The Business Rusch: Midlist Writers & Big Publishing (Changing Times Part 14)

Business Rusch free nonfiction On Writing

The Business Rusch: Midlist Writers & Big Publishing

(Changing Times Part Fourteen)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Me and cliffhangers.  It seems to be the only way I can write this mini-series on publishing.  I feel like I’m verging on the good part, and then I run out of time and tell y’all to come back next week.

Which is what I did last week. I promised to tell you why so many midlist writers are asking why they should ever publish a book with Big Publishing again. To understand how I got to this point, what I mean by Big Publishing and midlist writers, please start with this post. If you’re new to the series, please check out the introductory post, so you can see where I’m coming from.

In last week’s post, we discussed the benefits midlist writers will get out of the changes in publishing.  By those changes, I mean the rise of e-books and print-on-demand.  I stated that established midlist writers with series books that Big Publishing has given up on would be able to publish those books electronically and in a nice print-on-demand edition.  Those series books would eventually make as much (or more) money as any Big Publisher would pay, the series would stay in print forever if the writer chose, and the writer could write what she wanted.  That last part, writing what you want, has (quite honestly) become a luxury in midlist publishing.  It doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to.

Clearly, any established midlist writer with a discontinued series should be reprinting the initial books in that series herself. Then she should write the remaining books and publish them herself.

I am making an assumption here, and it’s a rather large one.  I’m assuming that the writer will want to do the work herself.  I’ll get to that assumption in next week’s post.

For now, let’s talk about the established midlist writer who doesn’t have a discontinued series.  What she does have is a name, a solid career, and a reputation.  Is it worth her while to go to Big Publishing?

Yes—and no—and yes.  How’s that for confusing?  Because from this post on, the decisions do become personal and they do get confusing.

If this established midlist writer has books that are out of print and the rights have reverted to her, then she should publish those books herself.  She does have to make sure the rights are in the clear (which isn’t that complicated a process, but it’s complicated enough that I’m not going to deal with it here).  Then she should reprint the book(s) electronically and in print-on-demand.

Note that the cover and the interior design of the book which was published by a Big Publishing Company are copyrighted to that publisher.  In other words, the midlist writer can’t scan the book and its cover, and just put that up.  She has to design a new cover and a new interior (font and all).  That’s a relatively simple process.  Then she needs to get the book(s) out into the world.  No publicity necessary unless she wants to.  No need to have a true publishing schedule.

Readers who love her current books will want to read her backlist and rather than go to every used bookstore on the planet in hopes of finding a dog-earred copy, they can now order either an electronic copy or a shiny new POD copy via Amazon or Barnes & Noble and(or) the author’s website.

Even if the writer has books coming out of a Big Publishing company, she should do this.  Actually, I should say, especially if she has books coming out of a Big Publishing company, she should do this.  Her fan base is active, and her readers will be seeking her work, even if it’s not in a series.

So…on backlist, it’s a no-brainer. The established midlist author should make sure everything she ever wrote is in print via electronic and print-on-demand.

But what about a new book?  I’ve heard dozens of midlist writers wonder what Big Publishing brings to the table for the latest book in an ongoing series or the newest book by a well-known midlist writer.  Should that book go directly to e-book and print-on-demand?

Here’s where the decisions become personal, and where they get dicey.  Because there are a lot of factors involved.

Let’s discuss the financial factors first.

Writers need money—and midlist writers, in particular, always need funds.  (Which is why I have a donate button at the end of this article; when I write these posts, they take time away from my fiction writing, time I would get paid for.  So I appreciate any money you add to my coffers to encourage me to write more of these business blogs.)

Sometimes midlist writers need large sums of money to keep the lights on and to pay the rent.  Big Publishing pays a large lump sum up front in the form of an advance.  A midlist writer with an on-going Big Publishing career can sell a book (depending upon genre) for anywhere from $5000 to $50,000, and get a third or a half of that up front.  Of course, that advance is probably all the writer will earn on that book—and if the writer sells the book in 2011, getting the rights reverted a few years after the book gets published will probably be dicey.  (Big Publishing has also figured out that e-books don’t have to go out of print, so Big Publishing will make it harder and harder for writers to get their rights back.  It’s good business practice on the part of Big Publishing, and it’s something writers should expect in future negotiations.)

If the midlist writer self-publishes the book, then the money will trickle in. As I mentioned in last week’s post, that book might sell 1,000 copies per year or less.   Let’s go with the 1000 copies sold number, and assume that at the retail price of about $4.99, the writer makes around $3 (easier math for me than last week’s numbers).  So the writer looks at $3,000 on that book paid in average monthly installments of $250.  For a writer used to getting a lump sum of $25,000 for her writing, $250 will seem paltry at best.

But that $25,000 novel will stop earning almost right away (or it will earn a little bit starting five years after publication).  The $250 per month will continue and maybe even grow for the lifetime of the book—which is probably the lifetime of the author.

Let’s just look 10 years out, however.  Let’s give that writer a $25,000 advance, which is high for a midlist writer in today’s market in any genre, and say she got paid in two lump sums of $12,500 each minus an agent’s commission of 15% (since most midlist writers have agents), which brings the lump sum down to $21,250 or two $10,625 payments.

Now let’s assume that the book sells to its advance, as most novels do. That means the publisher published enough copies that, in a world of high velocity sales, the book sells enough to earn back the advance and nothing more.  The book goes out of print in the paper format, but the e-book continues.  It will take three years (on average) for that to happen.  The last of the paper royalties will show up on the royalty statement in year four. (I know, I know, I’m deliberately not dealing with reserves. Let’s not get too technical here.)

Starting in year five, the book will earn actual money that will go in checks to the author, but that money will only be on the e-books.  If the writer has a standard e-book agreement in her contract, that book will earn either 25% of gross or 15% of net.  Both of those royalty rates are moving targets, since what, exactly, is gross? And how does the publishing company determine net? (That’s why a percentage of the retail price is better.) Let’s assume that the e-book is priced at $9.99—and because we don’t know the magic formula, we’re going to assume that 25% of gross is $2.  (All I know is that 25% gross is less than 25% of the retail price, with discount sales, etc.)

Let’s assume also that the e-book will sell 1,000 copies per year.  That’s $2,000 per year, funneled through bi-annual royalty statement, minus 15% to the agent.  So the writer will get two lump sum payments, starting in year five, of $850 each.

By year ten, the writer will have made on that Big Publishing version of the book, $29,750.  The self-published version of the book will have made $30,000.  So not a lot of difference there, except for the monthly check.

But now, let’s revisit the math with a standard midlist writer advance of $10,000 instead.  The writer will have earned, minus agent’s commissions, $8500.  Then, in year five, the writer will start getting her $1700 per year.  So by year ten, she will have earned $17,000 on her Big Publishing book—and $30,000 if she published the book herself.

Note that I’ve made a lot of assumptions here.  I’m assuming that she would actually make $2 per e-book sold through Big Publishing.  (I think that figure is high.)  I’m also assuming that the book will sell 1,000 copies per year.  I think that figure is high for the Big Publishing e-book and low for the self-publishing e-book.

The other assumption? I have the self-published e-book priced differently than the Big Publishing e-book.  Let’s match prices for the sake of argument.

First, let’s price the self-published book at $9.99.  The writer will make 70% of that or $6.99.  At one thousand copies sold per year, the writer will make $6990, which, over ten years will be $69,900.  Let’s be nice and give the writer the larger Big Publishing advance.  At a $9.99 e-book price with 1000 sales and a $25,000 advance, that writer through a Big Publisher will still make $29,750. By self publishing, the writer will earn $40,000 more over ten years.

Now, let’s price that Big Publishing e-book at $4.99.  Since that’s roughly half price of the $9.99 e-book, I’ll cut the 25% of gross earnings in half.  The writer now earns $1 per e-book sold.  That’s $1000 per year over five years or $5000, minus the agent’s commission of 15% equals $4250.  Add to that the wonderful $25,000 advance ($21,250 with the commission), and suddenly the midlist writer with the very nice advance has only earned $25,500 over ten years. If the writer got a Big Publishing advance of $10,000 ($8500 with commission), then all she earned in ten years at the $4.99 e-book price is $12,750.

The self published midlist writer with the $4.99 e-book has earned $30,000 in that same period of time.

And here’s the other assumption: even though I mention print-on-demand as a viable way to satisfy fans, I haven’t added any print-on-demand numbers into our self-publishing equation.  So the $30,000 that the writer earns over ten years is on the e-book alone.

So, strictly on money earned alone, it makes no sense for an established midlist author to have her books published out of a Big Publishing company.  Yet a variety of us who know the math are still selling books to Big Publishers. Why?

Many writers write for reasons other than money. Some write because they can’t do anything else, but others write because their dream is to see their work published by Big Publishing.

Right now—and I’m going to stress right now because, remember, everything is changing—Big Publishing is the best way to get a novel into a wide variety of bookstores all over the country, all at the same time.  The book will go on the stands in Barnes & Noble and the local independent bookseller (like Powell’s) in the same week.  The book has a chance of getting into grocery stores and Wal-Mart, which it cannot do (at the moment) via the print-on-demand route.  It’ll also hit libraries at that time as well.

Writers who don’t understand publishing often say that Big Publishing does not promote their books. Those writers couldn’t be more wrong.  Even if the Big Publisher doesn’t buy a single advertisement in any of the trade journals or send out review copies, the Big Publisher will still advertise the book to their bookstore accounts via the catalogue and through the sales force.

Remember that old distribution model:

Writers provide content (product) to Publishers.

Publishers distribute that content to Distributors.

Distributors distribute books to Bookstores.

Bookstores distribute that content to Readers.

Now, recall that 90% of all books purchased still funnel through that system.  Writers should want to have their books promoted to the primary market—which (at the moment) booksellers. So even if the writer never sees an ad targeted at readers, she should know that her Big Publishing novel will get advertised to the people who are on the front line of book selling—the bookstores.

Is that worth a loss of $15,000 over ten years?  I think that depends on the writer, the stage she’s at in her career, and the decision she makes about her books.

Let me get personal for a minute.  Why am I doing new books through Big Publishing and books on my own? (Technically, they’re not entirely on my own, but I’ll get to that next week.)  Here’s why:

1. I write a lot.  I can write two or three books per year for Big Publishing and write two or three books for me.  This is an important point.

2. Big Publishing keeps my name in advertising channels that I can’t reach on my own.

3. Even if I could reach those channels on my own, I like the idea of being marketed through a variety of sources.  I learn from every single publisher I’ve ever worked with.  I see how they promote the work to accounts, what channels they distribute to, what’s effective and what isn’t.  I have followed this pattern in my short fiction career—going with big publishers and small ones—and it keeps my name in front of audiences that I wouldn’t normally reach.

4. Going to a variety of markets grows my readership.  Those readers will—I hope—come to my individually published books as well as my books through Big Publishing.

5. The fact that Big Publishing does its promotion on the velocity/produce model means that they’ll target their ads and everything in the space of a few months.  That sudden burst of advertising brings new readers to my individually published books, readers who might not have come otherwise.

6. I see no reason to ignore 90% of the business because I’m making good money in 10% of the business.  That doesn’t seem wise to me.

7. Right now, Big Publishing is the best way to have a New York Times bestseller.  If a writer wants her book to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, then Big Publishing is set up to achieve that.  Will that happen in e-book publishing and print-on-demand? Of course.  But will it happen without the support of Big Publishing? That remains to be seen.  I only know of one self-published writer right now whose books are selling at New York Times bestseller rates.  And while one is nice, it’s not a statistic to rely on.  Honestly, I don’t expect my Big Publishing novels to become New York Times bestsellers. Those books were sold at midlist advances, so they’ll have midlist numbers.  But if I ever thought I had a book that could have the legs to sell at half a million copies right off the bat, I’d take it to Big Publishers first and if they said no or didn’t offer enough money to support the book as a bestseller, then I would publish it myself.

My personal calculations are based primarily on marketing, not money.  I have a large backlist much of which has not been in print for ten years or more.  I want Big Publishing to keep my name out there, to promote some of my front list, so that readers will come to my extensive backlist.

However, if I was a slow writer, we might be having a different discussion here.  As a slow writer, I might want to maximize income, so I might jettison Big Publishing altogether.  Or as a slow writer, I might want to see my books in major bookstores on the shelf, which means that I would partner with Big Publishing.

Will I make the same decisions five years from now? I have no idea. This world is changing so quickly, I might not be happy with  my decisions a year from now.  I made a choice in November of 2009 which was right for the time, but which is not a decision I would make in January of 2011.  Things are changing that quickly.

The decisions on whether or not to self-publish or go with Big Publishing also vary as to who the writer is, what she wants from her career, how much money she needs to earn, how fast she needs to earn it, and how she would feel if the book sells well and doesn’t make her a lot of money.  She has to decide how she wants to pursue her work—and her dreams.

I think the toughest part of this changing publishing environment is this: There are no clear-cut paths.  Just because Writer A has made the decision to part with Big Publishing altogether doesn’t make that the right decision for Writer B.  Writers have to figure out on their own what’s best for them.  But they must do so armed with facts and with a clear eye as to what they want.

There’s one other very important point for midlist writers, and that’s workload.  How much of the self-publishing work does an already established midlist writer want to do herself? What can she do to minimize the self-publishing workload? Should she ask her agent to do the self publishing for her? Should she go with a small start-up? Should she do all the work herself? Should she skip self-publishing altogether?

The answer to those questions should seem simple, but it’s not.  And looking in my crystal ball, I worry that the writers who will get scammed, who will lose actual fortunes, won’t be the beginners or the bestsellers.  It’ll be the established midlist writer.

And I’ll tell you why next week.

Weirdly enough, whenever I talk about money in my weekly post, my donations dry up.  I hope that doesn’t happen this week.  As always, please share this post with folks who might be interested. And thanks ever so much for the letters, comments, and donations.  I appreciate each and every one of them.

“The Business Rusch: Midlist Writers & Big Publishing” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

32 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Midlist Writers & Big Publishing (Changing Times Part 14)

  1. Pingback: ????,??????????
  2. I agree with you on the professional program for CreateSpace. Aside from that, I sent approximately the same files to both Lulu and CreateSpace, the difference being the margins requested by either site.

    The Lulu version was slightly cheaper, on better paper, and the cover art was what I sent them. The CreateSpace version had cheaper paper, it was badly bound, and the cover art’s color was so badly off that I had to create a different version specially for them and pay for a second proof. The second proof was acceptable, but still inferior to Lulu’s.

    From that, I’d simply suggest checking Lulu again, or checking it periodically. Everyone who has seen both versions prefers the Lulu version. If they get a professional program going to give discounts to bookstores, they could be a contender.

    1. I think it’s worth revisiting all these new companies–e-book and POD because everything is changing so very quickly. Thanks for the info, Heteromeles!

  3. I’m too dumb for the publishing world, Kris. You say that new authors can ‘have no impact in stores’ and yet their careers can be ‘built’ by a traditional publishing approach. How? If the books can’t be bought in stores, how does the career get ‘built’? What can ‘built’ even mean?

    I can easily see how an author can both promote themselves and sell books by publishing them as an eBook. But in the magazine business, you go broke if your magazines aren’t on the newstands. It’s just that simple. Why are books different?

    Cheers — Larry

    1. I said they don’t get in small stores and in small superstores. They get in the large ones. And there are large ones in every single state. 5,000 copies sold for those books is a good start. And if they’re good, they’ll easily do that in the big superstores over the entire country plus Amazon & B&N online. If the book is well reviewed, even by bloggers (not PW), it’ll get into libraries. The more orders the book gets at the bigger stores and from libraries, the more that Big Publishing rethinks its position. It’ll then (within the first 2-3 months of release) talk to the buyers for the superstores and ask them to up their current orders based on existing sales. Then the book gets into the smaller superstores. The sales force might then push the book to the remaining independents or the independents in the author’s area. So the book is in stores, Larry. It’s just not in all stores. Even if this happens on the first or second book, the book will not make an impact in the stores themselves. You the consumer won’t see the book unless you look for it. It’ll be alphabetical and spine out on the shelf. But if it does well, and the next book does better, then the third will get the face out treatment and maybe some promotion.

      You can’t assume that because the book is not available in all stores (and generally speaking, only the bestsellers are) that it’s not doing well.

  4. The one point I’d like to make is that POD is relatively expensive. Publishing it with Lulu or CreateSpace is very straightforward, but the cost plus a small return for the writer is about the same as the retail cost of the book.

    Unfortunately, that costs means that I cannot afford to sell said book through an independent bookstore. It is confined to Amazon and B&N.

    This isn’t a primary problem for the authors (yet), but it may become a problem for the independent bookstores, because they are effectively tied to conventional publishers at this point. I’d love to see this change.

    1. Heteromeles,

      First, skip Lulu. Lulu is expensive and it is basically a vanity press.

      Second, CreateSpace and LightningSource don’t cost you much more than a purchase of a single proof to make sure you’re doing something right. So for, say, $10, you can self publish your book. It’s not expensive at all.

      Third, both CreateSpace & LightningSource have a professional program. On Createspace it’s $39 per book per year, and it gets you into the same distribution channels as Big Publishers. The bookstores will get discounts, although not as high as the discounts from Big Publishers, and the bookstores can return the books if need be.

      So you’re wrong about not being able to afford to sell your self-published book to independent bookstores. It can, and does, happen all the time, and at little cost to the author. If you want to set up your own distribution channel through CS & LS, you can do that as well, and offer the same kind of discount that Big Publishers do. Here’s a little known secret: this is how most of the specialty presses operate and some of Big Publishing has moved to the same system for backlist titles.

  5. “As for getting into stores, please reread my first midlist post. A lot of books aren’t meant to get into regular stores at all. It depends on catalogue position. Theoretically, the publisher is building that author.”

    Thanks for the response, and this is the point. Maybe I’m buying into the ‘sky is falling’ part of the modern dialog. But with people discussing how long it will be before the guaranteed return model drags treebook publishing into the dirt and the constant stream of bookstore closures, it seems naive to ignore the fact that ‘building’ anything in that atmosphere seems unlikely. I believe even you have said that building authors isn’t like it used to be.

    What I know is that when I was in the magazine publishing business, we were chasing our tails trying to keep our magazines on the newstands as the spaces collapsed, with vendors favoring cigars and potato chips. As I walk through my local bookstore and see more and more of the floor space filled with games, pens, journals, and cooking paraphenalia, I don’t see a different dynamic there.

    I do hope you’re correct that these changes are unimportant somehow but I know how it affected the bottom line of magazine distribution and can’t help but believe that it is somehow similar with books.

    BTW, I’m confessing to to dumb to navigate. I’ve looked for your donate button and can’t find it. Can you provide a pointer?

    Cheers — Larry
    Cheers — Larry

    1. The impact on the midlist, backlist, and new authors happened already, Larry. That was in the late 1990s. I don’t think store closings will change that situation at all. It’s nearly impossible for a newer author to have an impact in stores unless there’s a strong financial push behind the author, which rarely happens. And yet careers get built all the time. Just because I’m saying it’s harder than it used to be doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, new/mid authors in every genre get built into brand names every year, in rather startling quantities, despite all the roadblocks.

      As for the donate button, there’s one at the end of every business post just above the copyright notice. Thanks for asking!

  6. Hi Kris,
    Sorry I wasn’t clear. Let’s try some bullet points 🙂

    – You did a great fiscal comparison between ‘possiblities’ between a traditional midlist contract and publishing yourself.

    – Obviously assumptions have to be made, one of which is sales success

    – But sales success of a traditional contract is dependent upon the books actually getting into stores.

    My question has to do with this last thing. If one haunts the Internet one learns of numerous “newbie” contracts for books by mid-listers – books that I NEVER see in any store. So…

    – this seems like a HUGE problem for midlist & newbie authors. Isn’t it?

    – As shelf space declines won’t it become an even bigger problem?

    And thus, how does/will this affect the decision-making process? As someone looking from the outside it looks to me as though I’d have a better chance of getting my ‘newbie’ book into B&N as an eBook than I would as treebook.

    Cheers — Larry

    1. Thanks for clarifying, Larry. And the answer to your last statement is no. Not at the moment. I’ll deal with that in a further piece, but it comes down to discounts. In traditional publishing, the publisher can give a bookstore superb discounts and free shipping. If you go through CreateSpace, etc, for your dead tree book, you will still sell at a discount to stores that order in quantity, but at half the discount a traditional publisher will give.

      As for getting into stores, please reread my first midlist post. A lot of books aren’t meant to get into regular stores at all. It depends on catalogue position. Theoretically, the publisher is building that author. The books will get into the biggest stores–the super superstores in NYC or LA–but not in the smaller superstores in, say, Portland, Oregon. Independents will also order the book. This is as it always was, except for the build problem I mentioned in one of the midlist posts. Nothing has changed–and yes, there is still a benefit.

      What new writers can’t fathom is the size of publishing. Just because you sell 1000 copies of your book this year by yourself doesn’t mean you’re doing well by traditional publishing standards, even if you’re doing better financially than you would at the same 1000 copies out of a traditional publisher. As a new writer, you can sell–through traditional publishing–5,000 copies of your book and never once see that book in your local bookstore. Size. Distribution. International business. Millions of readers. Thousands of bookstores. Please keep that in mind.

      Will B&N order your self-published dead tree book? Not for its superstores, not even with the discount–unless a hundred people request it at the same time and in different parts of the country. Will your dead tree book get into B&N online? Sure. Will anyone outside friends & family notice? Probably not. That’s the difference in a nutshell.

  7. Thanks for all your business posts, Kris. These are incredibly valuable for those of us floundering around at all stages of our publishing careers. I have a contract with Berkley for a new mystery series AND I’m trying to get self-pubbed books up ASAP and somehow make it all come together in a career that pays well enough that I can write for a living (instead of the private investigation work I do now). Your insights and analysis are wonderfully helpful in making sense of the morass that is publishing these days.

    I’m going to drop a donation in the box now in hopes that you will continue to guide us through the fog.

    1. Thanks so much, Pamela. I appreciate the donation and the kind words. I’m glad I’m helping with the changes. Like you, I’m finding it both fun and challenging. I was out talking with readers this weekend, so feel even more enlightened. 🙂 (and overwhelmed) I feel as if, in addition to my regular writing job, I suddenly have a whole new job–reviving my backlist. It’s fun, but time-consuming.

      Congrats on the new mystery series, btw–and getting your backlist up!

  8. It does seem as thought new authors have too many choices and it’s hard to know what to think. I don’t know if anyone knows but a missing piece of the puzzle for me is what the chances are that a new author, with an traditional contract, will actually have their books placed in bookstores? If so, how many?

    Most authors who announce their ‘new deal’ are talking about books that never show up in the local store here. It would seem this will only become worse, not better, as the treebook world contracts. So, while one can do some math, I wonder how reflective it is of real sales for a new author?

    Cheers — Larry

    1. Larry, I’d be happy to address your question (which may be rhetorical) but I’m not quite sure what you mean. Reflective of real sales…? Please clarify.

  9. don’t forget that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar a year from now when you do this math. If you want to get technical with it, you can use the PV function in Excel.

  10. Well, I was thinking mainly of bookstores. If ebooks come to dominate the market in a big way, then one of Big Publishing’s main selling points (putting it in the stores) will become much less important. So one pessimistic scenario — say you take a lukewarm contract from Big Publishing because of their bookstore reach, but by the time the book comes out, the market is primarily ebook anyways. In that case, you might as well have self published.
    Not all two-year spans are created equal, and I’m guessing these next couple years will see more change than most, which makes me wary about signing contracts that lock things in for the duration of copyright. I guess even so, it’s not that big a deal when you consider the rest of your career and all your (hopefully) other books, so maybe I’m overthinking things.

    1. Livia, right now I think we’re all overthinking things because we have no idea what’s going to happen next! I think it’s a necessary reaction, so that we can make it through the changes.

      Your point on bookstores is a very good one. I have no real idea how that’s going to work out. Still paper books are so much of the market, that I can’t see bookstores going away either.

  11. The Big publishing timeline really throws a wrench in the decision process. It’s hard enough to decide what’s the best model now, and even harder when you’re trying to forecast what things will be like in two years.

    1. Um…yes and no. Publishing is a glacial business and once you stop thinking in terms of velocity, then you realize that books are books. It’s not going to hurt to wait a few years for your Big Publishing novel to come out, because that’ll help your individually published stuff at that point. Also, it’s not going to hurt to market to Big Publishing, then if they say no, publish the book on your own. I agree that Big Publishing’s timeline can be frustrating, but if you stop thinking of books as produce, then you can relax into the business.

  12. Kris,

    Thanks for another great post. It ended as it should, leaving the decision with the individual writer, but I really appreciate the way you present the options.

    It seems that one important factor in considering Big Publishing is the ability to advertise effectively. What about someone who specializes mostly in short work? Do you think that publishing some of that work in traditional channels – that is, established popular magazines both print and electronic – would be enough exposure to help with e-book and POD sales? It’s an option I have been contemplating. I write mostly short stories, though I have one novel making the rounds and another on its way soon. The thing is, it takes forever for a novel to work its way through the slush – I’d say an average of six months to a year to get a reply from an editor – if ever. I have the novel out to several places at once, but still… In the meantime, I’m not getting any younger. Whereas if I have about twenty-five or thirty stories making the rounds at least I hear something more regularily. Could regular short story sales (my own sales are irregular but I aspire to more) provide enough impetus to stimulate sales of self-published products? Or is the exposure minimal compared to novels? What do you think?

    1. The short fiction magazines are great advertisers for short fiction writers. The subscribers already like short fiction and like the genre. So readers become familiar with you.

      As for what promotes self-published projects, I’m just not sure. It’s way too new to know. But I believe that if you have fans for your short fiction, and those fans own an e-reader, and they see your name, then they’ll order your self-published works. Dean is of the opinion that you can self-publish a work and still submit it to NYC. I suspect he’s right. Right now, I think you should do what feels good for you, and I think the changes in the publishing industry are giving writers a lot of possibilities right now. So do what works best.

  13. You know, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about this particular topic recently. I ran across a roundtable discussion the other day where Betsy Mitchell, vice president/editor-in-chief of Del Ray Spectra said that she encouraged a couple of writers who sent her great books that she just couldn’t buy to self-publish. Full discussion is at .

    You know, there’s a revenue stream in there somewhere for Big Publishing. The catalog of new books published that they sent to bookstores could easily be expanded to include a section on recommended print-on-demand books. The big publishers could charge a fee for the inclusion, or a small percentage of sales over a limited period of time. Doing this would expand the distribution model for quality self-published books while creating an additional revenue stream for the publishers. The only drawback I see is in the returns model. Bookstores might not be willing to forgo that particular protection, but even if they purchased a reduced number of books it would increase the availability of the books themselves.

    As the print-on-demand model becomes more accepted–when the editor-in-chief of a major house starts recommending it, the stigma is most certainly fading–I think big publishing would be wise to find a way to capitalize on the trend. As long as the terms do not hamper the overall benefits of self-publishing, it could be a boon to the writer as well.

    But as you say, six months from now this might all change again.

    Thanks again, Kris for a great post.

    1. Good points, Joseph. Thanks for the link to Betsy’s comments.

      As for POD, lots of publishers do that already. Simon & Schuster has done it for years. It’s a problem, because what constitutes out of print for writers? S&S is particularly hard to get to revert rights because they want a POD book. I wouldn’t complain except that their POD products are both ugly and expensive, not a good combination. (Yes, I have a book in that mess: Fantasy Life. I can’t get it back and they’re not putting it into electronic files.) So publishers have seen that revenue stream for years. They just don’t add it into their catalogues. (That advertising space costs money.)

      Your overall point is right, however. POD has become acceptable. That’s a good thing, imho.

  14. You know, Kris, one thing I’d add to reasons why a writer at any level might want to self-publish is that they actually enjoy the process of preparing a book for sale – designing the cover, choosing the font for the POD version, doing the blurb. It’s another type of creative expression and creative control satisfying unto itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *