Paper or No Paper

Hi Folks,

Recently, Dean Wesley Smith talked in his blog about the fear of publishing. It’s a good article, and I recommend it.

However, his article is tied to his Great Publishing Challenge. Seems he received a lot of comments that (to him) indicate fear of some aspect of publishing as the reason people don’t want to jump into the challenge.

I was going to post a comment to his article, but I decided to publish it in my Journal and then here instead. Mostly because I don’t want my reasons for not publishing to paper to inadvertently feed the fear of anyone else.

First, I used to fall off Heinlein’s Rule 4 (“You must put it on the market” = publishing) a lot. In fact, at one point I had several short stories (around 15) and 4 or 5 novels that I’d written but hadn’t yet published. Long-time Journal subscribers probably will remember that.

My falling off HR4 was not a result of fear, though. It was basically a result of me being lazy. Writing is fun; publishing is work.

Yes, designing covers is another artistic outlet, and I enjoy it when I’m in the middle of it. But I don’t enjoy pouring over seemingly endless cover art BEFORE designing the cover, and I don’t enjoy actually upoading the books, scheduling them for release, etc. AFTER designing the cover.

The other (main) reason I fell off HR4 so often was Time. When I think of Return On Investment (ROI), I most often think in terms of time. And I apply the WIBBOW rule, which I first learned from Dean: Would I Be Better Off Writing? In other words, would my time be better spent on writing?

If I have the cover art selected (or have narrowed my choices down to a few pieces of artwork and already have them in a folder on my desktop), publishing takes less time.

But if don’t already have the cover art, Time is a great unknown. I have to browse royalty-free sites for cover art. That might take an hour or it might take 3 or 4 hours, and I just don’t want to waste that much time.

I finally got past that by browsing sites on days when I’m between books. When I find art that I might want to use in the future, I download it and save it in a genre-specific folder. That trims some time off the process later.

So I no longer fall off HR4 or stay off it very long. In fact, I have a self-imposed rule that I can’t call a story or novel “finished” until it’s published.

That’s all well and good for epublishing (Kindle, Nook/Apple and PDF). But as I mentioned above, Dean’s post was aimed primarily at publishing to paper. (Don’t say publishing to “print.” Ebooks are “print” too.)

There’s a learning curve involved in publishing to paper. You can use the same cover you use for the ebook with a few adjustments for trim size in paper.

But even if you have the actual cover done (vs. the art selected but the cover not done), the sales copy written, etc., you still have to invest at least a few hours in calculating the spine of the paper book, and doing the interior layout and other things specific to the paper edition.

And frankly that’s time I don’t want to spend. For me, that isn’t an artistic endeavor. For me, that’s sheer drudgery.

So for me personally, not going to paper is strictly a business decision because spending time to go to paper with all my books provides a bad ROI.

And this isn’t theory. I have actual empirical evidence.

I went to paper with my first 20 novels or so (and several short story collections) and got pretty much zilch ROI. My paper books were priced anywhere from $12 to $18, and I earned roughly $2 in royalties when anybody bought one.

The same books in e-versions were priced from $4 to $7 (so lower cost and therefore more attractive to the reader), and I earned 70% (so $2.80 to $4.90 per ebook sold).

(Note: Your results may vary. If you go to paper and then sell copies yourself when you give talks or out of the trunk of your car, you can earn a better royalty. But I no longer speak at conferences and conventions, so that isn’t a viable option for me.)

Plus, at least partly because of the necessarily higher price of the paper books, I sold a lot fewer of them, whereas my ebooks have always shown fairly steady sales.

So for me, when I consider publishing to paper vs. WIBBOW, WIBBOW wins. Handily.

Now, I won’t use the N word here. I won’t say that I’ll Never go to paper with my books.

But until the technology advances to the point that the learning curve, production time and demand for my books in paper pretty much matches those same factors in ebook production, it just ain’t gonna happen.

I don’t have a finely tuned business mind. But in every business decison I make, I invoke that timeless question: WIBBOW?

And for me, that’s good enough.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


Note: At the beginning of March, this blog will become my author newsletter for readers. So if you’re a fan of my work, you’re in for a treat. (grin) I will talk once or twice a month about my characters and settings and worlds, announce new releases, and occasionally give away novels, novellas and collections.

If you’re a writer, and if you’d like to continue to get writing tips and topics almost every day, please head on over to my Daily Journal at and subscribe there. It’s free.

I publish the Journal almost every day, and it’s always chock full of good writing advice you won’t find anywhere else. I also link regularly to other websites I think writers might find of interest.