Publishing Notes, 2/13/14

Just a couple for the day:

One: Today someone who had pirated editions of my work very nicely came to find out how to compensate for my work, noting that he wanted to pay me directly rather than publishers, who he felt didn’t add much value to the process. I told him I disagreed and why, and in the process offered him a point of view he’d not considered before, which he appreciated. The exchange, and further commenting from readers and authors, is available for your perusal over at Reddit’s SciFi subreddit.

The takeaway: I actually like my publishers, and they add value to my work and don’t rip me off in the process. Please don’t consider them evil (at least in their involvement with me), or try to cut them out of the pay loop. Thank you.

Two: Lots of people asking me what I think of Hugh Howey’s look at author earnings via Amazon. My thoughts about it essentially boil down to this: It’s highly anecdotal (which Hugh to his credit is up front about) and based on suppositions that are speculative at best. This is an issue for me; at the end of the day I like my book sales data like I like my UFOs: Verifiable.

So, it’s interesting and will no doubt feed some polemics for the folks who think there’s some deep ideological battle going on for the soul of publishing, but it seems to me it should be approached with the understanding that regardless of intent it’s a murky, inexact representation of what’s going on in the publishing world.

Which, to be clear, is not entirely on Hugh as the author of the report. He’s working with what he has and is, I think, making a good faith effort to make educated guesses when he doesn’t have useful data. But there is a lot of useful data he doesn’t have, because so much of the data one would need is incomplete and/or highly decentralized and/or not always in the author’s power to share –or, alternately, if the author is not happy with their sales, something they want to share. It should also be noted (as Cory Doctorow just has at Boing Boing) that Hugh’s data is limited only to Amazon. As much as it would like to be, Amazon is not the entire of the publishing retail world. I personally sell a ton of books on Amazon. But I also sell a ton of books off of Amazon, too.

What I would say is that more data sharing is good. It’s why I shared Redshirts hardcover data last year; it’s why Jim Hines talks about his writing income. In that respect, Hugh’s doing a mitzvah for writers; good on him.

38 thoughts on “Publishing Notes, 2/13/14

  1. John – what about a situation I found myself in: I already own all of you books, sans Redshirt, in a physical copy. How do you feel about someone pirating your book digitally if they already have it physically?

  2. A few years ago, when you visited Seattle on your *Fuzzy Nation* book tour, I asked you if your opinion of literary agents had changed since writing about a very helpful agent in *Agent to the Stars*. At the time, I had just started following you and that was the only book of yours I had read so far. I had (stupidly) assumed that your opinion of people in the industry would have dimmed after having more involvement with them. Thank you for setting me straight then and for always sharing your view from the “inside” with us. It’s always interesting, and as I get my act together and spend more time writing, I also find it useful.

  3. John Scott:

    My answer to your question is here. Bear in mind this is my opinion as regards my work only and should not be construed to suggest that other writers feel the same way.

  4. John:

    Your chief online opponent recently stated that you “denigrate self-publishers”. I have to say, this charge is completely unfair, as you *got your start* by self-publishing “Agent to the Stars” and “OMW”. When you self-pubbed ATS, you even wrote an introduction about your frustrations with the submission process.

    At the time (correct me if I’m wrong) you weren’t nearly as well known as you are today, and you could not have gotten your “launch” without Tor.

    I don’t see your move as ideological at all, but merely based on business considerations.

    I will have you know, John, that even though you have gotten mad at me here sometimes, I defended your good name in the blog comment threads of your archenemy!

  5. Hugh’s first two graphs mean that star-ratings are becoming increasingly useless for me. I get the idea of rating for value (experience vs. cost etc.) but if so many people are rating so strongly on cost, it’s not helpful information to me. By far it’s my investment of time not money that would drive my own star rating skew. And Hugh’s assertion that (for him) “As someone who reads both self-published and traditionally published works, I can tell you that it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the two.” Doesn’t bear out for me at all. Of the top 50 books I read about enough to judge last year, for example, self-published books account for 2, or roughly 4%. (Andy Weir’s The Martian and Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light, if anyone cares, which I doubt.) I got very few pages into 95% or so of my self-published purchases before deciding that they were not worth my time to continue. (Some of that, perhaps interestingly, is that these titles were free or $0.99 or $1.99, meaning I suppose that I had less to “lose”, sunk cost analysis wise, in tossing it aside when it became apparent it was not a book worth reading. But I also get piles of free review-if-you-want copies of big-5 published works and the “through rate” is much, much higher.) Anecdotally and unstatistically, it’s probably the small/medium publishers which have the best “through rate” for me — Small Beer, Tachyon, Apex, etc. They publish fewer books and they’re almost all worth reading, whereas a big-5 publisher may put out hundreds that I don’t care for at all amongst another huge pile that is compelling and worth reading to the end.

  6. @montsamu:

    I think you are onto something regarding the small/medium publishers.

    On one hand, I do see some problems with a consolidated traditional publishing industry, in which a rather small number of people function as “gatekeepers” for what the reading public will have access to.

    At the same time, I can see a greater but opposite problem with the idea of “zero gatekeepers.”

    What would be ideal would be something equivalent to a “farm league” for books, in which there was some screening for quality, but perhaps a little bit lower barriers to entry.

    Small/medium publishers would be theoretically poised to provide this. What seems to occur, though, is that writers who don’t foresee acceptance at the Big Six see self-publishing as a better financial deal.

    Tor obviously provides John with some publicity and other services that he would have difficulty providing for himself. But (from what I understand) smaller publishers provide less in these categories. And with more book sales going online, writers see the smaller publishers as a less advantageous option.

    John: This is merely my extrapolation. Feel free to debunk me if I’ve put my foot in it; I defer to your expertise in this area.

  7. @montsamu: I don’t think you can draw any conclusion from the first two graphs, at least not the one he’s attempting to. Of the arguments he presents I think that’s the weakest. Saying books with higher prices tend to get lower ratings is akin to saying books are rated lower on B&N’s site than Kindles because Nooks aren’t as good for reading eBooks. Kindles may happen to get better quality ratings than Nooks, and Amazon may have higher ratings on average than B&N, but saying the latter is because of the former would need more data to prove.

  8. Strictly speaking, part of Howey’s conclusions is based on extrapolation. But part of it is based on solid data mined directly from Amazon (and made available on the site). That data is very interesting.

    I don’t personally think publishers are going away, and I think they do add value, particularly in terms of visiblity. [The other things, editing and covers, can be outsourced to varying success.]

    The whole 70% of book sales are still print question is an interesting one, but one thing that has been raised lately does make me wonder: if print still represents 70% of the sales, why the heck don’t we see more print-only deals? I mean, if you’ve got a proven, wildly popular ebook only author, what is the motive force behind not making a killing on that 70% of people not buying the thing in ebook version?

    The situation is complex, and every author has to make their own decision on the basis of their own situation, and their own likelihood of being accepted by a publisher who will treat them in a way they feel is acceptable. But the maths is stacking up that it is possible to be successful both ways, and that success is not a mere outlier in the self-publishing world.

  9. I would be a little less unhappy with the report thing if it didn’t try so hard to look official and professional. As you pointed out, the data makes it neither. There are a lot of people who won’t have time to read the whole thing, won’t understand the whole thing if they do have time, and/or won’t realize that it’s a combination of anecdata and using numbers to try to corroborate pre-drawn conclusions.

    Like you said, it will be another tool in the Holy War – which is fine if you realize one is raging. Plenty of folks just won’t know that and others who do may take it at face value because they aren’t deeply skeptical internet veterans like you and me. The presentation almost seems devised to legitimize the contents. I get that Howey is trying to provide a service, but bad/incomplete data that’s shaped in strange ways isn’t helping. People will make career decisions based on this thing. :(

  10. Todd:

    As I’ve noted elsewhere, I’ve snipped Mr. Beale out of my ego searches, so in point of fact I have no idea what he’s saying about me these days. I’m happier for it. But thank you for your efforts over there.

    But, yeah, characterizing me as hostile to self-publishing or derogatory to self-publishers is incorrect. I’ve self-published before and depending on the project would happily do so again; sometimes it’s the right path for a project. Most things I don’t want to self-publish if I can avoid it, since what I really want to do is write.

    Also, yes, I’ve gone with a small press (Subterranean) for several projects because again they were the right people to handle it. I’ll be doing more with them in the future.

    I’m fortunate that most of the time I can choose which route I prefer for a given project. That’s an opportunity that’s not always open to writers, and I’m happy it’s open to me at the moment.

    I think what is accurate is that I get exasperated that some folks flog self-publishing like it’s the best thing since sliced cheese. It’s not. It’s an option and sometimes the right one (certainly more now than it was even a decade ago). But the folks who are telling you there is One True Path in publishing, whichever path that is, tend to be wrong about it in my experience.

  11. It would be cool if someone like a Nate Silver did an analysis on the numbers. It seems like every time I read a thing on self publishing, the stats are so small that a person can pick and choose whatever values they want to prove whatever they want to prove.

  12. I think what Hugh is doing is great, but again this is limited data. I love hearing about the indie (and trad publishing) successes but some of the stories (as well as Hugh’s data) can paint a picture not completely indicative of what others should expect. Last year I released two books and last month I posted my Amazon numbers (http://drivelingon.blogspot.com/2014/01/sharing-numbers.html). I’m not saying my numbers are more indicative of the norm, but it does provide a counter view.

  13. Our hanai kid has been putting in his time and finally received a contract to write for one of the big cable entertainment companies. His agent looked it over, said “Yep, the usual introductory screwing”, and proceeded to edit the contract most thoroughly before sending it back. He further said, “Anything they send to you, let me look at it first before you sign. It’s what you pay me for.” My take from all this is that a good agent is invaluable, and anyone trying to break into the entertainment business without a good one on tap is in the same position as someone representing themselves in court. It can be done, but will likely be painful.

  14. “I don’t personally think publishers are going away, and I think they do add value, particularly in terms of visiblity. [The other things, editing and covers, can be outsourced to varying success.]”

    Andrea k – However if the publisher isn’t doing that and the author does it’s more non-writing work that they author needs to take on and pay for. Then there’s marketing and distribution and…

    Much of this could be outsourced but it means the author has to want to do that, be competent at doing it (and not all people are good project managers) and be willing to pay for it. I’ve seen groups of authors do this as a collective, but I’m not sure that’s much different from becoming a small publisher that only takes submissions from the collective’s members.

  15. One thing I noticed in Mr. Howley’s color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, is that he tracks author gross income. But that compares apples and oranges.

    Let’s say Mr. Howley earns $1.50 per ebook and Mr. Scalzi earns $0.99 (completely fictitious numbers). That looks like Mr. Howley is making out much better. But that does not factor in that Mr. Howley, by self publishing has costs for editing, formatting, cover art, promotions, etc., while Mr. Scalzi has that all taken out by the publisher prior to getting his $0.99 per copy.

    Looking at gross revenue between self-published and large publisher is completely misleading and few judgements can be made about which is better from that comparison.

  16. “I’m fortunate that most of the time I can choose which route I prefer for a given project. That’s an opportunity that’s not always open to writers, and I’m happy it’s open to me at the moment.”

    This is the healthy perspective I wish more writers who are privileged to have access to the big presses would—or could—embrace. :)

  17. I think the big publishing houses and self pubs/small presses, though they’d rather curl up and die a slow agonizing death than admit so, need each other to survive today. It provides a healthy competition, and in the last ten years I’ve noticed the prices have gone down while the quality (print, paper, artwork, editing) has gone up, in both respects. I think it’s a great time to be an author that, like John, has the options to chose what suits his needs for individual projects, and has been a major boon to readers.

  18. “But the folks who are telling you there is One True Path in publishing, whichever path that is, tend to be wrong about it in my experience.”

    One could generally replace the word “publishing” in this sentence with, well, just about anything.

  19. Mark S – I stopped taking Howey’s post seriously in the section where he’s looking at what percentage of books sold are ebooks. He makes some good points about data being incomplete… then gives us a chart that is only Amazon and only the top 100. Um…. Pot? Kettle calling!

  20. The whole 70% of book sales are still print question is an interesting one, but one thing that has been raised lately does make me wonder: if print still represents 70% of the sales, why the heck don’t we see more print-only deals?

    My guess? What works for Amazon and ebooks does not always translate into successful print sales. Going to print-only with a quantity unknown outside of Amazon is like launching a new author.

    I still have people come into the bookstore who didn’t realize John Scalzi has a blog. I mean this seriously. They didn’t start reading his books because of on-line interactions. Authors are expected to spend time on-line, and while I would never say on-line life is an echo chamber, I think it’s much easier to forget that there are readers who aren’t also on-line.

    If someone is hugely successful on Amazon.com’s kindle, this doesn’t actually mean anything for the print readers who are not buying ebooks. You *can* leverage the NYT list for ebooks by the usual NYT bestseller quotes, but again, no guarantee of print success.

    And at the moment, without the margins that the ebooks will add to the whole, it’s probably not the sure thing that people seem to think it will be.

    I think it also matters which genre. Romance is very heavily adopted by the kindle/ebook readers – so 70% print, imho, is wrong. But YA is not as heavily adopted, and 70% print is probably low. A romance author who is hitting big numbers on Amazon‘s kindle might not actually return that investment in print, in an ecosystem that is less tied to ebooks.

    TL;DR: different markets, different paradigms; print success still a crapshoot.

  21. @ Mark S.

    Using your numbers, if Mr. Howey earns $1.50 per book sold on amazon by self publishing. Mr. Scalzi earns .99 per book sold on amazon, then Howey’s book is selling for about $2.85 and Scalzi’s is selling for $4.00 (assuming Mr. Scalzi gets the standard 25%. I could be low). To a lot of self publishers, a lot of that $3.00 is going for things they can do themselves, or outsource faster and cheaper and get a quicker turn around on without a drop in quality. And they don’t have to worry about non-compete clauses, release date restrictions, rights reversion, backlists, etc.

    Self publishing is work though, beyond merely writing. A lot of the successful self published authors are quite up front about this, and to them, the work they do on those things a publisher would normally do is worth the greater creative control and the extra 40-50% in royalties they receive. Which route to go is a decision every writer has to make.

    I’m more interested in what the data will look like a month, six months and a year from now.

  22. Gina B: Actually “mitzvah” was a Hebrew term long before Yiddish came into existence; Leo Rosten’s great book The Joys of Yiddish has a useful section on it.

  23. In his latest “update”, Mr. Howey compares his extremely sketchy ebook sales numbers with straight Bookscan numbers, as though Bookscan is reliable. He really is making sweeping conclusions on crappy data.

  24. ” To a lot of self publishers, a lot of that $3.00 is going for things they can do themselves, or outsource faster and cheaper and get a quicker turn around on without a drop in quality.”

    First, it’s incredibly unlikely that they scan DIY all of the tasks. Some, yes, but most authors aren’t going to be good editors of their own work.

    Second, yes, the could outsource the work that they aren’t good at or don’t want to do. However, it’s very unlikely they’ll get it both cheaper and better. Think about it… if you were a good copy editor, cover artist, etc would you charge the same rate to a one-off retail customer (the self-pub author) as to someone who’s providing you with consistent work (a publisher)? Oh, you can find people and they might well be good… but you have to do the research and evaluate them.

    Finally, you have to project manage all of this and pay for it even if your book only sells 100 copies. That latter risk is taken by the publisher, not the author in a standard deal.

    BTW, since this is my third comment… I’ve no skin in this game aside from as a reader. I just think it’s better to consider all sides of something vs championing one vs the other.

  25. There was a link on slahdot.org (techy news site) last year about a small computer game company that made a pirated version of their game and put it on Pirate Bay. The game simulates running a software company and is a business game. In the pirated game, all companies fail due to their software being pirated. They have forums for people to ask questions and discuss there game. They got vast numbers of questions from people asking how to handle software pirates.

    This is how you handle pirates. Put vast quantities of your stuff on the internet, but screw it up. This way people can’t figure out which one is a real pirated copy and which is garbage.

    I laughed out loud when I read this.

  26. @Andrew – Why are you using my numbers? I pointed out that they are fictitious.

    The point I was trying to make wasn’t that self-publishing was good or bad. The point I was trying to make is that you can’t compare the amount a self-publisher gets from Amazon to the amount a writer going through a publisher gets from an equivalent sale. One has expenses already taken out and one doesn’t.

  27. Rick,

    There are more than a few blogs out there by authors who self pub that are quite detailed in what they do to get a book from their machine to to an amazon sales page. It’s work, and they’re quite up front about it. But there are a ton of resources out there for an author who’s looking to self publish use. In fact, a lot of authors primary reasons for going self pub isn’t the higher royalty rates, but the creative control they keep, the ability to publish when they want to, and the lack of a non-compete clause. Higher royalty is a bonus, not a feature for many of them. Breanna Aubrey’s story is a recent, good example. And I only know of her because my wife bought her book, liked it, and found out she was self published when she went to her website to find out what other works she had done.

    If an authors work is of such “quality” that it sells just 100 books, no traditional big publishing house is going to publish their work, for it will never get out of the slushpile, therefore they will not see any of the benefits a publisher can offer them. And any small/boutique/niche house is probably going to do as good a job as the author could on their own with the cover, promoting and such. And even big houses can get it wrong.

    All that said, It’s an interesting time to be be a writer, there’s a few more options out there today in getting your work to market, which at the end of the day isn’t a bad thing for us readers.

  28. The whole 70% of book sales are still print question is an interesting one, but one thing that has been raised lately does make me wonder: if print still represents 70% of the sales, why the heck don’t we see more print-only deals?

    Because 30% is still a lot of money to be left on the table. A publisher would have to be willing to give up a third of potential sales just for the privilege of offering a “print-only” deal – and have to offer the author a strong financial inducement for him/her not to turn around and sell the e-Rights to somebody else! The author would likewise have to be willing to give up almost a third of potential sales for the privilege of saying, basically, “I’m a Luddite – the only books that are ‘real’ to me are on paper!”

    Moreover, it’s not just raw sales numbers for a publisher. While the cost of creating an eBook version as well as a print one isn’t quite as trivial as eBook evangelists make it sound, the physical distribution costs pretty much are (at least until Big Telco starts THEY deserve a bigger chunk of eBook revenue thanks to Net Neutrality having been struck down!). Even after giving a chunk of the pie to the big eBook sellers (Amazon and B&N.com here in the US, mainly), the rest is pretty much gravy.

    Right now, the main books that don’t have an eBook version are coffee table books because they’re more to be looked at and admired than read (and some of those have ended up ePublished as apps, to show off the abilities of tablets like the iPad or NookHD!), and backlist where the cost of tracking down the rights holder and eBook conversion aren’t deemed worth the sales. (Many of Pauline Kael’s, James Agee’s and Graham Greene’s books of film criticism are, sadly, among these – which makes me sad every time I read online movie reviews consisting of “IT’S THE MOST AWESOME MOVIE EVER FIVE STARZ!!!!!” or “THIS MOVIE SUX THUMBS DOWN!”)

  29. Mark,

    Self publishers do have expenses taken out. At least the diligent ones do. It’s a common theme among them: find a good editor, find good art, you get what you pay for. And at the end of the day, if you don’t have a good story, it’s not going to sell well, and you won’t recoup the money you spent on editing and the like. They’re paying out of pocket of course, but those expenses can be offset by higher royalties, if it sells. What a lot of self publishers are finding is that the out of pocket risk is worth it, especially with the other benefits of self publishing. That said, each writer is going to choose the best fit for them. Honestly, I think the number of “Hybrid” authors is going to increase greatly, with authors keeping their ebook rights, and having their paper rights held by a traditional publisher.

  30. I read a lot of self-published short ebooks, because I read a lot of short ebooks (shorts work well given how my reading time is right now- i.e., quite fragmented- and then I decided to start a website about them, so they are now something of a hobby for me).

    Anyway, I decided that I don’t mind “wasting” a buck or two to give a new author a chance, so I basically pay no attention to how the book is published when deciding whether to buy it. I think it is true that you are more likely to end up with unreadable drivel in a self-published book, but I have also found some real gems that I loved but do not think would ever have been picked up by a mainstream publisher. I’ve learned to pay close attention to the summary- a poor writer will usually produce a poor summary. I’ve stopped giving the benefit of the doubt so much now, and will usually skip a book with a lot of grammatical errors and/or confusing sentences in the summary.

    On the whole, I’m glad there are multiple routes for people to get their work published these days, because I think it makes it easier for there to be more diversity (of all sorts) in the work I read, and I really like that.

  31. In my opinion JS is right in his opinions about this subject as it is what has worked for him and is all he knows. I do think the publishers play a very important part and will be around for a long time. But they are not perfect, they miss things and something they choose to publish is rubbish.

  32. Personally, I’m just happy that it HAS become affordable, otherwise I’d be missing out on some books. Whether that means book by a small publishing cooperative like Book View Cafe (which means previously/simultaneously traditionally published authors experimenting with backlist and new books they are not sure will find a space at a publisher) or by single independent authors – I would not have been able to enjoy the voices of Ann Somerville, Andrea Höst, Lindsay Buroker, Debora Geary, Elizabeth McCoy without the ebook platform – I don’t really care.

    I still buy my favourite authors wherever they publish *waves at Andrea and Michelle up above*, I love supporting BAEN and DAW because they’ve always found ways to have niche authors, too – DAW introduced me to female sf&f writing in the 80s – before then I had no idea anyone other than MZB and Anne McCaffrey actually existed (didn’t know that C.J. was a woman, obviously).

    My main interest is in getting new material to read – so that these people can afford the time to write stories I can read, I need to contribute to the outlay in front – if they then shoot to superstardom and make millions out of their creative property, lovely. Well done, George Martin and J.K. Rowling – if no one had bought their books they’d never have become a phenomenon that other media were interested in, so no movies and no tv series.

    TL, DR: Buy books to enable your favourite authors to write more books.

  33. I really appreciate your quite reasonable comments on the author earnings study and your previous comments about indie publishing as an option. I’d love to see you do a followup on Redshirts earnings that includes longer term figures on hardcover, paperback, and ebook. One questions still unanswered is whether the longer trail of an ebook with the higher royalty rate that indies get will eventually overcome the advantages of a full print release.

    I think the big success of Howey’s data is we are finally moving to the question of how much how much authors can expect to make from their books by going trad or indie rather than whether one can make any money at all as an indie.

  34. “Let’s say Mr. Howley earns $1.50 per ebook and Mr. Scalzi earns $0.99 (completely fictitious numbers). That looks like Mr. Howley is making out much better. But that does not factor in that Mr. Howley, by self publishing has costs for editing, formatting, cover art, promotions, etc., while Mr. Scalzi has that all taken out by the publisher prior to getting his $0.99 per copy.”

    Hugh Howey pays $1000 for editing (example, I have no idea how much he pays)
    Hugh Howey pays $1000 for a cover
    Hugh Howey pays $1000 for some marketing (he doesn’t really need it, he’s Hugh Howey, but let’s add it in)

    Hugh Howey sells a $2.99 book and gets 70% of the sale in royalties, minus a few cents for delivery. This is about $2.05 per book in royalties. So he only has to sell 1,000 books to pay for the costs of production and marketing.

    John Scalzi pays nothing for editing (included by his publisher)
    John Scalzi pays nothing for cover art (included by his publisher)
    John Scalzi pays nothing for marketing (included by his publisher)

    John Scalzi sells a $2.99 book and gets 12.5% of list in royalties (Amazon sells the book at 50% list price, Scalzi’s royalties are 25%, so 12.5% of actual list… standard contract terms though Scalzi’s percentage may vary slightly, it won’t be anywhere close to 70% of the sales price). John Scalzi has to sell how many books to pay for what should be a fixed cost such as editing and cover art? FOREVER. He never stops paying for it.

    Unless he has a contract that no other traditionally published author has (and if he did, many other authors would have their lawyers/agents screaming in fury and pointing out that their own contracts contain clauses that force the publisher to match Scalzi’s terms if Scalzi’s terms are better than theirs).

    So let’s break this down, because you (and many others) have this notion that Scalzi is getting a better deal by having a publisher.

    Hugh Howey owns his rights to his work. Forever, unless he signs them away. He’ll get 70% of the sale in royalties as long as Amazon or other etailers are in business. Forever.

    John Scalzi gets 12.5% of list price for forever. His contract terms, if the standard industry contract, means the publisher gets the rights to his work for the rest of John Scalzi’s life PLUS 70 years.

    Why do you think it is a better deal for John Scalzi to only make 12.5% of list as royalties? Why is it better that the publisher provided editing, cover art, and marketing, and gets the lion’s share of the profits FOREVER? Or even if not forever, for life of the contract?

    How is John Scalzi getting a better deal that has him paying for editing, cover art, and marketing for the life of his contract, when Hugh Howey pays for things things up front, ONE TIME, and never has to pay them again unless he wants to change them? I’ll ask again, how is this a better deal to be charged for editing/cover/marketing forever, instead of as a one-time fee?

    This is bad math that I keep seeing everywhere. Everywhere except from the Hugh Howeys, the Joe Konraths, the Barry Eislers, and even now the Lawrence Blocks of the world.

    I respect that John Scalzi loves his publishers, and that he feels they take good care of him. But when you do some actual math, unless Scalzi is getting multi-million dollar advances for each new book, he’s making out worse than Hugh Howey (who not only got a seven figure PRINT ONLY advance, but kept full control, ie 70% of his royalties, for his digital (ebook) editions).

    When you start doing actual math instead of letting your heart dictate what you think is right, you see things in a different light. It IS a good thing that Scalzi has a good publisher that treats him right. They have to treat him right though, as he is no longer a mid-list author. He’s a best seller, and his publisher realizes it is in their best interest to do whatever it takes to keep him happy.

    But no publisher is going to give their authors 70% of the sales price of an ebook. No publisher is going to offer much higher royalties and make editing and cover art and marketing fixed, one-time costs.

    Why should an author continue to pay a percentage for editing and cover art when those two things are fixed costs that should only be paid for ONCE, not forever.

    Why would John Scalzi or any author want to give up the chance to make 70% royalties, especially now that he’s a best selling author that can sell books on his name alone? I don’t have the answer to this, only Scalzi does, and I respect that he wants to stay with his publisher.

    But to denigrate self-publishing as if we don’t know what we are doing, somehow implying that what we do is inferior to what John Scalzi does, especially when the fuzzy math being used to justify traditional publishing simply doesn’t add up (regardless of Hugh’s new Authorearnings.com bombshell).

    Howey’s numbers might not be exact, but I have yet to see any publishing execs give their version of the numbers other than the standard bleating like sheep of “70% of book sales are print!” and “We are a better path to success than self-publishing.” Those are not arguments, they are thin sales pitches.

    Every author needs to follow the path they think is best. Scalzi has chosen his the same as Howey has. But don’t try to convince anyone that Scalzi’s path is ‘cheaper’ than Howey’s because the numbers, therefore the facts, don’t agree, and there’s no way to skew or present the numbers that will show otherwise.

    The only fact is that Scalzi believes his path is what is best for him (something others actually respect, even if we believe he is making a mistake… because we like Scalzi and we like his books, and we are intelligent enough to know that you have to let humans make their own decisions regardless of what you believe is the correct answer or way).

  35. “Second, yes, the could outsource the work that they aren’t good at or don’t want to do. However, it’s very unlikely they’ll get it both cheaper and better. Think about it… if you were a good copy editor, cover artist, etc would you charge the same rate to a one-off retail customer (the self-pub author) as to someone who’s providing you with consistent work (a publisher)? Oh, you can find people and they might well be good… but you have to do the research and evaluate them.”

    Really? That’s why a large number of us use professional editors that either used to work for the Big 5 in NYC, or still do and freelance on the side, right? How are the very editors that edit trad pub books suddenly not as good when they edit self-pub books? This makes zero sense.

    Same for cover art. Those famous cover artists who do work for the Big 5 authors…. they do work for self-pubs too. For the same prices usually. The difference is, self-pubs pay it as a ONE TIME FIXED COST. Trad pub authors pay for the service FOREVER. Every single trad pub sale means the publisher is getting money for the editing and the cover, again, one-time fixed cost services. Trad pub editors and cover artists don’t continuously work on a book once it has been published. That’s foolish.

    You might be surprised at the number of service providers that work for the NYC trad publishing industry ALSO works closely with those of us who self-publish. But by your way of thinking, the instant they work on self-pub items, they are suddenly not as good as they were ten minutes before when working on a trad pub item.

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