Friday, February 4, 2011

Who to Choose? Part 1

Currently reading - Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

JUST A REMINDER:  Over the next few posts, I'll be reviewing the some of the players in non-traditional book distribution.  I DO NOT advocate any particular company.  What you'll be reading is my thought process as I work through my decision-making.  I can, and probably will, make a ton of mistakes.  Your mileage may vary.

With the book market is a wild state of flux, it's every woman for herself.  There's a ton of smooth talking charmers who want to part you from your money.  (PublishAmerica, Author Solutions, or Harlequin Horizons, anyone?)

But there's a big difference between vanity publishing and indie publishing, the primary one being the flow of money.  To paraphrase the great SF author Harlan Ellison, money should flow to the writer.  Anything else is bullshit.

(Editorial Note:  Angie Benedetti pointed out Ellison was actually quoting James D. McDonald, who coined Yog's Law.  I know James D. McDonald better as the mastermind behind Atlanta Nights, a deliberately bad novel written by McDonald in collaboration with several fellow members of SFWA to prove PublishAmerica was a vanity press, not a legitimate publisher.  McDonald and his cohorts went on to publish Atlanta Nights through with all proceeds going to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund.)

You, the author, should be getting the money minus your overhead.  And you're going to have a certain amount of reasonable overhead costs with ANY business.  Your job as the business owner is to keep your overhead low and maximize profits.  Sounds simple, but it means doing your homework.

Let's start with Amazon.  Their timing for introducing the Kindle dedicated e-reader was nothing short of excellent.  The e-book market has been steadily growing for the last ten years.  Their Kindle uses E-ink, which is much easier on the eyes for those people who have issues looking at a backlit screen for extended periods.  Their market share in the book industry has been criticized as a monopoly, but this also means they're able reach a large number of potential customers.  Amazon was also the first major book retailer to welcome the Jo Blo indie publishers.

I strongly suggest you thoroughly read Amazon's terms.  Amazon's subsidiary CreateSpace allows an indie publisher to stock paper books, in addition produce works on other media.  Amazon's big draw though is the percentage split on Kindle e-books.  Under Amazon's terms, the author/indie publisher receives 70% of the gross income, not 25% of net income, which is the current standard term with the Big 6 house.

Let's do the math.  I'll use $10 for the book's retail price for simplicity's sake.  If you publish a e-book with Amazon, your income would be $7.  If you publish an e-book through a Big 6 house, they sell to a retailer for roughly 50% of the retail price, meaning they only get $5.  They get to deduct their overhead cost, so let's assume overhead is $4.  $5 minus $4 equal $1.  You, the author, receive 25% of $1, or $0.25.  Who doesn't want $7 in the hand rather than a quarter?

(For a much better analysis of the money, go read Dean Wesley Smith's breakdown on cash flow.)

The second big advantage of course is Amazon's reach through the internet.  You don't have to worry about whether you can ship books to the only bookstore in Cicely, Alaska.  And if you still have your world rights, you can sell to your fans in France or Germany through Amazon as well.

The last big advantage is that Amazon pay authors/indie publishers on a monthly basis compared the Big 6 only paying bi-annually.

Disadvantages can include Amazon's sometimes arbitary changing of terms, but so far I haven't heard of them doing that to the indies.  If someone has a story, please feel free to share.

As I've said before, I like to do pro/con lists, and right now there's a lot of pluses on my Amazon list.


  1. This was an interesting read, Suzan. I had heard of CreateSpace but only heard a little. Thanks for taking the time to write this post.

    Just finished my morning chores and now I'm having a bit of coffee while reading a couple of blogs.

    Hope your day goes well and you get to eat something yummy.

  2. Thanks, Ivy! DH and I have both owned our own businesses over the course of the last twenty years so I've got a vague idea of what to look for. I thank my writing buds on a daily basis for helping to fill in the cracks.

    As for food? Well, we're iced in here, and a little disappointed we didn't get the promised 1-3 inches of snow. So it's an excellent day for some homemade bread and a pot of Cincinnati chili.

  3. Yog's Law: Money flows toward the writer. [nod]

    I'll note, because I've seen some confusion lately,* that some expenses do properly belong to the writer. If I decide to pay however many thousands of dollars it costs now to go to Clarion, frex., that's professional development and is my own expense, not my publisher's. (Although if they want to pay, that's awesome, :) and if I pay myself it's tax deductible.)

    If I decide to go to the World Science Fiction Convention (where even writers who participate in programming have to buy memberships and pay all their own expenses unless they're a bona fide Guest of Honor (the volunteers who work the convention also buy memberships -- this is all in the convention bylaws)) as a promo effort, then that's something I've decided to do and doesn't violate Yog's Law. If my publisher tried to require me to go, but didn't pay my way, that'd be a violation, but if it's my choice then it's fine. (Whether or not it'd return enough extra sales to make up for the expenses is something else -- I've heard "no" from a number of writers over the years. Most of the writers who admit SF con attendance doesn't pay off as a promotional effort go anyway because it's fun, but don't tell the IRS. [grin])

    If I decide to have business cards printed, or postcards with my book cover on them, or pens with my web site URL, or whatever other marketing swag to give away, that's a legitimate expense. It'd be great if my publisher decided to do it, but if not, then it's something I can do for myself without violating Yog's Law, which has to do with the business dealings between writer and publisher, writer and editor, writer and agent.

    I can pay to do supplemental promotion if I want to. If my books won't sell at all without that promotion, because the publisher (which claims to be operating as a traditional publisher, rather than merely providing (reasonably-priced) services for my indie publishing efforts) isn't doing anything at all to try to sell them (see: PublishAmerica, et al) then that's a problem.

    Angie, who's really not getting paid a nickel for every parenthesis [cough]

    *PS -- some m/m writers are trying to put on a small conference later this year and, not having much money, are charging writers to come (and more than your average small SF convention charges, but 1) this isn't an SF con, and 2) it's a start-up with what sounds like very little seed money), and are asking (not requiring, but putting the opportunity out there) for writers attending to sponsor some events for the readers. There's been some... debate [cough] over whether this was a "rip off" or a violation of Yog's Law. IMO it's more a matter of spreading the call for seed money among a larger pool of people. New conventions will usually have one person or a small group of people with relatively deep pockets who contribute seed money, folks who can afford to wait several years to get their money back, or maybe never get it back at all. I get the impression that's not the case here, so they're looking for contributions. Since you can participate as a writer without contributing anything beyond your membership money, IMO this is legit.

    PPS -- "Yog" of Yog's Law was James D. MacDonald, AKA Yog Sysop, boss of the Science Fiction RoundTable back on GEnie in the 80s and 90s, not Harlan Ellison. Although the sentiment is definitely Ellisonian [cough/grin] my guess is he would've expressed it at least a bit more colorfully. :D

  4. Angie,

    Thanks for the correction on proper attribution to Mr. McDonald. The first time I heard it was an Ellison interview years ago. And yes, Ellison was much more *ahem* colorful, which was why I paraphrased what he said. *grin*

    I was planning to review legit overhead later in this post series. I'll make sure I give you the proper credit when I quote you extensively. LOL

  5. Another con is the reviews that can be posted on Amazon...which are both for traditional and epubbed...I'll never understand why people can be so mean sometimes!

    I'm looking forward to your journey, Suzan (and mine too!)

  6. Hey Tess! Got your seatbelt buckled, right?

    You're right though. Trolls can hit you whether you're trad-pubbed or indie-pubbed. I left the whole reviews thing off my list for Amazon because it can just as easily happen on a zillion other review sites.

    I try not to worry about the trolls, and I try to put together the best product I can for the people who will matter to me--my fans.

  7. Homemade breads ... ah ... now that's good living.