Tag Archives: Self-publishing

Amazon Never Forgets…

Once your self-published book is successful, you can negotiate with a larger publisher from a position of experience and strength.

The above quote is from a self-publishing web site, and lately this seems to be a common theme for companies selling these types of services: the best way to land a publisher is to self-publish your book to “show publishers how it will do.” It may surprise you to hear this, but I’m a big fan of self-publishing and think that any author with the business know-how to self-publish should. What I’m not a big fan of is blanket statement like the one above that fail to disclose the potential risks of this strategy.

First, as I have blogged previously, only one-in-ten books is successful, meaning it sells over 5,000 copies. The average book only sells 500 copies (Publisher’s Weekly, July 17, 2006). Once you have self-published, a potential publisher will always looks at your sales figures as part of the review process; a publisher is not likely to pick up a book with poor sales regardless of why a book didn’t do well. Second, you can spend a lot of money with a self-publishing services (some charge thousands of dollars) that you may never recover based on these average sales. But, in my opinion, the third reason is the most overlooked reason for why a publisher might not pick up your self-published book:

Elephants never forget, and neither does Amazon…

Even if you remove your self-published book from circulation, there will always be an Amazon listing for that version of the book. The reason is that there is a potential secondary (used book) market for the book, and people using Amazon Advantage can always relist the book to sell a used copy even if you ask Amazon to remove the old listing. You can’t fault Amazon for this; in fact, there will be listings for your book in several places (like Books in Print) in order to service the secondary market. This means that, unless you change the name of the book, everything from the original cover to the reviews will follow your book wherever it goes, even if it goes to a new publisher. When you ask a publisher to reissue your self-published book, in essence you are asking them to carry this potential baggage and to possibly lose sales to the secondary market for the previous version.

So the simple solution is to change the title so that the new version will show up on Amazon as a completely new work, right? No. What this strategy doesn’t take into account is that an author has probably built a fan-base, however small, for their work. How would you feel if an author you followed came out with a “new” book and you were to purchase it only to find out you’ve already read it under a different title? My guess is that this is a good way to lose fans and get a bad reputation.

If your goal is to publish your own work and never to approach a publisher, and if you have a basic understanding of the publishing business, then there is no reason you shouldn’t self-publish. But if your goal is to one day land a publisher, then that should be your strategy and you should avoid self-publishing. The history you create for you book will follow it wherever your book goes, because Amazon never forgets…

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On Royalties…

The biggest argument for self-publishing made on the many blogs dedicated to the topic is that an author gets to keep all of the money. I have to admit this one point is hard to argue – other than to say that, as I point out in my last blog, you also get to do all of the work. The other point is that publisher’s royalties are somehow out of touch with the reality of a modern age.

This one point I would like to argue, with an example.

Divertir Publishing currently pays the following royalty rates to authors:

  • 12.5% of net for the first 2,500 paperback copies.
  • 15% for the next 2,500 paperback copies.
  • 17.5% for every copy after the first 5,000 paperback copies.
  • For e-books we pay 50% of net.

So how does an author fare with these rates? Let’s take our upcoming book “Hurricane” as an example. We are planning on pricing the book at $9.99 to keep it in line with other books in the genre. Assume the following:

  • We are giving a 40% discount to retailers, so our net sales per book are $5.99 for print copies.
  • Our fixed costs (press fees and ISBN) are $142 per book, and we pay 15% of net (or about $0.90 per book sold) for editing and cover art (we pay editors a percent of net sales just like authors). Our printing costs are $3.50 per book.

Let’s look at what % of the gross margin (net sales minus cost of goods sold) an author receives if we sell the average number of books (500) or if the book is a success (meaning we sell 5,000 copies)

Books Sold 500 5,000
Net Sales (60% of list) $2,997 $29,970
Cost of Goods Sold (not including authors royalty) $2,342 $22,142
Margin (Net – Costs) $655 $7,828
Author Royalty $374 $4,104
Royalty – % of Margin 57% 52%

 

Our royalty rates are set of so that an author will receive about 50% of the margin for each book. For e-books, we give 50% of net. We feel this is fair. What are we doing for our 50%? We provide the editing, typesetting, cover art, fulfillment, and marketing (more on this in a future blog).

The usual argument against self-publishing (or going with a new small press like Divertir) is that you’ll end up with low sales. But as discussed previously, going with a major publisher is no guarantee your book will be successful or that it will sell more than 500 copies. The usual argument for self publishing is that you keep all them money. While this is true, you also get to do all the work. The choice is yours. Caveat Emptor.

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Do you really need a publisher?

My last blog talked about book sales with respect to Joe Konrath’s assertion that authors no longer need publishers and that most authors would be better off self-publishing. So the question of the day is “Do you really need a publisher?” The short answer is “no”. The more complete answer is “it depends”.

I’m glad I was able to clear that up for you.

I won’t make the usual arguments against self-publishing. I won’t comment on the relative quality of books published by “legacy publishers” versus books that are self-published. One needs look no further than Snooki’s recent book or the fact that Tinkerbell Hilton has a book (yes, Tinkerbell is the dog) to realize that the quality of books from “legacy publishers” can be pretty bad. I won’t comment on how poorly self-published books sell, because in my last blog I pointed out that the average book published by a “traditional publisher” only sells 500 copies. In fact, Joe Konrath and others have shown that a well-written self-published book can do extremely well. Instead, I want to quote Joe Konrath from another one of his blogs:

In order to reach the point where I understood the opportunities that ebooks presented, and was able to capitalize on that opportunity, I’d put in another 10,000 hours learning how the publishing industry worked.

That’s right. As much as I’m sure he would prefer to think of himself as an independent author, Mr. Konrath has become an independent publisher. He has taken the time to learn how publishing currently works, and to his credit has taken that information to come up with a strategy for how he feels publishing should work.

Publishing is a business, and if you self-publish then you should be prepared to treat it like a business – including learning all that you can about the business. So the answer to “Should I self-publish my manuscript” really is “it depends”. If you believe (as I do) that the way things are currently done in the publishing world are a throw back to the days of the typewriter and you have fresh ideas on how things should be done, then by all means you’re better off self-publishing. If you already know a lot about the publishing industry and wish to learn more, then you should take the plunge and self-publish. If you find the thought of one day being an independent publisher exciting, then go for it. There is no better time to get into publishing (unless you’re one of the large publishers), and there are plenty of people out there (including myself) who would be more than happy to assist you in getting started.

And for those of you who don’t one day wish to have the title “independent publisher”, the good news is that there are plenty of independent publishers already out there that would be happy to work with you.

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Information and Inspirations….

Perhaps this is a bad habit I formed while doing my Ph.D. thesis, but I tend to research topics to death. I’m the guy who wants to know everything possible about anything that interests me. Thus, before deciding to start Divertir Publishing, I wanted to learn everything I could about the publishing business. In this blog, I wanted to mention some books that I personally thought were very useful during my research.

Publishing for Profit by Thomas Woll

In my opinion this book contains all of the information one would need to start a publishing business. Every important topic is covered, including why you should define a publishing niche for your business, how to decide on your editorial process, and why returns are such a problem in publishing today. The most recent edition also includes discussions on eBooks and Print on Demand (POD).

Some people might feel that this book contains too much information which is not pertinent, particularly to those who are either planning on self-publishing or who wish to start a small independent press. To those people I would say that to deviate from what is considered tradition publishing and explore new paradigms one must first understand what defines traditional publishing. One must have an understand not just of what is done, but why it is done. Publishing for Profit explains not only the mechanics of the publishing business but also the philosophy behind those mechanics. I would consider this book a must have for anyone seriously considering the publishing business.

The Self Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter

Truth be told, most of the information one would need to self-publish a manuscript can be found for free on the web. The one thing this book does very well is collate all of the information needed to self-publish a manuscript into one place. If one considers Publishing for Profit the textbook of publishing, then this is the lab manual. Woll’s book explains the why of publishing; Poynter’s book explains the how. This is information which is critical not only for authors wishing to self-publish, but also for small publishers looking to get started quickly. I think Appendix 1 alone, which is a “Publishing Calendar” that walks through all of the steps required to publish a book, makes this book worth owning.

Put Your Dreams to the Test by John C. Maxwell

This book is not about publishing, but none the less was critical in my decision to start a publishing company. This books starts by asking a very simple question: What is your dream? It then asks you to answer 10 “questions” about your dream. The goal of these questions is to help you determine what your chances are of successfully turning that dream into a reality. Reading this book helped me to consider everything from my motivations to my available resources as I made the decision to pursue the dream of starting Divertir Publishing. I would consider this book a must have for anyone consider starting a new business.

Future blogs will discuss additional sources of information and how to begin applying this information to the creation of a publishing business. I hope these books will be as informative and inspirational to you as they were to me.

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