Doing the Unthinkable

0383 Lee Goldberg ecover King City_14There was a turning point when I realized that I’d completely shaken free of all of my previous, deeply held perceptions and beliefs about publishing….and fully embraced an entirely new publishing model.

It wasn’t when my out-of-print backlist, which the publishing industry deemed played out and worthless, started pulling in $70,000 a year for me in ebook royalties.

It wasn’t when I signed a 12-book digital, print and audio deal with Amazon’s 47North imprint for The Dead Man, a monthly series of original books that Bill Rabkin & I created, and that we are writing with a dozen incredibly talent authors, and that we began in February as a self-publishing venture.

And it wasn’t last week, when I agreed to a two-book digital-print-audio deal with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint for my new novel King City and a sequel.

It was Tuesday, when I delivered Mr. Monk is a Mess, my 14th Monk tie-in novel to Penguin/Putnam and informed them that my 15th book, the last in my current contract and due this coming May, would also be my last book in the series.

In other words,  I quit.

They were surprised, of course.

I am walking away from a hugely successful book series, one published in multiple languages around the world, and from the certainty of another three-book contract and an increase in my advance.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the idea of ending a hit book series, in hardcover, with a major publisher would have been inconceivable to me and just about every author I know.

But the publishing world has completely changed.

The Monk books, like the Diagnosis Murder novels that I wrote before, were licensed tie-ins. That means I was hired for an advance, and given a tiny royalty, to write books based on characters that belong to someone else. I was a hired hand…albeit one paid very well by tie-in standards.

I had a great fun writing those books, took enormous pride in them and, until recently, considered myself very fortunate to have the gig.

And in that old world, I was.

But now, in this new world, my attitude has completely changed.  0460 Lee Goldberg Dead Man Series_V2_3

I am still very proud of the books…which is why I find it incredibly frustrating that I have written 22 novels that I dearly love but that don’t belong to me.

They belong to studios.

It’s frustrating because if they belonged to me, I could be earning so much more money from them now…and, more importantly for my family, in the future.

I won’t make that mistake again.

Instead of writing two books a year for Penguin/Putman, I will be writing that many books… or more…for myself that I own.

Some I will self-publish, others I will write for Amazon’s imprints.

But they will be mine.

I know what you’re thinking. What about those books for Amazon? Haven’t you just traded one master for another?

Every aspect of  the deals that I have with Amazon’s imprints on The Dead Man series and the King City books are far, far, FAR more author-friendly and potentially lucrative than anything I ever had before…as are my chances at success with such a savvy partner, one who, incidentally, operates the biggest and most successful bookstore on the planet.

And I own King City. If I end up writing 15 books in that series, all of those books, now and in the future, will be mine.

Ah, but what about all those writers who are doing The Dead Man books for us? Aren’t we exploiting them? Aren’t they making the same mistake I’d have made if I’d signed to do more Monk books?


That’s because unlike the old school publishers (and, let’s face it, publishers are what Bill and I have become with The Dead Man), we have thrown away the old rules of doing business with writers on licensed properties.

In fact, what we are doing is revolutionary in the tie-in world.

We are splitting all of the publishing royalties from digital, print, audio, and foreign translations on The Dead Man books 50/50 with the writers.

Our success is their success…and vice-versa.

We’ve made them our partners.

(And publishers of tie-ins should follow our lead…or there won’t be any tie-ins anymore, because it won’t make any financial sense for writers to write them).

The Dead Man series relaunched on Oct. 24th and is already doing amazing business. Our next book comes out later this month.

And King City is coming in May.

It’s a bold, exciting new world for authors and I haven’t been this excited about writing since I was a teenager.


16 thoughts on “Doing the Unthinkable”

  1. As a reader, and sometimes writer, I am excited too. I am taking more chances as a reader, reading books by small-press and e-book authors I’d barely heard of a year or two ago, mostly on word-of-mouth promotion.
    This is the kind of wild west that I’d read took place during the pulp magazine years and the early days of paperback publishing.
    I took a not-so-big-chance on the Dead Man series last week and I like what I’m reading. These are the kinds of books I usually only bought in used stores — where the authors never saw a dime.
    Next week I’m going to a writer’s conference and Barry Eisler is speaking. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.

  2. Lee’s right, Dan. Barry is terrific people and very open to helping other writers. He’ll answer any question you put to him — well, almost… Enjoy the conference and don’t be shy!

  3. Congratulations on how things are moving. Will miss the Monk books, but I don’t blame you. You are becoming your own boss and realizing a better effort for your labors.
    Look forward to King City and other original stuff.

  4. Wow. Even though I’m on another path right now (and have not sold many of my backlist books that I’ve put back in print), I’m just amazed by the changes I’m seeing in publishing. Best of luck to you!

  5. Pointless. Scripts are not a pitiful segment of the book market…in print or ebooks…and it won’t get you any attention from studios or producers, which is what I assume you are looking for.
    Write them as books instead…then it would make sense to publish them.

  6. With “The Dead Man” series going well on Amazon, it seemed like a good moment to revisit Simon & Shuster and see how the print publisher is making out in the newly dawning digital world. S&S is owned by CBS Corp, and CBS is doing very, very well. Here are the CBS third quarter highlights:
    Revenues of $3.4 Billion Up 2%
    OIBDA (operating income before depreciation and amortization) of $837 Million Up 25%
    Diluted EPS (earnings per share) of $.50 Up 43%
    It might look worrisome that revenues are flat, but CBS makes its money from advertising and 2011, of course, is not an election year. So that’s the reason. But next year, with a presidential election, their revenues, and earnings, should soar.
    CBS has increased the money they’ll use to buy back shares to $1.5B. They’ve stopped paying down debt, which is stuck at $6B. But paying down debt doesn’t move the stock price up, so this is the reason. In any case, the debt load is relatively low.
    As for S&S, despite all the print publishing doom and gloom, revenues for 3Q-2011 came in at $220M, up 1% from a year earlier at $218M. That’s pretty good. They did it by having a couple of print bestsellers and also, as print sales diminished, by more than doubling digital sales, which now account for 17% of total revenues. OIBDA increased by a nice 19% to $38M from $32M a year earlier. This is where their cost cutting shows up, and by selling more digital sales, costs were also driven down. Digital sales are also more profitable than print sales.
    All in all, S&S seems to be successfully transitioning from print to digital. As for details on exactly how their doing it, we’ll have to wait for the Annual Report which comes out late January or early February 2012. But it certainly does not look like they’ll go out of business anytime soon.

  7. Wow, Lee, wow. I guess I’d better get that e-reader sooner than later. I’m glad you have found a profitable way into the bold new world of the future.
    Thanks for the chance to continue Monk’s adventures though Natalie’s eyes. Paris will never be the same. Will Monk solve Natalie’s mystery before you sign-off on the series?

  8. Last post, Lee, on the fortunes of Simon & Schuster, just looked at the 2011 Q3 earnings versus those of 2010 Q3, and we saw that S&S is successfully transitioning to the digital world of ePublishing. But that look didn’t provide the big picture of what had happened for the first nine months of 2011. So I went back and dug up the year-to-date figures. These represent S&S earnings from Jan 1, 2011 to Sept 30, 2011 as compared to the first nine months figures of 2010. OIBDA is Operating Income Before Depreciation and Amortization:
    9-month 2011 revenues: $558M
    9-month 2010 revenues: $559M
    Adjusted OIBDA 9-month 2011: $62M
    Adjusted OIBDA 9-month 2010: $52M
    Adjusted Operating Income 9-month 2011: $58M
    Adjusted Operating Income 9-month 2010: $47M
    We can see that revenues are only down by $1M, so S&S is doing a really good job of earning money from digital offerings as total sales of printed books decline.
    And both the figures for OIBDA and Operating Income show the results of their successful cost cutting on the one hand, and their higher margins earned on digital offerings on the other. They’ve done a much, much better job of reining in costs and selling online than I had previous imagined was possible.
    What about results for 2011 Q4? My guess is that revenues won’t explode so much as earnings will. That is, since they’ll sell a lot of eBooks in the Christmas season, and since eBooks cost less to buy than printed books by and large, the revenue figure won’t explode. But since eBooks are more profitable than printed books, the earnings will skew upward. By how much is anybody’s guess. But I wouldn’t be surprised if eRevenues come in at 25% of total 2011 Q4 revenues—which would, of course, be huge. And in 2012, could eRevenues grow to be 50% of total revenues? The higher the percentage of total revenues that eRevenues achieve, the better the job S&S is doing online. But to further their progress will they have to come up with a better deal for writers than Amazon’s? I don’t know, but I’ll be watching.

  9. Well, I will miss the Monk books. But I wish you luck. It is a brave new world for readers as well as writers. It looks like I will have to get a Kindle even though I got a Nook six months ago. Backed the wrong horse there I guess.

  10. Good luck to you and I hope it works out great for you. I do have a questions as a newer author trying to get into the world of getting published. Is it better to create a name first through companies and then self publish? I do not have a clue how to get myself out there and what to do now that I have almost finished my first novel. Thank you in advance.


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