Monday, March 06, 2006

E-Publishing or Print Publishing?

Recently a reader friend of mine decided to dip her toe in the waters of writing. Like a smart cookie, she started asking questions about the business, particularly the print and electronic publishing formats and the way each worked so that she could decide what would be best for her. Here's the long and short (though more long than short...) of my reply. Hope this answers some questions for you!

If you want to be published and you're not a patient person (like me), start learning. This is NOT a quick or easy business. An average purchase to the print publication timeframe is 18-24 months. But the bigger (and more tedious) hill to climb is the one that leads to "the call," as we call it in print publishing. (i.e., selling the book to a publisher.)

To sell in print, the average author writes for about 7 years and writes an average of 4-5 full manuscripts (of 100K words each) before selling. Some people don't have that sort of stamina. They give up after 1 or 2 manuscripts. I tell you this now not to discourage you, but to give you an idea of a reasonable expectation.

If you choose the e-publishing route, this may be easier. You'll still have to work to perfect your craft. But because e-publishing doesn't cost the publishers as much money, they're willing to take more chances than traditional print publishers. They also aren't big publishing conglomerations with corporate bottom lines to mind and stockholders to please, but are smaller, leaner and more flexible. However, publishing here still isn't a walk in the park. And selling to some e-publishers, like Ellora's Cave, has gotten every bit as difficult as selling to print publishers because they are so popular.

With money, the structures work totally different between print and e-pub. You make more money per book e-pubbing...but your audience is (at this point) much smaller. For example, if you publish with an electronic publisher, you generally won't receive an advance. They usually only buy completed manuscripts, even from their own authors. So you're writing a whole book HOPING they like it. If not...well, it's something to line your closet with.

If the book is a $6.20 download and you make 35% of that, then you make $2.17 per book, which sounds pretty good. But many e-authors are lucky to sell 1000 units. So you've spent a lot of time and effort to make $2170. And to make that, you had to do some online advertising, which costs you money. So say you kept $1500. A book that costs $6.20 is a longer one, so let's say you could write 4 of those a year. If you stay on budget and sell 1000 units of each, you've just made $6000 for the whole year. Can't live on that.

One up side is, you get your money quickly. There's no worry about books being returned from the store to the publisher. Once it's downloaded, it's done. And with most of e-publishing, you get a check every month for the units sold that month. They also don't go out of print, like print books can. So as long as the site is open for business, then you can potentially make money on that book.

The good news is, wonderful e-published authors do grow their readership. If you're with a good, growing epublisher, they get new readers every day. As the younger generation becomes readers, they will read more of their content online than either the Boom generation, or even GenXers do. But that's down the road. For now, other than a few exceptions, most e-publishing isn't lucrative enough to make an author an acutal living.

Print pubs work VERY differently. In the print world, the publisher buys a book and gives you an advance that's chunked up, usually part on signing the contract, part on the editor's acceptance of the manuscript (and depending on the publisher, part on publication of the book). The advance can be as little as $1000 or as much as millions, depending on where you are in the publishing food chain. But you're a new author, so say they offer you $5000 advance, half on signing (the contract), a third on acceptance (of the manuscript), and a third on publication.

So you get "the call" that an editor wants to buy your first book tomorrow, let's say. It will be somewhere around June before you see your contract. IF there are no changes, you'll sign it and turn it in, and get your $2500 within the next 60 days, so somewhere around August. If you have to modify the contract...that just holds the money up. If you turn the book in at the end of September, you'll see the $1250 you're due in late November/early December. Then let's say your book is scheduled to hit shelves in October of the following year. Well, you don't see that $1250 until the following October + 60 days it takes to process they check from the publisher. So you'll have a total of $5000 for that 20 month period.

But once the book is out, does that mean you start getting royalties in print books right away, like e-publishing? No. Print publishers have to deal with bookstores and the moving of physical stock, which means a little something called "reserve against returns." See, bookstores can return books to the publisher at any time for any reason. It can be years, decades, later. So publishers, when they start paying royalties to authors, they hedge their bets. First, it will be at least a few months after the books release before they even begin calculating your royalties. Second, you have to earn back your advance, so you won't see any new money until you've made $5000 on this title. And third, they hold back money until they are relatively sure that they are holding back enough money in reserve to accommodate any returns that might come in. Confusing? Yep.

Here's an example: Your book comes out October 2007. You signed a contract that entitles you to 8% of the $6.99 cover price, which is pretty normal. So you make about $.56 per book, which doesn't sound like much. But if your print run is between 20,000 and 25,000 copies. If you sell 70% of those (and you'd better if you want to keep publishing), that's a bit over $8000. But you won't sell them all at once, and even if you did, the publisher won't give that to you all at once because they'll hold back a "reasonable" amount of reserve against returns for a period of 3-5 years. Oh, and many print publishers only print royalty checks twice a year, so your October 2007 book... If your publisher prints a royalty statement as of the end of the year, you'll have sold all those books (because a sale toe them is to a book store, not a consumer), but they're waiting to see how many units the bookstores return. You probably won't get any new money for that royalty period. The "reasonable" reserve against returns during the first period is usually between 40% and 60%, depending on publisher. And you still have to earn back your advance of $5000. Over a period of years, you'll see the rest of that $8000. But it takes time. And like with e-publishing, you should spend money to promote, which eats away at your bottom line.

I know it sounds like you can't make money doing this. You can as you develop a name, as your print runs/popularity grows. Once that happens, the sky might be the limit!

Sizzle from the Heart
BOUND AND DETERMINED ~ Berkley Sensation ~ Available now!
"If you pick up one only romance this year, consider this one. Highly entertaining." ~ Romantic Times Top Pick
STRIP SEARCH ~ Berkley Sensation ~ July 2006
WICKED TIES ~ Berkley Heat ~ January 2007
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Blogger Milady Insanity said...

Shelley, I've heard that said many time already. Your explanation of the royalties thing was great.

And every time, I think I must be crazy to write, then I go write some more. But I tell myself that every pubbed writer went through that too.

Monday, March 6, 2006 at 11:28:00 PM EST  
Blogger Nicole Reising said...

What a great, concise out line of the two types of publishing. As a not-yet-published writer I have done alot of research into both and comparison. You hit upon everything major within the two groups extremly well I thought.


I realize that to some, the pay or the time may not seem worth it - I understand this. :-) To me, its irrelevant - I love to write - I will always write, even if no one ever buys my books. "shrug" I hope/dream someone does buy them some day but in the end - it really doesn't matter to me. I'm still writing. :-)

Thanks again!

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 12:14:00 AM EST  
Blogger Shelley Bradley said...

Milady and Nicole, you both have the right attitude. Writing is about the joy of the words you put on the page, not how much you get paid for them. Yes, that's a consideration, but not when crafting. And writers...write, regardless. If you love what you do enough, I belive it shows to readers and editors, and rewards will come your way eventually.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 5:52:00 AM EST  
Anonymous epubbed said...

My french professor used to have a joke about our learning a foreign language...and since sometimes publishing is just that, I'd have to apply it here. But this time, it's not a joke...(read w/ French accent, s'il vous plais)

"C'est simple, clair, et logique!"

Thanks for the no-nonsense explanation.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 7:22:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Gail Faulkner said...

Excellent comparison. I’m an Ellora's Cave author and recently took a hard look at NY market. For me, writing for the NY market would be hobby writing because it's not going to support me.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 8:32:00 AM EST  
Blogger Jana J. Hanson said...

Great advice, Shelly! Thank you!!

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 9:51:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Butterflylane said...

Thanks for explaining all of that so it made sense. This is the first time I've actually felt like I had a grasp on how advances and royalties worked. (Course, until I finish something submittable, it's a moot point anyway, but still.)

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 10:04:00 AM EST  
Blogger Patrick McNamara said...

Although the ratios of e-publishing to pubishing may not work out for the US market, there's many countries for which it does. Though if one is going to bother writing something, they might as well try for as large a profit as possible.

The big problem with the e-publishing is the technology. It's just not up to the same standards yet. Once they come out with digital paper things could change. I do see an advantage for textbooks, because carrying one ten pound computer is easier than five four pound books.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 11:44:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Cindy Procter-King said...

Wow, Shelley, what a great summation. As an epubbed author, I think you encapsulated the topic wonderfully.

who's doing way too much blog-strolling today, but with a kid recovering from surgery and workmen tearing up the kitchen, I don't have a brain for anything else.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 1:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger Natalie Damschroder said...

Great explanation of the basics, Shelley!

Some other factors:

Most e-publishers also sell print books, so returns DO factor in for some of them, depending on the deal they make with the store. Some of those books can be resold even if returned (an advantage with trade paperbacks). And having titles in print with an e-publisher gives you a lot of promotional flexibility.

You're not always going to see money faster with e-publishing. No advance to earn out, but some e-pubs pay twice a year instead of monthly; I believe MOST pay quarterly. Definitely have to read contracts carefully, because they vary widely.

I have experience with four e-pub/print-publishers since 1999, and I think selling 1000 copies of a book is wildly optimistic for most titles. Even if you sell that many, it's likely to be over a period of years. But I have money trickling in for titles that released three to five years ago--they definitely have longevity.

E-publishing is great for those who write a lot and very fast, and ESPECIALLY for those who like writing short stuff. There's a huge market for that (mainly erotic).

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 2:32:00 PM EST  
Anonymous pennyoz said...

I suffer from prejudice. First of all, I would not get any pleasure out of e-publishing. There is nothing more solid or satisfying than a beautiful beautiful bound book with your name on it.
Secondly I really don't like - and you might think of me as Pennysaurus Rex here, but I don't like electronic rights clauses. My main objection to them is that there is no end. You can have that manuscript sitting in cyberspace for years and no recourse to getting it back if it doesn't sell well and trying to get it settled somewhere where it might just do better.
I think that you have to just love writing to be an author. It's just there inside you. Unless you are writing for a genre which has a set formula that has to match the publisher's series, you are taking a long and agonizing journey with highs and lows for slow gain. But it's like watching a horror movie through your fingers. You can't help but look, even though you don't want to, and why are you there in the first place since you hate being scared to death? Because you can't help yourself.
That's what writing is.
Getting published is a goal. Writing is a journey to the goal. IF you enjoy it then it will reflect in your story and perhaps make the goal easier as you head towards it.
The book is the reward. Anything above that is a beautiful bonus.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 7:49:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Gail Faulkner said...

Oh, I can't resist responding to things I see being said about epub here. I know it will not change minds but my experience with Ellora's Cave has been nothing but positive. The actual numbers on sales are significantly higher than I am seeing mentioned here and they pay monthly. As everywhere else, good writing makes a difference and some may not get the big numbers. It is a very nice outlet for those who write "fast and hot". ::grin::

Wednesday, March 8, 2006 at 8:54:00 AM EST  
Blogger Patrice Michelle said...

Great summary Shelley! It's one of the best ones I've seen, giving great insight into both sides of publishing.

Thursday, March 9, 2006 at 2:28:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diana said...

Just chiming in here about epubs...well, one in particular, since I only have experience with Ellora's Cave. I have to agree with Gail that the number you cite is low, in my experience. I have 8 books out with EC (6 in both ebook and print and 2 as ebooks only) and each one of them has sold 1000 units or more the FIRST MONTH. Yes, sales decline after that (ususally the first month of release is the best selling month).

Thanks for this post, Shelley!

Monday, May 1, 2006 at 10:38:00 AM EDT  
Blogger john said...

Good Post, digital revaluation in print media is worked well. Online readership is increased dramatically from the past three years. All the publishers are presenting their publications through online and some publishers are using the companies like in distribution of publication over the new technology mediums. Digitization becomes the revenue generation tool for all print publishers. I would suggest only digital publishing to get good revenues.

Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 9:34:00 AM EDT  
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Friday, December 19, 2008 at 4:14:00 AM EST  

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