Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ebooks and Self-Publishing - A Dialog Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath


This is a live Google docs discussion. It examines the history and mechanics of the publishing industry as it exists today, analyzes the way the digital revolution reflects recent events in Egypt and the Maghreb, and considers a completely inappropriate YouTube video featuring a randy monkey and an unlucky frog. It clocks in at 13,000 words, and reveals some pretty startling things.

We encourage everyone reading the conversation to comment, and to tweet and otherwise link to it. You also have our permission to copy all or any part of it, provided you link back.

If you'd prefer to read this on your ereader, you can download various versions for free here. This zip file (you need WinZip to open it; a free trial is here) contains doc, pdf, epub, and mobi formats, so it can be uploaded to Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers, Kobos, and pretty much any other device.

You can also go to Smashwords and get various formats for free, or to Amazon or B&N to get those formats for 99 cents (they wouldn't allow us to post for free.) It's also posted in full on Barry's blog.

Our goal is to get this information out there, because it benefits authors and could theoretically make legacy publishers smarter. Please help us spread the word. Thanks.


And I almost forgot. This recent blog post of mine where I mentioned my anonymous friend? It was Barry.


Joe: To the casual observer, you appear to be heavily invested in the legacy publishing system. They’ve been good to you, they helped you get onto the NYT bestseller list, made you wealthy with several large deals, and seem to have treated you fairly.

Barry: Well, I don’t know about wealthy, but I’ve been making a living writing novels for almost a decade now, which is a pretty great way to live.

Joe: You had six-figure and seven-figure deals. Logic dictates anyone offered a deal like that should leap at it.

Barry: You wouldn’t.

Joe: But I never had the treatment you had from legacy publishers. I would walk away from a big deal now, most certainly, because I have two years of data proving I can do better on my own.

However, what if a NYT bestseller were offered, say, half a million dollars for two books?

Or, more specifically, let's say you were offered that.

You'd take it. Right?

Barry: Well, I guess not... ;)

Joe: So... no BS... you were just offered half a mil, and you turned it down?

Barry: Yes.

Joe: Holy shit!

Barry: I know it’ll seem crazy to a lot of people, but based on what’s happening in the industry, and based on the kind of experience writers like you are having in self-publishing, I think I can do better in the long term on my own.

Joe: Holy shit!

Sorry. That needed to be said twice.

Barry: It’s okay, I like when you talk dirty.

We are living in remarkable times, aren’t we?

Joe: Indeed. "Barry Eisler Walks Away From $500,000 Deal to Self-Pub" is going to be one for the Twitter Hall of Fame.

Barry: Here’s something that happened about a year ago. Anecdotal, but still telling, I think. My wife and daughter and I were sitting around the dinner table, talking about what kind of contract I would do next, and with what publisher. And my then eleven-year-old daughter said, “Daddy, why don’t you just self-publish?”

And I thought, wow, no one would have said something like that even a year ago. I mean, it used to be that self-publishing was what you did if you couldn’t get a traditional deal. And if you were really, really lucky, maybe the self-published route would lead to a real contract with a real publisher.

But I realized from that one innocent comment from my daughter that the new generation was looking at self-publishing differently. And that the question--“Should I self-publish?”--was going to be asked by more and more authors going forward. And that, over time, more and more of them were going to be answering the question, “Yes.”


This is exactly what’s happening now. I’m not the first example, though I might be a noteworthy one because of the numbers I’m walking away from. But there will be others, more and more of them.

Joe: Over a year ago, you wrote a Huffington Post blog called Paper Earthworks, Digital Tides. You basically predicted that digital would become the preferred reading format...

Barry: You’re being kind to me--you predicted that switch way before I caught on to it. In that blog post, I was more building on what I’ve learned from you. But my general point was that digital was going to become more and more attractive relative to paper. First, because the price of digital readers would continue to drop while the functionality would continue to increase; second, because more and more titles would become available for digital download at the same time more brick and mortar stores were closing. In other words, everything about paper represented a static defense, while everything about digital represented a dynamic offense. Not hard to predict how a battle like that is going to end.

Apple sold 15 million iPads in 2010, and the iPad2 just went on sale. And Amazon sold eight million Kindle books in 2010--more digital books, in fact, than paperbacks. Meanwhile, Borders is shuttering 224 stores. So I think it’s safe to say the trends I just mentioned are continuing. And the trends reinforce each other: the Borders in your neighborhood closes, so you try a low-priced digital reader, and you love the lower cost of digital books, the immediate delivery, the adjustable font, etc... and you never go back to paper. The reverse isn’t happening: people aren’t leaving digital for paper. There’s a ratchet effect in favor of digital.

Joe: In the history of technology, when people begin to embrace the new media tech, it winds up dominating the marketplace. CDs over vinyl and tapes, DVD over VHS. The Internet over newspapers. Even Priceline over travel agents--

Barry: Yes! Sorry to interrupt, but this is something that interests me so much. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard saying, “But paper isn’t going to disappear.” That isn’t the point! If you ask the wrong question, the right answer to that question isn’t going to help you. So the question isn’t, “Will paper disappear?” Of course it won’t, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that paper is being marginalized. Did firearms eliminate the bow and arrow? No--some enthusiasts still hunt with a bow. Did the automobile eliminate the horse and buggy? No--I can still get a buggy ride around Central Park if I want.

Now, some new technologies really have completely displaced their forebears. For example, there’s no such thing as eight-track tape anymore. And yet some people still do listen to their music on vinyl, despite the advent of mp3 technology. The question, then, is what advantages does the previous technology retain over the new technology? If the answer is “none,” then the previous technology will become extinct, like eight-track. If the answer is “some,” then the question is, how big a market will the old technology continue to command based on those advantages?

Joe: You’re talking about niche markets.

Barry: Exactly.

Joe: We’ve discussed this before. Paper won’t disappear, but that’s not the point. The point is, paper will become a niche while digital will become the norm.

Barry: Agreed. Lots of people, and I’m one of them, love the way a book feels. I used to like the way books smelled, too, before publishers started using cheap paper. And you can see books on your shelf, etc... those are real advantages, but they’re only niche advantages. Think candles vs electric lights. There are still people making a living today selling candles, and that’s because there’s nothing like candlelight--but what matters is that the advent of the electric light changed the candle business into a niche. Originally, candlemakers were in the lighting business; today, they’re in the candlelight business. The latter is tiny by comparison to the former. Similarly, today publishers are in the book business; tomorrow, they’ll be in the paper book business. The difference is the difference between a mass market and a niche.

Joe: I also love print books. I have 5000 of them. But print is just a delivery system. It gets a story from the writer to the reader. For centuries, publishers controlled this system, because they did the printing, and they were plugged into distribution. But with retailers like Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, the story can get to the reader in a faster, cheaper way.

And publishers aren't needed.

Do you think publishers are aware of that?

Barry: I think they’re extremely aware of it, but they don’t understand what it really means.

Joe: I believe they've gotten their business model mixed-up. They should be connecting readers with the written word. Instead, they're insisting on selling paper.

Barry: Yes. There’s a saying about the railroads: they thought they were in the railroad business, when in fact they were in the transportation business. So when the interstate highway system was built and trucking became an alternative, they were hit hard.

Likewise, publishers have naturally conflated the specifics of their business model with the generalities of the industry they’re in. As you say, they’re not in the business of delivering books by paper--they’re in the business of delivering books. And if someone can do the latter faster and cheaper than they can, they’re in trouble.

Joe: You say they're aware of it, and some evidence points to that being true. The agency model is an attempt to slow the transition from paper to digital. Windowing titles is another one. So are insanely high ebook prices.

Barry: All signs that publishers are aware of the potential for digital disintermediation, but that they don’t understand what it really means.

Joe: Because they still believe they’re essential to the process.

Barry: I would phrase it a little differently. They recognize they’re becoming non-essential, and are trying to keep themselves essential--but are going about it in the wrong way.

Joe: You and I and our peers are essential. We're the writers. We provide the content that is printed and distributed.

For hundreds of years, writers couldn't reach readers without publishers. We needed them.

Now, suddenly, we don't. But publishers don't seem to be taking this Very Important Fact into account.

Barry: Well, again, I think they’re taking it into account, but they’re drawing the wrong conclusions. The wrong conclusion is: I’m in the paper business, paper keeps me essential, therefore I must do all I can to retard the transition from paper to digital. The right conclusion would be: digital offers huge cost, time-to-market, and other advantages over paper. How can I leverage those advantages to make my business even stronger?

Joe: We figured out that the 25% royalty on ebooks they offer is actually 14.9% to the writer after everyone gets their cut. 14.9% on a price the publisher sets.

Barry: Gracious of you to say “we.” You’re the first one to point out that a 25% royalty on the net revenue produced by an ebook equals 17.5% of the retail price after Amazon takes its 30% cut, and 14.9% after the agent takes 15% of the 17.5%.

Joe: Yeah, that 25% figure you see in contracts is really misleading. Amazing, when you consider that there’s virtually no cost to creating ebooks--no cost for paper, no shipping charges, no warehousing. No cut for Ingram or Baker & Taylor. Yet they're keeping 52.5% of the list price and offering only 17.5% to the author. It’s not fair and it’s not sustainable.

Barry: I think what’s happening is that publishers know paper is dying while digital is exploding, and they’re trying to use the lock they’ve always had on paper to milk more out of digital. In other words, tie an author into a deal that offers traditional paper royalties, which are shrinking, while giving the publisher a huge slice of digital royalties, which are growing. The problem, from the publisher’s perspective, is that their paper lock is broken now.

Joe: I feel all writers need to be made aware that there is finally an option. Not just an option, but an actual preferable alternative to signing away your rights.

Barry: It’s inevitable that more writers will be realizing this is true. It’s being demonstrated by more and more self-published authors: you, Amanda Hocking, Scott Nicholson, Michael J. Sullivan, HP Mallory, Victorine Lieske, BV Larson, Terri Reid, LJ Sellers, John Locke, Blake Crouch, Lee Goldberg, Aaron Patterson, Jon F. Merz, Selena Kitt, hopefully me... :)

Joe: You're on track to make $30,000 this year on a self-published short story. I'm not aware of any short story markets that pay that well.

Barry: Well, it’s early yet, but yes, The Lost Coast has done amazingly well in its first few weeks, netting me about $1000 after the initial fixed cost of $600 for having the cover designed and having the manuscript formatted. I plan to continue to publish short stories and I’ll be getting the new John Rain novel, The Detachment, up in time for Father’s Day, and I have a feeling that each of the various products will reinforce sales of the others.

Joe: That's a really smart plan. My own sales, and the sales of other indie authors doing well, pretty much confirm that a rising tide lifts all boats. Virtual shelf space functions a lot like physical shelf space. The more books you have on the shelf, the likelier you are to be discovered by someone browsing. And when a browser reads you and likes you, she buys more of your work, and often tells others about it.

In other words; the more stories and novels you have available, the more you'll sell.

Barry: Gotta just jump in here to point out the significance of this. It means that a writer’s best promoting tool is once again her writing. Advertising costs money. New stories make money.

Joe: I told you so...

Barry: You did. Glad I listened late rather than never. It’s amazing: for most of the history of publishing, outside a brief book tour and maybe a few public appearances throughout the year, a writer couldn’t do much to promote. Then the Internet happened, and writers had to do a tremendous amount of online promotion--blogs, social networking, chat rooms--to be competitive. Now, with digital books, once again there’s no more profitable use of an author’s time than writing. Not to say that authors don’t need to have a strong online presence; of course they do. But anytime you’re thinking about some other promotional activity--a blog post, a trip to a convention, an hour on Facebook--you have to measure the value of that time against the value of writing and publishing a new story. The new story earns money, both for itself and your other works. The social networking stuff doesn’t.

Joe: Yes. But it’s even more than that. Because there are two major difference between virtual shelves and physical shelves.

First, a virtual shelf is infinite. In a bookstore, they have a limited amount of space. Often, my books are crammed spine out, in section--and I'm lucky if they have a copy of each that are in print. Many times they only have a few, and sometimes none at all. But a virtual shelf, like Amazon or Smashwords, carries all my titles, all the time. And I don't have to compete with a NYT bestseller who has 400 copies of their latest hit on the shelf, while I only have one copy of mine. We each take up one virtual space per title.

Second, virtual shelf life is forever. In a bookstore, you have anywhere form a few weeks to a few months to sell your title, and then it gets returned. This is a big waste of money, and no incentive at all for the bookseller to move the book.

But ebooks are forever. Once they're live, they will sell for decades. Someday, long after I'm gone, my grandchildren will be getting my royalties.

Currently, my novel The List is the #15 bestseller on all of Amazon. I wrote that book 12 years ago, and it was rejected by every major NY publisher. I self-published it on Amazon two years ago, and it has sold over 35,000 copies.

Barry: That is insane. Aside from some major external event--a big movie release, something like that--it’s almost unheard of for a backlist paper book to suddenly become a bestseller. Yet that’s exactly what just happened to The List.

Joe: Because I dropped the price.

Barry: Well shit, legacy publishers use dynamic pricing to move books all the time.

Joe: Sorry, I just spewed beer all over my monitor.

Barry: I apologize.

Joe: No problem. But right, with digital you have the option to put an ebook on sale. I originally self-published The List in April of 2009. It went on to sell 25,000 ebooks at $2.99. Now, two years later, I lowered the price, and it's selling 1500 copies a day. Things like that don't happen in paper. But in self-publishing, I'm seeing more and more books take their sweet time finding an audience, then take off.

Forever is a long time to earn royalties. So it makes sense for forever to begin today, not tomorrow.

If you had taken the deal for The Detachment, when would it have been published?

Barry: This was one of the reasons I just couldn’t go back to working with a legacy publisher. The book is nearly done, but it wouldn’t have been made available until Spring of 2012. I can publish it myself a year earlier. That’s a whole year of actual sales I would have had to give up.

Joe: We can make 70% by self-publishing. And we can set our own price. I have reams of data that show how ebooks under $5 vastly outsell those priced higher.

Barry: This is a critical point. There’s a huge data set proving that digital books are a price-sensitive market, and that maximum revenues are achieved at a price point between $.99 and $4.99. So the question is: why aren’t publishers pricing digital books to maximize digital profits?

Joe: Because they're protecting their paper sales.

Barry: Exactly.

Joe: It's awfully dangerous for an industry to ignore (or even blatantly antagonize) their customers in order to protect self-interest.

Barry: Not that it hasn’t been tried before. Just never successfully outside a monopoly. And the advent of digital has broken the monopoly publishers used to have on distribution.

Joe: In the meantime, I'm selling 3000 ebooks a day by pricing reasonably. There aren't too many Big 6 authors selling that well. And I'm getting much better royalties than they are.

So what’s going on with legacy publishers? It seems like either willful ignorance or outright stupidity. They're irritating their customers, alienating their content providers, and refusing to embrace the future.

Why?

Barry: I think there are a lot of things going on, some emotional, some institutional. Clayton Christensen wrote about a lot of this in a book called The Innovator’s Dilemma. Fundamentally, it’s extremely hard for an industry to start cannibalizing current profits for future gains. So the music companies, for example, failed to create an online digital store, instead fighting digital with lawsuits, until Apple--a computer company!--became the world’s biggest music retailer.

Joe: Simon and Schuster or Random House should have invented the ereader. They should have been selling ebooks from their websites a decade ago. Instead, an online bookseller, Amazon, is leading the revolution.

Barry: Exactly. The same outcome as in the music business. It’s one thing for a single media company to make these mistakes--but one after the other? What’s that Oscar Wilde line? “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

Joe: Or, as your character Dox would say, “This isn’t really about hunting, is it...”

Barry: That Dox has a way with words.

Joe: Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. I also think the Upton Sinclair quote is appropriate: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." Denial is a powerful opiate.

We both dig quotations too much.

Barry: And I think it was Nelson Mandela who said, “Where you stand depends upon where you sit.” We’re probably all victims of those kinds of pressures, to one extent or another. But you have to try to be as aware as possible of the dynamic. If you’re not, you could lose a lot of money.

Joe: You might also lose your content providers. If you're selling eggs, don't piss off your chickens.

Barry: It’s not just the chickens. It’s the people who buy the eggs, too.

Joe: The readers. And the libraries. HarperCollins just announced they are putting a limit on ebook loans in libraries. After twenty-six check-outs, the library has to buy a new copy.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds...

Barry: Yes. The problem is twofold. First, by giving authors only 17.5% of the growth end of the business while keeping 52.5% for themselves, publishers are going to lose authors. Second, by attempting to retard the growth of digital--holding back digital releases until paper is ready, charging paper prices for digital books--publishers are thwarting their customers. Take a step back and consider it, and it’s hard not to see that this strategy is badly flawed. A business grows by giving customers what they want, not by insisting that customers take what the business wants them to have. It grows by cultivating its wholesale providers, not by alienating them with precentages so unfair that it motivates them to develop their own retail channels.

Joe: It reminds me of the golden age of television. You had three choices, ABC, NBC, or CBS. They dictated what you would watch.

But that model no longer works for TV. Now there are hundreds of channels. And it no longer works for books, either. If you look at the current Top 100 bestsellers on Kindle, twenty-seven of them are self-published. Many of those authors were rejected by NY. Yet consumers are showing us what they want to read, and voting with their wallets.

The "gatekeeper" model, where agents and Big 6 Publishers decided what would be fit for public consumption, is eroding. YouTube has proven that viewers are okay with having unlimited choices, and happy to surf to find things that interest them.

Barry: Yes! I mean, which of the networks would have broadcast that monkey raping a helpless bullfrog?

Joe: It wasn't rape. It was consensual.

Barry: I don’t know. I don’t think the frog was conscious. I’m not sure it was even alive.

Joe: I--

Barry: After the first five minutes, I mean.

Joe: I'm married. I see this all the time. The frog was conscious. Just not very active.

Barry: Yes, but he couldn’t speak.

Joe: So the frog croaked?


Barry: Aaaargh!

I still think about that frog. I feel sorry for him. What happened... it just couldn’t have been in the lexicon of normal frog fears. Maybe he was worried the monkey would eat him. But then... he’s thinking, “Dude, don’t do this! You’re a monkey, I’m a frog, it’s not right, it’s against nature, it’s mmmmmmmpppphhhhh.”

Joe: It's not easy being green.

How many people do you think followed that link and then, out of mistrust, never returned to our scintillating conversation?

Barry: Yeah, but the ones who returned will be our readers for life.

Joe: We're probably going to cut this entire section later.

Barry: A tear just rolled silently down my cheek.

Joe: You're twelve years old. I swear.

Barry: On my good days, yes.

I do want to go on the record at this point as saying that no frogs have ever been harmed in the production of my books.

Joe: But gay bashers are rightfully fair game.

Barry: Ask my character Larison, in The Lost Coast, about that... :)

Joe: So is this a revolution? Are writers and readers fed up with legacy publishing? And won't their opinions, and their options, hasten the Big 6's demise?

Barry: No question: there’s a revolution going on here. In fact, there are parallels between what we’re seeing in the publishing industry and what you see in social revolutions--the kinds with pitchforks and torches.

Joe: You need to elaborate on that. We once had an interesting conversation about kings and peasants which could apply...

Barry: I remember that conversation. That was the one with the mescalin, right?

Joe: No. That was the one when you confessed your secret love for me. This one was about royalty and peasants.

Barry: Oh, right... right. Part of what’s going on in the industry now is that publishers are resisting the way technology is empowering writers. I’m sure some publishers will read this and disagree with it, but that’s because they’re genuinely unaware of the resistance.

Joe: Again, are they truly unaware? Or purposely ignoring it?

Barry: I’m not sure, but in the end it probably doesn’t matter. For a long time, publishers’ lock on distribution has given them enormous leverage in the industry, a leverage they’ve come to view as the natural, desirable order of things. Legacy publishers are part of an establishment, and if you’re part of the establishment, you’re of course going to like and support the establishment, and to resist any attempts to change or circumvent it. It’s just human nature.

Joe: They think they're royalty, that they’re entitled to certain assurances. And we're peasants, who need to listen to what our lords and masters tell us. Naturally, a peasant uprising is unthinkable.

Barry: I’d tweak this just a little. In America, the concept of royalty as such isn’t popular, so no matter how many royal perks and prerogatives Americans might have, the people in question wouldn’t want to think of themselves as royalty.

But that said, certainly there’s a mentality in publishing about who has the power as between publishers and authors generally. There are exceptions--I doubt Stephen King’s publisher thinks it has the upper hand in that relationship--but overall, publishers look at authors as needing publishers more than publishers need authors.

Joe: That's changed. And they don't seem to realize it.

Barry: Right. Before the digital revolution, there was some basis for this viewpoint. But today it’s antiquated, and publishers are starting to need authors more than authors need publishers. If for generations you’ve been the lord of the land worked by your peasants, and you suddenly find yourself needing the peasants more than they need you, if you find them making new demands you don’t have the negotiating leverage to resist, you’ll probably find yourself resentful because damn it, this just isn’t the way God ordered the universe!

Joe: And despite all this, legacy publishers don’t realize a revolution is afoot.

Barry: I think they’re aware of it, but in an abstract way. I talk to a lot of people in the business, and when most of them talk about digital and the changes it’s causing in the industry, you can tell they’re imagining a future that’s safely abstract and far off. Something you acknowledge in conversation, of course--you’re not in denial, after all--but that fundamentally still feels to you like theory. Because you’re still having your Tuesday morning editorial meetings, right? And you just launched a new title that made the NYT list, right? And signed that hot new author, right? Sure, there are rumblings in the provinces, but here at court in Versailles, the food is still delicious and the courtiers still accord deference appropriate to your rank. When you live in the palace at Versailles, the rumblings in the provinces always sound far away. Right up until the peasants are dragging you out of your bed in the middle of the night and setting fire to your throne.

Joe: Sounds like Egypt.

Barry: It is Egypt. You think Mubarak had any idea of what he was facing at any time before he was being escorted from the palace? At one point, he actually believed that offering to fire his cabinet was going to appease protesters. And at some point, publishers will believe that offering authors 25% or 30% of digital retail instead of 17.5% will put down the rebellion. In fact, this is probably their current backup, hail-Mary, worst-case plan. But it’s already too late.

The royalty/peasant mentality is pervasive, largely invisible to the people who are part of it, and manifests itself in a lot of contexts. Look what happened when I published my blog post, The Ministry of Truth.

Joe: The one about your NPR essay?

Barry: Right, my essay examining Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four as a thriller, which I wrote at NPR’s invitation. The blog post examined the way NPR edited the essay, and how NPR’s edits revealed that fundamentally, NPR is an establishment media player.

Joe: Your editor was pissed.

Barry: He was. NPR called up Random House and complained about my blog post. And my editor then dutifully complained to me. At first, I didn’t understand the complaints at all. I said, “Why don’t they complain in the comments section of my blog? You know, the box where it says, ‘Leave Your Comment.’ Why not engage my argument? Why are they complaining to you in private?”

Joe: Because they didn’t want to imply you were an equal.

Barry: Bingo. Their attitude was, “If we argue in public with this unwashed blogger, by implication it puts the blogger on the same footing as NPR.” So instead, they called another establishment player, Random House, to settle it all privately. “Straighten out this peasant, won’t you? He’s making us all look bad.”

The weird thing was how much sense the whole thing made to my editor and how little it made to me. I mean, it’s not like I took a dump all over NPR; I just pointed out that they’re an establishment media player playing by establishment media rules. An entirely legitimate and worthwhile argument. But they weren’t concerned about the merits of the argument; they were concerned that the argument was being raised at all, and by someone without the appropriate status to raise it. I just didn’t get it. I asked my editor what, is there some lese majeste law protecting NPR from respectful public criticism? It’s bizarre, how delicate establishment egos can be, how frightened they are of criticism from the wrong quarters.

Joe: Peasants aren’t allowed to criticize the royalty.

Barry: Yes. People don’t understand what this means. They see Fox fighting with CNN, Democrats fighting with Republicans, and they think they see real competition, competition that matters. But the old clans of Europe fought each other, too--they fought viciously. But you know what would bring them together as one?

Joe: A peasant uprising.

Barry: Yes. If a peasant spoke up, if a peasant suggested by word or deed that there was something fundamentally illegitimate about the very system within which the clans fought each other for spoils, that the system should be open to everyone--in the face of that, the clans would unite against the threat to the system itself. The clans hated each other, but they would work together to support the overall system.

Joe: Two beers and you’re already getting political.

Barry: You should hear me after two coffees. It’s worse. Anyway, “competition” between the major New York houses and other establishment players works the same way.

Joe: Other establishment players like the New York Times Bestseller List. Which, according to my calculations, I should have been on...

Barry: Yes, what the New York Times has been doing is a perfect example of the royalty/peasant mindset at work.

Joe: Let's set the Wayback Machine to 2009, when ebook sales began to really pick up speed. The NYT had ample opportunity to include them on their prestigious list.

Barry: Yes. Now, the natural, sensible, path-of-least resistance kind of thing would have been to include digital sales from the beginning, right?

Joe: Absolutely. Especially for a periodical that is considered the gold standard when it comes to reporting the news. It's a "bestseller" list, after all.

Barry: At least that's what it purports to be. So why didn’t the Times include digital sales from the outset? Or at least from some point after digital sales became more than a niche. Why did they wait until Amazon was selling more digital books than paperbacks?

Joe: Perhaps reporting the truth was somehow not aligned with what the NYT perceives as its interests.

Barry: Please don’t get me started on the Times’ cowardly insistence on calling waterboarding torture only when it’s done by other countries, and “harsh interrogation techniques” when it’s done by Americans. That’s their official policy, by the way.

Joe: I noticed you managed to sneak that sound bite into the Freakonomics movie. Which, incidentally, you never even told me you appeared in...

Barry: I still can’t believe I forgot to tell you that. But yes, I think it’s important that in a variety of critical ways the “newspaper of record” sees itself as the government’s partner and spokesperson, and believes that role is natural and desirable.

Joe: In the case of the bestseller list, I would assume that advertising dollars play a part. I'm a self-pubbed author. I don't buy full page ads in the Times for big bucks.

Barry: Surely this is no more than coincidence!

Joe: But even if we set aside the money, the Times has ample motive for not putting indie authors on their bestseller list. Newspapers, like Big 6 publishers, are remnants of the analog age. Printing and shipping paper is an antiquated form of distributing media. These companies are trying to stay relevant in a digital future, and aren't doing so well at it. Certainly the fact that I can sell more books than most bestselling Big 6 authors shows how ineffective the Big 6 are. So publishers, both newspaper and book, have an aligned interest in keeping digital at bay. Keeping it out of the public eye is one way to forestall things.

Barry: Right. Look, if the Times bestseller list were really just about sales--you know, if it were really just about the books that were “selling” the “best”--than you and a lot of other indie authors would be on it, because your numbers inarguably put you there. But the Times won’t allow it. What we can infer from the Times’ behavior, therefore, is that what they call a “bestseller” list is in fact a “those bestselling books we believe have been properly vetted and blessed by trusted establishment players with whom we see our interests as aligned” list.

Joe: That's a mouthful.

Barry: Sometimes the truth takes a little more explaining than the soundbite. Which is why governments, and Madison Avenue, like soundbites better. On the other hand, it’s a pretty simple soundbite to ask, “Why are so many bestselling books not being included on a bestseller list?”

Joe: Because including digital would accelerate the transition from analog. And paper pushers don't want that.

Barry: Right. And there’s more. What happened when digital sales became so big that even the Times recognized it was beginning to look undeniably foolish and antediluvian in pretending digital didn’t exist?

Joe: They said, “All right, we’ll include digital. But not by indie authors.”

Barry: Yes. Apparently, bestselling indie authors aren’t “real” bestsellers. Some sales are more equal than others.

Joe: Maybe I'll get lucky and the Times will publish a separate bestseller list for indie ebooks. "Separate but equal" is fair, right?

Barry: I almost wish they would. It would be pretty funny to see how many more books the indie bestsellers were selling than the legacy bestsellers.

Joe: It would be kind of like the old Negro Baseball League. The white establishment segregated them, and the Negro league wound up having the best players. Eventually, the establishment had no choice but to combine them.

Barry: It’s always interesting to watch the gyrations and contortions someone has to engage in when he takes an illogical and otherwise untenable position, a position he knows he can’t explain honestly and openly. Listen to the Times’ editor, Bill Keller, try to explain his position on the word “torture” and you might almost begin to feel sorry for him.

Joe: The Times, like the Big 6, are gatekeepers. But the gatekeepers aren't the only parties interested in keeping the status quo.

There are so many writers now defending the Big 6 that I liken their behavior to Stockholm Syndrome. As artists, we've become so used to the idea of breaking into the publishing industry by appeasing the gatekeepers that we've begun to revere them. We defend their decisions--even the wrong ones--because we've deemed them essential to the process. They're the powerful purveyors of wisdom who nod at worthy intellectual properties and welcome their creators into the fold.

Barry: If you can add one more “P” word to “Powerful Purveyors,” you’ll have a hit on your hand. You know, like “Nattering Nabobs of Negativism.”

Joe: Powerful Purveyors of Preference.

Barry: I like it. One for the ages.

Joe: So when confronted with how unfair the gatekeeping system is compared to self-pubbing, some authors get angry and insist that the Big 6 must know better, and have our best interests at heart.

Barry: I’ve seen this from time to time in the comments section of your blog and also in the comments at Jane Litte’s excellent Dear Author. I think of it as a peasant mentality, but absolutely, Stockholm Syndrome is a perfect reference.

Joe: The thing is, the notion that the gatekeepers know better is demonstrably untrue. While I've had good relationships with industry pros, they always boiled down to one thing: money. There's nothing wrong or dirty about that. Business is business. But as the artist, we have a lot more at stake in this business.

Barry: We have more skin in the game. A publisher can have hundreds of authors, but I'll only be able to write so many books in my lifetime. They can afford to have a few fail. I can't.

I want to digress here for a moment to show how in the current system this hidden asymmetry can work to the author’s detriment. You know how legacy publishers are now agreeing to what are called “lookback” provisions on digital royalties?

Joe: You mean the clauses that says, three years after publication, the two parties will renegotiate the digital royalty?

Barry: Yes. The clause then provides, “And if the parties can’t agree on a new royalty, the publisher will stop selling digital copies of the title in question.” Sounds like an equitable solution, right?

Joe: Not to me. But I see why it’ll fool some people.

Barry: It fools a lot of people. They think, “Well, that seems fair... if we can’t agree on a new royalty, no one can sell the book until we do agree.” Equally applicable to both sides. But as a percentage of the publisher’s corporate earnings, that one version of one title is barely a rounding error. As a percentage of the author’s earnings, it’s massive. If there’s a freeze, who’s going to squeal first?

Joe: People need to understand this. I need my books to make money, or else I can't make a living. A publisher needs books, but not any specific book.

Barry: A critical concept that applies to burglaries, too. A burglar doesn’t want to rob your house; he wants to rob a house. When you understand this, you can take appropriate defensive measures.

Joe: Okay, back to your decision. Without--

Barry: Did I digress?

Joe: You never digress.

Barry: You’re being kind.

Joe: Without revealing who offered you half a million dollars, how did they handle your reaction?

There have been other authors who have turned down deals. Though hearsay and rumor continue to trumpet otherwise, I passed up legacy offers for Shaken, Endurance, and Trapped, and I pulled a second book in a two book deal with Berkley because I couldn't get them to understand that low prices and no DRM sells many more books, even though I have a lot of evidence that shows I'm right.

But I didn't give up half a mil...

Barry: Every time you say that you make me feel like a lunatic!

Joe: You might be, but not in regard to this situation. Obviously, I'm 100% on your side on this one. I'm on track to make half a mil in the next ten months. I know how lucrative self-publishing has become.

But I'm an outlier, remember? An anomaly. (Me and the dozens other writers who are doing the same.)

Barry: Here’s another quote, this one from Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

As a news junkie, it’s been fascinating for me to watch the way the publishing establishment has tried to marginalize you. First by ignoring you, and then, when ignoring you become impossible, by trying to position you as some sort of shrill, bitter, fringe player with nothing more than an axe to grind. The way legacy publishing has tried to de-position you is perfectly analogous to what The New York Times and other establishment media players have tried to do with Wikileaks.

I can’t tell you how many otherwise smart and reasonably well-informed publishing people have said to me, “Well, yes, but Konrath was rejected by all the NY houses” (about the same number as the otherwise smart and reasonably well-informed people who’ve said to me, “Yes, but Wikileaks indiscriminately released a quarter million top-secret cables and has blood on its hands”). I tell them that’s untrue, that in fact your legacy books have earned out and that you had offers on various others which in the end you decided not to take. And I ask them, “What do people say when they’ve been fired? ‘I quit.’ What do they say when their girlfriend breaks up with them? ‘I dumped her, man.’ Maybe they even believe it, too, but that doesn’t make it so.

And then they say, ‘Well, all right, but Konrath is a marketing genius.’

Joe: That part’s true.

Barry: It is true, but it isn’t the point. Their trying to argue that you have to be a marketing genius to succeed in self-publishing, and that therefore no one else but you can do it. This is just demonstrably not the case. A talent for marketing is going to help you in any business endeavor, but there are too many people making money now in self-publishing for an outbreak of genius to be the explanation.

And then the next argument (contradicting the first one, by the way), is, “Konrath only succeeded in self-publishing because he had a legacy deal first.” And then I point to your various blog posts where you show how much money is being made by self-published writers who have never had legacy deals.

Joe: I think I contradicted the "legacy deal first" argument pretty well here.

Barry: You demolished it. The final argument I’ve been hearing--and it really will be the final argument, because after this, “then you win”--is that, “Okay, some people are making money in self-publishing, but it’s always the same names.”

But that list of names keeps getting longer. The critics are going to be reduced to saying, ‘Okay, some people are making money in self-publishing, but it’s always the same five thousand names.’

The critics will be self-publishing themselves before then.

Joe: I was in love with the publishing industry. It was my dream to land a Big 6 deal. And I still believe the industry is filled with intelligent, talented, motivated, exceptional people. I'm grateful to have sold as many books as I did (and continue to do.)

My switch to self-publishing isn't personal. It's just business. I can make more money on my own.

Also, I see publishers doing a lot that’s wrong. Things we've just discussed. It isn't a good idea for most authors to sign a legacy deal anymore.

You, however, are a NYT bestseller. This is important, you passing on a deal like this. It says something I haven't been able to say, and shows something I haven't been able to show.

Barry: Some people are reading this and saying, “Yeah, it shows that he is demented!”

Joe: Nah, that they already suspected. Actually, I'd qualify it as a tipping point. When big name authors start turning down major deals, the tides are truly turning.

Barry: I think it’s fair to say it’s probably a kind of milestone. There will be many more, some we won’t even be aware of except in retrospect, but yes, when authors start turning down half-million dollar book deals because they think they’ll do better in the long run on their own, it’s hard to argue “Nothing to see here, folks, just keep moving...”

Joe: I've said it to you in person, and I'll repeat it here. You have got some gigantic balls.

Barry: I don’t know if it’s that so much. It’s more that I’ve spent a lot of time in this industry and a lot of time studying it. I’ve also spent time in other industries, and in the government, and there are certain dynamics at work in the publishing world that feel familiar to me. Plus I read your blog and I track the results of your experiments. You’ve created a lot of data that’s providing a kind of roadmap through new and confusing terrain. Anyway, add all that up and it leads me to the conclusion that I’d be better off on my own. Doing the right thing isn’t the hard part, I think; it’s knowing what the right thing is in the first place. You’ve made that easier.

Joe: Dude, they're like two pumpkins in a sack. Your balls are massive. Other men fear your balls.

Now would be a fun time to reveal that I made up all of my numbers, and am only making $7 a week on ebooks.

Barry: Heh. Remember, if Amazon is playing with your numbers, they’re probably inflating them just to tempt other authors to take the plunge, create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and hasten the transition to digital.

Joe: We discussed that recently. How can we be sure Amazon, or any of the other etailers, are being honest in their accounting?

Barry: We can’t. But--

Joe: But how can we be sure the Big 6 are honest in their accounting? Especially with reserves against returns and inflated print run figures?

Barry: Exactly. What’s so interesting about this species of question is that it always ignores the same risk as it exists in a more familiar context. For example, “How do you know you’ll be able to market your books effectively by yourself?” As though working with a legacy publisher automatically means you’re going to be marketed effectively.

Joe: My fave is, "So what if Amazon reduces the royalty rate from 70% once they dominate the market?"

Barry: Yes, that’s the classic. I mean, they might even reduce it to 14.9%! And God, a 14.9% digital royalty would just suck.

Oh, wait...

Joe: LMAO.

Barry: One more related point. I know some people are going to be reading this and thinking, “Okay, but how will I ever cut through all that digital clutter? How will I ever get noticed without a publisher?”

Joe: How did anyone ever get noticed with a publisher?

Barry: Exactly. Walk into a bookstore--even with today’s diminished inventory, there are tens of thousands of titles. How do you get noticed? Getting noticed and other aspects of marketing is a challenge in any business, digital, paper, or otherwise. It’s too big a topic to cover here, but for now, let’s just say that it’s hardly a unique challenge for digital books. And, as you and many others have demonstrated, it’s hardly an insurmountable challenge, either.

Joe: I’d argue that marketing a digital book is actually easier. But we can come back to that. I want to ask, can you reveal who made the offer?

Barry: I don’t think it’s a secret that the publisher was St. Martin’s Press. And my demurral had nothing to do with SMP specifically--in fact, I think they’re terrific people, and if I’d worked with them earlier in my career, I would have been much better off. Also, I had comparable offers from other publishers and thought the SMP people were the smartest and most impressive of the bunch. So my decision had nothing to do with SMP in particular, and everything to do with pervasive industry dynamics as I see them. To put it another way, from everything I’ve heard and seen, I think SMP would be an exceptionally strong publisher. But like all publishers, they’re currently caught in a digital riptide and don’t have a good way through it.

Joe: So, were they shocked?

Barry: Well, certainly surprised and disappointed. And we tried to work out something a little different than what had originally been proposed, but in the end I just couldn’t convince myself not to go it alone.

Joe: How about your agent? What was his reaction?

Barry: Again, surprised and disappointed. But it’s led to a lot of terrific conversations about where the industry is going, and how agents will be changing their business models accordingly.

Joe: Did your wife want to strangle you?

Barry: If she did, it wouldn’t be anything new. But she’s amazing... totally understands how I think and feel about all this and is completely supportive.

Joe: Also, if you don't do well on this, I'll be the one she strangles.

Barry: She’s told me exactly that.

Joe: What was the ultimate basis for your decision? Did it come down to pure dollars and cents?

Barry: Financial considerations were a big part of it, yes. You and I have discussed various models to understand what a publisher’s advance represents: a loan, an insurance policy, a bet. On the loan model, the first place I heard the concept articulated was in an extremely ballsy and persuasive blog post by Terrill Lee Lankford.

Joe: I like that analogy. I also believe signing with a big publisher is like signing a life insurance policy, where the payments keep getting larger while the payoff gets smaller as time goes on.

Barry: Yes. Now, of course there are numbers where the loan, the insurance, or the bet would make sense. If the loan is so big that you don’t think you’d ever be able to make that much on your own, plus you won’t have to pay it back, then sure, take it. If the insurance payout is so big that it eclipses the event it’s supposed to protect against, okay. And if you find a publisher willing to put down so much money upfront that you feel they must be stoned because no one could ever earn that much back, then by all means, take the bet.

But short of that, you have to wonder if the person you’re betting against isn’t yourself.


Anyway, yes, much of this was financial. A lot of people don’t realize--and I probably wouldn’t have realized myself if you hadn’t pointed it out--that the appropriate measure for determining how much your books can earn you in digital is
forever. In paper, with rare exceptions, there’s a big upfront sales push, followed by either total evaporation or by years of low backlist sales. Digital isn’t like that.

Joe: Time is the ultimate long tail. Even with a big wad of money upfront, if something sells forever, the back end is what ultimately counts.

Barry: Right. So if you think you’re going to die on Tuesday, for sure take the advance on Monday. If you think you’re going to stick around for a while, though, and you have resources to draw on such that you don’t need that expensive loan, don’t take it. You’ll be better off without.

Joe: Or to put it another way, getting half a million bucks and 14.9% royalties, forever, isn't as lucrative as no money up front and 70% royalties, forever.

Barry: Yes. Especially because you first have to earn out the half million at 14.9% per book. That could take a while. After which, as you note, you’re still only earning 14.9% rather than 70%. You need to move five times the volume at 14.9%.

Joe: But currently, you're a paper bestseller.

Barry: Yes, which maybe makes my experience instructive. My books are probably pretty good examples of reasonable success in paper. The first two, Rain Fall and Hard Rain, are in something like their 15th printings eight and nine years on. So that’s good. But I’m still only earning pennies on each copy sold. And my publisher of those books, Putnam, is still trying to charge $6.99 and $7.99 for digital copies, which is demonstrably too high if your goal is to maximize revenue (as opposed to, say, trying to shore up an eroding paper ecosystem).

I’m getting close to earning out on some of those books, which would be another sign of success--but even after I’ve earned out, I’ll still be making only pennies because of low paper royalties and because 14.9% multiplied by sluggish digital sales caused by too-high prices doesn’t make me much money.

I should add here that I don’t begrudge Putnam--they have the rights and they can use them however they like, however mistaken I think they are in their digital pricing model. The point is that I would be making far more money from the books if I held the digital rights myself. At the time, holding the rights myself wasn’t an option. Today it is, and I don’t want to be kicking myself eight years from now when The Detachment would be making me only pennies through a legacy publisher when it could have been making me a mint through the rights I refused to sell cheap.

Joe: Time also has to be an issue for you. Not just having to wait a year to publish The Detachment, but the time it takes to promote it.

A few years ago, there was some idiot who did signings at over 500 bookstores during a summer. He wound up visiting 40 states and over 1200 bookstores.

Barry: I heard about that guy. Funny-looking dude.

Joe: Hah. But there was another idiot who came pretty close to that record, who personally visited over 800 bookstores in the last few years.

Barry: Heh. People who live in glass houses...

Joe: And I may be the only other person on the planet who knows the amount of time and effort that took. Time that you could have spent writing...

Barry: Based on what I knew at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. Plus I’ve always wanted to see Montana.

Joe: I'm sure you saw that and more, driving those thousands of miles. But it was the right thing to do. We're both still in print, aren't we? How many of our peers who were published at the same time aren't?

Barry: That’s a good point. Books were selling through bookstores, and I looked at booksellers as my frontline sales force. So I wanted to do all I could do develop a closer relationship with that sales force and help them sell books. Not an unworthy objective, even today, but what it fails to take into account is the opportunity cost involved. When you’re driving (or whatever), you’re not writing, and again the highest profit margin activity an author can engage in is writing. In retrospect, I realize this has always been true, but it’s more true now that ever due to the numbers of units you can sell in digital, because of the tendency of a new digital customer to vacuum up an author’s entire low-price, high-margin oeuvre in one purchase.

Joe: So this decision should allow you to be more prolific. Because, dayam, a book a year is really fricking slow...

Barry: I think you’ll see me writing a bit more in my new self-published capacity. And not just because I’m motivated. It’s also because, contrary to conventional wisdom, in my experience publishers don’t actually save you much time on the marketing front. Dealing with a legacy publisher can be quite time-consuming, and aggravating, too. Of course, publishers might say the same about authors! But that doesn’t change the fact that publishers can take up a lot of your time.

Joe: Dealing with bureaucrats, large companies, or committees, is always a time suck. Lots of effort, little result.

Barry: If you think about it, for years publishers have been steadily outsourcing their core business functions. Culling the slush pile went to agents long ago. A lot of editorial devolved to agents, too. Marketing has increasingly become the responsibility of writers, who are expected to blog and be social media demons. I think publishers felt comfortable outsourcing all these functions because they felt the lock they had on their core function--distribution--made their overall position impregnable.

The problem is, they’ve lost that lock, and they’ve already outsourced so many of their other functions that it’s getting hard for them to offer a writer a coherent value proposition. For now, they have enough cash to offer advances, which most authors will need to live for the same reason most people need a mortgage to buy a house. But even that advantage is being eroded by digital, because with digital, you publish right away and start earning right away.

It’s funny, what are the two most common, even pervasive, writer complaints about legacy publishers? First, that publishers don’t know how to market and expect writers to do a tremendous amount of their own marketing. Second, publisher incompetence.

Joe: Yeah, the incompetence. Lots of people call me bitter, and I don't completely discount that. But it isn't because I couldn't land new contracts--I had plenty of those, even too many in retrospect, when I consider how much more money I could making on the titles I sold to legacy publishers. It's because my publishers have made a lot of mistakes. Some of them big. Some of them which cost me, are costing me, money.

Talking to other writers, I know I'm not alone. Almost every writer I know has gotten screwed by their publisher, in one way or another. I know hundreds of writers, and I can count on one hand the number of my peers who have no publisher complaints. Bad covers, title changes, editing conflicts, slow payments, unclear royalty statements, orphaned books, bad launches. The list is so long that I have to wonder if we're not being intentionally screwed...

Barry: This was part of the not-strictly-financial calculus in my decision. Of course, when a publisher makes a mistake, it costs the author money. That’s a financial problem. But there’s also the irritation of knowing that your publisher is making a mistake, the time you spend trying to correct it, the frustration of not being able to. I mean, imagine that your publisher thinks the appropriate cover for your thriller is a close-up image of an olive-green garage door.

Joe: I've been fighting with a publisher for years now because not all my ebooks are available. How crazy is that? I'm not on all platforms, in all countries, yet they praise me for being one of their bestselling ebook authors.

You've got the rights! Exploit them, dammit! I'm one guy and I can get my self-pubbed ebooks up for sale without any problems! You're a multi-million dollar company with a big staff!

Years I've been dealing with this.

Barry: Yeah, there are a lot of frustrations. Now, in fairness, there are authors whose publishers have done everything right--and good for them. But it’s a question of probabilities, based on empirical evidence.

Joe: Even a blind bird finds a worm every now and then.

Barry: Actually, I think it’s a little different from that, and more tragic, too. I’ve heard some people say in response to a publisher success, “Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day,” but that’s not what’s going on. Publishers actually have good instincts, and when the right property is being handled by the right team, a team that gets the book on a gut level, understands its essential marketing hooks, that knows which channels to push it through, when, and how, they can make magic happen. The tragedy is the cultural inability of legacy publishers to extract from those instinct-driven successes (and from their failures) objective, replicable lessons that they can then apply to increase the odds of success of books for which the publisher doesn’t have that rare, spot-in gut instinct.

Joe: I gotta disagree with you here. Publishing is an unreproduceable phenomenon. Two books with similar topics can have similar launches, and then one tanks while the other is a huge hit. If the same things were done for each book, there is no way to learn what works and what doesn't.

That isn't to say publishers can't help a book find its audience. They do. But they only do it one out of five times. The other four don't make a profit. And I've heard the return rates are as high as 70%.

Guess what? Every single one of my self-pubbed books has made a profit. Now, some make more than others, and I can't account for why, any more than a legacy publisher can predict what will be a hit.

Barry: But is that all luck?

Joe: Yes. Randomness is a bigger factor than we like to admit.

Barry: My point on extracting and applying objective lessons isn’t that the extraction and application of such lessons guarantees success, but rather that it increases the odds of success.

Look at it this way: does an image of an olive-green, static garage door decrease sales of a book? Of course it does. Mistakes cost. So it follows that the avoidance of mistakes, and the application of sound tactics, must increase the probability of success.

Joe: But according to your logic, every time a publisher does everything right, the book should be a hit. And it can be shown this is true, in retrospect. But this is called the sharpshooter fallacy. You're attributing significance to events after they've already happened.

Barry: No, not a hit, but the book should do better than it would have when they screwed up.

Joe: They still have too many misses, even when they do things right. It's luck, man.

Barry: That’s a good point, and it might just be--probably is--the case that publishing is an inherently hit-driven business, like movies or venture capital. But with more sound tactics, the misses could at least be mitigated and the hits might do even better. Probably some misses could even be turned into hits. Not all, but no one needs to shoot for (or could obtain) a .1000 batting average. The point is just to increase the odds, and therefore the profits.

Joe: Odds can be increased, and I agree publishers can do that. Talent, knowledge, experience, and hard work can improve the chances for success.

But in order to prove publishers are good at manufacturing success, they should be able to apply their knowledge and predict hits. And they can't do this, even though they often believe they can.

Barry: Exactly. Here’s another example of something I found frustrating: that one of my publishers just didn’t understand the principle of a good author bio--what the bio is for, how it should function. Now, is a good bio going to make a book a hit? Probably not. But a bad bio can’t help, and since there’s no cost to doing the bio right, why not do it right? Why not explain to newbies in the publishing house that this is what a bio is for and this is how it’s done? Why not have a system for passing along that institutional learning? And it’s not just bios, of course. It’s packaging, it’s titles (and titles)... learning just isn’t part of the culture, and the inability to extract, apply, and transmit learning has cost publishers, and therefore authors, a lot. And remember, when a publisher screws up a book, it costs them fractionally. When that book is your book, it costs you one hundred percent.

Joe: LOL. Get two authors together, and after a while they'll start bitching about their publishers...

A phrase I hear you use a lot is "adding value." I like that. In contracts, and even in our dealings with others, we should consider what value we're offering, and what value is being added.

Whether or not we agree on the luck thing, can we agree that sometimes publishers add value, but sometimes they take away value?

Barry: Definitely we can agree on that. And this gets to the heart of the conundrum facing legacy publishing.

There’s no question that legacy publishers still add a lot of value on the paper side of the ledger. With paper, you need to actually make books, deploy a sales force, take wholesale orders, get the books on trucks, handle returns... there’s a huge amount of infrastructure, which is what’s given publishers the relative clout they’ve enjoyed for so long. Authors can’t distribute paper nearly as well by themselves, or even with a service like Amazon’s CreateSpace, as they can with a legacy partner.

Joe: Agreed, but I am making $120 a day through CreateSpace on my print books. In a year I'll earn more than my original advance for Whiskey Sour, my first novel.

Barry: Yes, you can definitely still make money through paper distribution even without a legacy partner, but probably not nearly as much.

Joe: That’s changing, though.

Barry: Yes, like everything else, and I expect that as more authors turn to digital self-publishing, more paper fulfillment players will emerge and offer authors more choices and better margins. And of course if something like the Espresso Book Machine Print-on-Demand become sufficiently cheap and ubiquitous, writers will even be able to self-distribute through paper.

Joe: I was thinking more along the lines of: it's changing, because paper is becoming a subsidiary right. I think we both agree that digital is going to become the preferred format for books.

Barry: Yes, and that’s the other side of the conundrum. On the digital side of the ledger, publishers don’t add much at all because there’s nothing to distribute. Or, to put it a little more accurately, what publishers can add on the digital side (editing, copyediting, proofreading, cover design, jacket copy, formatting) can all be done by other players at least as well. So what an author needs to consider today is fairly straightforward: “Is what I’m giving up on the digital side by taking on this legacy partner balanced or exceeded by the partner’s paper muscle?”

The answer is going to be different with different authors. James Patterson, to use an extreme example, sells bazillions of books in every conceivable paper outlet. He’s clearly better off with a legacy partner than he would be on his own. But as bookstores close and digital readers proliferate, more and more authors will decide that what legacy publishers take from them in digital sales isn’t worth what legacy publishers earn for them in paper sales.

Joe: And there's something else at work here, too. Let's say you have both a digital version and a print version available. You may sell one of each to two different readers. That's two copies sold. But if the book is only available digitally, that doesn't mean you'll only sell one copy. You could sell two copies to the same people--the one who would have bought a paper copy had it been available just buys the digital version instead.

Barry: Yes, many people assume sales is a zero sum game. For a car, it is. For low-priced items, not necessarily.

Joe: In some cases, I've had readers email me saying they bought a Kindle or a Nook just to read one of my ebooks.

Barry: Had the same experience with The Lost Coast--just for a short story! Very flattering, and a portent more generally, I think.

Joe: My point is, I don't think walking away from a paper deal means the loss of all those paper sales. Maybe some. But some of those who would have bought you in print, will buy you in ebook. And you may find ebook readers who would have never bought you in print.

This can also be applied to price. Right now, your best ranked ebook is your $2.99 short story. Why is it outselling your backlist? I'd say it’s because of price.

If you controlled the price of your backlist, those same people who are avoiding those ebooks would likely buy them, as evidenced by those buying your short story.

Barry: Agreed. One of the things you’ve demonstrated is that digital sales don’t behave like paper sales. I think this is primarily a function of two things: price, and intangability. A $2.99 download is an impulse purchase. Lugging around a ten-dollar paperback just isn’t.

Joe: Sales 101: Don't make the consumer think about the purchase. Several things can impede a sales. Cost. Convenience. Tangibility. Even the use of money or a credit card.

Ebooks leapfrog all these roadblocks. A low price is an impulse buy, no guilt attached. You can own one with the press of a button--and a button press is much less painful than opening up your wallet. No getting into the car and going to the store is necessary. No ordering online and waiting for the mailman to come a week later. You can buy a book while in bed, and get it a few seconds later.

It's no wonder Kindle and Nook owners wind up buying more books than they ever did in print. It's easy, painless, cheap, and instant.

But instead of pouncing on this new technology and embracing this wonderful delivery system that turns readers into happy addicts, publishers are trying to slow down its adoption.

Barry: Yes. That’s another key not-strictly-financial reason I couldn’t do another legacy deal. I just don’t want to be part of an industry that doesn’t make sense, that’s fighting change rather than taking advantage of it. I want to make money by giving readers what they want, not by seeking ways to deny it to them.

Joe: This conversation went on for several hours. It’ll take a while to to edit, too.

Barry: We should leave the frog stuff in. That’ll save time.

Joe: It will. But what would you say to someone who said, “But I thought you said writers should spend all their time writing?”

Barry: That’s not what we said. We said that a writer’s time is most profitably spent writing. There’s more to life than profit, though, and sharing experience and insights with others who might benefit is a good in its own right regardless of what money it might make or cost you. I’ve never profited from all the articles I’ve written about the business of publishing, and the politics of my blog, Heart of the Matter, might even cost me readers. That’s fine by me. And we probably would have made more money if this 13,000 word conversation were a jointly-written short story, instead. That’s fine, too. Again, activity X might be your most profitable activity, but that doesn’t mean activity X is the only thing you should do. It just means that activity X is what you should be doing when you’re trying to make money. For writers today, activity X is indisputably writing.

Joe: Which brings us back to the entire reason we're having this conversation in the first place, and why we've documented it for posterity (or to help other writers, or to clarify our own motives, or all of the above.) Namely, you just turned down a half-million dollars to self-publish.

One of the things I've said, time and again in our conversations, is that ultimately writers will make more money by self-pubbing than by signing a legacy deal. Even if there is a nice chunk of money upfront, in the long run a 70% royalty wins. But there’s more to it than that. As a self-publisher, you can get your books to readers much faster--often by a year or more--than a legacy publisher can. You don't have to deal with the ungodly amount of time we've both spent touring, booksigning, and travelling. There's no wasting time or getting frustrated with publishers' mistakes. You're in complete control of your own career, whereas before you were at the mercy of a corporation that treated you like just another product--a product that it wasn't very good at selling in the first place.

Barry: I want to interrupt to ask one question.

Joe: Damn, I was just building up a head of steam.

Barry: The terminology. I love the term “self-published” because it used to carry a stigma, and now it’s being rehabilitated. Which makes sense. In America, the self has a lot of positive connotations. Self-possessed, self-actualized, self-confident, self-pleasure--”

Joe: Self-pleasure?

Barry: Well, everybody does it. Everybody likes it.

Joe: I guess that’s true.

Barry: And you really are self-published, in that you manage everything yourself. But let’s talk about what “everything” means for a moment.

Joe: Okay.

Barry: To turn a manuscript into an actual book and get it into the hands of a reader, we still need an editor, line editor, copyeditor, proofreader, jacket copy writer, bio writer, cover art designer, and digital formatter. Plus there are various marketing and sales elements, too. You manage all these functions yourself, and this is one way in which I’d argue that you really are, if not exceptional, then at least unusual.

Joe: I wouldn’t disagree with that.

Barry: So as legacy publishing dies out, where will other writers turn to for assistance with the critical functions I mention above?

Joe: We’ve talked about this before.

Barry: I know. I was trying to prompt you in an unobtrusive way.

Joe: Right. Okay, unobtrusively, I think agencies will morph into what I call E-stributors.

Barry: I agree with the concept, even if I don’t like the nomenclature.

Joe: You don’t like “print,” either.

Barry: Not when you’re talking about paper. There’s paper print and digital print. I think the better distinction is between paper and digital.

Joe: I know, I know. Anyway, E-stributors will be a combination of publisher and manager, handling all the elements you mention above for authors who don’t want to manage those elements themselves. The ones that do it well will probably be able to make a good case for keeping their 15% cut.

Barry: As opposed to legacy publishers, which are keeping 52.5%.

Joe: Yes. Hard to see how legacy publishers will be able to compete with the digital model being adopted by agencies. They’d have to morph into E-stributors themselves, which would be a huge challenge given their attachment to a paper infrastructure. More likely, you’ll see the most entrepreneurial editors jumping ship and joining agencies.

Barry: Sorry for the digression. I guess I was just wondering aloud whether the term “self-published” will be widely applicable after all. For some, no doubt. But maybe “indie-published” will be more appropriate across the board.

Joe: Could be. Regardless, the one trump card legacy publishers always had--the lock on distribution--is now gone. Writers can reach readers on our own through Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Createspace, and Overdrive (a company that distributes ebooks to libraries.)

Even with all that, however, it still takes a lot of guts to walk away from a half-million dollars.

But it's the right thing to do. And you're correct that you won't be the last to do so.

Allow me to congratulate you on being the first one to do so, my friend.

If I'm right, you may have just fired a shot heard 'round the world...

Barry: Thanks for the kind words, amigo. But you saw the way and blazed the trail. I might be doing something to make the way more apparent myself, but in the end I’m still just following in your footsteps.


About the Authors

Joe Konrath is the author of more than twenty novels and hundreds of short stories, written under the names J.A. Konrath (the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels series), Jack Kilborn (Afraid, Trapped, Endurance, Draculas), and Joe Kimball (Timecaster.) Joe has a lot of names, apparently. He began self-publishing on Kindle in April, 2009. As of March, 2011, he's sold over 200,000 ebooks. On his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, he has chronicled his writing journey. You can visit him at www.JAKonrath.com.

Barry Eisler spent three years in a covert position with the CIA's Directorate of Operations, then worked as a technology lawyer and startup executive in Silicon Valley and Japan, earning his black belt at the Kodokan International Judo Center along the way. Eisler's bestselling thrillers have won the Barry Award and the Gumshoe Award for Best Thriller of the Year, have been included in numerous "Best Of" lists, and have been translated into nearly twenty languages. The first book in Eisler's John Rain series, Rain Fall, is now a minor motion picture (kidding, it’s reasonably major) starring Gary Oldman. Eisler lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and, when he's not writing novels, blogs about torture, civil liberties, and the rule of law. You can find out more on his website, friend him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter. He was also in the movie Freakonomics, which he forgot to tell Joe.

262 comments:

1 – 200 of 262   Newer›   Newest»
Barry said...

Can't believe we left the part about the monkey and the frog. Now no one will take us seriously.

Moses Siregar III said...

Now that's a blog post.

wannabuy said...

I agree with the analogy that this is like TV going from three channels to hundreds.

Except TV *requires* a large group coordinated in parallel. Self-publishing can be serial and involve as few as two people. (I assume a good writer is wise enough to higher a good editor.)

In other words, TV (like music) remains the domain of corporations. Self-publishing is the first of the digital media that inherently favors the small business. :)

And that poor slandered monkey...

Neil

Courtney Milan said...

Good work, man.

Rose Fox said...

It's not the video that bothers me, it's the "I'm married, I see this all the time" comment. My heartfelt sympathies to your soon-to-be-ex-wife.

jack said...

Wow! Um.... not sure what to say.... If I wasn't completely sold on self Publishing already, than I would be a fool not to do it now!

This must also be the LONGEST SINGLE BLOG I have ever read. With all the links added to reference in addition to the well rounded arguments.... I'm exhausted from reading already! haha

I would like to add that I feel it would be worthwhile if you would blog about what you do for marketing? You have done a great job convincing us to self Publish. I do believe that you are a marketing genius as well, and I am very curious as to what avenues you use in those efforts. I will be self pubbing a book this year and would love to start out on the right foot. Who better to guide us new at this, than the best in the field?

thanks again,
jack

Teresa D'Amario said...

Fascinating article, even for 3 in the morning reading. (Ok, I was busy writing and saw the twitter post and had to check it out). I like the idea of an e-stributor, but yeah, the name kind of sucks, doesn't it? But the idea is excellent. I have actually been watching the new "editors" popping up and offering their services as well. A one stop shop, though, might be even more beneficial.

yeyeman9 said...

A very interesting read man! Thanks a lot for sharing it.

bowerbird said...

well, thanks for the interesting
tidbit about eisler's decision...

and the overall summary will
be very useful for any newbies.

but mostly, let us give thanks to
konrath for gifting humans with
the miracle of self-publishing...

maybe a nobel prize is in order?
sainthood? custom beer-cooler?

but seriously...

when is michael hart gonna get
some of his deserved respect?
(he lives close enough to chicago
that you could call him a local.)
cory doctorow? heck, jeff bezos?

back-slapping is one thing, but
the myopia is getting a bit old...

not that i don't appreciate the
contribution that you've made,
joe, as i think i've spoken out
on that regard often, but you
were _dissing_ self-publishing
just a couple short years back,
and the chrome on your blog
_still_ makes it sound like the
object of any "real" writer is to
be published by a corporation.

let's tell the _whole_ truth, ok?

rock on; keep up the good work.

-bowerbird

John said...

Barry and Joe,

Marvelous - excellent effort - except for the poor bloody frog...

Waiting for my mss to come back from the editor - definitely will be self published ebook.

John West
Broken Glass

krystian-galaj said...

So you're also saying that in most aspects today's governments and regimes become irrelevant and unnecessary, and they don't see it either.

ivinv said...

Thank you Joe/Barry for sharing this great conversation with us. These are sometimes more helpful than a interview as two professionals discuss their careers.

Joe, would you mind granting me an interview for my blog? I'd really appreciate it.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Self Publishing: a hidden Blog Monetization

Robert Bidinotto said...

Joe, you nailed it when you said that this represents a "tipping point" moment in the history of publishing. Much as I disagree with Mr. Eisler's politics (don't ask, and I won't tell), I commend him for the courage and independence demonstrated by his decision to self-publish.

He's right: "In America, the self has a lot of positive connotations. Self-possessed, self-actualized, self-confident. . ." Let's add: self-responsible, self-respecting, and self-made. I see the self-publishing revolution as a natural outgrowth of the Revolution that established this country, and I commend Mr. Eisler for issuing his personal "declaration of independence."

I'll be joining that revolution myself in just a couple more months, when I self-publish my first thriller. That may not have happened anytime soon were it not for this blog. I'm grateful to you, Joe, for showing me the way. Your name will be in the acknowledgments.

--Robert Bidinotto
RobertTheWriter.com

tonymcfadden said...

Well, this is my first read of this blog (not this specific post, the entire blog) and hat an intro.

The wind is shifting fast. A year ago, when I decided that I was serious about moving to a career in writing, self-pub still had enough of a stigma that 'the Big 6' were the ultimate goal.

Now, two (average) books under my belt and I'm sending my third (and infinitely better) ms in a couple of weeks to an editor. I'll be contacting an artist or two for cover art in parallel. With Smashwords, Createspace and Amazon's Kindle, there's absolutely no reason to give the bulk of my money, and over a year of my time, to a deadtree publisher.

I'll be coming back, as long as you stop torturing frogs.

Joe Konrath said...

A great response blog by Dean Wesley Smith that is very worth reading.

Russell Brooks said...

Way to go, Barry. I'm so happy for you. Now how about that Rainiac convention on the east coast?

Russell Brooks
Author of Pandora's Succession

mollytheclown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Bidinotto said...

@ Russell Brooks: Russell, who did your cover art?

--Robert Bidinotto
RobertTheWriter.com

Julianne MacLean said...

Question for you Barry - did you accept the deal initially, then walk away before you actually signed on the dotted line (because we all know that contracts can take months to negotiate), or did you turn it down right away?

Jon F. Merz said...

Ha! I loved the part about the money and the frog, lol. Great column guys - much appreciated. Off to RT and repost this sucker.

Be well,
Jon

***
Jon F. Merz
http://www.jonfmerz.net

Joshua James said...

Guys, that was a GREAT dialogue, loved it. Very important to get this information out there and, hell, it was funny, too.

The tide's already shifting, too, in a sense.

I keep getting emails from a company or two that offers to set up my book as an ebook for a reasonable price, they'll convert it, do a cover and place it for a set fee and I keep all the profits ... so there are companies already doing what you mentioned.

I don't know if I want to use them, at first, but we'll see what the future brings.

Raymond said...

Joe,

Great post! If this rejection of a major deal by Barry doesn't act as the beginnings of a major paradigm shift by traditional publishing then they are truly more stupid than we give them credit for.

My comment was a question borne out of curiosity.

Since a lot of us have benefitted from the collective wisdom of the many here in the comments section of your blog - what if you bundled up said comments on a daily / weekly / monthly / or by topic basis and sold them as a .99 ebook?

Circular consumerism?

Whose "intellectual property" are these comments - once they are on YOUR blog - in a public forum?

Would there be issues of violation of privacy, publishing someone else's thoughts or work?

Would anybody buy it?

I'm asking satirically of course. Maybe.

I'm sure this will draw the ire of many, but regardless of the objections - I think everyone would have to admit it would be an interesting experiment.

Raymond

Anonymous said...

"I keep getting emails from a company or two that offers to set up my book as an ebook for a reasonable price, they'll convert it, do a cover and place it for a set fee and I keep all the profits ... so there are companies already doing what you mentioned."

They say the people who got rich during the gold rush were the people selling supplies to the miners. You are better off learning how to do all this on your own unless you have the money to throw around. It's not hard.

Mike Dennis said...

Fantastic post, Joe and Barry. I'm sending a link to other writer friends, making sure they stay up on this important issue.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Sleuthfest in Fort Lauderdale. It was populated with lots of traditionalists: publishers, agents, and authors, and EVERY panel I attended, regardless of topic, eventually got around to talking about the digital revolution. I posted a blog on my website, describing it in all its bizarre glory. http://mikedennisnoir.com/sleuthfest-more-like-denialfest/1738/

Jason said...

Great post Joe/Barry, and a brilliant decision on Barry's part.

Barry, I hope you are fairly public over the next few years to let us know how long it actually takes you to earn 500K on your own from e-book sales on the 2 novels in question.

I JUST finished my first John Rain book last night (Rain Fall). And I'm pissed off... I have over two dozen books to read on my Nook, but now all I want to do is read the rest of the Rain series instead (because Rain Fall ROCKED). And I have to get them from the library since I WON'T be paying the exorbitant e-book prices set by your legacy publisher for the Rain series e-books.

But I WILL be purchasing your more reasonably priced self-published e-books. Without question. Like The Lost Coast for example.

Joe Konrath said...

They say the people who got rich during the gold rush were the people selling supplies to the miners.

I predicted the estributor model years ago.

Estributors

There is definitely money to be made right now.

But, unlike the Gold Rush, this vein won't run out. It's going to be a very long tail...

McDermott said...

Dear Joe and Barry - Thanks for an absolutely phenomenal post. I enjoyed and was educated by every word, though I gotta say my favorite line was "If you're selling eggs, don't piss off the chickens."

It was worth reading for that alone. I just got what I thought was the final draft of my first thriller back from an editor. I'll be making a lot of changes and hopefully soon be joining the Popular Front for the Liberation of Chickens myself.

Thanks again for shining a light on some very important issues.

Jana Oliver said...

I'm on deadline and yet I'm reading your article because it's answering a lot of questions I've posed over the last year as to the state of the industry, etc. I originally self-pubbed back in 2001 (print) and now work for a Big Six house (with a pass through small press along the way). And yet, with the new e-pub model, I find self-pub once again strangely attractive.

Thanks for the great discussion, frog assault and all. I'll be sharing to all and sundry.

Russell Brooks said...

Hi, @Robert Bidinotto. I get my cover designs done at http://www.firebirdebooks.com/. This is for the recent cover that you see here, not the old one that you see on the BarnesandNoble.com website (which I've been trying to replace but Barnes is giving me problems). They also did my eBook conversions to ePUB, MOBI, LRF, and PDF. They're also working on formatting my novel for the paperback edition which will be available this spring.

Russell Brooks
Author of Pandora's Succession

Helen Ginger said...

Great post. Very powerful. Anyone who doubts the validity of self- (indie) publishing definitely needs to read this.

Sample said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Raymond said...

I would think it is possible - perhaps even likely - that the management of some of the traditional publishing houses have indeed felt the proverbial iceberg strike their ships. If not before - certainly with this decision by Barry.

Perhaps their ignorance is simply the misguided attempt to maximize profits as the ship starts to take on water?

It wouldn't be the first time that management has screwed an entire industry in order to fund their own golden parachutes, true?

Raymond

Adam Pepper said...

Congratulations Barry. You really have tremendous courage. Best of luck!

Tony said...

This is easily the best post I've seen on this blog, and it's because each time Joe started in on one of his, "publishers are stupid" hyperbolic comments, Barry came back with a logical and thought out position that might not have totally refuted Joe's more emotional comments, but at least showed that things aren't so black and white.

Good job, guys.

Michelle Muto said...

Barry: Yes. Apparently, bestselling indie authors aren’t “real” bestsellers. Some sales are more equal than others.

I see this all the time on certain writing message boards and on the some ebook forums "Stop hawking your self-pubbed rubbish!" "If indie books were any good, you'd have a publishing deal."

There are so many writers out there, those still querying their hearts out, that believe the work of indies is subpar because, after all, they were turned down by agents and editors. A percentage still think that a real writer doesn't self-publish and that Hocking, Leiske, Locke, are all anomalies that would have been traditionally published had they only tried. Or tried harder.

Some think that indie book prices are testament to the 'cheapness' of their work. We're still hacks.

The really good writers still in denial the world is changing don't realize that what they're 'cheapening' is their own bank account.

Right now, traditional publishing has a plethora of writers standing in line to sign any contract thrown at them.

It's not wrong for these writers to want to see their book in print. But, I think they just need to not be so biased that they can't see they have options. Until they understand that, I don't think you or Barry are done having these conversations or posts.

Michelle Muto
The Book of Lost Souls

csdaley said...

As I get ready to venture into my first round of self publishing it has been the editing part which has hampered me the most.

The last thing I want to do is put a book out chalk full of errors. I think small independent publishing houses will be the wave of the future. I for one wouldn't ,ind giving up a percentage to have a book professionally edited.

Jenn Nixon said...

Amazing!

Anonymous said...

I have a question -- do you think this will also expand to books that rely on graphics as well as text. For example children's books and graphic novels. Or do you think this revolution is for text only books.

One advantage of going with legacy pubs for a children's book author is the writer can write the text and the publisher finds the illustrator and does the combining. Sometimes the illustrations aren't what the author envisioned, however, there is still the advantage of having that part done for you.

Josie Wade

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Wow. Monkey and the frog. That image will be burned into my brain for awhile, thanks guys! Ew!

Congrats on your new venture, Barry. I'm sure you'll be a roaring success on your own!

Great conversation and maybe an award for the longest blog post ever? I reposted on FB!

Cheers,

Karly Kirkpatrick
www.karlykirkpatrick.com
www.darksidepublishing.com

Mark Terry said...

Yeah, I liked to this on my own blog post today, titled: 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Ja Konrath, Barry Eisler, Amanda Hocking, Lee Goldberg...

Barry, this surprised the hell out of me. I figured it was only a matter of time before a quote "bestselling author" unquote did this, instead of midlist authors, and I just read an interview with Janet Evanovich where she said she didn't think it would be worthwhile for her (yes, I'm inclined to think), but I think you may be the first bird to sing into the silence.

John McKenzie said...

I'm quite old as well, old enough to have started writing on manual typewriters, but I've had novels published before and plays produced. But this dialogue has really opened my eyes! I've got eight unpublished novels and two previously published on paper. I think I might even make some money!! So thanks a million for this. John McKenzie

Candice L Davis said...

Just want to say thanks to both of you for taking the time to do this and share it!

Megg Jensen said...

I read this while eating breakfast. Almost made my kids late to school. ;)

Barry, good for you for taking the leap! I wish you much success & millions of sales!!!!

Joe, thanks again for connecting us with relevant information and I hope your wife has a good sense of humor. ;)

Megg Jensen
www.meggjensen.com
www.darksidepublishing.com

Walker Publishing said...

Wonderful conversation, guys! I'm already solidly on the self-publishing bandwagon with 10 historical romances and 1 thriller, but I'm going to tattoo this phrase on my forehead, "The highest profit margin activity an author can engage in is writing." It's my new mantra!

Miriam Minger, Author

Michelle Muto said...

I get Publisher's Lunch delivered to my inbox everyday. And everyday I see where another editor or agent leaves to pursue other 'opportunities.'

I can just bet what some of those other opportunities are. A friend of mine who has years of experience in PR and editing is considering getting into the ebook revolution as an editor/copyeditor.

Michelle Muto
The Book of Lost Souls

Rebecca M. Senese said...

I really enjoyed this post except for the last part about E-stributors. I think it's a mistake for any writer to be paying for these services by royalty or percentage. Again it comes down to the ebook being available forever! Should we be paying a percentage to the "E-stributor" forever? Instead writers are better served by paying flat rates for services such as editing, covers, etc.

Mister Snitch! said...

Great post. If Joe weren't so busy writing and promoting his own books, I'd hire him in a second as a publicist.

Brett Battles said...

Simply excellent. I'm right there with you. Joining the indie-published ranks myself later this week. Thanks, guys!

Elizabeth said...

Hi -- Ebooks will soon be available to the 1.8 billion English readers in the world. Talk about a market!

I made some comments on my blog about the world wide market:

www.elizabeth-jennings.com

which we often forget about.

More power to you both! Elizabeth Jennings

G.P. Ching said...

Loads of great information here.

Barry, I wish you millions of readers and have a feeling you will be very successful.

Thank you for sharing this.

G. P. Ching
Debut author of the Soulkeepers (Indie published and on 3 Amazon bestseller lists!)
http://genevieveching.blogspot.com/

C.L. Phillips said...

Every panel I attended at SXSW last week harped on content as the next big wave. Not hardware. Not software. Content.

Barry's decision reflects this growing trend. Content is King. Creative control trumps uncertainty as long as the internet remains free and open.

Now get out there and tell your congressman and senators you support NET NEUTRALITY.

The only thing that can stop independent publishing is Comcast, Verizon, or ATT - with toll booths on the internet.

Indie publishing, and that's what self-publishing is, works because the Internet provides equal access.
Get active - protect equal access.

Thrilling Covers said...

Barry, if you want a free eBook cover, let us know!

Bob Mayer said...

I'm walking away from traditional publishing after twenty years and 45 titles with my next two titles. It's just reality of numbers and timing. No way NY could have released my Civil War book on 12 April, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. But I can. I always described publishing over the years as: SLOW and TECHNOPHOBIC. Those two terms indicate a death knell is ringing.

Christy Pinheiro said...

"If we argue in public with this unwashed blogger, by implication it puts the blogger on the same footing as NPR.”

Best quote ever.

Barry and Joe are two "unwashed bloggers" that have more influence than the Legacy publishers want to admit.

It's too late to shut both of you up, too. The cat's already out of the bag. No one's going to believe that this is just another weather balloon.

I posted a link to this discussion on my blog, and I'm expecting that the mainstream media will pick up on the story soon.

I wonder how long Publisher's Weekly will try to ignore the story (that is, before they publish an opinion piece about how Barry's decision isn't really that important).

Joe Konrath said...

email me, Bob. I'd love to get a guest post from you to run on April 12 about your decision to self-pub.

Gabriella said...

Holy shit!
You 2 are inspiring!
Thank you soo much for making this public!

Lundeen Literary said...

WOW. This is the longest. post. ever. And it's certainly the most in-depth plumbing of these arguments I've ever read. Well done. Now, to read the 9000 links FROM this post. Oh, and the monkey was just…. Yeah, I'm still twelve years old myself…

@Rebecca -

I agree with you as an author. However, as someone who does cover art and ebook / paper book design for reasonable fees, I can't tell you how many times I get authors who tell me that they can't afford it - it's too much. I specifically set my fees high enough to make it worth my while, and low enough to be affordable. It's a manageable amount for most Americans who have some minimum few resources or some time. Most authors literally could have a few yard sales, do some for-hire work from Craigslist, or put stuff on eBay and have enough in a few weeks to get their work going. STILL I get authors griping. One even responded disdainfully that she didn't just "have enough change in the sofa cushions" to even begin to cover the fees. I sense a whole 'can't be done' attitude among many authors, which makes me very, very sad.

Authors are used to having percentages taken. They think it's normal. Therefore, they want to keep doing it, and spend no money up front. I have encountered those who refuse to equery, insist on spending money on envelopes, paper, and stamps, and if they set that money aside, they could epublish. But they don't. They keep complaining bitterly while flushing money down the drain.

"Should we be paying a percentage to the "E-stributor" forever?" you ask? No, because that makes little business sense. But for those who refuse to put money up front to maximize profit, and for those who refuse to learn a few websites, they're going to end up paying for the long tail. For those who have next to no technical know-how, or very little time to learn, hiring a professional outright makes sense.

I'm reworking my options to make both pay-up-front and long-tail pay both available for my customers, depending on their needs. I know they could do it themselves, and more power to those who will. But it also makes no business sense for me to not plan for those who think that they should not pay up front, rather pay a long-term percentage payment.

The next problem for me is that it makes me the next slush-sifter: why do a long-tail plan if the book is awful and won't sell? I'll have to read it and find out if it's good or not.

Jenna
@lundeenliterary
www.lundeenliterary.com

Nirmala said...

Man oh man, this post sums up so much of my and my wife, Gina Lake's experience with publishing and self-publishing. We are selling so many more ebooks now than our print on demand and commercially published books that for us, there is no looking back. And the best part is we are now in the category of self-published authors making a living (or at least my wife is, although my ebooks are starting to do well also. Check out some free spiritual ebooks of ours at http://endless-satsang.com/free-spiritual-ebooks.htm)

I love the point about the most lucrative activity for a writer is now writing. What a wonderful outcome of technology, as it sometimes seems marketing and technology take the place of creativity. In this case it is turning out the other way around, so thanks for pointing that out.

Are there awards (like academy awards, grammys, etc.) for blog posts? If so, this one gets my nomination.

Lundeen Literary said...

Joe said:
"email me, Bob. I'd love to get a guest post from you to run on April 12 about your decision to self-pub."

Can I second that? please do a guest post, Bob! I'd absolutely love to read about your experiences!!

Jenna
@lundeenliterary

Richard Sutton said...

As an Indie Author myself, I especially enjoyed hearing from writers who have given up their day jobs, that the most important self-promotion thing a writer can do, is write new stories. The burden of non-stop networking and blogging and blah,blah,blah-ing really depresses me, and I find myself writing less, not more when I try to swim in that pool. Thanks, guys! It shines a bright light upon the stony path we all tread.

Courtney Cantrell said...

You guys are fantastic. Thanks so much for all of this! Monkey, frog, peasants, and all. ;) I've been tweeting you this morning (@courtcan), and I'm so excited to get these thoughts out to my followers.

A year ago, I never thought I would self-publish or even indie-publish. My, how the times are a-changin', indeed... Next month, my first novel is coming out through Consortium Books, an indie pub company I'm co-founding. This past weekend, I got to help shoot the photos for the cover art.

Exciting...and, for this little peasant girl, incredibly empowering. :)

wannabuy said...

@Richard: I especially enjoyed hearing from writers who have given up their day jobs"

I *love* reading when an author is going to writing full time. That means:
1. They've found an audience (or vice versa) and
2. That audience will have their reading desires fed.

It amazes me how few books under the Legacy system that authors could write. At 70% royalties, there is enough 'love' from the fans to keep this up.

I doubt Amazon will ever cut the 70% royalty... it feeds the machine and drives book buyers to other services. Bezos is thinking much bigger than books. Like diapers. ;)

Neil

WDGagliani said...

Congratulations, Barry! And thanks to you and Joe for sharing your "conversation" with other writers. It was as entertaining as it was interesting, due to fact that you guys are both born comedians. Amazing how much info you managed to squeeze in between the jokes, though.

To me, some of the most interesting stuff was what you linked to outside this conversation, about better bios and also Barry's open letter to the French publisher with regard to their cover of Fault Line. I could relate to the sentiment of the letter, as I had also attempted to offer "creative criticism" to my first publisher because I thought the cover of my first novel, Wolf's Trap, was hideous, but unfortunately it became the point at which my publisher, a small press, subsequently hated me and told everyone in no uncertain terms. I was the peasant, challenging royalty (even though, as a small press, they didn't have much of a castle). Fortunately it was just a 500-copy print run, and the fact that everyone (including Joe) told me the cover sucked and that it sold despite the cover, didn't kill it. The mass market version with a MUCH better cover sold thousands of copies and led to the publisher requesting a sequel, and led to them buying two more books. In any case, sometimes a writer does know something about appropriate covers and marketing, even if the publisher is so entrenched that it will brook no defiance.

In any case, I think your decision will pay off for you and your readers -- and I know I will buy The Detachment as soon as it shows up for the Kindle.

Thanks again for allowing us into your decision-making and keep us posted. Thanks to you and Joe for always more food for thought...

Bill

Jeffrey Kafer Voice overs said...

As an audiobook producer, I have to wonder who's doing the audiobook versions of your titles? Will you still shop them to Brilliance and Random House, or will you get them produced independently as well?

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

Rebecca M. Senese said...

I really enjoyed this post except for the last part about E-stributors. I think it's a mistake for any writer to be paying for these services by royalty or percentage. Again it comes down to the ebook being available forever! Should we be paying a percentage to the "E-stributor" forever? Instead writers are better served by paying flat rates for services such as editing, covers, etc.


I'll second that. There may be some authors who simply can't afford to pay up front $300 to $500 for a cover and the same again for editing and formatting services. They just need to be aware that by giving away a percentage it's going to cost them more in the long run. That's assuming the book sells, of course, but I suspect few cover designers and editors are going to be willing to take a percentage on a bad book. Also, I don't see the attraction of buying a services bundle for a flat rate, let alone a percentage, when it's easy enough to do separate deals with a good cover designer, editor, and so on.

I think most authors don't take advantage of what their biggest fans can do for them. Nearly any author can come up with at least a few devoted fans who'd be delighted to be beta readers and offer criticism, corrections, and so on. If you pick the right beta readers, they'll catch 99% of what a paid editor would, and make a lot of useful suggestions that a paid editor wouldn't.

Bella Andre said...

Wow, this post almost made my kids late to school, too! Couldn't stop reading. At 13k words, you guys wrote a nice novella this morning! Thanks!

Barry - I wish you all the best with your self-publishing endeavors! Very, very exciting stuff.

I posted the link to this blog over at Kindleboards, and we're all happily discussing (LOL). I just realized I should post my comment here too, because, of course, reading about your situation/decision makes me think about my own. (I swear my guest blog on this is coming soon, Joe!)

I am currently self-pubbing (under 2 names, one sexy contemp romance, one YA) while also writing/turning in 5 books to Grand Central over the next year. So obviously, I'm a proponent of doing both (at least for now) - then again, I'm still at that stage in my career where I'm hoping for the big paperback push, whereas Barry, you've already had the big hardcover push so you know exactly what the return on that looks like. I can see that you're really able to factor those numbers into your decision.

The good news is that I'm currently well on par to make over $500,000 this year from my self-published books so I'm trying to put my head down and work hard (ooh, look, something shiny over on Joe's blog!). No question about it, come next year, once I have a new round of data on ppk sales/distrib and even more self-pub data, I'll be weighing numbers/audience reach/growth and will have to make another round of ppk/self-publishing decisions.

Thanks again for the post, guys. *Lots* to think about!

:) Bella Andre
http://www.BellaAndre.com

Joe Konrath said...

For those of you interested in numbers, like I am, this post has had almost 10,000 views today, and the day is only half over.

Jani said...

Great article! Here's the question I had...do you know of anyone going the self-publishing route for e-magazines? I want to get on ipad/kindle/nook but am having a hard time finding a platform that I can use to deliver to those markets on.

Jani said...

Great article! Here's the question I had...do you know of anyone going the self-publishing route for e-magazines? I want to get on ipad/kindle/nook but am having a hard time finding a platform that I can use to deliver to those markets on.

Jani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jani said...

Ack! Sorry about the multiples. My wild beast of a computer ran away with my comments.

john said...

Thanks for sharing this conversation, guys. It inspires me to follow your lead.

The monkey frog link really rounds out the argument in a great way.

cjohnkim

Blake Crouch said...

Huge congrats, Barry...I couldn't be happier for you. A smart move, but also a ballsy one. A lot of people say they would turn down that kind of $$, but saying it and doing it, are two completely different things. Hats off to you.

Sadly, I don't think there's much in the way of self-reflection occurring in the Flatiron and elsewhere in Manhattan today. Just more shoring up of those defense mechanisms echoed by places like PW and Publishers Lunch. I don't think anything will change in the way of fair royalty rates or smart pricing decisions until a major publisher files for the big B.

Lundeen Literary said...

URGH. RE-reposting this...

WOW. This is the longest. post. ever. And it's certainly the most in-depth plumbing of these arguments I've ever read. Well done. Now, to read the 9000 links FROM this post. Oh, and the monkey was just…. Yeah, I'm still twelve years old myself…

@Rebecca -

I agree with you as an author. However, as someone who does cover art and ebook / paper book design for reasonable fees, I can't tell you how many times I get authors who tell me that they can't afford it - it's too much. I specifically set my fees high enough to make it worth my while, and low enough to be affordable. It's a manageable amount for most Americans who have some minimum few resources or some time. Most authors literally could have a few yard sales, do some for-hire work from Craigslist, or put stuff on eBay and have enough in a few weeks to get their work going. STILL I get authors griping. One even responded disdainfully that she didn't just "have enough change in the sofa cushions" to even begin to cover the fees. I sense a whole 'can't be done' attitude among many authors, which makes me very, very sad.

Authors are used to having percentages taken. They think it's normal. Therefore, they want to keep doing it, and spend no money up front. I have encountered those who refuse to equery, insist on spending money on envelopes, paper, and stamps, and if they set that money aside, they could epublish. But they don't. They keep complaining bitterly while flushing money down the drain.

"Should we be paying a percentage to the "E-stributor" forever?" you ask? No, because that makes little business sense. But for those who refuse to put money up front to maximize profit, and for those who refuse to learn a few websites, they're going to end up paying for the long tail. For those who have next to no technical know-how, or very little time to learn, hiring a professional outright makes sense.

I'm reworking my options to make both pay-up-front and long-tail pay both available for my customers, depending on their needs. I know they could do it themselves, and more power to those who will. But it also makes no business sense for me to not plan for those who think that they should not pay up front, rather pay a long-term percentage payment.

The next problem for me is that it makes me the next slush-sifter: why do a long-tail plan if the book is awful and won't sell? I'll have to read it and find out if it's good or not.

Jenna
@lundeenliterary
www.lundeenliterary.com

Helen Hanson said...

Interesting exchange, gentlemen.

I have to read Barry's short story, now. Arcata is home to my alma mater.

p.s. It's nice to see the Alibi is still offering cover . . .

Angela Perry said...

You had me cracking up :D That's one thing I miss a little about this blog. I know epubbing has gotten all serious and stuff, but I love your sense of humor, Joe.

Bobbie @ Nurture Your BOOKS said...

Absolutely brilliant, Joe! Thanks for sharing the conversation between you and Barry.

--
All My Best,

Bobbie Crawford-McCoy
Nurture Your BOOKS™

Mark Asher said...

Barry, say hello to Amanda Hocking as you cross paths when you crossover.

http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/21/noted-self-publisher-may-be-close-to-a-book-deal/

"manda Hocking, the darling of the self-publishing world, has been shopping a four-book series to major publishers, attracting bids of well over $1 million for world English rights, two publishing executives said."

Newspaper Fugitive said...

Here's a telling fact: I just spent the past two hours devouring your blog (self-pubbing has been an item of fascination of mine for some time, but haven't taken the plunge yet) while I'm supposed to be refining the subtitle on my latest legacy-pubbed book. That's due today, even though it won't be on the shelves for 14 months.

But here's my question: how well does this work -- if at all -- for those of us in the nonfiction realm? Any success stories you can link to would be greatly appreciated.

Greg Campbell

JDuncan said...

What a great conversation! Glad you left the frog bit in. Made me laugh. I continually go back and forth on this subject, and you two provided a great deal of interesting info here. Can't say that it has persuaded me one way or the other, but I certainly agree things are changing. Authors like you two are likely going to pave the way toward the future of digital, but as it stands currently, I still have to wonder, for the non-established writer anyway, if pursuing self-publishing is any more advantageous than legacy.

Speaking for myself, I have no way to invest in editing, cover art, copy-editing, and so forth. I'm willing to pay as it were, my legacy publisher to do these things for me. Yes, it's a tradeoff, but one I'm willing to make. I don't see my chances at building readership, which is ultimately what is needed for the long haul, as being less than if I pursued this on my own. I'm putting out a better product because of them, which will only help me down the road.

As for what happens down the road? It will be interesting to see, and who knows where I'll fall once I step off this fence .

Blake Crouch said...

"Speaking for myself, I have no way to invest in editing, cover art, copy-editing, and so forth. I'm willing to pay as it were, my legacy publisher to do these things for me. Yes, it's a tradeoff, but one I'm willing to make."

The high-end production of an ebook runs about $1000 for everything. So you would trade having to come up with that for unfair royalty rates forever? I don't understand that. Unless a publisher is giving you $250,000-push and a major advance, how does it benefit you to sign away those rights, essentially, forever? What value are they bringing to you? Really ask yourself that. What I've come to realize, is that for about 95% of writers, publishers are no better, and probably much worse, at publishing in the ebook age. Why am I selling far more books now than before? Because I'm in control of the product presentation. In hindsight, having a publisher for eight years hurt my career.

Martin said...

Interesting stuff, and I have great respect for both these guys, but I still don't think this is a viable route for a newbie. For them, sure. But a newbie? I think it would be like printing out your book and leaving it at a bus stop. More chance someone would use it to kill a fly than read it and pass it on.

My 2 cents. I hope I'm wrong.

-- Martin

Anonymous said...

I suspect similar arguments were made about the pulp dime novel and magazine market back when ten million readers a month were reached via 200 different outfits. All those outfits folded, too, with only a handful of major success stories in the matter. For example, there's only three complete sets of Black Mask magazine in existence, and one of them's in the Library of Congress.

It doesn't matter how many units you shift in the short term if people don't want to hang onto it.

Adam iWriteReadRate said...

Really interesting article - a sign of things to come...?

Thanks for posting.

Adam
www.iWriteReadRate.com

Jude Hardin said...

Does this mean there's a $500K advance floating around somewhere? Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!

I plan to go indie as well, but that would be life-changing money for me. No way I could pass it up.

Lundeen Literary said...

OK, FOURTH time posting this... Damn, Blogger!

WOW. This is the longest. post. ever. And it's certainly the most in-depth plumbing of these arguments I've ever read. Well done. Now, to read the 9000 links FROM this post. Oh, and the monkey was just…. Yeah, I'm still twelve years old myself…

@Rebecca -

I agree with you as an author. However, as someone who does cover art and ebook / paper book design for reasonable fees, I can't tell you how many times I get authors who tell me that they can't afford it - it's too much. I specifically set my fees high enough to make it worth my while, and low enough to be affordable. It's a manageable amount for most Americans who have some minimum few resources or some time. Most authors literally could have a few yard sales, do some for-hire work from Craigslist, or put stuff on eBay and have enough in a few weeks to get their work going. STILL I get authors griping. One even responded disdainfully that she didn't just "have enough change in the sofa cushions" to even begin to cover the fees. I sense a whole 'can't be done' attitude among many authors, which makes me very, very sad.

Authors are used to having percentages taken. They think it's normal. Therefore, they want to keep doing it, and spend no money up front. I have encountered those who refuse to equery, insist on spending money on envelopes, paper, and stamps, and if they set that money aside, they could epublish. But they don't. They keep complaining bitterly while flushing money down the drain.

"Should we be paying a percentage to the "E-stributor" forever?" you ask? No, because that makes little business sense. But for those who refuse to put money up front to maximize profit, and for those who refuse to learn a few websites, they're going to end up paying for the long tail. For those who have next to no technical know-how, or very little time to learn, hiring a professional outright makes sense.

I'm reworking my options to make both pay-up-front and long-tail pay both available for my customers, depending on their needs. I know they could do it themselves, and more power to those who will. But it also makes no business sense for me to not plan for those who think that they should not pay up front, rather pay a long-term percentage payment.

The next problem for me is that it makes me the next slush-sifter: why do a long-tail plan if the book is awful and won't sell? I'll have to read it and find out if it's good or not.

Jenna
@lundeenliterary
www.lundeenliterary.com

Lundeen Literary said...

Dammit, Blogger.... 5th time's the charm, I guess...




WOW. This is the longest. post. ever. And it's certainly the most in-depth plumbing of these arguments I've ever read. Well done. Now, to read the 9000 links FROM this post. Oh, and the monkey was just…. Yeah, I'm still twelve years old myself…

Lundeen Literary said...

@Rebecca -

I agree with you as an author. However, as someone who does cover art and ebook / paper book design for reasonable fees, I can't tell you how many times I get authors who tell me that they can't afford it - it's too much. I specifically set my fees high enough to make it worth my while, and low enough to be affordable. It's a manageable amount for most Americans who have some minimum few resources or some time. Most authors literally could have a few yard sales, do some for-hire work from Craigslist, or put stuff on eBay and have enough in a few weeks to get their work going. STILL I get authors griping. One even responded disdainfully that she didn't just "have enough change in the sofa cushions" to even begin to cover the fees. I sense a whole 'can't be done' attitude among many authors, which makes me very, very sad.

Authors are used to having percentages taken. They think it's normal. Therefore, they want to keep doing it, and spend no money up front. I have encountered those who refuse to equery, insist on spending money on envelopes, paper, and stamps, and if they set that money aside, they could epublish. But they don't. They keep complaining bitterly while flushing money down the drain.

"Should we be paying a percentage to the "E-stributor" forever?" you ask? No, because that makes little business sense. But for those who refuse to put money up front to maximize profit, and for those who refuse to learn a few websites, they're going to end up paying for the long tail. For those who have next to no technical know-how, or very little time to learn, hiring a professional outright makes sense.

I'm reworking my options to make both pay-up-front and long-tail pay both available for my customers, depending on their needs. I know they could do it themselves, and more power to those who will. But it also makes no business sense for me to not plan for those who think that they should not pay up front, rather pay a long-term percentage payment.

The next problem for me is that it makes me the next slush-sifter: why do a long-tail plan if the book is awful and won't sell? I'll have to read it and find out if it's good or not.

Jenna
@lundeenliterary
www.lundeenliterary.com

Lundeen said...

....let's try a 7th go at posting this...

@Rebecca -

I agree with you as an author. However, as someone who does cover art and ebook / paper book design for reasonable fees, I can't tell you how many times I get authors who tell me that they can't afford it - it's too much. I specifically set my fees high enough to make it worth my while, and low enough to be affordable. It's a manageable amount for most Americans who have some minimum few resources or some time. Most authors literally could have a few yard sales, do some for-hire work from Craigslist, or put stuff on eBay and have enough in a few weeks to get their work going. STILL I get authors griping. One even responded disdainfully that she didn't just "have enough change in the sofa cushions" to even begin to cover the fees. I sense a whole 'can't be done' attitude among many authors, which makes me very, very sad.

Authors are used to having percentages taken. They think it's normal. Therefore, they want to keep doing it, and spend no money up front. I have encountered those who refuse to equery, insist on spending money on envelopes, paper, and stamps, and if they set that money aside, they could epublish. But they don't. They keep complaining bitterly while flushing money down the drain.

"Should we be paying a percentage to the "E-stributor" forever?" you ask? No, because that makes little business sense. But for those who refuse to put money up front to maximize profit, and for those who refuse to learn a few websites, they're going to end up paying for the long tail. For those who have next to no technical know-how, or very little time to learn, hiring a professional outright makes sense.

I'm reworking my options to make both pay-up-front and long-tail pay both available for my customers, depending on their needs. I know they could do it themselves, and more power to those who will. But it also makes no business sense for me to not plan for those who think that they should not pay up front, rather pay a long-term percentage payment.

The next problem for me is that it makes me the next slush-sifter: why do a long-tail plan if the book is awful and won't sell? I'll have to read it and find out if it's good or not.

Jenna
@ lundeenliterary on Twitter
lundeenliterary . com

Sariah S. Wilson said...

Wasn't this the sign everyone was waiting for? When a bestselling author jumped to the e-ship?

Looks like it just happened. Shot heard 'round the world, indeed.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

The next problem for me is that it makes me the next slush-sifter: why do a long-tail plan if the book is awful and won't sell? I'll have to read it and find out if it's good or not.

Why bother? If the sampling I've been doing is any indication, maybe 1 in 10 self-published novels from unknowns is even worth reading, and maybe 1 in 100 would be worth taking a chance on for a percentage. In the time it'd take you to sort through those 100 to find one you could be doing work-for-hire projects and earning money. And many of those WFH projects would come from the 99 that you wouldn't take on a bet for a percentage.

Anonymous said...

Blake Crouch said:

The high-end production of an ebook runs about $1000 for everything. So you would trade having to come up with that for unfair royalty rates forever?


But who says an ebook will notch up all those sales? As a few other commentators have said, if you're not an established author, marketing can be difficult - the book might not sale, and thats then a 1000 dollars down the pan.

The e-stributor idea is interesting, but it still doesn't fully cover the marketing aspect for un-establised writer, UNLESS the e-stributors work on royalties which would impel them to use all their channels to promote and market the novel.

I have a friend who has self-published an enovel, with a pretty good tale, good cover and editing, and sells maybe a book a month. Problem? Even with own website, goodread membership, competition, low priced novel, etc she cant get her name out there.

What would really be useful is if some of you people who have made it use your marketing platform to become the new e-stributors.

I've got a novel which I haven't risk self-pubbing (because of friend's experience), but I'd happily give any of you shifting at least 2 of any particular one of your self-pubbed novels a days 50% of my royalties to let me stick my novel on your website with you listed as coauthor or editor or somesuch....

Tara Maya said...

I've tweeted. Nothing else to add at this time.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Lundeen said...

Robert Bruce Thompson said…

"Why bother? If the sampling I've been doing is any indication, maybe 1 in 10 self-published novels from unknowns is even worth reading, and maybe 1 in 100 would be worth taking a chance on for a percentage. In the time it'd take you to sort through those 100 to find one you could be doing work-for-hire projects and earning money. And many of those WFH projects would come from the 99 that you wouldn't take on a bet for a percentage."

Why, indeed? Well, why do publishers do what they do? Or agents? Because they seem to be making a lot of cash. Why not me?

Now, granted, I won't be doing a lot of long-tail work. I will focus on my work-for-hire stuff primarily. But the other option is really to get the customer to think. I will spell out how much it will cost them over the long run, vs. just paying up front. I hope it will wake them up. If they really want to go long-tail, they should know that I'm only working on one of those projects at a time, and it will be made clear that my wfh stuff is priority. It will also be made clear that they are submitting with a possibility of my taking them on, no guarantees. Also, they'll be in line behind all other long-tail clients who came before them. If they don't want to pay up front, the exchange is having to wait, and pay more over time. Some people will still want to do that.

I'm considering a third option: Pay half now, then pay the other half when a certain sales threshold is met, or when a certain amount of time has passed. I may also take payments. I hope more of them will choose this over long-tail.

The reason to do this is that a business needs to remain flexible in order to stay in business. If I have to offer flexible options, so be it. Long tail is not my favorite way to go, but having it as an option makes me a more viable solution as a service provider. Hopefully, I'll get so busy with wfh that I won't have time for anything else.

I appreciate your point of view! Any other thoughts?

Jenna
@ lundeenliterary

Donna Caubarreaux said...

Excellent post. I'd love to listen to both of you in person...the humor was excellent. I can't quite visualize the monkey and the frog.

As a successful business woman, going indie is the best plan. When you consider what a publishing house pays the author and what the author has to pay their agent, the tax man, and supplies, computer, internet, etc., there isn't much left.

I'd much rather get the 70%.

If an author can't afford the indie route, they're lazy. I would love to pay someone to wash the windows at my house (wait, I have grandkids, they'll do it for some cash). There are a thousand ways to make money in your spare time.

Wake up! Read, "Who Moved My Cheese?"

You can now put the cheese in your own pocket.

Thanks Barry and Joe, and yes, I did purchase Barry's ebook today.

shana said...

GREAT post!

I think one of the most salient points for me was Barry's mention of his daughter's query:

"Dad, why don't you self-publish?"

It might be a gut-wrenching decision for US to make, but the next generation just doesn't have the same hang-ups about going indie that we do.

Indie is the way of the future.

Shana Hammaker
Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011>

Jeremy Lee James said...

Thanks Barry! Thanks Joe! Excellent post.

Now, to the person who said:

"You are better off learning how to do all this on your own unless you have the money to throw around. It's not hard."

Wrong. It is hard (to do a good job of it), and it's definitely time consuming.

Like Barry said, the most profitable activity a writer can engage in is writing.

Plus, I don't care who you are, there's no way you'll be able to excel at a professional level at--not only writing the book--but designing the cover, copyediting, e-book conversion / formatting, web design, and all the rest. Bits and pieces, yes (particularly if your day job involves one of them; I'm a web designer for example).

I say, hire experts (but don't give them a royalty), and use the time you saved to write more books.

Lundeen Literary said...

Jeremy Lee James said

"I say, hire experts (but don't give them a royalty), and use the time you saved to write more books."

I could not agree more, and I'm one of those 'experts' who could really rip people off long-term with a royalty option. I'd much prefer to take cash up front, but I will work with people if necessary. (for now, at least. I'm getting pretty busy...)

Jenna
@lundeenliterary

kathie shoop said...

That was a fantastic conversation. It's good to be the fly on the wall once in a while. I'm publishing my book, The Last Letter May 1! Every time I read your blog (and wow, what a wallop Barry's experience packs) I feel more and more as though my decision was the right one. I am struck by conversations with other writers who think I'm an idiot. Well, my sales will tell the tale. And luckily for me while my agent was finding my books too small and quiet for break-out novels, I was lining them up for editing and now sales! Thanks, perhaps this was what I was hoping for all along...perhaps sometimes the universe knows better!

Nancy Peske said...

Wow! You've got some great points here that others aren't talking about--like the fact that yes, paper books will be around in the same way vinyl records are still being made.
To my clients, the appeal of legacy publishers is being slowly erased. Now, all they really care about is the money to pay me to edit or ghostwrite their books--they could really use that advance and boy, so could I. But I wonder if advances can still exist once we move to a model of publisher as coordinator of freelance services?
Also, if you are a bestselling author, of course a $3 eBook by you is going to sell well. But what about people with a fantastic idea, an excellent book--and no platform or fame? Could they self-publish without a massive investment of money? How do we "work" the eBook system so people learn about books they'd probably like? It's Amazon who decides to recommend my books to buyers of similar titles. Without access to that software, my clients would be limited in their ability to stand out on Amazon.com just as they would have trouble being seen when their is just another spine out book on the shelves of a B&N.

Anonymous said...

Fun and informative interview - thanks! Barry where I can I read more about your marketing efforts with your short story?

RGill

chris said...

Mike Shatzkin's on it too.

http://www.idealog.com/blog/

Ken K. Chartrand said...

Hi buds and bud-ettes!
I do believe author's will be setting their own prices and the day of the e-book is here. About time the creator of works get a bigger piece of the pie! So,Mr. and Madam public buy that Kindle or Nook or iPad! P.S. There still be a paperback or two around somewheres for you paper lovers of which I was one

Russ Hart said...

Hey, guys:

Great stuff. Thanks for telling the truth doubt three current business model in NY. BTW check our Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch's sites for all sorts of blogs, links etc about indie publishing and more on the state of the industry.

As a buyer of e-books I don't really care who publishes it as long as I get a great story. Great stories trump legacy publishers every time.

(nice word, legacy BTW)

Mark Young said...

Joe and Barry: Thanks for this great dialogue. Pertinent and relevant information into today's publishing paradigm shift. Joe, I have taken you up on your offer and posted a portion of this on my own blog, with a link back to this article. Thanks for sharing.

Raymond said...

Joe,

I think I got blogspotted. I typed a comment, hit "publish your comment" and it disappeared. Sigh.

My comment was a question borne out of curiosity.

Since a lot of us have benefitted from the collective wisdom of the many here in the comments section of your blog - what if you bundled up said comments on a daily / weekly / monthly / or by topic basis and sold them as a .99 ebook?

Circular consumerism?

Whose "intellectual property" are these comments - once they are on YOUR blog - in a public forum?

Would there be issues of violation of privacy, publishing someone else's thoughts or work?

Would anybody buy it?

I'm asking satirically of course.

Maybe.

Perhaps an interesting experiment - you never know.

Raymond

1questionaday said...

I've been told that for an unpublished author self-publishing is not an option because I have no name recognition. But I think that even if a traditional house wants to publish my book, I'm still in a sea of famous and up-and-coming traditionally publsihed authors as well as the entire digital storytelling universe. [I'd want my ebook rights exercised and have heard that sometimes they are purchased and not exercised?] After reading this article I think self-publishing might be the way for me to go. Debut in the Indie world. I'd have to do all the buzz generation and self-promotion on my own in the traditional publishing world anyway. Any thoughts for this newbie?

Joe Konrath said...

Just gotta say that more than 15,000 people visited my blog today, and this article was retweeted and linked to a few hundred times.

In other words, lots of publicity, lots of buzz, lots of new eyes.

My Amazon sales are THE SAME as they were yesterday and the day before. In fact, my ranking for The List is going up, because it is selling fewer copies than yesterday.

I hope this puts an end to all of the "Konrath sells ebooks because of his popular blog" nonsense that people keep bringing up.

Writers visit my blog.

Readers by my ebooks.

There is very little crossover between the two groups.

KDJames said...

I just want to thank you gentlemen for clarifying the definition of "hot monkey sex."

I always thought it was more... euphemistic. I had no idea.

The things you learn on the internet.

Congrats on the "non-contract," Barry, and all best wishes.

Merrill Heath said...

Russ Hart said: As a buyer of e-books I don't really care who publishes it as long as I get a great story. Great stories trump legacy publishers every time.

Pay attention to what Russ said, fellow authors. I couldn't begin to tell you who published my favorite novels or who publishes my favorite authors or even who the Big 6 publishers are.

What I care about is content - good character development and an entertaining plot. I have authors that I read who provide that every time. I don't care who the publisher is. I don't care if it's an ebook or hardback or paperback.

I'm just looking for entertainment. If I can get it for a good price that's a bonus. But the publisher? I could not care less.

Merrill Heath
Bearing False Witness

Joe Flynn said...

Entertaining, informative, featuring two interesting characters: This blog post features several elements of a good novel.

FranceRants said...

I'm not quite finished with this post, but this newbie wanted to thank you for offering such important insight; your dialogue opened my eyes to a process I first scoffed at (hey did I just end my sentence with a preposition?)

Selena Kitt said...

Barry Eisler said my name! *swoon*

:))

Okay, this Amanda Hocking thing has me a little befuddled in light of this amazing post. Eisler is in legacy publishing and passes up on half a mil for a two book deal in order to self-pub... while Hocking, who self-pubbed and made 2 million on her own... is rumored to be signing a million dollar four-book series deal with a legacy pub...

*scratching head*

The grass is always greener? Or something?

I'm kind of glad I'm never going to have to make that kind of call, one way or the other...

Sheri Leigh said...

I hope this puts an end to all of the "Konrath sells ebooks because of his popular blog" nonsense that people keep bringing up.

Nope. Just because it didn't DIRECTLY impact sales on the day of this post doesn't mean it doesn't generally. It's not the biggest driving force, but it does matter.

And I think you need to start selling advertising. Or tickets. Or something. :)

K1YPP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K1YPP said...

So, let me get this straight: In traditional publishing, the publishing house was the Chimp (monkey in the YouTube piece) and the authors were the Frog.
In the new model, the Indie Author is the Chimp (formerly, the Chump) and the Frog is the Publisher? Interesting.
I came to Indie Publishing when I took a look at what it would have taken to get my book out there. I went off and hiked the Appalachian Trail over two years and in the middle of it, had to have a six-artery heart bypass operation. I concluded that at 60+ years, following the traditional route, I'd have to find an agent, then a publisher, then, assuming I did eventually find one, wait another few years for the book to come to life. I didn't think I had that long. I jumped at the CreateSpace and Kindle opportunity and have never looked back. Now I spend an hour a day answering fan mail instead of sending out manuscript proposals.
Of course it is very difficult for me to churn out books at a high rate, as you suggest, because they're non-fiction and are based on my true-life adventures. Other than that point, everything in your blog was dead on.

Dennis "K1" Blanchard
Author of THREE HUNDRED ZEROES:Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail

Anonymous said...

My two self-pubbed novels have gone from 95 sales in December to 700/month now and growing exponentially. Both are on multiple Kindle bestseller lists. I wasted my time on two agents and countless rejections from publishers. I plan on yanking my third book from my third, big name, agent with whom it's been languishing for 15 months and counting. I have seen the light!

K1YPP said...

So, let me get this straight: In traditional publishing, the publishing house was the Chimp (monkey in the YouTube piece) and the authors were the Frog.
In the new model, the Indie Author is the Chimp (formerly, the Chump) and the Frog is the Publisher? Interesting.
I came to Indie Publishing when I took a look at what it would have taken to get my book out there. I went off and hiked the Appalachian Trail over two years and in the middle of it, had to have a six-artery heart bypass operation. I concluded that at 60+ years, following the traditional route, I'd have to find an agent, then a publisher, then, assuming I did eventually find one, wait another few years for the book to come to life. I didn't think I had that long. I jumped at the CreateSpace and Kindle opportunity and have never looked back. Now I spend an hour a day answering fan mail instead of sending out manuscript proposals.
Of course it is very difficult for me to churn out books at a high rate, as you suggest, because they're non-fiction and are based on my true-life adventures. Other than that point, everything in your blog was dead on.

Dennis "K1" Blanchard
Author of THREE HUNDRED ZEROES:Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail

Tara Maya said...

I hope this puts an end to all of the "Konrath sells ebooks because of his popular blog" nonsense that people keep bringing up.

Well, then you guys sure wasted your time chatting about ebooks, and should have been writing a 13,000 word story about a serial frog-abusing monkey who gets his just desserts. ;)

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate (on sale only $.99)
The Unfinished Song: Taboo (March 28)

Selena Kitt said...

Well, then you guys sure wasted your time chatting about ebooks, and should have been writing a 13,000 word story about a serial frog-abusing monkey who gets his just desserts. ;)

Bwah!

Have I mentioned lately how much I *heart* Tara Maya?

K1YPP said...

So, let me get this straight: In traditional publishing, the publishing house was the Chimp (monkey in the YouTube piece) and the authors were the Frog.
In the new model, the Indie Author is the Chimp (formerly, the Chump) and the Frog is the Publisher? Interesting.
I came to Indie Publishing when I took a look at what it would have taken to get my book out there. I went off and hiked the Appalachian Trail over two years and in the middle of it, had to have a six-artery heart bypass operation. I concluded that at 60+ years, following the traditional route, I'd have to find an agent, then a publisher, then, assuming I did eventually find one, wait another few years for the book to come to life. I didn't think I had that long. I jumped at the CreateSpace and Kindle opportunity and have never looked back. Now I spend an hour a day answering fan mail instead of sending out manuscript proposals.
Of course it is very difficult for me to churn out books at a high rate, as you suggest, because they're non-fiction and are based on my true-life adventures. Other than that point, everything in your blog was dead on.

Dennis "K1" Blanchard
Author of THREE HUNDRED ZEROES:Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail

I've posted this three times, hopefully this time it takes!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much! This article was great. I've been published by major publishers (S&S, TimeWarner/AOL) back in the day - when they'd fly me places, put ads in magazines, pay escorts take me around the cities when I did book signings. That was then, this is now. As a middle-of-the-road seller, I'm on my own now. Last year, I started self-publishing for a niche last year - nothing but dollar signs, plus a great deal of fulfillment. (With the publishers, I find that I'm almost detached from the book by the time it actually gets on the shelves.) I've got one more book left in my contract with my publisher, then I'm soooo outta there!

Smell The Political Coffee said...

Excellent piece.

Robert Bidinotto said...

Handwriting, meet wall:

"It might be a sad day for bookstores, but it’s a great day for readers. According to the Association of American Publishers, ebook sales rose 115% in January beating out both paperback and hardcover sales in the same... month.

"Paperback sales in January were dismal, dropping to 39 million, well below ebooks’ 69.9 million sales figure. Adult hardcover books pulled in $49.1 million which is an 11.3% drop. The only kind of book beating ebooks were trade paperbacks which pulled in $83.6 million."

Read it all:

http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2011/03/ebooks-prevail-over-print-sales-in-january.html

--Robert Bidinotto
RobertTheWriter.com

Ben said...

I don't mind paying a fair price for an ebook. What I mind is DRM. If I purchase the book I do not want to have it locked to a device or a piece of software and on THEIR servers .. (ie. B&N's or Amazon). I'm not into giving what I purchased away to thousands of people but I would like to archive or have it for myself to convert to a newer format in the future. In other words if I'm rent .. charge me $0.99 not $9.99.

Amazon got this right with their mp3 store. Although the files might be watermarked to find the original idiot to put it on a site or whatever .. it's STILL not DRM'd. I wouldn't care at all if my info was embedded in a watermark in the epub I download ... just don't lock it up. :)

Anne Hill said...

Great idea to do a live Google Docs dialog! A fascinating conversation, and made me realize that my co-authors and I negotiated a contract with a Big 6 publisher almost 15 years ago for non-fiction, and we retained all electronic rights. Granted, our agent was a tough negotiator, but I am surprised that you both say that was not an option in your negotiations 10+ years ago.

I've got a blog post brewing about the differences between fiction and non-fiction titles in the ebook market, something I don't see widely addressed yet. Thanks for the food for thought, once I got past the frog.

Kristle said...

I only had one issue with this post...the five minutes I spent laughing about the frog.

Thanks for more industry puzzle pieces to mull over.

The way technological change is altering microeconomic choices in the publishing industry is utterly fascinating. And now I sound like a total geek...Oh well, it's still amazing, and the scale is so different from what we've witnessed so far with music. (I suspect this has something to do with recording studios. I, for one, prefer music that doesn't sound like it was recorded with a cell phone.)

Anonymous said...

I think the move to digital is going to fundamentally change the nature of libraries, too, and the authors' way of dealing with them. Do you charge 500 times the standard rate for a library as for a regular reader to offset the non-paid reading? Do you artificially limit the amount of people that can read an ebook at one time but let the libraries have it at regular price? Heck, DRM-free ebooks make it easy to run small personal libraries by just putting your collection where your server's httpd or ftpd can see it.

Anonymous said...

I posted a very valid comment about 'paying up front' versus 'long tail royalties' for unknown authors vis a vis purchasing cover/edit/market services last night, and the comment is gone this morning.

Does Konrath edit out those comments that don't spin the spin in the direction he wants? That sounds more like Mugabe, than the people.

yacc said...

One more example, although I do not know what the deal is on the authorside (OTOH, their authors have not started to run away, and they certainly know about the realities of ebooks and online distribution):

Bean & Webscription


They are offering multiformat DRM-free ebooks for over a decade now.

They are using free ebooks as a marketing tool (e.g. many Baen authors allow 1-2 books especially in books published as a series to be added to the Baen Free Library).

They offer "fan communication" channels.

They are using short story collections where good authors of fanfic stories published earlier in the forums get published together with the original authors (not for all authors, but for the authors that want this, see the Ring-Of-Fire "universe")

Considering that level of awareness of ebook distribution, they must offer something to the authors, as I'm almost sure that any of them is aware of self-publishing.

They include CDs with their hardcover books that include dozens other ebooks on it.

They even encourage "small scale privacy", or call it "lending without returning" => it's absolutely okay to give your ebooks to friends and so on.

Now to something else


The user perspective.


First, I'm from a German speaking country, where publishers are fighting a way more aggressive war on ebooks, many if not most books are not available as Ebooks. If they are, they are usually priced exactly like a paper copy.

So the German-reading friends are basically forced to "pirated" books.

But back to the English market: If I see a book offered only as DRM-ed ebook, my first reaction is to look for a non official copy. Why? It safes me one critical step, removing the DRM. Why is removing the DRM critical? Simple: I've been reading ebooks for a long time, and during a decade, my reading devices have run PalmOS, Symbian S60, Symbian S80, (Geos? what was the OS of the first Nokia Communicator), Android, Maemo. My Baen collection of HTML books has survived easily, even if it meant that I had to convert it to something appropriate for the device. DRM-ed media would not. Watch what happens if the provider goes out of business, or just decides that the media-with-drm business is not returning profit? Oops, your media is gone. If you are lucky you might get gift certificate of the retailer to replace your media, ...

Lara said...

Yeah, that 25% figure you see in contracts is really misleading. Amazing, when you consider that there’s virtually no cost to creating ebooks--no cost for paper, no shipping charges, no warehousing. No cut for Ingram or Baker & Taylor. Yet they're keeping 52.5% of the list price and offering only 17.5% to the author. It’s not fair and it’s not sustainable.

Sorry I had to flagg this up as yes there are no printing anf shipping costs but still editing formatting marketing and publicity.
As well as the writers advance.

That aside this is a great post and there are some other great comments but I dont want this comment to be as big as the post so I will stop here!

Great Post

Donald Wells said...

This dialog is now ranked at 11,957 in the Kindle store. Amazing. Let's face it Joe, you have the midas touch when it comes to electronic media. And, it is well deserved. Thanks to you and Barry for all the great info.(The Monkey and the Frog-it sounds like the title of a children's book.)

Chris Hunt said...

From diaper-time til now at age 38 (and as a self-admitting newbie) I've wanted to do nothing but write. Thanks Joe for the encouragement, inspiration, and wealth of knowledge you've passed on to me.

I also have to tell you I was thrilled to have found a copy of 'Whiskey Sour' at the Borders where I live in Dubai, U.A.E. a few weeks ago.

Now, my comment: I've read the post of your conversation with Barry Eisler and Mike Shatzkin's thoughtful take on it as well (including all comments from both posts) and amidst the many particulars and all the commentary and even some concern about Barry's decision I have concluded one simple thing. As a writer, I have nowhere to go but up if I put in the time, work, and dedication. Maybe this seems obvious, but I believe there is never a better time to write and publish than now. Thank you again.

JD Rhoades said...

Oh, Barry...you DFH, you. :-)

Excellent conversation, guys. And as always, I wish you much success, Barry.

Anonymous said...

If your book is worth more than $500,000 to you, it must truly be brilliant. Definitely gonna check it out.

docent said...

I love your discussion, I even rushed to buy "The lost coast" on Amazon. But enlighten me, why do I have to pay 90% more when outside the US? (2.99$ vs 5.74$). Are there any alternatives to Amazon?

Warwick said...

Liked the first part... went to buy The List ... and found it 2.99, not 0.99, concluded the blog post was just a bait and switch to drive sales, and not finishing it. Sad.

James Scott Bell said...

This move wil be known as The Eisler Sanction.

Marcia Colette said...

Wow. Just...wow. Thanks for the timely post, guys.

This makes me feel even more confident about my decision last week to ask for the rights back on my unpublished novel. It would've been another year before its release. By then, I could have had it in the hands of readers and making a profit. I'm not upset with anyone as much as I'm concerned about this being a business. I want to grow mine and waiting another year is only stunting it.

Ray Charbonneau said...

By setting a cap on how many times a library can lend an ebook (26 times), HarperCillins is telling us what reading an ebook is really worth - about $1.15.
HarperCollins tells us what ebooks are really worth

Joe Konrath said...

Liked the first part... went to buy The List ... and found it 2.99, not 0.99, concluded the blog post was just a bait and switch to drive sales, and not finishing it. Sad.

The List, if you read my blog, was 99 cents as a one month experiment, and I'm continuing that experiment with the rest of my backlist. Currently Origin is 99 cents.

Joe Konrath said...

Does Konrath edit out those comments that don't spin the spin in the direction he wants?

If I deleted you, you'd know it because I'd publicly shred you before doing so. I only delete trolls.

Blogger, on the other hand, loves to delete people randomly. It often deletes my posts as well.

I'd change to Wordpress, but there's too much to move over...

Andy Conway said...

Superb blog. Already calling it 'The Event' (after Chomsky's historic demolition of Skinner's Verbal Behaviour ;-) ), and I'm very pleased to be not only linking to it on the blog I've written today I, Publisher, but it's also the day my first indie publication went live!

My 16,000-word novella titled The Girl with the Bomb Inside is now available on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com if you're in the USA.

Thanks, Joe, because you were the one who inspired me to take this step and take up the challenge to publish ten titles before Xmas 2011.

Nancy Beck said...

I love your discussion, I even rushed to buy "The lost coast" on Amazon. But enlighten me, why do I have to pay 90% more when outside the US? (2.99$ vs 5.74$). Are there any alternatives to Amazon?

@docent, Don't know if it makes a difference, but it's also available at Smashwords.

Frank R. McBride said...

I love your discussion, I even rushed to buy "The lost coast" on Amazon. But enlighten me, why do I have to pay 90% more when outside the US? (2.99$ vs 5.74$). Are there any alternatives to Amazon?

Amazon charges VAT for customers outside the US. And none of that goes to the Author either ...

If it is available on Smashwords.com, go there and you won't have to pay that VAT.

Also be aware that credit card companies might charge you if the purchase is in another currency. If I buy it, my CC company charges around 2$ (at current exchange rates) on top of whatever I pay Amazon. Which kinda sucks, as CC is the only method of payment allowed at the Kindle store and they don't give you a shopping cart to bundle purchases.

Anyways ... I have been following your blog for a few weeks now Joe. Great conversation. I am fascinated where all this leads.

Rael Gugelmin Cunha said...

Don't use Winzip trial, use 7Zip, it's open and free, and works with a lot of formats: http://www.7-zip.org/download.html

Now I'll continue to read the post :D

Mark Asher said...

@Selena: "Okay, this Amanda Hocking thing has me a little befuddled in light of this amazing post. Eisler is in legacy publishing and passes up on half a mil for a two book deal in order to self-pub... while Hocking, who self-pubbed and made 2 million on her own... is rumored to be signing a million dollar four-book series deal with a legacy pub..."

Look at it this way, Selena -- the ceiling for traditional publishing is still higher than it is for indie publishing. Also, Amanda is getting a lot of guaranteed money for four books - the article implied it was quite a bit more than $1M. She's 26, has a reputation for being able to write quickly, and those four books will not be the last books she writes.

She should retain full rights to all the books she has out right now that have earned her that two million. And those undoubtedly will get a boost when the four book series is out in the stores.

And the book deal, if she takes it, may make it easier for Hollywood to invest in her by filming one of her books.

Yeah, she may make less from those books than if she had self-published, but guaranteed money means something and the doors it may open for her mean she might earn a heck of a lot more eventually. Stephanie Meyer made $40M last year.

Anonymous said...

the new york times leaked the NSA wiretapping case. they could have been slapped with the Espionage Act but they did it anyways.

so do they get no credit for that?

what does a 99 cent ebook of investigative journalism look like? Alex Jones? where is Jane Mayer going to fit into a digital future ?

i am asking because all of this wonderful future-talk in the 1990s about openness and freedom resulted in, basically, the death of the local newspapers, and the unemployment of thousands of skilled investigative journalists, who had no place in the new world, of opinion-based-news.

Oh what about Pro Publica? They got something like 1,000 applications for a handful of jobs. What happened to the rest of those 900-something people, who are probably of comparable skill levels to Eisinger et al who got accepted? Eisinger was at Portfolio, where Michael Lewis published some early versions of the Big Short. Portfolio died... what if Eisinger hadn't been accepted to Pro Publica?

Wasn't part of the Abramoff story cracked by a local reporter? Aren't there are lot of stories slipping through the cracks now?

Selena Kitt said...

Yeah, she may make less from those books than if she had self-published, but guaranteed money means something and the doors it may open for her mean she might earn a heck of a lot more eventually. Stephanie Meyer made $40M last year.

You sound like the guy from Napster in Social Network.

One million isn't cool. You know what's cool? One billion!

It may be about the money. But I think it's more about validation at this point. I'm not in Hocking's head, so I don't honestly know. But if it were me, and I was a wildly popular self-pubbed 26YO writer of YA fiction who had tried to get my stuff published in the past and was rejected... I'd want some validation from the legacy publishing guys.

The money would be icing on the cake.

Of course, if I'd already been through the legacy system like Joe and others here, and I was suddenly making 2mil and legacy came calling? I think I'd enjoy saying "bite me."

I guess it's all about perspective. :)

Rebecca M. Senese said...

Jenna said: "I'm reworking my options to make both pay-up-front and long-tail pay both available for my customers, depending on their needs."

I believe as long as there's an end to the long-tail pay option that's a great alternative. It's the idea of paying forever for day labour that I object to. But I'd certainly be willing to pay the one time fee or the long-tail pay that ends when a certain decided upon fee is paid out, like the fee with interest sort of thing.

But forever? That I object to.

Writers need to start acting like business people. Once the writing is finished, put on the business hat and be responsible for your own business. This to me is the essence of Barry's decision. He looked at his options and made the best business decision for himself.

Marv said...

Does Konrath edit out those comments that don't spin the spin in the direction he wants?

Of course he does. This place is the FOX "news" of self publishing information.

Christy Pinheiro said...

The grass is always greener? Or something?

Yup. It is.

Lundeen Literary said...

I'd change to Wordpress, but there's too much to move over…

Joe, just start a new blog on Wordpress and just put new posts there. You don't have to move everything over - this blog is still here for reference. We know how to find it - just make the last post here a directive to go to the new blog.

I had to come up with a system to post here:
Open Text edit, copy/paste what I'd like to reply to, add html if needed, type my reply and signature, copy/paste back into blogger, post. See if it took, if not, re-paste and post. Did it take? Yes? then check back later - if it's gone, RE-POST, and check again. I did that 12 or 13 times on this post alone yesterday. I don't think I'm the only one who would welcome a move to Wordpress.

Jenna
@lundeenliterary

Tara Maya said...

Liked the first part... went to buy The List ... and found it 2.99, not 0.99, concluded the blog post was just a bait and switch to drive sales, and not finishing it. Sad.

Your loss, dude.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Karen said...

Great article. I haven't read your books, yet. Yet being the operative word. I'll mouse on over to Amazon and figure out this whole digital thing. Grandma Karen here.

Actually, I've been on the fence about whether I want to read digitally. I've been a bit hesitant since I read that Amazon "took back" certain books that it previously sold. Was that growing pains?

How do you think this movement away from publishers will impact the audio book market? Do you see a similar movement? Ten years ago, the number of audiobooks was limited. Then, publishers finally got it. There was a huge market. Today, an audiobook is usually published right alongside the paper version. The prices for audio books has always struck me as obscene. Sure, there are actors to pay, but I can't imagine that warrants the retail price. I've started to see some prices dropping for mp3 versions, but most are still higher than the hardback versions.

sgtrock said...

yacc said:

One more example, although I do not know what the deal is on the authorside (OTOH, their authors have not started to run away, and they certainly know about the realities of ebooks and online distribution):

Bean & Webscription


They are offering multiformat DRM-free ebooks for over a decade now.

They are using free ebooks as a marketing tool (e.g. many Baen authors allow 1-2 books especially in books published as a series to be added to the Baen Free Library).


Baen Publishing must be an author's dream company. They got e-publishing right long before 99% of the market did. Just about the only publisher of note that beat them to market was O'Reilly, a publishing company focussed on computing and networking.

I highly recommend checking out the list of associated publishing companies at Webscription. They recognize a good thing when they see it. :)

Authors: I highly recommend reading Eric Flint's Prime Palavers for an author's take on e-publishing that talks about the economics of free releases. You can read the introduction on the front page of the Baen Free Library. If you're tight on time, at least read #6 for a detailed breakdown of what happened after releasing a couple of books for free, then and #7 for a further discussion of the business model.

Sun Singer said...

I can't believe I read the whole post. But I couldn't stop: it was that good. Several comments:

Joe: Looking at the rates of editors and artists, a self-published author who "does it right" (editorially speaking) can easily spend a couple of grand or so for editing and cover art. Most people can't afford this. Legacy publishing, for all its many many faults, takes some of this cost on itself, and they can afford it much better than a new author with a day job paying $25,000 a year.

Barry: Your self-publishing venture has an aspect to it that the unknown who is just starting out doesn't have. Legacy publishing made you well known before you made your decision. In fact, your decision alone made more news than most self-published unknowns can attract in a lifetime. So how do those who aren't already famous suddenly put up a website and expect to copy your example?

Malcolm

Anonymous said...

I understand that self-publishing is a valid option for many folks...but...unless an author is completely self-deluded, that author will still need to pony up money for a legit editor before self-pubbing. And a legit editor, one who helps you do developmental editing and line-editing, is going to run you about $2500 to $5000, depending upon the length of the book and the amount of work it needs.

The fact is that most of the self-pubbed ebooks I've purchased really needed a good editor.

However, I rarely see self-pubbed authors discussing this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the entertaining and informative blog post! It was a joy to read and very inspiring, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Coral Russell said...

3, 2, 1... Going viral...

Anonymous said...

I am not convinced that the shelf life of e-books will be infinite. The copy protection schemes will keep changing as the old ones are defeated. The next device may not support the books you have already purchased. Alternatively, the books will be pirated like movies and music leaving authors and publishers with no income. It is too soon to make some of the predictions in the article, other than to expect substantial change.

Anonymous said...

I'd accept a long tail royalty big % cut for anyone that could take my novel, put it into enovel format with a good cover, and most importantly - have a marketing platform that actually allows the great public to see the novel. For me the last part is most crucial to a previously unpublished author.

FranceRants said...

Ok, just saw this and wanted to get your opinion:

Thanks!

http://nyti.ms/eRGR6C

Red Rover said...

It is ALL about eNovels! Think about it, you can carry more than one at a time, they are interactive and convenient. Great blog post, long but fantastic. I personally am a fan of www.novoink.com - they've got all I need and want.
Best,
E

Tara Maya said...

Selena: I'm not in Hocking's head, so I don't honestly know. But if it were me, and I was a wildly popular self-pubbed 26YO writer of YA fiction who had tried to get my stuff published in the past and was rejected... I'd want some validation from the legacy publishing guys.

The money would be icing on the cake.

Of course, if I'd already been through the legacy system like Joe and others here, and I was suddenly making 2mil and legacy came calling? I think I'd enjoy saying "bite me."


I think that pretty much captures it.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Cathy said...

Fascinating and enlightening, thank you. (except the froggy bit) I had some theories about how self-publishing children's books could make a lot more money than getting a publisher, since self-promotion is so easy these days that it would take far fewer sales to make the same profit...and I have been very resistant to the digital book format as a reader. But I have seen the light. How about some thoughts on how the digital revolution will affect children's books? Kind of a different animal.

markdf said...

Quick note you guys overlooked: to my knowledge, the market for thriller short stories is zero, so this is found money for people like Barry.

In the science fiction/fantasy short story market, for instance, average pay is a flat 10 cents a word or $1,000 for a 10K story. Not much and a one shot. Before costs, Barry is almost at twice that and on the button after costs--with more money to come.

Kinda cool thing to point out, I think...

markdf said...

btw, Joe, you note that why not pay agents-cum-edistributors 15%. My question would be why?

First, 15% is industry agent commission that went UP from 10% when publisher advances went down.

Second, why replace giving a publisher rights forever with an edistributor royalty forever? Why not find someone to agree to no pay up front (or minimal) plus a 5% royalty until an agreed upon sum is reached, after which, no more royalty?

The same argument holds for the theoretical edistributor as a publisher: once the ebook is done, it's done. They've performed a service whose compensation should have an endpoint, no?

Tara Maya said...

How share royalties with the artist? I think in the digital age, artists ought to make more of their money from passive income rather than one-off sales. Maybe that's just me.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

bowerbird said...

hey, joe, time for a f.a.q. page.

it's great for you how this blog
continually brings in new people,
because those are new buyers,
but it also means you're on this
merry-go-round discussing the
same old topics time after time,
as each crop of newbies comes in.

just like you no longer have time
for interviews, i'd think that you
don't have time to regurgitate,
not if you want to move forward
those people who already get it.

-bowerbird

p.s. this page would be a start,
but it'd need some serious edits.

Len Feldman said...

Two quick points:

1) Trade publishers aren't just focused on selling paper books, they're focused on selling paper books to bookstores. They believe that their customers are bookstores, not readers.

2) Concerning the role of trade publishers in "cutting through the clutter": Publishers help to get shelf space for their titles in bookstores, but almost no one buys print books or eBooks on the basis of the publisher.

Publishers can add value to eBooks through editing, book design and marketing. They typically do a good job with the first two, but unless you're a top-tier author, they do very little marketing. On the other hand, these are all things that authors can do themselves, hire contractors for or farm out to specialized vendors.

The incremental value of trade publishers to authors will decline in direct proportion to eBooks' share of total book sales.

Joe Konrath said...

Of course he does. This place is the FOX "news" of self publishing information.

You're a coward. And an idiot.

Anonymous said...

Could I recommend this TED presentation at Ready2share by Johanna Blakley?

http://www.learcenter.org/html/projects/?cm=ccc/fashion$$

It's an interesting presentation - it observes that the fashion industry does not have any copyright protection, yet works regardless.

Rebecca Stroud said...

I have read thousands of books in the last decade and I can tell you now that I have no clue who published a single one of them. Nor do I (please don't shoot this messenger) give a flip about the cover. Never have; never will.

What I always care about, first and foremost, is the story and the quality of the writing.

As for that monkey-frog vision in my head...well, let's just say I'm obliterating it with beer.

A Three-Dog Night
The Animal Advocate
Zellwood: A Dog Story

Michael said...

Of course he does. This place is the FOX "news" of self publishing information.

You're obviously not paying attention. This place is anything but an echo chamber and Joe is flexible enough not just to allow people to question and criticize him, but to admit when he's been wrong and to change course. That's one major reason why he's been so successful.

S.J. Harris said...

Great conversation, guys!

How much do you plan to charge for your novel, Barry? Just curious. Joe seems to think $2.99 is the sweet spot, but since you're charging that for your short story, I have to assume the novel will be more. At $2.99, you would have to sell around 125,000 copies to equal the advance money you passed up.

Journey Into Darkness: A Kim Journey Thriller

Cover Art Review

Marv said...

You're a coward. And an idiot.

And you're a fat drunk with no talent and a lot of luck.

Of course, that's no secret.

Wayne said...

When you listed all the places an author can self-publish an ebook, you left out the iBook Store. Since Apple is the single reason, Amazon now pays 70% to authors, this would be worth an addendum to the original post.

writerman said...

I found this conversation to be fascinating and enlightening, but it also left me with a number of large questions. I have published four books with legacy publishers. My experiences have run the gamut, from great to hair-pulling bad. I love paper books and I do not like ereaders, but I can read the tea leaves in any form and I know what's coming. So...my questions:
As long as you are dumping paper publishers, who at least can make a claim to added value (editing, proofreading, copy editing, cover design, marketing (I know, I know), etc.), why is there no questioning of the role of Amazon and their 30 percent takeout? What is their added value, aside from serving as a kind of virtual store window? Why do authors need them? They carry no production or distribution costs, they do literally nothing but serve as a conduit, a middleman. Maybe I'm missing something, but you guys didn't even discuss it. So please, clue me in.
Also, what about biographers and writers who need years to research and compile their books. What will they do without advances? It's one thing to spend six months or a year on a book and take your chances, but nobody can spend five years unless they're independently wealthy or have some other means of income. So what about those authors and those kinds of books?
And both of you guys are clearly marketing wizards--what about someone who isn't? How do you get attention for your book, especially now that there will be ever more books to compete with? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks,
Peter Alson

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

And you're a fat drunk with no talent and a lot of luck.

Of course, that's no secret.


I know Joe only from his Internet activities and reading some of his books, so I can't comment on his body-mass index or alcohol intake. However, as someone who averages reading close to a novel per day, I can comment on his talent.

Based on your comments to date, I'd say Joe is justified in believing you're a moron, and based on your reticence, I think his characterization of you as an anonymous coward is also spot on.

Why don't you go bother someone else?


I give Joe's writing a solid B, if not a B+. He's certainly better than the averaged published novelist, and the people I've recommended him to have raved about his work. (If I don't give him an A, it's because I'm extremely selective about A's and 5-star reviews; of the hundreds of Netflix discs I've rated over the years, I've given five stars to fewer than 1%.)

I think you need to examine your own motivations. I'd guess that you're a frustrated novelist who simply doesn't have what it takes to finish a novel or, if you have, your work is crap and sells accordingly. I guess one could charitably call that "bad luck".

Robert W. Walker said...

Say Barry, what will be the # of your print run on Detachment when you publish it digitally? Hehehehehe...been so many places sayng same thing as you and Joe, and authors who understnad how to count (and there are not too many of us who do - esp. when a % sign is thrown in), we understand the dynamics here. I started a little thread on Kindle Community end of Jan begining of Feb. and it has had 7,500 plus views, the thread on how to get kindle titles moving off shelves. People are hungry for the kind of info you and Joe provided here.

I said long ago that Joe's our pied piper, leading us rats from the sinking ship.

All the same, takes a lot of courage to step away from half a mil. Not sure I coulda done so even so. Brave man!

rob walker
Titanic 2012

Newmango said...

About a third the way down in your post, you guys brought up a salient question:

"Barry: Exactly. Walk into a bookstore--even with today’s diminished inventory, there are tens of thousands of titles. How do you get noticed? Getting noticed and other aspects of marketing is a challenge in any business, digital, paper, or otherwise. It’s too big a topic to cover here, but for now, let’s just say that it’s hardly a unique challenge for digital books. And, as you and many others have demonstrated, it’s hardly an insurmountable challenge, either.

Joe: I’d argue that marketing a digital book is actually easier. But we can come back to that."

Um - I don't think you ever came back to that, because I was looking for it. If you already have some kind of name recognition, it's probably easier to get your new stuff noticed. What about a new author? Assuming one is a good writer with a good story, what are things they can do to help them rise from obscurity?

AbiolaTV said...

This was an epic conversation. I feel like I've been to class. Thanks for the lesson plan. We appreciate you letting us eavesdrop on this evolving conversation.

bowerbird said...

newmango said:
> Assuming one is
> a good writer
> with a good story,
> what are things
> they can do
> to help them
> rise from obscurity?

write six more good stories,
and then post the first four
at $.99 each, and once they
take off, feed the machine
at regular intervals with the
other three, while you are
continuously writing more,
as the machine is voracious...

a.k.a., do what john locke did.

-bowerbird

p.s. other people will tell you
that you need good covers,
and this, that, and the other,
but if your stories are all good
and tight, that's all you need...
plus time, and a little luck too.

SandyT said...

"It isn't personal...it's business" (Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail). You guys are full of quotes. Although all of my books are now in most ebook formats, I still produce hard cover and trade paperbacks via POD for readers who don't own an eReader. Still irks me to give away that hefty discount to the wholesalers, though. I have been self-publishing since 1998 going from traditional print runs to POD and now adding ebooks to the mix. Glad to see Barry is joining our growing ranks.

Billy-Shane Duquette said...

Wow what a long article. I almost failed to make it to the end because of endurance, even though I found it fascinating.

Definitely a convincing case for self-publishing.

What marketing DO you do?

Jason said...

Yo Marv, you live in the Chicago area? Maybe Joe will leave an extra big tip in your jar at the end of the bar someday.

He might even sign your Kindle if you show him that book of his you're reading on it.

I wish I had the same lack of talent Joe has. Cuz even with a lot less luck I'd be kicking ass in e-book sales.

David Grace said...

I now have eleven novels and several collections of short stories for sale as ebooks on Amazon and distributed by Smashwords at all other major sellers.

One of the big problems with major publishers is that they don't seem to pay attention to their own numbers. I analyzed the cost differences between print and electronic books and found that after printing, warehousing, shipping and royalty costs, a major publisher is only getting about $5 on a $27 hardcover and only about $1.13 on an $8 paperback. A publisher could easily get $1.75 after those "costs" for each $4.99 ebook. And they don't want to do it! Are they stupid for not doing it or clueless for not running the numbers so that they could learn how silly it is not to do it?
send me an email at DavidGraceAuthor@gmail.com if you would like a copy of the numbers breakdown.

Rosalie Marsh (UK) said...

Have been self-published from day one-Print and Digital with another company.Now gone one step further and doing it all as an Indie-Like to be in control-editing,print,converting to e-book,cover,marketing etc.Steep learning curve If I wasn't already convinced I would be after the Blog. Great stuff.

Lundeen Literary said...

3rd time I've tried to post this....


I'd change to Wordpress, but there's too much to move over…

Joe, just start a new blog on Wordpress and just put new posts there. You don't have to move everything over - this blog is still here for reference. We know how to find it - just make the last post here a directive to go to the new blog.

I had to come up with a system to post here:
Open Text edit, copy/paste what I'd like to reply to, add html if needed, type my reply and signature, copy/paste back into blogger, post. See if it took, if not, re-paste and post. Did it take? Yes? then check back later - if it's gone, RE-POST, and check again. I did that 12 or 13 times on this post alone yesterday. I don't think I'm the only one who would welcome a move to Wordpress.

Jenna
@lundeenliterary

Dawn said...

Dang. Geez Barry. Talk about walking the walk.
Great column guys. I linked to it on my blog and will try to RT it.
Thanks

Tara Maya said...

I find Blogger easier to use than WordPress, and definitely better than having to sit through a damn ad every time I want to comment.

jry said...

Joe :"Writers visit my blog.
Readers buy my ebooks.
There is very little crossover between the two groups."

Well...maybe but I am a reader and can't face a day without checking for a new entry - tho' being a reader have already purchased most of Joe's ebooks.

This was one of the best Newbie's Guide blogs yet and congratulations to Mr. Eisler both on his decision to self-publish and on co-creating one of the greatest blog entries of all time.

I wanted to wait and write a reasoned and coherent response to some of the nits who still write in longing for a print deal. I'll just say this - I have worked in libraries for years and have come to, as I have posted elsewhere, loathe publishers, to the point that after Jobs and the major publishers went "Agency Model" made the vow to never again make any of my personal book purchases be new from the publisher DTB (dead tree books) and to concentrate on used bookstores and ebooks. Added to that my limit for ebooks is 5.00 concentrating in the .99 to 2.99 range - this decision was made long before I discovered how fun and informative this blog is and so was unaware of his price point opinions.

I had also wanted to wait and write another of those reasoned and coherent responses to those who call .99 devaluing books but I must face the fact that it would be impossible for this ol' spinster library lady to control her language on that one.

Coral Russell said...

To unzip files - 7-zip http://www.7-zip.org/ is much better than WinZip and it's completely free. :)

Anonymous said...

there is also a nice discussion going on on slashdot
http://news.slashdot.org/story/11/03/22/0125218/Best-Selling-Author-Refuses-500k-Self-Publishes-Instead

Joe Konrath said...

Of course, that's no secret.

LOL, you chickenshit.

Scared to post your real name because you're afraid the whole world will know what an ass you are?

But your poor parents know, don't they?

Be civil, or go play somewhere else. Final warning.

Ernie said...

One thing the legacy publishing houses have, and is rather harder to reproduce within the self-publishing environment as I understand it, is a ready-made stable of authors with stories of similar type and a way to link to them.

I don't know how many times I've come to the end of a book (I tend to find these most often in paperbacks), to find something similar to "If you enjoyed this, you may like these authors' offerings as well:" followed by a list of authors and similar titles, and then gone on to explore those suggestions and discover new authors and enjoyable material from that introduction.

Of course, I'm not saying that this singular benefit isn't outweighed by all the negatives pointed out in the blog. However, it does seem to be a void in an otherwise lucrative self-publishing realm.

Perhaps there exists an opportunity here for someone to provide such a feature within the self-publishing environment, and offer an author "suggested links" to and from their works and those of related material to mutually expand publicity?

chris said...

@Joe

You can import posts into wordpress from blogger.

Installing WP onto your hosting should also be very simple with your webhost.

Joe Konrath said...

Just a general reminder to everyone--I allow anonymous posts so people can speak freely without fear of repercussion, and many an industry professional, agent, bestseller, and NY editor has posted here and added to the conversation.

But I have no patience for trolls. They're sad, and I can only imagine what it would be like to raise a child whose only way to socialize is to hurl insults anonymously on the web. Obviously something wrong happened during the development years, and I'm sure "Marv's" parents would be just as embarrassed for him as I am.

That said, I want this blog to be a place for ideas and civil discourse, not for those with social and envy issues, so I'm turning off anonymous posting for a while.

And Marv, dude, SSRIs are widely available, and most towns provide free counseling.

Joe Konrath said...

Also, I don't know what's up with the spam filter, and why Blogger keeps killing comments. Supposedly it can be "trained" by teaching it what is spam and what isn't. I'll do some research and see if I can't figure out why so many posts are being deleted.

Annoying as hell...

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