UPDATE: Passive Guy had another post on this here.
Some wild stuff has been going down with Steven Zacahrius, the same guy who made that same Huffington Post article I wrote about a while back. He responded on the Passive Guy to the same post I wrote about in which an author shared their numbers, then pulled it down. There’s a great comment PG laid out there showing the difficulty one of his authors is having getting their right returned. Then, and this is what is really surprising, he had a very open and very frank discourse with Joe Konrath. It’s long, and Joe is of course as aggressive as usual, but the longer it goes the better it gets. It outlines nearly everything we’ve been hearing from…everyone…in self publishing over the past few years.
I commented because I’ve always felt I’ve had the perspective of someone trying this out with no prior skin in the game. My comment is below:
This is a fantastic post and has greatly increased by respect for Mr. Zacharius, especially since my only impression of him before now was that Huff Post article he did back in December, which wasn’t exactly endearing.
Still, I wanted to contribute my information to this, because I really don’t think he’s seeing the perspective of anyone starting out trying to build a career as an author.
I published in August of 2013, so at this point I’ve been on sale for five months. In addition, I have two short stories which have done next to nothing (including paying for their covers) except maybe keeping my name out there. The only thing I think I did “right” was make a good story. I have a website and a blog but both receive less contribution than needed, my cover is a premade that I shoehorned a title onto with GIMP, and I paid for no editing.
Yet in that five month period I’ve made about $1,000, selling roughly 600 copies of my book. I have pushed it as high as $4.99 and as low as .99 but my average price has floated around $2.99 or $3.49 (my best performing price I’ve found). The total sales I’ve made at .99 has been around 150-200, which I disclose only because everyone is so concerned about the low price stuff. These sales are small, but I feel like it’s more than I would have made in the same amount of time with a traditional publisher. Technically, I suppose I would have received half of a theoretical $5,000 up front but I am including the time it would have taken to query an agent, find a publisher, and get to publication. I still have a good two or three years to earn that $5,000 (not even taking into account the agent’s fee, stripping out $750).
This isn’t a hug success, but as a proof of concept I think it’s worked pretty well. I have readers. Not a lot, and no idea of how many will follow the series, but it’s more than when the file was sitting on my harddrive. I’ve recouped my investment as well and have plans for a series.
You keep saying that I, an unknown author with no publisher backing my play, will never be Hugh Howey or Joe Konrath. That is true. You also state that self publishing has a sort of critical mass, that at some point if you want to be bigger you have to transition. That might be true, because of the distribution system you’ve built, but you have absolutely no ability in making it happen yourself. You can no more produce a Stephen King or a J.K. Rowling than I can become a Hugh Howey, not from nothing anyway. You seem only to be able to take a hot thing…and make it hotter purely through deeper pockets. This is what I do know, with a $120 investment and five months I am already better than I would have been with a traditional publisher.
But with self publishing…I don’t need to be.
So much of the talk has revolved around superstars. You’re right that so many don’t earn anything. I think it is very fair to equate them to the same people who mail in poorly written manuscripts to editors and agents. But what about the people who have good work that will sell, but never gets published? They’re publishing it themselves and making money. Some aren’t making much, others are.
You don’t offer that. Not even close. Your advances are smaller and you control everything about the work of the author. You might be able increase the temperature of a hot thing, but you can’t start a fire to save your life. I understand, you can’t offer more because the risks are becoming greater for the industry, but your customer (in this case us) has absolutely no duty to bear that burden for you. When you pass that burden on, then limit your author’s ability to grow and spark their own fire, they look to alternatives, and Amazon (and Kobo, Nook, Apple, Smashwords) took advantage of that by offering a better service.
That is what you have to think about.