Category archive: Traditional Publishing

Why We Launched William Deverell’s Kill All the Lawyers

This will not be recorded in the annals of publishing history as a pivotal moment, and yet William Deverell’s decision to jump into eBooks indicates a fundamental sea change.  More established authors every day are discovering that the barriers to distribution of their words have crumbled and that publishing houses are not the only way to reach the reading public.

Deverell approached me just after I’d concluded a panel on eBooks at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention back in June.  As the most outspoken member of that panel, I’d upset an editor from Orca Books enough that I’m pretty sure she will never publish my work.  Perhaps that caught Deverell’s attention, because he asked if I’d be able to help him publish one of his backlist novels, Kill All the Lawyers, originally published by Random House.  I was completely gob-smacked to have the guest of honor of the conference approach me for advice, especially since I’m a big fan.

Deverell–a lawyer himself–has won many awards for his novels, including the Dashiell Hammett award for literary excellence and an Arthur Ellis award for best novel.  His most recent work I’ll See You in My Dreams was just published by McClelland and Stewart.

The sea change part is that Deverell–who has done well in traditional publishing–was not only open to eBooks, but excited about the possibilities.  Until that day in June, I had it in my head that only newbies like me and a few outliers like Joe Konrath would really be interested in self-publishing their work, but now I know better, and publishers should pay attention.

Deverell went the traditional publishing route for Dreams because it was far along in development by June, but next year is a whole new era–one in which a Kindle Touch is $79, and the Kindle Fire is $199.

I can imagine families opening their Christmas presents: “See Gran, you can make the text any size you want so that you don’t have to buy large print books.”  Or to a special grandchild who is struggling with reading, “It’ll make reading fun, like video games because it’s electronic.”  Enhanced eBooks certainly will make reading fun, and a lot of young readers will get Kindle Fires for that reason.  A whole new world of possibilities has opened up.

So the big question publishers should ask: when eBook sales start to beat print numbers, will authors like William Deverell continue to accept a paltry royalty on eBooks or will they go it alone?  And here’s the real problem: if publishers lose their great authors and replace them with less well known authors, will that not damage a publisher’s brand?  What if an indie-published Deverell garners more critical acclaim than M&S’s replacement author?

This would totally upend the public perception that only big publishers can assure them good reads.  That’s the real danger.  If indie-pubbed books are by top authors, the public will care less and less about who an author was published by and more about what the customer reviews say.  My advice to the big six: when Deverell comes knocking to sell you his next novel, offer him a fat eBook royalty.  You don’t want him deciding that he’d be better off without you.

Kill All the Lawyers is a hilarious romp with three dimensional characters and a complex plot woven so beautifully that it is effortless to follow.  I’m humbled by Deverell’s writing and aspire to be that good.  That’s why I’m proud to have helped launch Kill All the Lawyers as an eBook.  It shouldn’t be out of print as demanded by the old model of publishing.  It’s still a great read and it’s only $4.99. The best part though is that Deverell is making the full 70% royalty on his novel, and he should.

Full disclosure: Bill insisted on paying me to help put up Kill All the Lawyers, although I offered to do it for free as my part in the e-revolution.

Publishers Should Be Watching Kodak’s Bankruptcy

Kodak or Fuji?  Whenever I landed a gig as a camera assistant back in the 90s that was the first question we’d ask.  Which film stock would we be shooting for a TV show or a movie didn’t really matter because both products were essentially the same, although some camera assistants swore that Fuji was louder in the camera.

But the real difference between the two companies became obvious as HD video came online.  Fuji’s response was to dive deep into this new technology.  Kodak dug in their heels.

Now as a lowly camera assistant, I shouldn’t have been more tuned in to the future than Kodak executives, but apparently I was able to see from the ground floor what they couldn’t see from the boardroom.  At the end of the work day on a TV show like Due South, I’d hand off ten $800 rolls of film.  The production still had to pay to process this film and then pay again to transfer it to video for editing.

So imagine my surprise when I got a daily on Earth Final Conflict, which was shooting HD.  I walked onto the camera truck, took one look at their rushes on the HDTV and said, “Oh, oh.  That’s the end of film stock in television production.”  That wasn’t the half of it.  At the end of the day I handed off two $100 HD videotapes, all ready for editing–no processing required.

Kodak reacted to this new technology by pouring R&D into the old film technology under the mistaken assumption that if film was still much better quality than HD that producers would continue to use it.  Kodak churned out one fantastic new film stock after another, culminating in the amazing 800 ASA film stock.  But the problem is that the price differential between HD and film was just too great, and the average TV viewer didn’t care if the blacks were crisp.  Film is still used on feature productions, but the majority of TV has switched to the much cheaper HD video.  That is a big chunk of the film stock market.

Kodak eventually got with the program and moved into digital, but they’ve had to go through some gut wrenching reorganizations while Fuji’s CEO was busy collecting an award for leading one of the best managed companies in the world.

I thought Kodak had survived, but on Friday their stock dropped by half after it was announced that they’d hired a law firm that specializes in bankruptcy.  Oops.  Too little.  Too late.

The publishers should be watching because they’re making the same mistake.  Kodak believed it was in the film stock business, but in reality they were in the image capture business.  Fuji understood this, and when a better technology came along they simply began hunting for ways to profit from this innovation.  I know purists will argue that film is better quality than HD, but some people also argue that a vinyl record album is better quality sound than an ipod–just try to go running with a record player.

Publishers believe they are in the printing industry, but they are in the book industry.  Books no longer need to be delivered to customers in the form of dead pulped trees.

I’m not saying paper books are going away forever.  Film is still used to shoot major Hollywood movies, but how many people use a film camera for their family photo albums?  I can tell you that very few TV series still shoot film, but back in the 90s they almost all did.

Publishers–rather than resisting e-books by trying to artificially hold the prices high and offering authors pathetic e-book royalties–should be looking at how to profit from e-books.

I’m on the ground floor of publishing, like when I was a camera assistant, but I’ve got that same feeling that I had back in the nineties when I wanted to run up to Kodak’s boardroom and scream, “Don’t you guys see what’s happening out there?”

Today I want to do the same in the boardrooms of the six major publishers.  I want to scream, “Don’t you guys see what’s going on out there?”

Will Publishing Streams Reverse?

There’s a shift going on in publishing that publishers and agents should be discussing over their lattes in the boardrooms of Manhattan.  I have a friend who is a well-published, successful author, but his publisher is putting the screws to him on a new contract, refusing to budge from a very miserly e-book royalty that they’ve decided is “industry standard” in a fledgling e-book industry.  This ridiculous “industry standard” mantra has so upset this author that he is considering walking away and self-publishing his next novel.

I can’t name this author because the contract negotiations are on-going, but I can say that he has a big enough name that he wouldn’t have to worry about being lost in what Joe Konrath aptly named The Tsunami of Crap that is flooding e-book stores like Smashwords and Kindle.  My friend already has an established audience that will seek him out and buy his novels.

So if the publisher calls his bluff and he indie-pubs, who will they publish in his place?  Who will accept a horrible contract to make a name?  A newbie like me, of course.

Right now we newbies put up our e-books on Amazon, desperately market them and hope to make enough sales to get the attention of the publishing or film industry and make the big sale.  Even Amanda Hocking, who could probably live on her e-book sales for the rest of her life, signed with St Martins.

But if the publishing industry continues to empty their stables of successful authors and runs instead with untested talent, it will come with an unintended consequence: self-publishing becomes more respectable.

For over a century publishers have maintained that only they know good work and that self-published novels must be crap.  They’ve been right often enough that this mantra has played well with the public.  But if publishers drive away their authors then a lot of high quality indie-pubbed novels will hit the market.  Worse for publishers, it means the public will not be so afraid to take a fly on a indie-pubbed e-book.  Note that it  won’t be self-publishing anymore, it will be indie-publishing.  Even J.K. Rowlings has placed a toe in that water.

So the streams would reverse: newbies would be with the publishers.  Established authors would indie-publish.

Of course it’s going to be a lot messier than that.  Newbies will still indie-pub first, get a small following and then take the lousy industry contract.  After their first bestseller, they’ll say goodbye to their publisher and go back to indie-publishing so that they can get the 70% royalty.

Watch out now for publishers trying to force authors into ten-book contracts to lock in long-term, cheap content providers.  This will hurt publishing in the long run, because sometimes acquisition editors make mistakes, and so a publisher could find themselves forced to publish one poor selling novel after another when an author doesn’t perform as expected.

In my humble opinion, publishers should just offer a better e-book royalty and keep their talented authors.  My friend deserves it.  Otherwise publishers may discover that they’ve made things worse for themselves by giving credibility to indie-published authors.

The New Slush Pile

Amanda Hocking, the  indie e-pubbed bestseller, credits book bloggers for taking her from a minimum-wage, dead end job to millions of books sold through Amazon and Smashwords and a seven-figure contract with St. Martin’s Press.

This news has started an avalanche of review requests by self-e-pubbed authors into book bloggers in-boxes.  So much so that Big Al, of Big Al’s books and pals, has stopped accepting unsolicited review requests.

The statement under Big Al’s submission guidelines sounds strikingly like something an agent or publisher might put on their website:

Big Al says:  “As of May 17th.  We are currently NOT accepting unsolicited review submissions until we catch up with evaluating those already received.”

I’ve heard many editors, authors and agents express concern about the e-publishing industry, and the biggest worry seems to be about who will be the gatekeepers of modern publishing.  Big Al’s announcement proves that book bloggers will be covering one gate.  How can I tell?  It just slammed closed until further notice.

Amazon Makes Author An Offer He Can’t Refuse

Author Barry Eisler shocked the publishing world when he walked away from a $500,000 deal with St. Martin’s Press so that he could self-e-publish his next John Rain novel.

Now Eisler’s tacked the other way, signing with Amazon’s new mystery/thriller imprint Thomas and Mercer.  Eisler says the advance was comparable to St. Martin’s except that the e-book royalties are significantly better. T&M will publish both print and digital versions.

Publishers are going to have to accept that offering authors a 25% royalty on e-books just isn’t going to cut it when they can get 70% from Amazon–especially when e-books never go out of print, so the contract could last until the novel goes into the public domain.

I’ve heard the argument that publishers simply can’t make enough to cover their overheads on e-publishing, and I sympathize, but times have changed.  Publishers are going to have to find a way to lower their costs, because it’s not just John Locke’s 99 cent novels (or my anthology, or my novel) that will sink them.  They’re going to start losing talent as well.

It’s getting interesting out there.  We have agents like Richard Curtis now filling the roll of e-publisher, and retailers like Amazon launching print and e-pub imprints of genres like romance and mystery.  It’s a strange new world when an author’s agent or his retailer can become his publisher.

What’s next?  That’s the interesting part.  Chaos.  Opportunity.

Genre Fiction Sells Well on Kindle

Genre fiction is selling so well on Kindle that Amazon is stepping further into the publishing roll.  They’ve opened up an imprint, Montlake Romance, that will publish everything from paranormal romance to suspense romance.

The good news for me and other genre fiction writers is that they intend to expand into other genres, maybe mystery and SF.  This means they’ll be looking for talent, and my guess is they’ll go looking at Kindle sales figures of indie e-pubbed authors to see who they should pick up.  It’s sort of a wiki to sort through the slush pile, no expensive acquisition editors to house and feed.

This, of course,  will have traditional publishers frothing at the mouth.  They merged into the big six over the last twenty years because they don’t like competition.  They’ve consoled themselves over the last few months that paper books are still 80% of book sales, and they’ve got their fingers crossed that e-readers will just be a fad that will go the way of the CB radio.

But now Amazon launches Montlake and says it will be for e-books AND print books.  Clearly Amazon has an eye on that 80% of book sales too.

An argument I’ve heard from authors who are traditionally published is that by e-publishing I’ll only be selling to 20% of the market while crossing my fingers in hopes that e-book sales continue to rise.  But what if my sales are good enough to get noticed by Amazon?  Maybe they could end up being my print publisher.  Anything is possible in this new publishing world, and it beats the heck out of writing query letters to overworked literary agents.

My Editor has My Other Baby

Fogel and I have been debating how e-books will affect freelance editors.  I’m guessing that people who want to indie e-publish will be swamping freelancers’ in-boxes with edit requests.  Fogel argues that freelance cover artists will get a lot of business, but freelance editors won’t.  She says:

“Most self-published e-books will fall into the same categories paper books do. There’ll be the professional writers who rerelease books that are out of print, and haven’t the rights to the original cover, or hated it. Then there’ll be the rank amateurs who have no business calling themselves writers and self-publish because no legitimate publisher will take them on. The former don’t need editors because the book’s finished; the latter won’t use them because they think they can write, but know they can’t draw.”

I’m sure some indie authors will fall into the Howett category, writers who simply can’t believe they need a substantive editor let alone a copy editor.  But Joe Konrath keeps pointing out that indie writers need two things: a good editor and a good cover artist.  I’m not the only indie author reading his blog.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve gone through the editing process so many times with my short stories, but I can’t imagine publishing without an editor.  So I’ve sent Fogel my other baby, the vampire novel, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that she won’t totally gut my heart out.

The good news is that she’s already read the first two chapters and written back that there are “no show-stoppers.”  From Fogel that’s high praise.

Fogel’s launched a website, but don’t hire her if you’re looking for the sort of praise you’d expect from a mother, cause you won’t be getting it.  You’ll be getting the unvarnished truth.  She doesn’t care about your feelings.  It’s why I chose her for my editor.

White Metal

My short story, White Metal, took the cover of the Storyteller Magazine’s fall 2006 edition, but this is not that cover.  Because I can’t get the rights to the cover from Storyteller, even though it’s gone out of business, I had to do up my own cover.  It’s actually better.

I now have all six of the Sioux Rock Falls stories up on Amazon.  I’m working on two more shorts and I’ll launch the whole series as anthology in a couple of weeks.  What do you think of the title: Reckless in Sioux Rock?

Who Would Walk Away From a Seven Figure Book Deal?

Not Amanda Hocking.

Less than a week after Barry Eilser walked away from a $500,000 dollar contract with St Martin’s Press so that he could self-publish his next novel, Amanda Hocking, the self-publishing star who has sold over 2 million copies of her e-books, has signed a seven figure deal with St. Martin’s for her next four novels.

It will be fascinating to watch Eisler’s and Hocking’s careers to see which route will be more successful in the long run.  I know it’s not a very scientific study since Eisler writes thrillers and Hocking writes teen paranormal romances.  As the recent Twilight saga proves, that’s a very hot market.

I’m ready for the purists to roar in outrage that she has gone over to the dark side, but I’m with her when she says that she wants her novels to be available in every Walmart, Target and airport book kiosk.

Wide print distribution is one thing the traditional publishers can still give an author, although I am doubtful about how important that will be ten years from now.  Prominent placement on the front of Amazon’s website may be the ticket in 2021.  But right now, this year, wide print distribution is still the fast lane to big bucks.

A band was once accused of selling out to the big record labels. (The Offspring?  Green Day? I can’t remember) One of the band members replied to the journalist, “Dude!  That was always the plan.”  So I don’t judge Amanda Hocking for inking this deal.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still believe that self-publishing is the way to go for most authors since we won’t all be internet superstars.  That’s why I love self-publishing: the mid-list author can finally earn a living again.

But if I was offered a seven-figure book deal?  In the bank–as bloody fast as I can arrange the funds transfer.  It’s like winning the book lottery!

So who would walk away from a seven-figure book deal?  Not me, baby.

Front Matter, Back Matter, Meta Data?

So I’m working my way through the Smashwords Style Guide, and I’m surprised to discover that they want me to put a long warning about copyright infringement at the beginning of my e-books.

I’m reminded of the FBI warning at the beginning of video movies, the ones I used to fast-forward through before DVDs came along and made that impossible.  I’ve often wondered how many movie pirates read that warning and said, “Oh no!  Better not copy or sell this.  That’s against the law.”

So I put all this extended copyright stuff at the front of my short story, Fire Retardant, and all I’ve accomplished is cluttering up the story preview–you know, the sample the buyer can check out before they take the 99 cent plunge.  Potential purchasers spend more time reading a copyright notice than my brilliant words.  That’s gonna change.

A quick survey of other e-books on my Sony proves that even Random House puts this stuff at the back, but I’m wondering if there’s even a better way: how about in the meta-data?  I’m going to check out the mobi e-pub software and see if I can stick this into the meta data when I generate the stories in Kindle format.  I would still put a copyright date with my name at the beginning, but not a long notice.

I’m guessing that the whole concept of putting copyright at the front began because in print books the first page is on the right anyway, so you might as well stick all that copyright notice stuff on the left side.  But in e-books that makes it the first page, which is probably why most publishers are switching it to the last page.

Makes sense to me.  Hey Smashwords!  You guys getting this?