The Business Rusch: Anti-Published
I didn’t read my five newspapers this morning. I’m cranky about that. I love my newspapers. I read them on my iPad, and don’t mind the advertising at all, even though I accidentally click on the ads once in a while. (And please, don’t tell anyone: Occasionally, I investigate the product.) Which is way more than I used to do when I read paper newspapers. Sometimes I have the attention span of a hummingbird, and I’ll often forget what I saw the moment I close the page.
So yes, newspaper ad revenues are down significantly. Newspaper readership is down significantly, which is part of the problem. But I wonder if the effectiveness of ads has risen in the past sixty years (which is the length of that study). When my ex and I had a frame shop and art gallery in the early 1980s, we soon discovered that newspaper ads brought in zero shoppers, but radio ads paid off amazingly. Just saying. Things change.
Like my reading habits. The neat-o thing about reading on a tablet is this: If you see something you want to check out, all you need to do is hit a link, and you’ve checked it out.
Which is why I missed my newspapers in my reading window this morning. I checked out Dean’s new blog, then remembered that I needed to look at one other online thing before I got to writing this blog, and suddenly I was eight references deep in Scott Turow nastiness.
Sigh. Can that man resign already? Or get fired? Seriously.
I had planned to blog a bit about Turow, but really, with this kind of bandwidth, I don’t have to. Check them out.
What you need to know is this: Our ignorant friend Mr. Turow believes that the American Author is under siege, that we’re losing ground, and that the Great American novel will disappear.
He published that ridiculousness three days ago.
Let me show you the life of a so-called besieged American author. My life.
In the past three days, I have:
1. Negotiated a subsidiary rights contract directly with a publisher, with a seven-year term limit. The contract pays well—and bonus!, it states point blank that the publisher only wants these particular rights. All of the other rights are reserved to the author. It makes that statement repeatedly, throughout the contract, adding later that nothing in this contract can be misconstrued to allow the publisher any additional rights. (Y’know. Like those e-rights that some publishers are currently claiming were hidden in contracts from the 1970s.)
2. Dealt with a fantastic Hollywood producer who has a series of mine under option, and is currently fielding meeting after meeting about that property. (A friend of mine, who works for a major studio, recently confirmed her contact with him. Nice to have outside confirmation of this stuff.) Fingers crossed, although I don’t believe anything will happen until…well, the check is cashed, the movie/TV show greenlighted, and an audience is actually viewing the thing.
3. Got invited into three anthologies that I want to write for.
4. Read several fantastic stories for upcoming Fiction River issues.
5. Received a request from one of my favorite short fiction editors for more of my work.
6. Spent all of last Thursday scheduling the various upcoming projects, all of which were either books in series that had been murdered by traditional publishers or books that my agents/editors “didn’t know how to market.”
7. Lined out my writing schedule, which is beyond full with a) projects I want to do and b)projects fans have asked for. Note that’s an “and” not an “or.” I want to do this things, and bonus!, people want to read them.
8. Exchanged e-mails with several big name authors over personal matters, all of whom are excited about the changes in publishing.
9. Read even more blogs about writers who have careers again, when they once believed their careers had ended.
10. Discovered that a writer whose work I had searched for for years had published five novels I was unaware of. This was my favorite moment of the three days. Seriously.
Phillip Rock wrote a novel called The Passing Bells and I read it in 1981 or 1982, at a particularly difficult point in my life. I loved, loved, loved that book, and it was clear that there were sequels. Only I never found them. I haunted bookstores, I asked booksellers, I searched for the following books in used bookstores for at least fifteen years. At least.
Then I gave up.
So I was reading an article in Romantic Times about books that Downton Abbey fans would love, and viola! Some smart person at a traditional publishing house reissued the Rock trilogy. Trilogy! I hadn’t know it was a trilogy! And I ordered all three books, online, in five seconds.
They’ll be here soonest, because I want paper. I want to hold those puppies in my hands just to convince myself that they’re real.
But I could have had them and started reading them in seconds. (Okay, I did. I scanned the opening of The Passing Bells to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the writing was better than I remembered. Oh, I’m thrilled.)
These books were dead. In fact, I searched to find out why I never located the other books. I don’t know the full story. But here’s what soon became clear. Only The Passing Bells had a mass market paperback edition. So most of the used bookstores I haunted would never have had a copy of the second and third books in the series, because most of those stores specialized in mass market paper, not hardcover.
Phillip Rock did not publish any more books after the third book (that I can find), even though he lived another twenty years.
What it looks like to me is this: the book sales went down on the trilogy for some unknown reason, so he couldn’t get another book deal.
I could be wrong about that, but that’s what the scant evidence points to.
And I remembered his book from thirty years ago with such excitement that I went to my computer and ordered immediately.
Books that were dead. Impossible to find. In fact, on Amazon, the mass market paperback of The Passing Bells was selling for $90.00. Limited availability, obviously, and obviously, someone besides me wanted copies.
How many of you have had this experience in the last three years? A writer whose work you loved, a writer whose work you couldn’t find, had a book reissued and/or reissued the book him or herself.
The Passing Bells was interesting in that the book came out of a traditional publisher. I don’t know if someone at the publishing house remembered his work and compared it to Downton Abbey, or if his estate pushed this, but whatever happened, traditional publishing did something right in this case. At least for me, the reader. I have no idea what the behind-the-scenes story is for the writer’s estate, except to say this: Rock was gone by the time the books were reissued. He didn’t live to see this.
While I wait for Rock’s books to arrive, I’m reading Linda Nagata, who has been a favorite of mine for more than fifteen years. She vanished too, discouraged by the problems in traditional publishing. Now she’s back, publishing her own work—and it’s stellar. She answered Charlie Stross on his site (good on you for allowing this, Charlie) on why she self-publishes. You can find the link here.
In fact, Linda’s not the only writer who is jumping with joy (maybe literally) about all the opportunities in front of her. In fact, Linda was not the only writer who was celebrating her freedom while Scott Turow released his stink bomb on the rest of the world.
Elizabeth Naughton released a blog on Saturday detailing her decisions to go to self-publishing, even as she’s still being traditionally published.
As her contracts with her traditional publisher have come due, she did some pretty serious analysis. She had released a few books herself, books she couldn’t sell traditionally, and she had a lot of success with them. But her traditional books hit the stores as mass market paperbacks, a form that her readers preferred. So she weighed what to do with the next book in her successful series.
…when deciding what to do, I had to take a lot of things into consideration. Book stores are closing, store shelves are shrinking, and my print run between ENRAPTURED and ENSLAVED (only six months!) dropped by 20,000 books. There was no guarantee Wal-Mart (who was the biggest buyer for my print books) was going to pick up the next book in the series, and at 4% royalties (most people don’t realize authors get reduced royalties from sales at Wal-Mart, so at a $4.99 sale price, I make less than 20 cents a book on my Wal-Mart print sales) I couldn’t come up with a valid reason to take a crappy contract JUST to say I was “traditionally” published. Especially when I looked at the fact the MAJORITY of my sales were coming in digital form. If there’s one thing I want readers to understand, it’s that this was not an easy decision for me to make, but at the end of the day I realized that if I wanted to continue writing this series (which I do!), I couldn’t do it for free anymore.
She decided, as so many of us have, that the only way she’ll accept a traditional book publishing contract these days, is to have a “contract would have to be enticing enough to draw me away from the income I’m now making.”
That income? It’s exploding for her:
To give you an idea of how my life has changed since I began self publishing, in 2011 (traditionally published only) I reported a negative income on my taxes. In 2012 (after I began self publishing–and it’s important to note that the majority of my income that year came from self published books, NOT my traditionally published books), I reported six figures. In 2013, we’re projecting I’ll be approaching the seven figure mark. To me, that’s a HUGE difference.
It’s important to note that she hit the New York Times bestseller list with her self-published work, not with the traditionally published work. We’re seeing this phenomenon more and more these days. That whole meme that traditional publishing puts out there, the one that says they’re the only way into bookstores and the only way to hit the bestseller lists? That meme isn’t true at all.
A friend is testing a new way into bookstores by partnering with a large business that caters to indie publishers, and we’ll see how that goes. If it goes well, I’ll report here. And of course, there’s Ella Distribution, which is setting up a new way to go into bookstores as well.
Romance writers and disgruntled sf writers like me aren’t the only ones who’ve gone to the indie side. Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, New York Times bestseller, and multiple award winner, Lawrence Block had a response to Scott Turow’s stink bomb as well. On April 8, Block moved an older post to the top of his for-writers page, because it had already answered Turow, before Turow wrote this latest stupidity.
In 2012, Block wrote that, back in the bad old days, “when my fellows and I would gather, glass in hand, for an evening of sociable shoptalk, the inanities of agents and editors and publishers were a frequent topic of conversation. Hell, all the bastards did was screw things up. But if we could do it ourselves—”
Then they’d realize that they couldn’t do it themselves, except (he later points out) that wasn’t entirely true. They weren’t willing to do it themselves. It was considerably harder in them thar days (back when I was a young ’un as well). Especially for these reasons:
If you were writing fiction for a far-flung audience, you wouldn’t get anywhere publishing it yourself. How were you going to get reviewed? How were you going to get the book in stores? How would anyone who might want to read it ever learn of its existence?
But, as he points out, publishing evolved and changed and got more corporate (which is not to say better). Books had to “ sell an ever-increasing number of copies in order to show up in black ink on a corporation’s balance sheet.”
Bookstores were closing, sales were down, midlist writers were being cut. But Block wasn’t being cut, although the changes were having an impact on him.
My advances were down. And my books were getting harder to find. The new ones got shelf space, but the mass market backlist titles did not; for years my paperbacks filled two shelf sections at a Barnes & Noble, and then one day I stopped at a B&N and could only find one copy each of four titles. And it’s been like that ever since.
So he eased into self-publishing, and slowly understood how great control of his own product was. His visibility on the self-published titles was as good or better than it was through his traditional publisher. As he got his rights back to some of his older work, he didn’t even consider trying to resell those books traditionally. (Are you noticing a pattern here?)
Now, he writes,
My default response, when someone asks how to get an agent, or how to find a publisher, or any writerly version of what-do-I-do-now, is to suggest publishing it oneself. That’s a course I never would have recommended to anyone, except perhaps the occasional dotard who’d penned a memoir he hoped his grandchildren would read. And now I’m urging it upon everyone—writers whose publishers have dropped them, writers who never had publishers in the first place, writers whose early books have gone out of print.
Will everyone have a good experience with self-publishing? No, of course not, nor will every book show a profit. But it has never been so easy for readers and writers to find one another, and for any book to find its proper audience.
Take that, Mr. Scott Turow and all of you who believe the sky is falling. Or maybe you unbelievers should listen to Hugh Howey, who got some space on Salon.com just before Mr. Turow spewed his ignorance all over the mainstream media. Salon.com, which most folks in publishing read as religiously as the New York Times. (Why don’t you, Turow? Are you that far behind the times? Oh, never mind, you already answered that).
Anyway, as Hugh Howey said, the real story in indie publishing isn’t Howey or Amanda Hocking or even Barry Eisler. It’s the hundreds (maybe thousands) of writers who are making the bills by indie publishing. Sure, these writers aren’t always making thousands per month, but they’re making hundreds per month. And I know from rather desperate personal experience that at certain times in the careers of 99% of all writers, hundreds per month is sheer gold.
The problem with Turow in particular, and a handful of others in the same circumstance, is that they were bestsellers from their first novel. Which makes them rather like that Coach Barry Switzer quote: “Some people were born on third base and thought they hit a triple.”
Yes, these privileged writers wrote good books and they were lucky enough to sell those books the first time out for good money, and surprisingly, those books were published well, and these few fortunate writers went on to have good careers without hitting the pitfalls that the rest of us have encountered.
Until now, of course. Hard times hit us all, just in different ways.
Turow is looking at decreasing royalties, and low sales figures (comparatively speaking), and is blaming the wrong people for it. Amazon? Naw. Foreign countries? Naw. The Supreme Court? Naw.
He just needs to blame himself for being asleep at the switch and not noticing the changes in publishing, even though he’s feeling them each and every day.
What I’m hearing, what I’m experiencing, is exactly what a dear friend of mine said in e-mail the other day. This long-term New York Times bestseller says that in the next year or two, their earnings from new writing will be a small portion of their overall income. The rest will come from backlist, from previously published work.
That’s new, folks. It hasn’t happened to most of us before, even New York Times bestsellers. See Lawrence Block’s quote above. How can you sell books when they aren’t on store shelves?
Or rather, let me get my tenses right: How could you sell books when they weren’t on store shelves?
Amazon and all the other online retailers keep books on a virtual shelf, and available forever.
Gone are the days that shocked some readers of this blog last week, when I mentioned that for the first time ever, all of my Retrieval Artist novels—a series, mind you—are in print. If you like one, you can buy the others. And that’s new. It’s never happened to this series before.
I was shocked that the readers were shocked because, you see, I have published six series, and until this past year, none of those series—not a one—had more than one book in print at the same time.
These series were in different genres, under different names, and spanned a twenty-year period. They were all traditionally published.
I am not alone in this. The people I’ve been e-mailing back and forth lately are all well-published traditional writers who have gone indie or are in the process of going indie. The reason? Because we have control now, and like Elizabeth Naughton, we are making more money than we ever have before on our writing.
We have also experienced those moments when we’ve lost work—property, not work time, but actual copyrights—to other people’s stupidity.
Look at the other thing that’s been filling the blogosphere this past week: The posts on the death of Night Shade Books. Dean and I met the guys running Night Shade at the Denver World Science Fiction Convention in 2008 and had drinks with them to discuss the publishing business. The publishers of Night Shade sounded like Dean and I must have in the early days of Pulphouse—excited and enthusiastic and utterly clueless about certain things.
We tried to hand the Night Shade guys some clues. They laughed us off.
We are not surprised by the situation they find themselves in.
The problem here, with Night Shade, is that they had long and rather traditional publishing contracts. Pulphouse did not. When we went under, we took no writer’s work with us. (Although it took a while to pay some of those writers the amount owed them.) Now, a lot of writers find themselves in the unenviable position of having to choose between a (now less) crappy deal or losing the copyrights to that work altogether in a bankruptcy proceeding because these writers chose to be part of traditional publishing.
That’s the only reason. The writers have no culpability in this, although they will pay a great price for someone else’s mistake.
I’m still dealing with traditional publishing problems. From a major sf publisher who, for some inane reason, always “forgets” to send out fall royalty statements (and then sends out weirdly inaccurate statements in the spring), to a publisher who went from having the best contracts in the business to the worst contracts in the business without a change of personnel, I’m still putting out stupid fires that aren’t of my own making.
Fortunately, I’m not struggling to save my career, like I’ve done every other time that problems like these have come up.
Bestselling mystery writer Carole Nelson Douglas summed it up best in her e-mail to me earlier in the week. We’ve been comparing notes on our new publishing revival and she’s the one who coined the phrase I’ve used in my title. She gave me permission to quote her.
She writes, “I consider I spent most of my career being ‘anti-published.’ Just constant watching and nagging and holding your breath that all the ‘dropped balls’ wouldn’t sink you.”
When I asked her if I could use this, she said yes, so long as I mentioned “it’s from the experience of going through six NY publishing houses over a 60-novel career.”
We’ve been trading war stories. Just like I have with other writers. What’s odd is that so many of these stories were just the way that the business worked back not ten years ago. We had to accept it and try to survive it.
This week, in addition to my list of ten things, so much more happened, wonderful stuff or at least, heartwarming things.
First, for me, you guys have been great in the way that you’ve helped me celebrate the fourth anniversary of this blog. You let me know how much you like it and rely on it, but you also celebrated with me, and you celebrated the changes, like I have.
Second, readers have rallied around David Farland (Wolverton) and his son Ben. Ben was in a terrible, awful, horrible long-boarding accident and due to a circumstance that’s too complicated to explain (plus it’s not my place to do so), the family had no insurance. Ben’s care will cost millions. (I am not exaggerating here.)
Fans, writers, and casual readers have rallied, donating money yes, but even more impressive, buying Dave’s indie published books all day yesterday in what they’re calling a “Book Bomb.” The fans are putting numbers—real numbers—behind the various algorithms that get books noticed by Amazon and the other services. This will have a halo effect on Dave’s income because the money goes directly to him, not to some publisher who will sit on it or apply it to reserve against returns, and maybe send a check six months to a year after the money was earned.
(I say maybe because that publisher who missed the fall royalty statement? That one? That publisher theoretically owes me thousands of dollars. I say theoretically, because they’re calculating the royalties in a weird non-contractual manner which makes no sense to me. Like most things in traditional publishing, I guess.)
My heart is warmed by the instant support Dave and his family are receiving. Readers, who are doing their best to repay Dave for all the hours of enjoyment he gave them, are donating small amounts. But those small amounts add up to large sums. Plus, they’re tweeting this and pinning it and putting it on their Facebook pages.
I’m putting it here in hopes some of you will either buy a book or donate to the fund. You can and should still participate. This halo effect can last for weeks.
I love this new world. Hugh Howey ends his article in Salon the same way that Jeremy Greenfield ends his in Forbes, the way I’m going to end this post now.
It’s the best time to be a writer. The American author—hell, authors worldwide—aren’t dying out. They’re not even threatened. They’re doing better than they’ve ever done, because we can go direct to the fans now.
Writers who are aware of this are enjoying a renaissance, and fans—well, they’re like me with my Phillip Rock experience. We’re catching up on books that we thought we’d never be able to read because traditional publishing was always looking for the newest, brightest, shiniest thing at the expense of the familiar, at the expense of the slow-growing product, at the expense of writers and readers. Traditional publishers believe that bookstores are their target market.
I can tell them, the writers Hugh Howey mentions in his blog can tell them, Carole Nelson Douglas can tell them, and Elizabeth Naughton can tell them, that our target market is readers. Readers who love those few hours of enjoyment, and will tell others about it.
Readers who love this world as much as the savvy writers do.
Maybe readers love it more.
I know that my instant response to someone like Turow (and he’s not alone in his hidebound idiocy) isn’t contempt or a desire to make fool out of him. It’s sadness.
Sadness that he’s missing a great revolution. Sadness that he believes this bright new world filled with possibilities is a dark, horrible, scary place.
It’s not. It’s truly the best of times. And I’m happy that these changes have happened while I can still participate in them. I’m not lamenting the death of the American author. I’m celebrating the life that infuses the industry these days.
I am thrilled at all the changes. I wish everyone else was.
As I said above, you all are wonderful. Great comments last week, great private e-mails and notes on social media. And thank you for the donations as well.
I am so busy right now with new deadlines and incredible projects that I’d love to give up sleep, but I can’t. So I’m stealing time from things I normally used to do. I don’t have as much time to answer the comments on the blog, although I read everything. So please continue to comment! And I’m writing double blogs right now, so that I have some in the can for the weeks when I need concentrated fiction-writing time.
Eventually, I’ll get back to the research-heavy blog posts that I need to do for the estate stuff, but right now, I’m deep in three different time-consuming projects, two of which involve research. I’ll get back to the others soon.
This might sound like complaining, but it’s not. I’m thrilled at being this busy. If you had asked me ten years ago what would allow me to do everything I wanted as a writer and still make money, I would have said nothing. I figured I’d have to pick and choose between projects.
Now I’m limited only by time itself.
Again, thank you all for the support. It means so very much.
“The Business Rusch: Anti-published” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.