Showing posts with label self-publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self-publishing. Show all posts

So You Launched a Kickstarter Campaign



So, you know you're ready for Kickstarter, and you've put your entire pitch together. What can you expect from the campaign itself?

Most Kickstarter campaigns follow the same general trend:
  1. A large amount of pledges on the first day.
  2. A quick drop-off of pledges over the next couple of days.
  3. A long "lull" where the amount of pledges per day is about the same.
  4. A spike of incoming pledges on the last two or three days.
From this, I can tell you a few things.

First, don't freak out during the lull. It's perfectly normal, and there's nothing you can do about it (almost nothing; see below). Instead, interact with your backers and continue your non-spammy publicity (again, see below).

Make the first day of your campaign count. A lot of projects, even major ones asking for millions of dollars, like to throw their project up one day and surprise everybody. Mostly, this doesn't go like everybody thinks it will.

A better idea is to float the idea of a Kickstarter to your existing network (you do have one, right?). These are your core fanbase and your early backers. By telling them what's going to happen ahead of time, not only do you make sure that some people show up on that first day, but you can also get a sense of whether your Kickstarter is even a good idea. Are they excited about it? Worried? Do they have ideas for rewards you can offer? You can learn a lot from your core fans, so don't hesitate to include them on the idea.

Prepare for the last days. You'll have spent the lull interacting with the core backers who hang around the Kickstarter page, but on that last day you'll see an influx both of people who haven't been to the page in a while and who have never heard of your project at all. Make sure the information on your front page is still clear to someone who knows nothing about your project or stretch goals. Make sure your updates are inclusive.

Every Kickstarter campaign has a lull. It's perfectly normal, but your backers might not feel so. You can educate them on the basic life of a Kickstarter, but there are other, better things you can do to make them feel like the campaign is still moving.

Interact with, and listen to, your backers. I cannot stress this part enough: people want to feel like they're making a difference. If people suggest good ideas -- stretch goals, rewards, ways to improve the product -- take them, run with them, and don't forget to credit the people who submitted them.

Also answer their questions or just hang out with them in the comment threads. People are much more likely to invest in a person than a project, so make yourself real and personable to them.

Make stretch goals. Now, stretch goals are not appropriate for every project, but if they make sense for yours, then do them. In fact, plan them even before you launch (you never know when you might, you know, break the fastest to a million dollars record). They won't break the lull (more on that in the next section), but they'll give your core backers things to watch and root for.

Some of them might even plunk down more money just to meet a stretch goal.

There is very, very, very little you can do to break the pattern of the Kickstarter lull. For the most part, there are only three things that can give you a spike in the middle of your campaign:
  1. Get to within a few percent of your funding goal. If you look at the pledging stats for other projects, you will notice that almost every single one has a spike of new pledges and new backers on the day they met their goal. Once again: people want to feel like they're making a difference.
  2. Get publicity to an audience that hasn't heard the news yet. This is about marketing. By the middle of your campaign, your core fanbase knows about the project. Their friends have heard about it. Is there anyone else in your target audience who might not have? Find them. Find the forum or news sites they hang out at, and tell them too. (But DON'T SPAM. Spamming only reaches the same audience repeatedly, thus annoying them. Even well-intentioned fans can be guilty, so be careful.)
  3. Make an announcement that changes the nature of the project (in a good way). For example, say you launched a Kickstarter to get internal illustrations for your book. Halfway through the campaign, you announce that Tony DiTerlizzi(!) has agreed to do the illustrations. Whether it's a newly revealed stretch goal or not, this sort of announcement can give you a huge spike in pledges once people hear about it.
Don't freak out if these spikes don't create a new level of daily pledges. Very likely, the pledges will jump up for a day or two then go back to the normal lull. But that's okay. You've created excitement, given your core backers something to talk about, and made just that much more money. And that ain't bad.

Hopefully this little mini-series (written while my novella is in the hands of the most awesome critique partners in the world) will help you, should you ever decide to Kickstart a novel. Or anything, really. You can't predict everything, but neither is it all completely random. Let me know if you have any more questions.

So You Want to Launch a Kickstarter Campaign

I think one of the reasons 56% of Kickstarter projects fail is because people tend to believe it goes:
  1. Have idea.
  2. Click 'Publish.'
  3. Rake cash.
But a Kickstarter campaign, a good one, is a lot of work. Not as much work as writing a novel, but it's not something you just post on a whim. Before you click "Launch," you need to know (or have) ALL of the following.

This is every backer's first question: "Why are you coming to me for money instead of doing it yourself?" There are lots of great answers to this question. For example, you might want to:
  • Gauge interest before spending a year of your life writing it (though be warned: if you have no writing experience, people are going to wonder what, exactly, you're gauging).
  • Fund a nice print run, limited edition hardcovers, etc.
  • Fund a marketing campaign for a novel you've already written.
  • Hire an illustrator for the book cover, a map, or internal illustrations.
  • Hire an editor to give the book you've already written the polish it deserves. 

Whatever your reason, it's part of your pitch, and part of the reason people are going to back you. They want to be a part of something important, so make them feel that.

How much money are you trying to raise? This is more critical than you think. People often judge a campaign based on how much it asks for. If you ask for $1,000, people don't expect much, but you lose some respectability. Ask for $10,000, and now people expect something serious -- a midlist author or a book that had a publishing contract but backed out for some (respectable) reason, for example.

Obviously it's not just about appearances either. How much do you actually need? What are you using it for? Are you barely covering your costs or did you build in a profit? Did you remember to take into account Kickstarter's fees? Rewards? Shipping? Once you are successfully funded, you are responsible for all the promises you made during the campaign. Make sure that, if you hit your minimum funding goal, fulfilling all those rewards will still be worth your while.

What are you offering your backers in return? Obviously a copy of the novel, but in what format? For how much? Do you have more rewards for people who want to back you at a higher level? Think carefully about this, because fulfilling rewards (especially physical ones that have to be mailed) can eat up a lot of your budget. But at the same time, people won't back a project if the reward they want is too expensive.

You're a writer, so what do you need art for? Well, you don't have to have it, but if you can get good-looking art -- maybe concepts of your story, a map of your world -- it can make an average pitch look great.

Be careful, though. Bad visuals are worse than no visuals at all. 

You might think that because the Kickstarter is meant to determine whether or not you'll even make the product, you shouldn't have to do any work on the product at all. This couldn't be further from the truth. The more work you put into your novel (or whatever you're pitching) ahead of time, the more faith your backers will have that you can pull it off.

There's a balance though. If your product is completely finished, people will wonder why you need to raise x-thousand dollars for it, and they could be more hesitant to put their faith in you. Again, people want to feel like they're making a difference.

This is the first thing people see when they hit your Kickstarter page. You don't have to have one, but some people are more likely to watch a two-minute pitch than read all the text on your page. How to make a good video is beyond the scope of this post, but in general:
  • Keep it brief.
  • Pitch what you're doing, why you're the one to do it, and why you need the backers' help to do it.
  • Show off any art you've got, even if it's just concepts.
  • Don't show anything that makes you or your product look bad. Kickstarter is about transparency, but you can go too far.
This is the meat of your Kickstarter page. It's got to have all the information listed above, plus more to pre-emptively answer any questions a potential backer might have. The better you anticipate and handle potential questions, the better your launch will go.

What happens after launch? I'll deal with that in the next post.

So You Want to Kickstart a Novel

Kickstarter has funded the hopes and dreams of thousands. Could it do the same for you?


First things first: Kickstarter is not the new self-publishing. A quick look at their own stats will prove it: less than half of the projects put up on KS have been funded. The statistics for the publishing category are even more grim: only a 31% success rate.

Still, it's better than querying, amirite?

I want to spend a couple of posts talking about what you can do to get yourself in that 31%, and why you might want to do it at all. Kickstarter isn't a magic bullet.


But it does have a couple of benefits over publishing straight to Amazon. Specifically:
  1. It shifts the risk. Instead of spending a couple years writing a novel only to discover nobody wants it, you can learn the same thing after only a couple of months.
  2. You can get input directly from the people you're writing for on what they like and don't like.
What Kickstarter can't give you is writing experience, which is admittedly kind of critical. So I can't really recommend it to inexperienced writers. But if you've been writing a while, and you've got this great idea for a story, but nothing of yours has ever sold really well and you're not sure if it'll be worth your time, well.... you might look into it.

There are 3 things you should probably have to run a successful Kickstarter. If you're only asking for a little money (say $1,000 or less), maybe you can get away with one of these. From $1k-10k (where most of the successful publishing projects are), you want at least two out of three.

(1) A great idea. Be careful here. Everybody thinks they've got a great idea. You've got to have an idea people want. No, more than that: an idea they need. It's hard to pitch something innovative, and a lot of great-but-untested projects fail right here. This is why nostalgia and spin-offs sell really well. But if you're an author looking to self-publish, you don't have the luxury of a license. High concept is your friend.

(2) Evidence that you can pull it off. Because everybody has great ideas, people are hesitant to back someone if that's all they've got. They want to know why you're the person to put this together. Anything that proves you can write: short stories, a blog with a following, even a popular Twitter feed. If you don't have anything, try an excerpt of what you're planning to make.

(3) A network of people to spread the word. Kickstarter does not mean instant visibility. While it's true your backers have a vested interest to spread the word on your behalf (another benefit of Kickstarter), you have to get some backers first. Having a platform to start from can help a lot.

If this looks a lot like what you need to succeed in self-publishing -- or querying agents and editors, for that matter -- you shouldn't be surprised. Kickstarter doesn't change the playing field. It just shifts things around. Instead of WRITE => BUILD PLATFORM => MAKE MONEY, now it's BUILD PLATFORM => MAKE MONEY => WRITE.

These are all just guidelines, of course. It depends very much on how much money you're asking for, and even then there's no guarantee that any of these will make your Kickstarter successful (see what I said before about magic bullets). Though if you've got an idea people are craving, a history that shows you can pull it off, and an audience just waiting for you to launch so they can tell their friends about it, well . . . then you might have something interesting indeed.

But you still need a campaign. We'll talk about that next time.

Kickstarter, Self-Publishing, and Video Games

You've all heard of the literary self-publishing revolution. (Heck, some of you are on the barricades). What you might not know is there is a similar revolution going on in video and board games. It has to do with Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Anyone with an idea for a book, a movie, a game, a technology, or whatever can launch a project page and see if people are interested in funding their project. Authors have used it to self-publish: to fund cover artists and editors, and to see if there's a market for what they want to write before they write it.

We all know why authors self-publish: because breaking into the Big 6 is freaking hard, especially if you write for what is essentially a niche audience. Turns out the same thing is true in games.

Video games, in particular, have their own Big Publishers -- companies with the connections and resources to develop triple-A titles for the major gaming consoles. I don't even know how an independent developer would sign on with them. You'd probably have to prove you have a significant platform first, or else develop a Halo clone or something else they know will work. (Sound familiar?).

But not everybody wants to make Halo.* A number of developers have been using Kickstarter to pitch the games they always loved, and to see if enough people feel the same. You may have even heard of some of the biggest ones:

* Nothing against Halo, of course. There are some very talented folks making those games.

Double Fine Adventure was a Kickstarter campaign by developer Tim Schafer, maker of some of my favorite games of all time: the Monkey Island games, Grim Fandango, and Day of the Tentacle. Last March he asked for $400,000 to make a new adventure game -- something big publishers haven't wanted for decades. He got $3.3 million and kickstarted a revolution (see what I did there?).

A month later, inXile entertainment (starring my former and current boss) pitched a sequel to a very old post-apocalyptic RPG. Wasteland 2 got running with nearly $3,000,000.

Project: Eternity is the brain child of Obsidian Entertainment, home of most of my former coworkers. They asked if people wanted to see a spiritual successor to the old Infinity Engine games like Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. Seventy-four thousand people said, "YES!"

Why am I telling you this? Well, partially because it's fascinating to me. Anything that makes it easier to fund, create, and distribute creativity is awesome, in my opinion.

But also to show that independent publishing is not strictly a book thing. In the last year, there have been seven million-dollar video game projects on Kickstarter, dozens of smaller ones, and who knows how many hundreds of similar board games, RPGs, and other things.

And just like in the book world, I think the way to look at self-publishing is not as a challenge to publishers, but more like filling holes that publishers leave unfilled. Three million dollars sounds like a lot, but when triple-A budgets regularly hit 30 or 40 million, you can understand why EA and Microsoft might not be interested in a niche RPG.

In the same way, ten thousand book sales might not interest a publisher used to selling books in the hundreds of thousands, but to the self-published author, those ten thousand sales are game changing.

Whatever. I just like where the future is going. I'm excited to see what happens next.

What about you? Have you ever backed (or launched!) a Kickstarter? What do you think about the platform.

What I Learned From 52 Rejections

A couple weeks ago, I suggested people query their first novel, even though it would probably get rejected. I said this because I think you can learn a lot from querying even a bad novel, and your reputation as an author will be none the worse for it.

Can I put my money where my blog is? Well, yes. Some of you may recall that I queried my first novel and that query got 52 out of 52 rejections.

So what did I learn?

1) I learned how to write a query letter. My first query really, really sucked. But by the end of that query round, I'd done a ridiculous amount of research and revision and actually got professional feedback that my final query did not suck (though the opening pages did).

And if you're thinking you don't have to write a query because you're self-publishing, think again. The back-cover copy you have to write for every book-selling site is essentially the same thing.

2) I can do this. The feedback I got -- a little from professionals but mostly from other aspiring authors -- was encouraging. It told me that, even though I wasn't there yet, I could be.

3) I WANT this. While my query was out, I spent a lot of time online trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, how to make it better, how to write, what my publishing options were. And at some point during all of that, I realized I really, REALLY wanted to be a part of this world.

4) If I want it, I have to keep writing. I can't learn by waiting for 52 rejections or for the responses of beta readers who might never get back to me. I can't learn if I'm spending all my time on promotion. The only sure way for me to learn is to write (and revise) something new.

Could I have learned these same things by self-publishing that monstrosity first novel? Probably. I have no doubt that's the path others have taken. Maybe those first novels with 200 sales are a badge of pride for some people, like my 200 rejections are for me. Maybe that's the motivation they need. But for me, it would've felt like quitting.

Have you written more than one novel? What did you do with your first one? What did you learn?

Self-Pubbed vs. Traditional: Which is Better?

Someone asked me this recently and my answer got kind of long-winded insightful, and I figured why not inflict it on you guys? I'd save myself the trouble of writing another blog post you guys might be interested in what I think talking about it.

Although my personal neuroses have staunchly led me down the traditional path so far, the short answer is I don't think either path is objectively better.

Traditional publishing is harder to break into. You have to please more people (agents and editors need to believe they can sell your book, and sometimes they're done with a genre that readers still want) and you have to deal with more rejection. It will stretch you though, and if you make it, the benefits are pretty huge: an agent to partner with, professional editing, cover design, print distribution, etc.

Self-publishing, obviously, is easy to get into. I could do it right now. But success is more difficult because you have to do it yourself. You have to edit it (I recommend paying someone). You have to get a cover (again: pay someone). You have to find your audience by yourself (and hope they're into self-published e-books). The benefits are freedom, speed, and control.

But in my opinion, the biggest danger in self-publishing is fooling yourself. Susan Quinn addresses this really well in her Seven Questions to Ask Before Self-Publishing. I've seen a few folks go to self-publishing before they were ready. Some had been rejected by traditional publishing and didn't take the hint. Some thought the praise of their writer friends meant that perfect strangers would feel the same way. Some believed the hype of the self-pubbing community and were surprised when they only sold 200 copies.

Which path you choose depends on a lot of things: your writing, your personality, the market. But very generally, my advice is don't self-publish your first book.

But do query it.

Most likely it will be rejected, but I think you can learn a lot by querying, without harming your reputation or your status as a debut author. (I should note that weak sales in self-pubbing might not be a lot of harm, but I personally think you can learn more from querying anyway, so why risk it? You can always self-publish it later).

But no matter which path you take, no matter how low the sales or how high the rejections, don't give up and don't stop writing. Not if this is what you want. There are a lot of ingredients for success, but I've become more and more convinced that the most important one is stubbornness.

What do you guys think? Is there a better path? Why?

In Which I (Yet Again) Discover Why I Don't Self-Publish

[Some of the links below go to TV Tropes. You have been warned.]

These days, there is no end of people who say, "Why are you still putting yourself through the misery of traditional publishing?" Some folks say it nicer. Some are meaner and use words like "broken," "obsolete," and "dinosaur". I've talked about my reasons before, but I've come to realize that the thing behind it all is an illogical personality quirk.

I am trying to get the best ending.

Before I go on, understand that I don't think either path -- self-publishing or traditional -- is better than the other. They are both means to reach readers, and to that end, both sometimes work and sometimes don't.

I'm talking about video games. The RPGs and graphic adventures that form the core of my childhood often gave you multiple paths to complete the game, and often different endings. Sometimes there was a "best" ending; sometimes the endings were just different.

The thing about me is, whether there was a "best" ending or not, I always tried to get it. I'm the kind of guy who will spend hours leveling up the most useless Pokemon in existence, trusting he'll become something awesome (spoiler: he does). I'll choose the Smash Bros. character everyone hates and spend weeks figuring out how to beat the crap out of people with him. I once stopped playing Riven for 5 years because I refused to look up the solution to the puzzle I was stuck on.

The point is I'm stubborn, and I've been conditioned to believe that the path of most resistance will yield the best rewards.

Again, before all you self-pubbers stab me with your pitchforks: I don't believe traditional publishing is better, not in a money-and-success way. It's only my subconscious that's convinced me there's some kind of unlockable bonus item.

But if my intellect says both paths are viable, why am I still doing the hard one?

Because the other part of my personality quirk is this: even if the ending is the same, I want to be able to say I finished the game on the hardest setting. To say I beat Super Mario Bros. without warping (I did), I caught all 151 Pokemon (I didn't), I finished Contra without losing a single life (did).

For me, getting traditionally published isn't about making more money or even reaching more readers. Neither path outdoes the other in that sense. Getting traditionally published is about being able to say I did it.

What about you? What's your path and why?

The Enemy of Self-Publishing

The self-publishers I know personally are really great people. They're kind, open, and smart about why they went with self-publishing. Most of all, they don't think someone like me is an idiot for aiming at traditional publishing. I have no proof, but I like to believe this attitude is the majority.

But, like everything else on the internet, there is a loud, vocal minority of meanie heads.

It feels like most of the self-pubbing rhetoric out there is antagonistic. Like self-pubbing is a side-bunned Princess Leia staring down traditional's Governor Tarkin. A smiling V taking out sleazy Norsefire officials. It treats traditional publishing as the enemy and paints self-publishers as underdog rebels.

Part of this comes from people who see themselves as snubbed or wronged by the big houses. Part of it is a kind of angry backlash to the stigma self-publishing has always had. "Pay attention to us! We're a thing!"

But what the angry rhetoric does is create a new kind of stigma.

The more I hear prominent self-pubbers shout things like, "Traditional publishers are slave owners," and "Writers are suckers. Fire your agents. They do NOTHING!" the more I don't want to be associated with that crowd.

Self-publishing isn't my goal, but it's a totally valid road, and I have nothing but support for those who take it. But if you start bad-mouthing people, then we're done talking. (And if you tell me I can make more money self-pubbing, I'll say, "O rly? Lets do teh mathz.")

I would love to see a world where self-publishing is every bit as respectable* as the traditional kind. But as long as the louder self-pubbers maintain this Us vs. Them mentality, I fear the stigma will continue.

Am I totally off-base here? What do you think?

* Respectable in the writing/publishing world, that is. I doubt Joe Public has ever cared where his novels came from.

Why Haven't You Self-Published Yet?

A couple weeks ago, blog reader Lexi left this comment:
I'm interested in why you guys aren't self-publishing.

It needn't stop you querying agents, if you're set on that. Meanwhile, you could be making money from your writing, and if you do well enough, agents may approach you. Win/win approach.
 It's a totally valid question, and I answered briefly in the comments, but I thought it deserved a bit more explanation.

Understand, of course, that this is just why I haven't self-published yet. I can't speak for anybody else.

(1) I still believe I can make it traditionally. I got zero requests for my first novel. The next novel got five requests -- it was rejected, but three of those agents said they wanted to see revisions and/or my next novel. This round (which is really a revision of the second novel), I've already gotten significantly more interest than last time.

That tells me I'm getting better and leads me to believe I will continue to do so. Until I hit a wall (like where the statistics are no longer going up), I'll still believe I can do it.

(2) Self-publishing is still, statistically, a lot of work for not a lot of gain. I have no doubt the numbers have increased since I ran through them a few months ago, but I haven't seen a lot to encourage me. I'm still not convinced that self-publishing should be more than my last resort.

(3) Pursuing traditional publishing stretches me. I talked about this a couple of years ago, when self-publishing still wasn't quite legit. I think one of the reasons for the growth curve of (1) above is that I've actively gotten feedback and tried to get better. I might still do that if I self-published, but I know myself. More likely I'd revise less and sacrifice quality for churning out novels.

(4) Poor sales on a self-published novel could affect my chances of getting traditionally published. At least according to Rachelle Gardner. I'm inclined to agree with her. For me, making a little money now isn't worth killing the dream. Speaking of which...

(5) Self-publishing isn't my dream. I once had a friend who tried to shoot the moon on every round of Hearts. He lost points most of the time, but he won overall (and won big). But he didn't change his strategy even when I started sacrificing points just to take him down. When I asked him why he kept doing it, he said, "The game's just not fun otherwise."

I kinda liked that.

Traditional publishing is changing, we all know that. But it hasn't actually changed yet. It's still here and larger than life, and so is my dream. So I'm going to keep shooting and see what I can hit.

Besides, what's the worst that could happen?

For you, have you self-published or are you still shooting for traditional? Tell us why in the comments.

What Can a Train Wreck Tell Us About the Future of Publishing?

You probably heard of the Jacqueline Howett fiasco a couple of weeks ago, wherein one self-published author got a bad review, yelled at the reviewer, and then began swearing at everyone who came to the reviewer's defense. In reading it, I understood the train wreck analogy: I knew people were getting hurt, but I couldn't not watch.

It got a lot of people thinking about self-publishing (and the social psychology of the internet), but to me it says that maybe the worlds of traditional publishing and self-publishing aren't as different as we think they are.

Before I go on, though, a little Professionalism 101:  


Okay. What was interesting to me about this incident was what happened on that book blog was the same thing agents complain about in the slush pile. Namely, an unprofessional author got mad about a rejection.

The only difference is, this time, everybody got to see it.

It's like the slush pile is being made public, along with everything that means--unprofessional authors arguing with rejections, berating reviewers on their blogs, complaining about the unfairness of the system. Except now, "the system" isn't a centuries-old institution trying to make money off authors. It's just people.

Some revolutionists say this New World, in which anyone can find their own audience, removes the gatekeepers. But seeing a slush-pile-like reaction like this seems to imply the opposite: the gatekeepers are not gone, they're changing.

A gatekeeper's job is to sift through the slush, separating the good from the bad using the only measuring stick they have: their opinion. Book bloggers, like the one Howett railed against, are among those new gatekeepers. They can't keep people from buying something, of course--just like Random House can't keep me from renting my own printing press and hand-selling throughout the country--but they have a very strong word-of-mouth influence. Many book bloggers even have a very agent-like process, with submission guidelines, queries before full requests--and, apparently, dealing with the angrier members of the slush pile.

Understand, I don't think this incident says anything about self-published authors in general. For one thing, traditionally-published authors sometimes do the same thing.

For another, all the indie authors I know are professional, stand-up folks. Howett is an outlier.** My point is that the same outliers are, and always have been, in the query system. What happened two weeks ago is the same kind of thing agents deal with all the time.

It makes me think the Old World and the New World might not be as different as we thought.

* I do believe that, in theory, an author could respond to a negative review in some positive way. Something like, "I'm really sorry you didn't like that aspect of my book, but I appreciate the constructive criticism. I'll try and improve that in the future."

But it's only a theory. I've never seen it done, nor done it myself, so I don't know how it would be received.

** Also, Ms. Howett may have been having a very bad day, or any other number of things, that might have contributed to her public outrage. This post isn't intended to mock her, just to take a look at how similar it is to a slush pile.

Sifting Through Self-Pub Statistics

It's hard to find good statistics on what's going on in the publishing industry. If you read J.A. Konrath's blog, it sounds like making five figures a year in self-publishing is easy. If you read almost any publishing insider blogs, he's an unpredictable outlier.

I want to know what the averages look like, not the outliers. Let's see what we can find.

Disclaimer: I'm working with a lot of averages and assumptions in this post. Feel free to refute them if you've got hard, non-anecdotal facts.

Traditional publishing is tricky. I've heard everything from 0.03% to 1%. Agents get something like 10,000 queries a year, and take on a handful of new clients each. Of those, only some get published. Probably the number is lower than we'd like to think. Traditionally published: 0.1%.

Self-pubbed is easy. Anyone can do it, that's the whole point. Self-published: 100%.

So far, self-publishing looks like an easy pick, but getting published isn't our goal, is it? We want to make money.

No one likes to talk about advances in the publishing world, except to say that "it varies." Tobias Buckell did a survey a few years ago and found the median advance on a first novel was $5,000. Those numbers are old, but we'll go with it. Apparently most novels don't earn-out their advance, meaning royalties become a moot point. So unfair though it may be, I'm sticking with the simple number (minus your agent's 15%). Traditionally published: $4,250.

Self-publishing has no advance, but depending on how you do it, you may not even pay for editing, cover art, or printing services(!). On top of that, Amazon gives authors 70% royalties. JA Konrath suggests an eBook price of $2.99 to increase sales, and I have no reason to refute him here. That means $2.09/book.

But how many books? That's more difficult. Konrath sells thousands of copies per month, hundreds of thousands totals, but that's on many books. Breaking down his numbers, it looks like he has sold, on average,* about 4,000 copies/title. On a given title, then, he made $8,360, almost twice as much as our traditionally published debut author.

But we're not Konrath, are we? We're Average Debut Author Joe (or Joan). And the average unknown author sells, as near as anyone can figure, somewhere between 100 and 400 copies on a single title. Self-published: $522.50.

Traditional publishing wins, right? Well, this is still not the whole story.

If I offered you $10 right now versus a chance to win $80 for rolling a '6' on one die, which is the better bet? You have to look at the expected value. If you take the former, you have a 100% chance of getting $10. If you take the latter, you have a 17% chance of getting $80, for an expected value of $13.30 ($80 x 0.17). So, the $80 is a better bet (though the risk-averse might not care and opt for the ten-in-hand).

That's what we've got here. Traditional publishing offers more money on average, but it's much harder to get there. From the numbers I've got, the expected value for traditional publishing is low. $4,250 x 0.1%. Traditionally published: $4.25.

Where as self-publishing gets 100%. So, Self-published: $522.50.

But it's still not even this simple. These numbers make it sound as if $522.50 is a sure bet (the ten-in-hand, as it were). If that were the case, I'd be working on a random novel generator right now and sell books at $500 a pop! But randomly generated novels will not make you money. In both cases, you have to write something people want to read.

And in both cases, you have to do an insane amount of work both to write the novel and promote it. Once again, you have to ask what your work is worth. Nothing is certain, whichever direction you go.

For me, I'm still aiming at traditional publishing because it's not (strictly) about chance, and I believe I can do it. Because I wouldn't be the writer I am today if I had self-published the first thing I wrote, and I want to see how much better I'll be in the future. Because I'd rather hold the novel for some point in the future when I can make it much better, than make a couple hundred dollars today.

But that's today. Who knows what the future holds?

What's your route, and why do you do it?

* I'd prefer the median, since all of these stats are tainted with outliers, but I gotta work with what I got. Anyway, medians would just lower the numbers, not raise them.

What is Your Work Worth?

There's an interesting article here on why Zoe Winters upped her self-published e-book prices from 99 cents to $4.95. The bottom line (though you should read the whole thing) was she felt the low price attracted readers she didn't want--readers who expected low-or-no prices, and who weren't really the kind of loyal fanbase that grow a career.

Personally I think this is a smart move, but there's been some debate. The arguments seem to be of two general camps: (1) Don't you want to sell as many copies as possible? (2) Don't you want to get your work to as many readers as possible? Both sound reasonable, but let's take a closer look.

Makes sense, right? The more copies you sell, the more money you make. Well, anyone who's taken a HS economics course can tell you that's not exactly true. By that logic, you should sell your books for a penny apiece (or free!), but you'd have to sell 500 copies just to buy a Happy Meal. If you managed to sell 10,000 copies a month, it might cover your electric bill. It is easier to sell more copies at lower prices, but there is a point below which it's not worth doing.

Zoe mentions this in the article:
When I sold 6,500 ebooks in June 2010, that was around $2,300. Well, most people can’t live on that, especially after you take out Uncle Sam’s cut.

I’m not saying that everybody or even most indies will be able to make a living anyway, but if it’s your goal, 99 cents might not be the way to go. You only have to sell 677 ebooks in a month to make that same $2,300 if you are selling at $4.95. . . . the math just doesn’t favor 99 cent ebooks for anyone hoping to make a living.

But what if your goal isn't money? What if you want to reach readers? What if you want to build that ever-elusive platform, so you can sell more books later?

It reminds me a lot of a debate about a year ago when John Scalzi blasted a magazine for paying fiction writers 1/5 of a cent per word. A lot of people felt like he was shutting down "the little guy's markets." As though aspiring writers needed low-or-no-pay markets to break in, work our way up, and build us a platform.

Scalzi's response (paraphrased): If your work is good, then it's worth good money. If your work isn't good, then giving it away for cheap isn't going to make it better, nor will anybody notice.

In the original article, Zoe noted that the 99-cent buyers were largely people looking for bargains, or who hoarded books intending to read them "later." These buyers placed as much value on the books as they had paid for them. Because they paid little, they also paid little attention. These are not readers who will remember you, who will watch for your latest novel in the Kindle store, who will tell their friends they have to pick up your book.

But what if they do? What if your book is so good it rivals Dan Brown and J.A. Konrath, regardless of the price? If that's the case, why the heck are you selling it for 99 cents?! Seriously, if your work is that good, isn't it worth more than that?

I'm assuming, of course, that what matters to you is earning a living. If you write for the love of writing, then sell for whatever the heck you want.* Otherwise, you have to ask yourself what your work is worth to you. There may be a point at which 99 cents makes economic sense, but I'm not sure.

It takes me a year or more to finish a novel. If people don't want them (and so far, they haven't), I'd rather figure out why and get better, not spend my time promoting a mediocre work for a couple hundred bucks. My opinion: if $4.95 a book isn't selling very much, write better, not cheaper. Don't settle. Your time is worth more than you think.

* Though if you write just for the love of it, why are you selling at all?

Self-Publishing (or Why You Can't Read Travelers)

When people ask me how my book's going, and I start telling them about the query process and the publishing industry and how getting published is like removing a bullet from your leg with a toothpick,* often the next question is: "Have you thought about publishing it yourself?"

Answer: Yes. Many times.

I admit it's tempting. I mean, Travelers may never be published, and I know people (five of them) that want to read it. They'd probably even like it, being my friends and all.

But I'm holding out for a few reasons. Some are minor: self-publishing is expensive, it requires more time and energy, and if I got published later I couldn't put that nice little "Debut Novel" sticker on my books. Stupid, I know. If self-publishing was what I really wanted, those things wouldn't stand in my way.

One thing that does stand in my way is self-publishing's reputation. Traditional publishers give readers a guarantee, or at least a high probability, that what they're about to read is Good. Self-publishing doesn't have that. Actually, it has less than that because so much out there isn't good (according to general opinion). I know there are fantastic self-published books, and terrible traditionally-published ones, but even so, I don't want the stigma.

The other thing standing in my way is that self-publishing is not challenging enough.** The road to traditional publishing is really, really, really, really hard. And it's pushing me. In learning what it takes to get published, in seeing statistics and examples of stories that get rejected, in critiquing the works of other authors competing for the same agents I am, I have grown exponentially - more than I ever would have had I just put Travelers on a year ago.

There are lots of good reasons to self-publish. And for some, self-publishing is the fulfillment of their dream. I think that's awesome. Go for it. Dreams and journeys are what make life worth living.

But self-publishing is not my dream. I want to be published the regular way. I don't know why. I know the odds. Do you know how many unpublished authors have blogs like this? Probably like... well, it's a lot, and many more that don't blog. A lot of them have been trying for this longer than I have. A lot of them are better writers than I am.

I don't think I'm special. I don't assume God's going to open the doors just for me or anything. I do know I want this. And, for right now at least, self-publishing would feel like I settled, like I quit. I'm not ready to do that yet.

* i.e. anyone can do it, but it takes forever and hurts like hell.

** I know self-publishing has it's own challenges, not the least of which is peddling your own books so that they actually sell. But I'm talking about the challenge just to be published, which self-publishing by definition does not have. Anyone can do it.

A Spectator's View of Publishing's Future

UPDATE: See the comments for two more interesting articles on this topic.

Everyone's been talking about the future (or sometimes the end) of publishing lately. As a spectator, I am totally unqualified to talk about it, but I'm going to anyway because it's my blog and that's the way I like it. (Likewise, if this is a little stream-of-consciousness, I apologize. I'm kind of thinking out loud.)

I used to think that authors write the books, then publishers do all the printing, marketing, and selling of it so that we don't have to. It turns out that's not true (people have been talking about that too). So if all but the best selling authors are expected to do their own marketing, what is the publisher doing?

As far as I can see, they (1) get art for your cover, (2) pay for the printing, (3) get your book in bookstores, and (4) get your book in at least the basic review places. Those are good things. It's very hard for regular people to do any but (2), and if you are self-published, you can't do (3) or (4) at all.

But how many people read those reviews and then buy the book? Is that a lot of copies there? It's some, certainly, but it's not your main readerbase (well, certainly not in my genre). Similarly, who is buying books at bookstores (other than MattyDub and me, who would live at Borders if they let us)? That's some copies as well, but the bookstores seem to be dying which implies that fewer and fewer people are buying from there. That trend might not continue, but what if it does?

What I'm saying is, if the majority of my readerbase is coming from my own marketing efforts, then what do I get by being with a publisher?

Okay, okay. You get a lot of proofreaders who know what they're talking about, which makes your book a lot better and gives it Credibility. I don't want to knock that. Credibility is good. But it's possible to write a good book, and get a huge readerbase, without the credibility of a publisher. It's hard, but no harder, I think, than getting a publisher to begin with.

I guess my real point is that all the trends seem to be moving the advantages of a publisher away from them and into the hands of small authors. The internet is enabling us more, the slow death/metamorphosis of the publishers is requiring us to take on more. If the publishers don't figure this out soon, someone on the internet will find a way to hand out Credibility to self-published books, and then it will all be over.

Well, not over. Different.

(Bonus Question: how do I self-publish books on the Kindle? No print runs, no art required. I think that would undercut almost everything that's left of Big Publishing, if it can be done.)