Self-Publishing: The New Vanity Press?


Self-Publishing: The New Vanity Press?
Annie Bellet, Jess Hartley, John C. Bunnell
OryCon 33
  • Jess: 
    • 10 years as a freelance writer, editor, and developer in RPG industry
    • put out several products herself
  • John:
    • Reviewing and writing scifi/fantasy since 1984
    • Book review columns for Dragon magazine, amazing stories, Hugo nominated short fiction team, Publisher’s Weekly. Short fiction published in traditional anthologies and magazine. Two short ebooks with traditional publisher. 
    • Networked with a number of people going with self-publishing
  • Annie
    • Bunch of short stories published traditionally.
    • A lot of experimenting with self-publishing in the last year. One novel up, and four short stories.
    • Toes in both waters to see where I can make money.
  • Everyone has to pay the rent.
  • types of publishing
    • corporate publishing / traditional publishing: a company dedicated to putting out books.
    • indie publishing: a person or couple of people. 
  • John: refers to uncio press as a traditional publisher because its a traditional contract arrangement: he has a contract, they pay him, they do the production.
  • Annie:
    • The way I see it, there is my job as a writer. That’s the same job it has always been. To write good stories that people want to read.
    • Then there is my job as a publisher: to get covers designed, to get books out, to get the word out. And that’s the same job as any publisher.
  • Jess: Panel description is a trap. Vanity press has traditionally been defined as a book that isn’t good enough. A subquality book that is being put out only because the author is willing to push it through. 
  • John: 
    • Vanity press in the traditional world is a gloried printing service, because they never had distribution, so you couldn’t get sales.
    • Print self publishing had been grouped with vanity press because until recently most self-publishers had the same problem that vanity press had: they couldn’t get distribution. Now that’s change, and distribution is available. It’s easier to set yourself to get nominally distributed.
    • With ebooks, distribution (getting on Amazon, on Barnes and Noble) is easier, but that’s only half the battle, because you still have to get noticed.
  • John: The difference is partly in the goal.
    • If your goal is to get a bunch of books on your doorstep, that’s one thing.
    • If your goal is to make money, that’s another thing.
  • Annie: 
    • Publish America’s model is to sell books to the author. 
    • Whereas self-publishing is to sell books to the reader.
  • Jess: There is a difference in the vetting process between traditional publishing and vanity publishing.
  • John: Now there are lots of services springing up to help authors with electronic publishing, and their goal may or may not be to help get a quality product out.
  • Jess: You’re now the project manager for your book, even if you aren’t doing the work to self-publish yourself.
  • John: 
    • If you are a successfully published author, the economics of self-publishing stuff that is out of print can be very good.
    • If you are a new author, it can be much more challenging.
  • Annie:
    • Not that challenging.
    • My Annie Bellet name has been traditionally published. But my other pen names, my mystery and thriller stuff, makes 10 times as much money, even though that name has no traditional publishing clout at all.
  • There’s no “made it” day in this industry. You get an acceptance one day, and a rejection the next.
  • John: You are earning rent paying money off a single novel for which you have built no online presence. 
    • Annie: Yes.
    • Jess: But not just by throwing something up there. You hired a professional editor, you hired a cover designer.
    • Annie: Yes.
  • John: Where are these things selling?
    • Annie: Amazon, Barnes and Noble. Using Createspace. Annie Blum books in Multnomah Village. You can buy through Barnes and Noble and special order it.
      • Kindle by far sells the best. Amazon is a huge data machine designed to sell shit. It has taken time...about a year.
  • Q: What inspired you to take this track?
    • Annie: 
      • I’m poor. 
      • It’s helpful to have a backlist. I have to write a lot of books really fast. If you have twenty novels sitting on the shelf you can put all that out.
  • To get the “also boughts” to show up, it doesn’t start to happen until I get 25-30 sales.
  • Chunks of the market:
    • 43% - romance
    • big - mystery
    • 7% - science fiction 
    • 6% - literary fiction 
  • Q: Are authors perpetuating the notion of self-publishing as a vanity movement?
    • Readers don’t care who is publishing what, they don’t even notice.
    • Writers are all competing with each other, it is a very small world.
  • If you want to make money in this industry, you have to go where the money is.
  • Q: How much does the price of ebooks affect things? My dad doesn’t buy anything expensive, so he probably isn’t buying anything by traditional writers.
    • Annie: I don’t think 99 cents is a good price for anything but a short story. I price my ebooks at $5.99, my print books at $12-14. Just like traditionally published books.
      • You’re selling yourself short if you are not pricing it well.
    • Jess: there’s valid philosophies behind why to do loss leaders and for pricing compared to other quality work, but it is all so new, and the aggregate data is not available. it’s all still so new.
  • John: The revenue share I get from an ebook distributed from Amazon is different that what I get for something purchased direct from the publisher. 
    • Jess: The closer you get to the source, the more financial support the creator is getting.
  • Annie: 
    • The thing that seduced me is that 70% royalty rate - you don’t have to sell very many copies to make money.
    • I also alternate between making the book free and then switching to paid.
    • More works is more money: If you have 15 books put up, then...
      • it’s 15x more times to be discovered
      • it’s crossover revenue from one book to the next
  • Annie: I am still sending work to markets. I would still like money from other people.
  • Annie: Work on the work first. Nobody is going to buy a crappy book. Focus first on creation, not on marketing. More quality work out is itself marketing.
  • If you self publish a short story, no publisher will be interested in it, because they only want first rights.
  • But if you self publish a novel, there can be a chance that a publisher might be interested in it.
  • The scale is entirely different. If you self-publish, and sell 6,000 copies a year at $4/book, that’s great. But for a publisher, that’s not good enough to renew an author’s contract.
  • Annie:
    • For each book, I calculate a breakeven point:
      • I pay myself $25 an hour as a writer.
      • I pay a cover designer and an editor.
      • So I know how many copies I need to sell.
      • At a hundred copies, I’ve paid for the cover designer and editor.
    • For my thriller, I made it free for 9 days, got 18,000 sales.
  • If you select “Premium Distribution” with Createspace, people can buy your book on Barnes and Noble site or special order in a store.
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