Home » Big Publishing, Self-Publishing » I turned down over a million bucks in trad deals

I turned down over a million bucks in trad deals

13 February 2014

From author H.M. Ward on Kindleboards:

Over the past year I’ve been offered over 1.5 million bucks in advances offered by huge publishing houses. I told them to show me a marketing plan that knocks my socks off and I’d consider their offer. I had this notion that they knew what they were doing and could do it better than I could. They said they had all these ideas and they’re gonna blow my mind, which was a requirement for the deal, b/c the pay was too low.

About the money – if you have a book that hits #1-10 on the Kindle store, tons of people have the mistaken notion that it’s gonna blip and fall and you’re fun in the sun will end…unless a trad pub picks you up.

It’s math time! A book in the top ten sells around 5-10K copies per day. Let’s take the average and give the book some wiggle room and say it’s selling 7K copies a day @ $2.99. In 7 days you’ll have made (net, not gross) over $100,000. So BIG TRAD HOUSE offers you $200,000 for a three part series.

‘Sign here,’ they say. ‘Sign fast! You want to strike while the irons hot.’ ‘A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush.’ ‘It’s a sure thing and if you don’t sign, then you could loose everything.’ <–They actually said all the crap to me, and its crap. If the book nets $100K in a week, what will it do next week? What about next month? What about next year? Never mind those other 2 books. Bad deal.

The most recent offer was for a high six figure deal on my next novel, on spec, sight unseen from one of the big 5. I gave the same terms – show me a kick *ss marketing plan and I’ll consider it. They were excited and on it! They were going to wow me. Like I was gonna be so wowed that I’d die of the wowness. True story.

Dude, the marketing plan I got back was the equivalent of, ‘we’re gonna do stuff.’ Their email list – yeah, they don’t personally have one, but this archaic place does – had 2K people on it. That was the bulk of their plan.

My email list has over 30K ppl on it and I do a ton more stuff than they presented.

. . . .

My point – do NOT think that they have any clue what they are doing, because they do not. There is a marketing method that is called ‘see what sticks’ where you take a plate of spaghetti and toss it at the wall. There’s no planning, no nothing. Just take it and throw. That is what the big houses are doing. Every marketing plan had that element of ‘fate’ and hoped that I would be the lucky piece of pasta that stuck.

Link to the rest at Kindleboards and thanks to David for the tip.

Big Publishing, Self-Publishing

27 Comments to “I turned down over a million bucks in trad deals”

  1. There is a marketing method that is called ‘see what sticks’ where you take a plate of spaghetti and toss it at the wall. There’s no planning, no nothing. Just take it and throw. That is what the big houses are doing. Every marketing plan had that element of ‘fate’ and hoped that I would be the lucky piece of pasta that stuck.

    No, that’s called “marketing” by people who don’t understand what marketing is–most publishers don’t seem to. If there’s no plan, and certainly if there are no SMARTER (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-specific–then Evaluate [or Excite ;)] and Restrategize) goals, it’s really not marketing.

    When publishing is a button, everything depends on the marketing (says the marketer). Not the callous sort of marketing, not the rote-by-committee sort of marketing. Marketing just means having a strategy to make the people who would be interested in a service aware that it exists. A lot of the problem with corporate publishing is they’ve lost sight of readers because of everyone in between.

    Their failure is the opportunity of indie authors everywhere.

    Good for HM. Great to hear.

  2. I don’t see why the Big Publishers would think a six-figure deal would make any sense. They wave the promise of a wider reach but if she spent just a little bit of money to print her books (not POD) and had a distributor make the calls to bookstores for her, she would make so much more money. And she really doesn’t even need to do that, she can just continue to sell through Amazon.

    Why don’t all the big indie authors band together to work with a distributor who’ll sell their books in bookstores for them while they continue to focus on Amazon and eBooks?

    • Because deep, deep in their bones, they don’t believe that Ms. Ward is making $100,000 a week selling books without being in bookstores. They can’t. Oh, sure, she must be making some money, but it’s unpossible she could be making so much money that what to them is a first-class advance is chump change to her. Or that she could possibly believe that what they’ve always done to create bestsellers isn’t good enough. Doesn’t she know who they are? Doesn’t she know how many NYT bestsellers they’ve created this way?

      I have this image of Dragonetti from Blade in my head now:

      “Ve have existed zis way for zhousands of years. Who are you to zhallenge our ways?”

      • Haha. Love it!

      • “Because deep, deep in their bones, they don’t believe that Ms. Ward is making $100,000 a week selling books without being in bookstores. They can’t”

        This. Exactly. Over and over.

        The sampling from the Legacy world that we saw in discussion the last two weeks proves this. They cited the same pro-legacy/anti-SP memes over and over and over again while ignoring every factual, logical and reasonable argument to the contrary. In short, everything that pro-BPH mouthpieces have said the last two years is now gospel in Legacy Pub culture.

        -There are only a few (3-5) outlying indie successes. IE; if you haven’t had a NYT or PW article done on your success story then it hasn’t happened.

        -Pricing is so low no one makes any real money, KDP math and rankings be damned.

        -Every indie still wants the real brass ring, a pub contract.

        -Print is still king while digital is tiny…and now flat.

        So to them it makes perfect sense to offer Ms. Ward two measly weeks of her income to take over her titles for life +70 years. Why wouldn’t it?

        Funny. The Author Report has been out for two days now and other than some cautious “the sample isn’t the whole publishing universe” statements (as if they’ve always had reports like that) the silence from the Legacy world has been deafening.

        And I think that’s very telling.

    • The poor souls are refugees from a different era:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKKHSAE1gIs

      They still haven’t internalized the new economics.
      They need to up the ante by an order of magnitude or cut back on the predatory contract terms or, most likely, both.

    • Kristi,

      “Why don’t all the big indie authors band together to work with a distributor who’ll sell their books in bookstores for them while they continue to focus on Amazon and eBooks?”

      Done! Check out IndieReader In-Store (IRIS), the first indie (author) to indie (bookstore) distribution service for paper books. Booksellers are excited because indies represent new potential income, the titles are accessible via Edelweiss (the online catalog service used by a majority of independent bookstores), they’re returnable and available at the standard industry discount (40%).

      Find more info here…http://indiereader.com/get-your-book-in-front-of-37000-book-industry-professionals/ .

  3. BPH idea of marketting: pay B&N to stack 5 copies on a table near the entrance.

    With all their NYC “clout”, you’d think they would at least hint they can get you on a talk show or CSPAN. Or at least community cable. ;)

  4. H.M. Ward is not the only author to turn down $1 million book deal to continue to self publish. Liliana Hart wrote this:

    http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,172987.msg2458287.html#msg2458287

    It’s always about the numbers. I know Brenna’s deal wasn’t for 7 figures, but I always use an example of a million dollars whenever I do my workshops because that’s an easy number to work with. I’ve been offered that much for a book deal before and turned it down. More than once. It’s not really a million dollars. 15% will go to my agent, which drops your million to $850,000. And then you’ve got to pay 40% self-employment income tax on that, which leaves you with $510,000. More than likely, if you’re being offered 7 figures, you’re already making this much self-publishing anyway. But until you put it on paper and look at it that way, it’s easy to let your head spin with the thought of a million dollars.

    ———–

    Self-employment tax is at 40%? WOW? Seriously?

    • >> Self-employment tax is at 40%? WOW? Seriously?

      No, it is not. On $850,000, the self-employment tax is closer to 4% than 40% (and you also get to deduct have your SE tax from your taxable income).

      Self-employment tax has two components.
      Social Security: 12.4% on your first $117,000 of income.
      Medicare: 2.9% on all your income.

      However, the combination of income tax and self-employment tax on $850,000 is probably close to 40%.

      Of course, you have to pay all these taxes on your self-publishing income too, so I don’t really understand why she would even consider this a factor when comparing going indie to an offer from a traditional publisher; income is income.

      • I think her point is, “don’t be impressed by that big, round number, it won’t what you think it is anyway.”

      • I find it easier to think of it as a 30% tax, maximum. Then, you deduct your office and marketing expenses to reduce your burden.

        (Caution: I haven’t earned enough from my books yet, so YMMV)

        But don’t forget state and local taxes (plus the tax on your home). It’s easy to forget them.

  5. There is a marketing method that is called ‘see what sticks’ where you take a plate of spaghetti and toss it at the wall. There’s no planning, no nothing. Just take it and throw. That is what the big houses are doing.

    That’s what I love best about Beverley Kendall and Hugh Howey’s datasets. They are showing us clearly just WHAT sticks.

  6. I turned down a really, really tiny advance on my books from a new imprint, and marketing was barely mentioned other than, “Maybe we’ll send you to a book conference…if it’s appropriate.” And that was all he said about marketing. I would have thought a publisher who is spending, literally a million dollars upfront on a book, like H.M. Ward’s, they’d put a lot of marketing muscle behind it. Guess not! And if they won’t market that, what chance does someone like me have with a traditional publisher marketing my books?

  7. H.M. Ward is already established. I’m sure the BPHs didn’t feel like they had to do any promotion. When she asked them for a kick-a** plan she caught them with their pants down.

    They were just trying to cash in on something that was already wildly successful. They mistakenly thought she would be impressed by their name.

    When I was playing football our coach used to tell us: “You can’t just roll your helmet across the field and expect them to trip over it. They don’t care who you are. They aren’t impressed by your name. They aren’t intimidated and they’ll kick your a** if you don’t take them seriously.”

    I think the BPHs had the mindset that Ms Ward would fawn over their name and “prestige.” Obviously, she’s too shrewd of a businessowman to do that.

    Or perhaps she knows my old coach. ;-)

  8. I’m really happy that it’s working for her so well. Go Holly. I’m surprised at the marketing bit. One would think that Big 5 would have more idea what’s working marketing wise.
    There was a tread on KB and a post on PG’s blog a while back, about new Rowling. Do you remember that pre-release hype? Well, according to the ranking nothing much came out of it, and if you ask me, I blame the publisher and media. Maybe if they didn’t compare author with Rowling, the book would might be able to stand alone and I think that they had put too much pressure on the author. The author also got a movie deal, or at least that what news said, even before the release of the book. Now, since the book didn’t met the expectation and the hype, and hadn’t hit any best-seller list — (even though it was on Amazon for a while, or so I heard), which is actually weird. I thought that publishers had no problem in pushing a book onto bestseller lists. What happened? — I wonder if they will proceed with the movie and if the publisher would stick with the author, giving her books a chance to build up it audience on their own merit?

    Anyway, what really stuck out from H.M. Ward’s thread is this:

    Someone asked about paper only deals – NO ONE IS INTERESTED. I thought that was insane, but it’s not. It lines up with Hugh’s report. Paper is not where the money is at- ebooks are. I made the NYT list this week. Ebook only rank was #7 and Ebook and paper combined was #8. No preorder. Minimal paper sales – a few hundred. That also lines up with what Hugh’s report. Which makes me think, there isnt a lot of money in paper and the risk is greater than the reward. I am trying to do paper distribution myself. It’s too early to say what will happen. I’ll let you know, but I’m thinking there is a reason why the trad pubs are backing off of paper sales. It’s not arbitrary, despite their other actions I think they’re right about paper.

    If Indies stopped chasing paper, if they stopped thinking that paper would be the difference, well, that would be major.

    This, for me, is really something huge. Trade-publishers like to wave ‘print is 70% of the market’ like a banner and a carrot and a reason why writers should sign with them. The percent is correct if we consider textbooks, children books,…, but it has to be quite low for genre fiction, Because if that percent was true for genre fiction, why would publishers create so many digital-only imprints and why do they so stubbornly refuse to make more print-only deals?

    • That jumped out at me, too. I’ve seen several mentions of publishers backing off of print-only deals, but not much explanation as to why.

      That would explain it.

    • I’m REALLY going to have to think about this. Many of my fellow midlisters who were dropped and/or got our rights back (Indies by default), are considering traditional deals for the distribution/greater discoverability that paper offers. If that isn’t really an option, and it’s all illusory, we may all be wasting our time.

  9. H.M. Ward just joined the ranks of my Indie Author Idols. Happy to say that it’s getting to be a mighty big crowd. :)

    Love the publishers’ brilliant marketing plan: “Um, we’re gonna do stuff!” If I had a dime for every time I heard that from my NY publishers. “Yes! There will be Stuff! And we’ll be Doing it!” Uh-huh.

    Traditional publishing has always run on hot air and wishful thinking. They just don’t understand that it’s no longer enough to keep them afloat.

  10. Love Holly so much. <3 Can't possibly happen to a nicer gal.

  11. *sigh* I love a story with a happy ending.

  12. Seems like they promise the moon for marketing, but never really come through.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.