A bunch of literary heavy-hitters have taken out a $140,000 advertisement/open letter, written by author Douglas Preston under the auspices of “Authors United,” that’s going to run in the New York Times tomorrow that sides with the publisher Hachette Group in their on-going business dispute with Amazon over ebook pricing. There are lots of points in the open letter that I don’t agree with, or that I believe are mis-represented, but one phrase, one example of hypocrisy, stood out and I had to call Doug on it. I believe it reveals what this dispute is really about. Here’s the letter I wrote to him:
You wrote in your ad: “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.”
Does that same sentiment also apply to the brick-and-mortar bookstores, from big chains to indies, that refuse to stock paperback books from Amazon Publishing’s imprints Thomas & Mercer, 47North, Montlake, etc? If so, why don’t I see the same level of outrage from Authors United, or the Authors Guild, over this widespread ban, which has been going on for years and harms hundreds of authors?
The list of authors, many of them ITW and Authors Guild members, directly affected by bookstores refusing to carry Amazon-imprint titles includes Marcus Sakey, Kevin J. Anderson, Ray Banks, Alan Russell, Greg Bear, Ian Fleming, Ed McBain, Max Allan Collins, Stephanie Bond, Dana Cameron, Leslie Charteris, Diane Capri, Orson Scott Card, Sean Chercover, Deepak Chopra, John Connolly, Bill Crider, Ed Gorman, Peter David, Nelson DeMille, Aaron Elkins, Christa Faust, Stephen W. Frey, Jim Fusilli, Joel Goldman, David Hewson, Jonathan Maberry, Penny Marshall, Robert R. McCammon, Marcia Muller, Susan Orlean,Julie Ortolon, Tom Piccirilli, Daniel Pinkwater, Steven Pressfield, Robert Randisi, Christopher Rice, John Saul, Tom Schreck, Neal Stephenson, and R.L. Stine, to name just a few.
I have enormous respect for you and the authors who signed your ad. Many of them are also friends of mine. But the fact that you, and the other authors listed in the ad, are upset by the Hachette situation and haven’t shown any concern over Amazon Publishing titles being banned by bookstores speaks volumes about what the real issue is here.
The success of a Bouchercon has less to do with the venue, and the organization of the conference, than with the collective vibe of the people who attend…which is a good thing, because this was the worst location, and the most poorly organized, Bouchercon I’ve ever been to. That said, the people were great and I had an absolutely terrific time.
So let’s start with the good part. I’m long past attending the Bouchercons for the panels or the special guests…I rarely go to any panels or interviews anymore. I go to Bouchercon to see old friends, to get introduced to new authors and new books, to meet with my editors and executives from the publishing companies that I work for, to buy books, to talk shop, and to pick up the latest news in my little corner of the industry. I spend almost all of my time in the book room, or in the corridors of the conference center, or going to parties, or hanging out for hours in the hotel bar, talking with editors, authors, readers and booksellers. I usually come away from the event re-energized, full of new ideas, and armed with a fresh understanding of the marketplace. All of that happened this time.
What I like best is when I bump into people I’ve long admired but have never met…like Dexter producer Clyde Phillips and Law & Order SVU writer Jonathan Greene… or have a chance encounter with authors I’ve never met before that leads to long and interesting conversations….and that happened with Chris Povone and Jamie Mason, among others…or get to meet enthusiastic readers of my books…and I met many of them. I was especially thrilled to hear how much they liked The Heist. What really surprised me was how many of those fans were men.
There’s no question that the explosion of self-publishing, the emergence of Amazon’s imprints (two of their Thomas & Mecer authors scored Anthonys for best novel and best short story), and the Kindle device have changed everything…and authors trying to figure out where they fit in, where the best opportunities are, where the pitfalls are, and how all of this changes their approach to both the business and craft of writing. The big takeaway is that this is an exciting time to be a novelist…perhaps the best ever. Authors have choices they never had before, especially those of us who have been at this a while. But what about new authors? What is the path to success in this rapidly changing landscape? Where do agents fit into it all now? All of that is far less clear…at least from the vantage point of the Albany convention center last weekend.
Which brings me to the venue, which had all the charm of a bus station men’s room, minus the urinals. The windowless pit was buried beneath the Empire State Plaza, which looked like a matte painting from a busted, 1970s Gene Roddenberry sf pilot. Finding your way into that bleak pit required a sherpa… or directions from one of the many crack addicts, toothless meth-heads, smelly panhandlers or opportunistic drug dealers on the streets surrounding the far-flung hotels where everybody had to stay (the convention center was virtually inaccessible for the handicapped). The conference rooms where the panels were held had terrible accoustics and the ambiance of police interrogation cells. The only author who probably felt at home in them was Marcia Clark.
Because bleak, destitute downtown Albany revolves around government workers, everything shuts down early in the afternoon and is closed up on weekends…those few places that already boarded up or out-of-business… meaning there was no place to eat on Saturday and Sunday….unless you wanted to wander into crack alley for a soggy burger or go back to the understaffed, woefully unprepared Hilton Albany, the nearest hotel…where even if you got served, it was a crapshoot whether inedible meal that was delivered was the one you actually ordered. The bar was even worse.
What were the Bouchercon organizers thinking when they picked this shithole? Who knows. But I can tell you this, Long Beach next year will be a big improvement…and I’ve already booked my tickets.
Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint brought their authors up to Seattle last weekend to meet with their executives and editors over dinners, parties and meetings…..and to talk shop at a conference entitled “On The Lam” that was open to invited members of the public. It was an amazing experience.
The best thing about the “On the Lam” conference were the numerous, and lengthy, opportunities we had to meet, and spend time with, the Amazon executives and editors. It gave us a real chance to develop personal relationships with them rather than the typical short encounters you have at Bouchercon, etc.
The first full day began with a breakfast meeting at Amazon HQ where the heads of their various departments gave us confidential briefings on the current status on all aspects of the Amazon Publishing program and the many initiatives they have in the works for the coming year. It was very interesting and I wish I could share the details…but we were sworn to secrecy. We were introduced to key department heads and went off to lunch aboard a yacht in Lake Union, where we got a chance to mingle with the execs one-on-one in a casual setting. We then broke up into groups for an afternoon cruise , a walking tour of the city , or a tour Seattle distillery tour. After the afternoon outings, we got back together for a terrific party at the Chihuly Glass Museum at the base of the Space Needle. There were a number of inspiring, short speeches by Amazon execs…and then we all mingled.
Saturday was spent in the “On the Lam” conference, where the authors in attendance were on panels moderated by Amazon editors and discussed many aspects of writing, marketing and the publishing business. The conference concluded with the authors breaking into several groups and going to dinners hosted by editors at some of Seattle’s best restaurants.
A lot of the authors and attendees have blogged enthusiastically about their experience at “On The Lam.” Author Max Allan Collins says the event was truly unprecedented:
[It]was unlike anything I’ve experienced in forty years of publishing. The T & M crew flew in 75 authors from hither and yon – “yon” being the UK, and hither being places like “Iowa” – simply to give those authors a chance to interact with each other, and the T & M editorial and marketing team. Editors have taken me out for lunch or breakfast many times, and publishers often have cocktail parties at Bouchercon and/or take authors out for a group dinner. But this was different.
For one thing, this conference was almost exclusively attended by one publisher’s writers. For the Saturday panels, family and friends and some local writers group members were in the audience, but mostly this was writers talking to other writers (and to editors). All weekend, the kinds of conversations usually only heard in secluded corners of bars at Bouchercon hotels was the up-front order of the day.
Barb and I both found it interesting and illuminating, and the generosity of T & M toward their authors was damn near mind-boggling. Everybody had a gift bag with a Kindle Paperwhite in it, for example…
The freebies went beyond that. There were t-shirts, notebooks, pens, umbrellas, and plenty of copies of the T&M books. Our money was no good at the restaurants and bars in the hotel. But it wasn’t the swag or meals that impressed me… it was the message that the gifts, and the event, underscored about Amazon’s attitude towards their authors: we appreciate you. We are in this together.
I guess you could say that in the 21st century with the advent (invent) of the Kindle, traditional publishing has come under siege. There is a war going on for eyeballs on screens. Authors are the ones who produce much that content that goes on the screens. It sometimes seems like the legacy publishers have forgotten that, but this is something that Amazon knows at the core of their corporate structure. I’ve been here 24 hours now and all I hear (and see) is how Amazon puts the author at the center of all business equations.
[…] all the talk among the authors was about how we, as authors, have never been treated so well by a publisher. They really want our opinions on covers, and when we say we think there should be changes, they go back to the drawing board and try again. They pay better royalties and they do so monthly. We have an online dashboard where we can see actual sales by the next day, so we always know how many books we’ve sold, and our final royalty statements are available online about fifteen days after the close of the month’s period.
Author Charlie Williams notes how lots of people like to depict Amazon as an evil empire …but that’s not how the company feels to authors or to customers.
You may have heard negative things about them, things about monopolies and doing the independents out of business and destroying the publishing industry. Well, all I can say is that they know how to treat an author. And if they treat you well too, dear reader, then that’s a pretty good deal. Right? See them as the dark overlord if you like, but I can assure you that they are a bunch of bright, imaginative men and women trying to find new and better ways of doing things. And they are book people. There is a new paradigm going on and they are at the heart of it, cutting unseen shapes from the rock-face. Lucky them. Lucky you.
Author Helen Smith says On the Lam was good business, for Amazon and for authors:
It was an opportunity for us to meet each other and spend time with the staff at Amazon Publishing, including Russ Grandinetti and Jeff Belle, as well as the people who work across all the Amazon Publishing imprints. I had met some of them before at various events in London and New York and it was a joy to spend time with them again in their home town.
The conference made author Jay Stringer give serious thought to why he writes…and the direction his career is going.
I’m three books into my career. I’m still figuring out what kind of writer I want to be. At On The Lam I got to talk to many different kinds of writer. Some have forged successful careers mixing their own work with work-for-hire, some like to sit and slowly work through their own books, one at a time, and supplement their income elsewhere. Some have long-term deals, some only worry about one contract at a time. Each of them took time to talk to me about their careers, their paths, and to help me along in deciding on mine.
“On The Lam” was even great for the attendees who weren’t Amazon authors. Erin Havel reports for the Huffington Post that she found the panel discussions packed with information…
By the end of the day I was completely inspired. I realize I could write a separate blog on each of the panel discussions, perhaps I will in the future. However, for now, this is a small glimpse at a world few beginning authors have the opportunity to see. Thank you Thomas and Mercer!
Amazon has worked very hard to make their authors feel like partners, not like outside contractors or, worse, as a necessary evil (remember Harlequin complaining a few weeks back that their profits are down because they have to pay royalties to authors?). I certainly can’t recall any publisher doing anything like “On the Lam” before…or being so open about sharing sales information (in real time!) or paying royalties so frequently and promptly (monthly!).
It’s very important to me to establish personal relationships with the people I work with. The “On the Lam” conference is just one of many examples that demonstrate that the executives at Amazon Publishing feel the same way.
My friend Jude Hardin’s highly acclaimed Nicholas Colt mystery novels have followed an unusual publishing path. In this informative guest post, Jude talks candidly about that journey and the hard lessons he’s learned, culminating with the self-publication this month of his latest novel in the series, COLT (and be sure to check out his fantastic DEAD MAN tale, FIRE & ICE).
In the spring of 2011, when my debut thriller POCKET-47 received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, I figured I was on my way. Suddenly, I was getting inquiries from a variety of big-name industry professionals who were interested in my book and my future.
I was a published author, and I was getting noticed. After years of trying to break into the business, these were two of the best things a writer could ask for!
But, with a hardcover print run of 3000 copies, and a $9.99 price tag on the ebook version, it quickly became apparent that the book wasn’t going to take off as well as it should have. The distribution just wasn’t adequate; there was no co-op placement in bookstores, and there weren’t a lot of readers willing to shell out ten bucks for an ebook by an unknown author.
That PW review did help me land a top New York agent, though, so I had high hopes for the second book in the Nicholas Colt series. My agent and I discussed strategies to move forward, and we decided Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint might be the best way to go. Ebooks were quickly gaining traction in the marketplace, and Amazon’s promotion of them was second to none.
So we submitted the manuscript.
It sparked the editors’ interest, and I ended up signing a four-book deal with an option on a fifth. CROSSCUT was scheduled to be released June 2012, and SNUFF TAG 9 the following November. With Amazon’s backing, I thought these and subsequent titles would sell well enough to allow me to write full time. Once again, I was on my way.
Once again, good things!
Unfortunately, even with solid promotional efforts from Amazon, the sales of my Nicholas Colt titles have been lackluster so far. The books have earned out their advances, but they haven’t sold well enough for T&M or other publishers to offer the kinds of publishing deals I’m interested in. KEY DEATH comes out later this month, and I’m hoping things will pick up when it does.
But of course I’ve learned that there are no guarantees…
So, in an effort to give the series an extra shot in the arm (and with all of my contract obligations to Thomas and Mercer fulfilled) I have decided, for the first time, to self-publish a novel.
COLT went on sale May 30. It’s a prequel to the series, the events taking place three years before those in POCKET-47. Here’s the story:
October 21: just an ordinary day, unless you’re a former rock star…
The sole survivor of a plane crash…
A private investigator working out of a camper..
For Nicholas Colt, October 21 is an unlucky day. A day for nightmares. It always has been, and this year is no exception.
Someone is brutally murdering the offspring of an anonymous sperm donor, and Colt’s missing client is next on the list. With less than four days to find the young man—and, with a pair of drug-addicted study partners, a violent motorcycle gang, a stalker ex-girlfriend, and a host of other obstacles standing in his way—Colt faces the most challenging and deadly case of his life.
By self-publishing, I have control of the price, and I can participate in free giveaways and other promotional tools like BookBub. I have another completed novel that falls on the other side of the Nicholas Colt timeline, and I’m planning to self-publish that one early 2014.
Does this mean that I’m finished with publishers altogether? Not at all. It just means that writers have more viable choices now than ever before.
And that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.