The Shatzkin Files

Eisler’s decision is a key benchmark on the road to wherever it is we’re going

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I wasn’t planning to write a post this past weekend for Monday morning publication. But then Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler contacted me on Saturday to tell me what Barry is up to. I’ve read their lengthy conversation about Barry’s decision to turn down a $500,000 contract (apparently for two books) and join Joe (and many others, but none who have turned down half-a-million bucks) as a self-published author.

To use a metaphor that connects with the current news: this is a very major earthquake. This one won’t cause a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown, but you better believe it will lead everybody living near a reactor — everybody working in a major publishing house — to do a whole new round of risk-assessment. Because, in its way, this is more threatening than the earthquake that just hit Japan. This self-publishing author will much more assuredly and directly spawn followers.

As news of Eisler’s decision spreads, phones will be ringing in literary agencies all over town with authors asking agents, “shouldn’t I be doing this?”

I submit a bit of perspective from another part of publishing: scholarly journals. A few years ago I asked my very smart friend Mark Bide, who knows that part of publishing much better than I do, how I’d know if the business model for journals — by which they publish work the university paid the professor’s salary to write and then sell the published version back to the university’s library — was threatened. Mark told me to watch their submissions. As long as the scholar-authors felt the need to be published in journals, the journal business model would continue to function.

I am not alone in having long known that self-publishing would ultimately present big authors with the opportunity to disintermediate their publishers, but I wouldn’t have thought when I asked that question that the sci-tech journal would hold its ground longer. Now I wouldn’t be so sure.

The decision for Eisler, at its core, was pretty simple. On the basis of what he’s learned from his friend Joe Konrath, who seems to be banking in the mid-six-figures self-publishing annually after a career as a non-bestselling author for established publishers, and what Eisler learned himself by self-publishing a short story, he figures he can earn more, much more, in the long run by publishing himself. This is not about ego or vanity; it is not about hating the publishing establishment. It is a coldly calculated decision (by an author who should make those well; he started out in life as a covert CIA operative) that says, in effect,  “it would not be smart to take half-a-million bucks considering what I’d have to give away to get it.”

In the conversation between them which they just published, Konrath and Eisler touch upon many aspects of the publisher-author interaction and the author’s self interest. The conversation is smart, sophisticated, and mostly entertaining (although it is definitely too long; should they have hired an editor?) It is a conversation that everybody in the industry thinking about its future will likely read more than once (particularly the highlights, which are sure to be extracted by many people from the entire text.) Contained within it are certainly a number of points made to which there are valid rejoinders that could be offered. And certainly some will point out that Eisler’s BookScan figures suggest a decline in commercial appeal. But, in the overall scheme of things, the contentious portions are minor and the fact that his sales through publishers have been declining would mitigate the expectations for him somewhat and make any success he achieves on his own even more noteworthy.

The overall thrust is that an author has just made an entirely rational decision to turn down half-a-million bucks of big publisher money to self-publish. And what is said in their dialogue, but perhaps not emphatically enough, is that the direction of change makes this decision likely to make more sense to more authors each successive week than it did the week before.

What we do here at The Shatzkin Files is try to provide insight about the implications of news events rather than be the best reporter of them. If the implications of self-publishing to the business models of established publishers interests you (and what are you doing here if it doesn’t?), then you need to read the entire exchange they’ve published and the reporting others will do of it. I will limit this post (longer than mine usually are as it is) to a few points which for the most part are intended to extend their discussion, rather than contend with or correct it.

1. They didn’t do the math on what the loss of print sales and print merchandising might mean in dollars and cents and how to address it.

One of the themes that I’ve been working on for some conferences I’m planning (more on that upcoming later this week) is how the arguments about rights, royalties, and publisher leverage change as the balance between digital and print sales continues to shift. What this conversation can make you forget is that far more than half of most books’ sales, perhaps more than 70% for the majority of titles, are still print copies selling because they’re on-hand in a physical retail location. And that’s in the US. The number is higher in the UK and is almost certainly more than 90% in most other places in the world. So even if the math Konrath and Eisler put forth showing that the author share of ebook sales can increase by three or four times through self-publishing; even if we ignore (as they did) the fact that the higher percentage will be on a lower retail price (they trumpet the lower retail price they can charge as a key motivation for the shift); and even if we forget about the costs in time and actual expense involved in self-publishing, the author who follows this formula has to take into account the loss of presence and revenue from the retail channel.

But, having said that, the shift to digital seems to be increasing in speed worldwide. The percentage of print sales will keep declining. Eisler would have been signing a contract for a book that would come out a year from now and digital will be more important then, perhaps twice as important then, as it is now. And, as he points out in the conversation, the book a publisher would put out a year from now will have been selling and delivering revenue for a year before the publisher would have had something in the marketplace. To paraphrase the great author and publisher, Mark Twain, “the self-publisher will be halfway round the world before the legacy publisher can get his boots on.”

And that leads me to…

2. I’d be amazed if Barnes & Noble doesn’t detect an opportunity here to do a completely different kind of deal. What if B&N went to Eisler and said, “we’d like to buy print rights to sell your books just to our own customer base”? I can’t see why he wouldn’t just say “yes.”

What I’m envisioning here is something like a book club deal. B&N pays an advance and licenses the right to print its own copies for display and sale through its own stores and dot com. This could work many ways, but one might be for them to pay a royalty based on the actual selling price for every copy shifted. That would allow them to manage their downside risk on the printing because they could cut the price when sales slow down.

That might lead (or even trail) a wholesaler like Ingram or Baker & Taylor or Charles Levy to make a similar offer to print copies for sale through other retail outlets. The big publishers have taken a firm position (which, in my opinion, they’ll be figuring out how to walk back in a year or two) against buying print rights only, but one has to figure that a smaller publisher or a trade book distributor, looking at lots of underutilized capacity to handle print in the coming months, might see commercial merit in handling the print side of a major ebook bestseller.

Konrath does tout his sales through Amazon’s CreateSpace, which enables his books to be available in print for their online customer base. But he doesn’t talk about B&N’s PubIt program or setting up his title at Lightning Source, which would make it available as print online more broadly. None of these solutions put speculative inventory in stores, though, and that’s necessary to get the full marketing and sales impact for any book today (and probably for a few more years to come.)

3. Because Konrath has proved to be such a multi-talented combo do-it-yourselfer and finder-of-resources, the conversation doesn’t touch on the range of service providers that can help the potential self-publishing author for fees or for a much smaller percentage than a publisher would take. There’s mention of Smashwords, which is one, and of CreateSpace. But the self-publishing giant Author Solutions and aren’t mentioned. Neither is BookMasters, a company we’ve worked with in Ashland, Ohio, which offers a range of self-publishing services, including access to all the editing requirements discussed by Konrath and Eisler along with some human-intermediary handholding that many authors will need. Perseus is building a similar set of services, extending its Constellation service, which began as the means to enable their roster of print distribution clients break into digital publishing. And Ingram has a suite of capabilities that could be extended, if they chose to make the investment, to be an author-service platform. The Scott Waxman Literary Agency is the first to have created a digital publishing arm that, with tweaking, could provide an author with the help they’d need. They won’t be the last.

The single greatest shortcoming of the Konrath-Eisler conversation, to me, was its Amazon-centricity, although there is one place in the conversation that begins to acknowledge that Barnes & Noble’s Nook sales are becoming significant. (Some publishers have told me that Kindle has declined from a share well north of 80% to one in the mid 50s while Nook is now accounting for 25% of their ebook sales in the US.) They don’t mention Kobo, which might have as much as a 7% share now. Sony is still a player. Apple’s iBookstore really shouldn’t be ignored. And Google ebooks is the lifeline for independent bookstores to sell ebooks. No author who wants to stay sweet with independents can afford to ignore putting their books into Google. In fact, Random House executives told us that the growing use of Google by indies was a factor in their decision to level the pricing playing field by moving to agency pricing last month.

And as the build-out of pathways for English-language books abroad continues, these non-Amazon, non-B&N players become even more important.

When Konrath started doing his self-publishing two or three years ago, working exclusively through Amazon made complete sense on an effort-to-reward basis. It is becoming increasingly important to cover more points of distribution, even digitally.

But that doesn’t change the calculation that much for Eisler’s decision. There are already helpers in the marketplace to extend beyond Amazon and there will, undoubtedly, be more. The conversation imagines this kind of service provision. And (if they’re competent) the ones now in the marketplace will be falling over themselves to introduce Eisler to what they can do for him.

4. OK, here’s what these guys really got wrong. They made a mistake about baseball. Their post is full of line drives off the wall, but their interpretation of baseball history is flawed.

I refer to Konrath’s observation about the Negro Leagues in baseball, suggesting that the reason the majors brought in black players was that Negro League baseball had become superior to Major League baseball. Actually, that wasn’t true at all. Although some integrated barnstorming over the years did result in black teams beating white ones from time to time, it was seldom suggested — and certainly no major league owners or fans thought — that the overall level of play was higher in the Negro Leagues. It wasn’t.

Beating a competitor that had somehow demonstrated its superiority was never the motivation for the major league teams to integrate. It was all about them competing with each other and not ignoring talent. The real history might contain a useful lesson for the legacy players in publishing today.

What drove Branch Rickey to sign Jackie Robinson was pure competitive zeal. He wanted to win. He wanted good ballplayers to help him win. If he was missing some good ballplayers by ignoring blacks, he’d stop ignoring blacks.

When he did that, other teams followed. And, in pretty short order, the Negro Leagues were destroyed because the best ballplayers they had were playing in the Major Leagues.

A similar effect has weakened, if not quite destroyed, Christian publishing in the US. A quarter century ago, Christian publishing and bookselling existed in a parallel universe to secular trade: different publishers, different stores, different commission rep groups. Just different. Then superstore expansion and some major Christian bestsellers led to the major chains starting to carry the best titles from the Christian publishers. That weakened the Christian booksellers, who were the ones that carried the wider range of titles from the Christian publishers which, in turn, weakened them.

Of course, Eisler hasn’t succeeded yet. He has a book to put out this Father’s Day that he turned down $250,000 to have come out next Father’s Day. If the over-under is whether he’ll have earned his $250,000 by then, which way would you bet? It would strike me as extremely ambitious, but if he can sell at $4.95, not entirely inconceivable. And, of course, you could set the bar at which you’d call it “success” a lot lower than that.

If the legacy publishing establishment can develop tools to deliver marketing at scale, adjust its contracts to pay higher digital royalties, and, perhaps, offer a “fee for service” model alongside its “advance against royalty” model, it might, like Major League Baseball did, weaken the infrastructure that is developing that will increasingly tempt authors (and readers) to abandon it. But it also could be that I was right four years ago when I said that the general trade publishing house was a dinosaur in the emerging world of 21st century publishing. Wasn’t it a natural disaster that was the catalyst for killing the original dinosaurs as well?

Konrath made the point that self-publishing just gives him more time to write. He and Eisler both expressed frustration about living with the long schedules and companion limitations of traditional publishing practices. From their perspective, it is wasteful to not start monetizing IP quickly after it is finished in the digital age and it is unnecessarily constraining sales and income to publish only one book a year, or even one per publishing season.

I’ve tried to recruit Joe to speak at conferences, with a total lack of success, because he thinks the best marketing he can do is just to keep writing. New stories help him market himself more than public appearances do. Since he also enjoys writing more than speaking and would rather be home than on the road, it’s a pretty tough sell to ask him to lose a day of editorial output to have a conversation with a bunch of strangers.

The portion of their conversation about staying focused on generating editorial output was one of the most persuasive elements of it. A publisher would help itself a lot if it focused on that question too and thought of a writer’s time as a valuable resource that should be devoted, as much as possible, to doing what that writer can do that nobody else can. And that’s “write.”

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  • I just posted about it all here – with some early info – The Pit & The Pendulum

  • There's an NPR interview with Jimmy Breslin about his new Branch Rickey bio where he notes the impetus for integration was less about fielding a competitive team and more about tapping into a wider fanbase. Rickey could have pushed for integration while he was in St. Louis, but he didn't until he got to Brooklyn because, as Breslin eloquently noted: “Brooklyn's toes were in the Atlantic Ocean where everyone came from.”

    If “legacy publishers” stopped looking at ebooks as just another format for the books they already publish, and instead as a way to publish and market books the existing brick-and-mortar infrastructure couldn't (or refused to) support, this would be a very different discussion.

    • Thanks for the comment. I've read a lot about Branch Rickey and integration

      but I haven't read Breslin's new book…yet. I have no doubt that both

      motivations — fielding a better team and expanding the fan base — figured

      into the Mahatma's decision.

      You make a very good point that ebooks are a cheaper way to bring IP to

      market and you're right that the established publishers make a big mistake

      allowing that tool only to be used by fledgling competitors rather than

      doing it themselves.

      I thought it was really dumb when a couple of publishers set up ebook

      imprints ten years ago to do *different* books and not to do ebooks of the

      ones they already had. (Those experiments flopped quickly.) But, times

      change, and now it may make a lot of sense.

      So they should have an ebooks division. And they also need a print-only

      division to handle the part the self-publishing ebook authors can't for



  • Peter Turner

    It seems like there are a couple of important distinctions to be made here, in terms of the effect “self-publishing” will have on the industry. It has to do with what sort of “self” we're talking about. When the author is the brand, then the traditional value that legacy publishers have to offer is a pretty weak proposition. And it's loosing value with each passing day. For those authors who aren't brands, it's quite a different calculation. For them, the traditional services and distribution model that legacy publishers offer has considerably more value (though, that too, is obviously diminishing).
    The other point I’d make is that we have to be clear what sort of “publishing” we’re talking about. Most books published each year in the US are not published by the six major publishing houses on that small island in New York. They’re published by the thousands of small and medium-size publishing houses that the industry media and bloggerati rarely talk about. Since these publishers could never support the cash-flow requirements necessary to make the obscenely huge advances offered by major house, very few of their authors are brands in the same way as x. And the authors’ relationship with their publisher isn’t based largely on the size of the advance but on other “values”: affinity with the publishers list (think New Directions, Melville House, or Tin House) ; affinity with the publisher’s mission (think Chelsea Green, Beacon Press, New Harbinger); or affinity with the publisher’s direct-customers (think Shambhala, Jewish Lights, Dover). For these sorts of publishers, the move toward “self-publishing” may create an opportunity of sorts. The value they offer authors increases in the face of the diminishing value that legacy publishers are seen to deliver. And, “self-publishing” imprints within their business model (think Thomas-Nelson and Red Wheel Weiser) gives authors a middle way between going it alone or giving up a huge cut to the large but rather characterless corporate publishing houses (think Thomas-Nelson and Red Wheel Weiser).

    • Thanks for a thoughtful comment with which I mostly agree.

      However, I would make the point that Konrath believes the brand created by

      the legacy publishers is overstated in many cases. Certainly somebody who

      has sold six or seven figures in units, like Eisler, is different than

      Konrath was when he went out and self-published. But Joe believes his legacy

      audience from several books published by “just below Big Six” houses was of

      little value. He thinks he built his audience with good stories and low

      prices, working his blog and working Amazon.

      That's why he pointed me to author John Locke (whose book was *great*, by

      the way) who had never been published before but has rocketed to success in

      less than six months of self-publishing.

      Intuitively, the more “known” an author is, the easier it should be to get

      traction in this world. It has to constitute some kind of head start. But

      how much of one is probably still to be proven.


  • JTinNYC

    “Because, in its way, this is more threatening than the earthquake that just hit Japan.”

    MORE threatening than the earthquake in Japan? Really? It will kill, injure, displace and possibly radiate hundreds of thousands? Might be time to step back and rassess, don't you think?

    • Sorry. I thought it would be clear that this was metaphor. It *is *existential

      to the trade publishing business. But, of course, it won't kill or maim

      anybody or make any part of the earth uninhabitable. I either have to choose

      my words or my audiences more carefully.


      • JTinNYC

        Oh Mike, I'm sorry to have reacted so strongly. I spent a lot of time in Sendai, Japan and still haven't heard any news about several friends, so its still an ongoing trauma. I apologize for the overreation; I'm sure everyone else understood it the way you meant it. Cheers. JT

      • Anybody with a personal connection to the tragedy gets a pass from me on any

        overreaction. The whole thing is horrifying beyond words and it has left me

        feeling very much like 9/11 did, that the world will never be the same. But,

        of course, it is a much more horrendous tragedy than 9/11, or Katrina, or

        the Gulf oil spill.

        I had a very personal connection to 9/11. I have lived in Manhattan for 40

        years. I know people who died in the tragedy downtown. It really threw my

        business for a loop in a scary way. I still made jokes about it. But,

        admittedly, not in a public way in a relatively permanent record.


  • Very insightful artical.

  • C.L. Phillips

    Eisler's decision falls in line with many of the discussions at SXSW 2011. Content is king. Artists dream of creative control. There is one thundercloud, or tsunami on the horizon. Internet access. Eisler's decision only makes sense if all content is equally accessible as it is today, regardless of his distribution choices (e.g. Amazon, B&N, his own website). As structured today, the internet provides a strong independent distribution channel.

    Don't let the game change – support NET NEUTRALITY – don't let the corporate interests (ATT, Verizon, Comcast) take away this opportunity under the guise of improving service.

    Keep independent artists like Eisler free to choose the best of either or both worlds.

    • Let's remember that Eisler and all the self-published authors are working

      through very highly established big players: Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Google,

      primarily. I think that even compromises to net neutrality (not that I'm in

      favor of them) would not choke the channels that lead to success for

      self-published ebooks. And another thing ebooks have going for them is how

      lightweight they are. Compromises to net neutrality are much more likely to

      affect heftier files than writers want to transmit.


  • I think this article would have been equally interesting without the callous comparison to the suffering in Japan.

    • I guess I'm going to have to apologize for that. Clearly, I've offended

      people. I am as disturbed by what I see going on in Japan as anybody else

      watching it. The convenience of the metaphor was, obviously, too tempting.


    • Stefan

      Some people just cannot wait to use the pretext of being super-wonderful-sensitive human beings, in order to get their panties twisted in a knot at the slightest inappropriate opportunity.

  • eco

    I would like to see both authors address one other downside to self-publication, and having their books in e-format, and that is, how do they handle piracy? There are thousands of sales lost every day when a pirate puts the book up for download, and right now, publishers have the brunt of the burden to go after them to ask for those books to be taken down. I know a lot of traditionally publisher authors are having to supplement the actions of the publisher with their own efforts (because they're either too small for their own publisher to pay attention to, or there are too many requests per day, etc.). The one comfort, though, that I thought a traditional publisher might give the author for their ebook sales is a legal team behind them to help curb piracy. Would this be something they see as taking on themselves? Ignoring? Hoping the agency/manager model might handle as part of their percentage?

    • Well, both of those authors have blogs and you could ask them what they


      I personally am not persuaded that piracy is a major deterrent to book

      sales. I have never seen any evidence that indicates clearly that it is.

      Downloads don't constitute that evidence. It only costs you a sale if

      somebody who would have bought it takes it from a pirate. And the instances

      of that have to be balanced against the instances where pirate availability

      stimulated word of mouth that led to legitimate sales. This is not a

      self-evident problem and, for my money, we spend more time thinking about it

      than it is worth.


    • asrai

      Konrath has done experiments where he actively encourages people to pirate his books. No detriment to sales.

  • John Silence PD

    Regardless of the importance of this issue to the publishing industry, the comparison to the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear threat is one of the most misguided and inappropriate uses of metaphor I've seen in a very long time.

  • JA Konrath

    I don't know why you're getting heat for the Japan metaphor. Of course we all know that what's happening in Japan is terrible, and we all feel sympathy. Making a metaphor doesn't in any way belittle the tragedy.

    Speaking of metaphors, perhaps the Negro League comparison wasn't a good one. Better would have been the creation of the AFL.

    My point was supposed to be that if you exclude certain players (or books), you'll miss out on a lot of talent.

    Thanks for bringing up a lot of points Barry and I overlooked. The reason for my Amazon-centricity is simple: that's where 98% of my income is coming from. I'm totally committed to exploring other venues and formats with my self-pubbed work, and I do so (I'm on Kobo, B&N, Apple iBooks, iTunes, Smashwords, and Overdrive.) But they aren't paying off for me like Amazon is.

    • Thanks for the comment, Joe.

      The more literal-minded one is or the more personally connected to the

      tragedy, the more offense one is likely to take from the Japan metaphor. To

      me, it just seemed so apt and so near at hand that I didn't stop to think

      about it. I do try to avoid offending people and I think it is a small

      number of my readers who feel put off by the remark, but I don't like adding

      to anybody's pain in such a situation.

      The creation of the AFL is a good one but it is also true, in that case,

      that the establishment won in the end.

      The information you deliver on the distribution of your income is quite

      interesting. I wonder if anybody at Kobo or B&N has any ideas about how you

      could be “working” their audiences to do better with them. You are

      definitely outperforming Amazon's market share on other things (or

      underperforming the others; we don't know which!)


    • I have the same experience as Mr. Konrath when it comes to Amazon Kindle sales versus other ebook venues. All of my company's titles are available in ebook editions for the Amazon Kindle store, Apple iBookstore, Google bookstore, Barnes & Noble ebook store, Sony, Kobo and Smashwords. I take great care in manually formatting the Kindle and epub editions so they'll look as attractive and professional as possible. The same titles are also available in paperback and hardcover editions through wholesalers (Ingram, Brodart, Follett, Baker & Taylor), and on Amazon.

      Most of our sales are Amazon Kindle books. The next biggest category is bound book sales through wholesalers to stores and libraries. Paper book sales on Amazon are much weaker than three years ago. Ebook sales in all other markets besides the Kindle store are low. I wish I could figure out how to reach those readers! If all those ebook markets did as well as the Kindle editions, I'd be cookin'.

      I've observed that ebook buyers tend to be very loyal to their reading device of choice. But Amazon, it seems to me, is the only ebook retailer that has spent the last 15+ years establishing itself as The Place people go to buy books online. All the rest are newcomers to the game and creating their infrastructure, and customer habits, from scratch. Amazon has made itself the cyber version of what Sears Roebuck was 100 years ago, and all the rest of the ebook retailers have a long way to go before they catch up to that.

      • Thanks for contributing that information. For the bigger publishers, I know

        that the market share of Nook (B&N) is in the 20s. And Kobo has more than 2

        million customers (which isn't much on the one hand, but sure isn't

        “nothing” on the other.)

        But Amazon has the lead you refer to from years of building a book-reading

        audience and from continuing to deliver a really good user experience. I'm

        sure they'll remain the most important ebook player for a long time but I

        also think those others will ultimately also sell measureable amounts of

        books for you It is interesting to hear from you and Joe that those sales

        aren't visible yet.


  • Mike — thanks for your take on this. I have been reading and thinking about this a lot today and having your opinion helps.

    It was one thing for authors to self-publish because they failed in the traditional model (or the model failed them), but it is quite different when someone walks away from $500,000 to go it alone.

    The world is changing.

    • Thanks, Jack. That's exactly why I thought it was so significant. It ruined

      my plans for a peaceful weekend because their dialogue is long and the post

      was a complex thing to think through. But I think we're going to look back

      on this like the Kindle debut and the birth of agency as a seminal event in

      the long-term conversion from paper to screens.


      • Jack W Perry

        Agree. Publishing is expanding to include those that go 'self publishing' to 'corporate publishing' and every hybrid in between.

        Will we see 4-5 authors get together and form 'publishers?' Maybe agents can help bring this together? Help them define a new role? Eisler walks away from $500,000 – what happens to agent's $65,000 (15%)?

        Also on this day, Amazon Kindle self-published sensation Amanda Hocking (900,000 ebooks sold) is close to a 7 figure deal with a publisher.

        The blending is happening.

      • I have absolutely *no* doubt that, as individuals or in groups, authors will

        become publishers.


      • Peter Turner

        Yes, groups of authors affiliated around genre or distinctive quality of their writing with the enough “pull' as a group of prospective readers to effectively direct market.

  • Thanks for the great article. My son has been writing a book and we've been discussing how best to market it. I suggested he self publish it and I got a lot of resistance from my wife who has experience with the mainstream publisher issues. This article definitely lends some credibility to my suggestion. I'm curious about your thoughts on how you think Eisler's experience would compare to to that of a young, inexperienced, unknown author.

    Robert Seth

    • Eisler's experience will be quite different from an unknown author, but

      Konrath was much less well known and he writes repeatedly on his blog about

      others who were also not at all well known and who have achieved great

      success. The main exhibits are Amanda Hocking and John Locke. Hocking also

      has a blog. Your son should read Konrath and Hocking.


    • Chris

      Robert: Check out Write to Publish too.


  • Really interesting article – a sign of things to come…?

    Thanks for posting.


  • Really interesting article – a sign of things to come…?

    Thanks for posting.


  • Andrew Smith

    As one who self-published my first novel a year ago, I would have thought the glaring omission in this conversation is author profile. It's hugely easier for Eisler to self publish now that he has a large following and is an established best seller than it would be for an unknown author. I hope first-time self-publishers aren't led to believe from Eisler's and Konrath's examples that they'll have time to write. Because if they undertake the necessary promotion to establish themselves and sell their book in the first year after publication, they definitely won't be doing much writing. I've spent days, weeks and months during the year since my book was published arranging and undertaking promotional efforts. And let me tell, you there's very little time or energy left over for writing. I'd also like to suggest that a traditional publishing company must have put a great deal of effort in time and money to promote Eisler when his first books were published. He will now benefit from their investment.

    • Andrew, what you say sounds completely right to me. But Konrath keeps

      telling me I'm wrong that legacy reputation means a lot. I would encourage

      you, if you haven't already, to spend some time with Konrath's blog and

      Amanda Hocking's blog to see if there are any shortcuts enumerated there

      that might help you.


      • Chris

        It's not so much Konrath's legacy reputation that drives those sales, Mike. It's more his writing skills.

        That said, I think John Locke shines brighter on that front – thus his sales figures reflect that.

        The publishing game is, in my opinion, still a game about quality of content. Look at 'Unbroken' sitting in the top ten… $12.99. That's some serious income off that title.

        These are early days too. Imagine how many titles are going to be available in 2 years time. Self-publishers (actually, any author for that matter) are going to have to compete on quality of work. Price and design are one element but they certainly won't be the most important element dictating success.

        @Andrew above: Sometimes a novel just doesn't resonate with people and struggles to find it's audience. Maybe, it's time for you to ante up and pump out another title that is better than the last.

      • Andrew Smith

        True a novel needs to have quality and appeal, no doubt. But like any product – good, bad or indifferent – a market for it needs to be made aware of the product and to sample it before it can judge its quality. Making book readers and book sellers aware of a publication if it doesn't issue from an established publishing house is extremely difficult. All the major literary awards in the English-speaking world will not take submission of self-published books, major publications, newspapers, magazines, radio/TV, are very unlikely to review or cover a self-published book because its professionalism is questionable. Where I was able to set up some kind of coverage (author readings and appearances, blogger reviews, and support from bookstores) my book has sold well and been extremely well-received by readers. (See reader reviews on Amazon, only one of which was a friend!… Aspiring self-publishing authors shouldn't be fooled, the quality of the work is meaningless if you can't get anyone to read it. The writing is just one crucial element in the complete picture of a successful book (i.e. one that turns a profit).

      • The main publishers make people aware of books is by putting them into

        bookstores where the people who are most interested in books work and shop.

        Or, rather, they did. New ways of helping readers survey a rapidly-growing

        menu of offerings — aggregation and curation — are going to be developed.

        And, as they do, it will create things and people and blogs and book

        referrers to know who have credibility with their own circles of people,

        just as booksellers (and reviewers) have had for the past 50 years or so.

        Let's remember that we're still driving around the meadows in all-terrain

        vehicles in this ebook world right now. The roads haven't been built yet.



        Mike Shatzkin

        [email protected]

        Founder & CEO, The Idea Logical Company, Inc.



      • Chris

        Andrew, I suggest you read Robin Sullivan's latest blog post/interview over at Write to Publish, if you haven't already (http://www.write2publish.blogs… this may give you a few pointers on increasing reader awareness.

        Also, at first look I'm confused if your title is fiction or non-fiction. There also appears to be no genre/category links under the Amazon ranking. You may need to place your book under several different categories to grab readers trawling through the site.

        The cover looks pro… although more non-fiction than fiction in my opinion.

        As for the press, maybe you shouldn't tell mags/newspapers that you are self-pubbing.

        But, yes, you are right, marketing is tough.

      • Chris, I take it on faith that there's lots of great stuff out there that

        doesn't sell. In fact, I can tell you one: the book on the Mets I read

        called “A Year in Mudville” that is fabulous, self-published, totally

        available and not selling.

        I'm not trying to suggest quality isn't relevant and even necessary; it is.

        But it isn't any kind of guarantee and quality alone, without persistence

        and smarts, is almost doomed. First of all, Konrath's done a lot of hard

        work: writing his blog, fiddling with his pricing, analyzing what his

        audience is telling him. But I have learned that he is a highly numerate and

        logical person who has a pretty deep understanding of chance and randomness.

        And he will tell you that has a lot to do with it. But that you affect the

        odds in your favor by being persistent.

        I suspect that persistence, rather than quality, is the single most

        important element..


      • Peter Turner

        I wish publishing were more of a science, where one could better predict outcomes based on quality of content. After 20 years as editor and then publisher, I came to the conclusion that in terms of sales, if you're right more often than you're wrong you're actually doing quite well. Sadly, in the heyday of the chains, “the tyranny of analogous thinking” reigned supreme (as the “chairman” says in Iron Chef), so what sold well spawned more of same. In the internet marketing age, analogous thinking doesn't work very well, algorithmic analogies are not very promising (as they only reify existing associations of interest). The exact nature of what a cost-effective, scalable, marketing vehicle looks like is just emerging. But, I doubt very much that the “write-it-and-they-will-come” aspirations of self-publishers is going to be very satisfying from most writers. And, I also doubt that the hope that publishers have of direct-marketing will be cost effective except is for the most commercial properties.

      • The only way to make marketing efficient — scaleable — is if you identify

        people whose taste you can predict with pretty good accuracy. That works by

        “author.” It works by “genre.” It works by “subject”. But it is very very

        hard to make it work by “quality.”


      • Peter Turner

        I totally agree, but “quality” is a value that define market will value, such as thoughtful and nuanced curation of content of interest to a particular audience or affinity group. “Genre” or “Subject” imply a more bibliographic approach to providing content, not one based on taste, which the specific audience/customer base values. Reducing the “noise” of the internet based on “quality” is likely to be valued. Or am I misunderstanding you.

      • No misunderstanding at all; we're in synch.


      • Chris

        “… “A Year in Mudville” that is fabulous, self-published, totally
        available and not selling.”

        Mike, this title isn't sold in Kindle format and the cover really needs some work.

        I think that is a big problem right off the bat regarding sales. In this day and age self-publishing like that is like a traditional house printing a Grisham and not putting it in B&N. It doesn't make any sense what-so-ever. Is it really any surprise to you that a baseball book publishing like this can't find it's core audience?

        On Joe and Eisler: I'm not sure either of them are good examples on which to base many self-pub sales predictions.

        You said, “… Konrath's done a lot of hard work: writing his blog, fiddling with his pricing, analyzing what his audience is telling him.”

        And yet, Locke and Hocking are outselling him. And their blogs were obviously not a key to that success, nor fiddling with prices, nor press coverage (until recently).

        Outside of relevant content to their core audience I think they have found gold with whatever marketing efforts they ran at the start.

        I'm not sure what Locke did but Hocking obviously found the power of word of mouth via twitter and FB.

        At any rate, Konrath and Eisler did all they do now back when they were playing the print market exclusively. They weren't massive bestsellers then.

        The ebook market is so new I don't think anyone can truly state what makes a successful ebook.

        Personally, I want to see some mid-lister in the next 12 months self-pub without fanfare. I want to see them mired in a Amazon database with a million other self-pubbed titles competing for the Top 100 at low-price points. And I want to track their progress over the year.

        In other words; I want to see the ebook market reflect the complications of the print market.

        I think good content, word of mouth and ease of purchase will win.

        But that's just what works on me as a reader.

        Soory for the long comment, I know they piss you off!!

      • Shame on him for not selling in Kindle format. I never remember what format

        I read the book in; I must have found it at Barnes & Noble. You're right

        that makes a big difference.

        But here you are about the cover, which isn't just about the writing.

        Once you've achieved some notoriety; some prominence; sure,, the quality

        matters. You want to read Locke (and I presume Hocking) more and more and

        you tell your friends. That's how Grisham and Patterson sell too.

        The ebook world right now is a frontier for quality because while the Big

        Boys don't find ALL of it (and they reject some of it!), they do get a LOT

        of it. So really high quality writers, putting out their stuff on a 99 cent

        table that isn't as cluttered as its gonna be with a market growing fast to

        shop that table…It's a pipeline growing faster than it is being filled at

        a price point.

        I am sure that lots of quality is failing to get attention right now. But

        how would you know?



        Mike Shatzkin

        [email protected]

        Founder & CEO, The Idea Logical Company, Inc.



      • Chris

        “But how would you know?”

        Good point. Might be a great author somewhere out there with a non-existent marketing strategy.

        BTW: I used to layout newspapers and advertising. Cover art will always be part of the 'content' in my eyes.

      • You say there *might* be *a* great author out there? Hey, I admit this is

        one man's impression against another's with no data at all, but I'd say

        there are *surely many *great authors out there you don't know about and

        won't find out about. Always have been. Always will be.

        Locke and Hocking are at the top left of the distribution curve: the power

        slots. There's a long tail. A VERY long tail. And there is plenty of qualify

        in it. There's just a helluva lot more crap.


      • Chris

        Jesus, Shatzkin, can't you let one go through to the catcher?! 🙂

        Gonna tell me that I should pitch better, right?!


        Rules for publishing success are as follows:

        1. Write a good book
        2. Market the bastard properly
        3. Sell it as an ebook and a print book – sell it in any format.
        4. Repeat.

        Note: If you can't do it yourself… find a publisher or a third party service provider that can.


        BTW: can you please ban my IP address on your server because I really need to stop commenting here. Consider it a 'Problem gambler' type scenario. 🙂


      • How about Bob Mayer? Well, actually he's a best selling author, not a midlist. I've also no idea how his self-publishing efforts are going, but he is one of many you could follow.

        Beth Orsoff is another.

        Maria Schneider

      • asrai

        Price point is set too high. 8.99 for an unknown is insane. Konrath sells his for 2.99

      • Absolutely right about the price point. I remember thinking when I bought it

        that it was really high for an unknown author. But in the case of

        non-fiction, you *do* have the subject matter to carry the sale. That's what

        did it in my case. I can't remember whether I took the free sample first.

        MIght have. And it would have helped because the book was really well



      • asrai

        This is why the legacy publishers are losing. They want to charge hardback prices for a file that no one can hold. People don't know what to do with a file.

      • The legacy publishers are selling a ton of ebooks at $8.99 and a lot more

        than $8.99.


      • Mariabmbooks

        I've always disagreed with Konrath in his belief that his legacy books/reputation didn't help him. How could it not? I'm sure many people bought his self-published books assuming they were NY published books. If the books find an audience due to content, they will keep buying.

        But he and Eisler definitely have a leg up. They had at least SOME kind of built-in audience, existing reviews (from customers and larger venues) and they had/have an appearance of legitimacy.

        Of course, whether it helped Konrath or not cannot be proven, so he keeps right on touting it and using authors who started from scratch as “proof.” The argument does not follow.

        I heard of and read Konrath before he self-published. His books were in my library and on shelves. Of course his previous works helped him; I had actually read “The List” –one of his self-published works BEFORE it was available on Kindle when he used to give it away for free. I tried it because I had read his other works, not because I had never heard of him.

        That is not to say that self-published by unknowns have zero chance without a legacy backlist. Some do and some don't. It is working for some authors.

        Maria Schneider

      • Maria, my intuition is the same as yours about Konrath, although he really

        wasn't that well know when he started self-publishing. He is smart and

        analytical, so I'll bet he has some basis for the statement that most of his

        audience today is new to him since he started self-publishing (which doesn't

        mean the prior publishing didn't help, even with *that*!)

        Of course, Eisler starts from a far more advanced place.


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  • William

    There is no standard contract for the combo of print and e-book you imagine. Will it be author/publisher/e-book/ hard copy? Or author/e-book/ bookstore hardcopy? I think everything will be tried before it's over.

    • Uh, yeah. Not sure I follow you but you're right that we're about to have

      new kinds of deals,


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  • Hi Mike, another good article. Yet, I am not sure about reading too much in signs. It is a fluctuating reality where different options can suit different projects. Or, to put it as Mr. Paul Bogaards did today in twitter, “Hocking signs on and Eisler signs out. You can’t make this shit up.”

    • Patricia, I am not expecting a sudden dash for the exits by every published

      author. Nothing like that. But “author takes $1 million deal” is “dog bites

      man.” “Author turns back on half-million dollar deal” is “man bites dog.”

      It's the first example of what we'll see a substantial amount more of. But

      that's not to suggest it will become the norm anytime soon.

      Either way, they'll need to sell their books!


      • I do agree. I just needed to quote Bogaards' tweet. It was just too good. And, I was ohmy after people started saying that this was the end of Hockings. I don't think the value or appreciation of an author's work should depend so much on the “theology” of the person judging that instead of being happy for her, they dismiss her accomplishments.

        Thanks again for keeping us thinking!

      • I think that Hocking going in one direction while Eisler is going in the

        other is the perfect commentary on the times we live in. I wish the best for

        both of them to extend the accomplishments they had through one means of

        publishing to another!


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  • Toni La Puma

    To state that Eisler's decision is more threatening than the earthquake in Japan – where half a million people are homeless and death/missing toll is now over 10,000 and climbing daily – is such gross – no, stupendous – insensitivity that I am out of here only one day after signing up. Who the hell do you think you are?

    • Chris

      Toni, with all due respect, I think you slinging such a vicious comment Mike's way is offensive and insensitive.

      I would recommend that you spend more than one day here to find out how generous, fair and accommodating Mr Shatzkin truly is.

      Mike would never have meant his metaphor to cause hurt and I am sure it pains him to know that some of his readers have considered this post insensitive.

      No doubt he will welcome your comment, as he does everyone's, but please gift us regular readers in the comment section some decency and maintain your contributions as constructive criticism. We're all for differences of opinions. In fact, it's why many of us read Mike's comments.

      Reproach him all you want … but please do it with the sensitivity you believe he lacks.

      • Chris, it's nice to be defended, but I don't take it personally that

        somebody else takes offense. I can't control other people's feelings and

        emotions and I don't want to try.

        I think this particular person is probably better off reading other people's



    • There are those who agree with you on the comment string and there are those

      who don't, including one who initially had the same reaction.

      I'm sorry for any offense but I think you're probably right to leave. Highly

      sensitive people probably do better not hanging around me.


      • Pamelarwinnick

        Are you Karen's brother? Incredible family.

    • rgb

      Sorry, but I have to respond to this. It's QUITE obvious that Mr. Shatzkin meant no offense to anyone. What happened in Japan is tragic, but come on, your reaction to this post is overly sensitive, I think.

    • Pamelarwinnick

      Mike was just using a metaphor. You ought not attack him.

  • Great article and even better discussion afterwards. I am a new writer, who started a blog 14 months ago. In that time I have found I quite like it and have a respectable 2500 unique readers per month. This has led to finishing two novels and my working on a third, all as blog posts. Each post is a 1st draft and requires a goodly amount of spit and polish, before it is ready to be published, but it allows people to read along.

    I agree with the various comments about marketing, as I see this as a difficult task for a self publisher, but certainly not impossible. Over the 14 months I have worked to build a solid base of twitter followers (real people, not just spammers…I block the spammers from following), nurtured my FB relationships, and done a fair job with Linkedin. When the day comes that I lauch my first book on Kindle, Nook, and maybe Sony, I will be ready to start a campaign. It takes 250 sales in a week, or so I am told, to land in the top 100 for Kindle. If this is true, then having a social media launch, with a big push from day one, may help one get in to the mix.

    Because I have already 500-600 people who have read my book in it's first draft form, I hope to be able to call upon them to give a review and add tags. My network of blog friends is solid as well, and with 20 plus guest blog posts written, I am hopeful to get some help from these friends too.

    I don't know if I will succeed, but at the end of the day, I don't care so much. I have discovered that writing isn't only done when being punished by your evil 8th grade English teacher, but can be enjoyed.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments here and this wonderful discussion. It has been helpful.


    Brian Meeks
    “Henry Wood Detective Agency”

    • Brian, it sounds like you're taking a very solid approach. I think if

      you *persist

      *with it, you're bound to succeed. But don't get discouraged if it doesn't

      work right out of the box (even though it might…)


      • I appreciate the encouragement. I have been telling myself that the 1st Henry Wood probably won't, but that one of the subsequent novels will catch on. I hope to build on each one, until I have a good following.

      • You've got the right approach.


  • When Eisler says “The Lost Coast has done amazingly well in its first few weeks, netting me about $1000 after the initial fixed cost of $600 for having the cover designed and having the manuscript formatted,” does he mean he did not have his story professionally edited? That's what it sounds like. Yikes.

    • Good point!


    • Anonymous

      I'm guessing he did not…otherwise, he would not have put out such a short short story (took me 20 mins to read) that consisted almost entirely of a gay rape scene. Ugh.

  • “If the over-under is whether he’ll have earned his $250,000 by [one year after Eisler self-publishes]” — the timeline isn't “gap between self-publication and legacy publication,” it's from self-publication to the time the advance would earn out and Eisler would start receiving additional royalties. That could add a year or even two years to the window.

    • You're right. There's more too. Apparently the agent would have gotten

      $37,500 of the $250k but will be getting nothing from the self-publishing.

      That further lowers the bar. And sometimes those advances are broken into

      more pieces, so he might not have gotten the whole $250k by publication;

      some might be held back for the paperback edition of the same book!


  • Sorry, duplicate post. Tripped up by the Disqus system…

  • FScott924

    More than money, this is really about creators controlling their own destiny. If Mozart could have marketed his music directly to the public and made a living he would have. If these guys are true artists, what they will gain from independence is more valuable than a few extra million in the bank at the end of their lives. What lies at the heart of self-publishing is FREEDOM, the ability of an artist to speak directly to his audience without the influence of mediators whose interests are more financial than creative. You've heard writers say “If I didn't have to earn a living, I'd do it for free”? Big business cannot compete with the inner drive of the creator, and the interests of big business often conflict with the direction of a creator's instincts. If the artist is given a choice between doing it “my way” and making a million dollars versus doing it “their way” and making two million dollars, which do you think they'll choose?

    Ultimately it is the creative freedom and self-determination that self-publishing offers that will drive most authors to hang up their own shingles, not the financial rewards. Knowing the financial rewards will be plentiful in success is the sweetener that will make that move irresistible.

    • I don't doubt that there are some writers — perhaps even most writers —

      who cherish “freedom” uber alles. But, in fact, I don't think “freedom” is

      compromised much by the major publishers. They're just trying to help

      authors create more appealing final products and, for the most part, are

      good at their jobs. Most writers I know (and this, to the extent I can call

      myself a writer, includes me) really value and appreciate good editing. And

      a lot of writers I know mainly want to be bought and read and will take

      whatever help or coaching will help get them there.


      • Mariabmbooks

        All good writers appreciate good editing–but it isn't necessary to go through NY to get good editing.

        Self-publishing opens up markets not just for writers but for independent artists, editors, copyeditors and people who ware willing and able to format, upload and fill niche needs.

        Maria Schneider

      • Agreed.


  • Mike, another great post. Thanks for pulling these points out of the very long (but good) Konrath/Eisler conversation.

    You pointed out that if the book took the traditional route and came out a year from now, there would not only be a delay in revenue, but it would be another year into this digital revolution. That is a huge point. The slow turn-around time becomes more and more glaring as digital gains momentum.

    Where are we going to be a year from now and what will your book be doing then?

    • Factoring in the calendar should be a part of every sensible commercial

      decision. Thanks for the comment, Amanda.


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  • Mike, this is excellent content. Your analysis is, to me, spot-on. Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks, John. Aside from the fact that your writing is compelling, I think

      the world wants to know how you have managed to accomplish what you have.

      Maybe that's a story I can tell here sometime.


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  • marytod

    Wow, Mike, earthshaking indeed.
    For some time now, I've been wondering who will survive in this new world, agents or publishers. The problem for agents is size and access to capital, the advantage for agents should be nimbleness and author relationships. Publishers have size and access to capital (at least the ones who are still making money) and could position themselves to serve the author needs you've described. However, you've also mentioned how slow they are to change. Definitely a dilemma – perhaps changing to a client mindset (where authors are clients, rather than either a nuisance or a revenue stream) would be useful 🙂
    At TOC, Margaret Atwood used a simple concept: content-text-reader. I've been thinking about this as finding ways to produce content more easily and quickly, employing the best techniques to turn that content into accessible text, and engaging/securing as many readers as you can. Your post makes it clear that Konrath and Eisler have found new ways to do their work. Interestingly, they are both previously published and recognized authors which puts them in a different space to newly published or yet-to-be published authors. I created a diagram exploring author service needs on one of my posts and based on your comments I think I should add a few more ticks to authors in later career stages –… . If you have a chance to look, I’d love some feedback.
    One other point is fascinating – unutilized print capacity. When businesses have excess capacity they often lower prices, but they also close plants or retool plants to make other things. Hmm – wonder where that will lead.

    • I think Margaret Atwood's paradigm will continue to exist, but not all by

      itself. We'll author have reader-text-reader. And we'll have many

      authors-text-reader. And we'll have many readers and authors-text-reader. I

      saw her presentation, by the way, and it was fabulous.

      The excess capacity is going to be a major issue. Not just print. But

      warehouse space, sales forces, even NYC office space. How publishers will

      adjust to a world that will have moved from 100% print to 50% print in well

      under ten years (and will continue diminishing print after that) is one of

      the great challenges in modern management.


  • Great Blog. Serves as an inpiration to many!!!!

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  • Snowcohen

    Mike -poor judgement and taste to use an earthquake comparison. Come on.

    • Have you looked at the rest of the comment string?

      Asked and answered. Differences of opinions and apologies for hurt feelings

      already repeatedly aired.


  • So many points worthy of commenting on (thanks for your consistent generosity in sharing your insights!), but just one comment on #1 above: while Konrath and Eisler view traditional publishing's dependence on paper technology as a dinosaur-ic liability, your point highlights the true value of tangible paper: browsability – and serendipity. I'm sure this has been said before, but although the digital marketplace has made it very easy to find something you know you want, it's made it much harder to browse and discover things that have no logical connection to what you normally like – and that accompanying delight. Konrath and Eisler's comparison of the evolution from paper to digital to that from 8-track to CD isn't parallel – 8-tracks and CDs were still both fully browsable and tangible in music stores. The “Look Inside” feature still takes several clicks to access – and you can't flip pages digitally. (Although I can scroll by touch very fast on my smartphone – Kindle should have this capability.) So it seems a book's browsability is an important metric in deciding whether to self-publish right now – how many people completely out of your target audience might love your book it if they could just pick it up in their hands in a bookstore? – and although I see print-on-demand technologies eventually taking over, we can't dismiss the importance of paper too quickly before we understand what its benefits really are.

    • I think you make a good point. Thinking about the degree to which flipping

      through the pages would make you more likely to buy the book is a good clue

      to what might *not* work as an ebook without print in stores.


      • Sorry for the double post! Realized I was initially going off on a tangent and accidentally posted when I meant to just edit.

      • Mariabmbooks

        As a reader who buys ebooks…I thought this would be a problem as well. But I got used to sampling very quickly. It's just a different method of doing the same thing. I also learned to browse through review sites, Amazon and other book sites. That serendipity isn't gone, it's just in a different place.

        Maria Schneider

      • It's not gone; it's just not as easy or as effective for most people. The

        fact that the determined can plow through it doesn't address the issue. It

        takes no creativity or persistence to pick through many times the number of

        titles in ten minutes in a B&N store than you would in the same time online.


      • Mariabmbooks

        Again, I disagree. It's *different* not harder. Yes, those looking to duplicate the current system are going to find it harder and perhaps unpleasant. Kids? They're completely used to browsing and sorting online. A lot of adults are too. I write cozies for crying out loud–I belong to book groups where the average age is well over 50. I'd put it around 65 or 70. I'd guess half the people in the group own e-readers. Yes, they sometimes ask questions about how to get to a particular site. Then they bookmark it. If they get lost, they ask again.

        But check out ANY book club group online. We insert hotlinks that take every reader who wants to go browse–RIGHT to the book. Any book we are talking about can be linked. Every lady in my group understands hotlinks. EVERY single one of them. One book mention leads to another book mention–then we can browse that author or that sub-genre.

        These ladies create huge lists of books. They own bar scanners so they can scan the print copies, create larger lists, go to bookstores and create wish lists–then they share those lists online–and those of us who have e-readers, have a ready-made browse list.

        I'm not arguing that bookstores and libraries have a very different experience and that is not duplicated online. But the two experiences are NOT exclusionary. As a reader, I can still do both. That is the key. They don't necessarily have to be duplicates because they aren't a replacement. Online is an extension with its own benefits.

        Maria Schneider

  • So many points worthy of commenting on (thanks for your consistent generosity in sharing your insights!), but just one brief comment on #1 above: as publishing is changing from a separate industry to a portable capacity, I had thought the most meaningful metric was how large your niche following was – authors (and businesses, whom I work with more often in this field) likely to be successful at self-publishing would be those who have an established tribe of sorts, and who would already be delighted to read more from said author. Publishing houses' tendency to expect most tribe-building and marketing to be done by the author just further dilutes their value in the equation. But while Konrath and Eisler view traditional publishing's dependence on paper technology as a dinosaur-ic liability, your point highlights the true value of tangible paper: browsability – and serendipity. I'm sure this has been said before, but although digital has made it very easy to find something you know you want, it's made it much harder to browse and discover things that have no logical connection to what you normally like. As we discover

  • Vlvtindx

    an unreadable article about an interesting and important topic.

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  • Round about the middle of the Eisler/Konrath discussion, Joe asks the following question: '…how can we be sure the Big 6 are honest in their accounting?' Which brings the answer, 'We can't.'

    Actually I think it's worse than that. I think we can be fairly sure that they all 'make mistakes'.

    Here in the UK I use a fairly large firm of accountants which specialises in serving writers and media people generally. Each year they publish a booklet about the range of services they offer. This year they remind us that royalty auditing is 'one of the fastest growing areas'. In other words, they check whether the talent is getting paid according to contract.

    Turns out, in most cases, they aren't.

    'In almost all cases, we discover missing income… Over the past year alone we have recovered upwards of £10 million [for clients]… In some cases, the amount we recover may be less than £10,000; in other cases, it can be more than £1 million.'

    Nice that someone is on the ball here.

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  • Markar100

    One point that I haven't seen raised has to do with the price point. One thing that a lot of people do when they get a reader is to search for free or cheap books. Or they sort the list of available books by price. By pricing below the bulk of the books, these current successful e-authors are, in effect, getting free advertising.

    The benefits of this “advertising by low price” won't hold up when the majority of books are priced in the $0.99-4.99 price range. Their books won't stand out, and won't get the initial notice that starts the word-of-mouth chain. I believe that this accounts for a good percentage of the volume sold by Hocking and Konrath. Which is an argument for why their success is not extrapolatable to the bulk of the market. JK's research into various price points may only be valid when the bulk of the eBooks are priced well above his books.

    Personally, I tried a few cheap or free self-published ebooks and found them unreadable. I would pay money for a search function that excluded self-published books. I buy several hundred books a year and my time is still worth more than the price difference in the books. The higher price from the major publishers is worth it to me if it tells me that someone other than the author and his buddies thought it was worth publishing.

    • Agree on both points.

      1. What works now for self-publishing in a relatively clear-field

      environment won't work nearly as well when the field gets more crowded.

      2. Curation services that sort through the cheap stuff and tell you what's

      good will have value and it will be value that, one way or another, people

      will pay for.


      • Mariabmbooks

        “Sorting” services already exist–reviews, review sites and the like.

        But I do agree, what works now, won't necessarily work a year from now. The field is already getting crowded.

        -Maria Schneider

      • Yes, they “exist.” But merchandising and product presentation on the web

        just doesn't compare to what is accomplished in a brick-and-mortar stores.

        They could get a lot closer if they paid more attention to the problem.

        Online is *great *for the customers who know what they want well enough to

        organize a search for it. They're lousy for what we call “browsing.”


      • Mariabmbooks

        I disagree. I browse all the time and don't have any problem. And if product presentation is so bad, why are so many authors outselling online? Perhaps because the selection is there at all, whereas in a brick/mortar, the selection is limited. People aren't going to run across the books because there is only so much a bookstore is going to carry.

        Online, at least books have a chance of being seen. I'd argue that browsing online is actually better than what I've seen in brick stores lately. I'm very efficient at it. Word of mouth online is easy–I'm in 6 or so book clubs. There is no way I could up with 6 bookclubs that required my actual presence at a given time. I “Browse” the selections discussed in the bookclubs. I browse the selections of “friends” on goodreads, librarything and shelfari.

        Online is different, but not worse.

        Maria Schneider

      • Peter Turner

        I'm with Mike on this one. On-line searches are always weighted toward associations based on other people's behavior not the focused but still somewhat randomized way in which one discovers content in a curated space. There are good ways of getting recommendations from people whose taste you trust, which is great, but that’s not a replacement for serendipity within a carefully selected array of content.

  • Vlvtindx

    Most writers I know believe “I [write], therefore I am”. The bottom line for them is the advance and royalties garnered for them by their agent. They are not interested in the details. For them, there will never be self-publication, even after it becomes the norm. But eventually, they too will disappear like hardcopies of inventory and traditional publishing houses… Everything Bertlesman puts out will be visited on a handheld device.

    It would be a great service if someone could write a short, clear and concise analysis of what's coming and why for those writers who haven't achieved the level of knowledge and sophistication of your bloggers.

    • Sorta what I do here, although not specifically for writers. However, I have

      noticed that a large number of my Twitter followers are writers. I guess a

      lot of readers of the blog are too.


      • Chris

        Mike, you used to be kinda exclusively 'publishing house' guidance… there's a little self-pub creeping in during the last six months.

        Maybe you need a self-pub consultancy division!

  • Warren Fahy

    I've been conversing with Joe, who contaced me, as well, about switching to this approach, and the arguments are compelling, especially considering the rampant pirating that is now commonplace. I'm still in negotiations with establishment publishers, though… We'll see. Warren Fahy, author of FRAGMENT

    • Warren, I'm not sure which way the piracy argument cuts. Personally, I would

      assume some piracy is just part of the landscape. I'm not sure what anybody

      can do about it but, more important, I'm not sure it actually has huge

      commercial consequences. That has never been proven to my satisfaction.


  • Mariabmbooks

    Createspace allows for sales through Barnes and Noble and other outlets quite easily. Konrath has a deal with Amazon for one of his books that I believe is exclusive for x years. (Much like you speculate B&N could do.) Several other authors also have such deals with Amazon.

    Self-publishing does not limit an author to digital only; it's quite possible to have print as well if an author wishes to market in that space. I think the point is that marketing and digital product works very well, costs very little and is something the author can do effectively. Marketing a print book isn't as easy. And in the old world, it meant traveling to bookstores, time to do signings and appearances–all for very little commission when you consider the author percentage.

    When you talk about the authors not doing the math for the lost print sales and merchandizing…not every book HAS merchandizing. If the commissions on Amazon are 70 percent of the sale price, that makes up for a lot of lost print sales. But as I said before, there's no reason to lose print sales. It's just another avenue to create the print version and sell that as well.

    • Sorry, but CreateSpace is not an answer to the BN problem. It solves it for; if they get an order, they'll buy one from CreateSpace to fill it.

      But they won't stack 'em up in the front of the store, which is the

      merchandising I was taking about. *Every* book would benefit from it,

      although not every book would return an investment to the retailer who

      stacked it.

      What I was proposing was a way for BN stores to get behind a bestselling

      e-first book the way they do for other bestsellers now. That's not ordering

      one at a time in response to online demand.


      • Mariabmbooks

        The problem is that *every* book doesn't benefit from store placement NOW. That was one of Konrath's complaints. Even when his publisher paid for placement, he often didn't get it. Bookstores don't have the space to even have super large selections IN the store, never mind end placement.

        The vast majority of authors know that. Being published by the big six doesn't guarantee store space–I went into a local B&N and a local independent store when I was trying to help an author friend. I asked if they would be carrying Book X–I had bookmarks, signed bookplates to offer–the answer was 'If you order one, we'll get it in for you.” The independent store said they had already made their store selections and no amount of my persuasive skills was going to change their mind. They would order it–but not carry it (the author was published by the Big 6. This was a category they had in their store.)

        B&N ended up giving me the copy they would have put on the shelf–they didn't even bother to order a replacement.

        Being in B&N or any store is a great opportunity. But most authors I know have to work very hard to make that happen.

        Maria Schneider

      • No doubt the number of books available in stores is decreasing and no doubt

        the individual author has a devil of a time getting represented there.

        *However*, also no doubt that any consumer sees and can consider more

        titles-per-second in a physical store environment than in an online

        environment. And all the data we've seen — notably from Bowker — suggests

        that a very high percentage of book purchase decisions are made because of

        store exposure. If I'm recalling correctly, the most recent fielding

        suggested that store display was a bigger driver of sales than all online

        media, including social media, combined!


      • Chris

        I recall Dan Brown's 'The Lost Symbol' HC on displays stands at the end of every third aisle in our largest grocery chain here in Oz.

        Deep discount at 60%. I would love to have known what they were buying at. I wonder if it was a 70% no-return deal? At any rate, it was the perfect exposure. You'd kill to have that kind of distribution as an author.

        Imagine combine that kind of HC impact with ebook sales the way they are nowadays!

        You just can't replicate this as a self-publisher.

      • Amen.


      • That's entirely possible. But keep in mind that an author can make 70 percent of an online sale. They make somewhere between 7 and 15 percent of bookstore sale. So they need less online sales to make an equal amount.

        You also have to continue to get people INTO bookstores to make those sales. With online sales, you can hope to reach them at home.

      • Mariabmbooks

        Oh–and I should say that yes, I agree with you that B&N should get behind a few ebooks–not only in their electronic store (which there are signs they are doing) but also in their brick stores. It could give them an advantage. Like Amazon they can see the popular books as they trend–and select the ones that would sell the best.

        Of course one of the attractions of many an ebook is the low price as has been discussed. It brings back the buyer who used to be a library and used-book store buyer because the price range is suddenly attractive. I'm one such buyer. I used to to get the bulk of my books used or from the library. 99 cents? That's better than used or interlibrary loan. $2.99? That's still better than used and right at interlibrary loan. Pretty much anything under 5 dollars is attractive to this demographic–and it's one that the publishers gave up on long ago because it was filled by libraries and used books!

        Maria Schneider

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  • Lucinda342

    Cut him a little slack, Toni. I don't think he meant to offend.

  • Pam Winnick

    Why do authors need publishers at all? I just can't see any upside except to please my 87 –yr– old mother. I'm already marketing my book ant it's not quite finished. Truly decent authors are routinely turned down by agents and editors.

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  • Really interesting article. I would add just a few comments.

    1. The impact on the library market will be huge and the legacy publisher know it. The recent decision of Harper and Row to limit circulations of ebooks to 26 times might presage a move on their part to limit the number of circulations of physical books, which, after all, often last well beyond 100 circulations, each of which brings no revenue for anyone and may, in fact, hurt physical sales. I don't think it will hurt ebook sales. I, a retired librarian, will now readily pay 2.99 for an ebook rather than borrow a copy from the library. Better for the author and ebook seller; not good for libraries or legacy publishers. The library market has also traditionally been the only purchaser of so-called literary fiction. Advances on those kinds of books were very rarely earned back.

    2. We will see the rise of a new kind of publisher like namelos which offers editorial services, etc. without the huge overhead required to be supported by the legacy publishers who have become bloated. As far as accounting, the legacy publishers can legitimately write off all sorts of overhead to costs. Just the business of processing returns will be no longer needed. Writers like LJ Sellers hire copy-editors and designers to produce the best ebooks possible. For all their vaunted “expertise” ebooks produced by legacy publishers cost more and have many errors in them. The legacy publishers insist that ebooks must cost more; well, of course, they have a substantial physical infrastructure and distribution system to support. That infrastructure is no longer necessary.

    3. The battle is all about distribution, i.e., who controls how books (and music, the book publishers have totally failed to learn any lessons from the music debacle,) will be produced and distributed. Formerly they controlled the entire chain and especially the technology. That's no longer true. The transition to a new model is upon us and those who fail to adapt will perish.

    4. If I were a traditional science publisher I should be very worried. The page-charge (and again this will have an impact on libraries) for academics needing to publish will disappear and scholarly publishing will move to the cloud. It's inevitable. Economics will force it. Libraries will no longer spend thousands per year for physical journals.Publishing will still be vetted but distribution will be faster and much more accessible.

    I spend a lot on books, perhaps $4000 per year. I use top notify me when an ebook price falls to a level I want to pay. Depending on the type of book that price varies from $1.00 for pulp fiction to $10 or $12 for 1000 page non-fiction tomes. (In fact, I have dumped quite a few long hardcovers on the used book market and replaced them with ebooks which are incredibly easier to read and carry about.)

    It's an exciting time to be a reader.

    • Interesting stuff, but I don't think the publishers can limit the number of

      loans of a printed book. There are “first sale” requirements that our legal,

      and you can't tell anybody what they can do with a book they've bought. They

      can resell, lend, or write in it. They just can't copy it. Ebooks, on the

      other hand, are actually licensed. The file itself isn't sold. So the

      license can limit the number of uses. There's no such license extended for a

      print book.


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  • Win

    You forgot two major factors: Eisler would get
    $250,000 on signing the contract–MUCH faster than any return on e-sales, and Konrath and Eisler consistently speak of hardback royalties being 10%, when in fact they quickly escalate for substantial sellers to 12.5 and 15%. Yes, eBooks are a big factor, but their advantages are being overstated.

    win blevins

    • No, Win, he wouldn't get the $250k on signing the contract. He *might* not

      get all of the $250k until the *paperback* edition of whatever was the book

      came out. He almost certainly wouldn't get it all until pub date for the

      hardcover which was going to be *a year from now!* (The paperback of that

      book would be another year later.)

      We'll assume that Eisler's agent negotiates some of this away, but

      publishers have lots of boilerplate clauses to avoid paying full royalties

      on many sales. I wouldn't be surprised if the effective royalty for many

      authors with 10, 12.5, and 15 percent contracts works out to 10% of retail

      when the high-discount sales, on which publishers often pay a percentage of

      net received instead of retail, are factored in.

      But I can tell you this, Neither Konrath nor Eisler is stupid. Some of their

      math might be wrong, but it is not uninformed and it is not carelessly

      arrived at.


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  • Mybloodoesnotapprove

    Interesting piece. You contradicted yourself in regards to your disagreement with Eisler on Baseball. He was arguing about the amount of talent in the NL vs. Majors. Anyway, your comment left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. NL did they best they could sleeping any place that would 'allow' them rooms on the road in the South, for example,back then due to racial issues of that time. ML had had better training, and had better lives. Maybe just stick to talking about the publishing industry-something you know more about? No offense intended.
    –relative of the last NL player to go into the ML.

    • I actually think I know more about baseball than I do about publishing. And

      my point wasn't about talent. It was about what happened to the Negro

      Leagues when the Majors accepted some of their ballplayers. The same thing

      happened to the gospel music circuit when people like Sam Cooke crossed over

      to pop. And, having nothing to do with race, the same thing is happening to

      Christian publishing and bookstores now that secular publishing and

      bookstores has discovered their content and their markets.


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