Sunday, August 15, 2010

You've completely lost yer mind!

Charles Dickens
We should be proud of our books and writing that we produce. Otherwise, why put in the time?

I'm finding it amazing how defensive these authors on Amazon can be if they have only dreams of becoming a big-time, NYC-published author with one of the big-6 publishing houses.  With any mention of the actual numbers involved, they suddenly get Tourette's-Syndrome and start squawking that you forgot this expense, or that one, and eventually end up making my original arguments for me.

My most recent discussion on Amazon, started because yet another author, who isn't published, decided her only recourse was to seek out big-house publication.  When I questioned her on this, and began using real math to demonstrate my point, she replied that no independent author had very big chances of producing a best-seller, and then went on to say a great book sells itself.  I don't think she was even listening to what she was saying.  So according to her faulty logic, no indie author is EVER capable of producing a great book, and that's just BS, pure and simple.  There are plenty of great authors who can consistently produce great books and then some idiot comes along and decides that simply because they were self-published, well, then they must be rubbish.

THAT is rubbish.

This conversation began because she was upset that some editor hacked up her work and made changes that she missed, so in order--in her mind--to keep this from happening, she was going with a big publisher in the future.  Wha??  You don't think an editor, paid big bucks, has ever hacked a MS to death and worsened its potential?  My god, they're not robots, they're human and very adept and capable of making mistakes.
It is just as easy now to learn to edit your own work as it is to sign a contract with someone (If you've already found an agent, but that won't happen on a first book unless you get published with a smaller firm first.), as it is to join either an online or face-to-face writing group and really open yourself up to LEARN from the critiques you'll receive, and then give. Once on a short story, my friend, author Barry Aitchison from Melbourne had me cut my 1,500 word story in HALF--well, less than half--down to 700 words. I quietly cursed him every time I hit "delete," but you know what? That taught me a LOT about engaging my critical eye when it was time, and what kinds of editing things to search for. Also improved the story 100%. I learned how to make one pass for tense; how to make one pass for active voice; how to make one pass for clichés; how to make another pass for superfluous verbiage; another for plot holes. I've often heard it said your work needs to go through at least 17 read-thrus before it's near enough ready for submission. By becoming involved in active writing groups where serious constructive critiques are given, you WILL learn how to do a proper, line-by-line critique, which doesn't necessarily benefit the author as much as it will benefit you.

I just think all of this tendency to almost "hero-worship" these publishing houses and their staff is very dangerous, not to mention myopic.

Here's the math I did:

Some things that aren't being considered when an author gets it in his head to go the big 6 route, is this eBook thing now on the table. A publisher, no matter how good a negotiation your agent does, does not usually go over 4% royalties on the eBook portion of a contract. Yep! There is no guarantee that they're going to have a good enough distribution team to push enough to sell, because with Amazon's 70% royalty rate, you don't lose most of your eBook sales, and with the market not nearly ready to reach its tipping point, eBooks are still on the rise of the explosion. Kindle has just added games and wi-fi, another huge appeal to some.

But, let's do some math for a minute.

If you publish with a major publisher (And let's take into account the rising popularity of eBooks), for an average +80,000 word MS, in hardcover, they'll probably price it around $25. But eBooks can't go for that much--people would lynch you. So, they price it at $9.99--still too high, but you can't tell them this because they're big-shot publishers and they think you're some po-dunk writer who doesn't know anything because you use y'all as a verb, so that's what it will go for on Amazon. 4% of that, will be $3.99. If you place your book on Amazon Kindle for $9.99, then you keep $6.99, realising that it won't sell for this price.

However, here's what most people miss in this hastily-drawn discussion: The initial math seems to point in favour of a major publisher. Looks like you're keeping more money, right? Wrong. Look harder. Because your eBook is priced out of the stratosphere, and your publisher is hard-headed and you can't tell him he's shooting his own foot at that price to spite his leg, your book won't sell as many copies. If we break it down into the same time frame, and re-do the math, let's see what happens:

In one month, J.A. Konrath has sold, on his own, 10,000 eBook units. He never prices a MS over $2.99. He keeps 70%. He has just made, in his pocket, $20,900. If he had kept his MS with a publisher, the eBook at the higher price won't sell as many, because people don't want to pay for digital, as well they shouldn't. So let's say the book sold half as many, which, at that price, is very ambitious. That would be 5,000 units, at $9.99 for 4%. He would've made $19,000. Or rather, he would've lost $900.

Now. All this to say, consider the math when shopping for a major publisher. Yes, they would do your book cover; yes, they would do some marketing and distribution; yes, they would use their editor. But is losing money worth that? Because what they don't tell you, is you don't get full-time distribution or publicity.  What they don't tell you, is, like a record company advance, all of your printing/publishing/design costs go against your advance and you begin in the hole.  Joe had been with Hyperion for 4 book releases, when on the fifth, they stopped promoting him, stopped setting up his book tours, stopped pushing distribution, and this is as his sales were rising exponentially! From what I'm hearing, most large publishing houses will NOT push a new release for longer than 2 months. That's about the shelf-life of a new release now, because with all the independent releases, it's flooding the market. Sad, but true. So the publishers, like men, are happy with you until they find something better to come along. So even while he was under contract with Hyperion, he was the one who had to set up book/blog tours; he had to do his own advertising; he had to do his own edits and line up a book-designer (I design my own since I do graphics and web-design, so if anyone needs help....) [Joe and I met in my online writing group so he learned in the same arena that I did how to do his own editing. Of course, Strunk & White's Elements of Style never goes out of style, and the full version is now online.], he had to write 7,000 letters to libraries asking for signing/reading dates and letting them know of his release. HE had to do the leg-work, and that seems to still be a huge misconception with large publishing houses. New authors think they'll have it made once they sign a contract. Not so.
The truth is, these large places don't do as much for authors as they used to, because the market is moving too fast and they're trying to stay ahead of the curve. So they shift the responsibility for TRUE promotion onto the author while they're out there looking for something better.

Which brings me back to my original point. If you're needing to do most of the legwork anyway, why not at least make your 70% back on return?

Needless to say, this woman painted me to be the idiot, and so to keep the peace, I ended the conversation by saying I'd see her book next to mine on the best-seller list.
Guys, confidence is great when approaching your work.  Like I said in the beginning, if you don't believe in it, why bother?  What becomes dangerous and the thing I find myself railing against, is when a new author still believes these publishing houses are going to cure all their problems; are going to save them from themselves and their dingy lives; are going to magically make it all better.
If that's what you think, you're in for a delusional ride.

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