The first book, The Dirty Girls Social Club was published through St. Martin’s Press and sold more than half a million copies. The second Dirty Girls book, Dirty Girls on Top, also with St. Martin’s, came in just under that. When I did the math, I realized I’d only have to sell 100,000 copies on my own to earn what I’d made for six times the sales with a major publishing house. If I sold the same number of Dirty Girls books as I’d sold in the past, meanwhile, I’d be…a goddamned millionaire. A goddamned millionaire in control of her own career and destiny.
JA Konrath posts numbers like these all the times. The impressive part, though, is that the math works. These are realistic numbers (given the circumstances of the author providing the numbers), and the math just works. Most people underestimate the long tail of any market, but companies and people that capitalize on the long tail can still make some big money.
More from Alisa:
Back in 2004, my first suggestion for a second book for me with St. Martin’s was a Dirty Girls sequel. My editor condescendingly said no and told me I had to build a “body of other books” before doing a sequel. Why? Because that’s how it had always been done. Fatal mistake on her part. Fatal mistake on mine for trusting her. My readers were not the typical readers. They were new to commercial fiction, many of them, and they saw themselves in the Dirty Girls. My fans wanted Dirty Girls, period. They still do. First rule of business? Give the customer what she wants. Big publishing did not trust me to know what my own readers wanted, and we all suffered in the end. And here I am, mid-listed and falling.
Lesson effin’ learned. I would not give big publishing a second chance to screw up my career.
The next step in my evolution was to figure out what, exactly, St. Martin’s Press had been doing for me to merit taking more than 90 percent of the profits from my work. Best I figured it boiled down to six things. Editing. Copy editing. Cover design. Marketing. Publicity. Distribution.
The first paragraph here is something that I just don’t know why authors continue to put up with. I mean, obviously most authors have yet to realize that they can publish whatever they want and if it’s good, it will find a market. That used to not be the case, but when the world is connected like it is now and you can get your product into the hands of anyone anywhere on the face of the Earth, you can find an audience if you have a product that people will want. Even if it’s only 1,000 people around the whole world. You used to maybe only be able to find 1 or 2 of those people based on geography. But now, if they want to find a hard SF military gay romance book, or a a historical friends to lovers story containing a marriage of convenience plot, they can. They just have to look for it on the internet and if it exists, they’ll find it. All you have to do is provide the product to the market and make sure they can find it when they look.
The latter half of this is something I keep coming back to in my decision to self-publish (well, besides the fact that I’m not actually needing to make a living off of writing): Writers generally say that when it comes to getting published, they do most of the marketing themselves. And when you’re looking at eBooks as a major market, distribution is as easy for me (or any other author) as it is for big publishing houses. So, really, what you get is Editing, Copy editing, and Cover Design. From reading other indie author blogs, I know that you can find editors to pay on an hourly basis (much like you should do with financial advisors) who will cost less than the share that a major publishing house takes. As for copy editing? I was just reading a reprint of Snow Crash released after Neal Stephenson released his Baroque Cycle and I found two pretty obvious typos. So, yeah.
Then there’s cover design. This is another one that a lot of authors complain about. They may say they love the cover when it comes out because they kind of have to because what choice do they have? But after the fact, I read that they had no input into the design decisions and that’s the one part of the process that they would really want to go back and do over. Now, I’ll give you that I suck at fond selection and design, but I feel like the rest of my covers so far (all 2 of them) have been pretty decent, or at least somewhat interesting.
Sure, but what if you (or, perhaps a better example: me) don’t have a huge fan base of millions of loyal readers already?
Well, that’s where this interview with Zoe Winters comes in…
at first I was still thinking that “maybe” I wanted a trad pub but that I could start building a platform this way, cause publishers like platforms. But the more I got into it, the more I knew it really WAS for me, and I was like “oh screw that. I’m doing this myself!” For me indie isn’t a stepping stone to anything. I want to be the best indie I can be and it’s not about someone else later validating me.
Any success that comes later aside, this is how I feel. I just feel like there’s too many negatives that come with getting published by a traditional publisher. Unless you’re one of the million-copy selling authors, it seems like you’re not going to get the respect of a traditional publisher. I read the same kind of advice about the music industry (longer ago than I’d like to admit), which went something like “If you sell enough records to get the attention of a major label, then you’re already better off on your own.”