Hugh Howey's Blog
July 24, 2014
Check out this awesome cover from M.S. Corley. The short story is SECOND SUICIDE, and it just went live on Amazon. 99 cents (or free on Kindle Unlimited).
With Jason Gurley retiring from cover art (he dropped the mic and walked off the stage, because he’s a badass like that), Corley is stepping in to work his own magic. I added him to the Indie Toolbox on the sidebar, in case you want to contact him. Just don’t bumrush him and make it impossible for me to get my covers!
Sitting at the airport in Charlotte, working on a romance novel, on my way to the Romance Writers of America’s writing conference in San Antonio.
The Friday night meet-up is going to be an informal, ad-hoc affair. Probably one of the Marriott lobby bars. Whoever is there will just be part of the meet-up, even if they don’t wanna be. Tough luck. We’re going to force people to have fun.
My panel is at 2pm on Friday, in Salon 1 of the Rivercenter Marriott Hotel. The panel is entitled: THE DOWN AND DIRTY: WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN OUTLIER. But I’m going to try and deflect that nonsense and talk about what it means to do what you love with your every spare moment, and damn the outcomes and the consequences.
July 23, 2014
Douglas Preston is doubling down on his pressure for Amazon to capitulate to his publisher, Hachette. He has written a letter proclaiming that his group, known as “Authors United,” is full of “the finest writers in English language,” the sellers of “billions of books,” that their readers “listen when they speak,” and that this “represents power.”
The problem is, Douglas Preston doesn’t seem to understand what Hachette is fighting for. It isn’t a secret; Hachette is fighting for higher prices for readers. They’ve said as much to their investors. We also know from this slide from HarperCollins that publishers are now making better margins on ebooks than on their hardbacks, a fact that agent Brian DeFlore says publishers have been lying to agents about for years.
The collusion and price-fixing case in 2010 was so much about the $9.99 price point, that when Publishers Weekly wrote an ebook about the trial, they entitled the book THE BATTLE OF $9.99. Amazon wants ebooks to cost no more than $9.99. I can see this very clearly in my own self-publishing contracts with them. If I price my ebooks over $9.99, they reduce my royalty from 70% to 35%. The reason Hachette colluded with its competitors a few years ago was to put an end to this price point and force Amazon to sell ebooks at $14.99 or even higher. Part of that reason is simply to retard the growth of ebooks and protect print.
The irony here is that Douglas Preston has been on the wrong side of this maneuvering in the past. In 2010, Hachette delayed the release of Douglas’s ebooks in order to protect their print sales, which angered his readers. They also priced his ebooks at $14.99, and Douglas heard from fifty or so readers who said they’d never read his books again. Preston lashed out at these readers, saying that they were acting entitled:
“The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing…. It’s the Wal-Mart mentality, which in my view is very unhealthy for our country. It’s this notion of not wanting to pay the real price of something…. It gives me pause when I get 50 e-mails saying ‘I’m never buying one of your books ever again. I’m moving on, you greedy, greedy author.’”
So, what’s a bigger sense of entitlement? The one where your customers tell you that you’ve priced something too high and that they’re going to spend their money with others who are offering something at a price point they like? Or the one where you insist that books have to be priced high because you want them to be priced high? I’d argue it’s the latter… Along those lines, $9.99 is areal price. Just because you don’t like what the market decides a book is worth, doesn’t mean that it’s not a real price.
Io9 covered the fallout, as did some bloggers. Preston, to his credit, apologized and pointed out that he has no control over the price of his ebooks. He also seemed to eventually concede that $9.99 was a fair price for digital books.
I spoke with Douglas a few weeks ago, and stressed to him that these negotiations between Amazon and Hachette are over the price of ebooks, and that by urging Amazon to stand down and by emboldening his publisher with his PR moves, he is in fact fighting for a return to $14.99 ebooks. That’s not the solution we should want for ourselves or our readers. All it would take for Hachette to see the light and embrace sensible pricing for digital books would be for their readers and authors to express their disdain for the $14.99 ebook. Douglas Preston’s readers have done this in the past. I wish he and his handful of authors would unite with the rest of us in denouncing these unfair prices today.
All it might take for this terrible situation to be resolved is for both sides to hear our opinions on these prices. All it takes is five minutes out of your day. Preston and his united authors are going to spend around $70,000 on a NYT ad pressuring Amazon to cave to higher prices. Their campaign is bad for books, bad for authors, and bad for readers. We don’t have wasteful NYT ads at our disposal. All we have is social media, each other, and our passion for a vibrant book culture. If you believe in $9.99 over $14.99, let your voice be heard. Let these negotiating corporations and their authors know how you feel. You can make a difference.
Douglas Preston welcomes emails at his website. Here’s a link if you want to reach out to him directly and let him know how you feel about $14.99 ebooks. I have already sent him a copy of this blog post. I’m also forwarding every signature of this petition to folks at Hachette. You can email Hachette directly as well. I urge you to be respectful. And feel free to disagree with me and to send them your support for higher ebook prices.
But all authors are not united for $14.99 ebooks. $9.99 is a fair price for a digital book that publishers don’t have to print, warehouse, ship, and have returned to them. It’s a fair price for readers who can’t pass that ebook along to a friend or sell it to a used bookstore. $14.99 is NOT a fair price for these very reasons. Let your voice be heard. Let’s put an end to these negotiations by letting Hachette and its authors know that we won’t buy their expensive ebooks.
Edited to add: After this post went live, I read that Amazon has again offered a way to support Hachette’s authors during these negotiations. This time, the offer stipulates that all profits would go to literacy charities until both parties get to the table and agree to terms. Let’s urge Hachette to take this deal, to support their authors, and to stop harming the book trade with their stubborn fight for higher ebook prices.
July 22, 2014
I’m having a Groundhog Day moment, here. Indies are getting screwed. Exclusivity is death for authors. We are in coach and Big 5 authors are in first class. Our pay is going down.
The same discussion exploded on KBoards back in 2011. They were the Kindle Boards at the time, and self-publishing was a lot more stigmatized than it is today. Amazon launched a program called KDP Select, and if you went exclusive with them, you gained two marketing advantages: Your ebooks became part of the Kindle Lending Library, and you were granted 5 “free” days for every 90-day period of Select.
There was a lot of consternation and hand-wringing from self-published authors at the time. Was it worth going exclusive for the added exposure? Were we crazy to give our books away for free? How much would a borrow pay? Would borrows affect our sales? Our rankings? What about the freebies? Who would be dumb/brave enough to sign up for this?
Those who did sign up tended to do very well. Those free days were as good as gold, and soon we were complaining that we didn’t get enough of them. I know of quite a few indies who credit Select as the tool that allowed them to transition to writing full-time. In fact, it was just a year and a half later that KBoards would erupt with threads complaining about the reduced efficacy of Select. Free downloads no longer had the same effect on ranking. The system was too beneficial for indies, and so Amazon tweaked it.
I’ve been updating my KU thread as more and more thoughts come to me. A couple days ago, I listed the ways that indies have been treated unfairly compared to traditionally published authors. Cutting and pasting here:
Amazon’s model for KU is to pay a mix of full price and a flat fee. Traditionally published authors get the full price, because their publisher gets the full sales commission. Self-published authors get a flat fee, probably something around $2 per read. There have been howls over this bifurcation, with people claiming that Amazon, for the first time, is treating indies worse than traditionally published authors. But that’s not true. Amazon has often treated indies worse than traditionally published authors.
Indies don’t get pre-orders, for instance. This has changed a little recently, with some select high-selling indies able to get pre-order buttons. (More on favoritism in a bit.) Indies can’t get into the Kindle Lending Library without being exclusive to Amazon; traditionally published authors can. Indies don’t get the full retail price paid when Amazon discounts or does promotions; traditionally published authors do. Indies only get two category listings on their ebooks; major publishers can often get more than this. Indies have their pay cut if they price below $2.99 or above $9.99; traditionally published authors have no such limitations.
While it’s awesome to see pundits like Michael Cader express—for the first time ever, perhaps—concern for self-published authors, the way it’s being framed is completely bonkers. Self-published authors have never had a level playing field on Amazon. (Despite this, they now earn more daily ebook royalties than all the authors at the Big 5 combined.) What we do have is limited control over our prices, 70% royalties in a sensible range, an equal sales platform, and no rank manipulation, like we see elsewhere.
Another thing I mention in my previous KU thread is the danger of paying too much for subscription borrows. That’s what I think is taking place elsewhere. Paying full price for a borrow is not sustainable, and Amazon shouldn’t do it either. Oyster and Scribd are doomed, or they will have to alter their pay structure or charge more for their services. What I wish Amazon would have done is make KU indie-only and invite publishers to play by the same rules. Asking Amazon to give us full sales commission for a borrow and a 10% read is like asking a manufacturing plant to pay starting wages of $60/hour. It would be fun for a little while, but then they’d have to close the plant. We need something that will last, something fair to readers (who don’t get to keep these books), writers, and retailers.
I’d be happy with $2.50 – $3.00 per borrow. I’d also be happy with a tiered payment system. I don’t think 99 cent short stories should be treated the same as $8.99 novels. I think Amazon should add a “tip button” at the end of the reading process to quickly and easily send 1 dollar directly to the author. Or create a way to subscribe to the author’s upcoming content. Or allow us to tie our own newsletters into the Amazon architecture (or build a newsletter system for us, since MailChimp can get expensive).
These are all tweaks we should be pushing for as we see how this plays out. Maybe after we see how the first month pays and what effect it has on sales. But freaking out the way people did in 2011, when the end result was amazing for authors, seems crazy to me. Or disingenuous from some sources, as the regular players who enjoy driving wedges are pulling their usual stunts.
Remember that nothing is permanent. We’ve seen Amazon tweak the KOLL structure. We’ve seen Amazon open foreign territories at 35% for non-KDP Select members, and then more recently open territories at 70%. The indies who are in KU without being exclusive? That’s not a permanent deal either. There is no permanent favoritism, just a last-minute trial offer. My guess is that it was to score top-selling content when the Big 5 balked. More than that, it’s probably to try and lure indies back into exclusivity. A lot of us cut our teeth on Select. We were the idiots who went exclusive and gave our books away for free three years ago, and then quit our day jobs due to the enormous exposure.
KU now gives us a system that pays authors for what will feel like a free read to the customer. And yet we are hearing a lot of the same worries that people had over Select and KOLL with giving books away for free. Amazing, isn’t it?
At least one thing has improved (and it isn’t the defense of indies from people who have never shown a lick of concern for us in the past; that’s just people deriving glee from stirring up discontentment within the indie community), what has improved is our expectation that Amazon should treat us as equals. Think about that for a moment.
Gradually, the indie and traditional experiences are merging. Amazon has been experimenting with giving indies pre-order buttons. They have created price tools and pressures to move self-published prices higher, and the fight with the Big 5 has been to get price points lower. Over the last few years, all the pressures in both directions have been for a unified platform, so much so that we are coming to expect it. That’s mind-blowing to me. Are we second class citizens? Hell, yeah. We always have been. Third-class, even. But we no longer expect to be. We demand parity. That’s a helluva change.
July 20, 2014
July 19, 2014
To modify a line from Jeff Bezos: “Your fear is my opportunity.” And I wish it weren’t so. I’d rather not have my opportunity than what results from your fear. I mean that. I’m really torn about this.
The things I advocate for: Reasonably priced e-books, for publishers to take risks and do exciting things, for us to embrace the future of storytelling and allow it to coexist with the past, to release all editions of a work at once, to get rid of DRM, to mix up genres and do something fresh and new . . . these are all things I’ve wanted as a reader for longer than I’ve been writing. These are things I complained about with fellow readers and bookstore workers long before I sat down and penned my first novel.
As a writer, I’m out of my mind to advocate for these things. My colleague Russell Blake, whom I greatly admire, thinks self-published authors should shut up and stop handing out free advice. And he’s right. Why should we fight for $9.99 and lower e-book prices—where we know publishers will sell more books, get more people reading, and make more money? Their fear of low prices is my opportunity.
Kindle Unlimited launched yesterday, and publishers are slow to sign on. None have, as far as I can tell. Even the Scholastic works might be available only because Amazon is treating every “borrow” as a full-price sale. Whether it’s fear of Amazon having more market share or fear of subscription services keeping them at bay, it’s all opportunity for me and other self-published authors.
But I’m annoyed. Because I am a reader first. And I want more readers. Selfishly, as a reader, I want more readers. I want to see airports full of people staring at books, e-readers, and tablets laced with text. Not people staring at cell phones, Candy Crush, Facebook, or authors’ blogs. I want book culture everywhere. I want interactions with strangers to be about what they’ve read lately. I want my social media feed to be all about books. I’m an addict, and I want to get other people hooked. Maybe that’s a bad thing. I don’t care.
There is so much room to innovate, to get wild and crazy, to try things that have never been tried before (or to bring back things that have been lost to time). Fan fiction used to be a thing. Shakespeare made a career out of fan fiction. Publishers could create their own Kindle Worlds programs, so why don’t they?
The Halo books and Star Wars novels have shown the potential for mega universes with frequent releases. I grew up gobbling down D&D and Forgotten Realms books. Publishers have developed their own IP in the past, so why aren’t we at least experimenting with that now? Create a universe for several genres; hire the writers you want to develop stories in that universe; and enjoy ownership of the IP for decades to come. When the games, films, and merchandise take off, you own it.
Look at what Netflix is doing with original content and how it is released. What if a 12-book universe dropped on the same day? Don’t stagger them at all, just put them out there at once. What would happen? Why don’t we find out?
When the potential of self-publishing became evident, publishers could have launched their own writing platforms. They could have created a website for manuscripts. Maybe Slush.com (or whatever is close and available). Crowdsource the selection process. How many albums did American Idol sell by crowdsourcing the talent pool and selection process? Yeah, we won’t be able to get millions of people to tune in and cheer on writers . . . except Wattpad does just that. Instead, publishers got into self-publishing by signing on with Authors Solutions, a vanity press that takes advantage of aspiring writers.
A lot of self-published authors have had great success with giving away the first book in a series or the first part of a serialized novel. One of my publishers, operating out of fear, haggled with an editor over how much we should get paid for including the first part of WOOL in the sequel to a bestselling anthology. I was willing to pay money out of my own pocket to get INTO this anthology. Fear of “free” is our opportunity as self-published authors. Fear of DRM, of subscription services, of affordable prices, of print-on-demand. Fear of backlist, of promos, of competition. Fear of openness, sharing, fan fiction, communal storytelling.
All of this fear is where I make my living, and all it does is sadden me. I’d give up the former to live in a world with less of the latter.
There are countless things we could try in order to make reading hip and to grow book culture, but what we have instead is a lot of fear and the same-old. You want bookstores on every corner? Make reading as addictive as caffeine. You want to watch bookstores disappear? Keep playing it safe.
Let’s get crazy. Let’s celebrate short fiction and get big-name authors to participate. At least two short pieces a year in addition to that novel. Think of them as singles from musicians. Adele does a track for a Bond movie, and there’s extra revenue, exposure, excitement. What if JK Rowling wrote a 5,000 word short in the Harry Potter universe, but you could only get that story in the back of the new hardback by a debut author who is writing about an epic battle between fairies and dragons? So what if people copy and pirate Rowling’s story? Do it anyway.
Every debut author should be paired with a veteran who writes similar works. And their books should hit on the same day. Staggering releases away from each other is how you create boredom. The film industry makes summers all about blockbusters; the video game industry makes the Holiday break all about marathon gaming session. Where is that entire epic fantasy series that drops around graduation and becomes the must-read binge event of the summer?
Where are the writing groups and reading clubs sponsored by publishers? Where is the partnership with schools to make reading as enjoyable as possible rather than drudgery and something to avoid later in life? Where is my waterproof e-reader? Why can’t I buy John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books for something less than $10 each?
Publishers fear Google for scanning out of print books, and they fear Amazon for changing the way we read, and that fear is so disappointing. I’m a reader first. Selfishly, I want to meet readers everywhere I go. I want to laugh about bookstores on three out of four corners at a major metropolitan intersection. I want fan fiction, new worlds to explore, zero wait between books, short works that I can read over lunch, and some reliable way of discovering great new voices that will lodge in my head for life.
Technology companies are well on their way to owning book culture. The literary world is now on the west coast, not in New York. It’s not too late to compete and innovate, but it requires letting go of fear and taking big risks. It means stop watching other publishers to see what they are doing, and do what they fear doing. Be the first to leap. Take their market share. Stop worrying about a friend, colleague, and fellow CEO calling you up to ask what in the world you are thinking. Tell them, “Your fear is my opportunity.” Tell them to try and keep up. Tell them you want to see readers everywhere you look, and you aren’t going to stop trying new things until that happens.
Fortune favors the bold. Wow me. Impress me. Put me out of business. I’ll happily find a day job where I can sneak some reading in when no one’s looking.
July 18, 2014
Amazon can’t twitch without indies taking notice. For a brief period yesterday morning, a landing page for a new Amazon streaming service appeared online. A thread at KBoards exploded with the news (are the KBoard forums the best watchdog, author community, and training center all rolled into one, or what?), and then Engadget, Time, and others followed with coverage of their own.
Author and all-around awesome dude Jan Strnad wrote up one of the first detailed opinion pieces about the service, and I share some of his concerns. Subscription services have been rough on musicians. Will they be rough on authors? It’s too soon to tell, but there are a couple ways that books are fundamentally different than music, and perhaps reasons to be cautiously optimistic.
The biggest difference between books and tunes is the time investment. You spend hours, days, even weeks with a good book. You can stream hundreds of tunes in the same amount of time. So hopefully the revenue stream to authors won’t be as diluted as it is for musicians. It also sounds like Amazon has increased the funding for the borrow pool, and I’m guessing profit from the $9.99 monthly fee will go toward funding this program as well, so if they can keep the rate-per-read at $2 or get it higher, this could be a great source of revenue for authors.
Another way that this could be good is the same way that piracy can be good: Exposure. I’m reading a great book right now that my mom handed to me after she read it. Do authors freak out over this common occurrence? I don’t. I want to be read. I hope people pass my books along. The new and shiny aspects of anything will scare some and excite others, and that’s normal. In the last day, I’ve heard from some indie authors a lot smarter than me that we’re about to see our income go up. I’ve also heard from some indie authors a lot smarter than me that this is the end of the world. In a few months or a year, we’ll have a better grasp on how this will play out.
A few things in Amazon’s favor. The first is the inclusion of audiobooks. That’s been a surprising revenue stream for quite a few indies. The second is the 10% sample trigger. For the reader, the $9.99 monthly charge doesn’t change, however many books they try. I think this low trigger will really help spread the wealth to a lot of new writers. The third is the Netflix Reality. People pay a monthly fee to have access to Netflix films, but they still go to the cinema, buy movies elsewhere, and watch TV. Voracious readers will see that $9.99 as one or two books out of their budget every month. That still leaves them shopping for reads on the side.
One of the coolest things I’ve seen in the last two days were the announcements from Scribd and Oyster. Both companies congratulated Amazon on entering a field that they helped to popularize. They welcomed the competition, and spokespeople from both companies took pride in the validation this move gives to their own hard work. I love that attitude. There are a lot of companies out there fighting to please readers and to make reading competitive and awesome. While I’ll be keeping a very close eye on what this does for author income, my main reaction to this is that reading is the best thing you can do with your free time, and it just got easier and more affordable. Will we be subsisting on crumbs in the future? Or will we see the entire pie just get bigger? Right now, I would bet on the latter.
More thoughts as they are coming to me:
Last I heard, the Kindle app on the iPad didn’t allow for direct purchases. Will Kindle Unlimited provide a workaround? If a reader is paying a monthly fee, Amazon is able to bill directly and automatically outside of the app, meaning grabbing a book and reading it on another device will be more seamless than before. This could add to the “stickiness” of the Kindle reading architecture. Not sure if that was part of the plan or just a side benefit. Obviously, Amazon needed to enter this game while it was heating up rather than waiting on the sidelines to see how it shakes out.
How will the Kindle Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited coexist? Will this be like a main library and a sister branch? It appears they share the same pool of funds for authors. One thing I’ve learned about Amazon from watching their moves is that they seem to try as many things as possible, figure out what’s working and what isn’t, and focus their energies accordingly.
Thoughts as I try out Kindle Unlimited:
I just grabbed a copy of Chabon’s WONDER BOYS. Been on my TBR pile forever. The book loaded straight to my Kindle like a purchased title. I didn’t have to pay anything, as there’s a 1-month free trial of Kindle Unlimited. It was almost too easy. Dangerous, like that 1-Click button. Curiosity becomes choice.
I see a lot of readers giving this a try because of that. Interestingly, the audiobook version of WONDER BOYS also showed up on my device. My wife does 80% of her reading by audio; I rarely listen to them, but now I might as well give it a try. I wonder how many readers will start doing the same? Honestly, I can’t wrap my head around all the implications of this service if it takes off.
I try to base all my decisions as a self-published author on what’s best for the reader. It makes decisions easier, and it almost always works out. This streaming nonsense looks magical from my voracious reader perspective. Like: Too good to be true magical. I hope that means it’s good for writers. In a few months, we should be able to tell.
Some THE SKY IS FALLING thoughts:
The biggest advantage self-published books have over traditionally published books might be price. As a FB follower pointed out, if all books are “free,” because the $9.99 is already being paid every month, will indies suffer disproportionately? Perhaps in the long run. Right now, it seems that the Big 5 is not going all-in with book streaming. And they might, in order to spite Amazon, continue to withhold books from KU. So just as with their god-awful pricing strategies, their unwillingness to serve readers might continue to work to the self-published author’s benefit.
July 16, 2014
This one is a doozy. Not only because three reports taken at 3-month increments all agree with one another, but because the myth of self-publishing only working in certain genres is busted. Turns out that indies do indeed dominate in those genres, but they have taken significant share everywhere else as well.
I have indie friends who think we are crazy to urge Hachette to lower their ebook prices and be reasonable for the sake of their readers and their authors, and you can see why in this data. Indie authors are producing great works at unbeatable prices, and readers are rewarding them with market share. In this snapshot, indies as a cohort have overtaken all Big 5 authors combined when it comes to daily royalties earned on the Kindle Store. Unreal.
Also some info on DRM here. Short version: It’s worse than useless; it might be hurting your sales.
Of all the myriad disruptions in the publishing world over the last few decades, perhaps none are as powerful as the new permanence of the written word. Every book now has the power to stay in print and on sale for the rest of time. Not just the blockbusters, the instant classics, or the works from the biggest names—but all books.
Print on demand technology now allows a paperback to be spit out of a machine in mere minutes. The quality of print on demand books is better than those acid-paper Penguin Classics of yore, and the quality is only improving. Ebooks, of course, never run out, and they can be easily updated over time. Both editions sit on product page “shelves” that never collect dust, and these books never need returning. At any moment, a book written years ago can be “discovered” and crawl up bestseller lists.
I have already heard from writers who self-published, gave up on their careers, and then saw money hit their bank accounts. Books they no longer tended to had become bestsellers over time and with no promotion, and now these writers are engaged with their passion again. I learned about this after writing a post on KBoards predicting we might see this happen some years from now. I was informed that it is already happening.
The full effect of book permanence probably won’t be appreciated for another ten or twenty years. But we should start thinking about it now. Because copyright, contracts, and advances were created for an old model that no longer exists. Is there any possible way to defend a $5,000 advance for the lifetime rights to a work that can never go out of print? The standard term of copyright is the life of the author plus seventy years!
This is absolutely indefensible. It should cost much more to strip away ownership of a work of art for that length of time. One of three things needs to happen in book contracts, and immediately:
We need a hard cap on the number of years in a term of license.
We need to set price minimums for a life + 70 term.
We need reversion clauses to move to a minimum wage.
Most foreign publishers set terms of license between 3 and 10 years, after which the author gets the rights back, no matter how well the title is selling. These terms are possible in the US. One of my contracts with a Big 5 publisher has a hard 7 year term, after which my rights are returned. Every publishing contract should have this as a possibility. It’s something that should be open for negotiation for authors at all stages of their careers.
The alternative to this would be a minimum advance for lifetime rights. I’d be happy with a low limit, like $100,000. That might still be cheap for the rights to a work that will never go out of print, but at least it would force publishers to offer a limited term of license to debuting and midlist authors who might not command a 6-figure advance. Of course, a higher price minimum of $500,000 to $1,000,000 would be preferable.
The final option is one I first saw from The Passive Guy, and that’s to get rid of outdated reversion clauses based on units sold and move to a minimum wage reversion clause. Reversion terms today are laughable. From a Big 5 publishers, I’ve seen a boilerplate reversion clause of 150 units over three accounting periods. That means, as long as the title sells 150 copies in any format in a year and a half, the publisher retains the rights to that work.
Clauses like these were ridiculous in the age in which they were written, but now they’ve become abusive. When books could go out of print, such low sales targets still worked to some degree. Now, a publisher could lower the price of an ebook to 99 cents, sell a couple hundred copies (or buy them internally), and retain ownership.
It’s not a question of whether or not publishers would do this but that they are not contractually forbidden from doing it. Contracts exist to protect parties from “what ifs.” A minimum wage reversion clause means an author and agent will know what their income will be in this age of variably priced, free to “print,” ebooks. The clause might stipulate that if an author does not earn $3,000 in royalties over any six-month period, the author gets the rights back at the end of that period (or the publisher is allowed a grace period to do something to boost sales).
There are several ways to handle term of copyright in an age of book permanence, and there are precedents for these solutions in foreign contracts and in some domestic ones as well. The problem is that agents and authors don’t demand these changes and stick to their guns. With the Big 5′s near-monopoly on chain bookstore distribution, there haven’t been alternatives to onerous contracts. You took what was offered, because the offer around the corner was going to look identical in every meaningful way.
The only people with leverage to get better terms are those authors who no longer need the protection. This is where self-publishing and platforms like Amazon and Kobo are a boon not just to indie authors but to all authors. When agents start advising clients to hold out for limited terms of license—and to self-publish if they can’t get these terms—contracts will improve for all writers.
In the end, we may not need an Authors’ Guild fighting for our rights. It sure would be nice to have them in our corner instead of the publishers’ corner, but now that the book industry has a true competitive force—and now that authors have real options—change is going to happen. We just need to start demanding it.
July 15, 2014
Where would I be without Amazon?
With the ongoing PR war between Amazon and Hachette (and the Big 5, generally), all centered on an increasingly confusing contract dispute, I’ve been thinking a lot about that ubiquitous online beast. This amorphous Aladdin’s Cave of All Things Retail. And, say what you will about their pluses and minuses – and there are many of both, no doubt – its simple existence has changed countless lives.
As a relatively unknown writer who self-publishes, I now know that what I do will land in the hands of readers. That after it’s beta-read and edited, properly formatted and polished to a beautiful shine, I’ll be able to head on over to KDP, download the book and the cover, hit Publish and, in very little time at all, have my latest work Live.
Ten years ago, in a world without Amazon or KDP, this wasn’t the case. Ten years ago, the manuscript would have sat ignored as I labored over the query letter. It would have gathered dust as I tried again and again to crack some unknown query/synopsis code that would merit the attention of Those In New York.
Ten years ago, my only hope for some kind of a career hid in some tacit “you’re good enough” nod from the Gatekeepers of Traditional Publishing, because, back then, my being “good enough” sat squarely and forever in the hands of Unreachable Others.
Long story short, ten years ago I would not be the writer I am today.
My focus has always been on the telling of the tale. Yes, it needs to be well-written with attention to proper sentence structure and an engaging narrative. And, yes, the characters you create need to be not only unique, but also easy to identify with. These are all basics in the writing of a good book.
That was my focus. Still is my focus. Writing a good book. And, like so many before me, the hoops one needed to hop through to get a good book into the hands of readers who craved a tale well-told were too onerous. This hopping of hoops killed careers before they could ever find their footing.
I know it would have killed mine.
Then along came Amazon.
Amazon opened the doors. Instead of hoops, Amazon offered opportunity. Seeing an industry denying undiscovered talent their chance to be heard, Amazon stepped to the plate.
Single mothers in the Midwest found their romance novels becoming bestsellers. Goth kids dressed in black discovered they’re not alone, their zombie books collecting earnest raves from their peers. Retirees who’d put their dreams of Writing on hold so they could pay the bills and raise a family reinvented themselves as novelists with a lifetime of stories to tell.
Would any of them have found a home with the Big Five if they’d had to hippity-hop through all those hoops? Would these everyday, average, ordinary folks with neither connections nor celebrity been given the time of day by the Big Five if we were still stuck in a World Without Amazon?
In short, what Amazon did was good for writers and even better for readers.
Because Amazon understands that readers don’t care who publishes who.
A recent study (http://authorearnings.com/reports/the-50k-report/ ) showed 41% of Amazon’s genre ebook bestseller list comprised of smaller, indie published books and single author-published work compared to 22% for books released by the Big Five.
Furthermore, and surprisingly, these non-Big Fivers appear to be making more from their work than those who sit under the traditional publishing umbrella ( http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/do-self-publishing-authors-earn-more/ )
At the end of the day, you simply can’t deny how greatly lives, and an industry, have been changed by this Amazonian opening of doors. A change more traditionally based writers and publishers are still struggling to adapt to.
And I, for one, am grateful. Safe to say, as long as Amazon keeps ‘em open, I’ll continue to walk through, armed with new stories to tell.
Screenwriter, playwright, actor, and author of Martuk … the Holy and The Martuk Series, Jonathan Winn was born in Seattle, WA. He currently lives in the US.
Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche is his second full-length novel and can be found on