Friday, April 09, 2010

Is Print a Subsidiary Right?

I'm having a crisis of faith lately.

On one hand, I'm an old school author. I got over five hundred rejections before landing a book deal. I've been preaching for years that the way to make a living being a writer is to get an agent, sell to a big publishing house, and self-promote like crazy. I've done book tours, have hundreds of thousands of books in print, and have spent many years teaching people what I've learned about breaking into this industry.

On the other hand, it looks like I'm going to earn more money self-pubbing on Kindle this year that I earned in six years on my first three print novels.

So I'm pretty conflicted about what advice to offer newbie authors.

By uploading my own ebooks to Kindle and Smashwords (which has deals with B&N, iPad, and Sony), I'm able to earn up to 70% royalty rates. My past sales, and the rate ebook popularity is growing, only points to bigger sales numbers in the future.

I've been lucky enough to make my living as a fiction writer since 2003. I've done everything I can to bigger my fansbase and brand--and my efforts have been extensive. Who else has visited 1200 bookstores? Who else has mailed our 7000 letters to libraries? Who else has blog toured on 100 different blogs in a single month?

And yet, all of my effort hasn't resulted in me appearing on the bestseller lists. I make a living, but I drive an old car, live in a townhouse, and my wife still works.

Then along comes this ebook thing.

I got onto Kindle as a form of self-promotion. My early, unpublished books were (and still are) on my website as free downloads. When some Kindlers emailed me, complaining their Kindles couldn't read pdf files, I uploaded them on Amazon. I couldn't give them away for free, so I priced them low, at $1.99, figurign they might help boost my print sales.

And now, Since April 8 of 2009, I've sold 36,000 ebooks. I'm selling over 1200 per week.

Crunching the numbers, I'll earn more on ebooks than I have in my entire print career, and I'll do it in a shorter amount of time.

All of my life, I've been struggling to break into print. And now print isn't the most valuable right anymore, at least to me.

Print has become a subsidiary right.

In a regular writing contract, the main rights are the North American (or world) print rights. Sub rights like book clubs, audio, movie, first serial, and electronic, have always been considered having lesser value.

But I keep looking at my numbers, where I'm currently making $125 a day on books NY rejected. And I keep thinking how much more money I'll make when the Kindle royalty rate goes up from 35% to 70% in June. And I really don't think I'll ever sell my erights again.

If I release an ebook novel, I'm pretty sure I'll earn over $100,000 on it within five years.

Assuming I can do two novels a year, I can get pretty rich pretty quick.

There certainly are advantages to this model. Cover art and titles are of my choosing. I can start selling a book a week after I'm done writing it, rather than waiting 8 to 18 months. I can set my own price. I can make instant changes and revisions. I can earn $2.80 on a $3.99 ebook, which is more than I earn on a $23.99 hardcover. I get monthly royalties, instead of bi-annual.

There are downsides, too. No professional editing (though my professional peers are a great help in vetting my manuscripts.) No marketing and sales teams behind me. No widespread distribution to bookstores and non-bookstore outlets. No advances. No advertising. No paper book to put on my shelf and stare at. (This is a biggie. I have an entire bookcase dedicated to the works I've published, and there are over a hundred.)

I never wanted to be the poster boy for self-promotion, even though my efforts (chronicled on this blog) have made folks think of me that way. And I certainly don't want to be the new poster boy for self-publishing.

What I want is the same thing I've always wanted: to earn money by writing fiction.

It's a huge surprise to me that I'm now able to earn more on my own than I have been able to earn through traditional print publishing. Even more surprising, I've been one of the fortunate ones in the print world. My advances, and sales, are better than the majority of my peers'. My books are still in print. I'm in royalty situations. I'm extremely lucky to have the print career I have.

But if one midlist writer working on his own (say JA Konrath) can sell more ebooks than James Patterson in various Kindle genres, doesn't that say perhaps there is something wrong with the way print publishers are conducting business?

And if one midlist author working on his own (perhaps JA Konrath) can earn more money on ebooks than he's earning on the titles his publishers are controlling, isn't it obvious that signing print deals isn't the way to go?

So for the first time in the history of this blog, I don't know how to advise newbie authors.

But I do know that if you're a writer, and you're changing your career path based on a blog, you aren't thinking long and hard enough about this business.

I've walked the walk for a long time. Your mileage my vary. Don't give up your agent search because I'm pondering aloud about the future. Don't rush to put your stuff up on Kindle without fully understanding and weighing the potential costs vs. benefits.

Print publishing and bookstores and agents aren't going away anytime soon. Ebooks are still a small percentage of the book market.

I know that percentage will grow. And I'm confident I'll continue to make money.

For me, print has officially become a subsidiary right. If I ever sign another print deal, it will be to supplement my ebook income.

This is a strange development, but not a bad one. The writer, for the first time ever, gets the lion's share of the profits from his work.

Never thought I would see that. But I'm sure glad it's happening.

86 comments:

Nancy said...

I'm working diligently to format my manuscript for Kindle. Hopefully I will figure it soon. You are outstanding.
Thanks for sharing.

Vivi Anna said...

I always admire your honesty Joe. It's refreshing.

Thanks for blogging about your experiences with ebooks.

It helps the rest of us make better informed decisions.

Jamie D. said...

I have an independent spirit - so I never understood the stigma against self-publishing anyway. Seemed to me it should be just like any other type of art - potential purchasers will ultimately say whether it's any good or not. I dare say readers don't care where it comes from, as long as it's good.

But in the writing community, those trad publishing credits are absolutely necessary for any kind of credibility *with other writers*. And honestly, that's the only reason I'll still be pursuing traditional publishing.

In light of your personal crisis though (which I've been sort of expecting, following this blog for months now), I've decided to take a 2-prong approach, and publish independently while I'm pursuing traditional publication. I'm hoping to get the best of both worlds, so to speak - get some of my books out there for "immediate consumption" (so to speak), and establish credibility in the writing community through trad. publishing.

We'll see how it goes, but that's my personal plan. I really appreciate your caution and constant sharing of experience - it's really helped this "newbie".

giraffegal said...

Very interesting. Just don't forget that there are other ereaders than the Kindle. I would hate to miss out on your stories because I have a Nook.

Ellen Fisher said...

"YMMV" is always good advice. So far, success at Kindling seems to vary widely, and for no particular reason that anyone can determine. I do think that a quality product (by which I mean both a decent cover and a good story) will tend to have decent sales if it's promoted. I haven't seen much crap doing well on Amazon, no matter how cheaply it's priced. But some good writers (such as Mark Terry) seem to get overlooked. Then again, there are plenty of good writers trying to break into New York who are getting overlooked too.

I agree with the statement "don't rush to put your stuff up on Kindle," but I also agree that it's a very valid option to consider.

CJ West said...

Amen Joe. What a great concept: the author gets the lion share of the revenue!

Moses Siregar III said...

But I do know that if you're a writer, and you're changing your career path based on a blog, you aren't thinking long and hard enough about this business.

I wouldn't sell yourself short on this. No one should do whatever you tell them to, obviously. But if anyone changes course somewhat based on what you've shared (and then looking more deeply into the matter, weighing out all the pros and cons, etc.), there's nothing wrong with that.

This Aha that you're having is what I started wondering about a couple of months ago after I found your blog. Because over the longterm, going indie could make a lot of sense and a lot of $$$ if you pull it off. Owning your own e-rights forever (and your kids owning them later, and their kids, etc.) could be a great thing if you're lucky enough to be read for a long time. Because the trend towards ebooks IS rapidly growing, and that isn't likely to stop any time soon.

I really wish I had a backlist of my own right now. Oh well, start where you are.

Moses Siregar III said...

Part of my last post didn't survive. I also mentioned that I'm still learning towards wanting a traditional publisher, but I would be happy to be in a situation ten years from now where I owned all the rights to 5-10 quality novels that were available as ebooks.

Joe, if you go this route, why not produce some physical books, too? Whether POD, special edition hardcover, or whatever?

Barry said...

Is a publisher's marketing team behind you a feature, or a bug?

MCM said...

Excellent post! I think it's actually great that authors have the freedom to keep e-rights when they sign book deals. In TVland (at least up north), broadcasters are ready to play serious hardball over every e-right they can define. If publishing houses started doing that with your next books, it might make this realization even more uncomfortable.

One question I had was about building your base: for a new author starting out, would you still recommend travelling to hundreds of bookstores, mailing letters to libraries etc? Or put another way: if you were starting out now, what direction would you explore first for making a name for yourself?

Moses Siregar III said...

I just made a simple update to my blog on this topic.

Perry Wilson said...

Hi, my business partner and I created PaperBox Books last year to help new authors get to readers for just this reason. We saw good books not making it through the agent/publisher process and decided to help. What has surprised me, is that traditional publishers are holding onto the e-rights and not taking advantage of the market. Although I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

We only take the e-rights and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we won't run into a situation where one of our authors gets a print deal and has to give away their e-rights.

As for me, I haven't bought a pbook in ages, and I'm so glad to find your books in the kindle store. Thank you.

If you want to get onto more devices, per giraffegal, I suggest you look into Smashwords.com.

Good luck and continued esales.

Perry

Mark Terry said...

At the moment I don't see why you can't have both, which will put you in a very good place IF (and I say IF, not WHEN) the paper book dies completely. I know most people now think paper books are going to go the way of the Tazmanian cat, but I'm not 100% convinced it won't stick around in some fashion for years to come. But I'd hedge my bets on that, certainly, by being actively involved in e-books.

Joe Konrath said...

Is a publisher's marketing team behind you a feature, or a bug?

It's very easy to spin NY Publishing's inability to make gigantic profits on ebooks by talking up how the print book industry only dropped 1.8% last year thanks to their efforts.

Joe Konrath said...

At the moment I don't see why you can't have both.

Because the print industry will demand ebook rights, then price them too high and give you a shitty royalty rate. Then they might very well keep those rights forever.

If I'm losing $100,000 a year because my print publishers have my erights, do I want to give any more erights to print publishers?

Joe Konrath said...

If you were starting out now, what direction would you explore first for making a name for yourself?

I'm not convinced I'm making a name for myself with ebooks. I'm certainly getting fanmail from people who are enjoying them, and then saying they're buying more of my books. But I still believe price is the primary driver for my sales.

If NY Publishing suddenly dropped the price on every ebooks down to $2.99, would I still sell as many? At this point, I don't know. But give me another year or two of selling well, and I might very well build up that fanbase.

So to answer your question: I have no idea what I'd do now. I don't think I'm in a position to advise new authors.

KarenG said...

Clearly you have paid your dues. You have undergone editing through professionals, you've learned the ropes of the print market and what it takes to sell a book, even one published traditionally. You've been through it all. So you are prepared for ebooks like many would not be. Definitely something for writers to consider if they're wanting to change course.

Amy D. Shojai said...

I've received rights revisions on a number of my nonfiction titles and plan updates and Ebook re-issues. Otherwise they're doing nobody any good and--frankly--Internet "free info" drastically cut into my nonfiction market. So it seems logical to take this step, with little risk other than potential loss of time. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I'm ready to jump off that cliff, catch some good hang-time, and hope for a soft landing after the ride's done.

Ellen Fisher said...

"But I still believe price is the primary driver for my sales."

Yes and no. Every indie author selling books at $1.99 is not selling that well (in fact, virtually none are:-). Some do great at that price, whereas some hardly sell at all. It's like I've said before; to do well on Amazon as an indie you have to have the low price, but you also have to have a good product. And, I suspect, some luck. But I do imagine having a known name and an established fanbase helps.

C. Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Joe the poster who mentioned POD is right-- you should think about publishing your (rejected) backlist on POD, too. I'd be happy to help, since the bulk of my revenues comes from this type of publishing. It costs almost nothing to set up (just the cost of the ISBN and the formatting) and you really have nothing to lose. You could price the books pretty cheaply (say $7.99) and still make about 1.00 or 2.00 per copy, even factoring in the higher expense of paper printing.

I disagree that print is a subsidiary right-- but I would not give up my e-rights to a traditional publisher, either.

Jude Hardin said...

So for the first time in the history of this blog, I don't know how to advise newbie authors.

Allow me.

If you're work isn't good enough to land an agent, or a deal on your own with a legitimate publisher (and for those who have a problem with the word "legitimate," The MWA criteria work for me--you can find them on their website), then your work is almost certainly not ready to be published.

There are "indie" writers out there who will tell you to publish a year's worth of grocery lists (hey, you can even title it A Year's Worth of Grocery Lists, A Novel. Now you're a published author!), because it's, you know, like, your art, man.

Nonsense.

The fact that you can go out to your back yard and throw a baseball does not make you a major league pitcher. The fact that you can string 300 pages worth of sentences together does not make you an author.

Work on your craft until you can get a yes from a reputable agent or a legitimate publisher. Then, if you still want to self-publish, go for it. At least you'll know that your book won't be a complete embarrassment somewhere down the line.

Joe Konrath said...

The fact that you can go out to your back yard and throw a baseball does not make you a major league pitcher.

True. But if someone wants to pay you $100,000 a year to watch you throw a baseball, who cares if you're throwing it in Yankee Stadium or in someone's backyard?

It doesn't make much sense to advise someone to get an agent, then tell them to not use that agent and instead just self-publish.

I agree that only good books should be seen by the public. While agents have a better nose for good books than the average newbie author, agents are still fallible. As, apparently, are publishers, considering I'm making $4k a month on books they rejected.

My advise has always been to get an agent, because print was the way to make money. Agents indeed are good indicators if your work is ready for prime time.

But to spend months of querying and submitting, when being traditionally published means less money and your erights tied up for years, if not forever, is advice I just can't give at this juncture.

author Scott Nicholson said...

An important factor is that you can get a real foundation for a career without worry over the "next contract" or what you'll do if you get dumped. You can get a pretty general feel for your income and when you can make moves, or how many books you need to write, or when to quit (or get) a day job. But all this is assuming (A) ebook growth will continue to a saturation point--it could be this is all new and shiny and the early adopters are hoarding a lifetime's supply of books (B) as Joe pointed out, NY will hang onto artificially inflated prices for ebooks for too long and give lesser-known authors their one current competitive advantage of price and (C) people will still be willing to pay for ebooks, or any content, in five years.

I'm willing to bet it's still a more stable career trajectory than hanging on from contract to contract and the fear of getting dumped without a net. This can be the net and the highwire at the same time.

Scott Nicholson
http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com

Rob said...

So, the question is, do you HAVE to give up e-rights when you sign a contract? Why not negotiate to keep those rights?

Jude Hardin said...

I didn't say get an agent. I said get a yes from an agent. Whether you sign or not is up to you.

But if someone wants to pay you $100,000 a year to watch you throw a baseball, who cares if you're throwing it in Yankee Stadium or in someone's backyard?

That's actually a very interesting philosophical question, Joe. I've always maintained that if money is your primary goal in life, then you're better off trying almost anything other than writing. I think that still holds true.

Robert W. Walker said...

Jude - do you mean by legitimate say a publisher who pays a fortune to publish the kind of tripe authored by as Sarah Palin or another knock off of a knock off. Joe has published legitimtely and I would stack any of his self pubbed books against anything Patterson, for instance, maybe penned. There is as much Tripe published in print as anywhere. I, like Joe, have a large backlist of titles, have had agents, several, and have published with maybe eight of the publishers in NYC and guess what - there are legitimate writers publishing ebooks every two hours right now and soon I hope to have every book I ever wrote -- around fifty on ebooks. I already have up some four titles written as Original to Kindle books, one How-To, three novels, and one is the best work of my career, Children of Salem.

And I am following the Joe Konrath model because it works for old dogs like me. For newbies you are right as every new author needs to write, write, write for at least four years, time it takes to get a PhD in Letters before even submitting material to an agent or editor, but once any writer KNOWS intuitively that his or her novel is as good or better than James Patterson (pretty easy to better this guy) and he or she has had the novel vetted by a good independent editor/ghost writer like myself, the ebooks are the way to go, period. Beats beating one's head against a wall for say three years of rejections or having the MS gathering dust in a drawer.

By the way, my best work, 160,000 words on what really happened at Salem, MS surrounding the witch hunt was turned down by every publisher in NYC and beyond...one major reason was its length - a 3 part or 3 book volume. Too damn much for any of my earlier publisher who felt no one would be interested. This has been my personal best seller on ebooks.

Robert W. Walker

Joe Konrath said...

I'm willing to bet it's still a more stable career trajectory than hanging on from contract to contract and the fear of getting dumped without a net.

I'm thinking the same thing. Also, easier to supplement. If your sales are dwindling, write another story or book.

So, the question is, do you HAVE to give up e-rights when you sign a contract?

That seems like trying to negotiate for lifeboat seats on the Titanic. I doubt you'll be effective.

I've always maintained that if money is your primary goal in life, then you're better off trying almost anything other than writing.

I agree. But my goal has always been to make money doing what I love, which is writing. And apparently, after 20 years, I've finally figured out how to do that...

Ellen Fisher said...

"...once any writer KNOWS intuitively that his or her novel is as good or better than James Patterson..."

The problem is that most newbies "know" this, so I can understand the reluctance to encourage new authors to self-publish. I get that you're saying that newbies should write, write, write for a while, before they attempt to publish, but sadly, most of us believe ourselves to be an exception to the rule. This is what leads to egregiously poor books being released on Kindle, I imagine.

"...my best work, 160,000 words on what really happened at Salem, MS surrounding the witch hunt was turned down by every publisher in NYC and beyond...one major reason was its length - a 3 part or 3 book volume."

Good work is turned down by NY for many reasons. I tend to be a little off the beaten path for romance-- nerdy heroes, unpopular historical periods, slightly oddball takes on shapeshifter romances, and the like. This doesn't make my work inferior, just not what New York is looking for. But the difficulty for a new author is trying to figure out whether his/her work doesn't sell because it isn't that good, or because it's a little different. And once again the problem comes back to the fact that most of us DO think our work is that good. I know I thought my first romance novel was awesome. In fact it was horrifically bad and I thank God that the Kindle had not yet been invented, so I didn't get the chance to self-pub it so that other people could read it.

At any rate, whether or not new writers should self-pub is a complex question, IMHO, and I understand Joe's conflict.

Robert Walker said...

Why is it that art forms are the only professions where we have to apologize for wanting to do it for a living...to be able to make a living at our art? Why is it people gasp when I say, Yeah, I write for money; money allows me to write. Clint Eastwood does one film for money so that he can make the next for art. The most successful artists in any artistic endeavor make boatloads of money. I know the old saying that there is no money in poetry and no poetry in money but it does not compute if you are determined to make your living--as a Dean Koontz or a Stephen King does--at writing. In fact, if you make no money at it, you are an amateur and called a hobbyiest by such as Mystery Wtiters of America.
And this is why I am blogging on Pavlov's Dog and Psych 101 for Writers at acme authors link for the next ten weeks.

Rob Walker

Jude Hardin said...

Robert:

Well, you and Joe are in a different league than most of the other writers thinking about self-publishing ebooks. I was primarily addressing the newbies, those whose work has never been vetted anywhere.

And, of course there's plenty of tripe that comes from NY publishers, but at least the books that make it through meet some sort of minimum standard. Most of the self-published books I have read do not.

Jude Hardin said...

Robert:

I never said anyone should apologize for writing for money. I just said if money is your primary goal, writing is a poor career choice. There's a big difference.

Jenn McKay said...

Joe: isn't this essentially the agent or no agent debate?

Jude: I popped over to your blog. Congrats on your first book contract!

MCM said...

It seems to me the concept of "self-publishing" has actually undergone a big shift in the last 2-3 years. Once, it was basically a kinder term for vanity publishing; then it was a trick entrepreneurial authors could use to get their work out there (after investing some time and money); but now, it's very much a frictionless Long Tail scenario...

If you're a new author, why not just publish to Kindle and iBooks and see how you fare? If you sell no copies, maybe you've been vetted right there. If you sell thousands, maybe it doesn't matter what an agent thinks. It costs you nothing to try, and it's a better learning experience. Trial by fire, sure, but likely with much better feedback than your typical rejection letter.

There are lots of subtleties and gotchas left to explore in the process, but I think a good starting point for any author is to see if they can compete on their own. "Paying your dues" shouldn't factor into it. Publishing should be about merit, not seniority.

John from Taos said...

Work on your craft until you can get a yes from a reputable agent or a legitimate publisher. Then, if you still want to self-publish, go for it.

Jude, that's terrific advice, and I hope every author out there follows it. Seriously. Do NOT self-publish until a reputable agent or legitimate publisher gives you a "yes." Don't even THINK about self-publishing other wise. Don't even TRY.

(I wish there were a way to make all you people do things this way. It would really make things easier for me. :-)

Anonymous said...

My hunch is that going for the traditional route first is the best way to do. I doubt Joe would be enjoying the success he's had today had he not first been traditionally published. There's a certain implicit validation there, and his name became a familiar one to many more people than would have discovered him otherwise. Whether or not a midlist author should remain in the traditional publishing realm is a different question. If you've developed a solid fan base and gotten some exposure, but aren't enjoying fabulous success, moving into the do-it-yourself realm might be the better way to make a living. I just don't think self-pubbing right out of the gate is the way to go.

The Daring Novelist said...

Here's the deal:

I have books that are either non-commercial, or they are in genres I won't write in again - and those I figure I might as well self-publish. While they may not be the top sellers, they won't fit in the print career I am aiming at.

I figure if I self-publish, I give up on traditional publishing for that book - so if I want to try at all for traditional publishing for my main career books (series mysteries) I have to try traditional first.

However, as publishers make a grab for perpetual e-rights, etc., and as they screw up publishing of ebooks, I then wonder if I want to hold off on traditional publishing until I see how things settle out in terms of authors keeping or getting back rights.

Both choices seem to burn bridges in the other column these days.

In the mean time, I suppose I'll just have to keep writing, but the one thing I do know is that the "shelf space" theory is important, traditional OR indie.

bowerbird said...

joe said:
> my goal has always been to
> make money doing what I love,
> which is writing. And apparently,
> after 20 years, I've finally
> figured out how to do that...

if you'd started 5 years ago,
it would've only taken you
5 years to "figure it out"...

and if you had begun last year,
you'da learned it in one year...

the ability to self-publish and
make real money by doing it
is only really just starting now.
(and we're still just on the cusp.)

but lots of people have been
working hard to create this
particular reality for decades.

back when you, joe, were still
aiming for those bookshelves
in brick-and-mortar stores...

michael hart, for instance,
keyed in the first e-book
back in 1971, the same year
you had your 1-year birthday.

well, actually you were almost
15 months old (which is how
we describe children's ages
when they are _that_ young).

because the date was july 4th.

and the text he keyed in then?
the declaration of independence.

enjoy your independence, joe...

and send thank-you notes
to the people who helped to
make it possible to have it...

michael's e-mail address is:

hart@pobox.com

-bowerbird

WDGagliani said...

"This can be the net and the highwire at the same time."

Scott, I think this is one of the most insightful statements I've yet seen on this topic. Excellent.

Someone else mentioned the two-prong approach. Ultimately, this is probably the best way to handle a career at the moment. Assuming an agent/publisher's vetting, continue the print career (if you have one), while attempting to negotiate for your erights, or at least a higher ebook royalty ... WHILE at the same time using ebooks to get out previous work, or recent work that went nowhere with your agent but was considered salable (as with my thriller SAVAGE NIGHTS, now on Kindle and soon all the formats), and also perhaps some new work targeted for ebook format only. Dropping a print career for ebooks is chancy for most of us who don't have the fan base Joe has, but edging toward ebooks more and more seems advisable, even if only done incrementally.

But as someone stated, burning bridges might not be the way to go. I know that when my agent starts negotiating my 5th novel with my print publisher, I will want him to try and nab those erights. But if they balk, then I'd want a better royalty -- I doubt I'll walk away. At least, that's what I say now. If my thriller would sell more at Amazon, for instance, I'd have something to gauge by. Right now, it's all up in the air. It's the wild west out here.

Jude Hardin said...

Jenn--thanks. I'm very happy with my publisher. After working with my editor intensely over the past few weeks, the book is much better now than when I submitted it. I would have missed out on that, and so much more, if I'd chosen to self publish.

I think every writer, no matter the level of experience, can benefit from the wisdom of a good editor. Peer review, critique groups, freelance book doctors, etc., can all help if you're lucky enough to find the right people, but I don't think there's any substitute for what an in-house editor with a vested interest in your project can bring to the table.

Joe Konrath said...

isn't this essentially the agent or no agent debate?

I don't think so. All writers who want to make money need an agent. They might not need one for epublishing, but there are other rights to exploit, other contracts to vet. I think I'm a publishing-savvy guy, but my agent is skilled at making sure contracts as as favorable as possible, and has also negotiated enough extra money to more than cover what I pay her.

But here's the thing. If you were to sell 10,000 ebooks and then get a Hollywood offer, chances are you'd be able to find an agent willing to negotiate that deal without much difficulty.

Karen said...

Joe, you are benefitting tremendously from a rising tide - and good for you! But you came into e-publishing with a name, a reputation, a backlist of enjoyable books available... and your name and reputation came not only from your own promotional efforts (and they are outstanding!) but from your publisher's muscle getting you into every Borders, Barnes and Noble, and independent bookstore in the US. I've got 2 unpublished novels (and 1/3 - I'm working on the third one!) and when I look at e-publishing, I see the likelihood of sinking like a stone. And while I think MY unpublished books are awesome, I have read some that are, frankly, awful... and if everybody moves to epublishing, there'll be lots and lots of clutter, and finding the good stuff will be even harder for readers. So keep a balanced view in your advice for newbies like me!

Jude Hardin said...

I just saw a link on Nathan Bransford's most recent blog post that pretty much echos my sentiments on self-publishing (for newbies, that is).

http://pimpmynovel.blogspot.com/2010/04/dont-go-down-that-road.html

Ellen Fisher said...

Jude, that post seems to be talking more about "traditional" self-publishing-- Lulu.com and the like. While indie publishing might be equally unsuccessful for a lot of authors, at least it doesn't involve a large monetary commitment up front, the way vanity publishing does. That makes it a less risky endeavor, in my opinion.

Karen, I agree that it's dangerous to extrapolate from Joe's sales and assume that anyone can do as well. Clearly that's not the case. But some newbies do seem to be doing fairly well with indie books. Again, I think it goes back to having a good product-- but the difficulty for the newbie is in determining whether or not s/he has a good product. I imagine every new author who puts up an indie book on Amazon thinks his or her book is great... but clearly a large number of them are wrong.

Jude Hardin said...

While indie publishing might be equally unsuccessful for a lot of authors, at least it doesn't involve a large monetary commitment up front, the way vanity publishing does. That makes it a less risky endeavor, in my opinion.

Lulu.com doesn't necessarily require any upfront costs. I'm sure that's why Eric mentioned them. I was pointing more to all his other caveats about self-publishing, many of which apply to ebooks as well as print.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm hearing a lot of folks say that my success is a result of name-recognition.

Here are some Kindle authors who have cracked the top 5000, and as far as I know, none of them have any print books with major publishers like I do:

Marshall Thornton
Debbi Mack
Charles Shea
Rex Kusler
Joe Humphrey
MH Sargent
Jonny Tangerine
TC Beacham
RE Conary
Maria E Schneider
Connie Shelton
Norbert Davis
John Rector
Boyd Morrison
David L Erickson
Joseph Rhea
Eric Christopherson
Christian Cantrell
John Dillard
Michael E Marks
Stacey Cochran
Christopher Cihlar
Lewis E Aleman
Lee Doty
James Sperl
Robert Williams
David Derrico
Matthew Bryan Laube
Gregory Holden
Andrew Chapman
Linda Welch
CS Marks
Sandy Nathan
Keith Knapp
Andrew W Mitchell
Gary Hansen

It took me five minutes to come up with three dozen names, none of them published like I've been, some of them outranking many of my ebooks.

If I had an hour to waste surfing Amazon, I have no doubt I could come up with 200 more.

So I think the "Joe's print publishers made him a Kindle success" argument is pretty thin.

Am I benefiting from my print history? Of course I am. But it is by no means essential to having a successful Kindle title.

My name, backlist, and reputation certainly help, but they aren't the only factors involved here. Neither is my popular blog or website. In fact, some of those names listed above don't even have homepages.

And yet, they're still ranked in the top 1000 without a reputation, print deal, or web presence.

So what is the link among them that makes them successful?

Decent covers and cheap prices.

Ellen Fisher said...

"So what is the link among them that makes them successful?

Decent covers and cheap prices."

And decent writing. Amazon provides a nice long sample of each book. It usually doesn't take more than a page or two to determine whether a book is decently written or not. I think good cover+good sample= decent sales.

But even cracking the top 1000 doesn't mean "success," at least not on a J.A. Konrath scale. I think STAYING in the top 1000 is what makes the difference, and that's the hard part:-).

Ellen Fisher said...

"Lulu.com doesn't necessarily require any upfront costs. I'm sure that's why Eric mentioned them."

True, but they will try to sell authors all sorts of packages. It's a lot easier to find yourself spending a lot of money on Lulu.com, I think.

Moreover, self-publishing paperback books is usually a lost cause simply because they cost so darn much. A lot of indie authors have POD versions available for those readers who really want paperback, but a self-pubbed author is unlikely to ever sell a lot of them (at least without a whole lot of effort) due to the relatively high cover price. Kindle books, on the other hand, can be priced to move, and they often move pretty well.

Laura said...

Joe wrote: "All writers who want to make money need an agent. "

Well, actually, no. I've been making my full-time living as a writer for over twenty years. I've sold about 25 books (also many short stories, essays, and articles) and have been published by a variety of major houses and small presses. I have very little experience in e-books (and virtually no experience in self-publishing), but a lot of experience selling my work to publishers. I've had two books released in the past year, I've got another release scheduled for August, and I've got several more books under contract at major houses.

Out of all of those sales, very few (6 or 7) were made by an agent (and of the few sales that agents made, most were a case of selling additional books in a series under contract).

My consistent experiences with agents over the years (I've worked with four and have queried many others) is that they typically declare my work unsaleable (rejecting it if I'm querying them, refusing to send it out if I'm a client)... and then I go sell it myself. In a number of cases, to major markets, (and, in various cases, for better money than the agents-who-declared-it-unsaleable had been getting for me for other books).

My other consistent experience is that agents give up on submissions after 1-4 rejections, balking at sending a project anywhere else after their first few guesses proved wrong; even though making a sale is a case of finding the editor who loves the book, and--gosh, go figure!--that may take longer then 1-4 tries. Bizarrely, 3 of my 4 agents also balked at sending my work to editors who had specifically told –me- they wanted to see it (and who usually did indeed make me offers when I sent the work there myself).

After I got a very good offer from a very enthusiastic major house (currently publishing the books very well) for a project that every agent who'd ever seen it had declared unsaleable (whether I worked with or was querying the agent), I sat down and did the math.

I realized how VERY FEW books I would ever have sold (maybe 5) and how very little money I would EVER have made made if I had listened to the advice of my four agents and the many agents whom I've queried over the years. The figures in paper were sobering and startling. And my experiences with agents had been consistently time-consuming and demoralizing.

And so I quit the agent-author business model. Since then, I've been writing steadily for major houses for good money, I'm in better control of my career, I have better contracts (a literary lawyer now negotiates my contractual terms; she does a better job and costs me a small fraction of what I was paying in agency commissions), my advances have improved, and even my foreign subrights income has improved. (I am also a lot less stressed-out than I was during my years of dealing with agents—many of whom are surprisingly volatile and difficult personalities.)

This is not to say NO ONE should work with an agent. But –I- don't work with agents anymore. And I and several other writers who quit the agent-author business model are making our living as writers by selling books that respected, reputable, established, recommended literary agents had told them were unsaleable.

I don't urge anyone to fire their agent if they're happy with the agent, and I don't advise anyone to stop hunting for an agent if they want an agent. But I do emphatically advise these things:

1. Don't identify the opinions of agents as a determining factor in whether or not a project is marketable; they are surprisingly BAD at it, and their reputation for experise in this area is WAY out of proportion with the experiences of many working professional writers, including myself.

2. Recognize that although it currently continues to be the conventional and most popular business model, the current agent-author business mode is NOT the only viable business model for running a writing career.

Laura Resnick
www.LauraResnick.com

Laura said...

Meanwhile, Joe, I've been trying to make a deal for international, multi-platform e-rights distribution of some of my backlist, because I want to get into as many markets/venues as possible, but I really don't wan't to deal -myself- with multiple formats and multiple vendors.

For this reason, I've been interested in dealing with a company that operates like a publisher, i.e. gets the e-books formatted, packaged, and distributed, and collects payments, and I get a royalty. The first such deal fell through recently, and although I'm entering discussions elsewhere about a possible deal.

But I must say, your comments here are definitely giving me food for thought. I will explore this some more and keep thinking about it.

Laura Resnick
www.LauraResnick.com

Anonymous said...

What about a cat like John T. Reed who publishes only nonfiction? Evidently he's been self-publishing with dtb's for the majority of his career, and has been doing well since 2001, I believe, solely online.

He has embraced the long tail concept for nine years and it's seemed to be working for him. He's even written a self-publishing manual but hates Amazon and ebooks so he may not be relevant to this particular discussion.

He had a publisher for a couple decades, so he's a different situation.

Has the world also changed for non-fiction writers looking to self-publish?

Mark Terry said...

This post really stayed on my mind and I decided it maybe comes down to control.

You've said time and again that your career is your own responsibility and you need to take control of it. And for you, going the route of e-books apparently is not only giving you the most control over your career, but it's working for you financially.

And one of the reasons I came to that conclusion is because for me, the most control I have had has been over nonfiction and that's where I've had the most financial success. And for me the nonfiction has had less to do with the format--I've published paper publications, e-newsletters, online content, magazines, websites, market research reports, technical journals, even a book I'm currently contracted to write--as it does with the content. And little of it was self-published. But I'm staying very open to the idea of self-publishing e-books along nonfiction topics I have a vested interest and expertise in and for which there is a market.

It goes along this line of thinking, and I'm guessing it applies to you: if you work your ass off, put in tons of time, energy, creativity, even money on writing and promotion, and yet your work doesn't get the kind of rewards you expect (let's say financial for simplicity's sake), either because that's life or because your publisher doesn't recognize the effort or your publisher drops the ball (it happens)...

And in another area/format, etc., you work your ass off, put in the time, etc., and it DOES succeed in the way you expect or in a way that seems to be equivalent to the time and work you put into it, then it makes sense that THAT is where you should continue to put your time, energy, money, etc.

I suppose it's rather like planting radishes and strawberries and nobody's buying your strawberries. Do you keep planting strawberries or do you plant more radishes?

One of the problems, of course, is you can't necessarily extrapolate your experiences to other people. I know some successful novelists who didn't have much success doing what I do successfully, and vice versa. As my post on Monday suggested, my e-book experiences are different from yours, although I haven't approached it the same way. (And for that matter, probably won't as long as the nonfiction takes up my time and energy and creativity AND pays the bills AND continues to increase financially, because there's only so much time and energy to go around).

Joe Konrath said...

I've met over a dozen agents. Of those I met, there are only four I'd consider working with, and not enough for me to leave my current agent, whom I'm happy with.

So perhaps "get an agent" should be the more specific "get a good agent."

It doesn't sound like your agents did much for you, Laura. Out of 15 book sales, my agents were essential in selling 8 of them. The other 7 I brought to them, and they negotiated the deals for me.

They are responsible for the majority of my foreign deals, all of my audio deals. They've created contracts for me for two collaboration agreements and two movie options (though I brought those to them.)


I'd say, out of all the business I've done, they brought me around half, and have helped greatly with the other half. As such, I can't imagine going solo. They've helped me make too much money, and are invested in me.

Your experience, and Mark's experience, shows how personal this journey is. Everyone is different. Results vary.

I can't imagine trying to sell foreign rights on my own. I can't imagine trying to get seen by a name editor as a newbie.

But then, I never imagined making $125 a day on ebooks--a number that I expect to rise to $300 a day by June.

Laura said...

And, unfortunately, "get a good agent" is hard to define.

People who don't know me assume that I must have dealt with charlatans on the fringes of the business. Actually, I worked with (and also queried) pesonally recommended agents who all had impressive client lists, good reputations, and who were/are quoted often in the trades.

This is why, although I had specific problems with them as individuals (such as the tendency to throw temper tantrums, which I consider completely unacceptable in business), I believe that my problem is with the agent-author business model, rather than with any particular person.

Laura said...

At any rate, I find your experiences with e-books very interesting. One way or another, I want to start getting my backlist into e-format, and am still trying to decide the best way. So I'm following your story with interest.

Laura Resnick
www.LauraResnick.com

rex kusler said...

We always read about the success stories. Nobody wants to know what happens to the vast majority of talented individuals who work their butts off for years, or decades, only to fall a few inches short. You never hear about the poor bastard who wrote twenty unpublished novels, went through a dozen agents, ruined his career and marriage. Lost his mind and ended up in a nut house. I think you have to have some screws loose to want to continue at writing fiction--after you've figured out what's involved. I've been told I fit the profile. As soon as I get out of this straight jacket, I'll be getting back to work.

Dharma Kelleher said...

According to the figures I saw, eBook sales were 1.3% of total book sales last year. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it is increasing. So the traditional publishing paradigm is shifting. To what, it's hard to say. We won't know until we get there.

It certainly opens the door to experimentation.

Here's the model I'm experimenting with, and keep in mind, I'm an emerging writer. I've started putting my short fiction in Kindle and ePub (Nook, Sony, etc.) format.

With my first short story, I've already earned a few bucks. That may not seem like a lot, but considering the wait times (up to six months+) at literary mags and the pittance they usually pay (contributor's copies won't buy me a burger on the dollar menu), I'm ahead of the game.

With my longer fiction, I'm still hoping to sign with an agent. But we'll see.

Joe, being a mid-list author, has a lot of traditional credits to his name, so that helps to fuel eBook sales. And that's a good thing.

I'm a newbie and am writing in a somewhat narrow niche (LGBT fiction). So I'm doing a combination of electronic, podcast and traditional, to see what works and what doesn't.

Moses Siregar III said...

Michael Stackpole's latest on HuffPo suggests that traditional publishing distribution could *crash* in 2012.

He cites Michael Shatzkin.

Anonymous said...

I think you should change the name of your blog to "A Newbie's Guide to Self-Publishing".

It seems to be all you push these days.

Just saying.

Joe Konrath said...

I think you should change the name of your blog to "A Newbie's Guide to Self-Publishing".

It seems to be all you push these days.

Just saying.


I may have to change the name to exclude "publishing" because that might not be around in a few years.

bowerbird said...

joe said:
> So what is the link among them
> that makes them successful?
>
> Decent covers and cheap prices.

the link is that they've all written
books that found an audience --
people willing to tell other people
that "this book is worth reading..."

not worth _buying_. worth _reading_.
worth spending a few hours of time.

because a few hours of time is worth
more than the cost of a kindle-book.
(price is important, since it's related
to value, but _value_ is the real key.)

it's also important to note that this
does _not_ mean they wrote a book
that is "of high quality". that's nice,
but high-quality writing can fail to
appeal to people... and a book with
average-quality writing can succeed,
if readers enjoy it for _any_ reason...

and there's something else to be
considered in the equation as well.

even if your e-book doesn't _sell_
very well -- meaning that you
do not make lots of money --
it can still be crucial to help you
find _your_ audience, people who
appreciate what you have to say...

it's great that joe is making money.
and i can see why it'd be drawing
lots of attention from other writers.

but there's another possibility now
appearing on the horizon, which
is the freedom to write _freely_,
and have your work be distributed
on a global basis, so as to _find_
the people who'll _appreciate_ it...

in the old world, you had to have
a certain amount of appeal so as
to get _any_ exposure, any at all.

now you can start from a niche
that's extremely small, and build.

so even if you only sell 10 copies,
if you get 8 "i _loved_ it..." letters,
know that you're on the right track.

-bowerbird

Eric Christopherson said...

"Michael Stackpole's latest on HuffPo suggests that traditional publishing distribution could *crash* in 2012.

"He cites Michael Shatzkin."

I think the ancient Mayans predicted this too.

Moses Siregar III said...

I think the ancient Mayans predicted this too.

True, although their prediction involved lots of human sacrifices and Shatzkin/Stackpole don't mention this. If true, it'll be a very dangerous time to work in publishing.

WDGagliani said...

All published writers got there by conducting human sacrifices in their basements. The truth is finally revealed.

Now we will kill publishing as we know it.

The Mayans would love it.

Seriously, I think the columnists' timeline is way too short. Traditional publishers aren't going to fade this quickly, no matter how we feel about it. There are too many factors that need to shake out first.

Just imho.

rex kusler said...

Last Christmas my girlfriend asked what I wanted. I was thinking, a Kindle, but I had done the math and I wouldn't save enough on e-books to justify the price. Less than four months later and I have a Kindle and a Sony Reader. I look at my remaining stack of unread paper books and long for the day when they will be gone.

Two weeks ago I drove to Kinkos to make copies of my tax forms. Crossing the parking lot, I glanced at the B & N next to it. The thought that struck me was: that will make a nice, big antique store.

I will never set foot in there again, until they're selling spittoons and old beer mugs.

AstonWest said...

Bookstores (and publishers) will have to adapt to survive. It's inevitable.

You see the same situation with movie rentals here in the states. Blockbuster used to be a massive powerhouse, until someone came along with a better business model and mopped the floor with them.

Selling books through the store will need to change, the question is how, and when someone will finally do it.

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Joe,

I've been thinking like this for awhile now, that eventually E would become the primary delivery channel and print would become a subsidiary right. But I was thinking bigger picture like over this next decade maybe and how it applies wholesale across the industry.

I hadn't thought about it from the angle of... "when print becomes considered a subsidiary right to an individual author." I should have thought about it that way, but I didn't. Interesting stuff.

And thanks for being honest about your changing views about things. You know I'm all "Ya Ya Indie" but at the same time I know it's not right for most people. And not because I think I'm "better than them" but because some people just aren't wired in such a way that indie is going to be an enjoyable option for them.

It's a risk no matter what anyone does and neither you nor I can take someone else's risk on ourselves by telling people what to do. Someone can spend their entire lives trying to get a print deal and never get one, whether or not they "suck" as a writer.

Conversely someone can go indie, fail miserably, and that be the end of that. Though I still think you can ALWAYS seek NY pub. I mean, just pick a diff pen name and roll.

In my mind, as long as someone isn't mortgaging their home, going indie is always lower risk than seeking trad publication to the exclusion of all other options. Because you can always do "both." It doesn't have to be either/or.

I've got a friend who is seeking trad pub for novels and putting novellas on the kindle. If the feedback for her novellas was awful (which it won't be, she's an amazing writer), then she can submit her other stuff under another name.

I don't understand what the "risk" is in people's minds. If you aren't shelling out a bunch of money you can't afford, why is this so scary to people? I don't get this "all or nothing" mentality so many writers have. Why worry so much about a career you don't have yet? Just pick a different pen name if you mess up.

Zoe Winters said...

Ellen Fisher...

oooh you write nerdy heroes? Oh man, now I'm intrigued. Nothing is sexier to me than a really smart man.

Are you on kindle? My kindle is arriving on Wednesday and I'm chomping at the bit to buy books for it.

Zoe Winters said...

To add to Joe's long list... I'm totally nonpublished traditionally. My first novella, Kept was ranked 833 earlier today and it's highest rank in the kindle store has been 592.

I've sold over 4,500 copies.

I never want a trad publisher. I want to build a backlist on my own over time and see what I can do under my own steam. If subsidiary rights ever came into play, awesome. But primary rights? Um, doubtful.

Ellen Fisher said...

Yes, Zoe, a bunch of my romances are available on Kindle. Quite a few of them feature nerdy heroes.

I've been watching your book's ranking with interest (and a fair amount of envy:-). Those are great numbers! I do believe I want to be you when I grow up *grins*.

Zoe Winters said...

Ellen,

You Kindle Description Page Stalker! Just kidding.

Thank you! I want to do lots better over the years. I hope my next release does as well. Rankings may take a hit with a higher price point. ($2.99)

But then I have another book under a diff pen name that's doing pretty well at $2.99 so we'll see. It's a fun experiment either way.

I think my cover has helped me a lot with Kept. I designed it and I don't pretend it's up to traditional design standards, especially my fonts. I am completely font stupid when it comes to covers. But I still thing there is something compelling enough about the image that people at least make that first click to check it out.

I'll definitely check out your stuff! Going to the kindle store now to bookmark stuff.

Alastair Mayer said...

Zoe wrote: I don't understand what the "risk" is in people's minds. If you aren't shelling out a bunch of money you can't afford, why is this so scary to people? I don't get this "all or nothing" mentality so many writers have. Why worry so much about a career you don't have yet? Just pick a different pen name if you mess up.

Some newbie writers don't yet get the "pick a different pen name" paradigm, which is something many authors end up doing for all sorts of reasons.

Also, for newbies who have only written one, maybe two novels, they see that as their one shot. A bad ebook debut kills the e-rights for that title which kills any chance of a trad publisher picking it up. (Of course that probably means it was bad to start with. A good ebook can get picked up, Scalzi's Old Man's War for example.)

I'm going to try a parallel launch of two titles, one an ebook and one traditional. I have some trad publishing exposure through short fiction. I'm still pondering whether to use a pen name for the ebook experiment in case it goes horribly wrong.

Chris Bates said...

@Joe: "I agree that only good books should be seen by the public."

No, Joe, no...!

Define a good book through your eyes?

Now define it through mine.

Zen and the Art of Publishing.

Joe Wikert posted something about this the other day. The new publishing model simply means the public will be the tastemaker. Not the agent, publisher or retailer.

If a book is written for dyslexic rabbits in upside down Sanskrit ... and sells a million units. That suggests people think it's a pretty damn good book.

If that same book sells zero and sits on a cobwebbed server at Amazon.com - it's crap.

But does it matter? The reader decides. And so they should. In my mind, no one else matters.

Laura said...

"You see the same situation with movie rentals here in the states. Blockbuster used to be a massive powerhouse, until someone came along with a better business model and mopped the floor with them."


I think a key aspect of that, which will probably apply to books, too, is that the Blockbuster audience didn't switch over to watching home movies or amateur productions. (People do watch amateur clips on You Tube, but that's not what's driving Blockbuster stores out of business.) Rather, technology has enabled us all to fine-tune our viewing of professionally-produced films, TV shows, and documentaries, via Netflix, cable TV, satellite TV, direct-TV, TV streaming, subscription channels, etc. We no longer have to drive to a Blockbuster and choose from their limited selection; but we're still choosing professionally-made viewing--just from much different sorts of outlets.

I don't think people's reading tastes will change in the sense that, thanks to the advent of e-books, they're suddenly want to read a lot of amateur stuff--which is the vast majority of what's in slushpiles. Yes, there are some very talented works in slushpiles that don't get bought because of the gatekeeping system. MOST of what doesn't get bought in slushpile, though, is simply unreadable (and all one has to do to realize how true this is read slush for a few hours).

Readers don't want to waste their time or their money. They want a great read when they open a book. They don't want to wade through slush in search of a great read. So I think some system of gatekeeping will remain in place, precisely because most people, even if they abandon bookstores, aren't going to do so for the sake of reading amateur work any more than we've abandoned our Blockbuster stores for the sake of watching amateur videos and home movies.

Laura Resnick
www.LauraResnick.com

Debbi said...

Thanks, Joe, for the mention! (Second in line, no less. Woot! :))

FWIW, you're right. I've never been published by any of the Top Six (or even the Top Twenty, for that matter).

I did get my one (and, so far, only) novel issued by a small publisher who won't be named. The press folded nine months after my book came out.

During the short time it was originally in print, it got some really nice reviews--good enough to encourage me to self-publish the book (after giving the matter a LOT of thought).

I self-published the book, primarily to give it the shot it deserved. My intent was to find a traditional publisher. However, frankly, I've changed my mind about that. Some of my reasons for the change of heart are discussed here: http://midlistlife.wordpress.com/2010/04/03/the-publishing-business-is-fraked/

At this point, I'm inclined to agree with Chris Bates. I particularly like this quote:

The new publishing model simply means the public will be the tastemaker. Not the agent, publisher or retailer.

Music to my ears, Chris!

Chris Bates said...

@Laura:
"Readers don't want to waste their time or their money. They want a great read when they open a book. They don't want to wade through slush in search of a great read.

Laura, I don't even want to waste time and money on 90% of the published stuff sold at my local bookstore. I will buy what my 'trusted peers' (friends, family, reviewers etc) recommend.

As for some of the gatekeeping remaining in place? Maybe if you still want to get a deal with a publisher but definitely not if you want to sell independently online.

The gatekeepers have changed guard. Your twitter peers will recommend a book, your book-marked bloggers will review it favorably, you will read the buyers feedback at Amazon. It doesn't matter if it is mainstream or self-pubbed. It matters that those that valued the book highly are in turn valued highly by you.

It's a free-for-all. That's why it is so exciting.

Of course, there will be an over-supply of terrible titles, most of which will never be seen. But you will hear about the good ones. No different to mainstream publishing.

Moses Siregar III said...

I'll put a minor twist on what Laura said. I think, in fact, we will end up reading more homegrown books. Even with films, it's much easier to make a movie these days, and even to make it available in places such as netflix.

For example, I have a friend who made a documentary on some pretty nice film equipment, and now you can rent it on Netflix. Unfortunately, it's still a pretty bad production (because he really is an amateur filmmaker). On Netflix, viewers have given his flick an average of 2.0 stars and many bad reviews. So what's happening is that obviously his movie isn't taking off, and not many people are renting it.

Note that the new gatekeeper there, really, is reviews, ratings, and rankings from the general public. If his book was averaging 4.0 stars and getting good reviews, it would be a very different situation for him.

Music is somewhat similar. I was speaking with a professional musician today, and he was telling me that, the general public has less demanding taste in terms of sound quality these days. You can produce your mp3s or whatnot, and you've still got a fighting chance to be heard if you promote yourself here and there. And people also buy music based on recommendations, reviews, ratings, etc.

Now on a point where I agree with Laura (someone I agree with about 99% of the time), people are still going to want to read quality work. If I had a Kindle, I'd still be careful about what I was buying.

However. If a book is $0.99 or $1.99, or maybe even $2.99, and if it's a type of book I might want to read (or if it comes recommended, or if it's marketed especially well), and if the reviews on the book are good, then I'd absolutely give it a try. I'd get burned with reading some bad books now and then, but for that price, it's a reasonable gamble.

Add to this that there will be much better review websites for indie books popping up in the coming years. Who knows, it might even become 'cool' to support and discover the good indies. It might even become a major new trend that takes off with a new generation of readers and writers.

Zoe Winters said...

Moses,

I second that. I read probably more indie than trad published books now. Granted, it is partly because I am indie myself, but it's that choice that has exposed me to other indie work besides my own.

I don't read it out of some sense of solidarity though. What I read, I really like. And a lot of it I like better than a lot of traditionally published books. It doesn't really matter how much drek is out there. I seem to be perfectly able to separate out good indie reads from bad ones and really I'd have to go through that process of elimination with trad pubbed books as well.

Just because a book is "vetted" by traditional publishers doesn't mean I'll like it. All it means is the person can tell a coherent, reasonably noncontradictory story, and the grammar and punctuation issues have been fixed. There are plenty of trad published books that are more boring than watching paint dry or more vapid than a sparkly vampire.

Joe Konrath said...

Define a good book through your eyes?

One that meets the basic minimum requirements of narrative structure, which I've defined elsewhere ad nauseum.

John Klawitter said...

I feel as do you that having that paper book on the shelf is rewarding. I only have about a half a shelf (maybe that makes it more rewarding per book. Ha ha. Trade you any day. Anyway, what would prevent you from also doing your next book as a Lulu or an LSI paperback?

Eric Christopherson said...

"I seem to be perfectly able to separate out good indie reads from bad ones and really I'd have to go through that process of elimination with trad pubbed books as well. "

This implies that the ratio of good to bad indie books is the same ratio for trad books. Is that what you find?

James said...

One thing that is understated is that self-publishing (even ONE book) can go a long way in showcasing yourself to publishers and agents.

Do you want to send them a NICE manuscript with cover or do you want to send them a traditional manuscript? What do you think will get more attention (for new authors?)

Plus, while lulu is out there, new players like TheBookPatch and FastPencil are offering text-editors, marketplaces and other services. Basically ALL the tools you need (plus crowd-sourcing) online. You can also have editors edit your work right on online, can find co-authors etc.

THOSE are two of the sites that are REALLY changing things. EVERYTHING under one roof.

And you know PUBLISHERS are browsing sites like those for the next big hits.

TheBookPatch also takes $0 royalties (I think the only site like that) and these places also have their own bookstore.

In summation, self-publishing CAN'T hurt you. If you can't get a break ANYWHERE else why not try it yourself?

Zoe Winters said...

Eric,

It's not that the ratio of good to bad in indie books is the same as the ratio of good to bad in trad books, it's just that the good indie books rise to the top.

When you google a topic you don't have to worry about the billions of crappy websites on the Internet. You narrowed your search down to a specific thing via Google and the first page has the most relevant results. You stop the search there.

Same with indie books. The good stuff is "on the first page" metaphorically speaking.

It just isn't that hard to tell if a book is halfway decent. While some truly good books never get very high in ranks, in the Kindle store, if a book is in the top 5,000 it's at least worth checking a little further on.

If it looks like a good book from the description, and has good reviews that don't look like they were written by friends and family... and I don't care what anyone says, you can tell the difference. It's all in specificity... and I like the excerpt, and the price is right... SOLD!

There are far more bad self-pubbed books, obviously, but most of them just never get seen. I'm not sure about the buying or reading patterns of people who claim to have read a lot of self-published crap. How did they even FIND these books to begin with unless they were looking for books to prop up their assertion that self-published authors suck and are delusional.

Bad books don't generally sell well enough for you to find them. But even with all the bad books you never see, there are tons of GOOD ones, that you will see.

Since I'm not willing to pay NY pub prices for books for my Kindle, I'll be reading a lot of indie authors as well as the trad authors who put their backlist on kindle. Though I'll be reticent to start a series if I know I'll have to pay $9.99 for the next one in E. Unless it's just miraculously amazing (and few authors of any publishing history are THAT great), then it's unlikely I'd be willing to pay that.

Max Watt said...

Thanks for the post Joe, you can't imagine how much I appreciate your efforts on this blog.

I was wondering about your opinion on short stories, is it more benoficial to upload them as eBooks or get them published?

Joe Konrath said...

I was wondering about your opinion on short stories, is it more benoficial to upload them as eBooks or get them published?

Short stories are hard to sell in either market. I'd try print first, then epub if you can't find a buyer.

John Klawitter said...

Also, it might depend on 'beneficial'. Sometimes just getting published is beneficial, so if you only have one option, maybe don't wait too long for the 2nd.

Anonymous said...

I found this discussion while Googling for hints on whether to try print of e-publishing for a first novel (or start by looking for an agent?) Can't say the question is answered, but I found several links to check out, and a juicy conversation among published authors with varied experiences with e-publishing, agents and traditional publishers--thatnks, Joe!