A few weeks ago Barry Eisler walked away from $500,000 book deal (2 books) in favor of self-publishing his series in e-format. You can read his interview with J.A. Konrath, an ardent supporter of e-books, here.
As a result of this interview, we’ve received a number of inquiries about when/if we’d be considering doing the same thing: walking away from out published contracts in favor of self-e-publishing. The short answer is no. The longer answer is below. Electronic publishing in general and self-e-publishing in particular, just like print publishing, has its own rewards and risks, and in this post I’ll try to profile some of them.
Before we start, the world of publishing tends to be a bit confusing, so there are a few publishing terms on the sidebar.
In the current reading environment, ebooks are a topic of hot debate. People are very vocal about prices, DRM, formats, availability of certain titles on some platforms but not the others, and other related issues. Some people are almost fanatically pro-ebooks; others reject them completely. I am in neither camp. I have no emotional stake in the success or failure of the e-format. I think it’s a convenient way to purchase fiction and I own several e-readers; however, for me it’s just a new way to get the content I want.
My husband and I are writers and writing fiction is our livelihood. We also provide for two children and several pets. Understandably, as a business woman, I am not inclined to gamble with my livelihood, so when I look at self-publishing e-books and compare them to traditional publishing, I tend to focus on both risks and benefits. Here are some of them, as I see them.
A few months ago, my husband and I collected bits and pieces of companion scenes to our Kate Daniels series. The scenes were simply blog posts, written from another character’s point of view. We didn’t clean them. We didn’t edit them that much. They were fun fan service and people asked if they could have them all together, so we published the collection through Smashwords with a price tag of $0.00.
Shortly after releasing Curran POV, Volume I, we began receiving emails asking us to put it on Amazon and BN. People wanted the convenience of one-click delivery. It took us a while to get the formatting right, and when the collection finally went up on Amazon and BN, I couldn’t figure out how to publish it free, so I slapped a price tag of $.99 on it. My husband and I never imagined that anyone aside from regular readers of the blog would buy it. The collection sold thousands of copies and while some reviews were glowing, many of them pointed out grammatical and punctuation mistakes and general lack of attention to the project.
The collection is now being updated, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson: never put out anything less than your best effort. You pay for it with your reputation.
So, let’s take a look at how many people it takes to bring the book to publication through a traditional print publisher. These are the acknowledgments for MAGIC SLAYS, the latest book in our Kate Daniels series.
We’d like to thank the following people for their help, patience, and expertise:
Anne Sowards, our editor – thank you for having faith in us, despite all evidence to the contrary;
Nancy Yost, our agent, for unwavering support and vicious fighting on our behalf;
Michelle Kasper, the production editor, and Andromeda Macri, the assistant production editor – thank you for transforming our manuscript into a book and for not psychically destroying us with your great mind powers because we missed deadlines,
Judith Murello Lagerman, the art director, Annette Fiore DeFex, the cover designer, and Chad Michael Ward, the artist, for creating a spectacular cover,
Amy J. Schneider, the copyeditor, for her mad copyediting skills;
thank you very much to Kat Sherbo, Anne’s editorial assistant, – the emails do not lie, we actually are crazy;
and thank you to Rosanne Romanello, the publicist, for always promoting our work.
In an ideal situation, each of the people here, including our agent, acts as a quality control, dedicated to making sure the manuscript is turned into the best book it could possibly be. The editor steers the story, so the readers would derive the most enjoyment from it; the copyeditor eliminates inconsistencies and grammatical issues; the production editor pulls everything together; the art department makes sure the cover is visually appealing; and the marketing – which isn’t listed here – looks at the entire package and attempts to make sure it’s marketable and then hand-sells it to retailer representatives. The publicist then promotes the release.
The book you hold in your hand is the product of efforts of a dozen people, each of whom is trained for their job and has experience that the writer doesn’t.
If I choose to self-publish an e-book, I must then wear all of these hats. Let’s take them one at a time.
The first and the most devastating set-back is the absence of Anne Sowards. Anne edits such names as Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, and Karen Chance. She has a great deal of experience and her perspective is much wider than the perspective of an author. Anne also doesn’t hesitate to tell an author no and to insist that something needs to be fixed. This is harder than it seems. Most authors are drama queens; and most of us do not react well to it.
If you would like to get a better idea of what Anne does for the books, click the “Editorial Comments” on the sidebar.
So right away Anne is out. All those years of experience and working with bestsellers are out of the picture and are no longer on our side. The question becomes, how do we now keep up the quality of our work? Our prose is not golden. It needs help.
Think about being a freshman in college or high school: you’ve written the best paper in the world. It’s brilliant and flawless. Wouldn’t you have liked to show it to your senior self and have them point out all those spots that need to be fixed, saving you from looking like a complete idiot?
So far I haven’t found an easy answer to this problem. We have to either hire a substitute Anne or rely on beta readers. Beta readers do a great job, but they are not a perfect substitute for a professional editor.
Then we come to the copyeditor. Had Gordon and I employed a copyeditor before putting Curran POV Volume I out into the wild, we would have been much better off. We’ve interviewed Deanna Hoak, one of the best copyeditors working in the field today. Deanna specializes in fantasy and science fiction and has edited such names as Chinas Miéville, Alan Dean Foster, Cherie Priest, John Scalzi, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. You can read the entire interview here.
According to Deanna, she typically copyedits at a rate of about 10 pages per hour. An average manuscript page contains 250 words. An average novel of 95,000 words contains 380 pages, or roughly 40 hours of work if everything goes well. Deanna very kindly pointed out the Editorial Freelancers Association, which has the following things to say about the typical copyediting rates.
|Type of Work||Estimated Pace||Range of Fees|
|Copyediting, basic||5–10 ms pgs/hr||$30–40/hr|
|Copyediting, heavy||2–5 ms pgs/hr||$40–50/hr|
So, 40 hours of work for an average novel can cost me $1,600 out of pocket. If the copyediting is heavy, which it can be in some cases, we double our hours to 80 and our pay to $50 per hour. Estimated cost: $4,000. In traditional publishing, print or electronic, the publisher eats this bill. If we self-publish, I will be writing this check before the book makes any money. Not only that, but I need to coordinate my schedule with the copyeditor’s schedule, and make sure that he has an opening in his schedule. Of course, one could find a better deal, but if you want the best, these are the rates you have to pay.
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