Monday, March 08, 2010

Whoa There, Ebook Writer

If you've been reading my blog lately, you know I've sold over 30,000 self-published ebooks on Kindle. Today it's 9:15am on March 8, and I've already sold 1322 ebooks this month.

I've gone from paying my mortgage every month on Kindle ebooks, to paying almost all of my monthly bills.

Numbers don't lie. But numbers also mean very little until significance is attached to them. It's easy to misinterpret my numbers and draw hasty conclusions.

Let's look at some truths, followed by some misconceptions.

1. More people are buying ereaders and ebooks. And the number will keep going up and up. This is true. While no one knows if ereaders will ever reach the same saturation as iPod or BluRay, it's safe to assume that as time goes on, ereaders will become better, cheaper, and more adopted by the general public.

2. Cheaper books sell better than expensive books. I'm frankly shocked not a single big publisher has released an ebook for $2.99. Value isn't about list price and royalty percentage. The true value of a book should be how much it earns in royalties. And selling 10,000 copies of a $1.99 book earns more than selling 1500 copies of a $9.99 book.

3. Ebooks make it easier for writers to reach readers. This is very true. Agents and editors--once gatekeepers, blessing the few with publication and snubbing the masses as inferior--are no longer as relevant as they once were, and unless they adapt, their relevance will continue to diminish.

4. Joe Konrath is doing well selling ebooks. And he's going to do even better as time goes on.

So far, everything I've said is true and hard to argue against. But if the amount of emails I've been getting lately is any indicator, many writers are drawing on these four facts and tailoring them to fit their individual dreams.

1. Writers no longer need an agent. Easy there, Smokey. I never said that. I never even hinted at that. Right now, in March of 2010, agents are essential if you want to be a full time fiction writer. Yes, they shop manuscripts to publishers, but they also do a lot more than that. First and foremost, they do have a pretty good instinct for vetting manuscripts, and separating the wheat from the chaff. If your manuscript isn't good enough to land an agent, how can you be sure it's good enough to be a successful self-published ebook?

2. Writers no longer need publishers. Right now I've got 12 ebooks and story collections on Kindle, and by the end of the year I'll make over $40k. But I made over $40k on Whiskey Sour, my first novel, by signing with a large publisher. Print is still the way to make the most money and reach the most readers. I don't see that going away anytime soon.

3. Print publishing is impossible to break into, so don't even bother. Wrong. You should try. You should try very hard. There is no reward in success without failure coming first. Sending out queries and getting rejections are more than rites of passage. They're learning experiences. And for fiction writers, I believe they're essential learning experiences to have.

4. I can sell a lot of ebooks like Joe Konrath. That's the seductive thing about numbers. You look at them and think, "I can do that too." Well, maybe you can. But chances are, you can't. No offense meant. You might be a better writer than I am. You might be a better marketer. But I'm pretty lucky to have these numbers. I also have a pretty solid platform I've built up over the last eight years.

Here's my advice: Keep aiming high.

As a fiction writer, your goal should be to find a great agent who can sell your book to a great publisher.

If you can't find an agent, perhaps you should rewrite the manuscript. Or begin working on the next one.

If you find an agent, but can't find a publisher, you can consider self-publishing on Kindle. But keep in mind all that entails. You'll have to edit, format, find cover art, learn simple HTML to upload your file, write a cover description, and then get the word out, all with no guarantee you'll sell more than a few dozen copies a month. Also, many editors will consider a book self-published on Kindle to already be published, and they only want first rights. By leaping immediately to Kindle, you might be forgoing a print deal later on.

Q: I've got a book I know is great, but I could never find an agent. Should I self-publish on Kindle?

A: If it's your first book, I'd say no. Sit on it for a few months and write a second book. First books are never as good as we think they are, and self-publishing a book that isn't your best can hurt your career.

Q: I have a bunch of short stories. Should I self-publish those on Kindle?

A: If you've already sold them, yes. If they're stories you never even tried to submit to magazines or anthologies, I'd try to submit to magazines and anthologies. If they've been rejected a bunch of times, maybe there's a reason for that.

Q: I wrote a novella. There are no markets for novellas. Should I self-publish on Kindle?

A: Has the novella been workshopped with a writers group? Has it been written, rewritten, rewritten, edited, and polished? Then my answer is; maybe. Though you should consider making it book length, or trimming it to short story length, and pursuing print either way.

Q: You've always touted self-publishing, Joe. Why are you changing your opinion?

A: I've never advocated self-publishing. I've advocated ebooks. And I think traditional publishers are missing the boat on ebooks, so I'm doing it myself. But I didn't become a writer so I could spend my time formatting, working with cover artists, uploading constant corrections, fiddling with product descriptions, and pimping myself on message boards. I became a writer to write. I'd much rather just write the books, and leave everything else to a savvy publisher.

In other words, writing is a job. Self-publishing your writing is two jobs. I'd rather just have one job.

Q: Now that Kindle is adopting the agency model with a 70% royalty, and Apple is opening an iBook store, shouldn't I get in on this now before the market is flooded with shit?

A: Maybe. If you have an out of print backlist. If you have an agent with books she hasn't been able to sell. If you're a published author with some shelf novels. Then yes, you should get on Kindle and iPad and Nook and Sony and everyplace else that comes up.

But if you're a newbie author who hasn't even finished your first novel yet and is already designing the cover art, perhaps you need to slow down a bit.

I'm not out to crush anyone's dreams here. But writing a good book is hard to do, and not everyone can do it. There's a learning curve. We're all eager to get read. We all want to get published. But before you let the hard-to-please masses read your work, you really have to make sure it's good enough. Readers don't care about you, or your dreams, or how hard you worked on a book. They want to be entertained. Period. If they buy your book and don't like it, they'll let you and others know.

You wouldn't buy your first saxaphone, practice for a month, then go audition for the Boston Pops. You'd spend a long time practicing and learning before you were good enough.

One one hand, authors being able to instantly reach readers without any gatekeepers is a fabulous thing.

On the other hand, too many authors may jump into this too quickly, without mastering their storytelling skills.

I know this for a fact. I've judged self-published book contests. It was awful.

If you really want my ebook sales, here's the only path I know to duplicate them.

1. Write 9 unpublished novels and get over 500 rejections.

2. Sign a six figure print deal.

3. Mail out 7000 letters to libraries, visit 1200 bookstores, and travel to 39 states speaking at writing conferences, conventions, and book fairs.

4. Write a blog that gets half a million hits per year.

5. Sign six more book deals.

6. Get one of your big print publishers to release an ebook for free.

7. Study the market so hard your spouse thinks you're crazy, then take your early rejected books, make sure they're perfect, and upload them to Kindle along with several short story collections and collaborations.

8. Cross your fingers.

That's the journey I took to get here. Your journey will be different. But no matter your path to success, I urge you not to cut corners. There is no shortcut to selling a lot of books, because books sell one at a time. Learn your craft, learn the business, work hard, try your best. That's the secret.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some writing to do...

190 comments:

Sheryl Nantus said...

Thank you for the reality check - I must admit, I was a little apprehensive of your previous posting, imagining thousands of writers tossing out their query letters and rushing to Amazon to self-pub.
There ARE situations where self-publishing is the best choice. But, as you've laid out clearly, it's an option that should be considered only after collecting all the facts.
I've re-pubbed old stories on Smashwords and made little to nothing - and I've got two books coming out this year with Samhain Publishing, that *will* be in stores in print form in 2011. I've also had a book epubbed with Lyrical Press. I made these sales with good query letters, good synopsis writing and a *good* book.
There *are* publishers out there looking for new writers.
Thanks for a great column as usual and a great blog!

Mark Barrett said...

Well said.

Cunningham said...

Publishing, even e-publishing is a long game. I got into it because there were books out there that had fallen out of print that I wanted to read (again). In trying to track them down, I found they weren't available unless I had a large wad of bills available for Ebay.

Something about that didn't seem right. So I became a publisher and launched Pulp 2.0 Press. We handle pulpy magazines and paperbacks that have fallen out of print and deserve to be seen by today's genre audience.

Right now I've licensed 14 books, the first of which, BROTHER BLOOD by Donald F. Glut is out right now. But it took me a year and a half to get to our first book. I had to pick up a lot of skills along the way in order to add something to our books.

Publishing is a long game. It ain't easy, but yes, it is fun. Think long and hard about what you're doing and why. Publishing yourself isn't a shortcut.

Elizabeth K. Burton said...

Yes, an agent vets books for quality. But let's not lose sight of the fact an agent also selects from those vetted manuscripts those he/she believes can be sold to the publishers. In other words, those chosen will fit with what the establishment is buying at the moment.

And before the outcry arises--yes, I know agents also will take on a book that doesn't have a ready market just because of the quality. And bless them for doing so. The same for acquiring editors who take on the thankless task of convincing their bosses that same book needs to be published.

The fact is, however, that agents have to make a living, too, and that means catering to the market. So, the fact someone can't get an agent may, indeed, speak to the quality of their work. However, it may also mean nothing more than that their work doesn't fit any of the existing marketing criteria.

That is what talented writers find frustrating, and is the reason they grasp at any alternative that offers the possibility of reaching readers. It's also what engenders the rubbish that writers don't need editors or cover artists or layout designers to have a "good book" as self-appointed experts tell them the publishing industry is their enemy.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe, what you're neglecting to realize is some people do not have the temperament to be trad published. And it doesn't make them bad or unprofessional writers. It makes them entrepreneurs.

There is NO part of trad publishing that is attractive to me. I think it's important to recognize no matter how hard it's been drilled into all our heads since we could hold a pencil, that not *every* writer wants the same things.

I am also a control freak. I want my fonts how I want them. I want the cover that I want. I don't want someone deleting my Oxford commas cause their house style doesn't allow them. I have a vision I'm creating for this series and I'm just not interested in someone messing with that on any level. Nor am I interested in signing my ebook rights away for obvious reasons.

Would you ever tell an indie musician or an indie filmmaker NOT to go indie? That they needed to first have a major record label or major studio behind them? I bet you wouldn't because you'd understand that there is inherent value in the indie way of doing things as much as the trad way.

And I refuse to accept the BS line that it's different for authors. It's not different for authors. The only difference is... for some asinine reason "everybody" thinks they can write. Not everybody thinks they can play in a band or be a filmmaker. Also "serious writers" have been discouraged from self-publishing so long that many who "could" succeed at it, choose not to, cause they've been beaten down over the issue and they are afraid of losing the respect of their peers.

My view on that one is, if someone can't respect the hard work I put into creating, packaging, distributing, and marketing my work, they weren't my friends to begin with. They just needed another person to validate *them.*

Authors are supposed to be smart people. We know how to use language. Given that, acting like an author is too big of a moron to figure out how to get their work up to quality before releasing it is just silly. If indies in music and film can do it, so can indies in authorship.

I'm already selling over 500 copies of my novella per month on the Kindle. Granted it's only a dollar and I'm not sure how my numbers will be for my full-length books at $2.99, but I'm not too stressed about it. I will build my platform one reader at a time and one book at a time, just like every other author. But the Internet affords me a never ending stream of readers to reach.

Also, Michael Stackpole, who has a blog over at stormwolf.com has talked about the myth of the established author in the ebook world.

I know *you* have built a platform interfacing with your readers, but not all authors have. If as a total unknown with only one novella so far out under my loud mouth name (I have other stuff under other names), is selling over 500 copies a month on Kindle after a little more than a year... it might be time to rethink the idea that someone has to have a mainstream publisher before they can go indie.

I know you want to protect writers, but writers at some point have to grow up and act like adults and deal with the concept of good vs. bad business deals and educate themselves. If someone can be savvy enough to spot bad agents or publishers, surely they can be savvy enough to figure out self-pubbing. Only reason NOT to self-pub is cause you don't WANT to. Which is perfectly valid, it doesn't need extra reasons attached. Not everybody wants the same things. And I totally respect that.

Brian Kaufman said...

"Write 9 unpublished novels and get over 500 rejections."

This is the best piece of writing advice I've come across. Wonderful post.

David Wisehart said...

Good points, Joe.

But you've also shown that there is a market for works that were good enough to please readers yet didn't pass the gatekeepers in NY.

In any case, I'm one of those writers who has taken inspiration from your example and published my own novel on Kindle.

Thank you for your encouragement — and your caveats.

David Wisehart
Author of Devil's Lair

rex kusler said...

A fact to consider: If an author should be fortunate enough to interest a top agent, it could be eight years before their book sees print. And anything can happen during that time to throw the plan off-track.

Also, if you've written a private eye novel with a male protagonist--that description alone will probably get you an instant rejection today.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, what you're neglecting to realize is some people do not have the temperament to be trad published. And it doesn't make them bad or unprofessional writers. It makes them entrepreneurs.

I can invent a device that turns used gum into party hats, get a patent, and then open up an internet site and begin to sell it. That also makes me an entrepreneur. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea.

I'm not saying there aren't exceptions. There are always exceptions. But my advice, which I believe applies to 99.9% of writers who want to earn a living at fiction, is to get an agent.

Would you ever tell an indie musician or an indie filmmaker NOT to go indie?

No. For two big reasons. First, there's no stigma attached, unlike with writing. Second, because a filmmaker or musician has to have a basic understanding of their craft to write a song or make a movie. Anyone can write a book, simply by stringing words together.

acting like an author is too big of a moron to figure out how to get their work up to quality before releasing it is just silly.

Not at all. It's impossible to judge your own work with any subjectivity. EVERY writer I've ever met thinks they have some talent, which is why they're writing in the first place. But the overwhelming majority aren't good enough. Who is to say which writer is good and which isn't?

In the past, it was agents and editors and reviewers. Today, readers play a big part.

But it's NEVER the author who decides if they're good or not.

If someone can be savvy enough to spot bad agents or publishers, surely they can be savvy enough to figure out self-pubbing.

I agree. But look how many writers aren't savvy enough to spot bad agents and publishers. Quite a few. That's who should be heeding my advice.

If you fully understand the path you're on, then you're on the right path.

Moses said...

Thanks for your post, Joe. It needed to be said.

I'm tempted to think long term and just hold onto my rights for the time when everyone owns an ereader. But for now, I think plan A has to be the traditional route, even if it's just for 1-3 books.

Moses said...

Btw Joe, after your posts about your monthly Kindle income, it may be time to change your blog's subheading :D

"I'm a full-time thriller writer. Is it possible to make a living as a genre writer? Well, sort of..."

Just kidding with you.

Now, The Zoe and Joe Show. It's popcorn time.

Kristie Cook said...

Thank you, Joe, for being so forthcoming with your experiences. It is always helpful to know how writers have "made it" - and how others haven't. I agree a lot with Zoe, however, that some authors and some books are not cut out for commercial publishing. But another perspective writers need to know is the publishers'.

Publishers are facing a double-whammy of an historically poor economy and the digitization of books. They're trying to avoid the fiasco of when music went digital, while also dealing with higher production and overhead costs and lower sales because consumers simply can't afford a $30 hardcover. Every book, even those by established authors, is a significant risk for them. They invest tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into a product that might be a huge flop. The risk is even higher for a debut author. Therefore, they are taking fewer of these risks.

The number of debut authors being signed is going down, as well as the advances they are receiving. Your six-figure deal is virtually unheard of for today's new authors and will likely become extinct over the next year or so. Publishers just can't afford that kind of risk...especially if they won't have to take it.

As they see more and more authors take the risks themselves by self-publishing, publishers will start taking a wait-and-see approach. As it is, debut authors are left doing the majority of the marketing and publicity. Those who can prove themselves by doing ALL of it, from pre-production to sales, will be noticed by publishers. And now their risk is greatly diminished because they see the reader response, the author's willingness to market and sell and the author's ability to write a good story.

I, personally, don't want to drive myself crazy with more querying, sitting and waiting, only to find out a year from now that publishers have closed themselves to all debut authors - that they want to see a certain level of success before taking the risk. First rights will be less important for debut authors and more important for those who have already proven themselves.

There are many other reasons I chose to self-publish, but learning the business/financial realities of publishing really opened my eyes. I'm willing to take the risk on me and my books, but I can completely understand why a commercial publisher wouldn't. I don't hold it against them. It's just the way it is these days.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe,

I think the problem with talking about exceptions and "the rule" is that you aren't really in a position to "know" what can or can't be done independently (partly BECAUSE of that stigma), and while you may feel you are protecting many people from heartache and financial ruin (though if they are stupid enough to mortgage their house it's questionable whether or not your words would have stopped them on their financial suicide mission), there are also many who should go indie who won't.

The only way a stigma goes away is for people like me to keep saying OVER AND OVER that it's wrong, and to prove it by putting out work that shows it's wrong. And not just me, but the many other people out there doing it.

There was once a stigma against indie musicians but musicians seem to be more defiant than authors. Stigmas don't go away by upholding the status quo. And nobody knows what they can or cannot do until they get out there and do it.

Also ANYONE can make an mp3 of sound and call it music and ANYONE can make a Youtube video. But there is a big difference in an indie musician, filmmaker, or author who puts time and thought into creation and packaging of their work.

The world is full of people who can read and give me a second opinion on my work. And I can ALWAYS improve. My work is never perfect. And even much later I can always see issues in it. But I know if it's publishable or not. Maybe most writers don't. I don't know. But even if you can't determine the quality of your own work, there are others who can determine it for you, even as an indie.

Also test marketing. That's what KEPT was, to see how people interacted with my work. And a bad self-pubbed book won't hurt you. If it's bad, it won't sell, few know about it. You can stop selling it.

And I don't believe ANY artist can truly judge their own talent completely. I don't think musicians or filmmakers can either. But by it's nature those things tend to be more collaborative so it's not all happening in a vacuum.

And I agree with you about the extreme numbers of unsavvy writers. I just don't get what is so hard about researching something and why so many writers seem so judgmentally stunted.

Mark Terry said...

Well said, Joe. All of it. And let me speak not to you, but to the readers of this blog, not that they'll read it and pay attention.

Joe is not typical.

Not in his paper fiction. Not in his marketing skills and efforts. Not in his successes with e-books.

Joe's way ahead of the curve on the e-books and I suspect that part of the reason, aside from everything else he's said here, that his e-books are being so successful are because not only does he already have a platform, but the NATURE of his readership. They're willing to follow him into a couple different genres, especially horror. His readers seem to be first-adapters, which definitely helps.

I'm impressed, I really am, but there's no way I think Joe's typical.

Anonymous said...

J.A., you're always ahead of me, damn it!

Transaction Summary
Transactions from 03/01/2010 to 03/08/2010
[details excerpted]
Grand Total: 577.11 USD

You're absolutely right though in that the book needs to be good. Sure, you'll get some sales with a cheaply priced bad book, but those sales are built on fraud--where the reader expects something for the money and the author doesn't deliver. Personally, I wouldn't want that on my conscious.

Zoe Winters said...

Mark,

I respect what you're saying, but I don't think anyone's goal should be to be "typical" or "average." What matters isn't what is average, but what is possible. Each person has to find their own road to go higher than that.

If you try and you never succeed it's far more noble IMO than sitting around waiting for the odds and the average to get better.

I think we spend far too much time protecting writers from themselves. Writers for the most part are grown adults. Instead of protecting them from making any bad decisions by setting up rules like "money always flows to the author," it's my opinion that we should be educating them on how to assess risk, and to know what they're willing to lose in pursuit of what they want.

I will always respect the person who "tries" even if their results aren't as great as someone else's.

Mark Terry said...

Zoe,
My issue, and point, for what it's worth, is that people might look at Joe's success and say, "Hey, look how much money I can make doing e-books!"

Which is unlikely. Maybe. But unlikely.

But then again, I would also argue that for many, many traditionally published authors, Joe's not necessarily "typical" either.

Your mileage may vary.

Joe Konrath said...

there are also many who should go indie who won't.

I respect you, Zoe. And I like you, and the way you present your arguments and carry yourself.

That said, I've never met an author whom I felt "should go indie." And I've met a whole lot of authors.

Now you might be the exception. But I don't think it's helpful to teach exceptions.

I just don't get what is so hard about researching something and why so many writers seem so judgmentally stunted.

It's because people are too close to their own writing to judge it's merit and value. I've seen a lot of smart people throw away their money on self-publishing with zero understanding of the process.

So my advice is: try to get an agent first.

But it all goes back to goals. Is your goal to make a living at writing? Or is your goal to be read by a small but growing number of people?

If you want to make decent money, go through Big NY Publishing. If you want to reach readers and have complete control, e-publishing is a legitimate way to do so.

But be honest and candid, Zoe. How many authors do you really think are capable of doing what you're doing as well as you're doing it?

When I give advice, I don't expect people to do what I do. As Mark said, I'm pretty much the only writer on the planet doing what I do, though there are folks like Barry Eisler, MJ Rose, Seth Godin, Scott Sigler, and Cory Doctorow who also have good instincts and work ethics and tend to innovate.

But the reason I don't say "Self-publish" even though i;m successful at it is because I'm a bit of a fluke.

Perhaps instead of defending your position, you might consider that you're an anomaly, and telling others to do what you're doing isn't good advice because it won't work for them.

And as I've said before; if something works for you, it doesn't matter what the so-called experts say. Just because I don't agree with you doesn't mean you're wrong.

Anton Gully said...

"And selling 10,000 copies of a $1.99 book earns more than selling 1500 copies of a $9.99 book."


Devil's Advocate! There's a finite demand for books. Unless low prices tempt people who wouldn't normally read for entertainment to buy a novel, eventually you'll just be in a situation with the same percentage of readers worldwide that there are now (or potentially less) but with an expectation of a dollar or two price point.

carl brookins said...

Valuable comments, Joe, esp. as followup to your original posts. I plan to steal most of it as the basis for my ongoing discussion of e-publishing we're starting on my TV series.

One of the most interesting elements, if the opinions you're bringing out of the ether.
thanks.

Joe Konrath said...

There's a finite demand for books.

Only when a saturation point is reached. If we go by Harry Potter, Dan Brown, or Stephanie Meyer, that saturation point is tens of millions.

I've sold 30,000 ebooks. It is estimated by the end of the year, five million people will have ereaders or use ereaders on their mobile devices.

I have a looooong way to go before I need to worry about saturating this market.

Zoe Winters said...

Ok, Mark. I see what you're saying, and I definitely agree on that point. People do tend to see numbers and start salivating without looking at all the factors. Joe's "overnight ebook success" took 8 years of foundation-laying work with all his other publishing endeavors before he got where he is now.

Jim said...

"I'm frankly shocked not a single big publisher has released an ebook for $2.99. Value isn't about list price and royalty percentage. The true value of a book should be how much it earns in royalties. And selling 10,000 copies of a $1.99 book earns more than selling 1500 copies of a $9.99 book."

The fatal flaw in your argument is that you're looking only at one line item in a very complex financial spreadsheet.

The publishing industry needs a certain amount of money coming in to pay expenses and then make a decent profit. If ALL books were priced by publishers at $1.99, instead of say an average of $5.99, all that would mean in the end is that they would collectively make 1/3 of what they are making now.

It's ture that if they priced one new book at $2.99, it would probably sell a lot more than it would at the industry average. However, that cheap sale would also canabalize the other books. Phrased differently, it can only sell inordinantely well because it is a lot cheaper than the others (i.e. a good "value.")

Indie authors are in a good position to price their books below the industry average because they don't have the same associated overhead to pay. In a way, indie authors are something in the nature of parasites on the big publishers.

So, your argument would work well for ONE BOOK. It does not work well, however, for a global system that would apply to ALL BOOKS.

Zoe Winters said...

LOL Joe, my goal in life is to be the exception to everything. :P I see what you're saying. I think in the "current" climate this exact moment you may be right. But I'm looking ahead here and to me it just seems common sense to get out there and position yourself well in these stores selling ebooks. As an indie now you can get into B&N for the Nook, Amazon for the Kindle, the Sony Ebook Store, Kobo, Scrib'd and possibly a few other places.

This stuff adds up.

I think there are people who "should" go indie merely because I've met them. I'm not the only person wired like me. And yes, there will be varying levels of talent and success. My loud mouth doesn't make me the best. There are some indies who can write circles around me. But I think this is the decade of the indie and I really believe attitudes are going to shift sharply to the point that indie authors are like indie musicians and filmmakers. Where each book is judged on it's own merit rather than it's method of publication.

Some people are going to get some amazing publishing deals from the foundations they set by going indie first. Some people are going to branch out and become small publishers and publish others. Some are going to just stay indie either because it's what they love, or they haven't found a deal that makes them want to give it up.

Also this: "I respect you, Zoe. And I like you, and the way you present your arguments and carry yourself." That means a lot to me, because I feel the same with regards to you.

My goal is to make a living at writing. And I will. I absolutely believe by the time I get to the end of my ten-year plan I'll be making a living writing because I'll be writing fiction and nonfiction under diff names. I've got kind of a big sprawling game plan. But, I get everybody's mileage varies.

And ugh, I hate tooting my own horn. *I'm* not even doing what I'm doing as well as I want to be doing it yet. I'm just getting warmed up (hopefully). And really I don't know. I *know* that trad publishing is better for *most* people. But I also know that indie authorship is also the only thing that will make some writers happy, because I know I'm not the only person like me.

I want to see indies up their game. And I've been blessed to meet some really awesome indie friends who have inspired me and given me a sense of community.

I see where you're coming from and why you say things as you do. I'm taking a different tactic, trying to help educate those who go indie so they know it's hard work, and can figure out if it's a good option for them or not and how to do it smart.

Though even if someone self-publishes and fails I guess I don't consider it that dire because we ALL fail on the road to succeeding. And it's publishing a book, not a kidney transplant. It's not world-in-peril stuff. :P

Zoe Winters said...

I guess from my perspective, I NEVER want to be the voice that discourages someone whose potential I do not know. I don't want someone to look at me and go: "Well Zoe Winters is special, I could never do that."

I'm NOT special. (Nor do I think what I've done so far is special. It's decent for a start, but nowhere near where I want to go.) I'm a person who can write reasonably well, can market reasonably well, and has a reasonably good business head. All these things are skills that can be acquired to some degree.

I never want to stand in someone's way (and I'm not saying you're doing that AT ALL.) I've seen the people who really succeed, and a lot of times they are the unlikely candidates. So much depends on drive and determination.

If someone writes a book and puts it out there and it's crap they can give up or they can LEARN and do better next time. I always want to be the person who is there trying to help people learn, while I *also* am learning.

People want to make publishing this epic thing. It doesn't have to be. It can be fun and it can be a growth experience. And people can self-publish some things while seeking trad publishing for others. It's not either/or unless someone wants it to be.

G.R. Yeates said...

Hi Joe,

My two pennies tossed in from across t'pond are this.

My agent did a fantastic critique of my first manuscript. By the end of the work we did together on it, I had honed my authorial voice and I also had a much stronger book ready for submission. Ten times stronger. So, from my own experience as a relative newcomer, I can't overstate the value of professional input enough. It saved me what could have been weeks, months or years of doing things wrong that could very easily be put right.

.Greg.

Joe Konrath said...

all that would mean in the end is that they would collectively make 1/3 of what they are making now.

I don't buy it. If a publisher restructured, cutting departments that were no longer needed, a publishers profit potential on ebooks is equal to or greater than print. But ebooks are still a small percentage of overall sales, and publishers don't want to cannibalize print sales with lower priced ebook sales.

But I disagree that a low priced ebook would cannibalize other low priced ebooks, any more than a 99 cent iTunes song is bought in lieu of any other one.

There is no competition among authors for readers. My fans can be your fans, without either/or.

If all ebooks were $2.99, everyone would sell more ebooks. I wouldn't be able to compete with Patterson or Connelley like I am now, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'd sell fewer copies.

Dana King said...

One thing that some seem to remember (and some don't) is that Joe not only had years of dues-paying behind him, he had some success. In other words, he has a recognizeable name, so people browsing the virtual stacks on Kindle will tend to have their eye drawn there. Name recogntion is one of the biggest factors in book sales, and Joe brought that with him when he ventured into e-publishing. Noting personal, but none of the rest of us have much of that, not like he does. That doesn'tmean it can't be overcome, but do you want to write, or do all the other stuff?

Joe makes a key distinction right at the end: "There is no shortcut to selling a lot of books, because books sell one at a time." People tend to forget that anything that is measured in hundred or thousands or millions (baseball at bats, book sales, votes in an election) always consists of individual, discrete acts. Cumulatively, they add up to a point where it's easy to think of them as statistical monoliths, but you sell books (play baseball, win elections) one at a time, and it's draining and time consuming. There had better be somehitng about you, or your situation, to offset much of that.

Thomas Brookside said...

3. Print publishing is impossible to break into, so don't even bother. Wrong. You should try. You should try very hard. There is no reward in success without failure coming first. Sending out queries and getting rejections are more than rites of passage. They're learning experiences. And for fiction writers, I believe they're essential learning experiences to have.

There are two separate issues here. It probably should have been two bullets. Let's look at them in turn:

"Print publishing is impossible to break into, so don't even bother. Wrong. You should try. You should try very hard."

Print publishing is, in fact, virtually impossible to break into. The overwhelming majority of people who try to break into it will fail. That, to me, makes it a matter of simple math: you can break your head against the wall trying to come up with cute query letter language or with networking, and have a 1 in 1000 [or worse] chance of getting an agent and maybe having something published in a couple of years. OR you can publish yourself, spending less than $20 up front, using the Amazon tools.

Come on, this is no choice at all.

Because you're a success in traditional publishing, you look at the entire question from a privileged position, and think your experience reflects the norm. It doesn't.

If you interact with the indie writers at Kindleboards.com or the Amazon message boards, you can check their sales ranks and figure out that most of them are making $100-$200 per published title per month on the Kindle alone. Will they earn a living doing that? Not until they have quite a backlist. But they would have earned $0 in traditional publishing. Every last one of them. You're telling those people to piss money away, for what amounts to the kind of long-shot hope that sends pilgrims to Lourdes.

Then there's the second point:

There is no reward in success without failure coming first. Sending out queries and getting rejections are more than rites of passage. They're learning experiences. And for fiction writers, I believe they're essential learning experiences to have.

Why? I see this posted everywhere as a truism, but there's never any content to it. Other than in a generalized Knute Rockne "It's good to overcome adversity" kind of why, what's the learning experience? I need more flesh on these bones.

The answer can't be "You'll learn to write saleable work that will allow you to earn a living as a writer" because 99.9% of the people who follow your advice won't learn anything of the kind. They'll get rejected until they have had enough of it, and then they'll give up. What have those people learned, exactly? They'll learn much more self-publishing using the Amazon tools. Even if they only sell 100 copies and have 100 readers, they'll learn more that way than they ever will be opening 100 rejection letters. Unless you can give me more than generalities about this point.

Joe Konrath said...

I NEVER want to be the voice that discourages someone whose potential I do not know.

I dunno. Those who are intent to succeed won't be discouraged by a blog post.

There's an old story about a guy who really loves to play piano. He's damn good at it, so he goes to see a maestro and begs for him to listen to a tune. The maestro agrees. The pianist plays his heart out, then asks, "Maestro, do I have what it takes?"

"No you don't" the maestro says.

The man, dejected, gives up piano forever.

Years later, he sees the maestro again, and asks him if he remembers. The maestro does not.

"You don't remember? But I gave up my career based on what you said! If you'd encouraged me, I could have been a success!"

The maestro replies, "If you gave up your dream based on the words of one man, you never would have succeeded."

I think our society is too encouraging. We teach our children that they can be whatever they want to when they grow up, but in fact they can't. Everyone has limitations. Knowing your limitations can make you a happier person. Much happier than chasing an unreachable goal.

If I discourage someone from writing, that person never would have been a writer anyway.

Zoe Winters said...

To Thomas:

I'm not sure if it's "virtually impossible" to get trad published. I think there comes a point where you're just competing with the top 10% of writers, but then again, those top ten are all really good, and it's at that point based on the whims of someone's marketing department.

So I do agree on some level with a lot of what you're saying. I think people who want trad publishing should never give up, but... in most of life "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." In publishing, the wisdom seems to be: "The only bird worth anything is that one in the bush. Put down the one you have in your hand, it's not big enough."

That's like putting down a piece of bread when you're starving, cause it's not a 7-course meal.

Zoe Winters said...

Grrr. Okay so Joe, I read the first line of your post and then went to compose this post. Then I went back and finished reading to find we were telling the same story. LOL.

Here it is:

Joe, almost as soon as I typed that to you I thought about the people who "can" succeed probably being the people who can ignore naysaying.

It's like that story about the music teacher who tells every student upon graduation that they just don't have what it takes to play at Carnegie. One student comes back years later and says he hates his job, he wanted to pursue music, but the teacher thought he didn't have what it took. The music teacher tells him he tells all his students that. The guy gets mad about how he ruined his life and the teacher tells him, if he had what it took to succeed, he would have ignored the judgment and kept going.

But I still think it's important for people to have resources so they can lay all the info out on the table and make the best decision for them.

*****

You think people are too encouraging. And you have a point there. Though, in publishing it seems that it's stacked the other way. Almost EVERYONE is saying "no, don't do that!!!" about self-publishing that I feel like there needs to be a counter-balance, which I try to be a part of.

Zoe Winters said...

Also, my mom told me I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. She told me this daily. I sincerely believe this encouragement I received growing up shaped who I am and the determination I have to reach my goals.

I think having that strong support system growing up at home shaped me in such a way that other people can say anything they want and I still know what's true about me.

Thomas Brookside said...

Zoe,

Well, let's put it this way:

1. I'm 41. [too old]
2. I don't live in New York or California. [too isolated]
3. I didn't come up through the creative writing program at a major university. [never vetted]
4. I have never been published anywhere else. [no writing credits]
5. I wrote a 100 page novella [too short].

There was no way this work could ever be published. Ever. It would be a waste of money to put stamps on the query letters. [OK, so they would have gone by email - but you know what I mean.]

By the way, I apologize for the bold tags around my username. I don't know why those are there. I signed in to blogger using my Google account and there's stuck there for some reason. Sorry.

Joe Konrath said...

you can have a 1 in 1000 [or worse] chance of getting an agent and maybe having something published in a couple of years. OR you can publish yourself

Actually, the odds are worse than 1 in 1000.

But this isn't a lottery, where it is all based on luck.

If you write a great book with a good hook and a built-in audience, agents will fight over you.

That's not easy to do. But learning to do that is a needed skill for writers to have.

And I believe you're missing a point. Once you do have a publishing deal, you will have some money and sales. There's no guarantee of money or sales if you self-publish.

Because you're a success in traditional publishing, you look at the entire question from a privileged position, and think your experience reflects the norm. It doesn't.

Again, I disagree. I'm approaching this situation as someone who is disregarding his own success.

But they would have earned $0 in traditional publishing. Every last one of them. You're telling those people to piss money away, for what amounts to the kind of long-shot hope that sends pilgrims to Lourdes.

How do they know they'd earned $0 unless they tried? That's what I'm telling people to do. Try traditional publishing before you default to self-publishing.

Other than in a generalized Knute Rockne "It's good to overcome adversity" kind of why, what's the learning experience?

In order to become traditionally published, you need to learn how the industry works, and immerse yourself in it. In doing so, you'll undoubtedly interact with other writers and industry professionals like agents and editors. You'll learn from all of these people, and you'll seek even more knowledge in order to better understand how the industry works.

If you follow this path, you'll become a better writer, because you'll learn how to write something salable. Hearing agents speak, getting personal rejections, listening to published writers, is all a growing experience.

You'll also avoid getting a sense of entitlement, which is detrimental to any career.

If you want to sell your book, it pays to understand what people who sell books for a living are looking for. You can learn a lot more from me, an agent, or an editor, than you can selling 100 self-pubbed Kindle novels. Just like you can learn more about guitar from Eddie Van Halen than you can trying to teach yourself.

Zoe Winters said...

Thomas,

Far be it from me to discourage someone from going indie cause we all know I'm all "indie ya ya," but...

41 isn't too old. Someone famous (can't remember who, think it was the creator of Chanel no. 5) said women don't even begin to become interesting until 40. I see no reason why that wouldn't be true of men as well.

41 is a baby still.

Most published authors don't live in NY or California.

Nothing kills voice like a creative writing program (my opinion only). Most pubbed writers don't have MFA's.

Everyone going through trad publishing was unpublished at one point.

And some publishers publish novella anthologies. Just depends on your genre.

Not saying this to make you pursue trad publishing, just that these aren't real barriers for the most part. And if you pursued indie authorship, you would find a different set of barriers to climb over.

Zoe Winters said...

And sorry for hijacking your blog, Joe. I get into discussions with people and suddenly the posts are a lot of me rambling. Every time I hit "post" I cringe cause I know I'm talking too much.

Joe Konrath said...

There was no way this work could ever be published. Ever.

But you expect people to buy it?

It doesn't matter how old you are, where you live, or what your education or prior experience is. There's always market for good stories.

If you don't see a market, why did you write a story that has no audience?

If you did it for the love of storytelling and the written word, that's fine. My advice doesn't apply to you. It applies to people who want to make a living writing fiction. And those folks know that a 100 page novella is a tough sell.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe,

One point about your last post to Thomas...

In the trad publishing path, these kinds of things are built-in to the system. If someone is an indie they must go out of their way to grow as a writer and not become complacent. They must go out of their way to surround themselves with wise council. And they must go out of their way to never take their fans or any success they acquire for granted because nobody likes an author jerk and when it's all just you and the readers, you can't be a prima donna about things.

There is a VERY fine line between an indie who is clear on what they want and don't want, and someone who has bought their own press. It's very seductive to buy into how awesome you are based on what others tell you. But the second you truly do, it's over because if you can't keep a reign on your own ego and maintain any sense of perspective, others will do it for you.

It's also a fine line between the confidence to keep doing what you're doing, and that sense of entitlement place as well.

TheUndertaker said...

Thank you for being honest about your sales and your figures, it is something writers hear very little about, and have little or no clue about.
Thanks for just being honest and being real.
In a strange way this was one of the most encouraging posts I have read on the subject of writing. Simple, and real. Did I mention it was real? : )

FP said...

"You can learn a lot more from me, an agent, or an editor, than you can selling 100 self-pubbed Kindle novels. Just like you can learn more about guitar from Eddie Van Halen than you can trying to teach yourself."

--??? And Van Halen learned how? I just looked him up on Wikipedia, and it seems a guitar was basically glued to his side for years. People ultimately must learn a craft or art or business by practicing. One person can't give another person practice. The cliche is often true: there's no substitute for experience.

I'm glad van Gogh kept at his own thing, his own practice--had he slavishly listened to how outside opinions said to paint/draw to make something salable, he probably would have produced the same art many others of his time were producing.

Joe, I think you were too positive before about the Kindle/e publishing, which might have made some people's expectations too high, and maybe you're trying to amend this, which is good. But now it seems like you're swinging too much the other way!

A publishing veteran recently let slip that 4 out of 5 or 6 out of 7 depending on who you talk to--that many books underperform for publishers. Why shouldn't his information and experience be taken over others?

If publishers were so great at "knowing what the public wants," they'd only rarely lose money and many wouldn't be struggling now. I don't think anyone can really know with high accuracy what the public will buy until something has been put on the market. Even with you--your e-sales are great, but how do any of us know what you really think and THOUGHT before you started--maybe you'd secretly thought you would sell much more (or much less), but you won't admit that. You're an effective marketer of your own self and work, which is why I can't trust anything you'd say on this issue lol.

"Salable" doesn't necessarily equal "better"; "unsalable" doesn't necessarily equal "worse." Celebrities get fiction published because their works are considered salable by author name recognition; I've seen this writing and it's usually terrible. Those books aren't better than many of the worked-at-their-craft-for-years-and-years writers' works. Give me a break. Celebrity books are typically published--and bought by readers--on name recognition. The writing quality is at most secondary and too often not in the equation at all. Yet I and others should trust publishing insider opinions on what quality writing is? They think those celebrity (probably often ghostwritten) books are good. And if they secretly don't, then they have no integrity putting them out there and lauding them at that.

I do agree that for most writers, they should at least try the traditional route at some point--avoid totally writing off anything until you've had some experience there. You just don't know what will happen. Just maybe give yourself a date to stop at if you don't get anywhere with a certain method--then stick to that stopping date and move on to trying something else.

Joe Konrath said...

And Van Halen learned how? I just looked him up on Wikipedia, and it seems a guitar was basically glued to his side for years.

Eddie didn't pick up a guitar one day and then suddenly start a band without practicing a note.

It doesn't take years to self-publish on Kindle. You can do it with one bad short story and ten minutes to upload.

How many self-pubbed authors practice for years before going live?

And if Eddie Van Halen went back in time and met himself when he was learning, you don't think he could have given his younger self some good advice, based on his experience?

I'm glad van Gogh kept at his own thing, his own practice--had he slavishly listened to how outside opinions said to paint/draw to make something salable, he probably would have produced the same art many others of his time were producing.

Van Gogh sold a single painting in his entire life, and he died miserable and in poverty. I'm betting he would have preferred to support himself by painting, rather than become famous after his death.

If publishers were so great at "knowing what the public wants,"

Did I say publishers know what the public wants? Only 1 out of 5 books makes a profit. If publishers knew what the public wanted, every book would be a hit.

But publishers are valuable at determining what's good enough to print. They understand narrative, story, characterization, conflict, and hooks, moreso than the majority of self-published authors.

There is a formula. It's as old as storytelling. Agents and editors have an eye for this. Most newbie authors do not. But rather than learn this formula, I worry that newbie authors will decide their story is already good enough, publish it themselves, and never learn how to get better, or make decent money from their work.

Thomas Brookside said...

But you expect people to buy it?

Sure.

It has sold 29 copies so far in March. So it's selling roughly at the level of the books on your list from Jack Daniels Stories and up.

If publishing Jack Daniels Stories [and the books that have sold fewer copies so far this month than that one] was a good idea for you, why wouldn't publishing De Bello Lemures be a good idea for me?

It actually would be a better idea for me, because:

1. You had a wider range of options.
2. Your books probably benefit from repeat sales - each book is an advertisement for every other book, and each time someone buys a Kindle copy of one, it makes them more likely to buy Kindle copies of the others. I only have one book, but would like to publish more; that means that for me to benefit from repeat sales in the future, I have to publish this one.

If you did it for the love of storytelling and the written word, that's fine.

Actually, I think my argument is stronger if we take the exact opposite view: that nothing matters but sales. If nothing matters but sales, 1 sale is more than 0 sales. And that would mean that even the most puny self-publishing success would be better than not getting published.

0 is the most important number in the discussion. And it's the one your analysis leaves out. Your analysis is great, for people who end up getting 5-figure publishing deals. For the people who would get 0, it's not that good an analysis at all.

Let's say we sold houses the way we sell books. And when it came time to sell your house, you went to a realtor, but these realtors worked like agents and publishers do in the book world. And they would look over your house, and talk to you for a few minutes, and then in the overwhelming majority of cases they would say, "We don't like your house, and we don't like you. We therefore think you should take $0 for it and burn it to the ground."

Would you take their word for it and go home and burn your house down? Or would you sell it yourself?

Amazon has monetized self-publishing in a way that didn't exist before. Since the effort of writing the book is a sunk cost, taking $0 for it and putting it in a drawer is throwing an asset with a dollar value away.

FP said...

In my opinion, writers won't learn how to get better by dealing with most agents--I'm sorry, but hanging a shingle on your door is all it takes to become an agent. What the hell do most of them know about writing? Veteran writers (like Dean Smith) at this just as long as or even longer than you admit this. Yet I'm now getting the feeling you'd disagree with that? If so, all I can say is: ARE YOU NUTS?

"Did I say publishers know what the public wants?"

In your post to Thomas, you said, "In doing so, you'll undoubtedly interact with other writers and industry professionals like agents and editors. You'll learn from all of these people, and you'll seek even more knowledge in order to better understand how the industry works.

If you follow this path, you'll become a better writer, because you'll learn how to write something salable."

--I think what you're saying is pretty clear there. But if you don't think so, then at least see that your sentences imply that agents, editors, etc., know what better and/or salable writing is, that they can teach this to writers, or that writers dealing with agents can learn what salable and/or quality writing is from that experience. But I say, how can they if agents don't necessarily know this? Honestly, I'm not convinced anyone can for each specific work. The work just must go out on the market as far as salability is concerned.

But if that learn-from-them-about-what's-quality-writing-and-salable isn't what you meant going on the context and your sentences there, then what on earth did you mean?

Not every writer wants to make the money you do even. Writers write for different reasons. If I made a hundred sales on a single work, I’d be happy. But that would be chicken feed compared to your sales.

“I'm betting he would have preferred to support himself by painting, rather than become famous after his death.”

--Seemingly, he didn’t prefer it enough that he changed his artmaking.

One thing I think you’re forgetting or might not have seen: the idea that the midlist has moved to self-publishing. I think this is true, going on the content of many self-published works. Lately, I keep coming across self-publishing writers who’ve already been published the traditional route--unsatisfactorily. They did practice their craft for years before self-publishing. (I did too actually, and I also worked as a nonfiction editor in publishing before then.)

Also, I think you’re forgetting that most querying-traditional-insiders writers--they also jump the gun and send in their works without putting in their dues, practice- and time-wise! That isn’t something unique to self-publishing writers. That’s something too many writers of whatever kind do.

Zoe Winters said...

Thomas, I think you raise a good point. I mean at that point you "may as well" put it out there, and see how it does. Readers may have a better opinion of it. Or it may have a really niche market. Either way, I don't think it does any damage and you may end up making a little money off of your hard work.

Though I also agree with what Joe says about worrying about the newbie author who puts their first book out there when it's not ready and they should practice more. Self-publishing does give a writer an escape clause for not-growing. Then again I've seen people self-pub books that really weren't ready, but a few sales motivated them to write another book, which was better, and sold better, then they wrote another book, etc.

Then again, SOME multi-published trad authors don't grow either. Sometimes they get a LOT worse as series drag on way past the author's passion for them and they phone them in, or they become overextended by their deadlines.

Joe Konrath said...

It has sold 29 copies so far in March. So it's selling roughly at the level of the books on your list from Jack Daniels Stories and up.

That ebook debuted on the 4th. But kudos to you selling that many so far.

But compare 29 copies to 2 million. That's how many folks have read the stories in Jack Daniels Stories, because those have all been published in various magazines and anthologies with big print runs.

If nothing matters but sales, 1 sale is more than 0 sales. And that would mean that even the most puny self-publishing success would be better than not getting published.

It depends. If you sell 100 copies, and everyone hates it, you lost 100 future sales. More if they tell their friends and write reviews.

I still don't understand why an author would rather reach 100 people than 20,000. It makes no sense to me. It's not worth at least trying to sell to a magazine first?

Anonymous said...

Over the years I’ve found that if you ask someone who is doing something interesting for a living they’ll tell you how difficult it is to make it and will try to discourage you from trying.

Want to open a restaurant? You’ll be told how tough that biz is, and you’ll be told the numbers of how many fail in their first year. How about becoming an archaeologist? You’ll hear how competitive it is to get into a good school, how long and expensive the program is, and how there are no jobs in the field. Maybe you want to be a state trooper? Good luck, they get 10,000 applications for 60 spots in the academy.

It’s always the same story, whether you want to be a doctor, open a winery, or be a big game hunting guide. “It’s too tough, there’s too much competition, there’s no money in it. Try something else.”

And if you think you can be practical and pass on your passion and just settle for an office job you’ll find people there whose passion IS the office job. They will have prepared their whole lives to compete for the top-level jobs in the company. So what are you going to do?

FP said...

"I still don't understand why an author would rather reach 100 people than 20,000."

--For a certain kind of writer, if 99 of the 100 all like her work, with only one disliking it, that would be better than 19,950 disliking it because only 50 of that group wound up liking her work. That bigger group isn't mostly composed of her work's "target audience." The smaller group is.

This happens sometimes. A single writer's finding "her audience" isn't always so easy. Same thing for each of her works. Some works require more time. Other works will never find their audiences because those audiences don't exist yet.

Some businesses want to stay small, so do some writers. They'd rather have a loyal cult following.

But even 20,000 people means nothing when billions exist on earth.

I do not mean to put you down here, but when you said, "But compare 29 copies to 2 million. That's how many folks have read the stories in Jack Daniels Stories, because those have all been published in various magazines and anthologies with big print runs."

--It seems you only know that that many people were EXPOSED to your work. Where's your evidence that every single one of them read it in those publications--has every single one personally contacted you to say so? (People buy books and magazines for gifts too--the recipients don't necessarily read those gifts.)

This is why some writers may stay small in readership: they want a more personal interaction. A single writer probably can't personally interact with millions of readers and still find the time for writing--and living.

Joe Konrath said...

Over the years I’ve found that if you ask someone who is doing something interesting for a living they’ll tell you how difficult it is to make it and will try to discourage you from trying.

That's because the things worth doing are usually hard as hell to do.

Brendan P. Myers said...

Fascinating discussion, as always. Read every word.

And if I never see the (word?) "trad" again or see the phrase "trad publishing" I'll die a happy man.

Joe Konrath said...

A single writer's finding "her audience" isn't always so easy.

I'm not talking about finding an audience. I'm talking about making sure the work is ready for any audience at all, or if it should have remained unseen and unread.

I've judged seven short story contests and two self-pubbed novel contests for a writing magazine. Of the tens of thousands of stories I sifted through, I found one that I was positive was good enough to be published.

Compare that to my published peers sending me stories for an anthology I edited, where all but one of the submissions I got were good enough.

The vetting process makes you a better writer. Skipping it and leaping into self-publishing--except on rare occasions--usually ends with the writer very unhappy. I've gotten enough "wish I had listened to you" emails to vouch for that.

Where's your evidence that every single one of them read it in those publications

Where's your evidence that all 29 of your March customers have read your ebook? :)

2 million was probably a low estimate. 1.5 million alone were due to the Ellery Queen stories, and the Thriller antho print run was over a million.

But let's say one of a hundred people who bought those mags and anthos read my stories. I still managed to reach 20,000 people. Which is more than just about every ebook I've heard of has ever reached (discounting major bestselling authors.)

This is why some writers may stay small in readership: they want a more personal interaction.

I don't want any interaction. I just want to write.

Praise is terrific when you're starting out. It's still nice to hear that people like my stuff. But I don't take any opinions--good or bad--personally.

My interaction with me readers is through the story, not through direct feedback.

FP said...

...You've confused me with Thomas. He's the one with the 29 sales.

If your opinion of self-published works is so low, there's no point in discussing this here. You know how many stories I find interesting and ready to publish from traditionally published works? ...You don't want to know. I see very little quality difference in today's written works, no matter how they've been published. My standards for quality writing are different than most other people's.

The traditional vetting process also usually ends up with the writers being unhappy--you seem to keep forgetting that. Should all writers do neither form of publishing then, and just lock their works in a box for forever? Writers often = unhappy people. This has been the state of the writing universe probably since Time Writing began.

I don't regret that I've self-published nearly as much as I regret having wasted so many years banging on doors that would have never opened for me. That was a huge mistake. That didn't help me in the slightest. It wore me out.

Most writers probably won't be traditionally published--even if their works were well-written. Publishing doesn't have that kind of money, and the number of books they'll publish is limited by more than sales. Only so much time in the day.

I worked at a large house. Self-published works are typically unedited by the authors at least; THAT is the real problem with too many of them. If you're saying that traditionally published or querying writers learn to edit and revise their works more--maybe. But I must point out that you sound like you have no idea of the crap accepted at traditional houses. Yes, crap!

Where I worked, they too had stringent entry requirements, and they, too, accepted some terrible writing occasionally, which was cleaned up later by people like me. With self-publishing, yeah, the cleaning up step is skipped, but there's no reason why the writers themselves can't work at getting better at this. They could always try to get a job in publishing--THAT would probably help their writing.

FP said...

One more thing: did you know those contests were on self-published works BEFORE you judged in them? Did you know your peers had already been traditionally published BEFORE you read their works for the anthology?

Don't get me started on bias in observation. But, in the meantime, look up confirmation bias. I have a background in science. In my opinion and experience, humans are very good at getting the results their biases want, at forcing the results they expect through their preconceptions.

I always try to lose mine right before I read the first page of a written work for the first time. I don't care about the cover, I don't care about the publisher, I don't care about other books. I'm only looking at THAT one, and I'm looking at it very carefully.

Joe Konrath said...

But I must point out that you sound like you have no idea of the crap accepted at traditional houses. Yes, crap!

But I'm betting that the traditionally published crap at least has story structure, decent grammar and editing, and conflict.

Compare that to the self-pubbed stuff I've had to endure.

Are you saying that if you take a hundred self-pubbed books from iUniverse, and a hundred bestsellers, and read them all, the only thing that separates the two groups is opinion?

Sorry, I've read too many self-pubbed books.

If you read my blog, you know I'm extremely unimpressed with the NY Publishing World. They make a lot of dumb mistakes, are slow to learn, and follow an archaic business model.

But if you want to make money and find a wide readership, they're still much better than going the self-publishing route. At least right now.

In a few years, who knows.

But until ebooks become dominant, I'll continue to recommend that authors try to land an agent and sell to a big house before they self-publish.

Joe Konrath said...

But, in the meantime, look up confirmation bias.

I'm familiar with confirmation bias. I once played a joke on a friend by giving him a shitty beer that I'd poured into an expensive beer bottle. His expectations set the tone of his experience, and he drank the beer without comment.

Bias didn't come into play while I was judging, or editing. In both cases, I desperately wanted a hook in the story.

The ones I bought and edited had hooks. The majority of the stories I judged for the contests did not.

A hook is something all pro writers know about. It's part of narrative structure. When I actually found a hook in a contest story I got excited because I had to sift through so much crap to get there--and more often than not the writer would blow something else later on.

FP said...

"Are you saying that if you take a hundred self-pubbed books from iUniverse, and a hundred bestsellers, and read them all, the only thing that separates the two groups is opinion?"

--No, I'm not saying that. I don't understand how you got that from my posts. I think that they're typically not outside copy edited is primarily what separates self-published works from traditionally published--and, yes, most people's biases are making matters worse there. But before outside copy-editing, too many traditionally published works looked sloppy too.

Years ago in a writer's guide, an editor spoke about a bestselling fiction writer--she wouldn't name the person, but she said that this writer's manuscripts were always full of mistakes, both spelling and non. (She said, "This writer just can't spell.") But those works were still published at that house, post-editing there.

I don't believe in outside developmental editing, but I do think many writers need their works outside copy edited. Most writers can't effectively do this themselves, so they should get someone else to do it--or at least someone to teach them how to copy edit their own works. To that end, there's a nifty little book called, Edit Yourself. It's not the only one of its kind.

??? Bias didn’t come into play for you? You aren't human then? Geez, I mean scientists deal with bias regularly, and a decent one wouldn’t make claims that bias didn’t come into play. I suggest writers shouldn’t do the same. You’re biased, I’m biased, everybody’s probably biased. You try to overcome that by lessening the degree of bias--that's probably the best observers can do because true objectivity is probably only an ideal. But that lessening won’t happen if you don’t first admit you’re biased.

Also, in your particular case, forget an anti-self-publishing bias for the moment; you have a bias toward hooks. If that’s the case, then yet again I can see you not responding to many self-published works. As I’ve already said, I think the midlist has gone there. Midlist books tend to be execution heavy and concept light. They’re more about development on the page than hooks.

You're a commercial writer writing commercial books; other writers aren't. Their works should be judged on what they're trying to achieve, not on what you or whoever think they should have achieved, just like someone deriding your writing for not experimenting with language enough--that would be stupid. That's (seemingly) not your intention when writing.

Thomas Brookside said...

I still don't understand why an author would rather reach 100 people than 20,000. It makes no sense to me. It's not worth at least trying to sell to a magazine first?

I think we're speaking past each other.

You agreed in one post that the odds against getting published were at least 1000 to 1.

That means that if 1000 people are reading your blog tonight and trying to decide whether to self-publish, you're advising 999 of them to waste their time, and frankly to engage in a lot of self-abuse and ritual humiliation.

I'm viewing the question starting with the assumption that pursuing traditional publishing will be fruitless - for the simple reason that for the overwhelming majority of people, it will be. You appear to be starting with the assumption that it will be a success. But 999 times I will be right. You'll be right once. I suppose we're addressing different people: you're talking to the 1 in 1000, and I'm talking to everyone else.

I guess your point is reasonable in the sense that you're only saying to try to get traditionally published. I suppose I can accept that. That wasn't for me, but I guess it makes sense.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe, on the "until ebooks become dominant thing..." To me that would be the WORST time to jump in. Doing this "before" ebooks become dominant positions a writer to ride the wave when it gets here, which it will. Waiting til there is too much competition seems borderline insane to me.

Right now it's not really *that* hard to get your book into the top 2,000 in sales rankings in the Kindle store, and it's not impossible for an indie author to get into the top 500, and sometimes higher.

When ebooks are dominant, how hard do you think it will be to get that kind of sales ranking for someone just joining the fray?

It seems like in your debate your conflating two issues: quality of writing, and ability to make money self-publishing, but a large percentage of your argument about making money seems to hinge on the book being utter crap.

Well what if it's not? For a minute lets assume a very well-written book. I KNOW well-written self-pubbed books sell well in Amazon's Kindle Store. A book called Tiger's Curse is self-pubbed, well-packaged, and broke into the top 100. I think it got all the way up to number 42. She was helping pull my ranking up by association for awhile there.

A book that is truly good, well-packaged, and grabs readers is GOING to well sell on the Kindle and other ebook stores most likely.

So if someone has a good book, getting in "now" makes sense.

I can appreciate your position and what you're saying, but we're in a time of change in the publishing industry. The time it takes to get an agent and get a publisher and have your books hit shelves isn't a luxury people have when a new wave is about to come crashing onto the shore. Not if money is a motivating factor.

By that time it's "too late" to really cash in. I'm not suggesting a writer should rush and publish crap, because that won't help them. But if they do have something good that's ready, and use a little basic common sense to ensure that's true with good crit and beta readers, make sure it's well-edited and packaged... NOW is the time to capitalize.

I want to get work in places like the Kindle store BEFORE it explodes. If I can get my butt into the top 500 in the Kindle store, *before* ebooks become dominant, then I have a much higher chance of *keeping* a high ranking as the groundswell builds. And that will mean a lot of books being sold.

J.A. Marlow said...

With all due respect, the idea is not to get an agent.

An agent doesn't pay the author. An agent doesn't publish the books. An agent brings their own thoughts on the industry, ideas and perceived viewpoints to any book that is submitted to them, which might not coincide to what a publisher actually wants. Then there is the number of markets an agent is willing to submit to before giving up on a book, which is sometimes only 5-7 markets they are familiar with and have 'ins' with. With my submissions I'm not giving up in single digits. I'm not giving up in two digits. Yet a lot of agents do.

The idea is to SELL the writing. And that means submitting to publishers. It means never rewriting except by publisher’s request, as only they can pay the author and actually publish the books.

And let's not forget the vicious circle of: It takes a publisher contract to get an agent, but you can't get to a publisher without an agent. Old 'chicken and egg' conundrum. Which brings to mind...

I've loved Dean Wesley Smith's "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing" posts on the agent myth. You don't have to believe everything he says, and I think it's good to be skeptical about almost anything in publishing, but he does have a lot of experience in the publishing field that authors can learn from. And he's not the only long-timer in the publishing field to have this viewpoint about agents.

Submit to the publishers. Submit to the people who can actually BUY your work!

That said, do I think an author should aim high? Oh yes! Aim high and go after the big guys in 'traditional' publishing, but keep your head, be in control of your own writing career at all times, don't just sign everything away for the thrill of being published, and educate yourself constantly. In other words, be smart about the whole thing.

Moses said...

I find Zoe's last point interesting, because it's something I'm still trying to form my opinion about. If ebooks are going to explode in readership (and they will), will it really help considerably to hop on the train now?

Nathan Bransford, on his blog today, somewhat contradicts Zoe's argument, though it's ironic because his larger purpose was to argue ebooks=good, something Zoe also believes in.

Nathan writes:

START NATHAN'S QUOTE:

"One of the most common fears about the coming era is that no one will be able to find the good books in a time when anyone can just upload their novel to Amazon. It's the Fear of the Jumble ...

Already there are sites like Goodreads and Shelfari cropping up that allow people to swap reviews and recommendations about books. People increasingly find new books through blogs, forums, and heck, hearing from an author directly. It was never really possible before for authors to reach their audience directly - now it's a piece of cake.

Humans are really, really good at organizing things. If we can organize the billions and billions of web pages out there so that we can find what we want within a few seconds I think we can manage a few million books."

END NATHAN'S QUOTE

I can see Zoe's point about reaching the top 500 or 2000 on Amazon, and I agree that that will get harder over time. Also, since that will get harder, it will make it somewhat harder to sell books on Amazon, because there will simply be more competition, and thus less opportunity to reach the top spots from which selling book becomes a more automatic, self-perpetuating process.

Okay, but what about future developments on the intertubes that we can't see yet? What about GoodReads or Shelfari 2.0 or 3.0 or 4.0? How about Amazon 17.0? What will the future be, and will it become even easier to succeed with an ebook in the future, if the book is a high quality work?

Maybe future ereaders will make it so much easier to find quality works, or to advertise quality works.

What about social networking 5.0? What about when Twitter looks like a dinosaur some day, and you can have a virtual cup of tea with your favorite author's online doppleganger (yep, I'm really making up stuff now)?

What if the publishing elites get smarter and find a way to assert their dominance again? What if Amazon's future CEO takes their business in a very different direction that really hurts the indies.

I certainly don't know the future, but I do know it's hard to predict.

Jim said...

I can't believe that people are still having an argument as to whether to sell ebooks directly. OF COURSE YOU SHOUlD ... IF IF IF ... your book is good.

Four years ago, I started out to self-publish. Everysone said it was impossible--"you'll never get your books into stores, you'll never get book reviews, etc." Also, it was true that the publishing world held terrible prejudices against "self-published" authors. Some antiquated groups still do, the MWA for example.

But most of that has largely eroded at this point. My latest book, which comes out this month, has already received very positive reviews from LIBRARY JOURNAL, BOOKLIST and FOREWARD MAGAZINE, among others.

I only wish I had the ebook/kindle opportunity when I started out. Everything is SO much easier now.

So, if you have the talent, harness it up, create a product and get it out there! Stop thinking about it and do it!

Moses said...

As for the discussion on this particular blog topic, it looks like a good example of "No good deed goes unpunished." The self-publishing proponents here are passionate about their beliefs, and Joe's taking the brunt of that passion.

Thanks again to Joe for the original post, and for answering many of the volleys.

The only thing I would add to that is that while most self-pubbed works tend to need (often considerable) editorial help, copyediting, proofreading, etc., there shouldn't be IMO a built-in stigma against self-published works. Apparently a minority of self-published books are of high quality, but many of them--I think especially today--are, or at least can be, high quality works.

I've read good self-published books, and I think it's unfortunate that those works will be pre-judged as likely being inferior because of how they were produced--and we can also go back to confirmation bias. That said, I understand why the stigma is what it is. If 9 times out of 10 a certain kind of snake bites you, then you'd be dense not to at least be afraid to offer that kind of snake your bare hand.

I have gone back and forth on trad vs indie, and one of the things that pushes me towards trad as of today is that dealing with the bias against self-pubbing doesn't sound like much fun. It's a real prejudice, something like being prejudged for one's skin color. I hate that reality, but do I want to try to be one of the heroes that tries to disprove that prejudice, or would I rather just move ahead with one less obstacle in my path (there are enough already in the realm of publishing)?

Unfortunately, that prejudice tends to perpetuate itself. Writers won't want to self-pub, even if they can produce good works, because of the stigma. That just keeps the stigma going.

But that is the reality, at least for now, and the bottom line is that I want to write stories, entertain lots of people, and be paid very well for it. Whatever gives me the best chance of doing that is what I want to do.

Currently, I agree with Joe (who certainly knows much more about the subject than I do). Try traditional publishing first. If at first you don't succeed, well then maybe try something else.

If it takes years to get published traditionally, then hopefully I'll be working diligently on building up a stable of works. That would just require more patience. Plus, something that can help you get published these days is to have, say, three books ready to roll. Then a publisher might take on your works, and release all three books in the same year.

Now I just have to learn patience. Ruh roh.

Jude Hardin said...

I could go down to the craft store and buy myself an easel, a canvas, some brushes and some oils, start smearing the paint on the canvas, start selling the work on the sidewalk and start calling myself an artiste.

I would be delusional, but I could do it.

I'm 100% with Joe on this one. If your work is not good enough to at least land an agent--or a deal with a legitimate small press that accepts unagented submissions--then it's probably not good enough to be published.

I recently signed (recently, as in just this afternoon!) with a small-but-well-respected press, and I can't tell you how happy I am that I resisted self-publishing.

Just pay your dues and make it through, and you'll be a better writer for it.

rex kusler said...

This is why I'll never start a blog. Look at all this writing.

Zoe Winters said...

Jude, Better writers are better because they keep working at craft. There is nothing that precludes an indie from continuing to work on craft.

Also in your comment about "if you aren't good enough to get an agent..." ignores the fact that MANY indie authors do not WANT agents. Or publishers (Some do, but many that I know, do not. They are running small businesses.)

Saying someone wasn't good enough to get an agent when they didn't even really *try* to get an agent isn't the most fair way to rate work. Also, I had an agent email me asking if I'd like a call to talk about representation. She approached me through my website. Where does that put me? (Yes, it was a reputable agent.)

Also, congrats on your book contract. I know you've been waiting forever for this and I'm glad to see you making some headway.

RCM said...

This is insightful information, Joe. Coming from both indie music and indie film making, a few years ago I jumped into the epub/selfpub world. My rationale was that epublishing was very much like being a musician, practicing hard, but actually polishing your chops before a live audience. We approached independent film and television in much the same way.

Fortunately, after tossing a rather mediocre novella out there, I came across a serious writers' organization filled with a lot of talented people. There I got the chance to see the inside of the industry instead of reacting to outside opinions of what the publishing industry should be.

Honestly, I still lean toward small presses (and independent book stores) but also recognize that there is no way they can muster the resources a major house can.

We're certainly living through interesting times in a lot of areas. In a way the publishing world emulates the Hollywood "studio system" at the time indies like TriStar and United Artists fought hard for, and won, much creative and financial control. (Ironically all of these indies became pseudo majors, which were then acquired by global conglomerates, bringing back the waste, bureaucracy, and stifled creativity which are a necessary evil in large organizations.)

The most important take away from all of this is that a writer, like any other creative being, needs to "learn his chops." Memories of agents, editors, publishers, and AUDIENCES are long... If you blow it badly enough, you may never recover.

Keep up the good work! The HARD work! Pioneering, man, it can really suck sometimes. But you've got a handle on it.

RCM said...

PS... Another way to look at it is to think of epublishing as a farm club. But you've got to remember, if you blow it in the minors, you'll never even get a tryout for the show.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Zoe! My thriller has finally found a home.

Also, I had an agent email me asking if I'd like a call to talk about representation. She approached me through my website. Where does that put me?

It puts you in the catbird seat, I think, and you should take advantage of it.

Zoe Winters said...

Jude,

That's not what I want. I'm happy doing what I'm doing. I know you don't get it, but I LOVE publishing, not just writing. I love the entirety of producing fiction start to completed book. It feeds both my creative side and my business side.

Let us know when the book is out!

Jude Hardin said...

Pocket-47. It's slated for release in spring 2011, and will be available in all the major brick-and-mortar stores, as well as on all the major online outlets. You heard it here first!

Best of luck with the way you're going, Zoe. I might not agree, but I do respect your maverick spirit.

Joe Konrath said...

I think that they're typically not outside copy edited is primarily what separates self-published works from traditionally published

Narrative structure isn't fixed in copy editing. If the book is that flawed, it doesn't get to the copy editing stage.

??? Bias didn’t come into play for you? You aren't human then?

See, now I know you aren't a regular reader of this blog. The regular readers know I'm super human.

And no, bias doesn't come into play while I'm judging. I treat everyone equally, on a simple criteria: hook me within five sentences.

Guess what? Pros do it. 99.9% of newbies don't.

Their works should be judged on what they're trying to achieve.

I agree. But I can articulate what I'm trying to achieve with my writing, and list every step I took to do so, because I understand craft. I expect the same of all writers.

I've never seen that degree of mastery in a self-pubbed book.

It's fun discussing this with you. You're smart. Wrong, but smart. :)

Joe Konrath said...

That means that if 1000 people are reading your blog tonight and trying to decide whether to self-publish, you're advising 999 of them to waste their time, and frankly to engage in a lot of self-abuse and ritual humiliation.

I'd word it differently. I'm telling 999 of them to improve their craft.

I guess your point is reasonable in the sense that you're only saying to try to get traditionally published.

I believe all writers should try. Because that's why we became writers. We love the written word. And we learned to love the written word by reading things that were published by Big NY Houses.

Big NY Publishing is very flawed. I speak to this topic often.

But if you dream of being on library shelves, making a living, getting on a bestseller list, going on talk shows, and having long autograph lines, print is what you should pursue. And even if you never get into print, you've learned a lot along the journey that will only help you as a writer.

Joe Konrath said...

Submit to the publishers. Submit to the people who can actually BUY your work!

I've worked with four editors, soon to be six.

None of them would accept an unagented manuscript.

You can't submit to big houses without an agent. Hence, get an agent.

Joe Konrath said...

So, if you have the talent, harness it up, create a product and get it out there! Stop thinking about it and do it!

Jim, I'm not telling people to do what I do. Do you really think the average writer can do what you do? You're one of two authors I know--and I know hundreds of authors--who have managed to do well self-pubbing.

I just can't recommend exceptions.

My buddy Barry has a nice quote for stuff like this. He says, "If someone paid you a million dollars to play Russian Roulette, and you won, that does not mean it was a good gamble."

You won. That doesn't mean everyone should do it.

Which is what I'm cautioning writers against in this blog post.

Zoe Winters said...

Awesome, Jude! Can't wait to read it.

And LOL @ the Maverick thing, made me think of Sarah Palin and I LOL'd.

Joe Konrath said...

I have gone back and forth on trad vs indie, and one of the things that pushes me towards trad as of today is that dealing with the bias against self-pubbing doesn't sound like much fun.

A well written, well presented self-pubbed ebook on Kindle, with a decent cover, is indistinguishable from one coming from a big house.

I think the bias will go away.

But that doesn't mean inferior self-pubbed books will go away. It only means the reader will be easier to dupe.

Joe Konrath said...

Just pay your dues and make it through, and you'll be a better writer for it.

Congrats on the sale, Jude. I know how hard you've worked for it.

An honest question: could you have written this book ten years ago? Or did you need to get on the query-go-round to improve as a writer?

Moses said...

The gentleman talking about submitting directly to editors, rather than through an agent, mentioned Dean Wesley Smith, whose blog I also follow. Dean recommends submitting to editors, getting an offer, and THEN calling an agent. However, Dean is involved primarily with SF/F, and I have found that most of the major SF/F publishers will accept unagented manuscripts.

The percentage of major publishing operations that accept unagented submissions seems to vary according to genre, and of course according to how big the fish is that you've got your eyes on.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe,

You said: "I've never seen that degree of mastery in a self-pubbed book."

Then you should read: "The Proviso" by Moriah Jovan. Self-pubbed book, Amazing storyteller.

I'm also reading a book right now called: "Do the Math" by Philip B. Persinger, self-published, won an Indie Excellence award (one of the major awards for independent (including *self*) publishers.)

The good stuff is out there, you just almost never know it's self-pubbed.

Zoe Winters said...

Also, on the "easier to dupe the reader" thing... you really are a cynic, LOL. Let's pretend for two minutes that there exist GOOD self-published books. Though when you mention that about a self-pubbed book looking indistinguishable from a traditionally published book...

It's worth mentioning that the self-pub stigma means very little if you produce a great book and package it well.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Joe!

An honest question: could you have written this book ten years ago? Or did you need to get on the query-go-round to improve as a writer?

Ten years ago I didn't have a clue.

Five years ago I didn't have a clue.

You have to study, to read like a writer. You have to get feedback from people who are way more experienced than you are. You have to ignore all the Doubt Demons and write, write, write. You have to listen. You have to write. It takes time. There are no shortcuts.

Joe Konrath said...

The good stuff is out there, you just almost never know it's self-pubbed.

Don't use exceptions to prove points.

I'm sure there are hundreds of good self-pubbed books out of the 200,000 published every year.

Contrast that to the books NY puts out. Whether you like them or not, they do meet a minimum standard.

Zoe Winters said...

Don't turn my argument into something it never was. You said you'd NEVER seen a self-pubbed book up to a certain level of craft. I pointed you in the direction of some, then you reverted to the "most of it is crap" argument. That's not the point. I wasn't arguing numbers with you. I was pointing out that they don't all suck.

I personally don't care if there are 100 good self-pubbed books and 200,000 bad self-pubbed books. It's a free market. Anyone can produce anything. Just like I don't trouble myself with all the crap on youtube. Or the millions of awful blogs.

What I find curious is why so many on the trad train "do" seem to concern themselves with all the self-pubbed drek out there. It doesn't make sense. It doesn't matter. No one is ever going to find or read those books.

It's not hurting publishing anymore than a million crappy websites hurt web surfers. No one sees the crap.

Self-publishing is basically the slush pile. It's a LOT of bad stuff, but MOST of it is easily recognizable as bad stuff. The good stuff rises to the surface and you likely won't even "know" it's self-pubbed unless you're really looking closely. And that's because it won't live up to the stigma.

And anyway I'm not having a Trad pub VS self pub argument. That's stupid. I don't care who publishes how. But when you say you've never EVER found ONE good self-pubbed book, it's only because you either weren't looking, or didn't know how to find them. Because I've read many, and I now count many of them as author friends.

Zoe Winters said...

I also don't think it's fair to refer to any good self-pubbed book as an "exception." It's a subtle way of diminishing the hard work indie authors put into what they're doing.

Do you say that the good youtube videos are an exception?

Do people say your blog is an exception to ALL the horrible drek out there in blogadonia?

No.

So stop doing it with self-pubbed books. ESPECIALLY don't do it since you now self-pub.

Sure, you're also trad published, but you've also put some of your own work out there independently. Are you now counting your own self-published work as an exception, or is it not self-published somehow because your other work has been vetted?

You ARE a self-publisher. At least in part.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

I love your blog Joe and I read it every time you post.

I make really good money as a self-published author, but I write non-fiction. I would never produce a self-published fiction manuscript unless I was doing it purely for fun.

Non-fiction self-publishing can pay the rent, too. And you don't need an agent.

Zoe Winters said...

Also, it's possible that in having fifty different convos you didn't realize I wasn't making an argument I wasn't making. It's easy to lose context in the flow of 85 comments. And if that's the case I apologize for jumping on you.

I also don't get why you're so anti-self-pub when you self-pub, even though that's not all you do. I would think you would want the stigma to go away too. I mean were ALL the books you self-pubbed vetted first? If they weren't, how do you know you didn't write a stinker and weren't just deluded about your own talent? (I don't think that's true, I'm just playing devil's advocate here.)

I guess to me it comes across like a bi-racial kid who hates half of his heritage. I think the DIY ethic is honorable and self-publishing is part of that. Now is everything up to the same level? No. But people will either learn and get better or quit. Sure more will come along and do the same, but it's a free market. What can you do?

My concern is with serious indies raising their game. Not with how many dabblers throw out a crappy book into the ether.

Joe Konrath said...

You said you'd NEVER seen a self-pubbed book up to a certain level of craft.

All I have to go on is my experience. I didn't come to my conclusions in a vacuum. I earned them with experience.

Would my opinion change if I went from "I've never seen a good self-published book" to "I've seen two good self-published books"? There's no big difference.

If there were an ounce of gold dust scattered across ten acres of land, who would bother to try and mine it?

I've read many, and I now count many of them as author friends.

"Many" isn't quantifiable. I've reads thousands of novels in my lifetime. I have 5000 on my bookshelf in my basement. Even though I didn't care for many of them, 95% were up to a minimum quality standard.

I've read over a hundred self-pubbed novels, for contests. 99% of them weren't up to a minimum quality standard.

Now your ratio may be better than mine when it comes to self-pubbed books, because you picked what you read, whereas I had to read what Writer's Digest sent me.

But I'd love to see your house and count the self-published books you have on the shelf compared to the traditionally published books. Unless you're purposely avoiding traditional publishing, chances are you'll have more Big NY House books, because that's what you grew up reading, and that's what is widely available.

What I find curious is why so many on the trad train "do" seem to concern themselves with all the self-pubbed drek out there. It doesn't make sense.

I've explained this to you before. I get a lot of email, and I've heard from a lot of writers who have been very unhappy because they self-published, usually through iUniverse or some other vanity press, and now wish they had their rights back.

Self-publishing is basically the slush pile. It's a LOT of bad stuff, but MOST of it is easily recognizable as bad stuff.

From a reader's standpoint, it's easier to avoid self-pubs all together rather than sift through them all, looking for the good ones. (really easy since most of them aren't in bookstores.)

But this isn't A Newbie's Guide For Readers. This blog is for writers.

Up until this moment in history, self publishing has been a poor choice for writers. Printing your own books takes a lot of money and a business sense, and requires professional editors, cover artists, and layout artists to be able to compete with similar traditionally published books. And it it's POD, there's the issue of higher price, inferior quality, and no returns, which means bad distribution and a lot more work for the writer.

With the advent of Kindle, these problems are reduced dramatically. No inventory, no returns, no shipping, no money out of pocket.

But there's still a very small chance of selling a lot. Much smaller than going to a big house.

Why not at least try the big house first, for the opportunity to make real money and get good distribution and reach hundreds of thousands of readers?

Do you say that the good Youtube videos are an exception? Do people say your blog is an exception to ALL the horrible drek out there in blogadonia?

Those are both free. If you recall, I support putting books and stories on your website for free.

Joe Konrath said...

Are you now counting your own self-published work as an exception, or is it not self-published somehow because your other work has been vetted?

My self-pubbed short story collections have been vetted--the majority of those stories have sold to magazines and anthologies.

My self-pubbled novels have been vetted. They helped me find an agent, and I worked with her to edit them before NY rejected them.

Now it's 2010. I'm working on my 20th novel, and have written over a hundred short stories. I have a pretty firm grasp on how to write well. Even so, I have five professional author friends who read everything I write and offer suggestions. And for my print work, I still have agents and editors giving me their input.

In the case of self-published novels, I have yet to write one exclusively for the ebook market.

It's something I might try someday. But in 2010, the bulk of my money comes from print.

I also don't get why you're so anti-self-pub when you self-pub, even though that's not all you do.

I'm not anti-self-pub. I just recommend writers try to find an agent and exhaust their other possibilities first.

My self-publishing success shouldn't be a call to self-publishing authors that it's okay to forsake traditional print publishing.

Jim said...

Joe, it's disappointing that you're couseling prospective authors against the greatest opportunity to present itself in the last 50 years.

My advice is just the opposite, namely to use Kindle as a university if nothing else. By putting a book up there, you'll first learn how to complete a book, search for blurbs or reviews, learn how to write a product description, design a cover, compare your sales to others and figure out what is working and what isn't, etc.

You don't have to hit a homerun the first time at bat. But if you write a good book, you'll get a solid double. People have a way of finding the good things.

You won't get Joe's success if your book isn't good. But if it is, you will get a solid readership and a a significant revenue stream.

There are too many nay sayers in this business. Think positive, work hard and go for it.

Joe Konrath said...

But if you write a good book, you'll get a solid double.

If you write a good book, why not look for an agent and sell it for a lot of money?

Your path is a tough one to walk, Jim. Kindle makes things easier, but I still believe it's in an author's best interest (meaning they can make more money and sell more books) by trying the traditional route first.

LurkerMonkey said...

Wow. This is quite a swamp you're draining here.

First off, congratulations Jude! That's AWESOME!

I'm basically a lurker here, but I totally agree with you Joe. I know Zoe's probably going to go ballistic, but I am unagented and unpublished by a traditional publisher, and I don't think I've ever given any form of self-publishing more than 10 minutes of serious thought. Here's why ...

First off, there's a legitimate genre question. Erotica and thrillers are more likely to find an e-book readership, but I write MG and YA books. There is almost zero distribution on e-readers in these markets.

Second of all, as I've mentioned before elsewhere, I'm a contract editor for (I'm pretty sure) the largest POD company in the world. In this role, I've read literally hundreds of POD books. And this might get me into hot water, but the truth is that I've yet to read one that I thought was publishable. Not one. There were two that came close—good writers, some really great moments—but in both cases, they were compromised, one by length and the other by a weird genre-blending.

Since I edited them, I've followed both of these books on Amazon, just to see. Like I said, these writers could actually write. I figured if any of these self-pubbed books could gather an audience, it would be them, and one of the writers maintains his own website and newsletter and does everything he's supposed to. Alas, no. No reviews. Rankings in the millions. No visibility at all.

And this is the story repeated again and again and again. If anything, I think your figure that 99.9% of these books aren't ready for market is too conservative.

I have now written six unpublished novels, and I'm finishing a seventh any day now. I've been fortunate to receive detailed, high-level criticism from several editors and agents along the way. They have all carried a similar message: "You are almost there. Almost. But your craft is not quite ready."

I believe them, because I can feel it in my gut. I am almost there. But I'm not there yet; I've not yet written a book that I believe can attract a large audience. So when the self-pubbing question comes up, I always think the same thing ... if your goal to is to reach a lot of people, skip it unless you already have a built-in readership. And if you can never get backing from professionals, from people who are paid to evaluate writing and who PAY for your writing, then perhaps the problem isn't the market or the publishing world, but your craft.

Joe Konrath said...

And if you can never get backing from professionals, from people who are paid to evaluate writing and who PAY for your writing, then perhaps the problem isn't the market or the publishing world, but your craft.

Where were you 90 comments ago? I wouldn't have had to rephrase this same thing ten times. :)

Laura Lippman said...

Joe,

I'm not much for engaging in Internet debate, largely because I'm not built for conflict. But I think this was a really valuable post.

As you know, but others here may not, I am very much a product of the traditional publishing world. It took me seven years (and seven books) to get to the point where I could quit my day job, which happened to be a full-time writing gig that dovetailed nicely with writing fiction. It's a great life and any path that can get one here is a good path. I happen to think your way is more likely to lead to that outcome than self-publishing, but I could be prejudiced.

The only thing I want to add here is that I'm not particularly complacent and I, too, have to work hard to make sure that I am getting all the feedback I need, on the work and the business. I have no idea what the future of publishing is. I live contract to contract.

I do think the use of the word "indie" is an interesting rhetorical choice, along with "trad," a way to frame a debate so one side is cool and the other side it hopelessly out-of-it. Writers who choose to go their own way may be using an independent business model, but aren't most of us indies when we're writing? Certainly feels that way for me.

LurkerMonkey said...

You probably would still have had to rephrase it 10 or 1000 times anyway ... and Laura, your comment on "indie" versus "trad" made me chuckle. That's always struck me as something Frank Luntz would have been proud of.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe,

My point is... you can rarely TELL a GOOD self-pubbed book is self-pubbed. Cause they blend with traditionally published books. And I have 20 self-pubbed books by other indie authors on my shelf, out of about 100 books total. (I don't keep a lot of books in the house. I trade them out at the used bookstore typically.) Every single one of them is as good or better than what NY churns out.

Maybe I have a better reader filter and yes, what you read as part of a self-pub competition isn't exactly the best barometer. That's like sitting and watching every video on youtube without going through some kind of filtering system. The thing though is... you don't have to purposefully “seek out” indie books, you just have to not be a snob about it if you happen to find a book that appears to be really good, has a free sample, and good reviews, that you then find out is self-published.

I'm not asking you or any other reader to go out of their way to read self-published books. That's just a goofy request. I'd bet money that at some point in your life with all your thousands of books read, you've read a self-published book that you “thought” was small press published, but if you dug deeper you'd find the owner of the small press was the author of the book.

By your logic though... McDonald's is infinitely better than a mom and pop hamburger restaurant, because there are more McDonald's out there, and we “grew up on it.” I really hope this warped view isn't your barometer for what's worth reading.

Zoe Winters said...

Also if you TRULY self-publish, you don't have to “get your rights back” because you don't give them to anyone. I would never encourage someone to use a POD vanity press. If you want to self-pub and you want to use POD, you need to go through a company like Lightning Source, they are a printer. They have many distribution options available. But you must have your own ISBN's and you must be set up as a publisher (i.e. have your own business.) OR someone can use CreateSpace, again where they don't sell their rights and stand to make a decent profit margin.

POD doesn't necessarily mean no returns. With LSI YOU set the returns policy because YOU are the publisher. LSI also puts out IMO high quality trade paperbacks. Their cover stock is thick and sturdy, it's not too glossy, their paper is good quality, their binding is good, and their print (unless you have a ton of images, which most novels do not), is as good quality as far as “quality” as offset.

And Free reads is an excellent way to start building a fan base.

I do not want a NY publisher. I haven't asked you why you aren't self-publishing everything. So please stop asking me why I'm not submitting my work to publishers. I want to run my own business. I love BOTH writing AND publishing. And I refuse to pick one, no matter how much money you think I could make. Now... other people's mileage may vary and I don't need converts. What I DO provide is the other side of the story for those “interested” in it. Those not interested in doing what I'm doing, I don't want them to convert, because it's likely not right for them. But it is right for me.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe,

you said: "My self-publishing success shouldn't be a call to self-publishing authors that it's okay to forsake traditional print publishing."

Fair enough. Though it IS "okay" to forsake traditional print publishing. No one HAS to do it. I know some writers in romance who write for the major epublishing houses who aren't interested (for their own personal reasons) in NY publishing. It's not right for everybody. Not everybody wants it.

If someone DOES want NY, then yes, by all means, they should keep pushing for that. But if they don't, pretending they want that to be part of the "real author club" is asinine. I won't play that game. And nobody else who doesn't want to has to either.

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Jim,

I agree. In trad publishing it's understood that an author's career is built over many books, but in self-publishing, if you aren't some kind of publishing savant right out of the gate on the first book people want to talk about how you can't succeed at it. It's your FIRST freaking book! It's a learning curve.

You don't know what you can do as an indie author IMO until you hit about book 5 or 6. If someone isn't committed to putting that many books out on their own, then my guess is they don't REALLY want to be indie and should pursue trad publishing instead.

Zoe Winters said...

LMAO LurkerMonkey, good to see you! Haven't talked to you in forever. No, I'm not going to go ballistic on you. Your genre point is a good one. I'm lucky enough that I write in two genres: romance as Zoe and erotica as someone else that sell really well in E as a general rule.

Also, not to beat a dead horse, but POD vanity presses are NOT where the savvy self-publishers congregate. Right out of the gate 90% of your savvy self-pubbers, if they use POD are going through Lightning Source. There's just no reason not to. However, the people who wrote great but weren't selling... if it was due to lack of exposure, my suggestion would be for them to put it up on Kindle, and make the Kindle price very low for greater exposure. If you get high enough in ranking, people start seeing your kindle edition just when they're searching for books in general similar to yours and when they click on it, and find it's Kindle, if they want paperback, your paperback edition will be linked with your kindle edition and they can choose to purchase the print.

This is the main reason I think anyone who has something that is good, and ready for an audience, that they can put on the kindle, it would be wise to do so, before the kindle store is as crowded and hard to get exposure as the main store.

It will only be so long before low-priced Kindle books don't necessarily get you seen anymore.

Thomas Brookside said...

And if you can never get backing from professionals, from people who are paid to evaluate writing and who PAY for your writing, then perhaps the problem isn't the market or the publishing world, but your craft.

Where were you 90 comments ago? I wouldn't have had to rephrase this same thing ten times. :)


Well, you know, you had me there for a minute. I was perfectly willing to decide that all you were saying was to submit to traditional publishers first, on the off chance that you'd get picked up - because while it may be a lottery ticket, it's a comparatively low-cost lottery ticket. And that if that didn't work out, then you could self-publish without thinking that you had lost the opportunity to reach a wide audience more quickly.

But I guess I was wrong, because it appears that you are, in fact, saying, "Submit to traditional publishers, and if they don't like you, don't publish at all because YOU SUCK! If you were any good, you'd be published the traditional way!" which is pretty much the standard line industry insiders take without even any interesting variation.

This was the other reason I refused to write even a single query letter. Above and beyond the basic math I've been arguing about, there was the above. I simply don't require anyone's approval to sell...anything, really. I guess they'll put me in jail if I try to sell stocks without a Series 7, but there's no Series 7 to sell books and I need no one's permission or seal of approval. And if I had done the query thing first, implicit in that act would be the concession that, yes, the gatekeeping process is the right process and yes, the people who run publishing houses are better than me and deserve to decide if I should write or not and if I should sell or not. And I'm just not going to concede that. I'd rather creep along and sell 3-5 books a day and let it go at that, even if that means I can never do better.

I am fairly acutely aware that everyone in publishing walks into work in the morning and looks at the slush pile and feels nothing but contempt. And I'd rather be the asshole selling books for 99 cents or 1.99 or 2.99 and "ruining the written word" or "duping the customer" or "cluttering up the landscape" and every other thing that is said about self-published people than be a guy with a manuscript in the slush pile getting sneered at. That's a personality flaw of mine. Can't help it. If I have to choose between acting out the Tragedy of the Commons at Amazon and humiliating myself, I choose universal doom, sorry.

Zoe Winters said...

Thomas,

I think I love you. Will you marry me? We can have delusional defiant babies together.

Moses said...

Theoretical:

Joe, what if Kindle was around when you got started, and you had put your books that NY Houses didn't want (but which eventually got you an agent) on Kindle. Let's say the sales were just okay on those, maybe because you weren't already established, hadn't done as much marketing and promotion, or whatever.

Then let's say you tried to get published with some of your works that DID land you a good deal. Do you think having multiple books doing just okay on Kindle (in this hypothetical universe) would have hurt your prospects of getting that larger book deal? Helped? Neither?

Could it be that the publishing house would look at the face that you'd at least gotten your name out there with some books, built a little audience, etc. as being a positive?

What do you recommend in the case of someone who doesn't get their first book sold to a publishing house? Would you advise them to put it up on Kindle if they thought it was good enough, or hold onto it and try again with a big house?

Thanks very much for your time.

Joe Konrath said...

Hi Laura! :)

Laura Lippman said...

Zoe,

I'm a writer and a former journalist. I'm interested in words and how they are used. A few years ago, some unpublished writers said they preferred to be called "pre-published." I considered that a wonderful and valuable exercise in positive thinking, but possibly not accurate. I don't think "indie" is particularly accurate. Self-published is more accurate.

Hi, Joe! I look forward to singing with you again one day. I've been following your blog for a long time and, like a lot of writers, I'm very interested in your Kindle experience.

Joe Konrath said...

"Submit to traditional publishers, and if they don't like you, don't publish at all because YOU SUCK! If you were any good, you'd be published the traditional way!"

We all suck when we're starting out. But we don't think we suck. Which is why I got 500 rejections for nine unsold novels.

If I had self-published any of my first five novels, I would have done myself a great disservice.

Just because something is publishable doesn't mean it will get published. Publishers pass on good books all the time. But they also pass on a lot of crap.

How can you know if your book is a good book that slipped through the cracks, or crap, unless someone tells you? It's impossible to be objective.

Which is why I recommend looking for an agent. If she's interested, there's a very good chance you're good enough.

I simply don't require anyone's approval to sell...anything, really.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but your assertion implies your work is good enough to be published, but you don't want to bother trying to sell it because it's a long shot.

How is it you know your work is good enough?

This isn't about getting approval. It's about someone who knows better telling you you're on the right track, because it's impossible to know this on your own.

That someone doesn't have to be an agent or an editor. It could be a professional writer.

In eight years of teaching writing and reading a lot of newbie manuscripts, I've read two I was sure would get published. I was right both times. I read a few more that I thought had a good chance, and I was again proven right.

Because I understand how a narrative works. That comes with practice, experience, and exposure to other professionals.

I've said (ad nauseum) that I know a lot of professional writers. Very few published their first manuscript. Most had starter novels, practice novels, short stories, etc. before they finally had some mastery over their craft.

If I have to choose between acting out the Tragedy of the Commons at Amazon and humiliating myself, I choose universal doom, sorry.

But if your book is good, you'll likely be noticed by an agent. And there are so many ways to increase your odds at getting noticed.

The problem, as I see it, is too many new authors blame agents for not accepting their genius, rather than take a long, hard look at their own writing and figure out how it can be improved. And then they blame agents, and the publishing industry, for being too difficult to break into, and instead self-publishing something that probably wasn't ready to be read by the public.

Are there exceptions? Sure.

But I haven't seen any...

Zoe Winters said...

Joe,

I'm reading a post on a group of indie friends' publishing collective blog, that mentions you and an article of yours about confident vs. delusional writers, wherein you say:

"Confident writers work within the system, even though the system is flawed.
Delusional writers work outside of the system, even though they long to work within the system."

You REALLY, honestly believe this? That ANYONE who works outside the system is "delusional" and "LONGS" to work inside the system?

If you do, it's pointless having a discussion with you. How can you genuinely like and respect me as you've claimed if your view of me is someone who is delusional and really deep down wants what you have? Do you truly believe that YOUR wants and needs are the only ones that are valid and it's unthinkable that anyone could not want what you have and instead want something else?

I recognize that what I want isn't what all people want, no matter what it is that I want on any given day. Beyond basic human needs which we all have, human beings are all unique and have different motivations, desires, and goals.

You speak also in that article of the need for self-awareness. But in my opinion self-awareness includes the realization that others exist on the planet with different goals and dreams than yours.

Though I personally am not a fan of traditional publishing, I don't deride my fellow authors because they chose a different method of publication than me. I understand that it likely matches what *they* want.

And sorry for bringing up an old post, but it seemed somewhat pertinent to the foundations of this discussion.

Moses said...

I don't think "indie" is particularly accurate. Self-published is more accurate.

One means doing it yourself, and the other means doing it independently. Two words for the same thing, as far as I can tell, and both seem "accurate" to me.

Considering the stigma around "self-publishing," I can't fault independent writers who want to be taken more seriously and come up with another name for it. It's like "liberals" wanting to be called "progressives." At some point, you have to accept that a term just isn't popular enough for your marketing purposes.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe, I wrote 6 practice novels which I will never ever publish. I knew they weren't ready. And most of them were too far gone to rewrite.

I wrote them while I was finding my genre and my voice. I also got outside views from people who know good fiction before putting anything out into the world.

A growing number of indies have this attitude.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to figure out WHERE indie/non-trad/self-pub/whatever the cool name is people find the money to do such things.

It's all fine to run around and declare that you don't *care* about NY Publishers and wouldn't take a contract with them on a dare, yatta yatta yatta... but how are you financing this venture?

Perhaps, just perhaps, some writers would rather WRITE and make money than spend time mortgaging the house to pay for printing costs, advertising and the like.

JMO, ymmv.

Joe Konrath said...

"Confident writers work within the system, even though the system is flawed.
Delusional writers work outside of the system, even though they long to work within the system."

You REALLY, honestly believe this? That ANYONE who works outside the system is "delusional" and "LONGS" to work inside the system?


You're not reading it correctly. If you long to work within the system, but work outside the system you are delusion. If you have zero desire to work within the system, there is no delusion there. You're fully aware of what you're doing.

But if you have even the teeniest tiniest hope of landing a million dollar deal with Random House and getting on Oprah by self-pubbing, then yes, you're delusional.

Joe, I wrote 6 practice novels which I will never ever publish. I knew they weren't ready. And most of them were too far gone to rewrite.

Good for you for knowing they weren't ready. You're ahead of the game.

But how will you know when you write one that is ready?

I also got outside views from people who know good fiction

You mean professional writers, agents, and editors? People who make money by selling fiction?

Or some friends and family members who have never published anything?

I can give a book to my wife, and she can say she loved the ending, but didn't like chapter 7.

I can give a book to my agent or one of my writing peers, and they can tell me act two slows down the pacing, the denouement can be cut, and I need to introduce my protagonists flaws forty pages earlier. And these opinions aren't only more specific, but they carry more weight, because these are pros.

Don't you see the difference?

LurkerMonkey said...

Zoe,

(And sorry, Joe, I know this is your blog, but ...)

Hi! It's nice to see you too, btw, and I'm glad KEPT is treating you well.

You distinguish between POD and self-publishing, right? So you're agreeing to a hierarchy within the publishing world, one in which "indie" publishers are ... superior? more likely to sell? more informed? anyway, more something than POD authors.

And I think you're right to some degree this is really about access to audience. POD authors have very little access to audience. Self-publishers have increased access to audience, but still reduced. You can list on Amazon and in the Kindle store, but until you have hit a certain threshold in terms of titles published annually and are financially able to handle returns, you can't get into brick-and-mortar stores on a national level.

And access to audience is THE KEY to success in this business. As a one-person publishing company, you're a horse of a slightly different flavor. In fact, I started my career working for a small independent publishing company. We created 4-color coffee table books, with annual sales of up to $3 million. By any measure, it was a successful independent publishing company and my publisher flew his own jet. Except it was also a vanity press, pure and simple. Our corporate clients paid us to write nice books about themselves.

As we grew, we were able to list with large distributors like Ingrams and Baker & Taylor. We NEVER, however, managed to land any large national orders with Borders, Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble. Because it was a vanity press and we didn't put out enough titles annually.

Small publishers can do pretty well. I've worked with lots of them. But as you point out again and again, it's a full-on business. You are right now handling your own books, but if you become larger, you might start to publish other people's work. And if you become large enough, you might start to take submissions and send rejection letters. In other words, you might become a "traditional" publisher. You don't run the risk of being swallowed by the enemy—you run the risk of becoming the enemy.

As for the idea that if you can't attract attention, it's because "YOU SUCK." No. Well, maybe. It's also quite possibly because you're not ready. And I'm saying this as someone who has failed to attract the right kind of attention, and I'm pretty certain I don't suck (although who knows, maybe I do. Maybe my mom is lying).

I've noticed in this discussion there is always a strong element of "meism" at work. People talk about what they refuse to do, what they won't do, what they must do. But I think what gets lost in there is the audience. Outside of fiction, I'm a professional, paid writer. And my desires mean zip. My only goal—and I mean my ONLY goal—is to satisfy my audience so I can get paid and my family can eat. Pride has no place in it.

So I put these two things together—access to audience, and devotion to audience—and I come up with a fairly simple picture: traditional publishing remains by far the best way to cover both bases.

Zoe Winters said...

Anonymous,

I think you'd be surprised how very little money I'm spending on this venture. I'm operating on a true shoestring. All my marketing is on the Internet, mainly through social networking,Internet review sites, guest blogging, etc. It's very grassroots.

I do my own interior layout and formatting. I bring in crit and beta readers who work in trade. (and one of my crit readers is a copyeditor and that is her JOB. She's also a great developmental/story editor.)In addition to human eyeballs I use Editor software by Serenity Software to help me catch things that others miss.

I did my own cover art for KEPT but I hired a cover artist for the next book (coming out in the next month). She was VERY affordable and very talented and I just hope I can afford her when her rates inevitably increase because she's too good to charge the peanuts she charges.

My biggest expense has been my block of ISBN numbers. In hindsight I should have bought a block of 100 rather than 10, because I'm going to be publishing way more than 10 books.

For my print editions I'm signed up with Lightning Source, which is a print-on-demand printer, NOT a POD vanity press. That gets me into several distribution channels and my profit margin is a little over $4 per book after everything on a POD version. LSI has about $117 in initial set up fees including your proof copy.

Those who publish only in ebook and don't have to worry about print set-up, or ISBN numbers, have even fewer expenses.

It's been my experience that those not actively engaged in self-publishing like to artificially inflate the costs necessary to do it successfully.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe,

Believe it or not, I have a few professional writer friends who are fans of my writing and looking forward to the Blood Lust release.

I know my work is ready when outside people who KNOW how to craft a good story tell me so, and readers in the genre agree. I don't trust the opinions of those too close to me to judge my "work itself."

I have a very low return rate for my book on Kindle. While some don't like "Kept," which is normal, the vast majority do.

I feel KEPT is a little choppy compared to my other work about to come out. I think the emotional volume isn't high enough because what I was writing was "campy" and it's hard to make campy and angst play well together. It's a fun, light read... but I can do better.

BUT, it is as good as many other things that are professionally published and vetted. And it's been enough to start building me a following.

On your delusional point... with regards to saying you want one thing but acting in contradiction to that, I agree with that.

However, I DO believe that a good self-pubbed book that sells well will get contract offers probably stronger than what they would have gotten going that way originally because then the book is a proven and known quantity and publishers can do the math to see what their marketing dollars behind it can do. However, that's neither here nor there for me because that's not why I'm indie.

Here's my question: How does a mainstream publisher know what is good and what will sell? Many times they are wrong about what will sell, though they do know about minimum quality standards "most" of the time. Minimum quality standards aren't that hard for an indie to get figured out using the benefit of others outside themselves. ALL business owners have to figure this crap out. A lot of it is trial and error.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe, could you please delete my duplicate comments? It kept telling me it didn't post cause my word verification was wrong.

Moses said...

Zoe, after three consecutive posts about it, I'll bet Joe believes you! :P

Hm, no response from Joe to my hypothetical scenario yet. I'm extremely curious. Maybe the best way to get his attention is to call him names.

Mwahahaha!

Zoe Winters said...

Hey LurkerMonkey,

I think a true self-published author can utilize the “technology” of POD using Lightning Source. There is to me a BIG difference in publishing via Lulu, and having your own ISBN numbers, your own imprint, and using something like LSI. I think an offset print run could be beneficial at some point, but for an indie starting out it's a money sink and too big of a risk unless you are independently wealthy, which I am not.

Though this isn't to say that I think a writer is a better writer because they use LSI or offset. I'm right now reading a fantastic book called “Do the Math” by Philip B. Persinger that he published via iUniverse. I think from a profit and loss perspective he'd do better using LSI, but it certainly doesn't affect the quality of his actual work or his value as an author that he chose to use iUniverse.

But because LSI's print costs are lower, because you can move into offset with them if you need to later, because you have more control over everything and can offer shorter discounts to Amazon and such, and because you have much wider distribution, I do feel LSI is a superior option from a business perspective.

I also agree that you have to hit a certain threshold generally before getting into brick-and-mortar bookstores. But that's okay. Rome wasn't built in a day. You work with what you have and you build up. If that's what you want. I still haven't decided if I want to pursue brick-and-mortar distribution. That's not me being a rebel, that's just me not seeing the point of cannibalizing my profits with the bookstore returns system IF I can properly build the infrastructure I need through online outlets alone. OR I might try to find retail environments that are NOT trad bookstores to sell in because other retail models don't do the returns system. When you sell wholesale it is a final sale.

I don't think I'd ever publish other people's work. I'm too selfish and I write under more than one pen name. I'll teach people how to fish, but I'm not interested in fishing for them.

Anonymous said...

with all due respect, Ms Winters - I'd rather have a publisher PAY for the printing, PAY for a cover artist and GET the book into the stores without me either wasting the time to develop the skills or investing money that I just don't have.

how much, approximately, have you poured into your venture at this point? $100? $1000?

good writers WILL find a home, be it with the "big boys" or with small publishers such as Ellora's Cave or Samhain if the writing is good. And I'd rather be writing than fighting with bookstore owners on why they should take my self-pubbed tome over a book put out by a publisher that's got deeper pockets than I do.

your business model may be sound, but too pricey for the average writer who doesn't want to go into debt.

as before, jmo, ymmv.

Peter L. Winkler said...

The term "independent writer" is a dishonest attempt to run from the truth. I don't believe anyone who says they don't desire a contract with a major publisher, especially those who eschew such a deal so that they can control everything about the publishing process. They've either tried and failed, or haven't tried at all because they suspect their work is not ready for prime time.

John said...

As a kindle author who recently landed my first traditional publishing deal, I have to agree 100% with Joe.

I wrote my first novel in 2006 and was able to land an agent with the manuscript. Unfortunately, that’s where it stalled. The book made the rounds through all the big NY publishers, and even though most of the comments were glowing, no one wanted to take a chance on the book. The majority of editors all said the same two things: It was too hard to break out a new writer these days, or, the book would be too difficult to market since it’s “in between genres”.

It was discouraging as hell, but I listened to the editors comments then sat down and wrote another book.

When I finished book two, not only did I get a better response from the NY publishers, but I realized something even more important…

I’d written a much better book.

I’d learned more about the craft, not only from writing another book, but from the editorial input I’d received on book one, and from my agent. Still, when it came time for one of the NY publishers to offer a contract, things stalled again.

This time, several editors raved about it. They showed the book around in-house, but it always came down to no one wanting to take a chance on a new writer. One by one, they all came back with glowing, yet regretful, rejections.

Except one.

One editor refused to say no, and he sat on the manuscript for eight months trying to find a way to convince his publisher to buy it.

I waited as patiently as I could in that situation, knowing that things were going to fall one way or the other. After a while I realized I needed to do something to show them I’d be a good investment, and that’s when I turned to the kindle.

I had the original “in between genres” manuscript that landed me an agent and had received positive rejections from NY editors, and since it was just gathering dust, I figured it couldn’t hurt to get it out into the world. I released it on May 26th 2009.

The book sold 1000 copies the first week it was up, and on June 2nd, I got the call from my agent telling me we had an offer for the 2nd book.

Since then things have been a bit of a whirlwind with multi-book UK deals, foreign sales, movie options, etc… I don’t know how much of this can be attributed to releasing the book on the kindle, but I believe it provided that last push the publisher needed to buy the book.

I loved publishing on the kindle, and like Joe, I made enough money those first few months to cover a couple mortgage payments as well as few bills. The book got as high as #118 on the kindle list, and was the #1 hardboiled mystery on all of Amazon for months.

I’d never discourage anyone from self publishing, but I agree with Joe that you shouldn’t rush into it. My kindle book was good enough to get an agent, but even then it needed editing before it was ready to be shopped around. I also had a good idea it was publishable, not because of my own biased opinion, but because of the response I got from the NY editors who read it and commented. As far as I could tell, the only reason it was rejected was due to the lack of a specific genre (If the publisher is confused about how they’ll sell a book, they won’t buy it), of course, this made it perfect for self publishing.

I'm not in my 20's anymore. I live in a mid-sized city in the middle of the country that's about as far away from NY and LA as you can get. I'm also proof that it's still possible for an unknown, new writer to break into traditional publishing.

If that's what you want, of course.

Moses said...

I just got an email from my local writer's group listserv. It seems relevant, and it's interesting in that it shows how rapidly things are changing (and how confusing everything is now):

INDI PUBLISHING GROUP SECURES DIGITAL CONTENT DISTRIBUTION

Phoenix, AZ--March 8, 2010

The INDI Publishing Group is pleased to announce they will begin digital distribution in April for eBooks and Audiobooks with the industries global leader--OverDrive.com. With a network of over 9,000 retailers, libraries and schools around the world, OverDrive.com distributes digital content from publishers such as Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Penguin Putnam, Hachette and Harlequin. This relationship will provide independent authors with worldwide distribution from the leader of eBook and Audiobook digital content.

Founder and CEO of INDI Publishing Group Jerry D. Simmons said, "This is a real coup for our authors. We had to prove the quality of our titles and succeeded."

This new program is the first of its kind for the independent author and provides tremendous opportunities in a new, yet growing and vibrant marketplace of digital content. Never before has the independent author been afforded the opportunity for distribution alongside titles from the large New York publishing houses. Simmons commented, "This goes to show that the eBook market for the independent author is wide open and the digital strategy of the major publishers favors our authors in many ways, making digital the new frontier of publishing."

The INDI Publishing Group is now securing rights in adult fiction and non-fiction, including manuscripts never before published. Each title accepted into the program has been professionally edited since the INDI Publishing Group has established themselves as a brand representing quality independent titles and will make every effort to secure that perception in the digital marketplace. The INDI Publishing Group retains no rights, ownership or control over the content of their authors and there are no time or contractual constraints under their digital distribution agreement. For complete details, contact Simmons at his web site.

CONTACT INFORMATION: Jerry D. Simmons is a 30-year veteran of publishing, 25 with Random House and the former Time Warner Book Group. He is currently CEO of the INDI Publishing Group, LLC. He can be reached via email at his web site www.WritersReaders.com.

I'm going to have to research them more to see what they're really doing. Here's his webpage on his INDI Publishing Group:

http://www.writersreaders.com/indi-publishing-group/

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, what if Kindle was around when you got started, and you had put your books that NY Houses didn't want (but which eventually got you an agent) on Kindle. Let's say the sales were just okay on those.

Then let's say you tried to get published with some of your works that DID land you a good deal. Do you think having multiple books doing just okay on Kindle (in this hypothetical universe) would have hurt your prospects of getting that larger book deal?


No, I don't think it would hurt, unless the stories were bad and got a lot of negative reviews. If your work isn't your best, it probably shouldn't be read.

Publishers will look at your current book, not your Kindle books. And they can't tell what your Kindle sales were anyway, unless you share them.

Contrast this to self-pubbing a print novel with an ISBN. Poor sales can hurt you then, and publisher's will avoid you. That's because ISBNs are trackable, and low sales will mean low preorders from the major bookstores and distributors, who will check.

What do you recommend in the case of someone who doesn't get their first book sold to a publishing house? Would you advise them to put it up on Kindle if they thought it was good enough, or hold onto it and try again with a big house?

If the person got an agent, but it doesn't sell, go ahead and put it on Kindle (unless the agent tells you no to and has a good reason, like they're want to keep submitting it.)

I see a near future where publishers will begin to publish books that were previously ebooks and sold well. The future may be even closer than you think.

If you have a good book, by all means put it on Kindle. But the problem remains: how can you tell if it's a good book or not?

Zoe Winters said...

Anonymous, no one but someone living paycheck to paycheck could go into debt publishing like I'm publishing. In fact I've probably spent less than the average writer going to writing conferences and compulsively buying writing books. Nevertheless, I recognize not everybody wants to do it. And that's fine.

I'm not out to convert you. Publish how you want.

Zoe Winters said...

Peter,

Thank you for your psychoanalysis. Tell me, where did you get your masters in psychology? I think it's rude to call someone you don't know a liar. You don't know me, you don't know my brain chemistry, my life history, my motivation, my wiring, or anything that's important to me. And yet, I MUST want what YOU want or I'm lying.

Developmentally we should all be past this myopic of a worldview by age twelve.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe, why do you persist in believing it's a problem to figure out whether your book is good or not? It's not that hard to test market something and find out how readers respond. It's not rocket science. A publisher who won't later buy your work because you test marketed something is a moron.

Test marketing is standard business practice. I know maybe trad publishing doesn't understand the concept of standard business practices like test marketing, demographics studies, and wholesale sales being final, but meh.

Moses said...

That's really helpful, Joe. I didn't think about the distinction between tracking Kindle sales vs tracking sales through an ISBN. Now the gears in my head are really turning ...

I have around 15,000 newsletter subscribers, and 1,500+ on Facebook+Twitter, etc. I'm tempted to put my first book on Kindle, promote it very well, and try to sell thousands of copies @ $2.99 in a short span of time ...

THEN start querying agents. John's comment also seems encouraging along that line.

But the problem remains: how can you tell if it's a good book or not?

Absolutely. I think I can make sure, though. I had a literary agent seven years ago, for example, with a non-fiction proposal. Apparently, I can write, and I've done well with writing in my day job for years. I've received hundreds of comments on my work on Authonomy, and many of those were sincere (not everyone on Authonomy is). I participate in Critters.org, and I have some good crit partners. I have a professional editor looking at my work right now (I swung a trade with her). Etc.

You're right to ask me that question, without a doubt, but I think I can make sure it's good enough before going to Kindle, if I decide to make that a part of my strategy to acquire an agent and publishing contract.

When I first started writing fiction, it sucked--no question. Then I improved, and it was okay, but still too flawed. Then I took into consideration further feedback, and put the work out there again. Now what I hear 90% of the time on Authonomy is that my first chapter hooks readers, even if fantasy isn't their genre, and so many of those people end up getting sucked into the next 4-6 chapters right away and really enjoy the work.

I can't judge my own work, but I believe that if a first-time author works hard enough, and takes into consideration lots and lots of critical feedback, their first novel doesn't have to suck.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, why do you persist in believing it's a problem to figure out whether your book is good or not?

Because "good" is subjective.

However, I believe there is a minimum set of criteria that need to be met before something is publishable, and those criteria are quantifiable.

Back when I was learning how to write, I identified what these criteria were, by studying story structure and getting feedback from industry pros.

If a book meets these criteria, it's ready for readers.

But most newbie authors don't have any specific criteria for judging their own work, or know what to ask when seeking critiques.

Yet every newbie believes their work is "good."

If it's "good" they should be able to say why.

So I ask you, Zoe. What makes a "good" book? How can you be sure that your work is ready to be read?

The surest way to do this is to get the approval who earns a living selling books. These people know "good" and how to quantify it.

My argument isn't against self-publishing. It never was. It's against authors self-publishing before they're good enough to be read.

And if they ARE good enough to be read, why would they self-publish? Why not at least TRY to find an agent and make a lot of money?

Joe Konrath said...

I have around 15,000 newsletter subscribers, and 1,500+ on Facebook+Twitter, etc. I'm tempted to put my first book on Kindle, promote it very well, and try to sell thousands of copies @ $2.99 in a short span of time ...

Did you say you had an agent?

If you do have an agent, and she couldn't sell the book and has given up submitting it, then this is a good route to take.

Moses said...

Did you say you had an agent?

I landed a reputable agent seven years ago with a non-fiction book proposal (including two chapters). However, she doesn't handle books in my genre, and more to the point, she's no longer my agent. My novel has not been shopped to agents yet.

So my new thought, born from all of these discussions, is to promote the release of the book to Kindle (I have a particular date in mind, next calendar year), hopefully get some good sales numbers and reviews on Amazon, and then hopefully use that as a part of my pitch to agents and/or editors (I have one particular editor in mind). If in the meantime, I can sell 2,400 on Kindle in less than a year, that would be an extra $5,000 in my pocket.

I'm thinking out loud, though, so I welcome comments from anyone who wants to talk me out of this approach :-)

The top priority, obviously, would be to make sure the book is good enough, but with enough honest critiques, etc. (including some from professional editors), I would hope to reach that level.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe, I think your argument is flawed. I know my work is good enough to be out there because I have been writing with an eye toward eventually publishing my work, since junior high. I've submitted SOME work, and got to the "nice rejection phase." I'm not afraid of rejection. I'm not that bothered by rejection. It's a part of the process. My writer ego isn't so big I can't understand the need for improvement.

I have had professional writers and some editors read my work.

I've studied the craft of writing and the elements necessary in a story. So *I* know what to ask for feedback on and I know the kind of people to ask. Not everybody knows the kinds of questions to ask to find out if they are "there yet." But I can share that checklist with people.

Further I have additional beta readers and do some test marketing.

All this gives me all the info I personally need to know to proceed.

However... you jump from that to... But OH GOD WHY WON'T YOU GET AN AGENT????

I know you don't say it in all caps, but still, that desperation to understand seems to be there. Because I do not WANT one.

I understand maybe my value system isn't exactly the same as others. I don't believe in "starving artist" as a "goal." But I also don't require that much materially to be happy.

I have a certain comfort threshold I need to attain. Anything beyond that is gravy. Right now that threshold is being attained for me by my husband who pays the bills.

I am LUCKY in that area. He supports my writing stuff fully and stands behind me.

So just about "any" money I make is gravy right now. My entire world does not revolve around "zomg gotta make money." However, that doesn't mean I don't think or plan ahead. Something could happen to Tom, or his job. Then I would be stuck with "getting a real job."

And so... money is a goal. BUT it's a longterm goal. This isn't my first rodeo as far as business ventures. I know I have a sound business plan. I do not NEED a publisher. I do not want one. I understand it practically eats at you that I would sell to 5,000 or eventually 10,000 or more people when I could sell to a million or more people. I don't know what to tell you there. Your goals and needs are not mine.

I'm happy with what I'm doing and am unwilling to give it up, unless someone wanted to make me ludicrously rich, then I might consider it. While I'm not that materialistic, being rich could be fun, and I could help a lot of people. (charities and such.) So while that's not a goal and I'm not expecting it to happen, in some imaginary future where it did happen, I'd at least consider it.

Zoe Winters said...

Well Moses, it's not like you're standing on a ledge about to plummet to your doom. You can try it or not. If you try and fail, you learn something and you can decide whether to try again or do something else. I think the less writers consider every book as some epic THING, the less neurotic they'll be.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, I think your argument is flawed. I know my work is good enough to be out there because I have been writing with an eye toward eventually publishing my work, since junior high.

Most writers "know" the same thing, and have had their eye on publishing for years. That means nothing.

I'll ask you again, Zoe. What makes a "good" book? How can you be sure that your work is ready to be read?

You mentioned you had a checklist. I'd like to see it.

You say you've studied the craft of writing. How? Classes? Dissecting novels? Joining a writer's group?

I know my writing is "good" because I've sold over seventy short stories to paying markets and I've signed six book contracts, with two or three more coming in the next few months.

I also know the elements of story structure, and have taught them at a local college. People pay me to fly around the country and teach what I know.

I can spout off at length what makes a "good" book.

Tell me why you believe you know better than just about every unpublished writer I've ever met.

Joe Konrath said...

BTW Zoe. I truly don't care if you know what good writing is.

But you should care. And you should be able to articulate it without thinking too hard about it. Because thinking too hard means you aren't aware of the process as it's happening. Which results in bad writing.

A good writer is deliberate, and can defend every word.

rex kusler said...

Joe said: "If you have a good book, by all means put it on Kindle. But the problem remains: how can you tell if it's a good book or not?"

If it doesn't sell, it's no good. If it sells, and keeps selling it's probably good.

Zoe Winters said...

Okay Joe,

I think the fans I've acquired as well as the positive reviews from traditionally published authors and nods to my writing ability from a well-known online reviewer in my genre is sufficient grounds for me to know my writing is “good enough.”

The real issue here is that I don't need a type of validation that you seem to need. I understand money is a big motivating factor to you as well, but nevertheless it seems you can't comprehend someone who doesn't require the same level of validation as you.

I'm also growing a little weary of the constant “I”m so awesome because I've been validated professionally this many times so I RAWK.” We get it Joe, you've been trad published. Yay, you. But that doesn't make you empirically a better writer than me or any other indie. You may feel justified in grouping self-publishing authors together under one stereotype banner but acting like the publishing industry is THE barometer of “good writing” is just asinine.

How about this... how about instead of asking for me to make a big list of all the reasons I am a good writer, and define good writing like I'm your student (which I am not), you just read something of mine. Hell I won't even make you read anything long. Here's a short story. 3,000 words, less than all my verbosity here. Here is my money where my mouth is. Now everybody who thinks I must suck can decide for themselves.

http://zoewinters.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/a-safer-life.pdf

Caprice said...

Agents and editors in NYC see entertainment thru their coastal prism. They don't necessarily account for the rest of the country, material is just forced on us. There are other interests not being addressed by mainstream publishing and ebooks will reach those small and not so small niche audiences sometime soon.

rex kusler said...

The best judges of your work are not agents, editors, or other writers, because they're reading it with a view toward analyzing it. The best judge of your work is the customer--somebody who is hoping they will be entertained by it. I would much rather have feedback from an avid mystery reader than some bleary-eyed agent who sits like a zombie sifting through mountains of shit all day.

Henry Baum said...

I find it pretty stupendous that a writer with the mind-bendingly original titles, Shot of Tequila, Truck Stop, and other cliches is lecturing anybody about what makes "good" writing.

You're a capitalist, not a writer. You care more about selling than writing. That's fine, but at least fess up to it, rather than shitting on people who believe in different modes of expression.

Zoe Winters said...

Rex, I agree but I'm just so tired of the: "Oh god, how can Zoe possibly know she isn't delusional and a craptacular writer?"

So, yeah.

I realize not everybody likes everything but I also know I don't suck.

rex kusler said...

Here's my idea for filtering the e-crap on Amazon:

1. charge $200 to upload a book.
2. send it to 10 customers who are volunteers willing to read incoming books in the genres of their choice.
3. each of them will vote the book pass/fail based on whether they finished it and enjoyed it.
4. 4 of the 10 must give it a pass.
5. those rejecting the book may leave comments if they want to.
6. After rejection, the author can spend another $200 to try another 10 readers.

Zoe Winters said...

Rex, that seems unnecessary Amazon is like the Google of books in a way because of how their system is set up. Filtering out crap would be necessary if you logged into Amazon and were just blown away by the number of choices, but you aren't. You only see a little at a time, and only the most relevant things to your previous visits, purchases, and searches. The filtering system in place already works fine.

Many people would consider charging $200 just to be allowed into Amazon's system and vetted by some random grouping of readers to be a somewhat predatory practice.

Eric Christopherson said...

Great topic, Joe, timely and naturally controversial. IMO, of course there is American Idol-worthy self-delusion afoot among indie authors, and I do mean those early audition episodes.

Hence there will be no self-policing among the indie authors, and a better crap detector will be needed to assist readers, or else indie publishing will remain a tiny, near inconsequential niche market.

Amazon's current crap detector, consisting of reviews and ratings and sample pages, ain't a bad start though.

Esther said...

I'm also growing a little weary of the constant “I”m so awesome because I've been validated professionally this many times so I RAWK.” We get it Joe, you've been trad published. Yay, you. But that doesn't make you empirically a better writer than me or any other indie.

I think Joe has been very civil and professional in his comments thus far. And I like reading what advice he has to offer.

Zoe, now one can deny you are anything but delusional based on the above statement.

And what validates you? Pubbing on Amazon?

rex kusler said...

Zoe--sure it's no problem now. But what happens when Amazon is deluged by the 81% of the population who feel they have a book in them? They may cancel the program.

Zoe Winters said...

Eric,

Amazon has their crap detector, indie collectives are forming, and there are places like indiereader.com where all the self-published books are vetted first.

Zoe Winters said...

Esther, my READERS validate me. This was how it was before commercial publishing and it will be how it is when the dinosaurs gasp their last breath. Also me selling over 500 copies a month of one novella on the Amazon Kindle is plenty validating for me at this stage of the game.

I'm really not sure why people feel SO desperate for a "company" to validate them and say they are "good enough." To me this is just an example of low self-esteem.

I'm sorry. I know many people are deluded about their talent, but there are PLENTY of ways to prove this isn't the case merely by test marketing and interacting with an actual readership. I have readers. I have fans. Now maybe I don't have a million of them, but I'm thankful for every single one I have, and my readership will grow one reader at a time.

And I haven't said Joe hasn't been civil, but he does take every opportunity he can to mention how many times he's been professionally vetted, validated, and proven "good enough."

Again, don't judge me as a bad writer until you read me. I don't CARE how bad most self-published work is. If you don't want to read me, you don't have to, but making a judgment about someone's writing talent without reading any of their work is ignorant.

Zoe Winters said...

Rex, Maybe. I'm not sure. We'll have to wait and see what happens. They might charge a small listing fee then. You have to remember that crap will not rise to the top. It will be like a million bad websites that NEVER show up on a top Google page. It won't affect anyone at all.

But with Amazon's Encore program, they seem to be interested in picking up good self-published books, so I don't see them shutting the doors.

Eric Christopherson said...

"I'm really not sure why people feel SO desperate for a 'company' to validate them and say they are "good enough." To me this is just an example of low self-esteem."

@ Zoe

Doctors have to pass their medical boards to practice. Lawyers have to pass the bar exam to practice. The tests are designed and administered by recognized experts in the field. You wouldn't want it any other way, would you? You wouldn't want an unlicensed physician doing heart surgery on you or your loved ones, right?

I'm fairly certain Joe is making the same kind of argument, that he sees agents and editors as the validators for the profession. So do I, as a matter of fact, and the day I got my first agent was one of the best days in my life. (The day I got my second agent was pretty sweet too.)

But even the experts aren't infallible, and sometimes mistakes are made, or in the case of publishing, sometimes market forces or bad luck or timing and not writing quality prevents a book from being bought.

So I'm all for the indie movement. I'm a part of it myself, seeing as my books have yet to be picked up by the major houses. I'm glad there is this new avenue for authors. But I still respect the major publishers and the agents who serve them.

Esther said...

And I haven't said Joe hasn't been civil, but he does take every opportunity he can to mention how many times he's been professionally vetted, validated, and proven "good enough."

--Along with advice and encouragement about not giving up.

And, isn't this a blog entitled "A Newbie's guide to publishing" by JA Konrath???

Zoe Winters said...

Eric but you can't compare lawyer and doctor licensing to a free market. Books are not the same. Books are products. They are information or entertainment but you don't need a license to do it (though I'm sure some people wish you did by their arguments.)

Anyone can create any product and the market decides. That's how it should be. Indies have every right to publish just like any other publisher. When you take the time to learn how to publish and you do the work of a publisher, you are a publisher. Asking me or anyone else to have an "outside publisher" would deny me the right to be BOTH a publisher AND an author. Making your own product isn't a crime, social or otherwise, despite how riled up people seem to get about the act.

Zoe Winters said...

Esther, you're right. And I understand this blog is about traditional publishing. However, since Joe has done some self-publishing with some of his own work on the Kindle, and there are some other indie authors who occasionally comment here besides me, it led me to believe that he was more open-minded about this issue.

Finding out he wasn't, threw me for a loop.

While I *do* realize that this isn't my blog, even though I've probably made more posts on this particular post than Joe has, I tend to get caught up in a debate and "lose the plot" as it were. Once I'm in the discussion more things keep being brought up and I feel pretty much compelled to reply to people I'm in a discussion with. Maybe that's a personality flaw and I should just learn to close the window and move on, I don't know.d

Joe Konrath said...

Esther, my READERS validate me.

Boy, I admire your pluck, Zoe. But this is one of the most naive things you've said (which is really saying something.)

I love to write, and I'm very lucky I'm paid well to do so.

Like many writers, I have a need to tell stories and express myself. And like many writers, one of my dreams is to be read by as many people as possible. Because of this, I do my best to please my potential audience.

But readers don't validate me.

First of all, it's impossible. I get a lot of fanmail, and last Bouchercon I had a forty minute signing line, but this is just a VERY small percentage of my readers. The overwhelming majority have no interaction with me at all, other than buying my books. While a book sale is a form of validation, the opinions of the person who bought it will likely never be known.

And sometimes, when those opinions are known, they're negative.

Second, judging your writing based on the opinions of those who don't write is misguided. When you study for a Phd and present your dissertation, it isn't before laymen. It's before experts in your field of study.

If you want to be an expert at something, the ones to judge you are the experts. Which is why the average person on the street can't vote for the Nobel Prize, or the Academy Awards.

Third, finding your self worth in the opinions of strangers is, well, unhealthy. If your career takes off, you'll find more and more haters. That's just the way it is. If you're relying solely on what fans think of you, you may be for some major depressive episodes.

I enjoy interacting with fans. I answer all the fanmail I get. But if I never heard the opinion of a stranger again, I'd be fine.

I'm validated by my peers--a handful of professional writers I trade manuscripts with. I'm validated by my friends and family members, and though they aren't as helpful as my peers, I know what questions to ask. I'm validated by my agent and editors, who continue to funnel money my way. And that's all I need.

However, since Joe has done some self-publishing with some of his own work on the Kindle, and there are some other indie authors who occasionally comment here besides me, it led me to believe that he was more open-minded about this issue.

I'm not open minded? Allow me a bit of self-horn-tooting for a moment, but I seem to be spearheading the self-pubbed ebook movement. I believe I was the first traditionally published author to take this route. The experiments I've done on Kindle have been cited in major magazines and newspapers and all over the net. I'm proving that it is indeed possible to make a living on ebooks, and I have hard data to back that up.

There's been so much pro-ebook talk on the net lately, and I'm being quoted so often, that I thought it would be wise to temper some of that enthusiasm with a reality check. That's what this blog post is about.

Authors who have been published before should get their work up on Kindle ASAP.

Authors who have agents that couldn't sell their books should also have a go at it.

Everyone else should try to get an agent first, and in the meantime hone their craft. Because it's unlikely they'll pull the same ebook numbers I'm pulling. And in my experience, if you can't get an agent, there's a reason why.

Zoe, you seem to take offense that I believe signing with an agent is the way to go, even though I've clearly presented that it's the way to reach the most readers and make the most money.

If you're that reactionary to someone disagreeing with you, and you expect to find validation through your readership, you're in for a long, bumpy road. Or a brief, hellish one.

Joe Konrath said...

LOL Henry, for pointing out I'm shitting on people by personally attacking me. Ignorance and hypocrisy are always good for a smile.

@ Eric - Email me. I have something to ask you.

If it doesn't sell, it's no good. If it sells, and keeps selling it's probably good.

I dunno, Rex. Maybe, to a certain point. I'm pretty sure my Kindle sales are impulse buys--low prices, decent covers, intriguing descriptions. A lot of "bad" books could have good sales.

The myth that "a good book will find an audience" has been disproven thousands of times--look at all the wonderful books currently out of print.

In order for fans to enjoy and talk about a book, they first have to read it. And it isn't easy to get noticed and get read.

I'm getting more fanmail for my Kindle books than I get for my print books, so people seem to be enjoying them. But I still think price/cover/blurbs are why I'm selling well, which has nothing to do with content.

send it to 10 customers who are volunteers willing to read incoming books in the genres of their choice.

Sounds like the MPAA, which is very close to censorship. Or censurship.

I believe a free market will work, even when 95% of it is crap. Using an agency model, Amazon (and Apple) won't have to vet or promote or advertise--they'll let readers separate the wheat from the chaff.

@ Esther - Thanks for the kind words. :)

Zoe Winters said...

Joe, actually my statement about reader validation isn't the least bit naïve, and YOU believe it too. You have mentioned many times how many books you have in print. Well how exactly did that happen, Joe? Could it be that READERS liked your work and responded to it? If readers didn't like it, if enough readers didn't buy it, then you wouldn't be where you are.

If publishers had found your work great but readers just weren't buying, your contracts wouldn't get renewed and you'd be out on your butt with the other “good writers who just aren't commercial enough” and I guess you'd have to take your own advice and change what you write.

But that's not what an artist does. An artist expresses what's inside THEM. That doesn't mean they can't produce commercial fiction, or “what the market wants.” But if it doesn't coincide with what's inside them, then it's pointless. You may as well be making widgets.

You HOPE as an artist that what you create touches people in some way... makes them think, or entertains or informs their view of the world. But you don't try to change who you are to be more popular.

But in the end, it is the readers and the readers alone whose judgment matters. Yes there are people who hate my book. That's true for all writers. And there are people who love it. When the ratio of people who love it is greater than the ratio of those who hate it, you tend to sell more due to word of mouth. But my fans are ALL that matter to me. If a reader hates my work, hey that's okay, I'm not for everybody.

But I have a specific audience (actually more than one specific audience since I write a few diff things) that I write for, and THAT audience is all that matters. I will never change my voice or style “for” them, but they are why I do it. With enough portfolio variety in what I'm doing, I'm able to monetize these things yes. And there is a certain number of people I need to like something before it's worth continuing mainly for time and financial reasons, but yeah.

Now you clearly don't do it for those reasons, but readers still validate you. Publishers may validate you to other writers, but readers validate you to publishers. They back up the choice or veto the choice a publisher has made, and your future contracts spin directly off from that.

So you BETTER care what the readers think, and realize they are the only thing that stood between you and being a publishing statistic... one of the books/authors that failed.

Zoe Winters said...

Also, if you think I base my “self-worth” on what readers think, you're smoking the wacky weed. Validation as an artist isn't the same as “validation as a person” but it seems you've gotten the two mixed up. If you view validation as an argument of “self-worth” then I find it sad and unhealthy that you base your self-worth upon what a media conglomerate thinks of you. A media conglomerate, btw who would likely be laughed out of Harvard Business School for their asinine business practices in publishing.

You are not spearheading the self-pubbed ebook movement. Michael Stackpole is doing that. And Michael Stackpole is doing it without dividing writers by “who is worthy” and who is not worthy. Anyone who has the confidence and willingness to put their work out there before an audience deserves the chance to try it. If they fail, fine. They will either get back up and try again or they won't. But EVERYONE has the right to try. No one needs “permission to publish.”

Mark Coker is doing that. April Hamilton is doing that. You aren't the only show in town saying: “Hey, it might be a good idea to get your books on Kindle.” You're just the loudest one who only seems to want formerly “vetted” authors to do it.” Sorry, you don't control the market. Indies are going to do it too whether you like it or not, and over the next few years I'll lay money that some of us will succeed wildly. It may or may not be me, but things are changing. Like it or not.

You can call me deluded, naïve, whatever. I don't really care. There will come a moment when you and everybody else isn't laughing anymore.

Way before you were doing this, romance authors published by major ebook houses were making a living off of ebooks. It's much harder for them to do so now as the market gets more glutted, but in the beginning, romance readers were some of the earliest adopters of ebooks and you weren't the first person paying all their bills on their ebook checks.

I take offense that you believe signing with an agent is THE way to go. I would never take offense at the idea that it was A way to go, or the best way to go for most people, but yes, wholesale statements of what's right for everyone, do tend to get under my skin. Because it's not for you to decide what is right for everyone. You only get to decide what is right for you.

Again, it's not that I can't “get” an agent. I had an agent approach ME. I do not WANT an agent.

And you're reactionary to everyone disagreeing with you, Joe. I've watched you do it. You and I both have the same argument style. Accusing me of anything like that is equivalent to accusing yourself.

I also note the discussion about whether or not I am a good writer or a deluded one has been abandoned despite putting my cards on the table. This makes me wonder did you read it and think I can write but don't want to concede as much, think I can't write but think you'll hurt my poor delicate feelings and I'll just be too desolated to go on, or haven't bothered to read 3,000 words of fiction despite having read 10,000 words of argument.

Joe Konrath said...

So you BETTER care what the readers think

What aren't you getting here, Zoe?

It's impossible to know what readers think. A very small percentage of them will tell you what they think, and those that do may be unflattering.

Being validated by sales is not the same thing as being validated by readers. You're comment spoke to reader response.

I don't need reader response. No author does. It's possible to have a lucrative career without ever reading a review, meeting a reader, or replying to a fanmail.

If you're counting on what people say about you to get you through your career, you're in trouble.

Joe Konrath said...

You can call me deluded, naïve, whatever. I don't really care.

You care enough to continue hijacking this thread...

Zoe Winters said...

One other thing...

You assume I'll have a brief road, or a long hellish one and I'll be suffering all these major depressive episodes, etc. based on ONE simple sentence about readers being the only validation I needed.

Wow. Talk about extracting a lot from one line of text. I assure you, though I am a passionate individual about many topics, my mental state is perfectly stable and I am not so weak-willed that I crumble under the assault of an opinion that doesn't think I'm the height of awesome.

I used to actually think I was pretty weird, because while most writers were talking about how they CRIED over rejection slips, I'd get one in the mail and go: "Eh, time to find another publisher for it." I just didn't get that worked up about it.

If you imagine I go into a depressive episode when a reader hates my work, I hate to disabuse you of that notion but... um no.

Zoe Winters said...

Joe,

Reader response DOES fuel things. Readers don't have to respond directly to YOU. They respond to each other. How do you think books get sold in massive quantities? It's sure not just sitting on a front table. Books on front tables DO occasionally fail. It's word-of-mouth. That's reader response.

Also, I find it incredibly sad that the only thing you care about is making a living from writing. Henry was right, you are a capitalist. If that contents you then go about your business.

As for hijacking your thread, I'll be happy to stop posting, when you and others stop replying to and addressing me.

Moses said...

Joe, Zoe, everyone ...

A little question during the 7th inning stretch:

Do you know the names of any authors who self-published to Kindle first, and then got publishing contracts? Good contracts with good publishers, ideally.

Thanks in advance.

Eric Christopherson said...

@ Moses

One of them gave his story in this thread (John Rector), and there is also Boyd Morrison, who was agented and got turned down all over NY two years previously, but when his Kindle books started selling by the bucketful his agent resubbed and got a multi-book deal with S&S, and Boyd has said the Kindle sales played a role in his deal.

I'm sure there are other examples by now, but because these guys write mystery/suspense as I do I know of them.

Joe Konrath said...

@ Eric - Please email me.

@ Moses - Boyd was up on Kindle a few weeks ahead of me, and I emailed him and asked him how to get going on Kindle.

Are publishers and agents recruiting via Kindle? I don't think so. At least, not that I'm aware of. But saying you sold 5000 books on Kindle should pique an agent's or publisher's interest, if they're savvy.

Eric Christopherson said...

Let's say, hypothetically speaking, you have no traditional credentials and you suck as a writer, and only God knows this for sure, so you put a book up on Kindle.

Your book has a good cover and a solid blurb and you majored in marketing in college (or earned an MBA) and you work your butt off selling the book. So you put up a second book, and a third. And they sell, and they keep on selling, not because you're developing a readership, not because any reader is buying a second book from you, but because the market for ebooks is exploding and whereas there were 3 million readers in 2009 there are 6 million by the end of 2010 and so on. It takes several years before your sales begin to fall off, when the market expansion cools.

And then where are you? You could have instead focused on your craft all these years, taken writing classes from published authors, studied the best books on the craft, and written more novels, to the point where you actually stopped sucking at writing, got an agent, found a publisher, begun to build a real career, but you didn't. You made some pocket change and got to tell your friends, relatives and associates you're a writer, at the expense of stealing from thousands of readers at 99 cents a pop ($2.99 a pop after July 1, 2010), i.e., taking their money and providing a bad to mediocre at best experience.

A cautionary tale ...

Now if on the other hand you don't suck and you're getting loads of reviews (a measure of enthusiasm for your work) and 75% are five-stars (a measure of quality), then carry on ...

Anonymous said...

I would think, and it's only my opinion, that the fact that almost ALL of the "self-pub" success stories involve being snatched up by major publishers points to the obvious - that major writing success must contain a publisher who will get your book into bookstores.

All these authors "sell out" to the publisher or agent when they're approached - and take the deal when it's offered. I'd say that makes it pretty obvious that it's better to have a agent OR a publisher than going it alone.

Joe Konrath said...

@ Eric - I believe you're 100% correct. In an ever-expanding market, it's possible to never saturate it. So there will always be newbies willing to give you a shot.

And you know what? That's not really a bad business model.

While reviews and 5 star ratings are nice, I think the better indicator of if you're doing well is repeat business. If someone reads one book and then buys the others, you're doing something right.

All these authors "sell out" to the publisher or agent when they're approached - and take the deal when it's offered. I'd say that makes it pretty obvious that it's better to have a agent OR a publisher than going it alone.

I agree, Anon, but only to a point.

If a publisher offered to buy my ebook THE LIST, which has sold 11,000 copies on Kindle, I'd really have to think hard about it.

Selling 11,000 copies per year, when the royalty rate goes up to 70%, means I'll earn over $20,000 annually on that book.

Even if a publisher offered me $50,000, which is a nice amount for a paperback deal, I'm not sure I'd take it. While it would be great to see the book in print and available in bookstores, that deal could actually cost me money. Especially since THE LIST could sell over 100,000 copies in the next five years, if it keeps up on it's current course.

In fact, I'm really not sure I'd ever give up any e-rights again, unless the money was ridiculous.

Moses said...

In fact, I'm really not sure I'd ever give up any e-rights again, unless the money was ridiculous.

I'm curious: Have you been able to get publishing contracts recently without giving up e-rights? I would imagine that publishers feel as strongly about owning them as you now do.

Zoe Winters said...

Eric,

Where does James Patterson fall into this equation of "sucking or not sucking as a writer?"

I really don't think crappy books even with good covers are going to have massive sales on the Kindle even in an ebook explosion. Readers read reviews and they can "sample" on the Kindle before buying.

Kindle books are also 100% returnable so if everyone has an unhappy reading experience they will return the books and the author will *know* it's not cause they are a good writer. Bad word-of-mouth tends to out pace good marketing anyway.

I saw an indie author zoom past me up to number 42 in the overall kindle store for her book Tiger's Curse. Her book has like a zillion great reviews, most of them very in-depth. So bad writing isn't going to go that high, readers aren't that stupid.

My novella, by contrast is good, but it's a light "fluffy" read. It's not exactly anything 'epic' here. And my sales ranking reflects that. If I want into the top 500, I have to do better. A snazzy cover ain't going to cut it, IMO.

Eric Christopherson said...

@ Joe: "While reviews and 5 star ratings are nice, I think the better indicator of if you're doing well is repeat business. If someone reads one book and then buys the others, you're doing something right."

Agreed, but you can't measure repeat sales. (Actually, Amazon could but they'd never share the data.)

Anonymous said...

No offense, but there's plenty of people who don't really care about the Amazon 5 star ratings. They're usually inflated because moany of them are false.

Most of them are from friends and family puffing them up to make their friend/relative look good.
I can point to PublishAmerica books with 5-Star ratings...

:P

I'm still confused as to if Zoe considers herself to be an "artist" and the rest of us, writing for the masses, to be writing "crap" because we don't want to self-pub and "sell out to the system".

:D

Joe Konrath said...

Have you been able to get publishing contracts recently without giving up e-rights?

I haven't tried, yet. But I will, next contract, which will happen soon.

Agreed, but you can't measure repeat sales. (Actually, Amazon could but they'd never share the data.)

I know. But you can compare your books to each other.

My sales vary wildly, title to title. Is that because people buy one, don't like it, and don't buy more? Or are the lower sales actually from repeat customers, because Kindlers tend to buy low-cost ebooks and then not read them right away?

Wish I knew. I get emails from people who liked one book, and then tell me they bought others, but I don't know the percentage.

No offense, but there's plenty of people who don't really care about the Amazon 5 star ratings. They're usually inflated because many of them are false.

I tend to agree. But I also notice that my books that have more ratings seem to sell better than my books that have fewer ratings, regardless of if the ratings are good or bad.

I think a lot of ratings might subconsciously indicate to a reader that it's a "hot" book.

Which makes me wonder if I should try to solicit ratings....

Zoe Winters said...

Anon,

I consider ANYONE who creates something to be an "artist" assuming they aren't JUST doing it to pander to someone else's economic bottom line. I write mainly paranormal romance under the Zoe Winters name. That's not exactly what people consider "high art." What I'm writing would be considered "commercial" if I was seeking an outside publisher for it.

I don't think commercial fiction writers aren't "artists." I think when the ONLY thing that matters to you is writing something "marketable" even if it is in contradiction to your own writing ambitions, then you aren't one.

Just like paint-by-numbers isn't art.

Also, almost all of my 5-star reviews are from people who I don't know and don't know me. The few reviews I have on Amazon from people I "know" are people I met "through" my writing, not people I knew outside of writing. I mean, really, if you are trad published and you start engaging with someone who comes to visit your blog, and they like you as a person and then they buy your book and review it on Amazon, does that suddenly make their view worthless?

Strong grassroots fan bases are built based on interaction. I can't afford to be some lofty author not interacting with my readers. That interaction is what makes people feel it's worth it to help me out and blog about me and spread the word about my work.

Jude Hardin said...

Have you been able to get publishing contracts recently without giving up e-rights? I would imagine that publishers feel as strongly about owning them as you now do.

The contract I just signed splits the net proceeds from subsidiary rights (including electronic rights) 50/50 between publisher and author, which I think is fair. Everything is negotiable, of course, but I don't think many--if any--publishers are going to give up ebook rights at this point.

rex kusler said...

When I'm considering buying a book, I don't read any of the 4 or 5-star reviews, because I just figure those are devout fans. I start at the 1-star reviews and work my way up to the 3-stars, reading between the lines. I have bought books based on 1-star reviews. I remember a review of one of Joe's books, where the reviewer said he was an ex-cop, and the actions of the two cops in the book would have gotten them fired. It was intended to be negative, but I thought is sounded good.

My girlfriend is a voracious reader (she doesn't write). She's always reading fiction, even on five minute trips to the grocery store. She never reads reviews, because she says it's just one persons opinion. She picks out novels by authors she likes. When trying an unknown author, she skips all the blurbs, and reads the description on the cover. I think the reveiws are only important to the author.

Zoe Winters said...

Jude,

HA! We agree on something!

"but I don't think many--if any--publishers are going to give up ebook rights at this point."

*I always cherish these rare moments of agreement. :P *

Anonymous said...

because publishers are automatically bad?

Ms Winters, your hatred and distrust of publishers is most curious - where did this come from?

and is it just the NYC big publishers, or does it go down to small epub houses? Where do you draw the line, if you do?

thank you!

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Anon, I don't "hate" trad publishers, though I "do" distrust them. I don't trust ANY business to have my individual personal interest at heart. Their interest is making money. And that's fine, but with my work I make the rules.

I think probably the volume of my anger exists mostly due to the insane hatred toward self-publishing, no matter the quality of the book involved, JUST self-publishing itself practically deserves jail time. (And people will deny they feel this way, BUT they will attempt to ostracize any writer who doesn't follow the rules and call into question that writer's intelligence, savvy, and ability to write. Not exactly healthy interaction.)

My irritation is somewhat reactionary. If no one cared if people self-pubbed and were content to just let them do what they were going to do and judged books based on their quality, not method of publication, you'd never hear a peep out of me.

And I don't expect someone to go out of their way to read indie authors. But I do expect someone to have enough sense to not "suddenly" dislike a book because it's indie. If everything sounded great and you liked it before you found out the author published their own work, there should be no problem.

The DIY ethic is honored in music, and film. There is no intelligent reason not to honor it in books. If most self-pubbed books suck, fair enough. But when you come across someone who obviously doesn't suck, who cares about improving craft, and putting out a high quality book for their readers, who is working hard and *not* taking shortcuts, then to diminish them or act as if they are rejects who "couldn't get a publisher" will tend to piss me off.

I'm not sure a lot of writers will ever stop drinking the kool aid long enough to realize not ALL writers want the same things. There is value inherent in being indie. It doesn't mean it's "better" than trad publishing, this doesn't have to be a war or competition, but it becomes one when indie authors are "by default" bad, when this attitude doesn't exist about any other independent form of artistic expression.

I just plain don't like working for other people. I don't want to be beholden to a publisher. I just want to do my own thing. I could be indie and keep my mouth shut about it and just interact with my readers and never have all this drama, but to me it's just a fundamental bit of unfairness that I will fight until things change. And I'm not the only one.

Consider it the punk rock movement of writing. We're getting louder and more defiant, and we won't shut up until people judge us on our merit not our business model.

Jude Hardin said...

Zoe:

I'm fine with my publisher retaining those rights. If the book is a huge success, everyone wins, which is as it should be.

Eventually the prices on ebooks will stabilize (depending on perception of value), and a 50% royalty rate will look pretty good. Personally I think a professionally-produced ebook is worth more than $2.99, and I'm hoping the eventual stabilized price will reflect that. I think they should cost at least as much as a paperback, but we'll see.

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Jude,

$2.99 "may" be a little low, but it's a good price point for overcoming buyer resistance to something new. If your publisher did that, it might help fuel your print sales on Amazon.

Since some books start out as MMPB I just don't see a justification for pricing an ebook higher than $7.99 unless it's specialized nonfiction information.

Theresa Milstein said...

This is such an informative post, I'm going to like it when it fits into one of my posts.

Laura said...

"If I discourage someone from writing, that person never would have been a writer anyway."

ABSOLUTELY!

If discouragement made a difference, I would not have a writing career. The first dozen agents I ever queried all rejected me; half said I had no talent, and the other half said the market was dead and I should fugghedaboud it. My first-ever publisher dumped me. My second publisher folded. My first-ever agent (whom I hired when I was already a full-time professional novelist) dumped me when the first proposal I gave him was rejected by five editors. Of my three other agents (all of whom I fired), two refused to send out my work and/or gave up on projects within 1-4 rejections. My third publisher dropped me after my editor was laid off. My fifth publisher dropped me after my editor was laid off. My seventh publisher dumped me for weak sales figures. And so on.

Nonetheless, I've made about 25 book sales to major houses, about 5 book sales to small presses, have sold 60 short stories, over 100 articles, and an award-winning author in two genre's, have made the "Year's Best" lists of major magazines, and am currently under contract for four books at major houses.

This is NOT a profession for people who can't cope with rejection and discouragement. And the hobby of self-publishing is a good place for people unsuited to dealing with the hardships of the HIGHLY competitive nature of professional writing.

Laura said...

Jude, basing subrights on "net" is what's in play now with e-royalties, of course, and that problem with net is that it's a lot like "faith"--REALLY hard to measure with numbers. And since money is measured in numbers, based royalties on net is a big problem.

My literary lawyer and I were negotiated with a publisher in late 2007 that wanted to base my US print royalty on a percentage of net. So we said, "Okay, what is the net based on?" And, basically, after four weeks of negotiations, discussions, and emailed PDF forms, the answer came down to, "We really have no idea at all what we're basing net on." And we said, "Then I'll need my royalty based on cover price, thanks, and I DON'T CARE if that's no longer house policy, I'm not signing a contact that says you're assinging me a percentage of a totally undefined, unquantifiable, unknown, untraceable sum."

But, unforuntately--see agent Kristen Nelson's recent blog post about this from a real negotiation just a week or two ago--a lot of publishers are currently saying viz e-rights... "Yeah, we really don't know what 'net' is or where it comes from, but we're making 'a percentage of net' the non-negotiable basis of your e-royalties.'"

Apparently if I click my heels three times in my ruby shoes and wish hard enough, it'll suddenly make sense?

Laura said...

"However, I believe there is a minimum set of criteria that need to be met before something is publishable, and those criteria are quantifiable."

Joe, yup, I learned this. A little while after I made my first book sale years ago, the head of the program told me that although a lot of aspiring writers were really frustrated that submission guidelines called for a cover letter with a two-page synopsis and NO MORE than that, actually, that much material was all the editors needed to be able to tell (a) if someone could write and (b) whether what they were writing was potentially right for this house.

A few years later, I mentioned in conversation to an editor of mine that I'd reached a point where I only gave a book one chapter to grab me, and if it didn't, then I tossed it aside; she said she no longer gave anything that long to grab her. She had long since learned that if a MS doesn't grab her on the first page, it's never going to grab her, so she never stuck with anything past the first page if she wasn't engaged by then. (And since she received an EIGHT FOOT HIGH pile of submissions each week, this was an understandable choice.)

At one point, someone in the business called me and asked me, as a favor, to give some advice to someone they knew who'd written a book. The person would never write anything saleable, I was told: "You can tell immediately whether someone has got it or they don't; and this person doesn't." I didn't understand, so I said, "Have your friend send me the MS."

That was the first time I ever saw non-professional work. Until then, I'd only ever seen published books and the MSs of friends who are professional writers. When I saw this MS, then I understood. Subsequently, when doing critiques for charity auctions or when maneuvered into reading material for conventions or fundraisers on occasion (I have long since learned to refuse to do so), I also saw and understood.

There is a basic, fundamental level of professional quality. Mostly, it's about mechanics. A large percentage of MSs in the slushpile are written by people who do not have a professional level of necessary writing skills: grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, clarity, story logic, character logic, context, point-of-view, transitions, vocabulary, etc.

Some of these skills (possibly all) can be learned. But most people who want to be novelists, as it happens, do NOT learn them; and only the people who learn them are going to get book offers from professional publishing houses. That's the first cut in any slushpile--and it's a cut that eliminates the majority of material out there.

For years, I had NO IDEA, since I had never seen non-professional work. I always thought the differences between slush and acquired MSs was subtle. But no, it turns out that, the vast majority of the time, it's the difference between serving raw chicken and chicken that's cooked.

Laura said...

"But I do expect someone to have enough sense to not "suddenly" dislike a book because it's indie."

But there's a fundamental flaw in your expectation, Zoe, and it has to do with one major, salient feature of the book industry: Most readers WANT their books to be pre-vetted.

Not ALL readers; but most.

Most readers are largely unaware of how publishing works, don't know what editors or publishers do (in terms of the vetting process), so they're not conscious of relying on publishers for vetting. But they're very protective of their reading time, which is precious and hard-won, so they don't want to waste it (and often talk resentfully of any book that they feel DID waste it); ergo, most readers consciously and consistently favor specific vetting processes for the books they select to read.

A very large percentage of readers, for example, mostly read bestsellers, on the basis that if a book is that successful, then it's worth reading and won't be a waste of the reader's time. Similarly, another overwhelmingly common way to choose a book is based on a recommendation from a trusted source: a friend or spouse; a relative or co-worker; an opinion leader (ex. Oprah Winfrey); a review journal or reviewer whom he reader follows; a perceived expert; etc.

MUCH more than advertising, the above examples are far-and-a-way the most common ways that readers are influenced to pick up a book. (Another very common way, of course, is if they see a book by an author whose previous book they liked.) And these are all selection-methods that rely on vetting.

Publishing promo often attempts to mimic this vetting process. For example, promo copy on a book includes cover quotes by popular writers (whom the reader might regard as an opinion leader in this matter) enthusing about this book and professional reviewers (ditto) enthusing about the writer's previous work.

Meanwhile, book retailers primarily rely on publishers to vet books. A retailer can't afford to have stock that no one buys, and although publishing houses certainly get it wrong a percentage of the time (look at how often HARRY POTTER was rejected), a house that gets it right enough to make a profit stay in business is a house that's vetting accurately enough to keep the retail market going.

A self-published novel is one a bookseller can't be sure anyone but the =author= thinks is marketable. And until a self-published book is vetted via some process that a reader relies on (see any of the above), a reader usually isn't going to be interested in it, either.

Packaging can influence this scenario, which is why professional publishers put so much thought, effort, and expense into packaging; but in this, too, a self-published book is typically at a distinct disadvantage due to lack of funds (Penguin USA can certainly spend a lot more on packaging my work than I could spend, especially since their enormous distribution machinery means the per-unit cost is much lower for them than it would be for me) and lack of participation from the professional artists and designers and consultants who are working at the competitive professional levels of the business.

Moreover, the more readers become aware of self-published books, the more they simultaneously become aware that there's no vetting taking place at a level which, with most professionally published books, can be taken for granted: editorially ensuring a fundamental professional level of writing skill in a book. Basic mechanics. And that's a type of vetting that the majority of readers =want= to take for granted when they open a book.

Joe Konrath said...

Great comments, Laura.

Zoe Winters said...

Laura,

I appreciate the time you took to answer my comments, but everything you're saying misses one point...

If the book is good, SOME readers will take a chance on it. Those readers will tell other readers. Reviews will be left. It will add up. My entire comment was basically if you find my book and everything looks good:

My cover is professional.

My layout looks good.

I've got good reviews (that are CLEARLY not just friends based on the fact that they've read the book, know what it's about, and can discuss the book's subject intelligently.)

I've got good blurbs.

I've got good description.

You can sample it and you like the sample.

If ALL of these things are true...

THEN you go: "Oh, this is self-published and toss it out..."

Then I have no respect for you, or any other reader who does something so asinine.

The "vetting system" is one more strawman and myth in a long list of them. Just because a publisher finds something marketable doesn't mean it's actually a good book. EVERY reader takes a chance with every book they pick up. But readers are not stupid.

I think it's insulting to say that readers NEED their books pre-vetted. That's like saying they are mentally retarded and can't figure out on their own whether or not they want to read a book based on the browsing and buying practices all readers go through for any book.

(It's further a strawman because "readers" vet books with things like the Amazon reviews system, and with sites like Indie Reader, where every book on the site is pre-vetted by professionals.)

Why doesn't music have to be pre-vetted or films? Why are consumers of music and film smart enough to figure out if something is worth investing more of their time and money on, but readers aren't?

I have to say that this attitude that readers can't figure out their own reading material is so insulting it makes me want to switch to only reading indie books. And despite popular opinion, there are enough good ones to keep me busy.

I think *that* is the real threat here. It's vitally important to some to keep the status quo in place and repeat over and over again that books "must" be vetted.

And yet, small publishers exist who aren't the author and they are new to publishing and they are respected even though they don't have any more knowledge about publishing and producing a good book than I do. (And some of them, probably less. I've seen some of the crap some of them have produced. Not being the author of the work, doesn't suddenly make you a good publisher.)

And “being” the author of a work, doesn't make you incompetent to publish it. Some people just have more than one skill set.

There is no professional certification for being a publisher. Until one exists, acting like they have the right or authority to vet the quality of anything is a little much, IMO.

Joe Konrath said...

If the book is good, SOME readers will take a chance on it.

That assumes readers have some built in radar that allows them to automatically be able to discover "good" books.

Big NY Publishing spends a lot of time and money getting readers to try books. And they spend a lot of time and money ensuring that when a book is tried, it meets a minimum quality standard.

Just because a book is "good" doesn't mean it will find an audience. Which is why you want the widest distribution possible, with a marketing campaign behind it. Which is yet another reason to sign with a major publisher.

www.funnyjones.com said...

re: "But I didn't become a writer so I could spend my time formatting, working with cover artists, uploading constant corrections, fiddling with product descriptions, and pimping myself on message boards. I became a writer to write. I'd much rather just write the books, and leave everything else to a savvy publisher.
In other words, writing is a job. Self-publishing your writing is two jobs. I'd rather just have one job."

Unfortunately, the 21st century artist is not longer JUST an artist. If he/she wants any commercial success, in most cases, a percentage of time must be devoted to web marketing, etc. In my opinion the days of the crazy artist that has no business sense (and making it) are over. And if you do not have a web presence in 2010 then you may as well hang it up or do it as a hobby, whatever it is you do.
So, Joe, your frustrations of working with a little html, uploading pdf's and making an image in photoshop may be frustrating to you because perhaps you found success before the explosion of web. As it is now, my young standup comedian and musician friends frequently exercise these skills as they attempt to establish a web presence for their work, beget more work, make money, MAKE IT, etc. It's just understood that the artist 2.0 has to devote some time away from their craft doing these things. I'm not saying it is right, but I am saying that it is more common than you think and I don't believe the new writers are going to hear your argument against self-publishing on the grounds that we should ONLY be creating our art and leave the business stuff to business minds. The new artist is artist mind/business mind already.
-Jonesy, NYC standup comedian

kathryn said...

Publishing, even e-publishing is a long game. I got into it because there were books out there that had fallen out of print that I wanted to read (again). In trying to track them down, I found they weren't available unless I had a large wad of bills available for Ebay. thank you for your share with us by your e-business book

Suzanne Tyrpak said...

Joe, you're an inspiration. I just put a collection of short stories, on Kindle:

DATING MY VIBRATOR (and other true fiction)

True and almost true short stories based (unfortunately) on my own dating experience--online, offline, standing in line, listening to lines. And I have survived to tell these tales.

For years I've heard tales of doom from publishers regarding e-publishing. I think it's providing an incredible opening for writers.

Jay Perry said...

Great article but for the part-time author or hobbyist writer, I think the ebook platform is perfect. For us it's not about the money or rejection - its about the whole artistic experience,,, which you have not acknowledged. For us, we want the creative experience and to hell with the rest - sales included.. Jay...

Jacob Chastain said...

It is completely crazy to read your arguments just 2 years ago. A lot has changed.