Saturday, April 08, 2006

Am I Evil? Yes I Am.

My friend Lee Goldberg referenced my previous post, The Importance of Being You, on his wonderful blog A Writer's Life.

Apparently, I've irked some anonymous mystery writer by having the gall to say that writers should try very hard to earn out their advances and make money for their publishers, even if it means spending a lot of their own time and money to do so.

I like Lee, and I appreciated his level-headed and thoughtful response to the matter. Mr. Anonymous, however, needs an extra-large reality enema.

He wrote Lee the following:

How can you be friends with Joe Konrath? He's the anti-Christ. In his own way, he is as bad or worse than Lori Prokop. The advice he gives to aspiring writers is just terrible and, worse, he's doing everything he can to undermine his fellow professionals. How, you ask? He's perpetuating the myth that you should devote all or part of your advance to promotion, that you should devote yourself to making sure that the publisher makes money (even if it costs you). What he's doing is legitimizing the damaging corporate mindset that authors should pay for their own promotion without any investment or reimbursement from the publisher. We're supposed to live off our advances, not kick them back to the publisher for advertising and promotion. Joe's latest moronic blog post was so infuriating I almost put my fist into my laptop screen. Of course his publisher loves him. But professional writers should fear him. He's cancer.

For the record, I'm not a Cancer. I'm an Aries.

And though I don't agree with everyone's opinion, I certainly respect their idiotic ideas, and their bone-headed right to poorly express them.

I long-windedly (go figure) responded to this anonymous author on Lee's blog. Here's my final take on the subject:

I'm the president of my own company. The brand my company sells is "JA Konrath."

In order for my company to make money, I need to invest my own time and money up until the company reaches a critical mass and can run itself.

The time to invest my money is at the beginning, because most businesses fail within the first few years.

It's my name on the books. It's my brand. If my sell-through isn't good enough, there will be no more books. Bye-bye writing career.

I'm supposed to let my success or failure rest in the hands of my publisher? They're my co-investor. They're not my enabler. They're not my boss.

The philosophy, "If you earned out your advance it wasn't high enough" is a bad one. This isn't an us against them contest, with them being your publisher.

This is a partnership. If your partner is making money, you're making money.

An advance isn't free money. It's money based on potential book sales. It's like a non-returnable loan. Your publisher is betting you sell X number of books, and giving you your share in advance.

If you got zero advance, and sold X number of books, you'd get the same amount of money. It would just be later rather than sooner.

Spending your advance money on selling more books is a way to ensure you get into that royalty phase even sooner.

Does this make your publisher happy? Of course. They gambled and won.

But so did you. Because you get a higher advance. A bigger print run. More promotional dollars. Your backlist stays in print. Your sales reps push your books harder. You're talked about in-house. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team.

I didn't have a book tour for my first book. But I spent a lot of money, and worked hard to sell it.

Did my publisher notice? Yes. They gave me a book tour for #2. I went to 11 bookstores on the West coast, all expenses paid. Damn nice hotels too.

Did I hang out at these nice hotels during my free time, ordering room service and pay-per-view porn? No. I visited 95 more bookstores while on that tour, and then another 100 on my own.

Did my publisher notice? Yes. The new tour is 500 bookstores, and they're paying.

How is this a losing proposition for either of us? If they make money, I make money.

My publisher does a lot for me, but I have more at stake than they do. They have 200 other authors, all writing books, all who are getting a piece of the promotional pie.

I should just write the best book I can, and then cross my fingers and hope it sells?

Sorry. The best product in the world will fail if no one buys it.

I should nag my publisher to spend more money on promoting me? They already spend a bunch. They are the ones investing the big bucks. They are the ones taking all of the financial risk.

There's no guarantee that big promotional dollars=success. Jim Huang had a great keynote speech about promotional dollars, which can be found at

There's no guarantee that wonderful writing=success. I've read a lot of wonderful books by authors who can no longer sell their latest because their previous numbers were bad.

The only guarantee I have is: The harder I try, the more books I sell. This I know for a fact, and I've proven it time and time again.

Best case scenario, my books catch on, all the money I spent will come back to me in royalties and multiple printings and larger advances down the line. I'm investing in a stock that I'm betting will go up.

Worst case scenario, I fail. But I won't be bitter, and I won't blame my publisher or the universe for the way the cards fell.

If I fail, I want it to go down swinging. I want to know that I did everything within my power to launch my career.

I can understand why authors don't like this philosophy. I'm saying that success isn't all luck or talent. I'm saying that the author can, and should, play a major part in selling their own books.

So I pose this business model, and authors are afraid they'll have to adopt it as well?

I know a lot of authors losing money hand over fist with high advances and poor sell-through, and then blaming their publishers for their lackluster sales.

Does the publisher make the author pay back the advance if the book doesn't earn out? Does the author lament the money lost by the publisher, not only on the advance, but on the production costs, the promotion, the publicity, the market, the advertising?

No. Authors scream "gimme gimme gimme" and whine how the publishers aren't doing enough. They whine that they didn't get enough co-op. Or frontlist catalog copy. Or not enough reviews. Or no tour. Or no advertising.

But they don't try to fix any of these things themselves. And they don't shoulder the financial loss, which can be considerable.

This is the preferable business model? If so, it needs to be changed. Then maybe more books would actually be profitable, which would benefit everyone.

Scary thing, though, taking your fate into your own hands. Even scarier, backing it up with your own money.

You can disagree with me. You can even hate me.

But I'm really not the one you should be angry at, am I?

The whole "I'll just write good books and my publisher will sell them" is an archaic philosophy, and the only authors who should be afraid of self-promoting are the dead weight ones already losing money.

Take some responsibility, for your sales, and for your career.

And if you have a problem with me, Mr. Anonymous, don't go whining to Lee Goldberg like some high school drama queen loser and question his opinion of me. This back-biting and name-calling hurts the mystery community, and publishing in general.

Debate is great. Open exchanges of ideas, and the disagreements they provoke, can be helpful.

But your opinions were concealed as insults, and then you gave Lee permission to post your muck-raking, as long as he didn't use your name, because heaven forbid anyone hold you accountable for your opinions.

Next time, be a man. You don't like what I have to say? Post on my forum. You can even do so behind your cloak of invisibility, so no one knows your real name and what a weenie boy you are.


DZ Allen said...

Loud and continuous applause, JA! You tell us like it is. I'm still working for that first deal and I'm taking copious notes from you blog and website. I plan on following your lead and busting my ass when my book finally hits the racks.

Awesome, awesome post.

DZ Allen said...

BTW...(Am I Evil? Yes I Am.) I LOVE that song. Esp. the Metallica cover.

Bernita said...


Sandra Ruttan said...

You are an Aries.

Well done Joe. I know I'm falling short of my usual sarcastic remark to you here, but I do respect where you're coming from. The point being that authors have to work to sell books as well - they owe it to their publisher, not just to say, "I'll be in Bali for the next four or five months - forward the money there."

I do wonder one thing. Any special reason you assume it was a man that posted it?

It wasn't me - I sign my name to everything.

JA Konrath said...

Could be a woman. For all I know, it could be my mom (hi Mom!)

Can't say I care. But I wish whomever it is much success in their future endeavors, and sincerely hope they work out their issues.

Anonymous said...

Coming to the publishing game today and not years and years ago, your model is easy for me to accept. Furthermore, it makes more sense. Everyone says how the promotional pie from the publisher is getting smaller. Isn't your method simply the natural, logical response to that?

My book will be coming out with a very small press. Walking in, I know that I will need to do at least 50% of the promotion and marketing. Being of a similar mind to you, Mr. Konrath, I will be doing ALL of my promotion and marketing and consider whatever the publisher does as gravy (they're good people and will do a fair share, I'm certain...but I won't sit back and rely on it).

If my work catches on and a major publisher takes me on, that won't change my expectations in this arena one iota. If you want to be successful, you have to take responsibility for your own success.

I don't think this attitude is restricted to old school writers, either. We live in a culture full of 'gimmee, gimmee, gimmee' people and frankly, it disgusts me.

As a recreational league hockey player, I give you the highest salute possible...[taps stick loudly on the ice].

Mindy Tarquini said...

Where does Anti-Christ fall in the big scheme of anonymous insulting? Higher than 'Doo-doo Head' but lower than Nazi?

I dunno, the whole thing is bizarre, Joe. Why would a friend post such a thing on his blog without talking to you about it first? After the Anonymous Mystery Writer gave permission to have his private email posted on Lee's blog, some quiet emailing by Lee to you might have been the next reasonable step. Maybe he did and we're not seeing that part of the story.

When epithets like Anti-Christ and Cancer are flung about regarding an individual who advocates that authors should be their own best advocates, Godwin's Law is invoked by default and the controversy is over.

So - you struck a nerve someplace. Mazoltov.

JA Konrath said...

Lee gave me a heads up. He's a good egg.

JA Konrath said...

Benford's Law also comes into play, I think.

Mindy Tarquini said...

Benford's Law also comes into play, I think.

There goes the Safeway Select brand Diet Vanilla Coke all over the laptop monitor.

I'd send an invoice, but I hate diet vanilla coke, anyway.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I'm a Leo!

btw, "what a weenie boy you are."...ohh,'re too funny! Totally right about the whole subject...but just too funny! LOL!

Christine said...

You gotta, GOTTA sow those seeds. You, writer, are a farmer. You write a book... cute little book, aw, isn't he sweet. You WANT to grow a career, and this little book is the first seed in your garden.

Does the farmer just drop the seed in the ground and say "Grow, dammit!" Nope. of course not; there's fertilizer (which we writers are great at, yes?) and watering and nuturing.

You aren't just selling your book, you are selling YOU.

Today, I had a book signing. It was pouring rain, and people in the city stay home when it's pouring rain. Didn't sell a single book. BUT I did talk to people, handed out cards and bookmarks. If they order when they get home, great. If not, well.. maybe I planted some more seeds, at least.When the next book comes out, I'll probably go back to that store - they were nice people in there with an appreciation for an author who brings them cookies.

In other words, I totally agree with you. And I see you've got Pat Mullan's blog listed on your site list. Nice guy, tell him I said hi.

James Goodman said...

Nicely put, Joe.

As you've said again and again, writing is a business. If you had say an appliance store, you wouldn't just open the doors and hope that customers would magically know that you were open and come by to see what fantastic wares you have to offer. You would have to promote, advertise, do whatever it takes to get them in the door or else you would be closing those doors when the startup money trickled off.

Jade L Blackwater said...

I really appreciate your thoughts on the business side of writing. It can only be helpful to those who wouldn’t otherwise consider the importance of owning one’s own product, and taking the initiative in one’s own career and goals.

And dude, you are NOT the anti-Christ. :)

Daniel Hatadi said...

Joe, if being the Anti-Christ means being obsessively intense about book promotion, then we are living on a truly peaceful and beautiful planet.

Unfortunately, being Evil usually means KILLING PEOPLE. Lots of them.

Does this mean that the Second Coming of Christ will allow writers to live off their advance? I think not; unless He sends two-thirds of the population off to Somewhere Else.

By the way, when I say 'obsessive' and 'intense', I mean good things. You're my kind of people, Joe: a wide-eyed loon daring to stare back at the Gates Of Oblivion.

Writer said...

I totally agree with you J.A. I think a lot of authors get into the publishing game with unrealistic expectations of what their publishers will do for them as first time authors. It prevents many good authors from being as successful as they should be. In the 21st century, it is about selling a brand, not a book.

Anonymous said...

I agree too. At tax time, I ended up with a loss on income for my first book but, hell, I earned out. I just wish I had more $$$ to spend on marketing and travel (and be as gutsy as you, Joe). At this early point in my career my advances are small, but I did everything my editor and publicist suggested - and a lot of extra things, too. My publisher put out more advertising for the second book and I, again, spent essentially all of my advance money on promotion. I'm getting good word of mouth now, and getting invited to speak... so the ball is rolling a bit on its own.

Earning out is vital, imho, and nothing will sink a career faster than a publisher taking a big loss. But, as the “take the money and run” folks often say, you can always change your name and do it again. Thanks anyway, but I’d rather build upward.

Mary Stella said...

If writers who haven't published yet can learn one thing about the business, it's that selling your first book is not like buying a winning lottery ticket. Your guarantee to fame and fortune.

I have two books out with a newer, small company. I'm fortunate that my publisher does a lot of advertising and marketing for their releases -- far more than I, as a debut author, would have received from a bigger house. I put all of my advances, and then some, into pushing my books and, hopefully, building name recognition and readership. Website, additional print ads, conferences, booksignings, stock signings, promo items, online chats, blog -- they not only cost money, they cost time and energy.

However, I think the efforts yield short and long term benefits.

Anonymous said...

If this author thinks your blog and advice are so poisonous, it is interesting that he:
a. Reads your blog
b. Talks about it to others, which in fact actually promotes you more.

JA Konrath said...

b. Talks about it to others, which in fact actually promotes you more.

There's no such thing as bad publicity.

I made a drunken ass of myself at a conference last year, and my blog attendance went up 200%.

As Oscar Wilde said, 'The only thign worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

JA Konrath said...

getting bad advertising as unreliable fraud is not going to be a positive thing.

Studies have shown that people remember names, but not necessarily the connotations associated with the names, good or bad.

Lee Goldberg said...


Joe is a good-humored guy and I felt sure he wouldn't be offended by the email or my blog post about it. If we were talking about a different author, with a different temperment, I might not have posted the email at all or have written about it. But we're talking about Joe, an out-spoken man with a great sense of humor. I knew the post wouldn't hurt our friendship, or his feelings, and instead would spark a lively, interesting, and ultimately helpful debate on both his blog and mine.


Naomi said...

For what it's worth, I appreciate and am amused by the advice and common sense you dish out, Mr Konrath. And if that means I'm listening to the Anti-Christ or risking cancer, I'm down with that.

Anonymous said...

I wish that it was as easy as writing what you love, writing it well, then sending it off knowing that someone else (your publisher)will care as much as you do about it. So you can relax and just concentrate on writing the next one.

But it's not that simple. Was it, ever? I don't know; we all have this mythical idea of what publishing was like in the 20's and 30's and the world was full of professionals like Max Perkins. But letters show, of course, that Fitzgerald was just as devastated by his sales figures as any contemporary writer, so I'm not sure it ever was that easy. But the one thing that Joe says that every author has to believe is this - nobody cares as much about your book as you do. He's right - if your book doesn't perform, your publisher just shrugs and looks to the next pile of books it has ready to hit the shelves. It's a disappointment, of course, but there's always going to be another book for them, somewhere. But not, in all probability, for you. For you, the author, this is it; your one chance. You're the one who can suffer career-ending damage if your book doesn't sell. Not your publisher.

So why would anyond just sit back and wait to see what happens? Unless truly, you've only dreamed of seeing this one book in print, you have got to work your butt off making sure you get another chance.

(And in the spirit of full disclosure, I just did my taxes and so I have the documentation to prove I spent every penny of my advance on publicity and marketing, in some way or another. Was it worth it? Did it make a difference? I don't know for sure yet. But I do know that if I hadn't have done that, and I never got another book contract, I would regret it forever. And I don't like to live my life that way.)

Meleta McHarlin said...

It only makes sense that if publishers spent the amount of money that writers believed they should on each and every book, the publishers would have to severely cut back on the number of new titles they published each year.
As a reader, I don’t want that.
As a writer, I definitely don't want that.
It also only makes sense for the publishers to allocate more money for promotion to the authors that have proven to make money. We live in a capitalistic country. This is a good thing. Otherwise, we'd all be reading exactly what the person at the top wanted us to read and nothing more.

Anonymous said...

What I found most fascinating was a point made on Lee's blog about the lessening of the divide between traditional publishing and vanity (or self) publishing. Self-publishing has always been looked at differently than traditional publishing. Unfortunately, some have looked down on it.

Most of the self-published authors I know are very savvy individuals who are doing very well. Some have positioned themselves with major publishers, while others are, by choice, remaining self-published. Some are interested in building their own publishing lines/imprints.

I have a friend who's a whiz at promotion. She's considering self-publishing at the end of her current contract. This won't be because her numbers aren't good; her book hasn't been out a year yet and it's in its fourth printing. She just thinks it's a business position worth considering seriously.

Times are changing. I can remember a time when publishers didn't want authors to promote themselves. Why? They wanted to decide whose book to push and self-promoting authors interferred with their pecking order. A few authors were able to move up the list this way, and I guess, after publishers got over authors having the nerve to take control of their own careers, they figured it was a winning deal around.

Anybody else remember this?

s.w. vaughn said...

You are evil.

Gimme gimme gimme.

Who said evil was a bad thing?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Mark, etc.

This is why I blabber all the time about my writing gods and the people who've been great to me.

I know some are embarrassed I gush so much, but I'd much prefer to promote wonderful people than assholes.

And in general, I get the "no such thing as bad publicity" concept, but there is such a thing for me. There are some people who've established themselves as such **** in my mind that I'll never touch their books or visit their blogs if they have them.

Very few, I might add. But when there are so many fantastic authors out there and so many of them are also great people, I'm not reaching out to buy a book from someone who's pissed all over me.

And I am anal about buying my books. A week doesn't seem right if I haven't shelled out cold hard cash for new books.

JA Konrath said...

There are some people who've established themselves as such **** in my mind that I'll never touch their books or visit their blogs if they have them.

But wasn't I one of those people? :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sorry JA. You fell short of the mark there.

There's always Bouchercon if you really want to try pissing all over me. Not that that's an invitation.

If you're going for paintball, I want to be on the opposing team though.

Adam Hurtubise said...

You're not a Cancer, Joe.

I am.

There is such a thing as bad publicity, by the way (this discussion and that guy's blog post isn't it, though).

Those studies showing that people remember names? They might not remember specific facts about those names, but they'll remember the context.


Brian Keene said...

So you're the Anti-Christ now?

Heh heh... welcome to my world, Joe!

Keep fighting the good fight, brother.

Unknown said...

Well, if you're not the anti-christ, why the heck did I bother building that alter in my bedroom? What a waste of good goat meat!