Sep 21, 2011

The E-book, Self Publishing Dilemma

By Melinda Carroll

A writing friend of mine wrote on her blog recently about the rising issues and challenges with ebooks.  I brought it up during our monthly ANWA meeting (yay ANWA) and discovered there's a lot to this topic.  Here is some of what we discussed:

Ebooks are changing the face of the publishing industry, in some ways quicker than the industry can keep up. In the past, if an author didn't get a book deal there were very few options, but not anymore. An increasing number of authors are starting to self-publish, many of them using the ebook format and selling their novels for as little as $2.99 (which seems to be the magic number for ebook sales). Some of them have done very well, even getting great book deals from large publishers after their ebooks were a success (the Tiger'S Curse series by Colleen Houck, for example). On the other side, well-known authors are dropping their publishers and going straight to selling ebooks on their websites and garnishing 100% of the profits. So which option is best?

The ebook, self-publishing option has lots of positives. First,you get all the profit with very little overhead. This is appealing for authors who usually get about 10% on their books, and some of that goes to the agent. Second, there is something very tempting about foregoing the grueling and time-consuming process of finding an editor and agent. But this option comes with risks too.  When you don't have a publisher, then you lose support in marketing your book. All the work is up to you and you really have to do your research to know what are the best ways to spread the word and get your name out there. Second, when you forego the publisher the quality of your book is often compromised. You lose that team of editing support that can make a book shine.

Going the traditional route has it's benefits and issues too. As far as benefits, they have resources that in general go far beyond a self-publishing author. Marketing and editing resources are two huge ones. A publisher wants you to succeed, and (in theory) can help guide you in getting your book out there to the masses as a polished product. They can facilitate your meeting other successful authors. And there is just something appealing about seeing your book in hard copy, not just ebook format. But there are some challenges here too. For one, the author makes considerably less per book, which is understandable because there's a team of people working on your book who all have to be paid. Also, there are still a lot of issues with ebooks that have yet to be worked out. For example, publishers make a considerably higher percentage of the profit on an ebook than the author, whereas with hard copy books the percentage is about equal. Also, the profit reporting for ebook sales can get a little sticky. The ebook phenomenon happened so fast that some publishers may not have accurate systems in place to report profits, and some authors are concerned that they are actually selling more ebooks than are getting reported.

When it comes to ebooks, self-publishing and traditional publishing both have their benefits and problems. The most important thing in deciding between the two is to make sure you do your research and discover which option is best for you.


  1. Great post, Melinda!
    We are going to be discussing this in our November least that is the plan!

    I inherited my mom's Kindle as she just got a newer one for her birthday. That means I also got all the books she has on it! Bad for my getting studying done, but fun for me!

    My frustration is the high number of errors in the ebooks. UGH! and these are the ones put out from big publishing companies. I'm really curious if the same errors are in the hard copies. Do I just notice them more because of the larger type?


  2. I love this post.

    I agree, Kari.
    I finished a book that has great plot and character development. Yet, I was distracted by the poor writing and errors. It had so many errors that I wanted to call the author and asked her if she had read her book. It also was FILLED with cliques!!! Yuck. I kept reading because I loved the characters.

    So the dilemma, are ebooks worth the 2.99 when you cannot flip open the book and read a page or two?

  3. Hmmm. I'm exploring my Kindle at the moment. Maybe I'll download an ebook and check it out. But I have to tell you that many fanfic sites which are another great way to start writing have wonderful stories, great character development and terrible grammar skills. Maybe a pool of proofreaders or editors would be a huge help.

  4. Terri,
    That's exactly what my friend proposed. Sort of like a self-published, ebook co-op where everyone helps edit and market each others' books. An interesting idea.

  5. I've thought lots about the ebook vs. traditional route but then realized something: first I need to finish writing my book!

    Really, though, it's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out in the next year or so.


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