Sunday, April 21, 2013

Eisler on Digital Denial

Barry Eisler: This past Saturday, I gave one of the keynotes at the 21st annual Pike's Peak Writers Convention (great conference and I highly recommend it to other writers). During my talk, I shared some thoughts on the choices writers have today in publishing -- thoughts which, judging from some of the Twitter comments I've seen, have caused a bit of upset here and there. Because I think it's beneficial when ideas are pressure-checked by people with differing views, I welcome the discussion, and I hope we can continue it here.

Here's the gist of my talk:
  • Up until roughly six years ago, the only viable means of book distribution was paper. Accordingly, a writer who wanted to reach a mass audience needed a paper distribution partner.
  • The primary value-add offered by legacy publishers has traditionally been paper distribution. Certainly legacy publishers offer many other services (much of which is outsourced) -- editorial, copyediting, proofreading, book packaging, and marketing, to name the most obvious -- but the primary service, the one the others are built on, has always been paper distribution.
  • The advent of digital book distribution means that today, not all authors need a paper distribution partner. Authors can reach (and thousands of authors are reaching) a mass audience in digital by self-publishing instead (a third option, Amazon publishing, combines elements of both systems).
  • The ideal of legacy publishing is that an editor falls in love with a manuscript, the writer is showered with a large advance from the publisher, the publisher expertly edits, packages, markets, and distributes the book, and all the author ever has to worry about ever after is writing bestselling book after bestselling book, while the publisher handles all the marketing and other business aspects.
  • The ideal of legacy publishing is not a fantasy -- after all, some writers have experienced it. But there are very few such writers within the system as a whole. Statistically speaking, therefore, the odds of success in legacy publishing can be thought of as a kind of lottery -- but this is true of self-publishing, as well, where the odds of success are also statistically low.
  • It's important to compare the reality of one system to the reality of the other. Too often, people compare the reality of self-publishing to the ideal of legacy publishing, and such a skewed comparison doesn't yield useful results. The most useful way to look at the choice between legacy publishing and self-publishing, therefore, is as a choice between two kinds of lottery, each with different odds, different kinds of payouts, and different overall advantages and disadvantages.
  • It follows that, in determining which system would be the best personal fit, writers should evaluate their objectives, talents, skills, and inclinations, along with the various differences in the two systems (there's a lot more that could be usefully said on this topic; perhaps in a separate post). There's no one-size-fits-all, and what represents the right fit for one writer won't necessarily be the right fit for another.
  • While we writers do have to choose a single route for a given book (at least initially), it's important to remember that we can choose a different route for a subsequent book. That is, you can do one book with a legacy publisher, another with Amazon, and a third you can self-publish. And so on. It's not an either/or universe.
  • Overall, where writers used to have only one choice (find a paper distribution partner or fail commercially as a writer), today we have many choices -- for any given book, and even more so over the course of a career. If you're a writer, having more choices is a great thing.
Now, I know there are some sensitivities in the establishment publishing world about the changes I describe above, but I didn't think anything I discussed was going to be particularly controversial. In fact, I think most of it is factual (is it not true that, until recently, books were distributed entirely in paper?) or axiomatic (is choice for writers bad?), and I characterized it as such. I think in retrospect I might have done a better job of distinguishing between what strikes me as fact and axiom on the one hand, and what I recognize as opinion on the other (I try to be careful in this regard, but inevitably something slips by when I'm giving a live talk). But still, I don't see much that's particularly contentious in the way I tried to sort out the state of publishing today.

Nonetheless, one literary agent in the audience, Sorche Elizabeth Fairbank, tweeted that I was "offering up bullshit" in suggesting that a legacy publisher's primary value is paper distribution. Because this is an exceptionally important point of disagreement, I'd like to talk about it a bit more.

As I've noted, an author who wants to reach a mass audience in paper needs a paper distribution partner. But an author who wants to reach a mass audience in digital needs no distribution partner at all. It is simply a fact -- a fact -- that a lone author can distribute 100% as effectively by herself as she can with the assistance of a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate (again, editing, marketing and all the rest is a separate story; for the moment, we are talking only about distribution).

To put it another way: a publisher offering an author digital distribution services is like someone offering me air. I already have it and I don't need to pay extra for it. I know it can be unsettling in some circles to have the matter stated so baldly, but I really don't think the matter is disputable, either. In digital, as Clay Shirky has said, "Publishing is a button."

Legacy publishers typically offer authors only 17.5% of the list price of a digital book, while they keep 52.5% for themselves (the retailer keeps 30%). If distribution is of secondary value, it might make sense that a publisher would continue to offer an author so little even when no distribution services are offered. The theory would be something like, "Author, we only give you about 15% of list price in paper, where we offer distribution services, and because distribution services are a relatively unimportant part of the publishing services we offer you, it makes perfect sense that we would offer you only a smidgeon more -- 17.5% -- in digital, where we don't offer distribution services. You know, because distribution is only worth about 2.5% of what we charge you overall."

If, on the other hand, distribution is the primary, or even just an important value-added service a publisher can offer, then it makes no sense that publishers are offering authors roughly the same amount whether or not they are doing any distribution.

To put it another way: in paper publishing, legacy publishers offer authors services A, B, C, and D, and charge X for all of it. In digital publishing, legacy publishers offer authors services B, C, and D… but they are still charging roughly X, even though service A is no longer part of the package. If service A was an immaterial service, the new pricing makes some sense. If service A was a critical service, it's difficult to understand why a publisher would charge the same even when service A is no longer being provided. If a restaurant stops offering refills of coffee with the dessert it serves along with its steak dinners but doesn't lower its prices, you probably won't care. If it stops serving steak, you might wonder why the bill hasn't been adjusted accordingly.

So the question is, is distribution more like refills of coffee, or more like steak? Fairbank seems to believe it's more like refills of coffee -- that distribution isn't a particularly important publisher service. But does her position make sense? Here's a thought experiment to test her proposition: imagine your publisher tells you tomorrow that it can no longer offer you, say, copyediting services, and that you will have to hire a copyeditor yourself. No worries, though -- of course the publisher offers to charge you less for their overall bundle of services as a result. About how much of a price break would you feel is reasonable under the circumstances?

Now, imagine your publisher tells you instead that it can no longer offer you paper distribution services, and that you will have to engage a printing press, hire a fleet of trucks, lease warehouses, develop relationships with wholesalers, and come up with a system for the delivery, consignment, and return of your paper books. No worries, though -- of course the publisher offers to charge you less for their overall bundle of services as a result. About how much of a price break would you feel is reasonable now?

I imagine different people will respond with somewhat different numbers to my thought experiment. But I also expect that all authors would at a minimum insist on a far steeper discount in the absence of distribution services than they would in the absence of copyediting. And ditto for any other service besides copyediting, or even in addition to it. Why? Because there is nothing more fundamental, more important, or more difficult for authors to acquire on their own in paper publishing than distribution. If a publisher doesn't properly edit your book, or chooses a bad cover, or writes a silly author bio, or even engages in a giant marketing fail, the book can still make money. But if the publisher doesn't properly distribute the book, then the book will be unavailable (or at least its availability will be severely curtailed), no one will be able to buy it, and the author will be hosed. Distribution is the one area where an author is totally dependent on the publisher in paper publishing, and the area where publisher failures will have the most catastrophic results.

For all these reasons, I think it's difficult to argue other than that paper distribution has traditionally been legacy publishing's primary value-add, and I'm surprised that such an anodyne observation could provoke controversy, let alone consternation. Maybe in some circles, putting it so plainly just isn't the done thing? It's bad manners to depart from pretty talk about how legacy publishers "nurture" authors, and to focus instead on actual value? I'm not sure.

The reactions of other agents and editors were even more surprising. Agent Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Lit recommended that Fairbank "Stop listening! Save yourself!" Agent Janet Reid of Janet Reid Literary advised that it's a mistake to even attend a conference where I'm speaking (apparently it's not sufficiently protective to boycott just me; you have to boycott the entire conference). Agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Larson Pomada tweeted that she wanted to walk out, though she didn't. Agent Barry Goldblatt of Barry Goldblatt Literary tweeted, "I had to be restrained in my seat. What a douche!" (Goldblatt subsequently retracted the name-calling aspect). Fairbank also claimed that a Random House editor left early, fuming, rather than listen to my presentation.

(Apparently, you didn't even have to know what was said to know it was bad: author Lauren Dane offered up a variety of reactions, suggesting talks like mine are "insulting," "condescending," "smug," and "dismissive," before acknowledging, "Oh, I do want to say, I wasn't there. I only saw one quote that I have no other context for so I could totally be reading it wrong." Indeed. Why let a lack of any relevant knowledge get in the way of a chance to offer a string of public opinions?)

These reactions, and the attitudes behind them, aren't just immature. They're also fundamentally unhealthy. How can agents and editors serve writers in a dramatically changing industry if they refuse to listen to new and contrary views? If they believe -- and actually advise others -- that it's a mistake even to risk exposure to contrary views? I mean, I think "Authors Guild" president Scott Turow is misleadingly wrong about just about everything, but I still listen to him and publicly respond (if only he had the integrity to respond in kind, as his critics have done him a great and unappreciated service in consistently pointing out his many errors).

What's also noteworthy is the extremely positive reaction I've received from scores of the writers at the event (which, at the risk of stating the obvious, was in fact a conference for writers, at least as suggested in the conference's name). Of course, it's possible there's some vast, silent majority of writers who despised my presentation as much as the agents and editors did, but I think it's more likely that it was primarily agents and editors who found my thoughts on how authors could make good choices so threatening that they felt compelled to warn people it was dangerous even to listen, or walked out as though I was advocating the slaughter of baby seals or some other beyond-the-pale thing. Which leads to a question: Agents and editors, do you think it's a good sign for your business that your reactions to a talk on what's best for authors would diverge so radically from the reactions of the very authors you ostensibly serve -- authors without whom you cannot make a living? And if it's not a good sign, what might you do to correct course and serve authors better?

One difference I consistently see -- and that consistently concerns me -- between proponents of choice in publishing on the one hand, and proponents of establishment publishing on the other, is the willingness of the first group to engage critics, and the latter's refusal. I know behaviors like sniping to your followers on Twitter, or walking out of a keynote in dudgeon, can offer some brief emotional satisfaction, but what do such behaviors do to help writers? I've tweeted this post to the people I named in it, and I hope they'll come by to offer their thoughts. Why not? Wouldn't writers benefit from such a discussion? And in the end, isn't that what we all want?

Joe sez: I believe Barry's well-reasoned, polite response to his critics and their childish behavior is admirable. It's also spot-on.

But I'd take it further.

Paper distribution isn't just the primary service legacy publishers provide. It's the only essential service they provide. Every other service can be obtained by an author without the need for a legacy publisher's involvement. Editing, cover art, proofing, even marketing, promotion, and advertising--an author can source any or all of these for a one-time, sunk cost. Why pay an editor a royalty forever? Some writers spend months--if not years--writing a book. The best editor in the world shouldn't require more than a few weeks to edit a manuscript--and a few days is probably much more common. So the writer spends months, the editor spends days, and the company the editor works for earns... 52.5%, forever?

But it gets even more lopsided. Because this not just primary, but essential service--paper distribution--has never been provided equally. Some authors get the five-star treatment with books available every place books can be sold. The vast majority of authors are not so lucky. Most of my peers never had their books for sale in a Walmart. Some didn't even get into the chain bookstores. Some who got into the chain stores only had one copy available for sale, and it was spine-out in section.

So the thing that authors needed most from publishers--paper distribution, the ESSENTIAL service publishers were supposed to provide--has always been provided unevenly.

(To agent Sorche Fairbank… still think it's so out-to-lunch to suggest that publishing is a lottery, with only a few big winners out of everyone who buys a ticket?)

When Barry speaks of the ideal of legacy publishing, he's talking about getting a huge advance and having blockbuster sales. It is indeed possible. And I've said, many times, hold onto your e-rights if you get a legacy offer unless they offer you an incredible amount of money. If they do, take it and run.

Most of us will never be offered a fortune, though. And most of us will never get the star treatment and a golden ticket to the top of the bestseller lists.

In fact, the vast majority of us who sign with legacy publishers, hoping for the ideal experience legacy can offer, have our expectations dashed.

Imagine going to a restaurant, paying $50 for a steak, and getting a tiny bit of gristle and a single sprig of undercooked broccoli. Wouldn't you be mad at the restaurant?

Actually, if you were starving to death, no you wouldn't. You'd be grateful for the shit they served you, and you'd pray to the universe they would deign to serve you again.

That was how it was in the days of paper-only publishing. Legacy publishers were the only place a writer could hope to get food.

But then a funny thing happened called ebooks. Suddenly, paper distribution wasn't that important anymore. Ebook distribution didn't demand a cartel lock on all retail outlets. Authors could reach readers without gatekeepers.

The ideal of self-publishing--huge success--may be just as elusive as huge success is in legacy publishing. But I believe, as evidenced by my experience and the experiences of many of my peers, that the reality of self-publishing trumps the reality of legacy.

Self-pubbers can bring their books to market much faster, days or weeks instead of months or years.

Self-pubbers have control over things that writers deem important, like editing, cover art, and title.

Self-pubbers get 70% royalties.

Self-pubbers set the price of their book.

Self-pubbers can make changes to their books quickly.

Self-pubbers can reach just as many, if not more, readers with their ebooks than legacy publishers can.

Self-pubbing has no gatekeepers or barriers to entry. It doesn't take months/years of querying with fingers crossed to reach potential readers.

In the legacy system, there are a few bestsellers making a ton of money. It is the same with self-pubbing. But in legacy, there were a lot of authors making very little money. I haven't taken any polls, but I know many former legacy authors who are making more self-pubbing than they ever did, and many authors who were never invited into the legacy industry who are making money for the first time.

Legacy still has the paper advantage. But your chances of leveraging that paper advantage to huge success are slim, and what you're giving up to take that chance--70% royalties--is quite a lot.

Writers need to arm themselves with facts and act accordingly. Is it worth losing 52.5% royalties on every ebook sold on the hope you'll make up the difference in sales selling paper books (and getting 6%-15% per copy sold)?

As I write this, six of my ebooks previously published by the legacy industry are in the Amazon Top 100. None of them hit the Top 100 prior to my getting my rights back. With a combination of pricing and marketing, I managed to sell over 30,000 ebooks in three days. 

I may be an exception. I've always said that luck plays an important role in success, and that your results will vary. My sales aren't a goal to shoot for, any more than Stephen King's sales are (and his sales blow mine away).

But writers should know that there is a choice, for the first time ever. Agents and publishers also need to understand this. While my success may be atypical, more and more authors are finding success (whatever your definition of success is) via self-publishing.

Now, I can fully understand how disturbing this change must be to those whose livelihood is entangled with the prosperity of legacy publishing. Bestselling authors, agents, editors, anyone who works for publishers... these people have a vested interest in the status quo. And newbie authors, raised on a steady diet of legacy mythology, often defend the very industry that continues to exclude them. After all, it's tough to give up on a goal you've been pursuing for so long.

But denying the fundamental changes in publishing doesn't make the changes go away. It just makes you look foolish. And things have changed dramatically. Publishers might still be useful, but they're no longer necessary, and useful and necessary are not the same thing and can't command the same price. Doubt me? As of this writing, five of the top thirty most popular authors on Amazon are self-published (at the moment, I'm #3).

Writers finally have a choice. Some people welcome that. Others are terrified by it and in serious denial.

But maybe I'm wrong about this. Maybe Barry's wrong, too. So to all the people who were calling him names on Twitter, or walking out of his talk and advising others to do the same, I say this. Have the integrity to defend your public statements and the courage to respond to people with different views. Stop cluck-clucking about the people you disagree with and engage them. It would be a good way to demonstrate to writers that you're in it for them.

194 comments:

Will Belegon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Belegon said...

The idea that a person should stop acquiring new information in order to "save themselves" is so ridiculous and dangerous that it causes me to forever question the judgment of anyone who would suggest it.

We have choices. That's not a bad thing. Personally, while I would love the "ideal success" and enjoy that dream, my real goal is much simpler. I want to be able to live as a writer. Quit the day job, and still be able to pay the bills. That would be wonderful.

Jude Hardin said...

It took me a while, but I've finally seen the light. I agree with everything you guys are saying.

And I'm very much looking forward to releasing my first self-published novel in the next couple of months.

Rosa Jude said...

There is a saying that we have all heard many times (and the play "Wicked" put to music): No good deed goes unpunished! Barry and Joe have tirelessly endeavored to educate writers about choices and opportunities. This is a good deed that they do not have to do. They could spend that valuable time writing their own works. I applaud them for continuing to share their experiences, which are their truths, with writers and allowing for us to gain some valuable information to help us make our own individual career choices.
You are not a prophet in your own land, especially when your message involves change. Thank you for continuing to bestow your message.

Dan Thompson said...

I suggest that the real reason for the agents' harsh reactions is that no matter how polite or factual Barry's presentation was, his fundamental message was that they as agents were no longer necessary.

But I will take issue with Barry's point that we should be comparing New York lottery winners with self-publishing lottery winners. Certainly, comparing apples to apples is better than apples to raisins, but by the very definition, very few of us will be lottery winners in either.

What would be more useful, IMO, would be to compare median successes to median successes. Compare the long-term midlist authors of traditional publishing to the moderately successful self-publishers. Unfortunately, the data is relatively scarce here, but I suspect that the self-publishers will win that comparison, and that's where most of us who don't outright fail will end up.

Joe Konrath said...

Good points, Dan. Comparing mean to mean is much more useful.

I think Barry's point is that writers seek out legacy publishing believing they'll get a first class treatment. But that first class treatment is as rare as winning the lottery.

Winning the lottery is an ideal that is rarely reached.

Sarah Woodbury said...

To quote Tony Stark: "An intelligence agency that fears intelligence? Historically, not awesome."

I would say the same about an industry that won't even listen to alternative viewpoints? Especially when the change has been so dramatic and so dang FREEING for so many of us?

A little over two years ago, Joe, I read your blog and decided I was going to go indie after 5 years of banging my head against the trad. pub wall I write time travel fantasy and my books aren't in the top 100, not even the top 1000. I don't have a single book you could call a best-seller, and yet I've written enough of them, and have been plugging away at this long enough, that my husband can now quit his day job if he wanted to 'cause I'm making twice what he is. I'm indie mid-list, and I feel like I've won the lottery :)

So thanks for the push. You and Barry keep up the good work!

Jude Hardin said...

It might also be useful to point out that agents and editors are not truly the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. It's the bean counters. If you don't make X amount of dollars for the corporation, you're done.

And yet, somehow, authors still line up in droves to sign on for their crappy terms, some of which are downright unconscionable.

Judith said...

I had just taken advantage of Joe's "thank-you" sale, when I read this post. Only one thing to do: purchase an Eisler e-book.

Bryan Gruley said...

Thanks for posting this, Barry and Joe. Insightful and well put. Good to remember that the digital evolution in many businesses has repeatedly deemed the middle men as unfit for survival. No wonder agents are bellyaching.

Laura Resnick said...

I was a keynote speaker at that same conference in 2010. I don't think literary agents liked my speech, either--though about 100 attendees (including 2 editors) pulled me aside in the hallway by the end of the day to tell me how much my talk had resonated with them. I spoke about why I had decided to cease working with literary agents 3 years earlier, and about why that had proved to be the best business decision I'd ever made. Still is.

At any rate, despite being aware of how threatened most mediocre-to-bad agents routinely appear to feel these days (I think smart, capable agents are doing just fine, but they're the minority), I'm still surprised at the panicky vitriol inspired by your (I agree ) mild, uncontroversial comments in that speech.

I self-publish my backlist (and intend to self-publish some frontlist), and I write frontlist for a traditional house where I am very happy. And a couple of years ago, over dinner, a friend of mine asked the head-of-house whether they think about switching to an all-digital publishing model, and the publisher said, no, because they see their print production and distribution capabilities as something they bring to the table for a writer in the digital age that still can't be replicated by a lone writer.

And that's the take on print/publishers of a very successful publishing company (probably having its best-ever few years recently) which has been in business for over 50 years and whose head of house has been in publishing for over 35 years. And this is someone whose opinion I respect a lot more than that of a handful of literary agents who evidently considered it appropriate behavior to Tweet publicly in their professional capacities that the keynote speaker at a convention where they were professional guests was a "douche" who spewed "bullshit," etc. (What private high school locker room do they people delusionally imagine they're in when they behave this way in public as literary agents?)

The combination of willful ignorance and unprofessional behavior in these individuals speaks for itself. (And it doesn't surprise me. I recognize the names of two of these agents because they were been fired by friends of mine, who promptly went on to MUCH better careers elsewhere after shedding these agents--whose "professional" habits on the job were characterized not returning calls, not answering emails, not submitting MSs, not following up on submissions, and playing dead if a publisher pushed around a client.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Joe. I'm one of those authors who was published by NY and made almost no money except for the advances ( which weren't that great).

Now I'm having so much fun self-publishing. I made almost four hundred dollars last week, and I'm just beginning. I'll have money to visit my grandchildren, to take vacations.

I'll never be a bestseller, but I don't care. I see that I can make a nice little income to supplement my retirement and have so much fun doing it. Thank you so much for the encouragement and help you provide to authors like me.

Barry Eisler said...

Dan, the funny thing is, I think agents have a bright future in the new world of publishing. But many of them recoil from my take on what's going on.

Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

A great post. I myself am currently in the process of leaving a small micro press with my book and my rights back. I don't know what I'll do with it yet, but I just didn't feel they were earning their 70% on paperback and 50% on ebooks. It just wasn't worth it to me. I'm really grateful for the choices in todays publishing.

Brian Drake said...

The agents quoted are all people I have sent to over the years. Since we all started breaking away from those we used to need, I have noticed the venom they spit at the changing landscape more than anything useful they may offer. It's one thing to disagree but I think we all know that, in a debate, you win when the other person can only say "what a douche" even if they walk it back later. They used to be necessary; they are becoming irrelevant, depending on those who still seek validation to make a living. And they have to know that otherwise I don't think they'd be so mad.

Laura Resnick said...

Dan wrote: "I suggest that the real reason for the agents' harsh reactions is that no matter how polite or factual Barry's presentation was, his fundamental message was that they as agents were no longer necessary."

Indeed. I think some agents will survive and continue playing a role in the industry, but the agent market is over-supplied and the medioce and inept haven't got much of a future in it.

This week I read a book called THE SEARCH FOR SURVIVAL: LESSONS FROM DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES by Henry C. Lucas, Jr. It looks at the misktaes of the recording industry, the collapse of Kodak and Blockbuster, etc.

There's a whole chapter on the publishing industry. Most of it is focused on publishers. (Lucas examines the traditional business model, its weaknesses in the face of changing technology and distribution, and ways that he proposes publishers consider adapting and restructuring to survive.)

He only mentions literary agents occasionally in the chapter, but wherever he does, his view of their future is consistently negative: "Literary agents probably need to think about a new career," it's hard to see a role for them anymore, they were part of a business model whose era is coming to a close and there doesn't seem to be a place for them in the industry's future, etc.


I think smart, capable agents (who are a minority) will find place for themselves and always be around. So will unethical sharks praying on writers who don't educate themselves about the business. But the glut of mediocre-to-incompetent agents that flooded the industry in the 1990s and 2000s ensures it's an oversupplied market now, in an era where the demand for agents is decreasing (I know FAR more earning writers working without a literary agent now than I did when I quite working with agents 7 years ago, including writers in traditional publishing) and will continue to decrease.

tammysalyer said...

Thanks Joe and Barry. Keepin' it real.

Walter Golden said...

I am glad to say I agree with you, and it has been a while since I could say that. Some individuals involved with today’s legacy publishing remind me of the people that sold buggy whips at the beginning of last century.
Times they are a changing

Terry Odell said...

Missed Pikes Peak this year, but lots of similar discussion at the NINC conference last October. Also and interesting discussion at a Colorado Springs Library event a week ago. There's so much more room out there. At least SOME agents are willing to look at authors who show success with indie publishing rather than dismiss them outright.


I started with an e-publisher before Konrath published his first e-book. (I showed him my now antiquated e-Bookwise at a conference, and he'd never seen one.) I moved to a hard cover small press. Now I'm publishing my back list, writing original titles, and actually making money. While I don't expect to attain Barry or Joe's success, I'm no longer working in the red. (Uncle Sam is probably happy, too).

It should be about choices, and it looks like authors are finally able to make them. It used to be e-book VS print rather than being able to choose.

And I do agree that holding onto e-rights is something one should try very hard to do. I've made more money on the digital versions of one of my series than the publisher ever paid me.

One topic discussed at NINC was that agents should be more open to 'al a carte' representation. Many super-successful indie authors would love to have an agent handle foreign rights, for example, but one of the agents at NINC dismissed the idea as a total impossibility.

Terry
Terry's Place

Angry_Games said...

Ah the hornet's nest got stirred up again I see. Good on you guys who promote self-publishing and continuing to hammer the legacy pubs that their time is over unless they change.

FINALLY it is about the author. Thanks Barry & Joe!

Jude Hardin said...

Many super-successful indie authors would love to have an agent handle foreign rights, for example, but one of the agents at NINC dismissed the idea as a total impossibility.

Not an impossibility at all. My agent has agreed to do just that for the books I plan to self-publish. And I'm not even super-successful. Yet.

Literaticat said...

I wasn't there and didn't hear the talk.

My "response" was a totally out-of-context tweet to Sorche responding to her irritated tweet about a speech. I didn't know the speaker or the topic..... i was two thousand miles away. Just being tongue-in-cheek and playful on twitter.

Apologies to Barry if he felt insulted. As he (I think?) knows, I often agree with his perspective and at the very least find it interesting.

(I'm not particularly keen on having throwaway jokes blown out of proportion, or having my integrity called into question -- but hey. That's the Internet for ya.)

-- Jennifer "no horse in this race actually" Laughran

Anonymous said...

I once tweeted a link to an op ed essay about self-publishing and received an email from my publishers to stop tweeting about self-publishing.

This only happened at the end of last year but I was shocked that:
A. They were telling me what I could and could not tweet and
B. They were running scared.

Anonymous said...

The last time I dealt with agents at a conference and by queries, the vast majority of them were highly unprofessional. I was shocked, because I'd had an agent years before but had been forced to take a publishing break due to circumstances beyond my control. They don't respond to queries they don't accept anymore. They don't respond to requested mss unless they want them. The responses and interactions you get are typically rude, because they're above the writers. Can't wait to see the whole class of them sink into obscurity.

Author said...

Yeah, I think it's open season on agents out there.

Both of the last two publishers I spoke with about taking on the print version of my next book (not the e-rights) told me NOT to get an agent until I had a deal ready to sign, and publisher #2 suggested an IP lawyer instead.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm not particularly keen on having throwaway jokes blown out of proportion, or having my integrity called into question

I'm not particularly keen on being insulted constantly by cowards afraid to post in my comments section. Not saying that's what you did, and you're certainly not a coward. Brava for posting here.

The internet doesn't require accountability, so people can say wherever they want to and feel like they don't have to stand behind or defend their words.

It's difficult to judge intent, which is why emoticons are so useful. A throwaway joke about someone is usually best identified as a :) or a ;). Without that, intent is subjective.

But then, I don't tweet about people, joking or otherwise. I do, however, attack establishment pinheads (again I'm not referring to you here).

What I'm saying is, when I engage someone, I really engage. Not as a snarky comment I rescind or downplay later. If I have a problem with someone, I explain why they're wrong, and defend my stance.

The Internet is forever. Things you say will always be there to come back and bite you. Those with integrity defend their words. They don't make excuses or refuse to debate the issue they bitched about.

Polly Ribbons said...

Slightly off topic, but perhaps not...

Watching a sketch show where the spoof host introduces an author's book:

"Available in what book shops are still left."

I laughed my face off at that. Turns out, the general public really are aware of some things that are happening in the book world.

David said...

What I don't understand is why agents are so averse to pushing for better digital royalties for their clients. After all, they stand to benefit!

I can understand why some agents may feel threatened by the options now available to authors, but in terms of landing deals with Legacy Publishers, such as they are, agents are more vital than ever (slush piles don't exist any more).

You would think every agent would be demanding at least a 40% digital royalty for their clients since at the end of the day, it's more money in their pockets.

Alan Spade said...

Joe said (in his post) : "Some authors get the five-star treatment with books available every place books can be sold. The vast majority of authors are not so lucky."

Exactly. As Kris Rusch pointed out on her excellent blog (http://kriswrites.com/2013/04/17/the-business-rusch-book-as-event/), you just have to look at the catalogue of a publisher like G.P. Putnam : http://booksellers.penguin.com/static/pdf/putnam-fall13.pdf

On the right column of the PDF, you have the promotion the publisher will give a book.

For an author like Caroll O'Connell and her book "It happens in the dark", promo is :
- National author tour
- National print reviews and features
- Online promotion
- Blog campaign
- Facebook page

For an author like A. Scott Berg and his book Wilson, promo is :
- National author tour
- National electronic media
- National print reviews and features
- NPR interviews
- National advertising campaign
- Online promotion
- Blog campaign
- Social media promotion
- Author video
- Poster
- ascottberg.com

So yes, if you compare the two, you could say O'Connell's book promotion happens in the dark.

Seriously, the disparity between authors is so blatant publishers don't even try to conceal it.

In this case, why those authors who stay in the dark are getting published ? Because of the advance. But every author who believe he would get a better promotion with a publisher should get a long, cold, hard look at this catalogue.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

"Apologies to Barry if he felt insulted."

But the above quote is what I like to call a politician's apology. It states that the speaker doesn't believe she said anything wrong (Apologies to Barry IF -- as if it's just Barry's interpretation that is at issue). It also characterizes Barry as reacting emotionally to the comment (...if he FELT INSULTED), of which there is no evidence.

Apologies such as this mean nothing. Furthermore, Barry didn't ask for an apology. He asked to discuss the issue.

Your explanation seemed sincere and understandable to me. Sometimes we're flip. Sometimes we make mistakes. That's life. That seems honest and forthright to me. The apology undermined what I think you were trying to accomplish.

Deb said...

Recoil today, embrace tomorrow. It's the natural evolution of a change. First they want no part, later they say the always knew it.

Polly Ribbons said...

I know authors who sign with publishers with NO advance, just so they can say they've scored a two book deal with a "proper" publisher.

I also know authors who sign with publishers when only offered eBook publishing deals, no paperbacks, and certainly not hardcovers.

Crazy!

Joe Konrath said...

Seriously, the disparity between authors is so blatant publishers don't even try to conceal it.

Who even gets national author tour anymore?

Facebook page? Seriously? We should sign with a publisher so they can get us on Facebook, put us on their website, and (maybe) get us reviewed in PW? That's worth taking 52.5%?

Then again, we all know that Nora Roberts became huge all because of her publisher's blog campaign. ;)

Failsies.

BelleBooks said...

Hi
As a small press publisher with a very successful ebook program that pays 40 percent net royalties, AND a publisher who had not only a number of successfully published authors at the Pikes Peak con this year, as well as one of my company's editors in attendance, I am frustrated by the extremists on both sides. Traditional publishing has problems, sure. I published 35 novels with the Big 6 before turning to self-pubbing via my own small press. But self-pubbing is a system that works for a tiny percentage of authors and it DOES require massive support from major platforms whether you call them "distributors" or not. To sum up the value of traditional pubs based solely on the costs of print production is to mislead and misunderstand the pubs' other overhead that DIRECTLY BENEFITS THE AUTHORS. Print costs are actually a relatively minor part of the issue. We use JIT printing for our print editions and that value had little to do with our overhead. There are many many costs associated with ANY KIND OF PUBLISHING, and to discount the service of publishers--whether print or ebook oriented--is to seriously overlook how the business of publishing, marketing and distribution really works. If self-publishing were the nirvana it's proclaimed to be, we wouldn't continue to sign up both new and well-established authors who do not or cannot manage the complex systems in which we sell their books internationally as well as domestically.

Woelf Dietrich said...

I'm a little angry at the way they responded to Barry's keynote. It was not necessary, nor was it professional. You only react this way when you feel threatened. If they believed Barry to be wrong, and given that they supposedly bat for us writers (*snicker*), didn’t they have a duty to “correct” Barry so that we don’t get stringed along by his Pied Piper powers?

There is a bigger issue here: how are we supposed to trust them to handle our books? They seem a bit emotional and conflicted. I suppose if Barry was wrong there might have been some tiny merit to the emotional part, not the reaction, though. They’re still obligated to maintain their professionalism. But getting emotional about a proven fact, in the way they did here, is akin to shooting the messenger because the message sucked.

Let me approach this naively. Aren't they supposed to be happy for us?

Polly Ribbons said...

BelleBooks, are you a troll? Because only someone who was trying to antagonise would assume self-published authors can't possibly understand the complexity of publishing.

Also, in your comment you admit your overhead costs are what mainly take away from author's royalties while you get their books printed on the cheap. With rubbish covers too?

David Gaughran said...

I genuinely struggle to see what's so controversial in what Barry said - print distribution is the USP of a traditional publisher. That doesn't mean publishers can't (potentially) provide great editing, covers, or marketing - just that it's possible for authors to attain those services on the open market, whereas print distribution is much trickier.

What probably annoys agents and editors is the obvious question which follows: if paper is shrinking, bookstores are closing, and book-buying is transition online, what value is there in giving 52.5% to a publisher whose USP is print distro?

I mean, it's not like traditional publishers have been leading from the front, getting to grips with the internet, engaging readers through social media, pricing aggressively, free-pulsing, breaking down the Amazon algos, and maximising visibility.

They could learn a lot from self-publishers (and Amazon), if they weren't so busy shouting at clouds.

Gary Ponzo said...

Legacy publishers were extremely valuable, if not essential, to an author's success, back when they would offer some real support behind a new author's work. Besides print distribution, they would get a new book reviewed in highly-regarded newspapers. They would offer the author a publicist and schedule book tours. All this was done to help promote the new author because they would hand out a large advance and they wanted to protect their investment.

Once the advances dwindled, publishers lost their incentive to invest money in their product. The author became the publicist, the promoter, the book tour scheduler. In other words, the publishers wrote themselves out of the script once digital became a plausable option.

Publishers aren't dead. They'll still be the home of anyone who can offer mass appeal for sure-fire sales. Literary talents like Paris Hilton's pool boy and Snooki's cat-groomer will become NY Times bestsellers through Legacy publishing. But don't expect to see the next Phillip Roth work his way through the establishment because of his powerful prose. I doubt there's any patience left for that type of longterm plan.

Desmond X Torres said...

Once again, a terrific blog post.

I'm not going to parse Literaticat's comment. I respect the hell out of her for putting up the clarification of her tweet here.

I hope she didn't offend the Barry. If she had, I hope that her statement was sufficient to straighten it out.

I gotta say I respect her intestinal fortitude in coming on this thread and making any kind of statement. Brava to her.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm not going to parse Literaticat's comment.

Why not? Ann is correct. It's a politician's apology. Apologies without admitting fault are worthless.

It took balls to post here, but she didn't defend her statement. She came on because she wanted to appear brave and sympathetic without actually saying she was wrong, blaming Barry for being too sensitive.

I would have liked her to engage in some of the substantive points Barry made. Because, as an agent, she does actually have a horse in this race. And if her horse dies, she's in trouble.

Mathew Ferguson said...

I love the phrase "digital denial". Perfectly sums up what is happening in traditional publishing.

When I worked in traditional publishing as an editor I found that it is impossible to both educate and convince someone at the same time. When it comes to eBooks, if the person you are speaking with cannot, for example, list Amazon's royalty rates, it's probably a waste of your time. If they don't buy eBooks, doubly so.

Desmond X Torres said...

Why not?
Because it was a comment about a frikkin' tweet!

Now I gotta be honest here, Joe. When I read her explanation about it, I had to laugh when I saw the context. Okay, maybe it was an emoticon short, but when Literaticat put the context in, I saw the humor aspect of it right away.

Ann Voss Peterson is just as entitled as I in having her opinion regarding Literaticat's statement.

Okay- probably more so, in that I think there's a real good chance she knows Barry Eisler a hell of a lot better than I do.

I'm thinking right now about the Harlequin posts you've put up here a short while ago, and how on some other site, Harlequin authors were slagging you, but not one of them- not ONE came here to deal with you directly.

Mr. Eisler's dynamite critique of the NY Times Op-Ed was also met HERE with silence from the traditional publish camp.

Correct me if I'm rong (yeah, as if you wouldn't! lol) but not for nothin'- Literatikat's was the first comment from someone in the trad pub game that came HERE and made ANY statement of clarification on a topic.

And for her trouble, gets a lesson in emoticons from you, which TO ME kinda took some of the steam outta the 'Brava' offered earlier.

And then gets spanked by Ms. Voss Peterson a little too.

As far as horses in the race- any chance someone from her side of the fence could do a guest post on this blog? I'm serious. A lot of us newbie writers could probably stand to benefit from hearing stuff from their perspective in the milieu you have here.

Lynda Hilburn said...

I really enjoyed your talk at the conference, Barry [and your workshops]. All your presentations were engaging and educational. And I saw the reactions of the displeased publishing professionals at lunch. I'm not surprised they were frustrated [change is scary], but I'm saddened by the behaviors. We writers are always cautioned to do nothing that will tarnish our reps. Maybe this will be a learning experience for them. By the way, I quoted you in a couple of the workshops I gave. You were a hit.

Joe Konrath said...

Literatikat's was the first comment from someone in the trad pub game that came HERE and made ANY statement of clarification on a topic.

She's not the first, but she's one of a select few. I'm sure others do as well, anonymously.

And for her trouble, gets a lesson in emoticons from you,

That was my gift to her. She said she wasn't keen on having her tweets blown out of proportion, and I gave her a tip on how she can avoid that happening again.

And then gets spanked by Ms. Voss Peterson a little too.

I've never seen Ann spank someone undeservedly, and I insisted she post her comment after she mentioned it to me personally.

Barry and I asked those who tweeted about him to engage in debate. Ms. Laughran didn't debate, offered a politico apology, and as I stated, if you want to post publicly, you need to be prepared to back up your words.

But I do admire her bravery for coming her. When my name is brought up in legacy circles, if usually evokes an urge to vomit. Barry called her on something, she came her to respond, and I repeat and wholeheartedly say brava. No BS. Good for her.

However, just because someone is brave doesn't mean they aren't wrong.

any chance someone from her side of the fence could do a guest post on this blog?

I'd be happy to post a blog from Ms. Laughran, or anyone else who disagrees with me. This has never been "us vs. them". My blog is here for me to learn, and to pass along what I've learned. If someone with a contrary opinion would like to fisk something I've written, or offer an alternative perspective, I'm all for it.

Jude Hardin said...

As a small press publisher with a very successful ebook program that pays 40 percent net royalties...

40% sounds pretty good, until you throw the word net in there. It means that on a $4.99 ebook, the author receives approximately $1.40 per copy (40% of the 70% the publisher receives from the retailer--even LESS if the publisher tacks on some expenses), whereas the same author would receive approximately $3.50 per copy if he or she chose to self-publish.

What could a publisher possibly offer that would warrant an author losing that much money per copy forever and ever and ever?

I've been listening for a few years now, but every time that question gets asked all I hear are the crickets singing.

Anonymous said...

Definition of douche: someone with the first name of Sorche.

Literaticat said...

Well yes. It WAS a politician's apology, because my tweet was not aiming to insult Barry or anyone else. So if by some chance anyone DID think they were being insulted, I'd feel bad for that.

If that is not up to snuff, instead I'll apologize for not using a winky-face emoticon, which would have made my silly tweet more obviously a joke and made it less likely to have been taken out of context.

"It took balls to post here, but she didn't defend her statement. She came on because she wanted to appear brave and sympathetic without actually saying she was wrong, blaming Barry for being too sensitive."

Actually, I don't really care if you think I am "brave and sympathetic." I'm not the heroine of Victorian melodrama. There are no balls required to post an internet comment. I wasn't trying to "defend my statement" because I didn't MAKE a statement in the first place. I was merely trying to clarify something that I felt was taken out of context.

I didn't argue with Barry because I happen to agree with Barry. I have no beef with him. I didn't hear this particular talk, but I don't have quarrel with the points made here, or most points I've noticed him make in general.

As you might know (and as Barry I'm sure is very well aware), our agency has had quite good success with "hybrid" clients. Many of our most successful authors are ones who are unafraid to try new things, take risks, publish digitally AND traditionally, "indie" AND "legacy." There's room for all this stuff at the table, and I think the agents (AND authors) most likely to keep making money are the ones who remain open to change and do what works for them from all the different avenues available.

It seems pretty obvious and non-controversial to me.

Joe Konrath said...

It seems pretty obvious and non-controversial to me.

Thanks for the clarity. But I disagree with a point.

Sometimes it does take balls to post an Internet comment. Especially when you do it on someone else's home field. If it were easy, more agents and editors would post here. God knows I've dared enough of them to.

And my offer stands. if you'd like to do a post about hybrid authors, or the changes in publishing, I'll run it, unaltered. On good days, this blog gets over 30k hits. So you'd have a pretty big platform for your opinions.

The downside, of course, is that if I disagree with you, I'll provide a contrary opinion. But I'll do it nicely. I'm usually as thoughtful as the person I'm debating.

Joe Konrath said...

Definition of douche: someone with the first name of Sorche.

I don't like potshots on my blog, unless they're aimed at me.

And Sorche had the guts to sign her name to her words.

Also, I think it's a cool first name.

So quit it, or I'll kill anonymous comments.

Literaticat said...

Thanks for the offer. I'd be pleased to chat over a glass of single-malt scotch next time you or Barry and I are in the same room. But I'm not sure I have anything new to add to the conversation, blog-wise. :)

Cheers, and have a great night.

robert bucchianeri said...

"It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." That's Upton Sinclair and I think that about sums up this whole matter.

Mike Fook said...

Anonymous comments should have been canned a long time ago.

You said you haven't polled yet... well, there's an idea. Why not create a 50 question poll for only authors to answer. Get some real data about how much better digital publishing is over legacy. You have enough followers to make that happen and get some real data that matters. Don't allow anonymity, require names of books, email, name of author... and hide those in the poll results, but just so you have them for yourself. I'm sure you could devise a great poll

Desmond X Torres said...

"Thanks for the offer. I'd be pleased to chat over a glass of single-malt scotch next time you or Barry and I are in the same room. But I'm not sure I have anything new to add to the conversation, blog-wise. :)

Cheers, and have a great night."

Damn.... my personal Walter Cronkite moment just evaporated. Rats.

Joe Konrath said...

You have enough followers to make that happen and get some real data that matters.

But the people who follow my blog are mostly self pubbers, which means the data would be skewed.

A poll like that would have to be posted someplace neutral.

Livia Blackburne said...

Nice to see Literaticat come by and clarify things. That was very brave of you, and I respect that you kept things civil.

Aimless Writer said...

I smell fear in the agent's whining...er...I mean bitching...umm...comments.
I think what they need to do is step up and reinvent themselves. Publishing has changed and you either change along with it, or get left behind.

Joe Konrath said...

my personal Walter Cronkite moment just evaporated

And that's the way it is.

;)

Veronica - Eloheim said...

For me, the fascinating bit is not if self-publishers are earning as much as the top earners in the legacy system, it's about how many people would probably NEVER had made a dime in legacy who are now making a "good" amount.

The number of people that are making a car payment, or paying a mortgage, or able to quit a regular job to work as a full-time author.

From what I can tell, there are a lot of them (myself included) and their successes seem to be discounted by those that are legacy focused. I don't have a specific quote to reference and I wish I did. I guess it's just an overall sense from reading lots of blogs for the last two years.

Under the old system, I might still be trying to get a contract and may never have been published. Under the new system, I'm earning NOW.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Ms. Laughran,

I thought your original explanation was fine and understandable. You jumped in on a tweet exchange and said something flip. If everyone on Twitter can't understand that, they aren't being honest.

I'm very glad to know the explanation was your intent and not the non-apology. Thanks for returning and setting that straight.

Jacob Chastain said...

Personally, I would love an article on Hybrid Authors, or one from a traditional author. I think the blog and the readers would benefit...

Also, I would love a post on writing quality. Specifically, finding ways to edit work when you have no friends who read or money to buy an editor.... A real problem of mine that's making me extremely self conscious as a writer.

I feel like I can write fiction people want to read...I'm just struggling to believe it after reviews that insult the quality of my work (rightly so in many cases)...Though, now hat I am looking to create a hardcore horror brand, this seems to weigh even more on me.

Just saying. :|

Ripley King said...

I can't help but think over my last twenty years. I worked hard to get my credits, only to discover they didn't mean shit. The last query I ever sent out said, "This query is as worthless as tits on a telephone pole. Just read the first ten pages and send me your rejection."

The response I got back surprised me. It was akin to "Who the hell did I think I was?!"

I'm not joking. I did that, and that's what I got back. That was the last time I ever contacted an agent.

In the last twenty years I've made less than $500, while one of my small publishers added a $150,000 addition to his home. He bragged about in an e-mail, not too long after sending me a check for $14 for a year's worth of sales.

The outright arrogance I've seen over the last twenty years would shock most of you, the thievery, and so would the author response. The fear I saw, because authors dreamed a little dream of being published. This wasn't not rocking the boat type fear, this was closing the curtains and locking the doors, pretending the murder never happened type fear. I lost so many friends when I spoke up over our treatment from several bad publishers, I was considered toxic.

What you are witnessing is the shoe on the other foot. They fear us. We have always held the power, and now we know it, and now they know it, too.

Reason does not exist when drenched in fear. I've seen both sides of this strange coin. I say let them die the deaths they gave so many of us. Yes, I'm still bitter.

One friend I know quit writing. She gave up her dream. She had been screwed every step of her way by publishers, and authors, too. These established authors, some of the biggest names in horror, they just used her and threw her away when she asked for more of her share. They were trying to save their own asses, you see. The horror market had tanked, and they were scrambling.

I could go on and on, but won't. Fear makes people do and say strange things. To be fearless is a blessing. Now go buy my books. I need the money.

Jude Hardin said...

Personally, I would love an article on Hybrid Authors...

Here's Michael J. Sullivan being interviewed by Bob Mayer on April 20 at DIGITAL BOOK WORLD.

Pretty much says it all.

Julius St. Clair said...

I just want to thank you Joe for your blog because it has been a wonderful light for my path as a writer. In only six months, my wife and I were able to quit teaching and live solely off my self-published works. Thank you so much for your wisdom. It works. Traditional publishing has failed me time and time again.

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks for the thoughts, everyone. Jennifer, I didn't feel insulted; I was surprised at how many agents were advising others not to listen to a contrary view. But I understand now you were only joking and apologies for having lumped you in with the other agents (whose advice I'm confident was not in jest!). And thanks very much for coming by to explain.

Veronica - Eloheim said...

From the article that Jude linked:
Michael J. Sullivan being interviewed by Bob Mayer

"The media loves to focus on outliers like Hocking, Locke, and Howey, but the truly amazing thing is all the indies who are quietly making five and six-figure incomes. I actually know more self-published authors who earn a full-time living than I do traditionally published ones."

Anonymous said...


I thought that "Amazon Author Rank" was amazing, until I saw that J. K. Rowling was ranked at #94.

Then I realized that when they say "updated hourly", it probably meant the ranks are who sold the most books for that one hour, and not who sold the most books ever.

But I don't know how they calculate the ranks so I could be wrong.

But then how do you explain J. K. Rowling ranked at #94?

France Forever said...

What happened to the idea of "knowledge is power," let alone opening one's mind to change and new ideas?! The negativity and boycotting you mention is astounding, and I would never want those people to represent me or my books. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...


Midlist writers just don't understand that their time in the limelight (however strong or weak) is limited--for both the trad midlist AND the indie e-publisher midlist.

For the trad publishers, shelf space is limited. So as hot new up-and-comers emerge, then some of the older midlisters gotta be let go.

For the indie e-publisher midlist, as more and more competitors enter the e-publishing arena--that just means more writers you have to jump over to reach the higher echelons of visibility on Amazon or any other e-publishing venue.
Jumping over 100 competing indie authors to get to "visibility" rank is hard--jumping over 1,000 competing indie authors is a lot harder. Now try jumping over 10 thousand to 100 thousand competing indie authors.

Some people just don't understand...

If you are the buyer, then competition is good for you.

If you are the seller, then competition is BAD for you.

You gotta get yours while the gettin is good.

Cuz it ain't gonna last.

Alice said...

I'm very grateful for posts like this which tell authors about our options. Thank you! :)

David Gaughran said...

Yo @anonymous:

Whether you publish with a tradional publisher or self-publish your own work, your book will be competing in the *exact same* digital marketplace.

It's bizarre. I see this myth being propagated all the time. Authors will say they don't want to self-publish, because their book will be lost in a sea of other self-published work. Well, guess what, if you go with a publisher, your book will get dropped in the same ocean of titles.

In other words, visibility challenges are the same no matter how you are published. The question is whether your publisher will do anything to make your book visible. In the vast majority of cases, the answer is simple: no.

The only group out there I see getting savvy about besting that visibility challenge, by running limited time sales like Joe is doing, by free-pulsing their titles through KDP Select, by engaging readers through social media, by taking out ad spots on popular reader sites - are self-publishers.

You're correct in saying visibility on retailers like Amazon is a challenge, but incorrect in saying it's exclusively a challenge for self-publishers. In fact, we're the only ones getting to grips with that challenge.

Anonymous said...


"David Gaughran said...
Yo @anonymous:

Whether you publish with a tradional publisher or self-publish your own work, your book will be competing in the *exact same* digital marketplace."

I don't have any argument with that.

"David Gaughran said...
It's bizarre. I see this myth being propagated all the time. Authors will say they don't want to self-publish, because their book will be lost in a sea of other self-published work."

I don't think I made that argument. But just to clarify, it was not my intention to do so--if that perception that I made that argument was recieved by anyone.

"David Gaughran said...
Well, guess what, if you go with a publisher, your book will get dropped in the same ocean of titles.

Well, that is a repetition of the point you made in your first paragraph--and I don't argue with it.

"David Gaughran said...
In other words, visibility challenges are the same no matter how you are published."

Third time's a charm--I still don't have an argument with the repeated point.

"David Gaughran said...
The question is whether your publisher will do anything to make your book visible. In the vast majority of cases, the answer is simple: no."

I can see why they would put most of their marketing muscle behind their bestsellers. It sucks, but they owe it to their stockholders to make the best decisions that would have the best chance of earning the best return on their marketing investment. If you were interested in making the most money for your stockholders, who would you market more: Stephen King or the average midlister?
I'm not saying it's the right thing to do for the authors, but I can see it being the right thing to do for the stockholders.

"David Gaughran said...
The only group out there I see getting savvy about besting that visibility challenge, by running limited time sales like Joe is doing, by free-pulsing their titles through KDP Select, by engaging readers through social media, by taking out ad spots on popular reader sites - are self-publishers."

Well, good for them. :)
Like I said, you gotta get yours while the gettin is good, cuz it ain't gonna last. The trad AND indie bestsellers are gonna rise to the top, and those less talented are gonna get pushed further and further down the lists as MORE COMPETITION ARRIVES.

"David Gaughran said...
You're correct in saying visibility on retailers like Amazon is a challenge, but incorrect in saying it's exclusively a challenge for self-publishers. In fact, we're the only ones getting to grips with that challenge."

I didn't say anything like that.
Please don't put words in my mouth.

In my original post, I never picked a side.

In fact I'm on the side of indie authors AND hybrid authors.

My point, which I didn't make clear because I didn't want to open up a can of worms (Joe Konrath and I debated this before in his comments area, he thinks he won, and I think I won), was that COMPETITION IS BAD. Provoking a hornets nest, i.e. causing a flood of new and very talented former trad publishers to enter the indie arena is gonna make getting visibility that much harder for current indie authors who are already struggling to get noticed.

A Beer For The Shower said...

We usually attend the PPWC, but due to the digital denial attitude permeating the conference we didn't go this year. That, and success of our own indie publishing path has left the agents and editors of the conference kind of useless on our end (including a Random House VP who offered us a deal and then retracted it before contract). Here's a tip list for new writers we put together for our weekend post:

http://www.abeerfortheshower.com/2013/04/tips-for-new-writers.html

Matt Billock said...

Excellent points, from both Barry and Joe. I think the most important thing about the entire situation is that the choice is there, and as Joe and Barry both said: that choice is the best thing to happen to authors in a while.

It seems like there is a lot of knee-jerk reacting going on in all corners, sometimes. It reminds me a lot of the RIAA fighting to keep a failed business model for music propped up as long as possible. If someone can fully disrupt the print space like ebooks have disrupted the electronic space, then publishers only have a matter of time until they go the way of the dodo. Given that they can leverage economies of scale in their publication efforts, though, I don't see this happening any time soon.

Is traditional publishing the proverbial buggy whip manufacturer at the advent of the automobile? Maybe. I'm not sure I believe that. But their role is changing, and the one thing the past decade has taught us is that existing industries are very resistant to change.

Barry Eisler said...

A smart and nuanced take from Sean Cregan at Nameless Horror:

http://namelesshorror.com/post/48605772063/barry-eisler-and-publishers-as-paper-distributors

Anonymous said...


Addition to my Anonymous post at 7:03 AM:


"David Gaughran said...
The only group out there I see getting savvy about besting that visibility challenge, by running limited time sales like Joe is doing, by free-pulsing their titles through KDP Select, by engaging readers through social media, by taking out ad spots on popular reader sites - are self-publishers."

I forgot to make this point clear:

I agree that indie authors are pioneering the marketing techniques in the digital arena, AND that trad publishers are slow in copying the succesful marketing techniques that indie authors are using.

Weel, if the trad publishers and authors are slow on using these digital marketing techniques, then THE INDIES HAVE THE ADVANTAGE.

Why provoke the trad publishers and authors into entering the indie arena where they will study and learn the indie marketing techniques and become direct competitors:
1.) Price wise.
2.) And Strategy wise.

Walter Knight said...

The difference between self/small press publishing and Big Five New York elite publishing is the lottery process begins earlier in New York.

Marketing is a difficult process, but at least with small press or self publishing you achieve the opportunity to fail. With legacy publishers, you never get through the front door. The New York Big Five are mostly interested in celebrities, anyway.

Validation of your work used to be getting your books on a bookstore bookshelf. Now, it's sales. I'll settle for sales.

Both routes are a lottery, but the Big Five shuts you down much earlier in the process.

James Scott Bell said...

COMPETITION IS BAD.

But if competition is outlawed, only outlaws will compete.

Competition isn't bad or good. Is simply is. It is made bad or good by what we think about it and how we respond to it. If one fears it, and therefore walks away, there is no chance of success. But if one uses it to work harder, get better and (most important) stay in the game, there is always the chance of going higher up the ladder (which movement is more likely these days for the dedicated self-publishing and hybrid writer).

Grammopticon: said...

Just for the record: Legacy publishers would LOVE to have every one of their books in WalMart, selling by the stack at B&N, etc. Only a few books land in those places, not because the publisher doesn't want them to--the publisher only makes money if they sell books--but because those stores' buyers don't believe they can sell every book in mass quantity. It's not so much a crapshoot as the choice of major chain stores' buyers.

Everybody up and down the line makes choices: the editor chooses this ms over that one because s/he only has so much money to spend, and thinks one has a better chance of selling than the other; the marketing department chooses this book to promote heavily because they believe it has a better chance of delivering a big return on the investment; the buyer at the chain store only has so much shelf space and needs to fill it with titles that s/he believes are most likely to sell. The biggest difference between print and digital is that digital has greater tolerance for the long tail. Digital can take more chances because there's less up-front investment in paper, printers, warehouses, trucks, inventory management systems, etc.

There used to be another difference between the self-publisher (in any format) and the legacy publisher: expertise. Expertise can be bought by anyone, though, and self-publishing authors are realizing this and not trying to do it all themselves. Meantime, legacy publishers, in order to assure or increase profitability, are cutting corners, so not every book is getting the same editorial attention, etc. That's the part of the playing field that has dramatically leveled, in my opinion.

Alan Spade said...

Competition isn't bad, as long as every competitor gets a fair chance at it.

Travis Luedke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Travis Luedke said...

I am relatively new to this game of self-publishing, being that I first published in September 2012. I have 3 novels now and will release my fourth in a week, and a fifth novel in another month. (They were all written two years ago--just being edited now)

I have spent many many hours scouring the internet, listening to successful self-pub authors, and learning the ins and outs. There's a few basic truths I have figured out:

1. I can easily get affordable and quality cover art that meets or exceeds my design specs.

2. I can use social media and an existing fan base to launch a new publication at virtually zero cost. If I do spend money, the paid advertising pays for itself and then some.

3. I can give away books all day long for reviews, and gain readers and fans by doing so. I have several book blogs that loved me on my last blog tour, and they are clamoring for my next books.

4. I work with a group of fellow authors for critique/editing and I critique/edit their work in exchange. I also have beta readers who help refine the final polish of my work. I don't pay any of them a single dime.

5. Everything a publishing company does can be outsourced or done for free. Beyond a huge advance paycheck or foreign rights sales, there is NOTHING a traditional publisher has to offer that I want or need.

Spend a few months or a year learning this stuff, and for the rest of your life you'll have the capability of publishing anything you write.

Ebooks sit on the digital shelves forever.

David Gaughran said...

Yo @anonymous

Apologies for misreading your position. It appears the only area of disagreement we have is with regard to competition.

You seem to be under the impression that (a) competition is bad and (b) that we can or should stop it.

I think competition is a good thing. It makes everyone raise their game. It brings more readers into the digital fold (more great books at cheaper prices drive adoption).

But even if you don't agree with that, you can't stop competition anyway. You might be able to stem the flow of information, but I'm not the kind of guy who pulls the ladder up after me.

In any event, I think you're overestimating the ability of agents and publishers to adapt to change. Joe has been blogging about cheaper prices for years. How many publishers price cheaply across their list?

MJRose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Coker said...

Great job, Barry. Wish I was there to cheer you on. Every service provider that stands between the author and the reader is an intermediary. An intermediary can be good or bad. If the intermediary adds value in excess of the toll they take, then they're a valued partner to the author. If they don't add value (or that value is not recognized as value by the author), they'll be viewed as a parasite and will be pushed out of the system. In a nutshell, the existential threat faced by publishers is that the rate at which they can add additional value above and beyond their current capacity is not growing as quickly as the author's capacity to yield increased value by other more efficient means.

Did you have a presentation deck? Is it posted online?

MJRose said...

Barry - you make a lot of great points. Writers need agents who are willing to have frank conversations about todays publishing world.

And there are wonderful agents out there who are more than happy to examine hybrid publishing with their clients and still have their clients interests at heart. I have one, your wife is one, I believe Joe has one and I know many others.

It's the wild west out there and it changes every day and we all - agents, writers, publishers, distributors need to be open minded and keep educating ourselves.

For the record, I do both trad and self and find value in both. And I deleted my previous comment only b/c of a typo.

Anonymous said...

Barry,

I agree with you 100%. If you are talking about thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, erotica or any other genre.

For literary fiction, you need paper. Most people who read literary fiction still read it in paperback or hardcover. Also, most people who read literary fiction will never read books or stories from self-published authors.

Tuan Ho said...

Wish I was there! :)

Heather said...

Barry, I was at the PPWC conference and I thought it was a wonderful speech. I had hoped you would have said more about your own self-publishing experiences but I understand why you were very careful not to offend. I can only assume the agents and editors reacted the way they did because they knew your history and they were reading between the lines. Your being one of the keynote speakers was the main reason I attended this year.
On a side note, it was interesting that for the first time at PPWC, they had extra available pitch sessions to agents and editors. I think more and more writers are deciding to explore their options.
Thanks for a great weekend!

Jude Hardin said...

The only group out there I see getting savvy about besting that visibility challenge, by running limited time sales like Joe is doing, by free-pulsing their titles through KDP Select, by engaging readers through social media, by taking out ad spots on popular reader sites - are self-publishers.

Traditional publishers are catching on. I'm seeing more and more of their titles on sale or free. About half the titles showing up in BookBub emails are traditionally-published, for example, and of course traditionally-published authors are all over the social media sites.

So competition is fierce from all sides, and it's only going to increase as more and more authors vie for visibility.

Jill James said...

You can't make people listen if they don't want to hear. I saw a loop this weekend where self-publishing was considered masterbatory. Some people just don't get it.

Jude Hardin said...

I saw a loop this weekend where self-publishing was considered masturbatory.

Like that's a bad thing.

Dustin Scott Wood said...

"Oh, I do want to say, I wasn't there. I only saw one quote that I have no other context for so I could totally be reading it wrong." Indeed. Why let a lack of any relevant knowledge get in the way of a chance to offer a string of public opinions?

Love that.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Just for the record: Legacy publishers would LOVE to have every one of their books in WalMart, selling by the stack at B&N, etc. Only a few books land in those places, not because the publisher doesn't want them to--the publisher only makes money if they sell books--but because those stores' buyers don't believe they can sell every book in mass quantity. It's not so much a crapshoot as the choice of major chain stores' buyers.

This comment reminded me of a story I was told when I first got into the business. I was having dinner with a veteran writer and he told me he once went to a large chain retailer's office and saw exactly how the decisions were made on what books to carry and what books to reject.

The buyer sat at a desk with a large stack of book covers in front of him. Not books. Just the cover flats. One by one he went through the stack and based his choices to keep or reject entirely on the cover art.

That's what we're up against when we traditionally publish.

Marie Simas said...

What you are witnessing is the shoe on the other foot. They fear us. We have always held the power, and now we know it, and now they know it, too.

There's only so many times you can kick a dog before it bites you.

Barry and Joe, thank you for having the balls to speak up.

After suffering some very humiliating rejections (but no actual publishing contract), I self-published.

Learned a lot from both of you (especially Joe), and I just finished the bookkeeping for my 2012 fiscal year-- $289,000 gross from self-publishing (both fiction and nonfiction--3 different pen names).

Suck on that, haters.

The only downside was my divorce in 2011... apparently some men have a difficult time when their wives suddenly start making 5X their salary. But I wouldn't change a thing. Indpendence is priceless.

Jill James said...

Yes, Jude. Like self-publishing is only to puff yourself up, not bring enjoyment to others.

Bridget McKenna said...

Re: Competition
However many millions of books are out there on the market, any one book is only in competition with the relative handful that book's potential readers will encounter on the way to finding it. Competing books with substandard covers and badly written sales copy, and those whose samples don't capture readers fall by the wayside, leaving each book in competition with a smaller and smaller number of its peers. Our books have never competed with all the books, all the self-pub books, or all the anything you care to name.

Patrick Szabo said...

Anonymous said:

Barry,

I agree with you 100%. If you are talking about thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, erotica or any other genre.

For literary fiction, you need paper. Most people who read literary fiction still read it in paperback or hardcover. Also, most people who read literary fiction will never read books or stories from self-published authors.


I don't need people that love to smell their own farts reading my stuff. I don't write for them. Fuck 'em. Twice.

Tracy Sharp said...

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."

Albert Einstein

Wish I'd been there. I'm disgusted to hear about the way people acted during your talk, and by the are still acting. Smells like fear to me.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I don't need people that love to smell their own farts reading my stuff. I don't write for them. Fuck 'em. Twice.

ROTFL.

John DuMond said...

"For literary fiction, you need paper. Most people who read literary fiction still read it in paperback or hardcover. Also, most people who read literary fiction will never read books or stories from self-published authors."

So... most readers of literary fiction are luddite snobs?

Werner said...

It's hard to tell.

Are you and Barry are in the middle of the "Ridiculed" or "Violently Opposed" stage of Arthur Schopenhauer's 3 Stages of Change?

Joe Konrath said...

In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

Orwell.

Absolutely*Kate ~ Author / Promoter said...

Voices & Choices, choices and voices . . .

Praise be to the hooters and hollerers, heralds and truth/sooth-sayers (Barry & Joe's reps come to mind -- as do so very many in our wordsworthy writing realm, jiving-in here) who takes us all the higher as our publishing pages turn from paper to non-dismissable digital.

These times they are a'changin' and the pieces (and peaces) of pie are doling out bigger bites.

Damn good presentation PLUS dynamics down here in Comment'ville. Rock on Authors and genuine folk who tender a "reach" to those on their worthy rise.

~ Absolutely*Kate, Author / Promoter/Presenter-of-Authors / and even a developmental editor ... Believing in Believers ... and moxie. World needs more moxie

{Good job on that Al Einstein quotation. Apt fit.}

Walter Knight said...

In 2010 and 2011 independant and small press publishers had an advantage over large publishers, but The Big Five are catching up by dumping backlist books on the E-book market.

Our Kindle secret is out.

Jude Hardin said...

Damn it! I need to remind myself to always put a ;) after anything about masturbation.

;)

Jude Hardin said...

I have to say, these sound pretty cool.

http://www.harpercollins.com/feature/eeb/

Kenn Amdahl said...

I've been making my living self publishing for 23 years. I agree with you in general, but it has always been possible to get "distribution" via Ingram, BT, and the others. Hard, but possible. And most wholesalers don't promote the books at all. Then Barnes and Noble started it's own "distribution" system and buys direct from me and others of my ilk. That being said, yes, distribution is the most valuable thing Real Publishers bring to the table. My first book has sold nearly 100,000 paper copies without a Real Publisher. Maybe it would have done better with their expertise and connections. Maybe my other books would have sold more copies too. But I've had a pretty nice writing/publishing experience, met many cool folks, and kept a good credit rating. You should notice, however, that the people who disagreed with you have their own dogs in the fight. The editors think editing is the most important value; the agents think the deal is, etc. You can't really be surprised when they get upset when you suggest their role isn't as important as someone elses.

Joe Konrath said...

For those who are interested in numbers, so far I've had over 70,000 ebook sales and borrows on Amazon this month (it's the 22nd) including A-pub and foreign sites.

Not a bad month. ;)

Sorche Fairbank said...

Sorche Fairbank here, more than happy to chime in. I was not aware of this post until a couple of hours ago.

First point I’d like to stress: I am not in digital denial. I am not against self publishing/indie publishing, ebook only/hybrid authors, the digital revolution/evolution/uprising. Never have been. This is a pretty exciting time to be in publishing, for all of us. I support choices for writers, as anyone who attended my sessions, and even pitch sessions this past week would know.

I have made digital deals (15 backlist books to date), I have repped a book (sold to Random House) that was self-published first, not because it had great sales numbers (it didn’t) or was low-hanging fruit, but because I fell I love with it and wanted to give it the best chance I knew how to give. I frequent conferences like DBW, try to stay as informed as time allows, and I would never rule out a hybrid author or deal if the right project/client came along. If an author of mine wasn’t feeling the love from traditional publishing and wanted to look into indie options for a next book, I don’t know that I’d stay involved with the process of that, but I’d absolutely be there to talk over options. My reality is that much of my list is not suited for digital – I do very little genre fiction.

What I react strongly to is the evangelical fervor and absolutism that is increasingly widening this us vs. them wedge. And at Pikes Peak Writers Conference on Saturday, I helped widen that wedge myself, for which I’d like to apologize before addressing a few other points.

My tweet quoting Barry was a knee-jerk reaction to two specific things he said that I felt were either sloppily put or deliberately slanted and misleading. Although I wasn’t naming Barry or the conference in the general tweets, I agree that it was irresponsible to have done so. I apologized to the conference organizers, and do so now to those who were in attendance, including Barry Eisler.

My first tweet, “When a keynoter offers up bullshit (publishers’ core value as paper distributors) at a writers conference, do I speak up? Develop Tourettes?” remains a valid question – what is an agent’s responsibility to writers at a conference if convinced information is misleading or even harmful? I hope I would have the same reaction if a publisher got up on the stand and offered overly slant opinion as fact. Again, taking it to Twitter was not the right move. As I told the conference organizers later, perhaps the best way to handle this new landscape of ours is not in a keynote, but as a keynote panel. Just as choice is good, so is the full spectrum of information and debate. Maybe we’d find that fork in the road where we started to diverge, rather than shout at each other from across a divide.

I also feel that it’s worth noting that just as I was not respectful to the writers in attendance by dissing the keynoter on Twitter, taking potshots from the podium at the publishing professionals whom the audience also came to meet with and learn from was not cool either. There were least four editors in attendance whose primary value there was presented to the audience as paper distributors.

And I want to be clear that while Barry had the time and space to be thorough in his blog post, I am addressing what was said in the keynote at the conference. Specifically: Publishers’ core value as paper distributors, and later, the idea of publishing (traditional or self) as a lottery, which gives short shrift to skill, craft, persistence, and so many other factors. The former I think was incredibly careless to toss out as a fact; the latter was more something to which I had a more subjective objection. For Eisler, Konrath, and many others who’ve found such success in digital, I would hope that your insight and knowledge and even opinion could be shared without it furthering a "you’re with us or against us" absolutism mentality that I see so much of. Same goes for those on the traditional publishing side of things. With great platform or influence comes great responsibility. (continued)

Sorche Fairbank said...

(Continued)

A few last thoughts:

To @literaticat and any others dragged into this because they responded to my general tweets, which did not name conference or keynoter, apologies.

To anonymous: in Gaelic, my name actually means Sarah, not douche. I looked it up.

And Konrath? Yeah, I’ve liked my horse in the race just fine for a while now. It’s a big track, and I don’t keep blinders on.

- Sorche

G. M. Frazier said...

For literary fiction, you need paper. Most people who read literary fiction still read it in paperback or hardcover. Also, most people who read literary fiction will never read books or stories from self-published authors.

Really? Over 25,000 people who bought my next to last novel (A Death on the Wolf) would disagree. Of course, you could be right if they hit the "Buy" button with no intention of reading it.

Joe Konrath said...

Thanks for posting, Sorche. Very cool, and gutsy, for you to do. And thanks for the clarification.

Since you stopped by, I believe it would be beneficial to defend your position a bit more about legacy publishing not being a lottery, and paper distribution not being the only essential service a legacy publisher offers.

I believe that legacy publishing is the entity that gives short shrift to skill, craft, and persistence, and I know you've seen many examples of that personally. You've no doubt had clients with amazing books that you were unable to sell. You've no doubt seen amazing books get orphaned by publishers for one reason or another.

The fact is, the best books don't always sell very well, and the best books don't always get five-star treatment from publishers. That's what Barry and I mean by lottery. That and the fact that I've made over a million dollars on books that publishers rejected.

I would hope that your insight and knowledge and even opinion could be shared without it furthering a "you’re with us or against us" absolutism mentality that I see so much of.

If you see so much of it, can you provide some quotes?

I'm confrontational on this blog, but it has never been us vs. them. It's been about choice, and making smart, informed decisions, and taking certain folks and institutions to task (the AAR, the AG) for harming writers.

Joe Konrath said...

And Konrath? Yeah, I’ve liked my horse in the race just fine for a while now. It’s a big track, and I don’t keep blinders on.

Your horse in this race has been essential until recently. Pretty much all writers needed a good agent in order to sell books. Without one, many big publishers wouldn't even consider a book.

I don't know if you saw my post above, but I've sold over 70,000 ebooks on Amazon in 22 days. By myself. And I'm not the only one doing this.

Writers are adapting to this changing market. Your services, once essential, have become optional.

Good agents have figured out how to bring extra value to their clients. My agent continues to make a lot of money for me. She's looking at the future, and adjusting accordingly.

It's good you don't have blinders on. But Barry is rarely sloppy or misleading. I know him pretty well, and can list a lot of his flaws, but those aren't among them. If you took such a strong stance against those two points he (rightly and correctly) made, are you sure the blinders are fully off?

Also, I apologize for the rude behavior of that anonymous coward. You've shown yourself to be smart, and classy, and thanks again for dropping by.

Ripley King said...

The us vs them wedge isn't of our construction. We just got tired of being used like TP.

Authors for two decades have wanted an alternative to the complete lack of respect, so when Xlibris popped up, many of us that could, did. Even if we had to sit in a booth at the county fair, we sold our books. Some of us were amazing, but not commercial enough for agents or publishers. We were labeled ignorant fools, discredited in every way possible.

Catalog publishers used the concept of "net" to steal everything from us they could. Big publishers kept reducing advances until the joke wasn't on us, we were the joke itself. Again the pressure was on for the reading public to think all of us as nothing but deluded morons. Turns out, some of us were amazing.

Wanting that dream as published authors kept our mouths shut. However, not anymore. Now we can and do speak our minds.

We don't even have to spend a dime to get our stories to the public, but we have to be good storytellers, good editors, good cover artists, and whatever else we need to be. We can buy services, or invest in ourselves, learning to be great.

The rub is, right now, we have the largest worldwide distribution network ever imagined, paper or digital, and it doesn't cost us a dime.

The only people who matter to us are the readers. They are the gatekeepers.

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks Mark, it would have been good to see you there. I don't have any presentation materials; when I do these things, it's always from an outline in my head. But the bullet points in this post are a pretty good summary, I think.

MJ, agreed, there are some amazing agents out there! Again, part of what's strange about agents getting so upset about my talk is that I think smart agents have a bright future in new publishing.

Anonymous, I want to make sure when you say we agree, we're talking about the same thing (not that I want us to disagree…;)). My main point is that because writers have new choices, we need a framework for making the choices that are best for us. I don't know that much about the literary fiction market, but if it's true that for whatever reason there are certain advantages to going the legacy route with literary fiction that aren't as present with other types of fiction, a literary fiction writer would weigh the various options differently and possibly come to a different conclusion from, say, the thriller writer. I think that's great -- again, what interests me is a sound methodology for making intelligent choices, rather than the individual choices themselves.

Heather, in retrospect maybe I should have said more about my own path, but I had only 20 minutes or so. To the extent I talk about my own experiences, it's always with a view toward "this can work, so treat is as a possible example" rather than "this is the right way to do things for everyone." And maybe if I had brought up my own experiences in that regard while also using legacy publishing success stories as counterexamples, it would have been a good way to make my points. Well, there's always next time… :)

Jude Hardin said...

My reality is that much of my list is not suited for digital – I do very little genre fiction.

Interesting. I think this might be part of the problem that leads to an us vs them mentality, especially among the self-published crowd. Most indies do write genre fiction, so I think we sometimes make gross generalizations about the publishing industry based on our experiences within that limited framework.

From that perspective, I can see why some agents and editors might have been taken aback by statements that paper distribution is the only essential service traditional publishing offers, and that it's basically a lottery when it comes to who gets golden treatment. Those statements might be true enough for much of the genre fiction arena, but they're are probably not true across the board.

Something to think about.

David LeRoy said...

I think it is very interesting that the reaction of these agents to the simple facts of what has been taking place in the market for the past 36 months is contempt and scorn. Typically, Narcissistic personalities are the most likely to not only reject what you have to say, but degrade and attempt to smear your reputation.

Maybe that is agents largest problem? They are rather narcissistic and unable to see any value in any other opinion than there own.

Barry Eisler said...

Sorche, first, huge respect and appreciation to you for coming by here to share your thoughts. Reading your post, it's obvious to me that you're committed to helping writers succeed -- something I care a great deal about, as well. No one has all the answers or any perfect answers, and the more we engage in productive dialogues like this one, the more we can refine our thinking and the more everyone gains. This is why I was so concerned by what struck me as a kind of overly hostile, fingers-in-the-ears approach in some circles. I relish this kind of reasoned discussion, and I really appreciate and admire your willingness to engage.

So you'll be unsurprised to learn that I *love* your idea of a panel on the advantages and disadvantages of the various options in publishing. In fact, if we ever have a chance, I'd welcome the opportunity to join that panel with you. Not because we agree on everything -- we obviously don't! -- but because what you're saying here and the way you're saying it makes our disagreement so potentially productive. Again, no one has all the answers, and if we engage like this, everyone can get smarter and better informed as a result.

One thing you mentioned that I still don't think I understand. You say that I took "potshots from the podium at the publishing professionals whom the audience also came to meet with and learn from [and that] was not cool either. There were least four editors in attendance whose primary value there was presented to the audience as paper distributors."

I just don't understand how this point could reasonably taken as a potshot, and I certainly didn't intend it this way. I've tried hard to explain why I believe big publishing's greatest traditional value add has been paper distribution, and I've taken care to emphasize -- in my talk and in my bullet-point summary here -- that I absolutely don't believe paper distribution is the *only* value publishers have traditionally offered.

So can I ask, what do you believe is publishing's primary value-add? Is it editorial? Copyediting? Proofreading? Cover design? Jacket copy? Marketing? Public relations? Some other function that I'm missing? The problem I'm having is that I can't imagine an answer other than "paper distribution." But I recognize I could be missing something, and I'm trying to figure out what it is.

Maybe the misunderstanding we're having has to do with nomenclature. By "primary," I mean most important, most valuable, least possible to acquire elsewhere. That is, I can hire an editor for a few thousand dollars, but I can't very well buy a fleet of trucks, a nationwide system of warehouses, etc. If my usage comes across differently to you, may I ask how?

Barry Eisler said...

The other area where we seem to disagree has to do with my notion that a good way to understand publishing -- both legacy and self -- is as a lottery. I understand you believe my analogy "gives short shrift to skill, craft, persistence, and so many other factors." And I agree that skill, craft, persistence, etc are extremely important, so maybe the problem is that I didn't present this point as artfully as I might have.

The reason I think the lottery analogy is useful is this. Empirically speaking, we know that neither system -- no system -- of publishing is a guarantee of commercial success. Of course skill, craft, persistence, etc. can affect the odds of success, but almost everyone in publishing is trying hard and yet it's still true that only a tiny percentage succeeds. And we know that the number of writers who succeed in either system is tiny compared to the number who don't. It's important to understand this in part because many new writers mistakenly believe that self-publishing is an uncertain enterprise while legacy publishing offers some guaranteed outcome. I think it's more accurate to understand that *both* systems offer wildly long odds of success. Once we accept this, we can start analyzing the differences in the two different types of "lottery" to find which one is better for us. What are the range of payouts in both systems -- how much do the biggest winners make, what's the median and the mean, what shape and range are the bell-shaped curves of success and failure? And -- to your point -- to what extent can our application of skill, craft, persistence, etc affect the odds of achieving success in one system vs the other?

I certainly didn't mean to imply that publishing was a game of pure luck like an actual lottery is a game of pure luck, but I have to say I thought this was self-evident. If I believed publishing is literally a lottery rather than metaphorically so, I wouldn't spend so much time trying to help writers develop a framework for making good choices. I'd be more likely to say, "Hey, who cares, flip a coin, your chances of winning are the same no matter what."

So again, I believe my lottery analogy is an appropriate and useful one. But it's also fine if we don't see eye to eye on that, and again I'm grateful that you've taken the time to explain why you don't see it the way I do.

Also: extreme hat-tip for your responses to Anonymous and to Joe. And though it's not the least bit relevant, I have to say that I think Sorche is an unfairly cool name.

Lastly, even though I think calling someone a bullshitter is frequently a suboptimal way of beginning a dialogue, I can't really complain because: (i) I call Scott Turow a bullshitter all the time (in fairness, I have to add that I call him that because he never engages his critics or bothers to correct the mistakes they point out); and (ii) what really matters to me is the presence or absence of reasoned argument. If someone says, "Eisler, you are full of shit -- and here's why!", and follows it with evidence and argument, it's a productive exchange and I'm happy. I completely agree that responsible people should call bullshit when they see it -- in the media, at a conference, wherever. It wasn't being called a bullshitter (or worse) that troubled me -- it was that the people who were getting upset weren't trying to make a case for why.

So because you've now backed up the initial charge of "bullshit!" with reason and argument, I really don't think you owe me any apology. That said, I'm not only grateful, but also enormously impressed, and hope that in like circumstances I'll have the character to emulate your gracious, generous, and classy example. Sincere thanks and great respect, and I hope I'll get to say so in person sometime soon.

Barry Eisler said...

Just read a great post at Porter Anderson's blog at Publishing Perspectives. One small excerpt, but believe me, the whole post is worth reading (as usual):

http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/04/ether-for-authors-the-establishment-snipes-back/

"Three points Eisler does not bring up in his own defense are worth noting here:

(1) The highest-profile self-publishing deals of late with traditional houses have been for what?—print. Authors including Hugh Howey, Bella Andre, and Colleen Hoover have been able to retain ebook rights in major deals with large legacy publishers for print editions of their books. The fundamental validity of Eisler’s point is proved right there: Our most powerful self-publishers go to traditional publishers for that key asset, print distribution. And, in a major change from the past, they’re able to get those deals while not handing over control of their e-rights to those publishers. What’s more, in the domination of print distribution, there is a lot being said on behalf of major publishers, I hear nobody bad-mouthing their capabilities there..."

Read the rest at http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/04/ether-for-authors-the-establishment-snipes-back/

Michael Shepherd said...

Well, this dialogue was certainly enlightening. I was there for the fireworks, so I got that going for me...but it didn't seem like fireworks. It seemed like, 'this is the changing face of publishing', and you have options. To be honest, the world of publishing has always been of mystique, of haves/have nots, and the tipping point that signals that you've made it as an author. Now, suddenly, that isn't always the case. First, I believe, the reigning stigma was 'you couldn't play in the big leagues, kid...so you self-published'. While I've seen that beginning to slip away (the publishing world is grudgingly accepting change, as long as the change is akin to chipping ice cubes from icebergs), the monolith that is legacy publishing will continue to wrestle with accepting the lessening need of authors to need them. Not only does it threaten many traditionalists' livelihoods, but it's 'industry', it's been there forever, and its roots have sunk deeply into what, for decades, we believed was the only path to success. But, suddenly, it's not. The world of publishing is no longer a mystery. Write your heart out, do a little prep work, maybe pay a good graphic artist, and there you go--your hard-earned baby is in your hands...or available for a single click on Amazon. Is this a good thing? How can it not be? For many writers, their primary goal is to write something of value...not to be the next Stephen King...or JA Konrath...or Barry Eisler. To us, that's the lottery. That's the 'if only Ben Affleck finds my novel in his mailbox, maybe I'll have my own Mystic River or Shutter Island'. But self/indie pub provides the rest of us--the larger number who will find satisfaction with others who say "loved your book, when's the next one coming out"--we're looking for options. For avenues. For a way to make our dreams and our realities overlap. To Sorche...love your response. To Barry, I hope the two of you, as well as another out-of-the-box thinker, find your way to a panel. Two people with the same opinion--that's like watching the indifference of a too-long married couple who figure it's easier to stay on the merry-go-round than to give the rollercoaster a try. Anyway Barry, thanks for the speech you gave. Sorche, thanks for the thoughtful, well-crafted reply. PPW, thanks for putting you in the same room. Good stuff...

Sorche Fairbank said...

A few more random responses to the responses…

Regarding absolutism and evangelism, sheesh, I see and hear it all around me. I’m fine if straight to digital works for many folks, more power to all of you, but don’t tell me or my authors that I/we are going to hell if I’m not in lockstep with you in turning my back on traditional publishing. It’s working for my list and my clients, and I have a hell of a lot of respect in what publishers do well. Joe, you wanted an example - The night before Barry Eisler’s keynote speech, I was at a conference mixer where another faculty member declared “Every smart author is looking to self publishing.” It’s the Every/All/Us/Them shit that really gets my hackles up. When there is a room or ether full of new writers hungry for information, I feel it’s irresponsible to make grand statements, on either side.

Regarding agents being optional: My role as an agent has always been optional wrt authors, just even more so now. They can choose to work with me, another agent, perhaps directly with a smaller publisher, POD, or direct to digital. In fact I have a better chance at profitable and satisfying longterm relationships with clients if they have clearly made the choice to work with me over other options and other agents.

Joe and Barry both more or less asked what I thought publishers offer as the primary value, if it’s not paper distribution. Cover design? Marketing? PR? Editing? Sure, all of those things, but the PRIMARY value, I think, is actually the collective of most of these things. Or rather, it’s the process, the risk, and the collective expertise. I recall a VP at Dutton at Digital Book World saying that 42 people touch a book from acquisition to bookshelf at Penguin. To some that may sound woefully inefficient, and some of it may be, but I don’t think all those minds and hands and skillsets are focused on paper distribution. I like the idea that there’s a small village of people all committed to doing their part to get a book to succeed as best they can. It doesn’t always work, but the author gains more than a pretty book out of the experience. And if an agent has negotiated a good rights reversion clause, it’s not too long before that author can reissue it digitally and/or POD.

I mentioned risk as an asset. Publishers invest tens of thousands of dollars into every book they acquire, not counting advances. That risk, and that belief in a book and an author certainly does not guarantee success, but it counts for a lot. When writers hire out those individual roles (cover design, editing, marketing, etc.), these folks, talented and experienced or not, are not banking on the author, they are cashing a check. That process can work just fine, I am not dissing it, but it’s not with the same risk that publishers take on. And I bristle at the accusations in the comments that publishers are out to screw authors. That is not the same thing as saying that some and even many authors can do better publishing digitally at a low price point. And I think that anyone who has seen a publisher’s P&L sheet will agree, at least in principal.



(continued. . .)

Sorche Fairbank said...

(continued. . .)
Process as an asset. This one is harder to explain, but I’ll try. By default, traditional, commercial publishing takes a while to get a book to market. But, at almost every step of the way, the product, and often the author, are improved. I think many books and the queries for them are not as good as they could or should be. An analogy can be found in photography. Back when we had to pay for film, we were a lot more careful about framing and composition, and we couldn’t readily make changes on the fly. Because publishing direct to digital is quicker, as is writing the book itself, I feel that too often, writers are shortchanging process. Maybe some of the process with traditional publishing is in part a byproduct of the machine in place for so long, but time and time again, I see better books and author growth come out of it.

I have to say again that most books I sell and work with are not the ones well suited for digital. For a good chunk of my list, book as object -- the production value -- is as important as what’s inside. At times, more. My points above reflect that. And for those reasons, I don’t know that I’d be helpful on a panel, as it’s not apples to apples, but I do wish we’d all broaden the conversation, and ease up on the diatribe.

Lastly, Barry asked that I clarify the potshot comment. I think that faculty at conferences have a responsibility to the attendees to not publicly undermine other faculty, unless it’s as part of a panel discussion where there can be a balance of opinion and information. I apologized because I took a potshot at your words, in a public post on Twitter. Not cool. I think it was irresponsible of you to dismiss the four or more publishing professionals on faculty as having a primary value as paper distributors. In my opinion it dismissed the expertise they brought to the conference, and devalued them in from of the attendees who had paid to learn from them. Attendees did not want to meet them to learn about paper distribution. Let’s keep the most debatable stuff on a panel, and really give authors an array of information choice.

Thanks for listening.

Sorche


Sorche Fairbank said...

My last comment – I just read my last two posts, and realized it may look like I was arguing for one way of publishing over another. I’m not. My points were to perhaps bring a little more balance to one of the ways to bring a book to market, and answer some of the points and questions Barry and Joe brought up. Also, thanks for having a discussion, rather than a shouting match.

Anthea L said...

@ Sorche

I think one of the biggest issues here is that this...

"But, at almost every step of the way, the product, and often the author, are improved."

... has been DEMONSTRABLY untrue for legions of genre fiction writers at the NY publishing houses for decades. And yet authors, *all* authors, are told that the above happens with every book. It does not. Over and over and over authors are not well-served by their publishers - most especially in genre fiction.

While what you say might be more true for some types of books, the genre fiction ghetto has been an ugly place for authors for a long time. It's incredibly liberating to be out of it.

So I think there's somewhat a failure of common perspective going on. The people who insist that Traditional Publishing is out to screw authors? Well, there's certainly some proof, in a myriad of instances. The people who insist that Traditional Publishing brings a lot of value to the table? Also true, in a myriad of instances.

The thing is, it's two completely different worldviews. The tail of the elephant, and the trunk. We're all feeling our way around the behemoth, and speaking the truths we've experienced.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Sorche: Brave woman; smart agent. Joe, you've finally found someone who will join the conversation!

Having read every word, Sorche, I still believe that for your average book, the "42 people touching a book" argument is the VERY reason it cannot make sense (except for the rare beautiful artifact) to do things the trad way. Who can afford (and why would you bother with) so many midwives, when the author can birth her own book perfectly well? And learn about the process in doing it? And keep that singular vision that all great art requires--for the story, the cover, the blurb, the marketing of the writer--to be focused and effective? Why would one WANT that committee of bakers? (Okay, I know I've mixed my birth and baking metaphors.) But I'm sure you're a lovely agent and will have a future because some agents are indeed worth it.

Adam Pepper said...

The us vs them mentality is never going away, because it appeals to so many. It’s actually been cultivated by those on the inside of the industry, who for years have decided who gets to play. If it appears there’s a lot of bittiness and sour grapes, it’s because there is, and much of it is justified. Why is it so commonplace for hopefuls to be treated poorly? Why do agents agree to represent writers and then do nothing with their work? Why do they call writers at home full of excitement, building up hopes, only to have a change of heart, and the author is never even given the courtesy of a form slip? Why do they attend pitch meetings, when they’re really only there as a favor to their client/GOH? I use these examples in the plural form, because they’ve happened so many times to myself and other writers.

When you stress things like hard work and persistence, we’d all agree those are admirable qualities, but they do not guarantee an opportunity. Many writers have the talent, but they don’t all get the opportunity. It is a lottery to rise from any slush pile. You can improve your odds, but you can also do everything right and fail.

For the new writer coming to the writers convention hungry for knowledge, they are far better off listening to Barry’s advice over yours Ms.Fairbank. And it’s in no way a reflection on your success at what you do, or a knock on your ethics or intentions. But the new writer starting out is going to fail 99.9% of the time going your way. We all fail. It takes a lottery winner to simply get invited to the party. Any success going it alone is more success than the new writer will get pursuing traditional publishing. Sure, there will be the .01, but when giving advice to strangers, it’s safe to assume they are in the vast majority.

The dream used to be to land an agent like Ms. Fairbank, sell your work to Random House and see your book on the shelves next to the authors you’ve admired your entire life. It’s not only the industry that’s changed. The dream has also changed.

Anonymous said...

I'm under a multi-book contract with one of the big 6 and found myself unexpectedly without an agent (it's a long, boring story).

I like having an agent because I like someone on my side that knows this business better than I do. But professionalism under pressure (and, please God, in all social media) is part of an agent's job. Crossing off a few names from my list of potential agents after following that twitter thread.

Frank Sergeant said...

> My first tweet, “When a keynoter offers up bullshit (publishers’ core value as paper distributors) at a writers conference, do I speak up? Develop Tourettes?” remains a valid question

So, repeating this indicates you stand by the above statement even after careful reflection?

> And I want to be clear that while Barry had the time and space to be thorough in his blog post, I am addressing what was said in the keynote at the conference. Specifically: Publishers’ core value as paper distributors, and later, the idea of publishing (traditional or self) as a lottery, which gives short shrift to skill, craft, persistence, and so many other factors. The former I think was incredibly careless to toss out as a fact;

So, it is incredibly careless to offer his opinion and explain why he believes it to be a fact, yet you feel it is ok after careful reflection to make fun of people with Tourette's?

Frank

Frank Sergeant said...

> (Okay, I know I've mixed my birth and baking metaphors.)

Perhaps the "bun in the oven" metaphor could unite them.


Frank

Joe Konrath said...

Thanks for stopping by again, Sorche.

That "every smart author is looking at self publishing comment" is fascinating, but I'm not sure it qualifies as absolutism. Every smart agent sends a manuscript to more than one editor, right? Having more choices means more opportunities.

Authors can gain a lot out of legacy publishing. I certainly learned a lot, and I met a lot of great, smart people in the business.

But I can also point to many mistakes my publishers made. Mistakes that hurt my sales, and my outlook on life. Do you know how depressing it is to visit 500 bookstores on tour and have your publisher still drop you? And it isn't like these books weren't selling--they were, and still are (after I got the rights back six of them hit the Amazon Top 100--not too many authors have had six books on that list at once.)

A lot of authors are justifiably discouraged with the legacy system. Some, by their experiences. Some, because they were never able to break in.

When legacy works, it can produce blockbusters. But do a few good experiences make up for so many bad ones?

And I bristle at the accusations in the comments that publishers are out to screw authors.

You've read a publishing contract recently, right? :)

I did a post a little while ago about how contracts do indeed screw authors. I'd love for you to take a look to see if you object to anything in it.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/unconscionability.html

My guess is you won't object to much. In fact, I bet you've tried, many times to get better terms for your clients and change some of these wildly unfair clauses.

I was one of the first authors ever to pull a book from a contract and self-pub. I was the first name author Amazon signed to their publishing program. I was one of the first author who had an agent that sold foreign and audio rights to books that he self-published.

I was once considered an outlier. A pariah. So was Barry, turning down a contract for half a million.

But this is happening more and more. David Gaughran has a great piece showing that self-publishers have captured 25% of the ebook market. That number will continue to rise.

That's what I meant about your horse in this race dying.

I never made this "us vs. them". All I ever wanted was to sell books and reach readers. And now I can do that effectively, whereas I couldn't when I had contracts with three major publishers.

I'm not an anomaly. I'm the norm. And if you look through your client list at all the authors whose careers have stalled, even though you gave them your best shot, you might ask yourself why you aren't telling them to self-publish, or even assisting them in doing so like my agent does.

cont...

Joe Konrath said...

As for Barry dismissing the four industry pros on faculty, he's still correct. Paper distribution is the most important thing they have to author.

Why don't they own that? Why would that hurt them?

If I were an editor from one of the Big 5, listening to Barry's speech, this would have been my response to him:

"While I believe that publishers have a lot to offer authors, I agree with Mr. Eisler that paper distribution is one of the most important things we offer. So every author in this room needs to ask herself, "Do I want to get my books into bookstores? Into libraries? Into big boxes like Walmart? If so, we're the only way to do that."

Instead of being offended by Barry, industry pros could have ran with it, and swayed a lot of authors toward their agenda.

Anonymous said...

"James Scott Bell said...
COMPETITION IS BAD.

But if competition is outlawed, only outlaws will compete."

I never said anything about competition being outlawed, but I have a feeling that your comment was in jest so I don't mind.
I will clarify my position after the next 2 quotes.

"David Gaughran said...
Yo @anonymous

Apologies for misreading your position."

Thanks.

"David Gaughran said...
You seem to be under the impression that (a) competition is bad..."

Yes, competition lessens your chances of success and is therefore bad for you.

"David Gaughran said...
...and (b) that we can or should stop it."

Once again you have read something in my post that I didn't say.
I probably should have been more clear. I don't mind NATURALLY OCCURING COMPETITION. Competition is always gonna be there whenever something worthwhile is desired by more than one party--namely the top spots in the Amazon rankings to get the much coveted "visibility" and as a result more book sales.
What I don't understand is WHY SOME PEOPLE GO OUT OF THEIR WAY JUST TO CREATE MORE COMPETITION. That kind of competition doesn't occur naturally, some people go out and create it--namely provoking the trad publishers and trad authors into using the indie marketing and pricing strategies.

Why? I just don't get it. Unless these parties get more attention and therefore more eyeballs on their books by talking about this subject, which of course is perfectly fine if it is their way of getting visibility and sales--I don't fault them for trying that.

"David Gaughran said...
The only group out there I see getting savvy about besting that visibility challenge, by running limited time sales like Joe is doing, by free-pulsing their titles through KDP Select, by engaging readers through social media, by taking out ad spots on popular reader sites - are self-publishers."

"Jude Hardin said...
Traditional publishers are catching on. I'm seeing more and more of their titles on sale or free. About half the titles showing up in BookBub emails are traditionally-published, for example, and of course traditionally-published authors are all over the social media sites.

So competition is fierce from all sides, and it's only going to increase as more and more authors vie for visibility."

"Walter Knight said...
In 2010 and 2011 independant and small press publishers had an advantage over large publishers, but The Big Five are catching up by dumping backlist books on the E-book market.

Our Kindle secret is out."

Like I said, you gotta get yours while the gettin is good, cuz it ain't gonna last--except for both the trad bestsellers AND indie bestsellers.

(continued...)

Anonymous said...


(continued...)

"James Scott Bell said...
Competition isn't bad or good. Is simply is. It is made bad or good by what we think about it and how we respond to it. If one fears it, and therefore walks away, there is no chance of success. But if one uses it to work harder, get better and (most important) stay in the game, there is always the chance of going higher up the ladder (which movement is more likely these days for the dedicated self-publishing and hybrid writer)."

That sounds good on the surface, but sometimes reality is a little colder than people realize--whether they work hard or not.
See the next quote, especially the last two sentences in it.

"Barry Eisler said...
The other area where we seem to disagree has to do with my notion that a good way to understand publishing -- both legacy and self -- is as a lottery. I understand you believe my analogy "gives short shrift to skill, craft, persistence, and so many other factors." And I agree that skill, craft, persistence, etc are extremely important, so maybe the problem is that I didn't present this point as artfully as I might have.

The reason I think the lottery analogy is useful is this. Empirically speaking, we know that neither system -- no system -- of publishing is a guarantee of commercial success. Of course skill, craft, persistence, etc. can affect the odds of success, but almost everyone in publishing is trying hard and yet it's still true that only a tiny percentage succeeds. And we know that the number of writers who succeed in either system is tiny compared to the number who don't."

Yes, almost everyone is working hard, yet only a tiny percentage succeeds.

"Adam Pepper said...
When you stress things like hard work and persistence, we’d all agree those are admirable qualities, but they do not guarantee an opportunity. Many writers have the talent, but they don’t all get the opportunity. It is a lottery to rise from any slush pile. You can improve your odds, but you can also do everything right and fail."

Yes, you can also do everything right and fail.

That is why I don't mind NATURALLY OCCURING COMPETITION.

But, I don't go out of my way to unduly make more competition for myself by provoking trad publishers and trad authors into entering the indie arena and start using indie pricing and marketing strategies.

The trad authors are trying to win the trad publishing lottery.

And the indie authors are trying to win the indie e-publishing lottery.

What people don't talk about (maybe they don't talk about it on purpose) is that there are essentially two kinds of indie authors:
1.) An indie author who never got a publishing deal from any publisher.
2.) And a former trad author who signed with a major publisher and is now becoming an indie author.

The indie e-publishing lottery is SKEWED in favor of the former trad author who is now becoming an indie author--because they bring their pre-built fan base along with them.

That's another reason why I don't go out of my way to unduly create more competition for myself.

Joe Konrath said...

Yes, competition lessens your chances of success and is therefore bad for you.

I've spoken at length about this before.

Books aren't zero sum. A reader who likes thrillers doesn't just read one author and avoid all others. That reader will read many different authors.

With the advent of ebooks, it has become even easier, because ebooks cost less and are delivered instantly.

As more and more publishers drop ebook prices (something I predicted would happen back in 2009), that gives readers more money in their pockets to buy more books.

Let's say you have $50 to spend on books, and you go into a Barnes and Noble with the intent to buy three new hardcovers at $17 each.

When you arrive, you see all hardcovers have been reduced to $2.

Do you still only buy three? Or do you actually spend more than the $50?

We've always had TBR piles. With ebooks, those piles will be bigger than ever.

Competition? Hardly. This is a buffet mentality. Eat until your stuffed, rest an hour, then eat some more.

Joe Konrath said...

I have to say again that most books I sell and work with are not the ones well suited for digital.

Yet. :)

Again, thanks for your responses, and I hope you stay to answer more questions because everyone seems to like what you're adding to the discussion, me included.

If there is really an "us vs. them", you're going a long way to destroy that mentality by posting on my blog, especially in such a reasoned and thoughtful manner.

Intelligent, civil discourse is how we all learn and improve.

Terri Herman-Ponce said...

This post is the perfect example of why I keep coming back to this blog. I learn so much and get the honest scoop. Kudos to you all for sharing war stories and insight. As an author myself, it's just what I need to keep reality in check as I try to find my way to making writing my day job.

Alan Spade said...

Anthea L. has been so right to dismiss that Sorche's statement :
"But, at almost every step of the way, the product, and often the author, are improved."

Indie authors have to prove innovative and to think outside the box. Most of all, they have to make their books enjoyable to the readers. Authors with a traditionnal publisher have to prove they are better than other authors in the same house, they have to please their publisher and their editor in the first place.

Both can learn in the process, but I bet a great deal of authors, by agreeing to unconscionable contracts (sometimes being convinced by their agent to do so), are quite lowering their self-esteem in the process.

Adam Pepper said...

I suppose it's true that all indies are hoping to hit the lottery, but they don't have to defy 1/100 odds to have some measure of success, whereas to rise from slush they do.

If industry insiders really care so much about new hopeful writers they meet at conventions, they should start by acknowledging that you have far better odds to achieve some measure of success self publishing.

If they really want to discourage the us vs them mentality, they should stop pretending the system is mystical and just, when its neither. It's flawed and human like every industry run by humans. And the simplest thing they can do to discourage the us vs them mentality is to remember every submission represents the hopes and dreams of an individual and treat that person with dignity. I can say with certainty that many don't.

Absolutely*Kate ~ Author / Promoter said...

Wow ~ What a powerhouse of publishing thought ... for potential, potential . . . all the turns of the coin to flip, have been created here.

Indeed, with such open back&forthing, this is a BOOK-in-the-making itself. Would be great for you to produce it Mr Konrath, with a Ms Fairbanks chapter . . . Hmmm?

EYES WIDE OPEN kinda titling, for all encompassed here, in CommentLand . . . but that's not why I came back. I think I chimed in as Commenter#103 and didn't think there could be anything else possible to say . . . except --

Do you all remember the old Westerns where a new yokel comes in to town, asks for the postmaster and the judge and sometimes the saloon-keeper too . . . and it's all the same feller -- who then reaches to his hat-rack for the big white Stetson, slow drawls out, "And I'm the Sheriff too." ? That's full e-booking it experience of today - The talk that Joe walks:
Write – Make it Good – Make it very good – Layout/Format – Cover/Design – E-Distribution Hookup - Market - Market - Hip Hep Hype -- and Keep it goin' - Keep it front burner – Check the #s – Garner Reviews – Stir some buzz, keep it in the News – Remember Interviews – all along . . . Write – Make it Good – Make it very good . . .

Flashback to that ol' fairytale ~ Rumplestiltsken -- What’s-in-the-room is in the little room. Then what's the wealth-wanting-tough-guy say when he closes the wooden door, locks her in? "Spin. Spin Gold." Well, we all know good ol' Rumple comes along and does her magic for her . . . but isn't the "gold spinner" the fired-up Author who wants to write, to write, to just shut the door and open the words and WRITE . . .

When you get in the flurry of that desire of that continuous process . . . the question is -- how justified is it, to the creator, to the end-user, pleased and waiting, to have another book in hand or view, whether paper paging or ebook scrolling?

Would we have known Hemingway and Fitzgerald as some of our greats, Bukowski if he went back down the basement to fiddle around with his formatting, knowing his cover sucked big time and would hurt him in Amazon likes, not to mention he had to bend more cronies arms to garner reviews, upscale his Amazonian logarithms?

Point is ... in all these passion-felt points of POV, there's wide-open choices for voices. You guys are paving the way for the voices to SEE . . . they/we have the friggin' wonders-full choices.

Thanks.
For your thoughts,
for this forum.


I'm sharing it all over tarnation -- well, at least WebTowne. This is great stuff. Be damned the Us against Thems and any kind of malarkey in superciliousness. You guys have stirred up a full menu for the ala-carters or the serve-it-for-me’s.

The writer who simply, thus strongly, wants to WRITE can learn to do all there is to do in the ensuing publishing/distribution/promotional process and be damn good at it. She/he can also avail themselves of some services along the way that up the ante of the turnout without getting any wind knocked out of sails.

Holy metaphor be forgiven, I simply, thus strongly, wished to chime in that the changing winds of today's and tomorrows’publishing are moving us past yesterdays’ to precisely where we can experiment, tinker or really wish we can be.

Hey, I still believe in Happy Endings and makin' 'em deem true.

~ Absolutely*Kate, Author/Promoter, hyper of Noir Nation and a new Developmental Editor with VegaWire Media (not trolling - rather indi'kating with the numbers of varied authors I stir & spark with, it's more splendid to offer all the doors which can be opened to meet and exceed their styles . . . to publishing destinies desired.

((mea culpa, no edits up above - I've got some writing to do))

Regina Richards said...

Amazon put another check in my bank account this week. I'm not getting rich, but I'm not having to work a day job and then come home to write what a publisher wants to sell at night. I can just stay home all day and write what I choose to write. That makes me happy.

Thanks for raising your voices, Joe and Barry.

Joel Q said...

Obviously I sat at the wrong table at lunch that day. I totally missed all the drama.

I thought Barry's speach was informative and he stated each author needs to figure out what is best for his/her unique situation.

The publishing market is changing. Writers have more choices.

JQ

David L. Shutter said...

DBW has a piece up on the #1 e-book seller from indie writer H.M. Ward.

An outlying lottery winner? Sure. You coudl say that.

But it's interesting to look at the dynamics behind her use of pricing to bolster visibility and sales.

"While an impressive achievement, there are a lot of things that can propel a book to No. 1. And when it’s priced at $0.99, price is likely one of those things.

Even with the low price, the sales numbers are still eye-popping. The author of Damaged, Holly Ward (who writes under H.M. Ward), told Digital Book World that since the title was released on April 2 it has sold more than 150,000 copies (many of them at $3.99 — she dropped the price last week when she noticed her title climbing the Kindle best-seller list and wanted to see if she could push it to No. 1)."


http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/self-published-ebooks-are-nos-1-and-2-best-sellers-average-price-drops-to-all-time-low/

Jenny said...

Excellent post. Fear is behind most, if not all, of the negativity shown by these agents and editors. They've lost the tight reign of control they once had over authors and they are defending their business. As with any indutsry that experiences change, if you plant your feet and refuse to budge (or even listen to what's being said), you risk getting left behind.

Alan Tucker said...

@Sorche: What you see as a "potshot" many of us who sit in front of a keyboard each day see as truth. If the publishing professionals in the audience (which from earlier comments sounds like were mostly editors) take umbrage from the paper distributor statement, I think they need to seriously reexamine their place in the industry. As has been stated already, as an indie, I can contract all of the services a major publisher provides EXCEPT physical distribution. Are those editors in the crowd good at what they do? I expect they are. Yet, their particular services can be found outside the big publishers.

I understand your "total package" argument, but I can see good and bad in that approach. I'm sure some books have become much better after the process, but I can imagine also a number of works have suffered because of it. How many times has a book failed because marketing didn't have the same vision for a title as editing, or cover art? I'm sure many who follow this blog can give numerous examples. So, while that sum is greater than all the parts idea sounds appealing, I think it fails as often as it succeeds.

I'm no expert. I've been floundering around for about three years now, writing books and trying different things. Nothing has really clicked yet, but I'm hopeful and continue to learn and grow as much as I can. Honest and frank discussion is very helpful in that!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Re: the "total package" argument, and the long line of people whose hands the book passes through:

I offer the total package to myself. And instead of forty or so people who are usually working on ten to thirty books at a time, I work only on one, from start to finish.

No matter how passionate an agent, editor, etc., may be about my book, they can never be quite as passionate as I am. And there have been a number of times that I've been frustrated by the traditional approach, because I had no control over those very important steps along the way to publication.

I do, however, value my time with traditional publishers and feel I learned a lot. I also enjoyed the ego-stroke of being "wanted" by a publisher. But no publisher can give my book the attention that I can, working on my own.

Barry Eisler said...

Rob -- this is why Guy Kawasaki calls self-publishing "artisanal publishing." I love that moniker. :)

Barry Eisler said...

Another interesting take, this one from FutureBook:

http://www.futurebook.net/content/publishing-more-broad-church-national-lottery

The comment I left there (and see David Gaughran's thoughts, too):

Philip, thanks for the thoughtful and insightful follow-up to my comments at PPWC and on Joe's blog. I'm grateful for your perspective for a number of reasons, not least my concern that I don't fall into the trap of engaging only with or even primarily with likeminded and similarly situated authors. My sense is that part of the reason "Authors Guild" president Scott Turow is wrong about just about everything he says is that he keeps himself in a bubble and performs whatever field research he does by engaging only people who are functionally just like him. I would never want to make that mistake. Anyway, I'm particularly grateful for your thoughts about how being a writer of genre thrillers might skew my view of the industry. A friend of mine -- a top nonfiction agent -- made a similar point to me offline, reminding me that I shouldn't assume that all authors are going to love the "do it yourself" aspects of self-publishing as much as I do. He's right and so are you.

So I want to reiterate that I definitely *don't* believe self-publishing is the right answer for everyone. Ditto for the legacy route (or traditional, or big, or New York… for me, all these descriptive terms are largely interchangeable, with varying virtues and shortcomings -- much like the terms self-publishing, indie publishing, and artisanal publishing) and for Amazon publishing, as well. As I tried to make clear in my talk and follow-up blog post, I don't believe there's any one-size-fits-all solution for authors, and what authors need is a sound framework into which they plug their own particulars to arrive at better decisions for themselves. Among those particulars, I listed objectives, skills, talents, inclinations, and an understanding of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two publishing systems, and how those systems work. To this, you've added something that I realize I haven't been calling out with sufficient specificity: the submarket an author is writing in. In fact, my agent friend made the same point offline: that for various reasons, nonfiction isn't as well-suited as, say, thrillers for self-publishing.

When I say "framework," fundamentally I'm talking about the right questions to ask. That is, one important question a writer should ask is, "How important to me is getting an advance (and how big is the advance)?" If the answer is, "Very important and very big," most likely traditional publishing will be the better fit (at least other things being equal). Another important question would be, "How much do I sell in paper vs how much do I sell in digital?" If the answer is, "Almost all my sales are digital," this would weigh heavily in the indie direction. There are dozens of additional such questions, and I agree that an understanding of the suitability of one's type of writing is one of them, or at least a useful way of organizing them.

So overall, I agree with your points, and I'm grateful that you made them because I think maybe I haven't been expressing myself as clearly on some of this as I'd like. There's just one point I want to clarify. You say, "However, there are other bits of the market that lend themselves less well to these self-publishing market forces, where publication, if it is to be done, needs a full range of services to back it (not just print distribution)."

(continued)

Barry Eisler said...

(continued)

The thing I want to clarify is this: I think *all* bits of the market need the full range of publishing services. To go from first draft manuscript to finished book (digital or paper) in a reader's hands, a number of tasks always has been and always will need to be performed: editorial, copyediting; proofreading; cover design; jacket copy; creation of the final product (printing for paper books; formatting for digital); distribution (trucks for paper books; upload for digital); and marketing, to name the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Some books might need more of one of these tasks than of others, but overall I think it's clear that a book intended for sale needs some degree of all of them. I think it's important to spell this out clearly because I believe that the proper problem to be solved isn't *which* books need all these tasks performed (they all do), but rather *how* these services can be performed most efficiently for a given book, and at what cost to the author. In fact, I think one useful way of understanding the impact of digital on publishing is to look at digital as an agent of disaggregation. Before digital, legacy publishers aggregated with distribution all the other tasks required to publish a book and presented it all to authors as a one-stop packaged service. But any author who doesn't need distribution from a publisher (that is, any author whose sales are primarily digital) is free to disaggregate the remaining tasks and have them performed by someone else.

But that's a somewhat separate story. The main thing is, I wouldn't want an author to be attracted to self-publishing because she believes that in self-publishing she won't need an editor. She certainly will (at least if she wants her book to be as good as it can be) -- but she'll be having that essential task performed in a different way and for a different cost.

Barry Eisler said...

Sorche, thanks for continuing to share your thoughts. I agree that the full package of services a big publisher offers is valuable, but certainly some of the included services will be more valuable than others. I think it's self evident that among all the services big publishing has traditionally offered, distribution has been the most important and otherwise unobtainable by authors. All this matters because one of the fundamental ways digital is affecting publishing is by enabling the disaggregation of previously bundled services. For more, see my comment above.

Anyway, I think I've made a persuasive case about the relative value of distribution vs all other publisher services, but I recognize you're not persuaded. And that's cool: the main thing is that we've each made as persuasive case as we can, and people now have the benefit of diverse views to help them come to their own conclusions.

I want to add that I still can't see how anything in my talk could be fairly characterized as a "potshot" or as "dismissing" publishing professionals. As Joe has pointed out in his comments above, if anything, New York should be taking my analysis as praise ("You want to be in the big box stores? There's only one road to that destination, and it goes through New York"), but regardless, I can't see anything I said as other than a straightforward description of something I believe is axiomatic.

You say, "Attendees did not want to meet them [publishing professionals] to learn about paper distribution." Probably that's true -- probably attendees wanted to meet with publishing professionals primarily in the hope of securing a publishing deal. But again, I don't see how anything I said could have interfered with that desire. I suppose it's possible that right on the spot I persuaded someone that he should stop trying to get that big legacy deal and immediately jump into self-publishing, but I suppose it's equally possible the opposite happened -- that someone who was contemplating self-publishing realized she was never going to be in Wal-Mart unless she landed that big traditional deal.

More importantly (and, I think, relevantly), attendees spent their time and money to attend the Pikes Peak Writers Conference to learn about the craft and the business of writing. My comments were about the business -- the new means writers have for reaching a mass market of readers, and how they can choose the means that's best for them. Judging from the response I've received from the writers in the audience, my comments were useful in this regard, and that's my primary concern. I never want to offend any one or hurt anyone's feelings, but those are secondary guidelines, subordinate to my primary purpose of getting to the heart of the matter and, in doing so, helping writers make good choices.

Barry Eisler said...

Actually, I just realized another way of illustrating my point about the primary importance of paper distribution. Sorche, I don't think we're going to see eye to eye on this, but I think it might be useful to anyone still unpersuaded.

I've been focusing my comments on paper distribution, but actually they apply more broadly, to distribution generally. That is, whether we're talking about paper or digital, the one thing writers can't hire out for themselves at a fixed cost is distribution. Assigning a price to paper distribution is difficult, but the market has assigned a price to digital distribution -- 30% of the list price of a book.

Most authors seem to think 30% is a fair price (or, even if they don't, they have no other choice -- again, illustrating my point that distribution is essential and not something authors can realistically outsource).

Now let me ask this: authors who are currently paying 30% to Amazon and other online retailers for distribution, would you pay 30% for any other publishing service? Editorial? Copyediting? Cover design? How about any combination of other services, or even for a combination of *all* other services?

I think we're going to have a hard time finding many authors who would say, "Sure, I'd pay someone 30% of list price to do everything but distribution."

If I'm right, it suggests that in digital publishing, the most important/valuable/difficult to replace service is distribution. I can't see any reason that things would be different in paper publishing.

Barry Eisler said...

And because we know that New York is typically paying authors only 17.5% digital royalties, while paying online retailers 30% for digital distribution, New York is effectively saying that "All publishing services except distribution" are worth 52.5% of the retail price of a book.

Hmm, I think I'm going to call that APSED. Because the world needs another acronym. :)

For authors who feel that APSED (what, did you think I was kidding?) is worth 52.5%, the traditional route makes sense. For authors who would rather pay fixed fees for APSED, self-publishing will be more appealing.

Jude Hardin said...

For authors who feel that APSED (what, did you think I was kidding?) is worth 52.5%, the traditional route makes sense. For authors who would rather pay fixed fees for APSED, self-publishing will be more appealing.

And is APSED ever worth ANY percentage of your sales forever? That's what I've been asking myself lately.

Anne K. said...

Barry said: "the main thing is that we've each made as persuasive case as we can, and people now have the benefit of diverse views to help them come to their own conclusions."

Spoken like a lawyer trained in the adversarial system: The truth is most likely to emerge after all sides of a controversy are vigorously presented :)

Sorche, speaking of the adversarial system, do you have the uncomfortable feeling you're on the wrong side of this quarrel? Lawyers for the publishing house have carefully drafted a contract intended to serve the interests of the publishing house. Contract negotiations are about two parties trying to get the best possible terms for themselves, right?

The writer needs someone on her side, defending and protecting her interests.

Publishing has come to a strange moment, it seems to me, when agents -- openly and publicly -- side with publishers against writers, vigorously defending publishers against writers.

Jennifer Lovett said...

I was at PPWC and was witness to "The Speech" which was informative for an undecided author like myself. I actually thought Barry went out of his way with his disclaimers.

As a newer writer trying to decide between traditional and indie, I haven't yet found a reason to go through an agent to the Big 6. I'm not from Hollywood, I don't play professional sports and I didn't just leave a high-level federal position.

But I did just sit in on several discussions by agents who flat out said they are less likely, not more likely, to take on a new writer.

So, if my odds are low for the Big 6 and my odds are low for agent representation, why wouldn't I go for the sure thing?

One agent told me the main reason for an agent would be the contract language. Couldn't I hire an IP lawyer for that? And if I ever did snag a traditional contract where I'm going to have to do my own marketing, why would I agree to do that for 17% profit when I can do the same for 70% profit online?

Like any other new writer, I understand the legitimacy or validation it gives an author to have an agent and publishing contract; however, I can make a decent living in digital without all that.

Does it really just come down to goals?


Barry Eisler said...

Hey Jennifer, it was great sharing a table with you and Travis and all the best with all your writing!

Stephen Leather said...

Words of wisdom, as always. It's not surprising that its agents who lashed out at you on Twitter as they are the ones with the most to lose. When I have spoken at events about self-publishing, it's always the agents who are the most vitriolic in their comments. They're running scared, of course.

As you rightly say, there are choices. I publish three ways - self publishing eBooks, legacy publishing through Hodder and Stoughton, and publishing through Amazon (AmazonEncore and 47 North).

It might surprise you to know that I earn more from legacy publishing, per book and overall. That might change, but the snapshot today shows more revenue from my legacy books. That's partly because paperbacks do still account for a big chunk of book sales and Hodder get my books into bookstores and the all-important supermarkets. And be aware that the 17.5 per cent of net is not written in stone. I know several former Indie writers who get more than that from their publishers. It's negotiable.

Self-publishing is great and I embrace it, but it's one of a number of choices and writers need to consider what is best for them.

Anonymous said...


"Joe Konrath said...
Yes, competition lessens your chances of success and is therefore bad for you.

I've spoken at length about this before.

Books aren't zero sum. A reader who likes thrillers doesn't just read one author and avoid all others. That reader will read many different authors.

With the advent of ebooks, it has become even easier, because ebooks cost less and are delivered instantly.

As more and more publishers drop ebook prices (something I predicted would happen back in 2009), that gives readers more money in their pockets to buy more books.

Let's say you have $50 to spend on books, and you go into a Barnes and Noble with the intent to buy three new hardcovers at $17 each.

When you arrive, you see all hardcovers have been reduced to $2.

Do you still only buy three? Or do you actually spend more than the $50?

We've always had TBR piles. With ebooks, those piles will be bigger than ever.

Competition? Hardly. This is a buffet mentality. Eat until your stuffed, rest an hour, then eat some more."


-------------------------------


We went through this dance before quite a while ago.

You still think you won the debate, but I'm confident I won.

It's too long and tiresome to go through it all again, and I don't think anyone cares about it anymore.

But competition can and does happen inmore than one arena, even if those arenas are linked to each other.

The competitive arena I'm talking about this time is THE STRUGGLE TO GET THE TOP SPOTS IN THE AMAZON RANKINGS so writers can get the desired VISIBILITY IN ORDER TO SELL BOOKS.

I think you said yourself, more eyeballs on your your books mean more sales.

In this instance, who cares if someone has $50 and finds out that they will have a lot of extra money to spend because the prices dropped from $17 to $2 (You're still wrong about by the way but it's too much to discuss right now and your readers don't care about it anymore). In the "VISIBILITY" ARENA, MORE SPENDING MONEY IN CONSUMERS HANDS DON"T MATTER.

IF THEY CAN"T SEE YOUR BOOKS THEY CAN'T BUY THEM.

Anonymous said...

I didn't wade through all of the comments here but I wanted to add my two cents (anonymously). I have recently been epublished with one of the big 6. I get around 50% of net as royalties which I thought didn't sound too bad as they edit, do the covers, some marketing etc. In six months, I made a total of about $200 US. For nearly 100,000 words. I wanted to cry. I knew I wasn't going to make millions but I expected more. I now wish I'd indie published. At half the price the publisher sells it for, at 70% on Amazon, I would have made twice as much on the same number of sales. Another big 6 publisher who is now offering epublishing services is paying 12%. For what? Their name? Big deal! How many readers check the publisher when they buy for their kindle? I'd bet less than 10%. As to the agent debate, I queried a big NY firm once and in the reply forgot to leave on the beginning of the conversation from the agent when sending the requested full. The agent tweeted how annoying it was when authors delete the email trail. Only not in those words. She ripped me apart with capitals on twitter. Needless to say, her professionalism blew me away. Since when did so many agents think they are the right hand of God deigning to burst the dream bubbles of authors everywhere? I give print publishing ten years - to be conservative. I do hope the unprofessional and greedy agents have other careers to fall back on because the money editors make isn't nearly as much as the right hands of God... I reckon I'll make more with Amazon!

You're also not the only one upsetting the apple cart at conferences. Bob Mayer stood at the podium quite a few years ago and let everyone know that print was dying and so were publishers and agents. There were a few in that audience who wanted to throw their bestselling books at him. I wonder how they think now?

Frank Sergeant said...

> I offer the total package to myself ... No matter how passionate an agent, editor, etc., may be about my book, they can never be quite as passionate as I am.

Rob, I think you've hit the nail on the head.

Somebody is in charge of the overall project, and that person is unlikely to be you if you go with a traditional publisher. Sometimes that might be a good thing, sometimes a bad thing.

What if you are not happy with your editor or if you simply want one, two, or three more rounds of editing? If you hire freelance editors, no problem except cost. Ditto for cover art.

Some people have mentioned publishing on Amazon for free, with comments such as "without spending a dime". I appreciate the sentiment, but whether self or traditionally published, I don't think it is really free. We pay one way or another: cash or sweat equity and time if we self publish, versus reduced royalties, publishing delays, loss of control if we publish traditionally. (Okay, not a totally fair comparison, just a sketch of the argument.) Looked at that way, since we are going to pay one way or another, we want to find the best balance, the best deal, for our particular circumstances.

At Nepo Press, we have published several non-fiction books on eBook formatting and have also recently released Rebecca Radley's novel America's Junior Miss, doing the cover and formatting ourselves (printing the mobi files with our Tiny Steam-Powered ePresses ). So that is how we are attempting to balance the various factors at the moment.

The book is free Wed, Thur, Fri, April 24-26, 2013, if anyone would like to take a look at the writing or the formatting: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C8X8YS2.

Frank

Joe Konrath said...

THE STRUGGLE TO GET THE TOP SPOTS IN THE AMAZON RANKINGS so writers can get the desired VISIBILITY IN ORDER TO SELL BOOKS.

We've been through this.

Patterson had visibility in bookstores, because he has 100 copies at the front of the store, 40% off, and multiple copies of his entire backlist in various bookstore aisles and displays face-out, while I was lucky to have one copy spine-out in the mystery section.

Now, On Amazon, I have 1 page per book, just like he does. My everyday visibility equals his.

But you're talking about the visibility that comes with being on genre bestseller lists, which only happens if you're ranking is good.

You've been reading my blog, right?

Haven't I been explaining how writers can improve their visibility? Didn't I just do a 99 cent sale where I sold 30,000 ebooks in three days? Haven't I been lauding BookBub and ebookbooster? Didn't I go all in with KDP Select?

Selling ebooks isn't zero sum, but I will agree that getting on bestseller lists is. But even when I stopped doing all promotions for a six month period in 2012, and pretty much quit blogging, I was still making $20k a month without my ebooks on any bestseller lists.

As I've said before, if your ebook isn't selling, write another one. Keep writing and increasing your visibility and virtual shelf space until you can't be ignored.

The more you write, the more you'll sell. And without having to wait months (years?) for gatekeepers (agents and publishers) to reject you, or if they accept you, wait more months (years) for them to publish you, you can self-pub quickly and efficiently.

There is no almighty scorekeeper in the universe making sure every writer gets a fair chance. Life isn't fair. I constantly talk about the importance of luck.

But the self-pubbing world is a lot fairer than the legacy pubbing world. I never had a chance before. Now I do have a chance.

Which brings me back to your original point. Let's substitute a few words and see how it fits the legacy system.

THE STRUGGLE TO GET THE TOP SPOTS IN THE NYT BESTSELLER LISTS so writers can get the desired VISIBILITY IN ORDER TO SELL BOOKS.

or

THE STRUGGLE TO GET THE TOP SPOTS IN THE BRICK AND MORTAR BOOKSTORES so writers can get the desired VISIBILITY IN ORDER TO SELL BOOKS.

or

THE STRUGGLE TO GET THE TOP SPOTS IN BIG BOX STORES AND AIRPORTS so writers can get the desired VISIBILITY IN ORDER TO SELL BOOKS.

You follow? Writers have always been struggling for visibility. But it is MUCH harder to get visibility in legacy publishing.

Amazon, and others, have given us tools to improve our odds, and now our odds are much better at being discovered and bought.

And not only do readers have a better chance of finding my ebooks than they did while I was in print, but because they are cheap they have more money to spend on them so they buy in larger quantities.

So you are entirely correct: I DO think I won this debate. :)

Walter Knight said...

"Keep writing and increasing your visibility and virtual shelf space until you can't be ignored."

Best advice ever because writing is what authors do best.

I wrote a 20 book science fiction series, and hope to break the "Casca" record.

Joe Konrath said...

In six months, I made a total of about $200 US.

That's awful. I'm sorry.

Bob Mayer stood at the podium quite a few years ago and let everyone know that print was dying and so were publishers and agents.

Bob is one in a million. I think what he's doing with Cool Gus publishing is going to become the new norm for publishers.

I have an axiom that says people would rather defend their beliefs to the death than change their mind.

Happily, that doesn't describe Bob. It takes smarts, guts, and a very strong sense of self to completely change your mind on a topic, and Bob has all three. I admire him for it.

http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/i-was-wrong-konrath-was-right/

When someone writes a book about the self-pubbing revolution, long after the Big 5 have lost their stranglehold on the industry, there will be a lot of references to Bob Mayer.

A Beer For The Shower said...

Just to clarify on our earlier comment, we have many good friends at the PPWC and believe it is an excellent learning atmosphere for new writers. An admin friend there who read my previous comment on this blog post wrote and assured me that the conference is making conscious strides to bring in faculty who will better educate writers about the blossoming possibilities of self-publishing and its role in the future of the industry. In our experience, this conference is run by great people who really do care about forming a community and embracing new writers.

Cheers,
B&B

www.abeerfortheshower.com

Terrence O'Brien said...

People who provide real economic benefit don't much care what people say in speeches. Doctors, auto mechanics, and plumbers all know they provide valuable service. Consumers know it, too.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

My interest in paying 52.5% for APSED has lapsed.

For a short primer on how to step on the GAASS as a self-publisher, try the steps described in this blog post:

http://patricefitzgerald.com/?p=308

P.S. I like acronyms too. FWIW, they're great, IMHO. TTFN

Anthea L said...

Digital Book World recently did a study of over 5,000 authors. They're releasing some of the data in dribs and drabs - most notably in this article:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2013/04/23/self-publishing-is-for-control-freaks/

Number one thing authors want from Traditional publishers? Reach of distribution.
Number two? Amount of creative control.

Interesting times, indeed. :)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

The competitive arena I'm talking about this time is THE STRUGGLE TO GET THE TOP SPOTS IN THE AMAZON RANKINGS so writers can get the desired VISIBILITY IN ORDER TO SELL BOOKS.

I have friends who have never made the top spots in the Amazon rankings, yet they're still pulling in 10-20K per month in profits.

If your goal is to make a high six or even seven figures a year, then, yes, you probably need to reach those top spots. But I think 20K a month is a pretty comfortable place to be.

James said...

Looks like the comments are long since over on this thread.

Just wanted to toss in --

I see people like Joe, pointing out that "times are changing." He then pontificates on what that means, or could mean for the future.

It's a stance. It's an opinion. It's from his point of view. So of course there is some bias and of course there will (and should) be an opposing PoV as well.

But I'm not seeing an opposing viewpoint.

What I see are people, upon hearing times are changing, shove fingers in their ears and shout at the top of their lungs, "NO IT ISN'T!"

The truth is legacy publishers will change only when the old model becomes no longer lucrative. And it will change in a heartbeat once that occurs. (The "we don't have a model for this yet" stance is just a smokescreen to ride out what has worked for as long as possible, before actually having to invest in change). The same way all our major radio broadcasting networks became television networks (Or went under--RKO. Some legacy publishers will not survive--that's just the truth of change. But many will).

The truth is those of you with fingers in your ears, rallying around legacy publishers like they are institutions that are impervious to change, will be shit out of luck, trying to figure out what the hell happened, when change does happen. And let's face it--change is inevitable. Think about how dramatically industry changed with the advent of the automobile. Something so seemingly trivial by today's standards. Or hell, the cellphone.

If you don't think the internet is and will radically change business in the future--I don't know what to tell you. You simply aren't paying enough attention to history and are flat out ignoring the present.

Those of you not realizing legacy publisher are already hedging their bets for change (as any good business does)are going to be sitting on the sidelines, while neither side (legacy publishers, nor indy-publisher/authors) will want or need you.

I see the most outspoken people that are simply ignoring change are also the ones who have the most to lose. The irony is, these should be the people on the forefront of change, redefining what it means to be an agent or an editor. A publisher. Or an author.

Historically, the people who have reaped the biggest rewards from change are those that had the foresight to be the forerunners in a new era. The ones that didn't are the buggywhip salesmen in an era of the automobile (Hell, we're even in the era of flying automobile, right? At least supposed to be :p).



P.S. power said...

When we see the big movie companies and television production concerns looking to make a few big budget shows based on indie books, I think that will herald the true end of the big publishing mafia that control the industry.




Kay C. Gwenne said...

Hey Joe,

I've been creeping on your blog for a while now, and have finally had the courage to drop by and thank you! Your words are motivating and straightforward, and you don't beat around the bushes.

This post, too, is eye-opening. It saddens me that people aren't accepting of new things. Change isn't always necessarily bad. :/ Maybe it's a chance to move in a new direction, or be better than what they are already doing.

And the discussions here are really intimidating, and so civil. I know nothing, so I'll just spectate.

Thanks again, and hope to see more from you and the rest of the commenters.

A.C.Flory said...

Legacy publishing offers one more, intangible benefit to writers - validation. Unfortunately that validation is based on the way publishing /used/ to be. Back when finding new talent was a vocation. Now, publishing is just a business like any other, and it's primary goal is to make profits.

I suspect legacy publishers and the agents who feed them still want to believe they have a vocation. They still want to believe they are the High Priests of Literature.

Lucky for us indies, more and more people are starting to see those little emperors are wearing no clothes.

Anonymous said...

The internet is the great equalizer for all authors, both well-known and established and the self-published newbies. I remember reading an article recently about how the typical consumer does not see an impressionable difference between a book published by a legacy publisher/established author and an independently self-published book - all of the books are presented the same and equally when looking at an online bookstore website such as Amazon. Time has certainly changed - for the better for all authors in general. I think this is a great time to be an author, especially for an author just starting out.

David L. Shutter said...

"When we see the big movie companies and television production concerns looking to make a few big budget shows based on indie books, I think that will herald the true end of the big publishing mafia that control the industry."

Already happened with Hugh Howey and Joe's pal Blake Crouch. Film and TV deals. The very big kind.

Which reminds me: when are we going to start hearing about the Blake takeover of your portion of the Chandler series?

I'm curious to learn how that came about.

Joe Konrath said...

Which reminds me: when are we going to start hearing about the Blake takeover of your portion of the Chandler series?

Is he doing that? Why wasn't I informed? o_0

Jude Hardin said...

Already happened with Hugh Howey and Joe's pal Blake Crouch. Film and TV deals. The very big kind.

If I'm not mistaken, PINES was a Thomas and Mercer release. Not indie.

But still a huge score for Blake!

Joeseph Simon said...

Regarding recent alarmist comments about libraries needing to be saved:
All libraries can and will continue to exist with printed books a plenty, but libraries need to become a community representing all media and culture as much as its surrounding area. Libraries need to evolve and have been.

In Cleveland and Lakewood, Ohio there are technology rooms as well as current newspapers, magazines, and incredible collections of DVD's, graphic novels and other forms of media. In Cleveland they have a 3D printer that patrons can use as well as various tablets, handheld and other devices including e-readers. They have concerts, maker faires, guest discussions, community outreach, films, readings, and more. We are seeing everything that is evolving and if retail or libraries cling to the past, they will fade into the past. But, that doesn't have to be the case.

Libraries can find their place in a community by being part of the community in the above described ways or others as I am sure every town has a different demographic and community than any other.

Will eBooks bring about the demise of print? No. Not at all. Those who go to publishers will find publishers being more choosy about who they publish. Print runs may lessen, but, with a rising global population and global distribution, that may not be the case. Those who want to release a collection of stories or a deluxe version with tons of extras in print for readers who really are fond of the writers creations, with POD, that is possible.

Change will happen, its how you react to it that matters. Libraries, writers, retail, publishers can wring their hands in despair and fear, saying the end is coming, the sky is falling, but that doesn't stop change. What it does do is enable them to be the callers of their destiny and the makers of their own fate. The world will continue on forward, progress will happen, new days will come and libraries, print, retailers, publishers and writers will be part of it in new and inspiring ways.

Life is about change and progress. If you standstill shaking your fist at the imaginary instead of contributing to how it changes, you will accurately predict your own outcome, but only yours.

Anonymous said...

I was in a nearby public library recently - it was fairly crowded actually in the late afternoon. I don't think pub. libraries are going away any time soon.

Anonymous said...

I have been trying to publish traditionally for almost 10 years now. I attend a very well known national conference every year to learn more about craft, to improve my skills, to learn. I also meet industry professionals (agents and editors). I am always disappointed with how unprofessional and mean many of these people are. They often waste our time with "workshops" that focus on what they publish/represent which is usually quickly followed with a "closed to submissions" disclaimer. So, why are you here? Why did you waste our time? I have stopped attending any workshops given by an agent or editor, opting for the ones given by authors.

In addition, they are often rude and abrupt when interacting with the attendees. They are often clearly unprepared or hurriedly prepared for critiques or workshops. The list goes on. I am often left with a feeling of being in high school where the "cool kids" control who can join the clique.

I do not think that they are really there to "serve" writers. They often come off as superior and like they feel like they are doing us a favor. That is not to say that there are no professional and compassionate people in the industry. There are. They are just few and far between.

David L. Shutter said...

"Which reminds me: when are we going to start hearing about the Blake takeover of your portion of the Chandler series?

Is he doing that? Why wasn't I informed? o_0"

Sorry, I must have misread something at 1 am.

Rose said...

That's amazing, and I agree with the benefits you've listed about self-publishing. They are numerous. It's nice to not have to wait forever to get your book published.

Rationalist said...

Asked by a friend whether I think Barry is an ass for saying what he did, this was my response.

No- I don't think he is an ass at all. I think he brought up very good points and pointed out the real biggest thing the legacy publishers offer- which is distribution for paper books and the inconsistency of how that is given to each author.

I think he forgot to mention legitimacy; which I feel is another benefit to traditional publishing that self-publishing cannot and does not offer. But that is something you can't put a set price on and probably why the traditional publishers still want to charge so much.

However, when you look at the numbers Barry gave in black and white, even an author like me who was dead set on traditional publishing has to take a step back and go- wait a minute. Is traditional publishing really the best option for me?

70% vs 17.5% is a huge difference! Plus- it's not like authors don't know about the treatment gap. Some authors get the royal treatment and others the "just be glad we published your book- sorry we never actually sold it anywhere" treatment.

What I read didn't seem worthy of walking out in a fume. I have walked out of a panel discussion before and for a very good reason. But unless Barry's verbal talk was drastically different from the printed version above, I don't get the furor over his post.

I still think agents and editors and publishing companies can offer a valuable service- a service I still want. But I do suspect there will need to be drastic changes of the pricing structure soon to reflect the new reality.

Some of the power has changed hands and authors now have more power than they did before. It certainly doesn't make traditional publishing, editors, agents, etc obsolete. But I think it does force them to look at this more competitively than they did before.

From my perspective, it will be simply who can offer me the best deal with the greatest result. I will choose whoever can.

Daniel Campbell said...

I'd like to make one observation regarding the assertion that distribution is the core service. While I agree it is a huge service, you can distribute without a legacy deal OR your own fleet of trucks, warehouses etc. Both CreateSpace and LightningSource offer the ability to get into major distribution channels (LS being owned by Ingram). It's a halfway house as you still need to set the right discounts (which CS prevents - all discounts are 'short' as CS take 20% of the 60% they demand from you for themselves).

Secondly, is paper distribution really a primary service? With so many eBooks sold via Amazon, the complex marketing channels you've alluded to are less decisive than they used to be. For blockbuster success, I agree that the top end of legacy deals can mean huge exposure... but there's an argument here for being canny enough to split distribution methods inside one book by selling paper rights but retaining digital. A hybrid model, and one off costs that amortize over time, are clearly a long term win for any moderately successful author.

Over the long term (and books are a long term game; you've got copyright protection until 70 years after you die) eBooks will rise in prominence, and paper books will fall. What was once a secondary right will become the core driver for economic success.

Dan Campbell

Daniel Campbell said...

Apologies - eBooks in my second paragraph should of course read print books.

Joe Konrath said...

I think he forgot to mention legitimacy

Indeed. Many authors seek that validation. Which sort of makes legacy the new vanity publishing.

Me? I've had 83,000 ebook sales and borrows in April on Amazon. I don't need validation or legitimacy. What I need is a tax shelter. ;)

Joseph said...
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Joseph said...
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Mira said...

Outstanding article from both Joe and Barry. Bravo!!

I thought about this awhile, and I'd like to take a second to discuss the 'us vs. them' that the agent and others are labeling as a bad thing writers in the blogosphere are doing.

In one way, I do think there is an 'us vs. them', but it stems from the other direction - from publishing houses that have set contract terms that take advantage of writers for decades, and from agents that have drafted and promoted those contracts.

Exploiting writers sets up an 'us vs. them'.

Writers complaining that contract terms are exploitive are advocating for themselves.

To me, it seems inappropriatethat agents, instead of listening to, supporting and responding to writer concerns, instead get defensive and claim they and publishers are being attacked.

My second point, in another way, there is not an 'us vs. them' because that would assume we are all a collective that writers are trying to divide.

But there is no collective. There is the writer, and there are the people the writer licences their rights to. That can be a number of people or agencies. There is no 'given' that publishers and/or agents are part of the equation. Saying there is an 'us vs. them' implies a connection that is not neccessarily even in existence.

MadAndLovingIt said...

Hi, I've read Barry's blog and your reply Joe, but haven't had time to read all the comments.. sorry. No wonder the publishers are making rude remarks, sadly it's a changing world and they're probably in fear of their jobs. I am a writer, as yet unpublished, and came across your blog looking to find out more about the publishing world. I am looking to publish a friend's textbook for a specific market, he's the creative one in this instance and I'm the 'publisher'! Handling the business side to get it to our target audience. It makes eminent sense to me to self-publish if one has the time. But the marketing and PR for our book would best be done by a PR or marketing company - don't need a publisher for this, except they would probably have the right contacts at their fingertips.. with the Writers Handbook, the information is public. Another friend of mine published his daughter's novel and they worked really hard at getting publicity both for the book and the author (in the UK), and not having had the experience beforehand, they reached some modicom of success, although personally the book let them down. The author was a beautiful looking girl and this helped! He published two other factual books, boxes of which are still in his lock-up as he didn't know how to reach his target audience.. although all three books are available on amazon! Good old amazon! Ok, thanks for your blog, I'll keep an eye on it! Jacquie

MadAndLovingIt said...

A very interesting blog and your response Joe. I haven't read all of the comments, and came across your blog as I am looking to publish 1) my friend's 'text' book and 2) my own self-help book. I am not surprised the publishing houses' representatives at your conference got upset.. they are probably in fear of losing their jobs. It's a changing world, where powerful corporates don't necessarily pull the strings anymore. Authors can self-publish and I'm drawn to do this more and more. All I would like help on, as I can write and proofread, and my daughter can design, and together we can do the marketing as we know our target audience, is the PR. Publishers have contacts, that as individuals, we do not necessarily have. but I also agree, it shouldn't be an Us and Them situation! Publishers should realise that writers are their customers/clients, without whom they would not be in existence! thanks, I'll follow you, Jacquie

Angus Hooker said...

I enjoyed reading your blog

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