Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Damascene Conversion

Lee Goldberg is a prolific blogger, TV Writer, and author. In Sara Graefe's TV Writing class, his work and thoughts on TV writing are (or were...are they still?) part of the syllabus.

Tiring of the TV writing game, Goldberg fell into novelizations, continuing his work on shows like Monk and Diagnosis Murder by writing novels that carried on the stories after the shows had ended.

He does modestly well. No blockbusters, but enough to pay the bills. And he has also been a known, vociferous critic of the concept of self-publishing.

Until now.

Before June 5, 2009, he'd earned a grand total of $0 on his out-of-print work, Then he published them on the Kindle. As he states:

...out-of-print books that I wrote years ago [] were earning me nothing before June 2009.

If those sales hold for the rest of the year, I will earn $77,615 in Kindle royalties, and that’s not counting the far less substantial royalties coming in from Amazon UK, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace.

Even if my sales plummet tomorrow by fifty percent, I’ll still earn about $38,000 in royalties this year…and I’d be very, very happy with that.

My most profitable title, in terms of hours worked and pages written, is THREE WAYS TO DIE, a collection of three previously published short stories. In print, it’s a mere fifty-six pages long, but it’s selling 24 copies-a-day on the Kindle, earning me about $1500-a-month. That means I could potentially earn $18,000 this year just from those three short stories alone.

That is insane.

So far, so sensible, but then he drinks the Kool-Aid with a smile.

But what would be more insane is if I took my next, standalone, non-MONK book to a publisher instead of “publishing” it myself on the Kindle.

That’s right. I’d rather self-publish. This from a guy who for years has been an out-spoken, and much-reviled, critic of self-publishing. But that was before the Kindle came along and changed everything. I was absolutely right then…but I’d be wrong now.

The Kindle offers mid-list writers a real option to consider before they sign their next, shitty contract extension with their publisher…and it has given new opportunity to every mid-list author who has been dropped…and it has dramatically re-energized the earnings potential of every published author’s out-of-print back-list.

That’s incredibly exciting. I believe that any midlist author who isn’t self-publishing, either their back list or new work, is making a costly mistake.

And then there's a caveat for new authors.

If you’ve never been in print before, I believe you’d be a fool not to take a mid-list paperback or a hardcover deal…even a terrible one…over self-publishing on the Kindle. Financially, you might make less (either in failure or modest success)...but the difference will be more than made up for in editing, marketing, wider readership, wider name recognition, and professional prestige (and that prestige does mean something, whether you want to admit it or not).

You can always go back to self-publishing... and when you do, you will be bring that wider readership, name recognition, and professional prestige with you. But a book deal doesn't come along every day, and that's still going to mean something for a long time yet...and I suspect it still will even if half the bookstores in America close tomorrow.

Read the whole post here.


  1. James,

    Thanks for mentioning me in your post.

    But I have to take issue with one of your points. How do you see what I am doing as "drinking the Kool Aid" as far as self-publishing goes?

    I'm on track to make more than $80,000 this year in ebook royalties on just my out-of-print backlist. That's far more than most mid-list authors are earning. A typical midlist advance against royalties is about $4000-6500. You get paid that in stages...and it can take you years to earn out...if you ever do. And now, with ebooks, you are essentially selling your book forever to the publisher at that price. I don't think it makes any sense for a published, mid-list author to continue taking those crappy contracts when there is much more money to be made self-publishing.

    By the way, I haven't become weary of the "Tv game" at all. I have always been a writer first and foremost, whether its TV or books. I try to stay active in both fields...and love them both!


  2. Lee,

    Thanks for dropping by to leave a comment! I'm tickled pink.

    My Kool-Aid comment was a bit tongue in cheek. I actually agree with pretty much everything you have to say on this issue, but when I first wrote this post it was for the discussion boards in my MFA program, where the majority of the members aren't really convinced. I've actually been following your posts on self-publishing for a while, and it's through you I learned about guys like Joe Konrath, and the economics of involved with the DIY approach.

    You're right about the futility of earning out your advance, especially with the ridiculously low royalties most houses offer for e-books.

    One thing I am curious about, however...

    Right now in my program, one of the big debates we've had on our boards is about the idea of self-publishing, about the legitimacy of those who publish through that route, and one of the issues that both sides seem to agree on is the issue of editing. A traditional publisher offers solid editing, artwork, and even publicity and promotion. Whereas those who self-publish may be very much in want of at least a good editor.

    Do you think the rise in self-publishing offers good editors the chance to strike out on their own, taking over the roles that a traditional publisher used to fill? I haven't come across much on this topic online, but it make sense that there would be a growing market for good independent editors coinciding with the growth in successfully self-published authors. Have you heard anything in regards to this?

  3. There are scores of great editors who lost their jobs during the consolidation of the publishing industry thats occurred over the last few years...many of them have gone freelance. So it is possible to get professional editing...and you should...but it will cost you about $1200. It's also possible to get professional copy editing (which is about $20-an-hour, which translates to about $500 for a 60,000 word novel that's fairly clean to start with). Still that's a small investment considering the potential gain.

    I still think it's a mistake for a newbie to self-publish if there's any chance at all that you can get a publishing contract. The experience, stature, editing, platform, etc. that comes from professional publication can't be beat... and you can always go back to self-publishing.


  4. Thanks for sharing and clarifying your thoughts on self-publishing, Lee. And yes, James, Lee's book "Successful Television Writing" (co-authored with William Rabkin) is still one of the main texts in the UBC Writing for Television course.