From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
A quietly astonishing moment happened on November 9, the first day of 20Booksto50K, in a panel titled “High-Powered Authors.” Multiple New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin said something that caught fire when the video of the panel went live.
At least three people sent me the video and pointed me to that moment, about 38 minutes into the panel. For those of you who don’t know, Kat Martin has written more than 65 novels, had them published traditionally, and has hit bestseller lists for three decades now.
. . . .
Her comments on this panel were all good, many of them about the importance of focus and of writing daily. She has published a few backlist titles through a specialty ebook press, but she’s not self-published. (I had no idea that 20Books had invited traditionally published authors this year, but they had for some reason. Or maybe the trad pubbed writers expressed an interest. Lord knows, they need to be interested in self- or indie-publishing.)
Anyway, at that 38-minute mark, Kat spoke up about her backlist. She was speaking after indie writers who were talking about the importance of the backlist, and how they kept the backlist fresh, how they actually made consistent money from their backlists.
When she received the mic, Kat said:
I think [the backlist is] a real negative for traditional publishing. Once you sell them your book, they have your book and they own it for years. And they do pay you a nice fat fee up front, so it’s kind of a trade off, but it’s not a long-term, it’s not a retirement thing, because they’re making money off the backlist. You don’t. They give you a percentage, but…the big money, I think, for long term is probably in self publishing.
Note that again: the big money, I think, for long term is probably in self publishing.
Traditionally published writers have said that privately for years now, with that same sense of sadness that Kat Martin had. They know their books are tied up, and not really usable. These days, traditional publishers are extremely unwilling to revert the rights to books, playing all kinds of games to keep the books “in print,” when in reality they’re very hard to find.
And that “nice fat fee up front”? It’s not so nice or so fat anymore.
An article on literary novels in the September Vanity Fair pointed out that Sally Rooney’s Normal People sold 325,000 copies in paperback, as if that was a good number.
Paperbacks, back when I met Kat Martin, weren’t successful unless they sold a million copies. If they were trade paperbacks, then half a million. Otherwise, they were midlist.
The Vanity Fair article did talk about the declining advances, though, and contained this bombshell:
Last summer, Jesmyn Ward revealed that the advance for her follow-up to the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones was a mere $100,000—for Sing, Unburied, Sing, which also won a National Book Award. It’s telling that you can win American publishing’s highest honor and still (after taxes and agent fees) make not quite enough up front on your next book to buy a late-model Lexus sedan.
That advance is tiny for an award-winning novel…or used to be tiny, back in the day. But as I’ve been saying here, advances for traditionally published writers have been declining for more than a decade. And traditional publishers have been playing with the percentages so that when backlist books sell, they no longer earn what they used to.
What is traditional publishing doing wrong with their backlist? Pretty much everything. They’re throwing it out there, and hoping someone will buy it. They’re not repackaging it, they’re not really paying much attention to it at all.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch
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