w00t! My first foray into self-publishing is LAUNCHED! Slave Labor: The New Story of American Higher Education went live on Amazon Saturday afternoon. I don’t expect to make much money on the thing — in fact, this is a test-drive down the self-publishing highway. We’re told a self-publishing author starts to generate an income after putting about eight books out there.
At this point we have two more ready to go — just waiting on graphic design. I’d like to get those online by the end of the year but will be surprised to make that deadline. Five more are on the proverbial drawing board. We hope to put those online by the end of 2015.
How do you like the cover design? That was done by my friend James Metcalf, a veteran of many a magazine issue and many an advertising campaign.
The physical e-book itself was created by the excellent Ken Johnson, a high-school teacher who reinvented himself as an IT tech of considerable skill and then reinvented himself again as Your eBook Builder. Copyediting was done by the redoubtable Tina Minchella, my business partner at The Copyeditor’s Desk. So…hm. When you come right down to it, all I did on this thing was the easy part: writing it.
Self-publishing gives this ole lady the heebie-jeebies, because when I came up, only people who couldn’t write anything good enough to faze past an acquisitions editor paid someone else to publish their golden words, which too often were gilded in a thin layer of pyrite. My books have been published through mainline publishers: William Morrow, Columbia University Press, Folger Shakespeare Library.
But today the situation seems to have changed. Despite vast haystacks of chaff, quite a few decent writers are publishing on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook. Most of these are nonfiction writers — it’s just not that hard to write a decent piece of nonfiction, and occasionally you hit on an inspired idea that really does contribute something to the Greater Good or, if not, will provide real help or understanding to some specific group of readers.
Apparently some lively, decently written fiction is e-published, at least in the genre fiction categories. Friends who read this stuff tell me they find memorable and engaging novels self-published at Amazon. This is good. Very good.
Further to the point, it appears that in the Amazon environment much more money is to be made off a modestly successful book than one could expect from a mainstream publisher. The split with Amazon is as nothing compared to the proportion of gross sales that goes to a major publishing house. The books you see to the left here paid me 10% royalties. At Amazon, the situation is almost reversed: under most circumstances the author collects the lion’s share of gross sales. And neither the publisher nor the author has to split income from sales with a bookstore.
One cannot expect to get rich publishing on Amazon (although some do exactly that). On the other hand, precious few of us make much by publishing through traditional publishing houses. The Essential Feature has made several thousand dollars…since 1990. It still makes one or two hundred bucks a year. How many lattes would that buy? Anybody?
I did make enough on Math Magic to pay off the mortgage on my home. But that was because Flansburg, who contracted me to write the book, had already made himself a media phenomenon. And as for The Life of Robert Sidney? It went a long way toward landing me a full-time academic job: $43,000 to $65,000/year, over a fifteen-year period.
So, I suppose you could say the book that paid me the least ultimately earned me the most. 😉 Most of us don’t expect to get rich off a given publication, but do hope to leverage the thing in ways that are not obvious to the general reader.
Anyway, this is going to be an interesting experiment. I can crank books almost as easily as I can crank blog posts, which as you see I do almost as easily as…well, breathing. So if it’s true that after you reach a certain critical mass (some say five books; some say eight), you begin to earn enough to pass as middle-class, that will be very pleasing.
If it’s not, tant pis. I’m a writer. What I do is write. If no one reads it, that’s very much like no one hearing a mockingbird sing. Doesn’t change the mockingbird’s song.