One of the blogs I follow on a regular basis is by Sarah Hoyt. She’s a noted science fiction author, having written more than twenty novels. Last year she won the Prometheus Award for her novel Darkship Thieves. The Prometheus Award is an award for libertarian science fiction novels given annually by the Libertarian Futurist Society, which also publishes a quarterly journal Prometheus. Past winners include Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Cory Doctorow, Poul Anderson, Terry Pratchett, Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury.
Three or so years ago she announced on her blog that her next book, Darkship Renegades, the sequel to Darkship Thieves, would soon be published—and that she wanted to do a “blog tour.” That is, she wanted to guest blog on as many blogs as possible to help promote her new book. She asked for volunteers. So, since I have a personal blog (www.nettelhorst.com) I emailed her, introduced myself, and offered her an appearance.
She emailed back and accepted. She also encouraged me to try something I hadn’t considered much before, though she had mentioned it a time or two on her blog: she said I should try “indie” publishing some of my novels.
In 2009 Amazon.com released their Kindle ebook reader. It turned out to be a massively disruptive technology, doing to the publishing world what the iPod did to the music industry. Ebooks have become the fastest growing segment of the book market. Sales of ebooks now exceed the sales of hardback books. The small academic press at my seminary publish both print and ebooks. Ebooks now make up 75 percent of their sales.
What is interesting about ebooks is that they allow anyone now to publish on their own. Amazon has a program called “Kindle Direct Publishing” which allows authors to upload the text file of their books in order to create an ebook for the Kindle, bypassing publishers altogether. While a traditional publisher gives authors ten percent of the cover price as a royalty, Amazon offers up to seventy percent royalties to authors.
Another big name in the new world of publishing is the distributor Smashwords. It is very similar to Amazon’s “Kindle Direct Publishing.” Smashwords, like Amazon, allows authors to upload their textfiles that it then converts to ebook format; it then distributes your ebook to all the ebook platforms worldwide (except for Amazon): Barnes and Noble’s Nook, iBooks (for the iPad, iPod, and iPhone), Kobo, and several other less popular formats. Like Amazon, authors get much larger royalties than traditional publishers, ranging from 45 to 85 percent of the cover price.
Thus, authors can upload their ebooks to these two sources—for free—and see them become available to millions of readers around the world; and they get a higher return on each sale than any of the traditional publishers can offer.
Sarah Hoyt told me that on the handful of short stories that she thus far has published as ebooks (which she sells for 99 cents each), she is doing pretty well. Another author she knows is making several hundred a month from just three novels. She said one of the keys to success is to put up as much content as you can—not all at once, but on a regular, weekly, or monthly basis. She said that book series tend to do exceptionally well.
She offered to help me with the process, and she gave me a bunch of helpful ideas and how-tos. She even offered to promote some of my titles on her blog
I see this new “indie” approach to publishing as an experiment, but given the success that Sarah Hoyt and other authors—even unknown authors—have had, and given that it is cost-free, it doesn’t seem particularly risky. I had a number of otherwise unpublished novels that were simply sitting on my hard drive earning me no income at all. So I figured it was certainly worth a shot to spend some time creating covers, writing a description of the sort one might find on the back of a paperback, and doing some proofreading. My only cost was time and then anything that I have managed to make on them was obviously more than I was making on them just sitting on my hard drive. I’ve continue working at publishing books by more traditional means as well. The two approaches are mutually compatible, after all. Sarah Hoyt continues publishing with one of the larger publishers of science fiction, at the same time she’s publishing other works as ebooks, indie-style. She’s not alone among professional writers who are doing this. Jerry Pournelle (another science fiction author), for instance, has also done it.
Whether my foray into indie publishing works, whether I make much money at it (so far, it hasn’t been a lot), only time will tell. But why not try, when the cost is zero and the potential payback is substantial?