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You Should Self-Publish (jakonrath.blogspot.com)
133 points by wglb on Dec 29, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 43 comments

I "self-published" in 2003. I created a business that fulfilled all the criteria to be a bona fide publisher; namely, I bought a block of ISBNs. The rest was mechanical. Having ISBNs meant that book listings propagated to the places you'd expect.

Print runs were in lots of 1,000. It really wasn't very expensive, and the printers I dealt with were terrific and great fun. The tedious part was shipping a hundred or so books every week.

Once sales tailed-off I sold the book as a pdf download. I really didn't expect to make much from these sales; it was a bit of an afterthought.

In the end the long-tail download sales produced significantly more profit than the dead tree sales, and, of course, required close to zero effort.

I also sold the book for publication on a magazine CD, which was a nice lump sum.

I wish I had more time to write, as just writing this has stirred feelings to get back in the game. I would definitely self-publish.

[Note: Before self-publishing, I had been published by a "proper" publisher, the returns from which convinced me that I could do better myself.]

What did you publish? I mean can you give your book title? or tell us was it a tech book? fiction? kids? ...

I would imagine something about Cubase


That's the site I used for publishing, yes. I moved on to video tutorials, and that site remains for a few folk who still access tutorials online.

I wrote this one on Nuendo for PC Publishing:


and self-published this one on Cubase:


Both are tech books.

I've been writing a novel for a few years. Trashed it twice after twenty-odd thousand words both times. I think that's a good thing, as novel writing is a new skill for me. I'm learning. But I do love tech writing. It's pedantic as hell, but very rewarding when you get it right.

Interesting I am a logic and appleton user myself but of course knows Cubase.

I am currently writing a book about design for developers and self-publishing it too.

With regards to novels I have to say I don't think I am cut out for that. But I do wish to write a book called "Without God, But not without Belief" one day when I get older and wiser.

I'd love a link to your work, if you don't mind!

Sure, self-publish.

But be mindful of the fact that a manuscript is not a book. Every writer needs to have their manuscript edited before it hits the presses, and the process often takes longer than the actual writing of the manuscript. If you know a skilled editor who will do it for free, great. Otherwise, hire one or sign with a publisher. Just don't skip this step, eBook stores are filling up with texts that are barely readable.

Every writer needs to have their manuscript edited before it hits the presses...

... and some more than others.

Please be realistic about your ability to write clear and concise English. I was recently acting as a technical editor for a book, and at times found myself saying things like "it's not clear what the author is trying to say here; he might mean X, he might mean Y, or he might even mean Z -- but all three are wrong, because the correct statement is actually A".

If you don't already write for a living (either in the literal sense, or as a researcher or in some other profession where you regularly produce 10+ page documents of English text), start by writing a blog.

It's also important to note that editing is not just making sure your copy is grammatically correct -- that's called copyediting, and you can pay for that by the page. It's pretty easy to find a copyeditor.

A good editor is someone who knows good writing and will tell you if you're producing crap. They should also be able to tell you if you're writing to the current zeitgeist.

There's value to having good editorial support but, IMHO, it's not worth signing over all your rights and earning potential.

You can outsource all phases of editorial and production, the big houses already do.

+1 to this.

I realized this the first time with reading the "uncut" version of Steven King's The Stand. The original published version was one of my favorites, so I figured that the extra-long version of the writer's original vision must be even better. Wrong. There were very good reasons why the book was edited the way it was.

The moral is that even the best-selling, most celebrated of today's authors need the help of an editor to help shape things properly. Don't think you're any better.

While I am not a big fan of Mr. King's fiction, his non-fiction book On Writing is excellent: http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Stephen-King/dp/0743455967

He goes into process of writing a book with razor sharp detail.

So, so true.

You can self-edit, but you need some distance between the time of writing and editing. Also, editing technical work is different to, say, a novel. You also need to know your written language very, very well. And you need to know fundamental typography, which differs from country to country.

So, yup, there's a lot more to publishing than scribbling out the words and throwing out there.

It may be just me, but I think self-editing anything of real significance is unwise. Most people know themselves, so even with some distance they will know what they meant even when it is unclear to the general reader. They will also often be blind to their own idioms (especially if they have not traveled) which may be highly local and not translate well to a broad audiance.

I have never attempted to write anything book length, but I have published some short technical articles, and it is always clear which ones benefitted from a good editor and which ones did not.

To my mind, anyone who doesn't get this is probably a lost cause either way as they likely would be painful for a publisher to deal with once the edits started coming back, and I'm just talking the first round where the editor gives suggestions/etc, not even the final copy edits where final grammatical errors are cleaned up.

The trick is learn to find two sets of readers. One who just love reading and can articulate what they like and what is lacking in a story (they really wanted this plot thread to finish but it kind of died, that sort of thing) then a group to help catch grammar and punctuations mistakes. After that if you think it's worth the cost (aka you think it has a shot of doing well) paying the ~1k+ for a professional editing service to have one last go over it is a good idea since they do that sort of thing for a living.

Now if I could just find my two sets of readers once I finish the second draft of my novel...

Pretty much every industry that has bankrolled agencies would have people believe otherwise. Associations and consortiums spend considerable time and money trying to convince people of the importance of their role in the whole process. Prime example: the ridiculousness of commercials for the National Association of Realtors.

Travel agents, literary agents, Realtors, temp agencies, even stock brokers have seen the hyper-competitive market diminish the need for them in the whole process of adding value. More often than not, they end up taking so much of the economic surplus from the transactions that they actually end up harming both parties (in terms of producer and consumer surplus, that is see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_surplus)

Information asymmetry is one thing that agencies have used traditionally to exploit parties. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_asymmetry. But as it becomes less expensive to exchange information, those who have traditionally profited from doing so have more to lose. Hence dumb commercials.

I think when/if I go back to grad school, this will be the topic of my dissertation. It's a fascinating subject that really explores some intricacies in economics, and how technology is changing the landscape.

The interest in this blog and self-publishing makes me think in all of the "2010" year in review stories I have been surprised how little attention Kickstarter has received. With the success of Diaspora ($200K) Glif ($150K) iPod Watches ($1MM) it seems like they are one of the major new developments in the world of tech and startups.

These all seem like edge cases, but think back to the first YC class that had 6-8 teams. It was an inauspicious start, but has become the shaping force in SV. Beyond the big 3 projects listed above there was also a book about Obama's design that raised $90K, a lockpick startup that raised $85K, and a bunch of other companies that raised nice sized "seed" funding. Think about what this model will look like in 5 years.

I think that there are good reasons for either option. Working with a good publisher provides help on tuning up a book idea, copy and tech editing, etc. When I was writing my last book (for Apress) I had about 5 people actively helping me. I especially enjoyed working with my tech editor.

I also use Lulu and make a reasonable amount of money given that my self-published books are very much niche topics. I am fortunate that my wife is a great editor and I usually get useful feedback from people reading work in progress versions of my self published books.

I have been experimenting with producing formats for Kindles, etc., and the article gave me some inspiration to put more energy into supporting eReaders. One problem with this: I have always given away free PDFs for my self-published print books, and I like doing that.

Writing is a great activity and I have tried to talk many friends into writing a book.

Interesting. I've written two books for Apress and got essentially zero editorial help from them. A handful of writers I've talked to published by other tech publishers reported similar experiences to mine. Glad to hear they're doing something for somebody. But would-be authors should be aware that going with a traditional publisher isn't necessarily going to mean working with an experienced editor to craft your book.

That is surprising - sorry your experience was not good.

I have written a lot of books for publishers and I have some advice that might be useful in the future: always either meet deadlines or give a heads up if you expect delays; thank editors whenever they catch an error and make good suggestions; don't ignore editorial advice if you dont agree, always respond with a reason you are ignoring advice; as much as possible make some personal connection with editors even if it is just a few minute talk about family, career, interests, etc.

I always view publishers as my customers and treat them as I do people who pay me to do consulting work.

no-starch press, for me, was very good. Not only did they provide a good editor, they also got us an incredible technical editor.

It was worth the money, mostly because "the book of xen" doesn't have an incredibly large audience. We've sold less than our initial print run of 4000 copies, though we are approaching that number, so even if I got twenty bucks a copy it would have been a drop in the bucket compared to the six man-years it took to write the thing. It's possible I'd have gotten more sales if I self-published an ebook and sold it for three bucks (or whatever our cut of the book was) but I find that somewhat unlikely.

The biggest thing the publisher brings, though, is credibility. If you mention you wrote a book at a party (okay, some other guy, in another thread called me arrogant and crass. maybe he has a point? but let's be honest here. One of my primary motivations that kept me going during those three long years was to look like slightly less of an uneducated hick when I hang out with my largely highly educated friends.) the first thing people ask, when they are weighing this information, is "who is the publisher?"

Of course, the other day I was at a party with a guy who self-published a rather popular book on RoR. He mentioned how much money he was making off the thing, and I imagine most people there were rather impressed. I know I was. (when people ask me how much money my book made me, and they usually don't, I say something to the effect of "It paid for the pizza we ate while we wrote the thing.")

This was my experience with Apress as well. The editing support was fairly minimal, and usually amounted to "this chapter needs to be longer."

I've been on both the tech editing and author sides. It really depends on the quality of people that you get working with you.

The argument for ditching dead tree books is especially valid for books that have short shelf half-life: the ones that deal with quickly changing topics, such as technology. By the time that "Programming for iBlahBlah 1.2" appears in the nearby B&N, iBlahBlah itself has moved on to version 2.0 and readers are disappointed

The books that you're describing are about the only ones I actually buy in paper format anymore. I read a lot on my Kindle, but I still need paper tech books to flip around in and use as reference.

Why not traditionally publish, so that you know your work actually has economic value, use the publisher to publicise your name and retain the digital publication rights so that you can self-publish and have two revenue streams.

Because no new writer has the clout to get such a contract. Publishers know they NEED those digital rights to have a good chance of earning enough to warrant the cost they put into the writer. Especially with all the duds they put out that fail to sell they're needing to make up for.

"use the publisher to publicise your name"

Publishers may publish, but they don't "publicise". They expect you to do that. You're basically on your own when it comes to marketing anymore.

My reading suggests that once they made books. They no longer make books: they pay people who make books. They also pay people who do editing, and pay people who do covers. They've largely abandoned PR for anyone less famous than J.K. Rowling. This leads me to believe that they're essentially just VC for books, which wants to invest $20k at a pre-money valuation of $5k.

I am not seeing the attraction, personally. (I've nursed dreams of doing fiction writing for my next quirky hobby.)

There's one other thing they do. While they don't market books to readers, for the most part, they do market them to bookstores, who can be awfully picky about what they put on the shelves. If you want to get books available on the shelves in Borders and B&N (which dominate retail in the U.S.), it helps to have a sales guy in your corner with the buyers for those chains in their rolodex.

FWIW, here's an author talking about that stuff:

His books aren't being advertised to readers much at all, that I've noticed, but the publisher is going to considerable effort and expense just to get them on the shelves. Reviews were good, and readers who could find the first book in the trilogy liked it --- but "folks working on the procuring/selling side of the industry don't know what to do with these books", so they weren't doing anything, and so readers couldn't find it, because it literally wasn't on the shelves. The upshot: they're delaying production on the sequels to repackage the first book with new cover art that will hopefully confuse the chain buyers less.

For fiction, for the moment, this stuff still matters. For technical books, enough of the order stream may have moved online that it's not worth thinking about. (A harbinger: I was saddened to learn that Powell's closed their physical tech-book annex last spring, due to dwindling sales.) So, consider your market: YMMV.

This seems fairly accurate from my own outside looking in, other than the publicity (sort of). If an author is lucky enough to have several publishers bidding on their book driving up the advance, publishers are more prone to spend the extra cash on top of that for publicity.

You still need to be in a rare group to get it, it's just not QUITE JKR small ;)

Also I'd be curious to watch you market a novel length ebook with all the different things you've learned from BCC and now Appointment Reminder.

How much would you pay for a novel-length ebook?

I've paid as high as 14.99, 9.99 is highest I usually go for DRM'd ebooks when I've not been waiting for it for some significant length of time, 12.99 would be acceptable for a DRM free ebook.

Though as Konrath has shown the lower ends of the 70% price range seems to be where the money is (I'm not 100% sure I buy ALL books by an author being 2.99 makes sense, the first in a series certainly but not so sure about the rest of one...)

We're both businessmen so you know I'm saying this absolutely without rancor: I have no desire to ever do business at those price points.

Edit: Oh, you want to see me marketing a fiction ebook. Sorry, I misunderstood: I thought you wanted me to write a novel-length ebook about marketing. Disregard what I just said.

Sorry about that, since you mentioned an interest in fiction writing I figured that would be understood.

As to the other idea, yeah that would be utterly laughable unless you saw it as a way to expand your contract work, which gets away from the whole 'making money while you sleep' idea in the end.

And trust me, honesty is best especially in a community like this. Though your comment makes me think, Amazon not differentiating between fiction and non-fiction for their revenue sharing in ebooks limits how many people will want to direct sell books on topics where the book should sell for a significant chunk of change through their site. Hmmm interesting.

Be curious if they change the rules there at some point or if it simply is not worth their time, since right now it's fairly low maintenance unless they decide to remove a book for some reason.

I don't think Amazon's 30% is hostile to higher priced books directly. A book that costs 20% as much, but sells five times as many, ends up paying the same fee to Amazon.

I think the difference is that higher volume, mass market books benefit more from being on Amazon. While a specialized and pricey book won't sell to random people browsing Amazon. So Amazon is offering less value for the same price.

I think it'd be hard for Amazon to change the rules. What are they doing to do? Lower the commission on the first 500 copies you sell? That would hurt them with the people selling unpopular books who would sell nothing at all without Amazon's help. And it would annoy popular authors who are like, "Why should my rate go up the better I do?"

Lower the commission on books over a certain price? That will cause price distortion (books near the price will increase their price), and it's in opposition to Amazon's general approach to things (sell high volume cheaply). If you change the commission gradually over a range of prices, that has the downside of making the rules more complicated which most customers don't like.

Except they already create artificial prices due to difference in % by price. 2.99 to 9.99 is 70%, everything else is I believe 35%.

This makes a MASSIVE difference in the high cost books (stuff like the marketing book point that started me down the train of thought). I understand why Amazon did it with their desire to keep people selling fiction at 9.99 and under for impulse purchases, but that model doesn't make sense for other forms of writing.

It's potentially dangerous for Amazon to do this. They are essentially squeezing their suppliers in the same way Walmart does, which could potentially make room for a competitor to target the higher price-points.

The more Amazon squeezes, the more high-quality authors such a competitor could get exclusive deals with. Once that happens, Amazon has lost something really important: the fact that you never have to go elsewhere.

Potentially true but at least B&N has fallen in line with their PubIt! platform for indie authors on the Nook. Exact same pricing structure to revenue sharing %s. And last I knew B&N is the only thing even CLOSE to competition for the Kindle store right now, and even it is way behind.

What about iBooks?

iBooks isn't even a blip last I heard. After all you can just read kindle and nook books on your iPad. Selection is crap too so most people I've ever asked don't even look these days it seems like.

Oh I didn't know they halved your royalty above 10 bucks. You're completely right, that's really hostile to higher priced books.

I'm beginning to wonder if it'd make sense to reset to 70% for say anything from 49.99 and up. Fiction books aren't likely to go after that price range, but educational/informative books can be reasonably priced there, working mostly like things do now while still letting amazon try to keep fiction priced at impulse purchase prices.

Absolutley- the publishers don't care about you unless you're a big name like stephen king. Plus, more than likely they'll want to keep control of the digital distribution rights. Keep it all and self publish for sure.

And, sorry for the downvote... The arrows on the iPhone are _tiny_ and I hit the wrong one :( can somebody please give this comment an extra vote?

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