I was asked recently whether I thought it was better to self-publish or traditionally publish.  Truth is, I don't know.  This article suggests that some known and respected authors are choosing to go "indie." But they have an advantage over the rest of us--a following.  Fans of their work will buy their indie books no matter who publishes them.

Several years ago, I'd have said that traditionally published authors have a huge advantage, in that they have the publisher's "in" with bookstores and booksellers, and they have the publisher's PR machine promoting their work.  But more and more brick-and-mortar bookstores are closing their doors as online booksellers are cornering the market, so that "in" is no longer as huge a deal.  Anybody who writes a book can put it up for sale on Amazon. And as for that PR machine, most publishers these days won't even touch an author who doesn't have a lively personal website or blog and  a decent following. The author is expected to carry a lot of the PR workload, taking part in and promoting blog campaigns, etc. 

Royalties for traditionally published books are complicated, but if you think an author who finds a publisher has hit it big, guess again. The author gets something between 8 and 14% of the publisher's profits.  There's no easy formula to get at that, but the hard truth is an awful lot of books never make it past the first printing, and most contracts give the author lower royalties for those first books.  Mirror has gotten excellent reviews, but it hasn't broken that barrier.

The average paperback runs about $7.99 a copy. If you figure that booksellers are marking them up a modest 47%, the publisher is getting $4.23. Figure the same markup for the publisher, and the profit after cost of production is $2.44. The author's 10% of that (if they're lucky) runs 24 cents a copy sold. And keep in mind, especially in the first run, that an awful lot of copies are given away. If an average first run is 10,000 books and most books don't break that number, let's be optimistic and figure 9,000 copies will be sold.  At 24 cents a copy, the author might make $2,160. Total. That is the reality, folks.  Break that down by the number of hours the author poured into the book, and likely s/he made pennies per hour invested.

So let's compare it to indie published authors.  Amazon offers authors the chance to choose either 35% royalties or 70%.  If they go for 70%, they have to price the book at $2.99 or more.  But if you're a brand new author and nobody's ever heard of you, you'll be lucky to sell your book for 99 cents a copy at first.  Still, even 35% of 99 cents is a little more per book sold, right? Sounds like a better deal.  But keep in mind that it's likely you're going to need to run some "freebie" campaigns to get enough readers to help you out with word-of-mouth promotion (and that's assuming your book is dazzling enough to get those mouths yapping).  And unless you're really good at marketing, you probably won't sell as many as you would with a publisher's PR behind you. So in the end, you might be lucky to average out to the same 24 cents per copy sold.

I know at least one young writer, who (I'm probably prejudiced since I've known her since she was in her mama's belly) I think is good enough to be traditionally published, but she's decided to go indie.  Will she succeed? We'll see, and if and when she actually gets her book out there (right now she's still got quite a bit to do to make it ready), I'll let you know how it goes and what she does to promote it on her own.  I also know of another writer who made way more from her first indie book than I've made from two traditionally published, but she had some professional marketing experience. 

What I do know is this: when I find some time to read a novel, I usually veer away (mostly) from indie work, unless I know the author or the book is recommended by a reader I trust.  I've picked up way too many indie books that were so badly written it was painful.  I've seen some real doozies that made it past traditional publishers, too, but I still choose books that I know were vetted in a competitive market, and that went through a professional editor. And if I assume that my preference is fairly common, then I still have to say that most indie authors have their work cut out for them if they want to make as much as a writer who finds a traditional publisher.

Are you an indie author? I'd like to hear about your experiences, so post a comment!

Wow! So when I posted that I was going to keep the site, little did I know!  Seems when I renewed with my host, through some miscommunication (because the host has like a dozen "products" and I don't know what most of them are...) I renewed the hosting contract, but let the domain itself expire.  Enter family--a loved one has been going through some awful stuff lately, and I've been trying to be there for her, so I hadn't really bothered to look in.  And when I did...

What? No website?  I email the host, who tells me the problem and that because my domain expired, I might have to redeem it for $160--and that's BEFORE the additional domain renewal fee.  Thankfully, that didn't have to happen, and my host's staff was very helpful getting everything back in order.  But it took several days and quite a bit of angst... 

Anyway, it's good to be back!