Sunday, November 11, 2012

What a difference a year makes.

Nowhere, I submit, is the upheaval in the publishing world more apparent than at writing conventions.  At last year’s World Fantasy Convention in San Diego, I attended a panel during which an agent (or maybe she was an editor) made some disparaging remarks about self-publishing, and a few audience members stood up and respectfully explained to her why she was wrong.

Fast-forward to 2012.  This year’s World Fantasy Convention, in Toronto last weekend, featured a whole panel discussion about e-publishing.  

One end of the dais seemed to be spewing dinosaur breath.  The former editor-in-chief of Del Ray (Random House’s speculative fiction imprint), Betsy Mitchell, complained that her business is drying up; she said indie novelists aren’t willing to pay $3,500 for the kind of top-notch professional editing job she can offer.  (I wondered whether it had ever occurred to her that the vast majority of indies simply can’t afford her.)  Next to her sat Robert Runté, an acquisitions editor for a small Canadian press, who called the indie trend of using beta readers “editing by crowdsourcing.”  He also said he used to write reviews of speculative fiction novels for money – but “that job is gone.”  Who’s taking up the reviewing slack?  Bloggers, said Emily Craven (although apparently she doesn’t review books on her own blog).  

The panel agreed that 99-cent e-books devalue the author’s hard work, although there was some support for a 99-cent price point for the first novel in a series.  Craven suggested a reasonable price for an e-book would be half the price of a paperback edition.  Leslie said most e-books published directly through Kobo’s Writing Life list for $2.99 to $5.99, while Smashwords authors tend to undervalue their work; prices for Smashwords titles sold at the Kobo Store average from 99 cents to $1.99.  

Ah, Smashwords.  Neil Clarke of said, “Friends don’t let friends use Smashwords.”  He went on to explain that the site’s automated Meatgrinder conversion software “doesn’t always work as well as it should.”

The panelists also warned indies away from making their own cover art.  One suggested using a site such as, where you can list your project and your budget, and artists (and editors, too) can then bid for your business.  Still, they advised, it’s best to ask for samples and references before hiring an artist or editor for your book.

In terms of the market for science fiction and fantasy, the panelists said Amazon accounts for somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of sales, with the rest more or less evenly split among the other sellers.  Leslie also said only about twenty percent of self-published authors make money from their books.  But then, that’s not all that different from the way traditional publishing works.

I could have wished for more on the nuts-and-bolts of indie publishing.  Heck, I would have liked to see more indie authors and book bloggers on the panel.  Ah, well.  Maybe next year.

This article first appeared at on Nov. 9, 2012.

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