Thursday, June 02, 2011

Data, data, data... I need me some.

I think it was Sherlock Holmes who said this. I might be paraphrasing but you get the drift. I’ve been driving both Molly and Karen W (a regular DWT follower) crazy on the subject of self-publishing and my inability to make a decision. Both have offered good sound advice. Advice that I value like gold. They are both really smart really professional writers.

But still I sit on the fence. I’m actually waiting until Nationals which I think (not sure why) is going to be EPIC this year as we see authors, publishers and agents take sides in the growing trend of self-publishing.

I realize the reason I’m so wishy washy on this is that I need more data. I’m a very decisive person when I know my options. But as many things are in publishing so much is unknown. As authors, we are not a group of people who work in the same building day in and day out. We can’t have regular weekly status meetings to discuss what’s happening real time. Heck we may only see each other once a year. How can we as a group make informed decisions without this connection, or is it just every woman for herself.

I recently renewed my membership with Ninc, an organization of multiple published writers, for this very reason. I need some more data. And thank heaven we do at least now have groups/loops and such where we can communicate and ask questions.

What are the true costs of self publishing? What are standard copy-editor fees? Where can you obtain cover art? Can I employ my own graphic artists? What are those fees like?

There is a tremendous amount of buzz about literary agents transitioning into book packagers. (we won’t even get into that debate – but again I think it’s going to be huge as agents try to carve out a market for themselves in this ever changing industry) But what I have to know before I would even consider such a thing is what are the numbers?

What are typical average monthly returns for ebooks in my genre? Compare that against the costs and what percentage makes sense for an agent if they do join you in this effort? And should it be a percentage or flat fees for services?

Now I know Karen will chime in here with a DIY message, but she forgets how lazy I am. I pay someone to clean my house even though I can do it myself cheaper. So paying someone to do copyediting, picking out cover art and titles is something I might be willing to consider for the right price. And what if the agency goes beyond that and offers marketing options?

But I need the data. What’s the spectrum of self-publishing? We all know the self-publishing phenoms who are landing million dollar NY contracts because of their success. But what’s the other end like? And how much can that figure change if you have a presence on Twitter and Facebook etc...?

These are questions I think we really need answers for before we can make what could be career changing decisions. How do mainstream publishers feel about established published authors self-publishing drawer books? How do agents feel about a work they previously attempted to get published but failed that is now making money on Amazon with no return for themselves? Does this impact the editor/writer or agent/writer relationship?

I have no clue. And so often in the publishing world we writers don’t. So yep I’m going to go to Nationals and listen and listen. Madeleine Hunter held an excellent round table discussion at the NJ conference last year. I’ll be interested to see what has changed just in that short amount of time.

It’s a whole new world folks. And I (like I’m sure others out there) am just starting to dip my toe into the water. But frankly I need to know what’s waiting for me in that water before I’m willing to take the plunge.


Molly O'Keefe said...

I totally agree with you about data - I think putting a backlist up is a smart smart move, if you've got it - do it. It's a freaking gold mine. The costs I think would be sort of like ad costs right now - you know some of it works, you know some of it doesn't but you have to do all of it.

The bigger questions about Amazon, agents, what ny houses are doing to counterbalance all this...yes, I'll be beside you at nationals.

Karen Whiddon said...

I'm at the low end of the ebook money spectrum. My five backlist books bring in maybe $100 a month. Still - they weren't bringing anything in before I put them up. So shrug, what did I have to lose?

Steph did you email Julie Ortolon about her email loop? She has to get a personal email with pub credits or she won't approve you for the yahoo loop.

And your reason for going to National is the same reason I've decided to go to the Ninc Conference in October this year. Check out the lineup at

It's fascinating to me and the only cost for me was the cost of covers.

Eileen said...

I can't wait to hear what you learn. I am even lazier than you and just want someone else to distill the info for me and tell me what to do.

Of course, at the moment, all I have time for is writing the book I'm already contracted to write. Maybe this fall, though . . . That won't be too late to catch the wave, will it?

Sinead M said...

I feel like I've had my head in the sand regarding self-publishing. So I am excited to hear what you learn at Nationals.
I know agents refer to platforms when they are talking about non-fiction. How are you bringing readers to the already full shelves of cookbooks, or diet books, or whatever.
I think the same applies to self-publishing. If people are coming to the site to find your work then they will probably buy it.
But what's bringing them to the site?
And I think that's where it gets to be a tricky issue, especially for previously non-published authors.
It means authors not only have to write amazing books, but also be incredible marketers, in a field where everyone is trying to bring attention to their books.

Maureen McGowan said...

I think the main challenge in self publishing is having readers find your books: marketing. I think out of print backplate are likely a win depending on time and money to get them up there. But that time has to be weighed against writing more books.

Someone recently did a survey of writers with small digital first publishers which confirmed my opinion there: not with it. I don't have the figures with me, but if memory serves, I think 46% made $300 or less on their books.

Maureen McGowan said...

Backplate = backlist iPhone autocorrect fail.

Eileen said...

Hee hee. I love a good iPhone autocorrect. Andy once texted me that Gloria Gaynor got mutton on him.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Karen - I just rejoined NINC and am planning on email Julie today. I can't do the loops at work because it's restricted (boo) but hope to spend some time at night getting caught up.

And Sinead - I hear you about how do you "find" the writers... but Amazon to an extent is changing that.

I read Iron Duke and Souless. I decided I like Steampunk Romance. I searched for that topic and got a few authors - some self published, some traditionally published.

For .99 I gave someone a try - something I might never do. It was okay. Not great - but not crap.

And with the feature to download a sample for free this is huge. I can tell in the first couple of pages if someone is a "professional" writer or not. This is also going to help separate the pack.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I agree backlists are a no brainer. I'm in the process of finding out how many I might actually have.

But I do think the self-publishing avenue - now that previously published professional writers (pppw) are getting into the mix - is going to change the landscape a little.

Once we see high quality edited books being self published as more pppws enter the ring becomign more common - instead of that one author someone stumbles upon - I think people will begin to rely on it more and then there might be more of oppurtunity for an unknown.

Again though it's all going to come down to quality.

I'm also excited about the prospect of variety. Courtney Milan is going to do "common" people. FINALLY!

Not every single book will be a vampire or a duke. Not every time peirod will be Regency or Victorian for historicals.

It seems like there is a disconnect between what NY says is selling and what readers (at least those on line and discussing these topis) want.

Stephanie Doyle said...

And another thing... (I know shut up already Steph!)

But Maureen you made the point about the new person only making $300 on a book.

And yes NY will offer more
upfront money. But at the end of the day most books won't sell out much beyond the advance. And then when the print run is done - it's done.

Say this person who made only $300 on the first gets better, slowly builds a following, grows readers.

That original book is still hers. Still out there. And the next think you know it's starting to make money again. That can't happen with traditional unless you get the rights back or they reissue.

Courtney (I know I keep referencing her - but it was a great discussion) made the point her first book is out of print. And the only way to buy it is used.

By controling the rights and always being able to make it available - you never run the risk of losing $$ to used sales.

But you're also taking the chance that the 30% growth in digital will continue to grow and that ultimately ebooks will out sell print.

Good stuff. I can think about the risk/rewards for hours.

Maureen McGowan said...

Good points, Steph. I need to read that Courtney Milan post.

Eileen, have you seen that website that posts iphone autocorrect mistakes? Every time I look at it, I almost burst something trying to contain my laughter. (I usually open it by following a link from twitter or FB when I'm in a coffee shop procrastinating.)

Maureen McGowan said...

MJFredrick said...

Chiming in here. A friend of mine self-published a woman's fiction book and has sold 40 copies in a month, including the week of Mother's Day, when she marked it down to 99 cents.

I put up an erotic romance under another name, a short story for 99 cents. I have done NO marketing. I sold over 600 copies in 3 weeks. At 99 cents, it's no great profit, because you only get 35%, but it's more money than I've made from any of my e-pubbed erotic romances, and in a shorter amount of time.

I did pay for a formatter and a cover artist, and I'm putting up another book this summer under my MJ name, just to see what will happen.

MJFredrick said...

Wanted to add--once I got on the top 100 list (and I have no idea how I did it), my sales rocketed. I think a huge part is the genre, to be honest.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion - status meetings would be great for writers. :)

I turned down an epublisher contract to self-pub my first novel - and I love how it keeps selling just by being on amazon. For my second novel, I decided to go with an epublisher, but I have so little control over the daily sales figures that I really don't know how it's doing yet.

But I think Nationals will be interesting, especially because RWA sent out that survey asking self-pubbed questions about their sales figures. It sounds like they're considering acknowledging self-pubbed books - especially if the figures warrant it.

The epublished can go PAN after what? $1K in sales? If sales determines whether you're PAN, then self-pub figures should also be acceptable.

As the Chinese proverb that my boss used to quote goes, "May you live in interesting times."

Maureen McGowan said...

@Kathy It is going to be interesting to see what RWA and other writers' organizations do about self-publishing. I don't think it's quite as clear as the 1K rule for e-pubs, because the author is putting up money up front for costs like editing and covers etc. But of course most authors put up some money for marketing/publicity so where do you draw that line?

All I know is I'm glad I'm not on the board of one of those groups and facing making decisions about this.

Maureen McGowan said...

Thanks for sharing some real live stats, MJ. :)

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