Ever since Amazon legitimized self-publishing, small publishing houses and Big Publishing have been reeling from the impact. Big Publishing's answer was to first discredit authors who took control of their careers, then sought to keep prices high on e-books so agents and publishers could continue to reap profits.

Small publishing continued as if nothing really changed. Indie houses have been ignored by book chains and small press authors are often barred from panels and signings at conferences and conventions. But, many small publishers embraced both trade paperback and e-book editions of their titles, finding room for both formats.

As acquisitions editor of a mid-sized publishing house, I'm experiencing a different dilemma. Authors now expect/demand that I somehow get their book out within three months of submission. Impatient, many pull their books before I even get a chance to read sample pages. There is a feeling that authors now have the upper hand in the book world and publishing has to dance to their tune and time frame.

In the past, an author HOPED that their query letter would be answered within three months. Tales of the bottomless slush pile and form rejection letters made the process harrowing. True, Big Publishing fed into this idea, dangling visions of advances and best seller lists only to dash hopes and careers against a wall guarded by agents and editors.

It was a cruel system. Beginning novelists were made to doubt their talent and often gave up too soon. What smaller publishers offered was hope and a shot. While Big Publishing grew too large to see authors as individuals, smaller houses with less staff invested not just time and money producing books but took an interest in the personal lives of their stable of authors.

But, small means just that. With Print On Demand technology, publishers don't need a large staff or huge office to churn out books. Overhead is kept low so books can be produced and sold cost effectively. In a tough economy, books become a luxury. Nobody in a smaller house is getting rich anytime soon. Just as penning a book is a labor of love, so is seeing that books get into print and into the author's hands.

With the power shift, authors know they are in control of their careers for the first time. I applaud this change. But, that doesn't mean my in box isn't still swamped with queries. I can't push my publisher to hand out contracts any faster. We can't expand our output of titles to accommodate everyone waiting in the wings. It's still takes about a year to go from query to publication.

The wall that ambitious authors hit now is one they never saw coming: promotion. With an onslaught of books on the market all vying for the few dollars people spend to read, success comes to the author who conquers marketing. Too many authors feel the hard part is behind them when they put their soul into satisfying their muse. They've invested their time writing, but not a cent of their money. Profit is suppose to flow to the writer. It's somebody else's job to actually sell the book.

Brass tacks: It costs about $200 to produce a book in paperback. That covers artwork, lay-out, editing, ARCs, printing and distribution. Much of the work is done via email so we work from our homes all across the country. It takes the sale of approximately 300 books before publishers begin to see a profit. Industry stats show that 82% of the books published don't sell more than 100 copies.

The odds are against publishers more than authors. The house operates in the red until the book starts to sell. There's no money in the budget to do individual promotion for each author. It's on the author, whether they indie published or self-published.

So, the new politics of publishing justifiably puts success squarely in the hands of authors. Marketing is on their shoulders too. Only those who show drive and initiative, not just talent, will see any profit from their efforts. Readers don't come cheap or easy and thousands of novelists are scrambling for the same dollars. The adage “He wins who wants it most” has never been more true than today.

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Comment by Sunny Frazier on September 8, 2013 at 8:47am

I agree, Jeb. And, in my talks, I encourage writers to try that venue, especially to get their feet wet. You can publish anything and in any form. You can sell it if you market it right. I love the freedom now available to authors. And yes, a whole industry has evolved around self-publishing. It's legit and works for those who are motivated. My e-book sales continue to be better than trade sales. 

Comment by Jed Power on September 7, 2013 at 11:58pm
Hi Sunny,

"Anyone with a computer and basic English skills" can publish a book too. Anything they can't do themselves they can farm out pretty cheaply. Competition for these type of jobs is intense today.

I was recently offered a contract by a well known publisher for my Dan Marlowe series. I was advised by most friends to take it. The advance was small, the royalties were only a fraction of what I receive as both author and publish, and there was no commitment to any publicity at all. I know all the arguments for traditional publishing, but after all was said and done,the numbers and other benefits were superior, for me in my position, in Indie publishing. I passed on the contract.
Comment by Sunny Frazier on September 7, 2013 at 5:24pm

Yeah, I knew that would rub the wrong way. But, anyone with a computer and basic English skills can write a book. Maybe not a good book. Some time ago I got over the idea that I was something special because I was educated, creative, intelligent and wrote a book. Most of my friends have books out. For us, it's simply something we do. And then we publish and sell it, with or without a publisher.   

Comment by Dana King on September 7, 2013 at 3:11pm

"the author gets royalties for simply writing the book"

We're done here, or I'll get banned from the site. The book is the raw material. An author can scrape by without a publisher; publishers can't exist without someone to "simply write the books."

Comment by Sunny Frazier on September 7, 2013 at 6:39am

The publisher foots the bill for cost and the author gets royalties for simply writing the book. Plus, if the author chooses, he/she can buy book stock at cost ($6) + $1.50 profit to the publisher, and sell directly to customers. I routinely buy my own books, which cost $14 retail, for $7.50. I then profit $6.50. That's much higher than royalties.

I believe in cheap or free marketing. It's very possible when you make extensive contacts ahead of time. Plus, my novels are taught in two junior colleges creative writing classes as example of genre fiction. I speak at one of the colleges twice a year and garner sales and fans from that base as well.

Anyone can do it and it's not all that hard.   

Comment by Dana King on September 7, 2013 at 6:00am

OK, but you changed stats on me in mid-discussion.

Using your figures, if you reject 70%  of all the manuscripts you receive and at least break even on all you accept, and the author is responsible for marketing how can you say the odds are against the publishers more than the authors?

Comment by Sunny Frazier on September 7, 2013 at 5:49am

No, Jed, not a typo. If you are self-publishing your novel, yes, the cost would probably be higher. My publisher has a staff that works cheap, plus she and I don't take a salary. She does many of the covers and layout herself. 

Dana, you are using the stats of larger outfits and the industry as a whole. All of our books sell through, so they break even and profit. Working acquisitions, I screen carefully and I'd say 30% of submissions are accepted.

Marketing has been on the author's shoulders since before social media. The Internet has made it easier, the playing field leveled. Personally, I like being in control of my marketing, although it gives me no one to blame if my books don't sell. Big houses never "took care of everything" unless your worth was proven. Marketing budgets are even tighter now.   


Comment by Jed Power on September 7, 2013 at 4:30am
Hi Sunny,

I assume your $200 figure to produce a paper book is a typo. I'm involved in Indie publishing my third novel and, depending on how much you can do yourself, the figure is much more.
Comment by Dana King on September 7, 2013 at 4:18am

"The odds are against publishers more than authors."

Oh, please. Even if we extrapolate that 82% don;t sell 100 copies number to the 300 copies needed to break even; let's say 90% of books published don;t break even. So 10% of the books published make money, even if only a little. Does anyone really think 10% of all books submitted get published? What might the actual number be? One percent, at best? Then 90% of those will not break even, which will often be blamed on the author's inability or unwillingness to adequately promote the book, and will adversely affect any efforts to get another contract.

This is how things are now. I'm not going to complain about it any more than I complain about the sun rising in the east. I also have no patience for authors or publishers who feel sorry for themsleves because the desk appears to stacked against them. No one forced us into this business.

Comment by Dan L. Coleman on September 7, 2013 at 12:33am

Yes, it's all about the marketing. Everything is and always has been about the marketing. It's just that with this new epub venue, the marketing responsibility shifts to another party, the writer. But where the difficulty for the aspiring author used to be strictly in being accepted by the big houses that then took care of everything, the same wall of obstruction is now embedded in the harrowing number of self-pub'd "authors" competing for the same number of readers. The more things change, the more they remain the same. For somebody, anyway.

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