Okay, I coined “hybrid author” in June 2011 and this January it became all the rage as NY discovered it. Wow, pretty quick. Only 18 months.
Now we have Jedi Mind Tricks. Ah ha! I wrote about Amazon being the Evil Empire back on 2 April here. I labeled Jon Fine as Darth Vader, etc. etc. yada, I had the bisque. I mean really. I know we’re out in the sticks if we’re not in NYC, but self-correcting doesn’t seem to be working for the Big 6, 5, or whatever. Author Solutions as a solution? Come on. We didn’t collude but we’ll pay out as if we did?
I just saw a book deal in Publishers Lunch for 2015. Isn’t the Zombie Apocalypse coming before then? World War Z with Brad Pitt looking cute with an M-203? Don’t get me started on zombies, although I did watch Warm Bodies and it was a pretty brilliant spin on the genre which reminds me every idea has been done but not every story (but there was that Romeo & Juliet moment with the zombie and cute girl). Royalties are still being paid out as they were before the computer was invented. Really?
I digress. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about publishing this past six months, but I’ve been keeping my head down, something my first platoon sergeant (who had most of one leg shot off in combat) taught me: there are two firing positions in combat: the prone and the flying prone (which is when you got shot at and you’re not already prone).
He was quite correct.
He also told me “no one looks up”. What he meant was on patrol no one looks up and sees that sniper in the tree. But I also take it to mean few people look far enough ahead in a volatile and rapidly changing situation.
Frankly, everyone is grappling for answers and frankly, it’s kind of dumb to give them when
- Few are really listening.
- Those people are my competition.
- They’re not paying me for them.
The further we dive into the digital age, the more I realize what a unique entity Jen Talty and I founded with Cool Gus. And how the plan we laid out years ago is playing out as if we actually controlled things. And how our adjustments have fine-tuned that plan. A big example was back in January this year when we had a moment of enlightenment that we were not a ‘publisher’ but rather a partner to our authors where the author is in control and we support them, not vice versa. We’ve always had the mantra that authors create the product (which is story, not a book) and readers consume the product. Everyone in between must add value or else they are an impediment.
The concept of authors in charge is so anathema to traditional publishing that it’s a major issue. Frankly, I get it. A lot of authors are, shall we say it, assholes? They’ve got egos. Sometimes too big. And as I teach: every writer needs therapy because to sit alone and write 100,000 words is not normal. Writers are not in the bell curve and we’re not necessarily on the good side of it. 80% of authors have depression. 92% are angry. I made that last one up.
Which, in reverse, leads me to this: this is a business, not a love fest. I see authors tweeting and blogging how much they “love” their agent, their editor, their publisher. Yeah. And wait until the day your contract isn’t renewed and see how far that love goes, because, bottom line, their love is based on numbers. I see trad authors desperately defending trad publishing (can we say Authors Guild, and BTW, Scott, your books are still for sale on Amazon, huh?). I saw the interviews from BEA declaring the rise of the eBooks is over (yawn, learn math) and everything is just fine damnit, while I saw zero QR codes on those huge banners hanging everywhere.
Which, in reverse, leads me to this: After The Gold Rush. Yeah, Neil Young.
The gold rush is over for the indie authors. Oh yeah, we still got our Bella’s, our Hugh’s, etc. but what I’m seeing is a deluge of titles, a rapid reshuffling of bestseller lists in digital, and a growing sense of desperation and frustration from a lot of authors who were doing pretty damn well just a year ago. Even some of those who are raking in 7 figures annually are fraying around the edges. How many books can they write a year? How long can they keep the pace? Hell, Sylvia Day’s tweets exhaust me, and she’s living them. How many Bookbub ads, .99 specials, frees can one do until it’s all been tried? Then try them again as even more people are trying them?
A fundamental of Cool Gus was something one of my former students at the Maui Writers Conference told me when I saw him in New Orleans. He’s an extremely successful businessman. Head of the Bourbon Street Business Owners Assoc. We met for coffee at a hotel on Bourbon St. then walked across the street to one of his businesses, Ricks Café (you know Rick, Casablanca?), and he unlocked the door (it was early, before business hours for an upscale strip club even in the big NO). We went upstairs to a private room where I could only imagine what happened on that big table there (I doubt even Sylvia Day or EL James could either). And he told me . . .
See. That’s the point. Why give it away? In my Who Dares Wins consulting business I get paid more for one day of my expertise than most Harlequin advances.
The biggest issue is most people are reacting, not acting. A strategic plan, aka as in Write It Forward, is key to succeeding in the digital world. Most of the big publishers are reacting. Frankly, most indie authors are reacting, going to the thing that works now, rather than positioning themselves for what’s going to be working 2 or 3 years down the line.
Which is the last thing I’ll note for authors: if you don’t value yourself, no one else will. No matter how much you ‘love’ your agent, editor, publisher, indie bookstore, the Death Star, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Brad Pitt and his M-203, the person your really need to love is your reader.
We started with the traditional “walk barefoot on the rocks test” and ended with the “remove the dog hair or be eaten” finale. In between was the hot tub in the Noah’s Ark downpour, shifting a paranormal romance between a succubus and a police detective to a Biblical epic about a demon climbing Jacob’s Ladder to the end the world as we know it and another demon getting a Gold Star on their report card for taking down Romeo and Juliet and Henry VIII. There was also character X, who was dead, wondering why his ashes were in someone else’s urn, turning out to be the key to the story, and is it impolite for an Alpha werewolf to follow a Wiccan into a bar to try to pick her up in order to find out what happened to one of his pack members, not knowing the Big Bad, was trying to pick him up (let’s not even go there). And we had the Rock Star who wanted to take his career in a different direction, but then ran into a werewolf and a medium and a demon. And did he go to an island off of Maryland (there are islands off of Maryland?) or to some place more interesting, which seemed to be any place, based on those who’d been to islands off of Maryland.
The walk barefoot on the rocks test is so ingenious my wife, Deb, didn’t even know she was doing it, which is actually the key to a surprise ending—if the author doesn’t know the ending, they don’t telegraph it. Upon their arrival, she was showing our four test subjects the house, and out of niceness they removed their shoes as they trudged up and down stairs and made appropriate grunting noises approximating four women having just been squeezed into a car together for 11 hours and WTF just give us some alcohol? Then Deb led them outside through one of our 24 doors, and they were trapped. Up the driveway to the stone steps (no one paused, committed they were). But then they got to the rocks. One, who had told Deb on the phone that she loved being barefoot too, followed without hesitation. Deb took this to mean they all liked being barefoot on burning coals while having poison darts shot at them. There was some hopping, some wimping out off the trail to the pine straw, and Cool Gus and Sassy Becca took note which of the test subjects would be their first meal.
Which means whose foot would get licked raw from a raspy Lab tongue.
I know what you’re thinking—don’t go there.
I think we talked about books and publishing for a little while.
Then there was the deluge in the hot tub. Meaning we got in and then the skies opened and a demon and a rock star and a medium and succubus let loose.
Don’t go there either.
I went to bed but Deb tested our four subjects with fascinating discussions. At one point I heard some muttering about childbirth and pointed out I had a paper cut on my finger once.
That didn’t seem to get as much respect as I think it deserved.
There were many circular female discussions that solved not a single one of the world’s problems. I stuck to my whiteboard and my graphs and my arrows and lines and my Excel spreadsheets, but I don’t think they understood.
Strangely, while pontificating, I had some enlightening moments about my own books. This is something Ranger School teaches—it’s so much easier to be the RI—Ranger Instructor teaching and grading, than the Patrol Leader who is actually doing. I was pointing out all the flaws and opportunities in our test subjects’ books and telling them how brilliant my WIP, Burners, was, when I realized, uh, well, I didn’t have a WHY behind the WHAT of my own story.
I covered that quite well by getting Becca to viciously lick some feet as a distraction
Then there was Cool Gus slaloming down a drainage ditch at full speed when we went for a walk, which I’d never seen him do, back and forth, back and forth. Then he tried to get stuck in drainage pipe, but he told me later, since he was surrounded by all women, except me: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Guys understand that after being surrounded by estrogen. Cool Gus is currently lying my feet, his heavy head on my ankles, sighing. I tell you, these dogs are utterly exhausted, giving up so much hair to our guests, which they had to roll off with the sticky thing Deb swears by before they got in the car to go back to whatever nest of demons they arose from. But you know, DNA. What if one of them uses Gus’s DNA at a crime scene? Becca is snoring. Her tongue content.
Don’t go there.
Deb and I conducted our own AAR before they even cleared the driveway with such astute observations as:
-well, they ate a lot of the food which is good but the fridge is still full
-should we have had music on the house speakers— nah it would distract their deep thoughts
-more diet coke, less wine—but nice try to show us you weren’t all just wanting to get wasted and empty your full brains
-maybe we should have gotten black labs instead of yellow because then their hair wouldn’t be as obvious on black clothes, but, nah, then our white couch would be covered with black hair, so screw them
-they’re coming back to kill us, break out the nuclear land mines
-I’ve been putting the laundry detergent in the wrong place in the upstairs washer ever since we’ve moved in
This weekend my wife and I will run our first Write on the River in-house workshop. So right now there are like 40 guys outside doing all sorts of things, but I see pots, flowers, electrician, pool guy, and who knows what else is being done, because that’s the way my wife is. We just had shades put in about half the windows, because even though we’re pretty isolated, I guess a sniper with a good scope on the other side of the TN River could take one of us out. I just leave my wife to talk to everyone because she’s the people person.
What flowers have to do with a writers workshop, I know not.
I’ve been running weekend workshops for over 10 years, starting when we lived on Hilton Head Island. Then when we moved to Whidbey Island, I ran them at the beautiful Saratoga Inn. Now, though, people will be staying in the house we bought last November. We can sleep four people and that’s about the right size for this kind of intensive weekend. The goal is to get each writer to focus on a book and we develop it as a group. We start with the one sentence idea, do the conflict box, then discuss initiating event, story, character, etc.
Another thing, though, that we’ll discuss is PROCESS. This is something I’ve focused more and more on the last couple of years. Just as a writer must become conscious of craft to become an artist. I think we also have to understand our unique creative process.
Additionally, we’ll discuss the evolving business of publishing. With 20 years experience in traditional publishing and four years in indie publishing, I’ve watched a number of cycles. I believe we’ve passed through the first cycle of digital and are now entering a new one.
As I’ve mentioned before, the key element is rights. Who controls the publishing rights to a book, particularly an eBook? In a Catch-22, the more successful an author has been, the less likely they are to regain their rights. Another issue for these successful authors is they have agents who have been in the business a long time and make a very good living off said successful authors. Therefore, these agents don’t have much incentive to investigate the digital market and especially indie publishing since the money is pouring in from the major publishers for their clients. That’s not to say some aren’t getting up to speed, but after talking to a number of bestselling authors, I can tell both they and their agents are pretty much clueless about digital publishing. They are especially clueless about actually going direct to digital for backlist and frontlist. What’s particularly bad about this, is the author often relies almost exclusively on that agent for advice and it can be a case of the blind leading the blind, except the agent is working off the old model of wanting that big hunk of money up front, rather than accepting monthly checks (every month from here on out), at a very high royalty rate could work more to their client’s (and their own) advantage. Worse, an agent who investigates a bit, might find they really don’t have much of a role to play for a client who wants to go digital.
There are exceptions, such as Kristin Nelson and other agencies, many of whom have opened their own indie-publishing arms. By the way it is NOT “self” publishing when you work with a team. It’s indie publishing. I don’t self-publish. I indie publish via Cool Gus. You say tomato, I say tomato.
The role of the agent is evolving and is necessary. However, the fear of authors often leads them to not step back and view the larger playing field, parts of which the agent doesn’t really have to be on. And if the agent is using a sub-contract company for their “self” publishing arm, one wonders why the author can’t go to that company directly?
More importantly, a key to indie publishing is the author is in control. The author has final say on cover, cover copy, pricing, promotions, and a lot of other critical factors. They need good advice on this, but the person (and there needs to be one point of contact) who is doing the indie publishing for that author who ought to be able to give them that so they can make an informed decision.
Everyone’s role in publishing is changing and evolving and authors need to change and evolve also. Fear can’t rule the decision making. Trusting to old ways also can’t.
As we say at Cool Gus: Who Dares Wins!
My latest release, The Green Berets: Chasing the Lost, has been selling remarkably steady which is nice. The reviews have been great so far and one of the things we’ll discuss this weekend is how changing my process on that brought about the stunning ending that readers are emailing me about.
Amazon, it appears, is the Death Star, the evil empire, that is devouring the publishing universe. At least according to a lot of people who are publicly proclaiming it. That makes Jeff Bezos the Emperor and, hmm, let’s pick Jon Fine, as Darth Vader, because he’s always out there at writers’ events representing Amazon. Behind that long hair and charming smile, lies his true, twisted face. We won’t even get into where he hides his light saber.
The recent Amazon purchase of Goodreads has rattled all these ‘rebels’ out of the encampments and have them polishing up their swords and powering up their own light sabers to . . .
Uh wait. Actually, when you check, you find that most, if not all, of these people, whether they be authors or work for publishers, have books on Amazon for sale. Huh? Are they then not part of Amazon? I mean, Amazon has to sell something. Right? And if these same people are supplying that product and making money off it, aren’t they either Imperial Storm Troopers (the little ones, you know, let’s say a midlist author at a trad publisher who generates probably 60-80% of her eBook royalties and 35% of her print royalties via Amazon) or piloting an Imperial Battle Cruiser (let’s say a Big 6 Publisher that sells a considerable number of books through Amazon, both digital and print, and oh yeah, audio).
How can both be true? How can Scott Turow use his bully pulpit as president of the Authors Guild to decry Amazon over and over again, yet still sell his books on Amazon? I think there’s a word for that.
I understand that its Scott’s publisher who sends the book metadata to be sold on Amazon and not Scott himself, but if Amazon is truly the Death Star, why is everyone feeding it?
I’m all for everyone having an opinion. I remember Barnes & Noble when it was the Evil Empire destroying indie bookstores. I also remember B&N when it was one store on 18th in New York City that I visited on Sundays growing up in da’ Bronx. I remember in 1994 when there wasn’t an Amazon. I remember the early part of the last decade as the music business imploded because of digital and NY blithely stuck to business as usual. Now it’s imploding and people are crying FOUL! Not preparing for the future isn’t your competition being unfair, it’s running your business poorly.
And how is Amazon your competition as a publisher? Your goal is to sell books. CORRECTION. And here is where people have to start wrapping their brains around some fundamental changes in publishing. We don’t sell books. We sell stories and ideas.
Authors create stories and ideas.
Readers consume stories and ideas.
Everyone in between the two has to add value to that.
Amazon is doing that. The Authors Guild isn’t. Most traditional publishers are still so rooted in the past, their royalty system is exactly on the same schedule it was before computers were used. Really. I know. My first book came out in 1991. Before Amazon. Before computers were widely used. They are still rooted in a business model focused on distributing books, not selling story.
I sell story. When I was traditionally published, to get to my reader, I had to go through the “gatekeepers”: agent, editor, editorial panel, publisher, sales force, book-buyer (misnomer as bookstores are consignment stores) racked in bookstore some place, and finally, whew, the reader.
I’ve done ten times better, at least, without all those people in between. So were they gatekeepers or a wall? Was the toll they charged to get through the gate inordinately high and very inefficient? Even at the .99 price point, I make almost as much as I used to make on a mass market paperback. Oh yeah, remember publishers and traditional authors decrying ‘free’ as destroying the value of books? Didn’t I just see some publisher offer DaVinci Code for FREE to get a sample of Dan Brown’s next book? It seems that all the practices indie authors have been using for years now and been slammed for, are now gaining acceptance in NY. Welcome to the real world.
Here’s the thing for all the storm-troopers and battle cruiser captains to keep in mind. Your goal is to sell story. Amazon helps you do that. I sat with a senior Amazon rep, aka Darth Vader, in the lobby of a hotel two weeks ago for an hour chatting. No one in traditional publishing at that level gave me that in 20 years because I was a replaceable cog in their machine and really not valued. He said Amazon views authors as customers too. We provide them with the product they need to sell. They value us. Oh yes, I know, like Mao and “letting a hundred flowers blossom” we’re all being set up for the big sting, when Amazon gets a monopoly on publishing and decides . . .
I’m sure there will be plenty who will provide me with that answer and tell me I will eat my words, but I sell my words. They’re tasty. But seriously, what is going to happen as the less viable business models implode, if they even do, which I doubt, because some are adapting.
It’s very simple to get Amazon out of the publishing business or at least put a serious crimp in their business. Stop giving them product. If the Big 6 stopped using Amazon to sell books, then, well, I think Amazon would have a problem, losing a lot of titles. I’m all for it, because it would make it less crowded for my books. And just to keep things straight, lets remember that I have all my books on many platforms (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, All Romance…) so I’m not just all about Amazon, though I am all about selling stories and ideas to my readers, period.
But wait. That might mean collusion and we’ve already been through that with Agency pricing, which no one seemed to get very upset about, even though the DOJ said some people did a bad thing with, essentially, price fixing. How as that good for the reader? Our customer? We can’t keep screwing over our customer and expect them to stay loyal.
And let me be clear. I am very grateful to NY publishing. I actually started out with Novato, CA publishing, but most of my livelihood came from NY for 20 years. But they did let me go. I understand. It was business. But now I really understand business. More than happy to help out, which I’ve been offering for two years.
We all have choices. We all make them. But when we make a choice to use a platform to sell our product, yet bad mouth that platform at the same time, we might want to take a long, hard look in the mirror and look what’s lurking underneath our own mask.
Oh yeah– May 7. Be here or be square.