Books-a-Million, America’s second largest bookstore chain, has entered the self-publishing business. Via the company’s new site diy.bampublish.com, authors can choose from publication packages starting at $59 to write, edit, and sell their work in ebook and/or print format on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Ingram and more. Writers can also track sales performance on the site. There’s more info on Publishers Weekly.
By 2012, Tina Engler was making upwards of $10 million a year in sales of titles published by her erotic literature imprint Ellora’s Cave. “But in 2013,” New York Magazine reports, “revenue dropped by more than $2 million, a trend that continued in 2014 and seems destined to continue this year.” Engler, who goes by the pseudonym Jaid Black, believes Amazon is the reason her year-over-year profits are falling.
“Without them, I never could’ve risen to the heights that I did,” she acknowledges of the e-tailer which is responsible for the bulk of her sales earnings. But, now, she says, Amazon has started delivering search results that directly compete with Ellora’s Cave titles “offering similar works by other authors, many of whom self-publish via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), at free or discounted rates—even when customers search specifically for one of her company’s books.”
Engler’s claims echo the complaints Hachette leveled against the e-commerce company last year in their protracted battle over e-book pricing. The standoff has since been resolved, but while new deals between publishers like Hachette and Simon and Schuster are reportedly “economically advantageous” the problem remains for writers and publishers who rely on one retailer to distribute their books.
In the first years of Ellora’s Cave, Engler digitally released the books herself for $4 or $5 apiece, accepting payment via PayPal, and individually emailing customers files. Her main marketing strategy at the time involved posting positive reviews of her own work on Amazon and similar sites. “Engler estimates that she made $40,000 after the first year, and come 2003, revenue was up to $1 million.” Considering her declining revenue and tense relationship with Amazon which declined to comment for the New York Magazine story, Engler is considering “new ways to create income for Ellora’s…that don’t involve Amazon.”
PBS’ MediaShift (which just launched an ebook line) has a great post up called “The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book.” Breaking down the process from developmental editing (the most pricey) to marketing and PR, writer Miral Sattar estimates it will run an author between $4,160 (low end) and $26,599 (high end) to self-publish a book of about 70,000 words (or, approximately 280 pages). As you might imagine, editing, cover design and marketing/PR carry the biggest price tags. Check out the full breakdown here and read the comments. Some insist you can self-publish for even less than the “low-end” price.
There’s a difference between a “self-publishing service” and a “vanity press” and three authors are suing Author Solutions for allegedly masquerading as the former when they are, in fact, the latter. Publishers Weekly quotes the filed complaint: “Defendants have marketed themselves as an independent publisher with a reputation for outstanding quality and impressive book sales. Instead, Defendants are not an independent publisher, but a print-on-demand vanity press.”
In the suit, plaintiffs Kelvin James, Jodi Foster, and Terry Hardy allege that Author Solutions (owned by Penguin) caused them to pay thousands for editing and marketing services that were either substandard or never happened. The authors also accuse the self-publisher of dubious royalty practices. Publishers Weekly explains, “The suit alleges that even authors listed as bestsellers on Amazon are told they have no reported sales, and, that it is difficult if not impossible to get a correct sales accounting. …The company’s true business is not publishing, the complaint stresses, but selling services to authors.”
Author Solutions has been among the biggest players in the rise of self-publishing with traditional publishers flocking to partner with them. Penguin acquired self-publishing start-up Author Solutions for $116 Million in July 2012, and soon after signed a first-look deal with Thruline Entertainment. Most recently, Simon & Schuster partnered with Author Solutions to form self-publishing imprint Archway Publishing. Publishers Weekly rightly points out the lawsuit, if it goes to court, could set a precedent. “[O]ne can certainly imagine a large contingent of similarly discontented self-published authors who would love a peek behind the self-publishing curtain.”
Starting May 1, 2013, The Bookseller reports, readers can download ebooks for free on Obooko.com. Copy on the site explains: “While many established authors create free ebooks to complement their print sales, more new writers are distributing their work free of charge on ebook download sites like obooko as a first step towards traditional publishing.” The site also gives writers a list of reasons why they should be interested in submitting their work for free download, one of them being, they don’t have to pay any self-publishing costs.
I’m skeptical of the benefit. At present, writers can already make their works available for free digital download; why do it through Obooko? Perhaps the main benefit is the site will likely be working to establish a community on their own and driving clicks to the site through advertising and publicity efforts. If that’s the only plus, writers are better off going through tested sites like Wattpad which spawned the career — and Random House book deal — of teen author Beth Reeks.
The Hollywood Reporter has posted an insightful roundtable discussion between six powerful literary agents that you should read. In the sit-down, Eric Simonoff (William Morris Endeavor), Sloan Harris (ICM), Kimberly Witherspoon (InkWell), Robert Gottleib (Trident, Christy Fletcher (Fletcher & Co), and Jodi Reamer (Writers House) talk everything from memorable query letters to celebrity authors to where they scout new talent. Regarding the latter, Harris noted that authors who can rise on the Amazon bestseller list — in other words, self-published authors — are quick to catch an agent’s eye.
“Our younger colleagues are reading blogs, are watching Amazon bestseller lists for books that may be unrepresented but are starting to pop,” Harris, who is 50, explains. He suggests self-publishing is how some new authors can hone their craft. “It’s encouraging to see the business learning how to create new places where writers can actually develop their voice and make money while they’re growing enough of a fan base to potentially jump over and join the commercial trade publishing side.”
Gottlieb added, “Amazon has created an opportunity for authors to be published who under normal circumstances would never be published because of the bottleneck of traditional publishing. We represent a book called The Abbey, a story of a Midwest homicide detective who’s a Muslim American. If I went out with that book to a traditional publisher, I would have a very hard time selling it. The book sold 1 million copies on Amazon, 350,000 copies on Barnes and Noble, and suddenly publishers start to notice.”
Barnes and Noble has relaunched their self-publishing service, Publishers Marketplace reports. In partnership with self-publishing software providers FastPencil, the new Nook Press (formerly known as PubIt!) will feature tools that enable authors to upload and revise a manuscript within the tool, and invite others to read and comment on the project.
According to Publisher’s Marketplace:
Nook says that self-published ebooks now comprise 25 percent of all monthly Nook sales (we’re inferring that’s in units.) They add that 30 percent of Nook customers purchase self-published ebooks every month, and they say title volume from self-published authors is growing by 24 percent each quarter at the Nook store.
As before, Nook Press pays through 65 percent of list price for ebooks between $2.99 and $9.99, and 40 percent of list for ebooks priced above and below those threshholds, with a minimum price of 99 cents and a maximum price of $199.99. They pledge “no hidden terms or fees,” so there are no file download charges deducted from author proceeds.
Get the full story here.
There’s been a lot of talk about how self-publishing benefits writers, but what about readers? For writers sick of knocking the iron door of literary agencies/the publishing industry without favorable answer, self-publishing has allowed them to get their stories out. But in a recent piece on The Guardian‘s website, Anna Baddely questions whether this flood of self-published stories is a good thing for readers.
“I find it very unlikely that someone looking for their next read would think: I want something by a self-published author,” she writes. “It would be like logging on to iTunes to buy some music and selecting, instead of rock/pop, a category called “songs recorded in people’s bedrooms”.” Ouch.
She adds, “let’s stop pretending that the self-publishing revolution has the reader’s best interests at heart.” Baddely even challenges the notion that self-publishing benefits the writers that take advantage of publishing platforms to release their work independently. “To get noticed,” she points out, “you either need to be very lucky or spend every waking hour manically self‑promoting.” Baddely says the only real winner are the booksellers who can move self-published works quickly as they tend to sell at a lower price.
By likening self-published titles to “songs recorded in people’s bedrooms,” Baddely references the stigma of low-quality (poor editing, bad cover design) usually associated with them. But, with self-publishing services teaming up with traditional publishers, and the industry becoming more sophisticated, that stigma is increasingly taking a back seat to news-makers like 17-year-old Beth Reekles who snagged a Random House book deal after self-publishing her work on Wattpad and Hugh Howey who recently inked a major deal with Simon and Schuster based on the success of his self-published series Wool. If Reekles’ and Howey’s success is any indication, readers appreciate having more titles to discover — whether they have the imprimatur of a traditional publisher or not.
But Baddely raises a great point about whether self-published writers benefit. Stories like Reekles’ and Howey’s are rare, as she points out; and with readers used to buying books (digital or physical) at increasingly lower prices, self-published authors earn less and less for their work even as they split the smaller pie with sales platforms.
We’re still at the beginning of the self-publishing wave, so it’s hard to know the legacy effect it will have on readers and writers, but we’ll be watching.
A month after author Joe Simpson went on camera to explain why he parted ways with Random House, the publisher recruited E.L. James and nine other authors to sing its praises, and that of publishers in general. With self-publishing tools enabling authors and agents to bypass publishers and Amazon offering more attractive returns on e-book sales, publishers have been forced to prove their value. Interestingly, James originally self-published Fifty Shades of Gray.
Random House’s authors argue that the publisher’s value lies in their vast amount of resources from copyediting to cover art to marketing. “Organizing the book tour that I did in the U.S.; doing some events here in the U.K. — as a self-publisher, that’s just so time-consuming,” James said.
Sir Terry Leahy added, “You hear nowadays, with the internet and digital, that people won’t need publishers, you know? They can self-publish, and so on. My experience at Random House really taught me how important the publishers’ contribution is.” Leahy and the others also touted the relationship with the publishers, noting the importance of having a team on the author’s side.
It’s important to note that the authors speaking on their behalf are among the publisher’s most successful which means they most probably got the “cosseting” writer Joanna Trollope is referring to. They also ignore the reality that authors — self-published or not — can’t afford to sit back and let the publisher handle the marketing alone. As author Ayesha Harruna-Attah pointed out in a recent interview, “Whether you go with a big publisher or a small one, you are ultimately the one who has to make sure people hear about the book.”
I think Random House could do better than this hard sell that doesn’t address why more and more authors are taking advantage of self-publishing tools to get their work out.
Authors are frustrated by most traditional publisher’s closed-door policy when it comes to submitting manuscripts. It can take years to find a literary agent (as it did in my case), and then years after that for an agent to sell a writer’s work. As a case-in-point, author Chinedu Achebe says he chose to self-publish because “because telling my story and getting it out was the most important thing to me. …I didn’t have time to write letters to different publishing houses to see if they would want my manuscript.” Additionally, the economics of self-publishing can be more advantageous for authors if they choose to distribute their work digitally or via print-on-demand services.
If I were Random House, instead of discussing relationships and copyediting, I’d be trumpeting the one main advantage publishers still have over self-publishing: upfront money. Even though book advances are apparently not what they used to be, it’s still a lump sum of cash, whereas self-publishing can requires thousands of dollars to cover printing and other costs.
As a secondary point, the editors’ expertise borne of years of experience in the business is important too. Publishers must have miles of data of readers’ buying habits down to gender, region, etc that is advantageous to writers for marketing as well as story editing.
That said, Random House and other publishers need to look at other ways to increase their attractiveness. Tor UK, for example, has done so by lifting the gates formerly kept by agents, allowing authors to submit manuscripts directly to editors. What do you think? What else can / should publishers do to prove their worth to authors?
As the publishing industry business model adjusts to the increased importance of digital sales and discovery, agents have also been adjusting to the new digital reality. They’ve allowed Amazon to circumvent publishers and work directly with authors, while others have extended their businesses to include film production based on their clients’ books. Now, UK literary agency Andrew Lownie has announced it’s launching a new imprint called Thistle Publishing.
Using Amazon publishing program White Glove, Thistle will “release e-books and print-on-demand copies of titles where the e-book rights are not controlled by a publisher” according to The Bookseller. In the piece, Lownie says the economics of Amazon’s program are just better for authors, and agents by extension. The White Glove program pays authors 70%, if the e-books are priced between £1.49 and £7.81.
He added, “Publishers will be left behind if they don’t adapt.” Just last month, bestselling author Joe Simpson parted ways with Random House citing disadvantageous e-book royalty rates.
Lownie said the agency was still focused on representing authors, but it made sense to expand into publishing. “There are some books that don’t fit the conventional model, where publishers don’t see the market for it, but we do — or they can’t publish it quickly enough.”
Fellow UK lit agency Curtis Brown has also partnered with Amazon. It launched a digital self-publishing program called Curtis Brown Creative via Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace in December 2012.