Not So Fast: Ideas to Rethink

speedWith publishing in the middle of a revolution, ideas and opinions are constantly being tossed around on the Internet — tried on, parsed, heralded, criticized, and endlessly discussed. I’ve noticed that there are a few ideas that have taken hold and started to be thought of as “truth,” but I’m not so quick to go there.

Here are a few examples:

The idea that maybe in the book world, “quality” matters less these days.

It’s true that books at every different level of “quality” (however you want to define it) are selling. But just because Fifty Shades of Grey, a trilogy that nobody is lauding for its literary distinction, is a record-breaking bestseller, it doesn’t lead to the conclusion that readers no longer care about quality. The fact is, there is a massive spectrum of “quality” and there are readers for every kind of book on the spectrum. You can see this dynamic in television and in movies: everything from crass, mindless entertainment to highbrow art can find an audience. Some are clamoring for more “Jersey Shore,” but others want more “Mad Men” or “Downton Abbey.” It’s the same with books. Don’t decry the state of publishing, thinking there’s no place for quality anymore. Look at the big picture, and be glad we still have access to such a wide variety of books.

The idea that as publishing changes, there will be reduced need for agents.

Over the next decade, there may be fewer books being published traditionally by the large New York publishing houses; with fewer deals being done, there will be fewer agents. However, for those authors still working with traditional publishers, I believe the need for an agent will be greater than ever. As publishing models continue to evolve and publishers tighten their belts, an author will need an experienced agent to help them navigate the waters. Publishing contracts will keep getting more complicated and difficult to negotiate, as they have been the last couple of years. I don’t think it will be an environment in which most authors will have the time, energy, or knowledge to go it alone with a large publisher.

The idea that publishing is changing rapidly and very soon it will be completely different from what we’ve always known.

No doubt about it — our industry is changing as disruptive technologies take hold, and there is still a lot more change to come. But I don’t think it will be as rapid as many people believe. I recently read that disruptive cycles in business usually take place over periods of 15 to 30 years.* If we’re five years into our digital revolution (as Mike Shatzkin says), that would predict we’re still 10 to 25 years away from publishing looking completely different than what we’re used to. Granted, things are probably moving faster than they did in the past. Still, we can expect many more years of evolving… years in which we can all be watching what’s happening and doing our best to be prepared and positioned for whatever comes next.

The idea that self-publishing is an easier road to the goal of a published book — even a bestselling book.

I’m not against self-publishing or digital publishing of any kind. But I do think many authors are getting a skewed idea about self publishing. Here are my cautions: (1) Doing it well is not nearly as easy as many advocates make it sound. And (2) While there are obviously some highly visible spectacular successes, I’m still observing that the majority of self-published authors are seeing modest success. I also see many who are disappointed in their self-publishing experience, simply because the publishing media has given them unrealistic expectations. This is NOT to discourage anyone from trying it! But I encourage you to approach it with realism, and to plan to put a great deal of effort behind it, if you want to find success.

Have you bought into any of these ideas? Do you agree with my assessment? What are some other thoughts and opinions being tossed around these days that you’re not sure you buy into? 

*Statistic about disruptive cycles is from a fascinating article in Harvard Business Review, The Inevitable Disruption of Television.


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] from titles competing for readers’ attention.  Literary agent Rachelle Gardner discussed this recently on her blog (which is a “must-follow” website) and she also explains how the money […]

  2. Friday Features #20 - Yesenia Vargas on August 31, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    […] Not So Fast: Ideas to Rethink by Rachelle Gardner at Rachelle Gardner […]

  3. Janet Rundquist (@ProfeJMarie) on August 31, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    Yes, yes, and yes – which is not adding to the conversation, but these assertions in your post resonated with me enough that I just wanted to share my huzzahs. 😀

  4. Brian Henwood on August 30, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    No problem. No I am not affiliated with an agency; I am just someone who has done the self-publish thing a few times.
    I have four pieces of advice. #1) It sounds like you are a NF writer. There are some excellent archived posts here about building a platform and base. You should search for them and give them a read. #2) Also, I do not know what your email contained, but it should be exactly what Rachelle asks for (i.e. book proposal, short query, whatever). #3) Brush up on your pitch. It may be even more important than your actual writing is. #4) Forget about going until you’re exhausted. You’re going to have to go well beyond that point to be successful. Maybe even beyond the point of all of your family and friends getting exhausted by your efforts. There is no easy road. Good luck!

  5. Anthony Altman on August 30, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    Thank you Rachelle, for your most interesting comments. I have already emailed you in your capacity as a literary agent, and await your reply. I have already written a humourous book (British English spelling), and I am almost complete in the writing of another two books, one of which is the culmination of 54 years of experience. My focus is on self-help/improvement. I am, therefore, a new author on the block, and I have spent an inordinate amount of time researching the various forms of publishing. The results have been somewhat shocking to me, and I will attempt to explain. 1)Traditional publishers, generally, are not interested in an unknown author. 2) Many stipulate that a submission must be via a literary agent. 3) All the literary agents I contacted were not interested, and most did not even reply to my enquiry, similar to the traditional publishers. 4) Companies that help you self-publish encourage and accept anything/anybody, as long as you pay handsomely for the privilege of printing your book. I would still have to market it. This gave me the impression that such a company made its money from fees from authors, rather than from publishing and marketing the book. 5) E-Books, while appealing, demands that I have competent knowledge in providing the appropriate format, such as for Kindle, or pay someone to do it. Then Amazon requires you to have a bank account in the USA or UK, where I do not live, nor have a bank account. As you beginning the learning curve, you acquire new and different information, which means that, in order not to err, you really need to spend a large amount of time learning all this, time that detracts you from writing, if you are a serious writer. In England, we have a saying, “Horses for Courses.” Each one has his/her expertise, and therefore, a role to play in such a project as publishing. I have, therefore, arrived at the conclusion that I want to spend my time writing, as I have another 5 or 6 books within me (that I know of), and I am not a spring chicken. Therefore, Rachelle, I would like to hear from you, and discuss the possibilities of some form of professional collaboration, if that is appropriate. Until I find the appropriate form of publishing, I shall wait, whilst I continue writing. My intent is to provide an audience with information that may help people to improve the quality of their lives.

    • Brian Henwood on August 30, 2012 at 10:41 AM

      Good day Anthony.
      First of all, welcome. I’d like to take a moment to point out a thing or two that you might not know (specifically in regard to your take on self-publishing and e-books).
      There is a very big difference between self-publishing and what is referred to as vanity press/publishing. The Vanity sites do indeed ask for money up front. I do not recommend this option to ANYONE. Print on demand sites typically do not cost the author 1 cent; ever. The site I use tells me how much it costs them to print one of my books (say $8.90) and asks me how much I want to make on each sale (again, say $1.09). The site then sells my book to anyone who wants it for $9.99. The same is true of e-books. I click the tab that says “e-book,” it tells me they will charge a fee of $2.35. I ask to tack on a .64 cent royalty. Boom, they will sell my e-book for $2.99. All I need is a PayPal account and it pays directly into it at the end of each month.
      It is still very much on you to market the material, and with so many people trying the self-pub route, it is hard to get noticed. But Self-publishing should not cost the author anything but time and effort.

      Hope this helps 🙂

      • Anthony Altman on August 30, 2012 at 11:54 AM

        Thank you Brian, for the reply and information. I still have much to learn. I did email Rachelle, in the hope that we might have dialogue to see what may transpire with ‘Books and Such,’ and I await her response. Are you also connected with that firm? Until I am exhausted, I shall continue to seek a literary agent/traditional publisher. Do you have any suggestions?

  6. TNeal on August 29, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    I’ve gone the self-pub route and know it’s not an easy path (Easier? Can’t compare yet). Writing and selling books is work. I don’t regret self-publishing (which is such a misnomer because the process, if done well, changes mostly with who risks and reaps the most–author or publisher). I’ve learned a lot about target audience, platform, the importance of editing, and other things related to the publishing world.

  7. […] similar but more positive lines, Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) warns Not So Fast: Ideas to Rethink, when it comes to beliefs like quality in writing doesn’t matter any more or that electronic […]

  8. Omar Luqmaan-Harris (@BookMarketing33) on August 29, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    I agree with all these ideas, especially the one that self-publishing is easier than traditional publishing. Self-publishing and marketing is infinitely more difficult. The indie publisher has to become an accountant, bookkeeper, nook marketer, PR professional, social media guru, inventory management specialist, CEO, and more. The traditionally published author just has to be an author…

  9. Jeanne B. on August 29, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    Neither “Mad Men” nor “Downton Abbey” did it for me, likewise “Jersey Shore” or “Fifty Shades”. I guess my tastes run to the eclectic—I’d rather read Joshua Ferris and Tom Perotta and watch “Big Bang Theory” or “True Blood/Dexter” (as a Stephen King fan, I like the perverse, twisted storylines).

    So hurrah for quality, and hurrah that in publishing as well as film media, there is truly something for everyone’s tastes.

    Lastly, I’d really rather read than watch TV, given the choice (and quite often, I do just that). I’ve not bought into these myths.

  10. Larry on August 29, 2012 at 4:03 PM

    “The idea that maybe in the book world, “quality” matters less these days.”

    True: Think of the early westerns, the dime-store “romance” novel….

    One of the vogue ideas that I do not subscribe towards is the belief that the e-reader revolution means readers are going to expect books for free.

    What I have seen is that readers are willing to try different genres and authors due to lower prices, and that when they find a new genre or author they are still willing to pay near traditional prices for content. For example, many of the top ten selling books on the Kindle store are between $4.99 and $9.99.

    In other words, the lower-price paradigm allows for readers to find new interests and authors, while still allowing for top-tier authors to command high prices, yet doesn’t leave behind mid-list authors, who at making between $2-$3 per sale command what they might have gotten through traditional publishing. Furthermore, the new pricing paradigm allows for break-through artists to build an audience at a lower or equal cost to traditional marketing: making a low initial return on a ninety-nine cent book (before raising it to something more sustainable) versus spending money on advertisements, traveling for speaking engagements, etc.

  11. terri patrick on August 29, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    Great points and insightful comments as always.

    I personally feel career authors, those that plan to publish more than one book, should embrace all three publishing venues. It’s not an either-or career choice but a per-project option. That’s the exciting aspect of this evolution for writers.

    My plan is to self pub some projects that target a specific audience. I’m currently marketing a novel for publication to both large and indie houses, and have two other nonfiction projects that are still in process so until complete the final format/business/marketing plans are still undetermined.

  12. SolariC on August 29, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    It’s interesting to hear some words about self-publishing from an agent. Currently self-publishing seems to be something of a fad, and it’s being touted as a sure-fire way to rake in money for your writing. Of course that’s a tempting idea, but at the same time a suspicious one.

    From what I can tell, it’s about the same with traditional publishing as with self-publishing. Some do well; some don’t. It’s nice to have that perception confirmed by an agent, who knows the business. I think for now I’ll stick with going the traditional route.

  13. K.L. Parry on August 29, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    Hi Rachelle, I think I remember a similar discussion regarding self-publishing vs traditional. These are exciting changes that are taking place in the publishing industry. And though I believe there will always be a need for agents and large publishing houses, still it’s wonderful what self publishing can do for authors and readers. And, one is to allow more diversity for the reader at large particularly with all the Indie Reader sites that are popping up.
    I realize that often times, good or even great literary works don’t get picked up by an agent because the work may not seem commercial enough. Maybe the agent feels the topic has been over done. There could be any number of reasons but it all boils down to financial gain. Will the public buy it? So in a sense Agents are speculating on what they think is going to be the next great thing.
    Am I right on this Rachelle?
    With self-publishing, you can just put it out there. And, provided you can find a way for the readers to find you, you’re allowing them to make the decision if the work is relevant or entertaining or enlightening. The decision is taken out of the agent’s hands and placed into the reader’s.
    Well, that’s how I see it.

  14. Susi Robinson Rutz on August 29, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    A year or two ago, I was ready to leap from the goal of traditional publishing onto the self-publishing bandwagon. Most recently and in light of the current publishing climate, I have decided the answer is not either/or, but both.

    I hope to find an agent to help me secure a publisher for my spiritual growth book, which I consider to be more of a classic. I’m also writing a more “fun” book about spiritual gifts that I plan to self-publish as an e-book. I probably will offer that one as a free download on my website.

    Of course, this is my thinking today and all of it could change tomorrow.

  15. David Todd on August 29, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    “I’m still observing that the majority of self-published authors are seeing modest success.”

    Absolutely true. However, I disagree that self-publishing is harder than breaking into trade publishing, which I believe a commenter suggested. They have exactly the same degree of difficulty. They just require the writer/author to learn different skills.

    Trade publishing: learn how to write queries and proposals
    Self-publishing: learn how to format a book for e-publishing and print publishing (or hire it done)

    Trade publishing: polish your manuscript until it is as good as you can make it before submitting it to agent or editor; consider hiring a professional editor
    Self-publishing: polish your manuscript until it is as good as you can make it before putting it on the self-publishing bookshelf; consider hiring a professional editor

    Trade publishing: learn how to conduct yourself in pitch sessions; have ready your tag line, elevator pitch, five minute pitch, and 15 minute pitch.
    Self-publishing: learn to do book covers or how to hire that done in an economical but still professional manner

    Trade publishing: participate to the greatest extent possible in marketing your book, working with whatever your publisher does
    Self-publishing: market your book: lots of work

    Trade publishing: watch the rejections trickle in; hope you are one of the lucky ones who has written a good book, found a good agent, and hit an editor on a good day with a hole to fill in a publishing schedule
    Self-publishing: watch the sales trickle in, perhaps 150 over 15 months; buy an occasional McDouble with the royalty payments

  16. KarenM on August 29, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    Wonderful post, Rachelle. Giving us sound perspective in a sea of uncertainty.

    I wonder if perhaps some of these “truths” have been fielded by authors frustrated by rejection or the lethargic speed projects tend to take en route to publication. Perception, for so many, is reality. Thus the need for your fantastic blog–to help keep our heads on straight while the tides of negativity ebb and flow around us.

  17. Pam Kumpe on August 29, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    At a gospel concert I covered for the newspaper (I’m a correspondent writer and weekly columnist) the emcee asked if I wanted to share about my latest book during the break. This is the 4th book I’ve self-published, however, a part of me said no since the venue belonged to another.
    But the not-so quiet part of me, who knows I must market, screamed yes, yes, yes. So during intermission I sold books and the next day, I received an email from a man who had been given a copy. Apparently, a woman handed him the book as he left the building.
    He started reading the book in the morning and when he turned to page 29 of the book, he began to cry as he realized he’d never given his heart to the Lord, although he attends church. He stopped reading and prayed right then. As I read his email, my tears wet my cheeks, and a rejoicing, much like a concert burst in my heart. And yes, my toes tapped with joy.
    For every penny (lots) that I’ve invested in self-publishing during the past five years, for every editor I’ve hired, for every ISBN # I’ve purchased, for the endless nights spent with hubby discussing cover designs (he’s a photographer and we are still married in spite of my changing my mind again and again), and for every chance to share Jesus in print – when someone becomes a Christian, I know why I consider all options that are set before me.
    To write for a traditional publisher is a real pursuit, one I long to be a part of. However, for me, to make the most of every day (Psalm 118:24, this is the day the Lord has made), I’m compelled to write when not speaking, when not volunteering at a recovery center on Sundays, when not attending church with the homeless, when not hugging my schnauzer.
    God invites me. He invites you, to be a part of His day, an honor I hold dear to my heart. And when someone gives his heart to Jesus, well, this puts wind in my tiny sail. Yes, I’m simply a tugboat for God, motoring through the harbor of life one book at a time.

    • Jan Cline on August 29, 2012 at 1:13 PM


  18. […] Not So Fast: Ideas to Rethink […]

  19. Jan Cline on August 29, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    Hi Rachelle,
    I agree with most of what you said. I think the wheels of change in publishing are not on the fast track yet. But at conferences we hear the urgency from publishers and agents.

    I hear from self-published authors that they are very happy with their experience. But most of them are publishing non-fiction and many self-publish their books to support their speaking/ministry. I hate thinking of it as a “last resort”, but writers don’t often know what to do with the manuscript that has been rejected multiple times for a variety of reasons – even after rewrites. In my mind there has to be options. I’m still fighting the urge to Self pub – hanging on to the hope of traditional publishing.
    Great post as always.

  20. Mercey Valley on August 29, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    I definitely hang in there for quality. It’s comforting to know it’s still in demand!
    All these points are valid and it’s encouraging to have them addressed. Thank you, as ever.

  21. Brian Henwood on August 29, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    This is a great topic and great comments. Like many others I too have self-published. I’d like to make what I think is an important distinction: Self-Publishing is incredibly easy; marketing is hard. If what you want is to see your book in print and you don’t care how many copies you sell, go the self-publishing route. If you have only one story in you, and you can devote the rest of your life to peddling your masterpiece, self-publish. If you’re like me and want to write more than you want to market/network, self-publishing is probably not the best choice for you.
    I self published three books. I found the process to be very user-friendly, and enjoyed the experience. But some of the things it didn’t do was:
    1. Care how I formatted, or if I spell checked. You won’t get any help there.
    2. Care how the cover art looks. Bad Image quality or layout on your part = disaster.
    3. Make my product competitive. The cost to sell one of my novels (without a cut for myself) was almost $20. I can’t sell a paperback for that kind of money, and wouldn’t feel right doing so.
    I’ve heard some sites are better than others, and that you can find places that will do some or all of the things I listed above. Maybe so, I only looked at a few before picking one.

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on August 29, 2012 at 1:15 PM


      Thank you for all of the points you shared, but I am especially glad that you said # 3.
      It’s something that I’ve never seen brought up (maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention). Over and over I see people touting self-publishing as a way to make more of a profit on a book. As I haven’t published yet–either self or traditional route–I can’t speak from experience, only from what I’ve seen. I have investigated a number of self-publishing sites and, although an author may get paid a considerably higher royalty than if he / she had published traditionally, a royalty is not the whole financial equation. What I’ve seen in my research is that, if I want to turn out an excellent product, then I need to invest a great deal of money into the publishing, marketing and distributing. Taking that cost into consideration, the cost per book, as you pointed out, is quite high, higher than I would want to charge in regards to ethics and in regards to being competitive. So what if you get 50% royalty per book as opposed to 15% if you: a) are not selling many books, b) are selling books for much less than they cost to produce or c) the quality of their physical design is shameful? These are the things that have come to my mind as I have explored self-publishing. People have shouted to the world about how high a royalty Amazon pays, yet the books are often being sold for 2.99 or even .99. Until your comment, I hadn’t seen anyone bring up the fact that that is maybe not such a great thing. If you have the money and all you care about is getting your book published and hopefully read, then maybe it’s fine, but from a business standpoint, self-publishing is not necessarily the best route.

  22. Brianna on August 29, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    The best we can do it be patient and educate ourselves, no matter what method of publishing we choose. I’m self-published and it’s been a huge struggle. Writing and marketing is a full time gig for me, on top of all the other jobs I have. It’s not easy and I spend a lot of nights awake, wondering I did wrong/am doing right/could do differently.

  23. Donna Pyle on August 29, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    I agree 100% – especially about the quality of an author’s work. With clever marketing, you may be able to get someone to buy your book the first time, but if the writing screams mediocrity they won’t be back. Not a good way to build a tribe, platform, or credible reputation.

  24. Sandy Cody on August 29, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    I agree with everything you said, especially that self-publishing is not as easy as some would have us believe. Having said that, I’ll add that I have had four books published by a traditional publisher and have just launched my first self-published novel. I don’t think of it as an either-or decision, but as an opportunity to try something a little different. I intend to write more books continuing the traditionally-published series and also to continue to explore other options. It’s an exciting (and frightening) time to be a writer

  25. Ann Bracken on August 29, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    I think it’s telling that those who self-publish and make it big all get agents. While it’s true that traditional publishing is no guarantee of success, it does seem to offer the kind of support that someone like me needs. Little things like line editing, designing a cover, marketing, and people who know what they’re doing.

    As far as what else is out there that I don’t buy into? That the world will end on December 21st. I’m still buying Christmas presents.

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on August 29, 2012 at 11:48 AM

      I like purple, I’m allergic to cashmere, I prefer silver to gold and I take a size 8 cowboy boot.
      Oh and my Akubra hat size is 59 cms.

      What? You said you were buying presents!

      • Ann Bracken on August 29, 2012 at 11:59 AM

        LOL! I’ve got it all written down, after I looked up what an Akubra hat is. Very cute! They come in pink but I didn’t see purple. Is that okay?

  26. Laura Libricz on August 29, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    I have decided to self-publish my first novel as an e-book and no, it’s not easy. I’m not doing it because nobody wants to publish me or because I want to engrave my name on my own trophy. I have paid for professional editing and, yes, I am envious when I hear other writers ‘submitting those first few chapter to the editor,’ while I bang this stuff out alone for years at a time or pay for the services when I can afford them.

    But I want the freedom to write what I want to, not necessarily having to ‘brand’ myself. I write historical fiction but I do some urban fantasy, too. I don’t expect to get rich; I’ll be happy to break even. The bottom line: I have to write. I don’t have much choice.

    I love my e-reader and most of my reader friends do, too. (I’m going to be 50 this year.) I read so much more than I used to and read books I would have normally not read. If I compare this to my music consumption, I’ll never buy another CD, either. I download my music legally and digitally.

  27. Chudney Thomas on August 29, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    You’ve just said everything I’ve been telling people for the past year. Especially when it comes to Self-publishing. I’ve had a lot of well meaning individuals suggest that I self-publish instead of taking the tradtional route, becasue to them it looks like the easy way. It’s simply a different way, ot doesn’t mean that it’s any less work, not if you want to suceed.

  28. Janet Bettag on August 29, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    I agree with all your points, but I specifically want to address the issue of self-publishing.

    I am in the process of self-publishing my first book. I would have preferred going the traditional route, but it’s a non-fiction book that addresses a narrow target audience. Agents and publishers are in the business to make money and they don’t see dollar signs when they look at a book like mine.

    I can attest that it is NOT an easy process – especially for a writer who is part perfectionist, part techno-phobe, and somewhat cowardly (like me). There are so many formatting requirements and standards to be met that it can be mind-boggling. Since the costs associated with publishing and marketing all come out of my personal pocketbook, the fear of making critical mistakes looms large. I’m not looking to make money from this particular book, but I also don’t want to take a loss on it. If my analysis is correct and I stay on budget, I’ll have to sell 125 print copies and over 1,000 eBooks to break even. Of course, that’s assuming that I have correctly set my price point on both versions.

    Something that people often do not consider when they look at the self-publishing option is that the writer is biting off much more work than just writing, publishing, and marketing. Once you enter the arena, you must become a business person, accountant, writer, networker, marketer, sales person… and maybe even a magician…to pull it off without losing your shirt. Yes, you do keep a larger percentage of the profit, but you are also personally assuming ALL of the risk – plus much more work than you may think.

    Still, this is a project I believe in with all my heart and have to see through to publication. Since that is not going to happen with a traditional publisher, I’m doing what must be done to complete what I consider my mission. I’m not sure I would have embarked on this journey for a different book.

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on August 29, 2012 at 5:05 PM

      Thank you, Janet, for sharing your experience. It’s valuable information.

    • P. J. Casselman on August 30, 2012 at 3:04 AM

      There are places like CreateSpace which require no advanced money to self-publish. They make books as ordered and place the book in E-book form on Amazon. Just a thought. 🙂

    • Adam Porter (@AtlasProWriter) on August 31, 2012 at 2:09 AM

      And BookBaby that, though they charge a small fee, places your ePubbed books on multiple formats. Where are the large costs coming from? How much are you being charged and for what and by whom…please.

      • Janet Bettag on August 31, 2012 at 10:55 AM

        CreateSpace may not charge up front for publishing, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have other cash outlay involved in producing and marketing a book.

        I’m actually working with BookBaby. I researched my options and believe they offer the best deal for my situation.

        The actual ePublishing costs aren’t huge. The standard eBook package runs $150, plus there’s $20 for them to assign an ISBN. I’m also doing a print version – 100 books is going to cost around $700 including shiping and taxes, but I have a BookBaby coupon code that will reduce that by $149. They consistently offer special deals of one kind or another. I think the offer for September is 10% off printed book orders over a certain quantity.

        However, those are not the only costs you have to take into consideration. My initial budget for this project was $2,000. So far, I’ve been able to stay at or under each budget line item.

        I got a deal on my cover art – a very talented artist gave me a discount on his services and did the work for $175. His design will work for both the eBook and the print version. I know there are less expensive options out there, but I did’t care for the quality.

        I lucked out on the copyediting, too. I have an author friend that swaps concept and content editing with me and he hooked me up with a very bright gal who is just breaking into the copyediting and proofreading business. She waived her fee in exchange for me treating her to lunch and my willingness to refer her. These folks saved me over $1,000 in professional editing fees. However, I had only budgete $750 because I was counting on my friend to do the initial edits.

        I have a marketing budget of $500 that will cover the cost of a launch party, collateral pieces, and the printed ARC copies of the book that I’ll give to local independent booksellers and send to some key neurosurgeons. In addition, I budgeted the $150 it cost to have a professional photographer do a shoot with me for publicity photos. I have since reduced the budget amount for that item to $75 since the photos will also be used for another project I have in the works.

        I budgeted 20% of the profit on each book sale to be set aside to cover state and federal income taxes that would apply to the book sales. That may be a high estimate, but I seriously doubt it.

        While I will get 100% of the sale price of each printed copy, the cost of producing the books has to be deducted from that to get the actual profit. For example, let’s say that the hard cost of printing a book is $6 and I sell it for $10. My gross profit is $4 on that book. From that, I have to deduct roughly $1 for income tax as well as a portion of the marketing expenses, office supplies, and other overhead items. By the time all is said and done, I will make maybe $2 on each printed book that sells at full price.

        On the eBooks, the percentage the author keeps varies from one vendor to the next and by price point. Amazon and Apple iPod pay 70% only on eBooks priced at $3.99 and above. Below that, it drops to 35%. B&N pays 50% regardless of price. For this example, let’s say I price my eBook on Amazon at $3.99 – better yet, let’s round that to $4 for the sake of the math. My gross profit on that book would be $2.80. Again, costs have to be applied to that, so I actually net about $2 per sale – IF I can sell it at that price.The same sale on B&N only gives me a gross profit of $2 per book, so the net profit would be less than that.

        Now, here’s a sticky little point that may not be widely known. When you place an eBook with online distributors, including the big guys, they reserve the right to reduce the price of the book as they see fit. So, I may price my eBook at $3.99 and if Amazon isn’t seeing the sales they want from it, they can reduce the price to $0.99 or give it away free if they want to do so. Of course, the author has the right to pull the book from their distribution, but how the heck are you going to sell them if you do that?

        I realize that doing the print version increased my costs, but there’s method to my madness. Because the target audience is people who have experienced brain trauma and their caregivers, I have a better chance at reaching them if they can see the book in a hospital gift shop or a rack near the pharmacy window at the drug store.

        It isn’t so much that the outlay for the actual publishing services is huge as it is that you have to take into consideration ALL your costs for the project and define your actual profit from the book sales.

        I will be donating a fair-sized percentage of the profits from this book the The Brain Aneurysm Foundation, so I would like to do better than break even.

        • Adam Porter (@AtlasProWriter) on August 31, 2012 at 1:08 PM

          Thank you for that comprehensive breakdown of your costs. Hiring professional editors and cover designers is a must, for certain.

          I was mainly trying the gauge the costs to see if there may be a point or two to help your bottom line. How long is your book? The print cost seems a bit low and the editing fees you listed seem a bit high.

          Also, if you use Calibre you can set up an eBook format yourself and sell from your own website. Using social media and SEO articles, you may be able to sell enough to recoup your costs, at least, without paying any fees and retaining the ability to set and maintain your own price. This would, of course, be in addition to submissions to other online vendors.

  29. Jeanne on August 29, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Rachelle, your thoughts make a lot of sense. I hadn’t thought about the audience factor–different people will be drawn to different genres of books or television shows. That doesn’t change the need for quality.

    Like Wendy mentioned above, I think I’ll watch and see where things go, rather than jump into embracing the newest “truth.”

    • P. J. Casselman on August 30, 2012 at 3:00 AM

      I often wonder if quality is being trashed for the sake of trying to score big with a catchy cliche or gimmick. Larry the Cable Guy is as funny as a drunken school bus driver, but he sold a ton of tickets and albums with “get ‘er done.” Abraham Lincoln is now killing vampires and selling fast. We need quality like a balanced diet, but the Twinkies are flying off the shelves.

  30. Wendy Paine Miller on August 29, 2012 at 9:48 AM

    I’m just doing a lot of watching and learning right now.

    It usually takes quite an impression for me to buy into something.

    And it’s kind of a fun psychological experiment watching those who tend to react and buy in quickly. (Guess that’s one way to look at it, right? ;-))
    ~ Wendy

  31. Jennifer Major @Jjumping on August 29, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    “What are some other thoughts and opinions being tossed around these days that you’re not sure you buy into?”

    This is the perfect opportunity and venue to discuss climate change, secret alien invasions and what’s really in a McNugget.

    Runs and ducks…

    I look at it this way, there is still something truly beautiful about listening to an original recording of Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday. The background noise, the sound of the needle hitting dust in the grooves, the pureness of the room that night, all comes through in the recording. If I’m going to listen to something old and treasured, I want to be there, in the room. A CD just is not the same.

    As the world changes, I grow in my compassion for people in the publishing industry. The rate of change is directly related to the speed at which the public encounters and embraces each new bell and whistle. There will always be traditional books and publishing, because not everyone has or wants an e-reader. And the more I read, the more I want an agent to guide me through the ever changing maze.

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on August 29, 2012 at 12:57 PM

      I agree, Jennifer, that there may be fewer print books published, but I there will be an audience for them for a long time to come. And just as with phonograph records, down the line, new generations will “discover” the glory of reading a print book instead of an e-book. Of course I could be wrong about this, just a grandma ready for the rocking chair.

    • P. J. Casselman on August 30, 2012 at 2:52 AM

      Perhaps some day, people will inject books into their heads with a syringe and little old ladies will cling to their e-readers exclaiming, “It’s just not the same!”

      Meanwhile, back on planet earth, I agree there’s an ambiance created when I crack open a paper book. It’s an experience before I ever read “Chapter One,”
      Even with E-Books, the need for having a guide will be prevalent. There will be the self-pub section of places like Amazon and the rented from pages from pub co’s. So traditional publishing will still rule in any medium.

  32. Connie Almony on August 29, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    For certain the industry is changing and all of our roles and responsibilities within it will change. It’s hard to keep up, but good to know others consider it their duty to do so. As an unpubbed author, I am grateful I know where to go to get a good run down on what’s happening. Though I do believe the agent’s role will look different when the cycle is over, I can’t imagine not having one to help manage the variety of issues that will pop up with the new contracts dealing with things like rights from digital media. I will need someone who is able to sift through the details and help me understand … so I hope you guys don’t go away anytime soon.
    My husband and I were talking yesterday about Babe the pig and how all of us feel like Babe, sometimes—trying to make ourselves useful in new ways so as not to become a ham. It’s a great story and an inspiration for all of us to find our place in a shifting world. Good agents will shift with it, as will writers. The world is getting MORE complicated, not less. More reason to have a guide.

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on August 29, 2012 at 12:54 PM

      Connie, I love your Babe the Pig analogy! So true.

      • Connie Almony on August 29, 2012 at 2:28 PM

        Thanks. It’s one that always comes to mind in an economic downturn. How do I make myself useful? … so as not to become a ham :o)?

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on August 29, 2012 at 3:41 PM

      “That will do Pig, that will do.”
      LOVE that movie!!

  33. Bobbi on August 29, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    I agree the is a wide schism in quality, television being an excellent analogy. I’m more of the Mad Men, Downton Abbey type myself. reality tv not my thing, but there need to be something for everyone. I think the main goal is getting more people to pick up a book.

  34. Jackie Layton on August 29, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    I can’t imagine trying to get published without and agent I trust.

    I’m not published, and I continue to study the craft of writing. I spend time each day studying and then writing. Right now I’m going through Breakout Novel. One day I hope my writing will shine to an agent, and then I’ll jump into marketing with both feet.

    Thanks for this post today.

  35. Angela Brown on August 29, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    Although I haven’t bought into any of these particular ideas, the first one mentioned has crossed my mind. But I try to bear in mind that sometimes, a book may come along that fits a vacuum and achieves great commercial success because a lot of people like it. Not that people are looking for something that will be Cybill’s, Hugo or Pulitzer prize quality…just a really good read.

  36. R.A.Savary on August 29, 2012 at 7:52 AM

    Reading and writing takes place in the mind. Realities become “truths” when people take their beliefs and put them into practice, physically. Rachelle, you stated in the close of the first paragraph, “. . . I’m not so quick to go there.” Why go there at all?

    We all know the reason why many are so quick to go there.

    Even non-literary fiction reflects the state of society, and the state of society is established in individual belief before its economics.

  37. Dina Santorelli on August 29, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    I self-published my debut novel, BABY GRAND, in May, and I have marketing virtually round the clock since. I always find it funny when people think that self-publishing is “easy” or “the easy way out.” It is FAR from easy.

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on August 29, 2012 at 12:52 PM

      Good point, Dina. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Cherry Odelberg on August 29, 2012 at 8:37 PM

      Certainly NOT the easy way; unless you are terribly rich and it truly is a vanity book.

  38. Scott on August 29, 2012 at 7:13 AM

    Hey Rachelle, love the post about revolution. I was talking to another non-fiction author the other day and we discussed how our writing has encouraged speaking engagements. Like you said, “Publishing contracts will keep getting more complicated and difficult to negotiate.” We both would have to agree with you. I think if you are an expert and have a platform, speaking may be a better way to get your message out there. Plus it pays on demand. And yes my writing has gotten me those invitations but not through publishing contracts. Just a thought from an ol’ guy.

    • P. J. Casselman on August 30, 2012 at 2:41 AM

      And if you take your books and sell them where you speak, you double down. 🙂

  39. Ted Cross on August 29, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    I think maybe the sheer size of the purchasing audience for lower-brow books is much bigger than the audience who cares about how well-written a book is.

    • P. J. Casselman on August 30, 2012 at 2:40 AM

      While reading “The Two Towers,” my son tossed the book on the table and exclaimed, “Doesn’t he ever get to the point?”

      You’ve got a point, Ted.

  40. Leanne Bridges on August 29, 2012 at 4:56 AM

    Rachelle, I loved your point that there are many audiences. And that many audiences mean a great variety of writing styles and standards that can find a reader. I had not thought of that, and I really feel like it is such a great insight.
    I have never NOT wanted an agent. I do not want to deal with contracts and negotiating. I don’t have the necessary skill set for either.
    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  41. P. J. Casselman on August 29, 2012 at 2:57 AM

    “Fifty Shades of Grey” doesn’t illustrate that poor quality sells. It demonstrates the same thing vampire books do–women are sick of passive men. Funny, women who have strong (not controlling, but proactive and romantic) men in their lives find both series lame. I guess we need to learn how to growl without barking.

    As far as self-publishing fiction goes, it’s a good way to get your name on a book jacket, but it feels like engraving my own trophy.

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on August 29, 2012 at 9:17 AM

      You are very astute. From the barking to the engraving, spot on, as usual.

    • Jeanne on August 29, 2012 at 10:01 AM

      So true, PJ. That whole “growl without barking” thing–it’s truly a fine art, is it not?

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on August 29, 2012 at 12:49 PM

      Good insights, P.J.

    • Cherry Odelberg on August 29, 2012 at 8:36 PM

      Clapping my hands and stomping my feet and cheering!

    • Joe Pote on August 30, 2012 at 4:34 PM

      WOOF! 😉

  42. Becky Doughty on August 29, 2012 at 2:51 AM


    I’m amazed at how many of these ideas are being touted as truth these days. This is the specific that I fell for: Since my book was hard to categorize, it was better for me to self-publish. So I did in July 2011. I created my own publishing company, purchased my own isbn set, registered my book with the Library of Congress, designed my interior and exterior, started an author website, then a blog, then a…. You get my drift. I’ve done all “the right things” except for spending every waking moment spamming people. That was over a year ago and I sold enough copies to break even in the first year and last month I received my first paycheck from Amazon for $8.63. I celebrated. I spent it all in one place. And I still feel like I’m in a boat without a paddle.

    I know from experience that I need an agent. I know I want to be published traditionally with a team around me. Self-publishing is hard and requires focused intent. I am a novelist. I want to write MANY stories. I don’t want my platform to be about ONE book, but about the ministry that God put in my heart. Self-publishing and self-promoting without a team doesn’t allow for that, at least not in my experience.

    I guess that makes you agents the paddle, doesn’t it?


    • carol brill on August 29, 2012 at 8:37 AM

      Rachelle and Becky, thanks for honest insights about self-pub. I have not self-published but after researching it over the last year I could not agree more with ” (1) Doing it well is not nearly as easy as many advocates make it sound”
      I keep asking myself how so many others found the time and courage to jump in when it seems pretty daunting to me.

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on August 29, 2012 at 9:15 AM

      “I spent it all in one place”.
      That huge amount could easily buy you a car!!
      Actually, 7 of them at Toys R Us. In the Hot Wheels aisle. Yup, I have boys.

      I’m sad that you went through all that effort, but perhaps God allowed that so you could be the go-to girl for sage advice? You tell it like it is, and do so with such grace and kindness. And wit.
      Before you know it, you’ll be on the D shelf in the bookstore. Unless you get your own shelf with the other best sellers! 🙂

    • Jeanne on August 29, 2012 at 9:57 AM

      Becky, well said. Thanks for the glimpse into your experience. You bring up some good points to consider.

    • Steve on August 29, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      I was going to write a response of my own to the post, but then I read Becky’s and realized she said pretty much everything I am feeling about the business and especially self-publishing.

      In my case, I thought of self-publishing not as a last resort, though many do unfortunately, as someone else here has mentioned, nor for the higher profits—there are many worse things to pay for than a professionally represented and published book—but I saw self-publishing as a kind of training camp, a proving ground, so to speak, where I might learn on my own (aren’t we always anyway on our own) the business end of creative writing.

      • Cherry Odelberg on August 29, 2012 at 8:35 PM

        Yes, Steve, I published independently for similar reasons – to get a feel for it and see if I wanted to publish my next novel the same way.

    • P. J. Casselman on August 30, 2012 at 2:33 AM

      I bought a vacation home with what I made in self-pubbing. Wait, does a tent bought at a garage sale count?

      Well put, Becky!

  43. Alison Stanley on August 29, 2012 at 2:11 AM

    Hi Rachelle. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs lately talking about self-publishing (particularly e-books) and how this is a better option than traditional publishing as you get paid higher % of royalties for each book sale. I think this is true, but I do wonder whether the traditional publishing route guarantees greater success. I guess either way, you still need to have a great book that people want to read.

    • Alan Kurland on August 29, 2012 at 4:37 PM

      We hear so many horror stories of epub and all. Does anyone know of a reputable company that can handle all the details , good cover, type-face, etc. and getting your epub book done professionally and sent to the best digital publishers like Amazon, B&N, etc? Not some vanity guys who will just take your money and deliver a poor product. Thanks.

      • P. J. Casselman on August 30, 2012 at 2:29 AM

        Take a close look at Amazon’s CreateSpace. They create your book without any upfront cost. You will need to make .pdf files for them, however. I recommend the free program Calibre at calibre-ebook (dot) com, because it handle .mobi (Kindle), epub, .pdf and more. Hey it’s free, right?

      • Will Davis on August 30, 2012 at 12:23 PM

        I did quite a bit of research and had a spreadsheet to compare self publishing companies and their offerings. I chose Infinity for publishing in hardcover, softcover and ebook. I have been very pleased with them. I did my own cover but would have had them do it if I had not already had a great artist. I have certainly learned a lot in the process and have a better understanding of the process for my next book.

    • P. J. Casselman on August 30, 2012 at 2:22 AM

      I believe it’s a little under 10 percent of the book’s price that goes to the author in traditional publishing and close to 70 percent for an E-book on Amazon. That being said, ten percent of fifty thousand beats seventy percent of twenty books sold. It’s hard to sell a book without the marketing power of a pub co.

  44. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on August 29, 2012 at 1:53 AM

    I agree with all of the points you’ve made.

    Books are a commodity that have a uniquely intrinsic value – they are a portable pathway into another world, and it will require a fundamental shift in human nature for the appeal of a well-written, well-packaged book to drop to a point where it’s no longer commercially viable.

    Poor writing does seem to be more prevalent, but look back…the best-sellers of the 60s and 70s were often horrible. And go back further…Pulp Fiction is more than just a stylishly nasty movie.

    The world may change, we may all be wearing silver spandex and driving cars that run on digestive gasses, but I’ll bet that a lot of us will have a real, physical book tucked away, within easy reach.

    • Jennifer Major @Jjumping on August 29, 2012 at 9:10 AM

      Oh my word. I need some brain bleach. Silver spandex? AHHHHH!! Hellllp!

      But yes, sir, I agree. We’ll always have books.

    • Aaron Lundstrom on August 29, 2012 at 12:35 PM

      The digital revolution seems to threaten traditional fiction publishing more than traditional non-fiction publishing. There’s something “harder” about non-fiction that makes it more necessary to print publishing, similar to how the “hardness” of daily news at least somewhat demands print editions, even if some newspapers fold or put more news online. But there’s a softness to a lot of fiction, such as to romance novels, that doesn’t demand print. I’m less interested in the fiction section of used book store than I am in the non-fiction section. To be honest, I’d rather forget fiction before I forget non-fiction. There’s a cluttered element to old paper fiction that qualifies it as kindling more quickly than old paper non-fiction. So, in my view — fiction writers: be concerned more about the digital revolution; and non-fiction writers: be concerned less.

    • Cherry Odelberg on August 29, 2012 at 8:32 PM

      I like the way you speak.

    • P. J. Casselman on August 30, 2012 at 2:12 AM

      For some reason, the idea of seeing Charles Dickens or Hans Christian Andersen (both pulp fiction for their day, I propose) in spandex comes to mind. Perhaps there’s a steampunk book in there. Either that or I ate some bad chicken.

      Very well stated, my friend. Yes, I used adverbs.

    • Joe Pote on August 30, 2012 at 4:30 PM

      “…I’ll bet that a lot of us will have a real, physical book tucked away, within easy reach.”

      While I agree that books are not going to disappear anytime soon, I can’t help thinking the Greek and Hebrew scholars of a couple millenia ago probably said the same thing about scrolls…

      …and the Egyptian scholars before that probably said the same thing about papyrus…

      …and let’s not forget stone tablets…clearly the most permanent form of writing to-date…yet one of the most short-lived…unless you count grave markers…

      The advantage of the printed book over these predecessors is the ease and cost of modern printing…which is being rapidly replaced by digital ink.

      I expect printed books will eventually become relegated as museum pieces…just not anytime soon…