Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Self-Pubbed Author Beware

Right now I'm looking at the Top 10 Kindle bestsellers in occult fiction.

Every one of them is self-pubbed. In fact, there are only three legacy authors in the Top 30. I count only ten legacy pubbed in the Top 100, and most are brand names.

That's... staggering.

It also doesn't bode well for legacy publishers.

Long ago, I said ebooks aren't a competition. But that only applies when they are affordable. Once an ebook costs over five bucks, readers become choosy. The above list is proof. There are ten ebooks on that list priced more than $4.99.

Bet you can guess which ones. Hint: none of the self-pubbed.

At the moment, legacy publishers seem to be content with their ebook sales. They boast how ebooks are exploding, while print sales slip more and more.

And yet, they obviously aren't pricing ebooks competitively. I'm outselling King, Harris, and Preston & Child. That's odd, since they kill me in paper sales. But it doesn't matter, because bestselling authors sell at any price, which publishers are aware of.

Midlist authors do not. Midlist authors right now are getting screwed by their publishers, earning far less than they could. It's bad enough they're only getting 17.5% of the list price; when the list price is ten bucks it is leaving a lot of money on the table.

So why aren't legacy pubs pricing their midlists and backlists competitively? Are they still trying to preserve paper sales? Or have they crunched the numbers and figured out $7.99 to $14.99 is the sweet spot for profits?

Whatever the reason, it is misguided. Here's a look into the future:

1. Amazon is the #1 ebookseller in the world. Its bestseller lists are prime real estate, allowing browsers to peruse genres and discover new titles to buy.

2. Free and cheap greatly improve a title's chance of getting on a bestseller list, which leads to more awareness and more sales.

3. Publishers keeping ebooks at high prices hurts their authors, because they aren't getting this prime real estate. The days of browsing a bookstore for midlist titles are fading fast. A midlist book published now has very little chance of breaking out, because it isn't where people are browsing.

4. Midlist authors (the ones who make up the majority of a publisher's catalog) are going to figure out they're being screwed, and will stop taking contracts. Right now, publishers are doing fine because of quantity. They have a few bestselling names that sell at any price, and even if their midlist authors only sell a few copies each, there are so many authors that the publisher can make money on the long tail. (To wit: a publisher with 2500 titles at $9.99, each selling 5 copies a day, is earning $65,559 per day. But the author of one of those books is only making $8.75  a day.)

Publishers don't need to sell a lot of a particular title. But authors do. And authors will eventually wise up and self-publish.

5. When they start losing authors, publishers will have to find new ones. And where do you think they'll look?

Where they've already been looking. At Amazon Kindle authors who are doing well.

I'm writing this post to warn authors about this, because it is going to happen more and more. I've seen several authors who have done well self-pubbing, then taken a legacy deal. If you can get a big chunk of money upfront, go for it. But it has to be walking-away money (meaning never expect to ever get your rights back or earn another penny.)

I've been watching the self-pubbed authors who have signed legacy deals. Watching their Amazon rankings. Watching the bestseller lists. While I'm not privy to details of their contracts, I haven't seen any of these authors do better with a legacy publisher than they were doing on their own.

Keep that in mind when the Big 6 contact you, saying they discovered you on Kindle and are proud to offer you a contract. Other than a huge advance, I can't see any allure at all to a legacy deal.

Granted, I've had legacy deals, so I understand what they entail. A newbie author doesn't have the experience that I do. That means, if you're offered a deal, take time to think it over. You're allowed to be flattered. You're allowed to have book signing fantasies, and imagine the radio interviews and reviews in major periodicals. But once the excitement wears off, it's time to crunch numbers and make a business decision based on your goals. Money should play a major role in this decision.

As for the luster of legacy publishing, read my blog. Book signings are hell. Radio interviews are work. Most book critics for major periodicals are self-important pinheads. And the Big 6 are AWFUL at selling ebooks.

 If you don't want to take my word for it, ask any author who has had, or does have, a legacy deal.

We've all read stories about successful self-pubbed authors signing with the Big 6. Have we heard any stories about authors who once had a Big 6 deal, then went to self-pubbing and found success, and then WENT BACK to the Big 6?

I haven't heard any. And there's a good reason for it. Once bitten, twice shy.

If you're a newbie author, save yourself some grief and don't get bitten the first time.

And if you're a newbie author whose agent is currently submitting your book to major houses, I hope you realize you just missed the biggest 30 day sales period in the history of ebooks.

A bird in the hand is always worth two in the bush. Especially when your bird is healthy, and those two in the bush have avian flu.

As I've been saying for years, understand the difference between your dreams and your goals. Learn all you can. Make your decisions based on logic, not emotion. Understand why you want what you want.

And above all, beware. That longtime fantasy of having a major publisher call you up might be closer than you think...