The Woes of Self-Publishing Part II

snoopy_typewriterSince The Woes of Self-Publishing Part I went up a couple of weeks ago, I’ve fielded a few questions regarding some of my comments. I thought I would put together a Part II in case anyone else had the same inquiries:

Q: In the initial post, you said one of the main problems with self-publishing is the limited distribution. Does this pertain to the ebook market as well?

A: My response was with regards to physical copies only, but I assume ebook publishing would indeed allow you to get your work to more people. You do limit yourself to those who have access to e-readers though, which is something to consider based on the demographic of your target audience. As you said, the 70% payoff can be a great incentive, but you still have to work for every sale (some people like having this much direct control, so it just might ba a viable option for them). If you gain enough hype this way, you can actually get bookstore deals once you hit a certain number of sales (much like Amanda Hocking and P.D. James).

Q: It seems you have a rather negative outlook about the quality of self-published books. I find this disturbing as they seem to me to be much higher quality than your average mass market book. Where does this strong opinion come from?

A: It is possible that the ones I’ve dealt just happen to be from lower-end publishers, but I have seen hundreds of these books over the last ten years of my career and my conclusion is drawn from that. The quality is not always horrible, but to me they almost always look less professional. I will admit that I have occasionally seen some standard-looking printings over the years, but the author usually ends up charging $10 to $15 more than the market price to compensate for the higher-quality printing price. As self-published books are already slightly over-priced (mostly because the small publisher doesn’t have the resources or scale to compete with the big companies), this severely cuts back on your sales opportunities, especially if you’re not there to hand-sell them.

As for the formatting, self-published books most often come in a trade paper format, which are always higher quality than mass markets – this is true for traditionally published books as well. My initial comparison was between trade papers only, as mass markets are in a category of their own. I wish I could line up a bunch of the self-published books we’ve got next to the traditionally published ones to show you what I’m seeing. We at the bookstore have a private joke running at how blatantly they stand out. In any case, just because I’ve had some negative experiences with them doesn’t mean it’s not a viable option. These are just more things to consider when making your decision.

Q: I’m concerned that if I go the traditional route for publishing that my books will just get pulped if sales start to drop – how often does this usually happen?

A: The only books that regularly get returned for “pulping” are the mass markets, as its literally cheaper to destroy them than to ship them back. The publishers usually just print new ones if the demand ever increases. It doesn’t happen as often as you’d think… Nowadays, most new mass markets get featured at the beginning of each section or on nice displays located at the front of the store. The have at least three months of prime real estate to generate sales. If they are popular, they get what’s called “modeled” status, and we integrate them onto the shelves because we anticipate future sales. If they haven’t appealed to the market (or if we have too many copies – which happens to even bestselling authors), that’s when they get “pulped” and we don’t see them again until the tastes of the market change (hardcovers and trade papers just get redistributed to warehouses so they can go to other stores. If you get a deal that involves a hardcover or trade paper publishing before you get to the mass market stage, you’re chances of success increase that much more because you essentially double your exposure time).

Something to consider about “pulped” mass markets: we as employees get to take home a few, so even if it didn’t generate sales on the floor, you could be earning supporters even at the end stages of the process. Think of it as an ARC without the cost or hassle. I can’t tell you how many authors I now support and hand-sell because I had free access to the original titles (btw, if I like it, I always order it in and buy it). It’s a great way to make booksellers your champions!

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