Thursday, February 06, 2014

Fisking Donald Maass

Ah, class warfare. The royals vs. the peasants. The bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat. The establishment vs. the revolutionaries. The haves vs. the have-nots.
The gatekeepers spouting bullshit vs. the new breed of writers calling them on their bullshit.
I present literary agent Donald Maass from Writer Unboxed, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, currently $9.99 on Kindle and ranked at #25,065. 
Thank you, Mr. Maass, for posting your BS publicly so I may dissect it, line by line, exposing it for the utter crap that it is. Then after I wrote my responses, I asked Barry Eisler for his take.
Here's Donald... 
Donald: This month in keeping with our look inside publishing, I’m departing from my usual craft advice to give you my view of the new state of the industry.
I don’t see the new shape of things as many do: the twilight of the dinosaurs, the old-thinking Big Five print publishers staggering, falling to their knees and heading for extinction as they’re overwhelmed by a nimble army of small, warm-blooded mammals whose claws are the sharp, smart, flexible tools of electronic publishing.
Joe: I understand why you don't see the new shape of things, Donald. Neither did those in the travel industry. Or the music industry. Or the film camera industry. Or the network TV industry. 
Isn't is interesting how these billion dollar industries, when confronted with Expedia and Orbitz and Priceline (sorry Travel Agents)  and iTunes and Napster (sorry Record Company Executives) and digital photography (sorry Kodak and Polaroid) and cable TV, Netflix, and YouTube (sorry ABC, NBC, and CBS) also felt they had nothing to fear, until their market share evaporated before their eyes?
Within the past few years, one of the two major book chains disappeared, the Big 6 became the Big 5, the DOJ brought suit against many of the companies you regularly do business with (and the AAR stupidly defended), and ebooks have gone from idea to the increasingly preferable way readers buy media thanks to a new company that revolutionized the way books are sold.
But you don't have to see the new shape of things. You don't have to see the thousands of authors making more money than they ever could in the antiquated, archaic system you're attempting to defend. It isn't necessary for you, Donald, to recognize change. Change happens anyway.
Donald: It’s true that I’m a gatekeeper, a longtime member (to my surprise) of the industry establishment. But I am no worshiper of the old ways. Traditional publishing always was cost-heavy and inefficient. It’s a wonder that it worked. But the new electronic “paradigm” is not the glorious revolution that true believers would like it to be.
Joe: Well, you're right that it worked for publishers, and agents, and a few authors lucky enough to become bestsellers.
But for those countless midlist authors stuck with unconscionable contracts because they had no choice, and the multitude of authors kept out of the industry by gatekeepers such as yourself, it didn't work. It actually sucked wheelbarrows full of ass.
Your industry fucked the majority of writers it provided services for. And that same industry was built on the sweat, tears, toil, and blood of those very writers it exploited.
Have you actually ever listened to your clients' complaints? (Hint: Your clients are supposed to be the writers you represent. You know, the ones you sell your How To books to, giving them hope that they might someday, if they're lucky enough, follow the gatekeeper rules and get a shitty contract. You know the ones. They're the herd you describe below.)
I've never been a true believer in anything. I like data, and numbers, and facts, and persuasive arguments. I like experiments. I like logic. 
I like making money from my hard work.
And I've found that self-publishing gives me the opportunity to make more money than I ever did within the gatekeeping system. 
And I'm not the only one who knows this. Because others have data, numbers, facts, logic, experiments, and persuasive arguments to support them.
But why start listening to authors? They have their place. They're a lower caste, and only a few are appointed by the holy order of gatekeepers to take their place at the Publishing Industry Table, where they can make 8% royalty on mass market paperbacks. 
Donald: What’s happened instead is an evolution of the publishing world into a new class system, and like any class system it has winners, losers and opportunities. It’s a system that, if not recognized for what it is, will trap frustrated writers in a pit far more hopeless than the one they yearned to escape. Let’s start with a couple of cold-eyed realities.

Well, at least he’s recognizing that there’s a class system at work, even if he’s not able to see, or admit, who up until now have really been the lords and who have really been the serfs. I’m not sure this is progress.
Joe: It isn't.
Donald: First, e-books have not hurt the print publishers but rather have helped them. Especially in the recent recession, low-cost/high-margin e-books have been a bright spot. They’ve kept publishers profitable even as brick-and-mortar book retailing has shrunk and consumers have grown cautious. With the mass-market paperback pricing itself nearly out of existence, low-priced e-books have arrived (with help from the Department of Justice) to keep value-conscious readers reading. Of course, the difficult and expensive business of selling print books must still be faced but at least there’s some gravy to make the task tasty.
Joe: Indeed, ebooks have helped publishers. Even after the lame ass attempts at high prices and windowing and collusion.
Do you actually understand why ebooks have helped publishers, Donald?
Hint: Because publishers screwed the writers. Where were you when the lock-step 25% ebook royalties crept into author contracts? Are you currently fighting for better ebook royalties on behalf of your clients? Did you read my post ridiculing David Gernert for saying stupid things like you're currently saying?
Are authors an unlimited resource, like oil (ha!) to exploit for you and your industry? You continue to sell them books on how to succeed. You continue to do deals with the Big 5. It's easy to see what your agenda is.
My agenda? All of the information I provide, I give away for free. This blog is a public service to my peers. I don't take 15% for helping them. And I don't charge $9.99 for a Kindle book. Like your ebook Writing the Breakout Novel. Now, I may be missing something, but I don't see any breakout novels available on Amazon written by Donald Maass. But I'm sure your advice is good, even if you didn't take it yourself. After all, you've been so persuasive so far...
Donald: Second, the self-publishing movement has been a boon to the print industry. Far from being threatened, print publishers instead are now gratefully relieved of the money-losing burden of the mid-list. Like giant banks that have discovered that banking is boring and the real money is in gambling, big publishers are now free to focus on the high-risk/high-reward game of finding the next Twilight, Hunger GamesGame of Thrones or Fifty Shades of Grey.
Joe: Wow. Just wow.

Barry: He’s comparing legacy publishing behavior to the banking behavior that nearly destroyed the global economy? And he just described thousands of authors as a “burden” of which publishers are now “gratefully relieved.” Leaving aside the nomenclature, where will these authors go once their publishers have relieved themselves on — sorry, of — them?  Why doesn’t Maass want midlist authors to have options?
Joe: How many clients do you have, Donald? They're all huge bestsellers, right?
Wait... they're not? Do you actually represent (gasp!) some unwashed midlist writers?
Good to see you're in their corner, fighting on their behalf, rather than siding with the relieved publishers who no longer have to give your clients contracts.
Donald: Better still, because some authors are now—voluntarily!—willing to bear the expense and undertake the effort of building an audience by themselves, print publishers have the luxury of culling the prize cattle from the herd.

Barry: One unfortunate metaphor might be an accident.  Three begins to seem revealing
Joe: Ah, yes. All the dumb cattle, waiting to be culled from the herd.
I love this analogy because it perfectly encapsulates the unbelievable disdain you have for the writers that you parasitically leech off of to make your living. 
Of course, we all know the fortunately culled cattle get to retire to a long life of luxury and happiness.
Oh... wait. They're actually slaughtered, butchered, and eaten.
This is such an appropriate thing for you to say, and you are completely clueless why.
Donald: Even print-only distribution deals with a handful of successful e-published authors are terrific: easy pickings and effortless profit. Most authors are still knocking at the gate, too, since after all seventy percent of trade book sales are of print editions. In many ways these are good times for print publishers.
Joe: Have you spoken to those who got print-only deals, Donald?
I have. I've corresponded with many.
Here's an email I just got, name omitted to protect the victim.
"What I wanted to email you about, though, was how shitty this legacy publisher has been to me. I turned down a $1.5 million offer for my next books and became persona non grata. They stopped supporting the print version of the book they bought, just fulfilling orders by popular demand from bookstores, which still resulted in 1,000+ sales a week. They resent me, and they hope the book dies. It won't, because readers are demanding copies. I know another indie who did a major deal with them who can't wait for the contract to expire. These are evil fucks."
Donald, how can you actually believe that writers will continue to be culled? We talk to each other. We read each others' contracts. We know how much we can earn on our own.
And more and more of us believe the publishers you work for are, indeed, evil fucks.
You don't see the shape of things? Are you sitting in a corner with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears yelling "Neener neener neener!" so you don't see or hear what the rest of us do? 
Donald: Third, the self-publishing movement has produced gold-rush hysteria in the writing community. While not exactly a mass delusion, questionable beliefs have been widely accepted. True believers sneer at doubters. 
Joe: Great points. Can you show me?
Show me the mass delusion. I go to Kindleboards and see a lot of level-headed writers making money. Where are you looking?
Show me the questionable beliefs. Find something, anything, questionable that I've said. Or anything said by Barry Eisler, Courtney Milan, David Gaughran, Kris Rusch, Bob Mayer, or Dean Wesley Smith,.
Ebooks aren't a gold rush. I dispelled this years ago.
Gold is finite. Ebooks are forever.
Donald: So what is the real truth? High success at self-publishing has happened only for a few who have mastered the demanding business of online marketing. A larger, but still small, number of authors have achieved a modest replacement income from self-publishing. Growth from there will be hard for them, however, because wide print distribution still is needed. (Seventy percent of trade book sales are of print books, remember?)

Barry: Needed for what? This is the same argument Gottlieb made. These guys really seem to need to believe they’re necessities.
Joe: High success at self-publishing has happened only for a few?
As opposed to legacy publishing, right? Which is why every client you have is a #1 NYT Bestseller, and every author pubbed by legacy is rich.
A modest replacement income? How about actual money for the first time ever? Bill-paying money. Life-changing money. Full-time writing money.
I made $1 million last year, with no paper distribution. Why do these myths persist that writers need to be in print?
Perhaps so you can sell more How To books?
Perhaps so you can cull a few from the herd and make a killing while the others you rep get butchered?
Donald: As for the rest…well, the position of the vast majority of self-publishing authors is no better than it ever was, though probably there are fewer cartons of books in their garages. Consultancy to self-publishers is a new job category, however, and that has to be good for the nation’s employment stats.
Joe: You're apparently confusing vanity publishing with self-publishing.
Vanity is when you pay a disreputable service to print copies of your books, sell them at a high cost with terrible covers and editing, and let them keep the rights while receiving terrible royalties.
The only difference between predatory vanity publishing and Big 5 publishing is the author gets hurt a little more with vanity. Sort of like being beaten with a whip instead of beaten with a rod. 
Self-publishing is where authors keep their rights, control price, and get 70% royalties (instead of the 12.5% you get the majority of your authors). There's no beating involved. 
Did I clarify that for you?
Donald: Fourth, as I said, a new class system has arisen. Here’s how it breaks down:
Joe: Because the one thing this world needs is another way to divide classes of people based on subjective, prejudicial nonsense. 
Barry: Okay, let’s short-circuit this.  Leave aside Maass's obsession with dividing authors into classes, and his inability to see the real class distinction he is part of and supports: publishers and agents as royalty; writers as peasants. The real problem is with the analogy itself. Because when it comes to freight/coach/first, all that matters is whether you have the money to buy a ticket. But publishing is a lottery, not a sure-fire ticket you can buy if you just have enough money. Also, while there’s no reason to prefer coach to first class other than price, there are lots of reasons many authors seem to prefer self-publishing to legacy publishing — some because they’re making more money self-publishing, and others because they prefer the flexibility, control, and time-to-market. Something odd has to be going on in your mind if you miss differences this obvious and come up with analogies this incoherent.
Donald: Freight Class
Self-published authors and electronic micro-presses must haul themselves. While the means of production are easy and low-cost, the methods of marketing are costly either in terms of cash or time. Success is rare. The pleasure of being in control is offset by the frustration of “discoverability”.
Joe: I must interrupt the bullshit to point out, for the nth time, that this is EXACTLY THE SAME WITH LEGACY PUBLISHERS.
Success is always rare. That's why so few authors become bestsellers. And the frustration of discoverability is worse on a bookstore shelf when you have one book spine-out in section. At least on Amazon every author has their own page and can compete on an even playing field.
Donald: Online retailers are whimsical and ludicrously over-stocked, both barrier and open door. Lists, blogs, social sites and the like are plentiful but of only spotty help. Trusted filtering of self-published books may arise (watch the recent sale of Bookish to Zola, two recommendation sites started by—gasp!—publishers and agents) but don’t hold your breath. The real problem is that fiction at this level has trouble appealing widely to readers. It can sell when priced at $2.99, sometimes a bit more, often less.
Joe: There are over 100,000 books in a Barnes and Noble. Is that not ludicrously overstocked?
Donald, is it easier to search for books online using a mouse, or walk through aisles of paper books hoping they stock something that appeals to you?
Are you aware of the filtering systems known as customer reviews, bestseller lists, and also-boughts, that Amazon utilizes extremely well? 
As for appealing widely to readers... well, my sales increased by 800% when I got my rights back from my legacy publishers. And I work a lot less promoting now than I did when I was published by them.
Donald: Why? Let’s look at what characterizes Freight Class fiction. While the Kindle bookstore can be an incubator of innovative fiction, for the most part it is an ocean of genre imitations if not amateurish writing. Freight Class novels generally take few risks. Too often they rely on character stereotypes, heavy-handed plots, purple and obvious emotions, and messages and themes that are time-worn. Justice must be done. Love conquers all. Good vs. evil. Freight Class fiction can be easy to skim. Literary flourishes are few, cliffhangers are many. Genre conventions are rigidly honored. Characters are not motivated from within, for the most part, but instead are pushed into action by external plot circumstances.
Joe: First, I congratulate you on reading tens of thousands of self-pubbed genre novels to arrive at this conclusion. Kudos on being an objective arbitrator of quality. 
Second, anyone who has ever bought a legacy paperback they didn't like probably believes that those books relied on character stereotypes, heavy-handed plots, purple and obvious emotions, and messages that are time-worn. Which is why many bestselling legacy books have lower customer ratings than bestselling self-pubbed titles.
But what do readers know, with their subjective tastes? They aren't self-appointed gatekeepers like you are.
Donald: Coach Class
Here we find decently-written literary fiction and nicely-crafted commercial fiction that achieves print publication but sells best at trade-paperback level ($14.99 or so), or discounted in e-book form. Coach Class novelists support each other yet find it difficult to gain a foothold with the public. So-called “marketing” by their publishers is disappointing and, truthfully, can only do so much. Traditional tours (when they happen) accomplish little, front of store incentives are costly, and online marketing sometimes seems to consist of the hope that Amazon will do a price promotion. Coach Class authors, however, are professionally edited and get goodies like nice covers, ARC’s, and plenty of blurbs. Plus, their books are in bookstores, a big boost in visibility.

Barry: So far, Maass’s thinking exhibits two primary, and pretty obvious, flaws: one, he talks about the ideal of legacy publishing as though it were the widespread reality; two, he discusses challenges in self-publishing as though they don’t exist at least equally in the legacy world. In fairness, he’s not unusual in this regard.
Joe: Dammit, where will the herd of self-pubbed authors get nice covers, review copies, blurbs, and professional editing?
Oh yeah, we can outsource it. And we don't have to give the extra 57.5% ebook royalties to the publisher, forever, when they could be one-time sunk costs.  
But perhaps I'm being unfair. Perhaps I'm the only writer who ever got bad covers, zero blurbs, and lousy editing from my publishers. 
Am I? All you authors reading this, feel free to chime in.
Donald: What characterizes Coach Class fiction? Readable pages, appealing characters, clever premises, attention-grabbing plot hooks, a display of craft and art, emotional engagement, and themes that “resonate”…which is to say, that stir readers without greatly challenging them. Coach class fiction is less easy to skim. While characters can be motivated from within, their inner journeys can feel somewhat painless. Readers are “engaged” but don’t always feel deeply moved. Coach Class fiction sometimes borrows secondary characters from history or classics, retells other stories, or stretches into series that can become thin. Genre conventions may be borrowed or blended but essentially they are not violated. Coach Class is a moderately comfortable place to be, though one can feel stuck in one’s seat. Economy shocks can hurt.

Barry: I dunno. Some of this sounds like what Shakespeare did. Secondary characters from history and all that.
Joe: And this class of fiction is written by... wait for it...
The same herd of authors who write ALL fiction in all of Maass's so-called classes.
Donald, every writer worth their salt realizes the benefits of a good editor. But we can find good editors on our own, and pay them hourly instead of forever. And it is writers who write the books, not editors. Show me a single editor who worked more on a book than the writer did, to warrant their huge royalty cut.
But you're already in a hole, so why stop digging?
Donald: First Class
The cream class gets a double shot of extended life in bookstores, both in hardcover and later in paper. Their books can sell well at $25 and live long in trade paper. For First Class authors, success looks effortless. Goodies accrue easily. Recognition is instant and wide. Sub-rights sell. Awards happen. Insulated from economy shocks, authors of this class never seem to worry about the industry. In interviews they talk only about their art and process. They mentor. Lines are long at BEA booth signings and readers are fiercely loyal.

Barry: It’s weird how he consistently talks about the price books sell for, not how much authors make from them.  Which I imagine is how publishers look at the world. Telling, that.
Joe: I had multiple printings. Then got my rights back, and made a shitload more money on my own.
If my "extended life in bookstores" continued much longer, I'd still be poor and depressed.
For every author mentored by the Big 5, thousands are bent over and abused. I had a longer signing line at BEA than James Patterson. It was flattering. I would have preferred his income. But, alas, I wasn't first class.

Barry: Yes, again, these guys never want to talk about the system’s losers. The whole thing is designed to hold out the winners as somehow the norm.
Donald: Why all that seemingly-effortless success? First Class fiction is characterized by memorable characters, unique premises, story worlds instantly real, plots that grip even when slow, gorgeous writing, and themes that surprise, challenge and change us. Not only do we read every word, First Class writing makes us whistle in admiration. Characters are not only likeable and self-aware, but also follow a singular destiny. First class novels shake our way of thinking, challenging us to see the world in new ways. They confidently break rules, may transport us to unlikely cultures and times, teach us things we knew little about, and always feel utterly unique. Each novel creates its own genre. First Class fiction is imitated but never matched. Its authors are revered and for good reasons.
Joe: Let us look at all the first class fiction currently on the NYT Bestseller List, and marvel at how it can be imitated but never matched.
Then let's come back to real life and understand that massive distribution is the reason for much bestseller success. 
I never got to compete with bestselling authors, because I never had their distribution.
Guess what happened when the playing field was leveled? Hint: I owe more in 2013 taxes than I made in five years of legacy royalties.
Donald: So, in which class are you? To which class do you aspire? Here’s the thing: In the real world, one’s class can be a prison. Politics plays in. The upper class can use its money to buy itself tax advantages, legal wizardry and gated communities that keep the rest out. Other classes stick together and stick with what they know. Revolution is rare, costs blood and doesn’t happen where minimal comforts are available.
In the world of publishing, though, it’s not like that. Authorship is a true meritocracy. (Sorry, it is.)
Joe: No, it isn't. Not even close. 
It's luck and visibility. It's hard work. Talent can play a part, but I know plenty of talented authors who got screwed, and plenty of authors with dubious talent who climbed to stardom. Apparently you haven't. But I bet if you opened your eyes, you'd see a few.

Barry: In a true meritocracy, luck would not be a factor. He’s describing what he wants to believe, not what remotely actually exists — not just in publishing, but anywhere in the world. I’d be curious to hear him name another “true meritocracy.” He can’t. There’s no such thing. Certainly not in publishing. In fact, he is now describing what is essentially a lottery as a meritocracy. This is a fascinating — and deeply dishonest — sales pitch: “Come one, come all, if you’re talented and work hard, you are guaranteed success!”

I don’t think he’s a deliberate huckster. I think he really believes these things, presumably because he badly wants to.
Donald: In publishing there is social mobility. As an author you can change your class, though of course it’s not always easy to do so. It takes education, time and effort. It means seeing yourself differently, having courage and violating the norms and expectations of your community. (One of the most common laments I hear is, “I got published…and lost a lot of my friends.”)

Barry: Think maybe he’s been reading too much Ayn Rand?

Also, have you ever heard of someone lamenting how he lost his friends when he got published? I haven’t. But maybe I hang out with the wrong class of cattle.
Joe: One of the most common laments I hear is, "How do I get my rights back?" 
Donald: Do things look different inside publishing today? Yes and no. There’s innovation all over the place but also for authors a picture more challenging than ever. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Inequality is vast. But change doesn’t require billionaire money buying elections. You don’t need a phony revolution. You can change your class by yourself, right at home, one keystroke at a time.

Barry: Sounds increasingly like the one percent blowing smoke at everyone else. “Yes, you plebes are worse off than ever and getting poorer every day, but why would anyone want to change a system where every now and then a miserably poor person gets to become one of the super wealthy first cream class?”

I’m not saying there are no winners — huge winners — in legacy publishing. I’m saying it’s dishonest (or, more charitably, delusional) to talk about the winners and not to talk about the losers. Or to otherwise pretend the winners are remotely the norm.
Joe: I've noticed some of the rich aren't getting as rich, and many are making more money than they ever did.
This isn't a phony revolution. This is an actual change of power. That power is going to where it should; to the people writing the goddamn words that support the entire industry.
Writers need a way to get their work in front of readers. In the past we had to go through gatekeepers like you.
Not anymore. Thankfully.
Donald: I’ve exaggerated the above for effect, obviously, but in a lot of ways that’s how the industry looks to me now. How does it look to you?
Joe: Honestly? It looks to me like you have an unearned sense of entitlement, and that you're frightened for your future so you spout nonsense to cover up for your obvious insecurity. You're deluded, or lying, or evil. But you aren't making sense.

Barry: Well, it looks at least in part populated by navel-gazing stuffed-shirt MOTU wannabes pontificating a slick line of bullshit to the underclass they’re concerned is starting to develop an unwelcome understanding of how the system really works, along with the tools to walk away from it — the underclass of which they pose as champions. Since you ask.
Joe: As a literary agent, you have an opportunity to help authors. Helping them doesn't mean selling them How To books. It doesn't mean genuflecting before the legacy industry that made you rich.
It means taking a hard look at what is actually happening, and acting accordingly.
You aren't doing either. You're spreading bullshit. And shame on you for it. I haven't read your How To books, Donald. But are you sure they don't belong in the fiction section? Because if they're anything like this nonsense I can't imagine them being helpful.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, way back in the 1990s when I was getting rejections for my writing, I did get one from the Donald Maass Lit Agency. Here it is:

So perhaps my overly harsh attitude is simply resentment toward the fact that Mr. Maass never culled me from the herd because I wasn't First Class, even though the book he rejected went on to earn me over $100,000.

But what really irks me is that this rejection letter hawks his book The Career Novelist

Maybe it's just me, but using SASEs as a way to advertise your How To book to authors you rejected seems, well, yucky. I wonder how many authors bought it, then wrote him back leading with, "I read your book, Mr. Maass, and followed it to the letter." How many of those authors went on to become career novelists?

As I said, I've always known publishing is a lottery. The harder you work, and the more you learn, the luckier you may get. Authorship isn't a meritocracy. But what do I know? I'm just a small, warm blooded mammal with sharp claws, grateful I have fur because it is getting awfully cold since that meteor hit.


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SM Barrett said...

Joe, I've lurked for a year, and it is time to post. I came here to share this Donald Maas post, just to see if you'd seen it, but you and Barry already had a handle on it.
I doubt he realizes it, but Donald Maas just drove the nail in the coffin for me. His pontification about class, not to mention the non-responses in his comments section, sounded like fear. I see an agent trying his best to convince the soon-to-strike office workers that they need to be team players and participate in the company picnic or remember that tomorrow is tropical shirt day.
It smacks of panic.
I just want to tell stories and make them available to readers. I don't want to be in a class, or worthy of a label, and if I happen to make money with my little tales, all the better. To have a half-dozen people enjoy my prose is better than all the agents in NY declaring me first class.
I've spent a lot of time evaluating this self vs. trad thing, not wanting to be rash or swept up in a fervor.
But I don't want to be a part of an industry where Donald's thoughts are the norm.
Gotta admit, I'm scared. My work, my characters, my dialogue, my flow - all of it has me eaten up with worry, but when it's ready, those months of work will be judged by the readers, and not someone wondering if I'm a prize cow.

Thank you for this blog, Joe. I sometimes feel like you're the guy who, when I was trapped in a dark and cluttered room, opened a secret panel and said "Hey, man, this way."
SM Barrett

Alan Spade said...

I've encountered Saruman, and it's Donald Maass (yes, with two "s"). Fascinating. The part where he deploys most of his eloquence is what begins with: "First Class fiction is characterized by memorable characters..."

We can see there how agents and trad pub succeeded in making authors sign terrible deals: by playing with emotions, seeking the ideal in each author and trying to match it... with words. Only words and smoke screens, of course.

Yet, what SM Barrett said is true: by dividing authors between classes, Maass shows his despair.

He is no more speaking to all authors but only to snobish authors, who thinks themselves as part of some nobility.

gpstberg said...

Ha, I got quite a few laughs out of this one.

Was this a morning post? Because I write a little angry when I first get up and I'm thinking that might have been the case here.

Keep setting that alarm!

Anonymous said...

Here is a letter from one of Don Maass's clients that tells you just how well she was doing from traditional publishing:

Anonymous said...

interestingly enough, his ebook is sold by amazon digital services, which makes it self-published, does it not?

Todd Travis

Anonymous said...

Whoever this Maas person is, he's a complete and utter berk. Sorry for the name calling, but if he's going to spew rubbish like this, he's the one making himself look greedy and evil.

I wish I could post this as my real identity, but I'm not a bestseller yet and for some reason I seem to always get attacked when I post about my book sales.

See, the reason I know for a fact that Maas is full of hot rank air, is because all of my self-published book sales prove him wrong. I've only been an indie author since 2011 and already I've got 9 books available in 2 different (yet similar) genres. Do you want to know the main thing that sells my books? It's publishing a new book! Whenever I occasionally market (discount) one of my books online, people buy my other books instead, regardless of price! They read what they want to. I just wish I had the guts to put myself out there more. Get my books more noticed.

I don't really do online promo, I edit and proofread my books myself, and I make my own covers in paperback and eBook. My other indie author friends all ask me who my editor is and where I get my covers! I haven't told them yet though.

There is no output of cost to me at all, thanks to eBooks and POD publishing. I won't be admitting this publicly because every time I do, other trad pubbed writers call my writing crap. Well, I'm sorry but apparently readers like crap then. There is absolutely no such thing as classes of author in either self-publishing or traditional. People like my light hearted reads. And I see better book sales results month by month. It's a slow process, but hopefully it won't be too much longer until I can write full time as my only profession. :)

Chris W. Martinez said...

Self-parody alert!

I kept staring in disbelief that Mr. Maas would actually write the things he wrote, for public consumption, with absolutely no apparent realization of how cartoonishly classist it made him sound.

You two made a delicious, delicious meal out of that guy. Amazing.

billie said...

The analogies he uses are truly revealing. I am speechless about the cattle line and the various "classes" - the only thing I wish is that in one of these "talks" you and Barry were in the back row, ready to ask a few questions in person. I would love to see the reaction when someone called him on some of this.

Mark Terry said...

For the most part I've tried to not get riled when publishers and editors and agents (and Scott Turow) pontificate about publishing and show their naiveté or, at the very least, seem to be speaking from a defensive crouch.

I'll just say that I found Maas's comments here to be offensive.

Richard Herley said...

This is hilarious. Thanks for the laugh.

Chris W. Martinez said...

One more thing, because I'm fired up now. What's really despicable about his harrumphing screed (besides everything) is how overtly be tries to exploit indie fears and insecurities, with such explicit warnings of failure, exclusion, obscurity, and low quality—exactly the things that running to the arms of a legacy publisher will supposedly prevent.

It's a chortling, cigar-chomping warning to the proles that, sure, you can have your little "revolution," but you will always, in your essence, be a peasant unless and until we drape the green jacket over you, pat you on the back with one hand while the other slips into your pocket, and knight you an Author in Good Standing.

It's disgusting, this demagogic appeal to base fear and need for cool-kid approval. There was literally nothing in his missive in the way of hard facts or even constructive ways forward—all just baritone warnings of the futility of resistance, mixed with the occasional weird taunt that, rest assured, Great Unwashed, he and his minions profit from your puny rebellion as well.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Maas! I'm twice as motivated as I was before I read your declaration from on high.

Shelly Thacker said...

I'm not a suspicious person by nature--I write romance, not mystery--but the fact that Zacharius, Gottlieb, Maass, et al. continue spouting such similar nonsense is really starting to look like some kind of organized trad-pub propaganda campaign. A Band of Bozos Blog Tour.

Their arguments are based on nothing but hot air and wishful thinking. They may convince the credulous wannabes who worship at their feet, for now, but eventually even those dim bulbs are going to brighten up.

Today's market is all about the three Rs: Readers, Rights, and Royalties. When you can reach the majority of Readers in your genre, retain all Rights to your work, and earn much higher Royalties than the Big 5 (4...3...) pay, does it make sense to sign a trad-pub contract?

Savvy authors realize the answer is no. Deep down, Maass and his cronies realize it, too. And deep down, Maass and his cronies are terrified.

Paolo Amoroso said...

Hi, this is comrade reader Paolo. I'm really glad the legacy publishing party takes care of culling the prize cattle from the herd for all of us illiterate ebook kolkhoz dwellers. I appreciate their effort of nurturing readers, not just authors.

Gary Ponzo said...

I know so many Coach Class Indie authors who are making $500-$2500 a month from their work, developing a reader base and creating a future for their writing career. I also know midlist authors who wished they could make that kind of revenue from their publishing contract.

It's almost as if Donald Maas is sitting too high up in his corporate suite to see the workers on the street below developing their writing careers. If they could just wear the same colored clothes then he could determine who the real writers are: Hint-The ones in the shabby clothes and bags under their eyes are the ones with your name signed on the contract as their representative.

John DuMond said...

"First, I congratulate you on reading tens of thousands of self-pubbed genre novels to arrive at this conclusion."

Perhaps Donald Maas is really Harriet Klausner. Or would it be the other way around? I always get confused by this whole secret identity thing.

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

Well, Joe and Barry, you have now proven yourselves to be Weapons of Maass destruction! Bravo!

Alan Tucker said...

Reading through this idiotic class analogy of his, one thought kept running through my mind:

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

It's also utterly laughable that he's equating first class writing with first class sales. Is he not aware of what the best selling books were last year?

JA Konrath said...

I'd like to apologize to Mr. Maass. Though I spelled his name correctly in the blog entry, I omitted an S in the blog post title. That was sloppy on my part, and I've fixed it.

MI also meant to debunk the link he cited, about 70 percent of sales being trade books.

In that particular Bowker survey, that may indeed by the case. But it doesn't take into account the shadow industry of self-pubbing, because those weren't counted by Bowker. I sold more ebooks last year than most legacy pubbed authors, and I wasn't polled. Neither was Amazon.

JA Konrath said...

I sometimes feel like you're the guy who, when I was trapped in a dark and cluttered room, opened a secret panel and said "Hey, man, this way."

That was a kind thing to say.

But don't take my word for it. Find the secret panel on your own and go through to see what's there. Never trust the so-called experts, me included, until you gather enough info to make an educated choice. The more you know, the more you know what to expect.

Paul Draker said...

Why would anyone with a shred of self-respect give 15% of anything to this pompous ass-clown?

JA Konrath said...

Because I write a little angry when I first get up and I'm thinking that might have been the case here.

Barry also told me I seemed angry.

I don't like seeing writers exploited. For Maass to have been around for as long as he has been, he's no doubt landed some big deals, and helped some authors.

But I have to wonder how much he makes on his How To books, aimed at the authors he rejects. A wildly hyperbolic analogy is to set someone's house on fire, then show up the next day offering fire insurance.

That actually angers me. I remembered that rejection letter from his agency, hawking his book, and it left a sour taste in my mouth. It's not as bad as charging a reading fee, but it has the same flavor.

Maybe his books are wonderful and very helpful to authors. But I have problems with those who say how to do things, like write breakout novels and have a career as a novelist, when they themselves haven't done either.

I also have a problem with industry gatekeepers, who should live off the books they sell, making side money by selling hope. I think that sucks.

Unknown said...

I am no longer astonished or even angered by the misconceptions legacy publishers and agents display towards self-publishing, but I am shocked that Donald Maass' agency would use query rejection letters as a marketing ploy for Maass' own book. It doesn't seem ethical, although I'm sure there are no laws against it. It just seems like there's an unspoken suggestion that if you bought the book and implement the advice, they might consider you.

James F. Brown said...

Interesting, and very telling, that they couldn't even be bothered to type in your name in the salutation. Just "Dear Author."

Walter Knight said...

I remember gatekeeper Donald Maass being one of many who slammed the gate on me with a form rejection.

They no longer define success. I sell books everyday online, and making money is validation enough.

Bitter? Sure. Why not? I'll be glad to see the snooty establishment collapse under its own weight.

J.R. Pearse Nelson said...

Joe, the part that really bugs me, too, is that letter you shared from the 1990s. It shows he was already selling "how to" books, trying to make money off of even writers he wasn't interested in working with. Nothing but a leech. And that hasn't changed. I'm worried for authors who choose to query agents. It seems like asking to be scammed and stolen from.

Anonymous said...

I think you hit on something here, Joe. Mr. Maass used to write romance for Harlequin (if I remember correctly) under a pseudonym. He has talked about this in presentations at RWA. But he never seems to have broken out. I think he became an agent instead.

J.R. Pearse Nelson said...

I wish there were like buttons for these comments. Like, like, like! I learn so much from you guys. THANKS!

Anonymous said...

Oh and by the way: Donald Maass always makes a point to recommend the editing services of Third Draft NYC.

Who runs Third Draft NYC?

Lisa Rector.

His wife.

Dale T. Phillips said...

Another self-appointed aristocratic Guardian of All Holy Highbrow Literature descends from his golden palace to educate the sweaty masses. But why are they all laughing at him?

First, a guy who touts a method as the Surefire Way to do a thing oughta have his own example, right? Oddly enough, I couldn't find his own "breakout novels" on Amazon. Hmm. Checked a bookstore, still no D.M.-penned breakout novels. Could it be he can't do it? Should be easy, Don, with your connections and know-how. Come one, write your own superseller novel and show us how easy it is to waltz into cream class. Let the best-sellers fall from your pen as gentle rain to enlighten us all.
Yeah, thought so. Some monster-ass hubris going on there.

It's guys like this that make me thank Joe and all the others who were giving us "cattle" real-life, useful information on the publishing biz, so we wouldn't get stuck in the slaughter chute of Maass and his cohorts. Joe and others pulled back the curtain on these frauds, and saved us from the abbatoir that is New York publishing. Screw you, Don- I'll keep my few thousand sales and all the control of my work, and just keep getting better, while you and your fellow aristocrats keep issuing your panicked screeds- as your golden ship sinks beneath the waves. We may not have your yacht, but our little rowboat is doing fine, while the holes in your hull seem to be getting bigger.

JA Konrath said...

From Maass's blog:

I hoped that my “class” system analogy for the digital “revolution” would provoke people (“Class”…”Revolution”…get it?) and it did.

Ah, now I get it. Being insulting and dismissive is simply provocative. Perhaps I'll drive to a poor neighborhood in a food truck and use a loudspeaker to remind them they aren't eating because they're lazy. Maybe that will provoke them to think a little about their situation.

Many got the analogy and the underlying message: It’s not an industry that makes you successful but how you write your fiction.

That message is 100% WRONG.

While every writer should strive to write the best fiction they can, it is indeed the visibility the industry provides that dictates success.

Unless you're actually saying that, in every single case, the quality of a book is what determines its success. Which is BS.

One point is happily undisputed: Great writing is the most important factor in success.

Some would argue that many bestselling authors aren't great writers, and many great writers aren't bestsellers. And by "some would argue" I mean "anyone with a functioning brain".

The sense of revolution and warring classes that we feel now isn’t natural and, ask me, exists because neither side of the industry has yet figured out the best way to publish in the 21st Century.

The sense of revolution is BECAUSE many of us figured out the best way to publish in the 21st Century. We have choices, and we're armed with knowlegde, and we're pissed at decades of abuse.

Some may still choose legacy publishing, and that's fine, as long as they know the pros and cons. But the so-called classes are warring because of what the gatekeepers have done to writers, not out of confusion.

JA Konrath said...

One thing has never changed, though, and will never change: It’s authors and their terrific storytelling that get readers buying books, and nothing else.

Whew! I bet the Big 5 are grateful to hear this. Now they don't have to do anymore advertising, marketing, or promotion. As long as they have a great book, everyone will automatically buy it.


Alan Spade said...

"I think you hit on something here, Joe. Mr. Maass used to write romance for Harlequin (if I remember correctly) under a pseudonym. He has talked about this in presentations at RWA. But he never seems to have broken out. I think he became an agent instead."

So, an author betraying authors. Alas, I think it's widely the case. "I have suffered when I was a newbie, so all of you newbies have to suffer too from the same unconscionable contracts. It's business".

Fortunately, it appears business has changed (as M. Mass must know, because he self-publishes too)...

JA Konrath said...

Mr. Maass used to write romance for Harlequin (if I remember correctly) under a pseudonym.

If that pseudonym is "Heather Graham" or "Tess Gerritsen" I'll eat my words and publicly apologize. Then Maass indeed has written breakout novels and had a career as a novelist.

But if he wrote Frenchman Kisses then I don't think it qualifies as breakout or career.

Why not a How To book called "How to Get Horribly Taken Advantage Of By Writing Serial Romance For Below Average Industry Royalties"? I'd have no quarrel with that.

Alan Spade said...

"(as M. Mass must know, because he self-publishes too)". I retract that. I juped to quickly at this conclusion.

Alan Spade said...

Oups "jumped too quickly".

Ann Voss Peterson said...

I actually know and like Donald Maass, although I haven't seen him at conferences for a few years.

And I have to say, I think his writing books are quite good. His angle on craft stems from reading a large number of "breakout novels" and analyzing what they do well, and I find that very valuable.

That said, I fully agree with Joe's and Barry's dismantling of Don's article here. He needed to be called out on this. Badly.

In the past, I've known Don to be willing to engage in debate, to consider other points of view, and even change his mind when warranted. I hope that's true in this case.

Me? I'll go back to sharpening my claws or chewing my cud or whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing. ;D

JA Konrath said...

From the Third Draft website about Lisa Rector:

She has served on the Surrey International Writers’ Conference board and is a staff editor at Donald Maass’s Breakout Novel Workshops.

Okay, I would certainly support my wife in any career she chose. And Lisa may be a terrific book editor. (Perhaps she could post a long list of all the authors who paid her $1000 for a one hour consult and then became huge bestsellers).

But Maass is conduction workshops, which are expensive, and his wife offers consulting at those workshops, which is also expensive, and Maass is selling books on how to become successful, and at the same time he's a lit agent looking for clients.

Even if the workshops and books and consults are worth every penny, isn't there a conflict on interest here?

The AAR Code of Ethic states:

the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works (including outlines, proposals, and partial or complete manuscripts) is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession.

Maass knows this. He was a past president of the Association of Authors Representatives.

But I suppose if your wife charges reading fees, and you only sell How To books, nothing is breached.

Unknown said...

If publishing is a meritocracy, and the gatekeepers so adept at recognizing talent, then it should follow that all or nearly all of books chosen by agents and publishers should make it to "first class."

And one look at any agent's client list, or any publisher's catalog, will illustrate that this is clearly not the case.

So that's where Maass's entire post pretty much falls apart for me. Assuming a certain level of competency in the first place, publishing is much closer to a crapshoot than a meritocracy, regardless of the route a writer chooses.

That being the case, isn't it wonderful that writers have more choices now than any other time in history? Agents, and anyone who makes his/her living from publishing, should be cheering authors on (i.e. helping them to exploit sub rights and working to find them print-only deals, etc.) instead of trying to divide them into some sort of arbitrary class system that, by nature, is offensive (and sometimes downright enraging) to many.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

What surprises and amuses me most are all the fawning sycophants he draws to his comment section.

I also know from my own experience (as well as others) that he leaves certain comments in "awaiting moderation" limbo, which doesn't sound to me like someone who is confident about the stance he's taken.

I could be wrong.

Jami Gold said...

The thing that drives me crazy is the assumption that all of that 70% of print distribution (assuming that number is accurate) happens only because of traditional publishers. I posted a year and a half ago about how we never see the brick-and-mortar percentages vs. online sales percentages. (

If others are anything like me, the vast majority of print books I buy come from Amazon, which *gasp* self-published authors can do too. So how much of that 70% actually happens in b&m stores that self-published authors struggle with vs. at Amazon, where it's a more level playing field for all authors?

Jonas Saul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aimlesswriter said...

I got to here; "Far from being threatened, print publishers instead are now gratefully relieved of the money-losing burden of the mid-list." and couldn't stop laughing. He really needs to step out of his office one in awhile and discover the real (changed) world of writing and publishing. Maybe his blather is just a defense of his dying breed? I think people are not soliciting agents like they used to. The times they are a-changing.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Also, his post reminds me of the "prey on their fears" advertising model.

The reason you're not a success, Mr. Author, is because you aren't writing and thinking First Class.

Self-publishers are losers! And only legacy publishing can make you a winner!

KT Grant said...

So, self published authors are now thought of as airlines? O.o

downward spiral said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theresa Weir said...

Glad to see this blog post. I was about to call PETA.

JA Konrath said...

What surprises and amuses me most are all the fawning sycophants he draws to his comment section.

It bothers me as well, but from my end.

How many readers of this blog are fawning sycophants?

I'd love to believe that every one of my readers are smart people who are persuaded by my arguments. And many are (I can tell they are by their comments.)

But how many just follow my blog, nodding their heads, without actually thinking hard about what I'm saying?

I don't know the percentage. But all blogs have yes men comments.

Richard Russo's trumpeting for the Authors Guild allegedly resulted in recruiting many new authors. Anyone who carefully read Russo's piece should have been able to see the BS. Why didn't they?

I'm saying this just because I find it an interesting observation, not because I disagree with you, Rob. We all want to be understood, and we often take approval as proof of understanding. But maybe there are a whole lot of people who give approval without thinking enough first.

LK Rigel said...

I love how Maass describes how great the new climate is for trad pub, what a gold rush it is, how they're making so much money on "low-cost, high margin" ebooks (and where does that high margin come from?) - and then he accuses self-publishers of having a gold rush mentality!

Like all aristocracies, trad pub's business model is built on exploitation. And like all threatened aristocrats, he screams "class warfare" when the model is threatened.

AND - it just occurs to me - the aristocrats aren't sad and angry merely because the serfs don't want to work for them anymore. They seem even sadder and angrier because the serfs don't want to adore them anymore.

JA Konrath said...

His angle on craft stems from reading a large number of "breakout novels" and analyzing what they do well, and I find that very valuable.

Writing a book called How To Build A House doesn't infer that everyone who buys it will, indeed, be able to build a house.

Writing the Breakout Novel doesn't infer that everyone who buys it will indeed write a breakout novel.

But I wouldn't put much faith in the How To Build A House author if he never actually built a house, and only watched and analyzed how others built them. It could still have useful information, certainly, but if you claim to know how to do something, shouldn't you actually do it?

JA Konrath said...

They seem even sadder and angrier because the serfs don't want to adore them anymore.

Within the past few months we've seen several big name authors, agents, pundits, and publishers defend the status-quo with amazingly poor arguments. Patterson. Russo. Turow. Gottlieb. Gernert. Maass. Shatzkin. Zacharius.

This wasn't happening in 2011.

Whistling past the graveyard? That would be my guess. Because they are, indeed, afraid.

If authors stop submitting to publishers, the industry will collapse, and all those who make money from the industry will be out of a job. That's scary.

So it makes sense to publicly disparage self-publishing. Their livelihoods depend on it.

But when their defense of their industry is so bad, and their comments about self-publishing so wrong, I can't help but think they're hurting their own cause.

Russell Blake said...


Moo moo.

Crap. Another massive check from Amazon. I'll get right back to the herd after I cash it.


Bryan Cassiday said...

Maass's words are just another attempt by the literary establishment to persuade writers who don't already have best-sellers that they're not really writers.
Bryan Cassiday

Beverley Kendall said...

I'll be able to post something later once I've calmed down and I'm not quite as PISSED OFF at what Donald Maas wrote.

All I can say in the meanwhile is that people have a habit of hitting out at things they don't fully understand and things they fear. I can only imagine this is the case in Mr. Maas's case.

Dan DeWitt said...

Joe, you may have some fawning sycophants, but you run an unmoderated blog. WU over there is highly moderated, so much so that most critical comments (including my own, a few hours ago) never make it through. This gives the illusion that his words are gospel, and the few *slightly* critical posts that make it through represent a tiny, easily-dismissed minority.

He's gutless. You're not.

Unknown said...

OK As a AVID Reader....I dont buy books at stores any more...I go to Amazon...and I read books Friends on Facebook have suggested...I have found...Some wonderful self published Authors... They dont ask enough for there work in my Opinion...But when they have a new book come out..I buy it. The Big Authors...some of them are great...Writers...but have lost there Punch...writing the same thing over and over know whats gonna happen...before it does...I have went to totally reading Self Published Authors.
They have Wonderful exciting books..
I read 3 books a day some days....then leave Reviews...for these struggling Authors..They Have Talent!!! But Dont Fit into the Publishing WORLDS BOX...I am glad I found Self Publishing Authors...Its Nice to Read what they want to write....Not what they are told to write! My Opinion!

Paul Draker said...

U.S. book publishing was a roughly $15 billion industry - print and e-book combined - in 2012, according to separate analyses by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and BookStats.

More than half of those sales - print and e-book combined - are now going through e-commerce rather than brick and mortar. And more than half of that e-commerce is through Amazon.

But here's the funny thing: while PWC and BS agreed fairly closely on overall market size in 2012, there was a $300M discrepancy in their 2012 e-book estimates. When you look at the difference between PWC's and BS's methodology, the reason for that discrepancy becomes clear.

PWC surveyed readers, and measured what they were buying and reading. BS polled traditional publishers.

That $300M discrepancy was most likely the approximate size of Amazon's "shadow" self-publishing industry.

Back in 2012. In it's infancy.

It's bigger now. MUCH bigger.

There's a business reason we're suddenly hearing an industry-wide outburst of anti-SP rhetoric.

Forget about furry little mammals and dinosaurs.

Think "King Kong" now.

Sarah Stegall said...

Like so many industry insiders, he's quick to tout the "70% of all books are print versions".

What none of them EVER mentions is how many of those printed books are returned by bookstores. And writers get nothing for a book which is printed, sits on a shelf for three weeks, and gets shipped back to the publisher for pulping.

This does not happen with e-books and almost never happens with POD. So there is something strange about Mr. Maass' numbers.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I'm saying this just because I find it an interesting observation, not because I disagree with you, Rob. We all want to be understood, and we often take approval as proof of understanding. But maybe there are a whole lot of people who give approval without thinking enough first.

Joe, while I'm sure you are plagued by a few sycophants, from my observation, most of the commenters here seem to quite well educated. Partly by you, partly by their own experience, which often flies in the face of the "conventional wisdom" propagated by the mainstream industry.

Actually, it seems to me that the only real sycophants here are those who post anonymously and tout the legacy party line and are completely unable to back up their anti-indie statements.

Cherie Marks said...

So, I'm clearly in his version of "freight" class, but do you suppose he's making such a distinction because the submissions he's getting are already lower quality than what was being submitted even a few years ago. Many of those that would have been in "coach" class and perhaps even his version of "first" class have been educating themselves and aren't even considering querying agents or publishers anymore at all.

Maybe he's just not happy with the manuscripts coming across his desk right now because all those with talent are skipping him altogether and going straight to self-pub. That way, they can make money right now, not wait years to see the results of their labor.

JA Konrath said...

Actually, it seems to me that the only real sycophants here are those who post anonymously and tout the legacy party line and are completely unable to back up their anti-indie statements.

I'd like to believe that.

I get thanked a lot. A whole lot. People seem to believe I'm making a difference.

But I can go to blogs like Writer Unboxed and read comments like this:

Well, that was a spectacularly unpersuasive fit of name-calling, notably devoid of facts. Is Konrath’s fiction as poorly written as his blog posts?

Setting aside the pot and kettle(Maass called authors cattle and this poster called me a poor writer), and setting aside that she said I was unpersuasive without going into any details how I was, where I took great pains to point out exactly how Maass is unpersuasive, there is still someone who agrees with him.

I have to believe there are people who agree with me without thinking things through. I'd be delusional to think that I'm always right, and those who agree are always right, and those who disagree are always wrong.

Another poster there called my attitude sour grapes. Sour how? Sour that I shed myself of legacy trappings and became a big success?

What is my agenda with this blog? it isn't to sell how to books or workshops. It's to help writers.

But I'd be wrong not to consider that I might indeed be sour grapes.

Michael Bunker said...

Brilliantly handled. Kudos for this excellent dissection of Maass's BS.

Michael Bunker

Liliana Hart said...


Just wanted to say thanks for responding to Don's blog post. I normally keep my head buried in the sand and ignore this type of stuff, because what the hell do I care? I'm selling millions of books, making 6 figures PER MONTH, and have turned down large advances from publishers. I work hard and do my job and stay focused, because I'm making a great living doing what I love to do. But when I read his post it took everything I had not to respond. His disdain for authors in general is what really came through, and if I was one of his clients he'd be getting a termination email from me.

I'd already had the misfortune of seeing this side of him on a panel at NINC 2012, where he stated to the audience that he was a gatekeeper because HE knew what readers really wanted and was able to give that to publishers. My response to that was that if HE really knew what readers wanted then I wouldn't have sold 2 million self-published romantic suspense books when New York kept telling me the genre was dead. The he proceeded to play on his phone for the rest of the panel so he didn't have to participate. I can't say his response is surprising, but I am surprised that he doesn't have more care for his professional reputation when the business is fluctuating as much as it is.

Anyway, great response from you and Barry.

Chris W. Martinez said...

"I have to believe there are people who agree with me without thinking things through. I'd be delusional to think that I'm always right, and those who agree are always right, and those who disagree are always wrong."

At the risk of sounding sycophantic (ha!), I think this is a very healthy impulse. Always resist that temptation to drink your own Kool-Aid. You'll avoid looking out-of-touch and irrational to neutral observers, and inoculate yourself from the unpleasant surprise of being dragged back to a reality at odds with your perspective.

I think it's perfectly rational to suspect Maass's supporters may be more probe to mindless agreement than yours, mostly because he is a big deal in the legacy world and many people want to curry favor with him in the off chance it might improve their odds of gaining entree to the "elite." You are certainly a big deal in your own right, but the self-pubbing world is, of course, far less hierarchical and prone to one-person leveraging and influence.

As for "sour grapes"—that's often an accusation made by people who know someone's got a point against them, but have the luxury of being in a position deemed somehow prestigious by society, making it easy to dismiss the critique as jealous resentment. It's also often the cry of people with an intense feeling of "imposter syndrome." Hence, the accusation of "sour grapes" from Wall Street crooks who made piles of cash by exploiting people and markets, while the rest of the world earns an honest living.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

But I can go to blogs like Writer Unboxed and read comments like this:

Well, that was a spectacularly unpersuasive fit of name-calling, notably devoid of facts. Is Konrath’s fiction as poorly written as his blog posts?

You have to realize that you are one of the major faces of the indie revolution and, as such, will always be subject to dismissal by those who are invested in the old guard, including, and sometimes especially, other authors.

The sour grapes tag is tired. I've been accused of the same thing and the truth is, I wasn't discarded by legacy publishing and I don't have any real ill feelings toward the people I worked with or, for the most part, the way I was treated.

I CHOSE to walk away. Partly because of you, and Brett and Lee Goldberg and Blake and Barry and other friends who were demonstrating by your actions and words that I no longer had to feel like a child asking for his parents' permission to publish.

And for that, I thank you and always will.

The sour grapes meme is merely a reflection of fear. A reassurance mechanism that people fall back on when they realize that maybe they're backing the wrong horse.

I hope you take it all with a huge grain of salt.

Unknown said...

Thanks for dissecting Maass' piece, Joe. I'll be sharing this with other author friends of mine.

JA Konrath said...

My response to that was that if HE really knew what readers wanted then I wouldn't have sold 2 million self-published romantic suspense books when New York kept telling me the genre was dead.

I have just become your biggest fan. I wish I was there to see you say that.

Congrats on your huge success, Liliana. :)

JA Konrath said...

I hope you take it all with a huge grain of salt.

I wish I could, but you know me, Rob. I'm very sensitive and delicate.

Whenever I read that someone thinks I'm a bad writer, I immediately run to my bed and cry.

My bed made of gold, with the mattress stuffed with money.

But seriously, I'm all about the discourse. Name-calling isn't discourse. However, I'm not about name-calling, because burning effigies if an effective tool of persuasion. Being sarcastic and insulting toward those who once had all the power is a calculated move to take away their power.

I love being insulted. It means I'm pushing the right buttons. But please, back up the insults with some facts and logic.

JA Konrath said...

I meant to say I'm not above name calling.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I meant to say I'm not above name calling.

You? Really? ;)

Alan Spade said...

"But how many just follow my blog, nodding their heads, without actually thinking hard about what I'm saying?

I don't know the percentage. But all blogs have yes men comments."

I have, I think, a critical mind. When I see a blog like this one, I try to separate the wheat from the chaff, comparing with my own experience.

I may not agree with all the details. For example, when you talk about outsourcing, we can assume today in 2014, legacy pub still retains the best editors, or artists for visual covers, or at the strict minimum, have more money than a newbie author to put on these things.

But there's a time when you feel the goal is more important than the details. The main thing I agree with you is the main judge is for me the reader, not an editor or legacy publishing. Is it more important for me to criticize some details than to publicly support the 80% I agree with?
I suspect even on Maass' blog, all the sycophants doesn't 100% agree with him. It's only by seeing all the comments of somebody that you can begin to get a picture of that person.

But I know, sometimes it can begin to be frightening to become something like a key opinion leader. It is a sane reaction to fear that by repeting over and over the same arguments, you are bordering on propaganda, and thus risk intoxicating yourself with your own words. To fear that the people around you, by agreeing too much with what you say, will not be able to put you on your place if what you say become bullshit.

One of the merit of your blog, though, is to point to the links of other blogs, so we can make ourselves informed opinion. So it's not propaganda.

Jackie Barbosa said...

What I found the most interesting in Maass's post was not so much his obvious disdain for the vast majority of "freight class" writers, but the fact that he's OPENLY saying what I've been saying since Vintage bought Fifty Shades of Grey for wads of dough. To wit, he's admitting that traditional publishers no longer *need* to take risks to figure out which books readers want because the self-publishers and small independent presses will do that for them. In which case, I have to say I'm not sure why authors need Donald Maass. We're all better off writing the next Fifty/Wool and getting enough readers to buy it to attract the attention of NY publishers. That is, assuming we want the visibility that HUGE print distribution (which not all trade books get) provides. For those of us who are happy in coach (the so-called midlisters), trade publishers don't have a lot to offer us, anyway, and, in fact, they're probably happier without us, seeing how we're an expensive burden.

Gretta Curran Browne said...

This has to be the most sanctimonious, condescending load of garbage I have read in years - and yes,the disgusting attitude of Donald Maas is a mirror-match of most publishers who feed off authors - just as Mass is doing now with his "How to" book - which is aimed at guess who? --AUTHORS.

I'd like to give him a punch in his sanctimonious face for dating to speak about Authors in such a degrading way - pompous upstart!

It's parasites like him - who CANNOT mainstain the stamina of talent of any author - yet not good enough to be a publisher - so elects to become an agent and take his grub from both sides - from both the authors he represents and the publishers who allow him to shine their shoes.

Well done Joe and Barry for a superb rebuttal of his bullshit. You two guys are just awesome in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

My feeling from the Maass article is that it has an annoyingly populist skew.

Some people want to write to a targeted niche. Some people want to read niche material. And it is a wonderful thing that we live in a world where one size no longer has to fit all.

I reject the idea that just because something doesn't have "mass appeal", it is less-than.

K.C. May said...

For someone who's been in the publishing industry as long as he has, he's sure clueless about the state of self-publishing. Authors are breaking in and finding their audience every day -- authors he would have turned his nose up at.

I've given notice at my full-time job so I can write fiction full time (one week to go!). This would never have happened had I listened to him and his ilk.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

For example, when you talk about outsourcing, we can assume today in 2014, legacy pub still retains the best editors, or artists for visual covers, or at the strict minimum, have more money than a newbie author to put on these things.

I don't think we can make this assumption at all, except maybe the money part. But more money doesn't necessarily mean better editors or art. I've had experience with a number of legacy editors and some were better at their jobs than others.

The quality of an editor has to do with how he or she helps YOU write a better story. But sometimes legacy editors are thinking of the company first, and changes to your story that are counterintuitive are suggested, simply because some survey somewhere said "X" sells better.

There are plenty of freelance editors out there whose only stake in the game is their fee, and that fee depends on them helping you improve your book.

As for cover artists, some of the worst covers I've ever seen came out of traditional publishing.

Sabrina Chase said...

Joe, I regret to say you've neglected our true sin in Mr. Maass's eyes-- "Literary flourishes are few". My dear chap, if you insist on writing in a style that anyone can understand, how can readers prove their cultural superiority? Mr. Maass may also be becoming painfully aware that the readers who actually buy books (you know, with money) don't buy the kind of books they OUGHT to like. The ones with literary flourishes, of course. Oh, and with concepts that "challenge" the reader vs. entertain. Instead, with complete and egregious disregard for Mr. Maass's feelings, readers prefer plots and characters that are fun and exciting--and somehow the readers never notice "literary flourishes" because they are too caught up enjoying the book. The fiends.

Anonymous said...

Well, that was shooting fish in a barrel.

I keep scratching my head why publishers and agents keep pushing the same easily disputable “truths,” and my latest theory is that the industry is so used to selling authors a bill of goods that they are completely baffled how to respond to people in the electronic age

Gottlieb: Global distribution channels! TV and film deals! (for a very select few); Zacharius: $6K cover art! (for one person per list, maybe) and now Maas: Ebooks are bad because publishers are dumping their midlist! (uh..they started doing that years before ebooks and paying a pittance for the remaining).

Why does their lack of credibility surprise them? Because they are part of decades long business that thrives on lack of transparency. The internet has changed all that. We can talk anonymously if we wish and find out what really happens after you sign a contract.

Don’t know if your advance is fair? Google. Don’t know if your agent is performing? Google. Confused why your book deal that was sold to you with the idea of $6K cover art and first class publisher service with global distribution and a tv deal received none of that and hasn’t sold? Google.

The electronic age has finally given authors the opportunity to call bullshit on the nonsense. No one in the 21st century believes it takes three months to reconcile six months worth of sales because we have more technology in our phones today than the Apollo astronauts had on their entire ship. No one can understand why a contract term extends to 70 years after you’re dead when publishers do nothing for most authors in the first year of publication.

The common theme traditional publishers use is seduction. As you quite rightly point out, they don’t hit the bestseller lists with every single book, which is self-evident, yet authors want to believe they are the special one (despite the pitiful advance). You’re told don’t quit your day job, that you do all this for love, all while being forced into horrible contract terms because you had no choice. And you don’t complain publicly (and some of us still don’t) for fear of being black-listed. Now you have a choice and the traditional industry simply doesn’t understand how to compete with real competition or negotiate fair terms with authors.

You know who will publish you even if you bad-mouth them? You and self-publishers. You know what agent won’t dump you if you express frustration with a stalled career? Yourself.

If you can’t win on the merits of your argument, you attack the credibility of your opponent. That’s what the industry is doing right now to protect itself. Because it doesn’t know any other way.

David Thayer said...

First of all I'm a self pubbed author and quite content to be. I know Don and I think his books are well worth reading. I agree with his premise that fiction has to generate an emotional response in order to have any hope of success.
His last post angered and confounded me. I don't understand what he was trying to say anymore than I understand what Czar Nicholas thought about redecorating the Winter Palace.

Paul Draker said...

As Liliana Hart pointed out, the old-school industry's gatekeepers have had a very weak track record of serving readers by giving them what they wanted.

Romance is one example of a genre where demand was underserved by the old system.

Science Fiction is obviously another.

Now that readers are empowered to be their own gatekeepers and allowed to *choose* what they want to read, rather than having it arbitrarily chosen for them, the publishing industry is thriving like it never has before.

It's a great time to be a reader.
It's a great time to be a writer.

But an irrelevant old-school gatekeeper? Maybe not so much...

SM Barrett said...

Joe, I'll check out that secret panel on my own, not to worry. I ain't one of yer sycophants, you don't pay enough. :)
I said thank you and mentioned the secret panel because for decades, the ol' 'query/cover/letter/sample chapter/full manuscript/hope for a publisher with unfair expectations' thing was the only game in town, and when I went looking for info, your blog and others were there. I may not like what I find in that panel, and if I don't, I'll warn my fellow writers.
However, you deserve thanks from a lot of us for showing us another option.
And I wouldn't worry about a bunch of wordsmiths who have turned their backs on legacy morphing into fawning zealots.
Writing was lonely under the old system, and self-pub writers are even more alone. The sort of independent spirit that tries it isn't likely to go all People's Temple.
Again, Joe, thanks.

Final note - self-publishing has been really cooking for almost half a decade, now. Is it possible that agents like Maass and the Big 5 are hearing things behind the scenes that have them really terrified? That they don't have answers to the questions on rights and royalties they're getting? That it never occurred to them that they would have to justify it? Seriously, if they couldn't figure it out by now, what qualifies them at gate keepers?

Anthea Sharp said...

Queried The Maass Agency in 2011. They declined to represent, on a book that has now sold over 60k self-published copies. :) Just sayin'

Alan Spade said...

"But sometimes legacy editors are thinking of the company first, and changes to your story that are counterintuitive are suggested, simply because some survey somewhere said "X" sells better."

I agree with you on that, Rob. We can assume legacy editors may have an agenda, the publisher's agenda. And we can add the people who stay for a very long time at their jobs are the most supple with their employer, and the less inclined to defend an author's view, even when the author is perfectly right.

My point was that things are, I think, a little more complicated than to simply say: "we can outsource". It's not that I don't agree with that. It's just that words can sometimes make something looks simple and easy, although in reality, it's more complex and difficult than that.

That's what I wanted to say when talking about analyzing what Joe says with my own experience.

Rex Kusler said...

This guy reminds me of the president of the first company I worked for--when he told the employees at the company meeting in the lunch room that C.B. radio sales were taking a breather and the boom would resume, with Hy-Gain Electronics continuing to lead the way. Shortly after that we had to start dumping our own trash, so I quit. A few months later I read a newspaper article about them suddenly closing their doors. The final employee paychecks all bounced.

Edward G. Talbot said...

"My point was that things are, I think, a little more complicated than to simply say: "we can outsource". It's not that I don't agree with that. It's just that words can sometimes make something looks simple and easy, although in reality, it's more complex and difficult than that. "

In my personal experience, it's hard to imagine that the ease of getting cover art and editing done via outsourcing is more complex than going through a traditional publisher. This is keeping in mind that I have never dealt with a traditional publisher. Aside from a small amount of up front work involved in finding a cover artist and editor I can trust, having complete control over the process makes for simplicity. I don't have to argue with a middleman over the quality of the cover. I don't have to argue with an editor because I'm paying the editor. And even if we grant that with a publisher I don't have to FIND an editor and cover artist, I did have to find the publishers in the first place, likely via an agent. That process is far more difficult than finding a freelance editor and cover artist.

Okay, so that's my experience. I can certainly imagine that for some people, the idea of finding these people and uploading a book is daunting. Perhaps especially people who tend to be introverted, which authors tend to be in greater numbers than average. So for many people, maybe it is more difficult. Hard to say it's more complex, though. I just can't see that.

Jill James said...

I want to be a first class writer -- defined by MY definition of what that means. It means my writing, my covers, my presentation; of my work and myself.

Anonymous said...

Rex - I would also compare it to the video of the enron employee meeting where the employees were being urged to continue to purchase company stock. One employee stood up and asked "are you on crack? and if not, what are you on?"

Alan Spade said...

@Edward G. Talbot: granted, Joe's blog is probably followed by more accomplished authors than by newbies.

What I wanted to point is that a newbie author outsourcing editing cannot always be sure of the quality of the work. That's what is more complex. A more experienced author, with a few novels behind him, would more aptly judge the work of the editor, I think.

And this is not to infer big legacy publishers help authors to grow. Perhaps small publishers can, but not every time. I didn't experience that.

Anonymous said...

I'm getting real here, Joe, so I'm posting anonymously.

When I grew up, we were taught that gay people are evil. It took me a long time and a lot of experience and learning to overcome that conditioning, given ignorantly by the people and attitudes around me.

When I became a writer, I was taught that self-published authors were buffoons, and I absorbed that from the people and attitudes around me. It took a long time to overcome, too.

Experience plays a part, but so does seeing other people's thoughts clearly delineated. I'm pretty sure I have Mr. Maass's book somewhere on my overcrowded shelves. But the wool, she is gone from my eyes. I respected this man, and your post dashed that.

Am I a sycophant? Well, yes.

How can you not love someone who has helped you see the truth and become a freer person with more hope and possibilities in your life? Even when they're curmudgeonly at times.

Yes, I love you. Said it and not sorry.

Liliana Hart said...

To be fair (because I'm all about full disclosure ;-) he probably didn't hear me since he never looked up from his phone during the 50 minute panel.

Michael W. Sherer said...

I actually attended a Maass fiction seminar just out of curiosity. And (full disclosure) I have a couple of rejection letters from the inimitable Mr. Maass. I had to laugh at his comment about meritocracy, however. As Joe and Barry suggest, if the industry was a true meritocracy, then my ITW Thriller Award nomination should have helped me sell a hundred thousand copies or so. Instead, I'm still toiling in obscurity. However, the ITW nod tells me Maass missed the boat when he sent me a rejection letter. Man, am I glad.

Carol Garvin said...

I'm sorry, Joe, but I stopped reading after your first couple paragraphs. I know you usually "call it like you see it", but today's post is nothing more than a defensive diatribe.

Anonymous said...

@alan spade:

"What I wanted to point is that a newbie author outsourcing editing cannot always be sure of the quality of the work."

That's a publisher's selling point---and also demonstrably false. It assumes two things: 1) the author is not smart enough to research and hire an editor and 2) the editors in publishing are always good.

Finding the right editor is no different than hiring anyone for any job you need done. You research. You ask for recs. You ask for sample work. I don't agree that you need years of experience to figure whether someone is any good. I do agree that experience helps you come to that decision faster.

Most publishing editors get their first jobs as lottery winners out of college. They learn on the job and you would be surprised at how quickly authors get handed off to editorial assistants (I've seen kids not old enough to legally rent a car be given books to edit and its presented as their boss's work).

My point isn't that industry editors aren't any good. I would be generous and say most are. But a new author has no way of knowing that except by relying on, oh, research, recs and sample work :)

sorry I'm posting anonymous but, well, reasons....

gniz said...

Awesome post Joe. I updated my epublishing blog for the first time in ages just to add my 2 cents to the mix.

Alan Spade said...

I think there are sufficient resources on the internet (including human resources) for an author to learn by herself and skip for sometimes outsourcing an editor. But it's a matter of personal investment: outsourcing isn't sufficient if you don't do your homework. That's my warning. And yes, experience is invaluable when editing.

Michael Siemsen said...

That rejection letter looks all too familiar. I got the same one several years back, and also a similar one from another agent (not including a disgusting sales pitch for some how-to) rejecting my first book. Oh, the deliciousness, a couple years later, when that very same agent contacted me with a representation offer--for the very same book he rejected! Why? Because it had been #1 in Sci-fi on Amazon for a few weeks. He had no idea he'd rejected it. Oh so yummy. I guess it took readers to cull the herd for first class steak.

Thank you Joe and Barry for existing. You two are perfect. Still giggling about this meritocracy.

Aaron Speca said...

Thank you for validating my decision to go without a literary agent.

J. R. Tomlin said...

"Coach Class fiction sometimes borrows secondary characters from history..."

Would that by any chance include novels such as Wolf Hall? Or is historical fiction only Coach Class when it isn't done by Booker Prize winning authors? Just wondering.

Terrence OBrien said...

We can believe Maass or our own lying eyes. And he's trying to convince us the eyes are wrong.

Woelf Dietrich said...

Thought provoking, thanks Joe and Barry. There are a lot to consider, things we've heard before that we know to be true, and things that have changed or are changing, though looking down on the unwashed masses seems to be an attitude that will remain. Yet, somehow, this made me pause:

"Maybe it's just me, but using SASEs as a way to advertise your How To book to authors..."

That seems arrogant, using a writer's money and aspirations like that to sell your own book. It's poor form. At least with a vanity press, you expect to be screwed and/or taken for a ride. I'm not judging the quality of his book or its usefulness (I haven't read it so I don't know, but I've read "Writing the Breakout Novel" and it's not so bad). Just don't think a rejection letter and using the writer's SASE is appropriate under the circumstances. Ah, hell, what do I know.

Woelf Dietrich said...

Edit: *is* not *are*. My bad.

McVickers said...

Another guy who writes a LOT about how to "write great books" but who doesn't seem to have actually written any great books himself. As they say, "Those who can't, teach..."

Maggie Lynch said...

My experience has been that both sides--indie publishing and traditional publishing--go out of their way to throw sticks at each other and to "call it like it is." I do think, Joe, that you went out of your way to be provocative (or angry) in taking apart Donald's post. As for Donald, sadly I think he truly believes what he wrote, as do most big agents and editors in NY. It is an attitude of earned entitlement, but I know many authors on both sides with a similar attitude toward the "unwashed masses."

My personal experience with agents has been dismal, even after landing a top NY agent (not Donald). However, I try hard not to paint all agents with the same brush. I don't know Don personally but I have attended a Donald Maas workshop and did find it helpful in pointing out craft, writing, character development, emotional stakes, tension and pacing. I know several authors who are or were represented by him and each have specifically said he made a big difference in the quality of their writing and in teaching them more about story. I have to give him props for that. I would personally recommend two of his books: Writing the Breakout Novel and Fire in Fiction. They are both good craft books. Many people write good books about craft that have published nothing but those books.

The human mind doesn't do well with cognitive dissonance and so when faced with it, one works hard to rationalize a position as the best and often only position of merit. I believe right now that is what is happening with agents and many publishers. They see that some big name writers are doing well in self-publishing but it goes against everything they know to be true. So, the natural response is they were already good, they were already vetted.

Writers have always entered into the publishing game with unreasonable expectations. Some learn and some don't. Just as Don holds up bestsellers and his method to achieve that status, so do self-published authors like yourself hold up your own bestseller status (or that of friends) and state that anyone can do this. Neither is true. I haven't done a study of the top sellers in both, but my bet is that the percentages would end up the same. It is not that one method is superior. Both have outliers in the system.

For me the question is NOT which publication trail yields the highest payout, nor which path will make me a bestseller. I think bestseller status is not at all controllable. Instead, the question is which method will most likely lead to a consistent living wage? For me, that has been clearly proven to be self-publishing. I may never make six figures a month or maybe not even six figures in a year before I pass from this world. But I will make enough to pay my bills and have a little left over. And the next year, I will make a little more because I control my output.

But I don't need to disparage traditional publishing to do it, nor to spend a lot of time dissuading a writer who is convinced traditional publishing will be best for her. Each person must find their own path and choose to learn--or not.

Unknown said...

Thanks Joe, thanks Barry. Funny stuff. Donald sounds like the new President of the Flat Earth Society.

Carolina said...

I'm a hybrid author. I love my small press publisher, Wild Rose Press, especially my editor because she made my book a better book. When I got the rights back for my first book published by another small press publisher, I self-published it. The sales are dismal for that one but I've done just about nothing to promote it except to keep plugging away at the sequel.

I felt some of the Maass article was unfortunately worded. I felt disappointed and sad when I read it.

I'd like to see a market where there is a place for all players. I really love your blog and write a lot and budget my time so the trad pub blogs don't get much of my attention. But I read this discussion, remembering the big deal I always wanted: to see my books in paper in the airport. How about this? Amazon could have stations in airports where people could upload trip-reading books on their Kindle or smart phone app. That would do it for me :-)

My Kindle saved my life when I became very ill in a third world country, ended up in the hospital, had to have surgery, was in the hospital for ten days, and did not speak the language, so TV was not a source of distraction from pain. But my Kindle had hundreds of books to choose from.

Carolina Montague

Anonymous said...

Nowadays, most writers don't have time to listen to a washed up, parasitic has-been like Donald whine about how his opinion used to matter to someone.

They are too busy writing books that the public actually wants to read and making money...

T. M. Hunter said...

Every so often, I glance at my lackluster sales on my self-published titles and wonder whether I'm just kidding myself...that maybe I should go try for an agent and a major publisher.

Then I see something like this (or any of the other "industry insiders" that you dissect, and realize that I'm better off sticking with what I'm doing.

Off to work on the final draft of my next self-pubbed manuscript...


Cathy Keaton said...

I used to have respect for Donald Maass. Not. Any. More. -_-

Paul said...

Joe, I guess that I am a "coach class" writer, and my response is to simply say to the good Captain of Maass hysteria, "Oh well."

He can class us however he sees fit.

You made a statement as a reply which earned you respect in my book.

"But don't take my word for it... Never trust the so-called experts, me included, until you gather enough info to make an educated choice. The more you know, the more you know what to expect."

Kudos Joe.

Phyllis Humphrey said...

In 2001, I igned up for the RWA annual Conference and was asked to introduce Donald Maass for his program. We had a nice conversation that day and one other, and he remembered me when I queried about representation. But he turned me down (even though, without an agent, I had by that time, sold five romance novels to well-known publishers). The book I pitched to him was not a romance, but I self-published it and sell copies of it every quarter.

Steve Peterson said...

Nice fisking of a pompous posting. So authors are cattle? Maybe, but Maass is in the middle of the street in Pamplona, then, and he's about to get his opinions trampled.

I don't think it's a coincidence we've seen so many similar defenses of legacy publishing (though none as obnoxious). The publishing establishment is feeling the rumbling under their feet, seeing the smoke coming from the volcanoes, and trying to assure the populace that Atlantis will be just fine, no worries.

Sooner or later, reality will have its way with these folks, and it won't be pretty.

Liam Sweeny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Donald Maass rejected my book by email in about 15 seconds - must be the fastest rejection ever. The book in question, The Black Orchestra, is self-published and rapidly becoming a best-seller on Amazon kindle. I'm so grateful to Mr. Maass for rejecting it.

adan said...

self-publishing, in all its forms, is the opportunity to extend the conversation in the world

being connected to each other, and knowing we are, is more important than restricted access to being able to communicate

thank you joe

Dan DeWitt said...

Yeah, about Maass and DWS/KKR being "buds." Dean seems to think otherwise:

Bill Peschel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

ms. Lynch
so do self-published authors like yourself hold up your own bestseller status (or that of friends) and state that anyone can do this
While I congratulate you on your indie success, I believe that if you read the many blog posts here, Joe has never made that representation, quite the opposite. If you are going to post, get your facts right. Especially when being critical of an author/blogger who has no motive other than to help the rest of us.

Remus Shepherd said...

I haven't drunk the kool-aid on self-publishing, and I'm still trying to break into legacy publishing. I've locked horns with Joe in the past about this. But Donald Maass' screed is appalling. It reads like a plantation owner talking about how well-kept his house slaves are, and why emancipation is a terrible idea.

I was warned away from the Maass agency in the past, and I've never submitted to them -- I planned to, but I always put them last on the list of queries. I think I'll take them off that list entirely, now.

Anonymous said...

The responses are dead-on. Not to mention, editors don't edit any more. The howling typo, gaffes and just plain crappy writing I've seen in recent print publications are unbelievable - and the higher the "class" of novel, the less critical editing. One has only to read (or try to read) later offerings from well-known authors who are obviously gaga and incapable still being published: Mary Stewart, for example. One goes from the complex romantic thriller of "Nine Coaches Waiting" to the abomination of "Thornyhold" - it's plain that it was published (and did well, initially) because any old POC with her name on it was bound to do well. It's also plain that she was about ninety, and not able to sustain more than the ability to outline a vague draft with some snatches of dialogue, which was simply transcribed and published as it -- so that her agents and publishers could cash in on what was left of a once brilliant novelist.

EG Michaels said...

As someone who's been a self-employed marketing guy for more than 20 years, my hunch is that Maass' books may produce some income for him but they are far better at positioning his agency (and him) as an expert. Someone could read one of his books and decide to contact his agency about representation if they were looking to go the traditional publishing route. If his books are handled via a traditional publishing then he's getting the traditional level of royalties on each book and not the levels that self-published authors can enjoy. So he stands to make a lot more as an agency/agent for an author (15% on their book sales) from a single book buyer than whatever royalties he earns from the book sale ($2-3 per book).

I took his letter as more political-driven... he's someone who has worked with traditional publishers, has a particular view on their merits, and wants to continue to do business with them.

Personally, I'm planning on sticking to self-publishing. At the risk of sounding like I'm bragging, with my marketing background and the results I've produced for my marketing clients over the years, I'm not worried about doing the marketing & promotion of my future books on my own. Over the last 18 months, I did spend a lot of time learning the craft of fiction writing (mystery and thriller genre) and after reading dozens of books on the craft, I will say that Maass' book Writing the Breakout Novel was one of the better ones I've read.

Full disclosure: I do not know Donald Maass or Joe Konrath so I don't have a bias towards either side of this discussion.

Ken Lindsey said...

I love this blog because most of the time while I'm reading, I'm being made to think. Think about the industry, my options and choices as an author in today's world, whether or not I should build a team to help me steal this mattress full of cash Joe keeps talking about...

I don't always agree with Joe. Call me an optimist, but I believe that there have to be at least a handful of level-headed, forward thinkers in the publishing industry that will start making the necessary changes. I doubt there are many right now, but I do believe there are a few. One day, I may even stick my toe into that pool, if for nothing more than to see what a trad publisher is willing to do for me.

Just not today.

If they day does come, though, you can bet your house that I will never attach my name to an agent like Donald Maass.

Here's the deal: If you have to backpedal because you said something shitty and condescending, you're already too damn late. We all got a taste of how Mr. Maass feels toward his clients (if you're not a best-seller, you're basically trash) as well a look at his ability to see the world around him in a realistic way (he doesn't seem to have that ability).

Thanks, Joe, for the post. I have at least one less agent to reach out to if I ever decide to try my hand at traditional publishing.

Kyra Halland said...

That bit about culling cattle from the herd just frosted me. I'm not sleeping on a mattress made of money yet - my sales are still at the point where I do the happy dance for each book sold and then try to figure out which of my friends/relatives bought it - but even I have enough self-respect to not want anything to do with an industry that views me that way.

And the part about freight/coach/first class fiction. The implication is that all self-pubbed fiction is freight class/all freight class fiction is self-pubbed, and all coach/first class is trad published/all trad published fiction is coach/first class. I haven't read All The Books; all I know is that for the last year or so that Borders was open, I walked out empty-handed more often than not, and I can count the number of trad-published books I've bought in the last year on one hand. On the other hand (um, yeah), at last count I had some 100 books and 183 book samples on my Kindle (and that isn't even counting the books I've already read and moved off of my Kindle), and almost all of them are self-published books that I'm excited about reading.

I believe in my writing. I believe in putting out the very best work I can, and in always working to get better. I believe in "Justice must be done. Love conquers all. Good vs. evil." And I believe in "memorable characters, unique premises, story worlds instantly real, plots that grip even when slow, gorgeous writing, and themes that surprise, challenge and change us." Donald Maass can call me freight class if he wants, just because I don't want anything to do with him or his industry. I'll go on being happy writing what I want to write and keeping control of my money, my rights, and my career.

Oh, and the part about "print publishers instead are now gratefully relieved of the money-losing burden of the mid-list"? I've never trad published, was never part of that midlist, but I've read and loved many mid-list books and have tremendous admiration for those authors, and that statement just hurt on behalf of those authors of those books I've loved.

JA Konrath said...

@ Maggie Lynch - Thanks for chiming in. I wanted to clarify something.

Just as Don holds up bestsellers and his method to achieve that status, so do self-published authors like yourself hold up your own bestseller status (or that of friends) and state that anyone can do this.

I try to take great pains to show that success requires luck, and that everyone's results vary. I'm pretty sure I never told anyone they could get rich like I did, but Maass and others point to bestselling legacy authors as if anyone could be Lee Child or Stephen King.

But I don't need to disparage traditional publishing to do it, nor to spend a lot of time dissuading a writer who is convinced traditional publishing will be best for her.

Remember that this blog is called A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. You're informed, Maggie, and made appropriate decisions about the direction of your career because you educated yourself on how legacy publishing works and how self-publishing works.

But to some newbie who just finished her first book, posts like this one are needed so she isn't taken advantage of, or goes into a contract blindly.

The reason I spend so much time disparaging legacy publishers is because they need to be called out on their bullshit. Or else their bullshit gets taken as truth.

Alan Spade said...

"The reason I spend so much time disparaging legacy publishers is because they need to be called out on their bullshit. Or else their bullshit gets taken as truth."

Sorry if I appear to be a sycophant, but yes, I agree with Joe there. Sometimes, it's the inaction of good men that allows evil to be done.

JA Konrath said...

Sorry if I appear to be a sycophant, but yes, I agree with Joe there. Sometimes, it's the inaction of good men that allows evil to be done.

I agree that we need to act, and I retract my earlier post about wondering if there were sycophants on my blog.

Sycophantic behavior exists to curry favor with the one who has power. Yes men and bootlickers want something, so they suck up.

I mistakenly wondered if people agreeing with me equated to sycophantic behavior, but I was wrong, for one huge reason: I have no power.

Getting in my good graces will do nothing for an author. This blog's agenda is not to make money, or to make me famous. It's to help authors.

Sucking up to Donald Maass, Or Zacharius, or Gottlieb, could potentially help an author, because these people have the power to say yes or no.

I have no such power. I'm not a gatekeeper. Sucking up to me doesn't get anyone anywhere. Hell, I barely even respond to positive comments, so agreeing with me is hardly ever even acknowledged. There is zero advantage to agreeing with me just to win my approval. I actually prefer it when people disagree.

But there seems to be other advantages to agreeing with me, as evidenced by the testimony of those who were helped by the information I provide.

So, I was wrong. The sycophants don't hang out on my blog. There is nothing for them here.

The people who hang out on my blog are seekers. They want to learn, from me and from each other. They want to share information. They want to add to the collective of knowledge.

That isn't ass-kissing. It's common sense.

Unknown said...

When the trad publishing finally crumbles and nobody wants him for an agent anymore, mr. Maass can always put his How-to books to good use and write humor fiction, he seams to be good at it. I find it extremely funny that three out of four books he mentioned as the "BOLO" types of books, although bestsellers, are considered in every circle of writers I've ever had contact with as the worst fiction ever written. Thank you, trad publishing, for choosing to push that kind of crappy fiction to the reader, while rejecting well written novels (although, those rejected that self-published are now grateful).

And that "Dear Author" form letter is just jaw-dropping. I can't believe the nerve... It's appalling. Ugh. Unfortunately, it's not even the most appalling thing in the whole text.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

"When the trad publishing finally crumbles"...

Not sure if I agree that trad publishing will ever fully crumble, but if they do, I'm sure there will plenty of middlemen looking for a way to exploit unsuspecting writers and swindle them out of their money.

And, unfortunately, there will be plenty of unsuspecting authors happy to pay for that ever dangling golden key.

The purchase of vanity presses by major publishing houses and labeling them "self-publishing venues" is a clear indication of what's to come. Only in the future it'll be bigger and louder, and far too many people will be attracted to the noise.

Dan DeWitt said...

Then we just need to be louder.

Unknown said...

Maybe some publishers will survive, in one form or another, if they adapt to the changes, but agents? I never took the trad road, so you'll have to remind me, what do they actually DO? What is their job? To read a manuscript and decade if they LIKE it? Then pass it on to a publisher with similar tastes? Am I the only one who thinks the job is artificial and fictitious? No wonder mr. Maass is scared, he has the best made up job in the world, where he does nothing but leach off other people's hard work, and then gets to call them cattle.

The only way I see the traditional publishing surviving is by seeking out successful indie published authors and wooing them over to their side--for which they will have to offer a much better deal than they do now. It's already happening: a few years ago I've read a few horror stories on this very site about authors who got dumped by publishers because they dared to self-publish prior or during their contract. Today, those same publishers are approaching self-published authors on their own. And that's the only way I see an agent surviving - by searching for authors on behalf of publishers. Which means that in a few years, the agents will grovel to the authors, not the other way around.

Unknown said...

I was soooo sold on your point of view Konrath. The rejection form letter where Maass tried to sell you his expertise was like the cherry on top.

Its like saying, even if you don't believe me (Konrath), even if you don't think I know what I am talking about, Maass is still an ASSHAT.

Lovely blog post. Highly entertaining roast session.


Unknown said...

Amazon gets most of my business, because when I type a title into the search box, they say they have it. End of story.

That's because they're overstocked! OMG, that line was so funny! How can you be overstocked with virtual books? Is there a limit on Amazon's servers that forbids them to have a virtual library larger than 100TB, so they need to conserve space? They can't afford another hard drive?

OMG, did you notice that on Amazon they have only one copy of an ebook? As soon as a customer buys one, another one magically appears! How is that witchcraft possible?

Unknown said...

What a great post...and a very enlightening one. I'm burning good writing time because I can't stop reading your earlier posts!

I never wanted traditional publishing and I never submitted anything. I had a story I wanted to tell, remained scared for a bit then hit the publish button on Amazon.

After the second one, I got an offer which I turned down after a good lawyer looked it over.

It felt like selling a baby for a bag of crack. A very small bag.

When running the numbers, I realized I would lose 5/6 of my income even given the advance, which was less than I made in one single month by far.

They came back and I haven't said no yet, but there are also now four books out and doing well because even the process of negotiating takes so long.

It's just too slow. I don't want to be famous or burn all my life out pimping a book. I just want to write.

So, your post was timely and valuable to me and I thank you for it!

Unknown said...

So after a great deal of digging (being a lowly member of the herd, I have lots of time on my hands to research) it appears that the pseudonym Maass used for his Harlequin novels was Stephanie St. Clair. Not sure how accurate that is. Didn't see any of them on amazon or google, but there you have it.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Methinks they protest too much.

Your Jan. 22 blog post quoted Y.S. Chi, Chairman of Elsevier and President of the International Publishers Association, at a December conference in London: "We gathered all the communications people together to discuss the issues and create an action plan. We have a multi-faceted audience to address, and in the next 12 months you will see key messages delivered, compelling stories of our impact on society for culture and education. We’ll ask you to personalize that message. I’m very excited that there is a meeting of minds on this." So they are all working on getting the prescribed message out!

Mr. Chi also said, “We are not seen as the guardians of culture, but the greedy gatekeepers of knowledge.”

I would disagree. They are certainly not the guardians of culture, but neither are they the greedy gatekeepers of knowledge. Greedy, perhaps. Gatekeepers no longer. And knowledge? If they had real knowledge about what would sell, we would all still be clamoring at the gates of traditional publishing houses, barbarians that we are....

But you notice that we're not.

Anonymous said...

Many Maas described "First Class" authors are leaving the evil empire and joining us unwashed masses in the trenches of the revolution. This is what truly scares them. Maas is however correct that the self pub'd world is a bit like a slush pile, there's a lot of shit out there. But who cares? - in the new paradigm, the market ie the reader decides rather than gatekeepers like Maas.

Anonymous said...

A dinosaur? Really?

During their heyday, dinosaurs ruled the earth.

Maass, little buddy: You're not a dinosaur. A soon-to-be-extinct Dodo Bird is what you are.

Unknown said...

I think I first read this from finding the link to the article on Passive Guy. I really thought it/Maass was a joke. I mean who could be this much of a clown? Thank you so much for your commentary and including the letter (where he tries to sell his products - that guy has some major cajones!). I always learn so much from you and Barry. Viva la revolución. And many thanks.

Anonymous said...

a wise person said, Behind most great fortunes, is crime.

Maas, hot mess. No one needs agents. If you have a good book, send it to editors without agent. Editors still buy good books they like. They arent buying the frickin' daft agent. Get an IP lawyer to vet your contract. Cut out the Maas's of the world. They dont deserve passive income of 15% of your flesh for life from your hard work. Agents who take their 15-20% for life, are leeches of the first, second and third order

Joe and Barry have it right about this Maashat.

Unknown said...


Always enjoy your no-BS blogs. Your energy, something my oldest son said to me, and a real crappy novel written by John Gresham really propelled me through my first mystery novel (WATER: A Vic Bengston Investigation) and soon my second (VOTE: A Vic Bengston Investigation).

I spent 18 months communicating with agents and publishers, and then realized I could spend the rest of my life (I'm now 66) doing this -- instead of getting the book in the hands of readers -- and they have liked it.

Sure it's an uphill road getting product on the shelf and marketing, but I am enjoying every minute of it.

The book ain't bad either.

--Richard J. Schneider / Denver..

Unknown said...

Sorry for the multiple postings. The process was a bit cornfusing..

Anonymous said...

According to my 'research' Stephanie St. Clair was a gang leader in Harlem in the early part of the last century. That's an awesome name for a gangster, by the way.

Mary Jane Hathaway said...

"But for those countless midlist authors stuck with unconscionable contracts because they had no choice, and the multitude of authors kept out of the industry by gatekeepers such as yourself, it didn't work. It actually sucked wheelbarrows full of ass."

Um, yes.

And that mentality of the cattle being culled from the herd? THAT is the mentality that makes me want to never, ever get on the internet again. I want to go hide in the closet where I can rock myself to sleep, pretending there is not that sort of stupidity in the world.

Every now and then I meet a traditional publishing type who is NOT so absolutely stupid that I want to give them flowers. And that's how bad it is. We've been conditioned to be thrilled to pieces when anyone gives us a little bit of respect for making lots of money writing good books.

David L. Shutter said...

My $0.02 from TPV.

Freight Class is “…. Justice must be done. Love conquers all. Good vs. evil…”

Aaah! I see his argument now. Our important literary heritage is being subverted by the unwashed and unvetted indie masses peddling their derivative, mediocre attempts at “real” fiction.

And I gather, by his stance, that he combats this by only representing and championing work of true literary merit and quality which NEVER mimics familiar and well trod plotlines, themes and conventions.

Oh…wait. No he doesn’t:

Laura Resnick said...

One of the (very minor) problems traditional publishing has in the changing market is that the people who self-present as spokespersons for the industry are doing such a poor job of it.

The various industry people who've opined in public within the past month (and I find it interesting but unsurprising that so many are feeling motivated to publicly advocate for the industry's traditional business model) have all evinced outdated thinking, failure to recognize the longterm effect of disruptive technologies, a dismissive ignorance of the commercial realities of the self-publishing movement, and/or contempt for writers. They have all come across in their essays and comments as short-sighted, unprofessional, poorly informed, smug, and/or contemptuous of writers and readers.

None of this is a good way to convince writers, who increasingly have MANY OPTIONS besides continuing to work with people like this (and if you've been in traditional publishing for any length of time, as I have, you have indeed worked with people JUST like this) that they will be at =all= relevant in the book business 5-10 years from now--when I and almost all the writers I know will still be writing, selling, building readership, and earning income, one way or another.

Yet within the past month, I've talked to two very smart traditional publishers who are indeed well aware of how the market is changing and positioning themselves and their businesses intelligently to remain relevant over the long haul--a goal which they recognize will include steady adaptation over time. One of them, in fact, said to me that he thinks (and I agree with him) that the secret behind his growing company's success is that he came into publishing (from the business world, where he was financially successful but didn't love the work) without knowing anything about publishing, so instead of "doing things the way it's always done in publishing," he figured out what would make sense... and that ensured his start-up house did well early on and continues growing, expanding, and doing well, while adapting, changing, trying new things, and evolving as the market evolves.

So it's not as if NO ONE in publishing is looking ahead realistically or knows what they're talking about. But it certainly appears this month as if everyone who advocates for the traditional industry on the public internet--or to the DoJ, or before a federal judge... is living in another century and sticking their fingers in their ears in a version of "la-la-la-la-la! I can't HEAR you!" when confronted by the business realities of 2014.

Anyhow, here’s a good antidote to that recent spate of industry commentaries. Longtime established bestseller Stephanie Laurens gave this speech at RWA last summer. Excellent analysis of the changes our industry is going through. - See more at:

Judith said...

Laura, thanks to the link to Stephanie Laurens address. Her comments and your own on DW Smith's site are a model of clear, analytical thinking.

P. S. Power said...

I read the full article, sans response, before coming here to see that it had been fisked.

Joe, you could turn it down a half notch? You seem upset, when you don't have to be. (Even though you probably aren't actually worked up, it came across that way to me, too.)

That said, I found Maass to be highly insulting, without more than a subtle hint that he knows anything about what Indies are writing at all.

The raw fact is that the best few thousand (or more!) Independents are pretty much indistinguishable from the big 5 titles.

The editing is good, the covers clean and professional, and the content is far less derivative or set into the popular mold of the day than what the "big boys and girls" let the consumer have a chance to see.

Has it been a learning process for a lot of people in the last few years? Yes. Myself included.

But the thing there is that we have learned.

Trying to lump all indies together without thought is the same as if I said that the big five should be held responsible for everyone they've rejected.

Dead trees are, though some of the old guard don't love it, on the way out. Sure, it will take a generation, but in that time the sales of printed materials will wither away, until only cookbooks and auto manuals are still made that way.

I give this about ten to fifteen years, but it's coming. Unless this hipster thing really takes off, I wouldn't count on printed books to save the old guys.

That means that the big three will have to contend with me. But the thing there is that they keep pissing me off.

So when the time comes, in about six months, and they realize that I have a large audience that they want to try and take back, I'm pretty much going to ask them to lose my phone number.

I know that I'm in the minority, but I eagerly await the death of those companies. They've stopped to many good ideas, for too long.

We need a real playing field, not one controlled by losers and users that can't write a book of their own!

*I did mention that I was pissed off?

**The Big Three coming to you in 2017!

Barbara Freethy said...

Great write-up and counterpoint, Joe and Barry. Am baffled that there is still so much ignorance out there among some of these agents. Loved the part about the Big 6 being relieved to get rid of all that mid list … don't the mid list authors just love to hear that :-)

I was trad pubbed for 15 years, started self pubbing in 2011, and have sold over 4 million ebooks on my own. My sale are never counted in any surveys because most surveys want to prove the opposite point that no one is making money or selling many books, but lots and lots of authors are doing very well on their own.

Thanks for all the great blogs and keeping the truth out there in the world for the writers willing to dig a little deeper for the whole story!

DeanfromAustralia said...

This was a deliciously entertaining article and blisteringly honest. I will question one point from J.L. however. I don't necessarily regard Kindle boards as a haven of sensibility or camaraderie. There is just as much a turf war mentality going on at KB and it's not pretty.

One could argue that the greatest enemy of self published authors are self published authors themselves.

Anonymous said...

Joe, you know you're nuts to ever have worried that you are in an echo chamber of sycophants. Look at the successful authors that come here to comment.

For a newbie, that speaks volumes.

#19 said...

I was reading the comments and thinking "Oh, I like the cut of that Liliana Hart's jib. I should look up her work... wait a minute, name sounds familiar..."

Heh. Got a book of hers just last week. She must be one spectacular moo-cow, eh?

This Maass guy certainly seems to have a conflict of interest what with flogging his books in rejection letters (chutzpah exactly like the old joke about the guy who killed both parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court for being an orphan) and telling people to give his wife money. That's a warning sign even before he gets to calling you livestock.

And that first-class writing rises to the top? Has he SEEN the NYT bestseller list? Plenty of formulaic crap there.

Keep on keepin' on, writers. I find you through blogs, through friends, through "People also bought" algorithms. All the books look the same on my Nook.

You're all pretty, pretty cows to me, and you can wander around in the green fields without fear of the chute and the slaughterhouse.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding! Unbelievable hubris on Maass's part. I'm one of those authors who used to believe that only a print book deal would mean I was successful. Last May, I sent a query to a dozen agents who repped my genre and was rejected by eight and the rest didn't even bother to reply. I self-published the series and another series after that and made six figures in the first 8 months through Amazon. My books have all reached the bestseller's lists in their respective categories and a couple reached the top 20 in the entire kindle store for a time. One of the very same agencies that rejected me came courting after one of my books reached #2 in all self-published eBooks. You can imagine how that felt. :*EG* If the agent can get me a print deal, I might consider because that I get into brick and mortar stores on my own. I'm sticking with self-publishing my own eBooks, thank you very much!

Sarra Cannon said...

Great post as always Joe and Barry. I think you nailed when you said more authors are making real money for the first time. Yes, the breakout bestsellers are rare, but that will always be true. That's why they're called breakouts. I know more authors making a full-time income from writing now than ever before. I'm making six figures a year and no one has even heard of me. (yet) If I had attempted to get a traditional publisher I'd probably be teaching school full time and lucky to have a $10,000 advance, if that.

And as for self-publishers being the "freight class" who can't get more than $2.99 for their books? He's totally missing the point that I don't NEED to charge more than that. I make as much or more from each $2.99 self-published book than a legacy-published author with an $8.99+ price tag. Guess which amount most readers would rather pay? It's a win-win and all I had to do was work hard and pull my own weight. I'll take it and let the readers decide if my books are valuable, not the price tag.

Sarra Cannon

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Joe, you could turn it down a half notch? You seem upset, when you don't have to be.

Personally, I thought maybe Joe wasn't upset enough. When a guy blatantly insults the very people who make his profession possible, that's a pretty friggin' low, in my opinion.

But what do I know? I'm just one of the idiots in Freight Class.

Morgen Rich said...

Hmmmm. I got the same rejection letter. At the time, I didn't think it was a blessing. I've since changed my mind (and self-published). We need a club for form-rejection recipients. I count myself among the "elite," as I GOT THE SAME REJECTION LETTER THAT JOE KONRATH GOT! WOOT!!

On a serious note, I wanted to throw up when I read the original post that Maass made. I really do wonder if any of his mid-list writers are still on board, and if so, WHY they would stay with someone who obviously has so little respect for them.

Thanks for calling bullshit. New authors (especially, since many come into the field without knowing much about the industry or their options) need to make informed decisions, and to do that, they need to get a bigger picture than the one Maass and others like him present.

Unknown said...

To add to the myth debunking (the castles are crumbling). Allow me to share:

and on the support writers receive from the publishing houses:

The change is a tsunami and the gatekeepers are walking curious on the new bare shore before the rogue wave.

Coolkayaker1 said...

I think Donald Maass knows what he's talking about. If the self published authors spewing out a book every ninety days would take a breather long enough to understand that quality fiction (Donna Tartt, Philip Roth, etc.) takes time, but the rewards can be staggering monetarily (e.g. EL James, who smartly side-stepped self-publishing early on, who made 95 million dollars in 2013). The movie rights alone to traditionally pubbed books average 1.5 million bucks--and the author doesn't even have to lift a finger to write the screenplay!

Even poll of 9k authors in late 2013 shows that traditionally pubbed writers make twice as much as self-pubbed authors:

So, ya, Maass makes sense. Tradition publishing is the way to go for anyone who can write. I mean, really write. Not a hack, but a true novelist.

Chris Redding said...

I initially read the title as
Fisting Donald Maass.
After reading the article I think you did just that.
What an arrogant SOB (Maass, no you.)

Alan Spade said...

"Joe, you could turn it down a half notch? You seem upset, when you don't have to be.

Personally, I thought maybe Joe wasn't upset enough. When a guy blatantly insults the very people who make his profession possible, that's a pretty friggin' low, in my opinion."

Was I the only one to smile to see P.S. Power in the same post asking Joe to turn it down and saying: "I know that I'm in the minority, but I eagerly await the death of those companies." ?

By the way, I'm also in that minority, P.S. Power.

@Coolkayaker1 : a Digital Book World study shows only 10% from trad pub authors earn more than $20,000 a year and only 5% from indie pub authors earn more than $20,000 a year.

Even if that study wasn't skewed from the start (it adressed itself to authors who had subscribed to Writer Digest), that would be a huge victory for self-pub authors: if you include all the rejected authors, the percentage of authors having tried to become trad pub authors and earning $20,000 a year would be only 0,1% or 0,01%. The indie pub authors weigh incomparably more with 5%.

So, if you want to earn a living, your chances will be much, much better by choosing to self publish.

P. S. Power said...

I love it when I see people spouting off with the idea that slow=good, when it comes to writing.

I think, if you understood how most of those authors worked, you'd come to understand that they only really took a few months to pen those masterpieces you love so much. The rest of the time is mainly filled with waiting and red tape.

Not extra editing. Not magical incantations of literary perfection.


A thing that we don't need as much of in the 21rst century as we did in the last one.

A good quickly written work is always better than a poorly written work that took years.

Mark Edward Hall said...

This from another freight class loser: I sold more than fifty-thousand books last year, and with a new novel in the series out I'm expecting this year to be even more stellar.

Joe, at the risk of sounding like a sycophant, thanks for everything.

Sharper13x said...

Joe said (probably 100 comments ago,but I’m jumping in now)

"Whistling past the graveyard? That would be my guess. Because they are, indeed, afraid.
If authors stop submitting to publishers, the industry will collapse, and all those who make money from the industry will be out of a job. That's scary.”

I write lots of different things for a living. Books are new for me. I was never particularly interested in the publishing business, and knew little about it until I wrote my first novel a few years ago.

Being interested, but not in need, is a really good way to approach an industry full of predators. It’s easy to see a dodge when you aren’t desperate for what they claim to offer.

I went to a couple of conferences with my manuscript… maybe 4 years ago - and immediately got a sinking feeling. It was an "ohmygod, is this really what it’s like?” feeling. The conferences, while big and “reputable” were clearly a pseudo-scam. By that I mean that what they offered was real enough, it just wasn’t as important as they made it out to be. And it perpetuated a broken system. There was a strong smell of decay and carcass feeding. And we newbie authors with $500 to spend on "access,” were the supply of meat.

I was really disappointed, but there were no other options at the time. One of the handful of queries I sent was to Donald Maass. Got the form-rejection (but without trying to sell his book.)

Very fortunately for me, this was exactly the time when e-publishing was setting a new paradigm for what it could mean to be a professional author. Long story short. I’m really glad I was rejected. And it didn’t take very long at all for me to realize what boon it was.

We live in the good old days.

Walter Knight said...

The NY publishing establishment has a monopoly on paper book distribution. That's their main advantage.

If Amazon or anyone else ever built a brick and mortar bookstore chain that excluded the NY establishment and displayed small press or self published books, that would be the end.

It would be "Escape From New York."

Unknown said...

@Coolkayaker1 : a Digital Book World study shows only 10% from trad pub authors earn more than $20,000 a year and only 5% from indie pub authors earn more than $20,000 a year.

Even if that study wasn't skewed from the start (it adressed itself to authors who had subscribed to Writer Digest), that would be a huge victory for self-pub authors: if you include all the rejected authors, the percentage of authors having tried to become trad pub authors and earning $20,000 a year would be only 0,1% or 0,01%. The indie pub authors weigh incomparably more with 5%.

Percentages mean little if they're not calculated from the same base number, and I don't know if they are or not in this case. Let's say, for the sake of simplicity, that there are only 10 trad authors, and only a 100 indies—I think we can all agree that the number of indies is much greater than the number of trads. That would mean that only one of those 10 traditionaly published is making the said amount of income, while on the indie side there are five. So, who's making more money?

Alan Spade said...

@Catalina: Absolutely. You are quite right, and it's more clear to look at it that way.

Just to clarify my understanding of this study: 10% of trad pub authors is from the overall number of trad pub authors, who are authors who have been vetted by the publishing industry.

But comparing this 10% to the 5% of the total number of self-pub authors is clearly comparing apples to oranges, as there is no vetting process with self-pub.

So for 10 trad authors, you probably have 5000 or 10,000 authors having sent their manuscript. It's that amount of people that you have to compare with self-pub authors, even if they are people who are both submitting to trad pub and self-publishing.

So the real percentage is way, way lower than 10%, if you want to compare apples with apples.

Laura Oliva said...

"Freight Class novels generally take few risks. Too often they rely on character stereotypes, heavy-handed plots, purple and obvious emotions, and messages and themes that are time-worn."

Actually, my experience with self-publishing has led me to the OPPOSITE conclusion. All the indie authors I know have written far riskier, more subversive books than any I've seen come out of a traditional publishing house. That's one of the benefits of not having a "gatekeeper": there's no one to tell you what you're writing is too edgy, too offensive, too raw. I've seen some beautiful art in the indie community as a result. From one member of the Freight Class to another, thanks for your rebuttals, Mr. Konrath!

Anonymous said...

There's nothing funnier than watching a money-grubbing scumbag like Maas commit career suicide like this in public.

Anonymous said...

"Your Jan. 22 blog post quoted Y.S. Chi, Chairman of Elsevier and President of the International Publishers Association, at a December conference in London: "We gathered all the communications people together to discuss the issues and create an action plan. We have a multi-faceted audience to address, and in the next 12 months you will see key messages delivered, compelling stories of our impact on society for culture and education. We’ll ask you to personalize that message. I’m very excited that there is a meeting of minds on this."

It seems some video from that publisher's conference speech leaked:

H. S. Stavropoulos said...

Did he really say that First Class authors are only traditionally published? If so how can there be cattle to be culled from the Freight Class of self-publishing?

Then again I didn't expect his viewpoint would be internally consistent, correct or realistic.

I've aways been wary of the agent - author relationship. How can an agent purport to represent a writer while asking them to sign a contract so in favour of the publisher.

I realized that people sign them because of the gatekeeper thing. It's difficult to believe your writing is 'good enough' without having some gatekeeper agent/publisher tell you it is. Regardless of how bloody awful the contract is, you've received a stamp of approval. This, I think, is the last myth that really needs to be destroyed. And for at least me, to realize that it's not a real stamp of approval.

Anyway, thank you for dissecting and stripping away the half-truths, bias and lies of Maass' statements.

Sure glad you're on our side!!

Athena Grayson said...

Funny how Maass's "class" system sounds a lot like the same old song and dance given to romance authors by the so-called "literati" I the grand old days. "Don't you ignorant hillbillies know that you're not reading what *we* say you should be reading!"

He seems to be arguing apples and oranges, claiming that somehow, the presence of a publisher, agent, and a chappy contract are the secret handshake of enduring fiction. As if it can't exist while still earning its author a living wage.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I think Donald Maass knows what he's talking about. If the self published authors spewing out a book every ninety days would take a breather long enough to understand that quality fiction (Donna Tartt, Philip Roth, etc.) takes time, but the rewards can be staggering monetarily (e.g. EL James, who smartly side-stepped self-publishing early on, who made 95 million dollars in 2013).

Wait now, am I misunderstanding you here? Are you saying that EL James writes quality fiction? Seriously?

I must be reading what you said wrong.

By the way, the time spent has nothing to do with quality. That is a complete myth. There are plenty of authors out there who write very fast and write rings around Philip Roth and Donna Tartt.

A personal story: When I was in college I wrote an five page essay about an hour before class and turned it in. Next class, the teacher not only gave me an A, but used the essay as an example of great writing and raved about all the thought that had gone into it.

I had not even decided what to write about until five minutes before I started writing.

A few classes later, I was sitting in the classroom, just before class, furiously writing another essay that was due that day. The teacher saw me writing and said, "What are you working on?"

I told her it was the day's assignment and that I'd had a busy week and was only getting around to writing it. She expressed utter shock. How could I write a serious essay in an hour?

I told her that the one she had raved about previously was written just before class as well. It was clear that this did not make her happy.

When the new essay came back to me, it was marked with a D. I suppose it's possible that it wasn't as good as the previous essay (although I thought it was even better), but I highly doubt that was the reason for the low grade.

The point, of course, is that judging writing quality by the speed at which the book is written is complete and utter bullshit. If self-published authors are "spewing out a book" every ninety days, chances are pretty good they're getting better and better at their craft.

Jack D. Albrecht Jr. said...


How many here have heard of me? My co-author and I made almost 30k last year from our mid-list titles.

We are far from masters of social media, too. And, if it weren't for this blog, we would still be looking for someone to publish our books!

15k extra each, this year, is life changing money when you make 18k at your day job! We did this at low price points, as well!!

Joe, you rock but I have to continue ignoring this blog so that we can complete our third fantasy novel. I'll check back from time to time, but staying away from this place is the best advice you ever wrote.

Jack D. Albrecht Jr.

Unknown said...

II was trapped in a dark and cluttered room with SM Barrett, when you opened a secret panel and said "Hey, guys, this way." Thanks. If only this made me more confident. It did make me more aware. There is room for a bigger herd and I aim to be kicking up dust. Words are my dust. Donald Mass can eat it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Joe, for your continued support of the cattle class (proud Holstein here). I follow Donald Maas, and others, to keep abreast of what the gatekeepers are saying. If his intent was to douse authors with cold reality, his choice of a class system destroyed the message. As a "first class" agent who supposedly well informed of "first class" marketing, how could anyone remotely think it appropriate? His comment, "print publishers have the luxury of culling the prize cattle from the herd," reaffirms the arrogance authors face every day. What was the point of smearing our face in it? I'm wondering what his "mid-low list" authors have to say. Say "moo" boys and girls.

Unknown said...

I'm sure that the French aristocrats also clung tightly to their myopic, delusional beliefs about that little revolution a few centuries back—right up until the guillotine blade came down.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking on that post. I couldn't even get through it all, I was so disgusted, not just by his elitism, but his ignorance.

Mr. Maas will never see a submission from me because,as you've so deftly highlighted, he's not fighting for authors. (Also, I don't need him! Thank God.)

On a side note, I no longer recommend KB Writer's Cafe to authors anymore. There's been a mass exodus of the top tier community members due to active trolling. Post at KB at your own risk. Indies need a new home one more interested in developing writers than a bottom line (trolling seems to be profitable given its tolerance).

Signed: I made $60k last year.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Joe.

Thanks for this article!

Donald Maass's book "The Fire in Fiction" is, imho, really good.

I am kind of shocked by the Jennifer Jackson rejection letter--that really does come off as an unworthy bit of push.

I've met both Donald and Jennifer at conferences; I liked them both. (I feel I should say that since they both come off badly in this article.)

I took an online course from a YA editor at Arthur A Levine books. She did a terrific job. When I read her account of how she works with her authors, it sounds like something you just couldn't get by hiring it yourself. She works on a maximum of a dozen books a year and really puts her heart into it. Her creative outlet is working on books other people have written. I feel like the answer to this question is going to be, pay a good editor $5000 or 6000 for a month of her life (spread out over 12-18 months so you have time for multiple rounds of revisions) and yes she'll work that hard for you and you'll have spent much less than you would have lost with the teeny royalties of legacy publishing. But ... can you really find this with an editor you pay by the hour? Is there something special about old-school editors who've chosen editing as their career? (I was going to include something like, "and have the support of a publishing house that is dedicated to quality fiction and sees itself as having a mission," but it sounded naïve and I feared being scoffed at.)

I've heard that YA editing in publishing houses is still very good, whereas the editing of adult fiction is much less attentive.

Do you have any thoughts on this?


Tom Hopp said...

Joe, I've got that same letter from Maass, although the name and address form fields were filled in differently. But I can go you one better. During my formative years, I READ two of Maass's motivational books--with yellow highlighter in hand, no less. Let's give him one little corner of positive credit. He really has seen a boatload of books and manuscripts, and probably does have some insight into what bestsellers are all about. I still hear his words echoing, "conflict on EVERY PAGE," and "intermediate tension," while I write and revise my novels. There is some use in his how-to books, although I just skimmed his chapters on submissions. You see, like any good indie, my war cry now is "I WILL NEVER SUBMIT!"

Don rejected my Dinosaur Wars science fiction novel, and I'm glad. I went with Smashwords and Kindle, and within three months a Hollywood director from the production company that brought us "Rocky" called me on the phone and wanted a deal for a movie with a budget "as big as Jurassic Park." I signed an option with him, with no help from an agent. How did it work out? Well, he warned me my movie would never happen if Spielberg announced Jurassic Park IV was on its way. Oh well. There went my five percent share of toy royalties.

So I'm a confirmed indie, and have no interest in "help" from any agent, let alone the unattainable Donald Maass. But you know, somewhere, woven into Dinosaur Wars, deep down in the fabric, lie "conflict on EVERY PAGE," and, "intermediate tension," thanks to well, um, er, Donald Maass.

I guess what I'm saying here is for every fiction writer to remember, the best villains retain some shred of decency, way down deep.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Maass' post is gone.

Paul Draker said...

Peggy asks:

"I feel like the answer to this question is going to be, pay a good editor $5000 or 6000 for a month of her life... and yes she'll work that hard for you and you'll have spent much less than you would have lost with the teeny royalties of legacy publishing. But ... can you really find this with an editor you pay by the hour? Is there something special about old-school editors who've chosen editing as their career?"

Dear Peggy,

Yes, as an indie self-publisher, you absolutely can find editors like that. In fact, some of the best and most accomplished editors out there -- editors with a dozen New York Times and international best sellers on their resumes -- are now choosing to freelance. They are going indie, too, because of the higher pay and job satisfaction they get :)

As you point out, these editors are truly special. And they don't come cheap. They are also swamped with manuscripts from indies, as well as editing work outsourced from big publishers, so they get to pick and choose which projects they want.

Working with such an editor is worth every penny. It's an unbelievable learning experience. They will accelerate your writing learning curve five-fold. Ten years to become a pro writer? Nonsense. Myth. Hire the right editor, work your ass off, and you might be able to do it in two.

I understand that investing thousands of dollars in editing is a lot of money for many writers. But there are also less expensive editors that are just as good, too, even though they may not yet have stellar resumes with tons of best sellers. To find them, rely on recommendations from authors whose books you admire. And ask tough, detailed questions. Don't be afraid to fire editors. I fired two before finding the right one.

The bottom line is that you have many great editing options available to you as an indie, and more are emerging every day. And none of them require giving up your rights and control over your career. None of them require giving up 75%+ of everything your work might earn until after long after your grandkids are dead, which is what signing away your copyright for "life of author plus 70 years" means.

This is the greatest time in history to be a writer. Be proud of what you are and work at your craft, knowing the world of publishing is forever changed. Now the reader is in charge. And guess what? The reader couldn't care less who published a book or how it was published. The don't know who Donald Mass is. They don't know who Simon & Schuster are. Or Penguin House. The reader only cares about great stories, and the only publishing "brand" they even recognize is the author's name.

As an aside, I've read Maass's craft books. They're fairly mediocre compared to the many better ones I've read. He makes a few useful points, but it's the same stuff I've seen everywhere else, and he repeats it ad-nauseum. Overall, he seems to conflate literary-fiction stylistic conventions with breakout success. There are many craft books I return to again and again, getting more out of them each time. His aren't among them.

Unknown said...

I realized that people sign them because of the gatekeeper thing. It's difficult to believe your writing is 'good enough' without having some gatekeeper agent/publisher tell you it is. Regardless of how bloody awful the contract is, you've received a stamp of approval. This, I think, is the last myth that really needs to be destroyed. And for at least me, to realize that it's not a real stamp of approval.

I got my "stamp" when I submitted a short to a magazine and got paid for it. That was the moment I knew I was ready to self-publish. I never even considered traditional. So, I say, if you realy want that little stamp, go with magazines. They usually have better tastes anyway, and tend to go with stories they think are good, not merely sellable.

Conflict on every page, heh? That sounds to me like creating too much unnecessary drama. I'll compare that advice to the one I've found in Orson Scott Card's "Characters and Viewpoints" (he's an actual writer), on how to avoid cliches. Basically, you take a scene and ask your self what can happen. Then you throw the first idea away and ask again, and again, until you have something interesting and hopefuly more original. See, he doesn't talk about conflict, but about good writing. If you apply his advice on every scene on every page, voila, you have conflict on every page. Conflict doesn't necessarily make good writing, but good writing often has good conflicts. And that's the difference between an author that knows his craft and a hack. An author knows that conflict for the sake of conflict means nothing without a good story to cary it. It's just artificial melodrama.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

@Coolkayaker1 : a Digital Book World study shows only 10% from trad pub authors earn more than $20,000 a year and only 5% from indie pub authors earn more than $20,000 a year.

So, even if we believe these stats, it seems pretty amazing to me that in four short years we're already at 5% vs. traditional pub's 10%. And that percentage is bound to rise.

These are the kinds of numbers we should be celebrating as proof that indie publishing is taking hold.

Paul Draker said...

Rob Gregory Browne said:

"...a Digital Book World study shows only 10% from trad pub authors earn more than $20,000 a year and only 5% from indie pub authors earn more than $20,000 a year.

So, even if we believe these stats, it seems pretty amazing to me that in four short years we're already at 5% vs. traditional pub's 10%."

Besides which, that DBW study has already been thoroughly discredited. To see what a joke it is, all you have to do is listen to the study conductors try to defend their methodology:

It's kind of an embarrassment to everyone who cites it, if this is what passes for "scientific data" in the publishing industry...

JackieIvie said...

You know, Joe, I rarely post or comment on anything, mainly because I have foot-in-mouth disease and always seem to say something will have me worrying over it rather than absorbed in writing, but I found myself open-mouthed and deeply offended by Donald Maass's comments.
Deeply offended.
I cannot believe his class system comments, but I am absolutely floored at the comment that a publisher is relieved to be rid of the burden their mid-listers.
I am a self-pubbed writer now.
I wasn't.
I had ten books in ten years with a trad publisher (Kensington). PS - I had a lot of things I could have said during that blog between Steve Z. and you, but didn't. (It's the FIM disease). However, I never wrote for the money in the first place (good thing LOL). I would have stayed with Kensington for FREE (and practically was). WHY? Because writing is an obsession. Always was. And I already spent 22 years trying to get through the gatekeepers to finally get a contract.
22 years.
That's a lot of time. And a LOT of rejection.
I was not idle. I raised a family, worked full time, wrote 14 full length novels and queried seemingly nonstop.
I'm fairly sure I earned more than a dozen rejection letters from Mr. Maass alone. Since I had 14 books before getting published (the one that went was my ninth), I started querying in 1983, and I happen to be exceptionally stubborn, I would not be surprised. I received THOUSANDS of rejection letters. I didn't keep many after the first month or so. I would buy those boxes of 500 self-addressed, stamped envelopes from the post office every three months in the '80s and '90s. THAT'S how many queries I was sending. I didn't keep many rejections because I have enough crap in my old filing cabinet, and I really didn't need that many people asking me to quit wasting paper. (and yes. I did get a rejection once that said just that. I think they got tired of me)
All of that aside - I loved being published with Kensington. I would stand and cry when I first got my paperback. Every year when it came out. That would be me down at the local bookstore, sobbing away in the romance aisle. I love Kensington. I love the editors, the CEO, the art department, the sales staff....
Now. I get great covers - always have. I got great covers from Kensington. And I have great covers as a self-pub. I seem to have won or placed in the Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Cover contest down in Houston for romance books an extraordinary amount of times. (I just took second place for VAL #16 - DO YOU TAKE in the "sexiest cover" category.) I've won the JABBIC in "historical" three times (one was a self-pub). And I've taken a second place twice (split 50/50 between Kensington and SP). Oh! And I spend exactly $135 on my ebook covers.
I have also won or placed in 34 contests for historical romance writing excellence - the last being a win in Colorado for 2013 Best Historical for A PERFECT KNIGHT FOR LOVE.
All of that is just back-up for the fact that despite having a great cover, and fairly decent words inside, I still tanked.
And that's where the open-mouthed bit finally brings me. (sorry. I am wordy. it's an affliction) To hear an agent say that publishers are relieved to be released from the burden of a mid-lister...
well. Here it is. I saw a bit of red over that. I'm commenting.
PS - I'm not independently wealthy off my self-pub career, but I haven't exactly won a lottery either. There's a luck angle that is always there and needs to be considered, regardless if a writer wants to try going the traditional route or self-publish. However, I will admit that I made more last year with my SP titles than my entire TEN year career with traditional publishing.
I'm rather glad I got all those rejections. I have these 13 historical romances that never got picked up, you know...

Jackie Ivie

Amanda DeWees said...

Does Maass not hear how he's contradicting himself? He makes these claims:

1) Trad-pub gatekeepers separate the wheat from the chaff and make sure only the wheat is published.

2) Publishing is a meritocracy, and good writing (wheat) will succeed.

3) Mid-list authors are a burden and a financial loss, and trad pubs are happy to offload them.

But but but... you and people like you, Maass, selected those very mid-list authors' works! You gave them the "wheat" stamp by publishing them. So does that mean that

1) Publishing isn't really (gasp) a meritocracy?


2) Trad-pub gatekeepers' judgment is imperfect?

Either way, and without even taking into account the grosser errors and offensive statements, Mr. Maass has lost all credibility as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...


I'm still trying to land an agent. I suspect that I will have a devil of a time getting past the gatekeeper, though I hired a pro editor, and the book is I think the best it can be. I have a few small publishers interested, I have been researching those contracts in the event they offer, one 7% on ebooks, 5k advance. What I see is this; even if I have to go small press to crack in, like some of my friends, I still do the lion share of marketing and my rights get tied up. I will NOT do that, I will SP first, if I cannot get an agent.

My god it is hard enough being a writer without agents selling you things in lieu of acceptance. I'm well acquainted with The Donald. I have met him several times through conferences and have attended weeklong workshops through his affiliation with BONI. The books he wrote on craft ARE good, but he never was able to parlay them into single title as you so rightly point out. The workshops are a joke, huge $$$ rip off and I came away with a bad taste in my mouth, after schmoozing with him all week. He does appear to have passion for what he does, but his big thing is he loves the crowd and the adulation of the unpubbed writer whom he also seems to disdain at the same time. Funny. We were promised for 2k a partial read by him, and a private consultation of 30 min. Well, half way through the week, I heard that people were upset because he was pulling an Agent-in other words, he was reading like 5 pages and then stopped. For 2K. Lets be real, that was the draw, to the naïve and stupid, as I profess to be years ago. I came away knowing I would never query him. Ever. Sure enough, when I sat down with him for my "private consultation", I found that he read about 3 pages and declared it too talky and roundabout, and that was it. When I asked substantive questions he was caught off guard and couldn't remember me from the next. That was what I got on a plane for. DUMB. I learned practically from the get-go at that workshop (which was poorly organized) that I had zero chance of landing him as an agent, and the scales fell quickly from my eyes. Bless their souls, he packs in the crowds and some actually go back(!) for more, though they make a lot less than I do at the day job, knowing The Donald is probably laughing at them all the way to the bank. I do take issue with this. I do take issue with him doing these so-called workshops because it is just not the norm. He's not a writer, he's an agent, I don't see other agents doing this low, bottom feeding stuff. When I saw that query letter where he was actually huckstering his book, something went pop in me. Hence the long rant, but I believe that he is a fraud, and I think his biggest client is Anne Perry, but he's not loaded up with her ilk. His main support are the workshops and the books, I would bet.
Trying to sell a how-to book in a rejected query, seems to me unethical, and its worse than I thought!
But I'm an attorney so it gets my ire up! Great post, BTW.

Christine Ashworth said...

Wow. I think you're right, I think he's afraid, and he really wants to believe everything he said is true.
I'm so glad it isn't - and I'm so glad I saw this within the context of your blog. Thanks!

Delilah Marvelle said...

To the anonymous poster who pointed out my blog post on, I would like to say that Donald Maass did NOT represent me when I had signed contracts with Kensington. So please don't jump to conclusions. That's just being stupid. He represented me very well and fought for me and mentored me when no one else in the industry did. Next time, ask me about what I think he did for my career. Don't use me and my name as a conversation starter that clearly has no point. Moving on....

My dearest Joe (and Barry!),
I'm in the process of writing my own response to the Donald Maass post and plan to post it on my blog in the next few days (I'm on deadline and this is hardly coming at a good time, lol, darn my agent). I have a lot to say given that I have the unique perspective of actually being a self-published author who is actually *still* represented by Donald Maass.

You and Barry have addressed ALMOST all of my thoughts on his post and I agree with ALMOST everything you said. But I'm afraid there is one thing I *completely* have to disagree with you on. His understanding of craft. Knock his opinion (he deserves it), knock his understanding of the industry (he deserves it), knock the way his agency recommends his books (geez, I freakin cringed at seeing that), but don't knock his understanding of the craft and writing itself. In my opinion, it's what he does best. It's what separates him from other New York agents. I have learned A LOT about my own writing from him. Enough to allow me to go out into the self-publishing world and be a success. And to undervalue THAT aspect of him, given he added to my success and even encouraged me to go into self-publishing to grow my success, simply isn't fair. There are a lot of untold stories coming out of New York and I'm one of them. I've been bitching on the internet about New York publishing since 2009 when I was dropped after selling out of my first print in a few months. Every swear word you've ever posted about the industry, I also felt and lived. Everyone kept telling me I was crazy for taking a public stand against New York and was going to have my entire career blackballed for doing it. Pfff. That never happened. I'm still here.

Bottom line, fisking can have its dangers, no matter what side of the fence you're on and talking about someone's ability or lack of ability as a writer is a matter of opinion and not a fact. One person's definition of a literary masterpiece is another person's piece of shit. You and I both know that. As I said, I'll be posting my own personal response to Don's blog post, given that he's my agent and I not only walked away from New York to self-publish but did it with his help.

Daina Rustin said...

Knock his opinion (he deserves it), knock his understanding of the industry (he deserves it), knock the way his agency recommends his books (geez, I freakin cringed at seeing that), but don't knock his understanding of the craft and writing itself. In my opinion, it's what he does best.

He just said he was looking for the next 50 Shades Of Grey. His nose for business and making money might be great, but his ability to recognoze quality writing is questionable to say the least. I know now that I would never pass mr. Maass selection, because, while I'm no Hemingway, my writing is not nearly as bad as 50 Shades.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Mr. Maass is being backed into a corner by the changing of the guards and he won't go down without a fight. Can't blame him for trying to hold on and use his 'clout' to persuade others that the new wave of publishing won't last. Sooner or later he will throw in the towel. But it's fun to watch a stubborn man pitch his tent and dig in. And maybe a little sad.

Anonymous said...

I am a writer wanna be working on my first book. So I don't know anything about the ebook thing as of yet. Having said that, this post reminds me of a comment that I love in the Steven King Gun Slinger books- "Roland, the world has moved on"

Indeed it has hasn't it? In fact the world has moved on in that many many sectors of the economy and such have finally, after years of being fed bullshit, moved on. Authors are publishing their own books,
ordinary people are rejecting the so called "food" that is available and growing their own.

Others are rejecting the banks and creating their own tiny houses, paid for in cash. No mortgage needed. Or rejecting standard employment after realizing that the corporations are screwing them as employees as bad as the authors are getting screwed on royalties.

In fact, everywhere you look common everyday people are taking matters into their own hands.

Those who consider themselves MOTU whether they be in publishing, the priesthood, of higher up in government are being rejected. Yes, they are running scared I would say because finally we have woken up to the reality of what the game is about, and well, some of us are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

And don't worry about being angry Joe, a little anger can be very motivating. Thanks for all your good work.

A fan

Unknown said...

I got an e-mail out of the blue from Donald Maass last summer. He had read excerpts of my writing on my website and had very complimentary things to say. I was flattered but wary, as I've been in this industry a long time and found this contact really unusual. It turned out that he was basically pitching me his workshop in Oregon that fall. We did correspond for a bit and he told me to send him the first fifty pages of my most recent book- which I did, but I never heard a word back from him. At one point in our correspondence I did ask him what sort of sales numbers make the Legacy publishing world take notice? His answer was six figures in a relatively short amount of time. My thoughts on that are if I was selling that much on my own then I've already done all the work for them- so I guess at that point a writer would move to 'cash cow' status. I found it interesting, but I have no desire to pursue anything further with the world of mainstream publishing. I sell in the thousands per month- why would I want to give part of my paycheque to an agent? Frankly, as the industry is going, I think agents will be the first to disappear.

Sydney Jane Baily said...

Woke up this a.m. (2/13) to start learning of this Maasssssss debacle. Delilah Marvelle had a great open letter to him on her blog. Thanks, Joe and Barry, for a great post. Nothing left to say to Mr. Maasssssss except, Seriously?

Peter Green said...

Hey Joe, Thanks for telling it like it is. I knew you were for real When I met you at a SinC meeting in St. Louis and you hugged me when I bought Dirty Martini.
After horsing around with the legacy system for 10 years, I'm going self-pub next month with the second edition of Ben's War with the U. S. Marines, soon to be followed by my tow mysteries. Thanks for the confidence boost!

Peter Green

Hannah Hooton Books said...

By coincidence I was recently lent a copy of Maass's How to Write the Breakout Novel (I gave up after the first couple of chapters so I'm glad I didn't spend money on it). His take on the e-book revolution was the best bit of comedy writing I’d come across since Bill Bryson. (Comments in [ ] are my own). I quote
"Hold on! It cannot be that simple! There must be a trick! Sorry, there is not. There is only craft - that and inspiration, sustained effort, luck [when did luck ever feature?] and timing. But mostly craft. Sound scary? It should not. It means the most important component of success is in your hands. You control your fiction career [not if you're legacy published it would seem].
It is amazing how mightily some novelists resist that truth. They would rather put their faith in formulas [a bit hypocritical considering this is being read in a How To book], gossip, connections, contract language - anything but their own novels. Ironically, it is often this same group that gets excited about electronic book publishing and put control into the hands of authors seems to them a welcome certainty. Are they correct? Is e-publishing going to bring an end to paper books within five years, as some predict? Will it put the means of production and distribution into the hands of writers?
Many novelists think so. They believe that e-publishing is a revolutionary force, even though some e-publishers' business models are little different than those of vanity presses [except for the small issue of royalties, but what does anyone care about author royalties?].
Let us look at this final myth of publishing success: What is likely to happen and what is just hype? [...] Audio books were an innovation that I witnessed early in my career. [...] Books on tape have found a place in bookstores, libraries and in consumers' lives.
Or, rather, in their cars, for that is where audio cassettes fill a genuine need. [...]
Paper books are portable, plentiful, convenient and (relatively) cheap. Electronic book readers are battery dependent, not widely adopted, cumbersome to load and expensive. [...] What genuine need do electronic book readers fill?
Well, they do lie flat. They hold multiple volumes, too, which is good news for vacationers and students with backpacks (but bad news for collectors), [they're only good for lazy bums in other words, is that what you trying to say?]. Plus, their screens glow softly. You can read in bed without keeping your spouse or partner awake. That is good, but how many people are seriously inconvenienced by such things? Enough to fire a revolution?
[contd. in next comment...]

Hannah Hooton Books said...

[...contd. from previous comment]

Manufacturers probably would highlight the high-tech features of their products (instant large print, word definitions on demand) as well as the way in which young people relate to technology. If you have grown up on the Web, they say, as an adult you will demand your information in electronic form.
That may be true, though I have my doubts where fiction is concerned [why?!]. However, common sense tells us that even if electronic readers drop in price, become easier to use and have a wider selection of titles available, they still stand little chance of replacing traditional paper books - at least not in numbers that will soon shift the paradigms of our business [whoops].
So will e-books save us from the harsh realities [you said it, not me] of traditional trade book publishing? No. I'm afraid that is just another myth. [...]
But back to the revolution ... is there no hope that the heartless hegemony of the publishing conglomerates can be broken? Will e-publishing ride to the rescue of the midlist [on our trusty bovine steed?]?
Speaking for myself, I am keeping a close eye on developments on the electronic front. [...] I also am experimenting with a few of the electronic start-ups [is he talking about e-readers or vibrators here?]. Why not? Their deluge of solicitations is a nuisance, but the future must start somewhere [damn progress!].
But revolution? Sorry to say, it is unlikely to happen. No doubt novels will be downloadable for my portable computing devices, and that's fine. I look forward to it [really?]. But books are not going away. Neither are publishing conglomerates. Not soon. [...] In ten years, success in the fiction game will still happen largely as it does now..." (Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel, 2001)

Okay, to cut him some slack, he's not a fortune teller. It's not his fault he got it so wrong. But you would think he'd learn not to spout off about it in future. In keeping with his metaphor of cattle, he's the biggest bullshitter of the lot. His credibility is lurking somewhere in the sewerage system.
First he makes high and mighty claims to what the future holds. Then after he's proved wrong, he goes on to insult, not only his own midlist clients, but his potential reading audience, since those would be writers.

m.e. welman said...


I had a little Twitter discussion with Barry Eisler and of course, 140 characters makes it difficult to fully explain one's true meaning, but...

I find Mr. Maass's comments indicative of his fear of the changing face of publishing. Like I Tweeted to Mr. Eisler, he's trying to find any new way he can to make money. I think all agents are in the face of the unknown. Why else do we see agencies slapping up 99 cent ebooks on Smashwords? And taking a cut?

I am not condoning this behavior in any way, I'm merely making an observation.

The most telling line for me of Mr. Maass's fear--as it comes in the form of lashing out: "Far from being threatened, print publishers instead are now gratefully relieved of the money-losing burden of the mid-list." Oof.

Wonder what Amazon thinks of the money they are making with all those mid-list authors they picked up? Or with the shows made by Amazon Studios written by people like Chris Carter and Eric Overmeyer.

Kate Warren said...

Mr. Maass should should be more careful about his analogies. Any Midwest farmer can tell you that you do not cull the prize cattle from the herd. You cull the lame, the sick, and any others from whom you do not expect much. They are usually slaughtered.

Using the term in a general sense would have been fine, but in an agricultural metaphor "cull" takes on its secondary definition and that changes the meaning significantly.

Great post, J.A. Excellent refutation of the nonsense.

robertsloan2art said...

Thanks for posting this.

Maass sounds like he's a mouthpiece for the Investor Class. The gloves are off with that cattle metaphor and the Class System he describes - which at this point has gone past some big turning point.

Legacy Publishing sounds like if it was a publisher, it'd be one of those old fashioned vanity presses where you contract for ten thousand copies of your book to flog them yourself.

Thanks for busting another kachina. I know I'm on the right track now going indie.

robertsloan2art said...

Oh meant to say the big turning point was one of how bad the contracts and conditions are versus other opportunities. There's been things I've read about bestsellers getting their massive advances halved or quartered and having nowhere else to go, locked in contract. No matter how big or famous, the decisions rest with people who are interested in a strip mining approach. Get as much of the resource as fast as possible with the least paid to anyone else along the way.

It's not just publishing, seems to be happening to a lot of industries and it's part of the world. But if I can go indie and make a good living, I don't have to submit myself to that. So far it looks like my odds are much better going indie.

Carmen Anthony Fiore said...

Agents are inveterate gatekeepers and have an obvious agenda to maintain with the NYC trade publishers. So, let's face it, they will have a limit when "fighting" for their writers' rights when dealing with the biggie publishers in order to maintain their working relationships with the megapublishers who write the checks that keep their agencies afloat. All writers should keep that in mind.

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