The Wonders of Self-Publishing: Midlist Authors Take Heart!

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Not everyone can be John Locke and sell one million copies in five months. Not everyone can be Amanda Hocking and make several million dollars in one year, of course counting in the advance she got from a legacy publisher after her brilliant bout at self-pubbing YA paranormal romances (btw, a very high-selling genre).

But there's a lot of space out there, in the e-book market, and while Amazon's Kindle is still king, the Nook and others are fast coming in, feeding market growth. And we can expect Apple and others to give us soon more iPad-like products that will make the "enhanced e-book" a reality at some point in the near future! With enhancement (i.e. adding video, music and other extras), you can expect yet more people to be attracted to the pleasure of reading.

Because that's the single big difference the digital revolution has brought (and is bringing) to publishing: it is expanding the number of readers.

True, it is also expanding the number of writers, but the "bad" ones, those self-pubbed novels in desperate need of proof-reading and serious editing are headed for the slush pile anyway. Forget them, nobody reads them.

What remains are the "good" ones, those professionally edited that couldn't make any money (or at least not very much) as "mid list authors". Because that's the fate that befell up to now most traditionally published authors. Few ever make the bestseller lists, and fewer still to the top. At best, their books spend some three to six months on bookstore shelves, then are inexorably headed for the dustbin. Under the circumstance, the terms of contract renewal grow slimmer every time..until contracts disappear.  Why? Because in these days of the digital revolution, the traditional publishing industry has (for the most part) retreated to giving support only to their star writers - those that are a "sure sell". Like Dan Brown, Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer.

A midlist author is somebody left with a dozen or more books, no longer published and he is lucky if he has maintained his rights to them (or at least some of them). If he has, then there is a way out: publishing the back list and of course, adding to it. Super stars like J.K.Rowling have joined the game ( see her Pottermore site where she will start selling Harry Potter e-books starting in October).

But it is the fate of midlist authors that is truly interesting. Abandoned by their publishers, they have started to flock in increasing numbers to self-publishing in the e-book market, reassured by the success of Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath et al. Self-publishing used to be the kiss of death. No more. Not only is it okay to do it, it's fashionable: you look clever, savvy, dynamic. You're no longer a humble writer scribbling away in some dark, remote corner. You take center stage as a risk-taking entrepreneur.

Risks? Fewer than you might think and that's the good news.

I spotted this fascinating article by Robin Sullivan in Publishing Perspectives that tells you how it is. She starts off with husband Michael J. Sullivan's experience as a self-published author on Amazon and then expanded on various other authors statistics that tell a very interesting story, if you can bear with the numbers for a moment.


The following graph shows the number of authors who sold books in various quantities (Data provided on Kindle Board):
Amazon author sales over 800
Because authors on Kindle Boards were sharing sales figures and book prices, I was able to calculate March income for the following:
  • Michael J. Sullivan — $16,648
  • Ellen Fisher — $3,915
  • Siebel Hodge — $15,425
  • N. Gemini Sasson – $4,222
  • David McAfee — $6,085
  • David Dalglish — $12,132
  • Victorine Lieskie — $7,281
  • M. H. Sergent — $4,211
  • Nathan Lowell — $9,296
Of these authors, only Victorine Lieskie ever had a book that made the Amazon Top 100 Bestseller List. Most of the authors selling at a rate of 800+ books a month tend to have rankings from 300-6,000. (A ranking of 1001 indicates that 1,000 kindle books are selling better than yours).
Many detractors of self-publishing point out that by doing so you close the door to foreign sales and any chance of ever seeing your books on a bookstore shelf. Again, this was true in the past, but times have changed and now being successfully self-published actually opens the door to foreign sales and provides a better chance of being signed by a major publisher since you already have an established audience which is so important in publishing today. Let’s return to Michael [that's her husband] as he is an example that I have real data for. The Riyria Revelations produced $154,000 in foreign translation rights sales in just the last six months. Deals are already finalized for: The Czech Republic, Russia, Germany, France, Poland, and Spain.... 
As for seeing your books in the bookstores…it is true that most brick and mortar stores will not carry self-published printed books, however, major publishers are very interested in authors with an existing fan base. What’s more, they have to offer larger advances than those paid to debut authors in order to woo them. A self-published author already has a pretty good idea what they could make from the works if they continue to stay independent. For a debut fantasy author, several surveys indicate an advance of $5,000 – $10,000 is standard. So a three-book deal would warrant $15,000 – $30,000 advances. In comparison, Michael was offered a six-figure contract from Orbit (the fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group).

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives (June 27 2011): The New Midlist: Self published E-Book Authors Who Earn a Living  That article provoked 65 comments to this day - more than I have ever seen on Publishing Perspectives!

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