The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 1999

Business Rusch free nonfiction On Writing


The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 1999

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

When change hits in the arts, it hits hard.  Tonight, I was reading an article in the April Vanity Fair about the movie All The President’s Men. The last two paragraphs of the article discuss how, in 1975, Sidney Sheinberg at MCA came up with a new way to release movies.  Once upon a time, folks, movies released slowly, one or two theaters at a time, and worked their way across the country.  It meant that the studio had to make fewer copies of the film, and that movies could become “sleepers”—films that actually built word of mouth over time.

Sheinberg decided to amortize costs by sending hundreds of prints of the film to theaters all over the country, and to run a nationwide advertising campaign at the same time.  The movie he chose to do this with? Jaws.

That little idea changed the way movies got marketed—and did so damn near overnight.  All the President’s Men got released just after Jaws, while this system was still in flux.

Jaws was a good, populist movie,” Robert Redford, star of All the President’s Men, said. “But it became the flagship for a campaign that overtook American movies.  It became a slick package, advertising-directed, about selling popcorn and product placement. I thought the timing of All the President’s Men very fortunate, because it was a very honest and unpolluted film.  I’m not sure if we could have managed it in its purity a decade or two later.”

Over the years, Redford has fascinated me because he has always had one foot in the business world even as he built his artistic career.  He started the Sundance Film Festival when it became clear that the smaller films—which All the President’s Men was—had no shot in the changing market.  The festival helped give films like that, films that didn’t have the benefit of timing, a shot.

Why am I talking about movies here? Because I want you to see the rapidity of change in that industry.  A marketing and business decision that was quite wise from a studio’s point of view ended up having a major impact on the kinds of films that got produced, distributed, and sold to film audiences.  Say what you will about the auteurs in the 1970s, most of them wouldn’t have had a chance had they started in the 1990s.  And it had nothing to do with their talent.

It had to do with the way the business had changed.

The publishing industry is going through the exact same kind of rapid change.  It’s extremely fast—so fast that I mentioned in a blog a few weeks ago that I now give out different advice to newer writers than I would have given them just months before.

Writers have to learn business and they have to learn the new business.  If they don’t, they’ll go by the wayside quickly.

I’m worried about this, so worried I’ve mentioned it several times in this blog.  And I’ve been worried that my friends and fellow established writers aren’t moving with me.  Here’s why:

Over the last month, it has become increasingly clear to me that the publishing industry is making changes that emulate the music industry.  Those of us who exist on the periphery of the music industry have heard for years that new artists and even established ones can’t make money in the traditional music industry.

I didn’t understand that until I read Jacob Slichter’s So You Wanna Be A Rock ’N Roll Star several years ago.  He wrote about a system in which a musician who signed a deal with a major record label could end up owing the label tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.  He delineated it all out in a long book that showed just how the label ended up taking a naïve artist and putting him into debt.

Slichter said this was why so many rock bands disbanded—because the band itself was a legal entity and as a legal entity it was in hock to the studio. The only way the musicians could continue to perform and try to earn money from their music was to create a new legal entity and abandon the old one.  Otherwise, they were working in a kind of indentured servitude.

Think this is just sour grapes from one musician who didn’t make it big?  Look at a link that a reader from last week gave me.  It’s from a magazine I’ve never heard of called Maximum Rock ’n’ Roll and was written by rock producer named Steve Albini.  I’m not so sure how dodgy this website is that I’m sending you to—I don’t know if they violated Mr. Albini’s copyright by reproducing this piece.  I’m going to trust that they didn’t, because y’all need to see these numbers.

For those of you who can’t be bothered to check the link, Albini lays out the line-by-line “costs” that the musicians agreed to when they signed their record deal.  The musicians received a $250,000 advance.  But by the time the album got released and the tour was completed, the advance was gone—and the musicians owed the record label $14,000.

You’re understanding me right.  The “standard” contractually negotiated costs that the musicians agreed would come out of their pockets came to $264,000.  The only way for the artists to recoup that loss was to sign a new deal with the label, often at lesser terms.  If the label even wanted to sign them.  (That part is courtesy of Slichter)

How much did the label earn—with the same costs deducted?

$710,000.  In 1990s dollars.

Albini also lists how much each “player” made.  He includes a producer ($90,000), a manager ($51,000), an agent, ($7500) and a lawyer ($12,000).

He writes, “The band is now ¼ of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 in royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month.  The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they spend more time and money on it. Since the previous one never ‘recouped,’ the band will have no leverage and will oblige.”

When I read Slichter’s book, I thought, “Thank God publishing hasn’t figured out how to do this to writers.”

Well, folks, guess what.  It’s 2011.  Publishing has figured it out.

Just this afternoon, as I looked over  yet another contract addendum for a friend—this addendum sent by a big-name agent who didn’t even bother to check the addendum against the original contract terms—I saw the agency rider added into my friend’s contract.  The agency rider—the thing that says the writer authorizes the publishing house to negotiate with and pay the agent in the writer’s name—was awful.  My friend had edited it down to something similar to what was offered ten years ago, but I know dozens of writers who probably never did.

I dealt with some of this last week in my blog post and my husband Dean Wesley Smith has a post on something similar that you absolutely must read.

But we both know that most writers won’t listen to us.  And it has us both scared for our industry.  Writers are signing away their rights, just like the musicians listed above did, because these writers aren’t savvy enough to understand industry change and how it impacts art.  (Like Redford mentioned in that above quote.)

Once upon a time, publishing was a monopoly.  I’ve used this chart before.  From about 1920 to about 2006, this is how publishing worked:

Writers provide content (product) to Publishers.

Publishers distribute that content to Distributors.

Distributors distribute books to Bookstores.

Bookstores distribute that content to Readers.

Now, however, writers can do this:

Writers provide content (product) to Bookstores

Bookstores distribute that content to Readers

The middleman is no longer necessary.

Many writers find this scary.  They don’t understand that they are—and always have been—in business.  So they don’t act like business owners.

Business owners invest capital up front to start a business.  They recoup that investment over time, and eventually earn money from that investment.

When publishers started paying advances, they—in effect—told writers not to bother their pretty little heads with business.  “Write,” the publishers said.  “We’ll take care of your bills while you finish that book.”

Writers got used to this.  Writers forgot that they had to take risks of their own like other small business owners.  And right now, that attitude is biting writers in the ass—and most of them don’t even realize it.

As I have written these blog posts all year, I’ve gotten e-mails and private comments from long-time professional writer friends which, in effect, say things like, “We need agents. We can’t market our books otherwise.”


“Publishers are the only ones who can get us into national bookstore chains.”


“I have no way to reach foreign markets/Hollywood/the gaming industry without my agent.”

And you know what? Ten years ago, that was all true.

Publishers had a monopoly on distribution.  Unless a writer became a full-fledged publisher, invested tens of thousands of dollars on a single book, and knew how to work the system, the writer could not get his book into a bookstore.  How do I know this? I owned a publishing company twenty years ago.  I know how hard it used to be.  I remember the footwork Dean used to do to get one bookstore, two, five, or ten on board.  It was labor-intensive.  He courted distributors for years, before one took on our company.

It’s not that way any more.  Now, I can reach you with this blog.  I can take the novel I finished on Monday, pay a savvy editor to go over the book, pay a copy editor to make sure I don’t change my main character’s name midway through, pay a cover designer to make me a lovely cover—all for a flat fee—and put the book up in two major national bookstores by the end of the week. One of those bookstores has sister stores in the U.K. and Germany.

Of course, this is an e-book.  Putting up an e-book is spectacularly easy—and suddenly  you have a worldwide market.  If you’re willing to go to other distributors, you can have your book in more than 20 major national bookstores within two weeks.

If I spend about $50 on CreateSpace and add a small fee for my cover designer to design a  wrap-around (front and back) cover, I can have a trade paper edition of my book that will be listed in the catalogues of major distributors.  I don’t have to do anything else.  I don’t have to court those people for years, like Dean did twenty years ago.

And if I’m really willing to put myself out by designing a small catalogue of my work, I can send that to independent booksellers, give them a discount, and have CreateSpace produce and send them the paper books.

And suddenly, I am a publisher—with as great an ability to reach the consumer as any of the so-called Big Six publishers.  In fact, I can reach more readers because I control all of the rights, and I can opt to go into overseas markets that they can’t penetrate.

The monopoly isn’t just broken.  It’s shattered.

Most writers don’t realize that.  Most don’t want to do the “work” because they don’t know how little work they have to do.

What, really, must they do? They must pay someone up front instead of letting that person take a percentage of the work in perpetuity.  See Dean’s post on this.  Please.  See Dean’s post.

So let’s discuss agents, because that too is important.

Once upon a time, I had an agent.  Hell, I’ve had a lot of agents.  And I needed them.

Every writer did.

In the days before the internet, before the ubiquity of e-mail, before instant messaging and Skype, agents had a purpose.  Writers hired agents for their connections.  Agents got books in the door with a reluctant publisher.  Agents found partner agents overseas.  Agents got into Hollywood studios.

And writers paid the agent for those connections.  Writers, essentially, needed an agent to open all the closed and locked doors.

Some writers, salespeople all, did the work themselves. They booked a trip to New York, managed to get into the editor’s offices, and got their work looked at.

But those writers were rare.

Then the internet came along.  And web pages. And e-mail.

The doors became open.  All that secret information that agents got—which editor was buying what, who edits for the biggest publishing house in France, what’s the  name of the literary scout for such-n-so studio—could be Googled.

What’s more, if you had a successful book or hell, even a midlist book on a hot topic (say, vampires), then the foreign editors and the Hollywood scouts came looking for you.

On the internet.

Through your e-mail.

I get letters all the time from interested foreign publishers, and from movie people.  I just closed an option deal last week with an independent producer who found me through this very website.

And that is not unusual.

It’s now a myth, an old and tired myth, that you need agents to open these doors.  In fact, agents will often close the doors by believing that if some young producer is interested in Property A, then the agent can leverage that interest with a studio so that the studio will pay big money for Property A.  I’ve had agents promise that kind of thing all the time, and it has never panned out.

But since I stopped using agents on my Hollywood nibbles—guess what? I have Hollywood deals.  When I was agented, I only had one option in twenty years.

Now I have options running all the time.

Because of access.

And because I’m making my own decision. And because I do worry my formerly pretty little head about these things.

Most of my colleagues do not realize that the industry has changed, that everything they learned when they were starting out no longer applies.  They don’t realize that the business part of their industry has changed dramatically, that the deals they’re signing, the people they’re working with, would fit just as easily into the music industry of the 1990s.

Here’s the flat truth of it, my friends: If you are a midlist writer and you sign a traditional publishing contract with most modern terms, and you do so with an agent—and not an IP attorney—negotiating for you, you will not make any more than your advance on that book.  And the advance is not enough to  live on.  You will not be able to reserve e-book rights to you.  Those rights will be a percentage of net, which in most contracts is undefined.  And you will have to sell world rights so that the publishing industry can adequately exercise those e-book rights, making any money you would receive on foreign rights vanish.

If you have what I’m now beginning to believe is the standard agency rider in your contract, you will also lose a percentage of any auxiliary rights sale to that agent even if you fired that agent in the meantime and someone else negotiated the deal.  Plus that agent will be entitled to a percentage of any work you write using that series, those characters, that world, or anything resembling that.

There is a line item in Albini’s article at the end.  Someone else made money on that album deal.  It was the previous label ($50,000).  Change the word “label” to “agent” and you start to see the scope of the problem here.

If you are a New York Times bestselling author, and you sign a traditional publishing contract with most modern terms, and you do so with an agent—and not an IP attorney—negotiating for you, lucky you.  You have the chance and I mean chance of earning more than your  advance.  You better be a top-ten New York Times bestseller and you better stay on the list for longer than one week.  Because all the things I said above will apply.

The only difference? You’ll get a sizeable six-figure advance, and if you’re smart, you’ll write at least two books per year.  Until the opportunities dwindle, and they will.

Do you know how many former New York Times bestsellers I’m friends with? Do you know how many of them can’t get a traditional publishing deal for more than a five-figure advance?

Most of them.

If they’re offered a deal at all.

Folks, all of the things you learned about agents, editors, and book publishers used to be true.

Ten years ago, you needed an agent to open the doors for you in traditional publishing.

Ten years ago, your editor—who loved books (and still loves books)—could go to bat for you within the publishing house and actually win the fight, protecting you, her author.

Ten years ago, traditional publishing—while not a friendly industry (I don’t think there are any)—did not screw its artists the way that the music industry and Hollywood did.

Ten years ago.

Not any more.

Things have changed so rapidly that the contract I signed last September is not a contract I would sign today.  Not because of the advance or even because of some of the contract terms. But because it’s a multi-book contract.  And honestly, y’all, I want to decide from book to book if I want a traditional publishing company to handle everything.

Sometimes I will. Sometimes I’ll use a novel as a loss leader. Sometimes I will want the traditional publishing house to take all of the risk.


But not all the time.

And certainly not for multiple books in the same series.  Now, if that series isn’t being well handled by my publisher, I want the option to do it myself.  If the book is being well handled, I want to ask for a greater advance and better contract terms.

I have clout for the first time in my lovely little midlist career.  I plan to use it.

Most of my friends and colleagues will slowly discover that they can no longer make a living as a writer. They’ll wonder what happened. They’ll wake up one day—after their latest multi-book contract is complete—and wonder what the hell happened.

They changed industries.  They moved from a hidebound old-fashioned industry to a Hollywood-level shark pit—and they didn’t even realize it happened.

It is happening as quickly, if not more quickly, than Robert Redford described with All the President’s Men.  Redford, savvy business man that he is, saw the writing on the wall and decided to help save the kind of movies that he loved.

I am trying to save writers whose work I love. The only way to do that is to get them to realize that they have moved to a hostile and unforgiving world, one that is willing—no, eager—to take advantage of them.

The agents that they once trusted now answer to their agencies instead of to the writer.  Those agencies are trying to steal a percentage of the writer’s copyrights.

The editors whom they (rightfully) love have completely lost clout in their own industry, and often can’t keep the verbal promises that they make.

These writers need to learn business, and they need to learn it fast. Because as Dean delineated out in his most recent column, the scammers have moved in, willing to take advantage of the writers who are unwilling to invest in themselves, unwilling to pay flat fees to companies that can do the work for them if they can’t do the work themselves.

I’m sorry to tell you to stop trusting people.  I know some of these people are your friends.  Sadly, some of these people are my friends.  In fact, many of these people are my friends.

And it breaks my heart, it really really does.

But please, go look at that music industry link. Then realize that this is what’s happening in publishing now.

If you want to do all the original work, create the content that everyone else is making a profit on, and get paid less than you would earn at 7/11, then don’t learn any of this.

But if that idea scares you, if the idea that you might never earn more than your advance, and maybe not even all of that, then invest in yourself.  Learn to say no.

And stop working on a business model that’s ten years out of date.


“The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 1999” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.



138 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 1999

  1. Just for the record, the Albini article has been stable at that link for about 15 years that I know of, so if he objected I think he’s had plenty of time to stage a takedown.

  2. I’m no author, ublisher, or involved with the industry in any way, just an avid reader that reds a few hundred books a year (if not more) but it seems to me that folks being happy with a 30-40 percent commission on something they produced is just crazy. I’m a web developer, indipendent programmer, and I can tell you that any programs I write certainly don’t net me 30 or 40 percent when I sell them, I get 100 percent of the sales. Admittedly, apple, intel, and others are changing this, with their app stores, and I believe they take 30 percent of the sales (I don’t use them, so don’t know for sure) but even 70 percent is better than 30 or 40 percent. I mean, Sheesh, I can make up to 25 percent on a book sold through some distribution channels, and that’s as an affiliate, if the author isn’t getting much more than that, I’d say it’s time to go find a different distribution channel. It sounds to me like someone needs to come along and just charge a flat 10-20 percent to handle the web sites that distribute the ebooks, and be done with it. Author would make more money, readers would have more to read, and the site maintainer would pay for their hosting costs, and everyone would be happy. Content sold would be controled by feedback, if folks like the material, they’d say so and it would sell more, if not, then it wouldn’t sell, and you’d be no worse off. I realize amazon tries to do this, but they take a lot more than 10 or 20 percent from the sales. This truly makes me want to scream. Wake up! This article (and the others I’ve read on here) are telling it like it is, but folks still don’t get it. I can put up a web site for less than 100 bucks a year, and that includes hosting fees. name registration, email, databases, and more. so anyone saying it’s expensive to host your own site doesn’t know how to do it, yet folks tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about when I tell them these things, and I’ve been doing this since 1996. (go figure) Some folks just won’t learn.

    1. Thanks so much, Travis. I greatly appreciate your post. Please listen, y’all. He’s right–and has the experience to back it up. (More than I have.) Thanks again.

  3. I’m so glad I found your article because I was saying all this two years ago and
    no one listened to me or responded to me. I’m not just a writer, I’m a musician
    and have been one longer than a writer. See writers and readers are still on
    this “vanity press” flux when they’re being pushed into the same model us
    musicians were pushed into in the 90s. Doing it ourselves.

    The music business as it stands right now is this: a record company, managers,
    agents, distributors, club owners, they won’t give you the time of day unless
    you can prove you’re pulling in significant numbers to your shows. They don’t
    want to do any work, they want you to have done all the ground work so all they
    have to do is come in and offer you that little extra nudge and start making a
    percentage off you. And just because you sign a deal with them, especially
    smaller indie lables, doesn’t mean you can sit back and just make music either,
    the burden of promotion and whatnot still falls on you – just like writers.

    I said two years ago that I see the writing industry pushing writers into self
    publishing, and writing will begin to see an over-saturation of self-published
    books, just like music is today. Only the savvy will be able to rise above it
    and come out with something. As for the mainstream, readers will begin to
    complain that what’s in the stores is the same old drivel, the same as music
    listeners complain about music, because the industry will just keep pumping out
    the storylines that make money until some writer writes about something that
    will tilt the money charts like Twilight and everyone will then jump on that

    Meanwhile, music has sort of leveled out a bit and people have discovered many
    indie artists who have a large following, but whom mainstream media ignores, yet
    these bands and musicians are making a decent living. Still it means, being an
    indie artist, your money will not come from music sales, but from touring and
    selling merchandise. As far as writers go, most sales will come from e-books on
    Kindle being offered at $0.99, unless that author already has a following from
    previous books.

    But to sum up and not go on, my point is to agree with you, writers will have to
    learn to be businesspeople. Just like as a musician with my band, I have to be
    the leader of the band, the singer, the manager, the promoter, the publicist,
    the booking agent, the graphic design artist, the webperson, and thankfully I
    work at a law firm, so I get the legal side handled for me. I’ve finished my
    first book, but I haven’t done anything with it yet because I’ve been sitting
    back seeing what the industry will do. Two years ago when I finished my book,
    my inner voice was telling me to put it out myself, but all my writing buddies
    kept saying “no you have to get an agent, you have to get it traditionally
    publish so people will take you seriously.” But then as a new writer, I found
    out the little game of shelf space in the bookstore and returns. Nah, I’ll
    wait. I plan on self-publishing and marketing it to my fans because it simply
    makes good media for me to not only offer music, but that I have a book too
    which I’ve created a buzz about and people are beginning to ask me when it will
    be out.

    Thanks again for your articles, they’re well worth the read.

    1. Wonderful post, Chaeya. Thank you for the musician’s perspective. I’m glad you see the parallels, because I think they’re strong. Still, it’s nice to have someone with a foot in both camps back me up on this and confirm my suspicions.

  4. I’ve been trying to frame a reply in regards to Mimi’s question about the epublishers; but I’m finding it hard because I was never under the umbrella of the legacy publishing system, so I can’t compare personally.

    What I can relate is the general feeling of myself and members of my writer’s group, which is that without the epub houses we would not have writing careers. I’m a professional writer from the journalism side of the writer’s pond, but I gave up on getting fiction published years ago. The system seemed too weighted for “who you know” and the writers I knew who were in it were being chewed up and spat out.

    What I can say is that the main epublishing house I work with for my M/M romance stories treats me well. I get 30-40% royalties, professional editing and copyediting, decent covers, and widespread distribution. I’m treated with respect, and encouraged to write.

    I *do* plan on self-publishing down the line, but for now as I build up name recognition in the genre, I’m very pleased with the epublishers. I don’t feel I’m missing out of anything by not having an agent; I feel comfortable reading the contracts, but honestly, they are pretty straightforward contracts, nothing tricky. Anyone with a basic grasp of the industry can understand them. That kind of transparency is gold, IMHO.

    A lot of the epublishing houses are very young, and scrambling to compete. I think that motivates most of them to treat writers, especially successful writers, well and get their work out in a reasonable time frame. Right now in the romance genre and sub-genres, the competition is fierce and that works in a writer’s favor, in the long run. Certainly, it supports your claim that readers are the new gatekeepers, I think, because the readers are deciding the best-sellers, not the marketing arm of the conglomerate.

    My 2 cents as a minor nobody!

    1. Thanks, Cooper. I appreciate the information, since I have no involvement in that side of things at all. I hope Mimi sees your post.

  5. Kris,

    Thanks SO much for your piece here. I was heading down this trail and you’ve pushed me down even further. As I have learned, it’s one thing to be learn your craft, it’s another thing to learn the business of your craft. I’m following your and your husband’s blog.

  6. The options are indeed the best part of this new world order that’s developing before our eyes. I have a book out on submission now and I’m honestly not sure what to hope for–that it sells or that it doesn’t. I never thought I’d say those words!

    Thanks for taking my question!

    1. I know, Marie. I just congratulated a friend on having his rights reverted–and then we both laughed in surprise. It is indeed a new world.

  7. Hi Kris,
    Thanks for the informative series of blogs. I’m multi-published through a small press and a well-regarded e-press, but didn’t make all that much money with publishers in the three year since my debut. However, I’ve had some amazing success self-publishing (40,000 sales since November).

    That said, is there any reason someone in my position should sign a traditional publishing contract again? There’s that so-called larger audience publishers could help me find, but the nagging voice in the back of my mind is wondering if I’d be crazy to sign with a new publisher (even one of the Big Six) in this rapidly changing environment when I’ve been far more successful on my own that I ever was with publishers.

    Thanks again for putting a voice to these rapidly changing times. In my opinion, there’s never been a better time to be an author.

    1. I don’t know your exact circumstance, Marie, and so can’t say what you should do with certainty. But in general, if you’re doing well on your own, I don’t see any reason to be traditional any more. They’re taking too large a percentage and not offering enough in exchange, imho. Unless you want to do it for promotion purposes or to introduce yourself to a new audience. Then you’ll have to accept the cut in pay in exchange for the other benefits. But it’s your choice–and that’s the great part. It’s your choice. Before we didn’t have a choice and now we do. 🙂

  8. Thanks, Kris! Yeah, using these methods I’ve been able to make a living as a writer since I was 23. I’m doing even better now that I’m in my thirties. I have been teaching these methods to a lot of writers and have helped about 6 people into writing full time now. I’m even helping some old pros who are seeing more money now than they did through big publishers. My friends often say we are headed into a golden age for indie writers.

    1. I think you’re right, Carlton. I think this is a new golden age–not just for indie writers, but for readers as well. I don’t think a lot of them know how starved they were for content they couldn’t get. It’s such an exciting time.

  9. The possibilities seem to be endless, giving so much more control to the writer. I don’t believe a lot of writers realize how easy it is. And how fast the money can start flowing to the writer.

    1. The possibilities are endless, Jasmine, so long as the writer watches the contracts she signs and the business terms she accepts. Then we can do what we want. Of course, that means it’s all on our shoulders. Our success or failure is 100% ours. We can no longer blame the publisher/agent. I personally like that. 🙂

  10. It’s a “digital storage fee,” not physical book storage. I’ve heard Create Space has one as well, but I’m guessing that’s not true anymore unless they are slipping you the fees under your radar.

    I’ve gone through much of Dean’s blog (good stuff, btw), but I have to say LSI is still the way to go for me. Mostly because of the 20% discount. I’ll just always make more money per book that way. That annual storage fee is recouped very quickly. I’d probably make at least $2000 less per month if I went through Create Space. $16 per title per year for LSI is really nothing.

    My original point was that Create Space is another unnecessary middle man, but it seems to be more useful for some people than I realized.

    1. Exactly, Carlton. The key is to be informed and to know what is best for you. As I said, we’re using both, but we all have different needs now. It’s no longer one size fits all in publishing, which is just great! And I didn’t say congrats on the sales, but seriously, congrats.

  11. Actually, now that I think about it, the way around the proof would mean you’d need to be a certified customer. Once you have 50+ books with them you can get certified. At that point, there are no setup fees or revision fees. When revision is free and the book can be updated at any time, there isn’t much point to a proof…Especially if you start your book as a “small run” before you set it at “full distribution” which isn’t just good for getting cheap proofs at $3-6 but you can also print ARCs.

    Through LSI, I make $4 per copy on a 100 page novella sold at $7.95. And $6 per copy on a 200 page novel sold at $11.95. Is Create Space comparable to that? I sell about 1000 books a month, so how much I make per copy makes all the difference between paying bills or not.

    Also, is it possible to have your book listed under your own publishing company rather than having the publisher listed as “Create Space?”

    I’ll look into the expanded distribution program but I find it hard to believe that it’s better than LSI. Especially because create space uses LSI for its printing/distribution. There are a lot of expensive services/programs that LSI offers but they are not really worth using. I pay lightning source absolutely nothing except the $16 per title annual storage fee.

    1. Why on Earth would you pay a storage fee every year, Carlton? You should be using print on demand, in which nothing gets stored. CreateSpace only costs a slight amount when you print a book–its cost, basically. The $39 expanded distribution is a one-time fee. Right there, that’s cheaper than LSI because I expect my books to be in print longer than two-and-a-half years–which is what it would take to make up your yearly “storage” fee. It sounds like you need to investigate your options again, even through Lightning Source. Check out my husband Dean Wesley Smith’s Think Like a Publisher series where he shows you all the various costs. It sounds to me like your doing things the old-fashioned way (meaning you’re using 3 year old methods). I don’t have time to go into it all here, so he’s your best resource. And you can use both services, you know. We use Lightning Source for hardcovers (when we do them), CreateSpace for trade, because CS offers the better deal on trade. Read all of Dean’s publisher blogs, including the ones on pricing, and then if you have questions, ask him.

  12. Kris, maybe calling it a “vanity press” was going too far, I don’t know. But Create Space isn’t a POD printing company. They are middle men. They go through lightning source just like all the other POD publishers. Going through LSI, you will make more money per book sold. You’ll also usually be able to price the book less than you would through createspace. Proofs are expensive but nobody actually buys them. There are ways around it. And I’m not sure what you’re talking about with the expanded distribution program. LSI doesn’t charge for anything like that. Full distribution is free. For the past ten years, I’ve been making a very good living as a writer publishing through LSI. I doubt I’d be able to do that through create space.

    1. I use both, Carlton, and I’m really not sure what you’re talking about. CreateSpace offers a good deal for publishers through its expanded distribution program. There are a lot more costs in Lightning Source for small publishers. And how do you avoid the proof stage? It’s essential to producing an excellent book. You need to see the book and tweak it. So I’m not sure what your point is. I get the sense you haven’t researched CreateSpace in years. Maybe all that you say is true about CreateSpace when it started, but it has evolved in just the few years Dean & I have done business with them.

  13. You say you can cut out the middleman by going through Create Space. I want to point out that Create Space is yet another middle man. They are actually a vanity press that doesn’t do anything for you but take a cut of your profits. They actually print their books through Lightning Source, but you can go directly through Lightning Source yourself.

    1. Except that Lightning Source charges a great deal more for proofs, Carlton, and doesn’t have as cheap an expanded distribution program. You spend significantly more money if you go to LIghtning Source directly. And Create Space is not a vanity press. A vanity press makes you buy a minimum number of copies (usually 1000) for several thousand dollars up front and store those copies in a warehouse or your garage. Create Space is a print-on-demand publisher. You don’t ever have to buy a copy after you finish your proof. And you only have to print as many copies as you need–if you need any at all.

  14. Kris,

    I want to publicly thank you for being so straight up about this. You may be getting some people arguing with you, but we both know those are people who don’t want what you’re saying to be true and have their hands over their ears going “la-la-la.”

    I’ve believed in the eventual dominance of e-books for just about ever (and made some enemies because I didn’t think e-book authors should be sidelined or sneered at and said so out loud…often).

    But, I did not see the changes coming that I see now. Agents and publishers becoming obstacles between a writer and her readers? I really thought the gatekeeping service was necessary. But now I think, like you say, readers will be doing that gatekeeping in a much more effective way. (How many times have you been in a room with readers who want more of a certain type of book that is out of favor with editors or the marketing dept? or simply is too niche to be profitable for a company with major overhead?)

    I have no idea where we’re going, but I’m along for the ride. I am bringing out my out of print historical romance backlist, and planning to put up an original YA that didn’t quite please my editor by the end of the year.

    I believe in the writer-reader pact so strongly that I’ve allowed for sampling of 20% of my books. If a reader doesn’t want to finish it by that point, then she is not my reader and I hope she move on to a book she does want to finish. No gatekeeper needed.

    1. Thanks, Kelly. That’s exactly how I feel. I trust the readers, and I think they will find some really great new writers that traditional publishing ignored.

      I appreciate the great post.

  15. I find it very frustrating that the people who said exactly these same things 12-18-24-36 months ago were pariahs, wackies, quixotic…

    1. Oh, that hasn’t changed. Ron. You should see the private e-mail I’ve gotten, not to mention the second post from that anonymous character that I decided not to put up. I’m getting called all kinds of names. So it’s continuing. Ignore it. Times are changing. And it takes all of us a while to realize that the change is happening.

  16. Kris, thanks for all the amazing info. Had to click on the donate button just because of how profoundly you’re affecting my writing decisions these days. Please keep it up!

  17. Does what your saying apply if you’re a picture book
    writer? I’m wondering since they don’t always look
    so great as e-books and traditionally the editor
    finds the illustrator and decides the look of the book.
    If I had to pay an illustrator, too, that could get
    really pricey. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    1. Great question, Kiki. I would say so, but not with a lot of authority. A former student of mine–a wonderful writer–is having great success with her picture books on Nook (not on Kindle) so I think it’s possible. I’m not sure how she goes about all of it however. Maybe others here know….?

  18. Thanks for this, Kris. I should admit my concerns are motivated largely by self-interest – ie. if I self-publish on Amazon (or rather when) what can I do to stand out from the rest of the pack? If my book was published via conventional means, I’d know I got the endorsement of an agent, then a publisher and that this would reassure readers, especially if I got reviewed as well.

    On the basis of what you’re saying, seems like all I have to do is publish a really good book!

  19. Wow what a set of comments! Kris, even though you answered everybody, I still want to add a few things. First folks, please, please, listen to Kris. Read the FREE sample at Amazon. The button’s on the right on Amazon under the Add to Wishlist button where it says Try it Free. Did I mention it’s FREE? My experience says that it’s typically about 11% of the completed work. Not a bad sample. If you read 11% of a book and don’t know whether you like it, I can’t help. See the POD People take at Because of that my wife put what is usually the front matter, like the dedication etc., at the back of the ebook. Gives you more sample to judge the work by. We also posted both the length in words and in pages. If you didn’t make a dead tree version, format the book as a trade paperback (6X9 inches with appropriate margins) and count the pages. My wife’s book is 180,000 words or 450 pages. I wanted her to say the equivalent length of Dune, but she didn’t want to mislead anyone with spurious comparisons for something that was just being used as a well known length yardstick.

    Will readers find a good book? I hope so, but you do have to do some marketing. I’m trying to get my wife’s book reviewed by some internet reviewers now. What sells now amidst the almost million books on the Kindle store? My best guess is currently: price, size of inventory, reputation, cover image, description, tags/key words, and sample, listed in order of importance for buying decisions. Personally I don’t like the ordering of that list, but no one I know makes money arguing with their customers. I think if customers insist on shopping almost exclusively for books under $3, they’ll get books sized to that price and short stories for $.99. It’s true that after people decide that you’re a good writer, they’ll buy more expensive books from you, that’s where size of inventory and reputation enter into the equation. Realize that under $2.99 the writer cuts their percentage in half, so they make about $2 on a $2.99 book and about $.34 on a $.99 short story. That’s the way Amazon set it’s pricing.

    As to quality of self-pubbed books, I’ve certainly seen a lot of worthless dreck from the big 6, including poor spelling, ludicrous plots, paper-thin characters, and situations that just don’t even make sense! Were they really editing those? How many new writers have had an vile agent insist on changing the book before even showing it to the publisher? Ever read a book written by committee?

    Thanks again Kris, not just for posting, but for answering those of us in the comments, and especially for caring about the industry and not just your own career. Please keep up the good fight! Don’t give up on us out here.

    1. You’re welcome, Frank. I appreciate the kind words.

      Right now, everything is changing, and I’m sure some of these systems will settle out. But we all need to find out what works in the new world and share it with each other. Other, more established writers helped me in the past. Most of these writers are gone now, so I pay forward. I figure the least I can do is help writers as best I can.

  20. Thank you for this post, Ms Rusch. I have finished a new novel and am wondering which way to jump with it – self-publish or give it to an agent. My present agent is retiring, which means I would need to find another.

    I already have seven titles out there as ebooks, and I’m much inclined now, after your advice, to self-publish the new one too. My only reason for considering a new agent is the need for promotion (at which I am not very proficient), but your response to Aonghus Fallon is spot on: books have always succeeded on merit, and by word-of-mouth, and good books have usually failed because publishers have not done their job properly.

    1. I did an entire post on promotion, Richard, just a few weeks back. Click on the Publishing Articles Tab and you’ll be able to find it. (I’m only in the hotel room for a few minutes before going onto a meeting, so I don’t have time to link for you.)

  21. More on Sampling.

    I think that, eventually, the market will respond to the buyers (not the buyers to the market) to deliver a better method of channeling fiction that you would like to your ereader. Amazon’s “If you like this…” program is a step in that direction. Maybe the system will spawn professional readers that will create listmania reading lists for us… whatever. I think it will simply evolve over time.

    Right now, some of that is out there, but it is wide open and I’ve seen people game the system pretty well. It can help push that first sale, and it worked on me once or twice and I ended up buying something that didn’t measure up. So that writer made their $2.10 from me. Congrats. But I will never, ever, trust them again. If they had let me find this or a later work on my own, I’d be more likely to give them a second try some day. I LOVE discovering a new author with a body of work jsut waiting for me to collect and devour. But not now.

    It’s a new frontier, sure. That’s what sea changes uncover. I choose to be excited about the new possibilities. Much, muchbetter than being scared of them.

  22. Readers, in general, don’t look for “good books” to read. They either look for “good stories” or “stories I’ll like”. Sure there are some that are looking to be “wow’ed” by the authors use of English, but most are just looking to be entertained.

    I’ll trot out a Fanfiction example.. Last night I stayed up WAY too late to finish up a wonderful Fanfiction. Each chapter had poor grammar, passive voice, typos, and just about every mistake you can imagine, but I liked it. It was a fun story. And I am not the only one. Here’s the thing, the story had over 12,000 positive reviews, and had a read count well over 3 million. Bad writing does not mean a bad story.

    If the internet has shown us anything, it’s that people will hunt through the slush to find what they want. This “wailing and gnashing of teeth” is really getting annoying. Personally I love this new world, I get new fun stuff to read for a reasonable price. YAY ME!

    On The Actual Content of the Article…

    TLC had to declare bankruptcy.
    Titanic never turned a profit.
    The LoTR trilogy lost money.

    Laypeople hear about these things and wonder how on earth they could be true. The problem is quite simply Parasites. Agents are parasites. Media corporations are soulless parasites. Is it any wonder that when the host finds freedom they scramble to find a new blood supply?

  23. Don’t get me wrong, Kris. I think e-books are the future. I’m really positing what I see as a big problem (the fact that the reader is inundated with unfiltered content) and wondering what the solution might be. I think there will be a solution in the long run. I just have no idea what it might be. And I’m talking from the perspective of an aspiring e-book self-publisher. I’ve spent the last few days checking out kindle books on the net, reading reviews and so on. This was my over-riding impression. Too much stuff. No quality control. Reviews that couldn’t be trusted.

    Sure I could sample maybe a hundred e-books until I found one I really liked. Or I could walk into my local bookstore (which has an entire wall dedicated to fantasy novels), knowing at least that somebody spent a few bucks trying to publish these books and able to read a review on the backcover by somebody I know and respect – a course of action which, let’s face it, would take considerably less time and would also be more reliable.

    1. And that’s where we disagree, Aonghus. I would find both experiences equally reliable. And I used to be an editor. Maybe I’m used to regarding all fiction as slush, regardless of whether it’s published or not. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *