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Interview With Linda Stirling on the Self-Publishing Advantage

"Bookstores and publishing houses are in business to make money, not to nurture authors."
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My friend Linda Stirling is the CEO of The Publishing Authority and an awesome writer too. This article is the result of a recent conversation I had with her on the self-publishing advantage.

If you are an author or you are someone aspiring to be an author, you will benefit from Linda's wisdom.

Here is the interview:

RS: Linda, how can authors keep books in print long-term?

LS: There are two ways for authors to keep books in print long-term:

1. Sell a lot of books without ceasing so a traditional publisher will keep the book in print

2. Self-publish your books

What a lot of writers are unaware of with book sales by traditional publishers is there are many variables to how these books can make enough sales for publishers to keep them in print.

How many sales are enough? That number likely varies by publisher, but isn't discoverable because it's not shared outside publishing houses. Based on the number of books that never go into a second printing and those that never earn-out their royalties, a reasonable assumption is that an author who doesn't sell a load of books when the book is first released is an author whose books won't have a long shelf-life.

How many of an author's books sell could be affected by any number of things outside an author's influence, including, but not limited to, some of the following:

1. Are similar books from a well-known author being released at the same time?

2. Has the publisher promoted the author's book well and will they continue to do so?

3. The selling window has expired.

RS: Let's talk about the first one - Are similar books from a well-known author being released at the same time?

LS: Even if an author procures a "good" publisher, this is a variable outside any publishing house's control. If another publisher is releasing the latest Stephen King novel in the same window of time as a similar book by a lesser-known author, guess which book bookstores are more likely to pick up? Bookstores have limited shelf space. They know the King book is going to sell; the unknown author's book is a gamble. Of course there are online sales to consider, but publishing houses have a few methods of promoting through distributors such as Amazon.

Hands down, well-known authors take priority in bookstores and enjoy more searches for their books online.

RS: Interesting. Let's move to the next item - Has the publisher promoted the author's book well and will they continue to do so?

LS: How much is spent towards promotion depends on two factors: an author already being highly visible, and whether or not there are books from successful authors clamoring for the limited pot of promotion dollars. If an author is a first-time author with low visibility and no track-record of sales, chances of their book getting much promotion are slim.

RS: Tell us more about expiring selling windows.

LS: Inside large bookstores, the timeframe for books to sell is tight. For some, that window is as little as three weeks, then the covers are stripped off and shipped back to the publisher and the interior is recycled. At the outside, the best-case scenario for books to remain in high-volume bookstores is six months. If a book isn't selling, kiss that book goodbye.

RS: Any closing thoughts?

LS: Of course, (change comma to semicolon) here are a few of them.

1. It All Makes Sense

Bookstores and publishing houses are in business to make money, not to nurture authors. They need to see a return on investment, so if an author doesn't earn out their advance, it's unlikely they'll see another one. Steven Pearlstein, columnist for the Washington Post, wrote: "In practice, 80 percent of books don't sell enough copies to 'earn out' the advance."

2. Don't Stop The Presses

With self-publishing, none of these concerns need call the presses to a halt. Competition is seen as a plus; promotion is in the author's hands and can continue indefinitely; and there is no selling window, so writers can go on to make income from their books indefinitely.

Some authors make a dribble of income per book per month, but when you add up a few books that produce $60 - $100 a month from authors who produce a book every month, month in and month out, the income begins to look appealing.

Some authors make much more than most authors published by traditional houses.
Forbes contributor Jay McGregor wrote about the $450,000 paycheck Amazon issued to author Mark Dawson last year.

Even little known authors, like Michael Bunker, can take home substantial funds. His book Pennsylvania Omnibus--a story about living off the grid--was an instant online success. According to Bunker, the first agent who reached him offered a $5,000 advance and a guaranteed publishing deal.

In an NPR interview, Bunker replied, "I made more than that yesterday."

Naturally, solid book sales with traditional publishers as well as self-published books depend on the quality of the book--but for books that don't sell well immediately or don't produce the income a traditional publisher requires, self-publishing has a greater possibility for a book to stay visible and produce income as long as the author chooses to spend time promoting.