Monday, 21 March 2011

The Self-Publishing Revolution

Today I've mostly been reading about self-publishing. For anyone who didn't see it on Twitter (it's been doing the rounds all day) author Barry Eisler has turned down an advance from a traditional "legacy" publisher in order to go it alone and publish his books himself online in an ebook format. Oh, and did I mention that the advance was for $500,000? Now that's confidence... or madness depending on your point of view.

Eisner has posted a conversation he and fellow author Joe Konrath had about it on his blog. I warn you it is very long but it is worth reading all the way through if the topic of self-publishing interests you. They go off on a few tangents (that poor frog...) but the overall point is this: Eisner worked out that in the long term he will make more money by self-publishing then he would with legacy publishers. Not to mention that the terms of self-publishing are infinitely more attractive then being subject to a contract with a publisher.

In my opinion the decision he's made makes sense for him and may make sense for a lot of other writers. Just using Amazon as an example, a self-publisher will get 70% of the profit in every sale of their ebook (as long as they price their work above the minimum amount, which in the UK is £2.99. Anything under that and you get 30%). With a legacy publisher that share is drastically diminished to as little as 14.9% after costs and agent fees are accounted for. The publisher in comparison can expect to make around, or over 50%. Even for authors pricing their works below the minimum they would still make more per sale than they would through a legacy publisher, and this is just on Amazon. There is also Google Books, Nook and even Lulu for physical publish on demand (POD) books. So why should anyone publish in the "traditional" way?

Though I agree with much of the points Eisner and Konrath make I think they understate how difficult the prep work is once you have your story written. Amanda Hocking, the darling of the indie publishing world has made no bones about the fact that to get her books edited, formatted and to make a  cover for them, that wasn't a Photoshop horror, took a lot of time and money. I wonder how many authors would be prepared to put that kind of money up front when they have no idea how well their work will sell. This is even more relevant for those of us new to the game. Instead of an advance to the author, the author must pay an advance to get the book out there.

I also don't entirely agree that there is no place for physically printed books. I can imagine that in twenty years or more print will be delivered primarily in a digital format. But there are always those that will want a physical book. During the conversation they accept this though it seems they only count it as a niche market, like those that still buy vinyl. To me this doesn't make sense - there are a lot of people with little to no access to the Internet throughout the world, and though that market is decreasing, by ignoring the physical you instantly lose a demographic. Providing for both is the best way to increase sales and accessibility for your work. In my humble opinion.

Personally I'm fascinated by the changes we're seeing in the publishing world and for us writers it's an exciting time (scary might be a better word for publishers). From the start I've been tempted by the self-publishing model and would love to give it a go with a smaller piece. But I admit a part of me would still like to have a deal with a legacy publisher too, though having seen the math I'm now wondering if it makes economic sense. Writing may be an art - but it still has to pay the bills.

What about you - does the recent news about the likes of Eisner and Hocking make you think self-publishing is the future? Or do you feel that a legacy publisher is the better route for lasting success (however you may define it)?


  1. Hi. I saw you on Dean Wesley Smith's blog. I thought I stop in and say hi. Sounds like we're interested in some of the same stuff--particularly making some money off of short stories) :) Anyhow, I'm your newest follower. My blog is at Life of Lois

  2. Hi Lois, thanks for the follow. If you have twitter I'm on there as @awannabe_writer (what else?) :)

  3. Hmmm, I have to say that self-publishing has the edge right now. The advantage of not having to wait for years and years is a huge plus.

    But "lasting success" is going to ultimately require authors to be prepared to go either route. "Legacy" publishers aren't going anywhere