There’s something about admitting in public that you’re a writer. People are either weirded out by it, or fascinated. I’ve made some interesting connections over the years talking about being an Indie Publisher, and I always try to help when asked honest questions. Years ago when I was newly fledged and all my feathers were still wet and pathetic, so many people helped me. Dave and Sarah, Amanda, and many others who aren’t here at the MGC too. I can’t possibly repay them for what they did for me. So what I do now is try to pass it along to others. In this instance, the person asking me for help has a demanding (to put it mildly) day job. In their shoes, I’m not sure I’d consider indie, either, and while it might sound here on the blog like I’m militantly anti-publisher, that’s not actually the case. Really, what I am is militantly independent. Period. Not just in business. Read more
Posts tagged ‘publishers’
In light of yesterday’s post by Jason about the whole WorldCon thing, and conversations I’ve had with friends recently, in addition to learning more about the history of Fandom: Breendoggle, the rampant child molestation at cons, Kramer of DragonCon… I have not seen the seedy underbelly of the big, old cons myself. My con experiences have been few, and fun, and that’s when it hit me.
I’m not a Fan.
Furthermore, I don’t want to be a Fan. I shudder at the idea of meeting a SMOF – those jerks attacked my friends, and when I joined the fight, came after me and my family. I stepped back to protect my children, and in doing so, gained some perspective. Not only do I not want to be a part of their club – never did, when it comes down to it – but I object to the notion that authors have to join with these despicable types in order to succeed. No. A thousand times no. I reject that utterly. Read more
Morning, everyone. Sarah asked me to put up a quick note to apologize for not having a chapter today. It seems the con crud she’s been fighting since LibertyCon has finally hit and is laying her low. She will be back for her regular post on Wednesday and a chapter next week.
In the meantime, here are some links for your consideration.
This is Sarah and I have a message for my friends and colleagues still trapped in and only in Traditional Publishing:
Look, people, you might choose to close your eyes, put your fingers in your ears, and believe that your publishers are your friends. They’re not.
Oh, okay, perhaps a small exception can be made for Baen books, a small family run company that treats its authors like family. The others?
They’ve made it very clear what you are. Widgets. Another can of beans. Burn your career (snap of fingers.) No skin off their noses. There are another ten . . . writers just like you in line waiting to break in.
On that same note, there is this article from across the ocean:
The ALCS set its findings against Department of Culture, Media and Sport figures which show that in 2014, the creative industries were worth £71.4bn per year to the UK economy. “In contrast to the decline in earnings of professional authors, the wealth generated by the UK creative industries is on the increase,” it said. “If unchecked, this rapid decline in the number of full-time writers could have serious implications for the breadth and quality of content that drives the economic success of our creative industries in the UK.”
Then, for those of you who have been following the, er, “discussion” on covers, experts and other things over at According to Hoyt, here is an awesome post by Dorothy Grant on cuing with your book covers. Read it, read it again and learn. I know I am doing my best to take in everything she says.
The best way to get a feel for what your cover needs to signal is to look at your genre’s covers, discard the classics and the iconic covers with major push, and average the differences for cues.
Now, have a great Sunday, enjoy the World Cup, all you soccer fans and Sarah will be back on Wednesday.
Forgive me if I seem a bit impatient. The stupid has been strong this week, and although normally I’m the quiet, nice one, I’m a bit exasperated by now.
(but less so, now. Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the instalanche. Welcome to any new readers! I’m not Sarah, but sometimes we seem to share a brain.)
I’ve already covered the gaffe Archon made, on my blog. Now, I’m talking about the recent wave of anti-Amazon posts, usually made by people who don’t know what they are talking about, and don’t bother doing a modicum of research before they panic. Yes, Amazon and Hachette are fighting. Yes, authors are being harmed, and that’s sad. However, this is hardly a reason to boycott Amazon, and if you know anything about business, it’s not even particularly noteworthy. Let me note here that Amazon is not evil, Amazon is a business.
For one thing, it’s not one-sided. I urge you to follow and read that link before you continue. Hachette doesn’t care about those authors you are angsting over. They only care about their profits, and if you actually know a traditionally published author, you know they don’t see very much of their share of those profits. Should someone’s career end over this, Hachette will just snag another candidate out of the pool of eager manuscripts.
But, but, Amazon is killing Indie bookstores! Pish, and posh. Before them, Barnes and Nobles and Borders did it. Or have you forgotten that oh-so-cute movie about that angsty issue? Ah… I see you have, and don’t care. Neither do you care about the incalcuable harm publishers do and have done to authors. Instead, you’d rather shoot yourself in the foot.
Go ahead. More for those of us who understand business, and finances. I make between 70% and 35% for every ebook sold through Amazon. I make less than that through other venues (such as B&N) but still, I make immensely more off of every sale than any traditionally published author will ever see from Hachette, or any other publisher. I have print versions of my books I don’t make that high a percentage from, but you can order my books in any bookstore, and there are a few which carry a copy or two at any given time. You can find more idea on how to do it right here.
Unlike these yahoos, I don’t feel the need to fraudulently slip my book onto a shelf somewhere. I do shop at the occasional bookstore, but I am far more likely to order from Amazon. Why? because they have what I want. It’s that easy. Plus, being cheap is nice, too. I can’t afford to walk into a bookstore and buy all the books I read on a weekly basis in paper. Not to mention our poor little house would be overflowing and collapsing. Yes, I bemoan not having time to read. That doesn’t mean I don’t read. With ebooks, I can take chances on new authors and books, that I wouldn’t do on a paper copy. So Amazon offers me a lot more than free shipping and the luxury of not having to go to a store. I love Amazon.
So do a lot of other people, like all the readers who neither know nor care who publishes their favorite author. Outside the industry, who knows this little piece of data? Very, very few readers. They don’t need to know, they just want an entertaining story or a well-done non-fiction book. And they want to be able to afford it. Face it, kids, the economy ain’t great. It sure as heck isn’t ‘recovering’ nor does it appear that it will any time soon. So you would begrudge your readers from seeking the best deals? Are you willing to pay top-dollar for every book you read? Didn’t think so.
Publishers are toxic. I read on my facebook feed an author terrified that she was about to have her fourth editor in as many books with her publisher. She’s afraid this book won’t sell well enough to justify keeping her on. Me? I hire and fire my editors based on their performance and merit, I am in control, not them. Another author, when the news broke that Orbit wouldn’t be giving away the Hugo-nominated books as most publishers do, begged that readers not be angry with his publisher. He said he would be blamed, lose his job, and be black-balled by other publishers, if the readers reacted angrily. (Do I really need to mention here that Baen is the exception which proves the rule?)
Look, I was in an abusive relationship. I know how hard it is to get out of. For one thing, you start to believe that you have no value. This is not true. Stop listening to publishers when they tell you you need them. You don’t. Maybe that was true, once, but reality has changed, and they are terrified. It’s making them do stupid things, like Hachette fighting with Amazon instead of negotiating. Or Apple, in the case it lost last year, over price-fixing. Or didn’t you notice that all the big publishers admitted guilt in the DOJ case? Time to open your eyes and see that it isn’t you, my author friends. You do offer something to the world. Whether it is an amusing story to lighten the burden of readers who are faced with uncertainty and risk in this bleak economy, or a well-researched and sourced non-fiction book which offers a balanced perspective on some topic. Stop letting yourself be treated as disposable, and start recognizing that it isn’t Amazon who is your enemy.
There are safe places. We won’t let them hurt you, and we offer help to those who are willing to work toward independence. I know there is a school of thought which says that those who are in an abusive relationship want it, and will go back to it, no matter how much they say they want out. I say perhaps. And perhaps all they need is a little support. It can be done, I’m living proof.
No, this isn’t an April’s Fools Day post although I had to read he basis for it twice before realizing that the person was being absolutely serious. It was yet another post bemoaning and bewailing all the “harm” Amazon has done to booksellers. This particular person is partner in an online bookstore that was begun some years ago for two purposes — to create a niche market for a very small and very specific type of book and to then create “serious competition” for Amazon. But, as with most plans, nothing turned out as planned.
The biggest stumbling block, the owners found out, came when the publishers would not work with them. Seems they didn’t want anything to do with this new upstart. Some unnamed person in some unnamed publisher’s digital content department supposedly told them off the record that the reason the publisher wouldn’t work with them was because they couldn’t put DRM on that publisher’s books — just like Amazon did. So, see, suddenly the enemy is Amazon again, not the publisher, because 1) Amazon could attach proprietary DRM based on the Kindle, 2) Amazon could sell books for less and 3) Amazon is evil. Okay, I added that last one.
Now, I can see the publisher’s agent, especially if this was one of the major legacy publishers, saying they wanted DRM added. The fact that these publishers still believe that sans DRM their books will be pirated left and right is no secret. However, this points up an issue with the niche seller. They weren’t prepared for this demand. The first problem is that they didn’t anticipate the problem and that, to me, means they hadn’t done their research. The second is that they weren’t sufficiently capitalized to invest in the software that would allow for the addition of DRM.
Now, while I can go on with what I saw and have issues with in the article but I won’t. The reason why is that the post triggered something that finally resulted in a finger snap or aha moment. Yes, there are still a lot of people in the publishing industry who blame Amazon for the decline in the number of bookstores in the country. There always will be, no matter what we say. However, in the post referenced above, one of the things the author said was how Amazon allows for lower prices, unlimited stock and one-click shopping so you never have to leave your home. Two of those things lead to the aha moment and the third followed shortly.
Why have we seen a decline in bookstores? There are a number of reasons and we’ve discussed them here before. Basically, there are two or three main reasons. The first was the influx of the big box bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. Until these stores came in, the only regional or national bookstores were almost always located inside a mall. They were small stores and usually had the feel of the locally owned bookstore in the area. Stock was limited and you had to want to fight the crowd at the mall to go to that particular store. With the influx of the big box national chain bookstores, you no longer had to fight the mall and you had much more stock and — gasp — coffee and pastries – to choose from.
With these big box stores came lower prices because they could buy in bulk, something the locally owned stores couldn’t do. Then there were the membership cards, free at first and later for fee, that offered an even larger discount than the already offered discounts on the New York Times best sellers. Those discounts, especially on the best sellers that were getting push from the publishers, are what brought customers into the store and, once there, usually led to impulse buying.
The problem started arising as these big box stores pushed the independent bookstores out of the market. Most of the mom and pop stores simply couldn’t compete. They couldn’t buy the wide range of stock that the larger stores could. Nor could they sell their books at the discount the larger big box bookstores could. Many tried innovative ways but they couldn’t. Then there was the fact that the big box stores were hiring away their staff with promises of bigger salaries, benefits, etc.
Suddenly, cities discovered that the only bookstores they had within driving range were the big box stores. The mom and pop stores we all loved and took for granted were gone. No one knew what happened. But we still had those pretty, well stocked big stores. So all was wonderful.
Until we started realizing that the stores carried the same stock. The exact same stock. Oh, one store might have a copy of a book that the other had but only because the stock hadn’t sold out there. Why was this? After a few years, corporate decided to go from store ordering to regional ordering. After that, it went to national ordering. Our wonderfully diverse bookstores were now the Walmart-version. But we kept on going because they were the only game in town.
Besides, they rewarded us. They built more stores, bigger stores, and they started giving us music and videos and stuff for our kids. Cool! It was a superstore!
And the prices kept going up.
Not just for us but for them as well.
Suddenly, we realized that all was not well in bookstore-land. Those wonderful employees we used to enjoy seeing whenever we went in were no longer there. Gone were they smiling faces and knowledge of the store’s stock. Worse, gone was their love for books. Replacing them were part-time employees, some good but more and more simply people needing a job who didn’t read or didn’t read much. If you asked for a book by an author who wrote like Chekhov or Dostoyevski, you were met with blank stares or — worse — a diatribe about how they hated reading those books in school. If you asked about who published a certain book, if the publisher wasn’t right there, front and center on the cover, the employee had no idea.
And then we realized what the problem was — the locally owned bookstore had created a culture and atmosphere we enjoyed and wanted to be a part of. The generic big box stores didn’t have that. Oh, they’d sucked us in with bright lights and a lot of books, but we hung around long enough to look behind the curtain. When we did, we didn’t find the Wizard. We didn’t even find a little old man who meant well and who was terrified of being found out. No, we found a bunch of men in suits, sitting in their ivory towers in Manhattan who spent their time counting beans. Men who saw only the short-term results of their efforts and never considered the long term.
What they did is play the biggest April’s Fools Day joke ever — they made us believe they could be just as good, if not better, than the locally owned bookstores we’d come to love and they weren’t. Under the corporate culture that they operated under, it was impossible for them to. They killed the bookstores we wanted to go to, the bookstores we had a connection to. Then, once that was accomplished, corporate greed began slowly killing off the killers. Yes, Amazon sped the process but only because we were already looking for alternatives. If these stores want to survive now, they need to go ahead and jump out, yell “April Fools” and then start building a relationship with their clients.
Oh, I can already hear them saying that it won’t work. Amazon sells for so much less than they can. After all, look at what happened to the small bookstores. The problem with this argument is that these corporations have the financial resources that the locally owned bookstores didn’t. It won’t be easy and they very well might have to close even more stores than they have already. But it can be done — but only if they change the corporate culture. You have to give us a reason to come back to the stores and price isn’t the only way to do it. Give us employees who know and love books. Give us a bookstore. Sure, offer music and videos if you want — you can, gasp, sell digital downloads. Go to smaller storefronts to cut costs. Become what the indie bookstores once were — local bookstores that cater to the wants and needs of the local community. Don’t be the Walmart of bookstores. Remember, people will pay more for a product if they think they are getting their money’s worth — and that includes customer service.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Shrug.
Ah. Just when you think it can get no more silly, we have an entry from someone who has me thinking that perhaps reincarnation is real. I don’t know if it is the actual ghost of P.T. Barnum, but there certainly seems to be a belief that one born every minute, and they’re not very bright. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, but really this is quite insulting to even luke-warm IQ’s like mine. A more flawed piece would be quite a find, but, as the author resorts to claiming logical fallacy in Howey’s ‘science’… let me point out the one which his entire thesis rests on:
“I don’t say these things because I am in bed with the major publishers. I fight with the major publishers all the time ”
I see. So given the above, and a heaven sent opportunity (via Hugh Howey) to get a better deal for the people he supposedly works for, from the people he fights with for them…
Does he blog… 1) Now there is evidence that self-published authors can achieve the same or better status and sales and a far, far higher income, I will point this out to them and to the publishers (that I fight with all the time) and tell them they’ve had a bumper year of profits, and unless they want to lose their authors, we’d better re-negotiate a much better deal on e-books. Or 2) does he pooh-pooh this analysis as ridiculous, and state that therefore authors had better cling to publishers and, as they’re obviously not going to increase the give to authors, authors should just suck it up. Does he claim without any supporting figures (but lots of handwavium waffle) that the other that e-book income is huge?* That “value of a guaranteed advance ** vs. royalty money that may or may not come along down the road’ is better? That the status quo is unalterable and good for the authors he claims to represent, because the publishers won’t change?
Logic 101 question. If 2) is true, and 1) false: can the statement “I don’t say these things because I am in bed with the major publishers. I fight with the major publishers all the time” be true? And if it is demonstrably false, how much of the rest is likely to be true?
The answer, having looked through it: not much. But as a lesson in how to spin, gyre and gimble The Brillig Blogger is indeed a nonpareil and could have a great future in political speech-writing if the ‘supporting’ authors in self-publishing venture follows literary agent-gatekeeping for traditional publishers down the rabbit hole. For example he tries to spin pricing into a death spiral myth. No one has ever suggested this — what has been said, and is true, is that self-pubs do not carry the vast overheads – New York premises, a lot of staff at NY wages, doing something… that has little bearing on and adds little value to the author’s book, and a need to pay huge advances — which may not be coming your way. Self-pubs can afford to undercut New York Publishing – and can turn a profit from far fewer copies.
Literary agents started as something quite different. They were luxuries that very successful authors had. So when Ernest’s publisher was late paying, either Ernest came back from the Bahamas with a bull-whip or his lackey went into the NY publisher’s office to kick some ass or chew gum during the national gum shortage. The whole ‘gatekeeping‘ lark was like the current venture into ‘supporting’ self-publishing. There wasn’t as much money in the lackey game as there had been, and not enough demand. And besides, they wanted more, had contacts… and you can see how it all flows from there. There are still a few in the old lackey trade, and some do it as a sideline, and use it as a lever. But publishers in general saw them as a great way to 1)get rid of slush readers and the pile, and 2)get out of the awkward personal contact with people you’re screwing over. And the authors get to pay the agents for doing this (if you believe that 15% is coming out of the larger advance they get you, I have some remarkable bargains to sell you. Just send me your bank account details and password. And thank you for proving P.T. Barnum right.) I will point out the relationship I have with my agent is different. It’s more like how JK Rowling started with hers. Mike was a first reader who believed in my books, read some of my proposals and partials, and became an agent to sell them. I backed him because I thought his taste and skill better than most agents.
The chance of ‘your’ agent engaging in a bit of dickering for a better deal with your publisher exists. It’s not high for the average noob, but it exists. The chance of him telling all of his main buyers something seriously unpalatable is non-existent. If he was YOUR agent he’d be in there kicking ass and maybe even wielding the bullwhip. But you are a replaceable widget to him. Authors – at least up recently – were queued up begging to be a widget. Publishers on the other hand were much rarer and getting more so.
Only I think ‘authors as widgets’ is over.
Logic says literary agents will continue to get subs… But who will they get them from and how tolerant and patient these submitters are, is a very different matter. Yes, they’ll still get from: 1) the terminally thick and bad; 2) the uninformed (a dropping number); 3) the vastly insecure and needing validation, 4) the reasonably good but-you’ve-got-four-weeks-and-I-sent-to-all-of-the-agents-at-once – which they at this stage won’t accept. 5) the midlister who fits ‘we got a deal before but never found an audience (PC, message, not much entertainment)’ profile = failures.
Why would the successful bestseller keep one, except as a lackey, and why would a midlister with a decent following do so? Why would a go-getter noob put up with years of waiting? If they’re kept waiting they’ll self-publish, and if that succeeds they’ll perhaps need a lackey, but not a literary agent. So of those the agent gets the losers who fail at self-pub. Now of these 2) and 3) can produce some great books. Even the losers at self-pub can, with a bit of help. But 2) will leave as they get clued up. And as the stigma of being agented grows – yes I said stigma grows. It will, given what they’ll get, 3) will desert them too. So they’re left with the untalented and needing help.
Which is why you have the effort, especially from agents, to re-enforce the perception that self-published authors are inadequate and not nearly as good, and that well, publishing is rock solid and inflexible.
“Your advice to publishers is for them to (a) lower e-book publishers (b) give a bigger share of their lower revenue to the authors they publish. Obviously, the publishers are not going to take this advice. There is no business model for them in taking in less money while simultaneously giving more to the authors.”– The Brillig blogger
Really? Well yes. IF self-publishers were an irrelevant failure and not starting to eat the publishers’ lunch and doing much, much better financially than their traditionally published peers selling the same volume. IF authors continue to solicit agents despite this. IF authors (especially the successful ones with a following) are happy with a pittance, while paying agents, and having their publisher take the cream. IF authors ignore Hugh Howey data-trawl. Howey has published an expanded version, with a far bigger data set, and here is a post on it by Mark Coker of Smashwords.
Now that is something one can expect from Mark Coker. It’s his business.
But not in PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY.
Two years ago I’d have said there’d be about as much chance of this as of the Pope canonizing Richard Dawkins. But the winds of change are plainly blowing hard, and PW is looking to a future too.
There is a business model in keeping prices competitive (no, that’s not an ever-diminishing sum***), and paying authors a FAR bigger share, and providing a lot more service. It’s called the new ‘Do not follow the agents in bankruptcy’ model. It involves giving up that New York address, and expense account and all those ‘useful’ meetings. It involves really adding a lot more value to the work those incredibly valuable people. To the widgets you call ‘authors’.
As for agents – rather than looking at nice new New York premises — instead of worrying about the small if of contractors, they might want to look at the big IF above. Maybe they’d do better to take Mark Coker’s advice to publishers, and find some way to add value to authors, who can do without them. But that’s kind of down the track. The question is just how far?
* Trust me, to the author, it’s not. Just through webscriptions (a fraction of Amazon’s reach) sales I can tell this.
** Which could be on average oh, as much as $3000, and falling (it was 5K when I started). In three tranches (effectively 1K every 4-10 months. You can live on that, can’t you?), two of which will be late. Like your bi-annual royalties. If you ever see them in the opaque accounting, 12-18 months later. Trust me on this. An advance is good because it ties a weasel down and you may actually get all of it. But it sure is hard to beat that monthly trickle and transparent accounting.
*** “How elastic is the demand for books? Yes, at the margins, you can increase sales some by lowering prices. But after a point, that stops working. There are only so many people who like to read with only so many hours in the day to do it. You can’t have a never-ending price war.” – the Brillig Blogger. We have no idea on either demand via price OR subject/book type. So… we assume you have it right on the present track record? That’s hilarious and totally illogical. A coarse guess is that the traditional industry has lost around 3/4 of the possible market by terrible targeting, and probably another 10% by overpricing. But that’s the subject for another post. It’s not infinitely elastic, but it’s a LOT bigger than now.