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Self-publishing v signing up with a publisher

11 April 2011

Self-publishing has been much in the news recently, with bestselling self-publisher Amanda Hocking deciding to sign up with a publisher, whilst author Barry Eisler has decided to continue self-publishing in spite of receiving a big offer.

Hocking is in a strong position. On her self-published ebooks she claims to have achieved sales of $1.4m to $2m worth of books. On these she keeps up to 70% of sales. But she has just signed up with American publisher St Martin's Press with a $2m deal for four titles in a new paranormal teenage romance series, Watersong.

She says:

'The reason I took this deal wasn't for the money. At least not the upfront money. Also, let's be honest - if I self-published the Watersong series on my own, I could probably make $2 million within a year or two. Five years tops. I am fully aware that I stand a chance of losing money on this deal compared to what I could make self-publishing.'

'I've done as much with self-publishing as any person can do,' Hocking told the New York Times. 'People have bad things to say about publishers, but I think they still have services, and I want to see what they are. And if they end up not being any good, I don't have to keep using them. But I do think they have something to offer.'

Her particular concerns were her readers' inability to find her books and problems with copy editors which meant she could not get her self-published books into really good shape.

Hocking's decision contrasts with that made by Barry Eisler, who recently turned down a $500K offer from a mainstream publisher to self-publish digitally.

The author Joe Konrath, who has written widely on this topic said:

'If you can handle the key functions that a publisher provides (things like editing, marketing, etc.) it can work out quite well. Publishers used to also be key for distribution, but that's less and less an issue these days, when physical book stores are less and less important, and online/digital is key. But you don't need a publisher for those things. Marketing is still the big issue for many, so this depends on how well you can market yourself, or work with someone else (perhaps the person who used to be your "agent") to market the work.'

Of course at the heart of this kind of decision is the fact that you can make more money per copy sold by self-publishing than you can by going through a publisher, simply because more of the sale price goes to you as the self-publisher. But to balance that, how do you attract attention for yourself and your writing? Can you really compete with what publishers can do? And is it really only viable to make this kind of comparison if the self-publishing alternative is going to be extremely successful?

Amanda Hocking was asked if she would stop self-publishing. Her answer was: 'No, absolutely not. I have a few titles lined up this year yet to put out via the self-publishing. And I'll have more in the future.'

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Amanda Hocking's blog

Techdirt: Have We Reached A Tipping Point Where Self-Publishing Is Better Than Getting A Book Deal?

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