Friday, June 10, 2011

On Amanda Hocking.

I'll have lots more to say on this in my forthcoming post on self-publishing, but here is an article about Amanda Hocking's success as a self-published author. And here is Hocking's own post about why she decided to go with a traditional publisher, at least on her next few books.

Self-publishing is an incredible amount of work, especially if you do it well, as Hocking obviously did. A self-published book that's sold less than 10,000 copies, as an absolute minimum, typically makes it much MORE difficult for an agent to get a publisher interested.

Note that I'm talking, first, about self-publishing a book that you'd actually prefer to sell to Random House or Penguin or Simon & Schuster or any of the other "biggies." Hocking's deal with St. Martin's Press-- a "biggie" by anyone's standards-- is for new material, not for the books she's already self-pubbed.

Second of all, when your sales numbers are as good as Amanda Hocking's, the rules don't really apply to you anymore.

This page, on Writer Beware (which I highly recommend to anyone who's interested in these issues), notes that the average "print on demand" book sells about 200 copies. I realize that these are print numbers, and probably a few years out of date at this point. But even with Twitter and the other tools that "social media marketing" has brought us, it's still not that easy to self-publish and self-promote-- very, very few writers find any real success at all via this avenue.

The industry is changing really fast, particularly when it comes to e-books (which is, of course, the medium in which Hocking found such spectacular success), but at least for the time being, if you decide to self-publish a book that you're hoping I'll sell to a traditional publisher on your behalf, you've just made your job and mine a whole lot harder.

9 comments:

markwilliamsinternational.com said...

Over in the UK there are currently three indie published books in the top ten. One of them has sold 75,000 and counting.

Agents are now regularly trawling the Kindle charts for fresh material with a proven market.

If an author feels they have a good book, done to the best of their ability, is it fair to spend the next few years querying agents, many of whom will take months to give a response with no explanation or advice if they reject?

That doesn't make the author a better writer. Getting feedback from real readers might just do.

And if they do get those sales numbers shifting then it seems some very reputable agents will be turning established practice on its head and querying authors.

Why does self-publishing make your job any harder? It takes five seconds to remove a book from epub if need be.

Courtney said...

Hi Mark! Again, I'm not talking here about self-published or indie published sensations that have hit the bestseller list; to be frank, the rules are always different when you're talking about someone with a proven track record on that level. I think it's great that authors have alternatives now to the traditional publishing route-- and I'm with you that the querying process can be long, laborious, and ultimately fruitless.

My expertise is on the US publishing market, of course, and there's no question in my mind that the US publishers (and presumably by extension the literary agents) are passing on some projects that the general public might actually really enjoy. Some of those self-published books are now finding homes with traditional publishers. But what I'm trying to say is that with the less-successful self-published efforts, the publishers are even less likely to get excited about them, and thus make an offer-- because by not being immediately successful, it has by some strange logic already "failed" in the marketplace.

Moreover, even if you remove the epub edition when a book is sold to a traditional publisher, there are still competing "versions" of the work for copyright purposes and the like. I've never met an editor who doesn't do ANY editing, so the "traditional publisher version" of a self-published book will not be identical to the one that the author put out on his or her own. Plus, it means that the publisher doesn't get to announce the new release and market the book the way they want to, and they don't like that.

Again, I'm not saying that you shouldn't self-publish. I'm saying that if you really want an agent to represent you on the book you are thinking of self-publishing, if you're querying me, I'd rather you held off on self-publishing until after the query process, or query me on a different project altogether. Hope that makes sense, but I'm happy to clarify further.

Jenny said...

Personally, I've decided to self publish only if I can't sell my manuscript, but it may be a bit different since I write short stories instead of novel length works. Courtney (if I may be so bold), do you know if self-publishing short stories hurts my chance at having a magazine accept it?

Marie Simas said...

I self-published (under a pen name), after working for years as a technical writer. Now my little book is the #1 selling humor essay (e-book) in the UK. I self-published in August 2010, with little promotion and no fanfare-- just a simple website and a blog. I expect to sell 2,000 copies this month, after selling over 1,000 last month (averaging about 100 copies sold per day between B&N, Amazon, and Amazon UK). Not bad for a nobody.

If I can do it, anyone can.

Courtney said...

Jenny, I'm not really an expert on short stories; traditionally, the major national magazines don't want the material to appear anywhere else, ever, without their permission (though this can be negotiated, and is laid out in the contract the writer signs with the mag). The online publications and smaller magazines may be considerably more flexible on the subject, but it's worth trying to ask what the magazine's specific policy is. You may find-- and this is not me taking a stance on the subject, understand-- that it's better to choose which stories you'll try at the magazines and which stories you'll self-publish, on your website or on Kindle or wherever. And hang on to your rights, whatever you do: make sure anyone who publishes a piece of your writing lets you keep your copyright and republish the piece elsewhere if you want to.

Marie, congratulations! That's wonderful! I hope there are many similar successes in your future.

M.P. McDonald said...

I am somewhat surprised by your comment in a reply above:

"But what I'm trying to say is that with the less-successful self-published efforts, the publishers are even less likely to get excited about them, and thus make an offer-- because by not being immediately successful, it has by some strange logic already "failed" in the marketplace."

I don't understand the need for "immediate" success. As an indie author, I can tell you that we have a much different path than a traditional author. It takes time to build up reviews and word of mouth. For me, it took exactly a year for my first book. Luckily, I was ready with a second book already indie published. Success is success, whether it's immediate or eeked out over months or even a few years. I would hope you wouldn't discount a self-pubbed book simply because it took awhile to become successful.

Courtney said...

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. I'm going to have more to say in a separate post, so feel free to keep posting questions here. To reiterate one more time, all I am asking, regarding the query process and self-published books, is that you do not self-publish the book and query me at the same time. If you're querying on a self-published book that's already sold well, that's a different situation.

Lisa said...

My great-grandfather already self-published. And sold out the first edition completely. Two copies, I believe.

Allison said...

I'm really enjoying your insight on this.

It's interesting how the landscape is changing so quickly with self-published ebooks generating a lot of sales for some authors. However, libraries are still pretty traditional and most collection development policies state that we buy books based on reviews in professional review journals, which rules out self-publishing. So even if a self-published work is quite good, it's unlikely to get into a library unless the author donates it. I don't see that changing anytime soon.