Saturday, July 16, 2011

Self-Publishing - Part One

From unknown to fame, author Amanda Hocking, having been rejected countless times, took matters into her own hands by self-publishing her books on e-book platforms only. She started in early 2010 and over ten months sold more than 900 000 books. She’s become a millionaire at the age of 26 and has signed a four book contract (reportedly for seven figures) with traditional publisher, St Martins press.

I realise none of this is news to those of you reading this, but I post this as the first in a new series I’ll be doing on self-publishing, featuring interviews with authors who have self published.

I also realise that Amanda Hocking is probably not the best example to use – in the same way that J K Rowling was never the best example to use for “achieving success as a children’s writer”. Both are statistical outliers, but, equally, both have done, and are doing things that are groundbreaking, will shift boundaries and open doors. True, both had a product that the market was greedy for. True, not everyone can create a product like that. And, yes, luck inevitably plays a role.

Now, you may wonder why I, who have spent years submitting work to traditional publishers, am doing a series on self-publishing. But the reality is the publishing industry, whether purists like it or not, is changing. Economic factors are a key influence - while technology makes it all possible – from the actual self-publishing of an e-book to the marketing through social recommendation engines and social networking sites.

More and more writers are turning to self-publishing as a means of getting their work out into the big wide world. A recent survey showed that 20 million people read e-books last year, creating a very nice market of which self-published authors can take advantage.

New York Times best-selling spy thriller novelist Barry Eisler recently turned down a $500,000 book deal with an unnamed legacy publisher in order to self-publish his own popular books. “Based on what’s happening in the industry, and based on the kind of experience writers…are having in self-publishing, I think I can do better in the long term on my own.”

Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Kindle Content for Amazon, says “It's possible for any author to make their book available with little or no upfront cost and reach a global audience." Digital publishing, he says, "gives a chance to a great book that otherwise might have been overlooked."

I have had countless arguments over the past few years with fellow writers and authors about e-readers and e-books and self publishing. Many have pooh-poohed the idea and lamented the “death” of the paper book. And let’s not kid ourselves, there is also a certain elitism and fear of change at work. I, however, tend to take the more pragmatic view of if not, why not.

Given the recent article in the Bookseller which started by saying “The [children’s publishing] industry is "haemorrhaging talent" as authors and illustrators are finding it increasingly difficult to make a living in the children's sector”, it seems only logical for illustrators, writers and authors to consider the alternatives.

In the Bookseller article, children’s author, Julia Jarman, is quoted as saying, "Royalties are down, advances are down, and publishers are offering less for new books."

Nick Green, who I interviewed last year, says in the same article, “I am not going to kid myself that I can support my family by writing fiction. At best it is extra pocket money. I would never give up the day job - not even if my next advance was six-figures, because another might never come again."

It looks, by all accounts, pretty dire out there – and besides that, many authors lament the amount of effort they put into their work, only to reap a tiny proportion of the reward – should they even get a deal. Others complain about the way they are treated by their publishers and the industry per se.

In my own experience, you can work your butt off, put hours and hours into polishing and honing your craft and your manuscript, you can attend courses and go to conferences, spend money on having your work professionally assessed and still be rejected because either publishers are not taking chances, or the wrong person read it on the wrong day, or “it’s not right for our list”, or you missed “a trend” by a nanosecond. So what do you do then? Do you put the manuscript away and begin yet another (and when do you call it quits on all the others you write), do you give up – or, do you look, as Amanda Hocking did, for alternatives?

Amanda Hocking says on her blog that in February 2010, after countless rejections, ‘I said to my room-mate, “I don't think it's going to happen. I don't think I'm ever going to get published. I don't know what more I can do. I've worked like a factory putting out the best books I possibly can. I've studied trends, the industry, business models.”

It was then that she started researching e-books and discovered that for every $2.99 book she could sell, she could keep 70%, with the rest going to the online bookseller. For every 99-cent book she could sell, she could keep 30%.

She said to her room-mate, “I'm going to sell books on Amazon through Kindle, and I bet I can make at least a couple hundred bucks by the end of the summer to go to Chicago."

In March she published her book with Lulu and sold it via Amazon. In April she published her first book to Kindle. She published a second book in the same way. She sold 45 books in two weeks. She put out another book. The rest, as they say, is history.

And here’s the irony, Amanda Hocking is publishing in a genre of which traditional publishers will tell you, “Sorry, but we think the trend has passed.” Clearly the market which buys Amanda Hocking’s books doesn’t agree. Her vampires remain hugely popular (in the same way that gran’ma’s tried and tested recipe for brownies remains popular over decades). And this is the thing, publishers are always looking for the “next big thing”, they’re making and breaking trends with, it would often seem, little acceptance of the fact that the market will eat brownies and read vampires till the cows come home – and in the process, many great books simply get overlooked.

As Amanda Hocking says: “From what I can guess, [my success] happened because the books are in a popular genre.”

Over the next few weeks I will be asking several authors why they chose to self publish and how they set about it, how they rate their success, the pitfalls of self-publishing and more besides.

But first, with some of Amanda’s books loaded onto my e-reader, I’m going off for a few days to point my camera at lions, stalk leopards and laugh with hyenas. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves in my absence.

(All images, aside from that of Nick Green, have been nicked off the internet.)


Merisi said...

Thank you for this series!

May your excursion be a safe one and your camera capture many interesting scenes!

Laura Atkins said...

Thanks very much for this. I'll read your series with interest, and am going to link to it as well. More and more I encourage aspiring and talented authors to consider doing it for themselves. I think this is the wave of the future.

Helen Bonney said...

A very interesting blog Nicky. Such a revolutionary time we are living in.You have to admire the courage and initiative shown by many authors. Hope you are coming to the Nov SCBWI conference.
Helen x

Trish Campbell said...

I think the 'Go for it!' angle on life and publishing is very much the way to go. People don't want to wait around to be picked up, they want it now! Bloody good luck to all self-publishers...

Maureen Lynas said...

I'm really wanting to do this, but it's the xfactor fear, that stops me. Am I one of the delusional ones? How can I tell?

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Excellent post, Nicky. Well done to Amanda Hocking, she deserves the success as we all do.

Have a fabulous holiday. I'll email you soon.

CJ xx

Angela said...

Very interesting, Nicky! Tell me more! I am not as much in social networking as you are, so I have no idea abour e-books. But I like the idea of not waiting blushingly to be picked up but DOING it! Crystal self-published, too, and it worked. If this is the future, then go for it! Thumbs up from Geli

Patricia Sands said...

Excellent post Nicky.Kathryn Brown sent the link. i self-published last year (debut novel - not a popular choice for trad publishers!) and have no regrets at all. The future is here! Enjoy your vaca!

Chris Longmuir said...

Excellent post and very realistic. I wish Amanda every future success as well as her past successes. I too trawled publishers and agents after getting my first book published the traditional way, however could find no one interested enough to take on the second one. In March I e-published the book that the publishers weren't interested in, and then in May I e-published another, previously written book. I have never regretted it and would sincerely advise others to take the leap into e-publishing.

Nicky Schmidt said...

So glad so many have enjoyed this post - clearly given the number of hits on the blog this is a very topical subject.
As I just read somewhere, while there are still die hards out there, there really does seem to be a new wave of authors will to create a "brave new world" by going indie.

Maureen, read the series and learn with me, we can decide together which way to go forward! :-)

Helen, sadly not, too much going on right now to make it over in November - but will definitely be there next year!

Laura, thanks for linking!

Trish wishing you loads of success with your indie books!

I am very encouraged by the responses I'm reading and getting to the interview questions which will be part of this series.

Nicky Schmidt said...

Laura, to make another comment on yours - I think the kind of services you are offering to authors thinking of self-publishing is so vital. And good to see you're happy to work with authors who want to go the indie route.

Marie said...

Interesting post, Nicky. I've been considering publishing on Kindle so your series has come at the right time for me. Good luck to all authors who decide to go down this route.

Nick Cross said...

So Nicky, when are you going to take the plunge into self-publishing? Is this whole series a process of psyching yourself up? :-)

For my part, I'm a great believer in never-say-never. I don't think there's a large enough base of e-readers out there yet, especially for children's books. But give it a few years...

Merisi said...

Nicky, have you ever been to Steph Waller's Incurable Insomniac blog? She too has written about and experience with self-publishing.

Nicky Schmidt said...

Hope the series proves helpful, Marie!

Aha, well you'll just have to watch this space, won't you, Nick :-)

Thanks for that, Merisi, I'll check it out!

Baino said...

I'll be very interested in this. I have a 'reader' for a friend and he's absolutely resolute that self publishing is death for legitimate authors but I'm not so sure. I have another friend who's self published in paperback (hasn't yet gone the e course) and hasn't sold a great deal so be good to see what people have to say.

Jan Markley said...

Great series - I gave this series and your writing room series a mention and link on my blog!

Lynda Renham-Cook said...

Thanks so much Nicky for this wonderful feature. Having self published 'Wedding cake to Turin' I have learnt so so much. The reviews have been helpful on Amazon, as well as being somewhat devastating. The sales amazed me. The one thing I wish I could do again is the editing. No matter how much one edits, things get missed. The second one due out hopefully at the end of the year has had a proof reader and will be so much better. Having come so close to being accepted by an agent and in the past publishers, I just felt I had to try this route and it worked but it is not easy. I salute anyone who does it. All the best Lynda