Tuesday, May 25, 2010

E publishing- PW & J.A. Konrath

Ed here: Interesting disagreement about the state of publishing and how to improve its fortunes for all concerned. First the piece from Publisher's Weekly then a response from writer J.A. Konrath

Agents Weigh the Growth Of Alternate Publishing Options
By Rachel Deahl
May 24, 2010

In a week that saw Barnes & Noble announce a new selfpublishing unit, one small deal that had the publishing industry paying attention was J.A. Konrath's decision to do his next book, Shaken, with Amazon's publishing arm, AmazonEncore. Reports quickly surfaced that Konrath would be making a roughly 70% return on the list price of his forthcoming e-book— $2.10 off a $2.99 Kindle edition. While a rep from Amazon confirmed that royalty does not apply to Konrath's deal with AmazonEncore, the deal still had some in the industry saying the move signaled a "game changer" for corporate publishing. Since Konrath is presumably getting a high digital royalty rate on Shaken, many wondered whether the big six should be quaking in their proverbial New York City boots.

Konrath, a midlist crime novelist whose series featuring detective Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels has been published by Hyperion in paperback for years, is an active self-promoter who's repeatedly spoken of the financial success he's had self-publishing his backlist as Kindle editions.

One thing that made the Konrath deal, in some peoples' eyes, less of a groundbreaking moment was that none of the major New York houses were interested in his new book. A look at Konrath's sales numbers shows a steady decline in his print sales. According to Nielsen BookScan, the first book in the Jack Daniels series, Whiskey Sour (2005), sold 32,000 copies, while the latest, Cherry Bomb (2009), has sold 4,000 copies. So Konrath essentially took a book no one wanted and instead of fully self-publishing it, signed with Amazon-Encore, which will bring the book out in paperback a year after the Kindle release this summer and at the very least e-mail all those who downloaded his last book.

for the rest go here:

------------------J.A. KONRATH RESPONDS

Publishers Weekly Epic Fail

Publishers Weekly has done some terrific reviews of my books over the years. But they just did a relatively unflattering article about me that misses a few key points.

You can read it HERE.

Welcome back! That article certainly makes me seem like a loser, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, PW's version of the truth is lacking in many areas. Let's shed some light on those areas.

My six Jack Daniels books have earned US royalties in excess of $200,000. They are all still in print, some in multiple printings.

The first three have more than earned out their advance of $110,000. The second three should should earn out their advance of $125,000, but all the the books haven't been released yet. CHERRY BOMB, my last book in the contract, is not coming out in paperback until June.

The hardcover of Cherry Bomb did sell well enough to go into a second printing. The hardcover release was also mistakenly messed up--one of the major bookstore chains didn't get copies in their stores until more than two weeks after the publication date. There was a demand for Cherry Bomb that was unfortunately not met.

for the rest go here:


Anonymous said...

I think the fact that PW tried to dismiss Konrath as some kind of a failed mid-list author speaks volumes about how scared the traditional publishers are of someone who has made himself a success and who is advocating that other authors follow in his footsteps.

I feel we are entering an era where the power shifts from the big publishers to the author.

You can almost see an era on the horizon where big publishers feel compelled to purchase novels -- even novels that might only sell a few thousand copies -- for fear of those authors selling their novel themselves.

Anonymous said...

If the numbers continue to be strong, as Mr. Konrath says, there must be other reasons why several hardcover publishers have turned down the latest novel. I am wondering what the editors at the hardcover houses told him about the novel, and whether he has revised it. This situation is not new; only the technology has shifted. This really seems to be about an author who has lost some of his readers or an author whose series has run out of gas for some reason. I hope he will keep us posted on sales.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what you are saying. Konrath has made it clear why the series was turned down by other publishers...

Because it was a series. The other publishers didn't want to pick up a mid-list level thriller series that had a history of 6 books even though each book was selling average numbers (10k) in hardcover.

It makes sense that it wasn't picked up.

That isn't the big shocker or the big mover and shaker. The big shaker idea here is that this author has been successful going out on his own and that Amazon is going directly to a hot selling author and picking up and publishing their works.

Amazon is moving from being a seller to being a publisher -- and by hand picking hot authors they are moving above the level of slush publishing that they started with CreateSpace.

Konrath recently posted a list of like 40 other authors who have had similar success taking their back list directly to the Kindle.

On its own, it isn't that huge of an announcement. Taken with the fact that many other people have had similar success in taking their books directly to readers it could be a game changing moment in publishing.

Anonymous said...

Quality is the elephant in this room. Perhaps it is impolite to discuss it. It seems so savvy just to jabber about numbers and series and the politics of shifting to new publishers, as if there was no such thing as a poorly done novel, or a series that is fizzling out because the author is losing his readership. But this looks like an ancient story well understood by veteran novelists: the book may not be worthy of publication, or the author may be refusing to revise it. I don't know that, but I know that web reportage that avoids the central issue of quality is evading reality. Could it be that Hyperion was rejecting a bad book? It's happened to me.

JA Konrath said...

Hyperion dropped their entire mystery line after book #4. They published books #5 and #6 without any of the marketing push they gave the previous four titles. The books have earned well over $200,000, which is about 40% higher than the advance I received. I'm getting royalties, and am in multiple printings, and they are still in print.

My agent shopped the seventh book to around five houses. No one went for it. In the meantime, I signed three other print deals.

Two years later, AmazonEncore (which didn't exists when my agent shopped the book around) approached me about another book. I pitched them Shaken. Five months later, we had a contract.

The sample chapters for Shaken are on Kindle for free. They've gotten many five star reviews.

The book is good. NY screwed up. Their loss.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Richard, I don't believe quality is much of a factor these days with why the large NY publishing buy or reject books. It's all about numbers and perceived "commercial viabilty". NY (as in the large corporate publishers) don't' care about how good or bad a book is, that's not how they're basing their buying decisions. If Joe's latest book had Tina Fey's name on it, NY would've offered a 500K advance. It's a nonissue to discuss that NY rejected this book because they thought it wasn't good enough, and knowing Joe, I'm guessing the quality of Shaken is far better than most of the books NY publishes.

I share a lot of Joe's anger towards NY publishing (anyone reading Pariah would know this). I don't want to put words in Joe's mouth, but I sense from some of Joe's blog posts that he wouldn't mind seeing the large NY houses burn + crash, and I sort of feel the same except if that happened it would also bring down independent publishers and bookstores which are filled passionate people who love books, and they don't deserve that fate. And I'm also not as optimistic about a future ebook only world, and what that mean to midlist and new writers. My own vision as ebook stores mature and ebook readers become more popular is that only the biggest names would be able to make any money in that environment.

Anonymous said...

I imagine I'm alone in the wide world on this, but I believe that the quality of the fiction under consideration has never been more important to NY publishers. The reason that so many novelists are being dropped is that they fail to captivate readers. Finding novelists with the skill to do that has become critically important to the great houses in NY, more so than in any other time in their history.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Richard, I worked for years as a software developer, both for large corporations like Lucent, Nokia, Motorola and Digital Equipment Corporation, and for startups, and a few midsized companies. Inside these large corporations, there was a slowness and a timidness where you had managers who made careers by arguing why projects should be canceled or never started, and you had to fight to get anything done. With startups, it was the exact opposite. You worked fast and hard and took chances with our goal always being to build something significant, because that was how we would survive. This is all going to end up sounding anecdotal but I am convinced it's the same way in the publishing world. I've talked with several editors working at the large houses, and they all explained it the same--that fear dominates, and unless you want to risk ruining your career you're only going to make safe bets, and I don't think there's ever been more fear in NY than there is right now. With the independent houses, it's the exact opposite. They know the only chance they have of success is instead of publishing safe books is to publish the best books they can and to take chances. Independent houses = software startups, large corporate publishers = large corporate technology companies (and two of the biggest I worked for, Lucent and Digital no longer exist).

So now for the anecdotal stuff. Paul Harding's Tinker rejected by all the large houses, gets published by a tiny independent, wins Pulitzer for best novel. Last year I read what I thought was a great unpublished first novel, Dead Women of Juarez by Sam Hawken. I recommended it to my editor at Serpent's Tail. He and everyone else there agreed and they bought it. I was talking to an editor at one of the large NY houses about this book, and he told me he read it when it came across his desk, that he thought it was one of the best crime novels he read that year, but they weren't going to buy it because they decided the book wasn't big enough. When I pushed him on why it wasn't "big enough" he told because the author wasn't a big enough name. WTF??

I could list pages after pages of this kind of anecdotal stuff, but what's the point?

Anyway, back to my original example--let's say the worst imaginable novel submission came in but it had Tina Fey's name on it, you really don't think it would get a minimum of a 500K advance from NY???

I just want to make one point about your thoughts on novelists being dropped because they fail to captivate readers. I couldn't disagree more. I've read several newer authors over the last couple of years who I thought were great, and so did bookstores and other readers who I ralked with about these books, and these guys were dropped after one or two books. It wasn't that their books didn't captivate readers--it was that most readers didn't know about them because they were never given a push or a real chance by their publishers. If some of the biggest names in crime/mystery today, people like Ellroy, Connelly, Pelecanos, Lehane,etc. were starting up today they would've been chewed up and spat out with their careers finished after one or two books and without being given a chance. But when they started 20 or so years ago, they were given time for bookstores to handsell and eventually build a readership. OF course then there were still bookstore (what did we have, a drop of 9000 to 1200 independent bookstores in 10 years).

But if you mean captivate readers by publishing crap books with celebrity names attached, then I agree wholeheartedly.

Anonymous said...

I'll echo Dave's comments by adding that I think books are a product that the company who is producing that product has no idea how to market.

How do you market a book? To whom do you market it? Most marketing for publishers is aimed at marketing their books to the book buyers for large bookstore chains -- it isn't aimed at marketing the product to the reader.

The New York Times had an article online recently exposing what a sham James Patterson is -- how he is a slick lawyer who used his obnoxious personality to bully his publisher into -- you know it is coming -- marketing his books directly to the consumer via television commercials.

And now who is James Patterson? The most successful franchise thriller author on the planet and the cornerstone of that publishers business.

If you can market someone with Patterson's "grocery storey" level of writing skills into being a success, you should be able to market anyone with real talent into being a success.

But, not if they continue to market their products only to bookstores.

The bookstore isn't the elephant in the room -- it is the dinosaur.

They should be spending their marketing money pushing great books directly to the consumer. I don't see that happening unless they get really desperate and they aren't there yet.

They would rather continue to cut author advances and build a wall of celebrity non-books around themselves than be innovative with their choice of talent and their choice of marketing.

Charlieopera said...

Bravo, David. I think you nailed it ... last year (I think) Ed did an interview with me and I said something about the publishing industry needs to grow some balls (I think the question was something like what would be my advice to the publishing industry). I said, "Grow a pair."

That comment of mine found some interest (or maybe it was some sharks smelling blood--who knows). I understand it (publishing) is a business and readership is down, gadgets are catching on, etc., and maybe it's a form of economic darwinism where technology destroys the environment (what David mentioned about the loss of small bookstores, etc. ... lord knows, it's where libertarians and socialists meet (albeit for different reasons); business (any business) can't be allowed to become too big). That said, it is what it is. The shame of course is that there truly are terrific talents out there who may never see the light of day ... that Hawken book was just mentioned to me the other day by my agent--she sold it--a great book. Lucky for the author, he got it in under the wire. Also lucky for him, it doesn't become what I've often heard happens to books (especially new books) in bigger houses -- the spaghetti on the wall formua where if it doesn't stick/sell on its own, it's a short term relationship. Sometimes way too short and absolutely unfair. Crime writers are being encouraged to write for the market (young adult, fantasy, horror) because what they do naturally (or preferrably) is economically unsustainable or non-rewarding (especially for agents).

David is correct about some very good authors being put on hold or dropped by the accountants at bigger houses and that editors have those same accountants leaning over their shoulders ...

Writers are losing their audience from the economics of the day (books are now a certified luxury) and because of all that spaghetti on the wall (if people don't know who you are, why would they plop down $25.00 for your book)? So for anybody wondering what I meant by "grow a pair" ... it's pretty simple really. If you're an editor and you really love a book, go for it. Of course if you're an editor without acquisition rights and the accountants are breathing heavy ... and you need that job ... well, welcome to the monkey house (at least the word processing monkey house; you like your job, forget any talk of a raise and be grateful we haven't outsourced you yet). And if you (the editor) CAN get your way and publish that book you love but the book will just be more spaghetti, do the writer a favor and pass (the smaller houses have more faith and motivation, no doubt about it) ... and sometimes a little energy and enthusiasm from the smaller presses can go a long (or longer) way than being left out to dry.

Writers, I think, need to take satisfaction in what they've got so long as there remains mutual respect between publisher and writer. Consider it a beautiful thing and don't let what you can't change get the better of you.

For one thing, you can't change it. The more important thing, of course, is life is too short to spit into hurricanes.

I started as a peanut in this industry and have never been more than a peanut and right now I'm smaller than I've ever been (so I'm officially a sub-peanut) but the truth of the matter is I've never been a happier writer than I am today ... and trust me brother, I went through the same bitterness and frustration as everybody else.

I gotta go to bed now ...

Anonymous said...

Funny thing. I heard the exact same complaints about publishers as far back as the seventies and all through the eighties and nineties. Even the anecdotes were and are much the same. Nothing has changed except a few names. It's a phenomenon. I was a true believer most of that time, but went apostate recently. It's an old man's perspective.