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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Mailvox: independent vs self-publishing

An anonymous author writes with an inquiry about the two primary publishing alternatives:
I've been following your posts about Castalia House with interest. In the comments to 'A model comparison' you mention the advantages of an author publishing through CH are "Awareness, editing, covers, endorsement, and not having to deal with all the business BS. Self-publishing will not suit at least 75 percent of authors." I'm looking to publish three books later this year that would be nearly impossible to sell to traditional publishers, so even if I was okay with tradpub royalty arrangements, independent and self-publishing are my only real options. Given that, I'd be interested in reading a more detailed post on what one gains and loses with the different models, if you have the time and inclination to write it.
This is the right time to ask that question. But before we look at the advantages of publishing with us, let's look at the three chief advantages of self-publishing, which are genuine and material.
  1. Keep all the royalty revenues. Amazon takes 30 percent plus a very small delivery fee that usually amounts to about 1.2 percent, so the self-publisher can realistically expect to make 68.5 percent of list on ebooks. That is twice what our novelists make on our standard agreement, (we offer 50 percent on all hardcovers and ebooks, which works out to 34.5 percent of list), and nearly three times what most writers will make from the independent publishers that offer 35 percent. For the sake of reference, it's also 8.5625x what the traditional publishers pay on hardcovers. (Hardcovers are different; I will break down those numbers in a future post.)
  2. Complete control. The author can decide on his own cover, make his own editorial decisions, price the book as he sees fit, and publish the book according to his own schedule.
  3. Complete information. The author has direct access to the sales data.
Those three things are not nothing. I have nothing but respect for those who go the self-publishing route. That being said, I am certain that it is not the best route for the majority of writers who are good enough to interest independent publishers for the following eight reasons laid out at Castalia House.

There is no question that self-publishing is the optimal financial deal for those equipped to handle it. However, most writers are not equipped to properly handle it either materially or emotionally, observably tend to compromise on the production values in order to reduce their production costs, and will end up selling fewer copies than the breakeven point with independent publishing.

I fully support self-publishing. I think it is revolutionary and an unmitigated Good Thing. But I am aware that most authors, like me, would prefer to focus on writing rather than being distracted by running a publishing business. I chose to publish with Marcher Lord rather than self-publish and I would still happily be doing so if Marcher Lord had not been purchased. So, as a consequence, Castalia House has been set up to be the most author-friendly independent publisher that this author believes it is possible for a publishing house to be.

But there is no need to take my word for it. I recommend talking to our authors and asking them about their experience working with us. I believe you will find they do not regret their decisions to do so. One agent asked me how an author could possibly know his sales numbers when we were not contractually obligated to disclose them for a period of several months. He was a little surprised when I pointed out that the contract was our minimal obligation and it happens to suit us to periodically exceed that obligation so that our authors can know exactly how well their books are doing, and to know when they exceed certain objectives.

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48 Comments:

Anonymous Salt March 09, 2014 8:15 AM  

the self-publishing route ... is not the best route for the majority of writers who are good enough to interest independent publishers

That's it right there. On the revenue side, what are odds a first time self-publisher will ever make back the initial costs, which can soar if one seeks professional editing? Then there's the good enough side. That's not easy to know which is why I see value in the independent publishers.

It's wholly another game when an established author decides to go the SP route.

Anonymous GHS March 09, 2014 9:06 AM  

Did you find an Italian translator then?

Blogger JDC March 09, 2014 9:16 AM  

Got this email from Amazon yesterday -

"We thought you might be interested to know about these Science Fiction and Fantasy, now available on Amazon. Big Boys Don't Cry by Tom Kratman."

Thank you very much Amazon, I am in fact interested and will purchase it later today.

Anonymous The IP Guy. March 09, 2014 9:43 AM  

I do hope you have done your trademark work. Better to find out now whether the mark "Castalia House" does not infringe now rather than later. Once you have built up its good will/reputation the mark alone becomes an indicator of quality. Having to change it at that point is painful, both monetarily and reputation-wise.


Also, are you anticipating imprints for different lines (e.g. educational/history/fantasy/military fiction)?

I realize that you are welcoming all comers now to become established, however there will come a time when "Castalia House" (and imprints) gets a reputation, not just for writers but for readers as well.

Back in the 1960s-70s, I always took a close look at "Bantam" sic-fi in the bookstore and library because they were consistently good, enjoyable books. I knew I would not regret a 75 cent "Bantam" purchase.

I expect I will search for "Castalia House" just like I used to search for "Bantam". Protect your mark. Protect your good will. Protect your reputation. It may not be much now, but if you are good it will grow.

Finally, have you created a WikiPedia entry/website yet? Do so. List your authors. Let them leverage each other's sales.

Anonymous Dan in Tx March 09, 2014 9:51 AM  

Vox: "He was a little surprised when I pointed out that the contract was our minimal obligation and it happens to suit us to periodically exceed that obligation so that our authors can know exactly how well their books are doing, and to know when they exceed certain objectives."

Hmmm, so in other words is sounds as though Castalia House actually treats their authors more like customers instead of minimum wage employees. I can definitely see where this would be a winning strategy.

Anonymous VD March 09, 2014 9:55 AM  

Also, are you anticipating imprints for different lines (e.g. educational/history/fantasy/military fiction)?

I don't know about separate imprints, but we're already publishing or preparing to publish all of those things and more.

Finally, have you created a WikiPedia entry/website yet? Do so.

We are not permitted to do so and I doubt it is considered notable yet in the absence of any news stories about it.

Anonymous VD March 09, 2014 9:57 AM  

I realize that you are welcoming all comers now to become established

This is not true. We have already declined a number of submissions. And we will not publish Pink SF or other anti-civilizational material.

Anonymous VD March 09, 2014 10:04 AM  

Did you find an Italian translator then?

Two, so far. But we're always looking for more good ones.

Blogger Salt March 09, 2014 11:05 AM  

In Advantage Castalia I think you well make the case against a new author self-publishing. "If a book is deemed worthy of publication by Castalia House" does not set well beside "we encourage those authors whose submissions we reject to try self-publishing rather than giving up" when looking at cost return. Writing can be an expensive hobby. Two or three self-published sub-worthy IP books can so taint an author a gem could later be overlooked.

"If a book is deemed worthy of publication ... people will know that it must have at least some redeeming characteristics"

That's the value of the gatekeepers. I have considered self-publishing. I no longer do. Better to keep submitting.

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 11:08 AM  

Salt: That's what pseudonyms are for.

Blogger Salt March 09, 2014 11:13 AM  

@Markku

Yes. The costs remain the same, so do the odds.

Anonymous VD March 09, 2014 11:14 AM  

Two or three self-published sub-worthy IP books can so taint an author a gem could later be overlooked.

That may be true of other publishers. We would not pay any attention to the previous work or previous submissions; our readers simply read what is provided to them and come back to us with their opinion. I doubt most of them pay any attention to the writer's name, and in any case, the submissions are assigned randomly in most circumstances.

The editors are responsible for paying attention to the marketing angle and making decisions when the readers' verdicts are contrasting.

Anonymous VD March 09, 2014 11:15 AM  

The costs remain the same, so do the odds.

Fair enough. And, if a subsequent book is accepted and does well enough, the earlier book may well be picked up. We don't pretend our judgment is infallible. Who are we to argue with the market?

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 11:16 AM  

Salt: But you have the option of wiping out your history (by switching pseudonyms) if you wake up one day and realize you've been self-publishing crap.

Blogger Salt March 09, 2014 11:22 AM  

@Vox
Right. So why risk the cost of self-publishing when one's work is rejected by multiple gatekeepers? The new author needs the endorsement.

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 11:24 AM  

Seldom did anyone become proficient at anything without investing himself at least a few times and risking that he might end up looking like an ass.

Blogger Salt March 09, 2014 11:26 AM  

You're right Markku. Doesn't change that one writes crap and has paid dearly for the privilege of publishing it.

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 11:32 AM  

In a way, I even respect our dear old Dimwit Dan more than an author who always writes for the desk drawer and then locks it.

Blogger Salt March 09, 2014 11:35 AM  

And, if a subsequent book is accepted and does well enough, the earlier book may well be picked up.

So the author has passed the gatekeepers and is now, even minimally, gaining some name recognition. Makes sense.

"Who are we to argue with the market?"

That's interesting.


Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 11:40 AM  

I mean, one could always just release it free of charge, with a creative commons license if the concept of investing in a cover and an editor is too scary or economically unfeasible. But the thing is to put it out there. That adds the crucial fear factor to the picture - of ridicule if not of financial loss. That's what forces one to improve. Complacency leads to mediocrity, or worse.

Blogger Salt March 09, 2014 11:49 AM  

But the thing is to put it out there.

Isn't that what submissions are all about? Or am I missing the point of why publsihers exist at all. You're arguing against CA #2, 3, and 7.



Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 11:53 AM  

That way it's going to be read by one or two people, and you probably won't be receiving feedback. This is, of course, assuming it gets constantly rejected. If it doesn't, then you're most likely already an experienced writer and you've already been through all that.

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 12:05 PM  

As Vox has said, the general standard is that if you're a worse writer than Vox, then you'll be rejected. But very few people have that kind of natural talent. It usually comes from years and years of uphill battle.

How do you get it? Not by occasionally submitting the story and getting a polite rejection letter in a few months. As I said, you have to invest yourself.

Blogger Salt March 09, 2014 12:14 PM  

Agreed, Markku. But becoming a recognized author is not what I'm talking about. It's use of a publisher versus self-publishing. I'm holding Castalia Advantage up as why self-publishing is not the way for a new author to go.

One can invest oneself by writing writing writing and submitting submitting submitting, or wake up one day with an expensive narcissistic self-published headache, thankful the pseudonym can be changed.

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 12:21 PM  

If you do just that, then how will you know what was wrong with your submission? You are going to need feedback in order to improve. Not just that it wasn't good enough. That's why I would recommend doing whatever it takes to put at least some of your stuff out there, whatever it takes.

And putting it out there for free doesn't take ANYTHING.

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 12:31 PM  

The thing to understand is that the probability of any given submission is rejected is exceedingly high, no matter what publishing house it is.

Except possibly if it's Tor, and you're a trans-fat.

Blogger Salt March 09, 2014 12:36 PM  

If you do just that, then how will you know what was wrong with your submission?

Most reviews I read at Amazon are not feedback. Here is one rejection that I appreciated.

"Thank you very much for your interest in XXXXXX Publishing. We appreciate your patience while we reviewed your submission.

Though your manuscript has a good story we cannot offer you a contract. We apologize for the brief form letter but due to the number of submissions we receive daily it is impossible to provide detailed notes.

***Mr. XXXXXXXX. Your story needs some work with transitions and identifying the character whose POV you are in.

Sincerely,"

Hardly that of a writers workshop. But it was informative. Potentially pointing me in the right direction. I doubt any review of a free self-published work at Amazon would be as helpful.

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 12:42 PM  

The reviews probably not, but what I would do is to constantly try to get people to read the story, especially if it's out there for free. For example on forums like these. Eventually you'll run into an experienced author who happens to be in a helpful mood. Especially if you have managed to convince him that there isn't going to be any ego-related drama.

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 12:57 PM  

Hmm. A thought occurs. I wonder if there might be an inexperienced but promising author out there who would be willing to REALLY put his ego on the line. He would submit a story that we would then proceed to take apart publicly. Maybe even get established authors to join the fun.

This would be informative to many others too, as people tend to make the same kind of mistakes. And entertaining to many more. And the author himself would probably get the kind of feedback that he couldn't get any other way.

Just an idea.

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 1:02 PM  

What I mean is, Lion's Den on steroids. To not just give an honest review, but to put the work under a microscope.

Blogger Salt March 09, 2014 1:05 PM  

Markku, I have a very short fiction story I'd let you do that with. ~2500 words.

Anonymous Jill March 09, 2014 3:10 PM  

As a self-pubber, I've broken even and made money on top of that, if I don't consider the time-is-money value I put in. I haven't even come close to making that back. I've thrown in my lot with a small indie press at this point. I like the support. But I'm still going to self-pub and look at other indie presses because I don't have to stick with one option. I would like to find an indie press that would publish my satirical nonfiction, but don't have high hopes.

Anonymous Lorem Ipsum March 09, 2014 3:17 PM  

Markku,

I'm an unpublished writer, and would be open to submitting the first chapter of the SF novel I started on a couple weeks ago. It would great to get some brutal feedback on it before I get too far along, much easier to adjust certain stylistic choices while still in the process of writing.

It's at about 5,000 words so far, if that's too short or you're only interested in completed works that's fine.

Blogger Markku March 09, 2014 3:24 PM  

At this point, it's just a thought. I can't pull it off myself. But if we get some interest from authors and editors who finally get to say EXACTLY what they think - possibly with gratuitous cruelty - then this might turn out to be great edutainment as to why one needs an editor.

Anonymous VD March 09, 2014 4:22 PM  

Salt, Lorem, go ahead and email them to me. Just don't get defensive if they get slashed to ribbons. I think it will be a good exercise for everyone.

Anonymous Rhys O'Reilly March 09, 2014 5:05 PM  

"Hmm. A thought occurs. I wonder if there might be an inexperienced but promising author out there who would be willing to REALLY put his ego on the line. He would submit a story that we would then proceed to take apart publicly. Maybe even get established authors to join the fun."

I could find a few if I dug around. I've also submittted two stories to Vox for First Sword. If he wanted to use one of those for a post than he is welcome to.

OpenID thenoisyrogue March 09, 2014 6:16 PM  

I have a non-fiction book that is almost ready for publication that has had quite a lot of interest on the net over the last few years, (600,000+hits on the forum it is linked to.) I am intrigued by what you are doing at Castalia House and the thought of dealing with a company such as this is very tempting. The only stumbling block is that I wouldn't be able to see my book in print, as in a hard copy. Does Castalia House have any plans to move to small print runs in the future?

Anonymous Jill March 09, 2014 7:32 PM  

"At this point, it's just a thought. I can't pull it off myself. But if we get some interest from authors and editors who finally get to say EXACTLY what they think - possibly with gratuitous cruelty - then this might turn out to be great edutainment as to why one needs an editor."

Or it could be an exercise in futility.

Anonymous VD March 09, 2014 7:39 PM  

The only stumbling block is that I wouldn't be able to see my book in print, as in a hard copy. Does Castalia House have any plans to move to small print runs in the future?

That's not a correct assumption. We are planning to print hardcovers, just as I did with Marcher Lord. We've just been too busy to get that rolling. If you're interested, send it in. We'll take a look at it.

OpenID thenoisyrogue March 09, 2014 8:45 PM  

OKay, good to hear. Editing process should be done with a month or so, will send it in then.

Anonymous Lorem Ipsum March 10, 2014 12:46 AM  

Email sent Vox.

Anonymous Tom March 10, 2014 9:40 AM  

Hey VD, isn't this what the Friday Challenge was always about? That I loved. You should make it a recurring thing if it goes well. I'd love to have a place to get feedback again after the death of the Friday Challenge.

Anonymous The IP Guy. March 10, 2014 12:31 PM  

This is not true. We have already declined a number of submissions. And we will not publish Pink SF or other anti-civilizational material.

Wonderful! Then you are building a reputation (and good will) for Castalia House. All the more reason to do your trademark and copyright work.

And while you are at it, think of the other goods you might sell in addition to books: t-shirts, coffee mugs, underwear, hoodies, computer games, etc. with the Castalia House logo.This is not true. We have already declined a number of submissions. And we will not publish Pink SF or other anti-civilizational material.

Would you be pissed if a Café Press website popped up selling all of those goods? Do you have the copyright to the logo? Have you filed a copyright application with the Library of Congress?

Would you be pissed if someone at One of the CONs was selling t-shirts with your logo? I know I would be were I in your shoes.

Set up a Café Press site ASAP and check all the product types. Thrn when you file your trademark application you can identify all of those classes of goods. I'm not saying you are Angry Birds or anything, but that guy's iphone app is making him beaucoup bucks licensing his trademark to stuffed animal makers, bed sheet makers and towel makers.

Think of Castalia House as positional goods: "I'm hip, I'm cool, I'm a rebel, I'm at the cutting edge of resistance to Pink SF and female domination of art, literature and culture and I want everyone to know it. I am going to signal my membership--my "Ilk-hood"-- by wearing/using/presenting Castalia House products."

This is precisely what Eddie Bernays did with his Lady Liberty campaign to get women smoking. He turned cigarettes into positional goods (for women).

You may not appreciate it fully, but others certainly will and will start selling stuff with "Castalia House" to let the Ilk "signal" their membership--their "position".

Better you than them. Get to it! Get the Café Press* stuff out there to establish your "first use in commerce" date for a bunch of classes of goods before anyone else.

[* there may be other companies similar to Café Press these days.]

Blogger Markku March 10, 2014 12:40 PM  

I paid through the nose to the state of Finland to register it as an auxiliary trade name. I very much doubt it's necessary to get USA involved in this

Blogger Akulkis March 10, 2014 7:24 PM  

Trademark enforcement generally doesn't extend past the border. The U.S. won't enforce trademarks that aren't registered in the U.S.

However, there is an international trademark protocol (The Madrid Protocol).
Filing for a Trademark in the U.S. is $275 (electronic filing) or $375 (paper filing). Adding Madrid Protocol to the filing is an additional $100.

see: U.S Patent and Trademark Office fee schedule. Trademark fees start 4/5 of the way down the page.

Blogger Markku March 10, 2014 7:53 PM  

Correct, it would appear that we'd have to go through WIPO to get the protection enforced outside Finland.

Anonymous VD March 10, 2014 9:11 PM  

Wonderful! Then you are building a reputation (and good will) for Castalia House. All the more reason to do your trademark and copyright work.

We have no need to do any more trademark or copyright work. Our IP lawyer, among other things, happens to be one of the directors of a billion-dollar company. That's with a B. He knows what he's doing.

Blogger Akulkis March 11, 2014 3:55 AM  

Silly me for doubting that you would settle for anything less. Carry on. I would wish you good luck, but think your skill and acumen is both more influential and beneficial in this endeavor.

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