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?