Thursday, 31 March 2011

The state of publishing and the choice for authors

I think publishing is much more complicated now than it once was because books can come in so many different formats. You'd think big publishers would be embracing the idea of eReaders and trying to get their books out to a wider audience. But it seems they're not, a lot of the ebooks from traditional publishers are priced way too high to compete with some self-published authors. And this is all because those big publishers want to protect their book sales.

I'm not going to go into this matter in details because Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler do it brilliantly in this blog post:

Ebooks and Self-Publishing: A Conversation Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath

My view on print books vs. ebooks is weighted heavily on the print book side, but that is as a reader. I love the feel of those pages in my fingers, the weight of a book in my bag and being able to reread the blurb or look at the cover whenever I feel like it. You just don't get that with ebooks.

Everyone says ebooks are cheaper too but not from those big publishers, it's only indie authors that seem to know that pricing books cheaply gets sales. Joe Konrath's blog shows this brilliantly - he recently dropped the price of one of his books from $2.99 to 99 cents - makes for very interesting reading.

The choice to seek out an agent and publisher

The joy of getting an agent and selling your book must be second to none, they work with you to perfect your book, you get a snazzy cover and soon (okay not that soon) you have a book in print and online. Obviously publishing contracts differ so bear that in mind but you can just focus on the writing. Maybe working on that next book, or making sure your blog is up to date. You might need to go along to the odd signing or be interviewed but a big publisher would do the majority of the marketing for you.

You'd get an advance and when that's earned out you'd start earning royalties.

As I'm not published I can't go into the specifics but essentially this route allows you to focus on writing while your publisher and agent deal with the more businessey side of things. When you get paid royalties the publisher will take a cut and so will your agent.

Choosing to self-publish

With this method there might be some initial payout, you might need to have some cover art designed or you might need to pay for formatting. And if you are still going down the print route then you might have to pay for printing costs.

You are then responsible for all the marketing, pushing it to people, setting a price and sending out copies for review. You are essentially running your own business and you have to treat it that way. Also, from what I've read, it seems the way to make money through ebooks is to have a lot. So when someone enjoys one of your books they'll buy the next. But you need a following, you need to know how to market yourself and the things you write. You need time to dedicate to the business side as well as the writing side.

As difficult as it may be, you are going to get way more royalties than a traditional publishing deal. Not exact figures but ebook sales generally generate 70% royalties, through a publisher it's more like 25% (I'm sure commenters can shed more light on this). You also won't get the big advance.

How this makes me feel

I feel torn. I really want to be published, I want to see my books on shelves in book shops and I want that glory and joy of getting a publishing deal. It's like someone saying that you've done well and have really written a good book. Some people don't view being self-published as really being published because there haven't been the barriers of different people signing off your work and verifying if it's good enough. 

But the idea of taking my career into my own hands, monitoring sales, employing marketing techniques and earning money through something I am completely in charge of sounds amazing. I know there will always be pros and cons for both methods (as well as other methods like POD etc.) but I was interested to hear what you lot had to say.

Again, please bear in mind that all of the above contains very, very loose descriptions of publishing, I'm aware that every contract differs and that some authors have traditionally published books and yet still take on a lot of the marketing.

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