If Book Publishers or Amazon did this, they could solve our reading deficiency problem

It’s not looking good for authors who seek to make money from their writing. Recent data from Author Earnings shows a growing gap between authors who self-publish/go with a small publisher vs. those who receive a contract from a “Big Five” publisher or one of their imprints. And the obvious takeaway: Writers are really, really, really, really, really, really unlikely to make money from their writing, despite the vague “more writers earning a living from their writing than ever before” meme pushed out by a few top authors.

Books have never been the most popular form of entertainment and while there’s been a bounce with people buying more work, particularly from indies, the long-term challenge of encouraging a reading culture remains. The problem is, the literary world is ill-equipped to overcome these challenges. There are many reasons, but today we’ll focus on what book publishers can do to improve the quality of their product.

As a newbie writer, I have no ill will towards publishers, nor do I believe an author is wrong for choosing traditional publication. But I do follow publishing news, and I get the impression the major publishers (other than Amazon) have no idea how to consistently build readership. I say to build a readership, they need to develop the talent who can build the readership. So I propose the publishers…

create an Author League.

The concept is simple: publish fewer books, but invest more in their talent to develop. I got this idea from baseball. Players are drafted and nearly all go into the minor leagues. The goal is to develop the players and see who is good enough to become a pro. While most will never make it that far, at least they get some level of coaching. And those who DO make it are better because of the training, the experience, and the commitment to the player from the organization.

Here’s the plan: Sign an author to a contract and place that author in a ‘league’. The expectations and money goes up as the author’s writing improves. Authors who don’t improve or who miss objectives get cut.

Pros: Reserved for only the top few authors who either have, or are capable of, massive sales. These authors seldom need coaching, though having some from time to time never hurts. They have big platforms and really need help distributing their works, primarily in print. These authors are fully ready for international tours, major Hollywood movie deals, merchandising opportunities, and essentially running a medium business. Authors who can sell 50,000 or more copies a year belong here.

AAA: Authors here are emerging breakouts, but not quite mega stars. These authors are well-known in the literary community, and they have a solid fanbase who will come to their book signings or other events, though they may not be household names and blockbuster franchise-ready yet. These authors are experienced and skilled writers who may or may not need additional help with their prose. The main challenge here is helping them improve their storyboarding or getting their careers to the breakout level. They may be ready for minor movie deals or limited merchandising/licensing opportunities. Expectations are high and advances and contract perks are higher as well. Authors who sell between 15,000-49,999 belong here.

AA: The next level up for authors. These writers have some type of working platform, some level of public speaking ability, have shown a greater range of talent needed for major publication, and are taking the craft more seriously. Authors here tend to not be the best at marketing themselves and still need help improving their craft and productivity.  Authors here typically sell 5,000-15,000 books per year.

A: The lowest tier for all authors who are ready for professional publication and don’t qualify for Rookies. These authors typically lack previous writing experience, including coaching or supervision. They also lack the star power needed to move lots of copies. Expectations are lower, but so are advances. Authors here have some talent, but need help improving their writing. That may mean improving productivity, forming outlines, or platform building. Publishers will dedicate help to authors who land here. An author who would sell between 2,500-5,000 books per year would be best suited here. Note that authors who really could not move at least 2,500 copies (smallest possible print run for a publisher) are not worth the publisher’s time and would be better off self-publishing or doing something better with their time.

Rookie: Reserved for new authors under 30 who aren’t ready for higher levels. This is more of a “career development” than anything. Not just improving writing, but helping young talent adjust to becoming a professional. The truth is, few teens and twenty-somethings are fully prepared to be working professionals, putting in all the time needed to be a full-time author, and even fewer would be prepared for celebritydom if their novel took off. The goal here is to seek publication for short stories or small works and build their platforms.

This is only a base guideline, but it’s something to think about. Whoever comes up with this idea is in great shape to retain talent and cut into losses. If you give every signed author some marketing help and lowered expectations for smaller players, the industry would be more likely to break even or profit from work rather than lose significant money on most books. Publishing a book with almost zero marketing help is totally worthless.

What would you add/subtract to my list?

Please Help Me Translate Litspeak

If you read the following two articles (edited for length but all points intact), you will most certainly be confused. The first article is an interview with literary agent Jane Dystel at indiereader.com. The second article is an article from J.H. Mae, also of Indireader. For your entertainment I’ve added my commentary since I was obviously (not) there.

Article 1

Loren Kleinman (LK): What’s been the most challenging aspect of choosing a title?

Jane Dystel (JD): I think the most challenging is finding something that is fresh.  The more I read, the more stories sound the same.  I am looking for “different” as are other agents and publishers.

B&B: Pretty much every story possible has been told in a basic form. Can I submit a story about a talking raccoon and a talking tree stump? Oh wait...

LK: How can authors improve their chances of engaging with a readership?

JD: The key here is, of course, the book.  Their story has to be well told and well written and fresh, as I said previously.  Second,  they need to spend lots of time on social media to build their fan base/potential readership. That is the key to sales these days—whether one is self-publishing or being published be a traditional publisher. Having a unique voice and working within a built-in community of authors and readers is a great way to stand out and cross-promote on social media. Authors should find what platform works best for them or that they’re most comfortable with (whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.) and focus energy there. Better to excel in one place than to be mediocre in several.

B&B tip: The last sentence is very true.  Consider holding off your literary agent approach until you have at least fifteen thousand followers on social media or e-mail subscribers.

LK: How important is an author platform for the author, publisher and agency?

JD: The author platform is extremely important and will definitely make a difference in whether we can sell an indie author’s book to a traditional publisher. Social media is a big part of an author’s platform these days, and we find it works best when authors focus on the kinds they enjoy so that they can be consistent and genuine.

B&B: Very true for the most part, but something I feel like most agents and acquisition editors are missing. Just having a lot of social media followers doesn’t work if your book is terrible. It’s easier to market a great book from a relatively unknown than a total garbage book from a celebrity. Don’t believe me? Ask me how many books Snooki has sold. Social media matters but it isn’t the only thing. Follow my blog and I’ll tell you why!

LK: What can indie authors do to make their books more appealing in terms of covers, editing, etc.? What do you think is the most important aspect?

JD: The cover is very important in the indie world.  It needs to stand out in a very crowded market.  And, a manuscript that reads well—with proper editing and copy-editing—is always going to do better than one that doesn’t. Covers need to look professional. Invest in quality design or stock photos—something anyone could slap together on Microsoft Paint isn’t going to attract a reader, especially since they are only looking at a little thumbnail photograph of the cover and not holding a physical book in their hands. So, to that end, nothing too intricate either—what will stand out on a little screen is going to be what works.

B&B: Excellent point. Agreed.

LK: Do indie authors have more of a chance at traditional publishing later in their careers than those directly seeking publication or representation?

JD: It is very important, as I said, for the indie author to have a solid fan following in order to find a traditional publisher.  That takes time.  Also, unit sales of their self-published books is a factor in their ability to interest legacy publishers. Naturally, quality of writing is also very important—since traditional publishers aren’t as keen as they once were to purchase rights to books that have already been self-published, an indie author needs to be able to produce new work that is a) in line with the type of book they’ve been successful with and b) well-written and unique.

B&B: We won’t touch your book unless you have either a) celebrity status b) an easily accessible base of internet followers OR great access to some big-time talk shows or c) at least twenty-five thousand sales, likely e-books. After you do the work, THEN we’ll jump in and ask if you’ll turn over 2/3 of your revenue (or more) so we can give you “distribution” and “marketing”. IF we like you.

LK: What kind of authors are traditional publishers looking for these days? Is there a particular profile they consider?

JD: First, traditional publishers are no longer all that interested in picking up previously self-published books.  They want authors who are willing to work with them to grow their writing careers.  There is still so much to learn on both sides, and I think legacy publishers want to invest in those authors who are patient in terms of their growth as authors.

B&B: STOP! STOP! check out the two parts in bold. “Unit sales matter” and then “we don’t really want to publish previously self-published books.” So on the one hand, we won’t publish a book which has a lot of sales because we want an author to grow with them, but we want you to already have a lot of social media followers and success before we’ll offer you a contract?

How can you grow with a publisher if you have to do all the legwork before they’ll take you on? Someone help? Please?

Article 2

“These days, self-publishing doesn’t necessarily mean your novel will wither and die, unread, on the digital and real life bookshelves. Books with polished writing, a compelling voice, eye-catching covers, promising sales numbers and an author with a decent reader following may be destined for great things. Meaning a traditional book deal.

With so many indie titles released every day, the pool of authors has become something of a resource for literary agents eager to unearth new talent and sign the next breakaway bestseller – and a testing ground. “Traditional publishers let the indie market experiment, then they swoop in and try to grab what has worked,” said literary agent Evan Marshall with the Evan Marshall Agency.  “When a (book) is of high quality, the attention and popularity naturally come with it.”

The main indicator is sales rankings, which creates a slush pile that is self-curating,” added Laurie McLean, a partner at Fuse Literary Inc. Basically, if the numbers just aren’t there and the book isn’t making waves in the indie market, it likely won’t stand a chance in the traditional one, either, added Andrea Hurst, literary agent with Andrea Hurst & Associates.

The indie world is also allowing the traditional folks to see how new genres resonate with readers. It’s a “freedom and flexibility most traditional publishers don’t have,” Marshall said.

But there are barriers between a literary agent and the next great indie find. Mostly, it’s the sheer volume of titles, which bury the best ones. “It’s the same with the normal slush pile we deal with as agents,” said McLean. “We read. A lot … It’s the same as finding those needles in the huge haystack that we deal with every day.”

So where do agents look? Amazon Bestseller lists, The New York Times eBook Bestseller Lists, Bookbub and other major indie advertising sites. WattPad is another big one, along with Scribd – where McLean’s hybrid client Ransom Stephens got his start – Textnovel, FictionPress, FanFiction, textnovel, Worthy of Publishing, Mibba, figment, Quotev and other writing sites, as well as author web sites, popular review blogs and any place indie authors are being talked about – “the proverbial online water cooler vibe,” McLean added.

Writer’s conferences are also key. That’s where Toby Neal, a self-published author of police procedurals, met and clicked with McLean. Now she has an eight-book audiobook deal and two new series. “She’s given me six months. If I fail, she can always self-publish them. But this gives me a huge incentive to get this book pitched quickly and sold.”

And though word of mouth may be low-tech and old-fashioned, it’ll still get writers’ work under an agent’s nose. One of McLean’s hybrid clients, Michael J. Sullivan, referred her to two fantasy authors whose work he enjoyed and now one of them – Brian D. Anderson – is getting a chance to sell his new series with publishers in New York. “So, do a good job and your name will spread, I guess,” she said.

But the pressure is on indie authors to impress if they want to snag a book deal. Great writing, fresh ideas, a popular genre and novel-length stories – not short stories, novelettes or novellas –are required, added Marshall. (B&B: Didn’t the author of this article just say It’s also a popularity game, evidenced by a strong reader following and social media presence, plus a marketable author brand. But McLean pointed out another critical element– desire. (B&B: First it was new genres being monitored for signs of success, but now if you want a traditional book publishing contract you have to be in a popular genre? Hello? Help, please?)

“We’re particularly looking for indie authors who also want to have at least some presence in traditional publishing. “We’re in it for the long haul of an author’s career and we are looking to grow hybrid authors who can have one foot in the indie world and one in traditional publishing at all times.”

This element can be a challenging one to attain, because indie authors unfamiliar with traditional publishing get frustrated with the process. “They expect everything to move quickly and to have a say at every point along the way. That’s just not the way it works for the most part. You don’t get to pick your covers. You need to make some tough editing choices and trust your editor to make you a better writer. And you need to be patient.”

B&B: OK OK OK, hold up. Let’s break down the last two paragraphs together:
“We’re in it for the long haul of an author’s career and we are looking to grow hybrid authors who can have one foot in the indie world and one in traditional publishing at all times.”
But…Ms. Dystel said I need a massive amount of success in indie publishing, but then the publisher doesn’t want my previously successful work. The only want new books in the exact same genre I write in, assuming I write in exactly one genre. And if I switch genres? What then?
“They expect everything to move quickly and to have a say at every point along the way. That’s just not the way it works for the most part. You don’t get to pick your covers. You need to make some tough editing choices and trust your editor to make you a better writer. And you need to be patient.”
The technology world changes frequently. So on the one hand I have to be cutting edge and keep up with the latest in social media and book publishing, but if I were to be signed by a bigger publisher, I lose control of my work and it will take months or years? And while I agree a good editor is indispensable to a writer, the agent being quoted wants great books out. But that means I most likely hired a decent editor (besides close friends of course), and assuming I’m only writing one genre to build a “brand” (because God knows you aren’t allowed to try something different- see what happened to Lady Gaga?), then can’t I use my awesome freelance editor? Or is she out now?
B&B summary: I post this because I was colossally confused. Let’s be honest. I am very unlikely to ever get a traditional book deal, no matter what.  You, dear reader, are very unlikely to ever get one. It doesn’t matter how good or interesting you are. It doesn’t matter, in all honesty, how many books you sell at the end of the day because that isn’t enough. Heck, it doesn’t matter if I write a blogpost criticizing them, or don’t. All that matters is you and I do the legwork and build the fanbase, in a genre which is forever popular, then you “gets” if you are one of the “chosen ones”.
I have nothing personally against agents or publishers as people. I completely understand the difficulty in making decisions; only so many books per year can be printed and the sheer volume of query letters, plus self-published novels, plus the backlists, plus new material from the A-listers, is overwhelming. It isn’t always easy to understand why one book is so popular and one just like it is not. Changes in the industry have created a lot of uncertainty and I feel for those who worry about their future job status, especially in this economy. I have respect for publishing companies like Lee & Low books which publish the books they want, regardless of whether it has “commercial appeal.” Publishers like Lee and Low and Baen Books will even accept unagented queries, offering you at least a tiny chance to get your name in print, if this is what you want, without having to go through one more “gatekeeper.”
But to be honest, the agents quoted above come off as somewhat arrogant. They act like they’re doing you a favor by making you do all the legwork of building a fanbase, paying for your book’s production and marketing, building your website and your e-mail list, and then AFTER you put in that work they come in and offer to take 15% off the top, plus another 52.5% (give or take) to the publisher, for the right to do what?
What is the value added on they (publisher) are giving you if you’ve done all the work? Are they going to somehow give you a better cover than whatever your cover artist (or you, if you’re so talented) came up with? Will the editor they assign to read your book be better than the freelancer? More flexible? A better time table? Will they offer you help building your author site (this one’s a new post next week!)? Will they do a great job marketing beyond what you’ve already done on your own and can do by yourself or with a hired advertising team?
As for the agent, will she or he get you the money you’re looking for? Will she or he do a better job of managing your accounts and sales volume than Amazon, Ingram, or even an accountant? Will your book get a movie contract solely because of her work, and for more money than you would ever have been able to negotiate on your own?
And what about children’s books? It isn’t like there’s a major market for self-published kid’s books, especially compared to romance and mystery. Will a self-published children’s author attract their attention if the challenge of building an audience of kids is really difficult?
Unless we see reasonable and civil answers to these question, I get the impression, from the agents’ own comments, that the main appeal of being “snatched up” is to give you “legitimacy” at having your name in print by a Big 5 imprint. It’s prestigious. That seems to be about it.
Fellow bloggers and authors, please, help me learn Litspeak. I’m still new to this.

Aspiring Authors: do you deserve a seven-figure book deal?

The holiday season is ending soon and we’ll be fifteen years into the millennium. Here’s a story for all you authors to think about as you weigh traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. From Publisher’s Weekly: (bold emphasis mine- edited for length)

Seven-figure book deals are nothing new in corporate publishing. But lately, these deals seem to be happening more frequently. During the run-up to this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair in early October, three seven-figure deals for debut works were closed by Big Five houses. Shortly after the fair, the New York Times ran an article about a waitress who landed a high six-figure advance. The streak continued with news that St. Martin’s Press had paid seven figures for a debut novel by New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford. And, two weeks ago, word broke that indie author Blake Crouch landed seven figures at Crown for Dark Matter, his science fiction novel. For some in the industry, the flurry of big advances is simply business as usual. Others, however, attribute the run to a dearth of great material, along with the ever-pressing need on the part of the big houses to publish major bestsellers.

George Gibson, an industry veteran who is now publishing director at Bloomsbury USA, warned against reading too much into the latest round of big deals, noting that they happen “fairly regularly during the year.” Nonetheless, Gibson acknowledged that the business has changed. For the Big Five, especially, the highly sought-after projects have become essential. “The game plan to make your budget, or exceed it, relies on having bestsellers. That’s always been the case, but it’s the case now more so than ever.” Because both midlist and backlist titles aren’t selling as well as they once did, Gibson explained, the big books, “are more important.”

That a number of the major deals of late have been for debut works—five of the six aforementioned acquisitions were for books by first-time authors—is also not surprising. One editor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that since the advent of BookScan (which gives editors, sales reps, and retailers approximate print sales for any given title), having no track record is usually a plus.

Other insiders, who also spoke off the record, theorized that there is less of everything, which drives up the price for the most coveted projects. “The whole pool of talent is shrinking,” explained one source. “There are fewer publishers, fewer slots, and fewer submissions so… the higher the quality of the project, the more you’re likely to get.”

Agents, of course, see the trend of bigger advances as mostly positive. “It’s great for the industry,” said Stacey Glick, a v-p at Dystel & Goderich.

Glick felt the influx of big-money-deals might owe something to the fact that publishers feel a need to “prove themselves,” with more and more authors finding success self-publishing.

Regardless of why the big deals are happening, Glick did address one downside to this way of doing business. “The bigger issue is setting up an expectation level for an author that often can’t be met,” she said. While it’s wonderful when a writer lands a huge sum of money for their first book, it puts the author under more pressure to achieve commercial success. If the book doesn’t sell to expectations—which will be high—the author’s career, in the long-term, may be hurt. As Glick explained, the situation “can make it challenging for the author’s future books.”

Alison Callahan, an editor at Simon & Schuster, described what’s going on now as “the new normal.” She said that competition for the perceived best projects has been stiffer for the last four years, and that the biggest shift is how quickly sought-after titles will sell to editors. In the not-so-distant past, when there were multiple bids on a book, an author would often talk to competing editors—or meet them—as part of what’s known in the industry as a beauty contest. Those meetings, or exchanges, took time. “These days,” Callahan explained, “[a big book] is either preempted in 24 hours for an exorbitant sum of money, or you get a best-bid situation.”

The best-bid scenario Callahan referred to, in which editors must submit their best offer without knowing what their competition is putting up, is another element that can drive up prices.

Best-bid auctions can sometimes mimic high-stakes real-estate deals, in which bidders come forward with previously unheard of offers—huge sums of cash or other enticements—to beat out their competition. In publishing, the best-bid auctions are inspiring some jaw-dropping behavior. Supposedly, one editor at a Big Five house offered $500,000 sight unseen for the debut novelThe Girls—one of the most buzzed-about acquisitions of the season, and one of the pre-Frankfurt sales mentioned earlier.

Judging which books merit big advances is still as much art as science. Editors insist that there are specific factors (beyond taste) that go into paying large advances. Although many sources acknowledged there are aspects of luck involved—having an agent who is skilled at setting up auctions, for example—almost all those who spoke to PW said it’s a mistake to think money is being spent haphazardly. “We don’t throw caution to the wind,” Callahan said. “We really sit down and think about it. We have meaningful conversations when it comes to a seven-figure offer.” And what strikes some as excessive is, in actuality, the cost of doing business these days. As Callahan put it: “For a lot of books, it’s justifiable.”

______________________

An advance for those of you who don’t know is a book publishing industry term for a one-time payment made in exchange for a lower royalty (percentage paid for copies sold). So it’s reasonable to assume all the seven-figure authors, especially the debut novelists, earn somewhere between 5-15% royalty, industry standard. BUT paying $1 million or more means the publishing company must earn over $1 million in sales just to cover the advance- remember, the author does get a royalty, even if it’s small! So say an author gets 10% (just to be even). If the average book sold goes for $15 (let’s say $10 for traditional e-book and $20 for print/hardcover copies, just for mathematical ease), that means the publisher must sell about 66,700 copies to cover the advance, minus expenses for editing, illustration, printing and materials, paying distributors, and taxes. Plus, 10% of that million goes to the author, meaning the book company has made $900,000 in gross revenue. What if the publisher gives $2 million? $3 million? You could argue that one would expect the publisher to need to sell at least 90,000 copies (includes e-books) to break even on a $1 million. Even if most copies sold are e-books anything less than 80,000 copies sold for $1 million-plus has to be considered a flop, regardless of whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.

Again, please keep in mind “success” varies from publisher to publisher and author to author. Certainly if I ever got a million bucks for writing a book I’d be very, very happy. But from a business standpoint unless the author or book can be reasonably believed to move lots of copies, this is a throw-away of money. The lure to find the next big best-seller must not come before common business sense.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

Books in 2014: Year in review

This post is about the state of book publishing. Whether you’ve gotten a book published or if you’re looking to get one published, here are some highlights:

  • $5.25 billion: Amazon’s current annual revenue from book sales, according to one of Packer’s sources. That means books account for 7% of the company’s $75 billion in total yearly revenue.
  • 19.5%: The proportion of all books sold in the U.S. that are Kindle titles. E-books now make up around 30% of all book sales, and Amazon has a 65% share within that category. Apple and Barnes & Nobles make up nearly all of the rest.
  • >50%: The decrease in the number of independent bookstores over the past 20 years. There used to be about 4,000 in the U.S.; now there are fewer than 2,000. Amazon’s arrival on the scene is only part of the story here, of course; the decline of the indies started with the debut of big-box stores like B&N and Borders. (Forbes.com)
  • E-books Still Outsold by Hardcover and Paperback E-book sales accounted for 23% of unit sales in the first six months of 2014, according to Nielsen Books & Consumer’s latest survey of the nation’s book-buying behavior. Paperback remained the most popular format in the first half of the year, with a 42% share of unit sales. Hardcover’s share of units was just ahead of e-books, accounting for 25% of unit purchases.
  • The fight is over Amazon and Hachette’s feud over the price-setting of Hachette books sold on Amazon ended with Amazon winning some ground, though a look back shows it was probably a draw. In the short-term, Hachette may have held its ground, but the fact that Amazon controls so much of the book selling market means they can outlast their print and brick and mortar store competitors (if the company can keep from losing more money).
  • Print isn’t dead despite the belief that someday no one will hold a paper book, there are more small indie presses than there were ten years ago.
  • The top ten publishing houses of 2013:
  • Rank (2013) Rank (2012) Publishing Company (Group or Division) Country Mother Corporation or Owner Country of Mother Corporation 2013 Revenue in $M 2012 Revenue in $M
    1 1 Pearson UK Pearson UK $9,330 $9,158
    2 2 Reed Elsevier UK/NL/US Reed Elsevier UK/NL/US $7,288 $5,934
    3 3 Thomson-Reuters US The Woodbridge Company Ltd. Canada $5,576 $5,386
    4 4 Wolters Kluwer NL Wolters Kluwer NL $4,920 $4,766
    5 5 Random House Germany Bertelsmann AG Germany $3,664 $3,328
    6 6 Hachette Livre France Lagardère France $2,851 $2,833
    7 10 Holtzbrinck Germany Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck Germany $2,222 $2,220
    8 8 Grupo Planeta Spain Grupo Planeta Spain $2,161 $2,597
    9 11 Cengage* US Apax Partners et al. US/Canada N/A $1,993
    10 7 McGraw-Hill Education US The McGraw-Hill Companies US $1,992 $2,292

(Publishers Weekly)

We won’t have final 2014 numbers for publishing companies for some time, but in the meantime one thing’s pretty clear: despite the consolidations in the publishing industry, smaller indies are managing and an increasing number of best-sellers are coming from self-publishers (basically, anyone not with a Big 5 contract). Even though many kids don’t read (a goal of mine I want to work on), people have not yet thrown away all the books for Angry Birds.

What do you think 2015 will hold?

Is Indie book publishing the best way to go?

There is a lot of debate among authors as to which methods of publication is best. Here are the four most common options:

1. Traditional publishing (Big 5- Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillian, Simon & Schuster, and all of the smaller printing companies they own)

2. “Indie Publisher”: small and medium sized printing and publishing companies unaffiliated with the Big 5.

3. Self-publishing with a major company like Amazon publishing, where you publish with a major company but it’s largely self-publishing, just on their platform.

4. Self-publishing: you do all the work yourself of creating  or hiring someone for the content, graphic design, editing, etc, and then you publish it on a site like Amazon, Nook, or smash words as an e-book with the possible Print on Demand function.

*Disclaimer: I am not at this time a published author. This is my take on how I view the industry based on the experiences of other authors and my understanding of the publishing industry.

Traditional publishing has the biggest pro in terms of marketing and budget. They can get your book into stores faster than any other method, you can sell copies, print in particular, faster through a big company AND they can quickly have your book translated and sent to foreign nations. They also have massive credibility. The catch is, you actually have to get these services. Go on your typical author message board and notice how many authors complain about the contracts they have to sign (granted, they may have other reasons to complain, but that’s another topic). these contracts often require signing away rights to books for a long time, if not forever. You would get a very low royalty, unless you have had previous success. Advances can vary but they seem to me to be almost totally at random, depending on whether you “fit” with the current crop of publishers. Even if you get a book deal you are still going to have to do your own promotion, though they can help you out. Many authors don’t seem to be good at self-promotion. Also, you will have very little say in how your book is produced, including cover art, illustrations, etc.

Small/Indie publishing: Small/indie publishers are more likely to work one on one with you to make the book look the way you want. As a legitimate publishing house they will take the costs of production onto themselves, and you can (and should) expect better contract terms- higher royalties, more control over cost and production, and legitimate assistance in marketing and promotion. However, you should not expect a large advance, your print runs will be smaller, and you will likely have to do even more self-promotion because indie publishers rarely have the staffs to keep up with the bigger publishers. One bonus is that BECAUSE budgets are smaller at indies your books won’t cost as much to produce, and a basic  economic principle is that the lower the price of a good or service the more likely you are to sell that good or service. Also, books get out to market much faster than big houses but slower than self-publishing.

Amazon publishing or similar service, including Kindle Direct Publishing- many authors who don’t want to write query letters, can’t handle rejection, and/or who can’t, don’t, or won’t wait for an agent to accept a book, pitch the book, sell the book rights, and then have the publisher decide when to print and sell it. You sign with a large company like Amazon, choose what contract terms you want (in KDP), and your book is available as a Print on Demand (POD) or as a legitimately published book. But I got this from the website today:

Amazon Publishing does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, proposals, or other submissions at this time.

Plus you also have to realize you’re working with Amazon…now while the “Big 5” don’t seem like the most pleasant bunch to deal with, and they do control way too much of the book publishing industry, Amazon controls over half the total e-book publishing market and they control a large number of sales volume on the internet. And another economic principle- monopolies are not a good thing. Replace the big 5 with Amazon and it will be exactly the same, but with one company in control and not five.

True self-publishing: You don’t sign a contract with anyone, other than choosing your terms with KDP or Nook Press, for example, for how much in royalties you want to receive. You write your book, take care of production yourself, and sell it as an e-book with POD option available. You publish it on as many sites as you are allowed (depending on your terms) and hope for the best. If you are lucky you might even sell a bunch of copies while keeping 100% of profit and not signing away any rights to anyone!

But…self-publishing has a bad stigma. Anyone can do it, and when anyone can do it, it isn’t very valuable. You will have to take care of ALL your publishing, production, promotion, etc. Many authors, as I stated above, cannot manage to essentially become entrepreneurs. Plus publishers can get access to media and brick and mortar stores you the lonely author are not likely to get access to, even if you’re nice.

My take: I personally favor the small indie publishing model, provided they are a credible publisher. You get the advantage of working with a real publisher who will handle much of what a big publisher will just on a smaller scale, and you will have a better chance of getting a more favorable contract. Self-publishing is very risky and giving your printing rights to a big corporation carries its own risks too, that you’ll either be drowned out by the huge roster of authors they already publish or you’ll have to live with the knowledge of letting an oligarchy have control of your hard work.

Amazon’s new publishing move: bold or dumb?

If you missed this story because you were too busy enjoying Halloween, you didn’t see that Amazon is taking publishing to a new level: Now the public will determine which books Amazon publishes on its Kindle Scout program:

“Launched on Monday, Amazon’s Kindle Scout program provides excerpts of unreleased books. Your mission: Read the excerpts and vote on which books you think deserve a shot at being published and sold through Amazon.
You can nominate up to three books at a time to be published. New books are added each day, so you can check the site on a regular basis and update your nominations along the way. Currently, a variety of romance, science fiction, mystery and thriller titles are up for nomination. At the end of a 30-day voting period, the Kindle Scout team reviews the books that have received the most votes to help decide which ones will be published.
The books that garner the most votes aren’t necessarily shoe-ins for publication. On its Kindle Scout Basics page, Amazon explains that “nominations give us an idea of which books readers think are great; the rest is up to the Kindle Scout team who then reviews books for potential publication.” But clearly the votes will play a role in determining which titles make the grade.If you happen to cast your vote for a book that does get published, Amazon will reward you with a free, full-length Kindle edition of that title one week before its official release. An Amazon video reveals more about the program.”
So basically you put your book up and hope the people who vote in this competition select your book, which must still clear Amazon’s publication team. Whoever votes on your book gets a free copy, though it isn’t clear if you get credit for a sale of this book or if this is the “reward” you get for “getting” your book published.
There’s more:
“Kindle Scout shortens the time it takes for a book to be chosen for publication, according to the company, with the whole process from submission to selection taking 45 days or less. Author contracts offered through Kindle Press include a $1,500 advance, a five-year renewable term, easy rights reversions and the benefit of Amazon marketing. You will have to split the royalties 50-50 with Amazon. But independent and unknown authors may find the program a good way to bring attention to a new, unpublished book.”
I haven’t read the full contract yet (will do for a future post) but $1,500 isn’t great money especially if Amazon takes 50% of the royalties. Normally publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct program gets you 70% of royalties in most countries, though without the whopping $1,500 advance.
My take: On the one hand, Amazon is introducing a new concept here. Traditional publishing means you have to convince an agent to like your book, based on her/his preferences and best guess as to whether your book might sell enough copies to make a publisher profitable. Then the agent pitches the novel to a publisher, who decides based on her/his preferences if she/he likes the book (yes, there are more women involved in traditional book publishing!) and if there’s a chance of profitability.
If all the stars align you get a book deal where, if you are a first-time author, get little in the way of royalty and the hope your book gets enough marketing buzz to hit the best-seller’s list. The traditional “Big Five” have way more marketing power than your typical small publisher but they have more titles to sell. So in a nutshell, your book’s chance at publication and success depends largely on whether a few people taking their most honest educated guess think your book can sell. What Amazon is offering is to bypass this process and let the people actually buying books decide what they want.
There are three negatives with this proposal: One, many books are not good. My favorite ad of all time (not counting the funny Super Bowl ones or Apple’s iconic ‘1984’ ad) is from TheLadders.com. After you watch the ad you realize WHY the website exists: the more people you ‘let play’ the harder it is to stand out. Amazon’s idea will inevitably crowd out decent book ideas because books will become a popularity content. In that sense having ‘gatekeepers’ makes a certain amount of sense, though i personally champion the free-market approach to book buying.
Second, the contract isn’t that great for the reasons I mentioned above.
And finally, remember you’re dealing with Amazon. Now I have no dog in the fight between Amazon and Hatchette, and countless other authors/publishers have weighed in. But think of it as a billionaires vs. billionaires fight. Just because one side is bad doesn’t make the other side better. While I can’t express any love for the “Big 5”, most of which appear to be run very poorly, ceding control of the book publishing market to Amazon is a bad, bad, idea. Monopolies don’t have the incentive to improve quality and the more power Amazon has over the publication and distribution of selling books, the harder it will be to negotiate with them when they have all the power.
Final Takeaway: I like Amazon’s concept of letting the customer decide what they want to buy but I want to see it tested out first to see if the public is good at picking the “winners” and if authors will benefit financially from this deal before i declare it a winner.
Coming up next: Tomorrow is Election Day, so during the day I’ll give my (non-partisan) same-day election projections for the country and for Delaware, where I live.
Coming up soon: I will finally conclude the “Power Cues” Trilogy by wrapping up the book I’ve meant to finish for months.