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Sayonara, Auf Wiedersehn, Au Revoir, and Goodbye to Paperbacks
by Gretchen Craig

Why would a published mid-list author, like me, stoop to digital self-publishing? After all, self-publishing has a taint about it, the implication being that if the book were any good, then why did the author have to self-publish? A year ago, I’d have been too proud to self-publish anything I’d written, but I’ve changed my mind. The e-publishing alternative is revolutionary. Some equate its impact with that of the Gutenberg Press in the 1450s. I don’t think it’s quite that big, but it’s big.

How big? Mat Harley of the Financial Post reports that sales for e-reader devices in 2013 are expected to reach $2.5 billion. Billion. Harley cites Mr. Servinis of Kobo, Inc., a digital publishing enterprise based in Toronto, Canada, as having predicted, in December 2009, that digital sales would be 3 to 4% of total publishing revenues by 2014. Now, less than a year later, he’s revised his estimate to be 50% of the U.S. market by 2014.

So the ebook market is exploding. The wave of the future is turning into a tsunami. We get that. But why e-pub yourself when the traditional publishers will distribute your paper book as well as digitize it for sites like Amazon? Because . . .

Consider the traditional route to publishing, say, a novel. The author spends months, maybe years, producing a manuscript. More and more publishers won’t accept queries from authors; they want to hear from authors’ agents. So the author queries agents, who are more and more reluctant to present anything a bit unusual to the publishers, who are feeling the recession like everyone else and who are competing with the new digital alternatives. They want sure winners. But let’s say the author lands an agent who sells the book to a print publisher. The agent earns 15% of the author’s royalties; royalties are most often around 8% of a paperback cover price. So, on a $7.99 paperback book, the author earns 64 cents from which he hands over 10 cents to the agent, which leaves the originator of the book with 54 cents.

Enter the self-publishing ebook distributors like Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s new PubIt service. For now, if the author meets some easy-to-meet conditions, she uploads her manuscript at no cost to herself and reaps 70% of the cover price with Kindle, 65% with Barnes and Noble. (70% applies to books priced from $.99 to $9.99 at Kindle. A $10.99 book earns 35% royalty.) If the price, which the author sets herself, is $7.99, the royalty payment is a whopping $5.19. Wow.

Will the ebook sell as many copies as it would have if the traditional print publisher distributed it to brick and mortar stores? In the short run, maybe not. But, consider that the brick and mortars keep titles of mid-list authors on their shelves for only two to three months. Then, that author’s work disappears until the next time she has a book come out. Digitally? If you should be so successful that the physical booksellers run out of your book, leaving frustrated buyers book-less, be assured that the digital stores never ever run out of stock! What’s more, the book is up there forever along with that author’s backlist, providing enormous potential for sales six months and six years after the print run has had its day.

Yes, print books can still be bought years after release date on Amazon, for example, but the author’s share of those sales continues to be small. In fact, smaller. My contract with Kensington Publishers (print and digital) sets the print royalty at 8%, but the electronic version awards me only 6% of the list price of each volume sold. Compared to the 70% I get with each Kindle sale and the 65% with each PubIt sale, a little voice in my head whispers, You’ve been had!

J. A. Konrath is one of the success stories of e-self-publishing. In his blog he lays out the pros and cons and profits of traditional vs. e-publishing. He believes that $2.99 is the “right” price for most ebooks. Ebooks cost less to produce with no paper, shipping, distribution, etc., and consumers expect the price to reflect that. Also, Joe points out, with a magnificently greater royalty going to the author in e-pubs, fewer sales works out okay. (What if my $7.99 paperback sells 30,000 copies? At 8% royalty, that earns me $7,200. What if my $2.99 ebook sells only 10,000 copies? At Kindle’s 70%, I earn $20,930.)

Joe points out that his ebook sales are well over $100,000 this year and he expects that to soar in 2011. How? Joe has a following and he has a backlist. With half a dozen novels and a niche reputation, he is doing very well. “I’m selling an average of 7,000 self-pubbed ebooks a month on Kindle. Those numbers are for 19 self-pubbed titles, though the top 6 account for more than 75% of my sales. . . . That means those six are averaging 833 sales, or $1700, per month, each. That equals $20,400 per year, per ebook, for my top sellers.” Wow again.

Then there is the subject of rights. Publishing houses that also sell your paper book electronically do everything they can to lock up your rights to paper books, ebooks, foreign editions, movies, etc. But who needs publishers? Self-publishing means the author retains all rights. I’ve published Crimson Sky through Kindle and through Barnes and Noble. If I want to, I can upload it onto other e-distribution sites like Smashwords. I can sell it on Amazon Deutschland. I can have it translated and sell it in Japan. And keep the lion’s share of the profits for myself.

I like the independence, the control, and the numbers. All this convinces me, and a growing number of authors like me, that self-e-publishing just makes sense.

© Copyright 2010, Gretchen Craig

Gretchen Craig is the award-winning author of historical novels. Always and Forever and Ever My Love areset among the Cajuns and Creoles of Old Louisiana, and are published by Kensington Zebra. Joining the digital revolution, Gretchen has self-published her latest writings as ebooks . The Color of the Rose isa collection of three short stories. Crimson Sky isa novel of the clash between Conquistadors and Native Americans in what is now New Mexico. Both are available for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook. Read reviews and first chapters at www.gretchencraig.com.

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