By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Much has been written about the control that a self-published writer has over their career and their books. It’s usually portrayed as a good thing. We can choose when our book comes out, when its sequel comes out, what vibe our cover is sending out, when to run sales, how much our book should retail for.
Sometimes we’ll hear about the flip side of having this control—the overwhelming nature of it, the high learning curve in handling it, the realization that when our book seems to flop on release that it was related to something we did. Because no one else was in the driver’s seat.
What I have recently discovered is that the control…the good, the bad, and the ugly of it…is completely addictive. Until we feel, I think, a lot more ownership and responsibility for a book, even when we don’t have any control over it.
I’ve come a long way with how much control I’ve wanted to have. I remember when my editor at Penguin told me that a sequel for a book in my Memphis series was approved for release in 2013. That was two years after the previous book in the series launched. I had serious reservations about this and I didn’t understand it. I can write a book in three months, easy. If you push me, I can, technically, write a book in about 5 weeks. I’ll be stressed out and snapping at family members, but sure, I can write it. So why the delay? Or, really, why not ask me to write a book sooner? Why not ask me in 2011 to write the book, then decide if you want to publish it or not later? It could have started its year-long production process a lot sooner. If they didn’t want it, I could probably have reworked it to fit a different series.
Did I say anything? No. Because I realized I was dealing with a process—one that was out of my editor’s hands. I just dealt with it. It was the last book of the series.
As I’ve continued on my self-publishing path, though, I’ve felt more frustration with what happens with my trad-pubbed books. I’m frustrated from a career standpoint. I want those books to continue doing well and I’m limited.
One Example: oddly, and out of the blue, an ebook that released in 2010 and had been retailing at about $10 for the life of the book (I know…) had its price dropped in half. That part was great news. I’ve been fielding emails for years from readers asking why that book was priced so high when the rest of the books in the series (this is the series that started out in trad pub and that is now self pub) ranged from free to about $4.99.
The problem with this is now there suddenly is something wrong with the Kindle file. I’m getting dinged on reviews because there are apparently two chapter sixteens and no chapter seventeen. And the reviews are, for the most part, directed right at me.
I called the publisher on Friday. I haven’t dealt with Midnight Ink for years. I hit zero for the switchboard and gave them my editor’s name. Oh, she said, my editor had retired years ago. So I told switchboard my problem and she figured out someone for me to talk to. It wasn’t the right person, but he knew who in production would handle the issue. And all the while I’m talking about the problem, I’m hearing the stress in my voice and telling myself to chill out. I know that the stress is from lack of control. The problem would already have been fixed if it were a self-pubbed title. And I can’t control when or if they’ll fix it. In the meantime, the emails and negative reviews will continue.
Another example. I got a publishing report from Penguin last week (this is new—an online dashboard that authors can sign into. It’s actually pretty cool and a step in the right direction). My report stated that, for my June release, my sales so far were “58% physical, 42% ebook.”
All of my books from Penguin report this type of ratio. You can see the little pie graphs on the image file here for a handful of my books. And I’m not alone in the trad pubbed writing community in saying that we find it…strange. For my self-published books, it’s more like 90% digital sales, 10% physical. So…are these figures what Penguin has to work with? Only BookScan reports, only certain retailers, only Ingram? Do they not include Amazon reporting (and I know Amazon is fairly closemouthed about ebook sales, but not to publishers, right?)
If these reports are accurate (and I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt here…but it sure would help if they told me where they’re pulling these numbers or what’s being reported to them), then why are they so skewed to physical sales? Are there that many readers still buying print from retailers? Somehow only for trad pubbed books and not the same series for my self-pubbed titles? Could this be because of the fact that publisher pricing frequently favors physical books? If it’s that readers really are, for trade published books, favoring print, I’d like an idea why it’s that way—is it because of their product placement in bookstores? Are these actually printed copies from Amazon and online purchases? I’m curious.
And I have no control over learning more about their data. My editor for that series was, sadly, laid off a few months ago.
And returning to my control issues regarding the pricing. I’d really love to run some sales to bump up reviews and visibility for the series starters. Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do. I got my rights back for the series that was trad pubbed until June and plan on releasing a new title next spring. I’ll probably go fairly low with it, in terms of pricing, to see if I can stimulate some interest in the series as a whole. Then I can add a few more books to the series and play around with pricing. But I’ll never be able to make the first book perma-free. The first book in my Myrtle series is the same. I had to make box sets for the Myrtle series without the first book included.
I’m reading this post over and I’m thinking…blehhh. Sorry y’all. Not that the problems I raise aren’t legitimate (and I’m intending this to be a cautionary tale to anyone who is toying with taking a series to trad pub…thinking they can always self-pub it later if needed), but I hate my frustration behind it. This is what it is and there’s nothing that I can do about it. I’ve just gotten addicted to the control.
On the positive side (ending on a positive note for a Monday!), my excellent editors taught me a lot with their global/developmental editing and I got a nice bump in visibility in 2010 when it was still mostly a physical book landscape.
If you’re a self-published writer or a hybrid writer, how have you reacted to the control you get? Is it overwhelming? Addictive? A little of both?Control and the self-published writer: Click To Tweet