The Business of Writing

The Disastrous Decline in Author Incomes Isn’t Just Amazon’s Fault

20 January 2019

From Electric Lit:

[T]he Authors Guild published its 2018 Author Income Survey.

. . . .

This was the largest survey ever conducted of writing-related earnings by American authors. It tallied the responses of 5,067 authors, including those who are traditionally, hybrid, and self-published, and found that the median income from writing has dropped 42% from 2009, landing at a paltry $6,080. The other findings are similarly bleak: revenue from books has dropped an additional 21%, to $3,100, meaning it’s impossible to make a living from writing books alone.

. . . .

The Authors Guild has a pretty clear idea of what’s behind this disturbing trend, namely the rise of Amazon, which severely cuts publishers’ margins on book sales. Authors ultimately shoulder the cost because publishers offset their losses by giving out smaller author advances and royalties. The platform’s resale market also means that, within months of publication, books are being resold as “like new” or “lightly used,” a scenario in which no new money goes to the actual author of the book. The Authors Guild acknowledges that Amazon isn’t the only place where authors are losing out, but the culprits are of a kind: electronic platforms like Google Books and Open Library claim fair use rights in order to offer classrooms products without paying authors royalties. This is problematic because those royalties, a kind of pay-to-play model of compensation, are how artists have made their money ever since it went out of fashion to have a patron who could support your entire career.

. . . .

This year’s Authors Guild Survey is right to focus on the harm Amazon does to working writers; personally, I’ve made my 2019 resolution to put my money where my mouth is and buy all my books at local, independent bookstores. But the survey results made me wonder if that would be enough—if it’s possible, in the age of the Internet, to reverse the belief that content should mostly be free. By content I do mean to encompass all ends of the artistic spectrum, that ill-defined mass of high and low entertainment and art and news that rubs up against each other on the web in a way that makes it more difficult to separate out, and perhaps less meaningful to do so. Basically, people are insatiable for this panoply of words and images; they want mass input. If you do a Google search for “apple pie recipe,” for example, the top results include both Pillsbury’s website and the personal blog of a home cook. The point isn’t that there is anything wrong with the latter, it’s that discernment has taken a backseat to access; we want all the apple pie recipes, all the videos and photographs and articles and books. We are here now. Entertain us.

. . . .

People have always felt a sort of ownership over art, and that’s actually good. It’s why you keep a book on your shelf and return to it, it’s why you hang a picture on your wall that speaks to you. But when this gets out of hand and you mistake access or a personal connection with your rights, as happens so often in our Internet age, it leads to a dangerous sense of entitlement. That’s why readers feel empowered to complain, directly to the creator, that a book or show doesn’t have absolutely everything they want: the romantic pairing they’d hoped for, the language they find most friendly, the ending they desired. And it’s also why, for instance, the last Harry Potter book leaked on the internet before it was officially published: fans saw the book as something they were owed, not the product of labor that deserved compensation. Not that J.K. Rowling needs more money—but she, and all authors, deserve to have their work recognized as work.

. . . .

Consumers hold a pernicious power, so this trend towards free content won’t reverse itself unless we want it to. This is a sad thing, and we will all be much worse off if we can only hear stories from people who can afford to write. Nicholas Weinstock, a Guild Council member, said: “Reducing the monetary incentive for potential book authors even to enter the field means that there will be less for future generations to read: fewer voices, fewer stories, less representation of the kind of human expression than runs deeper and requires and rewards more brain power than the nearest bingeable series on Netflix or Amazon or GIF on your phone.” Maybe we will all get what we think we’re entitled to — free art — but what kind of art will that be?

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

While we will never know for certain, PG suggests that the rise of Amazon has increased the number of books sold in the United States (and maybe elsewhere) by a substantial margin. Absent Amazon, fewer people would be reading books today.

Not everyone enjoyed the trips to the bookstore in pre-Amazonian days. If a reader’s interests were much out of the mainstream, there weren’t many books available. If finances were a little tight, a shopper might not be in the mood to pay.

PG just checked the Top 10 Hardcover Fiction Bestsellers at Barnes & Noble. The average suggested retail price for the Top 10 was $25.59.

For some visitors to TPV, paying almost $26.00 for a novel would seem reasonable. For others, it might not.

Let’s assume we have an avid reader of fiction who reads four books per week. Even PG can do the math in his head.

Over $100 per month for books. Almost $6,000 per year for books.

Who knows more about pricing anything to maximize sales, the CEO of a New York publisher or Amazon?

Who knows more about pricing anything to maximize profits, the CEO of a New York publisher or Amazon?

Traditional publishers try to cultivate a particular image of books as a unique product, unlike any other. (Corinthian leather!)

Like it or not, books are a mass-market product that competes for consumer dollars. Books don’t just compete with other books. Books compete with every other product a consumer might be thinking about purchasing.

If you want to price for the carriage trade, open an art gallery. The New York book business doesn’t work without lots of titles that sell in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. That’s a mass market.

PG suggests that “Amazon is causing the sky to fall on the book business” is erroneous. If the traditional book business is to be saved from its own management over the next ten years, Amazon will do the saving. A book business that sells an electronic version of its principal product for $3.00-7.00 has a better future than one which appears to prefer selling a physical copy of its principal product for $28.00.

 

New, Larger Authors Guild Survey: Falling Incomes for US Writers

9 January 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

In one of those quirky coincidences of news coverage, a familiar number has arisen in the top-line reporting from the United States’ Authors Guild about author incomes.

. . . .

Since 2009, their newly released report says, median incomes for authors from writing have fallen by 42 percent.

And when the United Kingdom’s counterpart survey results were announced in June of last year, the Society of Authors reported that the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society had found that median incomes for professional writers since 2005 had dropped the same amount: 42 percent.

. . . .

The sample comprises input from 5,067 published book authors. For the first time, the [Authors Guild] expanded its survey range, requesting responses not only from its own membership but from members of 14 additional writer organizations. That overall group numbered 9,288 people.

. . . .

·         53 percent said they consider authoring books their primary occupation, spending half or more of their work time writing

·         56 percent said they write fiction

·         18 percent said they write literary fiction

·         38 percent said they write genre fiction

·         22 percent said they are academic, scholarly, or textbook authors

·         18 percent said they write general nonfiction

·         9 percent said they publish books to advance their work or personal brand

·         46 percent said they’re traditionally published

·         27 percent said they are strictly self-publishing

·         26 percent said they are both trade- and self-published—the guild notes that “slightly more than half of the respondents have done some self-publishing”

Taken together the responses reported by the full sample of participating published authors indicate that their median income from “all writing-related activities” was US$6,080, down three percent from the guild’s sruvey work in 2013, and down from $10,500 in 2009.

. . . .

There is what appears to be a brighter spot. Authors identifying themselves as full-time, when reporting “all writing-related activities,” showed a median income that was up 3 percent over 2013, coming in at $20,300. The guild points out, however, that this is still substantially lower than the $25,000 median income that class of writer reported in 2009.

. . . .

Self-published writers responding to the survey overall reported earning 58 percent less than trade-published authors in 2017, even while citing what the guild says was a 95-percent increase from 2013 to 2017. (In the top decile, the indies had a median of $154,000 while the trade-authors reported $305,000.)

Not only did self-published romance and romantic suspense writers report median incomes “almost five times higher than the $1,900 median author-related income for the next highest-earning self-published genre category of mysteries and thrillers,” the guild writes, but “the median author-related income for self-published romance and romantic suspense writers was only $50 more in 2017 than in 2013, which may indicate that self-published romance writers as a group have reached a plateau for earnings under current business models.”

. . . .

The organization also points to “blockbuster mentality” as hurting authors, along with those stubbornly low ebook royalty rates of 25 percent and increases in deep discounting.

. . . .

Cal Reid at Publishers Weekly does a good job of summing up the Amazon-related commentary of the survey, “Unsurprisingly, Amazon—described as a dominant force in bookselling and book publishing—figures prominently in the income survey, cited as both a positive and a negative force.

“Amazon has ‘democratized’ publishing, enabling more people to publish books than ever before and the survey found that 76 percent of self-published authors used one of Amazon’s platform. Amazon’s requirement that authors sell exclusively on their platforms limits the amount of money they can make by being forced to participate in Kindle Unlimited and receiving only a 35 percent royalty on books priced at over $9.99, the report says.

“Moreover, the survey found, Amazon’s dominance over online bookselling (the e-tailer controls 72% of the online market, the report found) forced traditional publishers to effectively suppress the income for traditionally published writers. ‘Amazon puts pressure on them to keep costs down and takes a large percentage, plus marketing fees, forcing publishers to pass on their losses to authors,’ the report said.”

. . . .

Over 2,000 authors had average publisher royalties of almost $32,000; close to 1,700 self-published authors reported royalties of just over $31,000.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests traditional publishers could increase the royalties they pay to provide increased income for traditionally-published writers.

Planning For 2019 Part 2

4 January 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 The biggest issue for the latter half of 2018 was book sales. Indies and traditional publishers both complained that book sales were down, and that a crisis was imminent. Their ideas of crisis were different, but they come from a similar source, which is the current state of disruption in the publishing industry.

. . . .

I’m doing this short series focusing on 2018 with an eye toward 2019 because I firmly believe that you cannot plan for the future if you don’t know where you’re standing right now. (And a note on terminology: I’ll be using indie published writer instead of self-published writer because indie writers are running a business, whether they like it or not. I want the terminology to reflect that.)

This series is important to all kinds of fiction writers, whether they’re traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid of both. Please remember that I write this blog for the writer who wants a long-term fiction career, so keep that in mind as well.

. . . .

What started this discussion were some alarming numbers from the Association of American Publishers, which can track fiction sales through traditional venues  but not, mind you, sales figures from Amazon, which is the largest bookseller in the United States. (Some of the Amazon numbers were reported to AAP from the publishers themselves.) There’s a lot of self-reporting in the old fashioned way that publishing numbers get gathered, from independent bookstores telling their numbers (without a fact check) to publishers doing the same.

Still, no small bookstore will deliberately underreport its numbers unless there is a business or tax reason to do so, which doesn’t seem to factor in here. Verifying the numbers from both booksellers and publishers has never been part of book sales reporting, not even after computers came into the picture. (Although, with the assistance of numbers from Bowker and book distributors, the introduction of computers did help.)

The numbers that caught everyone’s attention were two-part.

1) Sales of adult fiction titles fell 16% from 2013 to 2017.

2) That 16% represents a rather large dollar figure. Sales went from $5.21 billion to $4.38 billion.

Realize we are talking about traditional publishing here, not indie publishing at all. Those numbers aren’t really baked into the book sales numbers in any significant way. (Remember, Amazon isn’t counted here, and Kindle Unlimited isn’t reflected here at all.)

The scarier number for traditional publishers appears deeper in the article. This number comes from Bookscan, which only tracks print sales. I’m going to quote PW here. The italics at the end of the sentence are my emphasis added.

…the BookScan figures show that no fiction title topped one million copies sold in 2016 or 2017 at outlets that report to the service.

For an industry that used to sell print titles well over a million on a regular basis (at the turn of the century and before) that’s a scary, scary, scary number. For comparison, I tried to go to 1998 with a quick web search of Publisher’s Weekly, but I only managed to find 1999. It’ll do.

There were six trade paperback fiction bestsellers that sold one million copies plus, and trade was the smallest selling fiction category at the time.  There were more mass market paperback bestsellers than I wanted to count—and these listings began at 2 million sales plus. Leading that list with 2 books was John Grisham at 4.1 million and 3.875 million respectively.  Eight hardcover novels sold more than 1 million copies, including (again) a John Grisham.

. . . .

Last year, John Grisham admitted to the New York Times that his novels sell half of what they sold in 2007, which was less than they sold in 1997.  Here’s how Janet Maslin of the Times reported his comments:

He doesn’t worry much about book sales either, except he’s very alert to the numbers. “The biggest change for me has been that I’m selling about half the books I sold before the Great Recession,” he said. “Maybe a little bit more than half. This is discretionary spending, and people are not spending.”

Savvy readers will see that I used this same quote last year in discussing book sales.  Nothing has changed in the year or so since I wrote that post.

Until the last ten years or so, traditional publishing dominated the marketplace. They could sell millions of copies to readers because there was no other game in town. Nothing competed with traditionally published novels.

. . . .

We are at Stage Three in the publishing disruption, though, and traditional publishers are no longer the only game in town. Not even close. And they’ve got a really serious issue: their business model was built in the previous century. To make matters even worse, they’ve consolidated. None of the big traditional publishers are nimble in anyway. They’re part of large conglomerates who expect major earnings from each corporation under their huge umbrella.

In an upcoming part of this series, I will examine how traditional publishers are looking to keep themselves relevant to their corporate masters. It will change the traditional publishing model forever, but it won’t benefit writers in any way.

. . . .

Traditional publishers are terrified by these shrinking sales numbers. Their solutions are based in their old model thinking—and, unfortunately for them, are mostly impossible.

The reason I chose John Grisham as my example is three-fold. First, there’s that lovely quote he gave the New York Times. Second, I looked up his numbers last year and the current ones are this: His books now sell in one month what they used to sell in one week. Sometimes in one day.  The third reason? He’s still sitting on top of the bestseller list, as one of the most important big guns, twenty-seven years after he hit it.

He’s on the list, Nora Roberts is still on the list, Stephen King…

Let’s go back to that Publisher’s Weekly article that sparked so much discussion. A lot of the discussion was about what’s “wrong” with fiction sales. The discussion is lost in that traditional publishing bubble, thinking they’re still the only game in town.

They talk about movies and TV as competition (what is this? 1960?) and claim that people are either reading nonfiction or aren’t reading much at all. Worse, they’re blaming Amazon for much of their problems—refusing to see that Amazon is their biggest client.

. . . .

There is one line in here, though, that speaks to the problem that traditional publishers have had since 1997 or so—and they have not solved, despite being told over and over and over again that they need to rethink this.

They’re not building author careers. Or, as Peter Hildick-Smith of The Codex Group (which many industry insiders use for market research and pre-publication book testing) told PW:

Creating a dependable, bestselling author is a multibook investment that requires different strategies and great persistence. It’s not a one-and-done launch.

. . . .

The essence here is that the author is the brand, not the publisher, and traditional publishers are no longer putting the money into developing new brands. Which is why you’re seeing the same old same old on trad pub bestseller lists, and why the sales figures are going down.

There’s a lot to read out in the marketplace. Readers who like legal thrillers don’t have to read John Grisham. They can read a variety of other authors in a variety of different ways.

Hildick-Smith put his finger on the rest of the problem. He said that “so much inexpensive genre fiction [is] now available at ‘subprime price points under $5’ (from such channels as Kindle Unlimited), publishers must invest to develop brand name authors who can command premium-price loyalty.”

. . . .

Traditional publishing is not going to build new writers into bestsellers. They’re not even trying. That’s clear from a quote from Paul Bogaards, a vice president of Alfred P. Knopf who is apparently still dining out on his 2009 acquisition of Stieg Larsson’s books. In talking about rebuilding fiction sales, Bogaards is simply quoted as saying this:

There will be another big novel. There always is.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch


As PG was reading this excellent post by Kris, he was also thinking about flightless birds.

PG claims no special expertise about flightless birds, but he understands that most/all flightless birds have vestigial wings. Their distant ancestors could fly, but, over time, for one reason or another, flying became less important and they lost the ability to do so.

Some species of flightless birds live exclusively on isolated islands where few predators are found. These birds deal with whatever threats remain for them without needing to fly.

Other species of flightless birds have become very large – the ostrich and emu, for example. Given their size, they are no longer potential prey for predators like weasels and small cats which could pose a threat to smaller birds.

On occasion, a small flock of wild turkeys strolls through the grounds of Casa PG. They can fly and run and, particularly in flocks, intimidate a small carnivore.

These wild turkeys bear little resemblance to the domestic turkeys which may provide the main course for your dinner next Thanksgiving. The domesticated turkeys have been bred to develop outsized breasts, the better to provide more white meat which many consumers prefer. However, the domestic turkeys are so large and heavy, they are completely unable to fly. At best, they can run for a short distance while flapping their wings.

So back to books and publishing.

Thirty or forty years ago, there were a great many more publishers in the United States than there are today. There were more large traditional publishers in New York, some of which operated under the management of their founder or founder’s heirs and including many medium-sized publishers that have now been absorbed into giant conglomerates. There were also quite a number of successful regional publishers focused on serving a particular geographic area and many more specialty publishers that focused on particular interest groups – golf, military history, regional cooking, hunting and fishing, local history, cowboys, etc.

Today, traditional US publishing is much more concentrated, with the “Big Five”, five huge publishers, all of which are located within a short cab ride of each other on the island of Manhattan and are subsidiaries of even larger worldwide media conglomerates.

One might be tempted to compare them to giant flightless birds, living within a monoculture comprised of wealthier-than-average white people who, by and large, attended the same 20-25 colleges and haven’t had any real jobs outside of publishing. All five Big Five CEO’s are white. Four are male.

Each of the large publishers relies heavily on sales through traditional bookstores. Barnes & Noble is their largest bricks and mortar customer.

Perhaps the best example of the dangers of the Big Five monoculture is the illegal price-fixing conspiracy that began in 2009 and was designed to allow Apple to derail Amazon’s ebook business.

In 2009, Big Publishing was not happy with Amazon. The publishers had finally decided they needed to start selling ebook versions of their books. However, in the typical fashion of organizations who felt entitled to exert control to protect their quasi-monopoly, the publishers did not want ebooks to cannibalize the sales of their printed books. The publishers had for some time discouraged bookstores from aggressive price discounting. This policy worked well with smaller customers, but Borders and Barnes & Noble were large enough that they were less subject to this pressure

Accordingly, the publishers set the prices of their ebooks high so as not to “devalue” their books in the eyes of customers and to encourage customers to continue purchasing printed books through traditional bookstores and restrain Amazon’s book sales.

Amazon was not cooperating with this strategy, however, and was selling ebooks from the large traditional publishers for $9.99, even if the company had to take a loss on each ebook sale.

Approximately every three months, the CEOs of the Big Six (Penguin and Random House had not yet merged) would meet in private dining rooms in New York restaurants without counsel or assistant present, in order to discuss the common challenges they faced, including most prominently Amazon’s pricing policies. (When PG first learned about this practice, he was absolutely astounded. It laid the groundwork for a classic slam-dunk victory in the later antitrust case. Any lawyer who learned a client was doing this would be hoisting red flags from morning until night. It was a profoundly stupid practice.)

In 2009, Apple was preparing for the announcement of the first iPad in early 2010. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a very sick man.

Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. By early 2009, he was a very sick man and had lost a great deal of weight. He took a medical leave of absence in late January and had a complete liver transplant in April, 2009. Following the transplant, he was better, but still not completely well. He would die from his illness in 2011.

In late 2009, Jobs’ lieutenant, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, set up meetings with the top executives of the six largest New York Publishers. Apple wanted to announce the iBookstore in conjunction with the iPad announcement but had concerns about Amazon’s pricing.

Cue told the publishers that Apple wanted to sell the majority its e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99. Apple also adopted the agency model of pricing, wherein the publishers would control the price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission.

However, Apple didn’t want to be underpriced by Amazon, so it would insist on an agreement with the publishers that Apple could match any price at which Amazon was selling an ebook.

Leading up to the agreement of five of the publishers to agree to Apple’s terms (Random House abstained), they continued their private dining room discussions and called each other over 100 times in the week before signing the agreement.

On the day of the iPad launch, On the day of the launch, Jobs was asked by a reporter why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”

The plot quickly fell apart and the Justice Department sued the five big publishers and Apple for conspiring to illegally fix the prices of ebooks. Later, the Justice Department publicly humiliated management of the Big Five by requiring an admission of guilt and forcing monetary settlements.

The whole ebook price-fixing fiasco is an excellent illustration of one of the most serious weaknesses of the groupthink monoculture that governs Big Publishing. Even after their price-fixing fiasco, they have not made any meaningful changes to avoid becoming even bigger, fatter domesticated turkeys who are unable to respond in a meaningful way to the changes in the publishing business.

While PG believes the five huge flightless birds do not have a bright future before them, as Kris suggests, indie authors need to keep their eyes open and options ready to respond to changes in the book business.

Amazon is not the same as it was nine years ago. In 2009, its net sales revenue was $24 billion. In 2017, it was $178 billion. In 2009, Amazon was filled with managers who remembered when the company was a scrappy little underdog and maintained that mindset.

Between 2009 and 2019, a lot of new people have become Amazon executives. To the best of PG’s knowledge, the KDP group has substantially changed since then. It has undoubtedly grown into a huge organization. In 2009, Amazon had a total of 24,000 employees. Today, it has 566,000.

PG continues to be pleased with Amazon, as reflected by its usual treatment of authors. However, with a large organization, things can always change and indie authors need to be wise and ready to change when change is thrust upon them or when change can provide better opportunities for their books and their business.

 

The Writer’s Vision for 2019

23 December 2018
Comments Off on The Writer’s Vision for 2019

From C.S. Lakin:

As 2018 winds up, I’m revisiting an in-depth look at strategic planning for writers that I published six years ago. It’s all still perfectly relevant. In last week’s post, I introduced the four things we need to look at when planning our writing careers: visionstrategytactics, and action. Rather than have a nebulous idea of what we want to achieve as writers, it’s helpful and wise to think about the goals we want to reach.

Then we want to take our vague vision and form it into something not only specific but laid out with reasonable milestones to reach at certain steps along the way.

By transforming our vision into doable steps, we can measure our success, reevaluate the milestones and goals as we go along, and hone that vision into a reality with its resultant rewards.

The first thing we need to explore regarding strategic planning is our vision. That equates to a clear mental picture of what you want your career to look like by a certain date, such as the end of one year, two years, and even five years. If you don’t have any long-range goals for your career, then you may not achieve much, and your efforts to succeed as a writer may be haphazard and scatter-shot

. . . .

Last week I encouraged you to freewrite some of your dreams—imagine what your ideal successful writing career looks like in specifics. When you take time to dream, you can be as ambitious, outrageous, or ridiculous as you want. This is your dream. We all know the truth of these famous quotes:

  •  “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” (Walt Disney)
  • “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” (Colin Powell)
  • “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why . . . I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” (Robert Kennedy)

. . . .

Now, fill in these blanks by answering this question (compliments from Randy Ingermanson, who has such great resources at his blog www.advancedfictionwriting.com): In ____ years this is what I want my life to look like: (Do this for each period of time for which you are setting up your vision.)

  • I will be having a wonderful time writing ___________________________________________ (What do you want to be writing about/what kind of writing?)
  • I will be earning $____________ from my day job each month, working _________ hours per week doing ____________.
  • I will be earning $____________ from my writing job, working _________ hours per week.
  • I will also be doing these fun or cool or worthwhile things: ______________________________________________________ (because you also have a life and other things are important too).

If you are going the indie publishing route, you will want to add these:

  • I will have ___________ ebooks for sale by this benchmark date.
  • Each ebook will be selling ____________ copies per month and earning me $______________ per month.

If you are looking to get traditionally published (or have more books published via this channel), you may need something like this in your vision:

  • I will have landed an agent contract by this benchmark date.
  • I will have gotten a publishing contract for this novel ______________ or this many novels ___________________.
  • I will be selling _________________ copies per months of my published books and will have earned $ ________________ royalties by the end of this benchmark date.

Link to the rest at Livewritethrive.com

and thanks to Joel for the tip.

The Measures That Matter

16 December 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

A fellow publishing professional told me recently that she wished hybrid publishing had a different name—that it would be better if hybrid publishing could be clearer, sexier somehow, as if that would solve its lingering challenges. But there is no name hybrid publishing could adopt that would change the fact that it’s a gray zone—between traditional publishing and self-publishing—or that it’s an emerging model that’s still being defined.

The Independent Book Publishers Association took a giant step earlier this year to codify hybrid publishing by laying out nine criteria that publishers must meet to be called hybrid publishers. The criteria are important because hybrid publishing, despite its unsexy name, does have clear appeal. It’s getting attention. The industry is writing about it and therefore further codifying and validating it. And because the business model is one in which authors pay, service providers and other entities that do not meet the criteria are calling themselves hybrid because it behooves them to do so.

Not all of these players are sinister. I’ve talked to plenty of service providers who say, “We’re hybrid. We meet most of the criteria.” The issue is that most isn’t enough, and hybrid publishing will only be fully embraced and legitimized once the good actors understand that aspiring to be hybrid and being hybrid are two separate things.

Hybrid publishing has, in fact, been around for as long as publishers have existed. In its simplest definition, hybrid publishing is traditional publishing in which authors invest in their own book projects in exchange for higher royalties. On the front end, the difference comes down to the money and who pays; on the back end, reputable hybrid publishers must adhere to the industry’s best practices and standards. Traditional publishers have been cutting these kinds of deals for decades, and often the authors who want them are the savviest and most entrepreneurial: they understand that there’s a certain insanity to giving up over 90% of their earnings and that the reality of a big advance is that it has the potential to be a career killer.

. . . .

One editor, quoted in a 2014 Publishers Weekly article titled, “The Rise of the Seven-Figure Advance,” in attempting to explain these enormous advances, said, “The whole pool of talent is shrinking. There are fewer publishers, fewer slots, and fewer submissions, so… the higher the quality of the project, the more you’re likely to get.”

The talent pool is not shrinking. Far from it. It’s just that there are fewer “sure bets”: the debut (often young and attractive) literary ingenues and celebrities. Publishers cry poor and then throw a million dollars on red. What’s actually shrinking is any space within traditional publishing for new ways of thinking about how publishers might do business. Those who think outside the box, as always, are the indies.

The big question that continues to challenge hybrid publishers is how they can prove they have a stake in projects if they’re not paying for them.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has responses to a couple of issues raised in the OP.

  1. A fellow publishing professional told me recently that she wished hybrid publishing had a different name – Perhaps it could be called Big Five Bankruptcy Insurance.
  2. The big question that continues to challenge hybrid publishers is how they can prove they have a stake in projects if they’re not paying for them. – Include a clause in the publishing agreement that permits the author to terminate the agreement and regain all rights to the book(s) upon reasonable notice – one year should work.

PG also cautions that a hybrid publisher is not the same as a hybrid author.

PG also double-cautions that more than one “hybrid publisher” is really operated to rip off authors without providing any meaningful commercial value.

Your Basket is Leaking

2 December 2018

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In October 2018, Sears filed for bankruptcy. The form of bankruptcy the corporate heads chose was something called Chapter 11 here in the U.S. It means that the company—once the largest retailer in the entire world—will be able to reorganize and, if they’re lucky and the folks running the company are smart, they might be able to emerge from bankruptcy with some of the business still intact.

The key here isn’t the details of Sears’ bankruptcy. It really isn’t even Sears itself which, when I was a child, fifty years ago, was a fixture in America. It’s the trajectory of the company.

. . . .

By early 1940s, Sears’ catalogue became  known as the Consumer’s Bible. In the 1950s or so, Sears started opening brick-and-mortar stores, and by the mid-1970s, the brick-and-mortar business overshadowed the mail order catalogue.

Mismanagement, a failure to keep up with the times, and a large corporate structure led to a decline starting in the 1980s, exacerbated by the rise of Wal-Mart in the 1990s. Sears still had a lot of value after the turn of the 21st century, but not in retail. The value was in its properties and its stock, and eventually that declined as well.

And now, Sears—mismanaged to pieces, its mail-order business (and famous catalogue) a distant memory—has almost thrown in the towel. They’re fighting for their existence. Very few adults alive remember the store in its heyday.

But look at that trajectory. Mail order on one item only. Then more items. Then unrelated items. Then becoming one of the biggest companies in the world. Then adding brick-and-mortar.

Does that sound familiar? Think of it this way: instead of mail order, think online. Instead of watches, think books. And then realize that Amazon shares much of Sears trajectory, only on a slightly accelerated pace—and without the name changes and the obvious added partners.

Sears to Wal-Mart to Amazon. There is a direct line. Wal-Mart is still fighting for dominance, but they’re no longer fighting Sears. They’re fighting Amazon. And Amazon is probably fighting some other company with a good idea, some company that I’m not entirely aware of.

Why is that important?

Because currently, Amazon is the biggest online retail company in the world. (Wal-Mart is still the largest retailer, but Amazon has moved up to second there as well.)  Amazon is exceedingly important to the indie writer movement. In fact, indie publishing would not be where it’s at without Amazon’s innovation with the Kindle ereader ten years ago.

In that time period, a lot of self-published authors have used Amazon’s ecosystem to make themselves, if not wealthy, then at least comfortably well off.  Many of those writers don’t even market their work outside of Amazon at all, preferring to use the tools provided by Kindle Select to promote their series and their work.

Early on, writing advice for indies (as I’m going to call writers who work outside of traditional publishing) centered on an Amazon-only strategy. If you look at my earliest blogs on the publishing industry, back in 2009/2010, you’ll see me constantly defending myself against that very argument. I learned as a young freelancer to go wide—and that was back in the early 1980s. Relying on only one source for income—no matter how large that source is—is never a good idea.

. . . .

Having been in traditional publishing, with its weird rules and limitations, meant I had learned early on how angry readers get when they can’t get a book that they want. I didn’t want to replicate that experience for them, particularly as I took back control of my publishing, so I never even considered Select.

Although, I had to admit, I was envious at times of writers who could manipulate that system to raise their profiles—at least on Amazon. It would have been nice to have access to the same tools. Eventually, I developed a few new pen names (for a variety of reasons, and no, I’m not telling you who they are), and they experimented in Select.

The Select promotion tools are good until they’re not, as everyone who plays in that ecosystem knows. Amazon changes the system, and then the indies figure out how to best use that system, and then Amazon changes it again.

There have been complaints about Amazon and its practices from the start. But savvy writers have known that Amazon started this revolution, and no matter what they’ve done, we all owe them big for that.

But…then there’s the argument I’ve been making on this blog since at least 2010. Do not put all your eggs in one basket. Even if that basket is the biggest online retailer in the world.

I still get pushback on that advice. But not as much as I used to. Because some of the big pro-Amazon indies are beginning to see cracks around the edges of Amazon. There’ve been too many changes to Select, too many broken promises, too many costly mistakes.

Some of the formerly pro Select-only gurus are now quietly going wide. A few others, trapped in the ecosystem, are using other tools to make their novels available before they put the books into Select. They’re still gaming Amazon’s system, but they’re gaming it to keep the income coming—until they can move out of the exclusivity trap that they had allowed Amazon to build around them.

For the writers, though, who continued to argue that Select was the only viable place to play, October and early November were a difficult time. Writer after writer here in the U.S. noted that their international sales had declined dramatically.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG says that very few, if any, large organizations are unchanging.

Since he has watched the tech world, from the inside and the outside, for a long time, he has seen a great many changes.

Microsoft is not the same organization it used to be. Neither is Apple.

WordPerfect was a wonderful product and a superb organization in its day, but it’s gone now. Ditto for Lotus 1-2-3, Novell and Netscape. In some cases, former tech giants continue as zombie caricatures of their former selves, but the spark is gone.

The personal influence of a strong executive can profoundly shape an organization. Think of Sam Walton and Walmart. When that entrepreneurial executive leaves or dies, it is quite common for such organizations to change. The Sam Waltons and Steve Jobs of the next decades aren’t working for today’s Walmart and Apple. They wouldn’t fit.

Jeff Bezos and Amazon have a similarly tight bond. Amazon has mirrored Bezos’ personality in many ways.

But Amazon has become an extremely large company and the Bezos influence travels through lots of management levels and and subordinants’ decisions before it reaches indie authors and individual consumers. Bezos simply can’t know about everything Amazon is doing today and he’ll know even less next year.

PG thinks the Amazon plan to have two headquarters locations, which later morphed into three headquarters locations is Exhibit A in demonstrating that Bezos has taken his hands off the wheel.

While widely-dispersed major “headquarters” locations may make it easier to tap into a larger geographic pool of talent to fill the entry-level and middle-management jobs, PG suspects it’s going to be a management mess with queens and kings of little Amazon kingdoms sprouting everywhere.

Bezos’ ability to effectively provide vision, leadership and shape Amazon’s corporate culture is going to be substantially diminished. Any future Jeff Bezos-type Amazon employees who might have the talent to continue the level of innovation and organizational excellence he established are not likely to rise through this type of management structure. And their chances of catching Bezos’ attention and obtaining his help in rising through Amazon by their job performance will be slim.

 

Six Myths  (and a Few Facts) About Traditional Publishing

2 December 2018

From BookBaby Blog:

Despite the constant upheaval that defines the current publishing landscape, many authors (and would-be authors) labor under some old “assumptions” about traditional publishing that are simply no longer relevant.

Myth #1: Traditional publishers serve as “gatekeepers”

As the argument goes… with a bloated book marketplace being invaded by millions of self-published titles, readers can depend on publishers to maintain quality literary standards as they allow only the best stories to be told through well-written tomes. This is false for many reasons.

First, publishing is a cold business. There is no noble mission to protect readers from bad books. Publishers put out books they think will make money — for the publishing house, maybe the bookstore, and possibly the author.

It’s true that traditional publishers are full of book professionals, some of whom are pretty good at spotting talent. The best placement editors also have an instinct for what the market will consume. They’ve published a lot of wonderful books. They’ve also published a lot of stinkers.

But if the gatekeeper myth were true, surely no good manuscript would ever be rejected, right?

. . . .

Myth #2: You can only make the big bucks through traditional publishing

The truth is, thanks to today’s self-publishing revolution, you have an equal chance at huge sales results no matter which route you choose: traditional or independent publishing. In fact, the vast majority of authors will tell you there isn’t a lot of money to be found in a traditional book deal. Sure, you get an advance check, which averages around $5,000-$10,000, but you have to earn that back before you see another dime.

Moreover, the royalties associated with publishing through one of the major houses are paltry. If you publish through a large publishing house, you can expect to make $1-$2 per book sold. To make matters worse, most publishers only pay authors twice a year, so you can’t expect to see your monthly income increase because of your book.

It got to the point that, in 2016, the US Authors Guild sent an open letter to the Association of American Publishers demanding better contract terms. In the letter, these writers stated, “Authors’ income is down across all categories. According to a 2015 Authors Guild survey —  our first since 2009  — the writing-related income of full-time book authors dropped 30% over that time period, from $25,000 to $17,500.”

. . . .

Myth #5: Once you land a book deal, your author career is set for life

Loyalty to authors is, largely, a thing of the past. The duration of a traditionally published author’s career is controlled by his or her publisher, and it’s usually all about sales of the latest book. If your new book doesn’t perform well, the publisher will not want your next one.

In fact, your first book must perform exceptionally well before the next one will be considered for publication. And the odds are long: only one to two percent of all books published become bestsellers.

Link to the rest at BookBaby Blog

How to balance full-time work with creative projects

28 November 2018
Comments Off on How to balance full-time work with creative projects

From Fast Company:

“Teacher burnout” refers to a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion brought on by prolonged periods of stress. Combined with low wages, inadequate funding, and disheartening educational policy, burnout has resulted in eight percent of teachers in America throwing in the towel over the past decade.

As a teacher myself, it’s been interesting to reflect on what keeps me coming back to the classroom, five years into this difficult yet ultimately rewarding job. What it comes down to, I think, is that teaching is not the only thing that keeps me going. In my opinion, relying solely on a day job or career to fulfill your ambitions and keep you mentally stimulated is risky business. Instead, I like to incorporate a smattering of fulfilling creative projects within my day-to-day life to help me keep my teaching job in perspective. And while it isn’t always easy to do it all, there are ways to balance things out.

Over the past few years, in addition to teaching full-time, I’ve managed to finish a master’s degree, start a record label, contribute to various publications, and release/perform music as Nassau. Through it all I’ve practiced, failed at, and re-tooled strategies for balancing full-time work with multiple creative side projects. In this guide you’ll find a handful of takeaways for staying sane, organized, and intentional while trying to do it all.

BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR 9 TO 5

Your day job matters a lot

It really does! The average person will spend over 90,000 hours, or about a third of their lives, at work. With another third of our hours spent sleeping, the time we actually have for “living” seems modest at best. If you’re holding down an unfulfilling 9-5 with the primary ambitions of supporting yourself and your creative work (versus building a career in that area), ideally this job should provide you with at least one of three things: more time, more resources, or a skill set that will help you be successful in your creative endeavors.

As you contemplate what type of day job might make sense for you, consider the feelings you’ll want to have after completing a shift, or after heading out from the office. Probably “drained, grumpy, and sick of everyone” are not feelings that are on your list. So think about it: What type of work or situations might you seek out that wouldn’t leave you in a bad mood after working? By spending some time brainstorming about the job that could be a nice complement to your personality and side projects, you’ll put yourself in a better position to find the right type of gig.

. . . .

Finding the right gig to nicely balance with your personality and creative work isn’t going to happen overnight. As you work towards finding the right role, pause and reflect on your thoughts and emotions whenever possible. In each type of positions, ask yourself: Were there new trends in your behavior? Did you notice an uptick in your creative work and productivity outside of your 9-5?

As you think about what type of day job might make sense for you, a simple exercise to try starts with taking inventory of your skills and passions. Write them down. Go for quantity here: What are you good at? What comes naturally? Anything goes. Then look for patterns or themes. You may even group your skills into categories including “things I love doing,” “things I get paid the most for doing,” “skills I want to improve,” or “skills I haven’t used in a long time, but would like to use again.” Identifying patterns will enable you to honor and recognize the expertise you already possess, and can help you find employment that complements not only you as a person, but your creative practice as well.

As you do the above exercise, you should also be honest with your intentions, and even name them. Would you like a job that makes you lots of money? Expands your network? Gets you working with your hands? Trust your brain and your body–you’ll thank yourself when you’ve landed the right job that’s actually helping you get what you want (not just what you think you should want), and are also able to have time and energy to produce creative work you’re proud of.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

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