Give me your tired, your poor, your... SF authors needing a True Fan?
May 24, 2014 5:03 PM   Subscribe

After this FPP on Amazon's questionable tactics dealing with Hachette (and in particular, Michael Sullivan's article on the matter, in which he mentions developing "a direct sales channel" with readers), and mathowie's comment in the MeFi funding thread on True Fans, help me find a better way to support authors than binging on the Kindle Book Store (where the majority of my payment apparently goes to publishers and distributors - boo!). Difficulty level: hard SF (think Greg Egan), space opera (think Banks' Culture series); ebooks preferred.

My first thought is self-publishing / the "direct sales channel" Sullivan alluded to - can you recommend any excellent self-published science fiction authors out there whose ebooks I can purchase (relatively) directly (or download freely then donate)? I guess the closest real-world example I have to this is G. Norman Lippert (I downloaded his James Potter series gratis and sent him a donation equivalent to what normally I pay for books from a site like Amazon).

Alternatively, are there authors out there publishing via smaller, more "author-friendly" publishing houses (who don't take a 50%+ cut from each book sale)?

Or is the best way for me to support authors to simply continue to buy and review their works through Amazon & GoodReads?

A little about my preferences - I love hard SF and space opera, and occasionally branch out into fantasy. Like many around here, I'm a huge fan of authors like Iain M. Banks, Greg Egan, Kim Stanley Robinson and Neal Stephenson, and George R. R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson on the fantasy side. I far prefer ebooks (.mobi in particular) to physical books.
posted by snap, crackle and pop to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Popular author John Scalzi (MeFi's own!) likes his publishers to get money. He wrote a play about it!

Other authors may have less congenial relationships with their publishers—e.g. IIRC Peter Beagle doesn't get royalties for some things unless bought directly from Conlan Press, etc. But these tend to be the exception rather than the rule. When in doubt, buying directly from the author website and/or contacting the author to ask which method they'd prefer is a good idea.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:31 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

FYI, authors who self-publish on Amazon receive up to 70% of the price of the book. (It's less if your book is priced below $2.99).

Amazon isn't to blame for the royalty model. In the traditional, print-based publishing model, authors are paid primarily through advances, and rarely see any royalties from their books. (Exceptions being the best-sellers, of course.) Support authors you like by buying books. If you buy their books, they're more likely to get a sweet advance for their next book.
posted by baby beluga at 6:04 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is, I think, a more complex issue than you're making it out to be. I'm writing this from the position of someone who isn't an author, but is an editor who's worked extensively with a major epublishing company and quite a few self-publishing authors. I will note up front that any numbers I mention are my experience only, taken from a sample size that's large enough that I feel comfortable drawing inferences from, but small enough (and genre-specific enough) that it definitely shouldn't be taken as gospel, or as a universal experience.

Self-publishing or direct sales channels varies hugely by author. Some authors sell things right from their website or a personal storefront and fulfill them through a third party file delivery service. In that instance, they keep any money for the sale, but also have to pay (or should pay, anyhow) for editing and cover design out of pocket. If the author doesn't know how to format the book, they also have to pay someone to format their books.

Some authors self-publish through Amazon or other channels. I'm going to talk about Amazon, because it's far and away the largest--I've seen self-pubbed books selling literally a hundred times more on Amazon than on all other services combined. With Kindle Direct, which is Amazon's self-publishing arm, the author gets either 35% or 70% royalty. They select what percentage they want. Higher royalty percentage means that the author's on the hook for delivery costs. Author should still be paying for editing and cover design, and will often still pay to have someone format their work for them, because it can be a pain in the ass.

Epublishers are often friendlier about royalties than traditional publishers. As last I checked (which was about a year ago) all the major epubs paid authors at least 30% of monies received, and some of them go up to 40%. Amazon might pay the publisher 60% of the cover price for each book, and the author gets 30-40% of that. The publisher takes care of editing, formatting, and cover art.

Traditional publishers are the least generous with ebook royalties, but on the other hand, they give advances, produce print books, etc. The risk to the author is minimized--they know that they're going to get paid [$advance] for their book, and will probably not see more than that. (In the event that the book earns more than the advance, then they start seeing more. Many books don't earn out their advance, but an advance doesn't preclude the possibility of making bank on a runaway bestseller.) Traditional publishers are also the ones who have the most room to promote your book--with other platforms, promotion is mostly on the author.

So those are (some of) the upsides and downsides of various platforms for authors. But how you buy things is a whole other layer of figuring. If you buy things directly from an author, they get more money for the book, but it doesn't count towards their sales numbers. Which sounds like a no big deal kind of thing, but isn't. If the author's with a traditional publisher, that publisher wants to see continued interest in their work. More sales = author is more desireable. Fewer sales could mean that the publisher feels that they're not selling well enough to justify contracting another book.

If the author's not with a traditional publisher, they get more wiggle room, but in my experience, the number one thing that makes someone's books fly off the shelves is a high sales ranking. If you get onto one of Amazon's bestselling-within-genre lists, the odds are good that you'll see sales of your other books skyrocket, especially if the books are connected. Interestingly, this holds true even if the book that made the lists initially was free, and your other books are not--an authorfriend of mine recently had her free, self-published book hit the bestselling in [genre] list. It stayed there for the whole time it was free--but so did her two other self-pubbed books, both of which were priced at about $5. The gross for that month was significantly higher than other months, pretty much entirely because this one book suddenly had more eyes on it.

All of this is to say is that publishing, regardless of how you're doing it, is a balancing act. There's no generic action that supports authors the most--it's like Newton's third law of publishing, which is that any positive action has an equal(ish) and opposite(ish) action. Buying books is supportive, regardless of how you do so. Reviewing and reccing is also supportive. Outside of that, you have to assume that the authors are choosing the distribution models and platforms that work best for their goals, and hope that it works out for them.
posted by MeghanC at 6:32 PM on May 24, 2014 [7 favorites]
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:58 PM on May 24, 2014

You would probably love Peter Watts, who was featured recently on the blue. Just keep in mind that he typically writes very dark material.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:21 AM on May 25, 2014

You could try buying from Book View Cafe - they sell Linda Nagata's Nebula-nominated hard SF The Red: First Light. Or try Weightless Books, who sell ebooks for a variety of indie publishers.
posted by penguinliz at 3:56 AM on May 25, 2014

Baen Books has been publishing a large proportion of their catalog in ebook format since before the original Kindle was released - that link shows which books are available in e-formats very clearly. You can purchase directly from their site. Their books are DRM-free, and come in these formats (as listed on their site):

Sony LRF
MS Reader

If you're an SF/F reader, I'm sure you're already somewhat familiar with Baen. Their prices are pretty much identical to Amazon's for the same titles.

Even better, they offer eARCs for some titles, serialized monthly bundles, and some free titles (almost always just the first in a series - still, free!).
posted by timepiece at 12:25 PM on May 29, 2014

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