Nathan Bransford’s Decision, Self-Published Kindle books, and You

Everybody who reads this blog probably knows I’m an obsessed long-time fan of Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford. When I read his Friday post saying he’s left the publishing business, I felt a personal loss. I know he promises to keep up his blog, and I’m not losing my agent, like Natalie Whipple, Lisa Brackman, Kristi Marie Kriddle and so many others. But “knowing” somebody with Nathan’s kindness and integrity in the business always made me hopeful.

The news that he’s leaving for a more lucrative position at the tech news site CNET seemed like more bad news for kindness and integrity at the end of a disastrous week.

I was helped a little by the hilarious post from The Rejectionist suggesting “reasons” why Nathan has left us (one of which involves Jonathan Franzen’s fear that Nathan might make the cover of Time.) It had me laughing through my tears.

But now I’ve thought it over, I’m not sure the news is all bad. When I spoke with Nathan at the Central Coast Writers’ Conference last September, he said electronic publishing will dominate the business sooner than people realize—and self-publishing will be a strong factor. Most people in the traditional publishing world have poo-poo’ed the electronic self-publishing movement, but not Nathan. He said we’re at the dawn of a wonderful new era when writers will have control over our own careers.

Maybe that’s partly why Nathan left agenting. I’m sure there’s more money in reviewing and advertising e-readers than representing people who write for them. Crystal-ball watchers are pretty sure agents will still figure into the new publishing paradigm, but chances are they won’t be making the kind of money they used to. The days of big advances are pretty much gone, and fifteen percent of a $500-$1000 advance isn’t going to pay for a lot of New York office space.

The Pied Piper of the electronic self-publishing movement is mystery writer J.A. Konrath. His plan and subsequent success are detailed on his blog A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. Every writer should read it in order to understand our current choices.

What Konrath is doing works, as you can see detailed on his blog. He’s making real money while long-time traditionally published writers are going back to their day jobs.

The reason is this: traditional publishers charge a lot for e-books—especially those written by superstars—basically treating them like hard-cover releases.

But Konrath and his disciples charge $.99 to $2.99.

How do they make money?

They get big royalties—ones they don’t have to share with anybody. Amazon offers a 70% royalty on a $2.99 Kindle book. Compare that to a 5% royalty on a standard paperback…well, you do the math. And, selling at those prices, they sell A LOT. Konrath is now outselling Dan Brown, Janet Evanovich and Jonathan Franzen.

Everybody’s argument against his plan is, “He’s Konrath—an established author; that would never work for an unknown.”

But this simply isn’t true. Many writers are having success with it. And the generous-spirited Konrath helps by posting about other self-Kindlized books. Two writers I follow—Karen McQuestion and Elisa Lorello—have had such fantastic sales with Kindle that now Amazon is publishing their books in hard copy through Amazon Encore. Elisa Lorello had never been published before when her romantic comedy Faking It made it to #6 on the Kindle bestseller list a month after release.

Yes, of course there will be a boatload of crap books dumped on Kindle, just as there have been with self-published books since POD technology came along. And please, PLEASE don’t throw your NaNo book out there before you do LOTS of revision, or you’ll end your career before it starts. You’ll thank me later. I promise.

Readers will probably depend on review sites to choose reading material. There are already e-book review sites springing up, like Dirt Cheap Kindle Books. The cream will rise. As best-selling author Dean Wesley Smith said in a Friday blogpost   “A book WILL NOT SELL at $2.99 or even $.99 if it sucks. Readers have taste that won’t be overpowered by simple low prices.”

Of course, to succeed as a self-publisher, you’ll have to spend more time polishing your work than ever. You won’t have the agent/editor process to get it up to professional quality. I'm sure that independent editors with good track records will be much in demand. Every writer needs an editor. Even Jane Austen depended more heavily on an editor than people realize.

Of course, everything could change in a nanosecond, especially if prices of traditionally published ebooks come down. And as Dean Wesley Smith said in the same post, “This new world is changing so fast, nothing that I say here could be valid by this time in 2011.”

In fact, even the argument that quality will rise to the top may be wrong. On Karen McQuestion’s blog yesterday, author Scott Nicholson offered what he calls “the worst novel ever written” (his own first book) for $.99. He wants to see how many people will read a book that costs less than a dollar, when even the author admits it’s terrible. I don't predict major sales, but then, I wouldn’t have given much hope to the Bridges of Madison County, either.

I’m following all this with fascination. I’m working on cover design ideas for my two backlist titles. And maybe the rest of them. Since we have to promote our own books and design our own advertising campaigns anyway, why not get paid a reasonable percentage of the profits?

Nathan Bransford is carving out a new place for himself in this brave new e-publishing world, and maybe we all should be considering it, too.