Reality vs Perception

This isn’t the post I planned on writing this morning. But there are times when you have to throw plans out the window and adapt. This is one of those times and you can blame Sarah for lighting the fire. You see, she left me a message after I turned off the computer last night that started the wheels turning. Then I read the comments to Dave’s post and the idea took hold. So welcome to the latest installment of “Reality vs Perception” or “How We Still Deceive Ourselves About Publishing”.

Let me start by saying I’m not picking on anyone. But some of the comments I’ve seen echo sentiments I see elsewhere on the internet and in some writers groups. The first comment runs along this line, “If I wanted to be a real writer and make real money from my writing, I’d find an agent and sell to a traditional publisher.” There are variations on this comment but it all boils down to  this: if you want to be a “real writer”, you have to have an agent and be traditionally published, preferably by the Big 5.

Except. . . that isn’t the way to make real money unless you are one of the very lucky few who they decide to push to best seller status. Even then, that’s no guarantee you will maintain that status or that you will get the money you think you will. Gone are the days of the six figure advances (on the whole). And remember, you don’t see all that money. Before it even gets to you, your publisher will manipulate the monies owed by taking out “expenses” and relying on Bookscan for sales figures instead of a more reliable inventory tracking system. Then they send the money to your agent. Who also manipulates it. Not only will they take out their percentage but their expenses. Then Uncle Sam is going to take his bite out, as will the state if you are one of those “lucky” enough to live in states with an income tax.

“But, Amanda, I need to go with a traditional publisher to get into the bookstores.”

Reality check time again. Barnes & Noble is the major bookseller in the US. While locally owned indie bookstores are making a comeback, they make up a very minor part of the market right now. Reality check #1. Walk into a B&N. Look around. Where are the books in the store compared to the other products the company now sells? How much of the footprint of the stores is used for books and how much for other things. Now here is the real reality check. B&N holiday sales were down and the bookseller has lowered its estimated earnings for this year. Needless to say, this has not helped its stock prices. In fact, last I checked, you could buy a share of B&N stock for less than you’d spend in one of their stores for a children’s paperback book.

Read that again. One share for less than you’d pay for a book.

Shares dropped to $5.11 on Thursday, or less than the average $6.99 price for a children’s mass-market paperback. Its stock has plunged by 28 percent since the year’s start, when it traded at $7.11

But it gets better–or worse, depending on your point of view.

But it’s not only books that are suffering at Barnes & Noble. The store, known for a place where readers can grab a cup of coffee while browsing the shelves, also saw “slowness” at its cafes. On top of that, sales for seasonal gifts and the tchotchkes it sells as “impulse” purchases were slow.

Do you see the problem here? You have to have items on the shelves that people want to buy to get them through the doors. They aren’t going to come just for a cup of coffee. Ok, they might stop by, grab their coffee and leave. But that isn’t what the cafes were built for. They were supposed to keep people in the stores and browsing. So what happened?

That’s simple. First, B&N forgot it was a bookstore and started stocking other items people didn’t want day in and day out. Then, because those items had a higher profit margin, they gave them better placement in the stores than they gave books, the reason people were coming. Because profits were down, they started increasing the square footage given over to non-book items and less footage to books. Other factors include having staff that isn’t familiar with the stock or conversant with books, the overall problems with publishing, etc.

And, yes, Amazon. But even then, B&N had a huge hand in turning customers to their competition. When your online presence says you have a book in stock at a particular store but you don’t and it will take days, or longer, to get it for your customer, you have a problem. When you turn your ordering over to regional and national buyers, ignoring the fact there are local interests in El Paso that may not sell in NYC, you have a problem. When you are always two steps behind your biggest competitor when it comes to tech, you have a problem.

I could go on.

But the reality is, as a writer, you will sell more print books through Amazon than you will through B&N on the whole. It is ego that has us wanting to go into a store and see our books on the shelves. Hell, I would like to be able to do that. Reality, however, reminds me that I make much, much more through Amazon than I do through any of the other stores combined.

So don’t go hanging your career on the possibility your book might be carried in B&N or another bookstore if you are traditionally published. In fact, if you were to take the list of all books traditionally published in a single month and went to your local bookstore, you might be surprised at how many of them are not on the shelves. Traditional publishing does not guarantee bookstore shelf space.

The second thing that struck me when I was reading the comments to MGC and ATH yesterday was when someone made a comment that, basically, traditionally published books, before KDP, were longer, more rich and tighter stories. But the onset of KDP and indie publishing led to indie writers and their inferior books with little to no editing and lower prices and, by inference, a lowering in quality of traditionally published books.

Pardon me while I laugh hysterically. What we have been getting fro traditional publishers are goat daggers, especially in fantasy, that they love in hard cover because of the higher price they can charge. These books, on the whole, could be split into two–or more–books but publishers won’t do it. BECAUSE THEY CAN CHARGE MORE FOR A BIGGER BOOK.

Pardon me while I laugh because I’ve seen how little actual editing goes into most books coming from traditional publishers. People complain about the number of mistakes they find in indie books. I can find just as many, or more, in books coming from the Big 5.

Oh, and I would rather suffer through a few misspellings or comma faults for an entertaining story. That sort of story is getting harder and harder to find in traditional publishing.

Here’s the thing. Amazon isn’t the enemy. It isn’t pure. What business is? But it isn’t to blame for the current state of the publishing industry, at least not alone and certainly not the major factor. Publishers, bookstores, bean counters and boards of directors all have their hands in the mess. But to say the only way to make money as a writer is to be traditionally published is to ignore the facts. There are many, many indie authors out there making enough to quit their jobs. Others are making much more than the majority of traditionally published authors. The key is writing books people want to read and are willing to pay for. So you hav etc look at price points as well.

Okay, time to step down off my soapbox. Instead, here’s a bit of self-promo. Nocturnal Revelations, the latest installment in the Nocturnal Lives series, is now available for pre-order. (The other books in the series have had a price drop in preparation for Revelations coming out.)

This book has been both a joy to write and difficult because it is the last in the current story arc. It also took some twists and turns I didn’t expect. But final edits have been done and it is in the hands of the last beta readers (Uncle Lar, you will get it shortly. You are my last line of defense, so to speak.) Anyway, here’s a quick blurb (which I still need to work on.)

As a cop, Mackenzie Santos knows every shift might be her last. That was driven home two years ago when Samuel Wilcox came much too close to killing her. She still had nightmares of waking in the morgue. But that was nothing compared to leaning she is descended from one of the oldest and most powerful shapeshifter bloodlines. Until the night she “died”, she always believed shapeshifters and werewolves were the thing of bad Hollywood movies.

Now she knows differently. Monsters really do walk among us. Some are human. Some are shifter. . . And one wants her dead.

Worse, so much worse, whoever it is wants to reveal the existence of shapeshifters to the humans. He–or she–doesn’t care about the consequences. Somehow Mac and those who know her secret must discover who their enemy is and stop them before it is too late. But can Mac do that and stay alive?


  1. It seems like a lot of the “break out” authors in traditional publishing were independent first and had an audience in place already when they “sold”. So there’s that. And probably shopping for an agent and then shopping for a publisher might work for some people and seems to be working for some people. But everyone wants to find out THE way, right? And there isn’t one.

    Being on book store shelves though… when has that ever been true? I think that we just didn’t used to know better.

    When I “discovered” Sarah… well, I think it was a library book, probably a Magical British Empire one… and it’s a trilogy, right? And this is pretty typical of a decade or so back in sci-fi and fantasy. Everything needed to be a trilogy. But you could never FIND the whole thing. Amazon was new, but who wanted to wait for the mail? So I’d haul my bright and shiny new fangirl butt to the book store. Which was an experience that was 100% disappointment. Shocking, I know, but bookstores don’t carry back-lists. If you didn’t catch the couple copies on release week you were SOL. Not finding the author I’d come for, I’d ask for others. I don’t think that I ever found a book by an author that I asked for actually on a bookstore shelf.

    The only real advantage of a book on a shelf was browsing for someone you’d never heard of before. Maybe there are still people who do that?

      1. But a lot isn’t on KU. The best part of a good used bookstore is finding someone you would’ve never found otherwise, some book that’s a bit outside of your normal interests, and probably not in print or digital.

        Unfortunately, bookstores like that are extremely rare.

        1. Finding something outside of my usual interests is easy. It’s the vast majority of the stuff that’s advertised, pushed, and on the shelves when I DO get to the book store. Finding something I actually want to read is what’s hard. Finding something that’s actually INTERESTING in the non-fiction side of things is what’s hard. Finding something accurate is even harder. Book stores haven’t been useful to me, as far as browsing goes, for nearly 20 years. I’m not into ‘this is rare for the sake of rare’ which seems to be what you’re going for. I want something I’m going to read and use not just have because it’s unusual.

        2. TonyT, you’re right. However, I’m starting to see more and more traditionally published books showing up on KU. As for used bookstores, those really are hit or miss. Some are excellent. Others, not so much. They are also, because of the way the industry is organized, not a great place–yet–to find indie books. That is slowly changing but not quickly enough to really help most of us.

          1. Some used book stores were excellent, and now are not. With a bit more in the wallet, I finally made my January trek to the local one – and was shocked.

            I was in the habit of hitting there at least every January and June, when the university students dumped the books that the college bookstore wouldn’t buy back, which was most of them. New economic reality, which I should have realized with my own kids in college, is that they rent the vast majority of them.

            I just felt like standing there in the middle of the “selection” and screaming that “New Age” is NOT what was big when I had a full head of wavy brown hair. That’s about all they had left, shelf after shelf of “crystals” and “self-actualization” and the like.

            Gah. Morning rant complete; time to nuke the coffee mug and get the day started…

    1. Yeah. Growing up, I always believed that I would be discovered by a publisher, and then suddenly my books would appear on those big endcap displays, and everyone would be talking about me.

      Reading Sarah’s posts has been enlightening in that regard (the bookstore will order two copies of your novel, and if you’re really, really lucky, they might unpack them and put them on the shelves).

    2. Except those break out authors who started as indie tend to disappear once they go trad. Part of it is because they now have to conform their work to what the publisher–not the readers–want. Part is having to fit into the publishing schedule which means they don’t get to put books out as quickly as they, or their readers, are used to.

  2. In reality, step #1 is:

    Get in the car and drive 20-30 min (depending on traffic) to the closes B&N.
    And I live in a major metro area.

    1. Step #2: Find a place to park (this really isn’t B&N’s fault, but in my area, the closest B&N has the worst parking lot in the entire city now that the hospital has closed).

    2. It’s fifteen minutes for me if I want to go to the nearest B&N. If I want to go to the nearest locally owned indie bookstore, it’s more like 45 minutes. Then there’s parking to worry about with both. At least if I go to the indie store, I know the employees know their stock and will happily order something for me if they don’t have it. Oh, and if I call and ask if they have a book and they say they do, they really do and they will hold it for me until I can get there.

  3. Yea, I’ve found more enjoyment with indies since 2014. Baen is one of the few trad pubs that offer decent ebook/audible prices on their books. Id rather sell 10000 books at 2.99 price then 1000 at trad pub of 14.99. B/c even though I’m a reader, with a whole lotta interest on the 5 Ws of science fictions current situation, even I see that a indie writer would end up making more doing those numbers then trad sources. Trad’s economics, from what I’ve seen, doesnt have the mojo to put out for the future David Webers or Stephen Kings anymore. In terms of pay. I imagine indies are making more, even as a starter writer, then most trad pub starters. So many trad pub writers have to really supplement their pay with patreon. Just to meet bill obligations.

    On average, esp with just observing thru conversations of some of my favorite indie writers, a good amount of them were able to quit the day job and become full time. So even just through that, I know they are making more of a financial wave then trad wants to admit. If more writers are making money to pay the bills and have less worries in that regard…it makes me a happy reader. We all work to get the things we love so why not writers? Put in the work, get paid, make more money, make more books, profit. We all benefit in different ways.

    Felapton, from what I could read of his blog posts, wishes he could have a piece of that indie redbox pie but he’s on trad publishing’s titanic to the end. Oh myyyyyy. Mr. Felapton’s camp isnt getting much of my lovely spending pie. I usually save a good 100 bucks a month to buy even more books. Because of how indies operate, it means I can give them so much more per capita then from other outlets.

    In a way, books are like retail, the more customers you pull in, the more of a net you have to shape whatever kind of storytelling you want. “Woke” preachy books are hurting the brand. No longer can we expect a “Dune” or “LOTR” from trad sources. Paper books are dying b\c of wokeness. Just ask Borders…..oh yeah, you cant! There’s only so many readers a kin to my grandma who still prefers paper or hardback and even now she mostly has me order what she wants from Amazon b/c she doesn’t have a car anymore.

    Hey trad publishing: Make books print to order to lessen the sting of lost physical book sales. That way you can accurately pin point the physical demand for a book.

    Books a Million still has books but it isnt the main focus for them anymore. They are more a kin to a multimedia store. Games, Comics, Magazines, assortments of toys but not purely books anymore. I imagine B&N is somewhat similar now, haven’t been in one in over 2 yrs. B/C the sci fi selection is poor at best.


    You want my money? Then make fun stories. Not preaching or condescending to readers stories, or X marks the spot on check-boxes stories, real ones. With Wonder! And Adventure! The Current Hugo award winners are sleep inducing at best! Just sayin. Here’s looking at you 5th Season, with its dreary pointless setting.

    At least Book of the Fallen/Black Company have character growth and you get invested in the characters.

    The only trad books/series I’ve gotten recently, as ebooks, in the last 2-5 yrs:

    Gini Koch: Alien/Katt series
    Safehold Series by D. Weber
    Ancestral Night (White Space) by E. Bear
    Elizabeth Moon Omnibus/Omnibi?? via Amazon/Baen
    The Dragonlance books by Weis/Hickman
    The Expanse
    Malazan book of the Ballen 😛
    The Black Company Omnibi
    The Craft Sequence Bundle
    Witchy Eye Series by Butler
    Saga of the Forgotten Warrior by Larry C.
    Shadow Campaigns by Wexler
    Stormlight Archive/Mistborn Series by Sanderson.
    Dune (Original 6!) by Herbert b/c physical copies were falling apart.
    Empire of Silence by Ruocchio

    Plus with all those books, barring some of the omnibuses or Koch’s, I waited til they were on sale. I usually put out the 7-8 bucks for Koch’s books because she always writes doorstoppers that entertain me for days. Ill usually pay 10 if its an collection or omnibus.

    Compare that to about 40-60 indie series I am constantly updating/buying. There’s a clear winner. In terms of money expenditure.

    1. Regarding that indie vs trad pub example:
      Indie 10K at $2.99 is $29,900. Amazon takes 30% and you get $20,930 paid directly into your bank account 30 days after month of sale.
      With Trad Pub 1K at $14.99 the retailer gets 40 or 50 percent of retail and sends the rest to your publisher who takes probably 3/4 of that for themselves. But not to worry, they will mail you a check eventually, usually three to six months later.

      Side note, if you do print on demand and offer hard copy books in addition to e-books Amazon treats the POD service as publisher and pays them. Don’t know about any others, but Ingram Spark does pay monthly, but 90 days after month of sale. Presumably to allow for possible returns, but they still have your money in their bank account for 90 days interest free.

      1. But not to worry, they will mail you a check eventually, usually three to six months later.

        Actually, I think that requires a slight correction: they will mail a check to your AGENT 3-6 months later, who will also take their cut. Eventually, the guy in accounting will get around to sending you something, assuming you didn’t have one of the agencies that have people flat-out stealing from authors.

        1. Excellent point. Never having had to deal with an agent I tend to forget their catbird seat in the trad pub hierarchy.

      2. Let us be just and remember the indie author has a few expenses that the traditional does not.

        They are, however, amortized.

    2. Fiannawolf, your comment made me look at my own book purchases over the last few days. I have purchased very few traditionally published novels. A few mysteries and then some from Baen, but even the latter have fallen off the last few years. Most of my traditionally published buys have been non-fiction. The vast majority of my purchases are indie and small press books now. Why? Because they have stories that I want to read, stories that entertain.

      1. Some part of me really still wonders why some Trad pub is pushing people/readers away with preachy boring things. Don’t their companies/writers need to make money too? If only to get some sorta surplus profit margin? Or to cover operation costs.

        Is the political ideology really that all encompassing for them that they forsake readers and/or potential growth all for the sake of “woke” points. It’s such a foreign mindset for me.

        Is that Hill made of Ivory that important to them? If so, have “fun” wasting away on it while readers like me gladly give money to those who entertain.

        1. PPS: By looking at the hugo awards tag on twitter, I know which books/stories to avoid now. And that is a sad thing. The award of Dune’s excellence is basically a catchall for crappy entertainment nowadays.

        2. The difference between capitalists and socialists is motivation. Capitalists are motivated by greed. Socialists are motivated by hate.

        3. Glenn Reynolds (of Instapundit fame) says that too many executives are more interested in what their peers think than what their customers think.

          I think this partly comes from hiring people from “elite” colleges, instead of promoting people with passion and knowledge of the customers from within. Like gaming company CEOs that don’t like games.

  4. “If I wanted to be a real writer and make real money from my writing, I’d find an agent and sell to a traditional publisher.”

    I think that was me. In Canada the only way to be a Real Writer is to get a government arts grant, for which you need to have Friends. Very closed-shop setup. I don’t have Friends in those circles. If I did I would have to sell my pickup truck, and that is not going to happen. They drive Teslas and Smart Cars.

    A person I know tried for several years to go that route, attended a very prestigious mystery writer’s workshop, tried to get an agent, did re-write after on and on it went. Listening to that person talk about the profound Lefty slant and the accompanying -hatred- of Conservatives was enlightening.

    That person recently released their first mystery, it is raging up the Amazon charts like a forest fire. 80,000+ downloads the first week. I don’t have permission to say who, sadly, I’ll ask and see if they will let me.

    Bottom line, they’re moving more copies on Kindle than any contract they would have gotten from a Canadian publisher, and more than would have moved through Chapters even with “New Canadian Author!!!” push.

    I’m one of those retired guys who writes as a hobby. I’ve been pursuing the writing because I have to, pretty much. If I don’t get all this stuff out, it’ll probably kill me. On the page is where it belongs, not festering in my brain.


    Just because its a hobby at the moment, and just because I’m retired, does not mean I’m going to give it away. I don’t give away furniture I make, and these books were a hell of a lot more work. I’ve done as workmanlike a job as any beginner can, so I expect a workmanlike wage. Nobody works for ten cents an hour, and that’s what the Media Industrial Complex is offering.

    Besides which, I did not include any gay-brown-trans-wheelchair characters, and the bad guy is a Commie, so those f!ckers are never going to buy it no matter what. Chapters is a wasteland of SJW dreck. I went to B&N yesterday here in Arizona, if anything its worse.

    Indy is the only way forward that I can see. Hopefully if I follow Sarah’s advice on the cover I can get more than dozens of sales. ~:D

      1. After I get home next week I’ll ask. Probably the author won’t turn down a free publicity bump. ~:D

    1. Phantom, you were one of several across the two blogs to comment something along the lines of what I said. As for the author your mention, I know a lot of others who have done similar things, maybe not with quite those numbers but with much more success than they’d had trying for a traditional publishing contract.

      1. So it isn’t just me? Yay! ~:)

        It is very, very encouraging to hear that other people are meeting with good success. Another source of income is not to be despised in one’s retirement years.

        In other authorish news, The Phantom received a back-handed complement from a fellow dweller at Chez Phantom. Said individual was trying to read a book I recommended, and threw it down in disgust after half an hour saying “This guy writes just like you!” It was a Tezley Amberdoon story by James H. Schmitz. So I feel I may be on the right track here. ~:D

  5. (Uncle Lar, you will get it shortly. You are my last line of defense, so to speak.)
    Aw shucks, you say the sweetest things you flatterer you.
    This is me waiting patiently with sharpened tooth and nail to rip your tender baby to shreds.
    Actually not, you write such compelling stories that I have the hardest time remembering that I’m supposed to be looking for mistakes. It does mean that you can officially blame me for any typos, spelling, or grammatical errors in the final copy.

    1. you write such compelling stories that I have the hardest time remembering that I’m supposed to be looking for mistakes

      Exactly why I’m a terrible copy-editor.

  6. “What we have been getting fro traditional publishers are goat daggers”

    So how long is the blade on a goat dagger? 😎

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