Self-publishing and James Koerts

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Recently, James Koerts self-published a book of arrangements called Be Still. If you click on that link, you can buy and download it instantly for $15. Some might not like the fact that you cannot buy a printed book, but going forward, you are going to see this more and more. (Think Kindle!)

The arrangements are great and typical of what he writes so if you buy arrangement books, go buy this book now at

Now that my very thorough review of the book is done (LOL), I want to talk about the business side of this for a second. I have been watching an interesting conversation on his blog discussing the pros and cons of self-publishing. Here they are as I see them:

* Writer earns 100% of the sales rather than the 10-20% a publisher would pay. It costs $0 to deliver a product like this by digital download.
* Writer can get products to market on their own schedule and without the uncertainty of submitting to publishers and the editorial process.
* Writer owns his/her own brand and stays independent.

* Writer has to take responsibility for marketing themselves. He/she has to build demand as well as credibility with potential buyers.
* Writer has to underwrite the project. A project like this one cost Koerts nothing because he engraves (formats for print) himself, but many writers cannot engrave. If you have a printed book, there are printing costs and design costs and if you have songs outside public domain, there are licensing costs. Also, there may be costs associated with hiring an editor to double check your work.
* Writer generally has less oversight so quality can suffer.

I am wary about jumping into this fray because I like so many people in the publishing world. I mean I genuinely really like them. I know many published writers and I know many people on the industry side of publishing and they are great people and my friends.

Except for one submission some years ago (which was rejected, BOOO!), I have never pursued getting published. However, at the risk of sound arrogant, I will tell you that several publishers have approached me about writing for them. I am not saying I would never accept one of those invitations, but to date, I have always declined.

People in the industry for the most part cannot understand why I find it more beneficial to give away arrangements here for free (which gets a lot of people to the site and increases my visibility) rather than get them published. But nevertheless, that is best for me.

I am not a person who thinks the writers get shafted by publishers who “only” pay them 10-20%. It is expensive to publish music and publishers are really struggling right now. But when I consider how long it would take me to write a book of ten arrangements and compare it to what my publishing royalties would be, at present, it is not an attractive option.

Now, that being said, I am concerned for James Koerts in one area that was brought up by a publisher on his blog. Koerts is well published by everyone from Alfred on down and you could make the case that those publishers have done the heavy lifting to build his brand for him. They could get upset that after the brand is built, he moves to self-publishing and effectively cuts them out. In other words, he may be burning his bridges in the publishing world.

That is a valid concern and I don’t know how that will shake out. It may be that at least until publishers get used what is happening, writers will not be able to straddle that fence; they will have to decide to go one way or the other.

I don’t want to minimize the moral implications here either. I don’t think Koerts is wrong to self-publish a book. I talked to him at length about it when he was considering it. I think it would be ethically questionable however if he cut off his publishers entirely at this point because they have indeed done a lot of work on his behalf. They might want to cut him off because of his direction but I think he should consider at least offering to send them music. (By the way, I know that he is planning on continuing to do just that.)

People like me that have never been published (in the traditional way) or writers just getting started should especially carefully consider self-publishing. There are more responsibilities involved such as marketing and you have to work harder on quality or hire an editor to help keep the quality high.

But I think there is a reality that needs to be considered. Traditional publishing is on a decline overall and I see little evidence that it is going to turn around. Like I often say here, the safe, traditional way is actually probably more risky than going off the beaten path. Don’t be afraid to do things different in the world of publishing if you think you have the necessary skills.

Oh by the way, I am posting a new free arrangement tomorrow!

6 thoughts on “Self-publishing and James Koerts

  1. Scott says:

    I will make a few comments with the attempt of not sounding biased in my opinions (James Koerts is my Music Pastor)

    * Writer earns 100% of the sales rather than the 10-20% a publisher would pay. It costs $0 to deliver a product like this by digital download.

    I would argue this may not be 100% accurate. A self-publisher will still need to pay a website or some other forum to distribute their work. I’m not sure what that cost is though. Even publishing to iTunes or Amazon has a fee.

    As a note about publishers. These days, the main advantage to having a publisher is the ability to market yourself, as you stated. I think if one wants to move into a new market (like an area of the country his music isn’t selling well), then it might be wise to go through a publisher to get your “brand” out there. However, once your brand is established, you can take the “risky” step of self-publishing. I think you can realistically have a combined approach there.

    “They could get upset that after the brand is built, he moves to self-publishing and effectively cuts them out.”

    But this is good business! If I’m an upstart technology firm with an awesome new gadget, I don’t have the power to put my stuff on a Best Buy shelf or what ever.

    So I have to advertise, through Google adMobs, through double-click, through all sorts of things (and, oh by the way, people using these ad capabilities are replacements for the big name advertising companies of yesteryear i.e. VIACOM, TBC, and others so it is the same scenario).

    …However, 5 years from now, I have a stable product line and lots of buyers, I don’t pay as much for advertisement.

    If the publishers get mad about that, then they are failing to keep their business model up with the times.

    Instead of the publishers jumping on people for jumping ship, they need to find a way to make their offering BETTER than self-publishing. i.e. more profit sharing, faster time to market, etc. They are the ones burning the bridges.

    Anyways, that’s the way I see it. Hope I didn’t HiJack your post too much. 🙂

  2. Greg says:

    A few comments. I said the cost to deliver this product is $0 and I was talking about variable cost (not fixed costs such as putting it on the website). Technically, there are bandwidth costs (tiny if not non-existent) and payment processing (2-3%).

    Regarding the ethics issue: this is a very complicated situation. What is best from a capitalistic perspective is not necessarily ethical. Capitalism and ethics are not equal regardless of what Ayn Rand would say. I am not making any strong statements here on what is ethical because I would consider this particular situation to be very complex. Good people would disagree I think.

  3. Brian says:

    I think a better use of the ‘burning bridge’ metaphor would be to maintain the bridge. Publishers rarely if ever have reason to burn bridges with writers. If anything they are, knowingly or not, allowing them to burn. Publishers need to fortify their bridges with better incentives and a fire extinguisher.

  4. Nicole Paas says:

    Good writing as always. I do not agree with the ethical considerations you mention though.

    Put the shoe on the other foot for a second. Those publishers approaching you wanting you to write for them. Why do you think they want you? Of course your music is great but the real issue is they know they can’t lose with you because you have already built the demand, credibility, brand or whatever you want to call it. You have more name recognition that most published arrangers for sure. so you have done the work for them. I don’t think it is unethical for them to want that opportunity, do you?

  5. Jason says:

    “they have indeed done a lot of work on his behalf.”

    – and they get paid 80-90% for it, right? Writer did the “heavy lifting” of creating something that a publisher deems good enough to publish in their name. I don’t see anything wrong at all with the writer considering a different path.

    If traditional publishing is on the decline, the publishers need to innovate to stay attractive and to have a viable business. But, if traditional publishing goes the way of the wagon wheel, they can be the best wagon wheel manufacturers in the world but no one will need them.


  6. Greg says:

    I am not being clear enough I guess but it is a mute point because James has no plans to dump traditional publishing anyway. He plans to try to keep self publishing and traditional publishing if possible.

    I have to admit that when I read what one publisher said, I felt like I had failed to consider something when talking about this issue and giving advice. If a publisher invests long term into a writer, some loyalty is not a bad thing.

    This is a real problem for writers because publishers are clearly not always providing the value they need to for their 80-90%. Some of them have no idea how to market in 2013. Check out the Facebook presence of a few of them for example. A writer could easily get discouraged and want to bolt. I am not saying they shouldn’t, but I think it is a decision that should be carefully considered, especially if the relationship has been in place for a while.

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