Josh Fruhlinger Answers Your Questions on Self-Publishing
Also: Kindle or paperback?
Last week, I put up an extremely long post on my blog about how much money I made from — and spent on — my Kickstarted, self-published novel, The Enthusiast.
Nicole was nice enough to do a little write-up of it here on The Billfold, and I agreed to answer any questions you might have about it!
Here are some replies to said questions, and if you want more info, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment here and I’ll reply to it. (You can check out excerpts from the book or get links to the many variously remunerative ways you can buy it here.)
- What percentage of that went to marketing and promotion? That seems to be the biggest pain point for self-publishing (at least for me).
In a sense, I spent zero dollars directly on marketing and promotion. By this I mean I didn’t pay any money for ads (a prospect I found way too dicey to contemplate), and I didn’t pay for any marketing help, because I wasn’t quite sure how to approach that. My friend Lizzie Skurnick put out her shingle as a full-service book person who does publicity, among other things, at the tail end of my whole process, when I basically felt like I was out of money; had I had a conversation with her when I was more flush, before I actually published, I might’ve hired her.
In another sense, though, my whole blogging and writing career over the years was my main marketing for the book. Call it “sweat equity,” though obviously typing doesn’t work up that much of a sweat. I reached out directly to the readers and social media followers I had accrued since the early ’00s, and that’s where I got most of my sales.
Also under the PR umbrella is the book tour I arranged for myself, though since I had already sold book parties via the Kickstarter, I had to go to those cities anyway. Half the cost of that trip was $569.24 (I counted the other half against the book party income), and I made $839.02 from book sales, so I came out a bit ahead on that.
Having professional PR is definitely an advantage of going through a traditional publisher, though you hear rumblings from authors that the PR attention you get from publishers isn’t at all what it used to be. The one thing I really wish I had for my book was the connections to get it reviewed in high-profile publications, which is a big hurtle for a self-publishing book to get over. From what I’ve heard from a few people, even one good review in a prominent publication can make a huge difference in sales.
2. Do you think Kickstarting and self-publication are viable ways to make novel writing less of a rich man’s game? What are some other ways you can think of to make book writing a more equal opportunity pursuit?
Honestly, perversely, I think crowdfunding and self-publication can in some ways make publishing — especially book publishing — less equitable. This is counterintuitive, and contrary to the way people talk about crowdfunding and democratizing publishing, but I believe it’s true.
Think of it this way: under the old system, gatekeeping agents and editors selected novels that were then printed, distributed, marketed, and, hopefully, sold. While there was of course a certain amount of nepotism involved in whose manuscripts got a second look, in theory the process was meritocratic: if they thought your book was good, it got published. Of course, despite their best efforts, some books were hits and others bombed, but the authors of the bombs generally got an advance, so they still made some money out of the effort they’d put into the book. In essence, the publishing companies were pools of capital in which the best-sellers subsidized, to a certain extent, the flops.
With self-publishing, you’re totally exposed to the risk of failure. Even if you go the zero-money-up-front route — doing print-on-demand, only having minimal editing and book design — you’re still on the hook for the not insubstantial time writing a book occupied. (This is of particular importance to me, because I’m a freelancer and time I spend writing a novel is time I could otherwise be spending on other paying clients. Your calculus may differ.) And if you do pay for services up front, you might end up losing a lot if your estimates of book sales are overoptimistic (and they probably are overoptimistic).
Now, crowdfunding can alleviate that particular risk — you can use the money from Kickstarter to pay for those services, rather than paying out of pocket. But as I noted in my longer piece, in order to make any kind of serious crowdsourcing splash, you really need to already have a “platform” — which is to say, an audience that you’ve acquired by some other means. Maybe you do it the way I did, which is to say that you write things for free online for a long time that a lot of people like. Maybe you do it the way a lot of established, best-selling authors are — taking their pre-existing audiences away from traditional publishing and selling directly via Amazon. They keep more of their money that way — but remember, they only got their start because a traditional publisher used money from some other best-seller to take a chance on them.
So, to make a probably too-long answer short, I don’t know if crowdsourcing and self-publication is going to make things less a rich man’s game. It will definitely make it different in ways that will help some people and hurt others. It will probably mean a change from a publishing world where a few people made enough money writing books to live on and lots books never saw the light of day to one in which a lot of people get their books out there in the world and make not very much at all from writing them. That might seem more democratic, though by making novel-writing unviable as a career in and of itself, it may privilege people with existing means and/or free time. The new era will also mean that people who are good at piquing the interest of individual editors or agents are at a disadvantage against people who have already assembled an audience of one form or another. That too may seem more or less democratic to you, depending on which profile you fit better.
3. I am curious about how he chose the publisher for the book. How he knew they would do right by his art: color, set-up, quality of paper, and other esoteric things I would worry about.
This is an easy and concrete one to answer! As I noted in the post, I worked with David Malki ! as my book designer, and he also served as a liaison with the printers and ebook converters. He’s done this quite a lot of work with authors who’ve self-published, and so had lots of experience and advice on the advantages and disadvantages of different vendors and their offerings. Also, by dumb luck, he and I happen to both live in Los Angeles, so I was able to come by his office and see other books produced by the companies I was choosing from. This is another great example of how working with professionals isn’t cheap but can alleviate a lot of stress and anxiety — and again, this was only possible for me as a self-publisher because I did the Kickstarter.
4. I’m going to buy a copy. Curious — what gives you the bigger cut from Amazon, the $8 Kindle or $15 paperback format?
As I noted in the article, I make more from the $8 than I do from the $15! 99 cents more: $5.42 vs. $4.43. (Although, for some reason payments for Kindle books come a month later than payments for CreateSpace print books? Like, this month I’ll get my July print money but my June Kindle money.) But, as I always tell people, and genuinely mean it: you should buy whatever version of the book is easiest and most convenient to you! I’ve had people tell me they bought the ebook or paperback version not because they were cheap but because they prefer those formats. I’m just glad you’re reading!
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