Sunday, February 19, 2012

Guest Post by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

AN OLDBIE’S GUIDE TO E-BOOK PUBLISHING by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Some people say Joe’s an angel. Some say he’s a devil.

I tend to think he’s both.

Joe is the angel who gives us hope and inspiration. Joe is the devil who gives us hope and inspiration.

Joe was also responsible for one of the single most fun experiences I’ve ever had as a writer, when he let me interview him for my old Disrespectful Interviewer feature at BiblioBuffet.com, which you can read here: http://bibliobuffet.com/archive-index-writer-in-residence/1377-the-disrespectful-interviewer-dissing-ja-konrath-100310.

But that’s enough about Joe, for the time being. Let’s talk about me for a bit and how I came by my decision to publish my latest comedic novel for adults as an ebook.

My publishing career began 22 published books ago with a dark comedy called The Thin Pink Line. In 2002, having written seven novels in nearly eight years while going through more than one agent, I sold that book on my own as part of a two-book deal to the then premier publisher of Chick Lit, Red Dress Ink. We can argue until the cows come home about whether The Thin Pink Line is or isn’t Chick Lit – it all depends on your definition – but one thing that can’t be argued is that this was a pretty good event for me. Before The Thin Pink Line was even published, RDI came to me with an offer for a subsequent three-book deal – my first book wasn’t even out yet, and I was already assured of at least a five-book career! Before all the pink dust had settled, The Thin Pink Line was published in 11 countries, optioned for a film, and was the first book published by any Harlequin imprint ever – with all the thousands of books they’d previously published over the years! – to earn a starred review from Kirkus.

Surely, my success as a writer of comedic novels for adults would go on forever!

Well, as publishing insiders have been known to say: Heh. Heh-heh-heh.

By the time my fifth book came out from RDI in fall of 2008, publishing was rolling back the red carpet they’d once extended to Chick Lit authors. Publishing itself, as publishing so often does when something gets hot, had over-saturated the market and now they wanted nothing to do with books like that; in fact, RDI published its final book in December of that year.

But that was OK! By then I’d already diversified by branching into the young adult market and was about to further branch into the children’s market with a series of books for young readers which I created with my husband and daughter, The Sisters 8. Both branches have proven to be successful for me. So who needed to publish books for adults anymore?

Well, actually, me.

I’m an eclectic reader, and an eclectic writer, and I like to scratch all my itches.

So when I got the idea for a new comedic novel for adults, I just had to write it, whether anyone would ever publish it or not. I called the book THE BRO-MAGNET and here’s a description of it:

Women have been known to lament, "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride." For Johnny Smith, the problem is, "Always a Best Man, never a groom." At age 33, housepainter Johnny has been Best Man eight times. The ultimate man's man, Johnny loves the Mets, the Jets, his weekly poker game, and the hula girl lamp that hangs over his basement pool table. Johnny has the instant affection of nearly every man he meets, but one thing he doesn't have is a woman to share his life with, and he wants that desperately. When Johnny meets District Attorney Helen Troy, he decides to renounce his bro-magnet ways in order to impress her. With the aid and advice of his friends and family, soon he's transforming his wardrobe, buying throw pillows, ditching the hula girl lamp, getting a cat and even changing his name to the more mature-sounding John. And through it all, he's pretending to have no interest in sports, which Helen claims to abhor. As things heat up with Helen, the questions arise: Will Johnny finally get the girl? And, if he's successful in that pursuit, who will he be now that he's no longer really himself? THE BRO-MAGNET is a rollicking comedic novel about what one man is willing to give up for the sake of love.

Of course once I’d completed the book, I knew there was little point in trying to sell it to a big publishing company. Even if they were enticed by the description, even if they loved the actual writing, as soon as they looked up the BookScan numbers on me and saw the paltry figures for that last book done with RDI, which received no promotion whatsoever because the publisher was going away, well, they’d go away too.

So, what to do, what to do...

Enter the ebook revolution.

I’d only had limited experiences with ebooks. A while back, I’d asked RDI for the rights back to The Thin Pink Line and the sequel, Crossing the Line, and they’d graciously agreed. Then I had a friend do the formatting and create a new cover for The Thin Pink Line, and I’d also written new cover copy reflecting what I’d always wanted the description to be, and we put it up for sale for $2.99 on Kindle last year. Before today – more on this later – it was only selling about two copies per week, earning me just enough to take myself out to lunch once a month. Not exactly raking in the dollars, but that was OK. What did I expect? It was an older title that had already been widely read, so really, it wasn’t like I was expecting to get a lot of new readers for it. I was happy enough.

But now I had this new book and I wanted more.

Enter the agency that’s represented me since 2005, The Knight Agency.

Sometime last year my agent there, Pamela Harty, let me know that TKA was going to make it possible for existing clients – if the clients so chose – to partner with TKA to publish their ebooks. I said I’d be interested in seeing their publishing plan. Once I saw it, I knew that this was the path for me to take with this particular book.

Some people will say this is crazy. Why give an agent a percentage of each ebook sold when you can hire out tech and art for a flat fee? In fact, TKA received a lot of blogger flak when they announced what they would be doing, even public flak from some of their clients. My personal take is that that’s just rude. No one – and here’s the only time I’ll talk to you in screaming all-caps here – NO ONE at TKA was strong-arming anyone into doing this. It was simply another option clients might take if they elected to.

Here’s the thing: As far as I’m concerned, TKA is just adjusting to changing times.

Here’s another thing: For those of you who don’t know me, you need to know I’ve never been one of these party-line authors who say anything an agent says must be right because agents know the business while authors are stoopid. If anything, I’ve gone the other way for most of my career, advocating for the rights of writers above all else. In fact, before joining forces with TKA in 2005, I parted company with no less than five agents because they weren’t doing what I thought they should, making me something of The Elizabeth Taylor Of Writers.

You know what, though? TKA has sold 18 books for me since I’ve been with them, they’ve been nothing but supportive despite the fact that I don’t make it easy by not being brandable, and I wanted to see how we’d do as publishing partners together.

So how have the results been since THE BRO-MAGNET launched on December 11?

I couldn’t be happier. TKA has done everything they said they’d do in their proposal and more, getting some high-profile attention for the book that I know I’d never get on my own. More than that, it’s re-invigorated our relationship because now more than ever there’s the feeling of, “We’re in this together.” It’s exciting. It’s been everything I dreamed it could be.

Am I saying every author, if given the chance, should follow the exact path I’ve taken? Of course not! I’ve been around the publishing industry in one capacity or another for nearly 30 years – now you can try to guess how old that makes me, but I hope that whatever your guess, you will conclude that I’m looking good – and if I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that there’s no “one size fits all” about any of this stuff. We learn things, we learn as much as we can – we learn a lot from people like Joe – and then we make the decisions that are right for us.

Oh, before I go, I do want to say that for all the flak Joe gets from some quarters, he really is right about so much. You may remember earlier, I said that The Thin Pink Line was averaging about two downloads a week prior to today. Well, you know how Joe’s always advising to make some things free to increase distribution and author visibility? The Thin Pink Line is part of the KDP Select program, which means that every 90 days I can make it free for 5 of those days. Last month I figured, what the heck? That book, which is usually somewhere in the 100,000-200,000 ranking in the Kindle store got to 223 in the Free Kindle Store and #11 in the Humor category; in the U.K., it went to 113 overall and #3 in Humour. In 16 hours it was been downloaded 1,114 times in the U.S. and 319 times in the U.K. Will this translate into some sales once the free promotion is over? And will there be a positive impact on sales for THE BRO-MAGNET? Who knows??? But on days like today, it feels like anything is possible. Most important of all, I’m having fun.

One last thing: Please buy THE BRO-MAGNET!

And one more last thing, the final last thing: Thank you, Joe, for loaning me your megaphone today and for everything you’ve ever shared about e-pubilshing, you angel/devil you.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted can always be found at www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com.

Joe sez: I like Lauren, and encourage everyone reading this to buy her ebooks. I promised Lauren this would run during her freebie promo, but then I got crazy busy and went out of town and let her down like I've let down the dozens of other authors who have sent me guest blogs.

But I'll get to you all. I promise. :)

I'm hoping Lauren will chime in and let us know if her free giveaways translated to some sales, but more importantly I wanted to discuss her use of an estributor.

I blogged about estributors back in 2009. An estributor is a person or company who assists an author with self-publishing and gets a percentage of the profits. An agent, in my opinion, is the perfect entity suited for this position. And unlike a lot of folks who believe that is a conflict of interest, it's not. An agent is out to make the most money she can for her clients, so she can make a commission for herself. If that via a big legacy deal, fine. It that's via self-pubbing, fine. Either way, she's serving her client.

I'm working with my agent, Jane Dystel, in an estributor capacity for my upcoming book Timecaster Supersymmetry (that is, if she agrees after reading it--the novel is decidedly un-PC and loaded with graphic sex and violence and zombies and talking dinosaurs and a banana who sings the blues.)

The idea is that if my agent takes over all of the work required to bring an ebook to market, I can focus on writing. Bringing an ebook to market takes a lot of time. The more time I have to write, the more money I can make.

A notable opponent of this methodology is Dean Wesley Smith, whom I admire and greatly respect. He feels authors shouldn't share royalties when the tasks of bringing an ebook to market can be work-for-hire sunk costs.

My response to Dean is: I have to try it before I can judge if it works or not. I also believe (I may be wrong) that Dean and his equally smart and savvy wife Kristen Kathryn Rusch are incredibly prolific authors who have many pieces of writing that aren't yet available as ebooks even though they own the rights.

Well, come on Dean and Kris! These are all properties that could be earning money, and every day they aren't live is a day you missed making some dough. If you gave an estributor a cut and they get these live sooner than you can, you'd be earning more. Plus there's no upfront expense, because the estributor covers the costs.

Make money tomorrow or lose valuable writing time doing it yourself and make money in 2014? Seems like a no brainer to me, even if you're giving someone 15%. After all, it's better to make 85% of something that is for sale than 100% of something that isn't for sale.

I made a ridiculous amount of money last year (about $600k) and over 1/6 of that was through my agent. A lot of that was backlist titles (sales of which are buoyed by my self-pubbed titles) but there was also new foreign, audio, and movie deals my agents landed.

In other words, my agents are still making me a considerable amount of money. More than I could make on my own, and they more than pay for themselves in the extra income they bring me. I want to see what they can do in an estributor capacity. If they bring enough value to the table to make it worth a 15% commission, I'll consider it money well spent.

The publishing industry is in a state of upheaval. The old ways are dying. The only way to survive is to change, evolve, adapt.

That said, here are my rules for estributors.

1. The estributor covers all costs of book production. Artwork, editing, proofing, formatting, layout, everything.

2. The estributor does all of the uploading to various sites (Kindle, B&N, Kobo, Apple, Smashwords, Createspace, etc.)

3. The estributor pays immediately after she receives money, and her accounting is transparent.

4. The estributor gets a cut of no more than 15%, equal to her agency commission.

5. When the estributor gets big enough, she facilitates translations and the uploading to foreign ebook sites. For this she can receive a larger royalty share.

6. The estributor markets the ebooks above and beyond what an author can do on her own.

7. The author retains the rights to the work, and sets the price of the work.

8. If the estributor is an agent, she will also continue to exploit the subsidiary rights of the work.

9. The author or estributor can dissolve the relationship at any time. That brings into question who owns the artwork/formatting etc. That should be resolved on a case by case basis in a way that is fair to both parties.

Am I missing anything?

51 comments:

Kass Lamb said...

Wow, I can't believe I get to be one of the first to comment (after Joe that is; have you all noticed his comments are almost as long as his posts :)

I think estributing is an excellent way for agents to make the transition during this e-book revolution. But for us newbie writers, we're back to having to convince an agent our books are saleable, i.e., back to having a middle-person between us and the reader.

What I'd like to see are people or companies who are skilled at doing the promotional stuff, that writers can hire for a flat fee or hourly rate to do what we may not know how to do well, and would rather not spend the time doing.

Hey, Rob and Amy Siders, are you interested in branching out? (Gotta get a plug in for them; they are delightful to work with!)

Lauren, I love Bro-Magnet's premise. I'm gonna buy it!

Kassandra Lamb

the Kate Huntington Mystery series

Rashad Pharaon said...

Kass, you can hire the professionals who charge hourly rates right now. They're everywhere and many come with very good recommendations.

I do think, however, having an agent is well worth it. You could say they're the lawyers of the field and know the ins and out (usually) far better than authors do. I don't see why having a middle-man is a bad thing when they earn you more money than not having one,

Best,

Rashad.

ps. what is UP with these captchas!!

David L. Shutter said...

Interesting stuff.

I saw a Piers Anthony e-book pop on the Sci-Fi top selling list recently. One of many traditional authors who I was wondering if and when they'd show up in the e-verse. A quick perusal of his book info revealed it was put out by Premiere Digital Publishing and not a Legacy house.

Quick websearch took me to their site to find them e-pubbing over thirty established and name authors, including Stephen Ambrose.

Piers Anthony has writter 150 books so I'm pretty sure he knows how things should be done and isn't giving up royalties merely for all that "new-fangled techie" stuff being handled for him.

He posts on the blog there as well and he's not a happy camper when it comes to the traditional world.

Adam Pepper said...

Speaking as someone who's had a couple agents and never found a good fit, I say more power to you. If you have a good working relationship with your agent and you trust her, then it sounds like a win-win all around.

Anonymous said...

The day agents/estributors offer to receive their 15% via me AFTER I've collected royalties, is the day I sign up whole-heartedly with them.

It's all about moving forward during these new publishing times, so transparent royalty earnings isn't enough. It's about authors retaining the royalties first, before the agent/estrubutors.

The author would receive royalties first so we could make sure sales figures weren't being fudged or distributed incorrectly. Then, by contract, the estributor would be owed their 15%.

WIN

Are there already agent/estributors out there who get their 15% from the author? Will google it...

J. Anne said...

I'm with Adam, if it works, then do it. Innovation comes from, well - being innovative. Which means what works today might not work tomorrow and if you're ahead of the wave, you're sittin' in the sweet spot. Do what works.

Jude Hardin said...

This was something my agent and I discussed for the Nicholas Colt series. Ultimately I chose to submit to Thomas and Mercer, and they made an offer I accepted, but I wouldn't hesitate to try this with another project in the future. I just want to write books and cash checks, so it would be great to have someone handle everything else for me.

Fifteen percent seems like a bargain. In fact, if I were an agent, I don't think I would do everything Joe listed for 15%. That's basically everything a publisher does, and of course no publisher is going to pay the author 85% royalties. And let the author keep all the rights? Not going to happen. So if you can get all that for 15%, I say go for it.

Anyway, best of luck with it, Lauren!

joemontana said...

Sorry, Joe, I agree with you on 99% of what you say, but I have to go with DWS on this one.

15% for a few hours work is criminal.

I agree someone with a huge backlist might need help getting books/collections that are sitting around earning nothing up, but a % forever is just too damn much. If it were 15% up to X amount - fine. If it were a flat Y fee, even better.

But if you are Dean Wesley Smith and your wife is a Hugo winning editor, do you need editing services? Those two have forgotten more about editing than any agent will probably ever know.

Covers? Flat fee there - no need to have an agency/packager charge you to go the same guy you would have gone to for the same cover.

Conversion and uploading? Calibre is free. Uploading is free. I becomes nothing more than time.

You are 100% right that an author is likely to make more money writing the next book vs spending a few hours uploading an old one. In that sense, paying to have someone do it for you is a fantastic idea. But pay them by the task/hour. Don't give them YOUR money forever.

Again, I agree with so much you say and you have helped so many people so much that I hope you don't take this as being disrespectful. I freely admit, I am no publishing guru - I have a background in business. My training/education/experience has always been that you don't overpay the help.

Thanks for all you do, Joe.

Anonymous said...

Joe, this post is interesting. I usually agree with you, but I'm downright skeptical of this type of arrangement. It's not the royalty share that bothers me, or even the fact that you are sharing a percentage of profits with someone else (the distributor or the agent).

My concern is the (potential) lack of transparency. As things are right now, I can see my sales rank on Amazon and pretty much estimate my sales based on my ranking. Using LSI and CreateSpace, I can also track paperback sales. Even if I didn't have real time updates (I do), the sales rank for each of my books translates into a pretty accurate way to estimate sales.

What happens when you have an intermediary and the reports start to arrive quarterly, or twice a year, like the traditional publishers?

I feel that every time you add another later of intermediaries, you have another opportunity for authors to get taken advantage of. I understand that many authors "just want to write" and don't want to take care of any of the other necessary tasks that go into making this a business. But maybe that's what it takes to be successful. You have to be a writer first, but NOT be a sucker, as well.

-Marie Simas

Joe Konrath said...

15% for a few hours work is criminal.

By that logic, an agent shouldn't get 15% for anything.

I could hire an attorney to vet my contracts and negotiate terms.

I could deal with movie producers directly.

I could dedicate my time to learning all the players in foreign publishing and pitching to them.

So why use an agent at all?

But I'm used to paying 15% to an agent, because I think she's worth it. And I'd think that bringing an ebook to market takes longer and requires more work than negotiating a contract.

Joe Konrath said...

What happens when you have an intermediary and the reports start to arrive quarterly, or twice a year, like the traditional publishers?

I wouldn't sign with someone like that. I'd want to be paid monthly, and get regular updates.

But I trust my agent.

bettye griffin said...

Hi Lauren (waving),
I would love to read your new book, but it's not available for Sony eReaders. Nothing against The Knight Agency (I used to be a client of theirs myself), but if they're going to handle the publishing, they should do it all the way, not just half step! Why reach some of the people if you can reach all of the people?

Walter Knight said...

What about having two publishers: a small press for your E-book rights, and a large publisher for your paperback rights after establishing your marketability?

Many have successful E-books, but still want to break into the paperback market, too.

joemontana said...

Joe,

Point taken, but I think it is an even stronger case for a flat fee.

My beef with the % is this:

Book A - agent/packager works on for 4 hours. 15% cut.

Book B - 4 hours work 15% cut.

Book A makes 20k in 10 years - agent makes 3,000 for 4 hours work - $750/hr. Nice paycheck.

Book B makes 200k in 10 years - a 'home run'. Agent makes 30k for 4 hours work - $7,500 per hours for the same work.

Since no one knows what will be make the difference between an 'average' book and a 'homerun' and certainly nothing having to do with 'packaging' is going to make a huge difference, why the huge disparity?

I pay the guy at the corner store $1 for a lottery ticket. If I win 20 million bucks, I am not going to come back and pay 3 million for the ticket.

Again, thanks for the discussion.

Anonymous said...

A bit off topic, but when Amazon kills off the big 6 publishers will the anit-monopolies people start to take an interest in it, in the same way they did with Microsoft?

I.J.Parker said...

That was a great interview. And the list of book titles for children struggling with the loss of a pet are the funniest thing I've read in a long time. Thanks, Joe and Lauren.

I, too, tried the agent-as-facilitator bit with my agent. It failed miserably. It just wasn't a working relationship. I put far more time into it than I did later when I had 52 Books do the formatting and published myself. The delays were huge. The job of dealing with Amazon were passed on to a part-time agent, and I could get nothing done when the agency went on vacation or she was out-of-office. The only job they had was formatting and uploading. And that was a disaster. Now I have no access to my books to make changes. For me, it just didn't work.

Anonymous said...

Oldbies! Ha! Love it.

But what I don't so much love is the agent thing. I'm a new writer without a backlog of books that need publishing. Why would I need an agent eDistributer? Do you know how long it took me to learn how to publish on Amazon? 1 day. It took me a few hours to learn how to publish on Smashwords and tomorrow I'm going to study up on how to publish with Createspace, I anticipate it will take me a day.

Also, cover artwork for paper and eBooks can be paid for as a one-off, which also makes agents obsolete. There's no need for new writers to have agents who will continue to take 15% on your book forever, when we can do it ourselves.

DWS did a great blog post on indie publishing costs, which was very helpful.

Even if I were an Oldbie with tons of unpublished books, it still only takes a day to upload. I just don't see the point in agents. So I won't look for one.

Casper Bogart said...

It's all about experimenting, trying something new. We're in a new time, and it takes guts to go out on a limb, to try what hasn't been tried.

But you never know what will work unless you go for it.

Konrath and friends gave away something like 72 book title--for free. I have no doubt the experiment yielded results that informed the participants what was possible.

I have 2 short stories that I've posted on KDP. One is free for two days under kindle Select. In the first ten minutes, it shot to #50 in the free category in its genre.

Where this will lead, I have no idea. But I would not know unless I experimented.

Bravo to those that try something new.

Kass Lamb said...

@ Rashad

Can you tell me about those professionals who charge hourly rates to do the promotional stuff, because I haven't found any.

Thanks!
Kass Lamb

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. The author comes across fresh and young (wink).

Agents, eh (whistles). I wouldn't roll the dice on that one myself, but I don't do trad publishing, so I can't really talk. Still, I like the rules and if the publishing side (I'm not talking the bells and whistles you are getting on top of the file creation, cover, upload) wasn't so dang easy for me [he says 100s of books in] then I'd be more keen. Actually, dead set on it.

Keep on making millions. I'll join you one day (wink).

William Ockham said...

If you are a professional writer (i.e. you are trying to make a living at it) the only question you need to answer is whether you will make more money by giving up 15% or not. It should be obvious to everybody that self-pubbed authors make more money giving up 30% to Amazon than by selling e-books on their own website. If that is not true for you, you are almost certainly doing it wrong. The reason is simple. Amazon makes it so easy to buy e-books that millions of people will buy them there. You should be able to sell X times as many books on Amazon than you can sell yourself (where X is some number between 2 and 1,000,000).

Now the difference between agents/estributors and Amazon is that you can pull your ebook off Amazon any time you want if, say, B&N suddenly became a better marketplace (ha!). I think authors should have an escape clause from any royalty petcentage deal, either a buyout clause or a time limit or some combination.

Joe Konrath said...

I pay the guy at the corner store $1 for a lottery ticket. If I win 20 million bucks, I am not going to come back and pay 3 million for the ticket.

From what I understand, the stores selling lottery tickets get a percentage of every ticket they sell, and a big bonus if the winning ticket is over a certain dollar amount.

This comes down to two points.

First, does an agent/estributor offer value to an author?

Second, what is that value worth?

The value may be worth a $1000 flat fee. It may be worth 15% for life. It may be worth nothing at all.

Everyone has to make decisions for themselves. But I always caution against making decisions without data, experimentation, and evidence.

If Lauren is happy with how her agent has performed, that's anecdotal evidence for me it works.

When I try it myself, that is me experimenting and analyzing data.

But I try not to dismiss ideas without trying them for myself. If I did that, I'd be doing what the Big 6 does all the time. ;)

J. R. Tomlin said...

Joe, I don't have a dog in that fight since what little backlist I had I've indie published but I have to question this assumption:

"If you gave an estributor a cut and they get these live sooner than you can, you'd be earning more. ..."

But why would an agent with dozens of clients with possibly dozens of projects each get it live faster than the author who has the main interest? Your project could be way, WAY down the list or else they do what you would have done and pay someone else to do it. And why should they be paid, over the life of the project, much more than someone who you paid doing it for hire?

I see you're happy with the arrangement which is the important thing, but it is hard to see as being a good deal.

J. R. Tomlin said...

I meant to mention, I LOVE the title of the blog and "Bro-Magnet" sounds like a hoot. Not the sort of thing I usually buy, but you have to be flexible so it goes on my list. :-)

By the way, I just noticed this comment by joemontana:

"But if you are Dean Wesley Smith and your wife is a Hugo winning editor, do you need editing services? Those two have forgotten more about editing than any agent will probably ever know."

I've made similar comments on DWS's blog. He often says you don't need to pay an editor and I just snort. Easy for him to say. We do need to pay for services, but it really is hard for me to see the wisdom of signing away a percentage for what you can easily get for a flat fee.

Anyway,, Lauren's post was great and the novel is on my list.

joemontana said...

From what I understand, the stores selling lottery tickets get a percentage of every ticket they sell, and a big bonus if the winning ticket is over a certain dollar amount.

This is true - but the bonus is paid by the lotto commission (at least in New York YMMV!) Not out of my winnings...

Regardless, I really do see your point of view - we'll agree to disagree.

Thanks again for all the info and tips.

I'm sure my arguments mean more to you than the 600k you make a year.. j/k :)

Anonymous said...

"The value may be worth a $1000 flat fee."

If there are flat fee agents out there, sign me up!

Livia Blackburne said...

So there's a lot of talk here about how it's not worth it to sign away 15% forever. But as far as I can tell, that's not what Joe is suggesting. It seems like these arrangements are either for a 2 year term (as is the case for the Knight and Nelson agency -- at least that's what I've gleaned from their blog posts) or an arrangement where either party can leave at any time.

Also, regarding the percentage vs. flat fee thing -- if percentages are so bad, shouldn't we all be using Bookbaby instead of Smashwords, which takes a percentage? It all comes down to running the numbers. Percentage will be good for some, flat fee will be good for others.

Jamie Sedgwick said...

I can see the two sides of the issue here and I think it largely depends on your professional positioning. I've never had a literary agent. I gave hundreds of agents the chance to rep me over a period of about 7 years. Amazon gave me the chance they didn't.

Since then, I've learned to self-edit and to use beta readers. I've learned to buy and build covers (and I think I'm getting pretty damned good at it) and I've learned a little about marketing. At this point, I have a hard time seeing why I would ever need an agent. Contracts? I can hire a lawyer. Overseas? Maybe.

But right now I'm a little fish, selling a mediocre 1,500-2,000 books a month. For me, that's the salary of a full time job. For agents? Well, it's a competitive market and they'll have to pass...

Mustard Jones said...

An agent is the only way to get out there. Who cares about the 15%, seriously.
If you're that worried about 15% you're in the wrong business. Go be a broker. Or an agent.
If you're a writer, write, and be happy that you're being read.

Lauri said...

Loved the guest post. I love seeing all the ways that the publishing industry is changing and empowering writers.

Where can these people be found?
Besides agents I mean. I have 16 books published traditionally and have now decided to self publish a few of them as ebooks (the ones I didn't sign the rights away to). I would love to have someone help me with the marketing side. I think for writers like myself (in Botswana) ebooks are a saviour because of our mammoth distribution problem. I'm looking forward to getting started.

Jon Olson said...

Not missing anything I can think of. Fascinating. I'm sure there are a lot of agents out there looking for a future who read this post and got hope.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

Traci Hohenstein said...

Jane is unlike any other agent and I happen to think she is worth every penny. My time is better spent writing than worrying about all the other mumbo jumbo.
Thanks for sharing your story Lauren. I'm checking out your books now.

Mark Asher said...

By that logic, an agent shouldn't get 15% for anything.

I could hire an attorney to vet my contracts and negotiate terms.

I could deal with movie producers directly.

I could dedicate my time to learning all the players in foreign publishing and pitching to them.

So why use an agent at all?


I think the point is why use an agent to do the things that you can easily do? You have a cover artist. You have someone to do the ebook formatting. You have a proofreader. I assume you write the product description that appears on Amazon. Uploading a book is something that takes minutes. Where is the need for an agent in any of this, and this is what put yours book up for sale?

The other things you mention -- movie rights, foreign rights, contract vetting, etc., are areas where you don't have expertise and need to rely on the expertise of someone else.

Kass Lamb said...

For me, the only part that has me stymied is the promoting of the books. But I'm not willing to start begging agents again to please, please give my books a chance, just to be able to get some help with promotion.

I'd much rather spend all that time I used to spend sending out queries, and all the time I am now spending trying to figure out the promotional angle, on the thing I love most... Writing!

So there are apparently people out there who will do the promotional part for a fee. Is there anyone you all would recommend? Has anybody used Smith Publicity? They were the first to pop up when I did a Google search. How much do such companies usually charge?

Thanks, Joe, for hosting this blog. It's a real morale booster every time I read it. I have it set as my homepage so I don't miss any of your posts.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Once again I'd like to thank Joe for loaning me his megaphone here so I could talk about my own experiences. I did see where after putting my post up he said he "likes" me - be still, my heart! There are a few things I'd like to add now to my original post.

1. When I wrote it, it was still in the first day of the Kindle free phrase for The Thin Pink Line. The book actually was downloaded many thousands more times and since it went back to being a paid ebook, I'm selling far more than I did before the free promotion.

2. TKA is doing a lot more than just uploading The Bro-Magnet and doing the cover etc and they have been well worth the 15%. Here's just one example of many: they got the book listed on NetGalley and it went out in NetGalley's email blast to 40,000 subscribers. The influential author Dear Author saw it there, decided to review it, wrote a rave - not an easy thing to get a rave out of the notoriously prickly D.A. - and as a result was reviewed by many more bloggers including one who also reviews for USAToday online. That blogger also loved The Bro-Magnet and reviewed it for USAToday online, which means I now have a legitimate blurb for an ebook from one of the most high-profile review sources in the country. How cool is that? As I say, that's just one trail of success for the book I can trace back to TKA's efforts and every day I am brainstorming with them about other things we can try. I come up with ideas, they come up with ideas, and we all do our best to bring those ideas to best fruition. I have been published by Random House, Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bloomsbury, and RDI, and I have *never* had a more positive and enjoyable publishing experience.

3. There's nothing about my contract with TKA that requires me to do any further ebooks with them after this first one - I can publish other ebooks on my own tomorrow, if I so choose - and yet I've already decided I want to do another ebook with them in March (it's called Z) and the buzz for The Bro-Magnet has been so overwhelmingly positive that I'm writing a sequel and I can't imagine publishing that particular book with anyone but TKA.

4. Someone mentioned that The Bro-Magnet is not available on all platforms yet. This is true. But it will be! The nice thing about ebook publishing is that you have the luxury of time. With trad publishing, if all your ducks aren't in place by pub date, you're pretty screwed. But with this, we can roll things out at our own pace. And while TKA may not have The Bro-Magnet up on Kobo yet, daily they are taking care of the whole of my career - e.g., managing my relationships with my various publishers and getting my latest middle-grade novel out on submission.

5. I'd expected Joe to deride me for "giving" 15% away and yet I see he has recently made a similiar decision to try epubbing a book with his agent, so if I'm wrong, I'm wrong in good company. And actually, I don't think either of us are wrong - we're simply exploring all our options and then deciding on the best options for us on a book-by-book basis. I'm not trying to prescribe anything for anyone else - just me.

6. You wouldn't think a dead-dog story would provoke so much mirth, but for those of you who read my interview with Joe, you have no idea how many people I've set to cackling over Joe's dead-dog story. So thanks for that too, Joe.

Todd Trumpet said...

As far as paying an "eStribtor" a percentage for life, I think I more "lean to the Dean" on this one, Joe.

True, as you've stated, it may be more profitable in the short run as it frees up more time to write, but as a former engineer, all I can see is is a plot of money vs. time, and that curve inexorably declines while the profit from the extra 15% continually ascends.

Eventually, the two curves cross. Is it a few months out? A few years? It will vary for each eBook, but here's the thing...

...and you yourself have said it often in this blog--

"Forever is a long time."

Which curve do you want to be riding?

Todd
www.ToddTrumpet.com

Nancy Beck said...

But right now I'm a little fish, selling a mediocre 1,500-2,000 books a month.

Wish I could sell a "mediocre" 1,500-2,000 books a month. ;-)

Marian Levett said...

I designed my own cover for my book with my author collective, used a beta reader and an English teacher to edit and proof my book, and uploaded the book myself in a matter of hours. True, I could have saved myself some time, but would it have been more than the time it would have taken someone else to do it? Why would I ever let anyone else outside of our cooperative have access to our accounts?

Maybe it is a matter of trust, as Joe says. I trust myself and sometimes my parents. That's about it. And I don't let them run my businesses.

Selena Kitt said...

I saw a Piers Anthony e-book pop on the Sci-Fi top selling list recently. One of many traditional authors who I was wondering if and when they'd show up in the e-verse.

Piers has some books with Phaze publishing. He's published two with us at Excessica as well.

He's one of those "old dogs" who likes someone else to do the new tricks for him. :) Estributors would be the perfect solution for authors like Piers.

JDM said...

"The idea is that if my agent takes over all of the work required to bring an ebook to market, I can focus on writing. Bringing an ebook to market takes a lot of time. The more time I have to write, the more money I can make."

I've only published a couple of books, but none of them took me that much time to get to market. My wife designed the covers, but I could have just as easily outsourced that. I know a guy who did a read-through for editing purposes; not too hard to hire someone for that, either. And then there was formatting, which took me an afternoon, tops, per book. Is there something I'm missing? Seems like a pretty simple process to be paying someone for.

-JDM, author of "The Honest Truth About Honest Abe," free today on Amazon (come on, I had to)

David W. Cowles said...

Joe, you must keep Jane Dystel really busy. She isn't even listed on the contact list for DGLM.

And her partner, Miriam Goderich, doesn't extend the courtesy of answering her emails, such as the following, which I sent December 4of last year:

Dear Ms. Goderich

Several months ago I read with great interest--on both your website and Joe Konrath's blog--about exploration into how DGLM can be of assistance to authors who self-publish books in digital format. We are truly rushing into a new era of publishing, with different opportunities and different needs, and DGLM is very astute in addressing these changes as opportunities instead of pretending they will go away. (Look at what happened to Eastman Kodak Company just a few years after digital photography was introduced.)

I've recently published seventeen of my titles with Amazon.com in Kindle (MOBI) format and Barnes & Noble in Nook (EPUB) format--please see the attached list. These ebooks are professionally edited and designed, and feature professional covers.

Although I've already received several good (and a couple of very strange) reader reviews on my books--in particular, see the reviews on the Amazon.com catalog pages for A Visit to Madame Wu's, Tastevin, and The Murderers--I am fully aware that publishing the books is only a beginning.

If my books are to become commercially successful, they need to be properly marketed--but I lack the time, knowledge, experience, and contacts to do the necessary job myself. Many ebook authors (e.g. Konrath, Hocking, Locke) attribute their success to FaceBook, Twitter, and other social media--about which I'm totally ignorant.

I would also like to have representation with the appropriate contacts to present my novels to the film industry. And of course I'd love to see some of my books published in print form.

How we can work together to our mutual benefit
------------------------------

Apparently that outfit doesn't need any more business.

Cheryl Tardif said...

Hey Joe, and all,

You may be interested in reading about my recent KDP Select success. My latest Select title WHALE SONG was downloaded to over 20,000 readers in day 1. Day 2 saw another 7400 downloads, for a 2-day total of 27,400 downloads.

Best of all, my after sales have been phenomenal!

I broke into Amazon's Top 100 OVERALL Kindle bestsellers, getting as low as #71. That's out of EVERY Kindle title sold on Amazon (not the genre lists), including Joe's!

I stayed in the Top 100 for 3 days.

I can't tell you how stunned I am by this. I am still reeling!

I've made over $4500 from WHALE SONG in 4 days. And this was the 3rd title I've enrolled--the other 2 were also successful but not like this.

You can read about my results at: KDP Select Experiment - Part 10 and Whale Song makes Top 100 Bestsellers

Selena Kitt said...

Oh yeah, I picked that one up, Cheryl. The cover was intriguing and the blurb sounded good. Glad you're doing so well after it went "free"! :)

David L. Shutter said...

Selena

I got that impression looking at some of their authors but I didn't want to call anyone a tech-phobic oldie.

The decision to sign with any kind of management entity will be case by case but when your backlist numbers in the dozens, all across multiple platforms with POD, audio and foreign action thrown in, promotion and maintenance can becomes three full time jobs I imagine.

I think last time I looked you up your titles went up to #76, what's your take?

JDM said...

Congrats, Cheryl. I started reading your blog last week. Sounds like you're doing pretty great!

-JDM, author of "The Honest Truth About Honest Abe," free today on Amazon (come on, I had to)

Anonymous said...

I think there is a disconnect between "getting to market" and "marketing."

I think it would be hard to make a business case that anyone who does legitimate marketing and gets a book more exposure and sales, is worth 15%.

It is dangerous ground to go from embracing the opportunity e-book publishing offers and perceiving it as an inherent right to sell lots of e-books because they are good (or the author thinks they are good).

A product, any product, is worth zero if it can't be sold. Obviously some agents would be good at this and others would not (and thus not a good choice). But if anyone can get solid, legitimate marketing support for 15% it is the best deal they are ever likely to see.

Anonymous said...

@ David W. Cowles and Jamie Sedgwick

Apparently that outfit doesn't need any more business.

As I remember, Joe's agent turned "estributor" sent a note around to their clientelle that they were offering their services to established (basically trad-pubbed?) authors only. Essentially, they're the new gatekeeper, so don't call them, they'll call you.

I see this agent/estrib deal as possibly worth it to those like Joe who can afford it. Few newbies without successful publishing histories will be getting in with a "good" agent/estributor. Authors with those paltry 2000-books-a-month sales figures won't cut it with them, unless they have a significant backlist, and each title--or most of them--are doing like figures. They're the new publishers, and like the ones they hope to replace, they obviously aren't interested in "low to midlisters."

It doesn't mean they aren't a good deal, but newbie authors won't often be invited into the fold, and probably with just one or two or three books, can't afford losing the 15% anyway.

Cheryl Tardif said...

Thank you, Selena and JDM. It's been exciting to watch such massive changes in my income happen virtually overnight.

Today I'm experimenting with one of my slow sellers, a romantic suspense written under a pen name of Cherish D'Angelo. It's already had over 1500 free downloads in the first half of the day. I'm very interested to see how it does in relation to my other titles.

From my results, it appears that the more free downloads I've had, the higher sales I've had. That's kind of the reverse of what so many were worried about.

Selena, I think you hit on a hot top--covers. I've always said your cover and description text will make or break your book.

To those discussing "legacy" aka traditional publishers and the need for a publisher, I think it's like everything else in this biz and definitely like self-publishing. Some will want to s/p or will want a publisher, and some won't.

I'm the publisher at Imajin Books. We're a new company, only a year old, and we don't operate exactly like the old legacy pubs. We offer higher royalties and better terms. And believe me, we're turning people away, so the demand is still there. Some writers just prefer handing over the techy stuff to someone else and they like being under the umbrella of a publishing company.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif
www.cherylktardif.blogspot.com

J. Eathen Satterwhite said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristin said...

As a former "chick lit" author whose been told no, thank you, we'd like to see more romance, I appreciate this article, and your writing. The problem with straight romance is that it doesn't give you enough room for voice -- if your voice is indeed chick lit. And I'm 45, so do you really want me writing only YA? Probably not unless you want me to tell you how groovy my new gauchos are.

My books are all still in print, so unfortunately for me, the rights aren't mine on ebooks, but this gives me pause for the future! Thanks for being so bold!

brian january said...

I'm glad you're out here with these discussions--fascinating to an indie author like me!

Brian January