Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Indies Eat Publishers Lunch – A Semi-Fisking of Michael Cader

Michael Cader has a two part report on Publishers Lunch, opining on Hugh Howey's and Anonymous Data Guy's Authors Earnings website.

The second part of his post is behind a paywall.

Now, I dislike paywalls, in much the same way I despise DRM. But Cader is entitled to try to earn a living, and if he wants people to pay for his silly opinions (unlike me, who offers silly opinions for free), that's his prerogative. So rather than fisk him word-for-word as I'd normally do, I'm going to respond to specific excerpts according to the doctrine of Fair Use. If Cader, or anyone else who has read his complete piece, feels I'm missing his point or taking things out of context, feel free to chime in and correct me.

Michael: It's a quiet "news" day, so we're going to start looking at what a lot of people have been talking about this week: bestselling self-published author Hugh Howey's "Author Earnings" website and "report."

Joe: Congrats, Michael! In the first five words of your post, you managed to marginalize and denigrate Hugh Howey and his report not only once, but twice.

First, by claiming that the only reason you're deigning this topic worthy of your time is because it is a quiet news day. Perhaps because there was no collusion to report on, or because Turow has been blessedly quiet lately. But we know the truth: Howey's report was so popular his server crashed (over 50,000 unique hits in four days) and I haven't seen Twitter and Facebook activity like this since the DOJ ruling.

Second, by putting "news" in quotes, you're slyly stating that Howey's report isn't news at all.

Which amuses me, because that's my feeling about "Publishers Lunch." And for the record I only read your article because I was looking for a decent critique of Howey's new venture, but I found you instead.

Michael: That information is being presented as revealing "data" about how the ebook world really works.

Joe: Actually, Hugh's info is being presented as revealing how big a portion of Amazon's sales are self-published vs. legacy published, while estimating how much authors make off of each type of publishing. Because Amazon is very often the largest generator of author income, authors are very interested in this information. Which is why Hugh and Data Guy named the site "Author Earnings" and not "How The Ebook World Really Works."

I'm "also" going to sponsor an "intervention" to get you to stop abusing "quotation marks".

You're "welcome."

(And don't take this "personally." I'm only "kidding.")

Michael: At the end of the day, asking questions and challenging assumptions ought to be valuable for us all. Sometimes being provocatively wrong is a very effective way of getting people to re-examine their assumptions.

Joe: Agreed. But not always. For example, right now you're being provocatively wrong, but your two part article didn't effectively get me to re-examine my assumptions. What it did was help me cement the opinions I already had about how the legacy industry tries to explain away its mounting fear of the future by using incomplete data (the same thing you accuse Howey of) to further your own agenda.

Can we agree that Howey's agenda differs from yours? For example, www.authorearnings.com requires no subscription, nor a paywall.

Michael: The primary reason we do not have deep data and transparency about ebook sales, in both units and dollars, is because of Amazon. They keep their data private for competitive advantage in the marketplace, plain and simple. (BTW, if Amazon were to disclose their data in a Bookscan-style system, the other major players would happily participate.) 

Joe: I'm transparent with my numbers. So are many self-published authors (search Kindleboards.com for "sales thread"). We get clear, detailed reports from Amazon, and we share them publicly.

Do you know who doesn't share them?

Publishers.

Publishers, who are getting the same reports from Amazon as we authors get.

I post my numbers, down to the annual unit sales per title. The Big 5 don't post theirs.

And I bet any of the Big 5 would throw a huge hissy fit if Amazon suddenly put out a press release saying "Simon & Schuster Sold X Number of Ebooks This Quarter."

Publishers have a hundred year history of keeping their data private. And not only private, but cryptic and often indecipherable, as any author reading his bi-annual royalty statement can attest to.

Publishers didn't invent Bookscan. They've never been forthcoming with their sales figures. Hell, you can't even get a straight answer out of them as to exact print runs. There is NO WAY they'd ever start sharing information as you suggest. If they did, Amazon wouldn't have to share numbers, because we'd all have the same information Amazon has. We'd have even more information, because publishers could also reveal their B&N, Kobo, and iTunes sales.

And when they do, I'll ride a flying pig through a snowstorm in hell while wearing a T-Shirt that says "I Was Wrong".

Michael: In this digital age, we don't see why authors should have to be in the dark about real sales on the site that works so hard to secure their trust as the *exclusive* venue where their product is sold. Those half-a-million exclusive authors should not stand for fake data and merchandising lists.

Joe: First, do you have proof that Amazon releases fake data? Are you insinuating (or accusing) that they manipulate their lists? Earlier you said:

"But Amazon's hourly bestseller lists are a merchandising tool, controlled by the site according to their own black box methods and designed to drive their company agenda -- which includes selling more ebooks, and whenever possible increasing the share of KDP and Amazon Publishing titles on their own site."

Can you back that strawman up with facts? You're implying Amazon uses bestseller lists as a tool to their advantage, ergo Amazon is falsifying these lists. You understand how that is disingenuous, and a logical fallacy, right? You created your own reality and then refuted it, with no proof to back it up.

I mean, do you have reason to believe that Amazon's bestseller lists are based on write-in estimates by a few key retail outlets, like the NYT Bestseller List does? I could see how that would make a person mistrust a bestseller list. But where is your evidence Amazon does something like this?

It also seems like you're saying Amazon is the secrecy culprit while giving legacy publishers a free pass, Amazon keeps data private for a competitive advantage (without mentioning publishers do the same), and Amazon is the reason for all the secrecy in the industry (it isn't). 

Second, Amazon isn't keeping authors in the dark. All authors, like all publishers, know exactly how much they sell on Amazon. Amazon simply isn't sharing its view of the complete picture with anyone, and doesn't tell Peter what Paul made. Pretty much like most companies in the world.

And now you switched from "quotes" to *asterisks*. But is that really *better*? Doesn't Publishers Lunch have italics?

Also, be careful what you wish for. Amazon could someday release numbers, and their data could make Hugh Howey's data look understated.

Do you really want to know how big the self-publishing shadow industry is? If Amazon did release that data, how would you and your legacy pundit peers explain it away if it showed how much self-pub authors are earning compared to legacy authors? Would you dismiss it by saying it is fake? By saying it is only a small percentage of the whole industry? By saying ebooks only account for a fraction of all sales? By citing alternate sources of data?

In other words, many of the things the legacy industry is doing right now to discredit Hugh's findings.

Michael: the US market data clearly indicates that dollar growth has declined significantly and the ebook market has been roughly flat for a while. That leads people to speculate that self-publishing and/or small unreported publishers must be growing at a far faster rate and taking share from the publishers who do report their sales -- even though there is no hard data to support this, and as I'll show later on, the indicators we have, which are pretty good, specifically refute it.

Joe: I was under the impression that ebook growth is slowing, not flat.

And which publishers report their sales? Can you point to a publisher that admitted how many ebooks they sold in 2013? I don't mean percentage or growth. I mean unit sales. I can point to many authors, me included, who share that info. Why not legacy publishers?

Michael: The best data we have for US ebook sales comes from the monthly AAP reports. It comes directly from the largest publishers and distributors, and covers roughly 1,200 publishers in all. The AAP has good, consistent data from that set of companies going back three years, starting in 2011.

Joe: Hmm, the AAP never asked me for my data. And I bet Amazon didn't give them any data either.

But even if the AAP is beneficial to large publishers and distributors, it can't accurately guess at the size of the shadow industry of self-publishing, or estimate how much self-published authors are earning. So their data is largely useless to authors, whereas www.authorearnings.com is not.

Michael: For 10 months of 2013, AAP data shows that publisher dollar revenues from ebooks were down almost four percent

Joe: What makes you believe that the AAP data being down four percent for publishers means that all ebook sales are down four percent? Why do you think that represents the market for Amazon, or for self-pubbed authors? 

Michael: Here is where many people get tripped up. For publishers who report their results publicly in some fashion, almost everyone said ebook sales still rose in 2013, anywhere from 8 percent up to 24 percent (Simon & Schuster) or even 39 percent (HarperCollins). This is no way refutes or disproves the AAP data.

Joe: And now you're underlining.

So are ebook sales flat? Are they falling? Are they rising? And most of all, why do I, as a self-pubbed author, care, except in relation to how much money I'd be missing if I were locked into a legacy 12.5% ebook royalty rate instead of earning 70% self-publishing?

You quote a lot of data in this post, Michael. Where is your data that convinces authors to take legacy deals? (Hint: that's what the www.authorearnings.com data is doing.)

Michael: People read that the ebook market is flat (or declining), decide that does not correspond to their personal habits or beliefs, and then turn to conjecture rather than data for a reason. One reason they come up with is that it must be that self-publishing has become so huge it has overtaken the market and that's where all the growth is. This is fed by Amazon PR stories that are entirely in the etailer's self-interest.

Joe: You posted a lot of data on your site that I omitted because:

1) I respect your paywall and copyright and the work you put in and
2) It bored the shit out of me

Using that data, you made a rational argument that there could be other reasons for ebook sales being flat/rising/falling other than self-publishing sales affecting them.

But why do I care?

I care about how many self-pubbed ebooks are making money, not about if the legacy industry is experiencing growth or not.

I know you write for "Publishers Lunch" not "Authors Lunch" so it makes sense that you'll try to quell some of the obvious panic happening in the legacy world as a result of Hugh's report. But if you truly want to reassure the legacy industry that "*all is well*", gather some data as to why authors should continue to submit to them. Because Hugh's data, my data, and recently Edward W. Robinson's data all show that self-pubbed authors are faring very well.

All you have to do is look at some Amazon bestseller lists and count how many indie publishers are on them. It'll take you ten minutes. I've been doing it for years.

Michael: One reason they come up with is that it must be that self-publishing has become so huge it has overtaken the market and that's where all the growth is. This is fed by Amazon PR stories that are entirely in the etailer's self-interest.

Joe: As opposed to stories that are entirely in the legacy publisher's self-interest? Like your post here. Or the DBW survey, which is called What Advantages do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors.

Michael: The more logical conclusion, as I have set up and will now demonstrate, is that self-publishing is probably just like those other segments of publishing: It grew some, and outperformed the total market, thanks to the reallocation of dollars, but is in no way disproportionate to what other actors saw. And every indication we have shows us that either a) self-publishing is not big enough that significant growth here would change our profile of the total market, or b) self-publishing sales were just like AAP sales in 2013.

Joe: Self-publishing most certainly has changed the legacy profile in the total market, and has done so in a significant way. I made a million bucks in 2013. That means I grossed about $1.4M. If I'd been legacy published, some lucky legacy publisher could have added $525k to their profits.

Instead, they derived $0 from me.

Is that significant? To the Big 5, probably not.

As for demonstrating that self-pubbing is like other segments of publishing, let's look at the "data" you have to support this claim.

(See what I did with the quotes there?)

Michael: (Smashwords) total sales were $20 million.

Joe: So that's over $10M legacy publishing missed out on, just through Smashwords.

Significant yet? Probably not. But let's keep going.

Michael: If you posit that Smashwords is only reaching a third of the market for their authors (so triple their gross, to $60 million), and then you postulate the total self-publishing market is three times bigger still (500,000 KDP exclusive authors, plus 275,000 Smashwords authors), you've talked your way to a market of $180 million or so.

Joe: And if I posit that Smashwords is only reaching 1/100 of the market (so multiply their gross by 100, to $2B) we can both prove that we're pulling random numbers out of our asses.

But for a moment, let's look at your $180M self-pub market.

That's over $90M missed by publishing. Is that becoming significant yet?

Here's the thing, though. I can probably calculate $180,000,000 in self-pub revenue just totaling up people I know. Hell, I'm just 1/180 of that all by myself. And there are 2.4 million ebooks on Amazon, and more elsewhere.

Amazon, in a rare case of revealing data, mentioned there were over 150 authors who each sold over 100,000 ebooks in 2013. That's 15 million ebooks that legacy publishers didn't sell. And those are only 150 authors.

But earlier you discounted PR stories released by Amazon as "entirely in the etailer's self-interest."

Well, c'mon, Michael. Make up your mind. Do you want Amazon to disclose data, or not?

Now let's take a closer look at Hugh Howey's data. According to Data Guy:

"Our sample of the top 7,000 Amazon genre e-book bestsellers alone--just the small sample we took--adds up to $185M/year when the daily SP revenue is multiplied by 365. It's right there in the spreadsheet we shared: the indie part of our sample adds up to $500,000 /day in gross dollar sales."

So just the top 7000 authors in a few genres on a single retailer are doing better than your predicted $180M a year for the whole shadow industry of self-publishing.

How about the other 2.4 million ebooks for sale on Amazon that weren't counted in Hugh's spider crawl? And all the other etailers? Could the true annual ebook author revenue be triple what those top 7000 Amazon authors are making? What if the actual figure is $540M annually?

Is legacy publishing missing out on $270,000,000 in profits per year? Is that significant?

Next you talk about Nook, and flattening ebook sales, which may matter to publishers but is hardly representative of authors who are paying bills selling on the Nook.

You also talk about the USA Today bestseller list. I don't know how the list is compiled or weighted. I don't care. I made a million bucks last year and didn't appear on the USA Today list, even though I was an Amazon Top 100 Author dozens of times, often selling thousands of ebooks per day.

You also talk about Bowker and Codex and yes, I get it. Publishers Lunch is for publishers, and you can cite sources that show publishers they need not be concerned about the self-publishing revolution by going into explanations about how growth is flat or rising or falling.

Authors. Don't. Care.

Studies and surveys and polls about ebook sales only matter to authors in terms of how much the author pockets.

And since publishers make their living off the backs of authors, perhaps they (and you) should be less concerned with what Peter Hildick-Smith is tracking, and more about what Hugh's and Edward's data shows: lots of self-pubbed ebooks being sold. Self-pubbed ebooks that earn 70% of list price for authors, not 12.5% of list. Self-pubbed ebooks that are taking up a good deal of real estate on Amazon's bestseller lists—real estate once entirely occupied by legacy publishers.

We don't care if Amazon only tells part of the story. We just care about the part of the story that concerns us. The majority of authors I know make the majority of their income on Amazon. www.authorearnings.com is compelling authors to choose self-publishing as not just a viable alternative to signing with the Big 5, but as a far superior alternative.

How many millions of dollars does the legacy industry have to miss out on before it recognizes the threat of self-publishing?

How many authors, like me, does it have to lose before it starts offering authors better contract terms?

I don't have answers to those questions, but I do have an answer to this one:

How many apologists citing surveys are going to eat crow when the legacy publishing industry collapses?

Answer: All of them. And you'll have no one to blame but yourselves, because I've been telling you this since 2009.

Whose position is gaining favor with authors, mine or yours?

Addendum

I sent this post to Anonymous Data Guy to make sure I wasn't off base with anything I said, and he allowed me to share another two data points:

"The gross self-published sales in the soon-to-be-released 50,000-book spider run from February 7 add up to $615,000 / day.

That's a $225M/year run rate, and it's just a partial look at the top (all-genres) indie bestsellers on Amazon. The $225M ignores many hundreds of thousands of indie books that weren't on the Amazon bestseller lists, because they were only selling only a few copies per day, per week, or per month. I'd conservatively put Amazon self-published gross sales at a minimum $400M-$600M/year run rate right now.

Depending on how many low-volume sales are happening of the 2,350,000 other books deeper in the long tail and thus invisible when spidering the Amazon bestseller lists, the true indie total may be 25%-50% higher than that – I wouldn’t be surprised if it was $750M a year already."

Is this significant yet? Should legacy publishers care?

How about this:

"Here are the numbers from the first 878 respondents to the voluntary survey on authorearnings.com:

In total, the 767 survey respondents so far who had self-publishing revenue last year earned $49.7M. 

At 70% Amazon royalty, that’s at least $71M in gross self-published sales – or more, if a substantial portion were low-priced books at 35%.

That $49.7M self-published author revenue averages to $64,880 per self-published author responding.

The 223 survey respondents so far who had trad-publishing revenue last year earned $10.3M.

That's an average of $46,330 per trad-published author responding.

In total, the 876 respondents that had self-publishing revenue earned $4.7M in January. At 70% royalty, that projects to $80M.

And it projects to $64,390 per self-published author responding, which is very consistent with their figures for last year."

What if those legacy published authors had made 70% royalties instead of 12.5%? I bet they're thinking that very thing. They're looking at their print sales (if their bi-annual royalty statements are clear enough to define them) and that big minus column of paper returns, and then staring at their ebook royalties and wondering "why the hell do I keep taking legacy contracts?"

I understand this isn't a random sampling (which was one of the flaws with the DBW survey) but this data is telling authors (for free) some very provocative things. 

Michael, I really, really do understand why you went to great lengths to cite numbers and assure the legacy publishing industry whatever it was you were trying to assure them. They're the ones who subscribe to Publishers Lunch for $25 a month.

Now I must ask you, since self-pubbed authors make 5.6x as much as legacy pubbed authors on equally priced ebooks, how would you like to make $140 a month for a PL subscription instead of $25? Would you want to know more? Would you want to know if others were doing just that? Would you like data that shows how others are actually doing it? How would you feel if you made $25 from your work, and your domain provider made $115 for hosting it? Would you feel ripped off? Would you be looking for a new domain host?

That's the real danger of www.authorearnings.com. There is money being earned by legacy publishers that could be earned by authors. Food actually being taken from authors' mouths.

I can reach more ebook readers than a legacy publisher can, and I can make more money per sale. I don't need them anymore.

Publishers Lunch needs them, to stay in business.

Mike Shatzkin needs them, to pay his consulting fees.

Gottlieb, Zacharius, Curtis, Lipskar, Gernert, Maass, Turow, Russo, Patterson, Raab, many of the AAR, and many of the Authors Guild need them, because they pay the bills.

But authors don't need the legacy publishers. We haven’t for years.

Know who else doesn't need legacy publishers? Amazon.

Because if the Big 5 fail, Amazon will still be able to publish authors and their books, either through KDP, A-Pub, or via buying the entire backlist.

The legacy industry was once essential to publishing. Gatekeeping middlemen that controlled a quasi-monopoly on the distribution of paper books. And writers were exploited.

But legacy publishers aren't essential anymore. They're an option. And not a very attractive option at that. We can actually be fully independent of legacy publishers.

So you can keep reassuring your clientele that all is A-OK. Or you can give them some advice worth their $25 a month. Namely; if they don't start treating their authors better, they aren't going to have many authors left. They aren't going to stay in business banking on authors taking unconscionable deals because the authors are too dense to know any better. That isn't a smart long-term plan.

Then again, it makes no difference to me whether you warn them or if they stay in business. I'm just here to freely share my information with my peers. Because pain shared is pain divided, and joy shared is joy multiplied.

Don't worry about sending me $25 for my advice. I'm already making 8x what I once did within the legacy system.

And thanks for your "thoughts" on this matter. :)

110 comments:

Lizzie said...

I wonder if the trad-publishers and their cheerleaders realize how weak their arguments really are? I just haven't been impressed by what any of these "experts" are saying. Actually, more often than not I've been totally embarrassed when reading their articles. These are the people that we're supposed to take seriously? They're industry leaders? Scary.

Irwin P. said...

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

- M.K. Gandhi

Joe Konrath said...

Alissia Brio first said that Gandhi quote in my comments back in 2010, when I was showing how well indie authors were doing.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/05/platform-shmatform.html


That's the earliest mention of it I could find on my blog.

Back then, they were ignoring. Then they laughed.

We're finally at the stage where the legacy industry is fighting. They're engaging authors, trying to reassure themselves and disprove the facts being presented.

The next step is winning. In this case, it may be a collapse of the industry, or drastic changes that benefit authors.

If the industry collapses, I fear rights being bargaining chips in liquidations and bankruptcies. Lots of authors who will never have control over their books again.

Or maybe Amazon will step in like it did with Dorchester, and obtain all rights and offer authors a chance to publish with A-Pub, or take their rights back.

Whatever happens, the days of legacy pundits and apologetics and bullshit are numbered.

Jim Self said...

Joe, I appreciate that you want to respect the paywall. I'm trusting that you would mention an actual argument against the AE data. All I saw was that he thinks the data he and his people control is the only data. As Passive Guy is fond of saying, these people have a serious misunderstanding of numbers.

Depending on whether Data Guy/Racer X was paid for his time, the whole cost of the AE study could have been as low as the price of a domain name and web hosting. It's exactly the kind of thing that publishing consultants should have thought of long ago. Except, well, they suck at this whole newfangled data and computers thing. Yet here they are, arguing that the facts aren't real, and not to worry, because we have our OWN facts.

It's not very educational for me, but it does make for quite a circus. Thanks for playing ringmaster, Joe.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm trusting that you would mention an actual argument against the AE data.

Michael's argument wasn't so much against the AE data as it was a way to explain why legacy publishers don't have to be worried about it, based on other data that didn't include Amazon or self-publishing.

But I'm not a data guy. I may be wrong. I'll gladly entertain any argument that I missed Michael's point.

But my feeling is that Michael's point--while perhaps calming down legacy pundits--entirely missed the point of Hugh's data. Namely, there are a lot of authors making money self-publishing, and that.s money the legacy industry isn't getting a nickel of.

This does not seem sustainable, and I found it to be a much more intriguing point than if ebook sales were flattening for the legacy industry. It was also a point Michael apparently ignored.

Anonymous said...

http://dearauthor.com/ebooks/how-not-to-lie-with-statistics/

"I do, however, care about how data are collected, analyzed, and reported, and this report doesn’t pass my smell test for reliability and validity."

Anonymous said...

http://brilligblogger.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-missionary-impulse.html


From Brillig:

"Where does one begin to dissect this incredible piece of self-publishing "science" by Hugh Howey...

First, the science doesn't rest on actual figures of how much anyone is making. Rather, the starting point is to look at a list of Amazon bestsellers, and to determine the future from this list, and this list alone. Ugh! I had my first experience with bestseller list quackery in 1990, when a book that I knew wasn't selling very well in hardcover somehow managed to appear on the Locus bestseller list for multiple months. More recently, Myke Cole has been aiming for the #1 bestseller in the Space Marines category for a book with no Marines in it. I've seen books appear on the NY Times bestseller list with very little correlation, especially on the mass market side, to their hard sales numbers as reported on Bookscan. So any article that starts out with breathless promises of answering all questions by analyzing a trove of Amazon bestseller information is looking a little dubious to me."

Joe Konrath said...

when a book that I knew wasn't selling very well in hardcover somehow managed to appear on the Locus bestseller list for multiple months

I've had dozens of Amazon bestsellers, and it isn't difficult to estimate how many ebooks it takes to reach a certain ranking. This ranking is fluid, changing according to its surrounding rankings, but it isn't a write in like NYT or based on incomplete data like Bookscan.

Does Amazon ranking scale? To a degree, on average, I'd bet it does.

I don't know how Locus does it, so I can't compare. Nor do I care.

To me, and to all authors, what should be important is that self-pub sells as well as legacy pub, but makes the author 5.6x as much in royalties.

Are we arguing about if ranking #1 earns $100 or $10,000? Why does that matter? Ranking #1, and ranking #2,677,443, each earn more through self-pubbing than legacy. We can guestimate hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly incomes, but that isn't as important as how much more a self-pubbed author makes.

The point of www.authorearnings.com is to show how much more an equally priced and equally ranked ebook earns for a self-pubbed author than a legacy pubbed author, and that there are just as many self-pubbed ebooks doing well (if not outselling) legacy pubbed ebooks.

Guessing yearly income is a fun game, but not the real objective, as far as I understand.

Joe Konrath said...

"I do, however, care about how data are collected, analyzed, and reported, and this report doesn’t pass my smell test for reliability and validity."

I care about authors. So, quickly, I'll address the points.

(1) This is Amazon-only data.

Which, I've stated in this blog entry, is the data most authors care most about.

(2) This is one day’s worth of data, one 24-hour period of sales and rankings.

William Ockham already pointed out how this isn't an issue.

(3) Cross-sections cannot give you trends.

I don't need a book ranked #5 on Feb 7 to remain #5 all year to know that some other book will replace it as #5.

There is a 100% chance that some ebook will be ranked #5. I care about how often that book (and the other top 50,000) is an indie book vs. a legacy book, not how many units each sells.

So this isn't about a single title making $4M a year, as this blogger infers. It's about ANY ebook selling 7000 copies a day being representative of $4M a year for that slot. Got it? And that $4M scales.

This explains (4) and (5). As long as the same formula is applied to legacy and self-pub, the ratios will remain the same.

To reiterate: The #8 slot on Amazon might result in 50,000 ebook sales per year, but that could be spread out among hundreds of titles, not just the one sample that was crawled at that particular time.

So if I hit #8 and sell 1000 copies that day, it doesn't mean I'll sell 365,000 copies a year. It means ebooks that rank #8 will likely average 1000 copies per day (or whatever the scale for that day is).

(6) The authors provide the data in an Excel spreadsheet format so that the rest of us can analyze it

More data is coming. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/the-exchange/the-book-industry-isn-t-dying--it-s-thriving-with-an-ebook-assist-191025547.html

"The book industry isn't dying, it's thriving with an ebook assist."

Anonymous said...

When Amazon Publishing closed it's NY offices many viewed it as a failure of Amazon to penetrate the market. In light of even the limited data from the authors' earnings report it is now more plausible that Amazon closed the offices because by the numbers print didn't make sense to them anymore.

I agree the constant calls for more transparency from Amazon are getting to be obnoxious. Until Penguin, S&S, Hatchett decide to release their raw numbers, they should shut it.

Anonymous said...

I have an author friend whose first traditionally published novel was released in 2009. She got a 2 book deal for that and a $5000 advance for both. Since 2011 I've self published 16 titles and only sell like 1-4 copies per month on Amazon, Smashwords & Createspace. Also, my trad pubbed author friend got another 2 book deal with her 3rd book coming out this June and another $5000 advance, not counting her royalties for the first two books, which I have no idea how much that was, but she still has a full time day job.

Maybe this self-publishing thing just doesn't work though. Trad publishers give exposure that I just can't get.

Marcel said...

@Anon 6:15 You have 16 books and only sell 1 to 4 copies a month?? How on Earth?

I have a single book, it's a technical one (not fiction), absolutely NO marketing for it, I also have it available for free at Renfield Software - and I sell on average four copies a month.

antares said...

I saw the graphs Howey et amicus (Hea) produced from their collected data here on Joe's blog, I think. My first thought was, "You should not let Excel choose your chart colors for you. These charts have too little contrast, and the pastels suck. Go with bright colors taken from the rainbow in order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo. Forget violet. Use purple. It stands out better."

I listened to Hea's podcast. I thought their approach to mining the data was bold. Cost them $400.00 to collect their day's worth of data. I have not looked at their Excel sheet, so I don't know how many datapoints they collected. I conjecture that a minimum set for each sample would require book name, author name, publisher name, price, and ranking. That's five for each sample. So . . . 6,887 samples x 5 datapoints/sample = 34,435 datapoints. Comes out to a penny and a sixth to collect each datapoint. I am seriously impressed. When I was doing stats back in the '80s and '90s, we costed collection at $1.00/datapoint.

Of course, this does not include the costs of software generation and improvement, but those are sunken costs. They are independent of the number of datapoints you collect.

Okay, criticisms. Hea used ranking as a proxy for unit sales. I suppose they used Howey's own records to determine their proxy numbers. Does not matter. Any reasonable proxy will do for comparison purposes.

I mistrust proxies. Comparing proxy generated stats to other stats generated by other means is a sure sign the guy's a con artist. He's selling snake oil.

But Hea DO NOT compare their stats to other stats. That is what their critics do. No. Hea compare their indie proxy stats to their tradpub proxy stats. This is a fair comparison. Apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

What valid conclusions can Hea draw from these stats?

They can draw three:

1. On this day, indies sold X units; by comparison, tradpub sold Y units. X appears to be greater than Y.

2. On this day, tradpub grossed W dollars; by comparison, indies grossed Z dollars. W appears to be greater than Z.

3. On this day, indie authors earned A dollars; tradpub authors earned B dollars. A appears to be greater than B.

The fact that Hea used proxies means they lack some precision and some accuracy, but I think they realized the limits of their measurements. Everything they wrote and said evidences that they did.

To me, the worth of Hea's study is in the questions it generates.

When I was doing stats for a living, I tried to collect, collate, and analyze a set of data just to discover what I wanted to collect and how to collect it. In other words, I used the first collection and reduction to refine my approach for the production collection and reduction. I bet Hea are doing the same right now.

From the publishing establishment, I read criticisms, not critiques. I am reminded of the British comedy 'Yes, Minister', specifically the episode entitled 'The Greasy Pole'. In it, Sir Humphrey lays out a barrage of criticisms that can be used against any study. I suppose that Hea's critics saw that episode. They used all those criticisms.

Why are Hea's critics so rabid?

I don't know, but if I had to guess I would guess it is because of the inference that can be drawn from the third conclusion. Joe has repeated that inference often.

"If I can make more money self-published, why should I sign with a traditional publisher?"

Mark Edward Hall said...

Howey's report is certainly making a lot of waves. Here's the link to another article.

http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/what-is-not-in-doubt-about-hugh-howeys-author-earnings-report/

jnfr said...

I've got a post up at my blog with links to all the articles I've come across. It's a long list now.

http://www.clarybooks.com/?p=316

Jason Brant said...

Michael: If you posit that Smashwords is only reaching a third of the market for their authors (so triple their gross, to $60 million), and then you postulate the total self-publishing market is three times bigger still (500,000 KDP exclusive authors, plus 275,000 Smashwords authors), you've talked your way to a market of $180 million or so.

I couldn't read more of his comments after this. That was just embarrassing. Talk about spewing bullshit...

Joe Konrath said...

"The book industry isn't dying, it's thriving with an ebook assist."

I've explained why this is so in a previous blog post. It's thriving by taking royalties directly from authors.

Assuming this is the same Anon posting this links, here's a heads-up how this comment-thing works.

You write something and defend it. I reply. You respond. You don't just link to sites that disagree, especially when I've already addressed those concerns.

Bill Peschel said...

I'll probably drop in a couple times as I see things, but this struck me as uniquely stupid:

"But Amazon's hourly bestseller lists are a merchandising tool, controlled by the site according to their own black box methods and designed to drive their company agenda -- which includes selling more ebooks, and whenever possible increasing the share of KDP and Amazon Publishing titles on their own site."

Joe, you unpacked some stupidity in this, but let's consider that Calder was right about this.

Because if Amazon is manipulating this data, which is updating hourly, it would have to have algorithms in place to do this automatically, because having someone handcode alterations would require paying someone to do this. Since it refreshes hourly, someone would have to hand-fix this hourly, unless someone writes it into the code that biases the sample toward KDP titles.

So, is Amazon tweaking the lists, bumping their titles up a couple of notches, or are they massively rewriting their sales figures? If they're bumping, that doesn't seem to give you any bang for your buck. Who cares if "Self-Published Heaving Bosoms" is #23 instead of #25?

But if it's big; if they bumped Howey to #1 on the main list, wouldn't someone notice? Wouldn't someone wonder why he's outselling #1s on other lists? Wouldn't Howey wonder how he became #1 and only selling 20 copies a day?

In short: If Amazon is warping the list (and no one, and I mean no one, has ever published any data showing otherwise), wouldn't it provoke some kind of head-scratching, somewhere?

And why would Amazon disrupt a system that, if left alone, provides a ton of useful data on what genres are selling, what authors are hot, who is buying what from where, and Lord knows what else?

The stupidity of this argument stings.

Tracy Cooper-Posey said...

Antares said: "I saw the graphs Howey et amicus (Hea) produced from their collected data"

In the romance genre, HEA stands for "happy every after".

Freudian, no?

:)

Tracy

Joe Konrath said...

The stupidity of this argument stings.

Haven't you developed an immunity to the stings by now, Bill? :)

I'm still on the fence as to whether these many industry rebuttals are intentionally misleading, or just poorly thought out. But then I'm also on the fence if the legacy industry is truly unaware of how one-sided they are, or truly greedy and evil when it comes to dealing with authors.

They MUST be able to see that their contact terms suck. And they MUST know authors don't have to take those terms anymore.

So is this denial? False hope? Whistling past the graveyard? Machiavellian? Stupidity?

I don't get it. If someone pointed out where my livelihood was threatened, I'd sit up and take notice.

Scott said...

Just a quick correction (the link was correct): Edward R. Robinson is actually Edward W. Robertson. It's a small thing, but I have bought almost everything that this particular indie author has published.

Joe Konrath said...

Thanks, Rcott. I'll fix it.

:)

Libbie Hawker said...

I'm finding the responses from various legacy-associated sources pretty entertaining. I've never seen so much whistling past so many graveyards in my life. I'd feel sorry for all these folks on the verge of losing their jobs, except that this industry has worked so hard for decades to find ways to screw over authors, and, well...I'm an author.

Don't worry, guys! You can always go into business as freelance editors or formatters or whatnot, and all the indie authors can hire you for the drudge-work of producing a book.

Alan Tucker said...

Legacy publishers changing their beliefs and policies based on the numbers and arguments presented would be akin to Ken Ham saying, "You know what, Bill? You're right. Let's hug it out," after his debate with Bill Nye about evolution vs. creationism a couple of weeks ago.

It won't happen.

What can happen is authors become educated to the reality of legacy contracts. That the brass ring they're reaching for is tarnished beyond belief. Thanks to Joe, Hugh, PG, and many others for doing their best to shed light on this.

Irwin P. said...

Joe Said: I'm still on the fence as to whether these many industry rebuttals are intentionally misleading, or just poorly thought out.

It's both, to some degree. Look, this earnings stuff is big, and it's getting coverage across the world. Legacy Publishers cannot concede that there is a financially viable alternative to authors signing contracts at current terms. They will not concede this point. They would rather die. (They might die!)

From the point of view of Big Pub and their remoras like Shatzkin and Pub Lunch, the facts are really irrelevant at this point. Right now it's a battle to yell really loudly and hopefully distract enough current and legacy authors long enough to sign that next 3-book contract.

- Irwin P.

William Ockham said...

Everybody should re-read Antares comment above. It's a good summary of the key takeaways from the report.

I have a question for folks in the writing business. Shatzkin says that legacy pub pays (in the aggregate) more to authors than the straight up royalty rates would suggest. I think that's true (and for the sake of the next question, just assume it's true). Also assume that the Big 5 were effectively maximizing their profits in the pre-ebook era.

The question: Why is overpaying authors (on a per unit basis and in the aggregate) a good business strategy?


Phoenix Sullivan said...

The number of slots attributable to either a trad book or a self-pubbed one is indisputable. No qualms with it. But once you try to extrapolate, the math and error rates become very, very messy.

Yes, there will always be a #5 book, but how much that book makes is NOT an absolute. It could fluctuate by percents beyond any tolerable margin of error.

For example, a #5 book could be a book selling 5000 copies a day at $0 (vis a vis the 4 anomalous Kindle First picks that are usually in the Top 100), 99c, $2.99 or $7.99 (again, example pricing only).

So book #5 on any given day could be making anywhere from $0-$40,000 gross, and royalty to the author/publisher could be anything from $1730 (or less - I don't know what the authors of the Kindle First Picks are earning on copies downloaded for free) to $26,000 or more (depending on negotiated discount if it's trad).

price / gross / author cut:
Free = $0 / ???
99c = $4950 / $1732.50
$2.99 = $14,950 / $9717.50 (figured at 65% to adjust for sales in 35% countries and delivery fees)
$7.99 = $39,950 / $25,967.50

Using this example, the #5 spot could be worth anywhere from $1.8M to $14.8M gross per year if we exclude the Kindle First books. The royalty could be anywhere from $632.4K to $9.5M.

Those are some pretty wide variances.

Note too that books in the original study in the Top 100 were being plugged in at the price they were at that moment in time. Any KDDs from the day before (or BookBub books that reverted price) that sold, say, 5000 at 99c or $1.99 are having their earnings calculated at list price, not the price those 5000 copies were sold at to make rank.

The authors I work with are mainly formerly bestselling trad pub authors putting out their backlists and new work as indies. We make our money on the self-pubbed side, so my bias here is toward indie. My agenda is only to point out that the extrapolations need to be refined a lot more if they're meant to be taken seriously in the industry. Criticism on the methodology is, I think, warranted, when it comes to analysis of author earnings.

OTOH, the ratios of indies to trad-pub books in the different genres is accurate in the analysis. That's the easy, low-hanging fruit that can be focused on now without dispute.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I'm still on the fence as to whether these many industry rebuttals are intentionally misleading, or just poorly thought out.

I'm guessing it's the latter, since the industry, in general, seems poorly thought out.

Daniel Kenney said...

Of all the things I read from Shatzkin over the last few weeks, the one that stuck with me is when he talked about some publishers pay some authors an advance they know won't earn out as a way to avoid paying higher royalties...the higher royalties that would trigger sunset clauses in some of the contracts guaranteeing higher royalties for bigger authors. Being newer to the industry, I had never heard that before and it was a good data point.

I think that's why Shatzkin is so fixated on the size of the advance being the only thing that matters to authors in his experience. But I suppose I'm curious, how big of an author do you need to be to start getting these type of advances? Pretty big I'm guessing. And yes, we can all agree, if you're a pretty big author, then you're probably pretty happy with the status quo and not too concerned with this discussion. This discussion is for the "rest of us". I still get a sense that Shatzkin (and many others from trad ranks) doesn't really get the "rest of us".

Anonymous said...

One possible reason they'd overpay would be for subsidary rights, which (when it comes to film / TV) can be a monster of funds...

I turned down an offer from a small publisher on a novel of mine. He was a real publisher, with real books to his name, one of which had been made into a movie that was well reviewed with a real star.

But his offer was thus... one thousand dollars, that's it. Plus the usual royalties, etc (which would take a couple years to kick in, one year before being published, another year for quarterly reports, etc)... he only offers a thousand bucks to any book, it's the same with all his books.

And his company gets fifty percent of the subsidary rights also.

Since I also write screenplays, I objected to this. I wouldn't option a screenplay for that amount, why give half of that to someone for publishing a book? It wasn't enough. Especially considering the book was very movie-friendly.

So I turned it down (my then book agent was unhappy) and he was shocked that I did.

From his POV, it's a good gamble. You publish a lot of books for a little bit of money, little up front, they sell and get good reviews (or not) and when studios come calling and buy it for a mil,you get half of that. For next to nothing (a thousand).

Now taking that logic farther to the bigger publishers, some books don't earn out right away, but when a book gets picked up for a movie or series (which happens a lot) they get a big chunk of that money, and then the book actually gets boosted by the other property... so it's a win-win, if the book has that potential.

I don't think they overpay without some intent behind it... I think it's calculated, myself...

Todd Travis

Liana Mir said...

Sometimes I just wish we could roundtable a handful of people who do have background in statistics, including a couple like Courtney Milan for balance, and Ockham, etc. and have them all work on the raw data together themselves to determine their own collective insights on the report and findings of value.

I doubt they would come to any anti-indie conclusions.

Terrence OBrien said...

All this makes me wonder if some folks from Bertelsmann or News Corp have phoned to ask what's going on.

jnfr said...

If you aren't Stephen King getting a huge advance in place of a higher royalty percentage, right?, then if you don't earn out your advance you get dropped. Publishers don't keep writers on unless they sell in ever-higher amounts. We've heard that story over and over again from mid-listers who got dropped or forced to write under a pseudonym or whatever.

So the fact that a few big name authors consistently get more money is irrelevant in terms of analyzing the sales numbers Author Earnings has put out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for debunking the BS Joe, and for all the other great articles on your blog.

I found that Hugh's data on Author Earnings was an accurate representation of what I'd seen in my own sales. Not the numbers, because I'm relatively new and not in the bestsellers, but the percentages and trends were spot on.

I'm a hybrid author. I've sacrificed a couple of stories to traditional publishing to see if they improve their systems or not, and to see if I make any money at it. But I come from indie roots, so I have a foot in both worlds. Maybe legacy publishers will figure out how to treat their authors and maybe they won't. I agree that their survival depends on if they make significant changes or not.

My theory is that if I get royally screwed on a couple of books, then the only thing they'll see is my middle finger before I turn and walk away. Time will tell on how that little experiment will play out. Hopefully, it'll have a happy ending. But if not, it's business. I'll sell my future books to the company offering me the best deal.

On the indie side, which I'm never leaving, I have to say that Hugh's data, and his advice that came from that data, all rang true for me.

I've been self-pubbing for a while, but I only got the hang of it all after working my ass off (editing, and then editing again). Now, I'm working on creating as many new books as I can.

I'm certainly not earning millions, but I have seen a rapid increase in sales and readers since I worked on improving my stories. I've also seen that a free story is possibly the most productive marketing device. Mine tripled my usual sales, creating awareness that I existed for new readers.

I'm in the low earning category of self-pubbed authors, and not a bestseller by any stretch of imagination, so I wasn't one of the authors specifically shown in Hugh's data. But, even on the low end of the scale, I can see the same methods working for me on a smaller scale. I can see the same data in my own results. Sure, it's a smaller profit margin on an unknown author with only two decent books out, but I can see it rapidly improving with advice from bloggers like you and using the advice and data in Hugh's report.

My recent rise in royalties is certainly proof enough for me that the data is correct, and the marketing methods suggested work. I've yet to see a penny from traditional publishing (the books aren't out yet), but as an indie author, I'm already seeing the sales rise with very little marketing behind them.

I know with almost 100% certainty that when I release more books, those sales numbers will go up too. This is something that Hugh's data and my own fans confirm. While I may never be a bestseller, I have am confident that I'll be able to make a living as a writer by self-publishing alone because of the data matching my own rises and falls in sales. It will take me some time and hard work, but that is the case for all writers.

There are a lot of things that sell a book, but for me, I believe the most important ones are readability and visibility. Thorough editing and a free book will provide you with those.

I'm really grateful for the Author Earnings report, and all the work you guys do for other authors.

If you're interested, I'll update you on my traditional books when I know what the story is. Good or bad, you can have the data. If it's bad, I'm sure I'll be very vocal about it in an explosive manner. But as an author who resides in both worlds, I can confirm that the Author Earnings site is possibly one of the best resources for new authors.

Nell Goddin said...

"*all is well*"

Oh god, that was exquisite. LOL.

Mir Writes said...

Aside from all the wonderful information (thanks Data Dude for the update), I was laughing SO HARD at the quotes/italics/asterisk/underlining here in Florida that I'm sure someone at Amazon in Seattle raised their head from their work to wonder what that weird noise was....

Great semi-fisking. And I continue to be amazed at how adept some of these folks are at straw-manning. It's as if they are under some spell cast by a sorcerer and can't see straight.

Tony Jackson said...

To help calibrate the rank/unit proxy: does anyone know how many the best-ever selling KDP single title sold in 2013, and the best-ever AP single title?

Daniel Kenney said...

I second what Liana Mir said about a special statistical round table super group. William Ockham joining forces with Courtney Milan (who after reading about her seems wicked brilliat) and hanging out with Data Guy? I like the odds of that much brain power getting something pretty special done. Joe, you need to reach out to Hugh and these folks and make that happen!

Anonymous said...

William Ockham said The question: Why is overpaying authors (on a per unit basis and in the aggregate) a good business strategy?

To keep the royalty rate suppressed for the aggregate of authors, which over-time would cause more books to earn out and royalty checks to be cut. At least that's my theory

Catherine V. said...

Dude. I love it when you kick so much ass.

Joe Konrath said...

The question: Why is overpaying authors (on a per unit basis and in the aggregate) a good business strategy?

Barry and I are working on another long post that will be live soon, and I offer an answer to that question, John.

William J. Thomas said...

Joe said:

They MUST be able to see that their contact terms suck. And they MUST know authors don't have to take those terms anymore.

So is this denial? False hope? Whistling past the graveyard? Machiavellian? Stupidity?

I don't get it. If someone pointed out where my livelihood was threatened, I'd sit up and take notice.


It's denial Joe, plain and simple. They do not view their livelihood as being threatened. They just don't.

They are making mega-bucks off ebooks right now, and currently paper is still selling. There is no shortage of submissions from authors who still want to be legacy published. If that number of authors is shrinking, it's had no impact yet.

So why on earth would they change anything or offer authors more humane contracts? It doesn't make business sense for them today.

B&N going under might wake them up a bit, but short of that they have future blinders on and assume they will always be making the same money they are today.

Also, they truly do see self-pubbers as a farm team. If submissions do dry up they feel they can always cull from the 'herd of wannabees'. Offensive, but true.

I have a very successful self-pubbed romance author friend who is making major cash on her first series. Yet she still submitted the first book in her second series to Harlequin, and they accepted based on the success of the first series. Small advance? Rotten contract? She doesn't care. She just wants to see her books in print at B&N and the library.

Legacy pubs are counting on the fact that there will always be authors like her.

(I'm pointing her to this blog btw!)

SM Barrett said...

I'm wondering if this sort of reaction isn't tap-dancing as much as it is staggering, trying to maintain balance.

The industry in January had an official plan of action at the Publisher's Conference - they talked to their communications people, they were going to tell personal stories, show the benefits they offer, remind us they are "guardians of literature", etc.

And the plan was already afoot. Agents were blogging and articles were starting to appear, and then this report came out of nowhere, right as the industry message was stretching its wings.

I don't know if it simply caught them off-balance, or if it landed like an action movie haymaker, but they don't appear to have ready responses. The few replies that have offered are little more than vague hand-waving that indicates the report wasn't even read.

I honestly expected an industry this large to have a few number-crunchers who had an inkling of what was happening. Hey, maybe they do and they're keeping mum until a new strategy takes shape, but thus far, the vocal opposition don't seem very lucid.

Anonymous said...

I bought two self-published ebooks last night.

Covers: crap

Formatting: crap

Editing: crap

Cover Copy: crap

Yet both books were in the top 30 overall on Amazon. They might be really good stories (the customer reviews would indicate that they are), but for me it's extremely difficult to get past the abysmal formatting and editing (which didn't show up in the "Look Inside" sample, btw).

How is it that some books can do everything wrong and still sell in such huge numbers? Are the readers who typically buy $.99-$4.99 ebooks just not as discerning as those who typically pay more? Are we talking about an entirely different demographic than the folks who shop for, say, John Grisham or H. Terrell Griffin (both also in the top 30)? If so, shouldn't that be taken into account when compiling statistics that compare the sales numbers and profitability of indie titles vs. traditional titles on the bestseller lists?

And if these two novels are representative of the books publishers reference when they cite a lack of quality on the indie side, then it would seem that publishers have a point--at least in that regard.

But apparently there's an entire group of readers who just don't care about professional presentation. So (and I hate to say this), for statistical purposes, it might indeed make sense for Amazon to have a separate web page for self-published books. Because with two entirely different demographics of readers, comparing indie and traditional sales stats is kind of like comparing the sales stats of apples and oranges.

Liana Mir said...

5:03 anonymous:

These are all self-published authors. Do you think their covers and formatting are crap?

Michael Bunker
Hugh Howey
Jason Gurley
M.C.A. Hogarth
Kristine Rusch (esp. her Fae series)
Susan Kaye Quinn


I could go on, but seriously, this level of quality is COMMON. So is dreck. You are capable of figuring out which is which on your own.

Anonymous said...

I could go on, but seriously, this level of quality is COMMON. So is dreck. You are capable of figuring out which is which on your own.

The point is, some of that dreck is making it into the top 100.

I'm just curious as to how that happens.

Anonymous said...

"I bought two self-published ebooks last night.

Covers: crap

Formatting: crap

Editing: crap

Cover Copy: crap"

Anon 503, I felt this way about the last two James Patterson novels I bought (technically, they were only "co-authored" by Patterson) some years ago... so I don't understand how this wins your argument.

Oh, it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Anon is trolling.

Or he's terminally stupid.

Cover sucked. formatting sucked. Cover copy sucked. Editing sucked.

Bought is anyway? Really? Are you done eating paint chips now?

Even better, the formatting and editing horror that your kindle unleashed was somehow invisible in the preview on amazon? How the fuck did that happen? Everything was spelled right on the preview but not in the actual book? Did 'their' magically become 'there' in 100 places in the book you downloaded?

Does your mother know you're using her laptop?

You bemoan the tsunami of crap that Joe exposed as a bullshit argument years ago?

You think NY publishing does it better? There are entire websites (funny ones at that) dedicated to posting horrible NY covers. Hell, if you want to laugh your ass off, look at some of the covers Micheal Moorcock's Elric novels got back in the day.

Or how about Crichton's Eaters of the Dead. Worst freaking cover ever...

You're trolling.

Go away.

Mike Kane
(you see, i'm a sarcastic ass who is too lazy to register for an account, but I post my name..)

Anonymous said...

"bought IT anyway"

fat fingered it...

Anonymous said...

I felt this way about the last two James Patterson novels I bought (technically, they were only "co-authored" by Patterson) some years ago... so I don't understand how this wins your argument.

Oh, it doesn't.


Ah, the old "James Patterson sucks so it's okay for me to publish excrement" comeback.

A classic!

But really, there's no excuse for anyone to release shoddy product. Every author should have more respect for his/her readers than that, even if the books are free.

Anonymous said...

Anon is trolling.

Or he's terminally stupid.

Cover sucked. formatting sucked. Cover copy sucked. Editing sucked.

Bought is anyway? Really? Are you done eating paint chips now?


I guess you can see why publishing pros don't show up in your comments section very often, Joe.

Later.

Anonymous said...

it might indeed make sense for Amazon to have a separate web page for self-published books.

Why? What's selling is selling, right? The only folks who would want a SEPARATION OF THE "CLASSES" are folks like Steve Z. from Kensington (who on this blog said that it's his dream to have all self-published books somehow designated and separated on Amazon...), Don Maass, and a bunch of mid-list legacy authors trapped in bad contracts who are going INSANE when they see that they're being outsold by indies selling stuff at half the price and making 3x the royalty...

(And some of you guys really need to think about the parallels you're evoking when you call out for the ghettoization of a group....)

Anonymous said...

"Ah, the old "James Patterson sucks so it's okay for me to publish excrement" comeback.

A classic!"

Except that wasn't the argument I was making... you made a point based on two indie books, ergo I compared them to do trad books... using my opinion, as you do yours... you were making a case that indies suck... I pointed out, it's not necessarily different than trads...


"But really, there's no excuse for anyone to release shoddy product. Every author should have more respect for his/her readers than that, even if the books are free. "

but this is different than what you implied earlier... each author is their own brand, some will have great products, some won't BOTH IN TRAD AND IN INDIE PUBLISHING...

That was the point I was making, and the fact that you pivoted as you did sort of signals you were, indeed, trolling...

Joe Konrath said...

Yet both books were in the top 30 overall on Amazon. They might be really good stories (the customer reviews would indicate that they are), but for me it's extremely difficult to get past the abysmal formatting and editing (which didn't show up in the "Look Inside" sample, btw).

I hear you. It really flies in the face of my advice that covers, formatting, and blurbs should all be awesome. Years ago I preached that having a good cover, blurb, price, and content were essential. And then I see this:

http://www.amazon.com/Misplacing-His-Mate-Lycan-Romance-ebook/dp/B00HZCZG00

I haven't read any of these lycan romances, but they're selling. Selling pretty damn well, too. Maybe the story is fabulous, but surely the author knows the covers are lacking, as are the descriptions.

But apparently readers don't care. I'm surprised, but also strangely pleased by this. Good for author ML Briers.

The idea of a segregated page was really debunked by me when Zacharius mentioned it, so look there to my comments about a separate indie page and why it is a bad idea. But I'm still surprised why some less-than-professional work sells, especially when is sells well.

Then again, I've always said it's about luck...

Joe Konrath said...

I could go on, but seriously, this level of quality is COMMON. So is dreck.

This is true.

One of my publishers released one of my ebooks with formatting errors ON EVERY PAGE.

I got a ton of email about it, and it took my months to get them to fix it. In the meantime, I sent every complainer a version of the ebook I'd formatted on my own.

Now I don't doubt that self-pub has a greater share of crappy covers and formatters than legacy pub, but I obviously can't prove that. Usually, if formatting or grammar is bad, reviewers kill the sales. But sometimes not. I accidentally released a version of HAUNTED HOUSE with dozens of typos. Readers forgave me until I uploaded a fixed version.

So... I'm stumped.

Joe Konrath said...

Anon is trolling.

Or he's terminally stupid.


Mike, I prefer the commenters to direct their name calling at me, not each other.

The problem with anon posts is some do troll. And it is easier to think an anon post is trolling. But in this case I get the poster's point, and I find it interesting. Let's not assume he's been dropped on his head, and give him the benefit of the doubt. Because I, for one, am curious about this.

Why does some obviously unprofessional material sell?

It's a really valid observation.

Joe Konrath said...

The point is, some of that dreck is making it into the top 100.

I'm just curious as to how that happens.


Me too. Can you point out the books in question? I'd like to take a look to see if I can figure it out.

Joe Konrath said...

I guess you can see why publishing pros don't show up in your comments section very often, Joe.

Later.


They don't show up because they have no rebuttal, they fear me, they hate me, they hate that they fear me, or they don't want to legitimize (in their heads) my arguments by deigning to reply.

But you shouldn't take dissenting comments personally, especially since you're posting anonymous. It's not like you're being publicly humiliated and abused. You're protected by anonymity.

And to everyone: let's focus on the comments, not the commenter.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm reading reviews for the lycan romances I mentioned upthread.

Readers really like them. These are legit reviews from fans.

So I downloaded a sample.

Not bad. Not bad at all. I can see the appeal.

I wrote a blog post a few years ago, openly trying to figure out why I was doing so well.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/03/ja-konrath-kindle-sales-30k-ebooks-in.html

But that was guesswork on my part, and I changed my opinion on a few points I'd made.

Maybe, in some cases, readers will overlook a bad cover and jacket copy and give a cheap ebook a shot and find out they like it. Once that happens, subsequent books are automatic purchases.

It's classic behavior. If you try it and you like it, it takes away all doubt. If you like it enough, you can even forgive bad formatting. (interestingly, the lycan books have excellent formatting).

But in reality, no one knows why some books sell and others don't, and I think that's what I'm getting at. This is something to be studied, not derided. Because it's fascinating.

McVickers said...

I don't know who ML Briers is, but my books have been in the Top 20 of Horror since the New Year, but I noticed that Trolling Anon Guy didn't bother to pick out two of MY books and bag on their covers, blurbs, and formatting. Why? Cause they're friggin' perfect, and I self-published both of them. Let's face it, ML Briers writes for a certain audience. People who love lycan sex. Good for her and good for them. Hey, .99 cents to get your daily dose of something you like. Why not? Whose it hurting? Abso-friggin-lutely no one.

P. S. Power said...

I wonder: How many people that point and yell...

Cover: crap
Editing: Crap
Plot: crap

Would have thought the book was fine if they didn't know it was Indie?

This seems to be a common form of bias, that would be interesting to see studied.

Though,I agree, that anon poster was Trolling. When he was called on it, he bailed, probably planning to come back with a fake name and trying again.

It makes for an easy way to attack, that can't be dis-proven, easily.


Joe Konrath said...

Though,I agree, that anon poster was Trolling

As someone who has been trolled more often than... well... anyone... I disagree that anon was trolling.

Making a provocative point doesn't always equate trolling.

Let's all be nice. Group hug. Stick to the things said.

evilphilip said...

Why does some obviously unprofessional material sell?

Because readers are not as discriminating as the big publishing companies would have you believe.

It's that simple.

Not that eBooks from the big publishers are great (or even good). I'm reading an eBook right now from WWNorton and the formatting is horrific. It is obvious that no effort at all was done to make sure that the book was even readable.

I've got the print version as well and I've had to refer to the print version in some places to see what was really going on.

Bad formatting exists in both markets.

Anonymous said...

Bad formatting exists in both markets.

Indeed.

This one had me snorting coffee out my nose:

http://litreactor.com/news/a-feast-for-crows-ebook-littered-with-george-rr-martins-name

"I will find no help here. As Brienne mounted up again, she glimpsed a skinny boy atop George R.R. Martin"

"I never touched a woman until George R.R. Martin"

"From Castamere to the Blackwater, you fed them well. That notion pleased Lord George R.R. Martin"

Clearly, the page headings from the print version were indiscriminately incorporated into the e-book chapter text and never proofread.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has been trolled more often than... well... anyone... I disagree that anon was trolling.

Thanks. I'm reading one of the books now, and the story's actually pretty good. The author definitely has some talent.

But with the poor covers, formatting, and editing, it just amazes me that these books ever got noticed in the first place.

And then there are so many books done properly--indie and traditional alike--that never find much of an audience at all.

I know luck plays a part, but it seems like luck would favor a package that's attractive to start with.

Betsy True said...

Hey, Joe--tiny point....kindleboards.com has been kboards.com since March 2013. Thanks for the mention and for being a member!

Joe Konrath said...

I know luck plays a part, but it seems like luck would favor a package that's attractive to start with.

It should. And it does.

I love to fish. Been doing it since I was two years old. I know a lot about catching bass, pike, and muskie. Muskie are particularly elusive. They're called "The Fish of 10,000 Casts" because that's how many it takes to land one.

Last summer I was fishing with my wife and son. My son is a great fisherman. He knows almost as much as I do. My wife--not so much. She likes being out on the boat, likes casting, likes reeling in, but catching fish freaks her out. She often forgets to set the hook, is constantly in the weeds, and makes one cast for every three my son and I make.

You know where this is going, right?

The muskie she pulled in was awesome. My son and I caught nothing.

Luck is a fickle one, that's for sure.

Alexandria said...

But with the poor covers, formatting, and editing, it just amazes me that these books ever got noticed in the first place.

I suspect that if the pricepoint is low enough, a buyer is pre-disposed to overlook a lot of flaws. For example, the book Joe referenced is $.99. I am willing to overlook a crappy cover and more for 99 cents if the subject matter is something I like. It's a lot more problematic to take a chance on a crappy-looking book if it is a $9.99 ebook.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

I just had to look up "lycan." Good to know.

Could you all stop writing such interesting stuff about the AE report? I can't get any writing done!

Seriously, thanks for your continuing wisdom--and humor--in response to these commentaries, Joe. I have a feeling that it's only going to get more absurd as they flail away.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I'm a different anon. I swear. Regarding the lycan thing, I think this kind of thing reveals one of the areas of great advantage to indie writers. I was at a B&N today (a fluke) and I noticed there were a bunch of steampunk romance, changeling romance, various paranormal romance - all of it hardback and sitting on the "remainder" cart priced as low as they could get it. There's an audience, they just are able to get it faster and cheaper elsewhere.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I guess you can see why publishing pros don't show up in your comments section very often, Joe.

Funny, I see a lot of publishing pros show up here. I'm one of them. There are many others.

antares said...

I just saw the 'Yes, Minister' episode 'The Greasy Pole' on a BBC channel. (I want this series on DVD, but it is only available in European format.)

I had forgotten that Sir Humphrey divided the discreditation of unfavorable reports into four stages. "The figures are open to other interpretations." "The results have been questioned." "Another study over a longer time period may prove to have different results." "Not a basis for a change in policy." "Broadly speaking, the study validates current practices." All these objections belong to the first three stages.

When the nay-sayers fall to personal attacks against Howey et amicus they have moved to stage four: discredit the author. It means they given up trying to argue against the facts and have gone to character assassination.

Given how fast the nay-sayers moved through the first three stages, I expect them to go to stage four this weekend.

Talin said...

I loved the Yes Minister series years ago. Went well with reading Keith Laumer's Retief books.

Anyway, seems a bunch of people are staking out positions that more data will only undercut. Questioning methods and such only works if Hugh Howey and Data Guy stop gathering data for everyone to look at.

antares said...

I love Keith Laumer's Retief, too. I have a paperback copy of Retief! somewhere. I bought my ecopy from Baen's Books. Unfortunately, Baen's site sez it is 'Not Currently Available'.

My dealings with DOD and NASA confirmed the presentations of civil servants seen in 'Yes, Minister'.

William Ockham said...

People should pay attention to this phenomenon of books selling well that the anon above describes as crap. This is real, but it doesn't mean what anon thinks it means.

There are readers who don't care about grammar. They just want a good story. But they don't prefer ebooks with bad grammar, they just don't care. If bad grammar drives you crazy, you can always return the ebook. "Crap" books are succeeding in spite of their flaws, not because of them. This means that for some writers publishing an ebook without all the "requirements" might make sense economically. Only the writer can decide whether it makes sense for them artistically.

If you come from the print world, you will have an inflated sense of the importance of formatting, editing, covers, and anything else that was hard to change after publication. Because all of those things were vastly more important when they were hard to change.

Also, if your legacy publisher put out an ebook edition of your book that was badly formatted or full of scanning typos, you should assume they really didn't want those books to sell.

Liana Mir said...

As someone who buys a lot of classics, I just want to mention that if your package is plain enough in a certain style, readers may think it's a low-priced classic, which means it's likely to be a very good book.

gniz said...

William Occham, as usual, nails it.

I publish a lot of work REALLY FAST.

One of the downsides of my work rate is that it's not always a clean as it could be. There are errors, even though I'm a fairly clean writer...I miss stuff.

I'm willing to take the risk/reward ratio of this publishing strategy because the readers who buy my books have made it clear (with their pocketbooks) that they're quite willing to keep reading my stuff, even though they find the occasional error or two.

I like to think I tell a good story and I'm somewhat in touch with current market trends. Ebooks, in my opinion, embrace a more modern style. Readers enjoy a lot of pace, peppy dialog, lots of conflict, and not too much time wasted with literary fluff and flair.

At least, that's my type of audience.

I knowingly push the envelope on what's acceptable in terms of editing because it works for my bottom line, but I still always intend to deliver on story, character and entertainment.

If other people think I'm a hack, I really don't mind what the literary critics feel. I'm making a lot of money doing what I love and my readers seem to be happy with what I'm giving them.

gniz said...

See how I messed up William's name?

It was an accident. But you still got my point. Did it ruin my entire post for you?

If so, you're probably not one of my readers...

Anonymous said...

Hi Aaron (gniz). I like your covers and your approach sounds smart. I look forward to reading.

It looks like you've got a great pulp feel with your books. The titles tell you what you're getting and the descriptions are hooking me.

The message your "passive marketing" is giving me is that your books are going to be fun to read.

Anonymous said...

This means that for some writers publishing an ebook without all the "requirements" might make sense economically.

And it's those writers who lend credence to some of the most common criticisms from agents, editors, and traditionally-published authors. It's those writers who give all indies a bad name.

So if I were an indie author who did care about releasing a first-rate product, who took the time and effort to make it right, I think I might be a little perturbed every time I saw slop selling hand over fist. Not because I was jealous of that author making a lot of money, but because that author is handing the critics another round of ammunition to use against indies in general.

Andrew said...

And it's those writers who lend credence to some of the most common criticisms from agents, editors, and traditionally-published authors. It's those writers who give all indies a bad name.

Maybe if these same critics put down that huge brush and addressed the same issues under their own roof, the industry at a whole would get better?

Anonymous said...

I would toss out one anecdote. I was discussing indie pubbing with my 70ish father, who reads via kindle.

He, at one point, mentioned that he heard that indie writers were mostly bad, with bad books and that they bought their reviews.

I looked in his kindle, and he had read and enjoyed several indies already.

So it's all academic at some point. People take broad swipes at indies - and think that bad books injure good books. But it just doesn't happen. Readers read what they want.

William Ockham said...

It's those writers who give all indies a bad name.

You should think very hard about the assumptions behind that statement. Re-read that sentence and insert any other class of writers (women, minority, genre, traditionally published, etc.). Your bigotry is showing.

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Joe Konrath said...

If you come from the print world, you will have an inflated sense of the importance of formatting, editing, covers, and anything else that was hard to change after publication. Because all of those things were vastly more important when they were hard to change.

I've been thinking about this a lot.

The problem is controls.

I've always assumed that ebooks needed certain criteria to get discovered by readers, the main four being a good cover, good blurb, low price, and good story.

Other things like good grammar and spelling, good formatting, no typos, were also important.

But repeatedly I'm seeing ebooks sell that have bad covers, bad description, poor formatting, etc.

I'm also seeing books that are universally acknowledged as "poorly written" doing very well.

What's the takeaway here?

We know luck matters. But we can't release the same book in two parallel dimensions, one version with a bad cover, or formatting, or grammar, and truly test how they compare.

Is seems entirely reasonable that you improve your chances at finding readers if your ducks are all perfectly lined up. But time and again there are successes with crooked ducks.

I understand where my bias comes from, and can see my bias may be wrong. But I'm not sure I can see the opposing argument, unless it's just as simple as: You can't predict what readers want, and they'll overlook a lot of mistakes if they're enjoying something.

How can that concept be used to find more readers?

Joe Konrath said...

And it's those writers who lend credence to some of the most common criticisms from agents, editors, and traditionally-published authors. It's those writers who give all indies a bad name.

Years ago I ceased caring what people thought of me. I don't do this for the approval of agents, editors, or peers. And I don't care if indie writers, me included, have a bad name.

When I engage a legacy pundit, it isn't because I care about him, or want his approval, or even want him to admit that I'm right. I'm not going to change the way legacy publishers do things.

But I can change the way authors look at legacy publishers. If I expose legacy pundits for the pinheads they act like, authors will benefit.

There will always be haters. Every celebrity has haters. Every piece of art and media has haters. You goal shouldn't be to please the haters, or worry that other artists are making you look bad.

Your goal should be to please yourself, and hopefully others like you.

William J. Thomas said...

Joe said:

But we can't release the same book in two parallel dimensions, one version with a bad cover, or formatting, or grammar, and truly test how they compare.

Damn it...if only I was Talon Avalon!

;-)

Anonymous said...

You should think very hard about the assumptions behind that statement. Re-read that sentence and insert any other class of writers (women, minority, genre, traditionally published, etc.). Your bigotry is showing.

I really don't even know what that's supposed to mean.

If an author doesn't have enough money for covers, formatting, editing, etc., then that's one thing. But the books I bought are selling like hotcakes, and decent covers and proper formatting really aren't very expensive. At some point, it seems like any author would start to care that his/her books look like poo and spend some money to do something about it.

But maybe not. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, I guess.

Personally, I would wait until I had $25-$50 for a decent pre-made cover and $70 for proper formatting before I released my book into the cruel one-star-review world of digital publishing, and I would also enlist the help of friends and relatives for proofreading and editing suggestions. But that's just me. I would care about the quality of my work, even if boatloads of readers obviously don't.

Talin said...

I think Amanda Hocking was a perfect example. Her initial books had a lot of errors. If I remember right she tried several times getting them edited with less than stellar results.

But her readers for the most part didn't care. The ones who did care moved on, the ones who didn't stayed for her enthralling stories.

Personally I think people expect authors grammar and spelling to be better than their own writing like they subconsciously expect actors to be more beautiful/handsome. Still doesn't stop Joe Pesci from making a living.

What gets things started though is an interesting question. Who initially read those Lycan books with the poor cover to get into other people's also bought lists. Luck might explain one or two reads but I've noticed you need around 8-10 purchases before you start showing up.

Anonymous said...

And I don't care if indie writers, me included, have a bad name.

You've already made it, Joe, but to an indie just starting out, it seems like the perception (generated by those critics I mentioned earlier) that self-published books are of poorer quality than traditionally-published books might have a devastating effect where sale are concerned.

If mega-bestselling traditionally-published Author X repeatedly tells his/her million or so Facebook followers that self-published books are, in general, inferior in quality to traditionally-published books, a good portion of those followers might start to believe it.

And stopping the perpetuation of such a myth is relatively simple: don't publish crap.

You've been saying that for a long time here on A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, but apparently some authors still aren't getting the message.

Hollis Shiloh said...

But everybody's idea of crap is different. I'm not saying don't do your best, but it's really easy to point to any book and say, "That's crap." Because by your subjective standards it is. People point to prize-winning books every day and say "What crap! How does that get published." It just depends what you think is crap. What YOU think is crap may please lots and lots of readers.

The bottom line is people read to be entertained. Not to meet some arbitrary guideline about editing standards. If the editing interrupts their enjoyment of the work, that's what they notice. Otherwise nobody really thinks about it. And some readers will overlook mistakes because they enjoy the story so much.

Personally I'm trying to do my best and I think I'm getting better. I hope so!

Hollis Shiloh said...

There seems to be an audience for the lycan books that Joe linked to. I suspect the pricing and number of books has contributed greatly to their popularity. When something is cheap and there are a lot of them out there, people will sometimes take a chance. Or, if the author ran free promotions, readers may have gotten hooked and then bought the next books because of it.

I suspect the author has been in the business for a while, starting out when the Kindle was fairly new, and wrote a lot. Some things might be outstripping them - like cover art - but they've already found an audience who knows they'll get what they want from the author's work.

The truth is, if I already KNOW I love an author's work, I could care less about cover art. It doesn't influence me at all away from an author I already adore. It's when discovering new authors that I have an issue with cover art, because it's another way for me to try to find out if a book catches my attention or not.

If Harper Fox published a book with a blank black cover tomorrow, I would buy the shit out of it and read it gleefully. :-D If Spencer Quinn went Indie and published one of his dog mysteries with a blank cover, I would snatch that thing up while chortling! I'm often only picky about covers if I don't know the author, and I suspect others might be the same.

Honestly though, a cover has a BIG influence on me discovering a new book / author in the first place. It's kind of scary when you think about it. Everybody says "Don't judge a book by the cover, but most of us really do, unless we already know about the author.

And even if I KNOW the author but don't absolutely adore them, I will still be a little bit influenced by the cover's mood, tone, quality, etc.

Joe Konrath said...

You've been saying that for a long time here on A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, but apparently some authors still aren't getting the message.

I know. And yet, some crap is selling.

Which I'm trying to wrap my head around.

It might be true that some readers have heard about indie books being bad, and avoid them because there is a stigma attached. But I haven't met any of those readers. Instead, I see readers buying all 13 lycan romances, even though they clearly are the worst covers of all time.

I've always believed in getting everything as perfect as possible. You don't serve a gourmet meal on paper plates. You don't serve an awesome side dish with an overdone main course. You don't serve a great wine in a dirty glass.

I see people--mostly legacy pundits--complaining about indie crap. I see indie authors worried about indie crap.

And then I see indie crap selling.

It's... perplexing.

Hairhead said...

Look, there's a simple answer to why "crap" (as defined by different people in different ways) sells:

IT HAS THE STORY THAT READERS WANT TO READ.

That's it, that's all.

To paraphrase an old-time movie producer who was asked by a famous director why his latest film wasn't making any money:

"I can't stop the public from not buying your stuff."

It's very much a part of human behaviour to look for a definite answer, to believe there is a certain set of steps which will guarantee success -- but there is no such thing (not "success" but "a certain set of steps").

Now, for frequent readers who are choosy, yes, an excellent cover, a good blurb, an intriguing bio, and clean formatting will make a big contribution to the buying decision; but for a significant portion of the buying public, the deciding factor is: this story/author gives me the particular thing that I want.

This is why, Joe, you, with your excellent covers, blurbs, etc. sell -- but not always predictably; you're appealing to the discriminating frequent reader. And it is also why dinosaur-sex fantasies sell well enough to keep their authors happy.

In sum: YES, you should make your covers/blurbs/formatting/bio/content as good as you can possibly afford to, it helps a lot: but remember, if after a long time up on the boards you're not selling, it's likely that you're not writing what people want to read -- right now.
So, YES, the other thing you need to do is find out what story-need amongst the population is not being met -- and write that stuff.

If you can.

Look at 50 Shades of Grey for instance!

Anonymous said...

IT HAS THE STORY THAT READERS WANT TO READ.

Very true. But with poor covers, poor formatting, poor jacket copy, and poor editing, how are readers discovering these books in the first place?

I discovered the ones I bought in the top 30 on Amazon. But how did they manage to sell thousands of copies to get there?

That's what's so perplexing.

Hairhead said...

Anonymous at 2:46 said: "But with poor covers, poor formatting, poor jacket copy, and poor editing, how are readers discovering these books in the first place?"

Two places:

1) Content description, i.e. - "Werewolf Orgies". For the lover of werewolf orgy fiction, that's all that is needed.

2) Word of mouth. Werewolf-orgy-readers, like any other consumers of "alternative" cultural pursuits, talk to each other. And with the internet, one person can "talk" to thousands with a keystroke.

Andrew said...

Very true. But with poor covers, poor formatting, poor jacket copy, and poor editing, how are readers discovering these books in the first place?

Algorithms and message boards. And until those algorithms start taking into account assigned details like Cover Quality, editing quality, and the like, they'll keep popping up.

Truth be told there's probably a room full of quants working on something like this right now somewheres...

William Ockham said...

Bigotry is a state of mind that allows you to generalize from specific instances to classifying a whole group in a negative fashion. If you found two ebooks in the Amazon top 30 list written by Muslim authors and described them the way you did, I would have no problem assuming that you were bigoted against Muslims. I might be wrong, but it's a reasonable assumption because it would be truly bizarre logic to assume that the writers' religion had anything to do with the quality of their work.

My assertion is that the same is true for your statement about indie publishing. No indie book has anything to do with any other indie book, unless they are written by the same author. Why on earth would Joe get a bad name because somebody else publishes "crap". It's nonsensical.

Joe Konrath said...

Bigotry is a state of mind that allows you to generalize from specific instances to classifying a whole group in a negative fashion.

Yeah. We should round up and kill all the bigots, because they're inferior.

:D

William Ockham said...

The in-depth answer to Joe's question involves a lot of math. Specifically, directed graph networks.

The easiest way to get your head around it is to think of your book like a pathogen. Every potential reader has a different susceptibility to your particular pathogen. Your pathogen has to spread somehow. It spreads from contact to contact, like any pathogen. For ebooks, think of Amazon as patient zero. Amazon is the guy on the subway who sneezes on everyone (except in this case people want to get infected).

Because Amazon and (to a lesser extent) other ebook retailers are hubs in a giant network, unlike old style bookstores that were much smaller hubs in a more distributed network, the interpersonal networks are very different.

One obvious aspect of this (as someone alluded to upthread) is that networks of people that share a particular interest can communicate about books much more easily.

There is a very interesting evolutionary process happening before our eyes. Online book selling, ebooks, and Amazon in particular, are encouraging very different author behavior. Publishing quickly is rewarded over continuous refinement. Finding niche markets with strong network connections is rewarded over broad appeal. Inexpensive is rewarded over Veblen goods (look it up).

When legacy publishers talk about the "Tsunami of Swill", they are on to something. It's just something they don't understand.

Scott Gordon said...

@Joe - Is it possible that pity plays a part in all of this? "Oh dear, what happened here? Actually the description sounds quite interesting...even I must admit that the sample has sparked my interest. What the heck? I'll buy a copy! Judging from the cover, the author could certainly use the money.

Anonymous said...

My assertion is that the same is true for your statement about indie publishing. No indie book has anything to do with any other indie book, unless they are written by the same author. Why on earth would Joe get a bad name because somebody else publishes "crap". It's nonsensical.

All prejudices are nonsensical.

Yet they exist.

That's what I was trying to get across when I said it's those writers who lend credence to some of the most common criticisms from agents, editors, and traditionally-published authors. It's those writers who give all indies a bad name.

A bad name with agents, editors, and traditionally-published authors, and the readers who are influenced by the blanket statements some of those people make.

Sorry if I didn't make that clear the first time.

The books I bought didn't give indies a bad name with me. I'm perfectly aware that there are plenty of first-rate self-published books out there, and I buy them on a regular basis.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

Author Earnings has the 50,000 report out!

http://authorearnings.com/reports/the-50k-report/

William Ockham said...

I owe an apology to Anon. I assumed that he was expressing approval of the attitude he described.

Eric Daugherty said...

There is something I don’t understand about the *“indie-authors have a bad reputation”* argument. Who checks when they are looking through lists for a book to buy? There are authors I seek out that I know are indie and others that I know are published by the Big5 but when I am trying to decide on an unknown author I never check to see who published them. It never even crosses my mind.

I guess the price would often give it away if I thought about it since I will almost never spend more than $4.99 for a book by an author I’ve never read. But I just don’t think the average person looking reading material cares who published the book. With the obvious exception of course of people who only read Harlequins or something similar.

Anonymous said...

No problem, William. I liked your explanation of how some ebooks are getting discovered, btw.

Finding niche markets with strong network connections is rewarded over broad appeal.

That might be the key. Or one of them. Strong network connections. That might explain why the books I bought (the ones with the crappy covers, formatting, and editing) made it into the top 30 on Amazon.

And they're still there, btw. Still going strong. I wouldn't be surprised if a Big 5 publisher or two tries to snatch them up. I just hope the folks on the receiving end of those offers go in informed.

daneyul said...

I think there's a certain cachet to the primitive look that can actually make those books appealing for some. They have the feel of having tapped into something more intimate, exclusive and close to the author. Like discovering the band playing to five people in a warehouse. They become "yours". Finding them and sticking with them becomes personal, even a source of pride.

These raw, no-frills books have a printed out-of-the-back-of-the-house vibe. Like a 60's underground zine or heart-felt poetry or some us-against-them manifesto.

Lack of glitz, cheap price, even formatting and spelling errors can bring a sense of realness and connection. The combination can be seductive and breed a fierce loyalty over the polished (AKA: sold out, distant, commercial, fake) even if it's illusory.

Kind of a niche market, but one that's likely always been waiting. Just never easy to satisfy on a mass scale before e-readers and self publishing took off.

Anonymous said...

I assume others heard the astonishing diatribe by James Patterson on PBS radio this morning, insisting that if legacy publishing does not survive, the literacy and ability of American children might be destroyed. this morphed into the statement that not sending books to the US troops would leave them feeling as if no one cared about them. HUH?
Gosh, JP, all a person wants a chance to publish his book, and not be trapped in a system that shoves the books of a FEW select writers down my throat EVERYWHERE I go...airport, drugstore, grocery store, shopping mall.
Don't miss the whole rant. Amazing.

ML Briers ( ml.briers@hotmail.co.uk ) said...

Wow, my ears were burning for a reason.
Firstly, thanks J.A for trashing my 'crap' all over your blog... and anywhere else you might be doing it.
Secondly, here’s my two pennies worth. Yes, my covers are 'crap'-thanks for noticing. I didn't have a ‘pot to pi** in’ when I decided to publish my first book. I looked at everyone else’s covers and saw the same faces and muscles staring back at me and thought- seriously? How do I know which book I’ve read as they all looked the same on the little thumbnails?
I didn’t know Photoshop from my elbow, and tossing my laptop across the bed became second nature in the wee small hours of the morning. So I went with simplicity, it worked, it go noticed- ‘because’ they were crap. They became easily recognisable in the midst of all of those muscles. Blank cover- must be ML. Unfortunately, I started a trend. Not to mention the fact I ran out of colours…
Why do my readers buy my ‘crap’ ? Well from the emails that I get, it’s because I found a niche, Lycan comedy romances. Apparently zapping the hell out of growling, brooding Alpha’s backside hadn’t been done before- go figure. Before people rush to write ‘that’ book, it’s being done now, a lot. Again, another trend. (Whoop!)
Did I get lucky? You bet your backside I did. For someone who went through the English education system (and I use that term laughingly) in the 1980’s (cough) and left school at 15, spellcheck is my friend. Unfortunately, I only discovered spellcheck when a reviewer pointed it out to me. ( I kid you not.)
For the person who said I write ‘werewolf orgies’ – I don’t, but thanks for the idea. Unfortunately I write about Lycans, (not the same thing, but how were you to know, right? You wouldn’t be seen dead reading ‘crap’)
Do I have grammatical errors? Yes. Do my readers pick me up on it? Sometimes, but mostly they don’t care. Should I get an editor? I’d love one, but unfortunately I’d be paying out 99% of my earnings in editorial fees. That’s because my ‘crap’ is $0.99c, and with the crappy exchange rate between the US and the UK, I get about £0.15p a book. I work 15-18 a day, Christmas included, would you work for nothing?
To the person who said ‘I must have been writing years’, not true. I started publishing in December 2012 and the Lycan books (which were the ones that took off) in May 2013.
JA, I know we bump shoulders a lot on the Horror bestselling Authors list, which can only be viewed in the US, and in my humble opinion that shouldn’t actually be the case. Why? Because I write novellas, usually just over a hundred pages, and I can write two or three a month, so it’s not hard to see how I can sell so many books as opposed to an author who writes four hundred pages and charges ten times as much, but only puts out three books a year. So you see I’m not making the kind of money people think I am. (I’d actually like to see if I’m on that breakdown sheet and how much I supposedly earn.)
To finish, I enjoyed reading about my ‘crap’ books on your blog and the subsequent comments, it did make me chuckle. Hope you didn’t mind me dropping in to say hello.
Blessings (Yes, I really am a practicing witch.)
ML Briers