Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Backlists, Self-publishing, Breakout Novels, and "The Dream"


Writing online for Forbes, author Alan Rinzler states: "Savvy writers – especially those with an online following — are reveling in unexpected profits by self-publishing their defunct backlist titles as new e-books." ("Is there gold in your backlist? Self-publish and find out!")

Established author and self-publishing author J.A. Konrath writes in a blog post this tidbit: "More than 95% of everything ever published has gone out of print . . . But Out-Of-Print does not equal Worthless. There is still money to be made on old books. That's why there's a billion dollar used book industry." He is currently helping author friend Robert Walker put his 40 out-of-print novels onto Kindle, "books that were with big houses, which had big print runs and distribution."


Konrath's blog post "Status Quo Vadis?" contains some interesting comments, though.

An anonymous comment adds: 
I think before you [from a previous comment] post anything else on this topic, you should have to judge a writing contest of no less than 1000 entries, and then come back here with a straight emoticon and tell everyone that the vetting process provided by NY publishing is meaningless. 

I agree [publishers] don't really know what to do with e-rights, but trad publishing is still without a doubt the very best way to break into the business of writing (as opposed to becoming your own publisher/publicist/art department/editor/copy editor/sub rights department/literary agent, which is what most people reading this blog do or want to do." 
Konrath then adds:  "Dude, I've read over 10,000. And 1 of them was worthy of publication, in my professional opinion."

The consensus still seems to be that traditional publishing is still the best way to "earn your spurs" as a writer and to gain credibility in the publishing world.

Breakout Novels

Novelist Jeremy Robinson discusses publishing e-books through Kindle in a guest blog post, but his comments apply to paper books self-published, also.
So what about that advice I promised you? It’s two fold. Part one is simple, take risks. Jump in. You have nothing to lose. Seriously. You’re not going to blow a future print deal by self-publishing an e-book. The numbers aren’t tracked by Bookscan. You can make the book disappear with the click of a button. At the same time you might just sell enough to entice a publisher to make a sweet offer (if print is your goal). If you fail, pull the book and send it back to the slushpile.
Part two is not so simple. Do it right. I’m not saying I’ve done everything right. I make plenty of mistakes. But I am dedicated to putting out books that rival those produced by the big publishers in every way. I want my covers, my interiors and my story and writing quality to match, or beat, those produced by the big guns. And you should too. If you don’t, you’re not going to sell. You’re going to be disappointed and you might just give up on your dreams. Don’t be afraid to pay for a cover. To hire an editor. You might spend $1000, even $2000, getting your book ready, but if you don’t believe you can sell the 500 - 1000 copies of your book at $2.99 and make that money back you shouldn’t be self-publishing. If you don’t believe the book will sell, it probably won’t. Don’t half-ass it.
 Robinson, though, is an author who has been traditionally published. So self-publishing won't work for unknown authors, right? Robinson continues in the article:
Now, the first thing critics are going to point out is that I, like Joe, and am established mid-list author so that must be why my e-books are selling well. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Keep in mind that I was selling lots of books long before I had a traditional print deal. My books sell because I work like a bastard. I do my book covers (even Thomas Dunne asked for my help on the covers), website, interiors, marketing and PR, never mind writing the books. The only thing I don’t do is edit. If anything, my hardcovers sell well because of my self-publishing efforts.
 The Dream

Konrath discusses in the same article the status of traditional publishing and "being validated."
We've had it drilled into our heads that the only way to succeed is to follow the age old formula of: write a book, send out queries, get an agent, hope for a book deal.

Robinson, and most of my peers, have been conditioned to believe publishers are essential. And they still believe this, even though they aren't essential anymore. If we look at Robinson's five reasons for sticking with his publisher, they fall right in with the dream that publishers have been selling us for years: hope for a bestseller, the importance of an editor, getting into bookstores, the chance of huge success. Even the vanity of having a hardcover version has always been a carrot on the stick for authors. I know several authors with paperback deals who have pursued a hardcover deal for years, simply because of the prestige of having a hardcover.
 Konrath closes with these comments:
Now, I don't discount that if a book is accepted by the Big 6, it meets a minimum quality standard. It is difficult for writers to judge their own work, and acceptance by an agent is a good indicator that the work is up to par.

But guess what? Selling a shitload of ebooks is a much better validation. Getting a stamp of approval from readers is more important than a stamp of approval from a publisher.

This is a business. When I see writers acknowledging that they'll probably earn less money by signing with a publisher, but still wanting to do it, I plainly see how much publishers have perverted how writers think.
 Robinson refers to writing and publishing as a "marathon." Self-publishing is one means to gaining readership, and so is traditional publishing. What I like about these comments is that nowadays it appears that self-publishing and traditional publishing are not mutually exclusive.

Establishing a writer's website, in my opinion, requires reader access to a product to buy. Whether that product comes to the reader through self-publishing or traditional publishing, I feel the paper book or e-book to be vital to the writer's web platform.

How can you have a readership, after all, if you've provided the reader nothing to read?

Copyright 2011 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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