The Business Rusch: Smackdown!!!!!

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The Business Rusch: Smackdown!!!!!

Kristine Kathryn Rusch


What passes for American journalism these days loves a good smackdown, and a week ago Monday, the Journalists Who Cover Publishing got one.  On that day, some nervous publishing executives, afraid they wouldn’t get a hot deal, leaked to the press that Amanda Hocking, “darling of the indie world,” as one blog called her, was in negotiations for a million dollar book deal.  On that same day, New York Times bestseller Barry Eisler announced that he was walking away from a half-million dollar book contract with St. Martins Press to publish that book (and future books) himself.


Who was right? Who was wrong? Because in what passes for American journalism these days, there are only two sides and no shades of gray. So if Eisler is leaving traditional publishing and Hocking is courting traditional publishing, then one was right and one was wrong.

Journalists, whose jobs depend on traditional publishing (and most of whom want to be novelists if they only had the time), believed Hocking was right and Eisler was wrong.

Of course, it’s not that simple.  I analyzed Eisler’s side of the deal last week before Hocking’s deal was finalized.  In my piece, I did some speculation based on Hocking’s blog, and fortunately, my speculation was wrong.

Turns out that while I was writing  my piece and speculating incorrectly about her motivations based on her blog’s cryptic comments, Hocking and her agent had completed the auction and received a $2 million dollar deal for four books…with St. Martins Press, the company Barry Eisler had just walked away from.  This is not a coincidence, by the way.  St. Martins was able outbid competitors because it had financial room.  In addition to the loss of Eisler, St. Martins had lost a few other big names on its roster in the past year.  St. Martins had the ability to negotiate on price that other companies probably weren’t willing to do.

So…the smackdown looks pretty even: Eisler left a deal for $250,000 per book on the table, and Hocking snatched it up, getting $500,000 per book.  The indie darling has left the indie fold and Eisler joins it.  The world balances and guess who’s looking stupid now?

Um…the Journalists Who Cover Publishing, that’s who.

In their coverage, they have selectively trimmed Hocking’s quite sensible blog post, taking out the juicy bits that fit into the smackdown narrative and leaving the parts that confuse them or don’t fit into the “story” they’re trying to tell.

Here’s the key point of Hocking’s blog: She’s augmenting her indie publishing career by selling four of her nineteen finished novels to traditional publishing. Apparently the Journalists Who Cover Publishing can’t do the math, because that means that Hocking will publish 15 novels indie-style while only publishing four novels traditional style.

And that woman is smart: she’ll learn a lot from her traditional friends, which will help her indie books down the road.

Of course, this isn’t the only thing that happened in publishing this week. If I was only to discuss publishing on my website, I would have to blog damn near hourly to cover everything.  So let me put in some links you should follow, that I’m not going to comment on (much) this week before I return to discussing the smackdown and related ideas.

Here’s what crossed my desk this week.  Read these links if you want to stay informed about publishing.  I’ll try to group them.  First, the important copyright court cases.  The biggie that you’ve probably already heard about: Judge Denny Chin has rejected the Google Books settlement saying it “goes too far.”  The deal would “give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission.” There’s a lot more here. Check out various articles in all the major media.  I just linked to one.

The other copyright case: New York’s Court of Appeals ruled that publishers should file Internet copyright infringement lawsuits in the courts where their businesses are located.  In the past, publishers had to file in courts where the infringement occurred.  Here’s one link.

If you don’t understand why copyright cases are important and why you, as a person who works in publishing needs to understand them, then let me say one thing: You don’t sell stories.  You license copyright.  If you’re going “huh?” get thee a copy of the Copyright Handbook right now.  Because writers who don’t understand copyright get screwed; publishers who don’t understand it get sued.  Got that?

A couple more pieces of news:  France wants the European Union to regulate e-book prices as soon as possible.  This comes after the European Commission competition officials raided the offices of five French publishers because the officials suspected the publishers of “forming a cartel to drive up digital book prices through agency pricing.”  Believe me, if the EU regulates e-book pricing, this will have an impact around the globe.

Taiwan’s international airport has opened the world’s first airport library for e-books. Where is this all going? Beats me.  But it’s all interesting, I think.

But the  most interesting news that came out this week came from writers.  In addition to her book deal, Hocking made a film deal before she was published by New York.  Everyone is shocked, shocked!, that she could sell subsidiary rights without going through a New York publisher or an agent. (I don’t know if her agent ended up negotiating the deal, but the contact got made before she had an agent.)

Sigh.  Once upon a time, before there was such a thing as the internet, it was hard to do business without the backing of a publisher or an agent because no one could find you. Now I get e-mail daily about subsidiary rights projects.  In the past two weeks alone, I got contacted by three foreign publishers, two film producers, one theatrical producer, an audio books publisher, and a game designer.  Not one of these contacts came through my publisher or my agent.

They came through the very website you’re reading right now.  Someone hit the “contact” link here on my blog.

It’s then up to me whether or not I want to pursue these leads.  Barry Eisler mentioned in his conversation with The Daily Beast that he was uncertain what would happen with his foreign rights now that he was going indie.  (By the way, The Daily Beast piece is one of the few that actually interviewed someone on the indie side of this smackdown.)  Eisler has only worked through traditional channels on these rights.

But he’s a smart guy.  He can contact his overseas publishers directly if he wants to see if they want the next book.  He can hire a foreign rights agent if he wants. (I wouldn’t recommend it.)  He can hire a Hollywood agent/manager.  He can be proactive if he wants to.

Or he can write the next book like I do, and let interested parties come to him.  Believe me, they will.

Other writer things that happened this week: The estate of one of my favorite writers from my teenage years, Catherine Cookson, announced that 100 of Cookson’s novels will appear exclusively as e-books through Amazon.  The estate’s agent predicted that her print publishers will put up a fuss, but she said, “But at the end of the day, what can they say? They do not own the electronic publishing rights to the works.  In recent years, they have shown little interest in marketing or exploiting the Cookson brand.” [Emphasis mine.]

Cookson isn’t the first dead writer to make such an announcement.  The Ian Fleming estate (James Bond to those of you who don’t know) made a similar move a few months ago—although they didn’t give an exclusive to Amazon.

And finally, romance writer Connie Brockway announced that for her next novel, she’s “going rogue.”  Brockway, who is a household name to romance readers, says that her next novel “and very probably the next two full-length historical romance novels I write will be available solely as e-books.”

When asked why she made this decision, Brockway cited a lot of reasons, including a lowball offer from a publisher and a terrible e-rights deal.  She said she was making a financial decision. But she also said this:

“For years, I have been trying to convince a publisher to let me do sequels to As You Desire and All Through The Night. Waste of my breath.  Now, I understand from a business perspective that it doesn’t make sense to publish a book that is a sequel to one owned and still being published by another company, but let’s be honest here. There’s more to it than that.”

Before we get to the more to it, let me explain a couple of things. First, for you non-romance readers, romance sequels aren’t like fantasy trilogy books. Romance sequels generally follow the best friend or the sister or the cousin of someone in the original novel.  A romance sequel is a stand-alone book in the same world.  Got that?

Secondly, once upon a time, meaning ten years ago, publishers used to buy stand-alone sequels to books still being published by other publishers.  In fact, the new publisher loved to snatch away a book with a built-in audience.  What changed? A short explanation is that the short-sighted suits didn’t want to give their competition the chance to rejuvenate the backlist book with the promotion of the front list book.

But the real explanation is that the beancounters changed. They went from people who understood publishing to people who understand how to make a corporation look profitable in the short term.  If you use that short-term thinking, then you don’t understand how to build audience, which is what publishing is all about.  This short-term thinking is what has gotten publishing into the dilemmas it is in right now, from losing its monopoly on the book delivery system to not controlling e-books and e-rights until this year to watching its print sales decrease day by day.

Books sell by word of mouth.  If you don’t keep the product on the shelf long enough to build word of mouth, you sell fewer books.  Duh.  But the corporate beancounters, who only care about this quarter’s bottom line and not the bottom line say, five years from now, don’t understand that.

Okay. Rant over. Moving back to Brockway.

She writes, “Over the last couple of years, as print publishers have been facing numerous financial crises, it has felt like they’ve become less likely to buy a book that doesn’t fit snugly within the parameters of last month’s success and since last month’s success was dictated by the previous month’s success (and so forth and so on) there hasn’t been a lot of room left to play.  And I dearly love to play….My best books,  not necessarily my most successful books, but those that won awards and keep showing up on all-time favorites lists have always been the ones I wrote while following my instincts…”

Following your instincts. That’s what writers used to do, back when Catherine Cookson was writing her fascinating novels or when Ian Fleming decided to create some guy named Bond, James Bond.  Back when Ed McBain was jumping from publisher to publisher with his 87th Precinct series, before it became an overnight bestseller thirty years after the first book was published. Publishers weeded through the instincts to find the ones that they could publish best, but they kept books in print and they didn’t tell already successful writers that they needed to change what they were doing to keep up with the market and improve their sales.

In her long announcement, Connie Brockway asks the question that Barry Eisler asks, the question that isn’t getting asked by the Journalists Who Cover Publishing: “At a certain point, an author has to ask himself, ‘What exactly will a publisher be able to do for me?’”

All three writers and two estates asked this question.  Here are their answers:

Brockway and Eisler, longtime established pros, say that a traditional publisher can do nothing for them in the modern market.  These two writers say they can and will do better than their traditional publishers have done in recent years.

Both Brockway and Eisler are only looking at e-books, but if they learn  how to act like publishers, do catalogues for their books and establish the proper discounts like publishers do, topics that Dean will cover in his Think Like A Publisher series, then there is nothing that a traditional publisher can do that Eisler and Brockway can’t do as well.

Right now, Brockway and Eisler are betting on e-books growing fast enough to bring in readers at huge levels.  Brockway and Eisler are not alone: a Barnes & Noble executive, Marc Parrish, speaking at the GigaOm Big Data conference in New York City this week, said that given the numbers and the rapid rate of adoption, the publishing industry will soon reach a point where more readers prefer e-books to print.

Initially Parrish made news by saying at this conference that the entire business will shift to e-book dominance “in the next 24 months,” but after he got off the stage he said he “didn’t mean to put a specific timeline on the shift” which, if you really look at it, is not the statement of a guy who is eating his words. It’s just a guy making sure that 24 months from now the Journalists Who Cover Publishing won’t crucify him for being a month or two off. (If, of course, the JWCPs can remember back two years; right now they can’t remember that Amanda Hocking started from nothing one year ago.)

The Cookson and Fleming estates are making the same calculation as Eisler and Brockway. Both estates see e-publishing as the wave of the future.  Unlike Eisler and Brockway, however, both the Cookson and Fleming estates will continue with traditional publishing for the print books.

There are two reason for this.  First, both Cookson and Fleming print books are still in print (or at least, the Flemings are, and it looks like, from the various Cookson articles, at least some of her books are).  Second, both the Cookson and Fleming print publishers never licensed e-rights.  (Look at that sentence, those of you who don’t know copyright.  See how important copyright is? Buy that Handbook now!)  In the case of Cookson and Fleming, e-books did not exist when the contracts were signed, so those rights are new, exploitable rights, one the estates are wisely exploring.

Finally, Amanda Hocking.  She has an entire blog post delineating what traditional publishing can do for her.  She lists three main reasons for going to traditional publishing for these four books:

1.  Readers can’t find her books in traditional bookstores.  Hocking (like Eisler and Brockway) doesn’t understand that she actually has the power to get her books there.  It takes a few extra steps, which Dean will discuss in his blog, but it’s really easy.  It’s just hidden from folks who didn’t learn all this stuff like we did back in the 1990s with Pulphouse.  So Hocking wants her books in traditional outlets.

She writes, “I am getting an increasing number of e-mails from people who go into bookstores to buy my books…and not only does Barnes & Noble not carry my books, they can’t even order it for them.  People are requesting my books and they can’t get them.” [Emphasis mine]

2. Editing.  She wants a real copy editor.  Again, she could hire one, but she wasn’t tapped in, and the people she was hiring were awful.  (Let me speak as a reader here.  Awful.)

3.  She wants to be a brand name author like James Patterson or J.K. Rowling.  She sees traditional publishing as the way to get there.  Right now, this week, she’s right.  Traditional publishing will get her there faster than she would on her own.  But I suspect she could have done it by herself without this boost.

Her reasons are not financial.  (She talks about the money she’ll lose doing this.)  Nor are they about traditional publishing marketing her better through advertising or anything else (which is what her earlier blog post implied).  She’s talking about improving the quality of her product (not of her books, which are high quality as it is, but of the produced book itself) and of market penetration.  She doesn’t want to focus on doing the hard work of making herself a household name through distribution. She wants to write the next book.

She will continue with her indie publishing. In fact, it’ll be the dominant way she publishes.  She’s very business savvy.  She understands this.  But she’s is using traditional publishing to grow her name, get her into stores she had no idea how to reach on her own, and to learn how to improve her product.

And—smart, smart, smart—she got traditional publishing to pay her for things that the average business would pay an ad agency or a distribution company to do for them.

What Hocking is doing is what I’m doing on a smaller scale.  I am publishing two traditional books in May: City of Ruins, an sf novel under my Rusch name, and Wickedly Charming, a romantic fantasy under my Grayson name.  I didn’t get paid seven figures for those books.  Not even close. But I decided last year that I would use traditional publishing to keep my names out there in traditional markets, to help with market penetration, and to get readers I wouldn’t normally get.

In other words, I’m getting paid for work I would normally pay someone else to do.

Writers who write fast, like me or like Hocking, have this luxury.  We can lose money on some books to bring readers to our indie published books.

Writers like Eisler, who has published less than ten books in ten years, cannot afford to lose money on a book to get his books to a different readership.  He’s a slower writer.  He makes different calculations.  He even talks in that long discussion with J.A. Konrath about how writers can’t waste time on a failed book.

Slow writers can’t.  Fast writers can.  And now, we don’t have to worry about traditional publishing “killing” books.  (If you don’t know what I mean, read this one example of mine which would have been a career-killer had I been a slow writer.

We writers aren’t fighting.  This isn’t a smackdown. And savvy writers are looking toward independent publishing because that’s where (surprisingly) the money is.  It’s also where the freedom is.

Brockway said, “At a certain point, an author has to ask himself, ‘What exactly will a publisher be able to do for me?’”  But really, the way to phrase that is this:

Throughout her career, a writer has to ask herself: What exactly will a traditional publisher be able to do for me? If the answer is nothing, then the writer should indie publish.  If the answer is more complicated, like Hocking’s, then the writer needs to look to see what she will gain from the traditional publisher and what she will lose.

Now the calculation is not: Go to traditional publishing or put your book in a drawer. Now the calculation is: Figure out what serves you, your goals, and your career the best. Sometimes writers will do better in traditional publishing.  Often they won’t.

The writer must now research her decision before making it.  And then she must make the decision that is right for her.  It will be different than the decision that is right for me or Hocking or Eisler or Brockway.  We’re different writers at different stages of our careers.

We will make choices this year that we might not make next  year.  Heck, Hocking hasn’t even seen the contract yet.  She might still decide to abandon this deal.  She only knows the shape of it at the moment, not the details, and the details might make her change her mind.

The control of our work and its distribution are in the writers’ hands for the first time in my lifetime.  That’s a great thing. That’s why you’re seeing traditional publishing and the Journalists Who Cover Publishing scream about this.  They’ve lost control.  And they’re just beginning to realize they’ll never get that control back.

I may be a fast writer, but blogs like this do take time away from other, more lucrative pursuits.  If you’re getting any value out of this blog, please compensate me for my time. The more y’all support the business blog, even with a dollar or two, the more work I will continue to do.  Thanks so much.

“The Business Rusch: Smackdown!!!!!” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




44 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Smackdown!!!!!

  1. Something that I just thought of: What with the new frontier of electronic publishing yourself: Does that make short story magazines obsolete in the 21st century? (Why publish with them, giving up your audio, e and other rights for 1/2 cent a word when you can publish a short story to a Kindle yourself is the first reason that comes to mind.)

    1. Good thought, Just Passing Through, but actually the short story markets are more relevant than ever. Unlike books, the short story markets only buy rights for a limited period of time. Then the rights either revert or become non-exclusive. Meaning you get paid to go to a new audience, promote your work, and then you can put the work up yourself. (Hmmm…I feel a blog post coming on…)

  2. “[Hocking] wants to be a brand name author like James Patterson or J.K. Rowling. She sees traditional publishing as the way to get there…Her reasons are not financial. (She talks about the money she’ll lose doing this.) ”

    This sounds *exactly* like the situation I laid out in your Changing Times Part 16 post. Hocking is taking a financial hit–maybe in an absolute sense, maybe just “compared to the money she could have made”–in return for distribution, promotion, building brand awareness.

    She isn’t “going to traditional publishing”; she’s hiring an advertising consultant.

  3. To echo Christian’s first point, I’ve read a number of posts all over the place where various writers talk about how they need to get an editor to make sure their book is good. That always struck me as odd.

    Now, I’ve only been writing for three and a half months, but it seems to me your work is good or not based on what YOU do. An editor, beta reader, or whatever can only find mistakes here and there. They can’t turn a sucky story into a good one. To use a Navy term, polishing a turd won’t make it anything but a turd.

    I must be too new to this to have the proper perspective.


    1. A good editor can fine-tune, but you’re right: an editor can’t fix a crappy story. An editor can help a writer improve an already good story by pointing out some missing things or suggesting how to fix something.

      A good copy editor (which is what Amanda Hocking lacked) can find things like typos and mistaken place names. A bad copy editor can rewrite the author and ruin a book. It’s tough stuff.

      But hand onto your perspective, Michael. It’s a good one.

  4. A note about Rent, then epic long comment, that I really didn’t entend to write. oops. 🙂

    One of the best decision I made in my adult life is to buy and keep up a subscription to California Music Theater’s “Best of Broadway” series. (They recently changed the name to Broadway Sacramento for some silly reason.)

    Now, I don’t live in or near Sacramento, however I have several good friends who do. So, once every month or two, I head out there have lunch with some good friends and watch a matinee of the touring company of a broadway show. It’s awesome. Some are complete crap, (Little House on the Prairie) Some are fantastic (Spring Awakenings), Some are just nice (9to5 the musical), but I always have a good time. I would recommend checking to see if a bigger city near you has something similar, I didn’t know about “Broadway Sacramento” until my friends told me.

    Now to shoe-horn that into this conversation… Broadway should have died out years ago. Yet, there are more touring companies today than there was a decade ago. They employ more actors, singers and dancers. They have quite the “long tail” or midlist. But broadway, like film or corporate publishing, is dominated by big budget “sure things”, it’s the only thing people will fund, a proven success. There are still small plays that get started in community theater and off-off broadway and a few very successful ones make it to broadway (Next to Normal). Most make a little money, or simply don’t loose money and then quietly go away.

    Sounds a little like the publishing industry, well.. sort of. The big publishing houses only want big names or something that is part of the “current trend”, success that is assured. The midlist tends to get left in the cold. Interesting and odd genre benders get ignored because they are hard to market and who know if people REALLY want a book about fairies?

    But people do, or at least they really liked the cover art, and Hocking sold a ton of ebooks. Only ebooks, tho. All those twilight fans who have not been waiting for Meyers to write another book haven’t heard of Hocking… yet. I am talking about the bandwagon jumping fans, not the “hard core”. I personally know several, and when I asked them about Hocking, they replied “who?”. Hocking had no way to reach those people. These are the people that read a paperback in the lunch room at work. They don’t have kindle’s and most don’t even have smartphones. The only growth path for Hocking is through a traditional publisher. And here is the interesting bit….

    We will all benefit from her publishing contract. She will get a big marketing push from St. Martins. They kinda have to, they spent 2 million on her. People will read the books and probably like them. Some will look for her other work and ‘lo and behold they are all ebooks. So some of these new fans will get a kindle or nook for their birthday and the market for ebooks will grow. They will buy Hocking backlist and future self published books as ebooks. They have this new toy, and want to fill it with content. So they will start looking for other books, stuff they can’t get on the racks at the supermarket. Then the next Hocking-like author won’t have to get the big publishing contract to find all those fans, they already have kindles.

    So it’s entirely possible, that by Hocking “going traditional” she will actually end paper books, and maybe even big publishing as well. I honestly don’t think they will go away, youtube didn’t end NBC, Sundance didn’t end Paramount, and Next to Normal will play beside Spiderman:Turn off the Dark when it re-opens.

    Whew, that was… epic and probably misguided, but certainly fun.

    1. I don’t think it was misguided, Christian. I agree completely and have been saying variations on just that all the time. That’s exactly right. I hadn’t thought of the Broadway example (and I should have–Major Theater Geek here) but you’ve got it, imho.

  5. IMHO, one of the most significant shifts in publishing, and here I include all “print” media, happened this week. The New York Times, which I believe at one time (maybe still does) owned its own forests to support its paper needs, began paid subscription for its electronic edition.
    They’ve taken a page out of the ebook marketing formula–low introductory pricing and sampling. The casual reader can read 20 pages a month for free, but if you’re hooked on the Times, you’re going to have to pay for content. It’s a gamble I think the Times will win and other newspapers/print news media, if they are to remain viable, will have to follow suit.
    I don’t think this would have happened before the arrival of the iPad and all the other tablets following in its wake. The large format Kindle had it almost right. Future tablets will no doubt get it even better.
    This is truly a revolution driven by technology, much as the first one that started with a man named Gutenberg.
    I don’t claim to know the end point here for authors, and as a calligrapher myself, I will mourn the demise of mainstream paper and ink, but I wouldn’t want to get stuck with all my investment in a stock of parchment and quill pens.

    1. I’ll be watching the Times with interest too, Mary. They’re in financial trouble, and they can’t figure out how to fix it. The Washington Post is doing better, but they’re a more diverse company. It’ll be an interesting thing to watch. Btw, I love your point about parchment & quill pens. 🙂

  6. Yeah, I know, Kris. She’s in the traditional model with an agent and doesn’t wish to consider anything outside the traditional model so she minimizes e-books as often as she can. I think those numbers are very significant, and only the tip of the iceberg, given this is all so new.

    Re: apples and oranges. I’ll try to be clearer (no guarantees). What I mean is (and you alluded to it somewhat) the pricing, distribution, different print options (hard back vs trade paper etc) and the royalty structures under the traditional publishing model are too different from the self pub e-book to make a straight across the board comparison. But plugging the numbers into that chart on Barry and Amanda’s interview (using e-books published only) the brit author pubbed by a traditional publisher using the 45k number will gross the writer $43K. Under the self pub model the UK writer is grossing $121K per month. I believe Barry, Joe, you and Dean (and many others joining the self pub ranks every day) are on to something for the long term success of writers.

  7. A note about “Editors”. I don’t think anyone is saying that creative professionals don’t need someone to act as a sanity check. Kris has Dean (and vice versa), I am sure Barry, JA etc. have someone. Typically though they don’t call it an “Editor”, they call it a first trusted reader, or best reader or beta reader, or “honey”. Some times it’s a paid professional, sometimes it’s a spouse, but there is someone to say “is this what you meant” or “you changed this character’s name in chapter 5, did you do that on purpose?” or even “Did you know your spell check doesn’t catch ‘frist’?”.

    Creative professionals are, oddly enough, human. A funny example: A while back I was able to see Rent, the musical, with the original two leads. During Tango: Maureen, Anthony Rapp flubbed a lyric. He noticed, the audience noticed, but no one cared really. It happens. He was human. Realize he had preformed that song for over a decade, yet he still made a mistake. My point is that it can happen to anyone, and it was a funny flub involving pronoun gender.

    The problem I have with the current obsession with having an editor is the way it’s stated. It’s as if “having an editor” is some kind of Dumbo’s feather, it will make you a good writer, or at least not a bad one. Also there is more than a hint of a pejorative tone, “well, obviously YOU need an editor, you bad terrible writer, you.” It’s usually followed by a rant about the amount of “crap” or “slush” in self publishing these days, a “deluge” even. Sounds like some sort of medical issue.

    OK, there’s my thought for this morning. Again many thanks for the wonderful articles/essays.

    1. Christian! Another Rent fan! Yay! (Wish I had seen the original cast live. )

      You’re exactly right, though. Writers–pro writers–make mistakes, and not just copy editing mistakes. But they might forget to add the murder weapon in the beginning of a mystery, leave off the three climactic chapters because they’re “implied,” or write the book out of order (ahem). The key is not just to have a good editor, but one you’ll listen to if the editor has to tell you something tough…like “I thought this was a romance? It’s got a great suspense plot, but no romance at all. You better fix that.”

  8. Another great post, Kris. I have been reading all those posts and your analysis is deaden the money. (yes, pun intended)

    An argument presented to me, after I pointed out to someone a British thriller author who has a number of e-books self pubbed and is selling 45,000 copies per month, is he is only getting 27% of the market with e-books only. I just don’t see it as that simple.

    In traditional publishing he may have sold 45,000 print books a month, but I have a hard time believing that since he wasn’t a bestseller before he got noticed on the UK Kindle lists. (Regardless of format I’d say he’s doing very well)

    I find the whole argument as trying to compare apples and oranges. What do you think?

    1. Russ, I’m not sure e-books are 27% of the market yet. So he’s going to even less at the moment. But 45,000? Is that UK only? If so, he’s a major, major bestseller. Most folks don’t know this, but most U.S. bestsellers never sell that many copies per month, especially in hardcover. In paperback, the U.S. bestseller may sell that many in the first 3 or 4 months, and then the number will go down, because of shelf-space issues, etc.

      What is amazing me about the e-numbers is that they’ll often remain that high much longer than paper copies ever would. I think that’s easy of availability and word of mouth. I can’t always find the books I want, even bestsellers, months after release without going to Amazon or another online source. I think that’s true of other readers as well.

      I’m not sure it’s apples & oranges, Russ. I just wonder why your friend minimizes such incredible sales numbers as “only” e-book numbers, as if those 45,000 readers are worth less. Weird.

  9. I like how it’s still called indie publishing, like Tor and Random House and the others are implied to be Britain, France and Spain and all the self publishers are the Colonies.

    (Of course, if you were to go with the above scenario, then you would have to say that you, ma’am, and Dean Wesley Smith would be Thomas Paine. It’s true. No suck up. I’ve read a lot of articles and books out there (and talked to a fair share of professional writers through email) about the career of being a professional writer and none of them talk about what you and your husband talk about IE You can do it yourself and do it your way and succeed).

    Thanks for your time, ma’am- if I ever become a professional writer I owe you a Coke.

    1. Thanks, Just Passing Through. Tom Paine, huh? I hope to write classics like he did that last forever, but I really don’t want to write them in jail….:-) I do appreciate the compliment.

  10. Kris, you’re absolutely right about the hit and miss nature of “big publishing” editors. I brought that up merely to counteract the myth those editors are the ultimate arbiters of “good and bad” in writing, even from a business point of view. This myth in turn is the basis of the myth that “I’m not a real writer if I don’t publish my work through the filters imposed by these editors.”

    This, in turn, is the source of the myth that indie publishing must be “bad”—not having passed the filters of these “perfect” judges. (Moreover, these myths are supported by the myth that your college teachers are also such “perfect” judges.)

    Unfortunately, these myths are going to keep many fine writers from “going indie,” but they are not going to keep all readers from avoiding “indie books.”

    1. Very good point, Jerry. I think we all have those places of myth inside of us, and we have to figure out what they are before we let them stop us. I don’t know what I would have done if I started writing this year. My father was a professor; I was raised in the literary world where The New York Times was God and I was ashamed of my romance reading habit. I think it might have been much harder for me to start in this environment because of the changes. But I don’t know. I’m glad I’m here now, with a backlist and more projects than I can complete in a year.

      I do love the fact that no one knows what I’m reading on my Kindle. I can and do read everything, but now no one comments on the book in my hand. Just the device. 🙂

  11. Kris, thanks for another great post. Overall, agreed, with just a few small clarifications.

    First, I wouldn’t say that legacy publishers can do nothing for me. They can — just not as cost effectively as I can do it for myself. I think that’s the question authors should ask: “Is what I’m paying them by not going indie worth it? Or overall, am I better off on my own?”

    Second, all my books are still in print and still available in paper, and I plan on making The Detachment and my future works available in paper, too. Why wouldn’t I? Lots of people like paper. As a person acting as his own publisher, I just like digital better because digital margins are better than paper margins. But that doesn’t make it either/or for me.

    Finally, if I could do it over again, I’d have issued a press release — not because I would have expected it to help much, but because it couldn’t hurt. But overall, Joe’s and my method seems to have accomplished our objectives, and then some. Plus not all the results are in yet…

    1. Thanks, Barry. Welcome.

      I love your question, and have asked it in previous posts. I think it really clarifies things for writers to examine what they’re doing, what the costs are and what the benefits are per project.

      Like you, I’m putting my books in both digital and in print. I’m more of a perfectionist on the print versions–probably from my publishing experience–so that’s taking a bit longer, but I like both versions. I love the easy accessibility of digital and the permanence of print.

      I agree on the press release. I think it would have boiled down the points for the folks who can’t be bothered to read anything over five pages. But your method brought much needed attention to this change going on for writers. Well done. I hope your books do better than you expect. (I have a hunch they will.)

  12. Kris,

    You make a great point in that research is a dying art in journalism. But too many people outside the industry depend on electronic communication, when a lot of reporters these days are still working the phones most of the time.

    As an example, when I get an assignment from the network, they never, ever, send an email or text. I get an old fashioned phone call because they need to know I’ve gotten the message. Right. Now. When you want to make absolutely sure someone gets the message you call. Posting something online or sending an email or tweet assumes the people you want to reach will read it in a certain timeframe.

    My advice to anyone sending an important release or trying to break a big story is to pick up the phone, call, and let the media people know you have a big story or are about to send a release.

    1. Really great point, Randy, and one I hope a lot of folks will remember when they need to contact someone to get the word out. Thanks!

      Honestly, I don’t blame them wanting to know you have gotten the assignment. The other thing about the rise of electronic communication: most people never respond when they get an important e-mail. Apparently they assume you know they’ve gotten it. E-mail goes awry, just like regular mail does, just like anything, really. Always better to know. (I just ask people to let me know, and when you remind them in the original e-mail, they do.)

  13. Wonderful essay, Kris. Be careful, though, about giving those old-time (10 years ago) “big” publishers too much credit for knowing the publishing business. Some of them did, sure, but many were just grunts put there by their corporate bosses.

    We’ve all heard stories of how some of the great-selling books were turned down by 103 publishers before they finally got a chance and hit the big, big time. Here’s my own little piece of evidence: Out of my first 40 published books, only four were ever turned down by even a single publisher. And, those four are my four best-selling books among the 40, each of them having sold more than 250,000 copies.

    That’s the kind of thing that convinced me to stay away from the corporate publishers as soon as I had the opportunity, and also never to give away (that’s what they always wanted, a giveaway) subsidiary rights. So, now I have all my rights to do with as I wish, and I’m busy putting those books up as ebooks—and making piles of money.

    So far, the journalists have been way too optimistic about the survival of those traditional publishers, and I predict they will disappear faster than any of them are predicting now. If some of them do survive, it will be in name only—while their business will have completely changed.

    So, keep up the fine work, Kris. You and Dean are the only journalists I find listening to.

    1. I didn’t say they knew what they were doing, Jerry. But the publishing houses knew the value of word of mouth and of growing a series. Ten years ago, no company would have abandoned a series that had growth, even if it was less than one percent. Now they regularly abandon series because the growth isn’t 20% per book. Unheard of in the entire history of publishing until five years ago–and now it’s the norm. Headshakingly stupid.

      Did they miss good books? All the time. But publishing is and has always been a guess. Did they guess they could sell enough copies of your books to earn back the 200-500K they had put into them? Nope. And they guessed wrong. Just like they guessed wrong on the books that didn’t earn that back, the books they did publish. That’s always been a problem in the industry.

      I disagree that it will go away; agree that we won’t recognize its structure in ten years. The music studios (everyone’s favorite example of failure) haven’t gone away, but their business model has changed dramatically since the appearance of the mp3.

  14. Kris,

    I have no idea what the press releases from these authors looked like, but if the story was ignored by the mainstream press, it might be that the right people weren’t contacted… or the story wasn’t presented in the right way.

    Had I known about this stuff before it broke I would have been on the phone to my network supervisors in New York pitching the story. I can picture a network anchor reading something like this:

    “Why would an author turn down a guaranteed half million dollars from a publisher in the middle of a recession? The answer has nothing to do with writing, but technology.

    Electronic publishing is making it easier for readers to buy books… and for authors to make more money publishing those books themselves.”

    In my 25 plus years in TV news, I have done a whopping three, count ’em, three stories on authors. That might be because we rarely, if ever, get press releases from publishers or authors.

    News about publishing doesn’t have to be relegated to the print media. A good story is a good story, and electronic media can’t cover something if we don’t know about it.

    1. Good point, Randy. Eisler & Konrath should have contacted the major media outlets themselves. But considering how writers get treated by the major media–like someone stepped in crap–I don’t blame them for not doing so. Heck, I used to work in the media, and I gave up contacting all the major outlets.

      Let me also say that…um…I know major media people read my blog and read Konrath’s and follow us on Twitter. Which means that the folks who work in the electronic media do know about this stuff. So…um…why not do the story? The first contact doesn’t have to come from the author or the NY publisher or an outside person. The first contact can come from…um…research…

  15. Kris,
    Excellent post, as always.

    The question “What can a traditional publisher do for you?” raises a question for me, which is; Are you and others seeing a difference in what NY’s (I know you hate this) Big 6 are offering first-time and/or midlist authors in terms of contracts, royalties, pricing/duration of e-rights retention, etc. and what small presses are able/willing to offer? In another word, can an author get a better deal working through a smaller press these days than with the Big 6?

    It seems to me small presses, without the massive overhead and other issues of the “Big 6” might be in a position to offer authors better terms and possibly better advances/royalty rates, etc. while giving the writer the book penetration NY can give them.

    I understand, there is the option for indie-authors to do this themselves with POD, but that raises its own question of how much do you/should you do yourself and how much you are better off having day-laborers do (for a flat-fee of course)so you can concentrate on writing.

    I’m just curious if this might be a way for the small press, who have the flexiblity to change, and maybe lower costs, to give authors the few advantages a traditional publisher can still offer, without the author paying too dearly for the service.

    Your insight, as always, will be greatly appreciated,
    David DeLee

    1. David, I think pubbing with small and specialty presses would have to depend entirely on the contract. You don’t get the market penetration of traditional publishers, but you do get to have your book/story in front of readers you might not find. So if the rights sales are limited and if you can get your e-rights back within a year or two and if and if and if, you’ll do fine. But if the small/specialty publisher is offering a traditional NY contract, don’t bother, imho.

  16. Thank you for this post, Kris. Your posts just keep getting better and better.
    It really is a great time to be a writer. Well, it’s always been great to be a writer, but what is great now is that there are more opportunities as a writer. I think a blend of traditional and indie publishing is best, but if others want to go solely one way or the other that’s up to them. When things become more free in any area it seems there are always some folks obsessed with order and tradition running around frantically trying to build fences before it all gets out of control. But this great new world of publishing looks like a tsunami – impossible to stop.
    Many say that the new freedom of indie publishing will inundate the market with a flood of garbage, but it could very well be that the opposite will be the case. Many writers who were not able to find publishing homes for their unorthodox, quirky, and radical work will finally be able to get it out there – word will spread – and we will see classics of literature rising to the surface of the flood. What we see now, these few that are blazing the trails, is only the beginning. I’m glad to be swept up in it all.

  17. It’s funny. I hear these same arguments all the time in the tech industry. The internet broke many old business models, it’s pretty surprising that it took so long to make it to fiction publishing. Ten to Fifteen years ago my prediction was a complete publishing apocalypse as web pages replaced paper. Now writers seem to be weathering the digital shift more skillfully than other creative types, or maybe I am just reading about the smart ones. 🙂

    I have purchased many self published authors without realizing they were self published and several I thought were self published that were actually published through a “digital first” house. The “publishing status” of an author will only be discussed if it’s interesting or as a straw man argument. Cross pollination will confuse the issue to the point where people won’t be able to tell, so long as the product LOOKS professional.

    Finally one “well actually”. “The four books” bought by St. Martin’s are not part of the “nineteen novels” Hocking speaks of. I think only one has actually been written. So she still has 19 novels to self publish (she has said some of them will never see the light of day).

    1. Good point, Christian. She has said now that she will have 19-24 books that she can put up by the time the last St. Martins book is out, which means she’ll be writing more. 🙂 And you’re right about buying self-published books. I often look to see who published someone, and sometimes the ones I thought were self-pubbed were from big publishers who still can’t seem to get e-format right, and others were from the authors themselves…I think. I can’t tell. So I’ve given up trying.

      John, I love your attitude. It’s exactly right, and if I remember your comment next week (I’m teaching this week and finishing 3 other deadlines), I’ll talk about that. It’s an excellent point.

  18. Another great post.

    I’ve said this elsewhere, but I think both Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking are making smart moves for where they’re coming from, where they are now, and where they’re headed. I applaud them both.

    As for the announcement from Connie Brockway, I’ve noticed a lot of bestselling writers moving to a hybrid model of traditional and indie publishing. The pattern seems to be that these writers first move their reverted backlist onto ereaders, then get so excited by the results that they start publishing new work indie-only, even while fulfilling their existing NY contracts.

    I do a lot of author interviews on my blog, and lately I’ve been approached by a number of well-known writers I’ve either read or have heard of who are adding self-published work to their portfolio.

    Yesterday, for example, I posted an interview with successful science fiction author Jeffrey A. Carver, who is actively putting up his backlist.

    He says, “For all but the most successful writers, backlist is dying in traditional publishing. Also, all indications were that there was more room for actually earning decent money from my books if I repubbed them myself—not just on Kindle, but also Nook, and several other stores via Smashwords. Those indications were correct. This is proving to be a more profitable model—at least for me, right now, with backlist books.”

    I don’t read romance novels, and I’d never heard of Connie Brockway before this week, but I have an upcoming interview with a bestselling romance author whose name I DO recognize because I’ve seen her books on a lot of supermarket shelves over the years. She’s putting her reverted backlist on Kindle and other ereaders—and I know a lot of romance authors are doing the same.

    From my little corner of the web, where I discuss this stuff with indie authors every day, I see one of the big publishing stories this year being the massive move of midlist authors to self-publishing.


    1. I agree, David. It is one of the big, if not the biggest, publishing stories of the year. And pretty well ignored by the mainstream press. Ah, well. The readers will–well, have–figured it out. They get the books they want, and are quite happy about it.

      It’s a fun time to be a writer. 🙂

  19. Just pointing out one thing. Hocking did have an agent before she started negotiations with SMP, she says so on her website in her blogpost “Some things that need to be said.” I think she mentions it long before that as well. I did wonder why she had one when she was an indie publisher, but now it’s obvious. She was shopping major publishers. Duh! Very exciting times.

    1. Amanda, my point wasn’t that she lacked an agent. It was that she lacked an agent when the film people contacted her. They contacted her directly, not through any agent. Whoever negotiated and how that was done isn’t the issue. The issue is that film people read her indie published book, and contacted her directly. Writers seem to think that’s unusual. It’s no longer unusual.

      Of course she had an agent before she sold to SMP. She had one the moment she decided to go traditional, and then had him shop the books. That’s all. In that agent part of my post, I was talking about subsidiary rights, not the SMP deal. (If you don’t know what subsidiary rights are…um…Copyright Handbook…)

  20. Thank you, THANK YOU for this post!

    I believe that the distinction between NY published and indy published writers will become virtually meaningless in short order. I know many NY published writers venturing into self epub and loving it, and just as many successful indy writers who don’t need the NY stamp to find an audience. No matter the distribution system, all of us are writers.

    And the key for all of us as writers is to ask *exactly* what you highlight in this post — what is the right decision for me, at this time, for my writing career. It doesn’t matter what other people choose. There’s no absolute right or wrong answer. We just need to keep our eyes open, use good sense, and evaluate the risks and benefits for each project.

    Your posts are clear headed and wonderful. Thanks again 🙂

  21. Something that I am wondering (well, sort of wondering more than full on wondering) is if the next step (possibly battle) for the new indie publishing/eBooks authors (meaning those who have not been published before: New to the game, the new kid on the block, the rookie, the whole enchilada) will be with the readers.

    Recently I’ve looked at various science fiction websites and other places where fandom gathers and I’ve seen comments that tend to be rather snippy towards self published authors. Most bring up the no editor thing, and some bring up things like: Well, if it was really good they wouldn’t have to be publishing it themselves.

    Seems like it would be funny (not in a ha-ha way but a that’s a shame way) if the major battle facing the indies ends up not being the publishers but the readers. It seems as a species we are not always keen to try new things.

    Thanks for forum ma’am.

    1. Just Passing Through, readers have always had opinions–strong ones–about what they read. They express those opinions with their dollars. And then they discuss things on forums. If you as an indie published writer have a professional product and a company name that’s different from yours, there’s no way the reader is going to know that you’re an indie published writer. Do you all know all the imprints of all the major publishing houses? Me either, because they change year to year. Readers don’t know either. So unless you trumpet that you’re indie publishing or you put out a truly inferior product, no one will know. The fact that readers know (and care) is a momentary blip and will change over time. They just want stories. Good ones. If you’re writing good stories, readers will buy them. Bottom line.

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