If you have ever considered self publishing a book, or wondered how much money a self published author actually ends up pocketing from your average self published book I found an interesting read. Most of the articles surrounding self publishing either discuss an amazing success story, or the thousands of titles which never sell a single copy. This may be why I found this article written by Keir Thomas very interesting. Keir Thomas is a technical writer who has written a number of books, which were published by various major publishers, about the Linux operating system; and this is his experience with self publishing.
In 2008 he had the idea to write the Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference (Ubuntu is a Linux operating system) but he was unable to print though his usual publishers because, as a pocket guide, the book would naturally have a fairly low price point. He understood where the publishers were coming from but still thought the book could be useful. So he decided to try a self-publishing experiment. I encourage you all to read the article in full as it's quite interesting, but here are the nuts and bolts of how he did:
Aside from writing the actual text and editing (Do you love how I am glossing over this huge task?) the first thing he had to do differently was find a way to promote the book with essentially no budget. To do this he gave the ebook version which did in fact net a bunch of publicity including reviews and recommendations from tech journalists and bloggers:
The eBook is hugely popular. I average around 400 visitors a day at http://ubuntupocketguide.com, peaking at 40-50,000 every now and again. The website advertises the print edition of the book, as does an advert within the PDF itself.
I’ve lost count how many people have downloaded the eBook but the last time I audited the figures, which was around six months after the book’s release, it’d seen around 500,000 downloads. I suspect that number has doubled since then. I encourage people to redistribute the PDF, including via BitTorrent, so auditing is practically impossible. (Redistribution is fine, but not modifying; the book uses a standard copyright.)
So his community knows about it, and it turns out people do find it quite useful, but how was the print edition selling?
Since going on sale at the start of 2009, the book has made me $9,000. Bearing in mind the book took three months to produce, that’s a salary of $3,000 per month, although costs such as hosting have to be deducted, and I also spent quite a few days marketing the book once published.
I’ve had worse salaries in my life, and I’m very grateful, but I know total royalties would probably have been higher had I gone through the traditional route of working with a mainstream publisher.
Thomas finishes by suggesting that self-publishing might not be the best option for you if you really want to make money, but it can be a great way to get your ideas out there if you only need to cover your costs
How much do you think a good story is worth? I don't mean a book necessarily since books can be collectible and that's not what I am getting at here, but how much do you think a novel length story is worth?
When deciding this you might compare the value of the read vs. other entertainments such as the cost of a movie rental? The price of a video game? The cost of a newspaper or magazine? The drop in fee for a local gym or that knitting class at the community center? For me the value varies wildly depending on how much I enjoy (or expect to enjoy) the book.
With that in mind I have been thinking about the current "race to the bottom" debate in e-publishing that has been raging on the blogosphere. For those of you who are unaware it essentially boils down (in an inelegant way) to publishers claiming that self published authors are going to ruin publishing by offering eBooks at rock bottom prices; while the self-published authors are claiming that large publishing houses are bloated profiteers.
From the publishers side: two years ago I posted a rough breakdown of what the costs of printing a book might be for a traditional publisher. Based on these figures you get closer to understanding the $9.99 price point that publishers seem to be trying to stick with for an ebook. Shave a little here and there and then knock off the additional costs associated with a physical book and you are close to that figure. Everyone takes a bit of a hit in total values but I can see where they are coming from.
On the other hand it's now very common to see self published ebooks for sale for as little as $0.99-$2.99. You may also see these self published authors explaining that they are in fact making money at this price. So why do the publishers need to charge more?
Now that authors can self publish without having to front the serious amounts of cash to physically print their books they are less likely to need a publisher to bankroll the project. Couple this with the fact that an author can now act as or hire a publicist and designer on a piece meal basis to cover most of the basic marketing needed for a book launch and you can see why some mid and backlist authors choose to self publish.
I am making the suggestion that now a publishers greatest value is not to the average author but to the reader. Publishers do help separate the wheat from the chaff. By helping readers find quality writers they can save them from that feeling of wanting those last few hours back.
I am willing to pay a bit more to know that the novel I am about to read is at least going to be well written and hopefully interesting but exactly how much more I am willing to pay for that is what publishers need to figure out. I kind of wish I could tell them.
For the last several years, I've been the webmaster for my friend Chitra Divakaruni, a mid-career novelist and poet. Her website talks a bit about her and each of her books. It's pretty simple, and hasn't changed dramatically in a long time.
Chitra has the paperback of her latest novel coming out soon, as well as a new book for young adults. This, along with the ongoing death of US newspaper book sections, has lit a fire under us, and we're trying to think beyond the website, embracing social media to better reach readers where they're at. We have a mailing list set up, and are syndicating tour dates on BookTour.com; a blog and an expanded Facebook presence are on their way. It's been exciting to see the kind of positive feedback Chitra's already been getting from readers able to connect directly to a favorite writer.
The New York Times recently ran a piece on the new business of big budget author websites, online book launches, and author promo videos. As much as I'm into this sort of thing, some of the tactics just seem excessive. Is it really worth spending $35,000 to launch a promotional website for a novel? Does a website for a book really need an original score? Apparently I'm not alone in my confusion; publishers, bullish as they are, also seem to be a bit fuzzy on the ROI. (The article does mention that in a specific study, 8% of readers had visited author websites in the past week; by extension, 92% hadn't.)
How are your purchases swayed by author or book websites?
IOBA just released the results of a survey on how independent booksellers are faring during the recession.
Based on sales data from 48 participating bookstores, IOBA President Chris Volk reports:
- the average sales drop from 2008 to 2009 was 10.6%
- for sellers with an average sales price between $10-$40, the average sales drop was 7.1%
- for sellers with an average sales price between $40-$100, the median sales drop was 18.7%
See more details...
[Now reading: The Solitude of Emperors by David Davidar]