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.)