Control and the Self-Published Writer      

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigSales

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?

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67 thoughts on “Control and the Self-Published Writer      

  1. Hi, Elizabeth. I’ve enjoyed reading through many of your posts recently.

    I think I need to hear about the traditional side of things from the to time. I, too, find myself often addicted to the control self-publishing allows. Though I’m 100% self-published I often find myself wondering what being a hybrid author would be like–to have some of that control (or responsibility) shifted to someone else or to another group of people. The “control” can sometimes be overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong. I love it most of the time… but every once in a while I dream of someone else taking care of certain aspects of the process or taking one of my books and making it something I couldn’t have done on my own (dream world, right?). Your post reminds me that what I’m really dreaming of in those times doesn’t truly exist for most stories, and that my process is working just fine. :)

    1. Heather–I think that, and I really hate to say this, that it’s just not worth it. I mean, specifically the ability to offload some of the production stuff (covers, formatting, inclusion in a publisher’s catalog/product placement on shelves) when compared to the negative side of losing that control. I was really, *really* lucky in that I always loved my covers, formatting (until now!) was never an issue, etc. I liked having my new release on the little cardboard tower in front of the Barnes and Noble Starbucks counter. But it alarms me a little now to think that luck was really what made it work as well as it did for me…because if I’d had a couple of stinky covers at the beginning of those two series, they’d have flopped and I might never have had the confidence to continue.

      I’d say, if I were curious/interested in trad pub and I was a self-pubbed author, I might consider offering up a purely commercial one-off, standalone. Not the book/series ‘of my heart,’ as writers say. Something very calculated. Get the experience that way. And I wouldn’t want it to be a series, just because of the problems I’ve run into.

      1. I’ve learned this lesson over and over for nearly half a century: if it’s truly important, get all the help you can get, by all means, but never ever let someone else have control. EVER.

        Yes, I’m the guy who coded his own blogging tool in 2002 because the few that existed weren’t, um, right.

        The idea of someone else controlling my art is chilling. I’ll give up publishing before I’ll give up control.

        Most folks are less hysterical about it than I am.

  2. You’ve offered so much to think about here, Elizabeth! I couldn’t agree more about that lack of control. It causes a lot of stress and makes you feel so uncomfortable. And when you’re traditionally published, there’s a lot you don’t get to decide. It’s one of those aspects of being a writer that they don’t teach you in creative writing programs…

    1. Margot–I think it was billed in the past as a *good* thing…not that we didn’t have control but that we didn’t have to *worry* with it. But actually, the underlying worry was always there…what if I get a rotten cover? What if my editor gets fired/laid off/retires in the middle of my production and I’m ‘orphaned?’ I feel a lot less stress as a self-pubbed writer and that’s a bit bizarre to me because I’ve got so much more that I’m responsible for.

      1. Yup: the old “job” mindset: “Make it someone else’s problem and I don’t have to worry.”

        Right up until that Friday when you get fired.

        If you want benefits, you have to work for them. Manna no longer falls from heaven.

        1. Joel–True and I think a lot of trad published writers mistakenly thought that they could let the publisher handle things. Actually, the publisher does very little marketing. So, really, the most successful trad published writers did a lot of promo (unless they’d written some sort of blockbuster) so that they would get their contracts extended.

  3. I’d wonder about those sales percentages. When I get my royalty statements, my publisher breaks it down between print and eBook and my eBook sales are always 80-90% of the total.
    Two chapter sixteens? Wow, how does a mistake like that happen?

    1. Alex–I know, right? Who buys printed books? Are these books selling at drugstores or airport terminal shops? I just can’t figure it out. And this has been for *years*.

      Two chapter sixteens. It makes no sense. I’d have surely heard about this by now if this were the same file they put together in 2010–right? Did they change the file somehow? Why?

  4. Thanks for being so transparent. I’m not sure I would ever think of traditional with any adult mysteries I may write. My biggest conflict is my love of middle grade. I know that to self publish middle grade–breaking even is success. But in general, they don’t do well, except for a few outliers. I can’t say I’d go traditional with middle grade for the money. Just for the love of it and hope that it has a chance of getting into the school and library market. #stillconflicted :)

    Sorry for your current frustrations!

    1. Laura–You bring up another point…this can also be genre-related, in terms of deciding on a publishing path. For mystery and romance, self-pubbing can be lucrative. If I were writing lit fic or a picture book–or, as you mentioned, middle-grade–I might consider a trad publisher for their distribution (and for the fact that they do buy lit fic).

  5. I read things like this from time to time – from my traditional/hybrid friends and acquaintances – and every time, it makes me glad I never got picked up by a publishing house. Yeah, the sales might’ve been better. Sure, someone else could be throwing money at marketing for me. But like you said, it comes down to control. Right now, someone finds a typo in one of my books, I can change it. Right then. And it’s fixed on the download within 24 hrs. My cover’s not drawing interest? I can change it. I don’t have to wait on anyone. And I don’t have to wait on anyone to tell me whether my book fits their idea of what the market wants. The market will tell me whether I hit or missed the mark.

    I’m sorry you’re having to go through issues with your publishers. I’m sorry any of us has to. :hugs: I hope you get it all resolved soon so the stress and the headaches go away. And I applaud you for making the switch. It’s a brave thing you’ve done and continue to do. Thanks for sharing your experiences. =o)

    1. B.E.–The sales are better, I think, sometimes. The royalties never match the sales, sadly, though. And I believe I’ve sold more on my self-published series, but that’s likely because I play around with pricing.

      So *nice* to be able to take care of a typo immediately! And to use the market as our barometer. Good points. And thanks for the kind words! They help.

  6. Getting your publisher to fix the book might be difficult, but good luck getting Amazon to remove those reviews once it is fixed.

    Traditional publishing did help you to establish your name. Now you can benefit from it even more with your self-pubbed books.

    1. Diane–Yeah, they likely won’t remove those bad reviews. I’ve done what I can…I commented back to those reviewers, thanking them for pointing out the problem, letting them know that I’m getting the publisher to correct the issue, and offering to email the chapter to them. Think that’s all I can do at this point.

  7. Like Heather, I’ve dreamed of handing off responsibility and control to savvy publishing professionals. My solution is a compromise that came about by sheer luck–working with a Marketing Guy. I take care of the writing and editing, my platform, and social media presence. He takes care of cover design, ads, keywords, and strategy, including determining the demographics of the readers most likely to enjoy the kind of books I write, and then getting my work in front of their eyes. This started a month ago, and he’s managed to get the first book of my series properly categorized and in the top 100 of Amateur Sleuths for over three weeks. There’s even been a boost in print sales. Best of all, I don’t have the brain crunch or panic attacks from the sheer prospect of having to figure this stuff out. But I’m really really lucky–have no idea how anyone else would go about finding someone to do just this part of self-publishing, and my guy isn’t taking on more work at this time.

    1. Meg–Assisted self-publishing, I think this is called. What you’re doing is smart and contracting out for the help you need. You did luck out on your guy…you’re right, a lot of the good ones are taken. There are a variety of places that fill this kind of role. Bublish and Bibliocrunch can help. Author assistants can help, but again, great ones like Mel Jolly are booked up. There are some literary agencies that are now filling this role, too. I’ve also heard good things about Upwork. It’s smart to hire out if we can swing it financially and if we’re feeling overwhelmed. Because if we use a trad publisher *only for those reasons (of offloading the workload)*, then we’re paying too much (from our royalties) for the service.

      1. So that’s what it’s called! And thanks for listing the various ways others can find the needed services. Also agree with the money suck created in perpetua when those services are paid for via royalties. Amazing how much it ends up costing that way!

  8. I’ve never had the honor of being traditionally published so I have no frame of reference for the difference, but after reading this post, I’m not sure I’d ever try for traditional again. How frustrating. Wish there was some way for you to let those reader/reviewers know you don’t have control over it.

    1. Karen–I was worried about looking bad (I never respond to reviews, as a general rule), but I did comment on their reviews to let them know I appreciated the heads-up and to say that I was working with the publisher to fix it. Hopefully that will remind them that there’s a publisher involved (at least in this instance!)

  9. I didn’t know how much I would enjoy having all the control. It is addictive! Thanks to Meg Wolfe for sharing about her Marketing Guy. I’d love to have someone like that. What a boost that would give a new book, and the carryover for backlist, too.

  10. Elizabeth, yikes! What a nightmare. Especially frustrating for you when it’s an easy fix if you had the control. I really feel for you on that!

    I was “this close” to being offered a trad-pub contract way back in 2011, and I’m sorry to say that I would have been ignorant enough and desperate enough to take it, no matter how predatory the terms were. Validation is still a huge part of the equation for authors (at least it was for me), and it had always been a dream of mine to see my books on a shelf in Barnes and Noble, and do a book-signing there! Ah well, now I know better, and I’m glad it didn’t work out that way. I wouldn’t be making as much in royalties, I wouldn’t have control, and my books might be out of print by now. So that particular dream won’t come to fruition, but the rest of it is still thrilling!

    Then there is the disparity in how trad-pubbed authors and indie authors are treated as professionals. I know I’ve mentioned this before on your blog, but I hope you don’t mind me pointing it out again. The mystery genre is particularly bad at this. There’s little-to-no recognition for indies in terms of awards, books for sale/signings in book rooms at conventions, talking on panels at conventions, or author membership in professional organizations such as MWA. I’m hoping that will change down the road. I think it would make the industry better for everyone.

    Good luck with your formatting snafu – hope it’s fixed soon!

    1. Kathy–I’m so glad you chose self-pub because I think that was definitely the right choice for you and your books. Mystery does really well with self-pub, as you’ve found!

      In terms of awards, conference invites, etc…you’re completely right. 90% of the time, it’s Trad Pub Elizabeth and not Self-Pub Elizabeth who is invited to conferences (NINC being a big exception). I’m about to make a huge generalization here, but mystery is just backwards and very, very slow to adapt to the times. My frustration with the way I heard fellow trad pub authors talk about self pub led to my dropping out of every single one of my trad pub email loops. And I’ve also dropped out or decided not to pursue the mystery writing organizations. The only worthwhile one is Sisters in Crime. I’m with you…hope they make some changes very soon!!

    2. It’s slowly getting better. Last year, the Nebula Awards, a very respected science fiction award, opened up to include self-published authors as well. They recognized that a lot of the good stuff is coming from indies. That was a huge step. Ten years ago, indies didn’t even exist. In less than ten years, the awards are coming around. Ten years from now, who knows. If you look at how exponentially fast it’s going, I don’t think the snobbery surrounding indies will be as strong as it still is today.

  11. I can totally see your frustration. I like control… but MAN, there is so much to learn–the formatting for all the options, the small print, the links, the promotional details… I really do think if I didn’t have a day job I would be good at learning all that, but right now I just want to write books!

    1. Hart–It definitely helps if we’re retired or don’t have a day job! There are only so many hours in the day. I’d say, make a list of all the things you think you *need* to investigate (Scrivener/formatting/website stuff/Amazon categories and keywords, etc.) and then parse it out throughout many weeks. Ultimately the writing is the most important thing!

  12. This was really interesting to read even though I have zero experience with it. One thought I had was that data is only as good as the input meaning its accuracy and it’s software, I guess. Things on the internet seem to not get corrected in what seems like forever.

    Hearing that you can write a book in that short of time makes readers happy.


    1. Teresa–That is a very wise statement from someone who knows! Thanks. Yes, I don’t know anything about the software or reporting services that Penguin is using to pull its data. I know, in the “old days” it was primarily BookScan. Now with all the digital players, I’m not really sure anymore.

      My fast(ish) writing is something I kept more under my hat when I was under contract, ha! If they knew how quickly I could turn a book around, they’d have shortened my deadlines. :)

  13. I’m too afraid of traditional publishers. I don’t dare submit any of my work to lit agents. I’m a control freak. I like to publish what I want, when I want to, etc. Thanks for the article. It’s put me off trad publishers further! lol

  14. The lack of control is a recipe for depression–like, literally; I used to be a psychotherapist and low locus of control situations correlate highly with depression–and like you, my writing pace exceeds the production cycle by a decent margin (not as great as yours).

    That said, it took me 13 years to break in to traditional publishing, and I wouldn’t change paths at this point. It’s not due to the ability to offload some of the work or tasks, but because of the experience of having a team invested in my career. They are capable of more than I could accomplish on my own, yes, but even more valuable to me is the feeling that they care where I get to.

    Don’t get me wrong–I often envy writers walking the “other” road. I think there are pros and cons along each. Finding which one works best for us, understanding that there is no ideal, probably stands the best chance of producing a satisfied, fulfilled author.

    Another reason your trad pubbed books may sell well in print versions is because there are lots and lots of readers in that market–by the accounts I have read 60-70% of total–and many of them prefer print, or to find reads in physical locations.

    1. Jenny–That makes a lot of sense about control and depression…I hadn’t thought of it that way. It’s certainly a recipe for stress, I can say that!

      For me, I handled my higher productivity by writing several series at once even though I thought it would be more ideal to have more frequent releases.

      And I totally agree with you on the professionals investing in our career. I loved the advice and the direction I got from editors. My only problem was that (at Penguin Berkley and Penguin NAL at least), it was a revolving door and there was no job security for my favorite editor (laid off over the summer). It’s support I can’t count on (no fault of their own).

      The important thing, I think, is what you’re saying…realizing there are pros and cons on both paths and handling the negatives as best we can.

      1. That would put a whole other slant on things, I agree, Elizabeth. I’ve been lucky enough to have a very senior editor who has been in the same place for a long time.

        I don’t write series, but your approach to the faster-than-they-are problem sounds wise. Another thing to envy! For me, I just often feel like a giant pair of hands is holding me back. On the other hand, I’ve been able to go on 7 month book tours and really try and meet readers in every corner of the country. And one day, maybe I’ll be yearning after the downtime I sometimes complain about now :)

        Thanks for this thought-provoking piece, which I shared!

  15. Assisted self-publishing…the sweet spot I’m dreaming of. As a strictly self-published author, I would love to dump the marketing and publicity on someone else. I’m so bad at it. I keep hoping my daughter will take over my social media accounts, but she’s only eleven.

    However, I love the completeness of the publishing process. I know what you mean about formatting, one mistake can be fixed within minutes. Change a cover, instantly. And it’s not that I’m a control freak, I just like knowing that I did it…started and finished a project. Like the garden. Pulled the weeds, hoed the dirt, fertilized, planted, harvested, turned it over when the season ended. I did it.

    Thanks for another great post.

    1. Anne–Definitely a sweet spot and it’s becoming something of a cottage industry. Most of these services you can choose from an à la carte menu. So, for instance, if you *only* need help setting up a newsletter template or only need help with keeping up with social media updates, etc., that’s what you would choose. Or you could use their help only when you have a really busy stretch or something.

      I can see what you’re talking about—the completeness of the process. I like that part, too. The checking off of the to-do list. :) Checking off items on my list makes me happy.

  16. Thank you for this candid post, Elizabeth. I’ve felt confident that my decision to not even try a trad-pub approach was the right one for some time now, but reading about someone else’s experience is still a big help. (I only wish you never had to take the hit in order to make new authors like me feel better about their choices.)

    1. Michael–When I signed the first contract in 2009, it was probably the best choice I could have made at the time…but how quickly everything changed! I had great experiences with the people…it’s just the business that (especially lately) hasn’t been a good fit for me. Thanks so much for coming by.

  17. Thanks for posting this, Elizabeth. I launched a traditional publishing company with my first book back in 2003 (when “self-publishing” was a bad word), and then went on to publish other authors using a royalty model (authors do not pay for *anything*). I half-joke that the publishing business has a vertical learning curve. I had a work background in business and journalism and graphic design so many of the publishing pieces I could do in-house. The rest I contracted out.

    Right away, the books I published started winning awards, which gave me increased confidence as a publisher. I did adult novels (books for grownups, not X-rated!) and children’s chapter books. My success as a publisher earned me a contract with a distributor, which catapulted sales beyond what I could do through the digital printer I was using. But that meant that I had to really grow up and start doing print runs with an offset printer, rent a warehouse space, and track inventory.

    I finally returned to my own writing and released a second edition of my first book in 2013 and then released my second book in my psychological suspense rabbi series this year. And from a paper book standpoint, my second book is probably the best work I’ve ever done to date. It’s a beautiful book, inside and out, and there’s absolutely no way to tell that it’s not from a big pub house (other than the pub name).

    My company is set up as a corporation, which has its own assets and such, so from a money point of view, I’m technically not self-published. But from the perspective of who’s in control, I am. And the control . . . ahh . . . that’s in many ways the best part.

    I’m a control freak and kind of a perfectionist. I don’t expect actual perfection because it doesn’t exist, but I do expect excellence. I learn from every mistake and use it to make the next book better.

    Now, the one thing that makes me different from a lot of self-pubbed authors is that if I find a typo or some other issue with a print book, I can’t just change it before the next on-demand book is printed and shipped out. I’ve got a thousand or more copies of that book in my warehouse that I have to sell through before I can do another print run — and I need to decide if sales are strong enough to warrant another thousand or more books, or if I need to go to a small digital print run, in which case, I might need to raise the price (because small print runs cost more per unit than large ones, and I have to offer my distributor a 65% discount as per our contract).

    LOTS of business decisions, but it feeds a part of me. And I can say that all of my authors have LOVED their covers because I work with them individually to give them a cover they love. And I love that when I hold one of my books in my hand, it really, truly is MY creation.

    Many of my author friends are trad published, and I always saw that as a grass-is-greener issue. They made more money because they had Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins behind them. They were eligible for awards (particularly the mystery awards) that aren’t open to publishers that aren’t on their “approved publisher” list — which ALL discriminate against self-publishing. They got reviews that I couldn’t because my books didn’t have the publisher name recognition. At the most basic level, they got more exposure and more readers. And I really craved that.

    I did have a short suspense story published by a trad publisher, but it didn’t get any of those things I mentioned above. I’ll have another pubbed next year, and it probably won’t get those things either. I went to an author talk by a trad pubbed author and she had to buy a copy of her own book at the bookstore because her contract doesn’t allow her to buy copies of her own book at a discount from the publisher. She’d have to pay retail. She got one hard copy when her book was released.

    This was so foreign to me. My authors get 20 free copies when their book releases. They can buy books at 50% discount (without royalties) and resell them. *Being* a publisher made the predatory practices of the big publishers all the more real.

    Last thing: at another author talk, he said that all the awards he’d won and all the accolades he’d earned were nice, yes, but what really counted for him was the connection with an author. An email from a fan meant far more to him than an award. And I thought, “Wow . . . I have those emails.” I have people writing to me on Facebook and in email and talking to me in person about how much they love my books, and here I am envying the awards and the accolades, certain that a trad pub deal was the only way I could get them. It was eye-opening as to what I most wanted as an author (the connection with a reader), and the best way to get it. Which means I won’t be giving up my day job anytime soon — so that I can use what I’ve built to continue to bring my writing into the world.

    1. Sheyna–Oh, gosh, in 2003…yeah, it was *vanity* publishing at that point, nothing even as prestigious-sounding as “self-pub.” That must have been an incredibly time-consuming venture for you– vertical learning curve, for sure! And if you were working with Ingram or Baker and Taylor, you were clearly doing a fantastic job.

      Working through the warehoused copies first is real dedication! But smart to make sure you sell through first before going the POD route.

      Oh, yeah, I always pay retail price unless I go through Mystery Lovers Bookstore, which gives a discount to authors (if they buy a case). I think Midnight Ink gave me a modest discount, but Penguin doesn’t. But I did get a nice number of books on publication as part of my contract. Besides, it actually gives me more visibility if I buy my books from Amazon instead at full retail–at least it gives me a boost in ranking.

      I’ve never cared about awards because I don’t think they’re important to readers. Exactly what you heard at the author talk. The emails are what I save in Evernote (maybe not the ones complaining about having no chapter seventeen in their book, though…ha!)

      Thanks for coming over and for sharing your thoughts on this!

  18. My biggest reservation about considering traditional, in addition to poor royalty rates, concerns rights. I’m not comfortable giving up my rights to characters and worlds I created myself for the rest of my life plus 70 years. Arthur Conan Doyle just went public domain, for Pete’s sakes. I worked in a bookstore for four years, and your book will be there for no more than a few months before it’s pulled and pulped, replaced by new stuff. After that, unless lightning strikes, your book vanishes. But you can’t do anything with it without the publisher’s permission, even though they’re likely to do nothing with it themselves. If your career plan is a long game, and it should be, this is something to think about.

    1. BP–It’s a smart concern to have. That’s another frustration and an area where I have no control. My self-pubbed books are in audio format. My trad pubbed ones aren’t and likely won’t be (they don’t relinquish the rights, but they never use them, as you’re saying). I’d also love to explore foreign markets with the trad pubbed books.

      1. One thing trad publishers are now doing is exploiting rights reversions clauses by using ebooks. That is, your contract may say that your rights will revert to you after your book goes out of print, but if you have an ebook, the publisher takes that to mean that as long as an ebook is for sale anywhere, the book is still in print. That basically means forever.

        1. BP–I’ve heard this, too.

          The last contract renewal I had, the publisher wanted me to consider a digital only deal. The problem with that was that I didn’t *need* them for digital. I only needed them for bookstore placement (now becoming less and less of a factor). I got my rights to the characters back at that point.

          1. Good for you! I think many, myself included, would be interested in how much of your sales came from print in bookstores. That is one reason some indies are still interested in traditional publishing, because it’s the only way to access that sales venue. However, if it’s shrinking, it might not be a good reason to go in that direction. Having worked in a bookstore, I personally don’t think it’s worth it beyond the emotional satisfaction (and for some, that’s enough–which is fine. As long as you know why you’re doing something).

            1. BP–I’d imagine quite a bit come from bookstores, but they also come from other retailers. One reader emailed me to ask if she could buy a new release in one series because she used to get them ‘at the Walgreens’ and then moved and there were no places to buy books at the new town. So apparently maybe some books are even trickling into pharmacies. And then some of the print sales would certainly be online from Amazon. It would be nice to have more data (as always!)

              1. During the Apple lawsuit, I think it came out that even the giant Hachette was getting 40% of its sales from Amazon, and that’s mostly print. A lot of people thumb through a book in a store and then go home to buy it online, though I don’t have numbers. I’ve seen stats that say 40% of readers surveyed have at least done that, but I don’t have more data than that.

                1. BP–Unfortunately for booksellers, I think that seems to be the case. I read something similar…that bookstores now function as “showrooms” for books that can be purchased less expensively online.

  19. I love this post.
    I have 5 pieces of work out right now all through self-pub and I can say that so far it has been a bit overwhelming. You are correct, the learning curve is insane. Getting traction without a marketing team at least giving advice has so far been impossible.
    But when I think about what I will have to go through in the traditional world of publishing, I have to say that I am content with the overwhelming levels of stress.
    About the only piece of the trad-pub world I truly wish I could have is the editing help. It is too pricey now for me to get much help with that now (but I’d be paying the costs in other ways via the alternative I am sure).
    All-in-all I do love the learning inherent with doing it myself. Just two years ago I couldn’t tell you how to open Photoshop and now I am designing covers myself (albeit poorly). As time progresses I have been getting faster and better at designing (badly).
    I have progressed substantially with my voice and have even eliminated a few bad grammar habits that had persisted, habits I had to learn on my own and break on my own. I feel that if I relied on someone else to keep correcting my grammar, I wouldn’t progress as readily as I have.
    Sure, I am unknown. Sure, I might not find success for another few years if at all. The alternative of trying to push my books through the grinder of trad-pub is too scary for my tastes. I like the control. Even if I suck at it, I know it is all me… and at least I can learn from it.

    1. Jeremy–It’s overwhelming. But once you’ve figured out the bulk of it, it’s not like we’re *coasting*, because there are still things to figure out and new apps and social media all the time…but it’s a lot easier to schedule periods of time to learn something. For instance, I took Mark Dawson’s Facebook course (and that’s a long course!). But I paced myself. Learning self-publishing, in total, from scratch, though–so, so time consuming.

      Trad-pub editing is hit or miss. I had one editor who was clearly disinterested in my work (she hadn’t picked it…she had to take over the project after my original editor moved to another house. She also didn’t pick up the second book in the series after she edited the first). I had two editors that were fantastic…one in particular really taught me a ton with her developmental edits. But I had another editor who also inherited a *different* series of mine and she was terrible. She actually “corrected” 3 of my pages to make them 1st person when the book was written in 3rd. Clearly a mistake (she must have been working on someone else’s doc at the time…right? I hope? And then just hopped over to mine without thinking??)

      The good news is that we can frequently improve and not need *developmental* editing as much. My books are fairly lightly edited now…my freelance editor helps me with continuity issues and typos, etc. But if I changed genres, I’d need some more rigorous developmental help, for sure.

      And you’re so right–self-pub is a fantastic learning experience.

  20. Another great post, Elizabeth. I experienced similar frustrations with three big NY publishers. I was so naive when I started in the business in 1985(!). After some tough learning experiences–and a few long hiatuses from the biz — I accepted the fact that book publishing is run by the marketing department, not the editors. (As you know, editors are the author’s in-house advocate but they are underpaid, overworked and have far less control of the book than I realized.)

    I came back into the business in a different genre, but couldn’t find an agent to submit my work to traditional houses. I was hesitant to leap into self-publishing because I didn’t want to slow (or stop) writing while I learned everything I needed to know to make knowledgeable decisions. But I started with small steps, starting with self-publishing a few of my backlist, then new titles.

    As you said, being in control is addictive. I am much more of a control freak than I ever realized. I still have brief moments I wish I could go back to traditional publishing so I could just write. But the tradeoff isn’t worth it.

    1. Gillian–The editors, bless them, really frequently have very little influence, don’t they? You’re right…they serve as advocates (when we’ve got good ones). And they’re always overwhelmed with work.

      It sounds as if you handled your move to self-pub in such a smart way. It’s so much better to pace ourselves than to burn out. And, with a backlist, you were poised well to ease into the process.

      No, I don’t think the trade-off is worth it either (at least the way things stand right now). Better to contract out for help, if we need it, on a temporary basis instead of signing away too much of our earnings and rights.

  21. Hi Elizabeth – pearls of wisdom again … from you and your commenters – such a useful resource. Interesting to read through too … thanks – noted for the future! Cheers Hilary

  22. Since big publishers won their lawsuit and jacked eBook prices way up, I don’t buy big pub books anymore. I get them from the library. Or win them. Libraries typically stock more print books. So the skew in numbers? I’d say they’re accurate, but you may have lost potential sales because of the changes in the industry. *shrugs* Maybe I’m the only one.

    1. Crystal–I considered this as well, as least for the recent figures, but the discrepancy (at least, I think of it as a discrepancy) dates back to 2010. Now, in 2010, I can understand the skewing of the figures, but in 2012 or 2013, it’s sort of mind boggling.

      And I’m a friend of the library, too, ha! Just requested them to purchase an upcoming release I want to read. :)

  23. I wonder, though. Right now, Amazon offers a pretty good deal to self-publishing offers. But what happens to “control” if Amazon decides to change its terms?

    There are already instances in which Amazon has pulled reviews or taken down books. Its algorithms are secret. It can change the way books are displayed and the prominence they are given in searches.

    I’m not saying that self-publishing isn’t satisfying and profitable, and in many cases, more satisfying and profitable than trad pubbing. But I think authors need to keep their eyes open and realize that a lot of what they currently control could be changed in an instant at the whim of online retailers.

    1. J–Oh, we’ll all freak out! :)

      There are a couple of things that we can do to minimize that type of disruption or at least to *feel* we have more control over it. For one, we can distribute our books to as many retailers as possible. My books are even on German bookseller Tolino and other, similar, sites. Amazon is the behemoth, but it’s not the *only* game in town.

      For another, we can sell books on our own site. Which, clearly, I’m not doing, ha! I’m mainly *not* doing that because I don’t want to water down my stats/visibility on Amazon. But you better believe I will if they change their algorithm. And I very well may do it earlier because of the Ingram deal I read about in the publishing news last week:

      Your note of caution is very important, J. Honestly, this is a business where we can only trust ourselves. That may sound a bit paranoid, but publishing is a *business* and authors and our content aren’t respected as well as we should be.

    2. Precisely why I wrote this:

      There’s simply no reason to worry about what Amazon does, other than being aware of it. We can’t have any real effect on them. All we can do is make sure that when the Lord of the Manor pops off and his evil stepson takes the throne, we own our land and aren’t renting it.

      I sell all my books from my own site. Amazon is my backup position, not my primary focus.

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