Friday, June 06, 2014

I Understand and Sympathize

So I fell into the trap of becoming too involved in the Amazon/Hachette dispute, and I've been openly wondering where all the stupid is coming from, and if I could somehow cork the stupid so it stopped splashing all over the Internet.

Whenever I recognize I'm grinding an ax, I try to take a step back and walk a mile in the other person's moccasins to gain some perspective. I did, and it chilled me out. Because I remember walking that same path, years ago.

I've been preaching since 2010 that self-publishing is not only a viable alternative to the legacy industry, but it can indeed be a preferable one. I'll do a quick recap.

1. You own your rights, rather than a publisher owning them for your lifetime plus seventy years.

2. You can control your cover art and product description.

3. You can set your own price, and change it almost instantly.

4. You don't have to deal with unconscionable contract terms like non-compete clauses.

5. You can get your work to readers faster, and you have the same reach (perhaps even more reach) as publishers do when it comes to digital distribution.

6. You get 70% of list rather than 12.5%.

7. You can run you own ads on places like BookBub and Booksense because you can put your work on sale.

Any writer looking at these advantages has got to be thinking, "That's pretty sweet."

But not every writer looking at these advantages can actually take advantage of them.

If you're locked into a legacy contract, you can't self-pub any of your books. You either owe them your next book, or aren't allowed to release any on your own. Or maybe you're a slower writer and can only write a book a year.

You can see the high prices your publisher is selling your ebooks for, and you are powerless to do anything about it.

If you get a bad cover, you're stuck with it.

If you get poor distribution, you're stuck with it.

And if you complain, you're shitting where you eat and your publisher won't be happy, and they can hurt your career.

If you're like the majority of legacy authors, your backlist hasn't earned out. You aren't getting paid any more on those old titles. And it may take a long time for them to start making you more money. Or maybe you are making a measly amount of money with them. And to make matters worse, you're only paid twice a year, 9 months or more after the sales period ends.

Then Konrath comes by and says, "Self-publish! What are you, a pinhead?"

You know you're not a pinhead. But you believe you can't self-publish.

No wonder you're angry. No wonder you can't stand me. No wonder you hate Amazon.

You played by the rules. You thought you'd be okay. And now you're trapped, and you feel like there is no way out.

I know this feeling. I felt the same way. It sucks.

But here's what I did.

I bought out two of my contracts, returning the advance. I did this even though I couldn't afford it, and it was a huge risk. I did this before we had all of this data that shows self-publishing is viable.

I took a big risk. It was scary. I was giving away guaranteed money on the hope I could make more on DTP (this was before it was called KDP, and before you could publish on Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, or iTunes).

Then I turned down a legacy deal and let Amazon publish Shaken with Amazon Encore (this was before Thomas & Mercer). I was the first author to turn down a deal and give Amazon a shot.

I took a big risk. It was scary.

Then I hired lawyers to get my legacy rights back.

I took a big risk. It was scary.

I know what it's like to feel helpless, and stuck. I know what it's like living advance check to advance check.

I took some really big risks to free me from the legacy system, which I no longer believed it. Then I put all my faith in a new, untested self-publishing system, with only a few months of anecdotal data to support me.

It paid off for me. But it took a lot of soul searching, a lot of analyzing data, and a big leap of faith.

All of you legacy authors who hate me; I know you played by the rules, and are angry that your sales are diminishing, and that your advances are shrinking. I played by the rules, too. I did more signings than any of you--over 1200. I busted my ass to make my legacy career work. And I took a chance on self-publishing, and was lucky that it paid off.

I can see why you don't want to take a chance. Or why you feel you don't even have a choice. You worked within the system, got the keys to the kingdom, and it was supposed to be smooth sailing for you. Then, somehow, the rules changed, and you got screwed.

I get it. I really do.

But your answer isn't hoping for the old system to return. It isn't going to.

Your answer isn't blaming Amazon for your problems. They are here to stay.

Your answer isn't blaming me, or other indie authors, or the self-publishing revolution. We're not trying to rub your nose in our success. We're trying to help you to share the wealth.

Since I took those chances, many other authors have too. Some were legacy veterans. Some were newbies.

For every single one of them, it was scary. There was fear, uncertainty, sleepless nights, and second-guessing.

Many felt trapped by their publishers and contracts. That they needed their next advance to survive.

I know. I felt the same way. I've spoken with dozens of authors privately. I haven't told any of them, "Self-pub! It's the best way!" I've told them they need to choose what's best for them in order to reach their goals, tried to help them figure out the potential benefits and risks, and said that ultimately luck plays a huge part.

I'm not an advocate of self-publishing because I know better than anyone else. I'm an advocate of self-publishing because I've been on both sides of that fence, and my experience isn't unique. Many authors got screwed by the legacy system like I did. Many authors have benefited from self-publishing like I have.

Maybe this Hachette/Amazon dispute isn't bringing out the stupid in people. Maybe it is forcing authors to defend themselves, because they're scared. And when you're scared, you lash out without thinking. You defend yourself rather than consider new ideas. You find scapegoats. You rally with others who feel the same way because there is safety in numbers. You defend your oppressors. You fight the future because it's either that or risking everything.

But there is no reward without risk, and no change without outrage.

I was outraged by the legacy system. The unconscionable contracts. The low royalties. The indecipherable royalty statements. The bi-annual checks. The many mistakes my publishers made that hurt my sales. The unbearable waiting.

Amazon allowed me an opportunity to not only escape from that, but to thrive for the first time in my career. And I'm not the only one they've allowed that opportunity.

Authors need to stop thinking of Amazon as the bad guy, because they feel bad about the contracts they're stuck in.

Worrying Amazon is a monopoly that might someday lower royalties makes no sense, when the Big 5 already function as a monopoly and have low royalties.

The old ways aren't going to return. The new ways aren't going away.

But you don't have to be a victim. You don't have to succumb to learned helplessness. You don't have to defend your publishers. You don't even have to defend yourself.

Yes, you signed the contract. But that doesn't mean you're powerless. Or that you were wrong for signing it. The climate has changed, and as new data comes in, your outlook should change along with it. What was once a good deal (or the only deal in town) may not be a good deal anymore. Why should you be forced to live with that?

You can get out of your situation. But it will mean taking a risk. A chance. Turning down a deal. Returning an advance. Making more contract demands. Hiring a lawyer. Going it alone.

It's not easy. It's scary.

I know. I was there.

Amazon is giving you an opportunity to no longer be at the mercy of a publisher. Rather than be angry at that, maybe it's time to take a deep breath, analyze the situation, reset your goals, and take a chance.

There is no Us vs. Them. We're all writers. We all want the same thing. To make some money at our craft. To reach readers. To be treated fairly.

It will take courage and bravery to change your attitude. It will take luck to bring you success. And everyone's mileage varies.

Life isn't fair. No one owes us a living.

But as long as someone else controls your rights, you are allowing them to control your future.

If you're okay with that, fine. But then it is hypocritical to blame anyone other than yourself for your situation.

If you're not okay with that, figure out how to change it. It won't be easy. But you can do it.


evilphilip said...

After talking with a lot of Hachette authors I can honestly say that I hope that they don't read this article and they don't wise up.

I don't want the competition.

Better to let them continue to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome.

I make more now PER YEAR self publishing than many of them get for advances (I know this because Tyler knows this, if you get my meaning.) and they are locked into contracts and have lost the rights forever to everything they have ever written.

All that while I undercut them for price.

Hachette is fighting with Amazon because they want to raise eBook prices to $14.99.

I think Amazon should let them. Lets see how many eBooks they sell at $14.99 compared to how many I sell at $2.99 or $3.99.

Anonymous said...

Just as long as all this nonsense doesn't get under Amazon's skin and make them stop carrying my future potential books, I'm fine with competing with BigPub's prices however they want to do it.

I am going to be quite annoyed - and have absolutely no recourse if the nonsense muddies the waters just as I'm getting ready to publish. Not that it means anything to anyone - neither side will even hear my input. I wanted what BigPub offered - back when it offered prestige plus a bit of money, and an opportunity (skewed as it was by the big authors and their deals).

I don't want it any more - just when the contracts don't seem to be able to get worse, they do.

I have the same sick-gut feeling when the politicians (both sides there) go at each other with lies, half-lies, and statistics, as when Hachette is going after Amazon. Except that Amazon's response has been very moderate.

If I were Amazon, I might get my feelings hurt and say the heck with Hachette. But I'm not - and they make business decisions instead of PR decisions. We'll see how it all plays out.

I have a very good friend who can't wait to get picked up by a 'real publisher' - my gut has a horrible feeling about her chances, but she has indicated she doesn't want to hear about other possibilities. I'm just shaking my head and trying to finish my books so I can get a toehold on the Amazon roller coaster. Oh, wait - it isn't a roller coaster. It's a nice stable steady platform. I'm getting too old for roller coasters.


Joe Flynn said...

There's something for writers stuck with terrible traditional publishing contracts to think about. Even if your contract is overwhelmingly one sided, there are certain obligations that bind the publisher, too. Read your contract carefully to see what they are. If you think or know your publisher has defaulted on any of those obligations, then, as Joe says, you should see an attorney who knows contract law. If he finds what is called a material breach of contract, you could have legal grounds for getting out of the contract. I know because I did just that. In certain cases, it's not a bad idea if your attorney asks for an audit of your sales, if the publisher digs in his heels.

Petrea Burchard said...

I feel like I was saved by the bell.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently self-publishing, as well as working with a small press that is amazing. I'm happy with them. They treat me well, pay decent royalties, and don't say I can only submit to them.

But...there are times when self-publishing is the better choice for my stories. I can set the price, move my stories out more quickly, have control over every aspect, and tinker with any of it later.

There are certain things my publisher doesn't allow. They don't allow me to set the price, they don't allow me to add extra information about the blurb (such as heat ratings), and they don't publish in a month or two--it takes longer to get the work out.

Those are not restrictive at all compared to BIG publishers, but they are restrictive enough that I still prefer the freedom of self-publishing a lot of times.

Once you discover the freedom of choosing your own publishing options, and how good it makes you feel, there's no going back. You'll never convince yourself again that there's only one way! And that is SO good.

I was in a bad place with a publisher once, just a small press that's still having some issues. It was terrible. I mean, terrible. I actually had the option of going the self-publish option and pulling out of the contract at the time, but I was so fooled by the idea that self-publishing wasn't "real" that I instead put myself and my health at risk to continue working with these unpleasant & unprofessional people.

Never again. Once you see the truth of having options, you can't unsee it. I just hope you can see it...

evilphilip said...

I just realized that Lilith Saintcrow's best selling book sells 20x less than my worst selling book.

She seems to be yet another "NY Times Bestselling" author who has never had a book on the NY Times Bestselling list.

Funny how often you see that.

I don't think anyone who sells as poorly as she does should be giving out advice on publishing or writing. She just doesn't have the talent (or the sales figures) to back it up.

JKBrown said...


This isn't a competition. These midlist authors deserve a chance at Amazon no less than I do, or you. That's like telling me that publishing is bad so I don't "compete" against you, either.

Just a liiiitle selfish, don't you think?

Kirk said...

I am a completely unknown author. I've been writing for a long time, and finally came up with something that I felt had a real shot at traditionally getting published. I've been weighing options, between self publishing and legacy(with an agent), but have remained unsure of which way to go. On top of the wave of negative replies I've gotten from my queries, one was actually kind enough to point out the reason. I'm unknown. I have no horde of followers. If this is the case, and I have to find a way to build up a following (then actually DO IT), what the heck is the point in even HAVING a legacy contract for a new author? Because honestly, I can't find one beyond that first advance.

What's your thoughts for those of us new to the rodeo?

Chris Baker said...

There is no reason whatsoever to sign with a legacy publisher nowadays.

Anonymous said...

I think one possibility you haven't considered is what happens when an established, traditionally published author goes self-published.

Firstly, the successful ones risk earning less money not more. Not even Joe is earning Stephen King money. And why's that? Is it because he can't write as well or can't promote enough. Is it because he can't get into those bricks and mortar shops he keeps telling us are on the decline? Maybe Joe has the answers given that he is trying to convince King and others to go this route.

If readers make the choice of book why do they prefer the traditionally published author? For all the flack thrown at the Big 5 for not doing enough when it comes to covers and promotion it still seems that even Joe - the king of self publishers - can't compete when it comes to getting sales or readers. And if he can't do it, why should we expect King or Patterson to be able to do it right out of the gate?

Second, the author has to take on all the responsibilities him/herself for marketing and everything else. If more money isn't guaranteed, why would they want to spend their time on this. Maybe they aren't even any good at it. Sure they could farm that work out but that's what they are already doing in with their Big 5 publisher.

Thirdly, and this is a big one. Successful Big 5 authors write a book a year, if that. Joe and the self published authors churn them out like sausages. This is because of that initial surge in sales when a book is launched. You only have to check out the guy as Self Publishing Podcast to see that this is a strategy that will keep you busy 24/7. The hope is that all the self published books will have long tails when it comes to sales. But maybe writing books so quickly just leads to books that aren't quite up to the mark. Easy reads but not award winners, marked by originality and style. We'll have to wait and see if that is true, but if I was making millions writing one book a year I'm not sure I'd swap that lifestyle for an uncertain income writing six or more books a year.

I think when it comes to newbies and mid-list authors, Joe's arguments make sense. People who couldn't find an audience before have a chance of finding one now. Whether that's enough to convince Big 5 authors to cancel their existing contracts is another matter. And exactly how much would Stephen King have to pay to get his rights back? Not pennies I'm sure.

And how long would it take him to reissue every one as a self-published book? I don't think he or any other successful Big 5 author wants to spend the rest of their lives doing this.

Anonymous said...

Can you do a blog post aimed at readers. The reading public really is are the important ones here. I know you've explained a bit to readers before, but I think the public needs to understand self-publishing better, because otherwise they just agree with traditional publishers. Regular readers don't realise how much damage publishers can do to an author's career. They don't understand why good books become suddenly unavailable, or why they only get one book per year by their fave author.

Anonymous said...

Neither Patterson and King write one book a year. Patterson, with his co-writers, cranks out bunches. King is one of the most prolific authors maybe ever. Both have more money than they'll ever need. They likely have considerably better deals than your average writer ever will. How many of these authors are there, really? A dozen? Less? Publishers may collectively produce one of these ever few years. Folks on the level of a Patterson and King? They might have 3 or 4 a generation. Reading what the biggest publishers say these days, that's what they want going forward, the "branded" authors who "transcend publishing." But your chances of becoming one of these is statistically indistinguishable from zero. There are, quite literally, more people in this country who become millionaires by actually winning the lottery than reach that level through publishing. They have no incentive, really, except possibly their own ambition if they had it in that direction, to eschew publishers and go it on their own. Their brands are valuable to publishers, so they get the royal treatment. They, and those like them, won't be going anywhere until the brick and mortar print market declines to the point that the big advantage they get from publishers that works as a multiplier for their income stops producing at current levels. Even then, they may just retire.

For everyone else, the publisher system is not nearly so generous and much, much more restrictive. The Kings and Pattersons are extremely fortunate to be in a position to have things basically any way they want it. The rest of us, however, are increasingly in a position where, if we want anything at all, we're going to have to do it ourselves. I, for one, am grateful a means exists now to be able to pursue what I want on my own. The publisher system allows no such capability. King and Patterson and the like are easy to point to but effectively impossible to achieve. Its not them that will mark the true shift. It's the next generations of potential Kings and Pattersons who never take that restrictive, under paying publishing deal in the first place. That's the real problem for publishers. Those guys aren't going anywhere. Replacing them, however, is going to exponentially more difficult than in the past, especially if the brick and mortar multiplier isn't as controlled by them or cranking revenue as it does.

AnonymousWriter said...

Comments at 5.18 and 7.12 are very perceptive and hit the nail on the head.

Comment at 5.59 about a reader i know the quality of professionally published books is more likely to be better than a self published one. Thats my perception as a reader. I suppose this is where building yohr brand and reputation as a writer, a loyal following and good reviews is the key.

B. Rehder said...

Thank you yet again.

There is definitely some denialism going on. I'm seeing otherwise rational people claim that Amazon is the devil. Meanwhile, if someone were to assemble the definitive collection of authors' grievances against publishers, it would take decades to read it all.

Amazon is hurting authors? What about the authors being hurt by the Amazon backlash? Sorry, I'm just rehashing points you've already made, and made well, but some folks are too dug in to change their minds. I've seen a variety of angry objections, but you and Barry have addressed every single one of them.

My former editor and my current agents are among the finest people I've ever known, but Amazon has helped me realize a dream (while treating me better than my publisher ever did) and there is no way I'm going to apologize for that.

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

There's a scene in the movie, Wolf with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer, where one of their top earning writers has to write one more book on contract. She decides to do a book on restaurants she has loved and says she must go get a meal and begin the book. As I read your post, that is what popped into my mind.

Dinah Lee K√ľng, "A Visit From Voltaire," "Love and the Art of War" and seven other novels. said...

"Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first."
Mark Twain

As a mixed legacy/indie author, I've posted my own lengthy comments on this Hachette/Amazon row my blog
and in the Daily Beast comments column and the Indpendent in the UK. So I won't clog up your blog by pasting them here, but imho, too many broadsheets/gatekeeping outlets have fallen into bed with Hachette's pr campaign over this still-undefined dispute.

Keep up the good coverage, but like Evilphilip, I do hope that Hachette doesn't discover that my e-book sweet spot is $2.99-$6 per book and that loyal readers of print editions can find cheap used copies only on Amazon.

I hope the Big 5 price themselves right off the map.

Libby Hellmann said...

Wonderful post, Joe. Could not have said it better myself. And I've tried...:)

Laura Resnick said...

Among traditionally published writers who've taken a strong pro-trad , anti-Amazon position, I think you're more likely to see writers who are being treated well (or who believe they're being treated well) by their publishers. Whether or not you agree with their perspective, passionately pro-trad writers tend not to be people resigned to lying in the bed they've made, but rather people who have found their experiences positive and feel their careers are thriving or on the verge of thriving (and who credit their publisher's editing, packaging, marketing, and/or distribution with some of their success).

Additionally, people who are happy in their tradpub careers tend to be ignorant about self-publishing and the indie world. Their publishers keep their books in print and keep them on busy release schedules. With their rights all tied up and their schedules fully committed, they've had no time or motivation to experiment with self-publishing. So they don't know anything about it, and they aren't very interested. And most of their "information" about Amazon—and about self-publishing—seems to come from their publishers and from other writers like themselves.

On the other hand, tradpub writers who are being treated badly by their publishers tend to keep their mouths shut in the blogosphere, because =publicly= discussing the problems they’re trying to survive or untangle could hinder/hurt them and won't help them achieve their goals—to finish contracts and get out, to re-up contracts until their indie income can replace it, to buy back books from their trad pubs, to negotiate better terms, etc., etc., etc.

Meanwhile, a number of writers have indeed pushed for better terms. If they don't publicize their contract negotiations on the web, that doesn’t mean those negotiations don't exist. (That said, in virtually all the negotiations I know of where writers pushed for better terms in the past 2 years, they wound up walking away, because publishers are holding firm to their "non-negotiable" positions and their "industry standard" clauses.)

There are quite a lot of trad-pub writers (including me) who cover a range of trad-AND-indie choices (rather than only an EITHER/OR choice). And whenever we discuss the Am-Hach dispute (or the BN/S&S dispute; or the Am-MacMillan dispute), what we all say is that when two big corporations fight over profits, writers always get screwed. Any writer who thinks she's got a champion in a battle about profit margins between two big corporations is doomed to disappointment.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Just Thurs I turned down an offer from a publisher who wanted to re-release an old title of mine. I asked for my rights back and am getting that title in shape to self-publish.

I'm doing much better on my own than I ever did with the two publishers I was with before. WAY.

B. Rehder said...

Regarding getting rights back, have any of you run into the situation where your publisher considers an ebook to be a reprint? I got five out of six books back, but there's one left, and I more or less gave up, even though I think I have a case for reversion. It exists in ebook only. A lawyer said I do have a case, but I'd probably have to sue.

Unknown said...

@Anonymous 5:18
"Second, the author has to take on all the responsibilities him/herself for marketing and everything else. If more money isn't guaranteed, why would they want to spend their time on this. Maybe they aren't even any good at it. Sure they could farm that work out but that's what they are already doing in with their Big 5 publisher."

You do realize that not every author is a King or Patterson, right? For the vast majority of authors there is NO marketing done. Your book is placed into the publisher's catalog, there might be a little press release sent out with a small picture of your cover - but that's it.

Facebook, Twitter, book/author website - the author has to create, update, pay for and maintain those. The publisher doesn't do it.
Blog tours? The author or her agent have to handle those. The publisher doesn't do it.
Radio interviews? Book signings? Again, the publisher is not involved - those are completely up to the author and/or her agent and the author foots the entire bill for travel and lodging expenses.

It is *only* when you are a large, or close-to-large author that you get any semblance of marketing.
Everyone else gets NOTHING and has to do the marketing themselves.

Instead of asking "Why would they want to spend their time on this," ask yourself why they'd ever want to spend 50% earnings and lifetime+70 years copyrights on nothing?

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

I agree with the comment about many trad-pub writers being ignorant about indie publishing. They've heard it's expensive, difficult, and time-consuming, and unless they were sitting beside me as I happily wrote (just like them!) the best book I could, tweaked a bargain cover I had custom-designed, formatted my front matter on Scrivener and hit publish with a smile on my face, they wouldn't know how grand it is. Talk about freedom and creativity! And then I beam as I look at my KDP graph and all those rising lines... not to mention the healthy profits. I made $10 while writing this comment!

I tried to get into legacy publishing for two decades. Now I feel so lucky I never did.

Hairhead said...

Fiskin' fiskin' fiskin' away . . .

I know, I know, I'm addicted, I can't help it . . .

Anon/5:18 Firstly, the successful ones risk earning less money not more.

HH: You have to define "success" better before you use this as the basis for your argument. Do you mean making 50K a year, a middle-class income, or do you mean millions of dollars? How many Kings, Pattersons, Turows, and Grishams are there?

Anon/5:18: Not even Joe is earning Stephen King money.

HH: That's NOT THE POINT (and never was). Seriously, do you actually read anything he writes?

Anon/5:18: And why's that? Is it because he can't write as well or can't promote enough. Is it because he can't get into those bricks and mortar shops he keeps telling us are on the decline?

HH: 1) King and Patterson et al. are older than Joe, have more decades of best-sellerdom, have had successful movies made from their work . . . blah blah blah THAT'S NOT THE POINT!!!

Anon/5:18: Maybe Joe has the answers given that he is trying to convince King and others to go this route.

HH: All Joe has advocated is that authors choose the best deal available to them: if legacy, then legacy, if self-pub, then self-pub. He HAS argued that successful legacy authors shouldn't crap all over SP authors.

Anon/5:18: If readers make the choice of book why do they prefer the traditionally published author?

HH: Look back at previous blog posts, look at the Author Earnings report. MILLIONS of readers are choosing SP books. You've gone from not addressing the points to showing your ignorance.

Anon/5:12: For all the flack thrown at the Big 5 for not doing enough when it comes to covers and promotion it still seems that even Joe - the king of self publishers - can't compete when it comes to getting sales or readers. And if he can't do it, why should we expect King or Patterson to be able to do it right out of the gate?

HH: There is no "king" here. Organizing writers is like herding cats -- a lot of activity with a bunch of hissing, yowling, purring, and play-fighting.

But you've just made an even bigger and stupider assumption than your previous statements. To wit: "competition". SP and digital have rendered author vs. author "competition" almost nonexistent. Compared to the previous high prices for books, SP's prices allow readers to purchase MANY MORE books -- including LESS of the legacy $12.99 books. Now the competition is based much more on content and reader satisfaction.

P.S. - King and Patterson are so huge I believe that they could sell even more with SP.

Anon/5:12: Second, the author has to take on all the responsibilities him/herself for marketing and everything else. If more money isn't guaranteed, why would they want to spend their time on this. Maybe they aren't even any good at it. Sure they could farm that work out but that's what they are already doing in with their Big 5 publisher.

HH: SP Authors don't have to "do it all themselves" they farm it out TO PEOPLE WHO DO AS GOOD OR BETTER A JOB AS THE TRAD PUBLISHERS WITHOUT STEALING THEIR IP!!!

Anon/5:12/ Thirdly, and this is a big one. Successful Big 5 authors write a book a year, if that.

HH: Yer biggest mistake yet. Patterson publishes over a dozen a year. King has (to 2010) published 62 full-length novels, ten collections of short stories, and 32 filmed screenplays (many more not produced). Nora Roberts has written 209 novels. And on, and on. Many trad writers are frustrated because they have multiple books "in the pipline."

Anon/5:12: Joe and the self published authors churn them out like sausages.

HH: I LIKE SAUSAGES. Given the examples above, put your head into a bucket of ice water and inhale deeply three times.

Ya, know the bullshit is so deep here I can't go on.

JA Konrath said...

A well done, albeit a little snarky, fisk Hairhead. I'd make one tweak:

King and Patterson are so huge I believe that they could sell even more with SP

I don't believe they could sell more, because they move so many print copies. And they probably have sweetheart deals that give them more than 12.5% royalties.

That said, if either self-pubbed a $4.99 ebook on Kindle, I bet they'd earn more ebook dollars than they do via their publishers. I don't think that would make up for their lost print sales, so I don't think it's viable.

But as you said, how many King's and Pattersons are there? The many legacy pubbed authors I know who aren't NYT bestsellers are watching their legacy ebooks outsell their paper books. They're getting hosed.

Hairhead said...

Joe @ 12:52

Joe, thx for the comment, but I do have to disagree about King, Patterson, et al.

Any decent marketer could come up with a plan to move their ebooks.

How about King agrees with Amazon that they sell a branded Stephen King Kindle which comes with the ability to download (no cash outlay) any 10 of King's books. For which Amazon would pay King his eroyalties, made up for by a healthy profit on their King Kindle.

See? It even sounds cool! And your King Kindle comes with *automatic paid download* of King's next book 3 weeks before anybody else.

Marketing? With some money and a name like King's (Patterson's) there's a ton you could do!

Walter Knight said...

I do have an ax to grind. The legacy publishers didn't want me. Now, I gloat every day at my E-book sales.

Still, I'm angry I'm about being locked out of the paperback market, and want to see my books on a store bookshelf. I blame the Big Five's monopoly on paperback brick & mortar store distribution for holding my books back.

I gloated when the Big Six became the Big Five. They said I would only sell books to a few family and friends, and to go way. I want them to go away. Sales at a modest 40,000, my E-books are forever. It feels good.

Joseph said...

I find it strange that authors are not united on this. Author's arguing as a proxy for their publishers just seems silly.

JA Konrath said...

Any decent marketer could come up with a plan to move their ebooks.

It isn't about marketing. It's about distribution. About Ingram and Baker & Taylor and returnablility and getting books into chains and big boxes. It's possible, but it would take a lot of work and money and they still wouldn't have the reach the Big 5 have.

Terrence OBrien said...

I doubt any of this would matter if independents hadn't taken such a large market share from publishers. Follow the money. And the money follows the rights.

Cathy Keaton said...

I agree with evilphilip in the sense that Amazon should let Hachette have their way so they can see how poorly their $14.99 ebooks will sell. Nobody wants to spend that kind of money on a virtual book that takes a split second to reproduce.

Failure is a better teacher than success, after all. This way, Amazon can focus more on trying to sell their self-published titles because they'll be making more money from them than from the Big 5 books.

P. S. Power said...

I've been writing books for... 30 months. That's two and a half years.

A lot of you have been at it longer, but my books do well, over all. People like them, want the next ones and the readership base is growing like crazy. It just keeps getting better!

I've written 47 books. Two novellas and a short story under a pen name.

These aren't micro works, each book is 65,000-220,000 words long, with the average being about 100,000 words.

Again, they're good. (Or so a whole lot of people have told me!)

At least as good as James Patterson, and look, I actually write mine...


The point is however, that I never even tried to go the Big Publisher route. I never set a query letter, or dunned agents, begging them to help me get my big break. I wouldn't have, because that kind of thing isn't in me. I have great respect for those authors that can wade through the humiliating cesspool of rejection and random chance like they do!They are, in many ways, very strong and have proved it.

But if I had done that, I might, if luck and favor fortuned me, be gearing up to sell book number three.

I wouldn't have made a quarter of a million dollars in my first two years.

I wouldn't be on my way to actually making name for myself, most likely.

I'd be suffering under the boot of people that wanted to control me. To make me slave for them and then tell me how lucky I was to have been selected by them...

So, even though in a few year some of those companies are going to want to get my books, I'm going to say no. Even if it means I'm never in a dead tree book store.

Even if no one wants to make a movie of my works. (Which they might, since some of them are pretty hot right now.)

Even if it means always just being a "Self-publisher".

I'd take that over being a slave, any day.

There are risks to being in charge, but those are mine to take, unless I give my freedom to someone else, and pray that they truly have my best interests at heart.

Hairhead said...


Your points are well-made. I'll take them into account in plans for my own Kindle books.

Alixjune said...

I think there are some authors who have benefitted so much from the old system (the James Patterson ones) that they quite literally can't imagine any other situation. What's sad is their "let 'em eat cake" attitude to the rest of us-- surely they've noticed that not everyone gets put up at the London Ritz on a booksigning before the Frankfurt book conference where they'll get to hang with Johnny Depp who is starring in the movie adaptation.

And heck, it IS right for them. But why James Patterson would assume what's working for him works for everyone else-- it's like Jamie Dimon (Bank CEO) thinking that every teller in his bank is also wintering at St. Barts in a villa lent to them by Madonna.

I wish they'd just say it-- hey, this really works for us! Don't ruin it for us!

At least it would be honest.
But it's weird to hear a midlist author who I know has never gotten anything-- no publicity, no book tour, no promotion, no reprints-- talk like they're benefitting so much from the relationship. It's like James Patterson telling us that big pubs are needed to save literature like him.

Anonymous said...

I must be the only one who don't care that tradpub authors aren't all running to self-publish. I like that I get to sell a $3.99 book against a similar $12.99 title. It makes me all kinds of giddy when I see my sales rank and then I check out those $12.99 title in my alsoboughts and they're all in the 5-digits (sometimes 6-digits). I mean, it's not even CLOSE. I'm either in the low 4-digits or 3-digits. I'm killing them day in and day out. Then I realize I'm getting 70% of everything month after month while those poor dumb, deluded bastards are barely getting what, 15% ... a year later? And they're happy with it! You gotta be the biggest sucker in the world to go for that kind of deal.

Alixjune said...

B. Rehder, you know what Joe said about being brave. Seriously-- the publisher isn't the one who decides whether they still have the right to publish your book. There's a contract. If you think that they are wrong to keep selling your book, send them a letter. Don't "ask for your rights back." They are YOUR RIGHTS. You have licensed the rights to them for specific contract terms, and if those terms are done or don't apply anymore, they have no right to your rights. Send them a letter asserting that pursuant to the contract, you are acknowledging the end of their licensing and the reversion of the rights back to you. Then PUBLISH THE BOOK.

Okay, yes. They might sue you. (They probably won't, but who knows.) They more likely will just keep your book for sale at the very same time you have it for sale yourself.

So there's your trad publisher trying to sell the ebook for 12.99. You have it for sale for 4.99. The reader will choose yours.
Worse comes to worst, you say, oops, and take it off sale, and let them keep selling. But any glitch-- any late royalty, any fuddyduddy shenanigans of hiding sales-- keep track.

I did that. I sent my publisher a letter saying that the rights to this book were mine again and their licensing was up. I put the book up for sale. Never heard a word. It's not like they were making much money from me-- not enough to pay a lawyer.

If you think you are due your rights, if the licensing agreement is up, if they're claiming that keeping a book "for sale" in e-format means it's not out of print-- take the leap off the cliff. It's YOUR BOOK.

They might sue. They probably won't.

Mackay Bell said...

For the new writer trying to break in, one has to consider that the traditional publishers aren't looking to create the next Patterson or King. They already have them and they've got another decade or two. I wonder how much of the bad marketing and lack of promotion is deliberate. They want mid-list writers to stay mid-list. They aren't looking to rock the boat with their established writers. When I'm in an airport and I see six Paterson novels right next to each other, I really have to wonder if thats what people want to buy, or if that's what people buy because it's on the shelf. Is the system designed to discourage new writers by locking them into contracts for peanuts and hoping most of them will get discouraged and go away? Is that why self-publishing is so threatening? That new talent will emerge and the competition will hurt their big players?

B. Rehder said...

Alixjune, thanks for the suggestion. Unfortunately, the language in my old contract is vague regarding ebooks and what constitutes being "out of print." An objective reader could very well say my publisher still has the rights. In that case, my putting out a new version would simply be wrong. If a lawyer read my contract and gave me the same suggestion you did, I would likely do it.

Bob said...

About what I said a week, summing up what writers need to be concerned about, rather than something they don't control: The #1 Thing Authors need to consider

w.adam mandelbaum said...

B rehder...I don't think any attorney with half a brain would have you follow alixjune's advice. Look at your contract. There is a bit where if they sue you for breach you are paying their legal fees. Also they could obtain an injunction to shut down your sales. Violate that and say hello to criminal contempt. Just because in one case a pub doesn't sue does not mean yours won't. Folks let us leave the legal advice to those who practice law. Each case is different, and what might work in one case could financially destroy another author in his case.

Lauren Royal said...

Thanks for a great post, Joe, as always!

You said:
You can run you own ads like on BookBub and Booksense because you can put your work on sale.

I love BookBub, but what's Booksense? Just ran a Google search, but I don't see any results that would help me promote books...

Dr. Jesu Estrada said...

Dude, you're like a prophet.

Seriously, thank you for that blog entry. I am an amateur with a book that is near-ready to be published. Like many amateurs, I have been sitting on it for too long. I have my small network of friends, including a cover designer and believe I understand this process after reading up on it and picking my friend's brain. (Who, by golly, makes the same compelling arguments you do.) I agree that the system won't go back to what it was, and this is coming from a hard core lover of printed text. That's like wishing 8-tracks and vinyl to come back. Not gonna happen.

But my friends who publish traditionally are like, "That's a bad idea! Send your work out! Self-publishing is for losers!" I see the pro's you see and recognize that if I ever get a following of readers, it won't happen magically. I will have to peddle my work one way or the other, whether it's on Amazon or wherever. The bottom line is whether you do this online or not, it's still hard work. Who cares if you picked your own team to help you through the publishing and marketing process?

I also have friends who slaved over awesome books and made what? $10,000 up front, if that. Amazing books that aren't selling anymore and they don't own the rights to.

I am about ready to preach the good word to them.

Elisabeth Zguta, Author said...

You walked the path you are advocating - thank you for sharing your personal challenges. Very glad you took that rusk and decided to share your experience. Nothing is free in life - we all have to pull up our sleeves and work. Those that work smart win, not monetarily but with gratification.

Thom Reece said...

Another great post, Joe. Thanks...

I am one who has always believed that the magic of self-publishing is not the 70% royalties or any of the perceived benefits of going it alone.

It is the reality that having a published book is possible at all.

Only the self-delusional would look at building a viable career using the old traditional writing/publishing model. The thought of fighting your way through multiple layers of gatekeepers is only attractive to those who think self flagellation builds character.

Not for me, thanks. Nope, I believe the real power of self-publishing is the mere fact that we can see our work, in electrons or ink, with the least amount of interference from the self-interested wags who run the major publishing companies, and all those who call themselves "agents"... who aren't.

For society as a whole the benefit of this authorship model is huge. Think of all the talented writers, who are now able to expose their voice to the world, who would simply remain invisible were it not for self-publishing.

Forget about the untalented hacks who write as a get-rich-quick scheme... they won't last anyway. Those smart, talented writers who are good enough to change the world, {or just write a good story} now have the means to jump over those who think they have the right to determine what is 'publishable' and what is not.

Joe made the right decision... and his leadership has blazed a trail for everyone with the desire be heard, read, and enjoyed.

B. Rehder said...

w.adam mandelbaum...agreed.

Kit Power said...
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Kit Power said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kit Power said...

Woefully off-topic, for which I apologise, but Joe, have you seen this?

Seems like another major crack in the wall between self published authors and mainstream coverage/acceptance, and one to be celebrated...

No, I don't work for or have anything to do with The Guardian. I'm just juiced about the idea of self published titles getting mainstream press attention and reviews.

Nirmala said...

Thom Reece said,
"It is the reality that having a published book is possible at all."

I agree. And there is nothing quite like getting an unsolicited five star review or email through my website that says my book has touched someone deeply or even changed someone's life. That means so much, and was made possible for me through this self-publishing revolution. My books have been submitted by one of the most successful book agents in the world to publishers with no results. But in the meantime every week, I get letters and reviews from real life readers that make my day.

My wife and I love getting our work out there so much that we give a lot of our non-fiction spiritual ebooks away for free here:

And of course it doesn't hurt that some of our books also sell well and we get paid for that. This self-publishing option works for non-fiction ebooks also even though they do not generally sell as well as fiction.

Kit Power said...

Can we nominate fisking candidates? Because there is so, so much fail here... :/

JA Konrath said...

Can we nominate fisking candidates?

That guy is delusional. No need to fisk him. Anyone reading that post with an iota of common sense can spot the gigantic gaps in logic.

Dan DeWitt said...

Kit, I'm angry at you for making me give that idiot a click.

Anonymous said...

Joe said:

"But as you said, how many King's and Pattersons are there?"

Not many. But since Joe is fisking Patterson and telling Big 5 authors to go self-published it seemed appropriate to mention him (Anonymous 5.18). That's my point. A point I grant that Joe's fellow fiskers here managed to miss.

There are obviously very few King, Patterson, Rowling, Dan Browns etc. But these are the authors that are going to get media attention over this matter.

These are the authors who will not be leaving the Big 5 for all the reasons I cited.

These are the authors Joe has to battle against if he's to get his message to the forefront of public opinion. I should add that Joe chose the battle and I wish him well.

No one wants to interview mid list authors on Colbert or any other show. But the media will pay attention to whatever the Pattersons and Kings of the writing world say.

And until they say something different, they'll make out that Amazon is the bad guy in this.

People wanting a different view on the matter can come to Joe's blog and watch him fisk, a task he excels at I might add.

If there ever is a live debate with Joe and any of the Big 5, I'll gladly buy a ticket.

Unknown said...

What's missing in this whole conversation (not here on Joe's blog, of course), are the thousands of indie authors slogging away trying to make a sale or trying to crank out a new book to sell on Amazon (or Smashwords, etc.) while those on the Hatchette side are saying how they're fighting against Amazon for "the authors."

I just watched the Colbert-Sherman interview again and wanted to punch the monitor when they said that Amazon will "hurt" new authors. Really?! Say, Sherman, I'm a new author BECAUSE of Amazon! No, I'm not a bestselling author (yet), but now I'm on the playing field, which is a hell of a lot better than having my manuscripts grow moldy in a file cabinet somewhere.

Joe, you can lay out your case eloquently to those writers, but they won't listen. They're all happily ensconced in their legacy pub contracts behind their publishers' high walls. But now they hear the barbarian indie writers outside, and the walls are crumbling, and instead of seeing opportunity, all they feel is fear.

--Vincent C. Martinez (author of "Electric Elizabeth" and "Christmas in Culm")

Unknown said...

"I am one who has always believed that the magic of self-publishing is not the 70% royalties or any of the perceived benefits of going it alone.

It is the reality that having a published book is possible at all."

Beautifully said, Thom!

I hope to make a living off my writing someday (the sooner, the better), but just being able to get my work out there has been such a thrill after years of rejection and stony-faced silence from publishers and agents.

--Vincent C. Martinez (author of "Electric Elizabeth" and "Christmas in Culm")

Publerati said...

I was merged out of publishing back in 1989 and went on to have a very rewarding and exciting career in technology. In 1991 I got a call from one of the authors I edited saying he feared he had been duped. His book was apparently printed but not actually distributed. I suggested he call twenty top bookstores and sure enough none had been presented the book to purchase. He had no champion at the new publisher once I was gone. Ten years of exhaustive research on a nonfiction book all for nothing. As I was the only one from before who was not working in publishing, I told him I would tell the publisher's lawyers my honest assessment when they contacted me, which I did. The author ended up settling but his book could not be saved. This was before self-publishing. The author is now dead. I am proud I did the right thing at the time, sad for how an author got tangled up in a huge publishing conglomerate interests and egos. This was back when Robert Maxwell killed himself by jumping off his yacht. He and Murdoch were buying anything they could find to one-up each other.

Gretta Curran Browne said...

Yes, Joe, but when it comes to gatekeepers do you not think Bookbub have now taken over that role and things are returning to the old status quo.
Many of us who promoted with Bookbub in their early days are now being forced to keep offering our books for FREE because of all the dsscounted promos slots are going mainly to publishers and agents (and you of course) and the self-pubbers are only being offered the Free slots even though they have higher sales and higher reviews than some of Legacy titles.
Your opinion on this? I know you said in a lst post "not point in getting upset if Bookbub reject your book or want you to give it away - but to me they truly are becoming the "new gatekeepers" and as Jude Hardin said in a another post - "Bookbub are now controlling what books gets in to Amazon's bestsellers" So much for self-publishing.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

I'm self-published, and I've recently gotten two discounted BookBub slots. Each was for 99¢, and my WOOL tie-in reached #75 on the overall bestsellers list, while a mystery author I publish got to #11, and stayed in the top 100 for four days.

Unknown said...

and as Jude Hardin said in a another post - "Bookbub are now controlling what books gets in to Amazon's bestsellers"

I don't remember saying that. Could you please provide a link to the post?

I've used BookBub several times, with good results, but in my experience the spikes in sales were temporary. There are many factors that determine a book's sales and rankings. BookBub is a nice tool, and an ad with them will provide a surefire boost, but there are plenty of bestselling titles on Amazon that have never been featured in a BookBub ad.

They turned down my last two submissions, by the way, but I will keep trying. In fact, I sent them a submission earlier today.

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daneyul said...

Joe mentions, almost as a throwaway line, "Maybe you can only write one book a year".

And it's not really addressed in the rest of the things people can do (hire lawyers, buy back rights, etc.)

If you are new, and do write slowly, one or fewer a year, is self-publishing not then a good fit compared to traditional?

SAVanVleck said...

I understand all the points of self-publishing ebooks. What I would like to know is just how you make them a success.
How do you get bloggers to let you guest blog? How do you promote your book? Within all the advice I have read (and I am working on my website now) just where do you start to make your book a success

B. Rehder said...

I've run at least half a dozen BookBub ads, all with good results (don't want to hype them too much, because they'll continue raising their prices!), but they've turned down my last two submissions. I think they must be inundated with new authors.


Kiana Davenport said...

Joe says: "...maybe you're a slower writer and can only write a book a year."

Hello????? Unless you're a genius like Joe with whole scenarios bursting through your forehead, or a cokehead wired to the max, writing more than a book a year...a good, quality bloody impossible.!!!

Joe, exactly who are you addressing here?

Unknown said...

I understand all the points of self-publishing ebooks. What I would like to know is just how you make them a success.

Unfortunately, there's no secret formula. You have to start with a strong product, and then do what you can to make it visible. Then you have to write another book, and another, and another, and another...

Like Joe always says, this is a marathon, not a sprint. All you can do is keep writing and promoting and hope for a little luck along the way. Odds are you can make more money doing almost anything else, so you have to do it because you love it, because it's part of who you are.

Unknown said...

writing more than a book a year...a good, quality bloody impossible.!!!

Anyone doing it full time should be able to consistently manage 1000 words a day. In a year, that's three 100K word novels, with a couple of months left over for goofing off. :)

Edward M. Grant said...

And exactly how much would Stephen King have to pay to get his rights back?

Zero. According to the WSJ, King licenses his rights to the publisher for a short term, I think they said five or ten years?

As you say, King has no incentive to self-publish, because trade publishing has been so good for him. But there are very few Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings in trade publishing, and, as the power of the mass media and big bookstores declines, I doubt there will be many more.

Anonymous said...

Edward Grant says:

"As you say, King has no incentive to self-publish, because trade publishing has been so good for him."

Exactly. Which makes it all the more strange that Joe seems to think they're all crazy not to self publish.

Joe's right on a lot of things, but not about best selling authors switching to self publishing.

Great opportunity for everyone else though!

daneyul said...

Anyone doing it full time should be able to consistently manage 1000 words a day. In a year, that's three 100K word novels, with a couple of months left over for goofing off. :)

Awesome! Do you have a list of what full time writers also "should" do?

I'm sure Harper Lee, George RR Martin, Joseph Heller, Thomas Harris, William Styron, and many many other "under-achievers" would love to have it!

JA Konrath said...

Joe's right on a lot of things, but not about best selling authors switching to self publishing.

Bridget McKenna said...

Edward Grant, have you actually read the post? Or Joe's comments on it? Because I'm pretty sure he didn't say any of those things. Like a lot of us, he's a strong advocate of self-publishing when it's the best thing for the author and his/her career.

This post deals with those cases when an author is afraid of hurting her career by taking steps towards self-publishing, and sympathizes with author who find themselves in those situations. He's pretty adamant that it would make no sense for the top bestselling authors to give up the advantages Big Pub gives them.

Unknown said...

Your best blog post to date. And that's saying something.

Not sure I'm comfortable with the Mr. Nice Guy attitude, though. Feels . . . weird. ;)