An Open Letter to Friend Who Happens to Be an Author
Herbie, your email scares me. If someone of his literary status is worried about the sales of his new, yet to be published, book, it cements the notion of a change more drastic than we’ve considered. I began thinking about this when my cousin new book was launched with full fanfare and a 90 day author tour. He and his publisher are disappointed with sales relative to his previous books. When my friend, mentor and spiritual adviser, who has himself authored more than a hundred books, tells me he can’t sell a sequel series to his best-selling books ever and can’t get a bite on any new ideas, it makes my mind panic with fears and far-fetched scenarios of deeper poverty from trying to live a writer’s life.
Something happened before your email that semt me into full anxiety and despair about my own writing future. Your email more or less confirmed it.
The traditional publishing industry is in much worse shape than even I thought. Now that I have had a few days to rid my anxiety, your email actually grounds me to verbalize what I believe the current state of publishing to be and what you and I, as individuals, can do about it.
It’s not just traditional publishing
The problem has grown far beyond traditional publishing refusing to face the millions of e-books invading their market. When they decided it was time to stick a finger in the dyke, they did it believing anything from their past experience might work. I’m convinced there is one enormous problem that will, if it hasn’t already, bring traditional publishers to their deaths — money. You can’t run a business without making it. To make it you have to sell books at a profit (duah). E-publishing has more than changed the landscape, it has flooded the planet, no publisher built an ark and the old world is drowning.
I recently read an article by a female author who has a hit series with a major publisher. I don’t know what the sales are but the books have been on the NYT bestseller list (which itself is losing ground in the brave new world, but that’s another story). The author announced a new series that she will self publish. Her publisher wanted it, even sent her a contract but she decided to self-publish. Why? Money. Traditional publishers can’t sell an e-book of a hardcopy title for very much less without destroying the market for the printed book. So, when a publisher releases a new paperback (it is worse for hardbacks) that retails for $7.99 in the bookstore and $6.99 online at Amazon (still talking paperback). The e-book version on Kindle may sell for $5.99 but no lower until the book is nearly dead in bookstores.
The female author believes she will sell enough copies on Kindle at a 70% royalty that she will double or triple her income from the book. Why?
E-books have not only opened the gates to thousands of new authors and millions of books, E-books have undermined the price people are willing to pay for books, online or in print. The old royalty formulas and retail pricing no longer work.
It really is a brave new world for writers. The Old Guard was surrounded and defeated without knowing the battle had started. I have some ideas that might help you to create an online presence relatively quickly. Next time we speak I shall share.