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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, July 18, 2010

SELF-PUBLISHING: Maybe You're Not So Vain After All?

A lot of writers—even established ones—are taking a second look at self-publishing right now.

Only a couple of years ago, self-publishing—especially for memoir and fiction—was equated with the grumpy-geezer rants and bored-housewife fantasies of "vanity publishing.".

Serious writers were told self-publishing was the direct route to a dead-on-arrival career. Predatory outfits like PublishAmerica and AuthorHouse produced such heaping piles of unedited, overpriced crapola that most bookstores wouldn’t touch anything that gave off a whiff of “P.O.D,” no matter what the author's credentials. Reviewers tossed copies in the shredder without a second look, and most self-published books sold under 150 copies. 

But along came Amazon’s Kindle, igniting what's being called the biggest change in publishing since Gutenberg. And as Eric at Pimp my Novel says, “words of caution against unscrupulous self-publishing companies (read: vanity publishers) don't apply to the world of e-books.” 

Suddenly anybody who can convert a Word file to .pdf can throw a book on Amazon and have an ebook for sale within minutes—at no cost. AND—here’s the really seductive part—there's actual money to be made. Amazon pays a 70% royalty on Kindle books priced from $2.99-$9.99.

A few months ago, while big publishing companies battled with Amazon about ebook pricing and squabbled with their authors about ebook rights and royalties, a few savvy writers quietly slipped their Kindle-formatted books onto Amazon—for very low prices. Instead of getting paid maybe a few pennies in royalties on the sale of a traditionally published paperback, they started getting $2.10 for a $2.99 ebook.

Kinda awesome, since the low prices snagged a lot of customers eager to load their shiny new Kindles. These self-pubbed bargain ebooks didn’t just sell to the author’s sisters and his cousins and his aunts like the old expensive P.O.D. stuff—they sold BIG. Everybody loves a bargain.

Thriller writer J. A. Konrath—the guru of the DYI ebook movement—started making serious bucks (six-figures-a-year serious) off his out-of-print backlist, as well as manuscripts his publisher had rejected. Yes, you read that right: rejected manuscripts making money. You can read his amazing saga and advice on how to follow in his footsteps on his blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

But—and this is a big but—Konrath is an established thriller author with a solid readership (and an agent.) Can a mere unpublished novelist match his success?  

In spite of all the caveats from industry professionals, some writers seem to be doing just that. Author Karen McQuestion, unknown and unpublished as a fiction writer, put six novels on Amazon  last fall, and shot to the top of the Kindle Bestseller list within weeks. Since then, one of those six, A Scattered Life, has been optioned for film and is being issued by Amazon Encore in paperback this summer. She sold 30,000 ebooks on Amazon in the space of five months.

A fellow survivor of my UK publisher’s crash-and-burn, retired Chicago Tribune columnist Terry Galanoy is so impressed with these success stories, he has just published his thriller, BLOODGOLD in a Kindle edition this week. I’m rooting for him and watching his progress with an eye to doing the same with my out-of-print books.

Literary Lab’s Michelle Davidson Argyle is going the same route. She has decided to self-publish her literary novella Cinders, which will be coming out next month. A couple of days ago, Michelle posted a hilarious video by another self-publisher, Zoe Winters, illustrating the argument for going the non-traditional route.

So who should consider hitting self-pub e-book trail?

1)     Traditionally published writers with an out-of-print backlist. Novelists like Konrath who have an established following plus name recognition are in a no-lose situation here. Some are even dumping their print publishers altogether.
2)     Professional writers with platform and a strong writing background. McQuestion and Galanoy are working writers with solid sales in nonfiction. Galanoy has two NYT bestselling nonfiction books and McQuestion is a regular contributor to major newspapers.
3)     Marketing geniuses. Writers like clever YouTube marketer Zoe Winters will probably go far. If you can compete on her level, go for it.
4)     Writers with a strong online following. Michelle Davidson Argyle (who also blogs as Lady Glamis) has spent years establishing an online presence. She has edited anthologies and judged contests. She’s got a niche book to sell to a niche market where she has platform.

But for everybody else, I’d say… probably not so much. Sigh.

Here's the thing: as news of Konrath’s success spreads, we’re about to be inundated with a flood of self-pubbed ebooks. We have every reason to expect them to be like self-pubbed treeware books—mostly unoriginal, unedited, schlocky first drafts. Readers will need some way to pick out the good ones. That means the books will have to be vetted by somebody. Those somebodies will probably continue to be traditional publishers. 

If you do decide to go the e-route, you’ll need to follow some guidelines:

1)     If your book is not a reprint, get it edited by a professional. Not your retired librarian aunt. Not your boyfriend who dropped out of an MFA program. A professional editor who knows the business.
2)     Get professional help in formatting if you’re not super-savvy in book design. This is a relatively new field, so I’ll give you Mr. Galanoy’s recommendation: Rob Siders Kindle Services. Specialized tech services like his can help you get on Kindle as well as other ebook sources for a few hundred bucks.
3)     Design your cover to work as a thumbnail. Your sales will be almost entirely based on a thumbnail of your cover, so make sure it looks good in miniature.
4)     Make sure all rights have reverted to you if this is a reprint. (If you went with PublishAmerica, they own all rights for seven years. Sorry.) And remember—cover art is the property of the original publisher. If you want to use the original cover, you’ll probably have to pay for permission to use it.
5)     Develop superb online marketing skills. Everything about Kindle and its iPad-y, Nook-y cousins is going to be happening online. Join the Kindle forums now and start making friends. Follow Joe Konrath’s blog and start commenting.

For some great recent blogposts on the subject, I recommend Scott Nicholson at the Blood-Red Pencil on pros and cons, and Funds for Writers’ Hope C. Clark on novelists who are ditching their traditional publishers for epublishing.

Me, I’m still mulling over cover ideas as I consider taking the plunge with my out-of-print books. Any of you out there planning to Kindle your backlist or take a chance with new manuscripts?

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Blogger Simon Kewin said...

I've dipped my toe in the water with out-of print SF short stories/novellas, just to see what it was like and what would happen. I must admit I've been quite pleased with the results - nothing in the league you mention, but over 100 sales so far. I figure that's 100 sales I wouldn't have and it's all, hopefully, helping to get my name out there.

July 18, 2010 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

That's really good to know, Simon--100 sales sounds good to me, especially for short stories.

July 18, 2010 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Simon Kewin said...

Thanks Anne. I'm still undecided when it comes to epublishing novels though. For me your post raises a host of interesting points and things to think about.

July 18, 2010 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger TerryLynnJohnson said...

this is a very informative post. Great job and thanks.

July 18, 2010 at 7:31 PM  
Blogger Sierra Godfrey said...

Anne, thanks for the thoughtful points here. One thing I'd like to know -- do you have the rights to your out of print/backlist books? How do you get the rights?

July 18, 2010 at 7:45 PM  
Blogger Jan Markley said...

Interesting post. Lots to think about and watch as e-publishing develops.

July 18, 2010 at 8:37 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Great question, Sierra. I had a pretty good contract with my publisher. It had a clause where all rights reverted to me if/when the books went out of print. That may be more of a standard clause in the UK than the US.

July 18, 2010 at 8:58 PM  
Anonymous Zoe Winters said...

Thanks for the shout out and pimping my video! :D I will say, that while I feel I have a long way to go with platform-building, I started with ZERO platform. So it can be built from the ground up. You gotta start somewhere.

July 18, 2010 at 9:09 PM  
Blogger Piedmont Writer said...

What a fabulous post Anne, thanks for digging up all the dirt on this information. I won't self-publish because it just really wouldn't do anything for me, but it's good to know if I ever do get a backlist, I could do this.

July 19, 2010 at 4:31 AM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Great information! As always! I'm thinking about this. I have one of those Kindle things (it's not so shiny though) and have pictured myself there. Humm... I do wish they would flash the book cover when you go to your current read. Or even the author's name. I might suggest that. Why not? As a writer, that really bugs me.

July 19, 2010 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Hey, thanks for the shout out! You've made me sound all professional, and that's always great! I think self-publishing isn't for everyone, but if an author has the resources, or money, or connections to go for it, and they don't mind trying a new road, I always say go for it! It can't hurt in the long run if it doesn't work out, and traditional publishing will always be there, too.

I think it's important for an author to go the self-publishing route if it's a choice, not a last resort. This is such an excellent post. I'm definitely bookmarking it for linkage when I do my self-publishing series on The Lit Lab. :)

July 19, 2010 at 7:57 PM  
Anonymous Karen McQuestion said...

Hi Anne, thanks so much for the mention! I love your post and think there's a lot of excellent info here.

To Simon--congratulations on the 100 sales! That's how it all starts. I wish you continued success.

For me, every day and every sale is still a thrill. It never gets old. After so many years of not being able to get my work out in the world, it's an honor to finally have readers. It's a great time to be a writer--we finally have some control.

July 19, 2010 at 8:24 PM  
Blogger graywave said...

Anne, Something else that people might consider is that even if you are commercially published these days, with small presses especially, you, the author, need to make most of the running when it comes to publicity.

My own debut novel was published this year. My NY publisher failed to get me a single review before the book came out and only one, a couple of months later, with a small and obscure blogger. All the rest of the marketing has been down to me. I often think that, if I had self-published, I would have had exactly the same level of success, but with much more control and a lot more of the money coming my way.

Nevertheless, I am seeking commercial publication for my new novel too, because I don't fit the categories you list above and, frankly, I suck as a publicist.

July 19, 2010 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger Simon Kewin said...


Many thanks. Love your blog by the way!

July 20, 2010 at 6:12 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Zoe and Karen--thanks for visiting. You're giving us all hope. I love your positive attitude, Karen: "This is a great time to be a writer--we finally have some control!" So different from the doom and gloom we're getting from traditional publishers.

Graywave, I'm interested in your experience. Publishers used to at least send out ARCs for review, since most reviewers want the book 6 months pre-pub date. Kind of hard to do ourselves. If they're not even doing that, they're not much use. Still, congrats on landing a publisher. No mean feat in this crazy market.

Michelle, you are indeed "all professional". I think you're really savvy about using social media to get name recognition and network within the industry. Not in a predatory-marketer way, but by making real connections with potential readers and reviewers.

Christine, you're the only Kindle-reader I've heard from. I think it's interesting they don't ID what book you're reading. I hope the designers will listen to you. They're about to start competing in a major way, so things like that would give an advantage. I read in PL this AM that Sharp is coming out with a cheaper ereader similar to the Sony. Once they're under $100 and the glitches are ironed out, the market for ebooks will explode. They're already outselling hardbacks, according to a NYT article I saw this AM.

It's like a rollercoaster is about to take off. Whee!

July 20, 2010 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

More on Kindle books outselling hardcovers from Elisa Lorello on her blog this AM--thoughtful stuff http://elisalorello.blogspot.com/.

July 20, 2010 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger Davin Malasarn said...

Sorry I'm getting to this late, but this is a great post! I think it's hard to say right now who should self-publish and who shouldn't, as we are indeed in such a state of flux. I'm definitely considering, and I've been considering it for a couple of years at least.

July 21, 2010 at 2:24 PM  
OpenID virginiaripple said...

A very informative post, though as a "newbie" it could easily be read as discouraging anyone except the select few from even attempting self-publishing. As someone pointed out, you have to start somewhere and, with numbers of new writers being accepted the traditional route going down, doing it yourself at least gives an aspiring author a chance. Thank you for reminding us all of the importance of good editing.

October 14, 2010 at 11:42 AM  

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