The benefits of self-publishing and ebooks

Posted on April 26, 2011 (Subscribe to Blog)

In the past few days I've been thinking about ebooks. My three Island of Fog novels are already available on the Kindle (in the US, UK and now Germany) and the Nook (in the US), and I've seen sales starting to climb lately. Although money isn't everything, I get higher royalties selling ebooks than with printed books, even though my ebooks are less than half the sale price.

There are pros and cons to everything, and ebooks won't suit everybody. I for one won't read electronic books on a screen, as I spend enough time on the computer already. I'll NEVER buy a Kindle or Nook, or even an Android phone, as I just don't need or want another excuse to stare at a screen. Plus, when it comes to books, nothing beats the look and feel of actual printed pages. The cost of a printed book compared to an electronic version doesn't come into – for me, there's just no argument and printed books will win every time.

But others will argue the opposite, and I can totally understand why. Someone who spends an hour on the train to work every morning most likely prefers an electronic book to read on a Kindle, iPad, or even just their phone. It's the Way Of Things for people on the move or those who don't have access to a computer for most of the day but have time on their hands.

Kindle and Nook

Selling ebooks is very easy, too. It's free and takes no more than a day to set up, and a couple more days for the newly published ebook to show on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. If I come across typos (which I do) then I always correct them in my manuscript, and at any point I can easily upload the new, corrected version of the book – unlike with the printed version, which is a little more costly and complicated.

Not only am I thinking more about ebooks these days, I'm thinking that self-publishing in general is, in a lot of ways, more desirable than traditional publishing. I say that, but of course I haven't been traditionally published before! Still, consider Scott Nicholson, a published author whose books have all but gone out of print. He decided to rekindle his career (pun intended) by self-publishing his first novel. He had to wait to get the rights back before doing so, but then:

"It immediately found readers, just a few at first, and then more and more, and I realized there was an entirely new audience waiting that the book had missed by being dead for six years. I then began collating all my old short stories into collections – all stuff that had been professionally published. Somewhere during the summer, when I got the latest 'I can't sell this' from an agent, I realized, 'You can't, but I can.' I have not looked back since. Eventually the dinky little check I was getting every month became the little check that paid my mortgage, and by the end of last year, with multiple titles, my day-job check was the dinky little check in comparison, and that's when I realized it was time to go for it without a net."

And today Scott has 12 self-published thrillers and seems to be doing what he wants to do, which is writing for a living.

I've heard this same story many times. I still dream of being published by a Big Publishing House and seeing my books in the shops all over the world, but the reality is not as rosy as all that for most authors. On rare occasions a book is highly anticipated and the publisher pours all its money into marketing it, and the book takes off and becomes a bestseller, and the author becomes rich and famous... but, as I said, that's rare. I've read that even New York Times bestsellers can't give up their day jobs until they've got a couple more bestsellers on the go. Most newbies will be expected/obliged to promote their books and will be sent along to book signings in stores. Scott Nicholson said:

I did hundreds, and selling 20 books was a major feat. So, counting the drive, that would be an average of six to eight hours, plus $20 in gas, only to eventually get back $8, assuming your book earned out. All under the threat that 'You will be dropped if your numbers decline.'

Again, I've read this kind of comment many times. I always heard that the average number of books sold at a book signing is seven (unless you're J. K. Rowling, in which case seven equals the number of days people lined up for the final Harry Potter book).

I'd like to be published, and I don't think I'd ever be daft enough to turn down a publishing deal. In fact I'd jump at the chance. But at the same time I'm no longer hung up on the idea that being traditionally published is what it's all about. There are pros and cons to everything, and I'm happy to self-publish if necessary. The biggest hurdle is finding a bigger audience. If I can do that, then being self-published would work just fine for me.

As I write this, Island of Fog is being considered by a huge literary agent firm, and maybe I'll get lucky. But I've decided this will be the last stab (in the foreseeable future) at getting Island of Fog published by a Big House. Regardless of what happens, Whitt Brantley will continue to represent the novels for TV and film adaptations.

I've often wondered what would happen if I landed, say, a 3-book contract of some kind. Obviously the current self-published editions would have to be removed from sale, and future books (like Lake of Spirits) would be "on hold" for years while the first books go through the long, long process of being published. At a guess, and based on everything I've read, each book would take a year – so those waiting for Lake of Spirits in the summer this year would end up waiting until around 2015. Yikes!

Or, if the contract was for the first book only, presumably I'd still need to remove the rest of the series from sale... and if the published book did a nosedive and failed miserably, then that would be the end of it and the book would fade from sight, and then I'd have to wait several years before I could get the rights back to self-publish again.

Anyway, I'm rambling now. I've always got stuff like this on my mind. But no matter what, if I were offered a deal, I'd take it. Better to be published and then fade into obscurity than to not be published at all! In the meantime, I'll continue as I am and start emphasizing the electronic editions a bit more. In case you don't know already, all three books are available as follows:

And you don't need to own a Kindle or Nook to read these electronic editions. You can download free apps for your PC or phone. The apps, which emulate the real devices, are available on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites to the right side of the screen.

Comment by JANA~ on Tuesday, April 26, 2011...

Very well said, and I couldn't agree more. This is one of the reasons why I don't actively seek out having my novel(s) traditionally published. If I were to be offered the chance, I would take it, but I'm fine - better than fine - with where I'm at. It was never about the money for me; as long as people read and enjoy, I'm happy. - Congrats on your upcoming fourth novel, 'Lake Of Spirits'! :D



Comment by MICHELLE MAGILL on Tuesday, April 26, 2011...

Great post Keith! Like you I can't bear reading on the computer (you can't snuggle down with a laptop) but my kindle feels very different from the computer.

Interestingly, I have equal love for both paper print and my kindle... all be it for different reasons. Reading my paper print books has taken on a more romantic flavour and I still do it often but I love the convenience and immediacy of kindle (I'm reading a series with many volumes at the moment and I simply download the next as soon as I've finished the last).

The kindle is definitely saving me money and time but is also helping me to be more selective about what books make it to my burgeoning shelves (I realised how urgent that situation was when some treasured novels had to be moved to the dark depressing shed..... no life for book!)

I believe that there will always be a place for both print and ebook. Kindle, for me, is like the library experience - access to millions of books at little expense and you don't have to build a new home just to house your book collection. :D


Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Tuesday, April 26, 2011...

Thanks, Jana — long time no speak! How's it going with your Mengliad series? I need to catch up on your Facebook posts...

And Michelle, you're right that there's room in the world for both printed books and ebooks, and they both have their uses. I think I could get used to reading on an electronic device if I didn't already spend all day on a computer.

Comment by NIGEL ROWE on Wednesday, April 27, 2011...

As I see it, without a publisher to promote your work, how does the public know about your books? You can't fade into obscurity if you're already there! You definitely need a publisher, Keith - fingers crossed you get one. Your books deserve the widest audience possible.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Wednesday, April 27, 2011...

Thanks, Nigel — but you obviously haven't read about Amanda Hocking! Google her and you'll see what I mean. There are plenty of others too, including John Locke, who is perhaps a more "realistic" example of an unpublished author doing extremely well on his own. Besides, even with a publisher, an author often has to promote his own book in much the same way as he would on his own — unless, as I said in my post, the publisher throws every cent it has into marketing it as the next Harry Potter.

Comment by RALPH CORDEROY on Tuesday, May 3, 2011...

I wonder if this is tied to fiction or whether non-fiction could also benefit in a similar way.

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