Joe Konrath asserts that you should self-publish (meaning self-publish in eb00k format, primarily) and offers his reasons for that view. Among other things, he lists many self-published authors who appear to be doing well, in some cases very well.
Like a lot of authors, I’ve wrestled with this issue. At this point, I’ve self-published only a collection of my short fiction, Ephemera: Dark Stories from the mind of Paul S. Kemp. I’ve been pleased with the results, so much so that I’m now debating whether or not to self-publish my supernatural thriller, Azazel.
In this case, the benefit of self-publishing is obvious. There’s no barrier to entry, no publishing gatekeeper to keep Azazel out of the marketplace. If I want to publish it, I can (I hasten to add that I think Azazel is high-quality work and have some basis for that view: many agents wanted to represent it, and it came that close — and I mean that close — to getting picked up by a publisher with whom I would have loved to be associated. But it did not, in the end, sell, and I hate the thought of it not getting read).
Of course, the gatekeepers serve a purpose — in theory they choose to publish quality work that they believe will sell, and they reject the rest (whether they do this job well is another question entirely). More importantly, they put their money where their mouth is by paying authors an advance against expected sales. On average, for a debut genre author, this advance is in the neighborhood of $5-6K. Not great, but better than a stick in the eye.
Obviously, there’s no advance in self-publishing. In fact, there are probably expenses that the author must bear, in the form of payments for cover art and (maybe) copy editing or other editorial assistance. That’s okay, though, because there are big royalties coming, right? After all, if you self-publish through Amazon, you’ll earn 70% royalties on your eb0ok sales, as opposed to 17.5% on your ebooks sales under contracts with traditional publishers.
Ah, but this is where the law of large numbers starts to urge caution, or at least reminds us to enter into the self-publishing arena with our eyes wide open.
Joe’s list of financially successful self-published authors is impressive, and I’m sure there are many, many more that he does not name. But there are an enormous number of self-pubbed books put out every year (anyone have a number?) and I suspect that the vast, vast number of them sell copies in the double digits (if that). If that’s true, then most self-published authors don’t make enough from their annual book earnings to buy themselves and their spouse a nice dinner.
On the other hand, publishing with a traditional, large-press publisher all but guarantees a chunk of money that you’ll probably notice (recall the $5K advance from above). But getting through the gatekeepers to actually get published is a challenge of another sort (as my friend and colleague Elaine Cunningham observed on Twitter).
So a very large percentage of self-pubbed ebooks (99.99%?) will sell a negligible number of copies, earning the author next to nothing. And a very large percentage of traditionally published books will earn the author $5K or more (putting a financial “floor” under the writer’s earnings), but the odds are strongly against breaking into traditional publishing (99.99%?).
Which way to go? I wish I knew. I think self-publishing makes sense in some circumstances (obviously, since I’ve done it). But I think the kind of advice Joe gives paints far too rosy a picture of the self-pubbed author’s prospects, mostly because Joe highlights a few success stories, instead of the millions of other self-published authors who sell almost nothing (to be clear, the success stories are very much worth highlighting, they could just use some context).
The hard truth is that if you self-publish, it’s very likely that you’ll sell a tiny number of copies. If you can break out, you might be able to earn a respectable sum, even a lot (as Joe seems to do). As long as your eyes are wide open about that, then go forth and self-publish.
And the hard truth is that if you pursue the traditional publishing route, it’s very likely that you’ll get rejected. If you get accepted, you’re all but guaranteed a decent sum, and could earn a lot. As long as your eyes are wide open about that, then go forth and seek traditional publication.
Me? I’m still noodling this. 🙂