NYT Best Seller Barry Eisler turns down $500,000 advance in favor of Self Publishing

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Cover via Amazon

That’s right,  Mr. Eisler was offered a whopping half million dollar advance for his book from a mainstream publisher, and he said no.  For all of us struggling writers out here in the real world the thought seems completely insane.  Getting an offer from a mainstream publisher is a huge accomplishment – it means that all of our hard work has finally been acknowledged and someone believes in it.

However for Mr. Eisler it is a different story.  He’s been in the business for a long time and has had his share of success.  He understands the truth about advances and royalties.  He has established a name for himself.  By self publishing and epublishing he gets to pocket a larger percentage of the royalties, a whopping 70% compared to the puny 14.9%.

Here’s the math:

By self pubbing Eisler will have to sell 714,285 units at $1 to make $500,000.   There is no advance to work towards here, the money keeps rolling in with each unit sold.

By accepting the $500,000 advance Eisler will have to sell a crazy 3.3 million units at $1 before he even catches sight of a royalty check and then he will only get 14.9% of each unit sold after that.

Eisler is making a gamble, knowing his fan base and history with his other books he believes that he will sell enough on his own to compensate for not accepting a half million dollar advance.  In the long run getting the higher percentage will serve him better than what the publisher has to offer.

For the rest of us fiction writers who have yet to make a name for ourselves in the publishing world using the traditional route does have more advantages than disadvantages.  Contracting with a publisher means that they will provide services like editing, creating a cover, finding reviews, and distributing the book to the national market.  It is in their best interest to sell as many copies as they can to make a profit.

There are those stories of début authors hitting it big with e-pubbing, offering their books for low prices through Amazon and other services.  They had to find their own editor, design the cover, and create their own marketing plan.  Some would argue that doing this they have more control over all the aspects of their book, which is true.  At the same time, most writers aren’t great at marketing strategy and would rather spend their free time writing.   For every success story there are thousands if not more e-pubbed books that never sell more than a handful of copies.

The bottom-line?  Each writer must weigh the odds for themselves.  A traditional publisher will release a book on the market when there is a natural peak in interest for that genre.  This means an author might have to wait months before it is released, but more books will sell.  With e-pubbing it is a matter of how fast you can fill out the form, assuming that the other work, editing, etc, has been done.  Release your book when the market is interested in something else and it may never see the light of day.  Traditional publishing will give you an advance that you get to keep regardless of how your book does on the market.  With e-pubbing you only earn on what you sell, period.  To get a mainstream traditional publisher you must first get an agent which is a long and involved process.  That agent will fight for you and also help make your book the best it can be.  With e-pubbing you are on your own.


About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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17 Responses to NYT Best Seller Barry Eisler turns down $500,000 advance in favor of Self Publishing

  1. Oh my dear, I saw this on Twitter and couldn’t believe it. I suppose if he’s already an established author, and he’s got a following, then, it’s different.
    I am still wanting to try the traditional route first, just something I have to get out of my system. My main concern is that a lot of self-published books, never quite look as “professional” even if they choose a good cover. There are exceptions to that of coruse.

    • tsuchigari says:

      I feel the same – I really want a finished book that I can be proud of for years to come. I’m sure with tons of effort you could eek out a book that looks alright, but I’d rather spend my time writing.

  2. That’s a big story, and in some ways probably a publicity stunt — the story alone will contribute to his sales. With his history, he knows he’ll do far better than a “handful of copies”, so his risk is mitigated. I hope the story doesn’t encourage a bunch of first-timers to sink a lot of money into books that aren’t quite publishable.

    • Michael, I understand your point. And I agree that neophyte writers could well be confused by the choices out there. That said, ePub is the way of the future. Witness the mass closings of brick and mortar bookstores nation-wide.

      I would LOVE for my first novel, FIVE, to be published by a big-city, mainstream publisher. But then, I’d like to live forever. Neither option looks especially promising just now.


    • tsuchigari says:

      I have that concern as well, following his example I’m sure a bunch of new writers will flood the eMarket over the next year. Judging from previous sales (and all the publicity he’ll get from his refusal) I’m sure he knows he’ll make out alright.

  3. Cool story, Jodi. I think something like this can take a lot of pressure off of new writers. (new=yet to be published).

    A successful writer I know, Ransom Stephens, published his first novel electronically, and the book (The God Patent) hit big. He then got an offer from a more traditional publisher and subsequent printings of his book have gone even further.

    Sadly, gone are the days when one is discovered by a big city publisher, wined, dined, and presented to the world. We need to be able to show an ability to sell our own work. This is why the Writer’s Platform is so important.

    I’ll be directing readers to you throughout the day.
    Thanks for posting this.

    • tsuchigari says:

      It’s stories like that of Ransom that make me think I should self pub my NaNo book after it’s revised and beta read. Might be an easier way to find an agent than the traditional route. In the end it’s all a lottery it seems.

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  5. nrhatch says:

    Thanks, Jodi. Good for him! And he will sell more copies since his name is “out there” for turning down $500,000.

    I did a post some time ago about the difference in compensation between traditional publishing and e-books

    Traditional publishing: The agent earns 15% of the author’s royalties; royalties are most often around 8% of a paperback cover price.

    So, on a $7.99 paperback book, the author earns 64 cents from which he hands over 10 cents to the agent, which leaves the originator of the book with 54 cents.

    Digital publication: For now, if the author meets some easy-to-meet conditions, she uploads her manuscript at no cost to herself and reaps 70% of the cover price with Kindle, 65% with Barnes and Noble. (70% applies to books priced from $.99 to $9.99 at Kindle. A $10.99 book earns 35% royalty.)

    If the price, which the author sets herself, is $7.99, the royalty payment is a whopping $5.19. Wow.

    In other words, you’d have to sell 10 traditionally published books @ $7.99 to earn $5.40 in royalties vs. selling a single e-book at $7.99 to earn $5.19.

    If you’re interested:

    • tsuchigari says:

      I did read that post a while back and thought the numbers were fascinating. There is the factor that eBooks are generally priced lower than printed, which offsets the profit margin as well. Because of the ease and affordability I foresee a high percentage of readers to switch over to eReaders. Sad but true.

  6. oldancestor says:

    I’m inching closer and closer to thinking that self-publishing is respectible, but I still have two problems.

    One is that I WANT THE VALIDATION. I am sure many great books have come from the POD or SP arenas, but the fact remains that anyone with an inclination can self-publish. I want to be thought of as good enough for the majors. Maybe it’s childish/naive of me, but that’s how I feel.

    Two is that I really think a professional agent and publisher will help you write the best book you can. What if you self-publish something you later realize was not too good? Then you have this thing floating around out there that you wish would go away. After my first manuscript did not find an agent, I thought of self-publishing. But my writing has improved tenfold since then, an I’d actually be embarrassed for any of you to read it now. I’m glad my vanity did not get the better of me.

    • tsuchigari says:

      I completely agree, books published by a major house have had to stand the trial by fire and made it through. That alone tells me that there is something worth reading there. However, getting published by that major house is something else.

      An agent (or at least an awesome editor) is so important. To have an experienced set of eyes examine your work and point out weaknesses is a great way to refine the story. Family and friends won’t give honest feedback.

      I cringe at some of my earlier work now!

      • oldancestor says:

        I don’t believe in fate or that things are “meant to be” in accordance with some cosmic script. However, it may be that I haven’t been published yet because I haven’t written something I won’t cringe at later yet.

  7. Heather says:

    Wow–so much to take in with all of this. As I inch my way closer to completing that first novel that changes the whole world, I look up from my keypad and see that the whole world is changing without any help from me.

    Makes things more exciting–something I’ll be watching from now on.

    • tsuchigari says:

      The world of the printed page is changing radically, by the time I have a page to print there might not be anyone out there to print it anymore. Major pubbing houses are already floundering around in this new market, not grabbing hold of the ePubbing franchise as quickly as they should. They will miss out.

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