Saturday, April 08, 2006

Am I Evil? Yes I Am.

My friend Lee Goldberg referenced my previous post, The Importance of Being You, on his wonderful blog A Writer's Life.

Apparently, I've irked some anonymous mystery writer by having the gall to say that writers should try very hard to earn out their advances and make money for their publishers, even if it means spending a lot of their own time and money to do so.

I like Lee, and I appreciated his level-headed and thoughtful response to the matter. Mr. Anonymous, however, needs an extra-large reality enema.

He wrote Lee the following:

How can you be friends with Joe Konrath? He's the anti-Christ. In his own way, he is as bad or worse than Lori Prokop. The advice he gives to aspiring writers is just terrible and, worse, he's doing everything he can to undermine his fellow professionals. How, you ask? He's perpetuating the myth that you should devote all or part of your advance to promotion, that you should devote yourself to making sure that the publisher makes money (even if it costs you). What he's doing is legitimizing the damaging corporate mindset that authors should pay for their own promotion without any investment or reimbursement from the publisher. We're supposed to live off our advances, not kick them back to the publisher for advertising and promotion. Joe's latest moronic blog post was so infuriating I almost put my fist into my laptop screen. Of course his publisher loves him. But professional writers should fear him. He's cancer.

For the record, I'm not a Cancer. I'm an Aries.

And though I don't agree with everyone's opinion, I certainly respect their idiotic ideas, and their bone-headed right to poorly express them.

I long-windedly (go figure) responded to this anonymous author on Lee's blog. Here's my final take on the subject:

I'm the president of my own company. The brand my company sells is "JA Konrath."

In order for my company to make money, I need to invest my own time and money up until the company reaches a critical mass and can run itself.

The time to invest my money is at the beginning, because most businesses fail within the first few years.

It's my name on the books. It's my brand. If my sell-through isn't good enough, there will be no more books. Bye-bye writing career.

I'm supposed to let my success or failure rest in the hands of my publisher? They're my co-investor. They're not my enabler. They're not my boss.

The philosophy, "If you earned out your advance it wasn't high enough" is a bad one. This isn't an us against them contest, with them being your publisher.

This is a partnership. If your partner is making money, you're making money.

An advance isn't free money. It's money based on potential book sales. It's like a non-returnable loan. Your publisher is betting you sell X number of books, and giving you your share in advance.

If you got zero advance, and sold X number of books, you'd get the same amount of money. It would just be later rather than sooner.

Spending your advance money on selling more books is a way to ensure you get into that royalty phase even sooner.

Does this make your publisher happy? Of course. They gambled and won.

But so did you. Because you get a higher advance. A bigger print run. More promotional dollars. Your backlist stays in print. Your sales reps push your books harder. You're talked about in-house. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team.

I didn't have a book tour for my first book. But I spent a lot of money, and worked hard to sell it.

Did my publisher notice? Yes. They gave me a book tour for #2. I went to 11 bookstores on the West coast, all expenses paid. Damn nice hotels too.

Did I hang out at these nice hotels during my free time, ordering room service and pay-per-view porn? No. I visited 95 more bookstores while on that tour, and then another 100 on my own.

Did my publisher notice? Yes. The new tour is 500 bookstores, and they're paying.

How is this a losing proposition for either of us? If they make money, I make money.

My publisher does a lot for me, but I have more at stake than they do. They have 200 other authors, all writing books, all who are getting a piece of the promotional pie.

I should just write the best book I can, and then cross my fingers and hope it sells?

Sorry. The best product in the world will fail if no one buys it.

I should nag my publisher to spend more money on promoting me? They already spend a bunch. They are the ones investing the big bucks. They are the ones taking all of the financial risk.

There's no guarantee that big promotional dollars=success. Jim Huang had a great keynote speech about promotional dollars, which can be found at
http://www.statelyhuangmanor.com/essays/DSkeynote.htm.

There's no guarantee that wonderful writing=success. I've read a lot of wonderful books by authors who can no longer sell their latest because their previous numbers were bad.

The only guarantee I have is: The harder I try, the more books I sell. This I know for a fact, and I've proven it time and time again.

Best case scenario, my books catch on, all the money I spent will come back to me in royalties and multiple printings and larger advances down the line. I'm investing in a stock that I'm betting will go up.

Worst case scenario, I fail. But I won't be bitter, and I won't blame my publisher or the universe for the way the cards fell.

If I fail, I want it to go down swinging. I want to know that I did everything within my power to launch my career.

I can understand why authors don't like this philosophy. I'm saying that success isn't all luck or talent. I'm saying that the author can, and should, play a major part in selling their own books.

So I pose this business model, and authors are afraid they'll have to adopt it as well?

I know a lot of authors losing money hand over fist with high advances and poor sell-through, and then blaming their publishers for their lackluster sales.

Does the publisher make the author pay back the advance if the book doesn't earn out? Does the author lament the money lost by the publisher, not only on the advance, but on the production costs, the promotion, the publicity, the market, the advertising?

No. Authors scream "gimme gimme gimme" and whine how the publishers aren't doing enough. They whine that they didn't get enough co-op. Or frontlist catalog copy. Or not enough reviews. Or no tour. Or no advertising.

But they don't try to fix any of these things themselves. And they don't shoulder the financial loss, which can be considerable.

This is the preferable business model? If so, it needs to be changed. Then maybe more books would actually be profitable, which would benefit everyone.

Scary thing, though, taking your fate into your own hands. Even scarier, backing it up with your own money.

You can disagree with me. You can even hate me.

But I'm really not the one you should be angry at, am I?

The whole "I'll just write good books and my publisher will sell them" is an archaic philosophy, and the only authors who should be afraid of self-promoting are the dead weight ones already losing money.

Take some responsibility, for your sales, and for your career.

And if you have a problem with me, Mr. Anonymous, don't go whining to Lee Goldberg like some high school drama queen loser and question his opinion of me. This back-biting and name-calling hurts the mystery community, and publishing in general.

Debate is great. Open exchanges of ideas, and the disagreements they provoke, can be helpful.

But your opinions were concealed as insults, and then you gave Lee permission to post your muck-raking, as long as he didn't use your name, because heaven forbid anyone hold you accountable for your opinions.

Next time, be a man. You don't like what I have to say? Post on my forum. You can even do so behind your cloak of invisibility, so no one knows your real name and what a weenie boy you are.