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Will eBooks Revolutionize e-Publishing?

In the past year, we’ve seen more than one epublishing company crash and burn whether it is from mishandled funds, poor business planning; or simply not enough business. It appears that many authors who are epublished are relied upon to do their own advertising and editing appears to vary in quality a great deal. Unless you have signed with a major epublishing house such as Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, Loose Id, and so forth, does it make sense for an author to self publish her ebook?

Benefits of an e Publisher

Most epublishers will take 60% of the royalty of an ebook. In exchange, the publishing house will edit your book, produce a cover of varying quality, and make it available to its existing audience. You also benefit from the publisher’s general advertising.

Costs of POD

Print on Demand is quite difficult, if you think about it. Few stores, particularly the big box retailers, will carry a POD book. The costs of a printed book is much higher for a self published author. For example, according to this book estimator, the cost of a small print run of 500 trade sized books running under 200 pages would cost an author a little more than $2300.00.

Of course, the technology behind most self published books is the idea of the book being printed when it is ordered instead of financing a print run. Without a print run, though, there is little chance of gaining the browsing crowd. Instead, a true print on demand author has the audience that buys online, a similar audience to those who might be enticed to buy an ebook.

Some POD companies offer publisher-like resources such as editing, proofing, and cover art. Lulu.com is the most economical POD company due to the fact that it offers none of that. Instead, the author must edit, proof, format, submit artwork, and upload the materials to Lulu.com. For $99.95, Lulu obtains an ISBN and lists your book in a Global Catalog so that online retailers such as Amazon.com can offer the book in its database. Interestingly, as part of deal, though, you must purchase a proof copy of your book.

Beyond the $99.95 that Lulu.com charges, however, are the packages you might have to purchase to sell your book. For example, Amazon’s Advantage program costs $29.95 per year plus 55% commission for each sale. As part of the Advantage program, Amazon will stock approximately 5 copies; show your book as “In Stock”; make your book eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping, Amazon Prime, Fast Track, 1-Click ordering; and the Search Inside feature.

BookSurge, Amazon’s new POD service, offers a Fiction Writers package that includes editing and proofing, cover art, and Amazon promotional services for a grand total of $5,759.95.

According to this Absolute Write Forum poster, the retail price of a POD should be eight times the per printing cost which means an average fiction book will cost the reader over $35. At that cost you’ve got to be printing golden books; books with more potential crack addiction properties than the Navy Seal Vampires with color coordinated heroines. I recall one pirate book that was making the rounds a few years back. When I checked it out, the book cost $30.00 and was trade paperback. There was absolutely no way I was going to pay $30.00 for a trade paperback from a new to me author even if my blogging partner, Jayne, recommended it to me.
Average Sales

According to the statistics examined by the Science Fiction Writers of America, the average print on demand book sells fewer than 200 copies. AuthorHouse averages 111 sales per title; iUniverse 166 sales per title; and Xlibris, the largest POD publisher, sells less than 200 copies 85% of the time.

If you are selling 200 copies of a self published book retailing for $14.00 with an individual cost of $4.61 and 40-55% discount off the retal price, each book makes a $3.79 to $1.69 profit. This obviously doesn’t include any shipping costs nor does it take into account any promotional costs. On the average, I think its safe to say that POD doesn’t really pay for authors.

eBook Self Publishing Costs

Lulu.com is offering iPhone and Sony Reader ebook optimization for $25.00 per format. I’m not sure if there are other companies offering this service. I do know that to get a title on Sony’s Connect store costs $200 per book.

You cannot sell at Fictionwise directly unless you have 10 books published with a reputable publishing company (no POD or Vanity Press authors need apply). The ebook author, however, biggest investment in an self published ebook is time, as in time spent marketing the book aggressively to the online ebook reading community.

Stigma Still Exists

Personally, I know that I am less likely to buy a self published book than any other book being sold, particularly on a new to me author. M.J. Rose, a self publishing phenom, says that self publishing should be a last resort for an author, particularly a fiction writer. In my opinion, with the plethora of eBook publishers who are putting out nearly every kind of book in every kind of sub genre feeding nearly every kind of fetish and fantasy, self publishing should be the last resort for an ebook author as well.

Truthfully, when I see a book that is self published, either in ebook format or print format, I tend to believe it is simply not good enough for a publishing house and therefore not worth my time. This may be completely inaccurate and I might be missing out on great books but with the enormous number of books available from NY and reputable ebook publishers, I can’t think of a reason I would take a chance with my time and money on a book neither set of publishers wanted.

Can someone convince me otherwise?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

17 Comments

  1. Charlene Teglia
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 08:47:51

    I would think in most instances, self-publishing would be the last resort. I’d need a pretty compelling reason to do it.

    Lulu can make sense in some circumstances, though. I created a POD version of Yule Be Mine through Lulu when the title was with Scheherazade Tales. ST didn’t hold print rights, didn’t intend to ever do print, and I had enough requests for a print version that it seemed worthwhile.

    Lulu is also a decent choice for somebody who wants to publish a family history or other non-commercial work; much cheaper than vanity press and you retain your rights.

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  2. TeddyPig
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 09:09:41

    I bought a book of short stories called Shorts from J.M. Synder from lulu. Now J.M. has published with several eBook publishers so maybe it’s simply a way to get eBooks into print for her.

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  3. Nicole
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 09:20:04

    Nope, can’t convince you otherwise. We get in some self-published stuff at work and oh my is it baaaaaaad. Just flipping through them you can get a taste of the poor editing and bad writing. And I have sampled a fairly wide variety.

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  4. Ann Bruce
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 09:25:43

    A POD author contacted me to rant about Publish America and how he thought they were screwing him over because he didn’t believe that he was the only one who bought copies of his book despite all his marketing efforts.

    I told him perhaps he should consider an e-publisher. He essentially sent back an email disparaging e-publishers because he hated the covers, thought the editing was poor, and said only desperate people would go the e-publishing route because they can’t get a real NY contract.

    *cough* Pot *cough* Kettle *cough* Black

    Needless to say, I discontinued communications with this man.

    I have to say, I’m loving the new cover EC gave me for one of my upcoming releases. With the direction EC is going, there’s going to be fewer targets for cover snark. I’m kinda sad about that.

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  5. Alessia Brio
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 13:11:30

    Well, with just a wee bit of ‘Net savvy, you can format your ebook in PDF and sell it directly from your website with a PayPal shopping cart. You’ll lose the distribution a reputable ebook publisher will give you (FictionWise, ARe, Mobipocket, etc.) and the ISBN that will make you tiny blip on the book database radar, but if you’ve got a solid reader base, you’d net more $$$ that way.

    CreateSpace requires no set-up fees, provides the ISBN gratis, and gets you into Amazon’s distribution system, but you’ve gotta do the rest (editing, cover art, formatting) on your own. Your book price will be high, but no higher than the equivalent at Cafe Press.

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  6. Ann Aguirre
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 14:52:35

    Charlene said:

    I would think in most instances, self-publishing would be the last resort. I'd need a pretty compelling reason to do it.

    Lulu can make sense in some circumstances, though.

    Yep. I have an out of print epic fantasy novel, which came out back in 2003 via Del Rey Digital. As of June 2006, the rights reverted to me. When I heard about the Nothing But Red project, I made up my mind to contribute a short story to it, but I wanted to do more.

    Around that time, a reader contacted me, begging for a print copy of Stone Maiden. She said she’d read her ebook at least four times, but she really wanted one for her keeper shelf.

    After some consideration, I decided to sell Stone Maiden on Lulu as a trade paperback and an ebook. All proceeds from the sales of this work go directly to Equality Now. I was able to set them up as my payee, which is wonderfully convenient. I’m actually making more money for the charity when people buy the ebook. Equality Now makes $2.50 off every download. They get $1 off every trade book (so that option is mainly available for readers who really want a copy of the book for their home libraries).

    This is a good cause, so here’s the link.

    And thus, I agree with Charlene. Lulu probably isn’t the solution in all instances, but I’m liking it for donating a book to charity. I don’t fiddle with the finances at all.

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  7. Jennifer McKenzie
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 15:38:43

    The stigma exists even if you’re not “self-publishing”. I’ve released a book with a small press that gives me the “print option”. Basically, the publisher handles the editing, the formating and cover art and I pay for the “set up” print fee. It’s a CHOICE. I’m not self published. I went through edits with an established, albeit small, press. The printer also arranges the distribution on Amazon.
    The problem is that because I paid the fee and PawPrints isn’t one of the bigger printers, I run into the “Why aren’t you at Borders” stuff. I have to start somewhere. And I’m aiming for New York. Why not get my name out there with a smaller press?
    What frustrates me is that I have to “convince” Borders to carry the book for book signings. It’s going to take charm I’m not sure I have enough of. LOL.
    There are still those that think if they don’t see a book on the shelves at Borders or Walmart, it’s not a “real” book.
    *shrugs* I’ll keep writing no matter what they think.

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  8. K. Z. Snow
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 18:51:40

    EEE-YIII, why is it so damned hard to sign in to this site? (Okay, got that out of my system!)

    I do believe that any author worth her salt, spicy or otherwise, should be able to land an ebook contract. Ain’t no go? Maybe, just maybe, you suck. Time for some self-examination. (Hey, sorry, but not everybody who feels the need to write is a readable writer…unless you have something truly brilliant and edgy that the public isn’t ready for, in which case you’ll likely have a chance of being recognized as a genius after you’re dead!)

    And then there are youse guys–”review” people–who shy away from reading and critiquing e-books. Only authors pumped out and promoted by major print publishers are worth your time. Seems we electronic goddesses are presumed to be producing substandard work. (And, oh, lordie, don’t get me started on the dung I’ve slogged through from NY pubs written by “big-name” authors!) Therefore, reviewers of note are also responsible for the recognition, or lack thereof, of e-published books.

    Self-pubbed? Now that’s a different ballgame entirely. As I said earlier, if you have a book that qualifies as an erotic romance, or any other category story, you should be able to get it published almost anywhere if it shows a modicum of language skill and knowledge of the subgenre. Not a catefory piece? Better find a critique group and/or agent who believes in you, and better be an extraordinarily talented author who has a chance of catching Oprah’s attention…because, otherwise, it ain’t goin’ nowhere.

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  9. karma
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 19:03:09

    One other potential problem an author faces when they self-publish….many e-publishers are starting to NOT contract any book that has already been published, which includes any self-published books. That makes sense, since anyone running a company might lose potential customers since the book was already available somewhere else (and may still be, at Amazon, for instance). And with e-pubs closing right and left these days, a lot of existing e-pubs don’t want the hassle of playing legal games with people who may step forward in the future and “claim” they have the rights to a book they once published. With some horribly written contracts out there, e-pub owners who are/were a bit “shady” could very well cause legal problems down the line for their former authors, and no e-pub with any business sense would want to risk that nonsense. My own publisher made it a policy about a year ago that they would no longer consider contracting any books previously published for this very reason. So if an author is thinking about going the self-publishing route, they can essentially be closing the door to many publishing opportunities should they decide later to actually try an e-pub….the “already published” book could be considered a dead duck in the eyes of an established e-pub.

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  10. Jayne
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 19:34:07

    EEE-YIII, why is it so damned hard to sign in to this site? (Okay, got that out of my system!)

    K.Z., I feel your pain. I was telling Jane that I tried to sign in while at work yesterday and could have read a novella while waiting to be acknowledged by my own blog.

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  11. Jayne
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 23:18:40

    Jane has done some mystical and magical things to speed things up. Let us know if you’re still having delays getting signed on.

    ReplyReply

  12. Dusk Peterson
    Oct 07, 2007 @ 23:49:43

    “M.J. Rose, a self publishing phenom, says that self publishing should be a last resort”

    I feel the same way about being a writer. :)

    Seriously, self-publishing is a business like any other, and it should be taken up only by those who are committed and knowledgeable (or who are just doing it for fun or to meet a particular audience’s demand; those are legitimate reasons). Self-publishing costs and profits vary tremendously, depending on the methods used. The least amount of profit is going to go to those who choose subsidy presses such as BookSurge. The greatest amount is going to go to those who take the same path that small presses do and work directly with a POD printer (not a press, but a printer). Lulu – which serves as a middleman between the author and the POD printer, and accordingly takes a chunk of the profit – falls somewhere in the middle.

    E-books are a different matter altogether, since there are no printing costs.

    “According to the statistics examined by
    the Science Fiction Writers of America,
    the average print on demand book sells
    fewer than 200 copies.”

    While I very much welcome SFWA’s dose of realism on this topic, this number of course includes self-publishers who have no interest in selling more than a handful of books to their friends and family, which probably constitutes the majority of self-publishers. I also think it’s worth pointing out that, according to the Erotic Romance E-publisher Comparison Site, which has been surveying romance authors of traditionally published e-books, first-year sales for e-books are under 400, while total sales are under 600. Therefore, the difference in sales numbers between traditionally published e-books and self-published e-books is not necessarily going to be much different.

    Self-publishing a print book is much more difficult, and I think that it’s fair to say that most people who are self-publishing POD books these days haven’t adequately prepared themselves for the task at hand.

    As for why one would want to buy a self-published book, I’ll repeat here what I said at the TeleRead blog:

    (A disclaimer that, in addition to being traditionally published, I’m self-published online, but I’m addressing here the reader’s point of view.)

    I think the people who don’t like self-published POD books and self-published e-books are the same people who don’t read self-published online fiction. And that’s perfectly fine; I was in that category a decade ago. But those of us who have found a lot of good online fiction are more likely to take a chance on self-published books, particularly if they’re from an author we already know from their online writings.

    My experience with reading self-published online fiction has been very positive, since I don’t read online stories randomly but instead seek them out through reader reviews or through forums and archives that are known to attact high-quality submissions. In other words, I agree with Rob Preece [in the TeleRead blog thread] that pre-screening is helpful; I just think that pre-screening can take place in ways other than an editor or publisher making the decision as to what is worth reading.

    Many of these authors have no interest in being traditionally published, so it’s not a matter of them trying for publishing houses and being rejected.

    I understand – from those who have had the misfortune to plow through the offerings – that the average quality of self-published e-books and POD books is considerably lower than that of online fiction, but I think this will change as more authors get their works properly edited. (In certain parts of the Web, this process is already in place for online fiction.) What is important, I think, is identifying which authors are worth reading, and this is where review sites such as DearAuthor.com can play a vital role – though I’m not trying to twist Jane’s arm into taking up this role.

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  13. PODdy Mouth
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 10:57:46

    I found portions of this original post ironic (or perhaps just interesting) because it started off focusing on the outlandish per-copy price of POD books (which is true) and then turned around and recommended LULU, which has some of the highest per-unit prices in the POD industry (hey, they have to make their money SOMEWHERE, right?).

    Whether or not POD makes sense for any author comes down to calculating the realistic sales expectations for the book (the number of copies realistically expected to be sold to someone else and to the author herself). I stress “realistically” because we all know authors think they will sell “millions of copies” but that just isn’t realistic.

    Lulu’s per-unit printing costs are often nearly twice what other PODs like DogEar, Outskirts Press, and Trafford charge. Additionally, the fact that Lulu doesn’t offer any editorial or design options only further exasperates the stigma associated with POD and self-published books in general (because a typical Lulu customer will choose NOT to fork over any money for those extra services, instead deluding himself that his book is GOOD enough).

    At least with other service providers that do charge an upfront fee you receive the peace of mind that your book will at least LOOK like it wasn’t designed by the author (even if it WAS edited by the author).

    No one can make a book by a bad writer read well. But the PODs that charge service fees for their design efforts can at least make a book by a bad writer LOOK good.

    PODdy Mouth
    http://poddymouth.wordpress.com

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  14. Jane
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 11:11:33

    Lulu's per-unit printing costs are often nearly twice what other PODs like DogEar, Outskirts Press, and Trafford charge.

    I don’t know that I was recommending Lulu.com. It was more of an example. I guess I didn’t look at the per printing costs but the set up fees and would, of course, cede to your superior knowledge.

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  15. David Farmer
    Oct 23, 2007 @ 17:08:58

    I’m new to publishing but have gone through Lulu. Most people who buy my book probably don’t even realise it is POD. It’s selling like hotcakes on Amazon (UK), with a lot of traffic coming from my specialist website. Plus I’m making a lot more per copy than I would through a normal publisher. Even through Amazon I make £3.33 per copy (about $7) and double that if I sell the book direct. I admire the POD technology for making it possible to publish. I agree it could lead to inferior quality, but I spent a lot of time writing the book, laying it out and getting a good cover design. It worked!

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  16. charles diggs
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 00:16:11

    Hi my name is Charles Diggs and my writer’s name is Cylis Derrens.

    Personally I’m having trouble with both POD and traditional publishing. I have posted a number of stories on the internet and usually I have good reviews from my readers yet publishers say that my stories don’t meet their standards.

    Based off of my readers I fail to see so I have tried self-publishing but it’s very expensive for readers and they don’t edit.

    I’m not a professional editor and the entire publishing industry is setup against a new writer. Even if I do get published and get paid my book might not get the backing it needs to successful.

    Why waste money on a writer who isn’t proven in a publisher eyes? I know that there is a lot of writers that are going through the same thing. That’s why POD was probably created in the first place.

    Maybe the reason why people consider self-published writers to be less than the traditionally published is because some like me are growing tired of playing a game where we have to do a lot of work for few rewards.

    A publisher even when looking at your submission looks a things as a business not an art form. I consider a writer to be an artists more than anything else.

    We convey images and ideas through words. Through them we can inspire and encourage.

    I guess what I’m trying to say that if I can’t find my place in either POD or traditional I believe the only idea left to me is to provide it to libraries for free. Then I will be able to find a reader base who will be able to read my stories for free at least those I can put in a library.

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  17. Authors, Readers and Discoverability in the new age of publishing | Dear Author
    Feb 22, 2011 @ 08:55:18

    [...] books and wondering whether the publisher business model would change.  But I was also saying that self publishing equated with inferior to me. My opinions have changed since then, obviously.  I wonder if Pershing’s opinons have [...]

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