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Meredith Wild, a Self-Publisher Making an Imprint

31 January 2016

From The New York Times:

One chilly morning this month, Meredith Wild, the best-selling romance novelist, was sitting in her library in Destin, Fla., wrapped in a loose black sweater in front of a crackling fire. Most mornings, Ms. Wild writes her novels in this spot after her children leave for school, but that day she had other business to attend to. She had a call with a reality TV production company that is developing a show about her, and later, a conference call with a team at Waterhouse Press, the small imprint that is publishing her new novel in June.

Ms. Wild has an unusual amount of sway for an author, owing to her high-profile position at Waterhouse: She founded the company. After sales of her self-published erotic novels took off on Amazon and other sites, Ms. Wild created the press partly as a way to get print versions into bookstore chains and big-box stores.

“I wanted something that sounded like it was a real imprint, because nobody takes you seriously as an independent author,” she said. “I felt I was being discriminated against as an indie.”

. . . .

Her marketing abilities proved so effective — she sold 1.4 million print and digital copies — that she decided to expand her business by taking on other authors, in essence becoming a publisher herself.

Last year, Ms. Wild began quietly acquiring works by other self-published romance writers, including Helen Hardt and Audrey Carlan, and publishing their books under her Waterhouse imprint. The press will release at least nine novels this year, including two in Ms. Wild’s current series. She’s become a kind of value investor in erotic prose, pinpointing undervalued writers and backing their brands.

“We’re hoping to discover the next big person and replicate some of the success we had building the visibility of my books,” Ms. Wild said. “We’re interested in taking these diamond-in-the-rough type people and building their brands.”

. . . .

 Ms. Wild’s path from becoming a self-publishing star to operating her own small imprint is the latest sign that independent authors are catching up to publishers in the sophistication of their marketing and the scope of their ambitions. Self-published authors can negotiate foreign-rights deals and produce audiobooks. A handful of the most successful independent writers sell print copies of their books in physical retail stores like Barnes & Noble, Walmart and Target, giving them access to a market that traditional publishers have long dominated.

. . . .

For decades, the literary world dismissed self-published authors as amateurs and hacks who lacked the talent to land a book deal. But that attitude gradually began to change with the rise of e-books and the arrival of Kindle from Amazon, which gave authors direct access to millions of readers. Over the last five years, close to 40 independent authors have sold more than a million copies of their e-books on Amazon, the company said.

Publishers and literary agents who once overlooked self-published authors began courting them with staggering book advances.

. . . .

After Ms. Wild’s self-published “Hacker” series took off in 2014, she was bombarded with offers from publishers, agents and film producers. She was earning so much by then that she told her agent she would entertain only eight-figure offers. She eventually settled for a bit less, agreeing to a $6.25 million advance from Forever, a Grand Central Publishing imprint, for five books.

Forever has sold nearly 500,000 digital and print copies of the “Hacker” series — a healthy sum, but far less than the 1.4 million digital and print books Ms. Wild had sold on her own, without any of the editorial guidance, marketing muscle or sales and distribution channels of an established publisher.

Perhaps that’s why Ms. Wild opted not to sell the rights to her other books. Instead, she’s publishing her current series through her own imprint.

“I’m more comfortable being in control of my successes and failures,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to be on the sidelines.”

Editors and publishers are adjusting to a new power dynamic, one in which even multimillion-dollar advances aren’t enough to ensure an author’s loyalty.

“It’s a challenge, because a lot of the ones who are very successful at it are making a lot of money, which in all honesty can be hard to match with the traditional publishing royalty structure,” said Leah Hultenschmidt, the Forever editor who acquired the Hacker series from Ms. Wild.

Publishers fighting to recruit top-selling authors have other reasons to be alarmed by the growth of self-publishing. As independent authors grab a bigger slice of the e-book market, digital sales by traditional publishers fell by 11 percent in the first nine months of 2015, according to data gathered from more than 1,200 publishers by the Association of American Publishers.

Last year, a third of the 100 best-selling Kindle books were self-published titles on average each week, an Amazon representative said. Some analysts attribute the dip in publishers’ e-book revenue in part to the glut of cheap self-published books, which often sell for as little as $1.

Link to the rest at The New York Times


38 Comments to “Meredith Wild, a Self-Publisher Making an Imprint”

  1. She chose Meredith Wild as a pen name. (She asked that her real name and her husband’s last name not be used to protect their children’s privacy, citing the news coverage of her multimillion-dollar book deal.)

    Interesting to see that she has a Facebook page as Meredith Wild. I guess they’ve backed off on that “real name” nonsense now?

  2. “… digital sales by traditional publishers fell by 11 percent in the first nine months of 2015 …”

    I thought it was more than that?

    “Last year, a third of the 100 best-selling Kindle books were self-published titles on average each week …”

    I thought it was more than that?

    Oh, wait, this be the NYT, so a little sugar-coating so trad-pub doesn’t get too upset …

    • I thought it was more than that?

      As best I can tell, there’s only a handful that aren’t from the Big 5. And only two in the Top 20 (three if you squint hard and take The Martian by its pedigree, not its present publisher.)


      • It could be a number of different books temporarily jumping into the top bestsellers but lacking total over the year stats.

        • Almost certainly that. Now that AuthorEarnings has seven quarterly snapshots, it looks as if the churn among indie best-sellers is much higher than among Big5 best-sellers.

          That doesn’t mean that after they’ve had their moment in the sun indies go back to flipping burgers. The multiple snapshots also suggest that there are fewer millionaires among the indies but more people who could quit their day job if they chose to.

  3. i wonder what her author =publisher contract looks like at her ‘imprint.’

    I’d think choosing a pen name in erotia, not a milliondollar deal, prob felix would know what 1m is worth today in term of say 1965 dollars’ worth, would be about ‘the chlidren’ more than anything else, even if the deal were 1B.

    Could be wrong, but sounds like a marketing co that happens to pub. Again wonder what clauses are in their contracts to ‘diamonds in the rough.’

    Not sure how hard it is to sell ‘erotic’ anything nowadays to readers. The author here seems to have an Agent, wonder how that works when one is doing so well on one’s own. And Grand Central is trad. Perhaps I’m not quite understanding the gist of the article.

  4. Unfortunately, this isn’t as much of a “feel good” story as the journalist’s plot line would have you believe. As I noted at my blog, Meredith Wild deliberately looked for authors with very little success, and then signed them up to terms that the most heartless publisher wouldn’t put in front of an author.

    Not only did Carlan get only “a few thousand dollars plus a royalty percentage” a piece for her existing books, but if you do the math, her royalties on over $1.6 million in first-month sales came out to only a little over 1%. And she’s now contractually committed to deliver 27 more books at a rate of one every two months before she can renegotiate.

    As far as I’m concerned, that’s equivalent to authorial servitude. If this is the new wave of Indie publishing, then the new wave should be ashamed of itself.

    • That’s not even remotely shocking. Exploitation and spin go hand in hand with opportunities. Most of the big publishing houses were born from exploiting British authors, and I’m sure a lot of the small and mid sized exploited someone.

      Hopefully the names of the better new imprints will rise above the noise and dirt.

    • “As I noted at my blog, Meredith Wild deliberately looked for authors with very little success, and then signed them up to terms that the most heartless publisher wouldn’t put in front of an author.”

      Really??? Good Glord SmallMighty. That is completely UNacceptible.

      indentured. Sounds like authors need to be warned away from this c outfit/ meredith wild, as well as author solutions.

    • Andy,

      Is it possible that that $20,000 she made in December reflects sales made in September instead of those made in December? I suspect the books are published through KDP which means that royalties are paid 60 days after the close of the month, and Waterhouse probably pays a few days after they themselves receive the royalties. The eight published books weren’t ranking spectacularly in September, in fact I think $20k would reflect a royalty rate higher than the 25% for eBook standard in New York.

      • We only have to work with what’s in the article, but as I read it, it’s pretty clear the journalist was trying to show what she was making under the new arrangement on the relaunch of her books. Before the relaunch, she was making about $1,000 through Amazon at the 30% rate, and the article says that they sold 800,000 in the first month. So there’s not much room for a ramp up month payment between those two extremes, if you take the article at face value.

        • If you take the article at face value:

          “The novellas have sold more than 800,000 copies in January.”

          The article does not say they sold 800k in the first month, it says they sold 800k in January. I’ve been watching these books for a while now and for a long time, Book 1 was ranked about 1k and the rest trailing behind all the way to 5k. They ramped up significantly in December.

    • Wow, if the contract is exploiting her that badly, I expect there’s gonna be a lawsuit in 5…4…3…

      I’ll bet a lot of lawyers read the NYT. A couple dozen of them are probably looking for Audrey Carlan’s phone number as we speak. 😉

    • Yes, I was wondering about the contracts. If they are basically boilerplate Big5, authors don’t really do better going with her.

      Of course, I do understand that author. She wasn’t doing well without any marketing and thus was probably relieved to sign up. And 20k was probably better than anything she has seen from KDP yet. Plus being signed up to a book every two months for quite a while could feel very safe and comfortable.

      It’s also not a surprise seeing these new publishers pop up. There is a market niche, and nature doesn’t tolerate a vaccum.

  5. Some analysts attribute the dip in publishers’ e-book revenue in part to the glut of cheap self-published books, which often sell for as little as $1.

    What effect do these analysts think Big5 ebook prices above print prices have? And how do they interpret most well selling indies being priced between $2.99 and $6.99 with a spike at $4.99.

    I hope these analysts weren’t paid much as a cursory look at Amazon’s sales figures show the vast majority of indie titles eroding Big5 market share are not priced at 99¢.

  6. Why is this news? I started an imprint/publishing company in late 2014. Dean Wesley Smith and wife have had one for quite some time.

    In addition to my own work, my company generates stories/concepts in-house, then contracts writers to write them. In a typical scenario, the writer gets 60% royalties.

    Our latest project, LINGER, is doing quite well at the moment. Can someone please alert the Times?

    • Well, this is the NYT…
      For them this is progress.
      They at least acknowledge that Indies do actual marketing (and not just promotion) and can move books better than tradpub.

      Baby steps.

      • Rob, I admire your guts and fortitude. I sometimes daydream about creating my own publishing company, but then I think about the responsibility for others creative work (ack!); the bookkeeping (ack! ack!); having to manage other people (omg, ack!); and all the million and one other details inherent in the business, and the daydream whiffs away and I go happily back to pay for service.

        • I’m the same. I’ve considered trying to bring some foreign novels to the English speaking markets but imagining the perils and workload leaves me waiting for braver souls.

        • It isn’t for the faint hearted, believe me. Try releasing five books in a single series all on pre-order for the same day…

      • What Felix said. After the part about the “staggering” advances paid by traditional publishers, I was sure the story would then head toward the usual bit about all self-publishers dreaming of eventually being picked up by the Big 5. But it didn’t. And it even talked about how some indies can do better than the Big 5 can hope to match.

        This, from The Times? Talk about staggering.

    • This. Was tempted to post the same response but decided someone else would note this fact. Many, if not most, erotica/romance pubs (indie) were started by authors– especially in the last 15 years.

    • The “news” appears to be that the NY Times is finally writing about this stuff in a way that isn’t completely negative. (But carefully reminds writers that success is very difficult and unlikely for most and hints you really need big advertising bucks.)

      But I do find it interesting that there is more and more talk about how indy writers/small publishers are breaking the lock on print. Even years ago back in the sh*t volcano days of attacks on self-publishing and ebooks, I knew it was just a question of time before self-publishers not only did increasingly well in ebooks but started shifting into print distribution. That trend isn’t new, but apparently it’s growing big enough the NYT has to comment on it.

      The part about advertising before films was interesting too. That takes some bucks and savvy to pull off.

      As for the issue of exploitation of these writers they’re signing up: they’re adults and have to make their own choices. Anyone who isn’t willing to be their own boss has to make compromises. It might be a deal with a devil, but if a writer with low sales can get a big publicity push from a company that knows how to do it, it should be assumed that company is going to take a big cut. Without knowing all the details of their contracts (most importantly how it effects future work by the newly famous writer) I’d withhold judgement.

      PS: Here’s a thought. Has anyone noticed if her company is advertising in the NYT? That might explain the article.

  7. Um… that whole thing is bizarre.

    She’s using a pseudonym to write. Fine.

    She doesn’t want the NYT to publish her actual name because she wants to protect her kids. Also fine.

    She’s in the process of setting herself up in a reality television show.

    That’s not really the act of someone who wants to protect herself and her family. That’s the act of someone who thinks she, personally, is so marketable that she’s trying to keep it all secret until the tv show airs.

    Psychiatrists could have a field day.

    Then again, this is a world where people actually watch those crazy Honey Boo Boo people and the family with the 25 kids (no, I don’t watch any of these shows so I don’t know what they’re called)… apparently all that’s required to make money in reality television is a willingness to exploit oneself and one’s family.

    Sounds like she’ll fit right in.

    • Yeah, I don’t understand how that’s going to work. Even if she leaves her children off the show, at some point, especially if the show is successful enough, someone will figure out who she is and publicize it to the whole world. Her children will not be protected. The only way to have ensured that would have been to remain totally anonymous. But putting yourself on reality television completely negates any hope you have of keeping everything private.

      I also don’t understand how you say you want to retain your anonymity (don’t use my real name!) whilst negotiating for a reality television show. Those two things do not go together.

      • Part of what goes along with pasting your face on a reality tv show is that the pop media writes a lot of stories about you. I’ve never seen any of the reality shows, but I’ve seen plenty of articles about the people in the shows, as these articles regularly pop up on a wide variety of news stories on the ‘net.

        So her face will be everywhere, along with her real name, and promptly her family’s names will be out there as well. If you go on reality television as the star of a show, you are absolutely giving up your family’s anonymity.

    • The article also mentions the surname of her brother-in-law, which is presumably her real surname as well. Often those names are revealed on copyright pages. If anyone were interested enough to find out…

      • The copyright page is always my first stop, precisely to find that out.

        As for the reality show / privacy thing … yeah, not sure how those two things are supposed to coexist. Unless she’s going to be like Gorillaz, the cartoon band who never show their own faces?

  8. “She’s in the process of setting herself up in a reality television show.

    That’s not really the act of someone who wants to protect herself and her family.”

    that hit is square. Something missing from this whole ‘confession’ by “Wild”.

    Sheltering one’s children while displaying oneself in a so-called “reality” show is IMPossible. Not to mention, the ‘realities’ are staged and stooged.

    I have to say, shades of Elora’s or whatever her name is, Cave.

  9. Some analysts attribute the dip in publishers’ e-book revenue in part to the glut of cheap self-published books, which often sell for as little as $1.

    And some attribute it to publishers’ practice of pricing eBooks higher than hardcovers and driving potential customers, not toward the paperback, but toward Indies. I bought a kobo as well as a kindle and that’s how I read. Indies price eBooks reasonably. Big publishers price eBooks high in the mistaken impression that I will drive to a store and search for a paper copy.

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