The Grand Conversation on ebooks: Robin Sullivan

Robin Sullivan is the founder and president of Ridan Publishing, an indie press dedicated to speculative fiction. She also is a public speaker on publishing and has conducted more than twenty-five lectures, the contents of which are provided online both through her Write2Publish blog and a new series of shorts available in ebook form.

I wanted something positive to finish off the Grand Conversation guest posts, and Robin’s contribution was perfect. She sees a future where authors control their own destiny through self-publishing:

“Legitimizing Independent Authors”

I have a unique perspective on publishing as I’ve produced self-published works, small press releases, and received a six-figure three-box deal with Orbit Publishing (an imprint of Hachette Books).  Last month, I presented a new lecture: Crossing the Chasm – getting publishers to pick-up your self-published books. I have always believed that each path to publishing presents various pluses and minus (and still do).  Self-published gives you full control, small presses gives you a longer runway to find an audience, and traditional publishing provides legitimacy as an author. Or so I’ve said in the past.

All that changed in November 2010.  This was the month that I saw my husband’s (Michael J. Sullivan) Riyria Revelations (The Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, Nyphron Rising, Emerald Storm, and Wintertide) go from 1,000 books a month in sales to 9,500. This was followed by December of 10,500 and January of 11,000 books. Since his ebooks are priced at $4.95 and $6.95, this meant he went from being marginally successful to making in three months what it takes me more than a year to earn.

But the most amazing thing was he was not the only one reporting this type of increase: J. A. Konrath, Victorine Lieskie, H. P. Mallory, D. B. Henson, and the star of them all, Amanda Hocking, saw their sales go through the roof (Amanda Hocking sold more than 500,000 books the bulk of which were sold from Nov – Jan).

In January 2011, I found 20% of the top 100 were self produced books, with two titles in the top 10.  In February, that had climbed to 39% and still had two titles in the top 10 but now represented by two different authors: Amanda Hocking and John Locke.  Now granted, a lot of the reason for these authors to hit these rankings has been offering low priced books $0.99 and $2.99, but when you are selling numbers at this level, even $0.99 books are producing six-figure yearly incomes.

Just before Michael’s books went ballistic, we thought it was time to investigate the possibility of traditional publishing. Because he has a proven track record, it took only a few weeks to get a six-figure offer from the fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group. H. P. Mallory has signed a six-figure two book deal with Random House, and D. B. Henson was approached by one of the biggest agents there is (Noah Lukeman) and her Deed to Death went to auction and will be released in July 2011. Yes that is not a typo. She went from no agent at Christmas 2010 to having a book released by a major publisher six month’s later.

Six months ago, when I did my lectures on how to get traditionally published – I spoke of writing great query letters, using AgentQuery and similar sites to find reputable agents, and preparing yourself for a one to two year waiting period.  I will never be giving that lecture again.  The ebook revolution has changed all that.

But it’s done more than just make it easier for authors to get picked up by the big-six.  In many ways, it is making the big-six obsolete as authors can now make not only a good living but a great living from writing. Amanda will be the first ebook millionaire.  I personally know dozens of people making six-figure incomes, and hundreds of more that have been able to quit their day jobs.

Two years ago, the mantra was, “Self-published authors had to because they aren’t  good enough to be published by a real publisher.”  Today, the mantra is, “You’d be a fool to take a publishing contract from a big-six publisher even if they offer a six-figure advance”.  I’ve crunched the numbers, and from a purely financial standpoint, there is no argument that a successful self-published author will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars by taking a traditional deal. But, they still offer the best opportunity for an author to make a name for themselves. Even with Amanda’s success, she’s not a household name, and I think only a handful of ebook-only authors will ever be well known.  But regardless, if you seek fame or fortune (or even a little bit of both), the ebook revolution is proving that if you take advantage of it there has never been a better time to be an author than now.

Robin Sullivan’s ebook Write2Publish is available from Amazon.

Michael J. Sullivan’s (Robin’s husband’s) bestselling fantasy ebooks are also available from Amazon.