Self publishing and agents

Questions for the resident (former) agent
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MattLarkin
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Self publishing and agents

Post by MattLarkin » August 5th, 2011, 8:45 am

Nathan, there's been plenty of discussion here on the forums and elsewhere about whether authors still really need traditional publishers and agents. Now some such as Kristine Rusch are recommending against agents and publishers in favor of self-published ebooks.

The idea seems to be if the author can put up the money up front for developmental and copy editors, cover design, and layout, he or she can sell the book on Amazon without losing royalties to an agent or rights to a publisher. The author could hire an IP lawyer if needed for secondary rights contracts.

In some ways it sounds great, but you lose the advantage of having an agent to help you plan your career and look at the bigger picture. In 2007 I went to Denver Publishing Institute, considering going into editting (I went a different career path for fear it might burn me out on writing). Back then I couldn't have imagined self-publishing or going without an agent. But now there is a feeling the industry has dramatically changed even in the last few months. Now, I buy all my books as ebooks, and I'm willing to take a chance on an unknown author for a low price. And success stories for writers like Hocking are captivating.

As a former agent, how do you feel about this? You have an agent and are traditionally published, I know, but is that still the advice you'd give to writers who are right now querying agents for a first novel? If it's relavent, I write fantasy, and thus would hope to do series (so who has the rights to a series is big deal to me).
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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Self publishing and agents

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 7th, 2011, 11:38 am

MattLarkin wrote:Nathan, there's been plenty of discussion here on the forums and elsewhere about whether authors still really need traditional publishers and agents. Now some such as Kristine Rusch are recommending against agents and publishers in favor of self-published ebooks.

The idea seems to be if the author can put up the money up front for developmental and copy editors, cover design, and layout, he or she can sell the book on Amazon without losing royalties to an agent or rights to a publisher. The author could hire an IP lawyer if needed for secondary rights contracts.

In some ways it sounds great, but you lose the advantage of having an agent to help you plan your career and look at the bigger picture. In 2007 I went to Denver Publishing Institute, considering going into editting (I went a different career path for fear it might burn me out on writing). Back then I couldn't have imagined self-publishing or going without an agent. But now there is a feeling the industry has dramatically changed even in the last few months. Now, I buy all my books as ebooks, and I'm willing to take a chance on an unknown author for a low price. And success stories for writers like Hocking are captivating.

As a former agent, how do you feel about this? You have an agent and are traditionally published, I know, but is that still the advice you'd give to writers who are right now querying agents for a first novel? If it's relavent, I write fantasy, and thus would hope to do series (so who has the rights to a series is big deal to me).
I think it really depends what you want. Right now, yes, you can absolutely self-publish and have your book for sale on Amazon and B&N.com and via all the major e-book channels. But you're not going to have your book in bookstores, and as much as the world is changing, bookstores are still (last I heard, it's changing quickly) where the majority of sales are still taking place.

Now, that may all be different a few years from now, but again, I think it's about what you want.

Do you want more control over the process, do you want to choose the cover, are you entrepreneurial-minded, are you comfortable with risk, are you able to self-promote? Self-publishing might be for you

Do you want your book in bookstores, do you want to go through the traditional process, do you want the imprimatur of a publisher and the guidance of an agent? Traditional publishing might be for you.

There's no right or wrong answer, and I think one thing that's frustrating about the current online debate about all of this is the way that people choose sides as if there's only one right way. There IS no right way except that every author should choose the one that works best for them and their personal priorities.

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Re: Self publishing and agents

Post by MattLarkin » August 8th, 2011, 5:37 pm

Thanks so much, Nathan. It is frustrating that things are made out to be so clear, and equally frustrating that they're not so clear. It seems to me like ebooks can make enough sales if you're very lucky. But the guidance of an agent that knows the industry and can help you make plans is really hard to give up.
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jenisefrohlinger
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Re: Self publishing and agents

Post by jenisefrohlinger » August 16th, 2011, 8:12 pm

Hi Nathan & Matt,
I'm almost ready to start sending out my manuscript and have pondered the same question. Here's the way I look at it... I'm going to try to get an agent and see what that agent can bring me. If he/she can find multiple publishers interested in my novel and get an auction going for it, then depending on the offer I'll sign away my life. But if he/she can only come up with a $5k advance, then that tells me publisher isn't likely to put a whole lot into my book; no marketing, PR. And since from all that I've read, unless you're super lucky you'll probably never see another dime. So, for me, if I'm looking at a meager advance (or no contract at all!), I'm thinking that's when I start to reconsider going the self-pub route.

I actually just ran some numbers on this yesterday. For a $5K advance, this is what your publisher is essentially assuming (based on some of my assumptions too, so Nathan, you can correct if I'm wrong)...
- 70% total sales from paper, of which 25% is hardcover at $22/each and a 10% royalty rate, and 75% is paperback at $7.99/each at 8% royalty rate
- 30% total sales from ebooks at $6.99/each and 14% (gross) royalty rate
With these assumptions, to max out your $5K, the publisher is only expecting you to sell 398 hardcover, 4107 paperback, and 1533 ebooks, for a total of 6037 books. And don't forget to pay your agent. So you'll only see $4250 of your money unless something wild and crazy happens and you're really lucky.

Now, if you sold 6037 ebooks yourself (yes, you'll need to do some marketing) at the cost of $2.99/each, and of these you sold 50% on Amazon, 25% on B&N, and 25% on Smashwords at a royalty rate of 70%, 65%, and 60%, respectively, then you would net $11,959. And even if you subtract $3k for editing, cover design, etc., you're still ahead of the game.

I don't know what's going to happen with my book. All I know is Nathan gave me an honorable mention on my first paragraph (thanks Nathan! made my life!), but for me I'd rather take control in my own hands than hand over my soul for a $5K advance. Good luck Matt!

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Re: Self publishing and agents

Post by ellisshuman » August 17th, 2011, 9:03 am

if you sold 6037 ebooks yourself
I think that's the question = can you sell 6037 ebooks yourself? Do you have the perfect book that will spread like wildfire? Do you have the marketing tools at your disposal? Do you have the time? If only I could answer yes to those questions I would easily know which way to go!
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Re: Self publishing and agents

Post by pezibc » August 31st, 2011, 10:20 pm

I wouldn't be too quick to endorse the specific numbers, but I am generally with jenisefrohlinger on this. I'd like a legitimate publisher and would be happy to pop for a literary lawyer to protect my interests (a better fit for me than an agent). But for five grand, f... that. Can I sell 5,000 copies myself? Truth be told, not so far.

Maybe I'm not a good enough writer, but I've managed some middling credentials. Maybe I'm not a good enough marketer, but I'm working at it.

Bottom line - if a publisher isn't going to pop for an advance that I can't refuse then it isn't worth it. I'll take my chances. I'd rather make nothing than give it away for cheap.

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