Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Race to the Bottom

I've had a few people forward me the article written by Ewan Morrison for the Guardian, Are Books Dead, And Can Authors Survive?

I mostly agree with Morrison's prediction for the end of paper (something I've been predicting for a while now--print will become a niche market) and the end of publishers (which I've also been blogging about for years.)

But then Morrison takes a giant leap and says that authors will also go extinct. He ends it with:

But ultimately, any strategy conceived now is just playing for time as the slide towards a totally free digital culture accelerates. How long have we got? A generation. After that, writers, like musicians, filmmakers, critics, porn stars, journalists and photographers, will have to find other ways of making a living in a short-term world that will not pay them for their labour.

And then:

I ask you to vote that the end of "the book" as written by professional writers, is imminent.

Well, you can go ahead and ask. But you're wrong, Ewan.

One of Morrison's problems is being unable to differentiate between the organizations that support artists, and the artists themselves. He uses a lot of examples, and on the surface his arguments seem solid, but they topple easily once counter-examples and some basic logic is applied.

So go read the article, then come back here and I'll attack it, point by point. I'll put his points in italics.

Most notable writers in the history of books were paid a living wage.

That's because publishers, who controlled distribution, decided who would be published and who wouldn't, and paid those writers advances. Though "living wage" is incorrect, as the majority of professional writers also need day jobs, now and throughout history.

But the end of paper books and publishers does not presume writers will no longer be paid. The model is changing, but writers will still be paid in the new model. More of them than ever before.

The economic framework that supports artists is as important as the art itself; if you remove one from the other then things fall apart.

Wrong. There can be many different types of economic frameworks that support writers. Publishers, the state, ereader manufacturers, and ultimately the readers themselves. I can take away publishers, and even heavyweights like Amazon, and still get paid.

But Amazon isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Without advances from publishers, authors depend upon future sales; they sink themselves into debt on the chance of a future hit.

I didn't get a single advance for any of my self-pubbed ebooks. Yet I'm getting rich. The investment to self pub an ebook is minimal, and since most writers already have other jobs, their livelihood isn't dependent on immediate success. If anything, the legacy publishing industry has taught writers how to live frugally, waiting for long periods of time before (hopefully) getting paid.

I know plenty of writers. Plenty comment here on my blog. Have any of you sunk yourselves into debt on the chance of a future self-pubbed hit?

When authors either self e-publish or do deals through agents that to go straight to digital they embrace a philosophy of the digital market called the long tail.

This is a big jump in logic without any proof at all to back it up.

While Amazon may profit from the long tail, that isn't how I'm earning my money. I'm selling a shitload of ebooks. So are many others.

While there are no doubt some authors selling very few copies, Morrison incorrectly assumes that all authors will make very little money. Like any industry, some will make a lot, some will make a little.

But unlike other industries, Ebooks are forever. That's a long time to find an audience. What sells 5 copies in one month may sell 5000 the next. After the initial investment (the writing, the uploading) an ebook will continue to earn money.

Morrison presumably got paid for his article. One lump fee, and that's it.

When I publish an ebook, someday my grandchildren will be making money from it. That's the kind of long tail that applies here. Not one company making a lot of money off microsales. But one IP selling for a hundred years.

I've mentioned before that this is not a zero sum game, and books don't compete with each other. People who buy ereaders read (and buy) more books than print readers. This industry is growing, and will soon be global, allowing for more writers to get a piece of the pie.

The reason why a living wage for writers is essential is that every industry that has become digital has seen a dramatic, and in many cases terminal, decrease in earnings for those who create "content".

Disregarding his flat-out wrong assumption that most artists earn living wages in the first place, the digital revolution has no doubt hurt industries unprepared for it. That can be proven. It is also proven that those prepared for it (Apple, Microsoft) have found the profits that the old guard lost.

But has digital really hurt artists? Morrison points to other industries. Let's see if he makes any sense.

First of all, I'm not going to comment when Morrison brings up the piracy meme, which he does many times, except to say that:


Repeating the fairy-tale that piracy hurts writers is lazy researching.

So let's look at other industries through Morrison's monocular.

Home video - Sites like Netflix and LoveFilm have thousands of films available to watch entirely for free or with subscriber packages for a few pounds a month.

Hollywood is doing fine. So is Netflix. And these exist because movies exist. Movies made by artists. So, obviously, somewhere down the line the artist is getting paid.

Though DVD and Blu-Ray sales are supposedly falling, streaming and downloading are rising, and enough people pay for them to support artists making new movies.

YouTube has become a cash cow for popular artists. I watch a video, or a coming attraction, then go buy the song or the movie. I do this all the time. So do millions of others.

Music - The total income of the industry dropped by 25% between 1999 and 2008 and is expected to fall by 75% by 2013.

That stat tells me the record companies are hurting. And it serves them right, for forcing $17 CDs on us when we only wanted one song. Maybe Sony and Columbia should have embraced mp3s rather than fought Napster, and they'd be profitable like the iTunes store.

But are artists being hurt? Is the musician without an RCA album deal better off now that digital has exploded, or not? Are big name artists being hurt because they are selling fewer CDs?

I'd like to see evidence showing me the artist is being harmed by digital. All I see is record companies bemoaning their loss of control.

By the way, the statement: "I had a way to make money, now that way is gone, therefore I can never make money again" is such a stupid thing to say that I won't even bother refuting it. Yet it is one of Morrison's main arguments.

Porn - One top porn star, Savannah Stern, has cited that, on par with most of her colleagues, her earnings fell in 2010, from $150K a year to $50K.

No doubt the Internet has changed porn. But there is more porn than ever, and someone is making money on it or it wouldn't exist. While Ms. Stern may not be starring in those big productions anymore, I'm sure a woman with her considerable talents can find a way to exploit them on the world wide web. There are plenty of popular pay sites, and Savannah could also do her own live webcams. I also hear the Mustang Ranch is hiring.

The point is, she can still get paid for having sex, even though DVD sales are dropping, and her job is still a lot cooler than mine.

Computer games.

More piracy bitching. Look, I know pirates steal games. I've done it myself. But last I heard, the videogame industry was making more money than Hollywood. There are more opportunities than ever before. Farmville and Angry Birds, anyone?

Just like porn, or writing, video game artists aren't entitled to earn a living at their craft. Talent and hard work does not mean the world owes you. You have to keep at it until you get lucky.

Newspapers - As newspapers lay off staff to cut costs, they confront the fact that newspaper readership is tied to an ageing demographic.

I've been comparing the publishing industry to the newspaper industry for years. They both rely too much on selling paper, and they're paying for it.

While the Internet is replacing print, it still needs writers. If you're an old-school reporter who got laid off, here's an idea: Write a book. You know you always wanted to. And don't bother with all that finding a publisher BS. I've heard that self-pubbing is a viable option...

Photographers - Picture desks now use amateur online photo archives instead of commissioning new images and get pictures for a fraction of previous costs or entirely for free.

Wow. With that many people going to online photo archives, maybe photographers should start putting their works up for sale on online photo archives?

Like an ebook, a jpg is forever. One pic could sell hundreds of times (and some do, as I spy the same images used over and over on ebook covers.)


Thanks for bringing this up, Ewan. I thought I was the only one weeping for all of the unemployed telecommunications artists.

Oh, wait. There aren't any artists in telecommunications.

Hmm. So why did you...?

Got it. You were trying to say that new tech makes things cheaper.

I agree 100%. I can't wait for a $49 Kindle. It'll help me get even richer.

The Internet - Many of the largest growth industries in the last decade provide an entirely free service to the consumer: Google, Yahoo, YouTube.

These are all uber-rich companies, making money via advertising. They also require user-aggregated content, i.e. artists, in order to exist.

And I'm pretty sure that many artists use Google, Yahoo, and YouTube to find fans who then go on to buy their art.

I'm also sure that there will one day be ads in ebooks.

These digital providers are not in any way concerned with or interested in content, or what used to be called "culture". To them culture is merely generic content; it is a free service that is provided in the selling of customers to advertisers. Ideally for service providers, the customers will even provide the culture themselves, for free. And this is what we do when we write blogs, or free ebooks or upload films of ourselves, at no cost.

And yet, with all of this free content available, I'm still selling hundreds of ebooks a day.

Here's the problem with the crux of Morrison's argument. Already, in the world, on the Internet, there is enough free media to take a man from cradle to grave. We can watch non-stop free movies and videos, listen to non-stop free music, play non-stop free videogames, and NEVER run out of free content for our entire lives.

And yet movies, TV, videogames, music, along with books and porn, continue to make billions of dollars worldwide. Even though all this free stuff already exists.

While the future will no doubt offer more free content, the whole "race to the bottom" is fear-mongering BS.

Newsflash: We're already at the bottom. And artists are still making money.

Reread that, over and over, until the piracy meme and the "race to the bottom" meme stop getting hashed out over and over by those who refuse to listen to logic or think things through.

All that is clear is that for authors and publishers to abandon each other only accelerates the race towards free content.

No, Ewan, that's not clear at all. By abandoning publishers, many authors are reaching more fans and making more money than ever before. Many authors are getting readers for the very first time, because they were excluded from the legacy industry. The pie is getting bigger, soon to be worldwide, and we can all get a slice.

I like free content. Some of my writing is available for free, by my choice. I'm also widely pirated in both ebook and audio.

Free exists right now, and it hasn't hurt me, or the artists who are working to understand this digital revolution rather than fear it.

As we grow increasingly disillusioned with quick-fix consumerism, we may want to consider an option which exists in many non-digital industries: quite simply, demanding that writers get paid a living wage for their work.

What does this even fucking mean? Do I write my state senator? Do I get an online petition going? Do I contact every person who ever sent me fanmail and demand more money from them?

I think not. Instead, I'll just keep writing ebooks, selling them for cheap, and getting rich.

I ask you to leave this place troubled, and to ask yourself and as many others as you can, what you can do if you truly value the work of the people formerly known as writers.

Joe sez: Here's what you troubled souls can do. Download my ebook, SERIAL, for free. Like half a million other people have.

Then leave a comment on my blog, which is free, and gets tens of thousands of hits a day.

And while you do that, I'm going to go buy a new car. For cash.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Who Wants Whom? - A Dialog Between J.A. Konrath & Blake Crouch About Who Has the Power in Publishing

Joe: So my friend and collaborator Blake Crouch and I are in Ohio, working on Stirred, and naturally we started talking about ebooks and the future of the industry...

Blake: Shouldn’t we be writing our book?

Joe: Look, I'm just happy to be avoiding monkey and frog videos...

Blake: Yeah, that scarred me for life. Be the monkey!

Joe: We seem to have hit upon a less-offensive analogy to represent our thoughts on this matter. But let's start back at the beginning. And by that, I mean going back to working for the Big 6, and what they represented.

Blake: Back in the day, writers were hampered by a crucial component to getting their work to the reader: The means of distribution. We could write the best thing of our lives, but the only profitable method to getting a copy of this to the public was via legacy publishers, who were the only source for getting books into bookstores and non-bookstore outlets. This is why self-publishing used to be such a terrible and vain option for the writer.

Joe: Sure, you could self-pub. But you'd pay a fortune for sub-standard books that were non-returnable--or if they were returnable, you ended up with 3000 books in your garage because they were too expensive and the cover art was terrible. So bookstores wouldn't stock your book, and if they did, it probably wouldn't sell. Before ebooks, self-publishing was basically a one-way ticket to epic faildom.

Blake: Then along came Kindle, the first runaway hit in the ebook revolution. A few things made this momentous. First, the Kindle represented the first reader-friendly e-reading device that wasn’t clunky. It was light. Sleek. And even at the opening cost of $399, reasonably affordable. But what made Kindle truly successful was the platform that supported it. Namely, Amazon’s Kindle store. Never before had such a powerhouse of interconnected algorithms--geared toward leading the reader to niche content--been available to the book buyer.

Joe: Amazon created the Kindle, the proprietary format for the Kindle, and the store which directly linked to the Kindle. If it became successful, it could control distribution. Which it is currently doing.

Blake: But now, as we write this in the summer of 2011, Kindle isn’t the only moving force. We have Kobo’s ereader, the Barnes and Noble Nook, Apple, Sony...each creating their own proprietary format, their own online content stores.

Joe: But let's talk about the content provider. The writer. People like me and you.

Blake: You and I have had a good deal of experience with Big 6 publishers, and something we’ve come to understand is that, up until now, “content provider” hasn’t meant a whole helluva lot. And it's not even a question of respect. There is a palpable disdain for writers that seems to permeate a lot of legacy publishing. You can even follow a number of "anonymous" twitter accounts from publishing insiders to get a view of how much the content providers are despised. Writers have been treated like mentally damaged children, incapable of providing input on basic elements such as cover design, title, product description, and even, God forbid, the next book we should write. Considering what's happening with ebook distribution these days, no writer should ever have to put up with that BS again from people who peddle the written word.

Joe: The Big 6 would come on to writers like a very attractive woman would come on to an eligible man. A crude analogy, but an apt one. They could pick and choose who they wanted to get into bed with, and the men were always grateful for the opportunity. After all, when a cute girl chooses you, you're flattered, excited, and you go for it, no questions asked.

But that ship has sailed. Now, the attractive woman isn't the Big 6. She is now the ereadermanufacturers who sell content on their online stores. Amazon, B&N, Sony, Kobo, Apple...

Blake: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

Joe: Sort of, but not exactly. The new boss offers more. Better royalties, more control, faster turnaround, non-exclusivity. There are some things that used to be included in the package but that the author is now responsible for, such as cover design and hiring an editor, but overall it's a more favorable deal.

Blake: Though maintaining control of things like cover design is actually huge gain.

Joe: Agreed. Sticking with the dating mentality, this new woman is better for you than the last woman was.

Blake: Absolutely...the difference is profound. All these benefits you just mentioned....it’s like dating a woman who cares more about your needs and wants, is willing to try harder to make the relationship work, and who recognizes your value--what you're bringing to the equation.

She won't ever drop you. She'll let you make mistakes and forgive you. She'll take everything you have to offer, and give you more in return.

Joe: So now we have many writers deciding that the Big 6--which often have a love 'em and leave 'em mentality--perhaps aren't as preferable as other partners.

But I've also heard a lot of other rumblings in the writing community, from those who are afraid that Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Sony, Apple, Google, etc. are going to cut royalties as soon as they have a lock on more content, getting a bigger share for themselves and not treating the writer as well as they currently are.

Blake: They're going to cut off the nookie?

Joe: That seems to be the fear. But is it a good idea to bank on this fear? Should writers be afraid in a Cold War kind of way? Should this paranoia accelerate to the point of building bomb shelters?

Blake: Remember Y2K? When certain groups thought the world would lose critical power grids which might lead to mass hysteria? Some people bought assault weapons, stored up on years’ worth of food. And mistrusted everybody. And what happened?

Joe: Not a damn thing. Paranoid is not a good way to live.

Blake: So walking around worrying that the hot chick is going to lose interest and dump you--to stick with the dating analogy--is equally a useless waste of anxiety. In reality, we have zero control over what corporate giants like BN, Amazon, etc., choose to do, particularly when these decisions may issue from boardrooms which have concerns far removed from those of independent authors.

Joe: I love working with Amazon, both through Kindle Direct Publishing and through Thomas & Mercer. Maybe I'll sign another deal with Thomas & Mercer, if the offer is right. But if it isn't, I'm not worried. I can still use KDP.

And if KDP decides to cut royalties, then there will be other places to go. But not back to the Big 6--if Amazon cuts royalties for authors, they will for publishers as well, which would mean an even smaller cut signing with a legacy house.

But worrying about anything beyond your ability to influence is pointless. Instead, we need to change the things that are within our control.

Blake: We need to make smart choices about the women we're dating.

Joe: Exactly. I like this dating analogy, so let's clarify it.

At first, the hottie was one of the Big 6, willing to plunk down an advance to publish your book, which we needed because they controlled distribution. They called the shots. We meekly obeyed, and were just thankful for the attention and the confirmation.

Lately, the hottie is the ereader manufacturers, who sell our content on their proprietary devices and give us more money and freedom than we ever had before.

But let's really think this through. In either case, the Big 6 or the ereader manufacturers, when we get paid, who is the one that is ultimately paying us?

Blake: The reader.

Joe: Exactly. The reader is the one who wants to go out with us. They're the one who ultimately pays us, by buying our writing. The store they buy it in, or the platform the buy it from, is secondary to the actual content they are procuring. First, they got our book in a bookstore from a Big 6 publisher. Then they got our book online from a website. But it is OUR books they're buying. We're the writers.

Blake: This isn’t to say the platform, be it Amazon, BN, etc., isn’t at the moment serving an incredibly useful purpose. They’re facilitating two critical aspects of the reader-to-author transaction:

1) Convenience. The one-click, send-a-book-directly-to-your-personal-ereader has revolutionized reading in the 21st Century.

2) Visibility. More people discover writers on major retailers like Amazon and BN than anywhere else. In other words, you can go to one of these retailers looking to buy Lee Child or Stephen King, and, “accidentally” through customer recommendations and niche-focused best-seller lists, come across the work of J.A. Konrath or Blake Crouch.

Joe: If a hottie wants to date you, she has to know you exist, and that you're available.

In some cases, depending on how attractive and/or how eligible you are, she'll try harder to land you.

But we need to ultimately remember who the hottie is, and why she wants you.

Blake: The hottie isn’t the Big 6 publisher. And she isn’t the online retailer. She’s the reader. That is ultimately who the author needs to connect with. Up until recently, the author has needed an assist in this area, but things are quickly changing. Here’s a hard question...does a writer have to deal with an intermediary in this transaction?

Joe: Yes and no.

I think we all need to be assisted to a certain degree. Even J.K. Rowling, who is launching Potterville on her own, would no doubt sell more ebooks if she invited other retailers to sell her ebooks instead of doing it exclusively.

Blake: So why do you think she isn’t partnering with other retailers?

Joe: Because attraction is mutual.

Blake: What the hell are you talking about?

Joe: I'm taking the analogy through to its ultimate conclusion.

A hottie is looking for you for one purpose: to get some. You can be flattered. You can be paranoid. But ultimately, they want what you have.

However, you also have what they want. You have the content.

We began this analogy by saying how much we wanted the hottie, whether it was a Big 6 publisher or an online retailer.

Then we realized the real hottie is the reader.

But the fact is, the hottie also wants us. Attraction goes both ways. Readers want books, writers want readers. We're hot for each other.

The writer is a hottie, too.

And we don't need anyone interfering in that relationship, because we're the only two parties who are actually needed in this equation. Everyone else is a middleman.

Blake: Yep, a dating service. The content, for the most part, has been relegated to a supporting role. But in reality, the content is the movie star.

Joe: No Big 6 without us. No online retailers without us. Those who sell the book exist because of the book, but the book can exist without those middlemen who sell it.

Blake: Don’t we need retailers? Vetters? Publishers? Sellers? Not only to make work better, but to bring it to the attention of the masses?

Joe: We get our money from the masses. They're the ultimate hottie. Not the retailer. Not the publisher. Not any gatekeeper. Those second-tier hotties cannot exist without us. And their existence takes money from us. Perhaps they are worth the money they take, because they help us reach more readers, or help us release better content. But, ultimately, it is the readers who pay us, not those second-tiers.

Blake: And in a perfect world, the content provider, us, would sell directly to the reader, the content receiver.

Joe: Believe it or not, there is a way to do this, while still allowing for the assistance of the retailers.

We can emulate clouds.

Amazon.com is one website with loads of content.

www.JAKonrath.com and www.BlakeCrouch.com are two websites, with specific, niche, limited content.

BarryEisler has been working with his web designer on a PayPal store that automatically delivers ebooks to anyone who wants to buy through his website. Which got me thinking.

If I gave Barry two of my titles to sell on his website, we could split the money 30/70 on any he sold. Then I could sell two titles of Barry's on my website.

If I did this with a hundred authors, making sales from their books on my site, making sales from my books on their sites, I'm doing something analogous to cloud computing. I'm selling my books via a network rather than a specific location.

Blake: I'm also talking to a company right now who wants to do this very thing. They sought me out, because they saw a huge opportunity here to turn author websites into storefronts with the maximum amount of profit going to the writer. Their demo is mind-blowing and so smart. A reader can register their device on an author's website, and with a 1-click, have an ebook delivered straight to the device, the convenience factor has suddenly made shopping at a writer's website no different than shopping at Amazon or BN.com. And don't you think readers want to spend their money where the maximum amount goes to the writer?

Joe: Earlier, I talked about the ereader itself being a storefront. But web sites are also a storefront. They're the purest type of storefront as well, because they are a direct link between reader and writer. No publishers taking money. No retailers taking money (other than a small PayPal fee.)

Writers need to have their own PayPal stores. And it's a smart idea to say, "If you like my books, here are some others you might enjoy," and then offer other authors' books, as well.

If you were selective, choosing only books in your genre with similar appeal, you'd be helping readers wade through all the ebooks out there by giving them specific recommendations.

Let's look at the broader picture.

On Amazon.com, or BN.com, readers who are looking for my ebooks can find them. They can also find my ebooks by browsing, which accounts for a lot of my sales.

But those sites are only one URL, and they have a million other titles on them.

JAKonrath.com is also one URL. Readers who visit my site already know who I am, so why not make $2.60 on a $2.99 sale instead of $2.04? And since readers are on my site, why not sell your ebooks and give you 70%?

Then you can do the same for me on BlakeCrouch.com.

Now we're for sale on two URLs, mine and yours.

Let's add another dozen authors to the mix. Let's also cross promote by having one-page ads for each other's novels in the backmatter of our ebooks.

Now we're not a website. We're a cloud.

Blake: According to Wikipedia: Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).

By providing fans (readers, hotties) direct access to our works, and the works of others we recommend, we're providing a service.

Joe: It's not about what you have to sell. It's what you have to offer.

Blake: They're coming to our websites already, so they already know us and want to buy us. We're making it easy, and offering suggestions of other authors to buy. With fifty authors all in the same cloud, doing the same thing, we can reach a lot of people, and sell a lot of books.

If we choose these authors carefully (good writers with decent followings who write in similar genres) we can expand our brands, and our fanbases, exponentially.

Joe: I only have 10,000 people on my mailing list. You only have about 6000.

But put them together, that's 16,000.

Add more authors, more newsletters, more websites, more Google hits, and we have a niche cloud store that attracts fans, makes us higher profits, and is easier to find things than on Amazon.

We signed with the Thomas & Mercer imprint of Amazon because they can do a huge email push that sells a lot of ebooks for us.

But once a writer has a fan, that writer doesn't need a middleman anymore. They can sell an ebook directly to that fan. And if they also sell similar books by similar authors, that they believe they're fans would like, it's win-win.

Blake: I'm not ready to say the writer doesn't need that middleman anymore. He certainly doesn't need a middleman once a fan knows about him or her. But what Amazon and BN.com provide is the best possibly opportunity (as of August 2011) for readers who have not heard of me to discover me.

But...looking down the road, if enough writers with similar material were to have this "cloud," then other author websites would step in and serve the purpose online retailers like Amazon now serves. In other words, someone unfamiliar with me would discover me on Barry Eisler's website, or Brett Battles, or Ann Voss Peterson's, and they would have the option to buy me there. That's the future.

Joe: It would provide additional ways for readers to discover us, over a wide network of interconnected writers. Not competing with the browsing features on Amazon, but supplementing it.

Plus, we'd also make money being the retailer, selling each other's ebooks.

We would become our own middlemen. Sort of like United Artists, escaping the studio system and making their own movies.

Blake: All that's left is for a bunch of writers to band together and start selling their own ereader.

Joe: Let's call it the Konreader.

Blake: Let's not.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The End is Nigh

If you follow publishing, you know the first self-pubbed author to sell 1 million ebooks, John Locke, just signed a print deal with Simon & Schuster. But it's a unique one. Locke keeps all of his erights. His agent, Jane Dystel (who is also my agent) brokered the deal.

And make no mistake. This is an important, landmark deal. One that no one could have predicted.

Well, no one except me sixteen months ago.

This is an important deal, because up until now publishers steadfastly refused to give up erights.

But now they have. And there is no turning back.

Here are some things we'll see happening soon.

Big authors will fight to keep their erights. They can make 70% on their own vs 17.5% through a publisher. They have the leverage, and will use it. If Locke, whose print sales numbers are unproven and open to speculation, can demand to keep his erights, Stephen King and James Patterson will make the same demands. They're watching Locke, and Pottermore. If enough Big Authors follow suit, the Big 6 won't be able to recover.

Publishers will start offering better royalties for erights. They have to. But they'll never be able to offer better than 70%. As I've stated for years, the value of a publisher is their lock on print distribution. When print distribution doesn't matter because print sales are so tiny, there will be no reason for any author to sign with the Big 6.

Print sales will dwindle even more. Ebooks already outsell print. After this holiday season, watch for more bookstore closings.

Publishers will start folding. It's inevitable.

What S&S did with Locke was a ballsy move, but also a desperate one. It's desperate, because they are hastening their own demise, and are just trying to make a few more bucks before it all falls apart. Not to get all Godwin's Law here, but there is a Vichy French analogy to be had. S&S is going to try to make a few bucks from Locke, whose business model is ultimately going to put them out of business.

There is going to be a window where publishers cherry-pick self-pubbed authors and sign them for various rights. This is happening right now. I believe it is a mistake to sign with a Big 6 publisher, because the money an author can earn on print through the Big 6 is tiny compared to the money they'll lose on ebooks through the Big 6. Now, if you're offered a huge amount from the Big 6, take it and run--just try to get that money upfront.

Another window will have established authors abandoning publishers. This is also happening right now. More and more midlist authors are wading into the self-pub pool and finding the waters to their liking.

The first window will eventually close. The second will only open wider.

Publishing can't survive. It just can't. It is no longer necessary.

Now some may say, "But the Big 6 are professionals! We need professionals! We need gatekeepers! We need vetters! We'll all suffer without them!"

I say: Wikipedia.

Encyclopedias used to be big business. Professionals were hired to write about topics, and many a family (including my parents) were coerced into buying large, bound volumes of information.

But Wikipedia showed that regular people are happy to share their expertise, and constantly update it, for free. The professionals weren't needed anymore, and Wikipedia has become the goto place to learn about stuff.

Writers don't need the Big 6 to release good books. We can do it without them, and make more money.

As I'd anticipated, print has become a subsidiary right. A niche market. Publishers will try to milk a few last drops of profit from it, and then they'll go bye-bye.

At least, the old school publishers will.

New school publishers, like Amazon, are primed to exploit this brave new world. They now control the distribution network. Watch as Amazon becomes the biggest publisher in the world.

But even the mighty Amazon has something to fear.

This week, Blake Crouch and I will post a dialog about the future of publishing. About who really has the power.

It might surprise you.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's Wrong With Sex?

In the majority of my novels and stories, sex happens off the page. When my hero, Jack Daniels, got laid, it was a fade to black and go to commercial moment.

Not that I had any fear or aversion to writing a sex scene. But it was never needed within the story.

I'm a firm believer that every scene, every sentence, every word in a story should be to move it forward. Anything extraneous, including sex, should be cut.

I wrote my first big sex scene (several of them, in fact) in Cherry Bomb. These scenes were integral to the story, revealing both plot and character.

There's a story I tell about one scene in particular, when Jack finally gets laid. Since I was writing from a woman's POV, I wanted to make sure it worked, so I let me wife read it. She came back to me, looking angry.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"This sex scene was four pages long."


"So, you've never gone four pages with me!"

Fiction, hon. It's fiction.

But I learned something important writing Cherry Bomb. I learned I liked writing sex scenes. They were fun, but they also allowed me to show a human, emotional, vulnerable side to my characters.

When I wrote Timecaster, I knew I wanted to have several sex scenes in it. I knew they would be explicit, and would be funny, and would show what type of person the hero was.

Color me surprised when I began getting bad reviews and hate mail for daring to put explicit sex in a sci-fi novel.

WTF? I thought everyone liked sex.

Next, I wrote Flee with Ann Voss Peterson, and that has a whopper of a sex scene in it. Again, it was essential to the story, revealing a very important aspect of the main character.

More bad reviews and hate mail, calling the book porn.

Huh? Five pages out of three hundred have an erotic element to them, and the book is porn?

What amazes me even more than that is the fact that my books have so much violence in them. Apparently I can stab someone fifty times and feed them to the crows while they're still alive (Serial Killers Uncut, which also has a sex scene), and that's okay as long as there are no blowjobs.

Now, I know the US is behind much of the world when it comes to being open about sexuality. But the repression goes so deep that people feel the need to tell me how perverted I am?

No one would be here without sex. It's a natural, essential part of life. Everybody thinks about it. Everybody masturbates. (Do you remember, you married guys, watching your wife-to-be walk down the aisle and thinking how nice it will be that you'll never have to jerk off again? How'd that work out for you?)

So what's the problem here? I thought people liked well-written sex. I thought erotica was a huge seller. I thought sex could make a story more interesting, more compelling, and more fun.

Am I missing something?

Do you like sex in fiction? Why or why not?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Guest Post from Simon Wood

I'm currently on a deadline, hiding away in a cabin on a lake and writing in between catching muskie, so I asked Simon Wood to do a guest blog for me.

Here's Simon...

I’ve known Joe a long time. We met at a convention in Arizona just after he'd signed the contract for Whiskey Sour. We spent an evening in a hotel lobby into the wee hours of the morning talking. I’d admired his journey for nothing else than his stick-with-it-ness. I may not always agree with Joe, but I do respect his opinion. So I always have a lot of time for Joe and he's kindly given some of his time for me to talk about my writing journey.

My writing journey is a little different from Joe’s in that I came up through the small presses. I struggled to find an agent, so the doors to the New York publishers remained closed. A small press called Barclay Books picked up my first novel, ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN and published it in 2002. The book came out to some good notices but that was about all.

Sadly, the small press was just as green as I was and hit the skids hard about a year later. I sold a collection of horror stories to a different small press the following year and it folded shortly after the book came out. I had better luck with a collection of crime stories, WORKING STIFFS. Blue Cubicle was a small press out of Texas and I have to say it remains the best publishing relationship I’ve had so far. The process was very collaborative. The book had limited distribution, picked up some nice praise and one of the stories won an Anthony Award. It was good for my profile, but with a limited print run, it wasn’t going to break me out sales-wise.

As much as I wish I’d gotten an agent who'd landed me a big contract, I’m quite thankful for my experiences in the small presses. I learned about contracts (sometimes by making big mistakes) and how the business of publishing worked from publisher to distributor to bookstore. It’s made me a far savvier writer because of it. I’d recommend to any new writer (especially these days) to make sure they know the industry inside and out and not leave it in the hands of others to make decisions.

In 2007, I finally broke out of the small presses by landing a book contract with Dorchester Publishing. They published a much revised version of ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN. My writing had come a long way since the Barclay Books edition, so I tightened up the manuscript and cut ten thousand words in the process. Again, I circumvented the traditional way of getting to an editor by pitching the book direct to an editor at a convention. I knew what he'd published and the kind of books he’d commissioned, so I was ready for any questions he might my throw at me. This one meeting led to three more novels with Dorchester until their well-documented problems last year.

When it came to eBook world, I’d been a little hesitant to get involved. I held the e-rights to all but my Dorchester titles, but a couple of my small press publishers had asked me not to release an eBook version because it would hurt print sales. I respected their position, especially as they'd paid me decent advances and held off for a long time until one of my small-press editors admitted that he'd stopped buying print books since he'd bought a Kindle. After that, I didn't see much point in holding off any longer.

As part of my understanding of this market, I quizzed a large Kindle readers online group about their buying habits. I got several hundred responses with surprising results. Once people converted to eBooks, they stayed converts. They didn't double dip, buying some print books and some eBooks. Once they went electronic, they never went back. My print publishers worries that publishing the eBook version would rob print sales were unfounded because those customers were already gone.

So last year, I released my backlist on Kindle, etc. I released my short story collection and several novels. When Dorchester crashed last year, I negotiated my rights back to all the thrillers I’d done with them. I went into 2011 owning all the rights to all my books so far.

I have to admit sales were slow at first, but to be honest, I wasn’t approaching it right. To use a Field of Dreams analogy, just because I built it didn't mean anyone would come. Success in the eBook market thrives on endorsements from trusted voices and you find them in the blogosphere . I sent review copies, essays and articles about my books to any and all blogs and websites with a good following. This helped get the word out and it showed itself in sales. With ten titles to my name, trying to promote them all at once was monumental and diluted my message.

In April, I decided to focus on title at a time. I focused on ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN first, as this was originally my debut novel. The approach worked. I had some good feedback coming from a lot of sources. Then momentum took over, I started to see various eBook and Kindle blogs talking about ACCIDENTS or one of my other titles almost daily. Sales climbed from April to June and ACCIDENTS hit Amazon’s Top 100 titles.

Then in one of those serendipitous events, Amazon sent out an email blast about the book at the end of June. This catapulted ACCIDENTS to the #2 spot at Amazon over the 4th of July weekend, just behind Janet Evanovich’s latest.

Proving the adage that a rising tide lifts all boats, I saw incremental sales growth across the board as ACCIDENTS spearheaded the rise to the top. THE FALL GUY cracked the Top 100. I have six titles in the Hardboiled Top 20. WE ALL FALL DOWN looks to be the next title to go big judging by its rising numbers.

So what does this mean for me now? It means a few things. I will hold on to my eBook rights. In the past, I’ve lumped them in with my print rights contracts. Up until recently, eBook rights have not been viewed as a commodity. No one has had a handle on their worth. I do now. I have a track record and I can use this to my benefit in the future. My ex-Dorchester titles have outsold their print counterparts now. These eBook numbers will serve me well as I move forward.

I know Joe’s feelings and the feelings of others, but I’m not ready to cut my ties with traditional publishing. I will do what is beneficial to me. If that means working with traditional publishers then I will do so. If it doesn’t, then I won't. Either way, my agent will have some heavy caliber ammunition when she goes into negotiations with potential publishers in the future.

Throughout my writing endeavors, I’ve rolled with the punches. Part of that has been keeping an eye on how the face of publishing changes. EBooks have not only put some money in my pocket, but more importantly given me a stronger bargaining position going forward. I don’t believe publishing has reached a status quo yet, so I’ll be ready for it as it changes, and poised to adapt to the next development in the marketplace.

Joe sez: It's great to see Simon succeed, especially since he never got a fair shake in NY. I know so many authors who were dropped, overlooked, or poorly published, and I'm happy to see many of them finally finding their audience in ebooks.

Also, I'd like to point out that if I got the right deal, I would be willing to work with a traditional publisher again.

While I believe publishers have made big mistakes with my previous books, and are doing a poor job with ebooks, self-publishing is not an ideology for me. This is a business. I'll go with whatever way makes me the most money.

That said, I'm 100% sure no legacy publisher would ever pay me the amount of money I would need to sign with them, let alone agree to my terms. They'll all fade away first.

Which is why I would advise Simon, if legacy publishers do see his sales and make him and offer, to think long and hard about what his goals are.

The industry is changing fast. You don't want to sign a deal and then kick yourself a year from now. Not unless the money is so big you're willing to never get your rights back again.

Perhaps publishers will wise up. But I haven't seen any indication that they will.

I have seen more and more indie authors signing with publishers, however. Only time will tell if those authors made good decisions, or not.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Same Tired Arguments

Misquoting me makes you sound stupid. So does taking what I say out of context, putting words in my mouth, and drawing false conclusions based on things I've said.

That out of the way, I keep seeing the same poor, tired arguments and examples repeated over and over around the Internet. Either folks are writing about self-publishing for the very first time, and naturally falling into the lazy trap of not thinking clearly, or they're purposely trying to disguise failed ideas as something new, like intelligent design and creationism. (Just to be clear--intelligent design is no different than creationism, and creationism is flat-out wrong. Period.)

Here are some outright falsehoods that continue to perpetuate.

Ebooks hurt the eyes.

E-ink technology is passive, just like staring at a piece of paper. There is no eye strain.

I'll never give up print books because I love them too much.

It's always painful to embrace a new technology. But everyone eventually does, and winds up liking it. That's why it gets embraced, and why we no longer read on scrolls.

You can only succeed with ebooks if you have a built-in platform.

There have been too many success stories of people without built-in platforms. If you can't find them, you aren't looking. Try Kindleboards.com.

So much self-pubbed crap will be published, you won't be able to find the good stuff.

Debunked that here.

Low prices devalue books.

The value of a book is how much money it earns, not its cover price. Low priced ebooks sell more copies and make more money.

You can't publish something of quality without a publisher.

Too many examples say otherwise. Go find some.

Konrath is a hypocrite who once said self-pub is bad.

Prior to 2007, self-pubbing was a bad idea. The Kindle changed that, and I changed my mind. I tend to change my mind as new information comes in.

Konrath and Eisler are hypocrites who said they're self publishers, and then they signed with Amazon.

I signed with Amazon for two books, out of 36 I've self-published. Barry signed for one, and has self-pubbed four. We're both still self-publishing. Besides, we've covered, ad nauseum, why Amazon is not a legacy publisher.

Konrath is paying his agent 15% for all of his self-pubbed work.

No, I'm trying it out with one title to see how it works. I'd love to pay someone 15% to manage the business end. We'll see what happens.

Konrath had to self-pub because his sales were lousy.

I've had eight books published by the Big 6. Contrary to some poor reporting, all have earned out their advances, and I kept getting offers up until I stopped submitting. All of my books are still in print. Yet I've made much more money, faster, by self-pubbing.

Self-pubbed books aren't edited.

They are if you hire an editor.

Konrath's legacy sales are the reason is self-pubbed sales are so good.

The opposite is true. My legacy pubbed books are getting a boost from my self-pubbed books, as evidenced by my sales. I sell far more self-pub than legacy pub.

Konrath is intentionally controversial because he wants the attention.

The point of this blog is to help authors, not to sell books. For the past year I've avoided interviews and most speaking engagements. I don't want attention. But I'm not afraid to speak up if I think it will help authors.

Many publishers, agents, booksellers, and even authors, don't want to hear my message, and criticize it, and me. None of their arguments hold any water. They're frightened of the future, and want someone to blame for it, and for their own problems.

Piracy will hurt ebook sales.

No, it won't. And since that blog post, I've been pirated many more times, and my sales have gone up.

Ebooks will never fully replace print.

No one is saying they will. But they're already outselling print, and will continue to be the dominant form of media for quite some time. That said, print will be around forever. There are billions of books on the planet, and they aren't going anywhere (though I do say otherwise in my novel Timecaster.) While the midlist will cease to exist in print, major bestsellers and niche publishers (including self publishers) will still use print, and can still make money from it.

After all, you can go to Best Buy and get Metallica's latest on vinyl. This is, however, for a very small percentage of users, not the general masses.

Publishers are necessary.

I’ve never born witness to a greater comedy of errors than the multitude of mistakes publishers have made in regard to ebooks. Windowing, high prices, the agency model, low royalties, title grabs–it’s embarrassing and an insult to both writers and book buyers. The fact that I’ve been able to make so much more money once I was freed from the constraints of the “experts” shows how little the experts can do for an author. And let’s be honest here–it is all about what a publisher can do for an author. We are the content providers. You need us. We do not need you.

Am I missing any bad arguments? I'm sure I forgot a few.

The bottom line is that it's safer to dismiss me and my comments on a superficial level because analyzing them closer could cause nightmares for those who rely on the publishing industry to earn a living.

What I say isn't Gospel. It is my opinion based on my experience. (If you want to check how ahead of the game I've been on this topic, here's a post from 2009.)

I don't say things without thinking them through and having evidence and logic to back my beliefs up. I'm deliberate. If I'm unsure of something, I experiment and then share the results.
That's what everyone should be doing. Keeping an open mind. Experimenting. Tracking sales and stats and figures. Trying new things. Sharing their results.

Publishing used to be intensely private. No one knew what anyone else was earning or selling. I'm proud to see that trend shifting, with authors more open about their numbers than they've ever been before. The more information we can share, the more we can learn.

Ebooks are the future, the future is happening right now, and self-publishing is a viable way to make money. Anyone who says anything else has an agenda, and they're flat-out wrong. Period.