Saturday, January 30, 2016

Why don't big name authors just self-pub and make more money?

I don't believe this has been addressed on your blog and perhaps that's because the answer is too long, but, I was wondering why it is that big brand name authors (JK Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephen King, Lee Child etc) don't self-publish their books instead of going with a traditional publisher that will keep 90% of the revenue from sales?

I understand that traditional publishers will get the book into the stores through distributors and handle marketing etc, but it seems to me that by self-publishing these authors would still make more money. Let's say Stephen King can sell 1-million copies through a traditional publisher, taking a 10% royalty. He could surely easily sell more than 100,000 copies on his own, through his website and Amazon, and therefore make more money because he's keeping most of the revenue?

I'm sure I'm missing something here, so your expert insight would be most appreciated.

What you're missing is a concept economists call opportunity cost. That's the cost of what you don't choose. If I do not choose to hire an assistant, the opportunity cost is what I would have earned if I'd spent my time making sales calls instead of filing, copying and tracking royalty statements.

When you earn a lot of money with work you do, it's smart to hire people who cost LESS than you and invest your time in things only you can do (ie the things you cannot hire out.)

The opportunity cost for self-publishing is writing time.

Particularly with big name (ie successful) authors, writing time is VERY expensive: the money they earn from the book divided by the number of hours it took to write.

If they use some of that writing time to do things like accounting, production, sales and marketing, they forgo writing time.

Doing the work of self-publishing instead of writing is expensive for them. MUCH more expensive than it is for a writer making less money.

If a writer makes ten million dollars a year, that's a nice paycheck.

If it takes 25 weeks of 8 hour days to write and revise the book the hourly "wage" is:

$10,000,000/(8 x 5x 25)
Ten million dollars divided by the number of hours it takes to write the book
(figure 8 hours a day, five days a week, 25 weeks)

$10,000.00/hour is your opportunity cost for every hour you forgo writing to do something you could have someone else do.

Now, you don't have to be a math genius to see that it makes a lot of sense to hire people who cost a whole lot less than $10,000 an hour to do all the things that aren't writing.

Essentially big name authors "hire" publishers to do this work. They "pay" by letting the publisher take a chunk of  the ensuing royalties.

So why do they "hire" publishers instead of hiring a team to run a company that publishes only their own books?

First, they do it because self-publishing still requires hands on supervision of the work even if someone else is doing it. Reviewing 500 drafts of a cover, tracking down an errant shipment of books (because it's not just electronic books you'd need to deal with)....ALL of that costs you $10,000 an hour.

Second, if you hire your own team, you pay all the cost. By "hiring" a publisher, these big name authors only pay a piece of the cost. Other big name authors at the publisher are availing themselves of the warehouse space, the marketing department, the accounting department.

They've also realized there are certain aspects of being published by an reputable trade publisher, rather than self publishing that can't be quantified on a balance sheet: availability of reviews, access to the marketplace, retail relationships, editorial expertise.

The more successful you are, the more you focus on doing the one thing only you can do, and you hire people to do things someone else can.

Only JK Rowling can write Harry Potter. Only Stephen King can write his novels.

I think too that most of these very successful writers have figured out something pretty important: writing well and publishing well are two very different skill sets. It's hard to do two things really well.

On the other hand, this is EXACTLY why many writers have turned to self-publishing. They can earn more than what it costs them to publish their books.

Each writer has to decide what's important, where they want to spend their time, and their money. One answer is not right for everyone.


Anonymous said...

These are definitely among the reasons I'm not self-publishing my own books (when I get any ready for publishing). Another huge reason is that I don't have the patience to do most of these things myself, let alone learn how to do them well. I'd much rather just write.

Valentina Hepburn said...

I've self-published four books and currently writing a fifth and sixth. I'm not earning a lot of money from them at the moment, but if I could afford it I would happily pay for the skills mentioned. Writing time is so precious. I often find myself worrying about the minutiae of which font to use on my covers, does the cover convey the right message about what's inside, how much should I tweet, Facebook, etc...the list is endless. Contacting bloggers for reviews takes forever. I'm sure any writer who is traditionally published knows the value of having an agent and publisher. Being part of a skilled team with the same goal is surely worth more than money.

Cindy C said...

This is one of the shortest, clearest and least emotional explanations I've ever read for traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.

Every writer has to find the balance between the art of writing and the business of publishing. And just like the actual writing process, there is no "one size fits all." Understanding the variables and the options should help us all decide what will work best for us.

Kitty said...

Lee Goldberg has numerous articles on this subject. Self-pub books used to be called PODs (print on demand). Ten years ago Goldberg thought PODs were a waste of time and money, that a great book will get noticed eventually. Then he discovered Amazon’s self-pub service. He’s written a lot on this subject. I searched his blog for “POD” and “self-publish” and found quite a bit.

Amy Schaefer said...

Yes, yes, yes! Opportunity costs are so important, so often overlooked. I don't have anything more precious than my time, and I've learned to be as picky as I can be about how I spend it.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Well the, lion's share thing does happen but there are sound reasons why it's not usually manifest as a creator adopting the role of publisher/distributor. Janet's analysis is sound, although my emphasis would focus on the topic of motivation. An illustration of that principle would be the Betamax/VHS rivalry. Sony, who held the sole rights to Betmax, in the interests of maximising their revenue, enforced quite strict demands on those who wanted to market the technology. JVC on the other hand, were rather more canny, they realised that success was up for grabs if they gave people a stake in their product. So they offered licences to distribute and make profit from the technology with rather more favourable terms. So guess which option a wholesaler or retail outlet would favour, faced with the choice between a 2% mark up and 15% stake in the profits? That's motivation for you, the more people who have a stake in your success, the more likely that success is to me manifest in reality.

Now take a look at your list of authors, read one of their offerings and make a comparison between that and some material offered through self publishing. You'll have to exercise a fair amount of discretion over your choice of self published material but even if you just chose twenty books at random, I think there's a good chance you'll find one that compares favourably with the established author's work. So what's the difference between the self published author and the one with entire resources of the publishing industry behind them? Duh--one of 'em has an entire publishing industry behind them!

Don't believe me? She -- H Rider Haggard, one of the top all time best selling works of fiction, go to your local book shop and buy a copy today. Oops it's not there is it, out of copyright, no copyright--no profit, no profit--no motivation, no motivation no--sales.

Jennifer D said...

Janet gave a great and thorough reply from the the point of view of pragmatism. She's right about all of it.
I was about to say I'll offer the idealist's point of view, but thought better of it--I think mine is the view of simply a different kind of pragmatist.

If you're writing for money, there are surely many other pursuits that could more reliably yield that very thing.

I'm sure Stephen King is glad to occasionally slip on his mountaineering boots and climb his pile of cash. But it's not why he writes.

So, while he could make "more money" (not considering the opportunity costs Janet explained so well) by publishing himself, it would not give him more readers--this is doubly so for a self-published writer who hasn't built the audience that King already has.

Speaking for myself, while I'd love to finally be earning a living with my words, the reason I sit down every day, for many hours a day, to wrestle words to the page is because I hope to one day reach as many readers as possible. It will sound sappy, but I want to make connections with others who love words and stories as much as I do. I'm less interested in dollars than eyeballs--though I'll be happy for any and all dollars that come with the eyeballs. I have stories to tell, and it's just not the same when there's nobody sitting around the campfire with you.

At this point, I've put in so many hours, over so many years, it would take a great many book sales to compensate me adequately for the time I've invested, and the emotion I've invested in characters who are as real to me as people I've known my whole life. The chance to share this, to know that these stories I care about have resonated with others, is my primary motivation for wanting to be a writer . . . .that, and the sheer pleasure I get from spending my days in the act of creating, and continually challenging myself to make today's words sing more sweetly than yesterday's.

I'd make a lousy marketer. And I have too much regard for other people's boundaries to be a persistent salesperson, I think.
Though I know I'd have to do some of this when published traditionally, as a self-published author I'd have to do *all* of it. And that would take me away from the thing I love and that I'm actually good at.

Do you think Ms. Rowling and Mr. King have need of more money? If you've read King's memoir (which I highly recommend), you'll know what that man needs, like he needs oxygen and prom queens, is to write and to share stories.

Despite the frustrations of trying to get my words in front of eyeballs other than my own and my critique group and teachers; despite the availability of other work and the existence of a masters degree with my name on it, in a different field where I could actually earn a living, I choose to write. I'm driven to do it.
Because I have to. Because it's never been about the money.

It was a great feeling a few weeks ago when the Powerball lottery went crazy, and someone asked me the fantasy question of what I'd do if I won a sum of money like that.
It was an easy answer: Exactly what I'm doing now.*

*but occasionally from a comfortable boat on the Adriatic.
Hey, I'm not an ascetic. So sue me.

Unknown said...

I understood this post. A happy beginning to the day.

I'm a big fan of lucidity, but it seems rare these days. Like common sense.

I said 'these days'. Ugh Old.

I also said 'I' a lot. Too wrapped up in myself?

And just like that, I'm not happy anymore.

Bacon will fix that.

Susan said...

This is a great breakdown of the financial decision on whether to self-publish or traditionally publish. I've been looking for answers into the cost of publishing as I reevaluate which direction to choose. One of my questions was how much out of your own pocket will you still be paying for marketing and publicity if you traditionally publish?

Most authors, especially debut authors, won't have the same marketing and publicity budgets as the JK Rowlings and Stephen Kings, so I'm assuming that the advances (should) go towards the cost of some of this as well--especially since we've learned that authors are meant to do their own marketing and publicity.

But with these advances being on the smaller side and broken down into payments, as Janet has shown us before, are authors expected to finance a portion of the publishing process themselves even with a traditional publishing deal?

Initially, it was my goal to be a hybrid author--as I'm self-publishing the second in a series of interconnecting novellas and was looking for a larger audience, financial backing, and a support team for other stand-alone novels. But in all honesty, the more I read about what publishing is looking for, the more I feel like my work doesn't belong anywhere--I believe there's a market, but, unfortunately for the majority of us, that's not how the industry works. Still, it's what I want to write--these are the stories I believe in and want to share. But now it's about trying to figure out how best to share them.

There are so many positives about each path, and both align with my goals.

I really don't know.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

If you have the personal resources to make self-publishing work, then more power to you. Both paths have their pros and cons.

The really cool thing about successful mega-authors who have gone through the traditional publishing channels is that they, even without intention, have opened roads for more talent and they’ve created hosts of jobs without even realizing it.

My daughter is moving to New York this spring. She will be looking to break into publishing from the multi-media end. She will bartend so she can work for nothing at first because long-term, she hopes to be the one discovering and nurturing new talent.

Quite fortunately, there are successful writers that have allowed big publishers and good agents to rise giving those agents and publishers more resources to find new talent. Also, there are intern and assistant jobs so people like my daughter can get their foot in the door.

Take a Game of Thrones or Hunger Games series. This allows for a myriad of opportunities for people down the line from the aspiring script editor to the barista at the new brick and mortar bookstore with the little cafĂ© to find their own way because all the sales, movie and merchandise deals propagated by the agents, lawyers, editors, and publishers promoting the author’s work have opened up so many streams of revenue. And all the while, all the author has to do is write and create.

Furthermore, for authors like myself who are still in the trenches of revising and querying, because there were others who were successful before me with an agent and then a publisher, there are publishers willing to take a chance on that new voice in hopes their book will take off like a rocket. And because those agents, editors, publishers, producers, merchandisers, and everyone else hovering around the book business know how this all works, they can facilitate a new author’s journey into the heavens.

Those who know better correct me if I am wrong, but I believe on average, despite the giant cut taken by the publisher, on average, traditionally published authors do better than self-published authors in the long run. That is on average. And yes, for the debut author, either path is usually a pittance. There are far easier ways to make money than writing to be sure regardless of which path is chosen, self-pub or traditional.

Sherry Howard said...

I'm in a group with a lot of writers on Facebook. Many of them self-publish. Their opportunity cost is minimal because, although they'd never admit it, they are primarily hobbyists. Their writing skills are hobbyist level, and they're impatient to see their names on books. They haven't paid their dues, and publish amateur books full of errors. (I'm only speaking of SOME self-published writers in this particular group, so don't get your dander up if you're self-published. I'm not talking about YOU,) I feel sad at what their impatience costs them in the long haul.

Colin Smith said...

Great point, Janet, and a fascinating break-down of "opportunity cost" and what that means to a writer.

Jennifer D touched on the point I was going to make. King and Rowling aren't trad published because of opportunity cost. They love to write, and when they submitted their first manuscripts, "trad" was really the only credible option open to them. One of the reasons they don't self-pub is that they don't need to. They've earned more than enough money to pay the bills, feed their families, and keep a roof over their heads. They love to write, they have publishers who will publish them, and readers who will read them--what else do they want?

I think for either King or Rowling to self-pub, there would have to be a compelling reason OTHER than money. Perhaps they want to publish something faster than their publishers are able to publish (but even then, I daresay their agents/editors would be involved, so it wouldn't be entirely self-publishing). Or maybe they want to try it out, just for the artistic challenge, or to show support for self-pubbers.

King has jumped publishers a few times. Even published a book with a small press a few years ago. Money might have been involved with these changes, but probably more to do with contract fairness than needing more money for chocolate. I could be wrong, though. You always need more money for chocolate. :)

Anonymous said...

Some successful authors are getting their rights back and self publishing out of print novels. However, as Janet said, there are only so many hours in the day and you have to pick your battles.

Nearly everyone has heard Amanda Hocking's story. Have you heard the rest of the story?

I was talking to a friend the other day about self-publishing. The more we talked the more we scared ourselves silly like kids around a campfire telling ghost stories. I don't know what the answer is. As of now, I prefer devoting my energy to creating. It doesn't matter how many dragons you slay if you don't get the princess.

Colin Smith said...

Janet, please make a note. When I eventually send you my irresistible manuscript, assuming you haven't retired by then, we'll have to discuss the chocolate clause in my contract... ;)

Craig F said...

I understand opportunity costs, that is why I hire attorneys and accountants. That is for another piece of me. I am still not sure if my writing will be worth the same. I think so but am not yet sure. I have some more to learn before I test the market.Beta readers have said I will be a smash but there are many types of smashes.

I notice you didn't put Patterson on the list with Rowling and King. I know why I wouldn't have done it; he is a franchise and not a writer. Would you explain yourself or can you not read formulaic crud either?

Elissa M said...

There are many salient points here in the comments, but I like this one from Jennifer D best:

"Because it's never been about the money."

I have stories to tell and share. Being paid by a publisher will only give me more time to write, it won't make me rich. There are lots of easier, more sure-fire ways to get rich than writing.

Self-publishing may provide some funds, but will cost me time. Exactly what Janet said. Though I never knew the term "opportunity cost" before today, I've always known that time is more precious than money.

Yes, I understand that traditional publishers do expect writers to shoulder a good deal of their own promotion these days. I'm not sure why some people think it's onerous to connect with their readers, but self-publishing certainly doesn't remove this requirement. Promotion is a tiny facet of all a publisher does, and I'm perfectly happy to let the publisher take on over 90% of the post-writing work for an equivalent share of the revenue.

Writing a book is one job. Getting it to readers is a different job. I don't mind paying someone else to do the second job so I can focus on the first.

xnye said...

'the money they earn from the book divided by the number of hours it took to write.' LOL....jeesh.

Buffra said...

OP seems to be missing the value added by an agent-editor-publisher team. Just as there are books only King can write, there are trade relationships, insights, and ideas that only a trained, experienced team can provide.

BJ Muntain said...

I've had several people lately telling me I should self-publish.

Some are inexperienced in the ways of publishing. They say, "If EL James can catch the eyes of a traditional publisher with a self-published novel, you definitely can."

They don't see the numbers. They don't see that there are over 100,000 books being self-published every DAY. If you get even one person per YEAR who does as well as EL James, you've got a 1/3,650,000 chance of it happening to you. They also don't realize that she had a lot of fans before she self-published, since she'd originally written it as Twilight fan fiction.

The other group are happily self-published people who think everyone should self-publish.

I told this latter group, "With self-publishing, you're in control of everything. The problem is, you're in control of everything – the marketing, the design, the distribution. Everything."

Maybe I'm feeling my age, but I don't have the energy to do all that.

Self-publishing is a valid business strategy, as long as you realize that it *is* a business strategy. Emulating EL James is not a business strategy. It's a pipe dream.

BJ Muntain said...

I've also heard, "So-and-so Successful Author says that, if he could start again, he'd start in self-publishing." Yeah, right. That's like saying, "I wish I had spent all my life writing instead of working a day job." It's unrealistic, even if self-publishing were viable when SS Author was getting started. If authors didn't start off working a day job, they wouldn't be able to survive to today. If they had self-published back then, would they have been as successful?

When looking in the rearview mirror, the other road looks awfully pretty. But chances are good it would have had a lot more nasty potholes, and you might not have made it as far as you have.

Craig: It's entirely possible that Patterson fits into the 'etc' in OP's post. The post wouldn't be as consise if she'd mentioned EVERY living ultra-successful author. :)

Unknown said...

As a former bookstore buyer, this sounds like a distribution nightmare. In the case of JK Rowling or Stephen King, people would want paper copies of their books. Bookstore really don't like opening up accounts with all kinds of small presses. Accounting and bill paying takes time, and booksellers would rather be selling books. If all the big names suddenly started self-publishing, that would mean more bills to pay. All bookstores already have accounts with Scholastic and whoever currently publishes Stephen King. These big name authors would need someone to warehouse and distribute their books, and sales reps to take orders, and a customer service number to call when the box of books ends up in California instead of Idaho. Yes, people can be hired to do all this, but why not just let Scholastic handle it all because they are already set up to do so?

Yes, publishers keep a big chunk from the sale of a book, but they need to pay all the people who work for them from the editors and publicists to the people boxing up books in the warehouse to the cleaning staff who vacuum the carpets after hours. Plus, they have to split the profits with bookstores and that online retailer who shall not be named. Profit margins are very tight in publishing and I can't see publishers surviving if their big name authors suddenly started self-publishing. Lots of great books by debut writers and midlist authors would never be published, and that would be a huge loss not only to writers, but also to readers. I would hope that the Stephen Kings of the world realize that by publishing their books traditionally they might take home less money, but they make it possible for people like me to dream of getting published too.

LynnRodz said...

My eyes started to glaze over when I saw the numbers. Thanks for doing the math.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

What Valentina said: yep. I love commercial publishing because of the teamwork. I'm an unagented small press author, but i'm part of a team dedicated to bringing out great fiction. My publisher has been great. The work we produce is better than if I'd gone out on my own.

That said, I am considering going hybrid.

But not for the money (what Colin said).

Been researching Indie publishing for a good two years now. I've got a plan, i've got a good reason, so I might give it a go soon.


Ultimately I want an agent and I want to be published with a Random Penguin because they can accomplish things I can't as an Indie or a small press author.

I've got Reasons why I write and am agent and big publisher or five will fulfil those reasons.

Jenz said...

The fastest way to suck the joy out of a hobby is to turn it into a business. I think it'd be easier to keep some of the pleasure in writing if I didn't have to do ALL the business-side aspects of it by myself.

Donnaeve said...

This was a great post + analysis. When I read the question, I was pretty curious as to how QOTKU would lay out the answer. On top of that, I'd never even thought of this question.

One thing I think that also makes a difference between self-publishing and traditional aside from where you spend/divvy up your sweat equity are advances. When you get to be as well-known as Rowling/King or any other best selling author, those tend towards the "significant" or "major" deal blurbs you might see on Pub Mktplace. One might argue their increase in % of royalties might offset it, but I would think it would take a lot longer to see the payout.

I also loved the inside details Jenny C gave.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Last week I learned how to do perfect binding (aka make a paperback). I did this because I had an opportunity arise where I needed ten hardcopies of a work of mine. To outsource this work would have cost me $200 and two hours of my time. A side effect of this meant that I would have had to sell every copy for $25 in order to break even.

Was NOT gonna happen.

But what would happen if I DIY? I only needed ten books. I had bookbinding experience from working in a library for ten years.

My costs...
education and experimentation: 5 hours. (priceless)
Paper etc supplies: $15
My time: just under 2 hours (@ library asst wage: $18/hr)

In this instance, opportunity costs work in my favour, plus if I retail my books for $8, I could easily sell all ten st the book fair because my fellow authors' books are going for $15-20.

I wouldn't do a print run of more than ten because i'm doing this as an artisan project and not as a producer.

Perfect binding a book is really simple but it's hard because you have to be precise in order to get a quality product. No way could I do this in the long run.


Now that I think about it, this is me being hybrid, but not in the way I planned. I'm doing this because I have the opportunity to be in a local bookfair, but entry conditions require I provide ten hardcopies for sale.

Difficult when one is currently epublished only.

However, Clever Minka is clever and I happen to have retained the print rights to a few recently published things.

Moral of the story: during the process there will be something that is hard. But you can decide who gets to do the hard thing. Money and time will help determine why the hard thing is hard.

Panda in Chief said...

Jenz just nailed it in that comment about sucking the joy out of doing something you love. People ask me all the time why don't I just sell my work out of my studio, instead of working with galleries. I guess I am kind of a hybrid artist, since I do sell a small (but significant) amount of work out of my studio, but. I consider that a bonus, rather than my main business model. And when I do, the work is priced the same as it would be in the gallery. After all, SOMEONE is taking the time to sell the work, whether it is me or the gallery. The last thing. I want to do is invite strangers to my studio or pack up my work and haul it around to art shows around the country. I have several friends who do this, but it takes time to build up a following and this is not a path you take lightly.
Yes, you "keep" all the profit, but you put in all the money and the work.

Jennifer D's comment about what would she do if she won the powerball reminded me of a joke: a farmer wins the lottery and is asked, "what will you do now that you're rich?" He answered: "Keep farming till the money's all gone." Yep! But definitely sometimes from a terrazo in Italy.

When you have something that is considered to be so niche that no one wants to take it on, despite making really positive comments about it, that is a great time to consider going independent,and that's what I've done with my cartoons. I'm working on a project that I hope to publish traditionally and am getting some really good help through an SCBWI mentor program. Bit when I've polished this WIP to gleaming perfection, if there are no takers, I will self publish.

Everything everyone has said about opportunity cost is true. But sometimes there is no other way.

Unknown said...

JKR is also a self-publishing legend. Pottermania belongs to her and is the only outlet for Harry Potter ebooks. It has made millions, but she had a professional team to design and create Pottermania and sort out all the glitches that went with it. I think though, that Pottermania, like all things HP, is an example of the exception rather than the rule...

Anonymous said...


< "what will you do now that you're rich?" He answered: "Keep farming till the money's all gone.">

Yup. For a couple of years we bought, sold, traded, a few hundred horses. Then we settled into just raising them. I told my husband one day. "Know how to make a small fortune raising horses?"


"Start out with a large fortune."

"You're not as funny as you think you are."

Dear Lord above, please tell me again why I'm single!

Panda in Chief said...

Too true, Julie, too true!

The thing to remember about JKR and Pottermania, is that JKR herself was probably not the one handling the sales desk and making the coffee. What she did was start her own publishing company and hire a bunch of people. I suppose any really successful writer could do this, but is not something that everyone would want to take on.

Once again, it all comes down to how you want to spend your time.

Theresa said...

I never considered adding a chocolate clause to my contract. That would have been fabulous! Great idea, Colin.

Having a team for editing, marketing, and publicity is very conducive to having more time for actual writing. On the subject of publicity, if anyone reads The Wall Street Journal, you will find a familiar name in today's book section.

Donnaeve said...

Wow, Theresa! I, being the Nosy Nelly that I am, bopped right over to WSJ and I saw it- congratulations!

I tweeted the article out.

LynnRodz said...

Congrats Theresa! Retweeted as well.

John Frain said...


Great stuff! Way to go.

Colin Smith said...

Cool, Theresa! Congrats. :) Here's the WSJ link. Those with a paid subscription can see the whole thing:

Panda in Chief said...

Huzzah! Theresa!

If I ever get a contract, I am going to try to get a chocolate clause in there (or at least a cuppycake clause, because that's what pandas like best)

I think this is my three comment limit!

AJ Blythe said...

Is it wrong to say you want to write for money? I get the impression in writing circles you're never supposed to say that.

I write because I love to write. And going on the old adage "Choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life" I want to earn enough money from writing to make writing my day job. Having an agent and a publisher so I can write and not worry about all that other stuff makes sense to me. I know me and a lot of things involved in self-publishing would consume me. So I'm still going to aim down the traditional publishing road.

And before you think I misunderstand the realities of income from writing, I don't. I know exactly what sort of money people make from writing. Luckily (or not, lol) my day job doesn't set the bar very high.

Congrats, Theresa, how exciting!

Theresa said...

Thanks everyone, for the congratulations. It was pretty cool to be asked to write that column. And kudos to the WSJ editors who did the polishing. It's been an exciting day--roses from my husband, a visit from my son. Back to the real work tomorrow.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I'll also eat my hat if Stephen King and J.K. Rowling aren't making more than the 10% royalties (or whatever) your average over-the-transom author gets offered. Not to mention a six- or seven-figure advance. I suspect if at any point a superstar author feels like he could make more self-publishing his agent can go to the publisher and say, "Look, if you want to remain in the James Patterson business, we need X to make it worth our while" - the same way van Halen can ask for a bowl with no brown M&Ms.

JeffO said...

"By "hiring" a publisher, these big name authors only pay a piece of the cost."

AND they're being paid by the publisher, up front.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine my time being worth $10,000/hr. I mean, I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to see how it feels, but . . . nope, can't imagine it. Sort of intimidating. I think I'd have to add into the equation all the years spent reading and learning about writing and writing crap no one will ever see. Bring that figure down to a more reasonable (HA) $5-6K/hr. Nope, still can't imagine it.

Theresa, congratulations on the WSJ article! Wish I could read it... (not a subscriber)

Colin Smith said...

kd: And yet every minute of our lives is priceless. Which is why we shouldn't waste them. :)

Anonymous said...

Colin, so true. One of the wisest things my mom said after my dad died -- and some of us were caught in that mournful loop of "what if" and "if only" and "never again" -- was that she has always tried to live her life, every day, with no regrets. I'm trying.

Unknown said...

I know I am late to the party, but here is my two cents (probably only worth a half a cent, if that).

I came up with this awesome story idea, that the engineer in me has turned into a series of books. I wrote the first novel in the series and made an attempt to find an agent. After failing horribly wrote a few shorter books in the series, 2 of which I have self-published. These books are getting great reviews. However, since I am a no body, with no money to advertise, they are not getting a lot of traction.

When I think about the time and effort I have put into writing, I think about giving it all up. Then I think about what made me start writing in the first place.

I want to tell this story.

Right now my time is worth next to nothing (actually less than nothing when you consider how much I pay of editing and cover design), but when I read how much someone loved reading one of my books, it makes every minute I write worth it.

Now excuse me, I am writing the destruction of ancient Babylon. The dark side of my personality loves this part of writing.

Kate Higgins said...

This is one of the best explanations I have heard about self-publishing. No one who is good at what they do should do work that someone else is better at. This technological age is requiring people be more than they are and thus diluting the best that they are. My husband was a newspaper city editor and he once said they lost more good writers to promotion to editor.

I am an illustrator and a writer. I make my living being a graphic designer so being married to my editor makes things easier for me, I would ever try to do his job.

Oh, and by the way, if you have to go through 500 draft reviews of a cover, you need to hire a new graphic designer...just saying.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

1. Congrats Theresa. That's some serious whuffie. Now I'm sorry I'm not subscribed to WSJ, because that first paragraph is a real hooky teaser.

2. Several years ago I realised that I wasn't meeting my author goals as a hobbyist so I went pro. ("Going pro" in writing means you start treating it like a full-time day job. You don't just write when you feel like it, but you make yourself write. You research. You promo and market, and you spend 40+ hours a week on it. You polish your work and you send it out to the best markets as if the rent's due. IOW, you take yourself and your writing Very Seriously.)

Ever since I did that, my desire to write has only grown. I'm scheming on a way to transition to true full time (ie, give over the day job like one of our engineers did when she left the Day Job to pursue her Romance career). I wake up with fresh ideas. I resent having to take a break from work because I have to go to the day job or feed the kids or sleep. I network and research and pitch and promo because that's part'n'parcel of my career.

3. Van Halen's "No Brown M&Ms" clause (ie Article 126) was actually a safety marker. If Van Halen got back stage and found brown M&Ms in the bowl, they knew the techies didn't pay attention to the full contract and that everything had to be line checked. The items in a performance contract isn't "We wanna be divas" but "This is what is required to be safe and successful."

I came across something similar once. In 1990 Carnegie Hall in New York had a policy that if you were backstage (which my orchestra was for several days), you were not allowed to wear hair spray, perfume, deodorant, talcum, etc. The reason for this was that Carnegie Hall's backstage is a rather close place and someone working there had a high sensitivity to perfumes. For their comfort and safety, sprayable, smelly things were verboten.

A few of the sweatier musicians had a bit of a whine about their perspiratious issues and what could they do? That's when we learned about dress shields--maxi pads for the armpits.

Kate Thompson said...

I agree completely with Elissa M's comment: "Writing a book is one job. Getting it to readers is a different job. I don't mind paying someone else to do the second job so I can focus on the first."

I have one book published traditionally, one published on a contract and one small collection self-published. I have learned from all three paths but will pursue only traditional publishing from now on for my new books. I might well self-publish a reprint of my first book, which is still available online but not in print.

Great post and discussion!