My Thoughts on Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, and Pricing

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I came back from the writer’s conference a couple weeks ago, and I’ve also listened to a couple of CDs from the workshops that I was unable to attend.  Below are my thoughts.  They do not reflect the thoughts of the other contributing authors on this blog.  Because my kids and I have been sick for a week, I’m closing off comments.   I wanted to do a blog post since it’s been a while, but I don’t have the energy to answer comments at this time.

With that disclaimer aside, here are my thoughts.

1.  Self-publishing ensures the author’s vision is intact.

Every once in a while, I start thinking that a traditional publisher, especially a small one, might be the way to go to build credibility among those who say those who can traditionally publish at least once, those who can’t self-publish all the time.   I’ve never been traditionally published, and looking back I’m very glad for it.  Why?  Because I never had someone from a publishing house come in and influence my voice, my characters, and my story.  Everything is 100% the way it was meant to be.  Yes, I realize that some publishers are good about sticking true to the author’s vision, but as soon as you hand over your work to a publisher, it gets tweaked on somehow.

Please note, an editor that works with your vision is very important, so I believe others going over your book is crucial.  But the editor should work for you, not the publisher.  In my opinion, an editor who works for the publisher has to be true to the publisher first and the author second.  So the publisher’s vision still prevails.  So yes, a fresh pair of eyes is key.  More than one pair is even better.  Editors, proofreaders, beta readers, critique partners, etc.  They can make your book better, but they must never sacrifice what makes your story unique: you.  Hope that makes sense.  😀

2.  I still believe you stand a better chance of making money through self-publishing.

I guess it depends on how big your name is, how big of a following you have, and what a publisher will do to promote you.  But what I’m talking about is the ordinary Joe on the street.  I consider myself to be one of those Joe’s.  I’m not a mega-blockbuster author.  You won’t find my name alongside Amanda Hocking or JA Konrath.  There are authors who outsell me by leaps and bounds.  I’m mid-list.  Lots of people have no idea who I am.  Based on how few people ever buy my books when I’m right there ready to sign them in person, I can honestly say that a lot of people don’t care to read my books.  And you know what?  I still make money.

To be honest, this used to bother me.  I hate to admit it, but sure, I would have loved to have been the Top 100 in the Paid Kindle US store or gotten a NYT Bestselling Author or USA Today Bestselling author status to put next to my name.  But looking back ever since this conference, I realized it’s to my advantage that I am where I’m at.  Why?  Because when I was at the conference and giving my spiel on marketing techniques, I was able to look other authors in the eye and tell them it’s possible to be a mid-list self-published author and make a living.

I’m not saying it’s a guarantee.  I’ve been publishing on Amazon and Smashwords since 2009.  I just published my 28th romance.  It took many books and time to get to where I am.  For two years straight, I was focusing on social networking (hanging out on a lot of forums as a participant, discussion boards, Myspace–back then it was good for authors be there, and Facebook).  I gave away a lot of free books, and it took me two years before I made $18K in one year.  In 2009, I made $150.  But you do everything you can to write a compelling story, keep finding ways to better polish up your work (you improve with every book you write), and keep at it.  I don’t believe in shortcuts.  I’ve seen sales rise and fall, my income vary from month to month like a roller coaster.  Do not quit your day job unless you have six months living expenses in your emergency fund and the ability and time to write more and more books.   I got lucky.  My husband worked while I wrote and stayed home as a housewife.  Not everyone has the luxury I did to build up seven to eight books a year (on average).  Be realistic, but also know if you don’t make a living, you might make some nice spending cash.

3. Traditional publishing isn’t a quick method to get established.

Publishers have their expenses, and not all of the books they publish will break even (meaning they will get back their investment on paying the editor, cover artist, etc).  So even publishers lose money on publishing some of the books they accept.  One publisher said the best marketing tool in her belt was to get more books out there.  The more books you can get out there, the better your chances are of finding the book that will take off.  That’s the heart of what I took away from the conference.  Of course, this does not mean you sacrifice quality for quantity.  You’ll never make money if you don’t produce quality books, and this publisher does produce quality books.  But the face remains, there are no shortcuts, so having a publisher isn’t necessarily a shortcut.  You will still need to market.  You will still need to write the best book possible.  Either way, you will have to put in the effort.

In my opinion (and keep in mind it’s only an opinion), I think it’s worth self-publishing in order to keep your rights to your work so you are free to do whatever you want to with it.  Even with the hassles involved with self-publishing (because we wear all the hats in the business), I still think it’s worth it.

4. Knowing what the market will bear helps make better pricing decisions.

A lot of people (and I mean a lot) hate my pricing strategy.  I’m fine with that.  I don’t think we all have to have the same opinion.  After all, some authors raise their prices and their sales go up.  I can’t argue with their experience.  What I know is that a higher price doesn’t work for me.  You have to price your book at what the market will bear, which means if you can sell enough copies where you are happy at a certain price, then that price is ideal for you.

Something to keep in mind when thinking of how to price your books is what is happening to the economy, both in your country and worldwide.  We are a global community.  Our ebooks are going global.  It’s exciting.  The barriers between the author and finding readers are no longer an issue.  However, we need to keep in mind what is going on with different economies.  Here in the US (from my perspective), the economy is too shaky to be pricing ebooks too high.  I was thinking of trying $3.99, but I’ve decided to stick with $2.99 for new books and to keep all of my old books at their current prices (with the exception of a couple I’ll be making free at some point during the next year, but I’ll be using a strategy in choosing which books go free).  If people are going to be facing economic hardships (say their boss cuts back their hours, gas prices go up so other items go up, etc), they are going to have less income to spend on items that are wants.  Books are not a necessity.  They are a want.  In times of economic hardship, the focus will be on things that are needed. I see no reason to raise my prices given these conditions.  Sure, some authors will still sell at a higher price, but they are already so does it really matter?

Bottom line: find your happy point (where you get sales you’re happy with at the price you’re happy with) and go with it.