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The Self Publishing Model

I've been coming across authors self publishing their own work on the net over the last few days, and it's been interesting reading. Perhaps the best of it came from Tim Pratt, who serialised Broken Mirrors under a donating system. A look through his site reveals that there were various rewards for donating, including having Pratt come to your house and cook you dinner (which, without knowing the ability of Pratt's culinary skills, is either a pro or a con), but he also includes offers of chapbooks and indeed, a short story written just for yourself. It's interesting, and certainly, I thought, a great way to reward folk (though as I type this, a friend of mine is telling me that the rewards actually turn her off).

However, what's important is how he sums it up:

I have no idea how many readers I had, but I had 215 readers who liked this project enough to donate. (I’ve heard from several others who plan to buy the print edition or e-book versions rather than donating, too.)

Gross donations came to a bit over $13,700. (For Bone Shop I only made about $4,000 in donations. I think offering fundraiser prizes was a huge help this time.)

The average donation was about $63.86; the median donation was $35; the mode was $10. The donations ranged in amounts from $1 to $2,000. (The latter donor will get a chapbook with a new Marla Mason story written just for them, about a character of their choice. I’m already working on it, and it will either be called “A Void Wrapped in a Smile” or “Thirteen Views of Joshua”.)

A dozen people paid the minimum $300 necessary to have a name of their choice Tuckerized in the text. (And every one gave me a great and interesting name to use!) That option was more popular than I expected.

Paypal’s cut of the transactions worked out to around 4%. Taxes account for another third or so. Sending out fundraiser prizes, including postage, will run me a fair chunk of change, too. I imagine postage alone will run me around $500, and I had to pay for the comic I commissioned, and I have to buy copies to send out (I get a good author discount, but still), and pay to print the chapbook, and etc. But that still leaves a lot of healthy profit.

In total I made about 30% less on this Marla book than I did on the previous volumes, which were purchased by Bantam Spectra. Though since I didn’t have to pay my agent’s (always well-deserved!) commission on this project, it’s really only about 20% less than I got from Bantam, in terms of net income. (My agent will get a piece of the print sales, as she negotiated that contract for me.)

My readers, thus, paid me about 80% of what the world’s largest publisher used to pay me. (Hell, it’s a fair bit more than Bantam paid me for my first novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl.) And based on how well my previous project Bone Shop has done as an e-book, I’ll almost certainly exceed that amount once the Kindle edition of Broken Mirrors starts to sell.

Later on, he also adds that, had he "tried to start [my] career with online serials… I doubt it would have worked out so well." An existing fan base, in other words, has certainly not hurt him.

I'm not going to cut deeply into Pratt's analysis, since it does a pretty good job, and I'm mostly just curious about it. It's certainly a nice way to supplement an author's income, by the way that he is running it. By doing his own thing on the web, and still doing work for the major and indie publishers, Pratt is probably putting himself in a good position to be earning a decent amount of money. While also, it appears, working twenty four seven.

I also stumbled across Closed Circle, the online endevour by Lynn Abbey, CJ Cherryh and Jane Fancher. The three are using it to put up the backlists of their work, which is considerable, given the length of the careers involved. I actually have fond memories of Abbey's fantasy novels, which I always thought were decently written and nicely different from the most, and it's good to see that she is still working (the other two, I admit, I don't have much knowledge on--except that I know Cherryh is been around for years). The site itself, however, is in desperate need of designer, and the covers that the three are putting on the electronic editions of their books scream for help. It's their backlist and all, so I know they're not selling new work, but when compared to Pratt's simple webpage and offers and such, it's coming across as anything but professional, a handle that a trio of authors with decades of writing behind them don't deserve. For example, I have read Abbey's The Wooden Sword (and it's sequel Beneath the Web) and I'd actually tell you that it's totally worth the five bucks to drop it on it--a kind of early environmentalist fantasy, for lack of a better way to explain it, but a lot of folk I reckon would be turned off by the cover.

Anyhow, all notes to drop as we continue forward, all things to consider in the scheme of things.


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Aug. 25th, 2010 06:55 am (UTC)
An average donation of over $60 surprises me.
Aug. 25th, 2010 10:11 am (UTC)
yeah, likewise. but perhaps it was an accumulation thing--five bucks here, five there, or maybe the incentives. be interesting to see if it translated again.
Aug. 27th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
The average is a bit misleading, as it's lifted up by some extreme outliers -- the one guy who paid $2,000, the dozen who paid $300 or more, etc. Most people donated $10 or $20 and only donated once.

I'm cobbling together a decent living from small press stuff and work-for-hire jobs and self-publishing, though I have a full-time day job, too, which helps keep the wolves away.
Aug. 27th, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
ah. cool.

full time work, man. i'm surprised you can find to sleep, with the family as well.
Aug. 25th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC)
Tracy Hickman and his wife have launched an interesting project this year http://www.trhickman.com/2010/05/25/dragons-bard-a-story-written-for-you/

Basically you get their new book chapter by chapter electronically, and then at the end they will publish the book and all their subscribers will get a print edition of the book.

Liz Wiliams has also been offering stories by subscription, and of course Catherynne Valente has had a couple of crowd sourced writing projects: the Omikuji Project as well as The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making.

I find these projects fascinating, though it's pretty clear that they are most effective when you a) have a fanbase already established and b) have lots of goodwill/friends in the online community.
Aug. 25th, 2010 10:12 am (UTC)
yeah, i've seen them, too.

likewise, i find it interesting that the established authors with fan bases are doing it. it's great that they can, but it does kind of leave the author establishing an audience in that catch 22 bind of, 'once published, you can do as you please.'
Aug. 25th, 2010 10:52 am (UTC)
I gave Tim about $70, but then I'm a fan of his work and wanted to support him.
Aug. 25th, 2010 01:08 pm (UTC)
I guess if the model takes off a sort of expected donation level will evolve. That's as much as a hard cover novel, which may well be reasonable.

Still, I can understand Ben's friends reaction against it all. It makes things a bit folksy, I guess, which is not how I saw my favourite authors.
Aug. 25th, 2010 01:20 pm (UTC)
I can understand that reaction, but if Stephen King was a midlist author who was being financially crushed by the GFC, I'd support him as well.
Aug. 25th, 2010 01:39 pm (UTC)
As would I, but I'm not sure that building up the rep in the first place works so well like that.

Not that I'm probably much good in predicting the way of the future. I already feel somewhat post-literary.
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