Tuesday, November 22, 2011

STIRRED is now available

If you read this blog, please show your support by buying STIRRED, the final Jack Daniels novel, currently $2.99 on Amazon.com.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Guest Post by Stephen Leather

Stephen sez: Tomorrow (November 22) is a big day for me. After selling close to half a million eBooks over the past twelve months I’m now taking a step back from self-publishing. I’ve spent twelve months promoting, marketing, plugging, Facebooking and tweeting and I’m exhausted. It’s time for someone else to do the hard work so that I can do what I do best – write.

So as of tomorrow Amazon Encore takes over the publishing of Once Bitten, one of my bestselling self-published eBooks. Next week they take over The Basement, which topped the UK Kindle charts for several months and sold more than 150,000 copies.

Then early next year Amazon’s new imprint 47North is publishing my three Jack Nightingale supernatural detective series – Nightfall, Midnight and Nightmare.

Self-publishing was always an experiment for me. In fact I was one of the first authors to self-publish on the Kindle, in the days before KDP when authors had to go via a company called Mobipocket. I hardly sold any and months would go by without a single sale.

But everything changed for me in the summer of 2010 when Amazon opened its first Kindle store outside of the US and allowed us Brits to buy from Amazon.co.uk. The new store, plus the fact that the Kindle was about to become the most Christmas-gifted item of all time, gave me the impetus to start self-publishing.

Exactly twelve months ago I put up three more eBooks on the Kindle through Amazon’s KDP platform, books that my UK publisher Hodder and Stoughton had turned down. There was a vampire story (Once Bitten), a serial killer novella (The Basement) and a science fiction murder mystery (Dreamer’s Cat).

It’s been a resounding success. I don’t know of any UK-based author who has sold more self-published books. (Though fellow Brit Lee Child of course was one of the first to hit the one millions Kindle sales mark).

Over the last twelve months I sold 155,662 copies of The Basement through the UK Kindle store. Mainly at the Amazon minimum (75p plus 11p tax in the UK) but over the last couple of months the price has gone up to £1.49 (about $2).

Over the same period I sold 82,583 copies of Once Bitten and 19,810 copies of Dreamer’s Cat. The Kindle success spilled over onto the other eReaders and by the summer I was selling tens of thousands of copies a month on iBooks.

My sales in the US were much lower – just 5,197 copies of The Basement and 2,397 copies of Once Bitten over the year. I pretty much tried everything to boost my US sales. I blogged, I tweeted, I gave away free copies, I posted on the Kindle US forum (not a pleasant experience, it has to be said). Nothing worked. Even a guest blog on Joe’s site only shifted a few dozen extra copies. Eventually I gave up trying to sell cut-price books on the Kindle in the US and raised my prices to $3.99. Earnings from the US held steady throughout the year at about $1,200 a month – less than a tenth of my UK earnings.

That’s why I’m so excited about the Amazon Encore deal. Yes, I’ll get a lower royalty rate (they don’t pay the 70 per cent royalty on Amazon Encore books, no matter what the price they sell at). And yes I lose control over the marketing and pricing.

But I’m hoping that Amazon’s marketing expertise will kick in and hopefully replicate my UK success in the US. Their massive database knows which customers like vampire stories and which prefer serial killer stories. They’ll be able to offer my books to the right customers, hopefully at the right price. I’ve seen them do it several times in the UK, where the Amazon imprints have launched American writers into the UK Top 10. It’s as impressive as hell, they can do in hours what it takes me weeks to do. If they can do that for me in the US then the sky’s the limit. Say the US market for Kindle eBooks is five times that of the UK’s – if that’s the case then there’s no reason that Amazon Encore couldn’t sell a million copies of The Basement and Once Bitten. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

But one of the fascinating things for me about my whole Kindle experiment has been the support I’ve received from my UK publisher, Hodder and Stoughton. I’ve been with them for more than twenty years, ever since they paid a six-figure sum for my books The Chinaman and The Vets. It was that advance that launched my career as a full-time writer and changed my life forever.

Not only were Hodder supportive of my eBook experiment, they also joined in and cut the price of one of my thrillers to 49p. The book, Hard Landing, is the first in my Spider Shepherd undercover cop series – and over the last 12 months Hodder have sold more than 120,000 copies. It spent weeks at the top of the Kindle UK chart and only recently dropped out of the Top 100.

And not only that, there was an immediate boost in sales of all the other books in the series – and they were selling at £4.99 each. Over the year they sold more than 35,000 Spider Shepherd eBooks at that price.

But the really big surprise for them came this summer when they released the latest book in the Spider Shepherd series – Fair Game. Sales of the paperback were twenty per cent up on the previous book at a time when the UK thriller market as a whole was well down.

It’s become clear that my success with eBooks has fed through to my legacy publishing books in a big way. But it’s also clear that my publisher is keen to help me build on that success. So this year I have signed deals to write five more books for them in return for an advance of close to US$750,000.

I know there are those who’d say that I’d make more money doing books myself. But I’m not so sure.

Publishers publish. That’s what they’re good at. They find writers, they help shape their stories, and they sell them. All that’s changing is the method of selling stories, from paperbacks to eBooks. The big publishers are like oil tankers, it takes a lot of effort to make them change their direction and speed, but once they have moved they have one hell of a lot of momentum. Yes, I can arrange the editing myself, design covers, market, promote and publicise. But that’s hard work and it’s not what I’m good at. I’m a writer. I write. And I’d rather concentrate on writing and let my publisher get on with publishing.

Yes, the industry is changing. Yes, sales of paperbacks are down and sales of eBooks are rising. Without a shadow of a doubt the eBook market will dominate in the future. But I think what we have seen over the past year has been a bubble, a bubble that is now slowly deflating. Not a bubble in sales – but a bubble in the performance of self-published eBooks. A year ago, when I started my eBook experiment, it was relatively easy to get three of my books into the Amazon Kindle UK bestseller list. And they stayed there – for months. Only last month did they leave the Top 50. But an eBook I released last month – optimistically titled The Bestseller – went into the Top 10 but didn’t stay there for long. And most of the eBooks that were doing so well earlier this year have pretty much disappeared from the bestseller lists. The self-published authors who were shouting that the traditional publishing industry was dead and that the future lay with them are now seeing their books dropping out of the Top 1000 and sales slowing to a trickle.

In their place we’re seeing the old faces starting to dominate the bestseller list – Lee Child, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, PD James. The usual suspects. And among them are the Amazon-published authors benefiting from Amazon’s marketing muscle.

Why is it happening? I don’t know. It might be that the marketplace is changing, it might be that Amazon has changed the way it compiles its bestseller lists. But the cause doesn’t matter – it’s the effect that counts. And I think that bit by bit we’ll see the legacy publishers tighten their grip on the eBook bestseller lists, and the self-published books will find it harder and harder to make any sort of impression.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m far from being the typical self-publisher. And what works for me probably wouldn’t work for a writer who has never had a traditional publishing deal or who is only just getting started. But I’m happy enough now to get off the self-publishing treadmill and let someone else do the hard work. I’ve got books I want to write!

Joe sez: First off, I'm thrilled for Stephen's success. It's nice to see someone do well in the UK, because my sales there have been mediocre (I make about what Stephen makes in the US, about $1500 a month). So there IS a UK market, I just haven't been a huge success there. Yet.

Yet is the operative word, because I've learned something about ebooks that doesn't mirror paper releases--bestsellers are no longer dependent on the release date. My novel The List has been in the Top 100 on three separate occasions. Sales of the rest of my backlist have fluctuated wildly as well.

No ebook can remain in the Top 100 forever. A saturation point is eventually reached as the number of Kindle owners browsing the list buy a copy.

But the people browsing the list this month may not be the same people browsing it next year. As more Kindles are sold, more readers can discover your ebook. Legacy publishers have said for years that readership is stagnant in the paper book world. This isn't how it works in the ebook world. A new release gets some attention, and this spurs sales, but an older book can also get attention via word of mouth, a push from Amazon, or some publicity or marketing effort. That release will be new to new Kindle owners, or to Kindle owners that missed it the first time, and sales can once again spike.

While I find it interesting that Stephen's legacy publisher was willing to experiment with price, and then offer him a large contract, I don't react with optimism to this development. I've been begging my publishers for years to lower my prices, and they do whatever the hell they want. As a result, even though I have more legacy novels than self-pubbed novels, my self-pub outsell my legacy 5 to 1.

You see, legacy publishers know they're stuck. On one hand, they've seen ample evidence that low prices lead to more sales and ultimately more profit. On the other hand, they are worried that if they flood the market with low priced ebooks, each title will make less money overall, which when coupled with dwindling paper sales will put them out of business.

Tomorrow Stirred is launching. I'm pretty sure it will hit the Kindle Top 100, and I'm hoping (like Shaken) it will hit the Top 10. Combined, Blake and I have sold over 650,000 ebooks. Add Amazon's marketing muscle to our existing fanbase, and we have the potential to sell a whole bunch.

So, in the ebook world, name recognition and an existing fanbase plus a marketing push can equal sales. I've seen this happen time and again.

I've also seen that a marketing push, even without name recognition, can lead to sales. So can word of mouth coupled with a good book and a smart cover and a fair price. Amazon has made it very easy for readers to find things that interest them. If an author has several books out, that gives readers many chances to find them. The more virtual shelf space you have, the more ebooks you can sell.

A new release, or a big marketing push, can also buoy the sales of your backlist titles. A rising tide lifts all boats.

So what does all of this mean?

1. Write a good book with a good cover and a good description, and price it reasonably.

2. Do this many times to increase your sales. The more ebooks you have, the more chances you have to find readers.

3. Name recognition can come from prior legacy sales, or name recognition can be spontaneously created as multiple titles begin appearing on bestseller lists and fueling each others' sales.

4. Ebooks are forever, and shelf space is unlimited, so the sales of titles can actually improve over time as more readers buy ereading devices.

5. Marketing pushes, price drops, media attention, and author efforts can increase sales.

I have a theory that bestsellers exist in the legacy world because of distribution. James Patterson is everywhere, so he sells a lot. If you look at many bestselling authors, a lot of them are consistently disappointing fans, as evidenced by low star ratings and bad reviews. But because they are safe (as in familiar) and their brands are constantly being reinforced with new releases that get widespread distribution, they remain in the public eye and popular. Some of that popularity translates to ebook sales, even at high prices.

But bestsellers are still selling many more paper books than ebooks. There have only been a few bestsellers who have cracked the Kindle million club, even though their paper sales are in the multiple millions. Contrast this to midlist writers, whose ebook sales are equal to or surpass their print sales.

As print sales become smaller and smaller, we won't see as many of these familiar bestselling authors on the bestseller lists, especially if their prices remain high.

Unless you get big advance money, like Stephen did, I don't recommend taking a legacy deal. The drop Stephen is seeing in his self-pubbed titles isn't unusual--paper books begin to drop in sales almost immediately after a release. But paper sales drop faster, and hardly ever begin selling again, whereas ebooks do. I wouldn't call this a bubble. I'd call this an ongoing balance between those who have bought your ebooks and those who haven't. Some of those who have bought you will become fans and continue to buy your backlist and new releases. Some who haven't simply haven't discovered you yet. Others who haven't just aren't interested.

There must be an algebra equation in there somewhere.

The reason self-pubbing is still the way to go, is it relies on less luck than legacy does.

With a legacy deal, you have to be lucky enough to be published, and then lucky enough again that your publisher doesn't screw things up, and lucky once more that you get widespread distribution, and finally lucky yet again in order to sell to readers. If everything works as everyone hopes, you can sell a lot of books. But even if you do, you're getting the shaft on royalties, and have no control over cover, title, or price.

When you self-publish, you only have to get lucky once, to sell to readers.

But even though I don't agree with the bubble idea, let's say Stephen is correct. Does it matter?

Ebooks are becoming a global market, and sales can fall and then rise again. So there are plenty of people who can still buy Stephen's backlist titles, and many will over the next few decades. Even if he (or I) get pushed completely off the bestseller lists, as more people buy ereaders, we can still make a very comfortable living having multiple titles ranked under 10,000. In the future, we could have all of our titles ranked above 100,000 and still be millionaires.

But I believe it will be easier to do that at 70% royalties than 17.5% royalties.

I also believe that partnering with Amazon, who can give a current title a big marketing push, is a smart way to remain on the bestseller lists and in the public eye.

It's going to be fun to see what happens with Once Bitten and Stirred when they both launch tomorrow. It will also be fun to see what happens to our backlists.

And by fun I mean lucrative.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Guest Post by Robert Swartwood

Robert sez: Scott Snyder is the reason I finally started self-publishing. But it's not his fault.

Let me explain.

Growing up I was the type of geeky writer who, when walking through a bookstore, would look at the copyright pages of novels to see what printing they were in. I knew all the major publishers and their imprints by heart. I could list off editors and their writers and agents and their clients like a kid naming off the stats to his favorite baseball players. Every week I checked out the new fiction reviews in Publishers Weekly and the new bestsellers in the New York Times.

Yeah, for me writing wasn't so much a hobby as something I wanted to do with the rest of my life. In my head major publishing had become, for lack of a better word, romanticized.

Just after college I scored my first agent and immediately thought I had made it. After all, once you get an agent the rest is smooth sailing, right?

Newsflash: nope, not at all.

This agent shopped two of my novels, a thriller and a literary novel, both which were ultimately rejected. But, strangely enough, both novels received great feedback from publishers. Not every publisher really liked the books, of course, but there were some who did. In fact, one senior editor at Doubleday even called my agent telling him how much she loved the thriller ... but just didn't think it was a right fit for Doubleday.

This agent and I split ways and I was agentless for awhile but kept writing. Eventually I signed with another agent, a much bigger agent at a much bigger agency. Before I had signed with this new agent, I asked what would happen if, God forbid, the novel didn't sell. He said, "We go onto the next book." It was the perfect answer, because many agents won't want to waste their time on a new client whose novel doesn't sell. In fact, this particular agent was still working with clients who hadn't sold novels even after eight or ten tries.

And yet, my two novels with this agent didn't find a home. Again, a lot of great feedback from publishers who seemed to genuinely like the books, but no offer.

Then, in the spring of 2009, I came up with this idea of Hint Fiction and word spread quickly across the internet and a very strange thing happened: W. W. Norton approached me about putting together an anthology of very tiny stories. It was one of those publishing ironies, that after all these years of trying to find a publisher, a publisher found me.

A week or two later, Joe Konrath -- maybe you've heard of him -- spent the night at my place. He was in the middle of his insane driving tour to promote his horror novel Afraid. We drank microbrew beer and talked about books and publishing. At this point Joe had started publishing some of his novels as ebooks but wasn't having major success, at least not yet. He mentioned how he was having trouble with his publisher for the followup to Afraid, how his editor wanted him to make changes that he didn't really want to make. While he didn't come out and say it, I think he knew then that he was going to go it alone with that book.

A year and a half later Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer came out to glowing reviews from the likes of The New Yorker and The Los Angeles Times. I did a little tour, going from Los Angeles to New York City, and was even interviewed by Scott Simon on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday. It was a lot of fun and a great experience but, I think, really helped kick that romanticized idea of major publishing out of my head. While I loved working with the people at Norton -- I had a lot of creative control, actually, more so than some writers get -- there were still some limitations that I didn't care for. When I had suggested about possibly lowering the price of the ebook for a week or two as a promotion, the idea was immediately shot down with the standard answer that ebooks should cost the same as the paperback.

Around this time I got an iPad. I used it less for games and watching movies than reading and editing. I began to buy more and more ebooks, loving the convenience and the idea that basically wherever I went, I had a book to read (everyone should have the Kindle app downloaded on their phone). The ebook prices ... well, it depended on the author -- sometimes the prices were good, sometimes they weren't. Most of the ebooks released by major publisher were priced at $9.99 or more, with the paperback version costing about the same. One of these ebooks was Voodoo Heart by Scott Snyder, a short story collection I had been hearing so many great things about. It was priced at $9.99, and I told myself I would come back to it sometime later.

Before then -- this was in the winter of 2010 -- I had self-published three ebooks, but they were just 99 cent novellas and stories and didn't sell very well. I was holding onto the novels because, again, I had that romanticized idea of major publishing in my head and knew that the sale of a first novel was important. But then, in February of this past year, Random House finally gave in to the agency pricing model at Amazon, meaning they could now set the price to whatever they wanted.

And would you know how much Scott Snyder's Voodoo Heart became?

Not $9.99, but $14.99! (It's currently $11.99 at Amazon.)

While advances are always nice, the one thing authors count on are their backlist. The more books they have to sell, the more readers can find those books and buy those books and keep money coming in for those writers. But when publishers start pricing their ebooks even higher than the paperback books, it's just ... strange. How is that beneficial for anyone? Certainly not for the author and publisher, and most certainly not for the reader. Even if I sold a novel to a publisher and got a decent advance, I knew deep down the ebook price would be really high and would continue being really high, even years and years after publication.

One night Blake Crouch and I had a very long conversation on the phone. Months back he had self-published Run which was doing very well. At the time I was debating whether or not to get my MFA in creative writing, with the plan being that I would eventually teach at the university level. Blake said, "If you could choose between teaching and writing full time, which would you pick?"

I sort of laughed, thinking the answer obvious, and said, "Writing full time."

Blake said, "Then do it."

Blake asked me what my most commercial book was, and I told him it was my thriller The Serial Killer's Wife, which was currently with my agent. He said he wanted to read it based on the title alone and that I should definitely put it online myself (he also hooked me up with his designer, the super talented Jeroen ten Berge). Still I was hesitant, and a while later talked to my agent about it. He confessed that it was harder than ever to crack into the thriller market and understood if I wanted to self-publish the book instead (he has other clients who have been self-publishing too). So this past summer I released the novel (along with a foreword by Blake) and it's been doing well ever since. I have it priced at $2.99, as well as my two other novels, and I've been selling over 1,000 ebooks a month on Kindle and right now earning on average just over $1,500 a month. I recently released another thriller, Man of Wax, which is the first book in a trilogy.

(I also should note that in May of this past year Amazon made one of my titles -- The Silver Ring -- available for free on Kindle (it's now 99 cents). When I initially received the email, I wasn't sure what to think, but then instantly I realized this promotion could be a great opportunity. I quickly added an excerpt from my supernatural thriller The Calling at the end of the novella, as well as an excerpt from The Serial Killer's Wife with a note that said it was coming soon. I thought I would be lucky if the ebook was downloaded over 5,000 times. Turned out that, in less than a month, it was downloaded 25,000 times, and the sales of my other ebooks picked up drastically.)

I'm still with my agent but unsure yet if I ever want to sell another book to a major publisher again. I'm certainly not against the idea, but there will have to be a lot of money to give up all of my rights. If anything, I think the dream for any indie author is to sign with Amazon, as their marketing is completely unmatched. But still, my agent understands the marketplace and continues to try to sell subsidiary rights; in fact, he sent The Serial Killer's Wife out to a film agent who liked it and is currently showing it to some directors. Will anything come from it? Probably not. But still it's good to see that my agent keeps an open mind and is still willing to work with me.

The most important thing I've learned about self-publishing, though, is that just because you can do something, doesn't necessarily mean you should. Sure, self-publishing has become easier than ever and makes a lot of sense to do so, but writers need to be sure that they have a great product first and foremost. There are novels on my hard drive that I could easily self-publish, but I won't. I know they're not good enough yet, and maybe never will be.

It's also important to note that a lot more work goes into self-publishing. It no longer becomes a hobby, or a dream, but rather a business. There are a lot of upfront costs involved, costs that usually a publisher takes care of. You become responsible for your cover art and your formatting and even your marketing. These can become exhausting, but at the same time, it's all an investment. Ideally, you'll earn that money back and keep earning.

I should also note that I've been lucky. Some writers have a lot of books out with great cover art and product descriptions and they aren't selling at all. A lot of writers spend time on message boards, but I don't find that very useful as mostly everyone on those message boards are writers just trying to sell their books too. What we need to focus on instead are the readers.

After all, without readers, what's the point?

Joe sez: First of all, congrats to Rob and the success he's having. He's doing a good job playing the game, and as the years pass and he keeps uploading professional content, he's going to earn more and more money.

Second, it was very cool that Blake took the time to not only talk at length with Rob about self-publishing, but also endorse Rob's book. Now Rob is sharing his story with the world, which may inspire other authors to take the plunge.

This is why legacy publishers should be very, very afraid. While profits are up at legacy houses (Kristine Rusch has a great post about this) I believe we're at a tipping point. While Kris doesn't believe legacy publishing is going away, I believe it is, because more and more authors are going to discover that they can go it alone. Right now publishers have a bumper crop of titles they can sell at too-high prices while reaping 52.5% royalties. But in two years, as ebook sales continue to climb, authors are going to wise up. They must, because they're getting hosed.

Rob's story is unique to him, but it tells a universal tale of rejection and eventual success. He has found out, on his own, that self-publishing is the way to go. Many others are finding this out as well.

This is how revolutions start. First, there is unrest and unhappiness. Then a few folks figure out a better way, and begin talking about it. Then more and more people try it and share what they've learned. Eventually the status quo changes.

Consider this: if you are a writer, you WILL self-pub eventually. You'll have to, because it will be the only choice left. Now, you can try to suck a few bucks out of the legacy publishing world before it dies IF you're lucky enough to get accepted and IF you're willing to bend over and take their terrible offer. If you do this, I predict you'll be counting the days until you get your rights back so you can self-publish.

Or you can self-publish now, and start earning money now.

Every day you wait is a day you didn't make money.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Country Fail

Okay, I gotta interrupt my blogging hiatus to warn newbie authors against a new program from Penguin that made me throw up in my mouth when I read about it.

Book Country, which debuted in April as a place for authors to post their work for critique, recently announced a program to turn manuscripts posted on their website into ebooks and paper books:

Our self-publishing process has been designed by a team of book industry professionals to make the experience as accessible, convenient, and affordable as possible.

For $549 they will format your ebook and print book, and then upload it to retailers.

Or for $299 they will let you do your own formatting, and then upload the book to retailers.


Formatting ebooks and paper books is tricky, but Rob Siders at 52novels.com is less costly than Book Country, and Rob does an incredible job.

After formatting, you should upload your books to Createspace, Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords on your own (takes about an hour) for FREE and you're done. You're published. That's all there is to it.

Why would you pay Penguin to upload your titles? That's the easiest part of the self-publishing process.

But wait, there's more. Penguin also keeps 30% of your royalties.

So not only do you pay them, you also keep paying them.

They don't do any editing or proofreading, as far as I know. They don't create covers. They charge you upfront, and keep charging you for every sale.

According to their site:

For a $2.99 eBook sale of a Book Country title on Amazon, Amazon takes $0.90 and then the author is entitled to $1.47.

Why would anyone but a total newbie do this? What is Book Country doing for you that entitles them to 30% royalties? Especially if/when you pay for the formatting?

I'm blogging about this to warn newbie authors NOT to use Book Country. This blog gets more traffic than Book Country does, so hopefully anyone looking for "Book Country" on search engines will find this post and learn what a Very Bad Idea it is to use Book Country's services.

Look at my sidebar. Those are people you can hire to assist you self-publishing. Carl Graves does covers. Rob Siders does ebook and print formatting. Cheryl Perez does print formatting. xuni.com can help you set up your own ebook store. Diana Cox does proofreading.

These people charge a flat fee and you keep all of your rights. Which means that when you upload to Amazon.com and sell an ebook for $2.99, you keep $2.05, not the $1.47 Book Country gives you.

And trust me. That adds up.

I've sold 500,000 ebooks. If I'd published with Book Country, they would have taken $290,000 in royalties from me. That's just awful.

If you want to use Book Country to workshop your book and get critiques, that's great. I've heard good things about it. But I would NOT recommend paying them to format your manuscripts.

If you want to self-publish, read and learn all you can about the process. Hire smart people with references to do the heavy lifting (proofing, formatting, cover art). Then keep your rights and keep all the money.

But don't take my word for it. Arm yourself with information and figure it out for yourself.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Interview with F. Paul Wilson and Alan M. Clark

Joe sez: F. Paul Wilson is one of my favorite writers. He was first published back in the 1970s, and has since put out more than fifty books with legacy houses. At first glance, he doesn't seem like the sort who would embrace self-publishing ebooks.

But that's what he did. I've been talking with Paul about this for years, and he and I were two of the first authors to becom
e involved in the Amazon Shorts program (now defunct). When KDP came around, Paul got his backlist up, and I collaborated with him, Jeff Strand, and Blake Crouch on the ebook horror novel DRACULAS.

So along comes Kindle Fire, being released today, and Paul is right there to take advantage of this new color technology with his beautifully illustrated (by Alan M. Clark) children's ebook, THE CHRISTMAS THINGY.

How did THE CHRISTMAS THINGY come about?

FPW: We have to go way back to the 70s when I wrote it for my two daughters. I would read it to them every Christmas season. I’d change my voice for all three characters—do a British accent for Mrs. Murgatroyd and hold my nose for Thingy's voice (he has no nose, after all). Kids always love that one the best. As the girls got older and learned to read, they’d take over the voices of Jessica and Thingy. It’s been a great family tradition.

JAK: Never a thought to publishing it?

FPW: Well, sure. But it needed illustrations and I’m no artist. But sometime in the 80s, as I was admiring Jill Bauman's paintings at a NECon art show—she has a wonderful sense of whimsy—it occurred to me that she'd be perfect to do a few illustrations. Jill was game. The studies she did came out so well—just line drawings but she'd added a sweetness to Thingy—that I sent the package around to a few publishers. No one in the strange world of children’s books would give us the time of day.

JAK: Hard to believe.

FPW: I was informed by someone in the field that having a white middle-class protagonist is quite a handicap in that world. Jump to June of 2000. The girls were off to college and THINGY moldered in a file cabinet. I’d just handed in the final Sims novella to Cemetery Dance when Rich Chizmar asked me if I had any fiction lying about. I told him my trunk stories were long gone except for this children’s Christmas story from way-back that he wouldn’t be interested in. He said to email it to him. He fell in love with it and within 36 hours he had Alan Clark signed up to do the artwork. I don't think Cemetery Dance has ever produced a book so quickly. It was released in hardcover December 1, a little late for the Christmas season, but I loved it.

JAK: Alan, how did you come to be involved?

AMC: I've known Paul for quite a while and I remember talking with him about the children's book and knew he was excited about it. I thought it was a delightful story and was thrilled to take on the task of adding imagery to it. I've always loved children's books and felt fortunate to have the opportunity to explore the medium and process.

JAK: What was it like working with Alan? How was the collaborative process?

FPW: Christ, what a nightmare. The guy’s an egomaniacal sonofabitch.

No seriously, it was a joy. Alan has done his share of fiction writing and so has great respect for the written word. But in his genome he's an artist, and he thinks in images and colors. As we'd talk on the phone—we're on different coasts—he'd keep asking me about backgrounds and bleeds and color schemes, and what was I okay with. Finally I had to say to him, "You're the artist. I did the words, you do the pictures. Really, I'm not qualified on the graphic side. And I trust you." As you can see, he came up with a beautiful book.

JAK: Your turn, Alan. How was the collaborative process?

AMC: Paul is easy to talk with and quite willing to discuss ideas. I made only one suggestion for the text. The story originally opened with dialogue, and I asked if he could add to it some visual element that would give me something to focus on for the first illustration. He added description of Mrs. Murgatroyd bending to pick up the broken pieces of a plate she'd dropped, having been startled by something Jessica said just prior to the opening of the story. Mrs. Murgatroyd is simultaneously asking Jessica to repeat what she's said so that we then know what it was. This allowed me to have an illustration facing the opening text that shows Mrs. Murgatroyd dropping the plate.

FPW: That’s right! Completely forgot about that.

JAK: What made you decide to go digital?

FPW: We went digital now because we can. Cemetery Dance did a hardcover first, and that sold out. Then they did a paperback—same trim as the hardcover—and that’s gone. The rights reverted and a few months ago Alan called and asked what I thought about an ebook of THINGY. I said if we can do justice to your art, then absolutely.

For me it’s a matter of wanting all my work available in every existing format. I write to be read, so I’ll jump on any platform that puts my work before readers. All my books are available as ebooks, include the backlist titles I’ve self-published. Listen, if someone comes up with a way of synching a book with brain waves, I’m there.

AMC: My publishing company, IFD Publishing, released the e-book of THE CHRISTMAS THINGY with the help of my partners, Eric Witchey and Elizabeth Engstrom.

As an illustrator, writer and publisher, I've benefited from this exciting evolution in books. Let me give you a brief history lesson. As a small press publisher, I know the cost of adding color images to a traditional book. The expense of hiring an illustrator aside, it's very costly to print full-color illustrations. That’s why, until recently, publishers on a budget have largely restricted color work to what’s necessary to sell a book—the cover and advertising.

As an illustrator who does primarily full-color work, when I was first starting out in the 1980s, I was frustrated by the fact that the jobs that helped a rookie get in the door in freelance illustration were mostly black and white illustrations for magazines and, rarely, for books. I'm talking about the pre-digital days of paste-up, when even continuous tone, now known as grayscale, was too expensive for low budget publications. This work was primarily line art. I was not practiced at pen and ink and so my line work did not represent my skills well. I was a painter.

In the 1990s, publications began printing from digital files, and suddenly black and white illustration, whether line art or grayscale, cost nothing extra in the printing phase. When this occurred, I started IFD Publishing and put out several lavishly illustrated books. Still, color was expensive and so color content was minimized.

When the iPad came out, and I saw how popular it became as an e-reader, and how it rendered full-color in high resolution, I realized it cost nothing now to add full-color art to a book—an ebook, that is. The physical, or traditional color books, such as the hardcover and the paperback of THE CHRISTMAS THINGY, were very expensive to produce. I saw the opportunities for IFD Publishing with e-publishing and here we are. Paul liked the idea and so we now have THE CHRISTMAS THINGY available for all e-reader formats.

JAK: What were the trials of mixing text and full-color illustrations?

AMC: Because we want the files for the book to function properly on all the different readers, we faced restrictions in layout. In the traditional or physical book you can do fun things with the text, like having it interact with the images on the page. Not so in an ebook because the user can resize the text, altering the layout. We had to keep the illustrations independent from the text. On the other hand, the advantage of the ebook version is that you can blow up the images and explore them in detail.

FPW: Whatever you did, Alan, the result is stunning.

JAK: Agreed. THE CHRISTMAS THINGY turned out beautifully in ebook form. Are either of you planning to do any projects specifically as ebooks?

AMC: Thank you for the compliment. We do not at this time have a project to work on together, but I'd be pleased to work with Paul anytime.

FPW: Tom Monteleone and I are collaborating on a series of YA books that was temporarily derailed by looming deadlines on a number of previously contracted projects. But the decks are cleared now and we’ll be back to full speed ahead this week. We plan to launch it as an ebook exclusive and move to paper later.

JAK: Many readers of this blog (me included) believe that paper will someday soon be a subsidiary right. Print books will never disappear, but they may become a niche market, like vinyl records. You both have been in this biz for a while. Your thoughts on this?

AMC: I agree with your prediction. There are many who love books so much, I don't think traditional books will stop being made, but I believe it will be limited to those most in demand. There are e-publishers now who make their books available in a POD (print on demand) edition alongside their digital edition.

FPW: I published QUICK FIXES – Tales of Repairman Jack as an ebook and planned to leave it that way. But so many readers pleaded for a paper edition to put on the shelf with the rest of the series that I had to make a trade paperback available.

That’s a good example of why paper books, though they’ll fade in importance, will never go away. They’re physical objects to which we can attach memories and reference times in our lives. I have books that have sentimental value, that trigger memories when I see them on the shelf. I’ll never read them again but the physical package itself has value for me. That is, until I move and have to pack them up. Then I kind of hate them.

JAK: If we do transition to mostly digital, what are the plusses and minuses for artists and writers?

AMC: Because e-publishing costs next to nothing, publishers have the ability to pay the writer a higher percentage of each sale and still make a profit. But because it costs next to nothing and because there are little or no filters in the way of editors--anyone can decide they are a publisher, start an account with an ebook distributor and publish books--everyone who believes they are a writer can put a book on the market. There's a lot of vanity publishing going on, and much of it gets equal billing through the distribution points.

If we look at it like a river of publishing and the readers as fishermen, all the vanity books muddy the waters and make it difficult to distinguish a nice trout from a mealy carp. What IFD Publishing has done is to create a collective of writers/artists with good reputations who support each other's efforts and work to publish books of high quality. We believe that if we are consistent with this our reputation for good quality will allow our books to rise closer to the surface where they can be recognized.

FPW: I think we all know the plusses for writers—rapid transition to publication, lower cost of putting work before public, lower cost for the reader, higher royalty for the writer, etc. I do see limitations for artists, however, especially because choices of media are narrowed. Alan’s art for THE CHRISTMAS THINGY was designed for high-gloss paper and so it looks great on a high-gloss screen. But other art might be designed for a matte surface, and so you aren’t going to fully appreciate it on a Nook or iPad.

As for me, I’m delighted that people can store THE CHRISTMAS THINGY in their e-readers and tablets and computers and even their smartphones. They can call it up and see Alan’s art and read my words to their kids, or their kids can read it to each other, year after year. Christmas isn’t going away, and neither is THE CHRISTMAS THINGY, now that it’s an ebook. It will remain available to future generations. Because ebooks never go out of print. As someone likes to say, ebooks are forever.

Joe sez: Thanks, Paul and Alan.

I'm getting my Kindle Fire today, and I'll give my review after I've played with it for a bit. But for those who have one, or an iPad (or any other tablet reader with a Kindle app), THE CHRISTMAS THINGY is a must buy. It also looks damn good in black and white.

One of the things I find interesting about the ebook revolution is how quickly ebooks are being embraced by the public. At the same time, paper books aren't disappearing any time soon (in fact, I am working on a deal to release limited edition, signed and numbered hardcovers of ORIGIN, TRAPPED, and ENDURANCE.)

I get a lot of emails and comments about YA and children's ebooks, and if they'll become as popular as adult novels. Yes, they will. It might take another season or two, but Nook Color and Kindle Fire are steps in the right direction. I can easily predict a whole generation of parents and grandparents reading THE CHRISTMAS THINGY to their children and grandchildren on ereaders.

And they won't have to pay $100.00 for a rare, out-of-print hardcover.

Monday, November 14, 2011


This November 22, the final Jack Daniels novel is being released on Kindle.

STIRRED, co-written with Blake Crouch, also concludes his Luther Kite/Andrew Z. Thomas series (Desert Places, Locked Doors, Break You).

We'd like to launch STIRRED with a lot of early Amazon reviews. So earlier I put out a call for reviewers.

And we got quite a few. So many that we have to stop taking requests, because we can't fulfill them all. Thanks all who responded.

Now here are some quick facts about Stirred.

Q: Do I have to have a Kindle to read Stirred?

A: No. You can download Kindle aps for your computer or phone, and read it that way.

Q: What about for paper readers?

A: That version won't be released until February.

Q: Do I need to have read your earlier books?

A: No. Stirred can be read and enjoyed without any knowledge of our previous titles.

Q: Is Stirred being released on Kindle only?

A: Yes. But it is DRM-free, so it can be easily ported to any format.

Q: What is Stirred about?

A: Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels has seen humanity at its most depraved and terrifying. She's lost loved ones. Come close to death countless times. But she always manages to triumph over evil. Luther Kite is humanity at its most depraved and terrifying. He's committed unthinkable acts. Taken human life for the sheer pleasure of it. He is a monster among monsters, and no one has ever caught him. Each is the best at what they do. Peerless. Unmatched.

Until now...

In Luther's experience, people are weak. Even the strong and fearless break too easily. He wants a challenge, and sets his depraved sights on Jack. But with a baby on the way, Jack is at her most vulnerable. She's always been a fighter, but she's never had so much to fight for. So he's built something especially for Jack. His own, private ninth circle of hell--a nightmare world in a forgotten place, from which no one has ever escaped.

It's J.A. Konrath's greatest heroine versus Blake Crouch's greatest villain in Stirred, the stunning conclusion to both Konrath's Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels thriller series and Crouch's Andrew Z. Thomas series.

Only one can survive. And it won't be whom you think.

Q: How do I get Stirred?

A: You can preorder it on Amazon. Right now it is $2.99. The price may go up soon.

Q: Why might the price go up?

A: I've seen enough evidence to show that $2.99 may not be the ideal price point for ebooks. A slightly higher price can earn more money, while still being a bargain for readers.

Q: Is this really the last Jack Daniels book?

A: Yes.

Q: Does Jack die?

A: Several characters die. You'll have to read the book to find out if Jack is among them.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Guest Post by David Gaughran

David sez: Joe features a lot of great writers on his blog who are selling insane amounts. I always get a kick out of those stories and learn a lot. I’m not one of those guys, but maybe I can address the question of whether to self-publish from another angle.

I tried the traditional route for eighteen months – collecting over 300 rejections – before deciding to take control of my career. Self-publishing had been on my radar for a while. I was reading the heretical thoughts of Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath who said we didn’t need a publishing deal, that we could publish ourselves.

Some critics say that people like Joe are repetitive: banging the same drum over and over. I don’t know about anyone else, but I needed that. I was so wrapped up in various myths that the message had to be repeated again and again before it got through to me.

Eventually, I confronted my assumptions and found them to be flawed. I decided to self-publish some shorts to see if I could sell anything (and if I enjoyed the process), but held that novel in reserve as it was still being considered by a few NY agents.

I still had a lot of doubts. While I was convinced of the viability of self-publishing, and had serious concerns about the sustainability of the traditional model, I was less sure about my own abilities to handle things like promotion and platform-building: I had no blog, no Facebook page, I didn’t even have a Twitter account (something I swore I would never do).

Well, it turned out that I enjoyed all that stuff and was kind of good at it. After five months I’ve sold over 1,000 books, I’m getting 20,000 visits a month to my blog, and I have 10,000 followers on Twitter. Not bad for an unknown, unpublished writer.

I don’t take this as proof that the Gatekeeper was wrong. For starters, I still haven’t released the novel that attracted all those rejections. I pulled it from the last agents that had it after I sold 150 copies of my two short story titles in my first month.

I was having lots of fun, enjoyed connecting with readers for the first time, and found an aptitude for promotion which surprised me. But that wasn’t why I decided to self-publish the novel. It was because I was convinced I could sell more and make more on my own.

My logic was this. I hadn’t snagged an agent yet, but I was pretty sure it was only a matter of time – I was getting closer and closer. I don’t know if an agent could have placed my book, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that they would have got me the average advance: $5,000.

When I release it in December, it will be priced at $4.99. It’s a long novel, and I think the genre (historical fiction) allows higher prices, and I like the idea of earning $3.50 per copy. To beat that average advance, and to cover production costs and some promotion, I need to sell around 2,000 copies.

Joe likes to say e-books are forever, which sometimes draws a reaction. But if you are self-publishing, you will own the rights to that content for as long as you live (and your heirs will own it long after that too). Maybe it will be consumed as a holo-novel or something we can’t conceive of yet, but you will still own those rights.

But to avoid clouding the argument, let’s assume I only earn off it for ten years – maybe tastes will change or I will forego the internet and pushing my books for a simple life. Can I sell 2,000 copies in ten years? Well, if I can’t I shouldn’t be in this game. That’s less than one book a day.

In fact, I would say that any writer good enough to attract the average advance could do that too. Even if you are pricing your book at $2.99, earning $2 a copy, you only need to need to sell one book a day over ten years to beat that advance.

There are lots of nice things about a publishing deal (from the outside at least, I’ve never had one). You get your book published for free and they throw in a little promotion. However, the only real selling point, for me, is access to bookstores.

Let’s be honest here, on a $5,000 advance no-one is going to be walking into Barnes & Noble facing a wall of my books. I’ll be lucky if they don’t have to order it. And it’s probably going to be the last money I see from that book, at least until I get the rights back – if I ever can.

As I said above, I easily beat that deal if I can sell a book a day for ten years, which is more than doable. In fact, the way things are going, I might even beat that advance before my book would have hit the shelves by the traditional route.

In short, I can’t afford to take a publishing deal.

Some writers are worried about how much writing time they will have to sacrifice if they decide to strike out on their own. But I can tell you that I am writing more than before. Self-publishing is immensely satisfying, incredibly motivating, and my productivity has soared.

But there are other considerations. Just recently, huge formatting/editing/proofing errors have been spotted in major releases from Neal Stephenson and Terry Pratchett. If this is the level of quality control the Big 6 have for new books from their big writers, I shudder to think what is happening lower down the food chain.

I can’t afford to take the chance that could happen with my book or that I would be stuck with a crappy cover. I know that if I do it myself, the formatting, editing, and cover will be top quality because I work with experienced, committed professionals of my choice, and I have final approval of everything.

When you enter a business relationship with someone (which is how I look at a publishing deal), there are going to be issues if the two parties have divergent views. During the London Book Fair in April, publishers were defending their paltry royalty rates, saying they needed a bigger share of the cover price to help them combat piracy.

At the last Frankfurt Book Fair, the story had changed. Now they say they don’t need to raise royalty rates because authors are doing fine because they charge so much for e-books.

I shouldn’t need to tell you that this is all backwards and speaks nothing to the money going into their pockets at those higher prices. It’s also shows contempt for readers forced to pay that premium so publishers can get a juicy cut. I can’t afford to grant an exclusive license to sell my products to someone who has such an outdated view of the marketplace.

Even if snagging a traditional deal was one of my career goals (which it no longer is), I would still self-publish. Then, with some solid sales numbers, I could approach a publisher from a position of strength, instead of one of desperation.

I’m not going to tell anyone to self-publish; that’s a very personal decision. But if you want to take back control of your career, if you like the idea of connecting directly with your readers, and if you think you deserve more than the smallest slice of the book’s profits, then you should know that there are thousands of us ready to help you take your first steps.

Joe sez: David says a lot of really smart things in this blog entry, which doesn't surprise me because his blog is also very smart. His ebook, Let's Get Digital, is a must read for anyone considering self-pubbing. I recently bought, and read, his story Transfection and I'm happy to say it is terrific, and well worth the 99 cents.

Of the many memes being parroted by writers, one of the most destructive is "Most self-pubbed ebooks don't sell."

When you are arguing a point involving a new technology, such as ebooks, it is essential to make sure your argument also encompasses the older technology. The fact is, most legacy-pubbed books don't sell. Why do newbie writers continue to believe that signing with a publishing house is a guarantee of success? It isn't. You may get a modest advance--$5000 is still considered the average--but in today's publishing climate that may be the only money you ever see. And you can do far better on your own, even if you're selling modestly.

I've recently blogged about how ebook sales are far outselling paper sales. Bookstores are closing. The midlist is disappearing. David has a smart post about how declining paper sales aren't offset by rising ebook sales for legacy publishers, which points to Big Trouble for the Big 6.

So getting a legacy deal isn't about getting into print anymore. Which means you'd be signing with a Big 6 publisher in order for them to release your ebook.

Guess what? The Big 6 suck at releasing ebooks. They charge too much. Their royalties are too small. Often their formatting is sub-par (I've gotten into fights with my publishers to force them to reformat ebooks of mine riddled with errors.)

But exactly how bad a job do they do compared to self-pubbers?

I'll show you, with my numbers.

Hyperion has published six of my novels as ebooks, and Hachette has published one of my novels, and so has Berkley. That's eight novels, going back t0 2004.

On my own, I've published six novels, going back to 2009.

All totaled, my eight legacy pubbed ebooks have sold a little over 100,000 copies on Kindle.

All totaled, my six self-pubbed novels have sold over 235,000 copies on Kindle. And I made twice as much money per copy sold as I did on my legacy ebooks.

So my legacy pubbed ebooks have sold an average of 12,500 copies each, while my self pubbed ebooks have sold an average of 39,100 copies each.

Think about that. Ebooks that have had the support of three major publishers have only sold 1/3 of what I've done myself through KDP.

David is making a wise move, pulling his novel from submission and self-publishing it. Here's a quick recap of some of the reasons why.

1. Getting a legacy deal is difficult, and often doesn't happen even if the book is good. (All the novels I've self-pubbed were rejected by legacy publishers.) You can spend a looooong time looking for a legacy deal--time you could have been earning money via self-pubbing.

2. If you do land a legacy deal, you will get lower royalties.

3. If you do land a legacy deal, it will take 6 to 18 months before that book is for sale.

4. If you do land a legacy deal, the publisher has total control of price, title, and cover.

5. Ebooks are outselling paper books, bookstores are closing, and ereaders keep getting more advanced while coming down in price.

6. If you do land a legacy deal, you likely won't ever get your rights back.

7. If you do get an advance at a legacy deal, it will take a long time to earn out, if ever. Higher ebook prices mean fewer sales, and lower ebook royalties mean smaller checks.

So why are you still looking for a legacy deal? I can think of a few reasons.

Vanity. You want the prestige (whatever it may be) of signing with a legacy house.

Validation. You want the gatekeepers to tell you your book is good enough.

Dreams. You always wanted to see your book at a library, or on the shelf at a bookstore, and those dreams die hard.

Less work. You want a publisher to take care of things like promotion, editing, and cover art.

Money. You're getting a big advance that will amount to a life-changer.

Of those five reasons, the only one that makes sense from a business standpoint is money, and the chances of you getting a large advance from a legacy publisher are about the same as you being struck by lightening. This is a lottery dream, and not a smart business plan.

And as for those who believe legacy publishing is less work than self-publishing, you need to go back to 2005 and read my blog. I worked much harder as a legacy published author than I do as a self-pubbed author. I also make a much better living now than I did then.

If you're reading this, you're probably a writer, and these issues matter to you. Which means you need to gather as much information as you can, and think long and hard about your goals and how to reach them.

As David asks, can your really afford to take a legacy deal?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Guest Post by Barry Eisler

Joe sez: There are plenty more guest posts I will be running throughout the rest of the year, but I'm going back to Barry Eisler today because it is a directly related to a recent post of his. This is about publishing misapprehensions.

Barry sez: Two weeks ago, I wrote a guest post here called The Bogeyman and The Axe Murderer. There was some substantive discussion of the post, which was about why many authors fear a potential future Amazon monopoly while remaining sanguine about the current New York one, but most of the substance was eclipsed by reaction to several charged analogies and metaphors I used, including a "house slave mentality." I have to take some of the blame for this relative lack of substantive discussion, and if I could write the piece over again, I'd change the rhetoric. Not because I agree with all the criticism my rhetoric occasioned (much of which, in my view, was misplaced), but because when enough people find cause to be outraged about your language, the reaction eclipses your underlying argument, and it's my argument I want to discuss, not my presentation of it.

By the way, for anyone interested in the pros, cons, and merits of the slavery analogy, I highly recommend this superb recent piece by Mike Stackpole, Degrees of Slavery, along with the exceptionally civil and substantive comment discussion that accompanies it.

Anyway, among reactions to my post, two far-reaching misapprehensions stood out -- misapprehensions that I think could inhibit people from understanding as clearly as they might the new choices facing writers today, and what those choices mean for the industry as a whole. So let's address those misapprehensions here, and see if we can clarify them.

1. All Legacy-Published Authors Are Making A Mistake.

In fact, I can think of many legitimate reasons an author might want to go the legacy route (and the self-publishing, and Amazon-publishing ones, too), and here's an online conversation I did with Amanda Hocking and agent Ted Weinstein discussing several of them. I've repeatedly said that for me, publishing is a business, not an ideology, and I don't think it's legitimate to criticize someone's tactics without first understanding his objectives. The key is not your chosen means (legacy, self, Amazon), but rather the degree to which those means maximize your chances of achieving your objectives.

So let's talk about those means for a moment. I think the most accurate way to understand the current choice between legacy- and self-publishing is this. Both systems, statistically speaking, are lotteries. If you measure the number of authors published in each system overall against the number who are making a living wage in that system, I don't think you can reasonably conclude that the odds of making a living wage through publishing are particularly good either way. It's so obvious that it shouldn't need saying, but neither system remotely guarantees success.

All this being the case, authors have to do some additional analysis to make a sensible decision. Reasonable questions to ask would include, How much is the advance? How much do I need the advance? Do I think that with higher self-publishing royalties, I can beat the contract (to see what I mean with that concept, follow the last paragraph in this Daily Beast interview)? If so, how long do I expect beating the contract will take? How important is paper distribution to me, and how important is digital? How important to me is control over things like pricing and packaging? How important is time-to-market? How much do I like, and how good am I at, running my own business vs. outsourcing business management to someone else? How much do I trust my potential business partner to manage things well? How much do I hate what legacy publishers are doing today vs how much do I fear what Amazon might do tomorrow? Which system gives me more personal power to influence my odds of success, and how important is that power to me? Etc. If you make a decision without asking such questions, you're making a mistake, at least in your process (though you can still get lucky in your result). If you are asking these questions, then regardless of the path you choose, you're making an informed decision, and for you, the right one.

Speaking only for myself, it's difficult for me to imagine going back to the legacy world (and at least as hard to imagine, at this point, that they'd have me). I'm very attached to control over packaging and pricing; time-to-market is important to me; I love the dramatically higher per-unit royalties self-publishing affords me. In other words, in general, I expect self-publishing will be, for me, more profitable and more pleasurable than was legacy-publishing. (Incidentally, I've also found all these personal objectives have been well served in my experience with Amazon as the publisher of The Detachment. In fact, I've found that, given my various personal objectives, a business model where I publish some works with Amazon and others on my own is the ideal mix). But that's just me. If your objectives are different, it makes sense that you would choose a different course of action. When I write these posts, I'm always far more interested in trying to tease out objective and widely applicable lessons from my own experience than I am in talking about the experience itself.

So, to reiterate: I don't think self-publishing is for everyone, or that legacy-publishing is for no one. And publishing with Amazon has been great for me, but it doesn't follow from that that it would be great for everyone. If you're conscious of your objectives and you ask the right questions, you'll have the best chance of choosing the course that's right for you.

One last thought. We now live in an era where writers feel they ought to clarify that they don't think legacy publishing is necessarily a bad decision, and where self-published authors like Amanda Hocking feel they ought to publicly justify their decision to take a legacy contract. Whatever you think about the respective merits of the two routes, this is an astonishing development. Can you imagine, five years ago, someone publicly explaining why she took a seven-figure legacy offer? It would have been inconceivable, because the decision would have explained itself. No longer.

2. New York Publishers Are Evil And Publishing Would Be Better If They Died.

As I've argued many times, I believe legacy-publishing business practices have become overly self-serving because of a longstanding lack of competition in the industry. But I don't believe these practices make legacy publishers evil; in fact, I think these practices are just a natural part of legacy publishers' humanity. Power corrupts, as the saying goes, and monopolies, by virtue of human nature, always come to serve themselves at the expense of the wider society (that's why we have laws against them). But it doesn't follow from this that any monopoly needs to perish, or that I would personally want it to. After all, when someone is sick, you don't want him to succumb to the disease; you want him to get better. Similarly, what I want for New York publishing is not for it to die, but to reform.

And I want New York to reform not just because even New York would benefit from more enlightened business practices (not to mention the benefits to readers and authors). I also want New York to reform because Amazon needs healthy competition, too. If New York disappears as a counterweight, then current fears about an Amazon publishing monopoly will have substantially more basis in fact. Yes, I expect Amazon will still face competition from a host of players like Apple, Google, Kobo, Smashwords, and others, and from newly emerging author website bookstores, too (check out Joe's store right here), but the more competition, the better, so I hope everyone stands with me in cheering New York on in its efforts to reform its business practices.

Now, if you ask me to bet on the likelihood that New York will successfully adapt to the advent of digital and the emergence of Amazon as a publisher, I would have to regretfully decline to bet very much. As I noted in my previous post, companies coddled by a lack of competition get flabby, and New York, which hasn't faced real competition in living memory, is now squaring off against a formidable competitor indeed. I don't think it's likely legacy publishers will be able to adapt and survive. And though I hope I'm wrong about that, my hope doesn't lead me to want to protect New York from competition, either.

Maybe I'm clarifying here more than is really necessary, but I've learned from recent experience how willing and even eager people can be to mischaracterize arguments they find threatening. So again: the fact that I'm predicting an outcome doesn't mean I'm hoping for it. I predict that one day I will be dead, but that doesn't render me particularly enamored of or eager for that outcome. Similarly, though I don't think New York's chances are good, come on, guys, I'm cheering you on. I want you to step up, not give up.

Which brings me back to the question I asked in my previous post -- a question no one, as far as I know, has yet tried to answer:

If there's a better way than Amazon to reform New York’s previously unassailable quasi-monopoly and all the suboptimal business practices the monopoly has enabled, what is it?

One way of answering this question would be to deny the legacy publishing model is suboptimal at all. You could also respond by acknowledging some degree of suboptimal behavior, while denying that the behavior is the result of a lack of competition. I doubt I'd be persuaded by such arguments, but I would welcome them because they'd be on point.

But if you accept my "Suboptimal New York business practices are the result of a lack of competition" premise, then what I'd like to hear is your solution for getting New York to improve. Personally, I'm thrilled by the advent of self-publishing and the emergence of Amazon publishing because I can't think of any more potent combination of competitive pressure on New York. But I'd be very interested in the views of others on this point -- thanks.

Joe sez: I don't have anything to add to Barry's points, because he's correct and they don't need bolstering from me.

But I will expound a bit about authors supposedly making mistakes by signing legacy deals. Because a lot of them ARE making mistakes.

If you hit yourself in the face with a hammer, I'm going to call you stupid for doing so unless you can really justify it using facts and logic. Otherwise, you're wrong in doing so.

If you don't like being told you're wrong, stop being wrong.

I've always stated that is important to set reasonable goals in your career, and to separate goals (things within your power) from dreams (things that require a "yes" or "no" from someone else in order to happen.)

Your dream could be to get published by a legacy house. That means your goals should be to write a terrific book, then send out ten queries a month to top agents. If stars align, your goals can help you reach your dream.

Then, once you have a legacy deal, your next goal could be to write another book for that house.

But is this really a worthy goal in today's publishing climate? Is it even a worthy dream to begin with?

Many authors defend legacy publishing without fully understanding their reasons for doing to. They don’t back up their opinions. They don't feel they have to. For the past 100 years, we writers haven’t had a real choice if we wanted to earn a living–it was legacy or nothing. So we pursued legacy.

I see that attitude still being expressed, even though there is now a choice. And based on everything I know, having been on both sides of the issue, self-pubbing is a far better choice.

But rather than argue with my facts and figures and logic, some folks choose to attack me, or my tone. There are reasons for this. Some of it is envy (though people will deny this vehemently.) A lot of it is fear.

Most authors are scared of something. Scared of their publishers, of losing a contract, of not getting a contract, of bookstores closing, of ebooks, of piracy, of going it alone.

As far as ebooks go, many are ignorant. They simply don't 'get' it.

But once they are aware of what is happening, several things can happen.

They can accept it, and look for ways to benefit from it.

They can ignore it and hope it goes away.

They can blindly trust their publishers.

They can refuse to accept it, and get angry at people like me.

They can become even more scared, but instead of acting, they become defensive.

And in those cases, authors are being stupid. They are being wrong.

If you're still accepting legacy deals as-is, you really aren't thinking about the future. That isn't being business savvy. In fact, it's the opposite.

If you're fully aware you're getting bad terms on ebook royalties when ebooks are growing so quickly, just to get a paper version in bookstores when both paper and bookstores are receding so quickly, explain how that is wise. Unless you're a bestseller or getting a ton of money upfront, it makes no sense.

Publishers KNOW this. Their contracts are becoming wickedly draconian in regard to erights. They refuse to offer more to authors because they need to replace their lost paper sales. They need to cover their overhead.

What are they offering you in return for helping to save their industry?

Legacy publishing is a poor choice for a lot of reasons, all based on facts, not opinion. People may draw different conclusions from those facts, which stimulates discussion. Or people can walk away because I used strongly worded, inappropriate metaphors. Which is fine. We live in a world where children get a Certificate of Participation if they lose. Let’s coddle everyone, walk around on tip-toes, making sure no one gets offended by anything or gets their little duck feelings hurt because it might destroy the fabric of society. I personally don't care if I'm liked or not, or even if people listen to me. But if you want to debate, debate my points.

And FYI--pointing fingers saying “You’re an offensive jerk” isn’t smart. It’s every bit as childish as what I'm being accused of.

There are plenty of things to be rightfully outraged about. My blog ain’t one of them… unless you work for the Big 6.

Since April 2009, I've been blogging about ebooks, and the changes in the industry. If you really want to see how legacy publishers have reacted to those changes, take a day off and read my blog from then until now.

If that seems like a lot of work and you want to get a head start on making an informed decision, here's Barry again.

Barry sez: First, various functions legacy publishers have always provided (whether in theory or in fact) are and always will be critical. Editing, line-editing, copyediting, proofreading, cover design, pricing decisions (in digital, dynamic ones), branding, promotion -- all continue to be required for the production of a quality book and to maximize the chances that the book will be discovered by the largest possible audience.

Second, the primary reason legacy publishing has traditionally been able to take 85% of an author's earnings is distribution. Because no author could cost-effectively distribute her books in paper without a distribution partner, legacy publishers have been in a position to charge an 85% monopoly rent for paper distribution. The other services they provide -- enumerated above -- are add-ons. How can we be confident about the relative value of distribution vs the add-ons? Because if those other services could be disaggregated from distribution, no author in his right mind would pay anywhere near 85% for them, and publishers would not have the negotiating leverage to charge such an amount.

Today, with the advent of digital distribution, an author can distribute her works 100% as effectively as any publishing conglomerate. In digital distribution, authors and legacy publishers stand on an entirely level playing field -- which is another way of saying that in digital, an author simply doesn't need a publisher to distribute. So what legacy publishers are saying to authors today -- the new legacy publishing value proposition -- is this: "Before, when we handled distribution plus, we charged you 85%. Now you don't need us for distribution anymore, and we're only going to handle the plus part -- and you'll still have to pay us the same 85%."

Obviously, this is unsustainable.

Now as long as digital doesn't become too big a proportion of distribution generally, publishers can continue to try to stake their claim to that 85%. But the bigger the share of digital distribution, and the smaller the share of paper, the more absurd becomes legacy publishing's argument that it can still make a reasonable claim to that antediluvian 85%.

Put those two developments together, and what you get is a massive disintermediation and disaggregation play. Authors still need the same editing etc. functions they needed before, but now we can get them via a variety of emerging business models, many of which have nothing at all to do with legacy publishing. All of which means that legacy publishing will have to reinvent itself and reprice its drastically reduced list of value-add services if it wants to survive. Meanwhile, with legacy publishing's paper lock broken, new entrants, including literary agencies and authors like Bob Mayer, are offering authors various collections of add-on services for various rates of remuneration. So whether legacy publishing survives or not, today authors have more publishing choices than they ever had before.

Personally, I don't think there ever was a time of "pure" indie publishing. After all, Amanda Hocking needed Amazon's, B&N's, and Smashwords' distribution to get her books to readers -- she didn't sell through her own website. And even if she had sold through her own website, she would have been reliant on her website hosting company, on Paypal for billing services, etc. If you think about it, even an old-fashioned paper indie author was reliant on Kinko's for printing services and on Oldsmobile and a network of gas stations for his distribution platform. No one accomplishes anything in business entirely on her own, and I'd argue that notional concepts of independence are less important than the presence of actual choice. No man is an island, nor ever was; what matters instead is the effectiveness, desirability, and range of vessels available to carry us to our hoped-for destinations. For authors, there used to be only one such vessel, which was as expensive and inefficient as monopolies always are. Now there are many, and we're living in a different world as a result.

Joe sez: Self-publishing isn't a cult. It isn't an ideology.

Criticizing legacy publishers isn't a case of being ungrateful, or envious, or bitter.

My dream has always been to reach a lot of readers, and make a living doing something I love.

While pursuing this dream, my goals have changed throughout the years. My goals used to be about sending queries to agents and publishers. I got more than 500 rejections, remember? This was my goal because it was the only way to fulfill my dreams.

Then my goals were to self-promote as much as possible to help spread my brand and sell my paper books. Again, this was the logical thing to do.

Now my goals are to self-publish my work in as many formats as possible, and occasionally partner with a company (such as Amazon) in order to boost sales and reach more readers. I came to this conclusion the hard way, through experience.

Ask yourself once more, what are your dreams? What are your goals?

Now ask yourself if legacy publishing is the best way to reach those dreams and goals.

Blake sez: I think what's not been said succinctly is what this has all been pointing toward:

Taking a midlist deal from a legacy publisher is dumb-ass thing to do.

The "average" advance for a first novel is about $6,000.

How sad to be a good enough writer to get a book deal, but with such poor business sense and such a potent need for a stamp of approval that you squander the money you could be making.

People say but taking that midlist deal is a career builder. Yes, it is. A career of being repeatedly fucked that culminates with getting dropped. The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of that scenario. I've been in this business since 2004, and the number of people who were first published when I was and still are being published is a fraction.

Do you think it's easier now than it was then?

With the rarest of exceptions, publishers support books they pay lots and lots of $$ for. And only some of those are successful. If you get big money for a book up front, take it and run. No one's saying that's not a smart thing to do. I think Amanda Hocking was masterful in leveraging her ebook sales into a killer major print deal.

But midlist, for the most part, stays midlist. And considering the current royalty structure for ebooks, midlist is an even worse place to be now than it was a few years ago.

I haven't heard anyone here say that all legacy-published authors are morons. Because no one believes that. Some are making fat bank. Good for them. Ride it out. But if you have a first novel, or are considering publishing again, and you're taking less than $25,000, I think it's safe to say that's a stupid, stupid thing to do.

Some people would say that number should be way higher.

You want some numbers?

On my first novel, Desert Places, which was published in 2004, I have earned a total of $13,114 from my publisher. That took six years, and I was paid an advance of $6,000.

Since I re-published it myself one year ago, I have made $17,677, on Amazon US alone. That doesn't include Kobo, Apple, Smashwords, Createspace, Barnes & Noble, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, Amazon Fr.

And this isn't my top seller. It's only cracked the top 1000 once. This is a 7-year-old novel.

Now, there's been a lot of talk about tone. So if this comment just hurt your feelings. I apologize. Go to this website, and have one on me:

Joe sez: Blake originally posted that in the comments, and I asked for permission to put it in the actual post.

Right now, I'm holding up a big sign that says, "If you do this, you're stupid."

A lot of people don't like hearing that. My guess is that those who don't like that comment are those who resemble that comment.

If you don't think you're being stupid, tell me why. Explain for all to see how you're making smart, enlightened decisions by signing with a legacy publisher. Show me actual numbers of how it is working for you.

But I don't see anyone doing that. I just see the same group of morons, circle-jerking each other about what an ass I am, without offering anything to prove me wrong.

Because they can't prove me wrong.

So attack the messenger, not the message.

But me being a jerk doesn't make you any less stupid.