Why Self-Publish?

Why, indeed?

This has been eating me up for a while, and by coincidence there was a lot of discussion about it today at some favorite writing blogs. Many, many links follow.

For now, a few points to consider:

  • During one of last weekend’s author discussion panels, I asked the participants about sales they could attribute to online outlets like Amazon. Without a hitch, they all said it was the overwhelming majority. And these were traditionally-published authors.
  • The latest check of Amazon’s Top 10 Sci-Fi shows that 4 of the 10 are self-published, including the current Numero Uno. This changes daily, so your mileage may vary.
  • Recall from my previous post, those self-pubbed authors are pocketing 70% of the gross from Amazon. The traditionally-published authors are getting 25% of net for e-books, of which their agents also get their percentage. And remember, “net” is apparently a very elastic term in the publisher’s eyes.

None of this would be happening if the industry was still dominated by physical books sold in brick-and-mortar stores.

John Scalzi made an interesting prediction: mass-market paperbacks will be replaced by e-books within 10 years. Hardbacks will always be around, but the production and distribution costs mean they’ll remain the domain of the surefire bestselling authors.

I’d wager that it happens even faster once Amazon gets the Kindle down below $100. That will be to publishers what iPods were to the recording industry. But here’s the problem for most of us noobs: mass-market paperbacks are typically where we’d end up. If we’re being driven to e-books, well then…where does that leave us? Lemmings being herded over the cliff, that’s where.

Former agent/current author/apparent surfer dude Nathan Bransford chimes in with an excellent post on this subject (via Passive Voice, another great resource):

“I think publishers are going to have to think long and hard about what exactly they will actually be providing authors in an e-book world. There needs to be a major mindset shift from a gatekeeper-oriented “You’re lucky to be with us” mentality where authors are treated on a need-to-know and your-check-will-arrive-when-it-arrives basis to a service-oriented “What else could we possibly do for you” mentality.”


Now, I’m still quite open to a traditional publishing deal because it’d be nice to see my work in hardback on a shelf at Barnes & Noble. One agency is still interested in seeing the revisions to Perigee, so I’ll send it along and see what happens. Who knows, maybe they’ll find a sucker publisher who thinks I’m the next Crichton and forks over a seven-figure advance. Or monkeys might fly out of my butt.

However, I’ve also worked for a couple of businesses that were irreversibly sliding towards bankruptcy, and can tell you that ordinarily upright executives will make some shockingly crooked decisions out of sheer desperation. You’ve got to think that at least a couple of publishers are going down the tubes in the next few years. It would be a nightmare to have the rights to my novels tied up in that environment.

At the risk of being repetitious, the internet has broken down tremendous barriers in distribution, sales, and marketing that have dominated publishing until recently. Now, as long you have a good story that’s well-written and professionally edited, the readers don’t care whose imprint is on the title page. They’re accessing the DIYers just as easily as the big names. More on this phenomenon at Daily Pundit.

Marketing is, of course, the real trick. I could write the next Lord of the Rings and it wouldn’t make one cent if nobody’s aware of it. More on that later, as I figure it out for myself…

UPDATE: This is a popular subject this week! Vodkapundit Stephen Green weighs in at PJ Media. Also recommend following his link to a righteous rant by Sarah Hoyt.

4 Replies to “Why Self-Publish?”

    1. Good point. I hadn’t considered smartphones or iPods, probably because I don’t use them for reading. If you’re correct, then we’re already at or close to that tipping point.
      I’m tied to a company crackberry (blech) and therefore haven’t bought my own for-real smartphone. Can’t quite picture them as a “primary” reading device but to each his own.

      1. One of my editors who is reliable, says they’re at the 50% e-mark right now. I think Scalzi is being conservative. I think the whole thing is ready to tip over in the next give years. (And btw, this whole thing has surprised me and been twice as fast as my internal sense told me it should be.) As for stunningly unprincipled decisions… well… keep in mind this is a business that’s only partly in the “real world” and that they’ve had a lock on distribution and how it affects sales for several years. They’re completely unprepared for reality and I think a few of them are doing goofy stuff: http://kriswrites.com/2011/06/29/the-business-rusch-you-are-not-alone/
        No, I’m not ready to give up on traditional completely, but I’m closer to it than I thought possible a year ago, so… ask me again in six months. And absolutely right now anything I send to NYC I have to think “Do I mind if this is tied up in litigation for ten years?” I might be making mountains out of molehills, but I don’t think so.

        And on monkeys flying out of your butt … That’s so passee. Think big. Think elephants! (runs.)

      2. I don’t think you’re making mountains from molehills at all. Corporate bankruptcies can take years to settle. Whatever happens to an author’s work would probably depend on how the contract was written, but you’ve got to think they’d be tied up in litigation as some kind of corporate asset.
        It would be about as painful as elephants flying out of my butt…

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