Monday, February 20, 2012

Do Legacy Publishers Treat Authors Badly?

Some people have disagreed with my statement that legacy publishers treat authors like shit.

So I've made this list. Decide for yourself if these actions constitute treating authors badly. FWIW, all the things I'm mentioning have either happened to me or to my peers.

Legacy publishers offer the author 17.5% royalties on ebooks, and keep 52.5% for themselves.

Legacy publishers have full control over the title of the book.

Legacy publishers have full control over the cover art.

Legacy publishers can demand editing changes or refuse to publish.

Legacy publishers promise marketing or advertising. In fact, they promise lots of things. Then they don't follow through.

Legacy publishers fail to get paper books into certain important bookselling outlets, resulting in fewer sales.

Legacy publishers generate royalty statements that are incomprehensible.

Legacy publishers don't try grow an author's fanbase these days. If the books don't show increased sales with each new title, the author gets dumped, even if the reason for decreasing sales is the publisher's fault.

Legacy publishers hold onto rights even if the book is no longer selling. Getting rights back is a nightmare, and it takes forever.

Legacy publishers try to grab erights to books retroactively.

Legacy publishers take a ridiculously long time to publish a book. In some cases, more than 18 months.

Legacy publishers are a cartel. I suppose it could be a coincidence that the Big 6 all have exactly the same (low) royalty structure, and shockingly similar contract terms. But collusion seems easier to believe, and this collusion is aimed at limiting the income and power of authors. Legacy publishing contracts are painfully one-sided.

Legacy publishers have zero transparency when it comes to things like sales, returns, print runs, and inventory, and keep authors in the dark.

Legacy publishers fix prices. That's what the agency model is. Even worse, these prices are too high and hurt authors' sales.

Legacy publishers sometimes fail to edit.

Legacy publishers abandon books, releasing them into the market without any push at all.

Legacy publishers pay royalties twice a year. Are you freaking kidding me?!? It's 2012! Why are their accounting and payroll departments stuck in 1943?

Legacy publishers embraced returns for full credit. This is the biggest fail in the history of retail, and the reserves against returns practice has screwed thousands of authors. Isn't it funny how whenever you hear about an author auditing a publisher, unreported sales are always discovered?

Legacy publishers have done everything they can to postpone the switch from paper to digital. I was talking about this two years ago. This has cost authors a great deal of money.

Legacy publishers buy subsidiary rights they never exploit. Why buy them if you won't use them?

Legacy publishers waste huge amounts of money. They have offices in the most expensive city in the US, spend tens of thousands of dollars on booths at BEA, spend millions of dollars advertising bestselling authors who don't need the advertising, then say they can't offer more than a $12k advance? Fail. Move to Jersey, cut the expense accounts for lunch, and offer authors more money since they're the reason you exist in the first place.

Legacy publishers reject good books. I got half a mil in the bank that proves this one.

Do the above actions sound like legacy publishers are treating authors with consideration, respect, and affection? Or does it seem like they're treating authors like shit?

I've dealt with a lot of folks who work for legacy publishers. These are talented, dedicated, smart people.

That doesn't mean their companies don't screw authors.

I've spent hours upon hours talking to these publishers, trying to get them to innovate, to evolve.

They didn't listen.

I've spent a smaller amount of time talking to Amazon, trying to get them to innovate, to evolve.

Amazon did listen. And guess what? My Amazon published books made more money, faster, than any of my legacy published books.

If you're an author who has worked with a legacy publisher, you know how demeaning it is when your ideas, pleas, and plans are ignored. And if you've worked with Amazon, you know how empowering it is to be listened to. To have your opinions and ideas count, and be implemented.

I know many legacy pubbed authors who then self-publish. The majority of them agree with me: unless it was for a whole lot of money, they'd never take another legacy contract. Why is that? Doesn't that say something?

I know several self-pubbed newbies who had some success and got picked up by legacy publishers. Where are their blog posts about how well they're being treated and how their sales numbers went up? Where are their recommendations to other authors, urging them to abandon self-pubbing and sign a legacy deal?

I don't rant against legacy publishers because because they've wronged me. I rant against them to warn other authors, and show them better options. The path I'm on now is so much more rewarding, both monetarily and emotionally.

As Blake Crouch said in a recent Tweet: Where are all the longtime authors jumping to the defense of legacy publishing? Surely, since legacy publishers treat their authors so well, there should be thousands of happy authors rallying behind their publishers, disagreeing with my points, telling the world how wonderful their legacy experience has been.

There's a reason we don't see any of this. What could they possibly say?

"I love the fact that my royalty statements make no sense and I only get paid twice a year!"

"I love that my publisher prices my ebook at $12.99 and then keeps 52.5% of the list price!"

"I love getting my title changed to something I hate, and getting stuck with terrible covers!"

"I love the fact that my publisher didn't get me a single review!"

"I love turning in a manuscript and not getting the rest of my advance money until publication 18 months later!"

"I love the fact that it takes my publisher three months to give me the proofs, and then I have to return them in four days!

"I love it when I painstakingly go through a copy edit, and then when the book comes out none of my changes were made, and brand new mistakes were added!"

"I love being told there is no money for marketing my title, and then seeing a TV commercial for an author who has my same publisher!"

"I love it that my publisher insisted on owning world rights, and then only published in the US and Canada!"

"I love that my next-book option wasn't picked up because Barnes & Noble couldn't offer a big enough buy-in!"

"I love releasing only one book a year, even though I could easily write more! Non-compete clauses are awesome!"

"I love the 70% return rate on mass market paperbacks!"

"I love DRM!"

You don't hear a lot of stories about authors being treated well.

Instead, go to any writing conference, belly up to the hotel bar, and listen to the writers commiserate with one another, trading stories of who got screwed the worst.

Is legacy publishing all bad? Of course not. Some authors get rich. Some authors get much-needed editing help. Some authors get treated like royalty.

But I'm pretty sure that if we polled one thousand authors, and had them weigh all the good things their publishers do against the bad things their publishers do, the bad would far outweigh the good. I bet you'd find a lot of them having the same complaints I've mentioned. I bet you'd find even more complaints that I'm not even aware of.

The industry is broken. It cannot continue to treat its content providers as if it's doing them a favor. It cannot continue to engage in business practices that are so one-sided.

Writers are necessary. Publishers are not.

If you want to climb aboard a sinking ship, don't be surprised when you get handed a pail and ordered to start bailing.

If you disagree, I'd love to hear why. You can even post anonymously. All of you legacy publishers who love authors can come and tell me how I'm wrong.

But you won't. Because I'm right. The best you'll do is whine about my tone, or reiterate incorrect memes about my current self-pub success being the result of my legacy backlist, or call me a broken record, or get angry because I'm killing the sacred cow you suckle at, while ignoring all of the valid points I've made.

I'm sure all of you legacy folks have good intentions when it comes to how you treat your writers.

What was it someone said about hell and good intentions?

299 comments:

1 – 200 of 299   Newer›   Newest»
The Daring Novelist said...

But Joe, the beatings only occur on Wednesdays and, you know, we really deserve it. That's NOT the publisher's fault.

joemontana said...

Hey, I only ever dealt with one legacy publisher in my life.

Can I really complain about them?

Let's see, I mailed my ms directly to the sci-fi editor and a mere 6 months later, I got something a newbie, unpubbed author RARELY gets.

A personalized rejection letter. It was actually pretty encouraging. My characters were interesting and well developed. My plot was strong and the pacing was good. The problem was that the cyber-punk style sci-fi novels really weren't popular any more.

That last part was the kicker. My book wasn't cyber-punk. Yup, I got a personalized rejection letter - for SOMEONE ELSE'S BOOK.

There's respect for you.

Amazingly, I didn't feel the need to push for a legacy publishing deal after that a few other - less amazing but equally discouraging - run-ins.

J. R. Tomlin said...

But Daring Novelist, we all know that authors love to be beaten. We should be grateful. ;-)

The thing that absolutely kills me is taking 18 months at least for publication. They're supposed to be professionals. If they can't do better than that, there is something seriously wrong with how they're doing it.

Willow Polson said...

I love you.

Signed, a formerly legacy-published author who will never make that foolish mistake again because I rather like getting 70% of my cover which is TEN TIMES what I made before.

I make more in a month now than I did in a year with them, probably because they did NOTHING to advertise any of my books.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 99%.

The lingering 1% of my hesitation is that legacy publishing can still do something for writers that self-pubbing cannot: it can show that a writer has met some kind of standards for quality.

Right now there is so much self-pubbed crap (with more being added to the pool each day) that it's tough to weed through what's good writing and what's not. Lots of self-pubbed writers have figured out the importance of a good cover and will invest money in something that looks professional, but won't make the same investment in the content of their book and hire editors to fix spelling/grammar errors and bad writing. Authors who are self-pubbing straight out of the gate are also using the hell out of facebook, twitter, etc, and are creating reciprocity circles in which they pump each other up online and give each other inflated, positive reviews when I suspect that many of them have never even read each others' books in the first place. And yes - there are plenty of self-pubbed authors who are putting quality work out there, after having made the investment in good editing, and after having subjected their work to honest reviews. But on the surface, it's hard to tell the difference. Rolling a turd in powdered sugar won't make it a donut, but you can fool an awful lot of people into thinking that it is.

I've spent a lot of money on self-pubbed work that had great covers, wonderful reviews, awesome descriptions... only to find that three sentences into the work, I had pissed away hard-earned money on junior-high quality writing. Writers who scored a legacy deal have proven their worth as writers. Even if your publisher treated you like crap and screwed you over, you can still wear the badge of having been published by a traditional publisher, regardless of the outcome. You had external validation by a power that readers trust, and you can wear that badge proudly as you walk away from legacy publishing and write your way out of a day job.

I believe that self-pubbing is a wonderful opportunity for authors who are willing to do it the right way, but it's a hell of a lot easier for writers who have had a legacy deal to their credit. Just my $.02 worth.

Joe Konrath said...

Rolling a turd in powdered sugar won't make it a donut, but you can fool an awful lot of people into thinking that it is.

Awesome line. And I agree. But caveat emptor has always existed--all the self-pubbed ebooks just makes it a little harder.

I'd suggest downloading free samples before you buy. More and more readers are doing that. Also, there's often a "look inside the book" feature so you can read the first page without having to download the freebie.

The fact is, there has always been crap out there. I've disliked many legacy pubbed books, wondering how they made the cut. I've also found some good self-pubbed stuff to read.

Anonymous said...

Turd donut here...

"I'd suggest downloading free samples before you buy..."

Absolutely - I now do just that and I'm glad to hear that more people are taking advantage of the try-before-you-buy feature. I think that a lot of paying readers haven't figured out the value of it just yet, though. The slick-o covers and 50+ 5-star reviews can be powerfully deceiving, especially if the book is only a buck. Seems worth the gamble to so many. The problem is, enough exposure to shitty writing, and people will learn to be more discrimminating when they buy again. Not by taking the time to sample a book that looks appealing, but by checking up on the author. So is the word among the book groups, author groups and everywhere else I tune in.
A previously trad-pub deal in an author's history is a far more reliable litmus test for quality than anything else.

Shelby Cross said...

I can't say anything about legacy publishers. But I can tell you about KDP.
A few weeks ago, KDP price-matched my collection of short stories to a title I had available on Apple. The only problem was, the title they matched it to was one of my single short stories, not the collection. The short story was priced at .99 cents; the collection was $2.99. They lowered the price of my collection to .99 cents, without even telling me. I have no idea for how long people were buying my collection for .99 cents.

When I finally found out? Boy, was I mad.
I emailed KDP. I emailed Amazon. I wanted to call, but anyone who has done business with KDP knows they don't take phone calls, at all, ever. They only make contact through email, and for over a week, the only response I got from them was "sorry it's taking longer than our normal 24 hour response time, we'll contact you as soon as possible."
I posted a question about their customer service on their community forum, but after looking over other people's similar experiences, I realized there was a good chance I may never hear from KDP.

In a moment of fury, I ranted on Twitter. Oh, how I ranted about KDP. I thought I was typing to the wind, but I needed to get it out of my system.

The next day, someone from KDP called me. That's right, called me on the phone. They had seen my rant on Twitter. The guy admitted the mistake was theirs, that they price-matched incorrectly, that they should take steps to make sure this never happens again. The guy gave me his name, and a way to contact him again if something else goes wrong. I was flummoxed, and so, so happy.

So my story has a happy ending. KDP let me down, but then made up for it in spades. This author is now a loyal fan of KDP.
But they really should give authors a way to contact them by phone. And they should notify authors if they are going to lower the price of one of their titles through price-matching.

Edward M. Grant said...

"A previously trad-pub deal in an author's history is a far more reliable litmus test for quality than anything else."

Generally speaking, the first two pages of the sample are. I've read little but indie books for the last year, and if the first two pages were readable and interesting then the rest of the book generally was.

I've been disappointed in a few cases by major plot problems, but no more so than trade-published novels I've read in the past.

But buying without reading the first couple of pages of the sample makes as much sense as picking up a book on a book store shelf and buying it without even opening it.

Iola said...

"Legacy publishers reject good books. I got half a mil in the bank that proves this one."

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Archangel said...

22 years of publishing w nyc

1. your editor can go poof in the middle of the night. Let go/ fired; you and your book become orphans

2. huge conglom/ rupert/ mohn buy up formerly indie big pub, and trade on private stock. Overnight, your sales reps of years who listen, fired, to consolidate sales reps across multiple formerly free standing publishers.

3. same as #2, except Marketing people fired. It's a slaughter. Who's left is often heartfelt, and inexperienced...and will be worked to the bone doing three people's work. Idea is to squeeze the eagle til it screams, not for author increase in royalty, but for thin ownership layer and whom they deign to knight.

4. Shameful practice of not even paying what the pb publishers pay authors if one is considered 'literary'... receive less advance, less in everything in compensations, bec as I overheard one top-top exec say, we dont have to pay top dollar, they are impressed to be published by us. (This regarding one big literary press. Dont know about the other ones).

5. will not allow author attend sales or marketing planning meetings re their own book(s)... even though author has first person, first witness info from having often met hoards or even a few of their own enthusiastic readers--and therefore has intelligence re sales and marketing far far beyond the provincial (nyc and not much beyond) grasp of market/sales in big 6.


continued...
drcpe

Archangel said...

continued from above

6. Treated by the 'grown-ups' as if one will forever be designated to sit at the child's table, and behave, not make noise, not fidget, not complain, eat the often sanctimonious horsesh-- on a plate, placed before the author... and say thank you. It is a patronizng ideal that says the author is an infant, and the 'grownups' know what's best. That an author couldnt possibly know anything.

7. Overhearing "jokes" from higher level pubs, that ought be taken as serious truth for some in editing and publishing: If only we didnt need authors to be in the pub business. THey are so insecure/ needy/ angry/ know it alls/ a-holes needing coddling/ sucky/ trite/ not 'litter-ahry'/mental cases/ insufferable and on and on. I take this all as signs of severe burnout, the thrill is gone baby, but no one wants to risk their salary to go do something they could be thrilled about.

8.2x-4x yrly sales conferences at upscale resorts with fabulous accommodations, second and third homes in the hamptons, homes in eu and elsewhere, which is fine, but since ebks came along and pubs say cannot possibly pay a decent royalty to authors when pub has NO storage costs, Doesnt have to pay for huge rolls of paper a year in advance, has NO shipping costs, has NO returns... then all the living high on the hog with drivers at the ready and the best of the best for those who are not authors, not lowly editors, not workman-like workers in the industry, well it frosts even anti-freeze with its lying sack of sh patronization.

9. editors who are the darlings of pub, who dont edit, but rather ladder-climb. Dont get me started.

10. Favored authors who share the poison of choice with top mgt... you name it. Author and pub are friends who ply the poison, and just happen to publish. Yet, the lion's share of the meat of promo etc. can easily go to such friendships.

Archangel said...

continued from above

11. Takeover of a company by new mgt or what used to be called by the ugly cute-sy term 'downsizing' or the even more denigrating term 'right-sizing'... can cause cancelling of author contracts wholesale, as Anthea Disney did at HC, and listen carefully, demanding authors hacheted pay back their advances. This is the fine differentiation: I believe the top brass never intended the advances be paid back, so when they under pressure so light as to be featherlike, they buckled about the payback from authors, the authors were so relieved that the big co only cancelled their contracts, they almost felt grateful, and did not protest to the death en masse. That pub move was beyond heinous and have no idea how anyone could call themselves a pub after such chainsaw Al tactics.

12. I have had publishers who are good souls, editors who are humble and truly helpful. I've also had the opposite, including CEO's who are claim-jumpers and bring in their brigade of armored lawyers to meet me, the David, on the plain, and my sling shot has NOT been enough to take down the behemoth... until ebooks. Even with the claimjumping which should be punishable by prison, just watching this week as HC again goes after an author, this time a childrens author for publishing her ebks with an ebk aggregator outfit... it has become insane. And crying out that many of us are trapped with our rights wrongly held, has had little outrage or help or kindness or support in the new ebk community. It is sad, but though we contribute and support others and wave them onward to put their work up, many of us are on the lone plain by ourselves, still fighting for what is ours, often decades of work held up by a Kracken who like the worst of divorcees doesnt want you, but doesnt want anyone else to have you either.

I could add 30 more points. Joe covered a lot of it, but not all. There is much more. And its not sour grapes that underlies my tropes here, it is a burn-effing sense of flaming injustice for myself and for many many others. My colleague Kiana and many many others included. No writer signed on to be put through hell and humiliation to gain their rights to publish ebooks. Yet this is the case. And blah blah, what doesnt kill you makes you stronger. Heart of diamond dust, I tell you. You can hear it shake like a rattle when I walk. Not giving in or up. But it's a damned hard walk.

drcpe

Archangel said...

prob should have said too, Joe is ace accurate

drcpe

Evil Wylie said...

I agree with you on many points, especially that the "returns" model is one of the biggest fails in the history of retail. Supporters will say it allows booksellers to take a chance on new authors, but from a financial perspective consignment isn't a great economic decision.

My concern with how you've laid things out is, How does Amazon's publishing arm differentiate itself from "legacy" publishing? As Amazon increases its publishing ambitions, they're increasingly looking like the same sort of legacy publishers that you're saying treat authors like shit.

"Legacy publishers waste huge amounts of money. They have offices in the most expensive city in the US, spend tens of thousands of dollars on booths at BEA...."

(Amazon opened offices in NYC last year and had a booth at BEA.)

"Legacy publishers fail to get paper books into certain important bookselling outlets...."

(Amazon's books are not available through the largest US chain bookstore, Barnes & Noble, nor through most indies.)

"Legacy publishers fix prices."

(Amazon fixes prices on its own ebooks, since they refuse to even sell them via other ebookstores. When a self-published author like Amanda Hocking says that 40% of her 2011 sales came from Nookbooks, I'd say that Amazon's exclusivity is a form of price-fixing that also hurts authors.)

Lavinia Thompson said...

Barnes and Noble decided not to carry Amazon books- that was not Amazon's decisions. That's a huge loss to B&N more than it is to Amazon, because Amazon will still profit from book sales. B&N won't. As a Canadian, my books don't get into B&N unless I put it through Smashwords any ways.

Joe always says it best. I have my own horror story with a publisher. The dark fantasy novel I had spent years on, Spellbound by Fire, was accepted by a publisher last year, and as a naive writer new to the publishing scene, I was ecstatic that someone accepted my book. That was April. By November, little progress had been made. The cover was done, but really had nothing to do with the story. Editing hadn't even been started. I had experimented with self-publishing back in September by digitally publishing my poetry book, She Wasn't Allowed to Giggle. I LOVED having creative control over it and being able to release it so fast. So, in November, I pulled Spellbound by Fire from the publisher- luckily it hadn't been printed yet so getting my rights back wasn't so difficult. I got a cover together, had it edited and formatted professionally all within three weeks and had it released for December, in time for the Christmas rush.

Needless to say, I will never deal with another publisher again. I love self-publishing. As for wading through the crappy books- we all have to do the same with traditionally published books too. And legacy publishers publish a lot of crap too. Have you looked around your local bookstore lately??? I see lots of books I would never read. However, I have found a few self-pubbed books that I absolutely loved.

So really, when it comes to the marketplace for readers, self-published books aren't different that way from legacy published books. Readers still have to wade through a sea of books to find something they like. The difference is how writers are treated, paid and how they publish, and the ease with which they can publish. It makes self-pubbing VERY worth it.

Gary Jonas said...

"The beatings will continue until morale improves."

I suspect one of the reasons we haven't heard from self-publishers who recently went legacy is that their books are still in the pipeline. This sort of proves your point about time to market, of course. St. Martins is reprinting one of Amanda Hocking's trilogies now, but her original novels with them won't start coming out until later this year, which is pretty fast for a legacy publisher.

Jens Hildebrand said...

On 1st December 2011, I got my royalty sheet. It covers my sales from 01. August 2010 to 31. July 2011. The money came in at the end of January 2012. That's great, isn't it?

L.L. Muir said...

I'm so glad I jumped the fence. I'm making more than I ever did at a full-time job, and I've only been up for 2 1/2 months.

I'm still letting my agent shop around the middle-grade stuff. But an offer would have to be enormous for me to take it now. Even if middle grade won't do much compared to my romance sales.

Thanks Joe! For every damn thing!

Joe Konrath said...

@drcpe - Thanks for all those additions. It's fascinating how the abuses transcend specific companies and seem to be equal opportunity. Writers get screwed, no matter who they sign with.

Joe Konrath said...

Amazon opened offices in NYC last year and had a booth at BEA.

You missed the point. Amazon treats authors fairly and offer excellent royalties. They share the wealth. The Big 6 does not.

Amazon's books are not available through the largest US chain bookstore, Barnes & Noble, nor through most indies.

Blame B&N and the indies, not Amazon, for that. When Cherry Bomb came out, my publisher didn't get into Borders until weeks after it was released. That was Hyperion's fault, not Borders. Borders wanted the book.

Amazon fixes prices on its own ebooks, since they refuse to even sell them via other ebookstores.

You're confusing price fixing with proprietary formats and exclusivity. Price fixing is illegal.

I'd say that Amazon's exclusivity is a form of price-fixing that also hurts authors.

You'd be wrong. Nothing stops any self-pubbed author from uploading to both Amazon and B&N. If Amazon is the publisher, that isn't price fixing either, nor does it hurt authors. Why not say that when Random House signs an author, it prevents them from signing with Simon and Schuster?

As far as Amazon being different than legacy publishers, reread Be the Monkey, and try to do so with an eye toward learning something.

Anna Jeffrey said...

Right on, right on, right on....
Anna Jeffrey

Mustard Jones said...

Hey come on, the Big 6 luuuurve their authors, so much so that they want to tie them to the bed, strip them and throw grapes at their crotches.

It's a character-building kinda love.

BirderRon said...

Everything you say Joe sounds great and I have no reason to question any of it seeing as my seeing as my three efforts were all published by Amazon too. But here's the thing for me - and the reason as to why I chose the Amazon route. I like writing but I am not in it to make money. My livelihood is not dependant on book sales. Of course if someone came along and offered me a decent amount of dosh and a decent contract I might be tempted to give it a go. But I will keep your comments in mind. The thrill for me however, is to have copies of my efforts in bound paperback editions sitting on my books shelf. I've also published them for Kindle too.

Ron

Megg Jensen said...

Joe - blog about how four of the Big Six are so greedy that they've now denied Overdrive, and subsequently libraries, access to their upcoming ebooks.

http://libwww.freelibrary.org/blog/index.cfm?srch=1&date=2012-02-17

Megg

J M Preiss said...

Love what you have to say, Joe.

I've been following your blog for a while now, and everything you have said has driven me to finally self-pub my first novel.

While it is off to a slow start, I'm loving the experience! I can't imagine all the hoops I would have to jump through to get a legacy deal just to more than likely be rejected.

Jennifer R. Povey said...

I think a lot of these are problems of large corporations, not the publishing system.

That is to say, authors should seriously consider whether going with a small to medium sized, specialty press is a better option than trying for the Big 6 OR self publishing. Obviously it depends on the author and the book, but small publishers, on the whole, work with fewer authors and, like in everything else, the author doesn't become a number.

Mark Terry said...

I have no problem with what Joe says here. I can't say I was mistreated by traditional... wait, I can't? Yeah, I can. Dropped mid-contract, tying up erights, minuscule advances, tiny ebook royalties.

Never mind. I'm sure they work well for some people. And maybe some day I'll get another trad publishing contract where the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for that day.

TK Kenyon said...

You're right.

I was with a small, traditional publisher. I loved my publisher. They tried to change some of the problems with the Big 6 and do better by authors.

They went bankrupt in less than 2 years.

I wouldn't go back to a traditional contract unless it was for a heck of a lot of money up front, like walking-away-money.

You're right.

TK Kenyon

Kass Lamb said...

I am so glad I never got past a few months of the frustrating querying agents phase with traditional publishing before discovering e-publishing.

I have a temper and do not suffer fools gladly. I'd be in jail by now for trying to kill my publisher if I'd actually gotten a trad pub offer.

Rashad Pharaon said...

What is this, a whine-fest?

You are naturally going to have a LOT more people who get/got rejected (such is life) come and "agree" with you on this blog.

Don't forget, you were once a published author, which proves you can write with quality.

Many of those who agree with you here do not understand the concept of quality, nor do they understand the concept of getting their work edited professionally before e-publishing. They just want to throw wet spaghetti on a wall and see if it sticks.

Grab your literary n-sacks people, get some solid writing done, get a great editor, and once you can write quality then follow J.A. Konrath, who has proven himself by being traditionally published first.

Stacy Beauregard said...

lol I kind of agree with the agent of gloom above, although I have no literary n-sacks. Quality is a prevalent problem in the world of self-publishing. We're diluting the art.

elysabeth said...

I agree with all of ya'll. I have been and am still published by a small publisher. I'm also self-pubbing now.

Returns are big author killers. I got notice from my publisher last year (first part of the year) saying that because Borders had sent back 45 of my books, and yes she had to eat the cost of that, that I would have to pay her back royalties on those returned books. So, I'm sitting here thinking I've not even received any royalties on those books in the first place, how the hell am I going to pay back royalties that I've never even seen. We are supposed to get royalty statements quarterly but again, they don't make any sense and this is a small publisher.

I like her as a person but business tactics are a bit off the wall. When I first signed with her, she had 6 or 8, maybe a dozen authors if that. Within a couple of months of my first book getting published, she had contracted another 20 or so authors, with promises to have all of their books published within a year of their contract date. She took on too many authors too quickly and didn't account for the fact that most of the things she was taking on were children's books that needed illustrating and she had limited illustrators. She overloaded everyone.

When I was given an ultimatum about two more books in my state series, over the title of the 4th book (all of my books are called State of ... - with the title reflecting the state in general and the clues given inside the book) - she wanted to call it State of Secession (which I thought was a dead giveaway - the reader isn't really supposed to know the state immediately, that is part of the fun of the series); I wanted it called State of Successes (there are many successful things in this state by their own right and it was a play on words). She told me it was her way or the highway - I chose the highway. I found an illustrator and started using createspace to pub my books. Am glad I have - won't go the traditional pubbed route again.

The other thing is the cost of "author" copies. Since I do a lot of in-person events where the vendor is expected to sell their own merchandise (homeschool conferenes and the like), I have to keep copies of books on hand even though I'm using POD technology (when I get all 50 states completed, I may have a storage problem but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it - lol). Using createspace and ordering copies to have on hand and getting copies from my publisher is a 3x difference - I can order 10 copies from her to the tune of $75 or I can get roughly 34 copies from createspace for the same cost.

Getting out of contracts is as nightmarish as getting them.

I can't say I have half a million in my bank to prove that the traditional publishers are wrong but one of these days I hope to have a fraction of that in the bank - lol.

Thanks for sharing with us - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of Finally Home, a YA paranormal mystery
"The Proposal" (an April Fools Day story), a humorous romance ebook
"The Tulip Kiss", a paranormal romance ebook
"Bride-and-Seek", a paranormal romance ebook
http://elysabethsstories.blogspot.com
http://eeldering.weebly.com

Ma America, The Travelin' Maven
Author of the JGDS, 50-state, mystery, trivia series
Where will the adventure take you next?
http://jgdsseries.blogspot.com
http://jgdsseries.weebly.com

Kelly McClymer said...

Every job has a downside. Legacy publishing/self-publishing. But, if my self-published book doesn't do as well as I'd hoped, I'm *really* to blame -- and I can make a course correction. Bad cover? Try a new cover. Bad blurb, write a new blurb.

The worst thing legacy publishers do to their writers is to apportion all blame for a book's failure to the author. Even if a train full of that author's books fell off a cliff and thus wasn't distributed to half the country for that all important short tail laydown date (true story, as bizarre as it sounds). Even if the cover artist painted three arms on the heroine (oh, wait, that actually *boosted* sales :-).

It is really not a surprise that many writers are pleased to explore other publishing options now that they exist -- in a very robust, affirmative and sometimes lucrative way.

I thank Amazon, B&N, Sony, Apple, Smashwords, BookBaby, ARe...and all those others who are offering authors more choices and better treatment. I hope the legacy publishers decide it is a worthwhile endeavor to follow suit. Healthy competition for happy authors is...healthy publishing.

Dan DeWitt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon Olson said...

200 rejection letters later, and having been flirted with and jilted, I'm on board.

The Ride Home

Dan DeWitt said...

@Rashad Pharaon

Ah, the old "If it's traditionally-published, it must be of high quality" argument crawls out from under its rock once more.

I've only been reading self-published ebooks for maybe two years. I've run across some poorly-edited, badly-written crap that I wish I could unread. I've also read some good to very good works, and for cheap.

I've been reading traditionally-published print books for 30 years, and guess what I've run across there? The same crap to good book ratio, only for a lot more money.

Weird.

Todd Trumpet said...

We need a new word for "Legacy Publishers". It makes them sound positively august.

How about "Dictatorial Publishers"?

I'll leave you to provide your own abbreviation.

Todd
www.ToddTrumpet.com

Mark Edward Hall said...

I've begged and pleaded with my publisher to lower the digital prices of my books. To no avail. I've begged and pleaded with them to do a better job formatting for kindle. (this should be a no brainer) Again to no avail. That's just the start and I won't bore you with the rest. They've even stopped answering my emails and won't take my calls. Yeah, they treat their authors just great. My independent books are doing better than my legacy books. You'd think that would give them a clue. It doesn't.
Never, ever again will I sign a book deal with another publisher. And if you know what's good for you, you won't either.

Sariah said...

I know several self-pubbed newbies who had some success and got picked up by legacy publishers. Where are their blog posts about how well they're being treated and how their sales numbers went up? Where are their recommendations to other authors, urging them to abandon self-pubbing and sign a legacy deal?

I was really and truly thinking about this last night - about all these self-pubbed authors I've seen over the last year or so who have "arrived" by getting legacy deals - and I've heard nothing about them since. They aren't updating their blogs or talking about their fantastic experiences with the Big 6. Instead, for all intents and purposes, have just disappeared. Even John Locke - who used to have several books on the bestseller lists - I know he had a new release which did well, but it quickly fell off the charts. I wondered if his S&S distribution deal is taking up a lot of his time. These authors aren't releasing new self-pubbed works (as so many of them claimed they would) and aren't talking about their legacy deals at all.

Joe Konrath said...

Don't forget, you were once a published author, which proves you can write with quality.

I see what you're saying, but exceptions abound.

There are some bad books published by the Big 6, and I've had books rejected by the Big 6 that sell well and get great reviews since I self-pubbed them.

So while having a prior legacy deal may indicate quality, there are times when it doesn't.

Ryne Douglas Pearson said...

I've experienced every single thing Joe detailed. Every. Single. Thing.

I only wish I'd been as quick as he was to see the possibilities in taking control of my writing.

Anonymous said...

The relationship between a publisher and an author is contractual. The publisher is obligated to do that which is required by the contract and nothing more. Same for the author.

If someone wants to point to a contractual provision in a specific contract and then explain how the published breached that provision, that would be something worth listening to. If someone can't point to a breach of contract, however, then there is no right to complain about anything. The author got what was due via the contract.

Unknown said...

Legacy Publisher? Never met one. Santa Claus? Never met him either.

To me, self publishing is where I get to eat the cookies and drink the milk.

http://everett.peacock.com

Dan DeWitt said...

@ Anonymous

Pretty sure if that was Joe's point the title would be "How Legacy Publishers Breach Contracts, Like, All the Time."

If I were an employer, I could have a contract with an employee, fulfill every single thing within that contract, and still treat them like crap.

Your argument actually makes his position seem stronger.

Katie Cramer said...

"The industry is broken. It cannot continue to treat its content providers as if it's doing them a favor. It cannot continue to engage in business practices that are so one-sided."

It's not just the publishers. Self-publishing erotica writers are in meltdown today because All Romance eBooks and Bookstrand have started banning their books - titles with perfectly legal content depicting consensual acts between adults.

http://katiecramerbooks.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/banned-from-bookstrand-and-all-romance-ebooks/

Strangely, none of the books published by Siren (a Bookstrand imprint) are affected by the 'offending' themes, even though there are plenty of them.

It seems traditional ways of restricting the market are alive and well. If they don't like it - shut it down. As someone commented on my blog, it's the digital equivalent of burning books.

Selena Kitt said...

I have a feeling this whole credit-card/Paypal banning of books (they're now banning "pseudo-incest" - whatever that is. Think Woody Allen and his stepdaughter. And rape. Which includes, according to the Paypal rep I talked to, BDSM titles. I have a feeling the very large and vocal BDSM community is going to have something to say about that... Basically, we're talking about banning books about sex between of-legal-age consenting adults) is coming pretty high up somewhere. But I could be wrong.

The thing about this (and if you want details, I blogged about it here) is that it makes self-publishing dangerous, especially for erotica writers. You need the "protection" of a publisher if you don't want your books banned from sale.

Makes publishers suddenly useful, doesn't it?

That's really disturbing.

Pat Anvil said...

I wanted to stay away from this thread but I simply could not. There was a person commenting and still playing that old tune about "a lot of crap being published" we need quality control, blah, blah, blah...

It is amazing to me that anybody who claims to have spend a lot of money on self-pubbed work would say this.

First of, pricing. I had an interesting discussion this past weekend with four of my Twitter followers who'd claimed that they had bought my book.

It was on sale for ¢99 at the time. I asked if the pricing was a decisive factor.

All four said that it was not.

I know that this is not a statistically significant sample but what followed rang so true to my own experiences as a reader that I took it to heart.

One of them said and I quote loosely, "If I worked instead of reading your book, I would have made $1k. Damn your book. LOL."

When we buy a book what matters is not how much money we spent on it but a simple question, "Do I want to invest ten to twenty hours of MY TIME reading it?"

I asked the same guy (I assume he was a guy) if he'd bought my book if it was $4.99.

He quickly said, "No!"

"Where is the logic?" I asked.

He said, "$5 is a ripoff."

This got me thinking. Of course, he could have forked $5 or even more if he chose to spend ten hours with my book instead of working and making money as he claimed. But he percieves this price as unfair.

I strongly suspect that the price is instrumental in the decision NOT to buy a book but rarely is instrumental in the decision to do so.

Next point - Amazon reviews. News flash, nobody and I repeat nobody searches Amazon for book with highest reviews and then buys based on that. There are plenty of books that are selling well with one review or none at all. I'm sorry to say Amazon's reviews have lost credibility at some point. Maybe they should at least start restricting reviews to the people who actually bought the book - but I suspect that even that is not going to work.

People usually use Amazon to buy the book and to preview the book but not to find a new one to read.

What do they use?

Social media.

There they can get a word from people they "can trust" - or should I say "trust a little bit more."

I'm not talking about just Twitter and Facebook - even though those are very important. I'm talking about social media dedicated to readers. Sites like Goodreads.com, LibraryThing.com, and Shelfari.com.

Okay. It's getting too long. I have one last point. I do not buy a book unless I read at least a first few pages. Even if it's Stephen King or Joe Konrath (Do you hear slurping sounds? That's me sucking up to the author of this blog.) I don't know anyone who does. I didn't do it back when I used to go to the bookstore and stroll alongside the shelves looking for something to read. I always opened the book and read a few pages before I invested my time and treasure into it.

-Pat

Stephen T. Harper said...

@ Rashon... oh dear, oh dear...

@ Stacy Beauregard said...
"lol I kind of agree with the agent of gloom above, although I have no literary n-sacks. Quality is a prevalent problem in the world of self-publishing. We're diluting the art."

This point is made quite often. I tend to think its advocates are looking at the situation from an angle that just won't help them. The new publishing world is all about opportunity to prove yourself with the only people who should really matter to a writer. Readers.

Just because the obstacle of industry middlemen has faded, doesn't mean that there aren't obstacles. Books still must be something special to rise above the fray and reach an audience.

I feel that the biggest misconception about Indie publishing in general, or what Joe preaches more specifically on this blog, is this idea that there is free money in it for anyone to scoop up. There isn't. And I don't think Joe ever said there was.

If someone believes this is a free ride if they can simply upload a file, my feeling is that they will not be at this for very long before they realize it's just not true. You've still got to be good. You've got to be smart about showing that you're good, and you've got to keep working at being good all the time. This is great news if you really are a talented writer who works hard. It's wide open for you.

As for the "new slush pile:" It will always be there as the first test, the first obstacle to rise above. People who can't manage that, will stop trying. But they will be replaced by more.

We've already seen many changes in what works and what once worked in just the last year. My guess is that the "goldrush" for anyone who can upload sub-standard work is already becoming less appealing, because readers aren't stupid and can adapt to the new world too.

What is still true and will always be true in the future is point one of Joe's basic formula. "Write a good book."

Edward M. Grant said...

"Many of those who agree with you here do not understand the concept of quality, nor do they understand the concept of getting their work edited professionally before e-publishing. They just want to throw wet spaghetti on a wall and see if it sticks."

The e-book I'm currently reading was rejected by trade publishers because 'there was no market for it'. I believe it's the first e-book the writer has released, probably wasn't professionally edited, and there are some formatting problems; I've been meaning to email them and let them know.

But it's still well worth the $2.99 I paid, and has been hovering at the mid-2,000s in the Kindle best-seller lists for the last few days. I don't know what that translates to in sales, but clearly there is a market which the 'quality' publishers aren't filling. Ultimately the only way to find out whether there's a market is to throw the book out there and see if it sells.

Kay Bratt said...

"Next point - Amazon reviews. News flash, nobody and I repeat nobody searches Amazon for book with highest reviews and then buys based on that."

I disagree on that that comment. Reviews matter. Not always, but they matter to me and I buy about 5-7 books a week. This week I bought 3 in print. I scan and look for those with lots of reviews, then I read the reviews. Then I read the "Inside the Book" for a writing style sample. Though I am an author, I am also a huge bookworm and for the record...reviews matter. I'm not saying they have to all be good, but if I see a book with no reviews or maybe 1 or 2, unless it is a new release from a familiar author, I move on.

Joe Konrath said...

If someone can't point to a breach of contract, however, then there is no right to complain about anything.

I'm an American. I believe the right to complain is in our Constitution.

Here's the thing: writers HAD to sign one-sided contracts if they wanted to be professional writers. We had no other choice. Publishers had a lock on the industry, and we had to accept it if we wanted to get into bookstores and reach readers.

That doesn't mean the contracts were fair, or that we can't complain about how we've been treated.

Now we finally have a choice. We don't need publishers. Which is the point of this blog.

Besides, contracts get disputed in court all the time. Right now in the music industry, several record labels are getting sued by their artists.

I foresee this happening in publishing. Too many writers have gotten screwed for too many years.

Joe Konrath said...

Self-publishing erotica writers are in meltdown today because All Romance eBooks and Bookstrand have started banning their books

Stores can't ban books. They are within their rights to decide what titles to carry.

That said, this seems less like a setback and more like an opportunity. There is a huge market for erotica. Some smart company can step in and make billions by catering to this market.

When there is a consumer need, it gets filled.

Joe Konrath said...

Strikes are another American way of complaining. It can easily be said, "You took the job, if you don't like the terms, it's your fault. Go ahead and quit, and starve."

And yet the history of America, and the rise of Unions, is because workers have consistently been exploited.

Guess what? Writers have also been exploited. Getting 8% royalties on a mass market paperback is disgusting. I wrote the damn thing, and I only get 8%? And 8% is high compared to other publishers.

Hairhead said...

"Being published by legacy publishers guarantees a certain level of quality . . ."

This is an objectively dunderheaded, ignorant (if not actively stupid) statement. I own 2,000 books, I have read 100 books a year for the last 35 years and I have NEVER ceased to be shocked at utter crap which gets bought, edited, and published.

The paradox of the computer age is that the oldest form of marketing -- word of mouth -- remains the best and most powerful tool of the author/creator.

Write good books, get them in front of your readers, and encourage your readers to talk about them. The last two things are what the internet now allows authors to do on a worldwide basis.

Joshua James said...

Just curious, a question for self-pubbed folks ... is there any avenue for getting media reviews (online or in print) for your books ... reviews above and beyond customer reviews on Amazon?

Felicia Donovan said...

Ironically, I read this just after posting a letter requesting my eBook rights back from the original publisher of my Black Widow Agency series. Do I expect to get them back? Not really. Is it a total loss? Not really, but it is a lesson learned about control. Big 6 = No Control. Amazon = Control. Thanks, Joe, for always telling it like it is.

Anonymous said...

I've read enough crap of late published by the Big 6 that I am okay with taking a 1.99 - 2.99 risk on a self-pubbed ebook. By far a better risk than the 12.99-15.99 price tag that comes with buying a newly pubbed Big 6 ebook - sometimes the SAME price or more expensive than a hard copy!

R. E. Hunter said...

I can't speak from personal experience, but if even half of the points raised are true, it qualifies as an abusive relationship.

Bruce Blake said...

Try this one on:

I sent my manuscript to a publisher in October and heard back from them last week that it is on the publisher's desk and they will be discussing it early this week.
Did I mention it was October 2009?!

Mira said...

I agree with every point you made, Joe, both in the post and the comments.

Thank you.

I also find it confusing that this argument gets all mixed up with the quality issue.

Are some people trying to say that the "gatekeeper" role JUSTIFIES exploiting the author? That makes no sense. If publishers have chosen an author because they believe that author is quality, then you would think they would value the author instead of treating them terribly.

Regardless: The point is the legacy publishers treat their authors very, very badly.

If you're into vengeance, the good news is that is the very thing that will lead legacy publishers to their demise. Eventually, all authors of quality will leave legacy publishing. It's important to remember that e-books are only a few years old. Give it alittle time.

Archangel said...

@Rashad, thanks.

"What is this, a whine-fest? "

Just my .02. I dont think it's whining Rashad. I wouldnt want to characterize and sidetrack assertions here, to be infantilizing a valid discussion of different people's points of view about what's wrong with systems. I dont think anyone sane will come tell my systems analyst that he's whining, when in fact he's analyzing and saying what he sees as the issues. In my book, as long as people are writing, doing the deed, they get to say what they see. I'd hate to think any activist on the face of this earth is only allowed by some to state their case once, and then after, if situ remains oppressive, to have to be silent or else be accused of 'whining.' I've watched too many dictators accuse 'the rabble' of whining, being a culture 'of complaint' in order to try to silence their concerns. Watched too many corporate entities do the same.

We're in the midst of one of the biggest revolutions ever worldwide.
I'd suggest too authors are not "complaining". They are making charges. They are indicting. And, they are making their assertions. It is factual date. Most know the difference between those and the weaker 'plaint.' There is nothing weak about what is being said here.

As long as people pick themselves up and keep writing, talking about rejection as they wish, it's ok by me. Others who are introverted and shy and silent, those who lurk here are often being informed and most importantly, made braver, because one or ten or 100 writers tell the truth and make their charges clear.

"Grab your literary n-sacks people,"

Well indeed. That makes me smile for my neighbor who owns the largest body building magazine and uses the phrase, would want anyone who's got a n-sack (and more than half the writing world which is women, have los ovarios fuertes man, not n-sacks) to also be pressing w/o injuring those delicate n-sacks, at least 200 lbs, with one-handed pushups past 50, and slamming whey 7x day. I'd bow to any author who could do so, maybe you?

Thanks
drcpe

I.J.Parker said...

I've had eight novels published by legacy publishers. All of Joe's charges applied to me (though instead of 17 1/2 % I get 15 % on e-books). I've been with St. Martin's Press and Penguin and was humiliated by their staff in both instances. My third publisher (Severn House) demanded the e-rights for two published novels before paying me a 5,000 dollar advance on the next two books. I refused. I've had it with legacy publishing.

Pat Anvil said...

@Kay Bratt I didn't say that reviews didn't matter. I said that Amazon reviews do not matter because they come from "complete strangers" and not organized into communities, reviewers themselves are not rated, it's hard to see what other books a reviewer read/liked, etc. Those reviews are really easy to fake by anyone who has a dozen of friends willing to write a glowing review for them...

But I stand corrected - there are some people who still read them.

I also can say that if the rating is low, I do skip the book, but if it's high I don't read the reviews at all.

-Pat

Anonymous said...

Wow, Joe. This was absolutely amazing. Brought tears to my eyes because as I read it I thought of all my author friends who have gotten screwed by their publishers.

And do you know what's worse? My author friends are still submitting desperately to their publishers in hopes they'll be picked back up and published again.

It's so sad. I even know an author who has gone into incredible debt because of her publisher. My other author friend had her 2nd novel completely altered. She lost readers, then the legacy publisher dumped her.

It's sickening what legacy publishers do. I can't wait until the big 6 are all driven out of business!

Thanks for this post.

Barbara Morgenroth said...

My title--Homes For The Holidays

Harry Abrams title--Gingerbread: Things To Make and Bake.

Things. What are things?
Stupidest title ever.
Editor's age? About 15 minutes past college graduation.
Photographer so slow, about 3 months past his due date, all the gingerbread structures had to be rebuilt--a Herculean task once. Twice, we should have sued.
But authors don't sue publishers they just get screwed.

I must be missing the great part about being traditionally published.

Michelle McCleod said...

It's really easy to ignore the deletion of erotica authors from various bookseller sites. However, this new brand of censorship is coming for the rest of us.

Think about it.

It is no coincidence that Bookstrand deletes the indies with the specious claims of 'paypal violations' and then retains their Siren imprint with the same content.

The. Same. Content.

Then we have the compounding factor of Paypal and their sense of morality (which, to be fair, is dictated by credit card companies). If Paypal really does think BDSM is synonymous with rape, then I guess Bookstrand et al will be removing Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake books next, right?

This has potential to spread on several fronts; publishers against indies and Paypal against all authors.

Further, if book distributors are not consistent in their application of rules, that may open the door for a lawsuit. Why should Bookstrand’s imprint be able to keep a Pseudo Incest title when the rest of us cannot? Sounds like a serious conflict of interest to me.

I hope Joe's right and it creates an opportunity someplace else, but, conversely, at least one imprint found their chance to even the playing field and get rid of those pesky indies. Meanwhile, Paypal is trying to control costs by staying out of credit companies’ expensive ‘high risk’ category, hence the arrival of the moral police.

I hope people can set aside their distaste for erotica and feel the chill of the coming storm.

Don't get distracted by the T&A or you'll miss the point.

Michelle

Anonymous said...

This really hits home.

As a failed writer one of the biggest reasons I haven't diverted enough attention to my writing is the endless depressing stories I'm aware of regarding legacy publishing. I've lived in big urban areas with thriving literary communities and I've seen too many hardworking starving writers who wasted years on trying to get picked up by legacy publishers. Or wasted years with agents.

The traditional way makes writers into desperate beggars.

It's tough enough writing a book. It's blood sweat and tears. And then the knowledge that you'll be facing a nebulous entity for years to come and that the agent publishing thing will be like being in the middle of the empty ocean hoping that island will show up one day.

I also think there's no excuse for publishers neglecting marketing for mid list writers and other writers. Marketing is so much easier today with the internet. Every since multimedia has been democratized, it's pretty easy to create and distribute marketing materials for cheap. You barely need to print stuff anymore, you can make promo videos for super cheap, you can maximize social networks. It's not like the pre-internet days when advertising and marketing required tons of financial and human resources.

10 years old kids do a better job of marketing online today than legacy publishers do for writers.

I hope e-publishers don't change their tune and suddenly give writers a much lower cut once they gain dominance. I hope e-publishers don't abuse their power now and start acting like legacy publishers in the future. Amazon is giving people a huge percentage now. But I hope they don't decide to give writers 15% a year from now.

Stephanie Void said...

This blog makes me want to write more. Thanks, Joe.

Jill James said...

Since way before I was published I have never understood the 8% for the person who provided the content. Ask any of your friends who aren't writers and they will say we are insane for accepting that. Maybe they had it right all along.

Mark L said...

Fine words, Joe. I like your comments and I like your style!

Cheryl Tardif said...

Hey Joe,

I know you're talking mainly about "the BIG 6" legacy publishers but I wanted to address the fact that not all traditional style pubs operate the same way.

First, I'm an indie/self-published author as well as the publisher at Imajin Books. I've also been published in the past by a traditional publisher, so I do have some experience on that end.

I've never liked to paint any one industry or model with blanket generalizations and I do agree with your assessments of most traditional style publishers.

Here's what's different about us:

Joe: Legacy publishers offer the author 17.5% royalties on ebooks, and keep 52.5% for themselves.

Imajin Books: Our authors make 50% of collected sales for ebooks and 30% for paperbacks. This is after the retailer/distributor has taken out their percentage. This works out to be higher than what most pubs pay.

Joe: Legacy publishers have full control over the title of the book.

IB: We work with our authors to create the best title. We have yet to publish a book where the author hates the title. In most cases, we've kept the author's title. It's important to us that our authors are happy with their book--otherwise, how can we expect them to promote their books?

Joe: Legacy publishers have full control over the cover art.

IB: Our authors have a LOT of input into the design of their covers. We have yet to publish one that an author hates. They often get to select the images, colors and fonts. We want them to be very happy with their book. Of course, not all writers are good with design composition. That's a whole other skill, so we have to make the final decision.

Joe: Legacy publishers can demand editing changes or refuse to publish.

IB: Yup, won't argue with that one. We have our standards. It would only hurt our other titles if we lowered our standards for some books. Writers should know by now that editing is part of polishing their books. However, when we edit, we maintain the author's voice and the plot. We rarely cut chapters or scenes--I think we've done this once and the author agreed it was best. We've also allowed an author to add back a chapter that a previous publisher had deleted. (Yes, we even take previously published works.)

Joe: Legacy publishers promise marketing or advertising. In fact, they promise lots of things. Then they don't follow through.

IB: We promise to market our books as they need to be marketed. We make no wild claims and don't waste our marketing budget on outrageous forms of advertising that don't work. We focus mainly on online exposure. That's where the sales are because that's where readers are.

Joe: Legacy publishers fail to get paper books into certain important bookselling outlets, resulting in fewer sales.

IB: Paperbacks are now just icing on the cake. So yes, you won't find our paperbacks all over the place. They are available from the major retailers online. Bookstores are becoming a rare commodity and we've realized that. Our ebooks have always outsold our pbs--by far.

Joe: Legacy publishers generate royalty statements that are incomprehensible.

Imajin Books: Our statements are pretty simple. If I can understand them (and I'm so NOT a numbers person) then anyone can--and if they don't the first time around, a simple explanation clears things up.

I'll continue this in another post.

Cheryl Tardif said...

Part 2...hehe


Joe: Legacy publishers don't try grow an author's fanbase these days.

IB: We work with our authors to teach them various marketing strategies that WILL grow their fanbase if they apply themselves to a few hours of promoting a week. We don't dump our authors. If a book doesn't sell well, we may let them go when their 5-year contract is up, but that will be the author's choice in most cases. If they go on to self-publish, I'll be the first one applauding. We also have various promotions throughout the year that are geared toward increasing sales and exposure of all our titles. If the first book an author writes doesn't sell well, we're fine with letting them have another chance with a new title.

Joe: Legacy publishers hold onto rights even if the book is no longer selling. Getting rights back is a nightmare, and it takes forever.

IB: As per our contract, we hold the rights for 5 years only--and we do not do a rights grab. We'll ask for ebook (and maybe paperback). That's it. Getting right back at the end of the 5 years is a simple process. Authors will receive a letter of rights reversion, usually within a week of receiving notice that they want to withdraw their title after the 5 years is up.

I'll continue this in a separate post as I'm over the character count. lol

Cheryl

Joe: Legacy publishers try to grab erights to books retroactively.

IB: We only ask for ebook rights to one title at a time, though we do at times make multiple book offers. Our authors are free to accept our offer or shop their other ms around.

Joe: Legacy publishers take a ridiculously long time to publish a book. In some cases, more than 18 months.

IB: Not us. Though our contract states we'll publish within a year of the author's last edit, we've published most of our ebooks anywhere from 3-8 months after signing the contract.

Joe: Legacy publishers are a cartel.

IB: We're not a cartel. And we would be ecstatic to see our author make ridiculous amounts of money. That way everyone wins.

Joe: Legacy publishers have zero transparency when it comes to things like sales, returns, print runs, and inventory, and keep authors in the dark.

IB: We're transparent in the main areas. Our statements report total sales collected and returns. We don't carry an inventory--our print books are created as needed, so we're more environmentally friendly. Our authors are only kept in the dark if they forget to pay their electric bills.

Joe: Legacy publishers fix prices. That's what the agency model is. Even worse, these prices are too high and hurt authors' sales.

IB: Yes, we set the prices. We're the business end of writing (for those who don't self-pub). However, our ebooks all retail for under $5. Our paperbacks are all under $18.

One more post to finish this discussion...

Cheryl Tardif said...

Part 3...

Joe: Legacy publishers sometimes fail to edit.

IB: We never fail to have the books edited. However, as editing is a human task, our editors sometimes miss things as all editors do. I have yet to read a novel by anyone that is perfectly edited. In fact, from my experience as a reader, I've found that more self-published authors fail to edit their books than legacy pubs.

Joe: Legacy publishers abandon books, releasing them into the market without any push at all.

IB: We do what we can to get each book noticed. Since we focus mainly on ebooks our promotions are geared more to online marketing.

Joe: Legacy publishers pay royalties twice a year. Are you freaking kidding me?!?

IB: We pay 4 times a year. We also offer our authors special incentives.

Joe: Legacy publishers embraced returns for full credit.

IB: I hate returns and absolutely don't embrace them. Returns are a huge contributor to the demise of this industry. But I'm not in a position to change these rules/laws. If they ever change, I'll be applauding.

Joe: Legacy publishers have done everything they can to postpone the switch from paper to digital.

IB: True about all the other pubs, but not us. We opened a year ago--because of the ebook revolution. I saw a need when people started emailing me asking if I'd consider publishing their works under my own imprint. I said no at first. I'd be happy if all we published were ebooks, but our AUTHORS want print too so we give them both.

Joe: Legacy publishers buy subsidiary rights they never exploit.

IB: Yes, most do. Imajin Books doesn't buy subsidiary rights. We only pursue English ebook and print rights. Our authors are free to sell, option etc their other rights. And we'll celebrate when any of them secure a movie deal.

Joe: Legacy publishers waste huge amounts of money. They have offices in the most expensive city in the US, spend tens of thousands of dollars on booths at BEA, spend millions of dollars advertising bestselling authors who don't need the advertising, then say they can't offer more than a $12k advance? Fail. Move to Jersey, cut the expense accounts for lunch, and offer authors more money since they're the reason you exist in the first place.

IB: Not us. We have one small office. In my home. No overhead to speak of. No trade shows, no financial waste here. We're very careful where we spend our money. My lunch today is chicken broth in a mug. :-)

Joe: Legacy publishers reject good books. I got half a mil in the bank that proves this one.

Imajin Books: Yes, we have to reject some books. Some aren't so good. Some are good but so terribly edited they would need total rewrites to bring them to any level of readability. Not everyone can write well. Or tell a story from beginning to end. And sometimes we get submissions that don't fit with what we publish because the writer never bothered to read our submission guidelines. We look for the diamonds we can polish. We don't want sand.

Anyways, just thought I'd share the fact that there are still a few decent publishers out there--if that's your goal/dream. Self-publishing isn't for everyone. In 10 years maybe it will be. :-)

Just thought I'd share this to present the fact that there are a couple of publishers out there who really do want to see their authors succeed. We're one of them.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

David L. Shutter said...

I am okay with taking a 1.99 - 2.99 risk on a self-pubbed ebook. By far a better risk than the 12.99-15.99 price tag

Anon

Same here! Yeah, no one who ever criticizes indie book quality mentions that. And I've read my share of bad ones and started more than I've finished too.

But remember, there's never been a crappy traditional print book...ever!

Bruce: DW Smith had a blog post about that recently...two years for him to get a reply from some editors assistant who (he thought probably) wasn't even alive when he was first published.

No need to change how they do business...this silly e-fad will be gone aaaaaany second now.

Mark Edward Hall said...

"I am okay with taking a 1.99 - 2.99 risk on a self-pubbed ebook. By far a better risk than the 12.99-15.99 price tag."

You're not really taking a risk since all amazon kindle books are returnable, no questions asked. Try returning a hardcover or a mass market paperback to a book store after you've read it.

Jude Hardin said...

I try to live life with no regrets. When I signed with a traditional publisher for my debut thriller Pocket-47 (which, by the way, is only $1.99 on Amazon right now), I pretty much knew I was never going to make a lot of money from it.

I knew I was never going to make a lot of money, but I hoped some opportunities might arise from the publication of that book. And they certainly have. Opportunities that never would have happened had I chosen to self-publish right off the bat.

So, I have to say it was a good thing. No regrets.

Would I advise new authors to try for a traditional deal first? It depends. I wouldn't necessarily advise against it. Just know what you're getting into, and then follow your heart.

Anonymous said...

You quality control people make me want to barf. Hey, I have an idea, why don't we prevent bands from playing clubs, I mean no one approved their music so they can't possibly be worth anything. Or how about we stop anyone from calling themselves a graphic designer. Shouldn't they have to be vetted in the "art world" before they can start diluting the "art"? BARF again.

What a bunch of elitist **** heads.

Finding the "good" book is part of the journey for most avid readers - we don't need "gatekeepers".

And kudos to you Joe - you speak the truth and everyone here knows it, even the **** heads who whine and complain about "diluting the art" BARF HURL GAG

Ficbot said...

Legacy publishers also release ebook editions without performing even the most minimal proofing so that author's reputations are hurt when irate customers pay full price for typo-riddled unreadable dreck. This is my number-one pet peeve, as a reader. I am happy to pay for the book if it will be pleasant for me to read, but if it is filled with errors and not ready for sale, why should I buy it?

WayneThomasBatson said...

How about:

1) Forced to cut 20K words from a manuscript just because the publisher wanted the book to be the same size as others in the series.

2) Forced to rewrite a novel ending simply because the editor said so. And thereby stealing the power out of a spellbinding cliffhanger.

3) Chopping the heart out of a print run of book 2 in a series, such that when the series took off, no one could get book 2.

4) Arbitrarily changing the age range for a book, mid series.

Honestly, I could live with all that, and I must admit that in many other areas, my publishers have treated me well. But the biggest thing is the royalties and marketing. Half a million books sold, and I still can't quit my day job and write full time. I'll be entering the eBook selfpub arena this Spring. Hoping for big things.

Joe Konrath said...

A few things:

First, let's all stay civil.

Second, it saddens me to hear all of these stories of authors getting screwed.

Third, where are the authors defending the Big 6? Where is the Big 6 defending itself? You can post anonymously, people. Publishing is a billion dollar industry. Surely somebody has something positive to say about it.

Hell, I know some bestselling authors read my blog. Chime in and defend your publisher. They made you rich. Didn't they?

Wisegoddess said...

Thank you, Joe. I really needed to hear this again and let it sink deeper.

smober said...

Well, apparently the least important piece of the puzzle when it comes to publishing is the author. I mean, all we do is write the damn book, create original ideas, and come up with new stories...

Jude Hardin said...

Amazingly, Pocket-47 has gone from being ranked around 250,000 earlier today to around 1500 right now.

That's with no promo. That's solely due to the price drop from $9.99 (discounted to $7.14) to $1.99.

That just blows me away. It makes me wonder what the book might have done out of the gate if it had been priced right in the first place.

Jamie McGuire said...

Well said. The only author I've heard praise publishers recently self-published, and is holding a self-publishing panel at RWA.

Pat Anvil said...

I wanted to share parts of the blog post I wrote when City of Dragons by Robin Hobb came out. Here is the link to the full post: Non-Traditional Publishers

Here is my list of grievances. It starts with the covers. Take a look at those this lineup:
The Rain Wild Chronicles:

Dragon Keeper

Dragon Haven

City of Dragons

Do I need to say more?

The Halloween-themed cover for the US edition is just sad... When the cover is displayed as a 70 by 70 pixel thumbnail - you cannot see much at all. To me it looks like a pair of snow peas in front of a pumpkin:

Thumbnail

I hear you, my reader. You say, "So what? Those things happen."

To that I say, "Not when you take 85% of the profits!" I say, "For that amount of money, you'd better be flawless!"

Now, the saddest part of the whole ordeal - the price of the eBook edition. They set the price at eye popping $27.99 - the same as the hard cover and then "discounted it" to $14.99...

Compare it to the £4.49 (about seven bucks) it goes for on Amazon.co.uk.

The new thing I just noticed.

When you scroll down the listing, you read this editorial review, controlled by the publisher:

“The Soldier Son [trilogy] can be read as a political satire on American military aggression, but on a more personal level it is profoundly perceptive about the challenge faced by the honorable, brave and good. Nevarre is a true hero.”

Pardon my French ladies and gentlemen. What the fuck? Somebody did a cut'n'paste job from the Soldier Son trilogy into this book and didn't bother to change it?

WTF? WTF? WTF? WTF?

I don't even want to mention how horrible this editorial review is. I personally know a fifth grader that writes better. What are you guys smoking? Seriously. I want some of that stuff.

This just boggles the mind. This just sounds like Harper knows that they are going down, and Amazon is killing them, and the are trying to "punish Amazon" by doing this.

The only person they are punishing is Madame Lindholm!

Let's calculate how much money Robin Hobb (I'm using the pen name here on purpose, as I'm referring to the brand here) would have made if she was selling her books by herself for let's say $7 and earned %70 of it. If she sells 1 million  eBooks in the first year for $7 each - she'd get 4.9 millions. Then she can drop the price to $3.99 and sell another million in the second year earning another 2.793 millions. But most importantly a whole a lot more people will read the book and that's what most authors want more than money.

What service does Robin Hobb gets from Harper?

Editing? Cover design? Copy-editing? Marketing? Formatting?

She can find people who would do that for her for $40 an hour or even for free and they will say "Thank you!" and kiss her feet - is she enjoys that kind of thing...

There is a Roman expression that says, "You can sheer a sheep many times but you can skin it only once."

wannabuy said...

@Anon:"A previously trad-pub deal in an author's history is a far more reliable litmus test for quality than anything else."

Not in sci-fi. It just proved one wrote what the old guard liked. While there used to be a ton of *excellent* big6 scifi published out there... The last decade+ it has been more of the same as an aging group of authors had to bless the work.

While there is bad works out there, the reality is there is an incredible amount of great new work out there! I'm buying 90%+ indie author as the work is that good! This is sci-fi, historical fiction, history, historical fiction, and economics. (The last is the bulk of my big6 buying right now.)

The publishers had better adapt. With sub-$100 ereaders on the market, the momentum is not in their favor.

Neil

wannabuy said...

@Anon:"Finding the "good" book is part of the journey for most avid readers - we don't need "gatekeepers"."

Well said. I enjoy searching Amazon as much as I used to enjoy browsing a bookstore. There is a reason the *initial* Borders business model worked; it drew in the intense readers.

Ghad have the publishers done about everything to drive away intense readers...

Neil

Mari Stroud said...

At best, it's bad business sense. At worst, it's outright morally sketchy.

I'm also intrigued by the comparison to the rise of unions in the comments. Because, yes, old-school industry bosses used to say, "Quit yer bitchin', if you don't like it, you can go find something else!" And because the means of distribution were controlled by a very small set of people, there was nothing else.

It's much, much more difficult to control the means of distribution in a digital world. The publishers said, "Quit yer bitchin', go find something else!"... and then authors did. Suddenly, publishers are trying to turn it back into a moral argument (the last AG post). It's kinda hiliarious in its transparency.

Anonymous said...

Twenty years ago, when publishers (and agents) still sent rejection letters, I amassed a fine collection. Some were actually encouraging, but in the end, I spent hours on my novels and made nothing from them. I consequently chose to pursue other activities, having decided I was not good enough, I mean, my writing was not good enough.

Your blog has done something that the publishers failed to do, Joe. And that is to make me change my mind and give it another go. I feel so empowered reading your blog. My ability to reach readers no longer depends on the whims of editors and publishers.

I still have a chance to do what I have always dreamed of - entertain somebody with my words. I am going to revisit my old manuscripts and launch them onto Amazon. And even if I only earn $100 from my novels, it's still $100 more than legacy publishers were prepared to give me. I like the idea of making all decisions and either reaping the benefits or paying the price. Success or not, I will own it. Thank you Joe, for your words.

Archangel said...

so called "legacy publishers" to me mean the Big 6, not small publishers. Small publishers have their own bailiwicks of many different kinds. They are small publishers to my mind, and most have not been in business for a hundred years like many of the big 6. Not legacy therby. Medium publishers, the same, although someone on another board said its not the number of books or authors, for small and md publishers, its knowing their net for each author, then their net for the whole that determines their size.

Anonymous said...

So, two years ago I go to a book conference where I had submitted some sample chapters from a YA book of mine.

The guest editor, a lovely lady and a BIG editor at one of the big 6, selects me to meet with.

She loves my writing, blah blah blah, must have this book, blah blah blah, please send it to me, blah blah blah.

So I do.

And I wait.

And wait.

And finally, I'm rejected. By email.

Have a nice day.

I consider it a blessing I was spared, that I'm coming into this publishing world with such new possibilities.

I'm one of the lucky ones.

Joe Flynn said...

I've been published by three legacy publishers, and I found myself nodding at more than half of the items on your list. As far as Amazon goes, I've only had the KDP experience so far; it sounds like things are better when you get beyond that.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Twenty years trying to be legacy-published, and now I am THRILLEd that they never let me in the club. I've got all the creative control, all the fun, and way more money -- my sales since December have added up to double what the average advance is. And I'm getting the first big check next week!

It's a great time to be a writer.

Archangel said...

" guest editor, a lovely lady and a BIG editor at one of the big 6, selects me to meet with.
She loves my writing, blah blah blah, must have this book, blah blah blah, please send it to me, blah blah blah.
So I do.And I wait.And wait."

...she said "Must have this book," then later, much later, said oh uh nope, not really??? That's egregrious to do to a hopeful author. She never ever should have said "must have this book." Never. She might be a BIG editor, but that's a small cinder-hearted thing to do.

Glad you are keepin on. That's the ticket.

drcpe

Stephen Leather said...

Wise words, as always!

In terms of describing the situation as it is now, you are bang on. But things are changing, certainly at my legacy publisher.

The time from delivery of a manuscript to getting a book (a real book!) on the shelves is down to six months. Yes royalties come every six months but they are clearly explained. And the advances I get are big help in planning my work. Its comforting to know that whatever happens to the eBook market I have a guaranteed income for the next three years.

My publisher is getting much more savvy about pricing. They have dropped the prices of most of my eBooks including offering a short story for free (for several months) and selling one of my books at 49p (for over a year).

But the big change has been in the royalty rate I'm getting for my legacy-published eBooks. Unfortunately I have a non-disclosure agreement but I'm getting way more than 17.5 per cent and I am very happy with the deal that I have in place.

I think legacy publishers are like huge oil tankers. They have massive momentum and it takes a lot of time and effort to get them to change direction. But eventually I think most of them will change.

I do have to say that while Amazon are a delight to deal with, I have found the KDP team to be very very frustrating to deal with. KDP do make mistakes and the fact that they are so slow in replying to emails makes correcting those mistakes very very frustrating! If I want to talk to my editor or my publisher's sales director or head of publicity, I pick up a phone. If I want to contact KDP I fill in their contact form and wait...and wait...and wait....

Jude Hardin said...

Hey, I have an idea, why don't we prevent bands from playing clubs, I mean no one approved their music so they can't possibly be worth anything.

I used to play in club bands. The club owner has to approve, or you don't get hired. You have to bring in people who buy drinks, or you don't get hired back. That's why most bands never make it out of the garage.

And here's a great piece by Joe Moore about why first novels are generally not publishable.

Michele Scott said...

I agree with everything here, Joe. I was with a Legacy publisher for 6 years (9 books). They worked my ass off on tight deadlines for pennies. It's the same story. No support, tiny advances, no budging on an ending I wanted to keep, which basically tied up a series I wanted to keep writing, and then they dropped me (and a group of us at one time).

With Amazon, I have sold over 100,000 books in two months. I had a book make #8 in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend for bestselling fiction, #4 on Kindle sales, and have now optioned movie rights for one of them. There are a lot more wonderful things happening for me now as an Indie.

I received my 1094 from one of the Big 6 last week on three books and had to laugh. I made more in a DAY last week than I did in 6 months from 3 books (oh and I am writing what I want to write now). But do you think they will give me rights back on books they don't even print any longer?! Nope!

It's all good. Watching them implode from the sidelines does not hurt one bit.

Cheers,
Michele Scott
(A.K. Alexander)

Anonymous said...

Joe said: "I know some bestselling authors read my blog. Chime in and defend your publisher. They made you rich. Didn't they?"

Well, yes, they did. Richer than you'll ever be, plus wined and dined and partied and first-class traveled, etc, etc, etc. Every wish and whim catered to, etc, etc, etc. Endless consultation, etc, etc, etc. And that's all fifty of them, all around the world.

But it's a pointless argument. The bottom line is: for a tiny, tiny minority of trad-pubbed authors, life is truly great. And for a tiny, tiny minority of self-pubbed authors, life is truly great. But for the vast majority in both camps, life is hard.

Are the hards harder in trad-pub than self-pub? I don't really know, to be honest.

Are the greats greater in trad-pub than self-pub? You bet your sweet bippy, in every way imaginable. You have no f-ing idea.

I read lots of comments saying, "Konrath made $150k in January, so self-pub is the way to go."

How is that logical?

Why don't I see comments saying, "Anon here made $1.5m in January, so trad-pub is the way to go?"

Looks to me like self-pub has marginally higher possibilities of getting within very distant sight of a lowish and unambitious ceiling (can't argue with the posters who say "$100 is better than no dollars.")

But if you want to shoot for the stars, trad-pub is the way to go - at effectively identical real-world odds.

If you don't get to the very top, *then* is the time to try self-pub as a consolation prize. Not first.

After all, that's what Joe did.

And before Joe comes on and says, "You don't count because you're exceptional, if you're telling the truth, blah, blah," let's acknowledge that Joe doesn't count because he's exceptional too. (If he's telling the truth, blah, blah.) I'm in a tiny, tiny minority, and so is he. The rest of the folks in both our camps are struggling with frustrations and $100 checks and all the other well-documented kinds of misery.

Kass Lamb said...

One of the anonymous posters above told my story. The first book in my Kate Huntington mystery series languished in my hard drive for over 15 years because I couldn't face the trauma of dealing with agents and publishers, first rejecting my babies multiple times, and then should I be lucky enough to get a contract, have said babies' arms lopped off by some editor.

And I do not use the word trauma lightly here. I am a psychologist. The definition of trauma is a sudden or repeated event that is so emotionally overwhelming one cannot process it emotionally or cognitively at the time it happens.

When I did get up the nerve to send out queries, I couldn't decide which was worse, the feeling of floundering at sea while waiting for the rejection letter/e-mail that never came, or the rejections that did come that made me feel like sticking my head in the toilet.

It is hard to be creative when you are depressed, so I gave up.

Now I have written five books and have started a sixth. I may bitch about some aspects of self-publishing (again, does anybody out there know of a good promotion company?) but I get to see my babies live.

I just cannot wrap my brain around an industry that routinely traumatizes the very people who make that industry possible. The Big 6 deserve what is coming.

As to the quality control issue, that is a joke these days. I have read more dreck that is in print, and that is far worse than a lot of the self-pubbed e-books I've read (and in my humble opinion, I produce). And every single one of those print books, in recent years, has had at least some typos.

Jim Kukral said...

This was the final kill shot. Nicely done.

I think you can stop blogging now. This should have ended the debate.

Kass Lamb said...

I did not mean the anonymous right above my post. I meant one a bit further up the list.

But the one above mine has a point. Most of us self-publishers are languishing. But we're languishing on our own merits. When I see sales figures that wouldn't buy me a decent lunch, I get a bit depressed, but then I become more determined to write more and better and to figure out how to get the word out that my books even exist.

One of the things that has helped keep me going that I will share with you all is that I decided to think of my writing as my hobby.

Now before you scoff that then I am not a serious writer, let me assure you that I am. Just as my husband who is an amateur photographer is very serious about honing his craft.

But this makes it easier for me to deal with the fact that I am spending more money on good cover art, editing, etc. than I am making at this point.

Because I am having a blast! And isn't that what hobbies are about. Hell, isn't that what life is about!

Mark Edward Hall said...

Don't let the turkeys get you down, Kass. If you're doing what you love then do it. For whatever reasons, there are those here who wish to destroy dreams. Self publishing has leveled the playing field. We can never go back to the way it was and that's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

You're also assuming that the "legacy publisher" authors are reading your blog, you know. Maybe they're not.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

To Anon @ 9:57 a.m., who made $1.5 million in January... congrats and woo hoo, that's amazing! A fairly astonishing figure, but I'll take you at your word (wondering how many writers in the world are making $1.5 million a month -- very few, I would imagine). You must be a pretty good writer, to boot.

If we had accurate stats, which we never will, we could calculate just how rare your experience is as a representative of legacy-published writers, as compared to Joe's vis-a-vis the average self-pubber. Perhaps we're talking about the same kind of chances.

The difference is in the barriers to entry as well as the speed of feedback. I spent 20 years ALMOST being legacy published, having a couple of agents, an almost-TV deal, etc. In the meantime, of course, I learned to write good novels. The day I decided to finally self-pub, I was suddenly within weeks of getting my first novel out. And I did, and now it's a best seller on Kindle. People from Hong Kong to New Jersey have given me 5-star reviews.

I'm sure practically everyone who self-publishes tries the traditional route first. Now we don't have to be dependent upon approval by others to get our work directly to readers. And it's a fact that we get to keep a much larger percentage of the profit.

Your world and mine is changing. I wonder where your $1.5 mill a month will be coming from in 10 years? A different kind of publishing arrangement, I suspect.

Joe Konrath said...

Richer than you'll ever be, plus wined and dined and partied and first-class traveled, etc, etc, etc.

We'll see. :)

Legacy pubbed authors have a ceiling. There is a limit to how much they'll sell. And that limit is getting smaller everyday.

If you've already made a ton of money, that's awesome.

Don't expect to make the same in 2015 unless you dump your publisher.

As for me, I'm entering a global market where I own all the rights, so I get the lion's share of the royalties. I can easily foresee a future where I'm selling 50,000 ebooks a day making 70%. And unlike the paper world, which will end, I don't see the digital world ending.

Looks to me like self-pub has marginally higher possibilities of getting within very distant sight of a lowish and unambitious ceiling

Look closer. Let's not talk about getting rich. You're right--only a few lucky authors will get there. But earning a living wage? Many, many more authors can do that self-pubbing. Many already are.

I'll assume you've gone to writing conferences. How many of our peers have day jobs because they can't support themselves with legacy deals? The vast majority. But self pub is letting more and more of them write fulltime.

But if you want to shoot for the stars, trad-pub is the way to go - at effectively identical real-world odds.

If this were 1997, and you were lucky, I'd agree. But it is 2012, and the odds are not even close to identical anymore. It is harder than ever to land a legacy deal, legacy terms suck cocks in hell for anyone other than superstars, and the diminishing paper sales (coupled with a biggering return rate) make it a fool's game for anyone to try to break into legacy now.

Joe Konrath said...

If you don't get to the very top, *then* is the time to try self-pub as a consolation prize. Not first.

After all, that's what Joe did.


Not by choice. I got started in 2002. Effective self-publishing wasn't an option then.

But knowing what I know, even if I did have a huge hit in the legacy world and made millions, I'd STILL be self-publishing now. It's so much better, on so many levels.

Any new author who would waste years chasing a legacy dream is short-sighted or ill-informed. That ship has sailed, and is sinking. Hoping to get an offer--which can take years--rather than directly reaching readers now is basically investing in lottery tickets. Yes, there is a chance of riches. But that chance also exists in self pub. And the odds are getting better. In legacy, they're getting worse.

Thanks for chiming in. It's great that someone has the guts to debate me, and that the other side has some representation. And congrats on your success. I mean that. I'm always thrilled when authors make it.

Joe Konrath said...

You're also assuming that the "legacy publisher" authors are reading your blog, you know.

Am I that easy to ignore?

Hmm. Maybe I should try harder. ;)

Anonymous said...

Joe said, "I can easily foresee a future where I'm selling 50,000 ebooks a day ... "

I'm always fascinated by the way that people who would be very offended to be called illiterate are happy to prove they're innumerate.

That's 18,250,000 books a year, and you're low down on the shoulder of the sales curve, and there's no organic reason to think you'll improve your position relative to, for instance, me.

In that scenario (given that I have sold a hundred times more books than you) I would be selling 1.825 billion books a year - and maybe more, assuming I have to shed the debilitating shackles of being trad-pubbed at some future point.

And the (few?) dozen people who currently sell even better than me would be selling 2 or 3 billion books a year.

And the tens (or hundreds?) of millions of people - globally - who are inspired by your blog will be selling some hundreds of thousands each, at least.

Which means the entire world's GDP - and every minute of every person's day - will be devoted to ebooks.

That's silly, Joe.

You see what I'm saying?

Paper might disappear, the Big Six might fold, but the authors won't go away. If they kicked your butt under the terribly flawed old system - because they were smarter and better than you - don't you think they'll kick your butt even worse under the great new system? Won't their skill and talent be leveraged to even greater advantage?

Digital is just a delivery system. If the World Series came off Fox and went to streaming, would your local high school team beat the Yankees?

Self-pubbing is a wonderful resource for the B-team, and I'm thrilled it's proved a destination for you. But don't get carried away!

Joe Konrath said...

That's 18,250,000 books a year, and you're low down on the shoulder of the sales curve, and there's no organic reason to think you'll improve your position relative to, for instance, me.

Sure there is. My numbers will rise. Yours will fall. The only reason you're outselling me now is distribution because your paper books are everywhere.

That won't last too much longer.

Let me offer this scenario:

Bestselling authors are in an interesting position these days. They’re forced to defend, and support, the infrastructure that lead to their success.

That’s why big names still do book tours, which are notoriously difficult, inefficient, and a waste of money. Publishers and booksellers made them rich, so they have to keep supporting publishers and booksellers.

You have to dance with the girl you took to the party, even if she turns out to be a real jerk. It’s just common courtesy.

But bestselling authors are in for a rude awakening. As paper sales dwindle, so will their popularity. While I don’t doubt bestselling authors have loyal followings, it isn’t fans who make them rich. It is people discovering them for the first time, due to widespread distribution and publicity.

Once the widespread distribution and publicity cease to matter (and they will–what matters now is getting ereader owners to discover you, and they do that via surfing their devices and the internet, not by reading the NYT or finding authors in the checkout lane at CVS) then bestsellers will have to compete on price.

Legacy publishers have to keep ebook prices high to cover massive overhead. That means, someday soon, you will be selling mostly ebooks.

Do you really think you can sell more at $12.99, in a global market, than I can at $3.99, based on your name?

Maybe you can. But if the majority of your sales come from paper, and 99% of my sales come from ebooks, I'd put odds on me.

Joe Konrath said...

but the authors won't go away. If they kicked your butt under the terribly flawed old system - because they were smarter and better than you - don't you think they'll kick your butt even worse under the great new system? Won't their skill and talent be leveraged to even greater advantage?

Really? You really want to talk "smarter" and "better" and "skill" and "talent"? You REALLY think those are the reasons you're a bestseller?

I got a better word for you: "luck."

You got lucky. So did I. So did anyone who has ever made any money in this biz. Unless you're willing to concede the point that Stephanie Meyer is smarter and better than you, and it is her skill and talent that allowed her to outsell you.

As for kicking my butt, this isn't a competition. Well, at least it isn't when ebooks are under five bucks.

The system is changing, and we'll see how many current bestsellers are still bestsellers in the future.

Every paper book being distributed is a billboard for that author. Once the billboards are gone, we'll see how many readers remember who they are.

Some will. Most won't. This is an old argument. I'm not selling a lot of ebooks (getting near that coveted million mark) because people know who I am. I'm getting there because people are discovering me for the first time--just like you're discovered in Walgreens, or at the 40% New Release table in B&N.

But we'll see how many people discover you when B&N is gone, and your ebook is $12.99.

Dan DeWitt said...

Anonymous (the rich one) has done two things for me:

1) made me curious who he/she is, because I'd love some backstory. I'm still curious why you'd be anonymous, by the way. It seems your argument would me legitimized if attached to "Famous Author Name X."

2) made me certain that deciding to go self-pub was absolutely the right call because, damn, your condescension is actually making me want to publish something else right now.

"B-team" my ass. Plenty of hard-working, talented authors never got the one break they needed. If you were never lucky enough to get your break, who knows what you'd be doing and saying.

Anonymous said...

Joe asked, "Do you really think you can sell more at $12.99, in a global market, than I can at $3.99, based on your name? "

Of course I really think that - because I already do. I outsell you in ebooks everywhere, even at the higher price.

Let me ask you: do you really think that when the last bookstore closes, and the last adopter on earth buys a Kindle, everyone is going to say, "OK, something now *requires* me to change my author preferences?"

Joe Konrath said...

Here's an even simpler analogy.

Do you think more people eat apples than rambutan because apples are a better fruit? Or because apples are everywhere you go, and rambutan isn't?

Now what if apples weren't available everywhere? What if the only way to get apples or rambutan were through mail order, and rambutan was 1/5 the cost of apples? How quickly would the world switch to rambutan?

Anonymous said...

Joe said, "Unless you're willing to concede the point that Stephanie Meyer is smarter and better than you, and it is her skill and talent that allowed her to outsell you."

I absolutely concede that. She saw a market, and she exploited it with tremendous skill, talent, tenacity and perception. Again: she outsells me because she's smarter and better than me.

"Lucky/unlucky" are excuses and below you.

Anonymous said...

"Now what if apples weren't available everywhere?"

But my ebooks are and always will be available everywhere. Just like yours, forever and ever.

You're saying your relative lack of print exposure compared to me is hurting your ebook sales and helping mine.

We'll see.

vinnie mirchandani said...

Joe, wow - quite a list ..see my post about misaligned economics http://bit.ly/xcLRW4
I think publishers should move to compensate authors not just for writing but also for extra effort during editing and promotion.

Joe Konrath said...

Let me ask you: do you really think that when the last bookstore closes, and the last adopter on earth buys a Kindle, everyone is going to say, "OK, something now *requires* me to change my author preferences?"

Preference connotes choice.

Paper readers have very little choice. They're stuck with whatever is on the rack.

Ebook readers have unlimited choice. They can search for what interests them. They're sensitive to price. I can't outsell Patterson in paper, because I'm not everywhere he is. But some of my titles outsell some of his on Kindle, because both are available everywhere and able to be compared side by side.

Joe Konrath said...

You're saying your relative lack of print exposure compared to me is hurting your ebook sales and helping mine.

Do your ebooks outsell your print books yet? Be honest, what's the percentage?

A few bestsellers have hit 2 or 3 million ebooks. But that is minuscule compared to their print sales.

I'm nearing a million ebooks. I probably have half a million in print around the world.

So explain why I'm outselling my paper 2 to 1, and you're only selling two or three times as many ebooks as I am but100+ times as many as I am in paper.

Danielle Blanchard Benson said...

Can't say I disagree but you know you're preaching to the choir, right? Those of us who agree with you will continue to agree and those that don't won't no matter how much factual information you give them.

We as Americans love to make up our own facts and it's gotten worse but you know what I say? You're entitled to your opinions but you aren't entitled to your own facts.

Problem is some of the most dedicated writers defending legacy publishing haven't even gotten a deal yet but they still believe you need an agent and you need a publisher to be validated. I say fuck that and go the way of Konrath. Live long and continue to prosper, my man! ;-)

Joe Konrath said...

But my ebooks are and always will be available everywhere. Just like yours, forever and ever.

You misunderstood the analogy. Apples are all paper books, not just yours. Right now they are available everywhere, whereas rambutan has limited distribution.

When apples and rambutan have equal distribution, apples better watch out.

Anonymous said...

Joe said, "I can't outsell Patterson in paper, because I'm not everywhere he is. But some of my titles outsell some of his on Kindle, because both are available everywhere and able to be compared side by side."

Some of your titles, some of his, when the moon is right and the wind is blowing, yeah ... but surely you understand his immense readership already owns those titles on paper and isn't a very e-reader-savvy demographic anyway.

Total sales is what counts. Loyal readers will switch media if necessary.

Dan DeWitt said...

You lost me at Stephenie Meyer's "skill and talent." She's like one quarter amoung a thousand others that got thrown at a vending machine, but just happened to be the one lucky enough to go through the slot.

Pat Anvil said...

I want to say a couple of things to our Anonymous best-selling writer. First of, judging by the numbers you are throwing around, most likely I have read your books and loved them. Thank you for that!

I also wanted to tell you that you are not as anonymous as you might think.

I'm not a crime writer but this blog is crawling with them.

I've read a book ages ago on "writing sample" criminal profiling. I'm rusty but here is what I can glean from your writing.

You are an American, you are female, you are between the ages of 40 and 55.

Combine this with the IP address Joe has and he can pinpoint you with deadly accuracy.

That is, unless you are using an anoymizer proxy to post requests or/and are on tour.

Now back to your posts. What is amazing is that you basically agree with Joe on many points.

I wonder how much you would have had if you employed the publisher and not the other way around.

Joe Konrath said...

I absolutely concede that. She saw a market, and she exploited it with tremendous skill, talent, tenacity and perception. Again: she outsells me because she's smarter and better than me.

She's luckier than you. That's it. She wrote the right book at the right time, and she was fortunate that her publisher did a good job getting it out there and that readers responded.

But she, and you, were plugged into a machine that existed before you were born. A machine that fails the majority of the time.

You both were lucky that machine worked for you.

So you really believe that Stephanie Meyer is better and smarter than you, but you're better and smarter than all the writers you outsell? And you really think luck is an excuse?

So much of life comes down to chance, to random events beyond our control, and yet you really believe a writer with a fabulous book will always reach the top?

Fascinating.

Thanks for spicing up the thread, BTW.

Anonymous said...

"So explain why I'm outselling my paper 2 to 1, and you're only selling two or three times as many ebooks as I am but100+ times as many as I am in paper."

Because a) yes, you have very poor paper distribution and I have very good paper distribution; and b) despite your wishing-it-were-so cheerleading, 80% of the reading public doesn't really like e-reading yet.

So given a choice, a fan of a particular author is much more likely to choose paper. If that author doesn't have paper, he's inaccessible to 4 readers out of 5.

I agree there's an aggressive, guerilla, stick-it-to-the-man demographic out there that loves cheap digital, which bends the curve a little, but that's irrelevant in the long run.

My most recent titles are doing 20% ebook in the first year or so.

Anonymous said...

Pat Anvil said, "What is amazing is that you basically agree with Joe on many points."

I do agree with Joe on many points. And I like him a lot. He's enriched my life in ways he'll never know.

But I get mad at what I see as a logical fallacy in his approach. In many ways his whole blog could be paraphrased like this:

"An old slugger hits a grand slam in AA ball. Therefore the New York Yankees are a steaming bowl of fail."

Signing off now!

Joe Konrath said...

My most recent titles are doing 20% ebook in the first year or so.

I hope we can revisit this debate when your ebooks are 90% of your sales.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

I staring reading Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros books right before I got my Kindle. I bought 2 or 3 of them for my Kindle at $7.99 a pop because I thought it was "cool" to read them on my Kindle and I wasn't thinking about the price.

Here we are a year later. I just received the announcement of her next book in the series. The Kindle price and the paperback price are both $7.99.

NOPE.

I like the author, the story, the characters....I'm keen to see where she takes it all.

I just don't like paying the same price for Kindle and paperback versions.

$7.99 isn't a TON of money (compared to gas at $4.25 it really isn't much at all). It just feels shitty to be asked to pay the same amount as paper.

I will read something else. The author and the publisher both lost a sale today.

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness, Tools for Conscious Living FREE Today.

Joe Konrath said...

You are an American, you are female, you are between the ages of 40 and 55.

Hmm. My own profile would be different. I'd say a man, over 55. A New Yorker, but not native.

But what do I know?

Joe Konrath said...

"An old slugger hits a grand slam in AA ball. Therefore the New York Yankees are a steaming bowl of fail."

I hope I don't sound like that.

I'd sum up my blog like this:

"Work hard until you get lucky. Right now you have a better chance of getting lucky self-pubbing than you do with legacy publishing. Legacy publishing makes a whole lot of mistakes. Here's my proof."

Aric Mitchell said...

If you're outselling Joe, it's because of this: you are an established brand under an old infrastructure that is crumbling yet still the dominant market share. You don't have to be a genius to see how quickly the trend is changing. Just look at the ebook spike and the print fallout. People are still familiar with you, so they gravitate to your name when they buy their Kindles. Some are big enough fans to follow everything that you do. That's just the way it goes. But trust me, I've met enough kids, who've never seen the Rocky movies, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and the classic Star Wars films to know that just because something is popular today, that doesn't mean it will retain its popularity 20 years from now. And with how quickly technology changes, 20 years may be a little generous.

If you're not hands-on, or at least smart enough to surround yourself with people, who understand the changes and are ready to work within a different framework, you're probably shit outta luck, my friend. But that's okay. $1.5 million in a month is "fuck you" money. You don't have to change your archaic ideology however woefully retarded it may be. But new authors should take note.

You're judging everything in today's terms, while Joe is looking down the road at the future of the business. Where have we seen this argument in action before?

That's right, you guessed it: Amazon innovates. The Big 6 stagnate.

Amazon's looking at making money in 2018. The Big 6 are squeezing every last drop they can out of a failing system. You're in a position right now where you can swallow your own bullshit and think that it tastes good. I'm happy for you that you're successful at this, but if you don't think luck played some part in you making it to where you are today, you're not looking back far enough.

But it's your money, and no one's going to take it away from you, and I'm sure you'll only make more of it. But what you think doesn't change the FUTURE of publishing for those trying to make it in the business.

Best of luck and continued sales to you, though.

Jon F. Merz said...

Just received my royalty check for THE KENSEI (came out January 2011) for the period ended in October 2011.

I'm contrasting this with my monthly income from my ebook sales and it's a fascinating reminder of why I've done things the way I have.

THE KENSEI garnered a crappy advance, but that was okay with me, because I was relaunching the Lawson series at a new house (St. Martin's) plus the editor was very cool. And this was back in 2010 before I got serious about ebooks. I figured the relaunch of the series, the bookstore placement, and the editorial guidance were a decent trade-off for the low advance (and when I say low, I made more doing Rogue Angel work-for-hires at Gold Eagle, lol)

So I took the advance and then waited. Since we're bringing the series to TV, I went down to NYC and discussed the idea of "branding" the cover of the book to match the graphic design of the TV series. No go. They went with a cover I think is still terrible. I asked about doing publicity tie-ins. No go. Turns out my editor's boss is a grade A douchebag. Big surprise.

So the book came out and I hustled my ass off. Did a ton of blog tours, interviews, etc. And the book sold through its meager advance. My first royalty check showed that. But, of course, I saw no money because of that stupid "reserves against returns" clause.

In October, I started wondering when I'd see my next report. I emailed SMP and they told me the reports would come out January 31st for the October reporting period. Why does it take so long to generate a report? Who knows?

My check today finally reached my hands after first going to Brooklyn (where my agency is) and then to me. But it took four months to get to me. In check form. So now I have to deposit it, which is fine, but it's still an anachronism in this day of direct deposit. (Not necessarily the publisher's fault, either...)

I walked away when SMP offered me another contract for the 6th Lawson novel. The terms were exactly the same as for THE KENSEI. By this time, I was having success with ebooks and said, no thanks.

So, the latest Lawson novel THE RIPPER, debuted in January 2012 - exactly one year after THE KENSEI. But the process was so much different and better. I wrote the first draft in November, edited and turned it over to beta readers in December, edited and rewrite end of December/early January, and had it out for sale mid-January.

It's sold over 1,000 copies in about a month and is still selling extremely well. I'll see that money in a few months instead of almost a year later. There are no stupid reserves against returns, no stupid higher-up bosses to deal with, I get complete say over the cover design and can sell, sell, sell, as much as possible. The money goes right into my account and there's no 15% cut going to my agent.

To say I'm over the moon about my career now would be an understatement. When the royalty check came today, it seemed a good time to reflect on the differences in my career as contrasted with how it used to be.

-Jon F. Merz

J. Eathen Satterwhite said...

...where are the authors defending the Big 6? Where is the Big 6 defending itself? ... Chime in and defend your publisher.

@Joe, That'll never happen. Content creators want the lion's share of the profits. They don't get that through traditional channels. Why defend a system that's outdated and flawed?

J.K. Rowling isn't remaining loyal to the publisher that treated her so well resulting in eight films, amusement parks, merchandise and the lot. She sold close to half a billion physical copies of the Harry Potter books. Her response is to set up her own site and self-publish her ebooks and audiobooks.

@Anonymous, your own arguments are logical fallacies:
If they kicked your butt under the terribly flawed old system - because they were smarter and better than you - don't you think they'll kick your butt even worse under the great new system?

Authors don't compete against each other. The fight is between the traditional publishing system controlled by the Big 6 and the self-publishing system powered by authors, and implemented by retailers like Amazon, B&N, Apple's iBookstore, Smashwords, Goodreads, etc.

Where did this correlation between books sales and intelligence come from? Are you saying that you're better and smarter because you handed your work over to a larger publisher and had them do all the work. Or are you saying that Joe isn't because he decided to go it alone, do the research, experiment and tell the world about his experience and give us all a roadmap that we can follow.

If the World Series came off Fox and went to streaming, would your local high school team beat the Yankees?

This displays your misunderstanding of either business model. Fox and a streaming service are distribution channels. Comparing the Yankees to a high school team is only akin to comparing a published author to a writer for a school news paper. The point is that the product doesn't change, the way we access that product does. If your argument was meant to be about quality, that is an issue outside of publication.

I would prefer if MLB, NFL, NBA and the like all gave up their major broadcast deals and went to a streaming service and offered their games on demand. We wouldn't have games blacked out or miss a broadcast because Time Warner doesn't have a deal in place with the league or certain teams. (Joe has already stated how that parallels the practices of the Big 6.)

Aric Mitchell said...

@Jon F. Merz

So happy for you, man. I'm a big fan. You got me into this idea of taking control of my career more than anyone else. It's good to see Karma work in favor of the good guys sometimes.

Jon F. Merz said...

@Aric Mitchell - thanks, dude! Really nice of you to say that.

Nancy Beck said...

Legacy publishers fix prices. That's what the agency model is. Even worse, these prices are too high and hurt authors' sales.

Late to the game, er, post as usual, lol. ;-) But isn't the Justice Department or someone else suing one or two publishers just for this reason?

As for moving to Jersey, they wouldn't even have to move their offices that far. Just go across the bridge to Ft. Lee, Jersey City, or Hoboken. Hop, skip, and a jump. And the gasoline prices are cheaper, too. :-)

Of course, if they wanted to save more money, they can move their digs out here to the "hinterlands" of New Jersey, where I live (that's northwestern Jersey).

But it's too long of a commute, and you have to drive to everything. EVERYTHING. No mass transit out here.

Aric Mitchell said...

@Jon F. Merz: You're welcome. But I do wish you would get to work on that Ninja series, dammit :).

http://www.amazon.com/NINJA-ebook/dp/B003IHW096/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329939033&sr=8-1

I.J.Parker said...

The Anonymous poster, the one with the 1.5 M earned in January, irritated me, too. First of all, when you post as Anonymous, you can pretty well allege whatever you want. Why should I believe anything you said? Secondly, given the wide variety of taste and background of a reader group of those proportions, I have to assume they cannot be very discriminating.
Thanks, but no thanks. I'll settle for the small group of fans who always loyally return for more of my books. I've corresponded with them. They are educated, smart, well-read, and their opinion means something to me.

Nancy Beck said...

Wow, Archangel, I'd heard of some of the stuff you posted, but not all of it.

It's really disgusting how writers are treated.

Thanks for sharing.

Matt J said...

My own two cents: Anonymous 1.5 is a fraud. What kind of fraud, I don't know - a legacy pubber, a contrarian, whatever. But anyone who would say that his/her higher sales make him/her better than someone else, specifically a writer, is giving themselves away psychologically. A multi-million dollar (print) writer might argue with Joe on his points and debate the validity of his arguments (which to me are beyond debate), but no Patricia Cornwell, James Rollins, James Franzen, etc. etc. etc. would ever say that makes them just BETTER (and smarter) than someone else. Anonymous is a FAKE!

Mark Edward Hall said...

I tend to agree. I say anonymous is a fake.
And this is for John Merz. Congratulations John. I wish you every success in the future. I don't know if you remember this but about nine years ago you and I did a book signing together along with Rick Hautala and some other authors in Worcester, Mass. At the time I was the only writer there who was self-published and all the other writers, including you, looked at me like I had two heads. What a difference a decade can make, huh. I eventually signed a contract with a publisher for three books. Now I'm back to square one, self-publishing my own books and much happier.
Good luck to all independents.

Selena Kitt said...

Jon, that is just an awesome little story. Gave me goosebumps. Writers in the "middle" actually making a living writing. That's one of the things our "anon" doesn't seem to see from his lofty tower. Writers everywhere for the first time (maybe in freakin' history) are making a living doing what they love. They don't have to teach or work in a bank during the day and write at night. The art and the artist are being paid, finally, closer to what they're worth. It's about time.

Archangel said...

no freakin' writer is 'better' as an anything based on sales record. They might be a bit more mediagenic, but there are curmudgeons who outsell polite boys. They might be more stiffly promoted, but dwindling revenues has curbed much of what used to be lavish spending by big 6. I witness. There are those who have 'friendships' with pubs who are their darlings. That's luck of the draw, not proof of superiority.

Too, just for what it's worth, many in pub and mktg in big 6 literally take bets on which bestselling author at time of big sell will become an a-hole. Not whether, but how long it will take til they become braggerts, condescending, demanding ... there's a lot of proof of what underlies a personality really, when people hit it medium to big. The souls who are real tend to stay real... and compassionate... and fiercely forging on. The others, no matter their helped accomplishments... tend to me-ism and so called a-list chasing, which is boring. Many of us who have been/are bestselling authors know you sometimes have to choose between being seduced into being a jerk, or continue on as decently and brightly as you can. Hubris is an ugly thing, mostly because it eats wormholes in the better self of the person who has it. Just my .02

Jon F. Merz said...

@Aric - first novel comes out next year in that series.

@Mark Edward Hall - yep, I remember you, dude. Of course, back then the industry was a far different place and ebooks weren't much but a vague notion.

@Selena - thanks very much! And yes, it's incredible to be able to write what I want, put it out, and get paid for it. I love the change! :)

David L. Shutter said...

Matt

I dunno, everyone and their dog in publishing follows Joe's blog apparently. Could be 'The King' himself for all we know.

What I do know (as Joe welcomes Anon's as he understand the Legacy world and freedom of speech is apparently very costly) is that I don't want anything to do with an industry that operates under a functioning Code Of Silence enforced, apparently, by very real blacklisting and god knows what other forms of reprisal.

My 0.02$

Tom Maddox said...

I would also bet that Anonymous bestselling author is a fake. I have been active on the internet for 30 years and have seen this type of anonymous boasting more times than I can count.

Everyone can be a best-selling author on the anonymous internet.

If, by some miracle, this anonymous bestseller is a real author then I know why he or she decided to post anonymously. It is because we simple readers would never buy a book by someone with such an over-inflated ego. I would not want to do anything that may perpetuate that attitude

Dan DeWitt said...

@ David Shutter

Two things tell me it can't be King:

1) He's never in his life talked about his success like that, nor have I ever heard him condescend to anyone in such a manner.

2) He's the one that said "Stephenie Meyer can't write worth a damn." Contrast that with Anonymous talking about her "skill and talent."

I'd love to hear his take on this, though. Why, oh why, isn't he on Twitter? :-)

Pat Anvil said...

I'm not good at this. Joe is probably right about the Anon since those are the stats of the average best-selling author anyway. I also don't have time to write and proof-read my post. I'm at my day job stealing a few moments to write this.

The book I've read was on criminal profiling. The thing I remember is that criminal profiling works so well because criminals are usually very average people. They are unremarkable in any way. Hyper-evil or hyper-intelligent criminal is a literary creation... When profile says "highly intelligent" it doesn't mean genius - it means... highly intelligent within the normal range.

What I'm trying to say is what works on criminals might not work on a brilliant intellectual who lies for a living...

All of this is going to sound corny and generalizing and that's the point. Profiling is using statistic averages and not outliers.

Why did I think the Anon was a female? Females are far more competitive than males. Almost everything is a competition of sort. Anybody who had seen a suburban housewife doing a victory lap after beating her own children playing Jinga can attest to that...

Males threaten with physical violence - females threaten with humiliation.

Males are more likely to use foul language and think nothing of it.

Now the age group. This again is going to sound corny but since I thought that Anon was a female, the grandmotherly image persists in literature because it's true. Post-menopausal women mellow down a lot due to the drop of hormone production. That's why I estimated her to be younger than 55. Over 40 - that's easy. Most of bestselling authors are.

Matt J said...

David: I suppose you're right, although Anonymous sounds like generally a pretty pathetic personality despite his/her (apparent) success. I don't think it's Stephen King, though. I was lucky enough to meet him 5 years ago when my sister was graduating from Bangor Theological Seminary. He was very gracious and decent, and still lives a very normal life. He and his wife still take a long walk every afternoon through the outskirts of Bangor, he still wears old white T-shirts and jeans, and he has very little ego that I noticed; willing to talk and give time to anybody. He supports not only UMaine tremendously (and yes, financially), but he has given enormous support and advice over the years to fledgling writers. He was also one of the first "iconic" writers to embrace the digital and try publishing on Kindle when it was still in it's infancy. So, I don't think it's him, but you're right, I'm sure other successful writers have succumbed to idiocity.

AJ said...

Intelligence, skill, and hard work obviously correlate strongly with success. However, to suggest that luck doesn't play any part in achieving success is ludicrous in the extreme. By that logic, the top 100 movie start are absolutely the 100 best actors in the world; the 100 top singers have absolutely the 100 best voices in the world, etc.

Distribution - having your book shoved under everyone's nose at B& N, Walmart, etc. - is going to drive huge sales. You can take a crappy book and distribute it like that and you will still sell a ton.

Some hugely successful authors will transition well to e-books, but I suspect that some will be like newspapers. They will find that once they lose their lock on distribution their content isn't so vital to many of their readers.

Aric Mitchell said...

Perhaps the anon is as top-dog as he/she says, though one wonders how the code of silence could be powerful enough to silence someone, who was making $1.5 mill in a month. That's neither here nor there. Engage the argument where it stands, and you'll see that it's short-sighted and clueless as to the indisputable trend toward ebooks. I still read print titles. I think most of us do. But I'm not touching anything in print for more than $5, which means I buy mine entirely from the bargain bin or from a used bookstore. There is more than enough reading material to tide me over if there's something I really want to read. I can wait. And that's a behavior that was brought on thanks to digital. Trouble for the author is, they really don't make anything off me by the time I buy it, unless it's priced fairly, and guess who the only ones are doing that...the ebook guys. Tastes adapt as formats adapt. Enjoy it while E is only 20% of your sales. As more readers adapt to the digital publishing culture, say goodbye to what you're used to, or adapt to the changes.

Sariah said...

The difference (for me) between Joe and Anon 1.5 - I have a snowball's chance in hell of making the money either one of them make; but Joe, at least, has told me how to build a cooler to keep the snowball from melting.

If Anon 1.5 is making the money s/he claims to be making, bully for him/her. But that path is like winning the lottery. And not just for the beautiful, special, wonderful people who are smarter/better/more talented/prettier than the rest of us - just in general. Maybe you'll get a good scratcher and win $10. Maybe $1,000. But the odds of me taking home the Powerball? Slim to none.

Self-pubbing success is at least attainable. For me to be successful with self-publishing would mean enough to pay my bills (AKA providing me with the chance to make a living off of it). I just see story after story of self-pub authors who are paying the bills with their stories - while my traditionally published friends, sometimes despite six-figure advances, have to continue to work a full-time job.

I'm also thinking about how while Anon 1.5 makes that million dollars a month - his/her agent is getting their 15% from that amount and the publisher is getting the other 92% on top of that (so they're raking in like what - $10 million a month from this author?) And if Anon 1.5 was only selling a fraction of the books on Amazon that they currently sell, how much more money they could be making by retaining 70% of the royalty.

Edward M. Grant said...

"I'm also thinking about how while Anon 1.5 makes that million dollars a month - his/her agent is getting their 15% from that amount and the publisher is getting the other 92% on top of that"

Don't assume that a best-selling author gets the same terms as anyone else. For example, I read an article about Stephen King recently and while I forget the precise terms, his contract with his publisher was very different to those offered to a new writer selling their first novel. If I remember correctly it said he only leases the rights for his books to his publisher for a few years (ten?) and takes around 50% of the profits.

Archangel said...

Steve (king) doesnt talk like that. Speaking of a top guy who gives back. He gives back in spades, to the young, the disadvantaged. No, 'anonymous' is not King. Nor O'Rourke, nor any number of bestseller authors, both male and female who are salt of the earth. I can think of quite a few however, who are definitely not. There's not enough air in the universe when in the same room w/ them.

Mark Edward, glad you kept on. BEing spurned by others is no good reason to stop. Water finds its way

thanks
drcpe

David L. Shutter said...

@ Matt & Dan

Oh God, I in no way seriouly impled he was King, just saying it could be anyone. Actually a ridiculous comparison on my part, have been reading King interviews and essays virtually my whole life. Yes, a very down to earth guy I've always thought.

Have no idea who he is and won't theorize cuz I don't really care. Let's suppose he is selling as much as he claims (or even a fraction) then it's clearly someone who'se been under traditional for some time now. In which case what he say's doesn't really apply to aspiring newbs starting out.

Until I read about someone ponying up hundreds of millions to buy Borders locations for a new bookstore chain or some WSJ/PW article on the new infallible, master plan to revitalize the print future then the future is obvously digital.

And pursuing legacy now means signing away 80% royalties for getting uploaded.

Adam Pepper said...

Isnt it funny how those on the inside looking out see the world as fair and just and those on the outside looking in see the deck as stacked against them. It's human nature and the truth is generally somewhere in between. But the idea that the odds of success are equal is proposterous. It's a lot more likely to make some decent coin, say $2000-$20,000/year self publishing than hoping to get picked up by a publisher and getting that kind of advance. Anything above $20K is a long shot either way. Also, to call the self publishers the B team and comparing the big name authors to the NY Yankees, aside from being belittling (with intent, no doubt) just isnt accurate. In baseball, AA ballplayers are generally on the same skill level. In the self publishing world we've got rank amateurs, AA, AAA, pros and everything in between. Throwing them all in one bucket for the purpose of dismissing their collective talent is great for getting a rise out of this blog but not an accurate dipiction of the diversity that's there.

I dont think there's any question that big-name authors benefit from distribution and store placement. I'm sure the Stephen King billboard currently on the West Side Highway isnt hurting sales any. Only time will tell if these literary Bronx Bombers can still hit every pitch out of the park when they no longer enjoy those benefits.

And one last thought on that billboard. King has earned every nickel, no question. But how many midlist advances could be paid with that billboard? When the industry continues to throw all their money at the top end and ignores grooming new talent, where do they plan to go to sustain their future?

Mark Edward Hall said...

Thanks, Archangel. When I got into this I knew I was in for the long haul. Those moments like the signing at Borders in Worcester only made me more determined to succeed. And I have succeeded. I now have fifteen titles and my brand new thriller Apocalypse Island is climbing the kindle charts both here and in the UK.
Borders is gone, but I'm still here.

sashagirl said...

Joe,
Yes, yes, yes, yes into eternity! I was with legacy publishers (Leisure and Zebra in the 1980's to 1990's) and everything you mentioned happened to me. Thanks to you for my 15th-18th books I'm self publishing with Amazon! I have a great cover artist and will self-pub my 15th novel (a dinosaur book that was dumped by Zebra in 1993 six weeks before going to the book shelves because my new editor said: no one wants to read about dinosaurs...and 6 months later Jurassiac Park the novel came out!) Didn't help that they insisted they call it Predator (What?! Wasn't there a movie called that) and the cover they gave me was awful! I can't wait to get more rights back and self-pub more of my old books. THANK YOU JOE! Warmly,author of 40 years; 14 published novels and 8 short stories and 2012 EPIC EBOOK AWARDS FINALIST NOMINEE for the end-of-the-world horror novel THE LAST VAMPIRE-Revised Author's Edition

Selena Kitt said...

Hubris is an ugly thing, mostly because it eats wormholes in the better self of the person who has it. Just my .02

Two cents? Feh.

That was worth a million.

Let's make it 1.5 million. :)

Tony T said...

Of course Anon isn't Stephen King. He's Lee Child, obviously. That guy has a chip on his shoulder and he's very sensitive about his place in the literary world. He's done things like this on TV, and in interviews.

I have to say, the back and forth between Joe and Lee was without a doubt the most interesting thing that has ever been posted on this blog.

Joe, you should get Lee to do a blog post and really bring this topic to the front.

LOVED IT!

Selena Kitt said...

And adding to the other arguments here against Anon being Stephen King... I can't imagine a universe in which King ever utter the words, "Big bowl of fail."

Anonymous said...

I'm a different anon.

I'm willing to bet that anon above is Nora Roberts.

Nora Roberts:

* Reads blogs, and responds on them.
* Isn't afraid to mix it up, when it comes down to it.
* Is clear and cogent.
* Has one hell of a brand name, and can be quite sure that she's outsold Konrath--she's sold more than him on Kindle, and unlike Konrath, she's had massive success on other venues, too.

And as someone who has read romance blogs for--eek!--close to a decade now, Anonymous sounds like Nora's style.

And she's got a point: I don't think anyone can self-publish today to the point of having Nora Roberts like success. The digital divide is too great.

Anonymous, I'm a self-publisher. If you are Nora Roberts, I adore you a million times for your books and for your straightforward attitude and for being an extraordinary role model in so many ways.

I grant you Nora Roberts like success. No matter what Konrath says, I believe you're going to keep kicking the pants off of him.

I want to be you--not for your money, but because I have never read a book of yours and thought you phoned it in, because I'm always impressed by your intelligence, your unwillingness to take shit, and your ability to keep it real all the time.

But from my perspective, I don't think I could get to your level of success without self-publishing first. I've traditionally published. I have. I've worked hard. And the truth of the matter is that I'm not going to take another deal where I'm spaghetti thrown at the wall.

Yes, I could get lucky--I'm sure I could. I could also not.

I think that legacy publishing is going to be damned good at protecting the Nora Robertses of the world. They're going to do it at the expense of the midlist. They have to protect the Nora Robertses.

I firmly believe that the next Nora Roberts, twenty years from now, will be someone who self-publishes--someone who isn't willing to trust to the luck of the draw (and traditional publishing *is* about luck) and who builds a name for herself over years and years and years.

Anonymous, if I want to be you--if I want to be wined and dined and to make a couple million bucks over the course of a few weeks--I'm pretty sure the only way that will happen is by building myself up, brick by brick.

In the mean time, if I miss my target, at least I'll be paying my mortgage.

jry said...

"A previously trad-pub deal in an author's history is a far more reliable litmus test for quality than anything else."

As someone who has worked in libraries for around 30 years I can safely say that I disagree completely. There are too many crappily edited traditionally published works being churned out. Publishers are too busy whining about the changes occurring in their industry to take care of the business of running their industry.

Joe Konrath said...

Tone is very tough to discern in comments, and I don't think the anonymous poster has a chip on his/her shoulder. I just think they were explaining and defending their perspective. I certainly wasn't offended, and found the exchange interesting.

As for Lee Child, he's done a lot of great things for a lot of people. On a humanitarian level he's got me beat.

Joe Konrath said...

I grant you Nora Roberts like success. No matter what Konrath says, I believe you're going to keep kicking the pants off of him.

I'd be okay with Nora Roberts kicking my pants off. Btu I'd have to get my wife's permission first.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

What a fun discussion between Anon 1.5 Mill and the hoi polloi! I, too, think it's a man, because in my experience fewer females are that willing to sound like asshats. I loved it when he/she got down to the nitty gritty and admitted to thinking that he and other traditionally published authors are "smarter and better" than Joe.

I'm pretty smart. I practiced intellectual property law for 15 years before deciding to be poor but happy as a writer. Only now it turns out I don't have to be poor! And I can still be happy.

Good luck to you, Anon. As far as I'm concerned, there's enough money and success for all of us. More people are reading every day with these new devices, and the advent of ebooks means that eventually the entire world will be able to read me, too.

So I'll buy my own tickets. See you in first class!

And if you're so proud of yourself, why don't you admit your name? I will. I am...

Patrice Fitzgerald, author of the best-selling political thriller RUNNING (on sale for 99¢ today; goes back to $7.99 tomorrow)

http://amzn.to/RUNNINGnovel

Joe Konrath said...

to thinking that he and other traditionally published authors are "smarter and better" than Joe.

Here's the thing. Not too long ago, I was vastly outnumbered in a discussion where I equated popularity to quality.

And I believe I'm correct. In the absence of any truly object way to judge the merits of media, it becomes a popularity contest.

If more people buy Twilight than Whiskey Sour, they are voting with their dollars, and that's really the only objective way to determine what people like.

It isn't that far a jump in logic to believe that Meyer is better or smarter, considering how she kills me in sales.

Meyer struck a chord that I haven't, and more people like her than me. That can't be disproved. What remains to be proven is the reason why.

I say it is luck. While talent and hard work can improve luck, they are trumped by distribution, marketing, and advertising.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Well, if Anon $1.5 mill is Eleanor Robertson, she has more than 200 million books in print, and not many of us are likely to catch up with that in our lifetimes!

Funny, I never read Nora Roberts because I thought her stuff was schlock. Snobbery goes both ways, I guess.

Maybe I'll go pick one up. And NOW I have to go back to work -- gotta keep those future readers supplied!

Barry said...

This is a little off-topic given the title of this blog post, but it relates to the discussion between Joe and the anonymous $18m-a-year commenter.

First, it seems a little odd to me to argue that when Author A outsells Author B, it must mean that Author A is smarter than Author B. Maybe if Author A scored higher on an IQ test or something. But selling more books as an intelligence test? I don't get it.

But maybe I'm nitpicking with that. Maybe Anonymous would concede the point about "smarter," but maintain that, as he or she put it, "Meyer outsells me because she's better than me," meaning better in some objective sense that is causally dispositive of larger book sales. I'm pretty sure this is what Anonymous means, though if I'm wrong, I'd be grateful if he or she could correct me.

Anyway, if I'm right about Anonymous's argument, I have to say I think the notion is a bit silly. One-hundred-percent of relative success is caused one-hundred-percent by smarts, skills, talent, tenacity, perception, and other "better" qualities, and luck plays no part at all?

That's a pretty hard argument to make. There are so many examples of good luck, and even more examples of an absence of bad luck, I don't see how you can argue that luck has nothing to do with success. For example, I was very lucky not to have a brick land on my head today, and though I'd like to take a bow for my extreme display of skill in not walking under the wrong apartment building window at the wrong time, I don't think today's absence of bad luck can really be attributed to anything for which I can reasonably take credit.

Now, equally clearly, not all of success can be attributed to luck, either. Stephen King says Meyer can't write, but she wrote *something*, something that was good enough for a lot of people to enjoy once they gave it a try. What this means is that Meyer did at least the minimum amount necessary to make herself susceptible to luck. And that's our job -- to do at least that minimum, but hopefully more, to make ourselves as susceptible as possible to good luck and as protected as possible from bad. Write the manuscript, write the best manuscript you can, if you don't succeed at first keep trying, etc., etc. That's our job. And if we do our job, we should be damn proud, because if we hadn't done our job, maybe the luck wouldn't have happened. Maybe it only happened because we positioned ourselves for it. But it was still luck. We can't cause luck; we can only make its presence more likely and its impact more meaningful. We can't guarantee a win; we can only influence the odds.

Barry said...

Personally, I think that's great. I know what my job is and I like doing it. I like influencing my odds every way I can. And when the luck happens, and I sell better than some other author who's also worked hard and written something worthy, it doesn't occur to me that this must mean I'm "better" than that other author. It just means that within a group composed of people who've done at least the minimum necessary to get in the game, luck is going to matter a lot. The outcome isn't solely determined by skill.

I wouldn't go so far to say that life is like a lottery, because the outcome of a lottery is caused almost entirely by luck. But that "almost" is key: because if you didn't even trouble yourself to buy a ticket, you're not in the game. You're not susceptible to luck. To be susceptible, you have to buy a ticket. Take that analogy, add a lot of factors and make it a lot more complex, and you have a reasonable analogue for sports, business, and life generally.

Maybe the way this relates to the original topic is this. Hard work and luck matter in both legacy- and in self-publishing. How could they not? They matter in everything. So what you need to examine to decide which route is right for you is, what kind of book is this? What's the market like? How much do I trust myself to conceive accurately and execute skillfully so as to maximize my susceptibility to good luck and mitigate my exposure to bad? How much do I trust a legacy publisher to do such things? What are the odds in each of a strike out, a solid base hit, a grand slam? Which outcome am I playing for, and what risks am I willing to run to maximize my chances of attaining it?

But suggesting that success is determined purely by skill seems as foolish to me as suggesting that it's determined purely by luck. I don't think anyone really believes either, though such arguments do occasionally get made -- I heard Catherine Coulter make the "success is 100% the product of luck" argument at the San Francisco Writer's Conference about five years ago, and wondered what she would say if one of the 500 attendees at her keynote had asked, "Then why the hell am I wasting my time and money listening to you? I should just go home and wait for the good-luck fairy to arrive at my doorstep. Everything else is a waste of time."

It's not just luck. But it's not just skill, either. Skill and hard work and the various other "Damn but I'm awesome" factors get you into the game. But once you're on the playing field, fortune always plays its role. To suggest otherwise, I think, is (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) worse than hubristic. It's inaccurate.

Pat Anvil said...

Alright. In case anyone is still interested and there aren't anyone here who can do a professional analysis. I will post one more time on the mystery of our best-selling Anonymous.

I glued her posts together and I've read it as a whole.

First and foremost I wanted to say it again - she and Joe are on the same page on a whole a lot of points!

Let me list them:

1. Life sucks for most trad-pub writers.

2. Paper might disappear and Big Six might fold.

3. Media doesn't matter - content is what matters.

Now going back to the analysis. I'm 99.9% sure Anon is a female. The level of competitiveness. The ease with which she accepted Stephanie Meyer comparison, the million other small things like saying "f-ing" instead of fucking... If nothing else, it's a gut feeling.

I also have to up the age a little bit because of the phrase, "You bet your sweet bippy." I think she is 60 or older.

I suggest if we really want to find out who this person is, we can use three clues: Baseball metaphors, triplicate use of "etc" with commas without dots in between (etc, etc, etc.), and doubling of blah with commas and not ellipsis (blah, blah.) Those little details give you away. Triplicating blah is more common and virtually nobody triplicates etc.

One other point I wanted to make is this.

I felt that belittling Stephanie Meyers was beneath you too. Not only she got better as a writer almost from page to page - she is a great STORYTELLER. Her books read like a personal journal and that's huge... She got lucky, yes, but if she didn't have a story to tell from an almost psychotic level of personification, no amount of luck would have helped her...

Tom_KY said...

If Nora Roberts reads blogs and responds to them, then that means she attaches her name to those posts. Why wouldn't she do that here?

Regardless, it is to the benefit of the aspiring writer, that Joe provides this blog. Thank you so much for taking us behind the curtain of the publishing world and being so transparent over the years - whether it is financially, or emotionally.

AimlessinAustin said...

Gate keepers of none crap, filters you say Anonymous? I beg to differ. I have a thriller book club and I have had read a whole lot of crap many of which could have used a heavy handed editor and spell check. A lot of those books even had high stars on Amazon. There is a lot of crap sitting on book shelves because apparently it is all in the eye of the beholder.

Pat Anvil said...

This whole thing got me thinking.

Why don't Ms. Anonymous and other big name writers start their own "publishing houses" that publish their own books on paper and eBook?

I bet bookstores will take their books and those authors will find distributors willing and eager to deal with them directly.

Big publishers will grumble, rattle their swords, threaten, sue, and do what they can to stop them, but in the end bookstores and everyone else will take their paper books and say "thank you" too.

Publishing house these days is an office and a name.

I bet if an author like Stephen King wanted to start Stephen King Publishing, he will have to put up 100k or less to get the business going.

What stops them?

A lot of musicians did this very thing by starting their own labels.

Selena Kitt said...

To suggest otherwise, I think, is (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) worse than hubristic. It's inaccurate.

I think the "luck" argument is a defense against hubris. And the "no luck" argument is the epitome of hubris.

Things happen, and people have been asking "why" since the beginning of time. Bricks fall on people's heads. Some authors sell a million books. Some authors just sell a dozen.

I've watched people (Joe and Barry included) try to analyze *why* this happens - and they both add luck to their great advice. Like salt for flavor on a great meal.

It serves as a defense against hubris. Most people don't want to be asshats. They know that writing is an egoic pursuit, they know their ego could easily get out of control if they let the praise for their work go to their heads.

So "luck" serves as a nod to the unknown variable. Thank you, universe/lady luck for bestowing this blessing upon me today. A brick didn't fall on my head today. Today I sold 1000 books. So thank you for that.

Tomorrow, I might have bad luck. I might walk under the wrong window.

I think that knowing that is the most important part of any of the advice given on this blog. Ignoring it, denying it, or dismissing it isn't just hubris or inaccurate.

It's dangerous.

Blake Crouch said...

One of my favorite writers, Cormac McCarthy, wrote from 1969-1991 in relative obscurity. He was widely considered brilliant by academia and had a cult literary following, but his best book, Blood Meridian, only sold 5000 copies when it was released. Then something happened. His longtime editor, Albert Erskine, retired and McCarthy moved from Random House to Knopf. With a new editor and a new publishing house, his next book, All the Pretty Horses, became a phenomenon. McCarthy didn't get any better between Blood Meridian and Horses. Blood Meridian is the better book, hands down. He suddenly got a legion of readers, because of good fortune, good timing, and forces beyond his control. If there was anything to this notion of correlation between skill, talent (betterness) and monetary success/popularity, then McCarthy should have been a bestseller back in the 1970s. By the same Anon 1.5 analogy, Herman Melville was B-lister in his lifetime and an A-lister after death when Moby Dick hit the canon.

Veronica M said...

What's this trend with all these people calling themselves "bestsellers"? Patrice Fitzgerald just did it, but unless he hit one of the major bestseller lists, or landed in the top ten of the main Amazon list, he's not a bestseller.

I'm all for self publishing, but just calling yourself a bestseller because your &.99 ebook hit a top spot on one of the Amazon genre lists doesn't mean you're a bestseller.

Dream on, guys.

Jamie Sedgwick said...

Just curious Anon, how do you know you made 1.5m in January? Doesn't it usually take months (or years) for that information? Do legacy publishers make special accommodations to people who sell $1.5 million/month and do the accounting right away?

Are those reports even available to publishers this fast?

Can anyone else here confirm or deny the likelihood of this situation? No offense intended, just fact checking.

Pat Anvil said...

@Jamie Sedgwick. I don't think she actually said she made $1.5m in January.

She said this:
-----
Why don't I see comments saying, "Anon here made $1.5m in January, so trad-pub is the way to go?"
-----

While a lot of people are interested in proving that Anon is a liar, I'm not.

The thing is, there is a handful of writers like this and it doesn't matter if our Anon is one of them.

My gut feeling is that she is who she says she is but are we going to deny that these people exist?

wannabuy said...

@Anon:" "OK, something now *requires* me to change my author preferences?""

I'm only a reader, but watch out. By blowing away the gatekeepers, I know many who no longer buy Author X, Y, or Z when their books come out. People wait for reviews. It isn't cost so much as time...

An industry only becomes an industry when someone can *live* off of their efforts. Enough indie authors have found their niche. So they will be able to keep 'feeding the flames' of their success.

As David L. Shutter already noted, this person's experience does not apply to aspiring authors. Too much has changed in twenty years... Heck, too much has changed in the last two years!

Neil

David L. Shutter said...

I felt that belittling Stephanie Meyers was beneath you too. Not only she got better as a writer almost from page to page - she is a great STORYTELLER.

Pat

I Second. I was reading a SF/Fantasy writers roundtable on Locus.com some time ago, authors and editors discussed commercialism vs. traditional "genre purism".

One of the writers remembered being at a conference in the early 90's when the first H. Potter book came out, before it exploded. He recalls every writer he knew reviling it; silly, cliche'd, commercial schlock from a lottery wining nobody.

Love or hate fantasy you'd have a real hard finding anyone, anywhere to agree with that now.

I am FAR from a Meyer fan. I don't think she can sharpen Ann Rices pencils. During a family movie night recently I listened to roughly half of Breaking Dawn P-I (fell asleep) and honestly I would rather stand through Speed 2about ten more times.

But that's only my single opinion and a reflection of my own taste.

I don't begrudge Meyer a dime she's earned or an ounce of her success. She connected with readers on a massive scale and therefore did a great job as a writer. That counts more than dollars or recognition I think.

Kass Lamb said...

Okay, I can't let 'the women are more competitive than men' go this second time around. That just plain ain't so. Psychological and sociological research has found that women, in general, tend to be more cooperative and team-oriented (as in we are all equal here, working together) while men tend to be more hierarchal (as in, where am I in the pecking order).

What is true is that some, not all, but some, of the women who make it to the top of the heap in a competitive field (which most fields are) are often far more competitive than the average male. (As are a lot of the men who make it to the top of the heap.)

I know this is off-topic, but had to throw in my .02.

And now I absolutely must stop procrastinating about finishing that final draft of book two so I can get it to Amy Siders on time.

Thanks for the lively debate, Anon and Joe.

Pat Anvil said...

I couldn't finish reading Breaking Dawn. :)

But what's amazing about her is her level of passion and her level of clear and unabashed identification with Bella.

I don't think it would have worked if she was a more polished writer.

And if she is and all of this is cultivated, deliberate, and "painted into" the books... I don't even know what to say then.

The time will show. She is still relatively young and we'll get to read more of her work, or try to. :)

AJ said...

This is the Internet, so 50/50 our anonymous bestseller is actually living in his parent's basement and messing with everyone.

That said, people are subject to an extraordinary level of delusion sometimes with regard to the correlation between success and their own skills.

I once heard Oprah say, completely seriously, that luck played no part in her success. I almost fell out of my chair.

Pat Anvil said...

@Kass Lamb. Can you cite this research?

My life experiences tells me otherwise. Even your own post contradicts you. You said that men tend to be more "hierarchal" pecking order sort of thing...

Isn't that submitting to the authority of others? Sure, the stereotypical man wants to be on top of the pile, but easily accepts that there is someone above him.

The stereotypical female, as stated in your post likes to work in the "we are all parts of the whole" type of a group...

What does it mean exactly? It means that we are all competing with each other, god forbid you think you are better than me, let me shove some dirt into all of your orifices and show your place...

There is so much backstabbing, competition, jealousy, rumors, plots, you name it!

Can someone back me up?

Archangel said...

@Veronica..."Veronica M said...
What's this trend with all these people calling themselves "bestsellers"? Patrice Fitzgerald just did it, but unless he hit one of the major bestseller lists, or landed in the top ten of the main Amazon list, he's not a bestseller. "

-------------
With respect, not sure what you're questioning when peeps here quietly mention once in a blue moon they are bestselling authors...? It isnt ok for bestselling authors to be here on Joe's blog?

drcpe

Archangel said...

@Pat, you asked if anyone could back u up. Cant back anyone up. Just know from my profession, from life witness, from decades of anecdotal reports and science based evidence that-- depending on which group of women or men one studies, one can never sample a large enough group with proper controls in place to actually make black/white determinations about personality, culture, emotion, paradigms or praxis even. Most of us have seen women, as in convent groups in Indonesia who would no more think of elbowing a sister for any reason no matter how tasty a thing might be gained... and we have seen women who would rip your tripes out with her bare 8 inch nails just because you breathe. We've seen men in many cultures and subcultures and groups bend to care for others, to be cooperative throughout. We've seen men behead and rape other men, children, women, animals and laugh during and after. We've seen women hierarchialize down to their bones in everything from genealogy to sewing clubs to altar and rosary societies to roller derby to music groups to teachers etc, and to dare anyone to disturb "seniority" or else they'll feed them poison angelfood cake.

We've seen men who go on search and rescue missions to find the cold, the orphaned, the maimed and insane, thinking nothing of hierarchy, competition, nor other thing that carries no soul.

Just my .02 gender has some differences its true, but even in those differences there are variants that range widely, such as muscle strength in men... and in women as well. Anyway, as a document and photo analyst, we dont have black white designations although you are right, one can tell some from any person's way with words, lexicon, grammar, pauses via punctuation, etc. But we most often use cross referenced materials, not just a few paras. to make the most accurate, not analysis only, but suggestions which lean into forensic profiling. Profiliing is not stereotyping tho. Each analysis uses many materials as possible and is a custom job that attempts to go far beyond generalities alone. Thanks
drcpe

Mary said...

"If someone can't point to a breach of contract, however, then there is no right to complain about anything. The author got what was due via the contract."

I can point to a breach of contract. My soon to be ex-publisher breached the contract several times. Only in publishing do people get away with things such as this. The clause in the contract that says publisher is to pay author X amount of money no later than 30 days after publication of Book X has been violated on not one but at least two of my contracts, so needless to say I will no longer be resigning with this particular publisher.

Jude Hardin said...

Two days ago Pocket-47 was ranked around 250,000 paid on Amazon, and it had been ranked around there for months.

Right now it is ranked 664 overall, and 84 on the Mystery bestseller list.

I haven't gotten any more talented in the past two days. I haven't gotten any smarter or better looking. The book's cover is the same. Same description. Same sample pages.

And I haven't gotten any luckier.

Two things happened: the price went from $7.14 to $1.99, and the book was included in the link for 100 books for $3.99 or less at the top of the Kindle home page.

Price and visibility took the book from utter obscurity to bestseller in two days.

So how 'bout them apples, Six Million Dollar Anonymous Person? Since I'm outselling Lee Child and Lisa Gardner and P.D. James and scores of other authors right now, does it mean I'm better and smarter and sexier than they are?

Okay, maybe I am, but that's beside the point. ;)

M.E. said...

Joe, you hit a lot of valid points.

Can someone answer this question?
If an author's books aren't selling (according to the confusing royalty statement that shows author in the rear), why does the same publisher offer the author another contract each and every time? If you borrowed $10,000 from me and didn't pay me back, there's no way I would be loaning you another $10,000. Am I wrong to think that the books are actually selling and there's some trick accounting going on so author never receives a royalty check, but yet keeps getting offered new contracts. I don't have a CPA, but things just don't add up.

Pat Anvil said...

@Archangel

Well said! I agree with every word.

That's why I used the words "stereotypical", "corny", "generalizing".

I also said that my "profile" was unprofessional, if you can even call the three things I said about Anon "a profile"...

And I still have seen far more competitiveness from women than from men. I have seen men accepting "superiority" of other men with ease and women having the hardest time doing the same...

There is a also a world of difference between the united front a group of women presents to the world and what is happening "behind the scenes."

But you are absolutely correct there is no universal rule. I would be horrified if I was interpreted as saying that "all man" or "all women" fall into a rigid pattern.

Pat Anvil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat Anvil said...

@M.E. The screwy thing is that a book might never pay back the advance but still generate a profit for the publisher. It's because the royalty rate is so low.

Let's say the contract was 15% of net profits (for simplicity of calculations.) The advance was 20k. The publisher made 100k and the 15k counted towards the advance... The publisher still made 80k!

Timothy Aldred said...

Excellent post, Mr. Konrath! And let's not forget how traditional publishers do this:
http://youtu.be/-vZ17RH47m4

Tim Aldred

Joshua Simcox said...

@Pat and David:

Thanks for bucking the trend of taking unwarranted shits on bestselling authors. I'm certainly not a Meyer fan either, but she's accomplished far more than those (with the possible exception of Steve King) that choose to invest time in bitching about her.

I felt the same irritation when everyone was taking shots at Franzen not long ago. It's fine to disagree with his opinions, but some of the commentary was needlessly rude. And yet, I fail to see any of those haters gracing the cover of "Time" magazine...a distinction Franzen can claim. And he didn't get there by being as ignorant and backward-thinking as many would have us believe he is.

As for the "luck vs. skill/preserverance" debate, I look at the career trajectory of one of my favorite authors, Harlan Coben:

At the beginning of his career, Coben was subjected to the same poor treatment by his publisher that Joe described in detail in this blog post. The covers were shoddy, advances and distribution were a joke, etc.

But Coben kept his head down and wrote more and better books, producing them like clockwork each year. Finally, the rest of the world caught on.

I remember reading Coben at least 2-3 years before it was suddenly very cool to read Coben and wondering why the guy wasn't a massive literary superstar. And then, before I knew it, that's exactly what he became. I'm not sure that's "luck" so much as simply producing material that's just too good for publishers and the reading public to ignore.

--Joshua

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Well, if it's Nora Roberts, I'm impressed. According to her website she writes 8 hours a day, every day. Did I say she has 200 million books in print? Wrong. There are more than 400 million* copies of books by Nora Roberts in print worldwide. *(as of 9/1/09) She was also the third author to sell more than 1 million Kindle books.

Over the last 30 years, an average of 27 Nora Roberts books were sold every minute. Nora Roberts’ books are published in over 34 countries.

If you place all Nora’s books top to bottom, they would stretch across the United States from New York to Los Angeles 18 times.

No wonder she thinks the rest of us are looking at tiny amounts of money!

Anon said: 'Looks to me like self-pub has marginally higher possibilities of getting within very distant sight of a lowish and unambitious ceiling (can't argue with the posters who say "$100 is better than no dollars.")'

Well, I had one out-of-the-norm 7-day period when I made $6,000. If I did that every week, I'd be pretty happy. Obviously, I don't. Yet.

Anon further says: 'But if you want to shoot for the stars, trad-pub is the way to go - at effectively identical real-world odds.'

Sounds like a romance writer to me. Not only is no one here likely to get into the stratosphere like anon, those kinds of numbers will be difficult for anyone to replicate in the future, because I think the game is changing. I believe there will be more writers making a reasonable living, and fewer selling mega-millions. The lower barriers to entry will create more writers with smaller followings.

As to Anon's age = that "you bet your bippy" is a tell. If it's Ms. Roberts, she and I have a lot in common. I'm also Irish, and we grew up close to each other -- I lived in Rockville and knew a lot of kids from Blair.

Whoever this is, he/she has sparked an interesting exchange.

Paul Pender said...

The debate between Joe and Anonymous was epic. I hope to see it continued soon. I accepted a legacy deal with the UK division of a Big 6 publisher a few months ago after agonizing for three months as a result of Joe's blog. I now intend to self-publish a couple of novels this year in tandem with my legacy-published memoir The Butler Did It (my curious friendship with a serial killer) which is being legacy published in the UK on 3rd May. You can pre-order it now from amazon.co.uk :)
Will I regret this hybrid strategy? Who knows? But I wouldn't refuse to drive a car because I was ideologically committed to either gas or electricity. I just want it to take me to my destination.

Embrack said...

The last legacy editor I ever spoke with rejected my novel for being "too specific." That was the most coherent part of his explanation. That was in 2009. And that was my best experience ever with legacy publishing.

Anonymous said...

@Veronica M

What's this trend with all these people calling themselves "bestsellers"? Patrice Fitzgerald just did it

I don't know her peak ranking, but she made over $5k in a week off of one book at 7.99, likely $6k with the KDP borrows. Notice she said "best-selling political thriller." I think that claim is justified. No "dreaming on" required. I agree that some authors start claiming it prematurely, but I don't think Patrice was doing that with her rather precise claim.

Here is more on Patrice, who was very open about her numbers:
Link to David Gaughran post

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