walk into a book store and am faced with thousands of books I wonder there as well how anyone will ever find me when I am published.

  5. I think it is a very different thing for a best-selling author with a following and a 'name' in the business to go the self-publishing route than it is for an author just starting out. At this point, it isn't a step I'm willing to take. I want the publisher backing me, I want the expertise of an editor and a copy editor helping me to make my work the best it can be. I want more than just a book in my hands--I want the value that comes with being published by the same people that have published other books I've read and loved. Once I've had that and been able to build a readership, things may be different. But self-publishing without the benefit of any of that? It seems like too great a risk. It has worked out (and well!) for some people. But how many others have sold only a dozen or so copies of their book?

  6. For an unpublished author, it's riskier to go with self-publishing, unless you find an excellent editor to find the weaknesses in your story. Not just copy edits, but places your story could be stronger. If you are an amazing storyteller with characters we love, you can get away with learning the ropes will self-publishing. If you're finaling in contests but not getting contacts, self-pubbing might be the way to go. Otherwise, try epublishing. The publishers who focus more on ebook than print generally pay closer to 35% of gross royalties (if you're offered less, go elsewhere) and will have an editor who can help improve your book. Then you'll build readership as you grow as a writer, and can move on to self-publishing when you're ready. Good luck!

  7. I have decided to go the self publishing route with my western stories because frankly, they aren't marketable in print at the moment. And rather than have them sit on my self and collect dust, I'll self publish and make a little money off them. Even a little money is better than none at all imho. I write in a very hard to sell genre but I'lve got great stories to sell. I want to share them the readers who love this genre as much as I do.

  8. I think that self-publishing can work if you have a platform. But that's really the same with any book, right? The think that traditionally published books have going for them is a press's name recognition and the possibility of some marketing to back them. Did you read about Amanda Hocking? She's made a whole bunch on her self-published books.


  9. Catherine,
    I agree that authors who are already known have a much better chance at doing well in the self publishing market. That is one of the reasons I am pursueing being published with a well known publisher. I feel they have a better chance of spreading my name than I do, right now. However, I would love to see some statistics on how unknown, or first time authors, do with sales in the self publishing business. I would really love to see these statistics in a comparison chart with how unknown, or first time authors, sale who are with a publishing company.

  10. Aileen,
    You make a good point about unpublished authors needing a good editor to spot weaknesses in the story. I thought about this as well, and I think it is one of the strongest reasons the publishing houses are still an excellent alternative. However, we may see the knowledgable people in the business eventually start to offer their services to the self-publishing market when and if this market dominates print media.

  11. Suzie,

    Good luck with your westerns!

  12. Lisa,

    I haven't read about Amanda Hocking. Thanks for the tip.

  13. Julie,

    Great topic and what an interesting discussion. I have gone the self-publishing route and I couldn't be happier. I do think that it is a bit of a crap shoot. Luckily, I've been fortunate with my titles and I'm doing rather well at the moment. Knock on wood.

    Some of the themes in my first book are on the edgy side. And after I wrote it, I realized it wasn't for NY. Not that the quality isn't there (at least in my opinion) but it was risky because of some of the scenes and back story. But the story was based on experiences my grandmother lived through growing up and I wanted to tell that story and put a happy ending on it. Self-publishing allowed me to tell this story in my own way and not have it watered down.

    I think Suzie is right about genres. Some are much more difficult to sell to NY and there is no guarantee you will ever do so because of the market and buying trends. But that doesn't mean readers won't want to buy your book. On the other hand, there's also no guarantee you'll sell a million copies or even 10. It is a crap shoot. But so much in life is. Self-publishing at least gives authors an opportunity they didn't years ago.

    Not everyone will find success with self-publishing. Just like not everyone will find success with print publishing. Or not everyone will find success in whatever the endeavor.

    One of the joys of self publishing is the author has complete control. You think your book isn't selling well because of the cover, change it. See if that helps. Found an error on page 231? Change it. Neither of those options are available when publishing traditionally.

    Self-publishing is a different animal, but it's not for the faint of heart.

  14. Great points, Ava. And I love your books, btw.

  15. Hello Julie.

    Well, I took the plunge this week and published my YA, LIFETHREAD, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I'd been "this close" to being published with traditional NY houses for several years, and my patience simply ran out.

    When my I sold my first copy, I cried. Both because I was thrilled to have my book in the hands of an actual reader, and because it wasn't a print book.

    For me, it came down to a simple question: Does it really matter how my books are published when what I want is for people to read them. I'd love you to take a look at my blurb and author page on the Amazon site and let me know what you think. I know, I know, y'all are historical people and this is a paranormal romance with a touch of adventure, but I'd really appreciate some feedback.

    And the moment when I knew it was the right thing? When my husband looked at me and said, "You're officially a writer now."

    Best of luck with your writing career.

  16. L.J.,

    I checked out your blurb on Amazon for LIFETHREAD and the book sounds very exciting. Your author page looks great too. And your book cover is VERY eye catching! Best of luck!

  17. The thing to remember is that every NYT bestselling author started out with no fans. They had to work hard and write to get to that level. You can't hope to compete with that first time out. Writing (and publishing) is a marathon not a sprint. If you stick with the traditional route or go the self publish route you still need to connect with readers in order to be successful. That takes time.

  18. To L. J. : Congratulations! I can feel the joy in your response.

    I'm telling you all, I have been on the fence about digital for years, but when my Mom mentioned Kindle to me last week---the woman who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even get an email account--and said "Hey, I can carry all my favorite books with me. I'm getting one"---that did it. If she's welcoming a digital reader, then I'm reading to embrace any and all changes.

    For self-publishing, I'd say educate yourself in the same way you'd better be educated about a traditional publisher, and then go get 'em! :)

  19. Here's from an author who's published with an epub. I went epub because I entered the publisher's contest, which I lost, but they helped me to make the story publishable and they eventually took it. The epub has helped me a lot, and I'm happy if they can make a little money off me.

    And it's definitly a little money. So far, I have three novellas out, with a fourth on the way. Because of their short length, they are available only in digital format. Print, even from a small pub, makes more money than print. Indie authors have told me this.

    Like others here, I write what the market isn't buying--traditional regencies. The nice thing about epub is you can pretty much write what you want to. And, I received the benefit of professional editing and covers, which I would have to pay for myself if I went indie.

    When the epub returns my rights, I will put my novellas up on Smashwords and Amazon. A cover is a lot cheaper than an editor. I think the barrier for indie authors is the editing. Good editors cost a lot, and you can't afford it if you sell 10 copies.

    You have to get a name, and however you do it is up to you, before you are going to make money. For all the time we spend on promotion, name recognition is the most factor in selling a book.

    Here's a tidbit of information on how many ebooks are out there and how they're selling. I looked up my MISTLETOE EVERYWHERE on Novelrank today. I sold one copy (ONE copy) yesterday, and my ranking went up from 168,919 to 38,886. There are an awful lot of books out there that aren't moving.