Thursday, April 25, 2013

Konrath on Patterson

Perhaps you've seen the ad James Patterson recently ran in the NYT.

If you don't want to squint at the jpg, here's what Patterson wrote:

"If there are no bookstores, no libraries, no serious publishers with passionate, dedicated, idealistic editors, what will happen to our literature? Who will discover and mentor new writers? Who will publish our important books? What will happen if there are no more books like these?"

Then there's a list of 38 books, including All the President's Men, Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, Fahrenheit 451, Catch 22, etc. I agree that many of them are great.
Then he ends with:

"The Federal Government has stepped in to save banks, and the automobile industry, but where are they on the important subject of books? Or if the answer is state and local government, where are they? Is any state doing anything? Why are there no impassioned editorials in influential newspapers or magazines? Who will save our books? Our libraries? Our bookstores?"

I respect Patterson for his marketing genius. I also like many of his books. He makes 94 million dollars a year, so he's obviously doing quite a bit right.

But I'm not finding much to agree with here.

"what will happen to our literature?"

Perhaps writers will write it? Aren't they the ones who wrote all of those books on that list?

One of those books mentioned above was Different Seasons by Stephen King. Does anyone think King will quit writing because the publishing world keeps changing and evolving? Is there anything that could get him to stop writing?

There are thousands of authors self-publishing. I'm sure some of them are writing great, important literature.

Bookstores, libraries, passionate editors, and publishers don't write books. They help books find readers. Like Amazon does, by connecting readers and writers.

Except Amazon has no barriers to entry, and gives writers a better royalty rate.

"Who will discover and mentor new writers?"

When did writers become invalids who are incapable of growing, learning, and improving without hand-holding?

Are books such rare, delicate hothouse flowers that the utmost care must be given to their nurturing and feeding or they'll perish without it?

With ebooks, the readers are the ones who discover new writers. And those readers actually have a chance to discover more books than ever before, because many of them were never mentored by the establishment.

I'm reminded of the story behind the publication of The Confederacy of Dunces. The author, John Kennedy Toole, was rejected by publishers, was supposedly very upset about it, and eventually killed himself. His mother took up the cause to publish the book posthumously, and eventually it was--by Louisiana State University. And then it won the Pulitzer.

Would Toole have been so disheartened if he could have self-pubbed via KDP? We'll never know. But here is a case where a great work of art in search of a mentor didn't get one, and only through the determination of the dead writer's mother did it go on to become recognized as one of the greatest works in literature.

Toole needed less mentoring, fewer roadblocks, and more opportunities to get his book published. Which self-publishing allows.

"Who will publish our important books?"

I'm the first to admit that I'm an entertainer. That's all I aspire to be. Whiskey Sour will never be Catcher in the Rye, nor was it meant to be.

But I'm pretty sure there are writers who have important books in them. And rather than go through what Toole--and no doubt countless others--had to go through with the legacy system, they now have the opportunity to publish those works themselves.

Perhaps, without the legacy system, there will be no Maxwell Perkins to guide those geniuses of tomorrow. But there have always been, and always will be writing classes. And critique groups. And freelance editors. And peers. A writer doesn't have to work alone. And in exchange for getting this assistance, the writer doesn't then have to pay a large percentage of royalties, forever.

Passive Guy has some smart things to say about the nurturing aspect of publishing:

"Does nurturing even belong in a healthy business relationship?

PG says maybe some baby authors want nurturing, but most grown-up authors don’t. If you simply must have nurturing, maybe a dog or cat is a better idea than an agent or publisher. They’ll love you to pieces and never ask for a contract (unless the cat hires an attorney).

Like many things in traditional publishing, maybe you get nurturing whether you want it or not.

Here’s an idea. Let’s make nurturing an à la carte option that the author can pay for:

Agency Commission – 15% with nurturing, 7.5% without nurturing

Publisher Ebook Royalties – 25% with nurturing, 50% without nurturing"

While there are substantive differences between mentoring and nurturing, I must say that while I was taught many things about legacy publishing by those in the business, I didn't require any mentoring, nurturing, or hand-holding. I was lucky to find a good agent, Jane Dystel, who believed in me and was willing to work hard on my behalf, even when countless publishers rejected my books. Books that never were traditionally published, but have gone on to earn me over a million dollars.

The publishing industry did not teach me craft. I never required much editing. And though I never considered my books "important" I sure tried in vain to get my publishers behind them. Which never happened.

But I'll answer the actual question. If the true concern is that great books (like the 38 on the above list) will get lost in the ebook tsunami of crap (which I debunked, but I digress), then I have a perfect solution:

James Patterson's Important Literature Series

All Patterson has to do is hire a group of editors to sift through self-published books, looking for great literature. Authors can also submit their work to this program. Then, when worthy books are discovered, Patterson can make a big announcement, re-publish it with a lot of press and fanfare and his name behind it, and these important books won't get lost in the kerfuffle.

I don't see this costing very much to do. Oprah did it with her book club. There are people other than those in publishing who can discover great books and help get them noticed.

If Patterson won't fund it, why not get a government grant for that instead of a bailout?

"The Federal Government has stepped in to save banks, and the automobile industry, but where are they on the important subject of books?"

While our nation does have an unfortunate history of helping the careless, uber-rich upper class continue to stay uber-rich by cleaning up after their greedy mistakes by using the tax money of the middle class, how about instead the publishing industry simply tries to compete? Maybe by embracing technology instead of repeatedly trying to halt its progress? Maybe by lowering the prices of books so more people had access to them? Maybe by treating authors fairly?

Barry Eisler and I did a post on this two years ago, showing publishers how they could compete.

The Federal Government doesn't need to intervene. Unless they can somehow force every executive in NY Publishing to read my blog. 

"Who will save our books? Our libraries? Our bookstores?"

Last I checked, books don't need saving. Ebooks are thriving.

Our libraries would be thriving as well, if the publishers Patterson is pleading for actually played fair with their digital rights. I have a solution for that, too.

And bookstores? Well, as my friend Ann Voss Peterson said, look how every musician stopped making music once all the record stores went out of business.

Oh, wait. People are still making music. Good music, in fact. And lots of it. Even without record stores in every town.

I also need to point out that there are a lot of great books released by legacy publishers that fail to ever find their audience, and then go out of print. Publishers can discover important novels, and then fail to properly promote them. Which brings up an interesting point: All of those important books on the above list are big bestsellers.

What about all the great books that don't hit the NYT list? Who speaks for those?

Patterson recently was interviewed in Salon to talk about the ad, and I didn't find much to agree with there, either.

"E-books are fine and dandy, but it’s all happening so quickly, and I don’t think anyone thought through the consequences of having many fewer bookstores, of libraries being shut down or limited, of publishers going out of business — possibly in the future, many publishers going out of business."

Because without libraries, bookstores, or publishers there will be no more books?

Of course there will be books.

Will there be places to get books?

Sure there will.

And the books will be cheaper, and the authors will make a higher royalty.

I'd also argue that books will be more accessible. Some people don't live near bookstores or libraries. But a Kindle allows people anywhere to buy ebooks, and to also get them for free.

If Patterson is worried that the poor won't be able to afford Kindles, how about asking the government to buy Kindles for all libraries to loan to patrons, and forcing publishers to drop DRM and sell ebooks to libraries as I described in my link above? Doesn't that seem like it will be more helpful, practical, and less expensive than a bailout?

And if the government doesn't do it, well, 94 million dollars would buy 1,300,000 Kindles. There are 121,000 libraries in the US, so each one would get ten.

Patterson is doing a great deal of good for the world, with, with his scholarships, with all of the books he gives away.

But maybe the industry he's working in doesn't serve the greater good. Maybe he should be backing a different horse.

Is Patterson really concerned about important books being lost? With his money and fame helping important books get publicity, and with every library having access to Kindles and inexpensive ebooks, shouldn't that alleviate his concerns?

"In Germany, Italy, and France, they protect bookstores and publishers. It is widely practiced in parts of Europe. I don’t think that’s outlandish."

I'm all for my tax dollars funding museums, protecting some endangered species, and even helping start-up companies with low interest loans.

But I don't want my tax dollars going toward capitalist ventures that are no longer valid because technology is changing while they continue to cling to outdated business models.

Great books will be written without the Big 5. People will be able to buy books without brick and mortar bookstores. And any enterprise that exists to make money should do so because it is good at what it does, not because the government is bailing it so it can continue to make bad decisions and inevitably fold anyway.

"There might be tax breaks, there might be limitations on the monopolies in the book business. We haven’t gotten into laws that should or shouldn’t be done in terms of the internet."

I'm all for limitations on monopolies in the book business. I call it collusion. Like the DOJ does. Scott Turow spoke of a "rich literary culture" which Barry and I took him to task for.

But I'm not for giving tax breaks to a billion dollar industry that hurts authors and readers.

"The press doesn't deal with the effects of e-books as a story. Borders closing down is treated as a business story. Where we are in Westchester during the summer, you’d think that’d be a bookstore haven, and there’s nothing. And that’s not unusual. I don’t think we can be the country we’d like to be without literature."

If you own a Kindle, Mr. Patterson, you don't need a bookstore in Westchester, and you don't have to worry about being without literature.

If you can't afford a Kindle, let's use our tax dollars for that. Get Kindles into all libraries, so everyone has access to ebooks.

Borders closing is a business story. They didn't close because people are reading less. They closed because people are finding their books elsewhere.

"I was in Nashville last night to go to a kickoff at Ann Patchett’s store. One of the things we agreed on is there are too many people talking about things who don’t do anything. She did something. She bought a bookstore. To some extent, it’s a symbolic act. But it got a lot of coverage. And it has to be out of love."

Just because libraries and bookstores are where people used to discover great books doesn't mean that without them people will never discover great books.

Just because the publishing industry published great books doesn't mean without them no more great books will be published.

Paper is only one way to deliver a story to a reader. And it's actually an expensive, archaic, slow, and extremely limited way to do so compared to ebooks.

I like bookstores. A lot. I visited over 1200 of them, signing books.

But it is possible to love books without patronizing bookstores. And it is possible for books to thrive without them being sold by bookstores.

That said, two years ago Blake Crouch and I came up with some ideas to help save bookstores. Not a single bookstore contacted us.

"I don’t think we have a real strong spokesperson in the publishing community, someone who can stand up. If they were, they got distracted by lawsuits [against Amazon and publishing houses]. That scares publishers, as it should. It doesn't really matter. I’m stepping up a little. But it’d be nice if it was the head of a publishing company."

What would be nice is if publishers actually cared about readers and writers, instead of their own continued existence. But I don't blame them for worrying about their stockholders. That's capitalism.

Which is exactly why, if the system is failing, they SHOULD NOT be bailed out.

They ran the industry. They were the gatekeepers. They made their fortunes, and also helped Patterson make his. Now they aren't needed. And it is entirely their fault they aren't needed. And asking the government to help them is like asking peasants to use their money to buy Marie Antoinette cake.

If James Patterson wants to step up, ads asking for the government to bail out the publishing industry isn't the way to lead a crusade to save libraries and important books.

Patterson could use his considerable weight to get publishers to work with libraries, instead of against them.

He could use his fame and money to help discover and promote important works of literature.

He could use his fortune to make sure all libraries get ereading devices, or he could lobby for that cause.

He could.

Addendum: After writing this piece, I read a blog by August Wainwright on this issue, and he brings up some interesting points that I missed.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Eisler on Digital Denial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I'd take it further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-pubbers get 70% royalties.

Self-pubbers set the price of their book.

Self-pubbers can make changes to their books quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Konrath's Thank You 99 Cent Sale

In 2002 I signed my first 3-book deal for $110,000. My agent got 15%, which meant I cleared $93,500. This was paid out over the course of over four years. It took over six years from the date I signed the contract to finally earn out and start making royalties.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to regain control over my legacy books was so I had say-so over the price. I felt that publishers price ebooks too high.

When I got my rights back, I lowered my prices to $3.99.

So, how has that worked out for me?

During the 31 days of March, I earned $102,000 on my self-pubbed books. Some of this was from my old titles that never found a publisher. But 90% of it was from the books I got back.

As you might guess, I'm incredibly happy and grateful. So I wanted to do something to celebrate.

For the next three days, my Jack Daniels, Jack Kilborn, and sci-fi books will each be 99 cents (with the exception of AFRAID, which is free 4/19 - 4/23).

So, if you've never tried my books before, now you can scoop up all eleven for about the price of what one used to cost in paperback.

It's something that no legacy publisher would ever do. Which is why I want to do it. Because I can.

This sale ends at 11:59pm Central Time on Sunday night. So get them while they're hot...

Please help spread the word about this sale by linking to this blog, or to the individual titles.

And thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fair Use

This popped up in my Twitter feed:

It is a picture from DigiCon. The quote below is:

"Copyright is fundamental to creative industries, those who believe it's not relevant are mistaken"

I find that interesting on a few levels. And by "interesting" I mean "bullshit".

First, because it talks about "industries" and not "artists". I was unaware that industries own copyrights. I thought the creator of the work owns the work, and industries are made of companies that exist to exploit the work that artists create.

Second, because I don't believe copyright law, as it currently exists, is fundamental.

When I write something, I believe I should be the only one allowed to make money from that writing (unless I assign rights to that work). I believe I should have the sole ability to do this for a reasonable length of time.

But anyone who isn't making money from my work should be allowed to do whatever they like with it.

Trade it, copy it, share it, borrow it, create derivative works, etc. As long as you aren't doing it for cash, I'm okay with it.

If you use my work to do something that does make money, or you use a significant amount of my work in order to create a work of your own with the intent to make money, I ask you to get my permission

So many writers seem unduly concerned about copyright infringement. On one hand, if someone makes a film called AFRAID and uses my plot and characters without paying me, then releases that film nationwide, I'm going to sue.

But if someone makes a student film out of AFRAID to show on YouTube without monetizing it, go for it.

Want to write a song about a book I wrote? Knock yourself out.

Share my ebooks with your family? Go for it.

Quote a paragraph I wrote in your work? Be my guest.

Sample my voice and put it in a song? Cool.

Seed a Jack Kilborn torrent? Enjoy yourself.

Sell your used copy of WHISKEY SOUR, paper or ebook or audio, to somebody else? No problem. I'm for first-sale doctrine.

I define "fair use" as: You can do whatever you want with my intellectual property, as long as you're doing it without intending to make money. Once you want to make money from it, get in touch and we'll try to work something out.

Having monetary control over my work does not mean I get to control my readers.

My readers should be able to do anything they want to with my work, whether they bought it or obtained it freely. Once I create something, it takes on a life of its own. It exists independent of me. In fact, as I've said many times this past decade, the book does not exist as words on a page. It exists as a story in the reader's head. And I have no claims on that, monetary or otherwise.

If you do want to use my work to make money for yourself, I think it is fair to include me somehow, by negotiating for the rights to do so. But if you want to use my work for anything else, enjoy yourself.

The world is becoming digital. Human beings are born to share. Information wants to be free.

Copyright laws will have to change to encompass this point of view. Because this is what the majority of people want.

Don't bet against the masses. And if you're an artist aching to worry about something, worry about the giant industries (publishing, film, TV, recording) treating you unfairly, not the fan who lends your audiobook to his Mom.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Scott Turow And The Politics of Cowardice by Barry Eisler

Joe sez: Here's an essay from bestselling author Barry Eisler, which I'm pleased to post here.

Barry: There are a lot of substantively interesting aspects of "Authors Guild" president Scott Turow's April 7 New York Times op-ed, "The Slow Death of the American Author." Indeed, you could write a long article debunking all the factual mistakes, legal errors, misleading claims, and failures of logic that comprise Turow's screed. Happily, Mike Masnick of TechDirt has done so, in a devastatingly well-argued and empirically based piece called "Authors Guild's Scott Turow: The Supreme Court, Google, Ebooks, Libraries and Amazon Are All Destroying Authors." I won't repeat what Masnick has already so ably pointed out, and will instead add just a few observations of my own.

First, look at the titles of Turow's and Masnick's pieces, and ask yourself which is the more accurate encapsulation of Turow's argument. Ask yourself, in fact, whether Turow's latest cri de coeur might more accurately have been called, "The Slow Death of Legacy Publishing."

In fairness, in misleading readers right from the title, Turow is doing no more than following the lead of the organization he represents, which given its consistent advocacy for the interests of legacy publishing has no business pretending it fundamentally concerns itself with what might be best for authors. But choosing a name that disguises your true purpose can confer certain tactical advantages. The "National Organization for Marriage," for example, isn't for marriage; it's against gay marriage. It doesn't want more marriage; it wants less, and they've cleverly chosen a name designed to sanitize their actual agenda. The advantages of a wholly misleading title are why in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the organization charged with torture and brainwashing was called the Ministry of Love; the organization charged with shortage and famine was called the Ministry of Plenty; and the organization charged with propaganda and historical revisionism was called the Ministry of Truth.

And it's why an organization primarily dedicated to protecting the interests of big publishing calls itself The Authors Guild.

Here's another one I like -- a small but a nice example. When a neighborhood near mine decided they wanted less car traffic on their streets, they campaigned to have the streets closed during rush hour. They called this campaign, "Traffic Calming." Brilliant! Who could argue against calmer traffic? But if you think about it, the more accurate name would have been "Traffic Diversion."  After all, that traffic didn't disappear, it was simply diverted to someone else's neighborhood. But, as is often the case in such matters, the honest title would have been a harder sell. Think about how much less effective the Authors Guild would be if it called itself something more accurate -- say, The Society for the Preservation of Legacy Publishing.

There are countless other examples (who wants to vote against The Patriot Act?), and I won't try to list them all. The point is, when you see a title -- whether for an organization, an article, or a concept -- that's at variance with underlying reality, you should recognize you are being bullshitted.

Another thing that interested me about Turow's piece was his reliance on theory and his refusal to consider real-world data. In fact, part of what makes Masnick's piece such satisfying reading is the way he cites actual studies, real-world evidence, and even the text of the Constitution (which Harvard-trained lawyer Turow gets wrong) to debunk Turow's theoretical claims. Now, don't get me wrong -- there's nothing wrong with theory, and in fact I have theories for all sorts of things (I even have one or two for what could motivate someone like Turow to continue to write such embarrassingly ignorant articles no matter how many times he gets publicly spanked for his sloppiness, but that's a separate topic). But once you have data you can use to test a theory, you have to use it. To argue exclusively in the realm of theory when there is abundant data you could use, too, isn't just lazy. It's fundamentally a repudiation of science itself.

So this is another thing to watch for. When someone tries to sell you on a theory but refuses to discuss available evidence that could support or repudiate the theory, it's another classic sign that you are being bullshitted.

A final thought.

Once upon a time, technology was such that the Great Guardians of Rich Culture and All That Is Good (AKA, the Establishment) could pontificate to the unwashed masses and there was no effective way for the masses to respond. In those days, anyone with access to a platform like, say, the New York Times had tremendous asymmetrical communication power. It's hard to argue that this kind of one-way communication was a good thing -- unless you believe that a lack of accountability, a lack of peer-review, and a lack of diverse pressure-checking is good for society.

Obviously, the Internet has in many ways leveled the communications playing field, and now, when the high and mighty speak down to the masses, the masses can -- and do -- respond. What's fascinating is watching the reaction of people like Scott Turow, who act as though we're still living in a world where two-way communication isn't a real possibility and the masses can be safely ignored. But what are we to make of this supercilious behavior? Read Masnick's article, then ask yourself why you should have any confidence in someone like Turow, who refuses to engage such a devastating rejoinder? Why you should respect someone who lacks the courage and even the minimal integrity to defend his own public arguments? Why you should trust someone who can't even back up his own claims?

Amusingly, twenty-four hours ago, I posted this, with a link to Masnick's piece, in the comments section to the Authors Guild link to Turow's New York Times article:

"That Scott Turow refuses to respond to this demolition of his facts, his knowledge of the law, and even his baseline logic tells you all you need to know about his integrity. And about the true function of the "Authors Guild" of which he is president."

I received a message that my comment was awaiting moderation. And not only did the moderators not run the comment -- they then closed the comments section entirely! Ah, the "Authors Guild," such a wonderful forum, where authors can freely express diverse opinions on all the important authorial matters of the day…

In fact, there were no comments at all on Turow's piece on the Authors Guild site. Anyone want to take any bets about how many critical comments the moderators deep-sixed before stepping in to censor debate? Think mine was the only one? Again, what can we conclude about an organization that purports to represent authors, but which is in fact afraid to allow authors to express themselves?

So: bullshit tell #3. When someone tries to pontificate to the masses, actively shuts down commentary, and refuses to respond to his critics, you can be confident you are being bullshitted.

What's so satisfying about all this is that you can't successfully ignore technology. Or facts. Or ideas. Denial has no survival value. When you stick your head in the sand, if you're lucky, the world will just pass you by. More likely, you'll get eaten. And that's what's happening to Scott Turow and the "Authors Guild." All the bullshit in the world can't change it.

Of course, Turow could easily prove me at least partially wrong about his lack of balls and integrity. Are you there, Scott? All you need to do is respond to Masnick's piece. His comment section is still open. So is mine. We don't censor debate. Why do you?

Joe sez: I don't have much to add to Mike or Barry's posts, other than to be grateful that they did such  good jobs, (as did David Gaughran here because Turow's NYT piece was gnawing at me, begging for a response.

Turow, like many bestsellers, lives in a gilded cage. He doesn't seem to understand anything about his fellow authors, and doesn't seem to want to learn.

So rather than comment on his piece, I'm going to address Turow directly, and try to help him out.

Are you reading this, Scott? Here are some things you need to know to get you up to speed:

1. The vast majority of authors have gotten screwed by legacy publishing. The legacy system has treated authors like you well, but most of us have been taken advantage of. This includes most of the members of the Guild you represent. Listen to their stories of rejection, poor royalties, broken promises, unconscionable contracts, rights grabs, terrible covers, orphaned books, undereported sales, shrinking advances, and how the legacy system you endorse is treating them worse than ever.

2. Digital media is here to stay, and it will eventually make analogue obsolete, or at best, niche. This has happened repeatedly, in various industries, and bemoaning it won't change anything.

3. For the first time ever, authors have the chance to control their careers. They can make money, many more than ever before, while also retaining their rights. The American Author (and World Author) is finally able to thrive without requiring the thumbs up or down from middlemen who take a huge cut.

4. There is no conclusive study that shows piracy hurts sales. My own experiments have shown it helps sales. I'm widely pirated (search any bit torrent site or file locker for my name), but I still made $137k in the last six weeks. That may not come close to what you're making, but it beats the hell out of the $40k a book I made when I was being legacy pubbed. As I've said, ad nauseum, the way to compete with piracy is with cost and convenience. I knew this years ago, and have been proving my point with my continued earnings since then.

5. Readers matter. They don't like to buy the same book over and over again in different formats. They don't like DRM. They don't like high prices. They don't like windowing. They like libraries. They like used books. They like lending books to friends and family. And, in some cases, they like piracy. Instead of treating readers as the enemy, listen to their needs and treat them as what the are: the ONLY ESSENTIAL component to any author's success.

6. The war against drugs failed, because it is contrary to what people want. The war for copyright is also failing for the same reason. You can't police a digital world. People will always file share.

And yet you're still making money.

So is your publisher. So is Hollywood. So are app developers. So are videogame creators. So are musicians. So are networks.

With all of this worldwide piracy and sharing, IP holders can still make money. Some, more than ever before.

The Internet was created to share data, and human beings are genetically wired to share information. Accept it, and what those irrefutable facts mean for copyright. Because copyright law will have to change according to what people want to do, not the other way around.

Change is scary, Scott. I know. But it comes anyway, no matter how much you want to argue with it, deny it, ignore it, or cling to the past.

Also, while I certainly understand and respect rushing to the defense of those who have done you a solid (in this case, the publishing industry that helped you earn a lot of money), that should be your agenda as Scott Turow NYT Bestselling Author, not Scott Turow President of the Authors Guild.

The Guild purportedly exists to help authors. For over a year, I've seen you do the opposite, spreading BS that hurts those very authors you and the Guild are supposed to be championing.

I don't expect you to change. Nor do I expect you to step down. But this blog gets more traffic than the Authors Guild website, so my next request is to all Guild members reading this.

Quit the Authors Guild.

Quit right now, with an email explaining that the organization is not looking out for your best interests.

That's the only way to effect change.