The Business Rusch: More About Midlist Writers (Changing Times Part Thirteen)

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The Business Rusch: More About Midlist Writers

(Changing Times Part Thirteen)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Two weeks ago, I promised you that I’d tell you why midlist writers will benefit the most from the changes in publishing that we’ve been discussing.  Last week, I stepped out of the model to discuss the rapid change that happened over the holidays and this week, I am refraining from discussing the possible loss of a wonderful indie bookstore (LA’s Mystery Bookstore).  Rapid change continues, so those of you in publishing should read the trade journals every single day.  (For example, check out the cool changes in university publishing here.)

But I don’t want to leave you hanging.  I ended that first post on midlist writers on what we in the trade call a cliffhanger. Then I used thriller writer techniques and moved to a completely different section to distract you.  Now I’ve returned.  (And yes, I know, thriller techniques really don’t belong in nonfiction, but I ran out of space.)

If you haven’t read the previous post on midlist writers, please do so now.  In that post, I explain what the midlist is and why it will never disappear.

I also said that midlist writers will benefit the most from the changes in publishing.

Here’s why.

Remember the publishing business model? The one I discussed in the second post in this series?  Until electronic publishing, online bookstores, and rapid print-on-demand publishing made their impact all of two years ago, the only viable way for a writer to get her books to readers was this:

Writers provide content (product) to Publishers.

Publishers distribute that content to Distributors.

Distributors distribute books to Bookstores.

Bookstores distribute that content to Readers.

Writers had to work within that model unless we wanted to tour the country and schlep our books with us, selling them out of the trunk of our cars.  John Grisham actually tried that with his first novel, A Time To Kill, and discovered that “selling books was more difficult than writing them.” (Dedication to Ford County Stories, Dell, 2010)

Writers depended on publishers to sell the books.  Sometimes publishers did a good job.  Sometimes they did a terrible job.  And sometimes bad luck hit.  Bad luck, in publishing terms, is called “a book from hell.”  There’s nothing wrong with the book itself, but everything in the production goes awry, and no matter how hard anyone tries to fix it, it doesn’t get fixed.

I have one spectacular book from hell story for my novel Hitler’s Angel, which I recounted here on my blog when Max Crime in England released a new version of the book (and did the publishing right).  You can see that here.  If you’re a writer, you probably have your own book-from-hell story or you know many other writers who do.

Sometimes writers’ careers survive despite the adversity.  Look at the original cover for my first book in my fantasy series, The Fey: Sacrifice. The art is terrible.  Bantam Books slotted the book as a midlist build, so didn’t have the budget to redo the cover.  Instead, they put all the weird graphics around the crappy piece of art, got a better artist for the second book, and did the best they could to salvage a bad situation.  Bantam did just fine: they saved the series and it went for its scheduled five volumes.

But that was a different publishing environment.  I have no idea if the series would have continued today after that terrible-cover debut.  Remember how I mentioned series get canceled by Big Publishing now if the growth isn’t big enough?  Big Publishing is cutting its losses pre-emptively, and that will hurt the bottom line down the road.

However, in this post, we’re not concerned with Big Publishing’s bottom line.  We’re concerned with midlist writers.

And because of all of the things I discussed in the previous midlist writer post, midlist writers have been buffeted by Big Publishing for as long as there’s been Big Publishing and midlist writers.  An open-ended series, like mystery novels, which feature the same characters but have stand-alone stories, will end abruptly after two or three books, just as the readers are discovering the series.  A romance writer, publishing linked books (in which a group of friends meet their significant others, each book covering a different friend), might see only two of the five planned linked books published, leaving the other stories untold.

Worse, I think, are the three-book fantasy series, in which the story doesn’t end until you get to the third book, with books one and two ending on cliffhangers like my last midlist column.  The publisher, seeing that book two didn’t live up to expectation, cancels book three and tells the writer to keep the advance.

That’s all well and good for the writer’s finances, but up until the recent changes in publishing, the writer was left explaining her publisher’s stupid decision to readers who want to finish the story. Meanwhile the writer would search in vain for a new publisher.  Twenty years ago, a midlist fantasy writer could move from, say, Bantam to Daw in the middle of a continuing series. But in the distribution collapse in the late 1990s (discussed briefly in my earlier posts), publishers stopped being willing to take on anything except a guaranteed bestseller.

So publishers would try to poach a bestselling fantasy author away from his previous publisher with an offer of more money and even better promotion, but the same publisher wouldn’t take a growing series cut off at the knees by the original publisher.

Why? Because the bean counters in Big Publishing don’t understand how essential slow growth is to the book industry.  (When Big Publishing got overrun by Big Business, which focuses on short-term profits at the expense of steady growth, this change became all-pervasive.  It’s one of the many things hurting Big Publishing at the moment.  Remember, however, Big Publishing will change.  It always does.)

I make it sound here like mistakes that the publisher makes are the only reason midlist series end prematurely. They’re not.  In fact, the primary reason these series end early is because of the writers themselves.

I’m going to gloss over the main reason a series doesn’t sell well because it’s not relevant to our discussion, but I am going to mention it at the risk of being pilloried.  The main reason that a series doesn’t sell well is that the series isn’t very good.  If the series declines significantly after the first book, it’s because the majority of readers didn’t like that first book and don’t want to buy the second.

The best advertisement for a writer’s work is the writer’s work.  If the writer’s work is mediocre, then the work won’t sell well.  Remember, publishing works on a book-by-book basis—and that includes readers.  If readers don’t like the first book, they’re certainly not going to spend their hard-earned dollars on the second book, no matter how much promotion that second book gets.

Ah, promotion.  This is the second primary way that midlist writers kill their own careers.  The writers go out and do heavy promotion on their books.  Promotion, done at the wrong time, is a career-killer.

If the writer does a lot of promotion on her first novel, going to fifty bookstores, and jacking up sales artificially, then is unable to spend the  money to do the same level of promotion on her second sale, the writer will make her sales numbers go down.  What happens to a midlist writer whose sales go down?  Her series gets canceled.  Her third book might never even see print.

Writers who do extensive self promotion of their Big Publishing novel create havoc.  It’s even worse if the writer is a good salesperson.  A good salesperson in a bookstore setting will convince a bypasser to buy a book she wouldn’t normally buy and she might never read.  If that book is the first book in a series, then that sale is wasted.  If the writer does that repeatedly for her first book, she sells her book to readers who would never ever buy another book by that writer.

This is such a destructive pattern and it has become so prevalent that my current romance publisher mentions in their promotion letter to authors new to the publishing house that the house does not recommend doing a lot of booksignings unless the publishing house itself plans them.  If the publishing house plans them, then the writer isn’t midlist (at least on this book).  See the previous post.

The interruption of series in the midlist happens all the time.  Readers know that. They haunt bookstores, trying to find the next book that never comes. They search for the books in the series that they missed, and they often write angry letters to the author, begging the author to continue the series.

Until the recent changes in publishing, continuing that series was out of the author’s control. Usually, the author couldn’t continue the series because no other publisher would buy it.  (This depends on genre: in mystery, specialty presses sprang up to solve this very problem.  The presses published the next book in a midlist series—at a significantly smaller advance and with promotion only inside the mystery field itself.  In romance, the author was encouraged to change her name and try again with a new series.  In science fiction/fantasy, the writer often continued the series in the large short fiction market.)

In the last fifteen years, editors started to talk about the “natural life” of a series.  The series would run four, five, six volumes, and then the sales would drop off, and the series would get discontinued.  In these cases, the fault was usually not the writer’s, but the fault of the publishing house itself.  The midlist series didn’t make enough money to warrant a cover redesign or a new push to bring in new readers.  So only the readers of the previous books bought the series.  If a reader didn’t see the book for the few months it was in the chain bookstore, then that reader didn’t buy that book, and sales decreased.  Once sales decreased, well, you now know how that works.

The “natural life” of a series is hogwash.  Back when publishers supported midlist series, series went into ten, twenty, even thirty volumes.  Ed McBain published the influential 87th Precinct series for decades before the series ever got close to a bestseller list. The series ran for forty years and stopped only with his death.  John D. MacDonald’s highly popular and highly influential Travis McGee series started at the low end midlist series and took more than a decade to hit any bestseller list.  Many popular and well remembered science fiction and fantasy series were also midlist books, supported by their publishers.

Because of the previous changes in publishing—the decline of the distribution network, the emphasis on bestsellers, the increased focus on big profits—publishers no longer had time to slow-grow anything, including a series. Readers didn’t change their habits.  Publishers did.

And that left readers in the lurch.  Readers would fall in love with a series or an author and would be unable to find new books by either.  Writers who weren’t nimble suffered as well. They tried to sustain their series and were unable to sell it or they refused to get a pen name.  They refused to start new series or to write books in a new genre.  And their careers ended.

The “death” of the midlist wasn’t the death of a booklist at all, but career “death” of writers who got discouraged and quit because publishing had become excessively hard.

Do I blame Big Publishers for the death of so many dreams, so many careers, so many wonderful books?  I wish I could, but I understand too well what caused these losses.

Full disclosure here: I have had four series that struggled at one point or another. One got canceled because I was stupid and made a bad business decision.  (I listened to my agent at the time who swore that the publisher wouldn’t buy the next book.  Instead of checking that statement, making the agent mail the book anyway or trying with some other publisher, I figured the agent knew best.  Whoops. Years later, the editor told me she would have bought the book if she but had the chance. Lesson learned.)

Another series got canceled because…I don’t know why.  No one ever gave me a reason and sales on the titles were just fine.  New editor? New plans at the publishing house? Something I did? I don’t know.

A third series got canceled because it wasn’t growing fast enough.  And the fourth got canceled despite glowing reviews and growing sales because the sales force had no idea how to market the series (and that’s why they decided not to continue).

I could easily be angry about these.  Most writers are when this happens to them. But I’ve owned businesses, and more to the point: I’ve owned publishing businesses.  I understand all sides.

Publishers have an in-house sales threshold per genre below which no book—no matter how good, no matter how beloved, no matter how acclaimed—will survive.  At some point, the book simply does not repay its investment.  Go back to my posts on Big Publishing.  Their overhead is mighty. That sales threshold is the price writers pay for getting into the large distribution system.

Or the price writers used to pay, anyway.

Because established midlist writers can now distribute books on their own, at the same numbers as Big Publishing did (for the midlist: remember we’re discussing the midlist), and make more money, keep the books in print, and slowly grow audience.

This fact is what has J.A. Konrath and so many other midlist writers excited.  Books and series that seemed long dead can be revived and, even better, can breathe new life (and new income) into a long-lost career.

For those of us with on-going careers, things look even better.

First, let me be clear about what I’m discussing.  It’s relatively easy now for a established midlist writer to publish her own book electronically. Sure, she has to do a cover, convert to the proper e-format, and find someone to copyedit. But the enterprising midlist writer can publish her electronic books herself.

And with minimal effort, she can also publish a print-on-demand copy through CreateSpace or Lightning Source and, with minimal investment, have the book show up on  (It takes a greater investment to show up in other markets, but can be done.  More on that next week.)  Suddenly, a writer who has a completed series book (say, Book Four in a seven-book series) can publish it, distribute it worldwide, and encourage her fans to find it.

Will the book sell the same number of copies that it sold out of a Big Publishing house? Initially, no. But midlist writers who self-publish don’t have to work on the produce (or velocity) model. The book can—and should—stay in print for years.

So…will the book sell the same number of copies that it sold out of a Big Publishing house? Eventually, that book will sell more copies than it would from Big Publishing.  A writer can measure her sales over years instead of over the few short months that Big Publishing uses.  And there’s another aspect to this.

Weirdly (and I mean weirdly.  There’s no business sense to this), Big Publishing often takes early books in a series out of print before the next book in that series appears.  Let’s assume the series is a loosely related one like a mystery series, with the same detective and supporting cast, but with a stand-alone story.   Reader A discovers this series on book four, loves book four, and wants to read all the books that come before it.  In the past, Reader A had to troll used bookstores and online stores like to find an earlier book in the series.

If the publisher only sold 10,000 copies of book one, and half of the readers of book one kept their copies, only 5,000 copies appeared on the secondary market.  If the same numbers hold—half of the book’s readers keep the volume—eventually, the number of copies available will be 2500, then 1250, and so on. That is why so many used copies of early books in a series will sell on Amazon or Alibris for hundreds of dollars.  It’s because the books are so scarce, no one can get their hands on a copy—and the publisher never reprints.

It’s not worthwhile for the publisher to reprint 500 copies of a title if those 500 copies don’t sell in the first month.  Remember, Big Publishing works on speed of sale as much as size of sale.

But now, midlist writers can—with little or no upfront cost—keep that book in print.  And those five hundred readers who buy over the space of a year will recommend the book to their friends and will encourage five hundred more readers, who’ll encourage five hundred more—all of whom will read through the rest of the series, and then buy the latest book when it comes out.

If that new book comes out of a Big Publishing house, it will look like the midlist writer had a series with explosive growth.  But really, that growth just built slowly.

Here, however, is where the math gets tricky.

Remember that when a writer partners with Big Publishing to sell a book, the writer only gets about 10% of the retail price of that book.  (To find out how I come to that number, look here.)  Let’s say the book sells (in all venues, electronic and paper) for $6.99.  The writer gets 69 cents of every copy sold.  Big Publishing sells 10,000 copies.  Eventually the writer will get $6,900, probably spread out over a few years.

Now let’s assume the writer published the book herself.  Because she can’t advertise as well and she doesn’t go into the big accounts as easily, she only sells 5,000 copies of that book in the first year.  She prices it at $4.99, lower than Big Publishing would, and of that, she gets 70% or $3.49.  Over the space of that year (not years), she would get $17,465—and the book would stay in print for the following year. (Meaning she’d make more money the next year.)

Looking at the sales figures of self-published writers on Kindle, it’s not realistic to expect 5,000 sales on a single title in the first year of publication.  Most books from successful self-published writers seem to average about 1,000 copies over the space of a year.  Same price, same math — 1000 copies at $4.99, 70% of which goes to the writer.  So she’s earning $3,490 in that first  year—less than she’d get from Big Publishing.  Until you factor in this: the book is part of a series. The series is growing. The book will remain in print, and chances are, it will sell the same number of copies—or more—in the following year.  But let’s assume the sales remain the same.  She’ll see $3,490 in year two and $3,490 in year three—and suddenly, she’s earned more money than she would have earned from Big Publishing.  She’s building readership and the book is still in print.

In the Big Publishing scenario, this book will have earned for the writer $6,900 over ten years, the bulk of the earning in the first few months.  No reprints, no reissues.  In the self-publishing scenario, this book will have earned for the writer $34,900 in ten years with no growth at all, and the book will still be on sale.  Granted, that $34,900 will be spread over the entire ten years, but we must assume that our midlist writer is writing other books and they’re also earning.  Suddenly, we’re looking at game-changing money for midlist writers.

And in that ten-year period, the writer will have sold 10,000 copies of her book on her own, just like Big Publishing did before it took the book out of print. (Probably in year two)  So the writer makes roughly five times the money for the same number of sales—and here’s the bonus—her readership continues to grow.  Plus, the writer gets to continue writing what she wants to write—her series, the way she wants to write it.

See why so many established midlist authors are wondering what they’re getting out of Big Publishing these days?

It’s a valid question, and since we’re out of space, one that we’ll explore next week.

“The Business Rusch: More About Midlist Writers” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

30 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: More About Midlist Writers (Changing Times Part Thirteen)

  1. Big goof. 29 million x 4 = 116 million, not more than a billion. And I got a masters of accounting from a university with a program ranked in the top 3 in the nation . . .

  2. It is exciting. I know people will still want paper. And so ebooks aren’t going to cannabalize paper 1 for 1. But they’re going to eat a good portion of them, high prices or slightly lower. “Demise” probably isn’t the best word. But 25% has been bandied about as a tipping point for when paper distribution collapses in its current form and has to evolve. I was referring to that, even though I don’t know if the math on the 25% works out.

  3. Kris,

    I just saw the IDC projections for ereaders. Based on some quick calcs it suggests ebook sales will overtake trade paper sales in 2 years.

    Here’s the report from IDC who is putting numbers on the projections of ereaders. BTW, I can’t tell if ereaders are a subcategory of tablets in their methodology or a separate category.

    QUOTE: “Looking forward, IDC expects the media tablet market to finish 2010 at nearly 17 million units, and forecasts 44.6 million will ship in 2011, with the U.S. representing nearly 40% of the total. In 2012, IDC forecasts worldwide shipments of 70.8 million units. Growth in 2011 and beyond will be driven by device vendors introducing media tablets based on Android and other operating systems, as well as price and feature competition and strong demand in both the consumer and commercial segments.

    For the ereader market, IDC anticipates 2010 to close at 10.8 million units shipped worldwide, with the U.S. representing 72.4% of global shipments. IDC forecasts 14.7 million units to ship in 2011 and 16.6 million in 2012, with demand driven by price competition among epaper-based device vendors, the introduction of color display ereaders, and the expansion of digital book and periodical content offerings across genres and languages.” END QUOTE

    Full IDC – Press Release:

    This in addition to iphones which are being used as readers as well. If we just look at ereaders, that’s 10 million people out there wanting ebooks this year, if you only count ereaders, not tablets. Projected 25 million next year. Projected 41 million the year after that. If the US stays at 70%, that means there will be roughly 29 million readers out there wanting ebooks in 2012. If those 29 million only purchase 3 books each the whole year that’s close to a billion ebook unit sales in 2012.

    Compare this to current hardcopy trade sales.

    Here’s the AAP report October 2010 sales:

    There were roughly $300 million adult hard and paperbacks sold in October. About $150 Children and YA hard and paper. That’s $450 million dollars in a month. If we assume that’s average, that’s $5.4 billion in sales in a year.

    I don’t know how many units that translates to. But it’s something much less than a billion because even paperbacks are more than $5 bucks.

    I know I’ve made assumptions about the number of books the folks with ereaders will purchase. I know there are assumptions in the IDC report. But holy smokes, does this look right? In two years ebooks are likely to sell more units than all trade print?! Doesn’t this suggest a faster demise than expected?

    1. Great links, John. Thank you.

      I have the AAP article. There’s another in November as well. The decline in hardcover has little to do with e-readers and everything to do with the latest price increase, which is over the impulse price point. If that price goes down or inflation happens, then hardcover sales will return to normal. I personally think that publishing is killing the hardcover by overcharging for it. Readers think twice, and will wait for another format or not buy the book at all. (In other words, the decline would have happened with or without e-books because of the price.)

      Also, I don’t think “demise” is the right word. Seriously. People will still want paper books. You’re assuming that people who have e-readers stop buying paper. That’s not true. In fact, e-readers promote paper sales, because people want that “keeper” book in a keeper format, and that’s the paper version. So if the reader really really likes the book, they’ll buy the paper copy to keep.

      Think of it this way: Via phones and e-reading devices, more readers will read fiction for pleasure. In the past 15 years, readers had to actively seek out books by going to a bookstore. The distribution to other places–grocery stores, department stores, etc–has pretty well shut off, so a lot of readers didn’t impulse buy. They stopped reading fiction altogether or bought used (which also required a trip to the store). Now they can download books, and so those readers are back in the fold.

      Even if heavy readers, like me, stop buying the bulk of their books in paper, the new and returning readers buying the occasional “keeper” will make up for the lost paper sales.

      The prediction is 50% print, 50% e-books. So far, gazing into my crystal ball, I think that’s pretty accurate.

      What no one is really talking about is your point: the growth in readers due to easy availability. I think that’s tremendously exciting.

    1. I’d be amazed if anyone besides Dean has read everything, Blue. There’s a lot of material, as I’m realizing working with WMG. It feels like I’m not even making a dent in the short stores, and we have about 70 or so up already.

  4. Loving this series! When I decided to get serious about my writing I figured I’d end up a midlister (based on the numbers game), then I started to hear how midlisters don’t exist anymore. Now you’ve given me hope again.

    And being one of the unpubbed, I can’t wait for the upcoming posts!

    1. Thanks, Alex. As long as I’ve been in the business, people have said that the midlist is dying. And if they knew what the midlist was, they wouldn’t say that. 🙂 It’s just always changing. Glad to have given you some hope.

    1. Much better cover, that, than the U.S. one. Yep, you missed a lot of books. They only did three of the five, I think. I’d have to check. And then there are the 2 in the Black Throne series. So as the books get reissued, you’ll have some reading to do. 🙂

  5. Thanks for all the facts & figures, Scott. You’re proving my point for established midlist writers. I think as long as you continue to write and draw attention to your work (through new work), the readers will continue. I particularly love this point that you made: “I can’t help but see large-scale serendipity in how the era aligned with my luck, meager talents, perseverance, and goals (and also grinding out books even when the agent couldn’t sell them.) When the time came, I had books. I had lumps. I had lessons.” and then mentioning that you have readers. Exactly. I’m feeling the same way.

  6. Legs. My first print novel came out in 2002 from Kensington. The Red Church sold somewhere between 30,000-40,000 copies, thanks to being an alternate selection of the Mystery Guild (I could never figure out exact Mystery Guild sales because they offered several different royalty levels and the payments were lump sums–with half going to the publisher, of course).

    It got a small second printing but soon vanished, with a total in-print life of maybe 18 months. I’d just signed my third contract with Kensington (they got me on a two-book deal right after RC release, and this third one for three books right when book two, The Harvest, came out, which also sold to Mystery Guild but not as alternate selection so it was automatically “not as good.”) And there I was with the illusion that I’d be built up as a writer over time, the entire carrot in my mind (or probably jammed into my brain via self-inflicted stupidity) was “Wow, I am going to have six books on the shelf at the same time!”

    And, yep, to my horror, The Red Church, which had a phenomenal sell-through approaching 95 percent, was sliding out of print even before the THIRD book came out, and I was on the hook for three more while my career was actively ending.

    But God in her wisdom kept me writing through it all and so I could put The Red Church up on ebook a year ago and sold more than 4,000 copies. It currently is selling 80-100 copies a day. I don’t know how long that will last but clearly it will outsell the original edition at some point and earn me more money overall.

    I, too, understand publishing a lot better now, and also I understand that I am no longer in the publishing industry. I am in the Scott Nicholson industry, and I could not be happier. Every risk, every failure, every success, every profit, every decision is mine alone. I can’t speak for anyone else but I can’t help but see large-scale serendipity in how the era aligned with my luck, meager talents, perseverance, and goals (and also grinding out books even when the agent couldn’t sell them.) When the time came, I had books. I had lumps. I had lessons. I had readers.

    “Have” readers, I mean. It somehow seems so simple I keep looking around for someone to tell me I can’t do this, or that this is illusion. In the meantime, well, the dream is not so bad at all.

    Scott Nicholson

  7. Hey, not only mid-listers but struggling low-listers feel the love too. But I have to say on Dean’s behalf that his advice is invaluable as well. His sacred cows scalpel has cut through some grand delusion. Together, you make a great team.

  8. Hah, well both my sibling and I, being in Australia wondered what the hell happened to The Fey series for example.

    Certainly, in a professional sense a writer than produces more is more useful to the reader that likes them if the stuff is all decent. More useful also in that for the average writer, the faster proponent should do better professionally – as more work is more cash, everything being equal.

    Publishers haven’t really grasped the search engine thing too well, where more content = found more.

    1. Were you reading the British version or the American one, Blue? Because there were more books in the U.S.–and there will be more in 2012. The series is coming back. The reissues start at the end of this month, electronically, and will be out in paper (which you can order in Australia) in late Feb, early March.

      Publishers’ systems date from the 19th century. The big changes in the system came in the 1970s/80s, and that’s the system most companies are still using. So by their systems, search engines don’t exist yet. 🙂

  9. As a reader, I’m in the habit of scouring used-book stores, looking for completed trilogies. That way, I avoid the disappointment you describe.
    As a writer, I hate myself (and others) for doing this, for obvious reasons–obvious from your article.
    So, with self-published ebooks, as a reader, I don’t have to use this tactic, because I know the books will always be “in print.” Or, if I do use this tactic, I’ll have an easier time, because the shelf of “used” (i.e. earlier series books) books is never missing one of the volumes.
    And, as a writer, I love this, because I can keep writing, knowing that if the stories are good, readers will eventually discover the series, and I will build up a following (as happened in my non-fiction career, which is making me a pile of money now in eBooks).
    As for the argument that self-publishing will take away chunks of my writing time—phooey! In the time I’ve wasted publishing with NYC Biggies, I could have written and self-published at least another few dozen books. And no delays, so if I excite my readers, I can get that second, third, and fourth series volumes on the “shelves” before their excitement dies down. Hooray!
    And thanks again, Kris. We mid-listers are all falling in love with you. (Don’t tell Dean.)

    1. Thanks, Jerry. I often don’t buy a series until it’s complete, which doesn’t help the writer either. But I don’t have to do that any longer.

      Your point about time, and wasted time, is excellent. It’s more fluid for readers–although they want the next book as soon as they finish the first. So electronic books helps with that as well.

      I promise. Not a word to Dean. 🙂

  10. Thanks for the post, Kris. It’s a good one, as usual. I have to keep being reminded that it takes time for e-sales to pick up, and that the important thing is to keep working on more product.

    I always look forward to Thursdays, when I know I can find a new post here!

  11. I looked at the art. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it is not what I would consider professional. There are some small proportion issues, but truly, the best way to describe it is that the characters are flat & two dimensional. By that, I mean they lack any kind of life or oomph or interest. They are the work of someone who is still mastering the technical side of illustration, not the work of a professional.

    Not all cover art is done in a realistic style; there are some very stylized cover characters that are not at all realistic but are incredibly compelling. This particular cover doesn’t meet that metric, either.

    I can see how you would be disappointed with the cover. There’s nothing about the artwork that leaps out from the cover and says, “Pick me up, touch me, wonder about the story I represent and the characters who live inside of me.” It’s just … meh.

    I’ve always wondered how the staff responsible for approving covers can let the unsuccessful attempts go out. I mean, shouldn’t they have an eye for art and design? I know there’s only so much money, but I wonder if bad art loses more money for the publishing house than good art costs? I write in romance, and I’d rather have a pretty stock painting of generic flowers on my cover (a la late 90’s/early 2000’s covers) than a poorly executed vignette that leaves the reader cold.

  12. I got my first ny contract in 2008. The advance was very small, but typical for that debut romance program with that publisher. It was a two book deal. The first book came out a year later. Then I had to write the second book. I found out the second book wouldn’t be out until 16 months after the release of the first book. I was very upset and annoyed. When I asked about recontracting, they said they would have to wait until they saw sales numbers for my second book. No way I was waiting that long. Fortunately I heard about E self publishing. In 16 months I would have only had 2 books out. Now I have 4 and another on the way.

    In the four months my first Self published book has been out, I’ve already made more than I’ve made in the two years since I signed the contract for my first NY book. It’s not much, but still, better than what I was making! And where as I spent all of my advance on promo for that NY book, I’ve spent no money on promoting my Self published book. At this point I don’t even know if I even want to send to NY anymore.

    1. A lot of writers no longer want to go to New York, Lori. I’ll be dealing with that dilemma next week. It really is a dilemma for the midlist writer.

      As for the cover, y’all, I’ve had a lot worse covers on other books. I’m just using this one as an example. What Bantam had envisioned was a full art wrap cover. They trimmed it to the figures only and then made them small.

      Artists are contracted too, just like writers, so Bantam had already spent the money and didn’t have more money to spend on a new cover. This is a problem, because they had also invested in an expensive 3 book series, and they were then looking at early sales way below expected because of the cover art. So Shawn’s comment about the fact that the book isn’t inviting is spot-on. Book covers don’t have to be accurate or pretty; they do have invite you to read the book.

      Yes, John, more product. The folks with the most product are selling the most because it creates feedback loops (if you like Story A, then you might like Story B, etc.) And thanks for the kind words!

  13. Tangential, but the cover that comes up at that link for the first book in The Fey doesn’t seem any different than the other cover or, actually, bad at all to me.

    Am I missing something or seeing the wrong cover?

    1. The cover turned out fine with the stuff they added. You need to look at the actual drawing (the figures). And make sure you look at the American version, not the UK version. The art is amateurish–hands the wrong dimension, things off. Bantam minimized it as much as possible with the spear things and putting the artwork in a little box. I think they might have done better to simply get rid of the art altogether, but that’s a 21st century solution, not a 1990s one.

    1. Yeah, it is a lot of information–and I’m already planning a post at the end of this series, looking at the changes since the series started in October!

  14. Thinking about it, I think there is actually an explanation for why publishers are doing things like taking the early books of a series out of print before the next volume ships (which always used to drive me nuts as a reader). Let me lay out a few propositions:

    1. Big Publishers live for the bestseller. as this is where they make their profits.
    2. With rare exceptions, publishers don’t have a clue as to what makes a first bestseller, but they realize that after that first bestseller the odds are much better for subsequent ones.
    3. Big Publishers make their cashflow, but not profits, really, on midlist writers, but they primarily see them as a way of screening for bestsellers.
    4. The pool of writers with midlist stories and talent is quite a bit bigger than the pool of available publishing slots at Big Publishing houses.
    5. Therefore they need to do things that cycle through the available midlist talent attempting to find, by sheer numbers, the future bestsellers they need to stay profitable.

    From this perspective, their business model forces this behavior that’s so destructive of midlist writer’s careers.

    1. Very good points, Skip. However, it would seem to me that a series should be viewed as a single entity, not as individual books. If publishers can’t view series as single entities, then they shouldn’t buy series. Which is why it’s weird to me. But you’re right. That’s how the math works. Sadly.

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