If Barnes and Nobles Closes, are Unknown Authors Screwed?

If you missed the news, New Republic has a new essay out on the impending doom of Barnes and Nobles https://newrepublic.com/article/133876/pulp-friction

There’s more than a little irony to the impending collapse of Barnes & Noble. The mega-retailer that drove many small, independent booksellers out of business is now being done in by the rise of Amazon. But while many book lovers may be tempted to gloat, the death of Barnes & Noble would be catastrophic—not just for publishing houses and the writers they publish, but for American culture as a whole.

If Barnes & Noble were to shut its doors, Amazon, independent bookstores, and big-box retailers like Target and Walmart would pick up some of the slack. But not all of it. Part of the reason is that book sales are driven by“showrooming,” the idea that most people don’t buy a book, either in print or electronically, unless they’ve seen it somewhere else—on a friend’s shelf, say, or in a bookstore. Even on the brink of closing, Barnes & Noble still accounts for as much as 30 percent of all sales for some publishing houses.

This happens a lot and B&N is still among us. Yet in the long run, they are clearing out space for book and selling more music and games. Borders did this, and look at where they are now.

Here’s the scary part for wanna-be trade-pubbed authors:

In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits. Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all. And rigorous nonfiction books, which often require extensive research and travel, will have a tough time finding a publisher with the capital to fund such efforts.

The irony of the age of cultural abundance is that it still relies on old filters and distribution channels to highlight significant works. Barnes & Noble and corporate publishers still have enormous strides to make in fully reflecting America’s rich diversity. But without them, the kinds of books that challenge us, that spark intellectual debates, that push society to be better, will start to disappear. Without Barnes & Noble, we’ll be adrift in a sea of pulp.

So accoring to this author, if you’re unknown, sold poorly in the past, and not famous, you will soon be beyond screwed if B&N goes out. This is because no one, not even Amazon, can or will ever create a viable national print bookstore chain again in this country, unless there’s a sudden return to reading by the public.

It’s pretty clear that without B&N, traditional print publishers will lose a massive part of their appeal. Their two biggest appeals are: Marketing and distribution. Yes, they could still send to indie bookstores, but I have a feeling that few but the biggest authors will want to give away 85% of their revenue to someone who is nothing more than a big marketing agency and seller to small bookstores, especially since there are and will be other services that can do this more effectively for less. And marketing can be done with an agency.

I’m not saying publishers will be extinct if B&N goes under, but they will lose a huge incentive to query those agents for years to land one, and then wait more years to find a publisher (unless you’re one of the lottery winners who just has ‘it’ and can sail through the process in months). The downside is, how will most people be able to get their work out in an overcrowded marketplace?

 

 

3 Kickstarter and Wattpad Tips

So now that Kickstarter is over, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Kickstarter was fully funded! I cleared $4100 in 30 days, which is a good marker of success. I now hope I can deliver, both figuratively and literally, within the next month.
  • Waiting to get my cards printed up. Expected deliver is May 27th. My printer doesn’t move any faster. Check below for tips for success.
  • Got an agent requesting a partial! It’s not much but it is pretty cool. First time I’ve ever gotten a literary professional interested in any of my work. With luck, that agent won’t be the last.
  • Story was featured on Wattpad and I am over 8k views in less than 2 months. I expect that by May 25th I will have passed the 10k mark on reads. No, reads aren’t everything. But for those who care about such things, averaging 5k reads a month is not bad at all, especially since i’m still a relative unknown on Wattpad. Probably by the time I clear the 10k mark, I’ll see a bit of an uptick in views per day. My goal is to get 50k reads before my featuring expires. At my current rate I’m expecting 30-35k reads which is not bad given that I won’t write fanfic or teen romances. I’ll check back in periodically to  see if I can hit 50k before the featuring expires.

 

As it’s Mother’s Day, I won’t bore you with a long article. As much as I’d rather Vlog than blog, I just cannot find the enthusiasm to perform like a street monkey for a tiny number of strangers. Plus editing takes a lot of time, even for simple, jump-cut oriented video that is the favorite on YouTube. If you’re wonder why you’re probably not gonna become YouTube or Wattpad famous, I’ll post that next time. Hint: Has little to do with you.

That said, you can have some success, so here are 3 Wattpad tips:

  1. Write in a genre that has more readers, and give them what they want. Teen romance and fantasy (particularly with romance) does very well there, as does fan-fic of popular things. If you do horror or comedy, you won’t have as big a reach. Adjust expectations accordingly
  2.  Don’t do read for read swaps. At first, you will do this because you want to pump up your count. At a certain point there just isn’t enough time. An easier way to find new readers is to post to message boards. You can do this a few minutes a day and still reach a lot of readers.
  3. DO thank voters, commenters, and followers. Not just because it’s nice, but because you will show up on their profiles and this boosts your profile to whoever follows THEM.

 

Now three tips for success on Kickstarter:

  1. I wish I had known how hard it is to raise money by myself. Don’t get sucked into the hype that you just make a profile and “build it” that they will come. The more partners you have on your project, the loftier your expectations will be and the more money you can make.
  2. Get your supporters lined up early. Kickstarter favors those not even with more money, but with a combo of more money AND a higher percentage of their goal reached in the first day and then the first week when choosing which projects to feature. I hit 22 percent of my goal in 7 days, which is the minimum to even have a shot at featuring. But if I had hit 40 percent right away, my ranking would have been boosted and I would have seen my numbers go even higher.
  3. Use the Kickstarter hashtag on twitter. I not only gained a bunch of followers but I actually did get 2 donations of Twitter for boxes, which is pretty cool.

 

Got questions or tips? Post ’em below.

Do Million Dollar Debut Authors Help or Hurt Publishing?

Million Bucks

Point One: Book publishing, like the entertainment industry at large, relies on a few breakout successes to overcompensate for the projects which don’t succeed. Point two: We as humans are wired for “narratives” in our lives-thus we seek opinions which confirm our pre-conceived notions, rather than being challenged.

For book publishers and authors, nothing beats a “rags to riches” narrative, given the struggles of pretty much every author who has a book, many who may live in poverty or low-income conditions, who see their work come to life via publisher. They watch the book become a hit, get rich, and stand tall as the next wave of eager beavers send in their manuscripts, in the hopes that their book might be the Next Bit Thing (NBT). The desire to stand on top of the mountain and shout to everyone behind you “yes, you can do it. See me? See me? I did it and perhaps it could be you.” Whether that desire is eager optimism to help fellow authors or a cynical ploy to sell “services” or “advice” to wannabes, depends on the author.

The desire to find the next breakout story drives publisher to seek the NBT. The problem is, it’s not really clear why some books do phenomenally well and others don’t. If it were, publishers and agents would only accept authors with a 95% chance of that book hitting the bestseller’s list. (Subscribe to my blog for a future post on this 95 percent confidence interval and what it means). But since determining those books is difficult without market research (which I don’t see them do for most books), they are left to what we used to call in grammar school “educated guesswork” or “guesstimates”.

The Wall Street Journal had a recent article about the “millionaire debutantes”- authors who got $1 million or more for their first book. This is like the legendary City of Gold or Shangri-La for authors, since it’s so rare to ever hear of an author receiving an advance this big. Or is it?

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, a former marketing copywriter in Los Angeles, dreamed for years of becoming a novelist but never had any illusions about earning a living from it. Her goal in writing her first novel, “The Nest,” which she tackled in her early 50s, was merely to finish it.

In a whirlwind week as publishers read the manuscript last December, HarperCollins’s Ecco editorial director Megan Lynch made a pre-emptive offer to publish the novel for at least $1 million. “I never imagined people would respond that way in a million years,” said Ms. Sweeney, 55. The book, about four adult siblings whose anticipated inheritance has all but evaporated because of one brother’s bad behavior, is scheduled to be published next March.

Literary fiction, long critically revered but poorly remunerated, is generating bigger and bigger bets by publishers. Thanks to a spate of recent runaway hits such as “The Goldfinch” in 2013 and “All the Light We Cannot See” last year, publishers are increasingly willing to pony up enormous advances to secure potential blockbusters.

Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads have contributed to a culture in which everyone reads—and tells their friends about—the same handful of books a year. It’s increasingly a winner-take-all economy, publishing executives say.As a result, publishers are competing for debut literary talent with the same kind of frenzied auction bidding once reserved for promising debut thrillers or romance novels. “If they feel they have the next Norman Mailer on their hands, they’re going have to pay for that shot,” literary agent Luke Janklow said. “It’s usually the result of a little bit of crowd hysteria in the submission.”

“They’re basically betting on the book establishing itself as an important book in the canon,” Jane Friedman, co-founder of e-book publisher Open Road Media and former CEO of HarperCollins said of Knopf’s deal for “City on Fire.” “You’re betting that this is going to be the most-read book of the year.”

The lack of a sales track record is one of the factors that makes debut authors most appealing, publishers say, because there is no hard data to dampen expectations. “You can pin all your hopes and dreams and fantasies on a debut novel,” said Eric Simonoff, an agent known for negotiating seven-figure advances.

Some worry that large payouts for debut novels could do more harm than good. They put pressure on first-time authors and consume resources that otherwise might go to authors who have posted moderate sales, some agents and publishing executives said.

“It’s not that they’re betting on the wrong writer, it’s that the bet’s too big,” said Morgan Entrekin, publisher at the independent house Grove Atlantic, who noted that Grove can’t afford seven-figure advances.

Moreover, if the book doesn’t turn a profit, the relationship between the author and publisher can sour. And those disappointing sales figures are available for any other publisher to peruse when the author tries to sell her next novel. “That is a scarlet letter that you don’t get out from under,” Mr. Janklow said.

Indeed, million-dollar investments in debuts often don’t pan out, publishers and other industry experts say.

Read that quote by Eric Simonoff again and scratch your head. Is that how a business should operate? Committing millions of dollars to unproven projects because you could project your fantasies onto them?

Authors, unlike musicians or actors, are generally not public figures and rarely have the extroversion needed to build a massive social media or TV following to sell books. Whose fault that is you can argue all day. But the point is, you don’t see any reality TV shows featuring the writer’s life or asking aspiring writers to read their best flash fiction on-air for judges. Just imagine if publishers took most of that over-sized advance and instead committed it to marketing their books. Might they not sell more, especially of the ‘midlisters’?

The whole point of an advance is to provide authors with a source of income for their writing while they waited for their books to sell and collect royalties.But how can you justify handing one author a million bucks, probably 20 years’ of pre-tax pay for their job, when other authors barely get enough to pay their mortgage or rent? Or get nothing at all? Especially when who gets what is based on guesswork and not data.

The bottom line is, in an age where Amazon and self-published authors are taking market share from the traditional publishers of all sizes, the last thing the Big Five need is to spend millions on “guesstimates” of which books will succeed, enriching a tiny, tiny number of lucky authors while leaving the 99.999% out to dry, and focus on marketing the titles they already have. Then they might not need to rely so much on blockbuster titles.

photo: http://mymoneycounselor.com/net-worth-how-are-you-doing/million-bucks

 

What if Harry Potter was Crowdsourced?

Happy-Thanksgiving-Pictures

thanksgivingprayer.com

The publishing world has changed, and the major players have lost ground to Amazon and some new upstarts looking to cash in on the rising indie-author boom, where more and more authors are choosing to self-publish their work instead of seeking a publishing contract.

The style of work has changed too. Short stories have come back in vogue, in no small part due to shortening attention spans among everyone with internet access. Heck, I stopped twice while writing this post to check e-mail. Even shorter pieces, called flash fiction (1200 words or less) are also in style, and some authors are demonstrating their ‘creativity’ and ‘talent’ by tweeting their work, others post to Wattpad or a similar social sharing site, and now we have interactive books courtesy of Apple. There are still ways to tell stories that have not yet been discovered.

One way which has and which is now being touted is crowdsourcing stories. The idea appears to be, someone writes an idea and writers compete to write the best versions of a chapter. Readers then vote on which chapters they like best, and that goes into the book. From Publishers Weekly:

“Traditional print publishing is gatekeeper driven. The traditional publishing model has focused mostly on large-scale print production and relies on a small number of retained authors with a proven track record of generating commercially successful work. The relationship between publisher and author is nurtured at a high cost. Publishers control their ROI by focusing on a small number of proven writers. With the emergence of e-books, the risk of picking the wrong author is reduced, but because of print’s continued focus on big authors, large publishing organizations are still a tough nut to crack for new authors or hard to categorize material.

Digital publishing is automation driven. Digital publishers saw an opportunity to automate many of the steps of traditional publishing, including digitizing books. This created cost efficiencies and increased the size of the market but the essential process of creating content remained the same. Hundreds of Internet-based publishers emerged to sell digital books, which gave birth to self-publishing and hybrid models in which authors pay partners to be published in exchange for a higher percentage of royalties. While digital publishing has expanded the number of published authors, it has not generated the revenues of traditional publishing, or garnered much respect for its content.

The sharing model of publishing is profile driven. In the newest sharing model of publishing, bits of stories are crowdsourced, and the community defines the best writing. Whereas the other models rely on the market to determine quality after the publishing process is complete, with customers using their wallets to vote, the sharing model publishes stories that have already been embraced by the crowd, eliminating the risk of publishing unwanted material. Instead of being process driven, the sharing model is profile driven. Readers and writers sit at the heart of this ecosystem of content generation, with their profiles defining the value they bring. A good analogy for how this model has evolved is the job postings market. Monster automated the process of scanning newspaper job postings. LinkedIn then focused on the profile of job seekers and allowed the community to crowdsource their careers.

Today there’s a similar opportunity for writers with the new sharing models of publishing crowdsourced original content through “competitive collaboration,” with writers competing to write sections of a story, and readers voting to determine which sections are published. Models like this turn the storytelling process into a social media experience.”

The premise is kind of like Wattpad meets celebrity authors, like how sometimes authors collaborate on a project to produce a book. But now, you promote your rough draft to the crowd, and let the reader tell you what’s good, rather than you finishing work and showing it to the reader.

The basic problem with crowdsourcing stories is that not all writers are equally talented. Yes, if five equal authors got together and agreed beforehand on a plot, it might work. The problem with Skrawl’s idea is, if one author is significantly better than another, then the good author will be dragged down by mediocre to poor authors, having to a) publicly show work that isn’t ready yet and b) being forced to compete with someone who may not be as good

Let’s use your favorite book, which is probably Harry Potter, since it seems like a lot of people’s favorite book is Harry Potter. In the old days, JK Rowling wrote an outline, then a book, then queried until a publisher bought the rights to the first book. The publisher edited the book, added a cover, and sold copies in bookstores. Today, if she received dozens or hundreds of rejections due to declining space for new authors, she could self-publish an e-book and hope for the best.

Under this crowdsourcing model, JK Rowling would post chapter 1 of Harry Potter to a website like Skrawl or Wattpad and then “compete” with some random schlub named Steve, living in Manalapan New Jersey, whose idea of a novel opener is “King Liprix wore a green coat and carried a purple sword.” Steve would post his chapter 2, and most of us agree it would suck. But, because readers determine via poll which chapter to vote on, Steve would get lots of his friends to vote for chapter 2 of the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s in UK) Stone. He has more friends who vote the same way most people do for social media competitons, so Steve wins. Then for chapter 3, Tanya from Redding, California gets her friends to pick her chapter 3, leaving JK out of the next two. By the time she’s ready to write chapter 4 (“Diagon Alley”), it no longer makes sense because the story is now about Harry using a staff and rubber band ball to fight a unicorn on a pogo stick while Harry Styles of One Direction looks on approvingly. Thus a great story is now ruined.

Crowdsourcing would require previous collaboration between authors, and voters who are truly impartial and capable of understanding the storytelling process are deciding one step of the way; and also if the authors are of relatively equal strength and talent. And as readers are already gatekeepers of literature, do you really need to check in with them first in a race to the bottom to see who can turn literature into whoever can push the most votes online?

Bottom line for Skrawl: Potential as a niche form of storytelling, but unlikely to replace conventional stories. I have a feeling most readers would rather just read a great story when it comes out instead of devoting hours to reading stinky writing so they can feel “important”.

No posts until next week. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Self-Pub or Trad-pub? You’re asking the wrong question, Lil’ Fella

The never-ending discussion of whether it’s better to go indie or go traditional when it comes to your book’s publication just keeps on going, kind of as a way I think for those who are not big-time to get some consolation as to why you can’t get a book deal. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Now I personally do believe that indies have a lot of advantages in terms of control, flexibility, and freedom to write what they want without being cencorsed by corporate interests. However, let’s not kid ourselves: With the exception of 50 shades of grey, which was a once-in-a-lifetime strike of lightning, the A-list trad-pubbed authors outearn and are better-known than the A-list self-published superstars. It’s the trad-pubbed authors whose bestsellers are more likely to be turned into movies, maintain just about every blockbuster franchise, and sell the most merchandise and products (if that’s your thing) over indies, who don’t have the distribution, marketing, or credibility that comes with an established, big-time publisher. Yes, I know there are indie success stories. Bella Andre, whose twitter feed says she’s sold over 4 million books, mostly as a self-published author, just followed me on Twitter and she has the requisite 135k needed to land a major publishing deal, which she did.

However, I doubt Bella is reading my blog right now, and I doubt Hugh Howey or J.A. Konrath are either (howdy y’all, during National Teacher Appreciation Week 2015 in case you read this in the future- and please don’t unfollow me! It hurts my feelings). So let’s talk about why if you’re deciding to self-pub or find an agent to traditionally publish with, just stop.

First off, the odds are astronomically impossible that you will get an agent to request your full manuscript, let alone agree to an exclusive contract with you, let alone actually find a publisher who wants to buy your work, unless you have a major “platform”, meaning either online or terrestrial. So if you can count big-name talk show hosts or celebrities as BFF’s who will promote your book, then congrats. Here’s your contract.

  • If you have a column in a national newspaper, or you’re a reporter for a big magazine or newspaper, or some other well-trafficked outlet, that’s a solid platform and if your book is at least solid, if not spectacular, then here’s your contract.
  • If you can count millions, or apparently billions, of Wattpad reads for your stories, or you have publicity on another high-trafficked site, stop. Here’s your contract.
  • If you can pull out a list of at least fifteen thousand e-mail subscribers to your blog or website, who are clamoring for your next book, and it’s good if not great, here’s your contract.
  • If you’ve won major (and I mean MAJOR) literary awards, like a Hugo or Corretta Scott King Book Award, and you have at least some type of web presence, you can probably snag yourself a book deal.
  • If you have already self-published and can show at least fifty thousand sales, preferably in the $2.99 or above range, hold on there little fella, you just might land yourself a book deal from a publishing house.
  • On some occasions, if you are lucky enough to get noticed by a small, independent publisher willing to take a chance on you, you can get your book published by an actual company, with or without representation. Just don’t expect your book to end up in bookstores nationwide, because many small presses don’t have much better print on demand (POD) access or distribution than you could get on your own.

If you are still reading this and didn’t get your contract yet, then you don’t have a massive platform, don’t have enough A- or B- list celebrities who can endorse your work, don’t have tens or hundreds of thousands of e-mail subscribers asking for your next book, don’t have a major literary award, and you can’t show indie sales in the mid-5 figures or above, then exactly why are you spending your time trying to query agents? Unless you have a masochistic fetish, you will be hurt when those rejection letters come in. And the worst part is, you will never know if your book was rejected because a) it’s been done ten thousand times before, b) it just flat out sucks, c) your attitude was unprofessional, d) your platform wasn’t considered big enough to sell enough copies to justify the agent spending her time trying to place it, or e) the agent was just overwhelmed with reading too many queries when they have to promote their current list of authors, or go to YouTube conventions/reality TV show sets to find their next writer. You will get a friendly letter of “thank you for your book, but I’m going to pass” with no explanation why.

So what is likely to happen is, you will automatically end up self-publishing as an indie. You can either just go it totally alone, or get published with a very small, truly independent press, which I will count as self-pubbed since you will do a LOT of your own promotion, and you will still have to be on top of your publisher to make sure the book was edited and produced to high standards. You simply won’t be able to do that with a major publisher.

IF you are good/lucky/persistent, you might be able to sell enough copies that some agents will call or e-mail YOU and talk to you about whether you’d like to sign a contract with one (agent) so s/he can help you with traditional print publishing rights, overseas rights, movie rights, etc. You may yet get that traditional publishing deal, which does have advantages over going alone. Namely, the ability to sell and collect money in foreign countries, get your book translated (well or poorly, I have no comment since I don’t know) into multiple languages as opposed to finding translators or learning a lot of languages really quickly, the ease of having your book sold in bookstores and having distribution handled, the increased likelihood of seeing your book turned into a movie (unless you have great connections), the increased odds of winning the very book awards which keep you contracted, and the ease of having other productions like audiobooks handled, which leaves you free to write, do social media, and maybe sell some merchandise on the side if you don’t have a licensing deal in place with a company.

Given that the barrier between indie and traditional is blurred, and that you can still get that book contract if you want it, why even consider otherwise? Even if you don’t want a traditional book deal, for many reasons like loss of control, no compete clauses, mediocre or poor advance, lack of trust in the publisher or agent to properly handle matters, or any other reason, circumstances can always change your mind.

So go indie. It isn’t like you have a real choice now anyway.

The Problems with Children’s Lit in 2 Graphs (Super Bowl Edition)

First off, let me say American Sniper is a 5/5 movie. Bradley Cooper surprised me by playing the part of Chris Kyle well, naturally, as though it really was Kyle and not an actor playing a former Navy SEAL. I HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see war through the eyes of a person who actually went to Iraq and fought.

Second, Children’s lit. Publisher’s Launch is a project of Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and PublishersMarketplace.com and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company to provide better data analytics on the book pub world to publisher’s. Such as, who’s buying what and what the trends are for literature and literacy, two big issues I care about. Education is so important to me that I do a lot of grassroots work to improve education but that’s a post for another time.

Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book had a presentation at Publisher Launch’s Launch Kids session at the most recent Digital Book World conference called “A look at the US Children’s book Market”. He posted his slideshow to the ‘net, for those of us who couldn’t go.

As someone who read a fair amount of kid’s books, and who just finished manuscript #1 for a middle grade novel, here is what’s wrong with children’s lit in 2 graphs: 

The takeaways:

1. Notice the book is missing from graph #1 for kids 14-17. For most American children once they turn 11 books drop off and YouTube and TV take its place.

2. By 14 social media and mobile devices are more important. Reading drops out of the top 8 slots and even sports drop towards the bottom. I was surprised that gaming was less interesting than Facebook and YouTube among teens. This must explain the rise in watching strangers on YouTube play video games and “commentate” rather than actually picking up the controller yourself like I did when I was a teen. Let me note: They are watching random strangers just play games and talk. Whenever I wanted to watch someone play a game and talk, I would go to friend’s houses and do the same thing! But I digress.

This sadly means it’s tougher to get kids and teens to read, which is noticeable when 80% of Young Adult books are bought by adults, for adults. Unless..

3. Graph #2 shows the rise in getting YouTube (and presumably other) internet celebrities in “writing books”. Now to be fair I’ve never heard of any of the celebrities listed on graph 2, but I found this tidbit on “Girl Online” by Zoe Sugg, who goes by the name “Zoella” online. The article notes that Zoe’s debut novel outsold other major authors like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and E.L. James. Apparently, though, her first week accounted for nearly all of her sales as she has since petered out near the 100,000 mark, surprising given that she has close to 7 million YouTube subscribers. She apparently did not actually write the novel; it was ghostwritten, a rather unusual thing for fiction novels, unless you’re bestselling author “Snooki” from the Jersey Shore.

No doubt the internet was a useful tool to help these YouTube stars, of which I am not one of them (I think I’m too old), sell books. However, in the long run, whose books sell better? The three authors Zoe beat, or Zoe? We all know the answer. Now in the short-term, getting celebrities of all stripes (internet, reality tv, etc.) is a better way of selling books than relying on little-known debut novelists with smaller platforms and fewer social media followers. You fans will go buy a book because it’s “you” and, like, you’re famous. BUT again, what are the odds of these books becoming the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Stephen King just because they have a celebrity’s name on it? Want to place a bet?

I can tell you why. At the end of the day it’s the product quality, not the person/people endorsing the product, which determines a product’s success. While I acknowledge I am a bit envious of my far-fewer social media follower status in promoting anything I have, I can say in the long run relying too heavily on poor-quality celebrity books, even to get kids to read, is not the answer. The kids who are not fans of these celebrities just won’t read or will go back to reading other things by established authors. I love Lord of the Rings, I consider it one of the all-time greatest fantasy series ever, but it’s a little sad to me when 2 of the top 5 best-selling Fantasy novels for January are by a man who’s been dead for 42 years, as though literally no one in the world can ever write a good fantasy book again.

Please share your thought about whether you think it’s a good idea for book publishers to rely heavily on celebrity-driven books, or take risks on little-known or unknown debut novelists. Remember. celebrity books are nothing new or bad. They can certainly boost sales at least in the short run over non-famous persons. My argument is that relying on internet & reality T.V. celebrities to “write” kid’s books is not a good long-term trend for brand development and literacy improvement.

The full report is here

SUPER BOWL PICK: I will be rooting for New England with my Pats shirt on at the bar tomorrow. Initially I had Seattle 27-16, but I’m more torn on it now. New England plays very well with the “us against the world mentality” and for that reason I leaned towards NE. But Seattle has shown the ability to do their best no matter what the other teams do, and can the Pats defense stop Lynch and Wilson?

The key players are Gronk vs. Wilson. I’ll go closer but I say Seattle 26 New England 23. Seattle’s defense has been very good at shutting down good offenses and even with the injuries in the back 7 I don’t know how good New England’s defense will be at slowing down the Seattle run game, even IF their WR’s are mediocre.

My First Query Rejection

Anyone who has submitted work to be represented in the traditional manner (by an agent, who then tries to convince editors at a publishing company to buy your work) knows how daunting it is for first-time noncelebrity authors to get representation and publication.

Now I know a lot of you who are authors, writers, or aspiring professionals in this regard have self-published material and I know there are some very opinionated bloggers on the web who are very passionate about this issue. There are pros and cons to both self- and traditionally- published books but we’ll save that for another time.

I’ve redacted the name of the agent I heard back from since it isn’t relevant for this blogpost. First off, I appreciate her very quick (1 day) AND her personalized response, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear:

“Dear Samuel,

Thanks so much for thinking of me for your book.
Unfortunately, this is not quite right for me. However, I really appreciate the opportunity to see your work. I’m wishing you the very best in 2015!”
Warmest Regards,
xxxxxxxx
We know the reading market has slowed down growth as it’s increasingly less likely people will sit through an entire book as opposed to watching videos or going online. This is actually not an insurmountable challenge, and stay tuned because later I will explain why we can’t give up on literacy and getting people to invest more time in reading. It isn’t just good for the industry, or for someone’s bottom line, but also for society: a more literate society is a society with less crime and poverty.
I also, having read books on publishing by publishers and on agent representation by current and former agents, know it’s tough to find that one person out of (tens of) thousands whose idea and marketability is solid enough for a publisher to put in serious effort to market and distribute a book. Sometimes we as aspiring professional authors wish there was less clutter in the agent’s e-mailbox to give ourselves a better shot, but this is unfortunately not true.
But here’s the question: How much of an eye-catching query letter is based on the plot of the book versus the author’s ability to sell it? I have a feeling your credentials or “platform” matters more than the actual book itself. Otherwise Snooki could never have gotten a contract. In other words, was the problem that she isn’t “the right fit”, or that I do not yet have a few ten thousand social media followers whom I can tweet or post about this book to get traction? (speaking of, please follow me on Twitter @sammydrf and I will follow you too). Speaking of social media, as your friendly “Millennial” social media “expert”, I have written, and will write again, about why social media platforms are overrated when judging the value of what is salable or not.
I sent out a few other representation requests, highlighting my active use of social media across multiple platforms AND my experience speaking on live commercial radio, tv, and being printed in newspapers. I actually have been published before as an author in both printed and online newspapers, but not as a fiction author. Sadly, I get the impression this does not have much bearing on my publication history for Big 5 book publishing.
If anything interesting happens with this, I will let you know. Any ideas? share ’em too. I love feedback (and I will subscribe to your blog!).

The Traditional Publisher’s Revenge: Turns out Publishing with Amazon has Drawbacks, too

cartoon credit: Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe. Distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

On December 27 the New York Times ran an article called “Amazon offers all you can eat books: Authors turn up noses”. The problem starts with a new Amazon program called Kindle Unlimited, which allows readers a.k.a customers to buy into a monthly membership for $9.99 to get unlimited access to a wide range of titles. Needless to say, this is great for avid readers and for Amazon, who gets people to use their services, but a bad deal for authors who depend on selling books even if only for $0.99 a copy.

From the article: (bold emphasis mine)

“Authors are upset with Amazon. Again.

For much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer’s publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

For romance and mystery novelists who embraced digital technology, loved chatting up their fans and wrote really, really fast, the last few years have been a golden age. Fiction underwent a boom unseen since the postwar era, when seemingly every liberal arts major set his sights on the Great American Novel.

Now, though, the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third.

Revenue from e-books leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012, according to BookStats. But Kindle Unlimited is making the glut worse, some writers say.

The program has the same all-you-can-eat business model as Spotify in music, Netflix in video and the book start-ups Oyster and Scribd. Consumers feast on these services, which can offer new artists a wider audience than they ever could have found before the digital era.

Holly Ward, who writes romances under the name H.M. Ward, has much the same complaint about Kindle Unlimited. After two months in the program, she said, her income dropped 75 percent. “I couldn’t wait and watch things plummet further,” she said on a Kindle discussion board. She immediately left the program. Kindle Unlimited is not mandatory, but writers fear that if they do not participate, their books will not be promoted.

One major point of contention: Kindle Unlimited generally requires self-published writers to be exclusive, closing off the possibility of sales through Apple, Barnes & Noble and other platforms. (Ms. Ward was an exception.)

Amazon usually gives self-published writers 70 percent of what a book earns, which means a novel selling for $4.99 yields $3.50. This is much more than traditional publishers pay, a fact that Amazon frequently points out.

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?

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.