From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:
[Hugh] Howey’s observations are not particularly welcomed by publishers, but he has a deep interest in indie authors and, by his lights, is always trying to help them by encouraging them to indie-publish through Amazon rather than seeking a traditional deal through an agent. He has organized the AuthorEarnings website and data repository along with Data Guy, the games-business data analyst who has turned his analytical skills to the book business whom we featured at the most recent Digital Book World this past March.
Howey and I have had numerous private conversations over the years. He’s intelligent and sincere in his beliefs and truly devotes his energy to “industry education” motivated by his desire to help other authors. Yet there are holes in his analysis of the industry and where it is going that he doesn’t fill. Given his substantial following and obvious comfort level doing the marketing (such as it is, and it appears Howey’s success as an author hasn’t required much) for his own books as well as his commercial performance, it is easy to understand why he would never consider publishing any other way but as he has, as an indie author who is “all in” with Amazon. But he seems to think what worked well for him would work best for anybody.
In this interview, Howey says that any author would be better off self-publishing his or her first book than going the route of selling it to a publisher. And he actually dismisses the marketing effort required to do that. Howey says the best marketing is publishing your next book. He thinks the best strategy is for authors to write several books a year to gain success. In fact, he says taking time away from writing to do marketing is a bad choice. Expecting most writers, or even many writers, to do several books a year strikes me as a highly dubious proposition.
. . . .
Howey also has an unrealistically limited view of the output of big publishing. If you read this interview (and I would encourage anybody interested in the book business to do so), you see that he thinks almost exclusively about fiction or, as he puts it, “storytelling”. Books come, like his did, out of an author’s imagination and all the author needs is the time to write. Exposure through Amazon does the rest.
. . . .
The other is that Howey’s analysis totally leaves out one of the biggest categories of publishing: big non-fiction like history or biographies or industry analyses that take years of research and dedication to complete. Unlike a lot of fiction, those books not only take time, they require serious help and expense to research. In a imagined future world where all books are self-published, aspiring fiction writers give up very little (small advances) and successful fiction authors have the money to eat while they write the next book they can make even more money on doing it the Howey way (even though none have). But big non-fiction books like Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” (or anything by David McCullough) took years of research to put together. “Dark Money” was undoubtedly financed at a very high level by the Doubleday imprint at Penguin Random House. How books like that will be funded in the future is not covered by Howey’s analysis.
Now, that’s not to say they must be. Economic realities do rule. Howey’s thesis that things are shifting in Amazon’s direction and away from the ecosystem that has sustained big book publishers is correct.
Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Jan for the tip.
PG says that, because a successful fiction author like Hugh says fiction publishing is best done by indie authors and doesn’t say anything about non-fiction, Big Publishing must be the only way for big non-fiction to be published.
The fundamental economics of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing include an inherent financial bias for the author towards self-publishing. Amazon is just as willing to pay 70% royalties to an indie non-fiction author as it is to an indie fiction author.
Mike cites nonfiction unicorns (the nonfic equivalent of James Patterson and Lee Child) and says they need big publishing to finance their research expenses. Ergo, nonfiction authors need big publishing.
PG is happy to be corrected, but he bets that midlist nonfiction authors don’t get treated any better than midlist fiction authors. PG doubts that any publisher plans to fund years of research for anyone but a nonfiction superstar.
As far as attractive alternatives to tradpub funding, what about Kickstarter and GoFundMe? A far greater portion of the financial benefits of indiefunded and indiepublished nonfiction will go to the author than will the benefits of publisher-funded nonfiction.
PG bets that David McCullough could get millions for research through Kickstarter. PG would certainly contribute. Come to think of it, James Patterson could as well.