Tag Archives: J. A. Konrath

The gates have been opened and the walls are crumbling

Yesterday, Sarah sent me a link to a post by Joe Konrath. The post itself is as informative as it is entertaining (and I really need to quit reading him during the work day. As with the Passive Voice, I tend to read all the comments, follow all the links and — oops — there goes an hour or more of the day). Two things, in particular, jumped out at me as I read. The first is that self-publishing is a shadow industry and there ” are no accurate surveys or polls to show how big it is, or how fast it is being adopted.” The second is even more telling. He wonders why, if legacy publishers are so in-touch with what is going on and so sure of their place in the industry, they aren’t coming and challenging what he says about the state of the industry. It’s a great post and I recommend everyone go read it.

One thing Konrath says is that the walls the gatekeepers have built up and continue to tout as their strengths will come crumbling down if writers start talking to one another. That is the first step. The second, in my opinion, is even more important. We have to stop being afraid to rock the boat. Sarah has written before about how writers coming up in the business before self-publishing became a viable option were told that to question your editor was the kiss of death. To publicly cast doubt on your editor or publisher could crash your career. You accepted your royalty statements, even though you knew they were wrong, with a smile and took the kick in the teeth. After all, publishers can’t be bothered with doing anything as difficult as actually tracking sales in this day and age of advanced databases. They are really looking out for your best interests by using some arcane hand-wavium known as BookScan to figure out how much they owe you. Oh, and let’s not forget about the rights grab contracts, especially for new authors, include.

Are you starting to get the picture about why authors need to be more vocal in discussing what’s going on?

But the gatekeepers help us. They tell us they do. They help separate the dreck from the potential best seller. They give us editorial support and take care of all that icky bookkeeping. They promote us and get us into bookstores. They are the gods of publishing.

Except writers are scaling Mount Olympus and the reading public is following them. The myth of editing and proofreading became more transparent with the advent of e-readers. There is something about reading a book on your Kindle or other e-reader that makes errors stand out. Things your eye missed on the printed page seem to jump out at you as you read it on your tablet or dedicated e-reader. Hmmm, that e-book from one of the Big 5 you just paid $10 for has as many, or more, errors in it as the $4.99 indie book. Where’s the editing and proofreading they were supposed to do?

I could go on and on but won’t. Most everyone here at MGC have written about it at length. What I want to do is take a look at what the other side is still saying about the gatekeepers and the evils of self-publishing.

Donald Mass, agent of the old guard, posted his take on the state of the industry here.  He uses flowery language that almost makes the self-publishing push sound like a grand, yet failed revolution. Those of us who see it as a viable alternative are termed “true believers”.  To read him, e-books have been the salvation of legacy publishing and have been embraced by the industry with welcome arms. Um, has he been following the same reports and comments over the years as I have?

Far from being threatened, print publishers instead are now gratefully relieved of the money-losing burden of the mid-list. Like giant banks that have discovered that banking is boring and the real money is in gambling, big publishers are now free to focus on the high-risk/high-reward game of finding the next Twilight, Hunger Games,Game of Thrones or Fifty Shades of Grey.

That sound you hear is every mid-list writer who isn’t in complete denial screaming in anger. The mid-list was only a money loser for publishers when the publisher dropped the ball. The thing about your mid-list was that you knew there was a built-in audience for those books. You knew that if you didn’t screw it up by bringing books out too close together, by not giving them basically the same cover and by by letting purchasing agents for bookstores know that Midlister A had a new book coming out you’d have a pretty much guaranteed income of X-dollars. The problem is that publishers did drop the ball. They started bringing out mid-list series every few months and with covers that looked so much alike the bookstore purchasers thought they already had that book in stock. So orders dropped and, suddenly, your mid-listers didn’t make the money they used to.

Think about it. How many series have you started, as a reader, and anxiously awaited the next book only to find that after the second or third book the series was dropped? Was it really because interest flagged or because the publishers thought they could skew the system and get money quicker by cutting corners and changing the order paradigm they’d spent years creating?

Now look at those mega-best sellers Maas lists above. Think about how those particular publishers put everything behind that series and then, when the series is over, they have nothing to take its place. Gone are the dollars from the mommy porn despite all the wanna-be clones of it the publisher has bought and brought out. Look at the income reports for the last quarter and see how the 50 Shades publisher is moaning because its income is down now that the series is over. Twilight’s publisher is in the same situation. So yeah, the quick dollar is nice and that is what the publishers cut the mid-listers for. Grab the bucks now and we’ll find another mega hit before this current one is over.

Except that rarely happens and, because you cut the mid-list, you have even cut off that guaranteed income you would have otherwise had.

Better still, because some authors are now—voluntarily!—willing to bear the expense and undertake the effort of building an audience by themselves, print publishers have the luxury of culling the prize cattle from the herd.

In one sense, he’s right. But only in one very narrow sense. Authors are “voluntarily” building an audience ourselves because we’ve been told we have to. Even those who want to go the traditional route are told we have to build our “brand”. When you try to find an agent, you are often asked — even before you are given the opportunity to query — what your marketing plan is. Those who do have agents are told they need to blog, be active in social media. Oh, and those book tours and marketing efforts publishers tell you they’ll do? Those are on your own dime unless you’ve been tagged as the latest dahling or you are one of the special few. The fact that authors are choosing to “voluntarily” build an audience before getting a publishing contract isn’t o help publishers. It’s because most of us have decided we’d be better off spending those dollars and recovering them from our higher self-publishing or small press royalties than lining the pockets of a publisher and agent. And as for those authors the publishers “cull” out (and don’t you just love being compared to cattle? Sort of give you an idea of what agents and publishers think of us, doesn’t?), how often do you hear about them after the “culling”?

According to Maas, those of us who self-publish or small press publish are the freight class. We bear all the costs and rarely succeed. According to him, the problem with this is that:

Freight Class novels generally take few risks. Too often they rely on character stereotypes, heavy-handed plots, purple and obvious emotions, and messages and themes that are time-worn. Justice must be done. Love conquers all. Good vs. evil. Freight Class fiction can be easy to skim. Literary flourishes are few, cliffhangers are many. Genre conventions are rigidly honored. Characters are not motivated from within, for the most part, but instead are pushed into action by external plot circumstances.

Um, WHAT? Funny, as a read, I like books where justice is done. If I read a romance, I want to see that love wins out. And what the heck is wrong with good v. evil? Oooh, I see. It’s the “G” word. Genre. Genre is evil. Sigh. Can you say, “over-generalization?”

Next is his so-called “coach class”. Literary fiction and fiction that sells best in soft cover and as e-books. He even admits that marketing, if it happens from the publisher, isn’t effective. The “if it happens” is key here because — duh — it doesn’t, as a general rule. This is, whether he wants to admit it or not, where the mid-listers fell. But, since the publishers see them as expendable, the former dahlings, the literary writers, are now filling this niche. Guess what, literary fiction doesn’t sell as well. The publishers see this new mid-list as confirming their claims but all it does is confirm what we already knew. Mid-listers of five or ten years ago did sell but these new ones don’t, not to the same level.

Finally, there is his “first class”. These are the lucky ones anointed as the the next best great thing. They are the ones who get hard and soft cover runs. The ones the publishers invest big bucks into in order to make the book a success. These are also, all too often, the authors who have been chosen to write the next Twilight or Hunger Games, or whatever. The problem is, they are all too often poor copies and the reading public has already moved on to something else.

In a way, Maas is right. The so-called revolution hasn’t taken down legacy publishing. But it has led to changes. Maas has to support the old guard because that is where his money comes from. But it always bothers me when someone who is supposed to have the best interests of his clients — writers — at heart continues to support a system that actively works against those interests. Instead of seeing why we should be embracing the old ways, I want to know what he’s doing to prevent publishers from trying to grab rights to a book for the length of copyright without any out clause. I want to know that his agency doesn’t have a similar clause in their contracts as well because, let’s face it, agency contracts are looking more and more like publishing contracts. I want to know what he is doing to increase the royalty rate given to authors, especially on digital books, whether the author is just breaking in or has been around for years. I want to know what he is doing to get accurate royalty figures for his clients instead of relying on the very unreliable BookScan numbers.

You want to convince me, and those who feel like me to go the traditional route, show us that you don’t really think about us as cattle or interchangeable cogs. Oh, wait, they can’t because that is exactly how they feel. Until that changes, I’ll stick with my freight class and laugh all the way to the bank.

Oh, I’ll also hedge my bets and try the trad route too — but not with one of the Big 5 and not with an agent who would probably fight me tooth and nail on my choice of where to send my work and then happily take their 15% or more of what I might make. Nope, I’ll take my chances one day with Baen, the one publisher I know at least listens to their readers AND their authors.

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Tipping Point or Quitting Point?

by Amanda S. Green

This week has been a typical week in the industry.  There’s been good news, bad news and news no one is quite sure how to interpret.  All of it does, in my opinion, show the state of flux in publishing and just points out that no one knows — yet — where things will finally settle.

First up, reaction to the new line of kindles from Amazon continues, especially on the kindle boards and most especially with regard to the new Kindle Fire.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Fire, it is Amazon’s entry into the tablet market.  Whether it is the iPad killer some have forecast or not, I don’t know, but I doubt it.  Amazon has taken a very clear stand that the Fire is a media tablet, built for reading, music, video and apps.  It is smaller, a 7″ screen, doesn’t have a camera or 3G capabilities.  It also has a much lower price than the iPad, coming in at $199.

Still, all you have to do is go to the Kindle boards and you’ll see thread after thread of people wanting to know why Amazon isn’t offering the Fire with 3G capabilities.  No, not just 3G but FREE 3G.  After all, some of the Kindles have free 3G.  Sure, you pay a bit more for it, but it’s free.  So why isn’t Amazon offering it for the Fire.  They’re being mean, not giving away something that will make it easier to surf the web free and stream videos and play online games, etc., etc., etc.

What all these folks demanding free 3G seem to forget is that it isn’t free.  At least not for Amazon.  The company has to pay for it.  Putting it onto Kindles that aren’t built to really surf the web easily and that aren’t capable of streaming videos is one thing.  But to put it onto a tablet that is optimized for surfing the web and streaming video would be a potentially very costly move for Amazon.

Could they have put 3G capabilities onto the Fire, sure?  But that would then be like the iPad with 3G and a data plan would be needed.  Can you hear the cries of FOUL! that would have risen because now Amazon was charging for something that had been free in the previous incarnations of the Kindle?  I can.  All those entitled folks would have protested loud and long and just as foolishly as they are now when they complain because there is no free 3G with the Fire.

And this brings me to the latest figures from the AAP.  If you read the figures one way, it looks like e-books sales are cooling, justifying certain publishers’ belief that they have merely been a flash in the pan.  This is especially true if you look at the sales of hard covers with the same rose colored glasses.  After all, e-book sales ONLY increased by 105.3% in July.  That’s the smallest increase in e-books sales all year.  At the same time, hard cover sales increased 33.9%, one of it’s best performances this year.

So let’s look at that in solid figures.  E-book sales accounted for $82.6 in July.  For the same month, hard cover sales accounted for $91.2 million.  There are several things I believe are important in these figures.  First, e-book sales continue to grow in triple digits each month.  I don’t feel the fact these sales ONLY increased by a little more than 100% in July is indicative that e-book sales are cooling.  July is the middle of summer vacation and most folks are not spending their free time reading.  For another, one month a trend does not make.  But there’s something else to look at.  That mere doubling of sales has brought e-book sales to near parity with hard cover sales.  That’s something traditional publishers have been fearing.  So that knocking you hear right now are the knees of legacy publishers trying to figure out what they’re going to have to do to survive.  Finally, it is important to keep in mind the fact that e-book sales for the year (through July) are up 152.8% while hard cover sales are down 17.8% for the same time frame.  Like it or not, e-books are here to stay and, in my opinion, the tipping point is here.  That will be confirmed as we see the sales figures for the rest of the year.

What would be interesting would be to see the number of units sold, and from what publishers, and not just the total dollar figure.  The reason I’d like to see it is because I want to see how the legacy publishers using the agency model of pricing v. those who follow the philosophy that you don’t have to charge as much for e-books as you do for hard covers.  I’d also like to see the breakdown between how many e-books are sold at the higher agency pricing v. the number of those same books sold when the price is lowered after the paperback version of the book comes out.  Until we see those figures — and I’m not holding my breath — we really won’t know the full impact of e-book sales on traditional publishers.

Finally, there’s this post from Publishers Weekly about the increasing market share of e-tailers v. physical bookstores.  True, part of the decline in brick and mortar sales comes from the fact Borders has gone belly up.  But, as I said many times in the months leading up to Borders’ dissolution, a large part of the problem was the influx of the big box bookstores.  They drove many of the mom and pop indie stores out of business.  That wasn’t necessarily all bad.  But the problem came from the fact that the big box stores didn’t adapt to the changing market.  They kept doing things the way they always had.  Worse, they started demanding concessions from publishers to help them maintain a money losing business.  Now we’ve lost Borders and publishers are hurting – badly.  Indie bookstores are few and far between.  But, what I anticipate happening (and I’m already seeing signs of it) is that we will see a return of indies.  These will be specialty stores for the most part.  They will be manned by people who love books and who know their stock.  These employees will interact with their customers, get to know them.  Sure, there might be a coffee shop or bakery or wine bar attached.  After all, readers are spoiled now.  They want their triple soy latte or whatever as they browse the shelves.

But it will be more than that.  These indies, if they are smart, will also work with small e-publishers and self-published authors.  They’ll sell download cards or codes for these e-partners.  Not only will that help service those readers who have gone digital, but it will get money in the pocket for the store owners.  They’ll carry print versions, often from Lulu or Createspace or several other POD publishers, for these same digital authors because not everyone wants an e-book.  Author events will be back as will partnerships with libraries where the store helps with library events.

Finally, for those who haven’t heard, an author who for a very long time was the lone voice in the forest promoting the benefits of digital self-publishing has decided to go on a blogging hiatus.  Joe Konrath announced his decision to take a break from his very successful blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, a week ago.  He isn’t planning on shutting the blog down permanently.  He just doesn’t know how long he’ll be gone.  However, his departure, for however long it might be, will be noted.  Here’s hoping his blogging batteries get recharged soon.

So, have we reached the tipping point for e-books?  I think so.  Not only are e-book sales almost matching those of hard cover sales, but e-book readers are now very affordable.  For the price of dinner for two a then a movie, you can buy a Kindle.  The loss of Borders and the lack of bookstores in many areas means more and more people are having to turn to internet stores for their books.  I can’t help but think that will bring about more readers buying e-books, especially when the home page of Amazon touts the new, lower priced Kindles as well as the Kindle Fire.  But don’t leave B&N out either.  Their homepage features the Nook models prominently.  But, maybe I’m wrong.  What do you think?

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