Where’s the downside?

The talk of self-publishing has been rampant.  JA Konrath posts near daily of his success and the success of others.  He has no problem telling you how much money he makes and really, it’s a lot for an author.  Many mid-list authors published traditionally still have day jobs, so you can see how appealing his numbers look to an aspiring author.

There’s a lot of talk about what you gain in self-publishing:  money, creative control, and quicker release.  A lot less heartache from rejections, editors that like your work and then disappear when it’s time to turn it in, imprints closing, etc.  Books don’t stop getting published because the house decided they didn’t want to print it anymore.   The list is dauntingly large and certainly makes one think twice before they decide to go the traditional route or not.

But what do you lose by self-publishing?  There are the known things:  time to write because you have to spend so much time marketing your book and making your presence known, in store placement, traditional review methods, etc.  Don’t forget the mighty TV commercials that a very limited number of authors get.  But what about the things people  don’t want to talk about?

How many self-pubbed books have been optioned by film studios?  Eragon doesn’t count because he got the agent and publishing deal before the option (I’m guessing the option came because of the agency).  Authors like to say they don’t care (it’s all about the book), but really, they do.  They dream big just like anyone else.  They hope for a blockbuster movie so they can become the next Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, or JK Rowling, rolling in the dough of licensing merch and such.  Even if they don’t get the blockbuster they hoped for, they at least get a two hour commercial for their book on someone else’s dime.  Karen McQuestion’s A Scattered Life has been optioned, but anyone else that was a complete unknown?  Konrath seems to believe this too, shall come.

How many have gotten a jacket blurb by an established traditional author?  These actually sell a lot of books.  Lot’s of people read something based on another author’s recommendation.  Which also leads to the question of other self-published author blurbs, do they have a network where you can approach other successful self-published authors in your genre to ask for a read and a possible blurb? I’m sure they do.  I don’t know anything about it but it seems like the top selling self-publishers are supporting each other.

One reason many authors choose not to self-pub is legitimacy.  Some authors just can’t stand the thought of not being viewed as legitimate.  Vain, but true.  We are human, after all.


There’s now a rather large but.  In November, the NYT revealed that they will now have an ebook bestseller list.  The details are sparse but it’s supposed to start rolling out early this year.  The odds of legitimacy just went up a great deal.  Before, a self-pubber had no chance of ever saying they were a NYT bestseller.  It’s no longer out of reach.  I think that if anything is going to turn the agency-model on its head, this is it.

Another interesting thing that I dont’ see talked about:  the self-publishers that have agents.  These agents generally do things like film rights, foreign rights, audiobooks, etc. for the self-publisher.  Clearly, there are agents paying attention to these sales records.  But now with Podiobooks, you can do your own audiobook and keep 75% of the profits, so is their role shrinking?  Are they snagging these self-pubbers to gain a much-needed foothold in a market they’ve shunned?  Will the nature of queries change from MS representation to representation of works in other markets like film?  I would have thought that impossible just a year ago.  It doesn’t seem so impossible now.

The publishing world is changing, no doubt.  It’s going to be interesting to see where it all lands. I can’t deny that with the NYT bestseller list coming, it’s looking mighty attractive.  The idea that I might actually be able to make a living at writing?  Whodathunkit?  Very few traditionally pubbed authors accomplish this feat.  There are bestselling authors that can’t even accomplish this without a movie deal.

I’ve always planned to try the traditional publishing route but the whole climate might be much different by the time I’m ready to publish. And seeing some of those sales numbers of unknown authors is like bait on a hook.

Thoughts? Comments?


Jay Hudson
January 10, 2011 9:38 pm

Cheryl,I love your take on this. You mention several interesting points.It still comes down to what an author is willing to settle for.I have read mediocre, traditionally published books that never should have seen the light of day,but I am positive those authors were thrilled to see their baby in print.I have a list of many,many self-pubbed authors who went on to become famous.the whole thing about the NYTBS list is that it is not an accurate representation of anything.the list is so distorted by the manipulation of the Times, plus the traditional publishers that no one knows the truth. I buy lots of NYTBS remainders for $1 each.the average traditional author cannot live on book sales,so where does that leave the really small fry author?Each author has to decide"do I want to send out submissions for several years, hoping lightening strikes, or do I go for the immediate self-pub,or e-book route and achieve at least some level of success?Loved your comments,Jay Hudson

January 10, 2011 11:07 pm

Thanks, Jay. I think everyone knows that the NYTBS is kind of shady, the methods being a closely guarded national secret, much like credit-reporting bureaus, but it does represent something. Acknowledgment. Recognition. Legitimacy. I'm not saying all authors really give a poop about it, but you can't deny that if you saw your name on there for the first time you wouldn't shed a tear or two.

January 10, 2011 11:23 pm

Regarding marketing. I have been published electronically and POD and was told then it would be up to me to drive sales. When I was in NY pitching to some of the big six, same thing, it will be up to the author to market the book. Hachette even said they don't do book tours anymore, you can and pay for it including the books! For me a short story erotica writer I'm almost have to. Just in one year many erotica publishers have stopped taking ss. Spice Briefs at Harlequin and Excite are about the only two left. Shooting for Spice, but it will tough they get hundreds of submissions daily and the Xcite contract is onerous, 5 year rights! you kidding me and the pay a flat rate no royalties. So I look at kindle. Sell a ss for what a buck and a quarter, make 35% royalty. Retain all rights and it's already international. Then it gets back to me marketing it to make the moola, and funny thing, that is what the established pub industry expects anyway.Like the editors and agents said in NY, the mid list tis almost gone and will be soon. Embrace self pub, hire a good editor (plenty out of work) and rock and roll. I need a web presence, facebook fan page and tweet … those are the tickets today … who knows tomorrow.

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Cheryl Murphy is Asian with brown hair in a single braid and a smirk.

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