Traditional V. New Digital Publishing: Fight!

the essential kit

I have a perpetual case of “Ooh, shiny!” in terms of wanting to do new projects; everyone, I think, knows that at this point. (And I am doing my damndest to keep it under control, but nevermind that right now.) Part of this is because new things are fun; part of it is unquestionably financially motivated.

At EasterCon, I was talking with Walter Jon Williams about selling through Amazon (“I get a nice check every month from them,” he said. “It’s a bit like receiving your pension from Darth Vader, but at least they pay on time.”) and other online retailers. He’s got a 20-book backlist that he’s been able to put back into circulation on his own, which is obviously one of the most awesome aspects of the brave new digital world.

I confess that in some ways I’m a little envious of that. Which is silly: my books are still in print, which is clearly the ideal situation. Still, I dearly love the idea of having things out there digitally that will result in a monthly check arriving on the doorstep. I haven’t gotten paid that regularly for the considerably better part of a decade now.

To clarify, in case it needs clarification: at the moment, I can only be certain of getting a royalty statement 4 times a year, and those can be accompanied by (historically) anything between $0 and $15K or so. I have no idea how much I’m going to be paid until the check actually arrives. This year, for example, I also have two books to deliver, and I’ll be paid for those when I deliver them. Then I’m out of contract, which means the four annual royalty payments are the only money I can count on for the next while. So the idea of having digital projects out there to help smooth that over is pretty enticing.

Now, I suffer from perpetual confidence and the belief that nearly anything I write could be sold to a traditional publisher. This (to me) makes the idea of writing something just for digital publication a little…bonkers. Because unless I reach some kind of critical mass (or unless B&N goes bankrupt, but let’s not go there now), more people are still going to look for, find, and buy my books in a bricks-and-mortar store than will look online for them. OTOH, let’s say I’ve written an entire book on spec and submit it to a publisher today. And then let’s say what follows happens in a bizarrely perfect and ideal world:

My editor has the time and reads the book this week (never happens). She loves it. She takes it to the next sales meeting. Let’s pretend the sales meeting happens to be next Friday, so she brings it in and pitches it. Everybody else loves it too. In fact, they love it so much they immediately make an egregious offer, which I accept without quibble (this is, after all, fantasy). It takes a month to get the contract ironed out, and six weeks after that to cut the on-signing portion of the advance check. It has now been three months since I submitted the book and I’ve been paid once.

The book is slotted into the production schedule, and will come out thirteen months from contract, which is pretty fast. They give me the rest of the advance money when the book comes out. So now I’ve gotten paid twice in fifteen months.

Then there’s no more money from that book until and unless it earns out, which means it makes the publisher all the money they advanced to me. Only after that do I see any royalties, and in my personal best-case scenario there, it takes a year to start getting royalties checks.

I have now gotten paid 3 times in 2.5 years.

If I write a whole book and put it up on the e-retailers today, I start getting checks 60 days from the end of this month, and keep getting them monthly unless the book earns under $100 in a month’s sales.

That’s, um. A lot easier to live on. Even if it’s a small number of sales and therefore money, guessing that you’ve got (even say) $500/m to rely on makes budgeting considerably easier.

So although as a rule, I’m not convinced writing for a strictly digital audience is really the way to go, at the same time, I’d really kind of love to have another book or two that I could produce for digital and print on demand, just to ease the way.

Of course, that way lies crowdfunding, and we’re not going there today. :)


10 thoughts on “Traditional V. New Digital Publishing: Fight!

  1. I never thought I’d give up ‘books I can read in my hand’ but haven’t bought one in almost 3 years. Everything I buy now is either mobi or epub (amazon or b&n) I read almost exclusively on my ipad. I wish more authors would go digital!

    1. Authors don’t necessarily have a lot of choice about it, honestly. Those publication rights are usually bought by the publisher, who then chooses to do with them as they will. If it’s a matter of a backlist, like WJW, then getting the books out into the world still requires formatting, probably new cover art (because the original stuff is copyrighted), and (at the very least) copyediting for errors. So it’s a complicated situation! :)

  2. Some of my favourite authors have written short pieces or companion pieces and sold those digitally. Sure, they’re tiny and not going to produce a ton of cash, but I’m more than happy to get those short stories because they tell something I was wondering about and keeps me from having to purchase a short story book in which I usually only want to read one author. It could be a way to experiment with it without giving up an entire book.

  3. Thanks for the insight, Catie. As a rule these days, I buy most of my books as ebooks or audio. I only have room on shelves for a few authors, you, Butcher, Rothfuss, Ilona Andrews, Kelly Armstrong and Neil Gaiman. In all of those cases, I buy the book again in either audio or ebook format cause I find it easier to read/listen than an actual book. The last *book* I read was Ghost Story {signed HB, read because James Marsters didn’t read the audiobook} which was heavy and hard to handle as I didn’t want to damage it.

    So, my suggestion is definitely write some stuff for the self pub world. Of course you have been doing something like that with the crowdfunding. Didn’t No Dominion sell well after the kickstarter?

  4. NO DOMINION’s been doing very nicely, and the Old Races short stories aren’t embarrassing themselves! I just think it’d be really great to have another couple longer pieces out there, you know?

  5. I have to confess that I wasn’t much of a reader until I got my first kindle a couple of years ago. The ease and choice of the available titles has awakened my love for reading. If I really enjoy a set of books, then I can purchase them in hard copy as well – I definitely have yours in hard copy even the comic books. No matter where you choose to sell your books, whether ebook or store – we as your faithful fans will follow and read. Maybe you could change genres and get a whole new group of followers – I certainly would check them out.

  6. I hope you don’t make the decision to go fully digital any time soon. I have a Kindle and I have several books on it… but haven’t actually read any of them and a physical book is going to win with me every time. Even though I got No Dominion through the Kickstarter, I STILL bought the physical book when it became available through Amazon.

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