Thursday, January 25, 2007
Book buzz: self publishing
First in a series of meditations on options for authors
Self-publishing causes more waffling than a politician can exhibit.
Many mainstream reviewers won’t touch a self-published book, and many bookstores won’t stock them. I’m not sure why reviewers won’t touch them, because many books that go through a publisher and a filter aren’t much better than vanity books, and nor are they more honorable. James Frey ring a bell?
According to the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 22, ’07), “the top 12 consumer publishers in the U.S., as measured by revenue, generated about 67% of consumer sales of $8.88 billion, in 2005, or $5.94 billion.” WSJ quotes Albert N. Greco, professor at Fordham Graduate School of Business. Greco studies the book industry.
And you thought Wal-Mart had the corner on monopolies.
But what about all the book sales that weren’t measured? What about sales of books at coffee shops, independent author readings for groups or schools, and online sales directly from author sites?
I’m not so sure the book industry can be accurately measured anyway. How many of those “top 12 consumer publishers” received substantial returns? It’s common. Would those returns change the figures? Were they factored in?
The brouhaha over self-publishing isn’t going away any time soon. And lately, I’ve talked to a number of reputable authors who agree sometimes, self-publication can be the right thing to do.
Say you get a book published traditionally.
If you go with a big house, you’re going to need to sell around 20,000 books to justify your existence. Chances are you will not have a p.r. person to hold your hand. You’ll handle much of the legwork for a tour (if your publisher allows you to do signings and they will not always do so). And your advance will be given with the understanding it will help cover your costs. Then you have to earn the advance back.
Go with an independent press, you’re going to need to sell around 5,000 books to keep your title active. These presses, except for those connected enough to receive some sort of government grant, will be hard-pressed to market and promote, and it will be an uphill battle all the way unless they’ve established a presence in the marketplace. That requires schmoozing bookstores and other retail outlets, and building a solid list of titles. As author, your advance will be small, if you get one at all, and your royalty will probably be a percentage of the wholesale cost, something many small presses are expressing enthusiasm for.
If you go with self-publishing, and you sell around 5,000 copies, you stand to actually make some money. But you will do all the work, fulfillment, billing and marketing.
I’ve said it so many times. The book biz sucks.
So what’s an author to do?
I’ll offer more musings on this topic next week.
Question for visitors:
How do you feel about self-publishing?