Monday, May 02, 2005

Truth in numbers

My man in New York told me that the New York Times recently published an interesting article on the self-publishing business. I might have read it online, but for the fact that you have to register, and I can seldom be arsed to do that. However, here is the link if you want to do so yourself.

Fortunately for the idle ones amongst us, M.J. Rose has posted a comment about the article -- Truth in Numbers, 30 April -- which goes to the heart of the matter.

The firms which offer to publish books on behalf of writers -- whether they do a good, bad, or average job of it -- all make much of the fact that they have sold 10 million books, or whatever, for their authors. The thing that they don't mention, of course, is that if you divide the 10 million by the number of titles that they have put out, the average number of copies of each book is quite small. Scarcely any bigger, in fact, than the figure you would expect to arrive at if each author bought 50 or so for his/her own use (as most of them undoubtedly do). So the idea that self-published authors are finding any significant numbers of readers, out there in the marketplace, is somewhat misleading.

It never was very difficult to publish your own book (at least in the UK). All it needed was money. Quite a lot of money. And then you needed a big space, such as your garage, to store the 2,000 copies of your book (because printers seldom cared to print a smaller run than that). Today, you still need money, but nothing like so much of it, and because of print-on-demand systems you no longer end up with a garage full of books.

But what was difficult in the past remains just as difficult as it ever was: and that is the business of actually selling the books.

As M.J. Rose points out, you can, in theory, market your own book. And if you commit a huge amount of time and effort, you may be able to achieve some sort of success. But don't underestimate the time and effort required; and, as we have often remarked before about the writing business, do not assume that success will automatically follow as a result of lots of hard work and effort.


Andrew said...

You weren't far off the mark, as far as the Times article. It doesn't say much that's new. Interesting note by one agent, who said some truth, I'm sure, that "(traditional) publishers these days are looking for appealing personalities...who can promote their own books on the talk show circuit. It's not all about the writing anymore,'' he said. "You have to look good and sound good.'

Someone else noted that, by merely selling 10,000 copies of your self-published book, you give it some "credibility."

Dind't know that.

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