Surprises in the New World of Publishing

From Kristine Kathryn Rusc h:

You’d think, after all these years, nothing about the changes in publishing could surprise me. And really, what happened this week didn’t surprise me as much as it surprised me because it happened to me.

And it caused me to think of some things I hadn’t considered at all.

. . . .

Instead of relying on an ever-decreasing number of genre publishers (or rather, genre publishers who offer advances higher than $5000), an indie writer with Kickstarter and Patreon and general book sales online can return to the various wells several times, because the indie writer isn’t asking for a fortune. The indie writer is supplying content for a reasonable price, but doing it on a very small level ($5) for hundreds or thousands of people.

When I sell my sf novellas to various markets, I generally make a few thousand dollars. There aren’t many fantasy novella markets (that I’m aware of), so I knew writing a Fey novella would be something that would go up on sale without any magazine publication.

That put me off for years, honestly. This small Kickstarter was a way around that as well.

Only I’m going to get way more money for a novella than I would have any other way. Because readers are showing their interest in the Fey and getting me to write more Fey. That’s amazing.

Here’s the other cool thing about the Kickstarter: It feels like an advance, but it isn’t. An advance, in book publishing terms, is an advance against royalties or, in real world parlance, a loan that gets paid back with each book sale.

So traditional writers start out in the hole. They’ve been given a loan to write their project, and then the lender keeps track of how much is getting paid back. (It’s a truly stupid system, rife with abuse.) As you can guess from my language, the loan is almost never paid back—at least as far as the writer knows. (If the royalties were computed differently, the advance would be paid back much sooner. Which is why publishers never sweat the fact that most books don’t earn their advances. Well, really, the publisher makes money whether the books earn their advances or not [unless the advance was unrealistically high].)

Traditional writers, in other words, rarely make more than their advances, and if they do, the money comes in smallish checks every six months or so, accompanied by an indecipherable royalty statement. (Writers who have audited their publishers often find thousands of dollars in missed payments—provided the auditor can get to the bottom of all of the creative accounting.)

Technically, Kickstarter projects start out in the hole as well. Usually, I try to have the writing done by the time I do a Kickstarter, so we can just fulfill. That’s what has happened with all of the Diving Kickstarters, and will happen with the next one.

. . . .

After that, every single book sale is gravy. And unlike traditional writers who have earned out their advances, I will make 70% of each sale. Traditional writers make 10-15% (maybe one or two get 19%, but no one gets more than that. See my licensing posts to understand why). These days, traditional writers often aren’t even making that much, because their contracts include massive discount clauses.

What those clauses essentially say is this: if the book is sold at a discount (Walmart, Target, Costco), the writer will get a much smaller royalty (generally 2%). Sometimes, the writer gets no royalty. Those hardcover books you find in a bin for $5 at places like Office Depot? Writers get no royalty on those sales, because the books are being sold at what’s called a deep discount.

And we’re not even going to discuss traditionally computed ebook royalties.

. . . .

Oh, and one last thing. If you want to read the Fey, the best way to do so is to back the Kickstarter at the $30 level. You’ll get all seven existing books of the Fey, the new novella, the only Fey short story (at the moment), four other fantasy novels, and $600 in online writing workshops (at the time of this writing), all for your $30.

So…lots of reading and lots of learning.

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.

5 thoughts on “Surprises in the New World of Publishing”

  1. I did a Kickstarter like this myself a couple of years ago, and it was wildly successful and resulted in me writing two books I hadn’t planned to write.

    Nice to see other authors realizing the many ways to do business these days.

  2. For writers wondering what to do if Amazon goes evil, here’s one solution.
    Of course, it depends on having a significant fanbase; the fabled Thousand True Fans.
    At a minimum a website and mailing list.
    Another thing about kickstarters: it tells you how much a market a book might have.
    If you have a decent fanbase in one genre and are thinking of branching out into something else (or doing a batch printed edition instead of POD) a Kickstarter can tell you how much of the fanbase is willing to follow you there.

    Not something likely to be useful to authors starting out, but as a level-up it can be quite useful.

    In other businesses, Kickstarters serve as a form of market research; they set a minimum goal by a certain date and if it fails they’ll know the interest just isn’t there.

  3. First off, thanks for NOT excerpting any of her [adjectives deleted] political thoughts.

    Second, I wonder how well KS would work:
    – For an unknown author (in KKR’s case, she is fairly well known so she has an existing fan base, has written a lot, and thus can throw in a lot to make the KS a good value)
    – In the future if a lot more writers start KS
    – If KS starts to censure and discriminate (VERY likely)
    – And how KS compares against an equivalent Amazon sale (so KKR does a limited time sale on Amazon of the same package as her KS)

    People love to talk about the successes. It’s also important to consider the failures, the success rate, and the various alternatives

    • Here’s my observation after 10 years, 18 successful campaigns created/run, and 124 backed:

      * Unknown authors need to build a fanbase first. Less than 10% of your traffic is going to come from browsers on the site, if that. Unless you are a freakish outlier, your success is completely dependent on whether you can drive people to your project.
      * Most author KSes are pitching to their audiences, so it doesn’t really matter if the site gets saturated with other authors doing something similar. What matters is whether your particular audience is willing and able to spend extra on you.
      * KS is absolutely going to censure and discriminate. Unfortunately, none of the other crowdfunding platforms are any better. All I can say is ‘plan for this avenue to close if you are the Wrong Kind Of Person.’ :/
      * It can be comparable (or more) if you set your prices accordingly, but you will lose customer data on the retail sites if you care about that.

      There are a lot of ways to fail. I always tell people who are dipping their toes in that water to start small. Micro-projects are a great way to practice and get some capital in your pockets. 🙂

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