An Amazon crew came down to Los Angeles, rented a cool house in Santa Monica, and shot some video with me yesterday to promote my new thriller TRUE FICTION. It was a lot of fun! I got to talk about myself all day, which I do anyway, but this time there were cameras and catering Here are some behind-the-scenes photos.
Here’s a new video interview with me about my thriller THE WALK, which twice hit #1 on the Amazon bestseller list and, if you don’t count my co-authored books with Janet Evanovich, is the bestselling novel of my career. It didn’t start out that way. It was a bomb when it was originally published in hardcover by Five Star, a small press, in the early 2000s. But I re-released it in a new ebook and paperback edition when the Kindle came along and it was an immediate hit. The novel has been published in a German and, starting TODAY, in a new French edition, too!
Brash Books is launching tomorrow with thirty books by twelve amazing authors…and I am SO excited. I’m pleased to say that the buzz has already been very positive. For example, last week Kirkus Reviews did a great interview with me and my Brash cofounder Joel Goldman . Here’s an excerpt:
The Brash editions I’ve seen so far are handsome, trade-size paperbacks, with bold cover imagery and elegant interior design. “Joel and I decided right off that we were either going to do this ‘first-class’ or not at all,” says Goldberg, “with high-quality covers that vividly and definitively establish a franchise for each author or series that we are publishing. We also decided that our covers would be contemporary, regardless of when the stories take place, and that they would pop in thumbnail but be rich in details and textures when seen full-size. We believed that strategy, that look, would instantly set us apart from our competitors, many of whom are either marketing their books with ‘vintage paperback’ or ‘pulpy’ covers that immediately date the product, or are churning out hundreds of generic covers based on a few rigid templates to control their costs. It was a pricey decision for us to make, but we believe it’s the right one.”
Will the gumption and gusto shown by Brash Books help it triumph in an increasingly decentralized publishing environment, one that’s already spawned other paperback reprint houses (such as Hard Case Crime and Stark House Press)? It’s hard to tell. The two partners behind it, though, are certainly optimistic. “We wouldn’t be investing this much of our money into Brash if we didn’t love each and every book we are publishing,” Goldberg states. “We are also having a lot of fun together doing this. Yes, it’s a business. But it’s also been really exciting and fulfilling…especially when an author, or an heir, tells us how much they love the books and how much it means to them, emotionally, to see them brought back in such beautiful new editions. You can’t beat that feeling.”
JKP: Do you worry that with such a huge single-month rollout, some of the individual works you’re publishing might get lost?
JG: We’d be crazy if we didn’t worry about that, because we don’t want to publish more books than we can support.
LG: But we also wanted to make a big splash, to launch with a list of books that truly announces who we are, that represents the range of work that we’re publishing, and that demonstrates the high quality that sets us apart from our competitors.
JG: Our marketing plan is a solid mix of old-school and new-school promotion, including magazine and convention ads, online ads, social media, and our killer Web site. We’ve hired an ad agency and a PR firm to help us, and we’re going to as many conventions as we can to get the word out.
LG: The best advertisements we have are our books and our authors. People are blown away by how gorgeous our books are and are very enthusiastic about the authors we’re publishing. Those readers are spreading the word for us better than any tweet or Google ad can.
And if that wasn’t enough, Publishers Weekly gave our premiere novel, Tom Kakonis’ Treasure Coast, a great review:
After more than a decade’s absence, Kakonis (Michigan Roll) returns with a darkly humorous caper novel that throws together an odd mix of characters whose conflicting aims and shifting alliances result in mayhem on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Failed gambler Jim Merriman makes an ill-considered promise to his dying sister to “watch out” for her hapless 21-year-old son, Leon. Con man B. Noble Bott and his assistant, Waneta Pease, are concocting a new scheme with Waneta serving as a medium to put the living in contact with the departed. Mismatched debt collectors, racist thug Morris Biggs and Latino Hector Pasadena, are about their nasty business, which includes Leon. Billie Swett, naïve trophy wife of Big Lonnie Swett, is the piece that will inadvertently connect them all. A hastily concocted kidnapping scheme, an ape-like PI named Don McReedy, and an incipient hurricane stir the plot. Kakonis overwrites at times, but he still offers strong entertainment.
We’re expecting more articles and reviews about Brash in the coming days. But what I really can’t wait to hear is what you think of our books… and whether you believe that we are living up to our motto: we publish the best crime novels in existence.
“As writers–most of us not published by Hachette–we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want.”
But Doug, his co-signers, and the Author’s Guild haven’t shown that same outrage, or any concern at all, about booksellers boycotting books from Amazon Publishing, a practice that has been going on openly for years.
That’s a double-standard.
I believe that the Authors Guild, and guys like Doug and his co-signers, shouldn’t support one retailer’s right to carry whatever title they want…for whatever reasons they want…and not Amazon’s right to do the same thing. That was my point in yesterday’s post. Doug’s argument was disingenuous. This dispute is not about what’s best for either authors or readers.
My post sparked a lively and friendly debate on my Facebook page, where several people pointed out that booksellers aren’t going to stock books published by Amazon, a company they see as their competitor. Some people also pointed out that many booksellers feel betrayed by authors who signed with Amazon Publishing. Furthermore, some booksellers felt that authors who signed with Amazon Publishing showed a fundamental lack of concern for the future of the booksellers who’ve supported them for years.
I don’t think that’s a fair or accurate characterization. Many of the authors now published by Amazon Publishing were either dropped by their publishers (and thus radioactive as far as other publishers are concerned) or were offered terrible contracts that ultimately pay below minimum wage. Amazon Publishing has revived the careers of hundreds of mid-list authors who otherwise would be finished in publishing…or forced to take crap contracts that they can’t live on just to remain in print. I believe it’s wrong for any bookseller to see it as a betrayal if an author chooses to take an Amazon Publishing contract in order to continue supporting his family and to stay in print. By the same token, I can understand, emotionally and on principle, why a bookseller wouldn’t want to carry Amazon Publishing titles. I don’t resent any bookseller for making that choice.
And yet…there’s a double-standard among booksellers, too, about what constitutes “betrayal.”
Michael Connelly’s TV show BOSCH, based on his Harry Bosch books that booksellers have lovingly handsold for years, is exclusive to Amazon. You have to be a member of Amazon Prime, or rent episodes from Amazon, to watch it.
I haven’t heard any booksellers accuse him of “betrayal” or insensitivity to booksellers for taking his show to Amazon. In his case, making that choice wasn’t about paying his mortgage or saving his career. And I bet booksellers will continue to sell his Bosch books….and when tie-in editions of the Bosch books come out with actor Titus Welliver on the covers, bookstores will sell those, too, even though they will be promoting BOSCH, and drawing new viewers to an Amazon-exclusive TV show.
But those same booksellers won’t carry Amazon Publishing books by critically-acclaimed, award-winning mystery authors like Harry Hunsicker or Alan Russell or G.M. Ford.
Most Amazon Publishing authors are mid list. Michael is a huge, bestselling author, so they’d be taking a financial hit by not stocking his books…and would piss off their customers. Michael is also one of the nicest guys on the planet, who has supported indie booksellers for decades with in-store signings and drop-shipped signed books. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like and admire Michael. I certainly do. There’s enormous, well-deserved affection and admiration for Michael, so booksellers wouldn’t think of hurting his feelings by not stocking his books as a stand against Amazon. If anything, they have expressed nothing but happiness that Bosch is finally coming to the screen…though it’s exclusively through Amazon.
On the other hand, there’s Harry Hunsicker. He’s an award-winning, critically acclaimed novelist that booksellers enthusiastically hand sold.. and who, in return, has supported booksellers for years, both as an author and also as executive director of the Mystery Writers of America. And he’s also one of the nicest people you will ever meet. But most bookstores won’t carry him anymore, because he’s published by Amazon. The difference is, it’s easy to boycott Harry. Or Alan Russell. Or G.M. Ford. They are midlist. It’s not so easy to boycott Mike. He’s a superstar.
But if booksellers were to boycott Michael’s books because the BOSCH show is exclusive to Amazon, you can bet there would be widespread outrage from the Authors Guild, and all of the authors who signed that New York Times open letter today. But when booksellers boycott Amazon Publishing’s books, and hurt hundreds of authors, that’s okay as far as Doug Preston, his co-signers, and the Authors Guild are concerned.
That’s a double-standard.
I am not saying Amazon is right in the Hachette dispute, or that booksellers shouldn’t be able to choose what books to stock or how to price them. But I am saying that Doug’s stance, and Author United’s, and the Authors Guild’s, is hypocritical and disingenuous. And that booksellers who accuse authors of “betrayal” for signing with Amazon Publishing are wrong, too. It’s a complex issue, one that neither side can boil down to a simple argument…or simple villains.
I am always amused when fanfic authors get upset when the creators and copyright holders of the characters they are writing about dare to assert their legal, creative and moral rights. A great example comes from this recent Wall Street Journal article about Amazon’s Kindle Worlds, which allows fanfic authors a platform to write, publish and sell books about characters and fictional worlds they didn’t create and don’t own.
To avoid copyright infringement, Amazon struck deals with several authors and entertainment companies. Amazon gives them a cut of royalties and the rights to use the new characters and plot lines in the fan-fiction material in exchange for licensing their intellectual property. So far, Amazon has acquired licenses for 22 fictional properties, ranging from the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, to the comic series G.I. Joe, to Alloy Entertainment’s popular teen book and TV series “Gossip Girl,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Vampire Diaries.” […]The move to profit from fan fiction has alarmed some writers and copyright experts who see it as a naked attempt to rob amateur writers of their intellectual property, before they have a chance to build an audience.
What irks some of these fanfic authors are the clauses in the Amazon Kindle Worlds contract that reminds them that, hey, you’re welcome to play here, but you don’t own the underlying rights, the creators and copyright holders of the characters do.
The move to profit from fan fiction has alarmed some writers and copyright experts who see it as a naked attempt to rob amateur writers of their intellectual property, before they have a chance to build an audience.
These same “experts” aren’t concerned when amateur writers nakedly rob authors of their intellectual property by writing and disseminating unauthorized fanfic based on characters and worlds the fanficcers didn’t create and don’t own. They are only concerned when the creators and rights holders have the audicity to exert their moral, artistic, and legal rights to “profit for fan fiction”:
“It feels like a land grab,” said Francesca Coppa, an English professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn., who writes “Sherlock,” “True Blood” and other fan fiction on the side. “Big companies are trying to insert themselves explicitly to get people who don’t know any better to sign away rights to things that might be profitable.”
No one is stopping Ms. Coppa or these writers from going out and writing their own, wholly original, legally unencumbered stories. Instead, these writers choose to write Vampire Diaries or Silo Saga fanfic instead… to utilize characters that don’t belong to them and then whine when the creators want to share in any profits that arise from the sale of those works. If there’s a “land grab” here, it’s not the creators and copyright holders who are making it… it’s the fanfic authors who think they should be able to freely use, and profit from, other people’s creations. The fanfic writers should be delighted and thrilled to have the chance through Kindle Worlds to actually sell their fanfic…instead of complaining that they can’t own the stories set in the fictional worlds that they didn’t create.
“Under the Amazon agreement, writers are giving away more rights than they would for something that is quote unquote original,” Ms. Tandy said. “Writers should be very careful that they’re comfortable giving away those rights.”
I love how Ms. Tandy puts quotes around original as if its a lesser form of writing than stuff based on someone else’s work…and implies that it’s unfair for the creators of original work to want their legal, creative and moral rights protected…and that fanfic authors of quote unquote unoriginal work somehow deserve greater protections. She has it all ass-backwards. Fanfic writers aren’t “giving away” more rights in this scenario, they are being granted rights they didn’t already have… to use and profit from characters they didn’t create and don’t own.
(I should mention my own novel franchise, The Dead Man, is part of Kindle Worlds and that there are presently four licensed fanfiction books based on the series, which I co-created with William Rabkin. I also wrote, as a work-for-hire writer for Penguin/Putnam, eight books based on Diagnosis Murder and fifteen books based on Monk, two TV series that I didn’t create. So I know what it means to write novels that I don’t own and, on the other side, to own a franchise licensed to Kindle Worlds.)
The “second season” finale of THE DEAD MAN, the series of action/adventure/horror novels that William Rabkin and I began two years ago, premieres on January 21st with REBORN, an action-packed, six-part Kindle Serial written by Kate Danley, Phoef Sutton and Lisa Klink. This story is big in every sense of the word… and if it succeeds, then THE DEAD MAN will most likely return in the Kindle Serial format for it’s “third season.”
Here’s the story:
Tanis Archer is facing a miserable 25th birthday. She’s a part-time barista in her sixth year at Dallas Community College. Her life is going nowhere, fast.
Because on her way to work, she loses control of her car and is killed in a horrific crash. That should have been the tragic end of her story. But days later, she wakes up on a cold morgue slab…and soon learns that miraculous resurrections have brutal side effects. For starters, there are people around her who look as if they are decomposing from the inside-out, victims of their rotting souls. Even worse, it’s no illusion. What she is seeing is real, a shadowy part of the world where the bloody battle between good and evil is being fought every day by Matt Cahill, an ax-wielding “dead man” and his rag-tag army of supernatural freaks.
And she’s being asked to join him.
Obviously that’s not how Tanis wants to spend her after-life–she’d rather party with her new-found abilities–but an unimaginable horror is rising from the Black Sea, and she might just be the only person who can save humanity from an agonizing, never-ending nightmare…
REBORN features a fresh, colorful heroine in an action-packed, darkly funny tale of adventure and terror told by an incredible dream team of award-winning, widely-acclaimed writers: USA Today bestselling author Kate Danley (The Woodcutter), Emmy Award winning screenwriter and novelist Phoef Sutton (Cheers, Boston Legal), TV writer/producer and author Lisa Klink (Star Trek Voyager, Painkiller Jane), New York Times bestselling author and TV producer Lee Goldberg (The Heist, King City), and two-time Edgar-Award nominated writer William Rabkin (Monk, Psych).
About six month ago, I gathered all the authors at my house and we broke the story the way we would in a TV series “writers’ room.” Like Bill and I, Phoef and Lisa are professional television writers…but this was a new way of working for Kate, but I think she liked it. We had a white board up on the wall, plenty of junk food, and only a general sense of where we wanted to go narratively. And then we brainstormed. By the end of the day, we had a story, which we divvied up into thirds for Kate, Phoef and Lisa to write. A couple of months later, when the three parts came in, Bill and I tied them together and smoothed out the rough edges, as we’ve done many times before on scripts on the various TV series we’ve produced.
We think REBORN send THE DEAD MAN series in an exciting new direction….and we hope fans of the series will agree!
The publishing industry is still trying to figure out how to deal with the self-publishing revolution that Amazon sparked with the Kindle and their KDP Publishing format. Old guard publishers need to adapt and evolve, not dig in and try to protect the way things have “always” been done, or they risk becoming irrelevant to readers and to authors. What brings this obvious fact to mind today is a recent essay that Steven Zacharius, CEO of Kensington,wrote for the Huffington Post.
Here’s Where We Agree…and Disagree
He starts out by saying a few things I agree with. He says that the self-publishing revolution has brought out a bunch of swindlers eager to take advantage of authors. That’s true. He says that there’s a flood of self-published work on Amazon, and that most of the authors will never sell more than a handful of copies to their dearest friends and relatives. Also true. He says that free books and ultra-low pricing by self-published authors is driving down the price of books and makes it harder for publishers to make money. I agree with that to some degree, too. He also says its very hard for any book, self-published or otherwise, to stand out. Again, he’s right. But where he loses me, and reveals the desperation of publishers to hold on to the old way of doing things at any cost, is his suggestion that Amazon and other retailers should create a form of literary segregation so “real books” (my phrase, not his), can stand out. Here’s how he puts it:
In a perfect world (okay, in my perfect world) there would be a separate section on Amazon or B&N.com for self-published e-books, maybe even separate websites. I truly believe that it would help the reader distinguish the books as well. Readers don’t purchase books based on who the publisher is and don’t necessarily care. As a result, they might not even know if they’re buying a book that was professionally edited versus one that was self-published.
This suggestion, and the way he refutes it immediately himself, shows how sharply divided he is on this issue even within his own mind.
If he believes that readers don’t buy books based on who publishes them, and that they can’t tell the difference between a professionally edited book and one that hasn’t been, then what would be the point of segregating corporately published books from those that are self-published?
Clearly, the only point is to throw a half-assed life-preserver to publishers who are struggling to figure out how to remain relevant in this new landscape…and get their books noticed amidst the millions of new titles.
But if you, or even Steve himself, accepted his suggestion, who would establish the criteria for what qualifies as “published books” and those that are “self-published?” Old-guard publishers, of course! And what would that criteria be? That’s not an easy question to answer.
The Way It Used To Be…and Why It Doesn’t Work Anymore
Before the Kindle revolution, and the wave of self-publishing it created, it was much easier to establish criteria for professional publication. I know, because as board member of the Mystery Writers of America and chairperson of their membership committee, I helped craft the rules for vetting publishers for the purposes of submitting books for Edgar Awards and or vetting authors for membership. You wouldn’t have been able to find a stauncher critic of vanity presses and self-publishing than me. But that was a different publishing world, technologically and business-wise, back then. The world has changed and so have I. Adapt or die.
The old rules were essentially based on the belief that the author should get paid for his work in advances and royalties, that his manuscript should be professionally edited, and the final product should be widely available in brick-and-mortar stores. One of the key yardsticks for determining professional publication was if the money flowed from the publisher to the author, and not the other way around (it was also a simple, and effective criteria to weed out “vanity presses” run by scammers who were swindling writers). But now that most books are sold online and not in brick-and-mortar stores, and now that there are self-published authors selling more copies, and earning substantially more money, than most mid-list “traditionally published” authors, and that so many “established” authors are self-publishing backlist and new works, those lines aren’t so easy to draw and the old criteria seems painfully archaic.
Who is a Pro….and Who Isn’t?
Steve suggests that it’s important to distinguish self-published books from those that are “professionally” edited. Well, my self-published books are professionally edited… by editors who still work freelance for the Big Six. So what would the criteria be in Steve’s segregation scenario for determining a “professional edit?” And, more importantly, what would be the benefit of this segregation to consumers as opposed to old-guard publishers? None. Deep down, Steve seems to know this, because he goes on to say:
Now don’t get me wrong. If I thought I had a story in me that I felt strongly about, I wouldn’t hesitate to self-publish it either. In fact, Kensington and all major publishers looks to e-book originals to find new talent. We have a handful of 2014 releases written by authors whose work impressed us enough to offer them contracts for new books.
So he’s got nothing against self-published books…as long as they don’t get in the way of a publisher’s interest. Ebooks are great, he says, as a way to find authors who’ve proven they can make money for a publisher. What he doesn’t say is that in many cases it would be more profitable in the long run for those authors to continue self-publishing rather than sign with Kensington which, with all due respect to Steve, is known for paying most of their writers very poorly and doing little to market their books. He still believes that the brass ring that all authors are reaching for is a publishing contract…perceived prestige over readership and lots of money. It’s less clear today what publishers can provide to authors that they can’t do for themselves, particularly if you fall in the mid-list. Publishers are a huge benefit to big gun authors, but don’t do so much for writers who aren’t already household names.
I know dozens of mid-list authors who are earning far more self-publishing than they ever did under contract (several of those are ex-Kensington authors, btw). And I know authors who are under contract who wish they weren’t…and that they could get their hands on their backlists so they could self-publish. That’s right, I know authors who are lamenting that their books are still in print…a point of view that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Because times have changed. Steve and others like him are slow to accept that.
A Successful Author Today Explores Every Option
I have nothing against publishing contracts… although I’ve self-published a lot of my books, I am also published today by Amazon’s 47 North and Thomas & Mercer imprints, as well as by John Wiley & Son, Penguin/Putnam and Random House. Those publishers are treating me and my books very well and I’m happy to be in business with them. I am also very happy with how my self-published books are doing, and I’ve turned down many offers to acquire the publishing rights to The Walk and Watch Me Die (one editor at a major publishing house actually approached me inside the Amazon Publishing booth at BookExpo to make me an offer!)
But every book, and every deal, is different. Today writers have options they never had before…and so do readers. Segregation isn’t the answer to the rising above the clutter and selling books. The answer is writing a good book…coupled with strong packaging and shrewd promotion, advertising and social media marketing. Because for authors in today’s world, whether you are self-published or under contract, you need to be a businessperson, too. It’s not enough to produce the product, you have to effectively sell it, too.
There are those who will argue that’s exactly why you need a publisher…but if you talk to most of the authors I know, they will tell you their publishers aren’t doing diddly for them…or what they are doing is woefully ineffective… and that the burden of marketing the book falls on the author’s shoulders, whether they are under contract or self-published.
The Author’s Guild has started a membership drive and the centerpiece is a letter from author Richard Russo, who talks about all of the evils the Guild is protecting us from and all the good things they do for writers. The Guild does some good, that’s true. Their legal services are hugely helpful to authors, especially those who otherwise couldn’t afford lawyers. But lately, I’ve been dismayed, and at times outraged, by the Guild’s wrong-headed stance towards Amazon and ebooks… and am seriously considering *not* renewing my membership to demonstrate my disagreement. The Guild’s antiquated thinking, misrepresentations, and outright fear-mongering is very hard to take or to justify. At times, they seem more interested in protecting publishers and agents than the interests of any writer who isn’t already a superstar. My friend Joe Konrath summed up my feeling well on his blog today:
The Authors Guild under Scott Turow’s leadership has done an awe-inspiring job of trying to maintain the antiquated status quo, where publishers coveted their power and treated most authors poorly; technology is considered the devil’s sorcery; and Amazon is Satan himself.
In that blog post, Joe and Barry Eisler go through Richard Russo’s wrong-headed letter point-by-point and do an excellent job revealing the flaws in his arguments (all of which seems to be based on his own fears and baseless assumptions rather than any actual facts). What follows are two excerpts from Richard’s letter interspersed with Joe & Barry’s rebuttals:
Richard: It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.
Joe: Here begins the fundamental disconnect.
Richard, aren’t you aware there are thousands of writers making a living from $1.99 ebooks? That what you considered to be a slight (and, actually, it may indeed be a slight when your publisher pays you 35 cents on a $1.99 ebook when I can make $1.36 on a $1.99 ebook using Amazon Select Countdown) in fact represents liberation for writers–and for readers?
Inexpensive ebooks aren’t what make authors dig into their retirement funds. Or fight in cage matches. It’s quite the opposite. I’ve made my million bucks this year pricing my backlist at $3.99 and under. And my books weren’t available in every bookstore, airport, drugstore, and department store.
In fact, my books weren’t available in ANY bookstore, airport, drugstore, or departments store.
Richard: Still, if it turns out that I’ve enjoyed the best the writing life has to offer, that those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I suspect it won’t cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these writers, in particular, that I’m addressing here.
Barry: What is this based on? “…those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less.” Where is the evidence for this? Because all the evidence with which I’m familiar indicates the opposite–including, for example, that a quarter of the top Kindle 100 books are self-published. Ignoring–or denying–the fact that thousands of authors are now making good livings outside the legacy system is at this point like arguing the earth is flat.
So Richard, I’m asking you: given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary (just click on the links in the paragraph above to get started), what is the basis for your fear that you and legacy publishing are all that’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and that it’s all downhill from here? Do you have any real-world evidence at all in favor of the proposition? If so, why do you not cite it?
I am not in complete lock-step with the opinions expressed by my friends Joe and Barry. For example, they don’t see piracy as a threat to the livelihoods of novelists and other artists. I certainly do, though I don’t copy-protect my books (except THE HEIST, but that’s outside of my control). That may seem like a contradiction, but I want people to be able to read my book on whatever device they own. And I believe the book culture is one that’s historically been built on people sharing books they love — essentially “hand selling” without exchanging currency — with their friends. What bothers me is when I find my books on file sharing sites being downloaded by the thousands and I don’t see a penny. What I’m sure Joe and Barry would argue is that it’s evidence of my popularity, that I am now gaining thousands of new fans who will eventually buy one of my books and spread positive word of mouth. They may be right, but I’m not convinced yet. I think if someone can download all 15 of my Monk books with one click that they will wait until they can find my new books for free rather than buy them. But I have no evidence to support that fear…nor, I suspect, do Joe and Barry have any to support their belief that piracy enhances sales.
Regardless of my disagreements with some of their stances, and the fact that their dissection of Richard’s letter may be a little too strident and snarky at times, overall they make some very strong, intelligent, and persuasive points that are well worth your consideration. And yes, I am speaking to you, Authors Guild.
There have been lots of questions and concerns among professional “tie-in” writers — the authors who write books based on TV shows, movies, games, etc — about Amazon’s new Kindle Worlds program. So the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, which I co-founded with Max Allan Collins,approached Amazon’s Philip Patrick, Director, Business Development and Publisher of Kindle Worlds, to see if he’d be willing to answer some questions from our members and, to our delight, he was. Here are some of the questions and his replies:
Q: I have a mid-list career (and growing) as a cozy mystery writer, and as an indie publisher. Work in tie-ins has become harder to find and less lucrative over the last couple years, and I’ve mostly stepped back from the field. Initially I dismissed Kindle Worlds as a bad bet. But now I am rethinking that. Do you see this program as a way to expand the troubled tie-in market for authors and to create more opportunities for franchise holders?
Philip Patrick: We see Kindle Worlds as another option for all writers and readers, and a great opportunity for professional writers to explore the stories and Worlds they feel passionate about. Licensors have an opportunity to deeply engage with their enthusiastic fans, and earn new revenues from the Worlds they created. Our job is to create the best possible experience for writers, readers, and World licensors.
Q: There’s lots of fanfiction out there and the vast majority is awful. What kind of curation is Kindle Worlds going to do, not so much for adherence to franchise rules but in terms of writing quality?
PP: Part of our mission at Kindle Worlds and Amazon Publishing is to act as a laboratory and develop new ways for writers to be creative, to connect with readers, and to earn money. In the case of Kindle Worlds, we don’t see ourselves as curators, because part of our job is to open up these Worlds to writers and readers who feel passionately about their characters and stories. Ultimately our customers will decide which writers and stories they enjoy through their reviews, but the quality is already coming through: Kindle Worlds stories have received great reviews – more than 840 customer reviews, in total – averaging around 4.3 stars. The prospect of selling a book and having it get reviewed by passionate fans makes a writer better, we think.
Q: What other properties does KW expect to acquire? Can you talk about what type of properties they are interested in and what makes them appropriate for KW?
PP: It all comes down to great storytelling, compelling characters, and vibrant geographies that writers are excited to explore. Some Worlds are going to be more current than others, of course, but there are many iconic works and characters that Kindle Worlds writers are going to love.
Q: What is the criteria and process for selecting worlds/franchises/properties, how are the owners compensated, etc? Can authors contact Amazon about licensing their books and short fiction for Kindle Worlds? Basically, what opportunities exist for authors on the licensing side of KW?
PP: We are always looking for new Worlds from authors and other licensors, and because royalties are split three ways – between the licensor, the writer, and the publisher – there is incentive and opportunity for all three.
Q: KW allows authors to keep their copyrights. Yet the effect of the agreement is work-for-hire. Can you explain your thinking?
PP: Kindle Worlds differs from works-for-hire in that our authors retain 35% of net revenue of their books’ sales. We like to think of our royalties as an incentive to write really good stuff, so it sells well for a long time. Authors get to contribute to a World and make an on-going profit off their original works in that World, which is really cool, a win-win for the author and the World. An author grants us an exclusive license to the story and all of the original elements the author includes in that story. We then allow the original World licensor and other Kindle Worlds authors to use those new elements. That seems fair to us and it’s why we have the rights set up as we do. If a writer doesn’t want to make that concession, we understand and we have a lot of ways they can publish their own original work on Amazon.
Q: The audio royalty seems low, as does the sublicense royalty. Can this be negotiated on an individual basis?
PP: No, we don’t negotiate individual terms. We feel the royalty rates are very competitive.
Q: With the price of the work to be set by Amazon and with the royalty rate set at 35%, what incentive is there for a writer to write stories longer than 10,000 words? If a longer story is going to get the same rate as a shorter work, it would seem to make the most sense for a writer to write more short works than one longer one (e.g., 5x 10k word stories rather than 1x 50k story). Can you address this seeming inequality of payment?
PP: The current standard author’s royalty rate for works of at least 10,000 words is 35% of net revenue, while shorter works (between 5,000 to 10,000 words) pay authors a digital royalty of 20% of net revenue. Kindle Worlds is an option and a choice for authors – we think many will quite like the choice.
Q: KW reserves the right not to publish submitted works. Could you provide some information as to what happens during the review and approval process? What happens after a writer hits the submit button? Does Amazon review the story, does the IP holder review the story? Are there editorial changes to be made or is the story simply approved or denied without editorial changes to be made?
PP: Every Licensor sets Content Guidelines for their Worlds. Once a writer submits his or her story, we review it to ensure that it follows those Content Guidelines for its World. The pre-publication review process typically takes a day or two. If we have questions during the review, we reach out to the author to figure out answers. But there is no storyline approval a writer has to go through. This is an open playing field with some boundaries (the Content Guidelines), but if a writer writes within those Guidelines, then we very much expect to publish the writer’s story.
Q:What are the top three mistakes writers are making when submitting stories to KW and what can writers, professional and amateur, do to make the KW process easier on themselves from submission to approval?
PP: Great question. My biggest piece of advice would be to follow the Content Guidelines and really focus on a story that will appeal to a World’s core fan base. As you all know, that takes some work to do. But it is worth it.
Q: Will Amazon promote works by established authors differently than works by “fans”? Would KW let readers know our credits so they can take that into account when deciding whether to make a purchase? If so, how do we let KW “editors” know during the submission process that we are pros with published books, also available on Amazon, to our credit?
PP: Every story will ultimately stand on its own merits, particularly the stories our customers respond to with positive reviews and recommendations. Amazon highlights all of an author’s works through their author pages, both previously published novels and Kindle Worlds titles.
Q: Say an author wants to write a Quantum Leap novel (expired show) or Person of Interest (a current Warner Brothers Television show). Can an author work with KW to obtain a license to write in that universe?
PP: We know that a lot of IAMTW members have long and deep relationships with both current and expired properties and we’re happy to receive suggestions. Our feedback email on site is checked on a regular basis and that is a great way to reach us.
Q: How does the editorial staff handle creative control specifically related to the individual property? An example: I write a Vampire Diaries novel where I kill everyone off. Readers complain that I don’t have the voice right, I clearly have never watched the show, etc. Do readers have a say in whether a KW book remains in print? Will KW ask an author to do a rewrite in response to reader reviews?
PP: One creative challenge in Kindle Worlds is that incredibly passionate and knowledgeable fans are typically among the first readers. If a story misses the mark, those fans will voice their response through customer reviews. How a writer responds to customer reviews is really up to him or her. We wouldn’t put a book out of print or demand re-writes based on customer reviews alone. The Kindle Worlds platform is flexible enough, though, for a writer to rework and republish their story based on customer feedback. That’s a unique feature of digital publishing overall: a writer can modify his or her work almost in real time, as they receive critical feedback. We’d gladly accept a new version of a book if a writer wanted to make changes after customer reviews came rolling in.
Q: At the moment the requirement to have a US bank account is a barrier for non-US writers to become involved with Kindle Worlds. Are any plans to relax this or provide another route.
PP: Yes, we are working to make the platform more accessible globally.
Q: Do publishers and license holders (Universal, Paramount, etc.) see this program as a real threat to the tie-in publishing world as it exists now? Are they unlikely to allow KW fiction if an existing book line (for example, Monk, Star Trek, Leverage, Supernatural, etc.) already exists? The argument against KW could be “why would a reader buy a $7.99 Supernatural book if they can get the KW stories for significantly less?”
PP: This is a new option and a choice for those licensors. Kindle Worlds may not be attractive for everyone, and that’s fine. But the response so far has been very encouraging, and we continue to receive useful feedback from all of our partners: licensors, writers, and fans.
Q: On the author side, are the publishers pressuring franchise holders NOT to do business with KW because they are concerned fewer pro authors will work for them, with the restriction and tiny royalties/advances, when they can get a bigger royalty writing for KW?
PP: You’d have to talk to them.
Q: Is one of the things holding back KW from acquiring more name-brand franchises (Star Trek, Superman, X-Files, Twilight Zone, Dr. Who, etc.) that franchise holders are worried that allowing non-pro, cheaper Kindle World’s fiction will diminish the value, financially and creatively, of their properties?
PP: First, I’d say we are thrilled with the Kindle Worlds we’ve launched to date, and very excited about what we have coming up. This is a new business and a complex one at that, so we’ve always expected it would take some time to develop. That said, we are constantly adding new World Licensors and will be announcing new Worlds in the coming weeks and months.
Q: How likely are we to see vintage TV (WIld Wild West, Remington Steele, Mannix, Lost in Space, Knightrider, Hart to Hart, Stargate, Farscape, etc) and movie properties (Dirty Harry, Independence Day, High Noon, Bill & Ted, Breakfast Club, etc) included in Kindle Worlds? The franchises on KW now don’t seem to be the ones likely to draw lots of passionate readers or writers.
PP: Those are all great suggestions; we are actively exploring many different properties, so stay tuned on that front. I’d challenge the idea, however, that the Worlds we have don’t draw passionate readers or writers. Since June, we’ve published more than 250 Kindle Worlds titles, and they’ve earned hundreds of positive reviews, with an overall review average around 4.3. We’re thrilled with the response to date.
Q: Where does Amazon hope to see the KW program a year from now?
PP: The response so far has been very encouraging. We are thrilled with writers who have been publishing with us and the readers who have been buying their stories. And we’re excited to continue to add new Worlds for writers and more stories for readers.
My novel THE WALK, originally published by Five Star in the early 2000s, was a critical success but a commercial failure that went quickly out of print. I republished it on the Kindle in 2009 and it has become a bestseller, selling over a hundred thousand copies. As recently as last month, it was #1 again on Amazon. Today, Amazon is featuring the book in their announcement of the new Amazon Matchbook program.
Today, Amazon launched Kindle MatchBook, a new benefit that gives customers the option to buy—for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or free—the Kindle edition of print books they have purchased new from Amazon. Over 70,000 books are enrolled in Kindle MatchBook, with more being added every day. Now customers can visit www.amazon.com/kindlematchbook to see all of their print books that are eligible for the Kindle MatchBook edition. Customers can also see when a book is eligible for Kindle MatchBook on the book’s detail page.
The program was announced on September 3 with over 10,000 titles. Since then, thousands of popular books likeHeaven is for Real, The Things They Carried and TheWay of Kings have been added from major publishers such as HarperCollins, Macmillan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Amazon Publishing, Wiley, Chronicle Books, and Marvel, as well as thousands of titles from Kindle Direct Publishing authors likeThe Walkby Lee Goldberg and Falling Into You byJasinda Wilder.
“It’s been great to see the positive response to MatchBook from both readers and publishers,” said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. “MatchBook enrollment has grown from 10,000 to 70,000 titles in just a few weeks and we expect it will keep expanding rapidly in the months ahead.”