Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Interview with my cover artist Carl Graves

I've known Carl Graves for 24 years, and he's a close friend of mine. We've worked on numerous projects together, and I've never met anyone more talented, in any field, than Carl is. He blows my mind he's so good.

Joe: Let's start off with a bit of your background.

Carl: I've always been interested in art. Drawing, painting, animation, sculpture, and so on. When I got my first copy of Photoshop, I began playing around with computer images, and have been doing so for over a decade. You came to me a few years ago, asking if I could do an ebook cover for you. Since then I've done more than two dozen of your covers, and dozens of others.

Joe: You've got a lot of different styles. For example, your covers for Lisa Jackson look different than your covers for James Swain.

Carl: I try to work with the writer to match the cover to their book. At the same time, because of my art background, and because I read a lot, I understand the elements needed to make a cover stand out. People do judge books by their covers, and a well-done cover will help the author sell more books.

Joe: I've been screaming at authors for years about the importance of covers. Poorly done covers that look like your child did them do not help sales. Even people with new ereaders can pick out the self-made covers, and they equate those with self-pubbed ebooks, which they equate with unprofessional. An amateur cover subconsciously tells the reader to not buy the ebook. Your covers look like Big 6 covers.

Carl: Thanks. Some of my covers I'm very proud of. Others, I did what the author wanted, and I don't feel they're as strong. But I work for the author, and if the author wants to go down a certain path, I do what they ask.

Joe: You've gotten some negative feedback on the internet, in various forums. Writers unhappy with your communication skills.

Carl: I realize that, and I truly apologize for anyone I've inconvenienced. This has been a pretty tough year for me. Family problems, job issues, health issues, and some major computer/internet issues. I've lost some business, and people have been irritated because I haven't communicated like I needed to. I'm human, and I got in over my head. 

Joe: Writers tend to be needy.

Carl: I understand that a lot better than I did. I have a background (in animation) where dealines could be months, or even a year down the road. With a Big 6 book, the book comes out months after the cover art is done. There is never any rush.

Joe: But with ebooks, sometimes the cover art is needed right away so the writer can self-publish it.

Carl: I realize that now. 

Joe: How is your schedule these days?

Carl: Thankfully, a lot better. If someone emails me, I'll be in touch with 24 hours (weekends or holidays 48 hours.) This is now my fulltime job. When you contact me, we can talk about what you need, and I'll give you an honest estimate on how long it will take. Usually a week or less. If a writer needs a lot of changes, it can take a bit longer.

Joe: You've always done my covers pretty quickly.

Carl: You usually know exactly what you want. Authors should look at the covers on my website, and covers of their favorite books, and show me the style they're going for. It helps if you know the image you'd like, and if you have taglines and blurbs ready. That speeds the process. But if you're unsure, I'm happy to work with you to figure it out.

Joe: How are your prices?

Carl: Competitive. Much cheaper than what the Artist's Market lists for book covers. I can do an ebook cover for $400. If you also want a paper cover (for Lulu or Createspace, which includes the spine and back cover) I can do that for an extra $100 ($500 total). I can also do less expensive covers for $250. I call these eBookLite covers. They look better than amateur efforts, but aren't as specific as my custom covers. If a writer is just starting out and short on funds, I think it's probably a better way to go than trying to whip up something on your own in MS Paint.

Joe: Hey! I did that with my first covers!

Carl: And how did they sell?

Joe: When I had you redo them, sales went up 30%. Better covers equal better sales. how can people get in touch with you?

Carl: On my website, www.extendedimagery.com.

Joe: So have you ever done covers for authors and they didn't pay? Or they didn't like the end result?

Carl: Funny you should mention that. I currently have ten completed ebook covers that need good homes. If any authors reading this have written books that these covers would fit, email me and I'll let you have them for fire sale prices.

Joe: What's a fire sale price?

Carl: Each of the covers shown below is $150. That's as-is. The writer gives me their name, their title, and they get a 300dpi (high resolution) ebook cover.

Joe: $150 is dirt cheap. And these covers are terrific.

Carl: Thanks. If any author wants to change some things, or add some things, I can do that as well, but I have to charge a bit extra for that, depending on how extensive the changes are. And for an extra $100, I can add a spine and a back cover, so these can be used for paper books on Lulu or Createspace.

Joe: I assume you're only selling these once.

Carl: Right. Each of these is unique. Once someone buys it, it is theirs and theirs alone. So this is first come, first serve. Once it's gone, it's gone.

If you want to inquire about one of these covers, or you want to hire me to do a cover for you, email me. Please specify which cover you're interested in (the number is beneath the image.)


I've sold 7000 ebooks in the last 36 hours, making over $14,000.

For the next three days, I'm making 23 of my titles free on Amazon Kindle.


Blake Crouch is doing the same.


Get them while they're free. :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

The List, A Story of Rejection

Just went through some of my old rejection letters. As readers of this blog know, I garnered more than 500 rejections before getting published.

One of my unpublished books was The List.

A billionaire Senator with money to burn...
A thirty year old science experiment, about to be revealed...
Seven people, marked for death, not for what they know, but for what they are...

THE LIST by JA Konrath
History is about to repeat itself

Book Description:

THE LIST is a bit of a departure for Konrath. It's a technothriller about a group of ten people who each have tattoos of numbers on the bottoms their feet, and don't know why.

One of them, a Chicago Homicide cop named Tom Mankowski, has had one of these strange tattoos since birth. When he investigates a violent murder and discovers the victim also has a tattooed number, it sets the ball rolling for an adventure of historic proportions.

To say more would give away too much.

The above description was, more or less, the query letter that my agent sent out to over a dozen top editors.

Here are some of the rejections The List received:

Here is The List. I'm returning it to you. Sorry it didn't work out at Ballantine, hope you'll place it elsewhere soon. - Ballantine Books

As discussed, The List by Joe Konrath isn't a book for me. Thank you, and I'm sorry. - Penguin Putnam

Thanks for letting me see The List by Joe Konrath. While it's certainly not a plot I've seen before--at least the cloning part--it seems very familiar all the same, plus the humor in the storytelling seems a little forced and sitcom-ish, and finally exhausted my interest. So it has to be a pass for me. Despite my reservations about The List, I suspect the originality of the concept will prove a lure to someone, and I wish you all the best with it. - Simon & Schuster

I have just taken on a thriller with comparable qualities, and we have such a small list that I can only afford to publish one novel of this kind every year. So, a pass, but many thanks for sending it my way. - Talk Miramax Books

Thanks for sending me The List by Joe Konrath. There's much to like here--particularly the author's savvy prose and the way he ieasily integrates his knowledge of police procedures into the story. As for the plot, I was initially intrigued by the way the protagonist was linked to the murders, but ultimately I had issues with it. I had a hard time believing inthe way he learned about his bizaree adoption taking it so well and regarding it simply as another clue surrounding the murders. I suppose the story twists from that point on were harder to swallow. But this is just my opinion, of course... I'm sure other editors will disagree. - Doubleday

Thanks for letting me read Joe Kramath's (sic) The List. I', sorry to say that despite the good writing and humor, I think the story may be too fabulous for us to publish it successfully. Thanks again and best of luck to you and the author. - Little, Brown and Company

As you know, Will passed along to me The List by Jo (sic) Konrath, which I read with great interest. It's certainly an original premise, and Konrath has an engaging style. I'm afraid though that ultimately we weren't sufficiently drawn into the thriller aspects of the novel, and thus have decided to pass. Thanks very much for thinking of us for this. I'll be interested to hear where this lands. - Hyperion (who later went on to publish six of my later novels)

Thanks so much for the look at The List by Joe Konrath. Needless to say, I found the premise extremely imaginative and original, and the author does a remarkable job balancing the brisk pacing with humor. In the end, however, I just thought it would be hard for us to really break this out in a competitive fiction market, as its novelty seems to hamper its commercial potential. - New American Library

I must say the cop-protagonist of this novel is one of the brightest lights in the clone world, an exact replica of Thomas Jefferson. But as I kept reading, the improbabilities kept bumping into each other and I just couldn't believe the storyline. Thank you for letting me see this, and I wish I could be more enthusiastic. HarperCollins Publishers

Thank you for sending me The List by Joe Konrath. I liked the set-up for this novel a great deal--a detective investigation a murder finds that the victim shares the same enigmatic tattoo that he possesses. Unfortunately, I just didn't think the rest of the novel could sustain that sense of eerie anticipation. The reason for the tattoos, that all participants were part of a secret government cloning experiment, just seemed a little too familiar, and the constant joking, while witty at times, also eroded the tension and sense of menace. I appreciate the look and hope another editor feels differently. Bantam Dell Publishing Group

I shared The List by Joe Konrath with some colleagues here. Several found it amusing but ultimately we felt it was a bit too odd and were concerned about the audience. So I will be declining. William Morrow

I certainly give Joe Konrath lots of credit for trying to put forth a most creative and different kind of thriller involving clones of famous people. And for the most part his wise-cracking dialogue held my attention, too. But int he final analysis, I just thought he tried to hard in this over-the-top novel. I just think it would be a very difficult thriller to sell to our sales force in a major way. The credibility factor is strained a wee bit too much. As such, I'm returning it with my regrets, but with my thanks for the look. - Warner Books

Thank you for sending The List by Joe Konrath. It has a lot going for it--especially certain moments of humor--but in the end it seemed too much like the novelization of a movie than a genuine novel. The characters are types, and the echoes of such movies as Lethal Weapon became distracting. if this really were a movie tie-in, I could see pursuing it, but as it is, I'm going to pass. I'm sure you'll find the right home for it, though. - Pocket Books

Thanks for following up so promptly and sending The List by Joe Konrath. I believe the idea is strong and the writer has great style.Unfortunately, I can not take this manuscript on in the state that it is in. To begin with, it is simply too long. The writer needs to trim his work down a good deal. The story is also too riddled with conversation, which slows down the pace and is cumbersome to read. It lacks the spark and sustained suspense required to stand out on the crowded fiction shelf. - St. Martin's Press

In April of 2009, I self-published The List.

As of this writing, December 26, 2011, The List has earned me over $100,000.

Right now it is in the Kindle Top 100 again (it has cracked the Top 100 four different times since I published it.)

What does that translate into sales?

The novel, rejected by everyone, is right now selling over 100 copies an hour, currently earning $3.50 a minute. That's $210 an hour, $5040 a day. And it seems to be picking up speed.

Hopefully, it will catch up to my novel Trapped, which is also in the Top 100 (for the third time) and is currently ranked at #73. Trapped was part of a two book deal with Grand Central, but they rejected it. I published it myself in June of 2010. Since then, it has earned me more than $100,000.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to send warm holiday cheer and sincere thanks the editors at HarperCollins, Bantam Dell, Hyperion, NAL, Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, William Morrow, Warner Books, St. Martin's Press, Ballantine, Penguin Putnam, Talk Miramax, Pocket Books, Little, Brown and Company, for rejecting The List. And thanks to Grand Central for rejecting Trapped.

Much success to you all in 2012.

And just to show my story isn't unique, my friend and writing partner, Blake Crouch, recently had a similar experience with his novel Run. It was shopped during the fall of 2010 to a dozen major publishers, all of whom rejected it. Since Blake published Run himself in March, it has sold over 40,000 copies, and is currently ranked at #92 in the Kindle store. In the last 48 hours alone, it has sold over 2000 copies.

Blake and I want to wish all of those editors who rejected us a very Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Konrath's Resolutions for Writers 2012

Every December I do a post about resolutions for writers, and every year I add more of them.

Newbie Writer Resolutions
  • I will start/finish the damn book
  • I will always have at least three stories on submission, while working on a fourth
  • I will attend at least one writer's conference, and introduce myself to agents, editors, and other writers
  • I will subscribe to the magazines I submit to
  • I will join a critique group. If one doesn't exist, I will start one at the local bookstore or library
  • I will finish every story I start
  • I will listen to criticism
  • I will create/update my website
  • I will master the query process and search for an agent
  • I'll quit procrastinating in the form of research, outlines, synopses, taking classes, reading how-to books, talking about writing, and actually write something
  • I will refuse to get discouraged, because I know JA Konrath wrote 9 novels, received almost 500 rejections, and penned over 1 million words before he sold a thing--and I'm a lot more talented than that guy
Professional Writer Resolutions
  • I will keep my website updated
  • I will keep up with my blog and social networks
  • I will schedule bookstore signings, and while at the bookstore I'll meet and greet the customers rather than sit dejected in the corner
  • I will send out a newsletter, emphasizing what I have to offer rather than what I have for sale, and I won't send out more than four a year
  • I will learn to speak in public, even if I think I already know how
  • I will make selling my books my responsibility, not my publisher's
  • I will stay in touch with my fans
  • I will contact local libraries, and tell them I'm available for speaking engagements
  • I will attend as many writing conferences as I can afford
  • I will spend a large portion of my advance on self-promotion
  • I will help out other writers
  • I will not get jealous, will never compare myself to my peers, and will cleanse my soul of envy
  • I will be accessible, amiable, and enthusiastic
  • I will do one thing every day to self-promote
  • I will always remember where I came from


  • Keep an Open Mind. It's easier to defend your position than seriously consider new ways of thinking. But there is no innovation, no evolution, no "next big thing" unless someone thinks differently. Be that someone.

  • Look Inward. We tend to write for ourselves. But for some reason we don't market for ourselves. Figure out what sort of marketing works on you; that's the type of marketing you should be trying. You should always know why you're doing what you're doing, and what results are acceptable to you.

  • Find Your Own Way. Advice is cheap, and the Internet abounds with people telling you how to do things. Question everything. The only advice you should take is the advice that makes sense to you. And if it doesn't work, don't be afraid to ditch it.

  • Set Attainable Goals. Saying you'll find an agent, or sell 30,000 books, isn't attainable, because it involves things out of your control. Saying you'll query 50 agents next month, or do signings at 20 bookstores, is within your power and fully attainable.

  • Enjoy the Ride. John Lennon said that life is what happens while you're busy planning other things. Writing isn't about the destination; it's about the journey. If you aren't enjoying the process, why are you doing it?

  • Help Each Other. One hand should always be reaching up for your next goal. The other should be reaching down to help others get where you're at. We're all in the same boat. Start passing out oars.


I Will Use Anger As Fuel

We all know that this is a hard business. Luck plays a huge part. Rejection is part of the job. Things happen beyond our control, and we can get screwed.

It's impossible not to dwell on it when we're wronged. But rather than vent or stew or rage against the world and everyone in it, we should use that anger and the energy it provides for productive things.

The next time you get bad news, resolve to use that pain to drive your work. Show fate that when it pushes you, you push right back. By writing. By querying. By marketing.

I Will Abandon My Comfort Zone

The only difference between routine and rut is spelling.

As a writer, you are part artist and part businessman.

Great artists take chances.

Successful businessmen take chances.

This means doing things you're afraid of, and things you hate, and things you've never tried before.

If, in 2008, you don't fail at something, you weren't trying hard enough.

I Will Feed My Addiction 

Life is busy. There are always things you can and should be doing, and your writing career often comes second.

So make it come first.

Right now, you're reading A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. Not A Newbie's Guide to Leading a Content and Balanced Life.

You want to get published and stay published? That means making writing a priority. That means making sacrifices. A sacrifice involves choosing one thing over another.

If you can't devote the time, energy, and money it takes to pursue this career, go do something else.

I Will Never Be Satisfied 

Think the last resolution was extreme? This one really separates the die-hards from the hobbyists.

While an overwhelming sense of peace and enlightenment sounds pretty nice, I wouldn't want to hire a bunch of Zen masters to build an addition on my house.

Satisfaction and contentment are great for your personal life. In your professional life, once you start accepting the way things are, you stop trying.

No one is going to hand you anything in this business. You have to be smart, be good, work hard, and get lucky.

Every time you get published, you got lucky. Don't take it for granted.

When something bad happens, it should make you work harder. But when something good happens, you can't believe you earned it. Because it isn't true. You aren't entitled to this career. No one is.

Yes, you should celebrate successes. Sure, you should enjoy good things when they happen. Smile and laugh and feel warm and fuzzy whenever you finish a story or make a sale or reach a goal.

But remember that happiness isn't productive. Mankind's greatest accomplishments are all tales of struggle, hardship, sacrifice, work, and effort. You won't do any of those things if you're satisfied with the status quo.

Who do you want on your team? The kid who plays for fun? Or the kid who plays to win?

If you want this to be your year, you know which kid you have to be.


This year I'm only going to add one resolution to this growing list, but if you're writing for a living, or trying to write for a living, it's an important one.

I Won't Blame Anyone For Anything

It's tempting to look at the many problems that arise in this business and start pointing fingers. This is a slippery slope, and no good can come from it.

Do agents, editors, and publishers make mistakes? Of course.

You make mistakes too.

Hindsight is 20/20, so we can all look at things that didn't go our way and fantasize about how things should have gone.

But blaming others, or yourself, is dwelling on the past. What's done is done, and being bitter isn't going to help your career.

So try to learn from misfortune, forgive yourself and others, and make 2009 a blameless year.


I Will Be Wary

The medium in which stories are absorbed is changing in a big way, and it will continue to change. 2009 will go down in publishing history as Year Zero for the upcoming ebook revolution. Writers should explore this new territory, but we need to understand that Print is still King, and any goals and dreams a writer might have regarding publication should be focused on getting into print.

That's not to say that ebooks shouldn't be explored and experimented with. They should be, and in a serious way. Erights are a very long tail--one that can potentially continue long after our lifetimes.

Don't forsake print for ebooks without understanding what you're giving up, and don't give away your ebook rights to get a print deal.

I Will Be A Pioneer

Remember the old saying about how to recognize a pioneer? They're the one with the arrows in their backs and fronts.

I've tried to be forward-thinking in my career, rather than being content with my role as a cog in a broken machine. Your best chance for longevity is to question everything, test boundaries, experiment with new ideas, and be willing to change your mind and learn from your mistakes.

Your job is to survive, by any means necessary. So pull out the arrows and forge ahead. Discover the difference between determination and stupidity by being an example for one or the other or both.

Though this may seem at odds with the previous resolution about being wary, it's actually quite simpatico.

Q: What do you call a wary pioneer? A: Still alive.

I Will Read Books

I'm surprised I haven't mentioned this in previous years. If you're a writer, you must be a reader. I don't care if you read on your Kindle, or on stone tablets. Reading, and giving the gift of reading to others, is essential. Period.

I Will Stop Worrying 

Worrying, along with envy, blame, guilt, and regret, is a useless emotion. It's also bad storytelling. Protagonists should be proactive, not reactive. They should forge ahead, not dwell on things beyond their control. Fretting, whining, complaining, and bemoaning the state of the industry isn't the way to get ahead.

You are the hero in the story of your life. Act like it.


I Will Self-Publish

Just twelve short months ago, I made $1650 on Kindle in December, and was amazed I could pay my mortgage with ebook sales.

This December, I'll earn over $22,000.

The majority of this is on Kindle. But I'm also doing well self-pubbing in print through Amazon's Createspace program, and will earn $2700 this month on nine POD books. I'm also finally trying out B&N's PubIt program, which looks to be good for over $1k a month, and I'm doing okay on Smashwords, with Sony, Apple, and Kobo combining for another $1k.

This is nothing short of revolutionary.

The gatekeepers--agents who submit to editors who acquire books to publish and distribute to booksellers--are no longer needed to make a living as a fiction writer. For the first time in history, writers can reach readers without having to jump through hoops, get anointed, compromise integrity, or fit the cookie-cutter definition for What New York Wants.

I'm not saying you should give up on traditional publishing. But I am saying that there is ZERO downside to self-pubbing. At worst, you'll make a few bucks. At best, you'll make a fortune, and have agents and editors fighting over you.

But remember: even if you are being fought over, you still have a choice.

DO NOT take any deal that's less than what you believe you could earn in six years. If you're selling 1000 ebooks a month, that means $144,000 is the minimum advance you should be offered before you consider signing.

It blows my mind to think that way, let alone blog about it. I got a $34,000 advance for my first novel, and even less for my last few.

Currently, I have seven self-pubbed novels, each earning more than $24k a year. In six years, at the current rate, I'll earn more than one million bucks on those.

But I don't expect them to maintain their current sales.

I expect sales to go up.

Ebooks haven't saturated the market yet. But they will. And you need to be ready for it. Which leads me to...

I Won't Self-Publish Crap

Just because it's easier than ever before to reach an audience doesn't mean you should.

I can safely say that I'm either directly or indirectly responsible for thousands of writers trying out self-publishing. The majority of these writers aren't making the same amount of money that I am, and are scratching their heads, wondering what they're doing wrong.

Luck still plays a part in success. But so does professionalism.

Being a professional means you make sure you have a professional cover (http://www.extendedimagery.com), and you have been professionally formatted for ebooks (www.52novels.com) and for print books (http://yourepublished.blogspot.com.)

Being a professional means you're prolific, with many titles for sale, and that you diversify, exploiting all possible places to sell your work (Kindle, Createspace, Smashwords, iBooks, iTunes, Sony, Nook, Kobo, Borders, Android, and no doubt more to come.)

But most of all, being a professional means you won't inflict your shitty writing on the public.

Self-pubbing is not the kiddie pool, where you learn how to swim. You need to be an excellent swimmer before you jump in.

If your sales aren't where you'd like them to be, especially if you've done everything else I've mentioned, then it's time to take a cold, hard, critical look at the writing. Which segues into...

I'll Pay Attention to the Market

To say I'm excited about the ebook future is putting it mildly. But that doesn't mean I have carte blanche to write whatever the hell I want to, and then expect it to sell.

Yes, writers now have more freedom. Yes, we can now cater to niche tastes, and write novellas, and focus on more personal projects.

But if you want to make a living, you still have to understand your audience, and how to give them what they want.

Self-pubbing is not an excuse to be a self-indulgent egomaniac. On the contrary, it's a chance for you to learn what sells.

For the very first time, the writer can conduct their own real-world experiments. By trying different things, learning from mistakes, and constantly tweaking and improving, we have more power than ever before to find our readers.

A lot of folks know how much money I'm making. But how many know:

I've changed or tweaked cover art 45 times.
I've reformatted my books five times each.
I've changed product descriptions over 80 times.
I've changed prices on each book two or three times.

Unlike the traditional publishing world, where published books are static, self-publishing is dynamic. If something isn't selling as well as you'd like, you can change it. The work doesn't end when you upload your ebook to Kindle. The work is never-ending, and vigilance is mandatory.

Self-publishing is a wonderful opportunity to learn and to grow. This means you MUST try new things.

2011 is going to be a turbulent year for publishers and bookstores and editors and agents. Change is coming, and many of the stalwarts of the industry aren't going to be around for much longer.

But savvy writers will be safe from harm. In fact, they'll thrive like never before.

For the first time in the history of publishing, we have control. Embrace that control, and make 2011 your year.


Hard to believe this will be my sixth year offering New Year's Resolutions to writers. Even harder to believe is how much the publishing industry has changed during that time.

When I first began this blog, it was about helping authors find an agent and a legacy publishing deal. And once they did, it was about working with your publisher to sell as many books as possible by understanding how to self-promote and market.

Now, writers are much better served learning how to upload their work to Kindle and write a product description than learning how to write a query letter or do a successful book signing.

So is there still anything left for me to say?

Yes. There's plenty.

I Will Experiment

Don't let fear prevent you from taking chances and trying new things. I'm talking to all of you who refuse to raise or lower your ebook prices. I'm talking to all of you who pass judgement without any experience to back up your position. I'm talking to all of you who insist that your way is the right way without ever having tried any other way--or in some cases, knowing nothing about the path you want to take (I'm looking right at you folks still chasing legacy deals.)

The goals you set should constantly be adapting and changing as more data comes in. But don't be a lump, expecting data to come to you by surfing the net, or reading this blog, or praying Santa Claus helps you out.

You need to be the one actively trying different things, taking different directions, and learning through trial and error.

In the past, there were a lot of gatekeepers who could hold you back.

Today the only one holding you back is you.

I Will Help Other Writers

If you learn something, share it. If you have some success, show others how to follow your lead. If you fail miserably, warn your peers.

Writing and publishing were once solitary, private matters, and everyone played their cards close to their chests. No one knew how much anyone else was earning, or how many books they sold, and this suited the publishers just fine. The dark ages are all about being kept in the dark.

Well, let there be light.

The more we share, and help one another, the more our collective base of knowledge can grow.

Self-publishing is an open source project. Add to the database.

I Will Control My Fear

There will always be doubt and uncertainty, because luck plays such a big role in success. I know there are writers who are doing everything right, who still haven't found readers.

But don't let fear own you.

It is easy to get frustrated.

It is easy to get envious of those doing better.

It is easy to dismiss the success or failures of others.

It is easy to worry about the future.

It is easy to ignore good advice. It's also easy to take bad advice.

It is easy to make snap judgments and quick dismissals.

It is easy to make predictions without evidence.

It is easy to give up.


Yes, it is the greatest time ever to be a writer. But no one owes you a living, and no one promised that even if you write a great book and promote the hell out of it you'll get stinking rich.

Not to get all Yoda here, but fear leads to doubt, and doubt will take you down the wrong path.

Controlling fear is easier than you might think. Just accept that failure is part of the process.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. All major success stories are filled with setbacks and mistakes and bad luck. But all successful people persevere.

We've all heard that luck favors those who are prepared. So be prepared, and stay prepared, for as long as it takes for success to find you.

Remember that. You don't find success. Success finds you.

This is especially important when you realize this truism:

What Goes Up Must Come Down

I've had a lot of writers email me that their sales are down. Mine are, too. Because ebooks are so new, no one knows what this means, and it is easy to let fear cause doubt.

Here's a mantra for you to help you get over it.

1. Ebooks are forever, and shelf space is infinite. Once you're published, you'll always be selling.

2. Ebooks are not a trend. They are the new, preferred way to read, and mankind will always have the need and desire to read.

3. Ebooks are global. Doing poorly in the USA? That's okay. There are plenty of other countries where you can make money.

4. Sales fluctuate. Always. And there is often no logical or discernible reason why. Riding high in April, shot down in May, that's life.

5. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You're a writer. You're in this until the day you die. As long as you continue to write good books, you'll find readers.

2012 is going to be a very interesting year. We'll see unknown writers get rich. We'll see big name writers leave their publishers. We'll see more and more people buy ereaders throughout the world. We'll see some companies go out of business. We'll see other companies start growing market share.

We're part of something big, and it's going to get even bigger. And while everything that goes up must come down, we've got a very long time before that happens with ebooks.

And when it does? That's okay. Formats and gadgets come and go.

But the world will always need storytellers.

Have a great 2012.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Eisler & Konrath Vs. Hachette

Joe sez: I'm trying to get some writing done, and I really feel like I've said all there is to say about the publishing industry and going indie. But then several alert readers emailed me to say Hachette created an internal memo to explain to its employees and customers why it’s still relevant.

I was published by Hachette, and for the most part I enjoyed working with them. They're good people and dedicated professionals.

But boy, their memo is a giant bowl of steaming fail. And they dropped the ball when it came to me, too. More on that below.

So I called up my friend Barry Eisler and begged him to convince me to just let it go and not do a blog post about how silly the memo is.

Instead, Barry read the memo and said, come on, we should just fisk this sucker together.

Barry: You knew I would! You sent me a link to the memo because you knew it was so stupid it would draw me in, you bastard.

Joe: I wanted you to talk me down from the ledge, and instead you climbed up there to jump off with me. You're a bad, bad man.

Barry: Sure you wanted me to talk you down. That’s like an addict coming to his dealer for help getting clean!

Joe: All right, regardless, now I'm all in, so let's do this. Hachette's memo is likely indicative of what many major publishers are thinking, so it’s worth examining closely, both for newbies and old pros.

Here's their memo, in italics, and our responses.

"Self-publishing” is a misnomer.

Barry: Whenever someone begins his argument by trying to redefine a popularly understood term, your bullshit detector should start tingling.

Joe: Unless bullshit is also a misnomer.

Publishing requires a complex series of engagements, both behind the scenes and public facing.

Barry: Well, okay, but what business doesn’t doesn’t require a complex series of engagements etc? When someone fills the air with platitudes like this one, it’s fair to ask whether he has anything meaningful to say -- and what he might be trying to conceal.

Digital distribution (which is what most people mean when they say self-publishing) is just one of the components of bringing a book to market and helping the public take notice of it.

Barry: Um, no, that’s not what self-publishing means. Unless Hachette is also a self-publisher? Because they distribute books digitally, too.

In fact, self-publishing has a pretty simple definition: it means you keep the rights to your book and publish it yourself using distributor/retailers like Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, and Sony, typically retaining 70% of the cover price instead of the 17.5% offered by legacy publishers (for digital editions). This isn’t what “most people” mean when they say self-publishing; it’s what everybody means when they say self-publishing. If Hachette really doesn’t know what self-publishing is, its executives are in worse trouble than even their memo reveals.

Joe: Digital distribution is quickly becoming the dominant means of reaching readers. To distribute digitally, you need:

1. Something you've written.
2. Editing and proofreading.
3. Formatting for various platforms.
3. Cover art and jacket copy.

Now, you can cross your fingers and send out queries and hope to find a publisher to assist you with these tasks, in which case they’ll keep 52.5% from the ebook list price (a price they set) and give you 17.5% . Or you can do these things yourself (or hire out) and keep 70% of the list price (a price you set).

But digital distribution is not the only thing a self-publisher does. I also make my books available in paper, and my agent sells subsidiary rights (audio, foreign, film). My agent gets to do that because I keep the rights, rather than licensing them to a publisher.

So what else are publishers doing that justifies them getting three times as much per ebook sale as the author gets?

Let's read on and see.

As a full service publisher, Hachette Book Group offers a wide array of services to authors:

Barry: Again, is there, or has there ever been, a service business that does only one thing? Is this “wide array” claim in any way remarkable, or even relevant to anything? Let’s see...

1. Curator: We find and nurture talent:

Barry: The more accurate way to state this would be, “We try to find talent. Sometimes we miss talent. Sometimes we nurture what we find; sometimes we let it whither. We’re a big publisher -- for us, it’s a numbers game. Think spaghetti sticking to the wall. Some of it sticks; most of it slides down behind the stove.

• We identify authors and books that are going to stand out in the marketplace. HBG discovers new voices, and separates the remarkable from the rest.

Barry: Again, for the sake of accuracy: “We try to identify authors and books we believe we can sell. Sometimes we discover new voices; sometimes we make mistakes.

Joe: Were the authors they dropped or who were allowed to go out of print unremarkable?

If so, I volunteer to be unremarkable so I can get the rights to AFRAID back.

• We act as content collaborator, focused on nurturing writing talent, fostering rich relationships with our authors, providing them with expert editorial advice on their writing, and tackling a huge variety of issues on their behalf.

Barry: There’s a remarkable amount of bullshit in that sentence.

“Content collaborator?” What does that mean? Why is this publisher shying away from plain English?

Shit, you and I are collaborating right now, on this post. ZOMG, that means we’re acting as content collaborators!

Joe: Does that mean you're taking a 52.5% cut?

Barry: Maybe I should, ’cause we know that’s what Content Collaborators do.

Joe: If you take that much, can you at least nurture me a little?

Barry: Hah, right, that “nurturing” claim, and for the second time, too. Sure, sure, me nurture you long time, sailor.

Joe: By "long time" you mean "forever", don't you?

Barry: Yes, of course. I’m a Content Collaborator, after all. That’s very important.

Joe: If you say so. (long, dramatic pause) I'm never going to get my rights back, am I?

Barry: No. But I'll make sure I price your book at $12.99 so sales stay poor.

Joe: Thanks for nurturing me!

Look, if I were to say, "I'm a good parent", that statement needs to be backed up with all the reasons I am a good parent, and all the specific things I do for my children. Or else the statement is empty. Or worse, an affirmation based on ignorance and hope instead of facts.

Barry: Yes, if you can back up a claim with evidence, you should do so. When the evidence isn’t presented, could it be because no evidence exists?

Joe: Now, a bad parent might do a lot of things that could negatively affect the child. Much like a bad publisher can drop authors who are making money, provide poor cover art, make bad editorial suggestions, leave marketing promises unfulfilled, charge too much for ebooks, offer too small a royalty, insist on “windowing” and “the agency model,” mess up distribution, not exploit sub rights they bought, make contracts overly complicated and one-sided, make royalty statements indecipherable, grab erights on old contracts, refuse to return rights to the author, and so on.

Is a publisher engaging in such behavior finding and nurturing talent?

And what if all publishers acted like this?

Hint: they do.

Barry: I love those euphemisms, by the way. “Windowing” means “Making people who like to read in digital wait an extra year because we favor paper.” The “agency model” means “forcing Amazon and other digital retailers to charge customers more for books than the retailer wants to.”

As we’ve argued many times elsewhere, these euphemisms and the practices they’re intended to obscure are aimed at two things: retarding the growth of digital, and preserving the position of paper. A few days ago, in a moment of uncharacteristic candor, a top publishing executive confirmed this:

“‘We hoped that a handsome object [Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, which BTW is awesome] would slow the migration to e-book for King and, in fact, we are now in our fourth printing,’ said Nan Graham, the senior vice president and editor in chief at Scribner.”

Joe: Right, the purpose of the special effort they put into the packaging wasn’t so much selling more paper as it was slowing the adoption of digital. And if the only way legacy publishers tried to slow digital adoption was by making paper better, it would be great. But instead, they’re doing it primarily by making digital more expensive and by delaying the release of digital titles.

I don't hold out much hope for any company that actively refuses to give its customers what they want.

Barry: Let's go back to the specifics of that bullshit-redolent memo sentence. What does it mean to foster a rich relationship with an author? How is it accomplished? Glittering generalities like this one are usually intended to conceal an absence of underlying substance.

Joe: You and I have a rich relationship.

Barry: We don’t.

Joe: Okay, but that’s only because we don’t charge for these Content Collaborations. If we wrote short stories instead, we could have a rich relationship -- without a legacy publisher!

Barry: We should really do that. I loved your latest with Blake Crouch -- STIRRED.

Joe: Thanks. Blake did all the verbs with that one. If you and I do a story together, you can do the adjectives.

Barry: Excellent!

Joe: Try to come up with some better adjectives than that.

Barry: Now, provision of expert editorial advice -- finally, something real. Yes, publishers do provide editorial services. I can’t speak for other authors, but the three editors I’ve worked with at two publishing hours have all been excellent and I’ve learned a lot from working with them. Whether editorial services are worth the 52.5% publishers charge, however, and whether editorial services can be secured elsewhere at lower cost, are topics worth considering.

Joe: You're being too kind. As I mentioned earlier, 52.5% is three times 17.5%. So unless an editor spent three times as many hours editing your book than you did writing your book, they really don't deserve that much.

Hell, if I had an editor who worked on my book, cleaned my house once a week, gave me sex on demand, and drove me around, that still wouldn't be worth 52.5%.

Barry: Hard to argue with your math. For anyone who’s curious, we talk more about most of these issues in our profoundly offensive book, BE THE MONKEY: A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE NEW WORLD OF PUBLISHING. Free download here.

Joe: That book is far too offensive for everyone. If you do read it, I suggest it's with an eye toward objecting to every little thing we said that might offend the sensibilities of some delicate soul, while totally ignoring the major points.

Barry: Finally, let’s consider this claim that publishers tackle a huge variety of issues on behalf of authors. Do I even need to say it?

Joe: Probably not. Glittering generality, devoid of specifics; applicable to every single service industry ever invented, so meaningless with regard to publishing specifically.

Barry: Thanks for that. I hate repeating myself.

Joe: But, to be fair, they do tackle some issues on our behalf. I mean, didn't they create your website?

Barry: No. I did that myself. Well, I hired someone to do it. I don’t know much about website design.

Joe: But they helped you get all those Facebook friends and Twitter followers and blog readers, right?

Barry: That was me.

Joe: They must have paid for you to attend those dozens of conferences over the last nine years.

Barry: That was pretty much all me.

Joe: Certainly they helped you accrue your mailing list of fans?

Barry: Nope. I did it myself, one at a time.

Joe: But they did pay for your tours!

Barry: That they did do.

Joe: And they drove 12,000 miles right along with you, assisting every step of the way while you did signings in over 30 states.

Barry: Uh...no.

Joe: Neither did mine. And BTW, I did signings in over 40 states.

Barry: We're so lucky to have had them as Content Collaborators, though.

Joe: Indeed.

Now let's get specific.

Hachette published my novel AFRAID. They then rejected two subsequent novels of mine. I self-published those novels.

Hachette has earned me $60,000 in two years with AFRAID.

In one year, I earned $170,000 on the two novels they didn't take, all on my own.

Barry: So much for them nurturing talent, fostering rich relationships with authors, and being a content collaborator.

Joe: Their expert editorial advice helped them miss out on a whole lot of money, because they didn't publish TRAPPED and ENDURANCE.

Now I do give them credit for publishing AFRAID when no one else would. My agent had that book on submission for six months before getting that offer. AFRAID was rejected by everyone.

What does that tell you about this industry? A book that went on to earn triple its modest advance was rejected by over a dozen top editors. Then the follow-ups made even more money.

But that was back in 2008. Now I cringe when I think about all the money I'm missing out on because Hachette still has AFRAID. Funny how what was once a blessing can become a curse.

2. Venture Capitalist: We fund the author’s writing process:

• At HBG we invest in ideas.

Barry: I don’t mean to be harsh, but this memo is really beginning to play like a game of Bullshit Bingo. Nurture Relationships... Tackle Issues... Invest In Ideas... Bingo!

Joe: Dammit! They invest in ideas? Why the hell did I bother spending six months writing a book for them? Then six more months promoting it? I should have just given them an idea and let them run with it!

Barry: Here’s an idea they might have invested in: an online bookstore!

Joe: Here's another one: a damn ereader!

Barry: We’re being half-facetious, but the thing is, an online bookstore, and ereaders, and an online lending library -- those are real ideas. And someone certainly is investing in them, big-time. In the face of this, when Hachette plays Bullshit Bingo and bleats, “We invest in ideas!”, you have to wonder... do even the people who wrote this thing believe it? If asked, could they even explain what they’re referring to?

Joe: It's also worth noting that I've been offering free advice to publishers for several years on how to succeed in this new publishing climate. I know they must be reading my blog, because they keep doing the exact opposite of everything I suggest.

Seriously, for an industry to get so much so wrong, it's gotta be intentional.

In the form of advances, we allow authors the time and resources to research and write.

Barry: An advance can definitely be critical in this regard. What would make the claim meaningful would be a breakdown of what advances Hachette provides. They don’t need to name names; they could just provide a chart showing averages. I’ve heard many times that the average legacy advance these days is $5000. If that’s true, it’s a hell of a stretch for Hachette to suggest they’re providing authors enough to research and write. No one can quit her day job for a $5000 advance, 15% of which goes to an agent and the balance of which will be paid out in installments over the course of a year or more.

Once again, you have to wonder why Hachette provides no meaningful data to back up their claims of how relevant they are to authors.

Joe: Averages wouldn't work. They could say their average advance is high because they give James Patterson millions. In reality, the majority of their authors probably need a second job or working spouse to support themselves.

Barry: I didn’t do well in college statistics. Mean, median... that kind of thing.

Joe: I got lucky. They gave me a $20k advance for AFRAID, and I get royalty checks twice a year. That's better than what many authors get.

But with self-publishing I get paid monthly. I'd rather get paid promptly than receive a small advance.

As for investing in ideas, perhaps they should have invested in the two books of mine they rejected...

In addition we invest continuously in infrastructure, tools, and partnerships that make HBG a great publisher partner.

Barry: I know I’m being repetitive, but only because the same logical shortcomings keep cropping up in this memo. So: what are the infrastructure, tools, and partnerships Hachette continuously invests in? How, specifically, do these investments benefit authors?

Joe: Yes, I'm really curious to know about their investment in infrastructure, tools, and partnerships. I don't invest in any of those things, but my ebooks outsell theirs. Perhaps their actual investment is in buzzwords and bad rhetoric.

I'm kind of disappointed they didn't mention synergy.

Barry: Strategic partnerships... Inflection point... Bingo!

3. Sales and Distribution Specialist: We ensure widest possible audience:

• We get our books to the right place, in the right numbers, and at the right time (this applies equally to print and digital editions).

Barry: Is this a memo intended to convince people of Hachette’s continued relevance, or is it some kind of personal empowerment seminar? “Gosh darn it, I’m good enough, and smart enough, and right, right, right enough...”

All the things they claim to do right apply equally in paper and digital? The right place in digital is wherever self-published authors get their books to -- again, generally, Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. So you don’t really need to pay 52.5% to a Collaboration Partner for that.

The right numbers? Hachette, how many digital copies of a title do you typically upload to a retailer? (Um, that’s a trick question.)

And the right time? The right time is now, because you can’t make money from a book until people can buy it. But legacy publishers don’t publisher digital titles now. They publish them a year later, when the paper version is ready. When Hachette says “the right time,” they mean, “much later than you would on your own.”

We work with retailers and distribution partners to ensure that every book has the opportunity to reach the widest possible readership.

Joe: Hyperion, which published my last Jack Daniels novel, Cherry Bomb, didn't ship a single copy to Borders until the book had been out for two weeks.

I've also done signings my publishers set up where there weren't any of my books for sale. And I'm far from the only author who has had distribution issues.

Still, I can't complain. My publishers have done a pretty good job of getting my paper books into stores. That's the main value they offer.

But they offer no value at all when it comes to getting ebooks onto online retailers. After formatting, it doesn't take more than a few hours to upload an ebook to all the major sellers. Which is one of the things that drove me so crazy about Penguin's Book Country.

Barry: This is such a key point that I’m going to repeat it even though we’ve been saying it elsewhere: in digital distribution, legacy publishers offer no value. Zero. None. A self-published author, working alone, has exactly the same distribution reach in digital as a multi-million-dollar New York publishing conglomerate.

I’m going to say that one more time, because it’s critical to the revolution in publishing and it’s so big and far-reaching it takes a moment to grasp:

A self-published author, working alone, has exactly the same distribution reach in digital as a multi-million-dollar New York publishing conglomerate.

Yes, legacy publishers provide various value-added services, such as editing, marketing, etc -- at least some of the time. But distribution is what authors have until recently really needed from publishers, because without a distribution partner, an author can’t cost-effectively reach a mass audience in paper.

Joe: I'd say they offer negative value. Taking a long time to upload titles, a long time to make changes or fix problems, controlling pricing, doing poor formatting (Hachette did a fine job with AFRAID, but I've gotten scores of email about formatting issues in my Hyperion titles), and not making ebooks available on all platforms in all markets directly hurts sales. High ebook prices do not ensure a book has the widest possible readership. Quite the opposite, in fact.

If a publisher is hurting your digital sales, that's negative value.

Barry: So yes, Hachette is still relevant in the world of paper distribution (yea!). The problem is that paper is shrinking and digital is exploding -- and in digital, the Hachettes of the world have no distribution value to offer. That’s why they’re writing bizarre, obfuscating memos like the one we’re discussing.

By the way, because digital distribution is flat -- equally available to everyone -- digital publishing is increasingly going to be built on direct-to-consumer marketing. As I said in a recent piece at Writer Unboxed:

“In a digital world, the primary value a publisher can offer an author is direct-to-consumer marketing. This is why Amazon is so strongly positioned to succeed in digital publishing: its book business is built on its ability to reach tens or even hundreds of millions of readers directly by email. Amazon marketing is both exceptionally focused (book buyers) and exceptionally broad (tens or even hundreds of millions of customers). Entities that can offer authors compelling direct-to-consumer marketing value will be in a good position to take a cut of the profits. One recent example is the L.A. Times. Think of entities that fit the bill, and you’ll be able to predict tomorrow’s publishers.

“Interestingly, there’s one particular group of companies that lacks any meaningful direct-to-consumer marketing ability. That group is New York publishing. Draw your own conclusions.”

Joe: You're so right about this. As authors, we need to be able to reach readers. In the past, we needed publishers to get our work into bookstores (we also needed bookstores) so readers could buy us.

Today, we can be bought -- both in paper and in digital -- with the press of a button. So if a middleman wants to add value to this equation, they can either create the ereader and the store we sell our titles on (Amazon, Sony, Kobo, Apple, B&N), or they can help us reach a broader audience than we can on our own by giving us marketing advantages.

If the L.A. Times wanted to publish me, I'd give them a percentage of my royalties, because they could advertise the hell out of my book to their existing readership of several million people.

I'd also sign a deal with a TV station who would produce commercials for my book, or a guy who owned 10,000 billboards that he wanted to use to promote it, or Charlie Sheen as long as he mentioned it to the media every time he got arrested.

Distribution was the key to success in paper. Now that we're all getting equal distribution in digital, there’s value to partnering with companies that can help our books get noticed.

What is Hachette doing to help their authors get noticed in a digital world? All their methods and means are paper-based.

• We ensure broad distribution and master supply chain complexity, in both digital and physical formats.

Joe: Ah, distributors. One more middleman taking potential royalties away from the author's share.

I can't wait for a day when books can be printed on demand, so there’s no need for giant warehouses and distributors who take a huge cut.

Or better yet, maybe someday there will be a distribution system where books cost zero to copy and zero to send to readers.

Oh, wait a sec... we already have these things.


Barry: I just have to add... again, look at that “master supply chain complexity” sentence. Like so much else in this memo, it’s gobbleygook. Here’s Orwell, in Politics and the English Language:

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

The irony. Publishers, those richly nurturing Content Collaborators, purveyors of top-flight editorial services, finders of Remarkable New Voices... penning such prolix prose.

Joe: Maybe they forgot to richly nurture the person who wrote the memo.

Barry: They did find a remarkable new voice, though.

Joe: I'd make a joke about being mentally challenged here, but then the Dudgeon Demons would whine about political incorrectitude rather than acknowledge our relevant points.

Barry: Okay, glad you didn’t go there.

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And finally, again -- they ensure distribution, and have mastered supply chain complexity... in digital?

Come on. Digital distribution is ubiquitous. It’s available to everyone, and a legacy publisher claiming to supply it is like me trying to sell someone air. And there is no digital supply chain. Claiming otherwise is like pretending uploading a photo on Facebook requires supply chain complexity mastery. It’s just embarrassing bullshit.

Hey Hachette, invite either of us to a conference. We challenge you to debate any of your claims in a public forum of your choosing. If fact, I’m keynoting t
he Writers Digest Convention in NYC this January; if you like, we could do it there.

Joe: I'll be at the Romantic Times Convention in April leading a discussion about ebooks. Stop by and say hello. Or get in touch sooner, and I'll get you on the panel.

• We function as a new market pioneer, exploring and experimenting with new ideas in every area of our business and investing in those new ideas – even if, in some cases, a positive outcome is not guaranteed (as with apps and enhanced ebooks).

Barry: In case you missed it the first time... they really, really do invest in new ideas! It’s like Double Secret Probation, but better.

I won’t even mention the entirely unsupported glittering generalities. Whoops, I guess I did.

And it’s awesome that they invest even when there is no guarantee of a positive return! That’s so bold and really distinguishes them from everyone else. As everyone knows, most businesses, and all people, only invest when returns are 100% certain. Anything else would be imprudent.

Joe: I am 100% certain you are correct.

Barry: Finally... I’m sorry, I know I’m being a little hard on them, but the claim that Hachette or any legacy publisher is a “pioneer” is so demonstrably absurd as to be laughable. Again, think of the most pioneering changes in publishing -- online bookstores, digital distribution, ereaders, lending library subscription programs -- and ask who pioneered them.

Joe: (Hint. It wasn’t Hachette or any other legacy publisher.)

Barry: The truth is that, to the extent legacy publishers are experimenting with anything, it’s because far more innovative new market entrants are forcing them to.

Joe: All that pioneering, and exploring, and experimenting, and investing. I bet Hachette has a 100% sell-through and a 0% return rate, and that every book they publish turns a handsome profit.

If not -- well, I guess they can pay for their inefficiencies by taking 52.5% and giving authors 17.5%.

• We act as a price and promotion specialist (coordinating 250+ monthly, weekly and daily deals on ebooks at all accounts).

Joe: The AFRAID ebook has been on sale twice in two years. When this happened, sales were up 10x. So, naturally, Grand Central raised it back to $6.99 after a week of lower prices.

The effort it takes to put a book on sale takes no more than a few minutes. I do it myself all the time.

Why don't legacy publishers do it all the time?

Barry: This word “specialist”... I do not think it means what they think it means.

Seriously, where is all the dynamism and innovation in pricing?

Joe: In self-publishing, and at Amazon.

Barry: Exactly. A “sale” in the legacy world means the remainder table in a brick-and-mortar store.

Joe: To more and more authors, paper distribution doesn't matter much anymore. And as a New Market Pioneer, Hachette should price my two-year-old ebook more competitively than $6.99. My ebooks are priced at $2.99, and they've made me more money than any of my legacy books. Value isn't in a book's cover price, but rather how much money the book earns overall.

With plummeting paper sales, and vastly increasing ebook sales, Hachette does very little to deserve the royalties they're taking.

4. Brand Builder and Copyright Watchdog: We build author brands and protect their intellectual property:

Barry: In my experience, publishers know almost nothing about building a brand. If they did, they would brand themselves. Listening to a publisher hawk its brand-building cred is like listening to the proverbial 98-pound weakling tout his awesome strength-training program.

Joe: I gotta disagree with you here. I don't care about authors, or individual titles, or even genre. But I do buy and read every single book Grand Central publishes, because I am sooooo brand loyal. It's all about the logo on the spine. That's why so many fans stopped reading Lee Child when he switched houses. Stephen King, too. Betcha Janet Evanovich’s readership deserts her, now that she’s left SMP.

Barry: You’re right. I’m being unfair. Why, just the other day I was in a Barnes & Noble, asking if they could direct me to the latest Random House title.

Joe: I'll read anything Random House publishes! They published you, so everything else they publish must also be perfect for me! Brand brand brand!

Barry: Okay, maybe we’re wrong. Maybe legacy publishers really are expert brand-builders.

Joe: Sure. Hachette really helped me build my brand, dropping me after one title.

I personally visited 200 bookstores in 19 states to promote AFRAID.

Hachette took out a small one-off ad in USA Today.

I did a blog tour, posting new content on 100 blogs in 30 days.

Hachette sent out some galleys.

I sent out a newsletter to 10,000 people on my mailing list.

Does Hachette even have a mailing list?

• We protect authors’ intellectual property through strict anti-piracy measures and territorial controls.

Barry: Let’s translate this. “We protect authors’ (and by authors’ we mean our) intellectual property” is code for “we insist on DRM and other anti-piracy measures that customers hate, that are ineffective against piracy, and that diminish author profits.” “Territorial controls” means “Your book will not be available in many markets where people would like to buy it.”

Joe: Congrats that Hachette learned from the RIAA and the woes of the music industry, and has figured out that DRM doesn't work and piracy doesn't hurt sales.

Oh, wait a second. They HAVEN'T figured that out.

I'm widely pirated, and I currently earn enough money via self-publishing to be in the top 1% tax bracket of the US. Compare that to the eight years I spent in the legacy publishing world, making $40k a year and spending half of that on self-promotion.

• Publishers generate and spread excitement, always looking for new ways make our authors and their books stand out. We’re able to connect books with readers in a meaningful way.

Barry: When I first read that initial clause, I thought it said, “Publishers generate and spread excrement.”

Joe: Ha! That would have been a shitty thing to say.

Barry: I’m sure that reveals my biases. But -- let’s be honest -- it’s a more credible claim than “Publishers generate excitement.” If I’m missing something, maybe readers could tell us about the last time their excitement was generated by a publisher.

Joe: How about this one? And guess what? The Kindle edition is priced higher than the hardcover. :P

Barry: Okay, an excitement exception. :D

But seriously, could a “We are relevant!” memo get any more meaningless, over-general, and aspirational than this? “We don’t just connect books with readers -- we do it in a meaningful way.”

I mean, for realz this time! We’re meaningful, damn it!

Joe: From now on, my job will be to remind people what my job is.

Now hold still while I spread excitement.

Barry: It’s all part of the nurturing.

Oh, and by the way, legacy publishers don’t connect books with readers, and in fact this structural deficit is essential to the increasing irrelevance Hachette is protesting against. Publishers connect books with intermediaries.

Joe: And now those intermediaries, like Amazon, can directly reach and target readers.

Is it any wonder we can sell so many more books with Amazon as our publisher?

Barry: You know, I’m starting to wonder if someone wrote this to play a joke on us, to see if we could be fooled into taking it seriously and responding. It’s not April Fool’s Day, is it?

Joe: Don't use the word fool. You might offend someone.

Barry: For God’s sake, Dudgeon Demons, do not watch this extremely offensive Carlos Mencia skit!

Carlos Mencia - Hospital Show
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Joe: I'm only picking on Hachette here because they wrote that silly memo, and because I have personal experience with them. I discuss book deals with my peers. Hachette actually did a lot more for my book than most publishers do, and I appreciate their efforts.

But I've never relied on publishers to promote my books because publishers actually do very little promotion. A press release and catalog inclusion aren't worth the 52.5% royalties they take.

By contrast, I signed a deal with Amazon's imprint Thomas & Mercer for STIRRED, my latest novel, co-written with Blake Crouch.

Barry: Didn’t you just hit #1 on the Kindle Top 100?

Joe. Yes, and thanks for the shill. STIRRED has sold more ebooks in two weeks than Hachette has sold of AFRAID in thirty-two months. And Amazon pays me a much better royalty than Hachette did.

Not to put you on the spot here, but I know you signed a decent six-figure deal for RAIN FALL, your first John Rain thriller. It's had, what, a dozen printings since 2002?

Barry: It's up to fifteen or sixteen.

Joe: So you must have earned out that advance a long time ago, right?

Barry: Not yet. But close now. To the extent I could decipher Putnam’s royalty statements. I’m thinking about calling in a Dead Sea Scrolls specialist.

Joe: You also got a comparable six-figure advance for THE DETACHMENT, which you released through the Amazon imprint Thomas & Mercer.

Barry: Yes. We've discussed the deal before.

Joe: Do you think you'll be able to earn out that advance faster than the one for RAIN FALL?

Barry: THE DETACHMENT has already earned out.

Joe: Holy shit! What’s that, two months from the pub date?

Barry: Something like that. I wasn’t supposed to say anything, but my wife didn’t know it was under wraps and inadvertently mentioned it at a conference, so I guess it’s public domain now.

Joe: Congrats! When THE DETACHMENT was in the Top 10 on the Kindle Bestseller List, it was really buoying your backlist sales. Hopefully RAIN FALL will earn out soon...

• We offer marketing and publicity expertise, presenting a book to the marketplace in exactly the right way, and ensuring that intelligence, creativity, and business acumen inform our strategy.

Joe: Well, it's certainly reassuring that their strategy isn't informed by laziness, bad ideas, stupidity, and a profound ignorance about how their business works.

Barry: Seriously, when someone claims to be or to do something the opposite of which would be unthinkable, you are being bullshitted. The only question is, does Hachette know they’re bullshitting? Or do they really believe it’s remarkable that their strategy is supposedly informed by intelligence instead of stupidity, creativity rather than dullness, and business acumen rather than business ineptitude?

And come on, presenting a book to the marketplace in exactly the right way? There are so many examples of legacy publishing marketing disasters it’s hard to know where to begin. So why don’t I just point to: The Green Garage Door (viewer discretion advised).

Joe: I gotta say, with so many books losing money, so many authors being dropped, so many titles going out of print, perhaps expertise isn't quite the right word.

Barry: No, maybe something more along the line of... Whistling Past The Graveyard? Or Hoping Against Hope?

Joe: Publishers should stop trying to convince themselves and others that they're relevant, and start actually being relevant. Here's how:

1. Offer much better royalties to authors.

2. Release titles faster. It can take 18 months after a book is turned in to be published. I can do it myself in a week.

3. Use up-to-date accounting methods that are trackable by the author, and pay royalties monthly.

4. Lower ebook prices.

5. Stop futilely fighting piracy. Hint: all such fighting is futile. Piracy can only be made redundant with cost and convenience.

6. Start marketing effectively. Ads and catalogue copy aren't enough. Neither is your imprint's Twitter feed. Especially if your author has more Twitter followers than you do.

Did I miss anything?

Barry: Legacy publishing’s contracts are a disaster. Substantively, they should reflect 21st-Century realities, among those realities the fact that for the first time, authors have real alternatives to the legacy route. So absolutely, the ridiculous current 52.5%-publisher and 17.5%-author digital split needs to be massively adjusted. Again, in a digital world, publishers are unnecessary for distribution, and the fact that they’re still trying to charge for a benefit they no longer provide is an untenable state of affairs.

They also need to stop with the crazy land grabs -- the first looks, the last refusals, the character and series and “anything remotely competitive” lock-ups and other non-compete clauses.

On a less substantive level, they need to make their contracts readable and understandable. Why do publishers still use antediluvian 14-inch legal paper for their contracts and 9-point font? Because it’s off-putting. It discourages anyone from reading or arguing about the contents. Why do they use such monumentally opaque and impenetrable legalese? Because they don’t want people to understand what the contract is doing -- what rights are being forfeited and what obligations imposed.

If there’s one thing I wish Amazon would do differently, it’s use their publishing contract as a sales tool. It’s the best I’ve ever seen -- clear, short, and understandable (just like their every-60-days royalty statements, in fact), and if they’d be more aggressive about publicizing how remarkably clear and fair their contract is, it would put some pressure on legacy publishers -- sorry, on Experimenting, Excitement-Generating Pioneers -- to follow suit.

Joe: I've been telling publishers how to improve since 2009, and not one has listened.

Except for Amazon. Amazon listens. Amazon listens closely.

That's why Amazon doesn't need to create silly internal memos about how they're still relevant.

Barry: Seriously, can you imagine Amazon putting out a memo like that? “We are still relevant” is not a good sign for Hachette, or for legacy publishing generally. It’s like when the government says, “The war is still winnable.” Surest sign it’s lost.

Joe: Yeah, hard to imagine a memo like this one from Amazon. Because every book Amazon has published actually makes a profit.

Barry: I want to say one last thing, about our tone.

Joe: Okay.

Barry: We’re pretty disrespectful here toward Hachette, aren’t we?

Joe: Yes. But not unfairly.

Barry: Exactly. Not unfairly. A lot of people get uncomfortable when small-fry like us criticize big, august institutions like Hachette. Up to a point, I understand that reflex, but I don’t share it.

Joe: This dialog could anger or hurt people who work at Hachette, or authors with Hachette. In fact, it could anger or hurt anyone working for legacy publishers.

But instead of getting hurt or angry, how about figuring out how to fix your broken business model?

This is a business. Business isn't personal.

At least, that's what my agent said when my last two publishers dropped me. Two publishers who are making money off my backlist hand-over-fist.

Barry: For me, respect isn’t something to which anyone is entitled (courtesy is different); it’s something that has to be earned. And when someone -- anyone -- writes a memo as weak, unsupported, and full of obvious bullshit as Hachette’s, there’s nothing wrong with, and indeed there’s everything right with, calling them on it.

Joe: Ultimately, I decided to spend some time doing this fisk because I see too many authors still crossing their fingers, holding out for legacy deals.

Seriously? You really want to work with a company that does stuff like this?

Barry: Was our tone sometimes derisive and mocking and otherwise harsh? Yes. Was that deserved? Again, yes.

Joe: Didn’t you just get into it with the Pentagon’s spokesperson?

Barry: Yeah, I wrote a blog criticizing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for being full of shit -- which he is -- and his spokesman responded with the usual, “Why do you hate the troops?” dodge. If anyone’s curious, you can read about it here. But yes, there are a lot of people who believe individuals have to defer to authority, including being terribly civil even while the authority in question pisses down your back and assures you it’s just raining. I’m not one of those people. If someone tries to bullshit me, I think it’s a public service to call bullshit and explain why.

Joe: You're anti-American and unappreciative of the opportunities this country has given you. You're also anti-legacy publishing and unappreciative of the opportunities the Big 6 have given you.

Barry: Hah. You see right through me.

Joe: But at least we've both managed to avoid any incendiary analogies this dialog. Good thing, too. I was getting really tired of dealing with overreacting, hypersensitive pinheads.

As for authors, I'll repeat my mantra. Set appropriate goals, and figure out realistic ways to reach those goals. If you really want to publish with a legacy house, fully understand what you're getting into, and why.

If you go into it all doe-eyed and hopeful, you can’t complain about whatever happens.

Barry: Hachette, go back to the drawing board and write a real memo, devoid of bullshit and dodges and glittering generalities that apply to every business that’s ever existed. Write something built on actual evidence instead of relying on a narcissistic and unmerited “trust us” attitude, and I promise we’ll examine it as carefully as we’ve reviewed this one -- though perhaps with a different result. Fair enough?

Joe: Did you do the wrap-up yet? I was too busy molesting this frog.

Barry: LMAO... Let the Dudgeon Demons descend!

Joe: Be the monkey!