Eon ♒Windrunner♒
Eon ♒Windrunner♒ asked Michael J. Sullivan:

Hi Michael I have noticed that many authors who are published with well established publishing houses are releasing new series via the self published route (Amazon's CreateSpace mostly). Would love to hear your thoughts on why an author might do this, especially as it seems that the end product is priced higher and the book sizing is also very different to the usual sizes?

Michael J. Sullivan Well, I can't speak for all authors. But I can tell you a bit about the industry and offer speculation as to what MIGHT be happening.

First, let me start out by saying that I believe "hybrid authorship" is THE way to go. For those that don't know what "hybrid authorship means, it's when an author uses both traditional and self-publishing. Doing this offers the most flexibility and highest probability of success, but it's not something everyone can do. Only a small percentage of people can (a) get a traditional contract and (b) release self-published books of very high quality. But for those that can do both, I highly suggest them to.

Traditional publishing provides a team of professionals but at a pretty stiff cost. They receive 75% ($3 for every $1 earned by the author) on ebooks. For print, it's harder to judge because of returns, which can be substantial. 50% - 75% is a good estimate once you take out the costs of printing, warehousing, and shipping. That's a LOT of money. For a book that earns a profit of $1 million the author gets $250,000 and the publisher $750,000.

By self-publishing, the author keeps 100% of the profit. Yes, there is some initial investment for things like cover design and editing, but those costs happen once, not for every book sold in perpetuity. Paying a few thousand dollars looks a lot more attractive than $750,000.

The real question is will the distribution of the larger publisher offset giving them a bigger piece of the pie? It might. 25% of $1 million is better than 100% of $5,000. So there is that as well. But it's possible that a self-published book released at say $2.99 will sell MANY more copies than a traditionally published book at $9.99. At those prices, the self-published author makes $2.09 per book and the traditional one $1.74.

In general, it is the e-books that make the bulk of the profit -- both in self and traditional. In traditional, it's because the costs are much lower (and the publisher receives such a high % of the profit). In self, it's because the author sells 95% in ebook and only 5% in print. They won't be in bookstores, so any paperback sales will be from online stores.

Now, as to print format. You mentioned "unusual size," and I'm not sure what you mean by that. The print-on-demand companies offer a number of options, and several of them are identical to the common trade paperback sizes released by the traditional presses. If you mean, "they aren't the size of mass market paperbacks," then, yes, you are correct. There is no print-on-demand supplier for mass market paperbacks. Generally, those are produced on "web presses" that do very large print runs - usually in the plus 100,000 copies range. Some printers will do them on offset presses and produce them in the 10,000 copies range but without a distribution network it is difficult for a self-published author to justify the up-front cost and storage requirements.

As for pricing, I guess it depends on what you compare it too, and how long the work is. For my self-published trade paperbacks, I sold them for $12.99 - $16.99, which is right in line with the Orbit produced trade paperbacks (which sell for $16 - $17). So they weren't higher priced. Of course, if you look at them compared to mass market paperbacks, then yes the traditional publishers sell them for $7.99 - $8.99. For a really long work, say 1,000 pages, the print-on-demand gets really costly. To print a single copy would be $13.35 whereas a 350-page book can be printed for $5.22.

Now that I laid the ground work the question as to "why" a person might do this can be attempted. I can think of several reasons.

1. They think they'll earn more through self than traditional for that title.

2. A title was rejected by the publisher, but the author feels the readers will embrace it.

3. A publisher offered a contract, but the advance or terms weren't agreeable to the author.

4. The author wants control over things like price, formats, covers, and titles.

5. The author prefers "being entrepreneurial" rather than "working for the man."

6. The author needs to get the book out on an accelerated schedule.

I'm sure there are other reasons, but these are the ones that come immediately to mind.

For myself, every time I produce a book I consider which would be the better route. A lot of that has to do with what the publisher offers. If they make what I think is a "fair deal," I'll go with them. But if I think I can beat their offer through self-publishing, I'll go that route.

I was pretty sure I would have to self-publish my First Empire series. The main reason was that I felt that "my" opinion of the series "worth" would not agree with a publisher's opinion. As it turned out, that wasn't the case. Del Rey offered a deal that respected both me and my work, so I'm ecstatic to work with them.

The third book in my Riyria Chronicles series will be self-published, without even submitting it to a publisher. Why? Well, it's the only way I can have a novel release in 2015. I've released books in every year since 2008 and I don't want to break that streak. Even though most of my income will come from ebooks, I'll still create print books because I don't want to alienate my fans who read that format.

So, there you have it. I'm not sure it explains why every author does this, but it reflects some of my own reasons for self-publishing. Thanks for asking.

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