NYT Bestselling Author Opts for Self Publishing

Monday’s Huffington Post had an article entitled “Why Big Authors Are Walking Away from Big Deals to Self Publish,” which is actually a post from  author Joe Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. If you follow Konrath’s blog at all, you know that he now sells his books exclusively as e-books, and generates sales that have increased consistently. 

Konrath’s latest post features his conversation (via Google Docs) with fellow author Barry Eisler, who has apparently turned down a $500,000 two-book deal from St. Martin’s Press in order to self-publish.

Here is Eisler’s view of traditional publishers:

Think candles vs. electric lights. There are still people making a living today selling candles, and that’s because there’s nothing like candlelight — but what matters is that the advent of the electric light changed the candle business into a niche. Originally, candlemakers were in the lighting business; today, they’re in the candlelight business. The latter is tiny by comparison to the former. Similarly, today publishers are in the book business; tomorrow, they’ll be in the paper book business. The difference is the difference between a mass market and a niche.

Konrath points out two differences between e-publishing and traditional publishing or, as he refers to them, virtual shelves and physical shelves:

First, a virtual shelf is infinite. In a bookstore, they have a limited amount of space. Often, my books are crammed spine out, in section — and I’m lucky if they have a copy of each that are in print. Many times they only have a few, and sometimes none at all. But 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.

Second, virtual shelf life is forever. In a bookstore, you have anywhere from 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 ebooks are forever. Once they’re live, they will sell for decades. Someday, long after I’m gone, my grandchildren will be getting my royalties.

Currently, my novel The List is the #15 bestseller on all of Amazon. I wrote that book 12 years ago, and it was rejected by every major NY publisher. I self-published it on Amazon two years ago, and it has sold over 35,000 copies.

Konrath and Eisler’s conversation is worth reading, even if it is long — 13,000 words. But bear a couple of things in mind as you read their comments about the decline of traditional publishing and the corresponding rise of e-publishing. First, both Konrath and Eisler have written several books, which have been published by traditional publishers and provided them with a platform for their e-publishing efforts. Their name recognition and popularity guarantee — to the extent possible — that their e-publishing efforts will succeed. So neither one is trying e-publishing as an unpublished author.

Now, there’s no doubt that e-publishing appeals to a lot of unpublished authors because it avoids much of the delay, frustration, and anxiety associated with traditional publishing. But the reality is that many unpublished authors will have negligible e-sales. So what will they do then? My guess is that some of them will decide to try traditional publishing, some because they don’t have another avenue to try and others because they want the support (financial, not emotional) that traditional publishers provide to the authors whose works they publish.

Obviously, authors like Konrath and Eisler — or even those who have sold far fewer books — are in a better position to take advantage of their success through traditional publishing when they decide to e-publish. For others, though, e-publishing may not be the magic bullet they need for their careers.

Fortuitously, as I was writing this post, up-and-coming romance author E. C. Smith, who writes E. C.’s Ramblings,  made me aware of an excellent interview that Robin Sullivan, who blogs at Write to Publish, conducted last week with Julianne McLean. With no disrespect to Eisler or Konrath, I think most authors will relate more to McLean, who describes the success she’s had with traditional publishing and e-publishing, and, more importantly for those considering e-publishing, explains how she created demand for her e-books.

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4 responses to “NYT Bestselling Author Opts for Self Publishing”

  1. Lindsay says :

    Morning Jeff,
    To satart with I checked out E.C.'s Ramblings and Write to Publish and now follow them both.
    This post is, once again, highly informative. Thanks for sharing the information with us.
    And e-pub, either self or with a publisher is definitely the future. I saw this article yesterday and to be honest, wasn't surprised at the figures.
    http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2060535,00.html?xid=rss-nation-yahoo

  2. E.C. Smith says :

    Hi there…

    Thanks so much for the mention on your blog. I really appreciate it!

    I think as authors we are all looking really hard at the self-publishing angle right now. But, I think you are absolutely bang-on. Self-publishing is an interesting alternative for authors who have brand recognition and are (or have been) established by traditional publishers. Most of them already have loyal readership who will look for them in whatever format their books come out.

    For those authors, a combination of self-pub and traditional publishing may be the answer to continued and greatest success.

  3. Jeffrey V. Mehalic says :

    Lindsay,

    Thanks very much. Always good to see you here.

    The Time article that you provided a link for in your comment reports that according to the Association of American Publishers, in January, for the first time, e-books outsold hardcovers, while paperbacks are still in first place.

    I agree that those numbers aren't surprising. What I wonder is when, at this rate, e-books will outsell paperbacks. I can't imagine that that point is far off.

    Take care.

  4. Jeffrey V. Mehalic says :

    E. C.,

    You're very welcome, and thanks for your comment.

    The nature of publishing has changed fundamentally in such a short time that everyone — authors, agents, and editors — are still trying to understand what is happening and how to adjust to it.

    I think that Julianne MacLean's approach makes the most sense for this market — if possible, in terms of having a number of works to sell, don't limit yourself to traditional publishing or to e-publishing. I know that a lot of authors concentrate on one or the other, sometimes out of necessity, but until traditional publishers realize that they can't continue to sell books as they have since the days of Gutenberg, and as long as e-book sales continue to show exponential growth, I think the best strategy is to sell in both formats and cross-promote each format's sales.

    Thanks again, and keep up the great work.

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