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Courtney Milan on Self Publishing

funny-pictures-your-cat-has-built-a-bffPublishing is undergoing a real seismic change. Agents are publishing, authors are banding together to form publishing houses, publishing houses are buying deals direct from the author (and thereby cutting out the agent), Amazon is changing the formulation from the Big 6 to the Big 7 and paying hefty sums to sign marquee authors, and of course, there is the self publishing author.

Self publishing is no small task and when I met with Courtney Milan at RT to talk about this new endeavor of hers, my first question was why. Was it money? Was it control? What? She told me it was a bit of everything. It was writing the books she wanted to write (expect more lower class characters) and the belief that she could do publishing as well as a publishing house but she misses her editor at HQN.

I asked her about quality and she told me she has a content editor, a copy editor and two proofreaders. I also asked her about Amazon. At the time, we knew nothing about Amazon Montlake but there was Kindle Singles. She said no because she didn’t want to provide one retailer with an exclusive. I finally asked her if she would write me up a post about self publishing that I could share with Dear Author readers. This is the post. It’s a jumping off point. You should feel free to disagree, question her methods because if there is ever a time that readers and authors should talk about publishing particularly in terms of quality, scope, access, price, etc it is now.

*****

Earlier this year, Harlequin asked me to write two more books for them. They offered me an advance that was, in Publisher’s Marketplace terminology, a “very nice deal.”*

Two years ago, it would have been unthinkable for me to walk away from that to self-publish instead. But I did, and here’s why.

First, it’s better for me. Other people have explained why they’ve decided it’s in their economic self-interest to self-publish, and so I’m not going to repeat the explanation.

My actual calculations were more involved, but quick-and-dirty: Harlequin pays me 8% of the digital cover price of my books; so assuming I sell no print books, I make more money self-publishing when 31.9% of my sales are digital. Digital sales breached the 30% mark in February of this year.

The fact that I’d come out ahead financially was not my only consideration. I’ve gotten e-mails from people all over the world who want to know why e-versions are not available in the UK or Australia. The answer? Blah, blah, longwinded version here.  (http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/2010/10/31/cowry-shells-goats-and-geographic-restrictions/)

If I control my own distribution, I make sure that anyone in the world can buy my book on the day of release at a reasonable price.

I still care about print readers. My full-length works will be available in trade paperback, priced comparably to trade paperbacks from traditional publishers. They will be orderable through Ingrams. I’ve chosen to use Lightning Source rather than CreateSpace because even though the terms are slightly better for CreateSpace, Lightning Source has a division in the UK and is building a fulfillment center in Australia, and so I think that will overall be better situation for readers and independent bookstores.

What I can’t do for my print readers is get a big stack of my books on the shelf in Walmart or Barnes and Noble. But I couldn’t guarantee that with a traditional publisher. Walmart is shelving fewer books. Barnes and Noble orders are shrinking. Do I need to mention Borders?

And those are just the distribution problems in space. Try to find Proof by Seduction in print. There’s only one way to get the US version—and that is to buy it used, because the book’s out of print and all the major retailers are out of stock.

If I self-publish, print versions of my books will be available forever.

Finally, I’m dedicated to producing the highest quality books that I can. My readers deserve no less. If I feel that a method of publishing threatens the quality of my books, I will walk away from it, no matter the financial implications for me.

I held off announcing this for months because I wanted to see if I could duplicate the quality of a traditionally published book on my own (and by “on my own” I mean, “with the help of many other talented people, some of whom I paid.”)

And so this is my proof of concept: Unlocked, a novella set in the world of the Turners. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble (soon), Smashwords (soon), All Romance eBooks, and Goodreads for 99 cents (actually it costs a $1.00 at Goodreads).

*”very nice deal” $50,000 – $99,000

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

114 Comments

  1. Mike Cane
    May 31, 2011 @ 05:00:18

    Hm, I thought Courtney was publishing through that company you had set up on April 1st, Jane. Well, given that your acquisition process was basically Copy & Paste, I guess all you need is for her to just keep publishing, even if by herself.

    It’s interesting that she used the proportion of digital vs print sales as her marker. I think this is the first time I’ve seen someone use that calculation.

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  2. JenMcQ
    May 31, 2011 @ 05:42:33

    I am watching with interest, and truly feel that Courtney is a pioneer on this horizon. The self-publishing phenomonen works for readers like me – I haven’t bought a traditional book since last August, when my Nook arrived. I have never looked back, and I think I mirror the experiences of a lot of readers out there.

    But in my opinion, this sort of option currently works best for authors who have already enjoyed a successful traditional publishing deal and can rely on the loyal following they have built off of traditional print. I went straight to Courtney’s Unlocked novella to buy it when it came out. However, I browsed the other selections available on All Romance E-books as I did it and didn’t find a single other title that tempted me to buy it too, and that was with a 50% off Memorial Day sale. In contrast to Courtney’s novella, which I was dying to get my hands on, the others just didn’t seem as high quality to me. I think that is really going to be the thing that makes the difference in this grand new frontier.

    Kudos to Courtney for taking the risk (although I suspect her cost benefit analysis predicted a successful outcome). We are all watching closely!

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  3. Erin
    May 31, 2011 @ 06:01:37

    As an avid romance reader from Australia, all I can say is thank-you, thank-you for thinking of international distribution of e-books when making your decision to self-publish. As everyone knows, geographic restrictions are a major source of frustration. There are very few authors whose books I bother to seek out in paper form if I am restricted from buying the e-version (and even then, paper versions can often be difficult to find). Although after “Unveiled”, which I adored, Courtney Milan would have been on that list.

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  4. Mireya
    May 31, 2011 @ 06:41:49

    I only wish all self-published books were of the quality “Unlocked” is… but of course, you actually did spend the time and the resources on actually having it put together in a professional manner, so to speak. As a reader, I truly appreciate it, and that motivates me to continue buying your self-published work. Kudos to you. In caring that your product is of a high a quality as possible, you are not only showing business savvy but also respect toward your readership.

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  5. Mary Anne Graham
    May 31, 2011 @ 06:55:31

    3 Cheers For Courtney!

    They (those who say these things) say that if you believe in something, you should put your money where your mouth is. Courtney clearly believes in her writing and her muse and she’s taking a risk to prove she can do it better her way.

    What’s better? It’s a long list but I think at the tippy top of it is creative freedom. Courtney can now follow wherever her muse leads. Different genres or subgenres? Different cultures? Different classes? Yes, yes and yes. The only limit to what she writes is her own imagination.

    Congrats to Courtney and to all of us in the indie community. The world of indie publishing becomes a richer place whenever another joins our number and much more so when the new member is as talented as Ms. Milan.

    I’ll have to be sure pick up Unlocked and I hope everyone out there who supports indie writing and indie authors does the same.

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  6. JB Hunt
    May 31, 2011 @ 06:56:06

    I agree with @JenMcQ. This was a very smart move for Courtney Milan because she has a well-established (and well-deserved) following. She’s an auto-buy for me and for many others.

    But how successful would such a venture be for someone just starting out?

    Of course, Courtney’s brave move could be paving the way for unpublished authors to break in through self publishing successfully.

    I’d like to hear more about the process and its implications for agents and editors — perhaps at RWA Nationals?

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  7. DS
    May 31, 2011 @ 07:17:36

    The best of luck to you. I will be following this with interest.

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  8. Jane O
    May 31, 2011 @ 07:17:51

    Oh dear.

    I can see tremendous advantages to this for Courtney Milan, for numerous international readers, and so on. I wish her well. But to be purely selfish, as a reader this is not good for me.

    I have an ereader, a Kindle, but I really don’t enjoy reading books on it so I never buy ebooks.

    I also have a limited book budget, so anything I buy is mass market, not trade.

    Most important, I don’t see anything here about libraries. How will that be handled, or will libraries be ignored?

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  9. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 07:21:38

    Hi everyone! I just woke up, so I may be only marginally coherent right now. So first things first:

    @JenMcQ: No, my cost-benefit analysis had no prediction. Yes, lots of self-publishing authors are succeeding. No, I didn’t know I would be one of them. And I had little enough data that I couldn’t make a prediction. All I could do was look for threads of what the successful ones had in common and try to duplicate them. The first few days have been amazing, but the real question is how this continues in the long run.

    @Erin: I got e-mails from people around the world saying they can’t get my English-language books. I always wrote back saying, “This will be an issue the next time I go to contract.” I meant it.

    @Mireya: Thanks!

    @Mary Anne Graham: I should be very clear: I plan to self-publish for a very long time. But I also expect that I’ll pitch other works to New York over time. I’m not an “indie author” and I’m not a “traditionally published author.” I’m just an author, and I hope to use all the tools available to me to best get my work to readers. Period.

    A method of publishing is a business model, not a religion. Like all business models, my hope is to diversify.

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  10. Lynnd
    May 31, 2011 @ 07:21:43

    Best of luck with this endeavour, Courtney. I am really looking forward to the stories you will tell.

    I picked up Unlocked on the week-end and it is next on my TBR queue.

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  11. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 07:27:48

    @Jane O: These are great questions.

    On the mass market front, I got nothing to say. I know it’s a loss there for readers. But if I draw a best-fit line through my print runs, they were going to hit zero in the not-distant-enough future–and I think that is true for a ton of midlist authors.

    In this case, I feel like I’m giving up something that, for midlist authors, was disappearing anyway. Target’s reducing the number of mass market books. Ditto Walmart. Ditto Barnes & Noble.

    If I thought mass market was rosy, I don’t know if I could have walked away from it.

    Regarding libraries: I really, really care about libraries, and librarians. A lot. I don’t want to promise things I can’t deliver, but if I can get on Overdrive, I will. Libraries matter.

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  12. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 07:41:19

    @JB Hunt:

    But how successful would such a venture be for someone just starting out?

    Of course, Courtney’s brave move could be paving the way for unpublished authors to break in through self publishing successfully.

    No, no. It’s the other way around. Courtney is following in the footsteps of other brave authors–many of them previously unpublished–who have generously documented and shared their experiences.

    Not all self-published authors do well, but some do. Let me give you a few examples.

    1. Ellen O’Connell. Previously unpublished. Writes Westerns, which often give me pause because I have issues with violence, but I gobbled up Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold, which was absolutely amazing–and indistinguishable from anything that New York produces.

    2. Theresa Ragan. (Full disclosure–we were Golden Heart finalists together, and so we’re buddies). Theresa self-published her first book in March of this year, and has already sold 10,000 books, including a full-length book at 99 cents.

    3. David Dalglish. He doesn’t write my type of stuff (think hack-n-slash fantasy), but I’ve sampled his books and they’re professional. He sells quit-your-day-job enough per month.

    There are probably fifty successful previously unpublished authors I could list in this spot without touching the names that everyone knows (Amanda Hocking, John Locke, H.P. Mallory).

    They do it without being obnoxious about self-promo, too. Talent and professionalism wins out for authors who don’t have name recognition. It may take longer to happen, but it does happen.

    Speaking of which, I want to pimp one of the best indie books I’ve read–Sybil Nelson’s Priscilla the Great. It’s middle grade. It’s awesome. It’s 99 cents this month. Go buy it–what are you waiting for?

    Don’t get me wrong–there are plenty of people who will not sell for a number of reasons, and plenty of people who don’t have the chops to put out a professional product.

    But I think there is too much counter-evidence to the “but unpublished people will not succeed at self-publishing!” for me to give that any weight at this point.

    They can. They do. They did it before I started, and they’ll do it after, no matter what happens to me. And I don’t want to belittle the bravery that they had to put up their work.

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  13. Stacey
    May 31, 2011 @ 07:47:51

    The business/distribution side of this all makes sense to me, but I can’t help but be curious about the parenthetical about “lower class characters.” I do sometimes get irritated by the mobs of dukes in historicals. Courtney, do you get push back from conventional publishers when you write about non-aristocrats?

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  14. Jane
    May 31, 2011 @ 07:54:42

    I think my biggest concern is price and quality. I know that the trendy thing is to price everything at $.99 but can an author put out a quality product and still be profitable at $.99. I know that Locke and Hocking and HP Mallory are huge successes based on their .99 work and I think that Courtney’s novella is well formatted, well edited, and a steal at .99. Is it reasonable, though, for readers to believe that this pricing can be the standard pricing?

    Sometimes I buy $.99 and it is crappy but I think, well, it was only $.99, should I really be complaining?

    Additionally, with speed to market, will authors be pushed to write even faster, thereby degrading the overall quality of their work? Can a self pubbed author build with just a novel and a novella a year? Or just one novel a year? Obviously, so much of this remains to be seen, but I know as a reader I want

    a) quality books
    b) at a good price
    c) that is easily accessible

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  15. Sherry Thomas
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:01:42

    Things do change so fast, don’t they?

    I didn’t know you’ve chosen to go entirely the self-pub route. Judging by your comments at Jenny Crusie’s blog, I think you have all this thoroughly and rationally evaluated.

    And would you care to discuss an agent’s role in your self-publishing?

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  16. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:02:21

    @Stacey: Courtney, do you get push back from conventional publishers when you write about non-aristocrats?

    Yes. Note that I haven’t written about non-aristocrats since This Wicked Gift.

    The Turner series was my sneaky way of getting fake lords out there–people who you can check the marketing box and say, “YES, THEY LOOK LIKE LORDS OKAY WE ALL GOOD?” but two of the boys lived on the streets for a while, and one is a self-made man with little education.

    When I am being a Bad Author and Not Working on Turner #3, I’m sneakily writing sections of a book about a governess and a former pugilist. Both middle class. “Pugilist” may change to fit dictates of story, so take with grain of salt.

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  17. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:05:49

    @Jane: Is it reasonable, though, for readers to believe that this pricing can be the standard pricing?

    Can’t answer that one. For me, I can’t imagine pricing a full-length front-list book at 99 cents. Triple the editing costs, and those are the majority of the costs of the book. I know precisely how many copies I’d need to sell at 99 cents to break even for a full-length, and it’s ominous.

    But I think that readers have the right to complain about sub-par books, or books they don’t like, at any price. Period.

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  18. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:18:11

    @Sherry Thomas: And would you care to discuss an agent’s role in your self-publishing?

    We’re still talking about the exact role. But as you know, I have the absolute best agent in the business, though, and she has seriously impressed me throughout this whole thing. Every time I raised a concern with her, she has listened and acted.

    I’m not sure what my agent’s role is going to be going forward, but I do know that she’ll play one.

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  19. Chelsea
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:18:19

    Pricing is always the biggest concern in my household. For me, having the Kindle means I can buy in whatever format is cheapest and still read in comfort. I try very,very hard not to spend more then $10 on a single book (I break the rule occasionally for favorite authors).

    My mother on the other hand has no e-reader and loathes reading from the computer, so e-books are not an option. I get concerned when told that mass paper backs are falling out of favor. This is the second place I’ve seen that. And I’ve observed that more and more authors are publishing in trade paperbacks or hardcovers which equals more expensive. This may leave my poor mother in the dust when it comes to new releases, and that’s very frustrating.

    In any case, we really love Courtney Milan’s work! I’m crossing all my fingers and toes that this works out alright and we experience no problems acquiring her new releases.

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  20. Sherry Thomas
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:24:17

    @Jane:

    I am not sure about full-length novels. But I think $0.99 is not a terribly depressed price for a novella.

    According to my husband, at $0.99 an author gets around 30% of the price (the 70% thing kicks in at $2.99.) So that’s about $0.30 per novella, which is not bad, more than half of what I get per print book in my first contract.

    Of course one have to factor in the part that the author would have upfront costs–content editor, copyeditor, proofreader, cover design, formatting costs–etc. But the fact that it can be put out everywhere in the world and never be out of print and have sales be boosted by the price–the author might come out ahead.

    Janine, Meredith Duran, Bettie Sharpe, and I have decided to self-publish our SF/F/urban fantasy/steampunk romance anthology sometime next year. We have not yet discussed packaging or pricing, as the anthology is not done yet, but I think we should have the anthology be available not only as a whole–priced at a level where the 70% share of price kick in at Amazon and elsewhere–but as 4 individual novellas too, to capitalize on the $0.99 buying.

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  21. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:28:23

    @Sherry Thomas:

    According to my husband, at $0.99 an author gets around 30% of the price (the 70% thing kicks in at $2.99.) So that’s about $0.30 per novella, which is not bad, more than half of what I get per print book in my first contract.

    35% at Amazon, 40% at B&N, 70% at Apple, and 60% at All Romance eBooks. It’s 70% of net at Goodreads and I have no idea what that will come out to until they pay me.

    I’m making more per sale of my 99 cent novella on All Romance eBooks than I made per sale of my full-length book there.

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  22. Sherry Thomas
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:29:47

    @Courtney Milan: Yes, we do have the best agent in the business.

    And the good thing is, she has always been one to look forward. And I know she has thought about this day and this future from day one.

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  23. Sherry Thomas
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:31:31

    @Courtney Milan: Oh, even better than I thought.

    And I was just talking about Amazon.

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  24. Marie Force
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:32:43

    Great post, Courtney. Thanks for sharing the thinking behind your decision to self-publish. You said: “I’m just an author, and I hope to use all the tools available to me to best get my work to readers. Period.” I totally agree, and that has been my philosophy since I waded into self-publishing in November. I’ve since sold close to 50,000 books and have scores of new readers who seem to love each of the five books I have published on my own. It has been the best thing I ever did for my “career.” Continued good luck to you!

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  25. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:35:25

    @Sherry Thomas: Agreed! The truth is, if my agent hadn’t insisted that my option clause was reasonable, I wouldn’t be able to do this. I know people who literally can’t self-publish because of option clauses & noncompetes in their contracts.

    That blows.

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  26. Jill Sorenson
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:35:36

    Very exciting news! I bought Unlocked over the weekend and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    I’ve been following the self-pub revolution with interest, especially since my agency-priced book released in April! I’d also like to have my ebooks available worldwide for a reasonable price. Who wouldn’t? If NY publishers can’t offer that, authors should look elsewhere.

    Thanks!

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  27. Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:37:24

    I downloaded Unlocked for my Kindle yesterday, after trying to get it on my Nook first. Congratulations on your amazing sales so far. As I’ve said, if anyone can do this and succeed wildly, it’s you!

    I got an email this morning from a reader who objected to the Kindle price of my books, not that I have any say in the matter.Since I’m pubbed in trade, both physical copies and ebooks are more expensive, even discounted.I don’t know how long that model can last in the era of quality self-published bargains from established authors. It will be really interesting to see how everything shakes out in the future.

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  28. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:39:13

    @Marie Force: Marie, I’ve actually really appreciated your sharing your experiences. I wouldn’t have had the information to make this decision if you and others similarly situated hadn’t shared numbers. Thank you!

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  29. Jane
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:41:04

    @Marie Force – I have seen your books on Amazon and I didn’t know whether it was the same author. I need to check on the Author’s Page more often. In any event, congratulations on your success. 50,000 is a pretty tremendous number.

    I think the question I would ask self published authors (and I asked this of Barry Eisler) is what would it take for you to come back to the publishing house fold?

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  30. peggy h
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:46:59

    As I’ve mentioned on Courtney’s blog and SBTB and the other DA post about Unlocked, I bought and read Unlocked over the weekend, and loved it. I loved not just the writing itself (which was phenomenally good) but also the overall quality of the product. So professional I didn’t even think about who published it, though I noticed right off the bat that only Courtney’s name appeared in the opening pages (I tend to read everything, even the copyright pages at the beginning of a book). So professionally done it was unobstrusive, which is what you want when you’re reading a book–you don’t want to notice odd spacing and strange spellings.

    Good luck, Courtney!

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  31. Jane
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:50:37

    @Sherry Thomas – I’ve read so many crappy $.99 books and just accepted it because it is $.99 and I guess I’ve wondered if a quality book can be published for $.99. (Even in novella form).

    I guess given the profit ratio that is flowing to the author, it is comparable to what a an anthology might cost to put together.

    But even Courtney has stated (I think on her blog) that $.99 is not a profit maximizing price but one aimed at broadening her audience (which I think it has done as I’ve had people tell me both here and on the blog that this was a new author to them. One reader said it was the first romance she had read in over 10 years).

    One thing I was really appreciative of was how well put together this novella was. I didn’t expect anything less from Courtney. Anyone who has met her or interacted with her online would get the impression that she’s a bit, well, anal (I say that with no disrespect Courtney).

    But I’ve read several comments by authors that they are dusting off old rejected manuscripts and throwing them up on line and I wonder to myself – what kind of work are they putting into this work? I bought and read one this weekend by a favorite contemporary author and it read dated and kind of unpolished, a story with a voice more like the one she had in her early days of publishing.

    Honestly, though, I go back and forth over this in my head. Some author’s hidden works are gems just not yet acknowledged. I was reading Beatrix Potter this weekend to my daughter and the preface to the collection told about how BP was rejected repeatedly by publishers and that she went ahead and self published 250 copies of her work, most of which she gave away or sold at a very low price. BP was entrepreneurial and when she ultimately was published, she was very involved in the look and feel of the book as well as the pricing (the book had to be small for small hands and low priced so children could afford it). And some author’s early works are tremendous like Meljean Brook although she has really grown as an author or Tessa Dare. etc. etc.

    I think Meredith Duran’s debut book was one that had languished for several years.

    As a reader, all I want is quality. And while I know that publishing is a business and should be treated as a business by authors, I also want to believe that the author cares about putting a quality product out there rather than just trying to make as much money as possible (not that there is anything wrong with that!)

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  32. Annabel
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:54:44

    For me, self publishing was do or die. I wanted my books to be read, but the publishers I was using were pricing my novel length ebooks at $9 and $10 on Amazon. I was only selling 40 or so copies a month at that price, even though they were well reviewed. People told me to my face they’d turned to torrents or friend’s copies because of the price.

    So just as an experiment I put up a couple backlist books at $2.99. The first month I sold 600 copies and I was ecstatic. The second month I sold 2000 copies. The third month I sold 6000 copies and made enough to put a new roof on the house and do that landscaping we’ve been needing to do. Most importantly, I was gaining readers. I saw a sales rise even in my uber-pricey traditionally published works.

    For me, seeing that readership growth means that self publishing is my only choice right now. Even for the prestige of traditional publishing, I can’t go back to selling 40 or 50 copies a month, not when I can be selling thousands. Reaching readers is the first consideration for me. With Amazon’s generous royalty rates, I’m able to pay for an editor, proofreader, and cover art. (People tell me my self-pubbed stuff is actually cleaner than a lot of the traditionally published stuff they buy.)

    I tend to agree that it helps to have a few traditionally published works out there first, just for the experience and credibility. As for mass market, that was never in my future anyway due to the niche I write in, so that loss was not acute for me. In answer to your question, Jane, the only thing that would bring me back to the traditional publishing fold was some kind of guarantee that I’d be able to make the kind of sales I’m making now (i.e. low cover price) with terms similar to Amazon’s as far as royalties. I brought the possibility up with one of my publishers and they laughed at me quite hard.

    I do believe that readers want to pay less–significantly less–for digital books. IMO, publishers’ strategy of holding the line and refusing to lower prices is just proliferating the amount of torrent sites out there. Over the long haul, I think inevitably digital prices will be driven down to rock bottom, like phone apps and music, to $1.99 or 99 cents. I don’t know what that means for the future of publishing, the future of MM paperbacks, etc. The industry will have to work it out.

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  33. Vi
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:57:44

    Wow! Such big news! I’m at at work so I am just scanning the comments. So, what book is your last book at Harlequin?
    I have read all of your books and have seen your growth as a writer. I can’t wait to read more from you!

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  34. Marie Force
    May 31, 2011 @ 09:01:02

    @Courtney: I’m so glad the info I’ve shared helped you. We’re all in this together, and it’s so important that we talk about what’s happening in our business so everyone can benefit from the new opportunities.

    @Jane: Thanks! I’m thrilled with the response to my self-pubbed books. The one I posted on April 29, Maid for Love, was rejected all over the place but sold 8,000 units in its first month. The second book in the series, Fool for Love, has sold 1,000 since I posted it on Friday, and the third one, Ready for Love, will be posted on July 1. For the first time in my career, I’m getting to do something I’ve always wanted to do: back-to-back releases.

    To answer your question about what it will take to “go back” to traditional publishers, I have two things to say about that. One, I’m happily writing my Fatal Series for Harlequin’s Carina Press and enjoying my tenure with them very much, so I am still “traditionally” published in that regard. Secondly, I have a book out on submission now. It’s the “book of my heart,” with two already-written sequels. I’m ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN my readers would go crazy over it, and I know this because I talk to my readers–every day. I hope it will be picked up by a NY publisher with mutually agreeable terms, but if that doesn’t happen, my readers will still get the chance to go crazy over it. That’s the best part of this new world order for authors. OPTIONS. For the first time, we have them, and that’s a beautiful thing.

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  35. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 09:01:37

    @Jane: And while I know that publishing is a business and should be treated as a business by authors, I also want to believe that the author cares about putting a quality product out there rather than just trying to make as much money as possible (not that there is anything wrong with that!)

    In my mind, these are one and the same. When I sat down and wrote out my business model for my publishing house (because I am a publishing house now, just not one that acquires any other works) (I’m really not disproving the “anal” part, am I?), this was the crux of it:

    My readers deserve the highest quality product I can put out.

    If I have a religion in this business, that is it, second only to:

    This should be fun.

    I firmly believe that the market will reward quality. I spent a long time–months–trolling bestseller lists on Amazon and the impression I got was that readers were desperately hungry for high-quality works that were reasonably priced, and that there was unmet demand.

    There isn’t unmet demand for crappy books priced reasonably. There are lots of those out there.

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  36. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 09:14:22

    @Vi: UNCLAIMED is my last book from Harlequin.

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  37. Sherry Thomas
    May 31, 2011 @ 09:28:19

    @Jane:

    I’ve read so many crappy $.99 books and just accepted it because it is $.99 and I guess I’ve wondered if a quality book can be published for $.99. (Even in novella form).

    Crap is crap. And even $0.01 is too much to pay for crap. Which is why, even though I have a Nook now, I have yet to substantially increase the number of books I read.

    I guess given the profit ratio that is flowing to the author, it is comparable to what a an anthology might cost to put together. But even Courtney has stated (I think on her blog) that $.99 is not a profit maximizing price but one aimed at broadening her audience.

    I think you can turn a profit on $.99, but it will have to be the Wal-Mart model of massive sales. A lot of $.35 still add up.

    As a reader, all I want is quality. And while I know that publishing is a business and should be treated as a business by authors, I also want to believe that the author cares about putting a quality product out there rather than just trying to make as much money as possible (not that there is anything wrong with that!)

    I can’t speak for all authors, but I know for me, personally, quality trumps everything else.

    With HIS AT NIGHT, my last book, I went through five drafts. I begged Janine to go over the book line by line. I didn’t have enough time to put the book right by deadline, so I rewrote the last three chapters, and was prepared to pay my publisher to redo the typesetting (which turned out to be unnecessary in the end as the typesetter hadn’t got to the last three chapters yet.)

    And then, because the book had been changed so much after the publisher’s copyedits had already been done, I hired a freelance copyeditor to go over it again. The galleys were a nightmare, since I had to handwrite my own changes that I’d made during the gap, the new copyeditor’s changes, and the excellent editorial suggestions she threw in for free.

    That’s the reason I’ve been sitting on my unsold manuscripts. I have currently neither the time nor the inclination to redo them to the same standard.

    But my greatest concern in any future self-publishing endeavor is the editor. A great editor is worth her weight in gold. If I consider all the man-hours my editor at Bantam had put into my books, I don’t know if I can afford the same on my own.

    We shall see.

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  38. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 09:34:39

    @Sherry Thomas: But my greatest concern in any future self-publishing endeavor is the editor. A great editor is worth her weight in gold.

    Word. I also worry that paying an editor a flat-fee will give her an incentive to pick at the low-hanging fruit.

    And honestly, while I have been talking about authors not getting full value here, I think editors are massively underpaid. They work how many hours per week, have to sit through meetings (ugh), have little control over who they acquire (ugh), have to deal with all kinds of crap, and on top of that they live in New York on a salary that would be barely adequate in Nashville?

    Editors are massively underpaid. MASSIVELY so.

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  39. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 09:40:48

    I also worry that paying an editor a flat-fee will give her an incentive to pick at the low-hanging fruit.

    You know, I should give that a little more context. What I mean is this: I worry, a lot, about being fair to people. I don’t want to screw anyone, or take advantage of them. If someone offers to edit my book for a low amount, I worry that either (a) they won’t do a good job or, (b) they will do a good job, and I’ll feel really badly because they’re underpaid and now I’m exploiting them.

    The substantive editor gets the shaft more than any other person in publishing.

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  40. Sarah Rees Brennan
    May 31, 2011 @ 09:45:27

    *cheers for Courtney*

    Also wished to chime in that I was super excited for the middle class historical romances! I loved Wicked Gift, and we do not see enough of those. Bring on the governess/pugilist!

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  41. FiaQ/Maili
    May 31, 2011 @ 10:00:02

    It was writing the books she wanted to write (expect more lower class characters)

    Yes, please!

    @Courtney Milan:

    I’m making more per sale of my 99 cent novella on All Romance eBooks than I made per sale of my full-length book there.

    I find that fascinating and so heartening. Why do you think that’s the case? Bear in mind that quite a few authors note that there is a huge ocean of self-published digital books available at the moment, which makes it hard for some to stand out to potential customers.

    So I wonder, in your case, which of these do you think that is the most likely to get that many readers to buy copies of your self-pubbed book: your name, book blurb, book price, online promotion, or lack of geographical restrictions? Or is it too early to know?

    I bought a copy because of two things: your name and book blurb. And congratulations on your success, btw!
    [edited: eh, I should make clear that I was thinking in terms of readers buying more copies than the sales issue, so if I still g anyway.] got it wron]

    @Sherry Thomas:

    Janine, Meredith Duran, Bettie Sharpe, and I have decided to self-publish our SF/F/urban fantasy/steampunk romance anthology sometime next year.

    Nice one! Is it still too soon to ask which of you is doing the steampunk story?

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  42. Crystal Hilbert
    May 31, 2011 @ 10:00:31

    An interesting development in the publishing world, to be sure. But in order to feasibly match a publishing house’s monetary returns, she’d have to already have a large base of readers that know and follow her. For an author just starting out, he or she would simply be another drop in the bucket.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how this pans out. I’ve bought many self-published books before, but my experiences have steered me away from buying another one again. Poor formatting, bad writing—you name it, I’ve run into self-published authors who thought they didn’t have it.

    I admire those that sally forth on their own adventure into the publishing world, but for me personally, I just don’t have the fan base or start-up money to carry it. So I guess I’ll be sticking with the established publishers.

    I wonder, though, if this move towards self-publication will make the market more competitive. I see a lot of editors and agents on Twitter with the same old joke: “Publishing wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for all the authors.”

    Well, maybe for the big companies, this movement will turn them towards “publishing without all the authors”. I certainly wish them luck. In the end, I hope this self-publishing movement gives rise to editors and agents treating authors more like potential clients with something to sell, rather than pretending to be Gods of All That Is Published—Do You Come With Worthy Tithe?

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  43. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 10:04:25

    @Sherry Thomas: That’s the reason I’ve been sitting on my unsold manuscripts. I have currently neither the time nor the inclination to redo them to the same standard.

    Oh, and re: this: I have two unsold manuscripts sitting on my hard drive. I read them to see if I could do anything with them.

    Nope. They’re not good enough. One of them is unfixably bad; the second is fixable, but by “fixable” I mean “rewritable if I riff on a few themes already in them and spend six months.” I bet I could make some money RIGHT NOW by putting them out. But I also bet I could lose readers.

    Never a good idea to lose readers.

    And Sherry, I am with you on rewriting. For me, the worst book rewriting-wise was Trial by Desire. Wrote maybe 500,000 words for that book. Learned more about writing writing that book than any other book. Still the least favorite of all my books even though it consumed by far the most effort.

    *sigh*

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  44. Karenmc
    May 31, 2011 @ 10:10:14

    I bought Unlocked yesterday morning, read it last night, and loved it. If authors can make a living by self-publishing, go for it. It seems as though Courtney’s business model could be followed by others who want to write exactly what they want, rather than what publishers want. I’d so much rather my money went to the person creating the story than to middlemen.

    For people who need the feel of an actual dead tree book, what’s the possibility of print-on-demand?

    And the Thomas-Duran critique group is writing steampunk? I am SO THERE.

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  45. JB Hunt
    May 31, 2011 @ 10:23:40

    Courtney, what role do you think the blogosphere and twitter buzz play in self publishing success? This sort of “word of mouth” seems hugely important, doesn’t it?

    I’m curious whether many romance blogs regularly review self published works. I imagine they do, but I’m not sure how this is trending.

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  46. Why Did Romance Author Courtney Milan Go Indie? | The Passive Voice
    May 31, 2011 @ 10:34:24

    [...] Link to the rest at Dear Author [...]

  47. Keishon
    May 31, 2011 @ 10:49:56

    Nothing of significance to add only that I’m really excited about this endeavor. I bought Unlocked over the weekend. Two things I’m excited about: 1) no geo restrictions 2) authors writing what they WANT to write while putting out a quality product at that. This is just wonderful. There are writers I’ve enjoyed who have left the market because they couldn’t keep up with the pace or that they didn’t write to market. This changes everything for those who want to put in the work to do it.

    The whole 99 cents price point smacks of laziness to me. {clarifying what I mean is that the author didn’t find it necessary to do anything but just put it up for sale and slap 99 cents on it} The 99 cents doesn’t have to signify a crappy digital book. It could be a great introductory price. I returned one when a well respected writer I enjoyed didn’t format it at all.

    I don’t expect all digital books to be priced at 99 cents. I just want them at a reasonable price. I just saw where Beatrice Small has her backlist now digitized and one of them was priced at $19.99 at the Sony Reader Store. I didn’t check anywhere else and this is sorta off topic so I will stop here. Good luck to you Courtney!

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  48. Jackie Barbosa
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:00:31

    On the subject of pricing and quality, I’ve concluded a couple of things over the past few months.

    The first is that for short books (and by short, I mean anything under 25-30k words), readers will hammer you if you charge more than 0. cents. Even at 99 cents and with a disclaimer in your book blurb that it is a short story, they will STILL complain that 99 cents is too much. (Amazon won’t let you charge less, though, which means if you want the exposure of Amazon for your book, you HAVE TO price it at a minimum of 99 cents.

    Of course, “too short” is an indistinct criticism in and of itself. Is it that the reader liked the story and wanted more, or is that the reader felt the story wasn’t “complete” in the word count allotted? It’s arguably entirely possible for both of these things to be as true about a single title novel as about a short story.

    The second is that, once you get over the 25k mark and might reasonably charge more than 99 cents without having people feel ripped off, you almost HAVE TO leap from the 99 cent mark to the $2.99 mark. That’s because books priced between $1.00 and $2.98 fall into a kind of no-man’s land on Amazon. I’m not sure quite why, but if you look through the Kindle bestseller lists, you’ll see a LOT of 99 cent books and then a lot of books priced between $2.99 and $5.99, with a few agency priced books that are more expensive and (in the case of contemporary romance) some category romances that are discounted to slightly less than $2.99. But it’s almost as if people don’t SEE the books between $1.00 and $2.99.

    This puts the self-publishing author in a bit of a pinch because, while it may seem logical that a 40,000 word short novel should be twice the price of a 20,000 word novella, if you price it that way ($1.98) you likely won’t sell many copies (especially if you are a relative unknown) and you will still only earn your 35% share instead of that juicy 65-70% that comes with the $2.99-9.99 range on Amazon and B&N. (By the way, I love ARe’s decision to py 60% on every price. I’ve sold five copies of my short there since I put it up yesterday, and the royalty difference between them and Amazon/B&N is nothing short of stunning. But we have to think bout Amazon and B&N when pricing, because they’re the big dogs.)

    When I put my short story, THE REIVER, up for sale, I had very, very modest expectations. I’d bought a premade cover from Kim Killion (Hot Damn Designs) for $65. Since the story had already been published in a print anthology, earning me a payment of $250 for writing it, I didn’t have to subject it to a significant editorial process (though I did do another line edit on myself to correct a couple of errors that made it into the print version), so the only cost associated with putting it out was that price of the cover art. I hoped to earn back that $65, but mostly, my goal was to have something available for purchase at Amazon that might operate as an inexpensive gateway to my work for readers who didn’t know me.

    At this point, I can’t say whether it’s “worked” to bring readers back to buy my higher-priced books (which I don’t control, since all are sold by publishers who set the prices), but I can say that sales have exceeded my wildest dreams, particularly this month. For me, sales started out slowly, especially on Amazon. For the first couple of months, I sold VERY well at B&N–so much so that I wondered what all the Amazon hype was about. (Of course, to me, VERY well meant, in my best month, 144 copies, so not exactly knocking it out of the part on a bestseller list or anything.) Sales at B&N have trailed off since then (last I checked, I’d sold 10 copies there this month), but Amazon has EXPLODED. In February, I sold 24 copies on Amazon. In March, 71. April was 193 and this month, I’m at 538 and climbed high enough in the rankings to get into the Historicals bestseller list (which I consider a major accomplishment!).

    What that sales data is telling me is this–that if you are not a known entity with a significant following, you can still do very well in self-publishing if your work can entice enough people to buy your book to get you to start appearing regularly on those Also Bought lists. That can take a couple of months, but once it happens, sales seem to explode. That’s the only thing I can really attribute the massive increase in my sales to, since it’s not as though I’m hearing/reading ny great buzz about my story.

    The experience is enough to convince me that it’s worth my finishing a couple of short novellas I have started but wasn’t sure where to place and put them out at that 99 cent price point. I don’t want to publish novel-length work at that price, but I do think more titles at the 99 cent price point can expand my visibility/name recognition so that, when I do publish something longer, be it with a publisher or by myself, I can sustain the higher price point.

    In any event, these are interesting times for authors, as there are so many more options for us. And I read Unlocked yesterday and loved it. I would GLADLY have paid $2.99 for it, though. At 99 cents, I feel like I robbed the cookie jar :).

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  49. Ridley
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:05:20

    So that makes two established authors who’ve broken with “traditional” publishing to write the books they want to write.

    As a reader bored stiff over regency dukes and itching for working class historicals and books set in periods other than regency/Victorian England, I hope you experience wild and crazy success. More reading variety can only be a wonderful thing.

    Now, if someone could just get Pam Morsi to self-publish some more Americana romance…

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  50. Jackie Barbosa
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:09:01

    I’m a little unclear on the geo restrictions issue. As I understand it, Smashwords is worldwide (though I get virtually no sales at all there), although since they distribute to multiple other sites (Kobo, Sony, etc.), I’m not sure what the rules are for those subsidiary sites. Amazon is partially geo-restricted (i.e., there is Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Amazon DE). Readers in the UK and Germany have to buy from their respective sites, but I gather readers anywhere else in the world can buy from the Amazon US site if the book is not geo-restricted (true/false)? B&N’s distribution is US only, regardless of whether you specify world rights when uploading your book. What about All Romance eBooks? Worldwide? What other channels are there? Anyone know?

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  51. FiaQ/Maili
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:16:58

    @Jackie Barbosa:

    I gather readers anywhere else in the world can buy from the Amazon US site if the book is not geo-restricted (true/false)?

    True, but you would have to open an account at Amazon US before you could purchase a copy.

    The idea of having more than one Amazon account isn’t my idea of fun, though, because it messes with accessibility. For example: I can’t access AMZN-US books – such as buying books from Amazon US site – if Kindle for PC isn’t set in AMZN-US account mode, and I can’t access AMZN-UK books when it’s in AMZN-US mode. To read AMZN-UK books, the Kindle4PC has to be in AMZN-UK account mode. Likewise with AMZN-US books and AMZN-US account mode. So, unless there’s a way round this, I’m not keen on purchasing books from Amazon US.

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  52. pebbletope
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:24:24

    I am in the Caribbean and the Kindle price for Unlocked is $2.99, not $0.99 (and this is not my first experience of such). I still purchased it because the recommendations from Jane et al are usually worth it, and I enjoyed it very much (and the experience motivated me to buy my first full-length Milan, Proof by Seduction, especially when I read her author notes and realised that she is as nerdy as I am!)

    Just curious, but in such a case, do you get 35% of the US cost or the higher price? I’m also wondering of others outside of the US have to pay a higher price for their books.

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  53. Jackie Barbosa
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:24:36

    @FiaQ/Maili: I wasn’t thinking so much of folks who live in the UK–I was rather assuming if you lived in the UK or Germany, you HAD TO buy from the appropriate Amazon sites, but that any ebook with worldwide rights specified would be purchasable there. (Is there also an Amazon Australia? I thought there was, although it doesn’t show up as a separate “channel” in Kindle Direct Publishing).I guess in theory people outside the UK/Germany could register an account on those sites and buy through them instead of through Amazon US?

    Either way, my question still is, if I live in Thailand or Qatar or Uganda, can I buy non-geo-restricted ebooks through Amazon (assuming I set up an account with one of the Amazon sites)?

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  54. Sherry Thomas
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:26:30

    @FiaQ/Maili:

    Is it still too soon to ask which of you is doing the steampunk story?

    Bettie Sharpe, of course. (Although I’m not sure why I say of course, as she hasn’t published anything steampunk yet.)

    @Karenmc:

    And the Thomas-Duran critique group is writing steampunk? I am SO THERE.

    As noted above, only Bettie Sharpe is writing steampunk, as far as I know. But I hope you’ll still be there. :-)

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  55. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:42:52

    @FiaQ/Maili:

    I’m excited, too! So excited.

    @Karenmc:

    It seems as though Courtney’s business model could be followed by others who want to write exactly what they want, rather than what publishers want.

    Ya know, I care about what readers want, too. Not so much that they’ll dictate what I write about completely–that would be boring–but if I wanted to write a romance about sea slugs that ended in a boating disaster, I might balk because my readers wouldn’t like it.

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  56. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:45:22

    @pebbletope: I am in the Caribbean and the Kindle price for Unlocked is $2.99, not $0.99 (and this is not my first experience of such).

    This is Amazon’s $2 Kindle “delivery charge” which I think they charge you even if you aren’t getting it delivered through 3G. It sucks. I don’t get any part of that, and can’t change the price no matter what I do.

    I hope you can buy through All Romance eBooks instead–http://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-unlocked-550021-160.html–it should be 99 cents there, without any surcharges.

    I have no experience with buying through ARe internationally but I’ve heard anecdotally that it works.

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  57. Gretchen Galway
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:46:42

    Congratulations and best of luck, Courtney.

    Add me to the list of readers sick of the aristocracy. Sometimes I wonder if Georgette Heyer saddled the modern Regency romance with the “blood tells” subtext. Her books (which I adore except for this) are filled with admiration for hereditary qualities.

    I had no idea publishing houses were nixing authors from exploring the unDukely sorts. I figured it was because so much of historical British romance written by Americans is an ode to what has already been written. We love the fantasy of the ton, the British, the class system. And, perhaps more importantly, it would take a huge amount of fresh research to portray the way most people lived, so much of it difficult and unromantic. But I’d love to read it.

    As for self-publishing, I haven’t sold 50K copies yet, but I’m optimistic about getting there. It’s a great time to be a writer, especially a romance writer–the world is full of people hungry for great stories. As long as you make it affordable and flexible (no-DRM, no geo restrictions) and good, you can go far.

    Last point: editors. Totally agree with what Courtney said above. Perhaps 2012 will be the year of the Indie-Editor as they leave the big houses to take on clients directly. (If it weren’t for health insurance in this country, I bet it would already have happened.)

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  58. Karenmc
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:50:46

    Sherry Thomas

    Of course I’ll be there. With bells on, and perhaps a holstered ray gun.

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  59. MaryK
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:51:06

    I bought Unlocked as soon as I heard about it. It wasn’t up on Kindle yet so I got it at ARe.

    I think 99 cents is a decent price for a novella. I wouldn’t pay much more than that. (“Novella” is very nebulous to me. I don’t want to risk paying say $2 for the equivalent of a ten page mmp.) But I certainly expect to pay more for a full length novel.

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  60. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:56:35

    I had no idea publishing houses were nixing authors from exploring the unDukely sorts.

    To be fair, I have never actually pitched a book about a miller and had it nixed. But I’ve gotten enough pushback on other plot points that I think if I said, “look, here’s this great book where the hero is a butler!” there would be blank stares.

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  61. Jackie Barbosa
    May 31, 2011 @ 11:57:30

    @MaryK:

    I wouldn’t pay much more than that. (“Novella” is very nebulous to me. I don’t want to risk paying say $2 for the equivalent of a ten page mmp.)

    Novella should not be nebulous. It only is because some authors/publishers call short stories ‘novellas’. This annoys me.

    The word length breakdowns as generally understood are:

    5k-19,999k = short story (5,000 words = roughly 20 pgs at 250 words per page)

    20k-39,999k = novella

    40k-74,999 = short novel (category romances, some lit fiction)

    75k+ = single title novel

    If people wouldn’t insist on mixing up the terminology, this wouldn’t be nearly as confusing.

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  62. Jackie Barbosa
    May 31, 2011 @ 12:02:39

    Apologies for the formatting of the last comment. Tried to fix, but the editing feature apparently hates blockquote tags.

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  63. Karenmc
    May 31, 2011 @ 12:03:30

    @Courtney Milan: Yep, I was too exclusionary. Of course your goal is to write something that appeals to your readers (although slugs on a boat is an intriguing idea).

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  64. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 12:04:38

    Okay, I’m doing a poor, haphazard job of responding right now–I’m supposed to go somewhere with my husband in ten minutes, and I’m not packed yet–so sorry if I’ve missed you, and I’ll try to get back to you before tonight.

    For this:

    Perhaps 2012 will be the year of the Indie-Editor as they leave the big houses to take on clients directly. (If it weren’t for health insurance in this country, I bet it would already have happened.)

    You know what? I have no idea how much money I will make–none–but the first person I would pay a percentage of royalties to would be an editor. FIRST PERSON. There. I said it.

    There are a ton of changes in publishing, but I firmly believe that the editors out there–the ones who work hard and make books better–you know who you are, and your authors love you for what you’ve done. Seriously. So if this big huge revolution happens as predicted (something I have grave doubts about), editors are the #2 people that are needed.

    My husband is literally packing things around me and I’m sitting here with my clothes in a heap right next to me.

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  65. Ros
    May 31, 2011 @ 12:07:07

    Courtney, thank you so much for this post and I hope this works out really well for you. I have a question about how you found your editors/proofreaders. Were these people you already knew from your experience in the traditional publishing world? I worry that anyone could call themselves an editor, charge lots of money, and do an appalling job. Are there reputable agencies for editorial services?

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  66. Ros
    May 31, 2011 @ 12:24:19

    @Jackie Barbosa: Jackie, I think that most ebook sites will sell to anywhere in the world, in theory. But geographical restrictions are imposed by publishers, and the sellers have to abide by that. So they will generally check your IP address, locate you in the world and decide what you’re allowed to buy. Sometimes there are ways round it by pretending to have a US address but it’s not legal. If a book has geographical restrictions, it has them on all the sites where it’s sold.

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  67. MaryK
    May 31, 2011 @ 12:26:09

    @Jackie Barbosa: “some authors/publishers call short stories ‘novellas’.”

    There’s definitely that. The biggest problem for me though is that I have only the vaguest grasp of word count as a measurement of length. It’s a visual thing I can’t get past. 200 pages is this size, 500 pages is this size, etc. People in the publishing biz are used to words, but I’m still stuck on pages.

    @Courtney Milan: “if I said, “look, here’s this great book where the hero is a butler!””

    I would love to read a romance with Jeeves as the hero!

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  68. Jackie Barbosa
    May 31, 2011 @ 12:32:51

    @MaryK: Until fairly recently, publishers figured the length of a book by multiplying the page count by 250, which was assumed to be the average number of words per page. With modern true type fonts and proportional-spaced type, we actually tend to get slightly more than 250 words per manuscript page, but as a rule of thumb, that’s how I count when trying to explain how “big” a book would be if it were a physical, printed entity. Tht means I think of my 8500 word short story as being roughly 35 pages, even though depending on how the text is formatted, the page size/margins, etc., it may turn out to be slightly more or less if actually printed.

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  69. Linsey Lanier
    May 31, 2011 @ 12:45:59

    @Courtney Milan: Excellent point about how editors are paid!

    Thanks so much, Courtney, for sharing this information. This is a bold move and I’m impressed. For authors, like me, who are dipping their toes into self-publishing, you are an inspiration. I agree with everything you’ve said.

    This is a fascinating discussion. Now off to download “Unlocked.”

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  70. Kim in Hawaii
    May 31, 2011 @ 12:57:15

    Ho’omaika’i, Courtney, on your self pub success (as Unmaskd was the buzz over the weekend.

    You seemed to have embraced the Hawaiian proverb:

    Kulia i ka nu’u.
    Translation: Strive for the summit.

    Best wishes on your future endevours!

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  71. L.K. Rigel (likari)
    May 31, 2011 @ 13:18:38

    It’s wonderful to see self-publishing discussed without the usual derision. That’s probably one of the best things about legacy published authors coming over to the dark side!

    Another advantage of indie publishing is that books aren’t restricted to a few months to find their audience. Also, an author can develop a series without fear that it will be dropped at midpoint.

    Yes, there will be more crap out there. There will also be greater variety, and the new infrastructure of book blogging sites like Dear Author and social sites like Goodreads – and even Facebook – help people discover great new books.

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  72. Michelle
    May 31, 2011 @ 13:47:25

    I think we do need more butler/valet heros.

    (Who didn’t love the valet from Downton Abbey-was it Bates?)

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  73. meoskop
    May 31, 2011 @ 13:50:34

    @Courtney Milan:

    I think the most important bit of info here are the royalty rates and that’s something I think authors going to non traditional models should stress. I gifted copies from Amazon, but I will buy wherever the author I am buying from makes the most money. If each author indicated a different vendor, I’d use a different vendor for each author.

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  74. Jackie Barbosa
    May 31, 2011 @ 13:51:03

    @Michelle:

    I think we do need more butler/valet heros.

    And the title is so obvious: THE BUTLER DID IT.

    Also, I think Gail Carriger should write a book for Floote, the butler in the Soulless series. Because he is full of win.

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  75. Stephanie Doyle
    May 31, 2011 @ 13:59:39

    Courtney,

    Thank you for this! I just scheduled a blog for Thursday on this topic. What we need is data. Authors sitting around talking about what the numbers really are and what it costs to produce a high quality “edited” work.

    I really hope you’re planning some type of panel/workshop at RWA about this experience. It would be tremendously beneficial for authors to discuss this and at the very least – talk about standardizing pricing.

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  76. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 14:34:24

    @Ros: Quick answer.

    My copy-editor worked on a friend’s book. She freelances for major NY houses. Word of mouth–it is awesome. I love her.

    But here’s the thing: one thing I know is I know how I like to be edited and how I don’t. For this release, I had some timing issues that meant there were some good people who wouldn’t work, and there were others who I thought were a good fit. I asked to see books they had edited. I googled them to see if they’d talked about editing style.

    I’m not the easiest person to work with either: I’m a hugely analytical nitpicky bitch to edit, and among other things, I have problems delivering on a schedule, especially when I discover I have to rewrite 15,000 words. But I also know what works for me and what doesn’t.

    I don’t know what to say to people who don’t know if their editor is working for them. Either you know or you don’t.

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  77. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 14:36:42

    I really hope you’re planning some type of panel/workshop at RWA about this experience. It would be tremendously beneficial for authors to discuss this and at the very least – talk about standardizing pricing.

    Nothing formal that I know of. But come talk to me. I will be in the bar. I’m happy to talk about almost everything…

    EXCEPT STANDARDIZING PRICING, because yo, that would be price fixing, and it’s illegal.

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  78. Moriah Jovan
    May 31, 2011 @ 15:19:03

    @Courtney Milan:

    I don’t know what to say to people who don’t know if their editor is working for them. Either you know or you don’t.

    All I can say is: I got lucky. Twice.

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  79. Ros
    May 31, 2011 @ 15:20:16

    @Courtney Milan: That’s really helpful, thanks. I feel like I would know pretty quickly whether an editor was working for me or not, I just worry that I might already have paid cash I can’t afford by that stage. Asking to see books they’ve worked on is a great idea and maybe even asking if authors they’ve worked with would be willing to be contacted. Googling is a good start too. I do think this is an area where being already published gives you a big headstart in self-publishing – I don’t have any word of mouth recommendations because I don’t know anyone who has used an editor either!

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  80. Susanna Fraser
    May 31, 2011 @ 15:35:35

    if I wanted to write a romance about sea slugs that ended in a boating disaster, I might balk because my readers wouldn’t like it.

    You know, I keep saying that were-geoducks are going to be the Next Big Thing.

    Thanks for sharing your thought process on all this. The publishing world has changed so fast it’s almost dizzying at times. Just in the past six months I’ve gone from “I’d NEVER self-publish” to “The time isn’t right for me, for now, but maybe someday,” and it’s so helpful to see where others are on the same path.

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  81. Gretchen Galway
    May 31, 2011 @ 15:42:58

    @Jackie Barbosa:

    LOL The Butler Did It.

    With Plum in the library.

    (hashtag romancekills)

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  82. Stephanie Doyle
    May 31, 2011 @ 16:08:57

    Courtney – not sure if you’re still answering comments… but how can there be an “Agent Pricing Model” – but not some loose standard authors can use?

    I see your point on the price fixing. But if authors start undercutting price on authors wouldn’t the result be to drive down profits across the board?

    Somehow the music industry decided .99 or 1.29 was an okay amount for a song.

    All I’m saying is that authors have to understand what a reasonable price point is for their product. If we decide .99 are okay for novellas – but single title length work has to be above 2.99 – isn’t that fair? If author A choses to sell at 4.99 vs 5.99 – that’s not price fixing. But if bestselling author A decides to sell single title at .99… what type of expectation does this set for buyers?

    I also find myself at the bar at these events – best place to go to hear what’s happening. I’ll be the crazy lady flagging you down then bombarding you with questions.

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  83. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 16:19:29

    @Stephanie Doyle: Under Agency pricing, the publisher decides where to set prices for their books. If the publishers colluded with each other to set e-book pricing, that would be illegal. But a publisher choosing to set its own prices is fine, now that we’ve walked away from a centuries-old precedent on resale price maintenance.

    I see your point on the price fixing. But if authors start undercutting price on authors wouldn’t the result be to drive down profits across the board?

    Yes, and that is something the law says is categorically good for consumers, and we don’t have a right to try to increase our profits at the consumers’ expense.

    Somehow the music industry decided .99 or 1.29 was an okay amount for a song.

    Apple decided it was going to sell music for 0.99 a song, and Apple was the place to sell. From that, nobody could dare try to sell it for more, because who would leave iTunes for a more expensive song?

    All I’m saying is that authors have to understand what a reasonable price point is for their product. If we decide .99 are okay for novellas – but single title length work has to be above 2.99 – isn’t that fair? If author A choses to sell at 4.99 vs 5.99 – that’s not price fixing. But if bestselling author A decides to sell single title at .99… what type of expectation does this set for buyers?

    Sure we do. But the truth of the matter is, it’s not legal for me to bring any kind of pressure on bestselling author A to raise her prices, no matter what kind of expectation this sets. The truth is, if the free market rate for a single title is 99 cents, it’s not legal for me, or anyone else, to try to change it.

    I can talk about what *I* think it’s right to charge. You can talk about what *you* think it’s right to charge. But the moment we stop talking about our individual sensibilities and start agreeing on what *we* will charge, unless we’re in some kind of joint venture, what we’re doing is illegal.

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  84. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 16:20:43

    @Ros: You can ask for a sample edit, too. It’s not going to tell you how the editor responds to big-picture stuff, but you can tell a lot stylistically.

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  85. Courtney
    May 31, 2011 @ 16:50:01

    Fascinating stuff. Thanks so much for sharing, Courtney. From one Courtney to another, I have a question about marketing (that I don’t think was covered in the 83 responses above and if it was, I apologize): What, if anything, do you plan to do to market your books outside of your current website and blog? Do you feel as though you learned anything about marketing from your books with HQN that you can now implement as a self-published author?

    This is kind of clumsy, but one thing I struggle with as a writer (with a publisher) is how to market myself i.e. what else to do in addition to Facebook, blog, etc. Trade ads? Other types of advertising? I’ve often thought that one advantage of a Big 6 publisher would be the assistance in marketing your book and I’m always curious as to how others have figured out effective marketing strategies outside of the Big 6.

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  86. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 17:11:26

    What, if anything, do you plan to do to market your books outside of your current website and blog? Do you feel as though you learned anything about marketing from your books with HQN that you can now implement as a self-published author?

    I was planning to add everyone’s e-mail address to my new mailing list, and send out reminders to buy every three days. Also, I was thinking of setting up a twitter bot to tweet “BUY MY BOOK!” anyone who uses the word “romance”–

    Oh, you mean real ideas? Keep on keeping on. One of the things I’ve discovered is that there are infinite numbers of ways to spend time and money that are of dubious promotional value. Some are fun. Some are worthwhile.

    Right now, my fundamental unit of promotion is a book giveaway. If it costs you $X to give away a copy of your book, and the promotion expense is $Y, will it be a better use of your money than giving away Y/X copies of your book?

    For instance, suppose you could buy an ad in the NY Times for $3,000. (I have no idea how much it is, guys, just guessing.) Ask yourself this: If you went down to your bookstore and bought 300 copies of your book and gave them away to people on Twitter, is your vague sense of things telling you that would give you better promotional value?

    How do you know? I don’t know. Vague sense of thingummy is as best as I get. Mostly I’m making it up because I have no freaking clue myself.

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  87. Stephanie Doyle
    May 31, 2011 @ 17:20:24

    Courtney – thank you!!! I think it’s exactly that kind of thing we all need to know. As a publisher I’m ignorant. But now I’m learning.

    What you said makes perfect sense and helps with a lot of decisions still to be made.

    Good luck. I’m a fan… and I’ll say like some others I think getting a Milan for .99 is steal. But I’ll take it!

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  88. Stephanie Doyle
    May 31, 2011 @ 17:21:01

    Courtney – thank you!!! I think it’s exactly that kind of thing we all need to know. As a publisher I’m ignorant. But now I’m learning.

    What you said makes perfect sense and helps with a lot of decisions still to be made.

    Good luck. I’m a fan… and I’ll say like some others I think getting a Milan for .99 is steal. But I’ll take it!

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  89. Stephanie Doyle
    May 31, 2011 @ 17:23:43

    Courtney – thank you!! Makes perfect sense and answers a lot of questions for me.

    As a publisher I’m ignorant – but learning.

    Good luck. I’m a big fan – and I like a lot of others think getting a Milan for .99 is a steal. But I’ll take it!

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  90. JB Hunt
    May 31, 2011 @ 17:24:15

    @Courtney Milan:

    I’ll bet there’s a marketing guru out there who knows the answer to that one. I wish I knew her! :)

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  91. Ridley
    May 31, 2011 @ 17:55:25

    @Courtney Milan: I keep wanting to add “Lucic” to the end of your name.

    I’d say I have hockey on my brain, but I think it’s just gone and replaced my brain entirely.

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  92. KarLynP
    May 31, 2011 @ 19:13:06

    >>Right now, my fundamental unit of promotion is a book giveaway. If it costs you $X to give away a copy of your book, and the promotion expense is $Y, will it be a better use of your money than giving away Y/X copies of your book?<<

    From a readers POV, I think this will get you the most mileage too. Be sure to use Goodreads as one option, as your 'winner' will likely be part of a reading community and will share their thoughts (good or bad!) with all of their friends. Many avid romance readers post elsewhere too, including blogs and other forums. A great promotional strategy includes building a great word-of-mouth campaign about the book and author.

    Best of luck Courtney, I downloaded your new novella today on the recommendations of several online friends, (a.k.a. that "word of mouth campaign" I mentioned.)

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  93. kaylea cross
    May 31, 2011 @ 19:39:43

    What a great, candid article. I think we’ll only see more and more authors turning to self-publishing as things continue to tighten up in the industry.

    Ms. Milan’s readers will appreciate the care she’s taken to ensure her book was of the best quality possible. And from the rave reviews I’ve already read online, I’d say she nailed it.

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  94. Carly M.
    May 31, 2011 @ 20:46:26

    Courtney, I am so glad you shared your thoughts behind this decision and your follow ups on author royalties. It’s frustrating as someone who prefers e-books over paper books to realize that my personal preference is costing authors royalties in the traditional publishing scheme. But it’s also refreshing to know the royalty rates between e-tailers because, while I was planning to purchase Unlocked on my Kindle, it’s great to know that I can direct more of my purchasing dollars to you through allRomance. Also, on pricing — once I’m assured of an author’s quality, I’m willing to shell out. I’d continue to pay $6-8 for your novel lengths and $3-4 for your novellas. I waited and waited and waited for Harlequin to do sales on the Heart of Christmas because I couldn’t justify $8 for only wanting to read one novella, but was happy to have paid $3.50 when it was on a Christmas sale this year. Anecdotal, but for quality writing with great reviews, I will definitely pay more.

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  95. Evangeline Holland
    May 31, 2011 @ 23:15:44

    Congratulations Courtney! I kept seeing Unlocked floating around the internet over the past week, but had no idea it was your initial foray into self-publishing. Much success to you in the coming future.

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  96. Courtney Milan
    May 31, 2011 @ 23:22:53

    @Ridley: Mr. Milan has decided that’s who he wants to be, if he has to be a Milan.

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  97. Ann
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 00:12:12

    Hi Courtney–I bought UNLOCKED for my Kindle today. I’ve read one of your print books so far, and I hope to get the rest of your trilogy(?) soon.

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  98. ami
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 01:16:04

    O! a marketing question! I can attempt to answer(not that I am that qualified)

    what they always say in marketing, segmentation, segmentation… How many expected eyeballs are there for the New York compared to the number of books you are giving out? Of that percentage how many do readers meet your expected audience that would consider buying the book?

    In this case, twitter probably be the better bet as simply using a twitter bot to find “romance” and say you won a book probably would generate more word of mouth and sales than a simple ad. The only problem is cannalizabation of sales that you would have gotten anyway but that is outweighted by the pros.

    (haha our marketing professor used an example of a $5,000 New York Times article versus giving away 1,000 free burritos so I’m just thinking its similar)

    Now if it like this book(a thriller) ad I saw on hulu after watching Castle… that might be worth it.

    Btw, this self-publishing makes me want to get my strategy professor think about how the publishing offices still remain viable….

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  99. Kaetrin
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 01:20:06

    I bought Unlocked for 99c from ARe yesterday – I’m in Australia and I buy from there quite often, geo restriction-willing that is. Thank you for not having geo restrictions Courtney!
    I have a question – do you have the rights to your first novella? and if so, will you publish it as a separate e-Novella? I’m interested in reading it but I don’t want to buy the whole anthology – I already have the Mary Balogh story 2x so I don’t need to get it again.

    I think 99c is a steal for a novella. Good luck with the new venture.

    @ Jackie Barbosa I saw your comment up thread about readers thinking anything more than 0c is too much for a short story. For my part, I don’t mind paying for a book, short story or novella but if the MMP price of a full length novel is $7.99, then I’d expect a shorter story to be proportionally less expensive as a rule of thumb.

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  100. Ann G.
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 01:52:11

    The above comments didn’t appear when I tried to post them to DEAR AUTHOR at AOL. But there they are when I use Firefox. Sorry for the repetition, but it didn’t look like any of my comments DID post.

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  101. Ros
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 03:13:23

    @Courtney Milan: Great idea!

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  102. Courtney Milan
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 07:49:07

    I have a question – do you have the rights to your first novella? and if so, will you publish it as a separate e-Novella? I’m interested in reading it but I don’t want to buy the whole anthology – I already have the Mary Balogh story 2x so I don’t need to get it again.

    I don’t. I don’t have the right to ask until we get 5 years out, and then, only if the sales don’t meet a certain sales threshold. If I had the rights, trust me, it would be up already!

    I *will* ask if the sales don’t meet the threshold, but I have serious doubts that will ever come to pass.

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  103. DS
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 08:20:10

    @Carly M.: Just to throw something else out there– on Amazon and B&N the purchase of Unlocked may garner smaller royalties, but as it climbs the best seller lists at least on Amazon then it will be recommended more by Amazon’s algorithm thus seen by more potential buyers.

    Unlocked by the way is currently 87 on the paid Kindle list, which is very, very good. I’m afraid I couldn’t find it listed on B&N though.

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  104. Courtney Milan
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 09:34:35

    DS:

    It’s not on B&N yet because even though I uploaded it there 6 days ago, B&N hasn’t gotten around to processing the file yet. No response to e-mails. No way to contact them.

    *headdesk*

    And yes, even though I do make more through some vendors, I’m hesitant to suggest that one is preferable to the other for precisely that reason: there’s ancillary benefits to the purchase.

    Personally, I don’t feel comfortable telling readers where to shop. My paycheck is my problem; if I upload a file to a retailer, it’s because I’m happy with the rate they’re willing to pay, and I’m happy to have readers buy from them.

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  105. Cindy Nord
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 09:36:09

    You’re a trailblazer, Courtney. Excellent article…thanks for sharing your thoughts and vision.

    Warmest,
    Cindy

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  106. Jackie Barbosa
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 10:27:49

    @Kaetrin: I agree that a short story or novella should on average cost less than a novel, but of course, we have people who are all over the map in what they charge. There are plenty of self-published authors charging 99 cents for single title novels, although there seem to be just as many who are charging $2.99 or more.

    It’s really hard and even a little wrong-headed, IMO, to entirely peg price to length. I paid $7.99 for Julie Ann Long’s What I Did for a Duke and happily, because I knew I would get my money’s worth. I have experience with her books AND many people who share my taste in reading loved that book. Would I pay that for a JAL novella? Probably not, but I would happily pay $2.99 and, as I said upthread, I would also happily pay $2.99 for a Courtney Milan novella. These are authors I can trust to deliver a story I will enjoy, so I am willing to pay more.

    By the same token, I’ve read samples of full length novels that were priced at 99 cents, and frankly, I think I should have been paid to read the sample, they were so badly written/edited/etc.

    So, to me, it’s realistic for shorter stories to be priced less than full-length novellas on average and that’s certainly how I would price as a publisher. That said, whether any particular title is worth what’s being charged for it has a lot less to do with length than with the actual entertainment value of the content to me as a reader.

    Also, because you CAN’T set a price lower than 99 cents through Kindle Direct Publishing or PubIt, it’s not entirely possible to “scale” price for length. That is, my short story is 8,500 words. If we could truly scale that price, it should cost about 1/11th of what a single title novel costs (assuming a single title is about 95k words and costs $7.99). But mathematically, I’m not ALLOWED to price it at 1/11th of $7.99, because that’s less than 99 cents. So, it’s 99 cents or I don’t put it on Amazon!

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  107. Gretchen Galway
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 10:54:22

    @Courtney Milan:
    There’s a funny little quirk about BN: your first title takes forever to go through–some online have said it never works. I read about this on the support boards and tried a little trick:
    Take your first upload “off sale”, and reupload it. (save all your metadata, blurbs, etc. to a clipboard). I did this and the new version went through in a couple hours. Now I have an offsale version of my book that I can’t delete, but it hasn’t caused me any trouble.

    Best of luck! Romance sells really well on BN. It has a community that’s lacking at Amazon.

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  108. MaryK
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 16:39:41

    @Jackie Barbosa: I agree I’d pay more for favorite authors. Before they’re favorites, though, they’re unknowns-to-me. It’s probably a good idea to keep new readers in mind when pricing.

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  109. Christina
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 17:22:42

    This is so interesting to me bc after buying (and loving!) UNLOCKED, I went back through most of my ebook purchases from the last few months and even though I’m buying an increasing number of self-pubbed books (wow I didn’t realize how many!), this was the first historical romance one I bought. I love historical romance, so either there aren’t very many authors self-pubbing it or I’m not very good at discovering them. I’ve found quite a few RS and contemporary rom self-pubbed gems, though, as well as some awesome thrillers. So I wonder if this is just me, or if historical romance hasn’t really taken off in the self-pubbing world?

    Regardless, I’m so looking forward to Courtney’s next release!

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  110. Bob Mayer
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 20:39:23

    Good luck Courtney.
    I believe for authors with backlist, self-publishing can be a goldmine. For new authors, it’s as difficult to succeed in as it is to get an agent and succeed in traditional publishing.
    My last two traditional book deals were bigger than Eisler’s, but I wouldn’t go that way again, unless there were some major changes made.
    I had an editor at one of the big 6 tell me they could barely promote their frontlist, never mind their backlist. Although how much promotion they do on frontlist is pretty questionable. In essence, traditional publishing has had a stranglehold on distribution, not marketing or promoting.
    I agree good editing is very important. But this can found freelance. After all, as more and more of the market slips from the fingers of the Big 6, there will be a lot more editors looking for work.
    I sold over 20,500 ebooks in May and I still have 10 titles to upload. My sales are increasing exponentially across the board with over a dozen titles in their bestellser lists in their categories. Most of that is backlist which some of the Big 6 never promoted, never pushed, never thought were important. I just passed a NY Times bestseller from this week with the exact same title as my book in sales. She was on Jon Stewart a week ago. So much for the push you can get from the Big 6.

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  111. Evangeline Holland
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 21:49:24

    @Christina: I have seen a good handful self-published historical romance, though mostly from veteran authors like Alexis Harrington or Jenna Petersen. I theorize that since a great majority of historical romance writers write what’s out there (namely, Regencies with aristocratic characters), there is no impetus to self-publish, or even e-publish unless one’s book is completely outside of the box. I write unusual historicals, and though I’m still shooting for NY, I do not rule out e- or self-publishing, and look forward to more nontraditional historical romances entering the digital marketplace.

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