This Friday when romance writer Megan Mulry officially releases her latest book entitled "In Love Again," she will be taking a risk. Mulry’s previous two books in her fictional “Unruly Royals” series were published by Sourcebooks , and landed her on the USA TODAY Bestseller list. But for book number three, Mulry decided to self-publish.
“I had a wonderful three-book deal with Sourcebooks, with a one-book option clause," Mulry tells OutFront. But Mulry says her new protagonist didn't fit into the Sourcebooks vision for the series of high-flying British royals and the Americans who love them. The star of her new novel is pushing forty, a departure from her traditionally twenty-something characters that catered to a younger audience. “After my editor, Deb Werksman, and I talked about the option clause," she says, "we both agreed it might be an opportunity for me to self-publish.”
In past five years self-published e-books have become trendy. The number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 422 percent since 2007, according to a recent report from Bowker which tracks the industry. Today, everyone is an author, simply because you can be. You don't need a book deal anymore because you can distribute it yourself. Of course, it doesn't mean your book will sell or even be good, which is why hiring an editor is strongly recommended.
First-time authors like Amanda Hocking have been making a killing by self-publishing and then getting major book deals. But Mulry is part of a new species: hybrid authors who bounce back and forth between getting book deals and self-publishing. Household names like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling have both self-published, and have paved the way for other writers, says Laura Dawson, Project Manager of Identifier Services at Bowker.
Self-publishing first became popular with romance writers who wanted to dust the cobwebs off of their out-of-print titles, according to Mark Coker founder of Smashwords,the world’s largest distributor of indie e-books. “In 2009, we started to notice that romance novels were being uploaded to the site and many of these were books that had been published previously,” Coker tells OutFront. “Romance writers tend to be more prolific and they write in series. [By] 2009, [these] writers had the rights to many of their books… they realized that they were sitting on a goldmine with reverted rights and their e-books could make their out-of-print books immortal.” He says authors were raking in enough money that a husband could retire or romance novelist could pay off her mortgage.
Without a publisher, Mulry knew that she had to set a budget and make an investment in the details that she didn't usually have to worry about. “For cover design, developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, print design/formatting, and e-book formatting, I paid approximately $2,500 total,” Mulry says. “At list price of $14.99 (print), I make $4.14 per book via Amazon and $1.14 everywhere else. At list price of $3.99 (digital), I make about $2.80 per unit. I have also retained my literary agency to handle all publicity and marketing, as well as foreign rights and subsidiary rights, so there's an additional percentage that will be taken off net for them. Therefore, in terms of units, I need to sell close to 1,000 copies before I start earning a profit.”
With e-books, the self-published author has the advantage. According to Coker, an author can earn as much as 80 percent on a $2.99 price point, whereas with a traditional publisher they would earn a 25 percent return. Smashwords sees four times as many unit sales for self-published books than traditionally published e-books, simply because they’re more affordable. Authors also have more creative control and less wait time. “When traditional publishers acquire the book it is typically not on the market for 12 months,” he says. “If you upload a book to Smashwords it will be on the site in five minutes, and in three to four days, it will be in the iBook store.”
Self-publishing is still small potatoes compared with traditional publishing. Three percent of books purchased in the U.S. last year were by self-published authors, and self-published books accounted for 8 percent of all e-book purchases, according to Nielsen.
While traditional publishers are by no means suffering from self-publishing, the power structure is changing. “Publishers have so much value to add to books and the ability to help writers publish better books, but the writers upon whom they depend are no longer beholden to them,” Coker says. “The tools of publishing have become completely democratized. Five years ago, if you couldn't get your book published you were condemned to failure. [Today], the publisher is no longer the taste maker. Readers are the new curators.”
To read an excerpt from In Love Again visit Mulry’s website.
Independent distribution sure has advanced from when Damon Dash & Hov were selling copies of Reasonable Doubt out of the back of their car trunk...
In terms of startup costs & break even volumes, $2500 & 1000 units is almost as modest as running a lemonade stand. But then again: Content is King, and you'd probably have to be a heck of a writer to even get to a thousand units.