Monday, November 21, 2011

Guest Post by Stephen Leather

Stephen sez: Tomorrow (November 22) is a big day for me. After selling close to half a million eBooks over the past twelve months I’m now taking a step back from self-publishing. I’ve spent twelve months promoting, marketing, plugging, Facebooking and tweeting and I’m exhausted. It’s time for someone else to do the hard work so that I can do what I do best – write.

So as of tomorrow Amazon Encore takes over the publishing of Once Bitten, one of my bestselling self-published eBooks. Next week they take over The Basement, which topped the UK Kindle charts for several months and sold more than 150,000 copies.

Then early next year Amazon’s new imprint 47North is publishing my three Jack Nightingale supernatural detective series – Nightfall, Midnight and Nightmare.

Self-publishing was always an experiment for me. In fact I was one of the first authors to self-publish on the Kindle, in the days before KDP when authors had to go via a company called Mobipocket. I hardly sold any and months would go by without a single sale.

But everything changed for me in the summer of 2010 when Amazon opened its first Kindle store outside of the US and allowed us Brits to buy from Amazon.co.uk. The new store, plus the fact that the Kindle was about to become the most Christmas-gifted item of all time, gave me the impetus to start self-publishing.

Exactly twelve months ago I put up three more eBooks on the Kindle through Amazon’s KDP platform, books that my UK publisher Hodder and Stoughton had turned down. There was a vampire story (Once Bitten), a serial killer novella (The Basement) and a science fiction murder mystery (Dreamer’s Cat).

It’s been a resounding success. I don’t know of any UK-based author who has sold more self-published books. (Though fellow Brit Lee Child of course was one of the first to hit the one millions Kindle sales mark).

Over the last twelve months I sold 155,662 copies of The Basement through the UK Kindle store. Mainly at the Amazon minimum (75p plus 11p tax in the UK) but over the last couple of months the price has gone up to £1.49 (about $2).

Over the same period I sold 82,583 copies of Once Bitten and 19,810 copies of Dreamer’s Cat. The Kindle success spilled over onto the other eReaders and by the summer I was selling tens of thousands of copies a month on iBooks.

My sales in the US were much lower – just 5,197 copies of The Basement and 2,397 copies of Once Bitten over the year. I pretty much tried everything to boost my US sales. I blogged, I tweeted, I gave away free copies, I posted on the Kindle US forum (not a pleasant experience, it has to be said). Nothing worked. Even a guest blog on Joe’s site only shifted a few dozen extra copies. Eventually I gave up trying to sell cut-price books on the Kindle in the US and raised my prices to $3.99. Earnings from the US held steady throughout the year at about $1,200 a month – less than a tenth of my UK earnings.

That’s why I’m so excited about the Amazon Encore deal. Yes, I’ll get a lower royalty rate (they don’t pay the 70 per cent royalty on Amazon Encore books, no matter what the price they sell at). And yes I lose control over the marketing and pricing.

But I’m hoping that Amazon’s marketing expertise will kick in and hopefully replicate my UK success in the US. Their massive database knows which customers like vampire stories and which prefer serial killer stories. They’ll be able to offer my books to the right customers, hopefully at the right price. I’ve seen them do it several times in the UK, where the Amazon imprints have launched American writers into the UK Top 10. It’s as impressive as hell, they can do in hours what it takes me weeks to do. If they can do that for me in the US then the sky’s the limit. Say the US market for Kindle eBooks is five times that of the UK’s – if that’s the case then there’s no reason that Amazon Encore couldn’t sell a million copies of The Basement and Once Bitten. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

But one of the fascinating things for me about my whole Kindle experiment has been the support I’ve received from my UK publisher, Hodder and Stoughton. I’ve been with them for more than twenty years, ever since they paid a six-figure sum for my books The Chinaman and The Vets. It was that advance that launched my career as a full-time writer and changed my life forever.

Not only were Hodder supportive of my eBook experiment, they also joined in and cut the price of one of my thrillers to 49p. The book, Hard Landing, is the first in my Spider Shepherd undercover cop series – and over the last 12 months Hodder have sold more than 120,000 copies. It spent weeks at the top of the Kindle UK chart and only recently dropped out of the Top 100.

And not only that, there was an immediate boost in sales of all the other books in the series – and they were selling at £4.99 each. Over the year they sold more than 35,000 Spider Shepherd eBooks at that price.

But the really big surprise for them came this summer when they released the latest book in the Spider Shepherd series – Fair Game. Sales of the paperback were twenty per cent up on the previous book at a time when the UK thriller market as a whole was well down.

It’s become clear that my success with eBooks has fed through to my legacy publishing books in a big way. But it’s also clear that my publisher is keen to help me build on that success. So this year I have signed deals to write five more books for them in return for an advance of close to US$750,000.

I know there are those who’d say that I’d make more money doing books myself. But I’m not so sure.

Publishers publish. That’s what they’re good at. They find writers, they help shape their stories, and they sell them. All that’s changing is the method of selling stories, from paperbacks to eBooks. The big publishers are like oil tankers, it takes a lot of effort to make them change their direction and speed, but once they have moved they have one hell of a lot of momentum. Yes, I can arrange the editing myself, design covers, market, promote and publicise. But that’s hard work and it’s not what I’m good at. I’m a writer. I write. And I’d rather concentrate on writing and let my publisher get on with publishing.

Yes, the industry is changing. Yes, sales of paperbacks are down and sales of eBooks are rising. Without a shadow of a doubt the eBook market will dominate in the future. But I think what we have seen over the past year has been a bubble, a bubble that is now slowly deflating. Not a bubble in sales – but a bubble in the performance of self-published eBooks. A year ago, when I started my eBook experiment, it was relatively easy to get three of my books into the Amazon Kindle UK bestseller list. And they stayed there – for months. Only last month did they leave the Top 50. But an eBook I released last month – optimistically titled The Bestseller – went into the Top 10 but didn’t stay there for long. And most of the eBooks that were doing so well earlier this year have pretty much disappeared from the bestseller lists. The self-published authors who were shouting that the traditional publishing industry was dead and that the future lay with them are now seeing their books dropping out of the Top 1000 and sales slowing to a trickle.

In their place we’re seeing the old faces starting to dominate the bestseller list – Lee Child, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, PD James. The usual suspects. And among them are the Amazon-published authors benefiting from Amazon’s marketing muscle.

Why is it happening? I don’t know. It might be that the marketplace is changing, it might be that Amazon has changed the way it compiles its bestseller lists. But the cause doesn’t matter – it’s the effect that counts. And I think that bit by bit we’ll see the legacy publishers tighten their grip on the eBook bestseller lists, and the self-published books will find it harder and harder to make any sort of impression.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m far from being the typical self-publisher. And what works for me probably wouldn’t work for a writer who has never had a traditional publishing deal or who is only just getting started. But I’m happy enough now to get off the self-publishing treadmill and let someone else do the hard work. I’ve got books I want to write!

Joe sez: First off, I'm thrilled for Stephen's success. It's nice to see someone do well in the UK, because my sales there have been mediocre (I make about what Stephen makes in the US, about $1500 a month). So there IS a UK market, I just haven't been a huge success there. Yet.

Yet is the operative word, because I've learned something about ebooks that doesn't mirror paper releases--bestsellers are no longer dependent on the release date. My novel The List has been in the Top 100 on three separate occasions. Sales of the rest of my backlist have fluctuated wildly as well.

No ebook can remain in the Top 100 forever. A saturation point is eventually reached as the number of Kindle owners browsing the list buy a copy.

But the people browsing the list this month may not be the same people browsing it next year. As more Kindles are sold, more readers can discover your ebook. Legacy publishers have said for years that readership is stagnant in the paper book world. This isn't how it works in the ebook world. A new release gets some attention, and this spurs sales, but an older book can also get attention via word of mouth, a push from Amazon, or some publicity or marketing effort. That release will be new to new Kindle owners, or to Kindle owners that missed it the first time, and sales can once again spike.

While I find it interesting that Stephen's legacy publisher was willing to experiment with price, and then offer him a large contract, I don't react with optimism to this development. I've been begging my publishers for years to lower my prices, and they do whatever the hell they want. As a result, even though I have more legacy novels than self-pubbed novels, my self-pub outsell my legacy 5 to 1.

You see, legacy publishers know they're stuck. On one hand, they've seen ample evidence that low prices lead to more sales and ultimately more profit. On the other hand, they are worried that if they flood the market with low priced ebooks, each title will make less money overall, which when coupled with dwindling paper sales will put them out of business.

Tomorrow Stirred is launching. I'm pretty sure it will hit the Kindle Top 100, and I'm hoping (like Shaken) it will hit the Top 10. Combined, Blake and I have sold over 650,000 ebooks. Add Amazon's marketing muscle to our existing fanbase, and we have the potential to sell a whole bunch.

So, in the ebook world, name recognition and an existing fanbase plus a marketing push can equal sales. I've seen this happen time and again.

I've also seen that a marketing push, even without name recognition, can lead to sales. So can word of mouth coupled with a good book and a smart cover and a fair price. Amazon has made it very easy for readers to find things that interest them. If an author has several books out, that gives readers many chances to find them. The more virtual shelf space you have, the more ebooks you can sell.

A new release, or a big marketing push, can also buoy the sales of your backlist titles. A rising tide lifts all boats.

So what does all of this mean?

1. Write a good book with a good cover and a good description, and price it reasonably.

2. Do this many times to increase your sales. The more ebooks you have, the more chances you have to find readers.

3. Name recognition can come from prior legacy sales, or name recognition can be spontaneously created as multiple titles begin appearing on bestseller lists and fueling each others' sales.

4. Ebooks are forever, and shelf space is unlimited, so the sales of titles can actually improve over time as more readers buy ereading devices.

5. Marketing pushes, price drops, media attention, and author efforts can increase sales.

I have a theory that bestsellers exist in the legacy world because of distribution. James Patterson is everywhere, so he sells a lot. If you look at many bestselling authors, a lot of them are consistently disappointing fans, as evidenced by low star ratings and bad reviews. But because they are safe (as in familiar) and their brands are constantly being reinforced with new releases that get widespread distribution, they remain in the public eye and popular. Some of that popularity translates to ebook sales, even at high prices.

But bestsellers are still selling many more paper books than ebooks. There have only been a few bestsellers who have cracked the Kindle million club, even though their paper sales are in the multiple millions. Contrast this to midlist writers, whose ebook sales are equal to or surpass their print sales.

As print sales become smaller and smaller, we won't see as many of these familiar bestselling authors on the bestseller lists, especially if their prices remain high.

Unless you get big advance money, like Stephen did, I don't recommend taking a legacy deal. The drop Stephen is seeing in his self-pubbed titles isn't unusual--paper books begin to drop in sales almost immediately after a release. But paper sales drop faster, and hardly ever begin selling again, whereas ebooks do. I wouldn't call this a bubble. I'd call this an ongoing balance between those who have bought your ebooks and those who haven't. Some of those who have bought you will become fans and continue to buy your backlist and new releases. Some who haven't simply haven't discovered you yet. Others who haven't just aren't interested.

There must be an algebra equation in there somewhere.

The reason self-pubbing is still the way to go, is it relies on less luck than legacy does.

With a legacy deal, you have to be lucky enough to be published, and then lucky enough again that your publisher doesn't screw things up, and lucky once more that you get widespread distribution, and finally lucky yet again in order to sell to readers. If everything works as everyone hopes, you can sell a lot of books. But even if you do, you're getting the shaft on royalties, and have no control over cover, title, or price.

When you self-publish, you only have to get lucky once, to sell to readers.

But even though I don't agree with the bubble idea, let's say Stephen is correct. Does it matter?

Ebooks are becoming a global market, and sales can fall and then rise again. So there are plenty of people who can still buy Stephen's backlist titles, and many will over the next few decades. Even if he (or I) get pushed completely off the bestseller lists, as more people buy ereaders, we can still make a very comfortable living having multiple titles ranked under 10,000. In the future, we could have all of our titles ranked above 100,000 and still be millionaires.

But I believe it will be easier to do that at 70% royalties than 17.5% royalties.

I also believe that partnering with Amazon, who can give a current title a big marketing push, is a smart way to remain on the bestseller lists and in the public eye.

It's going to be fun to see what happens with Once Bitten and Stirred when they both launch tomorrow. It will also be fun to see what happens to our backlists.

And by fun I mean lucrative.

64 comments:

williamdoonan said...

So maybe we're looking at the dawn of New-Legacy publishing. I've long ago shed the goal of signing with a traditional publisher, but I'm small potatoes (possibly as small as they come) but I wouldn't mind Amazon Encore knocking at my door to pick up one of my titles. Maybe this is the new aspirational goal of the self-publisher.

William Doonan
www.williamdoonan.com

Martin Lake said...

Great discussion about a fluid situation. I guess a lot of what we all do is gaze into crystal balls and keep on writing.

I'm just pleased that I followed Stephen's example and that a couple of hundred people have now read my books.

Martin Lake

Stephen Leather said...

I think what's going to be fascinating is to see how our respective books do in each other's markets. I'm assuming that Amazon will really make a difference to Joe's sales in the UK and hopefully I'll see more sales in the US. The fact that Once Bitten and Stirred are being released on the same day makes for an interesting experiment!

evahudson said...

Well done Stephen - that's one hell of an adventure. How rare must it be for a traditional publisher to offer such a big deal when you're also self-pubbing AND working with Amazon Encore too.

Great to hear about a success story this side of the Atlantic. Mostly it feels like the UK is still playing catch-up.

I've only just started my foray into self-pubbing, and you are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing.

Eva Hudson
www.evahudson.com

Anonymous said...

Stephen, I'm like JA in that I have very good US sales and less stellar UK sales. I'd really be interested in hearing how a US author can find greater appeal in the UK market.

Anonymous said...

Clean fast is better than a dirty breakfast

Sean McCartney said...

Great post Stephen. I feel like I am in the time when you started. No sales. When I see "big marketing" push what exactly does that mean? Joe has said he would never pay a publicist because he could do it all himself. I am wondering how to go about this. I have four books on Kindle and a just released fantasy called Black Knight Chronicles and I have posted on Kindleboards and so far nothing. I am waiting for the luck.

Sean

I.J.Parker said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Stephen. The difference between your US and your UK sales puzzles me. There shouldn't be such a gap. I admit, my books have never done well in the UK, even the ones pubbed by a UK publisher. It makes no sense. If it's name recognition, then someone needs to promote.
If success is based on the number of self-pubbed titles in a given time span, then I'm handicapped. It takes me a year or so to do each novel. Apparently, my success would increase exponentially if I cranked them out at speed. This is disconcerting.

Dan H. Kind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maurice G Nicholson said...

Very interesting post Stephen and good feedback from Joe as usual. I have just left the runway, having published my first title on Kindle only a few short weeks ago, so all these posts are fascinating for me. This difference between the US and UK market intrigues me and it doesn't really seem logical. I look forward to following the progress of the books on both side of the pond.

Maurice G Nicholson

SBJones said...

Interesting Joe... Stephen's publisher experimented or listened to his advice and they sold a lot of books and everyone made a lot of money. Every time you have tried to get your publishers to change, they have refused.

I wonder if you have talked to someone who can actually do something about bad covers, and pricing. Sounds like you need to escalate past someone who can't see past corporate policy and do the right thing.

Anonymous said...

5 books for $750,000 is not a great deal. But I'm happy if he's happy.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

As of today, my November Amazon sales on .uk are 26% of my .com sales.

I guess that's pretty good!

The numbers aren't huge yet, but I'm well ahead of last month already and I just released a new title on Saturday.

The Journey of Consciousness: A Warrior's Tale

Stephen Knight said...

5 books for $750,000 is not a great deal. But I'm happy if he's happy.

Do you mean to say you got a better deal, Mr./Ms. Anonymous?

Anonymous said...

Do you mean to say you got a better deal, Mr./Ms. Anonymous?

Per book, yes. But I would not take it now.

Stephen Knight said...

Per book, yes. But I would not take it now.

Then why not post some details and own the statement, as opposed to resorting to what seems like sniping from the shadows?

Archangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Smuggy Smith's First Year said...

Let's see, Konrath says he isn't going to blog anymore. That he's tired of it. Yet, yet he blogs on after someone else acts as a guest blogger. Hummm, new format. I hate to fru fru all this but it looks like you're still blogging. Thank you, I would have missed the jolt of inspiration I get from the Newbie Guide.

Archangel said...

the archangel says: times of great cojones in leaping across... and great opportunity in landing safely.

go Stephen, leap high and wide, and let us know what is 'on the other side.'

That legacy publishers' ebks and ebk/digital behemoths like jane friedman's outfit and Rosetta--(another huge digitizer of iconic books), and also amazon-backed ebks may/will dominate the top 1000 or top 5000...

seems will definitely change the game for indies dramatically. But we are seeing more and more each day how the lay of the land is being carved into parcels, by various in the upper layers of business power/money/infrastructure online.

Those authors who were able to be ready with the provisions needed to nearly immediately make the leap (with books/ texts unpub'd /rejected/and/or newly written bks, and/or back lists) and ready to go forward in the last 2 years... have their foothold now to varying degrees it seems.

Still, so valuable to all, I think, just my .02, to hear back afrom the pilgrims who have had the provisions ready to go and have gone forward... and are sending back their scouting intelligence. Thanks Stephen. And jk. And all other pilgrims.

Thanks.
dr.cpe

Leonard D. Hilley II said...

Congrats, Stephen!

Like others have mentioned, my US sales are doing well, but I don't make near as many sales in the UK. Any suggestions?

Harry Freedman said...

Of course the traditional publishers will try to dominate the eBook bestseller lists, ebooks are as much their future as they are the indies'.

But why do indies self publish? Because we believe our work is as good as anything that the traditionals publish. So we need to pick up the gauntlet they've thrown down; we may not have their marketing and financial muscle but we have self belief and we are still pioneers.

Transforming the publishing industry was never going to be a doddle, but it can be done, we just need to stay agile, creative and rise to the challenge.

Joshua Simcox said...

"And most of the eBooks that were doing so well earlier this year have pretty much disappeared from the bestseller lists. The self-published authors who were shouting that the traditional publishing industry was dead and that the future lay with them are now seeing their books dropping out of the Top 1000 and sales slowing to a trickle.

In their place we’re seeing the old faces starting to dominate the bestseller list – Lee Child, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, PD James. The usual suspects."

This is hardly surprising. Mainstays like Connelly, Child, and King aren't going anywhere, regardless of how their ebooks are priced.

As Stephen said, there are many possible reasons for this, but I think it comes down to both the comfort of familiarity and the simple fact that the old stand-bys are still (mostly) producing quality, professional-level material that outclasses what many indies are doing these days.

We can take shots at Patterson all day long, but much like Coca-Cola and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Jim has a formula that obviously connects with millions of people. Sure, you'll find scores of negative reviews at Amazon for his most recent novels, but the readers posting those reviews comprise not even the smallest fraction of the total number of consumers buying and reading James Patterson.

As excited as I am about this brave new world of indie publishing, I am concerned that the DIY upstarts selling ebooks by the thousands today won't have the same staying power as legacy publishing's most enduring bestsellers.

Aric Mitchell said...

I think the worst thing that is happening with the indie movement, and the thing that endangers it to the extent that Stephen is talking about, is this misconception that it's easy.

People assume it is, even if they say the don't, when they look at the success of Joe, Dean, Stephen and others like them.

As attacked as Joe is from the traditional publishing side and the "Konrath is a douchebag rabble," he has never once made this sound easy. If you think he has, you're reading too much into it and seeing only his success.

You're forgetting the part where he said it took him 19 years to achieve what he has. It's hard as hell, and if you're not okay with that, you're not going to make it. Me, I'm fine with it. Love it even. I've sold 1 book a day since I released "The Congregation" on Nov. 13. I'm a nobody in the fiction world, but I'm powered by my freelance writing successes, and to me, this is just a new challenge.

The "bubble" is bursting for those, who see only the ideal of what it means to be a successful author and not the reality. If you continue to seek out active marketing techniques and employ them, while not forgetting to write, write, write, you'll be fine.

Jennette said...

This really gives me hope. I'm literally weeks away from publishing my novel, and while I have a fan base of about 100, I need to branch out there and market my book to other places rather than deviantArt and my website.

I plan on going through lulu for hard copies, but my main focus is Kindle, as well as other ebook places (as many as I can manage).

All I really want to know is where to market? What would be the best? I know there are lots of twilight fans dying to do something until part 2 of Breaking Dawn comes out. Teen Wolf fans who need something to do until season 2, and just everyone else who loves werewolves want something to read. I have a shot at making a very successful eBook experience, so wish me luck!

Anonymous said...

Then why not post some details and own the statement, as opposed to resorting to what seems like sniping from the shadows?

My point is I wouldn't take that money divided over what will end up being at least 8 years.

Todd Trumpet said...

Two observations about having to (almost) apologize for taking a $750K advance from a traditional publisher:

1. How things have changed in just the last year or two!

2. Shouldn't this be how we define "a quality problem"?

Todd
www.ToddTrumpet.com

Dan H. Kind said...

Great posts from both authors. As a newly published indie author who did all the work to get my novel out there, I find myself somewhat removed from Mr. Leather's comments (although it's always nice to hear writer's success stories). I cannot even wrap my mind around the idea of a $750,000 advance. I learned a lot publishing my novel myself (and still learning). The marketing and promotion is somewhat time-consuming and has yet to bear results, but the book would have taken longer to be released if I had landed a legacy deal, with no guaranteed sales even then. Now, my novel is out there! If a day similar to Mr. Leather's ever came for me, I'm not sure what I would do. From where this newbie's sitting, it's not worth contemplating. I will keep writing and putting out the best products I can.

However, it is refreshing to hear that Hodder and Stoughton is actually supporting and working with one of their authors who decided to self-publish.

Thomas Knip said...

A misconception about being an indie (or self-publishing) author is "how to become rich quickly by writing eBooks".

This isn't what self-publishing is about. It's about playing the old publishing game with new rules at hand, new strategies, and new ideas.
And it's about understanding those rules.

Will every indie author finally get filthy rich?
No.
Are they supposed to?
No.
Will all those bestselling legacy authors make more money than most indie authors.
Supposedly.
Will traditional publishers dominate the eBook market finally?
If they are smart enough and adapt to the rules, yes.
Will self-publishing give authors the means - into their very own hands - to make enough money for a decent life?
Ah, now we're getting at it.

Sure, selling in five- to six-figures numbers is comforting.
But then, so is earning something between 2000-5000 US$/Pounds/Euros month after month after month.
Something a lot of people don't make at their regular job.
Sure, to earn even that amount, you have to write. Write a lot. Work on name recognition. And be patient.

But it's still better than going to the office, isn't it? And it IS possible, after all.

Anonymous said...

Good point Mr. Knip-

I have six books up, none ranked higher than 1,500 overall - and I will earn $9k this month.

How would I be doing with 6 trad pubbed backlist books? I'd be waiting tables and be without health insurance, and so would my son.

Darlene Underdahl said...

Thank you for Stirred. Loved it. Looking forward to giving it a good review. Loved the pets and "boys."

Darlene Underdahl said...

Thank you for Stirred. Loved it. Looking forward to giving it a good review. Loved the pets and "boys."

Stephen Knight said...

My point is I wouldn't take that money divided over what will end up being at least 8 years.

Did I miss where Leather spelled out the payment plan with his deal? For all we know, it's one book a year for $150,000 per. Does Amazon take as long to release a book as the traditional industry does?

Three-quarters of a million dollars when you've still go titles earning some dough on the back side is probably one of those deals people should think about, if the payouts and escalations are truly worth it.

Edward G. Talbot said...

Further assuming the bubble is popping (and I don't believe it is at this point), here are some hard numbers. Imagine you have four books at $2.99 and on average they are ranked 5000 on Amazon. Obviously the number of authors who can be in the situation is somewhat limited, but there are quite a few out there now. That's 15 of each book per day, or $120 per day. $3600 per month. That's getting awfully close to real income (for some, it's beyond real income). If you can write a couple books, a couple novellas and some short stories per year, you certainly have a reasonable shot at keeping the momentum going.

And that ignores sales at Apple, Barnes & Noble, and in other countries, which will probably generate some additional income. It also ignores the fact that quite a few authors with multiple books selling these kind of numbers are experimenting with $3.99 or $4.99 and making even more money.

This is NOT to say that it's easy or that there are any guarantees. But the whole idea of getting into the Amazon Top 200-300 was never a sustainable path. It was something that might happen as a side effect of putting out more work and trying to generate consistent sales. And it still is.

Anonymous said...

Did I miss where Leather spelled out the payment plan with his deal? For all we know, it's one book a year for $150,000 per.

It’s become clear that my success with eBooks has fed through to my legacy publishing books in a big way. But it’s also clear that my publisher is keen to help me build on that success. So this year I have signed deals to write five more books for them in return for an advance of close to US$750,000.

Leather can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe he signed that for a legacy deal. And I know how legacy deals are typically structured, so it's doubtful he will collect the entire sum any time soon. Anyway, I don't know why you are arguing with me. The number simply sounds more impressive than it really is. I simply wouldn't be interested in it because I'm making too much money doing it myself after already being published by the big 6 and being ground up by the hellish machine. I wish Leather all the success in the world, as I would any of you, but with legacy you are signing your future away.

And Joe, I must say that being any kind of contrarian voice on this blog is not a pleasant experience.

Stephen Leather said...

@Anonymous and Stephen Knight - I didn't want to get bogged down in the details of my advances because like most deals it's complex! Basically I'm now writing two novels a year for Hodder - my Spider Shepherd undercover series and my Jack Nightingale supernatural detective. The deals I've just signed are for three Spider Shepherd books and two Jack Nightingale books, and all will be delivered by the end of 2014 and the last of the money will come through on mass market publication of the final book and that will be in four years time. It's complex because the deal is for worldwide rights of the Spider Shepherd books but just the UK rights for Jack Nightingale. I'm hoping that Amazon Encore will continue to publish the Nightingale books in the US.

Whether the advance is $750,000 or $1 million doesn't really matter because they should earn out their advances and then I'm back on royalties. The point I was making is that I have made a good living from legacy publishing over the past twenty years and that I am confident that I will continue to. Yes I could probably make more by self-publishing but then I wouldn't be as secure as I am now. I have a guaranteed income for the next four years (boosted by my Amazon Encore sales and a few self-published books that are still for sale) so I can relax and get on with writing.

If I was self-publishing but that income wouldn't be guaranteed and that would worry me. I'm one of life's worriers, unfortunately!

DVshooter said...

Great guest post Joe, was waiting to see if Mr. Leather might pop up.

Steve - Have seen you post often and have noted how you endorse traditional along with indie. I must admit I've wondered how you were "making out". Thanks for sharing the personal business info, very enlightening and (despite being 20 yrs in the making) inspirational.

Best of luck in the US market with Amazon. I plan to check out some of your titles.

Bitten and Stirred released on the 22nd is very interesting.

mark williams international said...

As Stephen’s biggest “indie” rival in the UK we’re naturally delighted he’s taking a step outside the arena for a while, and wish him all the best with his Amazon experiment.
It will be interesting to see if the Amazon machine can help bridge the huge gap between sales on either side of the Atlantic that seems to bedevil self-published titles.
Barry Eisler soared into the Kindle UK top ten overnight thanks to huge Amazon promo, but was gone again days later. Barry’s The Detachment is being sold in the UK on Kindle at almost the same price as the paperback. He may be getting a better percentage than with a legacy publisher, but here in the UK you can buy top name paperbacks for considerably less than what Amazon are charging for Barry’s ebook.
The Amazon promo machine may give some advantage for as long as that continues, but in a country where price matters and readers expect ebooks to be considerably cheaper than the print version I have to wonder - aside from the initial here today, gone tomorrow surge with the Amazon hype - how Barry would be doing on his own at a more sensible price.

Stephen Leather said...

@DVShooter Unlike most Indie writers I do have a vested interest in traditional publishing, mainly because they have my backlist of more than twenty novels. I did ask my publisher if there was any way that I could persuade them to give me back at least some of the eBook rights but not surprisingly they said no! So for my backlist to sell I have to work with my publisher to help promote them and they have to work with me to help sell my new books - by working together we should both do well. Like I said, I am in a very different position to Indies who have just started publishing. If I was a new writer just setting out then I probably would go the self-publishing route, but in the position I find myself a combination of traditional publishing and self-publishing does seem to give me the best of both worlds.

Christopher John Chater said...

My UK sales for my short story this sales period exceed my US sales, I think because of a five star review that likened the story to a hit British show.

I think, even with a legacy deal, it might be a bad idea to stop doing self-promotion. I get daily updates on Facebook from my favorite legacy writers, and they all stress the importance of a writer doing some of his own promoting, legacy deal or not.

Walter Knight said...

A subtle change I have seen is that in 2010 my books (science fiction)) had no real E-book competition from large publishers. I had an advantage because my E-books were priced better. Now, in 2011 the large publishers are not only wise to E-books, as they gain experience, they are re-publishing their back lists in E-book format.

Fortunately, with the dramatic increase in Kindle and eReader ownership, it is a big pie we share, but I still feel the pressure. Science fiction categories are smaller niche markets, and niche markets are the best place for new authors. We used to have niche markets to ourselves.

Legacy publishers are surviving by adapting and joining us in the E-book markets. I was hoping they would stay in the dark at least another year. I am greatful I published when I did (Dec 2009) because the window of opportunity for new authors to be noticed is getting smaller as conpetition from the big publishers increases.

Mark said...

I believe that 90% of your success as a writer depends on HOW GOOD YOUR WRITING IS.

The other 90% of your success comes from how you market your books.

I went to a screenwriter's meeting in L.A. last month where a few friends of mine were on a writing panel (Jimmy Diggs and George Clayton Johnson).

George Clayton Johnson, the author of 8 Twilight Zone stories (Kick the Can, etc.) and Logan's Run said that STORY is more important that anything else if you want to be successful as a writer.

So;
1. Learn how to write excellent stories.

2. Learn how to market your books online (build a list, build a relationship with your list, and then market to your list).

3. Learn how to write fast, so that you can get more titles out there.


The more CONTENT you have online, the greater your internet presence will be.

If you have a lag in sales, STUDY WRITING TECHNIQUES so that your next book will be a better story.

The best book on writing is: "The Anatomy of Story," by John Truby. It's now available on Kindle.

Just a few thoughts. :)

Mark O'Bannon :)
http://www.BetterStorytelling.net/Blog

P.S. It also helps to not have your websites go down... heheh... I need to fix my sites.

Chong Go Sunim said...

> 90% of your success comes from good writing, and the other 90% comes from marketing

LOL! Thanks!
Actually I used to think that writing (or in my case, translating) was 90% of the work. But I've come to realize that it's probably only 50% of the work, if that. Covers, layouts, descriptive text, getting blurbs, promotional stuff, contacting interested overseas publishers, and so on, is easily half the work, if not more.

Stephen Knight said...

I have a guaranteed income for the next four years (boosted by my Amazon Encore sales and a few self-published books that are still for sale) so I can relax and get on with writing.

So it's a payout of around four years then, not a suspected eight as the anonymous poster said? Then that makes sense. I'd presumed that you wouldn't (at this stage in your career) get locked into a long payout deal, and if that's the case, in hell yes, a sum approaching 750k is tough to walk away from. And you get the benefit of arriving at enough financial security to sit down and write more books. Tough to shake a stick at that.

Sometimes--rarely, it seems--a traditional deal can be just what the doctor ordered.

I hope you'll be able to drop by from time to time and update us on the sale progress with Once Bitten and The Basement. Will be interesting to see how that all shakes out.

Stephen Knight said...

...in hell yes, a sum approaching 750k is tough to walk away from.

Eh, make that "then hell yes". Typos, always a formidable foe!

Stephen Knight said...

I wish Leather all the success in the world, as I would any of you, but with legacy you are signing your future away.

And in most occasions I would agree with you, but around 750k over four years is at least approaching the "sweetheart deal" territory. I rarely, if ever, advocate traditional publishing, but in this instance it doesn't seem that bad to take the cash and run.

And Joe, I must say that being any kind of contrarian voice on this blog is not a pleasant experience.

People fight over all sorts of things. I disagree with your position in this specific circumstance, but not the overall gist of your message. Sorry if that wasn't terribly clear, as if I'd really wanted to hang you out to dry, it would have been much more contentious. :D

Joe Konrath said...

And Joe, I must say that being any kind of contrarian voice on this blog is not a pleasant experience.

If you stay respectful, and post under your name, no one will give you any problems.

But anonymous posts get a bad rap here, deservedly so, because cowards use anonymity to snipe and troll and flame. That doesn't mean all who post anonymously do that, but there is a stereotype that exists and puts some people off.

DVshooter said...

Stephen

Thanks for the response, yes you are in a very dymanic (and profitible) situation with your traditional background. For a newb I still see no valid argument against starting as an indie. Absolute worst case: 1 star reviews and negative e-mails are more palpable feedback than form rejection letters.

Thansk again

DVshooter said...

... but with legacy you are signing your future away.

I must admit when Stephen first mentioned his deal I thought the same thing. I thought the amount, for five books, from a bone fide bestseller, was appalingly low. But reading his posts since then I see his line of thinking.

First off, it's a personal choice. Trust that he knows his idividual readership and specific market better than anyone here. He knows how much of his own marketing it took to generate X amount of e-sales...I'm sure he took all that into consideration looking ahead at his next five books. How long will it take me to make that 750k on my own? And more importantly: what's that time worth and what else can I he do if I get it back?

I think these are the points one needs to weigh when faced with a (good!) legacy deal.

Plus, when's the last time anyone here got paid 3/4 of a mil to do anything 5 times?

Best of luck Steve

John Brown said...

I must say that being any kind of contrarian voice on this blog is not a pleasant experience.

Except that's just what Leather's guest post is.

I've argued a few contrarian points here myself and never had anything but an interesting time.

Coral Russell said...

So has anyone read this - http://kriswrites.com/2011/11/16/the-business-rusch-how-traditional-publishers-are-making-money/

about how publishers have been making a profit during a recession because of eBooks yes, but also because they are paying writers EVEN LESS than before because of contracts that were signed and digital rights handed over.

I confess I know nothing about traditional publishing and I understand these companies are huge conglomerates. But if this is what's happening than you might as well go self-published and not sign a contract unless they do offer you something similar to what Mr. Leather earned.

I don't know. Something else to watch out for?

LK Watts said...

I can't wait for Christmas to come here in the UK because I have a feeling e-reader sales, like the Kindle, will rise more than ever.

Jude Hardin said...

$750K, doled out over TEN years, would be more than I make at my "day" job. For many of us it would be life-changing-suddenly-I-can-write-fulltime money. Personally, I would take it in a heartbeat.

Congrats on the great deal, Stephen. I just bought Once Bitten, looking forward to it.

Chip Anderson said...

Congratulations Stephen, sometimes its hard to walk away.

Nick Spalding said...

Great article Stephen. Glad to see you're doing so well and good luck with the US market.

Judging from the profits you've talked about here, if I do make it over for that beer in Bangkok sometime... you're buying.

For everyone else: Stephen Leather's been a lot of help to me getting my books off the ground at Amazon UK. Never let he be said he doesn't support indie authors if he likes their product. I'm sure the quotes and reviews he's provided me with (which I've shamelessly touted everywhere I can) have helped shift copies of my work and for that I'm very grateful.

Indie authors need this kind of suport from writers with experience and I'm lucky to have had it.

Nick Spalding.

Coolkayaker1 said...

Here comes the gouge. Amazon Encore. Lower author rates in exchange for "marketing", which is higher profile on the website, primarily. Like getting end aisle in the bookstore. And guesses what, it's the beginning of the authors getting screwed by the soon-to-be only bookseller.

Jon Olson said...

Interesting take on the UK market.

DVshooter said...

Coolkayaker

Go Google: Kobo/Rakuten deal and look at just one emerging Amazon competitor, just as big outside the US as Amazon is here. And keep in mind when reading how small the US population actually is globally.

If you're convinved of Amazon's evil future intentions then why procrastinate on the inevitable? Query agents today so you can start taking it up the tailpipe without delay.

josephinewade said...

Stephen,
I don't know if you are still checking comments here or not, but I wanted to say your new books sound fantastic and I'm glad you found a good fit in the publishing world.

Good luck on the charts.

Stephen Leather said...

Thanks Josephine! :-)

Danielle Blanchard Benson said...

Stephen: I think your success is astounding and you deserve a legacy deal that is going to make you happy. Yes, you heard me correctly, because Amazon has entered publishing and they might as well be a legacy publisher whether they like it or not (they just offer more freedom and better royalty rates).

I admit Amazon is the only legacy I would jump feet first into bed with and the only publisher I want. Is that naive? Not really but most authors won't make any money until they have a name behind them and that is a fact. There have been some who have been successful on their own but you are right, it is tiresome!

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Mystery & Thrillers > Mystery > Series
#14 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Mystery & Thrillers > Thrillers > Suspense
Would you like to give feedback on images or tell us about a lower price?

Konrath: I just copied this from Amazon's website right now so congrats to both you and Crouch. Well done (I bought Stirred but I am reading Crouch's Thomas trilogy before I dive into the decadent world that is Jack Daniels again).

You are both extremely talented writers and whether (either of) you were to do self-pub only, have a publisher, or do a mix of both, you would still be successful. Why? You write great f*cking books, that's why.

Yeah, I know I just contradicted myself in this post but still, I get like this when I am around this much success. Here's to a happy holiday season to you all and every writer on here who responds to this post. Cheers! I'll definitely drink to that. ;-)

Liliana Hart said...

Congrats, Stephen, on your success and on taking a break to write. The promotional and marketing aspect of self-publishing does tend to get in the way of writing.

My UK sales have picked up month to month, but it's still only a few hundred a month. I have no idea how to break into the market over there so I can sell equally to the US.

I hope this experiment works out for you both. Good luck!

Liliana

Bill said...

Write, publish, market, and repeat. Simple (and solid) advice that, as we all know, takes work. Simple does not equal easy.

Bill Dodds
www.BillDodds.com

Peter said...

This author sounds quite interesting. I've written this book down to try to find it.
Thanks

Netherland said...

The author compares to Daniel Silver who is one of my favorites. It is not too descriptive and not repetitive. It makes your hair stand up on end. Very exciting and very thought provoking. This is really going on?? It was my first Stephen Leather read and I can't wait to get the rest of his books.