Monday, November 23, 2009

Self published titles readily available on Amazon

In all the uproar over Harlequin’s vanity publishing branch last week, one of the issues was distribution—which self-pubbed authors get no assistance with except a listing in some catalogue or another. This isn’t a great distribution model for a physical book. For and e-book, however, it’s a great model.

Especially if that catalogue is available through the worlds largest book distributors.

So I found it interesting that, through their premium catalogue, Smashwords, an e-self-publisher, has now formed distribution agreements with Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony. And Smashwords’ services are free! If you were going to self publish, why would you pay Harlequin, or any other vanity press, for a paper book with no chance of wide distribution when you can pay Smashwords nothing and be distributed through Amazon et al?

I know that e-books account for a small percentage of overall book sales but, seriously, how many copies of a self-published paper book do you really expect to sell? The reality is, unless it’s non-fiction in a subject where you have a HUGE platform, the correct answer to that question would be not many.

My understanding is that, even within the Amazon, B&N and Sony distribution channels, these catalogues will be clearly designated as “Smashwords” titles, and an educated reader will get that that means self-published. Which is important considering the following quote off Smashwords’ “how to publish” page:

“At Smashwords, we've always believed it's not our role to judge the quality of an author's work, and we expect this policy will remain in place with few exceptions. We think every author and publisher should have the right to publish and the most qualified arbiter of quality is your reader.”

Or, to paraphrase: “Yeah, you can get a 99 cent book off our site, and expect it to be worth exactly what you paid for it.”

I get what everyone’s issues are with traditional publishers getting in on the self-publishing money wagon but, truly, I think self-pubbed titles being readily available through all major e-book distributors is going to dilute the literary pool much more significantly—and longer term since, let's face it, e-books are the wave of the future.

So, if you’re going to self publish, and you actually want to make a little money, the choice seems clear. But remember another point that was made in the Harlequin uproar: Don’t self publish anything that you’re hoping to get through traditional channels ‘cause, for the most part, once it’s out there, no agent or editor will touch it.

Just my 2 cents. And you get what you pay for.


  1. Ah, not true, though. Look at The Shack. It was self-pubbed and it's huge. There are a lot of examples of high selling self-pubbed print books. Plus, a serious author who is self-pubbing needs to be in both print and ebook in order to be competitive. There are better ways to do this than through such places such as Harlequin's new line, though.

    As far as "diluting" the literary pool, it's arrogant to think that traditional publishing automatically means better quality than self publishing. Sometimes it's true. Sometimes it isn't. There is a lot of mediocre fiction coming from big publishers, and there are a lot of indie authors who have very high quality books. You can't generalize that they're all worth $0.99.

    I'm self-pubbed. Reviewers have no idea I am unless I tell them. I've read a lot of contracted books recently that needed a lot more work.

  2. Also, a lot of self-pubbed books do get picked up by traditionals because they have such good sales records. This was the case with The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans, and many others I've read about.

  3. LK--
    Where it's true that there are very occasional success stories in self publishing, it is VERY unlikely. The statistics I've seen indicate that in the last ten years there have been seven self or vanity published books that have hit the NYT bestseller list. Considering that during that time tens, or more likey hundreds of thousands of books have been self published. That's very poor odds. I've met Rick Evans, and he deserves his success, but he had to work for it through relentless self-promotion.

    Whereas I agree that there is some questionable ficton coming out of the large publishing houses, and some of them are making the NYT bestseller list, I think that overall, book for book, you're going to find higher quality novels through the traditional routes.