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Publishing Business Models

I want to start this article by laying out some basic principles.   These I believe are facts.

  • The current publishing business model which relies on advances against royalties and the consignment method of selling cannot be sustained.
  • A robust publishing industry is good for the reader.
  • Yog’s law is not immutable.
  • Writing is a creative act but selling one’s writing and making a living off one’s writing is a business act.

The reason that I advocate for alternative models of publishing is not because I want authors to get paid less or because I only want books for free.   I advocate for alternative models of publishing because democratization of access to distribution can create profitable business models for authors of all positions on the list.   With publishers like Random House claiming erights retroactively and other traditional publishers branching out into digital publishing and subsidy publishing, the landscape is clearly changing.    Authors are signing contracts now for books that will come out in two or three years so it’s good to take a look down the road to see what the evolving marketplace may offer.

Currently I see four basic business models for publishing.

  1. Traditional advance paying publishing
  2. Digital publishing
  3. Publishing services companies
  4. Self publishing

Traditional advance paying publishing

In traditional advance paying publishing, a publisher provides an author an advance against expected royaltiesin exchange for up to 94% of the revenue generated by the author’s intellectual property.   The author receives a guaranteed amount of royalties in the form of an advance  payment from $1,000 per book up to millions per book and a promise that any royalties that exceed the advance will be paid in the amount of 6% up to 15%, with some contracts containing escalating royalty rates depending on units sold.   (Other authors may have a profit sharing agreement with the publisher).    In other words, the author relinquishes up to 94% of the revenue generated per book in exchange for editing, brand recognition, publisher advertising,  and access to distribution channels such as placement in retail bookstores and big box stores and discounters like Wal-Mart, Target and Costco.

Digital Publishing

The current digital publishing model is one that eschews advances in favor of higher royalty rates.   An author receives a higher percentage of revenue generated by her book.   Most ebook royalty rates are between 30 and 40%.   Thus, an author relinquishes up to 70% of the revenue generated by her intellectual property in exchange for editing services, publisher brand recognition, publisher advertising, and access to distribution channels such as placement in etailers like Fictionwise, Kindle, and the like.

Publishing Services Companies

There will be a rising number of publishing services companies when distribution access becomes even more  democratized  than it already is.   Subsidy publishing is a model wherein the author does not get an advance nor does she get any publisher related services unless she pays for it.   If the author wants to avail herself of editing services, some sort of brand recognition, and access to distribution channels, she must pay for it with money up front and some equity sharing.   In other words, the author relinquishes up to 50% of the revenue generated by her intellectual property plus some up front money in exchange for editing services and access to distribution channels.

Another type of publishing services company is like the one offered by Troubador in the UK.   Matador is a publishing services company whereby you can contract with Matador to access a number of different levels of service.   Matador works with only a select number of self published authors per year and actively markets them.

Subsidy publishing makes sense if the subsidy publisher has a reputation for being able to provide the ability to package and sell books in significant numbers (such as 10,000 copies or more).   Jane Friedman’s presentation on Open Road Media continually emphasized ORM’s marketing platform and specifically mentioned self published authors as benefiting from this platform.   While there are no concrete details, ORM could be some type of subsidy publisher or publishing services platform that is paid in up front monies and/or an equity investment or both. (NOTE: this is speculation so please don’t run around saying that ORM is a vanity press).

I would expect to see more publishing services companies in the future and many different variations of this type of business model which could simply be cash payment, equity investment or some combination of the two.   NOTE: I’m not making a moral judgment on the application of the business model which could be predatory or unsavory or unethical.

Self Publishing

Self publishing is a model wherein the author retains all of the revenue generated by her intellectual property but must contract with other entities to gain cover art, editing, and other publishing services.

The difference in the four publishing models is how much risk is the author willing to absorb versus the revenue she would like to retain from her intellectual property.

Because the physical distribution channels make up the majority of book sales, the traditional publishing model is the least risk, highest reward for aspiring and published authors today.   This is changing however.   At least 1/4 of the sales of print books were online in 2008.   There is a point at which the advance is so low that an author should consider other publishing models because print on demand technology serves the online retailing model well.

When the electronic distribution channel makes up a significant portion of book sales and the funnel of distribution widens, the alternative modes of publishing should be given greater consideration because at that time the risk/reward equation will change.

At some point, authors who want to make a living from writing should ask themselves whether it makes sense to continue relinquishing up to 96% of the revenue generated by their intellectual property.     How many existing authors would forego a) an advance and b) actual pay money up front from a publisher to gain 40% more of the revenue generated from each book.   It is true, that there is no publishing services company in existence that has that value but it’s not impossible to think that there will be someday.   Maybe it will be someone like OR Press or Open Road Media.    I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.

I think that self publishing, true do it yourself publishing, will exist but that there will be more authors that move to digital publishing or publishing services model than we can envision today.   Digital publishing which provides no cost of entry by the author may replace the traditional advance model once the digital market hits 35% or greater.   It makes sense for publishers to experiment now with differing models so that the business can be ready to adapt with the changing   market.   Publishing is not likely to go away, but it will be different in five years than it is today.

The benefit of the lack of reliance on physical brick and mortar stores is that there is a greater panopoly of options for authors to make a living writing.   Individual authors should be able to avail themselves of a number of different publishing opportunities that suit their risk level, their need for control over the final product, and other factors.

I’m ever hopeful that the various business models, both traditional and emerging, will provide us readers with the a robust publishing environment that can serve the niches as well as the mass markets.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

122 Comments

  1. Savanna Kougar
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 05:49:11

    Jane, outstanding analysis. I concur, especially in that the current Big Boy publishers can’t sustain using their old business models. It’s either change in viable ways or eventually get eaten up by digital publishing and self-publishing. Or simply by the lessening economy.
    My hope, and I dare to hope, is that authors will truly gain the advantage in publishing and be well-regarded as artists. I want this for my own sake as an author and for the sake of other authors. It often feels as if the creative act of writing a novel is ignored, or worse, not really valued.
    It’s just so okay for the e-piracy download sites to rip us all off, as if what we’ve accomplished means so little they shouldn’t have to pay for it. It’s as if what we’ve slaved to create should just be passed around like m&ms.
    I work damn hard at my writing like every other author. It’s my career. I sweat and bleed words sometimes.
    I can tell you also, as a reader, I so appreciate the current variety of subgenres that would not exist without the changes that have occured in the publishing industry.
    If readers want that kind of variety for whatever their particular tastes are, then the more they support us, the more we can write what they enjoy reading.
    Thanks for writing this post.

  2. Linda Banche
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 07:00:54

    Jane, thanks for the analysis. I’m relatively new to writing, and my head whirls with the changes going on. I don’t know which way to turn.

    As Savanna says (Hi, Savanna), we all work very hard at writing, and I eventually want to make some decent money for my work.

    I came to writing as a reader who ran out of the kinds of books she liked to read. I write mainstream historical romance, but even with the large selection in bookstores, I still found everything pretty much the same.

    I don’t know what will remain when this publishing earthquake subsides, but I hope both authors and readers, and not just the publishing industry, benefit.

  3. Mary Anne Graham
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 07:47:47

    Thank you for the thorough analysis which is certainly thought-provoking.

    I’m self-published in digital and paperback form. I would note that the recent changes made by Amazon’s CreateSpace make self-publishing a more attractive alternative for everyone. Through CS, an author pays no up-front cost for getting her book published. Previously, those books would only appear on Amazon and in the CS online store. Now, if an author subscribes to the pro-plan (for $39 per year), books will be distributed through Ingram’s Lightning Source and Baker & Taylor. That means, that the book will be available to virtually every brick and mortar store and every online store on the planet.

    The advent of such an option from Amazon essentially makes Amazon a publishing company, competing with traditional publishers on their own turf. I think it is, at least in part, a response from Amazon to publishers’ recent decisions to delay ebook releases to gain more sales from paper versions.

    Although I think it is a “turf war” to some extent, the writers gain the advantage and readers will soon gain a host of additional choices.

    Great post!

  4. Nadia Lee
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 07:56:52

    In other words, the author relinquishes up to 94% of the revenue generated per book in exchange for editing, brand recognition, publisher advertising, and access to distribution channels such as placement in retail bookstores and big box stores and discounters like Wal-Mart, Target and Costco.

    Although this is true, it’s not as though publishers are getting the full 94% of the revenue either.

    If we assume that BN, Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc. get half off the cover price, authors get 12-30% of the total publisher revenue ($ received from distributors / retailers). And that is not a small percentage for traditional publishers.

    The benefit of the lack of reliance on physical brick and mortar stores is that there is a greater panopoly of options for authors to make a living writing.

    You’re right that brick and mortar stores are losing their dominance, but at the same time we have a big rise of Amazon and other e-tailers. And let’s not forget places like Wal-Mart, Costco and Target.

    Whether you self-publish (print or digital) or opt for a more traditional route, you will end up paying distributors and retailers a big cut of your cover price. The profitability of different publishing models isn’t contingent upon should or shouldn’t there be an advance, but rather how much one should pay for distribution*.

    * Payment for distribution includes not only discount given but things such as returnability of each title, etc.

  5. Alessia Brio
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 08:16:11

    Jane,

    I think you would enjoy hearing Stephen R. Boyett (steveboy.com) speak on new media & publishing. He presented at this year’s La Jolla Writers Conference. Interesting discussion on business models, distribution, and copyright. Food for discourse whether you agree with him or not. :-) I believe there’s at least one MP3 on the subject available for download from his blog.

    Thanks for the post, and Happy Holidays to you & yours.

    ~ Alessia

  6. Courtney Milan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 08:23:32

    At some point, authors who want to make a living from writing should ask themselves whether it makes sense to continue relinquishing up to 96% of the revenue generated by their intellectual property.

    To some extent, Jane, the answer to that is that it pays for people to have an outcome in your success. I’m not saying that the traditional models are the only way to do things, but the notion that an author’s goal is solely to get the biggest piece of pie, I think ignores the fact that if there is someone else out there who can help with distribution and sales, you will almost always do better if they are getting a percentage of the pie and not just a flat fee. That’s why key employees of many companies are given stock options instead of just bonuses, why sales forces are often paid on commission. It’s why I think my agent’s 15% is more than worth it, and why I would never consider hiring a literary attorney instead, even though I’m sure one would do a fine job of negotiating contracts. There are times not to pay stock options, not to put sales people on commission, and to hire literary attorneys. But there are also times not to. My only point is that it’s not always in a person’s interest to demand the biggest percentage possible; sometimes, it makes sense to accept a smaller percentage of a larger pie.

    Also, I haven’t seen any evidence that truly presages the end of the advance. Sure, for some types of books advances are dwindling, and may even go away. And yes, some types of books are probably going to have to shift from an advance model–especially that section of publishing that depended on the “sell few copies but at high price” model.

    But I haven’t seen any evidence that really suggests that it’s dead, dying, or even about to be abandoned. Just that there might be a few gangrenous limbs that need lopping off.

  7. AQ
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 08:25:57

    The current publishing business model which relies on advances against royalties and the consignment method of selling cannot be sustained.

    At least use a real article to support the claim.

    In other words, the author relinquishes up to 94% of the revenue generated per book in exchange for editing, brand recognition, publisher advertising, and access to distribution channels such as placement in retail bookstores and big box stores and discounters like Wal-Mart, Target and Costco.

    Plus the cost of creating the product and shipping.

    In other words, the author relinquishes up to 50% of the revenue generated by her intellectual property plus some up front money in exchange for editing services and access to distribution channels.

    This number may be incorrect since some numbers I’ve seen say 50% of net which means the subsidy publisher takes expenses out first. I also agree that there’s a place subsidy publisher although I have my doubts as to whether genre fiction is a fit for the model.

    At least 1/4 of the sales of print books were online in 2008.

    What percentage of sales were from the self-publishing marketplace? Also where are the big numbers coming from for individual titles? Is it online or at stores such as Wal-Mart and Target?

    There is a point at which the advance is so low that an author should consider other publishing models because print on demand technology serves the online retailing model well.

    Agreed. Absolutely.

    b) actual pay money up front from a publisher to gain 40% more of the revenue generated from each book.

    This number reflects the “fact” that the digital publisher is also the primary retailer. Will this reflection be the same with the traditional publishers? Will this reflection stay constant as digital publishers start using third-party channels such as Amazon to sell their products?

    What happens if digital becomes the primary revenue stream for publishing? I see a few different realities and authors getting squeezed.

    Digital should be embraced and leveraged but there are some kinks that need to be worked out. One of them is how to instill value and pricing into the general public surrounding the “file” aspect of digital books. The other is how to create price points that can be maintained. This becomes particularly important if digital becomes the primary revenue stream. There’s no way that customers would be willing to go from a $5.00 price point to a $8.00 price point just because the multiple paper versions went away. The other issue is that there will be a constant push from the retailers to keep lowering the digital version pricing.

    Some authors could do quite well with those potential digital scenarios but it’s also possible that authors as a “class” would fair poorly. A lot more thought needs to go into digital from both the authors and the publishers perspective.

    @Mary Anne Graham:

    That means, that the book will be available to virtually every brick and mortar store and every online store on the planet.

    Available is not the same thing as physically on the shelves. It’s an important distinction.

    ETA: Advances will be offered if digital becomes the primary revenue stream. Publishers will need to compete (guarantee minimum sales) for works just like they do now; however, they will probably also be competing with retailers. Or maybe the retailers will become the primary digital publishers.

  8. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 08:50:11

    Writing as an author currently with the 3 biggest epublishing companies (that is, the companies that see e-publishing as their primary model). I’ve been writing for the e-book market for the last 10 years, and the last 3 years have seen a big improvement in my earnings, such that it’s gone from pin money to a serious income and I’ve had to employ people myself.

    What worries me a great deal is the miniscule royalty rates authors with the big companies are accepting in their e-book contracts, and have for the past few years. Backlist sales are an important part of the digital model. Backlist titles are available as long as the contract remains in force and an author tends to get a nice jump in royalties from those sales with every new release. If a publisher is paying, say, 10% royalty for these sales, what’s to stop them issuing all the books they can? It’s money for old rope and the author, even if her new titles are generating a better royalty, will lose out.

    I’ve been jumping up and down and screaming about it for years. My writer’s organisation, the RNA, have kindly given me a platform to tell other authors about this, and I’ve always advocated either witholding e-rights or negotiating for a reasonable royalty on a contract. Even 30-40% is relatively low, but that’s what we get in e-publishing. Authors with the big six have tended to reply “oh e-sales are a miniscule part of my earnings” as if that state of affairs would last forever. Agents have used them as negotiating points, giving them away, virtually, in exchange for what they saw as the more valuable foreign rights. Well in e-format, foreign rights mean very little. I live in the UK and I buy my books from mostly American sites, with my Paypal account. Territorial rights are dead in the water.

    Self publishing isn’t for me, at least not right now. Even though my publishers are small in the marketplace, they’re growing fast and they have good reputations. Putting my work on the same page as say, Joey W Hill and Shiloh Walker is great for my sales, and the publishers I’m with are ones you’d feel safe doing financial transactions with online. Important to me as a reader, that. Never say never, but I really want to concentrate on writing the next book, the thing I’m pretty good at, rather than getting involved in marketing, sales, distributions, things I hoped to wash my hands of years ago. But each to his or her own. Some love the ultimate control, and good luck to them.

    We don’t have to pick a model and stick to it. We can change, if we want to. It’s too late for authors to recoup the money they will lose on backlist sales, but they can at least try for better deals now.

    As for vanity publishing – never in a million years.

    When I worked outside the home, I was a market analyst, specialising in new markets (ironic, eh?) For a rough comparison (please note, this isn’t a direct parallel but an interesting case study to compare – my business school training used the Harvard Method) with what’s happening in the book market, look at the old tobacco industries. Tobacco was a huge seller for years and the manufacturers artificially sustained the market for a while when the health problems became apparent. But they didn’t go bankrupt, they didn’t go out of business, they mutated. Most are now “entertainment companies,” having bought into markets that connected with the tobacco market, in the UK, pubs, clubs, cinemas, bookies. They dropped the tobacco connotations slowly. If the publishing industry is that savvy, that’s what they’ll do. Look at Harlequin. Missteps yes, but they are moving and changing. Some have gone down, the clever ones haven’t. And remember the famous RJ Reynolds internal memo about the court cases they fought against the anti smoking lobbies. “The way we won these cases, to paraphrase Gen. Patton, is not by spending all of Reynolds’ money, but by making the other son of a bitch spend all of his.”

    Think on.

  9. Jennifer Estep
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 08:51:58

    Interesting post. I work at a newspaper, which is another industry trying to figure out how to survive in the digital world, and I think some of this applies there as well. One idea I think would be interesting for newspapers to try would be to offer an a la carte service where readers pick the sections that they want and then access them online or something.

    The benefit of the lack of reliance on physical brick and mortar stores is that there is a greater panopoly of options for authors to make a living writing.

    Hmm. I’m not sure I agree with this. I think the options you mention will mean that there will be more and more authors publishing in a variety of ways. But that also means more and more competition for readers’ time/attention/money. I don’t know how much benefit self-publishing would be to a debut or even midlist author. Nobody knows who I am, so why should they download my book out of thousands? How will they even find it? Marketing is one of the big problems that I see with digital/self-publishing (not to mention quality issues).

    I think the digital or self-publishing models make more sense for the big-name authors who are already established, simply because people have heard of them. And not every author has the money to help publish their own books up front, even if they might see more royalties in the end. I actually think the increased royalties would just offset the start-up costs, and the pay rate would turn out more or less the same in the end. Especially if you factored in the author’s time marketing her work, which she would have to do even more of if she self-published. Just my opinion.

    But no matter which way you are published, I think a lot of an author’s success is just luck. What sells, what doesn’t, what becomes the next Twilight or J.K. Rowling. There’s no rhyme or reason to it that I can see. I really think it’s all just a crapshoot in the end.

  10. AQ
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 09:05:21

    There is a point at which the advance is so low that an author should consider other publishing models because print on demand technology serves the online retailing model well.

    Agreed. Absolutely.

    I wanted to add this caveat to my own comment. The best option may be to keep shopping the manuscript around or to throw it in a drawer and work on something else. “Selling” is not a typical author desire / skill??, but it seems like a requirement in the non-traditional models as is the need to understand the retailer marketplace. It’s not easy and for an unknown, the work required might prove overwhelming.

    ETA: Advances will be offered if digital becomes the primary revenue stream. Publishers will need to compete (guarantee minimum sales) for works just like they do now; however, they will probably also be competing with retailers. Or maybe the retailers will become the primary digital publishers.

    The difference may be offered to the works from the lower tier of the revenue stream.

  11. Courtney Milan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 09:41:51

    @AQ:

    Advances will be offered if digital becomes the primary revenue stream. Publishers will need to compete (guarantee minimum sales) for works just like they do now….

    Yes. This. Advances serve a lot of purposes; they serve a hugely important signaling function, they are a method of competition for good works.

    They are also, as is typically trotted out, advances against future income so that the author has time and space to write the next book and promote the current one. But that’s only a tiny, tiny portion of the work that advances do in the marketplace, and for books that a publisher expects would (or could) have commercial-level success, I don’t see the advance dying.

  12. Will Entrekin
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 09:55:53

    “Writing is a creative act but selling one's writing and making a living off one's writing is a business act.”

    Oh so totally true. And a great analysis of what is becoming an ever more complicated situation. I think you’re right about the four business models, but I think that at least the traditional model and the digital one will (or at least should) change in years to come. The traditional model can’t stay on the consignment/return model of publishing; it’s made no sense for years but, more importantly, it works with bookstores, which I think we’ll see a marked decrease in as fewer people find good reason to go to them and new methods of distribution and production are adopted.

    As for digital, that is going to explode in terms of growth and development, and when it does, I sense great changes will come even if I don’t have much of an idea what they are yet.

  13. Jane
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 10:23:26

    @Courtney Milan & @AQ Perhaps I should have clarified my statement to “the current state of advances” will erode. I think that there will be very high advances and very low advances but the 15-30 per book will go be gone in the future. The future models won’t be able to sustain it and I don’t think the existing models sustain it.

    Further, I think publishing competencies will be far less about the distribution channel and far more focused on the marketing aspects.

  14. Jane
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 10:24:13

    @Alessia Brio I’ll have to add that to my instantpaper account.

  15. Jane
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 10:25:56

    @Nadia Lee I didn’t mean to imply that publishers are getting 94% of the revenue but my analysis is based on the author’s take home. Additionally, ecommerce stores will further erode the need for the print run. If online retailing became a dominant force as I expect that it will, POD can serve fulfillment needs.

  16. Nadia Lee
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 10:36:20

    @Jane: But can POD + online retailing create more revenue for writers? That’s what I’m not so sure about.

    Authors still have to pay for editing, book cover design, distributor’s cut, etc. That’s a lot of money out of pocket unless you’re well off or have a sponsor or something. Also online retailers such as Amazon is so dominant that it’s going to be harder for writers to get a better %.

  17. Maria
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 10:37:53

    GREAT article! — My favorite part:

    “…It makes sense for publishers to experiment now with differing models so that the business can be ready to adapt with the changing market. Publishing is not likely to go away, but it will be different in five years than it is today.”

    @ Jennifer Estep:

    “I don't know how much benefit self-publishing would be to a debut or even midlist author. Nobody knows who I am, so why should they download my book out of thousands? How will they even find it? Marketing is one of the big problems that I see with digital/self-publishing (not to mention quality issues).”

    I think for a midlist or already published author, the benefits of self-publishing are probably better than for a complete no-name. If I can sell a decent number of copies per month as a self-published author, it should be easier and faster for someone who has already started building an audience. This assumes, of course, the same quality goes into the self-publishing effort.

    J.A. Konrath (a midlist author) self-published two books on the Kindle after his publisher decided they were too different from his other works (both have a decidedly sci/fi – futuristic bent and Konrath had been writing thrillers.) He’s been pretty impressed with the Kindle sales–see his blog where he’s talked about it for the last several months. He does some marketing on various forums for writers and readers, which is the main place to reach kindle and other e-reader audiences.

    I have seen a few other authors that are either bringing their backlist to ebook/kindle/sony or are hiring a company to do it for them. There’s a lot of ways the new technology can be of benefit.

    All that said, I’ve been meaning to get my hands on some of your books–thanks for posting here. Served as a good reminder!!!

    Maria

  18. Jules Jones
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 11:33:25

    John Scalzi discussed self-publishing vs going through an established publisher in a blog post last year. He addressed the issue raised by other commentators here — *someone* has to pay for the editing, cover art etc to make a professional product that will attract buyers, and if the author keeps 100% of cover price by cutting out the middleman, then the author ends up spending a large chunk of that 100% on all of the things that would have come out of the publisher’s percentage.

  19. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 11:38:09

    @Jules Jones:

    then the author ends up spending a large chunk of that 100% on all of the things that would have come out of the publisher's percentage.

    And then the book’s sales exceed its expenses, and profit ensues.

  20. rs
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 11:47:00

    @Moriah Jovan:

    And how long will that be? The majority of self published books sell less than 200 copies currently (and that average is inflated by the rare books that sell thousands of copies). If it is an author who has made their name in commercial fiction and has a built in audience I can see them selling well and breaking even pretty quickly. A debut author? Not so much.

  21. Jennifer Estep
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 11:55:04

    @Maria:
    Oh, I agree that there are some ways digital/self-publishing can benefit authors — you mentioned bringing back an author’s backlist and I would add creating bonus content/stories for readers. I also agree that it would be easier (and probably of more benefit) to authors who are already established. Like you mentioned, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about Konrath and his success with Kindle.

    But I guess I’m stuck on the time/cost/risk involved to an author in publishing a whole book by herself — especially the time. There aren’t enough hours in the day as it is! I think you would have to sell a lot of copies to just break even in regards to your time if you went that route.

    Also, we get sent a lot of self-published books at my newspaper, and I’ve never seen a single one with the overall quality of writing/packaging that a book from a professional publisher has, whether it’s a big NY house, a university press, or even a small, independent press.

    Hey, thanks for saying that. Hope you enjoy them! ;-)

  22. candynicks
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 12:08:55

    I was a founder member of Linden Bay Romance in 2005 and worked for a year as chief publishing editor there. In 2006 a colleague and I started Alinar Publishing which operates as a self publishing co op of romance ebooks.

    I did originally envisage the company having a limited life-span based on authors either moving on to print publishing, or moving back into the royalty paying epublished model. But, in the three years we’ve been operating it feels as if the rest of the industry is now catching up with those of us who went out on a limb. Our authors are increasingly seeing the Alinar model as something they would want to keep on doing regardless of their other publishing goals.

    With good sales and a hundred percent royalty (which is sustainable because we only keep a small stable of authors) we’re constantly asking ourselves why we would want to share that royalty with an epublisher who may not get us better sales. (I had to go indie to get my Fictionwise number one bestseller). And why we should want to leave the market to make the long round of print publishers with no promise of any immediate rewards in this climate.

    My current thinking is that print published would be a major step up, but for epublishing, I can do that myself. Last week my latest release was on the Fictionwise most highly rated list at number five. My previous release was a number one on that list. My books, and virtually all the Alinar releases, make the top twenty in the genre lists there, which tells us we’re competing in our target market. I’m a regular poster on Authonomy and have seen authors who were originally wholly focussed on print deals, now talking in terms of self publishing in increasing numbers. Authonomy have now added a self publishing thread to their forums, which I think speaks volumes.

  23. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 13:10:08

    @rs:

    A discussion about how long will it take is a non-starter. It takes however long it takes, but the beauty of self-publishing is that you can, actually, take however long you take. It’s a publisher’s problem that a book needs to take X number of days to make back its expenses, not an author’s. It’s an artificial construct based on little, if any, market research and can not only burn publishers, but authors, too.

    The remark I made was in reference to the implication that the costs of a book are endless, which they are not. They are finite.

    “What’s the average number of copies of a self-published book get sold?” is a specious question. A more pointed and germane question is “What percentage of a publishing house’s books have never made back their costs?

    Because in the end, all that matters is that you made more money than you spent, not how many copies you sold to do it.

  24. Caligi
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 13:48:43

    As a reader, I don’t want self or subsidy publishing to become the norm. While some authors may be self-publishing quality work and find success in it, it’s hard enough to find a good romance to read now, nevermind if every Tina, Diane and Harriet with a story of their heart and some cash can put their books out there. Not at all interested in paying to read what amounts to a slush pile, hoping to hit that .1% that’s any good.

    I think I’m fondest of the no advance/higher royalty epublisher formula. The lack of an advance or book returns encourages the publisher to take the risks of niche stories, while still offering valuable curation for the reader. Ereading needs to become more popular before it’s going to be a real threat to the advance model, though, and the previous poster is probably right about advances eventually creeping into epublishing as well.

    Epublishers will also start making more money when they start acting like real publishers. Of the major romance epubs, only Samhain seems to make their titles widely available at various retailers. Ellora’s Cave marks up their Kindle titles by 100-150% and is absent from other sites. When readers can buy their traditionally pubbed ebooks in the same cart as epubbed ones, they’ll take off. I’m pretty sure that’s why I buy so many Samhain books. You can swear up and down that an EC or Liquid Silver book is worth my time, but if it’s not on BoB or Fictionwise, it’s too risky for me, thanks. I won’t even pretend to know how epubs decide who sells their books. I’m sure it’s more complicated than I think.

  25. rs
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 14:06:29

    @Moriah Jovan: “What percentage of a publishing house's books have never made back their costs?”

    Yes that would be interesting to know. I doubt they’d be keen to share that information.

  26. rs
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 14:08:45

    @Caligi: EC marks up their books that much because Amazon takes 65% of the cover price. For selling a file. I don’t agree with EC but I can understand it. The larger Commercial Publishers aren’t particularly happy with Amazon either.

  27. Will Entrekin
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 14:11:18

    @caligi: “As a reader, I don’t want self- or subsidy publishing to become the norm.”

    As a reader, I’m surprised you notice. I know Jane cites “brand recognition” as a reason to go with a traditional/commercial/corporate publisher, but even as a professional writer I’m hard pressed to name any writers according to their publishing houses. I can name lots of writers, because they’re the brand, but I can’t, off the top of my head, name who published Stephenie Meyer or John Grisham, and don’t really care whether Scholastic or Random House publishes Rowling. I know Harper publishes Neil Gaiman, but that’s only because I know a lot about News Corp.

    Good books are good books. And you’re right that it’s hard enough to find a good book as it is, but it seems odd to complain about paying to read slush when you’re apparently already paying to read bad books somebody went ahead and published anyway. It seems like you’re punishing writers for a situation publishing companies created.

  28. Caligi
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 14:38:40

    @Will Entrekin:

    Big name authors don’t need publishers anymore. That’s different.

    I’m talking new-to-me authors. With publishers, I know the books on the market have been read, edited and judged worthy of acquiring. I then pick over the hundreds available each month to read maybe 20-25. Even with all the eyes hitting those books before they get to me, a 1/4 still ends up being crap. I can only imagine the dreck that comes in to editors unsolicited.

    I have no desire to pick through self-published debut or journeyman authors I’ve never heard of. Then 99% of what I picked up would be crap. Publishers weed out the bad stuff for me. Yes, they occasionally turn down good stories that they don’t think will sell, but for the most part they do me a valuable service.

    Also, I do associate publisher imprints with authors. I know I worry about Liz Carlyle moving from Pocket to Avon, since Avon historicals are generally uniform and fluffy, which I never thought of Carlyle. Each publisher and imprint puts out different kinds of books, and I don’t refer to genre, I refer to feel and tone. I know which publishers my favorite books and authors are with and could easily rattle them off if I had to. It helps me filter when I shop.

  29. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 15:15:58

    @rs:

    No, they won’t share. They cloud the issue by citing copies sold, if pressed for an answer (or letting people check Bookscan). I doubt there’s any way to calculate a reasonable ballpark P/L for any particular title from Bookscan numbers, even if you know a couple of variables (e.g., advance).

    And, you know, people lie. /gregory house

  30. Becca
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 15:21:18

    I’m afraid I agree with Caligi @ 27 – if traditional publishing goes by the wayside in favor of some form of subsidized publishing, I’m going to be even less likely to try new authors than I currently am – I’m definitely not going to go out of my way to look for them. I have too much information overload as it is. If the emphasis is put on me, the reader, doing the weeding out rather than the publishing companies, I’ll probably turn even more to other forms of entertainment — and I love reading.

  31. Courtney Milan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 15:28:53

    @Moriah Jovan:
    “What percentage of a publishing house's books have never made back their costs?”

    Two points here:

    1. I suspect a larger percentage than the number of self-published books that have never made back their author’s costs.

    and

    2. Publishing houses can essentially pool risk–which they do–so that if they are burned by one book, they make it up on the next Stephenie Meyer. They don’t know which books are going to burn them before hand, so they make educated guesses, usually based on some actuarial fact. Sometimes, like now, all their educated guesses get crapped on because times are changing. But in times of stability, a business model that accepts that there will be loss in some percentage of cases, which will be made up in others, is completely, utterly, sanely, sound. Talking about what percent of books earn back costs doesn’t address the question of profitability; it doesn’t even come close.

    Self-publishing, in a sense, is like going without flood insurance: You’ll save money if your house doesn’t flood, but if it does, you’re going to wish like hell you were insured. Publishers pool risks–both for themselves, and for their authors.

    This is not to say that self-publishing is a bad thing–just as there’s no point buying flood insurance if you live somewhere it’s never flooded, or to forgo it if money is tight and you think the chances of flooding are very low.

    But the question of “what percent of books make their costs back” is far more germane to self-publishers than it is to publishing companies. For a publishing company, that number just gives them some idea where they should peg advances. But in self-publishing, there is no pooling of risk.

  32. Savanna Kougar
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 15:34:37

    Fascinating, everyone. I won’t pretend to possess the knowledge and insight a lot of you have regarding the publishing industry.
    What I do have is the ability to see emerging trends, or simply what makes sense given what is currently happening.
    One trend I see, is that there are more readers shopping according to specific subgenres rather than by well-known author or a particular publishing house.
    Of course, if you do prefer the types of stories a particular ‘publishing house/their editors’ offers, then, yes, you’ll stick with them.
    As a reader I’ve never experienced liking any ‘one’ publisher or line that well.
    I have experienced not being able to find what I wanted to read, specific subgenres, and, thus, that being a motivation to write my own, as happens for many authors.
    While there are the authors that have a large following, the so-called stars of the industry, I think this will become less and less… gradually, of course. One reason they became ‘stars’ is not only because of their superb writing abilty and hitting that zone of resonating with a large group of readers ~ but also, because of marketing and because the market has been limited to what publishers ‘believed’ would sell, which is different than what would ‘actually’ sell, if available.
    To be brutally honest, as a reader, I’m not impressed with what traditional publishing houses are offering, overall. So, why would I only look to them to fulfill my reading needs and wants?
    As readers, we’re all different, meaning there are readers who will take a chance on that .99 Kindle self-pubbed book, even if the author isn’t that well known. While that may not be a fast route to authorly success, it could prove a means to becoming established and developing a readership base.
    From my perspective, granted quite limited in some respects, the small print/epubs are presenting the most sensible model currently. Yes, they differ, and what models will emerge as superior I’m not certain. I will say, I think POD will become more and more viable. That’s only logical. Why have a warehouse full of print books when POD can offer a more cost effective alternative in so many ways?
    In the end, all that fancy dancy marketing by the Big Boy Publishers is going to mean less and less as readers discover books, like chocolate, come in the flavors or the types of reads they truly want, as opposed to what someone is trying to sell them. Or, it’s like trying to sell someone a hershey bar when what they really want is truffles.

  33. Will Entrekin
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 15:37:34

    @caligi and @Becca

    Perhaps blogs (like this one), Twitter, and other such discussion will begin to act as a filter beyond the publishing industry. They already do, to some degree.

    Still, I do get where you’re coming from. Hell, as a reader, most books frustrate me, but then again I’m a writer, too, so I may read more critically than many.

  34. Courtney Milan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 15:44:46

    Big name authors don't need publishers anymore. That's different.

    You know, I keep hearing this, but why in heaven’s name is this true? Assume you are Big Name Author. And assume you run a profit/loss statement, and pile up your costs. In order to maintain the same number of sales:

    1. An editor
    2. A copy-editor
    3. A cover-artist
    4. A marketing force
    5. A sales force who will make sure your book gets into all the little nooks and crannies around the world, because if suddenly nobody is buying your book at all the podunk gas stations where it happened to land in before, you’re not going to make as many sales–by a fairly large factor.
    6. An advertising budget
    7. Someone to do auditing and accounting, because hell, we still have the returns system, and you don’t want anyone lying to you
    8. Printing
    9. And because you really just want to write, someone to manage all that crap.

    So, you get all of that freelance. Compare that with what those things cost your publisher. Your publisher has economies of scale, so its sales force can add the latest Nora book in for free. Your publisher produces far more books, so it can negotiate better deals with Ingrams, with the printer. It can come up with collaborative deals involving your books and books by other authors. Are you, Big Name Author, going to have a sales force big enough to arrange for coop in all the little independents? Of course you can; but since you have no economy of scale, in comparison with the number of books your publisher produces, you’re going to spend more per book than your publisher would.

    But still, you’re making more profit, right?

    Unlikely. Because then you go back to your publisher. “Gee,” you say, “I’d really love to stay with you, but I could get a larger percentage if I self-published.”

    “Really?” They say. They look at your figures. And they see you’re right. So what does any rational publisher do in that circumstance?

    Got it in one. They offer you more money. Since they can publish you cheaper than you can publish yourself, they can always offer you more than you can get yourself, and still make their profit. Now, you can save some of those costs by taking on some of those management duties yourself… but then you’re only writing four books a year, or three, and frankly, that’s not worth it; if you’re a big name author, your book skills are going to get you more money than your management skills.

    Sometimes I get the impression that some people think that all a publisher does for someone like Nora Roberts or Stephen King is throw together a cover, print 1,000,000 copies of the latest book and shout, “Hey guys, come over here and get ‘em!”

    Just… no.

  35. Caligi
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 15:47:57

    @Will Entrekin:

    I don’t think blogs would be able to keep up, honestly, and that’s why I think publishing won’t ever go away. I’m sure it will change drastically, but their editing and marketing sets those books apart and gives them an identity so I have some idea of what caliber of book I’m buying.

    Maybe self-published author guilds will pop up, where paid board members will read and approve submissions, as acquiring editors do now, and those guilds will lend the identity that current imprints do. Whatever the case, no one wants to read slush unless they’re getting paid to do it. The idea that people will pay to read slush is patently absurd.

  36. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 16:06:12

    @Courtney Milan:

    1. I suspect a larger percentage than the number of self-published books that have never made back their author's costs.

    Three points:

    1. What’s not being taken into account here is that many, many self-published books aren’t meant to be sold, but given to family and friends…keepsakes, books of genealogy, books to amuse children and the like, which are also included in the average whenever that stat’s trotted out.

    2. If that number’s correct, and they’re not novelty books but unqualified drivel not fit to line a bird cage, nobody ever sees them anyway. So…why is this even an issue? Statements are made that readers would have to sift through a slush pile—well, where is this slush pile? It’s not in the bookstores and is never going to be (except in the database bowels of an Espresso). You could say it’s on Amazon, but likely you’ll never run across it. It’s not at Fictionwise (ditto BoB and ARe et al), because they don’t let anybody with fewer than 10 titles have an account. You could say it’s at Smashwords and Lulu and similar, but if you already know that and you’re not interested, you simply don’t go there. You’d have to look awfully hard to find the slush pile to begin with. Which kind of negates the argument all the way around.

    3. All that said, it’s completely irrelevant. People have the right to try and fail. They also have the right to try and succeed.

    Self-publishing, in a sense, is like going without flood insurance: You'll save money if your house doesn't flood, but if it does, you're going to wish like hell you were insured. Publishers pool risks-both for themselves, and for their authors

    No. If you purchase a house in a flood plain (and good luck with getting a mortgage on that house) you are REQUIRED to purchase flood insurance.

    That’s as insulting an analogy as comparing getting a publishing contract is, in a sense, going to the convenience store and buying a lottery ticket every day hoping to hit it big. But writing is a game of skill, not a game of chance. The odds are still with the house, but you can up your chances by writing well. Blackjack, perhaps?

    An author who gets a contract has spent money over several years with (before e-submissions) paper, toner/ink, postage, conferences, dues, mileage, etc. Once you’re published, you get an advance, but you spend money on your own marketing efforts. You’d be hard pressed to convince me that the total spent is less than I spent to publish myself, and that the average advance covered those expenses.

    Nobody’s forcing anybody to self-publish. This is a choice and, one hopes, a business decision one makes to get the work out there somehow. Please see above reference to the right to try and fail.

    But the question of “what percent of books make their costs back” is far more germane to self-publishers than it is to publishing companies.

    Indeed, but effective companies kill the products that do not produce profit or enough of one. It’s your basic cost accounting. You find out what individual products aren’t profitable because it pulls down your overall profitability. In a sense, it’s like when an author with a three-book contract gets her third book canceled, or when a second book isn’t picked up after lackluster sales of the first. If they weren’t tracking it, if the pool meant something, it wouldn’t happen. They’ll take a loss to try to find the next Nora Roberts, but they aren’t going to continue to take a loss to develop someone into one.

  37. Caligi
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 16:18:41

    @Courtney Milan:

    I’m sure it’s much easier to stick with a publisher, but you don’t need one once your name’s out there, not the way you do as a non-celebrity.

    We all know there’s more to publishing than a writer, an editor and a printing press. Now that people like Stephen Covey are doing what they want with their ebook rights, who’s to say book marketing firms wouldn’t pop up to take care of those niggling details you mention for print runs? Don’t subsidy presses claim to do the marketing, cover art, editing and printing?

    I was thinking long term. It mustn’t be too profitable right now, I agree, or it’d be widespread. But if ebooks grow to the huge percentage some people think they may, who’s to say? Maybe bunches of laid off marketers, editors, etc from hurting pubs will start up subsidy presses for A-listers, using their industry connections to separate themselves from ASI and CreateSpace.

  38. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 16:28:02

    Well, I had a post. Don’t know where it went…

  39. Anon Y. Mouse
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 16:34:35

    @Moriah Jovan:

    Because in the end, all that matters is that you made more money than you spent, not how many copies you sold to do it.

    No, that’s all that matters to you. Big difference. I, for one, do not go through all the effort and time and energy and mind-numbing work of writing a novel only to ‘break even’. If you’re happy with that, fine and dandy and self publishing is definitely the route for you, but don’t assume every, or even most, authors share your goal.

    As to the post and the rest of the thread, digital publishing is the future, no argument there. Self/vanity/subsidy publishing, however, is nothing new or innovative and if it was going to take over the world it would have by now. It’s not going to. Epublishing and digital publishing are what’s going to force the NY pubs to change their way of doing things. I hope it’s soon.

  40. Anon Y. Mouse
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 16:36:31

    @Caligi:

    That’s not true. Case in point, Dara Joy. Got dropped by her publisher and tried to go it alone, epublishing her own stuff. Epic, epic fail and she’s now a laughingstock. Authors will always need publishers, they just need publishers who are willing to change with the times.

  41. PurseJunkie
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 16:38:53

    @Caligi:

    The idea that people will pay to read slush is patently absurd.

    But you're already doing that to some extent. How many books published with a traditional publishing house was a gold star, top of the line, fantastic read? They all aren't. I have a number of books bought from Big Chain Bookstores, books published by NY Print Houses, that weren't fit to line my cats litter box. Just because an acquisitions editor put their stamp of approval on it doesn't mean it's a good book. All it means is that one particular person thought it was good. That it would sell. Automatically saying all self-published books are nothing more than a slush pile because no one ‘approved' it to be published is absurd, to me.

    I pick books based on the back cover blurb or a free excerpt. I don't look at ‘who' published it nor do I really care. Books vary in readability no matter where it came from. I've found fantastic books to read and not once did I think, “I wonder if this is self-published or did someone ‘approve’ it first.” It doesn't matter to me as long as I was entertained and feel as if I got my money's worth.

  42. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 16:45:42

    @Anon Y. Mouse:

    No, that's all that matters to you.

    If you will please go back and read more closely, it might become clear that I did not say that.

    Because the title of the post is Publishing Business Models, I’m speaking here as a businessperson, not as a novelist.

    Big difference. I, for one, do not go through all the effort and time and energy and mind-numbing work of writing a novel only to ‘break even'. If you're happy with that, fine and dandy and self publishing is definitely the route for you, but don't assume every, or even most, authors share your goal.

    I’m sorry. Where did I say I assumed anything about any other author’s goals? I was speaking toward publishers and publishing models.

    Believe me, I’m acutely aware that I’m a minority voice here.

  43. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 16:51:37

    Since the first time I posted this, it seemed to have been eaten, I’ll try again. I apologize in advance for a potential duplicate.

    @Courtney Milan:

    1. I suspect a larger percentage than the number of self-published books that have never made back their author's costs.

    Three points:

    1. What’s not being taken into account here is that many, many self-published books aren’t meant to be sold, but given to family and friends…keepsakes, books of genealogy, books to amuse children and the like, which are also included in the average whenever that stat’s trotted out.

    2. If that number’s correct, and they’re not novelty books but unqualified drivel not fit to line a bird cage, nobody ever sees them anyway. So…why is this even an issue? Statements are made that readers would have to sift through a slush pile—well, where is this slush pile? It’s not in the bookstores and is never going to be (except in the database bowels of an Espresso). You could say it’s on Amazon, but likely you’ll never run across it. It’s not at Fictionwise (ditto BoB and ARe et al), because they don’t let anybody with fewer than 10 titles have an account. You could say it’s at Smashwords and Lulu and similar, but if you already know that and you’re not interested, you simply don’t go there. You’d have to look awfully hard to find the slush pile to begin with. Which kind of negates the argument all the way around.

    3. All that said, it’s completely irrelevant. People have the right to try and fail. They also have the right to try and succeed.

    Self-publishing, in a sense, is like going without flood insurance: You'll save money if your house doesn't flood, but if it does, you're going to wish like hell you were insured. Publishers pool risks-both for themselves, and for their authors

    No. If you purchase a house in a flood plain (and good luck with getting a mortgage on that house) you are REQUIRED to purchase flood insurance.

    That’s as insulting an analogy as comparing getting a publishing contract is, in a sense, going to the convenience store and buying a lottery ticket every day hoping to hit it big. But writing is a game of skill, not a game of chance. You can up your chances by writing well, but the odds are still against you.

    An author who gets a contract has spent money over several years with (before e-submissions) paper, toner/ink, postage, conferences, dues, mileage, etc. Once you’re published, you get an advance, but you spend money on your own marketing efforts. You’d be hard pressed to convince me that the total spent is less than I spent to publish myself, and that the average advance covered those expenses.

    Nobody’s forcing anybody to self-publish. This is a choice and, one hopes, a business decision one makes to get the work out there somehow. Please see above reference to the right to try and fail.

    But the question of “what percent of books make their costs back” is far more germane to self-publishers than it is to publishing companies.

    Indeed, but effective companies kill the products that do not produce profit or enough of one. It’s your basic cost accounting. You find out what individual products aren’t profitable because it pulls down your overall profitability. In a sense, it’s like when an author with a three-book contract gets her third book canceled, or when a second book isn’t picked up after lackluster sales of the first. If they weren’t tracking it, if the pool meant something, it wouldn’t happen. They’ll take a loss to try to find the next Nora Roberts, but they aren’t going to continue to take a loss to develop someone into one.

    This is my core principle, as a person just living her life, as an artist, and as a businessperson: Everyone has a right to try. It’s their money, their work, their investment. If they fail, it’s no different than any other venture ever ventured, and in probably similar percentages. If they succeed, fabulous.

  44. Anon Y. Mouse
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 17:00:49

    Because the title of the post is Publishing Business Models,

    I was speaking toward publishers and publishing models.

    Yes, I know. And since in self publishing the author is the publisher, I don’t see how you can talk about that model without talking about authors. I read quite closely, thank you. If someone is going to put up self publishing as a viable option, I think it’s quite pertinent to ask questions like ‘how many copies do self pubbed books sell?’ and ‘is all I want really just to break even?’ I also find it interesting that you separate novelist and businessperson, as if they are not, in fact, one and the same.

  45. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 17:14:54

    @Anon Y. Mouse:

    I also find it interesting that you separate novelist and businessperson, as if they are not, in fact, one and the same.

    Why?

    ‘is all I want really just to break even?’

    You assumed a lot from “making more money than you spent,” which is, by definition, not breaking even.

    And since in self publishing the author is the publisher, I don't see how you can talk about that model without talking about authors.

    Because I don’t speak for any other authors. I speak for myself-as-author, and I have not, in any way, spoken of my artistic process nor have I spoken of anyone else’s.

    Business is business. It follows pretty much the same principles no matter what industry you’re talking about and the core principle is: Make more than you spend.

    That’s how I can separate it.

  46. Alessia Brio
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 17:25:39

    What's not being taken into account here is that many, many self-published books aren't meant to be sold, but given to family and friends…keepsakes, books of genealogy, books to amuse children and the like, which are also included in the average whenever that stat's trotted out.

    Yeah. Comparing (old/meager) self-publishing data to traditional publishing data is like comparing apples AND oranges to just apples.

    It’s difficult to post my own self-publishing experience without sounding defensive, and (I’m sure) there will be those who respond: “But you’re different!” Um, no, I’m not. Not on this playing field, anyway.

    I have been self-publishing for just over 2 months now. No new material (yet), just re-packaged stuff that had reached its contract terms with small press. And it’s selling. Selling far better than it did while in the catalog of that small press. Why? Hell if I know, but I’m not complaining.

    I am spending no more $ on my promotion now than I was prior to self-publishing. As a start-up venture, however, I am spending considerably more time with infrastructure, but once my backlist is all republished, that will change and I can focus on getting new material written & released — on MY schedule.

    Overhead is minimal, and the return on investment is intensely satisfying in more ways than one. It requires, as I said on another blog, a diverse skill set and a certain flavor of moxie. That said, it’s just one option of several. I wish each author success with whichever option is chosen. The readers will decide where to get their entertainment, and if they’re not getting something of value, they’ll look elsewhere. When they do that search for erotic romance on Amazon or ARe or B&N, I’ll be there right next to everyone else. Will they even glance at the name of the publisher if the cover art and blurb catch their eye? Kinda doubtful. And if they are satisfied with the product, they’ll buy me again.

    Happiest of Holidays, y’all. I hope Santa treats you right. :-)

  47. candynicks
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 17:40:10

    Current members of our (self) publisher yahoo reader forums. We have two, a regular forum and one for discussing the adult rated books.

    Adult forum – 10, 574.
    Regular forum – 8, 738.

    I’d say those were healthy figures, indicative of readers at least willing to check out small press and self published books. Those figures are the reason I don’t worry when people say they won’t entertain self published books. I’m confident there are enough readers who will. And if there weren’t, I wouldn’t do it. Pretty simple commercial equation, really.

  48. Victoria Dahl
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 17:41:43

    They offer you more money. Since they can publish you cheaper than you can publish yourself, they can always offer you more than you can get yourself, and still make their profit.

    I couldn’t agree with you more. And I believe the same applies to e-publishing as well.

    I’ve been upfront about the fact that I don’t think self-publishing or the publishing services route will become the norm. Will it become more common and much more acceptable? Absolutely. I think self-publishing legitimately fits the needs of some authors, especially those with entrepreneurial skills.

    But I do agree with what’s been previously stated here: Seems to me, in most cases, it is a matter of a smaller percentage of a larger pie vs. a larger percentage of a smaller pie.

  49. Victoria Dahl
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 17:44:28

    I also agree that time is money, and that should be figured into any calculations about how much profit could be made when someone is comparing traditional vs. self-publishing as an option.

  50. Anon Y. Mouse
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 17:55:34

    @Moriah Jovan:

    Why?

    Because, imo, a novelist *is* a businessperson. They have to be. A writer who is not is either A. a hobbyist in which case their experience has little bearing on the conversation at hand, or B. asking to get taken advantage of. Writing is a business, not just publishing.

    You assumed a lot from “making more money than you spent,” which is, by definition, not breaking even.

    No, it was the ‘all that matters’ part I took issue with. Because while that might be all that matters to you, it is not all that matters to everyone. There are a hundred other things to consider, like distribution, name recognition, industry respect and any number of other factors. A business (and an author is a business, remember) makes decisions based on more than “if I spend 1000 to print this book and make 2000 over the course of its lifetime, that’s a win.” Because while yes, you may have made more than you spent, you still won’t make what you would through traditional or upper-level digital routes, there is a stigma attached to it that does, fair or not, tarnish an author’s reputation, etc.

    The thing is that while I agree that the traditional print market way of doing things is dying and needs to change, imo self publishing is not a viable answer for the vast majority of books. There *needs* to be quality control of some kind. A reader should not be forced to deal with “Let’s throw everything at them and see what sticks” method of selling books. In that way, digital/epublishing is the solution, because there is still that quality control and readers learn very quickly which of the digital/epublishers do a decent job at it and which don’t. But if they’re forced to slog through everything ever written by anyone in the world with a few hundred bucks to spare, I think they’ll quickly abandon books altogether in favor of the already diverse other options vying for their attention.

  51. Stevie
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 18:24:55

    @Moriah Jovan:

    Everyone has a right to try.

    But no-one is suggesting that they don’t.

    Claiming that you are defending people from a non-existent threat really does not advance the discussion. Indeed, it suggests that the remainder of your contentions are likely to be equally flawed.

    No-one believes that the present system is perfect, but, for those of us who were around in the ‘information wants to be free’ era, the current hyperbolic claims about e-publishing being the brave new dawn simply provoke a yawn. Actually, lots of yawns.

    We’ve heard it all before, and it was manifestly silly then, as it is manifestly silly now.

    I much prefer to support places like Closed Circle:

    http://www.closed-circle.net/

    where CJ Cherryh, Jane Fancher and Lynn Abbey are e-publishing their backlists; and, hopefully in future, new works.

    If you want to see a brilliant analysis of just what has gone wrong with the market then read CJ Cherryh’s article at

    http://www.closed-circle.net/WhereItsAt/?page_id=11

    which starts with the question:

    ‘Why Should Authors who've got Paper Books be Issuing E-Books?’

    Really good question, with answers which have nothing to do with Jane’s claims…

    And perhaps I should point out that Cherryh’s ‘The Paladin’ is on my ‘top-five romances of all time list';never marketed as a romance, but it’s awe-inspiringly good. up there nevertheless.

  52. DS
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 20:23:21

    @Anon Y. Mouse: Dara Joy had a lot of Good Will capital. From my view point she squandered it. I think from what I’ve read online her fans would have overlooked crappy covers and overpriced stories if she had just delivered the goods, both physically in terms of the book itself and in terms of the type of writing her fans wanted.

    I think that it was on this blog that I read a post about how to get a preordered copy of one of Joy’s books self published books which involved threatening to file a consumer report. Pissing off her fan base that way was career suicide.

    I think if she had some business acumen– or had been connected with someone who had more business sense– she might have made a better go of her self publishing attempts.

  53. Anon Y. Mouse
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 20:30:32

    @DS: Agreed, she had a lot of potential to make it work, and failed big time. How she squandered the opportunity is kind of immaterial, it’s still a case in point of why authors, even big name authors, do need publishers. Sure, their readers might still buy self-pubbed stuff, but ionly if it matches their experience buying the professionally pubbed stuff. It’s about the editing, the PR, the handling of sales and delivery, and the ability to do those myriad things that, clearly, big name authors aren’t automatically qualified to do.

    Anybody who says big name authors don’t need publishers anymore is woefully naive about how ‘easy’ it is to do what a publisher does.

  54. Nadia Lee
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 21:25:06

    @Will Entrekin: I agree with what Caligi said. Long before I was a writer, I knew exactly which imprint put out what kind of stories (I’m talking about the overall tone & feel & sexual heat level, etc.) and I gravitated toward certain publishers because I liked their offerings the best.

    For example, when I was in high school, I was a huge fan of Avon historical romance novels, and I had no problem trying out historical writers they published even if they were new-to-me authors. I like my historical romance novels frothy and fun.

    I think people really underestimate the power of publisher brand recognition. When it comes to ebooks, I’m much more likely to pick up Samhain or Carina or Harlequin Spice Briefs / Nocturne Bites than some other shoddy / never-heard-of presses. Why? Because the former publishers have proven themselves and built solid and quality reputation.

  55. Nadia Lee
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 21:36:58

    @PurseJunkie: Have you ever read slush?

    If so, you wouldn’t think that the stuff you can find at your local B&N resembles slush.

  56. Anon Y. Mouse
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 22:00:53

    @Nadia Lee:

    Because the former publishers have proven themselves and built solid and quality reputation.

    Wait…not to derail the conversation, but how has Carina proven themselves? They haven’t even opened yet. Not saying they won’t prove themselves, but by what criteria are they proven to have a reputation for quality anything?

  57. Caligi
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 22:18:08

    @PurseJunkie:

    I don’t read slush. Slush is the unsolicited manuscripts publishers reject.

    That stuff is worse than the worst book you’ve picked up from a major publisher. No way I’d pay to read it.

    Dara Joy should’ve stayed with her publisher, yes. That doesn’t mean that a savvier, less batshit insane (let’s be honest here) author couldn’t self-publish effectively and build off her existing audience.

  58. Nadia Lee
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 23:22:40

    @Anon Y. Mouse: Sorry. I shouldn’t have included Carina. I was thinking about Angie James (who used to be with Samhai) when responding and that’s how it ended up there. >.<

  59. Nick
    Dec 20, 2009 @ 23:41:15

    I’ve published, as Nix Winter, under all the models, except the pay the money up front way. I like the self publishing best. I just like my freedom. I like it to be about my art, my ideas. I wish there was more money in it.. so maybe I wish I was a better writer.

    Nick

  60. Edie
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 00:15:39

    I don’t really have much to add to the discussion, as my knowledge is pretty limited. Just that it is going to be very interesting watching from the sidelines in the next couple of years.
    I do think the slice of pie for mid-list authors once they have done their own promo work etc, takes a fair chunk out of what seems to me a fairly piddling income to start.. but that is purely based on limited floating around on blogs, including author ones.
    I just hope the authors that I love learn to work the system or systems to get the most out of it-them for themselves, so that I can continue reading the books I love.

  61. Courtney Milan
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 01:39:27

    @Moriah Jovan: I’m not sure what all that indignation is for.

    I mean, you can’t deny that self-publishing doesn’t pool risks. It simply can’t; one person does not make a pool. And you can’t deny that traditional publishing does pool risks, by paying out advances. This also means that publishers pool profits, and self-publishing does not; so this doesn’t only cut one way.

    If you can point me to the place where I said nobody has a right to try self-publishing, I’d be gratified. If what you want to do is self-publish, go for it. You have the right to try self-publishing. I believe that under some circumstances, for some people, it’s the right thing to do–over traditional publishing. Like I said before, it makes sense for some people to not buy certain kinds of insurance. Sometimes you don’t want your risk pooled with other people’s.

    But just as you have the right to choose self-publishing, I have the right to reject it. It does not make me an option-denying jerk if I say that self-publishing is not always the smartest choice. I respect that you have good reasons to self-publish, based on your circumstances. It would be nice if you could extend me the same courtesy as to my decision not to self-publish.

  62. Jules Jones
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 02:28:33

    Caligili @ 57 “Slush is the unsolicited manuscripts publishers reject.”

    No, it’s not. Slush is *all* of the unsolicited manuscripts, not just the ones they reject. It’s quite true that they reject most of it. That’s largely because most of it is unpublishable for various reasons, not all of which involve the quality of the writing.

    Read Slushkiller for a perspective on what those reasons are, and what the proportion of unreadable books in the slush is.

    When I see a self-published or vanity-published book on offer, what I’m seeing is something from a pool of books that consists of a combination of 1) raw slush that has not been anywhere near a commercial publisher, 2) filtered slush that has been submitted to at least one publisher, and thus has already had some of the good stuff filtered out. That doesn’t mean that any specific self-published or vanity-published book is bad (some of it is very good), but it does mean that if I pick up a random example, it’s likely to be something I’d regret spending any time on, let alone money. I want a gatekeeper to do some pre-filtering for me, because life is too short to read the slush myself. A competent commercial publisher issuing books I mostly like is such a gatekeeper.

    There are other ways to do gatekeeping, and fanfic communities have evolved some very useful ones. But to go on the story rec system, you need to have recs you can trust. That is ultimately part of what an editor at a commercial publisher is for — only they’ll lose their jobs if they got it wrong too often.

  63. Nonette
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 02:46:03

    how has Carina proven themselves? They haven't even opened yet. Not saying they won't prove themselves, but by what criteria are they proven to have a reputation for quality anything?

    http://carinapress.com/tag/acquisitions/

    People can get an idea by looking at the acquisitions they announce. Only three so far, and two of them have links to excerpts.

  64. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 07:12:50

    ~Big name authors don't need publishers anymore~

    This one does. I want to say that just because you–the general you–think a certain thing is true, or a certain way better doesn’t make it true or better.

    I need to write books, and I need my publisher to do all they do to get my books–which have been line and copy edited and perhaps revised due to editorial feedback–into the readers’ hands. I don’t want to do, nor do I feel capable of doing all my publisher does to accomplish that goal, nor do I feel I can or should publishing without that editing and editorial feedback.

    I need to write books. I don’t need or want to spend time thinking about distribution, marketing, profit and loss, and too many things I can’t even think about to write down here.

    This doesn’t mean others don’t or can’t, or that self-publishing isn’t a viable answer for some. But statements like the one that generated this response are just wrong.

    And an author published commerically doesn’t give up 94 percent of possible revenue. There are some serious expenses to be shouldered, time (and time is money) to be spent on what publishers do, as well as the discount on the book given in order to place it with any sort of book-selling outlet–plus I don’t think the average royalty is 6 percent.

    A big time authors–since that’s the term used–also draw income from foreign sales and other sub-rights they don’t do anything to generate–except write the book. Many not-so-big-time do the same. I don’t want to have to figure out or learn how to sell my work to England or France or Japan or wherever. But I’m sure delighted to know my books are in those markets–and I sure appreciate the check that comes in the mail.

  65. GrowlyCub
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 07:38:20

    @Nora Roberts:

    I don’t disagree with you, but I was struck by this partial paragraph:

    I need to write books. I don't need or want to spend time thinking about distribution, marketing,

    I absolutely believe that your publisher does not expect you to shoulder the majority of the publicity and marketing efforts, but here lately I see more and more new or mid-list authors being asked by NY publisher to take on the majority of the PR for their own books.

    And quite honestly, I’ve been starting to wonder whether the traditional model – with advances getting smaller and smaller and paid later and later for new and mid-list authors and a lot of the services publishers used to take care of going away – is really in the best interest of said new and mid-list authors or the readers.

    Most certainly, the editing is getting extremely shoddy. As a reader I feel insulted when I shell out 8 bucks of a book that has at least 4-5 typos, grammar errors, awkward wording or other egregious mistakes per page or per chapter. And I’m not talking e-pubs, I’m talking about the romance novels I’ve read by new and established authors from major NY houses. Or the new Blayne that was advertised here and that I picked up at Meijers on a trip out of town that had pages falling out of it before I was even half-way through it.

    I’ve put a hiatus on my new book spending because I’ve been so disappointed in the overall quality (content and presentation) of the 2009 offerings.

  66. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 07:51:41

    The statement was big time authors don’t need publishers–that’s what I addressed.

    I suited up for years–many–to go on national booktours, which while at the publisher’s considerable expense involved my time and effort in the marketing and sales areas. I’ve done and continue to do some of my own promotion–it’s one of the areas I think authors in Romance particularly become involved in.

    If I were a new writer today, self pubbing wouldn’t be my choice. Because of all the reasons I listed in my previous comment. While there are new writers who will elect to go that route, and many of them who–I certainly hope–will do well–there will always be ones like me who want to put the bulk of their time and energies into the writing, and leave the publishing to publishers.

  67. GrowlyCub
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 08:52:59

    @Nora Roberts:

    I had no trouble understanding what you were addressing. The bit I quoted led me to elaborate on the topic with regards to authors who are not big time (yet) from a reader perspective of 25+ years reading romance and watching the industry evolve with regard to the question which publishing models might survive into the future and will be attractive to new authors.

    And I was most certainly not talking about a publisher paid promo tour when I was referring to publishers expecting authors to do their own promotion these days.

  68. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 09:12:11

    I’d like to know more specifically what sort of promotions publishers are asking or expecting of authors. It would be interesting to me to see if that’s really changed all that much from back when I started.

    I know when I wanted an ad in say, RT or RWR or something like, I paid for it. If I wanted to do bookmarks, I designed them, paid for them, shipped them out. If I wanted to do a signing, I contacted bookstores in my area. If I wanted to do a promotional item for a book, I paid for it, and again shipped them out at my own expense.

    I’m not sure what sort of promotion publishers used to do for new or midlist authors they now expect those authors to do themselves.

  69. Miranda Neville
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 09:21:45

    @Nora Roberts:

    As a new author I’d say things haven’t changed much. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. And my publisher (Avon) hasn’t asked me to do anything. They have standard marketing practices and, as with most publishers, the more successful you are, the more attention you get.

    My editor told me when she acquired the book and I asked her about promo: “the most important thing we do is get the books into stores and that’s how they sell.” Without arguing against newer, less traditional forms of publishing and the way things will develop in the future, getting the books out there is the best way to sell them at this time. (Cf. Courtney and her podunk gas stations. Can’t wait to be in them)

  70. candynicks
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 09:25:45

    This discussion is about future industry models. I posted our reader forum figures to show that in our case, there is considerable interest in self published/small press ebook romance. Does no one think that ten thousand plus members of a forum for a small press that has only five to seven authors at any one time is significant? Are there any other publisher forums with similar numbers? Could we be seeing an industry trend developing, here?

  71. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 09:40:42

    My comments weren’t meant to argue against any new models, but to address the oft-repeated statements: Big authors don’t need publishers and/or would make more money without them. New and midlist authors are being asked/expected to do their own promo.

    From where I stand these claims just aren’t true. And using them to criticize commercial publishing and enhance new models doesn’t work for me. Choice works for me–an author choses self-publishing or small press. An author wants to experiment with a new model or new idea.

  72. Nadia Lee
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 09:43:11

    @candynicks: But are the forum members aspiring writers themselves and/or interested in publishing their works? How many of them are pure-readers, meaning have ZERO interest in writing & publishing their own works?

  73. GrowlyCub
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 09:51:03

    @Nora Roberts:

    New and midlist authors are being asked/expected to do their own promo.

    From where I stand these claims just aren't true.

    I hope some of the authors chime in who have discussed this issue on their blogs, email lists and on reader and writer blogs. From my own experience in the last 2 years especially, there is definitely more expected of non-bestselling authors in the way of promo both in time and money than in the past.

  74. Jane
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 09:56:20

    @GrowlyCub I, too, feel inundated with author promotion and there are a number of authors who complain about having to shoulder more of the publicity role. Maybe those author perceptions are skewed and thus skewing our perceptions as well. However, on blogs like Galley Cat and Publishing Trends, there are often topics about author required promotion.

    I think it has to do, in part, with burgeoning publishing lists. If publishers put out more books, they have less dollars to publicize the books they are publishing. There are far more books published today than 20 years ago.

  75. candynicks
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:04:30

    But are the forum members aspiring writers themselves and/or interested in publishing their works? How many of them are pure-readers, meaning have ZERO interest in writing & publishing their own works?

    It’s a reader forum specifically for the promotion and discussion of our books. Moderated and that rule is strictly enforced. So I assume most or all of them are there for the reading.

    We’re closed as a publisher to outside submissions.

  76. Maili
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:06:15

    @Nora Roberts:

    I'd like to know more specifically what sort of promotions publishers are asking or expecting of authors. It would be interesting to me to see if that's really changed all that much from back when I started.

    This may be irrelevant, but I’ll chuck my two pennies in, anyway.

    As a reader I learnt to recognise your name when I was a subscriber to two Silhouette lines (Silhouette Intimate Moments, I think, and Silhouette Romance) that I received four or five books – regardless of who those authors were – per month.

    I also learnt to recognise a number of other authors including Linda Howard, Marilyn Pappano, Lisa Jackson, Sandra Brown (as Erin St. something), Kirstin James, Elizabeth Lowell, Suzanne Brockmann, and many more.

    Harlequin/M&B – like Zerbra – were quite aggressive with their direct marketing – a subscription form in back of those category romances (or in Zebra’s case, in middle of their books!), discounts, promotional campaign, and a list of forthcoming books with brief blurbs in back of books as well.

    By the time you and those authors went single title, your name is already well known to readers like us. It seems easy to see why former Silhouette/category authors weren’t – or aren’t – asked to promote their books, like some authors may do today.

    I feel this is not the case with category romances today. Subscriptions and direct marketing don’t make such an impact nowadays, I feel; not since the internet – online bookshops, blogs, etc. – became wide-spread. In old days I relied heavily on M&B’s subscription services and direct marketing as well as local libraries. I didn’t know other readers, either. Now? I rely on the internet and other readers to find interesting books.

    So, yes, I do think it’s a different world now. Especially when we compare how it was when you started out with how it may be for a new author today.

  77. candynicks
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:10:17

    I’ve just discovered that the new number one best seller on Fictionwise is one of our self published book. If it stays in that position all week, that will be our second Christmas number one there in the three years we’ve been open.

    I think that shows the small guy can make a splash if they know what they’re doing.

  78. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:12:02

    ~From my own experience in the last 2 years especially, there is definitely more expected of non-bestselling authors in the way of promo both in time and money than in the past.~

    What kind of promotion? What, exactly, are you being asked and/or expected to do?

    All I know is when I started I did–and everyone I know starting out did their own promo. Their own time and money. At a certain level, the publisher put more into it, but still a good portion of the promo was at the author’s expense–and at her choice. Do or it don’t.

    And I still do considerably on my own. My choice.

    There’s more expected all around since the internet. Just one example: We’re all pretty much expected to have a web site. We pay for it, the publisher doesn’t.

  79. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:17:59

    But doesn’t Harlequin have a big, splashy website to promote not only their brand, but authors–generating name recognition in much the same way it did with its direct marketing back in the day? Same deal, different tools.

    I think all the major publishers have big, splashy sites, with various ways they promote their books and authors.

    I’d just like to understand what it is, specifically, being asked of authors, or required of them by their publishers in the promotion area. And are these suggestions–as they were when I started–or actual requirements?

  80. Victoria Dahl
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:19:09

    I hope some of the authors chime in who have discussed this issue on their blogs, email lists and on reader and writer blogs…. definitely more expected of non-bestselling authors in the way of promo both in time and money than in the past.

    You know, I hear this a lot too, but maybe it’s just not true. Maybe it’s just the big echo-y chamber we call the Internet.

    I write for two publishers, and neither has ever asked me to do anything for my own promo aside from a few interviews. But have I done more? Yes, I have, because I’m online all the time watching OTHERS do more. So obviously, I have to do stuff too! Contests and blog tours and interviews and auctions and newsletters and ads and bookmarks and social networking! But is any of that required? Nope. It’s what I take on to further my whole career, nothing to do with any one book or any one publisher, and no guarantee any of it is working.

    So yeah, I think the idea of allll this promo we have to do… has more to do with a frantic feeling that we’re not doing enough. Twenty years ago, we would have just sat tight and waited for the book to show up in stores. Maybe we’d design bookmarks or take out an ad or arrange an interview. But now we have thousands of other authors to communicate with for months and months, trying to figure out what we should be doing before the book hits!!! Gah!

  81. Alessia Brio
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:32:06

    @Nora Roberts:

    Nora, in my experience, there is nothing required by publishers. It’s a nebulous expectation and basically consists of an online presence (site, blog, and social networking) , a conference/convention presence, some sort of swag, and some legwork to set up local book signings/readings. Much like what you described earlier.

    When I first submitted to a small press (waaaaaaaaaay back in 2005), they required a marketing plan along with submissions. They wanted to know how (or, rather, if) you were going to help promote your book.

    In the intervening years, I have seen that small press go from relying on its authors for 99% of promotion to shouldering nearly all of the general marketing expenses (ads online & in print, booths/tables at fairs & cons, some general swag, etc.). Authors choose how much & where to spend out of their own pockets, then as now.

    Happy Holidays to you & yours.

  82. Sharron McClellan
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:32:14

    I started out with small press in 2001 and then signed with Harlequin in 2004. It's different with category in that we don't do much advertising since our shelf time is so limited. But in then almost ten years I've been published, the expectation of a new author doing her own advertising hasn't really changed. Authors have always “suited up” as Nora said and dealt with getting their name out there on their own. I was much like other's in that I did my own bookmarks, ran ads, set up book signings, etc.

    What might have changed is not the amount of promotion done by a new author but the reader awareness of what we do. Ten years ago, there were no blogs. No Dear Author. No SBTB. Now, readers are privy to authors lives in a much more intimate way and what they consider to be “new” for us is actually been the “normal” for years. Just a thought to consider.

    As far as new publishing models. I love that authors have choices and my choice of a traditional publisher has no reflection on another's choice to go with another format.

  83. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:34:55

    Victoria, this is exactly my take. And twenty years ago–because I was there–we had a lot of the same kind of I gotta, then I gotta do more. It just didn’t get around as much, get through to readers as much (the echo of I gotta) because we didn’t have the internet to shout (or whine) into.

    I just don’t think this particular aspect has changed other than there are other ways to promote and reach readers, so more time and energy expended maybe. And a bigger dose of I gotta.

    But publishers never did all this in the first place–so why should they be tagged for not doing it now? That’s what I keep coming back to when I hear–again and again–publishers expect or require this stuff.

    We gotta have a web site, we gotta do Face Book, we gotta Twitter, we gotta blog, we gotta run contests, etc, etc. No, we don’t. Every one of these is a choice the author makes.

  84. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:42:19

    So basically, the more things change, the more they don’t. We have the technology which offers many, many more outlets for author/book promo. And publishers will certainly hope, even expect their authors to have some sort of web presence–a good website.

    But they don’t pay for it. Just like they never paid for anything re grass-roots author promo. The bookmarks, the ads, the signings, the response to reader mail if the author was lucky enough to get any, etc, etc. Going to conferences–we’ve always paid our own freight.

    And we’ve always fretted or wondered if we were doing enough, the right promos and all that. Now we’re just fretting and wondering in public forums. And I wonder if some new authors believe publishers used to pay for this, or do all this simply because they see the promo and assume it was publisher generated.

    Hardly ever was.

  85. Maili
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 10:53:18

    @Nora Roberts:

    But doesn't Harlequin have a big, splashy website to promote not only their brand, but authors-generating name recognition in much the same way it did with its direct marketing back in the day? Same deal, different tools.

    Yes, but it’s not working on me.

    Too many lines, too many authors, too many books. Info overload. When I’m there at the site, I wander around and only take notice of familiar names, but rarely buy anything. (I do the same at other publisher sites and online bookshops, to be fair.)

    With a subscription service in pre-internet days, it was just one line and four or five authors per month. More direct, more attention to authors, and fewer choices.

    With this in mind, it does require an author to make an effort to stand out through other means. Let it be a blog, web site, interaction with readers, and blah blah.
    @Sharron McClellan:

    What might have changed is not the amount of promotion done by a new author but the reader awareness of what we do. Ten years ago, there were no blogs. No Dear Author. No SBTB. Now, readers are privy to authors lives in a much more intimate way and what they consider to be “new” for us is actually been the “normal” for years. Just a thought to consider.

    True, and here’s another thought to consider: we should recognise reader expectations have changed as well.

    More readers learn how it works for authors, different expectations they have of authors, e.g some no longer feel they should pay a lip service to the “support ALL authors in the name of Romance!” mentality like how it was before. I think quite a few readers realise they are customers, not ‘fans'; the people who have the money to burn. In old days we were a lot more “forgiving” and timid. Therefore, most readers nowadays expect the best from authors, ranging from online behaviour to the quality of writing as well as how they promote their books. It may be mostly unfair, but that’s how it goes.

    Sorry for keeping going off the track, so I’ll shut up now.

  86. Caligi
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 11:03:08

    @Nora Roberts:

    A-list authors may still prefer to work with publishers, but there’s less of a need now, as compared to the pre-internet era, no?

    A control freak could take his or her ball and go home and hack it without a publisher, especially so if the industry goes heavily ebook and POD, since distribution costs and returns would be much lower.

    I don’t think advance-based traditional publishing will ever go away. Publishing houses do serve a purpose, but I think some blockbuster authors will go rogue, like Radiohead did, and it could become a trend.

  87. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 11:07:00

    But Maili, I bet it does work on many, or why go to the expense and trouble and time? Just as I’m sure the direct mail stuff didn’t work for all. Personally? I loathe with a passion tip-ins–those promotion cards stuck in magazines and books. Hate them, toss them without giving them a glance. But they must work or they wouldn’t keep showing up in magazines and books.

    Different approaches work with different markets–which is just one more reason I need a publisher. I don’t want to have to figure out which approach for which market.

    I think readers should expect the best from authors in the quality of writing and in reasonable courtesy in on-line–or off-line–behavior. I don’t know if anyone should expect the best from authors re promotion, because again, what works for some will simply not work for others.

  88. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 11:13:54

    I think it’s more that the big publishers don’t give you any time to “bed in.” Two authors I can think of (Gail Dayton and Gennita Low) had their 3 book contract terminated before the third book because sales had not reached expectations. I know that Gennita said it was primarily because she didn’t get Wal-Mart and other supermarket distribution.
    So if you’re not selling up to expectations (which you might or might not know about and might or might not change through the contract) you’re dropped.
    You have to promote more in order to increase your visibility and sell more books. The publisher often does not tell you how to do it, or will give general guidelines.
    Once you’ve created your brand and built up a bedrock of autobuyers, you’re good, but it’s getting to that stage that’s difficult. And that seems to be mainly because the big outlets, supermarkets and discount stores, take fewer titles than a bookstore.

    Anyway, that’s how I understand it from the authors I’ve been talking to and from what I’ve read.

  89. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 11:21:53

    Caligi, I simply don’t agree about the less need. I need my publisher just as much as I did five years ago, ten, twenty. Again, for all the reasons I’ve already named. It’s not merely preference. I can’t stress that enough–and I think it simply may be impossible to understand if you’re not me, or others like me.

    Just because the technology is there doesn’t mean any author can or should self-pub. For some it’s a choice. But for those of us who can’t, simply cannot deal with all that involves, it’s not a choice. Therefore, we need our publishers.

    I’m spending more time here then I should today. In addition to that I have to write, and get a certain amount done. This morning I spent about a half hour signing books because I neglected to do it over the weekend–cookie and bread baking and playing with grandchildren–later I have to cook dinner, get my workout in, have some interaction with my husband.

    Where, I wonder, would I find time today to deal with the demands of self-publication? How would I figure out how to do what needs to be done to get out the million copies U.S. of my next trade edition this spring–which I would already have had to deal with producing, printing, generating cover art, and so on? Where would I have time to deal with the promotion for it? And before I’d finished that, I would have to do the same for the 600-700 copies U.S. of my July hardcover. Then how do I generate those foreign sales and other sub-rights?

    I don’t have a clue. I’d have to learn all this. And while I was learning all this I wouldn’t be writing, much less having an actual life outside the work. So before long I wouldn’t have the books to publish or distribute or promote because I’d have cut into the actual writing time trying to get a bigger piece of the pie. And the pie would get a lot smaller as I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on baking it.

    I want to bake the pie. I need somebody else to work on getting it into the mouths of those who really like my pie.

  90. Nora Roberts
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 11:25:55

    I’m sorry to say what happened to Gennita and Gail is also not new. I can’t count the number of authors I know or know of this exact thing has happened to over the course of my own career. The word of it simply spreads more widely now than it once did, but the fact of it isn’t so very different.

  91. anon writer
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 11:43:57

    @GrowlyCub & @Jane:

    I hope some of the authors chime in who have discussed this issue on their blogs, email lists and on reader and writer blogs. From my own experience in the last 2 years especially, there is definitely more expected of non-bestselling authors in the way of promo both in time and money than in the past.

    My e-press editor put all her writers on a loop so that she could send a note to everyone to do promo every 3 months or so.

    I wish she’d stop. I’d rather work on my next project than do promo every time she asks. At the same time I don’t want to appear uncooperative or uninterested in selling more stuff. :( So the situation is crummy for writers like me.

    I’d love to know if editors from other houses do this too.

  92. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 12:12:12

    @anon writer:
    Nope. I’m ‘active’ with three publishers right now, and they aren’t demanding it. What they are doing is putting promo opportunities our way and making sure they keep up the company name in the media, neither of which you get with self publishing.
    I appreciate it, but I do have my promo down to what I think is a bearable level between bombarding people with “buy my book” promos and not being there at all.

  93. P.N. Elrod
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 12:16:21

    At some point, authors who want to make a living from writing should ask themselves whether it makes sense to continue relinquishing up to 96% of the revenue generated by their intellectual property.

    I have no problem with that.

    That 4% of revenue is still far more than I’d EVER make without a publisher’s support.

    Big name authors don't need publishers anymore. That's different.

    Oh, heck, yes they do. If not for sales, then certainly for the other things publishers provide as a matter of course.

    One of my best pals hit the NYT bestseller list this year. She’s gone on signing tours, promotes from her website and blog, the usual stuff, but not the other jobs that publishers tackle: editing, marketing, cover art, interior design, arranging sales to various venues, getting cover quotes, sending out review copies, registering the copyright, getting the ISBN number, shipping, keeping track of the sales vs overheads–the boring stuff that has nothing to do with the actual writing process.

    While she has the business experience to do it (most writers do not) she doesn’t have the time, money, or inclination to take it on.

    The publishers do. It’s their specialty, and, for the most part, they’re good at it.

    She also has a highly demanding day job she has to keep because it has the health insurance that she and her spouse need. She is paid well for her books, but not THAT well.

    If she chose to self-pub or e-pub, the income from her future books would take an immediate nose dive. Yes, the profit per sale is bigger, but that advantage is gutted by fewer sales.

    I had that proved to me this year when I self-pubbed a signed, limited edition just for my readers. I’ve got a bit of a track record in pro sales and a decent number of loyal readers, but I knew I’d be lucky to sell 200 copies. That was my “break even” point. Any number over 200 would be profit after expenses.

    It took three months before I sold those 200 books. In self-pub terms it’s a runaway bestseller.

    But my most recent pro-pubbed title with Ace sold several *thousand* copies prior to release. It’s gotten reviews, it’s in libraries, it’s in stores across the country, and my agent works to sell it and my other titles overseas to markets unknown to me. I love those checks. One of them enabled me to get the down payment on my first house–something I’d never have seen had I self-pubbed or taken the e-book route.

    The special signed book was something I did half in fun and half as an experiment to test the waters.

    In amateur terms, it was a success just by selling more than 15 copies.

    In pro terms it tanked miserably.

    Do I like the higher profit-per-book of self-pubbing? Yes.

    But do I make more with a commercial publisher? Oh, hell, yes.

    I’ll stick with Ms. Roberts. I’d rather be writing with my books selling all over the world than hoping people will stumble across my work on a website and maybe buy a copy.

  94. roslynholcomb
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 12:16:53

    @anon writer: I’m only with one publisher, and they certainly encourage us to have a website or blog and to do the social network thing, but there’s no regular schedule.

  95. Courtney Milan
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 12:24:12

    GrowlyCub:

    My take on promo dollars, as a relatively new author: Yes, there’s pressure, but I think it’s more generated from within (oh no, I heard that X isn’t getting her contract renewed! The sky, it is falling!) and less generated from my publisher. I doubt that this has changed much, except to the extent that we hear more these days.

    Yes, there are ways to spend money on dubious promotional stuff today that didn’t exist 20 years ago. But we also save a LOT of money in other ways–no more paper mailing lists for fans! No more sending out postcards to announce a release; just hav an announcement list! I think it comes out a wash.

    I think that much of the money spent on promotion falls in the category of what I call “sympathetic black magic”–in other words, things that people spend money on to promote themselves because they have heard they have to spend money to promote themselves, and other people are spending money on that thing. The reasoning seems to be something along the lines of: “You get what you pay for, so if I just spend a ton of money, I’ll get a lot in return.”

    Don’t get me wrong. I spend money on promotion. But before I do, I think very carefully about what I’m doing with every promotional project, and if I can’t figure out how it helps me, what I’m trying to accomplish, and how much that accomplishment is worth relative to the expenditure–then it’s probably not worth my time or money. And I’m still sure I’ve spent too much money–mostly because I’ve committed to things before I realized I really didn’t have time to see them through as well as possible.

    My first book won’t be out for a few weeks, so who knows whether I’m right. But yes, I feel the pull. I just don’t think that pull is rationally based, or reasonable to indulge in. Still, a part of me screams that I haven’t done enough, that I need that sympathetic black magic, and if only I had spent $10,000 on a live-action book trailer…!

    And then I realize that if I had, I would have $10,000 less and 500 more views on youtube. ;)

    It’s possible to blow an entire advance on promotion, and then some. I know authors who do that, and then some. I just don’t think it helps.

  96. Courtney Milan
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 12:39:22

    I should add: My publisher has asked me to do some promotional things, but those things have involved time, not expenditure of money.

    For instance, Victoria Dahl and I will have a girl-on-girl interview on Rhapsody’s website. It’s an exclusive tell-all where we get down to the naked truth….

  97. Christine Merrill
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 13:51:24

    Chiming in with what other authors are saying about still needing a publisher, very, very much. In the course of a category career, with a couple of titles a year, it is easily possible to sell a million books. That’s with an M, seven figures. And I am not exaggerating that number.

    I'm with Harlequin M & B. They have worldwide distribution. They have already translated my stuff into four other languages, including Greek. The day they open a bookstore in Antarctica, Harlequin will be translating romances into Penguin, and preparing to airlift.

    You don't get rich because the royalty is low. But every sale is a book in someone's hands, and the written work is better than any promotion for generating more sales of future work.

    My publishers know this. Although they don't object to my promotion, they would rather have me writing more things they can sell, like e-shorts, and online reads. And they pay me to do those.

    They sell. I write. It's a sensible division of labor.

    I've also self published. It was a book I couldn't manage to sell. I needed to shift the thing, to get a little quick cash for Christmas (see any previous comments about the economy, layoffs, needing insurance, etc). So far, I've seen a small profit, because of minimal promotion and production dollars spent.

    I am averaging 10 times the monetary return, per ebook. I consider the experiment a success. In a month and a half, I've sold 64 copies. If I sell 1000 copies, this will be success beyond my wildest dreams. There is no way in hell I will sell books in 5 figures, which is what I'd need to do to bring it in line with my other books.

    To spend more money might increase the sales numbers, but it reduces the profit. Or even the chance for profit. It is very easy to come out a loser, if you take all the production and promotion costs on yourself.

    I feel forced to sacrifice the audience size, to make any money.

    If I wanted to go it alone on everything, this strategy will eventually lead to diminishing returns. The reason I can sell any of these, without publisher support, is because I've already got an audience. And my business strategy on this will cut my audience to a sliver.

  98. Anon76
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 15:58:34

    To me, the different publishing models must be sorted out this way: What is your goal as far as print publishing. Not ebook, but print.

    1) Traditional publishing: Using their resources to get your books on shelves or the brand recognition to sell well at sites like B&N, Amazon and the like. Ebook editions are now coming into play, but the traditional publishing houses need to revisit their woefully low author royalties on those ebook versions.

    2) Digital publishing: Some houses print pub all titles of a certain length, some only best sellers, some only with additional funds from the author, and some not at all. For any of the houses that offer the print option, it would still be a battle for physical shelf space versus online sales. No matter, the author royalty rate still drops significantly to reflect the difference between print and digital media.

    3) Publishing service companies: Okay, I won’t debate semantics here as far as what to call them, but most of these companies do not provide real print distribution. They tout their print distribution channels, but in truth they can do no more than a true self-pubbed author. Or a new small print pub for that matter. In fact, they are worse because over their long periods of existence, they have never garnered increased shelf space, if any, unlike some of their successful epub and and new print pub counterparts. Why aren’t they folding? Because the author is the buyer, not the reader. They are extremely profitable in selling their services, not in selling books (other than to the authors).

    4) True self publishing: God bless all those with the talent to pull it together. I know for a fact I don’t have the skills. These people pay printing costs for the books they need (not a portion of royalty) and work their butts off. Still, print distribution is mainly over the internet. I’m assuming, perhaps wrongly, that ebook sales are higher than print. (Same with item 3.)

    So if the camera shifts from “I want to sell a lot of books” to “I want to sell a lot of print books”, the discussion changes considerably.

  99. geek-girl
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 17:54:50

    There are marketing activities performed by publishers that the public never sees.

    I refer you to a post by Jim Macdonald at Absolute Write:

    Here’s what all publishers do for all their authors, first-time no-names and everyone else:

    1) ARCs to reviewers
    2) Ads in trade mags (you won’t see those unless you’re running a bookstore)
    3) Listed in the publisher’s catalog, which is sent to every bookstore and library in the country
    4) Touted by paid salespersons who visit bookstores and chain buyers. There will be a publicist assigned to your book. That publicist will be handling many other books, but he or she has contacts that you just don’t have.

    You, as an author, can’t do any of those things. Those, however, are the things that actually sell books.

    Blog tours, bookmarks, etc. are lovely but if the reader can’t find your book at the bookstore, all the bookmarks in the world won’t help you.

    I love ebooks as much as the next person, but bookstore placement of hard copy is still the de facto way that publishing operates today. It’s moving slowly towards something else, but I’m not sure what. How to replace the actual placing of books in bookstores is the big question with ebooks. One of the things I like about the Nook is that you can still have the browsing-in-the-bookstore experience with it. It would be interesting to see independent bookstores set up something similar; perhaps a cooperative a la Booksense.

  100. Magdalen
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 22:55:15

    I’ve read all 99 comments (I now need the same number of bottles of beer…)

    No one has raised the thought I had when I first read Jane’s post: What about the quality assurance aspect for the writer?

    I’m a writer. I’m not a published author. If I wrote an off-beat book that I really believed in and all my friends and family loved, but that was rejected by every last agent and publisher I thought suitable to pitch to . . . and if I felt able to handle the business side of self-publication, I might consider it.

    But I write relatively ordinary romances. I want to be published by an imprint that is known for publishing relatively ordinary romances. I want the name-recognition and branding that will come from being published by a well-known imprint.

    And that means I have to write a good enough book. Obviously I’m going to write the best book I can write. But I won’t know if it’s good enough because — and let’s be honest here — my critical judgment of my own work is highly suspect.

    My grandfather called it “the ordeal by market” — having to submit my labor of love, my precious manuscript to someone who won’t care about all my late nights typing my fingers to the bone, yadda yadda. Well, that’s fine. I don’t want to be in the marketplace without some external assurance that my book is good enough.

    Ultimately, of course, I want to make some money. I suspect I’m in the “smaller slice of a bigger pie” camp on that issue. But that’s not why I’ll try for traditional commercial publication. What I need more than the money is for the gatekeeping process to tell me that my book is good enough. And I’m not going to get that through self-publishing.

    As a reader, I’m a bit worried about other writers not going through the same quality assurance gatekeeping process. Of course everyone who wants to be published should pursue their dream. And my neurotic need for quality assurance is perhaps not relevant to the next writer, who may know with absolute certainty that her book is awesome: the next great book. But as a reader, how am I going to find the self-published book that *is* actually awesome, when it’s lost in a haystack of books self-published by authors who are merely convinced their books are awesome?

    For now, Jane (and other reviewers) tell me. But what happens when there are too many books — commercial, digital, self-published, and subsidized — for even Jane to review? Won’t some great books get lost?

    Bottom line: I don’t think the romance market needs more books, I think it needs more great books. Commercial publishing seems to provide a better (albeit flawed) system of figuring out which books are good enough. Not all commercially published books are great, but at least the numbers are still (barely) small enough to allow reviewers and readers to find the great ones.

  101. Jane
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 23:10:41

    @Magdalen The quality issue is what people are referring to when talking about reading “slush”. I thought a number of people touched on the issue of quality.

  102. Robin
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 23:13:41

    As a reader, I have seen a marked change in author promotion in the past few years. More of it, more venues, different approaches. How and why that is are beyond what I’m interested in speculating about here.

    re. Dara Joy, IIRC she didn’t leave her publisher voluntarily but was caught in a legal wrangle with Dorchester over a book she pubbed with another press under another genre category (while she still owed Dorchester a Romance), to which Dorchester didn’t take kindly (was the book really another genre or Romance in genre disguise?). They filed suit, and it dragged on a long, long time. During which time Joy was prohibited from selling to anyone else or self-publishing any more books in the series she was writing for Dorchester. Not that such a thing is any excuse for the mess her self-publishing efforts created (on all levels), but I think her story is somewhat unique. And if I have any of the details wrong, please correct me.

    Now, as to the self-publishing v. trad publishing debate in these comments, I think things are pretty testy all around and that there’s a decent amount of indignation being directed at Moriah Jovan, too.

    And I would further suggest that it’s not just a matter or trad published authors speaking for trad publishing or self-published authors speaking for self-publishing, because circumstances are so varied.

    For example, does an author who receives an advance of $30K, $50K, or $100K per book speak for the majority of trad pubbed authors? I mean, if I were an author, and I were getting that kind of advance money, I’d probably be extolling the virtues of advance-based corporate publishing. But if I were an author whose print runs were dwindling, who wasn’t getting new contracts easily, and/or whose advances were more like $1K, I don’t know how I’d feel. How akin are those authors getting $1K to those getting more than $30K or $40K?

    Not that every, or even many, authors are well-suited for self-publishing. The culture has clearly favored trad publishing, and I think we see that every time the subject of self or subsidy publishing comes up (and I do think self-published authors have good reason to feel defensive in these conversations). And it’s anyone’s guess right now how the publishing culture and climate will look in 5 or 10 years, although I think it’s fascinating to speculate, especially with the shifting that’s taking place currently.

    My own sense from reading different things is that publishers and authors are pretty isolated from one another in certain ways, and that the “business” of authoring is still routinely seen as quite distinct from the “business” of publishing. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. Or maybe it is. Time will surely answer that question for each author.

    All I know is that, as a reader, I want to see a robust, diverse, well-written selection of books, and as things stand now, I’m not convinced trad publishing *alone* is going to maximize my best interests as a reader. I’m not convinced it’s maximizing authors’ best interests, either, but hey, that’s only my problem when it affects the quality and diversity of the books I want to read. And to some degree, I think there has been an effect from the financial troubles besetting publishers, from copyediting to envelope pushing in the genre. I think we’re even seeing increased tensions between authors and readers as a by-product of this very tight market.

    How it all plays out is yet to be seen. But I definitely believe that when both authors and readers are duly valued and rewarded, the positive effects are synergistic and cumulative. I have no problem imagining that such a thing can happen with some combination of self, subsidy, and trad publishing. Hopefully, though, good, balanced resources will be available for authors to be able to make informed decisions about which path is best for them and their work.

  103. Magdalen
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 23:24:09

    Jane — Yes, other comments touched on the gatekeeping aspect from the perspective of the reader, but not for the writer who wants to know that her book is up to snuff.

    I don’t think anyone discussed the sheer increase in volume of “books” (paper or digital) we’ll see if/when all four of your business models are implemented. There may be an increase in diversity, and an increase in numbers of good books published the three non-traditional business models, but will that yield too many books to find the diversity and quality together.

    As the saying goes, it’s hard to drink from a fire hose.

  104. Jane
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 23:26:41

    @Magdalen This presumes the other publishing models have no editing function. Not true. In fact, one of the publishing services models may be editor based. Further, self published does not mean unedited.

    As for curation and filtering, that is currently an issue and will be an issue in the future. This is why I don’t think publishing as a business will ever go away, but I think the business model will change drastically.

  105. Magdalen
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 23:34:12

    I think it will be a long time before the other three business models’ editing functions rise to the level of a quality assurance gatekeeper. Certainly, I wouldn’t trust a subsidized or vanity press to tell me if my work was any good (or rather, I would be fairly certain they would tell me that, as long as my check cleared) and self-publishing is only to going to reinforce whatever delusional opinion of my own work I have.

    Digital publishing may soon get to the point of having enough submissions that we can trust their gatekeeping function, but then they’re not yet at the point of replacing bound books for the best distribution.

    I agree with you that the business models are changing, but I don’t think they’re changing as fast in book publishing as, say, newspaper publishing.

  106. candynicks
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 07:20:45

    self-publishing is only to going to reinforce whatever delusional opinion of my own work I have. (magdalen’s quote, sorry I forgot to close quotes so the name didn’t show)

    I wish you well in your quest for publication, but I have to wonder why you’re submitting work to publishers when you believe your opinions of your work are delusional. When we submit work to publishers we must believe the work is publishable or we wouldn’t do it. If you don’t believe in your work enough to stand behind it, why should others? Are you saying that you have no idea whether your work is good or bad, and you need someone else to tell you that?

    I once received a query at my previous publishing venture that went along the lines of…. I’m sending you my story. I don’t think you’ll want to publish it. Not the best start to a query mail.

  107. Magdalen
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 08:03:50

    Candynicks — I had written earlier (comment #100) that of course I believe my work is good enough (or I wouldn’t bother) and that I’m going to write the best book I can write. I’ll have asked others to read it, but they may be too kind or too harsh; I can’t know for sure. After all that, my manuscript may be great, it may be lousy — but given the work that goes into writing it, editing, proofreading it, I’m not going to be the most objective judge. I also don’t know what the market is looking for.

    I won’t say “I don’t know how good my book is; will you please tell me?” in a query letter — that’s implied in the fact that I’m sending a query letter! I would imagine anyone who gets a query letter that states definitely, “This is the best book ever,” rolls their eyes and wishes for a dollar for every time they’d read that line.

    I expect I will state the truth: I like this story. I love these characters. I think this manuscript is good. And then I’ll wait for the market to tell me if it’s good enough.

    In a different thread, AQ wrote, “Kristin from Pub Rants reported 38,000 queries in 2009 for her agency.” Now, virtually all 38,000 of those query letters came from writers who believe their work to be great. If even 10% of them self-published without having a quality assurance gatekeeper say whether their work is great or not, that would nearly double the number of romance titles in the marketplace annually. And that’s our firehose.

  108. Alessia Brio
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 08:37:29

    @Magdalen:

    Magdalen, we are all waiting for the market to tell us if our books are good enough. Only the methods vary. “Good enough” for the agents and publishing houses is contingent upon factors beyond the quality of the book. Factors that might have absolutely nothing to do with your book because those entities have a host of other things to consider.

    I’m not saying that the approach you advocate is wrong. Just that it has layers that aren’t always evident.

    To mix metaphors (similes, actually), the cream from the fire hose will rise to the top… with or without (or sometimes in spite of) the assistance of agents or publishers.

    Thanks for sharing your views. I’ve enjoyed reading them. Happy Holidays!

  109. candynicks
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 10:15:03

    Candynicks -‘ I had written earlier (comment #100) that of course I believe my work is good enough (or I wouldn't bother) and that I'm going to write the best book I can write. ….

    Pleased to hear that. I really do wish you well with it. The trick to a great query letter is to sound professional and to take note of what the agent or publisher wants to see in that letter. Do that and they will take notice.

    We have to realise though, that the market will have more to say about the commercial viability of your book than the quality of it. If you heard Lit Fic authors complaining about Dan Brown, you’d know what I mean. They may write better quality prose than he does, but they’re the ones not being offered contracts because their market is so much smaller. We have authors on this thread saying they prefer print to self publishing. Well, yes, I imagine we all would if the number of print contracts matched the number of decent books sent in by authors. The line moves a little due to a downturn in the economy and suddenly books that would once have been print pub cross the line to the slush pile with all the associated stigma.

    Anyhow, again, best of luck with selling your story. Most important thing is to do what you believe in and what feels right for you. Happy holidays to all from me, too.

  110. Magdalen
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 12:26:48

    Candy & Alessia — Thanks for the kind wishes!

    Most of the aspiring writers I’ve ever met never got published, or had very short careers. They wrote what they wanted to write because they wanted to write it. As you say, writing a publishable (in the old business model sense of publishable) novel is not the same as writing a quality novel. And there are some new business model ways to get a quality novel published, as Moriah and others have pointed out.

    I absolutely take your point(s) that what is in my control is the writing, revising, editing & polishing, and a professional and savvy approach to finding an agent and/or publisher. Ultimately, I may be like thousands of other writers who try but don’t get published, or who are published but don’t find a large audience. At the end of the experience, I can live with either result if I know I did the best job I could at the parts I control.

    I hope everyone has a great holiday week!

  111. Robin
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 12:54:59

    I’m all for gatekeeping, and I probably wouldn’t be sad to see fewer Romances published each month.

    BUT, I’m not convinced publishers are the best gatekeepers on all levels. Since we now know (thanks to a recent article from Jane) that publishers consider the *trade* their customers and NOT readers, that changes the game significantly, IMO. At the very least, it suggests to me that readers who put their faith in publishers to place “what readers want” is, at best, in answer to an extraordinarily muffled call.

    But beyond that, think about how many authors whose books receive great online feedback and reviews have had trouble getting new contracts (I still remember the outrage when Tracy Grant and Carla Kelly were in that position). While I absolutely believe that great books will ultimately find a publishing outlet, I think we need to look long and hard at what *type* of gatekeeping trad publishing is really doing and why they’re doing it.

    Look, I get that there’s a level of prestige and quality associated with trad publishing that’s strong and that authors want to aspire to — I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But what does bother me is the ubiquitous insistence that self-publishing = shitty, unedited, badly written, books. Those of us online, especially, see good authors struggling for sales. We debate the merits of good storytelling v. mind-blowing prose. We lament the lack of diversity in certain subgenres or the dearth of envelope-pushing books. Complaints about the current state of copyediting abound. I see so much dissatisfaction articulated UNTIL the implication that trad publishing might not be the end all be all and then I hear all these discordant hums of disdain for non-traditional publishing models.

    IMO we can’t have it both ways: either trad publishing is doing a great job and we’re all satisfied, or it’s not and maybe there’s a possibility that we’re overlooking some good stuff from non-traditional outlets. Because honestly, who here reads all 400 or 500 books published a month in Romance and finds every trad published book of admirable quality? Why can’t good books be good books, regardless of how they’re published? Some authors may always do better in trad publishing, while other authors may not ever do better there. But readers will always do better with books we love, and we are not tied to one publisher, one bookseller, one media format in searching for them.

    I rarely make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I’m really going to try to refrain from buying books on a whim. Not because I’m so opposed to unexpectedly buying books that disappoint me, but because I don’t want my whim purchase to signal to publishers that they need to put out 100 more Regency rake and virgin Romances every month. And I’m also going to take more chances on non-traditionally published books. Because I do believe that the more robust that market becomes (and even trad publishers recognize its potential, given their various levels of investment in it) the less powerful the stigma it currently suffers under will eventually be. And hey, if trad publishers are worried about their books being “confused” with self-pubbed work, then let the growth of self-publishing be an incentive for trad publishers to kick their quality control up a notch. Or ten. ;D

  112. Mike Briggs
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 13:04:43

    I don’t have too much to add. The publishing world is changing, and the change brings both challenges and opportunities. The gatekeeping role of traditional publishing is, I think, a valuable service for readers. However, it’s not a perfect filter. It has false positives (bad books an editor liked) and false negatives (good books that failed get purchased). As a reader, my tastes run pretty mainstream, and I find I’ve generally been happier with books from traditional houses.

    Conversely, we know a man who’s likes doorstopper intellectual fiction — the kind where you only understand the book if you happen to speak Latin and understand the fine nuances of Roman military history. He rails against traditional publishing, and how they’ll publish the psuedo-intellectual crap like Dan Brown, but reject books that demand more from the reader. Fortunately, new publishing models allow authors who cater to niche markets and eclectic tastes to get their work out there and serve those readers.

    I agree with Jane, that editing etc. can be done well outside of trad publishing. And, eventually, some system of blogs and reader feedback can probably tame the firehose effect and provide some measure of gatekeeping.

    I also agree with those who have spoken up for traditional publishing. Not all authors come equipped with the many additional skills needed to produce, market and promote their works. Yes, we give up about 90% of the gross sales. The publisher does a heck of lot of work, and ends up with about 10% to 15% of gross sales in profit. Really, that’s not much different than paying the author 40%-50% of net profits like digital houses do. They shoulder a lot of the heavy lifting, and hire all the various skilled professionals, so the author can dedicate their time to writing.

    Of course, for those authors who DO come equipped with the necessary skills in business, fincance, accounting, marketing etc. self publishing offers an opportunity to cut the publisher out of the picture, and keep that share of the profits. Other digital publishing models allow authors to try to cut the marketing and distribution chain out, and keep the profit they’d have pocketed as well. By doing it yourself, you’re basically trading time for money. If your writing time is valuable, you can hire people, but as Courtney Milan mentioned, it’s not likely that an enterprising author can hire these services more cheaply than a trad publisher can provide.

    The next few years are going to be exciting — I’m just hoping that when it’s all over, there’s still a vibrant publishing industry left. I’m a little concerned that the market fragmentation and downward price pressures may ultimately destroy ALL of the publishing models, and I really don’t want to be stuck reading fanfic for rest of my life!

  113. Jane, de Dear Author, sobre modelos de negocio ás Tati Mancebo
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 13:31:20

    […] Publishing Business Models | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary. […]

  114. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 13:44:47

    @Courtney Milan:

    It would be nice if you could extend me the same courtesy as to my decision not to self-publish.

    I have never, not once, been discourteous to you nor your (or anybody else’s) good fortune in being able to publish traditionally. My point is that I would like the same courtesy extended to me, which has not been terribly forthcoming in this thread.

    If I seem indignant, it’s because I feel that my choice has been trashed, disguised as civil conversation in which none of my points have been addressed anyway. In addition, words have been put into my mouth and then I’ve been taken to task for them.

    I mean, you can't deny that self-publishing doesn't pool risks. It simply can't; one person does not make a pool. And you can't deny that traditional publishing does pool risks, by paying out advances. This also means that publishers pool profits, and self-publishing does not; so this doesn't only cut one way.

    I never denied anything. I found your analogy of risk pooling (flood insurance) flawed.

    @Robin:

    But what does bother me is the ubiquitous insistence that self-publishing = shitty, unedited, badly written, books.

    That’s one of the things I’m reacting to when I insist that people have a right to try and fail. The other thing I’m reacting to is the subtext that DIYing (in whichever form or combination of forms) is shameful and, indeed, more shameful than, say, (to steal an analogy from a friend) opening a flower shop.

    This is what I have observed in my years of being around unpublished writers and reading their work: The people with the least faith in their own work, by and large, produce some of the best work. I think that is so sad. It’s a leap of faith to put out your own work because no, you don’t get that validation from an editor. Your validation comes in the form of sales and reader feedback.

    @Mike Briggs:

    Conversely, we know a man who's likes doorstopper intellectual fiction -‘ the kind where you only understand the book if you happen to speak Latin and understand the fine nuances of Roman military history.

    Oh, but I love him!!! *cheeky grin*

    as Courtney Milan mentioned, it's not likely that an enterprising author can hire these services more cheaply than a trad publisher can provide.

    On the other hand, the implication in that phrase (indeed, the entire conversation) is that getting a traditional publisher is a choice (like hiring a CPA) when, in fact, the only choice is to submit your work and wait for acceptance. Or not.

    @Anon Y. Mouse:

    Because, imo, a novelist *is* a businessperson. They have to be. A writer who is not is either A. a hobbyist in which case their experience has little bearing on the conversation at hand, or B. asking to get taken advantage of. Writing is a business, not just publishing.

    I can see where you’re coming from now. (It took me awhile to understand, which is why it’s taken me so long to respond.)

    It would be more proper to say I separate *novelist* from *publisher*.

    I do not write as a business, wherein I have become an independent contractor and receive payment for that (and in the case of writers, receive a 1099 at the end of the year).

    I am a novelist. And then I turn around and become the publisher. It’s an entirely different paradigm from writing as a business. That’s the critical separation.

  115. Mike Briggs
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 15:35:07

    On the other hand, the implication in that phrase (indeed, the entire conversation) is that getting a traditional publisher is a choice (like hiring a CPA) when, in fact, the only choice is to submit your work and wait for acceptance. Or not.

    That’s a valid point. I tend to think of all of these publishing models as choices for authors. Unlike the other models discussed, traditional publishing involves a third party making many of the decisions, beginning with whether or not to buy your book.

    In fact, after some reflection, can see this as a huge disadvantage of traditional publishing. It’s true that they do a great deal of the work, but they also take a great deal of creative freedom. They choose the cover, layout, back copy etc. They choose who gets ARC’s, and which reviews to put on the cover. They choose virturally everything about the book except for the words inside. Some authors are fine with ceding that level of control, but I can imagine that many fine authors are not.

    Isn’t it nice that there are currently publishing options available to accommodate a wider range of authors? :-)

  116. Anon Y. Mouse
    Dec 23, 2009 @ 12:04:47

    Unlike the other models discussed, traditional publishing involves a third party making many of the decisions, beginning with whether or not to buy your book.

    *sigh* Digital publishing, epublishing actually, has the exact same requirement. You do not choose to be published with the top epublishers. They choose to publish you. Sure, any number of shady bottom of the barrel epubs all but guarantee acceptance of anything that comes through their email, but when you’re talking about the top tier of epublishing, like Samhain, Ellora’s Cave, Loose Id etc, there is definite quality control there. A large number of current NY authors either started out with those top tier epublishers or still currently write for both them and NY. Heck, Deidre Knight, one of the most respected literary agents in the romance industry, is also published with Samhain. Bertrice Small, arguably one of the founding first ladies of erotic romance, has some of her older novels being rereleased through Ellora’s Cave. Megan Hart, Lauren Dane, Lora Leigh, Cheyenne McCray etc etc. So make no mistake that those companies know talent and do not simply publish whatever they’re sent by any tom dick or harry.

    Let’s please be clear when lumping one form of publishing with another that bears zero resemblance.

  117. Jane
    Dec 23, 2009 @ 12:22:14

    @Anon Y. Mouse Sigh. Maybe in the new year, we can all work to be less insulting of other people’s views and more accepting, particularly when commenting using an anonymous handle with no accountability.

  118. Evangeline
    Dec 23, 2009 @ 16:53:38

    I find that the argument for or against self-publishing being whipped up on DA neglects to address the risks of any path to publication. Indies like Moriah and Zoe Winters, et al, assessed the risks associated with traditional publishing and self-publishing, and found their personal risk-taking tolerance lay with DIY. I compare it to making the decision to query a junior literary agent in NY versus querying a veteran boutique agency in located in Walla Walla, Washington. Or even choosing which e-publisher to submit to. This isn’t about quality or validation: it is about making a conscious decision to do what one feels is best for their work and their personality. Even Laura Kinsale made this decision, hence why she chose to wait for a contract that would fit her vision for her career and her novels, as opposed to accepting those that came her way after the publication of Shadowheart.

  119. LK Hunsaker
    Dec 23, 2009 @ 18:41:22

    I found this post when a traditionally published friend who respects my self-published books sent me the link.

    There’s a huge issue missing here as far as self-publishing. I’ve been putting my own books out since 2003 and have learned a heck of a lot in the meantime. I never attempted to go traditional. I’ve never sent out queries, other than for a children’s book that was a side project. Why? I studied the way it was done and decided it wasn’t for me. Yes, I’m a control freak, as was suggested somewhere above. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with writers, before I published and since, and many have talked about how they are unhappy with their covers, with the way their publisher marketed them, and with how little they get in return for giving up their rights (I’m sure that varies with individual publishers). One said she was contracted and her book was stuck with the publisher who ac cepted it: she didn’t receive an advance, and it was never published. At the point we talked, it had been stuck for a couple of years and she had no idea how long it would take to get her rights back.

    Granted, publishers also do a heck of a lot FOR authors. I would never dispute that, especially since I’m doing a lot of that myself. It is time and work. I don’t have books in stores across the country. I don’t ever expect my books to be stocked widely, although it is possible. Look at The Shack.

    However, the time I’m spending producing my own work is balanced by not having to write query letters or synopses or to study the market to find where I should submit and doing that over and over until I find the right fit for my work.

    There’s the big issue that hasn’t been covered: only books that “fit” will be selected by traditional publishers. But what of those of us who write outside that neat little box of “this genre is hot so let’s buy it”? I write a combination of literary fiction and romance. Literary is a hard sell. Combine that with romance, where your audiences are generally two completely different audiences, and try to get a publisher to accept it. Fat chance. Does that mean I’m not worth reading? Not hardly. Those who give me a chance are struck by my in-depth characters and reviewers have commented (after I mentioned being indie while thanking them for the review) that they had NO idea I was self-published.

    My following is small, but it’s growing with each book. Most authors take years to develop a following. That’s normal.

    Quality is absolutely not determined by how it’s published. I’ve been disappointed in the lack of big press quality, and particularly in one of my fave big name authors because the quality of the last two books just isn’t there as it used to be. Why is the editor not picking up on it? Why are publishers in control of their products not insisting on better quality? I hear SO many readers say they are very disappointed in big publisher books these days to the extent they’re not buying anymore. They’re going to libraries so they don’t pay for “slush” that DID get accepted by some big name.

    I can tell you my books have the same or better standards than much of what comes from those “accepted” authors. Of course it is not always true of indie authors, and since I run a group for indie authors, I always, always stress NOT putting your stuff out until it’s actually ready because it’s harder on those of us who are very serious about the quality of our work.

    I also say to put up plenty of examples of your writing, in the form of excerpts and maybe free reads. I do so myself. Anyone can find plenty of examples of my writing quality before they ever dish out anything for my work. I encourage that.

    Not being accepted by a traditional also does not denote a worthless book. Hemingway was rejected 19 times before being accepted. Almost ALL big names had plenty of rejection and most of the time it was nothing more than a particular editor didn’t care for a particular book at that particular moment of time.

    One method is not better or worse than the other. An author has to do what fits him or her best. That’s the big point. And readers should never assume a book will have quality or not only because of who publishes it.

    I do find Nora Roberts’ comments about marketing herself very insightful. I hear many new writers convinced their publisher will do all their marketing if they get a contract and want to publish that way for that reason. I keep telling them no matter how they go, they have to market if they want to sell.

    No one should self-publish before thoroughly checking out how it works and the best way to do it. It will never take over or take away from traditional publishers because it is a lot of work and know-how and not for those unwilling to put the time into learning. However, it absolutely does not mean you no longer have time to write. I’m still producing well on top of my publishing responsibilities, and on top of raising my children and working my part-time. I give up most of TV, but that’s not much of a sacrifice.

  120. Anon Y. Mouse
    Dec 23, 2009 @ 18:57:53

    @Jane:

    My sincere apologies that my comment/s came across that way, it certainly wasn’t my intention. I’ll respectfully bow out and in future try to express myself more clearly and, hopefully, less abrasively.

  121. Suzanne Allain
    Dec 24, 2009 @ 11:50:40

    @Robin:

    Why can't good books be good books, regardless of how they're published?

    Loved your post, Robin! I found myself wanting to say “Amen!” at the end. This entire discussion has been great.

    As regards writing quality in publishing these days, no one is asking readers to wade through piles of slush. The editors themselves don’t even do that. How many editors do you think read more than a few pages of a manuscript before moving on, if those pages are riddled with grammatical and/or spelling errors or just plain stupidity? (Okay, maybe that is “wading” through slush, but my point is they don’t waste a lot of time on it.)

    Every reader has the same option. I think that’s why self-pubbed Kindle books are doing relatively well. (Or so it seems.) You can read a nice-sized portion of the book before deciding to purchase it (I think it’s around the first 3 chapters). I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can usually tell around page 3 if the book is a stinker or not. But if you need more time to decide, you have that option.

    At the very least a publisher should have the first chapter displayed somewhere on-line for a person to read, preferably on their web site.

  122. I got your suggestions right here. |
    Jan 09, 2010 @ 14:14:33

    […] month, I was involved in a rigorous discussion on Dear Author, wherein author Courtney Milan likened publishing’s ability to support this model to pooling […]

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