Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lee Child Chimes In

Joe: Yesterday I asked any Authors United signatory to engage me on my blog.

Lee Child took me up on it.

For those who aren't familiar with Lee, he's the author of nineteen mystery-thriller novels and over a dozen shorts about military policeman Jack Reacher (who was also the basis of hit movie in 2012 starring Tom Cruise). They are among the most popular books in the modern era, and Lee is a worldwide bestseller. They're well-written and I've read several and enjoyed them.

Lee's first novel was published in 1997. He's bought me too many beers to count at various conferences over the years, and was kind enough to blurb my second novel in 2004. (Lee may hold the record for blurbing more novels than anyone, which is testimony to his generosity). He also has volunteered at International Thriller Writers since its inception, and is a pleasant guy to hang out with.

Here is Lee's original email. Afterward, I'll break it down with my responses..

Lee: Joe, thanks for the invitation to participate.

Here’s my personal take … speaking generally, with a plural “you” … and as a guy entirely unafraid of the future, whatever it may bring – after all, I kicked your ass under the old system, and I’ll kick it under the new system, and the new-new, and the new-new-new, until I retire, or the lung cancer gets me, whichever comes first. I’m completely confident of that, and you’d be an idiot to bet against me. We both started from nowhere, and in the last three weeks I sold more ebooks – of one title – than you have sold in your entire life. Or will sell. Print visibility, you say? How? Print is a niche, according to you, and no one visits bookstores anymore!

And don’t tell me I was lucky or “anointed” or some such … again, we all start from the same place, but I worked harder and smarter than my rivals, and believe me, I’m ready to do it all again … so don’t tell me I’m scared or whining – truth is, I’m licking my lips in anticipation of the big win in whatever scenario comes next.

And let’s settle one thing … the so-called Amazon/Hachette contract … I think you overestimate it, or misunderstand it, possibly. It ain’t the key to some kind of magic kingdom. Almost every sale Amazon makes happens without a contract with the supplier or manufacturer. It used to be that way with Hachette. Hachette sold to wholesalers, at a certain discount, and the wholesalers sold on to Amazon, at a slight markup. Soon Amazon wanted to avoid that markup, so it went to Hachette and asked, “Please will you sell to us direct?”  And Hachette said, “OK.”  And that’s the so-called contract, right there.

Subsequently Amazon larded on the "fees"... in street terms, protection money, to keep the playing field level with other publishers also paying protection money. Equal visibility and honest rankings – which are the best kind of visibility – were at stake. In plain English, Amazon was saying, “Give us cash under the table or we’ll lie in public about the relative merit and appeal of your products.”

Publishers were, of course, accustomed to that – B&N pioneered a junior version long ago – so it was business as usual. No sympathy from me, by the way. Life ain’t fair, things suck, get over it.

But, here’s the thing – by continuing to trade under expired terms, it’s Hachette doing Amazon a favor, not vice versa. Amazon is still getting its protection money – and giving nothing in return right now – and still avoiding the wholesalers’ markup.

If Hachette walked away, Amazon would lose... unless it was prepared not to carry Hachette titles ever again. Which it isn’t, because Amazon’s whole theory is to be the go-to, first-stop, everything store. “I’ll get it from Amazon” is what they depend on hearing. “I wonder if Amazon has it?” would be the kiss of death.

Which is why the dispute is so intractable. It’s half-rational, half-emotional. And flawed – Amazon wants more protection money now (yes, it’s really that simple) but it isn’t prepared to get up from the table and walk away. Neither is Hachette. Hachette’s best play – logically – would be to walk away and suffer a few lean years before an alternative presented itself. I’m absolutely sure its parent company wants it to do that, and would support it in so doing. Huge European corporations are good at the long game. But local management is resisting, because the hiatus would derail too many careers. Again, half-rational, half-emotional.

And no big deal, in the grand scheme of things. Not to me, anyway. I’m not a Hachette author. PRH is a different ballgame, and as I said, even if it gets beat, I’ll prosper under whatever comes next.

So why did I sign my friend Doug’s letter?

Because of what I know, and what I can guess. I've known Amazon people for 17 years, dozens of them, old hires, new hires, quitters, true believers, through dinner party talk, pillow talk, all kinds of talk. I’m making no value judgments – you’ll never hear any of that from me – but things are what they are. And the big deal is – Amazon is a publisher too. Not a very good one yet – no big hits so far, and they missed the biggest trade publishing phenomenon of recent years, even though it was right under their noses – but Bezos never gives up, and he wants Amazon to be the only publisher, and he’ll do what it takes to make it so. Which casts a different light on what’s happening. He’s broken rivals before, and he’ll keep on trying.

So it’s a thus-far-and-no-further thing for me. I don’t want Amazon to be the only publisher. Neither should you.

It’s staggeringly naïve to think the current KDP landscape is anything other than a short-term tactic. Note well – I am NOT saying don’t get into it now just because it will get worse in the future... instead I say, hell yes, make hay while the sun shines. Exploit Amazon’s game plan for all you can get, as long as it lasts, and more power to you. But understand that today’s KDP is a pressure point, designed to suck authors out of the established system, along with sucking out money and margin by other routes. Truth is, it ain’t working great so far – no significant authors have jumped ship, and publishers are still profitable. But Bezos never gives up.

And if he wins... then we all have a problem. Note well – I am NOT talking about nurturing or culture or curating or any of that kind of non-existent crap. I’m talking about money. Amazon is a tech company. The basic tech paradigm says content is always the smallest part of the cost. Those guys really believe that. Storytellers will be working for whatever few pennies they choose to hand out. (Or some will. I’ll be doing something else by then. I don’t work for pennies.)

And don’t tell me some alternate savior will ride to the rescue. There won’t be one. Publishing makes no sense to any other player. Certainly there won’t be a publishing-only player. Not enough margin in it.

Now, I fully understand lots of folk will scoff and disagree and make fun of me. Have at it. I don’t care. I have no dog in this fight. I’m old and staggeringly rich and I can live like a king without making another buck ever. I have nothing to be scared of. That should be you. Your hopes are pinned to a mast that isn’t a mast at all. It’s a spear, and when it has done its job, it will be dumped.


So really we should all be equally concerned. We should make common cause. Behind the noise and the bullshit we’re all trying to do the same thing – sell our stories to the same people, for a living wage. And it’s those last four words that made me sign the letter. Not my living wage – that’s already in the bank – but yours, and the people that come after us.

Joe: Thanks for participating, Lee. (And a word of warning to commentors: Stay polite. Keep your comments focused on the argument. Anything personal and I will remove your comment and ban you. I see this as an opportunity to talk in depth about some important issues. If you want to troll, flame, hurl insults, or act badly, do it on your own blog.)

I'm now going to respond to your points.

Lee: Here’s my personal take … speaking generally, with a plural “you” … and as a guy entirely unafraid of the future, whatever it may bring – after all, I kicked your ass under the old system, and I’ll kick it under the new system, and the new-new, and the new-new-new, until I retire, or the lung cancer gets me, whichever comes first. I’m completely confident of that, and you’d be an idiot to bet against me. We both started from nowhere, and in the last three weeks I sold more ebooks – of one title – than you have sold in your entire life. Or will sell. Print visibility, you say? How? Print is a niche, according to you, and no one visits bookstores anymore!

Joe: First of all, congrats on selling more than 1.5 million ebooks (which is where I'm at to date) in the last three weeks. I assume I'll sell a few million more before I kick off, so let's call my total lifetime sales 5 million. It's damn impressive that you sold that many ebooks in three weeks of just one title.

But it's also nearing the end of that era. You're everywhere books are sold. I'm not. That's a huge advantage. One I never had. Your massive paper distribution serves as a giant, global advertisement for your ebooks.

Let's set aside the quality of our writing because that's subjective. We both attained a minimum quality standard to get the attention of major publishers. But the legacy industry never handed me the keys to the kingdom like they did with you. No coop. No discounts on the front table. No giant print runs and distribution. No worldwide sales.

You may believe the legacy publishing world is a meritocracy. I believe it's a lottery. No one earns a lottery win. No one is entitled to it.

You've kicked my ass because you had the weight of two heavy hitters behind you (Penguin and Random House) who got your books everywhere in the US with major marketing pushes. I'm unfamiliar with your UK and foreign publishers, but I'm betting they did an equally good job at distributing and promoting you everywhere books are sold.

This only happens to a rare few. 

Lee: And don’t tell me I was lucky or “anointed” or some such … again, we all start from the same place, but I worked harder and smarter than my rivals, and believe me, I’m ready to do it all again … so don’t tell me I’m scared or whining – truth is, I’m licking my lips in anticipation of the big win in whatever scenario comes next.

Joe: I'm not discounting your talent, or hard work, or business savvy. You've written some good books, made some smart choices, and fought hard for your career.

So have I. You're aware of that, as are readers of this blog.

But I never got the same breaks you did. Neither did 99.9999% of authors. While book sales aren't zero sum, there are only a certain number of titles that get put into the bestseller track and get a massive marketing push.

I understand why you believe talent and effort win the day, but you're wrong. Unlike a sport, such as track and field or basketball, writing talents and efforts don't translate to stats because there is no even playing field. Usain Bolt can run 200 meters anywhere on the planet. Michael Jordan can have a personal best even when his team is losing. Their successes don't depend on other factors.

Authors can't do it alone, and publishers make a lot of mistakes. Neither you nor I had any power over how many stores our titles were available in, or how big our marketing pushes were, or if our titles were pre-printed on the NYT Bestseller list, or how many reviews we received, or how many ads were bought. We don't know how my books would sell in airports or drug stores or Sam's Club or in Uzbekistan, because I've never been available in those places. We don't know what would have happened if I'd landed at Simon & Schuster rather than Hyperion (S&S made an offer, we didn't take it).

That's luck, Lee.

You seem to be arguing that your sales resulted from you working harder and smarter. But correlation doesn't equal causality. Yes, you worked hard and smart. Yes, you're one of the most successful writers in modern times. But any conclusions you draw are speculative.

Certainly you've read good books that were never huge hits. Certainly you've read huge hits that weren't good books. Certainly you know how hard and smart other authors have worked. Certainly you've seen titles get bestseller treatment and flop. In each of these cases, I'm right, not you. Luck played a big role.

If your success is fully based on the strength of your writing and your efforts, you can pull a Richard Bachman and soar up the charts with a pen name. By the way, Bachman didn't sell as well as King. Thinner sold 28,000 copies as Bachman, and 10x that amount when he was revealed as King. 

https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Richard_Bachman.html

Or I could write a novel under your name and it would sell as well as the rest of your backlist, and I bet no one would even know. You're a fine writer and storyteller, but I could name a dozen writers who can write a similar book in a similar style. That isn't an insult. Good writing is good writing. There's no magic to it. Ask the writers who took over for the posthumous Robert B. Parker, V.C. Andrews, Robert Ludlam, and Ian Fleming (weren't you even offered a James Bond book by the Fleming estate?). What we do isn't rocket science, and none of us deserve success.

Since you're not going to attempt a pen name and I'm not going to write a Reacher story, and since it will just devolve into a dick-measuring contest if we both start in about how hard we've worked to get where we're at, I suggest we move on.

Lee: And let’s settle one thing … the so-called Amazon/Hachette contract … I think you overestimate it, or misunderstand it, possibly. It ain’t the key to some kind of magic kingdom. Almost every sale Amazon makes happens without a contract with the supplier or manufacturer. It used to be that way with Hachette. Hachette sold to wholesalers, at a certain discount, and the wholesalers sold on to Amazon, at a slight markup. Soon Amazon wanted to avoid that markup, so it went to Hachette and asked, “Please will you sell to us direct?”  And Hachette said, “OK.”  And that’s the so-called contract, right there.

Joe: And then Hachette colluded with four other publishers to force Amazon to accept their new terms, i.e. the agency model. Amazon didn't want to accept those terms. Not because of the 30/70 split, but because it took away Amazon's ability to discount.

Suddenly contracts became important. What began as a mutual handshake (assuming you're correct about this) was no longer acceptable to either party.

Right now, Hachette doesn't want Amazon to be able to discount. Amazon wants to discount. Since Hachette forced a contract on Amazon--the agency contract--and that contract lapsed, Amazon does not have to sell Hachette's titles under Hachette's terms.

I've had verbal contracts in the past, and a handshake was enough. But when things become contentious, written contracts come into play. And, currently, Amazon and Hachette have no written contract, and Amazon apparently sees no reason they should go back to a handshake model under Hachette's terms.

Lee: Subsequently Amazon larded on the "fees"... in street terms, protection money, to keep the playing field level with other publishers also paying protection money. Equal visibility and honest rankings – which are the best kind of visibility – were at stake. In plain English, Amazon was saying, “Give us cash under the table or we’ll lie in public about the relative merit and appeal of your products.”

Publishers were, of course, accustomed to that – B&N pioneered a junior version long ago – so it was business as usual. No sympathy from me, by the way. Life ain’t fair, things suck, get over it.

Joe: It was under the table? How so?

As you said, bookstores have been selling coop for decades, and publishers have bought coop to place books such as yours (and not mine) in prominent places around the store. This isn't protection money, it's more like a kickback. I'm calling you on that terminology because I just did a post on the specific fear words and hyperbole that Authors United are using. Assuming you're correct about all of this, kickbacks are part of the book business, and Amazon didn't invent them, and they're legal.

You need to spend money to make money, and no one ever said it would be fair, fun, or easy. I didn't have an even playing field when we both had new releases in Borders--you had every advantage while I didn't--and I don't expect an even playing field now.

But at this point in time, I can do much better through KDP and A-pub than I was ever able to do through Hyperion, Hachette, or Penguin. More sales, and more money per sale. Through my legacy publishers, I made about $300k in eight years. On my own, I've done about 10x that in four years. And I'm not the only one. I bring this up in response to your earlier comment of "Print is a niche, according to you, and no one visits bookstores anymore!"

For the majority of writers, print has become a subsidiary right. Ebooks are the main income. But you are not in the majority. For you, print is still your main source of book income, and I'd guess a good deal of that income comes from non-bookstore outlets. These are outlets that I've never had titles sold in, and neither have most of our peers. 

Lee: But, here’s the thing – by continuing to trade under expired terms, it’s Hachette doing Amazon a favor, not vice versa. Amazon is still getting its protection money – and giving nothing in return right now – and still avoiding the wholesalers’ markup.

Joe: If Amazon wants to charge Hachette to sell its books, it can do that. If Amazon doesn't want to discount, it can do that. Amazon isn't a monopoly, and it isn't the government. Being a tough competitor or being tough with suppliers doesn't violate any laws.

Lee: If Hachette walked away, Amazon would lose... unless it was prepared not to carry Hachette titles ever again. Which it isn’t, because Amazon’s whole theory is to be the go-to, first-stop, everything store. “I’ll get it from Amazon” is what they depend on hearing. “I wonder if Amazon has it?” would be the kiss of death.

Joe: I believe you overestimate the value of Hachette's catalog to Amazon.

Right now Amazon has 500,000 exclusive ebooks available to customers. If Douglas Preston is no longer available on Amazon, do you really believe millions of Kindle owners wouldn't find something else to read? You think they'd seek him out? Forgo the fast, easy, and inexpensive Amazon shopping experience--on a proprietary format no less--and instead buy his books on a platform that is more expensive and less convenient? Or would they find some Preston-ish technothriller on Amazon and buy that for $3.99 with one-click? 

Mega bestsellers like you, and midlisters like me, have fans. But I think we both realize most of our sales are accidental. Someone browsing Amazon, looking for a particular type or genre of book. Or, in your specific case (as in Preston's), casual readers who want a thriller to take on the plane and only have a choice of six in the rack at their local airport. You have long signing lines when you do a book event. Those are fans. Are those lines proportional to the 100 million books you've sold? We know they aren't. Because the overwhelming majority of your readers, and mine, aren't fans. They're casual readers who gave us a try.

Let's look at it another way. In the USA, between 1926 and 1956, if you wanted to travel by car from Chicago to LA, you took Route 66. Along 66 were places for travelers to get gas, eat, and sleep. These places did well, because travelers had no alternative.

Then the Federal Highway Act of 1956 was signed by Ike, creating the Interstate. It was faster than Route 66. And what cropped up along the Interstate? Places to get gas, eat, and sleep.

Let's say there was a terrific restaurant on Route 66. One that was always busy, and made a lot of money. Maybe it had great food and unparalleled service. Maybe it was the best damn restaurant in the USA.

Guess what? That didn't matter. It still went out of business once traffic disappeared. People preferred the Interstate. And most of the businesses on Route 66, including the best restaurant in the country, withered and died. Because as good as it was, people preferred to get their food on the Interstate. They didn't go out of their way to eat at that wonderful restaurant. Bye-bye Route 66, and all who made their living on it.

As for "I wonder if Amazon has it" is something I do a lot. If Amazon doesn't have it, it's rare I go elsewhere... I just find something similar on Amazon. And I'm not the only one who does this.

Right now the majority of your sales is paper to casual readers, and you believe ebook sales have plateaued. (You mentioned this on the Passive Voice blog.) That may be true, for you. But while your ebook sales have plateaued, there is ample evidence that ebook sales overall are increasing. The market is growing, but legacy publishing sales aren't growing along with it. 

If you believe that in ten years there will still be chain bookstores, and books will still be available in the check-out isle at the local grocery, you aren't following the same trends I am. In just five years, ebooks have gone from a small niche to outselling paper in many genres. When those book outlets disappear, so goes the majority of the paper audience. And they will disappear

Lee: Which is why the dispute is so intractable. It’s half-rational, half-emotional. And flawed – Amazon wants more protection money now (yes, it’s really that simple) but it isn’t prepared to get up from the table and walk away. Neither is Hachette. Hachette’s best play – logically – would be to walk away and suffer a few lean years before an alternative presented itself. I’m absolutely sure its parent company wants it to do that, and would support it in so doing. Huge European corporations are good at the long game. But local management is resisting, because the hiatus would derail too many careers. Again, half-rational, half-emotional.

And no big deal, in the grand scheme of things. Not to me, anyway. I’m not a Hachette author. PRH is a different ballgame, and as I said, even if it gets beat, I’ll prosper under whatever comes next.

Joe: You mean by getting really, really lucky again? :)

It's entirely normal to look at where you currently stand and point to your past to explain how you got here. But that kind of thinking completely discounts luck and randomness. So many things happened that were beyond your control, and so many other things could have happened. If you'd gone with another publisher, or if I had, we might not be having this conversation right now. 

Lee: So why did I sign my friend Doug’s letter?

Because of what I know, and what I can guess. I've known Amazon people for 17 years, dozens of them, old hires, new hires, quitters, true believers, through dinner party talk, pillow talk, all kinds of talk. I’m making no value judgments – you’ll never hear any of that from me – but things are what they are. And the big deal is – Amazon is a publisher too. Not a very good one yet – no big hits so far, and they missed the biggest trade publishing phenomenon of recent years, even though it was right under their noses – 

Joe: Are you referring to 50 Shades? You know that the other Big 5 publishers missed out on that too, right?

Lee: – but Bezos never gives up, and he wants Amazon to be the only publisher, and he’ll do what it takes to make it so. Which casts a different light on what’s happening. He’s broken rivals before, and he’ll keep on trying.

So it’s a thus-far-and-no-further thing for me. I don’t want Amazon to be the only publisher. Neither should you.

Joe: Who ever said I want Amazon to be the only publisher?

Competition is good. But I'd like publishers to compete for authors as well. Better royalties. Better terms. For decades it has been lockstep unconscionable contracts offered to all writers save for a few lucky ones like you. Contracts that last for an author's life plus 70 years. Non-compete clauses. I've listed these all extensively before

You won the lottery. So did your friend Doug Preston, and many of the other Authors United signatories. You could no doubt buy a $104k NYT ad with change you find between your sofa cushions. And you want that to continue. But it continues at the expense of authors who didn't win the lottery, all 99.999% of them.

Lee: It’s staggeringly naïve to think the current KDP landscape is anything other than a short-term tactic. Note well – I am NOT saying don’t get into it now just because it will get worse in the future... instead I say, hell yes, make hay while the sun shines. Exploit Amazon’s game plan for all you can get, as long as it lasts, and more power to you. But understand that today’s KDP is a pressure point, designed to suck authors out of the established system, along with sucking out money and margin by other routes. Truth is, it ain’t working great so far – no significant authors have jumped ship, and publishers are still profitable. But Bezos never gives up.

And if he wins... then we all have a problem. Note well – I am NOT talking about nurturing or culture or curating or any of that kind of non-existent crap. I’m talking about money. Amazon is a tech company. The basic tech paradigm says content is always the smallest part of the cost. Those guys really believe that. Storytellers will be working for whatever few pennies they choose to hand out. (Or some will. I’ll be doing something else by then. I don’t work for pennies.)

Joe: Most of us already have a problem. It's with publishers like Hachette. Right now, Hachette, and the rest of Big Publishing, treat the vast majority of authors as the smallest part of their costs.

Hachette authors are getting screwed, working for pennies. And Hachette's insistence on keeping ebook prices high to protect its paper oligopoly will continue to hurt all authors but the very top of the heap (such as yourself).

On the other hand, Amazon is allowing many authors to make money for the very first time.

Lee: And don’t tell me some alternate savior will ride to the rescue. There won’t be one. Publishing makes no sense to any other player. Certainly there won’t be a publishing-only player. Not enough margin in it.

Joe: We'll see. After my experience with the legacy industry, I'd never put all of my eggs in a single basket. And if there were only one basket left, I'd create others. A new publishing model makes a lot of sense to me, and I see a big demographic that Amazon is dismissing. As for margins, I'm funding it myself, and we should be in the black by the end of the year. 

Lee: Now, I fully understand lots of folk will scoff and disagree and make fun of me. Have at it. I don’t care. I have no dog in this fight. I’m old and staggeringly rich and I can live like a king without making another buck ever. I have nothing to be scared of. That should be you. Your hopes are pinned to a mast that isn’t a mast at all. It’s a spear, and when it has done its job, it will be dumped.

Joe: I've disagreed with you but never scoffed at you, and have always liked and respected you. And no one is going to make fun of you here.

My agenda is transparent. I'm pro-author. Right now, Amazon's stance aligns with what is best for the majority of authors. If it continues along those lines, great. If it doesn't, I don't plan to be at the mercy of a large company.

Lee: So really we should all be equally concerned. We should make common cause. Behind the noise and the bullshit we’re all trying to do the same thing – sell our stories to the same people, for a living wage. And it’s those last four words that made me sign the letter. Not my living wage – that’s already in the bank – but yours, and the people that come after us.

Joe: At this point, Amazon has given more authors opportunities to earn money than Hachette, Penguin, Random House, et al have, combined.

You've been extremely generous to new writers, me included. But perpetuating the current system isn't for the benefit of midlisters. It only benefits the publishers, and a few dozen gigantic bestsellers like you. You believe that Amazon intends to wipe out other publishers, and then it will pinch authors. At this very moment, Hachette and other major publishers are pinching authors with shitty royalties, high book prices, and one-sided contract terms. Bookstores are pinching self-pubbed  and Amazon-pubbed authors by refusing to carry our books.

Authors United isn't made up of altruists. It's made up of status quo writers who don't want the gravy train to end, and Stockholm Syndrome writers who want to be part of that gravy train. Preston's insistence that AU isn't taking sides is silly, and it's only one of many silly things your group is proclaiming. If Hachette does get its way, it will mean Preston's and Patterson's Amazon sales go back to normal, but it also means all the Hachette midlisters will continue to get screwed in the longterm.

But if Hachette allows Amazon to discount, all Hachette authors will benefit from increased ebook sales. It might come at the expense of paper sales, but for the majority of authors those sales don't matter; Hachette isn't getting their midlist paper titles into airports and grocery stores.

I see $104k wasted on an ad, and I think how many unhappy Hachette authors could have benefited from that money--money that could pay for lawyers to help get them out of Hachette contracts, get their rights back, and start actually making that living wage you mentioned. Instead it was wasted to help the rich stay rich, while those rich folks spouted nonsense.

Likewise, these authors could have benefited from accepting one of Amazon's offers to compensate them. 

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on this, Lee. You haven't defended any Authors United statements, or addressed my criticisms of those statements, but you did make a valid and important point about Amazon attaining too much power. AU should have stuck to that and left all the other BS out of it. 

Your "thus-far-and-no-further" statement is entirely reasonable, but that's the way I feel about legacy publishers. As I've said many times, why worry about the tiger who may eat you tomorrow when there is a wolf currently gnawing on your leg?

The wolf is gnawing on 99.999% of all writers. So I'm not concerned about the tiger just yet.

I think we could support a common cause, but if you truly aren't worried about your future, and truly do care about authors making a living wage, you're siding with the wrong team.

Maybe there is no right team. Maybe Amazon, when they control the universe, will be worse than NY Publishing ever was (though looking at my previous legacy contracts, I doubt that.) But I was surprised you signed the AU petition, and surprised you chipped in for the silly NYT ad. I understand your goals are aligned, and that AU includes many of your friends, but you never struck me as someone who'd join a movement whose main talking points are all bullshit, let alone allow their words to speak for you.

That said, I don't see our viewpoints being all that different, and I'm glad to hear yours independent of the AU nonsense I've been fisking.

Also, I already knew this, but kudos for owning a pair bigger than any other Authors United signatory. You read opposing viewpoints, and respond politely and thoughtfully, while other vocal AU endorsers reiterate ridiculous bullet points off of cue cards and refuse to engage in any sort of discussion, let alone defend their position.

Your friend Doug is now approaching the DOJ to investigate Amazon, as if the DOJ isn't already aware of the situation. I assume this will involve more money. No doubt you're involved in a great deal of philanthropy and charity work, but I hope I've gotten you to at least reconsider how much help you're giving Authors United. 

Thanks again for stopping by. If you'd like to respond to any of my points in the comments, I'm in and out of the house all day, but I'll be monitoring. 

239 comments:

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Terrence OBrien said...

It has been interesting. Think I'll catch up with the National Enquirer.

Just My Opinion said...

I'm a 42 year old business owner and mother. I buy everything for my house from Amazon because I don't have the time to go to more stores than necessary. With the advent of Prime, it's CHEAPER for me to buy from Amazon and much more convenient.

My oldest son is an avid reader. He hasn't been in a book store in over 6 years. I DO buy him paperbacks, but I buy them from Amazon. When I purchased my new Kindle Fire HD, I decided he could use my old Fire if he so chose. He jumped at the chance because ALL of his friends were reading on such devices. He's in third grade.

By the time my other son, now 4, reaches school, he will only read paperbacks if it's something I've already purchased from Amazon and have in the house. He will read authors and ebooks found on Amazon as it's the easiest to use and the most attractive pricing. All of the classics are available-many of them for free, so he won't lose out on important lessons and famous prose.

iTunes is trying to take a portion of the market, but it's too little too late. I've been using the Kindle app on my iPhone and iPad for several years now. Why would I switch now? You can use the Kindle app on any device, but you can not use iBooks on anything but an Apple product.

I'm sorry Lee, your books may be fantastic, but Joe is right. I won't be buying your book at the airport when I want a thriller to read because I can just log onto Amazon and do a one-click purchase for ANY book I want in ANY genre and for a much lower price. And when the pages of your paperbacks tear and curl and covers fall off, my kindle books will still be available for my kids to read and my friends to borrow decades from now.

I see both sides of this argument, but I'm just not feeling you've said anything to sway me towards your side. I work in the literary industry, so I do have a measure of insight into this debate, but I'm commenting as a consumer.

However, this is just my opinion.

Luke 2Feathers said...

Broken Yogi: Thanks for a thoughtful response. Good points. I still think luck plays a bigger role than you do, but I understand its role is not quantifiable. Also, I think the ascendancy of TV over film is not due to inherently better alignment with mass tastes, but to these two factors: predictability of experience and ease of access. TV is still marginally easier for the masses to access than motion pictures, and this week's episode is sure to give me a similar experience to last week's. If Joe's novels had received the backing Lee's did once upon a time (see Barry Knister's comment just before your last), Jack Daniels might be the consistent experience with which more readers are familiar, instead of Jack Reacher. In any case, I'm glad various paces are available. I don't want to trot OR gallop 24x7x365.

Steven Zacharius said...

William Ockham said that the negotiation between Amazon and Hachette is only about the ebook rates. We have no idea if that's correct and personally, I doubt that it is. They could be wanting more discount on the printed books as well and Hachette might just be saying no.

Michael W. Sherer said...

I'm amazed that Lee thinks working harder and smarter than others is what has made him as successful as he is. As you pointed out, Joe, there are lots of great books that haven't been all that successful and a lot of lousy ones that have.

I was legacy published for the first time 26 years ago. I don't get the breaks that Lee did. The first book in my latest series, published by T&M, an Amazon imprint, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award (thanks, Lee, for all you've contributed to that organization). I'm still not rich, or even a mid-lister. Were it not for KDP, in fact, I would not now be published at all, despite that ITW nod.

Do I write bad books? Apparently not. Do I not work as hard or as smart as Lee? Difficult to say as I've never seen Lee work. But if AU had its way, there would be no outlet at all for my books. As for a living wage, I'm still waiting, but I have a better shot at it with KDP than I do with legacy publishing. It's too bad that what AU members seem to be fighting for doesn't benefit the 99.99% of us writing books.

Marston James said...

Incredible back and forth... There is much in this article that really speaks to new authors and writers and is extremely inspiring to me as well as many others... After reading all the comments and articles (skimmed a few lol) as a fully objective outsider with no agenda, someone who although a "writer" has not read a book in a decade and knows nothing of what is popular or not besides the biggies like Stephen King, Tom Clancy etc, (I didn't know who Jack Reacher was until i heard about the movie and never head of Jack Daniel's-no offense) In my irrelevant opinion which is remotely shared by other commenters;

Lee is protecting his best interest (and very aggressively/confidently) in the big whigs of publishing yet has been able to step outside of his interests to give his thoughts on the other side and the industry (love your bravado as one commenter put it)

Konrath is doing the same and representing the indie author, the midlister, and the author community in his thoughts which is his own ship he's sailing as a midlister self publishing author...

Luck vs Hardwork/Talent Debate?

Luck is a part of everything, but is completely subjective as well... One could say Lee or Konrath was "lucky" to be born with such genes or talents... Was it luck that Konrath left/kicked out of the big whig traditional publishing?? So that he could make more money now than he would have had he stayed??? or was that unlucky?

It comes down to the basics... Yes some people get lucky and strike it rich with garbage writing or work or garbage music etc and it is luck and who they knew or who heard it (like Justin Bieber hearing Carly Rae Jepson in a random local canadian music store and tweeting her which in turn led to her fame)... BUT when someone is truly good at their craft or a once in a generation writer or has true effing talent??? (I would say LEE or Konrath does) then it isn't luck, its skill combined with hard work... THE MAJORITY of people who make it in this world have BOTH... Deadmause the huge DJ/Producer (guy who wears a mouse head all the time) he said it best in his decade of struggle before he made it big... and DJING/MUSIC i would compare to making it big as a writer as well...

He spent 15 hours a day... (yes 15 hours a day) for years working honing in on his craft and working with anyone and everyone he could... and it wasn't until years and years of harder work than anyone that he made it... The query shark said it best when she said "the difference in the 5000M race in the olympics between 1st and 12th was 5 seconds... you have to put in the work that 99 % of the others won't do to win the race"... Luck is a word jealous people use as a defense mechanism because they dont have what it takes to make it and cant "hack" it... Many people probably told them they couldn't make it and at some point they believed it themselves...

One of the best comments i saw was by i think YOGI? who said that it was CHild's attitude and confidence in himself and his bravado which he displayed on here which helped him get where he is today... Arnold Schwartenegger in his 6 keys to success had one of them as "believe in yourself" well you can damn well see that CHILDS has the most belief in himself that one could ever have

Marston James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Mountford said...

This whole Amazon / Hachette needs investigating fully by all authors (and aspiring authors).
It's good to hear this side of it as, to be honest, everything else I've read is either against amazon or acts unbiased but doesn't exactly paint amazon in the best light.
Hoping to have my first novel ready in the next few months to self publish, so its good to read up about this stuff.
Bit of a minefield sifting through so many points of view.

Marston James said...

One more thing to the comment right before mine i just read by a Michael:

"As you pointed out, Joe, there are lots of great books that haven't been all that successful and a lot of lousy ones that have.

I was legacy published for the first time 26 years ago. I don't get the breaks that Lee did. The first book in my latest series, published by T&M, an Amazon imprint, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award

Do I write bad books? Apparently not."


This is 26 years later... Ideally, anyone in any craft and any industry will have improved greatly with experience, practice and hard work... Not saying your first book published 26 years ago was poorly written and was not at the same level as your work now, OR that with the same backing as CHILDS you would not have had more success...

I guess my main point, the ultimate conclusion, the be all end all of the luck-talent-marketing-advertising debate is this:

If you are writing in flooded genre, with a similar sounding theme, book, (series where someone else could pick it up like JOE said) story, and not "reinventing the wheel" then yes, there is more luck involved and all of the marketing, advertising, and "breaks" that CHILDS was given comes into play... (remember he did mention that there were 5 years of him being an unknown author and not "big time" just like everyone else)

BUT if you "reinvent the wheel" create a new genre, a new style of writing, a new format, new structure, new themes and completely revolutionize the industry with your writing style and bring "magic" which apparently "doesn't exist" (like the matrix did with "bullet time" and special effects) ... Then marketing, advertising, backing, suits, the big 5 or allllllll of that advertisement backing that the big whig authors have is no longer quite as necessary and really not needed at all... If you bring something that new and different to the table and people love it that much???? then with the new social media and facebook, twitter, instagram everyone else out there will do the marketing, advertising and promotion for you...

If you have true talent, it doesn't matter if you have millions in advertisements or standing on a college campus selling a book to students passing by... Your book will sell... and be passed along by word of mouth...

Obviously not everyone can write such masterpieces or reinvent an art which has been around for billions of years in writing...

But someone will... and they certainly won't be complaining or bad mouthing others who made it... they will be quietly working and getting ready to take over the literary world... one person at a time... : )

Probably one of the best articles/comments I have ever read... Thank you!!!



and no i didn't edit this or proof read it... Its a blog... I'm not publishing this lol...

KONRATH, what was the "A-pub" you mentioned in your original article? You said you use KDP and A-pub... thanks!

G. B. Miller said...

I'm sure someone said this somewhere, but it's interesting to see how monopolies get into a tither when their livelihood is threatened.

While I'm not currently published on Amazon (hope to be in the very near future), I really don't see the need for all the hyperbole.

But, then again, Hachette reminds me of the public sector unions here in CT, in which the union leadership and guv'nor (Hachette and company) are woefully tone deaf with the rank and file (writers), so instead of doing what's best for those WHO ARE PAYING THEM THE MONEY, they're doing WHAT'S BEST FOR THEM.

Father Nature's Corner

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

Anyone know anything about this new ebook store:
http://ereading.com/

Maybe someone will find a way to compete with Amazon based on the quality of their service. And of course we are all waiting with baited breath for Joe's new ebookstores to launch.

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

Marston James:

I think Joe means Amazon's own publishing imprints when he says A-pub:
https://www.apub.com/imprints

Marston James said...

Thank you so much Nirmala! That makes total sense!

Now i know what CHILDS was saying about them wanting to be the published and them missing out on 50 shades...

Also, i find it funny that they also do not accept "unsolicited manuscripts" but why should they? They have KDP/Amazon to see what sells or is popular already! lol

Thanks!

Steven M. Moore said...

Unless someone else in this long thread mentioned it, I'd like to point out how the efficiency of indie publishing attracts me. Lee has many entertaining Reacher books (which I don't buy without discounts, mind you). I'd bet he'd have even more, maybe even new series already going strong, if he were indie and in complete control of his fate. Maybe his muses aren't like mine, chasing me with tasers so that I'll tell my next story. I have the opposite of writer's block, and they know it.
I agree completely with the lottery aspect, at least in fiction. That's always been true, but it's more exacerbated now because so many people are writing. That's good for readers, maybe not so much for writers.
As an aside, I think there's some pithy philosophy in those Reacher stories. One quote from Lee graces my website (I received permission from his personal assistant--gee, I wish I had that).
r/Steve
PD. Lee Child certainly adds to a blog thread, doesn't he?

John Brown said...

Kudos to Lee Child for showing up and injecting a new perspective into the conversation.

It can indeed become something of an echo chamber in the main indie blogs, which I love, but which nevertheless do still tend to sometimes echo.

Having someone with his experience come engage and share his two cents was helpful.

One thing his comments reiterated to me is that neither Amazon nor the publishers are in this as the author's let's-get-pinky-rings BFF.

I'm not going to carry an ounce of water for Amazon in their fight with Hachette. I'm not going to carry an ounce for the trad publishers either.

I think it's helpful for all of us to try to understand the truth about the business, and spread that to other authors, but that's very different from this knee-jerk Defender of Amazon thing that goes on, which seems so very much like Republicans and Democrats turning a blind eye to their own candidates and fixating a hyper-critical one the others.

I'm not a traditional publisher. And I'm not an Amazonian. None of us are. I sometimes wonder if some of us have gotten a bit confused about this.

Joe says don't worry about the tiger when a wolf is gnawing on your leg. But if you're an indie writer, you have no wolf gnawing on your leg. That's someone else's problem. But we are indeed in bed with the tiger.

Let's indeed make hay while the sun shines. The tiger seems to be fairly decent right now. He's not perfect (eBay strangely enough only charges 15% to sell via their site). But let's not forget he's still a tiger. He is not one of us.

Alan Spade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Spade said...

John, I agree that we have to remember that Amazon is a tiger; but I couldn't disagree more with your "neutral" stance.

I'm personally lucky enough to be a full time indie author living handselling paper books. This is to say that ebook sales are very subsidiary for me.

But 90% of the full-time indie authors are not in my case. 90% of them rely on ebook sales.

In France, where I live, publishers, and Hachette first of them, are still resisting, trying to slow down the ebook growth. They do not digitize all their catalog. When they do, they price ebooks too high to protect mass paperback books.

Even Vincent Monadé, president of the CNL (National Book Center, an official authority) has protested that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8wWDNjKzQw

The result? When you, John, reach the n°1 place on Amazon.com, you sell 10,000 ebooks a day or more, whereas a french author reaching the n°1 place on Amazon.fr sells something like 3,000 ebooks A MONTH.

In the UK, I believe an author ranked #1 sells something like 2,500 or 3,000 ebooks a day.

So, french indie authors don't get a market in which they could thrive. And US indie authors who want to translate their ebooks in french don't have a market either.

The only way to make things change is by weakening traditional publishing, and the only way to weaken traditional publishing is to support Amazon. Hachette is an international group: if it's weakened in the US, it will be weakened in France (Hachette owns at least half of all the big legacy publishing houses in France).

MM said...

Its not about who is the better writer, its about what is going to happen to publishing and as Lee says - he doesn't have a dog in this fight. So frankly you should listen to him, a monopoly is good for no one as has been proven time and time again.
What I cannot believe is the the big 6 publishing houses have watched what happened to the music industry and then sleepwalked into this. They should set up their own book sales site asap and inject some much needed competition into the market

Gyula Mészáros said...

I say only one thing: Mr Child may have sold a tons of copies of his latest book, but I wasn't among those who have bought it. I'm his fan, but I wouldn't give 19 bucks for an ebook if I can get the same quality story for half of the money or even less.

John Brown said...

Alan, congrats on your sales! Paper or e-books, you're making a living, and that's awesome.

A couple of questions.

First, is a large portion of the discrepancy in sales for the #1 slot in the countries due to with the size of the market? France has a pop of 66m, the USA almost 320m.

Second, why would Hachette's higher prices affect your indie sales? It seems that would actually be a plus. Unless, the publishers are getting laws passed that mandate you sell your ebooks for certain prices. Is that what's happening?

Finally, if that is the issue in France, then I wonder if anything that happens here in the USA will affect that. Many of the European countries seem to be much more eager to legislate price controls than the USA. I wonder if that socialistic (?) leaning would change at all.

BTW, I appreciate your "how does this affect indie authors" pov. That's exactly what I think we need more of in this Hachette discussion.

Anonymous said...

I don't really understand the 50 Shades portion of this at all. It was 'right under" whose nose, exactly? The book was never self-published, with Amazon or anybody else.

Alan Spade said...

John, yes, France could never hope to reach the size of the American market. A comparison can be made with the UK, where with a comparable population, an author with the same ranking in the top 100 would sell tenfold what a french author would sell.

When you lower prices, almost mechanically, you attract new readers. Readers want three things: they want a large choice of ebooks, they want recognizable names, and they want affordable prices.

A number of readers, for example, take a picture of a book seen in a bookstore, to buy it cheaper on Amazon.

I think we have an interesting market in France by the number of electronic devices sold (I think e-ink devices may represent 2 millions units), but that number doesn't translate in sales, because the readers use their devices to read free ebooks, either classics or pirated one.

What Hachette is doing in France (and many other publishers) is feeding the illegal downloading culture, giving a sens of entitlement to the readers who download ebooks at €19 for free, because the readers perfectly know that the publishers are overpricing ebooks.

So of course, indie authors are badly hurt in the process. Yes, there's also a fixed price for the ebooks (no discounting allowed by law), but the publishers who are lobbying the french government to keep it that way are big publishers, and Hachette is the first of them.

So, if Hachette is weakened in the US and cannot "buy" good authors in France or even midlisters, they will self-publish, and readers in France will have a lot more "quality choice" for affordable prices, which is a good means to fight piracy.

Broken Yogi said...

Luke 2Feathers,

Thanks. As to luck, it certainly comes into play, especially as to the timing of certain books coming out just when the public is ready to embrace something. 50 Shades never would have hit the big-time ten years earlier. But even that isn't purely about luck, but a particular writer being in tune with the public at a particular time. E.L James wasn't writing in a vacuum, but as Twilight Fan Fiction on a website that was very much plugged in to how popular tastes were running. It's not an accident that her books took off within that set. What's luck is how it went so hugely mainstream.

I keep thinking about your comparison between TV and movie writing. I think it's quite valid to say that Joe's books are geared more towards a cinematic experience, and Lee's towards a television experience. But as I've pointed out, the most popular story-telling medium is television, not movies, and that means that people are more oriented towards the television style of story-telling than the cinematic one. In other words, to a slower, more episodic story than a big, flashy, fast one. And that might account for a good part of Lee's success, and Joe's more modest sales.

It makes me think about those differences, and what they mean to my own efforts. And to someone like Joe. Perhaps he's just a much bigger fan of the movies and doesn't watch much TV. You can't easily change the public's tastes, and a writer's tastes may not be very maleable either. So I'm not sure there's a practical solution here. But it does bring up the issue of whether Joe would sell more if he wrote more in the style of episodic television. I'm not sure he could or should, he's pretty settled in his style. But he's prolific and skilled enough that it might be worth an experiment on his part to see what happens if he did.

jambalian said...

I must say, luck plays a HUGE part. I got into KDP early last year just before the algorithms changed, and then my book went permafree the day before Amazon stopped people sending traffic to their website for free books. That meant I kept the UK number one spot in free books for almost 12 weeks, which meant huge sales on my other titles, which meant an APub contract, which means a lot more income than I was making as a self-published author.

By offering authors at least twice as much in royalties as traditional publishers for ebooks, APub have signaled their intention of benefiting authors rather than feeding off them. I recently signed a deal to publish my 5th book with them, and it didn't take a lot of persuasion. Their support is excellent, they keep me informed, pay me monthly, and are constantly promoting me.

I can't see a traditional publisher ever topping the package I'm currently on.

Terry said...

I'm wondering what both sides of this debate think about this situation, reported in today's New York Times.

"Sons of Wichita" by Daniel Schulman, a writer for Mother Jones Magazine, is a well-received biography of the Koch brothers. I haven't read it, but given the author's credentials, I'm assuming it takes on the Koch brothers from a liberal perspective, and isn't complimentary to them. It came out in May, and Amazon originally discounted it by 10%. Now it isn't discounted at all, and takes as much as three weeks to ship.

On the other hand, there's "The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea" by Representative Paul Ryan. There are no restrains imposed on the book by Amazon; it's discounted and ships immediately.

Both books are published by Hachette.

Now, there's no first amendment issue here; Amazon isn't a government, so the notion doesn't apply. But it is effectively censoring one book and not the other. Doesn't this make you at least a bit uncomfortable?

Broken Yogi said...

Terry, I'm guessing the difference isn't due to the politics, but the fact that Ryan is a famous guy who can move a lot of books, and Schulman isn't. Amazon's only interested in money, not politics.

Ksou said...

Given I'm just some random guy my opinion doesn't matter, but I'm pro Amazon here. I can gather up some of my nearly incoherent writings , put them in an E-Book and publish it on Amazon tonight.

I just can't do that with a normal publisher, maybe I suck and I'll never sell a single E-Book even at 99 cents, but Amazon says I at least can try. Most authors never make a buck anyway, so why not.

It's just like youtube, you can say this devalues TV and eliminates the need for America's funniest home videos and the like, but it's fun and everyone gets a shot.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Lee -- I don't see how paying to put your book on the "New Fiction" table in the front of a store is different than paying for making your next thriller a Kindle Daily Deal or put it in some other visible spot. Just as shelving it spine out in the mystery and thriller section at B&N is equivalent to having it be one of the millions of Amazon ebooks looking to be discovered. Because you rub elbows with the "one percenters" of the writing world, you don't see that 99% of hardworking trad pub writers get only those $10,000 advances year after year (and even those amounts are diminishing), so they must have a day job as well. With KDP, a much greater percentage of writers can make a living. And they do!

Luke 2Feathers said...

Broken Yogi:

I've experimented with the pace issue, and it seems hard to change that throttle much. I think every writer has an innate pace at which he likes to tell his stories. On the flip side, I think every reader/listener/watcher has an ideal pace at which he wants to be told stories, but his is learned, not innate. If I'm right--that an author's pace is innate--then it would be very difficult to change it to match current tastes. Perhaps others could comment about their attempts to slow down or speed up their natural storytelling pace.

Financially, I feel that changing from a film to TV pace is probably unnecessary. Konrath made millions telling his stories at a cinematic pace. If that pace is potentially less lucrative--I'm not conceding that it is (consider the Game of Thrones novels), but I'm allowing the possibility--it's still a very rich vein.

Something that dwarfs the pace issue, though, is the story itself. Why do Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight sell so well, despite their flaws? Because people want to hear those stories so badly that they don't care how poorly they're told... up to a point. The writing is flawed, but not in ways that interfere with the transmission of the story. For example, there's a thriller writer named J. Robert Kennedy whom I suspect is being paid by the dangling participle, he uses them so frequently. That aspect of his writing is a little distracting, but not enough to spoil his stories. And if a character in Harry Potter *clambers* up or over something one. more. time, I'm going to rip my hair out. Editor, where is thy thesaurus? But I can't get enough of Harry's story, so I keep reading.

I like to check out samples of the books of commenters to this blog. I've bought a couple of their ebooks, but I got a basic lesson strongly reinforced by a book I _didn't_ buy. The author put too much backstory in the first few pages and I lost interest. I never found out what the *story* was. His prose was competent, way better than Fifty Shades, but his flaw got in the way of the story, and E.L. James' didn't.

I have a similar problem with Lee Child's books (at least the ones I've opened). His opening scenes are interesting, but they don't reveal the story. With Konrath, I know what the story is about right away. (Pacing again. I want my Oompa-Loompas _now_.) Child's flaw isn't as bad as the commenter's I mentioned, because he is at least showing (not telling) me his character, and characters are almost as important as stories. An interesting character is like a promise of an interesting story to come.

Jack Reacher's stories are interesting, but _for me_, Child's technique interferes with my being drawn into his stories. I really liked the movie, though.

Alan Spade said...

Just for information, my Fantasy novel is free through Thursday on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00IO2SIXM/

It doesn't happen very often...

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Luke 2Feathers--

I think pacing can be manipulated (although I agree an author or reader might prefer a certain pace). I wrote a post about it on Joe's blog here:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013/07/pacing-by-ann-voss-peterson.html

Broken Yogi said...

Luke 2Feathers,

I can't say what is innate or what is learned, but professional writers do eventually fall into a pattern of some kind. And a lot of what we calling pacing is actually a technical problem. In television, there's a set time limit for each episode, and a set time limit for each scene, interrupted by commercials. These limitations require a certain kind of story-telling technique, regardless of what the writer would like to do.

The same goes for movies. There's a time limit on telling the story (usually two hours tops, often less), and this requires time limits at each step of the way. Syd Field's books on screenwriting break it down quite well. It's not so much that there's a set formula, as that the limitations of the form require certain elements and timing that can't be left out.

Because TV and movies are the dominant story-telling art of our time, this has influenced novels a great deal. It used to be that novels were leisurely paced affairs. Now they have to get into the action fast and often furiously, because the audience out there has been trained to expect that. But there's still a difference in whether they tend towards the TV or the movie style.

Funny you should put Game of Thrones in the movie format, when it's actually a television series. The novels of course preceded the TV series, and of course they had to be truncated for that purpose. But think how impossible it would have been to make a movie of each book in the series, which on TV stretches to 10-12 episodes of almost an hour each. An entirely different story would have to be made for it to stand as a two hour movie (maybe three if Peter Jackson directs). All those minor characters have to go. All that intrigue has to be boiled down to the essence. It's also worth noting that George Martin worked in television before deciding to change careers and become a novelist.

In short, it's a good example of the difference between a long epic story, and a brief, concentrated one. Joe likes that brief, concentrated story. Lee moves more slowly, and his story is in it for the long haul. Neither is better or worse than the other, but they attract a different audience. One thing to say, however, is that the traditional form of the novel is geared towards the long narrative. But things certainly have changed and the shorter, explosive novel certainly has its place in the market.

I can't say I've read 50 Shades, but my wife has, and she tells me it's actually much slower and full of emotional development of the characters than you'd imagine. It's not really the sex that sells it. Even if it's based on the Twilight movies, the story-telling is much more like television, which makes sense given E.L James' background.

I'm somewhat skeptical of the claim that authors can't change it up now and then. But maybe that's true. I don't know how many screenwriters successfully move between TV and movies. Or between novels and either. I'm not aware of many movie screenwriters who have become successful novelists, however, but we obviously have several examples of TV writers moving into novels.

So in general, I'd say that the greater chances for success in novel writing comes from those who adopt, consciously or not, the TV style of pacing and plotting. That certainly leaves lots of room for the cinematic types, but perhaps not as much potential. I'd probably have to look at a lot more examples of both to be sure. But I think this is an interesting consideration that has a lot of importance to anyone developing a novelistic career. Not so much probably to those already well established in their stylings.

adan said...

Broken Yogi - Luke 2Feathers :

Had to tell ya'll, really enjoyed your exchanges, super interesting.

Brought to mind Elmore Leonard, who's had both movies and TV made from his work. Someone who crossed both mediums.

Jumping in, re Lee vs Joe, if it's even a "vs" - I've read a couple of each, and have found both compelling. Maybe because I also have a theatre degree (with play structure etc), and got to be immersed in both one act and three acts plays, I just got used to both. Who knows? (smiles)

Either way, thanks you guys!

Luke 2Feathers said...

Ann: Thanks for the link. The tips you gave in that post can become instincts over time, if I write while keeping them in mind. Once a technique becomes an instinct, it's effortless.

Does anyone else here deliberately seek out _bad_ writing for its lessons? Every week, I visit Smashwords and sample the first pages of a few of the latest releases in my genres. Fifty percent of it is shoot-me-now awful, and another forty percent is deeply flawed. There's nothing that drives home good advice like seeing the results of not following it.

Luke 2Feathers said...

Adan: Good reminder that it's possible to like both styles equally. It's conceivable that you represent the majority of readers.

Just as my tastes have changed over time, they will continue to change. I may very well get into Lee Child in another few years.

In re theater, I'm partial to the five act plays (if thou knowest what I mean).

adan said...

Luke 2Feathers - Good to know I'm in the majority of something (smiles).

Found this really interesting article re the five act structure ( http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/shakespeares-plays/shakespeare-five-act-structure/ ).

Excerpt: "Shakespeare’s texts do not only have five acts and several scenes but each scene indicates the location of the action in that scene. Shakespeare did not do that, nor did he divide the plays into acts and scenes. All that was done for the first time by the playwright Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718), in his six volume edition of Shakespeare’s plays he edited in 1709."

Looks like (as usual) structure is what some very helpful folks have perceived in originally organic fluid works by those first creating plays etc.

Which is hopeful all sorts of ways: ie, we can learn, but we can also create by our own wits.

Meshing the wisdom of the past, with our own innate form of creativity, now that's a goal I can live with!

Best wishes, Luke (smiles).

Terrence OBrien said...

Can you explain in detail why the e-book market shouldn’t operate the same way as the ironing board market or the amplifier market?

OK. The ironing boards are sold in a different Amazon market. In that market, Amazon makes its money by actually selling a service. It sells merchandising services.

Ironing board suppliers are free to sell their goods for whatever they want. Amazon doesn't care.

People can also sell books in that same market, just like the ironing boards. Amazon will make its money from merchandising charges. Want to sell a book for $35? Go for it. Just put the book up for $35.

In this market there is no difference in treatment of ironing boards and books. Amazon is letting people price as they choose.

In this market, it doesn't matter if the product makes a profit. Amazon makes money from the service it sells.

Amazon has another market for books. In this other market, it wants to make money from the difference between what it pays for goods, and what it sells them for.

It's not selling services. It is buying and selling books.

So, Amazon offers exactly what you want. I suspect highly talented authors who have become outstanding successes due to their own talent and drive should be able to sell their books next to ironing boards for $35. Make your choice. Best of luck

callingcrow said...

I agree with Joe on the luck part. I think politics plays a big part as well. I've met several writers who were very angry at their treatment and broken promises from BIG PUBLISHING. When you're in Gibip and your project is in the hands of a voice-over-the-phone in NYC, you don't have a lot of power. I'm also in the Amazon camp because, I believe, real politics, and cultural issues. Publishing in NYC means running a PC gauntlet. Manuscript must push, or not defame or cause harm to the popular culture espoused by NYC. And, of course, demographics plays a big part. I don't write for the female YA audience, so I know I'll never be a big name. I write what I want. Have a good day.

Anonymous said...

"You've written some good books, made some smart choices, and fought hard for your career.

So have I. You're aware of that, as are readers of this blog."

Oh my god, Konrath, if you actually think you're even close to the same level as Child, skill-wise, you're WAY more conceited and self-deluded than I even thought! But, of course, here on your blog you could count on all the sycophants (most of whom don't actually read your books, but worship you because you tell them that they're special snowflakes) applauding you.

Bravo for Lee Child for having the stones to be so honest and blunt, knowing that his response would be posted on YOUR blog to YOUR sycophants and YOU would be sure to get the last word in. He's not only ten times the writer you are, but ten times the man as well.



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