Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Response to "Self-Publishing: The Myth and the Reality"

On Monday, Kensington Publishing Corp. CEO Steven Zacharius blogged over at Huffington Post about "Self-Publishing: The Myth and the Reality." Zacharius's post raised so many issues for me, I feel the need to respond. You may also like to read Bob Mayer's response on his blog here.

First, about me and self-publishing: I did not start out as a self-published author, which makes my need to respond all the more interesting. I shouldn't have a pony in this race, but, dude, when certain things happen in your industry, you have to speak out whether it's about you specifically or not. Despite the rather widespread belief that my book Hearts in Darkness was indie from the beginning, it was not. It was originally published by the small romance e-publisher, The Wild Rose Press. I have twelve books currently published - some with a NY publisher, some with a NY publisher's digital-first line, some with an up-and-coming boutique publisher, and one with an e-publisher. Since I received the rights back on my two Wild Rose Press titles, Hearts in Darkness and Forever Freed, I self-published both books earlier in 2013. This range of publishing experience makes me a "hybrid author," meaning I use a variety of publishing formats and distributors at the same time to reach readers.

About me and traditional publishing: I agree with a lot of the benefits and advantages that Zacharius attributed to working with publishers. My covers have been amazing, my editors have been wonderful to work with, I've had marketing support (to varying degrees), and have seen a few of my books in brick-and-mortars stores, in one case extensively. I've also had three titles hit the USA Today list and one the NY Times (none self-published). I am thrilled and fortunate to be working with my publishers.

My response to Mr. Zacharius:

1) Starting out with a discussion of vanity publishing in a discussion of self-publishing automatically colors the conversation in a negative light. Most of the self-published authors that I know - and it's not a small number - are businesswomen selling good to great numbers of books. To compare all self-publishing to vanity publishing reveals a lot about what Zacharius thinks of self-publishing. I find this to be a shame since hybrid authors like myself are more and more common, and are also working with New York, so why the need to denigrate such authors right out of the box?

2) Zacharius says, "Today, self-publishing has become a billion-dollar juggernaut. But don't quit your day job. Yet." Most self-published authors I know do not assume they will be wealthy enough from their work to quit their day jobs, so the condescension in this comment is kinda stunning. However, I do in fact know more than a few self-published authors who make a comfortable living from self-publishing alone. Whether authors do so or self-publish on the side of another job, this comment paints self-published authors as pie-in-the-sky dreamers rather than the business people I know most of them to be.

3) FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, CAN PEOPLE STOP SAYING THAT E.L. JAMES SELF-PUBLISHED???? The Writers' Coffee Shop, a small e-publisher, was the publisher of the Fifty Shades books before they sold to Random House. Why those in the media and apparently in the industry too can't get this basic fact straight - one which James points out on her own website - I'll never understand.

4) Zacharius's statement that there have been a "handful of success stories" is misleading. Are the super success stories common? No. Are they as rare as he characterizes? No. He managed to come up with four people: E.L. James (NOT SELF-PUBLISHED, as we've already established), Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, and Bella Andre. Um. Marie Force, Barbara Freethy, Courtney Milan, Hugh Howie, Eliza Knight, Rebecca York, Carrie Ann Ryan, Ann Mayburn, Tammara Webber, Jamie McGuire, Jay Crownover, J. Lynn, Abbi Glines, Colleen Hoover, Samantha Towle, Monica Murphy, Molly McAdams, Cora Carmack, Mimi Jean Pamfiloff, Lara Adrian, Laura Wright, Alexandra Ivy, Cynthia Eden, Jodi Ellen Malpas, Michelle Valentine, Kristen Ashley, Katie Ashley, Amy Bartol, Nicole Williams, M. Leighton, Georgia Cates, Gail McHugh, C.J. Roberts, Skye Warren, J.A. Redmerski, Jessica Sorensen, Madeline Sheehan, R.K. Lilley, Raine Miller, Kitty French, K. Bromberg, S.C. Stephens, Alethea Romig, Samantha Young, K.A. Linde, J.C. Reed, Kristen Proby. Anyone else getting tired of this laundry list of names? Actually, I'm not. I think it's more than a little awesome. [edited to add: see a great deal many more listed in the comments, some of whom are sharing sales and income figures]

These authors are mostly in the romance/erotic romance/New Adult/erotica genres. True. Many of these authors were discovered in part through the use of the .99 price point. True. But just as true: many of them have the titles New York Times or USA Today bestselling author in front of their name, and many of them - not a handful - were picked up by New York publishers. In these cases, the use of the .99 price point to achieve discoverability - by readers and agents/editors - can make business sense for authors.

5) Hitting the lists as an indie is nowhere near as rare as Zacharius makes it sound. As I write, 18 of Amazon's Top 100 Bestselling ebooks are self-published - not a majority, but not a "handful" of success, either. Let's also look at the number of self-published books hitting the USA Today list (these numbers don't count previously self-published authors who have now been picked up by New York and have books hitting lists):

12/12/13 - 2/150 (2/114 fiction titles; 36/150 were non-fiction)
12/5/13 - 8/150 (8/112 fiction titles; 38 were non-fiction)
11/28/13 - 11/150 (11/110 fiction titles; 40 were non-fiction)
11/21/13 - 9/150 (9/116 fiction titles; 34 were non-fiction)
11/14/13 - 11/150 (11/122 fiction titles; 28 were non-fiction)
11/7/13 -  9/150 (9/124 fiction titles; 26 were non-fiction)
10/31/13 - 13/150 (13/117 fiction titles; 33 were non-fiction)
10/24/13 - 9/150 (9/122 fiction titles; 28 were non-fiction)

It may not be a large percentage, but it's more than a handful and it's consistent. And, I expect if we go back into 2012 before a lot of the indie authors got picked up by Atria and Grand Central and Simon and Schuster, etc., the number week-to-week would be even higher.

6) Zacharius says, "Authors spend $1000 or more on these services (editing, design, and marketing)You can also just elect to put your title up on Kindle, iBooks, and Nook." Then he goes on to say some gobbledygook about how some self-published books are good but others aren't. (Just like, you know, some traditionally published books are good and some aren't. I found two copyediting mistakes in the first two pages of one of my favorite author's NY-published books.) Anyway. Most of the self-published authors pursuing publication of their books as a business are paying for professional editing, formatting, and cover art. So, yes, they're laying out money up front. But remember that those "low" royalty rates he cites are only true on ebooks priced below 2.99 (where you get 35% of cover on Amazon; 40% of cover on B&N). 

Many authors are also pricing books in the sweet spot (as identified by Smashwords's Mark Coker) between 2.99 and 5.99 (see also Dear Author's useful analysis of price points). And you know what they get then? 70% of cover on Amazon and 65% of cover on B&N. Dude. That means I'm making $2.09 on every copy of Hearts in Darkness ($2.99) I sell, for example. When the book was with TWRP, at 35% of net - still higher than what New York publishers pay (typically, 25% of net), I made about 76 cents a book. So, yes, self-published authors must lay out costs up front that a publisher would pay, but the trade-off is higher royalties. And that's just considering the financial, not the control of cover, format, release date, promotions, etc.

For each book or series, authors need to run a cost-benefit analysis, decide what their goals are for the books, and choose the best publishing route for them. Sometimes that might be working with a traditional publisher, sometimes that might be working with a digital publisher, and sometimes that might be self-publishing. All are valid and play a useful role in today's market.
Traditional, e-, and self-publishing can and do compliment one another on an author's list. There are readers who will always want print, and readers who will always prefer digital, and some willing to read both. So the most savvy authors and publishers will cater to the totality of available readership. It doesn't have to be an adversarial relationship, not from the author's point of view, anyway. And, fortunately, not from the point of view of the publishers I'm most regularly working with right now.
7) On the side of the advantages of being with a publisher, Zacharius says, "Once the book is ready to go, the publisher gets behind it with marketing and publicity efforts, and has already given the book the best cover and cover copy that money can buy." There's definite truth in this. But he says it as if it's totally unproblematic. The truth is, of course, that publishers don't do this evenly for all authors. Some books and some authors are marketed more enthusiastically than others. And some covers receive every special treatment there is, and some get font slapped on a stockphoto image (and can still be good, but they're not the best money can buy, for sure). All of this is just business, and I get it. But not all authors get the top-shelf treatment Zacharius lays out as "reality", no matter how much the ideal might be otherwise. Self-published authors know going in that marketing is all their job, so they're not disappointed when their publisher doesn't do it for them. And traditionally published authors still do a ton of their own marketing and promotion. More than that, NY publishers expect it.

8) Then there's his whole publishers can't compete paragraph - the 7th - that starts with, "As a publisher, my biggest concern is the clutter of the books being put out by the major publishing houses along with those that are just put up directly by authors," and ends with, "Free or reduced price books is not a viable business model for publishers." These it's not fair! concerns lead him to the stunning suggestion that, "In a perfect world (okay, in my perfect world) there would be a separate section on Amazon or B&N.com for self-published e-books, maybe even separate websites." DUDE. He thinks this will help readers distinguish the "good" books from the "clutter," but if readers are showing some preference for lower-priced books now, what does he think would happen if all the lower-priced books were on one website, and all the higher-priced books on another? I suspect the answer to that question is not one New York really wants. Because, Zacharius is right, "Readers don't purchase books based on who the publisher is and don't necessarily care." They just want a good story, and if that comes at a lower price point, all the better.

Also, it's worth noting that NY could lower prices somewhat (and they are), even if they went nowhere near that 99-cent price point. The end of agency pricing opens up opportunities, and a recent blog/article argued that the more competitive NY publishers can become on price in the coming year or two, the more pressure it will put on self-published authors [thanks for that link, Eliza Knight]. So the landscape is shifting, changing, ever in motion - that is the challenge of the past few years, and the lesson is adaptability in the face of that change. Those who can adapt - traditional and self-publishers alike - will succeed. Those who can't, won't. Or it'll be harder at the very least.

9) Then there's this bit of half-truth analysis: "several self-pubbed authors have been snatched up by the big houses. It remains to be seen how they perform, when the publisher then has to pay out a six-figure advance and raise the price of the book. So far those that have made the leap to traditional publishing have not proven to be very profitable ventures." I've already dispensed with the "several" assertion, so I won't address that again. As to the latter assertions, there's more at work here than just the author's viability - which seems to Zacharius to be the determining factor to the success of those books. It's all the author's fault, natch. How about a situation where a publisher buys a bestselling ebook after 100K copies have sold, and then they raise the price and hope it will still do well. Or the case where a publisher prints the paperback of a bestselling self-published ebook six months after it was digitally released and after 300K people have read the ebook - what are the chances that paperback will see a resurgence? Those would be challenging situations for any author to be successful in. And the reality is, a lot of those self-published bestsellers that NY is offering six-figure advances to bring in-house? Yeah, they'd been rejected by NY publishers again and again. Had they been more open to those books in the first place, they'd have gotten them a lot cheaper to begin with. I can think of more than one case where this scenario is true. All the more power to the author for taking the risk herself and being successful.

10) Zacharius's repeated use of "six-figure advances" and "million-dollar contracts" creates a limited definition of success. Most of us can make a comfortable living on less than those amounts. If you can, congratulations, you're successful. Most traditionally published authors are not making those kinds of advances or that level of annual income. Define monetary success by what works for you and your career and your family.

And, finally, because I'm so riled up this turned into a long-ass post and I've got bronchitis and damnit I wanted to veg on the couch and read Shelly Thacker's self-published backlist title Forever His that I bought today (along with the other two books in the series) rather than sit here and be riled up and research all these, you know, bothersome facts, on which to base my arguments. I digress. 

So, 11) finally, Zacharius ends with this: "Aspiring authors just need a dose of reality." Hey, I'm all for knowing the realities of the business in which you're engaged. That's just common sense and business savvy. But make sure the dose of reality you're choking down is based on a variety of perspectives and actual hard data. I'm afraid that wasn't what I saw from Mr. Zacharius at all. Instead, he lays out a landscape of either/ors and us/thems. Which is a shame because we're all in the same business of providing great content to readers, right? Why don't we see how we can work together to expand readership and get more books into readers' hands?

Did you make it to the end with me? LOL I'll be impressed if you did. *winks* What do you think???

Thanks for reading,
Laura

107 comments:

Kele Lampe said...

Yes. So much yes.

Char said...

Laura: first, hugs and virtual chicken soup for your bronchitis, which I've had several times over the years. NOT fun. Hope you're better very soon.

I see a lot of my own opinions about self-pubbing in your response, so all I can offer is a solid ITA, because as usual your voice of reason is a force to be reckoned with. One of the things I most appreciate about you is your ability to un-lump what never should be lumped together in the first place.

Great article!

Char Chaffin

Skye Warren said...

I know an author who turned down a low Kensington advance because she made more self publishing. The per-book advance was about what I made on my last book release--in a single week. I consider myself a mid-lister, at best, and yet my books hit way higher on the Amazon lists than Kensington erotica books do. And that's just number of sales, not taking into account the higher royalty.

So considering mid-list self publishers are earning more than his company's multi-book-deal authors, it's pretty ironic for him to be talking down to us. Maybe instead of telling self publishers not to quit their day job, he can start paying attention and taking notes.

Margaret Mallory said...

Great article, Laura! Thanks for taking the time to set the record straight.

After seven NY-published books, I'm going indie with my next series. I may go back to NY one day, but self-publishing makes better business sense for me at the moment. If I were a faster writer, I would probably do both.

Hope you feel better soon!

Margaret

Kelly Walker said...

I found your post from Jennifer Armentrout/J. Lynn's Facebook wall, and I am so glad I did.

Not just because I agree with ((EVERYTHING)) you said, but because it's just so encouraging. I pretty much ignored the article, because as a self-published author, I've grown more than tired of the continuous stream of articles like this. But, what really makes me happy to see is that such inspirational forces in the publishing business such as yourself and JLA are taking the time to speak out, adding your voices to the indie chorus in saying, "The sky isn't falling."

Last year it really seemed like traditional, hybrid, and indie authors stood to be pitted against each other. Now, I feel like I'm a part of a large, unbelievably awesome community, and we're all in this together to make the best choices we can for our books, our families, and our readers.

I'm so tired of the predictable responses when people I'm newly acquainted with learn I'm an independent author. Invariably, the responses are, "You don't really make much money at that, do you?" or, "Are you a millionaire yet?"
I define myself as successful, despite having not made millions, because I'm contributing significantly to my family's financial well being, doing something I love. But instead of seeing that, people's perceptions are colored by the media's tones of black and white and mistakenly believe self-publishers consist entirely of a select few millionaires and a whole bunch of wannabees. They can't see that myself, and many others are proudly and happily in the gray.

Thank you for being an intelligent voice of reason, offering exactly the dose of reality it was suggest that aspiring authors need.

Eliza Knight said...

Very well written, Laura!

The article to me, by Kensington's CEO, seemed more like a rant than anything. There were several conflicting statements throughout. It's sad that instead of embracing sp/hybrid authors, some pubs are attacking sps/hybrids.

I think you did an excellent job of pointing out all the positives with self-publishing. It really is a business decision, and while it might not be for everyone, I've really enjoyed the opportunity to do so myself, and with success. (Thanks or the shout out!) Hydridism is, in my opinion, the way to gain the most readership, and the best of both worlds.

Cheers and thanks for standing up!
Eliza

PS. Is this the link? http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2013/12/10/indies-getting-clobbered-big-name-ebook-discounts-reason-think/#.UrH9kvRDskQ

Vanessa said...

Hi Laura,

The article the guy wrote is just mean. I think he also fails to mention the cons on publishing traditionally. I have friends who are published traditionally and they have had the case where depending on the publisher if they haven't sold out of their advance the publisher wouldn't publish anymore of their stories.

Thank you for tackling the subject, I personally don't care how an author publishes.

I also wanted you to know about the Blog post by Elana Johnson wrote and I agree with it entirely

http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/2012/06/self-publishing-traditional-publishing.html

"I don't care how you're published, I just don't care, if you write and produce book that sounds good I'll buy." Also to the post by Victoria Scott when she got her book deal with Scholastic and people finally considered her published. An author's chosen route is personal and based on their needs as an author

Laura Kaye said...

YES! Eliza Knight for the win! Thanks for the link, my friend!

And thanks everyone for all the comments and reactions!

Steven Zacharius said...

You have totally changed around the tone of my blog. The fact of the matter is that there are very few successes in self-publishing in relationship to the number to traditional bestsellers that are generated by publishers. I don't have a problem with self-publishing at all and if an author wants to go that route, it's fine. I just wanted to point out the reality that despite the media hype, it's not nearly as profitable as one might think. Furthermore most of the successes that you mention on the Kindle list are books that are super low priced and even with the agency model you'd have to sell an enormous amount of copies to make a substantial money. Also let's not forget that by self-publishing an ebook you're missing out on 70% of the business that comes from printed physical books.

Christi Snow said...

Fantastic post, Laura! Feel better soon!!!

Steven Zacharius said...

Also in regards to the comment that Skye Warren made about an author that turned down a low advance from us....what about the potential of royalties? Is that a fact that should be ignored. I find that just about everyone who self-publishes is very defensive about their position but when a publisher comes along and tries to give an honest assessment about the marketplace, they get attacked. All I was doing was giving my opinion based on my familiarity with the business and I am familiar with both sides. We have bought books from many self-published authors and I have met very few that wouldn't rather be published by a traditional publisher; of course there are exceptions. I'd be happy to have an open dialog and continue the conversation further if you'd like.

Steven Zacharius
Kensington Publishing Corp.

Hildie McQueen said...

Great post Laura. So much is changing and although I truly believe the day will come when Indie Authors are not considered the lower class, it's still smarts when reading articles like the one you replied to. Thank you for being a voice that speaks up for us.

Bronwen Evans said...

A reader doesn't care less who a book is published by - they care about the book. I think he's forgotten that. What readers care about is value for money, fabulous read.

I'm a hybrid author and I'm loving it. The self pubbing option allows me to make enough money to keep writing. Without it I'd never have been able to quit my day job!

lisekimhorton said...

Thanks for this erudite response to the article, Laura (from one woman brought low by the infernal cold bug to another). I think that Zacharius' words/opinon is one echoed often in varying ways by a lot of the "traditional" print houses (as opposed to the digital houses). And to me it usually smacks of fearful protestation against what is actually a vast and growing competitor to their own operations. And to add to the discussion my own opinion - which they don't seem to care to investigate is WHY authors choose to go the self-pub route (in addition to what you mention)except to assume it is all about money, or because those authors are not professional enough to be educated about their choices and options: Because self-publishing offers an author an opportunity to publish a story outside of the "acceptable" box that these bigger houses tend to demand. Push envelopes, tweak tropes, mash genres. Creatively, self-publishing offers something they do not. A chance to be different.

Laura Kaye said...

Mr. Zacharius - thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and comment.

"You have totally changed around the tone of my blog." --I respectfully disagree and used your own words as much as possible so they could stand for themselves, but admittedly tone is a very subjective thing.

"The fact of the matter is that there are very few successes in self-publishing in relationship to the number to traditional bestsellers that are generated by publishers." --I never suggested successful self-publishers were a majority, but neither are they rare. Since I posted my list of nearly 50 authors, I've received dozens of other author name suggestions. It's less and less rare everyday.

"let's not forget that by self-publishing an ebook you're missing out on 70% of the business that comes from printed physical books" --I completely agree, which is why I repeatedly agreed that traditional publishers can offer certain advantages and authors need to decide what their goals are for each book.

Thank you,
Laura Kaye

Bronwen Evans said...

Steve - we understand what you're trying to say but I think you may need to do a bit more homework because there are a few generalizations that should be pointed out. For instance in the ROMANCE market I think you'll find eBooks are a higher % in the books to ebooks ratio. In ROMANCE market what is the number of mid-list authors in TP who are doing well. I'd say it's probably about the same as the number of SP authors doing well.

The biggest problem is your definition of doing well. I'm doing really well in SP, better than I'm doing with your publishing house and yes price is key. I can sell my book at $2.99 and still make more money per book than I make off any book with you at an eBook price of $8-9. Don't blame the authors when what I suspect your more upset with is the $. How can TP compete with SP when an author can price below you and still make more money.

I would suggest that most mid list authors makes more money Self-publishing than working with a publisher. I know I do.

Publishers don't always get it right. I gave K a book which was positioned totally wrong, no one in K listened to me, and I paid the price for that. SP gives me the control to make my own mistakes, but also to gain all of the reward.

I think you'd be surprised how many of my SP fellow authors are making enough to live off. YET most of my TP mid-list counterparts don't. It's simple maths. As a SP you get a bigger cut of the margin, you can run specials whenever you like, and you can set your own publishing calendar.

As of today, I haven't seen anything from any TP that would make me wish to give up SP. That says it all really...

funny in the 'hood said...

This is a FANTASTIC post, Laura. You really nailed it.

Best,

Tracey Garvis Graves

Jennifer L. Armentrout said...

I'm not sure bringing royalties into the conversation works when comparing traditional, self-publishing, and small presses. I mean, if you're not getting a significant sized advance (of course based on the book and the market), the royalty structure would have to be better than 25% of net on e books.

As a hybrid author and like Laura, I recognized the benefits of traditional and self-publishing based on the book and it's needs. For example, I'm not sure if I'd self-publish a young adult book since that's a heavy print market. New Adult and Adult is fair game.

What get's me about the original article and something that sticks with me is the definition of success here. It comes across, and maybe that wasn't the intention, is that it centers all around monetary success. That you have to be making millions to be successful as a writer, and the fact is, I can count just as many self-pub’d authors as there are traditional that consistently make that kind of money. It’s rare in both forms when you really think about the amount of authors traditional pubs have and how many are self-publishing. But in reality, many authors are monetary successful without those six-figure deals or breakout self-pub hits.

And I seriously hope Amazon never get’s it in their head to do a separate website for self-pub’d books. I don’t think that would benefit traditional or even small press publishers very much. That would probably be like the last ten nails in the coffin.

Valia Lind said...

Basically, You're fantastic. The end.

Steven Zacharius said...

I'd like to add one more comment if I may and thank you for the opportunity to respond. I never defined success as making millions of dollars. Very few authors make millions of dollars. My overall point is that the media gives a lot of attention to a few select cases where the self-published author has made a ton of money....yes a lot of money. This is not the overwhelming majority of self-published authors. That's all I was trying to point out in the article that the media can make it sound much more profitable than it really is. By an enormous majority, most SP books don't sell a lot of copies. Yes you mentioned a long list of authors, but there are thousands that sell just a few copies...that was the point of my article.

Also the point about many self-published titles making the Kindle list or NYT list is very misleading because the lists are based on unit sales. If a book is listed at a low price of $ .99, you can move a lot of units but your sales volume is still very low in contrast to the traditionally published books at a higher price....so lists are not the best barometer of how successful an author actually is. Revenue is the bottom line.

Agency pricing has not ended. It was only four of the biggest publishers that got in trouble with the DOJ and of course Apple got crucified as well. Books still have a suggested digital list price at all major ebook retailers. The fact that Amazon is now able to discount the book and sell it at a loss is an entirely different topic. Predatory pricing is going to force most other retailers out of business because they're not large enough to absorb the loss like Amazon can. Amazon still pays the publisher based on the DLP of the book even though they sell it at a loss; also not a viable business model for the long term.

Thank you again for the opportunity to have this dialog. Kensington does have a digital first imprint called eKensington and we have published many many first time authors. We are totally familiar with the romance genre and yes as one of the comments said; romance can be a higher percentage of ebooks than the customary 30% of the business. But this is primarily for erotica because many of the retailers won't sell erotica. But for traditional romance, ebook sales still run about 30% of the total business.

Steven Zacharius said...

I'd like to add one more comment if I may and thank you for the opportunity to respond. I never defined success as making millions of dollars. Very few authors make millions of dollars. My overall point is that the media gives a lot of attention to a few select cases where the self-published author has made a ton of money....yes a lot of money. This is not the overwhelming majority of self-published authors. That's all I was trying to point out in the article that the media can make it sound much more profitable than it really is. By an enormous majority, most SP books don't sell a lot of copies. Yes you mentioned a long list of authors, but there are thousands that sell just a few copies...that was the point of my article.

Also the point about many self-published titles making the Kindle list or NYT list is very misleading because the lists are based on unit sales. If a book is listed at a low price of $ .99, you can move a lot of units but your sales volume is still very low in contrast to the traditionally published books at a higher price....so lists are not the best barometer of how successful an author actually is. Revenue is the bottom line.

Agency pricing has not ended. It was only four of the biggest publishers that got in trouble with the DOJ and of course Apple got crucified as well. Books still have a suggested digital list price at all major ebook retailers. The fact that Amazon is now able to discount the book and sell it at a loss is an entirely different topic. Predatory pricing is going to force most other retailers out of business because they're not large enough to absorb the loss like Amazon can. Amazon still pays the publisher based on the DLP of the book even though they sell it at a loss; also not a viable business model for the long term.

Thank you again for the opportunity to have this dialog. Kensington does have a digital first imprint called eKensington and we have published many many first time authors. We are totally familiar with the romance genre and yes as one of the comments said; romance can be a higher percentage of ebooks than the customary 30% of the business. But this is primarily for erotica because many of the retailers won't sell erotica. But for traditional romance, ebook sales still run about 30% of the total business.

Felicity Heaton said...

Thank you for writing this, Laura Kaye!

As an author who went indie in 2006 after being with an e-publisher, I appreciate your support and putting these corrections out there.

I've been a full-time indie author since 2011, and I've just realised that I've sold over 500,000 copies of my ebooks since Jan 2011 until today (that figure doesn't include free books). I'm not selling everything at 99c either and I am a USA Today best-seller.

There are so many people like this man out there who don't really understand what they're talking about and don't have all the facts, and write biased posts.

I chose not to approach NY with my books because I knew I could reach my intended market by myself, and wouldn't have to surrender creative control to someone liable to butcher my book to suit a market. I didn't want to see my books altered beyond recognition by editors. I wanted to give the reader what they wanted from me, and I believe this shows in the reviews for my latest stories.

I also agree that editing mistakes happen in ALL books, whether they're self-published (not vanity - for God's sake there's a difference) or published by NY. I find errors in all my favourite NY authors' books.

Thanks again for writing this post and defending indies and hybrid authors!

Steven Zacharius said...

As I mentioned earlier hitting higher on lists with books priced at a low point does not equate to making more money. The lists are based on unit sales rather than $ sales. So a book priced at $5.99 can make more money than a book that's higher on the list at $1.99.

Sharon Stogner said...

Reader and reviewer here. What is the difference between SP books and TP books to a reader? The advantage of buying a book from a TP, is it has already gone through the query stage and cherry picked from the tons of slush a publisher gets. In the SP world there is no screening process for a book to be put out there so the readers have to sift through all the slush to find the gems. That is where reviewers/bloggers come in. We do that for readers. There is an incredible amount of bloggers out there covering every genre nitch. We are an important part of the SP ebook marketing model and have finger on the pulse of that industry.

I think the gap between ebook sales and print sales is going to slowly close. Right now there is a demographic of readers who but more ebooks. But looking long term, they are passing on their reading habits to their children, and schools will probably start incorporating more ereaders into the system (cheaper than print textbooks) which will make a whole new generation of readers comfortable with ebooks and making them more of the norm. I have no facts to back this up, it is just my opinion and only time will tell.
(I am typing this from my iPad and can't scroll back to edit so sorry about any typos).

Steven Zacharius said...

You may very well be right Sharon. The future is unknown yet. There are people who believe that the people who will buy ereaders have already bought them; I don't agree with that though. Bloggers are definitely a vital part of the SP model and one of the most critical parts. That's why many publishers send out complimentary copies or net galleys of books to many bloggers. Thank you for what you do.

Felicity Heaton said...

Steven - I think you're missing the point of this. No one is talking about money except you. I don't write because I have dollar signs in my eyes and view readers are a quick way of making a buck (or pound as I'm British). The writers who do that probably make up the bulk of the authors who don't make many sales.

I write because I'm passionate about giving readers the great books they deserve, and because I'm obsessed with writing stories I want to read. I would write if I was selling a book for $10 or giving it away for free.

I just happen to make a damn good living at from my writing, and from being indie, and I count my blessings for that (but it is also the product of hard work, not good luck). But I have sold 500,000 copies of my books in 3 years, and I have probably given away closer to a million. That should tell you not all of us are out to make a fortune.

So what if a book selling at $1.99 but is higher on the list makes less money than one selling less at $5.99? It's not about the money to me and many authors out there. It's about reaching readers and giving them stories and characters they will remember for years to come, and to give them an escape from this world for a few short moments.

But if you want to talk money, I'm full time, I'm indie, and I make a better living than most TP authors I know. It's a fact that many authors who are currently TP would make a better living as hybrid, and that many TP authors are going hybrid or indie.

In fact, one of my favourite authors, Lara Adrian, has just announced she's leaving her NY publisher to go indie!

Laura Kaye said...

To your last point, Felicity, Carly Phillips just did the same thing.

Sharon Stogner said...

To people in the publishing industry sucess = money. That is how they stay in business. It used to be authors needed publishing houses to make money. Now the tables have turned and authors have another option. The publishers now NEED authors more than authors need them.

Stacey O'Neale said...

I tweeted this.

Laura, your badassness has no limits!

Seriously fantastic response!

Trish said...

Agree with everything you said Laura, and I could have easily added another 100 names of successful, full time authors self-publishing that the media, and Steven Zacharius have never even heard of.

He claims self-publishing success stories are rare. He's wrong. All it takes it consistently watching the Kindle Store's best sellers lists, or B&N's top 100 to see how many self-published authors are making a very nice living.

I'm tired of this constant, uninformed claim that self-publishing success stories are an anomaly. I think it's time we started collecting names and sales/income data of all the self-publishers out there making a good living on their writing. For balance, we can also collect the names of all the solely traditional authors doing the same- as well as the hybrids.

Trish said...

Steven, yes there are thousands of self-publishers not selling many books. Of course, when it comes to self-publishing every self-published author is included in this statistic, whether they are fledgling authors or experienced authors. Unlike traditional publishers where no one ever takes into account the thousands of authors who never make it past the querying stage. Except Hugh Howie, who addresses this point here. http://www.hughhowey.com/youre-looking-at-it-wrong/

As for this comment you made. "If a book is listed at a low price of $ .99, you can move a lot of units but your sales volume is still very low in contrast to the traditionally published books at a higher price....so lists are not the best barometer of how successful an author actually is. Revenue is the bottom line."

To sell enough books to make any of the lists the books have to be selling in excess of 2000 books a day (and most of the time alot more) in the kindle store alone. Even at .99 and 35% royalty that's $750 a day and that's the kindle store alone. Add another couple of hundred for the other distributors and you're looking at least at a $1000 dollars a day. And that's a pretty damn good day's wage. A .99 book at the bottom of the Kindle store can easily earn 30K a month.

Just because a 5.99 book will make it's author more money in the same circumstances doesn't negate the $1000s of dollars those .99 cent books are bring their authors.

Amy BradyKilpatrick said...

Awesome reply to a very negative post. I am not looking to make a million dollars, but to be able to express my creativity. If someone buys it yeah me, if not I was able to put my thoughts down :D

JA Coffey said...

Great post! As an indie author who just made the leap to leaving her "other" job for a full time writing career, I appreciate the time you took to craft a response. Hope you managed to get some chicken soup and dive into a good book. :)

David Wright said...

I agree with Trish. Sure, MOST self-pubbed authors aren't making a living off of their work. But I'd guess that MOST traditionally published authors (taken as a whole to include all published authors as Mr. Zacharius seems to be doing with the self-pubbed) aren't, either.

See, it's easy to make broad generalizations when you don't have all the facts.

Amanda said...

Interestingly enough, I know a LOT of previously traditionally-published authors who were finally able to quit their day job once they went indie. When you're making nearly 10 times the royalty rate you can afford to sell many less copies and still be profitable.

To quote one of my friends who still has some books with Kensington:

Dear Steve:
I made $250 in royalties with Kensington last quarter. I made six figures self-publishing. You do the math.


And she's not one of the handful of names that's batted around when people talk about self-pub success stories, either, even though she quite obviously is.

Anonymous said...

I have some more names to add to your list of successful self-publishers, Laura:

Gemma Halliday
Jana DeLeon
Liliana Hart
Theresa Ragan
Angie Fox
Mimi Strong
Joe Nobody
H.M. Ward
Deanna Chase
Marie Hart
Danielle Monsch
Lolita Lopez
Elle Casey
Suzanna Medeiros
Minx Malone

All of these are earning in excess of six figures. Some in excess of 7.

And this isn't even taking into consideration the legions of self-pubbers who are earning into the 5-figures...or even just 4 figures (remember, the average Kensington advance is something like $5000).

4-figures isn't going to allow someone to quit their day job or support themselves on writing alone, but it can mean paying bills.

I know he wants to believe that the average self-pubber is earning less than $100 per year, but that just isn't true.

Melanie said...

Well said! I tweeted this. People need to hear both sides

I may not earn as much as many romance writers, but as a SFF writer, I am able to pay my bills from my self-published works. My kids tell me they don't want me to get a job. Writing is my job and it allows me to give my kids what they want--a stay-at-home mom! I consider myself successful, and I did it without a publisher.

Crissy Moss said...

Yes, if a book is priced at 5.99 instead of 99 cents, and sold the same amount, then it would make a lot more money. But for who?the publisher or the author? If it's a traditionally published work, then it's the publisher that just made bank, and the author would get about the same.

But, with self publishing there is the option of quickly adjusting prices, adding more books within months, weeks, or even days, adjusting deals, marketing, and more. All at the touch of a button.

For mid list authors it just makes more sence to self publish, and have control over what we created. Not lose control and make someone else money.

Maia Sepp said...

Thanks for posting this, Laura. It's awesomesauce.

Steven Zacharius said...

Anonymous lists a bunch of people who are making in excess of six figures. How would anyone know what these people are actually making? Most authors are very quiet about their earnings.

Let me reiterate, you can list 500 names if you want but there are 10's of thousands that are self-published, so you're missing my point about the average self-published writer.

Amanda commented about an author who made only $250.00 in earnings last quarter with Kensington. I don't know if that's an ebook or a print book...I'd have to assume an ebook since it was a quarterly payment. My blog was really about comparing self-publishing to traditional publishing including print books, not just ebooks.

Trish your example of a book being at the bottom of the Kindle store make $30,000 a month is not reality. Did you mean to say the bottom of the Kindle bestseller list? Maybe I misunderstood you. But even then, most books don't stay on the bestseller list all that long, just like the printed NYT list...they change from week to week with a few superstars who manage to stay on for months at a time.

Sharon, publishers have always needed authors. That's our business obviously. But to say we now NEED them like there's a shortage is totally incorrect. Publishers do not need authors more than authors need them. If this were the case why wouldn't the huge superstars of writing be entirely self-published. Stephen King did it once I believe. What about Patterson, Child, Flynn, Roberts,...all the names everyone knows. Why aren't they self-publishing instead of staying with traditional publishers?

Steven Zacharius said...

Thank you for letting me reply to your comments. It's time for me to write my next blog and maybe I will do one shortly talking about the benefits of self-publishing of which there are indeed many.

Sharon Stogner said...

those big names that haven't jumped to self-pub probably have contracts that don't let them. I know those exist because authors talk about them at convention panels. I thought Stephen King has done some publishing on his own. Also big authors don't have time to manage a self-pub career with all their other commitments. If you are a big name the publisher will do your promotion and other things for you and that is probably worth its weight in gold to them.

Magda Alexander said...

You're my hero, Laura. But then, you've been one for a while.

To add to your rebuttal. As you know I self-published my debut novel in July. I will have received $5,200 plus in royalties by the end of December, which is enough to make the Published Authors Network at Romance Writers of America. That's a standard of success measured by a professional organization of writers. But even more fabulous, I'm very happy about the reception my book has received. Readers send me emails, post on my FB page sign up on my mailing list. Most of them say they can't wait until the sequel is out. I've touched the lives of thousands of readers who've taken the time to give me a 4.8 average rating on Amazon and 4.39 on Goodreads. Mr. Zacharius obviously doesn't have a clue what's happening in self-publishing. I'm just glad Mr. Bezos, a forward-thinker and a freakin' marketing genius gave me the ability to do all of this.

Deanna Chase said...

Steve:
I don't know who Anonymous is that posted that comment about 6 figure authors (of which I am one), but I can guess which writer forum he/she may have come from.

We talk. That's how the person knows. We share information and numbers about self-publishing because we can. Also, we can watch rankings and get a pretty good idea how many books an author is moving. Knowing the royalty rate, we can make educated guesses for self-pubbed work.

Self-published authors stick together and help each other where we can. Sharing numbers is one of those ways.

Roxie Rivera/Lolita Lopez said...

Steve,

Since you asked: Anonymous lists a bunch of people who are making in excess of six figures. How would anyone know what these people are actually making? Most authors are very quiet about their earnings.

*I* am one of those authors that anonymous listed. I write as Lolita Lopez (traditionally for FY/Grand Central, Ellora's Cave, Mischief/Harper Collins UK) and as Roxie Rivera for my indie/self-pub work.

As Roxie, I have sold in excess of 90K copies of my books since the summer (up to the beginning of Dec 2013 where my sales tally ends.) The bulk of those sales (90%) is at the $3.99 and $7.99 price point. You can do the math, I'm sure.

As Deanna Chase pointed out above me, authors are becoming increasingly more transparent. Hell, there is a list *publicly* available at KBoards of self-pub/indie author sales. Amazon and B&N ranks are readily available as are the general sales numbers required to hit those ranks. Again--it's pretty simple math to verify those sales.

Some of us are also members of closed/private forums and loops where we discuss all those nitty gritty details like advances, royalty rates, options/firsts rights clauses, basket accounting, print runs, etc. Believe me. We're all making our career decisions with eyes WIDE open.

All Best,

Lo/Roxie

Greg Strandberg said...

You know, I'm sure a lot of CD manufacturers were pretty miffed at Apple and lashed out, kicked their feet, and even fell down to pound their fists into the floor sometimes. Strangely, I haven't heard much from them lately. Huh, go figure.

rosalindi said...

Wonderful post. Thank you. I'd say Kensington turned my first book down, but they didn't even bother to respond. But no worries, they were in good company--38 agents and publishers turned it down. Turned out it got to #85 overall on Amazon. Huh. Who knew? And yeah, it was 99 cents when it did. But my latest was $3.99 and got to #225, and that ain't too shabby.

I am SO GLAD all those folks turned me down! I made $178,000 in my first 12 months self-publishing, doing a whole lot better since (16 months in now). I'm not unique. I'm not one of the most successful authors. But I've been able to control all facets of my books' production and marketing, and I'd argue that I've done it pretty nearly as well as a publishing house would have. As someone who puts out a book every 3 months, I'm sure glad I can write and produce on my schedule and nobody else's, because that's been a huge factor in my success.

And yes, I've been approached by a traditional publisher. I said no, for now, though I'm not closing the door. I think there's value in both approaches, but for me, and for many, this has worked. It's a new world, still shaking out. But many are succeeding in it.

--Rosalind James

Cora Seton said...

I had to laugh about the comment that authors don't disclose their income. On the writers' forum I frequent we talk income ALL the time!

Sign me up as an author who quit her day job this year. I earned just under $40,000 since self-publishing my first novel this May. My costs were far less than $1000 a book.

It never fails - two or three days after I release a novel, readers ask when the next one will come out. I don't think there is a traditional publisher in the world who could keep up with my release schedule. I will have something new for my readers almost every month in 2014.

Self-publishing gives me total control over my books and rewards me for my hard work and dedication. If I want to promote them, I decide when, where and how. If I want to change a cover, I change it. If I feel like holding a sale, I hold one. If I don't like how it's going, I stop it.

At this point I don't know what a traditional publisher could do to convince me to switch to their model.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Steven Zacharius said...
"My overall point is that the media gives a lot of attention to a few select cases where the self-published author has made a ton of money....yes a lot of money. This is not the overwhelming majority of self-published authors."

Nor is do the overwhelming majority of traditionally inclined authors. It is, in fact, a false comparison since it leaves out the huge majority of authors who try to publish traditionally who never make it out of the slush pile or those who manage to get one novel published and are promptly dropped.

Making a living at writing isn't easy, but you don't have to be a best seller in the indie world in order to do it. I know dozens of authors, like me, who do so and I don't write either erotica or romance either.

Isobel Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trish said...

Sorry for the confusion Steven.

When I said at the bottom of the Kindle Store, yes I meant #1-30 in the entire Kindle store. The bestselling books in the Kindle store.

From your comments it's obvious you haven't been watching the best seller list, so it’s understandable why you’d be unaware of how many self-publishing success stories there are.

And yes, there have been many .99 books that have remained at the bottom of the Kindle store for weeks. Anyone who watches the Kindle store and many of us do, will tell you this is not an exaggeration.

As for your question about how we know the income self-published authors are making. Many self-published authors are transparent about their numbers. Like Denise Grover Swank, another author making 6 figures that no-one has mentioned, who recently posted on her face book page she’d SOLD 169,000 books so far this year. Self-publishers have educated themselves; they can look at an author’s rank and tell if they are exaggerating.

It’s simple to estimate how much income a book is earning in the Kindle store. There are plenty of rank to sales charts, and plenty of rank to sales threads at the Kboards/Writers cafĂ©. If you know how many sales a rank brings in, and you know the royalty rate per price, you can calculate how much any book is earning.

This is a pretty accurate sales to rank chart, http://www.theresaragan.com/p/sale-ranking-chart.html


Isobel Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zoe York said...

If I went the trade published route, there's a good chance that I'd still be querying my first novel. If I managed to get an offer, that first book might be sitting in an editor's queue right now.

Instead, I'm getting my third novel ready to be published. I've made more than any standard advance I could expect as a debut contemporary romance author. Sure, it's not enough to quit my day job over, but neither would that advance. Or the one after that, if I was lucky enough to get it. And when would that come? A year after submission? Two?

Working with a publisher only has advantages to me if/when we're talking about big advances and guaranteed print runs. Until then, there's nothing that they offer that I can't procure for myself on my own schedule and at surprisingly reasonable costs. Which I'll recoup pretty quickly, and then all subsequent earnings are mine and mine alone.

rosalindi said...

I think the point is, if you have any reasonable success at all, you're going to do so much better self-publishing, money-wise, until you get into the stratosphere. And how many years will that take? I made a living from MONTH ONE, and got paid that money two months later.

It cost me $1400 to publish my first three books. $1100 for a professionally created website, which I'd have had to shell out however I was published, and $300 for three book covers. That's it. I recouped that within about 12 days of publication.

--Rosalind James

heatherhildenbrand said...

I just read this entire post and every comment. It was its own bestseller. I couldn't put it down. Well written and easily the best debate about the subject in a long time! Thanks!

Adam Geen said...

Awesome post, Laura!

Steve had asked about the other big authors jumping ship...

I don't see it happening for a variety of reasons. Patterson is his own enterprise at this point. Is he really going to waste time and try to start all over again when he's got a corner of Little Brown all to himself already?

Some authors are just way too big. They would probably become a hybrid if anything.

And Steve, Vince Flynn is dead (RIP) so he can't very well self publish now can he?

mimi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liza O'Connor said...

Excellent article. Self publishing is changing the industry and does threaten the big houses, but it is also removing barriers between author and readers allowing readers to read what they want and authors to write what they want. I for one, love it.

Mimi said...

Somehow, I've managed to get over the shame of people discovering I self publish.

By the way, Steven, I'm totally open to print-only deals on any of my books. Please, take some of the 70% of the business that print still comprises. No reasonable offers refused. No agents to negotiate with. Just a dozen or so great books, ready to go. Call me.

Gemma Halliday said...

Someone was kind enough to let me know that my name was mentioned here today...
To confirm Anonymous’ rumor--yes, I did make in excess of 7 figures last year. I’m happy to talk real numbers any time. :) And speaking of real numbers, I spent exactly $10 publishing my first self-published book.

I have to agree with Mr. Zacharius that not all self-published books are created equal, and some are not marketable, are not edited well, do not have professional covers, etc. Those authors can probably expect to make much less than other authors who self-publish at a professional level. All very true. But I would venture to guess that if one were to look at the NY Times Bestsellers list, the only way one could tell a publisher-published book from a self-published book would be by reading the listed publisher.

There may be proportionally more stinker books put out by self-published authors than publisher-published author, but there are also way more self-published millionaires.

P.S. I also make more money from and sell more copies of my self-published PRINT backlist than I do my publisher-published print backlist.

Terrence OBrien said...

By an enormous majority, most SP books don't sell a lot of copies. Zacharius

By an enormous majority, most books submitted into the traditional publishing system don't sell any copies.

Vivienne Westlake said...

I have been self publishing for two years. My second book earned over $5K in royalties within the first 4 months, earning me a spot in RWA's Published Author's Network. Traditionally published authors have a much lower threshold at $1K for one book. There are authors with multiple titles who did not earn entry to PAN with their traditionally published books.

I doubt I would have received more than a $4-6K advance on the book and the likelihood of me paying back the advance and making enough to cover reserves against returns on the first royalty statement is slim at best. I think I spent about $500-$600 on editing and promotion for that book. I would call this a win and my earnings are on the lower end compared to friends.

And as far as the list anonymous gave, I know seven of the authors on that list and can confirm that they have made six figures or more in royalties.

I agree that not everyone sells enough books to earn that much, but it takes a lot less books to earn $10,000 through self publishing at $2.99 than it does a NY published title where the price is higher but the author receives only 15-17% of net. And print royalties might be 8-15%, so you are counting on the wider distribution and whatever marketing (if any) that the publisher gives you. The reality is that many authors won't sell through their advance and do not receive much marketing support from their publishing house.

Yes, there are authors self-publishing who sell maybe 100 copies a year. But I know a lot of romance authors selling 100+ copies a month - and much more.

Suzanna said...

Anonymous knows what I made because I posted my 2013 sales figures and earned income on a private forum earlier this week. Never heard of me? I expected as much, but that doesn't mean I'm not doing well. In fact, I think it proves the point that there are a lot of authors who are making a living going it alone. When I released my first indie work last December, I would have been ecstatic to make $3,000 per month this year ... never in a million years did I expect that I'd make six figures (just barely, though!) We were able to pay off our mortgage this year because I chose to self-publish rather than go the editor/agent route, something I'm thankful for every day. If I had, I'd probably still be waiting for my first book to be published. And that's *if* I'd managed to sell it since NY isn't exactly jumping to acquire new historical romance authors.

Christina Jean Michaels said...

Steve said: "Sharon, publishers have always needed authors. That's our business obviously. But to say we now NEED them like there's a shortage is totally incorrect. Publishers do not need authors more than authors need them."

I have to respectfully disagree. True, publishers have always needed authors. And true, I doubt there's a shortage of authors wanting to publish their work, but what it really comes down to is readers. Publishers need authors AND readers, for without either they wouldn't have a business. Authors just need readers and a distribution platform. That is all. We need someone to buy our work. We don't NEED publishers anymore; that's where KDP and CreateSpace and other print on demand companies come in.

We might WANT a publisher, but we don't NEED a publisher. We NEED readers, and readers are proving they don't give a crap how the book came into existence as long as it's a good read that speaks to them and gives them an emotional reading experience, whatever their genre preferences are. It's all about supply and demand. Authors are the suppliers, and readers are in demand. The tricky part is getting our product to them, but the truly amazing part is that we now decide how we NEED to do that.

Dianne said...

Thanks for a wonderful article and giving us hybrid authors some credibility. I work with someone who thinks anyone with $1000 can publish a book. My response is "So, where's your book?" This dismissive and uninformed attitude is hurtful and condescending. My journey into self publishing started when my "real" publisher did not see the point in publishing the final book in a series. Self promotion is not something I'm comfortable with so my success in that field was marginal. But I wanted to finish what I started and give my loyal readers what they wanted; the final book in the trilogy, and I've been giving out print books for free. The Ebook is another story since distributors won't give it away, but it will be VERY affordable. I am doing what I feel is right for my supporters and no one is going to take that away from me!

C. Greenwood said...

Just chipping in to add that I know 13 of the authors Anonymous listed and can verify they're real authors and their sales haven't been invented or exaggerated. Most of them are well-known names in the indie community.

Me, I'm a very small fish in the indie world and will close out the year with self-pubbed earnings of only $60K for 2013. That five or six figures per year is middling for an indie in my circles should tell you how many of us are succeeding at this. We're not all Amanda Hocking or Hugh Howey but neither are we anomalies.

I appreciate how civil both Laura and Mr. Zacharius have kept this fascinating discussion and hope it will spark many more informative (and non-heated) conversations between trades, indies, and hybrids.

KP Simmon said...

So. As your publicist-I'm so freaking proud of this post. And I'm more than a little honored to say that I get to walk this journey with you. I love smart women, and you, my friend, are definitely that! Now eat soup and rest!!
KP

Laura Kaye said...

1) I want to thank all of you for keeping the conversation so civil.

2) C. Greenwood - there's no "only" when you're talking about 60K!! Congrats!

3) A lot of inspirational stories being shared here - thank you! And thank you for being willing to share numbers and making my point much stronger than I could make it myself.

Jay said...

1. To answer the suggestion that no proof was provided regarding the authors listed as six figure earners, in fact, all one has to do is look at Amazon sales rankings of their works. Not only are all of those listed earning six figures, but I know of many more who are as well.

2. This entire subject is plagued with phony math and political-style spin. If the universe of self-publishers is to be considered on the one hand, it must be compared to the number of traditionally-published authors PLUS the entire slush pile of every publisher. These are equivalent data groups. Comparing everyone who goes to Amazon and uploads any old thing to a miniscule group selected off the top of a publisher's submission list is invalid. If publishers accept 1% of submissions (doubtful, but this is just to make a point), their results should be compared to the top 1% of self-publishers.

Further, self-publishing in its present form is only a few years old, so publishers should only utilize new authors developed within this time period. I'm sure it's nice to publish King or Grisham for 30 years, but its not very comparable. When self-publishing (of the current model) is 30 years old it will be interesting to see where the next King and Grisham come from.

I'm not anti-publisher, though I think a heavy reliance on deliberately confusing and inaccurate comparisons doesn't do a lot to make one's case to an intelligent, skeptical audience. When you've got the goods, you don't need manufactured spin.

I also think 70% is a rather high estimate for print's share of the market in many, many genres. Again, if your case is strong, you don't need to exaggerate and twist numbers.

How about some honest straight up comparisons with real numbers. I've yet to see one of these articles that doesn't look like Goebbels or the Ministry of Truth put it out.

Mona Kekstadt said...

It was informative...I never knew what a self published author goes through...I respect each author I read.
I stayed all the way to the last word Laura.
Your books are wonderful, and I support you all the way...I support many of the authors who are self published authors...
Thank you for this information...I never would take any work that you do for granted...
Mona but I'm on FB as Ramona

Brenna Aubrey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jenn B. said...

The blog post was awesome, and then all these comments! As someone who's trying to break into the publishing world as a romance author, I had honestly thought that traditional publishing (or small presses) were really the only way to go. Now I'm wondering if I should investigate self-publishing more seriously. Thank you all for the food for thought, it's greatly appreciated.

Jana DeLeon said...

anonymous is absolutely correct about my earnings. I am definitely six figures now and hope to hit seven next year.

We talk. We're no longer contractually obligated to keep our mouths shut. Information is power. :)

Carolyn Jewel said...

I had a similar reaction to that HuffPo post. I was rolling my eyes a lot. Thanks, Mr. Zacharius, for appearing here to respond.

At RWA 2013, I attended a Kensington panel at which one of the Kensington people was talking about countdown widgets as a great way to spark interest in a book. Someone asked how they could get one, and the response was, and I quote directly (because I took notes) "Oh, we can't do that for all our authors. Only for the biggest ones. Otherwise it dilutes the effect."

Setting aside all the ways in which there would be no such dilution, Kensington does NOT support all authors equally and it's disingenuous to say that it does. No publisher does. THAT's a reality, and experienced traditionally published authors know that's a false statement.

I have published several books with traditional publishers and never ever made more than $20K.

I got backlist reverted and I now my world is different. A book that went OOP in 3 months has now sold nearly 100,000 copies as a self-published title.

This is not rare for authors with reverted backlist.

Publishers aren't facing the fact that the authors they extend contract offers to are the very same authors who are highly likely to be well-positioned to make more money self-publishing. I'll restate because it's important to your business: the authors you rely on for the products you sell have another place to go -- not another publisher, but on their own. Fail to adapt to that at your peril.

I appreciate the difficulties traditional publishing faces, but the industry needs to face a few hard facts -- and that's all the ways in which self-publishing has shown the flaws in the traditional model.

Posts designed to keep your minds safe behind the castle wall do you a great disservice. Think instead about how you can adapt to this new environment. Think about how the idea that genre novels are fungible has been proven demonstrably wrong. How much money have publishers left on the table because of that idea.

Carolyn Jewel said...

I had a similar reaction to that HuffPo post. I was rolling my eyes a lot. Thanks, Mr. Zacharius, for appearing here to respond.

At RWA 2013, I attended a Kensington panel at which one of the Kensington people was talking about countdown widgets as a great way to spark interest in a book. Someone asked how they could get one, and the response was, and I quote directly (because I took notes) "Oh, we can't do that for all our authors. Only for the biggest ones. Otherwise it dilutes the effect."

Setting aside all the ways in which there would be no such dilution, Kensington does NOT support all authors equally and it's disingenuous to say that it does. No publisher does. THAT's a reality, and experienced traditionally published authors know that's a false statement.

I have published several books with traditional publishers and never ever made more than $20K.

I got backlist reverted and I now my world is different. A book that went OOP in 3 months has now sold nearly 100,000 copies as a self-published title.

This is not rare for authors with reverted backlist.

Publishers aren't facing the fact that the authors they extend contract offers to are the very same authors who are highly likely to be well-positioned to make more money self-publishing. I'll restate because it's important to your business: the authors you rely on for the products you sell have another place to go -- not another publisher, but on their own. Fail to adapt to that at your peril.

I appreciate the difficulties traditional publishing faces, but the industry needs to face a few hard facts -- and that's all the ways in which self-publishing has shown the flaws in the traditional model.

Posts designed to keep your minds safe behind the castle wall do you a great disservice. Think instead about how you can adapt to this new environment. Think about how the idea that genre novels are fungible has been proven demonstrably wrong. How much money have publishers left on the table because of that idea.

Liliana Hart said...

I'm late to the party here, but someone told me I was mentioned so I wanted to pop over. Anonymous stated that I was one of the authors making 6 to 7 figures. I made well over 7 figures in 2013. And since I already know what I'll be making in January-March of 2014, I can tell you that I've almost made 7 figures just in those 3 months alone. 2014 is shaping up to be a fantastic year. I was never traditionally published before I started self-publishing.

This has been an interesting post to read and I appreciate Laura and Mr. Zacharius for having such a civil conversation. I do see benefits to traditional publishing. But...I haven't been able to accept any of the deals that have come my way, as of yet. I'm a businessperson, just like any of the publishers out there, and until the terms are to my benefit or the advance is high enough to make it worthwhile, I'd be making a bad business decision to sign on the dotted line. I'm not against traditional publishing. I'm against bad business.

I've talked face-to-face to publishers and the one thing I've noticed from all of them is there's a serious lack of research and information gathered when they make blog posts or talk to indie authors that they're looking to acquire. There's a disconnect somewhere. As soon as I tell them I make well over 6 figures per month, their mouths drop open and they have no idea what to say. Didn't they look where my books are ranked in the stores before they decided to approach me? Don't they know how many books you have to sell to be there? Do they know I'm making %70 of $4.99 and $5.99 books? Guess not.

I can list dozens and dozens of authors, besides the ones who have already been listed above, who are making six figures. But the real news is I can list hundreds and hundreds of self-published authors who aren't making megabucks, but who are making a living. Certainly more than the $5k or $10k advances with print runs so small they could never hope to earn out and start making royalties.

Laura Kaye said...

Thank you Carolyn and Liliana! Amazing to have you visit!

Pimpin' Reads said...

Thank you for your post and your encouraging words Laura. This is a very interesting topic and even more intriguing is the comments. I have several friends that do very well. Good stories is what it's about. If the money comes along then that's icing on the cake. Most authors just want readers to enjoy their world.

Pimpin' Reads said...

Thank you for your post and your encouraging words Laura. This is a very interesting topic and even more intriguing is the comments. I have several friends that do very well. Good stories is what it's about. If the money comes along then that's icing on the cake. Most authors just want readers to enjoy their world.

S.J. Maylee said...

Thank you, Laura!! You rock :D

Teresa Reasor said...

Perhaps it would be more lucrative, symbiotic relationship for publishers to offer the service of putting successful ebooks into print and on the store shelves. They would get their cut, the writer/pubisher of the ebook would have their money up front on their ebook sales and wouldn't have to stress waiting the six months-year or more they often do to see anything from the publisher. Then when the ebook sales died down they'd get their pay off from the traditional/publisher. Everyone's happy.

Beverley Kendall said...

Okay, I have to say something in response to Mr. Zacharius.

I published my first two books with Kensington (grateful to Hilary Sares for given my first shot). When they turned down my option book, I self-published it. That single book has gone on to earn me 6 figures (it was priced at $4.99). That was nearly two years ago and it's still selling relatively strong.

I was able to quit my day job--something I could not have done had Kensington decided to recontract me. I've earned 6 figures a year in the last two years and I'm not a name that is remotely widely known. So if I'm making in excess of 6 figures a year self-publishing, I'm sure there are a lot of authors like me.

No, we didn't attract a publisher with the sheer number of copies we sold for a single book, but we do earn enough money to keep us very comfortable.

So yes, there are the Bella Andres and HM Wards of the world, but there are also quite a few authors in the middle of millionaires to starving authors. And we're earning more money self-publishing than we earned at our day jobs and certainly more money than we would as a lower-midlist-author with a NY contract.

Bev

Donya Lynne said...

I have not read all the comments, but did want to chime in on this topic.

When I wrote my first book a year-and-a-half ago, it took me a while to decide between going with an e-publisher and self-publishing. I finally decided to self publish, and I am so grateful I did. I had a novella that published through an e-publisher and a short story that went through another e-publisher. I had virtually no control over anything with my novella, and had very limited means to track my sales. With my short story, the e-publisher rewrote and repunctuated some of my dialogue without getting my permission. Their changes created errors. Additionally, receiving payments for my short story from the publisher has been a nightmare, and the one statement I received was indecipherable and made absolutely no sense whatsoever. At any rate, now that I'm self pubbing, I have creative control over the covers, when my books are published, prices, and sales, including free promotions to coincide with special events or new releases. Also, I can track my sales through the various sites where I've listed my books.

With that said, I would like to one day be a hybrid author and publish a series of books with a NY publisher. I think the experience would be invaluable in many way. I love my current editor, but I would love to work with more editors to gain greater knowledge and understanding of the business of writing. And I know there are things that a NY publisher can do more easily than I can. However, there are certain books in my repertoire that will always and forever remain self published. Namely, my All the King's Men books and the two forthcoming sister series. They are my bread and butter, and I have built a tremendous fan base all on my own for them.

As far as income is concerned: While I won't reveal my total income, I will say that I made more money on book sales from January thru March of this year than I did in an entire year at my day job. With nearly 50 books on my to-be-written list, I realized that I could earn more by staying home and writing (doing what I love and know that I was born to do) than by going to a day job were I was miserable. They say that when you do what you love, you never work another day in your life, and now I'm living that dream. I "retired" from my day job at the end of May, and this year, I grossed more income between both my book sales and the scant amount I received from the DJ than I've grossed in a year ever in my working history. And, like I said before, I've been published for less than two years and have just four novels, two novellas, and one short story in my publishing credits. While I'm not raking in millions, I consider that a success, and with enough writing projects on my docket to last me more than ten years, I'm confident it will only get better.

One last thing I think everyone needs to consider. While the industry is changing, so are readers. Readers are becoming savvier and smarter about buying books. They're the most educated readers about what's happening in publishing than at any time in history, and they know that there are excellent books, both self-published and traditionally published, at low price points. They look for deals through Bookbub and other advertising agencies, and in many cases, that's how they find new authors. This is an exciting time to be a reader, as well as an author, and I'm stoked to see where publishing will go and grow next.

Isobel Carr said...

I was published by Kensington. And I saw NONE of what Mr. Zacharius is talking about. NONE OF IT! I got NO editorial input. Nada. No revision letters. Nothing. My copy edits were so bad we had to throw them out and start from scratch (thank goodness one of my friends is a professional editor is all I have to say). Corrections I specifically made were not corrected in the final copy (sloppy!). The galley was mailed to me the day after I left for a trip abroad. A trip I had specifically told my editor about six months before I took it (again, sloppy!). I got covers I loathed (stock art of naked men that didn’t tell readers anything about my book) and titles that utterly misrepresented my books. And there was NO support or push for the books. Kensington so badly blundered with their Debut program that readers didn’t even know what it was (the number of reviews and emails I got asking why my book was discounted when it was so good were utterly disheartening). I went on to another house where I DID get all the things Mr. Zacharius is talking about, and I STILL turned down their offer to self-publish, which I think says it all.

Jackie Barbosa said...

Late to the party, but I was really trying to avoid giving Zacharius's whine-fest any more traction by commenting on it. Nonetheless, I felt compelled by some of his comments here to respond.

Like Isobel and Beverley, I was contracted by Kensington. Unlike them, I was not contracted in the debut program (which was released in mass market paperback), but in Aphrodisia, a trade paper line. I was paid the princely sum of $2,500 for my 86,000 word manuscript.

My editor didn't request any revisions. The manuscript went straight to copy edits and then galleys. (So much for all that editorial input, eh? I'd like to believe it was because my book was just so awesome, it needed no work, but the less self-indulgent part of me knows better.)

BEHIND THE RED DOOR came out in June of 2009 at a $14 price point ($10-$12 in digital). As far as I could tell, Kensington did nothing to promote it beyond giving it a cover and including it in their catalog. Needless to say, at the height of the recession, the book did not sell. I think the initial print run was under 4,000 copies. The return rate for those appears to have been on the order of 50%. If it weren't for digital sales of the book (which has crept down somewhat in price over the years thanks to retailer discounting), I would not even have earned out my measly advance. I believe as of my last royalty statement, which covered the period through June of 2013, four years since its release, I have yet to earn $5,000, and that includes my advance. Yes, please, tell me how I am making a living from traditional publishing.

Given the dismal sales figures for my first book and the fact that the Aphrodisia line's publishing schedule was cut in half, Kensington didn't pick up my option book. I am forever grateful.

I went on to sell a couple of short stories to Harlequin's Spice Briefs lines (both of them have earned me more in royalties than the Kensington book) and then self-published a related novella called THE LESSON PLAN. That little novella continues to be my bestseller. In its first year (Dec 2012-Dec 2013), it earned me something on the order of $17,000. It is 22k words in length (i.e., a very short novella). It was priced at $1.99 or thereabouts for the majority of that year. It still far outsold anything I had ever published.

I'm not against working with publishers. I sold two books last year to the same boutique publisher Laura is with and the first book, which came out in May of 2013, earned more in its first 2 months of sales than BEHIND THE RED DOOR has earned in four years. Publishers can and do make a difference. I know Entangled brought readers to me in a genre I'm not known for (contemporary romance). There's no doubt in my mind that I couldn't have sold nearly as many copies of that book on my own.

The bottom line here is this: publishing isn't a get-rich-quick scheme for authors, and that's true whatever route you take. It's true that most self-published authors aren't making a living at at it. But neither are the vast majority of traditionally published authors. Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, but that's the point--in both cases, the authors who are getting rich from their books are the exceptions, NOT the rules.

Skye Warren said...

Actually my books do this at their regular price, which means I make more per copy AND sell more copies. I'm more interested in totals anyway. I know Kensington authors who aren't earning our small advances. Whereas my books earn that much their first week. So what would the benefit to me be?

Kassandra said...

Just a passionate reader here! Thank you for the insightful post. I hope that most writers are writing for the pure pleasure of telling the story (or to quiet the voices in their heads!) but just as in any profession, you have those that are only out to make as much as they can as quickly as they can. I like to see authors being compensated justly for all of their hard work whether it is through a publisher that understands the importance of doing right by the author or by the author venturing into the self-publishing ring.

Froggy said...

yes!! Fantastic post Laura!

Froggy
froggarita@gmail.com

Sebastian Shores said...

Steven I'm not a self published author. I have on book with a publisher and I am so very very poor that I can't afford the up front costs of self publishing. However all the "hype" I've heard hasn't come from the media but from other authors, at writers meetings, in romance writers communities, at conferences. These are not people who are sour graping because they couldn't be published. The majority of them have been published traditionally. The writers communities I go to seem to talk of nothing else but self publishing now. And because I'm so very poor that I have to submit to publishers I'd like to see a blog I could believe from publishers and agents about why publishing with them is better.
Unfortunately every time I find one and read it, it is totally out of date and full of comments I know don't at all reflect the real state of publishing in 2013. You understand I WANT to believe these blogs and I cannot because I know too much from talking to too many authors.
Stop refusing to give advances on your digital imprint. Stop giving crappy roaytlies like 30 % of net, make it at least 30% of list. Try actually putting some dollars into advertising your new authors.
Then maybe you wouldn't be whining about how you aren't getting enough submissions because of self publishing -which lets face it is what you are really doing.

Sebastian Shores said...

Oh and I was just reading today on one of my writer community boards the story of a self publisher who priced her book at $5.90 from the beginning and whose ranking went under 1000 on Amazon so she made a lot of money.

Sebastian Shores said...

And yes it's so irritating that people keep saying EL James self published when she was published by The Writer's Coffee Shop a SELECTIVE epublisher.

Sebastian Shores said...

Wow Jackie I am shocked and disgusted that Kensington gave you no editing. I've only made $600 from publishing with a digital first traditional publisher line, but at least I had 4 rounds of intensive and fantastic editing which I am grateful for and editing is my main reason for submitting to publishers because I cannot afford what a real professional editor would cost although I know many self published authors are doing without professional editors just using crit partners and selling very well regardless.

Sebastian Shores said...

Oh and sorry Steve but authors are NOT quiet about what they make, and there is a very simple way I know for a fact that they aren't lying, because I can see their Amazon author ranks and I can check novel rank to get some ballpark idea of how many copies they are selling. Unfortunately for me who can't afford one cent to self publish they are not lying. So I'm one of the few authors stuck with the low royalties, uncomfortably high prices and low sales provided by publishers at least for now. Dude you don't have to lower everything to 99cents. Try something more sensible than a crazy $12 for a kindle book, you didn't even have to pay for printing on the kindle book and your authors ebboks aren't going to sell at that price so what is the point of it?

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Anonymous said...

It was mentioned before that some authors share their sales data publicly on KindleBoards.

Here's the link:
www.kboards.com/authors/

529 authors so far have shared their sales data.

Stacy Green said...

This is an amazing post, and thanks to Laura and all the indies who've shared their numbers. My biggest issue with traditional publishing is that I don't want to get stuck on the shelves with no marketing support. I chose to go indie for the freedom, but I will admit I am one of those who is nowhere near making good money. I've worked with NY developmental editors and have good covers and the work is there, but I think it is a genre issue. I write suspense/thriller, and it seems it's harder to take off out of the gate in that genre. It's a big market, but nowhere near as powerful as romance. Some days I worry things will never turn around, but I know I'm putting out quality product, I've won some awards and had great reviews, and I'm not ready to change my course yet. So we'll see.

Thanks to all for sharing, and I do think it's very hard to evenly compare royalties of indie vs. trads. Two different structures with different benefits. THe thing about the indie community is the willingness to help other authors out. We want to see other succeed, and that's a big part of the appeal.

Sarah Allan said...

Great response, Laura! Lots of food for thought.

Kelly Moran said...

I started out Indie and learned a lot about marketing and the industry by doing so. Since, I have moved from Indie to small press to NY (signed with Berkley).

This blog was both insightful and interesting. Good points on all sides. I'm glad someone finally took a stand, with numbers and research to back it up. Good books are good books. Bad books are bad books.

Well done, Laura!

Shelbie Knight said...

I'm a new Author, committing to writing full-time last June, so my experience in the industry is extremely limited. When establishing my career, I examined different options & considered self-publishing due to the horror stories I'd heard of obtaining a publisher. Authors I'd consulted advised me to be prepared for repeated rejections, months (or even years) of waiting, to not get discouraged. This alone had me turning towards self-publishing. I know many Authors who don't even attempt to seek a publisher, rather turning straight to self-publishing, submitting here and there to publishers. They don't want their careers put on hold while waiting for the possibility of an acceptance and, many believe, if they can show success in self-publishing this will make them more attractive to a publisher. Unfortunate (for publishers) is many who achieve success, then select to stay in self-publishing.

Additionally, I hadn't heard much which was negative about self-publishing. What was the downside, I asked? Covering your own expenses of editing, cover design, marketing, etc. To a new Author, who hasn't started an inflow of income yet, this was not very appealing. As it was, I had no idea the expenses involved in start-up, was a bit shocked and not in a big hurry to expend more...but, I decided I would. I was (am) determined to reach a level of success in a career which I feel is a calling.

Fortunately, I was extremely blessed as I was approached by a publisher, asked for an example of my writing and offered several contracts. To say I was (am) thrilled is too tame a response. I'm told this is not common in the publishing industry, but again, I know not the actual factual basis of this statement.

In talking with many Authors, both non and previously published, I've heard a common thread. Many Authors feel publishers are driving them to self-publishing, not only due to the financial differences (income), but the ability for them to acquire a publisher at all. I understand publishers, agents and the like, receive thousands of queries, denying many of them, accepting few, statistically speaking. So, where is an Author to turn?

Another common thread? Many of those who were previously denied by publishers went on to achieve success with self-publishing, or a smaller publisher. What does this say?

What I believe is this - if publishers are concerned about the talent they're losing to self-publishing, then is it possible they need to examine their submissions process a little closer? This is not to say each submission should be accepted. Not by a long shot. But, like any other industry, which has to evolve to grow and have continued success, possibly the publishing industry needs to examine closer that which they originally denied and ask why? Maybe, in doing so, they can find the source with which to recognize additional talent in the future, that which they may have normally turned away. Either this, or the possibility exists in the future that queries will become a thing of the past, self-publishing the go-to, rather than the backup option. If the tide turns further in this direction, publishers may find themselves at a disadvantage, recruiting for good talent rather than having it land in their submissions box.

In closing, I would like to say thank you to Laura for hosting a topic which clearly means so much to so very many, myself included. Also, a big thanks to everyone who contributed; the information and opinions offered were very informative.

Julia Kent said...

You can add me to the list of self-published authors who made more than $1000 in year 1 alone, and who currently make 6 figures a year -- all self-published, zero platform before this, no trad pub books.

2011: 4 figures
2012: 5 figures
2013: 6 figures

Lori Christensen said...

This post was soooooooo helpful to me!! Thank you for writing it cause you rock!

Steven Zacharius said...

From what I've read here every single author appears to be making six figure incomes from self-publishing and several make over $1,000,000. Congratulations to all of you; that's fantastic.

Why is it that you don't think Kindle posts the actual sales next to the ranking? And again, rankings are nice but we all bank dollars.

I'm interested in hearing more from Laura Kaye since this is her blog after all that after seeing how everyone here is making six figures on each of their books why are you still publishing with a traditional publisher like Avon? I'd have to assume you'd rather keep all the money yourself rather than share it with your publisher. I'm assuming you must think there is some value to be with a publishing house.

And by the way, whomever quoted that the average advance at Kensington is $5000 has no idea of what they're talking about. This is how misinformation is continually spread. First of all a publisher doesn't even think about what an average advance is…it's not a statistic that's of any importance. We look at each author individually and we have authors that have started at $2500.00 and have also made money from sub-rights in addition to that, plus royalties and we have authors that have gotten seven figure contracts; as do all of the traditional publishing houses. We also have an author that had a $7500 advance that went on to earn way in excess of $ 1,500,000 in royalties. But each offer for a book is looked at individually. It's amazing to me with all the hype about how successful self-publishing is that we still get over 1000 submissions to be traditionally published each month, from many of the people that are also in the blogs online in self-publishing as well.

Steven Zacharius said...

I have apparently out stayed my welcome on this blog even though I was perfectly open to having a dialog with all of the indie authors. I don't see Laura Kaye's CEO from her publishing house coming on here and discussing the publishing business. I am now tracking our weekly ranking with Kindle and the actual copies sold to get an accurate picture of the top 100 rankings. It seems as if every single author here is making at least $50,000. If that's the case you're all doing an amazing job. Anyhow I enjoyed the conversation for a while. Laura I invite you to email me directly to perhaps share why you still are published traditionally yet you have not defending traditional publishing one time. You can reach me at szacharius@kensingtonbooks.com if you'd like to share your comments privately. I'd welcome the conversation. I'm familiar with your books and I don't see you taking that leap to indie publishing but I don't see you talking about it either.

Mandy said...

I write for Kensington and I have no complaints, other than the fact that I would like to have cover approval, since I have not been happy with the last two. Other than that, I'm a happy camper.

Mandy said...

I write for Kensington and I have no complaints, other than the fact that I would like to have cover approval, since I have not been happy with the last two. Other than that, I'm a happy camper.

Mirely Rodriguez said...

I truly don't have too much to add to this. I'm a reader and a good book is a good book and at the end of the day that's all I'm in search of. I read mostly Indie but I stopped trying to make that distinction a very long time ago primarily because there shouldn't be a distinction. It's all about the experience not how you get there. Not for me, at least, as a reader. TP books do not guarantee a good experience and mine have been far and in between.

I love this post. It's simply on point. I thank you Laura not only for your thoughts but for also giving me an opportunity to discover so many new authors! I'm jumping on the webs as we speak looking up new books to read!