by Robert Gray

Self-publishing ebooks is the future, right? I mean we’re reading J.A. Konrath’s blog and seeing his phenomenal sales figures, we’re hearing about Amanda Hocking, the “99-Cent Kindle Millionaire,” and what about the latest news? Barry Eisler turning down a $500,000 contract and going the self-publishing route?

The numbers are enticing, too. Authors choosing, say, Amazon’s ebook publishing model get to keep thirty-five to seventy percent of their royalties (depending on how you price your ebook – more on that later) as opposed to the standard 35 percent of net sales (around 17.5 percent of the sale price) offered by traditional publishers. Oh, and if you have yourself one of them fancy New York agents, don’t forget about their cut, too. To sweeten the pot further, with ebooks there is no waiting a year or more for your book to hit the shelves. Instant gratification. Isn’t it wonderful?

And perhaps the biggest attraction, especially for young writers, you get to bypass the line and go straight to the front. In other words, you don’t have to go through that long and painful rejection processes. Hell, you don’t even have to deal with the publishing industry at all. You, my friend, are a self-employed entrepreneur, and you have total control of your book.

There is an allure to this new frontier, no doubt about it. Especially, I believe, with horror. The horror community is a rather small one, and there are only so many outlets we have. Once you’ve exhausted those outlets – game over. But being a small community also has one major advantage: it’s easy to find your fan base. And they are hardcore. Just check Brian Keene’s latest blog post about boycotting Dorchester and try to prove me wrong.

If you’re considering going the digital route, there are steadily becoming less and less reasons to say no, but there is a flip side to this new-age California gold rush, a reality that isn’t getting the spotlight it deserves. For every J.A. Konrath there are thousands of self-published ebooks that sell fewer than ten copies a month. There’s a number of reasons for this (including luck and its every-wicked choosing system) but I’ll just focus on the most important one: Quality. I don’t care if you’re Stephen King or the Great Unknown, you need someone who will help make your book shine. Most self-pubbed books out there are littered with plot holes, bad dialogue, laughable metaphors and even basic grammar mistakes. Hell, many of them aren’t beyond first drafts. You could argue that plenty of published novels have the same problem, but with published novels, at least you have the security of knowing more than one person read the damn thing before sending it off into the wild.

To put yourself ahead of the garbage you’re gonna have to spend some money. This is the unfortunate side effect of doing everything yourself. At minimum you’ll need a professional editor to look at style, plot, narrative voice, character development and so on. Then you’ll need a copyeditor to handle line edits. There are plenty of freelance services out there, and they can be costly. I’ve spoken to editors that charge more than ten grand for their services, though I’ve also found others that charge well under a thousand, too. How much or how little you spend is up to you, but keep in mind your goal is to make your novel the best it can be. You’re also gonna need someone to do your cover art. Good news on that front. This will be one of your least expensive purchases. There are a ton of brilliant artists out there that will do your cover for a hundred dollars or less.

Now here’s the big question: you’ve just invested, say, $1500 dollars to get your ebook ready for prime time. How much of that investment do you think you’ll get back? If we use the Amazon model, and you sell your book for $2.99, you’ll get 70 percent of the royalties, which amounts to about $2 per book sold. At that rate, you’d have to sell 750 ebooks just to break even. Drop your price below $2.99 and you get only 35 percent. At 99 cents, for instance, you’d have to sell over 4,000 ebooks to break even. That’s a lot to ask of a new writer, so don’t be surprised if you take a big hit on that first novel.

Which takes us to the next phase of your ebook: Marketing. Today’s writers have the luxury of the Internet. We have Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Goodreads, Shelfari and everyone and their grandmother has a blog. These are all free tools to help spread the word that your book has arrived in the world. Hooray! It’s a girl! Problem is everyone else is doing the same thing. There’s a lot of noise out there and getting your message through the static is near impossible these days. Take a look at your own accounts. How many authors send you messages through Facebook alone? How so and so has a new novel and they’d just love for you to review it on Amazon? They’ll even throw you into a drawing to win a new Kindle. How well does this marketing strategy work on you?

As I mentioned before, in the horror community it’s easy to find a fan base, but that doesn’t mean they are going to purchase your novel. You’re still an unknown, and readers are going to proceed with extreme caution. Pepper them with spam, and you’ve just written your own epitaph. The best you can do is put together the highest quality product possible and hope it builds momentum. That’s one model that will never change. But what you do have on your side is that readers will be more willing to take a chance on a new writer for 99 cents or even $2.99. If they like it, and you can build their trust with some more novels, maybe they’ll spend some serious cash on that beautiful limited edition down the road.

So if you think you’ve got the next ebook bestseller, give it a shot, but don’t be surprised when the cash doesn’t start rolling in. We might be heading into the next generation of publishing, but for many it’s just old-fashioned rejection with a higher price tag.

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