Monday, August 23, 2010

Guest Post by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Libby is an old friend and one of the first writers I met once I became published. Like me, she's currently dipping a toe in the Kindle world.

Her books are a lot of fun. If you're a mystery fan, I highly recommend them.

In the interest of fostering an open dialog, I asked her to come up with some reasons why authors should stick with traditional print publishing. This is her response.

Libby: I am a traditionally published author with six crime fiction novels out. I am an indie author with a two novels and a collection of short stories out (Joe wrote the foreword for one of them, btw). In fact, it was Joe, a good friend, who pushed me to do my short story collection for Kindle and Smashwords. I’ve written about e-books on my blog, and I tell every author I meet to put their backlist on Kindle and try to keep the e-rights to their future works. (Which is getting harder to do).

I participate on the Kindle Boards, the Amazon Kindle and Mystery community threads, (Love the Secret Book Club), and I see the handwriting on the wall, er, screen. I am incensed that publishers are only giving their authors a 25% royalty for e-books. I do not agree that just because a publisher releases an author’s book in print that they are automatically entitled to the e-rights. I think the prices publishers charge are outrageous (None of my e-books, at least the ones I control, are more than $3.99). I agree with Joe that the major publishers are clueless about the future, and that many will be forced to downsize to adapt to this Brave New E-World.

So, when Joe asked me to make a case for traditional publishing in this climate and on this blog, I hesitated. Given everything that Joe’s written and done, was I crazy? A masochist? Do I WANT to get beat up in the comments section? Um, in a word, no. But… the more I thought about it, I decided I did have some points to make.

In one of his recent blogs, Joe talked about the “tipping point,” the point at which authors and agents will no longer need publishers. And that’s the key. We are not yet at the tipping point, and, while we may be in a few years, for now, I still want to be traditionally published. Here’s why:

If a publisher gets behind a title, you can’t beat their marketing support and promotion. They saturate the media with information and hype in a way most individual authors can’t. Even if you’re not one of the “chosen,” publishers send out ARCs for review – which I believe is still the best ways to start generating “buzz.”

As much as I appreciate Amazon reviews, a review from the New York Times, or NPR can make a huge difference in sales, in both DTB and e-books.

Publishers still underwrite author tours, which while they aren’t as effective as they used to be, are worth doing, mostly because of the local media that can be generated from the visit.

Publishers are beginning to understand the world of book blogging and are trying to catch up. And when I see an ad of someone’s book on a bus or subway or billboard, I might gnash my teeth that it’s not mine, but it makes a difference in my awareness.

Traditional publishers’ distribution networks are broad, deep, and in some cases, even creative. As much as we focus online for our book info, when you see a book in the bookstore, at the airport, in Costco, or the grocery store, it makes an impression.

The more impressions, the more apt a consumer is to buy. Publishers make those impressions possible in ways that a computer screen can’t. Sure, you can see a book being talked about by several bloggers on Twitter, you can read an interview with the author on line, you can see their blogs on other blogs, but seeing the product in the “real” world is different. You can touch it, thumb through the pages, read the 69th page, even the last line, and make up your mind whether you want it.

And if the publishers’ sales reps are enthusiastic about a title, they can make a difference in the numbers that are available. I’m not saying that can’t happen with e-books; we’ve seen how a cascade of recommendations can catapult a book into Amazon’s best-seller lists; just that we’re not at the “tipping point” yet. Most readers still do not have Kindles or Nooks or iPads.

Publishers offer a built-in editing service. Yes, there are books out from major publishers where the editing sucks. Yes, there are authors who refuse to be edited, or editors who are afraid of touching other authors’ work. But, for the most part, an editor at a publishing house makes a book better. They have for me.

The way I see it is that you have one chance to impress readers, whether you’re traditionally or e-published. Your book HAS to be the best you can possibly make it. If not, no one will buy Book Two. Unless a third party (not a relative or friend) who knows what they’re doing takes a look at it, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Traditional publishers have that third party. And you don’t have to pay for it.

Over the years, I’ve been to hundreds of bookstores. In some cases, they have hand sold my books and helped my numbers. They have hosted me when there were thirty people, and when there were less than three.

Booksellers are some of the most knowledgeable, thoughtful people I know. They steer me to wonderful stories, introduce me to authors I might not have considered. I would hate to lose their expertise. Traditional publishing helps booksellers – not as much as readers buying books, of course – but for now, until the “tipping point” arrives, they are an indispensible part of the book landscape. Happily, some have already created e-stores; I hope more do. We need to keep hearing their voices.

If you’re an author who wants to recognized with an award or nomination, traditional publishing still has the big ones. The Pulitzer, the Booker, Penn/Faulkner, the Edgar, etc. stipulate a DTB, not an e-book alone. That may change; other awards might take their place, but for now, that seems to be the case.

OK. This is way too long as is, but I hope I’ve offered some perspective. At least another voice.

Fire away… Oh, and if you’re looking for some great e-books, I sure hope you’ll check mine out.

Joe's response:

Indeed, publishers can do a great job supporting books. Even ebooks. My friend Henry Perez is a perfect example. His ebook, MOURN THE LIVING, was free for three days on Kindle, because of his publisher. When the free promotion ended, it became the #1 paid bestseller on Kindle, and is currently #15. His previous title, KILLING RED, also broke the top 100.

Henry is selling A LOT of ebooks. He couldn't have done this on his own, because authors can't release ebooks for free on Amazon.

But not every ebook gets this treatment, and not every ebook that is lucky enough to get this treatment hits #1.

Support by publishers is terrific, when you can get it. I've certainly gotten some support, and it has helped.

But how much has it helped? I contend I've done more for building my own buzz than my publishers have done, and my publishers have done more for me than most authors get in terms of support.

Choosing a traditional publisher because you hope they'll support you isn't really a good bet, since most books don't get much of a push. Even ARCs have become rarer, with some publishers offering free e-galleys but nothing printed.

Plus, what are you giving up to get support? Are the sales generated by an ad in Romantic Times worth trading 70% royalties for 8%? Will you make up the lower royalty profit in volume? In my experience, probably not.

Libby is right. A traditionally published book can reach many more eyes than a self-pubbed one. But there are two issues that need to be addressed.

1. Right now, the tipping point hasn't come. So bookstores are still the main way to reach readers. However, that point will come. And soon. Do you want to sign with a publisher if the distribution system collapses?

2. Selling 10,000 books at $6.99 each earns the author $5600. Selling 3000 ebooks at $2.99 each earns the author $6000. Selling a lot of books is great, but you can make more money selling fewer books without the need for widespread distribution.

Again, I agree with Libby, but only to a point. As I've mentioned ad nauseum, I wrote nine novels before I landed a book deal. Since then, my books have required very little editing, because I learned craft and structure on my own through trial and error.

While some writers can be helped immeasurably by professional editing, the majority of my peers require very little once they turn their manuscript in.

Yes, newbies pretty much need it. Some pros do too. But some folks don't need it as much, and certainly not to the degree that the industry ballyhoos it.

Again, Libby is right. For now.

I personally hope we always have bookstores. I love them. But my numbers have shown I can earn more money without being in bookstores. In fact, I wish my books were out of print.

Being a professional writer means making a living. The majority of professional writers do that through publishers and booksellers. But currently, the majority of my income is coming from one bookseller: Amazon.

That's doesn't mean I don't value brick and mortar stores. It just means I'm trying to make a living.

I hate awards, and I say this having been nominated for many and having won a few. I despise the nepotism, favoritism, and self-important aggrandizement of organizations that give awards, and question the value they have to book sales.

A chosen few dictating the best of any given category is ludicrous, as if "best" is a quantifiable, objective trait.

That said, some believe awards are helpful, and I'm willing to entertain arguments to that bend.

The industry hasn't reached its tipping point yet. But I have.

I fully expect the industry to reach the same conclusions I've reached. But it might take some time.

Until then, weigh your options, experiment, and choose your course of action wisely... because you might be tied into your choice for longer than you think.


Amy Sue Nathan said...

I read a comment (somewhere else) that scared me -- it basically said that nowadays, there is no reason for anyone to go unpublished.

That's what bothers me about epublishing, that anyone can do it, that wading through the muck to get to the good stuff might tire out some readers. Granted, I haven't tried it yet but I think the tipping point has also not yet come for most readers' opinions of self-published books. Ebooks pubbed by publishers? Horse of a different color.

I'm about to purchase my first self-pubbed Kindle book by an acquaintance.

My first step.

Barb said...

I've had 15 (I think) books published by mainstream publishers. Not once did any of them suggest I go out on tour let alone on their dime. I had a fairly big book that would have been terrific pushed at gourmet shows, foodie gatherings even morning television and my co-writer would have made a fantastic demonstrator. It never occurred to Harry Abrams. Anything that happened, we did alone.

I'm glad, Libby, that you receive all the support you want from publishers. I'm happy for any midlist author who receives attention from their house.

To me, your experience is not the norm. If I believed it was, I would be devoting my time to writing a proposal for a mystery series an editor is vaguely interested in, rather than publishing my own books.

(Write the proposal. Wait. They ask for something be it 3 chapters or the whole manuscript. Invest months. Turn it in. Wait 6 months. They say the market has changed in the interim. The cozy market is flooded, sorry. Or they say yes. They give me $5000 and 2 years later the thing is released, the market is flooded with cozies and the pub is distracted by newer shiny objects. My life and patience is finite.)

Deanna/@mediamover said...

Excellent Post and a terrific idea. More bloggers should do this, it's terrific to be able to read both sides of an issue in the same post.

Libby..I haven't visited the SBC in a while, will look you up there.


Linda S. Prather said...

Joe I have to agree with everything Libby said up to a point. I would still highly recommend every author attempt the mainstream prior to self publishing, and I recommend working with an editor even if you don't believe you need one. Just because something is easy, doesn't mean it's good, but then just because a book is published by a traditional publisher doesn't mean it's good either. And there are good and bad publishers as far as marketing services and author support.

Tuppshar Press said...

Excellent posts by both of you. I continue to learn useful things every time I come here. which helps my thinking evolve, which helps sell more books.


Moses Siregar III said...

I feel like new authors are caught right between these options today. A year ago, traditional publishing was probably the best move for a new writer. A year from now, indie publishing probably will be. Right now, you feel like you're at the edge of a cliff and have to hope you don't step in the wrong direction.

I think the future belongs to the indies, though. And there's also the argument that it's the best time to go independent now, before it becomes even more difficult to get noticed.

MJRose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Burton Robinson said...

I was just too impatient for traditional publishing. And now that I see the handwriting on the wall, I think I made the right decision.

One of my suspense ebooks is currently selling at a rate of 500 per month on Amazon, and it's just beginning to heat up. The other three books in the series are climbing higher in the rankings too.

And the thing that is really exciting is that I know my WIP is going to be much better than those first four books I wrote.

If these books had been traditionally published, I would be making pennies right now. As a self-publisher, I can see the possibility of a full-time writing income in the not-to-distant future. :)

MJRose said...

I'm not debating the issue but I do want to make a comment on editing.

Joe I don't know who your peers are, but none of mine claim not to need an editor. And I'm talking the top NYT bestsellers I know as well as award winners.

One of my writing mentors once told me - find me an author who doesn't need an editor and I'll show you page after page of writing that could be vastly improved.'

I think its bad advice to suggest to newbies that writing can't always be improved.

Stitch said...

Thanks, Joe, for letting other authors speak on your blog. And thanks, Libby, for taking the time to do it!

There's one thing, in particular, that I feel I have to comment on, though. And it's something that have often been mentioned in the comments of other posts.

"And you don’t have to pay for it."

Why is it that so many people on the "trad-pub" side believes that the publishers are doing editing, advertising, etc, for free?

How come you don't see that it is your money the publishers are spending?

That's why you get such low royalties, of course. The publisher keeps a big chunk of the income from sales, not only to pay for printing and distribution, but also to pay for advertising.

And if you're not getting sent on a book signing tour, "for free", but another author is, you know what? You're paying for that! Along with all the other authors that aren't going.

It's the same with print ads. Part of the sales from your books are paying for ads promoting other authors' books.

Which is fantastic, of course, if you're the one getting advertised.

But if you're one of those authors who never get that kind of support from their publisher, think about where your money is going. And think about what you could be doing with that money instead.

Maybe you could hire a freelance cover artist? Freelance editor? Pay for some ads? I'm willing to bet you'd get to keep more money, in the end, out of a 70% royalty, than if you take the lower royalty and get all that stuff "for free".

Author Scott Nicholson said...

I agree with MJ on the editing but how many authors actually get it from midlist on down? I had great copyediting but never a word of conceptual editing. Now I am revising my old books for Kindle release and cutting a lot of crap--that's the difference of what I have learned, and I know I could have been more successful with editorial guidance.

I have worked as a freelance editor for three or four years so I trust myself now--I just have to be as hard on myself as I am on my clients, and still have beta readers check it.

As for the tipping point, right now, today, a NY release looks good. But if you are just now sending it into the world, are you willing to bet the tipping point won't occur in two years when the book finally makes it to the shelf? I have an agent and I have struggled with this--to the point where I don't even want the agent to start, or even commit to one year with the agent shipping it. And that's a trendy book in a popular genre and I am pretty sure it would sell.

But I am already thinking ATP, After Tipping Point, and the long tail of ebooks will more than offset any short-term benefit from temporary store placement.

Then you get into all the territorial rights issues that get silly in a digital world. Basically the few appendages to your proerty, the more efficiently you can exploit it.

I am much happier no longer waiting for permission.

Scott Nicholson

Deanna/@mediamover said...

@ Amy Sue:

I've read dozens of books by Indie, or self-published authors. Most have been terrific.

Hit me up on Twitter, I'd be happy to recommend some of them. I'm @mediamover there.


Unknown said...

I'm in the situation where I've written what I think is a good story. I had it professionally edited by a well respected editor. Now rather than going down the Agent/Publisher route I will put it out there myself. I can hire a cover designer, publicist, and buy advertising - the only thing I cannot buy is the distribution at retail.
The key decision point for me was time. After a year of writing and editing; the book is ready. If I went traditional the best I could hope for would be a year from now - instead I'll have the book available in October.

wannabuy said...

Kudos for hosting a 'friendly opposing viewpoint.'

Thank you for taking the risk. As one who hopes bookstores survive (but thinks it will only be as POD stations in coffee shops or at airports), I hope they survive.

Its not hard 'wading through' indie books. There used to be (at the peak) 150,000 books at the local borders. That is a thousand year supply for myself. How did we wade through that? Trust me, there was some crap there too.

As Libby noted, the e-book rate for authors is far too low. The variety of novels available is expanding; we're starting to see the 'long tail theory' of retail come into play.

Stitch said:
But I am already thinking ATP, After Tipping Point, and the long tail of ebooks will more than offset any short-term benefit from temporary store placement.
First, are you the same Stitch on :)

I 100% agree with the above. E-book awareness is... poor. That will change over the next 15 months. It looks like we can all agree we are 'before the tipping point.'

I understand the 'pro-publisher' arguments. The 'anti self publishing' arguments just repeat and by now are hollow.


Sheryl Nantus said...

I'd like to see Joe debate his self-publishing stance with a small publisher - such as Samhain Publishing, or maybe Angela James from Carina Press.

There *are* alternatives out there to the NY publishers, good alternatives that seem to get lost in the race to denounce all publishing houses as Evil And Nasty.

JA Konrath said...

I think its bad advice to suggest to newbies that writing can't always be improved.

I never suggested that, MJ. I said:

While some writers can be helped immeasurably by professional editing, the majority of my peers require very little once they turn their manuscript in.

I also said that newbies pretty much need it.

My peers are your peers, MJ. I trade manuscripts with over half a dozen published authors. We vet each other prior to our editors getting the manuscripts. I've seen little, if any, changes from the draft they turn in to the draft that is published, my own books included. So I'm talking over thirty books that needed only very minor editing.

If there are published authors who still need an editor to hold their hand in order to whip a manuscript into shape, I feel sorry for both them and their editors.

It's one thing having another set of eyes, helping make the book stronger.

It's another thing working with a newbie on a virgin manuscript.

Editing is necessary. But it doesn't have to be the publisher who does it.

Tuppshar Press said...


I'm admittedly biased, but I think you raise a good point. Just as the recent changes have made it much easier for self-publishers, they have also opened up new opportunities for small presses. I very much believe that a small press that treats its authors fairly can do very well. I've seen plenty of very nasty publishers, both large and small, but I've also seen plenty who behave in a professional manner and who do what they do because they love what they do, whatever format it comes in.

David Wisehart said...

I'm with Scott on the time frame issue. A book sold today won't be out for 18 months. The changes in the publishing business are rapidly accelerating. Bookstores will continue to close in the months and years to come. Meanwhile, ebooks are taking off. Eighteen months in this climate is a long, long time to wait for your book to hit shelves. By the time the book arrives, those shelves may be gone.

Stitch said...


"Stitch said:
But I am already thinking ATP...."

Actually, I didn't say that. That was Scott. :)

I said a bunch of other things that I hope you'll agree with. :)

"First, are you the same Stitch on :)"

Nope, sorry, never heard of it.

Debbie said...

Reviews: I read recently that with shrinking paper sizes and a lack of advertising from bookstores, the literature review section is smaller and many reviews don't find an audience. If this is accurate, then Amazon reviews and higher royalties are better than no published reviews, no?
Awards, there are times when works aren't submitted and there is always a criteria that leaves many well written stories unrecognized. I do think it is often an honour to be nominated and I wouldn't want to undermind those author's who have won. Right or wrong, just being short-listed in a radio announcement gets my interest.
Finally, there are comments which mention good print pubs. and great freelance editors. Anybody care to list their favs? Joe, any chance you could cover editing e-books and formating gurus, as well as cover designers in a future post? Thanks Joe and Libby!

Phillip Thomas Duck said...

As always another great discussion. I must admit that both sides of the aisle have valid points. Having published traditionally, I appreciated the editing feedback and all of the other support I received from my publisher. That said, I don't think my self-published Kindle title suffered because of the lack of a "publisher" behind the project. We all know what a professional project looks like and I didn't cut corners with my project any more than the publishers that have published me cut corners. Professionally designed cover. Check. Editing. Check. Good writing. (maybe). :-) In the end, the readers will decide. I'm a pretty astute reader myself, and I don't think I ever started paying attention to who published a certain book until I was under contract myself. To all indies, you can and will more than compete with trad pubbed books if you follow the suggestions Joe has spoken on in previous posts. Don't cut corners. Write a good story. Market yourself. Libby is correct in saying that the tipping point hasn't occurred as of yet, but it isn't far off. I sit firmly on both sides of this argument (trad and self-pubbed) and at the end of the day I just want to write and give folks an opportunity to read my work. They will either like it or not, regardless of how it is delivered to them. I can't say that having a publisher behind me made me immune from criticism. Yes my work was vetted, but so is my self-pubbed work. I didn't cut any corners. That's the POINT.

Elizabeth K. Burton said...

Regarding editing...

I've been a professional editor for more than a quarter century, and a writer for longer. I have yet to meet an author, regardless of experience, who could dispense with an editor, myself included.

It's not about how well you've learned the craft. It's about receiving input from someone else who also knows the craft and is completely objective, which no writer on the face of the universe can be about his or her own work.

The constant repetition of the mantra that a writer doesn't need an editor of he or she has learned the craft is causing more and more aspiring authors to arbitrarily decide they don't need editing.

These self-appointed experts than approach agents and small presses insisting their work be published as presented, refusing to accept any suggestion that might make it better. To say this is migraine-inducing is an understatement.

So, could we tone down the "editors are superfluous" mantra just a tad?

Anonymous said...

I love the Doubleback cover. That design is fantastic. I just bought the Kindle edition. I'll leave a review once I finish it.

Good luck with your novel, Libby.

Anonymous said...

Excellent guest post-- thank you, Libby!

wannabuy said...

David said:
Eighteen months in this climate is a long, long time to wait for your book to hit shelves. By the time the book arrives, those shelves may be gone.

18 months is roughly Christmas 2011. I think by then e-books will be at or through the 'tipping point' (which I take to be > 20% of the market). So I agree with your point. If an author chooses to risk going with a traditional publisher, there might not be enough shelf space to make that risk worthwhile by the time a book is published.

Oops... Mea Culpa on the miss-quote. I do agree with you. However, I do believe too much of the 'publishers cut' is for highly paid 'layers' that provide no benefit to the consumer.

'Excuse me, Miss' said:
I'm a pretty astute reader myself, and I don't think I ever started paying attention to who published a certain book until I was under contract myself.
Yep... Ironically, the #1 publisher I noticed was Penguin, who decided to go 'toe to toe' with Amazon and force the current business model that benefits Indie Authors.

I've noticed a large number of small publishers making their name *very* distinctive for e-book purchases. However, their web pages do not list either titles or authors. So I wonder how many are really solo authors hoping to make a cut off other Indie authors? Or just trying to mask they are Indie Authors?

So, could we tone down the "editors are superfluous" mantra just a tad?
Actually, I read here that quite a few of the authors believe editors are of value.

The question is 'do publishers add enough value for a 75% cut?' I see most having a cost structure too high relative to their value. That cost structure will keep most publishers (not all) from meeting Indie authors at the $2.99 price point.


Anonymous said...

This is a great thread and one I look forward to revisiting to see how the comments pile up.

What I'm noticing more and more is the willingness of both sides (traditional and self-pubbing) to concede that quality will always be in style.

Regardless of how we get the content, the quality must be there or it can really hurt the author's "brand," which as we all know is so hard to come by these days.

Again, great thread!

Tina Folsom said...

I think self-publishing / e-publishing is a great start. I've done it and I'll continue to do it (and am making money with it), but it doesn't mean I'll totally discount print publishers.

In fact, I pitched a new four-book series to a publisher and they liked the idea. Now, we'll see if they'll actually buy it. If not, I can always publish those books on Kindle too.

That's the beauty of self-publishing. If you and your critique partners and beta readers believe a book is ready for the public, you can put it out there. You don't have to have an agent or an editor.

Love reading your blog.

Tina Folsom

JA Konrath said...

So, could we tone down the "editors are superfluous" mantra just a tad?

I don't believe editing is superfluous. Editing is mandatory.

But do those eyes that view the manuscript have to be editors? Why isn't a writing group, a teacher, or a peer just as good?

If it boils down to education, I'll balk. You can't tell me some kid coming out of college knows more about editing than me, who has been writing for longer than they've been alive.

If it boils down to experience, than don't professional writers have that experience?

Once the basic narrative requirements (which all writers should know) are met, then editing can make those elements stronger, or spot problems. It's usually essential to have another pair of eyes.

I just don't see why those eyes have to belong to someone at a publishing house. And I don't see why those eyes are so valued that I only get 8% on a book that I wrote.

And while editing and writing are two different skills, I've met editors who are frustrated writers and will give bad suggestions based on subjective opinion which don't make the work better.

Yes, writers need editors.

No, they don't have to be with a big NY house. Or they don't even have to have the word "editor" in their job description.

Sorry, I've just read too many of my peers' books that were almost entirely ready for publication before their editors even saw it.

is causing more and more aspiring authors to arbitrarily decide they don't need editing.

As I said in the post, newbies need editing. But depending on the skill of the pro, talking over the book with a trusted peer is enough.

Joseph said...

I think it's really a matter of your goals as an author. If you want a chance at greater exposure and higher revenue as soon as possible, then you can't beat the industry, especially if you're not planning to continue writing.

But if you're in it for the long haul, ready to build a following over a decade or two, and willing to do the leg work of promotion, then self-pubbing is the better investment of your time.

Coolkayaker1 said...

We are not yet at the tipping point, and, while we may be in a few years, for now, I still want to be traditionally published. –Libby, invited to post about the benefits of traditional publishing by JA Konrath.

And Joe, in his usual “I’m gonna get the last word in, and you can’t stop me, and I have said it now 1000 times” fashion, counters every single point his “friend” Libby makes. Ha ha. Let it rest, man. Can’t even let the counterpoint stand on its own, have to get that opinion in there. Zzzzz.

Coolkayaker1 said...

Here’s a reason, yet unmentioned, why traditional publishing is still, at this time, advantageous to e-publishing: the Great American novelist—whether it be William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy or Ernest Hemingway—has never been published in an e-only format. Every single contender that anyone would even consider for “the Great American novelist”, even those from recent years (Jonathan Franzen, Richard Powers, Paul Hardy, Maya Angelou, etc.) are all print novelists, with e-pubbing as an aside.

Still awaiting any exclusive e-published novelist (or JA, who has chosen to be e-published exclusively now) to write something of lasting value and a novel of highest accolades. (I know, go on now about how the awards are run by the publishing industry, etc. Blah blah. )

Daydreamer said...

@ Amy Sue... after reading Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, a book that got a movie deal, I must say that I would ratther buy from self published authors any day. I have paid much more for self pubbed books and gotten much more out of it, than some of these bigtime writers.

Marie Simas said...

Can’t even let the counterpoint stand on its own, have to get that opinion in there. Zzzzz.

That's tough talk from a guy who comes to this blog just to drop seagull shit.

If you don't like what Joe has to say, then why the fuck are you here? Because Joe has so many followers that everyone gets to see you being a dick?


Archangel said...

thought about these matters alot here, otherpubs vs selfpub. I'm in my 7th decade and would be considered a battlescarred vet of the big 6/ used to be big 40 pub houses. If anyone asked me who was full of rigor and vigor without the mortis, I'd say go for both. Self pub and then hit the pubs up relentlessly. Just sold my 6th book to publisher w/o selling erights. It is a small pub with huge reach in distrib, which is a pub'd authors weakest link, I think.

for now, as when we were doing multimedia... remember that? little tiny movies based on books that one could click on various and a door would open etc, precursor or postcursor to games/ readable/seeable on computers with like OS 6 or so? Back then in dark ages, we jumped on all media, audio tapes, vhs, 'multimedia' and publishing.

I think, just a two cents worth as a squinty-eyed elder, that if authors who self pub stick to their guns and have a great read, they will be able to keep their erights from trad pubs by demanding so. The sucking up of erights while being Scroogesque with authors is bad faith all around.

I believe that ebooks like self-pub'd hardcopy books back when which were scarfed up after self-sales of around 10k, will be the same with ebooks self pub's. The pubs are giant maws for content. They live on it, or die without it. Think Scrum.


kind regards.

Archangel said...
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Archangel said...

forgot my manners, sorry.

Thanks Libby for evenhanded view; JoeK thanks.


Zoe Winters said...

I think with regards to distribution and people who reach super high kindle sales rank because of publisher support... This can and has been duplicated by indies. I know Amanda Hocking got to the top 25 in the Kindle store with the book I think she released in her series yesterday. And she's an indie.

I agree with regards to the tipping point coming. It may not have gotten here yet in a big way... but I think it could come very soon. I kind of hope it waits a little while longer so I can get more backlist created.

Also agree with you with regards to editing. I know that Kept required a LOT more overhaul than Mated did for me. I'm starting to create cleaner rough drafts.

Does this mean I don't need editing? No, of course not. But I'm starting to need less than I did need. And I have a hard time believing that big time NY publishers would rather publish writing by authors who need all that much editing, when there are so many more experienced writers who need much less editing.

In order to even GET a contract, you've got to write pretty clean prose.

My editor and CPs and betas are invaluable to me. But there does start to come a point where you actually start to "learn and apply" the stuff these people are drilling into you.

Zoe Winters said...


IMO authors thinking they get all this stuff from their publishers "for free" is only one of the many reasons most authors are not good business people.

You either pay for it on the front end and it's all yours forever and ever amen (ala self-pub) Or you pay for it forever on the back end by getting a royalty instead of all the profits.

Nothing is free.

Zoe Winters said...

commenting again to subscribe to this thread. Sorry.

JA Konrath said...

Let's please remember to stay civil.

A.Rosaria said...

I live in Europe.

I write in Dutch and English.

For my Dutch written work I will seek a publisher, because E-Books are less common in my country and POD is still expensive.

My English written story's I plan to self-pub in E-Book first then closely followed in POD.

I do believe by the time I got my manuscripts ready to publish the tipping point of E-Books has been reached.

I do feel there is no time for me to waste getting a publisher to publish my English work.

Taken into account getting one is not guaranteed and if I do it will take additional time to publish.

There is a small window of time available. I do not plan to miss it.

Neil Crabtree said...

This is excellent. The balance is something everyone in the ten thousand MFA programs in Poets&Writers has to consider the pros and cons mentioned here. I see nowhere else for so many writers to go but into the cloud, and let internet readers pick and choose.B&N controls the publishers, and the both are on the ropes. With a resurgence in independent bookstores, lit may survive and grow. We're not all Jonathan Franzen, nor are we Joe Konrath. But we do all see the need for expression not filtered by NYC.

Willow Polson said...

I have been in the same boat as Robin O'Neill for about 11 years. My publisher, a big NYC one, did pretty much a big fat ZERO to promote me in any way other than putting me in their catalog and maybe a couple other connections. I even offered to get myself to signings, and all they did was shrug. I had to design, run and pay for ads in print magazines myself.

I have one last submission in at DAW, and if they pass, I'm self-publishing. At least then I get more than .92 cents per book and I'm in control of marketing and the cover art.

Stitch said...


"Nothing is free."

Precisely my point. Bad business people, indeed.

Thriller Lover said...

I think the main issue is how does someone like me (a highly ranked reviewer on Amazon) pick and choose the good self-published e-books over the bad.

To me, the big publishers perform an important screening process.
There are at least 10-15 debut suspense novels per year that the big 6 pay big money to acquire and promote. Not all of them are good, but they usually have something special to offer (THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin and STILL MISSING by Chevy Stevens are two very recent examples). I try to read as many of these books as possible, and I usually find the experience rewarding.

I wouldn't mind reading the best 10-15 Kindle thrillers out there, but I have no idea what they are, and there's no neutral third party that can separate the good from the bad.

There used to be a website that reviewed self-published novels and told you which ones were good, perhaps we need a Kindle version.

Zoe Winters said...

If you're a top ranked reviewer on Amazon, aren't you supposed to be a part of that sifting process?

You really can't find books to read? As a top reviewer is there no one else's reviewing viewpoint you trust on Amazon or elsewhere?

You really need something to be "NY pubbed?"

I say NY pubbed and not small press pubbed because seriously, if a self-publishing author does it "right" you are unlikely to know they are self-published unless they just tell you. They'll likely have an imprint set up and a professional looking book, etc.

They will blend with all the other small press books.

Do you need a special system to help you wade through the small press books? If not, why do you need it for self-pubbed books?

I'm sorry, I'm really not trying to be rude here. But I truly don't understand what is so difficult about this.

Not a single indie has asked you or anyone else to "wade through the self-published drek to find the gems".

Keep shopping how you normally shop. You're likely to read some self-published work and not even know it's self-published. And it doesn't matter one way or the other. If the book is good, it's good. If it's bad, it's bad. Forget about "how it came to market".

Archangel said...

a lot of us would like reviewers of the reviewers. So many on amazon whether 'vine' or other kinds of reviewers might have a tally of 'likes' but this tells us who are voracious readers nothing about what this reviewers' biases are, what their preferences are, what their criteria is, what depth they have. A breif bio wont do it. With proliferation of reviewers who have no gatekeeper (not saying anyone ought) have to slog through reviewers as much as ebooks , as much as subject cats of print books.

Some suggest strongly and i think rightfully so, that reviewing be done away with and instead, there be a catalog by genre and interest area compiled at a central locus. But in a sense, at Amazon, that's already in listmania... which could be heartily expanded. Yet again, the plethora of reviewers, make for rough riding to get the gist. And some reviewers write so long, cant make it through.

Many authors, in my humble opinion, think a review by a stranger can mean a lot to sales. Maybe. But the odds are long. Cant tell you the number of authors who sell well and who consistently go unreviewed. Am a contributing editor for The Bloomsbury Review for twenty years and am well aware from the inside out how ten reviewers can all read same book in any cat and come away with ten diff range of thumbs from up to down. If the only issue is separating wheat from chaff, that is ever so subjective. And most of us have thrown away at least one good thomas jeff on a book that was touted by an unknown or well known reviewer and wished we had taken the kids for 'zza instead.

I believe word of mouth is the strongest way of helping people to know your work. As well as blog traveling/ guest interviews/ and radio interviews; stations are starved for content. Newspapers, small review mags, etc. are no longer king. That might in one way be good. But, replicating what didnt work for the majority again, dont know about that. Think, like I said, long long shot.


Zoe Winters said...

Hey Dr. Cpe I think you make a lot of really good points. At the end of the day a review is just one person's opinion of a book. And word-of-mouth will win the day. However, when it comes to book review bloggers, I've had a lot of sales happen as a result of those blog reviews when the blogger has a decent-sized audience.

I know because I've watched my sales rank jump after a flurry of marketing activity. This was easier to ascertain earlier on, obviously.

Now I've got so many different ways I'm getting my name out there that I've gotten to the point where I don't know what's working for me and what isn't.

I think there are always going to be those few brave souls who like panning for gold and finding books others have missed. When enough of those people stumble upon a book and tell their friends, word of mouth starts to grow.

Archangel said...

like the way you think; you might be able to tell with just simple tracking chart/ daily post on where you are on amaz. lists/ then do your interview, note review... then for at least 14 days after, track and post amaz. numbers. I have I think 5 books, and maybe 15audiobks on amaz, and track right before doing a radio or online interview. One of my books is today, I think, (peeked just now) #3 in 'feminist' which is funny because I have never called myself a feminist, one is #2 in 'folklore', another is #2 in spiritualism (again other amaz. people choose must these cats, not me ) and #10 in 'supernatural'-- etc, not to mention 402,454 in 'books in general' for one, and equally in the jillions ranking for another. Feathers one day, chicken the other.

All this said just to make this point, before radio interview last week and blog interview/ article written by me 3 weeks ago. the 3,3, 2, and 10 works on amaz. were in the high hundreds. I did not mention in those interviews the two books in the kajillions before and still now. I am not sure they could have shot into 'top' anything cat, but I think would have possibly come into the hundreds instead of where you see them now. Just my two cents worth about tracking that works for the way I work. I also hope many authors here including you Zoe will consider putting your works into audio if you havent yet. That too is low tech, high quality medium. Tho I am not sure Amaz allows audio by self-pubs? But think mp3 is good also, and personally drive a pickup truck with no mp3 player so like cds fine


Zoe Winters said...

Actually, I am thinking of having my books professionally recorded. I can get them into distribution at and several other places I can't think of off the top of my head right this second.

There is a site called (I think that's the site) and it's run for independent authors. You can pay a lower fee per recorded hour and take less royalty per book sold. Or you can pay more and take more royalty. There is a tier where you pay for basically work-for-hire and all profits afterward are yours. They get you into distribution in the places I mentioned plus others. It was recommended to me by the people at Springbrook Audiobooks.

I may check it out. Since I listen to so many audio books myself I would LOVE to have my work professionally narrated and available at places like Audible.

Thriller Lover said...

Well Zoe,

As an Amazon reviewer, I don't consider myself part of the sifting process. That's the job of agents and editors and publishers. And that's a full time job for them -- I don't have the time to assume such a role.

Ultimately I'd like to review more self-published books because I'd like to connect more with writers outside of the big 6 publishers. But right now, I see thousands of titles, and I simply don't have the time to sample a page of each title.

As for small press books, most of them are professionally reviewed by the trade publications, and that's how I become aware of which ones are worth trying out.

Thriller Lover said...


An Amazon reviewer's ranking is determined by how helpful their reviews are to users of the website. So the reviewers are reviewed also in this sense.

Personally, I find many of the customer reviews on Amazon to be quite helpful. I don't take all of them all seriously, but some of the reviewers are really good at what they do.

Archangel said...

thriller lover
thanks, I didnt know peeps voted on reviewers. I've not done that, not even sure how to, but usually am on whichever site trying to find book heard mentioned on radio but only heard 2 words of 7 word title, so am busy flapping through keywords. lol

Zoe Winters said...

Thriller Lover,

Thanks for clarifying your position (that you actually want to read more self-pubbed books but the good stuff, lol.)

Most people argue from the perspective of not really wanting to read self-pubbed books.

One of the arguments put forth is that that's the point of book bloggers and reviewers, is these people who go out and they happen to find a gem, they blog about/talk about it, etc.

You might try checking out what's available at They vet self-pubbed work.

I know a lot of good indie authors. Most of them are romance though because that's what I write. Though you might like M.T. Murphy.

He wrote a book called Lucifera's Pet that I loved. It's a werewolf/vampire book, but nothing like a lot of what's out there.

Levi Montgomery is also really good. In his case: Don't judge a book by it's cover. I think his covers look self-pubbed but he's a very good writer!

Neither write what you would call "thrillers" though.

I guess I just don't find it that hard to find good books. It might be because I interact and engage personally with a lot of talented indies. I get lots of recommendations that way as well as through Amazon based on my other purchases.

I do think you're bound to run into some crap, but the better something is selling and the better the other reviews, the greater the odds that the book is decent.

Zoe Winters said...

@dr. cpe

right underneath a review when you're logged into Amazon it should say: Was this review helpful? Then you just click yes or no.

dafaolta said...

I was interested to see this post. Thank you, Libby, for making some important points. It was kind of you to expose yourself here and it has been interesting to see the range of responses.

To the people who are concerned about the quality of the self-pubbed books available on Amazon and elsewhere: I find that the ability to download a sample onto my iPod and read it at my leisure is a major bonus to the platform. I don't have to read any more than I want, within the limits of the sample size. I've bought some books because I liked the sample, I've deleted many samples because they were not what I'd thought/hoped they were.

I can remember reading comments from the time when typewriters were new ideas, to the effect that these were dangerous to the quality of literature because it would make it easier for anyone to write. They resurfaced at the time that desktop word-processing machines were getting the same criticism. It's funny to be here as we do it again. 3rd time's a charm?

As a librarian, I see the tipping point further down the road in terms of circulating electrons. My system is unlikely to get into ebooks, mostly because so few of my patrons have access to readers when so many of them need us to connect them to the internet in the first place. There is also the cost of providing the infrastructure to track book rentals, which would be prohibitive in an environment where we are struggling to keep our branches open.

That said, I foresee the POD industry will be the way systems like ours and those in many schools will be able to provide books for our patrons. We tried Playaways, preloaded audio devices & once the novelty wore off they've gathered dust. I don't think preloaded readers would do much better unless they targeted kids &/or teens who might be open to a new format. The cost of lost or damaged units would likely shoot that down.

In any case, however you do it, the whole process has to start with a good,well-told story. If we can't give our fans that, it doesn't natter where or how we get our work out to them. Editing is always going to be necessary, and how much will always depend on where the manuscript starts in terms of quality & clarity. If you are foolish enough to write your last word today & pop your opus up on Amazon tomorrow, with only your own hands and eyes ever seeing it, well... Darwin rules!

The biggest thing I see as a barrier between the newbies like me and the pros like Joe is: it's hard to do a drive-by signing of electrons. How do we go about building an audience and reaching the people who will want to read our stuff if we can't make that 'Hi, how are you?'contact person-to-person? It's a lot harder now.

Paul Story said...


"...How do we go about building an audience and reaching the people who will want to read our stuff if we can't make that 'Hi, how are you?'contact person-to-person? It's a lot harder..."

I agree, dafaolta. This is why I am on the streets of Edinburgh handing out physical copies of my novel on an Honesty basis as I write this comment. In the last two weeks, I have personally spoken to well over 1,000 people in ones and twos and small groups. Each agrees to the following: To read the book within 1 month and to pay for it if they want Book Two in the series to be published (already written). If the story turns out not to be for them, I forgive the payment, but only if they pass their copy to another reader who agrees to the same terms. Thus I've designed the project so that - in a perfect world - each copy self-guides to find its reader - someone who will enjoy and pay for it.

I do not ask for money or the details of those who take a copy. Everything is done on an honesty basis. I am putting 10,000 trade paperbacks out like this.

The following links to a blog post from one of the readers who stumbled upon the project and wrote about it last night.

It is too early to call, but right now, the reaction and results are fantastic and if they continue this way, over twice the number of payments will be made than I need to call the Honesty Edition a success.

Writers need to be creative on many levels and we should be willing to take risks (as JAK has). At least our fate lies where it should - in our own hands.

Libby Hellmann said...

Have enjoyed all the comments on this topic... especially Dafoalta. In our wired corner of the universe, we tend to forget that ebooks are not going to be accessible to everyone.. at least for a long time. I also like Paul Story's point that readers like to "press the flesh" of authors, and I don't know of a virtual way to do that yet.

Thanks, Joe, for letting me sound off, and for anyone who wants to know more about me, go to

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm for hedging my bets. Depending on my manuscript, I'll either e-pub and/or POD, or submit to a traditional publisher. In some cases the advance might be worth considering a traditional publisher, plus it does look good in the bio. I'd tread very carefully reading the fine lines about ebook rights, however.

Morgan Mandel

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

I understand Libby's thoughts completely, having studied the industry at length, but I have to agree with Joe on the support. Most of the YA authors I run around with talk about how the publishers don't put much support behind them in terms of promotion.

All of the conferences I attend for YA and children's lit go on and on about how you really have to be your own sales team and you can't count on the publisher.

I'll be trying out the epublishing this fall. Wish me luck!

Opus said...

Hello all,

I have a question that no one's yet addressed.

I've currently been involved in a similar discussion at, the HarperCollins UK web-site where you can post a MS and receive critiques. (The Gaslight Journal was at #1 for the week of August 19.) Now that my MS is done, I've been considering my options. At first, I was all about the self-publishing route for it. I have several other downloads on Kindle and Smashwords, and doing well with those.


Someone in one of the threads @Authonomy brought up a very valid point, and I wish to ask Joe and Libby about it:

The comment contends that the self-publishing platform is more suited to only specific genres. I can understand how (and it seems to be the case for all) mystery writing would do very nicely in self-publishing. I've never heard a mystery writer yet complain about low eBook sales.

But, is this true of all genres? Will my historical fiction have as bright a future to look forward to as the next fantasy/s/f, or will it do better with a DTB publisher? Or what about my upcoming novel of comedic essays, en par with Naked by David Sedaris? Will it do better on a bookshelf or as an eBook? Or is there truly a difference?



Opus said...

Sorry--missed the follow-up box the first time.

Carry on. :D