Wednesday, July 06, 2011

More About E-Publishing

In his essay Michael Stackpole writes:
When you get to the end of this blog, you’ll see advertisements for books of mine. I know from experience, that the advertisement will sell, over the next week, a dozen copies of the books mentioned. The ones sold off my website will pay me 95% of the asking price immediately. The ones sold through Amazon will make me 70% which gets paid in 60 days.

A dozen books a week is 624 a year. Stackpole prices his books at $5. This results in an annual gross of $3,120. Stackpole's net will be between $2,964 and $2,184, depending on whether the books sell off his website or at Amazon.

Kelly and Lyda and Doug and Naomi can correct me, but my understanding is the current New York advance for a book by a new author is $5,000. I think there's an argument for selling to the New York houses, if you can.

The old advice for SF short fiction was start with the top markets, the ones that pay the best and are the most visible, and then work down.

It would seem to me that the hierarchy for novels starts with the New York houses, then goes to the SF specialty presses. Like the New York houses, the specialty presses produce books that look like science fiction. Some of them can get their books into chains. All of them (I think) are on Amazon. They have websites and catalogs. Many of them sell at conventions. And the best of them have good reputations. What they publish is worth looking at.

I would put self-publishing last. You get to keep more the revenue, if you self-publish, but you also do more work; and you are alone, without whatever help a publisher can provide.

When does one self-publish? My tendency right now would be to self-publish work that cannot be otherwise sold. Short story collections are very hard to sell, especially to the New York houses. Out-of-print novels have almost no market. You aren't going to make a lot of money, unless you have an extraordinary back list. But money is money, and it will mean that people who like your work can find it.

(Having said that, all of my out-of-print novels are available on Amazon, along with the three small press books I have done. All of Lyda's Archangel books are available, as are all of Naomi's books. Of course, if they are being sold by used book sellers, we don't get a cut.)

I would also argue that it's important to keep publishing, to remind yourself and the world that you are alive and writing. So if you hit a dry spell and can't sell, it may be a really good idea to self-publish a chapbook or collection or novel. It's another line in your bibliography. It's a new and recent publication date at Amazon.


Eleanor said...

I had a moment of panic when I realized that Stackpole might have meant: "I will sell a dozen copies of each of the books listed at the bottom of this essay." So I looked. He has adverts for two books. Only one is an e-book. So my figures for his e-book revenue remain okay.

Douglas Hulick said...

With respect, I think comparing Stackpole's web numbers to what a new writer might earn from a NY house is apples to oranges in this case. He may sell a dozen books a week, but he is a proven entity in terms of writing & publishing, and also has an established readership. I expect Joe New Writer without an established web following or track record would sell considerably less copies/week. (You will also note that Stackpole has a traditionally published book for sale at the bottom of the page, too, which I find mildly ironic, given the tone of the post.)

This goes back to my original point, which is: what may work for people like Stackpole of Rusch will not work for many other writers right out of the box. To have people like this beating the self-publishing drum and citing their experience as to why it will work for everyone else is a bit myopic, IMO. Yes, it CAN work for others, but the hill is much steeper, which is something I don't think is always clearly conveyed.

As Eleanor says, there are a lot of trade-offs between going with a NY publisher and self-pubbing (and points in-between), with benefits and pit-falls on both sides of the equation. I don't think any one side has a monopoly on roses or greener grass. I tend to favor the hierarchy approach Eleanor cites, but then I'm of the generation that is still used to looking to the NY publishers as the top run of the ladder; others may see it differently. And, as Stackpole points out, with the Big Six trying to hold onto more rights, it can get tricky; but I also have to wonder just how many of us would be selling (for example) foreign rights in the first place if we weren't commercially published to begin with?

Things are still sorting themselves out. The only thing drawing a line in the sand will guarantee you right now is a sheepish look on your face when you find you need to re-draw that line in a few years, when things change yet again.

Shawn Enderlin said...

Assuming the market looks the way it does today when I'm ready to publish (almost there, but not quite!) I will self publish. Without hesitation.

It might surprise you to know that aside from one quibble, I more or less agree with everything said on this thread. My reason for self-publishing, however, is an issue that hasn't been brought up yet.

I'll get to that in a minute. :-)

First, I think it's worth pointing out that there are people other than the Michael Stackpole’s of the world who are making good money by self-publishing. Go take a look at Joe Konrath’s blog ( for more than a few examples.

Now on to the good stuff.

The reason I plan on self-publishing is because the industry is in a state of collapse. More specifically, the distribution channels on which the publishing industry relies are in a state of collapse. Border’s is gone. Yes, Border’s had problems before e-books started selling like hot cakes but e-books played a role in they will continue to play that role.

Every e-book sold undermines the brick and mortar institutions. How long can Barnes and Noble continue to survive while e-book sales skyrocket and paper sales dwindle? Fortunately for them, the Nook and associated electronic bookstore will help keep them afloat but they will eventually start closing stores. It's only a question of time. (check out the comments here:

I've thought about all this quite a bit and I keep coming back to the same question: why would I sign a contract with a publisher who can't even guarantee the existence of the sales channel upon which both they and I will depend?