Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Building Your Career on Kindle, the Published

Yesterday I shared some of my thoughts on unpublished authors self-epublishing as a way to launch their careers. Hopefully I was able to present a fair and balanced portrait of my thoughts on the subject. Today I want to continue that discussion by looking at what self-epublishing can do for published authors.

Just as unpublished authors see Kindle and other self-epublishing opportunities as a way to launch a career, published authors see self-epublishing as an opportunity to keep books that might have gone out of print in print or publish books that haven’t yet been published.

There’s no doubt this can be a wonderful opportunity for many, and we’ve seen some of those success stories right here at BookEnds. Angie Fox posted about her own experience in her blog post Taking Charge of Your Career, and author Bella Andre has responded to her readers by self-epublishing some of her erotic romances. That being said, neither of these authors made the decision to self-epublish lightly. Both carefully considered why they were doing it and worked very, very hard to ensure that the product they were putting out was just as good as, if not better than, any book they’d ever written or published traditionally. Most important, they have continued to keep their author brand in mind and are always working to make sure that their next book is always better than the last, whether it’s been self-epublished or traditionally published.

When it comes to readers you are only as good as your last book, and by last book I mean the last book they read. So even if your most recently written title is the one coming out from Big Name Publishing House, the one readers will remember and base future buying decisions on is the one they last purchased. So while self-epublishing can be an exciting way to move those books out from under your bed, you need to consider whether that’s the best decision for your career.

Let’s look at it his way: You have a series of historical romances you’re publishing with Publisher XYZ and they’re doing great. Your career is on the rise and readers love you, so you start thinking of all of those paranormal romances you wrote years ago. You still love those books and why wouldn’t your readers? They’ve made it clear they can’t get enough of you. So you dust them off and send them out to self-epublish. But those books aren’t as good as your historical romances. You might love them, but let’s face it, you’ve grown a lot in the last 10 years and the reason you are having so much success is because you’ve worked hard to perfect your craft. You also have an editor who works hard with you. You constantly praise her for her brilliant mind and editorial eye. You can’t say enough about how good she makes you look, but obviously if you’re self-publishing she won’t be involved with this book. And it shows. Of course readers snatch up your books because they love you, but they’re disappointed. The books aren’t what they’ve come to expect from you, and now they feel like they’ve wasted their hard-earned money and time reading books they found unsatisfying. Your next historical romance is published and sales drop. Your publisher can’t figure it out, they blame it on the cover, but the truth is that the readers have moved on. They don’t want to risk wasting more money or more time so they’ve found another author to follow.

Is this a doomsday scenario? Yes, it is, and I realize that, but it seems we’ve read so many stories lately about authors making millions by self-epublishing that I wanted to use an extreme example to remind you not why self-epublishing is bad, because I don’t think it is, but why you need to carefully consider what you’re putting out. It’s not the fact that you self-epublished your paranormal romances that’s the problem, it’s the fact that you’ve decided to put out a product that simply wasn’t as good as what’s already on the market. And that’s what I want published authors to consider.

Self-epublishing can be a fabulous way for authors to keep in touch with their readers and meet the demands of their readers for new books. It’s also a great way to make more money, but it also needs to be considered as carefully as any business decision you make. Think of how much you thought about the offer that came in from your publisher (or how much your agent thought about it and talked about it with you), think about how hard your agent worked to negotiate the perfect publishing contract for you and how carefully you considered each step of the process. Are you doing the same with your self-epublishing decision? You need to.

As of yet, publishers haven’t figured out a way to factor epublishing sales into the numbers they run when making an offer to an author. That’s going to change, it’s going to have to change. It won’t be long before those numbers become more important than the sales you’re seeing in print, and just as they can positively impact the offer a publisher makes, they can have a negative impact as well. If sales are slow or small on your epublished books, publishers are going to look at that as an indicator of how well they’ll be able to sell the book. In fact, it’s a much better indicator than we have now because these are actual sales to readers and not just sales to bookstores with the possibility of returns. So if you’re between publishers but looking to get back in with a traditional house, really slow sales, or bad sales, can have an impact on whether a publisher considers offering. Why wouldn’t it? It’s an easy way for them to test market you.

Another reason authors are self-epublishing is that they have heard there is a lot more money to be made by doing it on their own than by going with traditional publishers. In some cases this might be right and has proven right, in others you’re just another book among thousands that readers have to sort through. There’s no doubt that epublishing is growing by the minute and that more and more people are finding this new way to read. That being said, just because it exists doesn’t mean it will be a financial boon for you. J. A. Konrath has been wonderful in sharing his numbers with the public, but the truth is that he had a strong brand before he self-epublished and has clearly worked very hard to continue building that brand. Let’s face it, he’s become the poster child of self-epublishing, and if anything, out of simple curiosity, hundreds of readers are buying his book just to see what the hype is all about. Are you willing to put that same time and energy into your product? Or, here’s another thought: Do you have the epublishing readership to support such a venture?

If you’re a published author I have no doubt you’re looking at the opportunities self-epublishing offers and considering it. It’s interesting, it’s different, and certainly when reading about the success others are having it’s tempting. It’s also a career decision and not a lark. Anytime you put out a product it’s part of your brand and needs to be considered as such. Do you think Coca-Cola put out Dasani water on a whim just because everyone else was doing it? Not likely. Whether or not people know Dasani is a Coke brand, they would find out very quickly if it failed. Obviously I’m a supporter of self-epublishing to help grow my authors’ careers, but only if it’s truly a growth move and not simply a way to get everything out there published.



Anna said...

A thoughtful series of posts. Thanks for giving your two cents on this hot topic-you definitely gave me something to think about this morning.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

The various digital retailers are also a pretty good way to place work that doesn't fit well elsewhere because of length: short stories and novellas. I placed a longer short story under my usual pen name that had already been published in a literary journal. I ended up selling about 2,000 copies and getting some very nice reviews. Not a fortune at 35% of the .99 cent price, but certainly good promotion for my novels and my author brand.

And thank you, Jessica, for clarifying the terms you used. ePublishing shouldn't be confused with self-publishing, as I'm sure the nice people at Carina, Samhain and the others would want emphasized. The GOOD ePublishers provide editing, copyediting, coverart and promotion.

Anonymous said...

There is also an aspect to this you didn't point out, which is understandable because there are so many new factors to consider.

Up until a few years ago, many erotic romance authors were submitting short stories to print publishers for anthologies. These authors were paid a small flat fee and there were no royalties involved. Which was fine...it was expected...an no one cared. It was more about building publishing credits than making money.

However, when the authors submitted to these publishers the authors had no idea that the print anthologies would one day become kindle e-books. The contracts were worded ambigiously and none of these authors are getting royalties on the e-book sales now. In some cases, the authors have moved on to e-publishers and these back listed books are now competing with their newly released e-books. In my case, they are all listed on goodreads right along with my newer books and readers have no idea they are not supporting the authors when they buy the back listed books.

But thanks to self-publishing e-books, and contracts that read "non-exclusvie" these authors aren't totally screwed. They can now re-release their own short stories as stand alone e-books and collect the royalties they deserve.

Anonymous said...

I'm considering e-publishing, but where can one find a list of legit e-publishers? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Anon: Amazon. Who else do you need? Someone to take your royalties in exchange for editing and cover art? Develop your own stable of professionals to handle these things for you. Pay them up front. Publish with Amazon at $2.99 or less and you've got 70% forever, never go out of print.

Anonymous said...

To the above anon, I say "forever" or until Amazon changes things up. They cold decide to stop selling ebooks, or to switch to a new model and only feature those under the new model. Never know.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this informative series of posts from your perspective. From non-writers I constantly hear: Why do you need an agent or a big publisher? Just e-publish yourself! It's so frustrating.


Anonymous said...

In response to anon @ 11:37 am

I've experienced this, too. And I'd like to suggest one thing to all new authors who are submitting short stories to traditional publishers who are doing print anthologies:

Don't settle for the flat author fee anymore, and let them know it. These print books are going to become digital, they will be around for a long time gaining new readers, and you should be getting a percentage of the digital royalties you deserve. And if the publisher won't agree, don't submit. There are plenty of reputable e-publishers out there looking for new authors who are willing to pay royalities on e-book sales for short story anthologies...as well as a flat fee up front. I'm not talking about millions of dollars in your pocket. But these publishers are very sneaky and they are making profits now thanks to e-books they never thought they'd make.

At the very least, make sure you sign "non-exclusives," so you can self-publish down the line if you wish.

Gerald M. Weinberg said...

If I were concerned that my older books were not as "good" as my recent ones, I would republish them as eBooks under a pseudonym.

Same if I were worried about books in a different genre than where I'm currently most popular.

Kristan said...

Jessica, I'd like to repeat my question from yesterday's post, because obviously I'd like to know your thoughts, and because I don't think I'm the only one wondering:

Does e-publishing "ruin" an aspiring writer for agents?

Full question/background info here: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2010/11/launching-your-career-via-kindle.html?showComment=1290435653384#c8942652961795586712


Anonymous said...

I can answer the question, Does e-publishing 'ruin' a writer for agents, for you, Kristan:

Answer: Not if your e-book sells! If it doesn't sell, then change your name, cuz Amazon = New Slush Pile, and the Book Buying Public = the new agents.

Vivi Anna said...

To anon at 12:02

good epublishers that I recommend

Samhain Publishing
Carina Press
Loose -ID (for erotic only)

they have good editing and great cover artists

Anonymous said...

It's not that agents are going away. Established writers still need them, because the more deals you have, the more help you need. But what's changing is the role of agents for NEW (meaning, as yet unpublished for significant money) writers. New writers no longer need agents to break in. If it sells well enough on Amazon, the agents and publishers will come to YOU. So in my mind, it's a waste of energy for a new writer to worry about an agent, indeed, to worry about anything but writing the best possible book and having it sell.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

You know, when we decided to pay royalty shares to authors on anthology inclusions, rather than flat fees, we were given some rather funny looks.

That was a head scratcher. As far as I was concerned, as an author, I'd rather have a share of unlimited digital and POD (which stays on market forever) than a one-time payment.

It's nice to know that authors are coming around to this idea.

Stella MacLean said...

This is so interesting. In an age when everyone wants to be published or remain a published author the lure of going it on your own by self-publishing is strong.
But as stated there are many issues to consider as there are in any business decision. Thank you for posting this.

Timothy Hallinan said...

One thing I think this post overlooks is actually the most important (to me) aspect of self-pubbing e-books: freedom. I've had ten books published by four big five companies and had a great time with them. But there have also been book ideas that were deemed insufficiently commercial - mostly things outside my normal genre -- that ultimately went unwritten.

What e-pub means to me is that I'm free to write any book I want -- just as a painter is free to paint any picture he wants -- without having to convince a publisher that it'll be worth their very considerable investment. This has been creatively explosive for me. I'm working on one book for commercial publication and two for e-book publication. As a novelist, I've never felt this free.

Marsha Canham said...

I have to agree with Timothy. How many times have authors and agents heard the comment from editors, when a manuscript or outline is under consideration, that they are rejecting it because they don't feel it is marketable? I ran across this a few years back, after one of my books (The Iron Rose) was praised by Publisher's Weekly as being one of the top seven fiction books released that year. I write Historical Romance, so that was doubly exciting. Yet when I informed my editor that I planned to write a sequel, which was in response to enthusiastic demands from my readers...I was told it would likely be "unmarketable" that "pirate books" were not selling. Hmmm. Wonder if anyone told Michael Crichton that when he submitted Pirate Latitudes?

Bottom line is I still have the bones of that manuscript and now I'm free to flesh it out and publish it myself.

Anonymous said...

Timothy Hallinan and Marsha echo my concerns. I have been traditionally published, but as I've started to write stories that veer from the mainstream, and with houses who celebrated less conventional projects (like Tricycle Press) unable to stay in business, I worry that my stories may not find a home among traditional publishers. With self epublishing, I'm free to explore the quirky projects, while still doing other more mainstream work. But quality is also a big concern for me, which is why I have not done it... yet.

Anonymous said...

". Wonder if anyone told Michael Crichton that when he submitted Pirate Latitudes?"

Actually, Crichton never did submit PL, it was dredged up posthumously from his computer in order to keep him going.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

Tricycle Press--which has published a lot of great books that are out of the mainstream--still exists. Random House acquired it about a year ago but the editorial office remains in California, and at least for now the press is continuing to bring out those types of books that built its reputation, including the recent Americas Award winner in the picture book category, Carmen Tafolla's bilingual What Can You Do with a Paleta?/¿QuĂ© puedes hacer con una paleta?

Lee Thompson/Thomas Morgan/James Logan/Julian Vaughn said...

Great post! And a lot of good points to consider!