Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guest Post by Barry Eisler

The Bogeyman and The Axe Murderer

Barry sez: A lot of conversation in and about the publishing world is fixated on fear of Amazon’s purported potential monopoly power—on the possibility that Amazon will eventually enjoy such market dominance as a publisher that it will abuse its position and begin to punish authors, perhaps with extremely low royalties. Which leads to aquestion I’m not sure I can adequately answer, though I find it fascinating:

Why all the fear about what Amazon might do in the future, when legacy publishers are doing those fearful things right now?

Today, Amazon pays self-published authors 70% of the retail price of titles sold on the Kindle Store through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Legacy publishers, by contrast, pay their authors 17.5%. Now, certainly 17.5% is appallingly low. But if appallingly low royalties are your concern, why would you expend so much energy speculating about a lower royalty that might eventually come to pass, while caring so little about the extremely low royalties in effect today? It’s like panicking about possibly getting sick in the future while failing to treat the pneumonia killing you right now.

I know from experience that some people will respond to the paragraph above by claiming New York publishers are not a monopoly. After all, don’t the big houses fight with each other over new manuscripts? Aren’t there sometimes bidding wars over a hot new property? And they even poach each other’s employees and authors, too. So of course there’s competition, right?

No. Everything I just described is, relatively speaking, a distraction—Kabuki competition, not the real thing. If the legacy houses actually competed with each other—if they actually strove to attract authors and serve readers and lower costs and improve performance—the publishing world would not be universally characterized by the following:

• An identical, lock-step, onerously low 17.5% digital royalty rate
• The practice of forcing readers who prefer digital to wait, sometimes for over a year, until a title is also ready to ship in paper
• Digital retail prices equivalent to paper ones despite the obvious lower costs of digital distribution
• Byzantine and opaque royalty statements, delivered twice-yearly as much as six months after the end of the applicable reporting period
• Non-compete clauses that attempt to preclude authors from meaningful control over their own professional and artistic destinies
• Morbidly obese contracts delivered months after agreement on high-level deal points, written in unendurable legalese and drawn up in nine-point font on 14-inch legal paper, the only purpose of which is to intimidate authors into not reading the document, and to obscure the meaning of what’s written just in case they do
• Payments tendered months after they’ve come due
• A refusal to share sales data with authors, even though authors have long clamored for such information and the web technology to provide such access was already old a decade ago.

We can argue about whether the system I just described is properly known as a monopoly, or as a quasi-monopoly, or as a cartel. What can’t be argued is that such a system is only possible—indeed, is only conceivable—in the absence of meaningful competition.

So don’t go for the head-fake—the bidding wars, the poaching contests. These are as meaningful between publishing houses as are election contests between Democrats and Republicans; wars between Hapsburgs and Bourbons; arguments between supposedly liberal and supposedly conservative media. The skirmishing on the surface is meaningless by comparison with the cooperation, collusion, and confluence of interests beneath.

Which brings us back to my original question: why are so many authors afraid of a possible monopoly while sanguine about a real one?

I can think of several possibilities.

First, fear is a powerful emotion, and, as Gavin de Becker observes in his superb The Gift of Fear, is by definition related to something that hasn’t happened yet. Once the feared thing has happened, we’re no longer afraid of it. New York’s quasi-monopoly is a longstanding and accomplished fact; therefore, it can’t be feared (though it can be loathed). By contrast, Amazon is relatively new in publishing. Whether it will attain and abuse monopoly power is currently unknown, and therefore is something people can fear. It may be that because of the nature and survival value of fear, the mind ascribes greater weight to potential threats than it does to actual problems, and this difference might explain the skew between fear toward Amazon and acquiescence to New York.

Second, and perhaps related, is the concept of the devil you know. Sure, New York functions as a cartel, but it always has, and people are accustomed to it. It seems normal. Amazon, by contrast, is unknown.So hey, your husband beats you, but it’s been going on for a long time and you’ve survived. Do you really want to divorce and remarry? Maybe the new guy will beat you, too. Maybe the beatings will be even worse. Better to stick with what’s familiar.

Third, and again perhaps related, is Stockholm Syndrome, or what might also be known as a serf’s attitude toward his feudal lords (Mike Stackpole calls it a “house slave” mentality). New York has been abusing authors for so long that a lot of them have come to identify with their oppressors—to think their oppression is desirable and even just. And rather than welcoming a powerful new player as a potential rescuer or reformer, these authors fear the new entrant and fling their bodies over their captors in an attempt to protect them from harm.

For me, that last metaphor really gets to the heart of the matter. Amazon is like an inkblot test of submissiveness to New York, with some authors welcoming a newcomer with the clout to crack the cartel wide open; and others fearing anything that might change their current circumstances.

Well, you know what the inkblot looks like to me. I think you’d have to be in profound denial to believe that Simon and Schuster’s recently announced Author Portal, which will finally give authors the kind of access to sales data they’ve been pleading for, is the result of anything other than a belated attempt to counter Amazon, which provides authors such information as a matter of course. If legacy publishers next clean up their royalty statements, which are currently designed to be as transparent as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the timing and circumstances of that improvement will be no more coincidental than their sudden conversion to the benefits of sharing sales data. I just got my first royalty statement from Amazon, by the way, and it’s the first royalty statement I’ve ever seen that I immediately and easily was able to understand. Amazon also provides its statements monthly, not twice-yearly, so expect legacy publishers to coincidentally change that practice in due course, too.

Will Amazon become functionally the same kind of publishing monopoly the New York houses currently comprise? I don’t know. But it’s silly to argue that you’re afraid solely because you believe Amazon wants to be a monopoly, as though a monopoly motive is itself dispositive. All companies want to be monopolies—a company wants competitors like an army wants a fair fight, like a politician wants a serious opponent, likea lover wants rivals. Without means and opportunity, motive alone is meaningless, and I’m confident that with competitors like Apple, B&N, Google, Kobo, and Smashwords, Amazon will be driven to continue pursuing business practices based on enlightened self-interest. Another thing that will be useful in this regard is more and more authors creating their own website stores, and cross-selling each other’s books on them. The more choices authors identify, create, and exploit, the more motivated Amazon and other publishers and distributors will be to continue to offer favorable royalty splits and to otherwise treat authors well.

Because, remember. If Amazon ever becomes a real monopoly, they could lower those 70% royalties a lot. After all, oppressively low royalties are simply what monopolies do, and Amazon could lower theirs all the way down to, I don’t know, 17.5% or something. And a royalty rate that low would really suck. Damn, just imagining it scares the hell out of me.

Will the New York houses be able to shake off their torpor and rebuild their businesses based on more enlightened practices? It’s hard to say. The same monopoly that protects a company’s profits also withers its strength and adaptability. A company coddled by monopoly is like a fighter who never trains—who never even fights. Will a company like that be able to answer the bell when a real challenger enters the ring? I don’t know.

What I do know is that a vigorous new player just kicked open the locked door of a dark and moribund fortress and is finally letting in some sunlight. If you see a better way than Amazon to reform New York’s previously unassailable quasi-monopoly and all the suboptimal business practices that monopoly has enabled, I’d like to know what it is. In the meantime, I welcome Amazon and any other new entrant that can continue to loosen the legacy houses’ monopolistic grip,and force them to rely on practices beneficial to authors and readers rather than on monopoly rents beneficial only to themselves.

Because, remember. A 17.5% digital split for authors would be a terrible thing. Little better than serfdom, really. We simply can’t afford to let that happen.

Joe sez: I've mentioned many of the things Barry brought up in this essay on previous blogs, but I'd like to add a few things.

Let's pretend that Amazon will lower author royalty rates on April 1, 2013. How does that prevent any author from taking advantage of the 70% royalty rate until that date? You can make quite a bit of money between now and then. Why worry about then, now?

But there is no set date. Amazon may never lower author royalties. So why would the possibility of something that may never happen prevent you from trying something right now? This isn't bungee jumping, where you can die, or gambling, where you can lose a lot of money. Right now, a system is in place where authors can earn 70%. Anyone who doesn't take advantage of that is, IMHO, irrational.

I see irrationality creeping up in other areas too, concerning Amazon and self-publishing. Authors have flat-out asked me how much they can expect to earn by self-pubbing, as if it is a guarantee of money. When I reply (as always) that luck plays a part, they respond they'd rather wait for a legacy deal and the chance to make it big.

There is so much wrong with that logic I don't know where to begin.

No matter which publishing path you choose, luck plays a part. Having played for both teams, I can tell you that legacy publishing requires a lot more luck than going solo. The more people involved in something, the more chances it has to fail. When you throw in poor royalty rates, dwindling paper distribution, returns, and non-existent marketing budgets, it is almost astronomical that any new author ever makes money.

Which is why most don't.

Holding out for a legacy deal isn't a guarantee of anything, other than an advance.

I'm not going to name names or point fingers, but I've been watching Amazon rankings of some self-pubbed authors who signed legacy deals. I've watched these rankings go from awesome, to mediocre (or worse.)

A notable exception is John Locke, because he kept his ebook rights. The rest have got to feel disheartened, unless they got a huge advance and sales don't matter.

But sales do matter, don't they? That's why we became writers. To be read by as many people as possible.

Right now, this very minute, writers have the ability to directly reach readers, quickly and easily with a great royalty rate.

Luck still plays a part. And this moment might not last forever.

But if you want to make a go at this, there has never been a better time. Missing this opportunity isn't smart. And if you're sitting on intellectual properties, waiting for some legacy publisher to sweep you up and make you a bestseller, you might as well be running for Mayor of Deludedville.

It's a bird in the hand, guys. Make money and find readers now, or hope to win the lottery later. This is especially deluded because those authors who have won the lottery (like me and Barry) are giddy to be able to get away from legacy publishers.

We've seen and heard from dozens of authors who had legacy deals, and are now thrilled to be self-publishing.

But where are those authors who have given up self-pubbing and are now singing the praises of legacy publishers?

Are there any?

Don't you think there is a reason there aren't any?


145 comments:

Adam Pepper said...

Wow. That was well written and very compelling. It would be awesome if, in the name of fairness, we could find someone as articulate as Barry to come on here and write the counterpoint article.

I won't hold my breath that someone out there has the chops to write it and the stones to stand behind it, particularly since they'd be full of shit.

It's safer to stand behind the irrational chicken little arguments. The sky is falling, isnt it? Fine literature as we know it is doomed!

Chip Anderson said...

Amen!

James Piper said...

So hey, when did you stop beating your wife? Is that what you meant?!?

DVshooter said...

Barry

Brilliantly insightful and superfluous overview of the current landscape. And quite the skewering! I want to say you missed a Traditional orifice to shove a searing hot Tanto into...but I think you got them all.

As top sellers with big money deals, Hocking and Locke made news, of course, but deals like that always will. I’m interested in Joe’s point..why haven’t any other 'indie’s gone traditional' been marched out on the Today show with scripts on how amazing their lives are now?

Or…are they all still in their 12-18 month windows and don’t have anything to talk about yet?

Just curious

Sam said...

Great post!

To offer a small defense of the publishers and their delayed royalties/statements, though... part of the problem is that bookstores can return unsold books months later for a full refund. As a result, it can take months before publishers really know the net sales on a title.

Back when I first self-published 10 years ago, printing up a stock of books that had to be warehoused, hiring a distributor, etc, the overhead and store returns killed me. So I have sympathy with publishers of physical books on that account.

Selling traditional hardcovers & paperbacks is a complicated and risky business--doesn't matter if you're the Big 6, small press, or an individual self-publisher.

E-books and print-on-demand are a whole other ballgame, and make self-publishing so easy and advantageous.

Jim Kukral said...

The next level is going direct like JK Rowlings is about to do. What's stopping anyone from building their own platform and selling direct to consumer?

Nothing, except a little bit of tech work to take payments. When you do that, you don't need Amazon either.

The Daring Novelist said...

Ha ha! I just posted this morning on how publishing pundits will never get Amazon's publishing enterprise, because they don't get Amazon.

They think Amazon is just another publishing player looking to out compete them -- i.e. be a bully if they have the power. That's because that's how they do it.

However, Amazon is a whole lot bigger than just books, and their business model isn't really retail model - they're in the "connections" business. They know, for instance, that their authors are also their customers. And also their cheerleaders.

Amazon isn't trying to bully the publishing business -- it's just that the publishing business is not serving them, and is not serving their customers. So as Amazon always does, if nobody does what they want, they'll do it themselves.

billie said...

Love this - thanks for laying it out so clearly.

Also love Gavin de Becker's book - I recommend it a lot to clients and esp. parents. It's a must-read, imo.

Joe Konrath said...

Barry and I had a long conversation last night about why legacy publishers don't compete with each other on any meaningful level. They'll offer high advances to authors, but not better royalty rates or contract terms because there seems to be an OPEC-like tacit agreement among them that says 8% is standard for mass market and 15% is the top for hardcover.

Perhaps it has to do with an old boys' network mentality, or a royalty mentality where everyone figuratively sleeps with everyone else, ala royal families. Or perhaps it is because the publishing industry is so poorly run form a business standpoint that there is no real room to compete. Everyone is doing okay, so why try to get creative with offering authors more? Esp. since authors are the enemy?

Amazon, who understands numbers and profits better than anyone, looked at this situation and saw the inefficiency. It realized it could offer authors more, and authors would respond to that.

Simple capitalism at work. Yet no one from the old boys' quasi-monopoly ever thought of it.

Now publishers are being disintermediated, and it is too late to close the barn door because the horse is already out.

We lived with 8% royalties for waaaaaay too long. We're the content providers, fer crissakes. I wrote the damn book, and I only get 8%? That seems so crazy now, but only two years ago it was the norm...

Chip Anderson said...

"Whats stopping anyone from building their own platform and selling direct to the consumer?"

only 2 things prevent most writers from doing this:

1. name recognition--how will a reader find your site to buy your book? JK Rowling is a well-known writer--her fans will find her site, not so for an unknown.

2. other platforms charge a larger fee which cuts into the writers profit

Jeff said...

I agree with almost everything that you said.

However, I still maintain that authors pursuing exclusive deals with Amazon via Thomas & Mercer and other imprints are making a huge mistake. You're turning your back on consumers who have decided to read eBooks on non-Amazon devices - Kobo, Nook, Sony Reader, etc. - for whatever reason.

I think if your traditional publisher, Barry, had said, we're going to publish a book and we're only going to allow people who shop at Barnes & Noble to buy it, you would have freaked out. You would have cited the stats that book sales are made at many non-bookstores - Costco, Wal-Mart, etc. However, authors are rejoicing at exclusive Amazon ebook deals. At the end of the day, by pursuing these deals, you're actually leaving money on the table.

I've published 28 eBooks in the past year. Kindle remains my third marketplace in terms of overall sales, revenue, and profits. Nook is first, Apple iBookstore, and then Amazon.

Plus, I have to add, you're doing exclusive business with a company that lined up ambulances at its Pennsylvania warehouse this summer to cart off heat-exhausted workers vs. installing AC in the warehouse. Amazon didn't decide to install AC until they got caught by an industrious news reporter who reported a story despite Amazon refusing to speak with him.

http://articles.mcall.com/2011-09-17/news/mc-allentown-amazon-complaints-20110917_1_warehouse-workers-heat-stress-brutal-heat

And, the detail from the story that leaped out at me. Amazon starts each day at the warehouse by threatening to fire anyone who can't keep up. Wow, some great motivational leadership there.

Anonymous said...

Being a harmful "monopoly" involves more than just being successful in the market. If you think about how monopolies and cartels are enforced you'll realize how improbable a (noncompetitive) Amazon monopoly would be.

Legacy publishers have relationships with bookstores, distribution channels, etc that are hard to replicate so they can extract more favorable conditions from authors.

How exactly would Amazon do this? I guess that they could exclude you from the Amazon store but you can always have your own storefront that lets people download their books to their Kindles. And it seems that we're probably moving more towards an equilibrium where people have some sort of Android/iPad device that can run different reading apps. If Amazon starts demanding unfavorable conditions authors can go to Google Books or set up their own storefront with its own app.

If you're an author today you can make something that has no marginal per-unit cost that people will pay 3-10 bucks for. And its a huge friggin world out there. You only need 50,000 of the 7 billion people out there to buy your book to live pretty well.

M.R. Merrick said...

8% royalty rates for providing content (ie.the heart and soul of publishing)? I'll take my 70% with Amazon, keep my heart and soul, and let the readers decide if I'm good enough to have my name in lights.

walter Knight said...

The 'Big 6 Cartel' has a ring to it.

TK Kenyon said...

Barry, as always, thanks for the insight and clear thinking.

TK Kenyon

TK Kenyon.com

J. R. Tomlin said...

I have never seen it all laid out so clearly. Brilliant and I hope I am never so efficiently skewered as Barry did legacy publishers. He nailed it.

Adam Pepper said...

A meaningful question is are the big guys willing to give on digital royalties? Are writers negotiating better rates? Other than John Locke are there writers keeping them out of the print deal entirely?

Joshua P. Simon said...

What would happen if Amazon dropped their rates ridiculously low?

Bestselling authors with great fan bases would pull their books from amazon and publish them only on sites where the rates are higher. If enough authors did that, Amazon would either be forced to raise their rates again to compete or simply lose the revenue they were getting before.

Amazon is too smart to let that happen.

Gayle Carline said...

I don't see Amazon lowering royalty rates any time soon, even any time in the distant future, because they have their fingers in so many retail pies. The book market that looms so large for us is just one more line on their (vast) spreadsheet. What I'd love to see, now that the big-box bookstores are going-going-gone, is a re-imagining and resurrection of the indie bookstore for people who want more than a cyber-experience when they're looking for new writers. I know, however, that Indies are suspicious, if not downright hostile, to anything Amazonian. If Amazon could find a way to extend an olive branch to those stores, I think it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

J. Tanner said...

Well said. The level of "standardization" is troubling and Amazon shaking that up is a Good Thing (tm) whatever decision each individual author makes.

I think the major counter-argument (which I don't necessarily ascribe to) to Joe's point, not Barry's, is that you'll get much better paper distribution and marketing from the trade publishers, and that is what let people like Joe and Barry succeed so spetacularly when they made the change to self-pub. They had already built their audience up to a self-sustaining level. While only 1 in 5 (or whatever that number truly is) trade pubbed books may succeed, it's more like 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000 if you self-pub.

And the reason the people who've gone self-pub to trade pub in the current environment aren't talking is because of the slow nature of the trade pub system--they won't have trade pubbed books out for a year at best. (A strike against the system itself...) Maybe they'll love it and maybe they'll hate it, but it seems too early to draw any meaningful conclusions for the recent crop of this entirely new phenomena.

Adam Pepper asked if there were trade published authors who have managed to hold onto their "print" rights. I think you meant e-rights there. I asked this same question a while back and, while apparently rare, some insiders could name examples for me in both the mystery and SF genres. I want to say the author Cory Doctorow was one of them that's public about it, but that could have been a different conversation so don't quote me. :) But I did get 4 names which satisfied my curiousity. (It don't doubt it would be a deal-breaker for a first-timer though.)

SBJones said...

Royalties aside. The part about traditional publishing I have failed to get my head around is the time it takes for them to get a book on the shelves. I understand the money milking $30 hardback, wait three months $12 paperback bit. But why does it take 12-24 months after the manuscript is finished before it's put out? What takes that long? Because time is the one thing you can't get back.

W. Dean said...

There’s far easier way of looking at the Amazon monopoly problem. It comes to down to simple economics. (I actually posted about this on my blog yesterday.) The only thing you need to understand is what economists call barriers to market entry.

On the high barriers to market entry side of the continuum, you have the auto industry. Making and selling cars requires bazillions of the dollars and rare expertise. At the other end of the continuum you have the lemonade stand, very little money or expertise.

The Big Six is closest to the automotive industry. It takes a lot of capital and expertise to get into book publishing. So it’s easy to see how the Big Six can start behaving like a cartel. They don’t have to worry about competition from new firms, so they can squeeze their suppliers (i.e., writers) who couldn’t retail on their own (until now). Not so for the lemonade retailer, however, because he’s open to competition on all sides.

Amazon is closer to the lemonade stand. Anyone can open an online e-book retail store with very little expertise or investment. Now I’m not a threat to Bezo’s empire, but you can bet that Google is (more so even than Apple is now). In fact, Google is probably looking to sell e-books through their phones as we speak.

So here’s the bottom line: writers don’t have anything to fear from Amazon so long as Joe Blow and Google can undercut them tomorrow by offering writers better royalty rates and readers cheaper (or equally priced but more convenient) books.

Want it simpler still? You can’t have a monopoly or a cartel when anyone can do what you do.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Let's see, the luck where I count on a lot of other people's luck, or the luck that I can help a little on my own?

I just wanted to pay the power bill. The rest is gravy. We're gonna need a bigger boat.

Thanks for sharing, Barry and Joe.

Joe Konrath said...

While only 1 in 5 (or whatever that number truly is) trade pubbed books may succeed, it's more like 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000 if you self-pub.

Actually, it's 1 in 5 IF you're lucky enough to get published. It's 1 out of tens of thousands if you count all those who never had the chance.

With self-pub, everyone has an equal chance.

As for the "built in audience" meme, that fallacy won't ever die, but I've busted it too many times to count. To wit: my self-pub books fuel my legacy sales, not vice versa.

Richard Sutton said...

Since when was anything done by a business in the pursuit of profit and expanded market considered a threat to those who produce the raw materials? Authors need to toughen up. Publishing is a business, not a support structure for the author's art. Hitting it big is as likely to happen for a given debut fiction writer as is hitting the Mega Millions jackpot. There are plenty of real opportunities for driven fiction writers, especially in the "hot" genres, as long as we learn to wear a few more hats and put on some jackets without elbow patches.

Joe Konrath said...

Want it simpler still? You can’t have a monopoly or a cartel when anyone can do what you do.

That's a great point.

I don't believe publishers have expertise so much as they control paper distribution, which is a moot point with ebooks. But that was a lock on something.

Amazon has a lock on the proprietary format for Kindles, but I'm betting they'll open up to epub eventually. Sure, they'd like to control the entire ebook market (who wouldn't?), but they're also going to want to sell to those who don't have Kindles, and that number is growing fast.

In that sense, not everyone can do what Amazon is doing: offering a huge online store that is customer-friendly, and inexpensive ereaders that link to that store.

However, music lovers have found ways to enjoy music without iTunes, and I have no doubt there will always be competition for Amazon.

J. Tanner said...

JOE: "Actually, it's 1 in 5 IF you're lucky enough to get published. It's 1 out of tens of thousands if you count all those who never had the chance."

True enough. It's a new world now. But let's look back on the 1 in 5 vs the successes of self-publishing over the 100 years prior to the Amazon revolution. I think the 1 in 1000 argument is probably reasonable.


JOE: "As for the "built in audience" meme, that fallacy won't ever die, but I've busted it too many times to count. To wit: my self-pub books fuel my legacy sales, not vice versa."

No reason to not believe you there. But you can't really go back in time and know it's not driven by your initial trade success, right? I mean, you say yourself it was existing fans who got you to release on Amazon in the first place. Without them to start the snowball, who knows? Perhaps full circle now for you but there's no denying you got your start through trade and we have to go to a different example (Hocking, Locke, etc) to show that it wasn't necessary for them, but I don't think we can ever know to what extent it helped for you, Barry, DWS/KKR, Stackpole, and so on. (ie. your critics will always be able to argue it with you to a standstill which is why it keeps coming up, accurate or not...)

Anyway, these are the arguments that seem at least reasonable to me. Not saying I personally buy into them but they at least seem to have some merit when presented without hysterics or insults.

Basil Sands said...

Those who really really want to succeed and then put the effort into it will usually succeed. Regardless of whatever the market may be doing. Some presently famous authors started off hand selling from the trunk of their cars until they hit the money. Others travelled from state to state and book store to book store to build name recognition and hand sell. It worked not so much because of the system but because of their desire combined with action.

Right now there is a great fertile field for writers to flourish, but success will only come to those who put in the time and hard work. And in the future if that system changes to become more difficult those folks, short of being suppressed in a Soviet or North Korean style government, will succeed regardless.

And that's the way it is.

www.basilsands.com

Stephen T. Harper said...

Adam said... "Wow. That was well written and very compelling. It would be awesome if, in the name of fairness, we could find someone as articulate as Barry to come on here and write the counterpoint article.

I won't hold my breath..."

This is the fascinating thing about all this to me. As someone new to the business, I have come to it with relatively wide and (I hope) unbiased eyes. I started going to writers conferences a couple years ago, just before e-books happened in a big way, and I have to say, I was very disappointed with the culture I found there.

I don't mean to be too harsh, and this observation is by no means universal, but there seemed to be a lot of people who were "making a career out of making a career as a writer." Which is fine for a little while, and even necessary, but too long on that particular treadmill can make you lose sight of just how small and stale the cheese you're chasing has become.

Barry Eisler mentions Stockholm Syndrome. I always think of Joseph Campbell's line about climbing the ladder your whole life only to find that it's propped against the wrong wall. Really, really hard for anybody to admit that. And the longer they've climbed, the harder it gets.

What I saw as a newcomer (with no notion yet that Kindle would take off) was a huge wall that seemed to offer no real reason to climb it. The time and effort expenditure was huge, the money was bad, and the odds of sustaining a career were stacked against you. Not to mention the fact that, even a couple years ago, the industry was tightening down the screws in preparation of hard times to come. The phrase "death spiral" was used a lot. Not exactly encouraging for a newbie.

When ebooks became an option, I didn't even hesitate.
A new path, unexplored, filled with possibilities and as yet, no signs of decay. There's a lot to learn about the business side of this whole thing. But I feel strongly that I'm not wasting my time chasing phantoms. I'm learning about the business. And I'm WRITING. The rest seems like a naked man on parade to me, and it did before I ever heard of Konrath's blog.

I feel extremely fortunate that I've arrived with a book I'm very proud of at just the right time. Like seeing a mile long line at the supermarket checkout, but then a new cashier waves you over as she opens up a new lane.

I concur with Adam and second his question. I see lots and lots of people in and around the publishing business acquiescing to the idea that independent publishing is suddenly a more respectable animal, "well, there are solid arguments to both paths..." But they never offer the solid argument for traditional.

There is talk of Kool-Aid coming from both directions, but that's not an argument. There are always wildly successful people, certainly on the traditional side, and now more and more on the Indie side, but that's not an argument either. Certainly not if we are comparing people at the entry level, who aren't "in" publishing yet, but are trying.

The thing is, "entry level" for a writer in traditional publishing can last for a lifetime. Your lifetime.

I won't say "there is no 'there' there." But there seems to be very little and less every day.

There is also talk of self-publishing as a "risk." I see no risk. I see a chance to fail or succeed on my own. I see people segueing from one to the other, using success in one to fuel success in the other. By I see no risk.

However, to put all eggs into the basket of traditional publishing? When you are on the outside looking in? Life is short and you're risking TIME. What is the compelling reason to take such a risk?

I.J.Parker said...

Oh, yes, Barry knows how to make a very clear-headed argument. I love the term "confluence of interests." A certain amount of price-fixing has always been going on in business, and the publishing industry talks to each other. I just went through the experience of trying to sell the latest in my series while keeping e-rights. My agent said I couldn't keep e-rights. I said, "What about 50 % of the book price?" She said, no publisher will offer more than 25 %. That translates to 17.5 % for the author. Mind you, a few bestselling authors may be able to negotiate a better deal, but for the rest of us it's 17.5 % or nothing.
My book will go up on KDP the coming month. I'm much too angry to pursue traditional publishing any longer.
And just think: it will go on sale Dec 1, and I will start making money right away.

Jake Scholl said...

@Barry: Excellent point on the percentage an author gets from traditional publishers. I'd rather make 70% from putting an e-book up on Amazon.

@Konrath: That is so true. In all publishing, sales are usually determined by luck. Stephen King, you, an other popular writers are great examples of luck.

Edward M. Grant said...

Amazon has a lock on the proprietary format for Kindles

Only to the extent that you have to convert .epub to .mobi before loading it into the Kindle. As far as I'm aware the only really proprietary part of their format is the DRM, and unless Amazon decide they're not going to let people read non-DRM books on their Kindle we'll continue to be able to convert any other non-DRM e-book to .mobi and read it.

I'd say the bigger 'lock' they have is the convenience of downloading direct to the device from the store rather than having to get a USB cable out to copy files onto it, possibly after running them through a conversion program.

David Gaughran said...

Barry,

Thank you for writing this post. I've been having this ridiculous argument about fearing the impending Amazon monopoly for some time, and now I can just respond with a link instead of typing out the same things over and over. Plus you said it far better than I could.

Great post.

Dave

ADBBingo said...

Regarding negotiating royalty rights, there is a very interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal about Stephen King's new book.

In his deal with his current publisher, he negotiated a lower advances, he splits the marketing and production costs with the publisher, and then he gets 50% of the royalties. The article also mentions that long ago he stopped selling the rights to his books, and leases them for 10-15 years to his publishers. Think what he could make putting his backlist up on Amazon if he still holds those rights ! It also mentions that in the '90s he was getting $16 million advances. Wow.

So, all you need to do is become Stephen King and the publishing industry will negotiate :)

Mark Terry said...

I don't have much to support this observation, but it does seem to me that legacy publishers don't actually seem to be doing anything to try and compete with Amazon and the trending toward e-books. That is to say, if you want to be competitive with this trend, you would offer better royalty rates or larger advances or really push for something the e-book market doesn't offer like huge publicity pushes. What we seem to be getting is, um... nothing: lower advances, fewer contracts, same old do-nothing publicity pushes, questionably horrible royalty rates (or perhaps traditionally horrible royalty rates).

The arguments we so often hear from legacy publishers is: we offer great editing. We offer great cover art. We offer print distribution.

1. Who are you kidding? If I needed to I could hire a good editor (I offer the services myself, thanks) for a couple hundred bucks per manuscript.

2. Cover art? Easy to find good cover artists at a reasonable price these days. $100. $200. $250. No reason to spend $3000 on a cover artist.

3. Paper distribution. What? Who are you distributing it to? Kmart? Maybe B&N, but they're cutting back on their backlist stock and only top authors get into retail markets like Kmart, so otherwise, well, you're distributing paper through Amazon, B&N or, uh... hmmm...

Barbara Freethy said...

Great post Barry! I agree with everything you said. I have not understood this fear about Amazon lowering their rates. They're making a TON of money from self published writers. And I think they do understand that the writers are also their customers.

I've had had a foot in both worlds the past year and a lot of years on the traditional side with a couple of publishers, and I'm really surprised that we're not starting to see or hear about some movement on royalty rates at the traditional publishers and frankly just more innovation in terms of deals and publishing plans. Just showing writers their numbers isn't going to change the game.

Alessia Brio said...

Yes! And yes! And hell fucking YES!

Barry said...

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. A few thoughts in response:

Adam. I don't think this argument hinges on the articulateness of either side so much as it does on the underlying logic.

But of course, I would think that. ;)

James, not sure what point you're trying to make.

DV, that's a fair point; it might be that we haven't heard much from self-published authors who are experimenting with legacy because their legacy-published books aren't out yet and therefore they don't have data. Still, even before The Detachment came out with Amazon, I had a lot of positive things to say just about the experience of negotiating the deal with them, the contract itself, the process of gearing up and making decisions together ahead of the launch. Still, I tend to be vocal about such matters; others might just be more naturally reticent. With the passage of time, we'll be able to draw firmer conclusions.

Of course, the fact that in the self-to-legacy route, the passage of time is required for data acquisition is itself telling.

Sam, fair enough, but the time between shipment and returns is much shorter than the time publishers take to pay those royalties. More importantly, the reason the industry continues to be characterized by practices as archaic and inefficient as the consignment sales system itself is the absence of competitive pressure. Technology companies report their quarterly earnings the day after the relevant quarter ends. Why? Because they have a market incentive to do so. The tools manifestly exist; what's been lacking in publishing is a proper set of incentives -- the kind of incentives only competition can introduce.

Jim, I guess it comes down to what you mean by "need." I doubt I could ever reach as many readers, or make as much money, purely through my own website as I could with a good distribution partner. Someone like J.K. Rowling is probably in a somewhat different position. But the good news is, there's no reason it has to be either/or.

J Tanner, yes, Joe and I are examples of authors who built their audiences first in paper and then moved to digital. But the fact that you can find two examples of a route to a destination doesn't logically mean there are no other routes to the same place, and in fact there are many examples of authors who have made it directly in digital. So even if it's true that neither Joe nor I would ever have made it in digital if we hadn't made it in paper first… so what? What principle will you have deduced that's applicable to other authors? It's like saying, "Ah-ha! You and Joe could never have made it to the park if you hadn't had bicycles." But what would this prove about anyone else's ability to reach the park by car, by skateboard, by roller blades, by Segway, on foot, or otherwise?

Barry said...

Again: that someone took, and even needed to take, a certain means or a certain route to a certain destination does not mean no other means or routes are available.

You said you don't necessarily subscribe to the "these guys don't count because they already had paper audiences" argument, but still, you brought it up, and the argument is so pernicious I wanted to (yet again) respond to it. Joe and I really should draw up a Snopes-like numbered list of linked zombie memes so that we can just link to the appropriate debunking paragraph whenever one of the zombies shuffles into a blog comment.

I agree that right now, in general legacy publishers make better paper distribution partners than does Amazon. After all, paper is what they do, and their lock on paper infrastructure has always been the source of their quasi-monopoly power. So if an author cares primarily about selling the highest number of paper books, she would, generally speaking, be well-served by doing a paper deal with a legacy publisher. Ideally, she would hold digital rights back, because in digital legacy publishers have no special advantages and in fact labor under various disadvantages, some of them (high prices, delayed releases) self-imposed.

If I had to choose one way or the other, though, I would (and did) place most of my chips on digital, because digital offers significantly lower costs, higher profit margins, and exploding volume. As Joe has observed many times, paper is becoming a subsidiary right, and I expect that more and more authors will come to view the relative importance of paper accordingly.

SB, I think long publishing leads are in part a function of the importance of getting retail stores to agree to buy a certain number of books, of getting review copies out, and of other such components of a paper distribution system. Also, an artifact of the belief that readers won't buy more than one $25.00 book per year from the same author, so what's the hurry, anyway?

Dean, completely agree. Thanks for explaining it that way.

Stephen, that's a great quote from Campbell. Thanks.

ADBBingo, good to know about King. The Passive Guy has been vocal for a long time about the uniquely and absurdly long terms of publishing agreements. Life of copyright can be a hundred years plus; as a former technology licensing lawyer, I've never seen an intellectual property licensing agreement with a term remotely that long. Only in publishing. I should have listed this as yet another example of the monopolistic nature of legacy publishing.

Mark, agreed on the feckless response by legacy publishing. I wrote more about this 18 months ago in a Huff Post piece called Paper Earthworks and Digital Tides.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barry-eisler/paper-earthworks-and-digi_b_534458.html

Casey Moreton said...

there is a very interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal about Stephen King's new book.

I just read the article. Very interesting. But it also illustrates one of the most jacked-up aspects of publishing. The article details the promotional efforts for King's new book. Stephen King is the most famous writer on the planet, why does he need a major advertising campaign? THIS IS INSANE. Stack his books in the stores and people will buy them. Same with Grisham. But these publishers blow the doors and spent ungodly amounts of money in an effort to reach "new" readers. Why? Because these books are a sure thing, and if the advertising results in a few extra hundred thousand sales, it's money well spent. But it also creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Marie Force said...

This may be the most brilliant of all your many brilliant statements, Joe:
We lived with 8% royalties for waaaaaay too long. We're the content providers, fer crissakes. I wrote the damn book, and I only get 8%? That seems so crazy now, but only two years ago it was the norm...

Amazon is Amazon because they GET IT when it comes to marketing. They sent an email yesterday to my past customers to tell them about my new book. Treading Water shot from No. 400 to No. 17 on the Kindle bestseller list in a matter of hours. I made more YESTERDAY than I made in three YEARS with publishers. I am thankful every day that my now 8 (soon to be 10) indie books never sold to traditional publishers and not just because of the money I'm making. Mostly I'm thankful because neither I nor my children nor my grandchildren will EVER have to fight a publisher to get back the rights to these books.

J. Tanner said...

BARRY: "J Tanner, yes, Joe and I are examples of authors who built their audiences first in paper and then moved to digital. But the fact that you can find two examples of a route to a destination doesn't logically mean there are no other routes to the same place..."

Of course you're right. I don't think anyone would argue that today. The argument I've heard from publishing (not me, but I do think it's a reasonable one, and one that I am ignoring for reasons of my own) is that it's the route most likely to generate success to the level you and Joe have achieved and they can point to ten or twenty or however many success stories like you guys for every one "startup" self-pub success story I can find.

That's at least a compelling argument to the newbie--if you want to be like Joe or Barry someday your best bet is to pay your dues with us first. (Which isn't how they'd ever put it, but a situation that has the potential to be accurate.)

If a print deal fell in my lap today, even with the horrible terms you mentioned, I would take it. Because it's a building block to a larger audience, a door opened. My words are not precious. I can make more later even if some of them are locked up for some amount of time in an arguably subpar financial deal. It's a path to an audience that may not be available to me through self-pub and does not prevent me from continuing down the self-pub path (assuming reasonable terms) just like Joe's T&M deal doesn't prevent him from pursuing self-pub with other material.

Joe Konrath said...

If a print deal fell in my lap today, even with the horrible terms you mentioned, I would take it. Because it's a building block to a larger audience, a door opened.

You're making that decision armed with hope and a dream of a publishing ideal (by that I mean what occasionally happens when publishers get lucky and produce a hit.)

Arm yourself with facts instead. And don't take my word for it.

Visit publishers' websites. Pick ten books by new authors that are being released in November. Then set up a Google alert for each title, so you get all the marketing, news, and publicity associated with it. Also watch and track Amazon and BN.com rankings.

Follow these books for a month. See for yourself how well publishers do in breaking out these ten new books. Do any get on the bestseller lists? Visit some local bookstores. How many copies do they stock, if any? Contact the authors and ask how they're being treated.

Then you can find out for yourself what a Big 6 publisher does for a new author, and you'll have a much better reason for either taking, or rejecting, any deal they might offer you.

Knowledge is power.

Joe Konrath said...

it's the route most likely to generate success to the level you and Joe have achieved and they can point to ten or twenty or however many success stories like you guys for every one "startup" self-pub success story I can find.

This is called the sharpshooter fallacy. It is attributing significance, and intent, to something after it already has happened, and trying to erroneously use it to predict.

It is the root of all superstition. pitcher didn't wash his hands before pitching a no-hitter, so now he never washes his hands before a game. An incorrect correlation between cause and effect.

It's easy to look at my ebook sales and say, "He has those because he has a fanbase." But is it correct?

I sell between 500 and 1500 ebooks a day, self-pubbing. If I had such a large fanbase, why haven't any of my legacy pubbed books been bestsellers, or even close?

Why are there dozens of authors (check Kindleboards) who sell like crazy but who have never had legacy deals?

Why are there some legacy authors who are trying self-pubbing and selling poorly?

Having a name and a fanbase doesn't hurt. I'm lucky to have fans anticipating my next release.

But all of the evidence I've unearthed points toward low prices and cool covers fueling my sales, not people who discovered me in paper.

Aric Mitchell said...

"But all of the evidence I've unearthed points toward low prices and cool covers fueling my sales, not people who discovered me in paper."

That's how I discovered you, or rather, how my friend, who told me about you, discovered you. I had no idea Joe Konrath existed until my friend bought an iPad and said, "Dude, you gotta get one of these. A lot of the books are still way overpriced, but there's some good stuff out there for $2 or $3."

(I'm paraphrasing, but those are the broadstrokes.)

As an afterthought, he said, "I'm reading this one by a guy named Jack Kilborn. Gross!"

The book was "Trapped." From there, I've picked up a few more. But absolutely no idea J.A. Konrath existed, let alone had a print career, until the ebooks.

W. Dean said...

Joe:

“…not everyone can do what Amazon is doing: offering a huge online store that is customer-friendly, and inexpensive ereaders that link to that store.”

No dispute here that Amazon has earned its success. The key point I’m making, however, is that Amazon will always have to fight for market share because, unlike traditional publishing, e-publishing and online retailing is easy to do.

Sure, I wouldn’t break Amazon’s back if I started “Amablon.com.” But ten thousand people like me—plus the actual or possible entrance of Google, Smashwords, Apple and a half-dozen other big names—will exert constant pressure on them.

And that market pressure will be good for writers (suppliers) because no one will ever be able to achieve a monopoly or cartel.

J. Tanner said...

Joe, I appreciate the continued discussion. It's made for an entertaining and informative lunch break.

I base my current "I'd take it" position for a legacy deal on the expectation of failure because that is the most likely result. Selling 5K books or less is failure in the eyes of trade publishing but let's say 500-1000 new fans for a $5K advance is a big win for me in a self-pub future. This is compared to the lunch money income that is the typical product of self-publishing. There are numerous self-pub success stories, no denying, but the (anecdotal) majority still seem to make less than $100 a month.

And note that I AM self-pubbing so I've bought into most of what you've been espousing here--just a bit short of 100% and that fraction has become the point of discussion. :)

Barry said...

A lot of people on Twitter seem angry about this post, particularly about the phrase, "house slaves." The claim is that I just called all legacy published authors house slaves. I didn't (nor would I). Have a look at the passage in question, and I think you'll agree.

First, I asked a question: "Why are so many authors afraid of a possible monopoly while sanguine about a real one?"

Then I said, "I can think of several possibilities."

For the third of those possibilities, I discussed the possibility of Stockholm Syndrome and a "house slave" mentality.

I think it's pretty obvious from the above that never did I argue that all legacy published authors are house slaves, or anything even like that. Anyone claiming otherwise either hasn't read my post, or has dramatically misunderstood and mischaracterized it. Again, as I think is plainly obvious in black and white, the question I was grappling with was about authors who are afraid of a potential future monopoly and sanguine about a real existing one. One possibility for this logically contradictory attitude is a house slave mentality. I could be wrong about that possibility as the explanation for the contradiction, but I never claimed that all or even any significant number of legacy-published authors are possessed of a house slave mentality.

I'd like to think that by inviting people to reread and reconsider my exact words, I will get them to calm down and argue more productively. To the extent I can do so, we'll know this was an honest misunderstanding. To the extent I can't, we'll know that for some people, dudgeon is its own reward.

Sarah Woodbury said...

Bravo!

A couple of people mentioned the 'platform' question, that Joe's success is a product of his previous traditional authordom. While it probably didn't hurt, I think you really have to look beyond that and not sell yourself short if you don't have that particular advantage. I know dozens of authors with no previous publications and years of rejection who are making $50,000 and more this year. It's not millions, but it's a living.

For most of them, they only indie published in 2011, and yet, their sales have exploded. How did they do it? Believing in themselves, luck, and long hours. I don't know if everyone can do it. Clearly, being a good writer is a start, but you won't know until you start, until you throw everything you have into it and risk failure.

J. Tanner said...

Barry, FWIW, my understanding of that part upon first read was as you intended.

Rereading, I still don't see how anyone could draw that conclusion about your point...

David said...

For example, right in this comment thread, you say:

"I don't believe publishers have expertise so much as they control paper distribution"-Konrath

Yet in the comment thread of that post I linked, you talked up the discerning eye and professionalism of big publishers as a good measure of what's fit for wide distribution.

PLEASE explain what happened to your view point which you now so strongly contradict. Thanks.

Lucas Nicolato said...

Perfect analysis.

In the whole history of information technology there were successive monopoly scares.

People were really affraid that IBM would hold all the market just a couple decades ago.

Microsoft was denounced for monopolistic behavior several times. How big is Microsoft's monopoly today, in a world were gadgets like phones and tablets play a more important role than PCs?

Even if Amazon manages to monopolize the whole publishing business, how long will it be able to hold it?
New Technology will come, and new business models with it, and new players. The ebook revolution is just the first of many yet to come. Once something is digital you just can't prevent it from evolving.

There is no way any player can keep a monopoly in any digital industry for over a decade.

Barry said...

Okay, sometimes I'm a little slow, but I just figured out what's been going on here. Yes, people were dramatically mischaracterizing my meaning, but what was really animating the anger was the phrase "house slave" itself. Some people on Twitter have explained their view that the term is incendiary and trivializes the horrors of real slavery. To anyone who found my use of the phrase offensive, I apologize. I myself don't find the phrase offensive (otherwise, I wouldn't have used it), but reasonable people can disagree on such things. What matters is that I didn't need the phrase for my argument, so all I did in using it was antagonize people needlessly and create a distraction from the substantive points I was trying to make. So again: to anyone I've thoughtlessly offended, my sincere apologies. And to everyone who took the trouble to clearly explain their objection, thank you. I hereby humbly withdraw the offending phrase, and hope that we might now more calmly discuss my argument as though I had never used the phrase to begin with. Thanks again.

David said...

Ok, I've posted this twice now, and it keeps getting deleted. So either someone is deleting the post (censor?) or the link is getting auto deleted, so I'll try yet again:

I had a completely different response I planned to write, but then I stumbled upon an rather odd post featuring Konrath essentially disagreeing with EVERYTHING he's saying here. Two choice quotes: 

"In my experience, 99% of self-pubbed writers think they’re better than they actually are, which is the real reason NY [big commercial publishers] doesn’t want them." -Konrath

"Is self-pubbing bad? Hell no. I’m doing it myself, on Kindle, and doing pretty well. But I don’t consider those books published, and I only have confidence they are any good because they were vetted by my agent and fellow professional authors."-Konrath

(this post can be found on a site called backwordbooks dot com under the title: Response to bestselling author J.A. Konrath’s foggy portrait of the “confident” writer)

Can you please explain the traumatic event that happened to you in the last 18 months to turn you from someone who seemed to express a good deal of disdain for self-publishers into the ultimate champion of the practice. I'm not being sarcastic or ironic, I really want to know, because you seem like two different people in these posts. 

(*if this gets deleted a 3rd time, then I'll know to stop telling people to visit this site credible and honest discourse)

David said...

Mr. Konrath,
Why are deleting my posts? I asked a polite, perfectly reasonable question about your shifting opinion on publishing. What's with the censorship?

Anonymous said...

"Third, and again perhaps related, is Stockholm Syndrome, or what might also be known as a serf’s attitude toward his feudal lords (Mike Stackpole calls it a “house slave” mentality). New York has been abusing authors for so long that a lot of them have come to identify with their oppressors—to think their oppression is desirable and even just ... "

I don't understand the constant bashing of publishers and, now, traditional authors.

First of all, the arrangement between a publisher and an author is contractual. No arms were forced, including Barry's and Joe's. There's been no allegations that publishers breached their past contracts in any meaningful way. So, in the end, you made a deal with them and that was that. Just because you may not like the deal in hindsight, now that the entire publishing landscape has changed, doesn't mean publishers are evil beings who should be wiped from the face of the earth. You can't do a time warp and have it both ways.

More importantly, to refer to authors who sign with traditional publishers too stupid and oppressed to know any better, this is a pure insult. Maybe you two don't want to do it, but others do, for their own reasons. In fact, most of the best contemporary authors in the world do. They're not stupid, or brainwashed or beat into servitude.

That's myself included, by the way.

Selena Kitt said...

Why all the fear about what Amazon might do in the future, when legacy publishers are doing those fearful things right now?

Because when you've been abused, you always expect someone to keep hitting you.

Todd Trumpet said...

My favorite part of Mr. Eisler's post was the following:

These are as meaningful between publishing houses as are election contests between Democrats and Republicans; wars between Hapsburgs and Bourbons; arguments between supposedly liberal and supposedly conservative media. The skirmishing on the surface is meaningless by comparison with the cooperation, collusion, and confluence of interests beneath.

I have a newfound respect for Barry based on this paragraph alone...

...as well as a newfound respect for the Commenters here for NOT turning this into a political debate.

Am I over-reacting?

I don't know. But I DO know that I can almost never start reading ANY article's comments on the internet without it fast turning into a political rage-fest:

"TOPIC: Let's discuss the color yellow."

"If the Republicans have their way, there won't BE any color yellow...!"

"Liberals have turned the color yellow into Saffron...!"

"Talk about Yellow Journalism...!"

"I blame Bush...!"

Come to think of it...

...I hope I'm not the one starting a poly-partison screed here!

Todd
"THE TELLING OF MY MARCHING BAND STORY"
www.ToddTrumpet.com

David said...

I had a completely different response I planned to write, but then I stumbled upon an rather odd post featuring Konrath essentially disagreeing with EVERYTHING he's saying here. Two choice quotes: 

"In my experience, 99% of self-pubbed writers think they’re better than they actually are, which is the real reason NY [big commercial publishers] doesn’t want them." -Konrath

"Is self-pubbing bad? Hell no. I’m doing it myself, on Kindle, and doing pretty well. But I don’t consider those books published, and I only have confidence they are any good because they were vetted by my agent and fellow professional authors."-Konrath

LINK:
http://www.backwordbooks.com/2009/07/29/response-to-bestselling-author-ja-konraths-foggy-portrait-of-the-confident-writer/

Can you please explain the traumatic event that happened to you in the last 18 months to turn you from someone who seemed to express a good deal of disdain for self-publishers into the ultimate champion of the practice. I'm not being sarcastic or ironic, I really want to know, because you seem like two different people in these posts. 

Mark Asher said...

Barry, you're missing one important point: A lot of us aren't doing business with legacy publishers, so that 17.5% royalty rate doesn't apply to us. We're doing business with Amazon and B&N and Smashwords.

So the fear isn't one of having to work with a publisher offering 17.5%. It's a fear of having a 70% rate reduced to something smaller. Remember, it was 35% not all too long ago.

Now is that a reasonable fear, that Amazon might lower its royalty rates? I don't know.

The other fear is that Amazon will favor its own writers over other writers and it will be harder to get visibility for our books. There are 122 writers signed now by Amazon who will have Amazon books out this year.

And I do think competition is important, so I hope Amazon doesn't dominate to the point where there's no real competition.

Jaye said...

@Mark Asher

"The other fear is that Amazon will favor its own writers over other writers and it will be harder to get visibility for our books. There are 122 writers signed now by Amazon who will have Amazon books out this year."

This might be a legitimate concern if it were a matter of bookshelf space. Except, the virtual bookshelf is, you know, huge and forever. Amazon has built its business on giving people what they want. Reasonable prices, nearly unlimited selection. Does anyone honestly think they'll shift that model completely upside down in order to push 122 authors? I doubt it. Sure, they'll give the Amazon authors extra promo, but readers are one click away from finding what they want. If they don't want what Amazon is pushing, Amazon has plenty more to choose from.

Which, by the way, is the complete opposite of what traditional publishing does. They do restrict selection and supply and distribution and try to convince customers it's what's good for them. If readers don't want what the publishers are selling, how do publishers respond? They produce more of what people don't want and raise prices. All you have to do is look at the latest industry stats on book sales to see how well that's working out.

Joe Konrath said...

Blogger sucks, David. I don't delete posts without fair warning.

Joe Konrath said...

Can you please explain the traumatic event that happened to you in the last 18 months to turn you from someone who seemed to express a good deal of disdain for self-publishers into the ultimate champion of the practice.

Sure. The evidence mounted, and I changed my mind. Check out my post http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/12/you-should-self-publish.html

In 2009, self pubbing was stupid. Now, it is smart. I change my opinion as data comes in.

David Gaughran said...

@David

If you disagrees with the arguments presented above, if you want to defend the status quo, or want to make a robust case for the long-term health and viability of large publishers, why don't you engage on the issues?

You could argue that publishers are going to flood the cheap price points with backlist, or that enhanced e-books and apps are going to be big, requiring huge start-up costs, pricing self-publishers out of the market. You could predict Amazon et al are going to start selling co-op, crowding out indies. You could think subscription models are going to be huge, or social reading, or other things that publishers might be better placed to exploit. Or that publishers will get finally smart and start raising royalty rates, embracing digital, releasing e-books first, cutting prices, and actually engaging with their real customers: readers, not bookstores.

Now, I can think of arguments against all that stuff, why it wouldn't be bad news for self-publishers, why it isn't going to happen, or why it's not such a big deal.

And then we could have an intelligent discussion rather than holding up a quote from 2009 and saying "see, you're wrong."

J. Tanner said...

JAYE: "All you have to do is look at the latest industry stats on book sales to see how well that's working out."

What numbers are you seeing that I'm not? I look at the AAP stuff and I see revenue up every year since 2008 despite the general economic downturn. I look at the year over year numbers for each month so far of 2011 and I see the same basic story--very modest growth.

There is a MASSIVE shift from paper to ebook in progress based on the numbers and that could signal significant challenges for these publishers in the future as they don't have the same lock on ebook distribution as they do paper, but if you're looking at just the numbers as they exist now (ie. through mid-2011) publishers are weathering this transition okayish to this point (despite my opinion they've reacted too slowly still, and made some poor decisions.)

David Gaughran said...

@J. Tanner

While the monthly AAP stats show e-books booming (and print falling), in 2011, the rise in e-book revenue is not replacing the loss in revenue from print - at least for the publishers measured by the those monthly stats.

The more comprehensive Bookstats report showed flat growth overall, but that only surveyed the industry up to the end of 2010, which only covers the beginning of the huge boom in e-books from November last year.

Since then, we have seen self-publishers capture more and more of the top spots in the Kindle chart. For the last few months, self-publishers have had between a third and a quarter of the top-selling e-books on Amazon.

That's a lot of lost revenue for publishers. These writers are either those who have left trade publishing to go it alone, those that couldn't crack it in the first place, or some like John Locke who didn't see the point of querying. And the spots on the bestseller lists (have you seen the genre bestseller lists in the Kindle Store), and all that increased exposure, is now going to operators outside their system (and not measured by AAP reports or Bookstats surveys).

On top of all that, the more new self-publishers that make it big, the longer publishers hold out on digital royalty rates, and the speed with which self-publishers and small publishers can bring stuff to market, all spells a gloomy outlook for the larger players.

Yes, a lot of those books at the top of the charts come from publishers, and yes they are making a lot of money at those higher prices (and not dealing with returns on e-books either which is a huge cost-saving). But they are also facing competition on the open digital playing field from a horde of hungry self-publishers, savvy small publishers, and, now, Amazon.

David Gaughran said...

Here are the year-to-date AAP figures:

http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/adult-hardcover-paperback-sales-down-18-this-year_b41080

Don't get too excited by the raw revenue totals, there are only a limited amount of houses reporting. Instead, look at the percentage changes.

Revenue is shrinking, and as more bookstores close (this goes up to August), and more business shifts online and to digital, that percentage is going to increase as the for the first time, a significant portion of large publisher's business is going to be subjected to the kind of competition they were shielded from through their control of the print distribution network.

They are going to lose a portion of all the customers that switch to buying online and buying digital, because those customers are going to be subjected to a much greater selection than ever before - including lots and lots of great, enticing, well-reviewed, visible books from small publishers and self-publishers that couldn't get into stores.

David Gaughran said...

Apologies for the numerous typos! It's late and I'm fried.

Jon Olson said...

Great. That Barry Eisler should've been a lawyer. Oh, wait! He is!

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

J. Tanner said...

Thanks for the link to the latest numbers David. The most recent I'd seen was through July (on your blog coincidentally.) So 2011 is trending a bit worse for them than I noted but would we agree it is probably still close ot break-even when you factor in that they're not reporting a significant portion of the highest growth sector (ebooks)?

Anyway, assuming the worst I still don't think the numbers make the point that trade publishing's long term problem is that they are putting out product readers don't want and are being punished for it financially which was the original assertion I objected to. (They do have other problems though, like those Barry notes and which Joe has covered many times.)

Jason said...

"But all of the evidence I've unearthed points toward low prices and cool covers fueling my sales, not people who discovered me in paper."

Actually Joe, lately it's a little bit low prices/cool covers and a lotta bit Ann Voss Peterson fueling your sales!

Seriously, FLEE & EXPOSED are some of your best work. I'm sure SPREE will be just as great.

But on the low prices/cool covers argument - that's how my wife discovered WHISKEY SOUR in the library. She was intrigued by the cover and the price was right (lol). She read all of the shockingly disturbing parts out loud to me, and then I had to read the whole book for myself...and then I was hooked on the series.

So it does happen - she took a chance on a new-to-her author based on the cool book cover (and the fact that JA could be female or male). It's totally logical that Joe's digital sales are mostly happening the same way.

David Gaughran said...

I think my point is not about the performance of what they are putting out, it's the stuff they aren't. All those self-publishers who walked away because they weren't getting paid enough, or backed enough, and all those who couldn't get an agent or a deal - that's all product that could be generating revenue for publishers now, and instead it's competing with their lists. They are transitioning from a marketplace where they controlled distribution to one where they don't, and this new competition they are facing will only increase as more and more readers make the switch to e-books. That's the long-term danger from their choices in which books they decide to publish (and which they then back), and the conditions they impose on writers.

Jodi Langston said...

As always it was articulate and informative.
Glad you guys are on my side.lol

Joe Konrath said...

As probably could have been predicted, Barry and are are being attacked by pinheads on Twitter.

I'm all for being attacked. It means I struck a chord.

Since I've been tilting a few back, I'm happy to respond. Here are my past few tweets:

"Nothing is cooler than being attacked for tone, because no one can touch the argument."

"Being right isn't a popularity contest. It isn't about how amicable you are, or how many people like you."

"You don't have to like the messenger. But you're an idiot if you don't listen to the message."

"Trying to convince strangers is pathetic. I share what I've learned to test my arguments. No one is forcing anyone to listen."

"Buddha: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. JA: Attacking the teacher for tone = student not ready."

Now, much as it amuses me to engage the rationally deficient, I gotta say it gets a bit tiresome. I know this blog is helpful. I also know this blog offends some folks who happen to (coincidentally?) have closed minds.

I'm fine with that. But I'm not holier than thou. If you want to engage, I'll dish it back. If you want to act like a moron, I'll call you a moron. If you think I'm an asshole, you need to reassess your opinion of me. I'm not just an asshole. I'm a RICH asshole. And I didn't get to be that way by acting like a wallflower, caring about peoples' feelings or what they think of me.

This blog is a tool. Use it. Or don't. It doesn't matter to me.

But if you want to argue, try to attack the argument. Or else you just look stupid.

DVshooter said...

"well, there are solid arguments to both paths..." But they never offer the solid argument for traditional.

Adam

I share the sentiment, am consistently going back to my "old circle" of blogs: traditional agent, editor and "how to get published" blogs and forums. Waiting and looking for this reponse. Just out of curiousity at this point I guess, am not hesitating either to go into self-pub.

Still lot's of talk that indie is a fad and is still fake publishing from scores of individuals who are seemingly VERY tranfixed on the "acceptance and validation" issue. Mentioned this on D. Gauhran's blog: I think that instead of the best possible publishing scenario that these people really need life coaches...or hugs to feel better about themselves.

I still see a lot of "Konrath's an asshole...Konrath's full of shit...
Konrath's just bitter and a hypocrite cuz of his traditional past" along with all the other arguments.

What I have yet to see ANYONE even attempt to address ANYWHERE, with any kind of data and logic, is how a 17-8% cut, paper or digital, is still the best possible thing for any writer.

We get plenty of mud, animosity and condescension...but no one on the other side of the fence seems to want to touch that one.

Like you said; not holding my breath.

wannabuy said...

@Jim: The next level is going direct like JK Rowlings is about to do. What's stopping anyone from building their own platform and selling direct to consumer?
This is why Amazon will have to play friendly. What happens to the ability of the Kindle to attract new Amazon customers when so much of the content would be on author web sites!

Amazon is using ebooks as the 'gateway drug' to their retail empire. They're not going to piss off the mom by reducing her supply of ebooks over a silly royalty. Not when she'll buy 100X as much of other stuff than books.

Neil

wannabuy said...

@SBJones:But why does it take 12-24 months after the manuscript is finished before it's put out? What takes that long? Because time is the one thing you can't get back.

Time is money. The MRR of a large business should be 17% per year. Or by taking 18 months longer than an indie author, 25% of the cash taken in has been consumed by salaries, rent, loans, etc. Not the business that will be the lean mean competitor...

Neil

wannabuy said...

@David:They are transitioning from a marketplace where they controlled distribution to one where they don't,

Well said as usual. Publishers became slow and bloated as they were used to thinking of bookstores as their customers. You've used the analogy of Yahoo search vs. Google in prior posts. Google gets you what you want and thus you keep coming back. Yahoo did co-op. Eventually customers moved to the non-co-op store. Digital means customers move quickly.

Publishers are being very slow to realize that their grip on the channel to customers is slipping. Oh well... We'll have a nostalgia TV series about them in a decade or so. ;)

Neil

J. Tanner said...

DVShooter: "What I have yet to see ANYONE even attempt to address ANYWHERE, with any kind of data and logic, is how a 17-8% cut, paper or digital, is still the best possible thing for any writer."

I'm not even on the other side, but the argument is simple.

In short: Would you rather have 15% of $100,000 or 70% of $10,000?

When publishers take you on, they do so because they believe they can put your book into the former category where you alone probably cannot.

In long: 2500 x $2.99 x 70% = ~$5000 in royalties. A book a day e-pubbing is not unusual for a first timer (and many sell far less.) That means over 5 years to make what you would have made guaranteed upon delivering your book to one of the trade publishers. You also don't have to absorb the cost of a covers artist or editor which make the bottom line tougher to meet.

We follow the people at the top of the self-pub pyramid to get the best possible advice but that can give unrealistic expectations of results. You need to look at the bottom of the pyramid too (like these folks: http://booknotselling.blogspot.com/) and consider, of the two, the odds are greater you will end up there--lots of effort and optimism going in--and then crickets.

Mark Asher said...

@JTanner: In long: 2500 x $2.99 x 70% = ~$5000 in royalties. A book a day e-pubbing is not unusual for a first timer (and many sell far less.) That means over 5 years to make what you would have made guaranteed upon delivering your book to one of the trade publishers. You also don't have to absorb the cost of a covers artist or editor which make the bottom line tougher to meet.

I've recently come to this revelation too. That $5000 advance may be more than most indies earn from a single book in 3-5 years, or even longer.

Last I heard there are about one million ebooks for sale on Amazon. I believe that an ebook with a sales rank of about 10,000, which puts it in the top one percent, sells about two to three copies a day.

At that rate it takes about three years for a book that is already selling better than 99% of the ebooks to earn $5000. And that's if it's priced at $2.99.

Aric Mitchell said...

"We follow the people at the top of the self-pub pyramid to get the best possible advice but that can give unrealistic expectations of results. You need to look at the bottom of the pyramid too (like these folks: http://booknotselling.blogspot.com/) and consider, of the two, the odds are greater you will end up there--lots of effort and optimism going in--and then crickets."

Only to figure out what NOT to do should you look at those people. The very fact they're getting on that site with their sob stories is what makes them failures. You shouldn't plan on selling as many as J.A. Konrath or as few as the lowest man on the totem pole. You should only pay attention to the things you can control and do your best at them. Bottom line: if you are selling next to nothing, and you still feel the need to write and create and make something as ready as you can for public consumption, then you should keep doing it, end of story. If you're that driven, then you'll find success. It may not be success by someone else's measuring stick, but it will be by your own, and in the end, that's all that really matters.

Barry said...

Thanks for all the follow-up, everyone. A few more thoughts…

Anonymous said, "publishers are [not] evil beings who should be wiped from the face of the earth."

I certainly don't think publishers are evil or should be wiped out, and don't believe I've made those arguments. Rather, I believe publishers are human beings, and I've argued these human beings can best be motivated to reform their business practices by the injection of competition into publishing. Who are you responding to in your comment?

I can't speak for Joe, but I don't think (and nor have I argued) that legacy-published authors as a class are stupid, oppressed, etc. But I do think that some legacy-published authors are in the grip of something that can loosely be compared to Stockholm Syndrome. I made this point not about any general class of authors, and instead raised it as a possible explanation for the logical contradiction of decrying the possibility that Amazon might lower its royalties from 70% while accepting that New York currently pays 17.5%. My explanation for the logical contradiction could be wrong. I could be wrong in believing it's a logical contradiction at all. But no one, so far, has addressed my substantive point, or my substantive question, which, to repeat, is:

"Why are so many authors afraid of a possible monopoly while sanguine about a real one?"

At the risk of sounding immodest, I will say that I think this is damned interesting question, and would love it if someone would try to help me answer it. Again, I could be wrong, and if so, I could use some help in figuring out why.

Hah! Right after writing the above, I came to Selena's comment. Thanks, Selena, for addressing my question. I half agree… I can see why one would expect the worst from a future player, but that doesn't explain why one would be sanguine about one's current circumstances.

Mark, that is a great point -- thank you. Right, for someone who's not getting (and therefore isn't sanguine about) the standard NY 17.5%, there's no logical contradiction -- no contradictory position at all, in fact. Still, a lot of the authors who express fear that Amazon might lower its royalties are in fact receiving, and not complaining about, the NY 17.5.%. So the contradiction does exist, and I didn't mean to imply that it extends to solely self-published authors who are concerned about Amazon's future practices.

Anyway, I certainly agree that healthy competition for Amazon is critical, and hope I made that clear in my post.

David G, I can only say, and not for the first time… goddamn, I wish the internet were populated by more people like you.

Thanks again, everyone, and now… I must pass out.

Joe Konrath said...

In short: Would you rather have 15% of $100,000 or 70% of $10,000?

I know hundreds of professional authors. I can count the ones who have made more than $100,000 on a legacy published book on both hands.

But self-pubbed authors who have made more than $3k? I've personally heard from hundreds.

Holding out hope for a big advance, when you could be earning money right away, isn't logical. And making some money is always better than making no money, which is what happens to the vast majority (99.9%) of authors who try to land a legacy deal and don't get one.

That $5000 advance may be more than most indies earn from a single book in 3-5 years, or even longer.

We haven't even had three years of data yet. I started self pubbing in 2009.

Ebooks are forever. As I've said, luck plays a big part in success, but if my choice were between a $5k advance, and trying it on my own, it is no contest. The only legacy advance I'd be tempted by would be seven figures.

If you keep writing good books, I believe you'll eventually find an audience, and the money will come if you self publish.

Legacy publishing, especially of late, doesn't give a writer a chance to find an audience.

Joe Konrath said...

More importantly, to refer to authors who sign with traditional publishers too stupid and oppressed to know any better, this is a pure insult.

What if the insult fits?

If an author has armed herself with facts, and studied the situation at length, she should come to the same conclusion I've come to.

Defend your position. Explain why signing with a legacy publisher is smarter than going indie. Engage the points I've brought up.

If you can't defend why you do what you do, you ARE stupid or oppressed.

I don't understand the constant bashing of publishers and, now, traditional authors.

For the past two and a half years, the main focus of this blog has been to share my experiences with other authors, and enlighten them about ebooks and the self-publishing movement.

Part of that involves showing them how the new way is better than the old way.

Publishers cling to the old way. They've done all they can to stop the new way. In the process, they're harming authors.

Authors who cling to the old way are harming themselves in the long run.

That doesn't make anyone evil. But it does make them short-sighted and ignorant at best, or stupid at worst. Legacy publishing has made so many mistakes in regard to ebooks that it makes my head spin.

Writers need to know this. And sugar-coating it isn't my style.

Selena Kitt said...

But Barry, you've already addressed why legacy authors are so blasé about their current situation. The whole house slave argument might have been offensive - but it was, unfortunately, quite apt.

There's a saying - you cannot give offense, you can only take it.

Stockholm Syndrome is real. And it does apply. People will cling like mad to the devil they know rather than risk the devil they don't in order to keep their world from falling apart. Look at what happened in the banking industry. We were so afraid of the devil we knew collapsing, we did everything we could to prop them up. And what did they do? Just what they always did. Go figure. The best predictor of future events is past behavior.

David Gaughran said...

Some arguments I hear against self-publishing from writers who are trade published or pursuing an agent and/or a publishing deal:

"I trust my agent implicitly. She says not to self-publish and to work on another novel instead."

"I'll never make any money self-publishing, my work will get lost in a sea of crap."

"Readers are turning against self-published work after reading so much crap, I don't want to get lumped in with that."

"How will anyone ever find my book?"

"I don't want to self-promote, or blog, or be on Twitter, I just want to write."

"E-books will plateau soon. Bookstores will recover. Publishers are getting to grips with all this, I would rather stick with them."

"I don't want to be forced to sell my work at 99c. I value myself and my work more than that."

"If I self-publish, no agent/editor will ever touch my work ever again."

"I don't want to self-publish. I like real books."

"I want to be considered a real writer."

"Self-publishing is fine if you have a backlist or an established audience, but I'm nobody, I need a publisher to get my name out there."

So I am not accused of building a straw man, let me be clear: I don't think this is representative of the views of all trade published writers, those pursuing that path, or those defending it.

However, a quick visit to popular agents' blogs or writers' forums dedicated to finding an agent or getting a traditional deal will uncover these positions, being put forth regularly by writers.

As I have indicated a few posts ago, I believe there are several - infinitely more reasonable - potential arguments that those defending the status quo could make.

I would respectfully suggest that those advancing the kind of arguments I have paraphrased here need to do a little more thinking about the matter.

All of these arguments are either myths, misunderstandings, based on false assumptions, contrary to available evidence, recurrent zombie memes that just won't die no matter how much logic they are subjected to, or just plain boneheaded.

Or as Barry put it, possible evidence of Stockholm Syndrome, as they are the very lines being propagated by those who have the most to lose from the rise of self-publishing and new publishing models like Amazon's: the middlemen, i.e. agents and publishers.

Selena Kitt said...

I read posts like this one and it makes me sick to think of how authors have been treated by legacy publishing. Drawing on big metaphors to make a point (the Negro baseball league, Stockholm Syndrome, house slaves... We haven't gone so far as Nazis yet have we? :) may seem over the top, but how else do you wake people up? Should we Occupy the Big 6?

There are far far far too many really awesome writers who have languished in midlist-land struggling to meet ends meet while someone else exploited their talent and took their hard-earned profits. There is plenty of injustice in that to warrant anger, resentment and outrage. All I'd which I would expect legacy authors to feel when they wake up (the blue pill or the red one?)

Because I have never been in legacy publishing, I can only say I feel it for them - and I can clearly see the matrix.

Those still in legacy, defending it, are still being fed (one way or another) by the system. They're plugged in. They're not worried about a monopoly in legacy because they don't see it. They're not awake.

Those who have never been in the legacy system, like me, worry about an Amazon monopoly because, guess what? That's our matrix, that's where we're being fed. Just because you've woken up doesn't mean you aren't still dreaming....

Those who have chosen to swallow the other pill and are out of legacy publishing see where they've been (awful) and are now loving Amazon because, like a starving people trudging through the desert, they've been offered food. And it's the yummiest they've ever tasted!!! Mmm! :)

But that doesn't mean the devil we now know is better than the one we were had before.

Like Joe says, no need to worry about it now.

But for me, it's important to stay awake and aware. Staying asleep is how zombies and sheeple are made, how we become comfortable and complacent.

That's the most dangerous thing of all.

I.J.Parker said...

OK, guys, don't get bent out of shape by Twitter. From what I've seen the place is full of folks in the publishing field, incl. agents and all their clients. That should explain the animus.

Then there is the "house slaves" comment. What? Are we forbidden to use another perfectly good phrase? My thought was that it really is the publishing world that has come to regard most published authors (leaving aside the stars who have bargaining clout) as their house slaves. We used to have no alternatives but to keep doing as we were told.

And I just opened another royalty statement from Penguin that shows them paying me 15 % (!) on my e-books listed at 12.99. Sales are lousy; my take is tiny; and the books will never earn out at this rate. And there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I would call that slavery.

Eli Strange said...

Thanks very much for the insights.

Eli
http://www.elistrange.com/

Stephen T. Harper said...

From Seth Godin's blog this morning. He's not talking about this specifically. But the shoe fits.

"If committees told the truth

"Hi, we're here to take your project to places you didn't imagine.

With us on board, your project will now take three times as long.

It will cost five times as much.

And we will compromise the art and the vision out of it, we will make it reasonable and safe and boring."

Great work is never reasonable, safe or boring. Thanks anyway."

frank said...

There is no reason why publishers couldn't be as efficient in reporting book sales as Fedex or UPS are at tracking your packages. The only reason I can think of is they had their cozy relationships, their comfortable NY lifestyles and didn't need to placate authors beyond the scraps they offered.

Now, with Amazon on the scene they are learning just how badly they've screwed up. A few of the better ones are rushing to fight back on various fronts, like more timely book sale reports and better royalties. The others are entrenching themselves down and actually reducing rates and changing contracts to screw authors even more.

Every day the publishing world gets more interesting and exciting for author opportunities. Authors that fear change won't survive, while those that embrace it will. Darwin's theory in practice. Probably a book in that somewhere.

Yuwanda Black said...

Boy after reading this blog -- and especially this post which spelled so many things out so clearly, I'm so glad I never considered the traditional publishing route.

I write non-fiction, to a very targeted niche and sell just a handful of ebooks per day.

BUT, I control my own pricing (for better or worse); my own cover art (for better or worse); and subject matter (for better or worse).

And, in 2010 for the first time ever, my self-publishing income surpassed what I earned as a freelance writer (my primary vocation).

And this past summer and this fall has been great. Again, I only sell a handful of ebooks per day. BUT, because I outright own my works and control the pricing, I'm able to make a very good living and am looking at "retiring" from writing for clients early next year (haven't personally worked on aproject for a client since July).

So for all those who think there's no money in self-publishing or you're not a "real writer," or you need a Big 6 to find an audience, it's simply not true.

I'm living proof.

And thanks Barry for enlightening those of us who've never been in the Big 6 world of what it was like.

Sounds like those who were never Big 6 material:

Dodged some big bullets;

In addition to avoiding some nasty diseases (eg, Stockholm's Syndrome's);

Prevented loss of self esteem (eg, being brain-washed with a "house slave" mentality (and I'm black and that prhase fit and I took no offense to it);

and are

Making money to boot (if you're writing good stuff, getting it in front of readers and not kvetching about what NY is doing.

So thanks again!

From a proud self publisher.

Todd Trumpet said...

@Stephen T. Harper:

Wow, you (and Mr. Godin) just summarized the television development process!

Todd

Tracy Sharp said...

The times, they are a'changin'

Stephen T. Harper said...

Tod said " @Stephen T. Harper: Wow, you (and Mr. Godin) just summarized the television development process!"

Pretty much every creative process. If anyone's interested, I wrote a blog post about the homogenizing effects of Industry on Art, right... Here

J. Tanner said...

JOE: "I know hundreds of professional authors. I can count the ones who have made more than $100,000 on a legacy published book on both hands."

I think you misread my example. The author's 15% cut of $100K sales is $15K. So it was double the money of the alternative, all at once vs spread over 5+ years.

I'd guess you know lots of authors who've made $15K on a trade published book. I know a few, and none are considered breakout successes.

JOE: "Holding out hope for a big advance, when you could be earning money right away, isn't logical. And making some money is always better than making no money, which is what happens to the vast majority (99.9%) of authors who try to land a legacy deal and don't get one."

I don't entirely disagree. I think there is value, for an author who hasn't trade published before to do a querry round with each book as completed to a select group of agents/editors. Give it, say, 6-9 months. You can be prepping for self-pub in that timeframe or working on something else. Whatever your normal process. If you get a nibble, consider it. If not, move on with self-pub. Worst case that book is slightly delayed as self-pub but we're talking long-tail here.

But I wouldn't advocate doing the querry merry-go-round forever either. If it's a rejection parade for that book just self-publish it--as you said some money in better than no money.

JOE: "We haven't even had three years of data yet. I started self pubbing in 2009."

I think it's reasonable to extrapolate that an author who's been selling a book a day of each book for a year will probably, on average, continue to do so for the next couple years. As you say, we don't know, but we make many reasonable extrapolations, like Amazon isn't suddenly going to start screwing authors next year.

JOE Ebooks are forever. As I've said, luck plays a big part in success, but if my choice were between a $5k advance, and trying it on my own, it is no contest. The only legacy advance I'd be tempted by would be seven figures.

Absolutely to the first bit. And if you trade publish, and it doesn't go well, and you've negotiated your contract properly you could have your book back in 7 years or so, to self-pub for the rest of forever, right? If it goes swimmingly, you've built an audience there which you can capitalize on with the rest of your catalog some of which trade publishers will likely not have wanted and you've self-published.

In your position, 7 figures would be reasonable line to draw. For the guy selling one book a day rather than 1000 a day, 5K looks a lot like 7 figures in comparison to his current income.

If you keep writing good books, I believe you'll eventually find an audience, and the money will come if you self publish.

I think we all have to believe this to keep doing it. I believe it too, and the people selling a book a day believe it, but they're still selling a book a day.

Legacy publishing, especially of late, doesn't give a writer a chance to find an audience.

I don't know one way or the other but I expect that would be a controversial position. I'd be interested in hearing how you support that assertion as I don't recall reading it in your past posts. If/when this becomes a strong argument I'd obviously change my position.

rachelcaine said...

Oh, Barry. WOW. It's hilarious how wrong this is. I can't even point by point it because my response is too long, so I will hit the highlights.

"Today, Amazon pays self-published authors 70% of the retail price of titles sold on the Kindle Store through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Legacy publishers, by contrast, pay their authors 17.5%."

Hmmm. (A) it isn't true, because legacy publishers do NOT pay that rate across the board. Every house is paying a different rate, and every rate is, in fact, negotiable. Witness Harlequin's current negotiations with its authors. (B) Kindle, of course, is the digital equivalent of BAKER & TAYLOR or INGRAMS. It is not a publishing house. Publishing houses provide services, which include editing, marketing, placement, advertising, typeset, design, sub rights administration (if you don't retain those yourself) ... the list is long of all the things that Kindle does NOT DO. So of course, Kindle can afford to offer lots more % to you, the author, because all it is is a SHELF. That doesn't mean you, the author, won't end up paying for the same things a publishing house is doing - you're shifting costs. You'll just be likely doing it DIY, or not at all, which won't be good for you, either. (C) My personal digital rate is not 17.5%. So you're just wrong, dude. Peace.


"Morbidly obese contracts delivered months after agreement on high-level deal points, written in unendurable legalese and drawn up in nine-point font on 14-inch legal paper, the only purpose of which is to intimidate authors into not reading the document, and to obscure the meaning of what’s written just in case they do"

Because legal contracts in other industries are, of course, handwritten notes on paper, and written in plan English. THIS IS WHY COMPANIES HAVE LEGAL DEPARTMENTS. Why exactly should YOUR contract be any different from a million-dollar deal between two companies in any other industry (and I've seen them - they run into hundreds of pages)? This is where I despair of writers, who believe that they are precious moonbeams who somehow should have a special business system, just for them, that doesn't exist in the real world.

"Payments tendered months after they’ve come due"

Again: look at the world around you. You can put NET 30 on an invoice to a company, and they will all too likely wait until the very last moment to write the check, and they slow-motion it through their system to get it to you ... if they'd don't just inform you their payment policies are NET 60, tough luck. I get my payments processed 30 days after close of royalty period. Then it gets mailed on to me. What's unfair about that?

What all this boils down to for me is a complete lack of understanding of the fact that as a writer, you are a business owner. Business has contracts. Payment periods. All of the stumbling blocks we're talking about here exist IN THE REAL WORLD OUTSIDE OF PUBLISHING.

I can name people who transitioned from self-pub to traditional pub and made more money, simply because their work is easily visible and freely available. I'm surprised as hell that you can't. (I won't, because they're not my name to sling around.) However: I started in the equivalent of off-brand -- a media tie-in novel, actually. It had little distribution, no support, and although I had a "generous royalty" (better than any of my other deals!) it netted me exactly $2000 total. Because the publisher didn't know how to get the product to market.

That's what we're talking about, getting products to market. You simply have to find the best possible way to do it. Take your outrage out of it, and look it as a business, and things become a lot less mysterious.

J. Tanner said...

DAVID: "Some arguments I hear against self-publishing from writers who are trade published or pursuing an agent and/or a publishing deal..."

We can agree that list of arguments is mostly idiotic. This one has a grain of truth:

"Readers are turning against self-published work after reading so much crap, I don't want to get lumped in with that."

Unprofessional self-pub authors are causing this to some extent. Anecdotal surveys (like the one from Bards & Sages Press) show this but the actual damage done is probably small with most of it being directed at the idiots rather than the group as a whole. Theoretically self-pub authors should be learning a reasonable set of standardized ethics over time that will reduce the high rate of dumbness we've seen to this point (70% admitting to falsifying reviews for pals? Unbelievable!)

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

@ J.Tanner - It's so nice to have someone argue points, and do so in a logical, rational manner. Kudos.

I'd guess you know lots of authors who've made $15K on a trade published book.

Yes, I do, and yes I misread you.

I'll cite Blake Crouch as an example to back up my point. He didn't get a large advance when Thomas Dunne published his novels Desert Places and Locked Doors. The books were mismarketed by TD, and he was terribly mistreated.

Once he got the rights back (it took five years) and self-pubbed them he made more money on those in six months than he was paid by TD.

He also was holding out for a legacy deal for his novel Run, which he could have pubbed six months earlier. I estimate he missed out on earning at least $60k because he waited.

In his case, waiting for a pub deal hurt him, and getting a pub deal also hurt him.

I think it's reasonable to extrapolate that an author who's been selling a book a day of each book for a year will probably, on average, continue to do so for the next couple years.

That's reasonable. But is it correct?

John Locke was selling in double digits the first few months he self-pubbed. He went on to sell over 1 million. If we tried to predict his future based on his beginning, we would have been off by a factor of 100000x.

Legacy publishing, especially of late, doesn't give a writer a chance to find an audience.

We just lost Borders, which sold about 20% of all paper books. Bookstores will continue to close, and ebooks will keep gaining popularity. Betting on paper isn't wise.

Sell-through is getting worse, shelf lives of books are getting shorter, and paper sales dropped 36% from last year.

As publishers tighten their belts, advances and marketing dollars are getting smaller, and authors that underperform don't get new contracts.

Now is the worst time in the history of publishing to get published. As I said earlier in this thread, pick ten new releases, follow them for a month, and see for yourself.

DVshooter said...

In short: Would you rather have 15% of $100,000 or 70% of $10,000?

Tanner

Thank's for the response. That's a good argument, exponentially better than hostile Tweets against Joe and Barry and I do see your logic.

But in whole they are assumptions.

It's an assumtion that my work, through traditional channels, will be chosen after a LONG (maybe years) query +agent +editor/marketingdept +sale +contract process and then pushed into the 6 figure print range. And it's an assumption that my Indie upload will only languish around the "1 sale a day" pool.

Your advice to look at the low end of the e-sale spectrum rathar than to focus on the 5 and 6 figure monthly income of top Indie earners is, I think, very sound. With a million books on Kindle top sellers are clearly a minority.

That said I've looked at the low end of my targeted sub-genre, considerably. And what I see there is more provoking to me than disheartening concerning my chances.

Horrible home made covers, blurbs that are incoherrent, uninteresting and otherwise descrive derivitive, cliche'd subject matter. 1 star reviews that cite typo's grade school level spelling and grammar. Much more.

As a Newb about to go live, am I complacent in thoughts that I am more skilled, talented or intelligent than any of those individuals. Nope. But I'm confident I can produce a better quality work than the average of the spectrum's low end. Nor do I have a "I'll just make crap+1" mentality, lest anyone think that.

Joe, Dean, Barry..virtually everyone else with good sales who can afford to stay at home and write, has gone into detail on their blogs and pages on how and what they've done, what steps they've taken and how they've invested to promote quality and value in their work.

You see virtually none of it on the low end.

That's not an assumption.

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

Thanks for the discussion, Joe.

I understand your position, I believe you understand mine, so there's no point going around in circles on individual points. I'll be following trade publishing stories with an eye for your concerns there and if I see mounting evidence of it, then I will inevitably come around to your position. For me, time is not of the essense as I'm primarily a short story hobbyist (who sells about 1 sub in 10) and don't cross paths with trade publishers at this time--I'm simply preparing myself for that day by learning what I can.

From your description, Blake got the shaft by trade publishing. (He's not alone--I do not wear rose colored glasses in regards to trade publishing any more than I do for self e-pub.) I'm glad he's found suceess. That's what I wish for all authors who put in the the necessary effort. I will be trying one of his books at some point thanks in no small part to your blog introducing me to him.

J. Tanner said...

DVShooter: It's an assumtion that my work, through traditional channels, will be chosen after a LONG (maybe years) query +agent +editor/marketingdept +sale +contract process and then pushed into the 6 figure print range. And it's an assumption that my Indie upload will only languish around the "1 sale a day" pool.

True enough. Actually, my assumption would be you would not get an offer at all as that is the case 99.9% of the time. But my advice is not to do that ad infinitum. My advice is to do the proper agent/editor research, and "sacrifice" 6-9 months of self-pub to see if there is a serious opportunity there, then if it happens, to evaluate the best deal you can negotiate (using an IP attorney) and see if it makes sense. If you don't get an offer or if the offer is not reasonable, then you self-publish. ie. I am not against self-publishing. I'm against not considering all your options for yourself.

DVShooter: You see virtually none of it on the low end.

I would respectfully suggest that you have not looked very hard and you should keep and open mind and keep watching such stuff. I see plenty of it. I see the success stories too. It can be done. Self-pub success is more common than ever thanks to Amazon. But it remains uncommon overall among the million or so epub books even for people following all the good advice.

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

Tanner

Thanks, enjoying your responses very much. Here's a big one for you.

I agree wholeheartedly that a 6-9 month time investment is amiable for any worthwhile professional pursuit. Your 6-9 month acid test sounds like good advice, as big advances are still possible and their market share (while decreasing at the moment) is still the majority.

As you've said, I'm most likely NOT to get representation. My immediate response is "Then why should I bother giving them any of my time?"

For discussion; let's say I'm an undiscovered genius. Despite that, the list of bestsellers, including today's very best, have more often than not endured very long periods of rejection before discovery.

Simultaneously appeasing both individual preferences and committe alike is as big a crap shoot as any. The "big-hit" authors that can cite gaining representation and sales in weeks or even months represents as statistical a liklihood as a lottery win. The most common occurence is years spent on hundreds of query's, and dozens of costly conferences facilitating face to face meetings.

Another discussion: Let's suppose I do get an agent and a sale. As a Newb I have zero/none/nada contractual negotiating leverage. I'll be taking whatever I'm given and will be expected to like it. I've never had the distinction of a legacy contract slid in front of me but listening to Barry's description of one is far less than inspiring.

Listen to the experts here. This is one of the slowest moving industries on Earth. Taking that into consideration I respectfully rebut that your proposed 6-9 months is a redundant timeframe.

That said I'll actually defend their merit to new authors for a moment; consider that the only 10-100+ million book sales authors have been through traditional distribution. Don't ever forget the worlds only billionaire author.

Bookstores are closing and paper sales are down. E-pub is a factor in this but so is a slow economy. Lot's of industries are losing business and closing doors now. They've survived every recession of the last century, even the Depression itself, and they're still here.

However, as a Newb standing at the fork in the road my choice isn't about some overly optimistic view of my future indie sales. It's about choosing an open and timely participatin in emerging technology and markets vs. enduring a self imposed crucible, mired with gatekeepers, all for the sake of an antiquated and slow moving business practice that serves itself exponentially more than it will ever serve me. There are a dozen other important reasons. That's just the big one.

As for my comments on he "low end" of the spectrum, my comments were only my own opinions as a reader and consumer, which I'm allowed.

I've read Sci-Fi my whole life and there are now some amazing works available through indie channels. Work we'd have never seen under traditional banners for their lack of market friendly labels or an equal lack of NYT, Hugo-Nebula or Hollywood worthiness.

Inversely, as only a humble reader, the vast majority of work I've see in certain sub-genre's doesn't compell me to invest in them based on their presentation. Have read many e-dud's and my time, and not the $.99-3.99, is the deciding factor for me.

Bear in mind I'm in no way one of the SF Purist's (couch-snob-cough) that give one star reviews based on authors lack of academic credentials or theory postulation while ignoring story and character.

And in this new Indie arena, isn't it the writer's ability to connect with readers that is Barry's "the heart of the matter"?

'Till next thread, wishing you the best

Mark Asher said...

I think it's good to balance things with some realism. From what I've heard, a sales rank of 5000 on Amazon is about 10 sales a day. That's not bad. That's 3600 sales a year if it maintains that rank for an entire year (certainly not a given) and about $7200 in revenue for a $2.99 book.

However, a sales rank of 5000 means it's selling better than 99.5% of the ebooks on Amazon. What are the chances of doing that? Why will your book sell better than all those other books?

When you look at it like that, and you might have a publisher offering you $5000, the $5000 may not be a bad option. Could be, but it's a roll of the dice if you are not in the habit of getting books to that kind of high ranking.

The other thing that interests me is the idea of "ebooks are forever." How do we know that a sales arc for ebooks won't be the norm, and that eventually most ebooks, even ones with high rankings, will drop precipitiously in the rankings.

Being on sale forever isn't the same as selling at a continuous volume forever.

And we also don't know if Amazon and others will start charging for their publishing services. Maybe they will add an initial fee to list a book and an annual fee to keep it listed once ebooks are firmly established and some of the competition has withered on the vine.

Anyway, things are changing rapidly and I expect them to continue to change, and some of the changes may not be things indies like.

wannabuy said...

@Sara: I know dozens of authors with no previous publications and years of rejection who are making $50,000 and more this year. It's not millions, but it's a living.

For most of them, they only indie published in 2011, and yet, their sales have exploded. How did they do it? Believing in themselves, luck, and long hours.


Congrats to those authors. They have found an audience while the market is young. With the new sub-$100 Kindles, I expect the market to have another very fast year (or two) of growth!

Time for them to get out more books. ;)

IMHO, the success of an author is finding that audience at being able to write for a living. :) Hey, I'm just a reader who wants more of the variety indie books have published. :) Sci-fi, historical fiction, and many other genres will never look back. :)

Neil

wannabuy said...

@DVShooter: "I've read Sci-Fi my whole life and there are now some amazing works available through indie channels. Work we'd have never seen under traditional banners for their lack of market friendly labels or an equal lack of NYT, Hugo-Nebula or Hollywood worthiness. "

I'm there with you. Indie authors have brought sci-fi back from the dead. Thankfully! The big6 lost track of who their customer really was.

And what if sci-fi becomes a large number of 'midlist' ebooks? As long as the authors may earn a living... A good system.

Which is why Amazon won't turn evil. How many genres will they give to Apple, Google, etc. if they cut royalties? This is like Google vs. all the other search engines that use too much co-op. Google won by having great searches. (Remember, they came after AltaVista and Yahoo; they also have fended off Bing really well...) The same will be true of ebooks.

Neil

Edward M. Grant said...

However, a sales rank of 5000 means it's selling better than 99.5% of the ebooks on Amazon. What are the chances of doing that?

About the same as the chances of being picked up by a trade publisher.

These kind of 'self-publishers don't make any money so they should submit to trade publishers instead' arguments make no sense to me, because most people who are self-publishing never made any money from trade publishers because their books were or would have been rejected.

DVshooter said...

I'm there with you. Indie authors have brought sci-fi back from the dead. Thankfully! The big6 lost track of who their customer really was.

Wannabuy

Do you remember Sci-fi Age Magazine? Did you buy any the last year they were in print?

Joshua Simcox said...

"If an author has armed herself with facts, and studied the situation at length, she should come to the same conclusion I've come to."

I'll agree with that to a point, but we have to keep in mind that not all authors have the same goals as Joe.

From a purely financial perspective, digital self-pubbing does seem the smartest bet at the moment. But until the legacy system collapses completely (and no, that still hasn't quite happened yet), traditional publishing will retain an undeniable cachet that authors will continue to find irresistible and still worth pursuing, even if the money isn't so great in the long term. And I do believe that, while it happens very rarely, legacy publishing can still open a few doors that going the indie route just can't quite yet.

The odds may be insurmountable, but if a new author wants to take their own small shot at achieving the name recognition and cultural significance of a Ray Bradbury or a Richard Matheson at the expense of immediate income, higher royalties, and potential wealth on the level of Konrath/Hocking/Locke...well, we don't have to agree with that, but those authors don't deserve to be insulted either. We can scoff and attribute their ambitions to ego, foolish romanticism, etc, but their goals are as valid as anyone's.

--Joshua

Aric Mitchell said...

The odds may be insurmountable, but if a new author wants to take their own small shot at achieving the name recognition and cultural significance of a Ray Bradbury or a Richard Matheson at the expense of immediate income, higher royalties, and potential wealth on the level of Konrath/Hocking/Locke...well, we don't have to agree with that, but those authors don't deserve to be insulted either.

Of course, the irony here is that Bradbury got to where he is by putting the craft and the audience ahead of the means for distribution. I had the honor of doing an interview with the man in 2008, and he was very frank about how people in the publishing industry viewed him for writing in "cheap rags" and allowing comic books to adapt his stories. But he knew he was good, and his main objective was to tell the best stories he could and share them with the world. There weren't ebooks at the time, but the fact you could find his work in the trash mags of the day, or at least what were considered trash mags, goes to show that, at least in practice, the distribution channel was of no importance to him. What mattered was sharing an indomitable piece of himself with anyone, who would listen.

John Hindmarsh said...

Interesting discusion. I think Barry and Joe are provocative in their approach, and I mean that in a positive sense - as in thought-provoking.

I tried a few years back find a publisher in the traditional sense. To no avail. I decided earlier this year to re-write and then had my mss edited professionally. Jeroen ten berge did an excellent cover. And I released it on Amazon etc at the end of May.

Sales this month on Amazon average 5 books per day. Sales price is $3.99. Growth has been steady each month. Position ranges between 20,000 and 9,000 overall, and somewhere in the 200's for SF Adventure. [It currently is 26,000 or so, so it is on a downswing - the upswing will move it back...!]

I have done very little marketing - I took up a consulting assignment in Bangkok and that has absorbed my time and focus - just escaped the floods.

And the alternative? I would be still waiting for an agent and a traditional publisher...

It's a no brainer in my opinion.

John Hindmarsh

Mark Asher said...

These kind of 'self-publishers don't make any money so they should submit to trade publishers instead' arguments make no sense to me, because most people who are self-publishing never made any money from trade publishers because their books were or would have been rejected.

I never said they should submit to traditional publishers. I never said they shouldn't self-publish. I was just pointing out that the idea of rejecting a modest contract from a traditional publisher as automatically bad may not hold water in all cases.

Edward M. Grant said...

I was just pointing out that the idea of rejecting a modest contract from a traditional publisher as automatically bad may not hold water in all cases.

Pretty much anything makes sense in some cases. But in the general case, for a $5,000 advance to make sense, you'd have to believe that you have a self-published e-book that won't sell 1700 copies at $3.99 yet a trade publisher is going to want to buy the rights to release it themselves. If you can't sell 1700 copies of your e-book, why would a trade publisher want to buy it?

When I see self-publishers accepting trade publishing deals they normally seem to be treating it as a loss-leader to bring in more readers as the publisher pushes them out into book stores; that may well make sense, at least for the moment. But I've yet to see anyone say 'my book is only selling one copy a day, but this publisher wants to offer me a $5,000 advance to publish it'.

Anonymous said...

Just the facts ma'am (or sir):

I tried for 4 years to get published, signed with a major NY agency, had a few small advances on books that never made it to press, and had probably 300+ rejections. My overall impression is that my niche/genre was no longer profitable for a large publisher - many commenters here may be in that same boat?

Self pubbed in April of this year, now have 7 books up and make roughly $8k a month. The best part is every few hours I get contacted by a reader telling me how much they love my work - and you can't put a price on that.

But if you want to attach value, consider I write all day every day and never have to worry about money - which is my definition of a successful author. I outsource editing to a pro in Europe and spent many weeks learning graphic design in order to do my own covers. You can buy artwork to use for $15 a pop.

None of my books ever hit the Amazon Top 1000 either, so be cautious about using that as a measuring stick of indie success.

You'll likely never hear my name, yet I know a NYT best seller in my city who still has a day job he hates.

As far as the long tail - mine seem to peak at about 60 sales per day, and settle in a few months later at 10 a day - but then I release a new novel and start the cycle anew. All are priced at $2.99-$4.99, except one at $0.99 just in case!

I have three different series running and will gladly sell one of them, or a new one, to a traditional publisher in order to reach that paper market and expand my audience.

But I no longer hold my breath.

In all honesty, I don't think I would have made it had I not gone through the 300+ rejection meat grinder that forced me to hone my craft. So the 'conventional' system does have many merits.

Big difference: in 2012 maybe 3-5 million more Kindles will sell, while another few hundred bookstores close forever. And this time next year: I'll have doubled my online offerings to 15 or so.

Joseph Finley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Finley said...

Barry and Joe, this is another great post. It's hard to argue with this.

Selena Kitt said...

To Anonymous @ 8:11am: What genre?

When I see self-publishers accepting trade publishing deals they normally seem to be treating it as a loss-leader to bring in more readers as the publisher pushes them out into book stores; that may well make sense, at least for the moment.

Previously unpublished self-pubs are going to legacy for loss-leaders like formerly published self-pubs are turning to Amazon imprints like Thomas and Mercer.

I just don't know that all legacy pubs are going to tolerate that for long. Amazon clearly has no problem with the strategy.

wannabuy said...

@Anon 8:11am:Big difference: in 2012 maybe 3-5 million more Kindles will sell,

Ummm... Numbers are growing faster than that!
les-2q2011-estimated-over-25.html
15 million new Kindles (K4) per the screen manufacturer e-ink. :)

E-ink is gearing up to sell as many screens in the 4th quarter of 2011 as 2010 and the first three quarters of 2011. Times are a changing.

Neil

Q. Kelly said...

I can understand what the post means by Stockholm syndrome. I was in that Stockholm boat. I think until an author actually takes the step of going indie, or
publishing a work (or some) indie if they are with a publisher already, it is
difficult for an author to fully understand the full, rich benefits of being
indie.

I am so thankful every day I went indie and didn't sign the contract. I'll
still say what I said before: indie publishing isn't for everyone, and I don't
think authors who go trad are stupid. I am glad I had a trad experience with
"The Odd Couple." That experience made me a better indie than I would've been without it.

Stephen T. Harper said...

@ Aric - well said.

re: Bradbury - ..."the distribution channel was of no importance to him. What mattered was sharing an indomitable piece of himself with anyone, who would listen."

btw - word verification = "biascoat"

What's it trying to say?

Glenn Gamble said...

Netflix stock went down 36% and they lost 81,000 subscribers.

People worry about a subscription model, and now Amazon lowering they're royalties while the "legacy" have always offered lower royalties and continue to do so.

I seriously doubt that these fears have much merit.

Joshua Simcox said...

"Of course, the irony here is that Bradbury got to where he is by putting the craft and the audience ahead of the means for distribution."

Very true, though even when he was published in the pulps Bradbury was still working within the traditional publishing system. I imagine there were very few viable outlets for self-publishing at the height of his career, though even if there were, I doubt he would've taken that route.

It's also interesting to note how vehemently Bradbury seems to despise ebooks. Given his age and stature, I suppose I can forgive it.

--Joshua

Aric Mitchell said...

"It's also interesting to note how vehemently Bradbury seems to despise ebooks. Given his age and stature, I suppose I can forgive it."

I would stop short of putting the pulp mags, at least during that time, in the field of what was considered "traditional." There was definitely a caste system there not unlike the print to ebook model.

And Bradbury also despises comic books, but that hasn't stopped him from releasing several comic adaptations of his work throughout his career.

Also, works like "Fahrenheit 451" show pretty clearly that he's against censorship, yet when I asked him whether comics were to be taken seriously or not, he said, "They'll never be taken seriously because they're too cheap and vulgar and lack imagination." Clearly, he hasn't read some of the books out there that elevate the form.

He also doesn't have an email address, and refuses to update his writing technology even though there are machines out there much easier to use and far more convenient. For a man with such a brilliant mind, he was also one of the most closed-minded and surprisingly conservative individuals I've ever met (at least now he seems to be).

I think the lesson to learn from him is that as a writer (and reader, for that matter), you can have your own tastes and preferences, but in the end, you'll do what makes sense financially even if you're one of the greatest living writers out there, and the darling of American literature. For Bradbury, that means turning his nose down at certain art forms, but having the propensity to exploit them when necessary.

If you're a writer, who has received some legitimate validation throughout your career, then you owe it to yourself to choose the avenue that gives you the best chance at success.

I don't live in New York. I live in Arkansas, where the cost of living is next to nothing. I would love to visit Publishing Central one day, but I have no interest in living there. While my legitimacy as a writer may be taken more seriously by the general public if I landed a "Big 6" contract, I also have to trace the path of my own career. I've kicked and scratched and clawed my way to a full time freelance writing career from where I am, one of the least creative places on earth.

I think by giving my fiction the same kind of tenacity and attention to quality that I do to my client work, I've got a hell of a lot better chance on my own. But that's my journey. It's how I choose to play the game. Doesn't mean it'll work for everyone. Doesn't mean it'll work for me, though I'm confident it will, because I'm like a tumor. I don't go away and I don't give up.

I also know when I suck, and I know when I don't.

If someone wants a "Big 6" career, they're talented and honest with themselves, and work hard, then I hope they land the biggest 7-figure deal of all time. But if that same person sees the value in 70 percent royalties and a system that requires them to do no more marketing work than they would have to do with a traditional publisher to achieve the same level of success, then I'd be a fool to question their logic.

Most of the vitriol in this argument comes from New York. That's what I fail to understand. Who cares if the current state of things will open the door for extremely shitty writers to unleash their manure on the world? These individuals give themselves away so quickly that it is literally no trouble at all spotting them. If anything, they make life harder on indies than contracted writers because we get grouped with them. Yet, you won't hear me complaining about crappy writers. I value them because they give me a chance to stand out if I work hard to make sure my book is the best it can be.

Joshua Simcox said...

Aric, you're a pleasure to debate with. It's great to meet a fellow Bradbury enthusiast, and the scope of your knowledge is certainly impressive.

Though I had never given it much thought before, your observation that Bradbury - while indisputably one of the most brilliant minds in science fiction - is surprisingly close-minded and something of a technophobe, is spot-on.

Also, anyone that's been privileged enough to have some face time with man himself earns my immediate respect.

If I find myself near Arkansas at some point, I hope I can buy you a beer and enjoy a lengthy conversation.

--Joshua

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is the place to ask this, but I have a couple questions e Amazon's Kindle bestseller lists.

First, can you get longer lists, like the 2nd 100 in a category?

Secondly, my unscientific observation is that few books in those top 100 lists have prices in the range Joe recommends, i.e. between say 2.99 and 4.99. There are lots of .99 books and lots of 9.99 and higher, with a few in between. And my question is why more of the .99 folks don't ratchet up to 2.99-4.99?

Aric Mitchell said...

@Joshua: My pleasure! Bradbury is an unapologetic walking contradiction, a fascinating man, and a terrific writer. He makes no apologies. He doesn't have to make any apologies. And that's what I love about the guy, and consequently, why it is so fun to talk about him.

If you're ever in the area, I'll take you up on that, but the next round is on me, and I warn you: there is always a next round when it comes to booze. It's the one writerly F. Scott Fitzgerald vice that I allow myself :).

DG Sandru said...

Hmm, publishing houses having a monopoly? I think they are more of a cartel. Aside from that I agree that a lot of fuss is made over Amazon’s monopoly. Amazon cannot monopolize the Internet because the Internet has no borders. (no pun intended) To survive on the Internet, you must be the fastest, the cheapest, and the easiest.And as long as Amazon does that they are the big deal.

Shel said...

I'm sure it doesn't matter, but just so you know: I stopped following two authors on Twitter today due to the whole "house slave" thing. By the fact that I'm commenting here I bet it won't be to hard to guess which side of the field they were on.
I have seen way too many of my author friends in tears (literally) over minuscule royalty statements and non-existent support from publishing houses, or over beloved series that got cancelled, yet they would still stand up and defend their publishers against any criticism at all. Oxymoron? You betcha. That's changing, slowly, though. I see more and more of my friends embracing digital self-pubbing, and I as a fan am very glad of it. (After that sentence structure, I'm sure everyone reading this is extremely grateful I'm not planning on trying NaNoWriMo...).
Anyway - Preach it, Joe and Barry! You're right - and you're being listened to.

Joe Konrath said...

Anyway - Preach it, Joe and Barry! You're right - and you're being listened to.

Thanks. It is appreciated.

Lots of people are happy to jump on the bandwagon, decrying our terrible metaphors. It's good to know some people understand what we're trying to say, and that we're not inhuman intolerant sexist racist scumbags.

Robin Sullivan said...

Okay, so I've not read the comments...will in just a minute but I want to reply to Joe's assertion that no one will stand up for traditional publishing...Even though I've been accused as being the "self-publishing cheerleader" Let me say that the problem isn't the publishers...its the model...Let me explain.

Publishing follows the venture capitalist model. An organization makes a large investment in cash and as such wants to have control to increase their chances of making a profit. In the corporate world this can mean the original creator of the company is ousted. What’s more…they will lose money in one out of five deals so they must take a larger piece of the pie to offset the potential losses.

Because of this they tip the scales in their favor. ebook royalties that are disproportionate, Draconian publishing contracts, but are not operating in a Snidely Whiplash, evil-for-evil's sake way. They are trying to survive in a flawed model.

In my publishing company, there are no advances, I use POD and ebook so I have very little upfront costs. This means that both myself and the author come into the project on similar footing (we both are investing time...the writer in creating the work...and me in editing, cover design, and marketing activities). Every one of the books I produce is profitable immediately so I have no tax on the performers to make up for the losers. This allows a true partnership between us...and you know what...my contact lets the author walk anytime they want to. My philosophy is that if I'm doing right by them they'll want to stay. If not they deserve to find better.

It's not all "indie vs traditional" there are multiple choices now and even big-six are changing their contracts to be more "author friendly" as evidenced by the contracts signed by my husband, Joe, Barry, and the like. My only plea is to read what you sign and go in with your eyes wide open as to what you are getting in for. Matching your expectations and getting what you want out of the relationship can make a traditional deal a good one for you. It's not all Stockholm Syndrome...the right deal under the right circumstances can make a lot of sense.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

But where are those authors who have given up self-pubbing and are now singing the praises of legacy publishers?

I have zero complaints and have had nothing but a positive experience since Michael signed with Orbit (Fantasy imprint of big-six publisher Hachette Book Group).

Yes, when we got the contract there was some boilerplate language that we couldn't agree to...and you know what...we didn't. We worked with them and got he contract changed. Such is the power that good self-publishing provides.

We are still a few weeks out from the release of the first book (Theft of Swords debuts Nov 23) but what do we have...

A ton of "buzz" in the fantasy community around the move. Every major fantasy review site I've contacts has already got copies from Orbit and have their reviews scheduled.

A signing at BookExpo America followed up with an industry insider cocktail party where Michael was able to make connections with everyone from the buyers at B&N to editors at Publisher's Weekly.

An incredibly professional facebook page that has more more than 930 likes (a venue where Michael has little to no prior presence).

A team of professionals who have worked on the covers, editing, and marketing to make the books even better than they were when we did it all ourselves.

Full page premium placement (inside front cover) ads in major fantasy magazines such as the November edition of Locus Magazine.

Being selected by Library Journal as the September Fantasy Debut. Their starred review will open the door to libraries that has been closed to us as a self-publisher.

Review by Publisher Weekly - another avenue closed to self-publishers.

Two more foreign deals (Japan and Brazil announced in the last week) - I venture to say that the Holland, Russia, Poland, France, and Germany deals already closed were fueled by Orbit picking up the series.

Book Club edition - being put out by Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club.

Audio version produced by one of the largest audio production companies in the world with tremendous distribution.

Josie Feedman (co-head of the books to film division at ICM) is now representing the series for film and television rights.

So yeah...I'll sing the praises with full enthusiasm. Now am I saying that other authors will get similar treatment? No probably perhaps not...which is why each author has to decide the options available to them and make informed decisions. But for those that do go the traditional route - it doesn't have to be a disaster in the making.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

@Adam - Please see my post above about the positive experiences I had since signing. I'm not saying everyone should - but it HAS worked out well with us so far. Still - the proof will be a year or two out but there are reasons for optimism.

@DVShooter - I agree Hocking/Locke are outliners and not really germaine. But Michael J. Sullivan (my husband was a "little guy" that got a six-figure deal and he had three books fast-tracked (signed in July coming out Nov, Dec, Jan) no it won't always happen but there are some publishers doing things "right".

@Jim - I agree with you that selling direct is what authors should pursue as content is king...but...distribution is queen and Rowlings can sell direct because she has millions of eyeballs on her site. Most authors don't have enough traffic to make a living JUST off of sales from their sites.

@J.Tanner - As far as release schedules go...D.B. Henson's Deed to Death went live in June (or was it July) that was the first self-publishing book to hit the market and...as far as I can see...has laid there like a rock. My husband's Theft of Swords (Nov 23) will be the second...Let's see what the sales are like in March to know whether it does well or not. I think next up is H.P. Mallory who has her big-six coming in Februrary if I'm not mistaken.

@J.Tanner - As for keeping eboook rights - Well I would think very seriously about any publisher that would do one and not the other. A bad business move IMHO. But still there are reasons that I might consider it. In the case of John Locke...from the articles I've read it sounds like HE is using THEM for distribution - in other words he didn't get a print-only deal - he hired a distributor, but I've not seen the deal but that is just my take on it.

@SBJones - The time factor you mention has a few components. First the books usually need extensive rewriting so they really can't be SURE when the final manuscript will be in their hands. Secondly, they have release schedules tied to seasons (catalogs that go to book buyers and they go into production MONTHS and MONTHS before the release date. Thirdly, they need to account for the ability to "slide in" a big title if it comes across their path. Lastly they have to account for slippages and missed deadlines both on the behalf of the author and their staff. But I agree with you this is one of the problems inherent in big-print publishing.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

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

@J.Tanner - I agree with your chicken and Egg with Joe's success and his traditional background. And Hocking and Locke are outliers so we can't look to them. But here are some others....

David Dalglish - routinely selling 10,000+ books a month priced from $0.99 - $4.99.

H.P. Mallory - who sold 20,000 books in November last year.

Michael J. Sullivan - who sold 40,000 books at $4.95 and $6.95 between Nov and Feb.

Marshall Thomas - who sold 17,500 and 19,500 books in May/June.

Leslie Ann Moore - who sold 5,500 books in July.

Nathan Lowell whose last royalty statement from my company showed nearly 30,000 books (all at $4.95)

None of these people had prior traditional publishing experience to fuel their successors.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

Basil Sands says...Those who really really want to succeed and then put the effort into it will usually succeed. Regardless of whatever the market may be doing.

I totally agree!!

Robin Sullivan said...

Anonymous said...First of all, the arrangement between a publisher and an author is contractual. No arms were forced, including Barry's and Joe's.

Before the ebook revolution traditional publishing was the "only game in town" so authors HAD to sign bad contracts or remain unpublished.

Times have changed and now there are options but the contracts are still Draconian (see my previous post as to why). The good news is it is changing and for those publishers who don't adjust...authors CAN now walk away because there are finally choices and other opportunities.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

"We follow the people at the top of the self-pub pyramid to get the best possible advice but that can give unrealistic expectations of results. You need to look at the bottom of the pyramid too (like these folks: http://booknotselling.blogspot.com/) and consider, of the two, the odds are greater you will end up there--lots of effort and optimism going in--and then crickets."

I take a lot of gruff for statements like I'm about to make but you should NOT look at these people because quite frankly they don't matter. What I mean is those at the bottom are there for a reason...poor writing...bad or no marketing...doing 100 things wrong.

If you are looking at writing professionally and have a) skill b) talent c) work hard at your craft and your marketing then you will not be at the bottom. More likely than not you will be "in the middle".

I do think people in the middle will do better with self-publishing. You control more...you are more highly motivated. Many people make good (and more than good money) doing just that.

If you want to go beyond good money...to become a "household name", international bestseller, get the movie deal...then your changes are 1 in a million but significantly better if you are traditionally published than if you are self.

It really comes down to what you want most. Align your path with your goals.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

J. Tanner says...
I don't entirely disagree. I think there is value, for an author who hasn't trade published before to do a querry round with each book as completed to a select group of agents/editors. Give it, say, 6-9 months. You can be prepping for self-pub in that timeframe or working on something else. Whatever your normal process. If you get a nibble, consider it. If not, move on with self-pub. Worst case that book is slightly delayed as self-pub but we're talking long-tail here.


I don't see why you should keep it off the market for 6-9 months. Why not put it out there...if the book is good, and finds a following...you can leverage that audience for a better deal (and better terms) than if you go into the arrangement with nothing.

It seems as you look upon self-publishing as a "last resort" when in fact it should be a "first opportunity". (IMHO)

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

J.Tanner said I think it's reasonable to extrapolate that an author who's been selling a book a day of each book for a year will probably, on average, continue to do so for the next couple years. As you say, we don't know, but we make many reasonable extrapolations, like Amazon isn't suddenly going to start screwing authors next year.

While some come out of the gate with big sales - the fact is most will indeed start with one a day in the beginning (that's what happened to my husband when he first started). And when his 5th book came out (2.5 years later) he was selling 2,600 books a month and over xmas 10,000+ books per month. If you want instant success neither self or traditional is the way to go - but having your books "off the market" produce absolutely nothing.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Anonymous said...

"Because, remember. If Amazon ever becomes a real monopoly, they could lower those 70% royalties a lot."

Overall, your post seems to take a somewhat naive approach to business. Monopolies aren't required to dictate terms in business--they never have been. What matters is dependence--on a product, on a process, on a distribution network. In other words, the pain of changing can be so great that a consumer stays where they are.

Amazon's got plenty of those in the masses of self-publishers they're distributing.

And besides--your characterization of the "traditional" and the "new" publishing is cartoonish. Traditional publishing isn't men with waxed mustaches and top hats tying authors to ralroad tracks, and self-publishers aren't all the same, either. It's silly.

As for why an author might fear Amazon's dominance when it's already happening in traditional publishing--why not? Moving from the frying pan to a different frying pan seems a valid concern for any business peson (and self publishers are all now business persons). Questioning the terms of your business arrangements seems one of the most prudent things somebody could do.

But none of that makes for good, snarky blog posts, does it?

SphinxnihpS of Aker-Ruti said...

Joe Konrath wrote that the legacy publishers seem to have an "OPEC-like tacit agreement among them." That is what I love about this post and the comments. In other writing forums and places that are more pro-legacy publishers, this point never comes up and would probably be dismissed if so. But I thought it was quite obvious the commercial or legacy publishers are OPEC-like. That's quiet good for the publishers, not so good for the authors.

Interesting post :-)

Jodi

Unknown said...

Great article. I for one welcome our new Amazon Overlords.

The music industry and publishing industry have made sure the term "starving artist" does not become an anachronism.

Everyone knows the two industries are less than forthcoming about royalties, sloppy on payments, and treat the artists like crap... after all, they have "no choice", right?

I welcome Apple and Amazon shaking up these archaic industries and making them truly compete, for the first time in decades.