Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Eisler & Konrath Vs. Hachette

Joe sez: I'm trying to get some writing done, and I really feel like I've said all there is to say about the publishing industry and going indie. But then several alert readers emailed me to say Hachette created an internal memo to explain to its employees and customers why it’s still relevant.

I was published by Hachette, and for the most part I enjoyed working with them. They're good people and dedicated professionals.

But boy, their memo is a giant bowl of steaming fail. And they dropped the ball when it came to me, too. More on that below.

So I called up my friend Barry Eisler and begged him to convince me to just let it go and not do a blog post about how silly the memo is.

Instead, Barry read the memo and said, come on, we should just fisk this sucker together.

Barry: You knew I would! You sent me a link to the memo because you knew it was so stupid it would draw me in, you bastard.

Joe: I wanted you to talk me down from the ledge, and instead you climbed up there to jump off with me. You're a bad, bad man.

Barry: Sure you wanted me to talk you down. That’s like an addict coming to his dealer for help getting clean!

Joe: All right, regardless, now I'm all in, so let's do this. Hachette's memo is likely indicative of what many major publishers are thinking, so it’s worth examining closely, both for newbies and old pros.

Here's their memo, in italics, and our responses.

"Self-publishing” is a misnomer.

Barry: Whenever someone begins his argument by trying to redefine a popularly understood term, your bullshit detector should start tingling.

Joe: Unless bullshit is also a misnomer.

Publishing requires a complex series of engagements, both behind the scenes and public facing.

Barry: Well, okay, but what business doesn’t doesn’t require a complex series of engagements etc? When someone fills the air with platitudes like this one, it’s fair to ask whether he has anything meaningful to say -- and what he might be trying to conceal.

Digital distribution (which is what most people mean when they say self-publishing) is just one of the components of bringing a book to market and helping the public take notice of it.

Barry: Um, no, that’s not what self-publishing means. Unless Hachette is also a self-publisher? Because they distribute books digitally, too.

In fact, self-publishing has a pretty simple definition: it means you keep the rights to your book and publish it yourself using distributor/retailers like Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, and Sony, typically retaining 70% of the cover price instead of the 17.5% offered by legacy publishers (for digital editions). This isn’t what “most people” mean when they say self-publishing; it’s what everybody means when they say self-publishing. If Hachette really doesn’t know what self-publishing is, its executives are in worse trouble than even their memo reveals.

Joe: Digital distribution is quickly becoming the dominant means of reaching readers. To distribute digitally, you need:

1. Something you've written.
2. Editing and proofreading.
3. Formatting for various platforms.
3. Cover art and jacket copy.

Now, you can cross your fingers and send out queries and hope to find a publisher to assist you with these tasks, in which case they’ll keep 52.5% from the ebook list price (a price they set) and give you 17.5% . Or you can do these things yourself (or hire out) and keep 70% of the list price (a price you set).

But digital distribution is not the only thing a self-publisher does. I also make my books available in paper, and my agent sells subsidiary rights (audio, foreign, film). My agent gets to do that because I keep the rights, rather than licensing them to a publisher.

So what else are publishers doing that justifies them getting three times as much per ebook sale as the author gets?

Let's read on and see.

As a full service publisher, Hachette Book Group offers a wide array of services to authors:

Barry: Again, is there, or has there ever been, a service business that does only one thing? Is this “wide array” claim in any way remarkable, or even relevant to anything? Let’s see...

1. Curator: We find and nurture talent:

Barry: The more accurate way to state this would be, “We try to find talent. Sometimes we miss talent. Sometimes we nurture what we find; sometimes we let it whither. We’re a big publisher -- for us, it’s a numbers game. Think spaghetti sticking to the wall. Some of it sticks; most of it slides down behind the stove.

• We identify authors and books that are going to stand out in the marketplace. HBG discovers new voices, and separates the remarkable from the rest.

Barry: Again, for the sake of accuracy: “We try to identify authors and books we believe we can sell. Sometimes we discover new voices; sometimes we make mistakes.

Joe: Were the authors they dropped or who were allowed to go out of print unremarkable?

If so, I volunteer to be unremarkable so I can get the rights to AFRAID back.

• We act as content collaborator, focused on nurturing writing talent, fostering rich relationships with our authors, providing them with expert editorial advice on their writing, and tackling a huge variety of issues on their behalf.

Barry: There’s a remarkable amount of bullshit in that sentence.

“Content collaborator?” What does that mean? Why is this publisher shying away from plain English?


Shit, you and I are collaborating right now, on this post. ZOMG, that means we’re acting as content collaborators!

Joe: Does that mean you're taking a 52.5% cut?

Barry: Maybe I should, ’cause we know that’s what Content Collaborators do.

Joe: If you take that much, can you at least nurture me a little?

Barry: Hah, right, that “nurturing” claim, and for the second time, too. Sure, sure, me nurture you long time, sailor.

Joe: By "long time" you mean "forever", don't you?

Barry: Yes, of course. I’m a Content Collaborator, after all. That’s very important.

Joe: If you say so. (long, dramatic pause) I'm never going to get my rights back, am I?

Barry: No. But I'll make sure I price your book at $12.99 so sales stay poor.

Joe: Thanks for nurturing me!

Look, if I were to say, "I'm a good parent", that statement needs to be backed up with all the reasons I am a good parent, and all the specific things I do for my children. Or else the statement is empty. Or worse, an affirmation based on ignorance and hope instead of facts.

Barry: Yes, if you can back up a claim with evidence, you should do so. When the evidence isn’t presented, could it be because no evidence exists?

Joe: Now, a bad parent might do a lot of things that could negatively affect the child. Much like a bad publisher can drop authors who are making money, provide poor cover art, make bad editorial suggestions, leave marketing promises unfulfilled, charge too much for ebooks, offer too small a royalty, insist on “windowing” and “the agency model,” mess up distribution, not exploit sub rights they bought, make contracts overly complicated and one-sided, make royalty statements indecipherable, grab erights on old contracts, refuse to return rights to the author, and so on.

Is a publisher engaging in such behavior finding and nurturing talent?

And what if all publishers acted like this?

Hint: they do.

Barry: I love those euphemisms, by the way. “Windowing” means “Making people who like to read in digital wait an extra year because we favor paper.” The “agency model” means “forcing Amazon and other digital retailers to charge customers more for books than the retailer wants to.”

As we’ve argued many times elsewhere, these euphemisms and the practices they’re intended to obscure are aimed at two things: retarding the growth of digital, and preserving the position of paper. A few days ago, in a moment of uncharacteristic candor, a top publishing executive confirmed this:

“‘We hoped that a handsome object [Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, which BTW is awesome] would slow the migration to e-book for King and, in fact, we are now in our fourth printing,’ said Nan Graham, the senior vice president and editor in chief at Scribner.”

Joe: Right, the purpose of the special effort they put into the packaging wasn’t so much selling more paper as it was slowing the adoption of digital. And if the only way legacy publishers tried to slow digital adoption was by making paper better, it would be great. But instead, they’re doing it primarily by making digital more expensive and by delaying the release of digital titles.

I don't hold out much hope for any company that actively refuses to give its customers what they want.

Barry: Let's go back to the specifics of that bullshit-redolent memo sentence. What does it mean to foster a rich relationship with an author? How is it accomplished? Glittering generalities like this one are usually intended to conceal an absence of underlying substance.

Joe: You and I have a rich relationship.

Barry: We don’t.

Joe: Okay, but that’s only because we don’t charge for these Content Collaborations. If we wrote short stories instead, we could have a rich relationship -- without a legacy publisher!

Barry: We should really do that. I loved your latest with Blake Crouch -- STIRRED.

Joe: Thanks. Blake did all the verbs with that one. If you and I do a story together, you can do the adjectives.

Barry: Excellent!

Joe: Try to come up with some better adjectives than that.

Barry: Now, provision of expert editorial advice -- finally, something real. Yes, publishers do provide editorial services. I can’t speak for other authors, but the three editors I’ve worked with at two publishing hours have all been excellent and I’ve learned a lot from working with them. Whether editorial services are worth the 52.5% publishers charge, however, and whether editorial services can be secured elsewhere at lower cost, are topics worth considering.

Joe: You're being too kind. As I mentioned earlier, 52.5% is three times 17.5%. So unless an editor spent three times as many hours editing your book than you did writing your book, they really don't deserve that much.

Hell, if I had an editor who worked on my book, cleaned my house once a week, gave me sex on demand, and drove me around, that still wouldn't be worth 52.5%.

Barry: Hard to argue with your math. For anyone who’s curious, we talk more about most of these issues in our profoundly offensive book, BE THE MONKEY: A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE NEW WORLD OF PUBLISHING. Free download here.

Joe: That book is far too offensive for everyone. If you do read it, I suggest it's with an eye toward objecting to every little thing we said that might offend the sensibilities of some delicate soul, while totally ignoring the major points.

Barry: Finally, let’s consider this claim that publishers tackle a huge variety of issues on behalf of authors. Do I even need to say it?

Joe: Probably not. Glittering generality, devoid of specifics; applicable to every single service industry ever invented, so meaningless with regard to publishing specifically.

Barry: Thanks for that. I hate repeating myself.

Joe: But, to be fair, they do tackle some issues on our behalf. I mean, didn't they create your website?

Barry: No. I did that myself. Well, I hired someone to do it. I don’t know much about website design.

Joe: But they helped you get all those Facebook friends and Twitter followers and blog readers, right?

Barry: That was me.

Joe: They must have paid for you to attend those dozens of conferences over the last nine years.

Barry: That was pretty much all me.

Joe: Certainly they helped you accrue your mailing list of fans?

Barry: Nope. I did it myself, one at a time.

Joe: But they did pay for your tours!

Barry: That they did do.

Joe: And they drove 12,000 miles right along with you, assisting every step of the way while you did signings in over 30 states.

Barry: Uh...no.

Joe: Neither did mine. And BTW, I did signings in over 40 states.

Barry: We're so lucky to have had them as Content Collaborators, though.

Joe: Indeed.

Now let's get specific.

Hachette published my novel AFRAID. They then rejected two subsequent novels of mine. I self-published those novels.

Hachette has earned me $60,000 in two years with AFRAID.

In one year, I earned $170,000 on the two novels they didn't take, all on my own.

Barry: So much for them nurturing talent, fostering rich relationships with authors, and being a content collaborator.

Joe: Their expert editorial advice helped them miss out on a whole lot of money, because they didn't publish TRAPPED and ENDURANCE.

Now I do give them credit for publishing AFRAID when no one else would. My agent had that book on submission for six months before getting that offer. AFRAID was rejected by everyone.

What does that tell you about this industry? A book that went on to earn triple its modest advance was rejected by over a dozen top editors. Then the follow-ups made even more money.

But that was back in 2008. Now I cringe when I think about all the money I'm missing out on because Hachette still has AFRAID. Funny how what was once a blessing can become a curse.

2. Venture Capitalist: We fund the author’s writing process:

• At HBG we invest in ideas.

Barry: I don’t mean to be harsh, but this memo is really beginning to play like a game of Bullshit Bingo. Nurture Relationships... Tackle Issues... Invest In Ideas... Bingo!

Joe: Dammit! They invest in ideas? Why the hell did I bother spending six months writing a book for them? Then six more months promoting it? I should have just given them an idea and let them run with it!

Barry: Here’s an idea they might have invested in: an online bookstore!

Joe: Here's another one: a damn ereader!

Barry: We’re being half-facetious, but the thing is, an online bookstore, and ereaders, and an online lending library -- those are real ideas. And someone certainly is investing in them, big-time. In the face of this, when Hachette plays Bullshit Bingo and bleats, “We invest in ideas!”, you have to wonder... do even the people who wrote this thing believe it? If asked, could they even explain what they’re referring to?

Joe: It's also worth noting that I've been offering free advice to publishers for several years on how to succeed in this new publishing climate. I know they must be reading my blog, because they keep doing the exact opposite of everything I suggest.

Seriously, for an industry to get so much so wrong, it's gotta be intentional.

In the form of advances, we allow authors the time and resources to research and write.

Barry: An advance can definitely be critical in this regard. What would make the claim meaningful would be a breakdown of what advances Hachette provides. They don’t need to name names; they could just provide a chart showing averages. I’ve heard many times that the average legacy advance these days is $5000. If that’s true, it’s a hell of a stretch for Hachette to suggest they’re providing authors enough to research and write. No one can quit her day job for a $5000 advance, 15% of which goes to an agent and the balance of which will be paid out in installments over the course of a year or more.

Once again, you have to wonder why Hachette provides no meaningful data to back up their claims of how relevant they are to authors.

Joe: Averages wouldn't work. They could say their average advance is high because they give James Patterson millions. In reality, the majority of their authors probably need a second job or working spouse to support themselves.

Barry: I didn’t do well in college statistics. Mean, median... that kind of thing.

Joe: I got lucky. They gave me a $20k advance for AFRAID, and I get royalty checks twice a year. That's better than what many authors get.

But with self-publishing I get paid monthly. I'd rather get paid promptly than receive a small advance.

As for investing in ideas, perhaps they should have invested in the two books of mine they rejected...

In addition we invest continuously in infrastructure, tools, and partnerships that make HBG a great publisher partner.

Barry: I know I’m being repetitive, but only because the same logical shortcomings keep cropping up in this memo. So: what are the infrastructure, tools, and partnerships Hachette continuously invests in? How, specifically, do these investments benefit authors?

Joe: Yes, I'm really curious to know about their investment in infrastructure, tools, and partnerships. I don't invest in any of those things, but my ebooks outsell theirs. Perhaps their actual investment is in buzzwords and bad rhetoric.

I'm kind of disappointed they didn't mention synergy.

Barry: Strategic partnerships... Inflection point... Bingo!

3. Sales and Distribution Specialist: We ensure widest possible audience:

• We get our books to the right place, in the right numbers, and at the right time (this applies equally to print and digital editions).

Barry: Is this a memo intended to convince people of Hachette’s continued relevance, or is it some kind of personal empowerment seminar? “Gosh darn it, I’m good enough, and smart enough, and right, right, right enough...”

All the things they claim to do right apply equally in paper and digital? The right place in digital is wherever self-published authors get their books to -- again, generally, Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. So you don’t really need to pay 52.5% to a Collaboration Partner for that.

The right numbers? Hachette, how many digital copies of a title do you typically upload to a retailer? (Um, that’s a trick question.)

And the right time? The right time is now, because you can’t make money from a book until people can buy it. But legacy publishers don’t publisher digital titles now. They publish them a year later, when the paper version is ready. When Hachette says “the right time,” they mean, “much later than you would on your own.”

We work with retailers and distribution partners to ensure that every book has the opportunity to reach the widest possible readership.

Joe: Hyperion, which published my last Jack Daniels novel, Cherry Bomb, didn't ship a single copy to Borders until the book had been out for two weeks.

I've also done signings my publishers set up where there weren't any of my books for sale. And I'm far from the only author who has had distribution issues.

Still, I can't complain. My publishers have done a pretty good job of getting my paper books into stores. That's the main value they offer.

But they offer no value at all when it comes to getting ebooks onto online retailers. After formatting, it doesn't take more than a few hours to upload an ebook to all the major sellers. Which is one of the things that drove me so crazy about Penguin's Book Country.

Barry: This is such a key point that I’m going to repeat it even though we’ve been saying it elsewhere: in digital distribution, legacy publishers offer no value. Zero. None. A self-published author, working alone, has exactly the same distribution reach in digital as a multi-million-dollar New York publishing conglomerate.

I’m going to say that one more time, because it’s critical to the revolution in publishing and it’s so big and far-reaching it takes a moment to grasp:

A self-published author, working alone, has exactly the same distribution reach in digital as a multi-million-dollar New York publishing conglomerate.

Yes, legacy publishers provide various value-added services, such as editing, marketing, etc -- at least some of the time. But distribution is what authors have until recently really needed from publishers, because without a distribution partner, an author can’t cost-effectively reach a mass audience in paper.

Joe: I'd say they offer negative value. Taking a long time to upload titles, a long time to make changes or fix problems, controlling pricing, doing poor formatting (Hachette did a fine job with AFRAID, but I've gotten scores of email about formatting issues in my Hyperion titles), and not making ebooks available on all platforms in all markets directly hurts sales. High ebook prices do not ensure a book has the widest possible readership. Quite the opposite, in fact.

If a publisher is hurting your digital sales, that's negative value.

Barry: So yes, Hachette is still relevant in the world of paper distribution (yea!). The problem is that paper is shrinking and digital is exploding -- and in digital, the Hachettes of the world have no distribution value to offer. That’s why they’re writing bizarre, obfuscating memos like the one we’re discussing.

By the way, because digital distribution is flat -- equally available to everyone -- digital publishing is increasingly going to be built on direct-to-consumer marketing. As I said in a recent piece at Writer Unboxed:

“In a digital world, the primary value a publisher can offer an author is direct-to-consumer marketing. This is why Amazon is so strongly positioned to succeed in digital publishing: its book business is built on its ability to reach tens or even hundreds of millions of readers directly by email. Amazon marketing is both exceptionally focused (book buyers) and exceptionally broad (tens or even hundreds of millions of customers). Entities that can offer authors compelling direct-to-consumer marketing value will be in a good position to take a cut of the profits. One recent example is the L.A. Times. Think of entities that fit the bill, and you’ll be able to predict tomorrow’s publishers.

“Interestingly, there’s one particular group of companies that lacks any meaningful direct-to-consumer marketing ability. That group is New York publishing. Draw your own conclusions.”

Joe: You're so right about this. As authors, we need to be able to reach readers. In the past, we needed publishers to get our work into bookstores (we also needed bookstores) so readers could buy us.

Today, we can be bought -- both in paper and in digital -- with the press of a button. So if a middleman wants to add value to this equation, they can either create the ereader and the store we sell our titles on (Amazon, Sony, Kobo, Apple, B&N), or they can help us reach a broader audience than we can on our own by giving us marketing advantages.

If the L.A. Times wanted to publish me, I'd give them a percentage of my royalties, because they could advertise the hell out of my book to their existing readership of several million people.

I'd also sign a deal with a TV station who would produce commercials for my book, or a guy who owned 10,000 billboards that he wanted to use to promote it, or Charlie Sheen as long as he mentioned it to the media every time he got arrested.

Distribution was the key to success in paper. Now that we're all getting equal distribution in digital, there’s value to partnering with companies that can help our books get noticed.

What is Hachette doing to help their authors get noticed in a digital world? All their methods and means are paper-based.

• We ensure broad distribution and master supply chain complexity, in both digital and physical formats.

Joe: Ah, distributors. One more middleman taking potential royalties away from the author's share.

I can't wait for a day when books can be printed on demand, so there’s no need for giant warehouses and distributors who take a huge cut.

Or better yet, maybe someday there will be a distribution system where books cost zero to copy and zero to send to readers.

Oh, wait a sec... we already have these things.

Fail.

Barry: I just have to add... again, look at that “master supply chain complexity” sentence. Like so much else in this memo, it’s gobbleygook. Here’s Orwell, in Politics and the English Language:

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

The irony. Publishers, those richly nurturing Content Collaborators, purveyors of top-flight editorial services, finders of Remarkable New Voices... penning such prolix prose.

Joe: Maybe they forgot to richly nurture the person who wrote the memo.

Barry: They did find a remarkable new voice, though.

Joe: I'd make a joke about being mentally challenged here, but then the Dudgeon Demons would whine about political incorrectitude rather than acknowledge our relevant points.

Barry: Okay, glad you didn’t go there.

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And finally, again -- they ensure distribution, and have mastered supply chain complexity... in digital?

Come on. Digital distribution is ubiquitous. It’s available to everyone, and a legacy publisher claiming to supply it is like me trying to sell someone air. And there is no digital supply chain. Claiming otherwise is like pretending uploading a photo on Facebook requires supply chain complexity mastery. It’s just embarrassing bullshit.

Hey Hachette, invite either of us to a conference. We challenge you to debate any of your claims in a public forum of your choosing. If fact, I’m keynoting t
he Writers Digest Convention in NYC this January; if you like, we could do it there.

Joe: I'll be at the Romantic Times Convention in April leading a discussion about ebooks. Stop by and say hello. Or get in touch sooner, and I'll get you on the panel.

• We function as a new market pioneer, exploring and experimenting with new ideas in every area of our business and investing in those new ideas – even if, in some cases, a positive outcome is not guaranteed (as with apps and enhanced ebooks).

Barry: In case you missed it the first time... they really, really do invest in new ideas! It’s like Double Secret Probation, but better.



I won’t even mention the entirely unsupported glittering generalities. Whoops, I guess I did.

And it’s awesome that they invest even when there is no guarantee of a positive return! That’s so bold and really distinguishes them from everyone else. As everyone knows, most businesses, and all people, only invest when returns are 100% certain. Anything else would be imprudent.

Joe: I am 100% certain you are correct.

Barry: Finally... I’m sorry, I know I’m being a little hard on them, but the claim that Hachette or any legacy publisher is a “pioneer” is so demonstrably absurd as to be laughable. Again, think of the most pioneering changes in publishing -- online bookstores, digital distribution, ereaders, lending library subscription programs -- and ask who pioneered them.

Joe: (Hint. It wasn’t Hachette or any other legacy publisher.)

Barry: The truth is that, to the extent legacy publishers are experimenting with anything, it’s because far more innovative new market entrants are forcing them to.

Joe: All that pioneering, and exploring, and experimenting, and investing. I bet Hachette has a 100% sell-through and a 0% return rate, and that every book they publish turns a handsome profit.

If not -- well, I guess they can pay for their inefficiencies by taking 52.5% and giving authors 17.5%.

• We act as a price and promotion specialist (coordinating 250+ monthly, weekly and daily deals on ebooks at all accounts).

Joe: The AFRAID ebook has been on sale twice in two years. When this happened, sales were up 10x. So, naturally, Grand Central raised it back to $6.99 after a week of lower prices.

The effort it takes to put a book on sale takes no more than a few minutes. I do it myself all the time.

Why don't legacy publishers do it all the time?

Barry: This word “specialist”... I do not think it means what they think it means.



Seriously, where is all the dynamism and innovation in pricing?

Joe: In self-publishing, and at Amazon.

Barry: Exactly. A “sale” in the legacy world means the remainder table in a brick-and-mortar store.

Joe: To more and more authors, paper distribution doesn't matter much anymore. And as a New Market Pioneer, Hachette should price my two-year-old ebook more competitively than $6.99. My ebooks are priced at $2.99, and they've made me more money than any of my legacy books. Value isn't in a book's cover price, but rather how much money the book earns overall.

With plummeting paper sales, and vastly increasing ebook sales, Hachette does very little to deserve the royalties they're taking.

4. Brand Builder and Copyright Watchdog: We build author brands and protect their intellectual property:

Barry: In my experience, publishers know almost nothing about building a brand. If they did, they would brand themselves. Listening to a publisher hawk its brand-building cred is like listening to the proverbial 98-pound weakling tout his awesome strength-training program.

Joe: I gotta disagree with you here. I don't care about authors, or individual titles, or even genre. But I do buy and read every single book Grand Central publishes, because I am sooooo brand loyal. It's all about the logo on the spine. That's why so many fans stopped reading Lee Child when he switched houses. Stephen King, too. Betcha Janet Evanovich’s readership deserts her, now that she’s left SMP.

Barry: You’re right. I’m being unfair. Why, just the other day I was in a Barnes & Noble, asking if they could direct me to the latest Random House title.

Joe: I'll read anything Random House publishes! They published you, so everything else they publish must also be perfect for me! Brand brand brand!

Barry: Okay, maybe we’re wrong. Maybe legacy publishers really are expert brand-builders.

Joe: Sure. Hachette really helped me build my brand, dropping me after one title.

I personally visited 200 bookstores in 19 states to promote AFRAID.

Hachette took out a small one-off ad in USA Today.

I did a blog tour, posting new content on 100 blogs in 30 days.

Hachette sent out some galleys.

I sent out a newsletter to 10,000 people on my mailing list.

Does Hachette even have a mailing list?

• We protect authors’ intellectual property through strict anti-piracy measures and territorial controls.

Barry: Let’s translate this. “We protect authors’ (and by authors’ we mean our) intellectual property” is code for “we insist on DRM and other anti-piracy measures that customers hate, that are ineffective against piracy, and that diminish author profits.” “Territorial controls” means “Your book will not be available in many markets where people would like to buy it.”

Joe: Congrats that Hachette learned from the RIAA and the woes of the music industry, and has figured out that DRM doesn't work and piracy doesn't hurt sales.

Oh, wait a second. They HAVEN'T figured that out.

I'm widely pirated, and I currently earn enough money via self-publishing to be in the top 1% tax bracket of the US. Compare that to the eight years I spent in the legacy publishing world, making $40k a year and spending half of that on self-promotion.

• Publishers generate and spread excitement, always looking for new ways make our authors and their books stand out. We’re able to connect books with readers in a meaningful way.

Barry: When I first read that initial clause, I thought it said, “Publishers generate and spread excrement.”

Joe: Ha! That would have been a shitty thing to say.

Barry: I’m sure that reveals my biases. But -- let’s be honest -- it’s a more credible claim than “Publishers generate excitement.” If I’m missing something, maybe readers could tell us about the last time their excitement was generated by a publisher.

Joe: How about this one? And guess what? The Kindle edition is priced higher than the hardcover. :P

Barry: Okay, an excitement exception. :D

But seriously, could a “We are relevant!” memo get any more meaningless, over-general, and aspirational than this? “We don’t just connect books with readers -- we do it in a meaningful way.”

I mean, for realz this time! We’re meaningful, damn it!

Joe: From now on, my job will be to remind people what my job is.

Now hold still while I spread excitement.

Barry: It’s all part of the nurturing.

Oh, and by the way, legacy publishers don’t connect books with readers, and in fact this structural deficit is essential to the increasing irrelevance Hachette is protesting against. Publishers connect books with intermediaries.

Joe: And now those intermediaries, like Amazon, can directly reach and target readers.

Is it any wonder we can sell so many more books with Amazon as our publisher?

Barry: You know, I’m starting to wonder if someone wrote this to play a joke on us, to see if we could be fooled into taking it seriously and responding. It’s not April Fool’s Day, is it?

Joe: Don't use the word fool. You might offend someone.



Barry: For God’s sake, Dudgeon Demons, do not watch this extremely offensive Carlos Mencia skit!

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Joe: I'm only picking on Hachette here because they wrote that silly memo, and because I have personal experience with them. I discuss book deals with my peers. Hachette actually did a lot more for my book than most publishers do, and I appreciate their efforts.

But I've never relied on publishers to promote my books because publishers actually do very little promotion. A press release and catalog inclusion aren't worth the 52.5% royalties they take.

By contrast, I signed a deal with Amazon's imprint Thomas & Mercer for STIRRED, my latest novel, co-written with Blake Crouch.

Barry: Didn’t you just hit #1 on the Kindle Top 100?

Joe. Yes, and thanks for the shill. STIRRED has sold more ebooks in two weeks than Hachette has sold of AFRAID in thirty-two months. And Amazon pays me a much better royalty than Hachette did.

Not to put you on the spot here, but I know you signed a decent six-figure deal for RAIN FALL, your first John Rain thriller. It's had, what, a dozen printings since 2002?

Barry: It's up to fifteen or sixteen.

Joe: So you must have earned out that advance a long time ago, right?

Barry: Not yet. But close now. To the extent I could decipher Putnam’s royalty statements. I’m thinking about calling in a Dead Sea Scrolls specialist.

Joe: You also got a comparable six-figure advance for THE DETACHMENT, which you released through the Amazon imprint Thomas & Mercer.

Barry: Yes. We've discussed the deal before.

Joe: Do you think you'll be able to earn out that advance faster than the one for RAIN FALL?

Barry: THE DETACHMENT has already earned out.

Joe: Holy shit! What’s that, two months from the pub date?

Barry: Something like that. I wasn’t supposed to say anything, but my wife didn’t know it was under wraps and inadvertently mentioned it at a conference, so I guess it’s public domain now.

Joe: Congrats! When THE DETACHMENT was in the Top 10 on the Kindle Bestseller List, it was really buoying your backlist sales. Hopefully RAIN FALL will earn out soon...

• We offer marketing and publicity expertise, presenting a book to the marketplace in exactly the right way, and ensuring that intelligence, creativity, and business acumen inform our strategy.

Joe: Well, it's certainly reassuring that their strategy isn't informed by laziness, bad ideas, stupidity, and a profound ignorance about how their business works.

Barry: Seriously, when someone claims to be or to do something the opposite of which would be unthinkable, you are being bullshitted. The only question is, does Hachette know they’re bullshitting? Or do they really believe it’s remarkable that their strategy is supposedly informed by intelligence instead of stupidity, creativity rather than dullness, and business acumen rather than business ineptitude?

And come on, presenting a book to the marketplace in exactly the right way? There are so many examples of legacy publishing marketing disasters it’s hard to know where to begin. So why don’t I just point to: The Green Garage Door (viewer discretion advised).

Joe: I gotta say, with so many books losing money, so many authors being dropped, so many titles going out of print, perhaps expertise isn't quite the right word.

Barry: No, maybe something more along the line of... Whistling Past The Graveyard? Or Hoping Against Hope?

Joe: Publishers should stop trying to convince themselves and others that they're relevant, and start actually being relevant. Here's how:

1. Offer much better royalties to authors.

2. Release titles faster. It can take 18 months after a book is turned in to be published. I can do it myself in a week.

3. Use up-to-date accounting methods that are trackable by the author, and pay royalties monthly.

4. Lower ebook prices.

5. Stop futilely fighting piracy. Hint: all such fighting is futile. Piracy can only be made redundant with cost and convenience.

6. Start marketing effectively. Ads and catalogue copy aren't enough. Neither is your imprint's Twitter feed. Especially if your author has more Twitter followers than you do.

Did I miss anything?

Barry: Legacy publishing’s contracts are a disaster. Substantively, they should reflect 21st-Century realities, among those realities the fact that for the first time, authors have real alternatives to the legacy route. So absolutely, the ridiculous current 52.5%-publisher and 17.5%-author digital split needs to be massively adjusted. Again, in a digital world, publishers are unnecessary for distribution, and the fact that they’re still trying to charge for a benefit they no longer provide is an untenable state of affairs.

They also need to stop with the crazy land grabs -- the first looks, the last refusals, the character and series and “anything remotely competitive” lock-ups and other non-compete clauses.

On a less substantive level, they need to make their contracts readable and understandable. Why do publishers still use antediluvian 14-inch legal paper for their contracts and 9-point font? Because it’s off-putting. It discourages anyone from reading or arguing about the contents. Why do they use such monumentally opaque and impenetrable legalese? Because they don’t want people to understand what the contract is doing -- what rights are being forfeited and what obligations imposed.

If there’s one thing I wish Amazon would do differently, it’s use their publishing contract as a sales tool. It’s the best I’ve ever seen -- clear, short, and understandable (just like their every-60-days royalty statements, in fact), and if they’d be more aggressive about publicizing how remarkably clear and fair their contract is, it would put some pressure on legacy publishers -- sorry, on Experimenting, Excitement-Generating Pioneers -- to follow suit.

Joe: I've been telling publishers how to improve since 2009, and not one has listened.

Except for Amazon. Amazon listens. Amazon listens closely.

That's why Amazon doesn't need to create silly internal memos about how they're still relevant.

Barry: Seriously, can you imagine Amazon putting out a memo like that? “We are still relevant” is not a good sign for Hachette, or for legacy publishing generally. It’s like when the government says, “The war is still winnable.” Surest sign it’s lost.

Joe: Yeah, hard to imagine a memo like this one from Amazon. Because every book Amazon has published actually makes a profit.

Barry: I want to say one last thing, about our tone.

Joe: Okay.

Barry: We’re pretty disrespectful here toward Hachette, aren’t we?

Joe: Yes. But not unfairly.

Barry: Exactly. Not unfairly. A lot of people get uncomfortable when small-fry like us criticize big, august institutions like Hachette. Up to a point, I understand that reflex, but I don’t share it.

Joe: This dialog could anger or hurt people who work at Hachette, or authors with Hachette. In fact, it could anger or hurt anyone working for legacy publishers.

But instead of getting hurt or angry, how about figuring out how to fix your broken business model?

This is a business. Business isn't personal.

At least, that's what my agent said when my last two publishers dropped me. Two publishers who are making money off my backlist hand-over-fist.

Barry: For me, respect isn’t something to which anyone is entitled (courtesy is different); it’s something that has to be earned. And when someone -- anyone -- writes a memo as weak, unsupported, and full of obvious bullshit as Hachette’s, there’s nothing wrong with, and indeed there’s everything right with, calling them on it.

Joe: Ultimately, I decided to spend some time doing this fisk because I see too many authors still crossing their fingers, holding out for legacy deals.

Seriously? You really want to work with a company that does stuff like this?

Barry: Was our tone sometimes derisive and mocking and otherwise harsh? Yes. Was that deserved? Again, yes.

Joe: Didn’t you just get into it with the Pentagon’s spokesperson?

Barry: Yeah, I wrote a blog criticizing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for being full of shit -- which he is -- and his spokesman responded with the usual, “Why do you hate the troops?” dodge. If anyone’s curious, you can read about it here. But yes, there are a lot of people who believe individuals have to defer to authority, including being terribly civil even while the authority in question pisses down your back and assures you it’s just raining. I’m not one of those people. If someone tries to bullshit me, I think it’s a public service to call bullshit and explain why.

Joe: You're anti-American and unappreciative of the opportunities this country has given you. You're also anti-legacy publishing and unappreciative of the opportunities the Big 6 have given you.

Barry: Hah. You see right through me.

Joe: But at least we've both managed to avoid any incendiary analogies this dialog. Good thing, too. I was getting really tired of dealing with overreacting, hypersensitive pinheads.

As for authors, I'll repeat my mantra. Set appropriate goals, and figure out realistic ways to reach those goals. If you really want to publish with a legacy house, fully understand what you're getting into, and why.

If you go into it all doe-eyed and hopeful, you can’t complain about whatever happens.

Barry: Hachette, go back to the drawing board and write a real memo, devoid of bullshit and dodges and glittering generalities that apply to every business that’s ever existed. Write something built on actual evidence instead of relying on a narcissistic and unmerited “trust us” attitude, and I promise we’ll examine it as carefully as we’ve reviewed this one -- though perhaps with a different result. Fair enough?

Joe: Did you do the wrap-up yet? I was too busy molesting this frog.

Barry: LMAO... Let the Dudgeon Demons descend!

Joe: Be the monkey!

270 comments:

1 – 200 of 270   Newer›   Newest»
Gerard de Marigny said...

Friggin' awesome ThoughtChat!

Barry said...

Thanks again for calling me this morning to jump off the ledge with you.

Joe Konrath said...

Dammit, Barry. I'm never calling you again.

But, damn, this was a lot of fun.

Mark Terry said...

"I'm kind of disappointed they didn't mention synergy."

When I read the memo when it came out I really was looking for "verticals" to be mentioned in there somewhere.

Barry said...

Shit, I can't believe they forgot the verticals. Bingo! :D

Jodi Langston-Wildlypoetic said...

You guys are great but you can't kill the idea/ideology of traditional publishing. You've got them backed into the corner knife to their throats though.
Do you guys read what goes on...indie bashing at the Amazon boards. Indies are bad, all our reviews are fake and we should be cast off to some penal colony for wayward writers. I made the mistake of visiting their again today...it wasn't pretty.
Hope you can help fight the stigma.

Jim Kukral said...

Great stuff.

On marketing...

I remember my book launch day very clearly. I was giddy in expectations of my legacy publisher emailing their base, or posting on Facebook, or simply just tweeting out that I had a book! 12 hours into my launch... nothing.

So I tweeted this: "Dear @mypublisher, did you hear that I have a book out today?"

10 minutes later I get a scathing email from my editor saying that was totally uncalled for! I mean, it was almost like they were crying. How could I do such a thing! They made me feel so bad about it I apologized even though I didn't mean it. I guess I'm too nice of a person.

They hated me ever since then. I eventually turned that hate into a release from my contract for the next book, thank God.

Rachel said...

Hi guys,
thanks so much for all the work you've put into this, as a newbie, working away on her first novel, this is very enlightening and encouraging. What I want to know Joe, is how did you build your list of potential readers? Any suggestions? Also, what happened to all the funny cat videos?

John Perich said...

"We get our books to the right place, in the right numbers, and at the right time (this applies equally to print and digital editions)."

I love the use of the word "equally" to describe two completely different marketplaces.

Anyhow, if it's an internal memo, you can bet it's meant more as a pep talk / internal marketing / hold-the-line effort. If the editors at HBG really knew how essential they were, they wouldn't need memos telling them. The fact that this memo even exists indicates a lot of fear and grumbling within the traditional publishing industry.

J.T. Dunsmere said...

As a niche publisher for eleven years I thought that I had scored when I landed a major national distributor six years ago. Talk about legacy publishers, legacy distributors are even worse, withholding 20% of revenue against returns to be paid whenever they feel like it, fees for sending out books, fees for restocking returns and fees for sending them out again and on and on. The last straw when they told me that they claim distribution of digital versions of my books at 20% of gross - for what? The whole structure is rotten and I'll be glad to see it finally collapse.

Kathleenshoop said...

Thanks for the info, Joe and Barry. Congrats to both of you on your massive sales (Stirred is bought and on my Christmas break reading list).

I've sold 50,000 copies of The Last Letter since May--most in digital and much of how I approached the process grew from what I read here.

My next book is at the editor and I can't wait to see what happens with it. I've worked so hard yet I know luck has visited!

I just keep telling myself to control what I can--great cover
and strong writing and everything else is out of my hands.

Thanks to both of you for drawing such distinct boundaries between data and wishful thinking.

Sarah Woodbury said...

Thanks guys, for another amazing stream-of-consciousness post.

I'm coming up on my 1 year indie anniversary, which started with my writing partner sending me to this blog last December and saying 'do it!'

J.T. Dunsmere said...

Regarding the Justice department's probe of Apple and the Big 6 in colluding to increase ebook prices, here's Hachette's brilliant piece of double speak:
On Wednesday, the publishers involved either dismissed the allegations as unfounded or said only that they were cooperating with regulators. In an indication of one possible line of defense, Hachette Book Group in the U.S. suggested the agency-pricing model had helped diversify the market for e-books, which was initially dominated by Amazon.
Hachette's "decision to distribute e-books through agency distribution not only better serves our authors and customers, it has also helped to increase competition and consumer choice in e-books and devices," a spokeswoman for Hachette Book Group said.

Jacking up ebook prices "better serves our authors and customers"? Price fixing "increases competition"?

If anything you guys were too gentle in tone.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203501304577084331269336926.html#ixzz1fuSsFnon

Mark Coker said...

Brilliant brilliant brilliant.

PJ said...

Digital Book World should've posted this instead of that brief list - this was very informative and I finally see where you are coming from. Thanks for this.

J. R. Tomlin said...

You make some really good points. I wonder why you feel you have to back them up with what you admit and know perfectly well is offensive cr@p from Carlos Mencia. If I want to pay to go have my head filled with his bigoted spiel, I'll do it. I'd love it you would leave it off because that just puts your valid arguments on his level.

Barry said...

JR, Mencia is definitely not for everyone -- who is? But I think he's hilarious and also thought-provoking, and not bigoted at all.

I think next time we might have to post George Carlin on the seven words you can't say on television, or on The Ten Commandments.

:)

Terri Reid said...

ROTFLMAO You guys can be my Content Collaborators anytime!!! :)

JP Kurzitza said...

LMAO! The two of you - and Hachette - need to tour the comedy clubs. Gold, absolute gold.

Walter Knight said...

Hachette is saying they have credibility that will make authors and their books successful. Many readers buy that, believing all indie books are trash because they have not been vetted and approved by proper gatekeepers.

Hachette's memo looks like it could have been written by someone running for President. "Trust me, I care about you. I will take care of you."

Saying you care is not enough.

Jonas Saul said...

Wow, what a post. Thanks guys!

Love the 'offended' bit.

More people need to be offended.

Jonas

Anonymous said...

You guys are like millionaires or something. I'm happy as a clam if I make $4 in 1 day from ebook net profits. $4 per day, that would be $120 per month, that's my whole smartphone bill! From 2 medium length novels! So happy I could blow a goat!

Anonymous said...

...So obviously if some publisher offered me 5 grand in advance for book...crap on a stick! I'd be so all over that! I don't care what the heck it MIGHT make in the future. Gimme money NOW! GIMME GIMME GIMME!

Of course, if I start selling more than 4 bucks a day net profit, then the lure of advances drops proportionally. But right now I'd probably sign over the rights to be next 10 books for $5k. And no one is even willing to do that. See how that works? By the time they would be willing to do it, I wouldn't want their advance anymore, because the cash I'd be bringing in is what demonstrated to them that they can profit it off it. So it's a ridiculous catch-22 all the way around. It's not worth anything, they don't want it. Oh, but it is--see the ebooks go! We want it! Sorry, can't have it, it's worth something now so I'm keeping it!

Anonymous said...

...It's an economic mobius band is what it is. An EMB of supply and perceived demand.

Tara Maya said...

What strikes me about this secret memo is that big publishers are starting to have to do what only Vanity Presses had to do before... hustle to sell themselves to writers.

Even though publishers *always* depended on writers, you wouldn't have thought that. Writers had to query publishers, or even query agents, just to get to query publishers.

Agents and publishers could afford to say things like, "I will reject your query without even reading further if you get one letter in my name wrong. Or name your protagonist with a P. Or email me on Tuesdays during a full moon." A smart author grinned and memorized the particulars of each agent's peccadillo.

Now agents and emails query authors. The buyers market has become a sellers market.

This is true even though, as Anon has demonstrated above, some authors are still so desperate, they'd sell out for a pittance.

The thing is, it's going to be very hard for a publisher to be as nimble as an author in promoting a book. A publisher doesn't do what's best for individual authors but what's best for their overall line. A publisher won't necessarily agree, for instance, to make the first book in one's series free as a loss leader all the way through Christmas.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song epic fantasy series

Tara Maya said...

Meant so say: Now agents and publishers query authors. The buyers market has become a sellers market.

And goo.gl/TZ75k and goo.gl/Kuw9e
(with no blogger.com in front--why is it doing that?)

Tara Maya

Tara Maya said...

Oh and can I just snort one more time at this: "Me nurture you long time!"

*snicker*

Marilyn Peake said...

HaHaHaHa! You guys are hilarious! This blog post is one of your best yet, filled with both clarity and humor. It's amazing how desperate the big publishers sound lately, with all their smoke and mirrors claims.

A.Rosaria said...

In life I learned it never pays to be nice to those that are not nice themselves.

It may make your life difficult for the short time, but in the long run you'll heve a less stressful life and in the case of publishing a more profitable life.

billie said...

You two need to take this show on the road! :)

Great responses to the memo.

Can you discuss the new thing at Amazon that I found this morning when I checked my stats?

KDP Select?

azarimba said...

HBG's memo reads like the long-form version of the corporate mission statement run amok.

Anonymous said...

There are dozens of cases of previously traditionally pubbed authors going indie and finally being able to quit their day jobs to write full time, which benefits all readers.

Yet, I have not seen one case of an indie getting traditionally pubbed and doing the same.

As a company when your first stab at promoting paper over ebook is to over-price the digital rather than improve the print, you are piloting a sinking ship.

That is the kind of internal memo/pep talk Enron used to circulate.

Anonymous said...

Clever, but the bottom line remains that a NY publisher gets an author into print distribution. There's a value to that for the author, which in turns entitles the publisher to something in return, meaning the package considered as a whole needs to be evaluated.

Evaluating one line item in a vacuum, say 70% digital verses X% digital, is not valid because it disregards other line items where the publisher is ponying up big time (e.g. paying for production of HC copies of a book; getting digital and print versions into libraries; getting book reviews from renowned sources, etc.)

Most good authors today, given the opportunity, go with an established publisher. There's a reason for that.

Joe Konrath said...

Evaluating one line item in a vacuum, say 70% digital verses X% digital, is not valid because it disregards other line items where the publisher is ponying up big time

Let's say a book sells 10,000 copies, 7k in ebook, and 3k in paper, which seems to be the way things are going.

3k sales on a $7.99 paperback will earn $1917 at standard 8% royalties.

7k on a $7.99 ebook (assuming the publisher is smart enough to release it at the same price as paper) will earn $9787.

Now say the author self-pubs as an ebook, without any paper version. And let's say they sell it for $2.99. And let's say they sell the same amount as the publisher, 7k copies (even though they'd sell more at $2.99 than at $7.99).

That earns $14,000, more than the paper and ebook sales combined by going with a legacy publisher.

Most good authors today, given the opportunity, go with an established publisher. There's a reason for that.

It is because they aren't thinking logically. Which is why I did this blog post.

Darlene Underdahl said...

You guys have too much fun. What a great way to wake up.

I think that was mostly a pep talk to the troops. In this environment, I’m sure lots of employees are asked the question, “What does your company offer that self-publishing doesn’t?” They needed talking points.

Or… some vice-something was trying to justify his position (I write memos!).

Sean McCartney said...

Joe and Barry,

Great post as usual. I am wondering if when you started 8, 9 years ago you would have skipped the traditional publisher and gone straight digital? I am only asking because many of us do wait and hope for the deal because we are newbie's to the whole industry.

I work with a small publisher and it has been very good, but not great. I also published two titles with KDP and they haven't done so hot but my titles with the publisher have. Not sure what that means but it is my 2 cents, which is about what I have made self-pubbing. :) Just joking...sorta :)

Anonymous said...

If you really want to try to compare a self-published route to a traditional route, it's probably not appropriate to assume that sales will be the same both ways. That's a strawman that doesn't exist in the real world.

Of course there are exceptions. Some authors will sell MORE than they could going traditional simply because they don't have overhead and can sell at a lower price. They don't have to worry about those additional line items that publishers worry about (editing, printing, etc.) Ironically, many of those in that category got launched traditionally.

BUT I'd venture to guess that most self-published authors hardly make anything.

You and Barry are exceptions. So, if you want to argue self-published vs. traditional, don't argue using your own number (unless the issue is the POSSIBILITIES of self-publishing.). Instead, the argument should be founded on the real numbers for self-published vs. the real number for traditional
publishing. Unfortunately, I'm not sure those numbers are available except in speculative terms.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 9:11am
BUT I'd venture to guess that most self-published authors hardly make anything.


The TRUTH is most traditionally-published authors hardly make anything and get treated like shit.

Jeri said...

I'm a writer/teacher who is looking forward to getting some "real" writing done in the year ahead and have decided to give self-publishing a try. Blogs like yours mean the world to me right now as I have recently started a blog of my own and am in the process of trying to figure a lot of 21st century writerly stuff out.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:21am
Clever, but the bottom line remains that a NY publisher gets an author into print distribution. There's a value to that for the author, which in turns entitles the publisher to something in return, meaning the package considered as a whole needs to be evaluated.


oh yes, and that print distribution will be an invaluable resource when there are no more book stores.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else getting a DataTables warning on KDP this morning?

Coral Russell said...

LOL I saw this the other day and wondered if you would be able to resist... Glad you didn't!

Pandora Poikilos said...

"Except for Amazon. Amazon listens. Amazon listens closely.

That's why Amazon doesn't need to create silly internal memos about how they're still relevant."

This is the absolute truth. Thank you for this piece. I was a little rattled with some recent issues, this puts things in a whole new light for me. All my best.

I.J.Parker said...

This was hilarious. Also very long -- when I should have been promoting my new Kindle novel.

However, the points made are all true. I've also had legacy publishers, two of the big ones. The only point where I might disagree is about their "excellent editors": most editors don't edit; they pick out cover designs and fonts and titles and write silly blurbs. One of my editors who did edit (only the first novel) crossed out nine pages of a crime novel where the protagonist gets the killer to confess.

Pat Mullan said...

Joe and Barry,

All superlatives apply!

I read THE DETACHMENT Barry - loved it! And I'm losing sleep over STIRRED Joe - I am exhausted and transfixed by it... And, of course, I downloaded them both to my Kindle over 3G here in the middle of Connemara in the west of Ireland. Do you realize (do the legacy publishers realize) that ebooks give me the kind of access to 'literature' that I could only get in the best New York bookstore (and I have just returned from New York) right here in Connemara - and at a much cheaper price. It seems to me that $2.99 for an ebook hits the mark in the Europe and US of today where the economy has hit rock bottom.

Anyway,I love you guys. Keep writing great entertainment. And keep me enthralled with your conversations. Can't get to the pub with you so this is next best.

Happy holidays and warmest wishes for 2012.

Slan go foill, Pat.

The One and Only Doc said...

Unfortunately, I've noticed that a lot of ebooks from Hachette Group are very poorly put together, too.

I could understand tooting your own horn when there's a quality product to be tooting about...but when really, really good books are rendered into steaming bowls of crap because the publisher short-changes folks reading electronically, it leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.

I sent the publisher an e-mail regarding my disappointment with their ebook design. I've given up on any response and any change forthcoming. They're still in total denial.

Nancy Beck said...

What an awesome dialogue! I was snickering here at my desk at work.

Like someone else said well before me, that memo sounds more like a pep talk than anything else.

Night Terrors

Coming soon, the 3rd in my Haven New Jersey novella series - Demon Daughter

John D said...

If you really want to try to compare a self-published route to a traditional route, it's probably not appropriate to assume that sales will be the same both ways. That's a strawman that doesn't exist in the real world.

Actually, the strawman is the comparison of traditionally published authors to the self-published. Those who have self-published represent every author who has actively pursued that route, while the traditionally published represent only a small percentage of those who have pursued the traditional route - those who have made it past the "gatekeepers."

BUT I'd venture to guess that most self-published authors hardly make anything.

And most of those who pursue a traditional deal get nothing for their efforts but rejection letters, which have no monetary value.

tyhutchinson said...

Great stuff. Always a treat.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

any thoughts on the new kindle lending program offers

David L. Shutter said...

Amazing post guys. Thanks.

Clever, but the bottom line remains that a NY publisher gets an author into print distribution. There's a value to that for the author,

Really? As long as B&N brick and mortar division doesn't go under, I guess? Gonna be a really long drive to the nearest Books-A-Million from where I live, but they're hurting too, so who knows? And I remember when every mall and mini-mall used to have places to buy books. Not now.

I love the anti-indie arguments that center on the ingenius expertise and raw marketing power you get with a traditional. My reply is a simple question:

If traditionals are so immensely smart, poweful (and successful) at marketing then why aren't there thousands of thriving bookstores that are 747-aircraft hangar sized Costco's, where every author who is "good enough" for them has their own giant display in a quarter mile long aisle?

That doesn't exist. There is, however, a big Mom & Pop discount store nearby that I've been visiting lately. Why? because they have about half a 'Borders' worth of books, dirt cheap, stacked on plywood and cinder block shelves.

Why didn't they fly off the shelves when they first came out? I thought the Big 6 were such experts at making that happen?

Bookstores are (very sadly I think) dissapearing faster than the rain forest. Paper is what they've done and that world is going away very, very quickly. What's left?

Where's the value? Giving them (or any other middle-man) over 50% royalties to upload for you?

No thanks.

Writing Trip

Gary Ponzo said...

Question for the group. I recently had an audio company request to purchase the rights to my novel--Should I contact an agent to negotiate this contract- or do it myself?

Doug Grad said...

Oh my god, that was perhaps the funniest and most honest explanation of publishing I've ever read. And based on my 20+ years on the corporate side, I couldn't agree more. Which is why I left--couldn't take the B.S. any more. Now if only I could figure out how to make a decent living on the other side of the table...

Cyn Bagley said...

@Konrath & Eisler -
What do you think of the 90 day exclusivity clause in the KDP lending library?

Thanks - and I enjoyed your content collaboration.

Cyn

Anonymous said...

That's a dumb memo from Hachette, for sure. But a long, smug circle-jerk from a couple of failed midlisters is kinda dumb too. "We're right! Because we say we're right!!" OK, whatever.

Anonymous said...

2 'failed mid-listers' who will make nearly $1 million combined in 2011 solely due to self-pubbed works.

Meanwhile, hundreds of traditionally pubbed mid-listers work crappy day jobs year after year to pay the bills. Those are the true 'failures'.

Who's dumb now? Do the math.

Nancy Beck said...

I recently had an audio company request to purchase the rights to my novel--Should I contact an agent to negotiate this contract- or do it myself?

@Gary Ponzo - Congrats for having them come to you! Must have been a thrill to be contacted. :-)

FWIW, here's my take on it (since I'm not a lawyer and don't play one on TV, don't take my ideas as gospel).

First, don't go with an agent. As Dean Wesley Smith has explained on his site time and time again, the agenting business is in a state of flux right now; he suggets waiting about 2 years until everything is sorted out and settled down.

Go with an IP lawyer. Laura Resnick has vetted a few on one of her sites.

IP lawyers will negotiate for you, but they won't take 15% forever. That's important. You pay the lawyer once, and you don't have to worry about him/her taking anymore from you unless you engage them again.

If you want to try on your own, let me suggest Kris Rusch's How to Negotiate Anything. (That's off Smashwords, if you're wondering.)

It's only US$2.99. I'm not sure if it has anything specifically about audio companies (haven't read thru it all as yet), but she's given sound advice on a bunch of other things, so it may be worth a look.

Just to reiterate: DO NOT GET AN AGENT AT THIS POINT IN TIME. Two reasons why: Some agents are turning themselves into publishers (which means they have no incentive to send your books to trad publishers even tho that might be the best fit for that particular book), and a lot of agents (not all) have no legal background to negotiate contracts.

You want to make sure you get the best deal.

Good luck!

Night Terrors

Rex Kusler said...

Just got the email about the KDP Select program. I only have one self-published book available and I only sell it in the Amazon Kindle store. So I signed ANGELA up right away and it'll be free for 5 days starting tomorrow. This should give a boost to my AmazonEncore titles.

Marta Szemik said...

As always, enjoyed the back and forth immensely. Thank you! For those asking about the 90 KDP lending, worthwhile to read Mark Coker's Smashwords blog posted today.

Suz Korb said...

Thanks, Marta! Off to read the Smashwords blog post now. I've been curious about this new eBook lending thing.

Megg Jensen said...

Hey Joe,

I live in the Chicago area. If you need anyone for that ebook panel at RT, drop me an email. :D

Megg
meggjensen (at) gmail.com
www.meggjensen.com

Joe Konrath said...

"We're right! Because we say we're right!!" OK, whatever.

Actually, we're right because we presented a good argument, supported by facts and logic.

We also sign our names to our posts, because we aren't cowards.

Anonymous said...

"Every book Amazon has published makes a profit."

How do we know this?

Todd Trumpet said...

"A lot of people get uncomfortable when small-fry like us criticize big, august institutions like Hachette."

Here's two more truths:

1. I have never heard of Hachette.

2. I have heard of Barry and Joe.

Time to rethink "small" and "big"?

Todd
www.ToddTrumpet.com

P.S. Has no one really said this yet? Okay, I will:

"Thanks for the Hachette Job!"

Joshua Simcox said...

"Meanwhile, hundreds of traditionally pubbed mid-listers work crappy day jobs year after year to pay the bills. Those are the true 'failures'."

That's an incredibly narrow definition of "failure". Financial success in publishing is dependent on a number factors, many of which are beyond an author's control. After all, how many times has Joe himself said that making it really boils down to simply being lucky?

I would hesitate to label an author with a day job as a "failure".

--Joshua

NEW ANON said...

JA, curious about your involvement in KDP Select. You have books like The List and Shot of Tequila in the Select/Prime program, but they're not exclusive to Amazon. They're available, for example, at the iBookstore.

How are you pulling this off?

NEW ANON

Joe Konrath said...

"Every book Amazon has published makes a profit."

How do we know this?


Some of us have spoken with Amazon for more than seven hours in the last thirty days.

But don't take my word for it. Sell 500,000 ebooks, become a blogger with a huge readership, and then when Amazon courts you, you can start up a dialog and talk about stuff.

Amazon is doing an incredible job with their imprints. If one of their titles begins to lag in sales, they promote it. All they need to do is send out some emails, and their titles sell.

When you are both the publisher and the main retailer, you'd have to really screw up bad to lose money.

Gary Ponzo said...

Thanks, Nancy. I appreciate the info and the links.

Joe Konrath said...

JA, curious about your involvement in KDP Select. You have books like The List and Shot of Tequila in the Select/Prime program, but they're not exclusive to Amazon. They're available, for example, at the iBookstore.

How are you pulling this off?


It takes some time to remove titles from other sites.

I am giving KDP a shot, but I can't say much about it until I have some data.

NEW ANON said...

"I am giving KDP a shot, but I can't say much about it until I have some data."

I probably will too at least with some of my books. I only sell 100 or so a month on iBookstore and am interested to see if I can beat that with Select.

Overall, it seems like the Select, together with it's free book component, is going to take a bit out of regular KDP sales.

Mickey C. said...

Get article, loved it. I really want to hear your thoughts on "Kindle Direct Publishing Select" I've heard you have jumped on board, which I was kind of shocked to hear, something about the exclusivity that I thought you would be against.

I like the idea but troubled by how this can be manipulated.

What do you think?

Jude Hardin said...

I recently had an audio company request to purchase the rights to my novel--Should I contact an agent to negotiate this contract- or do it myself?

Literary agents are still very relevant in today's publishing world, so don't let anyone tell you otherwise. My agent recently negotiated a multi-book deal with Amazon's Thomas and Mercer imprint for my Nicholas Colt series. Better than Big 6, better than self-pubbing. Me happy.

The truth is, though, an agent probably isn't going to be interested in negotiating just those audio rights for you. Having that offer might help get your foot in the door, but you'll still have to query and the agent will probably accept or reject the work as a whole (not just a single sub right) based on its literary merit and marketplace potential. In other words, if you're interested in exploiting ALL the rights to your book, whether it be to a traditional publisher or T&M or another Amazon imprint or whatever, then a literary agent is your best bet. If you want to keep self-publishing and retain your rights, I would suggest looking into a royalty-sharing deal with a company like ACX for the audiobook. Good luck!

Mickey C. said...

Let me rephrase that, manipulated sounds to conspiratorial.

It's the numbers, it's always about the numbers. Pool of money, undetermined amount of authors, books and sales. Seems like this "Select" program could get funky very quickly.

And I say again, about the idea of exclusivity, seems like it's not in keeping with your thinking as far as self-publishing goes.

I noticed you mention you can't really say till you have some data but I'm more curious about your personal feelings and if they clash with some of the things you have said in the past.

Exclusivity? Seems like a hard pill to swallow for someone who sells their book directly on their website.

BTW, love you stuff and how much you have helped those around you, not accusing here, just wondering.

Gary Ponzo said...

Yeah, Jude, not looking to sell anything but audio rights. Thanks for the insight.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

They use a memo full of vague Telling-Not-Showing statements to suggest that they provide great editorial services? Oh, irony.

Stuff like this always makes me grateful that I stopped querying and did things my way.

Rex Kusler said...

I guess at this point it's best to hope Amazon never sells its publishing arm to Hachette.

Don said...

It seems that in spite of their stated intent to find and nurture new talent, as legacy publishers become more desperate, they, much like the movie studios, are focusing on the “tent pole” books by brand name authors to keep them afloat. This is very strange behavior, since if they used the digital world, they could publish new, but unknown writers at very little expense or risk. That might be a great approach to use during the 18-24 months before the paper comes out. If it bombs on the internet, they could kill the print run, but if it takes off everybody comes out ahead. Joe, thanks for pointing so many newbies like me in the right direction.

Chris said...

Barry & Joe,

That sure was a detailed breakdown of all the words Hatchette used to say nothing. It's almost like they are making this too easy for you.

For my reaction to that memo, I'd refer Hatchette to that wise young sage Ke$ha:

Stop, talk, talk, talking that blah, blah, blah
Think you'll be getting this? Nah, nah, nah.

David L. Shutter said...

That sure was a detailed breakdown of all the words Hatchette used to say nothing. It's almost like they are making this too easy for you.

Chris, that's what I thought.

I thought their thorough skewering of this wholly delusional statement would have provoked a lot more anon shit-spewing. Was looking forward to extensive debating.

Somewhat dissapointed.

Writing Trip

Joe Konrath said...

Somewhat dissapointed.

Me too.

I don't allow anonymous comments because I enjoy insulting pinheads (though that is fun), but so known industry professionals can interact without having to take any heat for it.

I know a lot of editors and agents read this blog. They could post anonymously, telling their side of the story.

But they don't. Because their side of the story can't be defended, even anonymously.

Earlier today, I saw a flock of birds in a V formation, flying north instead of south. I pointed them out to my wife and said, "Look. Legacy birds."

Why didn't the eight birds following that deluded head bird go find another leader? Or at least tell him he was wrong?

I don't get it.

Rick Chesler said...

Now that's entertainment!

Barry said...

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

Pat, thanks very much and glad you enjoyed The Detachment.

Shelli and Cyn, I think book subscription programs are great ideas in principle (the general concept itself isn't even new; think Book Of The Month Club). Whether subscription programs will be good for authors in practice will depend on the details, and for now I'm adopting a wait-and-see approach. I do think Amazon is making a mistake insisting on exclusivity for their program and have told them as much. OTOH, I've hedged my bets by including two self-published short stories. We'll see how it evolves.

Thanks, Doug, always good to hear from someone who's lived through the corporate bullshit (and hope we didn't cause a flashback). ;)

On the comparisons between legacy and indie, there are already some great responses so I don't have much to add. In general, you have to be sure you're comparing the reality of indie and the reality of legacy, not the reality of indie and the ideal of legacy. Thanks to everyone who one way or another has already clarified the importance of apples-to-apples comparisons.

Cath @ Constance Reader said...

Whoa, I never knew that the royalty payout broke down so heavily on the side of the publisher. When you put it like that, it really gives a whole new angle to the publishers working so hard to justify why they earn such fees.

Thanks for posting--it was hilarious and interesting. Two of my favorite things!

Archangel said...

@gary ponzo... hi there, any friend of elmore is a friend of mine. I've 20 audiobooks in print for over 25 years and good NPR coverage as well. I know the biz fairly well. There are agents who will rep an audio deal for certain, and you can also rep it yourself or with a third party, as Nancy pointed out. The contracts are much more simple than a book contract. And the profit margin for an author is often higher than 'best deal' royalties on a book. If you contact me off site with a little more info about your hopes, I may be able to help you with more direct experience/info if you wish. Projectscreener@aol.com

thanks

dr.cpe

Anonymous said...

How does Hatchette reconcile the fact that their 'expert distribution system' which the author finances is now only putting books in 800 bookstores rather than 3,000 with the closing of nearly all mall outlets and Borders?

Anonymous said...

And yes Joshua Simcox, every writer's goal is to write full-time, so working a day job for 40 hours a week that you don't enjoy is failing to reach your goal. And you are a double failure if you don't at least investigate other options such as self pub.

There are dozens of posters on here doing so via indie - even though the market really only picked up in early 2011 - many of whom failed to do so via the Big 6 route.

I do so myself, yet I post anonymously because I'm afraid my sales success may turn off some of my readers who are on tight budgets themselves.

At the start of 2011 there were 8 million Kindles out, at the start of 2012 there will be 25 million - good luck to all!

wannabuy said...

@ Anon 6:38:"At the start of 2011 there were 8 million Kindles out, at the start of 2012 there will be 25 million - good luck to all!"

I agree with the ratio. The sub $100 ereader market will help spike sales. 'Kindle Fire' press will also help sell e-ink Kindles.

Neil

ADBBingo said...

In depth article including a quote from JK himself on the front page of the Wall Street Journal Friday section today about self publishing. The story continues to grow......

Chip Anderson said...

And the ebook train rolls on!

I will coupling my car to that train very soon.

Smuggy Smith's First Year said...

I have a couple of questions. As a believer in self-publishing, do I need to be self-nurturing and if I do it too much will I go blind?

josephinewade said...

I was thinking about the issuing of this memo and how it reflects publishing.

I was wondering if they offered the memo on paper as well as digital and did they 'window' for a week delaying the issue of their memo to those who wanted a digital copy because they consider digital a lesser form of communication.

Oh, hell. Good job guys.

Jim Kukral said...

Amazon is the new WalMart. Re: KDP Select.

http://www.nopublisherneeded.com/amazon-is-the-new-wal-mart/

Elizabeth Jennings said...

Fabulous as usual, Joe and Barry! Like the lady from Connemara, I live in a small town in southern Italy and yet it is as if I lived in New York. I downloaded The Detachment the instant it was available, 9 am my time, midnight SEattle time. Have read lots of Joe's books (though Joe I had to stop reading The List, it scared the hell out of me). The big thing people are overlooking is how huge the world market is. Two billion English readers. The ebook market is only beginning. Good luck! Elizabeth Jennings

Remus Shepherd said...

A good article, but I think you both are being too smug about your position.

You found success self-publishing after you were already published traditionally -- after you had already received high profile reviews, done continent-wide book tours, and gotten valuable knowledge about the publishing industry. The help and advance from your publisher allowed you to do all of that. The fame that has come your way since has allowed you to be successful on your own.

Most new authors cannot bootstrap themselves into your position. They do not have 10,000 people on a mailing list or a blog that gets links from BoingBoing. The average self-published book sells only a handful of copies, because the authors do not have all the advantages that you collected from your traditional publishing experience. Those new authors need help. Publishers give that help.

Now, publishers also bring a lot of bad and outdated practices with them, so new authors have to be savvy with their contracts. If they're neglected instead of nurtured then they should have the ability and will to jump ship. Maybe those authors will do better on their own once they've gotten their foot in the door, just like you have.

But traditional publishing does still provide an important service. Although your tag-team snarking was a lot of fun, I think your egos are making you blind to the fact that these publishers were your first stepping stone. New authors will need a similar first step.

Stitch said...

Thanks, Joe and Barry, for that. Hilarious as well as informative!

Thanks, by the way, for the Carlos Mencia clips. I'd not seen him before. Gonna check out more of his stuff! It seems to me that calling him a bigot is just admitting you haven't been listening to what he's saying...

And Steve Hughes is awesome. I love that clip. Have you seen this one?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0lVbMOMTi0

Highly recommended! (And highly offensive, if you're sensitive to that sort of thing...)

/Stig R

David L. Shutter said...

I don't allow anonymous comments because I enjoy insulting pinheads (though that is fun), but so known industry professionals can interact without having to take any heat for it.

Joe

That right there is a monumental sympton of a massive internal problem facing traditionals that they're not even aware of: a corporate culture of insulated delusion.

Not having any Big 6 experience I can still recognize this because I've seen it elsewhere. Years ago I managed for a big box retailer; not the 'Red' or 'Blue' stores but that #3 company; Y'know, the one whose stores are almost entirely dilapidated shitholes sequestered to areas with the cheapest rent.

Hint: they bought Borders and despite 14 years of explosive, international growth still managed to run it into the ground.

Anyway, working within management of this horribly declining company taught me a lot about self induced corporate delusion. In meetings with senior management us "field guys" would detail how we're being hoplessly outclassed and outperformed in so many areas.

Time and time again we were told to shut up and only worry about item's A, B and C while completely ignoring critical areas D thru Z. Do this and everything will be juuust fiiine.

The Hachette statement and your commentary that individuals within the Traditional structure can't offer open, honest public discussion "without taking heat" perfectly capture this insulated delusion.

I'm not convinced of an full, imminent demise of the Big 6 but I think they're in far, far more trouble than they realize.

Dave

Writing Trip

Merrill Heath said...

ADBBingo said: In depth article including a quote from JK himself on the front page of the Wall Street Journal Friday section today about self publishing. The story continues to grow......

This is an interesting article. Ms Chan has sold 413,000 copies of her novel, but she still wants it published by a traditional publisher and sold in brick and mortar stores. She has an agent shopping it but still hasn't had a decent offer.

The article further states: In the meantime, there's interest from other corners of the industry. Multiple audio-book publishers have made offers. Six film studios have inquired about movie rights. Two foreign publishers bid on the book. Ms. Chan is holding off on such deals, for fear they might sabotage a potential contract with a domestic publisher.

Really?

Then this:Ms. Liss (her agent) advised her to work on a sequel set in the same town, with some of the same characters. Ms. Chan has written two chapters. While she would love to write full time, for now, she still sees writing as more of a hobby. When people ask her what she does for a living, she says she's a lawyer. But she's still holding out hope that a publisher will buy "The Mill River Recluse," edit it and sell it in brick-and-mortar stores.

WTF?

Merrill Heath
Novels by Merrill Heath

Alan Tucker said...

Joe and Barry, I'm disappointed.

This was too easy.

Hachette lobbed up a softball and you knocked it out of the park.

I wonder how much of that 52.5% the executive is getting who came up with this double-speak, smoke and mirrors memo?

Way too much, obviously.

Joe Konrath said...

The fame that has come your way since has allowed you to be successful on your own.

This meme just won't die.

The fame that has come my way is because I busted my ass, doing more self-promotion than anyone in the history of the biz.

And do you know who a close second is when it comes to self-promotion? Barry Eisler. He's done almost as much as I have.

Our publishers got our books into stores (mostly). They didn't give us fans. The fans we made were either by writing good books, or meeting them in person or through secondary sources (such as the thousands--yes THOUSANDS--of booksellers Barry and I have met).

And they didn't publish us to do us any favors, even though they expected us to be grateful. They did it to make money. And they've made more money off our work than we have.

We needed them to get distribution. But distribution alone doesn't give you a fanbase.

The average self-published book sells only a handful of copies, because the authors do not have all the advantages that you collected from your traditional publishing experience. Those new authors need help. Publishers give that help.

Uh, no. My self-pubbed books buoy my backlist legacy titles, not the opposite. The fans I'm making on my own are leading people to my old books.

I'm guessing you've never worked with a legacy publisher, because this meme only gets brought up by those who haven't. Those who have tend to smile when someone says, "Publishers help you to succeed."

Actually, they are more often impediments to success.

Joe Konrath said...

Time and time again we were told to shut up and only worry about item's A, B and C while completely ignoring critical areas D thru Z. Do this and everything will be juuust fiiine.

This happens all over. I was in the restaurant industry for years. If corporate had listened to the servers and bartenders about what the customers wanted, they would have made double the money. Instead, they made us do useless things that hindered success.

Many people, in many businesses, succeed despite what they're told to do, not because of it.

Some editors need to grow some brass balls and stand up to their superiors, demanding them to make changes, or the whole industry is going to sink.

Anonymous said...

Joe sez: "Publishers ... are more often impediments to success."

Well, only in the sense that Ted Williams was a lousy hitter because he made an out six or seven times out of ten.

Nobody bats a thousand. Not publishers, and not self-publishers. But hit .320, and you go to the Hall of Fame. Hit .220, and you don't.

Amazon itself reports that only twelve self-pubbers have sold more than 200k e-books. Most of those sales were presumably this year or last.

In the same period, there were a couple hundred - at least - trad-pubbers who sold that many. Several dozen - at least - individual titles sold that many, often in a few weeks.

So how do you account for that imbalance, given that trad publishers are impediments? And that previous print presence is a zombie meme? And that publisher marketing is non-existent or crap? Etc, etc?

Just a freak coincidence?

Joe Konrath said...

Well, only in the sense that Ted Williams was a lousy hitter because he made an out six or seven times out of ten.

Sorry, no.

Compare what my publishers did with my books to what I did with my self-pubbed books. They batted .200. I'm batting 1000.

In the same period, there were a couple hundred - at least - trad-pubbers who sold that many. Several dozen - at least - individual titles sold that many, often in a few weeks.

Sorry, another no. Show me your source.

Last I heard, only 12 people have reach 1 million Kindle sales. 2 of them were self-pubbed. The other 10 were the huge bestsellers we'd expect because they're billionaires.

I'd guess your average NYT bestseller hasn't come close to selling several hundred thousand ebooks. I'd guess this because I know some NYT bestsellers and we talk numbers. My backlist outsells many of theirs.

Why? Because my self-pubbed titles raise my backlist.

If you say there are hundreds of authors selling 100,000s of ebooks, name names.

Selena Kitt said...

But traditional publishing does still provide an important service. Although your tag-team snarking was a lot of fun, I think your egos are making you blind to the fact that these publishers were your first stepping stone. New authors will need a similar first step.

No they do not. Amanda Hocking. John Locke. Countless, countless others. That's to say nothing of those authors making a living and paying their mortgages whose sales are "midlist." Average, mediocre. A midlist self-published author can make a living writing. What a concept! They can quit their day job and write for a living! *gasp*

Did the Big 6 ever do that for most midlisters in the past? No they did not.

I get the bitterness and the anger and the banging-your-head-against-a-wall attitude of former legacy pub midlisters. They were treated (and are STILL being treated, as we speak) like dirt.

Nurtured my ass.

But while Barry and Joe got where they are having had previous legacy contracts - many authors have gotten where they are and have even outsold them never having had a legacy deal ever before!

Your argument...isn't.

But Hatchette and the rest of the big publishers would like to borrow your logic!

Anonymous said...

Joe sez: "Compare what my publishers did with my books to what I did with my self-pubbed books."

Come on. Individual cases don't make an argument. If the metaphor is batting average, focus on "average" - it's an arithmetic concept. You can look it up.

The fact is that the e-book market is dominated by trad-published authors. You want names? You know the names. There have probably been 60 or so authors this year in and out of the NYT top 3, and probably all of them have sold 200k+ of their 2011 titles. It might be comforting to pretend otherwise, but you can't construct an argument out of comforting pretense and wild-card exceptions.

Then Joe sez: "only 12 people have reach 1 million Kindle sales ... 10 were the huge bestsellers we'd expect because they're billionaires."

What? They spend their own money to get there? They can afford to because they're billionaires? No, they're rich because they're huge bestsellers. And they're huge bestsellers because major third-party effort made them so.

You're dodging the issue, which is this: why, in this brand new, level-playing-field, everyone's-an-equal-distributor world, do trad-pubbed authors dominate sales?

Alan Tucker said...

@Anon at 2:06

Comparing sales of established Trad pubbed authors to new Self pubbed ones is apples and oranges. Doesn't work.

Have a look at the success rate and earnings of the Big 6 new authors over the past year or two and see what you find. Then remember that the majority of those "new" authors worked for many years before the bolt of lightning struck them and they landed their deal.

I'm guessing the overall success rate isn't that much different. It's still a lottery. But, at least with self pubbing, it's a lottery I have a smidgeon of control over.

Anonymous said...

@ Alan Tucker

Sure, but my focus is on the word "established" in your phrase "established Trad pubbed authors".

Joe says those folks have become "established" despite the impediment of bad publishing, ineffective or zero marketing, worthless promotion, and so on.

I'm saying those folks have become "established" in part because of trad publishers' efforts, which while not perfect, do work to an appreciable extent.

David L. Shutter said...

This happens all over. I was in the restaurant industry for years.

LOL..I cooked for 6 years, during and after college when I was working on my "big" indie filmmaking career.

Can't count how many hot menu items that sold like crazy were pulled in lieu of steaming turd dishes.

Another corporate realization: some senior managers can never NOT change certain things. They have to display their own ingenuity and put their own stamp on things...even if it means changing something that ain't broke and works just fine. But the extreme opposite, complete inaction, is just as bad of not worse.

Funny, restaraunts are another of probably hundreds of examples they could look at: when someone else starts doing it better, faster and cheaper it's time to look in the mirror.

Anonymous said...

But traditional publishing does still provide an important service. Although your tag-team snarking was a lot of fun, I think your egos are making you blind to the fact that these publishers were your first stepping stone. New authors will need a similar first step.

Your first step will be to write a good book with a nice cover and blurb.

From what I get with Joe and Barry is that whether you do it yourself or go through a publisher when it comes to actually selling your book, you're on your own. This is huge, because the publisher is still taking a large cut and not using its muscle to market you. So basically, do the work yourself, and if your book is good enough and hits a nerve with readers, word of mouth will spread. Amazon provides this for every single author.

Also, I never heard of Joe Konrath before he self-published, and I'm sure a lot of you didn't either. So how large was that stepping stone exactly?

Anonymous said...

Anon at 2:38 said: "the publisher is still taking a large cut and not using its muscle to market you."

True, for most new writers. But suppose you were seen as a future big brand - then you'd get marketing muscle, until either you made it or they gave up on you.

Why wouldn't you buy that lottery ticket? If this is about making money - and it seems to be, from earlier pricing discussions - wouldn't you go for the big prize?

It seems timid to hold back. Like shutting down after a couple of rounds on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

Anonymous said...

Anon at 2:38 also said: "... if your book is good enough and hits a nerve with readers, word of mouth will spread. Amazon provides this for every single author."

Yes - Amazon provides this for every single author. Agreed. So why haven't sales over the last year, say, been randomly distributed across every single author? Or every single *type* of author, be they trad- or self-pubbed? Why has the minority of authors (trad-pubbed) outsold the majority (self-pubbed)? Do you have a theory?

Joe Konrath said...

There have probably been 60 or so authors this year in and out of the NYT top 3, and probably all of them have sold 200k+ of their 2011 titles.

I know for a fact how many ebooks need to sell in a day to reach #1 on Kindle.

Do you?

You thinking that there were 60 ebooks this year that sold over 200,000 copies is waaaaaay off base.

No, they're rich because they're huge bestsellers. And they're huge bestsellers because major third-party effort made them so.

Yes and no.

The more places a book is distributed, the more copies it will sell. That's true. But if all it took was a big promo effort to make a bestseller, why doesn't every book get a big promo effort? Why isn't every book a bestseller?

in this brand new, level-playing-field, everyone's-an-equal-distributor world, do trad-pubbed authors dominate sales?

Why do you think trad-pubbed authors dominate ebook sales?

Check out any Top 100 list on Kindle, and count the indies.

What you mean to say was "bestselling authors dominate sales", which they do, for two reasons. First, because they do have some brand recognition. And second, because they're everywhere in paper.

Wait a few years, when paper really becomes niche. The group of bestsellers you see now won't be the ones you see then, because paper won't raise ebook awareness like it does now.

For example, I've spoken with bestsellers whose ebook sales are 1/10th of their paper sales. Among midlisters I know, ebooks have surpassed paper sales.

If James Patterson didn't appear in every book rack wherever paper books are sold, he wouldn't have the Kindle sales he does. Especially at $14.99.

But I really do encourage you to look at a few dozen genre bestseller lists. You'll find indie authors and big bestselling names. But you won't find many midlist legacy pubbed authors.

Remus Shepherd said...

The fame that has come my way is because I busted my ass, doing more self-promotion than anyone in the history of the biz.

And do you know who a close second is when it comes to self-promotion? Barry Eisler. He's done almost as much as I have.


Yes. And how were you able to do all that self-promotion?

You got (if I follow the numbers correctly) a $20k advance for your first novel, and publisher support getting bookstores to hold signings for you. If someone gave me $20 I'd be able to do a cross-country tour myself.

Barry is a rich dilettante. He was pulling in a six-figure salary before he started writing, and he got another six figures dropped on him with his first book deal.

With your financial problems covered you could afford to go out and network. The fans you made at that point are inconsequential -- you got your name recognized by reviewers, librarians, and bookstore owners. Once you decided to self-publish all that became useful leverage. That's not even counting the hands-on expertise in publishing you got from the experience.

Yes, you earned everything you got. But you earned it because you had good financial and information resources that came from the traditional publishing industry. Very few beginning authors have on their own what you were given.

But distribution alone doesn't give you a fanbase.

Distribution alone is one hell of a first step. You worked hard to leverage that first step into a huge following. You get credit for that. But without that first step you may not have gotten anywhere, no matter how hard you worked or how good your books were. Amazon is littered with good books by hard workers who sell only ten copies each.

Luck, networking, and experience are at least as important as talent and determination. Traditional publishers give you networking and experience. (But only if you're lucky and, in theory, talented.) Don't discount how important they are to authors who are just starting their career.

Joe Konrath said...

Also, I never heard of Joe Konrath before he self-published, and I'm sure a lot of you didn't either. So how large was that stepping stone exactly?

Those who had heard of me knew about me because I was the idiot who signed at 500 bookstores in a summer. My name was well known in publishing circles for my self-promo.

For my books, not so much. I was a solid, if modest, midlist seller. My books made money, but didn't hit any bestseller lists. They're still in print because of my efforts, not because of anything done by my publisher.

Alan Tucker said...

@ Anon (too many at this point to distinguish!)

Joe has often given credit to his publishers for what work they did do. His beef is that he, himself, did way more than those publishers ever did to foster his career.

Of course publishers have done things to boost the careers of big name authors. Absolutely no argument there. But how many new/recent authors coming from the trad ranks would you deem successful? I'm guessing the number is pretty low. Just as it is for self pub. How many authors that have been dropped by trad houses have gone on to successful careers through self pub in the past couple of years? I'm guessing that number is pretty high comparatively.

So, if the trad houses are doing such a great job, why do those authors do so much better on their own?

David L. Shutter said...

So, if the trad houses are doing such a great job, why do those authors do so much better on their own?

I love that question. It's a good one that no one seems to want to adress while they tout traditional powers with sneering condescension for indie e-pub.

Here's another reality that's consistently rendered invisible by blinders:

THE F#@&ING BOOKSTORES ARE ALL CLOSING!!!

Remus Shepherd said...

Amanda Hocking. John Locke. Countless, countless others.

Amanda Hocking wrote 17 novels before she was 25 years old, and spent all of her unemployed time blogging and spreading the word about her books. What she did was damn near superhuman. But as soon as she could get a legacy contract she snapped it up, because that kind of life will kill you. Even if I could emulate Hocking's success, I don't know that I'd try it. I'm not that young or resilient, let alone charismatic.

John Locke is another rich dilletante, a career marketer who turned his considerable marketing talent into book promotion. While I know the trend is for marketing skill -- not writing skill -- to be the key to success these days, very few people have that kind of talent at self-promotion. Those who don't need traditional publishing to handle the marketing that they do not know how or cannot bring themselves to do.

Yes, it's possible to be successful in self-publishing. But it's not a street lined with rose petals. For many new authors they have a better chance and will have a better experience if they first try traditional publishing. There they will gain a fanbase, a network of contact, and the experience to strike out on their own if the publishers don't treat them with respect.

That's a big 'if', I know. But there are just as many 'if's in self-publishing, and just as much heartbreak if you fail there.

Anonfrom238PM said...

Sorry to add to the Anonymous names, I didn't think to add my name.

True, for most new writers. But suppose you were seen as a future big brand - then you'd get marketing muscle, until either you made it or they gave up on you.

Why wouldn't you buy that lottery ticket? If this is about making money - and it seems to be, from earlier pricing discussions - wouldn't you go for the big prize?

It seems timid to hold back. Like shutting down after a couple of rounds on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."



"until you either made it or they gave up on you" is the key phrase there. Sure, they might see me as the next big thing but if I fail I get dropped. If you're self-publishing, would you ever give up on yourself? No, even if you fail the first time you keep plugging along until you make it. And you don't have to wait months sending out query letters to try again.

And also, I'd rather make a solid living every year than take my shot on a lottery ticket or a game show. How many published writers are doing that? You get an advance, your book comes out, you get some royalties but if your sales suck, see ya later.


Yes - Amazon provides this for every single author. Agreed. So why haven't sales over the last year, say, been randomly distributed across every single author? Or every single *type* of author, be they trad- or self-pubbed? Why has the minority of authors (trad-pubbed) outsold the majority (self-pubbed)? Do you have a theory?

1. It doesn't work like that. There's no random distribution - the good books that authors are promoting make money, the bad ones don't. Heck, sometimes even the bad ones do. But I don't think it's random, if your sales are low there's a reason for it, and you have to be honest with yourself.

2. I wish you had some stats to backup your 3rd question, but have they outsold in e-book sales? Look at this: http://publishingperspectives.com/2011/06/self-published-ebook-authors-earn-living/

Look at those figures for one month in March. Look at that chart. I would love to be making $3,000 a month just on writing and being my own boss. The opportunity is there. That's pretty much all I can say about it.

Joshua Simcox said...

"And yes Joshua Simcox, every writer's goal is to write full-time, so working a day job for 40 hours a week that you don't enjoy is failing to reach your goal. And you are a double failure if you don't at least investigate other options such as self pub."

Still not buying it, Anon.

First of all, you simply can't argue that EVERY writer's goal is to earn a living writing full-time. For 99% of us, maybe. But I also know of several authors with day jobs that they find rewarding and meaningful, and would be loathe to give up even if they won the publishing lottery that most of us are chasing. In fact, these authors actually enjoy the craft more because it isn't as all-consuming as a full-time job often is.

With artistic endeavors, where "success" can have many definitions, it's asinine to equate "day job" with "failure". If you set very specific goals and fail to reach them by a self-imposed deadline, you can choose to label yourself a failure if you wish. But that's a personal decision.

You can't assume that every writer has the same goals or the same definitions of success and failure.

If you're, say, a cardiovascular surgeon by profession, and every single patient dies on your operating table, yes, you're a failure.

If you put words on paper, you're only a failure if you choose to call yourself one.

--Josh

Anonymous said...

Joe asks: "Why do you think trad-pubbed authors dominate ebook sales?"

Because Amazon tells me so. Amazon says 2 indies have sold more than a million, and 10 more have sold more than 200k.

Amazon says 10 trad-pubbed authors have sold more than a million, etc.

5:1 (at least) is dominating, I think.

Aric Mitchell said...

"True, for most new writers. But suppose you were seen as a future big brand - then you'd get marketing muscle, until either you made it or they gave up on you.

Why wouldn't you buy that lottery ticket? If this is about making money - and it seems to be, from earlier pricing discussions - wouldn't you go for the big prize?

It seems timid to hold back. Like shutting down after a couple of rounds on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

I liken that lottery ticket to the dumb kids I taught in high school, who, when asked what they wanted to do for a living, said they wanted to play in the NFL. Not a one of those kids is playing today. Few were even offered athletic scholarships of any kind. And when you look at every single kid, who gets a Division I scholarship and the incredibly small amount of draft picks NFL teams, proportionally, make each year, you might as well bang your head against the wall or go out and get a degree that gives you a realistic chance of making money.

Indie publishing is that degree.

Can you enjoy success like the kind you mention in the trad world? Of course. Will you? Most likely not. Most writers' efforts are far better invested in writing the best books they can, investing in a professional presentation of said books, and making those books available ASAP. Is that a lot of work? Hell yes, it is. I still don't get where this misconception of it being easy is coming from. Certainly not Joe or Barry, but whatever.

The point is indie publishing gives us writers with an entrepreneurial spirit far more to gain than traditional publishing, and to make it work for us, we have to accomplish far less than most legacy authors. They sell 10,000 books in a year and go hungry. We sell 10,000 books in a year, depending on how we price them, and we can quit our day jobs.

I think a lot of legacy authors hate this fact about indie publishing because, inevitably, there are a lot of inferior writers, who are good at spreading their brand, that are going to make a lot more money than they are even though a publisher is telling them they're good enough and getting their books distributed to the shrinking brick and mortar market. But that's life. Adapt to market changes, or lose your share of it.

And for indie authors, who think I'm saying you're automatically worse than a trad-published author, let me be clear. I'm not. Going back to the NFL example: if you make it in the NFL, does that mean you're somehow a better football player than one, who didn't. Of course not. It just means you were able to harness athletic ability, opportunity, timing and luck, to your advantage. I like to point to the examples of Matt Jones and Brett Goode, who are right here from my home state of Arkansas.

Jones was a first round draft pick from Fort Smith Northside. Brett Goode was his center. Goode was not drafted and received a tryout for the Jags, which he failed to capitalize on. Still, he hung in there, got a tryout with the Green Bay Packers, and is now the proud owner of a Super Bowl ring. Jones left the league in disgrace after underperforming and suffering a few drug arrests. No one can say Goode is a better player, but at the same time, they can't say he isn't more successful.

Anonymous said...

"I liken that lottery ticket to the dumb kids I taught in high school, who, when asked what they wanted to do for a living, said they wanted to play in the NFL. Not a one of those kids is playing today ... you might as well bang your head against the wall."

I hear ya, but yours is a sad, sad prescription. Don't try, don't shoot for the stars, because you might fail. Just play it safe instead. Settle for half a loaf.

It's a good job not everyone is like that. Or there would be no NFL, for instance. Or Amazon!

Joshua Simcox said...

"Wait a few years, when paper really becomes niche. The group of bestsellers you see now won't be the ones you see then, because paper won't raise ebook awareness like it does now."

Maybe, but I'm not convinced.

Koontz, Connelly, Sparks, Preston and Child...those guys aren't going anywhere, even if we're reading on stone tablets in the near future, rather than on paper and digital screens.

As for Locke and Hocking, I think Remus makes some excellent points about their success. I genuinely wish them nothing but the best, but I'm not convinced they'll dethrone the heavy hitters that have routinely topped the bestseller lists for decades now.

--Josh

Aric Mitchell said...

"I hear ya, but yours is a sad, sad prescription. Don't try, don't shoot for the stars, because you might fail. Just play it safe instead. Settle for half a loaf.

It's a good job not everyone is like that. Or there would be no NFL, for instance. Or Amazon!"

If that's a sad, sad description, then the middle class are failures and the richest 1% are the greatest people in the world. There are winners and losers in everything. I hardly think a person, who never makes it to the NFL or never becomes the next J.K. Rowling is a loser. But if that's what you're saying...

Anonymous said...

" ... when paper really becomes niche. The group of bestsellers you see now won't be the ones you see then ..."

This hits (possibly) the biggest of Joe's misconceptions.

The Big Six hate paper. They loathe it with a passion. They can't wait for it to go away. It's a monumental pain, for many, many reasons. They love, love, love the idea of an all-digital future.

(Sidebar: they have a short-term tactical problem with paper and bricks & mortar, in that on any given day they're owed, collectively, more than $100m for stock delivered but not yet paid for - so a managed retreat will be necessary, and that's what people mistake for a "defense of paper.")

But long-term the Big Six are betting on their marketing ability: Content > Marketing > Sales.

Barry's howler is saying that the Big Six have no direct-to-consumer marketing ability. He's wrong. The most valuable direct-to-consumer marketing is feature coverage via third-party channels like TV, radio, magazines, etc, etc. The Big Six do that well for their big brands - and big brands are what they
like best.

In contrast Amazon sends spam to existing customers. Not nearly as effective.

The future is all about marketing muscle. The likely result will be huge sales for a tiny number of Big Six brands, and satisfactory-to-tiny sales for indie midlisters. (I agree, there's no place for midlisters anymore in NY - but understand: the Big Six is delighted about that.)

Dan DeWitt said...

@Remus

"For many new authors they have a better chance and will have a better experience if they first try traditional publishing. There they will gain a fanbase, a network of contact, and the experience to strike out on their own if the publishers don't treat them with respect."

With respect, that is just a ridiculous statement.

I've self-pubbed three books since June, and I'm slowly developing a fanbase, because I think I put out a decent product and my reviews are pretty good. As I have a lot more books in me, it would be absurd to wait around and try to be among the very fortunate few who get a legacy contract that a) most likely won't even earn out its advance, and b) will strip me of the rights to what I've created.

Saying that a new author will "have a better chance" with a legacy publisher presumes that an author (even a very good one) stands even a modest chance of getting a legacy deal. They don't. You say "try" it, like it's their choice to traditionally publish or not. Jeebus, the query letters to agents alone, with all of their specific submission requirements, are bad enough to make me never want to go that route.

Self-pubbers, on the other hand, stand a 100% chance of getting their work out there and beginning to build their base. If they suck, the readers will know. If they're good (and patient, and prolific...) the readers will eventually know that, too.

I chose to go the self-pub route first, because the alternative seems insane given the direction the industry is taking.

dandewittfiction.blogspot.com

David L. Shutter said...

Remus

Some counterpoints:

Amanda Hocking wrote 17 novels before she was 25 years old, and spent all of her unemployed time blogging and spreading the word about her books. What she did was damn near superhuman. But as soon as she could get a legacy contract she snapped it up..

She also snapped up 2.3 million dollars for only 4 books! You need your head examined if you turn that down, regardless of where you sit on the fence.

Look up indie authors on Kindle and then check out their blogs there are hundreds and thousands of writers out there doing exactly that every day. Not everyone will be genuinely sucessful, that's life, but to say that everyone should pursue traditional because Hocking or Locke signed deals is ignorant of the rest of the indie-pub landscape. Staying at home and writing, making 5 figures a month w/o ever becoming really famous is still a damn good life.

Those who don't need traditional publishing to handle the marketing that they do not know how or cannot bring themselves to do.

Have you read this blog, or any of the hundreds from writers in the same shoes as Barry and Joe? The "marketing" done by traditionals tends to range from laughable to non-existent for mid-listers.

Yes. The Big 6 engineered and/or helped promote the sucess of Meyer's, Larson, Conelley, etc.

What about the other 99.9% of us? Those are the lottery winners.

Yes, it's possible to be successful in self-publishing. But it's not a street lined with rose petals

Again, do you read this blog? No one ever said it's easy. Us aspiring newbs are rallying around the likes of Joe, Barry Dean etc to learn what they did and apply it to our own efforts. This blog is full of self-pubbers who admit to only having single digit sales here and there. It's a marathon, not a "get-rich-quick" sprint. We all know that.

For many new authors they have a better chance and will have a better experience if they first try traditional publishing. There they will gain a fanbase, a network of contact, and the experience to strike out on their own

Seriously, how the hell is racking up hundreds of rejection letters, spending a small fortune on traveling to and attending conferences, "pitch" fests, entering competitions, etc etc, going to enable you to accomplish or accumulate any of what you just listed?

You contradict yourself here severely because Locke and Hocking's self publishing and promotion generated their legacy deals...they made themselves marketable brands...not vice versa!

It didn't happen because they spent years waiting for replies from hundreds of query letters.

Joe Konrath said...

5:1 (at least) is dominating, I think.

For a million, it is. And those who got to a million are all well known billionaires, except for 2--Locke and Hocking.

But you can't take those ratios and apply them to six figures.

Anonymous said...

"I hardly think a person, who never makes it to the NFL or never becomes the next J.K. Rowling is a loser. But if that's what you're saying..."

No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying I'm glad people still try, or we wouldn't have an NFL or any Harry Potter books. You seem to be saying, "Kids, don't try, because you might fail. Doesn't matter if we all have to live in a world with no innovation and no new ideas ... at least none of you will ever be disappointed."

Anonymous said...

" ... those who got to a million are all well known billionaires, except for 2--Locke and Hocking."

Why are they well known? Who made them well known? Did anyone help?

"But you can't take those ratios and apply them to six figures."

Why on earth not? Can you explain that?

Joe Konrath said...

The Big Six hate paper.

How fundamentally wrong you are.

Everything they've done since the Kindle was invented was to preserve paper sales and restrict ebook sales. Read Be the Monkey.

The most valuable direct-to-consumer marketing is feature coverage via third-party channels like TV, radio, magazines, etc, etc.

Ack. Read my blog. Advertising is an expensive, ineffective way to market books.

And an ad isn't direct to consumer marketing. Emailing someone who signed up for your mailing list is direct to consumer marketing. Meeting someone in person and talking about your book is direct to consumer marketing.

In contrast Amazon sends spam to existing customers. Not nearly as effective.

Gotta ask what you're smoking here, because you've got to be high.

Hachette took an ad out in USA Today for me. My sales ranking didn't budge.

I went on a blog tour, visiting 100 blogs in 30 days with new content. My sales ranking popped into the Top 100. Because I TARGETED READERS.

But that's nothing. When Amazon sends out emails featuring my books, I make thousands of dollars PER DAY.

Publishers suck at marketing. Amazon does not.

Barry said...

Smuggy, don't forget, self-nurturing is nurturing, too. ;)

Remus, the "You can't make it in self unless you've made it in legacy" zombie meme strikes again!

No doubt, having some sort of an existing platform is an advantage in self-publishing (it's an advantage in legacy publishing, too -- ask Bill Clinton). Previous success in the legacy world is one way to achieve such a platform. A few writers can build a platform in the legacy world (if you're one of the exceptional few who receives a meaningful advance, so much the better). Most can't. Knowing this can help a writer make informed decisions.

Again, you have to compare indie reality to legacy reality, not indie reality to legacy ideal. Legacy and self are both in an important sense lottery systems. The question is, what are the odds in each, and how much in each can you influence those odds.

Stitch, glad you enjoyed the Mencia clip, and thanks for that Hughes one.

David, I agree… it's odd how little heed is paid to the fact that Borders is now gone and that B&N floor space seems increasingly devoted to non-book merchandise.

By the way, Remus and the various anonymous posters, I don't have a dog in this fight and most of my opinions could be wrong. I could even be wrong, as one of the anonymous posters asserts, about how enfeebled legacy publishers are in direct-to-consumer marketing relative to Amazon and various other potential new entrants.

The only thing I'm sure of is that writers now have choices where before they had none. I try to provide a framework writers can use to make better-informed decisions, but it doesn't matter to me one way or the other how writers use the information I provide. People will decide for themselves, the data will keep rolling in, and the industry will continue to evolve pretty much on its own terms regardless of who agrees or disagrees with me today.

David L. Shutter said...

Barry

More great points! I want to listen, but unfortunately, since you were a rich dilettante when you started publishing I must now ignore everything you have ever or will ever say.

Thanks anyway.

Aric Mitchell said...

"No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying I'm glad people still try, or we wouldn't have an NFL or any Harry Potter books. You seem to be saying, "Kids, don't try, because you might fail. Doesn't matter if we all have to live in a world with no innovation and no new ideas ... at least none of you will ever be disappointed."

No, I think it's pretty clear what I said, but one more time: it's great to shoot for your dreams, but temper that with some realism, and you're a hell of a lot more likely to actually accomplish something. I could go on about the insanity of blind queries, sucking ass at writer's conferences, and all the rest of the publishing bologna, but @David L. Shutter already covered that ground. If those kids actually do something useful in going after their dreams, then more power to them. Incidentally, none of them ever did. That's what made them dumb.

Anonymous said...

"How fundamentally wrong you are."

We'll see.

"Everything they've done since the Kindle was invented was to preserve paper sales and restrict ebook sales."

How fundamentally wrong you are - but then, you're on the outside, guessing, and I'm on the inside, informing. As you said, that's why you left the anonymous feature on.

"Advertising is an expensive, ineffective way to market books."

That's why I said feature coverage. I didn't say ads. (For a writer, you're not much of a reader.) Feature coverage works best of all.

"When Amazon sends out emails featuring my books, I make thousands of dollars PER DAY."

I have no reason to doubt you. But when a trad publisher gets an author on TV and so on, he makes tens of thousands a day.

"Publishers suck at marketing. Amazon does not."

So again, why aren't there 2 trad-pubbed names alongside 10 indies in the million club? Why is it actually the other way around?

4:14 PM

Joe Konrath said...

Why on earth not? Can you explain that?

I don't have to. You have to go out and find data to prove your points, rather than make assumptions.

I know at least a dozen indie authors who have sold over 100k ebooks. Amazon disclosed there were 30 indies selling over 100,000.

I also know hundreds of legacy published authors. Do you?

Guess what. None of them have sold 100k ebooks, except for those who are already giant paper bestsellers.

I was never a paper bestseller. But I'm an ebook bestseller. That alone should tell you how valuable legacy publishers are.

David L. Shutter said...

When everyone stops to reload more ammo...take a min. and click over to Yahoo and see one of their top news blurds right now. It's about Darci Chan who Merrill mentioned earlier.

Surprise. Joe is mentioned.

Anonfrom238PM said...

Barry's howler is saying that the Big Six have no direct-to-consumer marketing ability. He's wrong. The most valuable direct-to-consumer marketing is feature coverage via third-party channels like TV, radio, magazines, etc, etc. The Big Six do that well for their big brands - and big brands are what they like best.

Yes, mainstream exposure helps, but coming from the little guy's perspective, how is that going to help me? Why even bother? I can self-pub on Amazon and if my book is good enough I can pay my bills. Being a millionaire would be nice, but it shouldn't be feast or famine.

In contrast Amazon sends spam to existing customers. Not nearly as effective.

They send recommendations.

The future is all about marketing muscle. The likely result will be huge sales for a tiny number of Big Six brands, and satisfactory-to-tiny sales for indie midlisters. (I agree, there's no place for midlisters anymore in NY - but understand: the Big Six is delighted about that.)

There's more to publishing than NY - I think the growing sales of quite a few self-pubbed authors proves that. If the Big Six is delighted that there is no place for midlisters, then they shouldn't have a problem with self-publishing.

Anonymous said...

"I also know hundreds of legacy published authors. Do you?"

Yes.

"None of them have sold 100k ebooks, except for those who are already giant paper bestsellers."

Translation: none of them has sold 100k ebooks, except the ones who have.

Many more than 30 trad authors have sold more than 100k ebooks. It's foolish to insist otherwise.

"I was never a paper bestseller. But I'm an ebook bestseller. That alone should tell you how valuable legacy publishers are."

Actually your example validates current Big Six planning - let the marginally-profitable-but-not-really-worth-it midlisters make hay with cheap ebooks, and focus business on big brands instead.

You've done really well, selling half a million units at three bucks a pop, but surely you understand that kind of market appetite doesn't appeal to a major corporation.

A publisher is like a department store - every square foot of counter space has to earn its keep. Pleather gloves might make a few bucks, but ultimately they're not worth the hassle - better to bring in some men's cologne or something, with a bigger upside.

A publisher's "counter space" is its staff's time and effort - and the current thinking is that those are better employed elsewhere.

Joe Konrath said...

Everything they've done since the Kindle was invented was to preserve paper sales and restrict ebook sales.

High ebook prices, windowing, DRM, and the agency model, are all attempts to slow digital expansion and slow down the demise of paper.

If publishers truly wanted to embrace digital they could do the same thing I do: sell inexpensive, DRM-free ebooks that are released before the paper versions.

Hint: doing that means they'll sell between 4X and 20x as many as they're selling now.

But they don't want that. They want their monopoly over paper distribution to remain relevant.

If you are indeed a publishing insider, you can post your figures anonymously.

As for feature coverage: fail.

It can work in some cases. Getting on Jon Stewert or NPR can give sales a boost.

So how many authors get on NPR or Jon Stewert compared to how many authors have legacy deals?

I've done a lot of radio shows, been mentioned in a lot of features. Never saw much of a sales spike.

Right now, Darci Chan is #33 in the Kindle Top 100, and a big WSJ article about her was just released.

Guess what? The WSJ isn't responsible for one lick of her success. They didn't give her a big boost. She's been in the Top 100 for 143 days without ANY feature coverage.

Joe Konrath said...

Many more than 30 trad authors have sold more than 100k ebooks. It's foolish to insist otherwise.

Name them. Other than the 10 million sellers Amazon mentioned, name them.

Anonymous said...

"If the Big Six is delighted that there is no place for midlisters, then they shouldn't have a problem with self-publishing."

Newsflash: they don't have a problem with self-publishing. They like it. It makes the decision to cut under-performers easier, and it sits there like an automated slush pile.

Cyn Bagley said...

The fame that has come my way is because I busted my ass, doing more self-promotion than anyone in the history of the biz.

I've known Konrath since I started blogging before 2009 so I am one of those that knew Konrath while he was busting his ass.

He was doing his own traveling, on his own money, to get his books into the bookstores. I admired his dedication.

I still do - Konrath did NOT have this silver platter handed to him. I wish I had the energy and dedication that he has...

So don't think he was just handed it. He used the same discipline and hard work in digital publishing that he did with self-publishing.

Cyn

Cyn Bagley said...

@Barry - Thanks for you understanding of the KDP select program. I was worried about the 90 day exclusivity too. But, I pulled a couple of my books from Smashwords and stuck them there too. For the same reason you did - hedging my bets.

And I can do it legally because I live in Nevada. lol

Cyn

Anonymous said...

"Many more than 30 trad authors have sold more than 100k ebooks. It's foolish to insist otherwise.

Name them. Other than the 10 million sellers Amazon mentioned, name them."

Joe, I'm not going to type out close to two hundred names. You know the landscape as well as I do. Start at the top of the range with, say, Vince Flynn, Harlan Coben, Brad Thor, Sandra Brown, and keep going until you run out of energy, which will be long before you get as low as 100k.

But if it's important to deny it, be my guest.

wannabuy said...

"In depth article including a quote from JK himself on the front page of the Wall Street Journal Friday ".

Best part: "A few major publishers made offers, but none matched the digital royalty rates of 35% to 40% that Ms. Chan makes on her own through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Typically, most publishers offer print royalties of 10% to 15% and digital royalties of 25%. Simon & Schuster offered to act as a distributor, but Ms. Chan wants the book to be professionally edited and marketed."

In other words, "what will you do for me?"

Aric Mitchell said...

"Newsflash: they don't have a problem with self-publishing. They like it. It makes the decision to cut under-performers easier, and it sits there like an automated slush pile."

Then why get on here and argue? JK's considerable success came with very little help from legacy. Barry's turned his back on legacy with no negative repercussions. And many self pubbers are making a substantial supplemental income or even a full time living without their help. Yet even though sales are still high for trad-pubbers, they come on here and argue anonymously. Really does send a message that indie authors "irk" you. And you can refer to self-pubbers as an automated slush pile all you want, but it's like Joe says, when more stores close and paper becomes niche, it's going to be much harder justifying the overhead of trad-pubbers and keeping existing authors happy.

Joe Konrath said...

A publisher is like a department store - every square foot of counter space has to earn its keep.

Big publishing is an inefficient, wasteful, painfully slow, archaic business. They do a poor job at the simplest of tasks, hemorrhage money, and most of what they produce fails.

You said you know a lot of authors. How many of them earned out their advance? How many are still in print? How many are still under contract?

If you know as many as I do, you know that not many authors earn out their advances, books go out of print constantly, and contracts are becoming harder and harder to get. I've been going to conferences with peers for ten years. They all started out with contracts. Now more than half don't.

Is that because publishers screwed up by buying shitty books? Or because publishers screwed up by buying good books and failed to market them correctly?

Because a lot of these authors are self-pubbing. And guess what? They're making MORE than they did with their moronic publishers.

Joe Konrath said...

Start at the top of the range with, say, Vince Flynn, Harlan Coben, Brad Thor, Sandra Brown, and keep going until you run out of energy, which will be long before you get as low as 100k.

You named a bunch of #1 bestsellers who have millions of paper books in print.

How many #1 bestsellers are there in a calender year? And how many times do they repeat?

I've already said, bestsellers are anomalies. And they likely won't still be bestsellers once paper sales become niche.

Name 30 legacy authors who aren't bestsellers who have sold 100,000 ebooks. Because none of those 20 Kindle authors who sold 100,000 are NYT bestsellers.

Also, while we're at it, show me someone new to the NYT list. They're the same few dozen names, week after week, year after year. If publishers are so good at their jobs, why aren't they putting new talent up on the List? Why is it always King, Koontz, Brown, Rowling, Clancy, Flynn, etc?

A decent-sized publisher can have hundreds of authors. How many are bestsellers? How many are even able to make a living with their writing?

Dan DeWitt said...

I tell you what, the more Anonymous (the "industry insider") keeps talking, the more certain I am that I made the right choice in deciding not to try and throw in with anyone like him/her. I'll do it myself, Jobu.

Sweet Christmas, merely the insistence that traditional publishers just love them some ebooks, despite everything that the publishers themselves have said and done, is enough to make me shake my head.

I will say this one last (probably not) thing: comparing the total sales (or the number of spots occupied on whatever list) of the established heavy-hitters of legacy pub strictly vs new self-pub authors is a joke. The ebook revolution (i.e the advent of the Kindle) is only four years old. Four. As positive as I am on ebooks, it might take a little longer than that to surpass centuries of print. That particular talking point is a damn dud.

Tara Maya said...

And most of those who pursue a traditional deal get nothing for their efforts but rejection letters, which have no monetary value.

Great point, John D

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

Anyone who thinks Amazon's marketing is "sending spam to customers" doesn't understand Amazon. As a reader, I find Amazon to be a direct threat to my wallet because of their oh-so-calibrated email alerts. It's not spam, it's "Oh, I gotta have THAT BOOK! I don't care what it costs!" The same with their "Customers also bought..." and "You might also like..." recommendations, and their "Recommended for you" pages. With their web of purchase history, browsing history, reviews, and more, they have an uncanny ability to target me with offers I can't refuse. No publisher does that.

The next most effective form of marketing to me is direct email from favorite authors I've corresponded with in the past. When they announce a book, I'm very likely to buy it that same day. But it's the authors doing that, not the publishers.

I think the last time I bought a book because of media coverage was in the 1990s.

Livia said...

"Joe: You and I have a rich relationship.
Barry: We don’t."

ROFL...

Joe -- Could you please elaborate on how you know that it's your indie titles helping your traditional sales, rather than the other way around? Apologies if you've explained this recently and I just can't find it.

Remus Shepherd said...

Remus, the "You can't make it in self unless you've made it in legacy" zombie meme strikes again!

I never said you can't make it in self publishing without legacy experience. I said it was hard, and I said that legacy experience makes it easier. I think those statements are pretty unassailable.

I also said that you and Joe were snarking on Hachette without giving them any credit for what they can do for authors. My guess is that you look over the benefits of legacy publishing because you forgot -- or never experienced -- how hard success actually is in self-publishing. You, Barry, never had to worry about money while you were writing or promoting yourself. Your background -- including your initial publishing contract -- gave you advantages that most new authors do not have.

All I'm saying is that Hachette was right about some of the services they list in their memo. (Although they did list them using the most weaselly words possible.) Your snarking was cute, but just as misleading as you accuse Hachette of being.

Tara Maya said...

But when a trad publisher gets an author on TV and so on, he makes tens of thousands a day.

How often do trad publishers do this for fiction authors? Especially fiction authors who are not already bestsellers?

Selena Kitt said...

10 more have sold more than 200k.

I've sold half a million ebooks this year (not just on Amazon - aross all vendors). I know I'm not the only one. There are people outselling me all the time. They aren't elves in Santa's workshop. They're real, they exist.

Most of them are quietly cashing their checks and not talking on this blog. Too busy writing more books, I'd guess. :)

Iain Edward Henn said...

When I saw this 'leaked' memo from Hachette, I figured Joe and Barry would get onto it, and I'm glad they did and that Barry pulled Joe away from his novels to address it. As I knew they would they dissected and revealed for what-it-is every point on this piece of corporate spin. Great work as always, guys.

I particularly winced at the 'nurturing authors' line. In reality, for well over 20 years, the policy of most major publishers has been that they don't accept unsolicited manuscripts, and would only consider work via a middle man (agent). How are you nurturing authors if you won't initially deal with them direct, and if you don't scout for new talent and engage it? Instead, that role was handed out to agents (whose original brief was to negotiate on behalf of an author, not source and develop the talent as well.) Ultimately, though, those agents did just that, even hiring their own editorial staff, so that a 'finished' book was being presented to publishers. How are those publishers nurturing authors?

Almost 40 years ago some wannabe named Stephen King had his first sale of a novel, direct with an editor at Doubleday (Bill Thompson.)Thompson then went on to purchase and edit King's next few novels, working closely with him every step of the way. That's nurturing. Agents negotiating King's other book rights came later.

A blanket go-through-a-middle-man policy is not nurturing.

It's ironic then, that with the ebook revolution, some of those agents have themselves become publishers, dealing with and directly 'nurturing' their authors, as has Amazon's new imprints.

If the e-driven changes in the book world mean that editors/publishers are once gain dealing directly with their author, then that is a good thing.

Thom said...

Joe, Barry:

An amusing read, thanks. We could have used you guys in the room on some of the sitcoms I used to write.

While I was enjoying you taking a hatchet to Hachette, I got to wondering about something I never had to worry about when hiding behind a big studio: liability, E&O insurance.

What do you guys do? Since we're now publishers, we need coverage, right?

Jude Hardin said...

If the e-driven changes in the book world mean that editors/publishers are once gain dealing directly with their author, then that is a good thing.

Nope. When dealing with a publisher, most authors benefit greatly from the distance between themselves and the business end of it that an agent provides. Stephen King will tell you the same thing.

KevinMc said...

Tossing out a few of the "facts of life" at our anon friend who keeps posting...

- Since March 2011, over a third of the Amazon top 100 ebooks has been indie published virtually every week (couple of exception weeks, like Sunshine deals).

- In July 2011, a survey of the top 1000 ranked Amazon ebooks showed that over a third of them were indie published.

- In July, a survey of the top 200 books in the Romance, Thriller, Mystery, Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy genres showed that in EVERY ONE of those genres, over 50% of the top 200 books were indie published.

- Most ebooks are still trade/legacy published. Indie books still represent a minority, although a growing one, in ebooks.

Yes, there are still more breakout smash successes via legacy publishing. These are the tiny handful of books which they put millions of dollars of promotion behind, intending to rake millions back in return on that investment. The very peak of sellers, even in ebooks, are still *mostly* legacy published.

But that fact that even a sixth of those million+ sellers are self published is pretty remarkable by itself. These are folks who, with virtually no personal resources, are competing with some of the best known literary personalities of our era - backed by millions of marketing dollars from enormous international conglomerates.

The fact that ANY indies have reached that level in the short time indie publishing has been viable is remarkable.

The available data demonstrates that there are quite literally hundreds of indies making a living wage from their books, right now.

The available data also spells out quite clearly that looking at genres as a whole, ebooks are dominated not by legacy published books - but by indie published books.

And that dominance is increasing month by month.

It took most of those legacy-published Kindle-million sellers a decade or more of writing to reach the level they are at. Wait eight years. I suspect that you'll see the list dominated indies long before then.

By Darkness Revealed

Iain Edward Henn said...

Jude, point taken, however I was referring to the creative process of an earlier era- editors discovering and developing (nurturing) authors. Not the business end and the negotiations, that's most certainly a whole different ballgame.

Adam Pepper said...

It's funny reading these comparisons to the NFL, or the major leagues. Big talk about shooting for the stars and dreaming the biggest dream. Forget all that and stick with reality. There isnt a writer on the planet who wouldnt take a deal from the big six if they stuck enough zeros on the check, but that isnt reality for most of us. Who cares what the big six are doing? Because their plans dont include me, or the other 99% of the authors and aspiring authors on the planet.

You can buy a lottery ticket and hope the big six builds you a mansion, or you can build your own house, brick by brick. That is reality for the 99%s.

Tara Maya said...

So,according to the Anon "industry insider,":

1. Legacy publishers LOVE ebooks...

...but will continue to short shift the ebook sales of hundreds of their authors in order to subsidize their corporate "retreat" from paper. This makes sense of their policy to gouge readers on price and writers on royalty percentage. Their grossly unfair royalties on ebooks are all that are keeping them solvent at the moment.

2. Legacy Publishers HATE the midlist....

...and will happily stab all midlist writers in the back, sweep them off the counter, in order to spend their budgets on tv features for a few mega-bestsellers.

3. Legacy Publishers regard self-published books as their slush pile. Presumably this means that they have less interest than ever in their actual slush pile--which does not signal potential success the way selling books do. It also means that they will hone in on indie books with good sales and offer them big money and big backing.

While #1 and #2 are really sad, #3 could be a good thing for indies. However, it ought to be absolutely clear from this that the very LAST thing a newbie writer should do is avoid self-publishing in the hopes of getting a big Legacy contract.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate (FREE)

Thom said...

Legacy publishing repeats the same myths as legacy show business: if you write a great book, you'll eventually find a publisher, and "make it."

In showbiz it's, "if you have talent, and work hard, you'll eventually be a star."

Of course, we know the truth.

The old system has become a lottery: the agent lottery, the publisher lottery, the will-they- promote-you lottery. There are some big winners, to be sure, but how many people who play the lottery win the Powerball?

Creative endeavors often make artists feel they have no control. Self pub changes the lottery. Now, although there's still luck involved in achieving success, at least writers make their own decisions.

M.Zeloofian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M.Zeloofian said...

Loved the post - just one question, how do you know it wasn't having already been published by a legacy publisher that then allowed you to make money by self-publishing? Is there anything to be gained exposure-wise or even credential-wise by being able to say you were once published by one of the big houses?

Cyn Bagley said...

@Thom
Wish I could like that... ;-)
So true. Lottery or luck.

Anonymous said...

@Jude

When dealing with a publisher, most authors benefit greatly from the distance between themselves and the business end of it that an agent provides.


Wrong. That distance is an advantage to only the publisher. The publisher doesn't want to have to answer directly to the author about money or any other business other than editing, because an author might actually want real answers. Agents aren't going to press them on it, especially not these days.

Indiana Jim said...

@J.R. Tomlin

If I wanted to pay to read your offended drivel... oh wait, I didn't. Just like you didn't have to click on the video.

Joe Konrath said...

Agents aren't going to press them on it, especially not these days.

My agent is pretty damn good at pressing publishers. She's one of the smart ones that understands she represents authors, not the Big 6.

She has also acted as a buffer between me and the publisher, which is very helpful when heads are hot.

She has procured extra income for me well above and beyond the 15% she takes, which is why I consider her a worthwhile partner.

Joe Konrath said...

I missed pounding on these:

Why are they well known? Who made them well known? Did anyone help?

So you're saying publishers are the reason King, Patterson, and Rowling are bestsellers? Really?

If that's the case why don't publishers do that with EVERY book?

Too hard? How about MOST books?

Still too hard? How about HALF the books they publish? Wouldn't they want half of their releases to sell as well as King?

No? Hmm.

Maybe because publishers HAVE LITTLE TO DO WITH A BOOK'S SUCCESS.

They certainly can print up a bunch of copies, get them into stores, and try to build buzz. But for every time that worked I can name several times it didn't, where new authors get huge advances and marketing campaigns and then tank.

Indie authors are selling as well, if not better, than many bestsellers who have been really pushed by publishers.

That should be enough to show you how irrelevant publishers are.

But when a trad publisher gets an author on TV and so on, he makes tens of thousands a day.

That's awesome. It's also cool that the publisher you work for gets every author of theirs on TV.

Oh, wait... they don't?

Hmm. How about half of their authors?

No?

Once and for all, you CAN NOT compare a bunch of seasoned #1 billionaire authors to me, or any other indie author. But it is pretty telling when I'm selling more ebooks than some of those seasoned bestselling authors, doncha think?

how do you know it wasn't having already been published by a legacy publisher that then allowed you to make money by self-publishing?

My self-pub ebooks outsell my legacy ebooks between 4 to 1 and 10 to 1.

95% of the fanmail I get is from readers who discover me through my self-pubbed ebooks, then go on to buy my backlist.

I was never a bestseller in paper. I had modest midlist sales.

There are legacy pubbed authors who have tried self-pubbing and haven't had the success I've had, even though they have sold more legacy books than I have.

There are many indie author who have never had a legacy book publisher, who are selling as well or better than I am.

In other words, there is no clear link between indie success and having been published by a legacy house.

This meme gets trotted out a lot. It's busted.

I'm lucky that I had books published by legacy houses. I'm unlucky that they still have the rights to them. And I doubt I'll get the rights back, because my self-pubbed books are buoying those sales, so they'll never go out of print.

Anonymous said...

She has also acted as a buffer between me and the publisher, which is very helpful when heads are hot.

That is the opposite of my experience. And I find it interesting that Eisler left Dan Conaway when he decided to self-publish.

Anonymous said...

"Once and for all, you CAN NOT compare a bunch of seasoned #1 billionaire authors to me, or any other indie author. But it is pretty telling when I'm selling more ebooks than some of those seasoned bestselling authors, doncha think?"

You're selling more ebooks than some seasoned #1 bestsellers? OK, pony up. Name names.

B. Justin Shier said...

Reading through this thread, one thing has struck me. 6-8 months ago, the debate was about what a mid-list author should do. Should he/she try self-publishing. Should he/she keep querying. Not anymore. Now the debate is about which type of author comprises the bestseller lists. I'll give you that the Big 6's Praetorian Guard looks mighty intimidating, but we're now having this debate inside the palace. Doesn't that say something?

B.

Jude Hardin said...

Agents aren't going to press them on it, especially not these days.

What Joe said.

And of course all agents are not created equal. If you're looking for one, do some research and find a good one. I always cringe when I hear about writers using the shotgun approach, sending hundreds of queries indiscriminately.

Wayne said...

This is the type of pricing publishers are using to slow down ebooks. The kindle price is higher than the hardcover.
http://www.amazon.com/How-Firm-Foundation-Safehold-ebook/dp/B004V9O59I/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AZC9TZ4UC9CFC&qid=1323578961&sr=1-1

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

Steve King *Stephen King, seems to have last written about agenting in ©1988, when publishing was a whole other ballgame. Here he is from 1988,

"An agent? Forget it. For now
Agents get 10% of monies earned by their clients. 10% of nothing is nothing. Agents also have to pay the rent. Beginning writers do not contribute to that or any other
necessity of life."

I think it'd be good to ask Steve what he thinks now 23 years later re agenting. Steve's wife Tabitha, too.

Whoever wrote that big pub companies would like to keep author away from business end, esp clauses and pony ups, is correct in my experience. I've heard such incredibly wilting and patronizing BS from publishers about various authors being incapable egotistical hyperflatulant know-it-alls (when majority are not... only a few really are) that it seems clear that many of the big six folk, while there's still a heart in many, yet others seem truly burnt out and seem to wish they could publish books without having to deal with authors or agents. And sometimes, not even editors.

On another note, I've sailed in my teacup up alongside my agent's ship during battles, and there have been some doozies over the decades about covers, content etc, and there's one going on right now that is just, well, let me just put it this way: My name is inignio montoya. you killed my father. prepare to f-on die!! Ok, he didnt say f-on in the movie.

I think how one moves with agent, or stands back, depends on how one sees the world and how one's agent responds to author. Many authors let their agents do whatever. Others are partners with their agents. There's chemistry between agents and authors, just as in any relationship long-lasting. Agents can do good work without being chummy with author. But, I have to say, i think it is treasure when you also care about one another and one another's families, as well as one's work.

The hachette memo sounds like trade catalog copy rather than a memo to employees. Or a letter of what they call 'benefits' that they'd send to agents, authors at random and/or place on website to solicit an online author's slushpile. Also sounds like first draft of what they sometimes call 'brand face to the world' meant to summon advertisers and placement campaigns.

You guys, K and E, are really funny. That's a sexy combination: hot anger and stone cold humor.

And carlos mencia, are you kidding, out here we call him' our brother by another mother.' There's sort of a quaternity of Latino brothers we dig because they sound like home; he's one of the four. And yes, whoever objected, he is blue. But, also being married to USAF vet for 21 years in military, you kinda learn not to hear certain things, and just hear the funny parts. lol


dr.cpe

Bent Banana Books said...

It is simple really: self-publishers are publishers and in competition with the Hachettes of the world.
I am glad you mentioned your hard copy titles, Joe. I think it is important for self-publishers to go hard copy (as well as digital)through POD or cottage industry self-publishing facilitators to give Hachette really something to worry about.

Jude Hardin said...

There's an entire section about agents in Stephen King's On Writing, starting on page 237 of the paperback edition.

He says: "You should have an agent, and if your work is salable, you will have only a moderate amount of trouble finding one."

On Writing was published in 2000, so of course the book world has changed dramatically even since then. But having an agent is still advisable, IMO, if you're interested in anything beyond self-publishing.

David L. Shutter said...

With the greatest respect to The King, I think it's very safe to say that he (as far back as Carrie: 1974; I was two) has been treated very, very differently than the avg. writer.

DW Smith was first published (I recall) in 89' and he regurlarly cites enormous, fundamental shifts in how writers are regarded and treated. His recent blog post on an editor reply that took two years was both humurous and disturbing.

That said I hear as many good stories about agents as bad and I would definitely pursue one for anything outside of self.

Writing Trip

M.Zeloofian said...

thanks for being so clear - I am (even more) convinced!

J. Viser said...

Joe and Barry, thanks for your post. Your blogs are windows into the publishing world and I've saved a lot of time (years?) by avoiding the legacy route.

I see this all the time in my business (oil and gas, investing). An investor can get emotionally attached to a stock that made them money in the past, but management may have led the company down the wrong road. Despite a company's failure to perform, investors continue to hold and buy the stock to their detriment.

Many people in leadership positions confuse stubborness and ignorance with "strong" and "tough" leadership. But even a broken clock is right twice a day.

It is those who are willing to adapt that show effective leadership. On the battlefield, the most Darwinian of all places, those who fail to adapt are quickly dispatched while those who learn live to fight another day.

Based on the defensive tone of the Hatchette memo, it appears that publisher is headed down the road to die a very proud, but senseless death in the battle to capture readers.

Karl El-Koura said...

For those asking about KDP Select, I suggest you read the following blog post from a Konrath alumnus:

http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/how-much-do-you-want-to-get-paid-tomorrow/

Lots of food for thought.

Anonymous said...

@Jude

But having an agent is still advisable, IMO, if you're interested in anything beyond self-publishing.


Everytime another book store closes, I have one less reason for needing an agent. And it makes me laugh each time I see some powerful lit agency getting into epublishing. Publishers and agents are completely insincere. They are in business to make money, period. Anything they claim beyond that is pure shit. They DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING AND NEVER HAVE. Getting chosen for publication is purely random, and don't kid yourself otherwise. I had my big agent and huge contract, and it was hell.

Jude, I realize you need the validation of saying you have an agent and a publisher, and so I'm glad you have both, but I'm making more money than ever before in my career having neither.

Joe Konrath said...

You're selling more ebooks than some seasoned #1 bestsellers? OK, pony up. Name names.

Reread what I wrote. I said "seasoned bestsellers" not "seasoned #1 bestsellers".

I have bestselling author who are friends, and I'm privy to their ebook sales, and mine are greater. But I'm not going to betray a confidence and announce publicly, "Ha ha, Author X, I'm outselling you!"

So how about this instead? When Amazon announces that I've sold 1 million Kindle ebooks (probably sometime next year) we can look at all the other bestselling authors that aren't on the million seller list, and we'll know for sure exactly how many of them I'm outselling.

You, however, are anonymous. If you have information that shows you've got author who have sold more than 600,000 ebooks (about where I'm at) then name them. You won't get into trouble, because no one knows who you are.

David L. Shutter said...

Based on the defensive tone of the Hatchette memo, it appears that publisher is headed down the road to die a very proud, but senseless death in the battle to capture readers.

J. Viser

I agree. As I said here, because I've seen it elsewhere and, I think, regardless if you've had a pub contract or an agent before, the vernacular is pretty universal.

In an earlier thread someone who was an economist said companies never sit idly, stupidly by and wait to be hit in the head with hammers. They react. I disagreed wholeheartedly.

They do it all the time. especially when they, from either misinformation or delusion, consider the hammer to be a Nerf hammer rather than the cold hardened steel variety. Or they don't even see a hammer at all but maybe something like a flower bouqet.

This Commercialkeeps coming to mind.

Anonymous said...

"I have bestselling author who are friends, and I'm privy to their ebook sales, and mine are greater. But I'm not going to betray a confidence and announce publicly, "Ha ha, Author X, I'm outselling you!"

So instead you'll leave it vague, as if you're outselling them all: "Ha ha, Authors A - Z, I'm outselling you!" Which seems to be the theme of your blog, actually.

"So how about this instead? When Amazon announces that I've sold 1 million Kindle ebooks (probably sometime next year) we can look at all the other bestselling authors that aren't on the million seller list, and we'll know for sure exactly how many of them I'm outselling."

OK, we'll do it your way. But why will it be next year? You say:

" ... 600,000 ebooks (about where I'm at) ... "

But two days ago in the WSJ it was 400,000. Should take four more days at that rate.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I'm not the dicky Anon4:41, but it would be fun to see a recent screenshot of you KDP numbers. You used to post them from time to time. You've added some title since then, and it would be fascinating to to see what your current numbers look like. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the dicky Anon was at 4:21

Joe Konrath said...

Which seems to be the theme of your blog, actually.

The theme of my blog is warning authors away from legacy publishing houses. Which, based on the amount of hits this blog gets and the amount of authors thanking me, seems to be working. There are thousands and thousands of authors who won't ever try to pursue a legacy deal due to posts like this one, and that's a good thing for them.

But two days ago in the WSJ it was 400,000. Should take four more days at that rate.

Aren't you the one who told me to read closer?

That's 400,000 self-pubbed ebooks. I also have 8 legacy ebooks from my backlist plus the two Amazon has published.

I can't disclose Amazon numbers, but SHAKEN and STIRRED ebook sales are amazing compared to the combined sales of my other 8 ebook titles done by legacy publishers.

Consider that. SHAKEN has been out a year, STIRRED has been out a month, and together they;re selling better than four years of sales from 8 of my backlist titles.

That's how ineffective legacy publishers are in regard to ebooks. My own self-pubbed ebooks outsell them, and my Thomas & Mercer ebooks are creaming them.

Sales are also easy to check by looking at ranking on bestseller lists. Right now, in the Hardboiled Mysteriers Top 100, I'm outselling ebooks by Connelly, King, Grafton, Crais, Parker, Sandford, and Coben.

Several of my ebooks are outselling King, Graham, Moore, and Koontz in the Horror Top 100.

Why? In what universe should my backlist titles perform better than Stephen King's?

Hint: THIS universe, because King has to deal with legacy publishers.

Fail. Fail fail fail.

Your industry is ineffective, archaic, and has thusfar been unable to adapt to ebooks. The increased sales of today won't hold until next year, when your authors see their royalty statements, see how few paper books they've sold compared to how many ebooks, and tell you there's no way inhell they'll continue to accept 52.5%.

Either publishers will have to start treating authors better (which will mean cutting their profits) or authors will leave (which will mean cutting their profits). Combine that with paper sales that continue to dwindle, and it's a recipe for bankruptcy.

Whatever happens, publishers are going to be earning less than they have in the past. Authors simply won't put up with it, thanks to blogs like this one informing them of how things work.

And once paper sales are niche, good luck getting anyone to pay $14.99 for an ebook.

Anonymous said...

(I'm a new anon!)

Joe, coupla random Qs -

Why do you think Amazon is so cagy about numbers? They announce the million club thing with enthusiasm, but won't let you disclose.

And why did they call it Thomas & Mercer, which sounds kinda old & legacy - why not something more e?

Joe Konrath said...

Why do you think Amazon is so cagy about numbers? They announce the million club thing with enthusiasm, but won't let you disclose.

I dunno. My guess would be that they don't see a competitive advantage in disclosing numbers.

And why did they call it Thomas & Mercer, which sounds kinda old & legacy - why not something more e?

It is my understanding that their imprints are named after streets where corporate headquarters are located.

Joe Konrath said...

but it would be fun to see a recent screenshot of you KDP numbers.

Every so often I do a post about numbers. I think I'll wait until after the holiday rush, and see what happens in March or April.

Bent Banana Books said...

"The fame that has come my way is because I busted my ass, doing more self-promotion than anyone in the history of the biz."

I think is a key point. As Barry says you can buy good editing and good web design. But I do not how big the talent pool is of good eBook PR.
This could be an impediment to seasoned best-sellers leaving their legacy publishers.

A lot of best-selling authors who jump ship might discover how little they know about the publishing business. As an example, talking to a mate who is a seasoned best -seller (who still earns less than the average wage) I am pretty sure he thinks he is receiving 25% of his eBooks selling prices.

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

You lost me at the how-little-you'd-pay-your-editor-to-perform-multiple-services-for-you.

Joe Konrath said...

You lost me at the how-little-you'd-pay-your-editor-to-perform-multiple-services-for-you.

Editing can be done for a flat fee. Paying her 52.5% forever is ridiculous.

Aaron Shepard said...

Barry, it's pretty amazing that, after accusing Hachette of redefining self publishing, you redefine it yourself. Surely you understand that the term is more than three years old? And that some of us who are still around have been doing it longer than that?

I'm glad to hear you're doing so well with digital, but kindly do not hijack my profession.

Aaron Shepard

DarcieZ said...

Holy crap! I about peed my pants reading this! I live to read the stuff you two come up with when you get together. God love you both. I'm still laughing...

Anonymous said...

"Editing can be done for a flat fee. Paying her 52.5% forever is ridiculous."

I pay a professional editor who works as a freelancer $600 to edit each of my 70k word novels. She lives overseas and does a magnificent job. We have never met in person, and likely never will.

I spent a solid 2 weeks teaching myself the basics of cover design. I pay $15 for artwork and do the rest on my laptop editing software.
My local college offers such a course as well.

Each of my 7 releases thus far earns approximately $3k the first month and tails off 3 months later to settle at about $500 a month.

With 6 more releases in 2012 I will buy a house and car in cash with what a publisher would have charged me.

Those of you who sing the praises of a Big 6 'team' as essential and worth their massive LIFETIME share of the profits need to wake up and smell what the 21st century is cooking.

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