Monday, February 20, 2012

Do Legacy Publishers Treat Authors Badly?

Some people have disagreed with my statement that legacy publishers treat authors like shit.

So I've made this list. Decide for yourself if these actions constitute treating authors badly. FWIW, all the things I'm mentioning have either happened to me or to my peers.

Legacy publishers offer the author 17.5% royalties on ebooks, and keep 52.5% for themselves.

Legacy publishers have full control over the title of the book.

Legacy publishers have full control over the cover art.

Legacy publishers can demand editing changes or refuse to publish.

Legacy publishers promise marketing or advertising. In fact, they promise lots of things. Then they don't follow through.

Legacy publishers fail to get paper books into certain important bookselling outlets, resulting in fewer sales.

Legacy publishers generate royalty statements that are incomprehensible.

Legacy publishers don't try grow an author's fanbase these days. If the books don't show increased sales with each new title, the author gets dumped, even if the reason for decreasing sales is the publisher's fault.

Legacy publishers hold onto rights even if the book is no longer selling. Getting rights back is a nightmare, and it takes forever.

Legacy publishers try to grab erights to books retroactively.

Legacy publishers take a ridiculously long time to publish a book. In some cases, more than 18 months.

Legacy publishers are a cartel. I suppose it could be a coincidence that the Big 6 all have exactly the same (low) royalty structure, and shockingly similar contract terms. But collusion seems easier to believe, and this collusion is aimed at limiting the income and power of authors. Legacy publishing contracts are painfully one-sided.

Legacy publishers have zero transparency when it comes to things like sales, returns, print runs, and inventory, and keep authors in the dark.

Legacy publishers fix prices. That's what the agency model is. Even worse, these prices are too high and hurt authors' sales.

Legacy publishers sometimes fail to edit.

Legacy publishers abandon books, releasing them into the market without any push at all.

Legacy publishers pay royalties twice a year. Are you freaking kidding me?!? It's 2012! Why are their accounting and payroll departments stuck in 1943?

Legacy publishers embraced returns for full credit. This is the biggest fail in the history of retail, and the reserves against returns practice has screwed thousands of authors. Isn't it funny how whenever you hear about an author auditing a publisher, unreported sales are always discovered?

Legacy publishers have done everything they can to postpone the switch from paper to digital. I was talking about this two years ago. This has cost authors a great deal of money.

Legacy publishers buy subsidiary rights they never exploit. Why buy them if you won't use them?

Legacy publishers waste huge amounts of money. They have offices in the most expensive city in the US, spend tens of thousands of dollars on booths at BEA, spend millions of dollars advertising bestselling authors who don't need the advertising, then say they can't offer more than a $12k advance? Fail. Move to Jersey, cut the expense accounts for lunch, and offer authors more money since they're the reason you exist in the first place.

Legacy publishers reject good books. I got half a mil in the bank that proves this one.

Do the above actions sound like legacy publishers are treating authors with consideration, respect, and affection? Or does it seem like they're treating authors like shit?

I've dealt with a lot of folks who work for legacy publishers. These are talented, dedicated, smart people.

That doesn't mean their companies don't screw authors.

I've spent hours upon hours talking to these publishers, trying to get them to innovate, to evolve.

They didn't listen.

I've spent a smaller amount of time talking to Amazon, trying to get them to innovate, to evolve.

Amazon did listen. And guess what? My Amazon published books made more money, faster, than any of my legacy published books.

If you're an author who has worked with a legacy publisher, you know how demeaning it is when your ideas, pleas, and plans are ignored. And if you've worked with Amazon, you know how empowering it is to be listened to. To have your opinions and ideas count, and be implemented.

I know many legacy pubbed authors who then self-publish. The majority of them agree with me: unless it was for a whole lot of money, they'd never take another legacy contract. Why is that? Doesn't that say something?

I know several self-pubbed newbies who had some success and got picked up by legacy publishers. Where are their blog posts about how well they're being treated and how their sales numbers went up? Where are their recommendations to other authors, urging them to abandon self-pubbing and sign a legacy deal?

I don't rant against legacy publishers because because they've wronged me. I rant against them to warn other authors, and show them better options. The path I'm on now is so much more rewarding, both monetarily and emotionally.

As Blake Crouch said in a recent Tweet: Where are all the longtime authors jumping to the defense of legacy publishing? Surely, since legacy publishers treat their authors so well, there should be thousands of happy authors rallying behind their publishers, disagreeing with my points, telling the world how wonderful their legacy experience has been.

There's a reason we don't see any of this. What could they possibly say?

"I love the fact that my royalty statements make no sense and I only get paid twice a year!"

"I love that my publisher prices my ebook at $12.99 and then keeps 52.5% of the list price!"

"I love getting my title changed to something I hate, and getting stuck with terrible covers!"

"I love the fact that my publisher didn't get me a single review!"

"I love turning in a manuscript and not getting the rest of my advance money until publication 18 months later!"

"I love the fact that it takes my publisher three months to give me the proofs, and then I have to return them in four days!

"I love it when I painstakingly go through a copy edit, and then when the book comes out none of my changes were made, and brand new mistakes were added!"

"I love being told there is no money for marketing my title, and then seeing a TV commercial for an author who has my same publisher!"

"I love it that my publisher insisted on owning world rights, and then only published in the US and Canada!"

"I love that my next-book option wasn't picked up because Barnes & Noble couldn't offer a big enough buy-in!"

"I love releasing only one book a year, even though I could easily write more! Non-compete clauses are awesome!"

"I love the 70% return rate on mass market paperbacks!"

"I love DRM!"

You don't hear a lot of stories about authors being treated well.

Instead, go to any writing conference, belly up to the hotel bar, and listen to the writers commiserate with one another, trading stories of who got screwed the worst.

Is legacy publishing all bad? Of course not. Some authors get rich. Some authors get much-needed editing help. Some authors get treated like royalty.

But I'm pretty sure that if we polled one thousand authors, and had them weigh all the good things their publishers do against the bad things their publishers do, the bad would far outweigh the good. I bet you'd find a lot of them having the same complaints I've mentioned. I bet you'd find even more complaints that I'm not even aware of.

The industry is broken. It cannot continue to treat its content providers as if it's doing them a favor. It cannot continue to engage in business practices that are so one-sided.

Writers are necessary. Publishers are not.

If you want to climb aboard a sinking ship, don't be surprised when you get handed a pail and ordered to start bailing.

If you disagree, I'd love to hear why. You can even post anonymously. All of you legacy publishers who love authors can come and tell me how I'm wrong.

But you won't. Because I'm right. The best you'll do is whine about my tone, or reiterate incorrect memes about my current self-pub success being the result of my legacy backlist, or call me a broken record, or get angry because I'm killing the sacred cow you suckle at, while ignoring all of the valid points I've made.

I'm sure all of you legacy folks have good intentions when it comes to how you treat your writers.

What was it someone said about hell and good intentions?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Guest Post by Lauren Baratz-Logsted


Some people say Joe’s an angel. Some say he’s a devil.

I tend to think he’s both.

Joe is the angel who gives us hope and inspiration. Joe is the devil who gives us hope and inspiration.

Joe was also responsible for one of the single most fun experiences I’ve ever had as a writer, when he let me interview him for my old Disrespectful Interviewer feature at, which you can read here:

But that’s enough about Joe, for the time being. Let’s talk about me for a bit and how I came by my decision to publish my latest comedic novel for adults as an ebook.

My publishing career began 22 published books ago with a dark comedy called The Thin Pink Line. In 2002, having written seven novels in nearly eight years while going through more than one agent, I sold that book on my own as part of a two-book deal to the then premier publisher of Chick Lit, Red Dress Ink. We can argue until the cows come home about whether The Thin Pink Line is or isn’t Chick Lit – it all depends on your definition – but one thing that can’t be argued is that this was a pretty good event for me. Before The Thin Pink Line was even published, RDI came to me with an offer for a subsequent three-book deal – my first book wasn’t even out yet, and I was already assured of at least a five-book career! Before all the pink dust had settled, The Thin Pink Line was published in 11 countries, optioned for a film, and was the first book published by any Harlequin imprint ever – with all the thousands of books they’d previously published over the years! – to earn a starred review from Kirkus.

Surely, my success as a writer of comedic novels for adults would go on forever!

Well, as publishing insiders have been known to say: Heh. Heh-heh-heh.

By the time my fifth book came out from RDI in fall of 2008, publishing was rolling back the red carpet they’d once extended to Chick Lit authors. Publishing itself, as publishing so often does when something gets hot, had over-saturated the market and now they wanted nothing to do with books like that; in fact, RDI published its final book in December of that year.

But that was OK! By then I’d already diversified by branching into the young adult market and was about to further branch into the children’s market with a series of books for young readers which I created with my husband and daughter, The Sisters 8. Both branches have proven to be successful for me. So who needed to publish books for adults anymore?

Well, actually, me.

I’m an eclectic reader, and an eclectic writer, and I like to scratch all my itches.

So when I got the idea for a new comedic novel for adults, I just had to write it, whether anyone would ever publish it or not. I called the book THE BRO-MAGNET and here’s a description of it:

Women have been known to lament, "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride." For Johnny Smith, the problem is, "Always a Best Man, never a groom." At age 33, housepainter Johnny has been Best Man eight times. The ultimate man's man, Johnny loves the Mets, the Jets, his weekly poker game, and the hula girl lamp that hangs over his basement pool table. Johnny has the instant affection of nearly every man he meets, but one thing he doesn't have is a woman to share his life with, and he wants that desperately. When Johnny meets District Attorney Helen Troy, he decides to renounce his bro-magnet ways in order to impress her. With the aid and advice of his friends and family, soon he's transforming his wardrobe, buying throw pillows, ditching the hula girl lamp, getting a cat and even changing his name to the more mature-sounding John. And through it all, he's pretending to have no interest in sports, which Helen claims to abhor. As things heat up with Helen, the questions arise: Will Johnny finally get the girl? And, if he's successful in that pursuit, who will he be now that he's no longer really himself? THE BRO-MAGNET is a rollicking comedic novel about what one man is willing to give up for the sake of love.

Of course once I’d completed the book, I knew there was little point in trying to sell it to a big publishing company. Even if they were enticed by the description, even if they loved the actual writing, as soon as they looked up the BookScan numbers on me and saw the paltry figures for that last book done with RDI, which received no promotion whatsoever because the publisher was going away, well, they’d go away too.

So, what to do, what to do...

Enter the ebook revolution.

I’d only had limited experiences with ebooks. A while back, I’d asked RDI for the rights back to The Thin Pink Line and the sequel, Crossing the Line, and they’d graciously agreed. Then I had a friend do the formatting and create a new cover for The Thin Pink Line, and I’d also written new cover copy reflecting what I’d always wanted the description to be, and we put it up for sale for $2.99 on Kindle last year. Before today – more on this later – it was only selling about two copies per week, earning me just enough to take myself out to lunch once a month. Not exactly raking in the dollars, but that was OK. What did I expect? It was an older title that had already been widely read, so really, it wasn’t like I was expecting to get a lot of new readers for it. I was happy enough.

But now I had this new book and I wanted more.

Enter the agency that’s represented me since 2005, The Knight Agency.

Sometime last year my agent there, Pamela Harty, let me know that TKA was going to make it possible for existing clients – if the clients so chose – to partner with TKA to publish their ebooks. I said I’d be interested in seeing their publishing plan. Once I saw it, I knew that this was the path for me to take with this particular book.

Some people will say this is crazy. Why give an agent a percentage of each ebook sold when you can hire out tech and art for a flat fee? In fact, TKA received a lot of blogger flak when they announced what they would be doing, even public flak from some of their clients. My personal take is that that’s just rude. No one – and here’s the only time I’ll talk to you in screaming all-caps here – NO ONE at TKA was strong-arming anyone into doing this. It was simply another option clients might take if they elected to.

Here’s the thing: As far as I’m concerned, TKA is just adjusting to changing times.

Here’s another thing: For those of you who don’t know me, you need to know I’ve never been one of these party-line authors who say anything an agent says must be right because agents know the business while authors are stoopid. If anything, I’ve gone the other way for most of my career, advocating for the rights of writers above all else. In fact, before joining forces with TKA in 2005, I parted company with no less than five agents because they weren’t doing what I thought they should, making me something of The Elizabeth Taylor Of Writers.

You know what, though? TKA has sold 18 books for me since I’ve been with them, they’ve been nothing but supportive despite the fact that I don’t make it easy by not being brandable, and I wanted to see how we’d do as publishing partners together.

So how have the results been since THE BRO-MAGNET launched on December 11?

I couldn’t be happier. TKA has done everything they said they’d do in their proposal and more, getting some high-profile attention for the book that I know I’d never get on my own. More than that, it’s re-invigorated our relationship because now more than ever there’s the feeling of, “We’re in this together.” It’s exciting. It’s been everything I dreamed it could be.

Am I saying every author, if given the chance, should follow the exact path I’ve taken? Of course not! I’ve been around the publishing industry in one capacity or another for nearly 30 years – now you can try to guess how old that makes me, but I hope that whatever your guess, you will conclude that I’m looking good – and if I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that there’s no “one size fits all” about any of this stuff. We learn things, we learn as much as we can – we learn a lot from people like Joe – and then we make the decisions that are right for us.

Oh, before I go, I do want to say that for all the flak Joe gets from some quarters, he really is right about so much. You may remember earlier, I said that The Thin Pink Line was averaging about two downloads a week prior to today. Well, you know how Joe’s always advising to make some things free to increase distribution and author visibility? The Thin Pink Line is part of the KDP Select program, which means that every 90 days I can make it free for 5 of those days. Last month I figured, what the heck? That book, which is usually somewhere in the 100,000-200,000 ranking in the Kindle store got to 223 in the Free Kindle Store and #11 in the Humor category; in the U.K., it went to 113 overall and #3 in Humour. In 16 hours it was been downloaded 1,114 times in the U.S. and 319 times in the U.K. Will this translate into some sales once the free promotion is over? And will there be a positive impact on sales for THE BRO-MAGNET? Who knows??? But on days like today, it feels like anything is possible. Most important of all, I’m having fun.

One last thing: Please buy THE BRO-MAGNET!

And one more last thing, the final last thing: Thank you, Joe, for loaning me your megaphone today and for everything you’ve ever shared about e-pubilshing, you angel/devil you.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted can always be found at

Joe sez: I like Lauren, and encourage everyone reading this to buy her ebooks. I promised Lauren this would run during her freebie promo, but then I got crazy busy and went out of town and let her down like I've let down the dozens of other authors who have sent me guest blogs.

But I'll get to you all. I promise. :)

I'm hoping Lauren will chime in and let us know if her free giveaways translated to some sales, but more importantly I wanted to discuss her use of an estributor.

I blogged about estributors back in 2009. An estributor is a person or company who assists an author with self-publishing and gets a percentage of the profits. An agent, in my opinion, is the perfect entity suited for this position. And unlike a lot of folks who believe that is a conflict of interest, it's not. An agent is out to make the most money she can for her clients, so she can make a commission for herself. If that via a big legacy deal, fine. It that's via self-pubbing, fine. Either way, she's serving her client.

I'm working with my agent, Jane Dystel, in an estributor capacity for my upcoming book Timecaster Supersymmetry (that is, if she agrees after reading it--the novel is decidedly un-PC and loaded with graphic sex and violence and zombies and talking dinosaurs and a banana who sings the blues.)

The idea is that if my agent takes over all of the work required to bring an ebook to market, I can focus on writing. Bringing an ebook to market takes a lot of time. The more time I have to write, the more money I can make.

A notable opponent of this methodology is Dean Wesley Smith, whom I admire and greatly respect. He feels authors shouldn't share royalties when the tasks of bringing an ebook to market can be work-for-hire sunk costs.

My response to Dean is: I have to try it before I can judge if it works or not. I also believe (I may be wrong) that Dean and his equally smart and savvy wife Kristen Kathryn Rusch are incredibly prolific authors who have many pieces of writing that aren't yet available as ebooks even though they own the rights.

Well, come on Dean and Kris! These are all properties that could be earning money, and every day they aren't live is a day you missed making some dough. If you gave an estributor a cut and they get these live sooner than you can, you'd be earning more. Plus there's no upfront expense, because the estributor covers the costs.

Make money tomorrow or lose valuable writing time doing it yourself and make money in 2014? Seems like a no brainer to me, even if you're giving someone 15%. After all, it's better to make 85% of something that is for sale than 100% of something that isn't for sale.

I made a ridiculous amount of money last year (about $600k) and over 1/6 of that was through my agent. A lot of that was backlist titles (sales of which are buoyed by my self-pubbed titles) but there was also new foreign, audio, and movie deals my agents landed.

In other words, my agents are still making me a considerable amount of money. More than I could make on my own, and they more than pay for themselves in the extra income they bring me. I want to see what they can do in an estributor capacity. If they bring enough value to the table to make it worth a 15% commission, I'll consider it money well spent.

The publishing industry is in a state of upheaval. The old ways are dying. The only way to survive is to change, evolve, adapt.

That said, here are my rules for estributors.

1. The estributor covers all costs of book production. Artwork, editing, proofing, formatting, layout, everything.

2. The estributor does all of the uploading to various sites (Kindle, B&N, Kobo, Apple, Smashwords, Createspace, etc.)

3. The estributor pays immediately after she receives money, and her accounting is transparent.

4. The estributor gets a cut of no more than 15%, equal to her agency commission.

5. When the estributor gets big enough, she facilitates translations and the uploading to foreign ebook sites. For this she can receive a larger royalty share.

6. The estributor markets the ebooks above and beyond what an author can do on her own.

7. The author retains the rights to the work, and sets the price of the work.

8. If the estributor is an agent, she will also continue to exploit the subsidiary rights of the work.

9. The author or estributor can dissolve the relationship at any time. That brings into question who owns the artwork/formatting etc. That should be resolved on a case by case basis in a way that is fair to both parties.

Am I missing anything?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Amazon Will Destroy You

I've been hearing a lot of whiny bitching on the interwebs over the past year.

"Amazon is going to put Big 6 publishers out of business!"

"Amazon is a bully!"

"Amazon is going to destroy bookstores!"

"Amazon engages in unfair business practices!"

"Amazon is the devil!"

"Amazon is going to monopolize the industry, then force all authors to work in labor camps for 6 cents an hour!"

"Amazon is going to invent a car that is fueled by the screams of puppies!"

"Amazon is going to take over the world!"

That last one is probably true.

I just got back from Seattle with my cohorts Blake Crouch and Barry Eisler, and we met with some key players in Amazon's various publishing endeavors.

None of them discussed anything confidential with us. We pretty much just ate and drank and had fun. And it also pretty much confirmed what I've known for a while now.

Amazon is going to destroy the Big 6, destroy bookstores, destroy 95% of all agents, destroy distributors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor), and revolutionize the publishing industry by becoming the dominant force.

If you are any of the above I mentioned, you probably want to blame Amazon.

You'd be wrong.

Most of the blame falls upon that person you see in the mirror.

Some of it falls on your customers and authors, who like Amazon more than they like you because Amazon treats us better than you ever did.

Blaming Amazon for your eventual downfall is like blaming a lion for being king of the jungle.

If you don't like apex predators, get the hell out of the food chain.

Here's the thing, all you whiners. You had your shot. And you blew it.

Hardcovers cost too much. So do paperbacks. As media goes, paper books cost too many dollars per hour of entertainment they provide.

The return policy for books is archaic, wasteful, and stupid. It encourages overspending, overbuying, and underselling.

Underestimating the importance of digital was suicide. Then trying to prevent its widespread adoption via windowing titles, the agency model, high prices, and DRM was just throwing gas on a fire.

Treating authors like shit, when authors are essential to the process, is bad business.

Treating readers like shit, when readers are essential to the process, is bad business.

Bookstores and publishers and distributors are NOT essential to the process. You should have evolved.

Why didn't the Big 6 invent online bookstores and ereaders? Why didn't the ABA?

Amazon INNOVATES. That's the thing you whiners don't understand. They're not dominating because they undercut you on price. Price is just one way to please customers. Service is another. Value is another. But the biggest one is technology.

Anyone can sell for cheap. Not anyone can single-handedly jump-start the digital revolution. Not everyone can create an online store that is not only a pleasure to shop at, but where it is fun to spend time.

Amazon is going to eat you all for lunch because they aren't thinking about how to make money tomorrow. They're thinking about how to make money in 2018.

They're doing all the stuff you never did--hell, they're doing stuff that you never even thought of. They're all about pushing it forward. They're all about gathering and analyzing data. They're all about challenging themselves to do better, to focus on the future, to learn from the past. They're all about pleasing the customer (and I heard from no less than half a dozen Amazonians that they consider authors to be their customers.)

They experiment. They change. They evolve.

Are they perfect? Hardly. Show me a business, no matter how tiny, that is perfect. In fact, show me a person who is perfect. We all make mistakes as we strive to better ourselves.

But when Amazon makes a mistake, they own it. They don't compile mistake upon mistake until an industry is satisfied with an 80% return rate for books and a maximum of 17.5% royalties for authors and a $35 price tag for the new Stephen King.

It's easy to hate your competition, especially when the competition is kicking your ass.

But do you innovate?

Do you push the industry into the future, or try to protect the past?

I'm not seeing any innovation. At best, I'm seeing imitation. At worst, I'm seeing whiners.

"Poor me! Someone does my job better than I do!"

"My girlfriend likes another guy more than me because he's smarter, nicer-looking, and treats her better!"

My advice: if you're sick of getting beaten up, go to the gym and start training.

For years I've been telling publishers and booksellers how they can compete. I haven't seen any of them follow any of my suggestions.

But guess what? I've spent hours talking to Amazon. And Amazon listened. They took notes. And I've seen them adopt my suggestions. Many times. And I'm not the only one they're listening to.

An open mind beats a closed mind, every single time. Once you start blaming, you've lost.

Winners don't blame. Winners don't whine.

Winners keep at it until they win.

And to Amazon: don't worry about the blamers and the whiners and the haters and the naysayers.

History is written by the victors.

It was great hanging out with you Amazon folks. And as always, thanks for listening. ;)

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Big Kindle Boogie

Today through February 2 (Thursday), Lee Goldberg, Blake Crouch, Scott Nicholson, J. Carson Black, and yours truly are giving away 10 Kindle Fires, $300 in gift cards, making a $500 donation to the local library of one Kindle Fire winner, and releasing the five-book Ultimate Thriller Box Set for free during the event. In addition, 75 ebooks from our collective Amazon catalog will be free on Feb 1 and 2.

Contest is international, no purchase necessary. You can also join the Facebook party at

Entries for 10 free Kindle Fires are underway at and gift cards are being randomly awarded on Twitter for those who tweet about the Big Kindle Boogie.

Three easy ways to enter:
  • Use the entry counters at
  • You can also enter manually by tweeting to be eligible for Kindle Fires and Amazon gift cards: 10 free Kindle Fires. 75 free ebooks. #bigkindleboogie RT to enter for a Fire!
  • You can email ONCE PER DAY with "Boogie entry" as subject line

Everything free, everything fun. Good luck and Happy New Year!

Free Kindle Thrillers Feb. 1-2
These Kindle books are scheduled to be free on Amazon Feb. 1-2, but please be sure it says "Kindle price: $0.00" before you click for free. Some of the titles will also be free on Feb. 3 on a case-by-case basis. (U.K. Kindle users, simply replace the "com" in the address with "" to get the proper link)

Ultimate Thriller Box Set
Konrath, Crouch, Black, Goldberg, Nicholson





Konrath German Book:

Scott Nicholson

Scott's One-days (Feb. 2 only)