I found a link on twitter today that led me to an interesting post on literary agent Janet Reid’s blog about self-publishing. I used to follow her blog but stopped for a variety of reasons. And those who follow this blog know that I’m not a vigilante when it comes to self-publishing as opposed to legacy publishing. I think there is good and bad in both and I’ve remained on the fence about it. But I think writers, especially new writers, need to know facts from all angles.
In the post Reid talks about what authors who are thinking of self-publishing should expect if they have ambitions of ever getting published with large publishers.
If you’re thinking of doing this, here’s what to consider:
1. To get noticed, you have to sell a lot of books. By a lot I mean more than 20,000.
If this number doesn’t daunt you, ask yourself this question: have you ever sold 20,000 units of anything?
This is very true. No complaints. But the main reason why writers move into self-publishing is because large publishers aren’t taking on as many new authors anymore, they aren’t paying out the advances they used to pay, and from what I hear they aren’t selling as many books as they used to sell. I doubt most of their new books sell 20,000 print copies. So it stands to reason that large publishers want to jump at the chance to get authors who sold more than 20,000 books. But, if you could sell more than 20,000 copies you’re doing something right and why would you even need a large publisher at that point?
But there are varying opinions on this topic. Another reason authors self-publish is because larger publishers haven’t been paying attention to what’s been happening with digital books and the digital market. Or paying attention to readers for that matter. In this article, the biggest readers in the US are an interesting crowd.
The most likely book readers in the United States are high-school students, college-age adults and people in their 30s, with e-book use highest among 30-somethings, a survey released on Tuesday showed.
Then the article says this:
Among Americans who read e-books, those under 30 are more likely to read them on a cell phone, at 41 percent, or on a computer (55 percent) than on an e-book reader (23 percent) or tablet (16 percent).
Forty-seven percent of younger Americans read long-form e-content such as books, magazines or newspapers. But the highest e-book use was among people 30 to 39, at one quarter.
I only read digital books now, no more print. I read most on my phone. I read “Fifty Shades of Grey” before it went mainstream in digital format. Newsweek Magazine recently announced it’s going completely digital in January. So where have the large publishers been, and how can anyone blame authors for being curious about e-publishing and self-publishing?
Reid then says this in her post:
If you self publish you are no longer just the author, you’re the salesperson for your book. Do you have any experience selling? Did you love selling Girl Scout cookies? Do you like calling people and asking for money (as in fund raising?) Do you gladly spearhead the fundraising drive at your school, synagogue, church?]
First, all publishers, large and small, now expect authors to promote, market, and sell their books. Publishers don’t do that work for you unless your name is J.K. Rowling. So I don’t see how that’s any different from self-published authors marketing and promoting their books. And some are quite good at it, far better than a lot of authors I’ve seen with large publishers. They are far better at it than I am. These self-published authors can work the web better than our politicians.
Be realistic. 20,000 units is a huge number of books. It’s a hard number to reach even if you’re published by a big publisher, with an accomplished sales force and established avenues to the retail market.
This brings me back to the article to which I linked above about the biggest group of readers. Unless Reid is talking about the digital online retail market, I don’t get that statement. I’m not giving up my e-readers, my tablet, or my iphone to go back to print books. Most of my own book sales come exclusively from digital sales, not print sales and I have over 100 published works out there. I have no control over how people read. I don’t care how people read my books. But the numbers prove one thing: people are reading more digital books now than ever before and most of the marketing and promotion authors do is now online and it doesn’t cost them a cent.
This post is not to dissuade you from self-publishing. Have at it with all your might. BUT be realistic about what self-publishing is, and what it can accomplish. And more important what it can NOT accomplish.
Well, if I had read this post not knowing what I know now it certainly would dissuade me from self-publishing. But it is important to be realistic about self-publishing and it is important to understand that you’re not only an author when you self-publish, but also a businessperson. It’s not as simple as it looks. I know that from experience. I still prefer working with publishers over self-publishing, but I found that in order to continue to write I had to start self-publishing. And I have no regrets about it. As a side note, even if you have a publisher, you’re going it alone. Because once that book is pubbed it all points back to you, not the publisher.
I’d also like to mention that even though Reid makes some interesting points in her post for authors who have the ultimate goal of getting published with large publishers (if that is their only goal), she fails to mention that many of her colleagues have started e-publishing services, in house, so their own clients can self-publish their own books. The AAR supports them. These other literary agents are helping move their clients forward and I doubt the majority of them are selling 20,000 copies. And these clients who are using literary agent e-publishing services are, indeed, considered self-published.
So while Reid’s post is not inaccurate by any means, and I do understand where she’s coming from because a lot don’t fully understand self-publishing, there are about 50 shades of “Lovely Lolly” that aren’t being mentioned and those who are thinking about self-publishing aren’t getting all the facts. I’m not giving you all the facts here in this post because that would take far too long. But I am suggesting that you read as much as you can about self-publishing, you do what you think is best for you, and you remain realistic. There are still many things changing in the publishing industry and no one knows where things are going at this point. But if all these literary agents are starting e-publishing services in order to self-publish their clients (which I think is wonderful; authors need good, smart agents like this), I don’t think self-publishing is going to disappear any time soon, nor do I think self-published authors will be required to sell 20,000 books in order to be taken seriously.