The Cruel Paradox of Self-Publishing

Digital and print-on-demand technology has made self-publishing much easier. But for every self-published work that gains traction, the overwhelming majority of books don't.

"Most self-published books sell fewer than 100 or 150 copies, many authors and self-publishing company executives say."

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Problematic on several levels

First, I'd call Author Solutions a conglomeration of subsidy presses: There's always a significant upfront charge, and there's frequently a suggestion that you're getting more traditional support than you actually do.

Second, while I'm certain that it's true that most self-published books sell fewer than 150 copies, it's equally true that most Big Six books never earn out their advances.

Third, maybe more important: Many--possibly most--self-published books, especially those created using true zero-cost support systems (Lulu and CreateSpace), may not be intended to sell lots of copies. (OK, so I do have a book on this, The Librarian's Guide to Micropublishing, from ITI, a traditional publisher.) In fact, Lulu's founder's motto has been "We don't want to sell a million copies of a hundred books, we want to sell a hundred copies of a million books."

The Myth of the Unearned Advance

>>it's equally true that most Big Six books never earn out their advances.

The following post argues against this point.

The Myth of the Unearned Advance
http://stevelaube.com/the-myth-of-the-unearned-advance/

Excerpt: A NY Times essay a couple years ago casually claimed “the fact that 7 out of 10 titles do not earn back their advance.” Of course they did not cite a source for that “fact.” But I have seen it quoted so often is must be true! (and it isn’t.) The implication then is that a book isn’t profitable if it doesn’t earn out its advance. The publisher overpaid and has lost money. The author is the happy camper who is counting their cash gleefully celebrating the failure of their publisher to project sales correctly.

Unearned advance

Here is another post by a publishing consultant that also argues that a book with an unearned advance may still make money for the publisher.

Times Book Review on advances, and related thoughts
http://www.idealog.com/blog/times-book-review-on-advances-and-related-thoughts/

Because Laube's claimed "fact" trumps theirs?

Given that Laube flatly states that the assertion isn't true, but--in fact--offers no actual evidence other than a bunch of calculations he prepared (none backed by any apparent real-world evidence, and I'm pretty sure the Big Six aren't releasing their per-title costs!), it's a he-says-she-says situation.

Nor did I say--anywhere--that books that don't earn out their advances can't be profitable for publishers. That would be like saying that motion pictures that never return a cent to "profit participants" aren't profitable: The accounting practices of Big Media are well-designed to hide all sorts of profits.

Point

So what is your point when you say that many big six publishers do not earn out their advances?

My interpretation of why you stated it was to say that not many copies were being sold. When you read the Shatkin and Laube articles I would argue that you cannot make that conclusion with any certainty just because a book has not earned out it's advance. If the publishers are moving enough copies to make money then they are selling a good number of books.

Arguing for the sake of arguing?

My point was that, from an author's perspective, most mainstream books are "failures" in that they never return any additional income (and most normal writers don't get big advances).

Neither of the articles does anything to refute that point. For that matter, neither actually demonstrates that big publishers don't lose money on most of their books; the two industry insiders are just tossing out their own anecdata and calculations. (The second case is a writer who I long ago lost any respect for, but that's a different issue.)

I sense that you're arguing for the sake of arguing. You can have the last however-many words. Oh, by the way, since you're so concerned with writing, you should be aware that "its" as a possessive does not have an apostrophe, and I don't think you mean to say "a book has not earned out it is advance," which is what you did say.

Grammar check

>Oh, by the way, since you're so concerned with writing

I was not concerned with your writing I was concerned with your content.

>>Nor did I say--anywhere--that books that don't earn out their advances can't be profitable for publishers.

No but when you say

>>Second, while I'm certain that it's true that most self-published books sell fewer than 150 copies, it's equally true that most Big Six books never earn out their advances.

The implication is that most big six books are not selling many copies. If the publisher is making a profit that it likely not true. Just because the author is not making a lot of money does not mean that copies in the thousands are not being moved. A don't try to divert back to talk about the author. Your initial point was not about the author but the number of books being moved.

Final point - I love how you wrapped up your last argument with a grammar critique of a blog post. Seriously!!! Doing a grammar check of a comment to a blog post. Wow! You found a grammatical error in a comment. You are awesome. Don't resort to defending your content. Let's talk grammar.

So what you are saying

So if we take what you said your point was and replace that with what you first said we get this statement --
Second, while I'm certain that it's true that most self-published books sell fewer than 150 copies, from an author's perspective, most mainstream books are "failures" in that they never return any additional income.

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Well for this to be true it depends on how much the advance is. Also why is getting an advance not counted as a success? Why is getting an advance a failure? Median advance for fiction was $5000 a couple years ago. If I sell 150 books on Lulu I might make $10 per copy. Why is making $5000 over $1500 not a success?

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