Sunday, April 03, 2011

Ebooks and Self-Publishing Part 2 - Another Dialog Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath

Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath Continue to Discuss Ebooks and Self-Publishing (with some help from Dean Wesley Smith)

Joe: So two weeks ago we released our 13,000 word dialog about ebooks and publishing, and it looks like a few people have read it.

Barry: Up until the part about the monkey and the frog, anyway.

Joe: People have brought up several interesting points--too many to respond to one at a time, so we’ve decided to address what seem like the most common questions and reactions here, in a quick follow-up dialog.

Barry: Quick for us meaning anything less than 13,000 words. In this case, it’s only 15,000 or so.

Joe: It’s true a few people thought the conversation was too long. But I think what they were really responding to was a lack of headings. We should have used headings--would have made the conversation easier to navigate.

Barry: Well, no reason we can’t add them now. This is digital. And maybe we should use some here, too.

And so...

BESTSELLING INDIE AUTHOR AMANDA HOCKING JUST SIGNED WITH A LEGACY PUBLISHER. DOESN’T THAT MEAN YOU’RE WRONG?

Barry: One of the most interesting aspects of Amanda’s and my simultaneous announcements is the way the whole thing has acted as a kind of inkblot test for people interested in the publishing industry. If you think legacy publishing is doomed, you see my announcement and say, “This proves legacy publishing is doomed!” If you think talk of legacy publishing’s doom is exaggerated, you see Amanda’s announcement and say, “This proves legacy publishing is a more attractive option than indie!”

Here’s one of my favorite examples of the way ideology is clouding logic on this topic. One tweet I saw said, Eisler doesnt know how much work self-pub is, walks away from $500k deal. Hocking does, signs w/ publisher. Hm..."

Joe: Hmm. Wouldn’t the opposite also be true?

Barry: Yes, you spotted the problem right away: it would be equally accurate to say Amanda doesn’t know legacy publishing as it is to say that I don’t know indie. In other words, in a situation that’s obviously roughly equivalent--two people, each leaving the realm that’s familiar to him/herself and entering the realm that’s familiar to the other--this guy could only see half the equation.

Joe: The half that bolstered his ideology.

Barry: Exactly. And the half that didn’t bolster the ideology got filtered out. I don’t mean to be too hard on him, by the way--there have been cognitive studies demonstrating we all do this to some extent or another. But you have to stay aware of it or you can come to some pretty silly conclusions.

Joe: But what do you think of Amanda’s move on the merits?

Barry: From her blog, it sounds like what Amanda was going for here was a better way to reach paper readers. I mentioned this possibility in an interview with The Daily Beast and I also recently discussed it with Amanda herself and with literary agent Ted Weinstein in an online conversation like this one (except shorter), and I think it could be a smart move. There’s no doubt an author can reach far more paper readers with a legacy distribution partner than without. There are a lot of “it depends” involved, but overall, if the new deal introduced Amanda to hundreds of thousands of readers who currently prefer paper, who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of her, and who will sooner or later switch to digital where they’ll become loyal customers of her self-published titles, it could work out really well.

Think of it as buying advertising for her self-published books (though “buying” might not be the right word, considering what they’re paying her). At a minimum, it’s a hedge: I’m doing well in one world, so I’ll establish a presence in the other world, too, just in case.

Or, to break it down a little further, look at it like this. First, I’ll stipulate that Amanda would almost certainly make more money from those four books if she published them herself. But money isn’t the only thing in play here, and neither are those four books.

So let’s take two scenarios--one worst case, the other best. Worst case, the publisher does a terrible job, the books reach relatively few paper readers, and Amanda doesn’t earn out. Best case, the publisher does a brilliant job, Amanda reaches millions of new readers, and the contract earns out. No matter how poorly or how well she does under the contract, it’ll be a challenge to make more money from these four titles than she could have by selling them herself at a substantially lower retail price and a substantially higher per-unit margin, but either way, worst case or best, the gap between what she earns from the legacy deal and what she would have earned by self-publishing the titles represents the cost of the deal to her.

But cost doesn’t mean anything unless it’s compared to value. I mean, if I said, “I paid ten dollars for it,” how could someone opine about whether “it” was worth the ten dollars if he didn’t even know what “it” was? And most of the negative reaction to Amanda’s decision I’ve seen has focused only on potential cost, while failing to take into account potential value. But whatever the cost is, if it results in a million new readers she otherwise wouldn’t have acquired, all of whom become customers for her high-margin self-published oeuvre, I’d say the deal was worth it. She gives up revenues from these four titles forever, but potentially gains revenue on all her other titles forever.

There’s one more intangible here we haven’t mentioned, and that’s the pleasure or the headache of working with a legacy publisher. As I mentioned in our earlier conversation, having to cede business and creative control to someone else has been frustrating and costly for me.

Joe: Me too. And we could both name dozens of other legacy pubbed authors who agree. But there are a minority who have done very well.

Barry: Right. Amanda could have a quite different experience than ours. In this regard, I think she’s chosen well. In thrillers, at least, St. Martin’s is the best in the business right now (look at the job they’ve done with Charles Cummings’ critically acclaimed The Trinity Six, to name just one), and if they execute in young adult the way they have been in thrillers, this could turn out to be a smart move for Amanda.

Last thought. One critical thing that’s gone overlooked here by everyone but Amanda herself is this: we’re now living in a world where an author takes a two-million dollar book deal--and has her judgment widely attacked for doing so! And who herself describes the deal as a risk she’s taking. Of all the signs of the times I’ve seen during early skirmishes of this revolution, I think this might be the most telling.

Joe: Amanda strikes me as smart, talented, and level-headed, and I hope her publisher gives her the star treatment and makes her an even bigger success.

Still, you have a good idea of what self-publishing is like, because you’ve been in constant conversation with me for the past two years. Plus, let’s be honest, fundamentally your last two books were self-published, at least in terms of marketing and publicity. Virtually every review you got, those blurbs from all the journalists and spies and military and movie people, all the feature coverage you got, the attention in the blogosphere, the free banner ads, the partnership with independent journalists... that was all you. And let’s not even go into the kinds of tours you’ve done, the--

Barry: Okay, fair to say I know a bit about what it’s like to publish a book without the effective involvement of a legacy publisher.

Joe: By contrast, Amanda has no experience with traditional publishing. If she’d had my experience, or your experience, or the experience of dozens of other authors we know, it would have given her more information on which to base her decision.

Instead, she based it on what she believes is the publishing ideal. Yet the ideal and the reality are often much different.

I hope she winds up getting ideal treatment from St. Martin’s. I think it would be awesome if they could turn her into another Stephanie Meyer.

Less awesome would be getting stuck with covers she hates, being obliged to do exhausting and unproductive tours, spending endless hours on the phone with editors and publicists and media, dealing with the countless mistakes publishers make, and having any of the dozens of problems with publishers that we’ve both seen so often that they’re considered normal.

And hopefully her agent struck the no-compete clause, so she can still self-publish other titles. But that might prove harder to do if she’s on a two-month tour and doing countless interviews.

Barry: I think it comes down to this. The theory of publishing is great: the publisher expertly handles every aspect of publishing the book, leaving the author to worry about nothing but writing it.

Joe: It’s a great theory. But how often does it work in practice?

Barry: Rarely, but not never.

Joe: We have a word for that. It’s called, “lottery.”

Barry: Hah. That’s actually another good framework for understanding some of the dynamics of a legacy deal.

Joe: If you’re willing to gamble, it’s something you can try, and something that occasionally pays off. But again, we both know scores of authors. How many have been dropped by their publishers? Lots. How many have even earned out their advances? Few.

Barry: Well, when you’re buying a lottery ticket, you can’t just consider the payout. You have to consider the cost of the ticket. Speaking of which, would you sign a two-million-dollar/four-book deal?

Joe: I wouldn’t even be tempted by it. I’ve worked with legacy publishers for over eight years, and I’ve proven I can do better on my own. Even if I never become a millionaire, the amount of fun I’m having right now, and the freedom and control I have over my career, have tremendous value to me, value I wouldn’t give up for $500,000+ per book. I’d also hate to be locked into a contract spanning several years, considering the state of flux the industry is in.

Barry: Agreed. A long deal is scary right now.

Joe: Right. I certainly wouldn’t sign a four-book deal, with the last book being released, when? In 2016?

Will there be any bookstores left in 2016? Those reading this might be saying “Of course there will be, dummy!” But what if I said, back in 2006, “Will Borders declare bankruptcy and B&N’s stock reach an all time low?” Would anyone have agreed?

Barry: I wouldn’t have. I was in the middle of the 350-bookstore Last Assassin tour just then.

Joe: If bookstores do take a nosedive, and there’s no clause in Amanda’s contract guaranteeing her a minimum print run, then she was paid a lot of money to have someone publish her ebooks and sell them for $12.99. Methinks she’d sell more, and earn more, at $2.99. Without the ideal benefits of print, this isn’t a good deal. But she’s gambling it will be ideal, and she can afford to take this risk.

As it stands, I’ve been paid over $250k for my print deals, and these books are still in print and selling. But the last time I crunched numbers, six months ago, I realized I could be earning about $150k more, per year, if I had those rights back. When I check my latest royalty statements, I’m going to have to make sure I have the antacids ready, because I’m sure that number has gotten much bigger.

All that said, I think I understand Amanda’s reasons for taking the deal, and here’s hoping it works for her the way it could. She’s smart and talented and an inspiration to scores of authors, and hers is a true success story. I’d really like her to sell like crazy, even better than she already is.

Barry: Agreed. Now, let’s talk about you. What’s your price?

Joe: Well, if I were offered two million for a single book, I’d take it. But I think a likelier scenario is for the Big 6 to pool together two million and hire an assassin to gun me down. (I wonder how many people in the legacy publishing industry nodded their heads and smiled when they read that.)

What’s your price? Obviously not $250k...

Barry: I’m not sure. Jason asked me this in the Beast interview, and I’ll quote my answer here:

What’s that Winston Churchill line? “We’ve already established what you are, madam; now we are merely negotiating a price.” So sure, there’s always going to be a number—after all, legacy or indie, publishing is a business for me, not an ideology. I don’t know what figure would have done the trick; I never gave it much thought because it wasn’t really relevant. But it would have had to be a good deal more than I expect I’ll be able to make myself over the course of say, ten years (present value of money vs. long-term value). It also would have had to be enough to act as an insurance policy against legacy publisher ineptitude; to be worth giving up the joy and excitement of finally being in charge of all the aspects of publishing I’ve always wanted to be in charge of; and to offset the discomfort of being part of a system that I think is fundamentally flawed and that in many ways has become punitive both to writers and readers.

Joe: You haven’t answered the question.

Barry: I guess you’re right, but only because I just don’t know for sure. You have a lot of data and experience with indie that so far I lack. But I will say this. Whatever my price might be today? A year from now, I’m betting it’ll be a lot higher.

Joe: That’s fair. My data is your data, though. I’ve been open with revealing numbers since I started down this path, because I knew the best way to convince others was with dollars and sales figures.

Barry: A lot of writers owe you for that. Legacy publishers, not so much.

Joe: I get thanked a lot, and it’s fun to see writers who read my blog end up selling well, but no one owes me anything. I’m happy to share information that can make writers money, but seeing information and acting upon it are two different things.

Barry: Guess you’ll be turning down free drinks in bars, then.

Joe: Those I always take. It would be rude not to.

Barry: There’s one more important difference between my move and Amanda’s that I think is worth considering. Depending on the format they choose, St. Martin’s will be pricing Amanda’s books at somewhere between three times and as much as fifteen times what’s she’s been charging (higher self-published price of $2.99 vs an $8.99 paperback, or lowest self-published price of $0.99 vs a steeply discounted hardback rate of $15.00, or something in between). I know what I can sell in digital at $9.99 and at a minimum I’m cutting that price in half. It’s not yet known what Amanda can sell at legacy price points. I think this price delta presents a challenge, but not an insurmountable one, and again, if the new deal effectively creates legions of new fans for Amanda’s self-published works--especially fans willing to pay, and used to paying, legacy prices--it could work out well for everyone involved.

WHAT ABOUT THE GLUT OF SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS? HOW WILL ANYONE KNOW WHICH ARE GOOD?

Barry: The best way to answer this question is to ask, what are people doing about the glut today? I mean, assuming book buyers don’t personally sample each of the 150,000+ titles published every year, how are they cutting through the clutter?

Joe: We have no problem at all surfing through YouTube to find something interesting to watch (like monkey-frog love), or doing the same on cable with 300 channel choices.

As I’ve said many times, readers are good at being the gatekeepers. They can separate wheat from chaff, and then help others do the same with reviews, lists, recommendations, and word of mouth.

Barry: Actually, there’s something I want to tease out from those two thoughts. Agreed that people use YouTube just fine without anyone fulfilling a gatekeeper function, so we know consumers don’t need a gatekeeper. What they do need is a way of narrowing the available choices down to a manageable amount from which they can make individual decisions. A gatekeeper, like a legacy publisher, is one way of doing that, although “narrowing” is a strong word to use when the result is 150,000+ choices a year. But “gatekeeping” is a way. It’s not the only way.

Joe: I’d also argue that gatekeeping isn’t the best way. I’ve made $17,500 in 12 days on a book the gatekeepers rejected 12 years ago. Apparently they aren’t always accurate in predicting what people want to read.

Barry: That is insane. And no doubt, the gatekeepers make plenty of mistakes. My point wasn’t about the quality of their gatekeeping so much as it was about the narrowing effect of the gatekeeping. In other words, the gatekeeper can make qualitatively terrible decisions, and still narrow the range of consumer choices. Of course, not in a way that’s necessarily good for the consumer.

Joe: Or for the writer. Though now I’m very grateful I had many early books rejected.

Barry: Yeah, you dodged a bullet on that one. Fate is a strange thing.

Anyway, what YouTube proves is that when you remove the formal gatekeeper, other means of helping consumers decide get introduced. Crowdsourcing, for example. For anyone who doesn’t understand what I mean here, just ask yourself this. If you’ve ever seen something you particularly enjoyed on YouTube, did you select it after first reviewing everything else posted on YouTube? Or did you rely on something else to narrow the choice for you? If the latter, then you know from your own experience that there are ways other than having a traditional gatekeeper to effectively narrow a glut of information.

Joe: Yes, part of the problem here, once again, is that people are conflating a function with the entity currently providing it, in this case assuming that there’s no way help the consumer decide other than a legacy gatekeeper. But right now there are close to a million ebooks on Kindle, yet new bestsellers are being discovered all the time. Cream can and does rise to the top. Especially in a situation where an ebook lasts forever. That’s a long time to find an audience.

Barry: This is another of those weird issues where people are frightened of some “change” being caused by digital and blind to the fact that the “change” exists already in the analogue world. Movies, restaurants, books, music, hotels... any time there’s too much product for the average consumer to be able sample a meaningful amount before deciding, players will arise to winnow the choices and help the consumer decide. I mean, even after publishers have done their gatekeeping job, who has ever walked into a bookstore and sampled every book available before buying the one she thought seemed best? It’s never happened and never will happen. Anytime there’s a glut, players and systems arise to help consumers choose. In fact, the more of a glut, the greater the opportunity for such players. This is one way in which digital is utterly like everything that’s come before it.

Joe: If you build it, folks will organize and categorize it. Google, anyone?

Barry: That is the best example yet. Of course: oh noes, what are we going to do with the information glut?! And God, with thousands of new blogs going up every day, how will anyone be able to find the good ones? Look, if the need is great, there will be many solutions. No one’s going to be left to just sit there stupefied in the face of expanded digital choice.

BUT DON’T YOU NEED AN EDITOR?

Barry: Actually, while we’re on the subject of misconceptions about the unique challenges of digital, let me address one of the FAQs I’ve noticed since we posted our long conversation. A lot of people have been asking, “Well, don’t you need an editor?” Look, of course I need an editor, as does every writer. But there are lots of ways of getting an editor without involving a legacy publisher in the process. Likewise every other still-critical function involved in turning manuscripts into books that get read. These functions have traditionally been fulfilled by publishers, but in the digital age, they will be fulfilled by other players more efficiently.

Joe: And less expensively.

Barry: One other way of thinking about it: unless a publisher has a comparative advantage in editing--that is, unless a publisher can offer editing more cost-effectively than another player can--over time, other players will assume this function and displace legacy publishers in the process. What’s prevented this displacement so far is the legacy publishing’s quasi-monopoly, built on paper distribution, which we discuss in more detail in the previous conversation. As for who the new players will be, we get into that a bit below.

Joe: I’m going to make myself a target and say that not every book written by every author requires extensive editing. The last four legacy books I turned in required minimal editing, and in many cases, those were lateral changes. "Lateral" meaning they made something different, but not necessarily better.

Barry: No doubt, different writers need different amounts and different kinds of editing.

Joe: I’ve written twenty-five novels and hundreds of short stories. I don’t require an editor to hold my hand and walk me through narrative structure, or tell me that my character isn’t dynamic, or that a scene is unnecessary.

Barry: Yeah, I can do all that for you just fine.

Joe: Heh. And I don’t have to pay you anything, other than scotch.

Barry: Your scotch is worth it. Plus, you return the favor.

Joe: When we vet each other’s manuscripts, we’re brutal with our criticism, and often tweak things accordingly. But even then, I don’t think either of us has ever found some gaping plot hole or glaring error in each other’s story.

I’m not saying books don’t benefit from editing, or that writers can fully edit themselves. Far from it. But I am saying that the value an editor provides is dependant on that particular book, and that particular editor. We’ve all read legacy published books where we wonder how the editor missed something vital, and I’ve read dozens of manuscripts by my peers and offered my critiques, and then watched these books get published with very little additional edits.

And no matter how good the editor is, is she worth paying 52.5% royalties forever? Especially when you’re only making 14.9%?

ISN’T PIRACY SCARY FOR INDIES?

Joe: While we’re on the topic of things that have always existed but are being treated as though they’re unique in digital, let’s touch on piracy. Actually, this one is unique to digital, or at least especially a concern with digital, but I’ve noticed a lot of people asking, “Aren’t you indie authors especially afraid of piracy?”

As I’ve said more times than I can count, the only way to combat piracy is through cost and convenience.

Barry: You can’t ever prevent it entirely, any more than a brick and mortar store can entirely prevent shoplifting. The point isn’t to prevent it entirely, but rather to reduce it to a level where it’s not materially hurting your business. Similarly, people who talk about eliminating terrorism are deranged--you might as well talk about eliminating murder or some other type of crime. Elimination would be impossible unless you wanted to live in North Korea (where terrorism isn’t so much eliminated as it is monopolized by the state). The point is to reduce the threat of terrorism to levels at which it poses no threat to our way of life. Same for drugs: the goal of any sane policy is not eradication, but rather usage levels that don’t have a materially adverse impact on society.

Joe: I knew we wouldn’t get through this without at least one political aside.

Barry: Hey, we’re just getting started.

Joe: Anyway, the only way to make piracy less of a concern is through cost and convenience. Piracy is less attractive for a $2.99 book than it is for one that costs more than four times that amount. So what legacy publishers are doing today is incentivizing new pirates, while indies incentivize people to pay authors a fair price.

Barry: The other thing about piracy is, people often assume a pirated book is a lost sale. That’s only true if the pirate would have bought the book if he couldn’t have pirated it. If not, the author lost nothing, and might even have gained on word of mouth. Overall, I think fears of piracy are greatly exaggerated, and in any event are much more of a concern for someone who wants to extract $12.99 for a book than for someone who plans on charging a third of that.

Joe: There has yet to be a convincing, unbiased study on piracy that conclusively shows it harms the artist being pirated. My own personal experience, in both seeing my books pirated and allowing them to be pirated, is that piracy hasn’t prevented me from selling the 3000 a day I’m currently selling.

Barry: But, playing devil’s advocate, might it not be 4000 a day if your books weren’t on all of those torrent sites?

Joe: My books have been on those torrent sites for years. And yet my sales are steadily increasing, month-by-month. While that is hardly conclusive, and we can’t go to an alternate no-pirate universe and compare my sales there to my sales here, I think sales growth is a pretty effective argument against piracy being harmful.

In fact, when I encouraged people to steal from me, my sales increased 600%.

Barry: I want to try that. “Okay, everyone: steal from Joe.”

Joe: Laws that try to prevent people from doing things they want to do just don’t work. The so called individual liberty laws, like drug use, seatbelts, sodomy...

Barry: Frog sodomy?

Joe: An especially anus crime.

Barry: Ugh.

Joe: Anyway, laws against those things have done little if anything to stop folks.

Piracy is something people want to do. Hell, we all do it, to some degree. If you lend a book to your mother, she read it without compensating the artists.

Barry: But you bought the book. The artist was compensated for that.

Joe: I could also buy the download, share it with Mom. We can play percentages all day, and it’s the argument of the beard.

How many hairs does it take to make a beard? If you agree on 3456 hairs, does that mean 3455 isn’t a beard? How about 3454?

If you buy a paper book and loan it to thirty people, how is it different than than posting it online and having 30 people download it?

But that isn’t the point I’m making. The point is that people want to be able to share media. It’s human nature, and an essential part of how we communicate.

You cannot effectively enforce laws that go against human nature. Education and eradication don’t work (War on Drugs, anyone?). Suing pirates, like the RIAA did, was a public relations nightmare that created better, smarter pirates.

Barry: Those scare tactics didn’t seem to do much to curtail piracy, but it made a lot of people despise the RIAA. Just like marijuana eradication efforts resulted in more potent pot.

Joe: It’s impossible to effectively police copyright in a digital world. So rather than fight it, make your work available easily and inexpensively, and I’m betting you won’t be bothered by it.

Barry: I don’t have your experience, but I’m persuaded by your arguments.

Joe: For an excellent open letter about piracy to Scott Turow, the current president of the Authors Guild, read this terrific piece.

YOUR NEGRO BASEBALL LEAGUE ANALOGY WAS OUTRAGEOUS

Joe: In discussing the New York Times insistence that only legacy-published authors can qualify as NYT bestsellers while indie authors, regardless of sales, won’t be counted, we made an analogy to the Negro Baseball League. We claimed that just as segregated baseball was doomed because it became so nakedly absurd to segregate black players who were obviously as least as talented as those in the whites-only league, the Times’ attempt to keep indie authors in a separate and lesser category was also doomed to fail.

Now, Mike Shatzkin and some others have pointed out that our analogy wasn’t historically sound because what really doomed segregated baseball was economics and competition--eventually, white teams couldn’t resist hiring the talent they saw in the negro leagues. We’re not historians, and Mike and the others who have made this point could certainly be correct, in which case our analogy wasn’t quite right. Fair enough. But the underlying point, it seems to me, is still valid: in both cases, you have an establishment attempting to segregate and marginalize talent it finds threatening. And in both cases, the attempt is an obvious farce and doomed to failure. That’s all we meant.

Still, some people got pretty pissed, claiming that we were suggesting the Times’ treatment of indie authors is as bad as racism.

Barry: So we just want to say what we think should be obvious: we didn’t claim, nor do we believe, that excluding bestselling authors from a bestseller list is racism. Or that indie authors who are being excluded this way are suffering the way minorities suffer from racism. I can understand sensitivity to anything that might trivialize the evils of racism (for the same reason, I loathe the promiscuous use of words like Nazi and fascist). But there’s no denying that some of the underlying dynamics in a racist system can be found in other systems, too. Analogies are intended to tease out those dynamics, and that’s all. If we’d intended to be literal, we would have just said, “The New York Times’ treatment of indie authors is racism.” Which would be a strange and unsupportable claim.

Joe: In other words, the analogy was limited, not literal. If anyone missed that and was offended as result, we hope this clears up the misunderstanding.

AREN’T YOU GUYS FORGETTING HOW MUCH YOU GIVE UP ON THE PAPER SIDE WHEN YOU GO INDIE?

Joe: Mike Shatzkin said: “They didn’t do the math on what the loss of print sales and print merchandising might mean in dollars and cents and how to address it.”

While we didn’t give it a lot of space, I believe we did address this issue. I’m on track to earn more for my self-pubbed print novels than I earned on my first legacy published book, Whiskey Sour. I’m not ignoring print. In fact, I’ll earn about $40k on print just this year.

Also, if a book is only available as an ebook, I mentioned that doesn’t automatically mean the loss of a sale (similar logical fallacy as for piracy). Someone who would have bought the print version could very well wind up buying the ebook version instead. Let’s say a book will sell 100 copies of print and ebooks combined. If we take away the print version, there’s a chance it could still sell close to 100 copies, all of them ebooks. So I think the loss Mike speaks of might be smaller than he thinks.

Barry: In making my decision, I actually assumed I would sell no paper at all on my own and that none of my paper readers would follow me over to low-priced digital. I agree with you that this assumption is mistaken and contradicted by available evidence, but I wanted to be conservative in how long it might take me to beat the contract. The main thing for me was, “Can I make more in a pure digital self-published environment that I could make in a mixed digital/paper legacy environment?” If the answer is yes, it’s not that important to me how much paper vs digital I was selling before.

Joe: I have to say on this topic that the two anonymous comments made in the Publishers Marketplace coverage of your defection irritated me. The “senior publishing executive” said: “He’ll have to sell a hell of a lot more copies than he has ever before.” But that’s exactly backward--actually you can sell fewer books, and you’ll make more money, because you’re getting a much higher royalty on your own.

I hope this senior publishing executive isn’t in charge of accounting, because he/she apparently has no conception of numbers.

Barry: Yes, that was not a great moment in the history of anonymously sourced senior publishing professionals.

Joe: The other anonymous comment was: “Nielsen Bookscan figures show Eisler’s print book sales, which have always been driven by mass market editions, declining steadily from book to book.”

Well, duh. ALL print sales have been declining over the last few years. But apparently they weren’t declining to the point where a publisher didn’t want to give you half a million dollars. Also, your mass market edition for your last book isn’t even out, so there are no Nielsen Bookscan figures yet.

Barry: For what it’s worth, what’s actually going on with my paper sales is, they increased steadily over the course of the first six books, then dropped dramatically for the two books I did with Ballantine (though Fault Line and Inside Out still did well enough to land me on the extended NYT list).

Joe: But it doesn’t matter whether your paper numbers were going up or down or whatever--your move is to digital, so you really have to wonder what the second person was trying to accomplish by leaving digital out. “NYT Bestselling Author Leaves Legacy Publishing For Digital Self-Publishing,” and this person didn’t think what’s been happening for you in digital was even worth mentioning? It’s the only thing worth mentioning! Or at least, certainly more relevant than the format you’re leaving behind.

Barry: Yeah, what the second anonymous person forgot to mention, or didn’t realize was critical to the discussion, is what’s been happening for me in digital sales. Which is: my digital numbers have been exploding. Digital has become an increasingly large part of my overall sales, and at one point was responsible for 50% of sales of Inside Out. And that was at a punitive $9.99 price point.

Joe: Whether intentional or not, the way the information on your paper sales was presented was misleading. It was a way of suggesting you weren’t making it in legacy publishing and had no choice but to go it alone.

Barry: Which is doubly funny, since the other soundbite I’ve been encountering is that the only reason I can make this move is because legacy publishers have already built me a huge audience, giving me the luxury to go it alone. I guess it could be one or the other, but probably not both.

Joe: It’s neither. But people need to be able to pigeonhole you, and come up with excuses for what you’re doing. That way they won’t blame themselves for their own inaction in regard to similar choices they might make.

Barry: We already talked about the way anyone who presents a threat to an established order will be subject to attempts at marginalization by that establishment. So the kind of anonymous comments featured in the Publishers Marketplace piece were fairly predictable. In law, they teach you that if you can win on the law, argue the law. If you can’t win on the law, argue the facts. If you can’t win on the facts, argue policy. And if you can’t win on policy, attack the credibility of the witness.

Decisions like mine--and there will be more and more of them--represent a threat to various entrenched interests. It’s only natural that those interests would fight back by attempting to discredit me. Which is normal, predictable, and even comforting, in a “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” way. But there is one thing here that does bug me, and I want to mention it.

Joe: If you’re quoting Gandhi, I didn’t think anything could bug you.

WHICH LEADS TO THE “SHAME ON PUBLISHERS MARKETPLACE” HEADING, TO MAKE THIS SECTION EASIER FOR PUBLISHERS MARKETPLACE TO FIND

Barry: Just this one thing. One of the most destructive, pernicious, slovenly aspects of modern journalism is the promiscuous use of anonymous quotes. Most news consumers are so inured to references to anonymous sources that they don’t even notice them. And though newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post have strict rules about the use of anonymous sources, they routinely ignore them--ignore their own rules.

Here’s the thing. The only time a journalist is justified in using an anonymous source for a quote is when that source is a whistleblower or otherwise faces a legitimate fear of retaliation if her or his identity is revealed. That’s it. That’s the only circumstance. Anything else is at best lazy and more likely corrupt. So while I don’t really care that what the two anonymous Publishers Marketplace sources said was silly, wrong, and misleading, or that the two people who asked for anonymity are cowards, I do care a lot that Publishers Marketplace would offer the individuals in question the protection of anonymity. Were these individuals afraid I would retaliate or something? Smite them with one of my all-powerful indie author thunderbolts?

Joe: More likely they were afraid to look stupid by saying stupid things.

I allow anonymous commenting on my blog, because every so often an industry professional chimes in and wouldn’t want it known by their corporate masters they were either conversing with the enemy, or agreeing with the enemy.

Even then, anonymous posts carry much less weight than those signed with an identity, and they lose a lot of whatever effectiveness they might have had if the person had manned up and owned his own comments.

Barry: The main thing, though, is that when a journalist asks someone for a quote, gives someone the opportunity to be quoted in an article, there needs to be a damn good reason for offering that person anonymity. If the person insists on anonymity in the absence of that damn good reason, a good journalist will quote someone else.

Seriously, I would really like Publishers Marketplace to answer these questions in public:

Publishers Marketplace, why did you offer anonymity in your piece? Do you think this sort of anonymously-sourced journalism promotes accountability, encourages accuracy, and fosters meaningful discussion? Couldn’t you have found sources who would go on the record with such anodyne stuff? Why didn’t you? Was this a mistake? Is it in keeping with your own journalistic guidelines and consistent with sound journalism generally? If not, what will you do to improve the quality of your practices going forward and ensure your reporters don’t do this sort of thing again?

Joe: You really think they’ll respond to that?

Barry: If they’re good journalists and care about the quality of their product and the trust of their readers, they will. If they’re not and they don’t, they won’t. But I hope anyone who’s reading this--anyone who believes good journalism is vitally important and that bad journalism is pernicious and destructive--will tweet Publishers Marketplace with a link to this piece and tell them we’re calling them out publicly and urging them to do better. @publisherslunch--let ’em know any way you like, or just cut and paste “@barryeisler and @jakonrath call out @publisherslunch for pointless and promiscuous grants of anonymity,” with a link to this discussion wherever you found it. And if you want to learn more about becoming a more active consumer of news and about why we should all call out reporters for shoddy practices, be sure to read Dan Gillmor’s excellent new book, Mediactive.

GO INDIE, OR GO LEGACY? HERE’S THE MATH

Joe: In your Daily Beast interview, you broke down the math in a way a lot of people seem to have found helpful (and in a way those two courageous publishing execs seem not to understand). You should mention it again here for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

Barry: Okay...

Being so accustomed to, and dependent on, the legacy model, it took a fair amount of work for what I knew intellectually to start to penetrate at a gut level. The timelines, for example. I’m used to thinking in terms of publishing contracts, so let’s take a hypothetical two-book, $100,000 offer... or, okay, let’s make it real: a two-book, $500,000 offer. My tendency has been to focus too much on that big, seductive number. But to understand what the number really represents, you have to break it down. Start by taking out your agent’s commission: your $500,000 is now $425,000. Then divide that $425,000 over the anticipated life of the contract, which is three years (execution, first hardback publication, second hardback publication, second paperback publication). That’s about $142,000 a year. This is a more realistic way of looking at that $500,000.


But there’s more. Some people have mistakenly argued that, for my move to make financial sense, I’ll have to earn $142,000 a year for three years. But this is one time when you don’t want to be comparing apples to apples. Because the question isn’t whether I can make $425,000 in three years in self-publishing; the question is what happens regardless of when I hit that number. What happens whenever I hit that point is that I’ll have “beaten” the contract, and then I’ll go on beating it for the rest of my life. If I don’t earn out the legacy contract, the only money I’ll ever see from it is $142,000 per year for three years. Even if I do earn out, I’ll only see 14.9% of each digital sale thereafter. But once I beat the contract in digital, even if it takes longer than three years, I go on earning 70% of each digital sale forever thereafter. And, as my friend Joe Konrath likes to point out, forever is a long time.

Ballantine managed to sell about 10,000 combined digital copies of my last two books at a $9.99 price point (a price point that was earning me $1.49 per unit sold, BTW) in the latest three-month period for which I have data. Call that 5000 of each book for three months, so 1,667 of each book per month. If I cut the Ballantine price in half and still can only move 1,667 units a month, at a $3.50 per unit royalty ($4.99 x 70% = $3.50), that’s about $5,833 per month. But unlike paper books and digital sold at paper prices, low-priced digital books sell steadily, so it seemed to me that I could make about $70,000 per year, per book on my own. Assuming nothing changes and digital doesn’t keep growing (and that would be crazy–Charles Cummings’ critically acclaimed spy thriller The Trinity Six just sold three times as many digital copies as hardback in its first week), I should be able to make $140,000 a year for the two books I could have sold in a $425,000 legacy deal, instead. $70,000 for the first year, then $140,000 for each year thereafter, when I’ll be selling two books instead of just one. So if I’m right about all this, and I’m pretty sure I am, I should be able to beat the contract about halfway through the fourth year. And again, all of that ignores the continued growth of digital, the way low-priced digital books reinforce sales of other such books, etc.


To develop some data to go with the theory, in February I self-published a short story, The Lost Coast, featuring one of my series characters, a very nasty piece of work named Larison. I priced it at $2.99, which is a premium price for a short story, just to see how my writing would do in the new environment and even with the handicap of a relatively high price. It’s been selling steadily and is currently at #1,088 on the Kindle list (and #13 and #17 on Amazon’s short stories bestseller lists, which is good because the top twenty come up in the first page view). It definitely got a boost from the online discussion that followed my announcement, but even before all that it was on track to earn me about $30,000 in a year through Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords—not bad at all for a short story.


There was a lot more, too. Estimates of how much I could reasonably expect my paper sales to grow (they were growing through the first six books, then declined dramatically for the two I did with Ballantine, though still putting me on the extended NYT list). Estimates of how much more digital I could sell on my own (at a much higher per unit royalty, of course), and what not having a legacy partner would cost me in paper sales. All of which might sound like a lot to some writers, but from my first book back in 2002, I’ve always believed the writer has to be an entrepreneur and CEO, too, with all that entails. A few days of careful thought and examination can make or save you a hell of a lot of money, so I think it would be foolish not to invest that time.

Joe: We figured this out in a blog post I did a while ago. It was about you, but I said it was about a female peer who was offered $200,000 per book. I didn’t want to screw up your negotiations, which were ongoing at the time, so I didn’t mention names and changed a few details. It was interesting to see how people reacted.

Barry: I remember that one--a lot of your commenters were saying, “She should just blow off the legacy money and go indie!” And I was thinking, “Easy for you to say!” What I didn’t realize at the time was that, when you really run the numbers, indie becomes an awfully compelling option.

Joe: Exactly. Because, while beating the contract is terrific, it’s once you beat the contract that the real money comes in.

Barry: Speaking of which, literary agent Ted Weinstein put together a very handy spreadsheet that you can use to plug in your own numbers to determine how long it would take you to beat your contract.

Also, if anyone who’s reading this knows how to create a graph comparing the legacy vs indie outcomes and wants to take a crack at it, we’d publicize the hell out of it. It would be great if people had a visual tool for understanding what three years of $142,000 looks like vs $70,000 in year one, then $142,000 for every year thereafter forever. I could draw it easily with a pencil and paper, but something we could link to would be better.

(here's one sent to us by Jack Albrecht)

Joe: In the meantime, here’s a simple way of understanding the difference. If someone offered you a one-time payment of a million dollars today, or $100,000 per year for the rest of your life, which would you take?

Assuming you weren’t faced with an emergency that made you need the million immediately, the only question worth asking would be, how long do I expect to live? And, leaving out questions of time value of money which would affect your decision at the margins, the answer is obvious. If you expect to live another thirty or forty years, you’d be nuts to take that million.

Barry: You know why authors are going to make so much more money in indie?

Joe: They already are.

Barry: More and more of them, I mean. Look, it’s basic math again. A publisher charges $10.00 for a digital book and I get $1.49 out of it. If I charged that same $10.00, I’d get $7.00. On my own, I’m making nearly five times as much per unit. That is huge.

Joe: It’s more than huge. It’s vast.

Barry: But there’s more. I’m not charging $9.99 for a digital book--I’m charging $4.99, and will get $3.50 out of it. By cutting the price in half (or more--again, Ballantine is currently selling Inside Out for $12.99), I should sell more units, all at over twice the per unit amount I was getting from Ballantine.

Joe: In indie, you make money two ways--higher volume, higher per-unit revenue.

Barry: I don’t know of any studies that have been conducted on this, but look, let’s say you go to a department store, where you plan to spend a hundred dollars on clothes. Turns out there’s a sale. Do you spend that same one hundred?

Joe: No. I spend more.

Barry: Exactly. When the consumer perceives better value, the consumer spends more. Now, add in an impulse purchase dynamic--extremely low prices and immediate gratification. Plus intangibility--no paper books to cart around or stack on top of the TBR pile. What you get?

Joe: A shitload of books being bought.

Barry: Yes. A lot of people think that what places a general limit on how many books people buy a year is time. In other words, the average person can only read, I don’t know, a book a month, so the average person will only buy one book a year. Doesn’t matter whether the book costs one dollar or twenty, the limiting factor isn’t price, it’s time.

But this is wrong. Most people have always bought more books than they can read--this is where TBR piles come from. I don’t know what the overage is; maybe 80% of books that get bought get read? Or maybe it’s 50%? I don’t know. But in digital, I’m betting the overage is far more significant--at least 50%, maybe as high as 80%. The prices are so low, the purchases so instant, and there’s no tangible sign of the purchase afterward like a taller TBR pile...

Joe: Last fall, my wife was feeding squirrels. They took all the nuts that she offered--far in excess of anything they’d need to get through the winter.

I’ve seen the same thing with digital books. Hell, I’ve done the same thing. I have over three hundred ebooks on my Kindle. The likelihood of me reading them all is slim. But that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to buy things that look interesting. I’m sure others, like me, can’t pass up a bargain, and there’s some satisfaction knowing that if I want to read that ebook someday, I’ve got a copy of it.

Barry: So with digital, people are buying far more books than they ever did before, and authors are making a far higher per-unit profit than they ever did before. And higher per-unit profit x dramatically increased volume = insane revenues.

Joe: My buddy Blake Crouch is currently earning over $1300 a day on his self-published books, and he’s wondering if that number will hold. I told him that it wouldn’t. It will go up.

Here we have a model that allows writers to reach readers without having to pay intermediaries (legacy publishers) the majority of the royalties. So writers can make more by selling fewer copies, and they can adjust their prices to entice customers.

That’s a big advantage to the writer. Another advantage is this model encourages ebook hoarding by the consumer.

And we haven’t reached a saturation point with ereaders. Even at this accelerated adoption rate, global saturation will take years, if not decades. And as children grow up, there will be a new crop of consumers. In a global marketplace, will I continue to be able to sell a million ebooks a year?

Not only is that possible, it’s likely. And if my sales ever begin to slip, I’ll publish new titles.

Authors who aren’t paying attention to this are going to lose out.

Barry: This is the fundamental choice between legacy and indie today. A lot of people don’t get it yet, but as more and more people make money in indie and the idea becomes more and more proven, more and more people will recognize what they’re giving up with legacy publishing and will go indie instead.

Joe: In the meantime, we’ll be undercutting them on price.

Barry: You weren’t supposed to say that. It’ll create more competition for us.

Joe: Knowing it is one thing. Acting on it is something else. Besides, at lower prices, no one is in competition. Readers can buy all of my ebooks, all of your ebooks, and still have enough change left over from a hundred dollar bill to buy pizza and beer.

Barry: Still, just to be sure, I want to be clear that self-publishing low-priced digital books carries a terrible stigma, and that authors would be much better off--they’d enjoy higher status, greater mental and emotional health, and more active and varied sex lives--by having their books published and priced by legacy publishers.

Joe: The stigma is a heavy burden. It’s certainly not worth some trivial thing like selling far more books at a far higher per-unit amount.

Barry: That’s more like it.

WHO WILL BE THE NEW PLAYERS IN DIGITAL, AND HOW SHOULD AUTHORS PAY THEM?

Joe: Before Barry and I went live with our 13,000 word ebook dialog, we reached out to a few folks we respected and asked for their opinions.

One of those people was writer Dean Wesley Smith. Dean is the bestselling author of over a hundred novels and more short stories than he cares to count. He’s been a publisher and even an editor for Pocket Books. You can find his many opinions about publishing at www.deanwesleysmith.com. He has already posted this section on his terrific blog.

Dean strongly disagreed with one of the points we brought up in the dialog, namely that agents could morph into a model that I call estributors, and take on both agent and publishing duties for a writer in exchange for the same 15%. This would include editing, proofing, creating cover art, formatting, uploading, and ultimately paying authors the same way they've been doing--taking out their commission and passing the check along.

Dean: I hated and I do mean HATED, the part where Joe thinks that agents will start being a form of packager or publisher (he calls them estributors) and taking a percentage.

Everyone who reads my blog knows how I feel about giving a percentage of any kind of your property for day labor. (Like giving the gardener a percentage of your house for trimming a hedge.) I feel that goes back into the area that Kris talked about, the "must be taken care of" aspect of writers’ belief systems.

By the way, there is one major agency already doing this and taking 50%. If you do the math, it turns out the writers would be better served staying in traditional publishing than giving an agent 50%. And this agency is getting tons of stupid writers signing up who think they are jumping onto the indie published movement. They are just leaving one pan for a very stupid and hot fire.

How to avoid this: As Barry said he did with his short story. Pay a day job labor fee to have someone for a set price do the things you don't want to learn how to do yourself, such as covers and launching and so on.

One time fee.

NEVER PAY ANYONE A PERCENTAGE OF YOUR PROPERTY.

Sorry, Joe, I just believe you are wrong on that and it's old thinking you haven't cleared out yet.

If a writer is going to jump to self-publishing, keep all of the seventy percent.

Joe: I like to call old thinking "analog thinking" but I don't think I'm acting analog in this case.

You and I and Barry and your wife (writer Kristine Rusch) are savvy enough to do everything on our own. Editing, formatting, uploading, cover art, proofreading, etc.

But I know a lot of writers, and the ability to run a small business is an entirely different skill set than it takes to be a writer (and once you self-publish, you are the president of a small business.) They simply aren't cut out for it.

So I believe some writers won't mind paying 15% to an estributor who takes care of all of that for them.

In fact, I often think I'd pay that too, just so I could focus entirely on my writing, and not on running a business. I spend a lot of time doing stuff other than writing. If I didn't have to do all of that, I think I could get more writing done, which would offset the cost of paying someone to do all that stuff for me. Plus, I love writing, but don't love stuff like formatting epub files or uploading metadata, so if I could write more but do less of the the business stuff, I think I could make even more money.

I believe agents, and some publishers, will become estributors, allowing writers to write, and managing all the other stuff.

Barry: FWIW, I don't think either Joe or I was arguing that indie writers should pay agents a percentage; we were more predicting how agents will morph their business models and predicting that many writers will find the new model attractive.

You, Joe, and I are probably not great examples because we're do-it-yourself types, but I think a lot of writers will be happy to pay an agent/estributor 15% of the backend in exchange for the agent/estributor taking care of everything but the writing. I’m a do-it-yourself type so I don’t know that I’ll go that route myself, but in theory, I could be enticed.

For example, if Joe decided to quit writing and become an agent/estributor, I'd gladly pay him 15% to handle everything but the writing. He knows digital publishing cold and he’s a marketing genius. Plus he prefers Red Bulls to sleep. The extra writing I'd get done, and the additional product I'd create, would make it a good deal for both of us. So for me, the percentage thing is more a practical problem than a theoretical one, if that makes sense. Regardless, that's just me and I could be wrong.

Dean: My point isn’t that most writers don’t want to be business people. Sadly, most don’t, I agree. Scott Carter (Young adult writer) and I have taught a course to 40 self-sufficient professional writers who want to learn how to do it all themselves. And we’re doing another class this summer and another next fall. Last one was in October and had over 40 professional writers from around the country here on the Oregon Coast. Great fun. We taught them how to do covers, how to layout books, how to launch them, and how to set up a Wordpress web site, all in two days. (grin) They all launched short stories before they left town.

And Cindie Geddes (a nonfiction writer) started a business called Lucky Bat Books where she has a menu of services, all flat fee, to do different tasks for writers. And she is constantly turning down writers who want to give her a percentage. As writers, we are all trained in giving the gardener who trims our hedge 15% of our house. So I’m going to keep pushing writers who don’t want to do it themselves to search for programs where they remain at 70% instead of giving 15% of the 70% away.

So on that one tiny point we’re going to differ on the outcome. But I do agree completely that most writers are not do-it-yourself types like we are. (grin) And most writers are going to need help, no doubt on that at all. We just differ on the type of help they should get. (grin)

One prediction I will make. In thirty years, the long term writers, the survivors, will be writers like the three of us, willing to take the chance, willing to take the responsibility. And those that want traditional publishing to take care of them will be “what-ever-happened-to?” for the most part. That’s a safe bet. (grin)

Joe: Again, you're making some great points, but you haven't persuaded me yet about the 15%.

You told me you and Kris have 900 backlist titles (books, stories, etc.) If you had someone to help you get all 900 of your titles live, with great covers, on all platforms, by the end of the month, you'd easily offset the 15% you'd give that person with massive increased sales across the board.

Every day an ebook isn't live, is a day you aren't earning money. You and Kris are sitting on a ton of property that isn't earning you anything. And if you were to pay a good cover artist, proofreader, and formatter for each title (which would cost over $800 a title), it will cost a fortune to launch all 900 ($720,000), and also take hundreds of hours (hours you could have spent writing), and unless you have super powers (you may) it will take you years to get all of your backlist titles live.

Yes, you're going to be VERY rich. :) But that money could come within a few weeks, rather than a few years, if you had help doing all of the business stuff. And if an estributor, besides covering all of those sunk costs, also did marketing and advertising, I can see how that's worth the same as an agent's commission.

That said, I ultimately do agree with you that giving away a percentage of income forever, in my specific case, probably isn't wise. But I'm not 100% sure of that, because if an estributor saves me so much time I'm able to write more ebooks, then I could ultimately be better off long-term. I spend an awful lot of time doing business stuff when I'd rather be writing.

Dean: Again, not disagreeing with the fact that most writers are not like you and me and Barry. Most are not willing or even capable of learning all this stuff, and don’t want to for limited time reasons. That I agree with completely.

But that does not mean anyone has to give a percentage away of the property. I don’t have the will, the tools, or the time to go out and do yard work, but that does not mean that to get someone to do yard work on my property, I need to give away an ownership right in my home. That kind of thinking is old writing thinking that was forced on us by publishers and the agent model.

So, as I’m going to talk about in my series on Think Like A Publisher, I’m suggesting that writers think like a publisher.

When a publisher needs a cover done, they don’t give away a part of the percentage of the book. They hire one done. If they want to get the book up electronically or get it laid out or get it proofed, they don’t give away a percentage of the profits, they hire it done.

All the things you are talking about are one time “day job” work. (Mike Stackpole’s term.) So my suggestion, and something Kris and I are working toward because of our vast backlist is hiring a “managing editor” as any publisher would do. Why would we ever want to give away 15% of all our future earnings when we can pay someone a simple salary?

But, alas, writers are short of money all the time and it seems logical to give away a percentage to keep out of cash flow binds and get things up quickly. Right? That’s a very good point.

So here is the trade-off in math terms.

To do a cover, layout, and putting the book up maybe ten hours for a day labor job. Longer if also putting it up on POD. So say 15 hours of time total for a professional designer. To go to Lucky Bat Press,( to mention only one of many who are working on menu flat fee rates) that might cost in the neighborhood of $500.00 for the novel for all those services. More with some firms, less with others.

The book over ten years sells 10,000 copies at $4.99 (my price, not yours (grin). 1,000 copies per year or less than 3 per day average.) 10,000 copies x $3.25 = $32,500 x 15% = $4,875.00.

So your are paying $4,875.00 for a $500 job.

Over ten years a book could sell 100,000 copies or more at $4.99. Same math, only now for the $500 job you are paying $48,750.00 for those 15 hours.

Now imagine your grandkids still doing the math and the bookwork on this in 50 years....

And THAT IS NOT COUNTING the time it’s going to take you every month to divide out the 15%, do the math from the 15 different sources of income and send a check or PayPal the money to the person. Every month, or every quarter. And, of course, if you have the person get all the money first, like an agent, then you are back into the “trust me” mode, or Stockholm Syndrome using your terms. And not counting the 1099 tax forms every year you would need to file and so on and so on. To ugly for me to even consider.

Joe: I trust my agent. Her accounting is meticulous and she's as honest as they come. If she became my estributor, that would also mean less work for me. She'd send me her yearly 1099 like she usually does, and I wouldn't have to worry about hiring all of the people I normally do (proofreaders, cover artists, formatters) so taxes would be a lot easier.

Dean: If you give a person 15% to do a cover and such for the life of the product, can you ask them to change the cover for no extra charge every year? Or every six months? And is that in the agreement??? I would think if a person can get a couple hundred grand for a few hours work, they should be forced to work if changes need to be made.

Joe: Yes. That's another advantage to the estribution model. I can't tell you the number of times I've changed covers or descriptions to try and find the one that worked best. I'd much rather let someone else do that tweaking and fine tuning. Plus, there's the general upkeep. If I release a new title, I'd like the first two chapters to be in the back matter of my other titles. That would require new formatting and new descriptions for 30+ ebooks.

It's a time suck. I'd much rather have someone doing that full time. And I wouldn't have to pay the estributor each time, which is great if I'm strapped for cash.

Dean: Here is another solution to the upfront cash flow problem that writers have who don’t want to spend the time to learn how to do it themselves.

Give a percentage, such as 15% up to the $500.00 and then that ends it. That limits all the problems. You still have the problems, but it at least limits them. You still have accounting issues, but they will end shortly.

But that said, imagine a New York publisher trying to work like that. Give the book designer 15% up to a certain fee, give the cover artist 15% up to a certain fee, editor 15% up to a certain fee, and so on. Of course that’s silly.

So I stand by a simple way of solving the problem. Hire it “day job” labor. And learn how to do most of yourself up front until the money flows enough to pay for a managing editor as any publisher does.

Joe: I like that you broke down the numbers, so I'll do the same.

The time I spend tending to my media empire (as my wife and I jokingly call it) is time taken away from writing.

For each book I must:

Obtain cover art both for ebook and print

Get the book formatted in various ebook formats and in print

Write product descriptions, unique to each format

Upload files to Amazon kdp, PubIt, Smashwords, OverDrive, IndiaNIC, and soon Google Books and possibly Scribd. There will no doubt be others cropping up, Mike Shatzkin [link] talks about some upstarts worth keeping an eye on

Very often repeat some of these steps when errors or typos are discovered, or to add new excerpts in the back matter

I can safely say that the above require a solid 10-15 hours of work on my part, per project.

In the last 12 months, I've created thirteen original properties. The time to bring all of these to market took between 130 and 195 hours.

I write 750 words an hour. If I had that 130 hours back to write, I could have cranked out an additional 97,000 words.

For me, that's an extra novel, plus a novella and a short story. Three more intellectual properties.

On average, I sell 2000 copies of a novel a month, 1200 of a novella, and 500 of a short story. That's $6575 a month I could have had, for life, because an estributor freed up some time for me.

Let's do the math over ten years, assuming flat sales.

Thirteen properties a year that I upload myself (three novels, five novellas, four short stories) will earn me $31,000 a month, without an estributor. Over ten years, that's $3,720,000.

With an estributor, I'd be able to do sixteen properties a year (four novels, six novellas, five short stories) and earn $37,575 minus the estributor's 15%, which equals $31,938.75. That's $3,832,650 over ten years--over $100k more.

This also doesn't take into account the money I pay to bring a title to market. $500 for cover art, $230 for formatting, $200 for proofing. That's over $12,000 in costs I've had to pay by doing it myself, where an estributor would absorb those costs.

And I can't tell you how much I dislike the business aspect of self-pubbing. I'd much rather write the books, let someone else do all the busy work. That's worth a lot to me.

Plus, if the estributor continues to market and promote my work, that's an added, continuous value that goes beyond the initial set-up costs.

Dean: Joe, I also agree with your math. I am not arguing that writers could use the help. Not in the slightest. I think most could, and from the looks of some of the early covers I did on some short stories, I could have used a ton of help as well. (grin)

And trust me, I too would rather be writing than doing publishing work. I enjoy the publishing work, honestly, and always have, but I enjoy writing more, to be honest. So no argument there at all.

What I am arguing against is giving a percentage for the life of the work.

Or in other words: How You Hire the Employee.

I am arguing against what I call “a forever percentage.”

If a writer doesn’t have the upfront money to pay for contract help, they might need to give a percentage to get the professional help with covers and such. I understand that. But unlike an agent, just give a percentage for a set time.

For example: If it takes the 15 hours at $20.00 per hour to get a project launched, that’s $300.00 worth of labor. One time labor. Day Job Labor.

So either pay the person the $300 up front or pay them the 15% up to $500.00 and then cut off the payment at that $500.00 amount. That returns you to the full 70% you have been talking about.

The point I am worried about is the life plus 70 years nature of this medium. Sure, this might not last for three years, I got that, but just in case the work going up now lasts for much, much longer, how many years do you want to do 1099 tax documents to the person you are paying the 15%?

Or ten years from now, when you total up your sales and you have paid a person who worked 15 hours ten years before over $50,000.00, and you are still paying, won’t you be in the slightest bit upset? I know I sure would be.

So that’s my point. It’s fine to get work up quickly. But pay for day labor help as day labor help. And if you have no money to pay for the help up front, give them extra as a percentage, but cap the end point.

I’m just getting writers to get out of the “agent-think” mode and think like a publisher. No issue with getting help on problems and craft issues and getting more time to write. Just pay for it like a publisher, not a writer.

And one more point...

The accounting on this is just off the charts. I know I want all my money first and then I pay an employee (unlike the agent model used now, where an agent gets all the money and all the paperwork first, then you have to trust them to send you your share).

So with help like you are talking about, I would be paying an accountant more than I already pay one and sending out 1099s every year to each person who I gave a percentage to. And then after I die, the poor people who get my estate would have to do that as well. Ughh. That one fact alone would stop me from doing as you suggest.

But am I hiring help with our self-publishing? Yup, worked for an hour today with an artist who is doing covers for us. We had the Grayson covers done by a professional graphic designer. We have the Fey covers being done by a fantastic artist out of Germany. We have hired some proof readers for the novels. And down the road we have lined up a managing editor we will put on salary.

So, yes, I agree writers need help. I need help as my wife and friends will tell you. (grin)

I am only arguing against the 15% for life thinking that writers have gotten into because of agents. Nothing more.

Barry: I think the argument here is narrower than it appears. We all agree that it would be useful to have a business manager or COO to handle all the aspects of self-publishing other than the writing itself. The question is how useful, and at what price. Different people will have different answers to that question, depending on how much they like a do-it-yourself approach, what the COO has to offer, etc.

In my experience with service professions--lawyers, accountants, literary agents, PR people, etc.--40% are incompetent, 40% are competent, 16% are excellent, and 4% are magicians. The magicians are rare and hard to find. But in exchange for the right range of services, I think they’ll be able to justify a 15% cut of an indie author’s earnings. The rest will be overcharging.

Which is where I think the gardener-type analogies start to show their limitations. First, because the condition of your lawn is unlikely to have a material impact on the selling price of your house; second, because cutting grass is a pretty fungible skill set and easy to hire out to a variety of people who want the work in exchange for a flat fee. The right (or wrong) business partner, on the other hand, has a much more significant impact on your overall fortunes, and might be someone worth motivating by making him a partner rather than simply an employee.

Anyway, fundamentally, I think we’re all just saying that an author shouldn’t pay more than necessary. If you can get the job done for a flat fee, go for it. But if you find a magician, and maybe even someone who’s “merely” excellent, you might make more money paying that 15% than you would have through some other arrangement.

Joe: Agreed. Perhaps a better analogy is you give 15% to the gardener for the sale of a house, but the gardener continues to work there for life.

In the estributor case, there is added value that would be more difficult and expensive to do on my own.

Say an estributor has forty clients who work in the same genre as I do. She could do excerpt exchanges, and promote both my backlist and frontlist titles in their ebooks. She could also set up a hub, like Goodreads, where readers visit to interact with each other and authors. Such a hub would have user-aggregated content, both from fans and from writers. Chats, forums, contests, freebies, excerpts, updates, mailing lists, newsletters, catalogs. It would be a destination, and get more hits than my current hubs (Facebook, website, blog) because the estributor has me on that site, plus other authors, all with the latest information about what is being released next. I haven't updated my website in forever. I haven't had time.

A person who you constantly hire to help you has a name: a full-time employee.

What is the difference between hiring a fulltime employee (who you will need forever) or paying someone 15% forever?

But there are more duties an estributor could perform. What if, out of that 15% we paid the estributor, 3% went back into marketing and advertising? Print and radio ads, Facebook and Google ads, promoting my books.

Take it a step farther. What if the estributor also served as a publicist? Doing press releases, securing reviews, getting the author interviews and media attention.

Is that worth 15% yet?

I'm with you that a writer shouldn't pay commission on sunk costs forever. But if there were ongoing duties the estributor performed--like that lifetime gardener--then I not only have more time to write, but I'll likely sell more books because of that extra effort.And it goes without saying that the estributor would also be constantly looking for new venues to sell rights; foreign, translation, audio, film, enhanced mutlimedia, etc.

Take it one more step re: adding value. There's a concern that the ebook market will become glutted with poorly written crap. A savvy estributor, who only releases edited, formatted, polished material, could very well become a brand label. Much like a publishing imprint. A book released by ESTRIBUTOR X could have a logo which automatically signifies to readers that this ebook has been vetted and is quality. I believe, in the upcoming years, such a stamp of approval could become very valuable. It has been in the past (people would buy all Arkham, Gold Medal men's adventure, or even more recently all Leisure horror titles without caring who the author is, because they knew they'd be getting a certain kind of book.)

Plus, there are probably things an estributor could do for me that I haven't even thought of. Such as help me create enhanced interactive multimedia ebooks.

Guess what? Most publishing contracts drawn up before 2010 give interactive multimedia rights to the author.

Think about the importance of this. My legacy publishers, which have my backlist titles and will likely never give them up, are keeping 52.5% of the royalties on ebook prices they set.

But if I released an interactive multimedia version of those titles (I have specific ideas about the content, but am staying hush hush for now until I work things out), I could release an enhanced version Of Whiskey Sour or Afraid or Timecaster for a lower price than my publisher's bare-bones version.

Of course, that would require a lot of extra work on my part. Audio recording, interactive games, links that lead readers to specific websites, footnotes and annotation, artwork, and perhaps even added video.

If I had an estributor do this for me, I'd pay them 15% in a heartbeat.

I'm fine with paying my agent for the work she does. If she took on estributor responsibilities as I've outlined above, I believe she would be adding a great deal of value to our relationship, by saving me time and money, and selling more books than I could on my own. I think, in the business model I've described, that's worth 15%.

Dean: Joe, you make some great points, and I hope to have good help working for us doing exactly as you describe. Only difference is that I will be paying the person a salary instead of 15% of the 700 plus products Kris and I will have in the next year.

And when the person goes south or flips out or becomes impossible to work with, I can fire them and find someone better, a top person as Barry said, a new miracle worker for whatever is happening in five years.

So our only difference is that forever is too long for me to give anyone part of my work. I need and will hire the help, and might give short-term limited percentages. But the idea of giving someone 15% forever just does not make good business sense to me and is a toss-back to bad publishing practices.

And that one place is just about the only place we are disagreeing.

But great fun talking about it. Thanks, Joe! Thanks, Barry!

A FEW MISCONCEPTIONS

Joe: Any misconceptions you’ve noticed following your announcement that you want to clear up?

Barry: Just one, really. I’ve noticed a few people suggesting that, in making my decision, I broke a contract. I want to address that mischaracterization for two reasons: first, because if it were true it would reflect poorly on my integrity; second, because it obscures an important aspect not just of legacy publishing, but of business generally.

First, all St. Martin’s and I had agreed on was high-level potential deal terms: price, number of books, territory. Three months then went by before SMP produced a draft contract (not uncommon in the industry). I reviewed the draft and recognized it wasn’t something it would be in my best interests to sign. As I’ve said before, this had nothing to do with SMP in particular; the terms of their contract were not so different from terms publishers try to include generally. Anyway, we then discussed ways of making the contract mutually acceptable and weren’t able to agree on anything, and at that point I walked. There was no contract and no contract was broken.

Second, and more importantly, I’ve always hated the mistaken notion that when two parties shake hands on high-level potential deal terms, they now have a deal. This is what publishers want authors to believe, because the longer the gap between the handshake “de facto” contract and the execution of the real thing, the longer the publisher can keep the advance money in the bank, where it earns the publisher interest. Similarly, when a writer shakes hands on high-level potential deal points in a potential film deal, the first thing the party trying to acquire the option does is start shopping the rights, and the last thing he does is pay for the rights. The longer he can stretch the gap between the first event and the last, the longer he can shop your book around and determine market interest. Then, if interest is wanting, he’ll walk away. If he finds an interested party, he’s still maintained his flexibility, and earned interest on his money, for as long as possible.

So it’s important to recognize that when the other party to a potential deal is getting back to you slowly, or drafting or revising paperwork slowly, or doing anything else that slows down the pace of turning a handshake into a legally enforceable contract, he is doing so at his risk, not yours. And doesn’t that make sense? If the reward for slowness is his, the risk should be, too. And if you let the other party make you feel like once you’ve shaken hands, you can’t walk no matter what he presents to you and no matter how long it takes him to present it, you’re being a chump.

My attitude is: okay, we’ve shaken hands on the high-level potential deal terms, but there’s nothing real here until we’ve both signed, so if you want to bind me, you better strike while the iron is hot. Get me the paperwork. Revise it quickly. Act efficiently. And then we’ll have a deal.

Why is this important? Well, consider the opposite attitude: “Hey, take as long as you like to get me the paperwork, I’m sure we’ll get this thing signed eventually, and I know how busy you are. And I’ll wait around no matter what.” People respond to incentives, and if they already have a built-in incentive to move slowly and you don’t give them one to move fast, the best you can hope for is that eventually you’ll get something signed and that in the meantime you’ll have given them a de facto interest-free loan of money that, with proper incentives, they would have paid you in a timely fashion.

Joe: All this coverage, and just the one misunderstanding? I think that’s pretty impressive.

Barry: Yeah, I thought the online conversation, or at least those parts I was able to keep up with, was really smart. Even comments I disagreed with tended to illuminate the underlying dynamics of legacy vs indie.

Joe: Agreed.

Barry: Ah, one other thing, because a lot of people asked. It’s too early to give details, but The Detachment will be available in paper, in audio, and in foreign editions.

How about you. Last thoughts? Until next time, anyway?

Joe: Just this. For some reason, some people seem to think we’re insisting that print books will be wiped out by digital. I’d like to go on record saying that while I believe digital will become the most popular format for reading, print isn’t going to go away.

Barry: Yeah, we discussed this at length in the previous conversation. The one thing that would improve the Internet most would be if people were forced to read things before discussing them.

Joe: This is not about the end of the paper book. It’s about authors taking advantage of a new technology and distribution system that enables us to make higher royalties and reach readers without publishers.

I’d also like to reference the monkey and the frog video (speaking of which, here is an entirely different monkey doing the same thing--is this an epidemic?)

Barry: I think it’s a different monkey. But is it the same frog?

Joe: God, I hope not. I thought that frog was having a rough time of it already.

Actually, we can apply this apparently widespread monkey behavior (heres another) to the publishing industry. To wit: if you’re going to be one of these two animals, don’t be the frog. Better to be the monkey.

Especially if there are other monkeys around.

Barry: I always knew there was some relevance to our mention of the monkey and the frog. I’m glad you figured out what it was.

Joe: Yes. You were eerily prescient.

Barry: Prescient meaning fixated.

Joe: Now, I’m not saying you should start taking unfair advantage of helpless amphibians. But if one party has to be the monkey and the other has to be the frog... be the monkey.

Barry: Be the monkey. Words to live by.

Joe: The balance of power has shifted. Act accordingly. And don’t do anything to marginalize yourself, like this monkey is doing. (A behavior that also seems to be surprisingly common.)

Barry: I really hope not too many people clicked on those links.

Joe: If there’s one thing you’d like writers to take away after reading this follow-up dialog...

Barry: Other than don’t take your children to the zoo?

Joe: ...what should it be? Mine is: think hard before you make your next move in this industry, because it is going to affect you for quite some time, good or bad.

Barry: I’ll borrow a line from Wayne Gretzky. If you want to win, don’t skate to where the puck is. Skate to where it’s going to be.

156 comments:

Barry said...

I just want to be the first to comment so I can go on the record as saying all the frog stuff was your doing again. I was a bystander, an innocent victim.

Also to urge people to tweet the part about Publishers Marketplace and their shoddy use of anonymity: "@barryeisler and @jakonrath call out @publisherslunch for pointless and promiscuous grants of anonymity", with a link to this post either here or on my blog site at http://barryeisler.blogspot.com/2011/04/ebooks-and-self-publishing-part-2.html.

Thanks,
Barry

Joe Konrath said...

Barry, tell the truth. You stay up until the wee hours of the morning, day after day, combing the internet for monkey videos.

We need to stage an intervention.

Also, I agree that we should make Publishers Marketplace accountable.

C.L. Phillips said...

The best thing a new indie writer can do is run a request for proposal when searching for an editor. Send off the first two chapters, get an editing sample in return along with a realistic quote for services rendered. Flat fee only.

As for Barry and Amanda, big cheers for multiple streams of income and creative control.

David said...

Very thorough and informative, thanks! With regard to piracy, if price is the prime motivating factor for pirates, then Joe's $2.99 books shouldn't be on there. Yet they are, bundled with 2499 other books, both cheap and expensive. People have been on here saying if Joe raises it beyond $2.99 they'll just find it for free, but they'd probably do that anyway.

Aaron Patterson said...

Now my head hurts.

I am just glad I am a part of all this exciting world of publishing. I get to write for a living and work with other authors who have drive. Vincent Zandri is selling 2000-3000 eBooks a day on his book "The Innocent. #5 on Amazon and all that...

My part in all this is to help the authors that don't want to hassle of listing, converting, cover art and so on. I tell them, "you don't need me, you can do everything I can." But I can do it faster and time is money. Most writers just want to write. This new model is where I believe publishing is going.

Are eBooks good, are they bad? I really don't care, they are. We can adapt or be left behind.

The future is going to do what it wills no matter what we think about it...

Great post guys... Cheers.

Bob Mayer said...

I just did a panel this morning with Jon Fine, Author & Pub Relations from Amazon at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference. It's the first conference I've done in about four months and the change in atmosphere is astounding. Every agent I talked to, many of whom I knew, were very discouraged, very confused and very uncertain of their future. In a word: scared.
I do like when Jon repeated what Joe said at a panel they were on together when they had to sum up things in 10 seconds: Don't Write Shit.
My last 3 books with SMP totaled over 1 million, but I wouldn't go back to it for a variety of reasons. I wish Amanda Hocking all the best, but I also think there is this idealized view of what traditional publishing is like and the reality is much different.
I received an email from Emerald City Writers saying they want me to do a workshop on "selling your novel" in October. I've got my usual powerpoint presentations that I've used for years, when I suddenly realized that one is almost totally worthless now. We've thought so long in terms of getting an agent, them getting an editor interested, yada yada, yes, I mentioned the bisque.
Now I sell to readers.
What a radical concept. If only publishers would embrace the same one.
And, yes, I will have something for here on the 12th, the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

Courtney Milan said...

Here's another example of the one-sided thinking you were talking about.

It's really funny how people are more than willing to give publishers credit for being able to make an author's career, but if sales falter, the anonymous publishing executives are always happy to point a finger at the author.

Joe Konrath said...

Yet they are, bundled with 2499 other books, both cheap and expensive.

I doubt anyone who downloads a collection of 2500 ebooks will read them all. And I really doubt that each of those 2500 represents a lost sale.

JDuncan said...

Wonderful conversation yet again guys, even with the addition references to monkeys and frogs. Still, I can't help but wonder how this works out for the new writer, with that shiny first book, and little or no money to invest in those needed services, i.e. editing, covers, formatting, etc.

It's a big learning curve at the start. You guys have a pretty big advantage in knowledge, experience, and expertise. The new writer does not. Not only is it a big learning curve, but many, as pointed out, just aren't cut out to run a small business, which is what self-publishing really is. I don't think many newer writers quite understand that.

These are a lot of factors to take into consideration when wondering about going out on your own or seeking legacy publishing. Plus, even with the clear increase in success of self-pubbed authors, it remains a fact that most make little or no money from their books. Are your chances much better with the legacy route? I'm not sure, but I'm guessing the percentages aren't a whole lot different. However, one can focus on continually writing, if one isn't floundering around in running the small business. At some point, perhaps it becomes more viable.

I just have a hard time recommending to new authors to seriously consider self-publishing, at least not if the expectation is to make much money. There's a lot more to it, in my opinion, than the profit margin per book, which you guys talked about regarding Hocking's books. I think the flag-waving over 70% vs. 15% (or whatever the exact number is), and I'm not referring to you guys here, just in general, is greatly over-simplifying the matter to a lot of writers who don't have a great deal of knowledge about publishing.

My two cents here anyway. Keep up the discussions guys. It's great stuff.

John Brown said...

There are so many ways to pay:

* Salary

* Percentage forever

* Percentage for X years (how the majority of non-US contracts for books are written)

* One-time payment

* By monthly invoice (they become a regular service provider)

* Payment with performance bonuses

Some companies give employees stock options (kind of like a % forever) to make sure their employees have skin in the game. Some don't.

In the end, when you get to a certain size you have to hire others to do the operations work or you won't be doing anything but operations.

Sarra Cannon said...

Just as a response to JDuncan's comments about new authors:

I made the decision to self-publish last August. Since then, I have written and self-published three books in my YA paranormal series. I just posted my March sales numbers on my blog at: http://thesweetiechronicles.blogspot.com/ , but the basic gist of it is that in just five months, I have sold almost 13,000 copies of my ebooks. I am hoping they will continue to grow!

Sure, it's been a lot of hard work, but most of my time is spent doing what I love - Writing! I think indie publishing is just as viable for new authors as it is for established authors. And I never have to lose sleep over a backlist I can never get my rights back to. :P

Joe and Barry - thank you so much for these dialogs on self-publishing. As I read the post out loud to my husband, he kept saying, 'Yes! That's exactly what we've been talking about.' Joe, you were a big part of my decision to skip looking for an agent or a publisher and just do it myself. It's one of the best decisions I ever made.

And for the record, the frog thing was just... disturbing. Okay, and slightly hilarious.

www.sarracannon.com

Stanfield Major said...

I have a thought about the piracy issue. I don't think it's been addressed but I may have missed it.

"Legacy" publishers have always had to deal with the reality of libraries and used book stores. I myself have very seldom bought a book new, even at a discount. I have, however, bought a lot of books or borrowed them from a library. None of the money I paid went to either the publisher or the author.

How is that different from piracy as far as a publisher/author is concerned?

I see two strong pluses for ebooks. At a lower price the incentive to seek out a pirated copy is diluted. And it's hard to beat the convenience of downloading a copy of a book from wherever you are in whatever state of dress.

So, I'd posit that an ebook author is actually more likely to sell more ebook copies than he or she would with a "legacy" publisher... even in the golden age of print.

T.J. Dotson said...

I should BE WRITING...but Joe you are constantly posting such good stuff. I feel like your blog is a Graduate Course in New Media/Self-Publishing.

I think I see your evil-plan. Just keep us potential coming back to your blog. That way we'll be too busy to finish any books

;-)

Jodi Langston said...

You two are funny and make my brain hurt with the numbers.
I think with traditional publishers you get to distance yourself more from the readers. Self-published is the good, the bad and the ugly all in your face, all the time. We agonize over every review as we try to build a readership. Amanda has been in the trenches dealing with it all for a long time and it can be tiring and frustrating. OH yeah,time-consuming.
Self-publishing is a hands on game.
I think Barry will have to experience some of that first hand now.lol I know you have, but it is a different game and I'm sure you will find much success in being an indie...can I call you that.lol
This journey to the dark-side may just be what Amanda needs to get back on track and focus on her writing.
I would almost give up my dollar menu income so I could focus on the words again and not on the sales.
Best of luck to you. I will have to read one of your books now!!!

Dave said...

Weird. I just wrote a blog post about this. I'm a reader, not a writer. I do come to this blog, mainly to look for interesting $2.99 books to buy.

Basically what I was saying was that thrillers and paranormal romance are not my normal genres. I pass by them in print. Regarding Amanda Hocking, I'm a reader of hers at $2.99. I'm not at $9.99 or $12.99. Same thing with Konrath books. Defintiely a reader at $2.99. At $10, not so much. So at those price points, you get a whole new readership. 36 year old males probably aren't Hocking's normal demographic.

Gary Ponzo said...

I'm curious how many writers have stopped searching for agents and self-published instead after reading this blog?

I'll bet it's a much bigger number than Joe would imagine.

Props for bringing all these numbers to light. Where else could an author acquire this much data in one post?

David said...

"I'm curious how many writers have stopped searching for agents and self-published instead after reading this blog?"

I'm curious how many writers reading this blog believe it's easier to sell a thousand books a day (or a hundred) than it is to get a request for a full from an agent. 80-90%?

Joe Konrath said...

I'm curious how many writers reading this blog believe it's easier to sell a thousand books a day (or a hundred) than it is to get a request for a full from an agent. 80-90%?

That's the wrong question.

It's not about selling 1000 a day. It's about selling something, today, vs. the hope of possibly selling something, two years from now.

But to answer you, I've done both. It's easier selling 1000 a day than it is getting a request for a full from an agent.

And you are welcome to disprove me when you're done both. Which I'm guessing you haven't...

Casey Moreton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarra Cannon said...

Barry, I posted a simple graph to my blog to show the numbers you were talking about. It's super simple and assumes you wouldn't earn out your advance from SMP, but it's fun to look at either way. :) It might be fun to put together a website where people could plug in numbers and see what they might earn at various price points going indie vs. legacy.

http://thesweetiechronicles.blogspot.com/2011/04/simple-graph-to-show-logic.html

Derek J. Canyon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Casey Moreton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.M.Cornwell said...

Yesterday, I received the proof of the print version of the novel I self-pubbed in digital about 2-3 weeks ago. After going through all the research, reading this column and others, working with an artist on the art, etc., I realized I was more connected to and prouder of this than my traditionally published novel of 2 years ago. It's not about whether the book is better or not, but about how much control I had this time around.

Last time, I didn't get an editor for months and then we rushed through editing; the book didn't need a whole lot. I didn't see the cover until just before it went on sale, and I still don't like all of it. It had some good elements, but the men on the cover in no way resembled the main characters in the book. I didn't like having no input and no say. This time I had input and say in the final product and I like that control so much more.

For someone like me, and obviously you gentlemen, having control fits better with your approach to publishing and your personalities. If you want more control, self-publish. If you want less control, go with legacy publishing. It's not always about the cost or the money, it's about what you want and need from the publishing process. I got what I need and I'm looking forward to the next book. Everything will happen faster because I've jumped these hurdles before and I know what to look for.

As for settling on a price, I get what Amanda Hocking did and what she wanted. She knew that without a very big check, SMP would not have been as invested in giving her the star treatment. That was good business sense on her part. Whether or not she enjoys the process and gets what she needs creatively is yet to be seen, but it's worth jumping into the deep end if you're relatively sure of your ability to swim.

jack said...

Joe and Barry. i sent Joe and email with the income potential graph you asked about in the blog. I was not sure how to upload it so you could view it. Great post!!!

David said...

"But to answer you, I've done both. It's easier selling 1000 a day than it is getting a request for a full from an agent."

If you believe that having been published in the past has nothing to do with your success today. Your sales are the culmination of many, many years of hard work.

btw, if you haven't tried Old Stock Ale from North Coast, go out and buy a case.

KDJames said...

Robin Sullivan posted a comparison of indie vs. legacy earnings on her blog the other day that I thought was very well done, especially since she tried to find comparable "midlist" writers as samples:

http://write2publish.blogspot.com/2011/04/midlist-authors-traditional-or-self.html

Not sure that's what you're looking for in terms of outcomes, but I found it interesting. Very interesting.

Also? You two need to stop kissing frogs. So to speak. The rest of us have already accepted the fact that it's just not a viable means of finding your prince. Really. Check out match.com or something for godsakes.

Joe Konrath said...

btw, if you haven't tried Old Stock Ale from North Coast, go out and buy a case.

I just picked up two bottles of the Old Stock Rare, aged in bourbon barrels. It's amazing.

If you believe that having been published in the past has nothing to do with your success today. Your sales are the culmination of many, many years of hard work.

Ack. Refuted this too many times to count. Read the last dialog with Barry for a link.

David said...

"I just picked up two bottles of the Old Stock Rare, aged in bourbon barrels. It's amazing."

Okay, now I'm jealous.

Joe Konrath said...

Okay, now I'm jealous.

Man, you have no idea.

This weekend I'll be drinking a vertical of Darklord, 04-10, a vertical of Utopias (02, 03, 05, 07. 09), a Bruery Chocolate Rain and Black Tuesday, some rare Cigar City stouts, and a vertical of Goose Island Bourbon County from 07-10 including Coffee, Vanilla, and Rare.

Among many others.

I love my life some much I fear I'll die of happiness.

Derek J. Canyon said...

Here's another chart of the data, in a different format from Sarra's:

Barry's legacy vs self-publishinge revenue

Derek J. Canyon said...

Here's a clickable link to Sarra's chart:

Sarra's chart for Barry's data

C. Pinheiro said...

Every agent I talked to, many of whom I knew, were very discouraged, very confused and very uncertain of their future. In a word: scared.

I understand this. But why don't agents just reinvent the type of service they offer to authors? Doing author services (not vanity publishing) is probably the wave of the future.

I've thought of doing this myself-- I have the expertise to do tax consulting, bookkeeping, and the publishing (with the help of independent contractors, of course).

I love to write, though. And offering author's services means less writing time for me.

Joe is right. I think most talented authors are willing to pay someone to do the grunt work, so they can write.

The future of publishing might include some larger service providers to fill that void.

Bobbie @ Nurture Your BOOKS said...

Hi Joe & Barry,

Great information and discussion, thank you!

FYI - I wrote a post that might interest you both: Book News – Amanda Hocking vs Barry Eisler – GOOD vs EVIL or the other way around? http://nurtureyourbooks.com/vbtblog/?p=260

Thanks for keeping us up-to-date!

Best,
Bobbie

T.J. Dotson said...

I'm curious how many writers reading this blog believe it's easier to sell a thousand books a day (or a hundred) than it is to get a request for a full from an agent. 80-90%?

This type of sentiment comes up frequently and I just don't get it.

Yes, the odds of placing in Kindle's top 100 are slim. So are the chances of landing a lucrative corporate book contract. (Even with an Agent's help).

But even if a writer only makes $5 a month. Thats still more money he/she would have made chasing down a publishing deal.

Also, I 100% believe that Publishers are going to start hunting for 'sure things'. (I.E. authors who've already proven they can sell books.)

Jimmie Hammel said...

@Joe

Yet they are, bundled with 2499 other books, both cheap and expensive.

I doubt anyone who downloads a collection of 2500 ebooks will read them all. And I really doubt that each of those 2500 represents a lost sale.

I agree with you. I once downloaded a packet of thousands of ebooks and read one.

Also, I blame the two of you for the irreparable damage to my brain. I looked up that monkey/frog clip on youtube... gack.

Andy Conway said...

This is definitely a conspiracy to stop us all writing and publishing our ebooks.

How are we supposed to get any work done when you keep posting these enormous, engrossing blogs???? ;-)

Andy Conway
The Girl with the Bomb Inside (A Novelette) on Amazon.co.uk - Amazon.com and Smashwords

Robin Sullivan said...

Oh god...I was afraid to find this post here. I was all set to get dresssed and go to work - but I've been waiting for this one - so I'll have to print it out and read it on the way in. Thanks in advance guys!

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

nwrann said...

How will readers find the "good" books (paraphrased)

Again, the focus is on readers FINDING the books instead of authors going after the readers. The You-Tube analogy is OK. You-tube videos don't "rise to the top" just because viewers "find them" those million-hit videos get that high because of sharing, and usually because of a Tastemaker (like Tosh.0) pimping a video. Right now Joe is a Tastemaker. When he pimps a book on this blog the sales skyrocket. However, I'm not sure that readers are sharing book recommendations the same way that they share you-tube video recommendations.

Jess said...

Again, the focus is on readers FINDING the books instead of authors going after the readers. The You-Tube analogy is OK. You-tube videos don't "rise to the top" just because viewers "find them" those million-hit videos get that high because of sharing, and usually because of a Tastemaker (like Tosh.0) pimping a video. Right now Joe is a Tastemaker. When he pimps a book on this blog the sales skyrocket. However, I'm not sure that readers are sharing book recommendations the same way that they share you-tube video recommendations.

I think you're right in that readers aren't sharing books in the way we share youtube videos but I think that's probably something that will change. Youtube has been around for a long time and we've got lots of really easy ways to share it especially on sites like facebook.

Currently you can't post an ebook link on facebook and have it pop up with an excerpt or the whole thing there, and allow people to send it to their ereader straight from the sharers link. I imagine if we had more useful tools like that, ebooks would be shared as easily as youtube videos.

In the meantime the best we can do is help each other as authors though and hope we can push that demand for sharing tools.

TK Kenyon said...

Another great conversation, guys!

(At least I assume that it is. I just copied it into Word, PDF'd it, and downloaded it onto my Sony Reader for later perusal. But I have faith in yoos guys.)

Thanks (in advance) for the great insight!

TK Kenyon

James Scott Bell said...

Do a film version. My Dinner With Barry

Sam said...

It's interesting reading the arguments about how established writers should turn down big advances and self-publish...

But for most of us, the choice is easier. Legacy publishing offers: years of writing query letters, groveling, rejection, and $0.

Self-publishing with e-books offers: the chance to get your book directly in the hands of readers.

For new/unknown writers, I see no reason to send out a query letter ever again.

Sam
The Dirty Parts of the Bible
(100+ editor/agent rejections; 18,000+ sold on Kindle)

B.K. Jackson said...

JDuncan said: "It's a big learning curve at the start. You guys have a pretty big advantage in knowledge, experience, and expertise. The new writer does not. Not only is it a big learning curve, but many, as pointed out, just aren't cut out to run a small business, which is what self-publishing really is. I don't think many newer writers quite understand that."

As an unpublished newbie who has been listening to advice on the trad publishing route and now, thanks to blogs like this one, the self-publishing route, I admit, yes I'm confused and no, as it presently stands, I am not suited to running a small business.

However, when you listen to what benefits are being offered on the trad pub side, authors have to invest a chunk of their own money for marketing, probably some editing since these services seem to be declining in a publihing house, and they handle the cover design and distribution (and e-books don't need that distribution).

So as a newbie sucking up all the information I can, I just don't see much of a difference between the work and investment I have to do myself for trad pub vs self pub.

As to having to give so much of yourself to the business side it's hard to find time to write: again, I don't see a difference. I have a day job and spend a good chunk of time reading industry blogs b/c I feel I have to just to stay on top of what's going on (and I've learned much that way). But even so, it's already hard to find time to write.

Ultimately, I won't know which way I'll go until the time comes. I'm just saying, from a newbie's perspective, I'm going to have to work my behind off either way and I have no illusions either way, so what is best for me in the long run?

Coolkayaker1 said...

Barry Eisler has a proven track record and he can calculate, based on past sales, whether it is more prudent for him to self-pub or traditional pub.

Despite Eisler and Konrath's warnings to Ms. Hocking, esp with regards to the duration of her contract (will bookstores even be around then?), the fact is that Hocking was offered twice as much as Eisler per book, for twice as many books. She could retire on that contract alone.

Barry Eisler, although respected and talented, will never be John Grisham. His hand is played.

Amanda Hocking’s cards are unplayed; she may be the next Sara Gruen or Stephanie Meyer. It’s reasonable that she play the hand.

J.M.Cornwell said...

B.K., speaking as someone new to self-publishing, yes, there's a lot of work in the beginning, but there's not less work with traditional publishing, especially these days. I believe that you get out what you're willing to put into it. There is also a learning curve, but it's not really horrible. I've had one book traditionally published and am now publishing my second book on my own. As I've said before, I prefer having input and some control. I didn't like what the publisher did with my cover and the errors in the text were unnecessary and wouldn't be there if there had been more attention to detail. At least when I find an error my editor or I missed, I can fix it and upload a corrected copy without having to wait for another print run. That in itself is worth the trip.

Take it for what it's worth, everyone's experience will be a little different, but isn't it better to have some control over the output and see more money coming in for the effort and money you're putting out?

Joe Konrath said...

Barry Eisler, although respected and talented, will never be John Grisham. His hand is played.

By that logic, my hand was also played.

I've had about $260,000 in advances from legacy publishers, over the last 8 years. I will never be John Grisham.

And yet, in the last six weeks, I've made over $80,000.

Lessee, in ten years, at that rate, I'll.. make about 7 million dollars.

But I expect my numbers to rise, so I'll probably make more than that.

Am I Grisham yet? No. He gets multi-million dollar advances.

But is that better than 2 million dollars spread out over six years of payments?

Yes. Yes it is. Especially since it is very difficult to earn out a 2 mil contract, and once it does earn out, the royalties are pathetic.

wannabuy said...

@Sam:"But for most of us, the choice is easier. Legacy publishing offers: years of writing query letters, groveling, rejection, and $0. "

Or worse, a pitiful advance with the promise of 'validation.'

@J.M. Cornwell:"there's a lot of work in the beginning, but there's not less work with traditional publishing,"

Not less work with Legacy publishing... I understand Amanda taking a big6 offer. But seriously, for any offer less than the time required by the author to publish the book, why are authors taking the advances?

I'm only a reader with no aspirations to be an author. But why are authors accepting such a low hourly wage to avoid buying paying $2.99 and then gaining that time to print?

Neil

JDuncan said...

Okay, I do understand the even new authors can make a go of this. Most are capable at least of doing the legwork required, making the time investment required to learn how to do this. So many more writers out there are able to put their work out there. Some are finding success.

Are the odds better or worse at finding a readership? For those who are selling, the answer is pretty clear. How many out there though have had no success at all? I suppose if you are willing and able to commit the extra time, money, and effort to do it on your own, it really doesn't matter. I just get an unpleasant feeling about the sort of bandwagon mentality I see around self-publishing, that if you put it out there, it will sell, when for the majority, that's just not the case.

Again, I'm not saying the odds are a lot better trying to go the paper route, but to this point, I'm not out any money, which I didn't have to spend in the first place.

Of course I'm now published, so my perspective is different. Self-publishing has got to be way more tempting for those who are still trying to sell. A year from now (or six months), when the landscape is yet again far different than it is now, I may have a different feeling about it, but for now, I still think self-publishing is as much a lottery as anything else, and losing is more than just lost time, it's money too.

BK said...

The other factor I haven't heard mentioned in all this discussion is that it's fun to learn new things. While I understand and support the sentiment that writers want to write, it's also an adventure of sorts to learn new things (like ebook formatting, trying new strategies etc). And yes, I'm fully aware it can be quite frustrating too.

Also, I compare publishing to having to maintain a car. What if, like me, you have a car, but the only thing you know about cars is how to turn the key in the ignition and how to put in gas? That leaves you at the mercy of car dealerships and other places who tell you ir's going to take $120 to change and replace the transmission fluid or you have to have your car serviced this many times a year.

You don't know who you can trust and not being knowledgeable means you lack confidence and are more prone to errors in judgement.

So whichever direction you take in publishing, it seems sensible to know as much as you can about all the aspects of the business, whether you choose to hire out or not.

There's a lot of things I still don't know or understand. But what I DO understand is that when it comes to publishing, I don't want to feel like the clueless woman talking to the car service manager, wondering if I'm getting a good deal.

Matthew Trotter said...

Wow. That was a screen full to get through. Also, all those monkey/frog videos can't be healthy.

It took me a few hours to get through this post, mostly because you'd mention something and I'd immediately race off to handle one thing or another. When you started talking about piracy, the first thing I did was package the first two chapters in a neatly formatted PDF and threw them up on BitTorrent. I've already had conversions from the PDF to my book's Facebook page. The more people I have spreading the word around, and the more people I can personally contact leading up to my book's launch, the better.

My coworker showed me the first post in this dialog the day it was posted. It's what has motivated me to actually get this novel edited.

Marketing is a frightening prospect, only because there are so many unknowns, but I think this stint with BitTorrent is going to really help get the name out there. I've got a few other wacky ideas as well... and we'll just have to wait and see how they pan out.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Selena Kitt said...

My husband used to be a hockey player (turned down a scholarship to Colorado state to stay in Michigan for a girl - the idiot ;) and he says, re: the Wayne Gretsky hockey quote - once you've played for a while, skating to where the puck is going to be just naturally happens.

And I've learned never to click on a link involving monkeys. This goes doubly so if they involve frogs.

Thanks for the morning read, guys.

Going to Tweet about PM... cowards.

Raymond said...

So when I publish my new short story on monkey/frog relations I can count on at least two sales from you and Barry?

(Working Title: I Sure Hope That Is A Banana)

Much appreciation to all the great information from this "newbie".

Coolkayaker1 said...

Joe: Since you mention it in comparing yourself to Grisham…. John Grisham has written 22 books (similar to you, I think). He has sold—check the internet on this—110 million books to date. If he got 1.50 per book on average, John Grisham has earned 160 million dollars on his books alone. He has made many millions more on his movie rights. (Note: I did not compare you to Grisham, you did, so looking at numbers is reasonable). So, no, you’re not Grisham. In terms of sales, anyhow (and in keeping with the tenor of this blog, not discussing quality of writing, just money).

Grisham may be an old example. Readers out there saying “yeah, but Grisham made it when traditional publishing was king”. Those readers would have to look only to Stephanie Meyer, Sara Gruen, Jonathan Franzen, and the list really goes on and on…for recent examples.

Bottom line in 2011, if an author can get picked up by traditional publishing, have the book edited and polished (the trad publishers do not just format the book and make book covers, as this blog would suggest—please!) and get a push (ads in USA Today, Wall Street Journal, the sides of city busses, connections to Hollywood), who wouldn’t grab the golden ring? Funny…when you write of vanity self-publishing, you say the best will rise to the top. Yet you seem not to think the same of traditional publishing. Well, yes, the best in traditional publishing rises to the top also, and the top is a very lucrative place to be.

Darlene Underdahl said...

Since we've all enjoyed the zoo animals, perhaps you'd like some farm animals http://www.vermillionroadpress.com/

Seriously, thanks again for a great post.

wannabuy said...

@JDuncan:"Again, I'm not saying the odds are a lot better trying to go the paper route, but to this point, I'm not out any money,"

Your out more time. Read Joe's previous on the time it takes to query, submit, and then market your work. Unless you 'win the lottery,' publishers will not help sell your book.

With self publishing, you can change a cover, price, description, etc. and have a chance your book will make it. After you pbook leaves the bookshelf...

Neil

wannabuy said...

@CoolKayaker: and get a push (ads in USA Today, Wall Street Journal, the sides of city busses, connections to Hollywood), who wouldn’t grab the golden ring?

The big6 have a HUGE marketing advantage. It is a shame they so seldom choose to exercise that option. If 'push' isn't in the contract, don't believe it.

Neil

About Piracy said...

All time bestseller author, and Guinness record holder, Paulo Coelho, used the Piratebay as a trampoline to success.
The Alchemist novel has been translated into 67 languages, winning the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author, and sold more than 65 million copies in more than 150 countries, becoming one of the best-selling books in history!
Paulo Coelho is a strong advocate of spreading his books through peer-to-peer file sharing networks.
A fan posted a Russian translation of one of his novels online. Sales of his book jumped from 3,000 to one million, with no additional promotion or publicity from his publishers!
Coelho took to pirating his own books on Pirate Bay. He was caught by the head of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman, who noticed that one of the unauthorized versions Coelho linked to had notes from his own manuscript. The two reached a compromise: each month a new novel can be read for free on the publisher's website...

Anonymous said...

All time bestseller author, and Guinness record holder, Paulo Coelho, used the Piratebay as a trampoline to success.
The Alchemist novel has been translated into 67 languages, winning the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author, and sold more than 65 million copies in more than 150 countries, becoming one of the best-selling books in history!
Paulo Coelho is a strong advocate of spreading his books through peer-to-peer file sharing networks.
A fan posted a Russian translation of one of his novels online. Sales of his book jumped from 3,000 to one million, with no additional promotion or publicity from his publishers!
Coelho took to pirating his own books on Pirate Bay. He was caught by the head of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman, who noticed that one of the unauthorized versions Coelho linked to had notes from his own manuscript. The two reached a compromise: each month a new novel can be read for free on the publisher's website...

author Scott Nicholson said...

I am glad Dean touched on it, but it's so rarely mentioned in the "trad v. indie" debate--the 15 percent for life the agent gets, NO MATTER WHAT! Who was the only one in the Amanda Hocking deal that had no risk whatsover? An agent getting $300,000. For WHAT WORK?

I think agents, in their current model, will be the first big casualties of the shift, because they will soon be (or maybe already are) the least necessary if all they do is protect editors from having to select manuscripts (which, BTW, is harming their business model terribly because they are insulated on both ends of what should be their business--matching readers and writers).

And while clearly some are brilliant and understand literature, how many success stories come out of agents asking for rewrites? I've never known of one single case personally where a writer's manuscript was accepted after an agent's rewriting request--and I am not convinced they would BE effective estributors because they only need ONE skill right now--the art of the pitch and deal, and only to a few dozen customers.

Building a broad, multi-faceted business and then actually learning what readers want (something they have no experience in, because their small pool of customers are in Manhattan) is a vast difference from what they are experienced at, so even a "good agent" may be terrible or worse if you hand over all those tasks. Thee are average Joes and Joannas out there already far more adept at those tasks, sitting at their keyboards right now--this is the era of creative entrepreneurship, so why would you try to retrofit a horse by trying to slap a jetpack on its back?

Personally, I love every aspect of my cottage industry. I write as much as I want already, and I've met so many great people in the last year. I can trade for skills I don't want to spend money on, and with little overhead, I don't need huge sales. A lot of the headlines go to the big names in this debate, but there are plentiful day-writers like me just happily toiling away in the garden.

(And, Barry, I just left the field of journalism after 15 years--the "unnamed source" was never allowed for the simple reason that 99.99 percent of people going off the record were simply using you as a mouthpiece to further their agenda, and they aren't above lying or making it up to do so...not that I accuse Publishers Marketplace of that, but, hey, who is the audience? Truth and justice, or some people who might lose their jobs and need some good news?)

Still, I admit it's way more exciting when you talk millions instead of a can of beans! Thanks for your time, guys.

Scott Nicholson

I.L. said...

I'm curious how many writers reading this blog believe it's easier to sell a thousand books a day (or a hundred) than it is to get a request for a full from an agent. 80-90%?

David, I was getting ready for my third ride on the "query-go-round," as Robin Sullivan calls it, when I discovered Joe's blog while researching hard sales data. I know what it takes to get full requests; I also know how it feels when the rejection has nothing to do with your writing, but the perceived commercial viability of your manuscript. A full request from an agent is often a step to nowhere.

I was utterly powerless in that system. I can't write like someone else, I just write like me, which is offbeat and quirky and a little odd. There are readers who like that, but probably not enough to support an entire publishing ecosystem.

I can take steps to put my books in front of those readers. My steps, no one else has to let me. I could take those steps and still not get the sales I want, but then I can take other steps. If those don't work, I can write something else. For some of us, having a hand in our fate is far more important than the bottom line (though I truly believe my bottom line will be better this way, because I could pound on the gates all I wanted to, I wasn't getting in). Maybe I'll feel differently when my books are actually up, but I doubt it.

I agree with Joe, you're asking the wrong question.

Michelle Muto said...

"But for most of us, the choice is easier. Legacy publishing offers: years of writing query letters, groveling, rejection, and $0.

Self-publishing with e-books offers: the chance to get your book directly in the hands of readers.

For new/unknown writers, I see no reason to send out a query letter ever again."

I couldn't agree more, Sam!

And especially with former editors and agents offering editorial and marketing resources to writers. Who wouldn't like a one or two stop shop to get their book out there?

Michelle Muto
The Book of Lost Souls

Kendall Swan said...

Re Piracy-
My friend's father just got a new Kindle and was given (he didn't get it himself) a file with 700 ebooks on it. But he has still been buying books himself. I think it's the act of shopping and DECIDING to buy that is key. Making that decision gives most people a positive little brain chemical surge making them feel good about the purchase--even if they don't immediately read the book.
For most people (who don't have a klepto problem), stealing doesn't do that for them.

@TJ Dotson--
I think you might be right about their evil plan-- so generous with the information- the net effect being we spend more time consuming it than becoming competition....
:)

Kendall Swan said...

So I spoke to two agents this weekend and asked about their opinions of self publishing and self published authors. They are Lucienne Diver (Knight Agency) and Beth Miller (Writer's House).

They were both as sweet as can be and very generous with their time with me.

And they both had basically the same opinion which was this:

That self publishing isn't a viable career path for a serious writer--that it can't offer the same benefits at all for an author. And that serious authors who want a long career will query and un-serious authors with no talent and only one or two stories will self publish.

This opinion about self published authors was validated by their personal experiences with self published author submissions they have received. Apparently, they have been shoddy and unprofessional and the author typically has an air of entitlement after selling 10 copies of their life story.

I thought it was an interesting peek inside their heads to see self-publishing from their pov. A very different view, indeed.

Kendall
NAKED Cheerleader and Other Stories

C. Pinheiro said...

In the last six weeks, I've made over $80,000.

I'm flabbergasted by how much money you're making, Joe. I can see why traditional publishers want to plant bombs under your car. For big publishing, you're one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

I was thinking about Amanda's decision to take the publishing deal. If she becomes the next Stephanie Meyer, she made a good decision.

But all the press she's getting just encourages authors to self-publish even more. If Amanda can get a big publisher to notice her by self-publishing, then what's going to stop another author from trying the same thing?

It just makes self-publishing more attractive.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious how many writers reading this blog believe it's easier to sell a thousand books a day (or a hundred) than it is to get a request for a full from an agent. 80-90%?

It IS easier to sell a hundred (or even twenty five) a day than to get a request for a full MS. My books were rejected over a hundred times by editors and agents. I'm selling nearly 1,000 of them a month on Kindle store at 2.99 a pop. I wasted years on the query-go-round, and now I'm finding an audience.

Count me as one of the writers who has proven it's easier to make money as an indy on Kindle store than it is to break into the legacy publishing game.

Anna Murray
TAKEDOWN
Easton Hearts Series

Boyd Morrison said...

I think the point of this entire discussion is the prospect of risk versus reward. For all of us deciding whether to go with a traditional publisher versus self-publishing, we have to look at our unique situations and decide what risk/reward ratio we are willing to abide. In either case, the entity putting up the money to make publication possible tends to reap the most reward if it goes well and suffers the greater loss if it does not.

When choosing to go with a traditional publisher, the reward for the writer is that you get an upfront advance that can support you while you write the book, you get publication support from someone who has done it many times before, you get the potential for reviews and awards that a self-publisher does not, and you have the potential for a massive hit if everything works out well. The risk is that you give up control of many publication aspects, you get a lower royalty rate which may lower your earnings in the future if your book sells well for years, and your books may not sell as well because of the higher price.

With self-publishing, the risks and rewards tend to be flipped. The rewards are that you will make a significantly higher percentage royalty per book, you can set your own price, and you control every aspect of the publication. The risks are that you have to invest all your own money upfront, the market is now crowded so you may have to spend more of your own money on marketing, if you don't spend money on marketing it may be difficult for your book to get any attention, and your book may never end up selling enough copies to pay for your upfront costs.

I'm not saying self-publishing won't work for some, if not many, writers. I just want everyone to understand what they're risking when they go with either option.

Just as with investment products, we should understand the phrase, "Past performance is not a predictor of future results." There is certainly a strong case for optimism as Joe and Barry have pointed out, but things will change in the future. Royalty rates have changed dramatically in the last two years, and I would not be surprised if they change again in the next two years. There's also the risk that a book selling well now may not continue to sell well for years to come. In 2008 home buyers thought housing prices would continue to soar for years. I'm not saying ebook sales will crater the same way, but they will have to flatten out eventually; the question is when and how gradually.

One last thing about agents getting a 15% cut of sales to package books. Again it's about risk. If you can find a good editor who's willing to work for a flat rate of $20 per hour, latch on to that person for dear life. I think the rate may be low. Even if you say that's equivalent to what editors at big publishers earn now, those editors also have a career path, hoping that they will work up to senior editor or publisher someday. Freelance editors don't have that career path.

So you can pay a flat rate upfront, which means it's all coming out of your pocket as a writer, or you can ask the agent or editor to share in your risk for 15%. If the agent agrees to work for a percentage, the agent is still going to have to choose which writers to work with because if they choose wrong, all the work they put into packaging the book will pay zero. Some will be a home run and pay for many years to come. But again, they're taking a risk. Few agents will agree to take that risk and then cap their reward at $500.

Anonymous said...

Most publishers don't release more than one or two books from a particular author in a given year. What I don't understand is why the author who has this opportunity doesn't take it and then just write another one or two on the side and self-publish those. Why not work both sides of the street?

David Ebright said...

My eyes are gonna fall out of my head. Lots of great info to digest. I took a shot with 2 YA novels on Kindle at the start of 2011 &, without any promo effort, they're selling well & building steam. I self published from the start (late 2008) & I've had no regrets.

Thanks fellas.

J.M.Cornwell said...

"When choosing to go with a traditional publisher, the reward for the writer is that you get an upfront advance that can support you while you write the book..."

Most writers going with traditional publishers don't get a huge advance. Most of the time the advances fall between $5K and $10K, with only half up front and the rest on publication, which is not enough to live on even with a 9-12 month lead. Then there's the run up to publication and that takes time.

With micro publishers, the advances are even lower. The phrase "Don't quit your day job" comes to mind. Only when you get at least $50K or more of an advance with half up front and half on publication is it even possible to quit work, and then only for a year while you're working. What employer is going to keep the employee's job while that happens? Very few.

Coral Russell said...

Sorry, but I'm feeling kinda cool that I blogged that interview

http://alchemyofscrawl.blogspot.com/2011/03/barry-vs-amanda.html

and thought it was a win-win if for the only reason that they are opening themselves up to a potential new market. :)

Love the follow up blog and you finally wore me down enough to click the monkey/frog link and well, monkey's have so much in common with men... hehe

I'm going to figure out the RT thing because you should hang the press by their ankles.

I'm a DIY person and am so happy to see all this stuff, plus I get to read great books. I used to stockpile paper books and then get rid of them to make room. Now I have a crap load of eBooks and I don't have to get rid of them to make room. I'm sold!

Joe Konrath said...

Funny…when you write of vanity self-publishing, you say the best will rise to the top. Yet you seem not to think the same of traditional publishing. Well, yes, the best in traditional publishing rises to the top also, and the top is a very lucrative place to be.

LOL. The best most certainly does not rise to the top. I'm getting rich on books they rejected. They haven't got a clue what is the best and what isn't.

I can list dozens of wonderful books that never found their audience, because they went out of print too soon, and never got the proper push. Such is legacy pubbing.

Hocking looks like she may get a push, but that remains to be seen.

Eisler got a seven figure deal for his last two novels--more per book than Hocking got with her current deal. He should have gotten a major push.

Instead his publisher blew it, big time.

Legacy publishing can still make millionaires, and still promote books to huge successes. But having been a part of it for almost a decade, I know where my time is better spent.

Boyd Morrison said...

Most writers going with traditional publishers don't get a huge advance. Most of the time the advances fall between $5K and $10K, with only half up front and the rest on publication, which is not enough to live on even with a 9-12 month lead. Then there's the run up to publication and that takes time.

True. Most advances are this size, but it's still an advance. My point was that in this case the publisher is taking the risk. If you self-publish, you're taking the risk by spending money upfront for editing, cover art, marketing, etc. Many people will earn more than a $5-10K advance by self-publishing. Many others will not. If you're willing to risk that money for the potential upside of selling many copies on your own, you should go for it.

Just keep in mind that we tend to hear about the success stories and not the failures.

Joe Konrath said...

The risks are that you have to invest all your own money upfront, the market is now crowded so you may have to spend more of your own money on marketing, if you don't spend money on marketing it may be difficult for your book to get any attention, and your book may never end up selling enough copies to pay for your upfront costs.

Boyd, except for the money upfront (about $800 to self pub) all of those risks apply to legacy books as well. And it's much likelier to pay off that $800 at 70% royalties than it is to pay off that $100,000 advance at 17.5%.

I think you made the right decision when you signed your book deal. I would have done the same thing.

But if you hadn't signed your book deal, I'm pretty sure you'd have made well over half a million bucks by now, and a million by the end of 2011. That's what I'm on track to do, and your books were outselling most of mine.

Now there is more to legacy deals than just money, and hopefully you're getting some value out of that. But I've been able to sell film rights, audio rights, and foreign rights on my ebooks. The only thing I believe i"m missing out on is being on bookstore shelves.

Earlier today, I was in one of the local chain bookstores. They're carrying about half the books they did a year ago, and there were more employees than customers.

I wouldn't want to have a print book coming out in 2013.

J.M.Cornwell said...

There will always be failures in any venture, but hard work and determination do make a difference. My book has only been only a couple of weeks, but I see the results. Yes, I had to spend about $400 of my own money for cover art, ISBN (won't do that again), and assorted costs, but I'll see a return for the money.

Even at $5K-10K, few authors in the midlist range ever earn out their advances and that means no more advances coming down the pike. Since that's the case, why not self-publish and earn some money with no advance earn-out hanging over your head, especially when there's no publisher doing more than minimal marketing and publicity?

Give up a few things, sacrifice, if you will, and self-publishing is doable on a shoe string. You don't have to have an artist do the cover art; you can do it yourself or find someone young art student willing to do it for free or for a portion of the money when it comes in. There are all kinds of ways around problems and that's where determination comes in. I'd rather be a midlist self-published author than a midlist traditionally published author still working my day job while I slog away at novels nights and weekends. At least with indie publishing, I have a better chance of earning enough to quit the wage slavery. I don't with the traditional publisher, not as things stand when traditional publishers are putting on big ad campaigns for best selling novelists who don't need the push. If I'm going to have to market and do publicity, I should get a bigger piece of the pie.

Author: Michael Sullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Sullivan said...

Thanks guys for great lunchtime reading (although I had already some of this previously - the Dean part). One thing that was only briefly touched on is non-compete clauses.

As many know in November Michael was offered a 3-book six-figure deal and we agreed on basic terms. Just last week we got the official contract and in its current state it can't be signed. I'm still confident that our agent will get a version that is signable but this is one more left over from a time when traditional publishign was the ONLY option that is hamstrining authors.

The loss of income going traiditonal I had already made my peace with (in exchange for opening an avenue to print readers we don't reach well now). But I can't make a short term decision with long term reprercusions that could limit what and when he could produce other works.

I'm going to be real interested in Amanda's contract from an options and non-compete standpoint. This is a pretty serious aspect that authors need to be very aware of.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

michael said...

The gist of this conversation seems to be about maximizing profit. That's a good goal, but not the only one. With her new book deal and the continued sales of her current books, Amanda Hocking could retire quite comfortably before she is thirty. What's enough?

Does each book have to bring in every last penny? Doesn't the experience of going with a NY publisher (good or bad) have value?

Traditional publishing may or may not make her more money. Going that way will broaden her experience. If she is even moderately successful, it will enhance her stature as an author with people who now consider her a curiosity. Isn't that worth something too? At Amanda Hocking's age and with the financial cushion she'll get from the deal, perhaps the broadening of experience is worth more than some extra money down the road.

Joe Konrath said...

But I can't make a short term decision with long term reprercusions that could limit what and when he could produce other works.

Good for you. There are several clauses you need to be concerned about.

1. Non compete. Michael should be able to publish other work, in a different series.

2. Next book option. That's silly, especially when self-publishing is viable.

3. Minimum print release. You should make sure that the contract states these books WILL be released in some print form, and if you can, list a minimum print run. If not, the rights revert.

4. Out or print rights reversion. If the print version begins to sell fewer than X number of books per quarter, rights revert.

5. If you can, get a Most Favored Nations clause. (Search my blog for info)

6. Keep as many rights as you can. A publisher SHOULD NOT get movie, audio, TV, merchandising, sequel, or enhanced multimedia rights.

Joe Konrath said...

At Amanda Hocking's age and with the financial cushion she'll get from the deal, perhaps the broadening of experience is worth more than some extra money down the road.

There's no financial cushion.

2 mill, agent takes 15%, IRS takes 40%. That's $450,000, paid out over 5 years.

It's good money, but not retirement money.

Retirement money is making $50k a month, forever, on self-pubbed ebooks.

Stanfield Major said...

@Boyd Morrison I feel you've overrated the risk of self-publishing.

If you're willing to learn a few things, such as formatting and basic graphic design, you can put something up with almost no cost. Okay, it might not set the world on fire but it's a start. And you can use what you've learned to add new books.

Forever, as Joe has pointed out, is a long time. If you use the part of forever that you've been alotted wisely you will keep writing, learning, and putting out books. If you persist you'll start making sales. Something to build on.

And the most important thing is that you will be the master of your fate. Not a pawn in some corporate game.

Sarra Cannon said...

"If you self-publish, you're taking the risk by spending money upfront for editing, cover art, marketing, etc."


I haven't spent much money at all on my 3 self-published books. Other than $50 each for a friend of mine to do the covers, I haven't spent a dime anywhere else so far. My books are edited via an amazing critique group where we all share the burden of editing and critiquing each other's work. Marketing isn't something I feel I need to pay for up front. My books are finding an audience without me buying ads or whatever.

Now that I've made some money, I might invest in some SWAG type items to give to book bloggers, but that will come out of money I've made. Not out of pocket. In 5 months, I've probably already made more than any advance I would have gotten - and my book probably still wouldn't have been coming out for another six months or more.

www.sarracannon.com

Boyd Morrison said...

Boyd, except for the money upfront (about $800 to self pub) all of those risks apply to legacy books as well. And it's much likelier to pay off that $800 at 70% royalties than it is to pay off that $100,000 advance at 17.5%.

But in this case the writer isn't risking $800, he's risking $100,000 by turning down the advance. Yes, he might earn more than that in the long run, but there's also a possibility he won't. You might think it's a low risk, but it's still a risk.

I think you made the right decision when you signed your book deal. I would have done the same thing.

Thanks, Joe. I think we often forget how radically things have changed in the two years since I signed that deal.

But if you hadn't signed your book deal, I'm pretty sure you'd have made well over half a million bucks by now, and a million by the end of 2011. That's what I'm on track to do, and your books were outselling most of mine.

I don't know if that's true. I might have been selling better per book, but I only had three books out. You're now up to about 30. One common thread I see about the major success stories like you, Amanda, and John Locke is that you each have at least six books or more, which allows for a lot of ways for a reader to find you and become a fan.

Now there is more to legacy deals than just money, and hopefully you're getting some value out of that.

I believe I am. The Noah's Ark Quest was the number 7 bestselling debut novel in the UK last year, and that wouldn't have happened if I had been self-published. That said, I will continue to adapt to the changes in the publishing world, and I will continue to make the decisions that work best for me, just as you, Barry, and Amanda have. Some decisions will work out better than others, but overall I'm happy with where I am.

Gabriella said...

"2 mill, agent takes 15%, IRS takes 40%. That's $450,000, paid out over 5 years.

It's good money, but not retirement money.

Retirement money is making $50k a month, forever, on self-pubbed ebooks."

I have printed this out and have hung this in 5 places in my house.
Now I'm off to write some more.

J.M.Cornwell said...

I'll be satisified to be able to write and earn enough money to live without wage slavery. What's enough, at least a million or two in the bank earning interest. I can live on the interest without touching the principle, but to be able to live on what I make writing, I'll work until the day I die. I just want to be able to do it writing.

Megg Jensen said...

I've wanted to be a writer since I was 7 and wrote my first book about unicorns. I never, in a million years, thought I could make big money writing.

You guys have really set the bar high for dreamers like me. I've only been out two months, but I've already made more than I was making monthly as a freelance journalist.

Now every time I think of my career, this song pops in my: "I wanna be a billionaire, so freaking bad..." ;)

(now let's see if I can get this hyperlink thing right...)
Megg Jensen

Julianne MacLean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julianne MacLean said...

Just to add to your comments about piracy - being published by a legacy publisher does not protect a writer from piracy. I'm traditionally published, and all my backlist books - put out by Harlequin and Harper Collins - are all over the internet on pirate sites. The publishers can't stop it from happening either.

Robin Sullivan said...

Bob said...I've got my usual powerpoint presentations that I've used for years, when I suddenly realized that one is almost totally worthless now.

I know exactly what you mean. I do monthly lecturs on various aspects of publishing and for my January lecture completely tore down to the studs and rebult the "various paths to publishing" talks. It's a quickly changing world.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

jtplayer said...

"Retirement money is making $50k a month, forever, on self-pubbed ebooks."

The key word being "forever".

Time will tell if the income from ebooks will last forever.

For those selling that is.

Robin Sullivan said...

JDuncan said...
It's a big learning curve at the start. You guys have a pretty big advantage in knowledge, experience, and expertise. The new writer does not. Not only is it a big learning curve, but many, as pointed out, just aren't cut out to run a small business, which is what self-publishing really is. I don't think many newer writers quite understand that.


I think that's where the concent of edistributors comes in - but the smart ones - will be very discriminating on who they take on so in some ways you'll be back to a gatekeeper in some respects. If you truly want total freedom you'll have to learn...and do...it all yourself.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

J.M.Cornwell said...

Forever is a long time, but look at books that have been around for hundreds of years and still sell, like Jane Austen, Michel Montaigne, Shakespeare, Darwin, etc., and even Mark Twain, and he's been dead quite a while. That's pretty forever, and they are just the tips of some major league icebergs.

J.M.Cornwell said...

Let's not forget Cervantes, Homer (he's an oldie and a goodie), Aeschylus, Euripides, Ovid, Plutarch, Washington Irving, etc. And their copyrights have all expired and publishing companies are earning money on their work without doing any work. If you own your own rights, you can conceivably earn for your entire life and for your heirs, as long as you renew the copyrights.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone has to consider their personal situation. Even IF I'd received a publishing contract, the typical advance for my work (western historical romance) would be $2-5K (new author). It's not even worth talking about -- I can survive one month on that kind of money. Then I'd have to wait 18 months for actual publication. The legacy advances don't work for me.

At the time I decided to self-pub to Kindle I had two children in college. The money I made, even in those first lean months, made a difference to my family. A couple thousand extra is HUGE right now, as my daughter is still in college and those tuition bills, not to mention her living expenses, are killers. This extra money means we don't take out loans, and leaving her without debt burden is important to me. I'm making a difference with my humble ebook sales. I'd still be waiting on the big boys if I'd held out for the big league offer.

Sure, if I were offered a six-figure advance I'd take it, but it's not going to happen in my genre. I have a thriller up now, but again, it's a first book in that genre for me, and I'm no Barry Eisler. I'm realistic about what I am and where I fit in the great publishing chain of being. I'm happy to be mid list, and ebook publishing gives me a chance to monetize my efforts at a time when my family needs the income.

I think it's fine for a younger, talented author (Hocking) to take the risks and play the waiting game (years) with the large publishers, but I didn't have the advantage of time (I'm an old lady!), and my husband isn't exactly Donald Trump wealthy. Kindle publishing gave me a great opportunity, at a time when I needed the income, and I took it.

Everyone has to decide what works best; we are all authors, but very different flavors. It is not a "one size fits all" industry, and that's something that the legacy publishers need to learn too.

In my case, a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush.

Anna Murray
TAKEDOWN

Tara Maya said...

WHICH LEADS TO THE “SHAME ON PUBLISHERS MARKETPLACE” HEADING, TO MAKE THIS SECTION EASIER FOR PUBLISHERS MARKETPLACE TO FIND

STill laughing....

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate
Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Courtney Milan said...

Just a note, Joe--I think you forgot to multiply by 2 in your calculations of Amanda Hocking's take. She gets $900,000, not $450,000.

And for some, $900,000 is most certainly retirement money--with half-way decent investment, it can earn average family-of-four income for the rest of your life, while growing with inflation and not touching the principle. It's a hell of a lot more than most people have socked away for retirement at their 65-year mark.

$50,000 a month every month forever is retirement money, but for more than half the country, so is $4,000.

I'm not quibbling with your basic premise--but you undercut the strength of your argument when you say things like you need $50,000 a month to retire.

That's totally ridiculous. Why on earth would you need that much?

jack said...

I am personally amazed by the number of times Joe needs to recycle the same information, so that people can understand that self Publishing is the way to go.

It is pretty simple, make a nice chunk of money in 18 months, and never see another dime. Or, make a smaller amount right now, and have it continue to grow until you far surpass what they would have given you, and keep making that money until the end of forever........

That is also if sales stay the same until the end of forever, but they wont, Digital sales will grow!

Nuff said, case closed, bang the gavel.

Jack

jtplayer said...

"and keep making that money until the end of forever........"

Two words:

Irrational exuberance.

Case closed. Have a nice day!

Justin said...

"2 mill, agent takes 15%, IRS takes 40%. That's $450,000, paid out over 5 years. "

Actually, it's 900,000, assuming she pays forty percent to the gov, which depends on the skill of her accountants.

Which really isn't a financial cushion, but Hocking doesn't really need it. Assuming she doesn't go Mike Tyson on us, she'll will have made retirement money by the end of the year, even without the book deal.

She's certainly in a position where the idea that she might lose money taking the two million is kind of besides the point except as maybe a way of keeping score.

HyperPulp 5000: New Fiction, Every Damn Day

David said...

"I am personally amazed by the number of times Joe needs to recycle the same information, so that people can understand that self Publishing is the way to go.

It is pretty simple, make a nice chunk of money in 18 months, and never see another dime. Or, make a smaller amount right now, and have it continue to grow until you far surpass what they would have given you"

It's not a one-size fits all thing. There's virtually no children's or middle grade e-book market at the moment, and even the teen category isn't very big (non paranormal romance teen books.)

If J.K. Rowling e-pubbed the first Harry Potter today (a middle grade book), she'd be very lucky to sell more than a few hundred copies. Certainly she wouldn't have sold the 6000 books every single hour that she sold from 1997-2007. She sold at least 40 million books in 2007, which I believe is double the number of all kindle books sold last year.

The only self-published e-book that seems to be in the same category sits on the list at around 2,000. I have no idea how many books you have to sell to hover around 2000, but it's probably not very many.

Moving to e-books is going to take longer for some audiences. 9-12 year-olds still rely on school librarians at brick and mortar libraries to find books.

Anonymous said...

Not to dispute anyones numbers here but I seems to me that there can't be a huge number of authors that can make a living writing. Looking at the number of sales reported by people on the Kindle Boards and then at their kindle sales rank it looks like a rank of 10,000 is about 1 sale a day. If that is true then, even if you considered 500 sales a year good, the number of living wages is less than 10,000. Now the sales rank is dynamic so over the course of a year more then 10,000 authors will be in the top 10,000 but you also have to allow that a lot of authors have several books in the top 10,000 and the top 10,000 has traditional published authors, games, magazines etc.

One problem with this analyis is the Kindle rank is very non-linear, so it may be that being in the top 100 for a week will make enough to live on for a year, thus you could have more authors in the living wage camp.

Still, can their really be more then 3-4 thousand writers making a living off of ebooks?

Disclaimer: I am not now nor ever have been an author.

Charlie Reese

Joe Konrath said...

Actually, it's 900,000, assuming she pays forty percent to the gov, which depends on the skill of her accountants.

Yeah. I was doing the math for 2 books for a mil, not 4.

That's $180,000 a year for five years, which is a very nice chunk of change. I dunno if that's retirement money, buy you can buy a nice house and pay a lot of bills with it.

jtplayer said...

"That's $180,000 a year for five years, which is a very nice chunk of change. I dunno if that's retirement money, buy you can buy a nice house and pay a lot of bills with it."

Keep in mind, on her blog Amanda admits to earning 2 million to date on her ebooks.

Girlfriend ain't hurtin' for bread, even before her big pub. deal.

Based on that information, I'd say this deal was a no brainer for her.

Joe Konrath said...

Based on that information, I'd say this deal was a no brainer for her.

I'd beg to differ. I bet she thought long and hard about it.

If she can make a million dollars a month, giving up four books for a lot less than that probably was a difficult decision to make.

Lundeen Literary said...

Gary Ponzo said…
"I'm curious how many writers have stopped searching for agents and self-published instead after reading this blog?"

::raises hand::
After reading Joe, I'm interested in polishing my writing to a brilliant shine, then vetting it, polishing it some more, and then posting it. If I do well and make some money, great. If I do well enough to score an agent to handle other rights, fabulous! If I do so well that I attract the attention of a legacy publisher… well, I'll see what's going on then. Never say never, but I seriously doubt that will happen. Never been lucky, and that won't likely start now. I'll back the work horse, because the winning horse has never liked me.


David said..

"I'm curious how many writers reading this blog believe it's easier to sell a thousand books a day (or a hundred) than it is to get a request for a full from an agent. 80-90%?"

I've seen proof that it's easier for an agented, bestselling award-winner to make $50k+/year on one self-pubbed title within 6 months of release than it is for him/her to get a second contract. The person in question didn't quite earn out a MASSIVE advance, so now no one will pick up his next titles. Even though this person had a bestseller. Even though the book will be made into a film. Even though this person has platform. ::shrug::

Jenna
@lundeenliterary

Lundeen Literary said...

"I doubt anyone who downloads a collection of 2500 ebooks will read them all. And I really doubt that each of those 2500 represents a lost sale."

Have to agree here. I did a test a while back of some torrents. I found a set of torrents that constituted 20,000 books. O_O I analyzed them, and found the following:
*80% of the file formats were incompatible with my device, or would have required a really crappy view of the pdf via the native pdf viewer on my device. I would not have read these files due to the poor experience.
*15% of the files were of a .doc or .rtf format with no chapter or TOC functions, and the transfers to my device were horrid. I would not have read these files due to the experience.
*5% of the files were of the appropriate file format designed for my device, but most were laden with typos, scanning errors, etc. Poor reading experience, didn't bother with them.
*98% of the files were books I would never have bothered with, or already owned but it's so easy to make a torrent with a zillion books, why make one torrent with one book? Some of those did not equate with a lost sale because I already owned the book. The rest, I wouldn't have bought and also didn't read.

I read the first Anita Blake book by Laurel k Hamilton, as well as her first faery one. Those were free from the PUBLISHER via Kindle some months ago, the idea being to get a reader hooked and then they'll buy the rest of the series. Yeah, they both were so fricking awful that, even though the torrent had both those entire series, I deleted them all just so they wouldn't sully my hard drive.

That same torrent had all the Charlaine Harris books in it. I read the first half of the first Sookie Stackhouse one, then went out and bought it. Then bought all her other books. Then told my friends, who went and did the same thing. I estimate that I've hand-sold about 120+ books for Charlaine Harris.

So, yeah, those downloaded books do NOT equate with lost sales. Not a bit of it.

Jenna
www.lundeenliterary.com

Lundeen Literary said...

Justin quoted Joe, then said…

""2 mill, agent takes 15%, IRS takes 40%. That's $450,000, paid out over 5 years. "

Actually, it's 900,000, assuming she pays forty percent to the gov, which depends on the skill of her accountants.

Which really isn't a financial cushion"

Ok, it is, and it isn't. With 5% returns on a 1,000,000 investment, that's $50k/year in interest. I can love on that with zero issue. I'd probably just keep working and let the interest add up. In 15 years, that's 2 million in the bank, with $100k/year income on a 5% return.

Problem is, sometimes you don't get that 5% return. Banks are offering maybe 1.5% right now on savings.

$15k/year in interest would be better than nothing, but that wouldn't cover me. Of course, I could work part-time and write the rest of the time, then add to my backlist. It would do as a stop-gap measure, keep the wolf from the door, and I wouldn't be starving at 80. Emergencies could be covered. That's certainly something to build on, and is WAY better than I'm doing right now.

It's still life-changing money, but not so life changing that I never have to work again. Well, unless I moved to Phuket and lived super-cheap until I got my own sales going. Which is a hell of an idea, except I'd be drinking on the beach and never get any writing done. But I would damn sure be enjoying myself…

Jenna (who should really be working on these ebook designs… DAMN YOU JOE! I kid. I love you!!! )

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

Actually, it's 900,000, assuming she pays forty percent to the gov, which depends on the skill of her accountants.

Yeah. I was doing the math for 2 books for a mil, not 4.

That's $180,000 a year for five years, which is a very nice chunk of change. I dunno if that's retirement money, buy you can buy a nice house and pay a lot of bills with it.


Actually, assuming $2M, that's $300K off the top to the agent, leaving her with gross income of $1.7M. If Amanda is paying 40% in income taxes, state and federal, that's $680K in taxes, leaving her with just over $1M. If those payments are spaced evenly over five years, she's looking at $200K per year, which for most of us would be good, but is a small fraction of what she's already doing with ebooks.

Joe, I hope you're not paying income taxes on your agents' cuts. :)

jtplayer said...

"I'd beg to differ. I bet she thought long and hard about it."

Yes, I'm sure she did.

But at the end of the day, after she considered all that was involved (and keeping in mind her stated reasons for taking the deal) I'd say the decision was a figurative no brainer.

You run some convincing numbers Joe, and your success is undeniable. But as far as Amanda Hocking's deal goes, I don't see where the downside would ever be enough to walk away from that offer.

I'd venture to say Joe, that 18 months ago (before you blew up big with ebooks) you would have fallen all over yourself for that deal.

And written a shitload on this blog about it ;-)

Selena Kitt said...

I'd beg to differ. I bet she thought long and hard about it.

If she can make a million dollars a month, giving up four books for a lot less than that probably was a difficult decision to make.


Yeah, I can't imagine it was a decision made lightly. I am being honest when I say I really don't envy writers who get themselves in this position. I'd feel totally paralyzed by having to make that choice.

Ellen O'Connell said...

"Even IF I'd received a publishing contract, the typical advance for my work (western historical romance) would be $2-5K (new author). It's not even worth talking about * * *"

I'm in exactly this same boat, and finding out what the advance would be for one of my books had me turning my back on the whole idea. Too much time and work for such small pay. When I found out about indie pubbing for Amazon, I couldn't scramble fast to get my books up fast enough. As some have said here, what's the risk? Never earning a dime or maybe earning something? I imagine a lot of us are in this boat - different from having to do calculations with big numbers.

And in spite of the general belief that this only pays for the people with publishing history or the big numbers guys, there are a lot like Anna and me - earning more than our books would ever earn in the traditional world, even if they won the lottery and saw the light of day. Maybe our market could be considered niche, but it's there for indies and not there in legacy pubbing.

T.J. Dotson said...

I can't pretend to speak for Ms. Hocking. But I do recall that she has been very adamant that she isn't abandoning self-publication.

It appears to be her intention to do both. If thats the case, she's getting the best of both worlds. Hopefully, the folks at SMP will give her some room to do both..its win-win.

The one good thing about recent publishing changes, is how buzzed it has everyone! Writers are excited & passionate about writing again. Many who had previously given up or been down about it! I see it on this blog and other forums.

Now I need to stop obsesevely reading Joes Blog and get back to my own Writing!

Robert Bidinotto said...

@ T.J. Dotson: You absolutely nail it. That's how I've felt.

I've achieved much of what a writer can achieve in nonfiction, in terms of books, national awards, recognition, steady paychecks, etc. But even though I always yearned to write fiction, I wouldn't dare allow myself to start down that road. Why? Because under the traditional model of "corporate publishing," the barriers-to-entry in the marketplace were stacked too high against me.

Like everyone else, I have bills to pay, and it would have been criminally irresponsible of me to divert my writing energies away from steady paychecks and into such high-risk/unlikely-reward activity as writing novels.

But within the past few months, ebook self-publishing has completely tilted the publishing landscape toward the author, rather than the house. Now, barriers to entry in publishing have become negligible, and they can be surmounted even by the unaided individual author, if he chooses not to hire help. No longer are their walls or gatekeepers between the fiction writer and his potential readers.

So, in addition to all the other obvious benefits of this trend, perhaps the greatest is the one you point out, T.J.: "Writers are excited & passionate about writing again. Many who had previously given up or been down about it!"

That describes me. And, thanks to the wisdom, experience, and inspiring examples provided by self-publishing bloggers such as Joe, Robin Sullivan, and Dean Wesley Smith, I'll be joining their ranks shortly, with Hunter -- the first in a new series of vigilante thrillers. They have my undying thanks for being pioneers on this exciting new road.

--Robert

Linda Reed Gardner said...

Fascinating. Forgive me for going off-topic here, but am I the only person in the known world who missed the Curtis-Brown agency announcvement of its "creative writing school"? For only "$3,500," you get "unbelievable access to...yes! agents. The course is "limited to only fifteen people." I'll bet. I don't know many writers with that kind of extra cash. I'm nearly speechless here. Any reactions to this move? Suspect more agencies will follow this move.

Jude Hardin said...

Another great conversation, guys!

The thing is, Barry and Amanda are already bestselling millionaires. They're going to succeed any which way they go. What about someone who has had a fair amount of success self-publishing, but still seeks the big deal with a corporate publisher? It would be interesting to hear from someone in that position.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

What about someone who has had a fair amount of success self-publishing, but still seeks the big deal with a corporate publisher?

Why would that publisher have any interest whatsoever in publishing that author? Publishers want sure things. That's why midlist authors have so much trouble nowadays. Publishers haven't really had any interest in developing their stables for years now. The want to sign only those they think will sell in huge numbers. A mid-range self-pubbed author has little chance of ever seeing an offer from a corporate publisher, and if against the odds it does happen the deal will be truly crappy for the author.

Anonymous said...

"What about someone who has had a fair amount of success self-publishing, but still seeks the big deal with a corporate publisher? It would be interesting to hear from someone in that position."

I'm not in JA's league but make $12-15K month self-publishing. I got contacted by an agent who landed a NY deal with a HC to come out his fall. So, it happens.

Jude Hardin said...

Why would that publisher have any interest whatsoever in publishing that author?

I don't know. I think publishers are still looking for good books, even if they're from yet-to-be-proven authors.

Jude Hardin said...

Congrats, anon. But why be anon? This is obviously somethiong you wanted, so why not celebrate openly?

Anonymous said...

"But why be anon?"

That's just my nature. All I'm looking for is a good connection with my readers and not fame or fortune.

Barry said...

Holy smokes, it took me longer to read through these comments than it did to co-write the post! Thanks again, everyone, for all the varied, insightful responses. And apologies to anyone who was brave/foolish enough to click on the animal links, which, again, were all Joe's doing.

One thing I want to mention: I think all the talk of Grisham and Rowling needs to be put in context. It reminds me of when I first got into judo, and a common question I encountered was a variation of, "Who do you think would win in a fight between a judo master and a tai chi master?"

My typical response was, "Um, I'm probably not going to become a judo master, and I'm probably not going to have to fight a tai chi master, so... I don't care, really."

Right now, the highest end of the earning spectrum for writing is still in legacy publishing. Rowling, Brown, Patterson, et al. So if that's what you're shooting for, you should consider legacy. Just like, if you're planning on becoming a martial arts master and fighting other martial arts masters, you should choose your art and your training accordingly.

But if what you're really interested in is effective self-defense against a realistic and likely range of possibilities, your choices will probably be different.

I'm not shooting for sales of a hundred million plus books. I'm shooting for the most realistic chance of maximizing my income (and my happiness) from writing over the long term, and I made my decision based on that. In other words, in my judgment, I have a better chance of making more money, and being happier, being self-published. It's still possible the only chance I have to sell a hundred million plus books is with a legacy publisher, but even if that's true, the chance is so remote, and would cost me so much to go for, that for me it's not worth it. It's like a lottery ticket that has a one in one-hundred-million chance of paying out a hundred million dollars, but that itself costs ten thousand dollars. For me, too high a price for too remote a chance of a payout.

Now, it's early days in self-publishing, and I imagine down the road we'll be hearing about some new digital colossus whose sales rival or even exceed James Patterson. But that's still not the point for me.

But that's just me. There's nothing wrong with choosing the high cost, high risk, high reward route, which is what I think legacy represents for me at this point. It's a personal decision, and different people will weigh the costs, risks, and potential rewards differently. I just think we have to be clear about our objectives before we can have a reasonable opinion about each other's tactics.

Cheers,
Barry

Jude Hardin said...

I'm shooting for the most realistic chance of maximizing my income (and my happiness) from writing over the long term, and I made my decision based on that.

I think happiness should have preceded income in that sentence. Otherwise, it's perfect. ;)

Casey Moreton said...

Vengeance is finally up on Nook. It will be interesting to see how the experience of dealing with Barnes and Noble compares to the ease of Kindle. One thing I do already like about Nook is that it allows you quicker access to your titles after publication instead of having to wait 2 or 3 days. Anyway, I' excited. The plan is to have my other titles up on Nook within the next 2 weeks. Fingers crossed. The future lies ahead.

Justin said...

@Lundeen Literary

I should maybe make it clear that I don't think it's a finanicial cushion for Hocking because she will have almost certainly have made the equivalent in the time for those books to come out. Probably more.

It would be a financial cushion if Hocking were getting a bunch more money than she would have made anyway.

Ultimately, I think it's reasonable experiment on her part - at the worst, she gets a million bucks. At best she gets a lot more. As gambles go, it's better than Vegas.

Retirementwise, it's right in there, depending. Figure five percent as a reasonable rate of return, but you'd need to sock away three percent to cover inflation. So 20,000. Which is maybe doable if you're Cheapy McCheappants and have no debts.

Of course, while I do support prudent investing, her real retirement plan is the other nine novels she has.

HyperPulp 5000: New Fiction, Every Damn Day

David said...

Barry, my bringing up Rowling was a response to all those who continue to say that Legacy is dead, and anybody would be a fool to go with a traditional publisher now.

Rowling wrote Harry Potter for 9-12 year-olds. The audience obviously grew, but that was her target audience, and that was the group her publisher courted. That younger group was the one that lit the fire. But that group, right now, aren't buying e-books like adults are. Neither are teens yet, though they'll catch on quicker.

If a writer decides to self-publish rather than seek a traditional publishing deal, he should be aware that higher royalties don't matter if you have no audience. This could change in a year, or two years, or ten. It's hard to tell. Everything is up in the air. There is no certainty.

S.E. Gordon said...

You guys are awesome! Not that I needed any more convincing, but this truly convinces me (yet again) that I'm on the right path.

I definitely consider myself a student of the J.A. Konrath school of self/indie publishing. Right now, I'm finishing up my first novel, a vampire thriller entitled Enura.

As Joe's said a million times, you need a damn good cover. Well, I think I've exceeded all expectations in this department:

http://segordon.blogspot.com/2011/04/wicked-new-cover-for-enura.html

Thanks for everything, Joe! If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be considering self-publishing my very first novel. You've proven that indies can produce a product equal to, if not superior than anything that comes out of the Big 6.

Go kick some butt, fellow indie authors!

S.E. Gordon
http://segordon.blogspot.com
http://www.segordon.com

Kendall Swan said...

" that the greater threat to many authors is obscurity, not piracy." - from the letter to Scott Turow referenced in the post.

Too true.

KevinMc said...

Saves Me Time, Though!
OK, it does. But how MUCH time?

If you're working full time at writing (40hrs per week, 2000 hours per year) and spending 15% of those hours (300 hours per year) on duties that giving away 15% would pay for, then you're breaking even.

So that full time writer has to be spending 300 hours a year on *finding* people to do covers, editing, formating, etc. (not on doing it - I agree that authors can and often should hire out these services) for 15% to be worthwhile. If it's 50%, then you need to be spending half of your working hours dealing with these things to make it worthwhile. Somehow, I doubt any writer is spending half their working time on these things.

Do the math. If Joe is spending 130 hours a year on covers, formating, uploading, and such, then 15% only makes sense if he is working a total of 866 hours or less, an average of about 17 hours per week. Otherwise the percentage you are giving away is greater than the work hours that percentage is freeing up for you.

Bottom Line: Why?
There are two businesses. One offers a service for a flat fee of $2000. The other offers services for 15%, which you know over the life of the book (based on your past sales) will equate to $10k or more over the next ten years. Same quality of service, just one charges up front and the other charges as you go.

Why would you ever go with the percentage when there is the option to pay a flat fee once? I mean, I guess if you're broke, you might do it once as a way to get some cash together, but I can't imagine wanting to do it again, or ever do it if you could afford the one time fee. There are companies offering all these services for flat fees. Why pay more than you have to?

KevinMc said...

OK, I want to talk a little about the whole estributor thing. I notice not too many folks are addressing this yet, despite the long list of comments.

I already talked about this a bit on my blog, and copied the entire essay (long) over to the thread about this on Dean's blog (pretty near the same chat they posted here). So I'll just reiterate a couple of the highlights:

Nobody is offering 15%.
There are already some agents who've shifted to book packaging. They take books, edit them, put on covers, format for print and digital, and get them up on the retail sites. Then they send the writers a percent - 50% of gross (35% of list).

There are a bunch of other agents talking about trying this model on for size. None of them are talking about 15%, either. Why should they? They already get 15% just for putting the book in the mail to a few publishers and reading negotiating a contract. Why would they accept the same fee for managing the book's entire production? Especially when their nearest competitors (corporate publishers) are offering only 17.5%? There's no financial motivation for them to do so. And the shops offering 50% are already producing as many books as they can. There's no lack of customers at 50%, so why would they charge less?

No, I think the entire 15% argument is a red herring. You might know someone willing to do that TODAY. But I doubt you will for long, if this model takes hold.

Back to writing for the market
Joe's "estributors" will have to begin rejecting manuscripts. Have to - they have no choice. They will be taking a financial risk on every book they produce, so they will be forced to reject those they don't think will make a profit. Worse, they will (are being) deluged with offers of books, and with limited time and resources that means they'll be forced to take not only the books they think will make a profit, but the books they think will make the most profit.

Does that sound familiar to anyone else?

A Rose By Any Other Name
So what do you call a company which takes submissions fro writers, rejects all but the ones they think will be most profitable, edits them, puts covers on them, formats them, distributes them to retailers, collects the money from retailers, and then sends a share of that money back to the writer periodically?

Hint: you don't call them "estributors".

We call them "publishers".

Agents setting up these businesses are going into business as a publisher. Leave aside the ethics issues if they try publishing and agenting at the same time (huge conflict of interest issues there), you're not looking at something new here. You're just looking at agents deciding agenting isn't where it's at any more, and going into publishing instead.

New boss, same as the old boss.

KevinMc said...

Sorry, not sure how those last two ended up out of order. =P Darned blogger. Hope they're readable anyway!

Lauryn Christopher said...

Robert said:
...I wouldn't dare allow myself to start down that road. Why? Because under the traditional model of "corporate publishing," the barriers-to-entry in the marketplace were stacked too high against me...Like everyone else, I have bills to pay, and it would have been criminally irresponsible of me to divert my writing energies away from steady paychecks and into such high-risk/unlikely-reward activity as writing novels..."

As a single mom who took the offer to write for an hourly wage instead of pennies-per-word, I completely agree - the old model made it difficult to justify the time invested. But now I'm able to take the skills I've learned over the years as a writer-for-hire and use them to write and post and sell my own ideas! This new world of publishing is very exciting.

krystian-galaj said...

"the greatest threat to many authors is obcurity, not piracy"
The sharing-for-free piracy that was wasn't the real piracy, which is just starting now. That is, everyone can take an ebook, change title, publish it as theirs, and make money the next day - and it's done more and more often. I give link to Bruce Schneier's post on security blog because it aggregates several places discussing the problem: http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2011/04/ebook_fraud.html

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of an estributor that takes 15% for all the sh___y non writing stuff like covers, marketing etc. Is there anyone out there that fills this role? Can anyone give a website for someone that will do this for enovels? I can't find them!
Also... for previously unpublished authors the big issues is marketing, and I think the best way to market right now is to get your novel on another enovelist website (maybe someone who is selling a couple of novels a days and could - whats the point for people like Konrath) for a % cut or straight fee. Anyone out there potentially offering this service.
Lots of talk on these comments but few real links to people that offer either of these 2 services!

heavycat said...

We first published LadyStar as a browser-based game. Then as a print manga. Then as a Visual Novel. Then as a webcomic. Then a second webcomic. Then as a Flash-based game. Then as four free webnovels (and counting):

http://ladystar.net/freeadventure/

And now we're on the Kindle. We've been doing self-publishing since 1996. We've never even considered working with a large company for anything except television. The best thing about self-publishing is talking with and seeing so many others doing the same thing! How else could there be hundreds of independent authors and book reviewers all talking about new and exciting book projects like this?

Self-publishing is what the web is all about.

J.M.Cornwell said...

The amount of time would lessen over the course of time. Once you find a good artist for covers, why change?

I don't see 15% of my time equal to 15% of sales. That's comparing apples and oranges. However, $2000 over $10,000 in your other model makes more sense.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Great to share all these different perspectives from different places on the wheel--Boyd did what is not likely to be duplicated (I don't think there's enough bookstore life left to create a career arc there if you start in 2012). Amanda Hocking will probably be the "midlife test" of the transition period. John Locke has an agent and it will be interesting to see what he does--he sent out a newsletter acknowledging 700,000 sales, which is "only" a quarter million bucks at 99 cents. SO two million bucks looks great next to that.

The environment is changing so fast that it's really hard to make any kind of predictions, but Barry's assessment of income and happiness-and "happiness" is a word you so rarely hear in writer discussions--is wise. If you understand what your goals are and where you want to be in life, and tie it in with the spiritual and emotional sides (and not just a dollar sign) you may find the decision is simpler than you imagined.

For example, one of the strange side effects of moving to full-time writing is my cost-of-living has dropped significantly while my quality of life improved quite a bit. I actually need less money to live the life I want--the one where I type, go to the garden when I feel like it, read Joe's blog, etc. Boyd and Joe made the right moves because they are happy, Barry already seems happy, and I know quite a few other writers who are happy--so it's not just money. There's tremendous value in pursuing your own vision and gratefully following your path.

Scott

Ashley Girardi said...

I used to think that trying to change people's opinions on the internet was a fruitless endeavor. It always devolves into name-calling and a virtual game of "I know you are but what am I?"

But, I have to say that your repeated salvos re:traditonal vs. indie publishing are successfully battering people's defenses.

Your arguments make sense, the numbers speak for themselves and (along with my own crippling failures concerning traditional publishing) you have me completely converted.

I published my first book to the Kindle five days ago and I've sold 22 copies with no exposure and no marketing. Small potatoes, but a decent start I think.

Thanks for the inspiration.

P.S. It makes me happy that you're a fellow Chicago suburbanite (village of Morton Grove, oh yeah!)

Stanfield Major said...

@Scott Amen!

J.M.Cornwell said...

It really is all about the happiness, Scott, and I think we all tend to forget that. If I can do what I love, get paid for it and not starve, I'm happy. I don't need much, except for writing and a roof with wifi. Maybe a bed. To do what one loves and be able to do it without too much fuss and hassle is -- well, happiness.

James Scott Bell said...

Yes, I was talking to a group of writers about this the other day. The happiness factor. My happiest writing was in the days before I got published, just writing away. And that's a good thing to feel. Just don't let it substitute for actually learning the discipline of the craft. I've seen so many happy self-published novels that should have remained unhappy unpublished novels.

But someone who is where Barry and Joe are, that's a different matter. They are in a position to make a good choice about the happiness factor. I would think that seeing a book hit the e-shelves in a matter of days after it's finished is one of the best kicks of all.

J.M.Cornwell said...

James, I don't think that's really an issue for most writers. I know when a book isn't working and there's no way to make it work (which means I'm not happy), then it goes into a drawer or a file on the HD and I'm done with it. I've not yet been so desperate for a story to try to resurrect one of those failures, but I learned something from every one. I'm not about to put anything up on ebook or in print that isn't as good as it can be, which is more than I can say for the publishers I've worked with, and when I find an error, it doesn't take long to correct and upload again.

David said...

J.M., I'm a relative newbie in prose, but I've been a screenwriter for more than a decade, and for a couple years I worked as a script consultant. Many of the screenplays I read were from new writers who'd just written their first screenplay. Most recognized their shortcomings and wanted help, but others were simply seeking validation, despite massive problems in grammar, spelling, structure, basic concept.

I have no doubt that many of them submitted those disasters to every agent, manager, and production company for which they could find an address. I've even submitted things I wish I hadn't. I don't think this will be any different. Too many people will publish prematurely and use the marketplace as a testing ground for future rewrites.

J.M.Cornwell said...

David, some things never change and people ready to shortcut the system and jump ahead in the line will always be there. It's easy to see how something you were proud of two years ago is suddenly not quite so good, but I doubt the problem is with grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc., the mechanics, unless you don't care about those either. It's easy to miss a few typos when you're editing, but pretty hard to miss some of the major mistakes I've seen, and that's from professional writers coming out of the big 6 publishing houses, where quality is not always the first concern. Still, errors aside, I hope that there are some discerning eyes out there able to tell good stories from bad execution and really awful stories. It's like going to the dump when I was a kid. In all that trash something winked at me and when I dug it out, it was a treasure.

David said...

The number one problem I saw, and this may be different with books, is that these writers were often telling stories that no one would want to read. Even if perfectly executed. The fundamental concept was dull and unoriginal. No spark. I'm guessing there's always going to be a huge percentage of things that just don't sell. 98% of scripts don't sell. 98% of print books don't sell more than 5000 copies. I'm guessing 98% of unique e-books will sell fewer than a handful of copies each year.

But then the vast majority of that 98% won't be treating this as a profession and making their work professional and promoting it like a professional. The people reading this blog already have better odds than most because they're seeing how much hard work has to go into writing and selling to be successful. Joe sets a pretty good example.

R. Burke said...

Fascinating stuff. I'm a fiction writer with a long and discouraging history with agents, legacy publishers, and even small publishers (one editor accepted a book of mine, then had to reject it on the advice of her marketing staff--ouch). So I'm going to take the epublishing route as soon as I can figure out how to get my covers done and the books formatted. I would love to take a class like the one Dean gave.

Yesterday I found out that one of the most outstanding children's book authors in this country has been reduced to working retail in a book chain--in his late 60s. He should be sitting on a pile of money, but I'm guessing his publishers over the years have made sure he never really made that much. He used to "make it" by going around the country's classrooms as a visiting writer, but the failing support of our schools has led to a disastrous drop in those gigs. It really makes me sick. I'll not "out" him here, but let me tell you, it's no way to treat an outstanding, much-loved writer. He has probably published well over 40 beautiful books (maybe more), one of which was even turned into a Disney movie years ago. That money allowed him to live decently for a time, but still, it had to be chump change compared to what Disney made off of his intellectual property.

I've freelanced as an editor for the last ten years and would like to supplement my income as an ebook editor. Any thoughts as to how to get started? Frankly, I only want to work on quality books that I can be proud I helped send out into the world. I know there are many people whose books are almost ready to go, but who need a pair of trained eyes to do a mine sweep for the grammar lapses, typos, and other redundancies and inconsistencies. I have edited over 30 textbooks (high school mostly), uncountable work books and test assessment tools, and proofed copy at the magazine behemoth Meredith corporation, not to mention writing for testing outfits like ACT. For this expertise, I'll not go cheap but I will do a beautiful job.

I wonder if there's someone out there who would like to trade with me--I'll edit their mss if they put a cover on one of my books and format it for the various epublishing sites? Worth a try!

R. Burke

J.M.Cornwell said...

Mr. Burke, may I suggest my cover artist, Michael Winter Reighn, who can be found on Facebook. He has a fresh outlook and is a recent graduate from design school. His work is clean and original and I love what he has done with my covers.

As for editing, it's a hit or miss proposition unless you line up some clients up front, or at least that has been my experience. I don't have time to promote the way I should, but I'm a full time reviewer and editor for Authorlink, work a full time job and write. I don't have time for a life, let alone another job. ;0)

If you'd like a look at my current cover, done by Michael Reighn, it's here. I really like it. I haven't unveiled the back cover copy yet, but I will once I finish proofing the MS.

Robin Sullivan said...

Robert Bruce Thompson said...
A mid-range self-pubbed author has little chance of ever seeing an offer from a corporate publisher, and if against the odds it does happen the deal will be truly crappy for the author.


Well Michael was selling only about 1,000 books a month (spread over 4 books so that's 250 books a month) and he got a six-figure offer from a big-six publisher - so I don't think it's completely out of the question.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Kristen said...

Joe: But people need to be able to pigeonhole you, and come up with excuses for what you’re doing. That way they won’t blame themselves for their own inaction in regard to similar choices they might make.

Hm.

John M said...

"BE THE MONKEY--SELF PUB!"
Great slogan for a tee shirt. Could be a big seller on your blog (and I'd only ask for 15%).

Charles Edgar said...

Joe said: what really doomed segregated baseball was economics and competition--eventually, white teams couldn’t resist hiring the talent they saw in the negro leagues

And yet, doesn't this also correlate with "legacy" publishing. After all, the economics of selling paper books are becoming less and less viable (at least in the traditional sense). And as for legacy "teams" hiring indie "athletes"....I refer to the Amanda Hocking incident.

J.A. Marlow said...

"… publishing is a business for me, not an ideology."

^^^
THIS!

J.A. Marlow
Into the Forest Shadows: A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother's House...

Scribbler said...

You mentioned impulse buying and that lots of people are buying more because of perceived value. Well I've actually bought 4 books now at 99c (I've bought more than that - but these were specifically to make a point) whilst demonstrating to a friend how easy it is to use a kindle. Really, they each in turn asked how easy it was to get a book, so I bought one right there and then, just to show them. AND I've read all four.

Rebecca Knight said...

These two discussions have been amazingly helpful, as have all the comments from folks self publishing and finding success :).

I recently made the decision to go this route, and thanks to the advice and info here, know without a doubt that I've made the right decision.

PLUS, I now have a resource to point people toward when they tell me I'm nuts. Thanks, everyone!

Kerry Chater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coolkayaker1 said...

Joe asks: Are you dense?

Anyone ever hear of Kathryn Stockett? Debut novel The Help, 2008. Sold over one million copies each year, two years running. Excellent book, by the way. So, if she made one dollar per book (likely made more), she has made over 2 million dollars off the one book so far. But wait...it's still selling. It's not over yet...it's still a bestseller. But wait again, it's not over even yet: it's being made into a movie. Yes, Hollywood wants it...it's hotter than cast iron poker. So, debut novelist, 2008 release, is going to sell warehouses more of her book when the movie tie-in edition comes to play.

There are so many more examples it's mind-boggling. Matterhorn, war book, being optioned for film now, already a bestseller (and high praise), debut author.

Of course, Steig Larssen continues to rack up the sales, with nearly 1.9 million Hornets Nest books sold in 2010 ALONE for the one book of his trilogy ALONE. If only he were a love to see the freshly minted trucks backing up to his door.

To imply that all traditional publishers give an author is formatting and cover art is patently foolish. They give superb authors access to interviews (see Stockett's website for her interviews with everyone from Time magazine to Katie Couric) and print and video ads and Hollywood.

Will every new author be like these? No. Will every new self-published author be like Konrath? NO!

Here's the March 2011 website with some 2010 numbers. That ought to inspire new authors not yet backlisted by the traditional publishers to give it a whirl.

It's all here, ladies and gentleman. Publisher's Weekly.

http://tinyurl.com/3qdjcqf

LediaR said...

I adore your blog, Joe and want to subscribe to it, but when I press the button at the bottom of the page I get a bunch of what looks like gibberish to me. I know it isn't, but what am I suppose to do with it?

Jeffrey said...

I don't have a lot to add other than these dialogs have rekindled my interest in Rage Against The Machine. The difference between a Quixotian crusade and a revolution is that in a revolution you have a shot at winning.

I'd like to suggest that my fellow members of the "peasant uprising" listen to Year of tha Boomerang at max volume as soon as possible.