The State of Self-Publishing at This Moment in Time

Today’s post is brought to you by a “Happy Birthday.” On this day in 2004, the print version of Write Great

Fiction: Plot & Structure was published by Writer’s Digest Books. I wanted it to be practical and immediately useful, the kind of book I was looking for when I was learning how to write. It was my desire to deliver writers from what I call “The Big Lie,” that good fiction writing technique cannot be learned. Bosh. Piffle. Hooey.

I still get emails and tweets each week from authors who give the book an esteemed place in their fictional development.
For this I am truly grateful. So thanks for allowing me a moment to toot a birthday horn and let loose a balloon. Now on to today’s subject
•••
We know some things about self-publishing that we didn’t know a few years ago.
First of all, we have to define the epochs. Yes, self-publishing has epochs.
There were the early years, which archaeologists call the Konrathian Period. Here you will find those who jumped in early and eagerly as the Kindle was taking off (late 2007 to 2010). Etched in the fossil record you’ll find names like Mr. Konrath himself, Amanda Hocking, John Locke, TKZ emeritus Boyd Morrison and many others. The period is marked by some staggering sales of 99¢ novels. Also by wild and sometimes intemperate remarks about the demise and dastardliness of traditional publishing.
Barry Eisler ushered in the next epoch, the Lower Entrepreneurial. This was in early 2011 when Barry turned down a cool half a mil from St. Martin’s Press in order to self-publish his next John Rain thrillers. At the time I called this “The Eisler Sanction” because here was a legit and well-paid traditional author taking a businesslike look at the future and deciding to go indie. It was the sort of risk entrepreneurs take in new and untested markets. Thus, a little more intentionality had evolved out of the rough-and-tumble Konrathian.
Over the last year or so we have entered what I call the Mature Entrepreneurial. The risks and rewards are more evident now. A certain reality has set in. We have track records that help us assess the relative merits of traditional versus indie publishing. For example, some of the risks of going straight into self-publishing:
1. Foregoing an advance (even at the lower rates now being offered by publishers. “15k is the new 50k,” an agent told me recently).
2. Missing out on the chance that a traditionally published novel or series might be that “one in a hundred thousand” that breaks out into huge sales and makes a “star.”
3. Not having behind you a team that does things very well: edit, design, get books into bookstores.
4. Getting lost in the Sargasso of mediocrity that is the digital book world.
However, rewards look like this:
1. Author as master of own destiny.
2. Not roped to a single brand.
3. Books published as soon as the author deems them ready.
4. Royalty structure more favorable.
But what about actual money? During the Late Konrathian and into the Lower Entrepreneurial, dollar signs sparkled in the eyes of many new writers. Dreams of scoring big with one or two books, or maybe a series of shorts, danced like a temptress in scribal heads.
Reality has a more temperate message: Self-publishing is a volume business, and the product has to be quality. And it takes time, lots of time, to grow a customer base.
Gee, just like any business! Imagine that!
Also, for more and more writers, it’s not just a money game. In a recent interview at Huffington Post, Eisler says:
Then, there’s the issue of happiness. I wouldn’t divorce money from happiness. Most people would be happy making more money than less. But my happiness quotient wasn’t driven entirely by financial considerations.
Because of my personality and business experience, I found it very frustrating to have to entrust business decisions to people whose thinking, work process and conclusions I didn’t necessarily agree with or respect. I’ve had publishers make terrible business decisions for my books. I found it painful and frustrating to have to live with those decisions. I find it much more satisfying to be responsible for and in charge of those decisions.
So where are we with self-publishing at this moment in time? It continues to evolve, of course. But every month we have more and more data and testimony about methods and results. Which puts us on the brink of a new epoch, The Vocational, wherein writers wisely choose their path based on what they feel called to, where they feel happiest, where their writing can flourish according to their own definition of success. 
Which is what it should come down to, after all. Not someone else’s definition of success, but your own.
Define it. Write it down. Then go for it.

NOTE: I’m in travel mode today. Mix it up in the comments and I’ll get to them when I can. Talk about where you are in your publishing journey. What does the landscape look like to you? 

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Key Book Production Costs for Self-Published Authors

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




After James Scott Bell’s excellent post “We Are All Long Tail Marketers Now”, several side discussions took place in the comments regarding my self-published novel – BLOOD SCORE now available through the Amazon Kindle Select Program (my first time using this program). I’ll have the book discounted until August 1. (I love how the TKZ community gets involved with each post. Thank you.) Questions came up about my editing and production experiences with this novel since it is outside my traditionally published works.

As I mentioned in my comments on Jim’s post, the business end has always been a drain for me. Self-pubbing involves more than promo. It’s production of the actual book and the promo is ongoing (as it is for me with traditional publishers too), but with indie I’m in control of my production schedule, retail pricing and subrights decisions, and can capitalize on promo ops when I want to. Being a hybrid author, straddling traditional and indie publishing, gives me more options and many “irons in the fire.” I have many more points mentioned in another post I did on the subject. On my group YA blog ADR3NALIN3, I did a post on the “Ten Reasons Why I Am Self-Publishing.” 

I wanted to dip my toe into the waters of indie with a non-fiction book as well as a short story anthology so I would know what was involved in production and to build up my contacts for service providers. My upcoming full-length novel project will be more about learning promotion. I’ve got loads of personal bookmarks for service providers, but the marketing side of the business needed work on my part. I’ve created a Self-Pub Resource tab on my YA blog-Fringe Dweller. I hope to update it as I go along. For now it encompasses review sites for digital books. That resource tab will be a work in progress as I go.

Basically, here are the indie production costs as I see them:

1.) Edits: $500-$1800+ – This is a tough one to estimate, but important. I’ve seen this cost higher, depending on if you need a book doctor or not. It depends on how much work needs to be done and who you use as editor. A good editor is worth their weight in sales, so shop wisely. Beta readers will only get you so far. Having said that, I’ve had some good and terrible copy editors on my traditionally published books. Being traditionally pubbed does NOT guarantee you will get a good one. At least with indie books, you can make the decision on who to use on current and future projects. 

For this project I used authors/editors Alicia Dean and Kathy Wheeler. They helped with formatting and editing and made that effort painless and fun.
 

2.) Cover $150-400 – This range depends if you are doing a version for print or just digital. The print design costs more because it involves the design of a spine and back cover. You can do a cheaper cover by merely paying for one digital image from iStock or some other provider and add font and do it yourself graphically (not recommended), but a cover needs to look good on a thumbnail and a bad design can kill sales. On BLOOD SCORE, I used Croco Designs and love Frauke Spanuth, the designer. I’ve used her for blog header designs and bookmarks and now covers. She’s a German designer who works for publishers too. Her costs are reasonable on all fronts and she’s easy to work with and fast, but there are many cover designers out there now. Look through portfolios to find one you like.

3.) Formatting $100-150 – You can do this yourself, but I’ve never tried it. There are software programs, but haven’t tried that either

4.) Promotion $50-Whatever – This is totally up to you. There are many free sites that promo ebooks now (that are focused on ereaders), but there are also bundlers who will charge you $50 or so to post promo to 45 sites, etc. I’m hoping to try this with BLOOD SCORE.

5.) ISBN #s – this is an investment for future books. I bought 10 numbers, which keeps the cost down. I think the individual book price is higher to retain your own ISBN#, or you can use the one that Amazon or others assign you for free, but I prefer to have control of my own ISBNs. So this ISBN cost can cost you nothing, unless you decide you want control like I did. So spread $250 across ten books if you retain your own ISBNs.

So all in, you might pay $800 – $2400 (excluding ISBN costs), but you can manage your price to earn 35% – 70% royalty with a better monthly cash flow where you can control the price and promo ops. Using a price of $0.99 you’d earn 35%, but $2.99 or better and your royalty would be 70%. For a novel length book, I might discount it to $.99 for a certain period on release, but then move it up to $4.99. Hard to say what breakeven would be without real sales figures behind it, but you can play with the math. 

$4.99 at 70% royalty, you’d have to sell 229 – 687 books to clear the cost range I mentioned. Mind you, this does NOT take into account any promo ad costs and assumes only one price at the higher royalty rate. If you were to move that price point to $2.99 at 70% royalty, your sales would have to be 382 – 1148 to breakeven.


A writer friend of mine shot me some real numbers. (I’m also on an indie writers loop where I hear lots of good info.) It takes having a number of good books to build up your “virtual shelf” of offerings and build your readership. Again, I repeat. Good books. But my crime fiction author acquaintance is seeing $7,000 – $10,000 per month for 8 novels or so, and this will grow as new material gets added. This author crafts a solid book and writes full time. 

For me, I like having traditional contracts to fill, but I want the more immediate cash flow too, rather than waiting for royalty statements every 9 months (by the time they reach you). (Antiquated accounting methods and reporting systems for traditional publishers, in a digital age when sales are more immediate through Amazon and other online retailers, are more things that I hope will change.)


The last thing I’d like to talk about is the value of “a la carte” subrights (ie foreign rights, audio, print vs digital). In many deals, these rights are lumped in and assumed to be part of the deal, but should this continue as advances drop? Or if advances drop, shouldn’t the royalty percentage increase to offset the lower upfront money? Subrights have value to the indie author. (Here’s a LINK to a post I did on self-publishing in audio, for example.) If an author gets an offer, but the advance is marginal or too low to tie up copyrights for years (something I am presently experiencing on my back list), do you have options? 


You can certainly turn the deal down. That’s one option. I did this with BLOOD SCORE when I got an offer to buy it from a big house. After my experiences, the offer wasn’t good enough to deal with the aftermath of a rights tie up into infinity. 

Even if an advance is $10,000-15,000/book, that might not be enough if the terms of the contract are onerous over the long haul. Successful thriller Barry Eisler turned down a deal from a traditional house for $500,000+. That boggled my brain, but no one knows the terms of that deal that made Barry change his mind. He’s a real marketing guru and has a solid readership. Deals are subjective.


These days this is a personal decision each author has to make, but if publishers would negotiate on terms, a marginal advance deal might work if the number of years for digital rights can be limited before they would automatically revert back to the author (ie 2-3 yrs only) or if UK rights were granted but digital rights in the US are retained. Some successful indie authors have retained digital rights, but sold print rights (ie John Locke to Simon and Schuster). With “out of the box” thinking and a little negotiating, some of these marginal deals can be done if the parties agree on specific terms, but I’m not sure traditional houses are open to such change yet.

Food for thought and discussion at TKZ:

1.) If an advance is too low to tie up copy rights, what terms do you think can be negotiated to make the deal happen? Do you think the publishing industry is changing in this regard?

2.) If you’re an aspiring author, would you sign a contract at ANY advance to be published, or do certain contractual terms matter to you?

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The Paid Reviews Scandal and What it Means for the Future

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell 

There was a dust storm of no small size this past week with the revelation that million-selling-self-published phenom John Locke had paid a service, the now defunct GettingBookReviews.com, to generate a slew of reviews for his books. “I will start with 50 for $1,000,” Locke wrote to the service in an email, “and if it works and if you feel you have enough readers available, I would be glad to order many more. I’m ready to roll.”


News of this transaction did not generate positive reviews in the blogosphere. Porter Anderson covers much of the reaction here.


Needless to say, writers who have been doing it the old fashioned way—writing the best books they can, building readership based on quality over time—were not pleased. One of the notables, Lee Goldberg, posted an Amazon review for Locke’s tome about how he sold a million ebooks. Lee’s review is now at the top of the book’s page. Here is the review in toto:
There is a key piece of advice crucial to his success that he left out of this book: pay readers to leave fake reviews. In an interview with Locke in today’s New York Times, he admitted that he paid for 300 reviewers to heap praise on his books, a sleazy promotional technique that seems to have worked for him. Locke admits to buying reviews because “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful, but it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.” I have some advice for Locke on a more honest and ethical approach he might want to try: Actually write good books. That’s how to build an audience. You do not gain readers, or recognition, by swindling readers into buying your books with fake praise. It’s unethical and shows a startling lack of respect for your reader.
But what should be done about it? What can be done about it? Lee Goldberg would like to see Amazon take down all of Mr. Locke’s positive reviews. I doubt that will happen, as Amazon is based upon systemization and not individuation. In other words, it is not good ROI (return on investment) for Amazon to police reviews.
If they delete Locke’s positive reviews, wouldn’t they have to go after all the other paid-for reviews? It would be too arduous to do so.
Thus, Amazon will likely leave this to the free market of ideas. Lee Goldberg has already contributed to that market. He posted his review, asked readers via Twitter and other social media to “like” that review, and it has rocketed to the top. If it were a malicious, unfair comment Lee made, John Locke could complain and probably have it removed. But as it is based on fact (Lee had the good sense to reference the NY Times) that probably will not happen. (Note: I have quoted from Locke’s book in other places, citing what I find of value. Those parts still hold. It’s just unfortunate they may now get overshadowed by this mess.)  
We all know the public review process is open to abuse. But it does not seem that there’s much that can be done directly. Maybe over time, more and more readers will catch on and that will make reviews a less essential way to assess a book’s worth. It’s too bad, because real reviews will suffer taint, too.
If that is so, what’s the alternative? How is a reader to make a choice amid these shenanigans?
I think the simplest way, the best way, the only true way is this: Educate and encourage readers to read opening chapters. Stress the downloading of samples, or the “Look Inside!” feature on Amazon. Or post your first chapters on your website.
Anything to get the reader to see the actual writer in action. Doing his writer thing.
Then the reader can make an informed choice. Case in point: I’m not much of a dystopian fiction fan, but after making the acquaintance of Hugh Howey in this forum, I downloaded the sample of Wool. I found the writing so strong and the premise so compelling that I bought the whole thing.
Isn’t that the way it should work?
What do you think the fallout will be from this scandal of paid reviews? What, if anything, can be done about it?

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5 Things Every Author Needs to Understand About Self-Publishing

@jamesscottbell

        
So now you are either self-publishing or thinking about self-publishing.
         Yes, welcome to the world of everybody.
         I have a question for you. Do you actually want to make some money at it?
         Here’s the good news: your ficus can make money self-publishing. Your cat, Jingles, can make money self-publishing.
         Of course, by money we are talking about enough scratch to buy some Bazooka at your local 7-Eleven. Or maybe a Venti White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks. That’s not bad. It’s something.
         But if you want to make some real dime, and keep it coming, there are a few things you need to understand.
1. You are going into business
         The authors who are making significant money self-publishing operate with sound business principles. Which makes many other authors as nervous as Don Knotts.


         “I’m just not wired that way!” they’ll say. “I want to concentrate on my writing! I haven’t got the time or inclination to think about business decisions.”
         But guess what? Even if you have a traditional publishing contract, you’re going to have to give time and attention to business, namely marketing.
         What if you spent a little of that same time and effort learning the principles of successful self-publishing?
         Of course, a lot of authors now want to go right into digital. Well, don’t do it until you fully understand that it’s a business you’re going to be running. That business is you.
         Learn how. The basics are not that hard. In fact, I’ll have a book out soon that’ll help.
2. Your mileage will vary
No one can replicate another author’s record. Each author and body of work are unique. Innumerable factors play into the results, many of which are totally out of the control of the writer.
If you go into self-publishing expecting to do as well as author X, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Instead, concentrate on being the best provider of content you can be. See # 5, below.   
3. This isn’t get rich quick
         In the “early days” of the ebook era, those who jumped in with both feet (Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, John Locke) and those who had loads of backlist (Bob Mayer) or caffeinated series ideas (Lee Goldberg) got some nice returns.
         Now, the future for the overwhelming majority of writers is about quality production, consistently and over time. A long time. Which is fine if you love to write. 
4. You can’t just repeat “buy my stuff” and expect to sell any of it
        
         We have left the age of sales and are now in the age of social. The way you market today is not by hard sell but by relationship. Even if you’re putting together sales copy, you have to think about how it offers value to the potential reader.
         What isn’t valuable is a string of tweets that are little more than “buy my stuff” or “please RT this” messages. Some authors think it’s a numbers game and repeating these messages will work over time.
         They won’t. They’ll annoy more people than they’ll attract.
5. It is first, and always, about the book
         I don’t care if you can out promote and out market anyone on the internet.
         I don’t care if you can afford to spend $100,000 to place ads for your books.
         If your book fails to catch on with readers or, worse, turns them off, you’re not going to do well over the long haul.
         Which is how it should be, after all. The quality of the writing itself should be the main thing in this whole crazy process.
         So you should concentrate a good chunk of your time, even more than you do on marketing, on a writing self-improvement program alongside your actual writing output.
         One of the reasons I’m conducting intense, two-day writing workshops this year is to take each and every writer who attends to that next level, where green is earned year after year.
          Now is the best time in history to be a writer. No question about it. The barriers to entry have been destroyed and opportunities to generate income have taken their place. But you have to think strategically. Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, puts it this way: The biggest challenge faced by self-published authors, it’s not marketing, it’s not discoverability, it’s adopting the best practices of the very best publishers. It’s about becoming a professional publisher.”
       Of course, if you have trouble with that, you can always partner with your cat Jingles. 
Updates
We’re fast closing in on the Austin, TX 2 day fiction workshop, June 16-17. To get the special room rate, sign up with the hotel before June 1. Details here.
I’ve posted a new writing video on Agents. If you want to know what a pitch session feels like, tune in
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How Many Brands Can an Author Have?



Last week I wrote about the re-launch of my first series, co-authored with Tracie Peterson. City of Angels, Book 1 in the Trials of Kit Shannon series, is now available for the intro price of $2.99 on both Kindle and Nook.
Which raises (not begs!) the question: can an author today have several brands?
Back in the “old days” (like, before August, 2010) branding was a key concept in the traditional publishing world. Still is, actually. That’s because a publisher trying to make money with an author has to build a repeat readership, and that’s done over time, book by book. 
Take a hypothetical author. Let’s call him Gil Johnstrap. He comes out with a terrific first novel, a thriller about a boy on the run from the law. A fan base starts to form and they eagerly await his next book. If that book were to be about a horticulture competition in Surrey, England, circa 1849, they would tend to be confused and frustrated. They might decide to skip the next Johnstrap because they’re not sure what it contains.
So Gil and his publisher come out with another thriller, this one about a family on the run from the FBI. Fans buy it and are happy. They start spreading the word to other thriller fans about this Johnstrap fellow. The growing base looks forward to the next thriller. And so it goes.
Now, if an author becomes overwhelmingly popular, like a King, Grisham or Patterson, they earn the right to try, on occasion, something “off brand.” King might write about a girl lost in the woods. Grisham about a painted house. Patterson about whatever the heck he wants—I have a feeling his parking tickets would sell a million copies.
But the publishers will insist on getting “back on brand” with the next book, because that is the bread and butter for them, the guaranteed sales.  
Cut to: today. And e-publishing. What is the state of branding now? Let me start with my own experience.
I have been writing contemporary suspense, like the Ty Buchanan series for Hachette and Deceived for Zondervan. I’ve now augmented those books with novella/short story collections I’ve self-published. These all fall into the suspense category, so they are complementary. They make new readers for the traditional work. Everybody wins. 
I’ve self-published a couple of boxing stories, because I like writing them. These make me new readers for the rest of my work, too. They do absolutely no harm to the print brands. Plus they bring in nice-dinner-with-my-wife money each month.
I write zombie legal thrillers under the pen name K. Bennett for Kensington. I plan to augment these with short, paranormal stories. These stories will make new readers for the novels. Once again, both publisher and author win.
As mentioned up top, I’m re-launching the historical romance series featuring Kit Shannon, six books in all. I daresay the readers of the Kit Shannon books may find the Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law books a tad “off brand.” But that’s okay. Two different audiences, but with potential cross-over. And no harm, no foul to either brand.
I do non-fiction for Writer’s Digest Books. I support those books with articles for Writer’s Digest magazine, my regular Sunday column here at TKZ and on Twitter (where I’ve also developed a strategic brand). Again, everything working together.
So: Can an author today juggle several brands?
My answer: Not only can, but should.
Branding in the days of print-only was partially determined by physical shelf space and seasonal purchases. An author could not come out with several different titles at roughly the same time. Bookstores wouldn’t buy. And they’d be a bit confused. If Gil Johnstrap did write that horticulture novel, A Garden in My Heart,would it be placed on the thriller shelf next to his other titles, where fans would look? Or on the romance shelf? Or in “Gardening”?
But there are no such limitations in the digital world. All books are “shelved” cover out. Digitized books are given, via algorithm, space next to similar books. A reader can find new authors in a genre this way. Quite easily.
An author can distinguish between his brands via cover art, book description, tagging, and even a pseudonym.
John Locke, poster boy for self-publishing success, writes contemporary thrillers and Westerns. Just like Robert B. Parker did after he became a household name with Spenser.
As I said a couple of years ago, this new e-publishing era is a lot like the old pulp fiction days. I look back at a Depression-era writer like Robert E. Howard. He wrote stories in the fantasy, horror, detective, western and boxing genres. All of ‘em. And made a living. That can be done again, now, in today’s e-world. It’s a great time to be a writer who loves to write.
There is only one fly in this ointment: a traditional publishing contract with a boilerplate non-compete clause the publisher is determined to enforce. I know some writers in this predicament. And while I understand that publishers are undergoing paradigm shock right now, this is not the best reaction. Publishers should be willing to re-negotiate these clauses so their writers can earn extra income and make new readers without harming the brand they are creating together.


Publishers who make an investment in an author do deserve consideration and protection. They deserve the author’s best work (non-diluted by overwriting). And they are entitled not to wake up one morning to find their author selling a novel in the same genre for 99¢. Authors need to appreciate the harsh business reality of traditional publishing. 
All that said, I see no reason why writers cannot be strategically developing different brands for their digital platform, and have fun doing it. Nor do I see a reason for publishers to resist sitting down with author and agent and hammering out contractual language that is fair to both sides on this matter.


Now I’m going to run a warm bath, put on some Yanni and relax with A Garden in My Heart.

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Let’s Learn the Right Lesson

By John Gilstrap

NEWS FLASH:  We interrupt this blog post to bring you a special bulletin.  My novel Hostage Zero has been nominated by the Private Eye Writers of America for the Shamus Award for Best Paperback Original.  Winners will be announced at a private banquet in St. Louis during Bouchercon in September.  Fingers crossed.

Now, on with the blog post . . .

There’s an old joke about a scientist who amputates the legs from a specially trained jumping frog.  After the wounds have healed, the scientist spends days saying, “Jump Froggie, jump!” yet the frog just sits there.  Based on the empirical evidence, the scientist concludes that frogs go deaf after you cut off their legs.
I thought of this joke several times yesterday, following Jordan’s great post about S&S’s decision to distribute John Locke’sbooks.  Some of the responses troubled me, both in tone and in content.  People seemed to be taking away from that story lessons that I don’t think apply.  Moreover, they seemed to be taking away lessons that could prove harmful to them in the end.
Wrong Lesson #1: Locke’s deal is replicable by others.  Think Amanda Hocking, right?  This is the new wave of publishing.  Joe Konrath, too.  Finally, the authors have the publishing world on the ropes.  A new day has dawned.
Okay, I’ll concede the new day thing, but only to a point.  First, let’s consider how the system worked fifteen years ago, when I was a rookie in the publishing league.  I wrote the book and my agent sold the book.  I cashed the check and started writing the next book, earning back at the rate of $3.25 per copy sold.  The publisher took all of the risk, paid all of the designers, established all of the distribution, handled most of the publicity, and in return might or might not make any money out of the transaction.
In Locke’s case, the publisher waited on the sidelines until a writer took all of the risk, paid out all of the marketing money, and dedicated countless hours to promotion, selling a million-plus copies at $0.99 apiece.  Seeing a sure thing, S&S stepped in to make money with near-zero risk.  This was not a David v. Goliath moment.  It was a sound business transaction that was preceded by the literary equivalent of a lightning strike.  Ditto the Amanda Hocking deal.
To me, Locke’s deal is the equivalent of General Motors telling an untried engineer, “Tell you what, kid.  If you design the car, build the factory, manufacture a few thousand copies, road test them, market them, get them written up in Car and Driver and build a loyal customer base, I’ll let you use a corner of some our show rooms to sell them.”  It’s a sound business decision, but it’s hardly a model for every young engineer.
Wrong Lesson #2:  The smart new author needs to retain his digital rights, granting a publisher only print rights.  Two words come to mind for this one: career suicide.
Let’s take this one from the point of view of a publisher who’s dealing with a brand new author:
I don’t need your book.  I’m awash with books.  No one knows who you are, but I’m willing to try and change that.  The odds are woefully stacked against us, but I’m willing to commit thousands of dollars in designer time, editor time and marketing time to help your book rise above the noise.  Our editors will help you be a better writer than you could ever be on your own.  Plus, I’m going to pay you—not as much as we pay Grisham or King, but that kind of money is there for you when you get those kinds of results.  You get to keep the advance money, too, even if I lose my bet on you. 
But if you want to profit from my expertise, you have to give me the tools with which to earn it.  The print business is shrinking, baby.  The future lies in eBooks, whatever form they’ll take in the coming years.  I’ll put you in catalogues that those eBook originals will never see.  I’ll show you off in Frankfurt at the Book Fair, and I’ll give away ARCs at the ABA convention.  We’ll put you on our website, which is visited not just by readers, but by bulk buyers and libraries.  Think of all of this as thousands of dollars in free services, all because we believe in you.
What’s that?  Still not convinced?  You just want to leave me with what you perceive as the dregs so that you can have only upside?  Run along, young author.
Next?
This publishing game is a business, and the author is only a small part of the machine.  I think there’s way too much hype out there vilifying the publishing industry as some kind of parasite, and it’s just not true.  Publishers are the gateway to success.
Fifteen years ago, authors who weren’t very good turned to vanity presses that stoked the fires of artistic egalitarianism.  Every now and then, a Christmas Box phenom broke out and fired unwarranted dreams that ended up in garages full of unsold printed books.  Now, those same authors, or authors like them, are turning to eBooks with irrational hopes.  A few will make it, but many will not.  Of those who do make it, most would have done better if they had pursued the traditional publishing route.
The hook to indie e-publishing is the lure of 70% (or whatever the number is) of the cover price of every book sold, versus the 25% that is quickly becoming the standard in the traditional publishing world.  Ultimately, authors must ask themselves which is better: 70% of 1,000 books sold (or 10,000 or 25,000) at $0.99 apiece, or 25% of 150,000 books sold at $4.50 or $9.00 apiece.  They need to ask themselves if their true expertise is in writing or if it is in publishing.
One thing seems clear to me in all of the self-pub success stories: In every case, the author established a reliable fan base before the Big Deal was closed.  There’s no easy way to do that, but some ways are way easier than others.
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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?
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