Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time Is Money

Here's a concept that is tough to wrap your head around, but it needs to be addressed.


First, it's important to understand that in traditional publishing (which my friend Barry Eisler calls "Legacy Publishing"), time moves slowly.

When your agent sells you novel, it can take several months to get the contract.

Once you sign the contract, it can be months before you're paid.

Once you turn in the manuscript, it can be months, or even over a year, before your book is published.

The large, inefficient, unwieldy industry that is legacy publishing is painfully slow.

Because it takes so long, there is often a date set for publication. Some call this the sale date, or the release date. For bigger books, all bookstores hold off selling the title until this date arrives, so all retailers have an equal chance to sell it.

Prior to the release date, there's a lot of pre-launch promo that happens. Advertising, pre-orders, interviews, reviews--all of this hype is to build a buzz for the release, so everyone buys it. The more people that buy it during its first week of release, the bigger the book's chances at getting on a bestseller list.

This model usually results in big sales right away, then a trickle down until the sales reach a steady level, or eventually fall to nothing and the book goes out of print. This can take months, or even years, to happen. But it's always the same: start selling strong, then eventually sell very few, as the book is no longer regularly stocked on the bookstore shelves (or if it is stocked, it isn't in the quantities it once was.)

But release dates don't apply to ebooks. There is no reason to delay a release. What took two years for a legacy publisher can be done in two weeks by self-pubbing. Holding off on publishing the book is like letting money slip through your fingers.

It can take up to 18 months after the release date in order to get an accurate count on how well a book sells. That's because publishers often hold back reserves against returns. Since books are returnable for full price, they don't count copies shipped as copies sold, so they don't pay the author for a certain percentage of titles shipped.

You would think that publishers would pay the author on monies received from the retailer, but that would make too much sense, which means legacy publishing doesn't do that.

So the time you finish the book, until the time you get your first accurate royalty statement (and hopefully a royalty check to go with it), is usually around 3 years.

In them meantime, the only money you received for that book is the advance money. And since only 1 out of 5 books actually earns out the advance, that money may be the only money you ever see.

Now let's compare that to self-publishing.

When you write a book you plan on publishing yourself, you don't get an advance. That's a minus, especially if you'd like a large chunk of money upfront.

But that large chunck of money shouldn't be thought of as a payout. It should be thought of as a loan. More specifically, a balloon loan, which costs you more and more money as the years pass.

Self-pubbing doesn't give you money up front. But you make money sooner. And you ultimately make more money.

Scenario #1 - Legacy Publishing

1. Write a book - Takes as long as it takes.
2. Find an agent - Takes weeks to years. (it took me 8 years to land an agent)
3. Find a publisher - Takes weeks to months. (it took me 6 months to sell Afraid)
4. Get the contract - Takes weeks to months (I've heard 3 months from handshake to contract)
5. Get the advance money - Takes weeks to months (usually around 6 weeks)
6. Book is published - Takes 6 to 18 months after contract is signed (Whiskey Sour took 19 months). During this time all of the work is done on the book, editing, proofing, cover design, typesetting, printing, promotion, etc.
7. Get your first accurate royalty statement on how well the book sold (18 months after pub date)

Scenario #2 - Self Publishing
1. Write a book - Takes as long as it takes.
2. Edit, proofread, format, design cover, upload. - Takes one or two weeks.
3. Book is published - Two weeks or less after the book was written.
4. Get your first accurate sales figures - The next day, and every day after that.
5. Get paid - Two months after publication, and once a month after that.

Now, since time=money, which the the better scenario for the writer?

Technically, you get paid faster with self-publishing, though normally the check isn't as big as an advance will be. (I say "normally) because we earned over $5k the first month Draculas was released, and $5k is still the average advance for a debut author.)

Crazy as it sounds, every day your book isn't being sold, is a day lost that you could have been earning money.

The legacy publishing scenario--sell a bunch on the release, then trickle down to nothing--doesn't apply to ebooks. Ebooks often follow a bell curve. Sell a few at first, gain momentum and sell a lot, then gradually decrease in sales until they sell steadily.

In some ebook cases, it is more like a many-humped snake, with sales rising and falling for no discernible reason. I've had ebooks sell really well, then drop a bit for a month, then sell even more the month after that. Instead of the standard bell, the graph looks more like a snake going up a staircase--a wavy line on a gradual overall incline.

That's because ebooks NEVER stop selling. They aren't dependent on coop or shelf space. They don't get remaindered or stripped and returned.

If you look at many of the indies in the current Top 100 Kindle Bestsellers, most took months to get on that list. If they'd been legacy published, they would have been returned before they found their audience.

So, if you have an agent shopping a manuscript around, every day your book isn't for sale is a day you're not getting paid.

But Joe, you may ask, what about multiple book deals? Even if you never earn out your advance, won't you make more money annually because you keep signing contracts with a legacy publisher?

Let's look at the numbers. Imagine you signed a two book deal for $500k, and then signed another two book deal for $500k right afterward. Let's assume each $250k is paid out over a three year period.

A two book deal for $500k, minus agent commission, is $71k per book per year for three years.

This means you're getting $71k per book per year. So how quickly does this accrue?

Year 1: $71K
Year 2: $142K (because you also got paid for book 2 that you turned in)
Year 3: $213K (3rd year for book 1, 2nd year for book 2, 1st year for book 3)
Year 4: $213K (3rd year for book 2, 2nd year for book 3, 1st year for book 4)
Year 5: $213K (same as above)
Year 6: $213K (same as above)

and so on as long as you keep getting contracts.

Now let's look at self pubbing.

Year 1: $53K (based on 1600 sales a month at $3.99--a conservative estimate compared to some of my novels, which sell 2000-4000 a month)
Year 2: $106K (book 1 still earning, plus now book 2)
Year 3: $159K (books 1, 2, 3 all earning)
Year 4: $212K (books 1, 2, 3, 4 all earning)
Year 5: $265K (books 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 all earning)
Year 6: $318K (all 6 books earning)

and so on, each year adding $53K.

So in six years, you made $1,065,000 through a traditional publisher.

On your own, you made $1,113,000 by self pubbing.

And each year after 6, you keep accruing.

I'll make $500,000 this year, with six novels, a collaborative novel, and a bunch of short stories, novellas, and collections.

You may make a bit more with a traditional deal the first few years, but then it becomes a very bad deal compared to self-pubbing. Akin to buying life insurance where you keep paying more per month for a diminishing final payoff.

And these numbers don't take into account how quickly you get paid.

Book launches are no longer necessary in self-publishing. In fact, every day the book isn't released, is a day it isn't earning money. And those days can add up, when compared to a legacy publishing schedule.

Let's say you already have an agent, and a completed manuscript.

If it takes six months to sell, you could have earned $26,000 on your own during that time.

If she finds a publisher, you could have made another $9000 in the time it takes to sign the contract and get the advance check.

By the time the book comes out (let's say 12 months later), you could have made another $52,000.

Does that big advance still look as attractive?

On a single book, with a $250k deal, you'd have made $212,500 from the day you finished writing it until you got your first accurate royalty statement, which is 40 months later (could be longer.)

In that same 40 months, you could have made $176,000 on your own. But the money keeps coming in, month after month, year after year.

Assuming you earn out your advance and sell 1600 ebooks a month at $5.99 through legacy pubbing (which is 25% royalties minus Amazon and agent fees, which equals 14.9%) you'll earn $16,700 a year after that.

With self pubbing, you'll continue to earn $53k a year.

See what I mean about a balloon loan or a bad life insurance policy?

At ten years, even if you earn out your advance of $212k you'll wind up earning around $328,000.

In ten years, self-pubbing, that book would have earned $530,000.

Now I'm being VERY broad with the numbers here. They don't include print sales (though I'm now making $100 a day on my self pubbed print books) because it assumea that within five years, print will be a subsidiary right.

It also assumes a $5.99 ebook will sell as many copies as a $3.99 ebook, which it won't. The $3.99 will sell many more.

And it assumes you'll earn out your $212k advance, when likely you won't.

It also assumes you'll sell well. You might not sell well self-pubbing. You might not sell well legacy pubbing, either.

But at least with self-pubbing you have forever to find that audience. An ebook selling poorly for a year is still earning some money. A book looking for an agent or an editor isn't making any money at all. And even if it does find a publisher, by the time it is published, you could have already made a nice bit of money.

And let's face it: very few authors get $250k advances.

Time=money. You can start making money as soon as your book is finished. Or you can spend months to years looking for an agent, selling the book, getting it published, hoping for a big advance, hoping it does well enough to earn out that advance. And even then, if the book earned out a big advance, you'll then be locked into a contract that pays you 14.9% instead of 70%.

That's a bad deal.

Instead of waiting around, crossing your fingers, to ultimately get screwed, self-pubbing is a much faster, and more lucrative, way to go.


Scott said...

Big difference between the two forms of publishing.

Do you think that the "many-humped snake" is a result of holiday gift giving and the novelty of the ebook reader? You should plot your sales against the time of year: Christmas, Valentines, Mother's Day, etc.

Genevieve Jack said...

Very good point. The opportunity cost of the legacy route is high. Self-pubbing is the more efficient market scenario and the better deal for the customer. They get a greater variety of books, faster, at a less expensive price.

TheSanPintoTimes said...

If you are an unknown, self publishing is tough! Trying to find the right price, cover, and people to buy your work is not an easy thing to do.

It takes time to get the word out but I hope it will work out in the long run.

Interesting article.

L.J. Sellers said...

For me, the time factor was one of the greatest motives for going indie. I'm not a patient person and waiting three years for someone else to do something I could do better in three weeks didn't make any sense. The "time is money factor" relates to many other aspects of publishing and promoting as well.

Rob W. Hart said...

"2. Edit, proofread, format, design cover, upload. - Takes one or two weeks."

Just to play devil's advocate on this, isn't that a very short time frame to edit and proofread a book?

I just completed a book that took me three years to write, the brunt of that in the editing phase. A lot of that time frame was because I have a profession that demands a lot of my time, so it was spread out in short bursts. But crunched together, it has to be something like two solid months of editing, maybe more.

Granted, everyone works at different speeds, but at the same time, that time frame sounds incredibly optimistic.

Isn't it a problem with self-publishing, and part of the reason the stigma still exists around self-publishing, that there's a rush to publish before books are "finished"?

Not that the Big Six should be considered the be-all, end-all gatekeepers of literature, but I think there's a fair perception that some self-publishers are putting their books onto Amazon without really putting in the time or effort to polish them.

Like I said, I'm just playing devil's advocate, and I know I risk sounding like a prick, but I'd really love to hear your opinion on this.

Do you really think you can accomplish all that work in a week or two and produce a quality book?

Anonymous said...

"Time=money. You can start making money as soon as your book is finished. Or you can spend months to years looking for an agent, selling the book, getting it published, hoping for a big advance, hoping it does well enough to earn out that advance."

Another alternative is to do both simultaneously. The fact that a book may have been released as an ebook will not stop a publisher from buying the rights down the road if in fact the publisher likes the book.

In fact, agents are now hunting down the good-selling Kindle authors and marketing them to publishers. It's fast becoming a reality that the best way to get an agent is not to sent a query letter but instead to sell a lot of ebooks. That's where the agents are looking, at least the smart ones.

Also, selling lots of eBooks can lead to a more sizable offer from a publisher down the road because of the good track record.

For anyone still seeking a traditional contract and print opportunities (including HC and mass-market editions), I would look into pursuing both routes simultaneously. Upload the book to Kindle and send out that query letter on the same day.

Joe's main point is well taken--get that book out on Kindle immediately. Every day it isn't there is money lost.

Amy said...

Let me say that up-front, I agree with you, except...

You're disregarding interest. That's why most financial experts tell you, if you have a choice, *always* go for the big lump sum upfront, rather than a schedule of smaller "drips". Because even if you only invest a small portion of the big lump sum, you're getting interest on that. (Of course, the real preference is to invest the entire sum so you can really gain huge quantities of interest.)

That's why they tell lottery winners to take the lump sum, even if the payout would be more due to the amount of taxes you'd pay on the large initial payment, rather than smaller payments stretched out over a longer period. Because you have the lump sum plus the the interest, which means more money in the long run.

You only take the smaller dribble payments if you know you're terrible with money and would not have the discipline to invest.

If you are offered a large advance, you are better taking that, since you also get the advantage of interest.

Besides, in some cases, when the book(s) go out of print, you can obtain your rights and self-publish. You can then have the best of both worlds.

This is not to say that I don't agree that self-publishing is an excellent career path. I'm just saying that a financial expert might not agree with your figures. And the e-book sales for most authors will probably not compare favorably with your numbers, so... Again, don't discount the advantage of a big lump sum + interest/investing.

I'm a huge fan of your blog, by the way. In fact, so much so that I actually declined a small press contract in favor of independently publishing my latest historical mystery. So I actually am following your advice :).


gniz said...

I still will argue, maybe just to play devil's advocate, that there can be an advantage to pursuing both paths simultaneously.

I would cite my own case as a prime example.

I wrote five or six books over the last decade, had multiple agents, never got a book deal. I recently e-pubbed five of the six books and the last one is still with an agent.

Although my e-book sales are rapidly expanding, I'm not looking like I'll make a huge amount of money on any 1 title. Combined, my books are going to sell around 1k copies this month, netting me something in the vicinity of 500 dollars. Even if I make $1k a month, that's still only $12k a year.

On the other hand, if my 1 title ends up selling via the traditional route, I might get an advance anywhere between $5k-$20k (although it could be a bit less or even a bit more than that).

Now, clearly I've lost something in the long-term. My other books will be continuing to earn money as I wait for the traditionally pubbed book to finally be released. But once it's released I might get a fair amount (or at least some) name recognition, reviews, etc.

This will in turn benefit my epubbed books.

At the same time, I can be continuing to write and epublish, and hopefully use some "synergy" to boost my sales on both sides of the equation.

I don't think it's a zero sum game here. If I truly believed that epublishing is that much of a slam dunk I would pull my book right now from the agent's hands.

But it's not. I've got a lot of titles up and they're doing just fine, but imo it still remains to be seen if any one of my books will earn on its own what a traditionally pubbed books may earn me.

I'm also a very fast writer. I'll write more books. More irons in the fire.

Saying you should NEVER under any circumstances go the traditional route is like telling us not to ever write for Sports Illustrated or something. There are plenty of good reasons to pursue multiple avenues, even when one avenue might be a bit more attractive for various reasons.

I still love epubbing but someone has to take the other side once in awhile around here...


Megg Jensen said...

Good luck making any interest on a lump sum in today's financial climate. ;) Yes, normally that would be a good argument, but not today. Maybe next year?! (We all hope!) :)

I put my book on sale last week and with a pretty good amount of marketing, I've already sold ... well ... I can't say because I'm currently running a contest for people to guess how many books I'll sell by March 11th (they can win a Nook or Kindle). But, trust me, I've sold a decent amount.

At the moment, the total isn't as important to me as the people I'm reaching. Some of the people entering the contest are people I've never heard of - which tells me my marketing is working and it should continue to trickle through.

I'm close to recouping most of my start-up costs. They rest is frosting, and who can argue with that? :)

People are reading my book and telling me they can't put it down. That, in itself, is immensely rewarding.


Coral said...

This in and of itself makes more sense and to me is a huge argument in favor of self-pubbing. I never realized it took that long until I started hearing about how you did Draculas and now this post.

So you have freedom - write, good entertaining stuff when you want; control all aspects of your work - editing, formatting, cover design; sell it when you're happy with it; market it and tweak as needed.

Case closed? hehehe

Lovelyn said...

When I first started writing I had no idea how long it took the publishing industry to get a book into stores. When I found out I was shocked. That's one of the reason's I decided to self-publish. I'm a firm believer that time is money and I don't want to waste either.

Anonymous said...

If you aren't earning out your advances, you won't continue to get book deals and the legpub side falls down completely.

Once you've shown you can't earn out your advances, you're done. Your career is over. Get another pen name and start again because nobody will sign you after that.

Then you'll be self-pubbing anyway.

Alisha said...

Great post! I've been gobbling up every word of your blog for the past couple of weeks since I discovered it. I just self published a short story on Amazon and B&N. I earned more on that one story in a couple of days then I have in years at a small press. I never considered self publishing until I started reading your blog and read about you and Hocking. And then a light bulb went off in my head. And then a flood of relief coursed through me. No more waiting months and months after that initial query...and then again after the first three chapters were sent in..then the final manuscript..then for a release date. I can't work fast enough. I have four full lengths ready to go so I've been reading all I can on formatting, cover design, learning about self pubbing at Amazon and B&N. Talk about feeling free and in total control. That alone is worth it ALL! Thanks for blazing the trail!

JA Konrath said...

If you aren't earning out your advances, you won't continue to get book deals and the legpub side falls down completely.

Actually, this isn't true.

I've earned out all of my advances, and was still dropped. And I know authors who haven't come close to earning out, but they keep getting contracts.

Anonymous said...

Joe: I've earned out all of my advances, and was still dropped. And I know authors who haven't come close to earning out, but they keep getting contracts.

We'd have to enter into a discussion, per book, on whether the manufacturing costs were higher than predicted, the editor was trying to give you a higher rate without setting a precident, or being optimistic/pessimistic, etc. Lots of reasons why your anecdotal data can run against the average. Not earning out 2-6 times in a row (without a mitigating factor) is a death sentence.

Steve Peterson said...


Once again, an excellent post chock full of data. A couple of points I'd like to add:

Having the book under your control means you can control the marketing efforts. All too often the publisher does little, especially after the book hits the stores. You can keep pushing your book as long as you like, and reap the benefits.

I can see some value in having at least one book in traditional channels, if only to help build your audience. You'd have to weigh that against potential lost revenue over time, but it might be worthwhile if considered as a marketing expense.

I think perhaps the biggest barrier to some authors self-pubbing is the desire to not deal with all of the business... the formatting, cover design, marketing, etc. Sure, you can hire out all those bits, but you still have to manage the process. If you're not comfortable with all that, having a publisher do the work (assuming you get one) may be worth a huge chunk of revenue.

I think, though, that more and more we'll see service providers helping authors with all of the pieces of book publishing they don't want to do, for a reasonable fee. Traditional publishers could even compete in offering such things... if they totally rethought their business model. Which they show no signs of doing quickly, if at all.

Jude Hardin said...

No doubt about it, traditional publishing is excruciatingly slow.

But aspiring novelists might do well to borrow the tagline from a classic TV commercial: "We will sell no wine before its time."

That is, we should sell no wine before its time.

Time spent reading and writing and editing, and the honing of craft in general, is not time wasted. The hours...days...months...years it takes to become a proficient novelist will only result in dividends--some tangible, some not--down the road.

Persistence is crucial...

But slinging a novel of dubious quality up for sale on Amazon and spending hours...days...months...years going from website to website hyping that pig and watching its numbers trickle in on KDP is a waste of time, IMO.

Better to read more and write more.

Sure, time is money, but is it ever really in a newbie's--or even an experienced writer's--best interest to rush a book to publication?

An aside to Blake: I haven't read SAVE THE CAT yet, but I've read Syd Field and Robert McKee, and it seems to me rewriting is even more of an issue for screenplays than it is for novels. I can't imagine that Mr. Snyder didn't include a section on its importance. :)

Unknown said...

I, like so many other commenters/followers/worshipers, have uncovered a hero in you. I've downloaded your 1000+-page Newbie's Guide (omigod ~ overwhelming!) and started following your posts regularly. Your sage advice is inspirational and real. How refreshing.

Maybe you can address something for me, or perhaps copy/paste a prior post that will get things rolling. With all of the research, what I am failing to find an answer to is WHERE TO BEGIN once the book is out there. Everyone talks about guest blogging and book bloggers and participating in the Kindle Boards and the importance of social media and network, network, network. How people find the time to do all this is beyond me -- I haven't gotten a stitch of writing done in two weeks because all I'm doing is reading and commenting and following and researching and joining and... Now I've got a killer case of eye strain and a brain swimming in confusion and panic to show for it.

What I seem to be missing is that very first action a self-pubber is to take to get things moving (beyond calling your mom and telling her to buy your damn book). What is STEP ONE, after the publish button has been triggered?

Any insight would rock.

Lindsay Buroker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Megg Jensen said...


Step one: Put your website's url underneath your message. Make it easy for us, your peers, to reach you.

Two: Make real connections with people. Make friends, don't just randomly comment. (Maybe you already are, and that's great!)

Three: Have a contest. I'm running one right now ( and I've had more hits on my blog than I've ever had. More Twitter followers. Tons of sales. Lots of buzz.

Four: Remember that this is marathon, not a race. I also liken it to a snowball - just keep it rolling and it will gain steam.

Five: Look me up & send me a friend request on Facebook. We all need to band together!!! :D

Best of luck!!!!


Lindsay Buroker said...

It's definitely been a little weird getting to the selling-books-and-making-money bit faster than my crit buddies, folks who finished their novels first and beat me to the agent-hunting part. Some even got agents.

Two, who finished their novels in 2009, have them coming out this summer, 2011. In the meantime I've made back my initial costs for editing and cover art (my first novel went live in December 2010) and plan to have the next in the series out in May.

I think everyone has to find the road that's right for them, but I don't, for a second, regret choosing self-publishing. Not in this day and age!

Ebook Endeavors

Sarah Woodbury said...

All I know is that after 5 years of writing, two agents, and no books sold to a traditional publisher, it was time to take matters into my own hands. My books were sitting on my desktop unread and unloved, and now more than ten thousand people have read them. What could possibly be more fabulous than that?

Anonymous said...

I’m curious what the sales numbers are for such genre books as horror and sci-fi online and as e-books? How do e-sales in these genres and their respective subgenres compare to traditional book publishing sales?

Norma said...

This brings back painful memories of life in the trenches in "legacy" publishing.

Kendall Swan said...

This post is literally THE reason I got into self pubbing when I first started.

After I first had the inkling that maybe this writing thing I was doing might be an actual career choice, I dutifully went to my local RWA chapter meeting to network and learn the industry.

So many great writers and they all said the same thing- even if I was an absolutely AWESOME writer (a big assumption since they didn't know me and I was a fairly new writer), it would still take at 18 months at the fastest to get pubbed.

Yeah, um, don't think so.

It was after that meeting that I found DTP (now KDP). I felt like I had won the lottery then and I hadn't even published anything yet.

Cut to two years later and instead of rolling their eyes at me, the same authors are offering to buy me lunch to tell me all about self publishing. (I just refer them to Joe's book--after the lunch, of course.)

They all thought I was silly till I showed them my monthly reports.

But even then, there are those that write it off as 'only working for erotica or short stories' when in fact, those things are niching me out a little. I'm small potatoes compared to so many on this blog alone. (Sigh)

Anyway, great post. So true. Wish more authors would listen, especially those with backlists.

Kendall Swan
NAKED Parent Teacher Conference

Unknown said...


The one aspect of your sales theories I don't get is how you can project what sales for a particular e-book title will be three or five years from now? Just because you're making $50k on a book this year doesn't mean you'll make it next year or five years from now... Or does it?

Call me paranoid, too, but I'm skeptical that indies will keep getting 70 percent royalties. Hope I'm wrong, but....

Robert Bidinotto said...

Mr. Konrath, I only discovered your blog about a week ago. But it's been a revelation.

As a professional full-time writer, I've achieved a decent measure of success in nonfiction. Awards, recognition, a decent (if often precarious) income. But my ultimate passion is fiction-writing. Yet, until I encountered your insightful commentaries, I never had the nerve to take the leap.

I've had a promising thriller sitting, half-finished, for about a year. Half-finished, because I knew that I faced a long and likely futile ordeal storming the Bastille in Manhattan. So, demoralized, I've delayed completing it, turning instead to short-term nonfiction projects that would at least pay some bills.

Until now.

Your presentations and example are compelling, persuasive, and damned inspiring. I now aim to finish the book by May, then self-publish it as an Amazon ebook, along with a Createspace print edition.

Thanks for showing me this path and encouraging me to walk it.

Maria said...

Yeah, mine are like the lumpy snake. Although the series is more of a ramp-up (so that's a camel lump? A mountain?), there's still this kind of sine wave thing going that *might* be related to the month of the year.

Sharper13x said...

@ Sarah,

I downloaded the sample of "The Last Pendragon." Maybe it's because I'm gearing up for a summer trip to Ireland, but your Welsh-history- centric website and books looks very compelling. Nice work.

Rebecca said...

Joe, I'm enjoying this blog immensely! My partner and I self-published a book last year in a highly niche area and haven't regretted it. We're making our money back, and now we're now looking at taking the epublishing leap. We have every reason to be optimistic. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience.

bowerbird said...

"traditional publishing" has now
become a straw-man argument.

few people are receiving offers,
except for the established stars,
celebrities, and any writers who
self-publish and move boatloads.

and contracts are horrendous...

let writers still tempted by that
learn about things the hard way.

time to switch perspective from
the past to focus on the future,
leaving all the dinosaurs behind.

when the situation changes,
_you_ change... remember?

the situation has changed...


Anonymous said...

Not earning out 2-6 times in a row (without a mitigating factor) is a death sentence.

I would argue it is a sign that you have a good agent who negotiates good advances. It is not true that career authors need to earn out advances. Most do not. And their publishers can still make out just fine.

I know three authors well enough to be familiar with this aspect of their careers and I have to side with Joe on this one. Might you be in a position to know that some publisher somewhere views it as a death sentence? I suppose you might. But they don't all, or even most as far as I can tell. Or maybe it is just that I make friends with lucky people.

Alexis Harrington said...

I used to tell foot-draggers who claimed they wanted to be published that they'd better get to it because literally years of your life can pass while you wait, and wait, AND WAIT. I was trad published for most of my work, and then my whole career fizzled because what I wrote was no longer "trendy." I'd try to catch an agent's interest and some of them took a year to reject me. Meanwhile, no writing income, so I was back to the utter drudgery of office work. I am making more money than I ever did as a print-pubbed author, I get paid every month--not every 6 to 9 months (if I was lucky back then), I have up-to-date sales information. I couldn't believe this worked so well for me, but I've seen the proof of it and I'm thrilled.

Katie Klein said...

The "big" upfront money from the trad publishers sounds great until you realize what you're losing: valuable rights, control of the product. . . .

A few authors will see the big bucks; the rest of us will see a "typical" advance. A few more might see a publicist and legitimate marketing plans for their book; the rest of us will be ignored.

Throw in an editorial board that wants to see rewrites (whether you agree with the suggestions or not), little to no input on the cover (whether it conveys the message of your book or not), and a general, all-around "treating of authors like crap". . . .

I don't know. Now that I have a taste of freedom, I kind of like it. :)

Selena Blake said...

>> Instead of the standard bell, the graph looks more like a snake going up a staircase--a wavy line on a gradual overall incline.

Love the imagery here.

>>If you look at many of the indies in the current Top 100 Kindle Bestsellers, most took months to get on that list. If they'd been legacy published, they would have been returned before they found their audience.

This is the way I feel about many TV shows. Studios give them so little time to find their audience and then they yank them mid-season. I find that terribly annoying and thus, I won't watch a show during the first season. I wait until the season is over and then catch up online.

The only issue I have with anything that you said in this post is that not every self pubbed author is going to sell 1600 copies a month of every book they self pub.

I am. And while I'm on cloud 9 about that, I have several friends who aren't selling a 10th of what I am. Friends who are great writers and who promote their socks off. They just haven't found their audience yet I suppose and they're still anxiously waiting for that 1000 copies a month sell thru.

Perhaps some math with smaller numbers might be more accurate for some authors. Just a thought.

Nicholas La Salla said...

You're right on the money, as always, J.A. When I sold "One More Day" to Wizards of the Coast, they gave me a $5000 advance, and it took a month or two for the check to arrive. Then, when the editor requested information, I was a good little boy scout and finished my work within a day or two. I then had to wait WEEKS on end to get more suggestions, and on and on. If anyone's interested in reading the whole story, the blog's here.

One thing you didn't mention was the complete LACK of any marketing push most new authors get when they are published traditionally. I literally got a disc with some ideas for marketing it myself, and a guarantee that an ARC or three would be sent out.

Just because one's book is on the shelf DOESN'T mean that anyone will buy it.

If you don't get any marketing push (marketing: seems to only be getting rarer in today's market) then you're stiffing yourself on readers.

Again, and you've pointed this out several times yourself: if we have to do all the friggin' work, then we should be getting all the profits.

Thank you, Kindle.

- Nick

shana said...

@Sarah said it best:

"My books were sitting on my desktop unread and unloved, and now more than ten thousand people have read them. What could possibly be more fabulous than that?"

We're writers not only because we love to write.
We're writers because we want to be read.
Otherwise, we'd just journal and get on with our lives.

Shana Hammaker
Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011

Selena Kitt said...

Oh but Joe... you're just another delusional writer like the rest of us. ;)

Glenn McCreedy said...

Powerful argument based on the time thesis, as well as the numbers (again!). The question still holds, Joe, the one you've asked: "How does one break out of obscurity?" The flip side of publishing access in the digital domain is dealing with the clutter, both as a reader ("How do I find what I want to buy?") and the author ("How do I cut through all this self-pubbed clutter and reach an audience?") Your thoughts?

Bev Morley said...

I'm all for putting my work out there via the "self-pub" route. I'm registered with Kindle (have been for a few weeks now) and today decided to register with PubIt too. Only I can't register with PubIt!! Thankfully I read the small print and because I'm not a US citizen, don't have a US Credit Card or Bank Account, I'm not eligible for an account! It's such a shame as there must be masses of really good authors outside of the US who would love to publish with PubIt.

Jack D. Albrecht Jr. said...

Joe, once again you rock out with the good information. Three blogs in three days, I must have done something good!

But seriously, thanks again for the figures. This is why i come back to watch this blog as often as i do. I'm new to this world and its nice to have someone show the way to do it right the first time. Much appreciation!


KevinMc said...

Not arguing with the overall theme, but there's a point of math I wanted to mention... Joe talks about how most books (4 in 5) don't earn out their advances. And - that used to be true.

But those books are going to keep on selling now, too. Traditionally published books have the same long tail that indie books do, thanks to epublishing. So I don't think that's a valid argument anymore.

Yes, you can earn the same amount or more with less sales, doing it yourself. But with epub keeping sales going on trad pub books basically forever, you're not losing out on as much as some are suggesting. And the early velocity trad pub is still able to accomplish has excellent synergy with the rest of your books - backlist or new self published ones - to boost sales of those as well.

I think there's still room to mix it up. Just like some folks drop a book to 99 cents as a loss leader to bring up sales of other books, an author can trad pub accepting the reduction in income as a way to boost sales of other books.

Anonymous said...


Just wondering how you keep all of your projects straight in your head? From Daniels to the horror novels it seems overwhelming.

Sean McCartney
The Treasure Hunters Club
Secrets of the Magical Medallions

Anonymous said...

So how do you feel about Orbit picking up Michael J. Sullivan's series from self-pub status?

Unknown said...

Some good information in the article, but, as some have already pointed out, a lot of assumption also. It's certainly a brave new world in the world of publishing, no doubt.

Now, from what I've seen there's two camps that all this indie publishing seems to break down to:
1.) The just create something camp and then market the hell out of it to create buzz.
2.) Then the, write as fast as you can and get it out there crowd. Like the fact that quantity, in and of itself, is going to sell.

I think that there is a certain mentality that I see in more then a few "indie" writers, and at the end of the day it really boils down to false expectations of large profits. Like most crafts, writing doesn't take a much more precious, time. Keep working (both writing and marketing) and constantly perfecting craft. You'll know when the time is right to shift the balance from one to the other, then the monetary rewards MIGHT follow. Those indies that are truly following their path (only the individual will know) will have the best shot at success. And, it's only a shot, not a guarantee. There is an element level of hype that I'm seeing in the "indie" community that is akin to investing in the Internets, the Hold 'em craze and then real estate. Just because you build it, it's big and pretty and you do a lot of them...they aren't NECESSARILY coming, nor if it does come, will it be persist. The level of change that has taken place in the past 6 months proves this, yet some have the "crystal ball" to see farther? They call it the "writing life" for a reason, and very few keep the lights on solely by doing it.

Holly from 300 Pounds Down said...

I loved this post. It definitely gives hope to those who have already decided to go the indie route and a lot to think about for those on the fence. I do wonder if your success with self publishing has been in large part due to the fact that you were a published author first (From what I heard)

Unknown said...


I love it when you do math :-)

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Love this post! Epic, as usual!

I only wish I didn't work full time and the 2 week/revisions/editing was a reality for me! I just finished my book last night, but I'll be editing/revising with a fellow DarkSide Publishing author first before I hit up revisions. My goal is to have everything ready for May 1st, but if it's done earlier...bonus. I'm also going to try my hand at formatting this time around...Thanks to the fabulous Megg Jensen who is a member of DarkSide and has mad formatting skillz. Bonus!

But I've already got a book and cover, just need revisions/formatting and we're ready to fly! Loving it!


Naomi Clark said...

I'd love to have a two-week turn around on editing etc! Working full time means that just isn't possible though, which is one of the reasons I've moved to indie publishing - I'm hoping to make enough money to at least go part-time so I can write more and faster.

As much as I'm optimistic about the Kindle way, I do think UK-based authors are at a disadvantage in that Amazon pays us by cheque, not paypal or even a direct deposit into the bank. It means we're waiting longer for payment and having to potentially lose some of it in the exchange. My novella has been up for just over a month; I've made as much money as my last small press novel did last quarter... which when you convert it from dollars to pounds doesn't even cover the cost of the trip to and from the bank to pay the cheque in. It's a little frustrating!

Nancy Beck said...

@Bev Morley,

Only I can't register with PubIt!! Thankfully I read the small print and because I'm not a US citizen, don't have a US Credit Card or Bank Account, I'm not eligible for an account!

I found this in Smashwords' FAQ: "I live outside the United States. How do I get paid?
We pay via PayPal. PayPal is available in most countries. In South Africa, one Smashwords author informs us PayPal is now available as a service from First National Bank."

Might be worth investigating, since Smashwords has deals with B&N, Apple, and others.

Walter Golden said...

One thing you do not give enough weight to is the need for a following. On the computer, or on a back list, every author needs a following so that their books can be found. If no one knows you or your title, you will disappear.
From what I can see,, unless you are heavily promoted by your publisher, it will take eight to ten years to build a following under the old system. The E-book way it will take six novels.
When you are seventy five and have five novels ready to go, that can make a difference.
I have had agents ask me at conference. if I had any novels in print. Their real question was--what was my following. I don’t blame them. I was in sales and no one in sales wants their later years to be the same as their earlier years. E books are a way for the older author to build a following fast

Edward L Cote said...

The time is a huge, huge factor to me as well. I'm planning on a seven book series and I could possibly have it done as soon as 2016. If I went the "legacy" route that would be 2020 at the earliest.

Realistically, though? I'd never get a deal in the first place. No legacy publisher is going to touch novellas in the fantasy genre, especially from a no-name upstart who won't even play by the rules.

Harlequin has a new e-book only imprint that recognizes the novella market, and they do cover all genres. I might actually have a shot there. But as Joe points out, the numbers still don't add up.

Even if I have options, and I'm not sure that I do, I think I'm still much better off on my own.

Unknown said...

If you self-publish via Kindle, will traditional publishers then not touch you? In other words, will self-publishing destroy your chances of ever getting a traditional hard-copy book deal with an old fashioned publisher?

In the alternative, do authors who self-publish via Kindle ever, via their strong Kindle sales, attract the attention of traditional publishers and land big book deals? Do traditional publishers ever trawl Amazon to see what self-published Kindle books are "hot," and then snap them up for traditional publication? Or is that a myth?

Robert Bidinotto said...

@ R: I think that this post by Robin Sullivan should answer your question.

Incidentally, Robin's blog is outstanding and very much worth visiting. She's a big fan of Joe's blog, too. "Great minds" and all that. . .

Unknown said...

Thanks for the compliment, Robert - I do enjoy research and sharing what I find with others.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Michelle D Keyes said...

I cannot thank you enough for this post! Completely eye opening. My fiance and I are considering self-publishing our children's novel and your post helped me to decide. It just makes sense now (although 10 years ago it didn't). So thank you very much for taking the time to share this!