Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflections While Home Sick

I'm home sick from work today, seem to have caught a nasty stomach bug that has laid me low.  It started last night and I was not in a condition to be delivering pizza this morning :(  Luckily they found someone really quick, so I don't have to agonize over my decision, as I never, -never- call off if I can help it.  I'm hoping I feel better by tomorrow.

First off, I'd like to give a shout to Megan Duncan because while reading her blog I saw a nifty little gadget (the word counter in my upper right hand corner) that she ganked from Melissa Shepard, that SHE ganked from here.

I have almost decided on naming the book "Chains of Memory", so that is the heading for it.  It's a little satisfying to see the percentage complete, there.  Between visits to the Porcelain Throne, I hope to get some writing done as I'm not good for much else today (well, sleeping, but that's probably even less productive).  Hopefully I can bump it up off the 84% where it currently sits.

But, the title of this post starts with "Reflections" so I'd like to reflect a little today on the publishing industry as a whole.  I have very mixed feelings when I read blogs like J. A. Konrath's and see the print publisher bashing that goes on, especially in the comments section.  It's amazing to me how much shouting down is done to anyone trying to defend the traditional printers anymore.

When I first started reading it, I fell into the "Publishers must be wrong, Indie writers must be right, how could there be such a gap in royalties..." et cetera type of mindset.  It is very easy to lay the blame for the "bad decision" of rejecting a manuscript and poor royalty rates on a failing by the industry as a whole.

In the end, I have a BBA and I came to my senses.  It is true that, "All that glitters isn't gold"; that it is an irrefutable statement.  Do I think selling 1,000 copies a month of Book A on your own is amazing?  Yes.  Do I think the industry made a horrible decision by bypassing your manuscript?  Not necessarily. 

I read an interesting article here today.  I was looking for a tangible fact on the cost of printing a book so I wouldn't have to do the work myself, but I didn't really find that in so many words.  My goal was to try and demonstrate why publishers seem to desperately seek out that 1 million plus blockbuster over your 12k/year book.  Then I found **THIS**.  Finally, someone who understands and speaks rationally and objectively!

It's not that they wouldn't love to publish your book and get it into people's hands, it's simply the economics of the business.  Once you parcel out the money to printing presses, editors, cover artists, discounts to get your books on the shelves of major retailers... the publisher doesn't actually get to keep so much of that 85% cut.  In some cases (especially cases where the author doesn't earn out their advance), the author makes more than the publisher, in the end.

In order for publishers to keep taking on new authors they MUST be making a profit that allows them to do that!  If a publisher offers up an advance that is NOT earned out, they are losing money.  If they do that again, and again, and again... they will go belly-up, no questions asked.  (You cannot keep drinking from a container and expect it never to go empty - you MUST refill!)  The publishing industry is like a sieve.  They want to put out new books, but they have to spend money to do it.  Sometimes, the money they put out is more than the final product gives back, so the money trickles through the bottom of the sieve.  So they work harder and faster, all the while trying to stay high enough that the sieve won't be completely empty, leaving them with nothing.

In e-publishing, the costs are lower than traditional print books.  Yes, that's true.  But, there is still a significant cost to getting that book up for sale.  It is also a truism of business that if you want to continue with one thing that does not earn well enough to support itself (read: lowering print book sales), you use your "cash cow" (in this case, the slightly extra profit from e-books) to fund that other side of your business.

I keep hearing that the traditional publishers are floundering, that eventually they will be gone - bookstores all over the nation will close and we'll be left with no outlet for the "dead-tree model".  I absolutely don't believe that is true.  Yes, bookstores are closing.  The Borders near me closed because of poor management by Borders.  (You don't get into debt to publishers because people aren't buying a product from you that they buy elsewhere - you get there because you have screwed up.)  The Barnes and Noble in the area stripped it clean of customers by its better selection, prices, and over-all functionality of the store... exactly like Best Buy did to Circuit City in the same area only a few years earlier.  It is the nature of capitalism.

I think that publishers are holding on and riding it out.  Yes, many publishers and editors seem to be giving out information and quotes that puts them drastically behind the times.  It's not impossible or even particularly difficult to do that - witness Richard Curtis' blunder.  (Sorry Konrath, I'm not trying to pick on you, here.)  The fact is, when people are trying to prove a point, they will print information that puts their hypothesis in the correct light.

I personally believe that publishers are turning around the higher profits on their e-book sales to keep print publishing alive.  I applaud them for that!  I will be truly devastated if print books vanished, or became something for rich collector's to show off to their fancy friends.  When I was a child, I dreamed, dreamed of the day I would have enough money to have a library IN MY HOUSE.  A room, completely full of precious, delicious, well-written literature!  I love my Kindle to death, and I will parade it around and show off it's fancy features and all the while, it will fill with books I couldn't find in bookstores... while my bookshelves at home fill with books that CAN BE.

So publishers miss out on a few bestsellers - indie authors that go to e-book publishing and with a liberal dose of personal promotion and luck, become famous almost overnight.  Who hasn't made a mistake?  That time I drove that guy's car to pick him up for work and got hit by a truck gone left-of-center, doing $43,000 in damage?  How about flying home from Japan on an overbooked flight and turning down a free flight to Hawaii, including overnight hotel stay?  I've made mistakes, too.  Everyone does.  It's part of the human experience.

I have a sneaking suspicion that one day, publishers will turn the whole business on its head and indie authors will be left wondering what's happened, because they are becoming so smug and self-important that they believe they can never fail.  I picture those publishers like jungle cats in the trees, indie authors sprawled fat and lazy in the shade with the profits they have garnered for themselves.

Are you not afraid of that image?  I am.

What happens when publishers strike a deal with Amazon that, under their label, Amazon continues the 70% profits, but self-pubbed only get 35% at best?  What if it's 20%?  5%?

I'm not saying it's a future that's chiseled in stone, I'm saying let's not throw our spears into the fire before the jungle cats are actually exterminated, yeah?


  1. Medrick,

    I believe you made some excellent points. I also think that the publishing industry is on the ropes right now but will rebound in a totally different form. The resources, talent and energy that made/make up the industry has to go somewhere and if they want to remain in the book business they will find a way to re-insert themselves into the overall process.

    Yet, I still believe the door is wide open for a lot of us who can read the signs and are willing to jump in and try to take advantage of the situation while we can. Writers will adapt also.

  2. Medrick,

    I agree with you that some bloggers do slam publishing. I just take those posts with a grain of salt. Yes, the industry is changing in ways, and those publishers that don't change, manage wisely, and adapt, are going to go out of business. But, as with any industry, there will be those that do remain.

    Also, I have been feeling this rushing need to get books out to ride the coat-tails of this self publishing wave. I have also wondered what is going to happen in the future. Whenever big corporations get competition from somewhere else, they make deals that try to put them above their competitors. So, I have thought about what to do in the event that the self publishing business does change in such a way.

    Wow, you are sooo close to being done with your book! What are you doing for the cover?

  3. Great post Medrick. Really good post, and Bakari makes an interesting point as well. It's one that I thought of recently. The people involved in print publishing are going to continue on whether the traditional structures remain in place or not.

    So we should be very careful of over-confidence. I can't be over-confident yet because I'm not selling all that well! But on top of that, I agree the real battle hasn't yet begun. IF, and it's a big IF, the publishing community starts to get its head on straight, they may be in a position to deal a severe blow to the self-pub industry.

    But that would require them to act relatively soon and with some kind of harmony. I don't see that happening and here's why:

    Publishing is one of the most backward, antiquated industries I've ever seen. Someone very close to me is a successful author and I've seen the insanity many times. Try reading a royalty statement sometime. It's insane. For years, this person I know could not even find out what her sales numbers were! Ridiculous! No other industry gets away with this.

    Publishing has only just recently gone with internet queries and swapping books via email instead of sending hardcopies! These folks live in a bygone era.

    The people involved in publishing such as editors and so forth typically don't make a ton of money. They are overworked. Do you think they have time to strategize about epublishing when they're as busy as they are reading, editing, trying to sell printed books? With the enormous layoffs from the last couple of years, most editors are doing the work of three people and getting paid for half a person.

    I'm sorry. I just can't imagine a scenario where they get it together in time. But they could. It's a possibility.

    P.S. Sorry to hear you're not feeling well. Rest up and come back even stronger!
    An E-Publisher's Manifesto

  4. Interesting post. First let me thank you for the post on Spalding's Racket. I hope you enjoyed the sample enough to pick up the full antho.

    You mentioned that you really liked the cover art. My artist's info is in the front matters. Fiona does excellent work at affordable rates. She also did my cover for Spirals of Destiny.

    Back to your blog, I wouldn't mind a nice publishing contract, but I have a good paying day job and for me small press/self publishing is more attractive. I've met a lot of good friends who are writers. Several have gotten their deals, but at the same time one of them (who got her deal late last spring) is now having to wait until next January to be published. The waiting is a hard thing and since I'm more interested in building my own rep. In the time it takes for my friend to get her book published, I'll have put out at least 3 if not 5 additional novels. For two of my novels, I have a small press publisher (Gryphonwood), but more and more I'm looking to establish myself as my own imprint.

    Best of luck with your novel.

  5. Medrick- I love that you posted this. I've been on the fence and back and forth for months now about what to do and which route to take. it's like a fork in the road for me. Do I go after an agent - waiting patiently for as long as that takes? Or do I self-publish and get in on the 'revolution'? There are times I feel like a 'rebel' for wanting to self-publish because of all the bashing going on towards the print industry!

    I've recently decided to self-pub but i DID query agents first... and i WOULD take a print deal and I don't care if that makes me a sell out to some indie authors!

  6. Thank you everyone, for your comments! I think this is a pretty hot topic among the literary world. Query vs publish, traditional vs indie, bookstore vs digital.

    My main thing is: I want to write, I want to write WELL, and I want people to enjoy reading my works. If possible, I want to make a living out of it!