Another Coup for Self-Publishing

Dovetailing on Joe Moore’s great post yesterday on “Show Me the Money,” I saw an article in Publishers Weekly and wanted to share this very interesting deal.
John Locke is my hero.
No, not THAT John Locke! This guy…
Publishers Weekly reported on Aug 22nd that John Locke, the self-pubbed Kindle bestseller phenom, closed a distribution deal with Simon & Schuster. The deal, negotiated by his agent, is an exclusive arrangement where S&S will handle Locke’s eight Donovan Creed novels and get them into retail markets for print books. These novels are expected to start releasing in Feb 2012 with more titles to follow.
This seems like a really different idea, but a rep at S&S said this concept mimics the type of arrangements made between distributors and small publishers. Whether you consider this unorthodox or not, this is news, people. Locke still distributes his e-books and retains his rights as publisher on all digital fronts. S&S is only getting the right to sell print books to retail markets. S&S sees value in print and paid accordingly for that privilege, but Locke didn’t have to give up his lucrative digital rights.
If Locke hadn’t self-published, he never would have known his true value in the marketplace.
I see this as very encouraging for aspiring authors. The digital marketplace has become the new resume, a proving ground. It requires work to market your own books, but traditional publishers expect authors to do this anyway. Quality and author craft is still important to this process, but I believe if an aspiring author has talent and a marketing platform to get the word out, this new digital world can be the best way to showcase work.
Published authors benefit from this development too. Striking a similar deal, they would get to focus on their writing, get their books into the public faster without all the approval and production schedule delays, and push the genres they write without NYC filtering the content for placement on shelves in retail stores. Established authors already spend time on promotion. Nothing new there, but there would be no more waiting to see if the publisher will spend money on promo or coop dollars for often limited time on the shelves. And the author retains control of cover art, book jacket summary, copy editing, and formatting, if they want it.
Even though S&S has limited access to Locke’s work, it can be looked upon as a WIN-WIN, in my opinion. S&S gets access to books that have a proven readership. They don’t have to “guess” whether a series will gain traction or not. They get exclusive print distribution rights for a known commodity. Not a bad thing to try in a changing world.
The author gets to take the risk of whether his or her book will find success, so they can push the genre or create a new trend—AND keep the rights that are most lucrative these days. The author would also free up time to write more, rather than spend time with the print side of the business—and gain access to retail markets he/she would not have reached on their own. PLUS a proven winner like Locke would also have the attention of NYC with his next project, opening more doors. Definitely a WIN-WIN!
I see this as a very positive arrangement—a healthy one for the industry. Both sides benefit from something they would not have tried otherwise. If a traditional bundled publishing deal can be broken apart for perceived value, how do you think this might change how deals can be negotiated in the future? Can digital rights be retained by the author for the right project? How would an agent’s role change? Would an author have to be a proven bestseller to have enough clout to negotiate a similar deal or does a deal like Locke’s foreshadow things to come for all authors?

14 thoughts on “Another Coup for Self-Publishing

  1. I’m too tired to think straight so I want to read this post again tomorrow when I’m fresh. But on first read, it would appear that only someone in Locke’s position, with a significant track record, is going to be able to make this kind of deal (and it sounds like he has a proven track record, so why not?). So while the way the arrangement came about is different, it really isn’t a change from the current workings where pretty much only the top tier sellers garner the time investment of the publisher.

    And anything that gives an author more negotiating rights is a good thing IMO. I would not want to trade away my digital rights, mostly due to the fact that most publishers still over-price e-books. I realize we want to maximize profit, but as a consumer, I find the high-priced e-book is a backfire.

    BK Jackson

  2. Hey BK. Thanks for your comment. Not long ago I had asked my agent what she thought of the value of a deal if an author withheld digital rights. We talked about the implications. For the average author or a new author, this would probably meet resistance and perhaps be a deal killer, depending on the deal. But this kind of news gives me hope that all aspects of a contract can be negotiated, that an acquisition wouldn’t be a “take it or leave it” negotiation.

    This also sends a message to me that self publishing could open doors to better deals for not only new authors. If an author can develop a proven track record, one that doesn’t rely on a publisher’s promo budget, that author might have more leverage going forward. I like that idea. Being more in control is a good thing–and it still boils down to writing a great story that resonates with readers–stories that are more accessible and readily available with a click.

    I completely agree on the price issue too. Publishers still don’t seem to be willing to discount digital prices in a nimble fashion. They have pricey overhead to cover, but an author doesn’t have the same considerations. Retaining control of pricing and being able to change it in response to the marketplace would be a really good thing.

  3. Good stuff, Jordan. One of the things that beginning writers don’t realize is the lack of control published authors have over their work once it leaves their hands. Developments like what you describe show that some of that control may be shifting back in our direction.

  4. John Locke is unique so the deal is unique. It may happen to one or two more writers, but that’s it. No Big 6 publisher can afford to go through its processes with anything less.

    Even so, the big question is whether short, not well-written .99 digital novels will sell in higher priced print form. The Locke phenomenon was fueled mainly by having several .99 books available at once. Locke himself has admitted that he’s not a great writer, but is a great marketer. Will that translate to the print world where he’s going to be competing with Lee Child and Michael Connelly and others who really can write?

  5. Good morning, Joe. I agree. I saw this news as encouragement for authors with a readership to develop or parlay their brand into something with more leverage. Aspiring authors have more opportunity too. It still boils down to crafting a good story that will build a readership & not be a one hit wonder, but I saw this as a potential tip of the iceberg for future opportunities. With JK Rowling forming her own publishing house, traditional deals are getting reshaped by those who think “out of the box” because authors have options. Every author does. It’s an interesting world we’re headed into.

  6. I don’t know what the terms of the deal are, but the challenge for S & S would seem to be where? With print distribution channels drying up, where do the books actually go? Perhaps they go to some big box venues, I dunno.

    I agree in part with Anon 7:46 am, that the price point of the print books will present another challenge.

    But here’s another thing. This is freaking Simon & Schuster. That they are making a huge paradigm shift is so telling of the times we’re in.

  7. Hey, Jim, good morning. Yeah I thought S&S better have an idea how to market higher priced books in a faltering retail market. Seemed like a strange decision, but what a telling turn of events. That was a more important factor to me, reading between the lines of S&S’s business decision.

    S&S will have to package these books, edit them, and put their usual touch on them to compete for future sales orders. No matter what they paid for print rights, I still see them incurring the same overhead costs to add cover art, edit, & promo these books. Hard to say why they would do this, but maybe there was something more to this agreement–like foreign rights. US books do well in foreign markets. Guess we’ll see.

  8. I don’t think this is a deal many authors are going to be able to get. But I do think new authors have to build their following by themselves nowadays. That seems pretty obvious lately.

  9. Hey Taylor–There certainly is no fast track to building readership. Sometimes luck might play a part if the right person or coming backs an author, but for readers to come back and follow a writer, it takes consistency and quality, for sure.

  10. Right now, only Locke can make this kind of deal. This afternoon, Stephen King and Janet Evanovich can make it. Tomorrow, John Grisham. Next week, who knows?

    Down the list they go, as author after author will refuse to surrender their electronic rights for six weeks in a Barnes & Noble which may not even exist after the two years it takes the New York publishers to get a book out.

    Locke’s deal is a cataclysmic event in the publishing world, sending Richter Scale readings off the chart.

  11. Hey Mike–Thanks for your post. When Amanda Hocking made her deal with St Martins (after the auction for her next books) for $2 million, I believe she gave them the standard deal, including her digital rights. She had expressed her desire to get on with a traditional house so she could get out from under the added work of being her own publisher. That was her moment to get a tailored deal, but she opted for the money. Time will tell whether that will be a good deal for her, but I like the Locke turn of events. I’m hoping S&S does well too.

  12. This is exactly the kind of deal I am looking for. The market is, as we can now see, becoming willing to do this. I recently submitted to an agent and she asked for my whole mss. I informed her it is already self-published and I don’t plan to relinquish ebook or audio rights. All I want her to sell is US print, international print, and potential movie rights. She still wanted to see it. Why, because she knows it may work too.

    I will get a Locke sort of deal. How do I know this? Because I will not take anything else. When will it be? Eventually.

  13. Hey there, Basil. Cool about the agent interest. Great sign that she was still interested in your MS after you better defined what you were asking of her. I’m assuming foreign rights would be in her hands too, right? Good luck and keep us posted. Very cool.

  14. I remember chatting with some senior editors and a major publishing house and they candidly expressed that with digital publishing now a virtually everyone’s fingertips, they definitely felt the challenge to keep ahead of the pack. I’d say this Locke’s sucess is one more example of the publishing possibilities for authors and publishers, alike. I’m all for keeping an even playing field. Win-Win for everybody will keep the industry healthy.

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