Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part Three

I’m a writer, not a businessman; an artist, not a salesman. With that, I want to examine the final two criteria of my list: Marketing and Revenue. Tuesday, I looked at Artistic Control and Quality Control. Wednesday, I discussed Availability to the Reader and Fame. So, today, what can Self Publishing offer Aura Lockhaven and myself, versus what Traditional Publishing can offer.

Marketing: Let me be blunt. I despise sales and advertising. I don’t like it done to me, and I sure don’t like doing it to others. It’s a hustle, in both definitions of the word, as in too much work, and too much fraud. It’s a racket of conning someone into buying something he doesn’t need because I want his money.

But I’m going to have to do it, regardless of whether I choose Traditional Publishing or Self Publishing. I am going to have to swallow my personal morals, and shove aside my introvert nature, if I want to survive as a writer. Apparently, it isn’t as difficult as it seems.

In the Internet Age, both Traditional Publishing and Self Publishing rely on the writer’s internet footprint, his or her platform. This is a given, and it’s true of almost any business or artistic endeavor, regardless of industry. I won’t go into the details of how that works, but the synopsis is that anyone in business should have between three and eight interconnected websites. I have four: an actual website, this blog, a Facebook account, and a DeviantArt account. That is my internet footprint. Between this blog, Facebook, and DeviantArt, 600 people follow me. Those are 600 potential readers. In Self Publishing, that is important as it forms the core of the initial marketing drive. In Traditional Publishing, it’s also important. An agent and editor will like that my internet writer’s platform already exists. It may be small, but if only 300 of those 600 buy my book, they will tell others. So, either way I go, I already have a foundation for some level of marketing.

It is a far too common belief that Traditional Publishing houses no longer engage in any marketing for their writers. That is just not true. While it may be greatly scaled back from twenty years ago, and the writer shoulders a greater burden, no publisher of any intelligence is going to invest time and money into a book without a strenuous effort to promote that book. To not do so is bad business, and the Big Five are anything but bad businesses.

Traditional Publishing has whole departments of publicists. The writer also has an agent. Both will see to it that the writer has book tours, speaking engagements, interviews with the press, book reviews in major magazines, and chances at other markets such as foreign translations and movie options. Publishing houses also have access to the best artists in the business, and cover art is still the best way to grab the attention of the casual browser.

With Self Publishing, I can forget all of that. Every last bit of it. It is at this point that I want to abandon any thought of Self Publishing. This is the issue that stops consideration of that option cold.

Based on my knowledge of 2012, self-published writers do not have book tours, unless they are willing to fork out the cash to rent a hotel conference room, advertise in that city, and read to twelve people who don’t have anything better to do that night. No bookstore carries their books, so they won’t be reading or signing in them. Conventions consider self-published authors to be lepers, so forget being on any panels. Writers’ guilds, such as Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, refuse membership to self-published writers. The press doesn’t take self-published writers seriously, so forget interviews. Book reviewers are snobs to begin with, and consider self-published titles beneath their dignity. So, all the marketing options available with Traditional Publishing are non-existent in Self Publishing.

I would have to expand my internet footprint significantly, ideally before the book is available on a website store. Once the books begin to sell, and the Aura franchise is in motion, followers on those websites will expand on their own. But I have no idea how to get the franchise moving to begin with. To me, marketing a self-published book looks like a heck of a lot of badgering my friends to buy my book and hope they will spread it word-of-mouth. It also involves too much cold call emailing. In other words, spam. It involves hoping that you, the reader of this blog, takes great pity on me and buy my book. Time spent marketing is time not spent writing. Beyond that, and hoping someone stumbles into my website, I have no earthly idea what to do.

I have actually self-published before. Between 2006 and 2008, I wrote three books of theological themes, a memoir of my parents, and a beginner’s guide to genealogy. I sold a grand total of 47 copies of all five titles combined. See? I have no earthly idea what to do.

That is all based on what I knew in 2012. It could be totally different today. Fortunately, there are resources. If I could research this topic in 2012, I can certainly research it in 2016.

For the criteria of Marketing, Traditional Publishing wins by a large margin, but that can change.

Revenue: If I wanted to be rich, I wouldn’t be a writer. Oh, sure, there are wealthy writers, such as Bill O’Reilly, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King. But O’Reilly writes historical non-fiction, which sells much better than fiction. Rowling and King made their money on movie contracts. Wealthy writers are rare.

Wealth, however, is a relative term. I have never made more than $ 25,000 in my life. When pundits talk about the infamous 1%, I think of people with annual incomes of $ 100,000. So, $ 50,000 is a king’s ransom to me.

My financial goal is simple: independence. I want my wife to be able to pursue her dream of being a stay at home artist. She supported me while I was in graduate school and wrote A Path of Stones. Now, it’s my turn. We would like to buy a modest house in the mountains, but right now, a larger apartment would be nice; one with a second bedroom so we could get the work out of the living room, and have space for more book cases. We’re quite happy with one nine-year-old truck. So, our tastes are simple. I do know one self-published writer who makes an average of $ 60,000 a year on sales of her books. A similar revenue would fill our goals nicely.

Traditional Publishing offers the best revenue up front. It comes with an advance. The typical, average advance is $ 65,000 for one book. That is average. Terry Goodkind still holds the record for the highest advance offered for a first time fantasy novelist, at $ 400,000. He did hold the record for first time novel, but that has since been broken. Stephanie Meyer was offered $ 750,000 for the first three books of the Twilight saga. Again, that’s rare, but it is possible.

That money is an advance, based on estimated and expected sales revenues. The writer will not see one additional penny until sales of that book reach the amount of the advance. Then, the writer gets a standard 6.5% royalty of the revenue of each book sold thereafter. Some seasoned, and highly profitable writers, such as Stephen King, can negotiate higher royalties, but I don’t know any who make 10%. So, for each $ 35 hardback book sold, I could expect a royalty of $ 2.25, and only .84 for each $13 paperback. I’m not sure of the royalty rate for an ebook. I’d have to sell 33,000 hardbacks to make $ 75,000 on that book, or 89,000 paperbacks.* I should hope the book sold that well!

There is a good reason for that. Traditional Publishing involves far more people than just the writer and editor. It also involves the editor’s assistant, the receptionist, the copy preparation team, the press operators, distribution staff, marketing staff, and a whole host of folk. That is just those people who actually work with the book. It doesn’t include the rest of the publisher’s staff, or the executives. They all get a small piece of the revenue of the book in the form of salaries. Traditional Publishing also involves a tremendous amount of advertising, which is an expensive undertaking. Print runs often number into the tens of thousands, and that ink and paper must be paid for. In other words, that $ 35 book has a hefty overhead.

Self Publishing is a totally different game.

Self Publishing involves no editor, publicist, or any of the office staff of Traditional Publishing. Usually, the books are not printed until ordered, so the cost of paper and ink can be spread out to each book, instead of paid for in bulk (although that often results in a higher cost per unit). Self Publishing does come with a certain amount of marketing, mostly in the form of inclusion in the company’s website, such as an Amazon listing for CreateSpace. I imagine that is handled by automatic logarithms. All that equals low overhead for each book.

Therefore, the writer can set her own profit margin, sometimes as high as 50%. She can sell a book at a lower price than through Traditional Publishing, but still have a higher percentage of the revenue for a royalty. Let’s take that $ 35 hardback. Through Self Publishing, the averaged cost for a 500 page hardback novel with dustjacket (bookstore quality) on Lulu is $ 25. That means, the writer would have a profit margin of $ 10, instead of $ 2.25. So, she would only have to sell 7,500 hardbacks to earn $ 75,000.* If she wanted to be aggressive, she could drop her profit margin to $ 5, sell the book for $ 30, and still only have to sell 15,000 copies. If she was confident of the book’s success, she could lower the profit margin to the standard $ 2.25, and sell 33,000 copies, but at only $ 28, a price low enough to almost guarantee sales. That’s pretty nice for both the writer and the reader, don’t you think?

That doesn’t mean revenue in Self Publishing doesn’t come with a few caveats. There is no advance for self-published books. None. While the writer may receive a larger royalty, anyone the writer hires, such as editor, publicist, or artist, is going to be paid out of that royalty. In Traditional Publishing, the publishing house pays all of them (their salaries are built into the price of the book, but spread out over thousands of titles). Any hired assistance should be factored into the profit margin, which will raise the price. Finally, there is a significant market not available in Self Publishing — the bookstore.

Again, as with Marketing, I’m basing my analysis on what I knew in 2012. This could be different today.

For Revenue, it’s a tossup between Traditional Publishing and Self Publishing. They both look about the same for net end-of-the-year I-have-to-pay-taxes-on-this cash in the bank.

Tomorrow, I will conclude my reconsideration of Self Publishing by discussing the net balance of who won what criteria.

* Please check my math. I ran these figures through a calculator three times, but that seems like an awfully low amount of sales versus an awfully high amount of revenue.


One thought on “Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part Three

  1. Pingback: Reconsidering Self Publishing, Part Four |

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