So says Kahlil Gibran Kahlil. I made the error during Beast Barracks of buying off on the pitch from the brand new Arabic instructor at West Point—it was the first year they were offering the language and they needed enough bodies to fill a section. So I signed up.
I had not yet learned the military maxim: never volunteer for nothing.
Lots of numbers being bandied about in publishing now. Lines are drawn. Bayonets are being sharpened along with pencils and you know what? Readers don’t give a crap.
Indie authors apparently make. Whatever. In all these surveys, I doubt my numbers are getting counted. 60 titles spread over a bunch of genres, most indie, some with 47North, some with the Martians. I also have a nice revenue stream from Audible ACX. Why does everyone suddenly care what I make? They never did in traditional publishing.
One truth is that all the numbers are completely skewed in traditional publishing by a handful of mega-bestselling authors. Take them out and the whole thing changes drastically.
Maybe that’s the key to all of this. We need to clean up our own house. Because that’s what we control.
Hugh Howey tweeted something interesting, something I’ve been harping on for a couple of years. It’s not about who makes more money or how or whether they’re hybrid, inbred, or have two heads. It’s about RIGHTS.
When music imploded digitally, the musicians who not only survived, but prospered, did it one of two ways. On tour. (Which aint likely for authors). And/or controlling the rights to their music.
In case no one has noticed, author rights are being sold. E-reads was just sold. Along with all those contracts. I was with E-reads so long I got my rights back after seven years. This selling of rights is going to happen more and more. Sort of like your mortgage during the bubble. Remember that? Authors could end up with the Russian mob owning their rights. I watched a special where David Geffen talked about trading Poco’s contract to another agent for Neil Young’s. Really.
And if I see one more indie author taking a trad deal and bubbling about how much is being offered them, how wonderful it’s going to be, I would make a gentle suggestion. Let’s hear from them in a couple of years. If you haven’t been trad published, you are likely in for a very rude awakening. I cringe sometimes when I see someone who has been successful self-publishing, who signs away their rights for not just the up front money but what they think is going to be all the great distribution, marketing, yada yada yada. I recommend any author who is thinking of going indie to trad, research back a couple of years and study the first authors to do that. Where are they now? How glad are they now they sold away those rights? I might be wrong, but I haven’t heard much about some of them. I can, however, check their rankings on Amazon. I’m reminded of when a Roman consul/emperor returned to the city and they held a Triumph and there was a slave in the chariot whispering “Respice post te, hominem memento te.”
The flip side is that indie publishing is getting tougher and tougher. Take out the top 5% of indie authors and the numbers are also skewed. The market is saturated. Bestseller lists have very few consistent titles, even day to day. What many indies aren’t saying is that the increasing competition is making it tough. I know Hugh Howey thinks the pie can grow bigger, but Joe Konrath speculated that a couple of years ago, and it’s simply not reality.
For trad authors thinking of going indie, here is some food for thought.
- Where will you be in five years when print is mostly via POD? I’m seeing Createspace (Amazon) Kiosks in airports printing books soon.
- Where will you be in five years if you don’t own any of your rights and you are no longer frontlist with the publisher that does own those rights? Think they’ll be pushing you? Hahahahahaha. Sorry. Had to do that after looking at royalties for my three co-written NY Times bestsellers that are backlist with St. Martins. I made more yesterday indie than I do in six months on those books.
- Percentage wise, the revenue you would receive from indie publishing will likely more than make up for the loss of what your traditional publisher is doing for you. Seriously. I can do the math of your royalty statement.
- Control. How much do you have? Date of release? Cover? Editing? Pricing? Library distribution? Cover copy? Marketing? Running specials? Most importantly creatively? Can you write what you want to write? What your fans want?
- You can’t really self-publish. Not if you have multiple titles. It’s so much more than just cover, formatting, etc. The digital dance (trademarking that now, like I should have done hybrid author) is complex. But I don’t think you need to give up 50% of the royalties for those services. You need a partner who will do that for you, giving you more than they get. A concierge service for authors where the creator of the content is valued more than the mode of delivery.
There’s another saying which is considered also a curse: May you live in interesting times.
Ah yes– FREE for the next 2 days: West Point to Mexico, the first part of my Duty, Honor, Country trilogy. From West Point in 1842 into the Mexican War. My West Point-Civl War version of HBO’s Rome. Did you know the Mexican War was the bloodiest in our history percentage wise?
*****Admin Note From Jen*****
Blog Contest for this Week: Sign up for Bob’s Newsletter and get your name put in for a drawing to win all three Duty, Honor, Country books in AUDIO. The complete trilogy! Bob sends out a newsletter no more than 4-6 times per year. Besides interesting information about Cool Gus, Sassy Becca and The Big Orange (Bob’s new Jeep), Bob also gives his newsletter subscribers exclusive content. You can sign up here.
I’m linking to an article I wrote that was published today in Kirkus:
Currently in Seattle where we infiltrated Amazon’s Death Star yesterday, Jen teaches at Bellevue Library tonight and I teach for PNWA down the road. Then then Emerald City Writer’s Conference tomorrow.
I’ve been pretty quiet on the entire publishing front for a long time, mainly because I’ve been focused on producing content (writing) and running Cool Gus with Jen Talty (Jennifer Probst’s first book with us is out on the 22nd of this month, Executive Seduction).
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it and discussing it with my wife, the font of useless information; until I need it. So here are 5 off-the-cuff thoughts. Do with them what you will.
- It’s not ‘all about the book’. Someone said that and it made groan. It’s about story and content. How that gets to readers varies. Digital, print, audio, carrier pigeon. We have to be open to it all.
- Authors need to make more off a book because they’re going to sell less copies. I used to see numbers posted by indie authors all the time. I’m not seeing those numbers much. I check on sales ranking for authors and most authors who were doing great two years ago have seen a decline in sales. The market has become saturated. While trad authors might still be selling lots of print, that number will decline as venues decline. They will be surprised to see their digital sales also get muted, because there is much more churning in bestseller lists in digital than ever before and it won’t get better. So 25% of cover price for an eBook aint gonna cut it.
- The “leveling off” “we’ve made it through” mindset that started at BEA this year is so naïve it’s sad. We’re not sliding back to the good old days of publishing. In fact, I submit things are going to change even faster and those who are taking a deep breath now and thinking they’ve weathered the change are going to get tsunamied under. I’ve had several #1 NY Times bestselling authors ask me about what’s going on in the past six months and the clock is ticking. My wife says 2014 will be the year of big name authors jumping ship and going indie. They have to deal with those pesky contract issues, politics, yada yada, but a few are going to start seeing the gold mine of top royalty rates via digital and audio offsetting loss of print sales. But they’re going to need help doing it, because it aint as easy as it looks. Drop Cool Gus a line. Even though he’s wearing the cone of shame.
- Things haven’t really changed in terms of marketing. Each book and each author is a unique commodity. Publicity people in traditional publishing weren’t stupid—they did the best they could. To think it’s all changed because of digital is naïve. Some things are different, but overall, there is no one solution. I see a lot of Marty’s from House of Lies out there trying to sell their magic formulas for online marketing. Except not one has listed an example where they actually did it. And could prove their marketing led to sales. That’s the problem. We realize each author is different so we don’t have boilerplate. We make a unique plan for each one.
- The eBook is not the same at the print book. Even in terms of narrative structure. I find my books are shorter. I do more “info dump” but that’s because people read for two main reasons: one is entertainment, but two is information. You can look up stuff right out the manuscript now. I hear Jenny Crusie screaming in New Jersey right now. Do you know who Mary Meyer was? That Khrushchev was forced out of office the day after these was murdered? They’re shorter, but they’re cheaper. $3.99? Seriously? You can’t get a cup of coffee at Starbucks for less. And get more value and time well spent.
Nothing but good times ahead.