Bidness Model, Shmidness Model

The arrival of Neptune Crossing in the Kindle store is part of a grand experiment, begun with my free downloads and continuing into the indefinite future. The business model of how to make a living as a writer has been shifting on a daily basis, it seems. Just selling to a publisher and waiting (and waiting) for the check doesn’t work anymore for most of us. (It never worked that well to begin with. Most of us have always had to do other work to pay the rent, whether by teaching, speaking, doing another kind of writing, or serving venti lattes.) But self-promotion, networking, blogging, ebooks, self-publishing—and on and on—have become increasingly important jags and peaks on the tectonic upheaval that we call “the writing life.”

Back in the good old days, when men were real men, and little furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were—no, wait, that’s Douglas Adams’s line. Back in the day, though, we used to be able to tell aspiring writers that self-publishing was for niche-marketers and losers, with the occasional “exception that proved the rule.” (Did that expression ever make sense?) That’s no longer so obviously true. Publishers Weekly has begun paying attention to self-published books, and if that isn’t a sign of the times, I don’t know what is. One thing that has become obviously true is that more than a few established writers are going to their backlists and getting their out-of-print books back into circulation on their own through places like Amazon and Smashwords, or through newer companies that exist for this very purpose. 

Here are some examples:

  • Thriller writer J.A. Konrath, whose high-profile blog has described his success in self-publishing his early and o.p. novels, and now new work as well
  • Bookview Café, a consortium of SF and fantasy writers, including Vonda McIntyre and Ursula K. LeGuin, marketing their own previously published books and stories
  • Closed Circle, a collaborative run by CJ Cherryh, Lynn Abbey, and Jane Fancher to sell their o.p. SF and fantasy novels
  • Diane Duane, self-publishing some of her own o.p. fantasy novels and marketing directly from her website

Count me in. Trying, in my own way to pick a path through this chaos, I’ve now managed to get all my novels, past and present, into ebook format—and some into print-on-demand trade paperback. But which path to take? I’ve taken the broadband approach. As of now, I have ebooks available through the following channels:

  • Three ebooks from traditional publishers, with traditional royalties — priced at $6.99 – $9.99
  • Nine ebooks from E-reads, at a higher royalty (50% of net) — priced at $9.99, but discounted in some stores
  • Three ebooks released already or soon directly to Kindle (and eventually to other stores), at a 70% royalty — priced at $2.99
  • One ebook free for the download on my website — not available for sale, but with Paypal donations encouraged
  • Five of the books on sale are also available for free download in limited (2) or full (3) selection of ebook formats, Paypal donations encouraged

I haven’t made up my mind what to do about the free downloads. There’s no question they’ve increased my readership. There’s some question about whether they’re helping or hurting sales of the books that are for sale. The next six to twelve months, I hope, will be telling. What they tell, I’ll post here. (Not exact sales figures, probably, but trends.)

Wish me luck. And tell your friends!


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0 Responses

  1. Robert
    | Reply

    Congratulations on the latest "channel expansion". I'll be interested to see what conclusions you reach about effectiveness of the various after sufficient time and sales have accumulated.

    I bought the e-version of Sunborn from the Kobo store a while back and had meant to give you some detailed feedback on it, but I'll content myself with saying "I quite enjoyed it." I like the depth you give to the characters, even (especially) the non-human majority.

  2. Pam Phillips
    | Reply

    Thank you for mentioning Diane Duane. I spent years looking for the third novel in her first trilogy before I finally gave up. I think I'm about to buy my first ebooks…

  3. Anonymous
    | Reply

    I saw CJ's comment on you at

    The phrase, "exception that proved the rule," comes from days when "proof" most often meant test, as in a proving ground. So in modern usage, "The exception that tested the rule."

    Good luck!

  4. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Thanks, Robert! I think "I quite enjoyed it" is very nice feedback. 🙂

    Pam, Diane Duane is an old friend, though we're mostly out of touch these days. It was actually CJ who reminded me that Diane was selling her own ebooks.

    And Anonymous, thanks for the explanation of the phrase!

  5. Chris Howard
    | Reply

    Great post, Jeff. Are you planning to get the books you currently have on Kindle into Apple iBooks? One more channel!

  6. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Hi Chris — Thanks. Yes, the iBooks store is on my list. Re your comments on that on the other list, I'll probably be asking you for more details on how you did it.

  7. John Tucker
    | Reply

    Jeffrey, in response to your rhetorical(?) question, I believe the free books offer WILL help the sale of your books. I had downloaded a copy, saw the quality of writing, and since then have purchased one volume, intending to purchase additional when I'm finished reading it. Great work, by the way, and that's an accolade I do not offer quickly, or easily.

  8. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Thanks, John! I appreciate that.

    My comment about sales wasn't entirely rhetorical, as I think I may have hurt the sales of Sunborn (Book 4) specifically by leaving it for free in all formats too long. (It didn't help that Tor was a year late in getting their official ebook out.) It did very poorly in paperback. It's all guesswork as to the cause, of course. It might have done even worse without the free downloads.

    In any case, I've no doubt that I've increased readership, which is the point in the long run.

    I'm glad you liked what you saw!

  9. MrMMatricks
    | Reply

    I was just wondering about the reissuing of old books without an publisher. Does the publisher keep rights after the prints? Or just for a period of time, like 2 years or something?


  10. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    That depends on the individual contract, Matthias. Usually the publisher reverts rights–upon demand–after a book's been out of print for a while. It can be hard to know whether to demand a reversion, if there's a chance they might later reissue the book.

    Ebooks are a separate right granted in the contract. In the case of all but my most recent books, e-rights were reserved to me in the contract–so I can go ahead and put out my own ebooks. Nowadays, most publishers want e-rights as part of a standard contract.

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