If you’ve been following the revelations over on Author Earnings, and some meaningful data finally revealed by Hugh Howey, Konrath, and others you will see a couple of trends.
First of all, what I and others have been saying about traditional publishing is true. With legacy, or traditional publishing the reasons authors make less money are clear, and outlined elsewhere. Lower royalty percentages, poorly written contracts, and agents and bookstores eating big pieces of the pie, leave little for the author, and even though they do the bulk of the work, they earn the least of the money. Until legacy chooses to right this inequality, they are less relevant than ever, and publishing with them means death to an average author’s book. It is clear that through the self-publishing and small press paths available, authors get treated better and make more money.
Self-publishing is where authors makes the highest percentages and the most money, at least currently and when looking at Amazon’s figures. Getting a wider look will take more time, but I am betting the results will be the same. But publishers, especially small press are far from dead. (See Mark Coker’s take here) In light of these statistics, one question burns: why don’t small press authors make more money?
Small press authors can expect to earn lower percentages than self-published authors, but not necessarily less money. It’s just a fact, and I’ve talked about it before here, in the Pay Now or Pay Later paths to publication. However, not everyone has the time, skills, and business acumen to self-publish. Many authors want (or even need) a partner. They simply don’t want to, or cannot do it alone.
Small Press is that partner. A small press handles for authors the recruitment and vetting of editors, cover designers, and formatters, all time consuming tasks (I speak from experience). A writer trying to juggle a full time job, a family, and the act of writing will be hard pressed to find the time and energy to do these things properly. However, some authors do not flourish regardless of the path they choose to publication. Why not?
Quality. Small presses are not all created equal. Unfortunately, this is still an issue, just as with the self-publishing crap storm. Companies pop up left and right, publishing work by almost anyone, with poor editing, sub-par covers, and little or no author support. They disappear quickly, and those who survive are those who grow at a reasonable pace, with an emphasis on quality over quantity. As a result, many small press titles are better edited and produced than those put out by the Big Five. There will always be those that are sub-par, but it is possible to avoid them through peer screening. Will poorly done books still make it through? Of course, but it does not mean the path is dead.
Author commitment. Many author’s want to put the burden of marketing their books on the publisher, which frankly, just doesn’t work. A small press helps, but the author is still the primary promoter of their work. Most of the time, the reason sales fail to meet expectations is simple: author laziness. Any author who wants to make money keeps working and promoting. Sales often grow organically, as the author produces more work. It often takes a long time for a book or series to take off. Small press authors get their first royalty statement, see dismal numbers (largely their own doing) and think they should self-publish instead. Not surprisingly, such action rarely improves results, and sales continue to be poor. Writing is a long term endeavor, and overnight success is rare, if not non-existent. Perseverance is essential to success, regardless of the path to publication one chooses to pursue.
The Future of Small Press. Many authors need a partner, and small presses can be that partner. However, they operate on slim margins, and continuing to publish authors not truly committed to the craft is hard on them. A few “stars” keep them afloat. The continued availability of multiple paths to publication requires committed authors more than anything else.
For those who self-publish and achieve success, bravo. For those searching for other paths, small press is a great option. But without dedication to your work, and a true business like attitude, commercial success will be difficult to achieve, for you or any small press you choose to partner with.