Show Me the Money

The Guardian reports in a lengthy piece today that more established authors are thinking about self-publishing their work in the wake of such high-profile deserters of traditional publishing as JK Rowling, Barry Eisler, and John Edgar Wideman.  it all comes down to dollars and sense, as my friend Barry told them:

Thriller novelist Barry Eisler turned down a reported $500,000 from St Martin's Press to go his own way. "The key dynamic at work in self-publishing is legacy publishers' loss of their lock on distribution," he says. "It used to be that if you wanted to distribute your book in meaningful numbers, you needed a partner with a sales force, and relationships with wholesalers, retailers, and printing presses. Digital has changed that. Before, the question that had to be asked by a would-be self-published author was, 'How will I distribute?' It used to be that there was no good answer. Today, digital has definitively answered it. The question for a would-be self-published author now is just, 'How will I market?' And that question has a lot of available answers." 

[…]The thriller author is an interesting case. After turning down the St Martin's deal to self-publish, he subsequently signed up to a one-book deal with Amazon for a six-figure sum, but will continue to self-publish other titles. The way he explains it, the numbers make sense. 

"To understand what the traditional advance really represents, you have to break it down. Start by taking out your agent's commission: your $500,000 is now $425,000. Then divide that $425,000 over the anticipated life of the contract, which is three years (execution, first hardback publication, second hardback publication, second paperback publication). That's about $142,000 a year. This is a more realistic way of looking at that $500,000," he says. 

"But there's more. Some people have mistakenly argued that, for my move to make financial sense, I'll have to earn $142,000 a year for three years. But this is one time when you don't want to be comparing apples to apples. Because the question isn't whether I can make $425,000 in three years in self-publishing; the question is what happens regardless of when I hit that number. What happens whenever I hit that point is that I'll have 'beaten' the contract, and then I'll go on beating it for the rest of my life. If I don't earn out the legacy contract, the only money I'll ever see from it is $142,000 per year for three years. Even if I do earn out, I'll only see 14.9% of each digital sale thereafter. But once I beat the contract in digital, even if it takes longer than three years, I go on earning 70% of each digital sale forever thereafter." 

Barry just took a deal to publish his book THE DETACHMENT through Amazon's new imprint, Thomas & Mercer, but that's because they offered him a total rethink of the typical author contract. He says:

[…]"Amazon offered me the best of both worlds, legacy and indie. The advance and marketing muscle you (might) get in a legacy contract; the kind of digital royalties, creative control, and time-to-market you get with indie". So he's giving up "something like 20% or 30%" of his digital retail channels, but he's gaining Amazon's "marketing muscle" – "and if Amazon blows out the marketing for The Detachment, [his current and future self-published books] will benefit enormously".

JK Rowling, meanwhile, is self-publishing the ebook versions of her HARRY POTTER novels, but is going one bold step further… she's cutting out booksellers… brick-and-mortar and e-retailers…entirely.

She's going to sell the books through her own storefront. She stands to make millions more than she would have if she'd let a publisher or e-retailer release her ebooks. Instead of splitting the royalties with anyone…she's taking them ALL for herself.

This is a very compelling model…one I wouldn't be surprised to see other "franchise" authors like James Patterson, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, or Michael Connelly try in the very near future.

The changes in the publishing world are happening with astonishing speed…and, for once, they are favoring authors more than corporations…at least for now.

2 thoughts on “Show Me the Money”

  1. You are probably aware of this, but Amazon’s “marketing muscle” is truly amazing. Due to the books I’ve browsed at Amazon, and the one’s I’ve purchased, they send me an email each time you upload a new book–that’s an email in my inbox!
    Print publishers can’t, so far as I know, match this marketing reach. And it comes across as a service they are performing for me, not as a push to get me to buy more books, and I appreciate it much more than any other way print publishers use to reach me.
    So if a writer was wondering how to market his or her book, Amazom has partly solved the problem and in a pretty good way.

  2. Also, like a big name artist like Prince selling his music directly to the fans, years of having a major label behind him First is a key point rarely mentioned. It’s all about “name value” today. Well, almost.

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