Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Less Like Stomach Flu and More Like Lice

There has been a lively discussion on Kindleboards lately, the gist of which is whether self-published books are, generally speaking, crap. This topic pops up repeatedly and everywhere, with generally the same arguments being made for self-publishing, pro and con, which I won't bother to go into here. What interested me more was hearing from some of the "indie" authors that they had sold 5000 books in a few months, or what happened when someone's book went viral. And that, after So-and-So's book went viral, s/he got a real, honest-to-goodness deal from a print publisher, and everyone lived happily ever after.

I'm at peace with whether or not my books are crap. Clearly, one man's trash is another man's treasure, but I do wonder about this viral thing. What makes some books catch like stomach flu, where merely to be in a stadium with a potential barfer has you heaving the next day? My books have been more like lice: they spread through sharing and hanging out with your heads close together. They might infect pockets here or there, but there is no nationwide call for buzz cuts, no run on lice combs.

The statistic always cited is that the average self-publisher sells fewer than 100 copies. This in itself is skewed because many people grouped here really only intend to print up 25 copies of their memoir for family members to pack away in the attic--they weren't trying to hit the NY Times bestseller list in the first place. Some other statistic I read said that, of all the books in print (including traditionally-published), only 20% sold more than 100 copies in the last year. Again I question this, because there is no tracking of the used books market, and it doesn't include ebooks. In any case, MOURNING BECOMES CASSANDRA has sold over 1000 copies to date, 900+ in print and the rest on Kindle. Respectable figures, but hardly viral.

No idea where this post is going, except to say I think I'm a successful self-published author who is secretly a disastrous failure. Here's hoping no one realizes!

Thanks to University Bookstore Bellevue for another fun event, and for new and old readers turning out. In the space of two days, I had a teenager telling me she'd read both books in two days and someone named Gladys ordering a copy of MBC somewhere in the Midwest. Another day, another demographic, another pocket of lice.


  1. You're a winner in my book.

  2. Confucius said, "May you live in interesting times," and he didn't mean it as a blessing. It will be interesting to see what happens to the publishing industry, with the advent of ebooks and ereaders. I am widely read, and your books are not crap.

  3. You are a successful self-published writer, and very good at what you do. Critics LOVE to criticize, and can always find a way to see others in the light of failure. The trick is to ignore them and enjoy your success. Objectivity is virtually impossible to achieve.

  4. Christina, you are SO funny. The title of this post alone made me burst out laughing.

    Seems to me that book publishing is where the music industry was some years back. These days nobody cares if an album is indie or EMI; they buy for what they like. And the musicians are finally making money. Writers with publishing houses don't make money even when a book hits the bestseller list -- the publisher makes money, the book store makes money, but the author doesn't. The author must give the agent 15 percent cut, Uncle Sam another 40 percent, and some varying figure to the for-hire PR person, since publishers are asking writers to do all their own publicity, leaving the author with enough money to take the whole extended family to Burger King, but no double Whoppers, please.

    Ebooks have publishers running scared, because authors finally have some say. Authors can seriously cut out the middle-man/distributor now. There is NOTHING to be ashamed of with self-publishing.

    Given your writing abilities, it's only a matter of time before you give all of America the literary stomach flu.

    Nauseous in anticipation,

  5. Sibella, you are awesome. Since you're published by a real publisher, I'll have to treat you to DQ on all the self-pub $$$ I'm raking in. Ha ha.