Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Big Bestseller Weighs in on “Publishing Is A Lottery”

Yesterday, a big bestseller (really big) Barry and I know and respect emailed Barry in response to our post Publishing is a Lottery/Publishing is a Carny Game. The bestseller’s thoughts were so interesting we decided to post them here, anonymously, with our response. We hope the person in question will offer some additional comments, whether anonymously or otherwise, because this is exactly the kind of conversation we hoped our post would elicit. And we hope we’ll hear from many more people who can offer different perspectives based on different vantage points within the industry.

Big Bestseller: Barry, my friend, evidently the new world is already old enough to have grown zombie memes of its own.

Barry: Not just that, but many of them are already several years old!  In fact, Joe and I have been talking about doing a post of the Top Ten of them. We’ll let you know when it’s up.

Big Bestseller: You write, re publishing deals, "First, it’ll cost you your rights, which someone else will own for at least a very long time and in all probability forever ... " I have publishers in 98 countries and none of them own my rights. I own them all. You might say, come on, you know what I meant, or that it's a distinction without a difference, or that you were exaggerating for effect, or whatever—but be fair: you'd have ripped Turow for saying that. You'd have said, "A lawyer who doesn't know the difference between owned and licensed? Really?"

Barry: You’re right about the difference between own and control; I appreciate the correction and I have asked Joe to run a strikeout through the first and to add the second. You’re not right that I would have ripped Turow for the same mistake—precisely because I recognize that in this context it is indeed a distinction without any difference, and making a big deal of it would be pointless and petty (not only that, but I spend so much time addressing the egregious substance of Turow’s frequent mistakes of fact and logic that afterward I don’t have a lot of time left to nitpick him). That said, depending on my mood it’s possible I might have tweaked Turow for his harmless error, as you have me. A little tweak here and there can be good clean fun.

Now, if only Turow would crawl out from under his rock to engage his critics the way you and I are engaging each other…:)

Joe: I changed the word "own" to "control." But I'm okay with "own." You don't own a car you lease, but if you lease it for 70 years until it dies, you might as well have said you owned it. It isn't as if the owner is ever getting it returned, and possession is 9/10 of the law.

Big Bestseller: And earlier, that lame, tired, sad canard: "... hard work demonstrably does not guarantee success. If it did, then those hard-working publishers would produce nothing but massive bestsellers. After all, don’t they work hard on all their books?" That's like saying, "If the Yankees are such a great franchise, how come they don't win the World Series *every* year? How come they don't all bat a thousand?"

Barry: I know you’re fond of this analogy, and I suspect that fondness might be causing you to bring it up even when it’s not applicable. Here, it isn’t. One is an analysis of a lack of guarantees for purposes of arguing that a system functions as a lottery. The other is an analysis of whether something is good. These are not the same inquiries.

If what you’re trying to say instead is, “You can’t expect a guarantee from New York or from anywhere else, but you can expect the best possible odds, just like you can expect the best possible effort from a great team like the Yankees,” then although I wouldn’t entirely agree, I wouldn’t call it an incoherent argument, either. But I’m not sure if that’s what you’re trying to say.

Joe: Your comment that the Yankees can't be great unless every player bats 1000 and they never lose the World Series is (sort of) analogous to the Big 5 can't be great unless every book is a bestseller. That's not our point.

When legacy pundits refer to publishing as a true meritocracy, and they extol their ability to create bestsellers—much like you do later in this post—it is fair and approproiate to call them on that BS. How hard you work is no guarantee of success.

Baseball teams compete against one another, and statistics are carefully tracked and transparent. Book sales are not zero sum (authors don't compete with each other like baseball teams do), nor are book sales statistics known by the public. If I were to try out of the Yankees, my numbers would mean a lot, and everyone would be aware of them. The Big 5 doesn't release numbers, but I'm guessing not all their authors sell as well as you.

When Gottlieb gives examples of big publishing successes, he does so like a carny, pointing to the big stuffed Snoopy no one will ever win because the odds are so against it. And the thing is, the publisher will never tell anyone those odds. But I could find out exactly what numbers and odds I'd need to do to be a Yankee, and how well I'd have to perform to stay a Yankee.

All that aside, your analogy doesn't fit. Barry and I constantly talk about luck being a factor. Publishers can work hard, authors can work hard, or both can work hard, and none of it is any guarantee of success. But show me where publishers are admitting this.

So we're not likening the Big 5 working hard and making every book they release a bestseller to the Yankees working hard and batting 1000 and winning the World Series. The Yankees aren't claiming that will happen. They don’t suggest that if you become a Yankee, you’ll bat 1000 and win the World Series. The Big 5 are the ones being dishonest about a writer's chances.

Working hard does NOT mean you'll have a great batting average, become a Yankee, and win a ring (though hard work can affect your odds of getting lucky, which is one reason to work hard). Just like a big publisher working hard does NOT guarantee you'll sell like Nora Roberts or Dean Koontz.

Big Bestseller: You have to scale praise or criticism to what is possible, within the parameters of likelihood. And it's arithmetically impossible for every book to be a bestseller. The word "best", after all, has meaning.

Barry: Well, not arithmetically impossible (there are different ranks of bestsellers, after all—the New York Times even helpfully numbers them), but perhaps linguistically impossible. Beyond that, I don’t disagree. I just don’t see the applicability of your otherwise true statement to an analysis of systems as lotteries.

Big Bestseller: You betray your bias by blithely walking into it later, when you mention: "Amazon’s unmatched direct-to-consumer marketing power." To which I say, of course, "If Amazon's marketing power is so great, it would produce nothing but massive bestsellers." Right? See what I did there?

Joe: Actually, no.

Amazon does have unmatched direct-to-consumer marketing power, via its website and email lists. Publishers treat the bookstore as the customer, not the reader. Besides, Amazon isn't pointing to Barry, or me, or Hugh Howey, as something attainable, nor is it spouting BS about meritocracy or the importance of gatekeepers. Amazon is keeping mum for the most part, just like legacy publishers are keeping mum, about actual sales figures.

Amazon doesn't spout the BS or the ridiculous claims that legacy pundits have in the last dozen times we've fisked them. If Amazon did, I'd admonish Amazon—I've been critical of them before when they removed reviews, and Barry and I both don't like the amount of legacy legalese creeping into their current contracts. As we've said, this is a business, not an ideology.

My intent is for authors to be treated fairly. So far Amazon is much better for authors than legacy publishers on contract terms, royalties, control, and many things authors want... with the exception of paper book distribution. Legacy trumps Amazon on paper distribution. But I'm doing well enough that I don't need those paper distribution to make a nice living.

Big Bestseller: And seriously, it's a question worth examining. Why has no AP title ever even approached a million sales? Why has no KDP title?

Barry: This is a great point precisely because it leads to the kind of honest and productive conversation about payoffs, odds, and risks Joe and I hoped to elicit with our post. We could talk about what legacy publishing’s power is intended to achieve, what Amazon’s power is intended to achieve… things like that. We could talk about the ways these two lotteries differ, while being careful to scale our praise or criticism to what is possible, within the parameters of likelihood. This is useful.

So why hasn’t Amazon had a million-copy bestseller yet? My guess is it’s primarily because their strength isn’t in paper and because their digital editions are Amazon exclusives, unavailable in other retail channels. Their focus is on selling a lot of digital copies to Amazon customers, and at this they’re demonstrably great. For some people, this kind of lottery will be attractive (it’s working better for me than the legacy one ever did, both in terms of overall volume and because I make so much more per unit with Amazon in digital). For others, such as you, it likely wouldn’t make sense. The point is to understand the benefits, odds, and costs of all the available lotteries so we can make the choices that are best for ourselves.

Big Bestseller: Because a million is fairly routine for a BPH e-book. Even though BPHs have "virtually no such power at all ..."

Barry: A million copies of an ebook is “routine” for BPH? (I confess I’m not not familiar with the abbreviation BPH, but I’m guessing you mean Big Publishing House?) That sounds like a huge number to me, but perhaps that’s because we hobnob with what Donald Maass would call different classes of author?

Anyway, in the absence of verifiable data it’s hard to know for sure, but judging from my own experience and from that of the many other Amazon-published authors I know, Amazon is indeed using its unmatched direct-to-consumer marketing power to generate sales for its authors far larger than those their previous, legacy publishers were able to achieve. Sales as large as yours? Not even close, I imagine. But this brings us back to that interesting and productive conversation about benefits, odds, and costs, of the different natures of the different lotteries, about why some people would want to play one and some people another.

Joe: A million is fairly routine? No, it isn't. Not even close. Not even close to being close.

It perhaps is fairly routine that a paper book that sells a million will sell a million ebooks, but even then I'd balk at the word "routine". A million is a lot of books, and very few titles sell that many. I'd posit those that do are bolstered by the omnipresent paper distribution, which we'll get into shortly...

Big Bestseller: Problem is, you're viewing Amazon's marketing in a solipsistic way. An Amazon blast might indeed be a wonder to behold, compared to anything else you've seen in *book* marketing, or not, but consumers are just regular folk, not especially interested in books - and, crucially, they're all getting somewhere between thirty and forty e-mail offers every day. Not technically "spam", as defined by their ISP's spam filters, but certainly spam as defined by their frontal lobes. They pay less and less attention. Delete, delete, delete. Direct-to-consumer marketing is a losing proposition now. It usually takes the public the best part of twenty years to wake up to something, and now folks are beginning to understand: the Internet is all about selling them something, and they're starting to build resistance.

Joe: Based on... what sources? If you look at what Amazon does to sell books, compared to what the legacy industry has done (big ads, book tours, coop to booksellers) I'd say people are more apt to buy books based on an email than a billboard. My numbers, both via Amazon campaigns and BookBub, show that visibility through email can increase sales for a title by 3000%, and that those effects last for a bit after the promo has ended.

Moreover, all A-Pub authors get this treatment. Which is why there is a disproportionately high percentage of A-Pub authors in Hugh's data

Barry: Direct-to-consumer marketing involves a lot more than just email campaigns. For example, there’s also merchandising on the Amazon website and ads on the home pages of Kindles, both of which are also exceptionally powerful sales tools. True, legacy publishers can indirectly achieve something similar by buying coop, whether in brick-and-mortar stores on the Amazon website. But legacy publishers have virtually no contact with, and therefore very little knowledge of the behavior of, end-user customers. They have less ability to tailor such campaigns to make them as effective as possible.

Also, I’m pretty sure it’s a mistake to dismiss all direct-to-consumer marketing as “a losing proposition now.” That’s an awfully broad statement when you consider how much it must encompass, now and historically.

I’ve seen amazing results from Amazon’s campaigns so far, but it’s certainly not logically impossible that direct-to-consumer marketing could lose its mojo. The key question, I think, is how much of what Amazon does akin to what Seth Godin calls “permission marketing,” and how much of it is akin to spam? People like permission marketing (“You want fries with that burger?”). They hate spam. I think if Amazon continues to do the former, they’ll stay strong. If they drift off into the latter, agreed, they’ll get tuned out. Either way, it’s probably a bit early to make across-the-board pronouncements about the death of direct marketing.

Much of this comes down to the question of, “What do you primarily want from your publisher?” Which can be rephrased as, “What are you primarily paying your publisher to do?” In a paper universe, I think the answer is “distribution.” In a digital universe, I think the answer is “marketing.” Now, as the consumption of books becomes increasingly digital, if you’re right about direct-to-consumer marketing being dead already and right about New York being the best marketing game in town, New York will be fine, and authors will continue to be happy paying New York 75% of their digital royalties in exchange for all that great marketing. I don’t see things shaking out that way, but I’m not clairvoyant and I could be wrong. Regardless, as long as authors are asking themselves these questions (“What do I want from my publisher? How likely is it my publisher will provide it? What will it cost me?”), I’m happy. How individuals decide is their own business.

Joe: One of the things I'm keenly aware of, and caution others against, is believing that because something worked for me, it must work for others.

It certainly can work for others. I've been thanked hundreds (thousands?) of times by authors who gave self-pubbing a try because of my blog, or after seeing me speak. Just like there are more authors on the bestseller lists than just you, BB. But we have to figure out odd, payoffs, and costs in order to make informed decisions.

Big Bestseller: I have absolutely no beef with Amazon—I make a fortune from them, many times more than any AP or KDP author. They're definitely one of my Top 10 trading partners around the world. But I believe the desire to buy my books comes from third-party recommendation, either a trusted voice inside the national conversation, or a trusted friend. Or chance browsing. Not direct-to-consumer marketing by the seller.

Barry: I doubt it’s either/or. And you’re arguing as though New York has some ability to market indirectly that Amazon and others intrinsically lack. What New York has that no one else does is potentially massive paper distribution. If legacy distribution results in no more than your being spine-out in every third B&N, it’s just distribution and gains you little visibility. But if it means you’re in every big box store, every front table of every B&N, every airport kiosk, every drugstore, then distribution becomes its own form of marketing, and agreed, no one can do this the way New York can. But how many people get that treatment? And how many of your sales do you expect to be in paper vs how many in digital? And how long will the paper party rock on? These are precisely the kinds of questions authors need to ask when deciding whether the legacy lottery is right for themselves.

That said, I agree that the best advertising is "third-party recommendation, either a trusted voice inside the national conversation, or a trusted friend." But I think you might be confusing the match and the kindling, on the one hand, with the long-term fuel, on the other. The question is, how do the flames get fanned? Presumably you wouldn’t argue that advertising is useless, coop is useless, blurbs are useless, etc, for purposes of igniting and fanning a national conversation. None of these efforts is either/or.

No book can get beyond a certain point without going viral. But there are various tools that can help in that enterprise. If your response to this would be, “Yes, Barry, but direct-to-consumer marketing isn’t one of those tools,” I’ll respectfully disagree.

Joe: BB, your diehard fans benefit from direct-to-consumer marketing, because they're looking for your next book. But I'd argue that chance browsing is the real factor behind many NYT bestsellers, because their books are available everywhere. If there is a selection of 15 titles in a CVS or an airport kiosk, and one is yours, those looking for that kind of book are limited in their choice by what is available.
In other words, you sell a lot because you're everywhere. That isn't taking anything away from your ability as a storyteller. It's simple numbers. The more places a book is for sale, the more copies it will sell.

Amazon sells books on Amazon. It is one location. And its location is closer to an even playing field than authors have ever had. It is also a location with no barriers to entry, is a relatively even playing field, and is a place where authors have a measure of control.

When I was legacy pubbed, I had no say in distribution, marketing, coop, or discounting. Your books all have incredible distribution, marketing, coop, and discounting. Mine never did. And it isn't a quality issue. Some of my titles have more, and higher, Amazon ratings than some of your titles, even though you outsell me by an astronomical amount.

Big Bestseller: Again, no beef. Your main argument seemed to be that it's relatively a little easier to earn decent money through AP or KDP, and I don't disagree. Hugh Howey's guesses—while hilarious in their earnestness—back that up, because I believe them to be accurate in broad substance. But the "Stephen King!" response is also valid, I think. Why not shoot for the big win? So timid not to.

Barry: Now who’s being solipsistic? (And I want you to know, I find your earnestness is endearing, too. ;)). Someone prefers to play in a lottery that’s different from the one you prefer, and that means she’s timid?

How about if we play a nice game of Russian roulette. Five chambers in the cylinder, one loaded, a million bucks if you win. An eighty percent chance of winning a million dollars!  What, you won’t play? When did you get so timid, my friend?

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with swinging for the fences. Nor is there anything wrong with just going for a solid base hit. All I’m concerned about is that people understand the odds and the risks of each so they can make decisions that are best for themselves. Which, as I’m sure you know, won’t always be the same as the decisions you feel are best for you.

Joe:  The “Stephen King” meme is not valid. You're quite literally one in a million. And, as Barry's post correctly pointed out, the cost for taking that shot is high compared to the chance of it happening.
It is a fallacy to believe we got where we are because we deserve it. A whole lot of stars had to align to just reach my small level of success. But for a JK Rowling to happen, the odds are astronomical (for more, I recommend Leonard Miodinow’s The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives). To advocate that approach to authors is unfair, and harmful. It's okay to sign an unconscionable deal with shitty royalty rates and no chance of ever getting your rights back for the 1/1000000 chance of selling as well as you do? No thanks. Especially because I'm pretty sure, once B&N collapses, most NYT bestsellers will see lower sales than ever before.

I can't match Patterson's sales in the paperback racks, because he's in all of them and I'm in none. I'm not a giant bestseller who releases 25 titles a year and has movies and TV shows based on my work. I'm not a regular guest CBS and NPR and have full page newspaper ads and television commercials and radio spots. But from time to time, my ebook titles can outsell his.

Again, everyone's mileage may vary, just as everyone's goals vary. Writers should understand the odds, payoffs, and costs. If they want to sell as much as King, Koontz, Roberts, Child, Clancy, Cussler, Rowling, Steel, Patterson, Grisham, etc. then the only way to currently do that is by signing with a BPH and hoping for the star treatment. Nothing wrong with chasing that dream, as long as you're informed of your chances.

Big Bestseller: And the win is bigger than you suggest, I think. Even at my level, which is far from the very top, the win is ten times bigger than we're seeing with AP or KDP, and even on your estimates it's not ten times harder to get there.

Barry: I named some of the biggest winners I know of, acknowledged that there’s more to the potential payout than just those megahits, and called upon New York to share anonymized data to help authors make better choices. As I said: if New York has the best lottery in town, why not back the story up with evidence?

I know, I know…because they don’t need to, everything is fine, self-publishing is the new slush pile. Maybe so. It’s interesting to watch it all unfold.

Big Bestseller: But that last paragraph refers to today's status quo. Will it sustain itself? No, I think, not in any recognizable way on either side, but that's a different subject entirely.

Barry: A different subject, agreed, but I wouldn’t say an entirely different one. Because depending on how much your digital sales are growing relative to your paper ones, you might find self-publishing or Amazon-publishing an increasingly attractive kind of lottery to play, and that inquiry involves the larger questions of, “What happens if B&N closes? What happens if digital continues to grow relative to paper overall? How long can the current structure of legacy publishing endure?" These were all part of my own decision several years ago. Not that my conclusions will necessarily be instructive for other authors, but I think the framework will be.

You want to know my favorite thing about all this? That we’re talking about it at all. Five years ago, or certainly ten, there was only one lottery to play, and conversations like this would have seemed pointless. Now, no matter how grudgingly or implicitly, everyone acknowledges there are new games in town. Trying to dismiss their significance or even their existence is like that Samuel Beckett line: “God. That bastard… he doesn’t exist.”

The new choices are real. Sometimes I forget how monumental that is. Sometimes I take for granted that even the staunchest establishment insiders like Maass and Gottlieb now feel compelled to try to marginalize them. But then I remember how awesome it is that for the first time authors have meaningful choices. Thanks for adding your voice and helping more authors make the best choices for themselves.

And now if only Scott Turow would say something…:D

Joe: Thanks, BB. And again, feel free to add comments, or email Barry or me if you want to add anything lengthy

101 comments:

Jonas Saul said...

The only way to make it in any business, whether it's retail, import/export, or publishing, is perseverance.

Write another book. Then repeat. Chance favors the prepared author. Keep at it.

Lotteries are hard to win, even with dozens of tickets. But ten tickets are better than one or two. Twenty tickets, even better.

I'm in for the long haul. Within a few years I'll have 50 titles on Amazon. Half way there now ... and making a living at this.

If you're a writer, choose your path, stay true, keep calm, keep your head down, and keep writing.

E. Nathan Sisk said...

Gotta admit, I'm really curious as to who that was.

Good conversation though, thanks!

Dan Eldredge said...

That's like saying, "If the Yankees are such a great franchise, how come they don't win the World Series *every* year? How come they don't all bat a thousand?"

I think it's more like saying, "If the Yankees are such a great franchise, how come they don't sell out all of their games?"
(wait, they do...or most of them, anyway)

We're not talking about the quality of the team/book, but how well it sells.

Alan Spade said...

"How about if we play a nice game of Russian roulette. Five chambers in the cylinder, one loaded, a million bucks if you win. An eighty percent chance of winning a million dollars! What, you won’t play? When did you get so timid, my friend?"

I love that! I know some persons will find these lines offensive. But they are so truthfull.

You can be a big bestseller, have tried once to submit your manuscript, have been vetted and then make big money (although I'm sure you have to got a very good lawyer with you, so as not to be screwed). Then, your view of the world can become distorted, you can begin to believe a big contract is not such a big deal.

And that's ignoring the reality of 99,99% of authors. For most of the authors, big publishing can be as offensive as Russian roulette.

Only the ones who didn't put all their efforts into their manuscript cannot understand that. It's so easily done, a single decision, and then, a whole career is ruined...

Jude Hardin said...

BB is an outlier. Surely she knows that.

How many authors in the traditional publishing world are actually making a living (the median household income in the United States is around $50K) from their writing?

How many self-published authors are making a living?

Those are the stats I would like to see, and I think Hugh's working on putting them together.

Based on casual observation, I would say that an author is much more likely to earn a living by self-publishing. If you have ten titles priced at $2.99 each, and you can manage to sell only seven copies of each title every day, then there's your $50K for the year.

So you don't have to win the lottery to make it as a self-published author. You just have to have ten books selling seven copies a day (or 23 books selling 3 copies a day).

Anonymous said...

The anonymous BB here ... thanks for posting.

Just to keep it moving ... I too bemoan the secrecy and lack of data, but naturally all I can do is contribute my own data, plus gossip I trust:

I have 11 million-selling Kindle books (might be 12 now - haven't checked for a while) and I'm fairly confident there are a couple dozen authors like me. I meant "routine" in terms of the top few dozen, which seemed to be the thrust of Barry's argument.

I'm as "genre" as it comes, and can report that 2012 was my peak Kindle year. My frontlist title did just over 60% Kindle in the US. In 2013, despite overall growth in numbers, paper came back and Kindle fell a full 10 percentage points to just over 50%.

And an observation: there's another self-pub meme out there that I distrust - everyone should join in/e-books are not zero sum/the more titles you have the more each will sell.

There's a specialized branch of science you can use to test ideas like that. It's called arithmetic. If you express those ideas as numbers, you're describing the lower slopes of an exponential curve that has to - can do nothing other than - explode upward until every cent of global GDP is spent on e-books, and every second of every human's day is spent reading them.

Which ain't going to happen. Of course e-books are zero-sum. When will the limit be reached? Sooner rather than later, probably. Which is why I see the future shaped differently than the present, for all of us. More later on that, if you wish.

Jude Hardin said...

By the way, a traditionally-published author with ten $2.99 ebooks would have to sell 37 copies of each every day to make the same money as the self-published author selling 7.

Only most traditionally-published ebooks are priced higher than $2.99 in the first place, which makes them tougher to sell, so the likelihood of that author reaching his/her living wage of $50K is diminished even further.

P. S. Power said...

It seems to me that the real answer here may be that the "best seller" of tomorrow is a very different thing than that of today.

Right now the big author on the block can put out a rather predictable and somewhat average work, and still have a best selling novel, celebrated by many.

As time goes on, people are beginning to change how they choose books however, due to the online experience.

Ten years ago, you bought what was in front of you in the store. Largely what the Big Six told you to. They held a monopoly on the major reviewers, bought with free books, care packages and expensive lunches.

Sometimes flat out bribes.

These reviews were in newspapers and well away from the work itself, so that a reader, in the store, had no clue what people were really saying about it.

Now we have reviews right next to the work, all the time. Stars staring a person in the face, even next to the biggest names out there.

While I don't always love this system, it is here to stay, and will be influencing markets.

Already we're seeing the death of the instant best seller. It's coming on slowly, with numbers dropping, drooping and dragging, rather than instantly being gone. It is happening however.

The new market will be a fight for hearts and minds, won only by people that have good work and the ability to catch the eye of the reader.

Sure, Stephen King will always be a top seller. So will Patterson, Rowling and several others. Their name is established.

Don't confuse that with anything that the publisher is doing. Right now Stephen King is being robbed by his publishers, every single day. He's rich enough that it won't matter to him, but it's still the truth.

The next Stephen King is going to have to be lean, hungry and know for a fact that he (or she) has to stay on top of their game for the long haul. Gone, or at least fading, are the days of the easy win. As the few "special snowflakes" at the top begin to melt and get old, their competition is coming up, ready to fight to take what they once thought was assured them.

So, yes, Stephen King is a six hundred pound gorilla, but Stephanie Myer better get on the ball and put out a few works that show improvement and catch her readers again, or she's in danger of fading away, even after what once would have been career making success.

I personally hope she manages it, but the point isn't her worth or value, but that we are, like it or not, entering a different arena, where the old rules are different than what we were once told.

So, publishers will increasingly be falling back on Stephen King as an example, but eventually people will point to him and say "Oh, him? Yes, my grandma loves him!"

Oh, wait, they already do.




Edward G. Talbot said...

BB:

You have 11 million-selling kindle books? If that's true, then it in all likelihood means there are quite a few million selling kindle books from Indie and AP authors as well, given how well represented those groups have been in the top 25 the past few years.


You said, "But the 'Stephen King!' response is also valid, I think. Why not shoot for the big win? So timid not to."

Well. . .why doesn't everyone start their own business in America? Why doesn't every athlete train as hard as pro athletes? Etc, etc. People look at various odds and risks and make decisions about how best to support themselves or achieve their goals.

The main complaint about the Stephen King argument is how much weight publishers give it compared to how many other pieces of the decision-making puzzle there are.

But I wouldn't take issue with the assertion that if you can get an agent and a Big 5 publisher, you may be more likely to wind up in the top few dozen-selling authors. Based on your numbers of dozens of authors selling over a million books per title - presumably some quite a bit more since you have said you are far from the top - that would become 8 figures of income (including residual) a year within 5 years at two books a year.

No one knows anything like exact numbers on odds or income. I'm certainly willing to accept that there are several dozen authors in the U.S. making 8 figures. As Joe and Barry said, that's a valid point to bring up. Just not in a vacuum the way some of the traditional publishing apologists do it.

Annalouise said...

BB, good for you! I hope you're successful forever!
Now I was like Joe-- a Big-5 published author who had big problems and no real support. I don't want to get started on the bad covers, the refusal to reprint when a print run sold out, the book that somehow never got delivered to any bookstores, the draconian terms, the worthless agents-- look, I'm getting started. I would like to point out though that you're staying in the Ritz, and I was relegated to a flophouse near the railroad, and we both were "big-5 published." You know your experience, and goodness knows, if I had your experience, I'd be happy too. But if you had MY experience, you'd probably be less happy. And my experience is actually a lot more common.

I used to think bestsellers were forever, that you could even stop writing and be rich for life, and that's still probably true for some bestsellers. (I met a guy recently whose first book became the genesis of a longrunning film series, and I think he's quite happy.) But when I was getting badly published in the 90s, friends of mine were getting the star treatment and writing bestseller after bestseller-- million copy printruns, international booktours, all that. Not one of them is still a bestseller, and most actually got dropped by their publisher (and are indy publishing their backlist and doing well). Why? I don't know. I really thought if you had a huge fanbase and publisher support and bookstore presence, you were set for life. But genres dies, readers die, new things spring up.
Are the big publishers nimble enough to deal with that? No. You might not know that-- you're still selling well in print. But what we are seeing-- those of us who aren't selling great-- is that the publishers are resisting change just as the record companies did. They're going out and acting like their biggest retailer (Amazon) is their enemy. They're colluding and breaking the law in order to maintain the price control they always got away with before. They're dissing writers and referring to us as "content providers" and "cattle".

They have spent a decade making mistakes in the digital world, and they don't seem to have learned one thing. Now you might be glad to hitch your star to your publisher, and I bet it's going to work out great, because they're going to devolve even more to "the places that publish a few dozen bestsellers every year." And you'll be one of those.

But for the rest of us, nah. Why sign away our rights to our own books-- ones we can sell ourselves-- to companies that are so resistant to change, so hostile to us, so ignoring of readers?

Just to sum-- if I had your experience, I'd be happy too. But please do accept that few of us have your experience. And we still want to write and reach readers, and we can't do that with the BPH, and it's only going to get more unlikely there for the rest of us.

But good on you for having the talent, persistence, work ethic, and experience, and I think a very good sense of what your readers want, to make it big and keep it big!
Annalouise

Anonymous said...

Anonymous BB again ...

Jude Hardin, you're describing a high volume/low margin vs. low volume/high margin choice of "lottery", which was Barry's point, I think.

And PS Power, I liked the first half of your comment, but then ... really? No one is robbing Stephen King. He chose the high volume path, and believes he's doing better with it.

Because ... there's a fallacy at the heart of your argument. "Stephen King sells x million books a year, so think how much more he could earn as an indie!" As an indie, he wouldn't sell x million. He would sell a smaller number. Personally I think this is why e.g. Turow and you all talk past each other. Turow's view is of an immensely complex and expensive promotion machine, and he can't imagine life without it. Neither can I, frankly. Which is why I'm interested in what AP and KDP publicity mechanisms can achieve - which, the evidence says, is not yet life-changing.

Again, I understand almost no one gets such service - but Barry's post was about the *winners* of two respective lotteries, not the fifth prizes.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with P.S. Power about a new kind of bestseller. If BB has 11 million-seller titles, he/she has been around for a couple of decades now, and, with all due respect, has very little to offer as far as predicting how and where the next Stephen King is going to come from. This is a case where 2 decades of positive experiences are actually a hindrance to clear thinking. This is not some cheap, blind shot at BB's intelligence but is simply based on the assumption that BB is a human being with the ability to fool himself into thinking that the past is an accurate predictor of the future, even in an industry that is clearly changing in profound ways.

The BPHs aren't going away. They will always attract some portion of the top talent and top sellers. But they no longer will have a lock on those assets. BPH has operated as a cartel for the past 70-odd years, and that cartel of BPH is going to get hit. The market is finally going to get a chance to sort out the winners from the losers. Not saying you're one of them, but I know for a fact that several million-selling BPH authors who've been around for a couple of decades are thanking the heavens they aren't starting off now...

And as for the million-seller indie title? You do realize that it's only been about 3 or 4 years since this shadow industry of self-publishing has gotten going. This is just the beginning of the beginning.

But respect to you, BB, for engaging in a reasonably thoughtful and respectful manner, unlike some of your business partners in the world of BPH. (Maass: "Class system! Prize cattle! Freight class!" Steve Z.: "Separate All Self-Published Works at Retailers!" Shatzkin: "I am a publishing industry consultant, but I refuse to look at any more of the reports coming from Howey because I am sulking now.")

In the end we are all a part of the same industry. We will be competitors, collaborators, friends, and enemies over the course of our careers, even though all the press these days is focused on the "enemy" aspect.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Talbot said, "You have 11 million-selling kindle books? If that's true, then it in all likelihood means there are quite a few million selling kindle books from Indie and AP authors as well, given how well represented those groups have been in the top 25 the past few years."

This is the problem with Hugh Howey's analysis. The shape of the upper part of the curve changes all the time, and is heavily distorted by pre-orders, which show up as sales at midnight on release day, and therefore influence the list for an hour only. My 2013 midnight number was 270,000. There's no rational way to reflect that in an earnings report. Amazon talks to us too - why wouldn't it? - and there have been no million selling AP or KDP titles yet.

Joe Konrath said...

Gotta admit, I'm really curious as to who that was.

A well-known, generous, and smart author that I happen to like, even though we disagree on many things.

Good writer, too.

Alan Tucker said...

The crux of this comes back to choices. How many we have and the likelihood of success in any of them.

I don't think anyone can argue that the payout from landing a stratospheric deal from a legacy publisher is potentially much larger than becoming a perennial Indie bestseller on Amazon. What is the probability, however, of either one happening? Small, to be sure, on both options. Yet, one is exponentially smaller than the other from what I see. And one I have control over whether and how I play.

BB, you mentioned "life-changing" in one of the comments above. The number value assigned to that term is different for everyone. For the first time, I earned enough this month to pay my mortgage and most of my bills from my writing. If I continue to do that on a regular basis, that's life-changing for me.

I do want to thank you for joining in this discussion. It's extremely enlightening for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous BB to Anonymous ...

My predictions for the future might surprise you. I think there won't be any Stephen Kings anymore. I think bestsellers as we know them won't exist, because - and this is about a lot more than books and reading - I think there won't be any mass national conversation anymore, no mass TV audiences, etc, etc. I think media generally will be microscopically fragmented. Writing will become (in the very best sense of the word) a cottage industry, with thousands of times more people making a decent-ish living doing roughly what KDP authors are doing now, i.e. catering to a small, but very dedicated audience of their own.

When? Well, the technological basis for my general argument rests on broadband access, which has far to go in the US, but between 5 and 20 years.

Joe Konrath said...

I have 11 million-selling Kindle books (might be 12 now - haven't checked for a while) and I'm fairly confident there are a couple dozen authors like me. I meant "routine" in terms of the top few dozen, which seemed to be the thrust of Barry's argument.

I could believe two dozen authors are selling that well. But there are 3 million ebook titles on Amazon. Selling that well is pretty much never going to happen for the majority of us.

When I was in the legacy system, I sold 1/10,000,000 of your paper sales.

But my ebook sales are 1/12 of yours. I'm guessing you make better than 12.5% of list price in royalties, but I'm making about $2.70 per ebook. And there are a lot more than two dozen writers like me.

If you express those ideas as numbers, you're describing the lower slopes of an exponential curve that has to - can do nothing other than - explode upward until every cent of global GDP is spent on e-books, and every second of every human's day is spent reading them.

I understand the math, but you have to remember that ebooks are forever. I don't compete for your readers either in terms of dollars or time. They'll buy us both, especially if we're both priced appropriately.

When a booklover has $50 to spend, it could be two $25 hardcovers, or 10 $5 ebooks. That's natural human behavior. 2 for $1 gets people to buy two. There is a buffet/hoarding mentality to shopping for hobbies, addictions, entertainment, etc.

As for time, my TBR list is already too long to ever finish in the years I have left. But I still keep buying books, and I'm not alone.

Joe Konrath said...

I think media generally will be microscopically fragmented.

I agree. And it's a smart prediction.

But while we'll have fewer blockbusters, and more of the niche artists sharing that pie, there will still be 80/20 rules and bell curves and occasional big hits.

And we do have some self-pub authors making 8 figures. I'm on the low end of the KDP bestselling author lists.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Tucker said, " For the first time, I earned enough this month to pay my mortgage and most of my bills from my writing. If I continue to do that on a regular basis, that's life-changing for me."

Absolutely, and sincere apologies for any unintended offense. I should have said "needle-moving" instead - i.e. by how much does a promoted title outsell a non-promoted title. I stick to my point that AP and KDP marketing as we know it now, when judged by results, isn't hugely effective.

Jude Hardin said...

For the first time, I earned enough this month to pay my mortgage and most of my bills from my writing. If I continue to do that on a regular basis, that's life-changing for me.

That's what I'm talking about!

That's not winning the lottery. That's working for a living.

And there are thousands of self-published authors doing just that.

Are there thousands of Big 5 midlisters paying their bills every month solely from what they earn writing novels?

Ask Joe about that. And he was one of the lucky ones who got decent advances.

Anonymous said...

Anon BB here again:

Joe said, "And we do have some self-pub authors making 8 figures."

With the greatest respect (and you know we've known each other for years) ... really? Plural? My ear is as close to the ground as anyone's, and I know this business backward, and I have dozens of clued-in friends in the KDP community, and I have as many - or more - friends in certain Seattle offices as you, and that's the first such claim I have ever heard.

The thrust of the OP was all about how authors should have accurate information. Is that really accurate? If you can't provide links, have the person or people e-mail me privately, and I'll retract right here in bold capitals.

Alan Tucker said...

@BB - certainly no offense taken. Just wanted to clarify what we're talking about.

And the effectiveness of Amazon's marketing is a moving needle as well. From what I've seen, their market share is increasing, so that needle will probably rise. If B&N does follow Borders into bookseller heaven, I think we can agree that needle will only rise more.

Simon and Schuster was founded in 1924. Amazon was founded in 1994. I'd say they've done pretty well so far considering the seventy year head start some of the Big 5 had.

Joe Konrath said...

really? Plural?

Two is plural. So yes. :)

Keep in mind that while you're privy to what the best of the best NYT bestsellers are making, I'm privy to what many of the top self-pubbers are doing. Many of them have contacted me directly.

But it isn't my business to reveal their names, any more than I'd reveal your name.

It's also fine if you don't believe me. Prior to www.authorearnings.com, there were a lot of people that didn't believe how big this shadow industry was. Some see the figures and still don't believe.

Barry and I have an ongoing argument, about persuasion.

I don't try to persuade. My purpose is to hone my arguments until they're unassailable. And once someone proves me wrong, I change my mind and go with the better argument.

I'm not out to prove myself. I'm actively looking for people to prove I'm wrong.

Paolo Amoroso said...

Some food for thought on the effectiveness of email: Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong

Alan Spade said...

"but Barry's post was about the *winners* of two respective lotteries, not the fifth prize": I believed, on the contrary, that Joe and Barry's post demonstrated that Big Publishing is just trumpeting its winners in order to fool more authors.

"I stick to my point that AP and KDP marketing as we know it now, when judged by results, isn't hugely effective."

And I'm personally glad AP and KDP marketing are not making it as big as Big Publishing. I prefer a fragmented market where many authors earn a living than an unfair market where a few Gatekeepers make or undo a few 8 figures authors.

More power to the readers, and more power to more authors.

Joe Konrath said...

I'll also add a quantifier--8 figures pre-taxes.

The IRS takes a big bite.

Anonymous said...

Joe, re the above, at your rates, that's 4m KDP books a year each, which Amazon specifically denies. Which doesn't mean I don't believe you - just that Amazon's secrecy is getting truly, truly weird.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, re the above, at your rates, that's 4m KDP books a year each, which Amazon specifically denies. Which doesn't mean I don't believe you - just that Amazon's secrecy is getting truly, truly weird.

Who's to say it's all on Amazon?

Anonymous said...

It sounds like Amazon has only admitted there isn't a million-seller TITLE. The millionaire indie authors are selling 8, 10, 20 titles and making a $2-$3.50 royalty per sale.

William Ockham said...

BPH = Benign prostatic hyperplasia
OR
BPH = Big Publishing House

Usually, the context is enough to differentiate.

What BB is missing is the structure of the consumer market. I'm going to keep harping on this until it sinks in. The reason that there are bestselling titles is that some readers read very few books per year and some readers read very many. The people who barely read books at all (less than six per year) create bestsellers. They can't afford to take much risk on a new (to them) author. If they read BB's books and like them, they will keep buying one per year forever as long as BB consistently puts out good books.

No single novel ever gains much market share. There are probably about 200 million book buyers in the U.S. If you sell 2 million copies of a title in a year (dead tree and dead electron), your title is a top 5 bestseller. That's a 1% market share (of buyers, assuming no one buys multiple copies).

But there are 15-20 million book buyers who read 50+ books a year. There's money to be made from those folks (people like me) that the best sellers can't get (at least not much).

One question for BB: Do your books earn out? BPH consultant Shatzkin says that contracts for writers like you are written so that they don't. Konrath thinks your backlist titles probably have. Me, I'm just curious.

Lyn Perry said...

Anon BB said: "I think there won't be any mass national conversation anymore"

I've thought about this issue as well. In our collective memory we have touchstone children's books that have informed our childhood - many, if not most, of us have read (or at least can make informed allusions to) Harriet the Spy, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Giving Tree, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - all of which turn 50 this year. Though I'm in favor of all the self-publishing benefits on the table in this modern era, I too wonder if the days of these "best seller/culture forming" books/events are over.

Jude Hardin said...

Amazon used to have what they called the "Kindle Million Club," but they stopped doing that two or three years ago. That doesn't mean that there aren't authors (indie and traditional) still selling that many Kindle ebooks. It just means that Amazon is no longer publicizing it.

Joe Konrath said...

In our collective memory we have touchstone children's books that have informed our childhood - many, if not most, of us have read

Why should this end?

My mother read me Cat in the Hat, I read it to my sons, my sons will read it to their kids.

How much of it is legacy preserving culture vs. parents teaching their children what they want to teach them?

Robert Bidinotto said...

I have to take a moment from finishing up my second (yes, only second) novel to (a) thank BB [and I have a good idea who BB is] for participating, and to (b) thank him for amending his comment about "life-changing" income.

Like your first book, mine -- self-published -- has been life-changing, in every positive respect. Sales have been a tiny fraction of yours, but the money has been damned good, given 70% royalties on a $3.99 ebook. Good enough to rescue The Wife and me from certain financial ruin while unemployed and past age 60; good enough, in fact, to sustain us for two years. I expect the soon-to-be-released #2 to give us an additional lift.

You see, my calculation of publishing lottery odds was for stakes higher than most. It was a Hail Mary pass. If it didn't connect, we were going to be in a very bad place. But -- and here's the point -- if I'd tried to go through traditional publishing, our doom would have been guaranteed. There was simply not enough time for me to complete my book, then shop around for an agent, then have the agent shop around for a publisher, then wait around for an advance, before we would have been bankrupt, lost our home, and pretty much everything else.

Self-publishing was not just a better shot for me. Past age 60 and facing imminent ruin, it was my only shot. I was able to publish my debut thriller just 17 days after finishing the manuscript. And it was precisely KDP marketing -- which you said "isn't hugely effective" -- that propelled my debut novel to #1 in Kindle "Mysteries & Thrillers" and #4 overall. Unless your name is Suzanne Collins or Barbara Freethy, for a few days my book was selling even better than yours.

Not all writers have as great a stake in the outcome of a publishing decision as I did. But in terms of the odds of their making decent money from their writing, here is one thing they must weigh: By choosing the indie route, they have a 100% certainty of publishing their book. What are their comparable odds if they choose to go the traditional route? And how long will they have to wait to see any return on their investment?

I am sincerely thrilled by your example and by your success on the route you have chosen. But it is a path you first started down years ago. The publishing world today is a very different place. The path to publication, let alone to your level of sales, is steeper than ever, and the odds of reaching bestseller status are now vanishingly small. That's why every day I silently thank those (including Joe) who encouraged me to take my writing career into my own hands, rather than jump on the Query-Go-Round, where my fate would have been subject to the decisions of others. Please don't discourage others who are pondering whether to do the same.

Thanks again for joining this discussion, and I wish you every continued success.

Anonymous said...

Anon BB here:

Mr. Ockham asked, "One question for BB: Do your books earn out?"

At the time of negotiation, we get as much as we can as an advance, to the point where earn-out looks unlikely. But I've been lucky in that my numbers keep going up, so yes, my contracts have been earning out - within three years at the quickest, more typically five.

But Shatzkin's point is well taken. An "advance on royalties" has a Shrodinger-like quality: first it's a known and quantifiable cost in the P&L calculation, which might well have nothing to do with expected future earnings, and then later it becomes all about those earnings. Publishers won't make a deal if they can't see profit, but profit isn't about earning out. They push the envelope a bit because they want reliable cash flow, etc.

Anonymous said...

Anon BB again:

Mr. Bidinotto said, "Please don't discourage others ... "

I hope I'm not ... I don't have time for a long essay, but I hope my fragmented comments here convey my belief that what you're doing now is what we'll all be doing in the near future. My path will be no longer available. It's probably already a thing of the past. All I'm trying to do - perhaps prematurely - is to use your current experiences to foretell the future. Y'all keep saying it's coming, and you're right, it is. So as a matter of personal interest I'm trying to imagine what it will look like. Not exactly like the SP world today, but similar in some aspects.

P. S. Power said...

All right: Is Stephen King being ripped off?

This really depends on how you look at things, and some guesses.

This is the simplified version, not taking into account variances in initial starting point, due to middle men. It actually helps the Big Five is king idea, rather than being geared to harm their position.

If Mr. King is making 25% royalties, and sells 1,000,000 books at $10.00 he will make $2.50 a book, or 2.5 million dollars, before taxes, agent fees and all that.

If on the other hand he put out a stand alone e-book, handling things himself, on Amazon.com and get's half that amount, or 500,000 sales at seventy percent royalty, still charging ten dollars for his book, that works out to...

3.5 million.

Now his personal goals may be to get to the greatest amount of readers, not collect the highest amount of money, but assuming that he has a regular persons ability to hire some editors and cover artists, that would work pretty well for him.

Assuming that he only got half his normal sales. I think that his name would actually drive people to e-books, that had been only paper readers before, changing that dynamic, but I can't prove that.

So, is he being ripped off? Well, f his publishers hide these facts from him, then yes. If they are being up front and he makes that decision anyway, then no.

I never claimed I didn't use provocative language!

Denying that this would work well for him, or Paterson, or Rowling, or you, most likely, is silly. The biggest names have the biggest draw, for now.

The value of the art comes from the artist. The publisher drinks from their cup, but isn't giving as much back, even to the big boys and girls, as they used to.

That's all. it isn't a trick, or an illusion.

Just a new way of doing things.

Lyn Perry said...

Joe said: "My mother read me Cat in the Hat, I read it to my sons, my sons will read it to their kids."

Right. The current classics will likely continue into the future. But will there be a 'Dog in the Sock' equivalent classic book written today that will be read 50 years from now? Not sure.

What the gatekeepers did in the past created a de facto 'national consensus' bestseller that captured our collective conscience. I'm wondering - with AnonBB - if those days are over. Not that I'm in favor of gatekeepers, per se, but we used to have 'big books' that most agreed should be in a typical AP lit class. In the future, who knows?

Or, different context, other than Super Bowl Sunday, the nationally shared cultural event seems to have gone the way of closing stores for 3 hours on Good Friday. Not bemoaning the fact necessarily, just observing the shift.

Alan Spade said...

"I don't have time for a long essay, but I hope my fragmented comments here convey my belief that what you're doing now is what we'll all be doing in the near future."

If even Anonymous BB concedes that things are definitely changing. :)

Anonymous said...

Just wondering with all this talk of how many authors are selling how much on Amazon, Joe, will you share your Amazon author ranking? We can't draw any conclusions from this, but as Joe is very tranparent with his earnings (and thank you for that), it might be interesting.

Joe Konrath said...

=If Mr. King is making 25% royalties

He's not. He's making more.

So are other big bestsellers.

Joe Konrath said...

My current Amazon Author Rank is #172.

Earlier this month I peaked at #50. My low for the month was #289.

Isn't there a way to see these ranks other than Author Central?

Suzanne Cowles said...

Let me start by saying that I have great respect for all of you who follow your creative passion. I see an argument over legacy v indie/self-pub and one over format (print or digital). The two are not mutually exclusive.

The bottom line is that you are hocking a good that needs to get to the consumer. If you have something that has value then why does it matter how it gets there. The rules of business still apply to this industry and art will always be subjective.

Consumer tastes change over time as does technology. Does anyone buy a record album anymore? No, they buy one song on Itunes. Do you think the music industry was happy with the concept of this when it first started? Probably not. But the reality is that consumer demand drove the market to change.

And with that came the door opened to new artists. Now there are a zillion people I've never heard of who have a download at the Apple Store. They may have one song and disappear forever. But there are still famous bands, even new ones and there always will be the top 20%. The same thing applies to books and films. Consumer tastes shift and the market responds.

I think the big 5 will always be here, as will Amazon. And at some point they may merge or start to work together more.

The top 20% authors are sticking with legacy so that they are free to write. The percentage they pay is worth it to them. Running a self publishing business is a business in itself and not everyone has the skills required to be successful at doing both.

And concerning format, I prefer printed books but that doesn't matter. What I've seen by sampling books at Amazon is a high percentage of very bad writing. Forget about story creation, character development, original concept and all of the other things that have to pan out to create a bestseller. The grammar, prose, passive voice, adverbs, slang, curse words etc. leave me wanting to start a website called "Grammar Snark". I do occasionally come across great books, but they are never free. (And I'm not knocking those who choose a free promotion period for their work. I'm just saying that I've never seen Stephen King give away his labor).

So to anyone just starting out, I would say research as much as you can about all possible routes and go with whatever meets your future goals. Also dream big, that's the reason we create art in the first place.

Cheers,
Suzanne Cowles

Anonymous said...

"If even Anonymous BB concedes that things are definitely changing."

It's not a question of conceding. We're not in a dispute* here. I'm describing, that's all. I take things as I find them, and act appropriately. I've done well with publishing, but I'm sure future-me would do just as well in the new environment.

*In fact, those who see this as publishing-vs.-self-publishing are missing the point. Much larger forces will alter both.

chris said...


@BB: Firstly, thank you for the commentary. I love reading Joe's blog about SP and Mike's take on traditional but your comments here today have provided a more balanced and reasoned outlook. Plus both Joe and Mike can be antsy pricks at times with their gruff demeanour. ;)

I'm guessing your initials are NR. If so, I've only ever read your commentary on the net since I'm way out of your readership demographic. If you are not NR then please take the mistaken identity as a compliment. You certainly come off as someone who is witty, sincere and cognizant.

So... now that I've blown enough wind up your arse ... can you flick one of those million selling kindle titles over to my KDP account?!! Because that's the only way I'm gonna ever see those kind of numbers on my self-publishing dashboard. :)



Edward G. Talbot said...

@Anon BB:

"This is the problem with Hugh Howey's analysis. The shape of the upper part of the curve changes all the time, and is heavily distorted by pre-orders, which show up as sales at midnight on release day, and therefore influence the list for an hour only. My 2013 midnight number was 270,000. There's no rational way to reflect that in an earnings report. Amazon talks to us too - why wouldn't it? - and there have been no million selling AP or KDP titles yet."

Thank-you for sharing specific numbers. However, it's not accurate that pre-orders are only reflected for an hour in the rankings. There are quite a few pre-orders in the Amazon top 1000 right now, so those sales are in fact reflected in the rankings as they are occurring. wouldn't surprise me if Amazon treats them differently in the rankings that regular sales, but whatever the difference is, it doesn't appear to be major.

Now, any book that immediately jumps to #1 due to a massive number of sales all at once will indeed skew estimates like Howey's. And sometimes there will be a couple of books right behind it that our also skewing things.

So I think there is some validity to your point that at the very top (say the top five), numbers for a single day may vary by five figures (probably not six) for a given ranking. However it still seems statistically improbable to me that dozens of traditionally published authors are selling a million of a single kindle title and no KDP or AP authors are. Given how many KDP and AP books are generally in the top ten, for that to be the case, the traditional books would have to have six figures of actual orders/sales in a day on more than one occasion each.

While I could accept that it happens very occasionally that a book has 100K kindle sales in a day, it would likely have to be only books with FAR more than 270K total pre-orders. I don't know how many titles that would be, but I'm thinking we're not in the dozens any more.

Again, my point is not to dispute that dozens of authors have titles that sell a million kindle copies, merely that if that is the case, a few KDP and AP authors almost certainly have to have such titles.

Thanks again for the comments and information!

Anonymous said...

Top 100 Authors on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/author-rank

Anonymous said...

Joe Konrath said...

Isn't there a way to see these ranks other than Author Central?


Just found it: http://www.amazon.com/author-rank

Dr Seuss is #25!

Anonymous said...

Do you think Anonymous Data Guy can work that into his stats?

Alan Spade said...

HM Ward is ranked #5! Kudos to her.

For myself, I figured Anon BB was Lee Child, not NR (because the kind of books he publishes is more akin of Joe's). Anyway, thank you for your open mind, who you may be.

Anonymous said...

The question for BB, then, is if you were starting over clean and clear TODAY, would you accept the BPH offer?

Because that will be lower royalties, less, if any, control, etc...

I think it's fair to say that the standard contract offered two decades ago wouldn't be the same as the one offered today... the terms would be more difficult and harder to negotiate (espec with ebook versions, etc)... would be interesting to compare your first offer as an untested author to the same offer made today, you know?

Would you, for example, take a standard offer from Harlaquinn?

I'm asking in all honesty and respect... the position you hold today you certainly earned, but I'd argue you earned it over a period of time and circumstances that have evolved and changed considerably, just in the last five years... I honestly want to know...

Would you take a no-compete offer?

Todd Travis.

Joe Konrath said...

While it may be fun to speculate who BB is, the fact that s/he prerers to remain anonymous means we should respect that, please.

Robert Bidinotto said...

"I'm Spartacus..."

Jeremy Lee James said...

I'll respect BB's anonymity, but speculation is harmless fun, and I'm pretty sure it's Lee Child, too.

Great article. I learned a lot.

Anonymous said...

If I made the Yankees, I would be part of a union and my min. salary would be $500,000 gauranteed. If you make it into one of the big 5 publishers your contract is negotiable. Even if you keep working hard and playing well for the "team" you can still get a crap salary, just like anyone still in the "minor leagues".

Making the Yankees is a lottery too, but at least I know what I have to do to win.

If players could be dropped from the team because fans now expected them to hit at the same stat using cricket bats or wearing football helmets now, because taste changed for what they wanted out of the entertainment, then it would be a little publishing.

P. S. Power said...

Wait!

Joe, you aren't really saying that King and others get something like seven dollars on a ten dollar book, are you?

I know I simplified the math, but if he makes even five dollars on each ten dollar deal (50%) then heck yeah he should stick with the Big Five!

I think, what you mean is different than that however, isn't it? That he gets a portion left after Amazon and his publisher take their cut?

Or are you saying that the big publishers make almost no, to no money at all off of those millions of sales?

If so, then they really are doomed. :)

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful to see the different opinions from both sides of the industry represented here, but also, the different predictions for the future.

There's a lot of talk about print sales, which seem to be the big earner for BB's (correct me if I'm wrong on that).

So with print and the future in mind, I was wondering how you all thought that would pan out with future readers?

It's rarely mentioned, but I believe young readers are the defining variable for predicting the future of book sales. When you boil it all down, in twenty years' time, the teen reader from today will be the book buyer of tomorrow.

Because I write for teens, I see a lot of young readers heading for free reading sites (serialized and fan fiction sites etc.). I think this is because they don't have much of a place at Amazon or in online book stores (who offer unfriendly forums and 'credit card' only sales systems). I'd very much like to see that improve at Amazon. I think a large volume of sales are lost because younger readers don't have a voice online.

On the other hand, I don't know one teen reader who would choose a paperback over the app on their cell phone. Paperbacks aren't a dying breed for them. They're already dead and gone. My teen readers won't touch a paperback. They use them to prop up tables, and use their phones and an app to carry their library around with them. When they spend their pocket money, it's on low-priced e-books (assuming their parents help them out with a credit card to use).

If I was going to predict my current reader's ideal reading app, it would be subscription-based to read a large array of books for a fixed monthly fee. It would be something their parents would pay for that was both safe for children and provided a wide range of entertainment and education for that child. The reason this would be a system that worked is because video game companies have already implemented it. Subscription-based entertainment is already happening, just not with books.

As for genre; romance and speculative fiction seem to be the strongest genres with younger readers. Fan fiction and manga-influenced fiction is also rapidly growing in popularity.

These are just my own observations based on what I see, but how viable is traditional publishing if it's great wealth is all invested in print?

For indies, how much is Amazon going to adapt to include the next generation of readers?

I believe the most flexible system will survive. The one that can adapt to suit its readers. Right now, that looks like the e-book and Amazon to me.

I might be very wrong, but aren't the future readers the biggest variable in the equation of future book sales? When you boil it all down, won't the readers be the ones to decide what kind of book survives in the future?

I see innovation in the growing shadow industry, but traditional publishing seems to be lagging behind. I don't know how relevant it is that traditional is earning more right now (assuming it is). Isn't the important question how popular it will be tomorrow?

Most of my fans are young. They haven't been given a place online where they can buy books. They'd give anything to be able to spend their pocket money on books, but they're not allowed to by the websites that currently exist, so they gather in the free reading spaces online and create a shadow industry of their own, which just seems to keep on growing.

The first company to corner that market in a child-safe environment is going to win the race imo. Right now, that isn't looking like Amazon or New York. Wattpad are the closest to it.

I was just wondering how both sides of the argument felt about younger readers and reaching them. To me, it seems that the future of books lies in the hands of the young reader, who isn't well-represented in any book store, so they're flooding to the free online sites instead.

Anonymous said...

I am nobody (by which I mean an indie midlister who made six figures last year publishing very part time) and *I* personally know two indies who made well over a million dollars and two or three who made over 500k. And they all fly under the radar, i.e., I doubt BB has ever heard of any of them. But that doesn't mean they don't exist.

Joe Konrath said...

I was just wondering how both sides of the argument felt about younger readers and reaching them.

I think touching younger readers is immoral, and illegal.

Oh, wait... reaching.

I don't actually worry about it. I'm 43. I figure I can last at least 20 more years before my generation, and the Boomers ahead of me, start dying off and hurting my sales.

Not that considering the future isn't a wise move--it is. But it isn't on my list of immediate concerns.

Joe Konrath said...

But that doesn't mean they don't exist.

I don't disbelieve you. But the burden of proof does fall on the one claiming experience.

I said I know some indie authors earning 8 figures. But it isn't in my authority to out them. So I won't. But it also makes my words, and yours, suspect without proof.

Joe Konrath said...

Joe, you aren't really saying that King and others get something like seven dollars on a ten dollar book, are you?

No. Last I heard, King gets a smaller advance and splits royalties 50/50 with his publisher. I linked to it in some recent blog--search for King.

Paul Draker said...

Anonymous BB...

This is exactly the type of open, honest, frank conversation that new writers like me have been looking for, and not seeing at all, from the traditional publishing world.

Thank you for sharing your time, experience, and insights in this forum where a lot of new writers, ranging from the die-hard indie to the tradcurious, are coming to learn.

And Joe and Barry, this was awesome. Kudos to you guys for hosting BB here.

I hope we see many more conversations like this in the future.

Anonymous said...

From Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding...

"New York publishing increasingly resembles the Hollywood world of blockbuster-or-bust, in which a handful of books earn all the hype and do humongous business; others succeed as low-budget indies; and the rest are released to a shudder of silence, if at all. Advances skew to the very high and the pitifully low, and the overall economics of the industry amplify and reinforce this income gap, as the blockbuster novelist not only sells her book to an actual film studio—thus stepping out of the shadow-world into the true bright one—but also parcels out lucrative translation rights to foreign markets. The advance multiplies; the money makes money. And—what's better than money—people will actually read the book.

Thus the literary-corporate publishing industry comes to replicate the prevailing economic logic, in which the rich get richer and the rest live on hope and copy-editing."

----

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2010/11/mfa_vs_nyc.single.html

R Williams said...

Joe, you said "When a booklover has $50 to spend, it could be two $25 hardcovers, or 10 $5 ebooks. That's natural human behavior. 2 for $1 gets people to buy two. There is a buffet/hoarding mentality to shopping for hobbies, addictions, entertainment, etc."

I really don't think this is true for the majority of book buyers.While there are undoubtedly readers whose appetite for books exceed their budget (romance readers often fall into this category, so it is no surprise that romance writers do particularly well in self-publishing and ebooks in general) for many readers, such as those that read 1-12 books a year, the biggest constraints on their reading is time and competition for that time. For instance, last month I bought a $5 ebook which took me three weeks to get through. This month I bought a $15 paperback as there wasn't an ebook version available. If there was a $5 ebook version, I would have bought it, but I wouldn't have spent the $10 I saved on more books - I haven't the time to read them. I'll spend the $10 on something else: movie downloads, beer, a meal ... most likely beer.... What is more crucial for me is that it that the book does not waste my time, so I'm wary of trying new authors (something William Ockham alluded to) no matter what the price.

The same is true for other entertainment too. Movie theaters know this which is why they price in a similar way. They know If you go to the movies once a week and it costs $10, you are not going to go ten times a week if they reduce the price of entrance to a dollar.

This is something many debates about publishing are forgetting. You are correct when you say authors are not competing with each other, Joe, but I think many of us are failing to recognize who we are competing against: video games, TV shows, films, apps, videos of cats on YouTube etc etc. And as writers and publishers, I think addressing how to attract people from these other activities is far more important than the self-publishing/trad publishing debate (which on both sides tends to be driven by cognitive bias, so it is a bit like a Republican and a Democrat debating their core principles - you'll never convince each other to change their mind). Informing writers is one thing, but trying to convince traditional publishing you are right is futile and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Todd Travis asked, " ... if you were starting over clean and clear TODAY, would you accept the BPH offer?"

If I had a sense I was offering what the BPH really needed, and I had a great agent, then yes, I would. I would feel I could beat self-pub over a five year period.

Todd added, "I think it's fair to say that the standard contract offered two decades ago wouldn't be the same as the one offered today... "

My first contract belongs in a museum. Electronic books had been conceptualized, but none had ever been seen, nor would be for years, but they were listed as a subsidiary right, with a 90/10 split ... in my favor.

The advance was good, but I think you could get an inflation-adjusted equivalent today, if you had the buzz I did.

"Would you, for example, take a standard offer from Harlaquinn?"

Of course not.

"Would you accept a non-compete clause?"

Yes, I would. I like to write one book a year.

" ... circumstances have changed considerably, just in the last five years... "

Yes, they have. And they'll change again in the next five. By then the Internet (as we know it) will be about a quarter-century old. Who knows what will be happening? But whatever, I feel if we drop all the various derangement syndromes - both ways - and defensive syndromes - again, both ways - and we skip the mindless rah-rah cheerleading, which, it has to be said, is a thousand times more strident on the self-pubbed side, then we could at least discuss the issues in a way we might find, you know, interesting, being by definition fairly bright people.

As in, ten years from now we might be looking back and agreeing KDP was a radical cultural act. And it was. In fact, from an artist's point of view, I can't think of a bigger one in all of history.

And we might be thinking it was weird how it was owned by a weird, secretive company, sustained by weird, returns-free investing.

Gotta love the 21st Century.

jnfr said...

Thanks very much for the links to Randy Ingermanson's analyses. Those were really helpful.

I think this statement from Randy is exactly what I have read Hugh saying over and over again the past few years, and what I believe he most wanted to prove with this data.

"There will always be a few big winners and a large number who don’t earn very much. There is a “high head” and a “long tail.”

But the important point is that there is a “broad shoulder”—a set of writers who are not at the very top and yet are earning substantial money (thousands of dollars per year, or tens of thousands per year). For most of them, this is not enough to live on. But it’s enough to make their life better. That’s cool."

Yes, that's very cool indeed.

Michael W. Sherer said...

Sorry to join this conversation so late. I may have missed it, but has BB always been a bestselling author from the get-go? If so, perhaps, BB, you've never experienced the mid-list treatment that most authors receive at BPH. Joe referenced his experience. Mine, like many others, was even more perfunctory.

My first book was published 25 years ago when the only alternative to BPH were smaller NYC houses, so I ended up with Dodd, Mead--right before it went belly up. Did I want to win the lottery? Absolutely. Was I timid? No way. But I recede a $2,500 advance and had to buy my rights back when Dodd, Mead went under.

HarperCollins, a true BPH, gave me a three-book contract with an option on my fourth book. They declined the option after seeing one month's sales figures on the first book, but they'd done virtually nothing to sell the first one, so what did they expect?

After eight books, my last with Amazon, I'm now self-pubbing, not because I wouldn't like to have the paper distribution of a BPH, but because I HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE. The caps don't mean I'm yelling, just adding emphasis to a statement about the predicament of many, many authors. In many cases, BPH won't consider publishing books from authors like me, yet my last book was nominated for a Thriller Award by ITW. In other words, I'm no slouch. My writing is recognized by my peers as some of the best in my genre. But I'm self-pubbed because BPHs don't think, and have never thought, my books are good enough. And that's what Barry and Joe are talking about when they say publishing is a lottery, whether it's by a BPH or DIY.

If you've never been the victim of a mid-list author purge, good for you. But don't defend the suggestion that legacy publishing is a meritocracy. It's not.

Walter Knight said...

It's ironic that if the Big Five survive, it will be Amazon E-book sales of their books and backlists that saves them. Otherwise, their slim margins would not be sustainable.

Paul Draker said...

Anonymous BB said:

"I feel if we drop all the various derangement syndromes - both ways - and defensive syndromes - again, both ways - and we skip the mindless rah-rah cheerleading, which, it has to be said, is a thousand times more strident on the self-pubbed side, then we could at least discuss the issues in a way we might find, you know, interesting, being by definition fairly bright people."

I think most writers would welcome that. However, before you decry the recent self-publishing cheerleading too much, please also do remember the offensive, dismissive, misinformed tone of the dialog from traditional publishing's self-appointed spokespersons that preceded it.

When the Donald Maass's, Mike Shatzkins, and Steven Zacharius's of the world are allowed to disgrace the entire industry with their offensive and asinine one-sided barking, us professional indie authors find it refreshing to see a little fact-based and friendly pushback from the indie side.

But ultimately, I think all of us--traditional, indie, or hybrid--would love to see more intelligent conversations like this one.

Edward G. Talbot said...

"we skip the mindless rah-rah cheerleading, which, it has to be said, is a thousand times more strident on the self-pubbed side."

Do you REALLY think mindless cheerleading is that much more strident on the self-pubbed side? I certainly don't see it, at least not unless you define rah rah cheerleading so narrowly as to not be particularly useful. That sort of assertion is probably not serving your intention to reduce defensiveness.

But in any case, I agree that facts, or at least well-reasoned opinions are what make for interesting discussion of the issues. You have presented some and they have been interesting indeed (and I thank-you).

I for one would not feel comfortable telling an author with a choice between a publishing contract and self-publishing which option to take - I'd merely tell them to look at the contract terms and whatever data they had available and make the best possible decision. So in that sense, I probably don't fit the mold of a self-pub cheerleader.

But here's what I'm convinced is the reason why at least 80% of the self-published authors in the top 25,000 in the kindle store are self-publishing: because they couldn't get a publishing deal. Either they couldn't get an agent, couldn't get any deal, or got a deal and then were dropped at some point.

That point is absent from most discussions on this topic. Certainly your suggestion about giving yourself the best chance to hit it really big (not be timid) is still a consideration. But really, self-publishing in 2014 cannot be said to materially reduce one's chances of hitting that lottery. It would have 5 years ago, but not today. So for the vast majority of self-published authors banging on the charts, it's kind of a no-brainer. I know a lot of the talk on this blog focuses on those who have options, but the real impetus that keeps the charts full of indie authors is the fact that even for very good work, it is nearly impossible to find an agent or a publisher.

Dee Dee Avondale said...

"If B&N does follow Borders into bookseller heaven, I think we can agree that needle will only rise more."

I worked for Borders for years. Trust me, they aren't in heaven.

Irwin P. said...

"...the mindless rah-rah cheerleading, which, it has to be said, is a thousand times more strident on the self-pubbed side."

True. What's interesting is that a lot of the cheering and cheerleading is happening with indie midlisters, so to speak--folks who aren't making 6 and 7 figures like Joe and Howey. Folks who are making 10k, 20k, 75k a year. Some aren't making anything, but are excited and optimistic and see a path to a writing career if they're willing for work for it.

So, where are those BPH midlisters? Why aren't they out here cheerleading for how nice it is for them with the "massive marketing machines" of BPH behind them? Why is it only the agents (who get to earn a living even if their individual authors don't), the consultants (same--they get paid in good times and in bad), the publishers (like Steve Z.), and the top <1% of BPH's bestselling writers (like BB) who are the only ones publicly cheering on that "side"?

R Williams said...

Paul Draker said When the Donald Maass's, Mike Shatzkins, and Steven Zacharius's of the world are allowed to disgrace the entire industry with their offensive and asinine one-sided barking.

While that may be true of Maass, I think it unfair you call Zacharius' engagement on this blog offensive and asinine. He chose to engage in what is in all intents and purposes a hostile environment and did so professionally and with courtesy. You and I may not agree with his views, but I heard him say nothing that was offensive or foolish. He merely gave his views and opinions, based like all our views an opinions on his own personal bias and experience. Shatzkins too was not what I called offensive. I for one welcome engagement from all sides, but comments such as yours are going to do little to encourage people to engage in the future. And with respect to you, I think you are typifying exactly what BB is talking about.

M. R. Lambert said...

Anonymous said: "I think it's fair to say that the standard contract offered two decades ago wouldn't be the same as the one offered today... the terms would be more difficult and harder to negotiate (espec with ebook versions, etc)... would be interesting to compare your first offer as an untested author to the same offer made today, you know?"

I think this is perhaps a big reason why more people are actually turning to self-publishing, over traditional publishing.

PJR said...




@ Jude Hardin :"That's not winning the lottery. That's working for a living."
- That is so good. Well said. Joe, Barry, Anonymous BB, Anonymous, with so much of the debate polarized on lottery wins or not, what do you think of Jude's point on the wish of many (and underlying all the debating points and shifting sands) to have their work at least pay enough, to continue to pursue their passion, craft and imaginative worlds to work for a living. Isn't this what legacy midlisters have been doing? Perhaps this also ties well with the cottage industry prediction - thousands of small businesses.

Joe,
Thousands of small businesses...that makes me wonder how cross-marketing of character worlds is going.

Anonymous BB,
Thanks for this discussion. In the broadband-facilitated future that you predict for publishing, do you expect to see authors/writers still seeking agents and then traditional publishers (BPH) in a major way or less so? Or perhaps more so? What change?

Do you see the cottage industry as mainly supply side? What of the publisher side - what do you see? And agents? Do you see new players?



Anonymous said...

"I think touching younger readers is immoral, and illegal.

Oh, wait... reaching.

I don't actually worry about it. I'm 43. I figure I can last at least 20 more years before my generation, and the Boomers ahead of me, start dying off and hurting my sales."

Eww! There's a place I never wanted my conversation to go to ... Okay, it's okay, my eyes have stopped bleeding now. That look of shock I'm wearing though, that's going to be there for a while.

*Ahem* As a female author of science fiction for teenagers, I guess I find that it makes a difference to book sales now, given the genre I write in.

But fair point. It's probably only an urgent issue for those who write for teens or kids. Still, it's interesting that no one's bothered to fix that problem. For example, how does Pottermore sell books to its fans? It's got 9-12 readership without credit cards?

It's a little off topic though, so thanks for the response. I'll let you get back to the BB comments :).

Steven Konkoly said...

First, the only way I see eBooks flatlining like BB suggests is if the U.S. is hit by an EMP. Every person that I know, who has picked up an eReader in the past five years (even the highly resistant ones,) has been smitten. I don't know the statistics off hand, but readers with eReaders are still in the vast minority. Every one of my children's friends have an eReader. My children have eReaders. My favorite gift to give is an eReader. Frankly, the eBook "revolution" is in it's infancy. Book stores are ghost towns, and even the ghost towns are fading fast. Everyone knows that ship is sinking. We're reaching the point where the band playing on the Titanic's lido deck will start slowly sliding with the rest of the furniture. I don't relish this reality, but I'm certainly not going to give up my seat on one of the lifeboats to sip martinis while the band plays. I'll take my chances elsewhere.

Which brings me to Barry's concept of the lottery and Joe's carny game analogy. I think both of them were being NICE, because they didn't dig a little deeper into the real insidious nature of the GAME. The STAKES. They've talked about it before, but the recently ignited storm over Hugh's report has focused on the ODDS and the need for some transparency. That's a great start, and it appears to have opened some conversation...thanks to Barry and Joe. And Hugh, of course.

I'll frame the STAKES with my own personal experience with small publishers. I've turned several down over the past two years. The main selling point for signing with them has been paper distribution. I've had agents sell me on the same point. Each time I ask if they would be willing to run with my paper rights and leave the ebooks to me, I got the same answer. An honest answer. They couldn't afford to do that. All of these publishers existed before eBooks took off. Why was it suddenly impossible for them to do business without eBooks? After all, their main strength and point for me to consider was paper sales. It didn't make sense. That wasn't all that didn't make sense. The contracts laid out the STAKES, and they were something you'd expect from the Twilight Zone episode, where the dark haired man suddenly appeared in the room after you'd uttered, "I'd do anything to have book deal."

Bottom line, the ODDS suck if you're traditionally published or self-published, but if your book tanks in the trad pub world, for whatever reason, it gets buried. Business is business, and businesses don't try to rebuild, retune and repaint the race car that didn't bring them fame and glory. That car goes into a dark garage and rusts. Well, not exactly, you can still visit that car and take it for a spin as a reader. As the author, you can stare at it through a window and wait for them to give it back. The ODDS against success are high, but in the self published world you can continue to race that car, and if you have enough cars, you can make a nice living doing it. And you have every motivation to rebuild and repaint that car...it's your livelihood, not to mention your creation.

BB correctly pointed out that the payoff for winning the BPH lottery can be much bigger than running the self-pub race. Unfortunately, the STAKES are high, when they don't have to be. If the book flops, why do they hold on to it? To squeeze the life out of it. Books that lose the trad pub lottery are sent to the gulags. Few come back. Those that do can be revived and turned into money. Huh? But they failed. Rotted in Siberia. How can that be? Ask Joe and growing host of traditionally published authors about the backlist that is returning from the Gulags. With the tender-loving care that only a parent could give to an ugly child, these books are winning beauty pageants. Maybe only local or regional pageants, but they're winning and making money.


Anonymous said...

"My first clue that my book would not be a bestseller came in a marketing meeting about six months prior to publication, when a marketing assistant suggested that I start a blog, and I had to explain that her bosses had acquired my book in part because I was a well-known blogger."

- Emily Gould, author of And the Heart Says Whatever (Simon & Schuster, 2010)

Alan Spade said...

"and we skip the mindless rah-rah cheerleading, which, it has to be said, is a thousand times more strident on the self-pubbed side, then we could at least discuss the issues in a way we might find, you know, interesting, being by definition fairly bright people."

No wonder the indie talking appears to Anon BB as a noisy (and probably annoying) sound box. Legacy publishing has cultivated the silence among authors for decades. Authors have been quietly discussing publishing between them at the conferences' bars, but never in public for many years.

So yes, laundry being washed in public may not be the fact of "bright people". You may hate it, but it's one of the gene of the self-pub revolution. The gene of transparency, which make us indies more efficient bacteria, as that was once said here on this blog. Bacteria are efficient to wash laundry, indeed.

Anonymous said...

"Even for the lucky books that do make it to publication, disappointment awaits. A robust majority of all published books will not justify the advance paid by the publisher, even if that advance was a pittance, as it likely was."

- Jim Rutman, Literary Agent at Sterling Lord

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, those posted quotes from Emily Gould and Jim Rutman are pulled from a book of essays called MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction (ISBN 978-0865478138).

Daniel Kenney said...

First, a huge thanks to Anon BB for participating in the discussion. So awesome.

I saw a recent article about how low e-book prices are devaluing books and therefore ultimately hurting authors. Although I understand the concern a little, this was not the first time I had seen an article place blame at the feet of authors for devaluing books through lower prices.

I find this interesting.

Over the last month, multiple people have confirmed that part of the reason the publishing industry has had an okay last few years is because of their profits from ebooks. In other words, their profits on ebooks are higher. There is room for Big Publishing to share more of the profits on ebooks with authors but thus far they have not. So...given an opportunity to share more money with authors and/or reduce costs to readers...big publishing has chosen to instead keep the profits for themselves. We have been told that this is just business and until there is a business case for publishing to change, they won't.

On the other hand, you have authors who have figured out how to use ebook platforms in such a way that they can actually earn more money and lower ebook prices at the same time. In this scenario, authors have been doing what is in their business interest and, coincidentally, something that is in the reader's interest as well. And in this second case the author is blamed as 'devaluing' books while we are told the publisher is just doing business as they 'devalue' authors and readers.

Again, I find this all interesting.

Colin M said...

"It's probably only an urgent issue for those who write for teens or kids."

I have three kids in your reader demographic. They are always within ten feet of their devices (ipads, playbooks, readers) They all have accounts with iTunes and the major book chain in Canada and the buy at-will with their earned or birthday money. They don't need us to drive them to the bookstore. In fact they don't need to wait for anything. If there is a book being discussed by their friends, they can come home and buy it. They do all the "finger-work" and bring us their device to type in the password. Easy as that. The only paper books they read are one's they bring home from school. Even then, we've come close to getting it in eversion for convenience. My kids are doing book reports on ebooks. Although we may not be the norm yet, we are a convenience driven society. Another point - we are willing to pay more to increase the likelihood of our kids reading as much as possible. There are many parents willing to go to great lengths to get their kids reading, who haven't even tried a tablet or reader yet.

Ebooks in general will continue to grow in all age groups, including teens. If its not a hot demographic yet, keep building your base, because it will be.

Colin

Colin M said...

Joe said: "My mother read me Cat in the Hat, I read it to my sons, my sons will read it to their kids."

Right. The current classics will likely continue into the future. But will there be a 'Dog in the Sock' equivalent classic book written today that will be read 50 years from now? Not sure.


Again the comparison to music applies. There will always be fantastic books that kids love and that parents love to read to their kids. These will still be passed down through generations. Will there ever be another like Dr. Seuss...probably not, but that has nothing to do with ebooks. My kids are loving and learning to play music that I grew up listening to even though they've never seen a vinyl record or cassette tape. Just as they are learning the classic piano composers who didn't have methods of recording at all, in their time. We are quite capable of being the gatekeepers of what we pass on to our kids and grandkids...in my opinion, anyway.

Colin

Anonymous said...

I'm neither the BB anon, nor the other anon.

Regarding the fragmentation of the audience, I think this is going to happen much more quickly than we think. It's practically already over.

All of the other similar markets have already done so. I grew up in an era where every kid on the bus watched the same tv show the prior night. That's gone and there's lots of crap - and some of the best TV ever at the same time.

Similarly I grew up in a time when there were 2 major radio stations in my podunk town. We only heard top forty or country.

The audience has fragmented, and I couldn't be happier.

Archangel said...

The fragmentation of audience/national 'common experience' is already over. it was predicted by McLuhan in the 1960s. It was magnified by news radio stations by the dozens back when, then television networks, then cable networks, then internet newsites, then bloggers. Nothing new and it is not 'on its way'… it is, in its early winter already.

I see that BB does not count the manipulation of numbers in pre-orders by various groups that have a political or religious agenda… which would skew ANY data about sales pre and post pub, immediately. And does not take in account known manipulations of bulk sales by various 'motivational speaker' authors who contrive with friends' to be number one, even for an hour on AMZ by sudden pre-planned volume selling [to friends].

Howey's stats cannot be certain or disqualified unless authors who are aware of the manipulation of BS status, speak about it, and in spades.

Bsellerdom on NYT list, re certain book store reports-- the exact names of which are known to ALL in publicity in BPH-- and to any of us authors who have slogged through months of 'book tour'… tour used in absurdist context as though pleasant rather than grueling nonstop…. are weighted and most have no idea how, why, where, when, who.

We havent even addressed 'returns' re BB. Nor deeply discounted bookselling, nor how 'power editors' in pub often grab lion's share of resources for their few authors, leaving all other authors to muddle through with 'low man on totem pole' editors …

ya basta

Bill Peschel said...

Joe, have you seen these writers' reports that show they're earning eight figures?

I.J.Parker said...

Not terribly useful to me. I'm not a bestseller, let alone a big bestseller. For writers like me, Amazon and self-publishing have been life savers. And let's face it, as long as Amazon makes it possible for me to keep writing, there's always a chance.
I will say that I have been traditionally published by two of the big houses, and they have done nothing for me. This may be because they decided I was not bestseller material. In other words, different authors got different deals. A midlist author was pretty much doomed.

And finally, I don't write bestsellers because, by and large and leaving out, say, Harry Potter, I have little or no respect for bestselling novels.

Anonymous said...

What is it about letting readers choose what they want to read, how they want to read it, and what they want to pay for it, that scares guys like BB and the publishing houses so much? The level of fear about allowing --gasp!-- the common man to make up his own mind is pretty astounding, and always makes me envision people in hip NY lofts listening to classical music while swirling wine in big glasses, with their noses turned toward the ceiling. Good grief.

Anonymous said...

@Suzanne Cowles,

Wait, so you're saying your trad pubs friends care about quality writing? I have one word for you: Brad friggin' Thor. 'Nuff said.

Anonymous said...

Hi, George R.R. Martin.

Anonymous said...

The level of fear about allowing --gasp!-- the common man to make up his own mind is pretty astounding, and always makes me envision people in hip NY lofts listening to classical music while swirling wine in big glasses, with their noses turned toward the ceiling.

There are certainly some of those types, but the sad truth is that most of the gatekeepers in the BPHs are earnest, well-intentioned, smart people who really and truly believe they have a responsibility and a special talent to curate literature on behalf of the "people."

It's the missionary's curse. Every time you try to convince someone of your worth, you're simultaneously reinforcing those beliefs in your own mind. After decades of this from-up-on-high "curation," it is inconceivable to these folks that the free market can come up with systems and checks and balances that will do a much better job of curation that they could ever do.

James N Cook said...

Not sure if everyone here is aware, but ACX, Amazon's audiobook production wing, announced yesterday they are slashing royalties.

http://blog.acx.com/2014/02/27/an-important-note-about-acx-payments/?=TWT

Karl El-Koura said...

Anonymous BB wrote:

"If you express those ideas as numbers, you're describing the lower slopes of an exponential curve that has to - can do nothing other than - explode upward until every cent of global GDP is spent on e-books, and every second of every human's day is spent reading them."

Your math checks out, but I think that is so theoretical as to be the least of our concerns anytime soon. In reality, the great battle isn't among writers but between writers on one side and producers of other kinds of entertainment (movies, TV shows, video games, etc.) on the other. I wrote a bit more at length on my blog: http://www.ootersplace.com/is-publishing-a-zero-sum-game-a-response-to-lynn-shepherd-an-anonymous-bestseller-and-like-minded-writers/

Caleb Mason said...

NPR recently had a good story about how we cannot appreciate good art separate from the mob mentality, which is why Mona Lisa is so popular but maybe not as good as Girl with Earring Vermeer, who was unappreciated for two hundred years. For me, these discussions suffer from the problem that we describe where we have been, where we are now, when in fact the future is always unexpected and different than we can see. Books like stocks are definitely undergoing the past performance is no indication of future results conundrum.

Anonymous said...

Now THAT is an interesting diversion, and I agree. Many of us real all day. At night I want to watch movies, to be completely surrounded by lights and noise. More reading is only an extension of an already too-long work day. The looming competition tsunami is between books and more engaging forms of entertainment much more than it is between authors.
That said, all the quacking from the TP gang only says one thing to me, "We want to remain the primary source of available reading for the masses."
Their beef is not quality, it's limiting supply to themselves and their cronies.
As for quality, good God, there is an ocean of pap out there THEY have selected AND paid for...what possible difference could another ton of top of that make to anyone?
News flash. Many people love to read junk, always have, always will. Open the floodgates to everyone. It makes no difference whatsoever. Time for the self-appointed "Gatekeepers" to get the heck out of the way.

Iain Rob Wright said...

Hi Joe:

Do you believe it is a bad omen that ACX (an Amazon-owned company) has recently announced that they will be cutting indie audiobook royalties from 50-90% to a flat 40%, as well as making their 'Bounty' payments harder to earn?

This is the first time that Amazon has acted against the interests of authors (who own the audiobook rights in this situation) and could potentially show their willingness to do so via their other businesses in the future (i.e. KDP and Createspace).

What is your opinion of this? Why has ACX made things worse for its authors/narrators, who are essentially following the exact same industry model as KDP (i.e. there is no upfront cost to Amazon for the creation and sale of the product so they can't justify taking such a large chunk of the royalties - it will be 60% under the new terms!)?

If Amazon were to employ the same tactics across their ebook platform, then we would all suddenly find ourselves earning only 72c for every dollar we have been making previously.

Is it something worth worrying about?

Sadia Rony said...

Great Post! Thank you for sharing your experiences and I look forward to reading more......

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Steven Wayne said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7mjsNLNzbc

I agree with Philip Roth.

Dustin Dye said...

Joe didn't reveal the name of "Big Bestseller," but does anyone else have a feeling it's Stephen King?