Front Page News

Author Joe Konrath isn't just a blogopsphere sensation any more. Today, he made the front page of The Los Angeles Times in a story with the provocative headline "Authors Writing Off Publishers" (the headline makes a curious shift in focus in the online edition: "Book Publishers See Their Role as Gatekeepers Shrink"). Here's an excerpt:

Joe Konrath can't wait for his books to go out of print.

When that happens, the 40-year-old crime novelist plans to reclaim the copyrights from his publisher, Hyperion Books, and self-publish them on Amazon.comApple Inc.'s iBooks and other online outlets. That way he'll be able to collect 70% of the sale price, compared with the 6% to 18% he receives from Hyperion.

As for future novels, Konrath plans to self-publish all of them in digital form without having to leave his house inSchaumburg, Ill.

"I doubt I'll ever have another traditional print deal," said the author of "Whiskey Sour," "Bloody Mary" and other titles. "I can earn more money on my own."

For more than a century, writers have made the fabled pilgrimage to New York, offering their stories to publishing houses and dreaming of bound editions on bookstore shelves. Publishers had the power of the purse and the press. They doled out advances to writers they deemed worthy and paid the cost of printing, binding and delivering books to bookstores. In the world of print, few authors could afford to self-publish.

The Internet has changed all that, allowing writers to sell their works directly to readers, bypassing agents and publishers who once were the gatekeepers.

It's difficult to gauge just how many authors are dumping their publishing houses to self-publish online, though for now, the overall share remains small. But hardly a month goes by without a well-known writer taking the leap or declaring an intention to do so.

It is certainly the hot-topic of discussion whenever I get together with my writer-friends. I even had a long talk about it with my publisher during Bouchercon, who seemed honestly stunned by the money I was making off my backlist, particularly THE WALK

In fact, my wife was looking at my Kindle royalties the other day… which have hit an all-time high and are paid within weeks… and asked me why I even bothered continuing to write my MONK novels. Even the CreateSpace print-on-demand paperback edition of THE WALK is selling surprisingly well (If sales continue at the current pace, I'll sell 150 copies of the paperback this month, with a royalty of $4.04 per book). All of that is gravy…remember, these are out-of-print books of mine that we are talking about.

Even though the MONK books sell very well, in hardcover and paperback, my royalty rate is substantially less than what I earn on my out-of-print work on the Kindle.  And it can take more than a year, often much longer, before I see any royalty checks, particularly on my early, three-book deals that were cross-collateralized (on those, I don't get paid until all three books earn out my advance). And then, of course, there's the commission my agent takes from every check (and I am not begrudging her that at all, she worked very hard for it).

So yeah, self-publishing is looking very good to me. Something that would have been inconceivable to me as recently as two years ago.

Here's more from the article: 

Authors typically get 10% to 25% of the proceeds of digital sales if they go through a publisher, compared with 40% to 70% if they self-publish.

For Konrath, the math made his choice easy. He said he earned $1.17 in royalties for each digital copy of "Whiskey Sour" sold by Hyperion. That's roughly 25% of the sale price of $4.69.

When he self-publishes on Amazon, Konrath prices his books at $2.99 and earns $2.04 a copy, or just under 70%.

"If a traditional publisher offered me a quarter of a million dollars for a novel, I'd consider it," he said. "But anything less than that, I'm sure I can do better on my own."

He makes a good point…one readers of this blog have heard repeatedly. The publishing world has changed dramatically in the last twelve months and so has my thinking about my own future as an author.

I will keep writing the MONK books as long as they continue being successful…but I honestly don't know whether I will take my next original novel to publishers, unless my agent can convince me it's a game-changer that will be a break me out of the mid-list.

For an established mid-list author like myself, I can't say that working with publishers really makes much financial sense any more…it certainly doesn't to my wife, whose opinion carries a lot of sway with me.

But how do you get readers to find your work amidst the tsunami of sludge…all the hideous, not-ready-for-primetime swill that's being sold by aspiring writers? Here's what the article had to say about that:

With millions of titles potentially flooding the market, readers will have to rely more on external cues to guide their purchases, whether it's a favorable review from a celebrity, a tip from a social-media contact or the backing of a major publisher.

"Until someone comes up with an algorithm to sort the good manuscripts from the bad, publishers and their human network of agents and editors maintain an advantage," McQuivey said. "But sooner or later someone will create a new way for readers to find the books they most want to read, and that someone may or may not be a traditional book publisher."

It may not even be human.

Amazon, Apple Inc., Netflix Inc., Pandora Media Inc. and other technology companies use software that analyzes consumer behavior to recommend choices in music, movies and other products.

Indeed, the challenge in a world where anyone can publish a book is getting people to pay attention.

To that end, in my our own small way, I've banded together with Max Allan Collins, Vicki Hendricks, Harry Shannon, Joel Goldman, Dave Zeltserman, Ed Gorman, Paul Levine, and Bill Crider to create Top Suspense, a place where readers can find ebooks by estalished, acclaimed, award-winning writers whose work they can rely on to deliver the goods in a variety of genres…horror, westerns, mystery, thrillers, and crime. It's a small step…but it could blossom into something more. At this point, everything in the digital book world is an experiment of sorts…but exciting and full of possibilities nonetheless.

10 thoughts on “Front Page News”

  1. “But how do you get readers to find your work amidst the tsunami of sludge…all the hideous, not-ready-for-primetime swill that’s being sold by aspiring writers?”
    How did you do it before? When you walk into a Borders or Barnes & Noble and are faced with a million different titles, how do you pick? I don’t have the answer to that, but I’m not sure it’s any different now with Kindle titles.

  2. It’s an exciting time. Good luck.
    I think that you, Joe, and the Top Suspense crew are in a very different place with regards to the market than Leslie Firstnovel — you have established midlist careers and deep backlists. Your challenge is making your work available; your readers already exist, and even new readers can readily see that you are established presences. For you, rising above the slush is a much smaller challenge.
    Leslie Firstnovel’s challenge is finding readers at all. Rising above the slush is everything.
    What I think is going to happen is like what’s happened in music — we’re going to see a lot more authors able to build small but dedicated audiences, and because they won’t have publishers who will drop them because their audience is too small, they’ll keep writing.

  3. hmm…So Lee you’re the guy who rails against self-publishing and now you are….self publishing. Care to differentiate your rants from reality?

  4. Thanks for the mention, Lee. The Times got a bit wrong, though.
    He said he earned $1.17 in royalties for each digital copy of “Whiskey Sour” sold by Hyperion. That’s roughly 25% of the sale price of $4.69.
    I never said that. I make 82 cents from a $4.69 sale, not $1.17. Which, as you know, really adds up over the years.
    Right now, the publishing industry is at a crossroads. They’ll either have to start offering better royalties, or all of their authors are going to take the self-pubbing option because it is so much more lucrative.
    On Amazon Kindle alone, I’m making $600 a day. Add in B&N, Smashwords, Createspace, Sony, Apple, Kobo, and soon Borders and Google books, and I’m on my way to becoming one of the highest paid authors I know–and I’m friends with a lot of NYT bestsellers.
    This isn’t the future anymore. It’s now.

  5. Jonathan,
    I don’t think self-publishing makes sense for everyone…particularly aspiring writers.
    And if you read my earlier posts, you’ll see that I go into great detail explaining my reasoning.
    But let me quote from my friend Joe Konrath instead, who sums it up pretty well…
    Just because it’s easier than ever before to reach an audience doesn’t mean you should.[…]But most of all, being a professional means you won’t inflict your shitty writing on the public. Self-pubbing is not the kiddie pool, where you learn how to swim. You need to be an excellent swimmer before you jump in.
    I still believe it’s better for an aspiring writer to sell a book to a publisher instead of self-pubbing, even for a shitty advance…and I still believe it’s ALWAYS a mistake to pay to be published (there’s no excuse anymore for getting suckered by the likes of Authorhouse, Jones Harvest, xlibris, etc, when you can do it yourself for NO CASH OUT OF POCKET).
    But have my views on self-publishing changed? Absolutely. But so has the nature of self-publishing.

  6. I don’t disagree that getting a print deal is a great thing. For many authors, it probably is the right path. However, at least for me, self-publishing is better.
    I’m a new author and I just self-published my first full-length novel, Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance. I’ve sold 72 copies in 5 weeks. Nothing to jump up and down about, but I’m confident sales will continue to increase.
    My novel is a science fiction cyberpunk action-adventure. Not something NY is looking for. But, it’s what I wanted to write. NY wants vampire romances. I don’t want to write that. Why should my creativity be forced to comply with the demands of a few people in NY? I want to write what I want to write. Then, let’s see if the reader, not NY, thinks it’s worth reading.

  7. One point Joe made on yesterday’s blog was that he could sell a lot of books for $2.99 but sales were dismal at %5.99.
    This means that sales of ebooks are more price-sensitive than I had realized. On top of this, the figure I saw on a website for sales of the Kindle in 2010 was 13 million. Then there are sales of iPad, which can download ebooks: one analyst debunked the claim that 65 million iPads would be sold in 2011, but if it was just 10 million (just!), then sales of ebooks might explode even further. And priced at $2.99, they’ll sell, earning the author $2.04 gross, and $1.00 net for each sale if their income tax rate is 50%.
    One day there will be a billion ereaders out there, and writers who write high-quailty stories will sell a million copies each. And then one day, there will be 2 billion ereaders out there. Encouragement.

  8. “Indie authors” (and how I hate that PC feel good term) get a real bashing for taking the route we take, but those of us who have done our work well are seeing positive results. I wrote for 15 years while being mentored by a major top-selling author and sold ten short stories on my own before I started making my novels available on Kindle. The checks are not huge at this point but they are gratifying to receive. Positive Amazon reviews and indie website reviews and interviews are icing on the cake. I see no reason to stop. I have my own editor, cover designer, four books planned for 2011–there’s no reason not to take this route if you have the talent.

  9. Publishers will have to adapt, and it’ll be interesting who actually can.
    While most of the ebook buzz revolves around writers selling inexpensive books in big markets (mystery, SF, etc), it also seems that authors in tiny niche markets – where even a successful book might only sell a couple thousand copies – are ideally poised to benefit from self publishing – even in print.
    If you’ve developed an active online presence in what amounts to a small (and easily identifiable) online universe, you’ve already done more marketing than a niche publisher – so why hand the the bulk of a book’s revenue to a glorified printer and distributor?


Leave a Comment