Sunday, March 25, 2007

Future What Ifs

It's easy to fall behind when you're a writer.

I'm behind in my blog, behind in my email, behind in MySpace, behind in my website, and behind in my writing.

The strange thing is, I've been working my tail off.

I'm writing back-to-back novels. Finished the first. Almost finished the second. Then had to stop work on the second to do a semi-major rewrite on the first.

On one hand, I feel this is what I've always wanted to do: write for a living. For the past four years I've felt more like a marketer than a writer, because that's taken up the majority of my time.

But for the past three months, I've been feeling guilty because I haven't been putting in the marketing time.

I haven't been a complete slacker. But I haven't been able to find the harmonious balance between writing and promoting. It's been 95% writing.

I'm not sure that's a wise idea. Because the publishing world is changing.

I've been thinking a lot on this topic. Here are some of the things I've been noticing.

  • More titles being published, but less of each title being sold
  • The price of books rising while other media drops in price
  • Indie bookstores struggling
  • Books getting smaller promotional budgets
  • Chain bookstores losing money, closing locations, reorganizing
  • Bookstores stocking higher quantities of fewer titles
  • The ineffectiveness of advertising to sell books
  • Greater competition for fewer readers
  • The majority of books being sold through non-bookstore outlets
  • Movies, TV, Music, and the Internet taking readers

Now many of these things have been happening for decades. I don't think we're near the end of the print book anytime soon.

But I do think that the future is coming, and profits won't be tied into selling a lot of paper books as much as they've been in the past.

Authors have needed publishers for two things: printing and distribution. These things cost money. Printing, shipping, warehousing, advertising, and marketing isn't free. Neither is paying editors, sales reps, publicists, marketers, etc.

The Internet allows for free copies and distribution. Virtually all costs associated with a book are eliminated. Yet I don't see many publishers, or authors, taking advantage of this, a market where 1 billion people log on daily. In fact, many people are fighting it.

I've had several thousand downloads of my free ebooks, ORIGIN and THE LIST, and several hundred positive comments on them from readers.

I released these books as an experiment, to spread word-of-mouth and encourage free readers to also try my print books.

But maybe I missed the bigger picture.

In this age, information wants to be free. You can search the net and find free songs, movies, shows, and books. This terrifies the music companies, the movie companies, the publishing companies, because people are getting for free what they paid for in the past.

But haven't things always been free?

Since the 1950's, people have gotten TV for free. They've just paid for the device to watch it on.

Prior to that, there was radio.

If the users doesn't pay for these shows, who does?

Consider Google. A billion dollar company. They're a search engine, using software to compile information about websites they didn't create. Where do they get their money?

Writers have long thought that publishers are the only way to make money in this business. But there is another way, that really hasn't been pursued.

What if, in ORIGIN, my characters drank Coke? What if, in THE LIST, my hero drove a sporty new Mazda RX7? What if, at the end of each book, there was a nice full color ad for Alberto VO5? And what if each of these companies gave me a few thousand bucks to do this? What if they also distributed the books for me, reaching more readers than I ever could?

Advertisers pay for TV and radio. Advertisers help pay for movie production with product placement. Advertisers make Google worth a billion dollars.

What if advertisers paid authors for product placement in their books? On author websites?

Or go a step further. What if advertisers hosted websites where people could download text and audiobooks for free?

Instead of making money off of sales, authors would get paid by advertisers.

Now before everyone starts screaming about the purity of the novel, and how it is an expression of the author, not a 300 page commercial, consider that film and TV and newspapers and magazines have been putting out a lot of quality product for many years, being funded by advertising dollars.

Publishers could capitalize on this. What if paperbacks had ads in the back? Would it bother you, as a reader?

Would it bother you less if these paperbacks with advertising only cost $3.99 as opposed to $8.99? Or if you could get a new hardcover Stephen King novel for $10, but all of Steve's characters drank Miller Lite, and on the last page there was a coupon for Handi-Wipes?

What if publishers hosted the websites, paid authors a salary to generate content (novels) and gave the books away for free, generating their income through banner ads and sponsors?

What if there was a subscription based service, like an Ebook of the Month Club?

What if a really great ebook reader gets created, something that is even better to read than paper? Don't laugh---Sony thought CDs would always rule the music biz, until that pesky iPod came around. CD sales have dropped. People are trading music for free. This will happen in the publishing industry as well. Could authors still make money?

There will always be a need for storytellers. But the way storytellers get paid may change

An author's success is based on positive reactions to name recognition. In 2007, that means the author can sell a lot of paper. In 2027, that might mean that author has his face on a box of cereal, with a free book inside.

Peer-to-peer file sharing is done by millions of people. On sites like Kazaa, e-donkey, Limewire, bit torrent, mIRC, and FTP warehouses, people are trading their media.

Think about that. This isn't a distribution network set up by the media, or the advertisers. It's set up by fans. And it's growing.

Yet instead of media companies exploiting this, they try to shut it down. The scream about copyright infringement, and intellectual property.

Shouldn't they be using this somehow?

Shouldn't we?


Devon Ellington said...

Whenever you start feeling guilty about the amount of time you're spending on your actual writing, remember that it has to be written before it can be marketed. I'm glad you're pausing in the marketing carousel for awhile to do what you love to do --write.

Regarding product placement -- it's commonplace in lots of chick lit, although the writers aren't getting paid for it. But didn't Fay Weldon get paid for product placement in one of her novels a few years ago? There was a huge bru-ha-ha about it.

If an author can get paid for that, goody. As a reader, however, I think it's lazy writing. If the object is described well, I know what brand it is. If it's the name, I feel the writer's cheating me by being too damned lazy to write decent description. I tend not to buy a second book by a writer who peppers the prose with namebrands instead of taking the time to make me actually experience the item. Yet another one of my eccentricities.

Sony's been advertising a new ebook reader that supposedly can hold an entire library. My problem is my eyes hurt from screen reading while they don't from page reading, and none of the technologies have come up with something that doesn't hurt. I'd read more e-stuff if it didn't hurt.

Scott Marlowe said...

I'd have no problem buying a book with ads or coupons in it, nor would I have a problem reading a book "where all the characters drink Miller Lite" (though I would fine it odd that they all do!). If some of such revenue were to flow to or help support a writer's doing what he/she does, then why not? Time's are changing--people attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter--ad's are everywhere and they already help support television and movies, so why not books also?

Anonymous said...

I subscribe to a magazine. The first thing I do is tear out those annoying ads. They're thicker than the pages. They're supposed to grab my attention. And they do, but in the wrong way. I tear them and toss them. Those ads don't reach me.

I fast forward through commercials, because if I can watch a 1-hour show in 40 minutes, I've saved 20 minutes. If I can eat while doing this, I've saved an extra 10. My opinion is valuable, but not as valuable as my time.

It's in universally known to be in bad taste to clutter up a book with gratuitous adverbs and adjectives. Why would you clutter it up with product placement?

I read a lot of books - four or five a week, of varying genres and categories - and I have a background in marketing. I can spot when someone is plugging a product just to plug a product, or creating a character because characters "like that" sell well. It doesn't make for enjoyable reading, no matter the quality of the architecture.

I've been reading this blog for over a year now, Joe, and I do respect your opinion, and I love to hear what you have to say, even when I don't agree with it. But why the push on marketing?

Don't get me wrong, I do think it's important for authors to be proactive and not leave those kinds of things solely up to the publisher, but there has to be a limit somewhere.

Shouldn't writers be more concerned with writing a really good book - the best book of which they're capable - than selling said book?

Shouldn't writers be writing from what's inside them and around them, rather than from their wallet?

I went through four years of high school trying to be someone I wasn't, because I wanted to fit the definition of "cool." Seems kind of silly to me now, since I figured out "cool" was nothing more than accepting and embracing who I am. Some people will like it. Some people won't. But that's their problem, not mine.

I guess the way I see it is like this: No one can be a master of all trades. If a person's job, first and foremost, is to write, then he should make that a priority, and outsource the rest. Websites, newsletters (formatting, distribution), things like that can be kept up by a third party. Five minutes in an email to them sure beats three hours doing it yourself, and the end result is the same, if not more timely.

There's a way to get everything done, but that doesn't mean you have to do it all yourself. Maybe the balance you're looking for lies in the hands of someone else.

I dunno. This isn't a flame or anything like that. The post just kind of put me off because I've seen a lot of people throw away a huge chunk of their potential by letting popularity trump quality. It's almost as if they want a piece of someone else's glory, and they want to go about it the easy way, through marketing. What a shame.

Maybe there's something to that. William Hung did sell more than that Ruben guy. But there's no mistaking who had more talent.

I guess it all boils down to what's more important: Writing a good book, or marketing a mediocre book that has all the appearances of a good one.

Anonymous said...


I'm not crazy about the idea of working products into my stories to get advertising money, but I understand why you are thinking about new and better ways to make a living writing.

I don't have an agent or a publisher (I did self-published my first book), but from what I have been gathering over the past few months of reading various blogs is that midlist writers are having a tough time making a living. And it's getting harder all the time - for the reasons you stated: people are buying less books, smaller number of titles
getting promoted, etc.

I "published" my first two books on my site as free serial novels, posting three chapters per week (about 1500 words each). Right now I've got about 350-400 regular readers. I'm also offering my first book as a free eBook. It's been downloaded 1,000+ times.

I had planned to start sending out query letters after I wrote my third novel. But now I'm thinking it's a waste of time, because considering current trends, I don't believe I can ever make a living at it that way.

So, beginning with my third novel I am charging a $1.99 subscription per book. For that fee, the reader will have access to the three chapters I write each week, plus when it's finished they will get the eBook.

If a reader wants to wait until it's finished and just buy the eBook, the price is still $1.99, because I'm trying to encourage people to "make the journey with me." There is something kinda cool about reading the book as it is being written. I know - not everybody will like that.

So, people can read three chapters a week at work during lunch or coffee break, like my readers have been doing.

Will this work? Will people be willing to pay for reading the book online? Who knows - but I'm going to find out.

But what if they do? Isn't $1.99 too low? Not really, when you compare it to making $0.64 per paperback (or somewhere in that neighborhood, right?) So, I would have to have 20,000 regular subcribers (three books a year) to make a nice full-time living. That's a lot of subscribers/eBooks sales, I agree. But, how many paperbacks do you have to sell to make a good living?

But wait a second, you say, eBook sales are not that good are they? People generally don't like electronic novels. My answer to that is: how will we ever know as long as the retail price is $6.99 - $24.99? People are not going to pay more for the eBook than what they can get the paperback for.

And if I put my eBooks on Amazon, without a publisher, Amazon wants a 55% discount. So, I will sell the eBooks and subscriptions myself, on my own site. It will cost $0.36 per subscription/eBook for credit card processing, leaving $1.63 profit. That's 2.5 times what I would make on a paperback sale! And the reader gets a great deal, too!

This idea might not work at all, but how will I know if I don't try it?

Anonymous said...

I think you're right, writers have to start thinking about alternative ways of making money from writing, if we want to actually support ourselves in that way. I don't think paper books are completely going away any time soon, but we all ignore electronic markets at our peril.

Anonymous said...

Joe: I doubt that you'll ever see sponsor-funded books because most books sell 10,000 copies or less. Even if every book is read twice,that's only 20,000 hits. Compare that to a newspaper ad or TV ad where the hits are many times that, plus they are immediate. Without a large quantity of hits, the value to the sponsor is minimal.

The other problem is the sponsor's inability to control the image of the product. Character X may drink Bud Light, but lots of people might not like Character X--hence they get a negative image of the product. In a traditional ad, however, the image can be controlled.

Keep on writin'.

Anonymous said...

I've thought it would be cool to have a reader that doubled to play audio. You listen to the book in the car, and then bring it inside, where you can read it on its screen. That way, when you really don't want to put the book down, you can bring it with you without losing your spot.

Glen Krisch

Anonymous said...

Anon said:
I doubt that you'll ever see sponsor-funded books because most books sell 10,000 copies or less. Even if every book is read twice,that's only 20,000 hits.

What if they advertised in an imprint's catalog for an entire quarter?

Peter L. Winkler said...

"Since the 1950's, people have gotten TV for free. They've just paid for the device to watch it on."

Nope. Viewers pay an indirect subsidy in the increased cost of any product they buy which is heavily advertised. The cost of advertising is passed on in the product. Big pharma spends twice as much on marketing drugs as they do on R&D.

Back in the mid-70s, ACE books put cigarette ads in the middle of their SF paperbacks. The ads were on both sides of a piece of heavy, coated stock that was bound in with the rest of the book. Reaction was very negative and it was dropped.

Stacey Cochran said...

In the past two weeks, I've received over 2,000 dollars from my self-publisher, and I can't help but nod my head, reading your post.

Traditional publishers are working on a business model that is simply outdated.

The best market in today's publishing business is not on selling books to readers, but selling the opportunity to be published to hundreds of thousands of writers.

User-created content is where it's at.

Ask yourself this: Would you rather pay 25 dollars to buy Jane Doe's book published by Big Publishing Inc., or would you rather spend no money, get your book published, and be able to sell that book to make money?

Which business model is going to attract more people?


JA Konrath said...

Some good comments here.

Regarding product placement -- it's commonplace in lots of chick lit, although the writers aren't getting paid for it.

There was a book a few years ago that was a mystery about jewelry or watches that was sold in jewelry stores. I beleive the writer got ad money for it. Wish I could think of the title.

Shouldn't writers be more concerned with writing a really good book - the best book of which they're capable - than selling said book?

Shouldn't writers be writing from what's inside them and around them, rather than from their wallet?

I love to write. I was born to write.

But why does that give me rights that an engineer, sales clerk, lawyer, construction worker, don't have?

We all have do do things we don't like in our jobs.

I'm concenred that in the future, storytellers won't get paid in the ways they were traditionally paid, because media is going to be freely available by download anythig for free on the internet.

I guess it all boils down to what's more important: Writing a good book, or marketing a mediocre book that has all the appearances of a good one.

Too many good books are lost because readers never find them.

Write a good book, then market the hell out of it.

I'm living my dream. I'm supposed to live my dream AND let others do all the heavy lifting?

Marketing is essential to get noticed. IMO, if you don't want to market, why bother writing.

So, beginning with my third novel I am charging a $1.99 subscription per book.

A smart idea. But you still need a positive reaction coupled with name recognition to make some money.

Lots of website hits, links, or people selling the book for you on their websites, will determine success.

I have another ebook that I could put on my website. Maybe I'll make it available for $1 and see if anyone bites. Worth a try.

Even if every book is read twice,that's only 20,000 hits. Compare that to a newspaper ad or TV ad where the hits are many times that, plus they are immediate.

A full page newspaper ad in a major market, or a TV commercial, costs tens of thousands of dollars and up. You could print several thousand books for that price, and the books will be around longer. And books are sought after, rather than ignored.

Assuming that advertising actually has an effect, what's a better use of ad dollars.

1. A Coke ad in the newspaper.

2. A Coke TV commercial.

3. A Coke radio commercial.

4. Stephanie Plum running to the store because she needs a six-pack of Coke.

How much would each cost? How long would each last?

I don't think advertisers have considered the potential here.

What if they advertised in an imprint's catalog for an entire quarter?

That would help defer the high cost of catalogs, and could lower book prices, selling more.

Viewers pay an indirect subsidy in the increased cost of any product they buy which is heavily advertised.

That's not what they public perceives. Which is why there is so much file sharing. People don't believe it is stealing, because the information can be copied and transferred for free.

When books go digital the way music went MP3, how will the midlist authors survive? A midlist author, who sells 10,000 books a year, might have his ebook traded for free 10,000 in a week, and he won't see a cent from that.

Back in the mid-70s, ACE books put cigarette ads in the middle of their SF paperbacks.

I believe several publishers tried something like that.

I also believe it's time to try again.

Traditional publishers are working on a business model that is simply outdated.

I agree.

Larry Marshall said...


What surprises me is how few people are talking about the issues you are scratching your head over.

An interesting thing (to me) is that the eBook concept gains control over the production and distribution costs and yet they haven't gained acceptance.

I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that eBooks are their own worst marketing tool as most new users of eBooks download a PDF file (worst "book" format on the planet) and try to read it on their computer. THIS, they believe, is what reading eBooks is about. They never get to experience reading a LIT or PDB book on a portable reader where you can adjust contrast to suit your eyes, where the screen is small, and where you can curl up in a chair or bed and read just as you would a real book.

As for selling ads and product placement, only time will tell. Television is dying, principally because they programming quality has gone down while the ad frequency has gone up. The industry blames it on the Internet but I can't stand to watch ANYTHING where there's a series of ads every few minutes. When it dies, maybe low volume books will be a viable alternative for some ad buyers.

Here's one for your personal marketing plan. I downloaded your two books. I read Origin and while it contains a lot of typos and such, it was a joy to read. It let me know about you as a writer. I just bought Whiskey Sour via Fictionwise because of it and in spite of the ridiculously high price they are charging for it (what's up with that anyhow?). I tried to order the paperback from but they claim it would take 3-5 weeks for delivery. I guess one point in this is that all of the woes of the book industry don't rest in a lack of demand for product.

Cheers --- Larry

Anonymous said...

I wrote:
What if they advertised in an imprint's catalog for an entire quarter?

Joe wrote:
That would help defer the high cost of catalogs, and could lower book prices, selling more.

I didn't mean the catalogs themselves. I meant the releases in the catalog. If all the paperbacks released from Publisher X in Q1 have an ad I think it might make more sense.

Interesting concept, although I have a hard time believing the publishing industry would use the ad dollars to lower the cost of the books, let alone share the money with authors.

Where I think this becomes most interesting is in product placement... especially if it's something negotiated between the author and the advertiser. At least, as the creator of the work, you'd have control over which companies you elect to get into bed with.

PJ Parrish said...

There was a book a few years ago that was a mystery about jewelry or watches that was sold in jewelry stores. I beleive the writer got ad money for it. Wish I could think of the title.

I think the book you are remembering was Fay Weldon's "The Bulgari Connection" published in 2001. There was a huge hoo-ha about it at the time and writers got all self-righteous about her selling out.

Weldon (who considers herself, ahem, "a literary writer") was commissioned by the jewelry company to write a novel that, by contact, had to mention Bulgari 12 times. (Weldon ended up peppering every other page with the name). They intended to market it only to their customers but HarperCollins ended up buying into the scheme and the thing was released on the general public. I don't remember if it did well or not...but it was pretty much a potboiler in the grand tradition of Danielle Steele and Judith Krantz. (sorry for the snarkiness there!)

I haven't heard of any other similar deals since. But when that awful sitcom starring Pamela Anderson as a bookstore owner debuted a year or so ago (Gee, the name escapes me!) publishers were allowed to buy "product placement" for their authors. I recall seeing a copy of a Karin Slaughter novel VERY VISIBLE on a shelf in the background -- when Pam's profile wasn't in the way, of course. The sitcom died quickly. Maybe the idea did, as well.

Something to remember is that product tie-ins have been a big part of children's and YA fiction for a long time. As much as this rubs my writer sensibility the wrong way, maybe it's not such a preposteous idea after all.

Unfortunately, my character drinks cheap booze and Dr Pepper, so I doubt I'd get much out of it...

Lisa Hunter said...

The problem with selling ads in books is how you get advertisers on board. A book about, say, golf, has an obvious target audience, and obvious potential advertisers. But most books would be what magazine ad sales people call "conceptual sales." You have to imagine who the person reading it is, and then imagine what products that person buys. It's the hardest type of advertising to sell, which is why Vogue is thicker than The Atlantic, even though they both have upscale demographics.

The other issue is that each book is different and requires both the ad salesperson and the ad buyer to read it (good luck). It's easy to get a sense of what's in Martha Stewart Living or This Old House magazine. But Special Topics in Calamity Physics? Not so much...

Mark Terry said...

I interviewed David Morrell a month or so ago for ITW and one of the things he sort of commented on in almost a throw-away fashion, was that in the 35 years he's been published, the whole industry changed, requiring the author to do more and more sales and marketing. And, in fact, the sales and marketing staffs of publishers were getting smaller and smaller and doing less and less.

And he sort of commented, "And pretty soon we might as well self-publish because publishers won't do anything we can't do ourselves."

It is something of a trend in the record business, I guess, and the indie movie business has gone off on several tangents. In other words, some of the independent film festivals practically became mainstream (think Sundance) with the major film distributors and studios coming to them in hopes of the Next Big Thing.

I can see that big publishing has been looking at small presses and self-publishing in that way a big--hey, if somebody takes off without our money, we'll throw some money at them and take them on...

Sort of reminds me of minor league baseball in a way.

Stacey Cochran said...

Sort of reminds me of minor league baseball in a way.

Very interesting insights, Mark.

For twelve years, I have done nothing each day but wake up, write 500-1000 words, network, query, and get rejected.

I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't cheat around on my wife. All I do is read about the publishing business and write fiction, and I've spent a third of my life doing so.

I've written somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million words over the years, none of which has ever been published.

For the longest time, the only explanation that I was able to come up with was that my life is simply bizarre. My lack of good fortune with traditional publishing was monumental.

In the past year or two, this perception has begun to change, and I've begun to view it as "the learning years." It's like I've been dogging it in the minor leagues, and all of this preparation (which seems huge in my mind) has prepared me for what I'll need to do if I get a book deal, a 30,000-print run, and a modest advance.

As yet, I simply haven't written a genre novel that adheres to a standard forumula from start to finish.

Joe said something to me when he was on the Rusty Nail 500 Tour regarding his inspiration for writing the Jack Daniels Series. He said something like (I'm paraphrasing), "After eight unpublished novels, I looked around at what was actually getting published. They were all mystery/suspense novel series with a detective protagonist. I decided to write one."

I'll be on a panel at a bookstore in a few weeks in Raleigh debating self-publishing vs. traditional publishing for newbie writers.

To fit in with traditional publishing you have to write very well and in particular formula. The benefits of Big Publishing Inc. are: 1) distribution, 2) bigger money (usually), 3) industry exposure and reviews, 4) professionally designed books and covers, 5) peer respect.

What are the other benefits of traditional publishing?

Anonymous said...

"Ask yourself this: Would you rather pay 25 dollars to buy Jane Doe's book published by Big Publishing Inc., or would you rather spend no money, get your book published, and be able to sell that book to make money?"

Huh? If it's so stupid to spend $25 on a book by Big Publishing, where is the audience willing to fork over $25 for a self-published tome? Think about it: if no one buys books, preferring instead to spend the money to print their own books, there's no market for books at all.

Stuart Neville said...

If drawing an analogy with TV advertising, it's worth considering UK channels and how they're funded.

The two broadcasting networks generally considered to have the highest quality output are the BBC and Channel 4. The BBC is funded by a television license that anyone who owns a TV must buy yearly. Therefore, the BBC carries no advertising whatsoever, including its various radio stations. The BBC creates the finest programming in the UK because it can afford to put quality before easy ratings. That way, they can gamble on shows like The Office, Little Britain, Planet Earth, Alan Partridge, the revamped Doctor Who, bonkers cop show Life on Mars - all of which have been massively successful.

Channel 4, on the other hand, does carry advertising but it is substantially funded by money from the government, so it is not entirely dependent on selling ads. As a result it has produced some of the best quality drama (Shameless, Skins) and comedy (Green Wing, Pheonix Nights) of recent years (I'll deliberately neglect to mention Big Brother here in case I ruin my own argument!).

Because the BBC and Channel 4 aren't beholden to advertisers they can afford to invest long term in original, quality programming and allow audiences to develop over time for them, rather than going for the lowest-common-denomenator mediocre output of the big commercial networks, ITV, Channel 5 and Sky. As a result, audiences are staying with the quality so commercial networds like ITV are struggling to keep viewing figures up and are currently hemmorhaging advertising money.

Similarly, I, and most people I know, can't bear to listen to commercial radio so the BBC stations are always first choice. BBC Radio 1, Europe's most popular (and ad free) station can afford to break out new and adventurous in all genres music where commercial stations have to play it safe.

Quality can win out if it's allowed to flourish, and people will seek it out if it's available to them - but I don't see public funding for writers coming any time soon! :(

As for self publishing, the lack of easy-on-the-eye technology is a problem but also the lack of a quality filter doesn't help. Read some of the sample pages on and it becomes pretty clear why they're self-publishing. A middle ground between open-to-all POD and the impenetrable world of trad publishing is needed, I think.

Brandon Sanderson said...

I thought they were going to pull something like this off with SciFiction, a website run by the science fiction channel. They would pay authors for stories, then put them up as publicity for the sci-fi channel. They were paying top dollar for the stories, and got a lot of good will in the community.

In the end, the canceled the program. Why? The research showed that the readers of scifiction weren't actually hopping over to the channel to watch shows. In other words, they got a lot of good press, but with the wrong people, apparently. (And I'm sure there were other reasons.)

Still, it was nice to see someone try.

Christine said...

I've become more and more interested in e-books. Me, I love paper, but I can't deny the thousands of copies of e-books being bought out there. And for most e-books, the author gets more money per copy than with a trade pb. I realized this the other day when looking over my newest book contract (yay me!)and did the math.

My first publisher will be putting my first and subsequent sequel up on Fictionwise, and my new publisher does huge e-book business. Three months before the paperback release, the e-book is released (this helps to pay for the paperback print run, which is pretty smart business, since e-books cost almost nothing to produce, as you said.)

From a reader standpoint, I'm kind of "meh" about it, but from an author standpoint, I say "ca-ching!" I mean, FictionWise claims to sell 40,000 e-books a MONTH. That's a lot of e-books, and they're only one distributor.

The biggest problem I have with e-books right now, besides the lack of warm, homey feel that paper brings, is the price of e-book readers. I suppose I could read them on my laptop - I have Mobipocket reader downloaded. The readers I've see look very nice, but they're pricey.

I'd bet the world would buy e-books hand over fist if you could download them to an iPod. Then EVERYONE would be publishing them.

I'm not sure where I stand on product placement. I write fantasy, so it's not really an issue.

If you've got e-books, you can join EPIC (, where we talk all about how to promote e-publishing. It's quite fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting ideas here.
I work in the magazine industry, and I know that advertisers try to have as much control as possible - like, they want their ad placed beside a certain story or they want to be mentioned in a certain article. My fear is losing control of the content. I mean, imagine if James Bond drove a Skoda!

Allison Brennan said...

The most important thing to do with write a good book. Joe, I am very happy to hear you're spending more time writing and less time marketing. How do you gain readership? To have your books on the shelves--to have their readily available to the buying public. The more books you have on the shelf, the better overall (because as you've said before, your current book sells your backlist--very important in the traditional publishing model.)

Writers write. Yes, we need to be business savvy and do SOME marketing, but to spend more time marketing than writing is foolish. Everyone talks about the busines changing--and it has--but that doesn't mean we all have to be salesmen 24/7 -- or even half the time.

I suggest that writers focus on the writing and do what marketing fits them and their personality, but never IN PLACE of writing. Not everyone is good at all marketing venues. And, in fact, they stress too much about it.

And mass markets have gone up hugely in price over the past few years. I think I saw something recently that said the average price of a PBO has gone up .04 cents over the last three years, while hardcovers have gone DOWN. I wish I can remember where I saw it . . .

Anonymous said...

I had a good idea for a how-to book. No, this isn't a query, I've read enough agent sites to know that. Anyway, after reading all this, I don't know WHAT to do!I guess I'll give up. Paula

MontiLee Stormer said...

This is the most fascinating thing I've read in a while. I agree with you, Joe, and Allison, I think you're living in a world that's not dying fast enough.

Books don't sell in a vacuum. It's ludicrous to assume that since you've done all the hard work, you can just sit back and let the money roll in. That doesn't work in any business model.

Looking for other avenues for marketing through endorsements and product placement is how the world is moving forward when it comes to writing and publishing. It's already successful in other media.

We're not selling out and I wish people would stop looking down their noses at solutions that could quite possibly work.

Clay said...

A very similar battle is raging in the newspaper world.

The largest dailies are "struggling" with their 20 percent profits and flat circulation. Mid-size and small dailies, and weeklies are growing.

This is in the midst of the Internet, which is reputedly killing newspapers.

My two papers each have a web site. The web sites do indeed have more readers than the print product, but our print product has recorded circulation gains 14 consecutive months.

What's important is to get to the core of what we are. We are news gatherers. Distribution may change, but at the end of the day, we're just reporters and editors.

Same with writers. Physical books will probably never go away, but the industry will change. All industries change.

If we keep in mind that at the core, at our basic, we're storytellers, we'll be able to adapt to those changes better.

Todd Wheeler said...

Cutting distribution costs seems to be key. I thought there was POD technology being developed for this. That is, go into bookstore (independent or big box), select the title from a limitless selection, and a machine out back prints it out while you're sipping your latte.

That would be how the jewelry store easily distributes the heist book in store, or the race track offers the last handicapping book between the betting windows and the slot machines, or the grocery store offers a cookbook when you put the olive oil with the RFID tag in your cart.

Because Google makes money not from advertising, but context-sensitive advertising.

But to return to Joe's previous post on tiers of readers, what tier is this advertising/product placement/sponsor subsidization targeting? The die-hards will buy the book regardless, the johnny-come-lately's when everyone else has. So, for the heavy/casual readers, how is this new model supposed to appeal to them?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I don't buy the ebook thing. Until we have printers that can print out a book that looks and feels exactly like a paperback, the book downloading industry will remain marginal at best.

Then again, I could be wrong...

Anonymous said...

All I'm going to say is that there is already a lot of advertising for other books in the back of many softbacks. And not just for the author than you are currently reading. So, what would be the harm in other advertising in the back of the book. I know I at least browse the book ads.

Lisa Hunter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The current publishers business model is does not interface with an electronic media business. Then again, neither do current book purchasers.

The electronic media publishing model has not yet been invented, when it is it will be global, cross platform, fully integrated, simple and cheap. Books published will probably be free, authors rewarded through linked/themed advertising.

In the meantime, keep pushing your free stories out through your own websites; your publisher - when he or she finally decides to take you on - will be relieved that you have generated some following.

Matt Forbeck said...

In an interesting bit of synchronicity yesterday, a friend pointed me to a site ( that offers free e-books paid for with advertising. It seems the idea for alternate compensation for authors is out there, and others are working on it. Wowio doesn't have a ton of titles available yet, but they have a number of Kurt Vonnegut's best for starters.

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