For some it can be a difficult decision. For others it makes perfect sense. We take a look at two different #IndieAuthor perspectives of income potential and growing foreign markets.
Adite Banerjie— My Journey from Trad to Indie
Five years ago when I signed a contract with Harlequin Mills & Boon to write my first novel, I was over the moon. It was a propitious start to my freshly-minted career as a romance author. I dreamed of being a celebrated author with tons of published books to my name and even landing a movie deal for one of them. A romance author is entitled to her dreams, right?
But then, as the cliché goes, dreams die first. After publishing three books with Harlequin—during which period Harlequin merged into Harper Collins—I got a ringside view of the mad, mad world of traditional publishing. With every new title I hoped they would get better display at the stores and some marketing push. All in vain..
Perhaps the most frustrating part was that traditional publishing seemed to be like an elite club. While I had gained entry into the club, I was denied the courtesies extended to a few select members. The "rules" of membership were never quite made clear to me. Was I doing something wrong? My questions got evasive answers and the marketing team would blame it on tight budgets. The realization soon dawned that perhaps the 'unspoken' truth lay somewhere else—authors willing to shell out the moolah were given the best display spots at bookstores, were invited for special promotional events and benefited from a higher profile for their books.
I did some digging around to figure out the economics of publishing and came up with some mind-boggling numbers. To earn a royalty as little as $0.12 on a copy of a book priced at $2 the author is expected to 'invest' upwards of $5000 on a slew of marketing related activities including high-profile book launch events.
However, the production costs of a publisher are a fraction of that amount. Printers charge roughly @ $2.5 per copy for a 200-page book. Factoring in economies of scale that a publisher would be able to leverage, it would be fair to say that printing costs would work out to $2 per copy (or even lower). Buying premium display space at bookstore chains would work out to roughly about $150 per book per store. Estimating that a publisher uses such premium space for an author’s book at 20 stores, the cost would be about $3000 per book. Given that the average print run of a book (with a shelf life of a maximum of 3-4 months) ranges at 3000-3500 copies, the math seems heavily skewed against the author.
My rose-tinted view of the traditional publishing world had begun to lose its sheen. Its business model was geared for authors with deep pockets. Besides, the utter lack of transparency would only leave me more frustrated and sap my creative energies. But the proverbial last straw came when my dogged questioning forced Harlequin to admit that there had been some 'misreporting' of my book sales.
Early this year, I decided to have a fresh bash at publishing via a different route—Indie publishing. In India it is still at a very nascent stage, with Amazon driving all the action through its Kindle Unlimited program and Kindle Lite (an app which is available for smartphone users). But given that sales of e-books have outstripped physical book sales on Amazon India, as of 2016, there is a huge opportunity for Indie authors.
My second chance at publishing, however, is not based on broad trends, but on a personal choice to take control of my writing career. It's also more grounded in reality. No more rose-tinted glasses for me. Traditional publishing also taught me to rein in my expectations. But more than anything else, I was keen to see how my first book as an Indie author would fare.
By this time, Harlequin had reverted the rights of my books to me. So, I decided to republish my debut book with a new title and cover. I had a new cover designed for the grand sum of $6 and my marketing budget was zero. I promoted my book on social media channels without taking out a single ad. My support network was my group of Indie author friends. In exactly three months, KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) readership—or the number of page reads on Kindle Unlimited—of Destiny’s Girl had crossed 150,000.
The fact that a zero-budget marketing effort could help me gain these numbers in a short span of three months was enough evidence that I was on the right track. Best of all, writing has once again become enjoyable and rewarding. The daily updated dashboard helps me keep track of sales spikes and dips, and lets me plan out new ways of engaging readers at my own pace and convenience. Perhaps the biggest learning for me has been that Indie publishing is not just about applying the 'independent' mindset to my writing, but to the marketing of my work as well.
Adite Banerjie is a romance author and screenwriter based in New Delhi. Her Indie debut is titled Destiny’s Girl. To find out more about Adite and her books you can visit her website, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Aleksandr Voinov—Indies in the UK vs Germany
I remember a brief exchange, it must have been roundabout Christmas 2011, which happened at work. We had a colleague over from the German head office, and pretty much nothing to do (even banking slows down a little when people are mostly focused on getting all their presents and holiday plans in a row). The colleague was from Munich, a generally forward-looking, prosperous city that secretly thinks it’s Germany’s true capital; she was also young, tech-savvy, and apparently a devoted reader of all kinds of books, which is why we bonded a little.
She looked in wonderment at that new-fangled gadget I had sitting on my desk. “What is that?”.
“It’s a Kindle.” (Kindle keyboard, actually)
“What is that?” .
I explained it to her. Her response:
“That’s so weird. Do you think e-books will ever become a real thing? I still prefer real books, you know, paper.”.
Meanwhile, e-publishing empires were rising and falling (though at that point mostly rising) in the US and, maybe to a slightly lesser extent, in the UK. Some large e-publishers, basically a couple of women with computers, were building million-dollar businesses from their bedrooms. Sure, there were still discussions about quality issues and whether e-book authors shouldn’t go traditional, but in some genres that didn’t receive mainstream attention, such as queer romance, the “traditional versus e-publishing” battle wasn’t being fought. There were no alternatives. If you wanted to publish gay romance, for example, you’d go with one of the emerging e-publishers, of which there were dozens, and meaningful contenders were still springing up.
Sometimes, I look back over the channel to Germany to see where the country of my birth is going. And of course my view is distorted by not actually being in the country. While the UK and US seem to move largely together, Germany is slower, but it’s moving. I’ve joked to friends that everything happens first in the US, then arrives in the UK six months later and may, or may not, be adopted 3-5 years later in Germany. If we indulge that thought, Germany’s e-book market is now where the UK was in 2014 and the US in 2013. I remember that period largely as a battle over quality (the “tsunami of crap” discussion), but also as increased self-confidence of true self-publishers who rapidly acquired the network and skills to go it completely alone. The scandals, withering, and deaths of established e-publishing houses since 2014 have only accelerated that. And recently, it’s almost as if small e-publishers have to justify their existence.
What does this look like for German authors taking on the Indie market? Let me give you the example of Peter H., one of my writing padawans in Germany, who has been writing his heart out since about 2005. He published dozens and dozens of fantasy novels, novellas and short stories with small and smaller print publishers, often for just a couple hundred euros, or “author copies”. He was basically writing for exposure, hoping for the big break of being “discovered”.
I told him back in 2010 how things in the UK and US were going and that he should urgently take back all his properties and start self-publishing, because self-publishing is perfect for people like him, who create a lot of content, can write, and have the right “get up and go” attitude, but seem to be invisible to the big publishing houses. Maybe he didn’t quite believe me, or he’s just a practical guy, or the market wasn’t quite there yet, but he stayed his course. He sold a story to a German “e-book first” publisher a year or two ago (“e-book first” was a radical “new idea” in Germany in 2016ish).
I was overjoyed when I saw him just a few weeks back promoting his new fantasy saga on Instagram as pure self-published project, with great covers. Certainly, Peter has arrived in 2018 already, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
Aleksandr Voinov’s latest releases are Quid Pro Quo and Take It Off, the re-issued first stories in the Market Garden m/m hot romance series. For more information about Aleksandr and his books, check out his Website and Blog and follow him on Twitter.
Are you an Indie author who is exploring foreign markets? Has self-publishing been a positive or negative experience for you? What's your view of the Indie market as a reader, are books easy to find, have you discovered new authors? Let us know in the comments or using #IndieAuthor on our Social Media.