Monday, May 14, 2012

Agent Fail

This morning I was alerted to a big mistake lit agent Scott Eagan made, and then his humorous attempt to cover it up by deleting it, all documented nicely here at Passive Guy's blog. (See, Scott? It's important on the Internet to LINK to posts you reference.)

I was going to spend the morning excoriating the moron, but the commentors at Passive Voice have done an admirable job already, meaning I didn't need to draw extra attention to the stupid things he said.

So instead I'm going to draw attention to the stupid things agent Steve Laube says in his post Goodbye to Traditional Publishing?.

Steve's nonsense in italics, my responses in bold.

Recently Ann Voss Peterson wrote of her decision to never sign another contract with Harlequin. One major statistic from the article is that she sold 170,000 copies of a book but earned only $20,000.
Multiple clients sent me Peterson’s “Harlequin Fail” article and wanted my opinion. My first thought is that this was the typical “a publisher is ripping me off” fodder. But that would be a simplistic and knee-jerk reaction and unfair to both Peterson and Harlequin.
Joe sez: Hmm. What if I said this was typical "agents siding with publishers" fodder?
Well, I'd be right. More and more agents are siding with publishers. Because publishers are who pay them, and if all authors begin to self-publish then agents will be out of business. So, as much as it is a conflict of interest for an agent to side with a publisher, I can understand why agents are doing so, wrong as they may be.
If the plea of "a publisher is ripping me off" is fodder, I'd like to see links to those posts you're alluding to so I may scrutinize their veracity. Because publishers ARE being very unfair to writers, as I've shown many times
As an agent, shouldn't you care that this is happening? Why are so many authors saying this? With all that fodder, should this be a topic you casually dismiss?
Yes, Harlequin pays a modest royalty that is less than some publishers. Since when is that news? That has always been their business model because it is the only way to create and maintain an aggressive Direct-to-Consumer and Trade publishing program. Their publishing machine is huge and they are a “for profit” company. For Profit. If they are unprofitable, they go away.
Joe sez: See this? Everyone look closely! This is a rope! Everyone look at this rope that I'm holding up! Now watch what happens next! 
If an author is uncomfortable with the terms, then don’t sign the contract (which is Peterson’s decision going forward). I urge each of you to be careful not to sign a contract and then complain about it later. Unless you were completely hoodwinked you agreed to those terms and should abide by them.
Joe sez: I agree. Ann could have refused to sign the contract, and instead gone to work in a factory with unsafe conditions where employees have no benefits and are paid pennies.
This is called exploitation. It happens when companies try to make profits at the expense of another person's labor without paying them adequate compensation.
I think we can all agree that exploitation is a bad thing, whether the person signed up to work in an unsafe factory, or promised to work off their passage to America from a foreign country, or got 2.4% royalties on a book that sold 180,000 copies. 
Understand that I am not being critical of this lady’s decision. It is her choice to do so.
Joe sez: This is called Blaming the Victim. It's when people are partially blamed for their own maltreatment. Because you ARE being critical. That is the point of your blog post.


For the record, Ann didn't complain. She simply expressed sadness. Like I can express sadness about the 600,000 homeless people in America. Sure, there are homeless! Since when is that news? Why should we try to change anything or do anything about it?

BTW, click here to donate to a charity to help end homelessness
But my issue is not with the money (although it is important) it is a larger question. She says she has sold 170,000 books but not made that much money. For the record Peterson has signed with Thomas Mercer which is one of the publishing divisions of Amazon.com…a traditional publisher of sorts, so she may still reach a 100,000 plus audience. So is it all about the money and not about number of readers? If Peterson had chosen to go Indie (solo) and published using the e-book option (like the Kindle Direct Program) and sold 10,000 copies she would make the same amount of money. BUT she would have 160,000 fewer readers! One Hundred and Sixty Thousand.
Joe sez: Everyone remember that rope from earlier? This is what happens when someone brings a noose to their own hanging. It's funny, and sad, all at once.
Steve, you said earlier that Harlequin's publishing machine is a huge "for profit" company. 
I may be wrong, but it's my guess that many writers, Ann included, cite writing as their job. A job is "for profit" isn't it? That's why they list it as such on their income taxes, and have to pay the IRS. It certainly isn't for altruism, or to help mankind, or to fulfill some hidden inner fetish to lick a piece of paper with her name on it.
Ann is in this for the same reason Harlequin is: to make money. That's what professional writers do.
Are you a professional agent, Steve? I've never heard of you before, but a cursory surfing of your website shows you do accept queries. So here is a serious question: would you represent a writer for 2.4% commission?
Maybe you would. Maybe you wouldn't. But what if every writer you repped demanded that you only accept 2.4%? What if the only writers you could work with were those who said, "You get 2.4% and that's all. If you're uncomfortable with those terms, don't sign with me."
Then you'd have zero clients. Would that be your fault? Would it be a case of being  bullied out of the business because you couldn't afford to make a living? Or would you accept it because you were forced to and had no one on your side to help you get better terms?
See how a choice isn't really a choice?
Consider the stadium where the Arizona Cardinals (NFL) plays seats 63,000. So, in essence this author’s choice could mean walking away from three stadium sized audiences for her stories.
In Peterson’s case it does not appear to be a dollars vs. readers issue because she has signed with another publisher. But for many who are frustrated with their publishing experience it is a good question to ask.
Joe sez: No, Steve. It's a loaded, terrible question. It plays on a writer's desire to be read, to be accepted. It treats us as hobbyists who are to be satisfied with pats on the head rather than fair pay for hard work.
Would you trade your commission for a pat on the head and a good feeling that you reached people? If so, how about representing writers for free? You'd sure make a lot of them happy. And that's what it's all about, right? Making as many people happy as possible, regardless of getting paid for it? Don't walk away from all those writers, just because they don't pay you!
Reaching 170,000 readers is a rare place in this busy industry. And don’t forget that the success of those numbers made her an attractive acquisition for Amazon.com . That is not the case for most writers whose midlist numbers can be depressing. (Read CBA fiction author Eric Wilson who laid out his income while publishing with traditional publishers over a ten year period and has chosen to go a different route with his new books.)
If you wish to wave goodbye to traditional publisher and go Indie (independent) I believe the first question to ask is whether or not you want to start a small business. Just like an entrepreneur.  Those authors who are entrepreneurs are ideally suited for the self-publishing route. The understand the energy it takes and pitfalls ahead.
Joe sez: After all, if you sign with a legacy publisher, all you have to do is write the book. You don't have to spend any time or money promoting it. You can be lazy and do nothing and those legacy dollars will come rolling in anyway.
Have all the writers reading stopped laughing yet?
I spent a great deal more time and money promoting my legacy career than I've spent on my self-pubbed titles, and anyone who reads my blog knows my numbers. I'm not the only one. I urge those who agree to post in the comments section.


The second question is whether they can sell enough copies to make it all worthwhile. And are also are willing to take responsibility if a book fails.
Joe sez: Huh? Self-publishing is free in many cases. Covers and formatting can be self-taught, with the only expense being time. Personally I pay $350 for an ebook cover, and around $200 for formatting, and then I made 70% forever, as opposed to Ann, who makes 2.4% forever and still does things like travel to conventions to promote her Harlequin titles. She just went to Romantic Times. And she spent more than $550 to sign a dozen copies of her Harlequin titles.
But if Ann's book fails, she gets blamed by Harlequin, who refuse to publish any of her new titles. Just like every legacy publisher. The authors gets blamed and dropped.
A self-publish ebook can't be dropped. A self-published ebook is forever. Forever is a long time to recoup that personal investment.
But not all artists are entrepreneurs. I know of many authors who have gone this route. One sold 1,000 copies of their e-book in a year. Another is averaging about $1,000 in revenue each month…but had to self-publish ten books to reach that threshold. Another has sold about 2,500 e-copies in a few months but the numbers are slowing considerably. Each of these writers can get much more guaranteed income from going the traditional route. Their indie effort is nice income (in this business any income is nice) but it is not a replacement.
Joe sez: More than a thousand KDP authors now sell over 1000 ebooks a month. In some of those cases, it IS a healthy replacement for the piss-poor advances and low royalties of legacy publishers.
Writers and readers are essential, Steve. The industry can't exist without them. But you know who isn't essential? Agents. Especially agents who spout bullshit such as a writer can get a much "more guaranteed income from going the traditional route."
Every author who tries to self-publish can self-publish, and they'll earn something. Last I checked, not every author who tries to land a publisher, or an agent as adept as you, succeeds. Something is always more than nothing. Earning 70% forever is a better bet than a tiny advance that may never earn out, but you'll still never get the rights back.
And how do you explain the fact that Ann earns more money on her self-pubbed ebooks--two novels and three short stories--than she does on over 25 Harlequin novels still in print?
How do you explain me, who made $100,ooo in a three week period last December and January, on books NY publishers rejected?
How do you explain Bob Mayer, Lee Goldberg, Barry Eisler, Scott Nicholson, Blake Crouch, and dozens of other legacy authors who have chosen to publish works as indies because they're not only making more money, but selling more copies (something you seem to be weirdly fixated on.)
P.S. In my opinion it is wrong to compare Amazon’s traditional publishing divisions (like Thomas Mercer) with other publishers. 
Joe sez: I agree. Amazon pays authors more, and treats them like customers, not like fungible factory workers. And I'm not talking about factory workers who have a union and get benefits. Writers don't have a single organization that stands up for them. The AAR and the Author's Guild both failed miserably.
Amazon is so incredibly large and diversified that they could lose money on publishing for five years and still be profitable elsewhere. For a company like Harlequin they are solely vested in publishing (not Zappos shoes, or used books, or electronics). Thus their cost structure is different. Amazon has brilliantly used their economic model and created one that takes advantage of their infrastructure without having to build from scratch.
Joe sez: So it is entirely okay for a company to exploit authors, as long as their cost structure requires it?
Why am I extremely happy you aren't negotiating any publishing contracts for me?
Is that a defense of traditional publishing? It could be seen that way. But it is more a reminder not to compare oranges with apples. They are not identical.
Joe sez: Your service is to your clients, Steve. Defending Harlequin is appalling, but coming from an agent, it is unforgivable. 
Your clients would best be served if you were trying to make deals with Amazon, which offers the best pay in the business, and if you were vilifying Harlequin, which could begin the process of change. If enough agents did that, Harlequin would be forced to improve their royalties, because they'd have no authors left.
But you'd rather pick on Ann in an obviously self-serving manner, when Ann has more guts in her little finger than you have in your whole body.
Shame on you.

93 comments:

Warren Fahy said...

A lot of people who make a living publishing books seem to think it's OK that the the people who WRITE them don't. This kind of ecosystem always collapses.

Warren Fahy

Tom Simon said...

What was that story I read in Aesop the other day?

There was this wolf, see, and this sheep, who needed to do business with the wolf but knew it was going to be dangerous. So the sheep hired a fox to be her agent.

The fox got 15 percent of the sheep.

Randy Morris said...

Why does everyone in the traditional publishing business try to make Amazon out to be some sort of bully because they have a great business model?

I recently just finished my history degree and my final paper was a 25 page paper on Constantine and his methods for ruling and governing his empire. A 25 page article that traditional publishers surely won't even look at ever. I made a cover and formatted it... made sure I put in the time to make it a great article. I tossed it on Amazon for $0.99 and the first week it was up I had 20 sales and a borrow. Considering borrows were $2.48 last month... That's just under $10. I know that's not great but that's more than I'll ever make any other way.

I'm also so sick of everyone saying that the traditional publishers were gatekeepers that kept crappy writing out. Seriously? How then are there ANY authors on Amazon that have sold over 1,000 copies. What really happened is that traditional publishers ONLY think in the tens of thousands or millions and they either get it right or let golden novels walk away. How is that being an effective gatekeeper?

Anyways... thanks for an awesome post Joe.

-Randy

http://www.amazon.com/Constantine-The-Emperor-Tolerance-ebook/dp/B007V5AG06/

Anonymous said...

Scott Eagan is local to me, and 'teaches' how to get published classes at a local community college. I went to one once. I was extremely unimpressed.

Mari Stroud said...

Ah, yes, the good old argument where everyone else is allowed to make a profit except for the artist, who must do it FOR LOVE. I'll try that argument with my plumber and see about how well he takes it.

And Scott really ought to remember that the internet is forever. Beware the screencap.

Archangel said...

positioning Harlequin as a poor cousin in a tattered wagon shivering in the snows on a little ice floe, is absurd. They are a multi-million dollar company whose CEOs/CFOs make king's ransom salaries plus bennies.

Let's look at Harlequin's annual report and line item budget.

drcpe

William said...

It's interesting that publishers have been so profit driven these days and now they are finally being driven into the ground. If they can't become profitable they got to change!

“the test of a publishing genius … is the ability to keep ahead of the times, to change your whole set of standards, overnight, if needs be.” From Dawn Powell’s ’A Time to Be Born’ 1942.

Anonymous said...

Damn! I really wish I'd read Scott Eagan's tips on how to self publish sooner.

As it is, I've only made $75,000 so far this year as a self published author.

Just think how much I would have made if I'd only followed his sage advice!

Edward G. Talbot said...

"As an agent, shouldn't you care that this is happening? Why are so many authors saying this that it has become fodder you can casually dismiss?"

If he shoots himself in the foot other places in his argument, this is the one where he's aiming more for the medulla oblangata. If that many authors are complaining - authors being the people who actually provide the content - Sir William of Occam would suggest that it may indicate a problem worth looking into.

Jessica Park said...

A year ago on Mother's Day, my debit card wouldn't process $25 at the grocery store. I put out my book, and within months was making $5000 a month. Last November, Amazon featured my book Flat-Out Love on a list and I sold 45,000 copies that month. Can't imagine going back to a legacy publisher. Ever.

Jill James said...

Ditto what Warren Fahy said. Like it is okay for Harlequin and publishers to make mega-bucks off of us because they have overhead that needs it, but we (authors) don't.

Anonymous said...

As someone who is on the periphery of self publishing and traditional publishing. What shocks me is, instead of trying to build their worth, Agents, Managers and Publishing Houses, are trying to rock back the clock to the way things use to be or at the very least hope that when the self publishing smoke clears, they will still be holding the reins.

They have lost their hold on publishing, those days are over and they just can't face it yet.

This is a great opportunity but they are wasting it and someone will enter to fill the void, it always happens. They are losing their influence because of their pigheadedness.

The Phantom Husband

Jeff Shelby said...

The comments on Steve's blog are tremendously entertaining...

kathie said...

This post leaves me speechless. Wow. I've had books passed on for being too small and quiet, for not having a market...60,000 book sales later on my own...I'd say people were mistaken. What is wrong with people?

Morgan Eckstein said...

As a writer, I should not have to make a living flipping burgers, just for the "benefit" of having more eyeballs on my writing.

Pale Rambler said...

Well said!

Elizabeth Reinhardt said...

I self-pub Mature YA, the very books agents "read in two days, but don't think there's a market for."

Fair enough. I got a cover artist, editors, set a fair price, and put a book up. Last month I doubled what I brought in per month as a teacher. The book agents assured me there was no market for gets fan mail, positive reviews, and enough sales to change the way I live on a daily basis.

I sold over 2,000 books last month and it looks like I'll probably do that again this month. I'm going to keep putting out quality books at my own pace, written with passion, networked by readers and bloggers who love the written word (and to whom I owe tremendous thanks!), and I hope to keep doing the same for years to come.

I once wrote a guest post for Scott Egan, hoping to gain the attention of an agent, any agent. Now I spend the time I used to spend worrying about breaking into the industry writing books readers enjoy, and I would never consider traditional publishing. I love being my own boss and writing what I'm passionate about.

Jamie McGuire said...

I've never published traditionally, but as an unknown a year ago, and now on the NYT with nothing but a manuscript and a Facebook page for marketing, I can say with confidence that self-publishing sells itself. I'm going to make over 100K for the month of May just from Amazon, from just four titles. No agents. No publishers. Just KDP's 70% and the upload button.

Joseph Finley said...

Joe - thank you, this needed to be said! Logic and facts will always defeat BS!

Beth Orsoff said...

Amen brother!

Melanie Walsh said...

Another great, on-point post, Joe. It's a shame you have to devote so much time correcting the fictions that perpetuate from that side of the publishing fence.

Regards
Mel

John Perich said...

Excellent response.

It puzzles me whenever someone tries to use "you didn't HAVE to sign that contract" as a defense against "this contract sucks." The former doesn't rebut the latter! They sail past each other like happy arrows.

Suzan Harden said...

Uh, yeah, these are all the same agents and editors who said there was no market for a bionic zombie. Frankly, I like those zeros after the first number on my monthly deposits. *grin*

Oh, and Joe, you might want to think about doing your blog posts as audio books or podcasts. My husband was laughing his ass off as I read this post to him.

Kallypso Masters said...

I simply don't understand why agents, publishers, and even some authors feel so threatened by us self-published authors. Maybe it's jealousy--we didn't have to suffer for years or decades to make it.

I'm perfectly content with authors choosing to go the traditional route (although I'd never recommend it to author friends who ask me).

I chose the self-pub route a year ago because I needed to make a living at writing FAST or I'd have to go search for another evil day jobI s Started writing my first published work in May 2011, published it in August, published the second book (written originally 2.5 years earlier and rewritten three times last year to get it right) in September, and a third book in December (written late last year).

I started making five figures a month in January of this year and it hasn't slowed down, despite the fact I'm woefully behind on publishing book 4 due to family health issues and the intensity of the story I'm writing.

Needless to say, though, I didn't have to go job hunting this spring and am on target to make six figures this year.

I may not be the biggest self-pub success out there, but I am just happy to be making a living at something I enjoy the hell out of. If I'd gone traditional, I'd be lucky to have even one book out yet. Then I'd have to wait yet another year to earn any money. Instead, I've sold 15,000 of my first book; 14,000 of my second; and 12,500 of my third.

The self-publishing life has been bery, bery good to me!

Don't let the naysayers get you down if this is where you want to be. Do hire professionals for editing and covers. And write a good book. That's all there is to it. I didn't spend money on advertising or getting a web site up or anything else until March of this year--because word of mouth is still the best advertising and if you get people talking about your books to their friends, you'll have it made. (And I write in a genre where people don't always admit what they're reading with family and friends!)

Hang in there and stick to your guns! I hope everyone can live the dream of being a full-time writer soon!

Kally

Anonymous said...

If I have to give away my books for 'free' I rather do that without mediators (aka publishers), that way I can at least make some lunch money.

D. L. Kung said...

"The AAR and the Author's Guild both failed miserably."

The AAR president Gail Hochman is the agent of the Author's Guild president Scott Turow. They are both beholden to Turow's publisher Grand Central, an imprint of the giant Hachette, named in the DOJ lawsuit.

It's very cozy and I'll keep making this point as I think it's a fallacy to see these as major organizational failures. Instead it's a ripe example of how incestuous New York publishing is.

Archangel said...

Joe is right: exploitation. Just a cursory investigation of Harlequin financial report for first quarter. They are owned by Torstar in Canada, who also owns Metroland Media Group, Torstar Digital and Star Media Group. Torstar along with Harlequin is traded on the stock exchange. Dividends are up this quarter for shareholders.

Harliquin's income is HUMONGOUS. They have plenty enough money to pay their authors a living wage. They bill themselves as planetary leader in women's content. 95% sales are outside canada. Harlequin is canada's "Most successful publishers."

Imprints: inc Harlequin, MIRA, HQN, LUNA, Kimani Press and Carina Press. In 2009, Harlequin TEEN, added.

Harlequin has non-fiction program. inc "a broad range of editorial content... self-help, health/diet/fitness, relationships, narrative and inspirational."

"Harlequin continues to explore high-growth publishing niches and innovative new formats. Harlequin has entered the e-book market through distribution agreements with e-retailers in North America, and MANY of Harlequin's overseas markets. Harlequin has the largest offering of romance e-books in the digital publishing market.

uthors collectively enjoyed a record high 257 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller Lists in 2010, up 10% over 2009.

And this especially: "Harlequin more than tripled its North American digital revenues, in 2010."
ANd THIS: "Harlequin continues to develop its non-fiction program and to expand internationally, recently acquiring full ownership of its German operations, establishing a landed business in Turkey and partnering with licensees in Vietnam and the Philippines."

And THIS: "Harlequin’s Japanese operation has an agreement with Softbank Creative Corp., a large provider of cell phone services in Japan, to distribute digital manga (comic) content, based on Harlequin’s novels, on cell phones and Internet distribution sites world-wide."

{My 02? All Harlequin past authors should ask Harlequin if they are 'enrolled' in this book-to-manga gig, and if so, should be getting paid for this 'illustrative right' to their work.}

"During 2009, Harlequin also launched a digital-first publishing operation, Carina Press, which began publishing in the summer of 2010, and Dellarte Press, ****a self-publishing imprint."***

There is no way with such aggressive carpeting of the universe by Harlequin that they do not have HUGE revenues enough in order to pay authors who have SUCH massive output [a talent in itself] MORE than a mereling living wage.

Considering the authors in harness in the literal rowing galleys of Harlequin ( not the print galleys,) the author-rowers should be, in my opinion, taking home 50% net. Just as compensation for being the engines that run the entire ship. Harlequin may have built the ship, but it aint going nowhere without the huge engines, meaning the massive number of authors.

And that crap about 'you knew what you were signing when you signed it' .. yes, and the young woman from Okeefenokee knew you were going to rape her when she agreed to go to your room.

How the hell does a signed agreement sideloaded to massively favor the publisher only, with pittance for a naive or misinformed author constitute honest and just? It doesnt.

To any publishers who have not only knowingly done this, knowing they are not paying the authors what they are worth and what the company can well afford, and who smirk in their sleeves about how clever they are to fool authors who only want to write and be read... Ethics is higher than the law ... for those who have conscience, you jerks.

Anonymous said...

Konrath, when you know very little about the inner goings on with the publishing world, it's best to show more respect. I can't help but notice your own profit goals on the right side of this page to lure in unknowing want-to-be authors.. use my cover designer, use my this, that, etc. I hope you don't have dreams of working with agents because this definitely looks bad on you and is rippling through the pub world. Harlequin was ripping off many authors and there were precious few agents that really stuck their neck out there, paying all costs up front to take them to court.. but they did! All FOR their authors sake, not their own sake. Same with other publishing house injustices, the agent fought for the author. So shame on you for bashing agents when some fight hard for their authors as they should. Not all agents are good, just like not all writers can write. Clearly this author's agent wasn't one that fought the system. She should have picked a new and better agent.

The good agents are out there and they're worth their weight in gold. Ebook publishing doesn't threaten agents whatsoever. Agents want their authors to earn as much money as possible if they know their job.

Marilyn Peake said...

HaHaHa, loved your running commentary, Joe! That was awesome.

antares said...

Joe,

You are in good company.
Dean Wesley Smith on agents
http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=6876

COLIN FALCONER said...

Go, Joe. Love it.

Ibin said...

Hello Joe. There's a lot of controversy around this subject and people that criticize are usually those who aren't published themselves, have a 'golden spoon' deal or have self published from the start.

Ivin said...

Hello Joe. There's a lot of controversy around this subject and people that criticize are usually those who aren't published themselves, have a 'golden spoon' deal or have self published from the start.

Mark Terry said...

You bring up (sideways) an interesting idea.

Hey, Agents! Want to impress authors! Want to work on a new paradigm?

How about this?

Instead of your standard 15% no matter how successful you are, instead, you get the exact same percentage you negotiate on behalf of your author.

So, if you negotiate 8% on e-book rights, that's what you get, too.

If you negotiate 40%, you get 40%, too.

If you negotiate 2.4%, guess what? You suck, because it doesn't have anything to do with the publisher exploiting you, right? It's that you couldn't negotiate a better percentage for yourself.

T.A.K. said...

Anonymous said, “The god agents are out there and they’re worth their weight in gold.”

That cliche tells us so much because it’s so precise and informative.

The fact that in the past some agents have actually done things in the best interests of writers does not say that if I hire an agent right now, that agent will be “worth her weight in gold” when in the current publishing environment, the interests of agents are more closely aligned to publishers than writers.

Can an agent negotiate a contract better than a lawyer? (Paying a lawyer a flat fee to negotiate a contract is cheaper than 15 percent forever.) Can an agent upload an ebook to kindle better than a writer?

Can an agent “sell” a book to a publisher better than the writer can?

Some editors do say "Agented submissions only."

First off, Mr. Laube makes clear why a publishing house like Harlequin wants only agented. Isn’t “agented only” - if the agents are like Mr. Laube – just a way of saying, "We will only work with writers willing to be led by the nose."

I have found, though, that most editors who say "agented only" are simply trying to keep their inboxes from being flooded, and in fact, they read and request unagented submissions.

T.A.K. said...

Funny mistake -- I wrote "god agents" instead of "good agents."

Funny error.

Joe Konrath said...

Thanks, Anon, for posting this. I get fidgety when everyone agrees.

Konrath, when you know very little about the inner goings on with the publishing world, it's best to show more respect.

Respect is earned. So is contempt. What I've seen lately with Turow and Lipskar and the AAR and Laube here is not respect-worthy.

I can't help but notice your own profit goals on the right side of this page to lure in unknowing want-to-be authors.. use my cover designer, use my this, that, etc.

How do I profit from helping authors and designers link up? I recommend those people because they are excellent. That's all I get out of it.

I hope you don't have dreams of working with agents because this definitely looks bad on you and is rippling through the pub world.

I have a very good agent already. I believe she is too smart, and has too much integrity, to drop me because she may not agree with me on certain issues.

Harlequin was ripping off many authors and there were precious few agents that really stuck their neck out there, paying all costs up front to take them to court.. but they did! All FOR their authors sake, not their own sake. Same with other publishing house injustices, the agent fought for the author.

That's great (it would be nice if you cited some sources) but what does that have to do with the bad agents I'm exposing?

So shame on you for bashing agents when some fight hard for their authors as they should.

I'm not bashing agents. I'm taking a few select ones to task, and criticizing the organization they've joined.

Not all agents are good, just like not all writers can write. Clearly this author's agent wasn't one that fought the system. She should have picked a new and better agent.

I agree. She should have gotten the newest Agent Catalog and picked out one she liked, then clipped out the coupon and mailed her purchase to Agents R Us, and her new agent would arrive within 5-7 business days.

Or maybe you've heard that getting agents isn't easy, and often it is a choice between the one who accepts you, or none at all.

Good luck submitting to a Big 6 publisher with none at all.

The good agents are out there and they're worth their weight in gold.

The good agents are worth more than the 15% they take. The bad agents are not. If your agent makes you more income than it costs to keep her, she's good.

Ebook publishing doesn't threaten agents whatsoever. Agents want their authors to earn as much money as possible if they know their job.

Sure. So when the publishers are mostly gone and authors are mostly-self publishing, how will agents earn money? I may be wrong, but aren't book deals the largest percentage of their income?

Cluelass said...

As a lifelong avid reader, I am thankful that so many people have the talent and desire to write. I love reading and I've read many, many good authors over the years. I firmly believe that these authors deserve to make a living doing the thing they do (and love) best! It's utterly ridiculous to believe that an author is only worth 2.4% of the profits, while a publishing executive, (which is pretty much a job tons of people can do and requires little talent) get the lion's share. I'm happy that companies such as Amazon exist - they benefit both readers and authors and make money doing it. That's a win, win situation in my book!

Ann Voss Peterson said...

It's one thing to read terms in a contract. It's another to see how those terms translate into dollars. All I did in my guest post was share the numbers on my royalty statement. I think it's interesting that this is somehow considered controversial and some people like the agents Joe calls out in this post are characterizing me as upset.

I am not upset. I am not blaming or whining. I am not a victim. I am not hysterical.

I AM a professional author. Writing is how I've earned my living for the past twelve years. I write for the love of it, but I publish as a business.

New writers: Information equals power. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise. Being as informed as you can about the profession you're in is not controversial or disloyal. It's good business.

Writing has its own rewards. But if you decide to wade into publishing, be a good business person, too.

J.M.Cornwell said...

Steve seems to forget that in order to make money, you have to spend money. Harlequin isn't spending money on its authors, as my own personal experience of Harlequin authors proves, but I'll bet it spends money wining and dining agents to keep them coming back with new grist for the mill.

"Sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt."

Dan DeWitt said...

Here's a comment on Steve Laube's post:

"In point of fact, I suppose I would have to say yes. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s great that J. K. Rowling made a lot more than the original £1000 she received from the publisher. But here’s the thing: anything we receive that exceeds what it takes for us to survive is an overflow of the blessings of God. My point is that $20,000 is more than enough for Ann Voss Peterson to live on during the time she was writing the novel. Outside of that, she can either write another book or get another job."

Dead man walking!

Ann Voss Peterson said...

"Not all agents are good, just like not all writers can write. Clearly this author's agent wasn't one that fought the system. She should have picked a new and better agent."

Anon--

Do you know of any agents who have successfully negotiated changes to the royalty rates for Harlequin's series lines for an author who is not a huge name (such as Nora Roberts)? If you do, that would be a valuable piece of information to share. It would also be very good for that particular agent's reputation. I know of hundreds of authors who will be awaiting your answer, including me.

Don't assume Harlequin authors aren't informed. Don't assume we don't talk among ourselves. Don't assume we haven't had discussions with agents, ours and others, about this very topic.

If you have something to share, why not share? If you're blowing smoke, then feel free to slink away.

Barry Eisler said...

Joe, you do a great job -- and a great service -- of demonstrating how common these agent love letters to publishers are becoming. If the culture of publishing were different, more people might pause and consider how bizarre and unseemly it is for literary agents, who take 15% from the authors they nominally represent, to publish posts scorning authors and praising publishers. At a minimum -- a minimum -- the suck-ups create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Yet few people notice. The best analogy I can come up with is the White House Correspondent's dinner, where the most powerful people in government and the "watchdog press" that purportedly holds them to account get together for a convivial evening of eating, drinking, and mutual backslapping. Bad enough that this cozy relationship between parties that are supposed to be adversarial exists. But even worse that most people yawn in the face of public displays celebrating these cozy ties.

As Bob Mayer asked, where is the AAR's public letter demanding a better digital split for authors? Or demanding a less insane way of reporting and paying royalties? Or demanding an end to impossible and antiquated out-of-print clauses in favor of shorter license terms and a guaranteed minimum wage for authors like the one Passive Guy has recommended? Or demanding an end to future rights lockups?

Authors, don't you *want* your agents, and the Association of Authors' Representatives of which they are part, to coordinate to demand these things on your behalf? Why are they not doing so? Why is okay that instead of publicly, collectively, effectively acting on these matters and others that are so obviously in our interest at authors, they're spending time and energy fiercely advocating on behalf of the publishers against whom they're theoretically adversarial? We shouldn't accept this state of affairs. We should be outraged by it. And so should the Authors Guild -- but the AG, too, prefers to spend its time defending the publishing practices that hurt authors rather than fighting them.

The worst part about the way various agents and publishers work in concert and identify with each other isn't that it exists. The worst part is that it's right out in the open -- and so few people are willing to recognize it, and call it out, for what it is. Kudos, Joe.

Hairhead said...

Charles Dickens wrote about this more than a century ago. Do the words "Please sir, may I have some more?" ring any bells?

And the agents are the publishers are responding to the writers the same way the Beadle responded to poor, little, starving Oliver Twist.

What is MOST disingenuous about the agent's rant is his hand-waving over "number of readers" versus "making money". Again, the subtext is clear: "We in Publishing, we Agents, Editors, Sub-Editors, Office Flunkies, Lawyers, we all Get To Make Money, because, well . . . just because, okay! You writers, well, we love you, and your fans love you! That should be enough. NOW GET BACK TO WORK, PEONS!! AND SHUT THE FUCK UP!!

And these people *never* argue, or make an argument. It's all "YOU WILL RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH!"

Scott said...

I was struck by the part where it said she was leaving "160,000 readers" on the table. Where does it say that? It said that she made as much selling 10,000 books self publishing as she did selling 170,000 books with Harlequin. It didn't say she was going to stop selling books when she hit 10K. If she tells a good story, and writes well (and from what I've read so far of PUSHED TOO FAR, she does both), 10K is the bottom limit...

Rachel Wilder said...

What I don't understand is why self-pubbed authors feel the need to tell those of us pursuing traditional publishing via an agent that we're being idiotic morons and wasting our valuable time.

Who are you to judge writers like me who want to do it the "old-fashioned" way? You give off a *very* bad vibe to those of us who are leery of self-pubbed titles because 90% of them are rubbish.

The more things I see from self-pubbed authors, the more I want to stay away from it. You all tend to be a bunch of very angry, self-righteous, judgmental bigots.

And on the Christian side of publishing, Steve Laube happens to be one of the very best agents in the business. His client list may not mean anything to you, but it's a Who's Who of CBA authors, including multiple bestsellers, RITA and Christy winners. I count well over a dozen of them as very good friends. One of the authors in his agency, a major publisher revamped their ENTIRE historical romance line to make her the new direction of that genre.

You've no right whatsoever to pass judgment on those of us who are turned off on self-pubbing, because of people like you.

T Ludlow said...

Have you ever heard of the expression 'brown nose'? We have it in the UK; not sure if it's that well known in the US. A brown nose is what you get from kissing someone's backside.

Scott's lips must be really sore by now. I hope Harlequin is appreciating the effort.

T Ludlow said...

Rachel Wilder: "What I don't understand is why self-pubbed authors feel the need to tell those of us pursuing traditional publishing via an agent that we're being idiotic morons and wasting our valuable time."

I don't recall anyone calling you an idiot or a moron. Or anyone suggesting that your time is the least bit valuable.

"90% of them are rubbish."

You're right, and they are quickly forgotten, along with all the bad trad books. The good ones do well for the reasons that any book does well - word of mouth.


'And on the Christian side of publishing, Steve Laube happens to be one of the very best agents in the business.'

So what? No-one said all agents are bad.

Seems you've posted here with some pretty strong pre-conceived ideas. Sorry, who was the bigot again?

Aric Mitchell said...

@Rachel: There are a lot of good books--no, great books--put out by legacy publishers. But there is a lot of crap, too. I, for one, don't want them to go away. Rather, I don't want them to slash their own throats, the way they've been doing.

That being said, it's my perception that the condescending, smug, hateful attitudes come more from the legacy end than the self-publishing communities.

My experience with self-publishers, even the successful ones, is that they're a giving bunch, always accessible and willing to boost a newbie's career. They don't forget where they come from the way many legacy authors do.

Take Joe, who though he has been criticized for tone on countless occasions, has launched more writing careers with his blog and his attitude than most agents do in an entire lifetime.

Maybe the self-pub crowd seems a little salty right now because they're addressing the almost criminal act of a publisher selling 170,000 copies of an author's book and paying her only 10 cents per copy. They're also addressing an agent, whose very job is to represent the best interests of the author, siding with a publisher that would do such a thing. That same agent also tried to insult our collective intelligence as authors (and to some degree succeeded as seen with your post) by stating that 170,000 readers and no money is more desired than 10,000 with a greater profit margin.

If you agree with that, then you're not a professional writer. You're a hobbyist.

And if all that's not enough to get you angry, if that's something you're willing to accept, then good luck with your writing hobby. The rest of us will treat our work like the business it is. Business can sometimes be mean and mercenary. But it's either that, or we can keep begging for dimes.

Joe Konrath said...

What I don't understand is why self-pubbed authors feel the need to tell those of us pursuing traditional publishing via an agent that we're being idiotic morons and wasting our valuable time.

It's easy to understand. You are being exploited. That you don't recognize your exploitation is because of Stockholm Syndrome.

In layman's terms: 70% royalties is better than 2.4% royalties. Posts like this are meant to show writers there is more than being used by publishers.

Who are you to judge writers like me who want to do it the "old-fashioned" way?

I'm J.A. Konrath. Google me. My house is not glass, so I throw stones. I also welcome being judged by others. The more, the merrier.

to those of us who are leery of self-pubbed titles because 90% of them are rubbish.

Last I heard, there were over 100,000 self-pubbed titles in the KDP Select Program. You did NOT read 90,000 of them unless you can perform miracles. So you CAN'T say 90% are rubbish.

You all tend to be a bunch of very angry, self-righteous, judgmental bigots.

What a Christian thing for you to say.

His client list may not mean anything to you, but it's a Who's Who of CBA authors, including multiple bestsellers, RITA and Christy winners.

And his post is being disingenuous and patronizing to all of them, and siding with a publisher is unethical and a clear conflict of interest. I made that clear.

Instead of attacking me and voicing disapproval, do what I did. Show me how I'm wrong, like I showed Steve was wrong. Because he's wrong.

You've no right whatsoever to pass judgment on those of us who are turned off on self-pubbing, because of people like you.

Last I checked, freedom of speech gave me that right.

But you've got no right calling yourself a Christian when you act like a such a jerk.

M.P. McDonald said...

I had to comment on Steve's post because one thing in particular, which I haven't seen mentioned, caught my eye. Here's what I posted:

"So, if it's just about sheer number of readers, when I query you or any agent, seeking representation, it's okay to count approx. 86,000 free downloads of my books in addition to the 42,000 paid ones--because after all, it's a football-sized stadium worth of readers. But wait, I've seen agents mock indie authors who have counted those readers. So which is more important, the readers or the paid downloads?"

I really have seen agents scorn free downloads as not being worth mentioning, but they seem to think it's okay when someone else makes the money, like Harlequin while the author barely gets paid.

Gerard de Marigny said...

It's so weird.

I used to be a little skiddish being indie published, with the occasional agent reaching out to me ... feelin' all back of the bus.

But now I feel like I got big brutha Joe-K. watchin' my back. I walk around like Richie Cunningham now, knowing if you fool with me, Fonzie (read: Joe-K) got my back.

"You want a piece of me, Mr. Agent? Talk to my big brutha Joe-K!"

If agents get shifty with me, I draw brutha Joe-K out (tell 'em I'm one of his devout followers) like Clint Eastwood does his 6-shooters in "The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly."

Makes me pissy-eyed even thinking about it.

Thank you Joe. c",) (I bought your books)

"When you're slapped you'll take it and like it." (Humphrey Bogart aka Joe Konrath to unscrupulous agents everywhere)

disclaimer: Meant to be humorous, no animals or agents were injured while writing this message.

Jay Allan said...

You've no right whatsoever to pass judgment on those of us who are turned off on self-pubbing, because of people like you.

First of all, obviously anyone has the right to express whatever opinion they want. Further, since this is a blog more or less devoted to self-publishing, why would you come here and read posts that express the point of view that conventional publishing is a bad deal for most authors? It's not like anyone TP'd your house and spray painted, "stupid conventionally published author" on the front door. The opinions expressed here are pretty solidly in tune with the general purpose of the blog.

Second, why is it any worse to have a negative opinion on conventional publishing than self-publishing? You take offense at your chosen strategy being maligned, and at the same time you take shots at the route selected by others.

What difference does it make what anyone else thinks - just do whatever you want to do and let everyone else do what they want to do. But don't decide you want to play baseball and then get annoyed because they are discussing jump shots on a basketball blog.

I started reading here because the author of the blog actually posted tons of solid data on his real experiences. That is rare, though there are some others who do it too, and it is extremely helpful. Most postings in most places in the world are baseless piffle. That doesn't mean they are not well written or even that they aren't right, but there is a difference between pontificating and providing real data.

If you say I like self-publishing because publishers have cooties, it is piffle. If you say I like it because I make five times what I did publishing conventionally, and you provide the data to prove it, then it is substantive.

Agency is a complex issue in all fields. I've been a real estate developer for a long time, and I've seen real estate agents make an absolute mockery out of whom they are supposed to be representing because their own interests diverged from those of clients.

To state the (obvious?) fact that an agent's interest are better served maintaining strong publisher relationships than fighting fiercely for each client's contract is basic common sense. To counter that with statements that, so and so is a great, honest guy, is piffle. He may be, or me may not be, but if you are going to suggest that he would put his own interest at risk to fight for an author then some factual backup would be helpful.

A number of people have posted the the effect that so and so is a fantastic guy, but I haven't seen one author come on here with specifics about what an agent has done for them...something like, "I was offered a $10,000 advance, but my agent bargained them up to $20k." Or my agent renegotiated the whole contract and got them to drop this provision and that one."

Let's be honest, most of the unpublished authors chase agents because they view as the high road or likeliest way to get a publisher. And a lot of published authors develop friendships or good relationships with agents, and also probably feel some gratitude if the agent helped get that first deal. But what about serious value analysis? Other than as gatekeeper, what does an agent add that a lawyer couldn't in a few billable hours? Maybe there is a lot, but again, what are the specifics. Not, "my agents does a ton of great things for me." If you make a vague, unsubstantiated comment, expect to get challenged on it.

Matthew Sheehy said...

Mr. Konrath,

I followed the link from Mr. Laube’s blog to yours and was educated by your blog. You do raise good questions and have excellent points. I like your fight. I’d never heard of you, but I’m going to pick up one of your books now.

Will you please give some advice to an unpublished author such as myself? For someone who doesn’t know the publishing business structure, do you think it makes sense to have an agent at first, even if it means you make less money? I see the agent as being like a college professor who I pay to teach me.

Lastly, I want to point out something that seems to get lost in translation. Christians are very interested in influence. There are CBA published and aspiring authors who view their reward not only in dollar bills but in the lives they encourage. Thus, when Mr. Laube hypothesizes that this author might lose 160,000 readers, the loss is of great value to many CBA authors. I’ve had two personal meetings with Mr. Laube, and both times he offered tremendous advice that sharpened my story. He might never be my agent, but I think he still feels that he’s received something if he helps me reach my goal without any personal monetary gain.
Thanks again…and I’ll take any suggestions as to which book of yours I should read first.

Matthew Sheehy

Joe Konrath said...

For someone who doesn’t know the publishing business structure, do you think it makes sense to have an agent at first, even if it means you make less money?

What are your goals?

You alone need to decide what it is you want to get out of writing. Once you decide that, you need to work toward that goal. My blog is to share information with writers so they can make more informed decisions. More data and opinions are never bad.

the loss is of great value to many CBA authors.

Then he's not just being disingenuous. He's being insidious, using writers' fears and goals against them.

If I have a small child that fears bees, I'd never say to him, "Give me your money, or the bees will get you."

I’ll take any suggestions as to which book of yours I should read first.

My books are filled with sex and violence and horror. If that's okay, it doesn't matter which you pick up. They each have their fans.

Deb said...

You don't need Mr. Laube's services to sub to Harlequin. Except for one line, they accept unagented subs.

Deb said...

No worries, Rach. My self pubbed title will not BE rubbish, and the rest of my stuff you'll find at my usual small presses, like always.

I respect Steve, but remember he and the others have a deep financial interest in the status quo. If they can sell us writers on the idea that we cannot publish quality work without them, what does human nature tell you agents and publishers will do?

Joe Konrath said...

If they can sell us writers on the idea that we cannot publish quality work without them, what does human nature tell you agents and publishers will do?

Steve is articulate o his blog, and seems like a nice enough guy who wants to help, but he does have an agenda and his agenda is self-interest (not surprising, that's the agenda of each of us.)

But his self-interest involves him selling the work of others. As such, his last post was disingenuous.

I just read his series "A Defense of Traditional Publishing"

It isn't a defense at all. Three of the services he says are needed, Editorial, Infrastructure, and Design, can be work for hire. A writer doesn't need a legacy publisher to receive them, and they aren't worth the 52.5% a legacy publisher takes, forever.

The last service, curation, is incorrect. What reader cares about pub houses or imprints? "Oh! It's the latest Rand House title! I always read everything Random House publishes!" Not.

Readers can ably curate for themselves. And with self-pubbing, they have more choices that ever. I've made this argument many times.

Dan DeWitt said...

"Who are you to judge writers like me who want to do it the "old-fashioned" way? You give off a *very* bad vibe to those of us who are leery of self-pubbed titles because 90% of them are rubbish.

The more things I see from self-pubbed authors, the more I want to stay away from it. You all tend to be a bunch of very angry, self-righteous, judgmental bigots"

Boy, I'd hate to meet a Christian Harlequin author who WAS judgmental.

Anonymous said...

=Each of these writers can get much more guaranteed income from going the traditional route.=

This line really fried me. I'm a conventionally published author. I adore both my agent and my editor. But guaranteed income? Who does he think he's kidding???

And even assuming a conventionally published author was guaranteed an income from his or her published books, first YOU HAVE TO BE TAKEN ON BY A CONVENTIONAL PUBLISHER. The odds of that aren't quite as bad as those for winning MegaMillions, but they're not good either.

Anonymous said...

To Rachel Wilder, who said "leery of self-pubbed titles because 90% of them are rubbish."

So are 90% of ALL titles from ANY source. Sturgeon's Law, folks.

Carol Frome said...

Joe, Bravo!

For Rachel, I don't care if you want to work with an agent and traditional publisher--go for it. I won't hold it against you. But please know that not all indy authors are writers of rubbish, and nor are their (most likely) millions of fans readers of rubbish.

On the other hand, the Harlequin family of imprints and the CBA are not by any stretch of imagination indicators of quality literature or even of an entertaining read.

While it would be nice to have someone do some of the legwork for me, I certainly feel little need to hire an agent to tell me whether my work is rubbish or not. Gate-keeping already exists in the in the indy world; it's called crowd-sourcing. Readers decide what they like. And the more I study the issue, the more I understand that agents and traditional publishers do little for authors anyway.

evilphilip said...

I read a blog post yesterday by an agent who said, "except for regular-selling authors with momentum building, authors can be replaced. And crowds of new writers are working hard to do just that. So, really, how valuable is an author?"
-Janet Kobobel Grant

I think that pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with publishing.

Laura said...

Ann wrote: "I am not blaming or whining. I am not a victim. I am not hysterical."

I agree. Without knowing you, I read your post, I thought you presented a business association (between you and Harlequin) which had been beneificial to both parties for a number of years and books, and explained reasonably, with math, why it is no longer beneficial to one party (you) and why you're therefore moving on.

How various people (and also various literary agents) have turned that into a "whine," let alone a "controversy" puzzles me, and both Eagan and Laube mischaracterized your post... Which, in my own long experience and observation of literary agents isn't surprised. I have found that far too many of them have problems with an author who does math, reads her contracts, reads her royalty statements, asks questions, wants clauses to be negotiated, wants publishing problems to be resolved, wants submissions to be sent out and followed up on, etc., etc.

Par for the course, I guess, that you wrote a businesslike piece explaining why the economics of the Harlequin business model no logner work for you as a writer doing business... and got mischaracterized by agents blogging about your blog.

Rolando Garcia said...

Joe, I agree that 2.4% is a dismal rate to pay an author but I have another question.

I just visited Ann Voss Peterson's website. She has a section where she says her other passion is riding. There is a picture of her riding (sic) "her Quarter Horse mare." Does this mean she owns a horse? Did she buy this horse and take up this hobby with the money she earned after leaving Harlequin?

I know my question sounds awful but owning a horse is a very expensive thing, and Ann stated in her guest post she did not have enough money to buy braces for her son.

I apologize if I misunderstood something but I am really curious about this.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

What I don't understand is why self-pubbed authors feel the need to tell those of us pursuing traditional publishing via an agent that we're being idiotic morons and wasting our valuable time.

I'm a traditionally published author and I don't feel anyone here is calling me an idiot or even inferring it. All Joe and others are doing is pointing out that, in traditional publishing, the deck is stacked in favor of the publisher rather than the author.

It's no different than the music business or the movie business or any other business that involves creatives.

But now that authors have a legitimate and lucrative distribution channel (Amazon), it only makes sense for those who have been successful to encourage others to consider self-publishing. How does this in any way denigrate those who decide to follow the traditional path?

I see no reason why authors can't straddle both worlds and go where they can get the best deal. We do that regularly in our daily lives--so why not in our professional lives as well?

Stuck in the Stone Age said...

Publishers are still trying to survive on an old business model. Why is it that they continue to insist on operating with such high overhead?

Amazon is a much sleeker business model and anyone who emulates them will have a better chance of success.

This romance agent is publicly supporting Harlequin because they're obviously the ones who put the food on his plate.

Chris Redding said...

Someone said: My point is that $20,000 is more than enough for Ann Voss Peterson to live on during the time she was writing the novel.

Where the heck do you live that $20,000 is enough to live on for a year? I want to move there. My property taxes alone are more than half that.

Romana Grimm said...

I just visited Ann Voss Peterson's website. She has a section where she says her other passion is riding. There is a picture of her riding (sic) "her Quarter Horse mare." Does this mean she owns a horse? Did she buy this horse and take up this hobby with the money she earned after leaving Harlequin?

I know my question sounds awful but owning a horse is a very expensive thing, and Ann stated in her guest post she did not have enough money to buy braces for her son.


Rolando, that's like selling your favourite aunt to be able to pay your kid's braces. I'm sure you wouldn't do that, no matter how short you were on money! On the other hand, if you did tell us all about it! ;-)

J. K. Walker said...

I love hearing all the great success stories here. I chose to self publish back in November mostly because of Joe's blog. (I'm more of a reader than a poster) It's nice to see all of the success people are having, I just wish I could match it. Having a quality product seems to be 10% of the battle and marketing is the other 90%. That's where I'm struggling.

I'm still writing, just released a follow up novella and will publish my second novel this summer. (If everything goes well)

Congratulations to everyone that's had success as a self published author. I hope to join your ranks.

Anonymous said...

Where the heck do you live that $20,000 is enough to live on for a year?

I lived on less than $20,000 of yearly income for over a decade. In California. It can be done.

No cellphone, no cable, a crappy used car, and no health insurance. My rent was $525 for a studio apartment. That's how millions of Americans live. Don't kid yourselves.

Now, I make more than 20K a month, but it was a long, hard road to get here.

-Christy

Anonymous said...

RE: "Where the heck do you live that $20,000 is enough to live on for a year? I want to move there. My property taxes alone are more than half that."

Not an impressive income, but I live on a little more than that (net) each year. However, my standard of living is probably considered unimpressive — or possibly even downright horrifyingly subpar — by a lot of Americans' standards. I live in a 900-square-foot apartment and split expenses with a housemate. I don't take vacations. I decided not to purchase a home or car (unnecessary expenses), and I live very frugally and within my means. I still manage to pay for my own health insurance and have a retirement fund. Can it be done? Most certainly! I consider myself extremely lucky, because I could be that writer who can make a living off of a traditional book deal. :)

Wayne said...

There's lots of places you can live on $20k a year with no kids. With kids its a lot harder. Keep in mind though that even if you get $20k for a book, its not paid out in one lump sum at the start. It's usually paid out over 1-2 years.

C. S. Lakin said...

Wow this is an intense discussion. I both indie/ebook publish and traditional publish. I have an agent who helped me put together a contract for an ebook publisher to sell and market my books, and I'm thinking this will be the brave new world for agents. For it did help me to have a good legal contract drawn up to help me protect my cover art and print book rights, which I did not want to give the ebook publisher. I along with a lot of author friends are turning our backs on traditional publishing and going indie. It just makes no sense to give someone else control over pricing, distribution, and profits. Not anymore. thanks for your great observations but know that Steve Laube is an awesome man of integrity, very kind and genuine, and a terrific agent. I see his side as well, but I agree that agents, like film developing shops, are going out the door. But they can shift gears and find ways to support us indie authors and offer services we need as we venture forth without those big publishers.

Archangel said...

"My point is that $20,000 is more than enough for Ann Voss Peterson to live on during the time she was writing the novel.
"

that's complete BS. She has a child. Not even mentioning that you have NO idea what her commitments and expenses are for other family members. Many of us care for our elders, our kids, our grandkids, our freakin' student loans, and much more. Forget perks. This is basis family life. And health insurance is one of the biggest bites when you have kids, and other kinds of insurances.

There's no point in aiming for 'barely adequate' income, especially if you have children or dependent elders. 20k in even 1980 dollars was only 15k of the buying power for same amount of money in 1960.

Today, 20k per year after agent 15% and Uncle Sam's take, 'might' get a small family an apartment on a bus line in a safe neighborhood where there are adequate public schools for children, food for several months, and putting off critical things like health care.

That's not to mention big publishers often PAY 1/4 on signing, PAY THE NEXT 1/4 months later when ms is accepted, PAY THE NEXT 1/4 twelve to eighteen months later when HB is pubbed, and PAY THE LAST 1/4 OF 20K a year later when PB is pubbed.

By my math, that's 20k spread out over nearly 4 years. No one with a child can live decently for 5k a year, and safely.

It is not a sane business idea that 20k

Rolando Garcia said...

Romana Grimm said..Rolando, that's like selling your favourite aunt to be able to pay your kid's braces. I'm sure you wouldn't do that, no matter how short you were on money! On the other hand, if you did tell us all about it!

Uh no Romana, it is not like selling your favorite aunt. The point is that in Ane's original post she made it sound that she was struggling on Harlequin's meager earnings. So much so that she could not buy braces for her kids. Now I learn she owns a horse. Owning a hose is very expensive. Did she buy this horse while she was being exploited by Harlequin?

Jay Allan said...

What damn difference does it make if she can live on $20,000 a year or if she has a horse?

An author comes on here and shares factual financial information and it turns into a protracted debate on what she needs to live on? That has nothing to do with whether it is a fair deal or if she is better self-publishing.

If everyone who shares this type of info gets hit with BS petty judgments, then no one is going to do it anymore, and everyone can go back to making wild guesses.

And for the record, disagreeing with the status quo is not "whining."

Rolando Garcia said...

Jay Allan said..."What damn difference does it make if she can live on $20,000 a year or if she has a horse?

An author comes on here and shares factual financial information and it turns into a protracted debate on what she needs to live on? That has nothing to do with whether it is a fair deal or if she is better self-publishing."

If she had presented the Harlequin deal on those terms ONLY, yes. But she implied the Harlequin deal was so rotten she could not buy braces for her son because of how little she earned. But it was good enough for her to buy and take care of a horse? Doesn't anybody see the disconnect here? Hello?

Joe Konrath said...

Doesn't anybody see the disconnect here? Hello?

You're going to feel silly when Ann answers your question. As if any mother would own a horse but not buy braces for her child...

Wayne said...

I think that your making a bunch of assumptions. Owning a horse costs $1.5k-$2k a year, feel free to google it. Several friends own them, some got them from family, one is a professional trainer who buys and trains them. Weirdly enough my 70 year old mom spends more than that on cigarettes.

Coworker got braces for a bit over $5k for her 16 year old daughter. But I've no clue how standard that is.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Rolando--

I'm flattered that you are taking such interest in how I spend my money. I did have a horse when I was in my teens and twenties. That horse, Bonanza's Copy Cat, died many years ago.

I also went to college. I earned a degree in English - Creative Writing, and I have fully paid all of my student loans.

I have paid all my taxes.

Anything else? Do I pass?

Oh yes, and my husband has only been able to find temporary part time work since June 1, 2009, when the GMC and Chrysler bankruptcy deals closed the car dealerships where he worked as a self-employed janitor.

While I'm at it, as I mentioned in the original post, the book in my example did not make 20k in one year. It made 20k in ten years (most of it in the first 4 or 5).

Harlequin pays a low advance that is earned out very quickly (the first royalty statement, in my case). Then the money trickles in over many years.

And just in case you don't realize this, Roland, a writer's personal finances have nothing to do with royalty rates paid by a publisher.

Joe Konrath said...

And just in case you don't realize this, Roland, a writer's personal finances have nothing to do with royalty rates paid by a publisher.

Snap.

Dan DeWitt said...

As the guy who started this row about the $20,000 by quoting a comment from Laube's blog, I have to say it was completely worth it just to see Ann punch Rolando in his fool face.

Carry on.

Jay Allan said...


If she had presented the Harlequin deal on those terms ONLY, yes. But she implied the Harlequin deal was so rotten she could not buy braces for her son because of how little she earned. But it was good enough for her to buy and take care of a horse? Doesn't anybody see the disconnect here? Hello?


First of all, I repeat, what the hell does that have to do with anything? She gave actual numbers of what she made for her books. That she may have added some personal comments about how she found it difficult to get by on what she made is not a license for personal attacks. She could have a $40 million trust fund, and everything she said about the royalties she made would still be valid.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

I'm going to clear up some erroneous information in Steve Laube's blog comments. This by Timothy Fish, who either doesn't understand how the publishing business works or is purposely trying to deceive.

Quote from Timothy: "Werner, you can’t figure wages that way, and I did read her post. In most jobs, you get paid by how much work you put in, not by how long or how many people are using something you created."

Werner was actually right. Timothy Fish has no idea how this business works.

Writers ARE NOT paid for how much work they put in. A writer could spend years writing a manuscript only to have it rejected. That's a lot of time for no compensation whatsoever. Much less common, a writer could spend a few weeks and make seven figures. That's very little time for a lot of money.

Other than work-for-hire contracts (of which I have none), writers ARE actually paid by "how many people are using something you created." That's what a royalty is.

From Timothy:
"In fact, it appears that Ann Voss Peterson has 31 books. Or approximately 3 books per year. Multiply 3 books per year by $20,000 per book and you end up with $60,000 per year."

The book I used in my example did not earn 20,000 dollars in one year. It earned 20,000 dollars over ten years. My advance for that book was 4,500 dollars(half on proposal, half on delivery of the complete manuscript). So that first year, I made 4,500 dollars on that book before taking out my agent's commission and business expenses.

I have published 31 pieces over 12 years (some were not full length novels), and the royalties from those books trickles in over many years. I get paid a royalty for each book sold. I have never made close to 60,000 dollars in any year.

But this kind of profound misunderstanding of how the business works isn't surprising, if you take a look at Timothy Fish's other comments. He also assumes I don't write well without ever having heard of me or reading one of my books (facts that seem to make him quite proud).

But I didn't write this comment for him--he doesn't seem to be a man who lets facts get in the way of his opinions--I wrote it for new writers following Joe's blog. It's important to know how this business works, so you don't fall for the crap some are eager to sell.

Rolando Garcia said...

"You're going to feel silly when Ann answers your question. As if any mother would own a horse but not buy braces for her child..."

Yes an that is precisely why I asked the question and I said I would apologize for asking it if it was answered to my satisfaction (did you even read my initial post)? I want to thank Ann for her reply and apologize (as I promised) for the question. It is too bad (as I can tell from her sarcasm) that she feels I'm out to get her. That is not the case. I think she was screwed by Harlequin and I am really happy that she has joined the Indies.

I don't feel silly at all and it is sad that you Joe and the other fellow ridicule me for asking what I think was a common sense question based on the available evidence.

Finally...

"And just in case you don't realize this, Roland, a writer's personal finances have nothing to do with royalty rates paid by a publisher."

And I never said it did (Snap back at you Joe). A persons finances have to do in part with the money he or she earns. If a substantial amount of that money comes from writing income then it is important in determining the finances. The other part of a person's finances deals with how they spend that money (hence my question).

Rolando Garcia said...

Sorry for that last comment. I will not pursue this matter further in public. Feel free to trample me; I will not reply back. I also sent Ann an e-mail.

Peace.

Joe Konrath said...

That's big of you to apologize, Rolando. I commend you for that.

I don't feel silly at all and it is sad that you Joe and the other fellow ridicule me for asking what I think was a common sense question based on the available evidence.

You gotta watch common sense questions. For example, don't ever ask a woman who looks to be with child when the baby is due. Because she'll turn out not to be pregnant.

Dan DeWitt said...

Here's the thing about apologies: Most of the time you don't need to make one if you're not a dick beforehand. It wasn't your question itself, Rolando, it was phrasing it in an obnoxious way. You know, like this:

"The point is that in Ane's original post she made it sound that she was struggling on Harlequin's meager earnings. So much so that she could not buy braces for her kids. Now I learn she owns a horse. Owning a hose is very expensive. Did she buy this horse while she was being exploited by Harlequin?"

You shouldn't feel silly; you should feel like an asshole.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Thanks for the apology, Rolando. And the email.

I wasn't offended by the question. I do think it's kind of odd to have a group of people I don't know discussing my finances, but...

I chose not to bring up my larger financial picture in the original post, because it has nothing to do with my point. Harlequin wouldn't have paid me more because of financial need, nor should they. My finances are none of their business.

As I said in my post, I enjoyed many things about writing for them. I just can't afford to do it any longer. I have obligations to my family that I'm not willing to put aside, and now that I have alternatives, I don't have to.

It would be a good move on Harlequin's part to increase royalties, particularly for ebooks, and I believe that will be necessary if they want to keep the talented authors they have and attract more.

Heads up, Harlequin. I'm not the only one with alternatives.

antares said...

Some agents are trying to do what is right.

Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, and Stephen Barnes submitted their novella "The Secret of Black Ship Island" to his agent who posted it to Amazon and Nook. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/?p=6648
In short, the agent published the novella. Did the agent get the cover? Edit? I don't know and Jerry doesn't say.

Jerry says he now makes more from eBooks than from DTBs. He seems happy with the handling his agent gave the novella and with the royalties from that.

Tom C. Cole said...

And now we have an agent ordering self-published authors not to call themselves "indie". What next?!

http://bigglasscases.blogspot.com/2012/05/damn-yankees-and-other-ways-self.html

Tom

N. Grotepas said...

I really wish you'd do a blog post like this in response to some of Nathan Bransford's blog posts. He's an author now, no longer an agent, but it kills me how hard he's pushing for the agency model.

I particularly like his #4 on why self-publishers shouldn't have chips on their shoulders: 4) If you are self-publishing out of frustration with traditional publication you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

And then the actual blog post dedicated to scaring authors into NOT self-publishing. (Maybe everyone here has read this...and maybe not.)

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/03/should-you-self-publish-ten-questions.html

I read it once and it worked. It scared me into thinking I didn't want to self-publish. Until I found Joe's blog.

So, thanks Joe!