Collins continued: “I was extremely lucky because my first book, The World is Full of Married Men, was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to, and became an instant bestseller.
Christine Kling, a former professor at Broward College, discovered the same option. A moderately successful Fort Lauderdale-based mid-list author like Montee, Kling’s thrillers all have a nautical element.
After two, two-book contracts with Ballantine, however, her publisher balked on contracting for more work.
Kling turned to self-publishing. Speaking via FaceTime from aboard a friend’s sailboat anchored off Trinidad, Kling said she discovered the Amazon Select program, which allows authors to give away some of their books for free as promotions in exchange for agreeing to go exclusively with the online retailer. She targeted sites that advertise free books, figuring “if they list free books they might buy another.”
The first time she tried, readers downloaded more than 37,000 free copies of Circle of Bones in three days. Then, she was rewarded by word of mouth.
“In the next 30 days,” Kling said, “I sold 8,000 books. Amazon is paying authors a 70 percent royalty rate. That book was $3.99. You can do the math on that and you can see that that 30-day period was a lot better than anything I ever made as a college professor working at Broward College.”
Since then, she bought back the rights to her Ballantine books. “I have self-published those and I’m making my 70 percent on those as well.”
As self-publishing took off, a funny thing happened. The big publishers began watching the sales of self-published work on Amazon, and started offering successful writers traditional contracts.
“Publishers have always had places that they’ve gone to find the next crop of big bestsellers,” Kenneally said. “And frankly I’ve had literary agents tell me that Amazon Lists is the new slush pile. That this is a terrific way to find out if they have an audience, if they work, if people are willing to pick it up and love it.”
The most noteworthy may be fantasy writer Amanda Hocking, who put the first of her 10 novels featuring trolls, vampires and zombies online in 2010, made an estimated $2 million over the next year, and signed a four-book contract with St. Martin’s Press by the summer of 2011 for another $2 million. She was 26 at the time, and felt the need to explain to her massive following of readers.
“I want to be a writer,” she wrote on her blog. “I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.”
Amazon caught on. Rather than lose its success stories to other publishers, it started its own imprints, and began offering its e-book authors more traditionally published contracts. Kling signed a three-book contract with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer line.
Self-publishing, however, is a double-edged sword for most authors. It offers freedom and control over the product from beginning to end, and heftier royalty rates.
But it also strips away any possibility of an “advance” against royalties. Those too, though, are shrinking at most traditional publishers.
“The trend for bestselling authors is higher than ever,” said Salkind Literary Agency agent Greg Aunapu. “But for new authors, mid-list authors, the advances are going lower and lower.”
A book that netted a $50,000 advance just a few years ago would be fortunate to snag a $10,000 one now. “They say that 50 is the new 40,” Aunapu added. “Well, in publishing, $10,000 is the new $50,000.”
Still, that’s more than what a self-published author is guaranteed to receive.
Another issue: the required marketing to stand out from the self-published crowd can be daunting.
“The most difficult part is the promotion. You have to work for it,” said Fort Lauderdale-based writer Natasha Salnikova, who has self-published four psychological thrillers and one supernatural thriller on Amazon.
She worked with Facebook and online book sites, developing an audience, and recognizing the self-publisher’s dilemma.
“If you make mistakes, they’re your mistakes,” she said. “If books don’t sell, it’s on you.”
Her husband, David Raterman, is also a self-published novelist. But he chose to put his first fiction book out in print, instead of as an e-book.
His experience was sobering. He advises others exploring the independent route to “manage your expectations. Don’t expect that you’re going to sell a ton of books,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of authors who are self-publishing for the first time are not going to be able to survive from that.”
That points up one of the biggest differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
Rose, who will be holding a workshop on book promotion at the book fair, said it’s true that even traditional publishers expect authors to promote themselves. No matter how they are published, writers nowadays need to incorporate social media into their marketing strategy. But publishing houses can accomplish things individual writers can’t for themselves.
“A self-published author can’t buy the front table of Barnes and Noble,” she said. “Only a publisher can do that. A self-published author can’t buy the front page of Amazon.”
On the other hand, she said, “Publishers can’t have a blog for you. They can’t talk to your readers for you. And they can’t develop a relationship with your readers for you.”
The advantages of a traditional publisher’s marketing power, however, won’t be brought to bear for every author. And several self-published writers said the idea of being in charge from beginning to end was worth much more to them than what a big name publisher might offer.
“I really wanted to hold my fate in my own hands,” said Ellen Brazer, who writes historic Jewish fiction. “I didn’t want anybody else controlling my own fate. I believed I was either going to be a failure or a success, but it was going to be done on my terms.”
The Miami Beach-based writer’s marketing strategy has been more traditional, but focused. She found some of her greatest success with Jewish women’s organizations.
“I really went back to the old-fashioned way. I speak. I’ve spoken to over 6,000 people in the last two years, all over the country,” she said. Sales have been steady, and they’ve given Brazer something far more valuable than mere dollars.
“I’m living my dream.”