Do you remember when you'd walk into Barnes & Noble (or Borders if you were a hipster weirdo) and see the rows and rows of beautifully stacked books with cover art that would make Salvador Dali drool? If you were a writer like me, you thought to yourself that one day you would be here. Your book would be the one in the bargain bin that the homeless guys would take into the bathroom for ten minutes and then put back.
When I started writing in the 90's, I sent every short story to every magazine and every novel to every literary agent and publishing house on the planet (literally; there were even some letters sent to agents in Africa and Eastern Europe). While I had some success with short stories, particularly my science fiction, my novels were rejected time and time again, even though I knew many of them could be bestsellers if just given a chance.
But there is a massive disconnect in the publishing world: agents want works they deem "important" (which means boring) and publishers want what they think are going to be bestsellers. So not only does your work have to strike an agent as important, it has to impress several editors and MBA's at the publishing houses that it has bestseller potential (the publishing houses, by the way, are terrible at predicting what will and will not be a bestseller). It was not a world meant for authors and the authors lucky enough to get an agent and then land a publishing deal got scraps for royalties, no promotion dollars, and worked their tails off going from one book-signing to the next.
Then something miraculous happened: Amazon released the Kindle and allowed authors to self publish their books.
Ebooks had been around for a while, but Amazon was truly the trendsetter and the largest bookstore in the world. It changed and is still changing the way the world reads. Amazon is so innovative, so author and reader friendly, that I wholly predict that in the future Amazon will be the only source to buy most books from. Mark my words (is that still a phrase by the way?).
I decided to give epublishing a try at this time. Why not? My novels had been rejected by every agent and publisher out there; may as well give it a shot myself. I had a few novels I'd written years ago and a new one that I'd just polished off. I started publishing in June of 2011. So let's look at a period after six months, which is a pretty good chunk of time to determine if something is working for you. Here are the numbers for December, 2011, six months after I started epublishing my books:
Total Books sold for the month: 43,841
Biggest Bestseller: THE WHITE ANGEL MURDER with just over 30,000 copies
Number of reviews for all books: 27
Highest Rank Achieved: #28 in Amazon overall, #1 in mystery and police procedural.
Let's just look at my bestseller, THE WHITE ANGEL MURDER. The current list price for that book is 2.99. Assuming the current list price (though the price swung in December between .99 cents and 4.99), that's over $60,000 in royalties from one of my books in one month. That number is absolutely staggering. Granted, that was my biggest month by far. Though I didn't make $60,000 because of the experimentation with price, I did make well into the five figures. This month I will receive royalties in the five figures as well, and for a few months to come.
I am a successful trial lawyer by profession. I defend high-level drug dealers, gangsters, and represent multi-million dollar corporations in litigation. I've put eight years into college and law school and years and years grinding away at law firms and government agencies gaining experience before I went out on my own and began my own firm with a partner. But all of that pales with how much money I am currently making with my little novels I sell on Amazon. I am literally making more at this part-time writing gig than I do as a partner at a successful law firm. Every new Jon Stanton book I put out makes me $10,000 the first month and I'm inundated with emails about when the next release is hitting the virtual shelves. This would have been rarer than a hippie in a shower before Amazon released the Kindle.
I have been approached by literary agents about signing with them and finding a traditional "big six" publisher. So how much of an advance can I expect from one of these behemoths of the publishing industry? $15,000. No joke, that is the average advance. On top of that, I have to do book signings, have them choose the cover art, the price, and make the final editing decisions. Also, if they decide it's not worth pursuing because it doesn't have bestseller potential, they won't promote it. And if I promote it myself, my royalties would be 17.5 percent. Why would I, in my right mind, sign with them and give up potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Amazon is so ahead of the curve that it's made the publishing houses and other retailers look like bumbling fools in comparison. Recently, Barnes and Noble declared war on Amazon refusing to sell any book or ebook published by Amazon. Brilliant move Barnes and Noble. You will be sorely missed as you file for bankruptcy.
This just shows what dinosaurs the publishing industry has become. Some publishers refuse to take on successful authors that have self published ebooks because they wish to curb the industry. Are they crazy? I'm telling you, these are the same guys who fought DVD's in favor of video cassettes, who fought cars in favor of horse and buggies, who fought fire in favor of warming food on the backs of horses. They are a dying breed, and the sooner they die off the better. They stand not only in the way of the writer, but the reader as well.
I used to walk into Barnes and Noble and really have a hankering to read a good monster book like JAWS. If I was lucky, I might find one. It would probably be overpriced and crappy but I had few other options. Now, I can go to the Kindle Store and find hundreds of these types of books by indie authors, most of them no more than a few bucks. As a reader, I couldn't be happier.
I think I have these agents that keep contacting me figured out though: they think that I want the prestige of a traditional publishing contract more than I want the thousands and thousands of dollars I make self-publishing. If that's you, and your ego is so fragile that you need the approval of the literati over making a ton of money, good for you. Have fun in your studio apartment. I hear Top Ramen makes a lot of new flavors now.
As for the rest of us, I would say this emphatically to any new writer thinking about whether to pursue traditional publishing or self publishing: DINOSAURS GO EXTINCT FOR A REASON. Forget them, forget the big six, and write good novels, make good covers, and get them up into the Kindle Store. In a couple of months, you'll laugh that you ever even wanted to be a slave to a publishing house.
And, dear Victor, how exactly do we make a lot of money selling ebooks?
Do you want my secret? I'm happy to share it with you: write good books. Did you get that? No? WRITE GOOD BOOKS.
If you love mysteries and you write a paranormal romance because you think that's what's hot right now, how good is your book going to be? About as good as a Pauly Shore movie (okay, okay, Encino Man was awesome).
Not enough for you? Then one more secret: have something distinctive about your book. Why is your book different from the hundreds of other books in your genre?
THE WHITE ANGEL MURDER, and its sequels, are my best works. They also have something distinctive about them: the protagonist, homicide detective Jon Stanton, is a practicing, devout Mormon (as I am). Seems like a minor detail that wouldn't really add anything to the story, doesn't it? Well look at my reviews for that book and then tell me that. Every negative review that I recall doesn't say anything about poor suspense, or characterization, or plotting. They all talk about the religion in the book and that religion makes them uncomfortable. Then you have many positive reviews sticking up for the book and for religion. It was like a little battle between the faithful who bought my books and atheists. When you can strike some cord like that, something that polarizes people, you've got something special.
And a final third secret you say? No problem: actually write.
Seems like an easy thing for a writer but I'm shocked how much time some of the young writers that contact me spend doing anything but writing. One person informed me that they spend two hours a day on twitter and have a full time job. Well if that's the case, how much time do you think he is spending writing? Maybe half an hour to an hour a day. What a waste.
I know indie authors love promoting their books on Twitter, but it's a waste of time. I recently had to do a purge of followers because the thousands of writers I was following lambasted me with two or even three or four posts a day. They got a five star review, post. They got a four star review, post. They were featured on some crappy blog that nobody reads, post. Their mama said their book is better than THE GREAT GATSBY, post. It made Twitter unusable for me. And I guarantee those writers didn't sell a single book that way. Nobody likes in your face sales. It makes you think the product is crappy.
Instead of Twitter, get on that ole' laptop and crank out some novels, some short stories, some novellas, even some poems if you're up to it. But get to that keyboard and actually write.
There has never been a better time to be a writer. But it won't fall on your lap. It takes work, like anything else that's worthwhile. Write good books, make them distinctive, get out a plethora of work every year, and give the middle finger to the Big 6 and Barnes & Noble and join the flock of Amazon and I guarantee you that you will have success beyond your wildest dreams.