Category Archives: Scoop

Should I Self-Publish My Book?

If you want to be a capital “W” writer, there still is much to be said for the editing and publicity support of a publishing house — not to mention the prestige. If, however, your book is part of your business platform and you know you can sell copies in the course of your business (speaking engagements, trade shows, on your website); or, your story is simply one you know will find an audience, even if that audience is too “small” for a publishing house (see, e.g.,  Julie Flygare) — or some combination of both — you are a perfect candidate for self-publishing. Of course, there also are the E. L. James’s of the world who find a devoted online readership, which can help propel self-published E-Books up the Amazon and iBooks best-seller lists and as a result attract attention from publishers and agents. If you think that’s you — go for it! Below, my flowchart of some of the basic issues:


Self-publishing used to be sort of the secret, ugly, bastard step-child (am mixing my metaphors, I know) of the industry. But with the relative ease of self-publishing E-Books, with the success of certain self-published writers, and with digital advances that make self-published print books not only easy to do oneself but much more professional looking, I don’t think they are quite as stigmatized. As an agent, if I believe that a book is terrific but I just don’t think the big publishing houses will bite, I wholeheartedly encourage self-publishing. Likewise, if I try to sell a book and cannot — and particularly if that book has a devoted niche audience, such as Young Adult or Science Fiction (or Romance, though I don’t take on Romance manuscripts) — I will absolutely direct a writer towards self-publishing. Even if the big houses aren’t interested, we have seen that there are still readers out there, finding books through websites and listserves.

But by fervently supporting self-publishing, am I condemning the industry by which I make a living to a slow death? The thinking being: if more people are self-publishing, more people are buying and reading self-published books, thus supporting Amazon, thus further decreasing the traditional publishers’ bottom lines, thus ultimately decreasing author advances. Perhaps just as important, am I supporting a vast morass of unedited, uncurated crap?

The self-published books I have seen have been quite excellent (more on that tomorrow).  I also truly believe in supporting people who want to write — no matter how they get there. Before self-publishing became so much easier, these people were stopped entirely from sharing their stories. If they want to share them through traditional publishers, I can help them and if I am successful, I’ll make some money. But if they don’t want to — or can’t — go the “traditional” route, who am I to keep writers from sharing their books — books which I well know take time and effort and courage to write.

There are agents who troll keep an eye on the self-published best seller lists looking for authors to pick up, repackage and sell to publishing houses. I don’t do that, though I have had authors come to me seeking an agent after they were independently contacted by publishers due to the success of their self-published books. There are also agencies that set up their own sort of in-house E-Book publisher for their clients; in other words, if the agency cannot sell a book, they will help the writer self-publish through the agency’s own E-Book “imprint”, and then the agency will still take their commission. This makes me uneasy because I’m not sure how hard an agent will advocate for traditional publication if the agent knows that he or she can still make money through the agency’s own “imprint”. (I’m not sure agents should be in the business of both agenting and publishing, though maybe this is the lawyer in me being overly wary of crossing ethical, client-focused lines?) And, finally, there are certain publishing houses who have developed hybrid E-Book imprints for certain genres, such as Romance — if a manuscript is not quite good enough for a house to take the financial gamble on a print run, but there are still potential E-Book readers who can be reached through various forms of internet marketing, the publisher will create an E-book version only. I’m not sure how I feel about this either — could the writer make more money simply self-publishing? How much editorial or marketing support will the publisher actually give?

In the end, as Julie Flygare mentioned yesterday, no one who picks up her excellent memoir seems to care whether it is self-published. Is it only us navel-gazing publishing types who care whether Knopf* publishes our books?

*for those who want to be capital “W” writers, Knopf is like the Harvard of the publishing world. Big, historic, bureaucratic, prestigious. [I like to think of Scribner as the Princeton! Smaller, more nimble, friendlier, yet just as prestigious…heh]

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Filed under Alma Maters, On Writing, Publishing, Scoop

Industry Scoop: E-Book News

Do you read on an iPad or Kindle? Or do you prefer “old-fashioned” paper? Or does it matter? I love reading on my iPad for a number of reasons, including its back-lit function (I can read in bed and let others sleep in the dark) and its portability. Most of all, I love the instant gratification. If I hear about a book I want to read, I go to the iBooks store and download the “Sample”. If and when I’m ready to read it, I download the whole thing. I have spent more on books – hundreds and hundreds of dollars more – since I have become an E-reader than I did previously, when I would wait until the book became available at the library or someone gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card.

Fellow E-reading devotees may be interested in two digital startups that plan to offer monthly fee E-Book subscription services – think Netflix for books. (Source: Jeffrey Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal, subscription required.) But will publishers get on board? E-Books tend to be a source of angst for most publishers. On one hand, readers like me have spent more on books than they otherwise would have. On the other hand, E-Books sell for so much less than hard-covers, and if more people are buying E-Books at $9.99 than are buying hard covers at $25.99, a company’s bottom line suffers. Any new development with the selling and pricing of E-Books leads to greater angst, at least until the fear of the unknown is conquered.

Will readers get on board? It’s unclear whether these startups will offer best-sellers or new releases and whether the monthly subscription rate will be low enough for those who are not voracious, book-a-week readers. And if the prices are low enough to attract readers, arguably it is the authors who will suffer a decrease in royalties. (Thus, obviously, agents tend to hate subscription models.)

Another initiative retailers and publishers are trying with E-Books is the “bundling” of E-Books with the purchase of print books – in other words, when you buy a print version of a book, you can also have the E-Book for just a few dollars or, in some cases, for free. Amazon is one such retailer and is calling its service Kindle MatchBook (apparently only HarperCollins has agreed to participate in the Amazon service, though other publishers have tried other types of bundling). For E-reading fans, this could be a great idea: you love having the hard copy on your shelf, or to underline, but when you travel you want to take only your Kindle.

Of course, the agent has to ask: does this deprive authors of the 25% E-Book royalty and the 7-15% print royalty they would receive if both books were bought? Or is this a great idea in that it would boost interest in print sales and the industry in general?

There are still some issues to be worked out, the most technical of which concern the large and controversial (see: United States v. Apple, Inc. et. al.) agency model of E-Book pricing, which are described in this Publisher’s Weekly article.

Personally, I’m a fan of E-Books and their place in the industry – I heard a great story on the TED Radio Hour over the weekend about a TED talk Nicholas Negroponte gave in 1984 in which he essentially predicted the ubiquity of E-readers. There will always be print books, I suppose (though Negroponte seems to think not). But because E-Books cost far less to produce, ship and store, it seems to me at some point the industry will reach a state of equilibrium so that more people are buying books at $9.99 with a greater net profit to publishers than they have from readers buying hardcovers at $25.99.

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Filed under IP Law, Publishing, Scoop