God might not be calling his elect up today, but something truly extraordinary is taking place. The gray lady herself, the esteemed New York Times, has an essay in the BOOK REVIEW section extolling self-publishing.
Neal Pollack who describes himself as “midlist, midcareer” finds that for a writer in his position, “self-publishing seems to make a lot of sense.”
He plans to put out a novel that he doesn’t believe would be the “easiest proposition for mainstream publishers” as the theme doesn’t involve vampires, but Jews and basketball and the length is short. He plans to charge $4.99 and believes this will quickly earn him the equivalent of a pleasant advance.
He thinks there may be expenses including of course cover art and plane fare if he decides to do “readings and on-the-ground media in New York and Philadelphia where the book is set.” He mentions a “modest print run.” Good luck with that, Neal.
Neal references Amanda Hocking (of course). He writes of Stephen King’s e-book experiments, but he seems to have no real clue about what savvy self-publishers already know. He writes, for instance, that he wouldn’t recommend self-publishing to a “first time author.” Yet, several first time novelists who found the gates closed on traditional publishing have done quite well on their own.
I’m not an expert, nor am I Amanda Hocking for that matter. My own experiment with self-publishing has yielded only modest results, but I know enough to know that Neal might want to do a little more research before setting out. If you happen to have stumbled onto this, Neal, might I ask you to examine a few of your assumptions and assertions:
Price point: $4.99? Yes, that’s half what Amazon is charging on Kindle for your book, Never Mind the Pollacks, The Literary Music of Neal Pollack which is not exactly flying off the shelves, but $4.99 is still considered a lot for a self-published e-book even by a previously published author. Stephen Leather and JA Konrath have turned their back-lists into gold at 99 cents a piece, and even the New Yorker’s Susan Orlean who will be entering the fray with a short work to be published with some hoopla by Amazon, will be charging no more than $1.49. Yes, you have a following, but maybe not at the Kindle Store yet or for the type of book you are planning. Most of the bestsellers on Kindle are genre novels — mysteries, thrillers, and those “teen vampire” books you make fun of. Books like the one you are writing don’t appeal to publishers because the market is small, not non-existent, just modest and the gamble on a print run may be not be one publishers can afford. E-books cost less to produce. But there’s a glut of high quality, self-published books selling for less than $4.99, on Kindle. You may find your market there, but it won’t be huge and you’ll have to work for it. Your competition won’t be the $9.99 bestsellers from mainstream publishers, but the already known “independents” selling at 99 cents to $2.99 a pop.
Are you really in a position to give advice to first-time authors? You advise first-timers not to try self-publishing, lest they wind up in a “virtual slush pile.” Have you read anything about how difficult it is for someone, even someone with previous publishing credits to get a contract on a first novel these days, especially something like the one you’re publishing — a book with no vampires or zombies? The gates are shut. Yet, if you look at the top hundred Kindle sellers in the US and UK Kindle store, you’ll see many “indie” writers unknown to publishers. And if you take a peek at the genre lists, you’ll see even more. I’m no insider, but I am actual virtual friends with three “first-time” writers who are bestselling authors. Lexi Revellian’s book Remix, was in the top 100 in Amazon UK for months. It’s now down to around 126, but her new one Replica is holding at 50. Jake Barton’s Burn Baby Burn is #26 in the UK, and he has two others that aren’t doing badly. Dan Holloway’s first “indie” literary novel, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, got some good reviews but didn’t take off. His thriller, set in Oxford, The Company of Fellows is holding its own in the top 50 in the category of “mysteries and thrillers.”
Think about that “modest print run” you propose and find some alternative uses for the print books you don’t sell — doorstops, kindling, etc: Print runs cost money. Many successful independently published writers aren’t even bothering with them, especially for shorter books. Those that do, generally use print-on-demand. Traditional printing is less expensive for a run of a thousand books or more, but it’s still going to be both a huge risk and a substantial out-of-pocket expense. I hate to break this to you, but getting your independently published book into bookstores is going to be difficult. Prepare for rejection like you’ve never seen it. As for your plan to do “on the ground media” in New York and Philadelphia, there are tons of local authors trying to get readings at stores and to get their books onto shelves. It doesn’t sound like you’ve thought through the pitfalls, including the 55% discount and return policies that online and brick and mortar bookstores demand.
I’m not trying to be discouraging, Neal. This isn’t an exclusive club. Nobody needs an invitation. Granted, you have experience that many first-time self-publishers lack. You’ve done book publicity before, you have a name and a following, and you are a professional. But this is still a new game, and you’ll play better if you learn the rules before you jump in. Your essay in the Times implies an access to media that most new independent authors lack, but I hate to break this to you, the readers of The New York Times Book Review aren’t necessarily the biggest e-book buyers or purchasers of the self-published. Your potential readers are in places like Big Al’s Books and Pals, Kindle Boards, and RedAdept Reviews. Ever heard of them? If the answer is no, you have a lot to learn.