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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

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