Friday, September 30, 2011

Drink the Kool-Aid

Yesterday, an agent blogged about a speech she recently gave to Sisters in Crime. Some of the advice was fine. Some was archaic (no, writers don't need to attend conventions or volunteer for anything), but this was just downright awful:

"Do NOT drink the kool-aid on E-publishing. It's too early to be making sweeping statements about any of it. We're all learning this as we go and the right answer to almost everything is "we'll see what happens."

I threw up a little in my mouth when I read that. It's terrible advice, especially coming from someone who should have writers' best interests at heart.

Here are some sweeping statements I'll make, which can be verified:

1. Ebooks sales are going up, paper sales are going down. This trend WILL continue. This means that you need to worry less about who handles your paper rights, and more about who handles your erights.

If you handle your own erights, you keep 70% of the list price (that you set.)

If you let a publisher handle your erights, you get 17.5% of the list price (which they set.)

2. There isn't much a publisher can do for you that you can't do for yourself (or hire someone to do.) In other words, paying a publisher 52.5% to create cover art and do some editing is crazy.

3. More and more self-pubbed authors are doing well. And more and more legacy pubbed authors are trying self-pubbed. On this blog I've had dozens of guest posts, and listed hundreds of authors by name, who are making good money. Some are getting rich. None of them would be making bupkis if they didn't drink the Kool-Aid.

4. Bookstores are closing. The only thing a publisher could do for you, that you can't do yourself, is get your book into bookstores. But with paper sales down, and ebook sales rising, getting into a bookstore shouldn't be the priority.

5. Every day you don't self-publish is a day you aren't making money. This is a tough concept to wrap your mind around. We're used to thinking in analog terms. With paper, there's a release date, then sales eventually trickle down to nothing, until the book is out of print.

But ebooks are forever. There can be a big surge in sales when a book is released, but I've also seen books that surge regularly, like waves in the ocean. Lulls and peaks, over and over. Sometimes it tapers off, but then something happens and it gets new life.

When a book has the potential to not only make money, but to sell better than it did yesterday, it no longer has a lifespan. Which raises the question:

If you have a book that will sell forever, do you want to start earning money today, or next month?

If you wait a month, you won't make-up the month you lost. That month you lost will be income that you never earned.

I can't think of a single advantage to waiting around. Even if you really, really want a legacy deal, I know lots of authors who self-pubbed and then got legacy offers.

Barry Eisler also had some thoughts on this, which he offered as comments to a previous blog post. I'm going to post them here, too, with a few interpolated thoughts:

Barry: "Do NOT drink the kool-aid on E-publishing." What does this mean, other than that the declarant thinks in cliches?

Joe: I think it means, "If you do something without me, I don't get my 15%."

Barry: Then she said, "It's too early to be making sweeping statements about any of it."

Isn't that itself a sweeping statement?

Never mind. As with the Kool-Aid reference, these sorts of massively vague pronouncements are difficult to address because, as articulated, they're fundamentally meaningless. But if you think about it for a second or two, just why would it be too early to come to various conclusions about the nature, trajectory, and speed of the revolution we're seeing in publishing? We have a lot of data, after all, to which we can apply logic while extrapolating from experience. Isn't analyzing broad industry trends, and trying to understand, extrapolate from, and exploit them, exactly what smart businesspeople ought to be doing? If you have to decide -- today -- between a legacy deal and self-publishing, should you just stick your head in the sand and your ass in the air?

Joe: I think it means, "I'm worried about the future, and my livelihood, so I'm not going to think too hard about it."

Barry: Next she said, "We're all learning this as we go…"

Well, no, there are clearly many people who are *not* learning as they go, or learning at all, for that matter. The rest learn different lessons and at different rates. The different lessons people are learning -- that is, the different conclusions people are coming to as experience continues to accrue and as data continues to come in -- are interesting and potentially valuable for anyone who thinks understanding today where the industry will be tomorrow is useful thing to do.

Joe: I've been learning this as I go. And while learning, I've made several hundred thousand dollars. Because I wasn't waiting around to see what happened. I was taking control of my career, experimenting, trying new things, sharing what I've learned with others.

Scores of writers who read my blog also gave it a shot. Some became very successful. Because they tried, rather than waited around.

Barry: Next she said, "...and the right answer to almost everything is 'we'll see what happens.'"

Absolutely! If something that looks like a tiger pops out of the underbrush and is hurtling toward you, it's best not to make sweeping statements. Better to learn as we go and just see what happens. Running for a tree would be foolish.

Same thing in intelligence work. Who really can say where Pakistani nukes are stored, or how soon China might be able to deploy a blue water navy, or who are the true power brokers in Russia? Better to just sit back and see what happens.

And isn't the same inevitably true in business? If you're in the horse and buggy business and you hear about a thing called a car, or if you're in the the candlelight business and you hear about a thing called an electric light, or if you're in the eight-track cassette business and you hear about a thing called a CD, or if you're in the paper book business and you hear about a thing called Kindle, you should absolutely avoid trying to understand -- let alone exploit! -- any of it, and should instead sit back and just see what happens. In fact, sitting back and seeing what happens is the one common denominator of profitable businesses and successful businesspeople. Amazon, for example, became a a hundred-billion-dollar company by doing little else but going along and seeing what happens, while legacy publishers are dying precisely because they've always ruthlessly examined, prepared for, shaped, and exploited industry, technological, and cultural trends.

Joe: "Daddy, those lights are coming straight for us!"

"Don't move! Just remain standing in the middle of the street, and we'll wait and see if they run us over or not."

Barry: "Drinking the Kool-Aid" means "to become an unquestioning believer in some ideology, or to accept an argument or philosophy wholeheartedly or blindly without critical examination." Who's really doing that here? And the phrase is derived from the Jonestown massacre, where cult members followed one another into a massive group suicide. Again, not a bad metaphor for following "advice" like Janet's, which consists of nothing but cliches, sloppy thinking, and bromides.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drinking_the_Kool-Aid

It's one thing to be not very good at making predictions yourself, and Janet's track record is not the best:

http://twitter.com/#!/trow125/status/51355244587794433

But to advise that everyone else refrain from trying to understand where the industry is going and how we might profit from how it's changing? That's just irresponsible.

Joe: Barry, I meant to ask you about that above tweet. Now that The Detachment has launched, do you regret working with Amazon and not taking that $250k St. Martins deal?

Barry: Let me put it this way. Amazon sold more digital copies of the Detachment as preorders than Ballantine sold digital copies of my previous book, Inside Out, ever. After that -- that is, apart from and in addition to all those preorders -- the book surged to #6 in the Kindle Store, stayed in the Kindle Top 20 for over a week, and currently (two weeks in) is at #57. Yesterday it was at #3 in the UK Kindle Store. The paper version doesn't even come out for another two weeks, and they're planning another big push then. I've earned more money from this book in two weeks than I've earned from some of my titles to date -- and I've had eight previous novels published, starting in 2002.

Joe: The money you've been earning since The Detachment was released makes the money I've been earning on Kindle look paltry.

You hear that, NY Publishing Industry? You thought Barry was silly, turning down a Big 6 contract. In two weeks, he's made more money than he did with any of you.

You hear that, name brand authors? You want to know who to sign your next contract with? It's Amazon.

Barry: And that's just The Detachment. Sales of my backlist have surged, too. Since April, my short story, Paris Is A Bitch, has been earning me about $1000 per month. This month it's going to be more than three times that -- as of today, it's sold 1677 copies in September, at about two dollars profit per unit. Sales of my other short story, The Lost Coast, are up, too, though I did drop the price of that one to 99 cents, which obviously affects the experiment. But even sales of my legacy-published works are significantly up -- at one point, my first book, Rain Fall, was at #146 in the Kindle Store, which is insane for a book that's coming up on ten years old. The other Rain books are all up significantly, too, though not as much as they should be, because Putnam insists on pricing them at $7.99, the same as the paperback. If I had control of those books, I'd repackage them, drop the price to $2.99… and I can't even imagine how many I would have sold in conjunction with The Detachment.

Joe: Golly, why doesn't Putnam do that itself? It's leaving a ton of money on the table.

Barry: Heh. You know why. Legacy publishers aren't primarily interested in maximizing profits from digital titles. They're primarily interested in preserving the position of paper and retarding the growth of digital. To that end, they price digital books artificially high and hold back the digital release until the paper one is ready. And that hold-back, by the way, for the reasons you discuss above, costs the writer a ton of money -- the money she would have been earning if the digital book had been made available earlier.

Let me preempt the response I know is coming from the Reidian antediluvian naysayers out there: "But you didn't self-publish The Detachment, Amazon published it! So all this success, all these massive sales, none of it counts!"

If that's what you think, read the section on either/or and other erroneous thinking in Joe's and my free ebook, Be The Monkey. My goal isn't to make any one of my titles a success. It's to make *all* my titles, collectively, the greatest possible success. As I've said many times, I think my best strategy in that regard is a mix of self-publishing and Amazon publishing-- not an either/or approach. And I think my experience so far suggests I'm right.

Since walking away from the St. Martin's offer, I've self-published two short stories, I've self-published a political essay, and I've self-published (with you) a short book on the changing landscape of the publishing industry. And I've published a new novel with Amazon. What I haven't done -- what's conspicuously absent from my business strategy over the last six months -- is a new work with a legacy publisher. And I'm doing far better than I ever have before. Maybe that's a coincidence. Maybe it's all just dumb luck. Maybe I would be doing even better if I'd gone with the legacy deal (though we wouldn't know yet, because if I had gone the legacy route, The Detachment wouldn't have been released until spring 2012).

Or maybe there are some principles in my experience that are worth pondering, and that might be applied by others who don't believe business is best conducted by just waiting to see what happens.

Joe: I look back on the past few years, and all the bad decisions made by legacy publishers, along with agents who think they're working for those publishers rather than for their authors, and I keep wondering at what point they're going to realize they aren't in a Jacuzzi, enjoying a luxurious soak, but actually in a stew being boiled alive.

High ebook prices, low ebook royalties, windowing, poor formatting and conversions, the agency model, retroactive erights grabs, DRM--each of these are bad decisions on their own, but add them all together and it's one huge crock pot of fail that they're now marinating in.

But we authors have more opportunities for success than ever before.

Legacy publishing is a vestigial organ. And it's about to be cut off.

124 comments:

Red Tash said...

Thank you.

Mike Dennis said...

Mmmmm-mm. Must...have...more...Kool-Aid ®

The Confused Dad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tina Boscha said...

I think the biggest issue for me is the advice to NOT try something despite saying "we learn as we go." Isn't that the best way to learn - to try it out? It's certainly true for me, as my book has been out just over a month. And in this short time I have learned an incredible amount, and frankly, I'm enjoying the process (even though it brings with it a lot of anxiety, but the best kind, if that makes sense).

I feel lucky that I'm doing this with the advice of my agent. It was never a big issue, actually. We'll see what happens.

Thanks for posting this!

John Y. Jones said...

No frog reference. I'm disappointed, guys.

Otherwise, this was an informative update. I'd been wondering how Barry's experiment had been going.

Cyn Bagley said...

Oh Geez - I just don't understand what suicide has to do with ebook publishing or self-publishing. The legacy publishers don't have the power anymore to blackball writers. I was around when the Jonestown massacres occurred... so using the saying against self-publishing is offensive.

Plus the reason they used kool-aid was to mask the taste of the poison and to give it to children. Are we children to not know how to make our own decisions? I have been against any kind of "big brother" intervention most of my life.

Sorry for the rant... it really upset me... and my little apple cart too (I can think in cliches too)

Cyn

Candice L Davis said...

It's too early in my day to be laughing at ignorant, desperate people. {SIGH}

I've stopped pleading with my writer friends who've written beautiful novels and are now spending all their writing time sending queries to agents. I've decided the best way to convince them will be my own success.

I have one non-fiction book up, but before the year ends I'm committed to having AT LEAST 2 short stories and another non-fiction book for sale. Even with my small sales this year (averaging 15 to 20 books/month since May), I've still sold more books than all those writer friends put together.

KB/KT Grant said...

I had mentioned this on twitter a few months ago and asked whether agents should be worried because of the rise and success of self publishing and authors not needing agents anymore. The agents who responded laughed me off and said that would never happen because they get so many queries in a day and they're still very needed.

As more writers and authors turn to self publishing and epublishing, it's going to be interesting to see if agents can stay relevant and not start their own editing and publishing services to make up their lost commissions and income.

Gary Ponzo said...

If I were an agent in a decent-sized agency with clients regularly submitting the continuation to a series of books, there's no advantage to recognizing ebooks as a viable entity. Should these writers decide to self-pub, why do they need their agent?

Ergo, their motto: Stay the course.

I understand the rationale. I'm not sure I wouldn't react the same way. At the same time, however, I'd be getting my post-grad degree for my next career.

R.H. Russell said...

"High ebook prices, low ebook royalties, windowing, poor formatting and conversions, the agency model, retroactive erights grabs . . ."

These are the most perplexing to me.I can't figure out why some in the industry have behaved in such a self-destructive manner.

Edward G. Talbot said...

Interesting is that she ends her blog post by saying don't be afraid to make mistakes and don't be afraid to fail.

Very good advice. But how the %$# does she reconcile that with "the right answer to almost everything is 'we'll see what happens'?"

I've got no idea of her motivation for saying these things. Maybe it is indeed pure self-preservation as you suggest, maybe it's some level of ignorance (though Janet Reid is sharp, so I doubt it), or maybe it's confusion. But the fact is that very few authors are drinking kool-aid about ebooks.

Very few us think it's some magical road to success, though the media sometimes can make it seem that way. Instead, as long as we keep writing more and producing a good product, we have more chance of making solid income (granted, defined differently by different people) with self-published ebooks than with tradpub.

This doesn't sound like kool-aid to me. It sounds more like a large glass of awesome.

Anonymous said...

http://NowYouPublish.com

Michael A. Boyadjian said...

What's interesting is how those "sweeping statements" by the agent were made so close to the months-long rumored release of Amazon's tablet.

Amazon and other entities, including writers themselves, are pushing ebooks--and by extension, self-publishing--forward, and yet the advice in response to these pushes is to wait and see.

Sounds like fear, plain and simple.

Live Out Loud said...

Thank you for stating this so blatantly. I've been to meetings and conventions and hearing nonsensical stuff like this and I just feel bad for those people. It's almost like they should be the ones sitting in my seat while I (and other self-pubbed authors) should be up there speaking.

Dan Krokos said...

Amanda Hocking is a sell out!

Down with bookstores! Maybe if they didn't have coffee shops and stuff they'd have room for more books. My ebook sold fourteen copies last week, and I made like 7 bucks!

All these "editors" think they can, like, change my book. Also, my little brother is mad wicked with MS paint.

PS I edited this post myself so you can see what I'm talking about.

D.G. Hudson said...

Thanks Joe, for giving us information from the 'other side', the side looking forward.

I haven't yet self-pubbed, but your arguments and Barry's are hard to ignore.

I follow your blog and recommend it for one reason: information and honesty about self-pubbing.

http://dghudson-rainwriting.blogspot.com/

People are watching as they're learning, so in time, I agree that the self-pub numbers will increase.

What needs to fill the gap are editing & other services that don't gouge the writer. (since most complain about the quality of self-pubbers).

Reacher said...

"There isn't much a publisher can do for you that you can't do for yourself (or hire someone to do.) In other words, paying a publisher 52.5% to create cover art and do some editing is crazy."

very true. however, this is also what is missing for most authors who want to self-pub -- who do we hire for editorial guidance? cover art? copyediting? you've been writing for 20 years, so by now you have friends who read for you, edit, etc, but writers starting out don't really know where to look for good, honest, affordable editorial assistance. in time, this won't be so much of an issue as out of work editors began to start freelance companies, etc, but currently we're in limbo.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

It's funny. I follow her and you, mainly because I like to see both sides of each debate. But, when I finished my novel I went and self pubbed it and, even though I'm not making the money you and Barry are talking about, I don't regret my decision. Thank you for sharing your views.

Joe Konrath said...

Via PassiveGuy (whom I respect quite a bit) this link to more good news for self-pubbed authors:

Kindle Ships to 177 countries for $109.

Welcome to the beginning of a global ebook economy.

SBJones said...

I follow Janet Reid's blog. I have scratched my head a few times when they post, but I will say that it was a small shock when I clicked that twitter link.

Getting your paperback in a book store isn't quite as hard as you think. I have 9 copies of my book on the shelf at the local Barnes and Noble. True its not every book store, but when they sell, that is leverage to get them in the store the next town over.

Darlene Underdahl said...

I like that agent, but she's old school and there was no room for me in her classroom.

That said, I *do* like her. I think she's done a great deal to educate writers.

Jamie F said...

Great insight into self-pub vs legacy pub as always!

Joe Konrath said...

That said, I *do* like her. I think she's done a great deal to educate writers.

With that post, she's educating writers to sign with some other, smarter agent.

Shelly Thacker said...

When unpublished writers used to ask me for advice on getting published, I always said, "Get an agent. Before venturing out into shark-infested waters, you'd be smart to have a boat under you."

But now the agents have become the sharks. And the advice I give to new writers has changed: row your own boat. Don't buy a ticket on the Titanic, and don't get gobbled up by an agent-shark. With so many agents making questionable choices these days, they've made it impossible to trust them as a species.

Joe Konrath said...

My agent, Jane Dystel, is fabulous. Smart, forward-thinking, always has my best interests in mind.

I've watched my peers fire their agents, or openly wonder why they're still with them, esp. since ebooks came into the picture.

It's tough to roll with the punches. But I'd put money on Dystel surviving, and thriving, in this new world order.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Tremendous post, and if I ever get pinched, I want you two to be my lawyers!

Anonymous said...

I followed her blog for a few weeks (was interested how publishing looks from an agent's point of view), and I have to say that her lack of business sense surprised me -- You don't ridicule your potential clients, no matter how 'big' you are or how much stupid the queries are. IMO
And the: "Do NOT drink the kool-aid on E-publishing." is something expected. Self-published books won't pay her bills will they? And she (and the other agents) have to warn as many writer before big, bad self-publishing as they can.

J. Viser said...

Learn by doing, so do it (self-publishing).

You have nothing to lose, and if you make a mistake (f-ing typos), then fix them and move on.

My first ebook novel isn't perfect, but the sequel is getting better. Lie Merchants consistently ranks on Amazon's Top 100 Best Sellers list for political fiction. I am learning faster by doing than I ever would have by waiting for an agent to bless my work. I would love to have an agent, but I want control over my message too much.

I know where it would rank if I never took a risk and self-published (zero). Now, I get the opportunity to learn in real time and improve faster than if I had waited. Ebooks are here to stay, and if for some reason we lose the ebook technology, then we've got MUCH bigger problems on our hands!

I just filled my glass with more Kool-Aid. Tastes good to me.

clr said...

"bupkes" not "buttkiss". Happy Rosh Hashana. :)

As we say at work sometimes, "Let's just do it wrong, we can fix it later, doing it wrong is better than not doing it because we have to get it 1000000% perfect"

Christopher said...

As much as I'm in your boat--totally committed to independent publishing--I can see where Janet is coming from.

Last night I happened to have a SRO crowd at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena for my new novel's launch, but it's my hometown. Such author events, as Joe has pointed out, are going the way of the buggy whip.

Still, while Top Ten Amazon reviewer Grady Harp introduced me and spoke eloquently of my work, and I sold 25 books to people who didn't already get it on the Kindle, none of my five books have gone viral. I'm a Midlist eAuthor--far from terrible, but I need the readers to match the hundreds of great reviews I've received, some of them in big newspapers.

That said, with a big publisher behind me (and my agent at your agency, Joe--Dystel and Goderich--has tried and come close), I could see I'd probably make about the same money BUT have more readers.

Yet I'm not giving up. I'm trying another one of your suggestions. I just dropped my two novels, including the new LOVE AT ABSOLUTE ZERO to 99 cents, and I'll see if people find me. Yet Janet, in saying, "Don't rush into this" may be right. Let's see if I can remain Mr. Optimistic.

Bridget McKenna said...

I have to wonder if at least some of the crazy high ebook pricing by legacy publishers isn't at least partly about the fact that even at those prices, ebooks are making back some of the money that print is losing. If they had the cojones to lower the prices they'd see some real results, but then you have the other zombie-think kicking in: print must be preserved at all costs!

And as Kris and/or Dean have recently pointed out, there are fewer new contracts being offered, advances are dropping steeply, and agents are even more terrified than publishers. So they stand up in front of audiences and issue meaningless statements designed to maintain the status quo. Only the status ain't quo, and hasn't been for a while now.

I've been an editor, and once considered becoming an agent. Right now I'm mighty happy to be right where I am--a writer in a writer's world.

J.L. Murphey said...

Agents and publisher may not worry at this point because they still have their slush piles, but there will come a time when it dwindles to nothing.

The reference to Kool-Aid and the Jones Town Massacre was talking about author suicide, if you self publish you are killing your chances for a standard publishing contract. How archaic and self centered is that statement?

I've been the hamster on the wheel of the Big 6 and revolted.

I may have to wear thirty hats to get the job done until I make as much money as some other indie authors, but I do it gladly. I make enough to pay my bills which is all I really need.

Joe Konrath said...

"bupkes" not "buttkiss"

Thanks. :)

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

@Reacher: I found my editor through the Editorial Freelancers Association:

http://the-efa.org/

You can search the directory listing for editors with specific skills/specialties. HTHm

Kevin Michaels said...

Fear is an amazing thing that makes people do/say idiotic things.....like many of the traditionalists holding on to the vestiges of something that is dying, Ms. Reid cannot accept change. Or the inevitability of change.

Like many others who have commented, I also subscribed to her blog - a few months ago I took it off my own blog and stopped reading (except when I needed to work up a good rage). It's been said and written about repeatedly that the industry is changing and many agents without vision (and the ability to adapt) are going to be left behind.....

Ironic also that an agent who calls herself a shark doesn't understand that a shark by nature needs to keep moving or it dies......there's a metaphor in there but I'm too busy drinking the Kool-Aid and making sweeping statements to see it.

Margaret Yang said...

Wow. Just....wow. I've been a longtime fan of Janet Reid, and back in the day (when she used to write a snarky blog under an assumed name) she was a hero of mine.

If the publishing industry was the same today as it was five years ago, she still would be my hero.

But times change, industries change, and people have to change too. It's time for me to look up to a different kind of role model.

I can think of one or two people who qualify.

billie said...

Earned my biggest book "paycheck" ever this month via Kindle sales. It has not happened overnight and it is not record-breaking, but it IS growing steadily and I can see the little blips beginning to happen - those little waves of sales that just seem to come from nowhere.

Meanwhile I have more books in progress and I am not waiting for anyone but my own self, which is priceless to me.

Thanks for a great week of posts!

KR Jacobsen said...

Wow, that's just... mystifying/depressing/shocking/pathetic. I'm not sure which is more appropriate, so pick one. But she really thinks that way? Oof.

You know, I think I'm going to unpublish my self-published book, stop work on the one I'm revising now, throw in the towel on self-pub entirely, and hire an agent that can get me a legacy deal where I won't have to worry about the wonders of technology and ebooks, nor all that dirty, dirty money they can be worth. (Imagine a giant roll of the eyes here.)

I don't get how professionals can be so blind to what's obvious. I'm not part of "the industry," and while yes I pay attention to things (did I mention the self-pub thing?), I think anyone, especially an agent, should see what's happening.

This is definitely an example of someone sticking their head in the sand and hoping that everything will go back to the glory days of [insert era here] and all the new-fangled ways and means will be washed away in a fiery storm.

Adapt or die.

Also, Barry (in case you're reading), great to see you're doing well and the Amazon deal is working out. I had a hunch that was the case, but it's nice to see confirmation.

Now, I was told there would be Kool-Aid. I'll take cherry, please.

Bill Dodds said...

It's easy to understand why folks associated with the traditional publishing industry offer (silly and self-serving) warnings. On the other hand, if you want to write a book (my "How to Write Your Novel in Nine Weeks" is a Kindle edition), you really can write it and publish it yourself. It takes perseverance, not genius.

Joe Konrath said...

She also mentioned writers shouldn't blog about writing. I can't help but think about the dozens of "thank yous" I get every week from folks who are grateful I blog about writing.

But maybe that's why she mentioned it...

Katie Klein said...

Hmmm. . . . But the Kool-Aid tastes so lovely!

Steven said...

I think she was talking about/to beginning/unpublished writers. (eg, have a website). Does that specific angle change anything in your thinking?

Gotta say, having been legacy published a number of times, the money I'm making through Kindle on my own (so far $2.80 in September, but there's still time...) isn't impressing me. Ah well.

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering about that advice ("don't blog about writing"), too. What is her point? Too many people already doing it already, possibly poorly? Lends itself to being boring?

I'm genuinely curious because I have been trying to think of a reason to start a blog other than the obvious (flogging my novels) and thought giving some writing advice might be useful, esp. if I came up with a new way to dish it up. I used to be a college creative writing teacher, so actually have a lot of experience talking about about craft, motivation, etc.

I have also enjoyed J. Reid over the years, but I imagine she's a little worried about her retirement, given the kinds of books she generally represents--mysteries, thrillers--things that are on fire, now, in the ebook world. Perhaps she is a wee bit bitter about all those writers who are skipping the step where they opportune her and worship her at her feet--all for the honor of giving her a big cut from the sales of their hard labors--and going straight to publication and sales.

Mari Stroud said...

Wow, that's almost a painfully obtuse viewpoint to take. I can sympathize with her point--if you're running scared, do what you have to do--but absolutely bass-ackwards from a business viewpoint. Evolve, don't stand still.

@Reacher

Editing and cover art can be done on a shoestring if you can find other hungry indies like yourself, and formatting is easy to pick up (there are numerous how-tos in the $2.99 range, and the Indie Book Collective does $15 workshops if you're really technologically challenged); I was barely on Twitter for a week before three different small e-publishers who also do cover art on the side were following me. (I'm going with a gifted photographer/graphic artist friend and her friend, a bored painter who is currently amusing himself painting hidden phalluses onto the unicorns in children's bedrooms, but the point is that you don't have to be great at networking to get what you need.) Many book bloggers also offer freelance editing for content and copyediting.

Anonymous said...

"There isn't much a publisher can do for you that you can't do for yourself (or hire someone to do.)"

That's true but only if your talking about digital books. Publishers are still the movers and shakers for print books, which is still a large piece of the pie. And although that piece of pie may be shrinking, it's not at the "niche" rate that some wold suggest.

Some authors see a benefit to pursuing a print opportunity. Some don't and are content to take a SOLO digital journey. The beauty is that right now at this transitional moment in time, both worlds exist.

Also, contracts are changing. Publishers are offering larger percentages to authors. The math will continue to evolve, not only as to the sharing arrangements, but also as to book pricing,marketing, etc.

All the authors who have been in the game for a year or two and suddenly think they're ten times smarter than a seasoned publisher should think again. We're in a transition period that is just beginning and it will no doubt hold many surprises for everyone involved before it is all said and done.

E.C. Belikov said...

Anon said: "Also, contracts are changing. Publishers are offering larger percentages to authors."

Do you have any evidence of this?

Anonymous said...

Publishers have controlled the game for far too long. I was aware of this years ago, as I watched my sister get contracts with the Big 6 and yet starve.

I started my own small company about 15 years ago and have, to date, published only a few books (Western memorabilia and history). However, those few books have done well and have all gone into several printings. The key, besides doing good work (some I wrote and some I didn't), was to get a good distributor. I estimate I've made about $150,000 in profit, to date, and they're still selling, though slower. That comes to about 40 or 50k a year.

But I was totally at the mercy of my distributor (who is now going under) and the bookstores. And now sales are really slowing to a trickle. My books average about $20 each in price.

I started writing more of my own books last year and now have about 7 up as eBooks on Azon and BN. I estimate I'm making about $200/month for each book I can get up. That's a mere 1400 a month, but it's a huge help to me, and the more I write the more I hope to make.

Having been down both routes, I'm firmly entrenched in the eBook paradigm. When my print books run out, I won't reprint. No more shipping and warehousing and all that. I feel like I'm getting onto the right track now and am more than happy to abandon print.

So, having seen it from both sides, I agree with Joe - eBooks are the future.

josephinewade said...

I think there are some people out there who think publishers are keeping a naughty and nice list based on whether you publicly agree with self epublishing or you don't. And maybe some peevish employee in some of these publishing houses is doing just that hoping for gold stars or brownie points or whatever. However, the smart publishing houses are just trying to find a way to hurdle the next decade while things find some equilibrium (if they ever will) and they really don't care what the public or private feelings of authors, agents, or anyone on this subject matter are. They simply want to find a way to make money.

I also think there are a lot of people who have been burned in life and they think they are protecting people by warning them of the 'revolutionist' or 'gunslingers' depending on which metaphor you favor. The problem with this is the same reason they were burned before is the same reason they'll get burned now; they are always waiting for permission to live their lives, to be validated, to do the next thing, or to find worth in their own writing, to find worth in their clients' writing, to find worth in themselves.

People think the tainted Kool Aid is Joe's advice. The tainted Kool Aid is whatever your being told that keeps you from achieving today.

Steven said...

About the "Don't blog about writing" thing, one of her comments suggests that it's like watching sausage being made. So i don't think she would object to Joe's blog which is more about the business of writing than the craft. In fact, I don't think she objects to blogs about the craft either. It might be more the "I wrote 850 words last night that I need to scratch..." type of post. Not sure.

Edward M. Grant said...

I don't get how professionals can be so blind to what's obvious.

A few years ago I read an article about a study which had shown that the people inside an industry were generally the least able to predict changes that would reduce their income. Most people are so busy dealing with the way they do things that they don't have time to worry about radical changes which may occur in the near future.

It's like a fisherman on the shore concentrating on reeling in the fish he's hooked while passing tourists shout about the tsunami that's rolling over the horizon.

Anonymous said...

"Do you have any evidence of this?"

In fact I do, namely my most recent contract with a NY publisher.

Anonymous said...

Kool-Aid? Yuk! Go for the real stuff!

Livia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Konrath said...

they are always waiting for permission to live their lives

I love this line.

Joe Konrath said...

In fact I do, namely my most recent contract with a NY publisher.

I've heard of some authors being offered 50%, or even higher.

But remember that it is 50% of net. Which is only 35% of list price--half what an author can do by self-pubbing.

If you sign a contracts now, your paper book won't be out for 12 months. Paper sales continue to shrink, ebook sales continue to grow.

Ultimately your paper sales won't matter, and you'll be stuck in a contract, possibly forever, making half what you could have.

If a legacy publisher offered me a big chunk of money, I'd take it. But it would have to be really big, because I know I'd never see another dime from that IP.

I've walked into B&N stores recently. They sell Nooks, toys, gifts, and a dwindling number of paper books. If B&N begins to close stores to concentrate on ebooks, than a paper deal with a legacy house is a dead albatross hanging on your neck.

Libby Hellmann said...

Joe:

Your Yiddish is getting waay cool! Bupkis? Allright!

I'd wish you Happy New Year, but I know better.

Libby Hellmann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"Ultimately your paper sales won't matter, and you'll be stuck in a contract, possibly forever, making half what you could have."

Not necessarily. There are lots of factors, many of which are intangible, that lead to the sales of a particular book as well as the author's full collection of books, both print and self-published. Personally I think working both sides of the street results in cross-pollinization.

Take Barry for example. part of the reason he can launch a book now with success is because he's a known quantity. Who made him known? Print publishers. You're in a similar mode to a great extent, you launched off a print platform.

You always have to look at your whole portfolio, not just one title and decide if that one particular book will make more money if you chose A over B.

Get some in the A column, some in the B, and make sure they're all good. Success will follow, guaranteed.

Above all, though, always do what makes you happy.

Jude Hardin said...

My agent, Jane Dystel, is fabulous. Smart, forward-thinking, always has my best interests in mind.

I concur. In fact, she gave me some WONDERFUL news this week, and I'll be making a major announcement soon.

To the anon from the previous post: I'm not complaining. I'm celebrating, baby. :)

Anonymous said...

I'll be making a major announcement soon.

Super duper. The world is waiting.

Joe Konrath said...

Personally I think working both sides of the street results in cross-pollinization.

I'll have royalty statements at the end of the month. I'll post them. Maybe I'm wrong, and paper is doing fine. In which case my post will be called, "Don't Close That Coffin Lid, Paper Isn't Dead Yet!"

But I'm predicting having to read paper the Last Rites.

Mary Ellen Quigley said...

I think that some people are almost afraid of epublishing and self-publishing. They don't like change or they are set in their ways. I truly believe that ebooks are the future. Paper books are losing popularity. This is why so many bookstores are closing. However, paper books are not obsolete yet.

Publishing companies and agents can still be very viable if they make the change to epublishing. I don't
think they will lost their part if they change their role into something that fits ebooks.

Very interesting post!

Chong Go Sunim said...

"High ebook prices, low ebook royalties, windowing, poor formatting and conversions, the agency model, retroactive erights grabs . . ."

They're so stuck in their ideas of the way things should be, that they don't have a good awareness of what's really happening, and so are just blinding reacting/lashing out.


This really reminds me of John Boyd's work on decision loops. When your competitor gets inside your decision loop, when they are the one who is innovating and making the decisions about which way things will go, and all you can do is chase after them, you're in deep trouble.

Evadne Macedo said...

This strategy could work for authors who've already been professionally published and been accepted into the "literary establishment." Otherwise, the stigma of self-publishing (sadly) still applies. On top of that, unless you are phenomenally talented or extremely good at self-promotion it's hard to sell stuff online--you can't count on sales (even from friends who say they will buy your book). Plus, very few self-published authors get invited to speak at book festivals and cool stuff like that-that seems to be the most fun part about being a published author. My own experiments putting stuff online and waiting for the cash to come rolling in have been instructive. Tweeting, Facebooking and blogging with naive ambition, I put a sleep story for kids online - "A Forest Adventure" (see link below). Though I promoted it heavily and my sleep story practically guarantees a happily sleeping child within 30 minutes for only $0.99 on CD Baby, sales have been sluggish. No, that's not accurate. The sale - the one and only - happened right away, for net profit of $0.70. Then my sales stopped. I'm looking forward to another sale, someday. Still, I look back on that sale fondly--it was a good sale, a solid sale. Joe Konrath pays off his house with his online book sales, and I can pay off part of a chocolate bar with mine, but I'm not knocking that--I do love chocolate. That $0.70 cents was a thrilling start to a lucrative career as a storyteller marketing my writing via the internet. Months later, that $0.70 means even more to me--it revealed the cold hard fact of internet sales and which friend really cares about me (couldn't resist a little guilt trip for all the people in my life who didn't buy my book!!!). I appreciate knowing that my story went to a good home--a friend's home, a writing friend's home. Yes, that's it--one writer friend took pity on me and bought my audio book (thanks TB, truly). She knew, more than anyone, what I had put into that book and did me a favour. I am well and truly grateful for this one sale and the learning opportunity/reality check it provided. Based on this experiment, I will not self-publish my first novel, "The 29th Day." I will take the old-fashioned advice to network and work towards improving my manuscript until a traditional publisher takes it on. Only after I've got an established name and credibility as a mainstream author would I think of self-publishing, even if I could hire editors and book designers to create a professional looking product. That said, I always love a good story of someone who self-published and came out on top in the end (like Terry Fallis, whose book The Best Laid Plans inspired me to finish writing "The 29th Day").
Evadne Macedo
http://books.macedo.ca
http://29thdaynovel.com

p.s. if you want to prove me wrong, buy my audio book, "A Forest Aventure: Sleep Story." I would really like to afford a whole chocolate bar with my online earnings.
http://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/a-forest-adventure-sleep-story/id445909240

John Hindmarsh said...

My sales for September are a modest 125. Almost double the sales in August, which were double July etc. So since end of May sales on Amazon are about 300. Priced at $3.99. First time author. Pays for my Starbucks!

The alternative - find an agent who wants to place a first time SF book. How many years would it take to go through the 'old' process? In the meantime I am seeing results.

I am with Joe on this.

John
www.JohnHindmarsh.com

josephinewade said...

@John Hindmarsh
I like the cover of your book, did you do that yourself or did you hire someone?

John Hindmarsh said...

I like the cover of your book, did you do that yourself or did you hire someone?

Cover by Jeroen den Berge - he does a good job!

John

DVshooter said...

Don't drink the Kool-Aid... let's wait and see

That and the hundred other arguments and criticism's again indie pubbing; heads in the sand, ass in the air, plain and simple.

Just stinks of pretensous, snobbish elitism: We're too big to fail and too smart to be wrong

Awesome post Joe, still reading it over and over. Thanks.

Christopher John Chater said...

The only thing we should "wait and see" is if we'll need agents in the future. It's still up in the air. We'll have to get back to them...

J. R. Tomlin said...

At best a silly reference, at worst an offensive one, comparing mass suicide to ebook publishing. Or does she not understand her own reference? Judging by a couple of agents I've known, that's possible.

Not all. Just some. Really. *head shake*

Josin L. McQuein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Fook said...

When I saw the new Kindle prices I knew - this is it. Sell everything (40 websites) and get writing full-time as fast as possible.

My brother and sister both write better than I did on my day. One works at target, one just quit a software testing job to put roofs on houses so he could be outside and enjoy the great outdoors. Ha!

I plead with them often - write something g-damnit, I'm over here with 22 books online and I can't write for shite!

The train just lurched forward.

Are you on it? Or are you waiting to see what happens?

puravida said...

Awesome post. I sold 3000 books in two months by self publishing. If I had not self publishied, I would still be sitting and waiting for an agent to answer my query letter. Thankfully, I did what was best for me.

Thanks Joe for keeping the information (and encouragement) out there for us.

Happier Than A Billionaire

Reacher said...

@Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

thanks very much for the link to http://the-efa.org, that's the kind of thing i was looking for.

the number of good freelance editors will only increase as time goes on, too.

Reacher said...

@Barry: "You hear that, name brand authors? You want to know who to sign your next contract with? It's Amazon."

although something to consider is that many indie bookstores are refusing to stock Amazon Publishing print titles out of bitterness/anger towards Amazon for making their lives difficult. once B&N folds, those indie stores might be all that's left. so maybe what John Lock did (self-pub his ebooks and sign with a Big 6 for print) is smarter?

Rob Cornell said...

It ain't Kool-Aid, it's W00tsauce, and I'm whipping up a batch of my home brew.

Wait and see? Screw that. I waited too long to self-pub my first book. When it comes to publishing, the only time I use the words "wait" and "see" is when I nudge my wife and say, "I can't wait to see how much money I'm going to make this X-Mas with all those new Kindles out there."

Jude Hardin said...

Super duper. The world is waiting.

Well, the world doesn't really give a shit about any of us, but we still like to share our victories from time to time.

And I always like to congratulate a fellow writer when s/he has done well. It makes me feel good.

Barry said...

Sorry I'm getting here late -- too many comments to respond to individually. I'll try just a few, and thanks everyone for all your thoughts.

One of the anonymous people said:

"Part of the reason [Barry] can launch a book now with success is because he's a known quantity. Who made him known? Print publishers."

Certainly building a paper audience first, at least when paper was the dominant means of distribution, is one viable way to build an audience to whom you can sell your self-published works. I'm a good example of that route. So is Joe (though if you knew how much promotion we did, compared to how much our publishers did, you might be a little slower to claim that it was the publishers who made us known). But purely as a matter of logic, does it follow that an initial career in paper is required to succeed in digital self-publishing? And does that argument hold up empirically, with so many real world counter examples?

I can't remember the exact post, but I think the "but you need to succeed in legacy paper before you can succeed in self-published digital" was one of the zombie memes Joe dealt with about a month ago (we also addressed it in Be The Monkey). As he predicted, it just won't die.

Josin said:

"'Don't rush in' is always good advice, and that's what Janet was saying."

Is that what she was saying? Why didn't she just say it?

But even if that's what she meant, is "don't rush in," aside from being so over-broad as to be nearly useless as a guideline, really always good advice? I'll bet plenty of people gave Jeff Bezos that very advice circa 1994. "Don't rush in, Jeff, the market's not ready. People like browsing in bookstores. They won't buy books online. Or, if they do, B&N will crush you. Wait and we'll see what happens."

I don't mean to be overly hard on Janet. But she said what she said, and Joe and I have quoted her verbatim. If she meant something else, she can always clarify in a comment. I'm sure she's reading this now -- everyone reads Joe, especially the people who claim not to. Come on, Janet, don't be afraid to mix it up with the unwashed masses. You made an argument; isn't your argument worth defending? It's not standing very well on its own...

Barry said...

Reacher said:

"Something to consider is that many indie bookstores are refusing to stock Amazon Publishing print titles out of bitterness/anger towards Amazon for making their lives difficult. once B&N folds, those indie stores might be all that's left. so maybe what John Lock did (self-pub his ebooks and sign with a Big 6 for print) is smarter?"

As I've said many times, I don't see a single route, or a single order of operations, to success in the business of writing. I don't know the details of John's paper deal, but I can certainly see the sense of building a successful career in digital self-publishing and then hiring a paper distribution partner. And regardless of the order -- John and Amanda Hocking become digital self-publishing successes and then do a legacy deal, the benefits of which are primarily in paper; Joe and I do well in legacy and then move on to self-publishing and Amazon's hybrid model -- generally speaking, you want your books to be as widely distributed as possible, in as many formats as possible.

But if I'm forced to choose between being stocked in a diminishing number of paper outlets, on the one hand, and the kind of digital sales Amazon has achieved for me in just two weeks, on the other? I can't even think of a good analogy -- let's just say it's a no brainer. Maybe for someone like Lee Child, who has massive paper distribution, the calculus today would be different (a year from now, though, there are going to be even fewer brick and mortar stores and even more digital readers. How many $79 Kindles do you think Amazon is going to sell before Christmas alone?). But for me, again, digital represents enormous sales and enormous growth. Paper represents nice sales and a shrinking market. Sure, I'd rather have both, but if I have to choose, it's no choice at all.

Embrack said...

Typewriters....floppy discs....audio cassettes....agents.

DVshooter said...

-- generally speaking, you want your books to be as widely distributed as possible, in as many formats as possible.

More sound advice from Barry. Thanks as always.

I don't think Hocking sold out, got too lazy to manage her own editing and designing or anything along those lines. Print is still the majority of the market (for now) so it's a great way for her to grow her readership and pick up a very nice check for it.

For those of us starting out fresh, without traditional backgrounds, I think that pursuing agents and Big 6 contracts is counter productive. Not when we can upload and sell now.

If popularity attracts a big money deal then great. If not, being available and selling, even if only in small, newb numbers, is better than waiting months for rejection letters or (best case) counting the days for that 12-18 month publishing window to close.

Joe Konrath said...

"Part of the reason [Barry] can launch a book now with success is because he's a known quantity. Who made him known? Print publishers."

Then why are the sames of his new book being smoked by the sales of his previous book, Inside Out, which had a large print run and a big push by legacy publishers?

I've always said, if paper publishers were so instrumental to my career, why wasn't I ever a bestseller? Why do my ebooks continue to outsell my paper books, since my name was thrust into stardom by those paper companies?

In fact, it is the opposite. My ebooks sell my backlist paper titles.

Joe Konrath said...

On top of that, unless you are phenomenally talented or extremely good at self-promotion it's hard to sell stuff online--you can't count on sales

You can never count on sales, no matter how you're published. I've seen scores of legacy books fail.

Joe Konrath said...

If she meant something else, she can always clarify in a comment. I'm sure she's reading this now -- everyone reads Joe, especially the people who claim not to.

Smart people change their minds, and admit when they're wrong. That's a show of strength, not weakness.

Ignoring the elephant in the corner of the room, hoping it'll eventually go away by itself, is the sign of soon-to-be extinction.

Joe Konrath said...

many indie bookstores are refusing to stock Amazon Publishing print titles out of bitterness/anger towards Amazon

That's a great idea. Lots of retailers get ahead by offering a smaller selection.

Amazon is getting criticized the same way Wal-Mart is. When a company draws customers away from their old spending habits, they're considered a big, bad, unfair monopoly.

Don't blame Amazon. They aren't taking money away form anyone. Customers are simply choosing to spend their money elsewhere. Blame your customers for your business woes.

This is capitalism. Find a way to compete, or do something else.

There was no barrier to entry. Any bookstore could have begun selling their paper catalog online. Any publisher could have invented an ereader and began selling ebooks online.

Bezos saw an opportunity, and seized it. His methods should be studied, not vilified.

Reacher said...

i agree. in the end i think Amazon/Bezos will be at least as positively influential on mankind, if not more so, than Apple/Jobs.

Embrack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reacher said...

@Barry: "But if I'm forced to choose between being stocked in a diminishing number of paper outlets, on the one hand, and the kind of digital sales Amazon has achieved for me in just two weeks, on the other? I can't even think of a good analogy -- let's just say it's a no brainer."

i almost wonder why Amazon even bothers with a paper imprint -- they should just offer deals with authors where they take their cut in return for jacking up ebook sales as they've done with Barry. that seems to be the primary reason to sign with them.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

A new medium has been gaining popularity for years and dramatically changing the market, so we should sit around for a few more years and see what happens? It's clear that traditional publishing isn't used to having competition or needing to change. Not a recipe for a strong business in this day and age.

Brian said...

My novel has been available for almost 4 weeks and I've sold nearly 50 copies. Modest, but I'm a full-time programmer who writes only part time; a nobody with one book. By the end of 2012 I'll have four books available. I can only see these numbers going up. I could never have done this in the legacy world. I love IT, I love writing, and I get to do both now.

http://brianjjarrett.com

Anonymous said...

i attended a neal stephenson book signing after reading this post, and had the opportunity to ask him, as both as an author in general, and author of sci-fi in particular, about the future of paper publishing.

i think he answered blandly out of deference to the bookstore staff.

he said that the future of bookstores was secure because the technology exists to buy a book through an indie-bookstore affiliated portal.

he said that he wasn't worried about the future of print when two hundred (an accurate estimate) people show up to have paper books signed.

neither of the above seem like particularly far-thinking responses for an author that is otherwise oracular about the future of communication, culture, and technology.

both of the above disappointed coming from a man that wrote an eleven hundred page book about a cloister of monks that tease out the nature of the cosmos through first principles and logic.

he did mention that he might be a beneficiary of e-readers, as his books tend to clock in at a thousand pages and a few pounds.

i was expecting evidence that he had already thought about the topic. now i'm unsure...was he having mercy on the bookstore staff? ingratiating himself to an audience that spent 35 a head for hardcover copies to be signed? sheepish about charging 16.99 for the kindle edition? or fat and happy with his current contract?

one other note: he said that most of his thousand pagers are actually two or three natural novels in one. if he had his druthers, he'd sell them individually. but: "because of some vagary of economics and the publishing business that i don't understand, they wind up being published as these giant tomes"

love to hear konrath's thoughts on all of the above.

Valentine said...

You guys, I love you! I say this because as an author who's getting more rejections on partials than I care to admit, with comments such as, "I LOVE your story, characters are fantastic and plot well driven" only at the end of the letter to read, "we aren't a match" you've given me hope, and not the kind of "Drink the Kool-Aid" hope.



I've reposted this blog everywhere, as a means to give hope to the thousands of writers who feel there's only one way to get published.

Valentine deFrancis

JW Sterling said...

Just started following your blog on ePublishing. You are a breath of fresh air.

Do you have any comments or advice on self-publishing as an AUDIO Book? I tend to LISTEN to my material through my Audible account on my BlackBerry.

Thanks,

Sam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam said...

The great thing is, we writers no longer have to care about agents or what they say. We no longer have to beg for their attention at writers' conferences, or buy their books about writing the perfect query letter. We no longer have to grovel for their approval because they are the gatekeepers of the gatekeepers. And, we don't have to read their blogs! :-)

Sam
The Dirty Parts of the Bible

Elizabeth Ann West said...

You want to know what I think is the saddest thing people like Ms. Janet Reid don't get about the indie movement?

We all have our OWN Kool-Aid, and we brought it with us! That's right, this party is BYOKa; we feed off each other, share our flavor's best features, talk about the flavors that don't go down that well, and they can't stand that this all done out in the open, rather than behind closed doors.

Not to make light of the terrible tragedy, but I'm holding my Solo cup up high over my head, proud to be at the party, and enjoying every second of it with a big, old smile on my face!

Oh, and I'm keeping my first two week's royalties of $55, thanks. But I did give 10% to charity (bought a bag of food for my local food bank), and will do so every month, but that's the only percentage I'm giving out.

Will Bevis said...

I told a friend I wanted to translate some of my stories into French as the kindle was opening up in France soon and he said it was a waste of money. He said "They have just as many books to read in France." What do you think? I thought we were all supposed to be preparing to go to Chinese when that market opens up. And to any other market that opens up. Whose right? The isolationists or the "translationists."

Anonymous said...

I wanted to start by saying that I'm drinking the Kool-aid as we speak. Mine is tropical punch, but I make it with Splenda because of the calories. It tastes good.

I went to sleep thinking about this latest Blog and woke up thinking about it. I couldn't help but thinking of the topic in a "Devil's Advocate" kinda way. It helps to see all sides of an argument.

We've been very good about predicting the future of e-books and self-publishing. But have we thought about the future of the Publishing industry, from their point of view, other than "they won't be around"? Is it really safe to imagine corporate GIANTS will just roll over (even though it seems like that has been their M.O.)? A dead shark can still bite you even when it has been pulled out of the water.

Here are some questions that have been on my mind about the future of Publishers:

Will the big publishers stop becoming the Big 6 and combine and turn into the Big 3, or even the Murdock 1? The people running the publishing empires may be stuck in the last century, but if they are a publicly traded company, their boards are not. They're usually shrewd business people who are focused stock price. They won't stay buried in the sand for long. I can't see them going down without a fight.

But how? Where's their leverage? What do they have to offer?

Will they start offering a hybrid deal, matching the e-sales commissions on the E side, and holding onto their cadre of BIG name authors to exploit for the paper sales? If a Big 6 publisher walked up to you today and said they'd match your rate of return on your e-title (and at the same time own the rights) and also signed you for a matching 3 book paper deal, would you take it? Instead of just DYING, will they drop their pants instead of bury their heads?

We've all established that paper isn't dead. The reason the large chain bookstores are going under is not because of the lack of authors on the paper side. The Costcos, Walmarts and Amazons have undercut the big guys and offered a 30 or 40% discount on that expensive, 1,235 page tome. Will, or CAN the publishers make cheaper books and offer them at a pricepoint close to an e-title? If your favorite author was on sale for $3.99, and his E-title was $2.99, which would you choose (that question is for the layman)?

As I said, I'm just playing Devil's advocate here. I don't hope anything like this happens. I'm self-pubbing my book series and I have high hopes for sales and for the excitement of learning this new process. I am new to this world, and it might show in my comments. But business is business. Knowing where EVERY ASPECT of it is headed is just being safe.

Marie Force said...

10 months, 7 indie books (3 more coming soon), more than 130,000 sales and as of today more than $200,000 in revenue for books that were collecting dust on my computer for years and are now finding new readers every day. I'm really glad I didn't wait to see how it all played out before I took the plunge. Thanks, Joe, for all you do to encourage writers to take chances with their careers. It's been the best thing I ever did for my books, my career, my family and my daughter's college fund. :-)

Jon Olson said...

I agree with Barry: As many formats as possible. There are sill those out there who want to hold a paper book in their hand.

Jon O.
The Petoskey Stone

frank palardy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ida said...

I think children's novels and picture books at this time are still predominantly in print, although I stand to be corrected. Most children don't have their own e-book reader or Kindle. Also schools and libraries need print copies.

Chip Anderson said...

I drink it by the gallon.

Livia said...

Ida - I think that ereader issue for children will change very soon, in the next year or so, as prices continue to drop. I've heard that kids are more willing to read things on their phones as well, although I don't know that firsthand. That said, I do think self-publishing for the children's market is more difficult for the typical writer, because it involves marketing to a different age group (although some crossover YA titles have done very well). Publishers also have access to the gatekeepers with conferences like ALA, and with school programs like Scholastic's book club where they sell directly to students. So even though I'm incredibly excited about it publishing developments, I still tend not to advise my childrens' writer friends to self publish just yet, especially if they are not very entrepreneurially minded. But perhaps someone else here knows some success stories that could prove me wrong?

Bob said...

I'm earning a "nice" deal in PW parlance every MONTH with my epublishing. I'd dearly like to post that in PW deals: "Bob Mayer sold Bob Mayer a nice deal in July. Oh yeah, in August, too. Oh yeah in September too."
They wouldn't run it, but that's reality. And a sweeping statement.
The last check I cashed from Amazon for July sales was more than any check I ever received from any traditional publisher whether it be advance or royalty payments.
Of course an agent would say that-- they need a job.

Artemis Hunt said...

Joe, to thank you for setting me on the journey to self-publishing, I bought your book 'The List'. Hee hee. Thank you! I will thank you more when I finish reading it.

I started self-publishing in the last week of August. In Sept, I more than tripled the sales of August. I don't know what Oct will bring, good or bad, but I do know that I must take Dean Wesley Smith's words at heart - we can't compare one publishing journey to another, and we are not in competition with one another. Each journey is unique, and we might as well enjoy every moment of it.

Thank you!

DVshooter said...

Amazon is getting criticized the same way Wal-Mart is. When a company draws customers away from their old spending habits, they're considered a big, bad, unfair monopoly.

Better, faster, smarter, cheaper...the formula for the demise of ANY business empire.

And since E-commerce has existed in the last two decades this same formula has rendered countless companies obselete that were thought eternally indespensible?

Sarah Woodbury said...

"We all have our OWN Kool-Aid, and we brought it with us!"

I really liked this, Elizabeth.

Thanks, Joe. As my husband says, you 'speak truth to power'.

Judith said...

Like some other commenters, I've also followed Janet Reid's blog, semi-regularly in my case. She has always struck me as intelligent and pragmatic. So, her response to the e-pub thing has been a big letdown. She's made occasional offhand dismissive comments about epub, but like the text of this speech, "Don't drink the Kool-Aid," never has she dealt with the numbers, the freaking numbers.

It's disappointing to me that there's no real argument, just dismissal.

It's not Kool-Aid, it's empirical data, which is to say real life happening right in front of your eyes.

sheamacleod said...

So, according to this "agent", I'm supposed to "wait around and see what happens". Well, I did that. For a year. NOTHING happened. Every agent turned down my books.

So I self-pubbed (thanks to discovering this blog as well as Dave Gaughran and others) and THEN waited around to see what happened. In three months I'm close to making a living wage off a book agents rejected.

Please pass the Kool-Aid ®.

Diana said...

Thanks, Joe. I, too, am dismayed by the number of traditionally published authors who are drinking their own Kool-Aid.

I don't understand why they can't see the light. Seems to me that these people are the new definition of Vanity Published.

Steven M Moore said...

Hi Joe,
In that class of people who "wait and see what happens" you'll find many boomers and elderly that can't get their mind around using an eReader. I know--I used to be one (boomer, not elderly). I don't know how the demographics go, but I suspect that among these people you will find many avid readers. While I have decided to follow Barry and your advice about going the eBook route (I was a POD man before), I worry about losing this audience of readers. Any suggestions on how to motivate them into the eBook world?
All the best,
Steve

One Womans Eye said...

I drank the Kool-Aid. Last week I self-published my first novel. The learning curve was steep, but fascinating. When I hear things like , too soon to tell, I think back to when cable TV first entered the marketplace. The prediction from the inside was no one would ever watch much less pay for TV. Need I say more? Things change. Change with them or risk being left in the dust.

Heather Wardell said...

I sold 10,000 books on Kindle last month across 6 titles (more if my free book is included), and that's not my best month this year by a long shot. Exactly how many would I have sold if I'd still been looking for an agent?

Bupkes is the word of the day, right?

I firmly believe there are lots like me, not the super best sellers but making good solid money. I'll never regret self-publishing. It's changed my life and my career.

Livia said...

Steven - One big selling point for the elderly is the ability to control font size on the kindle. They don't have to go chasing down large print editions.

Elisa Michelle said...

The thing that's confusing about Janet's epublishing comment is that, just underneath it, she says, "Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid to fail. Neither will kill you."

Okay, so why can't we try epublishing out? Maybe it's a mistake, maybe you'll fail, but it certainly won't kill you to try. She sort of nullifies her own argument, especially since you could try out epublishing and become hugely successful. But you'll never know until you try. Like she said, don't be afraid to make mistakes or fail.

Just saying.

DVshooter said...

@ Diana

Here's some traditional Kool-Aid, from a traditional publishing/agent blog I followed religously until I found Joe's formum here.

They're all listed as Anonymous to protect the names of the...hell, I don't know what to call them.

Self-pubbed books, on the other hand, have to overcome the preconception that 99% of self-pubbed stuff is garbage. I've never purchased a self-pubbed book, nor do I know anyone who has

Great post!I'm on the side of the traditional publisher as I have no qualms about handing over cover and title decisions to them

My inclination is to trust the publisher when it comes to covers and even titles. How many books have you published? They've published millions...
you should trust their final judgement.


I plan to pursue traditional publication mostly because I believe that if I can't find an agent and a publisher, I'm probably not good enough to be published at all.

I would leave it in a drawer and not publish at all rather than self-pub

So, lots of poeple out there still tranfixed on the validation, the acceptance and recognition, paper, brick and mortart stores, etc.

And I wish them all luck. I've said I'll always love the feel of a book and browsing through libraries, etc. If these poeple help keep that alive, fine.

I'm no longer interested in arguing the point. Joe and Barry say the pie is infinite, cool, I'll trust them as experts.

Personally when I start uploading work soon in my chosen sub-genre I'll be much happier seeing 7,854 other titles available vs. 754,256.

Good luck to everyone this holiday season and going into the 2012 Kindle push.

Barbra Annino said...

I stopped listening to this agent a long time ago. I don't find public mockery of writers helpful. I think it's great that your agent works well for you, Joe. I also think it's important to remember that first and foremost agents have their own self interest at heart.

Nancy Beck said...

I'm late to the game (having a day job and a touch of insomnia does that to you ::sigh::), but I agree with others that this sounds like a lot of fearmongering.

@Reacher said, who do we hire for editorial guidance? cover art? copyediting?

Ask and ye shall find.

After all, you found this blog. :-) But there are other writers out there who have found all this stuff just by ASKING. Not really that hard. And you'll find that the rates for some cover artists, for example, are quite reasonable.

And if you can't afford to pay their rate all up front, again, ASK if you can make an arrangement. I just did that recently, setting up an installment plan with an artist starting to drum up her ebook art business.

Another repository of info: Kindleboards. There's an electronic sticky Yellow Pages for cover artists, copyediting, etc., in the Writers Cafe. And there are always plenty of threads about artists starting out, having sales, etc.

If I can find this stuff, surely you can, too. :-)

Night Terrors – now available!

Sarah Woodbury said...

Steven--I just pre-ordered a Kindle touch for my mom. She's 66 years old, looking to do some traveling this year, and decided that it was time for a Kindle. She has arthritis, so holding a Kindle is far easier, and it's better for her eyes. I'm guessing there are millions of people like her who are going to come to the same conclusion betwee now and Christmas.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed by your short-sightedness, Mr. Konrath.

You have to remember, at these conferences are newbie writers. There are the published writers, yes, but the bulk of those who are there are suck, suck, sucky writers (for the moment).

For them, e-publishing isn't the way to go. They need to learn their craft and attempt writing at a level that's worthy of traditional publishing.

People like you don't need traditional publishing anymore. People like conference-goers? They so, so, so do.

~Susan, a loyal reader

TK Kenyon said...

Drank it.

Added vodka first. The Kool-Aid is much better with vodka.

TK Kenyon

TK Kenyon's Fiction Blog

Wayne Borean said...

Thank you Joe and Barry for a very interesting read.

Most especially thank you Joe. When I first stumbled across your blog, and your book, The Newbies Guide to Publishing, I was sitting there doing nothing. Now I have three books up on Amazon, and I'm making sales. I'm not rich. But I'm making sales.

I'm working on some more stuff, and I'm going to publish my mother-in-law's poetry (over 6000 poems) as well.

Wayne

Chris Northern said...

I sold well over a thousand copies last month with two titles, self published (35% my cut, my choice).

I sold just 5000 total, ever, in print with a publisher. (4% my cut, no choice).

Gee; wish I'd just waited and seen like the smart lady suggests.