Bestselling Author Turns Down $500K Deal to Self-Publish

This post, by Jane Friedman, originally appeared on the Writer’s Digest There Are No Rules blog on 3/21/11.

The breaking news today is that NYT bestseller Barry Eisler turned down a $500K deal from his publisher, St. Martin’s, in order to self-publish his next book.

In honor of the occasion, he and JA Konrath have a conversation that extends 12,000 words. You can read/download the entire thing here as a PDF. It’s worth reading in its entirety.

Below I’ve summarized a few of the key points, along with related highlights from the conversation.

1. In the self-publishing arena, the most profitable use of an author’s time is writing more books. And self-publishing helps you focus more on the writing itself.


Barry: Now, with digital books, once again there’s no more profitable use of an author’s time than writing. Not to say that authors don’t need to have a strong online presence; of course they do. But any time you’re thinking about some other promotional activity—a blog post, a trip to a convention, an hour on Facebook—you have to measure the value of that time against the value of writing and publishing a new story. The new story earns money, both for itself and your other works. …

Joe: But it’s even more than that. … A virtual shelf, like Amazon or Smashwords, carries all my titles, all the time. And I don’t have to compete with a NYT bestseller who has 400 copies of their latest hit on the shelf, while I only have one copy of mine. We each take up one virtual space per title. … Virtual shelf life is forever. In a bookstore, you have anywhere form a few weeks to a few months to sell your title, and then it gets returned. This is a big waste of money, and no incentive at all for the bookseller to move the book.

But e-books are forever. Once they’re live, they will sell for decades. Someday, long after I’m gone, my grandchildren will be getting my royalties.

A lot of people don’t realize—and I probably wouldn’t have realized myself if you hadn’t pointed it out—that the appropriate measure for determining how much your books can earn you in digital is forever.

In paper, with rare exceptions, there’s a big upfront sales push, followed by either total evaporation or by years of low backlist sales. Digital isn’t like that.

Joe: Time is the ultimate long tail. Even with a big wad of money upfront, if something sells forever, the back end is what ultimately counts.

[My note: For more on this issue of the long tail of sales, read this excellent post.]

Read the rest of the post on There Are No Rules.