More Publishing-Biz Musings

Well, my ex-agent was quite snotty about getting fired. In truth, part of the reason I wasn’t very excited about working with him is that he has a reputation for being kind of a jerk. In pretty much all the advice for authors out there, it’s repeated over and over that having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent at all. So I feel really happy about ending that relationship. Getting detailed feedback from his reader-assistants was great, but ultimately he wanted to take the manuscript in a direction I didn’t want to go, and the incredibly long turnaround times made it pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to be a priority for him.

What I’m second-guessing now is whether I’m right to jump immediately to e-publishing. After all, while most big traditional publishers don’t accept unagented submissions, there are a handful that do—big names like Baen and Tor/Forge. It’s just that the odds of getting plucked out of the slush pile are so long, and the wait times involved are, again, huge (Baen quotes a turnaround time of 12 to 18 months). And meanwhile acquisition budgets at these places are contracting; editors are being laid off; entire imprints slashed.

By contrast, e-publishing is exciting right now. That market is growing at a phenomenal rate. So while it feels sort of wrong to leave mainstream avenues unexplored, every time I weigh the calculation in my head I still end up deciding in favor of e-publishing.

But the decision-making doesn’t end there, because there’s now such a thing as e-publishers—like Lyrical Press or Double Dragon—that are fairly well-established and can offer a certain amount of institutional support for the authors they take on. The thing is, I can’t decide whether it’s actually worth it for an author to go with an e-publisher. If you self-publish an e-book, you have to do the formatting yourself, and contract with an artist for a cover image, but you get 70 percent of the profits from every sale. E-publishers will take care of the formatting for you, and they have in-house artists to do the covers. They’ll also provide some editing, maybe even comparable to what’s going on at the traditional publishing houses these days. But they take 30 percent of the profits, leaving the author with only 40 percent royalties. This is still excellent compared to the 15 percent that a traditionally-published author might expect, but that print author is getting services (like the physical printing, and getting the book placed in stores) that are very difficult for an individual to provide themselves. Formatting an e-book and getting it on Amazon and the other e-marketplaces is just not that hard.

What e-publishers don’t do a lot of is marketing. And frankly traditional publishers don’t do a lot of marketing, either, not for their midlist books. Authors have been expected to do their own promotion for quite some time now. In the e-book world, “promotion” doesn’t mean advertising, it means networking: getting the bloggers to review your book, getting readers to post reviews to Amazon, that kind of thing. So going with an e-publisher doesn’t necessarily provide much of a sales boost.

On the other hand, if an e-book sells well, some of these publishing houses are prepared to do a small print run. That’s kind of nice.

So, I don’t know. I’m still mulling it over.

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