Does anyone remember Which-Way books? They were written with alternative endings so whoever was reading it could decide which way the story should go. Wouldn’t that be something if life was like that…if you could peek ahead and see what was going to happen depending on which choice you made?
I made the choice to retire seven years ago, and I made the choice last year around this same time, to listen to Julie Ortolon’s nagging (LOL) and self publish my backlist. Since then I’ve learned a lot. A LOT. Hell, I’ve even learned how to Tweet (@marshacanham) and how to do some, not all, of the social networking stuff I’m supposed to learn how to do in order to drive the readers crazy until they throw their hands up in the air and say okay okay I’ll buy your book just stop tweeting and twerping and being in my face every time I turn around. I’m sure that’s how it seems sometimes, which is why I’m not a very good social networker LOL. I post new stuff on Facebook if I’ve uploaded a new backlist book, and I Tweet occasionally, but even though there are some who say POUND POUND POUND the cyberairwaves with your name and your books…nah. Just can’t do it. I’ve had a great response to simply putting some of the books free for a week or two hoping that whoever downloads them will like them enough to tell two people and they’ll tell two people etc. Or even if they just download them and read them…that tickles me to death.
What if you’re a new author though? What if you’re sitting there with your first book in hand and it had gone through all the possible vetting choices out there…been edited properly, copyedited, revised to death, spellchecked, and passed the scrutiny of an unbiased non-family-member set of eyes…someone not afraid to tell you it was a piece of crap if, indeed, it was a piece of crap (Thank you Dianne Kelly even after all these years). Suppose the book has met all of the above criteria and you’re faced with the choice of sending it around to the publishing houses in the hopes of it making it onto the shelves of a bookstore one day…or bypassing the traditional route and publishing it yourself via Smashwords or Amazon.
It’s a hefty enough choice for a published author to make, and there are a lot of them out there sitting on out of print backlist books who are still undecided what to do with them. And there are a lot, like Connie Brockway and myself, who have already made the decision to go straight to ebook with our next brand spanking new books. But we have the weight of past experience behind us, whereas new authors only have the weight of indecision.
Some people will throw numbers at them, trying to show how much more they can make by publishing on their own. On paper it looks great…70% royalties to the indie author vs 6-8% for the traditionally pubbed print author (25% for ebook format). That’s one hell of a difference and most new authors will stop right there and go WOW…I’m IN.
Unfortunately, a lot of the time those numbers are thrown out to the world by authors who have already been published and have a track record. Or by authors who caught the wave early and write prolifically and know how to promote themselves and their books. Or by authors who lucked out, wrote a damned good book had two people tell two people who told two people…oddly enough, the same way it happens with trad publishing when a book by a first time author shoots up onto the bestseller lists.
But that’s not the normal progression. If they’re lucky, 99 out of 1000 indie authors will sell 2, maybe 3 books a week. If it catches some good buzz, 100/month, which is great because it boosts confidence and they write a second book and a third and…oddly enough, just like traditional publishing, their readership increases and they start selling more copies. I’m betting even the indie guru, Joe Konrath started out slow and worked his ass off to build momentum. That’s another small bit of info the enthusiasts neglect to mention. You don’t just sit back and watch the sales roll in. You have to promote, promote, promote. You have to spend a lot of money, sometimes, to get your book into places where it will be noticed, and don’t kid yourself that the promoters haven’t been catching their share of the wave too. One in particular started offering great sponsorship options starting at $52/for one day of advertising your book on their blog and web page. It’s now jumped to $149, which, for a new author with a new first book, is pretty darn steep. Even for me, who has discovered the meaning of the word “budget” since my divorce last year, it’s gone past reasonable.
Keep in mind, all of my experience is in the genre of romance, which happens to be the most popular genre in ebooks these days. I have no experience with horror or YA or Sci Fi, but I’ve read the comments from writers in those genres who aren’t exactly having a booming time of it.
There are *tricks* we all try, like offering coupons over at Smashwords, or lowering the price to .99 or even free for a limited time. But again, we all have backlists to fall back on, whereas the new writer with the single title can’t really afford to give it away, not unless he or she has 8 other books on the backburner ready to upload.
I briefly touched on the need for vetting books before they go live on the web. There are costs involved there too. Editing services can run into the hundreds for a big book. Covers can cost anywhere from $50 to $700. If you’re not a techie, there are people who will format your book file to the specs required by Smashwords and Amazon…for a price. Just getting an ISBN is $9.95. I’m not knocking capitalism by any means. Everyone is trying to eke out a living here and if they can do it by riding the same wave, more power to them.
I’m only trying to point out to the new author who has reached the fork in the road and is trying to decide Which-Way to go, that it isn’t as simple as clicking a few keys and uploading your file to Amazon.