Monthly Archives: March 2011

Insecure Authors! I’m Talking to You. Listen Up!

27 March 2011
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Dean Wesley Smith writes a must-read post on the Myth of Security.


Myth: Selling to Traditional Publishing Means Safety and Security.

As a person who has been a freelance writer for over 25 years and sold my first short story in 1975, that just makes me laugh. But sadly, I believed it early on, and then came to understand that there was no other choice but the crap game I call traditional publishing if I wanted to be a full-time writer.

But safety and security in traditional publishing?  Never.

. . . .

In other words, it’s a very hostile environment for writers trying to supply new product to traditional publishing. Traditional publishing’s attitude has become (over the last ten years) “If you don’t like it, I’ll find a writer who does. There are always more stupid writers to take your place.”

And on top of that, traditional publishers, because of the lack of education of most writers in business, have come to treat writers who do get in the door like they are babies who can’t think for themselves and need their diapers changed. And writers over the last twenty years have come to expect this “take care of me” treatment and then wonder why they were dropped by their publisher or agent.

. . . .

Agent Security:

Most writers, as I discovered doing early chapters of Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing, think that “getting an agent” is a career advancement. Not sure why that is, to be honest, anymore than any business hiring an employee is a business advancement, but young writers over the last ten years have turned hiring an agent into a major thing.

And agents have led them to believe that, as if the agents were the gold standard for something. What that something might be, I have no clue. But to many writers, having an agent adds to their feeling of security.

The belief is that an agent can be trusted with all the writer’s money and will take care of the writer against all the bad stuff of publishing.

Sadly, with most “beliefs,” there are few hard facts from history to back up the belief. But agents sell that belief to writers as well as any backwoods revival preacher in a tent trying to make enough to get to the next town.

—Truth? An agent will drop you the instant you are not making them any money.

—Truth? Agents mostly work for publishers and protect their interests with the publisher over your interests, so when something is happening to you, your agent will usually side with the publisher.

—Truth? An agent will push you to sign contracts not in your best interest as a writer because not only do they then get paid, but they don’t really even know you or care about you. But they do know the editor who is a best friend and who they have lunch with once a week.

—Truth? You are only one of thirty to fifty clients and there is always someone else to take your place if you start asking them to do too much for their 15% of your money off into the future.

There is no security just because you “got” an agent. Sorry.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith




Barry Eisler: Self-Publishing is Not Just About the Money

26 March 2011
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The Eisler/Konrath discussion was linked to and talked about all over the author/publisher web earlier this week.

Eisler spoke with The Daily Beast to clarify some misconceptions that arose about his earlier statements.

You’ve been pretty outspoken about some of the mistakes your publishers, and publishers in general, have made when it came to marketing your books. How much was creative control over both your books, and how they enter the marketplace, a factor in your decision to self-publish?

It was a very big factor for me, and maybe one that hasn’t been adequately understood in some of the public discussion of my decision. As I’ve said, financially I think it makes sense to take the long term into account, and I’m confident I can do better financially over the long term on my own. And if I don’t need the advance today, why take it if I believe it’ll cost me money tomorrow?

But it’s not just the destination that matters to me; it’s also important that I enjoy the trip. And ceding creative control over packaging, not to mention control over key decisions like pricing and timing, has never been comfortable for me. It might be okay if I thought my publishers were making all the right decisions, but when your publisher is doing something you think is stupid and that’s costing you money—something like, say, saddling your book with a closeup of an olive green garage door, or writing a bio that treats your date and place of birth as a key selling point, or misunderstanding the concepts of automatic resonance and acquired resonance, or otherwise blowing the book’s packaging—it can be pretty maddening (at least it can be for me).

. . . .

Being so accustomed to, and dependent on, the legacy model, it took a fair amount of work for what I knew intellectually to start to penetrate at a gut level. The timelines, for example. I’m used to thinking in terms of publishing contracts, so let’s take a hypothetical two-book, $100,000 offer… or, okay, let’s make it real: a two-book, $500,000 offer. My tendency has been to focus too much on that big, seductive number. But to understand what the number really represents, you have to break it down. Start by taking out your agent’s commission: your $500,000 is now $425,000. Then divide that $425,000 over the anticipated life of the contract, which is three years (execution, first hardback publication, second hardback publication, second paperback publication). That’s about $142,000 a year. This is a more realistic way of looking at that $500,000.

But there’s more. Some people have mistakenly argued that, for my move to make financial sense, I’ll have to earn $142,000 a year for three years. But this is one time when you don’t want to be comparing apples to apples. Because the question isn’t whether I can make $425,000 in three years in self-publishing; the question is what happens regardless of when I hit that number. What happens whenever I hit that point is that I’ll have “beaten” the contract, and then I’ll go on beating it for the rest of my life. If I don’t earn out the legacy contract, the only money I’ll ever see from it is $142,000 per year for three years. Even if I do earn out, I’ll only see 14.9% of each digital sale thereafter. But once I beat the contract in digital, even if it takes longer than three years, I go on earning 70% of each digital sale forever thereafter. And, as my friend Joe Konrath likes to point out, forever is a long time.

. . . .

Had you received a higher offer from St. Martin’s Press—or another publisher—would you have stuck with a traditional publisher? If so, what figure would it have taken for you to do so?

What’s that Winston Churchill line? “We’ve already established what you are, madam; now we are merely negotiating a price.” So sure, there’s always going to be a number—after all, legacy or indie, publishing is a business for me, not an ideology.  I don’t know what figure would have done the trick; I never gave it much thought because it wasn’t really relevant. But it would have had to be a good deal more than I expect I’ll be able to make myself over the course of say, ten years (present value of money vs. long-term value). It also would have had to be enough to act as an insurance policy against legacy publisher ineptitude; to be worth giving up the joy and excitement of finally being in charge of all the aspects of publishing I’ve always wanted to be in charge of; and to offset the discomfort of being part of a system that I think is fundamentally flawed and that in many ways has become punitive both to writers and readers.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast

Confessions of a book hoarder

26 March 2011
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You know, you can keep your book hoarding a secret with ebooks.


The first thing people usually say to me, upon entering my home for the first time, is that I own a lot of books. They are wrong, of course. I am rather ashamed at the size of my collection, considering I studied English literature in university and now pretty much write about books for a living. Between my girlfriend and me, there are probably between 1,000 and 1,250 books in our apartment, a number I consider rather paltry. Ideally, I’d like to double that number once we buy our first home — we currently rent — and I’m no longer faced with the prospect of hauling countless boxes of books between addresses.

No, the problem, in my opinion, is not the number of books I own, but that I am unable to get rid of any of them. I own some terrible, terrible books — you wouldn’t believe how many crap books get published in this country — but cannot, for the life of me, part with a single one. I am a book hoarder, which, in my line of work, is a troublesome problem to have. I had already acquired a (fairly) impressive collection of books before embarking on a career in arts journalism, a career that goes hand-in-hand with free books.

Link to the rest at The National Post

Interview with The Queen – Mary Higgins Clark

26 March 2011
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The Wall Street Journal has a wonderful interview with mega-seller author Mary Higgins Clark. She’s sold 100 million copies of her books in the US alone and continues to sell 3.7 million new copies every year world-wide.

She releases two books a year, one (co-authored with her daughter) at Christmas and one for Mother’s Day. She owns the bookstores during the weeks leading up to Mothers Day.


Industry insiders credit Ms. Clark’s longevity to sheer drive—she collected 40 rejection slips before her first short story was published in 1956—and to her marketing savvy and careful brand management.

Ms. Clark knows and caters to her sales demographic. She holds book signings not just in bookstores but in big-box stores, club warehouses and grocery stores, where she regularly draws 500 people. To mark the coming April 5 release of her 43rd book, “I’ll Walk Alone,” a suspense novel about a woman whose identity is stolen and who stands accused of kidnapping her own son, she’ll meet fans at a Wegmans grocery store in Collegeville, Pa. She’ll hold signings in seven more states and in France, where her books have sold 24 million copies.

“I do get around,” she says in an interview at her 16th-floor apartment on New York’s Central Park South, one of her four homes. “Want to buy a book?”

. . . .

Ms. Reidy, the Simon & Schuster CEO . . . says, “We don’t even want to think about a time when we’re not publishing Mary.”

“When you have an author like Mary who publishes regularly at a regular time of year, has a very large audience that is predictable, and you know you’re going to have that large sales infusion every year at that time, it gives you the profitability to keep your company running, to keep the lights on and keep people employed,” Ms. Reidy says.

Ms. Clark has held her ground even as a new generation of best-selling thriller writers—among them Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich, Harlan Coben and Lee Child—has flooded the market and pushed the genre in new directions. She has remained dominant through the rise and fall of medical thrillers, legal thrillers, historical-conspiracy thrillers, serial-killer thrillers. Her books have spent a collective 355 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

Louise Burke of Pocket Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint that sells one million paperback copies of Ms. Clark’s books every year, says Ms. Clark has an unerring radar for what her readers want, and keeps delivering. “A lot of authors switch genres or want to try something different, but she continues to write the book her readers expect,” she says.

Ms. Clark has perfected a formula that appeals to a broad swath of mystery readers, 70% of whom are women. Her novels feature beautiful, intelligent women in danger, who often orchestrate their own escapes. Her heroines tend to be ambitious, self-made professionals—doctors, lawyers, journalists, interior designers. All of them, like Ms. Clark, are proud Irish-American Catholics. “She’s always been an Irish-American girl because I know what her grandmother told her,” says Ms. Clark of her characters. “I know her genetic thinking.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This link may expire after several days)



Ebook pricing power is undermined by perceived value

26 March 2011
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Publishers are going crazy trying to compete against 99 cent ebooks. They thought agency price-fixing would solve their problem, then indie writers started experimenting with lower prices and found out they could make big bucks. Publishers will go out of business if they sell much of anything for 99 cents.

Excerpts from an O’Reilly Radar Q and A article:

Q: How are customer perceptions of ebook value influenced?

Todd Sattersten: There is only one factor that matters right now — what print books cost. Customers compare ebooks to their paper-based ancestors, and they long ago concluded they should be cheaper because everything else in their digital lives is cheaper than their physical lives.

Publishers don’t want this to be true and, with the power to control ebook pricing through the agency arrangements, are pricing the vast majority of ebooks like they are print books. I co-wrote a book two years ago called “The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.” The hardcover retail price is $25.95. On Amazon, you can buy that version for $16.61 or a remaindered edition for $10.38, while the Kindle edition is $18.99. That creates a short circuit in customers’ brains. You don’t pay more for things that are more convenient. You pay less.

What’s interesting is that Amazon is actively discounting books in the 40% to 50% range, and in many cases putting the price of the print book very close to the price of the ebook. There can’t be any margin left at those prices. Amazon, having lost the ability to control ebook pricing, is saying to customers “ebooks and print books are the same.” This drives more people to ebooks (who doesn’t want to download their book now?), sells more Kindles, and further cements their place in publishing’s future — both provider of new and destroyer of old (what bookstore can compete with 49% off?). Also, notice how Amazon is redefining short writings with their Singles program. Fewer words, lower prices and, most importantly, a new (not very good) term to attach to the new value proposition.

Q: Is there a disconnect between publishers and readers that’s influencing the developing price model?

Todd Sattersten: The biggest disconnect is that mainstream publishing’s $9.99 to $19.99 ebooks are now sitting next to Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konraths’ $0.99 ebooks. There was never that risk in the bookstore channel because of the cost of scaling atoms. The wide range of pricing destroys pricing power.

Link to the rest at O’Reilly Radar

Fantasy Authors – A Conversation About Worldbuilding

26 March 2011
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From David B. Coe, the nuts and bolts about how to build a new world and some interesting insights about how outlines work into that process.


I had information about all the major dukedoms, I had royal genealogies for several countries, I had historical timelines, detailed maps, deity pantheons, myths and legends that I wrote and posted on my website. I knew that world inside out. And I think that the books benefitted from that.

. . . .

I believe in the iceberg approach — as a writer, I want to know EVERYTHING about my world (or as close to everything as possible). There is no way to give all that information to readers without resorting to data dumps, so I don’t even try. But what winds up happening is that the small details I do give manage to convey the weight of all that unseen work. There is enough behind each descriptive passage, that the details manage to add depth, dimension, texture, etc. without detracting from narrative flow….

So, how much is “enough” and how much is too much? I have no idea. It’s different for every book. I began the worldbuilding process for the Forelands by reading Greek, Celtic, Norse, and even Basque mythology, and by thumbing through old European history textbooks, looking at royal blood lines and historical timelines, trying to get a feel for the ebb and flow of “real” history. (My history Ph.D. is in U.S. — not a lot of royalty here, so I was treading on less familiar ground.) Once I had looked through that stuff I began working on my own maps and histories etc. I intended to do even more than I did — I only did timelines and lines of kings for some countries; I had planned to do them all. But at some point I began to realize that, a) I had the important stuff for all the important settings; and b) I had reached a point where I didn’t think that the stuff I was coming up with would do me any good at all, even as deep, deep background.


Link to the rest at Science Fiction and Fantasy Novelists

Indie Authors, Take No for an Answer and Behave Yourselves!

25 March 2011
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An assistant professor of English believes this self-publishing fad is déclassé. She bought some self-published books and didn’t approve of them.

99 cent pricing? A terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible idea. Not good at all.

She’s an English professor. She knows things. Pay attention.

And stop worshiping at the altar of empowering yourselves. Right now.

She struggles, oh how she struggles.


Quality is certainly very subjective but even with that, given the self-published work I’ve read (admittedly not an adequate sample to really draw broader conclusions) there’s a reason most of those self-published books were not picked up by publishers great or small. There was no misunderstood genius in these novels. These books fell through the proverbial cracks for a reason. As an editor it was painfully easy to identify the weaknesses in plot, characterization, tone, dialogue, pacing and all the other elements that comprise a good book. Some of these books were adequately written but boring. Some of these books were plain terrible and filled with sloppy writing, making the very strong case for the value of a competent copyeditor and the value of a gatekeeper to say, “no,” this book should not be published, at least not in its current state. These were not books that could be published by anyone but the writer themselves.

. . . .

The $.99 price point is a terrible, terrible idea and it sets a terrible, terrible precedent. It makes no sense to sell a 300 page book for the same price as a three minute song. If we as writers don’t value our craft enough to price our work appropriately, how can we expect readers to want to pay appropriate prices? If you have to basically give your writing away, what does that tell you? It feels like we’re avoiding some of the really difficult questions about self publishing to worship at the altar of empowering ourselves and challenging the status quo. I could see myself selling a short story for a buck or two but a book, a whole book? My work is worth more than that. Your work is worth more than that. If I cannot sell my books at a ore reasonable $8-$10 price point, perhaps the market is telling me something about my writing. Humbling? Perhaps.

We live in an age of entitlement. We want therefore we must (and should) have. We are encouraged not to take “no” for an answer. Writing, or publishing really, is primarily an endeavor where we must learn to appreciate rejection or at least accept rejection. As writers we will always hear “no” more than we will hear “yes,” because taste is so subjective, because for many publishers, there are a finite number of books they can publish because they have finite resources, even if they are some of the largest publishers in the world. Persistence is an important quality in a writer. Some of my greatest writing successes have come from being persistent in the face of constant rejection. And yet, I wonder if there comes a point when we should take no for an answer, when we should use rejection to reassess why we keep meeting with rejection. At what point does faith become foolish or even delusional?

Writers ask me if they should self-publish and I struggle to find the right answer.

Link to the rest at HTML Giant

Joe Konrath’s Helping Hand

25 March 2011
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Joe Konrath is usually throwing bombs at traditional publishing and beating drums for the indie life.

This morning, he did something completely different – helped out a struggling indie author who is living in Hawaii. Kiana Davenport has sold all her good clothes and jewelry to survive and is thinking about taking an ocean swim and never coming back.

After Joe read her letter, he started a campaign to buy her book on Amazon. When he wrote his post, Kiana’s book, House of Skin, was ranked #134,555. I just checked and it’s now up to #305, so she’ll receive a decent check from Amazon this month.

Kiana’s book may not be your cup of tea, but here’s a link to buy House of Skin for $1.99 if you want to help her out.

You can read a lot more details at Joe Konrath’s blog

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