I've been getting a lot of emails from people wondering if they should self-publish, specifically on the Amazon Kindle.
My answer is always the same: It depends.
Here is my advice, based on what I would do. IF YOU WROTE A NOVEL
I believe your first order of business is getting a well-respected literary agent. The best way to land an agent is: write a damn good book. After the book is perfect, there are a few ways to find agents.
Visit writing conferences and conventions and pitch to agents in person
Read books similar to yours, and find out who reps the author
Pick up a copy of the Writer's Market
Befriend an agented author and beg for an introduction
After getting an agent, she'll want to submit the book to editors at large New York publishing houses. If you get lucky, you'll land a book contract. This is the best-case scenario.
Exception: You Can't Get an Agent
Getting a good agent isn't easy, which is why you should spend as much time as possible honing your craft, improving your writing, learning about narrative structure and the elements of a compelling story. I got rejected over 500 times, but the vast majority of these rejections were for books that were not very good.
Should you self-publish if you can't find an agent? I would say no. If a hundred lit agents all think the book needs work, I'd bet the book needs work, and releasing it into the world isn't going to win you fans or do your career any favors.
Exception: Your Agent Can't Sell the Book
If you landed a lit agent, chances are your story is good enough to be published. But just because something is good enough to be published doesn't mean it will be published. This is a hard business, and luck plays a huge part.
If your agent has sent the book to everyone, and no one made an offer, I would say that e-book self-publishing is a viable alternative.
I would avoid print self-pubbing if you some day want a traditional book deal, because numbers follow you. If you get an ISBN, that number is trackable, and so are the sales associated with it. A potential publisher will look at your previous low sales and possibly pass on your next book.
Exception: You Don't Care About Agents or Traditional Publishers
It's important to talk about goals and dreams here.
A goal is something within your power to achieve.
A dream is something that requires other people for you to achieve.
If your dream is to be a bestselling author, your goals should be:
Write a damn good book
Submit to agents until you find one to work with
Keep writing good books until your agent sells one
However, if your goal is to see your name in print and you're okay with investing your own money and doing three times the work for very little respect:
Write a damn good book
In the past, I never recommended self-publishing because in 99% of the cases the books are overpriced and inferior (poor covers, poor editing, poor writing), distribution is very hard (no returns on POD), and chances are high you won't sell many books that you didn't personally handsell.
But things have changed.
The Amazon Kindle and Amazon's CreateSpace, along with printers like Lulu.com, allow you to self-publish without investing a lot of your own money.
THIS IS NOT THE QUICK PATH TO FAME AND FORTUNE
Your Kindle release, or your POD book, will likely get lost in a sea of millions, making it very hard for readers to find you. If you have an understanding of how publishing, distribution, and marketing works, then maybe you can sell some books and do well. But if you're clueless, YOUR BOOK WILL NOT SELL.
Simple as that.
Personally, I wouldn't self-publish a novel unless you already have a name for yourself. If you've been traditionally published and have a fan base, if you're a celebrity, if you do a lot of speaking engagements and can sell your books after your speeches, or if you already have an audience, then you've got a better chance at selling some books.
IF YOU WROTE A NOVELLA
We'll define novella as a narrative between 7,000 and 50,000 words. In other words, too long for a short story, too short for a novel, meaning it's very difficult to find a traditional print market willing to buy it.
The rules for novellas are the same as the rules for novels, but disregard finding an agent. Agents don't care about novellas, unless they're so good you can beef them up to novel-size.
I believe novellas are where e-book self-publishing really has an advantage over print. A 15,000 word book doesn't cost much less than a 70,000 word book to produce, so it has to be priced comparably, and people don't want to pay full price for something so short. But in a digital world, you can lower the price of shorter work.
Personally, I see no harm at all in e-publishing a novella on your website (use Paypal.com if you want to charge for it), on Scribd.com, or on Kindle. Worst case-scenario: It doesn't sell at all, but you weren't going to sell it anyway. Best case scenario: It sells well, you make some money and also learn a lot.
I would restrict this to e-publishing because of the costs associated with print. Print novellas cost too much, and they don't sell as well as full length novels.
IF YOU WROTE A SHORT STORY
While the print short story market is dwindling, I believe it is still the preferred medium for shorts.
Writing and submitting short stories to magazines, anthologies, and websites, forces writers to understand the basics of publishing. There is a learning curve in crafting a story, researching markets, and writing query letters. I think all writers can benefit from this.
I also recommend NEVER writing a short story unless you already have a market in mind. Would you create a key without studying the lock first? No. Same rule applies.
If you do sell a short story, I recommend waiting for at least a year after publication before you offer the story on your website or on Kindle. Your contract may say you have e-rights, or that you have permission to publish sooner, but I think it's nice to let the editor who paid you have an exclusive for 12 months.
Once of the reasons I began putting shorts on my website was because fans were having trouble tracking down out of print magazines and anthologies I'd appeared in. E-publishing makes it easy for people to read your entire oeuvre, and the reprint market (editors who buy previously published stories) is now smaller than ever. Years ago, you could sell the same story multiple times. I've published over 70 stories and articles, and less than a handful have actually been reprinted. Unless you're a big enough name that your publisher will release a short story collection (usually at a loss), then feel free to e-publish your old print stories.
Exception: Your Short Story Didn't Sell
Once you've exhausted all of your markets, there's no shame in e-publishing it. Unless you've already got a fan base, I'd recommend putting the short on your website as a free download. But MAKE SURE IT IS GOOD.
Your best advertising for your writing is your writing. If people try you and don't like you, this is the opposite of finding fans.
Again, I'd avoid self-publishing short stories in print. Even if you gather up enough of them to make a full length book, they don't sell as well as novels. Period.
But I see no harm in e-publishing. I'd price them low (or free) and group them together so it is a more appealing download.
IF YOU WROTE NON-FICTION
See the If You Wrote a Novel section above, but there are a few differences.
You don't normally submit non-fiction books to agents or publishers. You submit a proposal, which isn't the full book. If you can't find an agent or a publisher based on a proposal, I would question if you should even bother to write the book in the first place.
Look at your goals and dreams. Maybe you've got a memoir that you want your family to have copies of. Maybe you wrote a cookbook for your friends who are always asking for your recipes. Maybe you get paid good money to speak on some topic you're an expert on, and selling a book after your speeches is a smart add-on.
If you have a need other than vanity, maybe you should write the book, and should self-publish it.
I self-published an e-book about writing which I give away for free, because my goal is to share what I've learned about this business. So far it's been downloaded over 6000 times, and I get just as much fanmail about it as I do from my novels. For me, this was well worth my time and effort, and it satisfies me on a core level even more than money does.
There are no short cuts, no easy paths to success, no matter how you publish. You're going to wind up marketing, promoting, and working hard whatever you decide.
Traditional publishing has the advantages of big money and a huge distribution network, though you might not get either even if you are traditionally published.
Self-publishing is an alternative, but at the time of this writing it still lacks in too many areas compared to trad pubbing, except in some circumstances.
Your job is to figure out what it is you want, and then decide on the best way to get it.
Should you self-publish? It depends.
But first focus on making your writing the best it can be.
Veste Levi's / bustier Topshop / pantalon Sandro / chaussures Minelli / Sac Addicted / chouchou Jean Louis David (sisi)
J'ai cette veste en jean depuis mes chers et tendres 11 ans (ou moins je sais plus), et JAMAIS au grand JAMAIS je n'aurais imaginé la remettre un jour. Sa vie fut difficile : maltraitée, pleine de mousse à cause de l'humidité en Martinique (hinhinhin), puis enfermée durant 19-12= 7 ans dans le PDB (Placard D'en Bas) (ouais bon je zappe la partie déménagement). Ô chère veste en jean, t'es toujours aussi cheum, mais bon t'as l'droit de ressortir un peu. Non je ne suis pas en train de faire la meuf "c'est tendance donc je mets", moi c'est "Oooooh bordel, j'vais oublié ce machiiiiin !!! Vazy, j'me tape une barre !".
(Ouais, j'ai commencé à faire les soldes, enfin plus ou moins, j'ai plus d'argent. Le sac noir, c'est pas le haut léopard de Kooples, ils l'avaient plus, c'est un short tellement minuscule que je me demande comment je fais pour rentrer dedans.) Et il me faut des chaussures.
Je fais une pause avec les articles pour Tendances de Mode, et je reviens en Août chez eux, promis.
Ce magazine est pour homme, je fais toujours genre que je le prends pour mon frère, MAIS NON c'est pour moi. Les petits conseils trop mignons comment porter ses chaussettes owi owi, les pages modes qui me donnent envie d'être un mec ou au mieux d'attraper le modèle et ne plus le lacher, le ton du magazine... Bref je kiffe. Non je n'ai pas été sponsorisée. C'est de la pub gratos baby, comme ton tshirt D&G que tu mets pour aller au Red Light baby. Deux-trois captures un peu au pif, mais qui franchement sont canons :
Warner @ Success (j'le mangerais bien, moi <3)
photo de Miles Aldridge
Je crois avoir déjà mis cette chanson, mais bon. Note à moi-même : réduire le taux "années 80" de mon iPod.
Blouson et robe American Apparel / Bottes vintage / Sac Kipling
Bon alors, ouais, j'avoue, pour la dernière photo, j'avais envie de lacher le ballon et le prendre en photo quand il sera loin loinloin dans le ciel. Sauf que j'ai trouvé beaucoup plus marrant de faire autre chose. La suite après la pub.
Je suis pas spécialement fan du soutif qui dépasse, mais mes chères soeurs planches à pain comprendront que sans cela, ma robe se transformerait rapidement en jupe taille haute. Pretty cool, mais pas quand on a que dalle en dessous.
Je suis dans un puta fossé là, l'été arrive ça me gave, je sais plus quoi mettre, ça me fait la même chose chaque année. Mais comme toujours je vais galérer et accueillir à bras ouverts l'automne prochain.
J'ai finalement craqué et ai créé un compte Twitter ce qui du coup me force à enchaîner encore plus de conneries dans la même heure, ce machin est addictif, surtout quand on a le programme exprès qui fonctionne un peu comme MSN avec un cui-cui pour dire que quelqu'un a tweeté sisi je parle déjà Twitter.
En parlant d'addiction, je n'ai pas encore laché Prince, et ça va pas aller mieux, sachant qu'il va bientôt sortir son nouvel album oh oui ouiouiouioui!!!!!!. Et comme dirait Felix Da Housecat, We All Wanna Be Prince.
Pour revenir au super ballon Mon Petit Poney, j'ai pas trouvé mieux que de convoquer mon frère pour faire une super vidéo Youtube (again). Ben ouais, pour tester l'hélium quoi. Mon père m'a dit que c'était dangereux et que ça attaquait le cerveau ce qui expliquerait un peu la vidéo soit dit en passant.
C'est mignon, nous enfin je retombons dans l'adolescence. Et je voulais parler de Annette de Premiers Baisers, là, c'est dit.
American Apparel scarf / Zara tshirt / American Apparel leggings / H&M socks / Dr. Martens
Je m'étais pourtant jurée de ne plus tomber dans le combo habituel du legging + tshirt trop grand. Adeline bouge tes fesses, mets ce bustier sur lequel tu as craqué, mets cette foutue robe que tu n'as mise qu'une seule fois, mets ces bordel de m chaussures. Du cintré tu cherches, du cintré tu as, mais du cintré tu ne mets pas.
Si vous voulez m'entendre dire mon mot favori, si vous voulez voir de quoi a l'air la vieille folle aux chats des Simpsons en vrai ("IRL" en geek langage), et si vous voulez voir une pauv' tordue se marrer toute seule, je vous conseille cette magnifique vidéo, offerte à Pascal de Fashion Bits And Bobs. J'enchaîne les cass-dédi, c'est mignon.
Ah oui, j'adore Egon Schiele. Mais j'ai la flemme de dire pourquoi.
Note à moi-même : arrêter d'écouter 120000 fois la même chanson. Ba-be-loo ba-be-loo a-y-ay ba-be-loo... LA FERME.
Maje dress as tshirt / Cheap Monday jeans / Quai de Scène (@ Noir Kennedy) shoes / Vivienne Westwood, Louis Pion, Satellite & personal jewellery / Sephora L09 Passion nail polish
Bon allez, je ne vais pas faire genre, je suis tout bonnement incapable de faire un post mode correctement, ça me fait marrer à chaque fois.
Je dis quoi ? Je déteste l'été, comme la poule (c'est affectif chez moi, poule)Tokyobahnbao, je retiens la douceur (lol) du printemps le plus possible, tant pis si je transpire dans mon jean (sexy, toujours).
Je remercie mon p'tit Romain pour m'avoir filé prêté sa bague Vivienne Westwood. Il va me falloir impérativement et le plus vite possible acquérir la Armour Ring. Un besoin de plus sur ma "Liste de Besoins" (rejoint la robe cintrée hyper courte style 40's, le pull léger trop grand, les chaussures d'au moins 15 cm, les chaussures d'au moins 15 cm, les chaussures d'au moins 15 cm, les boots d'au moins 15 cm, les chaussures d'a... Ah ouais et le top léopard d'chez Coupeulze aussi. Ouais.) ... NB pour moi-même : trouver. un. job.
Spéciale cass-dédi à Sacha, qui aime mes chaussures comme un dingue, je t'offrirai un piédestal avec une d'elle sous une cloche en verre comme dans la Belle et la Bête quand je ne les aimerai plus ce qui ne risque pas d'arriver.
PS : J'aime les chansons où il faut taper dans ses mains.Clap your hands, qu'il dit.
PPS : Ah ouais, et good luck pour le bac. J'dis ça, mais bon, il est 2h 3h du matin, je geek sur msn, et vous, pauvres bacheliers, vous faites nuit blanche à flipper (je connais tékaté.), et vous ne verrez ça que la torture passée. Mais même. Ça vient du cœur, baybay.
PPPS : Je jure de ne plus jamais autant me prendre la tête avec le html. Plus jamais. Une heure que je suis dessus.
First, Amazon is selling ebooks at $9.99 for Kindle, and is taking a loss on this because publishers are charging them standard hardcover rates.
Second, according to small press publisher Dennis Johnson, nobody can make a book that sells for $9.99. You can save on shipping and printing, but that's only a small fraction of what it costs to make a book.
Now, at the risk of annoying print publishers everywhere--and print publishers have been very good to me and I consider myself grateful to have worked with some wonderful publishers--I'm going to politely disagree with the above statements.
The music industry, for all who have been paying attention, has never recovered from the digital mp3 revolution. I doubt the skewed tales of loss from the RIAA are accurate, but I have heard that iTunes is now selling more music than the Walmart, the world's largest music retailer. I also know, anecdotally, that my friends with iPods have managed to fill them with music, and very little of this music was bought. Rather it was borrowed, shared, or stolen.
There are several causes for the profits being down in the music industry. CDs cost too much money, especially when consumers often only wanted one or two songs on a disc. iPods and digital equipment have replaced stereos as the preferred method of music delivery. When fans set up distribution networks, like Napster, to share music, the RIAA tried to shut down these networks rather than learn to use the new technology to their advantage.
Apple finally figured out that 99 cent songs and no DRM is the way to go. But it took them way too long to get to that point, and as a result, we have a healthy, active piracy community. In fact, 13 of the top 100 most visited websites are file sharing sites, and that doesn't include Usenet, Limewire, or eMule.
So let's recap on the things the music industry did wrong.
1. High price. 2. Not adapting to the new method of delivery. 3. Not adequately dealing with piracy.
Hmm. Now if we look at what publishers are doing, we can draw some parallels.
First, in this economy, $27.95 is too much for a hardcover work of fiction. Why do they cost this much?
I've done other posts about the cost of books, and why publishing uses an archaic business model. To recap:
1. Only one out of five books makes a profit (two break even, two lose money.)
2. A fifty percent sell through (books printed vs. books actually sold) is considered by many to be the industry average.
3. The books that don't sell are remaindered (sold at a loss) or destroyed.
4. Retailers take books at a 40% to 60% discount. (we'll include the distributor cut in here as well.)
5. The author earns between 10% and 15% of the cover price.
6. Printing and shipping and corrugation (making boxes and displays) can cost 10% or more of the cover price, depending on the number of returns.
7. Marketing, advertising, and coop all are factored in to P&L.
8. Books have certain set up costs; typesetting, line editing, artwork, etc.
9. That means a publisher earns perhaps 15% to 20% of a book's cover price, and they have to run their entire company on this small amount.
So it seems that maybe it is impossible for publishers to lower their prices.
No printing, no shipping, and no distribution (warehousing) costs, along with no returns, actually can save a big chunk of money. The way these costs are broken down make it seem like this is a very small part of a book's price. But, in fact, these are the only set costs, and these are the costs that all other costs are based on.
All the other costs are negotiable.
Publishers make money on paperbacks, which sell for $6.99 to $10.99. So it isn't about price, it's about profit per unit.
Print publishers are basing ebook prices on the profit per unit figures of print books. They have to do this, because if they sell ebooks for less and don't make up for the loss in volume, they will lose money.
But if a major publisher switched completely to ebooks (which may be what the future holds) a new pricing and profit structure will evolve. Costs to the publisher will be much less, and the cost of running a company will be much less.
When the cost of printing, shipping, and warehousing is eliminated, a lot of jobs are eliminated. This saves money.
When the cost of returns no longer figures into a book's profit margin, this saves money.
When books no longer go out of print, this earns money. In fact, every book, rather than one out of five, can be profitable.
When gigantic marketing and advertising budgets aimed at moving print books are slashed, this saves money.
No coop in bookstores, no author book tours. This saves money.
"But what about author advances?" publishers may ask. Tell you what--double my royalty rate for ebooks, I won't take an advance.
What we actually have isn't a situation where ebooks cost as much as print books. It's a situation where publishers must charge the same for ebooks as they do with print books if they want to keep their infrastructures intact.
But the fact is, consumers don't care about publishers, or their infrastructures. They care about books. And they want to pay less for ebooks.
They also want to be able to get ebooks without copy protection, just like they want their songs without copy protection. ITunes dropped DRM because their customers hated it. Will publishing adopt a similar stance?
I just got this newsletter from a large publisher:
We have engaged Attributor, a leading anti-piracy protection service, to monitor the web for instances of unlawful use of its authors’ books and content.
How much do you think that is going to add to the cost of ebooks? And how well do you think it will work, considering DRM and Macrovision and RIAA lawsuits and every other form of anti-piracy protection has failed miserably? And of course, Attributor will be used in conjunction with DRM.
I'd love to see Attributor take on Usenet, which has billions of illegal downloads per day and no way to track them. Or Rapidshare, which is based on password-protected private uploads and downloads using encrypted file lockers. Or any torrent tracker, for that matter. Pirate Bay and Mininova have been sued a gazillion times to no effect. And the private trackers are invite-only---good luck Attributor in getting an invitation.
Do you really want to know how to get rid of piracy? Here's how:
The rules of supply and demand don't work in a digital world, because the supply is unlimited. You don't fight piracy with weapons. You fight piracy with cost and convenience.
Let me state that again, because no one seems to get it.
The rules of supply and demand don't work in a digital world, because the supply is unlimited. You don't fight piracy with weapons. You fight piracy with cost and convenience.
If there were a central hub, where you could easily search for ebooks and get them at a reasonable price, there would be no need to pirate books.
Amazon is not that central hub. The Kindle is too expensive, their ebooks are too expensive, and the Kindle uses DRM and a proprietary format that is difficult to convert. Proprietary exclusive formats don't work. That's why Betamax and DAT failed.
Publishers, if they truly were looking toward the future, would make themselves into these hubs, eliminating the need for Amazon. But they're still focused on dead trees.
Here are some possible future scenarios:
--Publishers learn from the mistakes made by the music industry regarding digital content, and lower the prices for digital books. This could result in more inexpensive digital books than expensive print books being sold, leading to a decline in print sales, and an overall drop in the gross profit of the industry, even if there are a greater number of books sold. But they would survive, and after restructuring, possibly thrive.
--Publishers keep the price of digital books high, in which case more and more people boycott expensive books and support newer and cheaper authors. Readers also begin to illegally download books in larger numbers, as they do with music. Publishing dies.
The goal is to figure out what readers are willing to pay for the ease of downloading a book at a central distribution hub. Will they pay $5.99? Will a percentage of them buy it from another site for $2.99 and then convert it to their desired format themselves? Or will some of them just pirate it?
--Publishers realize their business model is based on printing and distribution, and they radically alter their companies in order to succeed in a digital world. That means becoming their own stores/distributors like Amazon, offering exclusive content.
Wal-mart has proven that “one stop shopping” is what America wants. Why go to a mall, with 50 stores, when one store carries everything from milk to tires to pants to books?
And yet, Green Day didn’t release their latest CD with Wal-mart, and it was still a smash hit. People will go elsewhere for exclusive content if they want it bad enough.
If I were a publisher, I’d consider what books I have under contract, and figure out how to sell them without splitting the money with a distributor/retailer such as Amazon.
--Authors realize that they don’t need publishers. Why should they split revenue with a publisher when they can upload it to the world themselves?
Currently, I'm making $110 a day on books NY publishing didn't want. That's not a lot of money, yet. But the average advance for a novel is still $5000. Between April 8 and June 30, I'll have earned $5000. And my numbers are going up.
--Amazon realizes it doesn’t need publishers, and deals directly with authors. They've already begun publishing print titles, and they've allowed for authors to publish print and ebook titles on their own. Eventually, Amazon is going to start getting some big download numbers for their ebooks, and they'll approach a big author with an exclusive royalty deal.
--A third party ereader is created by a company to compete with the Kindle. It will be inexpensive, able to read a variety of ebook formats, and have upgradable software and memory. This will lead to ereaders becoming as commonplace as iPods, and be the beginning of the end of print.
--Ebooks will become multi-media experiences like DVDs. Books will have author annotations and interviews, be bundled with audio versions, and contain extras such as short stories, early drafts, dictionaries and glossaries, and be directly linkable to forum discussions and book groups. Who would still want paper?
There's a lot to consider when it comes to e-book and the future of publishing. And I may be dead wrong on a lot of these predictions. Hell, I may not know what I'm talking about. Even with the economy, and bookstores losing money, and revenue down, publishers are still alive and kicking, just like they have been for hundreds of years.
But I do think e-books are the future. And I don't think print publishers know how to handle that.
There was a recent announcement that Simon & Schuster was joining forces with Scribd, an ebook download hub, and offering their catalog of ebooks for 20% off print cover price.
I wish S&S much success, but I don't predict it. 20% off the print price is a insignificant discount. Maybe if they slashed prices to a few dollars each title it would catch on, but I don't believe Scribd is a big enough hub yet, and it doesn't get nearly the traffic Amazon does.
But because I'm a cutting edge early adopter who can predict trends (ask Barry Eisler), I offered my ebooks on Scribd 15 days ago, at the same price they are available for on Kindle, less than $2 each.
In 15 days, I've sold zero books. Compare this to over a hundred books a day I sell on Amazon.
Scribd is not the future of epublishing.
If I were Simon & Schuster, or any big publisher, I would digitize my entire backlist and sell it on my publisher website for $2.99 a book, splitting royalties 50/50 with the author, and advertising the hell out of it in print, radio, and TV. Scribd, Amazon, and other e-tailers could have the titles for slightly more, factoring in their mark-up.
I would also invest heavily in new ebook reader technology, perhaps partnering with Apple or Google or Sony, to make a cheap, better competitor to the Kindle.
But I don't predict either happening anytime soon. Publishers, like oil tankers, take a long time to change direction. That doesn't mean publishers aren't smart--they're some of the smartest folks I know. But being smart, and being willing to scrap a business model you've used for fifty years, are two different things.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds. But as an author, I'm emboldened that with enough titles under my belt, in the future I might actually be able earn a living uploading my own books digitally, rather than depending on someone else to sell my books for me.
And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who believes this.