NY Publishers Terrified by Self-Pubbed Authors

89ae81ad280f6c268da494c354a389bd2adeb542 The Wall Street Journal reports that cheap ebooks from self-published authors are making NY publishers wake up in a cold sweat…a notion that self-published authors used to fantasize about and that I've scoffed at (and ruthlessly ridiculed) for years.

But the advent of the Kindle, combined with Amazon  offering their sales platform to all-comers for free, has changed everything. Now that self-pubbed  fantasy has come true in a big, big way:

"[Amazon is] training their customers away from brand name authors and are instead creating visibility for self-published titles," one senior publishing executive who asked not to be identified, says of Amazon.

As digital sales surge, publishers are casting a worried eye towards the previously scorned self-published market. Unlike five years ago, when self-published writers rarely saw their works on the same shelf as the industry's biggest names, the low cost of digital publishing, coupled with Twitter and other social-networking tools, has enabled previously unknown writers to make a splash

Now it's actually possible for an author nobody heard of to become a millonaire within just a matter of months. I'm not exaggerating. Everyone talks about Amanda Hocking…but perhaps the most astonishing success story of all is John Locke.

Mr. Locke, who published his first paperback two years ago at age 58, says he decided to jump into digital publishing in March 2010 after studying e-book pricing.

"When I saw that highly successful authors were charging $9.99 for an e-book, I thought that if I can make a profit at 99 cents, I no longer have to prove I'm as good as them," says Mr. Locke. "Rather, they have to prove they are ten times better than me."

Locke earned $126,000 on 369,000 sales on Amazon in March alone. That's a huge uptick from the 75,000 he sold in January and the 1300 he sold in November.

Wait, let's think about that some more. 

John Locke went from selling 1300 books to 369,000 in four months



Anyone who thinks the e-book market has peaked isn't paying attention….and any midlist author who signs another pissant three-book contract with a NY publisher (or any publisher) should check themselves into a mental institution right away. 

Don't look for Locke to follow Amanda Hocking's footsteps and take a NY publishing deal. He says he's not interested, though he has signed up with a high-powered agent to field movie offers and deal with foreign publishers. She sums up the whole ebook marketplace very nicely: "This is a Wild West of a world," she says.

13 thoughts on “NY Publishers Terrified by Self-Pubbed Authors”

  1. “When you wish upon a star …”
    Cinderella stories are exceptional, whether in print or ebooks. Nobody’s celebrating the thousands of 99 cent ebooks whose sales can be counted on the fingers of one thumb, as a friend of mine once joked.
    If publishers want to survive, all they have to do is sweeten their deals with better advances, print and especially, ebook royalties.

  2. I wish I could say I’ve had the kind of success Mr. Locke has had. Hell, I’ve hit the NYTimes list (and not just the extended) three times and have a NY pubbed series (under another name) that sells like crazy. But when I decided not to go back to my small publisher with the rest of my Jeff Resnick paranormal thrillers and self pub, I’d hoped to see the series take off. That hasn’t happened. The few readers who have migrated from my cozy series to this edgier one have loved it. (It, too, is character-driven.) But I’m seeing monthly sales in the high 100s not the 1000s and I’m very discouraged. Lowering the price of book one to 99 cents has upped sales by 200 this month, but the other books are selling at the same rate as they did last month. Earlier this month I sent out 1800 postcards to my readers (the books are available as trade paperbacks, too) and sent my newsletter to over 4000 readers and still the numbers stay where they are.
    I’ve got Library Journal and Booklist reviews for the series, too. (And most of my Amazon reviews are 5 stars.)
    What magic trick have I missed along the way?

  3. Boy, I’d love to know how this happens. I’ve had very good luck with self-pubbing, but I’m nonetheless firmly midlist. How do people come out of nowhere like this and rule the lists???
    Still, for me the important thing about the “Wild West” isn’t so much that a writer might-possibly-by-some-wild-chance make millions (which, just as in traditional publishing, is highly unlikely), but that it’s possible for more of us to make a solid and steady income. That is far more probable, and it’s definitely not to be sneered at.

  4. Great post, Lee!
    Recent events in my life underline what you said. I just quit the chase for a traditional deal in favor of self-publishing. How could I not? No agent will give me the time of day. Plus I had a novel rejected by Akashic Books a month or so ago, and that’s what pushed me over the edge. That novel is being edited and cover-designed as we speak, then after the formatting, up it goes onto Kindle and all the other digital media, as well as CreateSpace.
    And I’ve got three more novels all ready to go after this one.

  5. Lee,
    Have you heard of rebecca black? She’s a teen who published a typically bad music video on youtube and has something to the effect of 50+ million downloads. Her video is commonplace on youtube, but the results are not.
    I bring her up because you seem focused on atypical results of self published authors. What does the average self-pub book make? 50 bucks? A hundred? It seems the average book contract is many thousands of dollars which makes your argument spurious at best.

  6. Friendly word of advice. Read my blog. It seems to work for me. 🙂
    Of course, I have four other blogs, but that’s just me. 🙂
    I sell 99 cent ebooks and earn thousands of dollars a month off two novels and a short story collection. My sales should improve even more when I release the third book in my series.

  7. I tested one John Locke novel for 99 cents, liked it and have bought all the following because at this price you just don’t have to think about spending the money. And I will buy his new one coming out in May as well. I had no idea he was self-published, btw.

  8. Kete,
    It’s obvious he’s self-published by a) his horrendously amateurish covers and b) his prices. That said, there is no arguing with his success. I haven’t read one of his books yet, but I’ve bought a couple to sample when I have some free reading time.

  9. Really? It looks like any number of cheap paperbacks I’ve seen on the shelf. Not that my cover skills are that great.
    Still, if Locke is having the level of success he’s reporting, he should make the investment in hiring an artist. If you’re lousy at it, it means a better looking product. Even if you’re good at it, it’s one less thing to worry about.


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