Wednesday, 6 June 2012

So I was thinking...

Because I was trying to blank out the sound of Hope screaming at the dentist, the other day, and my mind went down some strange paths...

Rhiannon Frater, Madeleine Roux, Amanda Hocking and Michael J. Sullivan; what do these three ladies and one chap have in common? All four of them originally self-published their work in one form or another (Kindle, serialising it on a web site, setting up their own publishing company and so on) and did so well off the back of it that a big publisher came round and offered them a contract. Not for something new though (although I think Amanda Hocking is writing new stuff for St. Martins), I'm talking about stuff that was already available to the book reading public in the first place. And that's what I don't get.

Before we get started, I've got no access to book sales figures and the self-published sales figures I'll be mentioning are ones that I half remember hearing a long time ago, probably while I was doing something else. Reading, most likely :o) I think what I'm saying should stand though, bear with me...

I guess what I don't get is how publishers think they can turn a profit on a series of books that were already successful when they were self-published. Amanda Hocking has, by all accounts, sold millions of books on Kindle and this includes her 'Trylle Trilogy' which has been snapped up by Tor in the UK. Erm... Isn't that rather like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? That’s X number of people who already have the 'Trylle' books on Kindle and presumably won't be bothering with a physical copy (I guess, I don't know).

Frater and Roux built up a large online following with zombie tales published on their websites (Frater went on to self-publish her books further before being published by Tor in the US). I guess this makes a little more sense (publishing wise) if the original stories were then taken down but there must be more than a few people who read the books online and decided that was enough for them (maybe they even printed off their own copies to keep and read). That's got to put a dent in future sales doesn't it?

And Michael J. Sullivan, here's a man who sold something like 60,000 copies of his 'Riyria Revelations' books before Orbit stopped by to lend a hand. So, that's 60,000 copies that Orbit won't be selling then.

You're probably thinking 'What the hell is Graeme on about? The publishers know what they're doing and those new copies in the shops will find their way to people who hadn't come across the books online. Graeme obviously hasn't had his morning coffee yet.'

Well, I haven't had my coffee yet. Can you tell? :o) I'm also sure that the publishers know what they're on about (it's their job), it just doesn't quite add up for me.

I'm wondering if our lovely community of fantasy, sci-fi and horror loving geeks is so large that bunging extra hard copies of books on the shelves is going to make a huge difference. I mean, we're all online already aren't we? If I'm actually in a bookshop it's because I've heard something a book online. That's where we find out about what books we'll be picking up next. That's where we download the free excerpts and then go on forums to rave about this cool lady writing about zombies on her website, or that guy who is publishing 'sword and sorcery' books that we should all be supporting. Hasn't everyone who is going to read these books already read them?

If this is the case, those physical copies (published by the big hitters) are on the shelves to draw in random shoppers who are there to buy something although they're not sure what it is they're after. Which has got to be a bit of a gamble for the publisher doesn't it? Especially if the established fanbase already owns the books and are raving about them online...

Like I said, I've got no idea about how many of these books have actually been sold, by the big publishers, I'm hoping at least one of them will chip in here and set me straight :o) It just doesn't feel right, not if you're looking to turn a profit. Can you turn a further profit on something that has already turned a profit? I don't know...
So, I've got some questions for you guys.

Regular readers - If you already read the books above, in their self-published form, did you go out and buy another copy when they were re-published? I'd be interested to know.

Publishers - Don't you wish you'd taken a chance on these books before they were incredibly succesful self-published phenomena?

If I've missed something really obvious, go easy on me? Like I said, I haven't had that coffee yet ;o)


Lucas Thorn said...

I'm kind of with you, Graeme. I work in a bookstore, and have for more than 10 years, and I'm seeing a great decline in bookstores as ebooks become more and more convenient. The book industry isn't ageing terribly well, which is a good thing because it's getting refreshed.

So many new writers emerging right now at a time when publishers are visibly struggling is a bizarre situation. That publishers are having to snap up writers who have made themselves successful via Amazon's forward-thinking is a sign of their desperation.

For me, I wonder for how long traditional publishers will be able to lure writers who make themselves successful on Amazon (etc). Soon the whole stigma of being "self published" will go away, I think.

I can't wait to see what's happened to the book industry in ten years, for sure!

Mark said...

Hi Grahame, the only example I can give, I bought the original Michael Sullivan first editions just before he got the Orbit contract. I also collect books, so not wanting to spoil the original first editions, I waited until the orbit editions were published and bought Orbit UK reading copies.

To me Michael Sullivan signing to Orbit was a major coup, and they must have thought they could make money out of deal. I would also think that all orbits oveseas publishers would benefit as well.

Considering this it's actually a massive opportunity for both Sullivan and Orbit. Lets face it, although ebooks have/are changing publishing most people can't afford to shell out £90 for a basic e-reader.

Making his books available to UK based customers opened up a massive market otherwise not available to UK customers.

I think that next next 18 months will be interesting for publishers/authors/e-books especially Waterstones/Amazon deal?