The Mail I Get

Over on Debbi Mack's blog, someone asked me:

Lee, you said that you would advise new authors (unpublished) to take a contract with a small press over self-publishing. Could you expand on that? What do you think that would offer them over the chance to sell more books and attract more readers?

Very few self-published authors are selling as well on the Kindle as Joe Konrath …or even close. But let’s say you are one of the lucky few selling about 500 copies of your book a month at $2.99, earning $1000-a-month in royalties.

If the sales hold, you’ll sell 6000 copies-a-year, and earn $12,000. A typical, low-end advance for a new writer would be about $6000, give or take a thousand. A low-end mass market print run would be about 30,000 copies…a hardcover run would likely be about 5000 (and, of course, in success it could be considerably more). Your book will be in most bookstores in the country, and if it’s a mass market paperback, probably most drugstores, convenience stores, and some airports. And, of course, there will also be an e-book edition. You might even get foreign sales, large print deals, and an audio book out of it, generating more income.

I would argue that you'd be a fool not to take a mid-list paperback or a hardcover deal over self-publishing on the Kindle. Financially, you might make less (in failure or only modest success)…but the difference will be more than made up for in editing, marketing, wider readership, wider name recognition, and professional prestige (and that prestige does mean something, whether you want to admit it or not).

You can always go back to self-publishing… and when you do, you will be bring that wider readership, name recognition, and professional prestige with you. But a book deal doesn't come along every day, and that's still going to mean something for a long time yet…and I suspect it still will if bookstores disappear.

I have no doubt the big reason my out-of-print are doing as well as they are is because they are riding on the large readership of my MONK and DIAGNOSIS MURDER books.

So let's use a real world example. Boyd Morrison sold thousands of copies of THE ARK on the Kindle…and abandoned Amazon in a nanosecond for a print deal. Why? Because he knew he could reach even more people and potentially make even more money (and sell the rights to other publishers around the world, not to mention audio, film, etc). He was thinking about his long-term career. It was a wise move…because you can always go back to self-publishing… but a contract from a major publisher is a lucky break that may not come again.

But don’t take my word for it… here’s what Boyd has had to say on the topic:

“If your goal is just to write and get your books out there where readers can find them, e-publishing lets you do that in a way that doesn't cost you thousands of dollars paid to vanity presses to get a few thousand copies that will molder in your basement. Instead, you can now make some decent money selling ebooks, which will reward independent writers who produce good books that are well-packaged and cleverly promoted. […] But if you are writing books to make a living (so that you can ditch your old job), you'll certainly have to consider the financial ramifications of staying indie versus going with a publisher. In my case, I wanted to reach as many readers as possible, and though ebooks are growing at an exponential rate, most sales are still currently in stores. In two years, those numbers will be very different, but for right now that's the situation. In addition, I'd be surprised if I ever would have gotten deals for The Ark in UK, Germany, Holland, Italy, and all the other countries without a US publishing deal. Although I'm not anywhere near the league of Stieg Larsson's sales, you can get an idea of how the US market compares to the rest of the world by looking at his numbers: he has sold 4 million books in the US, but he has sold over 40 million books worldwide. That percentage is not uncommon for authors of thrillers, which are what I happen to write. Yes, with the advent of Amazon Kindle UK, I could have put my books on that store as well, but I never would be able to put my books on Amazon Kindle Deutsche because I would need a German translator. And remember that Amazon Kindle UK wasn't even a faint glimmer when I got my publishing deal last year (47 Internet years ago). So truly take a deep look at what your goals are before you decide to take either the indie route or the traditional publishing route. Either way, you'll get to do what you love, which is write. But the effort, hassle, financial rewards, prestige, and desired readership should all be factors you consider in your decision.”

For me, and other mid-list authors, it’s an entirely different decision.

I got a $2000 advance when I sold THE WALK to Five Star in 2003. It was published in hardcover in 2004 and didn't earn out. It tanked. I have since sold close to 9000 copies of THE WALK on the Kindle. I make more in one month from Kindle sales on THE WALK than I did during the two years that the book was in print in hardcover.

If a publisher came to me today and offered me a mass market paperback deal for THE WALK, I probably wouldn't take it…because I don't see a scenario where I'd end up making more money on the book than I am making now. But it's easy for me to say that… I have 1 million copies of my MONK books in print with Penguin/Putnam.

If I was a newbie author, who'd never been in print before, I would probably take the mass market deal even if it meant earning less just for the exposure and professional credibility it would give me.

All that said, writers now have more options than ever before…which is great. And the rise of FREE self-publishing  (meaning no cash out-of-pocket) may finally drive into extinction Authorhouse, Jones Harvest, and all the other sleazy vanity presses out there that have preyed on the desperation and naivete of aspiring writers for too long.

Six Days and Counting


We start shooting REMAINDERED in Kentucky next week. I can’t wait. 

We landed a terrific discount store location in Henderson this week, thanks to the beyond-the-call-of-duty efforts of our gaffer Lewis Chaney, so I’m greatly relieved. Not having a key location this late in the game was my biggest worry going into production. We still have one more location to find, but we have a couple of options  in play and a good place in reserve if they fall through.

Yesterday we were able to distribute our “first draft” shooting schedule and distribute call sheets to our crew.  I also tweaked the script a bit to factor in our new location and some production concerns. Now I can start obsessing on the little details…

But I’m going to be doing more than just directing the movie while I am in Owensboro. I’ll also be leading three, two-hour seminars on film-making….

So I was up until 3 a.m. this morning preparing the presentations that I’ll be doing at Brescia University on Sept 8, Kentucky Wesleyan on Sept 9, and Owensboro Community Technical on Sept 13 in conjunction with the production of the movie. For instance, for the post-production seminar at OCT, I edited together a reel with all the dailies from a scene in my movie FAST TRACK, then the rough cut of the scene, and then the final air version so I could walk them through the steps.

Now that I’m finished with that, I can concentrate entirely on prep… we have one last conference call/production meeting on Sunday, then I fly into Kentucky on Tuesday afternoon. I will scout my first location an hour or so after I land… and then I will try to see the other two before I go to bed that night.  

Wednesday I will update my shot-list and give it to Rachael Nunn, my extremely capable A.D. (who has been doing a tremendous job even though she broke her arm a few days ago!) so we can revise the shooting schedule. Then I have an interview with the local newspaper, a seminar to teach at Brescia University, and then a reception to attend afterwards.

Thursday I have another seminar to teach and a tech scout to the locations with the production team, followed by our production meeting. That’s going to be a long day.

Friday I have rehearsals with the cast… and then we start shooting that evening…and on through the weekend. Editing begins Monday, when I also have another seminar to teach. We’ll edit some more on Tuesday and, with luck, I’ll have a rough cut to take back to L.A. with me on Wednesday. 

We’ll do the rest of the editing online…and have our first screening at Bouchercon on Oct.  16.

I will keep you updated as we go.