Elaine Ash: Russell, you obviously have the chops and business acumen to attract a traditional agent and publisher, so why self-publish?
Russell Blake: First, I like to write 3 to 5 books a year. This year it will be more like 10. No way a traditional house can handle that volume. Second is time to market. As an example, the Geronimo Breach addresses some topical plot items like Bin Laden’s assassination. Tradpub, we might see that in another 18 months, assuming it was jumped on by an agent day one. That’s not so topical by then. Or Zero Sum, which deals with stock manipulation, Wall Street shenanigans and the economic crisis. How fresh and exciting will that be two years from now when it comes out from a Tradpub house?
And third, of course, is financial. I could get paid 15% of the revenues from my $9.99 book, which actually might net to the publisher $5 or so. So I’m seeing .75. But now I pay my agent his 15%. So now I’m seeing mid-sixty cent range. And we can pull out all the promotional copies and other niceties that will be charged back. Sure seems to be like I’m netting maybe sixty cents per copy if I’m lucky, pre-tax. And I still will be doing all the marketing, social media interacting, etc. Whereas if I sell a book for $2.99 to $3.99, I’m seeing more like $2-$2.75 per book.
The math is pretty easy. Now in a perfect world where Bantam gets behind and throws $2 million into pushing me, Joe Nobody first time author, hey, there’s a benefit. But in the real world, I’m on my own until the work is really getting traction, then they might throw a few bucks at it. Guess what? I get traction self-pubbing, I can find plenty of folks to glom on and help me with foreign licensing, or film rights, or tradpub deals with some enthusiasm to them. So I just saw no benefit to going the trad pub route.
I also don’t require the benediction of a high priest of literary standards to feel validated as a craftsman. [Note: Russell works closely with an editor and has everything proofread until error-free.]
Elaine: I see you are using the “free” strategy where an author gives away a book. How does that work?
Russell: The “free” strategy was suggested to me by a fellow author who’d had some success with it, and who pointed out that given my output, I could afford to give folks a bite of the apple to build recognition. So far so good, although I noticed a sharp drop–off after the first week or so, which tells me that we’re dealing with a subset of folks cruising for free content at any given time, not a constant stream of them. That would make sense, as not all kindle users even want something for free. So it’s like fishing. You’re casting your product out there, hoping that a subset of the fish in the lake will bite at free, and a smaller subset of those will actually read it, and an even smaller subset will like it enough to buy other titles, or anything – some folks just don’t buy, preferring the free new game to paying for content.
It’s not for everyone. I might do it one more time, but beyond that, I’m not sure it’s a winner unless you have a considerable catalog. I can give away Zero Sum book 1 for a month or two, and then when the downloads slow to nothing, re-up it as a paid first installment in the series, or perhaps roll all the books together into one big book. The point isn’t to generate incremental sales over a short period – it’s to create awareness of a body of work, and an author. It’s a branding exercise.
I wanted to do a parody of self-help books and of writing and self-publishing. Three weeks later it was out, and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) was born, to raves from literary luminaries like Lawrence Block and John Lescroart. Want to write a dog bio that would define the genre? An Angel With Fur hit the shelves a month or so ago. Got three more ideas for thrillers? They’ll all be out within the next 6 months. Self-pubbing enables me to write what I want, and if it finds an audience, super. If not, no harm no foul. But I get to define the cover, the content, the genre, the length, and even the marketing. That’s a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of flexibility. My belief is in a few years, we’ll look back and see that 2011 was the year of seismic change hit the tradpub biz, and my choice to go it alone became the norm.
Russell: Many moons ago I had an agent and came within a split hair of getting a tradpub gig, but after telling me I was great and everyone wanted to have my children, they couldn’t sign my book because they were looking for vanilla this year, and I was too damned strawberry. So I quickly realized that the pub game is like music, or film, which is to say it’s a business, where accountants and marketing guys figure out what to push and to whom. If I’m writing Vampire musicals featuring angst-flushed teen cheerleaders, and they’re only signing Ninja hamster trilogies this year, doesn’t matter if mine’s the best or worst Vampire musical. It won’t get made. I don’t object to that – it’s just the way it is.
Thank you Russell! www.russellblake.com