The Business Rusch: The Fear Chronicles

The Business Rusch: The Fear Chronicles

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Last week, as the stock market took yet another tumble, I saw a big-name trader get interviewed on the evening news. The trader said—not flippantly, but tiredly—“You know how it goes in the markets. Traders either respond with greed or terror.”

Economic analysts have been talking about fear a lot in the past three years. Ever since the stock markets took a horrible nosedive in the fall of 2008, we’ve seen the effect of fear and panic on the markets.  Fear does feed on itself, and sometimes, not even greed can overcome it.

Last week, I wrote a rather scathing post about writers accepting crap deals from their publishers. The post got a lot of hits and a lot of comments—apparently, y’all love a good rant. But I was angry. And still am.  The column didn’t lance a boil.  Instead, it revealed a layer of molten lava underneath. Fury? Yeah, I’m mad—at the entire traditional publishing system.

As the week continued, more stuff happened. I exchanged e-mails with several  more writers, some of whom remain deliberately obtuse. Others see the problems, but for some reason either believe it is personal or it doesn’t apply to them.

The rest of you have been marvelous, just marvelous. Seriously. You’ve sent nice letters, you’ve donated, you’ve made great comments on the blog. And if I had a different genetic makeup, I’d write only for y’all, because you get this stuff:

Writers Are Responsible For Their Own Careers.

Writers Are Professionals.

Writers Are In Business, And Should Behave Like Business People.

Thanks to all of you who do get it. I’ll continue to write for you, but I can’t entirely shut up about everything else (Oh, such great understatement there.)

In private e-mails, in person, and in the comments section, so many of you have mentioned the word “fear.” You’re frightened you’ll make mistakes. You have made mistakes because you’re afraid to take risks. You continue to make mistakes because you “don’t have as much courage” as I do. It’s ironic really, because what are you afraid of? Making mistakes.

So I figured I’d jump back on the “Unexpected Gold in Self-Help Books” series with a piece on Fear. (In fact, it was the piece on Fear I planned to write last week that started this fine mess. I jettisoned that piece.)

The problem with the “Self-Help” series is that it’s geared to writers, and fear, right now, isn’t exclusive to us. In fact, a lot of what’s happening to writers is happening because everyone else is terrified.

On the same day that I’m writing this, Amazon has unveiled its new tablet.  We all knew it was coming, and there’s been a lot of discussion about it. But the thing no one saw was the price point.

Essentially, at $199, Amazon is giving the Kindle Fire away. And what’s more, Amazon has lowered the price of the Kindle to $79.  Now, granted, that Kindle is wi-fi only and lacks most of the bells and whistles.  But Kindle has moved from an expensive purchase for most people to a purchase that can be repaid by foregoing three hardcover books. And if you download a few books for free to replace those three on your Kindle, well, then you’ve more than paid for the reading device.

That’s what Amazon wants. As one analyst said today, Amazon is the mirror image of Apple. Apple, a device maker, has low-priced content to encourage you to buy devices.  Amazon, a content provider, has low-priced devices to encourage you to buy content.

I know, without doing much websearching, that the Amazon announcement has struck fear into the hearts of traditional publishing. Traditional publishing still hasn’t figured out how to make money on e-books, and traditional publishers are doing their best to piss off readers.

Even Mike Shatzkin, whom many in traditional publishing consider the guru of the e-publishing world, doesn’t completely understand the importance of readers. I usually don’t recommend his blog because, although he often has good stuff, he’s so entrenched in traditional-publishing think that his blogs are only about 50% useful for the way that publishing is going—and I don’t want to explain which 50% of what article is worth your time.

This time I will provide a link and explain some of it, because Shatzkin is the guy that traditional publishers listen to.  Remember, as you read his work that he’s a traditional publishing guy writing for traditional publishers.  He’s not writing for professional writers, like I am. That makes a lot in his various blog posts irrelevant to us (or just plain offensive).  I am pointing it out to you in this case because I want you to see how traditional publishers—even forward-looking folk—think.

Witness: “We know that agents and authors will accept an e-book royalty rate of 25% of net receipts in today’s environment, where 70% or more of the sales are still made in print.  We don’t know if the threat of the alternate publishing options will force the royalty rate up if sales fall below 50% print or 30% print.”

Honestly, what he discounts here are midlist writers. So many of us have projects and series that traditional publishing abandoned, so we decided to do it ourselves. Then we discovered that we could sell consistently and at good numbers, which is now making most of us wonder what we will get out of traditional publishing at all.

What Shatzkin and his ilk don’t recognize are the professional writers who have decided that 25% of net is a ridiculous number, writers who have decided that we’re not even going to offer our books to any traditional publisher who wants to give us no more than 25% of net as a deal breaker.  Some authors are fighting this, but most are simply walking away.

The writers who remain either don’t realize they have options or are operating in a fear-based way (like those six authors mentioned last week).  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because there’s some interesting stuff in Shatzkin’s blog, that I don’t even think he realizes is there. I had to parse out this part: “We know that content-creating brands that are not book publishers are using the relative ease of publication of e-books to deliver their own content to the e-book marketplace.”

In English? “We know that writers are self-publishing e-books.”

Then he writes: “We don’t know if book publishers will develop an e-book publishing expertise that will make them able to persuade those brands in time to go through them, the way they have in the print book world, rather than disintermediating them.”

Okay, that’s where I had to parse it out because of all the unclear antecedents and the garbled business jargon.

In English: “We don’t know if book publishers can develop ‘e-book publishing expertise’ that will convince writers to abandon the direct-to-consumer marketing through the internet and let book publishers continue to publish e-books.”

That’s a fact, folks. And the facts are why publishing professionals love Shatzkin’s blog. But beneath all of that factual business language is sheer terror.  Because if traditional publishers can’t convince writers to return to the traditional publishing fold, then what will happen to traditional publishers?

They will become insignificant—or at least, less significant than they are now.

It’s rather astonishing to me that the traditional publishing guru of e-publishing ignores the trends among the indies. Right now, indie publishers and self-publishing writers are way ahead of traditional publishers—on e-book design, on pricing, on marketing, and on distribution.

Let me use one more example from Shatzkin’s blog: He tells general trade publishers to “reconsider your commitment to publish illustrated books in any time frame more extended than a year or two and think about sticking to straight text, unless you have paths to customers for those books that do not go through bookstores. If we do end up in an 80% e-book world anytime soon, and we very well  might, you’ll want to own the content you know works (for the consumer) in that format, not in what you don’t know works in any way other than print.”

It sounds sensible. He’s saying that illustrated books don’t work as ebooks yet, that customers don’t want them, and that publishers should, for the short term, reconsider what they’re doing with illustrated books (but publishers! try to hold onto the rights of those books so you can publish them once we figure out what we’re doing).

The problem is that his premise is wrong. Illustrated books do sell. At least, on the indie side. The problem in illustrated book sales is price point: illustrated children’s ebooks from traditional publishers are too expensive.

Indie authors are selling illustrated children’s books at good New York numbers.  For example, Rebecca Shelley has sold thousands of e-books per month of her illustrated middle grade Bees in My Butt since Christmas, on Nook alone, a platform that favors illustrations.  She doesn’t have the figures for the same period from her iBookstore sales, but she’s convinced her sales will increase this Christmas because of the iPad. (I’m sure the Kindle Fire will help her here as well.)

She is not alone. There are a lot of successful children’s writers, and a lot of successful illustrated books, many of them indie-published.  As Rebecca and I exchanged e-mails tonight (with me asking to use her name so I could promote her work), she mentioned this:

“Up to this point, all of my illustrations have been black and white. But the Nook color has the  most amazing interactive children’s picture books. You turn the Nook sideways and it gives the full picture book double-page layout. Plus it has a read-to-me feature, that reads the book to the children as they turn the pages. Every child (even the older ones) that I’ve shown these Nook picture books to has gone crazy over them.”

The advice that Shatzkin gives here shows both the fear and the arrogance of traditional publishing. Stick to print books until we know there’s a market. But of course, they’re not looking at the self- or indie-published titles, so how does traditional publishing know whether there’s a market or not?  And somehow Shatzkin and others are ignoring things like the Nook picture books—because…why? I have no idea.

Shatzkin advises that it’s best to stick to the print book until we know if there is an e-book market for illustrated books.  But the indie authors aren’t ignoring print. Many authors like Rebecca Shelley are also doing their own paper books as print-on-demand.  As Dave Bricker said in the comments to the Shatzkin blog, “While retail outlets shrivel and big publishers figure  out how to reinvent themselves, other players like Amazon and LSI [Lightning Source Inc] have already stepped in to solve the printing and distribution problems for indie publishers.”

And traditional publishing has its eyes closed and its fingers in its ears as it’s singing “la-la-la” to pretend that the indie and self published world is full of unsalable crap that is…inexplicably…selling.

Over the weekend, I saw Moneyball with Brad Pitt (based on Michael Lewis’s book, which I really need to read).  Moneyball is less of a sports movie than a business movie, and there’s this marvelous sequence in the early part of the film.  Pitt’s character has decided to use a statistical analysis to “buy” cheaper players to round out his roster, a job traditionally reserved to the baseball scouts.

A scout, knowing that he is about to lose his job, gives Pitt the Speech: We scouts know how players work, we find the talent, you won’t have a team without us, we have history and arcane knowledge that you (puny human) could never ever know…

Of course, in the sequence of the movie, we come to realize that the scout is wrong. That his arcane knowledge is as useful to baseball as alchemy is to physics.

The thing is, as the scout gave that speech, I was laughing so hard I nearly hurt myself. Make the scout a traditional book publisher. Make Pitt a reader.  You have read a version of “The Speech” all over the internet—you readers won’t survive without traditional publishing, because you won’t know the good from the bad.

But here’s the thing: traditional publishing has forgotten that they’re in the market of pleasing their audience—and their audience is readers, who don’t care if they buy a book from Bantam or directly from Rebecca Shelley, so long as that book is good. If the book is good (and trust me, Bees in My Butt is good), then the readers will buy the next Rebecca Shelley book, whether it is published by Rebecca Shelley or by Bantam Books.

Take a look at Shatzkin’s article, then realize that fear usually comes from fear of the unknown.  And then realize how much he admits that traditional publishing doesn’t know right now. Granted, most of us don’t know how this marketing shakeout in publishing will work.  But much of what traditional publishing doesn’t know is because of willful ignorance.

I’m rather astonished at all the ignorance. I’m going to pick on Shatzkin again, not because I have a grudge against him, but because he’s out there as the most progressive voice in traditional publishing. (Honestly, I wish he could take a lot of his blinders off, because when he does get a clear vision, it’s worth listening to.)  I’m also picking on him because this one post makes things easier for me to use as an example for you.

In the post, he mentions that the Borders bankruptcy has decreased the  number of brick-and-mortar bookstores. He also mentions that shelf space is decreasing for books and the link he uses to cite that is from Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon. Powell’s, a gigantic independent, has cut staff all year, citing decreased sales because of e-books.

Shatzkin ignores the real threat to the number of books on shelves. The way that Barnes & Noble has decreased the books it carries, replacing them with toys, and games, and scented candles (Yep, even scented candles).  A number of B&N employees are furious about this. As one wrote to me a few weeks ago, “I got hired to sell books. Now I sell ‘book-related merchandise.’” A B&N manager went further, sending me photographs of the interior of the store as this change from bookshelves to toy shelves is occurring.  The manager wrote, “Anyone who tells you that B&N’s [brick-and-mortar] stores will carry the same number of books as before is lying.”

B&N isn’t the only brick-and-mortar bookstore to abandon books. Indigo Books and Music has been Canada’s largest chain bookstore since the merger with Chapters in 2001.  In addition to trying an e-book model through Kobo, Indigo is also diversifying the products in its brick-and-mortar stores.  Indigo will offer its own line of “home décor and lifestyle products” because, clearly, there aren’t enough stores in Canada offering that sort of thing. (Okay, everything after “clearly” is my personal opinion. But jeez, how stupid is this?)

Any mention of this from Shatzkin or anyone in traditional publishing? Not that I’ve seen. I can’t help but feel that traditional publishers will be blindsided by just how few retail outlets they now have for paper books.

And the fewer outlets for paper books, the fewer reasons for writers to go with traditional publishers. Because all traditional publishers know how to do is produce books for a bookstore marketplace.

Several years ago, a packager contacted my husband Dean Wesley Smith to ghost write a thriller for a major media personality. The personality had fingers in a dozen pies, from casinos in Vegas to well-known music palaces in the South to several major TV markets and several niche religious markets. Dean was to write a thriller; the packager, with the assistance of the major media personality’s empire, would market that thriller to traditional bookstores, yes, but also to casino shops, the marketing booths at the personality’s public appearances, at the gift shops of major hotels, through the religious sites, and of course, through the multimedia empire.

The packager took this deal to traditional publishers, with a guaranteed sale of several hundred thousand copies of the book itself.  All the publisher had to do was print the thing, and ship to bookstores and the various outlets. The multimedia empire would take care of the rest.

No publisher would take the deal. Not even for a reduced advance (this personality didn’t care about upfront money).  The publishers “had no idea” how to market to these areas, so didn’t even want to try.

A year or so later, another friend tried this with one of his own books. Again, the publishers shut him down. They didn’t want to venture into new markets.

The problem is that all the old markets are going away. Yeah, the Publishers Weekly article on Indigo ended with a vaguely hopeful note: “But if Indigo has less space for books and less time* on the shelves to sell them, one…possible silver lining is that it might present opportunities for independent booksellers.” Exactly the conclusion I had about B&N several  months ago.

Still, that’s all traditional publishing sees. If they can’t market books to bookstores and to some discounters, like Wal-Mart, where can they market books? And if they can’t see where to market books, if they can’t figure out how to find new places to do so, places that are fairly obvious if you just look around (depending on your product), then they’re of no use to the “content-creating brands”…um…I mean the writers.

And deep down, the traditional publishers know that. It makes them afraid.

And they are afraid. Just the fact that Shatzkin mentions the 25% of net as something that “agents and authors” might not accept in the future means that traditional publishing knows the deal is a bad one for us “content-creating brands.” The publishers are worried that we’ll figure it out, just like they’re worried about their entire industry.

Let’s go back to my opening: fear begets fear.  And the fear in this industry is trickling through all parts of it.

Agents have it the worst right now. Agents can’t make a living if they follow traditional agency models. Why?

Pretty simple if you do the math. Over the past month, I have heard from writers across the board that advances are down 50%.  Several bestsellers have told me that on the next book they’ve offered their traditional publisher, the bestseller has been offered an advance 10-50% of the previous advance.

In real numbers, let’s use a non-bestseller advance for Kris’s poor mathematically challenged brain. Let’s say that the bestseller’s advance was $100,000 five years ago.  On the new contract, the bestseller is being offered half—or $50,000—all the way down to one-tenth—or $10,000.

Writers are balking at this, particularly since the publishers are asking for more rights, worse terms, at these lower advances. (I just turned down one such deal myself.  My negotiation wasn’t for more money, which I knew the traditional publisher wouldn’t do, but to have the contract be a print-only contract—no e-rights. The publisher (who does a crap job on e-books and doesn’t even publish them on time) said e-rights or nothing. I walked.)

If the writers are getting one-tenth to one-half of what they got before, a traditional agent is also getting one-tenth to one-half of what they got before. The agent’s income is based on 15% of the writer’s income. So instead of getting $15,000 from the writer’s $100,000 deal, the agent is now getting $1500 to $7500 on that writer if that writer even takes the deal, which many of us are not.

Add to that, this problem: because hardcover sales are down significantly and e-book sales are up, royalty payments are way down. That 25% of net on ebooks means that the publisher pays very few royalties on huge numbers of books sold, whereas in the past, if those books had sold as hardcovers, the publisher would have had to pay 15% of cover price, even if the book sold below cover.

Agents are, in a word, screwed.

I didn’t think about this too closely until this week also, because Trident Media Group, the big Kahuna of agencies, has decided to become  publisher.  Yeah, Trident contorts itself by saying it’s not a publisher, but it is. They’re going to publish writers’ backlists and probably front lists. We’ve discussed why this is a bad idea for writers, not to mention illegal under agency law, but the point here isn’t the fact that Trident is out to screw its writers.

Trident is out to save its business. Because the old model—based almost entirely on bestsellers—isn’t functioning any  more. And this publishing model from Trident is a Hail Mary Pass from a company trying to pay its (huge) overhead and keep its prestige in an industry that doesn’t need it any more. (Not two months ago, Trident’s chairman called agents doing e-publishing a conflict of interest. And now Trident is doing it. What can this strategy be except a desperation ploy?)

Fear, fear, fear.

As the fear trickles from the publisher to the agent, imagine how the traditional writer feels. The writer who doesn’t want anything to do with indie publishing, who sees self-publishing as something horrible. Those writers are only hearing about the fear from their traditional publishers and agents.  As a result, these uninformed writers believe that “publishing” is collapsing, when in reality, it is the old business model that is failing.

Because the writers are afraid that publishing is collapsing, they’re grabbing onto whatever gets thrown their way, no matter how bad it is.

These are the writers (for the most part) that Shatzkin and his friends are doing business with. The writers who have no idea that next to the sinking Titanic are small yachts available to any writer who will leap from the Titanic’s deck to the waiting yacht.

The bad business deals that I  mentioned last week? They’re proposed by publishers who are terrified they will no longer have product to sell (and no place to sell that product, even if they produce it). They’re advocated by agents who are scrounging for every single dime they can find to save their own smaller sinking ships (those suckers are nearly underwater now, maybe the smokestack visible).  And they’re being accepted by writers who have blinders on and refuse to look around.

For writers, we are in the best publishing environment we’ve ever been in. We just have to learn a few new skills—or pay a flat fee to someone who already has that skill. Then we will make more money and get our books to more customers than we ever have before.

But so many writers indoctrinated in traditional publishing refuse to see it. Case in point? After I wrote my blog last week, I got ten private e-mails from various writers, all of whom had friends who had signed those free short story deals with traditional publishers. About half of those writer friends were romance writers, which shocked me. Because up until a few years ago, if you wanted to learn business, you went to the romance writers. They knew business better than anyone.

But  now, they’re just as scared as their mainstream, nonfiction, sf, and mystery counterparts.

Fear is no way to run any business, be it a traditional publishing house, a literary agency, or a writing career.  Operating out of fear means that you’ll make mistake after mistake after mistake.

Sometimes mistakes are good; you’ll learn from them. But mostly, mistakes made out of fear are the kind of mistakes that destroy businesses.

I have said repeatedly that I don’t expect traditional publishing to go away. I do believe it will be greatly diminished, and several companies will disappear. It’s becoming very clear that many literary agencies are on the ropes as well. Trying a business model that is illegal and unethical isn’t the way to save a dying business—it’s one of those business-killing mistakes. (If your agency has just added an e-pub arm, run. That business is clearly in trouble and trying to save itself.  It’s not going to be thinking of your business at all.)

A lot of writers will lose their careers in this fear-climate. Not because it’s a bad time for writers, but because the writers haven’t learned how to operate in the new environment. Above, I said that traditional publishing has its eyes closed and its fingers in its ears as it’s singing “la-la-la.” A lot of writers are doing the same thing.

The sad part about that is that if the writers just open their eyes, stop singing, and listen for a few minutes, they’ll have a better career in five years than they have now.

But so many of them are afraid to change. There’s too much they “don’t know.” And, like traditional publishing, they’ll ignore the information around them, and will figure out what to do—much too  late.

Thanks everyone for the great comments last week, the informative e-mails, and the behind-the-scenes letters. I appreciate it all. I also appreciate the donations, which help me fund my nonfiction habit.

If this blog has helped you in any way, please consider leaving a tip on the way out.  Thanks!


*The article mentions that the amount of time books will be on the shelf has decreased from 90 days to 45.

“The Business Rusch: The Fear Chronicles” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.


86 responses to “The Business Rusch: The Fear Chronicles”

  1. ari says:

    45 days? can they cut their throats any more comprehensively? By the time a book gets reviewed in the newspaper- it will be off the shelf. I have never been able to get my hands on a Jennifer Cruise novel at the bookstore, even though I go directly after reading an interview with her. I want to see a book, and check a few pages, before buying it. Is that so crazy a notion?

    Thank you for all of your good sense and hard work in this arena.

    • Kris says:

      Oh, I hate to tell you, Ari, but they can cut their throats more comprehensively. When I started in book publishing in the late 1980s, the “turn” (meaning how long a book remained on the shelf) was 30 days max. Some books only had two weeks on the shelf. Then the big box stores came in with a lot of room, and that lengthened. So 45 days is still better than the 1980s…

      But yeah, your point is well taken. It is almost impossible, in 45 days, to build word of mouth.

  2. Roxy Rogeres says:

    Kris, I’ve been following your blog for awhile, since it came to my attention via Frankie Robertson, and then again via PG. Thanks for being a voice for empowerment and inspiration, rather than fear!

    It seems to me a lot of writers are having significant trouble seeing the bigger picture in the industry and where the industry fits into the overall market. I’ve twice been a business owner and still have a day job in IT in addition to my fiction career. Having a business focus has always been a part of how I define myself. My first experience with an industry crash came a decade ago from inside IT as firms in the industry were forced to remake themselves with more functional business models or face certain annihilation. (Along with every other industry that has fallen into the trap of taking customers for granted.) Publishing was one of those that I was certain was up next, and when I said that aloud back in 2003, everyone thought I was either delusional or a fatalist. (Does this mean I can claim supernatural powers to make predictions come true?)

    Like the music industry, IT had no choice but to become more consumer- and content-driven. If customers aren’t getting what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and at the price point they want it for, they will go elsewhere. The elsewhere is a place where their wallet’s vote is considered valuable, acknowledged. Sometimes that acknowledgement is in the form of video games and streaming movies instead of books. Game developers treat their customers like royalty in comparison to how publishing treats their intelligent lifeblood, all the while assuming with great arrogance that they are the best judge of what their readers want, that readers can’t be trusted, and that they know best from among which titles readers should be *allowed* to pick. Readers have been treated as incidental for so long by trad publishers that it’s not surprising authors have been, as well. Propaganda is an amazing thing. If enough publishers and agents say that you must be a carpet in order to be in print, and they say it loud and often enough, everyone starts to believe that is just the way it is – better get used to it. Especially if the writer holds the assumption that they can’t do it on their own, with or without help, and that only the sacred blessing of a traditional house can save them from the doom of unpublished obscurity. Everyone is afraid except those self-published folks who are willing to step up, despite whatever fear they might feel, and own their work and their business. Those are the folks, to use your analogy, who are jumping from the Titantic to their own yacht. I recently signed a contract with a small press that was extremely fair, for a short in an upcoming anthology. I honestly can’t conceive of signing a contract with clauses the likes of which PG has been dissecting on his blog of late. There is simply no amount of money in the universe that is worth signing away all your basic rights. Your work, your creativity does not belong to anyone else and its unethical to ask someone to sign away those rights. Traditional publishers, it seems to me, are interested in owning and controlling an author’s entire life, not just their product. The more information that is available about contracts, royalties, the current business models and the fairy tales that the long-standing propaganda has seeded among the writing masses, the more, I hope, a healthy fearlessness will catch fire. (Hey, even the business-minded can have idealistic moments).

    • Kris says:

      Thanks, Roxy. Good points all. You’re preaching to the choir with me. I have been thinking about some of these things as well, particularly the part about forcingreaders into a mold. Ever since I typed in that Shatzkin thing, I’ve been noodling with it. So something may come of that. But thanks again for the good points.

  3. Wayne Borean says:


    Early this year I predicted that the Brick and Mortar book stores would be dead in two years. I may have been wrong, it may be one year.

    I also predicted that the publishers might die out as well, and that is the one point that I disagree with you on. I cannot at present see a business model that will allow the publishers to survive. As Shatzkin says, we aren’t going to accept 25%. I get 35% on my $0.99 non-fiction books on Amazon, and I’ll be getting 70% on the upcoming $2.99 non-fiction books. The publishers can’t afford to pay me or you that percentage.

    As to Indigo/Chapters, ever since I got my iPad I haven’t visited them very much. But when I do visit them, the book section shrinks every time.

    Oh, and you are very popular in Canada. All of the writers I know up here know of you, and we all talk about you .


    • Kris says:

      Yes, Wayne, but you and I want to control our business. So many writers just want to be taken care of. It’s rather sad. Traditional publishers will continue to exist, just like recording labels do. But in diminished capacity, just like recording labels. Otherwise we agree.


  4. Thank you very much for the advice!

    Yes, I had been running out of markets because I was only looking at things that publish sf. I will take your advice about the Best American Short Stories edition, for sure.

    Another question for you, if you don’t mind. I set my minimum price limit on what I’ll sell a short story to a magazine based on one of Dean’s posts, where he said (if I recall correctly) that people are likely to make more on a short story if they self-publish than if they sell a story for less than 4 cents per word. 5 cents per word is SFWA’s minimum, and therefore magazines that pay that rate in sf often get higher quality submissions and larger readership, so I put my minimum up to that level unless the magazine holds some prestige that might help me build readership in the future. I figure I should do something similar with stories sent to venues outside sf, but I’m not sure what my best strategy should be to juggle readership, prestige and payment in general, in venues in or outside sf. Do you have a recommendation on a strategy I should consider? Am I over-thinking all this? I very well could be, but I want to make sure my short fiction builds me the largest audience it can while making me whatever money I can manage off it as well.

    Having now read your publishing series articles, I completely agree with you that I should build an online backlog of novels. I’m going to keep writing short stories because I like them and they teach me more about fiction writing than novels seem to, but it’s time to bite the bullet and get the novels on the self-publishing fast track (oh, and mix up a few metaphors as well).

    I may sign up for next year’s Character Voice and Setting or Short Story Workshop, by the way–depending on if I can afford them.

    • Kris says:

      You’re welcome, Richard. I always go for payment first, because it usually coincides with prestige and audience. You want the most people to read your work? Go to the highest paying venue. The New Yorker, for example. Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s and others pay extremely well also, because they have the most readers–and in the literary area–the most prestige. I rarely go below 5 cents per word, except as a favor to someone I know, with a promise of more payment later. Good luck with it all–and I hope we get to meet you at a workshop in the future. 🙂

  5. […] the last two or three weeks there has been a lot of buzz about the changing publishing environment. Kristine Rusch has been blogging about the changing conditions of Publishers contracts, e-Book royalties being […]

  6. […] speaking, if you haven’t been reading them this week.  The first is Kris Rusch’s on “The Fear Chronicles”.  The other is Passive Guy’s post on how to read a publishing contract.  Both should be […]

  7. JJBrannon says:

    By the way, as I forgot to make clear above, having followed the Mike Shatzkin link to the NY Times “content-creating brands” article, I’d say you and Dean have the right of the interpretation even if it is Mr. Shatzkin and the publishers who are confused.

    Ignore Shatzkin and the NYT for the nonce, to perform a Gedanken experiment [for non-physicists, this does not allude to an arcane Thanksgiving-stuffing attempt]: Does **any** non-corpus corporate entity create “content”?

    No, naturally not. Only people, who may or may not work for corporations, create content.

    See, the comment is more insidious than one may apprehend at first glance. It’s not that Mr. Skatzkin & followers are confusingly referring to HufPo or Random as “content-creating brands” but that Shatzkin & Co. actually confuse the reified Corporate-Entity Brands with the living writers who really create the content for those entities.

    He & publishing industry to whom he blogs are de-reifying writers as interchangeable and anonymous widgets, mere commoditized cogs in their vast economic-machine.

    How dare mere cogs insist on **owning** what they create.

    In that light, we are not humans; we are all “house names”.

    In support of the above, note how Shatzkin later refers in the piece to Eloise and Alice in Wonderland as “brands”.

    Now, I am fairly happy to give Felix Francis a shot at entertaining me. He is neither his mother nor even his father, but he’s cordially close enough to divert me for an afternoon, being legitimately involved in the composition of books since childhood and equally legitimately passed the baton by his dad.

    I have no intention, though, of buying a single Robert B. Parker knockoff, however faithful.

    Soylent Green(TM) may be People, but ‘taint a Person.


    On a side note, after losing the Borders five miles from my house, a B&N recently opened off Main Street, Newark, in partnership with the University of Delaware.

    I visited last week, hunting for a birthday gift. Excluding textbooks, there’s a good chance I have more linear feet of books than that particular store.


    • Kris says:

      JJ, thanks. Great comments. (Should I add a trademark symbol on your name?) Thanks for mentioning the Eloise & Alice thing as well. It had bothered me; I forgot to include it. I too found it offensive. (The Parker knockoff is by a good writer, btw. And Parker finished some of Chandler’s work, so I doubt Parker would mind.) Sad about B&N. I couldn’t bring myself to go into one last week. I’m so mad at the brick-and-mortar decisions, even as I benefit from the Nook.

  8. JJBrannon says:

    Having 30 years ago deliberately formulated “JJ Brannon” as my writing “brand” [with the punning realization that the surname potentially derives from “son of the fire-sword”, a type of which once marked livestock], since my extended-clan-family call me by a childhood diminutive of my middle name [Jerry/Jerald] and as an adult most of my friends call me by the diminutive of my first name [Jim/James], I separated my writing “self”, the one I present at cons, on manuscripts, and commenting in fora, as “JJ” and in shorthand as JJB.

    Since I do it for myself, I tend to to do it with others, Initialize their names, such as my cousins LJ and RBS. Which is why I have always thought of you as KKR, in the respectful uncial.

    It does not please me to think of you, KKR, [or myself] as “ccb”, in the sneering minuscule.

    Keep up the good [fire]works!


  9. I have been writing short fiction, sf and fantasy, in order to grow stronger with my writing. I write a story, sit on it for a month to get a new perspective on it, make whatever revisions I feel are needed, then show it to readers and see what I might need to change. After that, I submit the stories to magazines, provided they at least pay 5 cents per word or are highly respected in the field (such as Electric Velocipede or Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet). The plan is to self-publish any stories that don’t sell to these markets, along with any stories that finish their exclusivity periods at these markets and exhaust their reprint potential at places with decent readerships. While I work on these stories, I have a novel I’m slowly revising. My tentative goal has been to submit this novel to publishers once it’s ready, hoping by then to have a few good short story credits to help on my cover letter.

    After a year of rolling stories through this process I have sold two pieces and am running out of markets to which to submit some of the oldest stories. Very soon I’ll be preparing an epub version of a story or two. Once I have five or more self-published stories, I plan to collate them into story collections.

    Reading posts like this, so recently after having learned about the announcement of the new Kindles at prices that I expect will push a lot more e-reader units during this Christmas season than were sold this last year, I am more and more convinced that I should get in on this self-publishing thing to a greater extent. It’s a frustrating process, as I know that you’ve experienced, to have stories rejected over and over again by magazines before finding the editor who wants to buy it. I also really like the control that self-publishing gives, particularly since I have a graphic design and something of a typesetting and publishing background already. So I wonder if I should be self-publishing my stories out of the gate, rather than waiting to send them to magazines. Regardless of that, I suspect that by the time my present novel is complete then there will be little point in submitting it to traditional publishers because so much of the market will have shifted to electronic publication.

    The one thing that has kept me interested in traditional publishers is that I write literary and extremely odd stories, and so having a large distribution entity that may get my book in front of a wide group of readers seems like the best opportunity to begin to reach that small fraction of readers who will be strange and literary enough to want my book. The books that seem to presently do well in the self-publishing environment appear to be backlogs of authors with preexisting audiences and / or pulp fiction of one sort or another (I use the term not to devalue the writing, which I respect and enjoy reading, but which I for some reason just don’t like to write myself). I would like to believe that self-published books of a more eclectic and literary angle will soon have a better chance of finding their audience than through traditional publishers, but I’m not seeing much in the way of numbers for these sort of books in what I read about self-publishing. Your thoughts on this?

    • Kris says:

      Eclectic literary books, Richard, almost never find a market with traditional publishers. The ones you see on the shelves are the lucky ones. Most never sell to a publisher in the first place. I frankly don’t believe we know what the market is with readers because publishers are too afraid of the “different” to even try a good eclectic literary book. The pro writers I know who write them usually can’t sell them, and often turn to more “commercial” work.

      As for your short stories, I’m confused. I have no idea how you’re running out of markets, unless you’re only looking at things that publish sf and you haven’t really looked at the literary and little magazines. Have you tried The New Yorker? Glimmer Train? Rosebud? McSweeney’s? Tin House? You need to pick up a Best American Short Stories edition, and start mining the markets that they list in the back. Skip the ones that pay in copies and go for the others. That will keep you busy for years on one short story. You won’t run out of markets that meet your minimum pay requirement for at least three to five years.

      Short stories are worth publishing in traditional venues. Traditional publishing, especially with eclectic books, is a more difficult proposition. Traditional publishing wasn’t fond of literary or odd before the changes. I doubt they’ll accept any such books from anyone except already established names right now. I’d focus on building a backlist of novels and have people recognize your voice/style over time. Look at some of my earlier posts on the economics of traditional publishing companies to understand why they don’t want risk-taking books right now. Click on the Business Rusch tab and find the publishing series link.

      That’s my opinion, since you asked…

  10. jmike says:

    I think what Shatzkin is worried about is HufPo and other such content-creating brands disintermediating the publishers when it comes to ebooks (which, according to the article he linked to, is what they’re starting to do), not the other way around. At least, that’s how I read his following paragraph:

    “We don’t know if book publishers will develop an ebook publishing expertise that will make them able to persuade those brands in time to go through them, the way they have in the print book world, rather than disintermediating them.”

    On the other hand, maybe “content-creating brand” is a good way for individual authors as well to look at one aspect of what they’re doing. It certainly seems in line with what you and Dean have been suggesting as far as authors viewing themselves as serious businesses that need to market themselves by producing a lot of content.

    • Kris says:

      Honestly, Jmike, I think we will never know without asking him. The unclear antecedents make that sentence mud. The jargon makes it thick black mud. Dean and I went through it twice, and we figured it was writers and publishers. Otherwise, it really doesn’t make sense, since he’s taking about marketing books. Why would Hufpo and such matter that much to publishers, when publishers try to get their works reviewed there? I really do think he’s referring to writers. But what he actually says is such a mess, we might be able to find the fountain of youth in there if we try. 🙂

      If you’re right and I’m wrong, then I’m even more offended. Because he is dismissing writers as masters of their own fates entirely if your interpretation is correct.

  11. What? Illustrated ebooks don’t sell? Gee, I’d better rethink my business model. Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. Shatzkin!


    (watches the mom and daughter sitting in the next bench read the Toy Story ebook on their iPad)

  12. L. M. May says:

    Kris & Daryl,

    The cutting back on the grocery store book section is happening down here in Albuquerque as well. For example, about two months ago Smith’s reduced by half the amount of shelf and floor space they devoted to paperbacks. And they used to have quite a large paperback section (much larger than the typical grocery store), so this is significant.

  13. Wonderful post, Kris, with some great comments too. (I’ve always loved that Machiavelli quote.)

    Sometimes it’s the things we know that aren’t so that trip us up. Shatzkin says:

    “We know that rate of growth is mathematically prevented from continuing for even three more years (because it would put ebooks at 160% of publishers’ revenues if it did!)”

    Depends how you look at the market. Maybe in three years, traditional publishers will have 80% of their revenues in ebooks sales, but indie sales — er, content-creating brands delivering their own content to the e-book marketplace — will match those numbers. Total ebook market then equals 160% of traditional publishers’ revenues. Not inconceivable.

    • Kris says:

      Alastair, that percentage thing bothered me too, so I asked Dean about it. He says it’s some math formula. But someone else took it apart in the comments on the Shatzkin piece, and Shatzkin came back with an explanation. I think you’re right and he’s wrong. No one seems to acknowledge that readership and book buying is expanding. Everyone in traditional publishing believes it’s a finite market–which it is, I guess, when you keep selling to the same people over and over again.

  14. Alice Sabo says:

    Kris, you said my post confused you about e-pub companies wanting agented material and then in another place said Sourcebooks was good. Here’s what their submission guidelines are:

    Our fiction imprint, Sourcebooks Landmark, publishes a wide variety of authors and titles. We are interested first and foremost in books that have a story to tell. However, we are currently only reviewing agented fiction manuscripts, with the exception of romance fiction.

    I had to go back and check, because I thought maybe I misread it. But thanks for your warning. When I’m ready, I’ll think lawyer, not agent.

    • Kris says:

      Thanks, Alice, for checking. But here’s the dirty secret about guidelines: they’re designed to discourage you from submitting, not to encourage you. That’s for all publishers, because they want to cut down the amount of stuff they get. If you send something to someone who says “agented only” they will read anyway because they’re afraid you’re the next JK Rowling, and they don’t want to miss you. Go look at Dean’s posts on Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. He deals with this. (You can follow the link I posted below.)

  15. Having self-published illustrated POD books of two of my Midnight Louie novelettes in 2003 and 2006 (the latter in library-edition hardcover!) and sold them direct to my readers via a newsletter and website to this day, I cannot WAIT until illustrated e-books became easy-peasy for writers like me willing to learn how to upgrade skills!

    Back then, I had to hire book designers–not because I didn’t know what I wanted graphically, but because I didn’t have or know the desktop publishing program required. I found a great illustrator in Brad W. Foster and PODed the two stories through pretty disappointing printers, one immense (printed the Harry Potter books) and the other a RPG operation, but I got them out, by golly.

    At the very least, writers owe it to themselves to get their reverted backlists out in e-book and trade paperback, whether it’s DIY or through the many flat-fee services out there. You can do it through Word, for heaven’s sake.

    Thanks to you and Dean and Mike Stackpole and all the other technologically oriented writers for spreading the word and the how-to tips! I think one element of the author fear you’re encountering is simple fear of learning new technology. And the only way to overcome that is to just Look and Learn and Do It! I’m starting with novelettes again, as a learning tool. Like the Truth, everything you need to know is Out There.

    Especially from you and Dean. 🙂

    • Kris says:

      Carole, thanks for the post. And you’re right about backlist. Get that reverted and get it up!

      I also think you’re right about fear. None of us want to cram something new into our busy lives. But it’ll save our careers–and probably make our futures. So time to learn. 🙂 I love your method of starting with novelettes. We started with short stories, and then moved to bigger fish (novels). It’s been fun.

  16. Scott Bury says:

    Thank you, Kathryn, for a well reasoned explanation. I get more and more hope from you and like-minded writers every day.

  17. […] headed over to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog  for her Thursday (my Friday) Business blog and read it. I read the links she added and all the […]

  18. Another great post, Kris.

    I too noted the comments by Chapters here in Canada. To answer your question: yes, there are many retailers offering what they’re planning to do. I think they’re headed down the wrong road. Unlike Amazon and B&N, Chapters does not allow authors to publish e-books directly on their site. To me this makes no sense at all given what’s happening. The only thing that makes sense is they fear the e-books and decided to fight the fear by stocking retail items rather than embracing the e-book revolution.

    If they wish to truly embrace e-bboks there are some very inventive ways to go about it. I think their buyers and executives etc have no idea how to handle, or market e-books. They are likely the types who say they prefer paper books only.

    Just for the record I like both forms of delivery systems so no one thinks I’m a paper averted zealot e-book indie publisher. Frankly for business reasons I plan to do both. I will say once I discovered e-books I found I really do love the story delivery device, but paper is not going anywhere for a while yet (if ever).

    As an aside I think we should be watching what Costco etc does. Love ’em or hate ’em the big box stores follow consumer trends probably better than anyone. Here in Vancouver Costco used to carry large sections of music and DVD’s. Now they are tiny sections compared to what they were. At some point I think you’ll see their large book section begin to shrink.

    Lastly, I am shocked Amazon’s tablet rollout price is so low. I agree this is a loss leader, but this will really shake up the market place for other tablet makers who are not also e-book retailers. What’s next Blackberry e-books?? Maybe it’ll finally get Apple to be more aggressive about marketing e-books?

    Interesting times.

  19. Foxessa says:

    We have had some meetings with Very Big Name editors of Very Big Houses in the non-fiction side of the business regarding our new book. The effect that the disappearance of Borders has made is obvious.

    Too bad, because as Agent says, they want you badly, but they’re not going to offer you anything more that your small, indie publisher has — whereas even a few months ago that would have been different.

    So I’m saying why change publishers to a Big One that needs a Borders from an indie that Borders and B&N have mostly sneered at? That we are regional bestsellers has all to do with the indie, local bookstores of the regions. But this time we’ve moved onto a much larger stage, and we and Agent thought a Major would be interested. And they are, but —

    They haven’t a clue, that was clear. The worst thing is they seemd to think I / we don’t either, and hey — I’ve been watching this up close and personal along with all my genre writer friends for a very long time now.

    • Kris says:

      Foxessa, thanks for the post. What you’re experiencing is quite common right now. Thanks for putting it out there for others to see. I’m hearing writers who don’t understand the business calling this “insulting” as if the loss of advances, etc, is personal. It’s not. It’s fear. Publishers don’t know where they will make their money. I love your analysis. You’re right–and right to stick with the folks what brung ya to the dance in the first place.

  20. Daryl Nash says:

    I noticed my wife reading a paperback recently and asked where she’d gotten it. It had come from a large chain drug store and was on clearance. They’d shoved all their paperbacks on a high shelf, very bad placement to get rid of them, but they were getting rid of them nonetheless. They’ve cut their book shelfspace entirely and even cut magazine space in half. Yet another of the many large and small indicators this year that space to sell physical books is shrinking.

    Our city had six large new bookstores within an hour’s drive at the start of last year. Now, we’re down to one–and none within the city limits. It’s bittersweet–as a reader, I’m going to miss the joy of browsing a physical bookstore, but my opportunities as a writer don’t have to be tied to the dinosaur of a publishing industry anymore.

    I’ve had to overcome a lot of fear in the last year regarding the old system. Part of me still feels that a book must not be legitimate if it’s not published by the traditional route. But one of your posts earlier this year finally changed my mind. I’ve self-published my first book on the Kindle and Nook. Though sales have been unremarkable so far, I’ve owned another business for many years and know that these things take time. I’m more optimistic about my writing and opportunities to get it to readers than I have been in a long time. But I confront that fear that I’m “doing it wrong” every day…

    • Kris says:

      Daryl, every grocery store I’ve been to lately has cut back their book section as well. By about half or more. The loss of shelf space this year alone is enormous.

  21. Loren says:

    I think Bob should definitely report his nice “deals.” I love it!

    Nice job, Kris! Keep up the masterful work. I’ve been a lot of things in this industry, including wrong more times than not. But one thing I haven’t been in years, thanks to you and Dean, is afraid. I love this new age of publishing because it rewards writers for being brave, or at least not being afraid.

  22. @Andrew, I had exactly the same training, and I’m guessing I had it for many more years than you, but only cos I’m older than dirt. A “real” writer was someone with their agent on the phone in one hand, waving a print publishing contract in the other. But history isn’t prophecy, and that world no longer exists. Hell, it’s been crumbling since hundreds of publishing companies became a handful, beginning about 30 years ago, only now a lot more of the iceberg is visible as it tips over prior to sinking. Don’t sink with it.

  23. L. M. May says:

    @Bob Mayer, “I’m selling 2,000 eBooks A DAY. I just cashed my July check from Amazon and it was larger than any check I ever received for an advance or royalties from a traditional publisher. I’m earning a “nice” PW deal every month. I’m tempted to contact PW deals and announce: Bob Mayer just completed a nice deal with himself in July; and then again in August; and then again in September. But I doubt they’d run it.”

    Bob, I nearly snorted tea up my nose when I read that comment from you. I’m going to have to go out and buy your Write It Forward book.

    Another great post, Kris!

    You know, it would be fun if someone out there did do a Publisher’s Marketplace-style announcement of indie “deals” on a monthly basis. I’d find it very entertaining reading.

  24. Somebody wants to disintermediate us? Somehow I don’t care for the sound of that… 🙁

  25. Jenni S-G says:

    Kris, I think there are Fisher Price devices and all those Leap Frog devices for preschoolers and early readers. They have a limited selection of titles (seem mostly geared towards education), but someone in the toy biz is figuring out how that even the little ones want to get in on the touch-screen device train. I wonder if they wouldn’t be looking for partnership of kids’ IP…


    Fisher Price:

  26. Chris York says:

    “Trying a business model that is illegal and unethical isn’t the way to save a dying business”

    John DeLorean anyone?

  27. John Walters says:

    It occurs to me that the fear pervading the industry can work to our advantage. The analogy is not perfect because we are not really in an us against them situation, but in a game such as football or even on a battlefield, when the opponent is paralyzed by fear then that is the time to strike. If certain parts of the industry are staggering in terror or reeling with confusion, the rest of us are in a position of advantage and can move forward to score touchdowns. I don’t wish anyone ill, but I will not let anyone’s inertia stop me from charging forward to win. It is as if a huge hole were suddenly opened on the field. Time to run like hell and score. (Makes me want to upload some more stories right now.)

    I present this analogy while at the same time agreeing with Dean that writers are not in competition with each other. But it just came to me while reading about all this fear that all those frozen with fear will see is my dust.

  28. jmike says:

    The “content-creating brands that are not book publishers” that Mr. Shatzkin refers to would appear to be news organizations rather than authors. At least such organizations are the subject of the NY Times article he links to when mentioning the “content-creating brands.” According to said article:

    “Now they [publishers] have to contend with another group elbowing into their territory: news organizations….On Tuesday, The Huffington Post will release its second e-book, “How We Won,” by Aaron Belkin, the story of the campaign to end the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It joins e-books recently published by The New Yorker, ABC News, The Boston Globe, Politico and Vanity Fair.”

    The entire article he linked to is at

    • Kris says:

      Yeah, jmike, I did follow the link. But even if you look at the entire confusing sentence that he wrote, it makes no sense if he’s talking about HufPo, etc. Because he can’t disintermediate HufPo or any of the online news sites. He means writers.

  29. I meant to add that it’s not surprising that romance writers have no problem with a free story. There has never been a decent paying market for romance short stories, and the genre requirements make a good short story almost impossible to write.

    Since the early days of Ellora’s Cave, however, when book sales were made at the publisher site, not big sites like Amazon, the free short story has been seen as a promotional vehicle to sell novels, and most small romance publishers used them to drive traffic to their sites.

  30. Andrew says:

    @Michael and Kris,

    I know fear is a stupid excuse. However, I’ve been trained my whole life to submit to traditional publishers and that self-publishing is something to avoid. I have an extremely important (to me) work, which begins a series that I want to work on for the next few decades. Deep down, I really want to self-publish. I think I’ll feel free when I do. My main fear is that the book won’t sell and traditional publishing will once again become “the only game in town.”

    However, I do need to face my fears. First, however, I need a good cover, and finally get that d*mned blurb from a NYT bestselling author who read (and loved) my novel.

  31. One major thing the big publishers don’t get is that the author is their partner, not their cash cow to slaughter as they wish. Right now, they are whining about authors deserting their ship while they are under-reporting royalties, offering a much smaller royalty rate than even small publishers offer, doing less editing, doing almost no marketing which they claim is their greatest strength to authors, and they are letting their distribution channels fall apart. Like duh!

    The problem with bookstore space is profit margin and mark up. Publishing has always had a very small profit margin of just a few percentage points which traces back to the day of gentleman publishers who were selling culture and who believed that books should be as cheap as possible so the masses could read it.

    Most other manufactured goods have an incredible mark up which allows considerably more profit for the seller. The last figure I saw, for example, for furniture is a 700 to 1000% mark up.

    All those novelties in the bookstore pay for their space in the store while, as rental and other expenses sky rocket, books do not. The bookstores have no choice but to sell novelties and used books to pad a faltering bottom line.

    Meanwhile, the general public thinks it is paying too much for paper books and a vocal group of readers/copyleft types is convincing others that ebooks should be even cheaper than they already are.

    • Kris says:

      Exactly, Marilynn. We are partners–in fact, the main partner, since we provide what they sell. The problem is that in the past writers have not acted like a partner, but like a grateful supplicant. We must change that behavior now.

      Thanks for the info on mark-ups. I had no idea. That makes sense then.

      As for free stories/romance, um, well…yeah. I had that thought on the difficulty of selling a romance short these days. As for how impossible they are to do, that’s not true at all. Until the mid-1980s, the dominant form of short fiction for women in the “slick” magazines was the romance short. Those stories paid the best too. But with the loss of that market–from Redbook, Woman’s Day, etc–then there was no market at all. It went from the best paying short fiction market to nothing in the space of about five years. So romance shorts can and have been written. We just need a market for them–and we have it now. Our own short fiction, tied to our books, on the e-readers. (and in our own collections.)

  32. Funny you mention toddlers and ipads, Kris. I’ve heard that sort of concern before. I’ll tell you what, my two year old and my three year old both LOVE our ipad. Hell, they sometimes fight over it. The only reason we have it, in fact, is when my mom came visiting with hers, she downloaded a whole bunch of drawing, educational game, and storybook aps and the kids went nuts over them. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach when she left with it, because I knew we were going to have to get one. Then the mother in law won one in a contest and gave it to us, so that saved some $. That thing’s pretty darn tough. It’s withstood everything they’ve thrown at it over the last…almost a year now…with no problem whatsoever.

  33. Tori Minard says:

    I was just reading a wiki article on the Milgram experiments (the ones where people were encouraged to deliver electric shocks to a stranger) and came across this explanation of the subjects’ behavior: “The first is the theory of conformism, based on Solomon Asch conformity experiments, describing the fundamental relationship between the group of reference and the individual person. A subject who has neither ability nor expertise to make decisions, especially in a crisis, will leave decision making to the group and its hierarchy. The group is the person’s behavioral model.” I thought there were some interesting parallels with the decision-making by many writers regarding agents and publishing contracts. I interpreted it this way: people do what they think everyone else is doing, especially if they know (or suspect) that they themselves are lacking in knowledge and/or experience. It probably takes a lot of repetition of new or conflicting information to overcome this conformity response.

  34. xdpaul says:

    You aren’t going to believe this Kris, but I saw Moneyball last weekend at thought of you and Dean exactly during that rant. The scout’s fury and disgust was palpable and completely unfounded. It is a question of pride. If traditional publishers were capable of adapting, incorporating and cooperating with the trailblazers, they’d find their new niche much faster.

    It would be a painful blow to pride and staffing, but holy cow, most of them are just writhing under the slow agony now, and blaming the doctor for his medicine that they aren’t taking.

    I need to read Moneyball, too.

    • Kris says:

      LOL, Paul. It’s stunning, isn’t it?

      Tori, thanks for the mention of the conformity experiments. Those things are scary. I try to forget about them. But I think you might be onto something there.

  35. >(Someone needs to make a $20 device for little kids.)<

    That would be sweet!

  36. JR Tomlin says:

    Kris, thanks for another brilliant post. I don’t often comment because what you say is to spot on, I don’t feel I have anything worthwhile to add. But I really felt I needed to thank you for your fantastic advice. It has meant a lot many of us.

  37. Tori Minard says:

    Kris, if that commenter on PG’s blog is the same one I’m thinking of, she also said that we newcomers who are suspicious of agents and “bashing agents” are just repeating what we’ve been told without having any experience to back up our opinions. Huh? Cause the ones who worship agents blindly haven’t been doing exactly that? I almost responded, too, but I thought why bother? Besides, how do you counter an argument like that? It’s true, I have no experience with agents, and the horror stories I’ve heard makes me want to keep it that way.

  38. Thank you, Kris. Your posts really do help. It’s not just the clear-sighted writers vs the ones wearing blinders – there are a lot of us in the middle, still wading out of the morass of traditional publishing, with sticky quicksand trying to suck us back in. You (and Dean and PG) have given us sturdy sticks to help pull ourselves to solid ground.

    • Kris says:

      Anthea, I feel that quicksand all the time. The training is powerful, but we must trust the force. (Or something like that) Seriously, we need to gather information to make the best decisions for us. And sometimes that might mean going with a traditional house on a project. But the offer has to be good, and so does the contract. Because we have other options now.

      Thanks for the kind words.

  39. “content-creating brands” I like the sound of that. 😀

    Thanks for the discussion of kid’s books on ereaders. I don’t think it’s the children that have a problem with the new technology. They embrace and enjoy it. Stories are stories in whatever form they can get their hands on them. And a lot of smart parents are using the ereaders to get their children fired up about reading.

    • Kris says:

      I think you’re right, Rebecca. Kids love new tech. And it’ll be interesting to see how things change now that it’s becoming more affordable. I wouldn’t give my toddler an iPad, but I might teach her how to use a $50 e-reader, while I’m holding it and she’s messing with it. I think that’ll make quite a difference. We’re not quite to the right price yet, but we’re close. (Someone needs to make a $20 device for little kids.)

  40. RoundTop says:

    I really liked your article.

    One interesting subject might be Baen Books (sci-fi/fantasy publishers). They are relatively small compared to Random House/Penguin Putnam, however they got into e-books early and release a large number of their books through (with Author permission) and even accept e-books from authors who are not in their stable, as long as they have the appropriate e-rights.

    Almost a decade ago they put CDs in many of their hardcovers with ebooks of most of the author’s catalog, and made these available as a free distribution. (

    Might be a good discussion with them about how they have been changing, why, and how.

    • Kris says:

      Thanks, James. I’m familiar with Baen. I’ve known Toni (the publisher/owner) for decades, and spent January with her at a conference. Baen is doing great things. So is Sourcebooks, both smaller companies. But I’m not in the middle of what they do, so can’t comment on it directly. I’m encouraged by everything I see, however.

  41. Alice Sabo says:

    I started writing in the late 90’s. Just when I think I’ve mastered the craft or the business something changes drastically. (I’m still reeling from the change of 2 spaces between sentences to 1!)

    Thanks so much for your informed rants. We, the unpublished and floundering in conflicting info, need someone who has a clear and experienced view of what’s happening.

    I’ve been researching self-e-pub as I am polishing a manuscript. It’s a good one, but it’s a mystery and the next big one I want to write is Scifi. Every bit of advice I found was that I couldn’t handle 2 genres as a newbie. I was happy to see that you had more than one. It’s nice to see what could be down the road for me.

    I’m also keeping an eye to agents, because I have found some e-pub companies that only take agented work. Do you think that means that agents will become more like editors? So e-pub companies don’t have to? And they also blab on about foreign rights, movie rights, etc.

    Well, I’d best stop before I go off on a rant. Thank you!

    • Kris says:

      Alice, your post confused me. E-pub houses want agents? Really? Are you thinking of Carina? Because they take direct submissions.

      Right now, do not get an agent. Wait at least two years. Dean has a good post that explains this. You can find it here. And believe me, you can sell your own foreign rights and movie rights. Just hire an IP attorney to help you with negotiations and contracts. I have a lot of posts in The Freelancer’s Guide on how to negotiate. Just click on the Freelancer’s Guide tab to find them.

      I’m doing a panel at the Novelists, Inc conference in FL in October on how to write across genres. Many of us do it. No need to be afraid of it.

      Good luck with everything!

  42. Maybe it’s because I’m sort of a type A guy and I’ve trained myself over the years (and been trained by others) to be aggressive and proactive, but I cannot fathom the kind of mindset you’re describing here. I know it exists, and many people have it. But I cannot understand how, or why.

    You don’t know about something that’s important to you? Well freaking go LEARN about it. Read a book, talk to people, do SOMETHING. Don’t just be a passive jellyfish!

    You’re afraid of doing something? Get out there and do it anyway!


    I am goal and challenge focused. I could make a long list of things that interested me, or that I thought would be challenging, that I went ahead and did BECAUSE they were challenging. To coin a phrase, “Why do we choose to go to the Moon and do the other things? Not because they are easy but BECAUSE THEY ARE HARD.” Accepting challenge and pushing ourselves is the only way to grow and improve, in anything.

    To me, if someone says “I’m afraid” or “I don’t know how” as a reson for not doing something, what they really mean is “I don’t want to” or “I’m too lazy”. And that’s no way to go through life.

    Maybe I’m completely abnormal in my thinking about this sort of thing, but I’d like to think not.

    • Kris says:

      Michael K., I think everyone can learn to face their fears. Some of us just do it sooner than others. I remember deciding in Junior High that I could be a scared shy thing in the corner, or I could learn to speak in public. So I took forensics and debate and theater. I’m still shy, and often scared, but at least I can speak in public. Doing that showed me exactly what you’re talking about–there’s a greater reward in doing things that are challenging. You feel more satisfaction.

      I think you’re mostly right about the scared excuse–if it gets repeated over and over. But I know a lot of folks who need to be coaxed the first time, shown that it’s okay even if they’re scared, and then they try. The folks that repeatedly use fear as an excuse, well, they’re not going anywhere until they decide to face those fears.

      I do love that JFK quote. It’s my favorite of his.

  43. Bob Mayer says:

    I wrote my book about writers learning to be authors, Write It Forward, based on my “self-help” book: Who Dares Wins: The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear & Success which was published two years ago by S&S.

    I wrote the original book because I learned doing consulting that the one constant in all industries is fear. I learned serving in the Green Berets that the one constant on the battlefield is fear. You can not ignore it. It must be dealt with.

    After 20 years in traditional publishing, I believe it’s the greatest time ever to be a writer. We have more opportunities than ever before. Yet, I am constantly shocked at how scared most writers are, especially those who have been in traditional publishing. I’m selling 2,000 eBooks A DAY. I just cashed my July check from Amazon and it was larger than any check I ever received for an advance or royalties from a traditional publisher. I’m earning a “nice” PW deal every month. I’m tempted to contact PW deals and announce: Bob Mayer just completed a nice deal with himself in July; and then again in August; and then again in September. But I doubt they’d run it.

    I ran into the same “we don’t know how to market this” thing from traditional publishers many times. I ran into the “we’ll promote it” and nothing happens many times.

    Like this blog, I’ve tried at Write It Forward and on Kindleboards to be an author advocate. To take the fear and the emotion out of it, and discuss the business rationally and from a writer’s POV. Overall the response has been positive, but I still run into those who are intent on swapping deck chairs on the Titanic.

    We can’t wish reality away.

    • Kris says:

      Thanks for the marvelous post, Bob. For those of you who haven’t yet seen Bob’s blog, click on over. It’s really worth reading.

      I love your Green Beret comments. If those guys are afraid, then it’s okay for all of us to be afraid. We just have to deal with it. Great point.

      Yeah, I did the math on Rebecca’s numbers from Nook alone which she so generously provided for me last night, and realized that she was selling at top of the line midlist NY numbers–every month–on Nook alone. And as you point out, she’s not the only one. My sales are wonderful. Yours clearly are.
      How traditional publishing can ignore stuff like this is beyond me. What I particularly love is that those of us who are previously published are now writing “crap” because it’s not “edited.” Never mind that it is edited, or that we have decades of experience as writers. The minute we leap, we are ignored.

      Me, I’ll laugh all the way to the bank, accompanied by my readers. 🙂

      And–oh, I would love it if you sent your deal report to PW. And Publisher’s Marketplace. How wonderful that would be. 🙂

  44. Bonnie says:

    I had a good laugh (in an ironic, Kurt Vonnegut kind of way) the day after your rant. I was covering for another practitioner and I met one of her patients who is working on writing fantasy. She was excited about a con coming to town and we got talking. I mentioned what you and Dean were talking about. She told me about her book idea. I told her she had to read you guys because it’s never been easier to get published. Talking to her more about what both you and Dean have said, fast and eager, with all the enthusiasm of a new convert, I was crushed when she looked at me and said she really wanted to get published by a particular traditional publishing house so she needed an agent. She did have friends in the business who would help her negotiate a good contract with the agency so those things I told her you wrote about wouldn’t happen to her.

    • Kris says:

      Ah, Bonnie. What happened to you happens all the time. Passive Guy quoted Dean on his blog, and some poor writer came back on, accused Dean of being “only” self-published, and said self-published folks bash agents. That means she didn’t bother to read the post, didn’t look at Dean’s 30+ years of experience in all aspects of the business. Basically, she got a snippet of the news, and closed her eyes, stuck her fingers in her ears, and started singing. I almost commented, almost mentioned that, then I realized that unless I pulled her fingers out of her ears and demanded that she open her eyes, she never would. And life’s too short for that. Help the folks you can help. The others, I’m afraid, are as Bob said, arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  45. Lynn Mixon says:

    Great post, Kris. Reading it made me remember a quote from Machiavelli’s The Prince. It isn’t about fear, per say, but it struck a similar chord for me, so I decided to share it. Keep up the great work.

    “All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” — Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

    • Kris says:

      Lynn, LOL! The Prince. I love Machiavelli–and while I don’t think writers should be more Machiavellian in the pejorative sense, we should at least realize we are princes of our own countries and we must defend them. Great stuff.

  46. Shawn says:


    Thanks for continuing to pound on writers to “learn business and common sense” when it comes to their profession. I’m more and more grateful every day that I’m just starting out on the path to making this my profession, when there is a lot more choice for writers and when I have generous long time professionals willing to share so much knowledge gained through years and years of experience.

    Again, thank you!

  47. Francoise says:

    Thank you, Kris, for another incredible article that gets the right information to writers at the right time. You and Dean and Passive Guy and your respective blogs are the absolute first thing I read every morning. Many is the time I have forwarded to my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Thank you for being so generous with your experience to help out the rest of us trying to navigate this new landscape of ePublishing!

  48. David Lang says:

    You mentioned how some of the publishers are annoying readers and driving them off.

    This week I went out of my way and paid _more_ for a used hardcover book than it would have cost for a new hardcover from Amazon ($14 + 3.99 shipping vs $14.95 with free shipping) because of a publishers actions and pricing on e-books (the e-book version of this book is priced the same as the hardcover, $14.95)

    Yes, I’m unusal to take this sort of action, but enough is enough.

    • Kris says:

      David L., you’re not alone. I bought the latest Nora Roberts book as a “bargain” book because 1) the hardcover was cheaply made; 2) the e-book was awful and on Kindle, at least, three months after the book’s release, the publisher hadn’t bothered to put a description of the book up, so that I knew what I was spending my $15 on. I was just plain offended by that. So I went out and actively searched for a cheap copy. I usually like to support writers, making sure they get a percentage, but I was so mad this time, that I just didn’t. Judging from what I’m reading in comments on other books, in RT Book Reviews and in other places, I don’t think you and I are alone in this at all.

  49. Nonny says:

    You hit a real chord with “The Speech”. I witnessed a variation on the “without us you can’t do it” speech just the other day. Went something along these lines:

    Editor: It’s a shame self-publishing means some good writers won’t reach their full potential.

    Writer: Why would self-publishing mean writers won’t reach their full potential?

    Editor: Because they publish before they’re read and will never get the same level of dedicated editorial guidance on what is and isn’t working in the story.

    Writer: But couldn’t they get that editorial guidance from other talented writers/beta readers?

    Editor: Other writers/beta readers don’t have a large enough financial stake in the outcome to achieve real brilliance.

    Writer: …

    It was just so…insulting.

    • Kris says:

      It is insulting, isn’t it, Nonny? It makes me angry, in fact, considering how many editorial comments I’ve gotten (particularly from newbie editors) that were just plain wrong. I used to be an editor, and I knew I wasn’t right all the time. I would just through out suggestions in the hope that one stuck. The writer knows her vision best. She might not achieve it, but she certainly will with practice (writing a lot) and getting advice from good readers–no matter who they are. I always have first readers before I turn my work in–whether it’s to a traditional publisher or not–and those folks catch way more than my editors ever have. (With one exception: I had a brilliant editor on my mystery novels. She was invaluable.)

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