Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The magic number...

Some authors want to use their self-publishing success to leverage into a traditional publishing deal. For years I tried to find out what that "magic numbers" was. In other words, how many self-published books must you move before it's worth mentioning on your query.

I read everything I could, I asked agents and authors at writing conventions and never could find out what the magic number was.

I think I have it now. It's 5,000 books over a one year period. I came to this number because of two sources.

One was at the DIY (Do it Yourself pre-conference to the BEA) a few Saturday's back. 5,000 was the number that was expressed at the luncheon session by Arielle Eckstut, and David Steery, Co-authors, The ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED. This is an excellent book by the way. I've read many on the subject and poo-poo most of them but I really liked and got a lot out of this one and think the authors did a fantastic job and have a good deal of knowledge to impart.

The other I ran across in a forum that was discussing whether self-publishing was the kiss of death for authors. Many of those answering said yes. I heartily disagree and think it can be the launching pad for you (it was for Michael's six-figure deal). And one person found a great link from a Forbes article this last October. In it the founding partner of at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency (among the top five overall most active agencies in the business, according to Publishers Marketplace) said "If the author has sold 5,000 copies in the previous year, it interests publishers. And if an author has sold that many, she or he probably has some sort of platform.” You can read the full article here.

A few other data points on the subject. The Trident Group has recruited a number of self-published authors from Kindle Boards for representation and Noah Lukeman (one of the largest agents in New York) approached and signed D.B. Henson. He also signed a self-published author J.R. Jagger but I don't know if J.R. submitted to him or if Mr. Lukeman approached the author.

There was a time in the past, where it was highly recommended that you don't self publish if you desire a trade publishing deal. Much of this centered around the fact that the 'first publication rights' were broken. I try to keep my finger on the pulse of this type of attitude in regards to the industry at large and I don't see that being such an issue these days. In fact, at the BEA many agents and publishers on panels mentioned that they are attracted by self-published authors with a proven platform. When self publishing was relegated to print, and sales were low, it was difficult to build much of a platform. With ebooks authors are finding audiences all the time and from my perspective (and what I've read from those in the industry and on panels) this is currency in the new model.

I mentioned this on AW and not surprisingly many disagreed with me. Many there stated that if the first publication cherry was burst - it was somehow now "untouchable". Other pointed out that since most self-published authors don't ever sell much it's not worth the risk for those who might still care. Are they right? I don't think so - but I want to at least present both sides. If you are thinking of doing this and want to hear the other sides here are some recent posts on AW to see what others have said.


Robert Burton Robinson said...

I assume that's 5000 print books. So the 20,000 $0.99 kindle books I sold in May would not qualify. ;)

K. Victoria Chase said...

I wonder if the genre you are writing in makes a difference. I write Inspirational romantic fiction and there really doesn't seem to be a huge presence in the indie world. I don't hear of any authors writing christian fiction being approached by agents/editors for book deals.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Robert - the format (ebook or pbook) does not matter but the price could. On one hand I could imagine someone might say .. hmmm 20,000 sold that's an audience and worth looking at. Another may say - but would they be willing to pay a higher price (an argument I'm sure many had when trying to decide to pickup Amazda).

Things get "stickier" in the "low discounted cost world. And it goes without saying - even more wiggy if you have many free copies given away.

Robin Sullivan said...

@K. - Romance is huge market - to further classify it as "christian" might limit it a bit but in general any segment where you can find a defined group of people (which yours does) is better than a more general "literary fiction" category.

Leslie said...

At last- I have a goal to shoot for- thank you for all the time you invested in finding this out.

Lindsay said...

Great idea for a post, and very interesting! I broke 1,000 ebooks last month, though not all of the same title (500 and change for my best seller), so 5,000 in a year doesn't seem at all unreachable, even to a relative n00b like myself. ;)

I'm not looking for a print deal though (might consider it at the advance-big-enough-to-buy-a-house-in-cash point, hah) as I'm hoping I could do this full time after I get more books out, and I think staying indie is the way to go if that's the goal.

I wonder how much other factors weigh in. Like would a fantasy author doing a six-book series, where all the books are selling well, be more attractive than someone with a single bestseller and then modest sales on unrelated titles? And I imagine having a popular blog and some name recognition could be a factor too.

Fun to watch and see what happens!

Ebook Endeavors

Susie Rosso Wolf said...

I agree with you. I think the old way of thinking about is it exactly that, the old way of thinking about it. Take the movie industry, for instance; it used to be that a television actor would never be considered for the film industry, and an actor with a film career who dared to cross the line by taking television work, was out on his/her butt and would never be hired back for the big screen. That standard began to fade away in the 80's and although it was a slow start, in turning a blind eye to the long standard rule, it's quite common now for actors to cross over frequently throughout their careers. I truly believe this will happen in the book world. It won't however, take near as long to become the norm, as it did for film/television. I'm convinced with the phenomena of the ebook industry, print can't turn their backs on the self-published ebook authors for very much longer. Financially, it just doesn't make sense.

cidney swanson said...

Susie, this is an interesting comparison. When I worked in theatre, I remember friends bemoaning the fact that in Great Britain, actors crossed over from voice-actor to stage-actor to film-actor to telly-actor. (Think Stephen Fry, Judi Dench for starters.) There was, then in GB, no stigma attached. I think you are right that this will happen more quickly with writers than it did with film/tv actors. They had more to lose. (Or the perception that they had more to lose.)

Abigail Hilton said...

Hey, Robin! It was great to meet you at Balticon. :)

Just for the record - the round of submissions I did for Cowry Catchers about 5 months ago produced at least 3 (that I can remember) responses that said, "We can't look at this because it was self-published." And that was only in audio. I hadn't released ebooks yet. One actually said, "We might be interested in this if you hadn't self-published it" (in audio). I had a prolonged dialogue with that small press editor. She felt strongly about the issue.

No telling how many others thought the same thing, but didn't bother to say it to me.

Self-publishing (in any form) will close some doors to a person who is hell-bent on getting a traditional deal. However, I wouldn't want a publisher who thought that way. I feel that I've done better on my own than I would have with any of them. I've certainly had more fun.

However, I see indies everywhere saying that the self-published stigma is dead. It isn't. It's wounded, but still breathing. It remains a deal-killer to some small presses.

Not that that should stop anyone.

Isabella Amaris said...

Hi Robin,

Thanks for this post. I was thinking the other day that our human world is basically profit-based in nature, especially when you're in business (duh!:D). So, if ebooks corner the market or even gain a large part of it, it's only logical for the businesses that are traditional publishing houses to spot those who self-publish and sell well and take them on for themselves, simply cause it's evidence of a platform and ready-made fans. It's just common sense for any kind of profit-revolving-business that involves PR and marketing to find what will be the next thing to bring them profit and solidify their business while lessening their own investment in PR and marketing (to an extent).

So I definitely see where you're coming from. And even if lots of ppl disagree with you now, I'm betting time will prove you right. It's just the way competitive business works, if it wants to stay afloat, which I'm thinking the publishing industry does:D

Oh, and Susie, I was chuckling when I read your comment! It's such an apt comparison. The analogy between TV and self-publishing occured to me when I was watching a favourite TV series featuring a well-known film actor. Obviously, he'd caught on to the fact that the medium for 'moving pictures' doesn't really matter to the audience- they just want to watch a good show.

Same situation with stories. Used to be handed down verbally, then stone tablets, parchment, etc (haha the order's probably wrong somewhere there), paper, e-devices... they're all just the medium for telling stories. Once you get your head around that concept, change becomes simply... inevitable... and is almost certainly for the better as far as the consumer is concerned... It'll be great though if those adhering to the traditional system can adapt and find new, creative ways to get with the changes so's they can stay strong in the game... which will happen at the end, I hope...

After all, we still have the cinema... but we also have wide-screen TV:DD Cheers.

David Gaughran said...

Hi Robin,

I was doing a little research on this the other day. I posted on Kindle Boards asking who was approached by an agent after self-pubbing.

These are the ones that responded (or that I knew about).

All self-published authors, all approached by agents:

Mel Comley - May - Richard Curtis
LC Evans - April
Victorine Lieske - March - Rachel Vogel, Movable Type
Scott Neumyer - January - Anna Webman, Curtis Brown
Amanda Hocking - August 2010 - Stephen Axelrod
John Locke - April - Dystel & Goderich
Linda Welch - Fall 2010 - Robert Gottlieb, Trident
Lynda Hilburn - Robert Gottlieb, Trident
Christopher Smith - Matt Bialer, SJGA
David Dalglish - Spanish agency for foreign rights
Nancy Johnson - July 2010 - Erica Silverman, Trident
Colleen Houck - 2010 - Alex Glass, Trident
Imogen Rose - recently

What's interesting to me is that out of the ones I have dates for (10 of 13), 50% of them were signed in the last three months.

Also, 4 of the 11 I have agencies for have signed with Trident - one of the agencies that have come out strongly against agents becoming publishers.

This of course doesn't include people who agents are currently chasing (like Michael Wallace and Saffina Desforges), the writers who have been approached directly by publishers (both foreign and domestic), or the writers who have no interest in representation.

And, it only includes a group of people that responded over the course of a day on Kindle Boards and three or four I knew of myself.

Pretty impressive.


Robin Sullivan said...

@Leslie, glad to have set a goal - ebven if you have no intention of going traditional, it at least gives us a number to say ... if you reach it you have some "legitmacy" in the eyes of several professionals.

Robin Sullivan said...

Lindsay - congrats - 1,000 a month regardless of the number of tittles is a worthy accomplishment. In my mind I look at that threshold as the start of the "self-published midlist"

As for genre and how much part it has to play - I don't have any great answer -- other to say that in general non-fiction if easier to sell than fiction and genre fiction is easier than gneral or literary fiction.

Robin Sullivan said...

Good point. I hope that indeed we are moving to a similar model.

Robin Sullivan said...

Hey Abagail - I'm really shocked that you ran into that. So certainly some data points in the "other direction'. Such attitudes is baffling to me as it makes more sense to grab up people with a a platform then those that don't.

I agree with you on the self-publishing stigma - it is certainly "better" than it has been in the past - and will continue to improve but I see people saying every day that self-published books are "crap". Some of them do come up lacking - but I've read some great self published stuff.

Robin Sullivan said...

David - thanks for the additional data - I had known how active Trident Group was as they signed 2 people that I knew of, looks like they picked up some more as well. Pretty smart and innovative thhinking and bodes well for their organization.

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