Joe Konrath

Translating John Sargent

19 December 2014

From Joe Konrath:

Often times it seems as if those who work in the legacy publishing world are so out of touch with authors that a translator is needed to explain the true meaning of what has been said.

Such is the case with John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, in his recent public letter.

Sargent in crazy bold italics, the translation in common-sense normal font.

Dear Authors, Illustrators, and Agents,

There has been a lot of change in the e-book publishing world of late, so I thought it a good idea to update you on what is going on at Macmillan. 

Translation: It will be easier to accept the bad news if I warn you first.

The largest single change happens today, December 18th. Today a portion of our agreement with the Department of Justice (called a consent decree) expires, and we will no longer be required to allow retailers to discount e-books.

Translation: Remember when we illegally colluded with other publishers to price-fix? We did that because we were worried that low-priced ebooks would harm our paper distribution oligopoly.It doesn’t matter that we have a much higher profit margin on ebooks. It doesn’t matter that since forcing the agency model on Amazon, our authors made less money. What matters is that we foresaw a day where ebook sales surpassed paper sales, and we knew that would put us out of business because savvy authors wouldn’t need our value-added publishing services anymore.Happily, Amazon won’t be able to discount our ebooks anymore, so we can charge high prices and protect the interests of our business and of the cartel at the expense of your financial situation.

. . . .

Simon & Schuster and Macmillan have appealed the court’s decision to extend these dates. This appeal still awaits resolution.

Translation: Money that could have been given to you in the form of higher ebook royalties has been given to lawyers. But the lawyers will hopefully help us ensure that your ebook sales remain low. So why should a low royalty even matter to you? It’s not as if your ebooks are priced to sell in the first place.

. . . .

Irony prospers in the digital age.

Translation: We kinda screwed ourselves.

This odd aberration in the market will cause us to occasionally change the digital list price of your books in what may seem to be random fashion. I ask for your forbearance. We will be attempting to create even pricing as best we can.

Translation: We are attempting to create even pricing with ebooks. With paper, we want Amazon to discount them as much as possible. We’re okay with Amazon undercutting the competition on the price of paper books. That’s a monopoly we want them to have, even if it hurts B&N and indie bookstores. But with ebooks, because we have no distribution oligopoly and are technically not needed by authors, we insist on controlling prices.

. . . .

In our search for new routes to market, we have been considering alternative business models including the subscription model. Many of you know that we have long been opposed to subscription. We have always worried that it will erode the perceived value of your books. Though this significant long-term risk remains, we have decided to test subscription in the coming weeks. 

Translation: Be prepared to make even less money. And we’re doing this even though we’re concerned the perceived value of your books will drop, something often pointed to as the reason we’ve kept ebook prices high. So we’re hypocrites. But it’s okay, because we’re trying to save ourselves.

. . . .

I remain entirely optimistic about our prospects together as we go forward. 

Translation: Macmillan’s prospects. Not the prospects of our writers.

Macmillan owns your rights, and we can do whatever the hell we want with them, and you have no say in it because you signed those rights away to us. Your rights are our sole assets.

We haven’t exploited your rights like we should have, because we were looking at the long game. Ours, not yours.

Looks like the long game won’t pan out. So we’re changing strategies.

You’ll undoubtedly suffer because of this. But you’re used to suffering because of the poor decisions we’ve made.

Hey, at least we’re warning you, right?

. . . .

Joe’s questions for John Sargent on behalf of Macmillan authors:

1. Can I opt out of this new subscription idea?

2. My books aren’t available in print anymore, or the print sales are minuscule. Can you give me my rights back?

3. Why do you think low ebook prices are bad, but a subscription service is a great opportunity?

. . . .

10. You said that this is for books that “are not well represented at bricks and mortar retail stores”. Does that mean no Macmillan bestsellers will be in this subscription program? The rich authors don’t have to deal with this, but I do?

. . . .

14. You said there is a long-term risk that this will devalue my titles, but you’re testing it anyway. Are you going to compensate me in any way to be your guinea pig? A bonus? Higher royalties? Some sort of promotion that features my titles?

. . . .

17. A lot of self-pubbed authors are unhappy with Kindle Unlimited because they’re earning less money. Now you want to force me into similar subscription programs. Do you see my income increasing because of this decision? Because the blogosphere is full of complaints that subscription services aren’t author-friendly, and I’m very concerned.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to Daniel for the tip.

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books

Thoughts on the DBW Writer Survey with Author Lisa Grace

3 December 2014

From Joe Konrath:

Lisa Grace: I asked Joe to please respond to the DBW 2014 survey questions because I just love how he rips through all the *flakes. Many people spout utter nonsense that is meant to slam self-publishing back into a little box marked “they can’t really be doing that well since everyone knows self-publishers really don’t make more than $500 per book, ever” so let’s write a survey that highlights that particular wish-oid (which are related to hemorrhoids.)

Joe: You can see some of the results here, but I’m not going to link to the actual survey because I STRONGLY advise writers not to waste their time with it. If you’re really curious, Google it, but I’m not going to send any writers DBW’s way.

Keep reading on to see why. TL:DR: The DBW survey is damn near worthless.

The survey results are… well… “skewed” would be overly generous. Do you know how lawyers only ask questions they already know the answers to, in order to persuade a judge and jury? And how what is left unsaid is just as important as they way certain questions are phrased? And how they can ask you to reply either “yes” or “no” even though that doesn’t tell the whole story? Add in researcher and response bias, awful and/or incomplete questions, limited and/or missing possible responses, and no random sampling, and welcome to the DBW Survey.

. . . .

Lisa: I just don’t get the point of this survey. Most of the questions, the ones that should be relevant, asked questions relating specifically to the last book published. This is ridiculous. My last book was published on November 12, 2014 (Angel in the Fire, Book 4) and like many others I do a soft launch.

Referring to “the last book published” shows a complete misunderstanding of the fundamental difference between self-publishing and traditional.

This particular book is the fourth in a series. I still sometimes promote the first, and won’t do a large marketing push for another four months when the final book in the series is finished. This is all by design as there is no urgency to promote mid series.

Joe: I had many similar issues, which would lead anyone reading the results to form incorrect conclusions. When this survey is trotted out to prove various points, or its results are cited, be wary.

Here are the survey questions that we thought were problematic, with our fair use critique and comments.

Question: Have you had at least one book published (either traditionally or self-published)?

Lisa: Okay, I thought this survey was for published authors. Yet, a surprising amount of non-published writers are posting.

Survey over for them, right?

If they’ve never published, it’s fairly safe to assume they make zero, and this survey is no longer applicable to them, UNLESS they were going to add some questions (spoiler alert: they don’t) like:

Have you ever queried a traditional publisher?
How many times have you queried traditional advance paying publishers?
How many works/books have you queried publishers with?
How many rejections did you receive on each work?

Now each of these responses should be going into the ZERO made column on the trade side.

Actually, there should be another set of follow-up questions, like:

How much do you estimate you spend in a year on postage, fine linen paper and envelopes, SASEs, paper and toner for your full and partial manuscripts that were rejected?

This of course, puts the trade-pursuing faction in the NEGATIVE column for earnings for the year.

Joe: I used to be known for saying, “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up… published.” Years ago, when publishing was exclusively a lottery/carny game, not every manuscript was published. But this survey allows authors who haven’t even finished a manuscript to provide data. So far, 47% of respondents haven’t complete a book, yet they can still take part of the survey. Who would be interested in that data?

Companies that market products and services to wanna-be authors.

. . . .

Question: About how many hours per week do you spend on OTHER ACTIVITIES RELATED TO WRITING (social networking, marketing your titles, engaging with fans and other writers, etc.)?

Lisa: Again, this is important for those who want to cross-sell services to authors.

Joe: Writing is hard enough! Do you also want to work 250 hours a week running your own business?!?!? We here at Screwya Vanity Press know that you’re an artist who shouldn’t have to get bogged down with all the non-writing parts of the job, so for only $4999 we can do them for you!

This survey is looking less and less like a way to analyze the industry and more and more like a way to survey suckers to better sell them stuff.

Lisa: Or maybe this question is on the survey because trade publishers plan to go back to their authors and say, “Look, they’re spending X hours a week promoting, you should too.”

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to James for the tip.

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books and Lisa Grace’s books

Don’t Pay to Self-Publish

24 November 2014

From Joe Konrath:

My name is Joe Konrath, and I write fiction.

I’ve sold over a million books by self-publishing.

You probably were searching for “how to self-publish” or something similar and my blog came up.

This post for all newbie writers considering self-publishing. While it would be extremely helpful to you to take a week and read my entire blog to get a full understanding of how the publishing industry works, here’s the most important thing you need to know:

DON’T PAY ANYONE TO PUBLISH YOU.

Now you can certainly pay people to help you publish. Freelancers such as editors, cover artists, book formatters, proofreaders, and so on.

But when you hire a freelancer to assist you, you keep your rights.

That’s very important.

When you write something, you own the copyright. That’s automatic, even if you don’t register with the copyright office.

Copyright means exactly that; you have the right to copy it, to distribute it, to give it away, to sell it. You own those rights.

But if you pay someone to publish you, you GIVE THEM YOUR RIGHTS.

NEVER GIVE ANYONE YOUR RIGHTS.

. . . .

The truth is, major presses PAY THE AUTHOR, not the other way around.

I have sold books to major publishers, and was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then I had to hire lawyers to get those books back so I could self-publish them. Because I make 10x as much money self-publishing as I did by selling my rights to publishers.

. . . .

Q: I saw an ad for a publisher. Are they legit?

A: Real publishers NEVER advertise. Anywhere. Ever. Not in magazines, or on Facebook, or in Google Ads. NEVER. If they advertise, avoid them.

Q: I saw a publisher at a writing conference and they have publishing packages that they sell.

A: Run away from them. Quickly.

. . . .

Q: But if I pay this publisher, they promise to get me reviews and get my book into Ingram and…

A: DON’T PAY ANYONE TO PUBLISH YOU.

Q: Why not? What’s the big deal?

A: First, they’ll take your money. Probably hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Then they’ll keep your rights, so if your book does become successful, they control it, probably forever.

I know a lot of rich self-pubbed authors. Not one of them paid to be published.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books

The Authors Guild: Do More Than Hope

16 November 2014

From Joe Konrath:

From Authors Guild Prez Roxana Robinson:

“In the meantime, it’s our hope that Hachette—in light of the loyalty its authors have shown throughout this debacle—takes this opportunity to revisit its standard e-book royalty rate of 25% of the publisher’s net profits.”

The Authors Guild has, many times in the past, voiced that ebook royalties should be raised.

So do something about it.

The AG, and Authors United, have been able to get beaucoup media attention during the Hachette/Amazon spat. They were squarely on the side of Hachette (even while proclaiming they weren’t taking sides) and they waged a war for public opinion that did a decent propagandist job of demonizing Amazon.

Now the AG, and all of the bestselling authors who supported AU, need to show some backbone and integrity and use the same tactics to force the Big 5 to raise digital royalties.

Robinson is correct that many authors remained loyal to their publishers. And it makes sense that the loyalty should be rewarded. When a dog does a trick, it gets a treat.

Perhaps the treat will come, and Hachette, after suffering an 18% sales decline during the negotiations, will decide to give away even more profits by raising royalties.

. . . .

If not, the AG and AU should wage a similar public campaign to the one they did against Amazon, and make the world aware that authors earning 1/3 of the digital royalties that publishers earn is lopsided, unfair, and will no lnger be tolerated.

Back in the day before they were called ebooks, and digital rights began to get mentioned in contracts, the Big 6 almost unilaterally came to the conclusion that 25% author royalties were fair.

Where was the AG and the AAR to push back? Not only were digital costs lower–no cost for production or distribution–but the distributor was essentially removed from the money chain. Rather than share this extra money with authors, publishers simply grabbed it.

I’ve done the math in the past. On a $25 hardcover, the author makes about $3.75, and the publisher around $5, after all production, delivery, and middleman costs (distributors and booksellers).

On a $25 ebook, an author makes $4.37, and the publisher $13.12.

Link to the rest at JA Konrath and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books

The great Amazon debate: A leading Amazon critic and a self-publishing rock star try to find common ground

21 October 2014

From Salon:

After I wrote a piece calling self-published authors who defend Amazon “no better than Ayn Rand libertarians,” I received a flood of social media high-fives from those within publishing, their frustration with the giant palpable. I also received fierce blowback from the self-published community. The most thorough and entertaining came from Joe Konrath, who has self-published 24 novels (three of them No. 1 Amazon sellers), hundreds of stories, and has sold over 3 million copies of his books.

He, in turn, received a flood of digital high-fives from the self-publishing community for his zingers, the pent-up frustration at what they believe is one-sided media coverage palpable.

I could have left the name-calling to the social media ether, but we rarely ever really engage with those with wildly differing opinions. I reached out to Konrath and we had the following exchange of ideas.

* * *

Hi Joe,

Your “Fisking Salon and Rob Spillman” was the most entertaining thing I’ve read in a long time. If only some of my authors and students had the same bite, humor and energy.

I wanted to engage in a conversation. I realize this may be impossible, but as you have already established that I am a 100 percent Idiot, I thought there would be nothing to lose.

. . . .

As an indie publisher, I have been on the receiving end of Amazon’s tactics.

I don’t want to split hairs, go through each other’s posts line-by-line. I do, however, want to apologize if it seemed like I was dismissing self-published authors or genre writers. That was not my intention, nor is it what I believe. My intention was to point out that Amazon has been a very good platform for a large number of self-published writers, which tend to be genre writers.

One thing I want to make clear: I believe that Jeff Bezos is a genius. He has single-handedly changed the way the world shops.

His hero, Sam Walton, was also a genius. Bezos’s bible is “Sam Walton: Made in America,” Walton’s autobiography. Walton’s legacy is the big box store where very cheap products, many made in China, are readily available. His other legacy is the destruction of small town America and family-owned businesses. When I drove back roads across the U.S. last summer, small town after small town had boarded-up downtowns with a Wal-Mart and perhaps a Costco on the periphery. Those people lucky enough to have jobs were working for half the wages they used to under dehumanizing conditions (you have to purchase a uniform, at your own cost, to begin with). According to your argument, this is just the free market at work. Efficiency. The Walton heirs are now worth more than $100 billion. The U.S. now ranks 93rd in the world in income inequality. The middle class has shrunk dramatically over the past 20 years, with average salaries stuck at 1994 levels while the S&P has more than doubled in value adjusted for inflation over the same time.

. . . .

I believe that Amazon is trying to do Walton one better. With traditional publishing, $10 million in sales required 47 employees. With Amazon, the same amount requires 1 employee. Was the old way inefficient? Perhaps. Maybe I work in an obsolete world of literary fiction, creative nonfiction, and journalism. In my world, editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, book reviewers and bookstores are necessary and vital. Book advances are what fund many book-length nonfiction projects. I am also concerned about local economies being squeezed out by massive, unchecked corporations that do everything legally possible to avoid paying local and national taxes. Again, they are doing nothing legally wrong, but I would argue that there is a greater moral issue at play here.

. . . .

I look forward to your thoughts.

Sincerely,

Rob Spillman

. . . .

Hi Rob –

Thanks for the kind, levelheaded email. I’m impressed by your tone, your willingness to engage, and the integrity it took to email a loudmouth jerk like me. Remember, I didn’t say you were a 100 percent idiot. Only that you were getting close to 100 percent in that Salon piece. :)

I read your email with an open mind, and agree with much of what you said, along with the sentiment behind it. I believe you’re sincere.

I also drove across country, signing at more than 1,200 bookstores in 42 states. This was only a few years ago, but I’d guess at least one-third, and possibly one-half, of those bookstores no longer exist. That saddens me. I love bookstores, and booksellers. In my novel “Dirty Martini” I thanked over 3,000 booksellers by name in the back matter.

. . . .

“I am also concerned about local economies being squeezed out by massive, unchecked corporations that do everything legally possible to avoid paying local and national taxes.”

This is where you begin to lose me. I know it isn’t your intent to dismiss self-published writers, but I think there’s a very good argument that Amazon has been a boon to tens (hundreds?) of thousands of authors that weren’t ever given a chance in your world, which you reference above.

. . . .

“But from my POV, it is hard to see how anyone can face off against a company willing to lose $100 million per year just to gain market share.”

A company doesn’t have to compete with Amazon. A company can instead innovate in sectors Amazon doesn’t presently care about. Have large publishers innovated anything? Did they create an online bookstore where people want to shop? Did they invent the e-reading device and app everyone wants to use?

“For me and most of my colleagues, we are being squeezed, and Amazon has massive power and endless resources.”

I actually do understand. But that doesn’t forgive all of the glaring errors and bad logic in your Salon piece. Being squeezed hurts. It’s human to want to lash out, fight back. The trick is to analyze what the best response is.

Sometimes the best response is to move on.

What you’re feeling is no doubt akin to what buggy whip manufacturers felt when Henry Ford came along. When a new tech replaces an old one, people are disintermediated. It sucks, but it’s life.

“What I can’t understand is why you would cheer for Amazon in its fight against traditional publishers. Here comes one of my analogies that you love to pull apart – -it seems like rooting for the lions against the Roman prisoners in the Coliseum.”

I was a Roman prisoner in the Coliseum, being feasted on by lions. Those lions were big publishers. After 20 years, a million written words, and nine rejected novels, I finally landed a book contract. And I worked my ass off and published eight novels with legacy publishers, dozens of short stories with respected magazines, and went above and beyond everything that was required of me, in order to succeed.

And I got eaten. One-sided contracts, broken promises, lousy money. But it was the only game in town. If I wanted to make a living as a writer, I had no choice.

Then Amazon invented the Kindle.

I first self-pubbed in May of 2009. That first month I made $1,500, publishing books that New York rejected.

Those same rejected books have earned me hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I cheer for Amazon because it saved me, and thousands of other authors, from the Coliseum. And I try to show others there is a way to make money from publishing where the terms are better, and the writer stays in control.

“My central argument is that if Amazon crushes us all, it will be able to dictate whatever terms to anyone using its massive platform. What if it suddenly decides to flip terms and only offer you 30 percent, or decide that your books really should be sold for 50 cents?”

Rob, that’s what the Big 5 already do. Except for an elite, tiny group of upper-tier authors, the Big 5 treat 99.9 percent of us badly. Keeping rights for term of copyright? Non-compete clauses? Twenty-five percent e-book royalty on net? I’ve had chapters cut by editors that I wanted to keep. I’ve had terrible cover art. I’ve had my titles forcibly changed. And my experience isn’t unique. I’m friends with hundreds of authors. A few were treated like kings. Most were screwed.

You worry that Amazon might someday offer 30 percent when publishers right now offer 17.5 percent? You must see how odd that is.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Brandt for the tip.

PG will briefly comment on Salon’s point about Walmart because it’s so typical of what happens when big city folk drive through small towns on their way to other big cities. He believes it is also an example of how out of touch Big Publishing is with the lives of readers.

PG grew up on ranches and farms outside of small towns. Small towns were where he went for excitement. While he left the farm for the big city when he went to college, after several years in a couple of big cities, he moved back to a small town for 16 years. He’s lived in cities since then. When he visits his brother or sister, however, he visits small towns.

People from Manhattan vacation in Bar Harbor or Martha’s Vineyard or Carmel and think they’ve experienced the ideal small town. They haven’t. They’ve experienced small down Disneyland for rich people.

Walmart  is one of the best things that has happened to every typical small town where it has built a store. Typical small town retailing isn’t like Carmel. Typical small town retailing is dead-end minimum wage jobs. Typical small town retailing is limited choice and high prices. Typical small town retailing is one of the reasons that graduates of small town high schools head elsewhere as soon as they can. Typical small town retailing is why families who live in small towns travel to the closest city for a better shopping experience..

When Walmart  takes applications to staff a new store, the line of people who want to work there extends way out into the parking lot. The line includes almost everyone who is an employee at the existing small town retailers. Small town Walmarts never have problems filling open jobs.

Why? Because Walmart offers a future. You can start at a cash register and become a store manager and then move up from there. Without being a college graduate. The manager of a Walmart is easily the highest paid retail employee in a small town. He/she makes more money than the owners of all but a couple of small-town retail establishments.

Walmart  is also the very best thing that happens to poor people in small towns. Why? Their minimum wage salary or welfare check buys them much, much more at Walmart than it does at any other retailer in town.

Visitors from Manhattan who venture into a Walmart are always grossed out by some of the customers they see there. Why? Because those customers are poor people trying to make their incomes stretch as far as possible. Even poor people like to have a nice selection of products they can afford in a clean store.

Konrath v. Child, Round 2

2 October 2014

After sending me an email to share why he signed the Authors United petition, and spending some time engaging with people in the comments, Lee Child has continued to generously share his thoughts and has responded to some of the questions I had.

I’ll run it in its entirety, then provide my answers.

Lee: Joe, here’s my response to the points you made that interest me.

I think the first part of your reply (about relative success) can be summed up by quoting your words “That’s luck … the legacy industry never handed me the keys to the kingdom like they did with you.”

That’s a little self-pitying, don’t you think?  Poor Joe!  And it doesn’t hold up under analysis.  We both started from the same place, albeit a few years apart, but as it happens those particular years saw no change in the model. We both had the same small print run in debut hardcover.  We both had the same extremely limited distribution.  We both had the same non-existent marketing support.  We were first-year clones of each other.  We were typical throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks gambits … No one “handed” me a key, and no one withheld one from you.  Instead, a bean counter sat down and figured he could make more money out of me than you.  It was that simple.

And in fact you were then very lucky – a new platform was invented that suited your skill set perfectly.  I’m a close observer of the whole self-publishing scene (and I have read more than 600 self-published books) and I think your weaknesses under the old model have been matched by exceptional strengths perfectly attuned to the new model.

I think you should celebrate that, and I think you should stop letting traditional publishing live rent-free in your head.  I think all self-publishers should.  Because all these endless screechy blogs make you look whiny, not us.  “I coulda been a contender!”  Get over it already.  Move on.  Don’t perpetuate the “bitter reject” meme.

…………………………

Joe: I find it empowering. My daddy didn’t buy me a car. I went out and earned my own.

Ribbing aside, you had advantages that I didn’t, but that’s life. I’m pleased with what I’ve been able to accomplish, and don’t lament what I never had.

I’m pretty sure your advance and print run were higher than mine. Didn’t Stephen King review your first book in Entertainment Weekly? Didn’t you also debut in the UK? You already had several advantages out of the gate.

In the comments you mentioned:

I remember meeting Dick Francis early on and learning a lot from him. In some ways he was the pioneer of the regular-as-clockwork, book-a-year paradigm. How much sense would it have made for me to say, “Oh, you just got lucky, so I’m going to ignore you”?

Dick Francis is the perfect counterexample to my experience. His publisher carried him for over ten years (was it twenty?) before he had a breakout hit. Your publisher also carried you (and I bet you were getting coop and discounting early on in both the US and UK, along with reviews and ads and a slew of others things I didn’t get.)

The only time I mention “I coulda been a contender” is when someone says they earned their success through hard work and talent.

C’mon, Lee. You know luck plays a huge part. You got a lot luckier than I ever did, so why not acknowledge that? You’ve even mentioned luck before:

“To get as successful as I have gotten as a writer, it’s like winning the lottery the same day that you get hit by lightning twice. It’s staggeringly unlikely. So I’m unbelievably fortunate.” – Lee Child

I can understand the “hit by lightning” part. Circumstances beyond my control ruined two of my publishing deals. In my case, the luck I had was bad.

But my luck was still greater than thousands of other legacy authors, who sold 1/10 of what I did when I was with Hyperion and Hachette. And I never thought I was better, or more deserving, than any of them.

Read more at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.

Barry Eisler also chimes in. It’s unclear why Lee is so resistant to acknowledging the role that blind luck played in his success, especially considering his previous quote on the subject. However, credit should be given, as Lee is at least arguing from a position of logic and experience (unlike every word that has come out of Authors United to date). This is a lengthy exchange, but well worth the read.

Joe’s books can be found here.

Barry’s books can be found here.

Lee has already stated that he is “staggeringly rich,” so he presumably needs no link. :-)

~ Dan

Lee Child Chimes In

25 September 2014

From Joe Konrath:

Joe: Yesterday I asked any Authors United signatory to engage me on my blog.

Lee Child took me up on it.

. . . .

Lee: Here’s my personal take … speaking generally, with a plural “you” … and as a guy entirely unafraid of the future, whatever it may bring – after all, I kicked your ass under the old system, and I’ll kick it under the new system, and the new-new, and the new-new-new, until I retire, or the lung cancer gets me, whichever comes first. I’m completely confident of that, and you’d be an idiot to bet against me. We both started from nowhere, and in the last three weeks I sold more ebooks – of one title – than you have sold in your entire life. Or will sell. Print visibility, you say? How? Print is a niche, according to you, and no one visits bookstores anymore!

Joe: First of all, congrats on selling more than 1.5 million ebooks (which is where I’m at to date) in the last three weeks. I assume I’ll sell a few million more before I kick off, so let’s call my total lifetime sales 5 million. It’s damn impressive that you sold that many ebooks in three weeks of just one title.

But it’s also nearing the end of that era. You’re everywhere books are sold. I’m not. That’s a huge advantage. One I never had. Your massive paper distribution serves as a giant, global advertisement for your ebooks.

. . . .

You may believe the legacy publishing world is a meritocracy. I believe it’s a lottery. No one earns a lottery win. No one is entitled to it.

. . . .

 Lee: And don’t tell me I was lucky or “anointed” or some such … again, we all start from the same place, but I worked harder and smarter than my rivals, and believe me, I’m ready to do it all again … so don’t tell me I’m scared or whining – truth is, I’m licking my lips in anticipation of the big win in whatever scenario comes next.

. . . .

Lee: And let’s settle one thing … the so-called Amazon/Hachette contract … I think you overestimate it, or misunderstand it, possibly. It ain’t the key to some kind of magic kingdom. Almost every sale Amazon makes happens without a contract with the supplier or manufacturer. It used to be that way with Hachette. Hachette sold to wholesalers, at a certain discount, and the wholesalers sold on to Amazon, at a slight markup. Soon Amazon wanted to avoid that markup, so it went to Hachette and asked, “Please will you sell to us direct?” And Hachette said, “OK.” And that’s the so-called contract, right there.

Joe: And then Hachette colluded with four other publishers to force Amazon to accept their new terms, i.e. the agency model. Amazon didn’t want to accept those terms. Not because of the 30/70 split, but because it took away Amazon’s ability to discount.

Suddenly contracts became important. What began as a mutual handshake (assuming you’re correct about this) was no longer acceptable to either party.

Right now, Hachette doesn’t want Amazon to be able to discount. Amazon wants to discount. Since Hachette forced a contract on Amazon–the agency contract–and that contract lapsed, Amazon does not have to sell Hachette’s titles under Hachette’s terms.

. . . .

Lee: But, here’s the thing – by continuing to trade under expired terms, it’s Hachette doing Amazon a favor, not vice versa. Amazon is still getting its protection money – and giving nothing in return right now – and still avoiding the wholesalers’ markup.

Joe: If Amazon wants to charge Hachette to sell its books, it can do that. If Amazon doesn’t want to discount, it can do that. Amazon isn’t a monopoly, and it isn’t the government. Being a tough competitor or being tough with suppliers doesn’t violate any laws.

Lee: If Hachette walked away, Amazon would lose… unless it was prepared not to carry Hachette titles ever again. Which it isn’t, because Amazon’s whole theory is to be the go-to, first-stop, everything store. “I’ll get it from Amazon” is what they depend on hearing. “I wonder if Amazon has it?” would be the kiss of death.

Joe: I believe you overestimate the value of Hachette’s catalog to Amazon.

. . . .

 Lee: Which is why the dispute is so intractable. It’s half-rational, half-emotional. And flawed – Amazon wants more protection money now (yes, it’s really that simple) but it isn’t prepared to get up from the table and walk away. Neither is Hachette. Hachette’s best play – logically – would be to walk away and suffer a few lean years before an alternative presented itself. I’m absolutely sure its parent company wants it to do that, and would support it in so doing. Huge European corporations are good at the long game. But local management is resisting, because the hiatus would derail too many careers. Again, half-rational, half-emotional.

. . . .

Lee: It’s staggeringly naïve to think the current KDP landscape is anything other than a short-term tactic. Note well – I am NOT saying don’t get into it now just because it will get worse in the future… instead I say, hell yes, make hay while the sun shines. Exploit Amazon’s game plan for all you can get, as long as it lasts, and more power to you. But understand that today’s KDP is a pressure point, designed to suck authors out of the established system, along with sucking out money and margin by other routes. Truth is, it ain’t working great so far – no significant authors have jumped ship, and publishers are still profitable. But Bezos never gives up.

And if he wins… then we all have a problem. Note well – I am NOT talking about nurturing or culture or curating or any of that kind of non-existent crap. I’m talking about money. Amazon is a tech company. The basic tech paradigm says content is always the smallest part of the cost. Those guys really believe that. Storytellers will be working for whatever few pennies they choose to hand out. (Or some will. I’ll be doing something else by then. I don’t work for pennies.)

Joe: Most of us already have a problem. It’s with publishers like Hachette. Right now, Hachette, and the rest of Big Publishing, treat the vast majority of authors as the smallest part of their costs.

Hachette authors are getting screwed, working for pennies. And Hachette’s insistence on keeping ebook prices high to protect its paper oligopoly will continue to hurt all authors but the very top of the heap (such as yourself).

On the other hand, Amazon is allowing many authors to make money for the very first time.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to Barb for the tip.

My Advice to Authors United

24 September 2014

We get a double helping of Joe today.

From Joe Konrath:

While they haven’t lacked for biased media attention, they aren’t swaying Amazon, and aren’t swaying public opinion. Amazon’s approval rating has gone up since the Hachette negotiations went public, and readers don’t give a hoot about a bunch of rich, entitled authors whose pre-order buttons are gone.

Whining in public, wasting money on a $104k NYT ad, and whining in public some more, has accomplished the opposite effect of what they intended. Instead of getting sympathy and results, they’ve gotten a taste of the future. Namely, what the world will be like when their publishers aren’t maximizing their sales potential.

Amazon is just the tip of the iceberg, you see. Yes, Hachette authors are currently losing sales. But Amazon has no contract with Hachette, and has no obligation to sell any Hachette titles at all. When Amazon completely stops selling Hachette books, Hachette’s midlist will die. B&N and indie bookstores don’t constitute enough sales to justify a 40k paperback run, and printing fewer than that isn’t cost-effective.

. . . .

My mother held out during the VHS to DVD transition. She didn’t buy a DVD player… until she had to, because they stopped selling VHS.

When this happens with ebooks–when the casual reader switches to a tablet app or cheap dedicated ereading device–it will hurt more than bookstores. All those folks who read 1 to 5 books a year (the ones who make the mega-bestsellers, of which many are Authors United signatories) will no longer get their summer reads at drug stores or airports. They’ll simply download something.

All that prime real estate, putting mega-selling authors in front of peoples’ eyes with widespread paper distribution, will be gone. Then James Patterson will be stuck with ebooks as his major source of income. If he’s lucky, Amazon will still be selling his work, albeit for $12.99 with DRM and no Kindle Unlimited. If he’s unlucky, Hachette will never capitulate, and Amazon will stop selling him altogether.

Consider the French Revolution. A bunch of blue bloods really thought they were born to rule, and the peasants couldn’t live without them to govern. They were wrong.

Guess what? The reading community can easily live without books from every single Authors United signatory. Sure, some fans will be disappointed. But those fans will find other things to read. Just like I’ve been waiting for years for another Evil Dead film, but I’ve managed to find other movies to watch. The lack of Evil Dead 4 didn’t mean I quit watching all films. The lack of Douglas Preston’s latest in the supermarket check-out rack doesn’t mean Preston fans won’t find something else to read.

. . . .

Hachette is cutting its own throat. By trying to protect its paper cartel, it is pushing readers away from its own catalog, and toward ebooks.

Hachette feels it has no choice. Unless they prevent Amazon from discounting ebooks, paper will die anyway. So why not go the contentious route and ruin the careers of hundreds of authors?

If other publishers follow Hachette’s example, they’ll fail. But if they allow Amazon to discount ebooks, they’ll also fail. Their paper oligopoly will suffer either way.

You fight technology, technology always wins.

But new technology, and the Amazon juggernaut, aren’t the only nails in the legacy industry’s coffin.

Authors United has tried to wage its battle in the court of public opinion, using the media to spread its nonsense. But it has discovered that readers don’t care.

. . . .

Authors United is an ironic name for a group that is prompting authors to take sides. It is reinforcing the path indie authors have chosen, and embarrassing many who chose the legacy route. Publicly bitching that Amazon is hurting authors–when it is obvious that Amazon has an open door policy for authors via KDP and it is actually Hachette’s inability to negotiate that is hurting authors–will scare more authors away from the Big 5. I was actually just talking with a bestseller who isn’t going to even bother submitting a new book to the Big 5 out of a very real concern that they won’t be able to sell via Amazon.

It’s all a big, oven-baked plateful of fail with a generous slice of stupid for dessert.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

The Name Game

24 September 2014

From Joe Konrath:

The Hachette/Amazon situation has become a true comedy of errors. It’s like watching Groucho Marx lead Freedonia into war by intentionally being greedy, dishonest, and self-serving.

. . . .

I go back and forth [about Authors United]. Think-tank forced to defend an unwinnable debate, or self-deluded pinheads?

. . . .

Collectively, they feel threatened, and there really aren’t any good ways to defend their sense of entitlement, so they have to zero in on the same nonsense they’ve been preaching for years; protectors of culture, nurturers of writers, champions of indie bookstores, and defenders of fair business practices. Amazon is using “sanctions” and “boycotts”, Amazon is a “monopoly” that is “targeting” authors.

This is all very specific language that the status quo has collectively adopted in order to spin the real story.

. . . .

Authors United can’t win on logic, facts, or even common sense, so they are appealing to emotion to sway public opinion, and the language they’re using is tailored to that. So the same lies keep getting trotted out, with Authors United hoping that the public will start repeating them and public opinion will side with them.

I’m going to put the buzz words that are being repeated in italics, and explain why they’re fallacious.

Amazon is not a monopoly. But people know monopolies are bad and illegal, so the term keeps getting used.

Publishers don’t create culture. They don’t create anything; authors do. But Authors United wants you to believe publishers are indispensable. And they aren’t.

Books aren’t commodities. Well, yes, they are. They’re bought and sold, after all. AU wants to say they aren’t, that people recognize the importance of literature and are above crass, plebian capitalism. But publishers print prices directly on book covers — if that’s not a product, what is?

Writing is a job. It isn’t some special calling for the elite. It isn’t some form of magic where the shaman practitioners must be deified. I’m a writer, and damn lucky to be one, but I’m no better than someone who makes toasters on an assembly line.

. . . .

Amazon isn’t reducing book discounts. They’re pricing books according to the prices Hachette itself stamps on books. They aren’t refusing preorders, either. Is it a smart practice to sell titles that haven’t been released yet when there is no surety that they’ll ever be able to fulfill those orders if they can’t come to terms with Hachette?

Amazon isn’t punishing writers who are helpless. Writers are only helpless in that they signed a contract with a publisher who refuses to negotiate with Amazon because the publisher wants to protect its paper oligopoly by keeping ebook prices high. Amazon isn’t negotiating with writers, it is negotiating with Hachette. Writers are collateral damage–and writers put themselves in harm’s way by signing with a member of a cartel with a specific agenda.

. . . .

Writers, who in the past were afraid to speak out against publishing nonsense like this because they didn’t want to be blacklisted, are now actively pointing out how asinine publishers, and authors, are acting. Authors United, in its effort to win public support, has become a laughingstock. The publishing industry, and status quo authors, despise the term “legacy” to describe them. But it is an apt term, and is becoming widespread.

. . . .

It means the legacy industry has lost control. In the past, it was the only game in town. It controlled the only kind of book distribution–paper distribution. If you wanted to get onto bookstore shelves, you had to deal with a legacy publisher because they had a lock on it. You also had to accept unconscionable contract terms as a writer, because it was that or nothing.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath and thanks to Daniel for the tip.

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books

Nonsense United

15 September 2014

From Joe Konrath:

And Authors United confirms that a group can indeed be less than the sum of its parts when it acts in such a blatantly stupid way. But, like any group of likeminded people bonded together by mutual ignorance, they can persuade the legacy media tools at the NYT and The Bookseller to run their biased propaganda without any counterpoints.

Fails all around.

Their recent letter almost isn’t worth fisking. Really. It’s so poorly done, such a flimsy, whiny argument, that a child could deconstruct it.

But I didn’t have a child available, so I did it.

. . . .

Dear [name],

We are writing to you in your capacity as a director of Amazon.com, Inc. As we all know, Amazon is involved in contract negotiations with several media and publishing companies, including Hachette. About six months ago, to enhance its bargaining position, Amazon began sanctioning Hachette authors’ books. These sanctions included refusing preorders, delaying shipping, reducing discounting, and using pop-up windows to cover authors’ pages and redirect buyers to non-Hachette books.

Didn’t take long for the BS to begin.

This began in January, not six months ago, because Hachette refused to negotiate with Amazon prior to their contract with Amazon expiring.

Amazon has had no contract with Hachette for several months. And yet it still sells Hachette titles, while under no obligation to do so.

Refusing preorders – Why should Amazon sell advanced copies of work when they might not be selling any Hachette titles in the future if an agreement can’t be reached?

Delaying shipping – Amazon has said they aren’t delaying shipping, they simply aren’t stocking Hachette titles. If Hachette wants faster shipping, they should get their titles to Amazon faster.

Reducing discounting – Oh noes! Amazon is selling books for the prices that Hachette sets!

Using pop-up windows – First I’ve heard of this, and the few minutes I took clicking on Hachette titles on Amazon failed to produce any results. But if it is true, let’s look at the big picture:

1. Should Amazon be allowed to do whatever it wants to on its own website? Sell what it wants to, for prices it wants to? Sell ad space if it wants to? Stock what it wants to? Ship how it wants to?

2. If a retailer isn’t behaving like the supplier wants it to behave, should the supplier fight for better terms? Leave? Negotiate in good faith? Capitulate?

For some reason, Authors United believes that publishers have the right to tell Amazon, Bezos, and the board of directors, how to run their store.

Now, the US has a history of third parties trying to intimidate retailers. But at least the mob did it effectively. Authors United seems to be using the intimidation tool of shame.

Shame doesn’t work. I know this for a fact, because I’ve repeatedly shamed Authors United signatories to stop their nonsense, and they haven’t.

But I’ll keep trying. And I won’t have to try very hard. Seriously, read on, it gets extremely humiliating.

. . . .

This is an obvious fact. We all have choices. Amazon chose to involve 2,500 Hachette authors and their books. It could end these sanctions tomorrow while continuing to negotiate. Amazon is undermining the ability of authors to support their families, pay their mortgages, and provide for their kids’ college educations. We’d like to emphasize that most of us are not Hachette authors, and our concern is founded on principle, rather than self-interest.

So now Amazon owes authors a living?

I’m amazed by the permeating sense of entitlement in this letter. These authors believe the system owes them. And I say this as someone who was at the mercy of legacy publishers for a decade. I know what it’s like to have my dreams, hopes, and finances screwed by the whims of a giant corporation.

But here’s the thing: I signed those one-sided, unconscionable publishing contracts. I went into them willingly. And when something better came along, I got the hell out.

Authors United, your gripe isn’t with Amazon. You didn’t sign a deal with Amazon. You can self-publish with Amazon right now and get preorders and fast shipping and price your books as you wish.

Your problem should be with Hachette. Hachette, who wants to keep ebook prices high, even as you lament Amazon’s lack of discounting. Hachette, who cares more about its part of the paper distribution oligopoly than it does about its authors. Hachette, who you HAVEN’T CONTACTED YET.

. . . .

Books are not toasters or televisions. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on that book finding readers. This is the process Amazon is obstructing.

We, at Authors United, are better than people working in China. We’re better than people who make toasters and televisions.

We’re special snowflakes, unique and quirky, and the lonely, intense struggle we endure for the sake of ART is much more difficult than coal mining or waitressing or mechanical engineering or brain surgery or conservationism or rocket science.

If I ever reach this level of self-importance, I want someone to slap the shit out of me.

Seriously. Slap me until I shit all over myself. It would be less embarrassing than agreeing with the above Authors United paragraph.

When all you have to do to humiliate someone is hold up a mirror, it’s time to stop making public statements.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books

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