Amanda Hocking and Self-Publishing

Tons of e-mails recently from people who want to know what I think about Amanda Hocking or [insert some other self-published e-book author here] and the fact they’re selling lots of self-published ebooks via the Kindle and so on. Answer: See what Jim Hines has to say about it here, since I would say pretty much the same thing so closely to the manner in which he said it that he would be totally justified in accusing me of plagiarism.

More personally as it relates to me, considering that I made thousands of dollars off a self-published ebook a dozen years ago now — back in the days when people had to physically mail me actual dollars (uphill! in the snow! Both ways!) — when said novel was only available on my personal Web site, I’m not particularly surprised that some folks are making more money now they can tie into large commerce sites which handle both payment and fulfillment. It’s excellent for Ms. Hocking and anyone else who’s doing well with it. Good for them. But as Jim notes, we need to be careful not to confuse the statistical anomalies with everyone else, and it is a lot of work. It’s the “lot of work” part, among others, that keeps me working with publishing houses; I like being able to focus on the writing, not the everything else.

52 Comments on “Amanda Hocking and Self-Publishing”

  1. A sincere congratulations to Miss Hocking. May her bank accounts grow large with monies.
    Can we please have a dedicated vampire romance section now? Pretty please?

  2. What bugs me is that I’d rather that the success be not so much in the “teenage paranormal romance” section of book sales. (It rather appalls me that they’re actually titling shelves at bookstores that way!)

  3. Christopher Browne @3

    Really? I haven’t noticed that yet. I’m hoping they do it for adult paranormal romance as well. It’s easier on everyone. Those looking for it know where to find it, and those who aren’t won’t have to dig through it while searching the scifi/fa section.

  4. In some key respects, editors and publishers will *always* be necessary. Copy editing, continuity checking, proofreading and even getting an impartial answer to the burning question “Is this worth reading?” are definitely second-party functions. I once did the first proofreading pass on a book which had three absolutely horrible continuity errors, two internal, and one related to the previous book. All of them had escaped the copy editor.

    Whether it’s programming or publishing, having somebody critically read your code is a godsend.

  5. While Ms. Hocking is the biggest stand out example, Chris, there are literally dozens of other folks with over 100k sales. And something like a thousand or so with sales levels similar to what you’d expect from a first time genre novelist.

    I don’t think your traditional publisher is going away either. They’re smart people, and they’ll figure out ways to stay relevant. But I think we’ve decidedly crossed a line here. For the last fifty years or more, the only “real” publishing has been through some other company, a publishing house.

    That’s just not true anymore.

    Today, there’s two roads to “real” publishing success, not one. We’re going to see writers choosing which path is best for each book sometimes, now. Mixing it up some. Pretty exciting, and not at all a bad thing – so long as folks don’t start thinking about it as a “get rich quick” scheme and get disappointed when they find out that yes, Virginia, self publishing is just as much hard work as traditional publishing is – and rewards good craft with success, and poor work with no sales, just like traditional publishing.

    Speaking of which, John – when will SFWA start vetting self published books for membership? ;) If Ms. Hocking brought her going-on-two-million-books-sold to SFWA tomorrow as her professional credit, would she really still be turned away?

  6. The SFWA membership requirements are not something I’m going to opine about here, except to say we are looking at how the market is changing and how that relates to our organization.

    Also, re: the assertions you make in terms of sales, I would like to see verifiable cites for those, actually. I’ve seen a lot of self-reportage in terms of numbers, but I have a suspicion that self-reported numbers are susceptible to inflation.

  7. JimF – Site is up and running. I Scalzibombproofed it after the last time. I’m still getting comments on the post, so I’m not sure why you’re not able to get through.

  8. the publishing industry as a whole seems to move rather slow. Just within the last couple years you had a reasonable chance of seeing submission guidelines for magazines to support email submissions. Before that, it had, had, had to be paper submission. One can imagine that their offices used rotary phones into the 90’s and didn’t get an answering machine until 2000a.d. and even then, it was probably one of those old-school cassette tape machines.

    I imagine that an organization like SFWA is goign to move at a similar pace. About the time that people can download books directly into their brain via simchips, SFWA might consider selfpublishing to be an acceptable avenue to becoming a member.

    I can’t imagine that Scalzi could by presidential declaration change the requirements to join SFWA without either a member vote or at the very least without getting a lot of flak from some members.

  9. #1 by ben: “A sincere congratulations to Miss Hocking. May her bank accounts grow large with monies.
    Can we please have a dedicated vampire romance section now? Pretty please?”

    Yes, please. That way I can ignore them all at once instead of piecemeal.

  10. I think its also interesting to point out that Michael Sullivan, another of the fairly successful self-published authors, has recently signed a publishing deal with Orbit. I consider this a sign confirming that self-publishing is but another path to traditional publishing and not a replacement of it. Yet.

  11. Dan – I think that’s one path, but you’ve also got folks like Scott Nicholson who started out with traditional publishing and then jumped over to the self-publishing route. So for some people, it is a replacement.

    How widespread the different paths will become, I’m not even going to try to predict.

  12. That was one the points that I had made in the linked article in comment #2, Dan – that the acquisitions editors had outsourced reviewing and passing judgment on submissions to the agencies – and now with indy or self-publishing, the marketplace is sifting out the viable books. Fun times, eh?

  13. Dan@12: Can you point me at the site for this “Michael Sullivan”? I’m always curious as to what people who share my name are doing, and the ubiquity of the name makes all of us very hard to Google.

  14. I wanna talk about my bike for a second…

    Ahem. I saw this story the other day and was dumbfounded. The whole ebook game is still so much in its infancy that as Hines puts it an argument could be made for going either way. My money is still on the traditional hard hitting, hard working model. It’s still too young for everyone to rush out and become the next Hocking, Scalzi or Korogodski or whoever. I’ll stick to Heinlein’s rules for writing until further notice:

    1. You must write.

    2. You must finish what you start.

    3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.

    4. You must put it on the market

    5. You must keep it on the market until sold.

  15. The whole ebook game is still so much in its infancy

    meh, maybe.

    still too young for everyone to rush out and become the next Hocking

    I think the thing that is truly at issue here is not whether ebooks are a commercially viable long term busness strategy. (Cause I’m pretty sure they are.) I think the issue here is more that there are a lot of poeple saying “ZOMG! Amanda Hocking sold a gazillion books self published! The traditional publishing path is dead!” are in large part driven by the same people who also think that traditional publishers won’t publish their manuscript because they’re snobs and they act as the gatekeepers as to what is acceptable or not. This is a similar urban legend as the “The author mafia is trying to keep me from ever getting published”. It has a similar level of stickeyness as well. No matter how much you try to tell people it isn’t true, it keeps cropping up. over. and over. and over.

    Self publishing has a *LOT*, and I mean a *LOT*, of energy around it that plugs directly into the “the MAN is trying to keep me down! The MAN can’t handle the awesomeness of my book! The MAN wants to keep me from getting published!”

    And examples like Amanda Hocking show up within this urban legend energy as (a) proof that publishers are trying to keep good books from getting published and (b) proof that self publishing is an effective weapon with which to fight the MAN. Really successful self published authors are often held up as “rebels”. As in rebels fighting the MAN. As in WOLVERINES! kind of rebels fighting the good fight.

  16. I was wondering about that, John, too. I’m going to be experimenting with epublishing later this year, if everything goes right, and while I have no expectation to sell anywhere near what Hocking does, if I get lucky over the next 5-10, the SFWA would definitely be one of my goals. Heck, it already is one of my goals, but I suspect it may come from eventual short fiction sales.

  17. Chang @17: Note that Heinlein’s Rule 4 allows you to go by either the traditional publisher route, or self-publishing.

    I think that the main problems with self-publishing are that a.) it’s a LOT more work and time-consuming than most aspiring writers imagine (likely by an order of magnitude) and b.) The skill sets required for copy-editing, cover art, text design, marketing and promotion, etc., (not to mention coordinating all these activities, and yes, they are all necessary) do not match those for writing fiction. My feeling is that if you’re a good writer, you should do what you do best, i.e. write, and let others do the rest.

  18. Hocking has a few really good blog posts up about how much extra work self-publishing takes, how her success doesn’t mean that traditional publishing is going away, and how indie writers in her position should really be seriously going into traditional publishing once they get big enough to be noticed since it takes off the extra work and gets your work into the big stores- aka the other 80+% of the market. –

    She seems really nice, and doesn’t seem to have a chip on her shoulder about the traditional publishers.

  19. #21.

    Hm. That sounds a lot like what our Dear Host has said about self-publishing….

  20. I’m truly glad for her that she has had such success with a product many people clearly wanted to buy. Good for her.

    Outliers are not necessarily bellwethers. Sometimes they are, sure, but more often they’re not.

  21. Just like not every author published by a major publisher reaches JK Rowling figures, not every self-published author is going to reach Amanda Hocking levels.

    Haven’t read her books, but I’ve seen a couple of posts and she sounds like a very sensible, hard-working person.

  22. I don’t know how valuable my perspective will be on this, but I’m going to give it, because I feel like it, and I suppose that’s as good of a reason as any.

    A lot of people have asked me why I don’t go the self-published route, being one is sitting on a mound of books which I’m no longer pursuing with traditional publishers. Or even for that matter, the small press route–which seems to me more a place to sideline or to end (with an established fan base which help move units), rather than a place to begin. I’m sure a paranoia of creating an unfavorable sales history plays into that too. If given the choice between that and releasing e-books on my own terms, if I absolutely had to choose, at gun-point, I would probably choose the latter. I think there’s a greater potential for garnering an audience with inexpensive (if not free) audio books, and the idea of not having the distinction of “professional” I deem a triviality. Audience is everything. The rest make for footnotes. At least in my personal universe. However, as noted, it’s a lot of work, most of which I am ill-suited for.

    I suppose I should note that I did release an e-book, technically, as an added bonus to people for an audio project I did, but part of the reason I did that was because I saw no reason not to, as I saw the material as already compromised. In other words, I don’t think that counts.

    One of the reasons I would not go this route is because there’s a lot of work that is *not writing*, *not creating* involved, as John said. More than I’m willing to give, as if my creative affliction doesn’t eat enough of my life and time already? If I ever did return to writing novels, it would not be under those conditions. I’m a creator. I create. That’s my thing. All that other stuff : not my thing. Moreover, it could never *be* my thing. Better to have people who know what they’re doing on those details. That’s probably not the best attitude, but it’s my reality.

    This may be an odd stance to take for one who has discontinued his pursuits with publishers, because what’s the alternative? Well, I’m finding out and though what I do now is a hell of a lot of work, it’s the right kind of work. It’s creating. All creating.

    I do have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about traditional publishers, yes. I played the game (as a horror writer *insert chord of doom here*) and I had a sequence of bad experiences to which I emotionally responded in a very bad way. A very unhealthy way which led me to some dark places. Sometimes when I think about it, even now, I get angry and could rant for hours. But even as royally pissed as I am about those experiences and how tattered my faith in the industry’s processes, I recognize their function … and I would not go back to writing novels without them.

    “The everything else” is their thing … and they can bloody well have it.

  23. A correction:

    I think there’s a greater potential for garnering an audience with inexpensive (if not free) –> E-books <—, and the idea of not having the distinction of “professional” I deem a triviality.

    Not audio books… Also not my thing, I have learned.

  24. My take –

    Before the tax code changed, printing up paperbacks wasn’t such a big deal, wasn’t so financially marginal, and it seemed like a lot of writers on the slightly positive side of the bubble got to do paperbacks (and sold just enough to be credible, but not really make a living at it per se).

    Just below the bubble and you sold short stories, maybe medium-long ones to (Analog, Asimov’s, etc). Maybe a paperback here and there.

    Tax code changed, and a lot of paperbacks seemed to go “poof”. Not entirely, but there seemed to be more printed of less authors afterwards.

    I think that e-books are now demonstrably re-establishing the low end of the mass market, with some of these writers and that price point. Part of this is that they have no inventory and no print cost, making them attractive to distributors (and their distributors’ tax attorneys). Part is that they’re enabling the authors just below the bubble to have an “affordable” market again.

    A world in which a Tor published Scalzi E-book was $10 near pub date, $5 after it amortized for a while, and in which new authors with a bug up their posterior could prep and sell E-books in decent quantity for $0.99 is a perfectly fine world for me. I’ll pay a premium for some of those on dead trees rather than purely electrons, too. But having the $0.99 market establish itself is a good thing.

    We’ll probably see some Eonly-publishers evolve, who cut some of the steps out of traditional publishing (and save a bunch of $ on doing so) and provide the remaining necessary art/editing/layout/PR services for good E-books, so authors can focus on writing, for some fraction of the total cut on still pretty cheap ebooks…

  25. We’ll probably see some Eonly-publishers evolve, who cut some of the steps out of traditional publishing (and save a bunch of $ on doing so)

    The cost of printing books is a tiny percentage of the cost of publishing books. What costs money is the editing and layout and cover design and marketing and distribution and PR.

  26. I dunno, folks…the thing that turned my head around on the whole e-self publishing thing is the moment when my friend Lee Goldberg, who used to spend a lot of time and blog-space putting down self-publishing and the self-published, started putting up his backlist as e-books, and making money at it. Now he’s regularly publishing blog posts like this one:

    If this guy became a believer, I thought, this may be something worth trying.

  27. Eh. Look at the covers. Open up the sample chapters, read a bit.

    non-Twilight Twilight books for Twilight fans who are waiting for new Twilight books.

    Paranormal romance sells. If she’d written a noir or something we’d probably never have heard of her.

  28. I’m really hoping e-publishing does something for the short story market. I’d like to see places like Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons start turning a big profit from kindlebook sales. They do good work and I’d like to see them earn proportional profits.

  29. It varies from day to day but around 50% of the Kindle top 20 paid ebooks are self published. (Top 100 varies between 30-50%) Ebooks are between 10% and 50% of the market, depending on who you believe (an those report REALLY vary) Amanda Hocking is just the tip of the ice berg. Imagine the next “Hot New Self Pubbed” author when ebooks are 50-70% of the market.

    Knocking paranormal romance is silly. I noticed my local B&N has ADDED a PNR section in the past two months. They took the space from general fiction. They also took an isle of Fantasy/scifi to give to regular romances.

    Just some thoughts for y’all. :)

  30. If looking to the future, I just don’t see one cant look to an entrenched institution such as SFWA for guidance. They have there own opaque agenda.

  31. As of March 5th about 38% of Amazon’s top 100 bestseller fiction ebooks were published independently by the writers. (source: – but you can check it yourself fast enough too). Since Amazon is estimated to own about 3/4 of the US ebook market, that makes it a pretty decent picture of the overall ebook breakdown. You see similar breakdowns, indies having about 20-50% of the top seller list, in most of the genre subgroups.

    So I think it is pretty clear that independent publishing has arrived in a noticeable way. Writers – new and old pros – are disintermediating the agent/publisher system.

    I guess the real question remains “to what extent” will the disintermediation extend? Over 85% of books sold right now are print, and most of those are sold in markets outside the reach of indies (indie print is usually available only at places like Amazon, B&, and special order from bookstores, not on the shelves themselves). But with Borders going away, and B&N closing a lot of stores last year and a lot more planned for this year – with ebook sales expected to rise to as much as 25% total market share this year, and possibly hit 50% as soon as next year – it makes one wonder what that market will look like two years from now, when indies might be reaching more like 2/3 of readers.

    Another concern. If I write a book – let’s say it’s a good, salable book but not an awesome rock-your-world one? – and get it out there tomorrow to agents, I am probably looking at something like two years before it’s in print, maybe longer. So does it make more sense for a newer writer to try shopping those books around, snick the (usually quite small) novice advance? Or self publish the book, and others, building readership (and practice writing) until you’ve (hopefully) reached the point where publishers are interested in putting more money, marketing, and general energy into your books?

    Don’t know. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot, though.

  32. Imagine the next “Hot New Self Pubbed” author when ebooks are 50-70% of the market

    I think you’re misunderstanding the current gold rush situation.

    When ebooks are the majority of market share, every self-published author will be competing on a more equal footing with Stephen King and Danielle Steele and Glenn Beck and whoever.

    Right now, there are already more free ebooks out there than anyone could read in a lifetime (and I am speaking as someone who reads more than 500 books a year here). People choose books on the basis of more than price point.

  33. Kevin O. McLaughlin:

    “As of March 5th about 38% of Amazon’s top 100 bestseller fiction ebooks were published independently by the writers.”

    Yes, but what are the actual numbers? This has been the perennial problem with quoting Amazon stats — the stats are opaque. OMW was recently up to #8 on the Amazon science fiction list; can you tell me or anyone else what the difference was between my numbers and the numbers of #9? Or #7? Or between #8 and #1? What are the numbers compared to the sales of the top sellers on BookScan? And so on.

    The problem quoting Amazon numbers has is that Amazon is opaque on numbers; what it has are rankings. That’s fine for Amazon, in that it creates buzz for Amazon. But it’s not actually very good for making sweeping pronouncements about the future of publishing.

    One thing I also think people may not be appreciating is that publishers are awfully persistent; they’ve survived sweeping market changes before and they’re not actually populated by stupid people.

  34. Two (or more) additional things :)

    Numbers: It’s isn’t only amazon! NYT bestseller list doesn’t (publicly) release exact sales counts. Unfortunately like almost all media, the actual numbers are hidden. No one wants to give up those numbers. Either they are afraid of a negative comparison, or the view it as a market advantage. We could look at data and say that for #5 on the top 100 list for December it has to be under 100K. We could say that for Feburary that #1 was under 450K. But those are just random shots on the dark.

    What can we say? We can say out of the mix of ebooks available on kindle, self pubped authors do fairly well and that the average reader doesn’t pay attention to who is publishing the book. We can say that romance, paranormal romance and crime thrillers are dominant. Beyond that it’s all just very idle speculation (which can be very fun). Personally I’d hate to be a writer right now. I lived through the dotcom boom and bust. A market in massive change is a dangerous and exciting thing. As a reader it’s awesome, so many great and interesting things to choose from.

    Stephen King: Who is to say that Mr. King won’t be a “self published author” by the end of the year? He has done it before. I bet we will be able to add him to Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Bob Mayer, etc. etc. Patterson has also talked about it. My guess is that by the end of this year there will be a lot of recognizable names on the “self pubbed” list. Also there is the long standing standing self pub “midlist” Selena Kitt, Mallory, Konrath.

    Personally I think Self Pub will turn into something like the indie film market. There is a LOT of crud. They are not as polished. They tend to not have mass appeal, but when they do a big publisher tries to pick them up. You’ll have Colma the Musical (fun but not polished), The Blind Lead (horrible, just horrible), but you’ll also have Blair Witch Project and Star Wars.

    It will be interesting to see how many “big” self pubbed authors go for the trad pub deals.

  35. I agree that actual numbers would be nice, John. I don’t know that we’ll see them anytime soon though. With both Amazon and B&N ditching Bowker for ebooks, it means that roughly 90% of the ebook market is not tracked by BookScan. Bowker is having a bad month, year, decade, whatever.

    So we do what we can. The number one slot is supposed to be making about 6000 sales a day right now. On the 5th Konrath said he was doing 620 sales a day for a book in the number 37 slot. A friend of mine is making about 8 sales a day at a rank of about 9,500, and 13 a day for another book at about 4700. The problem, of course, is that the sales at any given rank vary over time based on the number of overall sales being made – so #1 might have only been 4000 sales in January for instance (made up number, no way to know for sure). The lack of consistency makes estimating sales tough.

    I don’t doubt for a second whether publishing as a whole will survive (I won’t place bets on any one specific publisher, as some might go, but there’s a LOT of publishers out there who will happily pick up the slack if one goes under). I think the complete market dominance they held is fading fast though, and we’ll see indies grab a significant (but not majority) market share over the next couple of years.

  36. Kevin O. McLaughlin:

    “The lack of consistency makes estimating sales tough.”

    Well, actually, it makes it effectively impossible. The rankings are relative and we have only self-reporting and estimation to go by, and there are no data to suggest what the sales curve actually looks like.

    I think we need to employ honesty and say that at this point “estimating” is very nearly synonymous with “guessing.”

    Christian K:

    “NYT bestseller list doesn’t (publicly) release exact sales counts.”

    That’s in part because the NYT bestseller list correlates only roughly to overall sales. It has its own magical algorithm to create its rankings.

  37. Julia S writes:
    The cost of printing books is a tiny percentage of the cost of publishing books. What costs money is the editing and layout and cover design and marketing and distribution and PR.

    Partial rebuttals:

    Editing of books has always had various tiers of quality in editing process; the more you spend the better it gets, but there were plenty of cheap paperbacks that had very little time or dollars invested in editing (as everyone knew it wasn’t worth it).

    Layout is somewhat simplified for E-books

    Cover design isn’t entirely simplified, but again, old pulp paperbacks got by with a lot lower art and design budget than modern ones do now. The marketing department intrusion here is probably justified in some ways – spending another (random example) $0.25 / book customer loaded price on its visual appearance probably does increase sales much more than that quarter. But a total price of $0.99 may well overcome concern over visual appearance.

    Marketing – Hocking is pretty open about the energy spent there. No disagreement. What gets marketed sell; what is not marketed by professionals has to be marketed by the author.

    Distribution – Well, that’s Amazon’s cut of the $0.99, not a multi-tier problem for the author…

    Ultimately my point is this – the publishers stepped away from midlist and particularly the lower half of midlist when the tax laws went south on them. The net had encouraged but not seriously restored that; self-publishing paper books had not had any effect whatsoever.

    This was not publishers being malign – they exist to make money, and if paperbacks costs went up, they had to find paperbacks that were more profitable (better marketed, better covers, better written, etc). Higher value and tax laws led to higher cost; higher cost led to fewer “units” (books published). This was hard on anyone not in the top tier on sales volume, and reduced the breadth of the market.

    Scalzi’s “Enh” about this is actually missing something really critical – restoring the low end commercial speculative fiction market is the potential here. We lost breadth – some of those authors went to magazines, some to the new flourishing semi-commercial market (let a thousand fanzines bloom, which eventually spawned a few semiprozines). But this really wasn’t making anyone money (enough to live on).

    Hocking may be the one standout, not a trend, but perhaps not – perhaps we’re seeing a price point and distribution model that works for the low end, in a way that zines really never did. Hocking’s particular model of self-e-publishing may not be the best way (and is clearly not the only way), but her price point and results are extremely encouraging. It’s an opening to fundamentally change the market.

    It’s not about self-e-publishing, it’s about market success in both units and viable business model for authors. The publishing medium that allows that to happen – e-publishing allowing $0.99 books to be viable for Amazon to sell – is new. The discovery that the units sold curve is so elastic is new – it clearly still needs more study, but looks very promising. You could never do this with paper – you can’t print that cheaply. You can do this with E-books. Some people did; this person made a bunch of money already by author standards and appears headed to serious income levels with it. It may be a fluke, or it may be the price point discovery that turns the low end publishing market’s entire worldview on its head.

  38. “I think the complete market dominance they held is fading fast though, and we’ll see indies grab a significant (but not majority) market share over the next couple of years.”

    I’d like to think the competition would make the traditional publishing houses more flexible, innovative and adventurous, but I’m not seeing or hearing that from them. What I’m hearing is “We love this, but it’s not the Big Book. We want the Big Book.” Problem is, no one seems to know what that is. .I was told by one publisher that LAWYERS GUNS AND MONEY was great (“love the characters, strong voice, great pace”) , but they didn’t think anyone would buy a mystery set in a small town. This was the same month John Hart’s THE LAST CHILD was on the bestseller list.

    I don’t think they’re stupid, but I’m hearing a lot of fear and seeing a lot of ass-covering. This is death to us midlisters.

  39. JD Rhoades finished with:
    I don’t think they’re stupid, but I’m hearing a lot of fear and seeing a lot of ass-covering. This is death to us midlisters.

    I think this is a Crisis – but in the Chinese sense. Danger + Opportunity.

    If no conventional publisher will buy your book, perhaps the answer is E-publishing, and seeing what going straight to the market will do.

    Perhaps “nobody will buy it” – but perhaps at $0.99 a pop, a couple of hundred thousand people will, and you’re up $70,000 or so.

    Perhaps an E-publisher will emerge who will handle editing and PR and a cover, and split your income on it, so you don’t have to do those things and you can go back to writing.

    Perhaps this is the rebirth of the old wider midlist, not the death of it.

    Fear is healthy, and not unwise, but there’s an opportunity too.

  40. If no conventional publisher will buy your book, perhaps the answer is E-publishing, and seeing what going straight to the market will do.

    This is what I’ve done, actually. And “going straight to the market” sums up my attitude towards it very succinctly. After quite a few rejections for the last two books saying “this is really good, but we don’t think it’s right for the market” I decided…well, let the market tell me that.

    I know I was good enough to get conventional publishing contracts at one time, and I don’t think I’ve gotten any worse. After a year and a half of despondency, I started thinking “well hey, maybe it’s them and not me.”

    Hell, it’s not like I had anything to lose… what’s the worst that could happen? The damn things don’t make money? They sure as hell weren’t doing that sitting on the shelf. So we’ll see.

  41. Here’s some figures/comments from Stephen Leather (I expect he’s not well known in the states, but in the UK he’s a fairly big-name author who will usually reach top-20 sales or thereabouts with each new book):

    Having bought a fair number of $0.99 books, the two observations I’d make:

    Mr Leather has it right about momentum – I think this is to do with finding books in the first place. If you’re using a hand held device, browsing for new books is pretty tedious, and so if you get an Amazon recommendation that sounds like something you might want to read and has a couple of good reviews, then for $0.99 it’s easy to take a chance. Which bumps up the sales, and makes it more likely to get recommended, and so on…

    I’ve also found that editing and cover art are not as important for me as many defending traditional publishing might think. There’s someone doing very well on the UK Kindle charts (5 or 6 books in the top 50, I think), where I can’t read the dialogue without rolling my eyes, There are clunky phrases, misspelling and the like. But the stories are interesting enough for a quick read.

    (Disclaimer: I suffer from insomnia and often find myself downloading something at 1am to read. This perhaps makes me less discriminating than many).

  42. @ kevinomclaughlin I think you and others here have the best arguments about this.
    John wanting better data makes no real sense to me as when has there ever been much of ANY data for traditional publishing? The self-publishing data seems to me to be better than NO data (divide by a small integer, if you want, but I doubt that’ll change anything).
    I’d be happy if “traditional” authors such as John would self-publish THEIR sales numbers (would their publishers allow that? I doubt it) and then we could all pick our favorite small integers. But we’d all know more too.
    I don’t buy the “work” arguments either. Unless you get incredibly lucky, there’s lots and lots of work besides writing in either model. I’d argue that self-publishing might actually give the average person MORE time to write, but will admit there’s no way to for ANYONE to know that now. Mr. Scalzi is a great case in point on this, as all his blogging, personal appearances, book signings, book tours etc. pretty much count as time away from writing (and can be thought of as part of the hard work of him being an author). This undoubtedly helps HIS sales as he’s personable and articulate, but most people, even authors, don’t share those attributes.
    I’ll agree that some form of editing (real editing) should always be done as we have Anne Rice and Tom Clancy as terrific counter-examples. But those folks could just as well be free lancers hired by authors going the self-publishing route.

  43. How much info do conventionally-published authors get from their publishers, anyway? I’ve certainly heard grumblings about its lack before.

  44. One thing that really gets under my skin about this whole “ebook revolution” is that so many of the Indie Authors bad mouth traditional publishing like it’s a bad thing. No, it’s not a bad thing. It’s just changing so that more people can have more control and actually have a shot–note, that’s a shot, not a guarantee–at being able to make a living doing what they love. All of this revolutionary rhetoric is just that. Rhetoric. There are a lot of good authors out there in Indieland because there are a lot of good writers looked over for one reason or another by New York. And ebooks allow those writers to put the work in and potentially see some return on it. But to call traditional publishing dead is ludicrous. I buy all my music on iTunes, every last song, but do I scoff when I walk into Walmart and see a New Release endcap? No way. It’s just not how I want to buy. And that’s how ebooks will be once this shake-up settles down. There’s room for everyone as long as we can, for the love of God, get along about it.

    Do I want to be able to make a living by writing? You bet I do! And I am going to give that a shot through Indie Publishing a few things on Kindle and seeing how it goes and putting in the elbow grease to make sure that I do it right. I think that ebooks are here to stay, and they will eventually make a large portion of the publishing market. Not all of it, but a lot. Maybe half. Eventually.

    But here’s the thing. I’m a trained writer and editor. I have a M.A. in English and working on my Ph.D. My wife is equally credentialed and works as a freelance editor already. We both have connections with people who can help fill in what gaps we have. While I don’t think either of us is as good as a New York editor or publisher who has been doing it for years, I think we have a really good shot between us (and the people we know) of being able to make a fine book. It’s going to take work, but we know this kind of work. We know that it’s just that, too–work.

    Because of that, I know I won’t be an overnight success. I know that when I push something out for the Internet, it’s going to have to be as perfect as I can get it. But I know when I get it out there, it’s going to be worth it. I just think as a genre writer who wants to do this for a living, the NY route may not be ideal anymore. I don’t expect to be Rowling or King or Patterson. I expect to one day, eventually, MAYBE, be a mid-list author with an okay fanbase. if I don’t screw it up.

    I try to look at it realistically and see all sides, but that does not mean that I think that the traditional agent/editor/publisher querying route is broken. I think it’s unfair in a lot of ways to newbies, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s worked for a very, very long time. Until last year, I had never even read a self-published book myself. So I’m obviously not hating on that system.

    I do think that the Amazon ranking system has its place–on Amazon. If that’s the system that works for them, and it’s consistent, then it’s no different than anything else. We don’t need numbers as long as we can quantify somehow the gain (like Scalzai said, what’s the difference in #8 and #1?). We can do a degree (top 10, 100, 1000, or whatever, but not as finely as numbers. But that may not matter because perhaps Amazon rankings are more important in generalities than specifics like Bookscan.

    Wow, that turned out to be much longer than I anticipated. Sorry.

  45. Publishing yourself properly takes a helluva lot of work, especially if you’re doing a print version and not only an ebook. You have to find an editor, an illustrator, a distributor, a warehousing and fulfillment company, a printer (perhaps, overseas? and if so, deal with the customs, overseas freight, etc.), a publicist (which does not, by the way, mean that you won’t have to do most of the marketing and promotion work yourself, anyway), not to mention vetting everyone properly AND learning their craft (you have to understand very well, for example, what a printer–or this particular printer–can and cannot do economically). This means taking a lot of risk, because all of that requires investing money (your own money) every step of the way, not to mention time required for all of this.

    So this is not for everyone nor for every project. Some projects, however, are naturally suited to this sort of thing. For example, if you have a novella of an inconvenient length and you feel artistic and adventurous enough to do book design on your own such that no third party ever would, even another small press. Then go ahead. For novels, however, you may want to consider the wider marketing reach of the traditional houses and the limitations on your own time and money.

    Most definitely, however, self-publishing is NOT to be used as a last resort. It’s harder than going the traditional way and you actually have to be MORE confident in the quality of your own work than when sending it out to a traditional publisher, not less. You’d just be setting yourself up for failure if it’s been consistently rejected already.

    Leo Korogodski

  46. @47: In John’s defense, one can actually get fairly GOOD numbers on print sales. Any major press uses an ISBN number, and Bowker tracks those sales. If I recall right, Bowker is able to track about 70% of print sales for a book, on average. And those numbers are available to anyone who pays in the cash to access BookScan, which pretty much every publisher and major retailer does. So yeah, even if ebooks are now 15% of book sales (which is the high end of what I think is reasonable to guess), that means Bowker is still tracking roughly 60% of all book sales. All print, on any book with an ISBN being sold at a venue which reports sales.

    Because neither Amazon or B&N use ISBNs for ebooks, something like 90% of ebook sales are untracked. That makes it incredibly hard to do more than guess about sales. Even when you get a good datapoint – like John Locke’s self-published book was reportedly averaging 6000 sales a day in the number one Amazon ebook slot recently – and assuming that data is correctly reported – it’s only a datapoint for that moment in time. Like the NYT list, a #1 slot could have much greater or lower sales even week by week. I don’t see that improving any time soon, either. There’s just no economic imperative for the retailers to hand out their numbers so Bowker can make money from them.

    @49: I can understand the antipathy indie writers feel. My only published book so far was via Wordware (traditionally published, if you will), but I’m about to kick out a short novel to ebook and do a print on demand. So I’ve sort of got a foot in both worlds, which I think is not a terrible place to be. But I see two major sources of frustration for indie writers:

    – Writers who’ve been burned by the current publishing system in some way. That could be writers like Ms. Hocking, who are producing good quality work that’s been turned away. It could be writers whose agents have ripped them off, or midlisters who’ve been dropped by a publisher one too many times, or writers whose publishers own their backlists but won’t reprint, or writers whose first books of a trilogy are no longer in bookstores when the third is published, or writers frustrated by increasingly draconian contract clauses, or… Lots of things. Not really publishers’ fault, most of them (in my opinion, anyway). Just the result of the current state of the industry. But that “been there, been burned” feeling leads to a little of the “viva la revolution” vibe.

    – Negativity from the non-indie writing community. Contributes in a huge way. Most of the major mainstream writing orgs do not accept self published books as “being published” for purposes of full membership. The RWA probably comes closest, but still bars indie authors from certain awards and PAN (Published Author Network) membership. SFWA does not accept self publishing as a legitimate publishing credit, regardless of numbers of books sold. NINC and AG likewise don’t take self published authors. The recent scandal with the NYT not only refusing to list self published books, but actually taking a book down from their ebook bestseller list after they accidentally placed it there isn’t helping, either.

    Myself, I think that traditional and independent published routes can co-exist side by side. Writers can and should be accepted as professionals regardless which side of the aisle they publish on, if they are producing professional work that readers are enjoying. Traditional publishing is not the “Great Evil” some make it out to be; nor is independent publishing going to doom literature. But it’s going to take a little bending, on both sides of the fence, for everyone to reach that accepting middle ground. Right now what I see is mostly “no second class self publishers allowed here” on one side, and “down with the man!” on the other. Neither point of view is particularly constructive or professional.

  47. Kevin, don’t forget that BookScan doesn’t track library sales and most of indie bookstore sales, which for many indie print books are THE sales channels. Get a good review in Library Journal, and about a half of your entire print run can go to the libraries right away–but BookScan doesn’t know about that.

    Totally agree on the membership requirements. Down with that! :)

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