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Sold! Substack or bust. Thank you for providing clarity and sanity on book publishing. Now I get to bypass all the crap and be happy with less and explore all the crossover potential on one platform.

These digging in the dirt articles are real gems!

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Wow, what a read and I have so many thoughts. I actually took notes while reading, so here we go:

"Is anyone else alarmed that the top tier is book sales of 75,000 units and up? One post on Substack could get more views than that….."

YES! I find it absolutely mind-boggling that this is considered a top tier sale. Especially now, with BookTok at its peak where everyone seems to consume insane amount of books each year. This statement doesn't match what I see on my social media feeds and in real life: everyone got back into reading over the pandemic, the bookstore is always packed, my FYP is full of people buying and consuming books. It feels like the publishing houses are removed from reality somehow...

"Wouldn’t it be great if you could pay $9.99 a month and read all of the books you want? Just like you get all the movies you want from Netflix? Or all the music you want from Spotify?"

Not to sound too cynical, but isn’t that a library?

"He’s right. No one would purchase a book again."

This quote was about Kindle Unlimited, and I disagree. For one, the quality of Kindle Unlimited books is abysmal at times. When I first got Kindle Unlimited I was really excited and read every book I could. But after a short while, all the books sound the same. Secondly, you don't own the books on Kindle Unlimited. If one would be removed from the platform, you could never read it again. But owning books has become a trend over recent years. It is cool again to buy and read books.

And while reading this, I had one big question: In the US there is no fixed book price, but there is one in many other countries (like the UK, Germany, etc.). When I go to the US, I am shocked by how expensive books are. I simply couldn't afford to read as many books as I am, because of that. Do you think that could have had any impact on the low numbers presented in this trial? It feels like buying a book is a luxury in the US, while other countries deem it a necessity and keep the price low, so everyone can purchase a book.

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My recent post, Nobody Reads Anymore (https://www.whitenoise.email/p/nobody-reads-anymore), is germane:

"Though most books should be articles, most articles should be paragraphs, most paragraphs should be sentences, and most sentences should be silence, there is a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom to be found in books.

As Rilke wrote in his marvelous Letters to a Young Poet, “[In these books] a world will come over you, the happiness, the abundance, the incomprehensible immensity of a world. Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,—it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments and joys.”

E.O. Wilson’s brilliant line comes to mind again and again: “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.” If we don’t look up from the black mirrors of our phones, laptops, and tablets, we’ll soon resemble the humans from WALL-E"

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Super insightful and totaly reflects my experience with publishing.

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It reads to me like Publishing CEOs are following a model that they know is failing them, spending hundreds of thousands on celebrity names that the public knows won't be good at writing a book or will have someone else write it with just their name on it, and they're not investing in new writers at all. Even if the new writers don't sell well, a $1000 - $10,000 advance is less of a loss than $250,000 for some actor or actress who nobody believes is actually writing the book about themselves. Or, more to the point, most people don't care about their personal lives and only appreciate them for their actual skills in acting. There's been rumors that traditional publishing houses are asking less-known authors to only have books up to a specific page count. It sounds like they don't understand their own industry or how they've damaged themselves in the long-term. If advances are like placing bets, then they should have placed bets on new authors and not celebrities. Whatever. Not our problem.

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These stats about the overwhelming number of books selling relatively few copies and a handful of big-name authors making large advances shouldn’t be surprising—if you think of book publishing as a creative endeavor like music, entertainment or other art.

Even though tens of thousands of Americans list “actor” as their profession, only a small number are able to make a stable living as a working actor. And only a rare few are able to make it big—they can all fit into the first several rows of seats at the Oscars.

Yes, “tortured poet” Taylor Swift is a billionaire, but the vast number of musicians are “starving artists” barely getting by. Thousands of bands are formed each year in garages across America and very few will see commercial success. https://ryanclarkself.substack.com/p/the-shocking-truth-about-book-publishing

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Personally i read on books ans hate read on a virtual way because it took ouot the charm of reading

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Publishing houses are already pushing the marketing of books onto the authors themselves--not because it's more effective, but because they're too cheap to invest in the books and in the authors. Self-publishing is a huge--and intimidating--amount of work for a new author. I see, if anything, the rise of author cooperatives--a group of authors paying money to hire the editors and other publishing professionals to produce their books.

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'My money is on Substack for eventually publishing written books!' This makes me want to write on Substack even more. Thank you for this great summary. It makes me feel more confident about courageously taking my own route. I no longer feel that I should rely on traditional publishing.

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Hi Elle, I am the creator of "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls" and couldn't agree more with you. The first volume of Rebel Girls was my seventh book, and I had been deeply unsatisfied with the way the relationship with my publishers had worked out for the first 6 books. In fact, the thing with the model you describe is that as soon as publishers don't see traction in sales within the first few weeks, they 'cut their losses' and completely abandon your book. The creator, on the other hand, doesn't have an incentive to work on the promotion, because you likely had a very little advance, and even if books are sold as a result of your efforts, 90% of the $ will go to the publisher. So I decided to turn to Kickstarter and the book became a sensation. Harper Collins offered 1 Million Dollars after the Kickstarter campaign exploded but - at that point - I had proven that the book had a market, so I turned it down and decided to self-publish it instead. As a result, we made $2 Millions in 2016, $12 Millions in 2017, and $14 Millions in 2018. Of course, this is not replicable for every title, but if your book is successful you have to be comfortable with the idea that your money is financing all the other bets of the publishing company - the difference with Silicon Valley is that you don't have any equity in those bets. That is why I have always experimented with hybrid models with my writing and my books. Your Substack is incredibly interesting and inspiring. Keep it up!

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author

Oh wow, thank you so much for sharing your experience! I actually studied your Kickstarter model to write this post: https://www.elysian.press/p/how-authors-make-money-on-kickstarter

Such an inspiring story!

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I really think that print on demand technology (which is what amazons self publishing platform uses) really has the potential to change publishing if they lean into it. It would allow them to move away from an advance model and focus more resources on marketing new writers (and maybe even more editing services to help new writers get their work up to par).

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Books on demand are everywhere. 99% of textbooks in college are published that way.

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May 13·edited May 15

There's nothing really new here in relation to publishing and selling books.

It's always been a hard road but generally, even now, the cream will rise one way or another.

Fiction - as opposed to self-help, celebrity musings, memoir, political tomes, biographies and so forth - has always been difficult with no promise of monetary reward. Particularly, what it known as literary fiction, the genre I love to read.

It seems to me that one of the problems related to getting fiction published is that every Tom, Dick and Cheryl, think they have an exceptional book in them that everyone will want to read. Because, technically, we can all 'write' - as opposed to painting, sculpturing, composing symphonies, singing etc - many people seem to think that it's a piece of cake and that publishers have an obligation not only to publish their books but pay an advance worthy of their offerings.

In some ways, social media and the internet have given new writers more opportunities to not only publish but to seek their own audiences outside publishing houses.

Australian fiction - with the exception of some popular fiction and crime - is by and large humorless dreary preaching by authors obsessed with climate change, gender, homophobia, the trials of motherhood and feminism, asylum seekers, migrants, colonial sins and ghastly white men.

Compared to fiction from just about anywhere else in the world it is second rate and it doesn't surprise me that it struggles to find an audience.

Publishing houses may die but writing will go on as gifted original writing is at the heart of films, screen series and books that people will always want to read.

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I appreciate this thoughtful breakdown but I do buy books. I hate Kindle and reading anything meaningful on a screen. I’m also from Europe and I do think we have a different relationship with books there too.

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how does one compete with the allure of an advance? to support writing?

I agree that this model seems to be dying out but a lot of the best sellers that people read tend to be publisher-backed and people like to emulate some of their favorite authors.

Is it offering it on Kindle Unlimited for a specific price point?

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If you live in the UK, here’s one way you can support fair pay and conditions for writers and creatives of all kinds: https://www2.societyofauthors.org/2024/04/12/soa-welcomes-cross-party-parliamentary-report-on-creator-remuneration/

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Recent research from ALCS highlights the loss of earnings for writing https://www.alcs.co.uk/news/why-writers-are-at-a-loss-for-words

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