Last week, we talked about how many self-published authors have landed traditional contracts only after self- publishing. This week, I’d like to talk about authors who avoid traditional publishing houses for some (or all) of their titles, and why.
Years ago, I wrote and self-published a book with another author. It was a book about successful online publishing. We put the book up for sale as an ebook and it sold very well…so well, in fact, that it sold at auction to a large New York publisher a few weeks later. The initial advance was nice – very nice. It helped pay the down payment on our new home in Maine. But, there were quite a few downsides:
1. We had to immediately remove the ebook from the market (the publisher didn’t want to hinder future print sales by current ebook sales). While we offered to give them a percentage of the ebook sales, they did not want us selling the ebook at that time. Our agent assured us that the publisher would later offer an ebook edition of the new version of the book (we were busy updating the book for them). We should have made sure that was in the contract. Big mistake.
2. It took a loooong time to get the book to market – much longer than it took us to write the original manuscript and self-publish the ebook. First, we had to rewrite the book according to their editor’s requests. We submitted the “final” manuscript to the publisher. They edited it and sent it back for us for review. I was dismayed to discover editorial errors put there by the editor. I, personally, went through the entire manuscript again and fixed what they broke. I submitted it once again. They, once again, edited it and sent it back to me. Guess what? Even more errors! And I, once again, spent many hours I didn’t have fixing their mistakes. I knew the next version would contain even more errors but, guess what? They refused to send it to me for approval. The book went to print. I was mortified. But, honestly, since they owned all rights, I felt it was out of my control.
3. The book finally printed and went on the market. I think they printed and sent out 100 review copies. That was it. We did get good reviews and some press. We even got a nibble from a book club and sold book club rights. That brought in a small sum.
4. When we were selling the ebook, we had purchased a domain name and used that to market the book. After the publisher took over, they wanted ownership of that website. Whoa, buddy! That wasn’t part of the deal. We agreed to keep ownership of the domain name and let them hire someone to put up the content. I think it cost them around $1500. After the initial site went up, that was it. There were no updates later and the website languished and died a slow death.
5. In the meantime, I had many email discussions with a rep at the publishing house about the ebook. I begged, pleaded, and cajoled, telling them to hurry up and get the ebook up for sale because we’re all losing money! The book had hundreds of links in it. I told them how easy it was – just make the links live, convert the file to pdf, and start selling it online. I even offered to put the ebook up for sale on our sites and to pay them their percentage had they been selling it themselves. They refused. They put me off for months, stopped responding to my emails, and a full year later there was still no ebook version available. I finally admitted defeat. By that time, the links needed to be updated anyway. They’d lost their chance…and threw away a ton of money that we could have generated just through WritersWeekly alone.
Had we kept selling the ebook ourselves, I believe we’d have made far more money than what we netted for our initial advance. And, as with most traditional publishing deals for unknown authors, we never made another dime from the publisher after the initial advance. When I read the annual report from my agent each year now, I just laugh. While they probably made back their initial investment, they didn’t make much. While some people think landing a traditional contract = bookstore placement = sales, I can assure you that getting your book on most bookstores shelves (ours was) does not automatically translate into sales. If your publisher isn’t promoting your book, it’s not going to sell. It will languish on that shelf, collecting dust alongside dozens or hundreds of other un-promoted titles.
I’ve now vowed that I won’t sell my rights for a non-fiction book to a traditional publisher unless I’m offered $100K or more. I can sell more copies on my own, through online marketing of an ebook and self-published print book, and keep far more of the profits, than I can get from a small traditional contract. And, I can start selling an ebook immediately, just hours after I finish writing and editing, and a print book only 4-6 weeks after I finish writing and editing, rather than waiting years for it to hit the market. That’s one to three years of sales I’d have not made had I waited for someone else to get my book to market – someone who is more interested in using my book’s profits to promote their best selling authors.
And, I’m not the only one!
Tim Leffel is the author of self-published book The World’s Cheapest Destinations. Tim has landed two traditional publishing contracts in the past two years, but self-published the revised version of The World’s Cheapest Destinations through Booklocker.com.
Tim says, “The numbers to do otherwise just wouldn’t make sense, based on what the industry is paying in advances. I’d have to get a five-figure advance to equal what I am earning through Booklocker royalties. Plus I just sold the Italian rights to a traditional publisher there recently and I didn’t have to split that with anyone except my agent since I own the manuscript outright.”
Amy Kalinchuk, a.k.a. The Olde Crone, self-published her ebook, Making Soap in Your Own Kitchen: A Beginner’s Guide to Soapmaking. She says, “Self-publishing was definitely the way to go for my soapmaking book. In all of the soapmaking books that I had read, when teaching myself, I had never seen a photograph of one crucial part of the soapmaking process. I chose to write a beginner’s book, and include the photographs that I thought were lacking in others. While the best books on the market are somewhat old, and the newer, professionally-photographed ones are lacking in recipes and some practicality, my book is short and focused.”
She says she also wanted to teach herself how to publish a book. So, she decided to write it and sell it electronically. Her ebook contains over 55 photographs, and shows the soapmaking process, step-by-step, through instructions and photographs. She’s received lots of positive feedback from readers and posts that feedback to her website, which, of course, generates even more sales.
She adds, “An ebook was far cheaper to produce than a print book, and I have been making money on it since the day it was published. I love the concept of writing something once, but selling it over and over and over.”
Just how much? Amy has pocketed more than $1,000 for sales of Making Soap in Your Own Kitchen! She now has several other books in the works, including a couple of craft books and a print book.
She adds, “Because I have discovered how much I love selling books, I plan on publishing all of them myself. I did all the work and I want to be the one who keeps all the money. With my new books, one of which will be a print book, I plan on hiring out the important stuff, but I will still self-publish. It comes down to this – I will do all the work for my book, anyway. I can get my book out faster and have it exactly how I want it, and I won’t have to give up my rights to it or give up any of the money. Perhaps I just don’t want to share!”
Karen Bishop ran a very successful website (she has since retired). She had an unfortunate experience with another print on demand company before coming to Booklocker.com. We welcomed her with open arms…and boy are we glad we did! Her four books have been, and continue to be, on the Booklocker.com bestseller list. They are Staying in Alignment, Remembering Your Soul Purpose, The Ascension Companion, and The Ascension Primer.
Karen is another author who chooses to self-publish because she is so very successful doing it all on her own. She has no interest in sharing her impressive profits with another company, nor in losing the rights to her work. She has even recently released some of her ebooks in French and Spanish after demand from her readers.
The one thing that sets all these authors apart from some not-so-successful self-published authors is because they treat their book-selling like a business. They didn’t write a book, put it online, and wait for it to be discovered. They actively seek out and find their readers online, through publishing their own websites, blogs and ezines, and through actively interacting with potential readers online.
Another thing you might notice is that these authors have all published non-fiction titles. It is much easier to find a market for, and to serve, a non-fiction niche. There is so much fiction on the market that it is a harder sell, both to the public, and to traditional publishers.
If you’re a fiction author and have chosen to only self-publish, we’d love to hear from you and to learn how you’re doing it!
If you’re a non-fiction author and have chosen to self-publish, I’d love to hear from you for a future article as well.
On an interesting little side-note, my co-author and I were recently contacted by the producers of the upcoming movie, Where the Wild Things Are. They were interested in using the cover art from the first version of our ebook (it was called The Secrets of Our Success) as a prop in their movie. That was really cool. At least somebody’s getting some use out of it! When the movie comes out, I’ll let you know if it made the final cut.
Tim Leffel’s travel blog is here: https://www.cheapestdestinationsblog.com/
Amy Kalinchuk’s soap making website is here: https://www.soapcrone.com
Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing emag for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is one of the top-rated POD publishers (rated “excellent”) in the industry.
This article may be reprinted/redistibuted freely, as long as the entire article and bio are included.