Thursday, January 10, 2019

Adamantly wrong.

It's amazing how wrongly certain (certainly wrong?) people can be about things.

When I first started investigating self-publishing it became clear from the start that there were two camps, and that both were absolutely certain they were right and the other side was wrong.

There are the those who think only traditional publishing is valid, and those who think self-publishing is the only way to go. As the owner of a bookstore and a writer with some experience at traditional publishing, it placed me in a weird position.

Before I talk about publishing, I should talk about book sales. The two subjects are obviously connected.

As a bookstore owner, I probably shouldn't like Amazon. Then again, I had decided long ago that the Internet was not my enemy--or maybe more to the point, that there was nothing I could do about it. I've always been more upset by the mass market chain stores. They seem to have more of an effect on the bottomline than Amazon. The way I put it is--the Internet takes the extra click. Those willing to make the extra click online are going to do so no matter what I say. But a bricks and mortar store is direct competition. We are competing for the same available dollar.

But if you go back and read early blog entries by me, I was certainly anti-Amazon. I had my arguments based on what I thought was common sense--but those arguments didn't have any real data to back them up.

That's probably the biggest problem with trying to decide which side is right. The information is exclusive to the various outlets, so I'm just trying to guess from the outside.

One mistake I constantly make is to underestimate Big Numbers. I simply can't wrap my head around them. For instance, Linda worked at Barnes and Noble for awhile (it was horrible) and when she came home and told me how much they were making per day I just couldn't figure it out. I had a pretty good sense of how the four indie stores that existed before B & N came to town were doing--roughly, and all combined, it wasn't but a fraction of the sales that the big store was doing.

Were all these customers simply not buying books before? (This was before Amazon was quite so big.) I'm still puzzled by that.

So, basically, I'm always underestimating how well the bigger players are doing.

As a writer, I am a big proponent of Amazon. They give you 70% of the proceeds. Believe me, that's rare. As a store owner, I would kill for a supplier who would give me 55% or 60% much less 70%.  My overall average wholesale rate is 60% of the price. Less than that and I don't survive

Amazon also makes it extremely easy to self-publish. You don't have to pay ANYTHING to get a book--you just have to do the editing and cover art and formatting yourself, but any writer who spends a little time can figure that out. That is utterly amazing.

Even the physical copies you buy only cost what they cost to publish, and usually can be had at about 40% of the final sale price. If you want 10 copies, you can get 10 copies. If you want a 100 copies, you only pay for 100 copies.

Unlike what used to be called "Vanity Press" which made you publish hundreds if not thousands at a not so good price. When I tell people in my store to publish their book on Amazon, they don't get it. They are still stuck in the past where self-publishing really was a "Vanity" experience.

That said, I tried self-publishing myself and didn't get anywhere. I then hooked up with smaller specialty publishers and this was much better. I simply don't know how to promote myself and needed someone else's platform to make any headway.

At the same time, the smaller publishers usually don't distribute in bookstores and when they do, they are usually crushed. (This happened to two of my publishers.)

By way of Google searching it became clear that some writers do extremely well at self-publishing. (There are also, alas, a whole lot of lying liars--which is strange, because it's possible to actually check their rankings and realize they are full of bullshit.)

The romance genre for instance is full of writers who sell big numbers. (Just take a look at the self-published best-seller lists and I swear that half the books have bare-chested guys on the cover. Really, I'm not kidding.) These people know how to promote--they do the research and the work and the experimentation.

The learning curve has become steeper over the last couple years. Many of the tricks at gaming the Amazon algorithms have stopped working. Loopholes are being closed. The early gold rush has matured and it's much much harder to get noticed.

So there are big problems with self-publishing, and yet also big success.

The exact same thing can be said about traditional publishing. I'm not going into as much detail about what problems there are there, but it basically evens out.

In other words, both camps are both right and wrong, depending.

And ain't that always the way?

What's amusing to me is how in both camps there are people who spout nonsense.

Anyway, this has become clear again with BookBub. I'm pretty sure that it is the rare writer who doesn't benefit from BookBub. Many see huge increases in sales. I certainly saw a big boost and I'm as happy as could be about it.

And yet...and yet...there are bunches of writers who think it doesn't work (despite all the evidence) or who take a stand against discounting. Much of this is sour grapes.

But mostly, they are just wrong--and very adamant about it.

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