If you self-publish a book, is it possible that you’ll ever sell it to a royalty-paying publisher?
Victor posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I understand that your teaching and mentoring are intended to help authors get published via commercial publishing channels. Nevertheless, an author may ultimately have to accept universal rejection and turn to some form of self-publishing (hard copy or e-books). Question: does the self-publishing of a book preclude the author from ever selling the same book to a publisher?
Randy sez: Victor submitted this question several weeks ago (I have a large backlog of questions waiting to be answered), so it’s a nice coincidence that his question has come to the top of my stack just after my very long blog post on Wednesday about the future of publishing.
First, let’s clarify my teaching goals. I teach writers how to get themselves organized, how to write well, and how to market themselves effectively so that they can earn a decent reward for their creative efforts. Until recently, “earning a decent reward” meant getting published by a royalty-paying publisher.
But the world is changing rapidly. For some years now, it’s been possible to earn a pretty good reward by creating and selling electronic non-fiction products. That’s what I do here on this web site and it’s well worth my time. It’s now becoming possible to do the same with fiction.
A publisher is no longer required for a writer to earn decent money writing fiction. A publisher is certainly a nice thing to have. If you get published by a royalty-paying publisher, you have the gratification of knowing that your work is pretty darn good, because publishers are in business to make money and they’re necessarily pretty good judges of quality. So I’m not at all denigrating the value of a publisher. I’m just observing that money can now be made in fiction without a publisher. That’s a huge change in the industry and it’s happening RIGHT NOW.
Again, I’ll refer you to the blog of Joe Konrath, where he has been detailing his e-book successes lately. The man is earning over $10k per month in e-books on Amazon. That’s a pretty decent wage. That’s better than most authors earn by working with royalty-paying publishers. And I read just a day or two ago that James Patterson has now earned over a million dollars in sales of e-books.
In the past, it’s been rare for a self-published novel to go on to find a home with a royalty-paying publisher. We can all think of examples: ERAGON was originally self-pubbed. So was THE SHACK. So was . . . um, I can’t think of any others right off the top of my head, but I know there are some others. The list is not long.
The future, I believe, is going to be very different. In my last blog post, The Future of Publishing, I predicted that in the next few years, it’ll be common for novels to be self-pubbed first as e-books and then to be picked up by major publishers. In fact, I think it quite likely that nearly all books in the future will be self-published first as e-books, and that the publishers will choose those that do well on the e-lists to be published as p-books.
This is a massive change. Like most changes, it will be good for some people and bad for other people. My view is that the lot of writers will improve. The reason is that there will be less money in the pie for the manufacturing, transport, and handling of physical books. That will leave more money in the pie for everyone else. Since writers are an absolutely necessary part of the pie, they have a fighting chance to get more of that pesky money.
Victor, to answer your question: In the past, it was possible but unlikely to sell a self-pubbed novel to a royalty-paying publisher. In the future, I believe it will become the norm.
Of course, I could be wrong, but I am confident enough in this prediction that I am currently working towards re-releasing all of my old out-of-print novels as e-books. Assuming those do well, I plan to e-publish a couple of other novels that crashed and burned after being sold to publishers; neither of those actually went into production, and I own all rights to them, so I’m going to publish them myself. If these e-books flop, then they’ll flop. But I’m not in the habit of flopping. I expect to do well.
As the saying goes, “I eat my own dog food.” I’m not merely telling you what I think will be good for you. I’m telling you what I think will be good for me and you and all writers.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.