Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 5

We’ve been talking about the paths to publishing and what each path entails so that authors can make the best possible business decision. For the last few weeks, we talked about the need for every author to market their books regardless of their publishing choice.

I was asked, are there exceptions? Does everyone really market?

The truth is that there are exceptions. Below are some examples.

Example number one:

I have an author friend who has been writing novels for a particular romance publisher for a bazillion years. Okay, literally not a bazillion years but definitely somewhere in the vicinity of four decades. The publisher of these romance books has a loyal following of readers and so sales have always been good. Consequently, my author friend has never marketed a day in her life. She didn’t have to. She’s written four books per year and got reasonably good advances. Her advances, though have decreased over the years, as they have for most authors.

If my author friend wanted to continue to write four romance books a year for the next hundred years, she probably could do that and still never have to market her books. She has a good thing going.


What if she wanted to write something different? What if she wanted to write a mystery or romantic suspense?

Her romance publisher doesn’t do romantic suspense or mystery or any other genre so my author friend would have to start from scratch. She’d have to find a publisher, and make a website, and go through all the things that the majority of authors go through to market their books. It wouldn’t matter that she’s written close to 100 novels. She would have to find new readers, and that’s the rub.

This new writing project would in effect make her a new author. She would have to market.

Example number two:

I have another author friend who is a writing machine. She writes eight to ten (yes, 8 to 10) books per year. She has multiple publishers and she publishes multiple series with each publisher. She also does very well for herself.

This author friend also appears to be a marketing machine. She is on Facebook, and Twitter, and Tumblr, and Pinterest, and she does newspaper interviews, and Youtube videos and a ton of other marketing tasks. Not only does she post different information on each different social media platform, she does it several times per day. She engages her followers personally and interacts with them. Each of her followers probably feels that they have a personal relationship with this author, and the result of it is that she is able to create a big readership for her books, regardless of publisher.

But here’s the reality. This author friend loves writing. But she hates marketing. Luckily she is able to afford a full-time marketing assistant, and that is all they do.

Hiring someone to do your marketing if another exception. But I don’t know many authors who can afford to do that.

The important point I am trying to make with the everybody markets rule is that it is easier to plan to be an author who markets than it is to plan to be the exception, because you can’t really plan for that.

Remember that even James Patterson, who sells a gazillion books per year still does commercials for each book.


Everybody markets.

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 6

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 4

We’ve been talking about the paths to publishing for the last few weeks. Every author is unique. One author’s publishing journey is right for them but might be wrong for you, and so I’ve laid out some general information so you can make a wise business decision about the publication of your books. Remember, you are the brand and the books are the product.

Last time, we left off with the Big 5 and the marketing quandary of why do you still have to market your book if you publish with the Big 5. Don’t they do that?


Sometimes not.

Here’s the deal. The Big 5 publish 800,000 books per year and they don’t have enough staff or time or financial desire to market every single book they publish.

But how do they decide which books they will market?

I hear you asking. I do.

It goes kind of like this. They have an A stack, a B stack, and a C stack of books they are publishing. Books in the A stack will get some kind of standard marketing package that includes a baseline list of things they will do. Books in the B stack will get some kind of simplified baseline marketing package. Books in the C stack get nothing. Zip. Nada. Well, maybe they will be listed in the seasonal catalog, but they don’t get much more than that.

But you, the author, do not get to decide which marketing package you will get. And you may not be able to find out which pile your book is in. So it’s possible that your book is published by the Big 5 (Congratulations!) but you don’t see it anywhere, and it doesn’t sell much because you haven’t marketed it at all.

Sorry about that.

So even if you publish with the Big 5 it is in your best interest, and the best interest of your book, to create a marketing plan, have a marketing budget, and market.

One thing you should know…

Everybody markets is a good mantra but marketing does not guarantee book sales. It is totally possible that you are a well-planned, luxuriously budgeted marketing machine. And in spite of that, your book doesn’t sell. Or at least it isn’t as successful as you wanted it to be.


Maybe your sales are down because you write in a niche market and your reading audience is limited.

Maybe you’ve written an Octogenarian Mystery where your protagonist is 80 and your reading audience is limited.

Maybe you’ve written the same kind of book that everyone else is writing. Your fabulous weir rabbit with the gravy fetish coming out next month is sure to be a hit! Except there are 25 other books coming out next month with that same idea. Oh no!

The market is flooded.

The reality is that supply always, always, always outweighs demand in publishing. Remember the publishing math we did last time?

So what do you do?

Keep marketing anyway.

Keep building your brand.

Be persistent.

Don’t give up.


Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 5


Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 3

We’ve been discussing the similarities between the paths to publishing for the last couple of weeks. The main similarity is that regardless of the path that you take, everybody markets.

I hear you groaning. I do. But all authors should be promoting their work.


Let’s talk publishing math.

The US population is roughly 318 million people. There are some generous estimations that 70% of the population reads regularly, which works out to about 223 million readers, who each read on average about 5 books per year. Note that not all readers purchase their books. Some readers borrow from the library, or from friends etc., which will decrease the number of readers willing or able to purchase a book.

There are about 1 million books published in the US each year. The other 999,999 books are competing with your 1 book for a sale.

It’s a lot of books and not a lot of readers. If each of the 223 million readers each bought 5 different books so that every book published that year sold in equal numbers, each book would sell 1,115 copies. But, bookselling doesn’t work that way. Readers purchase books by authors they’ve already read, or they purchase a book because a friend recommended it, or they might purchase a book because it got a plethora of great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and they are willing to take a chance. Or they saw some form of advertising that got their attention.

The reality is that some books sell well (define “well” however you choose) but most books sell very little.

Discoverability is an issue for everyone.

But if I publish with the Big 5 why do I need to do marketing?

I hear you asking. I do.

Here’s the reality. Even the Big 5 publishers do not have enough money, time, or staff to market each and every book they publish. The Big 5 publish about 80% of those million books or about 800,000 books per year.

  • Penguin Random House publishes about 37%
  • HarperCollins publishes about 18%
  • Simon & Schuster publishes about 12%
  • Hachette publishes about 10%
  • Macmillian publishes about 5%

How do the Big 5 decide which books they will market? We’ll talk about that next time.

Meanwhile, the Big 5 publishes a lot of books every year. Which leaves about 200,000 books published by independent publishers and self-publishers.

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 4

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 2

So you’ve written a book and it is ready for publication. Congratulations! The first thing to know is that every author’s path to publishing is unique, just like every author’s writing process is unique. What is right for one person is not necessarily right for the next person.

The main point here is to make sure that you take the time to figure out what it is you really want and then take the path that is best for you. Remember that publishing is a business. You, the author, are the brand, and your books are the product. Regardless of publishing with the Big 5, an independent press, or deciding to self-publish, you are a business. It’s time to start thinking of yourself that way.

Look at the paths and make a business decision based on what is best for you, and what you can reasonably achieve. Whichever path you choose, if it is based on research, and is a sound business decision based on your personal business, and I support your decision.

In the next couple posts, will talk about the similarities and differences between the three paths to publishing.

You might think that there are no similarities between self-publishing and traditional publishing, but there are. Let’s look at the two similarities below.

  1. Regardless of the publishing path you take, THE absolute most important thing that you do is write a story that will appeal to readers. Remember publishing is a business and ultimately it is about selling books. If you are going to spend a month, a year, ten years writing your story for readers, make sure that the book will meet reader’s expectations. This means that you have consistently learned writing craft and you are clear on the requirements of your genre.
  2. Everybody Markets. I hear groans, but it’s true. Everybody markets. Next time I will go into the details of why everybody markets and why it is so important.

Next: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 3

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 1

After my speech at Pubcon17 last weekend on the topic of the paths to publishing, several attendees requested that I blog the information so they could have it available as a reference. Consequently, I am going to detour off our previous topic of scene writing for the next few weeks to accommodate this request. What follows is a reiteration of the bullet points of my speech.

Writing Advice

When I was in the third grade I lived in Los Angeles. And being the bookish sort of child I often went to the public library. On one of those occasions, I met author Ray Bradbury. He didn’t seem to be an overly largish person. He had a lot of hair. And he had these giant glasses with thick lenses that magnified the appearance of his eyes.

Ray Bradbury read to me. As far as I know this was not some scheduled event. It was just some guy reading in the library to whichever children would sit still. I feel that I should recall in great detail his reading of Farenheit 451, but the reality is that I was in the third grade and I was focused on his gigantic eye balls. I do recall the book burning scene from the story though not in great detail.

After Ray Bradbury read to me, I walked up to him and said, “When I grow up I want to read books and write.”

Ray Bradbury gave me some advice, which I do remember:

  • Read everything and then read everything else
  • Write every day.
  • Practice writing just to practice
  • You have to write a lot to get good

There were long stretches of time where I didn’t do a good job of following Ray’s advice. I’ve had life detours, and hiccups, and downward spirals I had to climb up from. But today, I read books and I write.

And so do you.

First off, congratulations! You have written a lot. Maybe you’ve finished your first novel. Maybe your fourth or fifth novel. And now you want to become a published author. Be proud of yourself for what you’ve accomplished. There are a bazillion people who have said they want to write a novel, yet they never have.

But you, you have spent time, sometimes years, learning the craft of writing fiction. And your novel has a solid plot build around a fresh or unique premise. You have ensured that your scenes are set and clearly orient your reader in space and time. Your characters are solid and fleshed out with internal and external conflict. You have made sure that you have tension and conflict on nearly every page. Your point of view is consistent. You show more than you tell so your readers can visualize the story playing out in their mind’s eye. And you are comfortable in your preferred genre and your genre’s tropes so that your story will meet your reader’s expectations.

You have also worked with critique groups or critique partners who have helped you to see where your writing weaknesses are, and then you worked to learn more craft to shore up those weaknesses and solve your story shortcomings. Then, after all of that, you proofed your work to the best of your ability and this manuscript is the best possible work that you can create at this point in time.

Now you want to publish your book. Good for you. But which route should you take? Should you self-publish? Should you publish with the big 5? Would an independent press serve you best?

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 2