David Carnoy on Being an Ex-Indie

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The Executive Editor at CNET and author of Knife Music explains why he moved on.

Back Stories, Homepage Sub, Originally Indie  •  Mar 22, 2011

AHE: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, David.  First off, can you tell us a little about your book?

DC: Knife Music is a medical/legal thriller hybrid. I like to describe it as Disclosure meets the Fugitive. Barnes & Noble called it “a medical thriller that examines the sometimes uneasy relationship of male doctors and female patients.”

AHE: I know Knife Music was originally self-pubbed.  Can you explain why you decided to take that route?

DC: I had a “so-called” A-list agent who tried to get it published, but after some close calls with major houses, it went nowhere. Some of the rejections were rather complimentary, so I figured I’d do it myself and see what happened. At the time, the Kindle was still very new, so I was more focused on the paper version.

AHE: Why, after spending so much time promoting and marketing your book on your own did you decide to go with a traditional publisher?

DC: My goal was to get a traditional publisher. I stuck to my goal. The self-published version did well and my agent finally sold it to Overlook Press. I got a two-book deal, which was good.

AHE: What do you think are the biggest pros and cons of self-publishing vs. being published by a big house?

DC: Well, a lot has changed with self-publishing since I did it. As I said, back then, I was totally focused on the paper book, then shifted my focus to the e-book because I realized I could sell a lot more copies by pricing it cheaply ($3.99). Now I tell most indie authors to forget about the paper book and start with the e-book, which is much easier to produce and sell. Print on Demand (POD) paper books just cost too much to produce and it’s just very difficult to sell a book for $14-$17 (or more).

Readers–especially Kindle readers–are becoming more frugal; they don’t want to spend a lot on an e-book unless it’s written by an author they know and love. Many people are buying books just based on price and user opinions, even though in some cases a number of those user reviews are written by friends of the writer (it’s the Wild West on the Kindle right now).

The obvious pros are that you can get your e-book out quickly and you make much higher royalties. As a self-published author, you also have control of your pricing, which is crucial these days. I expect that the majority of self-published e-books will cost .99 cents by next year. Everybody is starting to price really low (and some are finding a lot of success at that price), which means you’ll see big price erosion. The indie authors who are doing best have multiple books out there and they’re selling them very cheaply. Once someone likes one of your books, they’ll buy the rest in your series, particularly when they cost .99 cents. It’s gong to go much like how Apple’s app store went. Lots of 99-cent stuff.

As you know, the most successful indie authors are picking up agents and some are getting traditional book deals with decent or even big advances. Some are signing on with Amazon (to its Amazon Encore program), which is a great way to have Amazon push your book. But I will say this: many of these authors who are doing well at .99 cents will find it hard to sell hardcover books for $25 (or discounted to $16 on Amazon). So, if you want to want make a living at fiction writing–and you don’t end up with some sort of big advance or multi-book deal–you’re going to probably do better self-publishing.

Ultimately, however, it’s a lot of people’s dream to get published by a traditional publisher. I honestly didn’t feel like I was a fiction writer until I saw my finished hardcover (that I hadn’t created myself) out on display at Barnes & Noble and other stores.

Look, anybody can self-publish and call themselves a writer. There’s something great about that and it allows you to take your book directly to the reading public and bypass all the bullshit of the traditional publishers who are looking for reasons to say no to you. That’s really liberating and can open doors that might not otherwise open and might even make you some nice dough. But the flip side is anybody can self-publish and call themselves a writer. And a lot of people are doing it.

I suspect that the most successful and truly talented indie writers will end up with some form of traditional publishing deal at some point in their careers. It’s one thing if you’ve already been published and are moving to self-publishing for all the pros mentioned. But ultimately, it’s good to be able to say you were “really” published–and experience it, for better or worse.

AHE: Originally, you were giving away the eBook version of Knife Music for free. How’d that work out?

DC: I got some attention from a free iPhone app version of my book that was initially rejected by Apple for having objectionable content. That got the book some attention, which was really important at the time. Back then, it seemed like a good idea to give the book away for free–I was just trying to get anybody to read it. But I’m a little bit down on free these days unless you’ve got a bunch of other books to offer for sale. You’re better off just sticking your e-book up there for .99 cents. In my case, with Knife Music, I offer half the book for free as an iPhone app, and I stuck half of it up on Scribd. I’m not sure how many people went on to buy the full book, but about 18,000 looked at it on Scribd. Maybe I converted a few into buyers.

Interestingly enough, the traditionally published version of Knife Music went as high as #4 on the Kindle bestseller list. It’s $3.99 now. Ironically, the same price as it was when I self-published it.

One Response to “David Carnoy on Being an Ex-Indie”

  1. avatar Terry Tracy says:

    Great advice; grounded, concise, practical, and wise. Thanks,

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