Home » Contracts, Royalties, The Business of Writing » Why authors and trad pub don’t reveal authors’ earnings

Why authors and trad pub don’t reveal authors’ earnings

14 January 2014

From regular visitor Lexi Revellian:

Three days ago, a traditionally-published author blogged under the title: HONE$TY PO$T: An Average Traditionally Published Author’s Pay. It’s a full and frank disclosure of what she has earned over the past three years from her book deals with Harper Collins. You can read a cached copy of it here – cached because within four hours, the post was taken down.

Why was it removed? It’s unusual for authors to tell anyone what their advance is, because advances these days are pretty unimpressive. You’ll probably hear about it if it’s what’s referred to as a six figure sum. But mostly, so modest is the average advance, the author prefers to focus on her achievement of having a book deal with a major publisher; people have heard of Penguin or Simon & Schuster, and will be respectful.

And publishers don’t want to disclose that they pay authors such beggarly amounts. It would certainly raise eyebrows – and maybe more authors would consider going indie.

. . . .

P.S. The author tweeted she had to take the post down for ‘contract disclosure reasons’.

Link to the rest at Lexi Revellian

As an FYI, a non-disclosure agreement in a publishing contract that prevents one or both sides from disclosing contract provisions is almost never requested by the author and seldom beneficial to an author. Typically, the publisher doesn’t want authors talking about the money they are or are not receiving.

It’s not an iron-clad rule, but some of the worst contracts from an author’s perspective include some sort of prohibition on the author’s discussion of the contract.

Contracts, Royalties, The Business of Writing

326 Comments to “Why authors and trad pub don’t reveal authors’ earnings”

  1. Writers make peanuts? Shock! Horror!

    I suspect that this is the reason why *most* writers are reluctant to reveal their earnings, trad-pubbed or self-pubbed. The moneymakers are outliers. Writing is just not–and never has been–a lucrative profession.

    (For an example of a primarily traditionally-published author who does reveal his earnings–something his publisher does not appear to have a problem with–see Jim Hines’s income post.)

    • Much of the country makes peanuts.

      You, as an author, have a shot at making more money than most people do, even if you just use your writing to supplement your pay from your day job. Most people will likely see their wages keep going down and have to go back to school just to try and increase them (and taking out loans for education will decrease their wages anyway).

    • Liz, why would anybody want to share their earnings. It’s a private matter. Are people entitled to know what their neighbor makes. Do we know what musicians make? A contract is a private business transaction between the writer and the publisher and I don’t see why it needs to be shared. I don’t think most of our writers would like us sharing what they made.

      • Entitled, no. But there’s nothing intrinsically immoral about it. In many other countries, it’s not considered a particularly private thing. Robert Heinlein has a story in his posthumous autobiography about being asked how much he made when he was on a radio show in Latin America someplace, and the host was surprised when he declined to answer.

        And if you want a particular reason… because it is exposing the extent of the rot in the system, which can only be good for all authors, traditionally published or not.

        I personally do not like to disclose my actual sales numbers, because I was raised to think that you don’t talk about things like how much money you make, but I am fully aware that that is socialization, not intrinsic moral value.

      • When I was breaking into the business I had no idea what to expect from novel writing income. Having earning information helps to build a frame of reference to see if this is something that you should be devoting your time to.

        Yes, many people find it unseemly to talk about money, but I applaud those that do, the author Survey by Tobias Buckell and the yearly income by Jim C. Hines really helped me out a great deal.

        Perhaps it would be better if the data were anonymously provided, that way it gives aspiring writers an idea of what to expect, but doesn’t call out any individual person.

        Also, there is a big difference between volunteering information and being prohibited from doing so.

  2. It is kinda funny to me that I can give away all the free copies I want without any loss other than the time to send the email (and the royalty that I might have gotten had the person bought the book which I don’t care about since I wanted to give them a copy) and she can’t. In an ironic sad way, I mean.

    Also, I make more off a $1.99 short story than she makes off a $10 paperback. I knew that, but I always wonder anew to see the actual numbers.

    • Dollar for dollar, 70% is more than the 10%, 15% or 18% a traditionally published author makes from a hardcover, paperback or e sale. (The % goes up the more copies you sell). But I’ve always wondered at that being the comparison. It seems misplaced, or at least over-simplified. The real comparison has to come down to volume sold.

      If an author is selling the exact same number of books by self-publishing through Kindle, say (to keep it to the 70% royalty) AND charging the same amount as the traditionally published author for the same number of books, then the self-published author is doing better (financially…only one measure to my mind).

      But that is rarely the case. There are distribution streams on the traditional side that we’re not talking about with self-publishing (bricks and mortar bookstore sales, libraries, foreign deals, other sub rights, more). Also, the price usually isn’t the same. A self-published e book priced at 99 cents (or even $3.99) will generate roughly the same royalty at 70% as a traditionally published e book priced at $11.99, never mind the hard cover priced at $26 or so, where the royalty is of course much higher.

      As a self-published author, unless you’ve built up a fan base from being traditionally published before, you will have to grow your readership from scratch. Whereas a publisher will get your book in many people’s hands, even if it’s not a title they’re lavishing loads of attention on.

      I say all this not to say, “Traditionally publishing is the way to go!” I think both paths have their merits, their pros and cons. Some will do better along one, some along the other. But I’ve heard many people compare 70% to 10%, making people who may know less about the nuts and bolts of the industry think there’s a clear winner here, and I think that takes a lot of the nuance out of the situation.

      • I think that’s more than fair.

        The thing is, if you’re going to add in the secondary benefits of tradpub, you have to add in the secondary risks – which are likewise quite large, most notably the risk that your book will never see the light of day and never even have a chance to make any money.

        So if we’re talking about an established tradpub author or a celebrity who’s more or less a shoo-in to get traditionally published, yes, that all is very important. But if we’re looking at Jane Smith, aspiring author, who has a Word doc full of prose and a heart full of dreams, that risk multiplier of never gonna happen at all for tradpub is pretty freaking huge.

  3. Also, those rocking six figure advances? Brenna Aubrey’s recent post broke down her advance offer – it was $120k for 3 books. She got $60k on signing, and then 20k a book as each one was delivered and accepted (meaning after requested revisions were completed and the editor signed off).

    Take 15% out of all of that, plus the fact that her second two books weren’t going to be published until 2015, and that fabled “six figure sum at auction” becomes a bit less sparkly.

    • Wow, putting it that way, you’re right, that doesn’t seem like much money. On that note, I have a question for someone who’s been trad-published: if a publisher “loves” a book enough that they want to buy it, what the hell are all the fabled revisions for? If a book is good enough for purchase, why would someone muck with it, other than for grammar/spelling? Is it just blatant psycho control issues of failed writer-editors, or is there something else at play?

      • With the caveat that I have no personal knowledge of any specific situation, I know why a lot of this happens. People need to psychologically justify their existence. Remember how the legacy publishers brag about how many people “touch” a manuscript before it is published? Everyone of those people feel like they have to make some changes or they might get the axe in the next round of layoffs.

        • John Ringo riffs off this in the Troy Rising books, when any use of heavy weapons must be approved clear up the chain of command so that officers can say, “I personally controlled the firing of the guns in such-and-such an action.”

          • Lol, sounds like a Union. “Bobby can’t turn that wrench unless Joe, Rick, and Eddie are watching to make sure he doesn’t over-torque the nut, injure his wrist, or slip and hit his head.”

        • Bless you William. Being in the blender with the other frog authors at big publishers, [me being a frog too], there is NO justifiable reason for buying a book the editor ‘loves’ and then fiddling with it. Edits for grammar, repetition, etc make sense. Otherwise as you say, it is busy work. My private readers have read both pre and post edited mss of mine, and cannot stand, often, the loss of certain characters and episodes post edit. I can only say, you are astute, and pithy. A real talent to have both w.o. Thanks

      • …what the hell are all the fabled revisions for?

        To make sure the second half of the advance need not be paid right away? 😉

      • For more innocent explanations–I’m under the impression that back in the day the publishers were more willing to help you polish the book: Fill in plot holes, strengthen characterization and world building, and cut out digressions.

        I believe in her post about experimenting with hybrid publishing, Livia Blackburne mentioned an editor helping her with certain issues; I think with characterization or something.

        A good editor may see the bones of the book the way an architect or a designer can look at a rundown house and see how it can be renovated.

        Now I’m under the impression that for most publishers, the book must be in perfect to near-perfect condition or else they’ll pass on it. And in that case it would be odd to call for revisions.

        • This is just blatantly false. A legitimate publishing company works with the writer to improve the story.

          • You have only to read back through the comments here and on linked articles to realize that that “nurturing” business is not going to be taken seriously in these parts. If the editor has time and bandwidth, they may help, and bless them for it. If your company makes a policy of it, then bless you for it.

            But books to go print all the freaking time with minimal copyediting at best and not even that at worst. From Big Five houses, let alone smaller “legitimate” publishing companies.

            “Let those who do not know, speculate. Let those who do know move on to other questions.”

            • Well I do know and I do not speculate as CEO of a publishing company. I don’t know what traditional publishing companies you work may have worked with in the past, if any, but most authors value the relationship they have with their editor. They expect and appreciate the ongoing help they have with their story lines and character development and more. Every single book that comes in is edited, copyedited and proofread.

              • Mr. Zacharius, I’m deeply appreciative of your willingness to weigh in from the publisher’s perspective. It’s been an informative couple of days, reading these comments as they come in.

                However. While I’m perfectly willing to believe that your house does edit, copyedit and proofread, many houses no longer do. Just ask any author, or for that matter any e-book consumer who has bought Big 5 books and then been appalled at the errors contained therein. I hear from fans on this subject practically daily, certainly weekly, and without fail at every public event I do.

                • Mistakes do happen but it shouldn’t happen from a big 5 publisher. You may have a story that you don’t like; that’s of course possible. But there shouldn’t be grammatical or proofreading errors that are glaring at you. Ebook conversion has gotten much better than it used to be but it’s still a conversion process from a file and errors can happen. There are quality control checks from the ebook retailers to avoid this but sometimes they get though.

                • I’ve just read The Rosie Project published by Penguin. I assume the ragged right edge of the text is a design choice, though a distracting one; but the occasional little square next to a hyphen? That’s just carelessness.

                  When I load my books to Amazon’s KDP, I use the Previewer to check every page. Why doesn’t Penguin?

                • It’s likely caused by a white space character from InDesign that’s not supported by the ereading system. It’s one of the hazards of a paper-to-ebooks work flow. These things don’t happen when the work flow is reversed. 😉

                • That sounds like a conversion error. Was this read as an ebook?

                • So what if it was?

                • I’m assuming it’s an ebook….you didn’t answer that. If you were to tell the ebook retailer about the error, they will let the publisher know and will take it down while it’s being fixed.

                • The point is not what to do about it: the point is that it happened and that in any process where a human being actually, you know, looked at the file, it would have been noticed and corrected before the thing ever saw the digital light of day. It didn’t, and that kind of thing happens all the time, and asserting that stuff like that doesn’t happen at legitimate publishing houses mostly establishes that either you think there are no legitimate publishing houses or that you are not being serious about your standards.

                  ANY book can have a typo. Or a few. Lord knows I’ve made my share. But multiple instances of bizarre characters appearing throughout an e-book file is not understandable error: it’s carelessness. As in, a lack of care. Mostly about what those stupid e-book readers think in the first place.

                • Steven Zacharius, the notification about issues in ebooks SHOULD work that way, but actually doesn’t. I’ve sent notice to Amazon about two ebooks that had issues (big publishers). The ebooks remained for sale, with the same issues. They are still getting new reviews commenting on the same items I complained about. As far as I can see, there has not been an updated version ever uploaded.

                  In other words, either the message was never passed on… or the publisher just didn’t care.

                  It sounds like you care. Which is great. Thank you for that.

                • J.A. Our experience with Kindle is that as soon as a customer complains they take down the file and send the publisher a takedown notice. It’s actually a real pain in the neck. It could be one person complained and something very minor. We get them occasionally and we fix them right away. They give the reader a credit for the download. I should add that when files are converted they generally aren’t checked page for page like a print book might normally be. We rely on the conversion house to do a good job. If we keep catching errors or getting complaints we would change vendors. We pay pretty good money for these conversions. Our books are almost all straight text so conversions aren’t generally a major issue, but books with columns or charts, or unusual layouts do cause problems and need to be checked carefully.

              • I don’t want you to feel like I’m attacking you, because I’m not, but according to Isobel Carr over at the Laura Kaye’s blog, the Every single book that comes in is edited, copyedited and proofread doesn’t apply for your company.
                I do believe that most authors value the relationship they have with their editor, since I find my freelance editors and my awesome beta readers irreplaceable. But the problem that I see with trade publishers is that, unfortunately, on general the CEO’s don’t feel the same about the editors, because otherwise, why would they be willing to fire them and replace them with freelancers and interns so easily? And where does that leave authors?

                • I don’t know Laura Kaye personally but I will check out what she said on her blog, but I can assure you that every book that Kensington publishes is edited, copyedited and proofread. I don’t know of any publishing company CEO from a respectable firm that doesn’t think it’s editors are its most valuable resource. They are the ones who bring in the new authors and discover them and have a good part of relationship with the author. We don’t freelance out editorial or hire interns to edit. The author who acquires the book will edit it. Now if you’re talking about a digital first line, that’s a different story. In that case editorial could possibly be done by freelance editors because that’s the way you keep the costs lower and are able to offer the books at a lower sale price. It’s a different business model totally.

                  Is there a link for her comment, I can find it on the website.

                • You have already checked what she said on her blog, or at least somebody under your name commented there, when she wrote a reply on your Huffington Post, where the comment about your editing service was also posted.

                  Unfortunately, I do know CEOs from respectable firms who do not think that editors are their most valuable resources.

                • Maybe she posted something on the Huffpo article but I didn’t go to her blog. I can’t find where it would even be. Why don’t you just tell me where the link is so I can find it and see what it says?

                  Editors are any publishing companies most valuable asset; at least the good ones. They are responsible for bringing in the authors; at least partially responsible. They’re the ones who have the relationship on an ongoing basis with the editor. A CEO who doesn’t respect their editors is not doing their job properly. But I can’t imagine any large publishing company thinking their editors are disposable and replaceable by freelancers or interns.

                • A person’s inability to imagine something tells us more about them than it does about whether the thing is likely. As Sam Clemens once said, “The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities.”

                  Maybe you can’t imagine it. And, to your great credit, maybe that’s not how it is at your company. But it happens all the time at other companies, and anybody who denies it is calling hundreds of authors who have no incentive to collaborate in a massive fraud, collaborators in a massive fraud.

                • I don’t intent to post the link, because I think it’s pointless, especially regarding the Maybe she posted something on the Huffpo article but I didn’t go to her blog.

                  I have here the comment you wrote on her blog:
                  Steven Zacharius said…
                  You have totally changed around the tone of my blog. The fact of the matter is that there are very few successes in self-publishing in relationship to the number to traditional bestsellers that are generated by publishers. I don’t have a problem with self-publishing at all and if an author wants to go that route, it’s fine. I just wanted to point out the reality that despite the media hype, it’s not nearly as profitable as one might think. Furthermore most of the successes that you mention on the Kindle list are books that are super low priced and even with the agency model you’d have to sell an enormous amount of copies to make a substantial money. Also let’s not forget that by self-publishing an ebook you’re missing out on 70% of the business that comes from printed physical books.
                  December 18, 2013 at 3:22 PM

                • Elka I absolutely didn’t go to her blog and I don’t know why you would be afraid to post a link showing where to see this on her blog. I obviously commented on something she said on the Huffpo blog that I write but that doesn’t mean I went to hers. Maybe she copied and pasted it….I wouldn’t know if I can’t see it. I have no reason to lie about this, I have nothing to hide. And nobody would ever write something under my name at least not with my email address.

                  So what did she say about editing at Kensington? I don’t know how she would even know since she’s not a Kensington author. I believe she is an Avon author to the best of my knowledge. I want to the Laura Kaye blog page but I don’t even see the blog section.

                • Elka, I went through all the comments on my huffpo blog and didn’t see anything from Laura Blake. I don’t see any comment about our editing in the section you pasted from my reply.

                • @Steven Zacharius
                  You misunderstood me. She posted her reply on your Huffpo article in her blog, not on the Huffpo article. You commented there, on her blog, under her rebuttal of your Huffpo article.

                • Steve,

                  To refresh your recollection, here is a copy of Laura Kaye’s blog from December 18, on which you commented.


                • “Editors are any publishing companies most valuable asset; at least the good ones.”

                  That statement encapsulates what is wrong with the publishing industry today. You have your priorities screwed up.

                  Editors are not a publishing company’s most valuable asset. Authors are. Without the authors, you’d have no need of editors.

                  As a self-published author who has sold well over 150,000 books in the last two years, I quit querying publishers. The contract terms are all in the publishing houses’ favor, often extremely detrimental to the author, and there is no longer any advantage to selling to a publishing house. Good editors are now freelancing and available to anyone can afford to pay one. Better proofreaders can be found than those employed by the Big 6, and definitely better cover artists. Formatting for both e-book and print has been simplified to the point that I can do it myself–without all the formatting errors I see in Big 6 books.

                  My first–and last–experience in selling my book to a publisher was such a bad experience that it would take a 7 figure advance to make me consider doing it again. A lot of very talented authors feel the same way. Go back to the days when authors were valued, and maybe you’d see profits go back up.

                • Pam I was referring to employees. Someone had made the comment that CEO’s are firing their editors and replacing them with freelancers and interns which is not true at a legitimate publishing house. Obviously authors are our most important asset because we wouldn’t be in business without them…..but as my father used to say….it all begins with the book. The book is the story the writer has written along with the collaboration with the editor helping and editing where and when it’s necessary.

                  How can you make such a blanketed statement as better proofreaders and artists can be found than the biggest publishers use. We have artists that have been paid over $6000 for one time use of their art. I doubt there is one single self-published book where an author has spent anywhere near that amount. Also ebook formatting is very different that typesetting for printed books. Many books are designed with different typefaces and styles which aren’t an option with ebooks.

                • I’ve no doubt there are better artists who are not employed by publishing.

                  I also have no doubt that many of these better artists may not be charging $6,000 for a piece of artwork.

                  Price and financial success are not a correlation to quality, skill, hard work, or any other measure.

                  Think of it in lottery terms. 100% of lottery winners bought a lottery ticket. However, only a fraction of a percent of lottery ticket buyers won the lottery.

                  No one will make the argument (hopefully) that a book like the hyper-selling “Fifty Shades of Grey” is representative of a quality of work that exceeds storytellers like Rowling, King, etc.

                  And likewise, no one should make the argument that an artist who can sell their work for $6,000 is better than any artist who can sell their work for numbers in the hundreds.

                  I will say that there are some fantastic artists who do work for traditional publishing houses. One that clearly stands out is Dan Dos Santos who’s done excellent cover work for Patricia Briggs’s novels.

                  But not all trad-pubbed books get the star treatment, of course. Even Stephen King’s book covers have often been pretty minimal, although his name on the cover is really enough.

        • I think there is a large amount of YMMV. It depends on the publishing house, the advance, the author, and how clean the novel is.

      • Having read some slush, I discovered that submissions fall into three general categories:

        1) Good writing skills, original idea.
        2) Poor writing skills, original idea.
        3) Poor writing skills, poor idea.

        Most fall into the latter two categories. Category 3 is rejected out of hand. Category 1 *may* be accepted IF: the publisher has an opening in the schedule; the publisher doesn’t already have a book like that in the schedule; and it fits their publication guidelines (the right genre, the right length, the right audience, etc.)

        Category 2 is problematical. If it’s a truly fabulous, original idea, the publisher MIGHT, in very rare cases, consider it worth while to work with the writer. (This almost never happens.)

        So we’re back to Category 1, and while a book may be well written and original, that doesn’t mean it can’t be made “better,” or at least what the publisher considers “better.” The writer is involved in his or her idea; the publisher is involved in the market, and they may ask for revisions to make the book better suited to the market they’re trying to sell it to.

        • Thank you, that is a very well-explained reply. I see the reasoning in everything, up until the last sentence. Most of the time, publishers don’t seem to have any clue what’s going to sell, so why in the world do writers continue to believe that they know what the market wants? Anymore, it seems like most publishers are trying to cater to a market that is already hot (not by their own doing), and coming to the game late.*

          *I am mostly referring to fiction, not autobiogs by celebrities and such, which are often churned out at frightening speed by publishers.

        • *problematic.

          I’d suggest a fourth category: Good writing skills, poor idea. The cynic in me wants to suggest that’s what you end up with when publishers “ask for revisions to make the book better suited to the market they’re trying to sell it to,” but that’s way cynical.

          Did you write the Quantum Leap books? I loved that show. Huge influence. (/digression)

          • You’re right. That is the fourth category. I keep blanking on it, my bad.

            And yes, I wrote the QL books. Now *that* is a publishing horror story.

            • I loved QL too, and used to scour the bookstores for new QL books. 🙂 In fact, one of my first ever writing endeavors was a Quantum Leap fanfiction. lol. There wasn’t even a real fanfiction site back then, just an FTP site to upload the stories.

            • I should modify that statement. I wrote five of the first six QL books. There were quite a few more than that, written by a lot of very good writers, and I don’t intend to take credit for their work.

      • ” On that note, I have a question for someone who’s been trad-published: if a publisher “loves” a book enough that they want to buy it, what the hell are all the fabled revisions for? ”

        Because the manuscript may be wonderful without being perfect. It may be a compelling, well-written story which is marred only by a few fixable errors. Why WOULDN’T the author want them pointed out so she could fix them before publication?

        • I think the issue some authors new to self pub are having is that we were first traditional pubbed and like Sasha White below discussed – received NO edits.

          That’s happened to me three traditional books in with two different publishers. So I don’t know what to seek out in an editor any more than the first time author. That’s not to say I haven’t had my self pub books edited – it’s too say that my publishers didn’t value editing and I have not had the experience of a good edit.

          That said, I know authors, of course, who’ve had the nightmare edit and want to avoid that as well.

          Editing is all over the place. (as was that comment, but my mother called – what can you do?)

      • Re editors ‘loving’ a book and then editing it, that’s their job. A good editor can improve even on a great story. An unsparkling editor just fiddles around with details.

        For instance I was recently asked by a good editor to put in a warm, fuzzy epilogue, to enhance and deepen the emotion of the happy ending – which I should have realised myself, but I was getting ready to move house at the time and not as with it as usual. She was right. It’s my trademark/brand to give readers a very warm, fuzzy ending – and I could have done it better that time.

        If I don’t like what an editor suggests, I write ‘stet’. But actually, editors don’t usually rewrite my books in any major way. If they suggest even a minor rewrite, I pay attention. I want the best product, not an ego-boost.

        Do some of the comments here mean that we have a generation of self-published novelists ‘growing up’ without realising the need for, or benefits to be gained from editing?

        • >Do some of the comments here mean that we have a generation of self-published novelists ‘growing up’ without realising the need for, or benefits to be gained from editing?<

          Emphatically yes. I just returned an ebook to Amazon–for the first time–because although the writer could write a good sentence, her pacing, characterization, and verisimilitude were just awful. (The last straw involved three Siamese and a cashmere sweater: "What could go wrong? It's only a couple of hours!") The writer had potential, but my god she needed an editor in the worst way.

          And there are a LOT of the self-published out there who can't even write good sentences.

          • there are a LOT of the traditionally-published out there who can’t even write good sentences.

            I’ve read some utter garbage by traditionally published authors, too. Real stinkers.
            Seen aggregate review scores on Big-5 books that are lousy enough to make a politician blush.

            None of which justifies making sweeping generalizations like “there are a LOT of the traditionally-published out there who can’t even write a decent story.”

            • It is not a generalization; it is a statement of fact. There are a lot of self-published writers out there who cannot write well. This says nothing whatsoever about the self-published writers out there who DO write well, or about the self-published writers who go to great lengths to make sure their work is properly edited. “A lot” does not, in any dictionary I am familiar with, mean “all.”

              And the comment was not about traditionally published authors. That is a separate discussion.

            • I’ve read plenty of garbage by big publishing companies as well. Some by the biggest authors in the business.

        • Do some of the comments here mean that we have a generation of self-published novelists ‘growing up’ without realising the need for, or benefits to be gained from editing?

          Yikes! I hope not. No self-published novelist I know who is serious about their profession wants to forego editing.

          I’m 100% self-published. I never even considered querying agents or publishers or whoever. But before publishing my debut novel, I hired a better editor than 99% of traditionally-published authors will ever be lucky enough to see–a guy with 5 NY Times and International Bestsellers on his resume.

          He upped my game big-time.

          An okay editor points out your errors… But a great editor teaches you to be the best writer you can possibly be.

        • Do some of the comments here mean that we have a generation of self-published novelists ‘growing up’ without realising the need for, or benefits to be gained from editing?

          I think perhaps at first, but not for very long. I think there will inevitably be some first-time authors who’ve read a number of books, written a number of pages, and think that’s about all there is to it, and in their naivete, they may publish without first consulting an editor. Or a cover designer. Or etc.

          I think that as more writers gain more experience with publishing–and continue sharing that experience–that may become less common, not to mention that even the authors who do so will soon realize the error of their ways.

          Moreover, I think we’re entering a time when editors will be regarded as more valuable than in the past. Corporations don’t care, and the editing process within them can often be nightmarish. Ask any author whose editor has jumped ship from one publishing company to another midway through the publication process.

          Have any novelists really ever grown up understanding the need for editors? I grew up through the 80s and early 90s. I read every book by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Michael Crichton I could. I didn’t understand they had editors (and let’s be honest–there were a few books among them that probably weren’t edited, because the publishers didn’t feel the need). I didn’t even understand about literary agents–so necessary then–until I was in college. Really all I understood was the need for a publisher, with a perfunctory knowledge of how to get one. Honestly, with so many indie authors being so much more candid about the process, I think a lot more new and aspiring authors are going to understand a lot more about the process, not less.

      • “You have to give an editor something to change, or he gets fretful. After he pees in it, he likes the flavor better, so he buys it.”

        -Robert A. Heinlein

        • Marc,

          This comment is funny and not funny. There are horror stories of strange edits or editors changing a story so much that it’s not the same. I watched in pity as a friend’s wonderful first novel had all the special elements taken out until it wasn’t the same. The editor was rude and threatening and traumatized my poor friend. I’ve heard so many bad editing stories over the years.

          However, I believe most editors are very hard working people who love books and want their authors to succeed. When they are able to have the time to edit, they can bring much to the book and make it far better.

          The problem is in traditional publishing there often isn’t any choice. You have to do what your editor wants, or you only fight for the most important things you want to keep. There’s the fear that if you alienate your editor, he or she won’t buy your next book.

          In self-publishing your editor(s) are part of your team. I usually make the suggested editorial changes, although sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I know the editor is right with the problem, but I have a better way to fix it. That freedom is SO important.

          • Piers Anthony had a great editing horror story which he published annotated in the form of But What of Earth?, which demonstrated exactly how the editor wanted to change the work he wrote into something utterly different than what it originally was.

            (Given that, in later years, Anthony became one of those “too big to edit” writers who really would have benefited from being edited more, the irony is almost palpable.)

        • Oh god. We’re back to the “must have an editor to have any value” meme. Please, people, STOP DRINKING THE KOOL-AID. Publishers have brainwashed writers into believing this! And judging from Tom Simon’s comment on another post, only North American publishers, at that. How many painters or sculptors or composers submit their work to some kind of editor? Why must writers, of all artists, bow to some all-knowing authority figure before daring to share their work with an audience?

          As long as we know our craft– spelling, grammar, sentence structure, word usage– as long as we have beta readers to catch mistakes and point out where we didn’t communicate well, all the rest is personal preference. And that only goes as far as the person stating the preference.

          • S’cuse me, but your beta readers are acting as your editors. That’s what editors are supposed to DO: catch mistakes and tell us where we didn’t communicate the story well. When a SP writer choses to use an editor, that’s what he or she is looking for, and there’s no obligation to take their suggestions just because you call them “editor” rather than “beta reader.”

            • Thanks for your take on terminology, Ashley. However, my experience with people acting as “editors” is that they’ve tried to change how I tell my story. And ruined it in the process.

              My point is that we, as artists of the written word, should stop asking authority figures to validate our work and have some faith in the vision we’re trying to communicate. The only validation that counts is that of the reader, and even in that case, reactions (like or dislike of the work) will be subject to personal preference and idiosyncrasy– and that will always be the case.

              • But with SP, the ONLY authority on the work is the writer. I see what you mean about editors as they often operated in TP, where the publisher was in control. But when the writer is in control, the editor is an employee of the writer. The editor does not validate in that case. He or she is employed by the writer to add value to the work. If the writer decides no value is added, that editor doesn’t work with that writer again. The editor is not God, and we’re not obliged to treat the editor as someone whose approval is necessary.

                And since the reader’s reaction is, as you say, a matter of preference and idiosyncracy, you can easily argue that the only validation required is that of the writer, who’s producing the work.

          • Kathlena, thanks for the most insightful comment on here. A lot of writers seem to need to ‘grow a pair’ (as Dean Wesley Smith puts it).

            Do your own thing. Get it right. Or at least the way you want it. Depending on others to fix it for you is not necessarily a sign of wisdom.

            • I agree. To “edit” is to make changes. While granted even BPH editors often only suggest – though “suggest” is misleading when dealing with people who have great power over others – they are intrinsically different from beta readers. Readers point out mistakes, but in my experience rarely suggest significant changes. (“This guy’s name was Hoyt a few pages ago and now it’s Siemenns, you should fix that” is not editing.) It’s a pity that “copyediting” and “editing” use the same major word, as IMO they are completely different. Every author should be grateful for a good copyeditor/proofreader. We all make mistakes. But no, I do not need nor do I want an editor to make nor suggest substantive changes to my story. Others may disagree. But it is entirely subjective. Even if it makes it “better,” even if it helps it sell more, I do not want it.

      • Wow…I’ve never written a book that my editor didn’t make, not just better, but more what I hoped I could write in the first place.

        Fixing grammatical things isn’t really editing…it’s the work of the copy editor and production department, if such errors make their way into an acquired work in the first place (an agent should catch them before submission, if the writer hasn’t).

        But an editor is a visionary–and it’s the author’s own vision she or he is helping to bring fully to life. There’s no imposition or telling the author what to do…it’s a conversation so that the author fleshes out his or her intent in the hands of someone who can see what we can’t. And there’s always stuff we can’t see–unless I am alone in this.

        The author/editor relationship is unique. It’s a sense of someone pouring her soul into your dream and your work. Maxwell Perkins and Fitzgerald. It’s magic.

        And I agree–the best self-published authors partake of this magic as well. They go out and find editors who will engage in this kind of back and forth. That’s not limited to either side of the publishing game, but I do think it’s necessary for almost any great novel. It’s an interesting question why visual artists or singers or dancers don’t need “editing”. But maybe they do? Isn’t that what producers or choreographers do?

        • @Jenny Milchman

          You made some great points about editing and the trade-publisher’s distribution, but you have forgot that when you sign a contract with trade-publisher (if you get one) that none of those thing is guaranteed. You might get editing, you might not; you might get marketing or you might be the only one trying to get the word about your story to the public; you might end up in Barnes and Noble, but you might not, because publishers can’t guarantee that the retailers will order it.
          So you see, there’s no guarantee that an author would get any of those things (except if they sell their book for a six figure and more) and yet, the publishers hang editing and marketing and book’s appearance in bookstores like a carrot as if you only have to sign on the dotted line and everything will be yours, which isn’t true (and that bothers me). Self-publishing isn’t for everybody, just like trade-publishing isn’t for everybody, everybody has to decide what works best for them, but how can they decide what is in their best interest and to go into the relationship with a publisher with open eyes, if publishers in public promise things that they don’t/can’t always deliver?

          • Elka, you’re completely right, and some thoughts related to what you said actually came to me just after I hit enter (isn’t that always the way)?

            Anyway, so I guess what I said applies best to writers who wind up with deals that mean the publisher is going to support them and put some resources behind their book. But once a publisher makes the investment of even a smallish advance, some editing, basic copy editing, cover design, producing the book, distributing it to differing degrees, and listing it in Edelweiss, submitting it for reviews, I think the writer is having at least a fair amount of work taken off their hands. Maybe that’s worth something, maybe it’s not, depending on the writer. I know for myself I’ve come to realize what being part of a big machine is like, all the control I don’t have, and at the same time how–again, just for me–it really works to have my career “handled” by people I consider experts at this.

            You’re right, though…I know writers who don’t feel this way, who have traditional deals and feel embittered and like they weren’t well-handled. Then again, I know a lot of writers who self-published and feel embittered and like they expected to sell a lot more than a few dozen (or a few hundred) copies.

            I think what I meant to say in my post is just that writers need to understand the possibilities and limitations of both paths. It’s not a distinction between 70% royalties and 10% royalties (as I was talking about in a comment elsewhere on this thread). Or between editing and no editing. A lot goes into the choice, and has to do with the kind of person someone is, and also what kind of book they wrote. Anyway…thanks for writing back!

            • What you said applies to your view and your experiences. Some writers share your view and had similar experiences, some don’t.
              Like I already said, I believe every writers has to decided for themselves where their path is going to take them, but I do hope that talking about our experiences and about our views helps them in deciding if they are going to self-publish or try their luck through slushpiles. I do admire your courage and faith in which you are putting you career into the hands of people you consider experts. I know I wouldn’t have dare do that. Writing is my passion and hobby and until publishing my writing doesn’t make me the same amount of money as I earn in my day job, I’m not treating publishing and writing as a career, but I do tackle the publishing of my stories as business.
              I agree with you, “ writers need to understand the possibilities and limitations of both paths” and when debating about the downfalls and advantages of trade-publishing, the distinction between 70% royalties and 10%, the distinction between editing and no editing and marketing and no marketing is for me an important information (besides the non-compete clause and the likes) since I want to know what writers get, not might get or more often than not get , in exchange for giving publishers 75% or more for the life of the copyright. But this is just my personal view on the matter. There’s a very interesting discussion about that on A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing:Author Barry Eisler and Literary Agent Robert Gottlieb and an Open Invitation to Debate

              • That’s funny…I was just thinking about Eisler after I wrote you! Yes, he’s perhaps the one author who publically walked away from a good deal with a traditional publisher ($500K advance from SMP for I’m not sure how many books) to self publish. He’s something of a protege of Konrath’s, at least where self pubbing is concerned, and Konrath has been very vocal in predicting that traditional publishing is dead in the water. I’m not sure if it’s telling that we haven’t heard much about Eisler’s successes since he walked away, or how his books are doing.

                But you sound like you’re going about things in such an intelligent, thought-out way. I wish you much success. Are you hoping to be able to leave your day job?

                • It can also go the other way, just remember the Hocking, the superstar of self-publishing. She was a proven commodity and the last time I heard about her was when somebody wondered what she’s doing. At the end, what’s important is that they are happy with their decision.

                  I have to admit that my goal is a higher than hoping to be able to leave my day job and it isn’t directly connected with money and success. Thank you for your wish and I wish you success in your endeavours, too.

        • I still say… better in whose view? And that is the question, isn’t it? Total subjectivity.

          And no one knows my vision better than I do.

    • Don’t forget that it’s quite likely if the publisher wasn’t happy with sales of book 1 they could have cancelled 2 and 3, which means she’d either get nothing (meaning she got $80k total,) the flat advance (unlikely) or a buyout fee (which would IME be not more than half the advance, maybe less.) And depending on how the contract was written the rights to book one might or might not revert, and she might or might not have the ability to shop around and/or self-publish books 2 and 3.

      There are a LOT of strings on those advances.

      • Including the ability to call them back, with interest.
        These days it’s not much of a stretch to say the NYC BPHs are financial institutions.

      • An editor could buy a book from an author because they like the story line. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need more than just grammatical corrections. Parts of the story may be long winded, it could need more in depth character development…..this is what an editor does. They help work the writer to make the book as good as can be.

        Steven Zacharius
        President and CEO
        Kensington Publishing Corp.

        • I am a “hybrid” author who wrote 12 novels for major publishers, plus 7 anthology contributions. My first 9 books were for Kensington.

          My editors at Kensington were precious to me and the story. My first book required some minor revision at the beginning and the end, suggested by my editor. I recall her saying once: “We can edit bad writing, but not bad storytelling.”

          She was so right. That is one of many reasons publishers and editors are so precious. I often tell aspiring authors, “It’s the story, Stupid.” Gently, of course.

          • Thank you very much Deb. I’d like to add that Deb hasn’t published with us in a long time and I’m glad to see she still has good feelings about her experience with Kensington.

      • That’s not the way a publishing contract works. If the publisher commits to the books they are required to pay for them even if the first book does poorly. That’s the risk the publisher takes.

        • Correction: That’s not the way some publishing contracts work. And if it’s not the way your publishing contracts work, then let me be the first to compliment you on the honorable way in which you and your company conduct business. But not everyone is so fortunate. Rights grabs are a very common topic of discussion around here and examples abound.

          And as a licensing attorney with two decades of experience, I can assure you that there are LOTS of licensors who will try for grabs as bad or worse than this. If you haven’t had to deal with them, then again, good for you.

        • While this may be the content of your contract, it is not a universal truth. I write genre fiction and there are many authors whose series were pulled because the sales of earlier works didn’t justify finishing the series out. There are also times when an author and editor can’t agree on edits and if the book is pulled prior to delivery and acceptance then the signing portion may (or may not) need to be repaid by the author.

          Situations where only a portion of the contract is paid, or instances where authors have to repay part of their advances is not limited to “non-legitimate” publishers. There are clauses like this in the big-five contracts…unless of course the case is being made that the big-five are not “legit.”

  4. Time to bring out the old joke:

    “Why are trad pubbed authors like mushrooms?

    Cause they are kept in the dark, and fed sh*t.”

    Yes, I know. I ran out of all the good jokes 🙂

  5. Interesting that the blog post the writer took down *never mentioned the name of the publisher involved.* And the only contract-specific things she mentioned were the amount of the advance and the payment schedule (I was surprised that publisher is still paying on delivery and acceptance, and not on publication).

    I wonder if there actually was a confidentiality clause in that contract, or if the publisher just told her “take it down or we won’t publish anything else from you ever.”

    • (I was surprised that publisher is still paying on delivery and acceptance, and not on publication.)

      Me, too.

    • Authors I know these days are getting paid in thirds. One third on signing, one third on delivery/acceptance, and the third part on publication. It’s a way to stretch it out even further.

      • Yes, exactly. S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g!

      • I’d add that many authors are getting screwed/paid in fourths as since forever by big 4 pubs and their subsidiaries. 20% on signing contract by both sides, 20% on final acceptance in writing, 20% on pub of hardback, print or laydown date. 20% on pub of paperback, print or laydown date. The payout from time of advance and written acceptance of final, is as long as it takes for author and editor to wrangle the book. For certain payment on HB is 12-18 months later. Payment on pb is 12+ months after payment on HB. So to pay out the entire deal is somewhere in the least around 2-3.5 years. With NO interest on what pub owes author. With author NOT being able to use/invest/ simple interest at .5% at a bank on total.

        Thus, just my .02. Time has to be factored into every advance as a form of math division: amounts of say X k/3-4 years incremental payout, for instance–leaving an income before agent, of 10-15k+/- a year, perhaps a bit more or a lot less depending on how long book takes to be ‘accepted’ and then printed in the often long and non-pre-emptible lineup for paper and printing the pub has already in play for all its other authors.

        Not to mention depreciation of advance buying power over such a long amount of time before complete payout… as cost of living increases and deflation of dollar and euro in the space of time before advance is paid out, too.

        Makes indie pub’g look like gold in comp.

        • USAF, did you mean 25% (for fourths), or is there a missing 20% somewhere? Just checking. 🙂

          • it is my concussion injury. Sorry Carradee. Math past 2=2 is not strong point. I hope you are laughing with me.

            I was thinking of two of my book contracts with trad pub, wherein it was 5 payouts, the last one being at final audio release. But, I thought I should just stick to books and forgot to go back and change the percentages.

            Sorry to have been confusing

      • Paying on delivery and acceptance is a common practice as well as on publication. The fact that a publisher will commit to an author when the book might not even be totally written yet is a major risk for a publisher. Especially if they’re buying two or three books when the first book hasn’t even been written or published. Keep in mind that it could be a year before the author delivers that book and then another year before the publishing company actually publishes it. There are many reasons for this process including that the books are sold into accounts six months before they are released. So calling this “stringing” out these payments as you’ve called it is not really fair. There are reasons an author gets paid over time. There are also authors who don’t deliver on time and then books have to be pulled out of schedules.

        Steven Zacharius
        President and CEO
        Kensington Publishing Corp.

      • All contracts are different and the larger the investment in the author, generally the more spread out the payments will be.

    • Ashely, it’s no mystery. Higgins has one book series out, from harper. She’s not hiding her publisher. It’s right there on the book page. I don’t recall her NOT mentioning it in the post, but if she didn’t, ti’s probably because she didn’t think anyone didn’t know.

    • I emailed the author (to clue her in about how she could make more money as an indie–gently) and she said she has another book out on submission, so it seemed wise to pull back the blog post. She knows all about indie publishing, and has seen friends do well that way.

      • Did you see the recent posts from Writer’s Digest that 80% of self-published authors make less than $1000. That’s from a survey of 9500 writers.

        • I’m a nobody. I don’t do any marketing at all , I only have one follower on my blog, I have almost zero presence online and I usually just toss out the book (after it goes through edits and the likes) and I make 1,000 per year. I know that many of self-published authors don’t make that and I also know that a few make much, much more. What I’m interested is, how many of your authors, who only have two years of being published behind them, earn more than 1,000 per year in royalties?

          • Ah-ah. Wrong question. Right question: How many authors who submit to your company make at least $1,000/yr within two years of doing so? 🙂

            “But that includes the ones we don’t even publish!”

            Yes, yes it does, and if you think about it, you’ll see why it has to be that way or else the two classes cannot be compared.

            • If we are talking about traditional publishing and not our digital only line, we don’t have any advances that are as low as $1000. If the author is only making $1000 we shouldn’t have wasted our time buying and printing the book because it means we made no money and probably indeed lost our shirts.

              I don’t know what the rest of your comment is referring to.

              Why when you get an email showing that a comment was replied to doesn’t the link take you right to the immediate comment instead of having to go through every single post here?

              • Now we are getting somewhere. Could we prevail upon you for a link to your company’s standard digital-only publishing contract? That would be extraordinarily helpful and I’m sure, very interesting.

                What I am referring to is that if you are going to say “80% of self-publishers make less than $1,000 after two years,” and you are using that observation (assuming arguendo that it is accurate or at least not hideously inaccurate) to make some kind of judgment about whether people should self-publish, you can’t just compare it to people who’ve actually been traditionally published for two years. You have to compare it to everyone who’s submitted to traditional publishers for two years. Otherwise, you are including a bunch of low-to-zeroes in one group and not the other when it is not appropriate to treat them differently.

                Now, if you want to talk just about who makes more money, self-publishers or traditionally-published authors, then it might be relevant. But that is misleading in this context because there is no way to know in advance which subgroup of traditionally published authors (i.e. accepted or rejected) any given author will be put in, but all self-published authors get published. You may think you are advocating for traditional publishing as a more lucrative choice, but by selecting different samples, what you’re really doing is pointing out that they are both the equivalent of buying an Irish Sweepstakes ticket, just in different ways. And only one guarantees that you will at least be entered in the drawing.

                As far as the email comment thing, I can only blame evil spirits or mediocre programmers. (Or both.) Got me.

                • We don’t have a link for our standard digital only contract. We consider our contracts private matters with the author. That being said we certainly do not say that an author can’t discuss what they’re advanced or any terms in the contract. RWA does review contracts all the time.

                  I wasn’t making that statement about the 80%. I was just reporting the story from DBW. I have no idea about how they did the research. I just thought it was interesting. I posted the link on my FB page and on twitter as well. If you subscribe to DBW daily, it’s there as well. I was not trying to be misleading. There are all sorts of levels in publishing and if you want to talk about who earns more…..a traditional versus self-published….at the highest levels, I don’t even think it’s a conversation to be had. There’s no comparison with the authors who are advanced huge amounts of money. If you get down to small category publishing then you can have a debate about who makes more. Or if it’s a category that most publishers don’t publish into, like science fiction…..the pendulum would swing towards self-publishing. I started reading the article by Hugh but haven’t had a chance to finish it and respond yet.

                • If you don’t care if an author reveals all the terms in their contract, why won’t you post your contract?

                • Because we consider contracts personal information between the author and us. RWA reviews contracts and publishes their findings periodically after deleting the author names and our contract stands up favorably. With our new digital acquisition of Lyrical we have redone our contract again to increase royalties and try to be as competitive as possible. If authors like it, they will sign and come to us. If not, they have the option of going somewhere else or always self-publishing.

                • No, you don’t consider such contracts “personal,” or you would care whether the authors disclosed all the terms. At the very least, it makes no sense at all to not disclose your standard template, unless you have some reason other than considering it personal to authors. Since a blank template is personal only to you.

              • The thing that strikes me about the survey you quoted is that nobody bothered to ask the authors on the Kindleboards, or the IndieRomanceInk loop, or any of the other loops where the majority of the Indie authors using professional freelance services hang out, to take part in the survey. It left out the majority of the self-publishers producing professional products. The results are warped just by that fact alone.

                • Trish I didn’t do the survey so I can’t answer your comments, but I agree with you that they should all have been published writers whether self-published or traditionally published. Aspiring writers being included is ludicrous.

        • 9500 writers who, presumably, read Writer’s Digest, which I can say with some reasonable confidence gives mediocre to horrible advise on the nuts and bolts of self-publishing and still urges people to hold out for a “real” publishing contract until there’s just no hope left. Which, whether good advice or bad, means that the average reader of WD who self-publishes is probably not as successful as the average self-publisher in general.

          • I didn’t pay the $295 to get the entire survey but the results were primarily from romance writers and mystery writers I believe. I’m not a reader of Writer’s Digest so I can’t comment on what they advocate or don’t.

            • Very interesting. I didn’t make $1000 per year with my legitimate traditional publisher (three books with them). But I make much more than that a month self-publishing. I know a whole lot of authors are making hardly anything self-publishing, because one book does not a success make in this business (and there are a truckload of one- or two-book authors out there) but I know more indies making decent money at this gig than traditionally published authors who do well–and I know far, far more traditionally published authors.

          • Marc,

            Why is it on some of the comments on this site I don’t see a way to reply? Weird. Anyhow, we do consider our contracts a personal arrangement between our Company and the author. Contracts vary from author to author in the traditional world, generally by agent. Each agent has special clauses that they may have negotiated with us.
            Digital first contracts are pretty much standardized but even with them there can be exceptions. Royalty rates have changed and other terms may have changed since we started an imprint or a line.

            • You can’t reply once the thread gets to a certain depth. Traditionally, you reply to the deepest level of comment that you can reply to. It’s aggravating but there it is. It does make a certain amount of sense: if replies get too deep, the page become very hard to read and can confuse some browsers.

              I repeat: there is nothing personal about a template contract. If you won’t post it, with the blanks left blank, it’s not to protect author privacy. A cynical person might wonder if it might contradict some of the assertions you have been making.

              • Ah, ok. No I won’t post a blank contract…sorry….and you mean some of you aren’t already cynical 🙂
                If someone wants to publish with Kensington they will see our contract. We don’t have a clause forbidding disclosure of information like was mentioned earlier. I think most authors consider this personal. But in our digital first contract we are competitive with the other publishers who are doing similar type publishing. We also guarantee an advance if we decide to do the book in print. Royalties are paid quarterly on the ebooks.

        • Mr. Zacharius:
          Thanks for appearing here.

          However, your company is not competing to publish authors who, if they self-pubbed, would be in that low earnings position. Your company is competing for authors who are good enough writers to attract contract offers from trad publishers — or who are already trad published. The majority of those authors are going to make a LOT more than than average.

          That’s the problem with averages. Just as 98% of all queries are rejected is a misleading figure when it comes to getting traditionally published. If you’re good enough to be in that 2%, your chances of a “yes” are pretty close to 95%.

          Don’t let those averages blind you to how well an author you’d like to traditionally publish is likely to do if she publishes on her own.

          • Carolyn, please call me Steve. Having many different imprints we look at all different kinds of authors. With our digital first lines, eKensington and Lyrical Press now, we publish many first time authors as well as others, who do not earn huge royalties. It’s a building area for us….like a farm team. If the numbers get bigger and the authors have good reviews we’re going to try to eventually get them into print. We’ve had many authors published only in e who have gone on to get big publishing contracts from other publishing houses as well.

            At the editorial meeting the first reason the editor brings a book in is because they like the story. Then after that we discuss how can we market it….does the author have any type of platform to build from?

            We have many authors who come to us the first time from self-publishing. Sometimes we take over those previously published titles and other times we don’t. But the chances are if they are a first time author their print runs will be modest just as would their ebook sales unless we’re able to get them into a great online promotion and then they get amazing reviews. It all takes time and effort. That’s why we never buy a one book contract…at least in fiction, which is the bulk of the books we publish. We will generally buy a 2-3 book contract so we have time to work with the author and hopefully build them.

        • Mr. Zacharious, that survey of 9500 authors included aspiring authors who a) have never even STARTED a manuscript AND b) aspiring authors who have YET TO FINISH a manuscript. I’m not sure you can call these respondents authors in any sense of the word.

          • Bev, I have not seen the study. In fact I stated that I didn’t pay the $295.00 for the survey. I just heard the overall comments made at DBW from the speaker from Writer’s Digest and I posted the link from DBW Daily. If they are counting aspiring writers in that survey, that is indeed a worthless survey. I guess that could possibly explain why there was 47% (I think), of published authors making less than $1000 which makes absolutely no sense. I have no loyalty one way or the other to Writer’s Digest. I was just passing on their comments. Where did you see that information that it included aspiring writers and those that haven’t even finished a manuscript?

            • Hi Steve,

              Here’s the link. http://news.yahoo.com/most-writers-earn-less-600-pounds-per-080226311.html

              My point is that saying there were 9210 respondents to this survey is misleading, in that the vast majority of respondents are not “authors”. Only 32% of the respondents are authors–as they published anything.

              My survey of authors ‘seriously’ pursuing a career in writing for profit indicates more like 48% of authors self-publishing are earning over $10,000 a year.

              I haven’t seen the survey done by Reader’s Digest, but I think it would be certainly interesting to see the categorization of those authors and the questions they were asked. My survey had 822 respondents but I think, for its purpose, it was a pretty decent sampling of ‘serious’ authors.

              • I agree with what you’re saying and they didn’t mention any of this in their presentation at DBW. I’m thinking of paying the $295.00 to get the survey now.

  6. This doesn’t even begin to touch the advances most romance writers get. We get FAR less. Most writers I know get under $5K or in the case of most ePublishers 0.

    The single title authors, about $35K per book on the upper end. Publishers are doing fine, thank you very much. The question is how much do you want to pay for their shiny buildings and bonuses.

    Also I beg to differ on her opinion that printing costs a lot. It used to. Nowadays, I hear of print runs under 1000. The publisher takes 0 risk in most cases.

    • I don’t understand why romance writers get paid so little since they probably have the biggest share of the book market. That just makes no sense to me.

      • The answer: Publi$hers.

      • Meryl is exactly right. Romance is pretty much supporting all the publishers’ other lines/genres.

      • And it’s romance writers who are jumping ship to indie in ever-increasing numbers. 😉

        • True. Those who have power tend to exercise it.

          I think it’s a shame that other genres don’t have that kind of demand behind them though. Imagine if they did. The publishers would have absolutely no leg to stand on. They’d have to agree to author terms. Sigh.

          • Liz,

            I wouldn’t be too quick to assume other genres have insufficient demand to make going indie the smarter choice. I know a great many indies, writing across a diverse range of different genres, who are doing just fine.

            The publishers already have no leg to stand on. But there’s still one reason they don’t have to agree to author terms:

            Codependent author Stockholm Syndrome.

            • One of the very popular genres in self-publishing is Sci-fi because it’s not a popular genre for traditional publishing because the print orders are too small. This is why the market is basically dominated by Tor and it’s a great niche for them. I believe S & S just announced a sci-fi imprint as well…..but when publishers don’t satisfy the demand or in this case, the accounts won’t order enough books for a publisher to make enough money to consider doing the book; self-publishing is a great option.

              • Sci-fi [is] not a popular genre for traditional publishing because the print orders are too small…..the accounts won’t order enough books for a publisher to make enough money…

                This is an interesting disconnect.

                I look at the Kindle overall Top-100 now, and 10% of the best selling ebooks in America across all genres are Science Fiction. Including several by indie authors.

                It makes me wonder how much of that “smallness” of demand for Science Fiction you describe from the print world was a self-fulfilling prophecy, artificially caused by the top-down way the publishing industry previously made decisions about order sizes, print run sizes, marketing allocations, etc.

                • It’s a cliche that traditional publishers, and the Ivy League/Seven Sisters East Coast liberals who run them, hate hate hate science fiction and the kind of people who traditionally read it.

                  As with most cliches, it is both overbroad, and rooted in observable fact. It’s not that they hate science fiction per se. It’s just that the kind of science fiction most readers like, they can’t stand, and the kind of science fiction they like, most readers are not interested in.

                  I suspect that this is also a very significant factor in the decades-long assertion that sci-fi is a niche market and not worth serious publishing efforts.

      • The reason is because they can get away with it. I think (or maybe just hope) this won’t be the case for much longer. In general, Romance writers are some of the smartest, savviest folks in the business, and many of them are moving to indie pubbing or hybrid careers. They’re looking at the small advances and restrictive contracts and taking a pass, or negotiating a better deal.

      • I’m not sure why you state that romance writers are making so little. We have a tremendous range of advances and many authors are making a very good living at writing romance. I also would like to add that in print the general idea is that an advance will hopefully be earned out by sales of the book. So if the writer isn’t making a lot of money, it’s because the book didn’t perform all that well. But depending on what the publisher paid, they don’t recoup their loss if the advance is higher than the royalty earned.
        As I said earlier publishing can be a very risky business when you get to the higher level of advances. Most publishing companies profit margins are very low, single digit profits.

        • Steven, thank you for participating here with readers and writers.

          I do professional business planning for a living in a variety of sectors in the US, Canada and Mexico, in addition to having worked for a number of years as a fiction and non-fiction writer.

          I honestly have never experienced any industry which regards its finances in the same way as the traditional publishing industry. For example, if your company acquires a book from an author for a $5,000 advance, that’s hardly the only cost associated with producing the book, yet it appears to be the sole focus of cost and planning related to the publishing and sale of the product. Are your salary, the editor’s salary, printing, distribution and promotions, regarded as part of the COGS? (aka “Cost of Books Sold”). When it’s time to pay taxes, for certain you are on an accrual system – so you are at the same time costing those books out and recording unsold books as losses or liabilities. Really, there’s a lot more for independent authors to think about – even if an author gets a 6-figure advance, it earns out, and royalties are then paid, this is still nowhere near the most significant of costs associated with the book.

      • Liz, the biggest and most successful of the romance writers do indeed get huge sums of money for their books. I would say they’re up there with the biggest thriller writers. And I’m sure many of you saw the NY Times article about Sylvia Day getting an 8 figure advance for two books from St. Martin’s Press. That’s megabucks.

        Obviously most authors make less…..there are many many authors making way more than $35,000 per book…and there are many who are making an advance of $5000 per book. What’s wrong with the old fashioned way like the old brokerage firm commercial…..we make money the old fashioned way….we earn it? Don’t you think it’s fair that the author actually earn out the advance? So if the advance was $5000 and the author didn’t earn anything else, it’s because the book didn’t sell. We can’t control what the accounts order or how many copies are sold.

        • No, you can’t, and in all fairness, that is a very important point. I would never argue for one second, having negotiated literally hundreds of license agreements involving advances, that there was anything wrong with the idea of getting an advance and earning it out before additional payments are made.

          However, whether an advance is paid or not is totally irrelevant to the eventual revenue to the author unless a) the book doesn’t earn out which means they got some money they weren’t entitled to otherwise, or b) it is large enough that the publisher has some skin in the game outside of production costs and makes them market the book more robustly. That is the real basic idea behind advances – to give the licensor some assurance that the licensee won’t just sit on the license and half-a** it. Obviously, most advances in publishing are not large enough to induce this behavior, since most traditionally published books get little or no marketing support. (Putting a book in your catalog and on your website is not marketing support.)

        • Steve, you realize that at the launch and failure rate of books in traditional publishing, no other goods-producing industry would find that acceptable, or would remain in business. You can’t control what accounts order? You certainly could if you viewed it in that manner. And you’re as aware as I am of the differing costs and advantages in the e-publishing environment.

          Maybe if you considered paying something that would make it worth the producer’s while to actually do the work without which the product could not exist it could be a different story. Instead, I saw you stating you were farming people with the e-book lines. “If they sold enough” you’d bring them up to the “big leagues.” Writing fiction isn’t baseball.

    • In my analysis of the Top 100 Kindle ebooks list, it looked like Romance writers could do far better financially as an Indie than via traditional publishing. I don’t know if that would apply further down the sales ranking list, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t. I take the point of the poster further down this thread, that this is a fairly recent development. It seems likely to be one that continues, though, and will likely get stronger.


      • There is so much misinformation being spread here. The Top 100 USA bestseller list came out today and there wasn’t one self-published book on the list. This included ebook sales from Kindle.

        The statement that it doesn’t cost a lot to print a book is ludicrous. First of all the person who made that comment didn’t discuss what format they are talking about. For a print run of 1000 copies which would be done by print on demand, the costs would be about $4.00 per book. So if a book has a selling price of $14.00 and a wholesale price of $7.00 to accounts….that leaves a margin of $3.00. Now figure that the average book in trade paper probably only sells about 60%. The rest are destroyed. So now you’re down to $1.20. The royalty to the author normally would be 7.5% of the cover price so that would be $1.05 per copy sold. So where is the publisher making money on a 1000 copy print run? Publishing companies do not make huge amounts of money, generally profits of under 10% for the year. It’s more than shiny building. It’s overhead, artwork, typesetting, copy editing, proofreading, marketing, etc..

        Let’s not spread misinformation please.

        Steven Zacharius
        President and CEO
        Kensington Publishing Corp.

        • He wasn’t talking about the USA Today Bestseller List. He was talking about the Top 100 Kindle Books list.

          Now, we can talk about what you want to talk about too, but responding to what somebody else wants to talk about not with facts relevant to what they were talking about but with what you want to talk about is a fairly poor approach to argument in an audience as clueful as this one.

          • I didn’t say anything about the Top 100 Kindle book list. I was just adding an overall comment about self-publishing sales. And there isn’t anybody here who can tell you how many copies the top 100 Kindle books are selling since the information is proprietary to Amazon. You don’t know if it’s 50 copies or 5000 copies. The romance writers that are on the top kindle lists are generally well established romance writers. The others that are making the list are authors who are generally selling their self-published books at a much lower price level. So to say that a Romance writer that’s at the top of the list like a Debbie Macomber, or Susan Wiggs or any big name could do better as an indie versus working with a traditional publishing house is wrong. First of all you don’t know what kind of advance the author was given by the publishing house.

            • I know you didn’t say anything about the Kindle 100 list. He did. That was my entire point.

              Mr. Zacharius, you are obviously not a stupid man, and you are, it seems likely, also a busy one. So it is understandable that you are not posting the most thorough of responses. But I hope you’ll pardon my saying that your posts seem a bit like defensive flailing. If you want to defend your company and your industry, you will find this a very hospitable place to honest debate. But throwing out random assertions will not serve your cause. Especially random assertions which so many here know from personal experience are misleading at best and simply not true (in general: I am not accusing you personally of being a purposeful liar) at worst.

              • I wasn’t here to defend my company. I was brought here by a link from an article I was reading and I thought I would join in the open dialog. I wasn’t throwing out random assertions; I’m giving my opinion and sharing my knowledge of how a traditional publishing company operates. I’m not attacking self-publishing. I’m all for it. If people are making a living from it; that’s great for them. It’s great for readers to have a choice as well.

                I just tried to say in my initial blog on the Huffington Post that all of you here are the people who have made money in self-publishing. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have published with iUniverse, Author Solutiions and KDP and others as well that have sold copies to their friends and families; and that’s it. It’s great that all of you are making a living doing this.

                • I hasten to add that this is not how I make my living. (I just put a little entry on my blog that talks about how much money I make at writing and where it comes from.)

                  And, sorry to be so blunt, but you’re doing it again. Referring to iUniverse, Author Solutions, and KDP as somehow being much of a muchness – whether purposeful mistruth or simple well-meaning ignorance – greatly diminishes the credibility of, well, pretty much anything you might have to say on the topic of self-publishing.

                • I was referring to the bigger self publishing platforms. What is wrong with that? The majority of self-publishing is done by KDP by far and I mentioned them. We have published a fair amount of authors that were previously self-published so I do know something about this area. I’ve also looked at buying some of the larger self-publishing firms in the past so I’ve seen their numbers but they were primarily POD self-publishing platforms and that market has totally changed since things have moved over to ebook self-publishing.

                • Thank you for your courteous replies in the face of my being rather snarky at you (well, for me that wasn’t hardly snark at all, but by the standards of a nice person.) However, between this response and your comment Elke reposted above I must unfortunately conclude that your level of understanding of modern independent publishing is just so woefully lacking that trying to educate you through blog comments is not a practical endeavor. You just don’t have the contextual knowledge necessary to meaningfully discuss the question at this point.

                  If you’re interested, the information is out there. Good luck.

                • Marc apparently doesn’t think I have the contextual knowledge to participate in a conversation about self-publishing despite the fact that we publish 450 books per year and about 100 digital first books annually as well. And apparently I don’t have the knowledge necessary to understand modern independent publishing….so I guess I’ve worn out my welcome.

                  So I guess I will let you guys continue to discuss this topic amongst yourselves.

                  Nice chatting with you.

                • Steven,

                  I think you may have unintentionally undermined your own credibility with Marc by dragging disgraced vanity-scams like Author Solutions, Xlibris, and iUniverse into a discussion of self-publishing where they have no relevance whatsoever.

                  After all, look at who actually owns those vanity-scam companies.

                  Author Solutions, Xlibris, and iUniverse represent “traditional publishing” not “self publishing.”

                • FWIW, I respect you for coming here and joining in. It’s a tough crowd.

                  Self publishers and traditional publishers can learn a lot from each other, through conversations like this, and that benefits us all.

                  Because from what I see, neither type of publisher truly understands the other’s business model. But both think they do.

                • @Paul Draker
                  I believe we can only judge the business through our own experiences and what we hear and see from others. I’m a self-published author and I can’t say that I understand self-publishing, that’s why I hang at PG’s blog, Rush’s blog, KB,… Despite working in cooperate publishing, I wouldn’t dare to claim I understand it either, but I do see the numbers and the money flow and the attitude of CEOs and editors first hand (even though there’s not much editors in house left anymore) and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Since this is an European company, I can’t say that the situation in my firm mirrors the situation in American big five, but by everything that I have heard and from the attitude of trade-publishers representatives and advocates it not that different.

                • Marc apparently doesn’t think I have the contextual knowledge to participate in a conversation about self-publishing despite the fact that we publish 450 books per year and about 100 digital first books annually as well.

                  And there’s the problem, right there. The fact that Kensington publishes 450 books in print and 100 digital books has nothing to do with an individual author doing self-publishing. Mr. Z may be an unassailable authority about Kensington (although I’m not sure some of his authors may agree), but he is NOT an authority about self-publishing based on his experience as a traditional publisher. The fact that apparently he thinks he is, is the problem he can’t seem to get past.

                • Ashley we actually publish a total of 550 books a year digitally. I think I know my way around the digital marketplace pretty well. Why would you even make a suggestion that some of our authors wouldn’t think I was an authority about Kensington? That’s absolutely ludicrous. BTW, I maintain excellent relations with the Kensington authors. Anybody who comes to the office meets with me and I’m always available for a conversation with them.
                  So you don’t think that there is a comparison between doing well over 100 digital first books per year and self-publishing? Many of these authors are first time authors. We provide editorial and marketing support. How does self-publishing differ from us releasing a digital first book on Kindle and other retailers from you doing the same thing?
                  I don’t have any problem with authors self-publishing. We’ve published many many authors who are or were self-published. So from looking at their prior sales information and spending time talking to them, I’ve learned quite a bit about self-publishing actually. It truly amazes me how a few of you don’t want to listen at all to someone who does have experience in publishing in general. Part of self-publishing involves making your books available in POD. Having over 1000 POD titles available right now; I’d have to tell you I know a little something about it. And as a matter of fact, one of our books was the very first POD book printed by Lightning Source, the undisputed leader in this technology.
                  I certainly am not an expert in many areas, but I do know publishing. The fact that you don’t want to listen from commentary from someone who has been doing this for a long time now is really quite astounding to me. Why don’t you ask some of our authors that know me and have worked with me if they think I am an authority on publishing before making such a derogatory statement like you did for no reason at all. Many of the people here are willing to have an open dialog about publishing in general. Apparently you are not. Good luck with your writing.

                • Zacharius, on your reply to Ashley, I think you are missing the point. On digital market self-published author and tread-published author do compete shoulder to shoulder, but the approach is completely different. A trade-publisher’s employee (or CEO) saying that because he knows the process of publishing a book has a knowledge of how self-publishing works, is like a cooperate employee saying/thinking that he knows how to run a proprietorship (and that he knows everything one needs to know to run one) just because he competes on the same market with them.

                • Elka, please elaborate further about what portion of self-publishing you don’t think I understand. The mechanics for getting a book published are similar to us doing a digital first book. The marketing that you might do is similar to what we do on social media. If you make your book available by POD, it’s something we do as well. So I’d love to learn more about what I’m missing about not understanding self-publishing. We work with promotional pricing and testing pricing at various levels too. And we just acquired a digital first publishing company.

                  There were some comments made earlier that were very helpful for me to reply to Hugh’s blog and I will. He blogged on my Huffpo blog as well, so we did have some discussions there. I’ve also copies the links to the other articles and blogs that were mentioned to me so that I will research them later. I’m perfectly willing to learn more.

                • @Steven Zacharius
                  Yes, you are right, the mechanics of a self-publisher getting a book published are similar to a publisher doing a digital first book, just the way the mechanics of an cooperation and a proprietorship bringing a similar product on the market are similar, but in their base, their process of bringing products to the market is completely different (wouldn’t you agree?) just the way self-publishing is different from trade-publishing, which I’m certain you would find on your own if you willing to learn and prepared to read blogs on self-publishing. You see, I’m afraid, I’m bad at explaining and as I stated in my comment on something Paul Draker said, there is still so much regarding self-publishing that I don’t know. Despite being a self-published authors for two years now, I’m still learning.

            • …there isn’t anybody here who can tell you how many copies the top 100 Kindle books are selling… You don’t know if it’s 50 copies or 5000 copies.

              As a matter of fact, most of us can tell you that. But I’m surprised that you don’t know, because this is vital data for a publisher (whether traditional- or self-).

              These days, a book must sell 1000-1200 copies per day to crack the Top-100.
              The top 1-3 are generally selling 4000-7000 copies/day.

              Many of us have built plots of the whole curve and tracked its changes over time.

              The curve has shifted upward quarter after quarter, provably demonstrating ebooks’ continued sales growth, while the publishing industry talking-heads just parrot the AAPs fatally-flawed study, claiming ebooks are “declining.”

              They aren’t.

              What that AAP survey actually shows is the shrinking market share of traditional publishers relative to indies.

              • Paul, even Kindle doesn’t post the sales of the top 100…they just rank them. If you have a chart or curve, I’d love to see that. The amounts necessary to make the top 100 can vary by hour or by day depending on new releases that come on the first Tuesday of the month….or for many other reasons. In my opinion the top 100 is fairly limited in value. I’d like to see the list broken down by a price range. To compare a book selling at $.99 cents versus $12.99 is a big variable.

                • Happy to share it:


                  These #’s actually don’t vary much day to day – 15% at the very most.

                  If you want the ballpark gross $$$ daily revenue for a given book, then multiply the daily sales # corresponding to that book’s rank by its price.

                • Dilbert: “How much does your product cost?”

                  Salesperson: “It’s difficult to say. It depends on many factors. But it’ll pay for itself in three years!”

                  Dilbert: “How much will I save per year?”

                  Salesperson: “You’ll save $5,000 per year.”

                  Dilbert: “Then it must cost about $15,000.”

                  (Salesperson realizes he’s been had.)

                  Dilbert: “That was a little trick I call ‘math.'”

                • Paul I happened to be having dinner last night with our person in charge of all things digital and it was her opinion that the swings in the top 100 list are enormous. It depends on which new books are released….for example when Sycamore Row by Grisham and Tom Clancy’s new book came out and both were discounted down to $1.99 by Kindle (I think I’m right on this), it skewed the numbers tremendously…..if Kindle would be more transparent it would certainly help matters.

                  I think I said earlier that I think it would help if the bestseller rankings were done by price range…..for example, books under 4.99…..books under 10.00, etc….
                  Unit sales are not the most important measure of success, it’s the total revenue that really counts; whether you’re self-published or traditionally published.

                • I think a bestseller list that took price into account would be interesting and undoubtedly would produce different results than the current simple math. However, you have just admitted that we CAN tell with some degree of confidence how many copies a book in the Kindle Top 100 is selling each day. That alone means that your claim that we don’t know whether a book on that list is selling 50 copies a day or 5,000 copies is false.

                  In addition, you are not factoring into your equation the difference between the royalty rate a self-published author is getting paid and the rate a traditionally published author would get from your company or any other Big 5 publisher.

                  I have a book published with Kensington. It came out in June of 2009 in your Aphrodisia line. Because it was trade paper, its list price in digital is between $11.20. I have since that time self-published several novellas and short stories, whose prices range from 99 cents to $2.99. Kensington pays me 25% of net on every sale of my traditionally published book. (It sells very few copies because, frankly, it’s overpriced. If I owned the rights, I wouldn’t price it at more than $3.99. But I digress.)

                  So, allow me to do some math. As I understand it, most retailers pay publishers 50-55% of the list price on digital sales. That means that for every copy of my Kensington books, your company received about $6.00 (that might be generous). Of that $6, I get 25%, or the princely sum of $1.50.

                  By contrast, I have novella that sells for $2.99. It doesn’t sell a LOT of copies, but I think its velocity is probably 2-3x my Kensington book’s. The digital retailers pay me 65-70% of my sale price. This means every sale of that book earns me roughly $2.00.

                  Can you see why I might find it more in my interest to self-publish my books? I have one self-published 22,500 word novella that has sold more than 30,000 copies and has earned me north of $20,000 since it was published in December of 2011. By contrast, the 87,000 word novella anthology I sold to your company for a $2,500 advance in 2008 has earned me less than $5,000 since its release.

                  Is self-publishing going to produce these kinds of results for everyone? Of course not. But traditional publishing just doesn’t guarantee that you’ll do any better, either, and in some cases (like mine), it seems to actually guarantee you’ll do worse.

                  Back when I sold my book to Kensington, self-publishing wasn’t really even an option. I was thrilled to get an offer from your company. It built my confidence as an author, even if my book did tank because it came out at the height of the recession with ZERO marketing support (okay, you put it in your catalog for booksellers with some nice words about it, but that was the ONLY marketing effort I witnessed). For the most part, I don’t regret selling that book to your company. What I do regret is that I have to wait until 2016 to get the rights reverted, because I could do 10 times better by that book than your company has.

                  EDITED TO ADD: Also, are you still claiming you didn’t post on Laura Kaye’s blog? Because if you didn’t, someone who sounds exactly like and spouts precisely the same arguments impersonated you there. And did a damn good job.

                • [according to] our person in charge of all things digital… it was her opinion that the swings in the top 100 list are enormous…

                  I think we’ve stuck a fork in this one already, Steve.

                  But if you’re still unsure, please take a few Kensington e-books and look at their ranks. Then cross-reference those ranks against the graph I provided, and see how accurately it predicts their daily sales.

                  I’d like to see the list broken down by a price range.

                  You can multiply the daily sales # corresponding to each book’s rank by that book’s price. Then you’ll have exactly the list you want to see.

                • Paul,

                  Your graph is phenomenal. Is there a version that shows the low end in better detail? I’d love to know how many books the thousandth-best seller moves per day.

                • TD,

                  Credit should go to TIV author Theresa Ragan for collecting and sharing the bulk of this data. I just added my own results to hers and graphed it 🙂

                  The Dec 2013 source data is on her blog at:


                  And thanks again, Theresa and the other great authors at TIV who generously share so much valuable business information with the rest of us.

              • Steve, the part which I think some authors might challenge is not the “authority”, but the “unassailable”–as witness this very thread.

                And as for what is different between self-publishing and traditional publishing, which you still don’t appear to get, is the perspective of the author. The mechanics of formatting and uploading a book may be the same, but the difference lies, I think, in two essential areas: 1) who is IN CONTROL during the process, and 2) how quickly the author sees a return on his or her investment.

                If I complete a book and submit it to Kensington, even if that book is under contract, I have effectively lost control of it. All the choices about cover and editing and publication date are under Kensington’s control. I may or may not have input, but in the final analysis, the book will be published Kensington’s way, or it will not be published at all.

                And having published the book, I can then expect to wait… and wait… and wait… for income. Yes, I may have received an advance, but then the advance has to earn out. And I have already taken a 15% hit in that advance anyway, to pay an agent.

                If I self-publish, the burdens, and also the control, are in MY hands. It is MY book, the choices are MINE, and so are the rewards–which I can expect to see a whole lot faster than if I sign a traditional contract. I don’t have to go through an agent, so I’ll save money right there. I won’t be paying a cover artist five or six thousand dollars, but why should I, when I can get an excellent cover for a fraction of that amount? I can pay for editing and proofreading, or I can go the co-op route the way that Book View Café does it.

                I may be “losing out on the print market”–but if I can make a living selling ebooks at $2.99 or $3.99, and make a couple of bucks off each one–as opposed to making maybe 50 cents off a paperback sale, who CARES? And if it’s THAT important to me to have a print version available, I can have it done myself and have it distributed through Amazon or other venues. I can get translations done, too, if I want a foreign language market, and while I’m paying for them myself, I’m NOT getting only a percentage on a percentage on the sale.

                What I am saying that you are missing is the author’s perspective on all this.

                According to what you’ve told us here, all Kensington authors are completely happy with your company (and if they’re not, it’s because they weren’t very good authors anyway and you’ve had to “let them go.”) Your royalty reporting is complete and accurate and no one has ever had an issue with it. Your editors are superb, caring individuals who are deeply involved with each and every book that crosses their desks. Your marketing department bends over backwards for every single one of those books you publish. No one has ever had a problem with communication with Kensington.

                And that may be so. But if it is, Kensington is the only publisher ever who could make that claim.

                • Ashley you’re turning around some of my words. I never said that every Kensington author is happy so said that perhaps the reason they might be complaining is because we let them go. I’m sure we have some authors that aren’t happy….
                  And I stand by the statement that our royalty reporting is accurate and that we haven’t had an issue with it in over 15 years. Our editors are superb caring people…

                  I understand what you’re saying about control of the book. I think a lot of this depends on the level of the author and the level of the advance. Once you start getting into bigger advances, it’s a different ballgame. When we’re advancing authors $50,000, $100,000 or even more, those authors are heavily involved with everyone in our company and they value the services a publishing house has to offer. If they didn’t, they would self-publish. I haven’t see very many big authors leave publishing houses who were earning large amounts of money. They’re happy to have the input of our art department and marketing departments.
                  But to each their own. Some people are going to want to be self-published and other are going to want to use the services of a publishing company. It’s great that there are options.

                  Maybe if you have the opportunity to meet any of our authors who have been with Kensington for a long time; you can ask them directly what they think of their experience with us. There were comments made earlier that someone wouldn’t recommend that newbie authors come to us, but we have many many first time authors. BTW, we do publish books that come in directly from authors without agents.

                • I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of your authors, and yes, some of them are very happy, and some of them aren’t, and some of them are very happy about some things and aren’t about others. I think this is probably very much the experience of many authors. I think where I take exception to some of your remarks is when you talk about your practices and experiences being typical of “legitimate publishers,” because in many cases they aren’t. Publishing is a business, and these days it’s for the most part a small branch of a huge corporation. Those companies are interested in the bottom line and what’s good for their shareholders, and the interests of the author are about as interesting to them as the interests of the guy selling them paper. Kensington, as a family-owned firm, may be able to deal with their authors differently based on that alone.

                  When you pay an author $50K or $100K advances, I believe you when you say you get them involved, if only because you have to in order to make a profit! But even those authors are waiting months to see a book through to publication, and then more months until they earn out–if they ever do. But most of your authors, I daresay, are not getting those huge advances, and never will. They’re midlist authors trying to be middle class, and getting even a $50K advance, paid out in two payments separated by several months, followed by more months in which they see no further income, is not going to make them middle class.

                  But it’s not all about the advance, or even mostly, imho; I think more of it is about WAITING. Waiting to hear back from an editor that a book has been received. Waiting for revisions. Waiting for approval. Waiting for a check to be cut. Waiting for it to be mailed. Waiting for the book to be proofed. Waiting for galleys. Waiting for publication. Waiting for royalty statements, and wondering if the book will have earned out, and if not, waiting another six months to wonder again–by which time the books are most likely returns–and wondering how much the reserve against returns IS, and whether you’ll ever see that money.

                  Compare that to the experience of being in control of all of that, and knowing that you can submit your book and two months later have income from it. Yes, it is a PITA to learn how to format and get covers and so on–but you know that if it doesn’t get done, it’s because you didn’t do it, and if you want it done, you CAN. And you can see the payoff, the satisfaction of completing those tasks, and not have to sit and wonder what’s going on, or call someone else who is herding a dozen other authors through the process.

                  You mention that some of your authors have done self-publishing as well as publishing with you. Have you ever asked them why they’re doing that? Have you ever asked them if they’ve gotten good results from publishing backlist that might have been out on the shelves for six weeks at most and then returned? Or books that publishers didn’t have room for, or didn’t see a market for?

                  I do see the appeal of traditional publishing for many authors. There is still a cachet to it. It does confer an aura of “legitimacy,” if you will.

                  But if you are an authority on publishing, many of us are unassailable authorities on BEING published, on trying to operate within the strictures of restrictive contracts, on payments so widely spaced that if you’re writing full-time, even if you’re “successful,” you think twice about trying to buy a house, because explaining a writer’s income to a bank is not fun, on living with covers that we hate and blurbs that give away the ending, on dealing with agents who pay more attention to that $100K-advance-earning writer just as you do, and for the same reasons.

                  So please don’t be surprised if good writers turn away from all that and take their careers into their own hands.

                  And since the buyer really doesn’t care who publishes the book, whether it’s Kensington or CreateSpace or Amazon, as long as they get a good story that’s well-written, the idea that self-published books should be segregated from traditionally published books makes no sense at all.

                  I hope your firm continues. I like the idea of family firms in publishing. I’m planning to have one of my own, in fact–just with a shorter author list.

                • Ashley the delay in getting a book to market isn’t because of the publisher. It’s because of the nature of the process. First of all as someone else mentioned, most contracts are for two or three books. Very rarely are they for one book. So when we give an advance on signing, we’re giving a percentage of the entire three book contract when we most likely don’t even have the first complete manuscript yet. Then the next two books might come be given to us in either six month or 12 month intervals in all probability.

                  The next delay in getting the book to market and I’m talking about print for the second, is that we have to prepare cover art and then print solicitation covers that the sales people then show to the accounts. They pitch the books to the book buyers at every major account. This happens six months before the books are released. This six month window is to give time to the buyers to talk to their respective accounts, like WalMart, Target, the clubs, etc…..to get their orders in. Once we have the firm order quantities we then print the covers and finally the books, a process in total of about two months. This doesn’t include the editing, copy editing, proofreading and typesetting.

                  Meanwhile, of course we could do the ebook earlier. You don’t have the same limitations in selling and manufacturing. But publishers aren’t permitted to do this any longer because “windowing” or books is not allowed per the terms of ebook contracts any longer. You can’t release the ebook before the printed book.

                  So yes there is a fairly long period of time over which payments on the books take place but also during this time we don’t even necessarily have the manuscripts yet. The rest of the delay is due to the nature of the print process.

                • But publishers aren’t permitted to do this any longer because “windowing” or books is not allowed per the terms of ebook contracts any longer. You can’t release the ebook before the printed book.

                  And who insists on this term? What is the logic behind it? Who does it benefit, and how?

                  The most famous “windowing” case in recent memory was the kerfuffle over the release of A Memory of Light, the final book in the “Wheel of Time” series. The late author’s wife insisted that the print version be released first, on some hazy notion that this would maximize its chances of reaching the NYT Bestseller #1 spot. She was utterly vilified for it by the readership, and it doubtless cost the book quite a few sales. (*raises hand*) It made no sense, and it makes no sense.

                  I note that Baen releases E-ARC at a premium price, and reaps the best of both worlds – capturing the premium from readers who will pay extra to read RIGHT SCREAMING NOW, saving the costs of printing ARC, and then releasing print and ebook simultaneously.

                • Hi Steve–I hope I don’t regret dabbling my toe in the waters of this conversation, but I can speak from the point of view of a newbie author who signed her first NY contract–with Kensington–in 2005. Over the course of the next eight years I wrote 31 novels and novellas for the company. My first book, Wolf Tales, launched their Aphrodisia erotic romance line, and my experience with the company was excellent. I started out with a small advance but those advances grew as my sales grew. Someone commented that new authors rarely make much money–they actually do when their books sell well, and mine did extraordinarily well.

                  But then they didn’t. That’s life, though it can have a rough effect on the bottom line. During the period where I was writing for Kensington’s Aphrodisia and Zebra lines, a lot of changes were taking place in publishing. Borders went belly-up, ebooks began to surge, which affected the sales of print, and cyclical changes in what the reading public wanted took the usual twists and turns. My sales dropped. I don’t believe it was the quality of my stories or the effort by the sales staff, but this past year is the first time in a long time I wasn’t offered any new contracts.

                  I miss working with Kensington. The people are terrific, and many of them have become friends outside of my books and the jobs they were required to do. There really is a sense of family there, and it’s one I couldn’t help but appreciate, but when I was cut loose, it was a business decision and I don’t take it personally. I also have the option of self-publishing, which I’m doing with moderate success. I released a book last week in the same series that was my final one with Kensington, and their last book in the Spirit Wild series comes out on the 28th of this month. I’ve got excerpts in the back of my self-published book that will promote my Kensington titles, but it’s only fair, as I’m trading on the name Kensington helped me build in this very competitive business.

                  Publishing is changing, but I hope that the heart of what makes Kensington a special place keeps beating the same way it has in the past. The sense of family seems to go well beyond blood, and I loved the fact that I, as a newbie author, could email the company’s CEO with a question, and get an answer back within the hour. If that doesn’t make an author feel special, I don’t know what will.

                • Thank you very much Kate for your vote of support. You know we wish you all the success in the world with your new books and you’ll always be part of the Kensington family.

                • But publishers aren’t permitted to do this any longer because “windowing” or books is not allowed per the terms of ebook contracts any longer. You can’t release the ebook before the printed book.

                  Pardon me, Steve, but I call b******* on that one: the publishers write the contracts, so to say they “aren’t permitted” is nonsense. They have made a decision to do so (and the idea that all publishers are bound by such a clause really hints that all publishers get together and decide as a whole that such a clause will appear in all contracts hints of, oh, I don’t know, collusion? Which surely you don’t want to say.)

                  And e-books are often released before the printed book, by Baen, for instance, with their e-subscription program, and by SP authors all the time.

                  And as pointed out above–cui bono? Why should such a clause exist?

                  And while I sympathize with the bureaucratic cogs grinding ever so slowly to get books out, the fact remains that there ARE delays. And these days, there’s no reason to put up with them.

                  At the same time, we see “insta-books” coming out–it’s amazing how fast a publisher can get a book out when they want to capitalize on true crime or major disasters.

                  And in the UK, I understand, the time between an author turning in a manuscript and the book hitting the shelves is appreciably shorter than it is in the States.

                  All of this tells me that there is considerable waste in the process, time-wise. That’s a problem that publishers would have to look at in-house, to see where things could be tightened up. But the point is that these days, that is your problem, and the writer doesn’t have to be subject to it any longer–so why should they?

                • Well said, Ashley

                  The control to succeed or fail is in the authors hands with SP. An author doesn’t have to risk 12 months of hard work on a publisher, who, quite frankly, doesn’t always get it right.

                  My editor at K is now freelancing and I have used her for on one of my SP books. So I can even access the same editors as a TP.

                  Not only that, the $ are key. As a SP I receive a higher margin. Very important! Units sold is not what is important to an author. It’s the $ made. Something again those looking at NY Times or USA Today best selling lists forget.

                  Authors no longer have to be on these lists to be making the same, if not more money than TP authors on it. I know that I can give up my other job, not because of TP but because I became SP. In fact, I probably would not have a writing career without my SP. And no, I’m not a big TP author. I had 2 books with K and got dropped before book 2 even came out – why? I sold through my advance but I was published in 2011 as a debut author at $15 a book with a cover that did not reflect the genre I wrote in. I really didn’t stand a chance. That book went on to win a well known readers contest, and was nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Best First Historical, so it wasn’t a bad book. It was a TP who positioned it poorly and priced it badly.

                  Thank goodness I had the balls to understand they got it wrong. In early 2012 I SP a book that hit #1 Regency on Amazon and went into the top 500 overall (hit #31 overall on B&N). I made $35k off that 40k word novella in 2012. I published 2 others that same year – you do the maths.

                  The best thing K ever did for my career was drop me!

                  I am however, a hybrid author. I still TP too and I’m enjoying a relationship with my new publisher – why? Because they are taking the time to listen to me, and my feedback and knowledge of the market is valued. It’s a real JOINT partnership. My editor understands that it has to be this way or I go it alone. And I have found the relationship very beneficial as they have got my books in front of new readers.

                  Authors now have the power and control to decide what is right for them in their stage of their career. SP, or TP or Hybrid, as it should be. For without us, there is no publishing business.

                • I fail to understand the slam about indies and POD profitability. About 1/3 of my sales are POD Trade paperback, and they are MORE profitable than my mid-priced ebooks ($5.99-6.99), so about 1/2 of my profit is from the print editions.

                  I price both ebooks and print to generate about $4.00+ net revenue for novels. Since my later books in series are shorter than the first but I keep the print price the same (and it doesn’t seem to have an impact), they earn a good deal more per unit for print, and for ebook, too, since the first book in series is slightly cheaper.

                  I may not have sold very many yet (1200 units in the first year), but I’m just getting started. How many traditionally published authors earn $4.00+ per unit, in all formats? Without having to wait for their earnings? With low per-book startup costs that can be covered in year one?

            • You can’t know how many books are sold by Amazon but you can make some reasonable estimates based on numbers of reviews and sales ranks, variables that are both correlated with sales and that are both available by scanning Amazon’s website. I made my methodology clear in my blog.

              Estimating one unknown variable by its relationship to known variables is a standard procedure in statistics, physical science, social science and business. It is perfectly legitimate, and statistical estimates are generally preferable to ignorance. In my day job, it’s how I earn my living (and not a bad living).

              But you could always have some of the statistical analysts on your staff have a go at the problem and report their findings. A little peer review and debate is always a good practice.

            • We posted dozens of unknown, mega selling romance authors consistently hitting Amazon’s top 100, and making six figures off their Indie royalties on Laura Kaye’s blog. A blog post that you commented on dozens of times. http://laurakayeauthor.blogspot.com/2013/12/response-to-self-publishing-myth-and.html

              We also posted links to sales to rank charts on Laura’s blog. It is not difficult to estimate how many sales any particular rank is bringing in, which you should know, since this is your business/industry and you were already told this barely a month ago. There are hundreds of Indie authors sharing how many sales their books are bringing in, at every rank imaginable, there is no mystery to what a top 100 book is bringing sales/income wise.

        • I work in the accounting department of a publisher & retailer company. If you are paying 4$ per book, which doesn’t include illustration and the likes, I recommend you find yourself a new printer, because the one you have now is obliviously overpricing his services.

          • Elka, I was referring to the comment for printing ONLY 1000 copies which would generally by print on demand. If it was a larger print run done by traditional offset printing and it was a straight text book of about 304 pages or so; it would be closer to $1.00 depending on special effects on the cover.

            • If you are a publisher and you want to make profit, why would you even consider using POD, when you can make much larger profit on print run?
              I think is very misleading of you to use POD prices to make a point that The statement that it doesn’t cost a lot to print a book is ludicrous. without including the fact that the princes are not of a print run.

              • I was replying to the original comment about the person printing 1000 copies of a book. You wouldn’t print only 1000 copies via traditional offset most likely….maybe 1500 would be the minimum. I wasn’t trying to be misleading, I was responding to the example of only printing 1000 copies. Also if we’re talking about a book that might be publishing as an ebook initially with a simultaneous print book being released, it would most likely be POD. So those costs would be very accurate indeed.

                • The printers I know have minimum: 500 for offset printing. 20 for digital printing, and the price per unit is still lower than the price of POD (at least where I’m coming from, for the offset printing (we are a small country and we have small print runs), don’t know about the digital printing).

                • I don’t know what kind of books you’re talking about printing where you would print 500 copies by offset….are we talking about 304 page standard trim size books? You would always do that by POD, never offset. With digital printing, the units could be as low as one copy. I’m sorry I didn’t know what country you were from and maybe it is different where you are.

      • I’m a writer of romantic fiction, writing for one of the big UK/world publishers and two medium UK publishers (I write too fast for one publisher) and I don’t get anything nearly as low as $5,000.

        Have to say, I agree with all Steven Zacharius has said. I’m a hybrid writer as well as trad published, since I’ve re-published some old books (after careful re-editing) and a couple of ‘strays’ that didn’t fit anywhere. I’d not like to tackle self-publishing if I didn’t already have a known name.

        Even after over 20 years of being published, I think publishing is a very strange industry, as a business model.

        • Thank you Anna. It’s a horrible business model in the print end of the business because all books are returnable forever or until they are declared out of print. And all the accounts have to do to get full credit for their purchase is to rip the cover off the book and destroy the balance of the book. Many accounts don’t even have to send back the book covers to be scanned any longer. They submit what’s called an affidavit return and periodically the quantity being sworn to on the affidavit are spot checked. It used to be the reverse side of the cover would be scanned by a machine for counting the returns. Imagine laying out money and not knowing how many copies you’re going to get back. And every time we reprint a book because it’s selling well, again you get back more copies for another long period of time.

      • This is true. Anyone having a vague clue about this can see this is occurring with increasing frequency. The independent author controls everything and can have a cost of goods sold well within a profitable range.

  7. I can honestly say that none of her numbers shocked me. Not one bit.

    What did shock me were the comments people made. NOT ONE PERSON said anything about self-publishing after reading her post. There was no talk about how she was getting screwed by her publisher (and agent) or how bad were her abysmal earning percentages. All of them simply hoped to “do a little better” when it became their turn to get screwed. The author herself stated repeatedly how grateful she is for the publisher giving her this deal. Several of them chip in to say “Yup, I’m getting screwed too, but I’m also thankful.”

    It’s getting harder and harder for me to consider these people merely naive. Is this blind faith or a form of battered wife syndrome? Maybe they’re pledging a fraternity or something?

    “Thank you sir, may I have another!”-Kevin Bacon, Animal House

    • This reminds me of a post a hybrid author wrote, literally titled, “He beats me, but he’s my publisher.


      Since in the village where I lived my dad was one of the very few white collar workers, this meant my mother and my grandmother were forever saving women who ran away from home when they were two steps from landing in the emergency room… Only to see them go back to their husbands because “He beats me but he’s my man.” Or “He beats me because I’m not good enough.” Or “He beats me because he loves me so much.” Or even “Whom should he beat but his own.”

      Needless to say, the one thing my family told me, from – I think – before I could toddle (I could talk before I could walk. No. Don’t ask.) was “If your husband ever so much as slaps you, you leave. That day. And you don’t go back.”

      Unfortunately my family never knew about publishers and the status of the mid-list author.

    • I think the frat pledge most closely fits. They want the prestige of saying they were published. And granted, it is an achievement considering how many people get turned down. For some people, fame is more important than money. (Consider how many classic writers and painters died paupers, but were constantly invited to soirees, and happy with that.) The problem is, even this lady says she never gets sent on tours or invited to parties. So, not only is she not making money, she isn’t even getting fringe benefits.

      I take it back, maybe it is battered wife syndrome. lol

      • Forrest Gump said it best.
        “Stupid is as stupid does.”

      • it is an achievement considering how many people get turned down

        I’d argue it would be an achievement if it truly were a guarantor of quality–if the “curation” function the corporate industry and so many within it lay claim to were actually fulfilled. The problem, though, is that a lot of great books get turned down, and a lot of books that aren’t great get through. I don’t think it all just comes down to a bottom line/business line that people sometimes use to justify deals with Snooki et al.

        Getting a contract with a publisher might have once been an achievement, but now it’s merely a statistical anomaly.

        And one fewer and fewer readers care about every day.

    • “Is this blind faith or a form of battered wife syndrome?”

      Sadly, it’s human nature.

    • I wonder when it’s going to occur to people in traditional publishing that people whose mindset is to put up with the treatment described in the post aren’t the most creative, forward-thinking individuals out there. I.e. it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The books aren’t original, because they’re being done by people who unquestioningly accept what they are told.

  8. What a crock of s*** that we can’t allow a candid conversation about what an author makes. I’d be embarrassed too – when you say it out loud it’s truly ludicrous. It’s the same in every industry – from lumber to literature – if there’s a dollar to be made there’s some slick f@%!er figuring out how to get this hand on ninety-five cents of it.

    It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. Ugh.

  9. Well, I’ve been there. Penguin and SMP. It’s all true. Walking blindly into the situation, I had a lot of faith for a long time. I learned (slowly) that readers don’t buy your books if they haven’t heard of you, and that publishers only promote their stars.

    I now self-publish. Yes, I earn more now, but I still don’t make a living. It’s still a matter of becoming a household word, and Amazon also promotes only its bestsellers.

    Still, this is better. I have control and I’m mostly pretty happy.

  10. What I find interesting is that she got a five-figure advance instead of the current entry-level deal. (~$4000)
    Effectively, her deal is roughly comparable to what an indie makes selling 3 $2.99 books a day. Maybe 4.

  11. For all those upbraiding this author for choosing to go the traditional route, please remember that what she experienced was up until recently the *only* way to get published–so all those comments about how “stupid” and “abused” she is apply equally to every author ever, until recently.

    And not everyone is willing to self-publish, for reasons which are sufficient to themselves. The point is that today we have choices–the point is NOT to beat up on people whose choices aren’t ours.

  12. PG: Could the non-disclosure clauses also be to hush up publishers’ occasional failures to be as horrible as possible? You know, keep other authors from saying, “Hey, Stephen King didn’t have to give up a kidney if he didn’t earn out his advance. I want that deal too!”

    • Kevin – If the peasants receive too much information, the pitchforks are liable to come out.

      • “… there would be a revolution before morning.”

      • This is too true. I recall receiving a publisher’s brochure the first time around: it was meant for bookstores, listed titles being pushed by the publisher in front, and spelled out how much promotion the title would be getting. My own title was somewhere near the back. No promotion to speak of. I was very angry about that.
        My second publisher carefully did not supply me with their brochures.

    • Kevin, a legitimate publisher doesn’t hold the author responsible for not earning out their advance. That’s part of our risk of publishing a book. And by the way, we don’t even do joint accounting for multi book contracts. So each book is considered a separate entity. They don’t have to all earn out before the author earns additional royalties.

  13. Or they could be the publisher’s version of the company policy that says, “Thou shalt not tell other employees what your salary is.” Because, discontent in the ranks, y’know.

    • Ironically, in many jurisdictions it’s illegal to enforce such a policy (Even in an at-will jurisdiction!) in the workplace.

      • You know, I was going to say. I’ve never heard of it as being policy to not discuss salaries; just that it’s not what people discuss in polite company (or any company, for that matter).

        • In some of the places I’ve worked, not only is it against company policy but a fireable offense.

          • I have yet to read a company handbook that didn’t contain at least one legally questionable policy. At best *ahem* they contain guidelines which look like policies but aren’t because some clever attorney told the business people, “You can’t do that. You can try to convince them that you can, but you can’t, and if you try, you’ll be sorry.”

            That being said, it is only unlawful in some jurisdictions. In others such a policy is at least theoretically allowable. Courts are pretty hostile to them, though.

  14. She makes $.60 off each ebook sold. I make $1.82 off each $2.99 ebook I sell. Most of the time I’m making more in a month than she makes in a year. I hope it isn’t bragging, but some months I make double what she makes in a year.

    Have you heard of me? Have you purchased any of my books? Did you recently hear of my blog tour or my book signing? No, because I didn’t do any of those things.

    I’m at the bottom of my food chain, I’m a nobody and I’m making more in a month self publishing than she makes in a year.

    • Ditto. I make $4.00 off each ebook sold, in a less voluminous genre (Fantasy), and more off of POD. 1200 sales in a bit over a year.

      I’m right down there at the bottom of the food chain with you, though I intend to rise.

      • I haven’t been putting in the effort. I got to a place where I have a decent amount of money coming in every month (more than my full time job) and I’ve been very lazy about publishing new work.

        I now have several projects in the works thinking that I can pull the plug on the full time job in the near future.

        Good luck Karen!

  15. I don’t think people outside the industry would be surprised to learn that most traditionally-published authors make very little money.

    But they would be quite shocked to learn that, other than a handful of mega-bestsellers, most of the successful traditionally published authors–the same names they’ve seen on bookstore shelves for years–don’t make enough to live on, either.

    Many years ago, I was an engineering student with dreams of being a writer… until I accidentally ended up at the home of my favorite science-fiction writer, Jack Vance.

    He graciously tolerating my fan-squee enthusiasm, but when I told him I wanted to be a writer, he shook his head. He told me that, even at his level of fame and prominence, the money was lousy. That was why he had encouraged his son to be an engineer, and I should stick with that plan, too, instead.

    So I did.

    But then, twenty years later, Amazon released the Kindle… 🙂

    • Although it’s both apocryphal and not quite on point, this line of thought always makes me smile and think of the following quote:

      “Microsoft pissed off just one customer too many: Linus Torvalds.”

    • Paul, this is true of so many people I know from the prior generations. Very little value placed on their work. I have a book of Cordwainer Smith’s short stories that was published by NESFA Press after his death. This was a limited run of 2,000 books published over 10 years ago, and I think they (a non-profit) still have some left.

      Considering the influence this gentleman’s work had on me and many others – it’s mind-boggling. I doubt he made more than $2,000 throughout his lifetime from his writing.

  16. To be fair to publishers (I know, right?)…

    This is common practice all across the business world. Employees are always forbidden from discussing their salary with coworkers. Employers are always eager to ensure that nobody knows what anyone else makes, so that favors can be granted, backs can be scratched, and discrimination can live another day (and hence if it’s all kept secret they can’t be sued for systematically paying any particular gender, race or age group less than another). The only thing they can’t quite keep a lid on are the industry salary surveys, but often you have to switch employers to get the bump to current market rate.

    Publishers are no different. I suspect a lot of them also are… not very good at calculating royalties… so actual open-book scrutiny on what authors are getting paid might be a bad thing for them.

    • I suspect a lot of them also are… not very good at calculating royalties… so actual open-book scrutiny on what authors are getting paid might be a bad thing for them.

      Oh, come on, now… Publisher’s royalty calculations are always 100% accurate. If they weren’t, authors would catch on quick, because authors can always check the accuracy of their royalty statements against Nielsen BookScan.

      In a recent Facebook conversation, when I mentioned how great it was to have real-time, accurate visibility into my print sales through the CreateSpace and LightningSource dashboards, the CEO of second-string publishing house Kensington assured me that BookScan let traditionally published authors do the same, and that BookScan’s numbers were always accurate to within 10-20%.

      Oh, wait…



      Oops. 😉

      • LOL.

        Why do they even bother? They just keep embarrassing themselves.

      • LOL @ those links. 🙂

        But yeah, I don’t think many publishers are very good at accounting. Most authors are afraid to challenge it because for, well, forever, they would be blackballed by NY publishing if they got the publisher audited as part of a suit to recover missing royalties.

        It’s one reason I am always amused by the “old school” published authors who are defending the traditional publishers and publishing model so vociferously. Sure, they might have gotten a six figure advance, but I would be willing to bet that they still didn’t get paid for everything of theirs that the publisher actually sold. And the more of the authors books they sold, the larger the scale of the potential theft, really, in terms of real dollars. Silly authors.

        • This is just outright incorrect. You’re spreading total misinformation with this kind of statements. Royalty programs are extremely sophisticated and the data is pulled in from sales systems from the biggest magnitude…generally SAP. There is no room for error in royalty reporting. Publishers have a fiduciary (legal) responsibility to report royalties accurately.

          • I have been involved with dozens of large-scale licensing audits. Never. EVER. ONCE. has one been without error. A large minority had errors significant enough to make it worth the licensor’s while to conduct the audit simply in terms of pure cost/benefit, let alone the intangible value. More than a few – and these were with honest companies who were actually trying to live up to their obligations – had so much accumulated error that the licensee-pays clause of the audit provision kicked in.

            Since I am still extending to you the courtesy of assuming you are neither a purposeful liar nor a madman, I will take it as given you didn’t mean that no mistakes ever happen at all. But while this may apply to your company – I won’t call you a liar without evidence – it does not apply to publishing companies or other licensees in general, and asserting that it does makes you look very foolish to those who know better.

            • Marc I don’t think I’m looking foolish. Royalty errors are very small with legitimate publishing companies…and I’m talking about the larger publishers that I’m familiar with. There are sometimes discussions and negotiations about the amount of money being held as a reserve for returns; but that’s a judgment call….that’s not an error. I can’t remember an audit in the last fifteen years where we have had an author find an error in our royalties. The systems are very sophisticated and there are many reconciliation tools that we use when we import sales files to make sure we capture every sale. I wasn’t referring to licensing sales since that’s not our primary business. Thank you for giving me the courtesy that I’m not a madman or a purposeful liar. I also assure you that I’m not foolish.

      • Thank you Paul for referring to us as a second string publisher. Very thoughtful of you. Kensington is the last large independent publishing company in this country that is still in the mass market business. Yet on a daily basis we have to compete with the Big 4 publishers. We employ 90 people and have sales of close to $100,000,000 so I don’t know that by you referring to us as a second string publisher you’re showing your lack of knowledge about the industry or you’re just being inconsiderate for no apparent reason. I should also add of the remaining large publishing companies; they are almost all billion dollar conglomerates that are foreign owned. So I would think that most people would be grateful that there is still a large family owned American publishing company left in this business.

        I’ve been willing and have been having open dialog about self-publishing in my blog and I respond to all emails, probably more than any other CEO in publishing. I even take time to respond to misinformation that you’re spreading.

        The comment I made about Bookscan is that they are capturing approximately 80% of all point of sale information in the U.S. The article that you attached was from January 2013. Before 2013 Bookscan did not capture sales from WalMart, one of the largest book retailers in the world. I also mentioned in my post to you that Bookscan did not capture sales to libraries. So the fact that this author’s sales in January of 2013 were less than her royalty statement is not any surprise, especially if it included sales from Canada and other foreign countries as well and most probably ebooks, which are not captured by Bookscan yet.

        Steven Zacharius
        President and CEO
        Kensington Publishing Corp.

        • Hi again, Steven,

          There was a little snark to my comments, I’ll grant you. Mainly because of what you told HuffPo, that self-published books shouldn’t be mixed in with traditionally-published books on Amazon & B&N, but should instead be shoved into their own category or site. I think that was an obnoxious and misinformed public statement on your part, but let’s move on.

          Because we both love books and bookstores. We both want to see writing thrive. And, while I don’t particularly need or want a publisher, there are a lot of writers who still do.

          I honestly would be thrilled to see an American company like yours, whose primary focus at the highest level *is* actually the books we love, become that publisher that transforms the industry. I would love to see Kensington becomes a model success for all the other publishers to emulate. That would make me proud.

          How would you do that? I don’t know, but smarter folks than me–folks who understand both self-publishing and traditional publishing well–have given this some thought.

          Please take a look at these suggestions from Hugh Howey about how a publisher can not only stay relevant, but find great success, in the age of ebooks and online sales:


          I, and I’m sure PG and everyone else here, too, would love to hear your thoughts on what Hugh says. Let’s all set aside our quibbles and see if we can figure out a future together. Because without writers as partners, I have to say, the future looks quite grim for traditional publishing.

          Paul Draker
          Indie author and CEO
          Mayhem Press LLC

          PS – Nielsen Bookscan still appears to be some kind of bad publishing industry in-joke. Other authors seem to agree.

          • What I said was that in MY perfect world that self-published books would be separated from books that were done by traditional publishing on websites so that the reader can make an informed choice as to what they’d like to buy.

            • Fair enough, but I repeat the comment I made on the original post here – which is:

              I could get behind this idea too, but only because I think that if it had much effect at all it would have the exact opposite effect that the original poster thinks it would.

              Namely, that people would gravitate to the lower-priced, greatly-more-diverse, faster-reacting independent publishing section, to traditional publishing’s detriment.

              I guess we’ll find out eventually.

            • …in MY perfect world that self-published books would be separated from books that were done by traditional publishing on websites so that the reader can make an informed choice…

              Yep, that’s exactly what you said, and I still find it offensive.

              Because readers are making informed choices, Steven.

              They peruse Amazon sample chapters, check reviews, and share word of mouth recommendations with each other. And then they buy the books they want.

              To call them “misinformed” because 25% of those books are self-published now is condescending. The simple fact is, as long as a book is well-written, well-edited, and professionally presented, they just don’t care who the publisher is.

              But that’s actually an advantage for Kensington, too, if you look at it right.

              You’re a plucky small American company competing with the Big-5? Consider this fact:

              In a reader’s eyes, the Big-5’s billion-dollar-backed brands carry no more weight than yours.

              If Kensington is innovative, agile, and forward-thinking in how you work with authors, you can outmaneuver the behemoths and grow your business at their expense.

              • I don’t think I said the buyers of books are misinformed….if I did I think you’re taking it out of context….but it was so long ago that I can’t even remember now. People are obviously free to buy whatever they like. Amazon and other sites like Nook and iBooks are great for this.
                We are a plucky publisher and that’s why we’ve been able to compete with the giants in this industry for 40 years now. I hope….and now my son has joined us as well….that we will always continue to be agile and more creative than the giants. They can always outspend us if they want. We have to think differently. Our personal relationship with authors is one of the things that distinguishes us from the competition. There isn’t an author who can’t pick up the phone or email me. It’s why I spend time here and blogging in general and answer any question posed to me…..or give my opinion on publishing. And in the reader’s eyes, other than Harlequin which is a unique brand…..imprints carry very little weight….we have a few including Zebra which have a great reputation in romance and some of the erotica imprints as well…..but most people never would buy a book buy an imprint…..so we agree on that.

        • Thanks for all your posts, Steven! I see Kensington publishes westerns. You should talk to me about my next project. 🙂

      • I was totally unaware of the Bookscan counts being so off. I forwarded both links to my agent and he said it’s well known in the industry.

        • It’s not that Bookscan numbers are so far off; they aren’t. You have to understand what Bookscan measures. They are measuring point of sale at the retail level or cash register sales. Since libraries don’t sell books, they are not part of the equation….nor would foreign book sales be counted. They have an algorithm they use for estimated independent bookstores based on the number that actually report. But before January of 2013, Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, was not counted. So any sales from before January 2013 could be off substantially.

        • Bookscan’s numbers are accurate, but don’t measure what everybody says they measure.

    • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

      Writers are NOT employees of publishers – if they were, they would qualify for salaries and insurance benefits.

      The problem is that writers know how few spots are available in traditional publishing; they fear being the squeaky wheel who doesn’t get the slot because another author is available at about the same quality, for about the same amount of money, and who WON’T squeak.

      • Granted, but the same fear is what keeps regular employees from sharing, as well. The policy at all my salaried positions has been that talking about compensation was grounds for termination. (And sadly, not all employees qualify for benefits.)

        Not too different from the author who knows they won’t get another contract if they talk about their current one.

        That’s my point – employees and contract workers of all stripes (including authors, who are contract workers of a certain flavor) face this tactic from employers.

        • You’re right. Talking about salary is not grounds for termination where I work (as far as I know), but it’s heavily frowned upon. Yet it comes up a lot at the water cooler, especially when management claims they have no money for raises, but then they turn around and offer big bucks to the few people keeping the show running. (You know, the ones who, if they left, would REALLY expose how badly the company is managing its affairs.)

          In my experience, most businesses are just really poorly run and intimidating employees is just one way for poor managers to keep control over the employees. Employees let businesses get away with so much just because they’re afraid to speak up or seek better conditions (or learn new skills). I think there’s a certain level of comfort people get used to…even when they’re not happy with the conditions they work in. It’s really quite sad when you think about it.

          • There are both honest and dishonest reasons for businesses to keep compensation confidential.

            Honest reasons: picture a group of 5 people in a “slot” (say, senior programmer) that has a salary range. One has many more years of experience than another, both have been with the company for three years. One is a new hire whose salary took a bump to entice him and is now near the top of the bracket. One is a less skilled programmer who has other related skills not otherwise well represented or utilizable in this team, and one is a jerk who depletes team morale, despite his skills.

            They do not have, and should not have, mechanical salary points based on something like seniority. Instead, they should have salaries based on a combination of value to the company, previously set expectations (like promises to the new hire, or grooming the wider-skilled person to take a different position), and ability to meet/exceed goals vs problems.

            People aren’t interchangable cogs. When salary info is leaked, they don’t see the whole mix of value and future possibilities — they only see a single ranking, and it ALWAYS makes them unhappy, all of them, even the ones who come out highest (because now they have problems with their peers). It makes them doubt their own perceptions of their own worth and that of their teammates when all they see is today’s money, not their career and it’s path.

  17. Something this interesting post doesn’t mention is the effect of high-discount clauses. These cut the royalty on books sold at high discount (more than 55%, 60% or some other figure – contracts vary on this). Nowadays, a high proportion of sales are at high discount and the royalties on those are even lower than the small amount promised on normal sales. Plus the 25% on ebook sales is paid on the amout received by the publisher – ie after the retailer has taken their cut. Plus, even when your book has earned out the advance, you are only paid royalties every 6 months, 3 months in arrears. No wonder so many authors are going indie now there is a real alternative.

    • Diana,

      I can only speak to Kensington, but we have very few deep discount sales. No major account is sold as deep discount. The only time this happens is if it’s a special sale generally on a small amount of copies to a catalog house or something like that….but very small numbers.
      Yes of course the 25% is on net receipts….this allows publishers to change the price to put it into promotions at a lower price. If it was 25% of the list price and we were to put it into a promotion at 1.99 and be paying a royalty on 9.99 we would be losing money on each sale. Our digital first lines are royalties every three months. Traditional books are every six months.

      • Out of curiosity, do your contracts spell out exactly what “net” means?

        • J.A. our contracts do specify what net receipts are in terms of ebook sales. I don’t remember the exact definition but it’s the amount we receive from the ebook retailer net of discount and any credits for returns they made due to defects, which are just about non-existent. It doesn’t add anything else into the equation. Costs for conversions or any manufacturing are not included in the definition of net receipts.

  18. She says, “I did not start getting paid until eighteen months after my book hit the shelves. From what I hear, this is completely normal for an average traditionally published author who hasn’t hit any of the bestseller lists.”

    And that wasn’t the worst of it.

    • I’ve heard some of this stuff before (can’t remember whether it was mostly in rumors on blogs or not). So it’s not that new to me. But for some reason I’m more horrified by it now than I was years ago. I guess we all just accepted that that was the way things were back then if you wanted to be in this industry. It’s nice to have choices now. It makes me mad to think that things could have been different if people had just spoken up sooner. Perhaps writers could have pushed for change if they weren’t so used to the poor treatment by publishers. Maybe.

      • Well, now there are alternatives and the spread between traditional and the alternatives is a known quantity.
        For example, the first book earned out the $10k advance in two years, at $0.60 a copy so it sold something over 15k copies at $10.
        Alternately, she might have reached the same income by selling 3k copies at $5. Even granting that the publisher imprint might have increased sales by 500%, she still would be ahead financially with the options available today that weren’t available in days of yore.

        It may be that the traditional contract means more people are reading her book, but those extra readers aren’t resulting in more money for her but, rather, less money. She is in effect paying out of pocket for those added people to read her book.

        Things *have* changed.

    • Liz the terms for how often royalty payments are made are the same whether it’s a NYT bestselling author or a first time writer.

  19. Two words:
    Stockholm Syndrome.

  20. I’ve signed contracts over the years for about 30 books, and I’ve discussed contracts with many other writers for years. And non-disclosure clauses are not common, as far as I know. I’ve signed non-disclosure clauses for specific things (ex. a ghostwriting deal; a media tie-in deal wherein I received information about a popular game that would not be disclosed to the public until the following year; the notorious Harlequin pseudonym clause, long since abandoned, and speifically designed to prevent Harq authors from emigrating to other publishers), but not often and not as a general prohibition against discussing my own business as I please.

    But it may be that general non-disclosure clauses have become common in boilerplates in recent years (Kris Rusch might know, since she’s collecting current contracts), like so many egregious clauses, and get left in publishing contracts which are negotiated incompetently. (The last time someone sent me a boilerplate was 2007; since then, my attorney works from the “Resnick boilerplate” we established with my current publisher at that time.) After all, there are plenty of writers who are stunned and appalled upon discovering, when a problem arises, the real-world ramifications of a clause which their literary agent advised them to sign.

    And everyone I know who has signed with Amazon’s publishing divisions (Montlake, etc.) has mentioned having to sign a non-disclosure clause.

  21. I’m always surprised by the surprised reaction to money posts like this author’s. This kind of information is readily accessible to anyone who does their research about the biz. I was living in Sicily in pre-interet days with lousy mail service and no English-language bookstores within a day’s journey by land or boat, and -I- managed to find out that the likely scenario for my first Har/Sil book (which was where I was trying to break in, and where I sold my first 3 books the following year) would be an advance for $3,000-$4,000, paid in two installments (these days, most houses pay in 3-4 installments, which info is also easy to research), with a 6% royalty based on cover price (the mmpb/tp/hc/ebk breakdown at most houses these days is also easy to research), and that royalties wouldn’t start being paid for a year or two after publication.

    This kind of information was out there are not difficult to find, for anyone serious about the business, even back in the days when it usually took some shoulder-to-wheel to get information. Now with information readily available to anyone with a WiFi connection anywhere in the world… The stuff this author is relating about beginner advances, payout schedules, royalty rates, etc. is very easy to find.

    Moreover, these days, plenty of writers are posting income figures publicly for specific projects or for the fiscal year, and Brenda Hiatt Barber’s “Show Me The Money” project has been going strong for years. Blogs aimed at educating writers also talk regularly about the contractual clauses that control licensing rights and payout schedules, and writers have complained publicly for years about “industry standard” roylaties for mmpb/tp/hc/ebk, which are pretty much the same throughout the majors and usually similar in most smaller operations, too.

    Nothing the author has said is new or hard to find or surprising. So I’m always surprised by the surprised reactions to posts like this.

    • Reading the cached version of this post, it’s clear that the author was trying to educate *readers* and not other writers.

      Parsing between the lines, it sounded like she was asked frequently to give out free paperback versions of her books and the like since she was obviously a “rich author.”

      I think that overall, many readers don’t understand the reality of the financials of publishing. There’s still a lot of “oh, you’re a published author? You must be rolling in money!” out there.

      • Well, if that’s the case–yes, most readers have no idea what authors make or how we earn. We’ve all met (many) readers who think we get every penny of the $7.99 they pay for a paperback, rather than just 8% of that sum (as calculated against repayment of whatever the advance was, and after the reserve-against-returns period has passed, etc.). And we’ve all met (many) readers who assume we’re rich, since the novelists who get written up in major media are Nora Roberts, JK Rowling, Stephen King, and James Patterson–not Laura Resnick!

        • Most people probably have no idea where their paycheck comes from. Americans don’t understand finance or how businesses make money(a broad brush, yes, but the media has reported on this issue for quite a while now, so much so that it’s a running joke among Americans that we don’t know math).

  22. I sold my first novel for $3000, after five years’ effort, which averages out to $600 a year. In my first multi-book contract the publisher held the pb royalty to 4 percent, or 1 1/2 cents per copy sold.

    I’m better paid nowadays, but in the beginning traditional publishing didn’t even pay minimum wage. Evidently, it still doesn’t.

  23. Well, the link is no longer active. I wish I’d printed it out!

  24. ok, I can’t answer any other comments here…it just takes too long to find them the way this software works. Maybe later. Or if you want to add the comments to my blog on self publishing, I can comment there as well. At least when I get an email saying there’s a comment I can find it right away 🙂

    • Steve, (you’ll find that we go by first names here at TPV)

      I’ve been watching this thread progress for the last two days and I’ve learned a few things by reading your comments, so I hope that you’ll stick around or visit again as you’re giving us all a look from the CEO point-of-view and that is not something we get here very often. I’d also venture that you’re a brave man to stick your head up here as this is the home base for many of the self-published community. Most are quite passionate about their craft as I’m sure you’ve already figured out.

      That said I’d like to suggest a few things to you. For insight into the “self-publishing company’s” that you refer to I would direct you to the blog of David Gaughran, either in one of his many posts here or at his own website. There you will find an excellent breakdown of how they operate and why they are detested by the community here. I would also spend some time here on TPV and also on the blog of Kristin Katheryn Rusch. If you’re looking for information on self-publishing, from the point-of-view of those seriously doing so, you won’t find a better source.

      • I’ll second this.

        Steven is here by choice speaking to a well-informed audience biased toward self-publishing, and he’s engaging in the debate with us openly, and that’s laudable.

        It deserves some respect.

        It’s also an opportunity to share information and points of view openly, and that benefits both authors and publishers in the long run.

        I hope this kind of transparency because more widespread in the industry.

      • I absolutely will Randall….and please call me Steve.

        And thank you Paul, I appreciate that.

        • Steve, my first sale many years ago was to Zebra, and Kensington has always had a special place in my heart. I was saddened to read of your father’s death, but finding these comments and reading them this morning has been an illuminating experience. I think Kensington has a great future ahead of it with you at the helm. And that makes me glad.

          Thanks for taking the time to converse here.

          • Pooks, thank you very much for those nice words. My dad also took the time to meet and greet all the authors if they came into the office or at conventions.

            I hope to keep Kensington a privately owned family business forever. It’s something unique. As far as I know we are the only trade publisher with three generations in the business and that really is a source of pride for me. I’ve got two grandchildren and another on the way and I’m hoping the publishing business will be something that they to will want to come into one day.

  25. Steven Zacharius hardly needs much back-up from a small press publisher, hybrid author and former Big 5 author like me, but here goes: What I’m reading from most of the posters reveals their lack of knowledge about the traditional publishing business. I sold my first Big Pub book nearly 30 years ago, and authors didn’t talk about contract terms then, either. It’s nothing new. You don’t want your pals to know you’re making more than them or less than them; your editors and agents don’t want authors calling up to complain that “Jenny Sue gets $5K more per book than I do, and I want to know WHY!” which forces an editor to admit that the caller is a B-lister while Jenny Sue has been singled out by editorial and marketing as a future star author.

    About editorial staff: even in my small press, 3-4 people touch every book that goes through the system. And that’s a SIMPLE production system. For a big publisher, add other essential staff re: distribution, sales reps, foreign rights, film rights — the departments and services that major publishers routinely incorporate in their platforms. It’s a huge operation and yes, lots of people handle a book on its way through the system.

    If you want to complain about traditional publishing, fine. But at least learn something about the realities of it, first.

    • ahhhh, thank you Deb. I’ve finally gotten some support 🙂
      Can you mention your company?

  26. Steven Zacharius,

    I’m impressed with how you’ve been hanging in through this difficult discussion. I believe that you believe what you’re saying, and I agree with some other commenters that reading some of the popular self-publishing blogs would be educational for you.

    By the way, I’m one of those six figure self-published authors who was never traditionally published, not for want of trying. But my books, despite two agents trying, did not fit the market.

    I’m going to make two points to you that I don’t think have been mentioned.

    1. While there’s no proof that there are discrepancies (either deliberately or through mistakes by the publishers) in royalties paid and earned, authors are in a position to compare sales of their self-published books that are very similar (including covers) to other books they’ve written that are traditionally published. Common logic would assume that the ebooks sales of their traditional books would be larger. After all, those books have the promotional backing of the publisher. Yet, their self-publishing ebook sales far outweigh their traditional ebook sales. When this happens, an author can’t help but be suspicious. And it happens a lot.

    2. As someone who is a consultant to companies as well as an author, I see that it’s common that upper management does not really know how the lower level employees think and feel about conditions in the company. I’m going to give you the same advice I give them. In a non-threatening manner, go talk to those people. (In your case, the authors you’ve acquired in the last several years.) Tell them you’d like to know about their experience with your company. Say, “Tell me what has been positive for you, and also in what you feel could have been (and could be) improved.” Truly listen to them.

    I’m not attacking Kensington when I say that in the last year or so, I’ve heard/read so much negative feedback from your authors, that I now advise newbie authors NOT to sign with Kensington. That wasn’t always the case. Nor is it the case with traditional publishing across the board–although I always advise authors to first educate themselves about traditional and self-publishing and make an informed (and intuitively right) decision for themselves.

    Debra Holland, Ph.D
    NY Times Bestselling Author

    • Perhaps the newbie authors you’re referring to that weren’t happy with us are authors that we let go after their contract expired? There is no way they had royalty issues with us because we always answer any question from any author and we share sales figures all the time.
      As far as the discrepancy between their own self-published ebook sales versus what a publisher puts out….how can you compare the two when most self-published books are priced at a fraction of the publisher’s prices. The self-published author doesn’t have to cover an advance which could be very substantial. You’re obviously going to sell more books at 1.99 or 2.99 or even $.99 as many self-published books are priced….and yes I know there are many that are higher…but very few that are priced near what the publisher prices their ebooks at. So I don’t think it’s a given that a publisher’s ebooks will sell more than self-published books. If all things were equal and they were the same price; yes absolutely they would. Publishers have opportunities to market books online that self-published authors don’t.

      I don’t know where you’ve read that some authors are unhappy with Kensington. I would venture a guess that they are probably authors where we have terminated contracts at the end because the books didn’t perform.

      BTW, I know every single employee in our company. In many cases I know their families as well and have been to weddings and Bar Mitzvah’s and whatever. Out of 90 employees we probably have close to 30 that have been with us over 20 years and that includes just about every department head. My son and I walk around the office and talk to employees all the time and my door is always open for an employee or I’m willing to meet with any author or talk to them on the phone. I doubt you’ll find another CEO who is willing to do the same with a newbie author.

      Fortunately there are choices for writers and they can elect to self-publish. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I think the bigger and more successful an author gets, the more likely it is that they are going to want to be with a traditional publisher. I think the facts show that. If you look at the printed NYT list, how many of the mega authors are self-published? It’s very hard to become a major author by self-publishing…sure you can make money and some of you obviously make a good living. But you’re leaving out 70% of the market by not being in print and POD just doesn’t cut it….it’s not the same thing as being in WalMart or Target or B&N. It’s not the same thing as being able to sell your books in different languages around the world or to sell the rights to large print or the book clubs. There are many advantages to traditional publishing that self-publishing does not allow.
      Self-publishing is primarily an ebook format and right now, that’s still only 30% of the marketplace and the growth has leveled off for the time being. And yes I am using AAP figures since that’s what’s available. Nobody has access to figures from Amazon so we don’t know the size of the ebook marketplace. We don’t even know if Amazon makes money selling books…it’s all closely guarded information. The bulk of their money comes from their web services divsision.
      I think you’re making a mistake about not recommending new authors to Kensington. I doubt there is another house that publishes as many new authors as we do. I’m assuming you’re not an agent and you’re just discussing this with authors that you might talk to. We have many well regarded agents that bring us new authors every week. Kensington has the reputation of being able to build authors and we will continue to do so.

      • I did not mean for my two points to become lumped together, so let me clarify. Point one about the comparison of an author’s self-published and traditional published sales was NOT directed at specifically Kensington, but about traditional publishing across the board.

        Point number two is about you speaking with your AUTHORS not your employees.

        As for the authors who are unhappy with Kensington, unfortunately they are currently under contract with your company, not authors who are let go. In fact, these authors would probably rejoice to be released from their contracts AND have the rights back to their books. Or they’d like to stay and have changes in cover designs and marketing, which would better position their books for success.

        But again, I urge you to talk to your authors (first published in the last few years) and find out for yourself. Also speak to authors who have chosen to leave Kensington to self-publish and find out why.

        And unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions, authors are also losing respect for agents. (Rather then take the time to spell out why, I’ll urge you to read the blogs and find out for yourself.) Therefore, your point that agents are bring their clients to you doesn’t help your argument.

        I’m pointing out these things because I sincerely would like traditional publishing to succeed in ways that are profitable and satisfying for both the companies and the authors. I think it is possible, but publishers are going to have to change!

        I do urge you to read Hugh Howey’s blog post on this, which a commenter recommended. I’d especially like Kensington, which does take a chance on newer authors far more than the others, to succeed. But much of that future success lies on your shoulders, and the more you open your mind to the realities as many authors see them, and the possibilities for the future, the more Kensington can position itself as the traditional publisher who is the leader in publishing.

        • At our editorial meeting next week I will ask the editors which of our authors have left to be self-published. Off the top of my head, I don’t know of any. We have some that are hybrid authors where they self-publish and publish with us as well.
          As far as authors wanting different covers, this is always a topic of discussion. Our art directors have been doing this for a long long time and they know what the accounts are looking for. We hope we know what sells well. If a major account doesn’t like a cover we look at changing it to make it better.
          As I said I will read Hugh’s post.
          As for the authors that are under contract with us that are unhappy….we publish a lot of authors…so you’re making it sound like there are a lot of unhappy authors and that just isn’t the case. I see the authors at Romantic Times, at RWA, MWA, Thriller Fest….our editors see them….they attend our parties….I’ve met very few unhappy authors. And if they’re unhappy, they should let me know. They all have my email. I’m sure there are very few authors that wouldn’t want more marketing. Our publicists and marketing people are wonderful. Our digital marketing director is loved by every author she works with and I’m very accessible. I’m looking forward to reading your book.

          • At our editorial meeting next week I will ask the editors which of our authors have left to be self-published.

            That is a good first step, but if you think about it, I think you’ll see the problem with that approach straightaway.

            However, never let it be said I didn’t occasionally just play it straight, so if you don’t want to guess, what I mean is:

            1) The editors have a huge incentive to spin this in ways that make the ultimate question you are trying to ask impossible to answer. They may not do it on purpose, even. You sound like an honorable man and I’m sure you try to employ honorable people. But I’m a lawyer (and, incidentally, a trained hypnotherapist) and I’ve seen a whole lot of people do just that in my day.

            2) The authors who are unhappy with you have a huge incentive not to tell you unless and until they get so unhappy that they jump ship. If they have several books with tight reversion clauses with you, they have an even bigger incentive to grin and bear it whilst looking for an escape hatch. While I urge you to take Debra’s advice, you are going to have to work for it, and casually asking, “Hey, everything okay?” at the company picnic is not going to give you reliable information.

            • Marc I’m going to assume you’re not familiar with the way Kensington operates. We are a family owned company for 40 years now. My dad founded the company and worked until 87 years old when he passed away three years ago. I joined him 22 years ago when he was in the process of contemplating selling the company to Harlequin and his much younger partner had passed away suddenly from cancer. I was in the printing business before and worked for Rolling Stone magazine before that, in charge of manufacturing. I became in charge of Kensington in 2005 and my son Adam joined us about six years ago, first working on the West Coast, and a year ago moving into my father’s office. We’ve had offers many times to sell the Company over the years including to one of the biggest online retailers; which I quickly declined.
              I don’t just ask people at the company picnic how things are. We have two floors, about 35,000 square feet and I know every single person in the firm. I see them every day in meetings and attend almost all meetings. Running a family owned business is different than working for Random House or S & S or any of the other mega conglomerates.
              Our editors have nothing to hide from me. I trust them all implicit. If I ask them who left us to go into self-publishing they will tell me. I approve just about every acquisition that we make and/or decline many possible authors that we are thinking about publishing.
              If an authors jumps ship as you put it, we still have their rights for the period that the contract stated. We don’t stop trying to sell their books. We’re in business to make money and when an author leaves us or co-publishes with somebody else and makes it really big time….I’m happy for them. We’ve published Sylvia Day for years and she just got one of the hugest deals in publishing from St. Martin’s Press. I’m thrilled for her. Not only that, it makes our backlist titles even more valuable to Kensington because we’ll sell more copies. We’re not vindictive. I don’t have anything against writers who self-publish but I have to say from the tone from most of the people in this blog….it’s very bitter towards traditional publishing for some reason. So be it. The fact that you’re a lawyer I won’t comment on 🙂

              • Steve,

                The easiest thing to do to determine how happy/ unhappy your current authors are is to do an anonymous survey. My old firm used to do that.

                You can ask a few questions such as:

                * Were you given content editing? Y/N
                * Rate the content editing (1 = poor / 5 = excellent)
                * Were you given copy editing? Y/N
                * Rate the copy editing
                * Rate your satisfaction with Kensington.
                * What areas are good? (editing, marketing, contract, etc. etc. / select 3)
                * What areas can use improvement? (select 3)
                * Are you planning to submit more works to us after your contract is up? (Y/N)
                * If not, why not? (pay is low, I don’t get along with my editor, contract is bad, I want to self-publish, etc. / select up to 2)
                * Any other questions you feel like adding.

                BTW – my former firm did a similar anonymous survey with employees. (Mine was a professional services firm, so the survey was structured very differently from the above, obviously.) What really stunned the upper management was that over 70% of the employees responded that they plan to leave within two years. They had no idea that so many people were that dissatisfied. The usual / standard turnover in that particular industry is about 25-30%.

                You may find your survey result very helpful in figuring out how you can better partner with your authors.

      • Steven, I’m posting this anonymously because Kensington still has the rights to some of my books. I’m afraid that if you knew who was publicly stating this, you would retaliate by refusing the reversion I am owed under my contract.

        The only reason I’m posting the information here is that my conversations with other Kensington authors assure me that at least 10 other authors could write this exact same post using this exact same language. I have altered a few items to obscure my identity, but I have not bent the underlying truth.

        If you’re serious about everything you’ve said here, you don’t know what is going on inside your own company.

        I requested reversion on the titles I have with you a long time ago. Your time to respond to requests under the terms of my contract passed months ago, and I have yet to hear from your legitimate publishing company despite my multiple attempts to get an answer.

        I was published under the Kensington debut romance program. Your legitimate publishing company acquired my books without telling us that you were already planning to scrap the program and therefore no matter how my books performed I would not be getting a second contract.

        My editor for those two books, John Scognamiglio, did not edit my books. The only response he gave to my second book was “Good.” I admit that I changed the one word I got from him here on the off chance that his single-word edit letter to me would identify me, but the friends I talked to who had him from an editor say that one to five words is the typical response he gave to their books. John is notorious among Kensington authors for not editing books.

        You gave my books covers that were made from $10 pieces of stock art. The covers did not match the genre of the books.

        The only reason I am not auditing my royalty statements is because it means my rights will revert to me sooner and I can start making real money off your titles.

        Are you serious about wanting your company to be a legitimate publishing enterprise?

        Go choose 10 random books from your catalog that John Scognamiglio has worked on and ask him to send you the edit letters he sent the authors. See how much deep editing he is really doing to make those books better.

        Ask your royalty department to send you the royalty statements for all the books that sold less than 10 digital copies in the last six months, and then perform an in-house audit on those titles. (If you’re not performing in-house audits on your own royalty statements, how do you know they are accurate?)

        Go tell your legal department that when a contract says they have X number of days to response to a reversion request, they should respond in no more than X number of days.

        I wish you and traditional publishing all the best, but you are either lying on this page or do not understand what is happening inside your company. Neither bodes well for the long-term future of Kensington.

        • I would have preferred that you wrote to me or called me directly, or spoken to our publisher or your editor to ask about your reversion if you were having a problem. I don’t retaliate against reverting books where our license is up and we are out of inventory like our contract states. If we haven’t gotten back to you, please email me directly and I will find out what the problem is.

          To castigate John Scognamiglio, one of the highest regarded editors in the business publicly like this is really uncalled for. He has dozens and dozens of authors who will tell you how amazing he is to work with; including #1 NYT bestselling author Lisa Jackson.

          Meanwhile, I have emailed your letter to my management committee which is made up of four other additional people and we will look into your comments.

          We conduct in house audits on our royalty system all the time. More importantly, we are audited by Deloitte and have been for probably 30 years and they audit the royalty system before they will sign off on a certified audit. Again, we have never had a problem. Additionally, I receive every single data feed from each ebook retailer and browse through them to look for trends. Yes there are many books that sell 10 copies….there are also many that sells many tens of thousands of copies. But all of this is verified.

          Anyhow if you’d like to email me directly at szacharius@kensingtonbooks.com, I will look into your reversion status. I know there are a large number of reversion letters that have been going out over the past two weeks. I have to admit that reversions are not the top priority of a contracts department. Our first priority is getting contracts out for new books and any other contractual agreements that the company is involved with. There have been authors who have emailed me about reversion requests and I get them an answer immediately. I agree with you that the process should be faster and done on a timely basis.

      • I think the 30% AAP numbers may work for some books but in genre fiction (which is what I write. I see distribution that is closer to:

        * 45% ebook
        * 30% print book
        * 25% audio book

        Keep in mind that I’m big-five traditionally published.

    • Debra, I’d like to add that I just ordered a paperback copy of your book The Naked Truth about Self-Publishing; so I’m looking forward to reading what you and your co-authors have to say.

      • Thanks, Steven. I appreciate your willingness to study the self-publishing marketplace.

        • Oh, and I forgot a point. Yes, self-publishers may be losing out on much of the print market. However, I don’t care. Well, I care, but I’m making far more money as a self-published author (with POD books) than I would with a traditional publisher who had also put my books in print. So that argument won’t have much meaning for me. Would I like that kind of print distribution? Yes, of course. But not at the cost of what I make in royalties on my ebooks.

          • Debra makes a great point. The math is inescapable.

            Let’s say ebooks make up 30% of the market, while print is the other 70%.

            Giving up three quarters of the revenue from 30% of the market, only to earn 15% of the revenue from the other 70% of the market, makes no sense to a businessperson.

            • Let’s switch that just a bit and use Amazon’s most common royalty rate on ebooks, 70%, and assume somehow (this is extraordinarily generous) that the net royalty on all print is 15%. That gives us:

              .70 x .30 = .210

              .15 x .70 = .105

              So, assuming that these numbers are within hailing distance of reality, ebook revenues are worth twice as much to an author as print revenues. “Makes no sense” is a rather large understatement. 🙂

      • “The Naked Truth” is a great read for anyone in publishing. When friends see the cover’s romance-novel-bare chest on my Kindle I get some odd looks 😉 – but it contains some of the savviest self-publishing advice out there, from some of the smartest authors in the business.

        Debra, thank you and all the participating TIV authors for publishing that gem 🙂

        And please say hi to Theresa for me 🙂


  27. Hi Steven,

    Welcome back. I have a printing question about POD versus offset:

    I want intaglio (raised) letters stamped into my trade paperback and mass-market covers, metallic foil, and –on hardcovers– to specify size/font/placement of foil writing on spine (under dustcover).

    I can’t (yet) do those things with POD through LSI, CS, et al.

    What’s the minimum-size offset run where those things become available, and how do I go about researching it?

    PS – it’s an honest question. Please don’t respond with “get a publisher, that’s how.” 😉

    • Paul I would never answer you that way. We don’t do hardcover POD so I’m not sure with that question. We frequently do POD in mass market and trade however and we do use our excess covers from the regular print run when we have to do short reprints. But you can go to companies like Phoenix Color or Coral Graphics here in the NY area for cover printing and finishing and I’m sure they could do runs of 1000 or maybe even less. I think the cost would get prohibitive for foil stamping at a shorter run. The dies are costly and to amortize that cost over an even shorter run would cause you to have to increase the price of the book substantially.
      We don’t print less than 1500 copies in trade size and there are many printers who do this. We use Quad Graphics and Berryville Graphics. Quad also does mass market digital printing and they are the only ones I know that do this. I believe for mass market POD the shortest run is about 1000 copies as well.

      • Thank you, Steven. That’s very helpful.

        I’ll take a look at the companies you mention.

      • Steve,

        A few hours ago, I was at a California Barnes & Noble, planning with the CRM around an upcoming signing (my first). I forgot to ask her if this is allowed, but would love your opinion on it, too:

        Is serving alcohol at an author-signing event a good idea or not?

        There’s of course the liability concern (customer crashes on the way home, sues the author & store) but mainly, I’m wondering if serving free alcohol is likely to draw too many random folks who couldn’t care less about the author’s books.

        I’m not thinking jello shots, beer bongs, and tequila body shots here… more like wine and microbrews.

        The benefit of your experience with author events will be much appreciated.


        • Paul, I don’t think we’ve ever sponsored an event where we’ve served any alcoholic beverages. I didn’t even thing a store like B&N would allow it. Personally I’m not a big believe in book signings….that might be shocking, unless it’s in your local area. My experience is that they’re not worthwhile for the handful of people that will show up. If you’re a megastar that’s an entirely different ballgame. But if I were an author and only five or 10 people showed up, I would find it to be fairly awkward. I do like events where there are many authors co-hosting the panel or platform so you do get a wider audience.

          Sorry I can’t be of more help about the wine or beer.

          • Thanks for your thoughts. B&N may well nix the alcohol, as it’s a large corporation. I think some of the local community/indie bookstores might allow it, though.

            I agree with you completely on the nil financial value of book signings-unless an author is well-known enough to draw a crowd, or it’s local & we can invite a big crowd of our own.

            Still, it’s a fun way for us to support local bookstores. And get away from the keyboard for a while yet still pretend we’re “working” 🙂

            • I think every author should support their local bookstore. First of all it’s good for their local business. The indie bookstores need all the support they can get and they are a big source for getting a buzz going on a book. For that matter so are the libraries. Library readers are amongst the most voracious readers and talks in libraries are a good platform for authors.

  28. Hi Steve,

    I see your presence here as an opportunity to share information.

    Selfishly, I do wish less of the discussion was focused on the airing of perceived or real grievances and injustices of the publishing industry’s past. All of that has become largely irrelevant, now that authors have choices.

    It will sort itself out.

    Of course, it’s a given that you won’t get much mileage or make any friends here by repeating tired and disproven industry memes, or lumping professional modern self-publishers in with the deluded victims of the industry’s predatory vanity scams, or by publicly wishing we were bundled off into separate ebook “ghettos.”

    When you say those things, my responses will be among the ugliest and nastiest. And snarky fun aside, it’s not a good use of your time, mine, or anyone else’s.

    Instead, I’d much rather we took advantage of the time you are graciously and bravely spending here as an opportunity to share information both ways — a family-run American traditional publisher and a bunch of savvy self-publishers, learning from each other.

    You mentioned online promotional opportunities that aren’t available to single-author indie publishers (self-publishers). Naturally, this piques my interest.

    Can you characterize those in any detail for us, speaking as one publisher to a group of others (albeit smaller, independent ones)?



  29. Paul in terms of promotional activities on various ebook retailers…..publishers have an upper hand in getting promotions because of the sheer volume of work that they contribute to the retailer. The volume of books that a publishing house has with Kindle, Nook, iBooks, etc….ads up to a lot of revenue for those retailers so they give us promotional opportunities that wouldn’t’ normally be available to an indie author.

    As a publisher we have account reps we meet with on a regular basis to talk about how we can promote books, This includes emails that they send letting people know about special promotions like daily deals at many of the retailers. There are also opportunities for placement on home pages or landing pages.

    The very largest publishers who pay additional co-op funds even meet with editors at various retailers to promote the new books coming out that month or season.

    I don’t know if indie authors are given any of these opportunities with ebook retailers. The promotional space on the websites are prime retail space and they’re going to give it to the biggest authors.

    Many of these promotional opportunities are similar to placement in store co-op charges that publishers are charged for…such as front of store or cash register placement, etc….

    • Thanks, Steve! That makes a lot of sense to me.

      Co-op placement in print bookstores goes to the publishers that pay for them… or to *local* indie authors, but an indie author outside their area tends to get shelved with the non-co-op-buying books. Often spine-out. And doesn’t sell much.

      I’ve been wondering about whether a bloc of indie-publishing writers could buy some co-op across a national chain to share. Probably a waste of time, but if you don’t mind me asking:

      In your experience how much does it usually cost, ballpark, for a publisher to secure one of those right-in-front-of-you-when-you-walk-into-the-store co-op placements and accompanying window posters, etc. at B & N or a BAM nationwide?

      For ebooks, I think the “co-op” playing field is more level. Amazon and Nook do tend to give most of the co-op space to traditionally published books, because it’s usually more lucrative for them. But on Amazon, at least, we do see indies pop up in those feature-spots and Book of the Day emailings with some regularity. And in most of Nook’s editorially-chosen feature categories, they will feature a few indies alongside traditional books.

      The 3rd-party ad, promo, and email partners will naturally favor the volume payers, as you say. Although some of the vendors do seem to make a point of giving indies equal “space” and we’re grateful for that.

      A key yellow flag for me is when a promo partner touts ad-industry-oriented metrics like “reach” and “impressions” and “number of monthly page views,” rather than e-commerce-oriented ones like “clickthroughs” and “conversion rate” and “projected sales.” Many promo advertisers also seem to be aimed at an industry audience (PW, Kirkus, etc.) rather than real readers. Not who we’re trying to sell to 🙂

      I have a suspicion that the Big-5 ad budgets are spent *very* inefficiently. Or, at least, they are so highly concentrated in pushing a small number of books to super-best-sellerdom, that the midlisters don’t really benefit much from the ad budgets. But I wouldn’t know, and I’m only speculating.

      Thanks again for your answers, and for sticking around in the fray 🙂

  30. I’d like to ask some questions of all of you self-published authors. For those of you that are starting out and even those that have a few books under their belt….how do you promote your book online? How do you distinguish it from the other 1,000,000 books on Amazon and other ebook retailers? Do you sell your books on all of the ebook stores or only Kindle?

    Now maybe you can answer this question without jumping down my throat….if indie publishing is as good as you’re all making it sound…..why do you think that the biggest and most successful authors in publishing don’t go this route? Why isn’t Nora Roberts, Patterson, Lee Child, etc….going this route? Do you think it’s just the large advances they get? And even if you go down a notch from the megastars….those that are getting above a $50,000 advance for example….why do they stay with publishing houses?

    Lastly what do you all think about the power that Amazon has gotten in the marketplace? They currently sell books, both print and e, below cost quite often and are willing to take the loss to build marketshare; predatory pricing. They can afford to do this because of the size of their bank accounts. What happens when the other companies go out of business because they can’t afford to match these ridiculous prices? Do you think they will suddenly change their terms? Are they suddenly going to change your royalty rate to 50% from 70% when there’s no other competition?

    Do you see any new companies being able to come in and compete with the existing players in ebooks now? Will Apple continue to grow…what about Google…probably the one company that can afford to absorb losses even more than Amazon if they wanted to? Android is an enormous platform; why aren’t they pushing books harder?

    • Great questions all. And questions that impact most people here.

      I’ll give it a shot.

      how do you promote your book online?

      Facebook fans, fan signups to author email lists, authors selectively promoting each other to our respective fan bases, email-list-based promo partners like Bookbub, Pixel of Ink, etc.

      How do you distinguish it from the other 1,000,000 books on Amazon…

      The economics of the long tail mean that most of the 1,000,000 books on Amazon are a competitive non-factor. Basically, they are selling in low enough numbers that they are basically invisible to the ranking algorithms and recommendation engines–whether traditionally published or self published. There could be 100 million of them, and it wouldn’t substantially change the competitive landscape. Amazon’s recommendation engines push… or essentially promote… the books that readers, based on their past habits, are most likely to buy.

      So the answer to your question is so deceptively simple it sounds disingenuous when I say it. But it’s really this simple:

      Write books that are compelling enough to make a segment of readers not only want to read those books, but also to recommend them to friends through word of mouth, and talk about them on social media

      why do you think that the biggest and most successful authors in publishing don’t go this route?

      I’m speculating. But here’s what I think.

      Most of them will. Very soon. They own the brand (their name) and their publisher’s brand means nothing to their readers. To avoid rehashing the “ebooks-have-flattened/no-they-haven’t” discussion, I’ll just say if the ebook market share grows relative to print, then this transition will turn into an avalanche.

      Of course the mega-authors will call it something other than “self-publishing” when they do it 😉 We’ll see Patterson Press, Nora Roberts Inc., Reacher Features, and the like. And they’ll hire more employees than most of us do, and hire full-timers instead of freelancers. But to all intents and purposes, it’ll be self-publishing.

      Some of the very biggest mega-authors won’t bother. Instead, they’ll buy off the Big-5’s publishing assets, when the billion-dollar conglomerates that own them spin them off for unprofitability reasons.

      what do you all think about the power that Amazon has gotten in the marketplace?

      I prefer a healthy selection of distribution channels competing to offer me the best terms for delivering my product to customers.

      But why does Amazon have so much power in the book marketplace? Simply because their algorithms try to present the customer with the book that customer is most likely to buy–instead of what any particular publisher (or self-publisher) wants to sell that customer. This simple fact is a big part of why Nook, Apple, et. al. are failing so badly to compete with Amazon in this arena. Nook and the other e-stores have replicated a print bookstore’s “co-op”-driven, publisher-driven merchandising, instead of focusing on the customer (the reader).

      Amazon sells particular products below cost at times to build market share? So what? That’s just smart business. I do it, too, with my books–putting one book on sale for $0.99 from time to time. That empirically earns me less money during the sale, but gains me many more readers and fans, who then go on to buy my other book at full price.

      Do you think they will suddenly change their terms?

      No. Because even though Amazon started out as primarily a bookseller, 35% royalty versus 70% royalty is chump change to them now. It’s far more important to Amazon that they always and forever be able to offer every customer every book they might conceivably want, so that customer never has any reason to shop anywhere else. And angering authors will only open up opportunities for new startups to compete with Amazon. That’s the only thing Amazon actually fears: a company that hasn’t been formed yet, who will out-innovate them in five or ten or twenty years.

      What happens when the other companies go out of business because they can’t afford to match these ridiculous prices?

      Do you mean when publishers go out of business? Or when competing ebook retailers go out of business?

      Authors don’t want to see Nook, Kobo, et. al. go out of business, but if they do, it will be because they failed to learn from what Amazon is doing right. Dealing with Kobo, for example, sucks. They are so slow to updated prices that many authors leave Kobo out of sales promos, or risk losing hundreds or thousands of dollars when Amazon price-matches the “stuck” Kobo sales price. And Sony? They won’t even publish indies directly… they want indies to go through a middlemen who gets a % cut for doing nothing. Sony has basically opted out of ebooks with that choice, and their paltry market share is rapidly fading away.

      If your question was about what happens when publishers go out of business, well… readers won’t really notice they are gone. Some authors will feel stranded, unable or unwilling to navigate the business side of publishing on their own. Those are the authors who will stay with publishers as long as they can afford to.

      And I don’t think publishers will disappear completely. They will just look completely different, and operate completely different, than they do today.

      In fact, those publishers will look very much like the smartest, most successful indies who are banding together today to share overhead and management costs and efforts, and hiring shared staff to handle the business side for them so they can focus on the writing… and on collecting the lion’s share of the revenue from every ebook sold.

      Do you see any new companies being able to come in and compete with the existing players in ebooks now?

      Not really, and that’s a bummer. Apple is an also-ran, and so is Google, because neither is really focused on putting much thought into ebooks, which are chump change compared to the rest of their businesses.

      It’s the same problem you described with the Big-5 being part of billion-dollar conglomerates that mainly make money on other things. The Big-5 don’t really seem to be realizing or addressing the fatal blow their entire business model suffered when they lost gatekeeping control. Their conglomerate bosses are only looking at today’s profits.

      But we’ll see how it all plays out pretty quickly… It’s definitely interesting times for publishing.

      • Paul the only part of your reply that I will take issue is the statement about Amazon’s marketshare. By you reducing your price yourself to $.99 you are not losing money on the sale; you are making less. When Amazon sells a books that should have a digital list price of $12.99 and paid half of that to the publisher to get it…but then sells it for $1.99, that is predatory pricing. They do this on most of the biggest bestsellers. They don’t mind LOSING BIG MONEY, on these books just for the purpose of gaining marketshare and wiping out the competition. There is no other company at this time that has the bankroll to compete with this. It truly is unfair competition in my opinion and it was one of the reasons some of the biggest publishers went to Agency Pricing with the ebook retailers…BTW, Kensington did not do agency pricing with any ebook retailer other than Apple, where it’s a requirement.

        As you know Amazon has made little to no profit for many many years now, yet the shareholders continue to support the company based on future value. I disagree with your optimistic outlook if they are the only game left in town. This was one of the reasons for the Penguin Random merger. They will now account for somewhere around 30% of all books sold on Amazon and they won’t be able to be pushed around.

        I don’t think I’m going to be posting here much longer….this software is driving me insane. I don’t understand how when you get an email showing that there was a comment, and you click on the link, that it doesn’t take you right to the comment. Instead I have to go through 300 comments now to find the one that I wanted to reply to. I will continue to blog on my own blog and will continue to talk about self-publishing and hopefully some of you will comment on my blog and continue to enlighten me as to your perspective on the business.

        • Steve, thank you for your responses 🙂

          And I agree about the software… When threads get this long, it’s pretty unmanageable.

          By you reducing your price yourself to $.99 you are not losing money on the sale; you are making less.

          I respectfully disagree. This is only true if you assign an hourly wage of $0.00 to the labor a self-published author invests in writing their book. And also the cost of editing, cover art, etc… but those pieces are almost insignificant, compared to the hundreds or thousands of hours spent writing it.

          So by the time an author publishes a book, they have already made a substantial financial investment in it: the opportunity cost of their labor. By choosing to sell that book for $0.99 as a loss leader to gain market share, they are in fact “losing money on purpose to gain reader market share”, exactly the same as Amazon does.

          the Penguin Random merger… will now account for somewhere around 30% of all books sold on Amazon and they won’t be able to be pushed around.

          When you consider the specific digital marketplace we are talking about — ebooks on Amazon — then large scale isn’t a competitive advantage at all. It’s actually a significant disadvantage. Because Amazon makes more money from 1,000 independent author-publishers using their low overhead and agility to innovate in a rapidly-changing ebook market than Amazon makes from a single slow-moving, policy-driven corporation with a catalog of 1,000 authors, only 10-20 of whom are getting significant marketing support at a given time.

          Some other factors to consider:

          The strategies that could benefit one part of a Big-5 publishers business (ebooks) will hurt their other business (print).

          The bigger the publishing company, the higher the cost overhead. This means reduced ability to price ebooks competitively while still maintaining a profit margin.

          Finally, there are the authors themselves. The Big-5’s entire business model is built on the twin assumptions of:

          1) author revenue-share % staying below a certain threshold
          2) an endless pipeline of high-revenue-producing authors willing to agree to that revenue-share %

          To avoid a circular debate, I’ll only say if… But if for any reason that pipeline of willing authors dries up, or cannot be sustained without substantial increases to author revenue-share %, then things will get very ugly very quickly for the Big-5. And I suspect they will be very slow to acknowledge it if it happens, or adjust their contract terms with authors in response.

          And therein lies an opportunity for smaller, faster-moving traditional publishers like Kensington, who might be able to proactively get out in front of the inevitable transformation of the industry before it consumes them.

        • I will continue to blog on my own blog and will continue to talk about self-publishing and hopefully some of you will comment on my blog and continue to enlighten me as to your perspective on the business.

          I have to admit that I don’t understand that. As most self-publishers, I’m keeping up with current events that are happening in trade-publishing, because we share the same market, and I believe that a trade-publisher, who wants to thrive, should benefit by doing the same. But to talk about it on their official blog… I find that strange. Should you be more focused on your own company and wouldn’t talking about procedures and mechanisms through which the books go through your company benefit you, your blog and its followers more? Are people who visit your blog interested in what you have to say about self-publishing, especially, as you displayed in this blog, your knowledge about self-publishing is quite limiting and narrowed by your perception of it, which you are (by your own words) basing on your experiences in trade-publishing?

        • When Amazon sells a books that should have a digital list price of $12.99 and paid half of that to the publisher to get it…but then sells it for $1.99, that is predatory pricing. They do this on most of the biggest bestsellers. They don’t mind LOSING BIG MONEY, on these books just for the purpose of gaining marketshare and wiping out the competition.

          The ruling that came out of the DOJ regarding the ebook price fixing of the big-five allows them to sell books at a loss, but only to a point. They still have to show an overall profit to that publisher. In the long run, I do fear that it will crate an expectation in the minds of readers that they should just wait for a book to be priced low to pick it up.

          But…for those that find their titles in this position…it’s actually a pretty good thing. The publisher/author is paid full price, but sells MANY more copies than they would have because it is priced so cheaply. They make a killing, the readers get cheap books. Sure Amazon loses a lot of money in the process and yeah they gain market share to do so. But to be frank, they are the most innovative organization in publishing today and the reason they are so popular is they are doing some very smart things.

          Why didn’t traditional publishing start a program like their MatchBook? Why have so few publishers embraced it? What is better, squeezing every cent out of every reader by requiring them to buy multiple copies in different formats, or is it better to make the ebooks free (or deeply discounted) so they can buy more books?

    • Oh my, what a *great* question! I think James Patterson went “indie” a long time ago, because I think the new indie author is a small business (whereas before writers talked craft, agent/editor relationships, contract terms about 90% of the time, now we talk estate planning, accounting, social media, and marketing 90% of the time). That Patterson partnered with a publisher, recruited other authors to write in his worlds, and invested in his own marketing, makes him a true indie not a hybrid. I say this because many of the hybrid authors I see are still letting the publisher call all the shots. Patterson clearly does not, and has not for a very long time.

      Nora Roberts, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling are brands, and have been for so long I would be shocked to learn that their publishers do much more than nod when they offer their deal terms. In my eyes, they are being generous to the publishers who helped them get where they are (but probably not letting anything get between them and their readers, including the publisher).

      Lesser known indie authors are using the branding methods that publishers use for bestsellers to get in front of readers (big author name on cover, distinctively branded covers, ads in places where readers will see them, freebies to get readers to try them, etc.). The advantages we have over publishers here are that we are 100% invested in our own success. A publisher has to juggle multiple writers. If a publisher judges a book rollout wrong, they often blame the author and kill the books. Indie authors try different strategies (different covers, targeted ads, etc.). We also don’t need to give up as early as a publisher. Many of us invest modestly in a good product, and then let the book sell as it will over time, always keeping an eye out for a chance to give it a little kick in the rear.

      The biggest difference between an indie author and a publisher, speaking only for myself, is that I love my books enough not to give up on them, want to get them in the hands of however many readers will also love them, and don’t need that number to be in the millions in order to make a profitable living.

      You have some great indie authors (i.e. people who are running savvy small businesses, not just writing books) in your publishing house. Those are the ones you should be listening to and watching, because they’re willing to try new things, and they are more flexible than even a smaller major publisher like Kensington.

      And something I’ve learned from talking to readers — avid genre readers are looking for storytelling that sweeps them up, and they do not recognize publisher branding (except Harlequin, for romance readers — which has a good and bad side). They look at the author, the cover, read a few pages, and buy because it is a story they want to read. Good indie authors (those who pay attention to the biz) are equal to publishers in an avid reader’s eye. I’ve tried to figure out why (been talking to reader groups for a biz project I have in mind), and I think it may be because avid readers have learned to trust their own story instincts, and know if they run across a clunker now and again, their instincts will lead them to gems most of the time. The people who say they read exclusively from the NYT or PW lists almost always read very little fiction (say a book a month). Avid readers can read a book a day, especially now when you can cart a library full of books on your smart phone and read what you want in traffic jams, supermarket lines, and doctor’s offices.

    • I don’t know how to get the little boxes that are quotes…so please bear with me. LOL

      You asked…
      “For those of you that are starting out and even those that have a few books under their belt….how do you promote your book online?’

      I use social media, mostly. Its a big time suck, but fun too. The worst thing about it is it takes time away from writing. The best thing is it helps keep in tough with readers, and what they like/don’t like about my work. What they want to see more of, and things like that. I’m not a huge self-pub success. I’ve only done some short stories to keep my trad published series alive so it’s not much. However, I’m considering doing a new series, full-length and self-publishing it instead of going trad and the marketing for that will be different. It will be more ads, and blog tours, and newsletters.

      “Do you sell your books on all of the ebook stores or only Kindle?”

      I’m Canadian, so currently I only upload to Amazon, and Smashwords. I let Smashwords distribute to other eTailers for me because it’s less hassle come Tax time for me to deal with only those two streams of income. I don’t upload directly to B&N because they require me to have a bank account at a bank with a US address in order to get an account. This might change when I do a full novel series and I’m willing to put more time behind the self-pub works.

      “Lastly what do you all think about the power that Amazon has gotten in the marketplace? ”

      It’s not ideal. A competitive market place is good for everyone, but I don’t think anyone wants any one company to hold all the cards.

      I think this is why so many authors want to be both traditional y published and self-published. We don’t want to see publishers or booksellers go out of business, but we have to be able to afford to live our lives, and it’s a pleasure to have such control over some of our projects. The higher royalty rates we get with self publishing, along with the instant ability to see our sales numbers and see what promotional efforts yield results are invaluable to us. It’s also nice to know that when a book isn’t selling, we can change things (covers, prices, and such) and see if that makes a difference. it isn’t always because the book sucks.

      • Sasha,

        Those “little boxes with quotes” are achieved via the commands [bockquote] and [/blockquote], except that you use the “less than” symbol and the “greater than” symbol instead of the brackets [ ]. WordPress won’t let me type in the actual symbol, and show it, thus the brackets.

        So you’d put: [blockquote]Lastly what do you all think about the power that Amazon has gotten in the marketplace?[/blockquote] to get:

        Lastly what do you all think about the power that Amazon has gotten in the marketplace?

        FWIW 😀

    • I can answer some of this. We promote online through book review blogs, through email subscription services like Bookbub, Ereader News Today, Kindle Fire Department, Kindle Tips and tricks, Pixels of Ink, Frugal e-reader. We form author co-ops and send out new release emails for our author friends through our newsletters, we do multi-author book bundles, and box sets. We swap sample chapters in the back of our books. We use perma free for the first book in our series to connect with new readers.

      As for mega authors who are moving to self publishing. They are. Lara Adrian just announced she will be exclusively self-publishing. Barbara Freethy I believe has been exclusively self-publishing her new ebooks for a while now. Lawrence Block (at 75, no less) just announced he is self-publishing his new release. For those that haven’t made that switch yet, how do you know they aren’t planning it? If their contract isn’t up yet, they aren’t going to announce the decision publically.

      • Stephanie Laurens just left Avon to self-publish. JoAnn Ross walked from NAL a while back and is gearing up to do the same. These are big, big names in romance/women’s fiction. Just sayin’

    • …how do you promote your book online? How do you distinguish it from the other 1,000,000 books on Amazon and other ebook retailers? Do you sell your books on all of the ebook stores or only Kindle?

      I publish notices on Facebook, Twitter, and web sites where the particular topics of my books are discussed and/or people who might be interested in them congregate. I publish on all stores, except for my latest book, which I published as Kindle Select as an experiment. (I just published it a week ago: the experiment is not yet significantly advanced to comment.) I make more than 80% of my revenue from Amazon and this is typical for writers in my niche.

      …if indie publishing is as good as you’re all making it sound…..why do you think that the biggest and most successful authors in publishing don’t go this route?

      Habit. Satisfaction with the status quo. The market is, obviously, shifting. Where Lawrence Block goes today, Nora Roberts may go tomorrow.

      Lastly what do you all think about the power that Amazon has gotten in the marketplace?

      Without addressing any of your particular assertions – some of which I agree with and some of which I find quite ludicrous – I am very comfortable with Amazon. Amazon is young enough to know that its competitors are not Barnes and Noble or the Big Five: its competitors are some guys sitting in a garage waiting for Amazon to give them an opportunity to do to Amazon what Amazon did to Borders and Barnes and Noble. If they start acting irresponsibly, others will rise up as the market requires. See, the thing is, Amazon was able to do to the traditional publishing houses what it did exactly because they were so few, so big, and so concentrated. If they start screwing over authors as many TPH did for decades (saving Your Grace 😉 ) authors have already learned that they can just go somewhere else.

      Do you see any new companies being able to come in and compete with the existing players in ebooks now?

      If the existing players give them space, they will exploit it. As of now the existing player *coughAmazoncough* is doing a good job providing the services the market wants. That may (eventually will) change.

      Will Apple continue to grow…

      Apple treats books like an afterthought: it’s somebody’s experimental baby, like AppleTV. Book revenues are irrelevant to Apple and therefore they have no reason to get more serious about it. They will grow no faster than the market as a whole for the foreseeable future and their share will not increase significantly.

      …what about Google…probably the one company that can afford to absorb losses even more than Amazon if they wanted to? Android is an enormous platform; why aren’t they pushing books harder?

      Because until Amazon starts screwing up, competing with Amazon is stupid. Google is not stupid. Well, not often. The whole Google Books thing I thought they acted foolishly regarding. But by and large.

    • do you promote your book online? How do you distinguish it from the other 1,000,000 books on Amazon and other ebook retailers? Do you sell your books on all of the ebook stores or only Kindle?

      I’m currently 100% traditional, in the past I was 100% self, and in a few months I’ll be releasing a new hybrid title (I’m doing the ebook and have a traditional publisher for the print distribution and I sold the audio rights to a major producer.

      For me I’ve always concentrated on a few primary venues:

      * Goodreads – being an active member of the community and also doing giveaways from time to time. I’ve done very little in the way of “Ads” Although I id try out and saw some decent response from two $25 tests. — It should be noted that my traditional publisher has done “full blown” ads on goodreads (Those flash box ads that run $5,000 a promotion on two occassions.

      * Bloggers – I write speculative fiction and there are a number of bloggers that focus on fantasy and science fiction

      * Building a direct relationship with my readers through email lists and offering free content such as a short story about my main characters in my larger novels.

    • “why do you think that the biggest and most successful authors in publishing don’t go this route? Why isn’t Nora Roberts, Patterson, Lee Child, etc….going this route? Do you think it’s just the large advances they get? And even if you go down a notch from the megastars….those that are getting above a $50,000 advance for example….why do they stay with publishing houses?”

      As for Mega bestsellers – I think there are a few things that keep them where they are. (a) Distribution – moving the numbers of books they do needs a complex infrastructure of printers, warehouses, and the like. Trying to reproduce this on their own would be a great deal of work. (b) Less hassle. Why worry about doing all the project management to find editors/cover designers, formatting, etc. They already have the “A-team” from the publisher doing these things – so why would they want to go through all the effort to reproduce this?

      Something else to keep in mind – the biggest of the biggest – J.K. Rowling did in essence self-publish all her digital content by making Pottermore. Will others do similarly? Who knows – but it was a smart move – in my opinion.

      As for the “less than Mega-sellers” – those with advances of $50,000 or so. I think we’ll see more and more of these people doing projects on their own. Brandon Sanderson and Terry Goodkind are two major authors who are already doing this. For myself, I turned down a five-figure advance so that I could keep my ebook rights. I did sell the print rights to a traditional publisher and the audio rights to the audio producer that my traditionally published books are sold through. I think this kind of hybriding – where the author keeps the digital rights and leverages the distribution network of traditional publishers will become more common…but it takes a publisher who realizes that they won’t get “all the rights” and be happy to settle for “a piece of the action.”

    • Lastly what do you all think about the power that Amazon has gotten in the marketplace? They currently sell books, both print and e, below cost quite often and are willing to take the loss to build marketshare; predatory pricing. They can afford to do this because of the size of their bank accounts. What happens when the other companies go out of business because they can’t afford to match these ridiculous prices? Do you think they will suddenly change their terms? Are they suddenly going to change your royalty rate to 50% from 70% when there’s no other competition?

      Fear of Amazon and what they may do is widespread. I for one owe a great deal of my career to Amazon, and I’ll not condemn them for something that they “may do” and instead make hay while the sun shines. I’ve been self-publishing long enough to remember the pre 70% days. I was thrilled beyond belief when my income doubled when they adjusted from 35% to 70%, but even if it returns to those levels – 35% is still twice as much as the the 17.5% I get from Traditional publishing (which is actually 14.875% as I have to pay my agent her 15%).

    • if indie publishing is as good as you’re all making it sound…..why do you think that the biggest and most successful authors in publishing don’t go this route?

      Some will. Some likely never will.

      Intro: I’m a hybrid author, making 99% of my income in indie in the past 3 years. I have 30-some titles out indie, 2 with new publisher, 7 with previous publisher. (Those 7 titles with previous publisher accounted for 0.2% of my 2013 income — that’s not 2%, that’s two-tenths of 1 percent)

      I publish through Amazon, BN, Kobo, Apple, SW, Sony, etc. And working at publishing across platforms — audiobooks, POD, translation.

      I’m not one of the top indies. OTOH, I’m very pleased with where I am. . I topped my average income from my trad publishing period (24 books, 18 years) in my first year indie, made more than 2 times the average in the 2nd year, and 4 times in the 3rd year. And when I say “my average income from my trad publishing period” I’m including income from my then-day job editing for the Washington Post — full-time for the 1st 3 years, then part-time.

      My reasons to go indie (not in order of importance):
      — Money
      — Control (that includes Kelly McClymer’s excellent point about a self-pub not giving up on her/himself)
      — Freedom (specifically writing)
      — Flexibility
      — Attention to the specific needs of my books/career
      — Not being viewed as a.) interchangeable or b.) a problem for not being interchangeable.

      So, for example, certain authors might make more money indie, but if their individual money needs are being met, that’s not going to be a big spur.

      Benefits to authors in staying trad:
      — Somebody else is doing a lot more of the “stuff”

      And for some authors, that is huge. They don’t want to deal with the publishing (including editing, cover, formatting, cover, etc.) or entrepreneurial (distribution, price, etc.) requirements of self-pubbing.

      I know authors — some big-name, some not — who are having each of those needs met to the level that satisfies that author within trad publishing. And the hierarchy of these needs is as individual as the people involved.

      So, I suspect some big-name authors will go indie as time goes by and they feel their needs are not being met, while other authors — big-name or not — will be trad because the needs most important to them are met. And others will look to hybrid to meet their needs.

      I firmly believe that only the individual author can weigh the pros and cons of any path against what s/he needs.

      On a personal level, however, it is hugely satisfying, after years of my work not being valued by my publishers (a couple wonderful editors did value my work), to have that work be making me more money than I ever earned before. Even better, I’m making the money on books that include some the publisher rejected, saying no one wanted to read that.

      Ahhhhh. So nice. Because my personal hierarchy puts Freedom first. … Not that I’m turning down the money!

  31. Hi Steven,

    First, thank you so much for sticking with this conversation. It really does say a lot about you, and Kensington’s willingness to grow with the changes in the marketplace.

    Second, I am/was a Kensington author. I saw am/was because I haven’t submitted anything since 2010 when I took a break from writing due to being burnt out and massively frustrated with the way things were happening.

    Kensington was not my only Traditional publisher. I was also writing for/publishing with Berkley at the same time. From 2005- 2009 I wrote 3 novels and 2 novellas for the Aphrodisia line, and 4 novels and one novella for Berkley’s Heat line. I did not receive any revision letters on ANY of those stories. I say this to make it clear that It is not only Kensington that seems to be lacking in this area. At the time I figured it was because I wrote erotic, and the publishers just saw these lines as a sort of ‘throw away’ to test the markets. There was little to no promotions put behind the books aside from the push on the Launch titles for Aphrodisia.

    Third. John Scognamiglio was my editor, and I loved working with him. While I never got revisions, he was very communicative when I had questions, and always responded quickly to emails. When I was struggling with time management he was understanding and supportive. When the word count on one of my books was short, and I didn’t want to simply add another sex scene to build words, he suggested the fabulous idea of a bonus story. A 10k short story that featured one of the secondary characters was added to the back of the book, and everyone was happy-including readers.

    That said, again, I never once got a revisions letter, and I’m a big believer that a story can always be improved upon. Copyedits, and Galley proofs were all I ever got (from either of my publishers).

    This lack of revision letters might seem like a small thing, but it was a big contributor to my frustration with thing. It made me feel as if no one but me cared about the story, and no one but me cared if they did well. This was a huge reason for my walking away from what was starting to become a solid career at that point.

    Kensington still hold the rights to my stories. I’ve been trying to get the rights back to the novellas that were published in 2006. These stories (and the anthologies there were in) have not been listed on the Kensington website for over a year, and I have not received statements with sales information for them in the last batch. The statements from sales in 2012 say that less than 300 copies were sold (digital copies) in the whole year. I’ve sent two letter already, and several emails to BB, and have never gotten a response of any kind.

    I’ve self-published a couple of short stories that go with the novels I published with Kensington, and those short stories (10-15k each) sell way more than that. I did not publish them strictly to make money, but because I wanted to help augment that series. Yet, it seems like my K sales just keep dropping.

    I attended the Authors After Dark conference in Savannah in 2013, and was promoting my Kensington works, and a woman form the audience came up afterwards. She worked for you,(PR I do believe, I can’t remember her name but will dig through business cards I collected if you want) and was happy to see me promoting a book that was published in 2008. (It’s part of the series with the last one being pubbed in 2009, aside from the shorts I self pubbed in 2011 and 2012) I was excited when she said she would go back and tell John I was back to work, and still promoting my series, and writing additional short stories to keep it up. I’d hoped to hear form him, but I didn’t. And no, I did not email him to tell him what I was doing either, but this brings me to the final thing that pushes me to self publish rather than fight to traditionally publish even though K still holds the option on one of the sub-genres I care to write.

    I want to feel like I matter. I don’t want to feel like I’m just one of the many forgettable and easily replaced. We, authors, know that there are millions and millions of us out there. We know how hard it is to find success, but we don’t like to be constantly treated like we’re the bottom of the totem pole and easily replaced. It’s been 5 years since I wrote my last novel for Kensington, and never once since then have I heard from John. Never once has he showed interest in keeping me on or emailed to say “Hey, you haven’t sent anything in as your option…are you working on anything?”
    I know I’m not a NYT or USA Today bestseller or anything, but my sales were okay, and with just bit of encouragement or interest, I would’ve kept writing for K with few qualms. And on the same subject, an email to say “Thanks for the work in the past, but we’re not interested in anything else form you and release you from your option clause for future work.” would’ve been fine too. But no word either way just lend itself to the fact that no one really cared about anything I did there.

    Wow, okay, that was along response, and I hope it comes across as I mean it to. You asked for K authors responses, and this is my story. I have no problem speaking publicly because I really have nothing bad to say about K or John. My experience was what it was…and I still have not decided if I’ll ever bother to submit my option material or not. But I WOULD really like the rights back to those novellas I’ve been trying to get. LOL


    • Thank you for your comments Sasha. Would you do me a favor and email me directly at szacharius@kensingtonbooks.com and I will check on your reversion requests that you sent to BB. I know there was a big bunch of reversions that just went out and I think they’re still sending out more. Please give me the list of titles and I’ll get back to you immediately. We live by the terms of the contract in regards to reversions. If the contract says as long as the books are selling x amount of $ per year, we don’t have to revert; then we don’t. But if they’re not in ebook and we’re out of stock, and the license has run out; we should be reverting upon your request.
      I will look into the other comments that you mentioned as well.

    • Well said, Sasha. The problem of mentoring authors has not been addressed. Publishers only want us when we make money, wise but not what most other businesses do. They segment their customers and understand where the POTENTIAL in a relationship may be.

      Why would I want to go back to a TP model that only wants me once I’ve made it on my own? I should continue to reap all of my hard earned rewards.

  32. I have a question for Mr. Zacharius about Kensington publishing contracts and non-compete clauses. Do you use them in your contracts and if so, how do you feel that they benefit the publisher and the author?

    Brenna Aubrey

    • Brenna in terms of non-compete are you referring to self-publishing books at the same time? Generally we do not want our authors writing in the same exact genre as we are publishing on their own or with another publishing house. We want to control how the books are released to the readers. We also don’t want to be competing against another publisher and have the chance of books coming out at the same time as ours. I’m talking primarily about print books. We shape our publishing program and we want the author releases to follow a set schedule that they can commit to. You might be surprised at how many authors don’t live up to their committed schedules which becomes a nightmare to handle.

      • Thanks for the reply, Steve.

        I recently turned down a couple offers to be traditionally published and one of the big reasons was because of the non-compete clause. While I understand your reasoning behind them from the publisher’s point of view, do you not agree that as an author builds their readership, they promote sales of ALL their books–backlist and frontlist? An author putting more books out only helps sales of their books no matter where they originated from.

        Or an author can use their self-published books as a way to market their traditionally-published books. This non-compete mindset seems counter-productive to both the publisher and the author. If an author can over produce what you contract from them, why limit what they can put out on their own to promote their brand which in turn promotes sales for you?

        • It seems to me that the non-compete clause mostly applies to debut authors. Publishers certainly couldn’t slap an NC clause on big name authors or authors like me who are already published with more than one publisher and also self publish.
          It’s just as unreasonable for an author to ask a publisher not to publish any other books in her genre as it is for a publisher to expect authors to only publish for single publisher. Authors can’t live off of what a single publisher can pay. They just can’t. If every publisher asked their authors how many work a day job or more AND write books, they’d be very surprised by the answer.

          I respectfully ask- Would you like to work another job, Mr. Zacharius, to support yourself and your family WHILE working as CEO for Kensington making the average wage of your authors? Or can you live off of the average wage of your authors? Do you know what the average is?

      • See my Wal-Mart story on Courtney Milan ‘s blog. Man, I dunno.

      • Non-competes is one of the worst part about traditional publishing, and like Brenna it was the non-compete that got me within a hair’s breath of walking from my big-five, six-figure contract.

        In the end I got it “defanged enough” so that I could sign it, but it is “old school” thinking that is holding back publishers and authors. Restricting content doesn’t help build an audience – it retards it. A self-published book can fuel sales for your title and vice-versa.

  33. My literary agent recently sent me a list of Big 6 editors she was sending my manuscript to, and I specifically requested that she add Kensington to the list. Everyone I know who has signed with them has had glowing reviews of their handling of the publishing process.

    I think the agency/publisher world is going to alter a bit, but the vetting process still needs to be there. And we as a society need to value our authors and the work they put forth.

    I also run a literary magazine, and we self-published. Marketing is much harder than you might think. Getting even a tiny corner of limited readership is exceedingly difficult today.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.