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Competition

As the opportunities to ignore or bypass the gatekeepers of traditional publishing and retail, if they don’t offer authors and readers great value have grown (with e-books and POD )so of course the traditional publishing industry and retail have responded, sensibly, and rapidly, by getting more competitive. You can be sure now, of getting a query reply within a day (after all that’s 24 hours more than you would have to wait with Amazon or Smashwords – and their answer is always yes) and multiple queries are not only permitted but encouraged. After all how else can the budding author really see who is offering the best, and in a competitive marketplace, the best is what publishing and retail have to provide. The quality of editorial support you can expect has really leapt ahead, with publishers now rewarding great editors, copy editors and proof-readers with a small cut in the success of the book. Covers of course are now something you as an author have an input into, and their market research into what sells and what doesn’t is comprehensive and scientific, which like their absolutely fantastic publicity and marketing effort means books can really fly on merit. Yes, gone are the days when it was a case of the poor, unpaid, untrained and unskilled author would have to wrestle with blog posts and blog-tours, Facebook and twitter to sell their books. How anyone can imagine a return to the bad old days where publishing and retail took 94% of the income and the un-resourced, untrained author still did all the promotion for their measly 6% beggars the imagination. After all, it was one of the single stupidest failings of the non-competitive landscape. Professionals, with the money and skills have to do this better than authors who seldom even have aptitude. Only a moron could ever have thought getting the writers to do this was a good idea. It’s as stupid as imagining wasting money that could be paid to authors and make the business flourish being wasted on NYC rental, or expense account dinners for the fellow who used have the corner office, or editors publicly engaging in political debate, or replacing slush-readers with agents. A competitive industry can’t afford that sort of nonsense. It adds no value to readers or writers and has no place in the industry.

Of course the fact that it’s merit that sells books, with the great effort that is going into them by our highly competitive publishers, means advances have disappeared, but royalty rates – considering what you get in great service and promotion – are competitive with Amazon’s 70%. Naturally this means the lion’s share goes to the author, and with all the publishers trying so hard to be competitive they’re doing that on a slim percentage, with well over half (increasing with sales) of the money coming to the author it’s a great time and reason to stick to Trad. They’ve really learned, and the service they’re providing now is just wonderful, painless for an author, and as they pay monthly by direct deposit, and have absolutely transparent accounting so you can see your book sales on a moment-by-moment, authors are better off than ever going Trad. It’s not like the old days when 18 months was good, and the accounting could have been Schrodinger’s cat. And retail bookstores have really come to the party. It doesn’t matter where you come from they’re making sure they’re the place to go to, offering great hand-selling and availability of books tailored to the local market, and speedily getting anything requested that they don’t have on hand, at least as fast as an online delivery. They have to, as every traditional publisher is now selling their authors online themselves, and paying their authors a handsome referral fee and better royalties if they sell through their shop.

Well, yes. A bit late for April the first, not that it would have fooled anyone, being measures that are too close common sense, and a realistic response to competition. But maybe in some divergent (certainly NOT parallel) universe the traditional publishing and retail booksellers have responded to independent publishing and online competition in ways that… benefit everyone, writers, readers, and incidentally themselves, ensuring best outcomes and a long future. However in this one… we desperately need competition (particularly in retail) and we do need to warn authors of the real response of traditional publishing which seems to a whole new push at restrictive terms (and naturally grab-all terms, even ones they will do nothing with). They’ve always been keen on ‘you shall publish with no-one but us’ – despite the fact that they pay you $3000 for a book (you can live on that, can’t you? You don’t have NYC rents to pay like us) and won’t do more than one a year (despite that being really bad for readers AND authors), but I gather in the last while, they’re now trying various ‘stute tricks like insisting on publication BEFORE you sell anything to anyone else. (Publication at their convenience – which could be years into the future…) And sometimes reluctantly agreeing to generous terms like other non-competing genres but no indies. The worrying thing about such restraint of trade trends is they can become a norm if too many people accept them.

So: Always fight for a complete fold. Traditional publishers are no longer in a position of strength, and honestly it would be better us, readers, writers and eventually them too to not nurture this folly any further. Always remember you do have alternatives. Doing it yourself is hard, but it does have rewards. And if you’re a reader, well, buy indies from your favorite authors. It helps us to be independent.

And the picture is a link for doing so.

25 Comments
  1. I wonder whether some up-and-coming young lawyer could make his or her name by filing a restraint of trade, or perhaps a freedom of speech, class action suit against one of the big publishers, citing the terms of their own contract… I mean, a common plumber can’t be told that he isn’t allowed to work for the competition or twist a knob somewhere else, but an author, ah, now we can muzzle that right now.

    I’ll bet it would be a fairly easy case to prove, and would definitely make a splash in the news. Nah, that would be too easy. Mary Sue, and all that stuff, right?

    April 7, 2014
    • The accepted wisdom (which is not always correct) is that legally right now it would not stick. Of course, if you had the money to take it to the law, you’d have, I suspect a very rapid settle out of court with hush money -as has happened with the various ‘oh we didn’t actually have the rights but we published your e-book anyway (and MAYBE you even got some money out of it. If we admitted we sold any copies)’ cases. I know for a cast-iron certainty that some authors were in the throes of suing… and suddenly went all quiet. Which was fine for them, but probably means for every time the publishers had to pay out, they got away with it enough other times to make paying hush money just the cost of doing business.

      The accepted wisdom is also though, that if acceptance of a restraint of trade became the commonplace norm, then it would set a legal precedent making this harder to fight. So: in case that is right, I would always fight it (l would anyway).

      April 7, 2014
  2. Er . . . what picture?

    April 7, 2014
    • the cover of Sarah book just above that text – is it not visible?

      April 7, 2014
      • I don’t know about before but I can see it fine right now (using Chrome on Windows).

        April 7, 2014
      • Not visible on Firefox running on Win 7.

        April 13, 2014
  3. Synova #

    Heh. I was gonna say. April 1st was last week. 🙂

    Re: Divergent Realities

    So on the way into town today (right before we noticed that we shared the road with crazy people) my husband says… suppose that our reality is just one of any number of possible dimensions all riding on this moment… and ours is the best one of them all. (He’s sometimes irritatingly negative.)

    So then I said, “Yes, and some internet warrior of the search-and-destroy variety, who thinks he knows what is virtuous and true, screws it up for us by finding the way to slide us over onto an alternate path…”

    And then the freeway sort of… erupted… and my husband said, “I think I’ll pay attention to traffic now.” And I said, “Sounds like a plan.”

    April 7, 2014
    • One should always do that when freeways erupt… Mostly turning around is a good idea

      April 7, 2014
  4. Jim McCoy #

    Careful Dave. I thought I had fallen into an episode of the Twilight Zone there for a minute.

    April 7, 2014
    • 🙂 Yeah. Isn’t funny the practical answers are that!

      April 7, 2014
  5. Heck if they offered me 50% but they took care of everything . . . and had transparent 21st century accounting . . . laid down in the contract exactly what marketing they were going to do . . . Nah, even I can’t suspend belief long enough to finish the list.

    April 7, 2014
    • You made it farther than I did.

      April 7, 2014
      • It seems anything but take the pragmatic steps is first choice. Can anyone out there think of ANY small even microscopic author-bit-extra that a big 5 publisher has done to retain authors that involved carrot? The opposition is offering carrots, you’re offering sticks. The donkey can choose. Which side do you think he might possibly favor? (the scary, creepy part is some donkeys keep saying ‘carrot bad, stick wonderful’.)

        April 7, 2014
        • My guess is insecurity is one big reason for the ones who prefer the stick. Traditional publishers have the clout of a hundred years of gate keeping behind them, the image that they are the experts who can pick the true gems from the gravel. So if they pick your book you should be able to assume it is good, even if it then doesn’t sell (because that always also depends on luck and issues like what happens to be trending). When you publish yourself and it doesn’t sell that brings out the question whether the reason is that it just doesn’t have been discovered yet, or it just came out at the wrong time and all the other luck issues – or that maybe the reason is that it just isn’t any good.

          In spite of all the well known examples of publishers publishing bad novels, or of all those later bestsellers which nearly never got picked up by any of them (Harry Potter…) and the examples of successful indies becoming more frequent that reassurance given by the old image can be very tempting and make especially the more insecure ones to keep chasing that particular will-o’-the-wisp.

          April 8, 2014
          • Yes I am pretty sure insecurity – and vanity (Ay ahm betah than those lowly self-published types, Ay hev been validated by mai acceptance by traditional publishing – say it with a hot potato in your mouth.) are the driving factors. And Stockholm syndrome.

            April 9, 2014
    • The response to competition so far… um. Let’s make things worse for authors. Let’s whinge about how unfair Amazon is. Let’s try sneaky contracts…

      April 7, 2014
  6. You would think competition would make things better for everyone– if the trad pubs hadn’t had their way for so long– and so wanted to go back to having little kingdoms.

    April 7, 2014
    • I keep looking at the response to the situation from them, and shaking my head incredulously. I mean, take transparent accounting — given that everything is on computer and there are no manual warehouse counts, every six months, there is no reason why the present system has to exist. There is no gain at all in non-transparent accounting – it would be a relatively small, cheap (as in trivia money, on the scale of things) setup based on systems they must already have in place… well no gain IF you have nothing to hide from your authors. Yet they remain as opaque as ever. Ask yourself why? The trouble with the lockstep resistance is that it they’re going to have to move, and the longer they wait, the harder it will be, and, which is more important to me, the more collateral damage they’ll do to writers and readers.

      April 7, 2014
      • I can think of at least one good reason not to be transparent and it involves stealing money–

        April 7, 2014
        • Synova #

          Heh… I read that as, “I can think of one good reason to be transparent and it involves stealing money.”

          It would probably be good for other things, too, like peeping in windows and sneaking into class after it starts…

          April 7, 2014
          • And standing in front of people at football matches, and living in towns where stones never get thrown 🙂

            April 8, 2014
          • My word– peeping in windows… well I never 😉

            April 8, 2014
        • I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you. Next thing you’ll tell there might might be gambling in Rick’s Casino! (Yes. it is the obvious conclusion. So if you don’t want people to leap to it, you need to be transparent.)

          April 8, 2014
          • Yep– and if you come visit, there are slot machines in the grocery stores. 😉

            April 8, 2014

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