I am part of the problem... sort of...

This week I met up with a group of authors for lunch. We talked stories, experiences, marketing, exchanged tips, and covered all kinds of publisher type things.

We looked at the publishers we were with, or who we had been with, and we discussed the vulnerability of those publishers in the current climate. The list of publishers we thought were safe was a short one, and Samhain was on that list. They have fantastic authors, excellent editing, wonderful cover art, and respect in the market.

So what happened? I was so sad to learn that Samhain have found it necessary to close their doors. I think they are doing it in a completely respectful way, talking to their authors, explaining that if they don't do something then it would become a situation where authors may be affected. Their market share is sliding and they are closing before they are closed.

I'm not here to discuss why, but anyone who writes now knows why publishers are struggling. It's a combination of a lot of factors, Kindle Unlimited, self publishing, pricing, costs of cover art and editing. It's no one thing; I couldn't point at KU, or Kindle in entirety, and say it was all their fault, and I certainly don't have the evidence to back up fixed cost analysis at publishers. I can't say it is entirely my fault as an indie publisher, but indie publishing is part of the issue.

So, how much does it cost *me* to get a single e-book out for sale?

Taking The Rancher's Son - the sequel to Crooked Tree Ranch, 62,000 words and placing it in financial terms that I can quantify - I don't count my time writing it, because let's face it a publisher doesn't incur the costs of an author writing the work to begin with (ignoring the concept of advances!).

Bear in mind I am self published, or independently published, however you want to label it. But I do write for my own publisher - Love Lane - who have fixed costs that I can try and apportion here as well.

All amounts in British Pounds

Cover Art - £85
Editing - £200 (estimated)
Marketing company - £90 *
Love Lane fixed costs (Hosting, software, accountant, etc) £50 (per book 'ish')

So to produce this one book in financial terms is £425.

Okay, so taking this, how many books would an author have to sell to cover the up front costs?

As an example I will use selling a book on Amazon:

Ranchers Son will be $4.99 which is (at today's exchange rates) £2.88.
The Amazon cut (depending on region, VAT, blah blah) estimated to *even out* at 35% ish.

Which leaves £1.87 for the author.

To cover all kinds of wibbly bits I am rounding that down to £1.80 ish.

SO, to cover my £425 costs I am looking at having to sell 235 or so books.

Let's say, all things being equal that I have to sell 250 books to cover my costs.

That is just me, on my own, and incidentally, I thank every one of you who buys my books and allows me to cover costs and make a profit.

What about a publisher who takes on 6 books a week? Or ten? Multiply the costs, add on the overheads (staff, fixed costs like rent, utilities etc) and the costs on a weekly/monthly basis become more and more.

Which is fine, as long as the authors they publish sell books to cover the costs. Each publisher has the big names, the ones that bring in the money to cover costs, but what about only 1 out of the 6 new releases making money, what if the other five are new authors who may only sell 200 copies of their new book because they aren't established? Of course, these five authors may one day sell enough to cover costs, but maybe that is six months down the line when their brand is known and they issue book 2 and so on.

So, the title, I am part of the problem, what do I mean by that?

I am one of the authors who felt that they had a better handle on their marketing and brand than any publisher did for me. I am one of the writers who decided to go indie. I am one of the authors who have been burned by a publisher who wasn't honourable like Samhain are. I pulled away from publishers, I am still doing that with my remaining titles. I want creative control, I want independence, and it's working for me. It's a brave new world and one I love working in.

KU is part of the problem. I'm not in KU (Amazon is only 67% of my sales, and I couldn't bring myself to cut any of my non Zon using readers off). Still, going exclusively to KU is a good thing for newer authors who don't have the six years I have of building a diverse platform readership. So the KU effect is not my fault... promise... but it is an issue, a big one.

I'm not the only author to go indie. So, as the publishers lose authors who may statistically be more likely to cover costs, where does that leave them? Having to invest in more unknown stories, more unknown authors, ones who can't get seen in the market, and who maybe don't sell, and don't cover costs.

And eventually, new authors will lose out, because they won't have the platform to be seen, and hell, with KU, some authors who made nice sales are feeling the pinch.

What used to be an open market, this Kindle, ePub, PDF, thing where we could have people read our stories... is now becoming more difficult to get into.

I wish I knew the answer. I'm really shocked by Samhain, and saddened. And if any Samhain author needs help to get their books out self published, if that is the way they feel they want to go, then please email me and I am happy to help.

Hugs you all... RJ X

* Something I used to do myself but got overwhelmed!


  1. I hate to say it, but 200 sales for a new author is rather optimistic. I have been publishing about as long as you and I struggle to make even half of that amount. I am actually stunned my two remaining publishers continue to offer me contracts.

    I am increasingly worried about the current trend and like you I don't see a solution.

    It is a sad day in the publishing world.

  2. I admit my thinking when I heard this latest sad news was along the same lines as you. But I don't think you're part of the problem <3

    First off, publisher's costs for cover, editing, etc. are different because they have salaried staff for those things. So it truly isn't [my cost increased exponentially], there is a cap. A staff cover designer working full time can do a lot of covers, and so I'm betting the per-cover cost for a publisher is a lot lower than an indie's one-time cost. Same with editing, formatting, etc. Though of course they have lots of other, business related, costs, they also have lots of business related benefits and resources.

    I do agree that the rise of self publishing (and the lower price tags encouraged by amazon) are a BIG part of the problem, but I'm not sure we should blame ourselves for that either. Prices of traditionally published books have been on the high end of the market forever. It's not a shock that has caught up with the houses. When publishers can't promise readers anything more than a self-publisher can, their prices should reflect that.

    I also think publishers have ignored marketing their authors for too long. How can you take a huge cut of profits but expect your authors to do most of the work? And how can you blame your creatives when they fail to magically turn into marketing genuises? As self-published authors, we know how much a book launch hinges on marketing and effective promotion. Yet almost none of that is done by publishers, unless for their "big name" authors. If I tried to launch a book on my own with only a few ARC copies sent out and an ad on my own blog, I'd not expect profit. I'm nobody and I know this. Why don't publishers know this as well?

    Overall, I'm saddened by Samhain closing. I've been reading Samhain titles for a long time, a lot longer than I've been self-publishing that's for sure. And I know a lot of authors who just won't self-publish, for lots of reasons. They want to work with a publisher, and they should be able to do that. It's getting harder to find one and that is a shame. Self-publishing should be an option, not a necessity.

    I don't know what is going on in the world of romance publishing, but the times they are a-changin'. I just hope I'm still here when the dust settles! :)

    1. I agree with all of this... I have felt like the pubs have relied on the author's marketing...

      RJ X

    2. Just as a side note, cover artists are not salaried staff at any of the publishing houses I work for. We are contracted on "work for hire" contracts and are paid a flat rate per cover, plus an additional print premium, depending on the publisher.

      And, for the record, the publishers I'm referring to are Sam Hain, Dreamspinner, Loose Id, and Riptide.

      I don't know what difference that makes to the discussion above, but just wanted to clear some facts up.

      P x

    3. P, I guess that makes it worse for a publisher, as there isn't a bulk cost for quantity? I don't know.

      hugs x

    4. I would say most publishers' editing costs are higher as they use several editors per book. At least from my experience. Covers would be about the same as RJ said as many use freelance artists. Maybe they get a discount for frequency, but probably not a huge amount.
      Add staff costs and you're looking at a considerable investment per "average" novel.

    5. As someone who is published with small press publishers, I would say that many authors in my position know just as much as self published authors about how crucial marketing is. I am quite sure the publishers know it too.

      Only one of my publishers (one which has sadly closed for, I understand, much the same reasons as Samhain) seemed to set up blog tours and a promotion for every one of their authors and each book that was released. I got the impression that not all authors appreciated their efforts as much as I did.

      Small press authors do just as much marketing as self published authors, if not even more, because we have the additional hurdle of not being able to set our own prices in our efforts to make our voices heard among the masses of others.

      I don't know of any who simply sit back and rely on their publishers to get them sales. I see authors marketing day in and day out and getting nowhere. Good authors giving up and quitting the industry. And I can't say I blame them.

      The publishing industry is tough and getting worse. Not everyone is going to stick it out and I have no doubt that as more small presses close their doors, more authors will vanish from the genre.

      I don't see self publishing as the answer. Yes, self published authors can set their own prices, have reduced overheads etc, but if it is difficult to be seen in the listings now, how much harder would it be if everyone was self published? You can only reduce prices so far and with so many free books out there, it will soon appear to be the case that the only way to be truly seen will be to give your books away for free.

  3. Love you RJ
    You're doing it for all of us
    Keep on keeping on and being awesome
    Hugs love

  4. From a readers perspective I have to say that I buy a lot more books at the lower eBook prices way more than I bought on paper and I bought a ton of paper. Ku let's me try out authors and if I like them I've bought the book too so I can reread even if I drop Ku. I guarantee I have read a bunch of books on Ku that I would never have bought in either paper or eBook. So it all has its place but I am sorry the price points leave so little money in the hands of the authors.

  5. I think maybe it is also partly to do with the EU tax on E-books which for me 20% so I'm buying alot less books now.

  6. I do worry about the future. I saw Samhain offer ebooks at what I thought was a reasonable price and they still couldn't make it work. So one of my other publishers - whose prices are higher - what hope for them? I'm put off subbing anything else to them while the price is so high. Why would a reader buy one book at over $6 when they could buy a few books for that price? But even setting your own price - at a reasonable level - won't alter the fact that you are competing in an increasingly huge market. Anyone can publish now and anyone does! Readers care less about grammar etc than I'd hope. The story is all. If you're established, maybe you can survive but it's going to get harder and harder.