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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Indie vs. Traditional

Lately, I've heard a lot of talk over the internet about going indie or going traditional in terms of publishing. More and more people are suggesting going indie, while some people still believe traditional is the best for long term goals.

But I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret: This isn't an either/or situation. You guys are both on the same team - Team Writer.

I've talked a bit before on my feelings about indie publishing (see: My Thoughts on Indie Publishing), and my thoughts haven't changed much over time.

Here are some other things I'm going to say:

I don't actually know how my sales stack up other authors. I have a pretty good idea how I compare to other indie authors, but I literally have no clue how many books traditionally published midlist authors sell or even best sellers. No clue. So I can't actually compare my sales to other authors, because again, I have no clue.

I also know that ebooks only make up a small portion of the number of all books sold. Depending on who you ask, that percentage is as low as 8% or as high as 30%. I don't know the exact figure, but I do know that huge portion is still paperback and hardcover.

J. K Rowling has no books in an ebook format (she refuses), and yet, I would guess (again, speculation, since nobody sends me print outs of their book sales) that she probably sold more books yesterday than I did. Maybe not, but even if she hasn't, she has still published less books than I have, and hasn't published anything new in four years, so even if she did sell slightly fewer books than me yesterday, that's still impressive.

What that means is A) J. K. Rowling is a very good writer, and B) there's still a lot of sales in traditional publishing. Print is not dead.

What that boils down to is product placement. Paperbacks get more sales simply because they are there. I run to Walmart to pick up socks, and then I see the shiny cover of a new book staring at me from the end of an aisle, and I grab it.

So here's my theory on the future of publishing, which may or may not be wrong:

This whole ebook thing is going to benefit everyone in a real big way. 

Traditional publishers will not die. Some may suffer, most will adapt. As a breed, they will change, but they will not go quietly into that good night.

Indie authors will also continue to flourish. Some with have great success, some will have no success, but most will do moderately well. Writers will be happier because of this, and readers will be happier with more options.

Midlist authors will go almost entirely indie. I think this move with benefit both the authors and the publishers. In a real way, publishers lose money on midlist authors.

Publishers have for years been in the business of making bestsellers. They put all their money and energy into make best sellers, but the problem is, nobody can actually predict a bestseller. People pretend they can, but they can't really. So sometimes publishers put money and energy into books that were not bestsellers, and because of this, they lost a lot of money.

That meant that publishers had even less money and energy to give to midlist authors, who suffered because of it and had fewer sales, which meant less money for publishers, who then had even less money, and the cycle goes on.

What's also hard is that most bestsellers don't come from first time books. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, like J. K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer. But most authors start out with moderate sales and they become a bestseller by putting out more titles and building a fanbase over time.

Publishers gambled on new authors knowing that their first book probably wouldn't be a smash hit but they would grow them over time.

Unfortunately, from what I understand, publishers haven't had the time or money or maybe just the inclination to do that as much as they used to. Many authors, if their first books weren't smash hits, were then left without a publisher for future books.

What indie publishing allows authors to do is grow the way they used to with publishers. Authors can put out books and build a fan base. (Or a "platform" for those who like terminology). They can become bestselling authors before a traditional publisher ever works with them.

Because of this, for the first time in history, publishers have a real way of being able to tell if a book will be a best seller. Basically, because it already is a best seller or is written by a best selling author.

You may ask yourself, "But if I already have a best seller on my hands and I am a best selling author, why would I want a traditional publisher? Aren't they just swooping now that the hard part is done?"

The answer: Ebooks are still only 8-30% of the market. People speculate that in five years it will be 50%, maybe in more than. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that's right. If you're already a best selling author in the 8-50% market, why wouldn't you want to take a chance on being a best selling author in the the other 50-92% of the market?

Let me put it this way: Being Amanda Hocking right now is awesome. But being J. K. Rowling is out of the world. If you're an author, and you've worked your ass off on your books and your career, why pass on a chance at maybe being J. K. Rowling and settle for being Amanda Hocking?

Also - and here's the best part - there is no real risk.

I'm going to tell you a story about Ann Author (get it?). She has written an ebook called Bestseller Book. To get a bestselling book, Ann Author has epublished a few other titles, like Not-Quite-Bestseller Book and Another Good Book.

Ann Author's Bestseller Book gets noticed by publisher Big 6 Trad Pub. They offer her an advance - which at this point, may actually be smaller than what she'd make in 3 months off of Bestseller Book - but it will offer more services to her book, like editing, covers, advertising, and shelf space in brick and mortar stores. This will take some pressure off her, since until that point, she's had to do all the work herself. Ann Author has also managed to create buzz around herself and her book, along with a dedicated fan base, so Bestseller Book will most likely sell well once it hits stores.

At this point, the story plays out in two ways. One - it all goes well, she sells millions, moves in next door to J. K. Rowling.

Or two - Bestseller Book is not a bestseller book anymore. It bombs. Big 6 Trad Pub actually loses money on her. It's a sad day all around... or is it?

Because meanwhile, Not-Quite-Bestseller Book and Another Good Book are still selling like hotcakes in ebook format.

Side note: Big 6 Trad Pub may have a had clause in their contract about having first dibs on future works, and this I'm not a complete expert on. But my understanding is that if Ann Author writes another book, she has to show Big 6 Trad Pub first to see if they want it. If they don't she can go to another publisher and see if they want it, and if they do, she has to go back to Big 6 Trad Pub so they can counter offer before she can take the deal with the other publisher. But I really have no idea how that would work ebooks (and this is why it's important to have a good agent to make sure you get the best contract with the least restrictions you can!!!).

Even if you assume that in this worst case scenario poor Ann Author has a complete crap contract and Big 6 Trad Pub has the erights to Bestseller Book for the next gazillion years, and she has to play stupid boomerang with publishing clause about future works (which will go quicker if she has a good agent), eventually she can publish more books.

But her other books, Not-Quite-Bestseller and Another Good Book are still paying the bills. This is even better if Ann Author has more than three titles in her pocket when she signs up. And then, eventually, she can go on to write and publish as many books as she wants. Ann Author can continue to be a best selling author, even if the Big 6 Trad Pub thinks she isn't.

That was the worst case scenario for Ann Author. But the reality is that an author with a number of titles selling well and a large fan base should continue to be a best seller with a large fan base no matter the platform.

That's how this becomes a win/win situation for writers and publishers. Publishers no longer have to gamble or put money out on books that don't earn it back. They can pick best sellers from the indie world and do what they do best - sell best sellers in paperbacks and hardcover.

Indies, of course, can choose to stay indie or take offers from publishing. All authors should weigh that choice themselves, based on their own goals and books, because it varies person to person and situation to situation on what is best for an author and their books. But the point is - they have a choice. Ann Author can say no to Big 6 Trad Pub and still be a best seller. 

Meanwhile, authors who couldn't find a home with publishers or have more midlist sales will continue to have sales without fear of being dropped or ignored by publishers.

And readers, who had authors they loved fall of the face of the earth when publishers dropped them, now get to read new works from them, as well as find back-listed titles of old favorites, and find new authors for cheap.

Indie will be a place for authors to grow and flourish and connect with readers in a way that was never possible before. Publishers will publish fewer books and be more selective about it, but they'll be able to save money and make more money this way.

In the long run, everybody wins. Authors and readers have more freedom than ever before, and publishers have an easier way to sort through the slush pile.

And as for people who say the slush pile is too much for the reader - readers are not idiots. Most really bad indie books are obvious from the go. Without even sampling, it's pretty easy to spot a book that will be positively dreadful by the cover and description and the other reviews.

Yes, some indie books will have more problems than traditionally published books, especially with proofreading, but if the story is engaging, most readers will forgive minor errors. Most readers are willing to accept an error here or there in return for an engaging story at a low price (though no author should be lazy or sloppy). What readers will not ever stomach is being bored. 

And on a final note - indies still need agents, unless you plan on purely publishing ebooks forever. If you ever want to do foreign, film, audio, or any thing else with your rights, including working with enhanced ebooks, you really, really should get an agent.

And to answer a related follow up question I get a lot - agents do not get money from deals they do not broker or their agency doesn't broker. Meaning I made the deal to publish my books on Kindle and nook myself, so my agent doesn't get any of the royalty. So don't worry about an agent messing with your eroyalties. That's not how it works.


  1. Hi Amanda
    I totally agree with you on the indie vs trad thing. There are more and more examples of crossovers - in both directions - and it has to be good for both publishing and writing.

    Great point on midlist authors and trad publishers. All we read about is doom and gloom for trad publishing, but in actual fact, it's a chance for them to take fewer risks, and therefore save money (perhaps).

    But, does this mean that trad publishing will take on fewer new fiction writers, and spend all their time publishing cookbooks and ghost-written celebrity biographies? I don't know, but I think I'll be spending less with trad publishers, and more with authors directly.

    The losers? Bookstores. Unless they can figure out a way to help people buy and install ebooks, fewer and fewer people are going to be buying from them. Which is very sad.

    Good blog post.

  2. That is a good point about bookstores. They are the ones that will suffer the most.

    But in the digital age, that's true with everything. "Niche" stores are all going away, as in stores that just sell records or books, and stores that sell a little bit of everything - like Walmart and Target - are the big winners. They only care the top selling of anything. The internet is for everything else.

  3. Dana Michelle BurnettFebruary 8, 2011 at 4:56 AM

    Great post. There are pros and cons to both indie and traditional routes. I agree with your comment about agents. If you want to branch out of e-books and POD, a writer has to have a good agent to navigate the tricky waters of rights, advances, and general negotiations.

  4. Excellent view points and I agree with most of them. I am not a writer, just an avid reader. I love my e-books and I love my traditional books; however, my traditional books are now more for collection purposes. Like my collection of the Narnia Chronicles, while I love to read those books, I handle them very little.

    You mention Rowling refusing to publish e-books, I feel that is a mistake because she is loosing out on the tech savvy market and her books are being distributed anyway. It's not hard to find them in PDF format and there are programs that will convert it to a Kindle file as well. In my opinion refusing to make a digital copy just promotes piracy because people want to have it and they will find it.

    Now with all that being said, I think e-publishing is great for an author for many reasons. I live on a small island, K-Mart carries limited books, as well as our only book store which is about the size of a Starbucks. I am 35 years old and I know what I like to read, and I stick to those authors and genres that I like.

    You are my example to what is great about e-books and e-publishing. I would never wander into the young adult section of a book store, why would I at 35? With that being said, one of your books popped up on my Kindle as being on sale for 99 cents. It was Hallowland, I love anything zombie so I bought it I figured even if it sucked, it was only a buck. While it was a very quick read for me, I liked it. I then proceeded to purchase Switched and Torn, I finished those in a day and had to wait for Ascend, but bought it the day you released it on Amazon. I can now say I am an Amanda Hocking fan and recommend your books.

    Not to mention I found your blog and started following you on Twitter, not that I am a stalker by any means. LOL But because of that, I have had two more authors who follow you begin to follow me. They have mentioned their books on my twitter feed, because of that I have also purchased them for my Kindle and am in the middle of reading them. It is the new digital door to door salesman, and I think it is great.

    So while e-books are not dominating the market as of yet, they will be in the future and more authors will be known because of it. Digital media is the to go and is the best form of advertising. Between blogs, Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter there are so many way to get your works out there.

    So in my opinion, indie is the way to go.

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  6. Amanda: Perhaps I'm the poster child for the point in your linked piece - that going indie isn't a sure fire means to success. However, I have to wonder what it says about traditional publishing that it passes on Amanda Hocking.

    I think one of the things that "epic fail" says is that regardless of how good individuals at the big companies might be, as a group the companies are afflicted with a corporate mindset that only wants to take a risk when its safe. I don't think publishing companies push the envelope or reward truly creative work that's just a little too "different."

    Indie authors don't have to edit their work to the point that it's not their work anymore. We don't have to put work on the shelves with a cover we'd have never selected. The risks, any rewards (??) and the final product are all ours.

    I think indie authors are free to believe that Americans might just be smart enough (or twisted enough, in my case) to "get" our actual vision rather than some watered down imitation of it.

    So, to me, one of the biggest advantages of going indie is having complete creative control. For better or worse, richer (Amanda) or poorer (me), when indies put our kids out there, they're actually the ones we birthed, not some "Stepford" imitation.

    Great post, except that it made me think. If I were about to write, that would be a good thing. But now I'm thinking and on my way to work. Shucks, darn...... could I call in sick? Maybe, I could call in "inspired" instead?

    Quacking Alone

  7. I am so glad you posted this blog. Lately I have been looking more into the indie publishing and I knew that's the way I wanted to go, at least to start. This blog definitely helped sell the indie idea to me. Thanks for this!

  8. Readers, for the most part, don't care what format a book is in. We just like a great story.

    Ebooks weren't on my radar until I wanted to self-publish a small nonfiction book and went looking for information on how to do that. I found Konrath's site and then your books, Amanda ;)

    I'm sold on ebooks, now, because I can download them to my smartphone to read when I have a few moments - stuck in traffic, waiting for a meeting to start at the office, etc. I can carry dozens of books in my pocket. It's fabulous!

    I've bought more ebooks in the past month than I have tree-books in the past five years just because of the portability.

    The ebook market also inspires aspiring authors. I consider myself a decent writer who can spin a decent story (won a screenwriting contest), but the cut-throat, long shot odds of the traditional publishing industry were such a kill-joy for me. The thought of all that work never seeing the light of day sucked the muse right out of me.

    Now? My muse is doing the happy dance on my shoulder. "Write, write, write," she sings, "Then, publish, publish, publish it yourself!" She's very excited and so am I :)

  9. What really great advice in this post. I am definitely going to file this all way in my mental library for future use. In my opinion I think going indie is going to the favorable and more lucrative way to go. Although I love traditional books, being able to feel the pages at your fingertips can never be replaced, but... ebooks are going to replace paperbacks like DVDs replaced VHS. That said, since being rejected by so many traditional publishers, I don't think I would ever want to go traditional once I officially go indie, but who knows. Well, here I go yapping away! Congrats on all your success btw Amanda.

  10. A few facts: Canada's largest book distributor--filed for bankruptcy last week and is closing its doors.(Source: Publishers Weekly)

    In 10/10 e-book PUBLISHERS (not indies, but publishers) were at 40 MILLION. And have been averaging that figure for several months (As of July, um... 218 MILLION)

    Borders is heading for bankruptcy

    Again, according to Publishers Weekly: * Of the 1.2 million books tracked by Nielsen Bookscan, only 25,000 titles sold more than 5000 copies
    * “The average book in America sells about 500 copies.”

    And, some average royalty rates:

    More realistic royalty numbers based on a book that sells for. . .

    * $27.95 (hardback): $2.38
    * $15 (paper over board): $1.28
    * $6 (paperback): $.51

    So, Amanda, you're obviously in the one of 25k that sold more than 5k copies.

    Heck--I'm in the "more than 500" club--and no one has heard of me--other than a few small publisher sales--I publish as an indie--meaning I do it all myself, from covers (ok, my daughter does my covers--isn't this one nice?)formatting, editing--it's all me.

    So--big 6? Sure, I'd love to be the next Stephanie Meyer or JK Rowling. Will I be? No. Will YOU be? YOU, dear, have a chance.

    HP Mallory signed a 3 book deal with Random House. But--she is keeping the rights to the ones she's already consistently selling (Can't say as I blame her at ALL)

    Would I take a NY deal if they come find me? Yup--but I'm 50, not 26. My time is limited. Would I give them rights to ALL my books? Not even.

    Should you? Again--I'd say no. Why would you? Can they top the 500k books you've already sold on your own? PROBABLY NOT--but would doing something through NY help your career? Probably...though it likely wouldn't do much for your purse.

    How many new authors are about to buy a new house--for cash? NOT many!

    My two cents for what it's worth...

  11. I prefer to self publish, mainly because you control your royalties. Most new writers taken on by trad pubs only get 2.5-5k advance (IF they're lucky) and only see around 0.69$-0.99$ per book which is insulting compared to what you could make if you just did it yourself, cut out the middle man, and connected with your readers directly.

    I would only ever go trad if they offered me a 6-figure advance, otherwise I find it utterly pointless. If they take you on they usually want all your rights, even if you have an agent to help wriggle you out of the fine print it's still too much a hassle to be worth a damn.

    All you really need to pay the bills is to self publish, utilize free marketing tools like facebook, twitter, etc. give ARCs to book bloggers and eventually if sales demand it; look into getting a publicist if your goal is to eventually be booked for interviews and book tours.

  12. I agree that the publishing companies who adapt will be the ones who wait for indies to succeed and then sign them. The current model of the trad publishing business is just too risky and expensive, compared to the option of waiting for an author to establish an audience and sales numbers before the publishing company invests money in the author.

    It'll be more like music, where a band starts touring little clubs and putting out their own CDs before getting signed to a label. Which is cool, because even if you don't make it big, at least you have fun along the way. I'd rather play in a little hole in the wall bar for a crowd of 50 people than just play in my own garage for nobody--which is essentially where I was with my writing before Kindle and Nook came along.

    What I really like is the idea that so many writers will be able to make a decent living writing. My goal right now isn't to make a million dollars, but to make enough to write full-time and stay at home with my kid. So far, I'm only 75% of the way there. :)

    Thanks Amanda!

  13. Insightful post. Since I am a few weeks away from (self)publishing my first book, I really don't know where I stand on the matter. However, like Hope mentioned, I too read that HP Mallory signed on with Random House. While I am absolutely thrilled for her as a writer, I was a bit dissapointed as a reader. Will her book prices go up?? Do I have to wait months/year for the next book to come out??

    Indie writers and self-publishing has been a godsend to readers IMO. I love the fact that I can purchase 4-5 books a week and not spend over $10. I don't even think twice buying a book from an indie author. But traditional books are harder...can I part with $7-$9 for one book that will take me 4hrs to read??

    But right now, I'm happy to upload my book(s) and see where it goes. I don't think I'll ever be in an "Amanda Hocking" position and be able to write full time, but if I can make just enough to keep me from livin' paycheck to paycheck, I'll be happy!

  14. When I consistently sell 1k in books a month--I'm selling my business.

    I have no need to make millions--but I can live on selling 1k books a month :)

    But--I'm not as young as most of you out there.

  15. Great post! (Joe Konrath has a very similar post today and I think you're both right on the money). I agree with most of what you said, but... I'm a Kindle owner now and I believe that in a decade, e-readers will be 90% of the market, not 50%. Kids will latch onto them. They'll be able to download their schoolbooks instead of carrying around a 50lbs. backpack. They'll be able to find that next great fantasy series(maybe mine lol)and it will be CHEAP.

    Meanwhile, I think these publishers are going to have a very tough time matching the Indie price point. Publishers might pluck out best selling indies and sign them, but I doubt if publishers will be able to compete in the digital world. Yes, that means fewer publishers and fewer bookstores, but it means a lot MORE books, and at better prices. I cringe every time I take my kids to the bookstore and the latest paperpack they want is $9. It's ridiculous. I'll be getting my kids e-readers soon, and they will have access to a lot more, for a lot less.

  16. I think Indie publishing will in general be a boon for authors and readers, but it sure isn't going to help the publishers.

    Publishers really aren't that profitable, and they have huge staffs and overheads. With the books stores closing (and most brick and mortar stores but specialty and rare books will in 5-10 years), and the loss of revenue (I don't mean profit, I mean revenue) from midlist, publishers will drop into the red. Many are just hanging at the border already. Companies that go into the red stop writing checks for accounts payable (like Borders), and for publishers that means royalties.

    There go authors, and more revenue.

    Then comes chapter 11.

    With the closure of brick and mortar stores they will also loose at least 1 of the 2 things they actually control: access to stores. Their other asset is control access to premium reviews (like the NYT), but that too will erode.

    So if they don't evolve their business and adapt, they won't have a business in 5 years. Most don't have enough margin to suffer even a 20-30% slump in revenue and survive. Large ingrained companies have trouble pivoting too because of all the employees that work in outdated sections (like servicing book store accounts) fight to maintain the status quo.

    I'm not sure this is a bad thing in any way, but it makes charting the course in these transitional times dicey.

  17. Um, I'm just going so say: I don't care how you publish your books as long as you keep writing and I can keep reading!!

    P.S. I have a 5 year old daughter named Remi, who is OBSESSED with zombies. She totally thought Hollowland was written about her.

  18. I think the most important aspect of the future is like you said, choice. An Indie Author will be able to choose to remain Indie if she wants. If a Big 6 approaches them and wants to make a deal? She can do that too. I'm still new to self-publishing, but I think the only way I'd ever take a trad. publishing offer in the future is if they would let me continue publishing the ebooks on my own. Sure, they can have the print rights, but not the ebook rights.

    Right now, I don't think that's ever really an option. In the future, though, it might become commonplace. You talked about getting that extra 50%, but in my opinion, it's not worth it to tap into that extra 50% if you're going to have to cut out your favorite parts of your book, go with a cover THEY want, rewrite to their specifications, triple or quadruple the price of your book and still only make 8% royalty, etc etc, the list goes on.

    I'm just glad we have more choices now, and in that way, I think writers have more power now than ever before. Great post, Amanda!

  19. I think my favorite part in this post is this: "But I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret: This isn't an either/or situation. You guys are both on the same team - Team Writer."

    Amen, sister.

  20. This is one of the best entries I've seen highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of indie AND traditional publishing. I think you are right on the money!

    E-books are a great way to vet yourself as a writer. I think it's pretty obvious that you could make it as a mainstream author. Many of the rest of us, however, will still delight in checking their KDP to see that they sold 300 books in a month!

    And as you said, that is a good thing for everyone. I don't ever see myself going the traditional route. I don't have the sales yet to interest the 6, and I don't have the time, as a mom, to send out a bunch of samples to agents and houses.

    I budgeted my time and skills and found that I could do almost everything myself, except for a kick butt cover, but my sister is a graphic designer, so I get that for free, as well.

    Others, like Terry Reid, might choose to go the more polished route, to get the editors and artists that make a book more appealing.

    I'm happy just where I am as a writer, but I am so grateful for mainstream publishing, as a reader. I'm never going to give up "real" books, so I hope they always exist. :)

  21. For writers, the knowledge that we're being read is priceless. Thank goodness for the ease of self-pubbing these days. Even a few sales in a month is a few more readers I'd never have had if I'd shoved all my rejected manuscripts in a drawer!

  22. Amanda I congratulate you on your well deserved success!!! I will be self-publishing soon. I was on the traditional publishing track for a while and then I was looking at self-publishing. It was really expensive at that point. Now that the e-book revolution has begun, I am truly excited about what is on the horizon. Thanks for the great post and my daughter loves your books!

  23. It think J. L. Bryan really hit the nail on the head.

    I also don't believe that ebooks will ever be 100% of the market, for the same reason that I still buy CDs in addition to MP3s and I even buy actual vinyl albums of bands I really like. Yes, the majority of my purchases are on iTunes, I do still buy CDs, and they're still at stores. Books will be the same way.

    MP3s replacing CDs isn't the same as CDs replacing vinyl. Because it's a CD is a higher quality tangible replace a lesser quality tangible, where as an MP3 is an intangible replacing a tangible.

    Some people will never convert to digital products because they don't like technology or they simply prefer the "real" thing. And then if you really like an artist, you'll buy the CD just to have it. (I, for example, bought the new Black Keys album on iTunes as well as buying the physical CD because I love it).

    Books will be the same. Paperbacks will not be as important as they once were, but they will still be around.

    Bookstores will suffer, yes, and that is sad, but so it is. Publishers will downsize. Some will close. But they won't become extinct. Smart ones will change.

    But the real beauty of this is that nothing will hurt authors or readers. We all just have more options and more freedom, and there's not a big downside to any of it, no matter what you choose to do. That's why this all so awesome.

  24. If the bookstores go, I sure won't miss having the little pimply guy ask me if I want a rewards card *every single time* I shop there.

    Like my answer is going to be any different than it was yesterday?

    Great post, Amanda, as always.

  25. Hi Amanda,

    I completely agree. I don't think print books are going to completely disappear either.

    I also think indie and trad publishing can co-exist happily as options.

    The question, as always, when signing with a publisher is: what are you getting out of the deal?

    I know a LOT of mid-list authors who've signed with Big Six publishers. They usually don't get great (or even decent) covers. They usually don't get many (or any) ad dollars. They're lucky to get much in the way of bookstore placement and their books are usually hidden in the genre section, spine out, indistinguishable from the rest. And when they don't sell, they're returned for a 100% discount from the publisher, which gets paid out of the author's royalties (which are held in reserve for that purpose).

    *sigh* I should have just copied in this link to my old blog post. :)

    Bottom line: if you sign with a publisher, make sure the deal is worth it for you.

    That is and has always been my position on the matter.

  26. As a voracious reader and a lifelong writer, I'm finding this ebook revolution to be a godsend.
    And it is a revolution. Absolutely.

    Shana Hammaker
    NORTH OF FORKS, Book Two of the short thriller series
    Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011

  27. Amanda,

    According to this site's definition, midlist authors typically sell "less than 10,000 copies."

    So I think you're beyond midlist now. :)

  28. Printed books will clearly be with us a long while yet, but there's every indication that e-books will quickly erode the mass market paperback business. Now that's where the publishers currently make the big bucks. Which means, if you are an aspiring genre fiction writer, you don't need a publisher any more (as you have convincingly shown), and even if you find one you may be better off in the long run not signing with them. (Which is also why there are there are so many signed authors desperately trying to get back their rights!) Now an agent is a different matter. They are going to be in even greater demand for foreign rights, media appearances, film options, video game spin-offs and more, and the wise ones will go around talent-spotting indie authors.

  29. Thank you so much for your insight on Indie Publishing. I am currently writing my first YA book and although I have tried not to think about the task of trying to get it publishing at this stage (still on first draft here,) it does creep into my mind and is sometimes looming there like a big, ugly What-If-No-One-Will-Publish-Me? I have to be honest and say I never gave Indie Publishing a fair thought. But there was much about it that I didn't understand -- it is not the distasteful "vanity publishing" of the past.

    If anything, you have opened my eyes and educated me and in doing so, I feel great relief. Because I know, that if I WANT to publish my book when I have written, rewritten, workshopped and edited it... I can.

    Thank you!

  30. Amanda,

    I've been doing my part to help you move in next door to J. K. Rowling by downloading all your books. ;)

  31. The Marketing planner that I've spoken to have all told me that a book's success is based on three things.
    1) Making the product seen.
    2) Making it available for purchase when seen.
    3) Having a product that is captivating enough to hold the potential buy's interest.
    In that order. Therefore if you have an amazing novel and your book is not seen, you will not have a successful book. The same is true if any of these three are ignored or overlooked. The availability of a product can be just as important. If a buyer can't buy, you have a problem. Of course the story is critical as well, but it matter least in the over all weight of the formula.

    The average person only buys something on the seventh or eight time they see it. It takes that much exposure to obtain a full commitment from a potential buyer. If your ad campaign is strong enough to promote a 'yes' each time they see your product, chances are that on the eighth view, they will buy and you will have a bestseller.

    Initially hitting the bestseller list is a matter of sales prior and on the day of the book's release. That is why pre-publication copies are sold and await shipping until the date comes. It is to increase the chances of the novel obtaining bestseller status.

    Continued time spent on the bestseller list has to do with a book's content rather than exposure. After the release the formula is:
    1) Making the product seen
    2) Content of the product
    3) making the product available for purchase.
    If a person no longer sees your book, they have a decreased chance of investigating your book further. Once they have found information about your novel, it is up to the quality of the work. Finally making the product available for purchase at the end of every possible point of information about your product is key.

    With these tips, success is not a hope, it is calculated. Content matters, but the marketing of any book is crucial to it's life.

    Virgil Allen Moore

  32. Hi, Amanda. I think this is a very useful article for writers. Well done, and lots of success for the future.

  33. Amanda,

    I don't know if you've seen this, but two authors (that I know of) have posted royalty statements for reference.

    One is for a book that hit the NYT list print edition--barely, I think, at 19 or 20, and it's here:

    The other is from a debut author who wrote a trade paperback:

    Despite Lynn Viehl's NYT status, she is probably upper mid-list, and that gives you an idea of what the numbers really look like.

  34. Hi Amanda,
    I'm really enjoying your blog and I am thrilled for your success! It's always exciting to see people blazing a trail in a new medium, and I'm so glad you didn't let all of those rejection slips erode your confidence to the point you gave up.
    As a fellow traveller on the indie path, I'm inspired to broaden my self-publishing horizons and dabble in e-bookdom.
    And I'm also about to buy some of your books! Print (old skool) until I get my iPad :-)
    Thank you!

  35. First, hi Amanda. I've been consistently impressed with your approach to, well, life. You've clearly been a hugely positive influence on a lot of people, which is awesome. Please keep doing that.

    I have to say, though, that I am not nearly as optimistic about the future of traditional publishers. I'm trying to think this through from their perspective.

    So. Ebooks will likely become an ever larger slice of the market for two reasons: 1) immediacy and convenience (remember when you had to actually got to a bookstore to get a book that day and pay a few bucks more than you would on amazon? what fools we were), and 2) price point.

    Except that 2) is doing a lot of work here. I see an ebook priced for 9.99 and my first thought is "Oh, whatthef*ckever, next." It's just not reasonable. On the other hand, those inflated price points are where the publishers get their marketing budgets. I mean, I'm kind of guessing here, but your analysis of the traditional publishing industry above has a whole lot in common with how the music business used to operate, and how the movie business is still operating. They both had/have to pump a whole lot of money into a lot of losers to find a few winning lottery tickets. (You notice how there aren't original movies out there anymore? Yeah. Their version of using ebooks to tell them who might be popular is buying properties that already have an audience and adapting them. And then making 7 sequels.)

    You kind of implied that indie publishing of ebooks will allow publishers to reduce their risks by betting on proven properties. But if a publisher wants to bring Bestseller Book into the paperback market, they still have to market it. They still have to go full throttle on that. That is (usually) expensive. And, from their perspective, they don't get to reap all the rewards. In your example, the publisher would get a cut of traditional book sales of Bestseller Book. Um, ok. Is Bestseller Book also available as an ebook? At what price point? What cut do they get of that? And what about all the sales of Ann Author's other books that result from her greater visibility? What about her future sales?

    I'm not sure how the publishers can really walk away from this with their shirts intact while also offering Ann Author a non-crap contract. In the end the services they'll be able to offer are essential brokering services in the context of marketing. (Seriously, at what point are they even necessary to get books in brick and mortar stores? I can see an agent brokering deals between walmart and printers. Digital printing makes this a whole lot easier, from what I understand.) Which should terrify them. And, to be honest, is unfortunate in some ways. We have millions of people who write, but this means we can use a curated list or two. I have no idea how that's gonna shake out, but my guess is there will always be taste makers. If the publishers don't pivot themselves into that position, I think they are in trouble.

    Actually, that means they are in trouble. So...I dunno. Make popcorn? I'm glad you're doing what you're doing. Please keep doing it, and telling the rest of us about it. It's really invaluable.

  36. excellent post!

  37. I cann't thank you enough for this blog! Feel so fortunate to have stumbled upon it. At age 82, and with five published non-fiction books now owned by Random House (they purchased my original publisher Ten Speed Press when owner died) I decided to give the new way a try with my first novel. I'm about half way through the process with CreateSpace and so far totally enjoying the whole adventure. A friend did a perfect cover for me and I feel my own edit is pretty close to perfect. Was most interested in
    the statistics in one of the comments that only 25,000 titles roughly sell more than 5,000 copies. My first book SPLENDID SLIPPERS - A THOUSAND YEARS OF AN EROTIC TRADITION published in 1997,which has won prizes and is considered the ultimate source on the subject, has sold over 40,000 copies and Random House has just reprinted again. This has indeed made my day. I am grateful to you and all the people who have made comments. One thing I'll share, in back of my choice to self-publish this time I must add is fact that at 82 I don't really feel I have the time or energy for the endless unwanted imput from agent, editors, etc etc!!! My novel incidentally THAT BEAUTIFUL LADY WAS A PALACE EUNUCH is again, as with footbinding, about a subject basically untouched in English language. I take a little boy through all the training to be a great actor in the Forbidden City eunuch's actor's department, all the glamour of that mysterious palace of emperors -- and it gets into necessary murders and more glamour when having been trained to only play female roles he leaves the Forbidden City when the Qing dynasty falls as a beautiful young woman
    in glamorous Shanghai in 1920's and 30's.

  38. I'm enjoying reading through your take on publishing. I've also followed the "business side" for Shanna Swendson, author of the Enchanted, Inc. series. Here she has a nice explanation of why she *isn't* going to self-publish or e-publish the next book in the series. I'm finding it a fascinating contrast between your throughtful argument above.

  39. Amanda,

    I love your post and how you present this issue. I do, however, have One thought on publishing contracts: if you find yourself in the lucky position of having to review one, please don't think your agent is your advocate and there to help you sign a good contract. Your agent is not your advocate--his incentive is to get this deal done, so he can get paid. Nothing wrong with that, but it means authors shouldn't rely on agents for advice on how the contract terms affect them. Rather, they should engage a lawyer, who is the author's advocate and has no other function than to look out for the author in this contract negotiation. In today's legal market, you can engage a good lawyer for a flat fee, so you know you can afford it.

    I wish you much success as your amazing career continues!