Bestselling Author Turns Down $500K Deal to Self-Publish

The breaking news today is that NYT bestseller Barry Eisler turned down a $500K deal from his publisher, St. Martin’s, in order to self-publish his next book.

In honor of the occasion, he and JA Konrath have a conversation that extends 12,000 words. You can read/download the entire thing here as a PDF. It’s worth reading in its entirety.

Below I’ve summarized a few of the key points, along with related highlights from the conversation.

1. In the self-publishing arena, the most profitable use of an author’s time is writing more books. And self-publishing helps you focus more on the writing itself.

Barry: Now, with digital books, once again there’s no more profitable use of an author’s time than writing. Not to say that authors don’t need to have a strong online presence; of course they do. But any time you’re thinking about some other promotional activity—a blog post, a trip to a convention, an hour on Facebook—you have to measure the value of that time against the value of writing and publishing a new story. The new story earns money, both for itself and your other works. …

Joe: But it’s even more than that. … A virtual shelf, like Amazon or Smashwords, carries all my titles, all the time. And I don’t have to compete with a NYT bestseller who has 400 copies of their latest hit on the shelf, while I only have one copy of mine. We each take up one virtual space per title. … Virtual shelf life is forever. In a bookstore, you have anywhere form a few weeks to a few months to sell your title, and then it gets returned. This is a big waste of money, and no incentive at all for the bookseller to move the book.

But e-books are forever. Once they’re live, they will sell for decades. Someday, long after I’m gone, my grandchildren will be getting my royalties.

A lot of people don’t realize—and I probably wouldn’t have realized myself if you hadn’t pointed it out—that the appropriate measure for determining how much your books can earn you in digital is forever.

In paper, with rare exceptions, there’s a big upfront sales push, followed by either total evaporation or by years of low backlist sales. Digital isn’t like that.

Joe: Time is the ultimate long tail. Even with a big wad of money upfront, if something sells forever, the back end is what ultimately counts.

[My note: For more on this issue of the long tail of sales, read this excellent post.]

2. You don’t have to spend more time marketing and promoting if you self-publish. Anyone who says you have to be a marketing genius to succeed is wrong.

Barry: A talent for marketing is going to help you in any business endeavor, but there are too many people making money now in self-publishing for an outbreak of genius to be the explanation.

… I know some people are going to be reading this and thinking, “Okay, but how will I ever cut through all that digital clutter? How will I ever get noticed without a publisher?”

Joe: How did anyone ever get noticed with a publisher?

Barry: Exactly. Walk into a bookstore—even with today’s diminished inventory, there are tens of thousands of titles. How do you get noticed? Getting noticed and other aspects of marketing is a challenge in any business, digital, paper, or otherwise. It’s too big a topic to cover here, but for now, let’s just say that it’s hardly a unique challenge for digital books. And, as you and many others have demonstrated, it’s hardly an insurmountable challenge, either.

3. You don’t need a traditional or “legacy” deal first (to help you develop an audience), before being able to succeed at self-publishing.

Barry: [People say] “Konrath only succeeded in self-publishing because he had a legacy deal first.” And then I point to your various blog posts where you show how much money is being made by self-published writers who have never had legacy deals.

Joe: I think I contradicted the “legacy deal first” argument pretty well here.

Barry: You demolished it. The final argument I’ve been hearing … is that, “Okay, some people are making money in self-publishing, but it’s always the same names.” But that list of names keeps getting longer. The critics are going to be reduced to saying, “Okay, some people are making money in self-publishing, but it’s always the same five thousand names.” The critics will be self-publishing themselves before then.

4. A publisher’s key value right now is in paper-book distribution. And even that value is becoming highly questionable or even irrelevant.

Barry: On the digital side of the ledger, publishers don’t add much at all because there’s nothing to distribute. Or, to put it a little more accurately, what publishers can add on the digital side (editing, copyediting, proofreading, cover design, jacket copy, formatting) can all be done by other players at least as well.

So what an author needs to consider today is fairly straightforward: “Is what I’m giving up on the digital side by taking on this legacy partner balanced or exceeded by the partner’s paper muscle?:

The answer is going to be different with different authors. James Patterson, to use an extreme example, sells bazillions of books in every conceivable paper outlet. He’s clearly better off with a legacy partner than he would be on his own. But as bookstores close and digital readers proliferate, more and more authors will decide that what legacy publishers take from them in digital sales isn’t worth what legacy publishers earn for them in paper sales.

Mike Shatzkin, an industry insider and analyst, has offered his excellent take on “What does it all mean” over at his blog. His key points are:

  • Konrath & Eisler don’t do the math on the loss of print sales & merchandising, and how to address it.
  • If Barnes & Noble (or a wholesaler like Ingram) were smart, they would see an opportunity to strike a deal with authors like Eisler to license the print edition for their customers.

Offer your thoughts on the situation in the comments, particularly on the following issues:

  • How can traditional publishers prevent authors like Eisler from walking away? If they can’t prevent it, does that mean they can’t survive in the long term?
  • Have we now reached the moment when a new author (with zero legacy/traditional deal or presence) can expect to earn more money over the course of their career by going the independent route?

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22 thoughts on “Bestselling Author Turns Down $500K Deal to Self-Publish

  1. Mazarine

    I self published a book called The Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising in November last year. The reason I did that is because in August 2009 I went to the Willamette Writers conference, talked with some agents, and they said I needed to build up a platform before any publisher would even look at me. So in November 2009 I started my business blog,, and now, about 18 months after starting this blog, I have over 8,000 monthly readers. When I self published, I found that I was already making sales all over the world, from Tasmania to Finland. I’ve also sold quite a few ebooks and eproducts based around my book too. I took all the risk and all the reward, and I’m glad I did.

    Thanks for writing about self publishing, and what an author really gets. I think these days it’s more profitable for an unknown author to build their audience online and find their 1,000 true fans, rather than try begging to be noticed at increasingly cash-strapped publishing houses.

    I’m already writing my second book, called the 3-D Reputation Engine, and I’m going to publish that too!



  2. Steven M Moore

    Most of the marketing costs you’ve mentioned are also shared by the lesser known author at one of the big six and especially small publishing houses. Website design and updates, sample books, travel to bookstore signings, any advertising in news media, radio, or TV (a TV interview requires gasoline and a new haircut, at least)–these costs and more are now borne by lesser known authors as the major marketing funds are saved for the "sure bets", those already established authors with a long track record.
    @all Jane’s readers,
    In my blog yesterday I actually recommended that every fiction writer try the traditional route and use POD pBooks and eBooks only as a fall-back. (Non-fiction is different–the niches are more well-defined.) This digital age is a wonderful boon to authors–we have so many more routes to follow and we should try to take advantage of all of them. Even the traditional publishing route has been facilitated via electronic submissions to agents–I hated all the paper waste and trips to the post office!
    Who knows how it will all shake out? Until the fat tenor sings (to be anti-sexist), we should adopt a wait-and-see attitude and try everything that is available to us.
    Great discussion thread, folks–and to the publishing people who chipped in, thank you. We need less emotion and more rational discussion.

  3. V.R. Leavitt

    Thanks for posting this Jane! Great stuff. This same kind of change is exactly what the music industry has gone through and we still see servings from major labels and independent artists. The same will probably hold true for the publishing world. Depends on the author and the project. It’s been fascinating watching it all unfold.

  4. Tara Benwell

    This is the editor’s comment that pushed me over the edge to let my agent go, hire my own professional editor, and self-publish using Create Space (very simple):

    "Sorry it’s taken me forever to answer you about Tara Benwell’s novel. I’ve really been agonizing over it! What a great book! Crazy family, really fine writing, good narrative. I loved every minute of reading it! But I’ve been swamped with exceptional manuscripts. And we can publish only four or five novels per year. After struggling my way to several really difficult decisions, I find myself, unfortunately, having to say no. Please tell Tara how impressed I am with the novel and her writing, and congratulate her. And please do keep me in mind for any of her future projects.”

    My novel, ‘The Proper Order of Things,’ appeared on Amazon today. I’ve been inspired by Seth Godin’s Domino Project and his thoughts about Poking the Box.

  5. Christina Katz

    I guess, for me, I can’t help wondering why we are always speaking about publishing in the future as black and white?

    It seems to me, from the moderate middle where I try to stay regardless of the winds of change, that any writer is going to end up writing and publishing "on a spectrum."

    Now that this is the case, it matters little if you have a long history of traditional publishing or self-publishing. As we see by the criss-cross effect of Amanda vs. Joe: no writers is going to go either way every time.

    How about this instead: each writer should make each choice on a case-by-case basis, without feeling resigned to either moniker.

    Imagine how much easier this whole discussion will become when a writer is neither exclusively "traditionally published" nor exclusively "self-published" but can feel free to choose what seems best given the circumstances of the moment.

    Perhaps this kind of mental flexibility is what is so disconcerting to some. But, from my humble perspective, mental flexibility with neither choice being holy or damned, is looking pretty good. And bodes well for a more diverse and interesting playing field for all involved.

  6. Frances Grimble

    Self-publishing today does mean print publishing, in addition to e-publishing. Print is not dead. Print books are selling just fine–including my books.

    I know exactly what my up-front costs are, in addition to printing. (Far better than anyone else does, except for the IRS.) These costs are quite substantial. I assure you that money-making publication is not just a matter of writing a book and immediately posting the text. Furthermore, when I perform tasks for myself I expect to be paid just as much as an editor, graphic artist, illustrator, proofreader, indexer, translator, marketer, or whoever that I would otherwise have hired. The advantage to me is that I don’t have to pay such freelancers up front, and I get paid instead, as the books sell.

    Publishing is a business, and writing is a profession. I deserve to be fairly paid for my labor and expertise; and I need to pay for my groceries just like freelancers do, and just like my readers do. Self-publishing commercial-quality books is not cheap or easy, and anyone entering the field needs to be apprised of that. I take pride in the fact that my books are of just as high a quality as those published by larger commercial publishers, and I am sure they sell much better than if they were not.

  7. George

    As Nathan mentioned above….
    "Have we now reached the moment when a new author (with zero legacy/traditional deal or presence) can expect to earn more money over the course of their career by going the independent route?"

    I am counting on it.

    As a strategy and having no legacy, I am working backwards from self published an eBook, to self published book if demand is there, to normal publishing if successful.

    I also have no qualms about realizing that once published I will be doing a lot of marketing through social and other channels, and not writing my next book.

    Having an IT background helps me in this regard and seeing a common trend across all industries where old traditional methods have been replaced with digital is normal. So the target is to put the stake in the sand ahead of the game.

    Therefore for traditional publishers its a game changer and they will be rearranging their business models in the next few years, which is exactly what is happening in the music industry – eg I don’t buy CD’s anymore.

    Enjoying the ability to control your own destiny I think is the fun part and am looking forward to the challenge.

  8. asrai

    Frances: self-pub today means uploading your books to amazon, smashwords, b&n etc. No shipping required. Eisler hired someone to do the formatting. Sure there is taxes, but an accountant costs far less than an agent. Everyone has a computer and basic office supplies these days. I don’t think anyone uses a typewriter (except maybe for a first draft maybe??).

    Self-pub means there is only a tiny bit of upfront fees and if you price at 2.99+ on Amazon you get 70% royalty.

    Print sales with a publishing house are moot when you are getting only a tiny percentage and a short print run. If you price at 2.99+ you can get 70% royalty and no agent fees. Why would someone with an established name go for a contract? Konrath is going to make $100,000 this year, no advance to earn out, no wait time to publish his next book.

  9. Frances Grimble

    I’ve self-published (offset print) books for 19 years. I worked for larger publishers, mostly as an editor, for 10 years before that.

    You do NOT have more time to focus on the writing if you self-publish. You have to either do, or pay someone up front to do, editing, graphic design, page formatting, proofreading, illustration (for illustrated books), indexing (for nonfiction), and order fulfillment. (And for some books, translation to or from foreign languages.) And you have to do lots of marketing, which can be a huge time sink where it’s very hard to trace where your results are (and are not) coming from. Then, you have to do, or pay someone up front to do, everything required to run a small business, including website design, accounting, legal services, setting up and entering data into spreadsheets and databases, preparing sales taxes, and lots more. You have all the overhead required to run a small business: A workspace (even if it’s in your home you need a home big enough to spare a roon), computer hardware and software, office supplies . . . and you pay for all of it up front.

    I’ve successfully self-published nine books. I’ve learned a lot. I choose my own projects and I organize my own days. I’ve even had offers from other publishers. But if one of them offered me a nonrefundable $500,000 advance to publish one of my books, sure, I’d have a lawyer and/or an agent closely examine the contract. And if the contract didn’t have any nasty gotches:

    I’d be crawling all over that publisher to accept it.

    Mind you, most of us self-publishers will never earn $500,000 in profit from any given book. Mine are niche books, and they will never, ever, be bestsellers. I’ve crunched the numbers and yes, I do make more money self-publishing than if I’d published my books with another publisher. But as for my schedule, it’s the common small-business grind–every day of the week is a workday, including weekends, and most hours are work hours, including evenings. I don’t have time to take vacations, either.

  10. Sue Campbell

    Some wonderfully astute comments by readers! I would like to point out that Konrath’s remark about his grandchildren reaping the royalties from his books in the future is sort of ridiculous. When’s the last time you went out and bought, or picked up at the library, a Hemingway, or a Dickens? Not often I’d wager, and Konrath’s writing doesn’t belong in that category by a long shot. Good literature stands the test of time—but demand tends to wane.

    I applaud anyone who is "making a living" on self-pubbed e-books. Heck I’m going to try it myself. But we need to keep the pie in the sky aphorisms in perspective.

    I don’t think I am alone in saying that it’s already to hard to sort the wheat from chaff in literature, E or P— and it isn’t getting any easier, quite the contrary.

  11. Jill Kemerer

    While I applaud writers who study the current market and make decisions based on what’s best for them, the self-publishing news of the last few weeks rings warning bells in my head.

    Publishing isn’t easy. Period. It isn’t easy going the traditional route, and it isn’t easy going the self-published route. I’ve been trying to get published for a long time, and each rejection has made me evaluate my writing and improve it. While I’m confident the big-news authors of late write gripping, well-written novels, most new writers don’t. I needed rejections on my early books for my writing to grow.

    I fear this self-publishing crusade will saturate the market with newer authors unwilling to self-assess their work and who have a get-rich-quick mentality. I’m all for authors making as much money as possible, but the product has to hold up. And I simply don’t buy that new authors can sell large amounts of their books unless they have either a concrete and growing platform or a fan-base to begin with. Effective marketing will always be a factor in selling tons of books.

  12. Dana

    I wonder what ol’ Barry’s net worth was before he started writing? Before he made this decision? That sort of thing is important to consider when analyzing business strategies, no?

  13. Porter Anderson

    My thanks to Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) at Publishers Marketplace (@publisherslunch), who pointed me to this comment from the St. Martin’s Press side of things when I asked if there had been a statement — I’d missed this yesterday, 21 March: When reached for comment, (imprint) Minotaur publisher Andy Martin told us, "At the final stages of this deal, Barry made a considered personal decision to self-publish. While we are disappointed, as we would have loved to be the publisher of his terrific John Rain series, we certainly wish him well in his endeavor."

    I have to say that when a big fist goes up into the air, even on your own estimable column, Jane, I can’t help remembering that those are people on the other side of this issue at the legacy publishers, book people, who know perfectly well that they benefit from more book sales for authors, not fewer. And on occasions like these, traditional publishers are being painted in hard lines by the writing community. It’s pretty facile. If we hear only Eisler-Konrath "bitching about their publishers," as Konrath characterizes it in their dialogue — and if we then follow with tweets bristling with obnoxious exclamation points — we’re having a pretty circular and largely emotive debate. As if a legacy publisher doesn’t "get" digital. As if a legacy publisher wouldn’t benefit from POD. As if a legacy publisher is just a wild-eyed outfit determined to drive the car right over the cliff.

    In Mike Shatzkin’s super piece, which you reference ( ), I find a lot more intelligent perspective than in pitchfork-rattling among the $1.99 folks. Two excerpts from Shatzkin:

    "What this conversation can make you forget is that far more than half of most books’ sales, perhaps more than 70% for the majority of titles, are still print copies selling because they’re on-hand in a physical retail location. And that’s in the US. The number is higher in the UK and is almost certainly more than 90% in most other places in the world."


    "Of course, Eisler hasn’t succeeded yet. He has a book to put out this Father’s Day that he turned down $250,000 to have come out next Father’s Day. If the over-under is whether he’ll have earned his $250,000 by then, which way would you bet? It would strike me as extremely ambitious, but if he can sell at $4.95, not entirely inconceivable. And, of course, you could set the bar at which you’d call it “success” a lot lower than that."

    I’m glad to have Mike Shatzkin’s expertise, i encourage all your blog readers to read him, too. And I regret that we don’t hear a lot more from the publishing side in cases like this. I think we need to encourage the publishers to engage in the debate. I’d even suggest we urge the writerly choir to give the Battle Hymn a rest, beat those exclamation points into plowshares, lower the fists and be willing to listen, concede a point or two, be cool. Particularly as our self-publishing Ms. Hocking reportedly is shopping a series around for a comparatively traditional contract with just such a house.

  14. Steven M Moore

    Hi Jane! Great post and great comments. My best to Mr. Eisler and Mr. Konrath.
    The publishing industry right now is in such a state of flux that it’s hard to predict where things will end. The digital revolution is not just eBooks but also POD pBooks. The big six will have to move towards these models just to compete. Storing pBooks in warehouses and brick-and-mortar bookstores will not be competitive in the future, if it’s even competitive now.
    The way traditional publishers can keep authors like Mr. Eisler is to provide marketing dollars and expertise. The traditional agent, in some sense, is part of this process too, because he or she has to market the author’s book to the publishers. We will see advances disappear and be replaced by marketing promises. Marketing is a skill most authors don’t have and few of us have the big bucks to do it anyway. In Sunday’s Book Review section of the N.Y. Times there was a two-page ad for a book; today there was a full page ad in the morning edition for another. I can’t imagine how much this costs. Of course, only the "sure bets" will get those marketing dollars, so if an author doesn’t bring in that kind of deal, he might as well go POD or eBook–he has to market his book anyway.
    What I find most encouraging from this discussion is the idea that the POD and eBook authors have time on their side. They don’t have to sell 5,000 books in five weeks or see their works removed from the bookstores. On the other hand, I’m not sure fiction and non-fiction play by the same rules in the digital world. The latter usually corresponds to more of a niche market and personal marketing efforts are more easily directed. The fiction market is–let’s face it–more fickle.
    Again, great discussion all–I love this stuff!

  15. Roberta Carly Redford

    All my life I wanted a book deal with a huge publishing house and when I couldn’t find one for my most recent book, I decided to "settle for" e-publishing. Now, every day, I see more evidence that this was not settling in any way, but was actually the smart thing to do.

    I think traditional publishing houses are dinosaurs which will soon collapse under their own weight, and I intend to ride the crest of the new wave into my publishing future. I would like to hear more, though, about how new writers direct readers to their online books. Huge arrows apparently don’t work…

  16. Nathan Lowell

    Rebecca makes a good point with:
    "Keeping an online presence current is a form of marketing that probably contributes a great deal to the sale of published works."

    Keeping the presence going is exactly what an author needs to do. It’s what mainstream publishers want and there’s no reason not to do it if you’re an indie or self-pub.

    It’s also pretty easy to do and, I think, does not involve a mind numbing round of obligatory posts on a set schedule across every venue in the cloud. A shallow presence in every venue is no substitute for a significant presence in a few. (I also think they need to stop confusing "networking with other writers" with "establishing a platform" but that’s just me and a different conversation.)

    Claude also makes some good points.

    On question one, I think that the Big Six *can* prevent authors from walking away if they can change the ebook model. Before they can do that, they need to get a grip on that market and, at the moment, every decision they make appears to confirm the idea that they’re floundering. Their strategy is based on the classic "avoid cannibalization" model but there’s no evidence that the various media actually overlap. There is some evidence to the contrary, in fact, and that’s that people who buy digital versions will buy paper for gifts and souvenirs. Their pricing structure is problematic in a very price sensitive market. Their terms and royalties are ridiculous. I believe they need to address those issues.

    His second point – about newcomers to the market needing to follow a legacy route – is an interesting one given the difficulty a new author faces in getting through the gatekeepers. The quest for representation can take months. Add the delay in selling the book to a publisher and then the production delays after the sale, and it can take years to get the book out in print. It doesn’t take years to establish an online presence. I maintain that a new author is better served spending the years building that presence — even as they continue down the legacy path.

    I agree with his point (on question two) about needing a presence. I disagree that it’s somehow unattainable. Building a presence is relatively easy although it does take some effort. Tracking the growth of that presence is likewise straightforward and – these days in particular – is hardly rocket surgery. If one considers that it can easily take two years or more to break into traditional publishing, using that same time to establish a presence, grow a significant platform, and learn how to use the tools effectively means a new author can begin earning well before they can expect to see a book hit the shelves in the legacy mode.

    It’s not "a lure, a mirage, a false promise" as he maintains, although caution is a good strategy in a market that’s changing as quickly as this one.

    Thanks, again, Jane. Nice breakdown and thoughtful questions.

  17. Claude Nougat

    Great post, thanks Jane!
    To answer your questions:

    1. Can publishers prevent the likes of Eisler from walking away? No, I don’t think so. Is this a real problem? Probably not. Let’s face it, not too many authors are like Eisler. You can walk away ONLY IF you have an ESTABLISHED MARKET for your books, in short lots of fans that make it worthwhile for you to walk away.The rest of us, especially newbies that have no particular presence online (or elsewhere) will always need to go the "legacy publisher route", at least for their first few novels.

    Non-fiction is another story: if you have a good "platform" (for example, you’re a university professor, a well-known researcher,a successful actor, in short an authority or a celebrity), you can jump straight into e-book self-publishing.

    Does that mean it’s the end of legacy publishers? Not at all. Setting aside for a moment our fascination for all things digital, let’s remember that traditional books in paper have several advantages over digital books, and will retain them FOREVER:
    1. they’re nice objects to own and decorate your home with (they feel good to hold in your hands, they can have pretty covers);
    2. they’re much easier to share with friends and family than e-books;
    3. they’re testimony to your tastes and show everyone who you are through what you read; nobody can bandy about e-books and for some people that’s a distinct disadvantage for the digital;
    4. they’re easy to use as reference: just flip the pages and come to your favorite quotation, or (woe!) write in the margins, underline, stick a note in, fold the corners; this is especially true for non-fiction but even "great" novels are nice to have around for easy reference…

    So publishers (and literary agents) take heart, your days aren’t over yet!

    2. Now your 2nd question: can we expect newbies with no legacy and zero presence to earn more money going the self-publishing route? No, I don’t think so.

    Indeed, I am convinced e-publishing is a lure, a mirage, a false promise and newbies should beware!

    Consider those who’ve "made it": they are either (at a minimum) "mid list authors", i.e. people with a solid following of fans and a fair online presence, or, like Amanda Hocking, people with an equally fair online presence and, above all, Internet social networking savvy. These are people who blog, face-book and twitter all day long (or seem to).

    Sure, if you’re a successful blogger, you can make it. But what, at a minimum, can be considered a "successful blogger"? Look at Nathan Bransford’s blog numbers, and you’ll get an idea. See how many fans he’s got (and had before he became a YA author himself). Ok, you don’t need as big a blog as his – and indeed Google gives you an idea of what size needs to be reached to "have an online presence". Along with their Adsense (a gadget to allow advertising on their site), they give out numbers that are very interesting: from them, it is possible to evince that a blog makes a (small) amount of advertising money only if it reaches 1,000 hits a day! So, all ye bloggers out there and would-be authors, get ready to reach 1,000 hits a day! Btw, that means having at least 100 pageviews a day – a different statistic: it means people have actually stayed on your site and read something! And out of those 100, not everyone will go out and buy your book…

    Just thought I’d mention those numbers to make it clear how difficult it is to emerge from the mass of e-book publications: it’s already a tsunami out there (Kindle alone has well over 500,000 titles!)

    Then there are other necessary strategies to "make" it into digital publishing: (1) pick a genre that sells and stick to it; (2)be ready with more than one title. Amanda Hocking started with a clear successful genre and had a trilogy going for starters; (3) work out a pricing strategy: $0,99 to launch the book, then raise the price up incrementally to around $4 and then lower again if your perceive your sales slowing down…

    Hey, newbie, are you ready with all that? I’m not! But in the meantime to check me out on my blog and become a follower (sorry if I’m pushing but that’s the nature of the e-game!)

    Claude Nougat

  18. Rebecca

    I keep trying to tell people that this is the future. However, I disagree with two points that I think are extremely important.

    1)Keeping an online presence current is a form of marketing that probably contributes a great deal to the sale of published works. Many buyers of the works from authors without a legacy deal are often followers of an author’s blog, Twitter and/or Facebook accounts. So rather than think of these things as taking away from an author’s revenue stream, I think it is actually a way of increasing it.

    2) Unfortunately, the appropriate measure for determining how much your books can earn you in digital is not actually forever. Copyright laws still apply, at least in the United States, which means every U.S. author’s work goes into the public domain 70 years after an author’s death.

    However, digital publications can still earn much more than printed ones for an author whose works are no longer in print by the publisher. I <i>wish</i> more authors would make these publications available in digital form from their websites!

    Of course, I may be wrong in my assumption that just because an old book is no longer available in print that the rights are wholly owned by the author. But if that IS the case, then authors are robbing themselves of an excellent revenue stream by not selling them online.

  19. Nathan Lowell

    "Have we now reached the moment when a new author (with zero legacy/traditional deal or presence) can expect to earn more money over the course of their career by going the independent route?"

    Yes. I’ve doubled my old PhD salary with only two books on the market for less than a year. I have six more waiting to hit text over the next two years, and I expect to write at least four more books in that time frame. I have no legacy deal, no mainstream publishing history … although I have developed a presence on my own.

    I think you *do* need a presence. You can’t just stand up and say, "I’m here, buy my book" but you don’t need the imprimatur of a mainstream press to get that presence. New media and social media means my reach is as long as anybody’s and I’m probably more effective than any mainstream publisher because I’ve been studying it, working with it, and practicing it for years. The idea that I need a marketing department to do this (especially in the current environment where marketing departments are pushing this all down on the author anyway) is a non-starter.

    We have reached that moment. We’re at the Gandhi "Laugh" stage and I expect that the "Fight" will start soon as mainstream tries to wrest advantage from the market makers like Amazon and B&N. The difficulty will be that they do not yet understand how much those market makers earn from non-mainstream sources. That amount is still very much under the radar and being obfuscated by the high-profile anomalies like Hocking and Locke. They’re doing great, but there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of writers in the self and independent segments who are doing the thing that many mainstream writers cannot.

    They’re making a living from their writing.

  20. Nikki

    Like the article. Self-publishing seems like the wave of the future. I wonder what the downfall is and if the pros outweigh the cons, what are the big publishing houses doing about it.

    Do they go around looking for self-published authors to grab up into a contract?

    Is the main difference money now (advance after a while) and money as it sells virtual copies? Is another difference the promotional activities needed. Do large PH’s still do tons of promotions on books?

    This shift in the industry is just fascinating. I’ve been enjoying watching the change happen.

    Thanks for the article!


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