Marketing & the Writer; New Era
My disappearance and the following stories of my demise, including some provocatively lurid theories, are basically sound, although in my defense it should be known that I was not idle. August, in the Arizonan desert, is not any fun to begin with, and much less tolerable when you are... well, older. As I hinted in an earlier blog, my wife and I have adopted a land yacht, for which we have thus far 639 pre-planned trips, all plotted and laid out. I admit to be amazed myself at how much can get done when fun is the outcome, and main point of the planning. I swear I will be writing while on the road.
I have not been idle during the searing days of our Heat from Hell period, elsewhere referred to as summer. The discussion in earlier posts focused on the changing contractual relationship on royalty payments by KDP Select program to ebook authors signed on to the program. The issue discussed was the change from per book payment method to a per page method. That is but one of the conditions dealt with by independent authors. From reading recent articles on writer/publisher relationships, by both independent and contractually published authors, what has emerged is the new reality for all authors. It's up to them to market their own books.
When I first dealt with publications by submitting poetry, things were so very different. When a publishing house accepted an author's manuscript, it was the beginning of a lengthy process between one of the house editors and the author, grooming the work, from editing, all the way through book cover design, all done in house. The current reality for authors hoping to reach a publishing house's attention, are now required to demonstrate a 'following'. Ready readers of the work to be published. One author noted he was told he would need a list of 5000 potential readers (my words). Another wrote that she was asked to have an email list of 10,000... I guess one might say “followers” or those that are waiting in the wings to snatch up the book as soon as it clears the printers. The word for that procedure is marketing.
As I've made it abundantly clear, I am an independent author, with eight books in print at this time. Another way of saying been there done that. I opted out of the traditional publishing path when I chose the independent patch, for many of the conditions mentioned above. What I see from my vantage point is that the five major publishing houses have been locked into battle with Amazon, over the pricing of ebooks. At the beginning of the battle Amazon controlled the vast majority of all ebook sales. That has played out through the courts with a bit of begrudging give and take with Amazon's hold on things waning.
The changes within the traditional publishing industry over the past twenty years continue to put more of the publishing process onto the authors, with pre-marketing being one of them. Back then, part of the publisher's job was marketing and the author's part of that marketing was book signings and social events, including the 'media kit' materials. Now, all that is up to the author. As well as demonstrating they have thousands of readers awaiting the release of their book, if/when it gets published. I've not always been the sharpest pencil in the box but I see that relationship as gratuitous of the publisher to expect all aspects of publishing a book the duty of the author, with exception to printing the books, then taking most of the royalties.
Checking current royalty rates among publishers listings shows that on average the rate to be between 5%-8%, and with a bit of simple math calculates out to a royalty of approximately .75 cents, for a $15 book. Being it is now commonly necessary to have a literary agent to even reach a publisher, subtract 15% from 75 cents, leaving the author with .65 cents royalty, from a $15 book. A common first run for an unknown author can be as little as 2500 copies to a perhaps 10,000 copies, which is rarer. A bit more math shows that if everything goes smoothly, and all copies are sold in one year, the royalties enjoyed by the author would be $1625 up to $6500. Also consider that once the book has been accepted, it won't see the bookshelves for at least two years. Add that to the years of work to write the book, divide by the royalty return, and the remaining sum can be highely depressing.
Writers are reading this and rolling their eyes, as this is all part of the territory. My choice to be an independent author was not a capricious act. I spent many hours evaluating both sides, and in the end came to realize that so much of the actual work of getting a book into print was going to be done by the author anyway. What the independent route offered was total control over the project, and receiving 100% of the royalties for my work. I have not regretted that decision. As so many other authors will attest to, marketing is not something we at any good at. It is sometimes a distasteful duty, another distraction from what writers would rather be doing.
I can only imagine the changing relationship between writers and publishers will continue to evolve over time. One other element of this relationship that is taking shape are entrepreneurial individuals using the digital tools that POD publishing platforms offer, to become “Publishers” or “Publishing Companies”. As that term implies, said 'publisher' simple takes the pdf documents that the author sends then, listing the book at one of the POD platforms, like Amazon, Lulu, etc., then takes the majority of royalties through contractual agreement with the author. Any author can do the same thing just as easily. Many don't know this, and they lose out, basically because the 'publisher' doesn't do any marketing or outreach in the traditional sense. The simply list the book.
What continues to be worked out, along with the changing landscape of author duties and pre-marketing work, is what constitutes a publisher or publishing house, and how does that shake down for the author involved. A consideration for my brand was to be clear I wasn't a publisher or publishing house. I used the term 'publications' being the eight books under that brand are my work. I made the exception to this rule, compiling and editing my mother's historical memoir “Sleeping Under the Bandstand”. That was a work of love.