Self-Publishing: It’s a Brave New World

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I blame today’s posting tardiness on the time change. Sigh…

Okay, I know there’s been a lot going around the web lately about this topic, especially since the news of Amanda Hocking went viral. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot so I figured I’d write a post.

The publishing landscape is rapidly changing. I mean really fast. When I first started writing with an eye toward publishing back in January 2009, there wasn’t much talk of e-books at all. Today e-book sales are estimated to make up 20-30% of book sales. That’s a pretty drastic change within the span of two years. Who knows where we’ll be in another two?

Even when I started looking into e-publishing as a viable option, I didn’t think much about self-publishing. After all, e-publishers were offering pretty decent royalty rates at 30-40%, and they have a lot of other things they can provide, namely:

  1. Marketing to draw readers to their website (where they’ll hopefully spot your book)
  2. An established customer base
  3. Cover Art (some e-pubs better than others)
  4. Editing Services

But I’ve been thinking more and more about self-publishing. After all, if you publish with Amazon you get to keep 70% of profits. That’s almost, or in some cases more, than twice what you’ll get with an e-publisher. True, that means cover art, marketing and editing is left to the author, but many of these services can be provided by freelance experts with some upfront expense. Here are some ballpark figures I picked up:

  1. Cover Art: $40 (for the really basic stuff) – $400+
  2. Editing by a Professional: $400+

Now that’s no small amount of money. It’s an investment into a venture that might not recoup the expenses. But there’s the possibility of getting much more.

So if cover art and editing can be purchased freelance, what this leaves is the established customer base an e-publisher can provide. In some cases that will be enough to make the difference between choosing an e-pub or going it alone. But for others (case in point: Hocking), self-publishing will be worth the risk.

Today I’d like to pose this question to you: How do you feel about self-publishing? Do you purchase self-published books? If you don’t, would you consider doing so if the premise of the story sounded interesting?

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36 thoughts on “Self-Publishing: It’s a Brave New World

    Steve Konkoly said:
    March 14, 2011 at 8:06 am

    I love self-publishing, because I chose to take this route while pursuing traditional publishing options. I didn’t want my work to languish, hidden away behind a WEP encrypted router in my house, while I waited and waited for one of the literary industries ambassadors to bring me into the fold…a very dubious fold at that, given the times.

    Meanwhile, all of my friends and family have enjoyed the book, and so have at least two thousand others, who have found the book on Amazon (Kindle and paperback). I didn’t see any reason to make them wait.

    Amazon’s system pretty easy to operate, and their customer base is unrivaled. Still, your book won’t sell itself. You have to market the book to an appropriate reader base, and this takes work, but it’s great experience for a task you’ll face anyways when the drawbridge is lowered, and you are finally allowed to walk the hallowed ground of a “published” author.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 8:31 am

      You make a good point, Steve. If you know you’ve got a good story, why not share it? And if you’re still looking for that NY deal, many editors and agents no longer seem to mind books which have been self-pubbed. In fact, I’ve heard stories of edutors/agents specifically looking for self-pubbed books who have been performing well. So it might actually be a viable path toward that NY pub dream.

    Sophie Pembroke said:
    March 14, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Interesting question!

    I think, for myself, I’d feel happier with an e-publisher behind me, for moral support as much as anything. Going it entirely alone is a terrifying prospect, certainly until you’ve built up a readership. With re-releases of back catalogues etc, I imagine it’s a very different situation.

    I haven’t bought any self-pubbed books yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Yes, the premise would have to be enthralling, but more than that I think what would really convince me would be a sample chapter or two, to get a feel for whether I’ll like the author’s style of writing. Good reviews from previous readers wouldn’t hurt, either.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 8:32 am

      I like what you noted here: getting a sample of the work. Now I admit I don’t know a lot about Amazon’s self-pub program. I wonder if you can let the readers preview the first few chapters for free?

    Suzanne Johnson said:
    March 14, 2011 at 8:10 am

    The pace at which things are change is staggering! This is going to sound harsh, but I have to be honest–I’ve been burned a couple of times buying self-pubbed books whose authors had a good premise and wrote a pretty cover blurb, but whose work was just not so good. As a result, I won’t buy anything now–even a 99-cent ebook–unless 1) I recognize the publisher; 2) I recognize the author’s name; 3) I personally know the author. What I will do is download a free read to give an unknown author a “test-drive.”

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 8:34 am

      Oh interesting, Suzanne. What if you got to preview the first chapter or two of the story?

      I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t think free reads work. I have to admit, I’ve downloaded free reads before and then not read them. :-/ So I guess it depends on the reader.

    Ciara Knight said:
    March 14, 2011 at 8:12 am

    I have read several self-pub books and been disappointed, but I’ve also read some that are fantastic. If I read reviews from Goodreads or Amazon, more than just a few friends, then I might read it. Otherwise, I can’t stand the typos, poor sentence structure, and plot holes. Please, if you are going to self-pub HIRE and editor. It is a must. I think that there will eventually be a gate for self-pub’s. We will wait and see.
    Yes, I’ve considered self-pub, but only after forking out the money for an editor and cover artist.
    Major Congrats to Amanada!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 8:35 am

      Yes Ciara, I’m like you. I’m a perfectionist and couldn’t stand the thought of someone reading unedited work. But that does significantly increase the cost of putting out your work (with no guarantee of return).

    terryspear said:
    March 14, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Whether you’re self publishing or selling through a publisher, you have to market your books. Whether you’re self publishing or selling through a publisher, you have to edit your books. I wouldn’t give up my publishers for anything–I love them. But I have many more stories to share and so I’m happy to do both! 🙂 Great article, Rosalie!!

    I’m talking about 10 Reasons to Indie Publish at KMN books today:
    http://kmnbooks.blogspot.com/2011/03/terry-spear-and-10-reasons-to-indie.html

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 8:41 am

      Great minds think alike, Terry. 🙂

      Ideally an author would get to use more than one publishing avenue. Digital publishing can be a great complement to a print pub career. I’ve just read your article, and I think you perfectly sum up all the reasons to consider self-pubbing in your article. 🙂

    tracy farrell said:
    March 14, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I admire those brave enough to self publish. I’ve friends who have had posative and negative experiences with e-publishers, major NY players. and self published. So I can’t say what’s right or wrong for any one.

    For me personally, I love my editor and know my book(s) wouldn’t be half as good as without her.

    I would self publish my back list 🙂 when I got one as those have already been edited.

    Like others on the list I’d advise anyone going this route to get a good reputable editor and know the market and how to promot yourself.

    Great topic.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 8:43 am

      Yeah Tracy, I agree it would be less frightening to publish backlist, since that’s already been edited. Editors are wonderful creatures. Freelance editors are out there, but they aren’t exactly cheap.

    Steve Konkoly said:
    March 14, 2011 at 9:00 am

    A quick answer about Amazon. Prospective readers can download a sample of the book, which helps immensely. Reviews can be tricky, and as someone mentioned, anyone can write a good cover blurb. I look at all of the reviews to try and sort through the glowing friends and family reviews.

    Also editing is critical. I made this error, and so far, this has been the only serious complaint I’ve received. My book is now undergoing a pro-edit. I wish I had listened to everyone earlier.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 9:58 am

      Thanks for the info, Steve! Helps so much to hear from someone who’s been there / done that. 🙂

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    March 14, 2011 at 9:44 am

    My experience reading self-pubbed books has been disappointing. Poor editing, poor writing, lackluster story. Poor overall concept.
    However, that doesn’t change the fact that more and more very good authors who do know how to edit or how to find an editor are doing it.
    I’m seriously looking into this. Seems like a good venue for certain works that don’t fit into any specific genre – at least the way genres are currently constituted. For instance, SFR seems to sell very well self-pubbed, yet languish even with e-pubs.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 10:00 am

      It seems that the concept of self-pubbing is changing. It’s no longer a place where someone can write a rough draft and toss it out for the world to see (if it ever was that; I haven’t read much self-pubbed work so I’m no authority). But more and more authors seem to be viewing it as a viable option in today’s publishing landscape.

    Nina Pierce said:
    March 14, 2011 at 9:51 am

    I’ve recently gotten the rights back to several books and I’m looking to self-publish them. They were written in the early stages of my writing and so I am trying to make the story tighter. But quite frankly, I don’t feel like I’m doing it fast enough and I do feel like if I don’t hurry I may just miss the boat.

    It will be interesting to see if 2011 brings such a gush of self-published works onto the market if no one will make significant money (like Konrath and Hocking) because there are only so many readers out there.

    It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 10:02 am

      I agree, Nina. This will be an interesting year. There’s no doubt that the number of self-pubbed works will increase. I just wonder what that will mean. I think your potential pool of readers increases drastically when the price of a book is $1-3 vs. $5-8.

    Marsha A. Moore said:
    March 14, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I would definitely consider this route, as an additional route to working with traditional publishers. I agree with the previous comments, that hiring a professional editor is essential. I wouldn’t consider it otherwise.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 11:27 am

      It’s scary to think of putting unedited work out there, but I’m sure it happens all the time.

    Kendall Grey said:
    March 14, 2011 at 11:24 am

    So glad I found your post, Rosalie. I am smack dab in the middle of self-pubbing not just one book, but an urban fantasy trilogy. I agree with what a lot of folks have said above. A couple of people commented that they’ve been burned by the crappy quality of self-pubbed books. You know what? I’ve been burned MANY times by traditionally published books that had a great premise and cover blurb (and spent a lot more money on them than self-pubbed ones). Frankly, I think the quality of books *in general* has dwindled – not just self-pubbed – but that’s another blog rant. 🙂

    If a writer has the resources (money, connections, time, major commitment, etc.) and all other options are exhausted, why not self-pub? My manuscript finaled in several RWA-chapter contests in 2010, and ended up taking 1st in OKRWA’s paranormal category of the Finally a Bride Contest. I think the story is pretty good, and it seems like others do too. Why don’t the agents and editors? Because my story is different, and I’m not a guaranteed sell.

    Here’s the bottom line: I’ve been rejected by NY more times than I can count, and with the way the economy’s going, the Big Six will probably publish even *fewer* books this year. I’m not willing to let my story stagnate on my hard drive. I have more money than I have sense. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t self-publish the book. I’m tired of waiting for agents and editors to take a chance on me. Screw them. I’ve been working on this book for almost 3 years now, and it’s READY. It’s time for action, and that’s exactly what I’m doing: taking control. I’ve never been happier!

    Sorry for the long rant. Can you tell I’m passionate about self-publishing? 😉

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 11:32 am

      There’s really nothing to lose, Kendal. Digital publishing in general is perfect for those non-traditional books that NY won’t take a chance on (or those that don’t meet NY’s strict word count requirements). If you have the financial resources and are willing to put in the time to market your work, why not just do it?

      Good luck with your trilogy. Maybe you can visit us for a guest post in a few months to share your results. 🙂

        Rosalie Lario responded:
        March 14, 2011 at 11:33 am

        Sorry Kendall, the second “L” didn’t make it onto your name the first time. 😦

      Julia Rachel Barrett said:
      March 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      Kendall, your comment is really powerful. I’m both e-published and in print, yet I too have received more rejection notices from NY pubs and agents than I can count. My books, too, have done very well in contests. In fact, even agents and publishers read my books and like them, but they haven’t made an offer. It can be incredibly discouraging. Which is why I too am looking into self-publishing.

    Kathy Bennett said:
    March 14, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Yes, I’m very much considering self-publishing. I’m with Nina – I feel like if I don’t hurry up, I’ll miss the boat.

    There is no way I would put something out there that hasn’t been professionally edited. Same goes for cover art. I love the idea of having so much more control over my work.

    I haven’t bought any self-published works yet…but that’s only because I haven’t gotten my new Nook up and running yet!

    Great blog post!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 11:37 am

      I don’t have an e-reader yet, Kathy. I was determined to be the last holdout. That lasted all of 6 months before I decided I really wanted one, lol.

    Jessica Subject said:
    March 14, 2011 at 11:29 am

    I bought traditionally published, e-book published only and self-published books. most in all categories are wonderful, but some not so much. No matter which I read, I feel it is very important to have a good editor and quality cover art. An appealing cover makes me want to read the blurb. From the blurb (and maybe an excerpt), I’ll decide whether I want to buy the book.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 11:39 am

      You know Jessica, I will say that I’ve brought more than my fair share of print books over the last two years that weren’t edited as well as I would have expected. I think it’s wise to consider all formats of books. There are a lot of great ones out there.

    Shawn said:
    March 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    I’ve read one self published book before. It was badly edited, and kind of flat. But the premise was good. It just could have been so much better.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm

      Yes, and there’s the big “what if”. I suppose the big question is whether something like that ultimately hurts an author’s career.

    Melissa Dawn Harte said:
    March 14, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Here’s the thing as with any author you read, published or self published or epublished. If you buy a book and don’t like it, just don’t buy another from said author. It’s a simple fix really. It’s like going to the movies – not every movie is going to blow you away and yet you’ve spent forty bucks on a night out at the movies. But you go and you try it. Reading is a much less expensive way to spend your time and money for a night “in.” I’ll spend a few bucks on a self pubbed book anyday and take the 50/50 chance that I may really love it. Just my two cents for whatever it’s worth. The risk isn’t all that great and you may just be surprised by how good the book was.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 14, 2011 at 9:43 pm

      All valid points, Melissa. There are a lot of great stories out there, and people choose to self-pub for a variety of reasons.

    Heather Howland said:
    March 16, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I always like reading posts about the changing marketplace. As for as epublishers, make sure you read the fine print when it comes to royalties. Most of the high percentages you see will be based on net, not cover price. Self-pubbing profits are based on cover price, so it really is a huge difference! Thankfully, there are publishers out there who are starting to take the hint. Business models are changing…

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      March 16, 2011 at 10:23 am

      Heather, I’m actually cyber-stalking Entangled Publishing, the new publishing house you are managing editor for (lol). I love the meld of digital pub royalties with in-house promotions (and an actual publicist assigned to every book).

      For those of you who haven’t already heard of it, check out http://www.entangledpublishing.com 🙂

        Heather Howland said:
        March 16, 2011 at 1:45 pm

        LOL! Always fun to meet one of our stalkers 😉 Looking forward to your submission!

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