The Fading Stigmata of Self-Publishing

Gerry Martin pointed this article by Liz Long out to me, thanks, Gerry.

The publishing system isn’t broken by any means, but the stigma behind “traditional” and “indie” publishing has really gotten my goat lately.

I’m independently published, or self-published. What does that mean? It means I do not have an agent or traditional publisher backing me. It means that I’m in control of my stories, my edits, my covers, my marketing, and everything else that goes along with it. It means that I bust my ass working towards a dream.

Does it make me better than traditional authors? Nope. We all work hard to earn our keep; they just have a little extra help.

Does it make me worse than traditional authors? Still no. I’m not just chucking up the first draft and waiting for rave reviews to come in.

Things are changing and it’s time for folks to get on board before they’re left behind. I work in magazines, but it’s no secret that the indie waves are crashing down and changing the book publishing landscape. You know the stories – how Amanda Hocking self-published and rocked the publishing world to its knees when she became a bestseller without the help of the Big Six. How hundreds of authors are hitting NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists thanks to their fans and friends, to the straight up hustle it takes to earn such a title.

Self-published authors are not desperate losers (nor were they ever, but I like to think we’re more marketable now). Those of us in it to win it are not hoping to publish one book and get rich quick. I’m not quitting my job in the hopes of writing the “Next Great Novel” (because that plan doesn’t work for me).

I don’t need to be a traditionally published author to understand what goes into my books. I put on my pants like everyone else, going through the correct steps just like traditional authors do with their work: I have an editor to check my spelling and grammar, brilliant cover designers to catch readers’ attention, and a marketing team behind me so that I’m not in it alone and completely overwhelmed.

Read the whole thing here.

I think it is a slowly receding stigma – healing stigmata, if you want. When asked, I tell people I’m independently published. I own my publishing imprint, and because I have the background, I run it like a business. I do my level best to deliver a professional product to the consumer, just as if I weren’t the artist creating it in the first place. To that end, I’ve gathered a crew of people who help me with the bits I can’t manage on my own, like editing. And it’s not easy, it’s a ton of work. But I don’t expect to wind up on bestselling lists (other than on Amazon, where they count, being generated by real sales rather than projections).

As for the slowly fading, a movie comes out in a couple of months, created from a book that was originally self-published. I read The Martian back then, before it was bought by a ‘real publisher’ and optioned to be a movie. It was good. It’s still good. The only difference is who is handling it, and the level of publicity… and that’s making a wave through readers. If a self-published book can be good, then maybe others will be, too?

It’s not going to be overnight. But already, I’m seeing the readers care less about who handles the book and more about the story inside the book.

Brad Torgersen, commenting on the article, talked about his path into publishing,

It may be another generation before the unconscious “wall” totally collapses. Too many of us were born in the age when “self” and “vanity” were synonymous.

Kevin J. Anderson said it best: publishing has now been made *easy* but SUCCESS is still as hard as it’s ever been.

Speaking from my military experience, I think it’s inevitable human nature that people begin to check each other out according to what kinds of rites of passage each of us has endured. For the vast bulk of publishing history, “making it” with an editor was a celebrated rite of passage. You knew you were “for real” when you’d cut muster with an established magazine or novel house.

Certainly the three most joyous events in my entire publishing career to date have been (in order):

1 – winning Writers of the Future.

2 – getting my first sale to Analog magazine.

3 – getting a first novel sale with Baen Books.

I am a middle aged duffer. I come from the “old” world. I think the new world is exciting (and a relief) because now there is an amazing additional option that is available to everybody, and people are making money at it. But I also think it’s not perfect either. Especially when Amazon dominates so much of the marketing and delivery mechanism. If Amazon were to fold, or get draconian with its practices, indie publishing would be in a bad place.


Cedar brings up a GREAT point: indie publishing forces the writer to actually *be* “in the business” as it were. A lot of us from the “old world” of publishing (I guess I am technically a “cusper” because I broke in right when indie was exploding?) are absolutely shit businesspeople. You can’t be a shit businessperson and manage your indie career. You just can’t. You might luck into a phenomenon, such as 50 Shades. But that’s a one-in-a-million lightning strike. The working indie writer MUST be his/her own accountant, tax specialist, marketer, art department, etc.

I respect the HELL out of the successful indie writers I know, for this reason above all others. They are doing so much more than just writing books!

I ran into this perception with the first business I ran – and I was pitched into that one headfirst with no option but to learn how, or drown – and that is that artists can’t be businesspeople. Which is BS, and lazy. It’s a matter of learning, and even if you aren’t an Indie Publisher, you still have to learn how to be businesslike, or you will be taken advantage of. How many of us know writers who blithely signed over rights to a publisher than then ripped them off for that book, and possibly others? Brad’s been fortunate – or wise, and I know where I incline with that – in that he’s working with honorable publishers.

As for the fading stigmata, it’s going to take time. It’s going to take a raft full of authors willing to put in the time and effort to prove over and over that we can deliver professional products the public will enjoy reading, and that we can do this consistently. Right now, we’re getting our toes in the door by being able to deliver those products for less than the Big Five do. That won’t last forever – someone over there is going to get a clue and realize they have to choose between obscene profits on ebooks and keeping any bit of market share. Readers choosing between the $9.99 ebook and the $3.99 ebook will buy two or three of the latter before the former. If they really really want the expensive one, they will wait for a sale, or go to their library.

And like any scar, there may be lingering marks for a long time to come. Something makes me suspect that they may come to be a badge of honor, on the other hand. We’re working hard to make a go of it, and when you work hard, you get banged up. As much of a cliche as it is, something you have to work for is worth more than something that’s handed to you. I’ve seen that over and over.

In the meantime, the advice I offer everyone who asks about Indie?

  • Write. Write more. You will survive on quantity, not quality alone. Perfection is the enemy of good enough.
  • Go into it with your eyes open. It’s a sh*t-ton of work, and still, you’re going to trip over things you weren’t prepared to do when you started out.
  • Be patient. This is going to take time, and writing, and more writing – not all of it fiction.
  • If you opt out, read the contract. Have an IP Lawyer look at the contract. Even then, know that small publishers have the unfortunate problem that they will go belly-up on a surfeit of dreams and lack of capital.
  • Study the success stories. Larry Correia, who self-published his first book. Kevin Anderson, who writes like a machine AND runs a good-sized publishing house. Hugh Howey, the self-published man of mystery (just kidding. But he’s pretty nifty to watch work). There are others, but that’s a start.



56 thoughts on “The Fading Stigmata of Self-Publishing

  1. I think Brad Torgersen hits it well. The “stigma” of indie is that whole vanity press issue of a generation ago. Yet even then there was a difference between self-published and vanity press. Two of my favorite history books are so narrow in scope they would have never found a home at a traditional publisher.

    Frankly, I don’t care if the “right thinking” folk consider me a loser or not. First, for lack of approval to hurt, you have to respect the ones withholding it. Second, the only approval I’m looking for is sales. Both come into play with Liz Long’s lament that indies can’t get a review on newspapers, radio, and TV, particularly since all three are losing customers, which lowers their advertisement value. As for university recognition, all the alumni lists are good for is mailing list for them where they can spam you, hope you’ll send you kids there one day.

    1. I actually was invited by my University to take part in a writer symposium. Most unusual, too, as they used me as the exemplar of ‘non-English degreed writer’ alongside a guy who runs a Creative Writing program (at a different school) and a trad-pubbed writer. So I think it’s the school, not the perception, even.

    2. I became partners, and eventually sole owner in a Tiny Publishing Bidness which could be termed a vanity press when the original founder started it thirty years ago. But a large part of her business were narrow-scope histories, local, institutional and company, which were so very narrow in focus that they could never have attracted the attention of even an academic publisher. I wish now that she had kept a good few extra copies of some of them, as they go for a bomb on the used book market, and they were done so long ago that there are now text files existing. (One company history that we just re-published? We had to take apart a single copy, scan each page as a jpeg, and then re-assemble into a single file.)

      Yes, still a bit of a stigma, but a fading one. Now and again I get asked about my own books – are you self-published? I look them straight in the eye, and say, “I own the publishing company.”

      1. Yes! That! “I own the publishing company’ and you own the situation. You’re in charge. Takes it from sounding desperate for approval to sounding like you have a plan.

        1. Exactly so! That is precisely the message I’ve been touting to indie writers for a bit now. You are the publishing company. You are responsible for all the bits and pieces that make up the finished product, so you either learn to do all that scut work, or you hire it out.

          1. Pretty much, yeah – we were being charged an arm and a leg for formatting our books, so I learned to do that myself, and bought the software that let me edit PDFs. Saved us almost half our expenses on that alone.
            And I can do a pretty nice lay-out, now. It’s not brain surgery, not by any means, setting margins and spacing, and installing page numbers and running heads. The latest iteration of MS Word, believe it or not, incorporated many elements useful in doing layouts which had been used in (IRRC) WordPerfect. Save the finished file as a PDF, do a little clean-up and run a ‘ready for printing’ check on it, and hey, presto – something you can upload to LSI, or to a local printer.
            I’m training my daughter as a line editor, and my brother already is a good graphics artist, so this keeps it all in the family.

              1. Family businesses work well when you expect expertise from the members of the family involved in the business. (I can think of two eponymously-named businesses local to me that have thrived through this method.) They work poorly when someone gets a job *just* because they’re a member of the family.

  2. A thought: If you really what to see things shaken up, introduce indie textbooks. One of those self-published history books was by a university professor. Having just paid more for three college texts than I did for two quarters of college when I attended, this is an area ripe for plucking.

    Here’s why I think it would work:
    First, there’s already a big shake-up in college bookstores compared when I went. This showed up in the one where one of mine attends that did not have all the required textbooks. This implies that online sales is making enough of a dent that they’re being squeezed. That’s how I ended up paying for them: These three aren’t there, and I had to order them.

    Second, the price for the things have climbed out of reason. Some of these cost more than the CRC “Rubber Book.” At least you’d keep the Rubber Book as a reference after college.

    Third, it allows professors and university systems to collect a cut of the textbook market. Odds are they aren’t going to accept an indie textbook unless the author is someone like Fenyman, or they wrote it themselves. A lot of these things are farmed off on postgraduates, anyway, and here they can cover exactly what they wish to teach.

    The problem is the medium. POD printing based on the number of students is probably do-able, and turns binding issues into an advantage for the college: more new sales (the idea here is to make it so cheap that rentals no longer are worth it). E-books would be perfect, with larger net profits, except that some professors are suspicious that a student with an electronic device may be surfing or streaming and not following along in the text.

    Hope this puts a bug in someone’s ear.

    1. I have a friend who teaches Chemistry and approached me to talk about his plans to publish a textbook. His goal is to create an affordable basic text, which I applaud. Sadly, that’s a whole different ball of wax when it comes to formatting than fiction is, and I don’t think I was able to help him much.

      1. Stupid question: How? I ran into the table as image thing, but wonder how long that will last. Illustrations as images, of course, and it might be necessary for chemistry equations to keep them intact. But anything different?

        1. When he and I talked, I was mostly concerned over the equations as illustrations, having done two things that year to influence my uncertainty: taking Organic Chemistry, and trying to help my grandmother publish her illustrated memoirs, which was a nightmare.

          1. For hard science textbooks, with all their equations, tables, illustrations, etc., it’s hard to beat LaTeX. Yeah, I know—steep learning curve, uses different skills to the programs you use, the default settings look odd—but once someone’s learned it there are tools for cross-references and indexes and glossaries that are more powerful and easier to use than what MS Word provides.

    2. Resistance to electronic texts is bound to fade as a great many high schools have gone to tablets or laptops for their students. Those schools are demanding e-textbooks to offset the increased cost of supplying each student with the hardware.
      University textbooks are a dirty little scam perpetrated by the professors and the universities in collusion. Students got around the obscene price of new books through the college used book store, so it became general practice for the professor (actually their grad students) to slightly modify the text each year then require only the latest edition for class. All to put a bit of extra cash in the pocket of the author/professor. So, yes, they will resist e-texts, but IMHO the next great dinosaurs to fall are going to be the traditional brick and mortar universities. Once the issues with accrediting on-line college get sorted out I expect to see a tremendous drop in the cost of getting a useful education. And we will see great wailing and gnashing of teeth from the traditional institutions much like what is happening today with the major publishing houses.

      1. Back in the early days of my on-line author support group, we thought that e-book textbooks would be a natural, especially when it came to revisions, which cost a bomb to do for a printed textbook.
        Yes, indeedy, the establishment academics will resist, tooth and nail, the use of ebook textbooks – no graft in it for them.

      2. The current iteration is to require online access, bought by the student, in addition to the book. This prevents the student from buying the previous edition and using that in class, since the homework problems are shuffled and assigned differently.

      3. That said, the issue of students goofing during lectures is real, which is why incoming students at one were advised to check with their professors first. Since, to the best of my knowledge, none are involved in writing the textbooks, that’s the issue.

        OTOH, they could take the tact of my programming professor over a quarter century ago. It was a class I took for work, and it blew my mind that he tolerated slackers – until I realized he was simply providing rope. When one asked, toward the end of the semester, if he could do extra credit to keep from failing, the professor’s laugh was priceless.

      4. The professor-written books and constant revisions are also an artefact of how professors are rated; “wrote a textbook” and “X years in print” are tickboxes on their resumes.

        Plus a fat chunk of cash in their pockets… I’m pretty sure many professors make more off their book sales than their official salaries.

  3. You know, I went into this self-publishing thing with the understanding that there was a stigma attached (which is what kept me from doing it for so damn long). What I’ve found in this whirlwind first year is that the average Joe on the street is actually pretty excited for me. People I never met before have cheered me on when I walk into their store or library with my books in hand asking for them to please take a look. Sure, there are others who still look down their nose at me, but they don’t matter. And really, they never did.

    Yes, it’s a shit-ton of work. Seven days a week. (Weekend? What’s that?) From the time I get up until I go to sleep – with liberal breaks throughout depending on how close I am to deadline. But it’s so worth it. Okay, maybe not financially yet – I’m still laying out (for editors, artists, marketing, etc.) more than I’m taking in – but in the self-satisfaction category, I’m rich.

    Go back to the old way? :shudder:

  4. Indie academic texts would royally piss off the academic-industrial complex. How else are they going to make students pay $395.00 for the same fucking book, every semester, by just rearranging a couple of chapters? TRIGONOMETRY THIEVERY: 492nd EDITION.

    1. LOLOL! I just paid for my Math textbook – and figured out why I couldn’t find it on Amazon. This year’s Calculus text is a custom edition for my school. *double facepalm*

      1. See my earlier comments to Kevin. Legalized theft by the universities and the professors. Add on the “required” courses that have squat all to do with your core concentration, ie we need to fill courses no one wants in order to keep our professors employed, and you start to see what an incredible rip off and scam our current college system really is. I sincerely hope to live to see the day when it all comes tumbling down around their greedy pointed hairy ears.

      2. Huh. Just this afternoon my wife was expressing hope that maybe some books could be used in other semesters, and I mentioned I was only able to do that with two: My calculus and physics text. Add to that a third, my chemistry text. The rest were basically one course only.

        Of these, I kept my math and science texts, and as well as my history texts. The latter was used, as was my political science text. But the political science text was “changed” after that quarter, and so I couldn’t sell it back to the bookstore.

        FWIW, I also lucked out with three high school level general chemistry texts, and one biology and human physiology text. My high school was getting new textbooks in these subjects, which meant they were disposing of the old ones after that year.

        1. Seems to me that college professors haven’t done the math very well. They can get 70% royalties from Amazon if they epublish their textbooks. Of course the COLLEGE reaps nothing, but that’s a fixable problem.
          Public school systems will, I believe, gobble up opportunities for e-textbooks. Shipping, storage, and accounting hassles go bye-bye. It DOES mean that the device used to read the texts has to be managed, though.

          1. Maybe… but there are some fairly detailed articles about the relationships between school purchasing systems and the textbook publishers that you can find online. The publishers are embedded in the system like a tick in a belly-button, and usually have multi-year contracts to prevent poaching from other publishers.

            The other problem is, since the one thing school systems have plenty of is money (despite their continual whining for more) there’s little incentive for them to go to open-source texts.

            1. Yes they have plenty of money, but they also have plenty of places to put it. Textbooks may be the only great place to save. They sure can’t save any on the insurance and retirement benefits or salary either, and building maintenance issues a killer.

    2. As we surveyed the shelves in the history grad student row at the U book store, several of us grad sufferers decided that sales tax on books was how the state recouped what it “lost” on in-state tuition. Then I went over to the geography shelf and cried. OTOH I still use two of those as references, but yeah. Amazing the depriciation, too. Was $180 in September and can get $50 in December (because they were using the book again next semester. Otherwise they would not have been buying it back, because it had been tailored for that department.)

      We will not speak of Elsevier’s book pricing.

    3. There are some indie textbooks. My father’s writing one, though I doubt it’ll be ‘Indie’ for long. SEG’s looking at it, but I’m not sure where they fit in the grand scheme of ‘academic publishing’. But that’s an odd case as there is nothing else out there for a highschool age geophysics text book (most of the college ones assume a level of math and physics that the kids Dad teaches just don’t have). Dad’s pushing for an Ebook version. He’s doing the textbook basically to codify his lecture notes for whoever comes after him at the school he teaches.

  5. To riff on what B.E. said: I do think the public is rapidly becoming unaware of the old “wall” between indie, and trad. Especially people who read a lot on kindles and other devices. The funny part is that many people who discover for the first time that my bat-cave job is writing, automatically assume I am indie; and they don’t bat an eyelash. The only people who still seem to bat an eyelash . . . are authors themselves. Which gets me back to the rite-of-passage thing.

    In indie, there are no rites of passage. It’s radically egalitarian. Radical egalitarianism is frightening to people who are used to understanding the world through vetting and credentialism. For indie, the only credential is, “Can you tell a good story and make money?” Which is, really, the only credential in trad too. It’s just that the trad attitude is still used to having the crutches of “accomplishment” to support authors’ egos when they have bad sales, or even no sales. Thus, the menagerie of literary awards, best-of lists and volumes, etc. As well as the look-down-their nose expression, when encountering an indie author.

    Kris Rusch is right: it’s the Wild, Wild West. Cowboy up.

    1. Just a note – all of us with the Conestogas sitting in St. Louis deeply appreciate the mountain men (and women!) who’ve been opening up the frontier for us.

      I know that I am going in with a FAR better knowledge of the hazards, and how to deal with them, than I would have just five years ago.

      1. We’re trying to leave a well-marked trail, with maps. Even going back and making corrections when a wash-out wipes a branch of the path off the map. Seems the least we can do.

    2. Oh, I like that. I’m a Radical Egalitarian. I like the sound of that. And having known some cowboys, and ridden cowponies, I know what that means. It’s not the Hollywood perception. It’s damn hard work, can see to cain’t see, with dust and sh*t everywhere. But it’s real work, with real results. I can live with that, too.

    3. “Can you tell a good story and make money?”
      As you correctly point out, those should be the credentials for tradpub, but in a great many cases that simply is no longer so. That an indie author can out sell a tradpub darling is an offense to their self worth and judgement. And the more often it becomes the norm the more it fuels their anger.
      It’s why they hate and despise Amazon. It’s why they hate Baen, see Toni and company buy and publish what the readers want, not what they think a reader should want. How terribly uncouth of her.
      As for Kris Rusch’s comment, all I can add is Yippie kai yay M_____ F_____! (infamous movie quote for those unfamiliar with the genre)

      1. Yep, mostly they care about who wrote it so they can seek out another good read. The publisher matters only in so far as setting a trend. We all know for example more or less what to expect when we see that exploding rocket ship on the spine. For just about any other traditional publisher their logos set off a caution warning, as they have developed a reputation for putting out far too much dreck and ignoring what the readers really want.

      2. If you poll general public readers – not those who are engaged as most of the readers of this blog are – you will find that the vast majority of them don’t have an idea of who published what. They follow authors, not publishers. Baen being the exception that proves the rules, as usual.

        1. Bingo. The thing about indie publishing is the writer must do everything. OTOH, it looks like traditional press expects the writer to do more of the work, anyway, and with e-books you don’t have to worry about wholesale work, stocking, removing books that don’t sell, and so forth and so on.

          1. That’s what has me shaking my head at most trad pub news I read. The author gets to do the marketing, blurb and cover copy, write everything, often has to hire a copy-editor because the houses don’t do that too well any more, and run a bunch of social media platforms. And in exchange they get ??? Something’s a “wee bit” off with that picture.

            1. What’s that old joke? “If it wasn’t for the honor of it all, I’d just as soon pass.” Referring as I recall to a politician being ridden out of town on a rail, or at least something of that nature.
              All the traditional houses have left is the prestige of letting an author through a gate that no longer has walls around it. Deep down they know this which explains to some extent the vitriol they constantly spew against any threat to their quickly crumbling empires.

        2. I dunno… as an early teen I learned that Dell was usually readable, Ace and Ballantine were 50/50, Signet, DAW, and Pyramid were maybe 25/75, and Laser was usually a waste of wood pulp. There were a bunch of smaller houses, but I didn’t see enough of those to get a useable sample set.

          I got most of my new books from department or grocery stores then. They were mostly stocked by a local company called Anco Distributing, which delivered in white StepVans. If I saw the van outside a store I’d go in to see what was new. All the stores got the same books, more or less – some had more rack space than others.

          Anco, or that particular delivery guy, stocked the shelves by genre, then publisher. So when I went to the SF section I’d skip from publisher to publisher, then go back over the others if I had any money left.

          We still had a “book store” then, but they carried maybe three feet of SF, most of it years old and getting shopworn. If you wanted the new stuff you went to Magic Mart or Safeway.

          1. Sorry, TRX, I hate to tell you this… But you aren’t the general public 😀

            You’re one of those rare and valuable critters known as an engaged reader, and as authors, we wish there were more of you.

  6. I’ve been reading indie almost exclusively lately. That decision has been based solely on price. The one trad book I’ve purchased from one of my favorite authors left me extremely disappointed. I love Butcher but 6.99 for what turned out to be three shirt stories made me feel like I’ve been ripped off. The writing was great and it is partly my fault that I didn’t look a page count but the price indicated full length. Looked up Kevin Hearnes latest and they want over 13$ for an ebook. That is straight up theft.

  7. Tradpub imprints discriminating against indies? Well, that shouldn’t surprise anybody. Book publishing is and has always been a low-margin business that depends heavily on impatient enthusiasts paying top dollar for $27.95 hardcovers. The indies have already established in the minds of many readers (including a lot of those “power reader” enthusiasts) that ebooks should cost something south of $10. Amazon, by selling remaindered books through affiliates for a couple of bucks plus postage, is reinforcing that same price point for tradpub. It used to be, Wait for the paperback. Now it’s Wait for the book to be remaindered.

    The high-cost, low-margin New York imprints feel that indies are threatening their very existence, and y’know, they’re right. I don’t blame them for being terrified. Just about all they have left is cachet, and the cachet tanks are getting pretty damned empty.

    Whether you want to be an indie or not, I advise writers to get a copy of Jutoh, learn layout, ask around for freelance editors and cover artists, and generally get ready for the day when you no longer have a choice. That day is coming on fast.

    1. After tinkering with pricing my own books, and those of my clients who publish through the Teeny Publishing Bidness, I have about worked out an optimal pricing strategy for print books which works for us – 6×9 paperback (or perfect bind) , between 250-300 pages long, at 12-point font. If you have an account with LSI/Ingram, that will mean about $4 to print per copy give or take the page count, although there are volume discounts beyond 50 copies at a time. Make the book returnable, and offer the 55% Ingram distributor discount (which they then offer 40% as a wholesale discount to vendors) which means that in order to make a sliver of profit, you will have to set the retail price at and around $12-14, depending. You won’t get very much from those sales — but if you sell directly, that over your print costs are gravy.
      Casebound is more expensive, clothbound with a color dust jacket is even more. I have a hardbound/dj all in one version of the Trilogy which I don’t make more than a dollar or two on per copy because it costs so darned much to print. (sucker is about 1,000 pages long) – but I offer it as more of a courtesy to readers than anything else.

      I feel the pain of the linked indy-writer who doesn’t get a speck of joy from her old college or her local newspaper. My local fishwrap had the same principle, according to the book pages editor, who deigned to be rather snotty to me in 2008 or so, when I called to ask about the chances of a review of my first novel.
      I’ve done eight novels since then, and the local fishwrap has withered away to a pale and diminished thing. My books are in the local libraries across the Texas Hill Country, I do book events all the time, and the local history museum stores also stock them, so, who is being snotty now?

      For pricing e-books? given a page count of 300 or so – anything between 2.99 – 5.99. Much less, you are undervaluing your work, anything more, you are causing the purchasing customer — who may be deciding to take a chance on a relative unknown — to reconsider.

      YMMV, of course.

      1. If you’re on Kindle (and how can you not be?) anything under $2.99 cuts your share of the take to 30% rather than 70%. So it’s safe to say that in today’s reality, $2.99 is the lowest price that sane people go for anything over 75-100 pages.

        My own micropress does a slow but steady business in print books sold through Amazon, but no way in hell will I make them returnable simply to get them into bookstores. The stuff that makes money for me is preservation material that caters to small circles of enthusiasts who would otherwise have to dig it up out of crumbling old magazines and 150-year-old books. You don’t sell things like that in bookstores.

    2. > wait for the book

      That could be one reason the big publishers have been favoring series so much in recent years. My reading speed has often outrun my discretionary income; after sorting out likely candidates, books are fungible. More than once I’ve just randomly picked through the stack and put the other back on the shelf. Maybe next time.

      A series book, though, is (hopefully) a known quantity. If I liked the previous volumes, I’ll probably like that one. So it’s not just more likely to make it into the “buy” stack, I could possibly be enticed into paying a bit more for a (nearly) sure thing.

      But not $27.99. And what would I do with a hardback once I finished with it? All my bookcases are sized for paperbacks, and just on volume, the hardback would have to displace three or four paperback volumes. New hardback sales to me so far: zero. Projected sales for the rest of my lifetime: also zero.

  8. While “self-published” is ungood in fiction, it doesn’t seem that way for nonfiction. When someone has information a publisher feels has too small of a market to be profitable (enough) for them, people often publish on their own. I’d paid $100 for POD technical books, and $45 for five photocopied pages with a staple. That’s not even counting the prices for technical or scientific papers, which are beyond ridiculous.

    1. Hear, hear – the Teeny Publishing Bidness made a good living out of publishing micro-local histories over the last thirty years. There is materiel out there, that is of intense interest to enthusiasts …
      One of our own recent books was by a local historian, intensely interested in making available all the documents from various archives to do with a local event. I actually heard two other enthusiasts talking about a need for this whilst at a book event last year – and tipped them off to what we had in the works.
      It’s a labor of love for this particular author – he has spent his life for the last couple of years, researching this issue. Likely, serious historians in the future will be able to make use of his work.

      1. The true beauty of indie, or at least a good part of it, is that between e-books and print on demand you have the ability to properly serve any of the micro-markets that major publishers never would even consider.
        With something on the order of a billion English as first or second language in the world if you have anything of value to write about I guarantee there is a market out there. But then putting your work out there is only half the job. You then have to figure out some means to let your potential market know you’re there and how to acquire your work.
        Tis a wondermous new world in which we live, ain’t it though?

  9. Way back at the turn of the century, I had a webcomic that had spilled over from my college days*. At that time, webcomics not only made no money (aside from a couple of notable outliers who did merchandise out the wazoo), the general perception was that webcomics would never be a moneymaker except for the merchandise-heavy folk, and that it was the failure ground for people who couldn’t make it in traditional comics—that is, the newspapers.

    Well. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there are quite a few people not only making money but a living from webcomics, from Howard Tayler to the <a href=""Foglios (who, it should be noted, went FROM traditional comics publishing to the web, giving away their work for free—and who saw a huge boost in sales of their print versions thereby.) But what you saw in the webcomic industry fifteen years ago maps very closely to what you’re seeing around indie publishing now, in terms of the verbiage and perception.

    *I quit a long time ago, when I decided to concentrate on things that actually had a return (not just in money, but in attention; one nice comment a month is not enough to make up for time that could be spent elsewhere. I’d still like to return to that someday, but the cost/benefit ratio doesn’t work right now.)

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