Friday, January 24, 2014

Questions for Literary Agent David Gernert

Yesterday I saw a link on The Passive Voice (I gotta stop reading Passive Guy's blog because he's interfering with my productivity) that was to a Poets & Writers feature interview with literary agent David Gernert.

I did a quick reply in the comments on PV's site, then immediately emailed the editorial department of Poets & Writers:

My name is Joe Konrath. I've sold over a million self-published books, so I took exception to some of the ridiculous things David Gernert said about the subject in his recent feature interview by Michael Szczerban.

I'd be more than happy to cobble together 1000 words explaining why Mr. Gernert is blatantly incorrect in several of his archaic assumptions.

I'd be doing this on behalf of your readers, who need better information on the topic, and since I'm already rich I'd be happy to do it gratis.

If you find that approach too confrontational , Mr. Sczcerban or someone else from P&W is more than welcome to interview me on the topic. 

Looking forward to your reply.

I haven't gotten a response. Sure, it's only been 30 hours, but I'm an impatient little bugger. So I figured I'd just fisk some of the ridiculous things Gernert said in the article, because the BS he's spreading is no doubt reaching some impressionable authors who don't know it is BS.

Before I begin, let me say I don't know David Gernert, never met him, but I found the majority of the interview contained decent information about how agents work, and anyone who reads my blog knows I have an agent and recommend that authors find a good one. But three points PG zeroed in on are the same ones I had issues with, and I'd like to invite Mr. Gernert to my blog to respond to my retort.

When publishing professionals continue to show how out of touch they are with the current publishing climate, I find it necessary to take them to task for it. I'll continue to do so until they actually bother to learn about the shadow industry of self-publishing, and stop referring to memes that have been debunked years ago.

David: There are some very gifted writers who start out self-publishing and grow from there. Hugh Howey is a really good example; Wool is a terrific novel. But those writers are few and far between.

I am not a fan of self-publishing in general. It removes the gatekeepers from the process, and if we come to a point where every person in America who is writing a book can “publish” it, it becomes much more difficult for readers to find the good ones. A lot of what is self-published is awful.

I would cite Malcolm Gladwell as a particularly eloquent speaker on this, but many people have made this point: At a time when we are bombarded with information from all sides, we need more gatekeepers, not fewer. What you need as a reader is someone to find and tell you about the best books, whether it’s a diet book or a crime novel or a book about Thomas Jefferson.

Joe: So much here to debunk here.

First of all, why do legacy folks keep insisting they have somehow been endowed to be the sole bastions and protectors of what good writing is?

The gatekeepers David refers to are, not coincidentally, agents and publishers. Of course he wants to stick up for his profession and those he works for. Yes, David, you work for the publishers, not writers. They're the ones you see regularly, at lunches they pay for, and at NY parties, and they are the ones who ultimately pay you.

I was extremely disappointed with the AAR's response to the DOJ lawsuit, and it very much showed how agents are aware of who butters their bread.

So I understand why you want to defend your peers and colleagues in the legacy publishing industry and poo-poo self-publishing.

But I don't understand why you feel that gatekeeping is required. I know this might be your knee-jerk response to the idea that some authors (gasp!) can reach readers without agents and publishers, but before you say things like this publicly perhaps you should ask yourself a few questions:
  • Have the gatekeepers you speak of ever been wrong?
  • Do agents and editors ever reject books that become big hits?
  • Have you ever read books that were crap but were legacy published anyway?
  • Have you read thousands of self-pubbed books in order to reach your informed opinion that "A lot of what is self-published is awful"?
  • With 300,000 books released by legacy publishers every year, weren't we "bombarded with information from all sides" long before the self-pub revolution kicked in?
  • Are readers so stupid they can't figure out what to read without your help?
  • Would you agree that 99.99999% of the Internet is crap? If so, how are you able to find that .00001% that you surf regularly? Do you need gatekeepers to help you? Or just a search engine (like Google's, or Amazon's)?
  • When gatekeepers are removed from a system, do you believe that nothing fills the vacuum they leave? (Hint: customer reviews, book blogs, Goodreads, anywhere people talk about books on the Internet, website algorithms that recommend titles).
  • What gives you the right to tell readers what the best books are? Since when did your subjective opinion become objective truth? 
  • Does every book you represent sell a million copies? What is your batting average? What is your industry's batting average in regard to how many copies are sold of every title released?
  • Would you like me to be your gatekeeper? I'd be happy to tell you what you should read and should avoid.
  • Didn't you read my blog post debunking the Tsunami of Crap? I did it three years ago. Your concerns here are hardly new. Or at all realistic.
Now, you may be a fabulous agent with your clients' interests at heart, and maybe I'm wrong and you indeed work for writers and not publishers. If that is the case, I'd love to hear where you fought on your clients' behalf for the following one-sided boilerplate contract terms:
  • Term of copyright. Do you really think it is fair that the publisher gets the rights to a book for the author's life plus 70 years? Have you had a lot of deals that were for limited terms?
  • How successful are you getting rights reverted back to a client when you feel the publisher is treating them unfairly? (Do you ever feel that way?)
  • When a publisher buys subsidiary rights and doesn't exploit them, do you attempt to get them returned? What's your success rate?
  • What's your success rate in removing joint-accounting and basketing clauses? You understand these don't benefit the author, right?
  • What's your success in removing non-compete clauses?
  • What's your success in removing next-option clauses? 
  • What's your success in getting higher ebook royalties for your authors?
  • How often do you get advance money in one lump sum, prior to publication, rather than spread out in bi-monthly payments, sometimes over years?
  • How often do you help your clients audit their publishers?
  • How often do you get your clients cover and title approval?
  • What's your success in removing Unsatisfactory Material Clauses? (If the Material for a given Book is not, in Publisher's sole judgement, satisfactory in all respects, Publisher may terminate this Agreement upon written notice.)
  • How often do you fight for any or all of the above?
I call the above terms unconscionable, and have written about them at length. 

Now if you are truly on the side of your clients, you must understand that self-publishing:
  • Allows authors to keep all rights.
  • Has no joint accounting or basketing.
  • Has no non-compete.
  • Has no next-option.
  • Pays monthly.
  • Doesn't require audits because sales are transparent, updated hourly, and easy to understand.
  • Allows full cover and title approval, and the ability to instantly change both if needed.
  • Has no unsatisfactory material clause.
  • Pays 70% royalties.
If you're pro-writer, surely you see the advantages to self-publishing from the writers' point of view.

I made a million dollars last year from self-publishing. I've found that, without gatekeepers, I can reach readers much easier. And readers are much more eager to buy me when I control cover, cost, and jacket blurbs, as evidenced by the fact that I've made 8x as much as a self-publisher as I did with my legacy contracts.

Readers don't care who the publisher is. They don't care if the work is agented. They care about quality and price, and are able to find books they like without any gatekeepers other than each other and the increasingly adaptive ability for websites like Amazon to understand readers' tastes.  

As an agent, you could be helping your clients make important decisions about self-publishing. That is, if you are pro-client. That might mean advising them to pass up a bad deal and go solo.

Would you ever advise a client to pass up a bad deal and self-publish?

If your answer is yes, then I applaud you, but wonder why you publicly stated you aren't a fan of self-publishing in general.

If your answer is no, well, then we all know who you really work for.

David:  if B&N doesn’t stay healthy, the publishing industry will change phenomenally. Bookstores are incredibly important—not just as retail outlets, but as places where people go and commune with other like-minded individuals, many of them strangers, and talk about big ideas and compare notes on what they’ve been reading and what’s going on in the world. That is a tremendously important and valuable part of our culture. It’s much bigger than just selling books. I find it appalling that our society is turning a blind eye—maybe through just a lack of awareness—to the fact that the number of bookstores in this country is declining all the time. It’s really serious.

Joe: I agree that if B&N doesn't stay healthy, the publishing industry will change phenomenally. And I don't believe B&N will stay healthy.

But you make it seem like bookstores are the only places people can go and commune with other like-minded people. They aren't. And if they disappear, something will probably take their place.

Society isn't turning a blind eye to bookstores. Consumers are deciding for themselves where to buy books, and what about the book-buying experience is most important to them.

Anytime I hear about the serious impact to our culture the absence of bookstores would cause, I like to point out that culture consists of people, and they dictate the culture through their actions. If people no longer have a need or want for something, how can you claim that particular something is culturally relevant?

Part of me misses record stores. I liked browsing cut-outs, and checking out new releases, and special ordering imports.

But the greater part of me appreciates how easy it is to find and buy music these days. I prefer the download experience. It's faster, easier, and cheaper.

Does this have a corollary in the book industry? I believe it does.

Lack of awareness isn't the reason bookstores are closing. Changing customer habits are the reason. And what business succeeds by betting against the consumer?

David: An e-book often takes sales away from a hardcover edition when a book is first published, and the author makes less money from the e-book than from the hardcover. In that regard, authors’ incomes have gone down, and their agents’ incomes go down too. On the backlist side, sometimes an author makes more money from an e-book than from the paperback edition. But in general authors’ incomes are declining a little bit.

Joe: Yikes.

I encourage you to read two recent posts, where author Barry Eisler and I discuss publishing with agent Robert Gottlieb and Kensington CEO Steve Zacharius.

Hardcovers are luxury items. $30 for eight hours of entertainment is a lot of money. That's a month of cable, or three months of Netflix, or an entire season of a TV show on DVD, or three albums on iTunes that can be listened to over and over and over, or seven of my $3.99 ebooks.

If a hardcover sells well, the author gets 15% of the hardcover price. On $30, that's $4.50.

On seven $3.99 ebooks, at $28, I make $19.50.

If you're approaching ebooks as simply something that are hurting hardcover sales, you're not listening to what customers want. Ebooks aren't just cannibalizing hardcovers. They're allowing authors an unprecedented revenue stream where they can make more money, not less.

Perhaps your clients' incomes are declining, and yours is as well as a consequence, and perhaps that's the real reason you're not a fan of self-publishing.

I'm working with my agent to help me self-publish. My agent is making me (and her company) a decent amount of money selling my foreign and audio rights to my self-pubbed books.

I believe that's the kind of agent that authors need. Not the kind worried about B&N going away.

If you'd like to respond, Mr. Gernert, you can do so in the comments and I'll tag it on to the blog post, or you can email me directly. I won't edit anything you write, and I'm happy to provide a forum where you can answer these questions and maybe clarify your point of view.

80 comments:

Anonymous said...

Printed books, especially hard cover books, are a favorite gift item. Furthermore, human beings are very artifactual - they just like having and collecting stuff. I think there will always be a significant market for printed books.

Joe Konrath said...

I think there will always be a significant market for printed books.

Where did I say there won't be?

I think we'll live in a world with far fewer bookstores, but not a world without paper books. But I believe paper will become a subsidiary right, as I mentioned four years ago.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/04/is-print-subsidiary-right.html

And if ebooks are cannibalizing paper sales, perhaps I'm right.

Anonymous said...

Apparently David hadn't heard of Starbucks, where people sit and read and talk.

Joe Konrath said...

Heh, my wife made the above anonymous comment (she doesn't have a Google account).

But it's a good example. And when people bring their Kindle to Starbucks, they can recommend books to each other and each download it instantly, rather than wander the aisles hoping there is a copy in stock.

Trish said...

Wow, I have to admit his response about ebooks cannibalizing hard cover sales completely shocked me. Seriously, is he so insulated from the real world that he doesn't realize how few people can afford hardcover prices these days? That's like saying used cars are cannibalizing BMW sales.

And here I thought Steve was out of touch with reality.

Trish said...

Oh, and I haven't been in a bookstore for a couple years. However, I belong to a local book club where we talk books on a weekly basis, and I talk books to readers on Facebook, and twitter daily. Goodreads and the readers forums on Amazon have hundreds of book discussions going on a daily basis. There are far more book discussions going on now, then there ever were in my local book store.

Anonymous said...

A savvy newbie author would do well to ask your questions on boilerplate contract terms of any agent they were considering signing with.

An another note, maybe we can make 2014 the year of persuading traditionally published authors to try self publishing? You know, just a little bit, see how it feels...

Anything to help hasten better contract terms for authors would be a worthwhile project.

William Ockham said...

places where people go and commune with other like-minded individuals, many of them strangers, and talk about big ideas and compare notes on what they’ve been reading and what’s going on in the world.

You do know that people can do that at places besides bookstores, right? Out here in flyover country, there are lots of towns that weren't big enough for a bookstore and there you'll find people doing this sort of thing at diners, churches, and high school football games. I know places in east Texas where it happens at the local Denny's.

But you might be on to something about a place with lots of books being the best place for sort of thing. And it really ought to be a public place especially dedicated to it. This is what we call a "public good" that benefits society as a whole, so we shouldn't limit it to religious folks (and in Texas high school football is a religion). Let's start a movement to put on of these places in as many towns and cities as we can. We can call them libraries. Who's with me?

Joe Konrath said...

We can call them libraries. Who's with me?

Never happen. You're a dreamer.

Alan Tucker said...

David lives in a very different world than I do. He seems to like it there. I hope he gets to stay.

My local B&N has nearly the same amount of square footage devoted to its Starbucks, toys, games, greeting cards and novelty items as it does for books these days. It didn't used to be that way. The print market is shrinking, just like vinyl, tape, and CDs shrank.

Yet, people are reading more than ever. How is this a bad thing for authors? My community just built and opened a brand new public library. Sure, it has print books. It also has videos, ebooks, computers and community meeting rooms. You know, things people in the 21st century use.

Anonymous said...

ILU

Thank you for talking about these things. <3

Anon because I have a question to ask (and also sound like silly fangirl).

Should authors working with smaller presses that sell mainly ebooks (and who don't have agents) try to get the "next book with these same characters / themes" clause removed? Should they walk away if they can't?

Sorry for bad grammar.

Jill James said...

Okay, my husband is a hardcover buyer. Why? Because he buys one author, Stephen King. I'm a voracious reader. You need my loyalty to get me to buy you in hardcover; Tess Gerritsen, Robin Cook, and Chelsea Cain. But I buy over $100 a month in mass market and eBook, along with a great amount of free eBooks on my Kindle and Nook.

So, unless your name is Stephen King, which reader do you want? I know which one I want.

TB said...

places where people go and commune with other like-minded individuals, many of them strangers, and talk about big ideas and compare notes on what they’ve been reading and what’s going on in the world. ...

Um, am the only one to see the irony of this? Hello? Kindleboards? Goodreads?

JJ Foxe said...

I tweeted his agency's twitter feed a link to this article. Be interesting to see if they reply....

Gary Jonas said...

Just a minor correction. A reader can buy 7 of your $3.99 ebooks for less than $30, which means you'd make $19.55 (less delivery charges). Then again, maybe they used the extra money to buy a coffee at Starbucks.

Avril Sabine said...

I am not a fan of self-publishing in general. It removes the gatekeepers from the process, and if we come to a point where every person in America who is writing a book can “publish” it, it becomes much more difficult for readers to find the good ones. A lot of what is self-published is awful.

Everyone is different and we all like different things. And yet here is a small handful of people who believe they can choose the books that will suit the rest of the world. Look at the reviews of all popular authors and you'll find reviews from a few people who hated their books. Obviously people are capable of figuring out for themselves if they'll enjoy a book and the gatekeepers don't know what everyone likes.

billie hinton said...

I don't know who he represents, or his agency, but the fact is that agents and traditional publishing put out a lot of books every year that should, if quality were the over-riding criteria, never have seen the light of day.

I'm a writer. I'm also a voracious reader and have been since I was 3 years old. I was an English major in college and love literary fiction as well as genre fiction. Mostly I just love a good read. Since the internet and Amazon and reasonable prices for ebooks I have bought and read more books than ever. It is EASIER to find them than it was when I went into a bookstore and looked through shelves and hoped I would manage to find that next great read that was going to knock my socks off.

I enjoy the indie bookstores. I worked in one when I was in my 20s. We had to special order things all the time because there simply wasn't space to stock all the books that came out each season. And some of what we stocked was crap that took up space that I would have preferred been filled with classics or debut work by new authors or older work by current bestselling authors.

Reading these various articles by CEOs, agents, etc. in the traditional publishing world is enlightening to say the least. It seems pretty clear who the system works best for.

JT Bock said...

The bottom line is that publishing is a business. They need to make money. That means not always choosing books based on quality but on how well it will sell. As a critique partner and writing contest judge, I've seen amazing manuscripts get passed over either because it is a new author (and the investment risks are higher) or the story is a genre bender and may not sell as well as ... oh, let's say ... a YA vampire story or a sexy, narcissistic billionaire erotica tale or whatever is currently hot. I remember over a decade ago how hard it was to sell a vampire romance or any kind of paranormal romance. It took Charlaine Harris, despite being a well-known mystery author with a reputable agent, several years before anyone would take a chance on her Southern Vampire Mystery novels.

After speaking to an editor at Harlequin and learning their process for acquiring new authors, I wondered how anyone could ever get signed to a contract. Even if the acquiring editor loves your work, they need to pitch it to their boss and marketing team to see if it will fit in with their current lines and sell.

One of my critique partners was asked by her agent to write something that was currently hot (paranormal romance at the time) instead of what she enjoyed writing (romantic suspense) because paranormal romance was selling better than romantic suspense. She tried to write in the other genre but her heart wasn't in it. The agent dropped her and my friend eventually stopped writing becoming frustrated with the industry.

Put out a quality product and your audience will find you. You need to believe in your writing and your story and not wait for others to believe they can make a buck off of it. That's why I decided to self publish after being told that my writing was solid but no one would buy my book. I plan to prove them wrong. ;)

Gary Ponzo said...

Just imagine all those poor bastards who had to listen to Indie music without knowing that bands like Death Cab for Cutie didn't have a record contract at the time. Or those unsuspecting moviegoers who paid their hard-earned money to watch Reservoir Dogs without knowing that a big movie studio didn't produce it. How are we supposed to know who to listen to without some radio station getting payola from the big record companies or one of the Big 5, or 4,or 3, paying to have their books placed by the front door of B&N for exposure. Without big corporations to tell us what to like, we'd have to use our own devices to find good art. Maybe something crazy like . . . word of mouth.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Joe, you must have had an amazing final quarter in 2013. On October 5th you reported less than six hundred grand. But you went on to make a million! You *doubled* your velocity through the final quarter! All without even cracking the top hundred Author Rankings! The only tsunami here is money! Even a modest curve through the hundreds of places above you means the guys at the top must be making tens of millions! Or close to a hundred million, some of them! And that's just income! Gross sales must be billions!! What a business to be in!!

Or did the "secret pen name" do some of the heavy lifting?

Joe Konrath said...

Should authors working with smaller presses that sell mainly ebooks (and who don't have agents) try to get the "next book with these same characters / themes" clause removed? Should they walk away if they can't?

It depends on the author.

Never hurts to do the math and figure out what you'd make solo, and then make decisions according to your needs.

Joe Konrath said...

Um, am the only one to see the irony of this? Hello? Kindleboards? Goodreads?

I almost mentioned that in the post, but there is a difference between online exchanges and face-to-face IRL.

But I agree. I do much more interaction on line than in person. And some of it is cultural. :)

Joe Konrath said...

a reader can buy 7 of your $3.99 ebooks for less than $30, which means you'd make $19.55 (less delivery charges).

Thanks, Gary. Adjusted the blog.

Joe Konrath said...

Look at the reviews of all popular authors and you'll find reviews from a few people who hated their books.

I felt that was worth repeating.

Even the gatekeepers, anointed by supreme beings and tasked with the almighty power of ultimate decision, publish stuff that people hate.

Shouldn't those who deem themselves worthy of making choices for the unwashed masses have a perfect track record?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

It must be very frustrating and frightening to realize that the old, tried and true way of doing business is rapidly changing and your ability to make money is likely to diminish or disappear as a consequence.

But I have to ask, who is Genert's audience? Who is he speaking to? He's using arguments against self-publishing that may have applied five years ago, but have long since become irrelevant. So I can only think he's speaking to the naive and misinformed.

So is this the new business model? Fill unsuspecting new authors' heads with antiquated bullshit and hope they aren't savvy enough to ferret out the truth and sign with you?

Reminds me of the vanity press approach. How long before publishers and agents start demanding up front money for their "services."

Oh, wait. Some of them already do.

Joe Konrath said...

On October 5th you reported less than six hundred grand.

Reread the post. Those were numbers from July.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013_10_05_archive.html>http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013_10_05_archive.html

In order to get a pretty little spreadsheet like that, I have an assistant who compiles all of my royalty spreadsheets into a master list. Sometimes I'm late in getting her spreadsheets, sometimes she takes a bit of time to collate all the data, so those were as of July figures.

Those figures were also just KDP. They didn't include any of the subsidiary rights my agent sold (audio, foreign, movie). That's self-pubbing money, and it isn't insignificant (in fact, I probably make more on sub rights in a year than many writers make annually--I'll have to blog about that someday).

Didn't include A-Pub either--I have five books Amazon has published. While not self-publishing, if you read Be The Monkey you know that I consider A-Pub to be not legacy.

So, yes Anonymous, I did make $1m in 2013. But should I be saying I made $1m entirely by self-pubbing?

I think I can, but I'm waiting for my assistant to add up the final spreadsheets (which she'll do after I send them to her).

If I miss the mark by a few thousand, I'll correct my assertion by saying I made $1m without legacy publishing, or via Amazon only, or that I only made $950,000 (or whatever) in 2013 via self-pubbing.

But I'm pretty sure I did $1m just self-pubbing.

And yeah, the secret pen name did well last year. Thanks for reminding me. :)

BTW, you're a coward for not posting with your name. Did you think I'd retaliate somehow? Or did you not want anyone to know who was making stupid comments?

Or maybe you're some pinhead I banned for being a pinhead?

Or maybe you didn't want anyone to know that you never post your numbers?

Not an easy thing, posting numbers. It's putting yourself out there for complete strangers. Strangers who will troll you anonymously.

But then, what would you know about putting yourself out there when you leave anonymous posts on blogs?

Chicken.

Anonymous posts are for people who don't want their identity known because they are concerned about industry repercussion, or are embarrassed.

You seemed extraordinarily proud of your post, even though you were incorrect. Why not sign your name to it?

Seriously. I'm curious.

I'm constantly stirring the pot, inviting debate, and I sign my name to my words. What sort of person can't do that?

Since I know owning your words is hard for you, feel free to answer anonymously.

Joe Konrath said...

How long before publishers and agents start demanding up front money for their "services."

Oh, wait. Some of them already do.


Damn, I wish I'd said that.

Joe Konrath said...

all without even cracking the top hundred Author Rankings!

Oops, forgot to mention, from July to December I cracked the Top 100 Author Ranking dozens of times. I currently have no promotions and haven't had any new books out in months and I'm #182.

Anonymous said...

" ... Or did you not want anyone to know who was making stupid comments? ... "

Sorry ... I didn't think they were stupid. I was congratulating you on a great final quarter, and celebrating what a wonderful business we're in.

Joe Konrath said...

Sorry ... I didn't think they were stupid.

That actually brings up an interesting point.

No one would actually ever say anything they knew to be stupid. After all, if they knew it would be taken as stupid, they wouldn't say it.

And yet, you were erroneous about both the dates in question and my author ranking. Which, since you used both of these things to make your point, was stupid.

And cowardly as well. Dude, you can take off the cloaking shield. No one is going to stalk you and eat you. I rarely even leave the house anymore.

Plus, I'm not a huge fan of chicken. :)

Michael W. Sherer said...

What I find curious about this particular "gatekeeper" is the book he says got him into the business in the first place--John Grisham's "The Firm," a poorly written book by an author whose relative newness to the industry showed on almost every page. Grisham's ability to persuade readers to turn pages and buy books has made him quite successful. A lot of legacy publishers would have--and did--pass on "The Firm."

As you say, Joe, who's truly an arbiter of good taste? In using the example he did, is Gertner saying that even at a young age he could spot talent? Or is he admitting that he has a taste for poorly written books?

Jude Hardin said...

But I have to ask, who is Genert's audience? Who is he speaking to? He's using arguments against self-publishing that may have applied five years ago, but have long since become irrelevant. So I can only think he's speaking to the naive and misinformed.

So is this the new business model? Fill unsuspecting new authors' heads with antiquated bullshit and hope they aren't savvy enough to ferret out the truth and sign with you?


He's echoing what we hear from a lot of agents, publishers, and NYT bestsellers. I don't think there's any maliciousness involved; they just don't know. They see the outliers and think, well, okay, a few self-published authors are doing really well, and the rest of them are only selling a hundred or so copies to family and friends. They don't realize that there's an entire shadow industry out there with writers--like me--who are consistently paying bills every month with our self-published earnings. We're not getting rich, but we're doing better than we would have with the average traditional deal. We go largely unnoticed because we're not hitting the big lists, but we're out there, and the numbers are getting larger all the time.

BTW, I love being part of a shadow industry. :)

Great phrase, Joe.

STH said...

Well said, as always, Joe. I realize that the Agent Gernerts of the world are the establishment and not the underdog, and I would never want this kind of goofiness to go unopposed, but at this point, popping the balloons of their sad narrative is too easy. Reading you and Barry smacking these guys around reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Kramer was “dominating a dojo” of children.

But please keep it up.

Joe Konrath said...

In using the example he did, is Gertner saying that even at a young age he could spot talent? Or is he admitting that he has a taste for poorly written books?

Ouch.

He could be saying he had a feeling Grisham would be a bestseller. But that begs the question: why aren't every one of Gernert's clients bestsellers?

I can think of two possible reasons.

1. Gernert isn't as good of a gatekeeper as he likes to believe.

2. Publishers don't do a very good job publishing the terrific books Gernert sells them.

If publishers aren't doing a good job even though Gernert is giving them gold, why defend them? Why not speak out about how frustrating it is to see publishers drop the ball on books that should have been huge hits?

Or is it the readers' fault? Did they not recognize a masterwork when they saw it?

If they didn't, then Gernert isn't a good gatekeeper, because he's not in touch with what the public wants.

It's a tough job being a gatekeeper. That's why we need more.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

If the traditionally published books I've started to read but never finished are examples of the industry's gatekeeping, they are failing miserably.

Laura Resnick said...

Anonymous wrote: " An another note, maybe we can make 2014 the year of persuading traditionally published authors to try self publishing? You know, just a little bit, see how it feels..."

Okay, traditionally published author speaking here.

A common miconception I see on various blogs/chatboards is that most traditionally published authors are NOT self-publishing. In fact, a huge number of us are self-publishing in addition to maintaining our traditional-publishing careers.

This is why REVERSION, for example, is a huge, oft-discussed topic among traditionally published writers. We're trying to get old books back, we're asking others how they got theirs back from a recalcitrant publisher, and we're advising others on how we got ours back. (I now hold all rights to all my copyrights (about 20 books) published prior to 2010. I only had trouble with reversion in one instance, I resolved it with my attorney's help; I wrote about the details of the transaction in my monthly Nink column in Oct 2012.) I know writers who are working their way through reverting, editing, and self-publishing 30-40-70 backlist books, while also maintaining busy traditional publishing careers.

Many of us are also self-publishing never-published books we couldn't find a publisher for. Many of us are writing (or trying to make room in our schedules to write) new frontlist books we're self-publishing or will self-publish. Some of us want to keep hybrid careers going (self-publishing and traditional publishing), while others are trying to grow their self-pub incomes to a level where they'll be ready to quit traditional publishing. Some have already quit traditional publishing, or are in the process of doing so. The reasons people have for wanting to continue or to quit traditional publishing are individual, varied, and complex, depending on financial and familial circumstances, as well as on the sorts of relationships, contracts, and fiscal arrangements they have with their publishers.

Yet despite most of us having many self-published ebooks in the market, we are not "known" as "indies" or "self-publishing" authors, and there is often a misconception asserted in the blogosphere that we aren't engaging in (indeed, extremely active in) self-publishing.

David L. Shutter said...

Hot off the PG press; another writer you've never heard of has made $1mil self-publishing before signing a deal with Zon.

After 20 years of gatekeeper rejection.

http://www.thepassivevoice.com/01/2014/granite-bay-author-makes-1-million-plus-after-publishing-her-own-novels/Read about Ms. Cathie Anderson here.

I'm just curious, because we're constantly told about this "tiny handful" of successful indies, even though it seems to get bigger everyday.

Is it a King Kong sized hand? A Unicron sized hand?

I just think we need to clarify is all.

Anonymous said...

Joe said:

It's a tough job being a gatekeeper. That's why we need more.

If we end up with enough gatekeepers, the competition between said gatekeepers means everyone would get published.

Wait a sec. Isn't that happening now without them?

Paul Draker said...

Hi David,

The $1,000,000-earning, self-published and Amazon-published author mentioned in the article is Theresa Ragan.

Theresa is also one of the founding members of The Indie Voice, a team of the savviest self-publishers out there.

Their book, "The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing," contains some of the most valuable advice about publishing I've ever read.

Every author interested in making a living at writing should read it.

Paul Draker said...

I meant:

"...a team of some of the savviest self-publishers out there."

Damn, where's my freelance editor when I need him?

Laura Resnick said...

What I see in Gennert's comments is the mistaken assumption that "gatekeeper" means editor, agent, or chainstore buyer.

As has already been pointed out, gatekeeping hasn't disappeared from the bookworld, it's just expanding. There -are- still editors, agents, and chainbuyers guarding the gates of their own paths to market; but the market is broader now, with more paths for a writer to reach a reader, and new methods of gatekeeping are evolving along these new paths.

In addition to gatekeeping methods already mentioned here of various online blogers, reviewers, reader reviews, discussion groups, book sites, sales rankings, etc., etc., I'd include (if no one else already has?) the free sampling function. It's now so easy to download the free-sample from a few dozen (or a few hundred) ebooks and sift through them at your own time and pace to determine which ones you want to buy and read. Many of my friends have talked about how many interesting books and new authors they've discovered this way--the easy, comfortable, at-your-own-convenience, free sampling method.

The other erroneous assumption I see in Gennert's comments is that he seems to be equating B&N with "bookstores" to the extent that he appears to be completely unaware of the recent renaissance in independent booksellers--a retail stream severely damaged by the rise of the big, generic chains in the 1990s and by the deep discounts that the major houses made available to the generic national chains but NOT to independent bookstores. That trend is in reverse now, thanks to the reshaping of the market. When it comes to bricks-and-mortar retail, BN is not the dominant powerhouse that it was, but this strikes me as an OPPORTUNITY for physical bookstores and people who love then, rather than a sign of the book apocalypse. Although a BN has closed is my region and another is closing, 3 new indies have opened here this year.

Bernard Schaffer said...

Publishing is the only artistic industry with such hubris and contempt for the people who make it possible. You don't see Hollywood dissing independent film makers. In fact, they mine the talent from indie films, or find ways to work with them, in order to strengthen cinema as a whole. But not publishing, oh no. We're the great unwashed, and they are the "Gatekeepers."
It guts me when I see people like Stephen King or Neil Gaiman or all the other "cool" authors relentlessly plug all their legacy publishing buddies, while ignoring the hard-working idies who deserve as much, if not more recognition.
David Gernert, listen up. Your days are numbered. Your whole industry's days are numbered. And when I look out over the rubble of what used to be a decent, respectable literary industry, I'm going to tell you that you did it to yourselves.

Bernard Schaffer said...

Christ, even music executives, with their time-honored tradition of lame commerce over talent and foisting of pop novelty crap on the public has the INTELLIGENCE AND BUSINESS SENSE to look at acts on MySpace that produce music independently and turn it into a successful venture for all involved.
But not publishing. Not the gatekeepers. Not the ivory tower elitist know-it-all pompous New York old-school supermarket mass market paperback Nicholas Sparks regurgitating boring breathtakingly difficult doofuses that we have to deal with.
Where was I?
Oh, yeah. You. Suck.
All right, Joe. I'm done now. Thanks for putting these guys in their place, buddy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog... as a former bookstore owner, a current book designer (formatting for ebooks and print), and a soon-to-be indie author I'm all for the indie revolution. I love the control as do my clients. I know they don't miss their legacy publishers and I'm not going to miss never having one at all. I would say to those thinking about going indie... get a good editor and proofreader... and maybe an agent for those foreign and audio rights.

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting about the interview (and the back-and-forth with Gottlieb and Zacharius) is the utter lack of anything concrete to say about achieving success in traditionally publishing.

Gernet makes comments like "well published" or "I wouldn't have published it well" with no indication of what that means. Contrast that with self-publishers who go out of their way to describe their process--because they want to see everyone succeed.

It reminds of an incident when I had a book coming out from the Big 6. I asked for the list of reviewers the proofs had been sent to so that I wouldn't repeat anyone on my own. They refused, stating the list was proprietary. That's some well publishing there.

I know I've only been in this business for over ten years, but even I can figure out how a six-figure marketing budget and 50K+ print run might help a book. Instead of talking about Grisham, please have a frank conversation about how you market a 5K advance book with a 5K print-run and how that service in any way warrants the lop-sided contract you force people to sign--for life plus 70 years.

It's interesting that Konrath, Eisler, Hocking, Howey, et. al., are "anomalies" and "outliers," but whenever agents and publishers talk about their advantages, they talk about Grisham or King or Steele.

Anonymous said...

Oh Joe this is hilarious...you've made my year, if not my life here. Any reader worth his salt can tell in a few sentences if a book is well-written and interesting to him. The idea that the people responsible for the tsunami of chick-lit and every other kind of "lt," the incredibly bad "romance " knockoffs, and on and on, have the ability to tell me I must be inundated with more of the stuff pap...some balls.

M.R. Lambert said...

David: “I am not a fan of self-publishing in general. It removes the gatekeepers from the process, and if we come to a point where every person in America who is writing a book can “publish” it, it becomes much more difficult for readers to find the good ones. A lot of what is self-published is awful.”

I would have to say on the flip side of this, that bypassing the “gatekeepers” also has a benefit for the self-published in that the writer is getting direct feedback from those buying their books. This feedback shows the writer immediately the areas of improvement needed, especially to a budding writer. Compare that feedback with the standard rejection letters most writers receive. From what I have read (since I have not submitted any manuscripts), the feedback provided by the “gatekeepers” often is non-existent.

David: “I find it appalling that our society is turning a blind eye—maybe through just a lack of awareness—to the fact that the number of bookstores in this country is declining all the time. It’s really serious.”

Isn’t this some kind of a double edged sword? Didn’t stores like B&N and Books-A-Million, help push out some of the independent book stores? Now that the mega chain stores are also slowing, could this possibly bring a revival to some of the more independent stores? Obviously this would cut even deeper into publisher’s overhead due to having to deal with so many smaller stores, and so few larger ones…or would that just be a distributor’s problem?

David:An e-book often takes sales away from a hardcover edition when a book is first published, and the author makes less money from the e-book than from the hardcover.”

Why can none of the gatekeepers get it through their heads, people who buy hardcover, will still buy hardcover? These are really two separate markets for the same product. I agree with Jill James’ husband (an earlier post), in the aspect that I will buy hardcover if I know of the writer, and like their previous work, but not if I am reading an untried writer.

Brian Drake said...

So this is the third time in almost as many days that I've read "publishing professionals" regurgitate the original arguments from '09/'10 (when we all got aboard the indie bandwagon) about how self-published books are swill. I don't understand why they're coming back with nothing new.

If self-published books are so much crap, I'd love to see whole blogs or websites dedicated to outing the crap authors. Let's see an audience backlash. Let's see our sales slack off as the audience revolts (my sales are actually improving from last year).

But wait, we aren't seeing that. We may see a bad review here and there, but even Dan Brown gets those, and I recall critics didn't much care of Stephen King's IT back in the day, and critics (professional and amateur) *still* bash Mickey Spillane.

In other words, so far only publishing professionals are against us.

Once the audience turns against us, I'll start reconsidering my self-publishing efforts.

Until then it's fun knowing we're living rent-free in their heads.

JMaltman said...

Thanks again Joe! Every time I see one of these I feel the need to grab some snacks and sit down for a fun show while I read it on my phone. I know it's a bit of a train wreck, but it's great entertainment. I hope he gets back to you.

Jude Hardin said...

@Dave--That link you posted doesn't work. Here's the PV article about Theresa Ragan: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/01/2014/granite-bay-author-makes-1-million-plus-after-publishing-her-own-novels/

I had the pleasure of getting rather inebriated with her in Seattle last summer. She's a really cool person. :)

David L. Shutter said...

Paul and Jude

Thanks for the correction. I thought the story sounded familiar. My bad for skimming an article and then commenting.

Yes, have heard of Theresa and I have a copy of "The Naked Truth..."

But she remains another in the very long list that some would have us believe is a "tiny" group.

Alan Spade said...

What I notice is David Gernert's authors, or Robert Gottlieb's authors, or even Kensington's authors doesn't seem to rush on Joe's blog to valiantly defend the people that bring them such "invaluable benefits".

In fact, we even had the opposite with Kensington's authors coming here to complain about the lack of transparency of their publisher or other things.

Of course, perhaps it's the consequence of Joe's blog being too much of an unknown blog for authors.

But, if that was not the case, if on the contrary Joe's blog was popular among authors, if I was a publisher or an agent, I would be worried...

Joe Konrath said...

Of course, perhaps it's the consequence of Joe's blog being too much of an unknown blog for authors.


Joe has a blog?

Why would anyone go there? That guy's a jerk.

David L. Shutter said...

"What I notice is David Gernert's authors, or Robert Gottlieb's authors, or even Kensington's authors doesn't seem to rush on Joe's blog to valiantly defend the people that bring them such "invaluable benefits".

+10.

I've noticed this as well. Now, If I felt like scrubbing the blogosphere and forum world I could probably find examples of people who are happy with their publishers. I've seen them. DAW seems to do a good job of treating their writers like human beings and legitimate partners and not as expendable assets.

But it would still be a "tiny group of outliers."

Maybe what Joe alluded to earlier is the case. That thousands of legacy writer's are in happy marriages and too busy writing their next 6 fig payday book to care about these conversations let alone join in.

But it's still funny how indie success stories are shouted and echoed from the hilltops while the noise from the legacy mid-list world is one of horror stories that occasionally break the deafening silence.

James said...

THE FIRM has a notoriously egregious deus ex machina ending.

It was so bad, that the Hollywood film adaptation actually made the book better by giving it a worthy conclusion.

I'm tired of people closing their eyes and citing total bullshit nostalgia as testament.

I'm sure horse drawn carriages were awesome for their time, but I wouldn't want to be caught in the middle of the 405 on one.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Joe for answering my question!

The thing I find frustrating about working with a small press in my genre is the waiting. It's a good and respected press that sells pretty well, but it takes close to a year to get work out. I do seem to make more money on those books individually than my individual self-pubbed books in most cases. But on the other hand, I can publish four of my own stories in the same amount of time. I have to wait to publish more in a series for a year or more if I go with a small press for the first in the series (with that clause in the contract).

My latest series? I'm going indie, because I already have multiple titles in a series that are stuck in limbo because of my small press. I want to try on my own with a new series now & see where it takes me, money- and control-wise.

Sorry for rambling & thanks again. :)

-fangirl

Joe Konrath said...

Had a fascinating exchange with Mike Shatzkin over at his blog.

http://www.idealog.com/blog/future-bookstores-key-understanding-future-publishing/

Too bad he bowed out of the conversation.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

His Blog states:
Mike Shatzkin
Founder & CEO

Mike Shatzkin is the Founder & CEO of The Idea Logical Company and a widely-acknowledged thought leader about digital change in the book publishing industry. His insights about how the industry functions and how it accommodates digital change form the basis of all of the company’s consulting efforts.


Yet, he doesn't want to engage you in a discussion and instead labels your post a "longwinded rant?"

::head shake::

Veronica - Eloheim said...

For full disclosure, in my previous comment. I shortened his bio and the way I tried to indicate that here in the post didn't show up. I quoted his site, but left out some of it.

It's all here http://www.idealog.com/about-us/

Paul Draker said...

How big is Amazon self-publishing's shadow industry?

I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what "25% indie" means.

To weed out the "fire-and-forget" one-offs, I only considered the Top 50,000 Amazon ranks (or books selling more than 3 copies/day each, which is 1000 copies/year).

In math terms, I integrated 25% of the area under this curve...

http://www.pauldraker.com/images/daily-sales-vs-amazon-rank-trend.png

...which maps Amazon rank to average sales/day.

Here's what I came up with as a minimum estimate:

109,000,000

So that's 100 Million self-published books sold a year by just the 12,000 indie authors who can, at a minimum, out-earn the "entry level" traditional-publisher advance.

David L. Shutter said...

"Had a fascinating exchange with Mike Shatzkin over at his blog."

I think there may be some sarcasm with the "fascinating" part.

Wow. Just wow. Total fail by Shatzkin. No real engagement at all. If the indie movement is such a myth filled bubble riding on the crest of the crap tsunami I'd think it would be all too easy for someone as smart and knowledgeable as Shatzkin to shoot Joe or Barry's arguments full of holes.

Guess not.

As for Joe's "long winded rants", heh, kinda funny coming from him. I don't think I've ever made it to the end of one of his articles.

Paul D.

Great analysis. Very interesting stuff.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

Wow Paul, that's an amazing number. Thanks for calculating it.

Since recent guests have brought up the fact that indies typically sell for less than legacy, I wonder how many dollars that number represents?

Paul Draker said...

Thanks, David.

And you're giving me a lot of food for thought over at Hugh's blog.

The link you shared about the 13,000 authors paying Author Solutions was mind-boggling.

Perhaps that's the future Big-5 model: no midlist, a handful of lazy leftover mega-sellers to act as window dressing, who lure the credulous sheep into vanity presses to be profitably sheared.

Sometimes obvious logic and business sense end up having little to do with how events play out.

Paul Draker said...

Veronica,

I'd estimate $250M-300M.

And these are only the indie books selling well enough to be *profitable* to a traditional publisher paying an advance.

That's 10% of Random Penguin's total annual revenue.

And traditional publishers profit margins are typically less than 10%.

Suzan Harden said...

Joe,

You're right, Shatzkin knows you're right, but he can't collect his lovely consulting fees if he tells his clients they're a bunch of idiots. Dollars trump truth a lot of the time.

Anonymous said...

Regarding legacy publishers:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

People tend to like to maintain a system that benefits them. There is nothing wrong with helping other people reach their goals, like having an agent, editor, manager, etc., but the world is, and always will be, full of people trying to benefit from the work of others quite often unjustly.

Alan Spade said...

Joe said: "Too bad he bowed out of the conversation."

Yes, Mike Shatzkin final comment about "longwinded rants" was pretty hypocrite and scornful, because you brang facts and numbers.

Yet, I do respect Mike Shtazkin knowledge of the business. His views in this blog related to the diminution of shelf space, and to the shrinking part of paper books in fiction, are not so distant from Joe's view. He had made predictions in the past that we can verify today.

The most interesting point, at least for me, was what he said about independant bookstores surviving by not only carrying paper books, but other merchandises.

It reminded me a blog of Kristin Rusch where she described the changes in her Barnes & Noble near where she lives.

B&N has survived to these days, but a 2014 B&N store is not the same than a 2010 store, which was not the same than a 2005 store.

In economics as in life, surviving means adaptating.

But even adaptation didn't prevent many B&N to close these years. So, wait and see.

ron tikalsky said...

The push back from traditional publishers should be taken for what it is. It is just a reaction to their clients and end consumer breaking their rice bowl. They are scrambling to grab as much of the digital market as they can so they can skim huge profits as well as impose their byzantine control of culture by blessing a certain canon of what they call "worthy to print". It is all quite funny because for the first time since early humans told stories on cave walls, people can write freely and readers can choose from a huge amount of information. There is nothing that can stop that. Libraries will continue to exist as repositories of printed material but they won't be your grandma's library.

Dave said...

I think David's most telling comment is this:

"...if we come to a point where every person in America who is writing a book can 'publish' it…"

IF? Really? Have you looked around?

It's this denial of reality that's at the heart of everything he's saying. Anyone can publish. B&N is failing. Those are the facts. Feel free to dislike them, but don't advise authors based on what "used to be."

Anonymous said...

Great post, thank you!!! The idea that we need gatekeepers to tell us what to read us is a scary one. Maybe, they should also tell us what to eat, what clothes to wear, and how many kids to have? Or has that happened in our human history before?

Thank you for this post!!!

Laura M. Crawford said...

Thank you, Joe, for this post. It was recommended to me by two of my favorite self-published authors, Hugh Howey and Jasinda Wilder. I read ebooks for many reasons, but mainly, because I am on a very tight budget, I can get a great read anywhere from FREE to under $5.00. That is significant when you are working 2 part-time jobs, one of which, I most recently lost my health insurance. Yes, bookstores are closing, one of them is an independent bookstore near my home and yes, that is sad, but did the world collapse when Borders went belly up? No. As a writer, I am going to self-publish because I need, and want, to retain all the rights you put forth in this post. I want a 70% royalty, and thanks to you and the two authors I mentioned in this comment, I know that it is possible. Thanks again, and keep writing! :) Laura M. Crawford

CoreyHaim8myDog said...

RE: Gladwell. I just saw this on Twitter.

Susan Burke ‏@ThatSusanBurke 14h
I'm going to ask the next person who tells me to read Outliers if they had to practice assholing for 10,000 hours.

middle grade ninja said...

Writers need a public advocate to say these things. Thank you, Mr. Konrath for this tremendous post and for standing up for your fellow writers. If any writer reading this comment hasn't read Be The Monkey, go get your copy and prepare to have your mind righteously expanded.

Anonymous said...

"Readers don't care who the publisher is."

Readers cannot even tell the difference between a legacy published book and a self-published book - and they don't care. If they like the book, they will buy it. Who buys a book based on who published it? How many typical readers can even name a publisher off the top off their head? These legacy publishers are delusional about understanding their own business.

Mario Jannatpour said...

Great post! Very informative. Thanks Joe.

Anonymous said...

"He could be saying he had a feeling Grisham would be a bestseller. But that begs the question: why aren't every one of Gernert's clients bestsellers?"

The brutal reality is that agents and publishers, the "Gate Keepers," and anybody else, cannot reliably identify a bestseller beforehand. It's delusional to think that you can determine what the public will go for with any certainty. Just write the best novel that you can and get it out there. How many times have you read a book that was ridiculously bad, and yet it was a bestseller?

I still cannot figure out why "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho is a global bestseller.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Joe--fascinating blog as usual. I'm wondering whether your assistant of the Magical Spreadsheets has calculated your sales broken down by country. I'm talking your books in English. Wht percentage sell in the UK, Canada, australia and even Germany, France, etc. Because there are 2 billion English langauge readers in the world and I don't think we have even scratched the surface. Elizabeth

Anonymous said...

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303768104577462683090312766


E-readers spreading throughout Africa and the developing world will no doubt increase the demand for ebooks.

E-books are just getting started which is really exciting. It really hasn't been a better time in history to be a writer.

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Carolyn Carter said...

How has it taken me so long to discover Joe Konrath? ILU, Joe! Resist much. Obey little. (That's a little something from Walt Whitman.)

Your comebacks to Mr. Anonymous are especially scathing. Who are these cowardly Anon E. Mouses? Joe makes self-pubbing cool. Where's my beret and clove ciggies? Ha!