Friday, November 18, 2011

Guest Post by Robert Swartwood

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

Newsflash: nope, not at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blake said, "Then do it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

71 comments:

Adam Pepper said...

Good stuff, Rob. It's amazing how, even though each of us has our own unique path, some experiences and sentiments seem universal. When I landed my first agent, I thought for sure I was headed for the big time, that was over ten years ago and it just didnt happen that way.

I appreciate your approach to your work too. I could quickly put up all five of my completed novels along with a bunch of stories I have, but I'm not. I'm taking my time and self publishing my best work. To me, that's the best long-term plan.

Congratulations and continued success, Rob.

Gary Ponzo said...

Nice job, Rob. I find it peculiar with all the data suggesting ebooks are certainly in enternal growth mode, the big 6 aren't making any adjustments to their future plans. Unless you call milking authors' backlists and forcing them into receiving lower royalties as a plan.

And who knows, ultimately maybe this is their plan? Maybe they have so many books locked up under contract they can make a comfortable living just off the existing ebook rights they already own.

Anyway, good luck Rob.

Todd Trumpet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Trumpet said...

Mr. Swartwood:

It's no surprise you eventually took to self-publishing:

"A week or two later, Joe Konrath -- maybe you've heard of him -- spent the night at my place. He was in the middle of his insane driving tour...

Clearly, you are a risk taker.

Todd
"THE TELLING OF MY MARCHING BAND STORY"
www.ToddTrumpet.com

JL Bryan said...

Blake Crouch is very cool! He gave me some advice when I needed it, and I'm a nobody.

Fatima Fayez said...

I had to go check out The Serial Killer's Wife when I read that title! Thank you, Robert, for sharing your story about your path to self-publishing. I enjoy reading these inspirational posts. Congratulations & wish you continued success.

Regarding books, is it really difficult to break into the Thriller market? Isn't the book market in general a little tricky to crack, with luck playing a factor in generating bestsellers?

Walter Knight said...

What is your agent's name? I would love for an agent to shop my books to a movie studio.

Selena Kitt said...

The Serial Killer's Wife! Great title! *one-click*

:)

Good cover, good description, the price is right - and with an endorsement like that from Blake Crouch?

"a scary, thrilling, page-turning, race-against-the-clock novel if ever there was one"

Cha-ching!

Now let's see if I can find time to read it between basting the turkey and mashing potatoes...

Congrats on your success, Rob. It just thrills me to pieces to see really really good writers who deserve to be reaping the rewards of their creative efforts actually doing so.

Mark Asher said...

The reason why I think the big publishers will survive is because even if they lose writers to self-publishing, they'll recruit new ones. They have the money to do it.

And let's define things here: We're talking about midlist writers. There are writers making millions every year who are not going to abandon the publishers because they want their books in Target, Sam's, Wal-Mart, the grocery stores, etc.

I don't foresee there being a shortage of midlist writers. There must be hundreds of MFA programs graduating writers every year. The publishers will continue to offer contracts and there will continue to be takers.

Joe Konrath said...

The reason why I think the big publishers will survive is because even if they lose writers to self-publishing, they'll recruit new ones.

But they're not. Midlist writers are getting dropped by the hundreds. It's never been harder for a newbie to break in.

And with more and more writers being armed with data about how bad legacy contracts are re: ebooks, I believe we'll see more writers walking away from deals, or not even looking for deals.

Anonymous said...

Joe sez: " ... authors are going to wise up ... because they're getting hosed."

Well, some authors are. Others - a minority - are going to stay happy to be getting massive marketing, promotion, and publicity support, enabling them to sell hundreds of thousands where self-pubbers are selling hundreds, and millions where self-pubbers are selling thousands. One size does not fit all. What we're seeing is a realization of a publisher's long-held dream: let's only publish the bestsellers. Self-publishing has hastened the process of dumping even marginally-profitable midlisters, and profits are therefore rising. Sustainable? Probably, unless someone comes up with a way to boost and hype self-pubbers to the same degree. We're headed for an era of wide polarization, with a top and a bottom and no middle.

Peter Connor said...

That's really interesting Rob. I definitely think self publishing is a growing trend - I've just run across Michele Gorman who, despite being a best-selling writer in the UK, decided to self-publish in the US. She's blogging about her experiences on www.michelegormanwriter.blogspot.com. I think writers like this are changing the game.

Peter Connor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon Olson said...

The Serial Killer's Wife -- it IS a great title. I'll check it out.

Thanks for the post, Rob and Joe.

jon olson
The Petoskey Stone

Joshua Simcox said...

In an industry (self-pubbing) where gate-keeping, vetting processes, and barriers to entry are non-existent, I think author endorsements are the single best way to give readers confidence when purchasing works from new writers.

As much as I enjoy Robert's product descriptions and cover art (very pro-level, impressive stuff), I doubt that I would've took a chance on him had it not been for Blake's endorsement.

Of course, I've also purchased many legacy novels based on author blurbs, but I think endorsements will become even more crucial for success in the indie realm as years pass and oceans of material continue to flood the market.

I dislike gatekeepers as much as anyone here, but I'm still a believer in the concept of some form of vetting for self-publishing authors, and endorsements from other other successful writers could be the stamp of approval needed to really make an indie career.

SBJones said...

Excellent post. The more I learn the more I think in a year or two I will write a small book about to help others.

Tracy Sharp said...

I love reading these posts. So inspirational, and my list of writers to read keeps growing :)

Merrill Heath said...

Joshua said: ...endorsements from other other successful writers could be the stamp of approval needed to really make an indie career.

That may be the case with self-published books, but traditional publishers pay big name authors for their endorsements so I don't pay much attention to them.

A very popular, big name author (who will remain nameless for obvious reasons) was speaking at a book seminar about this very subject. He said he was asked to write a blurb for a new author his publisher had taken on. He said he read about 20 pages and it was absolutely awful. But he had committed (been paid) to provide a blurb for the cover. He wrote: "This is a unique first novel. I've never read anything quite like it."

Then, a year later, he said he was amazed to be contacted for an endorsement for the second book by this same author. As with the first, it was unreadable. If anything, it was worse than the first novel. He wrote: "If you liked his first novel you'll love this one."

Merrill Heath
Violent Saturday

Anonymous said...

" ... traditional publishers pay big name authors for their endorsements ... "

Absolutely untrue.

The crap and the misinformation on blogs like these never ceases to amaze.

Merrill Heath said...

Well, it is true in this case. I've known the author who told this story for 40 years and I dont' think he'd make this up just to entertain a group of authors and booksellers at a luncheon.

Merrill Heath
Violent Saturday

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...who to believe?

Merrill who posts under his own name and gives minute detail -

or yet another 'anonymous' who pronounces Merrill's story as 'crap'?

Gretchen Galway said...

Congratulations, Rob, for your success. Thanks for sharing your story.

Joe, I'm glad you addressed Kris Rusch's post today about the publishers' profits. I hope she's wrong about writers as a group rolling over for the 25% of net on ebooks (thus increasing the big corporate publishers' profits even as bookstores close). I'm hopeful there will be a significant percentage of writers who either hold out for better terms and/or publish themselves.

I certainly have a biased view from the trenches of Kindleboards, but it sure doesn't seem like writers are turning up their noses at self-publishing. Quite the opposite. We're a tsunami of crap, right? Not a light mist. A tsunami.

Joe Konrath said...

The crap and the misinformation on blogs like these never ceases to amaze.

And yet here you are, posting. Don't you have anything better to do than waste your time with all this misinformation here?

For the record, I have heard that a #1 bestselling author sold his blurbs for $50k. Heard it from a source I consider reliable.

But that's the only time I've ever heard of buying blurbs. Most authors do them as favors, sometimes to the writer, sometimes to an editor.

DVshooter said...

Great quest post..thanks Joe

And Mrs. Rusch's post was a brainful, very smart lady. She doesn't predict the total fall of the traditional houses though.

I believe in a mass exodus of mid-listers in 2012, much more than now...but as she said, how many of them (and their substantial backlists) are locked under contracts where the "subsidary" e-rights, at very high royalty rates, still belong to the publishers?

It's making them profitable now due to the lower expenses (duh) and I see them milking every penny out of them.

Going forward, you're absolutely right, newbs are singing away royalties just to let a pub-house hit the button for them, but for the larger houses with stockpiles of mid-list titles still under contract, can this be the "shift" that keeps them in the black?

Anonymous said...

>>Don't you have anything better to do than waste your time with all this misinformation here?

Probably, but it's like looking at the wreck on the other side of the divider. Can't help it.

But seriously - there's always talk about "validation" here, and it seems that part of trying to validate one's self-pub choice is to cling to fantasies like these about trad publishing ...

... like, e.g., believing that trad publishers "keep" 52.5% of e-book nets. My point earlier was that - for some authors - they don't "keep" it ... they spend it getting those authors maximum exposure. That's the "new trad" bestsellers-only model, and it's as valid as anything.

Joe Konrath said...

Probably, but it's like looking at the wreck on the other side of the divider. Can't help it.

Try harder. If you can't, try to use logic and examples in your replies, because this

they spend it getting those authors maximum exposure.

is one of the most ignorant things I've ever heard.

Show me some examples of publishers promoting ebooks, and if you can find those, show me that those examples are leading to increased ebook sales.

I won't be holding my breath.

Publishers are gloating about the money they're making from ebooks. But they won't be gloating for much longer. As soon as the current crop of bestselling authors hand in the last books of their contracts, publishers are going to be in for a very rude awakening.

And if any of those bestselling authors are reading this, and your publisher won't give you better ebook royalties, contact me. I'll put you in touch with my contacts at Amazon, who WILL give you much better royalties.

Robert said...

Thanks for reading and the comments, everyone, and thanks to Joe for letting me talk here today. And yes, I'm very fortunate that Blake was kind enough to endorse TSKW. I was thrilled when he agreed to read and blurb the book, just as I was thrilled when F. Paul Wilson agreed to read and blurb MAN OF WAX. ;-)

Walter - my agent is Scott Miller at Trident Media, and he doesn't really handle film rights himself but goes through other channels. Some agents do handle both literary and film, and some handle only literary. Still, I would think any agent you signed with would try to get your book in front of as many of the right people as possible.

Anonymous said...

"Show me some examples of publishers promoting ebooks, and if you can find those, show me that those examples are leading to increased ebook sales."

This is one of those things you aren't quite getting, Joe. Publishers promote authors and titles, not formats. The format is up to the customer. But if you want to focus on e-books, then examples are numerous. Most well-promoted #1 bestseller titles download 100,000 sales before breakfast on the day of release. A week later, they're hitting 200,000 sales, and inside the first month that single title has sold as much as all but a handful of self-pubbers will sell in their lives. Why? Because those authors are better than you? Or because they've benefitted from relentless buzz on TV and radio and in print? And what pays for that? The margin, that's what, that you think the publisher "keeps."

Aric Mitchell said...

"This is one of those things you aren't quite getting, Joe. Publishers promote authors and titles, not formats. The format is up to the customer. But if you want to focus on e-books, then examples are numerous. Most well-promoted #1 bestseller titles download 100,000 sales before breakfast on the day of release. A week later, they're hitting 200,000 sales, and inside the first month that single title has sold as much as all but a handful of self-pubbers will sell in their lives. Why? Because those authors are better than you? Or because they've benefitted from relentless buzz on TV and radio and in print? And what pays for that? The margin, that's what, that you think the publisher "keeps.""

Great job with the specific authors, titles and numbers, Anonymous. I'd say John Locke, Amanda Hocking and a whole lot of others, who didn't come from print but have successful careers nonetheless would attest to how pointless the 52.5 percent they're "spending" really is. Want more examples of indie author success? Read David Gaughran's book. 33 specific examples at the back.

Joe Konrath said...

This is one of those things you aren't quite getting, Joe. Publishers promote authors and titles, not formats.

I get it just fine. I've gotten some promo from my publishers. And I got more than most of my peers. And it still was ineffective, a big waste of the little money they spent, and didn't nearly compare with what I could do on my own.

My books are still in print because I busted my ass, not because my publisher paid too much for a USA Today ad. And they're still selling because I self-published less expensive titles which have become very popular, which leads to increased sales of my much-too-expensive backlist owned by legacy houses.

If you think publishers actually spend a lot of money promoting books, no matter the format, you're daft.

Right now ebook sales are rising, paper sales are shrinking. This will continue. Publishers need to spend their marketing budgets promoting ebooks. You bet on the horse that is going to win.

But publishers aren't doing that. And they never will. And they certainly aren't doing anything worth 52.5% royalties.

Most well-promoted #1 bestseller titles download 100,000 sales before breakfast on the day of release.

So you think Stephen King is a #1 bestseller because he gets a lot of promotion? Really? You really believe that?

If so, this discussion is over, because you are painfully unaware. King is King because he's King, not because he has Scribner behind him.

And King probably gets better ebook rates than 17.5%, even though his publisher is spending some promo bucks on him.

My backlist gets ZERO promo dollars, but I'm still getting only 17.5%. My publisher is getting 52.5%, making fat bank on those titles, and not spending a penny getting me "maximum exposure." They're riding on the coattails of the exposure I've gotten on my own.

Your argument just plain sucks.

Anonymous said...

A whole lot of others? Really? Great job with specific authors, titles, and numbers, Aric. Tell me I'm wrong: no non-trad author has ever sold 100,000 e-books in a single night. Tell me I'm wrong: dozens of trad authors have. Now tell me why.

Aaron Polson said...

Robert is the consummate professional. You don't have to have a book deal to do this the right way. Congrats on all the success, and I wish you more.

Anonymous said...

Joe sez: Your argument just plain sucks.

OK, let's agree on the alternative explanation. Your sales are low not because of structural disadvantages outside of your control, but because you're a lousy writer. Is that better? I was just trying to help.

Joe Konrath said...

Tell me I'm wrong: dozens of trad authors have. Now tell me why.

That's easy. If promotion was truly the key to selling 100,000 books in a day, why aren't publishers promoting EVERY title and why isn't EVERY title selling 100,000 books in a day?

Because a bestseller relies on a lot more than promotion. The fact that there are bestsellers with very little promotion, and the fact that people like me can sell 400,000 ebooks without a publisher backing me up, is proof.

Promotion, BTW, is front-loaded. It ends after a few months. But publishers still continue to take their 52.5% long after the promo is finished.

So publishers indeed do keep that money, rather than funnel it back into the author. Which means your idea that their 52.5% is being used to promote authors is flat-out wrong.

Joe Konrath said...

I was just trying to help.

And yet you weren't helpful at all.

Your sales are low not because of structural disadvantages outside of your control, but because you're a lousy writer.

In some cases, the writer is lousy, and sales will reflect that.

In other cases, the writer simply hasn't gotten lucky yet.

Bestsellers have gotten lucky. Often, they've had help. But I wouldn't say the bulk of the help is from promo dollars. I'd say it is from widespread distribution. If you have a print run of a million copies, and they are available everywhere that sells books, you'll sell a lot of books simply because people have little choice and can't avoid it.

On Amazon, which is an even playing field (unlimited shelf space, one space per title, infinite shelf life, competitive pricing) it isn't about how big the print run is.

I outsell many NYT bestsellers. I also make more money than many, except for the really big names.

Stirred is coming out on November 22. It will sell very well, because I've spent eight years building a fanbase, and because Amazon is going to promote the heck out of it. Unlike a book tour, or an ad, Amazon has true marketing power, and can create bestsellers.

But guess what? I'm making a LOT more than 17.5% royalties with Amazon.

The only crap and misinformation I'm hearing in these comments is coming from you.

Anonymous said...

"Promotion, BTW, is front-loaded. It ends after a few months. But publishers still continue to take their 52.5% long after the promo is finished.

So publishers indeed do keep that money, rather than funnel it back into the author. Which means your idea that their 52.5% is being used to promote authors is flat-out wrong."

Joe, that's silly. Promo is usually run at a loss, and made up for later - perhaps, hopefully - and because no publisher bats a thousand, there are failures to make up for, too.

But whatever. Keep on validating!

Anonymous said...

"I outsell many NYT bestsellers ... The only crap and misinformation I'm hearing in these comments is coming from you."

Those two phrases don't match. You say you have 40-odd titles up, and you claim sales of 400,000 over a couple of years, which is about 5,000 per title per year, on average. No NYT bestseller has sales that trivial, not even remotely.

See what I mean about believing fantasies?

J. R. Tomlin said...

Robert, it is great to see someone coming out of the pack to do as well as you have. It obviously has to do with your persistence and hard work and nothing to do with some publisher.

The argument over selling 100,000 books on publication release makes me hold my head and moan. So what? Will it be selling 6 months down the road? Nope. The publisher will have gone on and t's a in the backlist doldrums unless the author has Joe's savvy.

And the whole blockbuster syndrome is one of the worst things that has happened to publishing. It meant that blockbusters was all that publishers really cared about. Thanks God we now have niches markets where books that don't and won't sell 100,000 in one day find a long-term market.

1000 a day or even 100 a day over a year or several years is one heck of a lot of novels and at 70% not bad money either.

Anonymous said...

Those two phrases don't match. You say you have 40-odd titles up, and you claim sales of 400,000 over a couple of years, which is about 5,000 per title per year, on average. No NYT bestseller has sales that trivial, not even remotely.

See what I mean about believing fantasies?


Yawn. It's too early in the morning for flawed logic. Obviously, some titles sell much better than others.

Question is: Is JA actually 'a bestseller'? I think not. In my opinion JA = midlist.

What does that mean? Well, at only midlist level he's making decent money and sold 400,000+ titles on e-books alone, which is likely only on the content he owns and is less than 40, right?

Anonymous said...

"1000 a day or even 100 a day over a year or several years is one heck of a lot of novels and at 70% not bad money either."

But the opposite of a blockbuster isn't necessarily a steady seller that hits those numbers. Joe seems to be averaging about 14 sales per day per title, according to his own claims. As one of the anonymous posters said above, it's all top or bottom now, with no middle.

Anonymous said...

" ... at only midlist level he's making decent money and sold 400,000+ titles on e-books alone, which is likely only on the content he owns and is less than 40, right?"

Don't know if he's including collaborations. Joe?

But what he's showing is that by piling up the volume of titles, a midlister can indeed make decent aggregate money. More power to him. But the chest-thumping is silly.

MT Nickerson said...

Are you happy with the money you make, the work you produce, the people you work with, the people who read what you write? Four questions I ask myself.

Answer no for one or more and maybe you need to find a different way.

That's fine; We're all adults and have our own lives to manage.

But if your chosen way isn't self-publishing, if self-publishing doesn't fluff your sails, then so be it. Arguing the point on a pro self-publishing blog, not using your name and insulting folks, well, that convinces no one.

It turns me off, anyway, and I'm still on the e-book fence.

Anonymous said...

"But the chest-thumping is silly."

Yes. I'm sure I've had sex more than some humans somewhere. Does that make me sexier than George Clooney? As sexy? Almost as sexy?

Aric Mitchell said...

"A whole lot of others? Really? Great job with specific authors, titles, and numbers, Aric. Tell me I'm wrong: no non-trad author has ever sold 100,000 e-books in a single night. Tell me I'm wrong: dozens of trad authors have. Now tell me why."

Yes, Anonymous, a whole lot of others. I didn't name the other 33 that are in Gaughran's book because I said they're in Gaughran's book. So, technically, I gave you 35. You gave me shit. I win.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, Anonymous, a whole lot of others. I didn't name the other 33 that are in Gaughran's book because I said they're in Gaughran's book. So, technically, I gave you 35. You gave me shit. I win."

Amazon itself says you lose. It keeps on releasing "Million Club" names, and I don't see 35 indies there.

Aric Mitchell said...

What I don't get is this: why do you care so much?

The real issue is making a decent living. People like you can't stand that indies have been getting rejected all these years, and now they're finding an audience.

Read this blog or Kindleboards for so many success stories it'll make your head spin. I've given you the tools necessary to see why your arguments are utter garbage. But while you can lead a dumbass to water, you can't make him think.

Pardon the name calling. Yes, it's immature. But so is pussifying everything you say with "Anonymous" as your name. You know who I am. Why can't we know who you are? Share your name, and I'll retract the dumbass comment with a humble apology. Till then, I don't feel that bad about it.

DVshooter said...

Phew...good thing another shit-spewing, faceless Anon showed up disparaging indies over how they stack up to (SURPRISE!) one in a million bestsellers.

Good. All this open, earnest business discussion centered around a guest poster...just didn't seem normal.

Joe Konrath said...

Those two phrases don't match. You say you have 40-odd titles up, and you claim sales of 400,000 over a couple of years, which is about 5,000 per title per year, on average

I post my numbers often enough for you to know better. I sold 85k copies of Trapped in a year, and that's better than many bestsellers. Ditto several other of my titles.

Question is: Is JA actually 'a bestseller'?

I've hit the Top 10 on the Kindle Bestseller list with several titles. I'd call that being a bestseller. You can hit the Times list selling fewer than 40k a year.

Joe seems to be averaging about 14 sales per day per title, according to his own claims.

There's so much wrong with that. Each of my titles doesn't sell the same. The novels far outsell the shorts, and I have a handful of novels that account for 90% of my sales.

It keeps on releasing "Million Club" names, and I don't see 35 indies there.

I'll be there soon, probably by next year. But then, I'm just midlist...

Yes. I'm sure I've had sex more than some humans somewhere.

Do you use your real name with your partners? Or does that scare them off?

Look, your argument is bad. The Big 6 are taking 52.5%, and they ARE NOT funneling more than a fraction of that money into marketing. Many books released have the barest of marketing, nothing more than a lame press release and a quart page in the catalog. That doesn't justify taking so much in royalties. NOTHING a publisher does justifies taking that much in royalties, and defending them reeks of Stockholm Syndrome. Unless you're an uber-bestseller, in which case what applies to you applies to only a few dozen people on the planet. But that still doesn't mean you should defend publishers.

I'm lucky enough to be in the top 1% income bracket, but that doesn't mean I'm a republican.

Anonymous said...

"Phew...good thing another shit-spewing, faceless Anon showed up disparaging indies over how they stack up to (SURPRISE!) one in a million bestsellers."

Um, it was Joe who claimed to stack up against the bestsellers. This particular shit-spewing faceless anon never said a word about it.

Anonymous said...

"The Big 6 are taking 52.5%, and they ARE NOT funneling more than a fraction of that money into marketing ... "

So where's all the loot? Off the balance sheet? In the Caymans? You're a numbers guy. Show us where all that obscene profit is hiding.

Joe Konrath said...

Show us where all that obscene profit is hiding.

How much does it cost to rent an entire floor of the Flatiron Buidling?

How much does it cost to have an obscenely huge display at BEA?

How much does it cost to ship the same hardcover upwards of three or four times when they get returned for full credit?

How much does it cost to take agents out to three martini lunches?

Publishing may be the single most wasteful industry on the planet. The amount of money they blow is disgusting. The return system is archaic.

But now they can justify their bloated existence by screwing the author and taking more than half an ebook's list price--which they set.

Fail. Fail fail fail.

Sean McCartney said...

Great post and congratulations to Robert. I wish my experience with self-pubbing was as lucrative as everyone has said who has posted. I just released my first self pubbed novel called Black Knight Chronicles and I am wondering if anyone will ever see it.

I am a believer, though, in the ebook revolution.

Sean

Jason D. Morrow said...

I really like the statement that it's creating a small business. You're so right about that. The only problem with marketing is the time it takes away from trying to write more. I find that it's difficult to write when I'm trying to send my novel to reviewers and also working a full-time job. (I'm sure those tv breaks really cut into too.)

Thanks for being an encouragement!

Selena Kitt said...

Yes. I'm sure I've had sex more than some humans somewhere.

Joe sez: you use your real name with your partners? Or does that scare them off?

He uses his pen name. Dixon Hand.

So many anonymi, so little time...

J. Tanner said...

JOE: How much does it cost to rent an entire floor of the Flatiron Buidling?

Kris Rusch got ahold of some numbers for one of the big 6recently(?) and if memory serves their rent calculated out to hundreds of millions a year based on the square footage. Thanks, authors!

JOE: Publishing may be the single most wasteful industry on the planet.

Um, Hollywood? :)

On the larger topic being discussed I don't dispute any of the specific economics. I think individual authors can make smart business decisions. I think authors as a group are prone to making terrible business decisions and based on that I think big publishing will continue to get a willing group of replacement authors to fill whatever midlist they are interested in publishing as a proving ground for replacement bestsellers.

I don't think the midlist is of much concern to them. They've always churned through those authors.

Not that I think the Joe style prediction is impossible. It would take an exodus of bestsellers I'd guess and when we hit the ebook/paper tipping point I suppose it could happen. But I wouldn't bet on it. I bet we see them bend heavily on terms to keep their cash cows. This will hurt their profits or perks but I expect they'll take that hit and readjust to the changing environment.

Robert said...

I really like the statement that it's creating a small business. You're so right about that. The only problem with marketing is the time it takes away from trying to write more. I find that it's difficult to write when I'm trying to send my novel to reviewers and also working a full-time job.

Yes, marketing does take up writing time, but don't think traditionally published authors don't have to do much of their own marketing as well (I mean, look at Joe). In my experience, the PR department sends out numerous galley copies to numerous places hoping for a review, but those aren't guaranteed. They'll also set up readings and book signings, but nine times out of ten they won't pay for your travel or lodging or even meals. Money is tight and reserved for those writers earning the big bucks.

J. Tanner said...

ROBERT: Money is tight and reserved for those writers earning the big bucks.

Which has never made a lick of sense to me. Why advertise what will sell on its own?

Or maybe it's all went into prominent store placement rather than what I think of as traditional advertising.

But the cynic in me thinks it's more likely self-fullfilling prophecy. The marketing team markets only what is sure to sell anyway because then they can claim the marketing was successful and not worry about their jobs.

Joe Collins said...

Twenty-years of trying to sell novels and I said screw it and have started e-pubing. Yes, it hasn't sold a lot, but 70% of anything is better than 15% of nothing.

And, I even gave Joe a hat tip in the credits for providing the inspiration for going this particular path.

I'll hopefully be able to have at least three titles out in the next year and can only go up from there.

DVshooter said...

Selena

That's a good one...got any more?

Archangel said...

Adds: yearly and biyearly sales conferences at plush resorts for days on end, flying in authors, lush pads, the stockholder families taking tons off the top, see Mohn family re bertalsmann, rupert murdock enterprises re harpercollins. They will tell you its a losing prop. Hamptons, marinas, eu/ny/ hideaways say differently. I dont begrudge people their hard work and merit that comes from it; just when running a serf-vassel outfit...

yet, when the underclass becomes educated... harder and harder to maintain the old model... look for importing books by authors in impoverished countries, paying them squat, translating into English offshore and then flooding US market for profit made on two poor people's bones, each book. This is just one of the sick suggestions I've overheard from upstairs recently.

thanks..
dr.cpe

Joe said "How much does it cost to rent an entire floor of the Flatiron Buidling?

"How much does it cost to have an obscenely huge display at BEA?

"How much does it cost to ship the same hardcover upwards of three or four times when they get returned for full credit?

"How much does it cost to take agents out to three martini lunches?

"Publishing may be the single most wasteful industry on the planet. The amount of money they blow is disgusting. The return system is archaic.

"But now they can justify their bloated existence by screwing the author and taking more than half an ebook's list price--which they set.

"Fail. Fail fail fail."

Anonymous said...

I suggest Robert put all his written books up on the e-sites, and let the readers decide if they are good or not. He may be surprised, and if some are not popular he has lost nothing, except the time to format and upload them.

Marilyn Peake said...

Congratulations on your success! Very inspiring!

As far as legacy publishers go, they might just turn into vanity presses, following in the footsteps of Penguin's high-priced self-publishing venture.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Hey, Joe, I don't know why you even bother to argue with idiots like Anonymous.

Wayne McDonald said...

This is off the original topic but with the tighter contracts, Book Country and other things they are doing I wondered if they are likely to hit up deceased author's families.

They are already fighting to lock in people's backlists and rushing old novels back into print to avoid the 'out of print' clauses. How likely is it that some widows will resist a hundred extra a month for their husbands 1950 bestseller being converted to an ebook?

The more content they grab, the longer they stay alive.

Danielle Blanchard Benson said...

Rob, great post. The indie publishing business is as much about luck as the legacy publishing business but your story is proof you don't have to receive $20k paychecks a month to survive (granted, Konrath has earned his keep but nothing wrong with getting $1500 checks either). ;-)

Your story is a cautionary tale but I agree legacy publishers should be scared indeed. I don't see you *not* becoming a success and believe me, your $10 and $15k per month checks will be right around the corner. If this business has taught me anything, we will never have enough great thriller writers and you seem right at home in the genre. Congrats and here's to continuing good luck. ;-)

Anonymous said...

IMO looking at Joe's stated income and number of books available and using that to disparage is exactly backwards. Way back when Joe had maybe 28 books available and was reporting lesser but still impressive income, the light bulb came on for me.

My first indie book, a cozy mystery has never sold more than 300 copies a month and now after 18 months has settled in at about 100 a month (first at $1.99, 2.99 since the 70% royalty). I looked at that one book and thought - wow, imagine 28 of them. Heck, imagine 10, or 5.

My romances, which do about 3 times as well, inspired even more imagination. Dean Wesley Smith emphasizes this point on his blog - it's not that one book but the body of work. I have 4 novels and a short story out now. At my age 40 is never going to happen, but I imagine 8, 12, 16. Oh, glorious possibilities.

Ellen O'Connell said...

Rats. I don't know how that last comment got published anonymously, but it was me - "IMO looking...."

M.R. Jordan said...

I found this very interesting. While it wasn't directly addressed, you hit on a major issue with going the traditional route. Even after you get an agent, that doesn't mean you're book will sell.

I really don't know which way I'm going to go yet. I don't have a novel finished in a way that's good enough.For a long time, I thought I needed an agent to make the decisions.

Then I started writing short stories which has taught me how to do the things I didn't even know I didn't know, but it also has taught me to have faith in my work.

In the last year, I've had a little success and I just made my first pro sale. Knowing what I know today, I'm glad didn't self-publish. But I also feel very comfortable with that option now.

Leonard D. Hilley II said...

Great post, Rob!

Like you, I put off self-publishing for a long while, too. I had one major publisher set on my first novel for nearly three years--saying they really liked it, etc.--and then a form letter after all that time.

The biggest problem is finding just one place to categorize my series since they are cross-genre thrillers. I believe that's been the biggest problem trying to get an agent or publisher before I finally went with KDP, Smashwords, and Createspace.

Who has time to waste? Not me, anymore.

And now with the current economy, self-publishing is the more logical direction in many ways. My audience continues to grow, too.

Much continued success to you, Rob!

Shawna said...

Love the concept and the cover, definitely picking this one up.

Cyn Bagley said...

I am still starting slow, even though I have a website, a blog, a fb page, twitter account - and use them.

Some day over the rainbow ;-)

I am still selling a few at a time though.