Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Guest Post by Katherine Sears

Joe sez: If you've missed the previous guest blogs, they've been fascinating and informative.

You can read about AJ Abbiati's Transliterator here:

You can read G.E. Nolly's fifty year journey as a writer here:

You can read Kevin Hardman talking about Amazon ranking here:

You can read Mark Terry talking about his publishing journey here:

You can read Jeff Schajer talking about his thrillers here:

You can read Lisa Grace talk about movie options here:

You can read Brandilyn Collins talking about dialog subtext here:

And now here's Katherine Sears...


First – I want to point out that this is a great cause, with a fantastic idea for an incentive. My own family has been affected deeply by Alzheimers and I was more than happy to contribute. That said, I would be lying to imply that having the opportunity to share my story with Joe’s audience was not a huge bonus and persuaded me to make a donation *right now*. Sometimes a reason to get off the fence is needed.

While I have actually written a book (about book marketing, titled “How To Market A Book”) that is not what I want to talk about today. I am co-founder of a new type of publishing company called Booktrope. Our tagline is “reinventing the way books are published” and that is genuinely our goal.

When we first started the company, I scoured the internet for proof of concept that what we were thinking of doing, could work – that someone other than the Big 6 publishers could create and successfully sell books. That was just over two years ago and that was when I discovered this blog. Since that time, I have continued to read Joe’s words and would like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Joe - without realizing it, you have been advising us, challenging us, and forcing us to examine what we do all along the way. We haven’t always agreed with your views, but I can assure you they made us stop and reflect as we found our way to where we are now.

In my opinion, the best thing about being an author today is that you have choices about how you publish your work – not just overall in your career, but for each project you produce. That said, there are still primarily two ways to accomplish this - the traditional publishing route and self-publishing. Booktrope offers another alternative.

We have created a process we call Team Publishing which is supported by a back-end website and platform we call Teamtrope. Simply put, we bring together teams of people in order to publish books. Teams are typically comprised of: author, editor, designer, proof-reader, marketing manager and Booktrope (although teams can and do vary). This team works together to create then market and sell the book. All members of the team are compensated via a profit-sharing (royalty) based model. In other words, no one, including Booktrope, makes a dime until and unless the book sells. This keeps our overhead low but quality high. It also means the entire team is highly motivated to market the book. We do not charge fees and we do not accept all manuscripts; therefore we are not self-publishing.

As for our philosophy:

We are committed to transparency, honesty and quality. We believe the bulk of the profit from books should go back to the creative team who produced them. In fact, 70% of profits go to the Creative Team with the author receiving the largest share. We believe our teams should know how their books are selling more often than twice per year, so we tell them. We believe in community and collaboration over competition. We are format agnostic, producing all the primary e-book formats as well as print. We believe routinely offering books for free builds readership, and sells more books.

Oh – and as of July, we began paying all team members, including authors, monthly (press release here). Because we also believe people should be able to make a living and plan their finances, as with any other career.

Here is how our process works.

Authors submit their work, and if it is a genre we are looking for, it goes into our Early Reader process. Early readers are simply volunteers who love books. They help us decide which books we move forward with. We created this system because we wanted a selection process that gave us insight into what real readers wanted to see, rather than an elite group of editors or publishing tastemakers. These are real people who love to read.

Once a book is through the Early Reader pool, it gets loaded into Teamtrope.

All the members within Teamtrope are screened to ensure they have the skills to participate based on their role.

Teams then form around the book projects, negotiating for percentages depending on the scope of work they will provide. Booktrope provides guidance on percentages, but does not control them.

Team members must agree to work with one another – no one is assigned in our system. This is crucial, since all team members are giving of their talent and skill, ahead of being paid.

Booktrope handles the contracts, the finances, provides layout services and uploads the book to all major systems. We also provide training, general support and a collaborative environment for all team members. 

We have learned a lot over the last two years, and that expertise is offered to our teams.

So does it work? Yes.  

We have published 136 titles across a variety of genres

We have 210 people working in our system

We have had numerous best-sellers on Kindle, Nook and iTunes – both free and paid.

Some examples of our successes include: “Riversong” by Tess Thompson (women’s contemporary fiction), “Memoirs Aren’t Fairytales” by Marni Mann (literary fiction), “Touched” by AJ Aalto (paranormal romantic suspense), “The Puppeteer” by Tamsen Schultz (romantic suspense), “Jailbird” by Heather Huffman (romantic suspense), “Let the Dogs Speak” by Marianne McKiernan (non-fiction, animal memoir), and “Invisible Ink” by Brian  McDonald (non-fiction, writing). I am proud to say there are many many more. You can view a full list on our website or search Amazon for “Booktrope”.

To sum up, we are grateful to live in a time when publishing is changing, because we are able to use that change to create something new and innovative. If you have any interest in being a part of it, don’t hesitate to reach out. We are always looking for new team members in all areas, including authors (authors can submit here, other team members here).

Thanks Joe!

Joe sez: It always amuses me to look back at my old blog posts and see how ahead of the curve I've been. Four years ago I wrote a post about a term I coined, Estributors. One of the things I said was that Amazon should start publishing authors. Another is that people would arise to help authors publish books in exchange for a royalty percentage or fee.

I was right on both counts.

A lot of writers don't want to deal with the business side of the business, and are content giving up a share of the profits in order to have the business stuff done for them.

If you become successful enough, you'll reach a point where it makes sense to have people assist you, because doing it yourself takes you away from writing. It actually becomes cheaper to hire help than to do things on your own. I have an assistant, an accountant, a banker, and a financial adviser, along with a formatter, proofreader, cover artist, and agent. It's still strange for me, because at 43 years old I'm only now becoming a responsible adult. For the majority of my life I didn't have health or life insurance (couldn't afford either) and I lived paycheck to paycheck--especially difficult when legacy publishers pay twice a year. Now I have zero debt, I make my surplus funds work for me, and I pay lots of people to do lots of things that need to get done.

Running your own empire requires people. You can pay these people a flat fee, or a royalty, depending on your current income. 

Here's another eerily prescient blog post from four years ago. Am I forward thinking or what?  In a nutshell, I talk about a form of crowdsourcing involving user aggregated content--something very similar to what Booktrope is doing.

As I say a lot, there has never been a better time in history to be a writer. And no writer has to be an island. We have help available to us. We simply need to figure out how much help we need, and what its worth. 


BWKnister said...

You're not the only one who's anticipated the future: After being screwed by one marketer, I approached another. After she read and then expressed admiration for my book, I proposed that the way to demonstrate this would be for us to enter into a 50/50partnership. Her efforts would now be serving both our interest, not just fulfilling a contractual obligation. You know the rest. But it sounds as though Katherine Sears is prepared to implement this idea. I will have to learn more. Thanks a lot for another valuable, generous post.

Aline Strong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aline Strong said...

How adventurous is your formatting? I have seen more and more about books formatted almost like toys: interactive with comments from readers, video and audio inserts including from the author, readers being able to add to the book a la Wikipedia, readers having book clubs electronically AS they read the content. This is pretty exciting stuff.
My concern in all of this, though, is that the content of the book not get lost in the techie thrill. Still, it is pretty darn techie thrilling.
So, how adventurous are you guys?

Jill James said...

Katherine, it sounds like you took what wasn't working and tossed it, found what was working and daily improve it. Good job!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Aline - we are pretty straight forward in our formatting at present, although we try to remain open to trying new things. We would like to remain "format agnostic" and unfortunately due to the various systems and structures, this would mean interactive would vary the experience from platform to platform fairly dramatically.

As an additional point, from a market perspective, I am not convinced that readers want to interact with their stories quite so thoroughly. Most readers read to be taken into the book, and interacting in such ways would remove them from the story. I think there will be an increasing possibility for this, as our population becomes more dependent on our tablets, but for now, it would be a fairly small market share (IMHO).

Unknown said...

Some of my books have been picked up by Booktrope and I love working with them. My book manager is awesome and the other authors are friendly and helpful. This is the model for publishing!

Anonymous said...

According to their sample financial chart, authors get around 22% of list price instead of the 70% they would have gotten by self-publishing.


And nobody mentioned rights. Are they on the table too?

I'm really surprised you didn't take the time to break all this down in the body of the blog post, Joe. As a publishing model, I don't see how this could possibly be good for authors.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous regarding monetary breakdown - the goal is to be better than traditional publishing (which we are, by far) but certainly do not claim to be as favorable as self-publishing. On the other hand, we take on a lot of the things that most self-published authors would pay for our of pocket. We are one more option, not the only answer!

Every author needs to decide what makes sense for them.

As to rights, author maintains copyright, of course, and we have the publishing rights for 5 years with the option to continue after that, or revert. We also include a clause that requires us to publish within a specific number of months or rights revert (in other words, we can't sit on the work and not do anything with it).

William J. Thomas said...

Anonymous - self pubbing = 70% of list price. Team publishing through Booktrope = something lower than 70%...obviously.

It's all about choices for writers, and this post shows another choice for authors who don't want to fully self-publish, but don't want to or can't go the legacy route either. If someone else is doing the the editing, cover art, formatting, marketing, etc. for you, then you are going to give up some portion of that 70%.

Katherine clearly states that with Booktrope the 70% is split between the whole creative team, which includes the author.

Not interested? Great, then do it all yourself and get the full 70% - many authors do.

But again, this post shows another choice for authors who do not want to do it all themselves.

Brian Drake said...

Booktrope seems like a great idea when you consider my book is already $1000 in the red. It will take a lot of sales at 70% to make that up before I see a profit. I have found ways to cut that cost for the next book, but it's still steep (probably half), and I wouldn't mind giving Booktrope a try. What if an author wants to do more than a book a year? Is there a limit on how many books your authors can submit?

Anonymous said...

Brian - we adore authors who do multiple books per year! Tess Thompson, Heather Huffman, Terry Persun (to name a few) all do that very thing. For the same reasons Joe has pointed out many times on this blog, having multiple books makes sense for your fans, and for your marketing efforts. We embrace that completely.

Anonymous said...

Just realized I should clarify my reply to Anonymous regarding rights the *author* has the right to revert their rights after five years, Booktrope doesn't make the decision.

Mean Teacher said...

Based on the covers of some of the recent guest posters on this blog, it is clear that many self-pubbing authors are unable to do professional quality covers on their own. The same goes for high quality editing. For many people, the co-op/hybrid model seems to make a lot of sense, and they may end up selling more books in the long run than they would on their own. I don't think I'd choose the Booktrope route myself, but it seems like a cool and savvy enterprise.

McVickers said...

Months of writing, researching, editing, rehashing plot points, and all for ... 22% of the profits? Uh, no thanks.

Judith said...

Hi Katherine,
Just curious: do you accept novella submissions? (@ 25,000 words.) I didn't see any reference to word length on the site, but it does appear that so far you've published mainly full novels.

Alice Roelke said...

I downloaded Amazon samples from several of this publisher's books; they sounded good!

I'm pretty happy with my current publisher (and with learning self-pub on the side), but I hope this connects with the people who will find it useful. :)

Unknown said...

> Booktrope seems like a great idea when you consider my book is already $1000 in the red. It will take a lot of sales at 70% to make that up before I see a profit.

And your time. Don't forget your time. If it took you 20 hours to write the book and manage the other aspects of publishing, and your time is worth $1 per hour, you are $1020 in the red.


Anonymous said...

Booktrope seems like a great idea when you consider my book is already $1000 in the red. It will take a lot of sales at 70% to make that up before I see a profit.

And your time. Don't forget your time. If it took you 20 hours to write the book and manage the other aspects of publishing, and your time is worth $1 per hour, you are $1020 in the red.

Of course those arguments could be made for going with any publisher. The industry standard for ebook royalties is 25%, which boils down to 17.5% of the list price. Booktrope royalties boil down to 22% of the list price, so $.66 per $2.99 ebook vs $.52.

Neither is a very good deal for the author, IMO, but at least with a traditional publisher you'll get some kind of an advance, and your paper books will be in brick and mortar stores.

I just find it hard to believe that any reader of this blog would want to give up two-thirds of his or her income for things that can easily be outsourced. It's the exact thing Joe has been preaching against for years.

J. McGhee said...

from the article, "Teams then form around the book projects, negotiating for percentages depending on the scope of work they will provide. Booktrope provides guidance on percentages, but does not control them."

Could you break down the different team members with the percentage range you recommend.

Anonymous said...

@ J. McGhee

At least they're transparent with their financials. I applaud them for that.

But note that all the percentages are for net, not for the list price. So 33% to the author really boils down to 22%, slightly better ebook royalties than you would get with a boilerplate Big 5 contract.

Tony Benson said...

Thanks for the post, Joe. Katherine, the model you're using sounds fantastic, and it's just what's needed. To make a good job of self publishing is costly - an editor alone isn't cheap, but as you've pointed out it doesn't stop there.

Not everyone has the resources to fund this kind of outlay to publish their book. However, with your model, they don't need to, they only need to come up with a great book.

I love the idea. Good luck with it.

Sharper13x said...

Great guest post!

I spoke with Katherine and Ken of Booktrope a few times when I was putting my first book together and Booktrope was just getting started. I found them to be very smart, friendly, and more importantly very earnest. They really seemed like great people and I really wanted to jump in with their new model. It also looks like the reservations I had at the time may have changed and I want to ask Katherine about that.

At the time, while I thought their business model was pretty darn brilliant, there was one sticking point I couldn’t get past.

My problem was that the contracts seemed to pay in perpetuity. That is to say, that the marketing person (for example), who deservedly received a very high percentage of the book, would continue to get that percentage forever. And as Joe has pointed out, e books are forever. So 10 years from now, after the marketing has stopped and sequels are driving the sales…

I would have no problem with paying a marketing person a lot of money if they are busting butt to raise the profile of a book. Particularly at launch. And of course from that marketers point of view… any cut off point would become crucial as well. What if they bust their butt for X amount of time, and shortly after that time expires, the book explodes? Shouldn’t they share in the success?

I’d say yes, but not forever, because they don’t need to work on it forever. What if you write the next Tarzan? Or Dracula? In other words, how does this new system deal with a big hit? It is quite a conundrum for a self publisher who could also farm out those services for a one time fee.

But it sounds like that may have changed. So my question is - What happens to the contracts with the team when those 5 years are up? Are they still good for life, or is 5 years an optional expiration date?

Thanks Katherine, and I still think it’s a great idea. Also, looking over the site, it looks like it’s been very successful as well. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

I am going to address a few comments here in one, for efficiency sake (sorry for the length).

Judith - we don't exclude novellas, but would probably want assurance that is not the only work you have planned. For you to attract a team that is top-notch, they will want some idea that they will "earn" a reasonable wage, and we can't price a novella such that this could happen on just that project. We do have a responsibility to the teams when we bring books in.

As to royalty being on net profit - this is because we change list price quite a lot to take advantage of what seems to be a sweet spot at any given time. Joe has spoken about this a lot on this blog, and we are always playing with pricing. That makes it nearly impossible to pay on list price, because we don't have an easy way to track that, versus a very easy way to track the revenue that comes in per project. It would also be a challenge when Amazon discounts, of course, as that may or may not come out of their portion, depending on the situation.

As I said before, we are not the solution for everyone. Some people can and should stay (or go) to the indie model. Others love the support of the community we offer and the fact that they are not the sole proprietor of their publishing company. Many authors self-publish without realizing that it is called "self-publishing" not "authorship". You have to create a publishing company, not just write the book. Joe does a great job of outlining the steps and best-practices, but many do not take the advice to heart ahead of time, seeing only the rainbow of potential riches at the end. The reality of the work that comes with the self-publishing process is great for some, and a nightmare for others. Same with the financial side, some people love the control, and will happily pay for the services they need - while others are too easily taken advantage of, or just do not have the resources/knowledge to hire the right talent. And of course, marketing is a factor. If you are not a self-promotional type of person, that is a tough nut to crack (or another thing to pay for). This is something that is part of our team, a marketing manager.

Hi Stephen - Great to hear from you here! At least I assume that is you ;) Yes, contracts are five years and then can renew, or not. Because we have not been around long enough for anyone to get to that point, I have no idea how often people will opt to continue either with us, or with one another. We are seeing that most authors tend to keep writing (with us), and tend to stay with their same team for subsequent book releases. This is the preferable way all around, as you can imagine. You are welcome to reach out if you want to discuss, you know how to find me!

Unknown said...

> Of course those arguments could be made for going with any publisher. ... Booktrope royalties boil down to 22% of the list price, so $.66 per $2.99 ebook vs $.52.

> Neither is a very good deal for the author, ...

> I just find it hard to believe that any reader of this blog would want to give up two-thirds of his or her income for things that can easily be outsourced. It's the exact thing Joe has been preaching against for years.

I certainly agree. On the other hand, I think it boils down to different people wanting different things (and some people not being aware of all their options).

We were kicking this around at the office today and more or less settled on the principle: You are going to pay, one way or the other. If you can't proofread or don't want to, you must hire it out, or trade off with someone somehow (I'll make your book cover if you'll proofread my book, etc.) or forego it and pay the price of a lousy looking book. Ditto for book covers and formatting. You pay with time or money or consequences and have to make the best decision you can, for your particular circumstances.

I think Katherine put her case well and it may be just the thing for some people, especially if you are financially strapped to the point where you simply cannot hire out the services. However, there may be a compromise position: release your book now using your own "sweat equity". My Quick and Dirty eBook Covers book just happens to be free on Amazon currently, or use Amazon's cover-making application. Then, later, as time and money permit, upgrade the cover and the proofreading.

There is one catch that I can think of. Readers generally don't give bad reviews because of the cover, but bad proofreading can lead to bad reviews that will last forever (unless you republish under a different title, I suppose). So, even if it hurts to proofread, do it anyway, and do it again and again, before releasing the book.


mcVickers said...

When you boil it down, Booktrope is traditional publishing minus the 99% chance of a stinging rejection letter and marketing muscle (once you've signed on). Basically, self-publishing without 50% of the work and 70% of the profits.

How anyone thinks this is a good idea boggles my mind.

Lisa said...

This model sounds similar to Entangled Publishing, which many romance authors are having success with.

It is a great time to be an author and to have choices for each book we create.