An Explanation

This is a tremendously exciting time to be a writer. I hate to say it but I wish I was 20 years younger.

Before I became a boat captain I made my living as a writer. I worked as a newspaper reporter,  magazine editor,  advertising copywriter, and a hospital public relations director. I also impaled myself on my own free lance more than once. I published articles in national magazines on such subjects as health care, environmental issues, sports, theater, East-West trade issues when the iron curtain was still in place and crime stories. I even wrote a novel no one wanted to publish.

Back in those days, the middle sixties and early seventies, all publishing was in its traditional form and there were gatekeepers also known as editors. If you had an idea for a magazine article you went to the library and checked the Periodic Guide to Literature to see if anyone else might have been writing about the same thing. If you thought you had a new slant on an idea you wrote a query letter, put it in a self addressed stamped envelope and sent it off to an editor. If they hated it you got a printed rejection letter. If they liked it they’d give you a tentative okay to write it and send it to them “on speculation.” That meant they’d like to take a look at it but it was no guarantee they’d buy it.

All of this took time, of course. There were no computers, no email. Hell, I remember how cutting-edge I thought I was at the hospital when I got an IBM Selectric. Back then you depended on the Postal Service. You considered yourself real lucky if you got an answer to a query letter in a month. If your idea was rejected you went to the second magazine on your list and started all over again. I have to say I usually did quite well and got the go-ahead on almost every query I sent the first time out.

I stopped writing for publication shortly after I started working on boats. One of the main reasons I gave it up was that, unless you were able to get into one of the big “slicks” like Playboy, Esquire or something like that, the rate of pay really sucked. Most of the time you got paid “on publication” rather than “on acceptance.” It could be months before your story was printed, and half the time you had to fight to get them to pay you even after you were in print. It just wasn’t worth the effort as far as I was concerned.

Twenty years later, when I stopped being a captain and had stories to tell, it was worse than before. The rate of pay in those intervening two decades hadn’t kept up with inflation by a long shot and if it wasn’t worth doing back then it certainly wasn’t worth doing now. I wasn’t in it for the ego strokes of “being published.” Been there, done that.

Within the last two years, though, things have changed with the advent of electronic publishing. This past Christmas millions, literally MILLIONS of Kindles were sold and other eBook readers, like the Nook and the iPad stuffed stockings. Even the Luddites among us, like myself, have downloaded Kindle for PC and Kindle for Mac to our computers.

Now, here’s the interesting part. If you have a book YOU can upload it directly to Amazon and offer it for sale in electronic form. A lot of people are doing it and some of them, not many, I’ll admit, are making MUCH MORE money than if they went the traditional publishing route of finding and agent and landing a contract with one of the major publishing houses. J. A. Konrath is one of them and he stands to rake in at least a quarter of a million in 2011 from electronic sales.

Here’s another thing about eBook publishing. YOU get to keep the lion’s share of the money. If you have a book available on Amazon you get 70% of the selling price compared to 15% if you’re lucky with a traditional publisher. Granted you won’t get an advance on your book but the truth is the majority of traditionally published books don’t earn their advances back. Let’s take a look at what this means to the writer. If you have a book out that sells for $19.95 you stand to earn $2.99 on each one sold. However, been in a book store lately? Even though the book SAYS $19.99 you can often buy it for less and the author gets less money as well.

Now, if you have an eBook on Amazon priced at $2.99 you get to keep $2.09 cents of the sale. Sure it’s less, but here’s the thing. The shelf-life of a book in a brick and mortar store isn’t very long and if your book isn’t selling very well it’s returned to the publisher and the first run through the printer will also be the last for that volume. When it’s up on Amazon in eBook form it’s up there forever and you can keep selling it and keep making money. There’s also an outfit called Smashwords. Go through them and they format your book so it’s readable on all eBook platforms and it’s distributed to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Sony store, the Apple Store and others. You get to keep 85% of everything that’s sold through their own online bookstore which means a $2.99 book nets you $2.54. YOU set the price, not a publisher  but it seems that $2.99 is the magic number that seems to sell the most books.

For the past couple of weeks while I’ve been neglecting writing entries to this blog and uploaded silly cartoons just to keep things going. Instead,  I’ve been doing two things. I’ve been reading a LOT about self-publishing and I’ve been going to town on the first draft of a novel that’s been gnawing away at me for a long time. Writing the book I’D like to read. I’ve been knocking out from 1,500 to 4,000 words a day and am probably three-quarters of the way through now. It’s my intention to submit it, eventually, directly to Amazon and Smashwords. I’ll let you know what’s happening when it’s finished.


Filed under self publishing, writing

5 responses to “An Explanation

  1. Richard! Good article and very thought provoking. I’m looking into Amazon and Smashwords as well. Anyone who think they’re going to become a millionaire doing this gig (writing, I mean) is delusional, but it would be nice to make a living at it (and I have very low-key living).

    Thanks for stopping by, Melissa, and for taking the time to comment. The book I’ve been working on certainly isn’t going to take me into a seven-figure income, but I’ll settle for low four figures. Every little bit helps. Like yourself, I have a very low-key lifestyle and have for years. Retired here in Panama I’ve been able to keep it quite reasonable. I rent a very nice house for $200/month as you can see if you rummage around my blog a bit, and for six months of the year I house-sit at an extremely nice house with a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean and all it costs me are the utilities, t.v., internet connection and a once-a-week maid for $10 a week.

    One of my favorite expressions is: “Money is a poor measure of a man’s (woman’s) wealth.”

  2. You know, I’ve categorically rejected any thought of publishing because at this point in my life, I don’t want any hassles with any corporate structure. It may be that things have changed more than I realized, and that a second glance might be worthwhile.

    Trust me, I’m going to be tracking your experience very closely. And I’m really, really glad for your own sake you’re into this. You’ve got the time and talent to do it, and some of the rest of us can learn from you.

    Right now I have to let the story settle before editing it, but I’ve got an old story I’ve been playing with for years about taking my sailboat from Key West to Isla Mujeres. Think I’ll take another look at that and put it up on Smashwords just to see how it all works. Of course I’ll be writing about it here.

  3. We need to connect. I have six novels on Amazon’s Kindle Store. I uploaded the first one in late November last year and the sixth one yesterday. What I’m looking for is a network of resources here in Panama; copy editors, illustrators, and the like. Other authors would be cool, too.
    I’m about to present my work to B&N and Smashworks as well.
    I’m located in David, Chiriqui, Panama. 6-809-4510

  4. Mary Magnuson

    I just bought your Kindle book about Alaska and was suddenly struck that you might be Bob Hatting that lived in Pelican! Frank, I and our large German Shepard Shadow lived there for awhile on our fishing boat “Lobo”. Great job on the books! I just helped a friend put his book together to be published through Create Space. I am going to forward this to him and suggest that he also add the book to Kindle. Keep up the good work!
    Mary Magnuson

    I an NOT Bob Hattig though we have lead oddly similar lives as I discovered talking to Bob on the telephone here in Panama. Both having worked on newspapers and spent our lives on boats and ending up within miles of each other here in western Panama.

    But Bob and I lived at climatologically polar, excuse the pun, extremes from each other. I spent nearly half of my life in southeastern Florida while Bob lived in Alaska. You couldn’t get me to go to Alaska if you held a gun to my head. I’d tell you to pull the trigger and hope you missed a vital organ.

    But Bob and I BOTH have written books that are available for Kindle. Mine is: