By now, we’ve all heard the incredible story of runaway best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.
Her novel started as Twilight fan fiction published online episodically.
It then became an e-book and print-on-demand paperback through an Australian publisher, and word-of-mouth viral marketing about the e-book led to Vintage Books traditionally publishing the novel in April of 2012.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Fifty Shades will reach the “20 million-sales mark in the U.S. [in July 2012]— making it one of the fastest-selling book series in recent memory.”
No matter your opinion of the racy romance novel, its rapid success has added a great deal of legitimacy to e-publishing as an industry. E-publishing may once have suffered under the same stigma as so-called vanity publishing, but it has become clear that e-publishing your work is a great way to get it in the hands of readers—and can be more lucrative for authors than traditional publishing, to boot.
Here is what you need to know about becoming an e-published author.
Freedoms Offered by E-Publishing
The problems of traditional publishing are well known by any writer who has attempted to break in. Without an “in” to the New York publishing world—either through an agent or a friend in a high place—an author’s manuscript could languish in a slush pile before receiving a form letter rejection. Even if you are lucky enough to get published, it can take quite some time for your book to see the light of day.
E-publishing, on the other hand, is much like the Internet. It’s both eminently democratic, since anyone can publish anything they like through Kindle Direct Publishing and the iTunes iBookstore, and nearly instantaneous. That opens up the world of writing and publishing to authors who might previously never have gotten a second look from traditional publishers. As author Denise Mina put it in The Taipei Times, “The class divide is going to change. A lot more working-class people are going to get published.”
Financial Opportunities of E-Publishing
By far, the biggest benefit that e-publishing offers to indie authors is the royalties. Traditionally published novels generally offer authors between 7.5% (for paperback) and 15% (for hardcover) of the book’s list price. In addition, if you were lucky enough to receive an advance for your book, you won’t see that 15% or less in royalties until after the book has made back the advance for the publishing company.
E-publishing, on the other hand offers authors a much bigger cut of each sale. Both Amazon and Apple offer 70% of each book’s sale to the author, although Amazon specifies that this rate is only for books priced at $10 or less. Even if you only enjoy modest sales for your ebook, the immediacy of e-publishing, along with the lack of overhead and the high royalty rate, make e-publishing a much better financial prospect for a new writer than gambling on the traditional publishing model.
Marketing Your Ebook
Though they have the full force of a major publisher’s marketing department behind them, big name authors like Stephen King and Janet Evanovich can still be seen promoting their books on talk shows and at book-signings. This is because effective marketing of a published book can make or break its sales numbers.
And this is yet another place where e-publishing offers unknown writers a big advantage over traditional publishing. Authors of ebooks can market their work through all of their social media connections, as well as any blogs they maintain. Marketing a physical book requires getting the book into the hands of the customer, which means you have to go out with a trunk load of books and find your readers.
Marketing an ebook is much easier, since it only requires finding a way to interest potential readers in your book—which you can do from the comfort of your home 24 hours a day. It is much simpler to find your readers on the Internet than it is to find them in a bookstore.
Editor’s note: a great example of this model is on display over at Oblivious Investor. See his self-publishing FAQs.
Keys to E-Publishing Success
Though e-publishing is open and available to anyone, that does not mean that you should take your publication any less seriously than you would a traditionally published book. Your work must still be professional in order to sell well.
First, you need to make sure that you are writing books that people want to read. As The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing puts it, “too many writers spend so much more time worrying about promotion than worrying about the quality of their craft.” Remember that e-publishing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. You will do well if you care about your writing and create work that reflects your passion.
This also means that you must edit and revise your work, as well as outsource any work (such as cover art design) that you are not able to do yourself. Again, with these issues, living in the Internet age gives you many opportunities. Crowdsourcing can give you multiple points of view on your manuscript, which can help you to determine the best course of action for your edits and revisions. Finding freelancers who are willing to create an eye-catching cover for your work is much easier (and cheaper) with websites such as fiverr.com and Craigslist.
Ebook success, like success in traditional publishing, comes to those who take their craft seriously.
One of the biggest issues with the traditional publishing model is the fact that no one has any idea of what will sell, meaning potential blockbusters are rejected and huge flops are published. E-publishing, with its (basically) non-existent overhead, allows writers to try their hand at publication and see how they do. “Failure” of an ebook is not an expensive proposition, so it means that more authors will have the opportunity to get their work into the hands of readers.
The flip side of this coin is that ebook success could lead to traditional publication, as was the case with Fifty Shades of Grey. In fact, British ebook author Ben Galley believes that the publishing industry will start to mimic record companies, “which increasingly look for unsigned bands that have already built up fans online or on the festival circuit.” Galley, who has sold nearly 50,000 copies of his ebooks, states in The Guardian online that
“publishing houses need to change their business model. They are still going by the slush method, sifting through a pile of manuscripts from authors they know nothing about. If they look around they’ll see people like me, with proven track records, fan bases and sales.”
Success of an ebook is entirely in the hands of its author. There is no issue of disagreeing with your publisher’s choice for edits, cover art, price point, or marketing strategy. This means that you can do what you believe will be best for your sales—and since you have a better sense of who your readers are, you have the potential for great success.
Have you ever thought of publishing your own ebook?