The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 2009
Probably the most popular blog post I’ve written in the Business Rusch series appeared in May, 2011. Geared toward traditionally published writers and new writers coming in, “Writing Like It’s 1999” explains how the many truths of publishing from the last century are no longer truths, but myths. The post gets reprinted often. It’s part of my Surviving The Transition book (available in print, ebook or in a new audio edition), and it’s going to be in the British Science Fiction Association’s writing bulletin, Focus, early next year.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that indie writers have ancient myths as well. Because the changes in publishing have happened so quickly—and probably because we live in a world where a smart phone gets outdated within 18 months—things we know to be true about independent publishing aren’t true any more.
Things have changed already and will probably continue to change for the next five years or so. Why five years? Because that’s how long, it seems, for something to get into our consciousness as “normal.”
Those of us who started self-publishing in 2008 or 2009 were at the beginning of a change. We could do things then that we can’t do now. Opportunities existed then that don’t exist now. That doesn’t mean things are worse now; it just means things are different.
In 2009, Dean and I put up our first stories as a lark on Amazon’s Kindle store. In early 2010, I brought a printout to Dean showing how much those stories had sold. They’d hardly sold anything by traditional publishing standards, but they had sold, and because we know a lot about business and the way revenue works, we realized that we had just hit the tip of an exceedingly large iceberg.
We decided, at that point, to get our out-of-print backlist into electronic format. Dean did most of the work. I did some. We figured the extra money we earned every month would more than pay for the effort it would take to get the backlist up.
Fast forward to December of 2012. Dean still does a lot of the work himself. But we have also started four new companies to handle various things to do with just our indie publishing business, we have employees again (sigh), and we still don’t have our entire backlist up. Why? Because (1), the backlist is too damn big to swallow in one big chunk; (2) we had to redo all of our early efforts due to the changes in electronic delivery systems; (3) we added in print books; (4) we added audio books; and most importantly, (5) we moved most of our frontlist—our new books, anyway (I still sell short stories traditionally)—into indie publishing.
Suddenly—or not so suddenly—we have schedules and marketing plans and more work than Dean, I, and four employees can handle. We just hired someone new, and told her what we had said to our very first employee: You’re doing the work of five people, not because we’ve laid off four other people, but because we haven’t hired them yet. We don’t hire until we can afford someone new (that’s an old lesson that we learned painfully long ago), so we’re perpetually behind. Even so, the work has grown exponentially, and most of that is because of how prolific Dean and I are, and were, and will continue to be.
Now I’m not saying that everyone who indie publishes needs to start four companies. Dean and I did because we’ve run companies in the past, and we could use our skills from owning a traditional publishing company in the past to moving even farther ahead in the future.
As I’ve said in other posts, we’re different from so many writers. We have backlist and an active frontlist, multiple careers and interests, and a different way of doing things. We also like building businesses. We’ve built and sold more than I care to think about.
If I had remained buried in all the changes Dean and I are going through, I wouldn’t have even noticed the shifts that indie publishing is going through. But I try to keep up with the blogosphere and I’m noticing some discontent among the ranks.
Plus, I just had lunch with a well-published friend, a New York Times bestseller, who was on an indie publishing panel at a science fiction convention recently, and was disappointed by his experience. He said he got attacked by the other people on the panel, and I said, “Let me guess, they told you your experience doesn’t count because you have a fan base….” and I went on from there, listing a series of criticisms that made him nod, then laugh in recognition.
Already, we can predict what the criticisms will be. That’s because there are “accepted” ways of doing things, and things that “everyone knows are true,” and all kinds of other nasties out there.
In my “Writing Like It’s 1999” post, I listed the myths, and then I added this sentence: “And you know what? Ten years ago, that was all true.”
Well, in 2009, most of this was true:
•You could put up an e-book with a crappy cover, a low price, and no proofing, and you’d get a lot of eager readers to buy the book.
•You could promote that amateurish-looking book on various web forums, particularly the Kindle Boards, and get enough traction to hit Amazon’s bestseller lists.
•Giving a book away for free, especially on Kindle, would give that book a halo effect when it returned to full price. The sales figures would rise, and the book would, again, hit a bestseller list, if only for a short period of time.
•You didn’t have to market your books to other e-book outlets (what other e-book outlets?) because Amazon was the only important outlet (read: the only outlet people were buying from).
•You couldn’t get your books into print without going to a traditional publisher.
•You needed an agent to handle the foreign/Hollywood rights, because that thicket was impossible to enter without an agent.
•You had to produce everything yourself because there was no one else to help you.
•Indie publishing was relatively scam-free.
•Hardcore readers read e-books; everyone else read traditionally published books.
Everything I wrote above is mostly not true any more. Some of the items were true in 2009 and stopped being true in 2010. Others never were true.
For an example of something that wasn’t true in 2009, you don’t need an agent to sell foreign rights. In fact, you shouldn’t get one to do so. Most of the embezzling that happens with agents happens in the foreign rights area. If you don’t believe me, or you think my experiences with this (at multiple agencies, well respected agencies) are unusual, then look at the lawsuit New York Times bestseller Bill Bryson filed last week. Bryson didn’t get the money he was owed for years.
Hmmm. I can relate.
But how do foreign publishers get in touch with you? Well, you see, there’s this thingie called the internet. And if you have a contact-me button on your website, the foreign publisher will use this thingie called a computer to access your site and hit that contact-me button, and send you an e-mail asking if the such-n-so rights are available just like they would do for your agent. How do you negotiate the contract? Well, hire an IP attorney here in the United States. The attorney will help you look at the contract, which is written in English, and help you understand it. Gosh, maybe you can even write the e-mails back to the foreign publisher all by yourself.
Do U.S. agents market their clients’ books to overseas publishers? Sometimes. If you’re a bestseller.
And if you are, I urge you to again read the terms of Bryson’s lawsuit—and realize what’s happening to him has happened to hundreds of other writers out there, and maybe more than that.
I hate to tell you this, but through that thingie called the internet, you can figure out how to market your own books to foreign publishers. You can even negotiate your own terms via that nice invention called e-mail. And if you don’t want to do the negotiating yourself, well, then you could hire an IP attorney to do it for you. (One thing, though. That attorney will probably use (ahem) e-mail.)
As for Hollywood, well, most folks who work in Hollywood as writers are no longer agented. They have managers, yes, but agents, no. At the last dinner I attended with friends who work in the industry, the agent bashing got so ridiculous that one person who has worked in the industry for 30 years said (and I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s damn near a quote), “It’s to the point that if any writer presents anything through an agent, everyone knows the writer doesn’t understand Hollywood.”
California law regarding agents has gotten so harsh that most wannabe agents move to other parts of the industry. The remaining agents are either naïve, old-fashioned, or make most of their money in New York agenting books.
(Clarification note as per comments below: I wasn’t clear. Even though I’m quoting working writers in Hollywood in this piece, the context of the conversation–and of the various other discussions/experiences I’ve had–have been about selling novels into Hollywood (or short fiction), not about selling screenplays. I’ve only done that a few times, and am in no way an expert, and don’t want to be. I almost never discuss that with the Hollywood friends, except to listen into their discussions. But on selling novels into Hollywood, you don’t need an agent. The agents who moved are agents who specialized in getting book properties to studios. Those former “literary” agents have set up production companies now, because the laws have changed. So, my bad on my own lack of clarity. And thanks to Lee & Gillian for calling me on it.)
How do you get a manager? You don’t. When someone in Hollywood comes to you wanting one of your books, you refuse to talk unless there’s upfront money involved. If there is, hire an IP attorney to help you with the contract. (Are you seeing a pattern here?)
So…the agent myth was a myth in 2009. It just shows how badly writers want to have someone else manage their careers for them. I was about to link to an article on someone else’s blog when the post that writer put up over the weekend stopped me. It had this quote: “I urge new writers who aren’t schooled in business to consider querying agents and smaller publishers before taking the self-publishing plunge.”
Probably the most wrong-headed piece of advice I’ve seen this week. It boils down to this: Know nothing about business? Hire someone to take care of that messy stuff for you rather than learn it yourself. All that needs to be added is the shoulder-pat combined with: “And don’t worry your pretty little head about that horrible business stuff, dear. You can learn it later.” After you’ve signed legal documents you don’t understand, of course.
That kind of thing really pisses me off. Can you tell?
Here’s what’s going on with indie publishing in December of 2012. It’s no longer in the early-adapter phase. That’s all.
Self- and indie-publishing doesn’t have that awful stigma it had just five years ago. Even the New York Times has reviewed a self-published book, albeit by someone they’ve reviewed before and, if you actually look at the book, you’ll see that it’s beautifully produced.
What happened in 2009 was that very few people had e-readers. Those of us who did were early technology adapters. Savvy tech people have a term for those of us who buy the early gadgets and actually use them. Those tech people call us “beta testers,” because we are. We’re the ones who find the bugs, and let the manufacturer know what works about the product and what doesn’t.
It means that early adapters are much more tolerant when something goes wrong. We understand when the e-book’s print suddenly slides to one side of the page—could be a tech glitch, could be a problem with the file—and we know that perfection isn’t possible yet.
So those early books with the crap-ass covers and the 99 cent price tags? They were worth wading through to find gold.
We also waded because there wasn’t a lot of content available yet in e-books. We explored what was there—and found all kinds of wonderful writers, like Amanda Hocking. We also rediscovered some midlist favorites we’d forgotten because their publishers dropped them.
We all had Kindles because it was the first good e-reader. But you need to wonder how many people who owned Kindles in 2009 still use Kindles as their primary e-reader. I use the Kindle app on my iPad as my primary reader, the Kindle app on my iPhone as my secondary reader, and my Kindle itself (which is an upgrade; my original Kindle bit it in 2011) as my fifth choice. I’ll often read on my computer through a PDF file before I read the Kindle itself these days.
Why? Convenience. I always have an iPad, an iPhone or my laptop with me. I rarely carry my Kindle any more.
If I can’t get a book on Kindle, I’ll order from the iBookstore or read a epub file from Smashwords or download into my Nook app on the iPad. I don’t care about the delivery system as much as I do about the content. I’ve heard from tablet owners who use the Android-based system that their preferences are the same.
So all of that stuff about hitting the Kindle lists and making a difference on the Kindle, well, it matters less and less these days, because Amazon’s Kindle is not the only player in town. In fact, when you move out of the United States, the Kindle is the least important e-reader. Right now, in the European Union, a major tablet and e-reader war is going on for the Christmas holidays. Every tablet manufacturer is offering a lower and lower and lower price for its product, especially if that manufacturer is tied into a content site like Kobo or the iBookstore.
If you’re playing in a truly international market—and so many of us are—then you really shouldn’t have your epublication eggs in one basket.
The same with your print books. You need a print version. E-book sales are leveling the way that everyone who understands business expected them to. Right now, e-books are still in the 25% range of all books purchased. (I combined a few figures, and nudged upwards because so many e-books aren’t counted by traditional methods. However, more and more traditional methods are counting self-pubbed e-books. If Amazon ever released its sales figures on e-books, we’d be able to have a much more accurate percentage here in the United States.)
Designing print books is much harder than designing e-books, which is no longer as easy as it was. It takes work and a learning curve to have a good book design no matter what you’re doing. (WMG is offering online design classes in 2013, just so you can see what you’re getting into or to improve what you’re already doing.) Once you’ve mastered the learning curve, it takes less time to indie publish.
But there’s always what my friend Scott William Carter calls the wibbow test. Wibbow stands for: Would I Be Better Off Writing? I don’t know about you, but my answer to that one is always yes. Which means, in one form or another, I need to hire out things like book and cover design, uploading, and marketing. It was easier for me and Dean to start a company and hire employees (which also enables us to do Fiction River, the anthology series) than it is for us to hire someone else’s existing business to do this. Remember, though, we have business experience. We’re used to payroll and office management and setting up corporations. Most writers aren’t.
Those writers who, like me, are always better off writing now can hire help. Two years ago, it was enough for me to say that you need to hire someone for a flat fee to do this work for you, like Lucky Bat Books. Now, though, traditional publishing companies have decided to use that flat fee model to screw writers. (And then those same traditional publishers demand a 50% royalty—after you’ve paid the flat fee.)
You want a nice cover for your book? You want to be listed in some rinky-dink catalog that Simon & Schuster puts out? Well, then pay them $25,000 per title. That’s right. A ridiculous amount of money that will get you nothing more than a bunch of empty promises and maybe a beautiful book. (I say maybe because I’ve published upwards of 20 books through S&S, and only a few of them have had covers worth mentioning. Most are awful.)
And as for promotion in their catalogue? It means nothing. The writers they traditionally publish rarely get sales through their current catalog. But you won’t be in the same catalogue as the traditionally published writers. You’ll be in a special catalogue for their new self-publishing venture. Or you’ll be in a special section of the S&S catalogue for folks who have paid that $25,000. The booksellers won’t look at the special catalogue or the special section, because booksellers aren’t dumb. They’ll know which books were vetted by S&S and which ones weren’t.
Sad. And now I can’t warn you away from bad deals by saying don’t pay a percentage of your future sales to any company. Now I have to tell you this: If you want someone else to do the work on your books, you need to vet that person the way you’d vet a contractor you hire to work on your house.
Yes, you have to think. You have to make choices. And you need to conduct yourself like a business person.
Here’s the thing: From 2008-2010, e-publishing on the early e-readers was a gold rush. And if you look at the history of any gold rush, you’ll see a familiar pattern.
A few people hit it big in an unexpected way. They make a small fortune. They broadcast the news of that fortune, and then hundreds, if not thousands, of people follow. They hook their horses to their wagons, drop everything, and head to the land of riches, expecting to become millionaires with very little work.
And what happens? Millionaires. Hundreds of them. Only those millionaires don’t get rich panning for gold. They open the supply shops, they serve food to the miners, they supply blue jeans and work boots and equipment, hay for the horses and rooms to rest in at night.
It’s not a coincidence that S&S has opened up an expensive do-it-yourself shop in indie-publishing land. It makes perfect sense. Think of S&S as the chain hotel who heard that there was a fortune to be made by offering rooms to miners who are too tired to pitch their own tents.
There’s gold in them thar hills, folks. And the gold is for business people who know their way around a profit-and-loss statement.
By the way, scammers always show up in the middle of a gold rush. Scammers know they can make a fortune off the ignorant. We’re in the scammer/chain hotel phase of this gold rush.
Pretty soon, you’re going to see sad and angry posts from writers who gave up everything and failed to make more than a few dollars for all their hard work. They followed all the rules. They posted their books as best they could, they Tweeted and Facebooked and blogged about their book until their fingers bled, they lowered the price to 99 cents, they made the book free for a week, they watched the bestseller lists and never ever ever saw their book on it.
They’ll wake up, but they won’t take responsibility for their own work. They’ll claim that everyone lied. Joe Konrath lied. I lied. Dean Wesley Smith lied. We had fan bases that didn’t take into account all the work a new writer has to do to succeed (because, y’know, we never were new writers, and never had to do any of that work, not once. We were grandfathered in or something).
And Amanda Hocking? She got lucky. Someone—the right someone—noticed her book. She wouldn’t have had success otherwise (because, y’know, the fact that she’s a marvelous storyteller who had written a dozen books means nothing).
And everyone else who succeeded? They were lucky too or had fan bases or made up their numbers.
Because those writers whose single book didn’t succeed after they followed all the rules, well, they now know the truth. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded to become a millionaire.
Those writers never realized that Joe and Dean and I were not talking about becoming millionaires or even about becoming famous. We were blogging about an industry in flux that was providing opportunities where those opportunities hadn’t existed before. Those writers never realized that Amanda Hocking had an amazing amount of product up, and that product was so good that it attracted readers who then spread word of mouth about the books. Those writers never realized that book publishing—even e-book publishing—is a business like almost everything else in a capitalist society.
Here’s the thing, people: Publishing has changed. It continues to change. We’re in the middle of a revolution.
What was true in 2009 isn’t true now.
What’s true now may not be true in 2019.
Only three things will guarantee your success in the modern era.
First, you must write a lot, and you must learn how to write well. Tell a good story. Good stories always triumph. If your single book isn’t selling, well, then, have you considered the fact that it’s not very good? Why in the world would you expect to succeed on an international stage the very first time you try to write a novel?
Do you remember how much work you had to do to learn how to read a novel? It took you years to get to “big” books of more than 20 pages. (Those of you with kids are seeing the pattern right now.) It’s much easier to read a novel than it is to write one. Why do you think that writing a good one is possible on the very first try?
Second, you must have perseverance. You won’t become successful with your first book or your second, and you might not even be successful with your tenth. Plus you’re going to have to keep up with the industry, and keep improving your craft. You’ll have to keep your day job, and put up with all those well-intentioned nay-sayers who tell you to stop wasting your time. You’ll have to believe in yourself enough to stay away from get-rich-quick schemes, and those idiots who charge you a small fortune (like $25,000) to publish just one of your precious (but not quite there yet) novels.
And you need to keep everything you write, from the worst thing you’ve ever written to the latest thing you’ve ever written, either in the mail to publishers or in print through your own small press. Because you have no idea what will take off for you and you never will. Do I know why people buy my books? Yeah, kinda sorta. I know that readers like what I do. If you push me, I might mumble something that I’ve heard from those readers. But do I know, really know, deep down inside? Hell, no. And no professional writer I’ve ever talked to does. We can’t see what makes our writing special because what makes our writing special is our personalities, which to us, are as normal and every day as the air we breathe.
So we finish our work, we improve, we persevere, and we keep our work out in front of readers. In other words, we let the readers decide what’s good and what’s not. And we don’t read reviews (much) and we don’t write for anyone else, and we keep doing what we do because we love it, not because it will make us rich.
The love will get us through those years with no sales. The expectations of riches might not even get us through the week. The love will get us through the difficult writing days. The actuality of riches will send us off playing in the Bahamas.
You want to persevere? Make sure you love writing. If you don’t, do something else.
The third way to guarantee your success in the modern era? Learn business. Here’s the one thing that won’t change. Business is business is business. It follows patterns. It behaves in certain ways.
If publishing weren’t a business, I wouldn’t be able to compare what’s happening now to the Gold Rush. Because selling gold—then and now—is a business. I could have compared publishing to the real estate bubble of the early part of this century. The e-pub revolution created a tiny bubble in publishing that operated the same way as that real estate bubble did for those who rushed into it trying to get rich.
Learn how to handle finances, understand what a good book design is, what the buying habits of customers really are. (“Customers” would be “readers,” folks.) Produce a lot of product. (Write a lot of books.) Understand what you’re selling. (You’re not selling anything; you’re licensing copyright.) Figure out where your markets are. Hire good help as cheaply as possible, and don’t tie yourself to that help. If you hire an employee, make sure you can fire that employee easily. If you hire someone to negotiate a contract, make sure that someone gets paid only for that contract, and nothing more.
Yes, writing novels is a lot of work. Yes, learning the best way for you to publish those novels is a lot of work. Yes, learning how to run a business is a lot of work. Yes, doing all of this while you have a day job elsewhere is a lot of work.
If you do the work, you will eventually become successful. Some of you will get rich very quickly. Some of you won’t. Most of you who stick with this for about ten years—the average time it takes for a writing career (hell, for any small business) to blossom—will make a good living at it. If you do it right, don’t sign your copyrights away, hire the best help, continue to improve, and stick with it.
The rest of you? Those of you who want to get rich quickly? The people who, even now, are about to write to me to tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I have a fan base and I’ve never ever ever had to start from scratch? You folks? I’m talking to you now:
This is a gold rush, and it’s playing out. If you want to get rich quickly, find a new scheme. I’m sure something else is currently making someone rich in a surprising manner. Join that new bandwagon.
Or try this: Gold is selling at $1700 an ounce. I’m sure some of the California mines aren’t entirely played out yet…
A while back, I got taken to task for insulting some members of my audience. And maybe that last remark insults some of you. But believe me, if you took a class from me on writing, you’d hear me say the same thing in person and with a lot more force than you can ever see on the page. I scare people in person. On the page, I’m much milder.
If you want overnight success, this is not the profession for you. If you want a writing career, then learn it. Remember that you’re trying to sell millions of copies of books to millions of readers around the world.
You don’t get to that level simply by writing one novel. It takes practice, practice, practice, learning, learning, learning, and patience, patience, patience.
You have to love writing, or it won’t be worth your time.
And that, my friends, was true in 2009. It is true now. And it will be true in 2019.
I write this business blog every week no matter what’s going on in my life. I’ve written through illness and fiction deadlines, through horrible life events and some pretty good times. I have offered this blog for free since April of 2009 because I know that some of you can’t afford to pay for the advice.
The only thing I ask is that those of you who can afford a few dollars help fund the blog for everyone else. The blog, like everything else I write, has to earn its own way. If it doesn’t, I’ll stop writing it and go on to more profitable things.
That said, I enjoy the interactions, the e-mails, the comments, and the community. Those constitute payment as well.
However…if you’ve gotten anything out of this blog today, in the last few weeks or in the last year, and you can afford to drop some change in the virtual tip jar, I would appreciate it.
“The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 2009” copyright 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
[…] experience on this as well.) Make sure you know what you’re signing! Educate yourself on the perils and pitfalls of contracts. Hire an attorney to look over the contract, if you’re not sure you understand […]
[…] on this as well.) Make sure you know what you’re signing! Educate yourself on the perils and pitfalls of contracts. Hire an attorney to look over the contract, if you’re not sure you […]
Thank you, Ms. Rusch. I teach a summer course for librarians-to-be on what’s going on in publishing (writ large: trade, scholarly-book, scholarly-journal, textbook, reference) and I very much appreciate no-BS exposition from folks who understand the business(es) and aren’t shy about explaining.
I’ll encourage my students to employ the tip jar.
Thank you, Dorothea. I also have a series on why writers disappear that I did after I spoke to some librarians in Washington State. This post plus the two after it: https://kriswrites.com/2012/10/03/the-business-rusch-why-writers-disappear/
Our paths crossed briefly back in the Pulphouse days when I sold a couple of SF pieces to you and Dean. I then became one of your “disappearing writers” while building another career, raising a family, and now a second one. While you were getting smarter and smarter and better as a writer and as a writer on writing, I was writing columns, technical articles and books, editing the work of others, but archiving fiction on an office server. I re-appeared as a fiction author on the cusp of the indie revolution and spent (a mere) four years trying for an agent before deciding, with the relatively few years remaining ahead of my use-by date, I would rather write and be read than accumulate any more encouraging and flattering rejections.
In 2010, I self-published Bashert, a one-off novel that inaugurated an “accidental series” now known as The Homeland Connection. I drew on my experience as a designer and on abundant on-line resources to teach myself book design, kept writing and publishing and working at the craft, and just released Chipset, fourth in the series and my fifth published novel. As the “backlist” has built, slowly, so have sales and my fan base. I am not yet making a living wage as a writer, but I am paying for wine and cheese, and my Kindle editions mostly hover in the top 5% of Amazon sales. As Stephen Jay Gould once said, the indifferent Universe rewards persistence.
What have I learned? Listen to Kris and Dean. Well, I didn’t, because I don’t read all that much in the blogosphere, which so perfectly reflects Sturgeon’s Law: The Strong Form (99.9% of it is …). So, my loss, I have come late to your island of gold in a sea of effluent, catching up on your past blog postings, and nodding repeatedly and so vigorously that I have whiplash. To everything paralleled with my experience, I can say, “amen, selah,” and to the rest, “You’re probably right!”
Thanks! You are a treasure.
Thanks, Larry. And it’s great to see your phosphors. I recognized your name immediately and am so glad you’re back writing (publicly). Congrats on all the success!
I’m rolling in irony and luck right now. About 10 years ago I shelved the idea of becoming a novelist and started trying to open my own business. I knew my writing wasn’t good enough to sell, wasn’t interested in spending years perfecting my writing and working retail to make ends meet so I might one day become an author, and turned my focus to small business.
I never stopped writing – I just stopped worrying about whether or not I could sell my writing.
Ten years later, I never managed to build a successful business, but I learned a hell of a lot. I eventually started working as a freelance writer, which applied what I learned about business with what I knew about writing.
Somehow, I’ve slipped sideways from there into wanting to write and sell my own stories again. And damn did I get lucky (because I sure wasn’t prescient!) THe time I spent writing without worrying about selling has made me a much better writer, and the time I spent learning about business is making it so much easier to make sense of the writing world than I would have imagined 10 years ago.
I doubt I’ll ever start a corporation around my writing – my experiments with business mainly taught me enough to know what I don’t know. But writing as a business, with myself as sole proprietor? That I can totally grok.
Life changes, and we change with it. Thanks for the awesome blog.
You’re welcome. And it’s amazing when life turns out right, isn’t it? Completely cool. Congrats–
Loved your point that about people needing to consider that if their one book isn’t selling, perhaps it’s just not very good – that’s something that no-one ever dares say, isn’t it? Excellent and most interesting, informative article – confirmed alot I had suspected and told me alot I didn’t know!
Yes, but often true. Writing is a craft and takes practice. I’m a terrible piano player–I never practice–so once I learn a piece, I don’t really expect to play it in Carnegie Hall, which is a much smaller stage than the ones writers step onto. And thanks!
Terrific post, Kris. Between your and Dean’s blogs and the online workshops, my head is buzzing with great information.
Thank you, Al.
FWIW: Right now there is a real gold rush going on in the waters off Nome, Alaska. You need a dry suit (not a wetsuit ’cause the waters are too cold), some excuse for a boat, panning equipment to sift the gold from the sea mud, and a stove to boil the gold dry ’cause the assayers will not pay $1,700 an ounce for water. No claims to file. No license to apply for. Get it while the gettin’s good.
Thought the get-rich-quick folks would want to know.
(I am not making this up.)
Reading your survey of the publishing business for 2012, I am reminded of a similar work for a time long before either of us were born — L. Sprague de Camp’s “Science-Fiction Handbook”, published in 1953. (I expect you’ve read it, if you don’t own a copy; it’s something of a classic. I bought mine after I discovered the Multnomah County Library discarded their copy, which is where I found the book as a kid.)
In brief, he discusses the business side of being a published writer with the implicit attitude that once one learns a few basic rules about copyrights & how to submit a manuscript, common sense will lead writer to make a living — although one will not get rich as an author. (His words: “if you work like the devil and achieve a considerable success in your field, you can expect to make about as much as a public-school teacher of equal experience and ability.” However, I suspect that public school teachers were better paid in the 1950s than now.) While not a “Golden Age”, it was definitely not a relationship which reminds me of how a landowner treats his sharecroppers. Then again, de Camp mentions in passing that he would visit the publishers in NYC about once a month — he lived in the suburbs of New York — so perhaps the personal contact made it easier for him to have his writing accepted.
FWIW, he devotes a few pages to working with agents, & it would seem that amazingly little has changed in 60 years. De Camp begins by stating that he rarely uses an agent, so if “you keep track of all the markets yourself, and if know a fair amount of the commercial side of writing … there is not much that an agent can do for you that you cannot do for yourself.” The times he has used an agent, he insisted on the terms of their “mutual undertaking be set down in writing at the start” which made his relationships work better. He goes as far as stating that literary agents at the time of his book aren’t less honest than “individual lawyers or physicians”.
On the other hand, de Camp lists 13 “sins” of literary agents — all of which you have mentioned in one post or another. (The only one *not* on that list that you have railed against is the problem of commingling of author’s royalties with an agent’s personal income.) He also quotes one unnamed agent, who habitually sold foreign rights and pocketed the money without telling his clients, as defending his practice by saying “Well, you don’t expect me to live in a penthouse and drive a Rolls-Royce on ten percent, do you?”
This was the only book I encountered that provided an overview of the business side of writing — the Writer Digest publications usually evaded a frank discussion of the negatives of the writing business — until I encountered Leonard DuBoff’s “The Law (in Plain English”) for Writers”, which was written in 1987. I don’t know if the absence of material was due to the straightforward nature of the business into the late 1980s, or that the PTB preferred neophyte writers to remain in the dark about the industry so negotiations concluded more to their benefit.
Thanks for this, Geoff. I noted the same thing as I read through Lawrence Block’s “Afterwards” Kindle book. He worked for one of the scummiest yet legitimate agencies fifty or so years ago, and not much has changed. He did mention one book negotiated (by the agency he was working for!) for which he got paid (I believe) $900, and his agent got $1100. Interesting math, that. 🙂
Hi Kris. I agree with pretty much everything, but there’s one teeny point I would like to dispute, as it’s something I’m seeing a lot of people say at the moment:
“So all of that stuff about hitting the Kindle lists and making a difference on the Kindle, well, it matters less and less these days, because Amazon’s Kindle is not the only player in town. In fact, when you move out of the United States, the Kindle is the least important e-reader. In fact, when you move out of the United States, the Kindle is the least important e-reader.”
I actually don’t agree. Let’s take the next biggest digital market. Amazon has the UK pretty much sewn up – estimates put their market share north of 90%. Despite the high-profile entrance of B&N and Kobo, I don’t really see that changing. I’m living in London and see Kindles everywhere – and that’s only going to continue with the smart link-up they have with Waterstones. The only other e-reader I’ve seen anyone with is a Sony (and that’s rare). While some might be reading on their iPhones and iPads, like you, they predominantly use the Kindle app because the iBookstore is so crappy.
I think you have a point – to an extent – when you move outside the UK, but we are talking about really, really small markets that have barely started. And when Amazon enter those markets by opening a Kindle Store with local-language content, they radically transform the marketplace.
A case in point: Amazon had a tiny share of the Italian market (which was/is a small market) before they opened the Kindle Store in Dec 2011. By Jan 2012, the market had *doubled* and Amazon had over 50% of the market. This pattern repeats itself wherever they go.
Personally, I would like to see a competitive marketplace. I think that’s best for all concerned. And I can see Kobo making some inroads – the others too, if they get their act together.
But it’s not happening yet.
Amazon did get the UK wrapped up quickly, David. Most of what I hear about the other devices comes from other countries all over the world. I’ve had fantastic sales in Germany, France, and Australia, just to name a few. My Australian sales, in the iBookstore, started years ago and are much bigger than sales on other platforms.
But that’s just me. I get e-mails from folks all over showing stats about the sales in other countries. Apple was there first, with Kobo making serious inroads.
And I never dismiss a market as small. Maybe it’s because I started in sf (a small genre) and have managed to make a living there for a long, long time.
Thank you, though, for what you’re seeing in England. Are the price wars on the devices making any difference?
Not that I’ve seen so far. Amazon had some very high-profile (and quite clever) ads for the Kindle and the Fires all over the tube.
Kobo are spending big on similar advertising, but don’t seem to be making a dent – yet at least. They made a clever partnership with WH Smith, but I don’t know if that has allowed them to grab any significant market share yet.
And B&N are… invisible. They really were asleep at the wheel – assuming they had the Waterstones partnership in the bag, and then Amazon stole it from under their nose. They didn’t seem to have a Plan B. They had to cancel their launch because the Nook UK site was stuck in beta, and only told their retail partners on… launch day! Not ideal. They launched a few weeks later, but, aside from trade press mentions, they don’t seem to be making any inroads at all.
Over 1 million Kindles were gifted in the UK last Christmas. That’s an incredible number given the size of the market (and the UK’s population of 60m).
As for the “small” markets comment, I agree. Poor choice of words. I meant that they are at a very early stage and saying that, for example, Apple has a 40% market share in Country X doesn’t say a whole lot about how things are going to pan out if e-books are less than 1% of the market in Country X and Amazon hasn’t moved in yet.
I would have much higher hopes for Kobo than anyone else. They are doing all the right things and have made really smart partnerships with retailers all across Europe. I just wish Kobo (and Apple and B&N) would spend as much effort sorting out there stores – an area where Amazon is lightyears ahead.
That superior customer experience “locks in” customers much more than DRM or propriety formats or anything else that publishers get so worked up about.
Thank you, David. That helps clarify.
As I mentioned to Jane, what I’m seeing from your posts confirms my suspicions that the UK is on the same track as the US, only just a year or so behind. We went through the Amazon only, no real challenger thing, no real challenger possible thing, and then slowly, people started reading on other devices.
I agree that the superior customer experience locks in customers, but the experience has to be truly superior. Choices help everything refine.
Like you, I think Kobo is the next big player. It’s doing all kinds of innovative things in the US as well. I’m going to wait a bit before I post about that–I’m too busy on a bunch of other projects to do the necessary research–but it does seem, without a lot of research, that Kobo is making smart, non-Amazon moves, to capture markets that Amazon is either ignoring or trying to crush.
Just to agree with what David says.
From what I understand, the figures quoted are that Amazon has 90% of the ebook market in the UK and 40% of the paperback market.
I heard some children interviewed on the radio the other week who were talking about whether they prefer to read paperbacks or on the Kindle (not “ereader”, “Kindle”).
Kobo has paired up with WH Smiths and has done some advertising, but they were very late into the market (last few months). Nevertheless, I hope they inject a bit of competition into the market. Prices on the Kobo are competitive. Unfortunately, the new Amazon Paperwhite seems to have been received more favourably than the new Kobo Glo.
Barnes & Noble only launched in the UK in November. The only thing I saw about it was the press articles. Even more of a latecomer.
Thanks, Jane. That all makes sense to me. And continues my impression that the UK is just a year or two behind the US in its e-book growth pattern. (Meaning we went through all these changes too in late 2010 early 2011.) Nice to get an outside perspective. Inside perspective? You know what I mean. 🙂
That’s pretty spot on. Remember that big announcement Amazon made in April 2011 that they were selling more e-books than print? Amazon UK passed that milestone a month or two ago. But the UK is closing the gap and growing at a faster rate – probably because there is more infrastructure in place at the start (more titles, more customer acceptance etc).
Also worth noting: the *conversation* is about a year-and-a-half behind the US too: the big topics here in the last few months has been stuff already dealt with in the US like whether you can make money self-publishing, whether it will damage your career, are 99c books destroying literature etc.
Which is amusing and frustrating in equal measures…
I know. I’ve been seeing it in the British press and on blogs. I occasionally get asked to comment. I want to say, “Well, look at what I wrote in 2010. That should cover it.” But I’m not quite that mean. 🙂
I think you’re right about the infrastructure. Also, the US itself was an early adapter, and then, as the US does, broadcasted the change to the world. So some of that resistance already happened (mentally, anyway) by the time the e-readers hit the UK in a big way, imho.
I’m a bit surprised that the Kindle is so strong in the UK, since I see Kobo readers advertised in every W.H. Smith store and there’s a Smith on every high street, in every train station and airport in the UK. And the bigger W.H. Smith stores have nice Kobo displays, whereas the Kindle displays at Waterstone’s weren’t yet ready the last time I was in the UK (October). Of course, I haven’t been to London in a couple of years now, so things may well be different there.
In Germany, the pattern is similar to what Remy described for France above. Sony e-readers have been sold here in Germany for a long time now and of the Germans I know who have e-readers, a lot have Sonys. It’s basically the product that early adopters use. Our two biggest bookstore chains, Thalia and Weltbild, both offer their own e-readers. Thalia saw the writing on the wall when Amazon introduced the Kindle in the US and teamed up with a Dutch and a Polish bookselling chain to develop the Oyo e-reader. Of late, they have also started selling the Bookeen readers that Remy mentions. And Weltbild’s reader is consistently the cheapest e-reader on the German market and currently selling for twenty Euros less than the cheapest Kindle. And they are advertising their reader as aggressively as Amazon in TV ads. So when Amazon opened its German Kindle store, they were something of a Jimmy come lately.
Kobo actually arrived after Amazon with their German language store (and it’s not all that good), but Kobo e-readers are available in every big electronics mart, which is where Germans shop for electronics (more Apple products are sold in electronics marts in Germany than in the Apple stores that are so ubiquitous elsewhere). So are Sony readers, Bookeen readers, Trekstor readers, etc… Kindles, however, are only available at Amazon via mail order. And Staples has a few display models (only the most basic version, thought) which never work. Now I don’t know about others, but I like to try an electronics product out before buying it. However, there is no place in Germany for me to test a Kindle – I’d have to buy it sight unseen. Whereas, I can try out Kobo, Sony, Trekstor, Bookeen, etc… readers. In the end, I bought a Kobo Glo straight from the pallet in the electronics store, because it was the reader that appealed to me most.
Finally, Amazon doesn’t even hold the biggest share of online bookselling in Germany – Thalia is actually narrowly ahead of Amazon with Weltbild at No. 3, followed by a bunch of other local online booksellers. This surprised me a lot, because I’ve always ordered from Amazon (they used to be the only store that had the English language books I wanted) and don’t like Thalia’s online shopping experience all that much (they took ages to ship your Kris De Lake paperback to me). But I was an early adopter of online book shopping and the regular readers often went to the online branch of the brick and mortar stores they already knew rather than to Amazon, which was an unknown quantity to them. And the market share of online bookstore isn’t all that big in Germany either (another surprise to me, because I buy most of my books online and have for years). Traditional brick and mortar bookstores have just under 50 percent of the total market, online bookstores are between 15 and 20 percent (which was dubbed a “huge growth”), the rest are department stores, supermarkets, newsstands and mail order book clubs. Oh yes, and the market share of online bookstores overtook that of mail order book clubs only in 2009 – another huge surprise, because to me mail order book clubs were the sort of place my parents’ and grandparents’ generation patronized in the 1960s and 1970s, but that had never been relevant to me.
This is fantastic, Cora. Thank you for sharing.
I have been a earnest follower of your blog and frequently forward links to your posts to my colleagues at WaveCloud.com.
In this post, you mention this problem:
“Do I know why people buy my books? Yeah, kinda sorta. I know that readers like what I do. If you push me, I might mumble something that I’ve heard from those readers. But do I know, really know, deep down inside? Hell, no. And no professional writer I’ve ever talked to does.”
Part of our company’s mission is to solve this problem and to provide Authors (traditional and self-published alike) some perspective on the “Why”.
A big part of our developmental investment will be tasked to solve this problem. If we could do this for each Author on a personal basis, do you think Authors would find the information helpful?
Actually, Bill, I hesitated about putting your post up, because of my bias. At a certain point, I stop being a businessperson and start being an artist. And that point begins the moment I create. I create what I create, and markets be damned. Doing things “right” be damned. The writers who follow trends or try to “improve” on what they do right usually become stale. So that’s a long-winded way of saying this: I think authors believe they would find the information helpful, and in the long run, it would hurt them greatly.
If you can tell a writer who self-pubs that their covers are bad or their interiors need a better design, then that’s good. That’s delivery. That’s real business stuff.
But if you tell Isaac Asimov he needs more setting or Ursula K. Le Guin that she’s not selling as well as J.K. Rowling because her text is too demanding, then there’s a problem.
Or if you tell the young Robert Crais to stick to TV writing because his dialogue is good and he should continue to focus on that, you’d miss out on all of the fantastic (and almost dialogue-free) work he’s done with his character Joe Pike in recent years.
It’s better to write and create for ourselves as artists than try to squeeze ourselves into a mold that we may have created. We’re always better when we’re busting the walls and reaching for the stars–even if we never get to them. Imho.
Thanks for your thoughts. Your point about “might want it, but it wouldn’t be good for them” is well taken.
We are still in the research phase of this feature, so nothing has been decided. The information will actually be a by-product of a different solution we are working on.
We are aiming to change the Discovery paradigm for books. We want to make is easier for Authors to find Readers. (reverse of the normal thinking about Discovery)
Now, Bill, helping writers find readers is useful. Where do the sf readers congregate on line? Do poker players buy books in casino gift shops? That sort of thing is very, very helpful–for the finished product. The writer finishes her book, moans, “Oh, no! I wrote a literary novel! How do I market it?” and then has a place to go to help with an answer to that question.
This is exactly why I’ve been waiting to start publishing until this year coming up. I wanted to wait until the craziness of indiepublishing being the latest thing passed a bit as well as improve my writing. Now that it’s settling, I can apply some small business planning to my goals and move forward with a sane and long term mindset.
As usual, you’ve written another must read post for any writer – new or established.
I’m another one who missed the gold rush days, having first published in June of last year. But I was reading Dean’s blog, and your blog, so I understood it was a long-haul deal. Instant success would be nice, but it’s so rare that depending on it is a fool’s game — or fool’s gold. 😉
I’ve almost got my novel ready for POD, more projects in the works after that, and endless ideas.
And it’s so true about the get rich quick mentality. I see it all the time on various forums, from people who expect one book to make them a living, which leads to endless questions about marketing, ways to game the review system, how Amazon is cheating them… Well, you get the idea.
I try to point people in your direction (and Dean and Passive Guy get shout outs), but I think some folks just can’t see that this is, indeed, a business as well as an art.
Looking forward to your next post, Kris. 🙂
You’re right, Sheila. Many, many, many (most?) writers can’t see that it’s a business and an art. A lot of people whose names you’d recognize have gotten mad at me over the years for suggesting such a thing. 🙂
I blogged about this very same subject. Some very high profile people have said time and again that we’re not in a gold rush, but I honestly think we are. What’s interesting to note, however, is that once the gold mines of old dried up, serious miners went on to mine silver and other precious metals, and “get rich quick” miners quit.
I recently started self-pubbing (early November), just as everyone’s numbers tanked, I mean really tanked (according to blog chatter). So it’s difficult to maintain enthusiasm with such a hard climb ahead of me. But my goal is to develop a content strategy that’s a step above (maybe two steps above) the average self-pubber to differentiate myself.
Only a matter of time before another game-changer comes along. I’m betting the industry will look entirely different by the end of 2013, for better or worse.
I just hiked on over and read your blog post, Monica. Great job. Yes, it is a gold rush, and you did more research than I did. Nicely laid out, imho.
The thing to remember is that gold mining never stopped being a business. At a certain point that analogy fails and we have to move to another. People will always want stories. They’ll want the stories in a method that allows the stories to be easily read–by that reader. So the more markets you’re in, and the different ways you sell the stories, the better off you’ll be.
And just to note (which I’ll now go do on your blog), 2012 was right on our projections–done without the gold rush mentality in mind. Yep, sales declined in the US around the last two months of the election. That’s normal. Just like UK sales went down over the Jubilee and the Olympics. People get distracted. But then they come back. Just keep working at it according to the list you put out in your blog and you’ll do just fine.
Lovely post, very informative and so, so true. I’ve been writing towards publication for fifteen years (since age 18), and have sold a few shorts (twice professionally) but only started self-publishing in Jan 2012. Although I now have 21 items available as ebooks I’ve sold perhaps 300 total copies. However, I see the first couple of years as world-building, so to speak, getting a base in place. As an English teacher by day I do some editing for newbies to kind of pay it forward for all the advice I’ve received off older hands, and it worries me how many sob stories I hear from people who can barely write wanting to sell hundreds overnight. People need to be thinking in terms of years to find any kind of success. It took me six years of writing and submitting to sell a short for $13 and eight years to make my first pro sale to Weird Tales. I’ll be 40 in seven years and if I’m in a position to give up the day job by then I’ll be pretty damn happy.
Sounds like you have a great game plan, Chris. I suspect you will make it out of the day job by your goal–if the creeks don’t rise (as they say around here to ward off any disaster). Thanks for the post.
Like several other people, I’ve only found your site today. I’ve been writing for Kindle and Smashwords for 18 months, and peaked on really good sales in February. Since then everything has been downhill… despite writing more and publishing more from my backlist. Had I fallen out of favor with my readership? Should I try another genre?
No. You’ve answered it all today – even though it’s bad news about the gold rush. Now I can relax and get back to my treadmill. And thank you for putting my mind at rest.
You’re welcome, Robert.
I feel like I started self-publishing just as the gold rush was ending, in December of last year. Over the last 12 months I’ve gone from a blind flailing beast to at least a little savvy, with a publishing schedule, scheduled workflow, and structural procedures in place to handle the business side of things.
And this is all I do. I haven’t been able to find much temp work the last year, so I’ve focused on the writing, on publishing, on learning the art and the business, and yours and Dean’s blogs have been instrumental in my growing understanding. I’m still destitute, but my writing earns me enough to make rent, and that’s good enough for now.
That’s impressive, Michael. Making rent is very important. 🙂 And you’ve done it–on the writing side of things–very, very fast in writing time (as opposed to real world time).
Thanks for the compliment. I think the thing that’s helped me the most is attitude. Every day I trek down into the word mines with my trusty genre pickaxe, keep my head down, and do the job — writing new words. Maybe I’ll find a diamond of a best-seller, but I’m planning for a steady stream of profitable coal.
Nice analogy, Michael–in keeping with this week’s mining theme. 🙂
Oddly enough, I would *never* do business in Hollywood without an agent representing me. Not just to find me work, but to handle the actual negotiation and then prepare/review the subsequent contracts. The tv and film business is just too complex and most lawyers aren’t as plugged into it as agents are. I know too many screenwriters who relied on lawyers to make their deals and then discovered that they got screwed over on things that a savvy agent would have spotted immediately.
That said, I have negotiated my last few publishing deals on my own…and then hired a lawyer with extensive publishing, film, and media experience to handle the actual contract language. I made that decision because I found the opportunities myself, not my agent, and I felt equipped to make the deals because I have handled many negotiations to hire directors, writers, producers, etc. in my role as a TV exec producer. I’ve also written dozens of books for major publishers, so i know my way around a book contract, which are not nearly as complex as movie & TV deals. I felt it made more financial sense to pay a one-time fee to a lawyer rather than 15% of everything to an agent over the life of those contracts.
You and I both have done a lot of negotiating, Lee, so we’re comfortable with it. People who aren’t comfortable with negotiating can hire someone to negotiate for them, but they still need to supervise.
The only people I’ve ever had who have gone off the reservation while negotiating for me have been agents. Lawyers haven’t caused me trouble, but agents..? They certainly have. Including one Big Name Hollywood agent (hired by my NY agent, but vetted by me) who gave a free option to a major movie star because…I have no idea why. I’d already talked to the star and his rep, and they were willing to pay money. But I didn’t trust myself to handle the negotiation so I hired the agent to do it. The agent screwed it all up–a two-year option, no money, renewable on the same terms. There’s more to the story, like what I did when I found out [I wasn’t happy], but suffice to say that since then, I’ve handled my negotiations on my own or through a lawyer. That movie star thing, with someone who should have known better, was truly the last straw for me. (Such things have happened before, usually on book contracts.)
I greatly agree with you on this: Film and TV deals are waaaay too complicated to do it all alone. You do need expert help. I prefer to get many experts to help, and then do much of the negotiating through my hired gun lawyer. But I have no problem walking away from six-figure deals if they’re not to my liking. Lots of other people (including [on occasion] my husband) have a lot more trouble with that. 🙂
But believe me, if you took a class from me on writing, you’d hear me say the same thing in person and with a lot more force than you can ever see on the page. I scare people in person.
Yikes! And I’m planning on attending the Mystery Workshop!
Seriously, this was a much-needed post for me right now for the simple reason that it reminds me of something that came home a few months ago: if I’m not in the writing game for the long term, then I better get out now, because it’s pretty damn depressing for a beginner in the short term. Once I saw those were my only options, I realized I needed to make a concerted effort to focus on the long-term — namely, craft issues first, business issues second. Since then, I’ve been a happy writer.
By the way — I use a Kindle as my primary ereader. I don’t like reading on my iPhone, iPad, or Macbook. I love my Kindle, too.
Kris, I attended the WOTF workshop in 2011 where you spoke about the business. At the time, I was just venturing into self-publishing, being a DIY person at heart.
I missed the gold rush, but having been part of another gold rush–the online selling of specialist non-fiction books–I know how it feels. People seem to think that once they’ve “made it” sales will continue at that level, but it’s merely a honeymoon period followed by a slowing down. This happens for any business activity. The difference with ebooks is that you can have multiple honeymoon periods, because the books remain available.
I have now stopped submitting to publishers, figuring that they know where to find me if they want me. At this point in time, I don’t feel that chasing them adds anything to my career. I want to keep control of my own audience and do not aspire to have it managed through a publisher. In other words, I want to know who my readers are and I want to be able to communicate with them.
I am one of those mysterious writers whose sales are much higher outside Amazon. I think it is a locality-based thing. Amazon is extremely US-centric. Here in Australia you have a hard time finding a Kindle available for sale in a shop, but Kobos are for sale on every street corner (and advertised on TV and radio).
On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if for some reason sales patterns reversed back to Amazon again. I’ve seen this sort of thing happen a lot in non-fiction book sales. For the first time ever, a large number of authors are directly exposed to the vagaries of this beast called “the market” which is totally unpredictable. These people with no experience in sales freak out when numbers jump up–and down–like crazy, but it’s just normal.
Meanwhile, they’re better off writing the next book, or better, the next series.
Good post! I love your gold rush analogy. What’s happening in indie publishing is just what I’ve been expecting, so I’m not disappointed. I have two mystery novels now published as both ebooks and pbooks through my own Proud Horse Publishing, and a third almost ready to release, and won’t be surprised if it takes one or two more in the series for my sales to become steady.
As I once heard it expressed, attaining success as a fiction writer is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Hi – just found your blog today and loved it. I started self publishing in July, and didn’t do it until I could get 3 books out in 4 months. My husband and I have owned a business for 20 years (80 employees, 40 vehicles, pain in the a$$), so I get business, and have always seen this endeavor as a business, not a get rich quick scheme. I say that a lot to other writers and often get a blank stare (or the digital equivalent). So obviously, I totally agree with you! I’ll be back for more reading soon! Thanks!
Welcome! I’m glad you found the blog. I hope you find some useful things here.
I agree with just about everything you’ve said…but I strongly disagree with this:
“As for Hollywood, well, most folks who work in Hollywood as writers are no longer agented. They have managers, yes, but agents, no. At the last dinner I attended with friends who work in the industry, the agent bashing got so ridiculous that one person who has worked in the industry for 30 years said (and I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s damn near a quote), “It’s to the point that if any writer presents anything through an agent, everyone knows the writer doesn’t understand Hollywood.”
No offense, but that simply isn’t true. I have been a professional screenwriter for 25 years, mostly in the TV business. Every single writer I know in the television and film business has an agent (many have managers as well). Perhaps you don’t need an agent if you are an A-list screenwriter who has studios and networks lining up to do business with you… but that’s the exception, not the rule.
Thanks, Lee. No offense taken. All the folks I know working in Hollywood at the moment use lawyers and managers, not agents. So it’s nice to hear another perspective from someone who also has experience.
What I know is this: When I stopped using Big Hollywood Agent (A, and B, and C, and so on), I got interest and options that I never had before. The agents blocked “small” deals. I’ve had small interest turn into major money and long-term renewable options. I’ve also had my biggest option on anything since I did this. So not having an agent works much better for me.
Who markets my stuff? No one. My fiction gets found via reading (yep, people still do), the internet, and lots of word of mouth from other people. I get contacted via my website, I vet the contact with IMDB and other sources, as well as Hollywood friends, and then proceed, with caution. So marketing a screenplay might be different than getting a paying option on a book. I don’t market screenplays. I write novels that occasionally get optioned. (And fought over–also something that never happened with an agent.)
What I know is this: When I stopped using Big Hollywood Agent (A, and B, and C, and so on), I got interest and options that I never had before.
Isn’t a fiction writer selling options in a rather different business from a screenwriter selling screenplays? For instance, it used to the case that you really couldn’t sell a screenplay without an agent, because (to avoid potential liability suits) studios and producers would return unagented submissions unopened. Nothing like that was ever true in publishing; or, for that matter, in the business of selling Hollywood options on published work. Changes in one process may not have been matched by changes in another.
I bring this up in the hope that someone with current experience in Hollywood (both the screenwriting and the optioning parts of the business) may be able to clarify the point.
Yes, fiction writers selling options are different than screenwriters working to make a living off their scripts. And that was the context of the discussion I’ve had with the folks I know who work in Hollywood. We were talking about writers of novels selling into Hollywood, not about marketing screenplays.
The book writers I know who constantly have movie/TV options on their work do not work with agents. They use lawyers.
(With two major exceptions, both of whom have an agent who gets them deals, but not the kind of deals that I would sign off ever.)
OK, that helps. Lee Goldberg was talking about screenwriters per se, so that explains the difference.
Thanks for chiming in, Lee! I was afraid I was going to have to fire my agent after reading that quote! Maybe the speaker was referring to features, not us TV folk? Anyhoo, KKR, enjoyed the article and the information!
Another voice heard. Thanks, Gillian. Good to hear from more Hollywood folk with active agents. And do note, everyone, that Gillian is an active screenwriter as well.
Folks, here it is in black and white: there is no right way. There is your way. You can negotiate the thicket of Hollywood without an agent. (But with help–managers, lawyers.) Or you can still do it with an agent. (Hire the right one, and watch him/her/it like a hawk.)
I do know this: Your book agent partners with a Hollywood agent. You’re better off vetting your own Hollywood agent than you are working with your book agent’s person sight unseen. Same with all partner agents–foreign, etc. The more fingers you have in your pie, the less you get out of that pie. And you should know whose fingers they are.
Let me clarify one thing, and I’ll do so on the piece: we’re talking about book writers who sell into Hollywood, not screenwriters. I am not, nor have I ever been a working screenwriter, even though I’ve done a few screenplays. The context of the quote above is about book writers selling into Hollywood, not about screenwriting. And in that, California laws have changed regarding agents, which is why so many of the former literary agents selling books only into Hollywood have started their own production companies now. (It’s all very complicated, and that’s what I get for boiling down two years of conversations into a paragraph.
. Thanks again, Lee & Gillian, for adding the corrections.
Great post, as ever. Thanks, Kris!
One of the authors who sold at the same time I did to the same pub house, and was subsequently dropped (as I was) is a fabulous graphic designer. (Kim Killion, if anyone’s interested.)
She turned her skills to e-book cover design early on, and I used to say, “she brought her sewing machine to the gold rush – she’s going to make a fortune.” Turns out she’s one of the busiest cover-designers for romance out there. And, yeah, she also does my fantasy covers. 😉
I love that quote, Anthea. Exactly. 🙂
The thing that frustrates me (and I’ve said as much on Dean’s blog) is that people believe that if they have an agent, then they can let that person take complete control over everything. They feel that they don’t have the time to do the business stuff themselves, so they hire an agent (whom they have also hired because they think it will get them the big bucks). What they don’t realize is that even with an agent, they still need to know all this stuff because how else can they be sure the agent is working for their best interests? And if you have to learn all the business stuff anyway, why have an agent? But so many writers are absolutely convinced that they need that middle man. “Who’s going to negotiate my contract?” They complain that their agents won’t “let them” do a lot of things, and that their agents treat them like kindergartners, only giving them half truths and telling them things on a “need to know basis.” Please. Whose career is it?
There ARE good agents out there. But there are also some reaaally slimy ones. People need to educate themselves so they can stand up for their OWN best interests, whether they have an agent or not.
Thanks for this post, Kris!
Exactly, Melanie. Thanks.
I don’t know. I still prefer my Kindle. It’s the whole backlit thing. If they can continue to make tablets lighter AND make them not backlit, then I’ll prefer using one.
As someone who has gained one heck of a lot of sales via Select (yeah… yeah… I know you don’t approve) I can’t put down that or Amazon and I am hearing one heck of a lot of complaints about non-existent or extremely slow Kobo payments, nonetheless I expect next year to try pulling my novels out of Select and spend six months with them in the other vendor sites. I will go not with theory but with where I get sales.
Always best to test, Jeanne. I don’t know if six months is enough time to build. And nothing wrong with Amazon. I’ve always said that Select is a tool, not a way of life. If you use it to bump your sales with a new book and then after your 90 days are up, move that book to everything else as well, then you’re doing it right. If you pull your books from other sites to use Select, you’re doing it wrong. There are a million variations in the middle, and all of those are a decision by the author, nothing else.
Thanks for the testimony on the Kindle. Glad to know there are still primarily Kindle users out there.
Be aware: if you use Smashwords, you won’t see your first quarter sales until more like the third quarter, and you don’t build a lot of steam until your second quarter.
I highly recommend waiting 12 months before making a decision.
This is brilliant. I’m trying to promote my first book now – not self-published, but the press is very small. And trying to figure out what works, and what doesn’t, is daunting. In the meantime, I’m trying to keep on writing because I’m only sure of one thing: if I don’t write something, I’ll never sell anything.
Congrats on the first book, Mary. That’s so much fun. And I did a post on promotion a while ago. I hope it gives you some direction. I love your last line. Exactly!
Excellent, excellent, excellent article! Brilliant. Passing it along to all my author and author-to-be friends. Thank you!
This is a gold rush, and it’s playing out. If you want to get rich quickly, find a new scheme. I’m sure something else is currently making someone rich in a surprising manner. Join that new bandwagon.
Or try this: Gold is selling at $1700 an ounce. I’m sure some of the California mines aren’t entirely played out yet…
I’m reading this at work, so in reality I’m just sitting here eating my lunch. In my head, however, I am jumping up and down and point at the screen screaming “THIS!”
Thanks for that. 😉
I am one of the selfpub “gurus” in my local writer’s group (ie, I actually learned how to do this stuff), and I get so tired of trying to get writers to think about this stuff like businesspeople, and I get tired of reminding them that their one or two selfpubbed items are probably not going to make a lot of money (at least, not right away. Hopefully over time).
I had one tradpubbed writer who has a few selfpubbed things tell me she couldn’t understand why, when her publisher made one of her books free for a few weeks, it caused the sales of her selfpubbed works to spike. When I explained that of course it would, because readers don’t care who the publisher is (for the most part), she looked at me like I was speaking Latin. (Same author also complains that she only has about a hundred sales a month on her selfpubbed stuff. I would kill for that. So hard not to get stabby sometimes.)
They also look at me weird when they ask how my sales are, and I tell them I’m only one year into a five year plan. Plan? What’s that?
(Disclaimer: obviously not talking about everyone in the group, don’t kill me guys.)
Thanks for the posts. I’m off to pick up the audiobook of Surviving the Transition.
Thanks, Mercy. (I love the phrase “get stabby.” Yeah, I feel that way often, with accompanying Psycho shower music.
) Some people will never learn. It’s best to talk to those who will and hope the others will get a clue at some point. Often they come back after a life experience, and note that you warned them. Then they start listening. It’s not optimal, but it does mean they eventually figured it all out.
And thanks for picking up the book!
An apple for the teacher today. ;D I always love your straight forward posts. I’m going to add this quote,
You don’t get to that level simply by writing one novel. It takes practice, practice, practice, learning, learning, learning, and patience, patience, patience.
…to my other favorite Kristine words of wisdom.
Stop watching the sales numbers and start watching your personal production numbers. (PPN)
They’re written on a card next my grandson’s angelic face because even though I’m stubbornly positive I’m writing for a lifetime, I still manage to get distracted by the fringe elements.
Thanks for the wonderful post. Bless you.
Thanks, Aithne. I love apples. 🙂 And we all get distracted. The key is coming back to what’s important. I love that you have this all near your grandson’s picture. That’s exactly right.
I am so very happy to see you post this! Must now rush off to tell everyone I know that they must come read it!!
The other thing that no one seems to notice, at least in the press, is that there are a lot of us making decent money in self-publishing that aren’t bestsellers and that no one has ever heard of. But no one seems to want to talk about the people making 500 a month or 2,000 a month or whatever, they want to hear about the people who land 7 figure movie deals and sell in the hundreds of thousands. Sigh.
If only we could put on our future goggles and write like it is 2019. 😉
I think the future goggles would make me dizzy (dizzier?), Annie. And yeah, the press never notices the work-a-day folks like the rest of us. That’s because we’re not “news,” except as a group. So much more exciting to consider millionaires for a day. That’s why lottery winners get noticed and the folks who sell them the tickets, who show up every day and make a living, never do.
You said it Annie! 🙂
I really needed to hear this. Thank you so much for the insightful and thoughtful post.
You’re welcome. 🙂
“Why in the world would you expect to succeed on an international stage the very first time you try to write a novel?”
I did a lot of practicing and learning in public with my first seven books, although not by design. They sold well during 2011. One of them even stayed in the Kindle top 100 list for a month thanks to pricing it at $0.99. But, as you say, the gold rush is pretty much over now.
Fortunately, my writing has improved greatly with all this practice, and for my new book I’ve gone with a professional designer for my book cover, a professional copy editor, and this brand new pen name. I wish I had published my early books under a pen name. 😉
Also, I love this: “We can’t see what makes our writing special because what makes our writing special is our personalities, which to us, are as normal and every day as the air we breathe.”
I just today got a fan letter on one of my first short stories. It’s not up yet (in that tide of inventory), but it will be. So sometimes people like the early stuff. It’s part of the we-have-no-idea-what-works syndrome. So don’t be ashamed of what you did. Continue to improve, and realize that if people bought more than one book from you, they like what you’re doing, no matter how you priced it. Congrats on all the published work, btw.
I have to say that yours and your husband’s blogs are the best writing business resources out here in cyberspace. When I hear of new authors’ who are going to blog (waste time) about their writing journey/knowledge, I want to _____ .
Keep writing and improving your craft,then learn the business of how and where to sell your books are wise actions.
Everything else can and does change rapidly. What worked for some writers six months ago, may not work now.
I used a lawyer to close my movie deal, because I was mad that agents only wanted to consider representing me once I had that contract in hand. Well shoot, what did I need an agent for at that point?
Thank you, Lisa. I appreciate that. And congrats on the movie deal–and the lawyer! Yeah, why hire someone who doesn’t have the skills to handle legal contracts when so many others do. Thanks.
Excellant post and I beleive every word you say. I agree that no matter what you do in life it takes a lot of hard work and perserverance to succeed.
I agree, Vera. Everything takes focus, work, and a willingness to stick with it. (I keep telling myself that about exercise…)
What do you think about Simon & Schuster acquiring only paper rights (leaving ebook rights) for the ebook Wool ?
It seems to be a smart move for Hugh Howey as long as it is not one of those basketing contracts, no ? Also worth mentioning, Hugh Howey did get that deal through his agent, Kristen Nelson, even though he self-published Wool.
Could it be possible for Hugh Howey to have made this deal because he is younger than you in publishing and didn’t have all these terrible experiences with big publishing ?
It’s not the first time S&S make that type of deals (they did it with John Locke), but I find it difficult to know how much new readers authors gain in the bargain. I guess it may be worth it, but just if you are already a bestseller (not a problem because that kind of deals are not obtained by anybody but bestsellers).
From what I can tell–I haven’t spoken to Hugh Howey–he got the deal he wanted in the way he wanted. He blogs about it here. He walked away from a lot of offers because the terms didn’t appeal to him. That’s a great negotiating trick, and his agent (unlike many) went along with that. So, no, Alan, I don’t think he made this deal “because he is younger than me in publishing and didn’t have all those terrible experiences…” I think he heeded advice, tried to get the best possible terms (not necessarily money) and is now embarking on a new adventure for him. That’s the way to do it.
The only thing I’ve disagreed with on his various comments about the sale(s) are that he claims his agent got him better foreign rights deals. I suspect, if he had negotiated the opening offers as hard as he negotiated this S&S deal, he would have gotten the same (or similar) deals–without two layers of middlemen poking at his money (the foreign agent and the current agent).
He’s probably looking at laydown and marketing, and traditional publishing still does high velocity laydown with comparable marketing better than anyone. If he has as good a deal as he says he does, then he can walk if S&S treats him badly, and still benefit from that initial laydown on his later self-pubbed works. That’s a win/win, imho.
I really appreciated the “younger” comment. And then I read the qualifying “in publishing,” and I realized my hair wasn’t any less gray! 😉
The advantage I’ve had, and this isn’t to suck up to Kris (much), is blogs like this one, Dean’s, Konrath’s, etc. I’ve had quite a few emails this year praising me for being a trailblazer. If only these people knew! I’m taking a leisurely stroll down a path blazed long ago by others, plucking a stray weed here and there. Everything I’ve learned has been from those who suffered far more than I have, for which I’m forever indebted to them.
And Kris and Dean may be right that indie authors can secure brilliant deals on their own, but I’m not one of those people. I’m too eager to please. I form bonds too closely. I’ve had to personally reach out to every editor we walked away from because of how awful that process feels to me.
Before I teamed with an agent, my impulse was to sign with the very first offer that came along. I did this with my first novel, signing with a small press after only two weeks of querying. It’s a character flaw. I need someone who can flex some muscle and be stern. I can’t. I’m a pushover. I nearly agreed to the first media offer for WOOL for a pittance, just because I liked the person on the other end of the line. I can tell you right now, no qualifications, no doubts, not an ounce of hesitation, that my agent made me half a million dollars this year.
Could an author with more business savvy and lacking my character flaws have made the same amount without losing the commission? Perhaps. But not me. I know this for a fact. I’ve watched myself sign away rights because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Maybe an agent works best for those of us who need a barrier between the offer and ourselves. I need someone to protect my work from *me*!
Also — and I know this will sound bizarre and illogical — but I’m not out to maximize my earnings. I live a life with few needs. At some point, the money is far less important than my satisfaction with what I’m doing day-to-day. The fact that a team of people (agents, co-agents, lawyers, assistants) are earning a bit of a living off my sales makes me happy. It’s similar to how I feel when I write a check to a cover artist, editor, or e-book formatter. Or when I see Ben Adams do a print run of artwork based on my stories and the prints sell out — another artist paying his bills using my popularity and his talents, and I don’t get a cut. I love that! A fan wanted to set up a Zazzle store for merch. I told them to knock themselves out and to keep the profits or give it to charity. My lawyer goes nuts over this stuff, but it helps me sleep at night.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that Dean and Kristine are probably correct for most situations. But not mine. I would be making far less and helping support far fewer and be far less happy if I did this someone else’s way.
Thank you for this, Hugh. You’re doing exactly what we tell writers to do in our blogs. Do what’s best for you. You know yourself. You know what you can and cannot do well. So you’re focusing on what you do well, and hiring someone who can help you with what you don’t. Kudos.
The only thing I would add is to trust but verify. Good people do good work until something happens–a health crisis, a financial crisis–and then sometimes, they drop the ball. So do stay on top of anyone you hire to help you. That goes for everyone from day care workers for your kids to agents/lawyers for you.
And split payments, especially on the foreign rights. I’m spending December–again–trying to get an accurate accounting from a group of publishers in a country that shall go unnamed. I signed with a very prestigious US agency, eventually left them, but the agents they hired in Unnamed Country continue to collect my payments (which they’re not owed) and send them–when they feel like it–to the US agency which then, rightly, passes them to me. The US agent is fine, in other words. The partner agent they hired (and later fired) is not. So split payments solve all of that.
And if you don’t have that set up now, monitor when payments are due–and ask about them. Your US agent might not do this; it’s time consuming. But you can and it pays off.
Again, thanks for the post, and showing folks how to make the right decisions for what they need, not what some “industry expert” tells them to do.
Thank you for your response ! I understand what you say. I’m in contact with authors who tell me they would quit writing if it had to become a business thing, so yes. And the decision you took was, in my opinion, a smart one. As said Kris, you have to do what’s best to you. It’s the best way to enjoy it and to pursue your career.
Like you, I enjoy when I pay an artist (I paid personnaly 400 euros for each of my previous covers, after doing a contest to find an artist). My father was an illustrator, so I know what it is.
I far less enjoy when I learn Antoine Gallimard (a french publisher) has a personal fortune of 160 millions euros or more, and when I see there is not a single french author on the list of the 500 top fortunes in France.
This is not to say one’s should never sign with a big publisher. This is my personal opinion. Big publishers were on the good side of the gun and they used their advantage in every way possible, which is human. Sometimes, as for you, there can be a mutual interest for an author and a big publisher top work together and that’s a win/win deal. More than 999 times in a thousand, it’s not the case.
So, in a word, even being an indie author, I understand what you did and I approve it as long as you feel it was the best thing for you.
“But you need to wonder how many people who owned Kindles in 2009 still use Kindles as their primary e-reader.”
I do. I have both an iPhone and an iPad. The iPad weighs too much and the iPhone’s screen is too small for them to be satisfactory ereaders for me. The iPad hurts if you go to sleep while reading in bed and it bonks you in the face :-).
For mobile use, my eInk Kindle can go in my coat pocket and I don’t even notice that it’s there. The iPad weighs enough that I won’t carry it unless I have another reason.
Also, I still prefer eInk to backlit for long-form black and white text.
I do use both of the iDevices for other things, though.
Yes, I read my Kindle if I’m in bed or prone. But more often than not, I’m reading at a table or while I’m away from home, and I have found that my phone works best. Still, nice to see that some folks prefer the Kindle. Others…?
I do, because of battery life. I use the Kindle app on my iPhone when I’m waiting somewhere. I LIKE it on my iPad, but I don’t like it sucking up the battery. I just got my 4th Kindle – the Paperwhite – which has an 8 week battery life. iPad? 1 day, max. I travel a lot to Africa where I very well might not have power to charge, so for that application (the reason I got my first Kindle in 2009) it’s a no brainer. But even at home, I use the Kindle first.
Thanks, Jennings. Makes sense.
I don’t have an iPad or other tablet, nor do I have a smart phone. I do have two Kindles, though, and use them both. I love the Fire but in that iteration they took away some features that I use frequently, such as text to speech and collections. So I still use my older Kindle for those things. Basically, I read on my Fire but listen to the older Kindle read to me at work.
Yeah, I hate it when they “improve” the tech and take away the fun stuff. Thanks, Daphne!
I still use my Kindle and often take it with me because it fits nicely into my handbag and isn’t too heavy. But then I don’t have an iPad or a smartphone. My first ereader though was a Rocket ebook (late 90s/early 2000) and I bought a Kindle they moment Amazon offered shipping to Germany long before they sold them in the German Amazon-store.
I also just bought a Kindle as a christmas present for my mom. Her first ereader 😉 I’m curious what she’ll say.
I don’t have an iPad or an iPhone. I used to use a 5 inches Bookeen Opus for two years (a french e-ink device with buttons). Very convenient in my pocket, but then, I bought the Kindle Paperwhite (I got it this month).
I read more now. I love the digital feeling, am still able to put it on my pockets, the words seem to rush to my eyes with the very precise lightning feature.
You can research words, not only in your current book but also in other volumes (and in Wikipedia). Very helpful if you are in a story with hundred of characters. You can translate, too.
Contrary to Kobo or the new Frontlight Bookeen, though, Kindle doesn’t do the line break in order to have an equal space between words, like with paper books.
But the two main flaws remain in my opinion incompatibility with epub format and that licensing thing.
That’s why I buy all my ebooks from my computer and transfer them with the USB line, staying disconnected most of the time. When I buy an ebook, I consider it mine, even if Amazon does say the contrary.
Thanks, Alan. Very helpful. More Kindle users want to be heard on this?
I don’t own a cell phone, nor an iPad, so that’s that. Also, I really dislike reading on screens (there’s an idea : The Business Rusch.epub ? as a newspaper maybe ?).
My Kobo does a fine job (how right you are about Amazon being late in Europe, not early !) so why look further. I intend to stick to e-readers.
Thank you. Did you see David’s post farther in this stream? Is what he sees in England what’s going on in your country?
Just read David’s post. Well, what I saw was, last Christmas, Kobo made a big push and was fairly successful (however, Christmas gifts do not always see much use, and I know one such gift that was almost discarded as deficient because the intended user didn’t remember to unplug her reader from her computer before trying to use it. Is was a near thing that this particular Kobo would never be used again).
And there is a matter resistance to change, perhaps more so in France that in the US. Although that would open another subject entirely, a very vast one, regarding who actually resists change (readers or publishers ? Considering french publisher’s prices, you’d think they wanted e-books to disappear and never have appeared at all).
Back to the rise of e-readers in France… Soon enough, the Cybook appeared. So Amazon came late, in shops at least. Online presence is a different matter. I met a few Kindles owners, people who were used to buy from Amazon and gave the Kindle a try. I sometimes glimpse e-readers in the subway, or in public places. It’s not yet common but it exists.
Even so, I’ll agree with David that our e-book market still has to develop.
It’s not about the shouts of fury and denial from writers, journalists and reviewers who claim they’ll remain faithful to paper, that e-books are not really the same experience, and so on and so forth. Although I think such hostility towards e-books will linger a long time.
In my opinion, it’s more that, basically, our culture is far more “locked up” than North American culture. We have a smaller market anyways, and its actors have a firm grip on it. You think the Big Six have a lot of power, try the Pré Saint-Germain. France is not fifty states, it is one nation, and there is hardly such a thing as a local success ; you need national coverage to attain any measure of (financial) success. And our media are quite incestuous. Also, the Minister of Culture has made it rather obvious that she doesn’t even imagine an alternative to traditional publishers ; a fairly common mindset. And that means political clout will back these publishers. We have no hope of a DoJ lawsuit at all.
To illustrate what this means, awhile ago, there was an article on the Passive Voice, with a title like “France Guillotines Copyright”. Basically, to “protect culture”, the then-minister decided to requisition e-book rights to all books published before 2000 and put them online, with a 50 % royalties rates for the author and a 50 % royalties rates for the publisher. Even though the author had never licensed her e-book copyrights, and could perfectly well have self-published his backlist himself. No, our state benevolently took it upon itself to make sure these valuable pieces of our precious culture wouldn’t disappear and exploit these rights itself. Authors were given a small window of opportunity to keep their rights, but it was a rather inconvenient and short window.
So it’s perfectly possible for major french publishers to battle the e-book by these kind of tactics and to raise prices so that e-books are just plain unattractive. This way business can go on as it was, and they need not trouble to adapt. I might be overinterpretating, but I really got this impression at times.
Now it’s a bit more nuanced than that. A lot of smaller, more agile publishers (Bragelonne comes to mind) at least try and have an e-books policy.
We also have the daring bunch of self-published authors (as I’ll soon be, I think) who took their chance, but as far as I know, it’s no gold rush. Smaller market, less e-readers than in the US, very early stages yet… And also, less of a blogosphere to review and support fiction, I think. And no RITA, no SFWA in our landscape.
And finally (ain’t that a kick in the head) a huge concurrence from english-speaking fiction. In SF and romance, the vast majority of books bought and read are translated from english. In mystery and thriller, a great many successful authors are foreigners, but not necessarily english-speaking (Henning Mankell comes to mind).
Well… not sure I answered your question, so I’ll try now. England is english-speaking and therefore part of the english-speaking market, which makes it further apart from France, Italy, Germany, etc than from Australia and the US in that respect. I’d almost say England, Australia and the US are the same market, though it’s not strictly true. There are cultural differences, but plenty of similarities too. What David sees in England is directly tied with what’s going on in North America. What happens in the rest of Europe isn’t.
When e-books became more common, what happened in the US produced immediate influence in England. For e-books to produce the same influence in France, Germany, Italy, etc, translations are needed.
Well, I hope that was on topic.
Fantastic post, Rémi. Thank you. That’s very clear and important on the differences.
I’d love it if others check in as well. It’s always great to hear from folks actually in the various markets, instead of seeing press reports.
I confirm what said Rémi. I have some clues things may change in 2013. For example, Kindle Paperwhite Wi-Fi is out of stock in France, and if you order it, you’ll receive it only on ferbruary, 2013. It has been out of stock for at least a month.
Kindle Paperwhite 3G is also out of stock (it has been for a shorter amount of time than the Wifi version).
But then, I have read somewhere that eink, the company that produces eink screens, is expecting its activity to drop in 2013, due to the competition of tablets. So the demand in eink screens would not be so strong as I had envisionned ? That doesn’t seem logical to me.
Perhaps Amazon don’t want to develop so much eink readers, because they have found content of tablets was more profitable ? Perhaps they do not have the firepower to do all at the same time on an international range… The better for the competition.
Concerning laws, Europe is aligning itself upon the settlement of DOJ, and that’s why big publishers have agreed to lower their ebook prices.
But concerning France, yes, there is a trench war against ebooks, governement is on the side of big publishing, and the lines will have to fall one after another, which is not easy.
Thank you, Alan. I’m learning quite a lot from all of you. I appreciate it.
I have a Kindle Keyboard and do most of my ebook reading on that. I also have the Kindle app on my PC and use it for looking at anything with pictures (such as cookery books), or that I’m reading for reference. Though I have read a couple of stories on the PC, mainly Gutenberg stuff that I haven’t yet sideloaded onto my Kindle, or stuff I really want to read NOW that I’ve bought only to discover that my Kindle battery was flat.
I don’t have a smart phone or tablet. I would find it hard to swap my Kindle with its long battery life for something that would die after less than a day’s worth of use. I also prefer e-ink to a tablet screen for reading.
Of course, I’m a re-reader, and if I’m pretty sure that I’m going to re-read something – then I buy a hard copy. Well, unless the print version is ridiculously expensive or unavailable. (It’s that whole ‘license’ rather than ‘purchase’ thing…)
I do the same thing on “keeper” books, Zelah. I buy the paper. With writers who write big, fat books, I end up buying both e-book and paper, which annoys me, but I still do it for the writers I love.
I’m seeing a lot on battery life. Since I generally work/read at home, I don’t consider that much. Even when I’m traveling, I charge my phone continually, so I am rarely thinking about battery. It’s a good point, though, and when I fly overseas, I do carry my Kindle for just that reason. (And the fact I can have hundreds of books with me, without breaking my back.)
I had a iPod Touch that I loved reading on, but I lost it in a cab. I bought an iPad, but I do find it too heavy for reading. I bought the cheapest Kindle (non-touch screen), which is a nice size, but I really did enjoy the Touch most of all, the size and the illuminated screen are tough to beat and I managed to carve out tons more reading time when I had it, so I’m getting another one of those when I can.
I found that when I was traveling, I always had my iPhone (same as the Touch, only with phone capabilities) and I got used to reading in the oddest places on that small screen. When the writing is good, the size of the delivery method doesn’t matter. The story still sweeps you away. Thanks, Michael, for the comment.
I have a Kindle Touch, a Nook Simple Touch, an iPod Touch, a Samsung Galaxy Tab, and a Cricket smartphone-with-no-phone-or-data-plan. And a laptop I use as my main PC and a netbook for writing after my day job.
I used to have a Nook 1st Gen. It was clunky and I much preferred the Kindle Touch. So even though I have a Nook Simple Touch now, I am in the habit of doing my e-reading on the Kindle. Also, it is much easier to shop on Amazon than on B&N, so I am more likely to buy e-books for the Kindle.
Certain authors I collect in hardcover. Most other fiction books I will try to get from the library. After that, I’ll see how much the e-book is; if it’s more than $5, I have to really want it in order to buy it. Most of the time I buy a used paper copy from one of the Amazon sellers.
Most of the books I e-read are research or public domain. (Or for my book club, if I can’t get it from the library.) I prefer to read on the Kindle, although I may move over to the Nook because it has buttons to turn the pages and the Kindle Touch doesn’t. However, I love the text-to-speech on the Kindle.
I tend to have the iPod or the Cricket on me, so if I’m stuck somewhere I have books on both I can read. I don’t mind reading on a lit screen but I prefer e-ink. If anyone ever makes a smartphone with an e-ink screen I will probably bite the bullet and buy it. The Kindle is too big for me to carry around except in late spring and early fall, because my light jacket has pockets that fit the Kindle. The Galaxy Tab I mostly use for reading websites, and it almost never leaves the house. The only time I read on my laptop or netbook is when I’m reading a Word doc or a web page.
I don’t read e-books often enough to really worry about battery life, but I love the e-readers when I have to go on a trip. Super portable and I don’t have to worry about the battery dying while I’m in-flight. (I used to save George RR Martin just for plane trips. I flew more back in those days, though.) However, since I bring a whole bunch of cables with me whenever I travel, I usually don’t have to worry about power; I can either plug stuff in overnight or plug it into my laptop and let it ride off the bigger battery.
Thanks, Mercy. Your travel habits sound similar to mine. And now you can get cords, etc, in all airports, so that makes things easier as well. I used to worry that I’d lose my cables for my laptop way back when–oh, about ten years ago. 🙂
Fascinating. Anyone else on e-reading habits? This is fantastic.
My son got me a Kindle for Christmas two years ago and I have been using it ever since when I am away from home. I have quite a few free books on it, but I also buy some content for it. My local library also offers Kindle content loans, but you often have to wait for one to become available.
I have also taken advantage of some add-on software for the Kindle that allows me to use it to play internet radio while in a WiFi area, which I also find very useful. All told I am glad my son gave me this gift.
I have a Kindle (the second generation keyboard model), an iPhone, and an iPad. Hubby and daughter have Kindle Fires.
I read a lot of ebooks on my phone because I always have my phone with me. If I’m stuck somewhere in line, I can read while I wait. I used to always carry a paperback or one of the digests for the same reason. I subscribe to digital versions of the digests now, so I always have them with me if I want to read short fiction.
I still read on my Kindle too, mostly when I’m home or waiting in a doctor’s office. I rarely read on my iPad. The Kindle is lighter and I like the non-backlit screen better. It’s easier on the eyes when I’m going to be reading for a while. I use my iPad mostly for video or mobile editing.
I did put the Kindle app on my desktop computer a while ago. I think I’ve used it once.
We still buy a lot of paper books, especially if the mmp is about the same price as the ebook, or if the ebook price is over ten dollars. Hubby reads more paper books than on Kindle, but he does read ebooks. He mostly uses his Kindle for the apps.
My daughter rarely uses her Kindle at all. She reads a lot of manga, and even though graphic novels look very cool on the Kindle Fire, she’d still rather read the paper book.
Wow, I just saw someone say they’d had a Rocket eReader back in the day. I didn’t think there were any of us left. I bought one in the late 90s to see “how these eBooks were.” I was hooked. A color Gemstar followed and then two Sonys (eInk) then the first Kindle followed by a Kindle DX. The original Kindle actually fell apart in the end.
The 1st Gen iPad made the DX go away but I finally replaced that (for reading and viewing movies) with a Kindle Fire (now HD).
For most reading I now use a Paperwhite. I like how eInk treats my eyes and I love the battery life.
I also own a Nook and a Kobo Touch – because I wanted to make sure what I write looks good on the device.
And because I fit firmly in the beta tester/early adopter niche.
When I first read “If you want a writing career, then learn it.” I mistook the word “learn” for “earn”. As it turns out, the admonition works either way.
Great post as usual, Kris. I especially like and agree with what you say about knowing what people will like. You have to have faith in your writing and put it out there proudly. Some of it, maybe a lot of it, isn’t going to be accepted like you hoped. Some of it will go far beyond (Hugh Howey’s Wool, anyone?)
Putting all of your self-worth into one or five books is the entire point of the “all your eggs in one basket” illustration. Some people hit it big on book one. They don’t know why. They might think they do, because it’s their only book and they think their understanding has been validated by results. That’s why there’s so much funny information out there, I think. That should taper off in the next couple of years too, as peoples’ results start to normalize.
Actually, Jim, some of the funny information will go away, but one of those myths will stick. That always happens. Dean has this great lecture about myths, showing where they started, why they started, and why they were once important. He goes all the way back over 100 years to show how some of them came about. It’s marvelous, and I suspect the same thing will happen here.
*clicks donation button*
*waves goodbye to money*
*cheerfully goes to spreadsheet and updates “expenses” tab*
Hey, now you’re a tax write-off! 😀
MCA, I love being a tax write-off! Thank you!
Excellent post, Kris. Off to the tip jar once again! Thanks for another great year of business columns.
Thank you, Robin!
“I hate to tell you this, but through that thingie called the internet, you can figure out how to market your own books to foreign publishers. You can even negotiate your own terms via that nice invention called e-mail.” 2012
“Computer? Computer!? Ah! Hello, computer.” 1986
The more things change…
“It just shows how badly writers want to have someone else manage their careers for them.”
I can’t peg it, but when I checked on the English SF publishing world in the mid 90s, after WorldCon 95, I had about the same feeling, kind of reinforced by that whole “SASE through proper channels” thing. It looked like you basically _couldn’t_ do it on your own, even in short fiction. Which was ridiculous. [+]
“After you’ve signed legal documents you don’t understand, of course.”
Make a test: put up some article somewhere that can only be accessed after “accepting” some kind of legalese. Make it outrageous and only bury a cancelling clause somewhere in the middle. Check how many people:
* Click through without reading
* Read and stop
* Read, laugh, and click through
Ideally, measure how long they take reading it. Some people open the legal page on auto.
“Those tech people call us “beta testers,” because we are.”
Not to your face. That’d be “early adopters”. I had a nice discussion with a guy, some time ago, on the merits of people ready to buy the first batch, at a premium, and solve their own issues through net browsing. They’ve turned savings into a business branch.
(“Customers” would be “readers,” folks.)
Sort of, sort of not. Consider organizational “libraries” or suggested/compulsory readings. While I think one of the worst things that can happen to a book is to be a compulsory reading for High School kids, there are other branches. But also, for example, service academies, corporate bookshelves… I don’t advocate going that way, but it is there.
Also, with self publishing, I’m not sure you’re licensing much. You’re selling a copy. Or, if you will, you’re licensing yourself the right to print copies, if your mind compartimentalizes.
“I scare people in person. On the page, I’m much milder.”
But… you write horror.
[+] There used to be a mailing list at Rutgers, SF/F writers. Although it was fun, I can’t recall much discussion around actual works or around publishing. I was with it for about a couple of years and I can’t recall if anyone else ever sent any work for discussion.
Thanks, Ferran. Let me correct one thing. With self-publishing, you are still licensing the rights to your own press to print and distribute a copy of your work. That’s how copyright works. And with e-books, you’re licensing the product, not selling it. Which is why Amazon can take a book off your Kindle if/when the license to Amazon no longer exists for some reason.
Great post. 🙂
I’m a new author and yes I’ve written only one novel so far. Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief. I’m aiming to do better and better with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc.
Having working in other businesses for years, I believe/ agree with pretty much everything you’ve stated in this post. My Grampy once said this: ‘it’s called work for a reason.’
It’s the same with the music business. A real act /artist does it for their lifetime not just for a quick win. (There are very few quick wins in music incidentally).
I enjoy the fun parts of creating and writing. And I’m working like a dog for the long run.
Thanks very much for your blog post. It’s reassuring.
You’re welcome, Sean. And yes, the music business is the same. I hope to blog about that at some point.
A very interesting and enlightening post. Thank you for that.
I am a trad published author gone Indie. I started e-publishing in 2010 and have what I see as phenomenal success, with my 9 e-books (back list and new) especially in 2011 and early 2012. Sales have slowed now but still good and I have sold, to date around 30000 e-books since I started e-publishing, mostly on Amazon. What you say is something I have begun to realize myself and the main points for me are: keep writing and improving your craft, spread your books into all e-reader markets, publish in paperback as well, have a lot of patience and the bottom line: the product has to be GOOD.
Exactly, Susanne. Thanks!