Bad for Business?

There’s an interesting article in the current New Yorker about the future of the publishing industry.  It doesn’t look bright for the Big Five publishers.  On the other hand, it looks rosy for Amazon, according to the author of the article George Packer.  He claims self-published Kindle e-books are bad for publishing because they’re so cheap that they’re putting the Big Five out of business.

If you ask me, anything that allows good writers to get published is a good thing.  The so-called gatekeepers of publishing in New York frequently make the wrong calls and keep good writers from being published.  No less than literary great Edgar Allan Poe had to self-publish some of his books.

Packer makes the erroneous assumption that anything that’s bad for the Big Five is bad for publishing and for authors, as well.  Anything that’s bad for the Big Five might be bad for New York Times best-selling brand-names, such as Stephen King and Lee Child.  But, then again, these guys could make it without the Big Five.  The demise of the Big Five won’t effect midlist authors and other lesser-known writers who are struggling to make a living, either.  These authors can self-publish.  So,  it looks like, if the Big Five go under, it won’t be the end of publishing.  It will, however, be the end of traditional publishing.

The book business has always been a difficult market to crack unless you had connections in the right places.  Amazon has opened up the market and allowed writers, who otherwise would never have gotten their works published, to sink or swim on their own in the cutthroat publishing business.  These authors can learn by experience that most books don’t sell, no matter how well written they are.  There just aren’t enough readers out there to make many best-sellers.

Self-publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

I keep getting asked why I chose to self-publish.  Here’s one answer I give.

Self-publishing is more immediate than the traditional route.  Immediacy is a main reason I’m doing it.  If you go the traditional route, it could take years before you find an agent, more years before that agent sells your work (if he does), more years for the agent to submit your work to publishers, and then more years after a publisher finally decides to publish it (if one ever does).  I could easily die before my book would be published in this manner.  The entire process of publishing could take ten or more years when an author submits his manuscript to the major New York publishers.  On the other hand, if you self-publish, you can have your book up and running on Amazon as soon as you finish writing it, copyediting it, proofing it, and getting a cover for it.

The advantage of having a traditional publisher is you’ll receive an advance–but it probably won’t be a very big one if you haven’t been published before.  You’ll also have the cachet of a major New York publishing house.  That won’t necessarily sell your book, however.  The major publishing houses publish books all the time that manage only meager sales numbers–and, in fact, most of their books lose money.  Nevertheless, getting published by a New York publisher will grant a writer more respect than if he self-publishes.  The stigma attached to self-publishers is changing, though, as readers realize many self-published books are just as well written, if not better written, than those produced by the major publishing houses.

A major advantage of self-publishing is you, the author, retain all rights–including digital rights, which account for a hefty percentage of income for writers.  A major publishing house will never grant their writers all rights.  You’ll also earn higher royalties as a self-publisher both on your print copies and on your e-books.

If you decide to self-publish and manage to sell a lot of books, it might catch a traditional publisher’s eye and he might become interested in publishing your works, if for some reason you need a New York publisher for validation of the quality of your book.

Every author has a different take on the subject of self-publishing.  There aren’t any hard and fast rules to publishing anymore.  Three cheers for that!


Novelist Vince Flynn Dead at 47

I can’t believe Vince Flynn is dead.  He was so young.  I have read every single one of his thrillers and was eagerly awaiting the next one.

I feel like I know him, even though I never met him.  He was an inspiration to me as an author.  You see, Vince Flynn didn’t manage to get his first book Term Limits published by one of the giant New York publishing houses, even though he tried.  His political views didn’t jibe with the eastern liberal media’s.  He didn’t let the rejections crush his spirit. After sixty rejection letters, he decided to self-publish his book.  The sales of his first book put Vince Flynn’s name on the map, and, then, of course, all the New York publishers wanted a piece of him.  As the saying goes, nothing succeeds like success. Political views be damned.

The point is that Flynn didn’t let himself become demoralized by the publishers’ rejections of his book.  Vince Flynn should serve as an inspiration to all self-published authors.  I, for one, as a self-published author, have nothing but admiration for Vince Flynn.  Vince Flynn was a fine storyteller who could pen a page-turning thriller with the best of them.  He has been compared to Robert Ludlum and Brad Thor.  What really matters about Vince Flynn, though, is his spirit.  He didn’t allow the New York publishing power brokers to crush his creative drive.  He continued writing, in spite of them.  His Consent to Kill is still one of my favorite thrillers.

Even though I never met the man, I’m going to miss Vince Flynn.

Why Would a Self-publishing Author Want an Agent?

According to the New York Times (4/17/13), well-known author David Mamet will self-publish his works this year, instead of going through his traditional publisher.  But for some reason he is using his literary agency ICM Partners to represent him as a self-publisher.

It’s an auspicious sign for the world of self-publishing that an author with Mamet’s reputation is becoming a self-publisher, which validates the self-publishing industry and distinguishes it from the stigmatized ghetto of vanity publishing.  But Mamet still seems enthralled to the outdated ways of doing business in publishing.  Why does he need an agent to self-publish?

A literary agent acts as a broker between a writer and a publishing house.  He tries to get the best deal for his author and keeps 15% for himself.  In self-publishing, there is no publishing house, so there’s no need for an agent.

Robert Gottlieb, the chairman of the Trident Media Group literary agency, believes otherwise.  He believes an agent brings experience in marketing and jacket design.  An agent also has relationships with digital publishers that give his clients pride of place on sites unavailable to unrepresented self-published authors.

The fact of the matter is, a self-published author can design his own book covers or hire someone to design them.  He can also market his own book.  He’s probably going to end up paying for marketing anyway, even if he has an agent.  The only thing a self-published author doesn’t have is this special relationship that agents supposedly have with digital publishers that gives them prize placements on sites that self-published authors can’t obtain on their own.

I’m not really sure what these placements on certain sites are.  Do these placements cost money?  If so, why couldn’t the author pay for them himself?  Gottlieb doesn’t explain what these “sites” are in the Times article.  Maybe these mysterious sites are just a way of justifying the existence of an agent in the world of self-publishing, which is in actuality phasing the literary agent out as part of the ossified, and increasingly archaic, mode of publishing known as the giant New York publishing houses.

Is Self-publishing out of the Cellar Yet?

Self-publishing has always carried a stigma to it.  After all, it’s not much different than vanity publishing, which still has a stigma attached to it.  The idea is, the self-published book couldn’t find a publisher to print it in New York, so the writer turned to self-publishing.  In other words, the book wasn’t good enough to find a publisher.  Therefore, the self-published book is inferior to a book published by a regular publisher.

Self-publishing a book is also a difficult way to make a profit.  The writer doesn’t receive the advance that publishers pay writers.  What the self-published writer does get is royalties from the sales of his books.  These royalties are usually much higher than the royalties earned by an author contracted by a major publisher.  However, though his royalties are usually higher, the self-published writer’s sales are almost inevitably lower.

If you’re starting out as a self-published writer, it’s hard to establish any kind of fan base. Readers of your books tend to be few and far between.  Nobody has ever heard of you. Somehow you have to make a name for yourself–and that isn’t easy, especially when you don’t have a major New York publisher backing you.  A New York publishing house’s logo on your book’s cover acts as an imprimatur to its quality, thus enticing readers to buy the book.

If a writer already has a fan base, self-publishing would seem like a viable option.  Your royalties would be higher, and you already have an established fan base.  Not only that, you would own all rights to your self-published books.  Why more brand-name authors aren’t opting for self-publishing remains a mystery.

If more brand-name authors do, in fact, choose to self-publish, it will work wonders toward lifting self-publishing out of the cellar.  That being said, self-publishing has more of a cachet today than it did, say, twenty years ago, thanks to the advances in technology, namely the computer and the Internet.  Whether it be true or not, the fact is, the general consensus today holds that self-published writers aren’t as good as writers contracted to traditional publishers, specifically New York publishers.

Barnes and Noble’s Nook Press

I recently transferred my e-books that were on Barnes and Noble’s Pub It over to B&N’s Nook Press.  I don’t see much difference between the two formats at this point.  There is one difference.  You can sell your e-book in the United Kingdom now.  In order to do that, you have to state that you own the world rights to your e-book.  I don’t believe you could sell your e-book in the UK in Pub It.

Nook Press, unlike Amazon’s Kindle Select, is not exclusive.  I.e., if you sign up with Nook Press, they don’t forbid you from selling your e-book at any other Web site.  If you enroll in Amazon’s Kindle Select, you have to agree not to sell your e-book anywhere else other than at Amazon.

I don’t find Nook Press any easier to use than Pub It.  So far I haven’t uploaded a new document.  Therefore, I don’t know if the Nook Press conversions of documents are any better than Pub It’s.

I don’t see any reason to delay in transferring your e-books from Pub It to Nook Press. After all, now you call sell your e-bo0ks in the UK.  You could always do that at Amazon, by the way, and sell them in Germany, France, and several other countries, as well.  Not that you’re going to get a lot of sales in Germany and France, since they don’t read many books written in English in those countries.

Barnes and Noble Introduces Nook Press

Barnes and Noble’s Pub It Web site is now changing its name to Nook Press.  I don’t know why Barnes and Noble is making the change.  I never had any problem using Pub It.  In fact, I found it easier to use than Amazon’s Kindle publishing service.

Another author told me Barnes and Noble has invented Nook Press in order to make it exclusive (like Kindle Select), so that the users of the format won’t be able to sell their digital works anywhere else except at Barnes and Noble.

Kindle Select makes it optional for authors to choose their exclusive service.  If Nook Press is going to copy Kindle Select, I hope they make the exclusionary rule optional as well.  I have read the contract for Nook Press and it says it’s a nonexclusive contract.

The royalty structure of Nook Press is supposed to stay the same as Pub It’s.

Authors will be able to share their drafts on Nook Press’s Web site so that others can read them and comment.  This capability on Nook Press reminds me of HarperCollins’s Authonomy Web site, which allows editorial comments to be posted by readers of authors’ manuscripts.

In any case, if you signed up with Pub It, you won’t be able to stay with them.  Nook Press is taking their place.  Either you’ll have to sign up with Nook Press or opt out of self-publishing your digital works at Barnes and Noble, which begs an interesting question. Will you still be able to sell your Smashwords e-books on Barnes and Noble?