Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this post, I just wanted to say hello again. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything onto this blog, and my posts going forward will still be sporadic, but they will surely come in time.
I took a brief respite from writing for a while, and am now seriously working on another piece that has my motivation and excitement levels through the roof. At my current rate, I’ll be through my first draft in June, hopefully. But I’ve tried to stay away from blogging as it takes time away from getting work done on my book…more on that later.
While I haven’t been extremely productive posting blog entries here, I heavily lurk on my Twitter account (@hamfacepubl), reading articles people post, retweeting things I’ve found helpful, and responding to random tweets. Today, I read an article, posted by Victoria Strauss (@victoriastrauss), which lead us to have an interesting conversation regarding Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing.
Article: The Financial Realities of a Genre Novelist (http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/the-financial-reality-of-a-genre-novelist_b64568)
While I understand the appeal of traditionally publishing, and it’s something I hope to eventually jump into, I plan on starting exclusively via the ebook medium, and transitioning into physically printed books later on on a more on-demand type format such as through Lulu. Personally, I find my business plan more in line with my personal goals as a writer, and what I think makes more logical sense.
Some authors/aspiring authors argue for the more traditional route as a primary means of publishing. That’s fine for their agenda. There are also those who would rather exclusively stay in the digital realm and forgo physical publication. To each his/her own.
However, what really irks me is the abundance of information out there for published and non-published authors, definitively stating that their way is the best way.
Each time I open up my twitter client and scan the posts my writing friends are tweeting about, I range from amazement to annoyance. Either I’ll read some insightful piece of advice that I’d hadn’t considered in this endeavor to write and publish, or I’ll read a slew of articles with conflicting information/advice/opinions, leaving me to wonder, how is someone suppose to process it all?
As I’ve stated, I already have my plan established which I’m going to enact at the end of a very long revision and editing process. From my experience, I have a relatively knowledgable background in business of many kinds, but especially in entertainment, being someone who had worked in the music business and studied it extensively.
But what about the random Joe who comes along with a passion for writing, wants to publish, but has no background in business what-so-ever? He might establish a network via a blog and/or Twitter and appeal for advice, as so many have before him. And in sifting through the massive amounts of blogs and articles on the subject, read a ton of contradictory information. He should only seek traditional publishing, he should only publish ebooks. He should blog, tweet, review, or just focus solely on writing. The combinations are endless. How should he choose a path, in the torrent of opinions out there?
Personally, I find the appeal of self-publishing ebooks fascinating and exciting. The similarities in the realm of publishing and the music business, in terms of its transition into the digital age, are strikingly eerie. Where you had Metallica initially refusing the change of times, denying their discography in a digital format for years, you also had people like JK Rowling who thought publishing should stay in the traditionally physical state, and only recently relented ,releasing the Harry Potter series electronically. The only difference is I noticed less resistance in the publishing world than in music, though it very well might’ve been there unbeknownst to me at the time.
As in the article posted above states, authors with a publishing deal, in regards to digital sales, only get a minute percentage of royalties, after recouping an advance given by the Publisher. This, again, mirrors what happens when someone is “lucky” enough to land a record deal. As the article goes on, author Mark Lawrence is quoted:
“I get 25% on ebook sales. But it’s 25% of what the publisher get, and on books selling for less than $2.99 the publisher gets 35% of the sale price rather than 70%. So I got 25% of 35% of $1.99 … which is 17 cents. So, if the book sold a thousand copies that day (it probably didn’t do that well, but that would be awesome) I made $170. Once I’ve paid 15% to my agent and 20% tax I’ll pocket just under 12 cents a copy or make $120 on the thousand copies sold.”
Arguably, without an agent and publisher nipping at each dollar you make, you potentially earn more per unit sold self-publishing. However, you now don’t have a big name publisher backing your work, giving it its literary street cred, as it were. With that, you also don’t have a marketing team promoting the book for you, or doing all the administrative tasks such as bookkeeping.
But still, it is feasible to make it without the back of a publisher. Look at Amanda Hocking. While I personally am not a fan of her genre of work, she’s gone on to make a good chunk of change in the self-publishing world without the backing, or profit-leeching of initially going the traditional route. Similarly in the music field, though he had enough money at the point of doing things himself, Trent Reznor went on to defy the labels and release his albums himself digitally, and went on to change the way artists view the business.
Given, I understand a case like Hocking is a chance occurrence in the eyes of most. Almost as much as the chances of a Canadian boy who makes YouTube videos landing a record deal, having an internationally renowned music career, and even have a fever named after him.
But in my eyes, being successful in self-publishing boils down to three things, and three things alone. Content, Professionalism, and Marketing. Content in you need to have a story concept that will hook readers, keep them entertained, and hopefully snag them into buying other works. Professionalism in being business savvy, have a solid business model to follow, properly follow standards and practice of the industry such as getting an outside editor and making sure your content is mint before release, and apply traditional business trends adapted to a new and thriving untraditional medium of digital content. And of course Marketing, being able to make people aware of your work, exploit it as diversely and uniquely as you can, and network as much as you can throughout the industry.
When you boil it down, self-publishing is like starting your own business. The success rate against the giant corporate tycoons are small, but it’s not an impossible task. In this instance, it’s not Walmarts and Targets you’re competing against, but other writers. So the more perfectly polished your product is, how you get the word out there professionally and consistently, and how you act/react to the market’s reaction to your work, can make it break an author. This I think is the key point in the self-publishing business. I’ve heard numerous stories of indie publishing authors who release works that are full of grammatical and spelling errors, respond to bad reviews by defending themselves and/or insulting consumers, or just don’t put enough leg work in marketing and give up by the huge task of letting people know your book(s) exists in the infinite sea of new releases.
As I told Victoria, I would rather make more money per unit sold self-publishing and sell less units, giving my all into my book, than sell 1000 copies with a publisher/agent and only make $120…after recouping the advance. At least I know I would have fully owned up to that money earned myself.
But that’s just my opinion. Someone else might enjoy making less money in the short term, with a reputable publisher behind them, and having less of a predominant role in marketing, than myself. With their kind of exposure, you very well might be able to make it to rockstar
levels like a music artist signed to a label, pushing your work on radio, TV, movies, etc. or a JK Rowling or GRRM literary equivalent.
The point is, everyone has an opinion, and everyone has different goals and means to get to those goals. There isn’t one clear path in this business to follow which equate to you becoming world renown, making millions of dollars, and living like a rockstar. Lets face it, any creative field where someone tries to make a full time career out of it, takes a lot of work, patience, and talent. A lot of people aspire to reach that level, but only some do. Is it because those that do had a luckier break than others? Perhaps. But I think it’s more about those 3 points that anyone should follow in anything they pursue in life, not just publishing or music.
As I was discussing the article with Victoria, she provided an article she had written regarding a study done on the financial success of those traditional writers compared to self-published authors. While I touched on some relevant topics above, I didn’t find a place that it would logically flow into mentioning in this article, so I’ll add it here as some additional reading.
Two Surveys by @victoriastrauss via Writer Beware (http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2012/05/two-surveys.html?m=1)
EDIT: After posting this, I found yet another great interview related to this post. Check out the interview with Tucker Max regarding the future of publishing http://www.businessinsider.com/tucker-max-on-the-future-of-books-2013-1