I confess that one of the ways I’m a bad marketer is that I’m a lurker. I read the posts on the Goodreads apocalypse lists or Kindle Boards with fascination, but I rarely comment. I always feel like I’ve arrived too late to the conversation and that everything that can be said has been said. Then the thread goes for another two hundred comments. Apparently there was more to talk about.
Category archive: Scams
There have always been vultures in the publishing world. Phoney agents charging “reading fees” to consider your novel for representation are a classic example. One of these agents actually listed a skill on his website as “tug boat captain.” This agent could never have sold anyone’s novel to a legitimate publisher, but I bet after collecting his reading fee, he’d have been happy to recommend unsuspecting authors to equally unqualified editors and book doctors.
Authors are snobs. It’s about numbers and status. It’s about competition. There are so many of us at so many different points in our careers, which could totally tank on one poor-selling novel, and there are even thousands more people who feel they, “have a book in them.”
Forget the Mayan Apocalypse because that is so last week, or will be by the New Year. If planet Nibiru was on the way into our inner solar system, it would be the brightest star in the sky right now. As for planet killing solar flares, the sun is heading for the weakest solar maximum in a century.
I’m still amazed that the SF community around the Ad-Astra Convention continue to be so conservative about eBooks. I have many author friends with more published short stories than I have, and yet most of them have neglected to indie publish and speak of it as something only for the unwashed masses.
But this weekend at Ad-Astra I got a sense of the source of that unease about indie publishing, and it’s nasty rumors being spread by one or more established authors who have signed many times with the Big Six publishers.
These established authors are usually great about helping newbies develop their craft. At Ad-Astra they generously provide writing workshops, and they share insights into their experiences with querying, how they met their agents and how they landed a publisher. While I’ve heard one of big name authors refer to the “poor self-published saps in the dealer room,” most are supportive of newbie writers.
But this weekend at the Publishing FAQ panel I found out that at least one author is spreading false information about the indie crowd. He wasn’t there, so this is hearsay and thus I won’t name him since he may have been taken out of context or misquoted. But someone at the back of the room used his name, and said that (Big Name Author) had informed him that self-published authors were cheating by downloading their books hundreds of times in order to push up their best-seller rank on Amazon higher than traditionally published books.
I had to pick up my jaw from the floor and, while no one wanted to hear from me, I insisted on responding. I explained that Amazon doesn’t allow you to buy your own book multiple times. I admit I had only assumed this, but I tried it this morning just in case I’d lost my mind, and sure enough Amazon told me I’d already bought my book.
I explained to the panel that if an author wanted to buy their book multiple times, they’d have to open multiple accounts on multiple browsers. So basically an author can buy books for all the credit cards and e-mail addresses they own. So that’s what? Three copies? Six? Obviously that’s not going to affect your bestseller rank for more than a day.
I stated that maybe they had this mixed up with free promotional days on KDP Select, something most of them seemed totally ignorant of. I explained how on one promo day 1300 copies of Apocalypse Revolution downloaded in two hours. They weren’t downloaded by me. It’s just one of those internet mysteries. Some website somewhere let their followers know that Apocalypse Revolution was available for free, and they all snapped it up at once. That put me way up on the FREE Kindle bestseller list but didn’t do a thing for me on the PAID Kindle bestseller list where all the traditionally published novels are found.
Everyone at the panel agreed that maybe Big Name Author had been misquoted or had misunderstood the situation himself. Wherever this rumor started, the damage is done, at least among the Ad-Astra crowd. It certainly explains why many at the con seem to hold indie authors in contempt without even reading their books. It’s going to be my personal (and uphill) battle to undo the suggestion that we are somehow gaming the system.
I have many friends at Ad-Astra, and it’s still one of my favorite cons, so I look forward to the year when there is an Indie Guest of Honour (note the Canadian spelling) But I admit I’m not holding my breath that it will happen at Ad-Astra 2013. I’ve a long way to go on that road.
Since the mortgage crisis of 2008, all the pundits are looking for the next bubble, probably because most of them are embarrassed that they failed to predict either the dotcom bubble or the housing crash. That’s why I’m wary of doom forecasters, because the disaster that’s on the way is rarely the one they’re predicting.
So I admit I was skeptical of a bubble-forecasting Guardian article brought to my attention by my friend and fellow writer, Stephen Kotowych. I gave it a read though because he and I spent a couple of years critiquing each others short stories in our writers group, the Fledglings, established by author Robert J. Sawyer. You get to know someone after reading a dozen of their stories and, even more telling, hearing their critiques of your own. I trust Stephen’s judgment.
In a nut shell the Guardian article tries to compare the ePublishing craze to a financial industry bubble, but the author, Ewan Morrison, has to jump through some pretty tenuous hoops to explain why prices aren’t increasing, which is standard for a bubble–think house prices or dotcom stock prices. He states the the actual devices–eReaders, iPads, are the price increase in this analogy, although all of these have been dropping in price. I assume he means the upfront cost to the consumer who could buy books without an eReader before, but then the article is supposed to be about self-publishers.
Yet, there is some validity to his contention that we are in a self-publishing bubble, one where people who are not authors believe they can make a million bucks on Amazon. I know of one example: a man who’d never even tried to write a book before in his life, but suddenly self-published a short non-fiction self-help book. I think he truly wants to help people, but I also believe that he expected to rake in lots of cash doing it. His book sales are non-existent if Amazon’s bestseller ranking can be believed, and I predict he will never write another eBook. But I’m willing to bet that he bought an eBook, probably with a title like How You Can Make Trillions and Trillions of Dollars and End World Hunger by Self-Publishing an eBook. Hey, maybe I should write and publish that!
Sadly, I saw this gold rush coming but I was too late. I first considered self-publishing in September of 2009, and I would have beaten the tsunami of crap, but I waited until the spring of 2010, and by that time Amanda Hocking had taken off. When I read articles about her millions of sales, I knew that every dusty manuscript in a desk drawer would be out there with a quick cover and no editing. What I didn’t predict (and should have) was that every self-styled guru would be out their selling books on how to get rich ePublishing. These are like the guys selling bent shovels and treasure maps to prospectors in the Klondike.
Any writer (or publisher) could have predicted this bubble, because it’s actually been around for a long time. The general public just didn’t know about it. For the last ten years I’ve heard one editor after another, one agent after another, groan and complain about the massive depth of the slush pile. For years people have been sending in manuscripts, certain that they’re the next J.K. Rowlings or John Grisham, hoping to make millions. Publishers should be delighted with ePublishing because the slush pile can now be sorted by readers at 99 cents a pop, sometimes even for free. And ruthlessly sort they do–just check out the one star ratings that some books earn on Amazon.
As for the scammers, they’ll peak this year and fade into the background. Like spam, they’ll always be with us, but people will get very good at recognizing them.
Yes, a lot of people have jumped into self-publishing because they think it’s easy. When they don’t sell and realize that it’s hard work to learn how to write, to promote and to write more, they’ll walk away because these are also the type of people who give up quickly. Wait for the howls of outrage next year when Amazon announces that they’re dumping every self-pubbed title that hasn’t sold in two years. Contrary to popular opinion, server space is not free. Authors like me will still be there because we’re writers and that’s what we do, even if we don’t sell millions.
But where I strongly disagree with the Guardian article is the suggestion that the government should bail out publishers. They deserve a hand out from the tax payer even less than the big banks, and they’ve adapted to new technology about as well as the record companies. In other words, kicking and screaming their way into the 21st century. But unlike the big banks, publishers can easily be replaced by smaller, better publishers without much pain for the average person.
The next few years will see publishers reluctantly adapt, and the self-publishing bubble will burst, but don’t expect the industry to return to pre-eBook days. True self-publishers, like Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, will still be out there along with many other successful self-publishing authors. They may not be making millions, but they’ll make thousands. In fact, I’m looking forward to the end of the bubble. It’ll be cleansing.
My library card had expired. Gasp!
I’ve been reading eBooks for the last few years, either on my ancient Sony ( two year old technology) or on my spiffy new Kindle, but thanks to agency pricing, I have renewed my card and started borrowing dead-tree books again. That’s right, me the big eBook fan, has had to crack open some weighty volumes to get all the information I crave. But the publishers made me do it.
In an effort to fight the rising tide of eBooks, the Big Six publishers adopted the agency pricing model, where they set the price and no one is allowed to discount, and they’re setting the price of eBooks higher than paperbacks. So an electronic download, which doesn’t require logging companies, pulp mills, trucks, printing presses, more trucks and heated bookstores are now priced higher than dead-tree books. Let’s not even get into the incredibly environmentally unfriendly paperback returns policy, which sees the cover of an unsold book ripped off and returned to the publisher for credit, and the rest thrown into the recycling bin so that more trucks, pulp mills and trucks can get rev up their engines.
But what really gets me steamed is that great authors are being squeezed by the new “industry standard” on eBook royalties. This cartel of six has decided that they will not sign a single contract that pays an author more than 17% of the list price of a novel. Their stated claim that they must have this deal in order to make a profit on eBooks doesn’t ring true when you read Publishers Marketplace, which reports on each publisher’s financial statements as they’re released, and it turns out they’re all making a good profit on eBooks. It’s reduced hardcover and paperback sales that are hurting them. So they’re using eBook sales to subsidize the old industry at the expense of authors.
So I’m boycotting agency priced books, and it’s really easy to tell which books are subjected to this policy. If it costs more than $9.99, and more than the paperback, it’s an agency priced book. If Amazon can’t sell you a discounted copy, it’s an agency priced book.
For instance, a friend recommended The World Without Us as essential reading for all apocalyptic fiction authors. Amazon’s price for a Kindle version is $11.20, but the paperback is $10.20. I’ve seen far more glaring examples, where the Kindle edition is near $14 and the paperback is around $10 dollars.
This won’t last, of course. Someday one of the really big authors will say goodbye and indie-pub (or worse, sign with Amazon) so that they can collect the 70% royalty. When that happens others will follow suit, and the publishers claim that they have the best authors will melt away. Then they’ll want to lure someone like John Grisham back, and they’ll offer him a 35% eBook royalty, and every publisher after that will not be able to claim that 17% is the “industry standard.”
Meanwhile, out of the millions of indie-pubbed books, some cream will rise to the top. These authors will keep selling under $9.99 to get the 70% royalty, and as they build their careers and become in demand, they’ll eat into sales of books from traditional publishers. The only solution for the Big Six will be to lower the price of eBooks in order to compete.
But for now, I’m off to the library. I got an e-mail notice that the hold I placed (via the library’s website) on The World Without Us has been filled. Oh, and I’ve been loaning eBooks from the library too for my Sony eReader. Thank you public library. You’re a forward looking institution.
If a publisher came to me and asked to represent my novel, promising to shop it around to other publishers, I’d be stunned. If the publisher went on to say that if they couldn’t sell it to another publisher, they’d put it up as an e-book on Amazon, collect the 70% royalty and give me half, I’d say that a serious conflict of interest existed.
Confused yet? Meet to the 21st century literary agent. More agents everyday are crossing the boundary between agent and publisher, and authors should be very aware.
Right now some agents are getting the e-rights to their clients’ out-of-print books and e-publishing those novels. At a conference I even heard one older author express delight at getting a 50% royalty on net sales from his agent/publisher. I didn’t have the heart to put my hand up and tell him he could e-publish it himself and get a 70% royalty.
Dean Wesley Smith has already written what many of us are thinking: how long before agents move on from the out-of-print novels and start putting up new work from their clients? Will they even shop a client’s novel around to see if a traditional publisher would pay big bucks? That’s a lot of work when the agent can just cash in on the client’s name right away by e-publishing his/her work.
It’s the Wild West in the e-pub world right now. Authors need to be very careful about what contracts they sign with their agents, and especially what rights they sell to the agents.
See where this is going? How long before authors need an agent to negotiate a contract with their agent/e-publisher?
If I were an established author with a back list, I’d cut the agent out right now.
For you fellow bloggers this will be no surprise, but it was a new one for me: the evil of spam is everywhere. I thought it just came in e-mail, but the comments I’ve received on this blog have surprised me.
They usually begin by telling me how brilliant I am or how fascinating my blog is to read. Funny thing, they never say anything about what I’ve actually written. But the catch becomes obvious when they link to a lame or shocking web site.
I spare you guys this nuisance by marking them as spam, but if one day you find your comment wasn’t posted–well, perhaps you were too flattering and I didn’t realize you meant it. Thanks anyway.
I was offered a contract for my first novel back in 1993 and refused to sign, effectively killing that sale. Crazy? No.
I was following all the rules back then and submitting to one publisher at a time with thoughtful query letters and sample chapters. It took a year to slog through five New York publishers at that rate, so I checked out my heavy copy of the 1993 Writers Marketplace and discovered Northwest Publishing of Salt Lake City, Utah.
I know, I know. Utah is not the center of the publishing industry, but as a newbie I decided I had to start somewhere small and earn the acceptance of the big publishers and big agents.
So when I got a message from Northwest to call them because they’d like to offer me a contract, I just about jumped out of my work boots and ran for the nearest phone.
Sure enough, after asking me what I did for a living, the gentleman from Utah said, “Well Mike, we’re impressed with your novel and we’re going to offer you a contract.”
Stratospheric! I’d done it! I could forget the construction industry, where I was working while waiting for the film industry to take off. My friends from university who had complained that I was wasting my degree would have to eat their words. I had made it.
Then the gentleman from Utah proved he possessed the ethics of a great white shark. Actually, a shark is more ethical because it never pretends to be anything other than a shark.
“So Mike,” he said, still all chummy and familiar. “Every year millions of novels are submitted for publication but only a very few make it to print.”
I was falling and I had no parachute. I know a sales pitch when I hear one. Even before he got to price I knew I’d been stung by a vanity press. Price tag to get published: $9000. This, according to the shark from Utah, was only one quarter of the publishing cost. They were graciously going to cover the other three quarters. Yeah, right!
I turned them down, even as I prepared for a long stay in the film industry.
I actually don’t have a problem with self-publishing, or indie-publishing as one writer I know calls it, as long as the publisher/printer makes it clear that they’re not a traditional publisher, not even close. If a writer wants to make a go of it on their own in the indie scene–or just wants a nicely package book that they can hand out to their friends and family–then a self-publisher can be a great service.
But unfortunately most of them are sharks, using euphoria to make you vulnerable and compliant.
Northwest Publishing was even worse. I assumed that if I’d said yes I’d at least get those vanity copies, those boxes of books that I’d have to sell door to door. Thanks to SFWA, I later found out just how lucky I was that I’d said no to the contract. Near the end Northwest was still taking authors’ money but stopped even printing the books. They had gone from unethical business practices to just plain thievery.
The good news out of this sordid little tale is that the owner got a long prison sentence. The bad news is that there are smarter sharks out there, ones that know they can get away with unethical behavior as long as they’re careful with the wording of their contracts so that they’re not actually criminal.
Perhaps I should start a list. Here’s one I’ve been warned about by several authors.