Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Independent publishing has changed the way authors look at the industry, with many questioning whether it’s worthwhile to play the waiting game and pray for the payoff from a traditional publisher, or instead take their fate into their own hands. There are clearly benefits and pitfalls to either choice. What authors need to seriously consider when they make this decision, though, is whether or not they are willing to put in the time and effort to make it work.
Indie publishing is a tough job. Authors aren’t just the ones who write the book. They also have to be savvy enough to hit the right target readers online. They have to build a strong online presence. They have to be able to commit a significant amount of time to finding creative ways to make the sale. And they also have to be willing to invest money in a good editor, ebook conversion service, and cover design, all of which combined can run in the area of $1,500. The reality of all the legwork and cost can be disenchanting.
The factors that breed this disenchantment, however, are exactly what make traditional publishing so enticing. There are reports of authors getting massive advances—upward of $100,000—when they’ve never even published before. What author wouldn’t want that kind of advance? Unfortunately, most of these types of reports are inaccurate and not written by people actually involved in the transaction. The reality is, most traditional publishers offer new authors an advance of about $5,000. In a few cases, some may receive up to $10,000. These contracts also typically only pay out five percent of the sales to new authors, and the agent often takes 15 percent of that profit.
The realities can be even further discouraging for fiction authors.
A book without a strong marketing platform by a new author in these genres typically only sells about 200 copies. And that’s being generous. The cost breakdown looks something like Figure 1, leaving indie authors in the negative.
Authors who choose to independently publish often see results like this because they either don’t market their book, or simply don’t know how. However, these numbers can easily be shifted by anyone willing to put in the time and effort to market the book correctly. Proper positioning can lead to an increase in book sales and financial success.
So given all the legwork need and the roadblocks to overcome, what are the actual benefits of choosing to go down the independent path? Here are three things to consider:
1) Project Control
In the hands of a traditional publisher, authors lose almost all control of the project. Editors weigh in heavily for changes to clean the manuscript. The cover is designed by the art department, and authors often have little or no say in what the final product looks like. The jacket copy is written by an assistant. The publisher controls publication date and distribution channels. Once an author signs the contract, she is trusting the publisher to give her the best final product possible with almost no say over what that final product is.
Independent publishing operates in basically the opposite way, and many authors find this mode more appealing. They can choose their own editor and cover, and write their own jacket copy, or hire someone else to do it. Authors even get to control the publication date and distribution. For a creative type, that sort of control is very enticing.
Few indie authors are able to get their books onto store shelves, but with the massive distribution channels available for fiction, and little concern over foreign distribution, target sales are still possible and often more profitable. To that end, non-fiction authors have a comparatively harder time handling distribution. This is primarily because publishers are indeed experts at getting the genres of non-fiction in front of the right audience around the world.
2) Online Platform
Regardless of whether an author chooses to go the traditional or indie route, she is still responsible for the majority of her own marketing. Publishers put their marketing dollars behind authors who have a track record for hitting bestseller lists, not so much for the unproven ones.
So what’s the benefit of independent publishing when it comes to marketing? Again, authors have creative control. This can be both good and bad. On one hand, they can use whatever creative avenues are available, targeting the right readers in the right place. But on the other hand, it’s easy to lose focus on the task, or start too late.
The most successful indie authors don’t wait until their book is ready to sell before they build their audience and begin marketing. Getting in front of the right readers can take six months to a year. And creating a buzz can take anywhere from three to six months. The key is to build a strong marketing campaign early and implement it about six months before the launch.
But whether the author is indie or traditionally published, this step still requires a lot of action and creative control. The benefit for fiction authors is that, if done correctly, a strong online platform can lead to strong sales and bigger profit.
3) Increased Sales
So what is this mystical profit? Figure 1 doesn’t show it as all that promising, and it isn’t. Not unless the author is willing to create a professional product and build a strong online platform to launch the book. There are a number of tips and tricks involved in a successful launch. For now, let’s assume an author does have a professional product and a strong platform.
Numbers matter. We already talked percentages for traditional publishers. Indie authors, however, get a much bigger cut. There are a number of reason for this, but the biggest is that there isn’t a lot of overhead cost for the staff involved in bringing a book to life. Indie authors typically get around 25 percent or more of the sales per print copy. And ebooks for indie authors are often around 70 percent of the sale per copy.
Remember that startling first figure? Authors who build a strong marketing campaign—with a focus on ebook sales—can see much more desirable results. Strong marketing can lead to upward of 1,000 sales within the first year. And rockstar marketing can lead to 10,000 or more. Assuming that the author is on the lower end and has a strong marketing campaign that sells 1,000 ebooks and 500 print copies, the numbers shift significantly, as shown in Figure 2.
Most of the sales for indie authors come from digital copies. This is because the sales with strong marketing hit on more than one of what Andrew Rhomberg describes as the eight reasons why people buy books. To that end, ebooks are often a more impulsive purchase than are print copies. So by focusing on ebook sales, an indie author can generate more conversions.
No author can make someone read the book, but she can ensure that it is in front of them everywhere they turn by finding the right places to pitch the sale.
If you are a fiction author, ask yourself these questions: Are you willing to put in the effort in the business of marketing? Do you have, or can you create, an online platform? And would you rather make a profit from your books?
If the answers are all yes, it may be time to consider independent publishing.
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