Why In Fact Publishing Will Not Go Away Anytime Soon: A Deeply Slanted Play in Three Acts


ELTON P. STRAÜMANN, a modern-thinking man with exciting ideas
JOHN SCALZI, a humble writer
KRISTINE SCALZI, the wife of a humble writer



STRAÜMANN: The publishing world is changing! In the future, authors will no longer need those fat cat middle men known as “publishers” to get in the way of their art! It will just be the author and his audience!

SCALZI: Won’t I need an editor? Or a copy editor? Or a cover artist? Or a book designer? Or a publicist? Or someone to print the book and get it into stores?

STRAÜMANN (waves hand, testily): Yes, yes. But all those things you can do yourself.

SCALZI: And I’m supposed to write the book, too?

STRAÜMANN (snorts): As if writing was hard. Now go! And write your novel!

SCALZI goes off to write his novel. STRAÜMANN stands, alone, on stage, for several months. Eventually SCALZI returns, with a book.

STRAÜMANN: You again! What took you so long?

SCALZI: Well, I had write the book. Then I had to edit it, copy edit it, do the cover, do the book design, have it printed, act as my own distributor and send out press releases. It cost me thousands of dollars out of my own pocket and the better part of a year. But look! Here’s the book!

STRAÜMANN (pulls out his electronic reader): I’m sorry, I only read on this.

SCALZI sighs, slinks off the stage.

STRAÜMANN (yelling after SCALZI): And where’s the sequel? Why aren’t you writing more?!?



STRAÜMANN: I’m still waiting for that sequel, you know.

SCALZI: I spent all my money last year making that first book. And it didn’t sell very well.

STRAÜMANN (sneers): Well, what did you expect? The editing was sloppy, the copy editing was atrocious, the layout was amateurish and the cover art looked like it was Photoshopped by a dog. Who would want to buy that?

SCALZI (dejected): I know.

STRAÜMANN: Seriously, what were you thinking.

SCALZI: But that’s my point! I want to get professional editing and copy editing and book design and cover art, but I just can’t afford it.

STRAÜMANN (smiles): Scalzi, you naive fool. Don’t you realize that thanks to the current economy we live in, editors and copy editors and artists are desperately looking for work! Surely some of them will work for almost nothing! Scratch that — they’ll work for exactly nothing!

SCALZI: Is that ethical? To get work from people without paying them?

STRAÜMANN: Of course it is. They’ll profit from the exposure.

SCALZI: I don’t think a printer is going to want to be paid in exposure.

STRAÜMANN: Then release the book electronically to skip on all those printing costs!

SCALZI: Yes! And then sell it for a reasonable price!

STRAÜMANN (shrugs): Well, do what you want. I’ll be getting it off a torrent.


STRAÜMANN (brandishing his electronic reader): I paid $300 for this thing! Honestly, how much do you expect me to pay to fill it?

SCALZI: So, pay people nothing to help me create a book I make nothing on, for people who will refuse to pay for it.

STRAÜMANN: I wouldn’t put it that way. But yes.

STRAÜMANN and SCALZI stand for a moment, silent.

SCALZI: I’m trying to remember if you voted for Obama.

STRAÜMANN (snorts): As if I’d vote for a Communist.



STRAÜMANN: Dude, where the fuck is that sequel? I’m dying over here.

SCALZI: Well, I was going to write it, but when I tried to find editors and artists to work on it for free, I kind of hit a road block. The ones who were good wouldn’t work for free, and the ones that were free weren’t good.

STRAÜMANN (rolls his eyes): Well, duh. I could have told you that.


STRAÜMANN: But that’s not important now. What’s important is that we get you writing again.

SCALZI: But I don’t have the money to make another book with professional help, and I don’t have the time to make another book on my own.

STRAÜMANN: As it happens, I have a solution for you. And look, here she is.


STRAÜMANN: Mrs. Scalzi, a word, please.


STRAÜMANN: As you may know, your husband is a writer. But he is finding it difficult to do writing recently because of issues of cost and time. I know that you are the organized, financially-minded person in your relationship, so allow me to suggest to you that you become his publisher. While he writes, you locate and pay for an editor, a copy editor, a cover artist, a book designer, a publicist, a printer and a distributor. This will leave him free to focus on his craft, and the sequel I so desire.

KRISTINE: I see. And you propose I fund these people how?

STRAÜMANN: Well, I’m sure I don’t know, Mrs. Scalzi, but I have faith in your ability to do so.

KRISTINE: So to recap, you want me to quit my full-time job and devote all my time to my husband’s career.

STRAÜMANN: Of course not! I never said for you to quit your job. You need the health insurance.

KRISTINE: Ah. Could you come over here for just a second?

STRAÜMANN (walks toward KRISTINE): Yes?

KRISTINE clocks STRAÜMANN in the head, stunning him, then rips off his testicles, stuffs them into his mouth and sets him on fire while he chokes on them. STRAÜMANN dies.

KRISTINE (to SCALZI): You. Find a fucking publisher.

SCALZI: Yes, dear.


340 Comments on “Why In Fact Publishing Will <i>Not</i> Go Away Anytime Soon: A Deeply Slanted Play in Three Acts”

  1. Your wife is so cool. I want to talk strikes, blocks, and take-down techniques with her.

    (Also, the rest of the post is spot on, as usual.)

  2. and I LOLd.

    …and decided that a comment thread following this dramatic masterwork was the WRONG place to have substantive meaningful discussion about different publishing models.

    Because that would distract from the LOLs.

  3. [Deleted NOT because I disapprove of the comment, but because it’s not on topic for this thread. Anthea, I would be delighted if you reposted it in this thread, where it would be more appropriate. Thanks! — JS]

  4. Well really I don’t see why you’re so surprised. Getting Kodi to do your cover art would be a huge mistake. Dogs suck at photoshop.

  5. As soon as I saw that Krissy was a character and that Stawman was a tool, I thought “this is going to end with punching.” And lo, punching ensued. Hilarious, hilarious punching.

    I personally don’t think publishing is going to vanish entirely, but I do think the digital age has brought smaller presses and indie publishers better distribution opportunities and market access they didn’t have twenty years ago. Which I see as a positive thing.

    I see the internet and e-books making it a lot easier for publishers to take chances on new talent and books with smaller audiences, which I think is a win.

    I also see the economy making it easier for publishers to fall back on big bestseller releases–which are their bread and butter even at the best of times–to the exclusion of new talent and smaller titles. Which I think is a lose (in a ‘that sucks for all of us’ way, not an ‘I blame the publishers’ way).

    So while you’re busy writing, editing, designing, printing, and promoting your next book, do you think you can fix this economy thing for us? That’d be great.

  6. Your wife sounds like an over-powered plot device. Then again, I bet she’s just as formidable in RL.


    (Although I had STRAÜMANN talk with a posh British accent in my mind – it WAS a play after all – which totally didn’t work when he said “Dude, where the fuck is that sequel?”)

  7. whoops, department of redundancy department. Clearly I should have hired an editor.

  8. you know… There’s something funny about Mr. STRAÜMANN. Something I can’t quite put my finger on… Like I’ve heard of him before.

  9. I think everyone’s missing the most important point here!

    Dude, where the fuck is that sequel?


  10. It’s funny I hear wannabes on some writers’ forums tell me how writers should skip the middle man and do all the work myself and keep all the money I make. I try to explain, to no avail.

    I’ll just link to this instead.

  11. In a previous life, I helped a friend run a comic book store. We had many people tell us how to cut out the distributor and get our comics directly from the smaller self-publishers. That way we would get a better discount and the small publisher would get more money.

    When people first started telling me their brilliant idea, I pointed out that we would then need to call 10-15 publishers to find out where our comics are or that we didn’t get the correct amount or that they were damaged. And the small publisher would have to deal with 100-200 comic stores calling about those complaints. So we would have no time to sell to customers and the publisher would have no time create their comics.

    After awhile I just told people we were too lazy to do it, because they couldn’t understand the explanation (“Come on, how difficult could it be” was the usual response). Intermediaries are there for a reason and serve a real purpose. I would rather Mr. Scalzi spend his time writing fiction for me to purchase than to spend days or weeks following up with the cover artist and the bookstores and the copy editors.

  12. I don’t own a Kindle, so please enlighten me. Do e-books have cover art? It seems like the primary purpose of cover art is to make the book stand out on store bookshelves, whereas an e-book would rely more on user reviews to draw potential readers.

  13. I suspected Mrs. S. had stones, but I didn’t realize they were someone else’s. But that just makes her sound all the more awesome. Or fearsome, depending on which side of the transaction you’re on.

    I’ll bet she’d make a heck of an agent.

  14. So what about Baen? They’ve got you one better- their readers PAY EXTRA to be free copy-editors and factcheckers. That $15 Baen ebook price is just for E-Advanced Reader Copies- once the book is printed, it usually drops to $6.

    I’ve heard people say Baen doesn’t do as much promotion as other publishers- but I’ve seen their books in supermarkets on several occasions, so someone is clearly pushing them.

    I guess what I’m saying is “John, please get a BETTER publisher!”

  15. Thank you, John. I very much enjoyed my break from editing antitrust tomes. Now I’m going to get back to substituting “that” for “which” with a lighter heart.

  16. Hilarious, and so very true.


    Yes, eBook pricing should be the only thing Scalzi takes into consideration when working with a publisher, no matter how wonderfully Tor may have treated him.

  17. Frankly, I was a little disappointed. Kristine showed Straümann much more mercy than he deserved.

  18. PeterP:

    Yes, ebooks have cover art. Some people appear to think they need it. As a Kindle owner, my own opinion is that I really don’t need dirty smudges that look like someone dropped a bucket of bits at the beginning of my eBook. Furthermore, when I click the “Go to Beginning” link it generally puts me at the acknowledgements or the first page of the story, so I don’t see the cover anyway.

    Because of the second factor, I’m not convinced ‘cover’ art is necessary anyway on an ebook. But it would be nicer if the Kindle could handle images better than the current ‘dirty smudge’ level, because internal illustrations come out the same way. This means that when I read e.g. James Owens’ Imaginarium Geographica books or Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan, I get a great reading experience but miss out on the extra visual treats. The iPad is probably better for that, though I like e-Ink for actual reading.

  19. Does you wife know that you’re writing Socratic dialogues that feature her violently murdering your characters? And if so, does she get to pick how?

  20. John, in the inevitable follow up piece, could you address why having a crowd sourced peer editing may be a bad idea.

  21. Speaking as a freelance editor whose clients include several tech publishers, I’ve been trying very hard to believe this for the last ten years. “No matter whether the books are printed with ink or electrons, they’ll always need an editor!” I proclaimed. Problem is, lately I’ve been told that readers don’t care much about the quality of the editing, and that, at least in technology, where the churn rate is high, readers are quite happy to accept the level of editing in a book that they might get on their favorite technology blog, which is to say, none at all. Am I just in the wrong area of publishing?

  22. Incredible. He was impervious to our most powerful evidence, yet after all that men could do had failed he was destroyed by simple fire.
    Even so, somehow I feel we haven’t seen the last of Elton P. Straümann.

  23. @ Brian: Well, if I buy the book, whether it’s for 6$, 9.99$ or 15$, I do care if it’s riddled with typos, if the characters’ names are not consistent throughout, or if sentences are missing. If I read the e-text for free, it’s less important.

  24. Problem is, lately I’ve been told that readers don’t care much about the quality of the editing, and that, at least in technology, where the churn rate is high, readers are quite happy to accept the level of editing in a book that they might get on their favorite technology blog, which is to say, none at all. Am I just in the wrong area of publishing?

    People read books that have been edited and claim that they don’t care about editing. If they buy books that aren’t edited (typos, mistakes in layout, etc) they will complain about what a horrible writer the author is and why should they pay their money for this horribly edited garbage.

  25. Well, you had me going until the last part there and then you ruined the suspension of disbelief. I’m supposed to believe Straümann had balls?

    Merus @38: consider whether John would have survived very long if he did things like not running posts about his wife past her before putting them on the Internet.

  26. Brian – no, trust me. Even with the decline in work, the pay scales for fiction editing compared to sci, med and tech publishing would make you laugh.

    As for tech publishing not really needing editors, well, when a tech book has a line in it that misrepresents a value, or mis-states steps needed to build a device, and someone builds it, it’ll fail. So no, you’re not unnecessary. You’ve just been talking to morons. As seen in preceding threads, there’s no shortage of those.

    Oh, and John, this has been my laugh of the week from the Amazon/Macmillan wars . I think I’ve all found the perfect person to plat the part of Straumann.

  27. Brian, there’s an extra factor in fiction that requires good editing: the immersion experience. While a massive editing glitch may distract a reader of a technical document, it knocks a fiction reader out of the story.

  28. @efnord – Baen does plenty of marketing. They just do it the old fashioned way, word of mouth. Of course, they hasten word of mouth with things like the Baen free library and thefifthimperium, as well as a legion of fans who are as rabidly partisan about the publishing house itself as the actual authors.

  29. Will you please quit topping yourself? :)

    Just a word to the restless crowd — bestsellers are a good thing. Scalzi is a bestseller (of sorts.) Bestselling books remind people that books exist, lure them into maybe even going into a bookstore or checking out the book section of online stores like Amazon, attract readers to other books and help fund the publication and publicity efforts for other books. The more bestsellers we have, the more media attention books get and the more books are seen as an attractive product. The e-book market would not be developing at the rate it is without bestsellers. Bestsellers help fund bookstores, and not just the chains but the indies too. Bestsellers help out small presses as well. Books selling well is never, ever a bad thing for the industry.

    And most importantly, bestsellers are not all the same. Bestsellers are literary award winners, bestsellers are books that are then made into thriller movies, bestsellers are children’s tales full of warmth and laughter, bestsellers are important books on politics or global issues, moving memoirs and tales of history, or useful cookbooks. They are written by authors who gained an audience and even the tiny few who got advertising campaigns got that audience mostly by good old word of mouth.

    If you want to support authors, don’t trash some of them, because they don’t directly compete against each other; they help each other out. The authors with Macmillan, those bestsellers — that they aren’t selling through Amazon not only hurts them and other Macmillan authors; it hurts authors at other houses too — at small presses that Macmillan distributes, at small presses that Macmillan does not. It hurts self-publishing. Hopefully it will be a short-term effect.

  30. Brunswick, Mark, Brian: I get the impression that a lot of people who buy Baen’s E-ARCs and essentially pay to copy-edit and fact-check enjoy the opportunity. They all know they could wait just 3 months and get the book at 2/5ths the price-but I think they want to see how the sausage is made and feel like they’re contributing.

    John: Srsly, cover approval? I know Baen skimps on the cover art budget, but you can’t ask for something simple and abstract? OTOH, I can spot their logo on a paperback’s spine from 15 feet.

  31. Oh, let’s just POO-POO all over the dreams of the independent authors and independent film makers because your point seems to be that unless you have quite a lot of money, you can’t output a quality product and make a living. Well, poop on THAT, because I have seen a few resourceful people that have been able to “make it,” granted, with the help of other resourceful people and being at the right place at the right time. Of course, these folks did not have to save the universe from zombie attacks, answer tweets, clean house, child care, work for health insurance, catch the latest episode of Supernatural, watch all the Oscar nominees, read a pile of e-books, take care of all the animals, check e-mail……

    Successful people like…. Benjamin Franklin, who produced POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK, with quotes such as: “God helps them that help themselves.”

    As SYFY channel says: “IMAGINE GREATER.”

    Imagine a time before there were such things as publishers. Imagine becoming a successful writer without a publisher. Extremely difficult ( like winning power ball mega millions lottery), but possible. And because I can imagine greater, I can NOT poo-poo on the dreams of others. That said, however, I would cry if TOR (and lovely, beautiful people like Teresa) and it’s imprints went under.

    Ouuuuuuu… I just know you were waiting for me to reply to your post…. me, the dissenter, disagreeing with one of my favorite authors. And, why yes, I DID vote for Obama. And I am thinking about buying an Obama Chia Pet on Amazon.

  32. Brian, I doubt that the good technology sites feature no editing at all. And bear in mind with those that the writers can also edit, since it’s part of their jobs, that they can fix errors in real time, and that 1,000 words on the latest rumours that everyone else is reporting on is easier to edit than 100,000 word tomes.

    That said, copyediting often is an area that people squeeze and it’s easy to justify having one fewer proof stage with reasons like that, but that’s not the same thing as sending the manuscript straight to print. I’d also say that, in my experience, editing can involve a changing skillset where the importance of various skills fluctuates.

  33. Bravo, sir. It was better than LOLCats. I laughed. I cried. It became a part of me.

    Now, to coin a phrase, I know that “Scalzi Is Not My Bitch,” but . . .

    *looks around furtively for Mrs. S*


  34. Imagine a time before there were such things as publishers. Imagine becoming a successful writer without a publisher. Extremely difficult ( like winning power ball mega millions lottery), but possible.

    And there are other writers who are able to become successful writers even though they don’t have the skills for copy-editing, cover-art, distribution or marketing. There are some people who can do everything, but there are many more people who can do one piece of it well. The role of the publisher is to make it so the author only needs to worry about writing, which will allow them more free time to do more writing.

  35. There will always be printing, it just may become the custom mode of publishing. Of course, if by that time fabbers have become ubiquitous and can handle a book as output, most printed books will be some hardcover analogue. Otherwise you’ll just have shops popping up to turn you ebook into a printed book.

  36. I would suggest that it’s unfair to finish with a fight scene but leave out the visuals. Maybe some stick figure diagrams of those Krisjitsu moves.

    In fact, be sure to dig up a stick-figure artist and pay for those illos out of your own pocket.

  37. Actually, I can think of one example of a modern author whose self-published books are financially successful, beautiful to look at, praised by critics, and reasonably widely available in bookstores. That would be Edward Tufte.

    Of course, his books aren’t on Kindle. And he doesn’t write novels.

    And he has a day job.

  38. I liked it, and then I re-read it again with Mr. Straümann’s role being read by Phil Ken Sebben from Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law, and I liked it even more.

  39. Kathy E. – do you have any actual suggestions on how to overcome the issues raised in the post? If so, let’s here them – specifics please, not ‘there must be ways.’

    And you realize you’re saying this on the blog of a writer who published his first novel (OMW) electronically? On the blog?

  40. It’s always possible to think of exceptions. There are always going to be outliers who can manage to take care of all the business stuff and create an amazing product at the same time. They can survive perfectly well without publishers. Saying that the majority of us would much prefer to have them around in no way pisses on those amazing people who can do it alone, but saying that only those people have the right to be creative really seems to be pissing on everyone else, eh?

    Lovely play, by the way. Where’s the sequel?

  41. It’s official: Scalzi = Awesome!

    BTW would Mrs. Scalzi have any objection to cloning herself? Nothing major, just a few hundred thousand copies?

    After all John, we wouldn’t want you to have a monopoly on such an amazing wife, would we?

  42. For people asking if ebooks have cover art, I direct you to this post of Irene Gallo’s, where she posts about the newly commissioned covers for the Wheel of Time ebooks. (And honestly, since I kinda dislike all but one point five of Darrell K. Sweet’s original covers, I’m really excited about these new renditions of the WoT chars.)

    Book 4 – http://igallo.blogspot.com/2010/01/sam-weber-and-shadow-rising.html

    The first three books and their new ebook covers are linked at the bottom of that post.

  43. “since I kinda dislike all but one point five of Darrell K. Sweet’s original covers”

    And they aren’t putting these on the physical copies? Darnit…

    Expecting a writer to be able to do the whole vertical process and be good at it is like expecting a singer to write an album, play all the instruments, record them correctly, and mix the result so it doesn’t sound like total garbage. Then the singer would have to create art, market and distribute the product.

    Outliers such as Devin Townsend aside, that’s not a reasonable thing to ask. (Okay, he’s not primarily a singer.) Skills take time and money to acquire, and most people can build up one or a few, but not the whole process.

  44. Bwah! What about overseas outsourcing? Cheap! But then you might be accused of exploitation.

    Also, don’t forget to send free copies of your work to all reviewers/bloggers as part of your expense!

  45. Right. Note to self, if I ever meet John in person, be really, really nice to his wife.

    The whole story might be simple advertising of her awesome power, but it would probably be best not to take the chance.

    Thanks heaps for the laugh, John.
    Once I get some money, I’ll be getting the God Engines and Judge Sn Goes Golfing. They’re waiting at the bookstore now :)

  46. @B. Durbin

    I’m not sure that it is an unreasonable as you make it out to be. A fair number of musicians these days can create a professional album without having access to an expensive recording studio and engineers, and the tech for that gets cheaper every year.

    I think publishers have a valuable role, but in large part it seems to consist of fronting established writers money so that they can work on their next project without having to worry about where the rent check is coming from. Judging from Scalzi’s acknowledgments page at the end of his books, his friends and family seem to play at least as large a role in editorial feedback as his actual editor.

    The copy editor function, while nice, is less of an issue when the marginal cost of updating the ebook is essentially “fix error and upload updated version of file”. We already accept that software will magically update itself from time to time, and I don’t see why ebooks would be any different.

    Marketing is always going to be a challenge, but I think the age of social networking is fundamentally changing this equation too. Time will tell.

  47. Ironic. I read the other day (I’m paraphrasing here..) that a first-time writer should be: looking for an agent, a publishing house, self-publish for exposure, network and otherwise advertise yourself/work/book etc., feed the cat, empty the litter box, do the dishes, pay bills, try to have some kind of ‘normal’ social life, and work a day job to keep the medical insurance until you become as rich as Rowling, which rarely happens.

    I’m thinking I’ll stick with the moral of this play…One less project on the “To Do List”.


  48. So let’s take a well-known geek who does, in fact, do a lot of what the fictional Humble Scalzi above is talked into doing – Wil Wheaton.

    He’s self-published his last 2 or 3 works via Lulu, paying for editing and cover art out of his own pocket. While it sounds like he’s making some money consider this… this is Wil Wheaton. Geek extraordinaire. Man with 1.6MILLION Twitter followers and who knows how many blog readers. Actor with a prominent role on Star Trek TNG, Stand By Me and other shows. And, while he makes some money from his self-published books, he’s not getting rich from what he says about it on his blog.

    While I have no idea of how much Wil makes from his book efforts, with all of that promotional power behind him if HE makes a relatively modest living from it, what do you think will happen to most authors who have a blog readership from a few to a few thousand?

  49. Of course, the sequel is Mr Scalzi’s publisher going into Mrs Strauman’s retail bookstore (now her sole source of income to pay her irritating husband’s medical bills) and telling her how to set her prices and market her products, or “offer” to set them for her as a condition of graciously allowing her to buy and resell part of their product line. After all, since they know how to produce books, they know how to become a top retailer (they made a book about it, right?), they do so much more extensive and important work, and they know what is the best business model for all “their” simple distributors. After all, retail is easy, right? Just set the price and take the cash!

    When she shows the representative the door, and pulls their titles from the shelves, they get their authors to picket her business and publish snide commentary on their weblogs about her being a bully by denying them the right to sell in her store on their terms.

  50. Okay, so sure, I started coming here for you, but I come back for my fellow peanut gallerians.

    Mike B. @72, “Deus ex Kristina” is my new favorite literary device!

  51. That was good. I really liked the last part. Keep your day job though. I don’t think the screenwriters want the competition.

  52. kathy e. – I get what you’re going for here, but your examples could use some work. Indie creatives often have to pull in investors because what they do is not cheap, and take much longer to do things because they don’t have the capitol. Not to mention the marketing. Most indies that make it don’t make a lot of money, let alone all those that can’t get to their audience. I hope that changes, but for right now I imagine authors would like to write without worrying about the day job that really supports them.

    As much as I love you bringing Franklin into this, the man was apprenticed under his brother who was a printer. He worked as a printer until he made the money to set up his own shop. Printing presses were not cheap, but it’s a good thing that Ben knew Almanacs were very, very popular at the time. It’s not comparable to the common man of his time, or today’s.

  53. STRAÜMANN (brandishing his electronic reader): I paid $300 for this thing! Honestly, how much do you expect me to pay to fill it?

    See, this was the problem I had with the eReaders as well. In my mind, I was already supplying the physical “book”, the words would seem to be added later at a price breakdown of Hardback > Paperback > Digital Copy.

    It wasn’t until I was rearranging a pile of my books to fit on a shelf that I realized how badly the manufacturers screwed the pooch on marketing these things. The eReader doesn’t replace the book. It replaces the -bookshelf-. I’ve spent over $300 on bookshelves and I need to add another. About half of what I’ve got I want to physically keep, and the other half I wouldn’t mind as being saved electronically.

  54. @ Scott Edwards #87:

    The eReader doesn’t replace the book. It replaces the -bookshelf-.


    It has other qualities as well. Speaking as a Kindle owner with no dog in this fight other than a wish for more Kindle content (priced at whatever the market will bear), I’m a little tired of being villainized.

  55. John,

    While I do share the general sentiment that there are more professionals needed to create a book, I do think that your depiction of the ebook is a bit pessimistic.

    I’m convinced that 95% of the people that are genuinely interested in reading good stories, are willing to pay for it.
    Science fiction readers in general are likely ahead of the electronic curve and more likely to want to read electronic. Personally, I own an HTC HD2 and its big screen is very good for reading ebooks.

    Honestly, do you think that the regular posters here would torrent your books?

  56. if the ereader replaces the bookshelf, then how are modern people going to decorate their walls? I love my bookshelves. I love walking into other people’s rooms and looking at their bookshelves. It adds character to a room and tells you something about the person who owns all that. I don’t think the charm of books and bookshelves are out the wondow just yet.

  57. You’re missing a good pool of cheap/free editors: fanboys and -girls. I’ve been editing a friend’s stuff since her fanfic days, and am now working, for beans, on her 12th published romance. Her real editor tells her that her books go to press in 6 months instead of the average 11 because 3 other beta-readers and myself have chased down typos, long-winded crap and other annoyances.

    On the other hand, I get to read her books for free (plus a signed copy) long before anybody else :-)

  58. Keyboards ain’t free either, you know; and nor is coffee! I live in the land of the lovely NHS, so at least I can get the splork scalds inside my nostrils treated for free – for suitable values of gratuitousness.

    Nathreee@90 – If e-readers ever break down my resistance, they’ll replace only those bookshelves which I don’t want to have – as well as the several levels of hyperspace behind all my bookcases’ mundane surfaces.

    Gloating, sentimental, and comfort-reading shelving is so going to stay where it is.

  59. So if you wouldnt make money and someone would piss of your wife, she turns into a maniac killer-interesting

  60. Thank you for this post. I see the same thing happening with artists – being expected to work for free, because of exposure.

    Scott Edwards @ 87

    “The eReader doesn’t replace the book. It replaces the -bookshelf-.”

    Maybe. But see, once a book’s on my bookshelf, *I* can decide what to do with it. I can keep it, re-read it, give it away, drown it. But it will always belong to me physically.
    Having stuff on an e-reader, especially one like Kindle, I can *never* be sure that what I paid for will actually still be available for me to read – see Amazon’s yanking of Macmillan publishings off customer’s Kindles. That’s not you, the reader, deciding that you don’t like the book. That’s *Amazon* deciding for you!

    I think I’d rather invest in another bookshelf (though to be honest, I wouldn’t know where to put it at the moment… maybe I can double up my books?).

  61. Well done, John!

    I think that this would work better as a musical: songs, dances, etc. Perhaps a chorus of unpaid editors, copy editors and cover artists?

    Of course, you’d have to write the music yourself. Also, you should hire the orchestra and direct it. But then there would be a sequel!

  62. Obviously, I don’t have any experience with the publishing industry, and Scalzi raises good points, but as someone who has been in the business world (not publishing) for 15 years the publishing model is broken.

    A good example, though not a direct comparison to book publishers, is the NY Times (NYT). Basically, if they sent every subsriber a free Kindle and quit publishing paper it would cut their publishing costs in half for one year. This wouldn’t count the savings going forward for subscribers who stayed.


    At some point in the next 10 years someone is going to figure out how to save newspapers, magazines, and/or books, and when this electronic solution happens it will just be transfered to the other mediums.

    Sure, you may need to take a few shortcuts like skimping on the copy editor (a few more misspellings/grammatical errors won’t be big deal) and just hiring a cheap graphical designer for the cover (covers will be less important in e-books and if you look at the Cover Smackdowns at SF Signal you will find no one agrees on which ones are good anyway), but the percentage you earn from each sale will be much much higher.

    The big issue will be exposure. However, it’s not like publishers are great at getting all their authors good exposure anyway.

  63. The only thing you need to make this complete is Ghlaghghee tap dancing on the limp and bleeding corpse.

  64. PeterP asked about cover-art on ebooks:

    I use Microsoft Reader on my laptop which lets me see the cover-art in colour; the only e-books I’ve bought so far have been from Closed Circle where you do indeed get high quality colour cover-art.

    I cannot imagine myself buying a dedicated e-reader which doesn’t have colour, but I’m willing to wager folding money that pretty soon some of the less intellectually gifted Kindle owners will be complaining that they shouldn’t have to pay for colour cover-art because it doesn’t work on Kindle…

  65. wildsideleverlag @97:

    Amazon removed Macmillon books from its store, not from customers Kindles. Considering the amount of public outcry when Amazon did that with a single book (1984), I’m pretty sure I would have heard the sound of heads exploding if they had deleted that many books from that many Kindles.

  66. Peter P:

    “A fair number of musicians these days can create a professional album without having access to an expensive recording studio and engineers, and the tech for that gets cheaper every year.”

    But this isn’t particularly a good comparison. The writing analogue to a recording studio is a computer on which to type. A writer’s other costs largely involve the input of people.


    “Speaking as a Kindle owner with no dog in this fight other than a wish for more Kindle content (priced at whatever the market will bear), I’m a little tired of being villainized.”

    Well, but you aren’t. I am taking pokes at the sort of person who buys expensive tech and then resents the cost of the content.


    “I’m convinced that 95% of the people that are genuinely interested in reading good stories, are willing to pay for it.”

    The other 5% are obnoxious enough to satirize, however.


    “You’re missing a good pool of cheap/free editors: fanboys and -girls.”

    No. Editing is a skill, much like writing. I’m happy to have friends/fans help me proof something, but for serious editing and copy editing you need serious editors and copy editors, and they cost money.


    “The only thing you need to make this complete is Ghlaghghee tap dancing on the limp and bleeding corpse.”

    Man, if I had a tap-dancing cat, I could retire from this lousy writing gig!

  67. My father keeps wondering why I don’t go the self-published route with my work.

    I do believe I shall be linking him this.

  68. Jon Ault @ 103

    It looks like Amazon *did* do so:

    Quote from http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/macmillan-books-v-amazon-kindle

    “Among remarks from Macmillan authors posting online, perhaps one of the most curious came from Sherrilyn Kenyon, who posted to Facebook and then later in the day removed her entry, which read in part: “All of you asking why you can’t find my books on Amazon Kindle? It seems that Amazon is the one to blame. They are in a disagreement with my publisher and to prove a point, they have removed Macmillan books from their Kindles.

    “You know, as a Kindle owner, I have problems with this. They’re not cheap and I bought it so that I could download the books I wanted to read. I don’t like a store taking something from me like this without warning. It’s just like when Amazon removed books from my Kindle that I’d paid for because they didn’t have permission to sell them.””

    And that’s why I still prefer to keep my books in physical form. Unless Amazon actually sends someone to my house, walks into my personal library and *steals* the book from me, once I have it, it’s not going to get taken away from me.

    And that’s something that has kept me from investing in a Kindle or other E-readers so far.

  69. Chad@99 At some point in the next 10 years someone is going to figure out how to save newspapers, magazines, and/or books, and when this electronic solution happens it will just be transfered to the other mediums.

    I have to disagree on that one (other things you say too, but this in particular). Books aren’t just long newspapers without advertisements. Newspapers aren’t just up-to-date books. Magazines aren’t just photographs with larger captions. Movies aren’t just poems for the illiterate. Music isn’t just pottery with sounds. There are lessons you can learn from one medium and apply to another, but each also has its own function, own rules and own solutions. There is not one business plan to rule them all.

  70. PeterP:

    More and more musicians seem to be self-releasing these days, especially those working in niche genres. I certainly know bands who have stated they have no interest is signing to a record company on the grounds that they have too little to gain and too much to lose from doing so. Self-releasing in music doesn’t have the same stigma as self-publishing in literature.

    But I’m sure there are fundamental differences between writers and musicians, and between publishers and record companies. The business model of the typical major record label in this day and age is akin to a publisher that cares about established bestsellers and celebrity memoirs to the exclusion of all else, won’t even look at genres like SF/F, and has a business model that looks alarmingly like that of scammers like Robert M Fletcher. No wonder that many musicians who care about their art will have nothing to do with it.

  71. That was an interesting mini play.

    Why is it when talking about technology sf writers can get you some place with FTL, or make food out of dirt, or build elevators into space, but when it comes to making a book it’s all about history? My one huge beef with this (what goes into making a book) issue, is that more and more editors are losing their jobs. There isn’t as much talent standing behind an author as there used to be. There isn’t as much marketing, not as much spent on cover art. This tells me that publishers are far too prone to cutting all that good stuff that authors need the publishers for.

    It’s all about volume sales, and with a player like Amazon in the game, the numbers must be up for a lot of authors, right?
    Yes, publishers have the knowhow, the experience, the expertise to do the job. What publishers do that others can’t is filter and validate. There are millions more writers trying to get published. Most publishers won’t look at your stuff until you have an agent, who works as the first big filter. Then an editor has to decide if the agent-submitted work is right for the publisher’s needs. Writers are probably best advised to try to become published the old way, but for many, the old is not an option. I wouldn’t want someone to not write and try to sell their book without a publisher just because they were told that any other way of making a book is not how it’s done.

  72. The Gray Area @112 said

    ‘I wouldn’t want someone to not write and try to sell their book without a publisher just because they were told that any other way of making a book is not how it’s done.’

    Since there is a total absence of people telling other people any other way of making a book is not how it’s done we can safely conclude that ELTON P. STRAÜMANN is alive and well and continuing to post…

  73. Actually the music industry is a very good analogy. Just as a writer can do just about anything on a laptop from writing to book design, a musician can record high quality sounds on ever-cheaper equipment. But there’s still the need for a human in the chain. Editors, line editors, designers, marketers for writers; producers, engineers, marketers for musicians. Anyone who thinks you can replace a great music producer with GarageBand needs a reality check.

  74. I liked your post alot. One thing I don’t agree with. Your evil nemesis is more likely to be a liberal and vote for Obama than a conservative. Conservatives are more likely to get the business side of what you do. The Liberals are more likely to want your work for free. They would probably want Obama to set up a government publishing company for you to work with or a government program to fund your writing.

    Overall I liked the post. I really like your posts on the business side of writing. Very interesting. See not everyone who disagrees with you politically is going to flame you! Some of us actually like your blog.

  75. stevie, tamp down the sniping on other commenters, please.


    “I wouldn’t want someone to not write and try to sell their book without a publisher just because they were told that any other way of making a book is not how it’s done.”

    People are of course free to do anything they like, nor would I want them not to try to plot their own course if they thought it best. However, I also have a fair amount of DIY publishing knowledge here, and in my not uninformed opinion most writers are going to be happier with someone acting as their publishers. That publishing as an industry is changing is axiomatic — it’s always changing, because every era brings in new, era-specific issues. But one reason one does look to history is that the general concept of a publisher has been durable, and in my opinion, seems likely to continue so.

  76. Re: Making records and recording studios, the professional stuff still has the input of multiple people, engineers, producers and creative people of different kinds, and is recorded in really nice rooms with really cherry equipment. It sounds better, and people seem to think it sounds better because they buy it more. There’s always been stuff that gets made at a home studio and receives a wide release, but it’s still the exception to the rule. At this point, anything else one might hear about the issue is marketing hype, mostly originating from companies that import cheap gear.

  77. John @104

    Man, if I had a tap-dancing cat, I could retire from this lousy writing gig!

    Be honest with yourself John, =) even if you won the lottery you would still keep writing.

  78. @74 are you thinking of Trent Reznor there by any chance? The artist who despite filling every role but drums on his debut for Nine Inch Nails (that does include editor and producer btw) still needed a day job to do this, still needed a record label to sign him and distribute his album, and only gained the wherewithal to promote his albums himself after 25 years and becoming a megasuperstar in the rock metal world (though it may have been otherwise had he not been drug addicted). Which just proves your point

    @55 Maybe you think a writer could do what the Artic Monkeys did, and come to the attention of the public through the action of fans on the internet, primarily by file sharing the demos of the band, but again who still needed to be signed by a record label for production and distribution of the album so that they could make money to be able to do more albums.

    Of course music can’t be taken as an exact analogue to books but maybe a long established author could have enough money to be able to pay for all of the costs of their book production and make money for themselves promoting and selling it by thier lonesome. And a newbie author may be able to generate enough buzz to become popular, but theres this gap inbetween where the newbie can’t afford to publish, and can’t make money to become an established author and where would we be then? Does anybody else have an idea how to bridge that gap besides publishers? Kathy e?

  79. Stevie, you can make a book without a publisher. If you don’t know that, then I have to assume you don’t know enough. It’s not the book, it’s the kind of book. Is a self-published book the same as one that a publisher makes? No, but it’s a book. And it can be sold on Amazon with all the others. Will it sell? Probably not. Should a writer try and see if it works for them? I think they should, because it might result in the kind of experience they need to sell their next book to a publisher. You never know. Writing is a craft and an art. And as an art form the artist may find ways of sharing outside the current box. It can be a good thing.

  80. John writes “Man, if I had a tap-dancing cat, I could retire from this lousy writing gig!”

    Retire in the sense of ‘cease to work, where’s my government check, and hurry up its almost 4pm, I hate eating dinner this late’ or retire in the Marlon Brando/J.D. Salinger ‘I certainly don’t NEED to do this anymore’ sense?

  81. John Scalzi @ 33:


    Baen won’t give me cover approval.

    If other publishers do generally give authors cover approval, that would explain Baen cover art.

  82. @MarkHB #91
    Large plasma displays on the walls, showing the spines of the eBooks I’ve got, of course. Duhhh! ;)

    And that is why we need cover art for ebooks!

    On another topic, don’t Kristine and Jane (from the OMW books) seem very similar? I wonder if Kristine ever threw John across a room.

  83. @109 CS Clark

    I was not as clear as I should have been regarding business models. You are correct the different forms of media will not use the same model. The point I was trying to make is that when one of them figures out the electronic puzzle it will result in common adoption of some type of e-reader (subsidized like cell phones by the providers? who knows).

    The common e-reader will then provide a platform for the other written forms of media. They will create a business model based on this e-reader and the architecture associated with it.

    In turn, the common adoption of an e-reader will allow people to skip the publisher and self-publish with the knowledge that almost the entire market would have access to their work.

  84. Bearpaw @123, some other commenter had noted that a Baen cover is generally clearly visible across a crowded store. Their visual similarity to a road-flare seems to at least work in that regard. Nice folk to work with, too.

    Regarding “buying an expensive machine, then complaining about the content” – I suppose it’s no different from buying a console/pimp gaming rig and then insisting on always pirating software because the games “are a rip-off”. Just another excuse for swiping a freebie really.

    That said I was running through a scenario in my mind the other day, like you do. Pondering that if I ever get mugged again, shouting “You wouldn’t download a movie off the Internet, WOULD YOU?” whilst delivering a good shoeing to my would-be assailant might be all ironical and stuff.

  85. The Gray Area – Most publishers won’t look at your stuff until you have an agent, who works as the first big filter. Then an editor has to decide if the agent-submitted work is right for the publisher’s needs. Writers are probably best advised to try to become published the old way, but for many, the old is not an option.

    It is always an option. It’s usually just one they’re not good enough, or marketable enough to take. I’m seriously tired of people (not you, but “self published” authors) claiming that the publishing world is missing out on their obvious brilliance because it’s too old and set in it’s ways.

    Chances are, they just aren’t good enough, or aren’t what the market wants right now, and would rather claim a conspiracy against them than admit it.

    What self publishing does not is make money for companies who’re catering tp people who think they’re good enough to make it. Like Vegas, everyone thinks they’re going to hit it big. And only about 1% or less actually do.

    Most people are going to either loose money on self publishing, or make the equivalent of below minimum wage for the work they put in.

    It’s all about volume sales, and with a player like Amazon in the game, the numbers must be up for a lot of authors, right?

    Wrong. Sales numbers indicate a large downtick in the publishing biz overall.

    And that’s today’s pig singing lesson.

    Not for your benefit, TGA, but for the benefit of anyone who might think you’re potentially informative.

  86. Mr. Scalzi – bravo!

    Having committed self-publishing, and doing reviews of self-published work, a few thoughts.

    1) You cannot copy-edit yourself. It can’t be done – even Franklin had somebody to edit his copy. I second Scalzi’s point – finding anybody who does a good job at copy-editing is a PITA.

    2) Good cover art – even the Gawdawful Baen cover art – ain’t cheap.

    3) Publishers perform another useful task – gatekeepers. All those folks on the American Idol audition who couldn’t carry a tune in a basket? Well, they can record themselves too. But a major label – or even a minor label – wouldn’t let them get within 20 feet of a hot mike.

    4) A major marketing function performed by publishers is getting the book into the store. That’s very expensive for a self-publisher. It’s also critical – 80% of units sold go over the cash register in a physical store.

  87. I reserve the right to revise the way I’d word these ideas, but I think, for the most part, they pretty well express what I think.

    @81 Raven, thanks for miscasting what Mcmillan is doing. It’s not about telling them how to retail, it’s about telling Amazon “the way you retail is damaging us, so cut it out, or we’ll do what we can to control our own product.” On top of that, they were NICE about it, had a meeting, and announced their reasoning. Whereas Amazon yanked stuff in a petulant fit of childish tantrum. Mcmillan gets my support just for being adult about it. Your example only works if Mrs. Scalzi pretends nothign is changing in their relationship, then, when the reps are gone, throws all the books into the rubbish bin and then pretends that the reps MADE her do it.

    @100 Chad, as a business person, maybe you need to do some more research on what he market is right. Sending people kindles and not publishing on paper may save money, but they ain’t gonna sell much. I think a kindle would be convenient, you know, when I’m at work and need something to take into the bathroom, or when I go to Church and want to pretend I’m looking at scripture but am really reading Scalzi. But when I’m at home, I want a frigging book. This isn’t what EVERYONE thinks, but ebook sales are *not* poised to replace hard copy sales ANYTIME soon. Cheap design and copyediting are highly underrated in your post. A crap design or poor copyediting go a LONG way to destroying my interest in a book. I *refuse* to read Stephen King for these reasons. The business case you make doesn’t stand up.

    @112 Gray, uhm…. are you seriously thinking these are good analogs? I mean… when Scalzi makes up an idea for FTL, he doesn’t INVENT FTL, he says “wouldn’t it be cool if.” For some people, like Clarke, those ideas turn out to be viable sometimes. But whether they do or not, they have absolutely nothing to do with the writing.

    As for you guys who like to compare music, lets assume that your comparison be self-producing a song or album to self-publishing a short story or novel is valid (though it’s not). Music had actually gotten to a point where music labels were in many ways getting in the way of good music, because it didn’t fit the established Clear Channel pattern. Then along comes MySpace and Napster! Saviours Of the Musician and Listener Alike! ™. We get a lot of indie music more than worth listening to. It’s good stuff. And we get it because of word of mouth and distribution methods that bypass major labels. Fast forward 10 years to now. Yeah, still a lot of good indie music. But I’m starting to notice some things. A smaller and smaller percentage of the music coming out has the staying power of Lennon, Clapton, or even Bono. Less of it has a big an influence on culture or their listeners as those bands had even when new. AND, the stuff that is best? Starting to go back to labels. Not the huge labels, necessarily, but smaller labels, where the production is getting centralized. So, again, lets assume your comparison is valid (though it’s not). It doesn’t mean that liberation from the Evil Publisher will be a Good Thing. It’ll be like comics. Some big stand outs on the web because they were able to get past the Big Two and the syndicates. And then, after a decade, you realize that 99.99% of it is unreliable because they don’t have the discipline that self-publishers of old (like Dave Sim) had and no “bosss-man” pushing them on deadlines, or else crap quality because no one’s touching it up or providing feedback, or, most often, both. For every Penny Arcade there’s 10,000 things that are more IN THE WAY and WASTING MY TIME.

    I say, as a reader, that if the system is getting in the way of the vast majority of people getting published, GOOD. I don’t want to read most of what’s out there, because most of what’s out there sucks. I’m glad that I have agents and editors out there both vetting and improving what eventually gets to my book shelf. And there’s still more out there than I have time to read — I have hundreds of books on either a literal written list, or physically on my shelf that I haven’t got to yet, and I add books faster than I read.

    That doesn’t mean the publishing world won’t CHANGE, but I can guarantee that the best books, by and large, will nearly always be ones that had middle-men between me and the author. It’s good for the author, and good for me.

  88. The Gray Area @121

    I have no problems with recognising that people can and do self-publish for a wide variety of reasons; I do have problems with you apparently suggesting that I am in some way seeking to prevent people exploring all the options available to them.

    I’m not. I just want them to know what the facts are.

    Oddly enough similar claims were thrown around when Harlequin launched their vanity label; people who noted that it was a vanity label were accused of trying to destroy the hopes and dreams of aspiring writers, notwithstanding the fact that the only thing that a vanity press was going to do was to ensure that their hopes and dreams were going to be destroyed along with their bank balances.

    Thanks to a benevolent deity I have never had to stare down the barrel of a fully-loaded slush pile, and I would like that happy state of affairs to continue; it’s part of the value I receive when I buy a book….

  89. There are a few notables out there who really push self-publication, especially in digital formats. Mike Stackpole comes to mind. Thing is, Mr. Stackpole has developed something of a following, plenty of novels under his belt, and a fairly strong web presence.
    Those things make it much easier to self publish and self promote. You already have an audience, and some name recognition.
    Starting cold means your ebook gets tossed in the pot with the other 40 gazillion self published ebooks on Amazon. Nobody knows who the duece you are. How do they even find your product in the soup? Sending out unsolicited promo copies of an e book to potential reviewers is probably not going to get a lot of traction.
    So, it seems to me, if you are well enough known for self-promotion and publication to be very effective, you’ve probably already got a working relationship with a publisher. At that point, is it really worth the effort?

  90. Man, if I had a tap-dancing cat, I could retire from this lousy writing gig!

    Or you’d write about the adventures of your tap-dancing cat, preferably* in space. Which of course you could do anyway. And should.

    * My preference, anyway; don’t know about yours.

  91. One difference between publishing and record companies that is driving a lot of bands to try and release their own stuff is the music labels’ reputation for screwing the artists who work for them. I suppose that book publishers might do the same sort of thing, but if they do it’s not nearly as well publicized– you can’t hardly pick up a guitar without some guy showing up in your living room muttering about how Motown defrauded everybody who ever performed in their studios.

    of course, if publishers *did* rip off authors that much, they might have to answer to The Krissy. Not a life-expectancy-enhancing move, it seems.

  92. John wrote:

    “Well, but you aren’t. I am taking pokes at the sort of person who buys expensive tech and then resents the cost of the content.”

    When you’re buying a hardback book, you’re not just buying content — you’re buying a physical artifact designed to last forever. If our society suffered a collapse very similar to the one described in Robert Charles Wilson’s fabulous “Julian Comstock” (a Macmillan book, I might add), the hardback book would survive and still be useful.

    A paperback book, while less durable, is still likely to survive, albeit not in the best shape.

    An eBook is an insubstantial thing, pure content that exists as bits and bytes in a file. It is by its very nature impermanent. It does not exist without electricity or some kind of hardware to display it. Why then would someone expect to pay the same price for an eBook that they would pay for a discounted hardcover that exists virtually forever? The content is the same, but the product is very different. Would you pay the same price for a digital rental of a movie that you would pay for a DVD or Blu-Ray that you own?

    I spent $250 on a Kindle because it is a piece of sophisticated electronics. I buy new books on it at least once a week because $9.99 is a fair price, and one my own lovely wife will readily let me spend at just about any given point in time. I have spent $55 (the majority of that going to books by Tor authors) so far on books since January, and $3 on my subscription to the Atlantic. Before Kindle, I spent (and this is a generous estimate) $8 a month on paperback books and about $60 a year on hardcovers. I certainly didn’t subscribe to the Atlantic’s print edition.

    I am a reader, I love science fiction and I am a fan of your books (especially Ghost Brigades). When I heard you described as a literary heir to Joe Haldeman, I knew I had to read your stuff. I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for a long time, although I have never felt the need to comment before. Generally, I have agreed with you over the years on most topics, and I have greatly appreciated your recommendations for new authors and books. However, I strongly disagree with your position on eBooks, and I don’t think you’re taking into account the difference in value between an electronic file format and a permanent artifact such as a book. There IS a difference in value here, because there’s more to books than just content.

    If the publishing world wants to remain viable, it needs to recognize that eBook readers like me are its bread and butter — and that eBooks encourage people to buy and read more books by both their convenience and their price. Authors and publishers also need to understand the market won’t sustain price parity between electronic editions of books and their print editions, because the two things are fundamentally different methods for distributing content. Saying that a Kindle owner is “rich” enough to purchase a $250, so they can obviously afford a 50% increase in eBook prices is not at all fair. With two children and a demanding career, I don’t get out to bookstores as often as I did when I was younger. A Kindle is a bookstore you carry with you anywhere. For me, that $250 premium was worth it to get to read dozens of books I wouldn’t have read otherwise. You’d think that would be a good thing, rather than a source of mockery. Why stop at $5 increase — why not take it to $20? Surely, I can afford it, right?

    Making fun of those of us on the other side of the argument from you may entertain your diehard supporters, but it is further alienating me. If this is what authors really think of people with my point of view, then I’m wondering if that $250 Kindle purchase would have been better spent on XBOX 360 games, DVD’s, or some other form of entertainment.

  93. MarkHB @ 127:

    I think that remark was specifically about Baen’s logo on the book spines. Which, hey, whatever works. It’s the front covers of their books I take issue with. Some of them are okay, but ye gods, some of them are reminiscent of the worst of pulp-era covers without the nostalgia patina to save them. I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but Baen sometimes makes that very difficult. It’s hard to get past that initial flinch.

  94. One point I haven’t seen made yet is that as a reader, the publisher serves an important role for me: they’re a filter. I have way too limited free time, and so I want to maximize my enjoyment of that free time. And publishers help me do that – there’s a short list of book publishers (and music as well) that I know have a very high likelihood of putting out something that I’m going to enjoy (and Tor is one of those publishers). Do I enjoy everything those publishers produce? No, but the success rate is much higher than it would be if I had to go out and find which self-published author I’m likely to enjoy on my own. Do the publishers do a perfect job of screening out the good from the crap? No – they print some stuff I don’t enjoy, and reject some stuff that I’d probably enjoy.

    I’m infinitely more likely to buy a book from an author I haven’t heard of if they’re published by Tor than if they’re self published, because my experience has shown me that Tor is likely to do a pretty good job of screening and quality control.

  95. David Macinnis Gill @ 141:

    If Krissy is anything like my spouse, John probably solved a number of his problems by matrimonying the deus in question. (My spouse would probably claim the problem-solving goes both ways for us, but there’s no danger of me being mistaken for even a demi-deus.)

    I will not say it, I won’t, IwontIwontIwontI …

    Good marriages are like good Marvel Team-Ups.

    Ugh. Sorry about that.

  96. Chad@126

    Ok, that’s a bit clearer. I agree that new technology can open new markets. For example I quite like the idea of a contracted subscription, byffet-style reading and subsidized reader, especially as it serves the people who stockpile many of whom get at least some of their books from sources that result in zero funds going to the author. Of course, I disagree that it leads to no publishers. For a more serious explanation than that of Our Gracious Host, see here.

    But the thing is (and this is more general, not aimed at you in particular), we’ve had the technology available for any author to sell copies of their work electronically to anyone in the world for a while now. PDF + HTML +PayPal. It even works for some people. But I don’t go along with the idea that once we work out the exact technology to use – coming soon now! – that’ll be it. The people who make the technology will always be making newer, better (or ‘better’) technology for you to spend your disposable income on instead of the books and newspapers and magazines. They might also be happier with collapsing the total value of the market as long as they get a bigger piece of the pie than they would growing it. For them, cutting costs might involve getting the content that fuels their gizmos as cheaply as possible – all they need is the occasional PR boost of someone going viral and making more than chump change. If people rely on technology to save them, instead of fighting to create a model that is fairer to the people who create the content, the technology becomes too important. The people servicing the technology become slaves to the machine. And at that point your only hope is Captain Kirk and his Big Book of Logical Paradoxes.

  97. The Krissy character is a total Mary Sue. *grin*

    Jeff @ 139, I gladly pay $ for movies that I can keep on a HD, re-download if the file becomes corrupted, and I don’t have to worry about the disk becoming scratched, or that it’ll be in a box in the basement when I’m sick on the couch, I’ll want to watch it when I’m at my in-laws, or whatever.

    Yes, a book is a physical object, and that brings with it certain advantages, but a digital product has similar advantages. If I buy a digital textbook from certain pubs, for example, it updates when new information becomes available, which is nice for, say, nursing books.

  98. yeah I agree with Scot (#143). I’m just the same way. In australia we’ve got Harper Voyager for fantasy and I’m way more likely to try a book printed by Harper Voyager. Tor is the same for me with SciFi.

    I applaud people who want to give self publishing a go. Good for them. I’ve considered it, but at the end of the day the publishing establishment ensures quality and that I or my readers will not purchase something that is rough, amateurish, or poor.

    The problem is not with self publishing or not self publishing. The problem lies in the hands of the zealots who say it has to be one way or the other. People need to compromise and realize there’s room for both. That’s what I take from this awesome piece of playwritery. :)

  99. I winced in recognition, LMAO, and immediately posted a link from my Boxing the Octopus blog. Thanks for helping authors laugh at a situation that’s all too often cause for tears!

    You rock. And as for Mrs. Scalzi, I want her on my team.

  100. Kejia:

    “On another topic, don’t Kristine and Jane (from the OMW books) seem very similar?”

    It’s not a coincidence.

    David Macinnis Gill:

    “Scalzi the Humble should’ve solved his own problem instead of relying on deus ex matrimony.”

    But it was more amusing this way.

  101. “Good marriages are like good Marvel Team-Ups.”

    Possibly the sweetest geekiest thing I’ve ever read. well done.

  102. I wonder if a service like Rhapsody could support writers (and their editors and their copy-editors and so forth) in an all-ebooks, all-the-time era. Fans would pay a per-month fee in exchange for access to an entire library of ebooks; the service provider and editorial staff would take their cut; the remainder would be divvied up among the writers in proportion to how many downloads each got.

    Readers would benefit because they can get ebooks at rates that make them a bargain compared to paper books. Writers would benefit because subscribers will be more likely to download ebooks from new or less-popular authors—after all, the money’s already spent and you don’t have to read a best-seller every day. Publishers would benefit because they get cash up front.

    There would just need to be a way to structure the plan to discourage a subscriber from, say, downloading a thousand novels in one day and then discontinuing the service. (I say “discourage” rather than “prevent” because, of course, any DRM scheme can be cracked; the best you can do beyond a certain point is to give mostly-honest people an incentive to stay honest.)

  103. The piece was hilarious, and makes its point well, I think. There are counterexamples, like Wil Wheaton, but it’s clearly not the route for everybody.

  104. Fourth Act:

    AGENT: Wait! You’ve only killed the messenger, the publishing-as-we-know-it marketplace is gone.

    KRISTINE: You mean Straümannn was right and we will never make any money?

    AGENT: No, Straümann only talked about the visible parts of the story that excited his amateur vision. And you two were focused on the creative part: writing the book. You all forgot the agent–the person who knows who do deal with and how to make money by negotiating the optimum deal at every point.

    SCALZI: But I paid good money for all those tasks from editing to publicity.

    AGENT: Yes, but you didn’t negotiate. And Straümann didn’t tell you how publishing really works. Publisher’s don’t risk money. The advances they pay are loans secured by the author’s future earnings. The Publisher’s advance is a secured loan, that unlike a loan from a bank or even a loan shark, continues to collect interest after the loan (advance) is earned out. They get control of 85-92% of a book’s cash flow until earn out and then might grant you another 2% for being successful. They do very limited editing by demanding that we Agents bring them works so pre-screened that the odds of having a decent book are virtually a sure thing. This editing has genuine value, but it doesn’t justify the huge interest publishers collect. Publishers then minimize risk capital in manufacturing books by only printing a few more copies than they have advance orders. Publishers don’t market your book, they market product-types in categories. Then they only do publicity (such as it is) for the books that start to sell.

    SCALZI: But in the new model, I’m still stuck doing all those functions to no effect.

    AGENT: You don’t have to. Publisher’s can’t do them effectively any more either. Book chains have become predators, charging publishers to display books then wanting bigger than normal discounts for selling them. Publisher’s can act as cheerleaders, but marketing ultimately reduces to “this new book is somehow like this other book that sold well last season.” That’s why publishers love sequels and series and book covers all look alike in a season or a category.

    You, the author, don’t have to spin your wheels, doing all the busy work that publishers claim add value, but no longer have much effect. Books are selling in different channels that publishers don’t understand and can’t control. Books, especially fiction, are entirely sold by the author’s own words as expressed in the book itself. It’s Ding an Sich, the thing itself.

    SCALZI: So Straümann was wrong?

    AGENT: Worse in a way. He was saying that “the world has changed”–that much is certain. But his oblivious cure was to have the Author take up all the activities that were no longer productive when performed by the Publisher. The reality is that, unlike other industries, publishers cannot fire anyone but the Author for failing and because of the nature of publishing contracts, Authors can’t fire publishers no matter how badly they fail.

    In the new world, especially with e-books, where the only object is the author’s own words, authors can demand more of publishers than recognition by association and we authors and agents no longer have to grant someone control of 85% of the cash flow just for saying they are a publisher.

    SCALZI: Hmmm, conflict, drama, rebuilding after an armageddon scenario… I smell a story in that. (Pulls out his iPad and begins making notes.)

  105. “I’m not sure that it is an unreasonable as you make it out to be. A fair number of musicians these days can create a professional album without having access to an expensive recording studio and engineers, and the tech for that gets cheaper every year.”

    We have the tech. We own the tech. It’s taken us the better part of a decade to acquire a good setup. We can make a professional-sounding song. I can, using my nifty computer, make art to go with it.

    It’s work. It’s a hell of a lot of work. And quite honestly, the set of circumstances which puts together two people whose talents complement one another is damned rare— and I’m not his muse*. (She lives on the other side of the country, unfortunately.)

    Which means— any time we put together a song, or a cover of a song, it takes a lot more work for us than it would for someone who has trained for it. We futz around with the mix until it sounds right, but a proper mix master would be able to get it done with a fraction of the time and effort.

    Tech does not replace people. It replaces lower-level tech.

    *When I say “muse” I mean “I went to the grocery store for 45 minutes and they went and wrote three new songs.” I miss her.

  106. “It’s not about telling them how to retail, it’s about telling Amazon “the way you retail is damaging us, so cut it out, or we’ll do what we can to control our own product.” On top of that, they were NICE about it, had a meeting, and announced their reasoning. ”

    This may not be the thread for this, so if the host tells me to stop, I will and apologize upfront for abusing the rules.

    But this isn’t entirely correct. Macmillan is certainly telling Amazon and everyone else how to sell its ebooks — that is what the Agency model is about, after all. That is bad, for reasons gone into on the threads relating more directly to that topic, bad for readers and authors in my opinion. And I hardly think the threat to window books for you but nor for your competitor is “nice”. ;)

    As for the post itself, amusing, but perhaps not quite correct. Books need three things beyond a writer:


    Yes, the idea that an author can do all of that themselves is probably not realistic for most authors. Those involve particular skills and its not reasonable to expect that authors will posses all of those skills.

    What I do not think is necessarily true is that those skills need to be provided at the same price and by the same structure as the current publishing structure. I can easily see a way in which, say, Amazon can provide those three for less, as measured in terms of royalty percentage, for authors. Or some authors could contract the work out as a collective entity or someone can and will come up with a way to make this work in away that reduces the power and the take of large publishing companies. Basically, I think there is less and less friction preventing those three things from being done in ways that benefit the author relative to the current structure.

  107. How amusing that a really funny, well-written short play has generated over 150 comments without an editor, artist, or other person working on it! It’s self-published! Hooray!

    Of course, it’s also generated roughly zero dollars, but that’s missing the point…which is, of course, WHEN IS THE SEQUEL COMING OUT?

    And, no, we’re not paying for it….

    Seriously, tho’, well done. Humor is always helpful in looking at ugly, stupid things like this Amazon/Macmillan flap.

  108. Funny stuff, Scalzi.

    I’m intrigued by eBooks, and plan to buy the new etch-a-sketch dealie from Santa’s Cupertino toyshop, but mainly for magazines and comics.

    Jeff Barrus’ comments upstream are interesting, especially in that he both references Julian Comstock and the ephemeral nature of data storage, but then goes on to say that “[i]f the publishing world wants to remain viable, it needs to recognize that eBook readers like [him] are its bread and butter.”

    Nah, man, eBook readers aren’t even two percent of their bread and butter yet, though, sure, that’ll go up. But assuming it’ll stay up is assuming a lot of things. About how data is networked and accessed, about how electrical power is produced and priced, and about how the nonrenewable materials used to build the gadgets will be parsed out among manufacturers of consumer electronics and, say, defense contractors.

    And it also assumes that privilege is best left unexamined. It assumes that information wants to be free, but only so long as the information is contained in little boxes made out of oil and rare metals, designed for and marketed to white, middle-class English speakers.

  109. B. Durbin @ 154 When you say, “Tech does not replace people. It replaces lower-level tech.” I think there’s an application to the ebook argument, in that people tend not to think of a book as tech (but it certain was to people in the 4th century). Of course, I would change it to “other tech” as the codex form of a book certainly has advantages that the ebook does not (of course, the scroll was nifty in its own way, too).

  110. I think anyone who thinks that having the design and stocking of retail space dictated by anyone except the retailer is somehow unusual or “monopolistic” needs to pay close attention to how their local grocery store is laid out and stocked.

    Unless their local grocery store is Walmart, in which case: welcome to the heat death of the retail universe.

    (I also suspect that most of the people who are saying “musicians do it! writers could do it if they tried!” know neither musicians nor writers).

    Funny piece, Mr. Scalzi. You always cut so thoroughly through all the should be to get to what is.

  111. John, I think the “music album” comparison is a fairly valid one, but consider:

    You still need editing, mastering, layout, cover art, printing, marketing etc.

    So on my self published CD:

    I spent more time babysitting the cover artist, and haranging her about deadlines than I actually spent recording.

    Then once you have the art, you need to do layout. Again, we probably spent more time tweaking the layout to meet the specifications of our press than we did recording.

    Mastering and editing took almost as long as getting the cover art done. And a musician is an idiot if he tries to do it himself. Even if he has the skillset (which I don’t) you really want a fresh set of ears doing this job.

    The Printing, or “press” as it’s called, is the easy part these days, since it’s fairly turnkey. You FedEx the completed master and all art and layout to the press, send them money, and 2 weeks later many big boxes show up at your doorstep.

    The press I used (Oasis) was very accomodating, we were able to fix an artwork error via e-mail, and they got the CDs to me in time for our release party at WesterCon.

    And of course, as with any short print run, you now have warehousing to deal with. A thousand CDs doesn’t sound like a lot, but it does take up some room. These are proper pressed and stamped CDs, not burned CDROMs. (small press vs. POD)

    So yeah a musician (or writer) can do all that, and get his product to market at a reasonable cost, but it’s a huge time sink if nothing else (plus the obvious up-front costs), so you could have been working on your next album (book) instead of riding herd on artists, editors, and printers.

    And then there is marketing…(more time, money)

  112. Josh, you sound published. Congrats. I said with Amazon the numbers must be up. Ok, so Amazon stops selling books and the numbers don’t drop, right? I thought Amazon helped by selling more books. I thought they had become a good way for authors to be discovered, thus helping they author’s sales numbers. I’m just one person, but I’ve bought lots of books because they were suggested on Amazon. That’s how I found J. Scalzi. But if they aren’t helping with overall sales, by all means, burn down the hut.

    So pulishing is tighter than ever, which probably means publishing houses are signing fewer new authors, right? And dumping ones whose numbers aren’t so great. So what’s wrong with telling people to discover a different way to do it? Is it because you fear they’ll just become further disillusioned? That’s nice of you, but maybe some people are creative and ambitious enough to try and do it on their own, just to see what happens. I’m sure they have experienced no shortage of people telling them they don’t have a chance in hell. So what? Does that sort of advice work with you?

  113. It’s funny you should post this. I’ve been doing some proofreading work for a guy who has been beating the drum HEAVILY for self-publishing. I took the job because I was thinking of going that route and I figured getting his data may be useful.

    The guy has nothing nice to say about the publishing industry. He does seem to be at that point where he thinks it’s a reasonable expense and effort to do all that other work that isn’t writing. Which, to me — I’m not a lazy guy, but I had the same exact question: When would I have time to write?! To say nothing of the day job to support myself, or a social life, or sleep.

    This is exactly what I needed: An opposing viewpoint to show the cons that I knew were there.

    The only issue now, of course, is how the hell do I get published?! Ha ha.

  114. Ashley Grayson @ 155, that was good. The agent I worked for was tough, and I often listened in to the conversations in the office. That SOB worked the publishers over as well as he could. I learned a lot working for that lawyer/agent. He was also a published romance writer (of all things).

  115. @ The Lemur

    “It’s not about telling them how to retail, it’s about telling Amazon “the way you retail is damaging us, so cut it out, or we’ll do what we can to control our own product.”

    It’s not the way Amazon does business that is harming Macmillan. It’s the market itself. Consumers want affordable ebooks and Macmillan doesn’t want to change its model to accept this new reality. Instead it wants to inflate ebook prices above what most consumers consider to be a fair price by demanding resale price management.

    I applaud Amazon for using every tool it had in its box to try to prevent this because once Macmillan is able to control the retail prices of its products the other publishing companies will demand the same right and IMO the end result will be the main movers and shakers in the industry appearing before the FTC to explain why they are violating the Sherman Act.

    Personally, I like sales and discounts and loss leaders because they enable me to purchase things I wouldn’t usually be able to afford and Macmillan is directly threatening my ability to consinue to do so.

  116. Mark Horning: the big difference between record production/marketing and book publishing is that in the book industry, the big houses treat you fairly and the vanity presses arrange everything they possibly can to rip you off and/or squeeze every last penny out of you. In the record industry it’s the other way around.

    Yog’s law holds true among the big players in the book industry. It’s not true in ANY part of the recording industry AFAICT. (When artists get royalty bills from their recording companies, clearly the model is very different, to put it as kindly as possible.)

  117. ladypeyton, your comment appears to be a light rephrasing of Amazon’s press releases on the subject. Just sayin’.

  118. @145 CS Clark

    I would agree the issues you bring up are real issues.

    The one point I disagree with is:

    “But the thing is (and this is more general, not aimed at you in particular), we’ve had the technology available for any author to sell copies of their work electronically to anyone in the world for a while now. PDF + HTML +PayPal.”

    While this happens it isn’t an ideal format and the author really isn’t selling to the entire world. It’s very similar to digital music. Digital music was available to the world before the iPod and iTunes, but no one had a format or devices that crossed almost all barriers until Apple. The iPod was the device that made everyone (virtually) a common user of digital music. (Beta and VHS is another example)

    Neither the Kindle or the Nook (iPad jury is still out) is a common user yet. Until there is a common user gadget publishers will be necessary if you want a shot at selling to virtually anyone. When a common user gadget is available publishers will still exist, but they won’t be as necessary as they are or have been.

    Basically, I’m saying Scalzi’s reasons for having a publisher matter, but are insignificant to what I labeled a common user gadget. Once that gadget is available if I’m Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling why let publishers and even places like Amazon take a cut? I could just put my new work on my site for everyone to download for the same price (much much larger margin) and make even more money. Or, if I’m an author with a limited audience do the same thing and maximize the dollars from my small but loyal fanbase.

    The mid-tier author is probably the one who will be using the publisher in the future, as they probably have two sets of significant buyers. One set being the ultra loyal and the other being casual buyers. They might lose the casual buyers if they self-publish. The casual buyers for the huge and small authors are probably insignificant to the extra margin attained by selling it yourself, though it would be interesting to run the numbers.

    Now that it appears I self-published in this comment…I will stop. Sorry.

  119. Jeff Barrus: “If the publishing world wants to remain viable, it needs to recognize that eBook readers like me are its bread and butter”

    Well no, you’re actually not. You are a new addition to the casual, unreliable reader group who comes and goes and doesn’t put much value on books and tends to buy them only when the buzz gets loud enough or they are dangled in front of you. You are also buying products in a format that makes up only 3% of book sales. The bread and butter of the book industry, e-book or print, are the people who don’t have to buy a Kindle to get them to buy large book purchases and don’t complain about book prices and don’t threaten authors about taking their custom elsewhere.

    You are also an early adapter of a new gadget, which predominantly helps the electronics tech industry, not book publishing. But as such, you have still helped publicize not only e-books, but books as well. But even if you and all the other, say, ten million early adapters decide not to buy any more e-books, e-books will still be caught up in the wave of video, electronic print and other goodies and apps downloading that is going on in the tech industry, and is the hot new thing for consumers, and sell to enough people that it will be just fine, because there’s always a small percentage of people who like books, or who are fascinated enough to occasionally buy one, like you, and publishing has been living off of that small percentage for a couple thousand years and will continue to do so in the bright shiny tech world too.

    Ashley Grayson: As someone who has been a literary agent, I was completely amused by the very weird and totally wrong view you have of how book publishing works and what literary agents do.

  120. This is still funny enough to elicit a guffaw many hours later.

    You should try writing for a living, Scalzi. I think you’d be good at it.

  121. Chad: you don’t seem to understand the job that editors and copyeditors do. It’s not something you can do for yourself. What they do materially improves the books that you get at the end.

    I would conjecture that typically the kind of person who does well at copyediting isn’t the kind of person who does well at storytelling (though I’m sure there are examples of people good at both). The late great Robert Legault once noticed that the color of a coffee stirrer was not correct for the time period in which the book was set.*

    Authors don’t have the time, or in most cases the personality, to do that sort of thing. Also, they mostly need someone else to say “Look, this is a great story, but it’s wordy. Cut ten thousand words out of it and you’ll have a better book.”

    Also, there’s the gatekeeping aspect. Editors really do screen out a lot of truly nasty crap from the world of books. Read TNH’s Slushkiller for some ideas. Scroll down to section 3, and read the list there. Look at the first 10 items; they’re what your model would inflict upon the unhappy world, and they’re 95-99% of all submissions.

    The good books might still exist, but you’d have a damn tough time finding them amid the sea of crap.
    *This is an extreme example, but copyeditors catch more mundane things all the time. “Wasn’t this car blue earlier in the story?” “Wait, wasn’t it his RIGHT arm that was injured in the gunfight?” These corrections help prevent jarring the reader who notices the errors right out of the story.

  122. Wait, John, you missed part of Act II. The part where STRAÜMANN tells you that since readers no longer think it’s necessary to pay for something as silly as “content” authors can easily find another way to “monetize” themselves. You know, booking Madison Square Garden for a reading, auctioning off lunch-with-the-author on e-Bay. All the ways we’re going to support ourselves as writers now that the words themselves are supposed to be free.

  123. @172 Xopher —

    “in the book industry, the big houses treat you fairly and the vanity presses arrange everything they possibly can to rip you off and/or squeeze every last penny out of you.”

    Not quite. Big publishing is like Casino gambling. The business model so favors the house, they can run “an honest game” and still retain 92% of your money. Vanity presses are more like armed robbers: “Let’s gamble. My gun beats whatever you are holding.”

  124. Xopher has it exactly right – The point I was trying to make in my earlier post was that the music business and the publishing business are *not* the same.

    The argument that you have to be signed to a major label to be able to afford the large amounts of time in an expensive studio needed to create a decent-sounding record is simply old-style record industry propaganda.

    The self-releasing independent artists I referred to aren’t hypothetical cases, but half-a-dozen real bands who record and tour, quite a few of whose members I know personally. Probably significant that they’re bands rather than solo artists, so creating music is already a collective endeavour. And those bands have a sufficient mix of talents that they always have someone skilled in producing and arranging (which is what editing is to publishing). Many finance their albums by fan pre-orders in lieu of advances that leave them beholden to a record company. They prefer it that way rather than being chewed up and spat out by the record industry sausage machine. No, they’ll probably never become ‘stars’, but I don’t think they really want to be.

    Anyway, I’m rambling and this is technically off-topic because this isn’t a music blog, so I’ll shut up now.

  125. I detect a prejudice against eBook devices here.

    Dismissing them as “2% of the market” is suicidal.

    It’s not often I will cite Seth Godin, but he’s correct here:

    It’s not the rats you need to worry about

    And it’s not a $200-$499 device you need to fear. It’s the cheap one:

    Would A US$50 eBook Reader Be A Disaster?

    As for Amazon v Macmillan … I just recently watched a 3-part vid with Chris Anderson vs. 4 print guys, one of whom was Macmillan’s Sargent. I was shocked to see Sargent had a real grip on things and pushed back against Anderson and “free” (aka revisionistic “freemium”).

  126. The copy editor function, while nice, is less of an issue when the marginal cost of updating the ebook is essentially “fix error and upload updated version of file”.


    Dear World:

    (I’m being Anglo-centric here, as I do not know how to edit in any other tongue.)

    Copyediting is not proofreading. Proofreading is a part of copyediting, but proofreaders are a different sort of respected professional who come on board AFTER the copyediting stage.

    Copyediting involves grammar, usage, sense and plausibility, fact checking, and indexing on more occasions that you might suspect (which I think professional indexers should be a bit miffed about, really).

    It involves flagging content for possible legal issues and looking up whether such and such restaurant is really on such and such street in Washington, D.C., or whether such and such ethnic group really does live in such and such nation in significant numbers, or can you really do that with African hair, as well as more subjective matters like house style (including grammar and usage, and unified spelling, and whether or not to use numerals or letters for numbers — you do sometimes get choices — but also including stuff like “Does this manuscript comply with the publisher’s stance on condom use?” or “Is this incredibly racist, and is that unwitting?”) and author’s preferred comma placement (US? UK? Canada, a mix of the two?), spelling of names, and spacing (line and character), and which font to use to represent an e-mail as opposed to which font to use to represent a road sign, or a business card, or a handwritten letter. (As well as whether or not to hyphenate or close up “e-mail,” ha ha.)

    Not to mention all that jazz about keeping detailed style sheets to remember whose eyes are blue and whose nickname is what and whose daughter Character X is, and then keeping another style sheet that tracks which page the first reference of all this shit appears on, whether or not the book actually HAS an index, for the convenience of the writer and other editors. (Because all this is not necessarily taking place in an electronic file — it can’t. For a starter illustration of why, try using the Grammar function on MS Word without giggling.)

    People actually take classes and seminars to learn the wide variety of things that copyeditors are supposed to check for, look up, query, and learn by heart.

    There are tests you take to be allowed to do this. Very intelligent, educated and well-spoken people sometimes fail these tests. Legal professionals. University professors.

    (Heh — not to mention the effect it has on your brain. It becomes hard to turn off. I am purposefully turning it off right now. I do not LIKE that I sat through half of Watchmen being annoyed at Ozymandias’s use of dangling modifiers. “At seventeen, my parents died.” NO, NO, NO!)

    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told, “Wow, you copyedit? I’d love to do that in my spare time, it sounds like fun!” by people who in that very e-mail/letter/IM screw up basics like when to put punctuation inside or outside of parentheses.

    Everyone says “What’s copyediting?” and “Who really needs copyeditors?” and “Let’s replace copyeditors with dedicated fans!” and “Let’s outsource copyediting to places where English is a second language!” until something goes wrong, at which point everything is the copyeditor’s fault. Even people in the publishing business do this.

    I am starting to believe that this job will indeed become obsolete, very soon, because of this very sort of, shall we say, lack of understanding. But I also believe that more than you realize now, you will miss us when we’re gone.

    Not that I’m bitter.

  127. #58 Scalzi: “…for me the next time I wish to publish in 1740.” My point, exactly… the publishing industry is changing all the time, and what worked or didn’t work a few years ago may need to be re-evaluated and re-considered. Considering that you published your first book electronically, if you hadn’t been picked up by a publisher today, would you consider self publishing or making your e-book available through a web distributor?

  128. @185 — The Dow Jones people made me memorize the AP Stylebook!!! I… I still have… those dreams… :-D :-D

  129. Well, if anybody’s figured out anything about self-publishing it’s Dan Poynter, who makes his living self-publishing books that teach people how to self publish. Rather meta, that.

    He’s managed to turn it into quite the little empire, and his advice is generally pretty good. But while self-publishing may be good for very small niches, it doesn’t scale well to larger endeavors. If you only want to sell a few thousand books, tops (and the average book iin the U.S. sells 500 copies, so a few thousand is a pretty high bar to set for yourself), and you know your market really well, self-publishing might be viable. On the other hand, if your goal is to be the next Rowling or Grisham, the odds against it, already miniscule when going through one of the ‘big 6’ become equivalent to Planck dimensions.

  130. And as the need for proofreaders and copy editors goes, the missing comma in the last sentence of my post above speaks to that.

  131. Mac: copyediting well is a wonderful skill which should be admired and adored (I am particularly fond of Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s (did I spell her name correctly?) essay, “On Copyediting”, which made me laugh out loud.

    Few people appreciate how important good editing–at all levels–is to the success of a book. Few people understand the different layers of editing that have to be performed to make a book the best it can possibly be (how many know and understand the differences between line editing, copy editing and proof reading?). And most people only notice editing when it’s done badly, or not at all.

    I admire good editors greatly. They’re largely unappreciated, but make a world of difference to the books in their care.

    I’ll stop now. Back to the subject in hand. Fabulous article, by the way.

  132. For my novel coming out next summer, the copy editor noticed that I’d dated a car make and model one year after it had been discontinued.

    No software program is going to catch that.

  133. #86 puck: “I get what you’re going for here, but your examples could use some work. Indie creatives often have to pull in investors….” Benjamin Franklin is a perfect example. He was indentured to his brother. When he was 17, as he put it, he asserted his freedom from his brother. (Thus, my example of Ben; an example of asserting one’s freedom from expected or established ways of doing things). Ben went to NY to get a job (“a naughty girl” was involved in putting on that path). No jobs. He walked to Philadelphia to look for a job… Several years later (and after a time spent in the business in England), he established his print shop (not without bumps) with the help of investors. You know what, be inspired. Read his autobiography. In regards to the early days of setting up his business, be prepared for: “I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal…. I was seen at no places of idle diversion. I never went out a fishing or shooting; a book, indeed, sometimes debauched me from my work, but that was seldom….” Again, how he made his business successful in spite of competition, is truly inspiring.

  134. Jane Smithe, all this talk of copyediting has me remembering a story about one of my fav authors, Pat Conroy. I think it was Prince of Tides and Nan Talese who did that massive editing job. Nan had to take legal pads full of Conroy’s handwriting and make all that into a book. Now that’s a job for those who need little praise. That’s the kind of dream editor I need.

    On of my favorite Heinlein books had some pretty major editing, but then it was re-released with some of the original content back in place. It was semi-un-edited.

  135. Well, first off I just have to say that play was very funny & kudos.

    Now about publishers. I think when the dust settles on all the changes happening in the book world, we will still see publishers; what we will not see are mega-monster publishing dinosaurs like the current big 6. And the smaller, better publishing houses that remain will be paying higher royalties (but probably smaller advances or none) and (of course) primarily publishing ebooks. All of this within the next 10 years, I think.

    Despite the giggles, it IS possible to self-publish successfully today; what it isn’t is EASY. As several people have pointed out, somebody really needs to copyedit the work, and it needs to be formatted correctly, and it needs a piece of cover art. (Yeah, I agree it really shouldn’t if it’s an ebook but the reality is it does.)

    If you’re going to self-publish an ebook, you have to either hire an editor or (this can sometimes work) trade off with another writer to edit each other’s work. You have to either hire someone to do a cover piece or, if you have the skill, do it yourself. If your grasp of English is sufficient you can be your own proofreader (not editor), and if it isn’t you probably should improve it to the point where it is before trying to write. You also have to do all your own promotion. There are tools available to do this on line essentially free, but it’s not easy and it’s not quick.

    A publishing house in the future will be a company that does all these non-writing things for you, including at least some of the marketing and promotion. But instead of giving an author the ability to publish whereas he wouldn’t have that ability otherwise, the publishing house will simply be making it easier and more convenient. This changes the balance of power between author and publisher in the author’s favor compared to what it is now. The question will become: how much will an author pay (or give up in royalties) in exchange for that service?

    I think the answer is not “none” but not “a whole freaking lot” either. As of next June, Amazon will be paying independent self-published e-authors 70% royalties. That will be fairly low for the industry, but a good baseline (Amazon can get away with it because it’s the 500-pound gorilla). A publishing house with good services might get away with paying 70% of net, either directly or by a formula that gives a % of retail price and amounts to the same thing. Thus, if the publisher epublishes the book at Amazon and collects 70% of retail price while the big bad A keeps 30%, the author gets 70% of 70% or 49% of retail price. If the retail price is, say, $4, self-publishing at Amazon would net the author $2.80 per book sold, while going through a publisher would give him $1.96. In exhange for a bit under a buck a sale, the publisher handles all that non-writing crap so the author doesn’t have to worry about it. Probably worth that, but it’s not worth a whole lot more.

    In the future, a publisher will be an option which may in many (maybe most) cases be attractive to the author, but it will not be a necessity.

  136. @182 Mike Cane, I seriously disagree with this blog you posted, I buy over 100 books a year i’m 25 from england and have ordered 16 new books online for my 26th birthday in a few days. I contantly haunt the secondhand shops and I bought 3 books from waterstones and one from a supermarket last week. I am not the only one. See librarything, goodreads, anobii and shelfari, they all have communities of hundreds to thousands of people who have this addiction to book buying. I am a heavy user, I have not abandodned the bookstore, not totally, and people addicted to reading won’t just disappear. I do not have parents that are heavy readers, I have not been ‘taught’ to like books – i just do, and I have no doubt that people who like reading will be born in the future, no matter the state of the art.

  137. That was brilliant! I recognized all the arguments. And Deus ex Kristina is perfect.
    That said, there are lot of misconceptions going on about ebooks and ereaders in the comments. I’ve been writing ebooks for 5 years now.

    E-readers are not all created equal. When you buy an e-book in .pdf and download it, it is your file. You can store it where you like. You can back it up on disk (reccommended). You can put it on your reader via USB cable or read it on your computer screen. On the latter you can get full color cover art. On most of the readers, you can get greyscale art.

    When you buy a Kindle book, you are leasing a proprietary-format file that is yours as long as Amazon lets you keep it/Amazon stays in business. Aside from ergonomic issues, this is why I won’t own a Kindle.

    Editing is vital. Absolutely vital. I’ve seen what my manuscripts look like unedited and I’m told I submit clean manuscripts.

    Ebooks are popular in certain segments (the romance crowd, especially the erotic romance crowd, has taken right to them) and less so in others. I think the popularity will continue to grow.

  138. The author of this fine little play made a huge mistake, obviously to stretch the suspense, because Kristi would have killed Straumann in Act 1 when Scalzi told her about it.

  139. Maybe somebody does all those things for your books, John. But I wrote a nonfiction book about 15 years ago for a major press (rhymes with Ain’t Cartons) and they hired out copy editing, did no real editing otherwise, designed a snazzy cover, and left me to figure out publicity, mostly. So I certainly don’t see them as irreplaceable in this deal.

    That said, I see no reason why the present and future won’t intermingle for many years to come; there’s no reason some books can’t work one way, others another, and some do well in one form and get picked up by the other. Saying the e-book will kill physical publishing is like saying cable TV will kill movie theaters. No, they each have their place– but cable has certainly changed how and which movies get made.

  140. @ Mac: Those of us with a good grasp of grammar appreciate your efforts to stem the tide of bad writing.

    I once had a co-worker who was amazing at finding typos and other errors, including the dreaded double-space. Unfortunately, she had very low self-esteem and wouldn’t believe me when I told her she should get a job as a proofreader with the eventual goal of being a copyeditor. Pity. (The quality of our publicity material is hit-or-miss since she quit and I stopped working full-time.)

  141. As a Kindle owner who has spent upward of $700 in the last year to fill my device – from a variety of sources, not just Amazon, mind you and my avg. cost is around $6 an e-book, so for the record, not gonna pay $15 EVER – this reads like a very amusing, clever and cute blog post.


    When you actually analyze the large number of assumptions and strawmen contained within said post, it really doesn’t do much except one thing:

    It assumes I am a thief. And then makes a big hullaballoo about what a thief I am, and how me and people like me are stealing.

    Do you actually even _want_ my money anymore? For the record you are talking to someone who owns everything you’ve published in both physical form AND digital form. If that even matters in this dick-swinging contest that seems to be happening here.

  142. Harry 191: For my novel coming out next summer, the copy editor noticed that I’d dated a car make and model one year after it had been discontinued.

    No software program is going to catch that.

    And a copyeditor can’t just fix something like that, either. There are books where the change makes no difference, and books where the model year is used in the calculation of a character’s age, or how long someone’s been driving, or something like that, and where a lot of other things have to be changed if you change the model year. Also, if the model year is reported by a character, it could be a sign that someone’s lying (in mystery and detective fiction). It could be a sign that we’re in an alternate timeline (in either SF or allohistory). Or it could just be a mistake, but you can’t know that for sure on the first pass.

    If I tried to be a copyeditor my head would explode. I have nothing but admiration for the people who can do that job and yet live.

    JimK 203: It assumes I am a thief. And then makes a big hullaballoo about what a thief I am, and how me and people like me are stealing.

    Oh, nonsense JimK. It’s not assuming any such thing. Read the lines attributed to Straümann. Would you say ANY of those things? Or think them?

    No, John is talking about the tiny-but-loud subset of users who want everything just how it is but don’t see why they should pay for it, and who apparently think everything but the writing happens by magic, and that writing is so easy that no one should actually get paid for doing it.

    If you’re not in that category, and don’t believe this nonsense, you’re not being referenced in this little play. It’s designed to explain why some things are the way they are, and respond to some truly stupid criticisms of the publishing industry, not to attack all Kindle users.

  143. JimK@203 Some of that may be the reason why one of the characters is named Straumann. Besides, I’ve heard exactly those points used by some folks for several years now, in some cases to justify piracy. If you’re not among those numbers, then it’s not aimed at you.

  144. Great post (and where is that sequel? :) ).

    With every new technology you see people going overboard and claiming EVERYTHING will go that way. Actually, usually it just fills another niche.

    There are some creative people who like to have total control, or who are themselves pretty good at the business side of things, or whatever. For them, they weren’t served very well by the previous systems; and for them, there are many benefits to cutting out the middleman.

    Other creative people like to concentrate solely on their art, or have other priorities or responsibilities in life. For them, a middleman is useful and even necessary.

    There’s no real problem here, the only problem is hype (and the sharks and free riders who cannily make a quick buck off it).

  145. Dude, who’s your copyeditor? Umlauts go on the first vowel. Diaesises go on the second. Sträumann, not Straümann!

  146. I took a drink of coffee just as Kristine was dismembering the modern man. Almost spewed it all over the keyboard.
    Good stuff.
    I have Stanza (and the Kindle app) on my iPod Touch. I’ve pretty much filled it with public domain books – just read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin which I really enjoyed – I have no intention of looking for torrents or otherwise stealing books.
    But I’m certainly not willing to pay more for an electronic book than I would for a paperback. I don’t buy hardcovers so wouldn’t pay similar prices.
    Before I went primarily electronic I was using Paperbackswap.com quite a bit which is fair use, but pays authors nada – practically speaking, not MUCH different from file swapping.
    Seems to me that high prices for electronic books are a protectionist tactic for publishers who, for some reason, would rather sell dead tree books.
    Loved Old Man’s War and looking forward to reading the rest of that series – and the rest of your work.
    Also read an electronic version of Agent to the Stars – enjoyed that as well. Thanks for putting it out there.

  147. “If you’re not among those numbers, then it’s not aimed at you.”

    Bull. Complete bull.

    1. I have to “suffer the slings and arrows” of being lumped in with whoever these mysterious and unknown e-book readers are who paid $300 for a device and then steal all the content that is on it. I must know at least 20 Kindle owners and not one of them is a pirate. I’ve hung out online among literally thousands of Kindle owners. The worst “piracy” I’ve seen is when we all figured out how to remove the DRM so we can use the files we bought the way we want to use them – and that DOESN’T include sharing them. SO yeah, that to me is a big, big strawman.

    2. I have to put up with publishers that assume I am a thief and institute sometimes Draconian DRM on books I buy.

    It’s not a case of “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” That logic has never _really_ applied – to anything, ever. It is only ever trumpeted by those who have something to gain or those who are sucking up to those who have something to gain.

    Eventually the lion will eat you too, no matter how many times he promises you’ll be last.

    My $0.02. I buy books, so I guess I have a dog in this fight. And I’m getting sick and tired of being lied to, insulted and taken advantage of financially for being a good and honest reader.

    Not on Team Amazon, BTW…in case that wasn’t clear. I’m tired of their abuses as well.

  148. Nah. It’s a dieresis (you silly misspelling person you). You’re supposed to say STRA-oo-mahn.

  149. JimK, you’re assuming John is in favor of DRM. I think that’s at best a rash assumption.

    I think DRM is stupid and wrong too, and I agree with every point John’s making in this playlet.

  150. JimK@211 The character is actually named ‘strawman’ for cripe’s sake! In literary circles this is sometimes referred to as a ‘rhetorical device’.

  151. Just an observation from a misspent youth. An indie musican can make a living of sorts working the barband circuit etc. They’re getting paid for the exposure, building a following, getting a chance to hawk their self made or self financed musical products. It’s generally not the road to riches but some bands do ok.

    Incidently I think the problem of torrents and that sort of thing is real. Given the chance, enough people will steal intellectual property and distribute it widely enough that it could be a real problem. The Grateful Dead was able to circumvent the problem by welcoming bootleg recordings but I think their situation was unique enough that perhaps what worked for the Dead won’t translate as a general model.

  152. Thanks, I needed that! You’re fortunate to have a wife who is expert in Ultimate Fighting. Now go write the fucking sequel!

  153. “Not quite. Big publishing is like Casino gambling. The business model so favors the house, they can run “an honest game” and still retain 92% of your money.”

    Wrong again, Ashley, but thanks for playing.

    Mike Cane: “I detect a prejudice against eBook devices here. Dismissing them as “2% of the market” is suicidal.”

    It’s 3% of the market and it’s not dismissing it. But e-books is a growing niche market and niche markets have extra costs, and e-books have enormous costs at the moment over established print systems that supply 97% of the market because of the fighting over formats and the lack of tech personnel. The e-book market will grow and rapidly, and that’s great. But the insistence of e-book customers that they are king of the world right now and so the entire industry must accommodate whatever they desire even though the tech hasn’t been worked out yet and most people don’t have e-readers or download e-books is a Verouica Salt fantasy.

    Brian Rush: “what we will not see are mega-monster publishing dinosaurs like the current big 6. And the smaller, better publishing houses that remain will be paying higher royalties (but probably smaller advances or none)”

    Well, you’re welcome to that opinion, but I disagree. In fact, the current developments of the e-book market, including Amazon’s latest move, exert pressure on book publishing to be big or go home. While the e-book market is small as it is now, lots of little players and self-publishers can come play. Once it gets bigger, only the big players will make decent money off of it on average and fewer online vendors will carry self-published titles. As for the smaller publishing houses, they aren’t always better; sometimes, they are quite incompetent and have much nastier contract terms that tie authors up. The small presses can’t pay higher royalties, even if they were suddenly to rule (and if they were to rule, they’d become big houses.) If they were to rule, they’d also be forced to pay advances and larger ones than they do now. But what small presses mostly do if they are successful is hook up with bigger publishers, which is how they got so big, and they’re happy to do it.

    I think the problem is that people keep confusing book publishing with Hollywood or the music industry or magazines, because they know more about those industries, but really they’re not very comparable. Self-publishing is a perfectly effective way to sell books, but this notion that it is somehow going to take over everything just because we have e-books is a strange idea and unlikely to ever occur. Publishers are not just suppliers of non-writing services and most of the world’s non-publishing corporate and Net power (like Apple,) has little interest in books in any form.

  154. So much that I would like to say, but since most of it reiterates points already mentioned, I’ll just point out: for those who refer to Baen’s e-ARCs as an example of crowdsourced editing, note that the Webscriptions site specifically says “Please do not send in typos and errors, we know the eARC is unproofed and the author doesn’t need to be inundated with ‘corrections’.” The e-ARC is simply a way to get readers who are willing to live with some errors in the text the opportunity to read a books months before publication date (and pay through the nose for it, too — speaking as one who not a hour ago dropped $15 on P.C.Hodgell’s new book, instead of waiting two weeks… :-)

    As for the rest of the issues addressed by Mr. Scalzi’s as-usual-excellent play, I think it’s nicely covered by TANSTAAFL…

  155. who was the editor for this piece?

    the copy editor?

    the cover artist?

    the designer?

    the publicist?

    and who printed it and got it into stores?

    nobody? really? how can that be?
    because people from all over the world
    have read it, and given feedback on it,
    lots of people, giving lots of feedback,
    all within a matter of a mere 24 hours.

    surely, in the traditional sense of the word
    “publishing” — meaning “to make public” —
    has taken place here…

    despite the absence of the baggage of
    all of those things considered by you
    to be so necessary…

    and i assume it will continue to take place.

    so yes, scalzi, publishing “will not go away
    anytime soon”, with that, i agree completely.

    and let me just say that you are very lucky
    that you have a monopoly on john scalzi…


  156. A flaw; Scalzi’s book is incomplete. Act I, his first lines: What! No index, no indexer? Like the lawyer who is his own client, you cannnot do it yourself. Shame.

  157. @JimK…. your average cost is $6? And you wouldn’t pay $15? Excellent!! Scalzi’s Kindle titles are priced at…. $5.99.

    I know facts are pesky things, but try using them.

    The $14.99 price is for new release *bestsellers*. The price would drop over time, tracking roughly with the corresponding physical edition. Want a new release RIGHT NOW?? Pay more for it. Willig to wait? Pay less. And before you launch into “but it’s the same thing whereas hardbacks and paperbacks are different” 1) Yes, but if you value access why aren’t you willing to pay for that value and 2) I can imagine different ebook editions being produced and priced differentially.

  158. “STRAÜMANN (sneers): Well, what did you expect? The editing was sloppy, the copy editing was atrocious, the layout was amateurish and the cover art looked like it was Photoshopped by a dog. Who would want to buy that?”

    Seriously, I laughed so hard my eyes started bleeding. Photoshopped by a dog. Hahaha, love it.

  159. >>>I seriously disagree with this blog you posted, I buy over 100 books a year i’m 25 from england and have ordered 16 new books online for my 26th birthday in a few days.

    @musereader Wait until you’ve had to pack, lug, and unpack those damned bundles of paper a few times in your life. You will get a whole new perspective on weight and how much easier it is to move an *electronic* library. Want to see the MRI of my lower back for proof?

  160. John, I assume there will be a Subterranean special edition of this [or perhaps the entire Amazon/Macmillan week’s posts?] at some point … would probably earn Athena another rocket paperweight …

  161. bowerbird @220: did any of the people all over the world who read this, and gave feedback on it, pay for it? no? but but but it’s PUBLISHED!

    Mike @224: on the other hand, wait until your entire expensive e-library gets wiped out because of a software failure, or because the DRM barfed, or because Amazon wasn’t supposed to sell it and schlorped it out of your device. Or your cat pees on it.

    I don’t hate the principle of e-books but I don’t see them as replacing the dead tree version any time soon. I found that the best way to avoid permanent book-related back injures was to a) get over the notion that simply HAVING a book is a virtue, regardless of whether I am ever going to read it again or, indeed, whether it was worth reading the first time, and b) relying on libraries, used bookstores and friends with book-hoarding tendencies.

  162. As everyone else said, a great play! I hope it didn’t take too much of the time you should be spending writing the sequel :-).

    I am not knowledgeable about publishing, so perhaps I don’t belong here.

    But it seems hard for me to believe that the services of a copy editor, cover artist and so on are worth 90% of the cost of the book.

    That is, if you get about a 10% royalty, or $2 for every $20 spent, that seems awfully inefficient. Most readers would rather support authors than publishers or copyeditors or whatever.

    Of course I do know distribution costs and discounts are probably about 50% of the net cost of the book, so really you are getting 20% of the net cost, but still that seems awfully low for years worth of blood, sweat and toil.

    Surely the copy editor or cover artist doesn’t spend nearly as much time on the book as you do? So why shouldn’t you get most of the money, from taking most of the time and effort expended?

    And does anyone really care if an author references a car that was not made in the year they said it was?

    I expect authors to take small liberties with facts like that. As an easy to understand example, I know Sue Grafton’s talking about Montecito, California when she says Montebello, and Santa Barbara when she says Santa Teresa. I happen to have lived in Santa Barbara, and knowing about those places gives the novels some extra appeal for me. But I don’t expect every store on Coast Village Road to be where they were when I lived near there.


  163. I’ll buy a Kindle when I find it at a garage sale. For $2. Working.

    Do they come in pink? My girlfriend wants to know. She’ll pay retail, top retail if it comes with health insurance. She’s healthy, but worried.

    In fact, she wants a guarantee that she’ll never be sick another day in her life. Or injured by an out-of-control, beige Corolla.

    As for me; a beer, a book, and this here Vista.

  164. Surely the copy editor or cover artist doesn’t spend nearly as much time on the book as you do? So why shouldn’t you get most of the money, from taking most of the time and effort expended?

    DUDE. Last book MS I did, I got paid $12 an hour. =/ We are not ripping the lion’s share from the mouth of Scalzi’s child.

  165. Just wanted to say Thank You! to Mac (I *think*, shame on me, but I’m just too tired to scroll back up through all of these posts) for the lovely, brilliant paen to copy editors. I had to stop and think seriously for a moment there about whether copy editor is one word or two. You see why this was not a career option for me… Having published two romance novels with Harlequin/Silhouette, I can say that my editor, copy editor and proofreaders were absolutely fabulous, even if we did have lively debates about whether or not people really say ‘Gosh!’, which was often suggested as a substitute for my more profane ‘God!’ as an exclamation. Particularly in a genre like romance, that can easily become hyper-formulaic, a great team at your publisher can help you avoid major and minor pitfalls: trite plotting, having someone drive the wrong way down a one-way street that exists in a real city (oh, you just know you’re going to get emails about THAT one), making sure that parentheses are put inside/outside the period as custom demands. As a writer, I appreciate the variety of skills on offer for the improvement and sale of my books. As a reader, I bow down in gratitude (and am willing to pay) for the work that publishers put in to make sure that the books they offer are what they see as the best in their field. As a free-market capitalist (hard to reconcile with the crazy left-wing liberal part of me, but I manage), I think that if I’m willing to pay through the nose for the latest Cormac McCarthy or Michael Chabon book, or Laurie R. King or Naomi Novik release, then it would be foolish of someone not to take advantage of that. ;) Charge me up the yin yang; I’m buying. And, of course, now that I’ve followed a link from MaryAnne Mohanraj’s blog to John Scalzi’s, I’m going to have to go and buy one of his books tomorrow, because that play almost made me pee in my pants from laughing so hard. But don’t anyone take this instance of blogging/social networking to mean that I think John should drop his publisher and go rogue. I buy my books in bookstores mostly–instant gratification/no shipping time and a physical object in my grimy little hands–and that is where publishers also shine: major distribution arrangements. Self-publishing, I’d’ve been damn lucky to sell a thousand copies of my books. Big publisher, I’ve sold over 100,000 of each in about 14 countries, which is peanuts for a romance novel. But it is, no contest, a million times better than I’d ever have managed on my own. And I am properly grateful for that.

  166. David H Dennis@227 All the costs you cite are one time costs, so such things might be 90% of the production cost to get the manuscript turned into a book. But those people get paid once, either a negotiated flat rate, an hourly wage, or as part of their salary for work on a particular book. The author gets paid a percentage of every book sold. So the author keeps getting money throughout the life of the book, hence ends up (assuming that the book sells any appreciable number of volumes and ‘earns out’) paying the author more than an amount equivalent to 10% of the cost. In theory, once a book ‘earns out’, future sales turn into almost pure profit. Reality, of course, keeps tossing occasional other costs into the mix, but books that earn out may also earn some devotion from the publisher to the author who has made them money. Sometimes that devotion turns into increased royalty rates when their contract comes up for renegotiation (or should unless the author’s agent is a complete nebbish).

  167. @227 David H Dennis

    I’m happy to see a reader believes the author should be supported. The copy editor and cover artist don’t get 90% of the book. They don’t get any percentage; they are paid fixed fees. Publishers do not value developmental editors, copyeditors, proofreaders etc. They are freelancers with no health insurance, who are paid for piecework, usually overcommitted and work while exhausted. Publishers employ acquisitions editors, who talk to agents, who are expected to pan the gold. These acquisitions editors are smart, have a keen sense and many also do excellent developmental editing. Their compensation is unknown, but more like salary and maybe bonus. The Publisher gives about 50% to the booksellers to retail the book. To destroy competition, the big chains first discounted 25-30% to consumers and now find it tough to pay rent and show profits on their reduced margins. So they want bigger discounts. The publisher’s remaining 35-40% covers everything else. But big publishers don’t enjoy this money. It is swept from their books every week by the conglomerate that owns them and used by the parent company, often to fund non-publishing businesses.

  168. @232 Ashley Grayson

    That’s a pretty grim picture you’ve painted. One has to wonder how long it can continue.

  169. @233 DED
    The news is grim but I don’t make it grim. I only report the chain of events. Consider the number of bookstore closings, Borders near bankruptcy for a second year, Dorchester not paying some authors for over a year, Anderson News bankruptcy, and so on. Fewer publishers and fewer book retailers every year. On the upside: e-books. No real manufacturing cost, no transportation or inventory cost, free sampling to replace preposterous marketing activities and one-click purchasing. Authors are in a better position than ever, but all this Amazon-Macmillan battle is over how they are going to divide up the author’s earnings. I’m actually very positive about the future.

  170. Mr. Scalzi, women’s violence – something you just endorsed – isn’t cute. It’s violence.

  171. If you think that’s violent, wait until you read my books!

    On second thought, if this makes you vaporous, perhaps you shouldn’t read my books.

  172. Poets have long accepted that they can’t make a living by writing poetry – and there are still terrific poems being written. Maybe it’s time fiction writers started thinking differently.

  173. @mike cane – i moved to university with 300 books, I moved from uni to my ex boyfriends with 800 books, I moved from my ex’s to my parents with 1,300 where it got moved to 3 times to different rooms. Moved half my 1,800 collection to my grandfathers house while i was part-time caring for him and then moved it back to my parents and i have 2,300 now, been there, done that, still love ’em. (Though I only have ~300 hardbacks so it could have been worse)

  174. I don’t understand the Internet impulse to say “I don’t know anything about this subject, so perhaps I shouldn’t be discussing it, but let me firmly assert a completely uninformed opinion anyway.”

  175. >>>And does anyone really care if an author references a car that was not made in the year they said it was?

    @DavidDennis: Yes. Those people are called *professionals* and are paid for their attention to detail. That *readers* might not care is entirely irrelevant.

    @musereader Did you lug the boxes YOURSELF? I have never had moving assistance. My back will testify to that.

    And hello, eBooks will not just evaporate. Services have your library in the cloud, so even if the cat does piss on the hardware, the books still exist for re-downloading. As for DRM, there are countermeasures people can take to insure their rightful and legal ownership. Ahem.

  176. @234 Ashley Grayson

    Ok. Is it reasonable to infer that if publishers can survive this fiscally turbulent transition period, then eBooks will be a steadying influence on their balance sheets down the road?

  177. @243 DED

    “Ok. Is it reasonable to infer that if publishers can survive this fiscally turbulent transition period, then eBooks will be a steadying influence on their balance sheets down the road?”

    To what ongoing purpose? Publishers exist to apply judgement (literary and commercial) to manuscripts, select those of perceived merit, manufacture them as physical books and manage their retail sale through stores. The tragedy of publishing is that no one in the supply chain wants to remain in the low margin business of manufacturing, shipping and retailing books any longer. Publishers long ago abandoned judgement to the agents, reserved editorial investments to only a few choice authors, and outsource almost all of their business process. Instead of 1,200 wholesale book buyers, publishers can only sell to five(?) who, like Amazon, want to sell only by discounting and bleed everyone to death. Publishers and retailers are fighting each other to keep prices high so they can keep most of the author’s income, when they no longer perform the activities that earn that income. My expectation is that publishers will make themselves less relevant going forward. My confidence is, that good books, written by talented authors will dominate the world of e-books. I don’t believe that bad books drive out good. I do believe that talented authors deserve the best deal we can get them, regardless of the circumstances of the market.

  178. Publishers long ago abandoned judgement to the agents, reserved editorial investments to only a few choice authors, and outsource almost all of their business process.

    False, false, and half true, in that order. In-house editors still exercise judgement over manuscripts they get from agents, and some houses (notably Tor) still accept unagented, unsolicited (i.e. “slush”) manuscripts. New, excellent first-time authors are popping up all the time. Production is often outsourced, and many copyeditors are freelance, but they don’t add up to “most” of the business process.

    My confidence is that good books, written by talented authors, will dominate the world of e-books. I don’t believe that bad books drive out good.

    (Fixed punctuation.) This strikes me as unfounded optimism. That would be wonderful, but could you expand on why you think so? Bad seems to drive out good everywhere else in the world (compare the fates of American Idol, Dancin’ With The Stars, and Survivor to those of Firefly, FarScape, and Dollhouse and you’ll see what I mean).

    I do believe that talented authors deserve the best deal we can get them, regardless of the circumstances of the market.

    I absolutely agree that they deserve the best deal possible. But the circumstances of the market are what will determine what deal we can get them. So I think “the best deal we can get them, regardless of the circumstances of the market” contradicts itself. How would you get a talented author a better deal if their book were wonderful but not successful due to the circumstances of the market?

  179. I don’t understand the Internet impulse to say “I don’t know anything about this subject, so perhaps I shouldn’t be discussing it, but let me firmly assert a completely uninformed opinion anyway.”

    I don’t have any background in this, but I firmly believe it has to do with potty-training.

  180. There are enough strawmen in this play to keep a bonfire going til Halloween.

    Just saying.

    I don’t really recall any other indie authors (including myself) saying that publishers are all going to be “gone.” Though in many situations they ARE middlemen.

    I mean hello, e-books? On Amazon kindle, you self-pub there and you will get to keep 70% and E is a growing market. In fact publishers don’t have much of an edge marketing in the digital world.

    Will publishers all die? Of course not, but if enough of the “big famous authors” who support their sagging midlists, pull out to form their own imprints (which from a business perspective would really make the most sense for them), then where does that leave big giant dinosaur publishers? Probably gasping for their last breath while flailing around with their tiny T-rex arms while the little lizards hop on them and eat them.

    According to Seth Godin, who IMO is a rockstar of awesome, “Small is the new Big.” If Big publishers don’t figure out a way to get small and think small, they’re going to be in some serious trouble in the next 10 years.

    Will “publishing all die” then? No. Of course not. The cycle will repeat. Smaller publishers will rise up to fill the gaps. Indie authors who have morphed into smaller publishers will fill the gaps as well. Connie Shelton with her Intrigue Press is a good example of this. She started out just self-publishing her Charlie Parker Mystery series (which shock-gasp is well edited and designed), and then branched out to publish other authors.

    The costs of publishing a book and publishing it well are highly over-inflated because people on the trad publishing train look at how much a BIG NY PUB with their giant overhead pays for everything. They pay for things like a big company.

    If an indie author would stay away from POD vanity presses, they’d find getting all their services individually would be best. Interior layout is a learnable skill and really does not require bringing in a profressional. If you want to see some amazing interior layout done by the author, check out Moriah Jovan’s new book, “Stay.”

    So that leaves you with the costs of editing, cover art, and marketing. In the general business world, that isn’t exactly high overhead. If every other business in the world operates just fine, not sure why an indie author can’t just figure it out. If they can’t figure it out or don’t want to figure it out, they don’t have to go indie, there will always be publishers.

    But since *I* can figure it out. I’m just gonna stick with my whole ya ya indie thing.

    Also on costs, what about small presses? It’s said that the average small press book sells 500-3000 copies. Well at THAT selling rate they can’t afford to pay that much for editing, cover art, etc. Yet it still gets done, and often it gets done beautifully.

    The rate for freelance work is a completely variable rate. Some people are very talented but just starting out. Also having a large number of people work on something like editing can help make up for the problems of not being able to afford one great big super-editor.

    Also, I don’t have to pay an editor living in NY. If I pay someone living in Podunk, CT (probably not a real place so don’t mapquest it), their living expenses are probably much lower, and they will accept a much lower rate.

    Further, someone who is both fast and good, may accept a lower rate simply because their per-hour pay is still high.

    There are also barter systems. If I have a quality or skill that someone in my freelance chain needs, then I can barter for that.

    It’s not all so black and white. But thanks for the comedy.


  181. I know, he really is!

    Like the illuminated manuscript will ever die!
    And did you notice how many bad arguments he made? Oh, wait, he didn’t write that part…

  182. @247 Zoe:

    One of the points John makes which seems underscored by your post is how you find time to write the next book while learning/bartering/finding cheap people to do what you can’t? I get that some people will be able to do so…but on an ongoing basis, for an entire career of books?

    Ebooks, to me, are a delivery option, not a genre, and those two things keep getting mixed in the discussion. For those who see epublishing (outside of the big 6 delivering bks in that format) as a way to reach “their” audience, I keep going back to…how? How will your audience find you?

    Next, how much money do you honestly believe you can make? Going the “indie” route looks to me a hard way to make a living.

    As a career novelist, I’m seeing ways that my backlist might bring me in some extra cash through digital means, but I’m skeptical that this route can exclusively keep baby in new shoes any time soon.

  183. The asshole fixed his no/know problem. Of course, he hasn’t fixed his no know problem, or his no-no problem, but they’re probably beyond fixing. He’d have to pull his head out of his rectum first.

    Ammon, he really only made one bad argument: false equivalence. Typical for a Fox-News-watching jackhole.

  184. Wait, are you saying that the promises that the internet would make me an expert at everything were indeed, false?

    Well, that’s just troubling is what that is. Even more troubling is that even in a world where someone could be magically be the writer, copy-editor, distributor, cover-artist, printer and have limitless coffers to fund such multi-tasked activity, the expectation is that you should also make less money on your product now because you became the middle-man.

    I think the core issue I have with modern society is the thought that progress always equates to the removal of something. Be it the pre-2000 facts that the internet was going to make brick and mortar stores obsolete or that the majority of the world would be tele-commuting by 2010.

    I’m working at becoming a writer some day and the amount of work involved in simply learning how to write well is time consuming enough, let alone the fact at some point, I need to figure out how to market, edit, illustrate, distribute and ship, digitize and print my work means I might finally have my first book published sometime before the second coming.

  185. Oh, and Mr. Scalzi — thanks for pointing out those typos to me! I really appreciate it. That’s one of the great things about online writing. I could have eventually found those on my own, but it would have taken a lot of time. And you did for me for free! Thanks, I appreciate it.

  186. Christie,

    I agree that it’s time consuming, but so is starting any other business. And that’s the thing, a writer who goes indie has to “want to start a business.” Things become less time consuming as you go on and get in a groove. But once you find your service providers, it really doesn’t take that much time to manage the whole affair. And as an author you have to market yourself and your writing anyway.

    I do think it’s not super feasible for someone who has a full-time job and kids and other obligations. But that doesn’t make it wrong or impossible for those who do have more free time on their hands. I work part-time from home and my husband pays most of the bills. That allows me some measure of freedom others don’t have. I understand that. But it seems as if people want to conclude that being an indie author is just impossible and it’s really not.

    It’s no different than starting up any other type of business. Not everybody is or wants to be an entrepreneur, but some are. And it’s a good option for those people. There is never going to be one path that is right for “everybody.” I just very much wish that the mainstream wouldn’t assume that trad publishing “must” be right for everyone because that isn’t true either. And it’s not just untrue for people who aren’t good writers.

    I agree ebooks are a delivery method. I never said they were a genre. It’s really not that difficult to start to build an audience online. Again, I understand it’s not right for everyone, but I’ve sold over 3,500 copies of my ebook in the Kindle store. Now that’s not ZOMG wow, but it’s certainly more than most self-pubbed authors are expected to sell. Also, it’s priced at only a dollar so that’s a contributing factor. But I’m just starting out. If an author’s career is built over many books, indie authors are no exception. Right now it’s about building audience more than money. Money will come with audience. For my free ebook I’ve had over 20,000 downloads in the various places I’ve distributed it. And I haven’t pushed KEPT nearly as hard as I could have. I’ve just been busy with other things.

    The point is, that if you write a good book (And I shudder to call my own work “good” because that sounds so vain, but I know I’m at least good enough to be published by the mainstream) and get out there and market it, which isn’t THAT hard on the Internet, then over time you will begin to cultivate an audience for your work. It’s just not an overnight thing. It takes time.

    I expect to be selling 10,000 copies by book 3. Maybe sooner than that. Maybe “every” indie can’t do this. I can’t speak for every indie. I just know what I will make happen one way or the other. I can only speak for me and what works for me and my personal long-term goals and plans. And I know to even someone on the NY midlist 10,000 copies isn’t that impressive, but I make 4 times per print book what a trad published author makes in royalties because I keep all the profits. So My 10k readers is someone else’s 40k (and that’s after my expenses.)

    I believe in 10 years I’ll be making a living. People can poo poo and naysay all they want to, but to those people I say: “See you in ten.” Because I will be building an audience and a list (newsletter) organically through various online marketing efforts. I will have a free podcast, I will have ebooks, I will have print using POD through Lightning Source (not a POD vanity press.) I will most importantly have ALL of my backlist in print. I’m not sure how a low midlist author expects to gain any traction to “make a living” when only 2-3 of their books are “in print” at any given time.

    ALL fiction is a hard way to make a living. It’s not like indie authorship is unique in this issue. I know very few NY pubbed authors who are making a true living off their fiction. And many who are are writing multiple books per year like some kind of little author sweatshop.

    I also believe E will be the primary delivery method within 10 years. IMO now is the time to position yourself for E-sales. Not saying print will die, but I do believe it will eventually become a subsidiary right. Considering the big 6 aren’t really handling E-rights all that well, I think they’re more of a hindrance than a help to me.

  187. I just realized that Ammon wasn’t just pointing to something annoying, he’s the author. Rrrr.

    I already flamed him at his own site, John. But perhaps I need to take a walk. It’s (past) lunch time anyway.

  188. In this blithe talk about writers doing all publishing tasks themselves, the disregard for the real question of how writers could sustain careers using this model in the foreseeable future is amazing. The attitude that writers need to become less greedy, that they need to come to grips with writing novels and such for little or no financial return, is not only naive, it seems loaded with sour-grapes thinking. The outlook seems to be: “If I can’t make a living at writing books, then I long for a world where no one can.”

  189. More thoughts on publishing and self-publishing from the awesome Cat Valente:

    “Obviously I am as invested in the online donation model and crowdfunding as I am in traditional publishing. Which is why I would rather not be drowned in a wave of unedited horrorshows because a huge number of artistic paths and options got removed through the death of publishing. It’s about choice. I should be able to choose as an artist to sell my own work however I like, or have it sold for me if that’s what I want. Reducing choice is rarely good, and that’s what Amazon is really doing: trying to reduce readers ability to choose anyone but them. And writers, too–let’s not forget their attack on POD presses a few years back in all this.”

  190. @258 Zoe

    Being a writer is a tough business, no matter what, you’re right.

    A correction: I can’t speak for every other “midlist” author, but it’s not true for me that only 2-3 of my backlist books are “in print.” Every bricks & mortar bookstore doesn’t have every one of my books on the shelves, but they’re all available, new, from online booksellers.

  191. Christie, From what I’ve observed those pretty low on the midlist only have 2-3 books in print at any given time. That’s why I said “low” on the midlist. The midlist is quite a range. But of course it may also vary by publisher. But I personally know several midlist authors who most of their books can’t be bought new in print and it was STILL proposed to me as “what I should be aiming for.”

    Either way though, I don’t want anyone controlling my work but me.

  192. Also in re-reading that last post I just made about “low” midlist, it may or may not be able to be read with a rude “tone.” But I didn’t intend one if it is.

  193. >>>And does anyone really care if an author references a car that was not made in the year they said it was?


    Hey — ever heard of Television Without Pity? Swing by. Take a looksee at what consumers of media can fixate on. For hours. For DAYS. Forever.

  194. If I could have my book in print today, I would go with a traditional publisher. My question is, what’s the landscape going to be in 2 or 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? How many best-selling authors are going to go off on their own and then make $7 (Amazon, 70%) or $8.50 (Smashwords, 85%) per $10 ebook sold? Or sell a LOT more ebooks at a price like $2.99.

    We already have, what 5 million+ Kindles out there. I don’t know how many Sony Readers and Nooks and iPads will be out there by the end of this year or next year. People already read on their phones. And the prices on ereaders are probably going to come down drastically over the next few years. When all of that happens, do I want have my book with a traditional publisher, or do I want to have a stable of ebooks and POD books and think longterm?

    And what will be the best way to get the attention of a major publishing house over the next decade anyway (since I’d still want to do that)? The slush pile? Or demonstrating some success with your ebook and POD books, and getting the ball rolling on building your audience earlier?

    This is what I’m trying to decide this year. I don’t know yet.

  195. Moses – And what will be the best way to get the attention of a major publishing house over the next decade anyway (since I’d still want to do that)? The slush pile? Or demonstrating some success with your ebook and POD books, and getting the ball rolling on building your audience earlier?

    Write what’s currently hot, and write really well. Submit to small fiction markets, and make a name for yourself. Then get an agent to agree to rep you.

    Same as always. There’s still no magic bullet. There’s not going to be a magic bullet. Ever. No matter how much you want one to exist. Getting a book contract is a combination of skill, persistence, and writing what’s marketable. It’s not at all easy.

    If you want to make it easier, you could start getting to know people in publishing. Having contacts helps after you’ve broken though the first few walls. But getting someone to look at a manuscript still won’t make it attractive to an agent unless it’s of good quality, and marketable.

    Quite frankly, you shouldn’t want this to change to a point where everyone gets the same chance. Any more than everyone should get the same chance to play for a major league sports team.

  196. Quite frankly, you shouldn’t want this to change to a point where everyone gets the same chance. Any more than everyone should get the same chance to play for a major league sports team.

    I don’t have anything really to add to this. It’s just such a great, succinct statement of a basic principle that a lot of people don’t seem to understand/agree with that I wanted to repeat it. Hear, hear.

  197. Josh,

    What’s wrong with Moses building platform? Why do people act like self-publishing is the kiss of death? As far as I understand people in “real publishing” see it in one of two ways:

    1. Not even really there, like a hobby that neither counts for you or against you.

    2. A pool to draw talented people from who are building audiences.

    And publishing one book yourself, doesn’t mean you’re publishing them all. You can do ebook only if you don’t want to do print. Or you can do a podcast. The point is to get work out to the people so you can start building platform/audience. Whether one remains forever indie or wants to sell to a publisher later, you need readers to sell books to.

    Publishers are always more attracted to a writer with a built-in audience no matter how great their book is.

  198. Moses

    I think you would find Cat Valentes piece very helpful; John has linked to it at Whateverettes.

    She’s done both so she can give insights on the possible routes…

  199. zoewinters, or 3. As a sign that the person isn’t good enough to get published traditionally and/or doesn’t understand how traditional publishing works, and will probably be difficult to work with because that lack of understanding leads to incorrect expectations.

    That’s how self-publishers (with the usual exceptions) appear to be regarded by the “real publishing” people I know.

  200. And does anyone really care if an author references a car that was not made in the year they said it was?

    Yes, they really, really do.

    I saw an interview with an author who’d written (IIRC) Sherlock Holmes on the Titanic. He received an email from a reader who had read the book with a blueprint of the Titanic open beside him, so he could track the character’s movements.

    Have you never seen a movie set in your town, where the audience bursts out laughing because a character walked down one neighborhood, turned a corner and walked down a street at the other end of town?

    And what will be the best way to get the attention of a major publishing house over the next decade anyway (since I’d still want to do that)? The slush pile? Or demonstrating some success with your ebook and POD books, and getting the ball rolling on building your audience earlier?

    Here’s what I did: I wrote the book and polished it as best I could. I researched agents and polished my query letter as best I could. I queried. I chose one of the three agents who offered to rep me.

    I didn’t spend any time trying to sell POD books. I didn’t sell books to friends or family members that weren’t ready. I didn’t worry about marketing or Amazon.com sales ranks or book design.

    I wrote. I queried. I landed a contract with Del Rey. It took a long time, but when it finally happened, I was glad that I had kept my earlier flawed work in the proverbial trunk.

    Why? Because I have many people who would have bought my first novel out of a sense of obligation. If I’d sold it to them (or given it away) they would have rolled their eyes and closed it after a chapter or two. It wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.

    By waiting until I was, I’ve turned those people into enthusiastic supporters.

  201. LOL Xopher, I know I’m good enough to get trad published, I just don’t want to be published by anyone else. Of course you are probably right that publishers would find me difficult to work with. I’m too independent and I want what I want, which doesn’t include someone else having control over my cover, changing my title, or making up whatever else they’d try to control.

    I am a control freak. Hence I am indie. Not asking for anything from the mainstream publishing world except that they not assume they “know me” and what I’m about, because they’re likely wrong.

    Of course one issue with your point three is that the second an indie shows they can move books, none of that crap matters. If a publisher can have a “sure thing” they’ll go for it.

  202. @Josh Jasper: “Quite frankly, you shouldn’t want this to change to a point where everyone gets the same chance. Any more than everyone should get the same chance to play for a major league sports team.”

    There’s an interesting chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (I believe) that talks about little kids who grow up to be professional athletes. The interesting part of the story is that for seasonal sports, who makes it to the majors is heavily dependent on when they were born relative to the age cutoffs for their particular sports.

    The numbers seem to show that kids at the older end of the age range show slightly better levels of performance at the beginning. They are given slightly better training, more time on the field and other preferential treatment. They are encouraged by parents and coaches and teachers to practice more and to push harder. Next season, they are that much further ahead and the cycle deepens.

    A gap begins to form in the performance of the two kids. But it’s not linear, it’s exponential. By the time they are ending college, the older one who was incrementally better as a kid is now a pro-level player, whereas the younger one has long since moved on from his dream of making it in the bigs.

    So, yes, I think everyone should be given the chance to play in the big leagues. But they can’t. The system erroneously weeds-out potential stars before they even get started.

    If bright and talented writers can’t get noticed because they simply don’t know how to “write what’s hot” or have no opportunity to schmooze with people in the publishing industry, then I think there’s a systemic problem there, too.

  203. Dave, I really love what you say here. I gotta read that book, I keep hearing about it everywhere. I think we don’t realize how much is contingent sometimes about the messages we are fed about ourselves as well as the messages we feed ourselves. Obviously thought alone doesn’t get anyone anywhere, but without “knowing” you can do something you do not take the appropriate actions to accomplish whatever the goal is.

    And it starts out in childhood with how your parents were toward you, as well as others around you. I was really encouraged as a kid, both by my parents and by others and I sincerely believe that this has given me some kind of edge that will benefit me, because it’s laid the psychological foundation where I know the only person that ever truly stands in my way is me. And most adults just haven’t been raised to think that way.

  204. Thanks for the responses, folks. I actually feel pretty confident in my ability to find a traditional publisher if I go that route. I played the game well enough to get a good agent with a nonfiction proposal, I feel great about the book, and I enjoy the challenge. I’ve also met some people. It’s just that I’m not sure what the best route is going to be considering what the nature of publishing will be in the coming years. This conversation would probably go quite differently five years from now, wouldn’t it? Maybe even one or two years from now.

    There’s no doubt there’s a stigma around self-pub/indie. That’s not my concern. In fact, I’d probably really enjoy working to become an exception to the stigma until a major publisher wants to get serious. I’m interested in finding the best way to have a second career as a writer, and the traditional route seems to involve more random luck than what an ebook/POD rogue can do now and in the near future.

    All of the following happen: Bad agents. Bad agent relationships. Editors who leave their jobs and leave you without an advocate. Lack of editing. Bad covers. Lack of support from the publishing house. Books disappearing from shelves after a few months. Books going out of print. Bookstores closing. Publishing companies downsizing or going out of business.

    Like Zoe, I like to be in control, though I can work with others. But if I have the chance to control the situation, I can usually make it work. I don’t like the idea of trusting the start of my writing career to countless factors out of my control. There is something appealing about getting my own plane off the ground and then finding a major house that wants to commit to my books.

    But I’m still not sure what I want to do, and I could go either way. A few years ago, I think it would’ve been a no-brainer to go traditional. A few years from now, I think it would probably be a no-brainer in the other direction. Now, I’m really not sure what the smartest move is from a longterm perspective because we’re right in the middle of a major shift in the world of book publishing.

  205. Of course one issue with your point three is that the second an indie shows they can move books, none of that crap matters. If a publisher can have a “sure thing” they’ll go for it.


  206. Jeremy Robinson self-published his book, somehow got James Rollins to blurb it (had never met the man, was just a fan).. An agent found his book on Amazon and offered to represent him, then he got a publishing deal. As far as I know he continues to run a small press he started from his indie ambitions and he publishes other authors.

    Pamela Aidan self-published a series of novels based on the Pride and Prejudice world because she did some research and crunched some numbers and determined self publishing was the best business decision for her. She had a solid marketing plan and produced a gorgeous book and she sold the crap out of it because she knew how to connect with her readers and where to find them online. Simon and Schuster caught wind of her success and she turned down three offers from them before finally accepting a deal that was no doubt about a thousand times better than she would have gotten had she gone the traditional way to begin with.

    Raul Ramos Y Sanchez self-published a book called: America Libre that was later picked up by Grand Central Publishing.

    Jeff Rivera wrote a book called Forever My Lady and self-published it. This guy was selling out of his car. He’s one of those true “out in the street down and out” stories that inspires everybody. I’ve actually spoken with this guy in email. He too was picked up by Grand Central Publishing.

    Still Alice was self-published by Lisa Genova before it was picked up by a mainstream publisher and now it’s a NYT bestseller.

    Diary of a Wimpy Kid was originally self-published online before it was picked up by a major publisher and became a best-seller.

    I could go on for ages here. These kinds of stories used to be pretty rare but they are becoming less rare. Like it or not, “Good” self-pubbed work is becoming like the minor leagues for larger publishers who are becoming increasingly risk adverse.

    So I’m not sure exactly where you heard that it’s a bad idea to self-publish because no one wants to work with a self-published author. No publisher wants to work with a self-published author UNTIL they succeed on their own. Then their frothing at the mouth for a piece of the pie, just like every other smart business.

  207. Many typos in that last post of mine, but most glaring was “their” when I meant: “Then they’re frothing at the mouth for a piece of the pie, just like every other smart business.”

    I do know the diff in their and they’re, was just typing fast.

  208. Oh and this doesn’t include podcasters like JC Hutchins and Scott Sigler (the two most notable, and now bestselling authors themselves) who podcasted their novels on the Internet and picked up publishers based on the platform they built through podcasting.

  209. Dave Kawalec @277:

    If bright and talented writers can’t get noticed because they simply don’t know how to “write what’s hot” or have no opportunity to schmooze with people in the publishing industry, then I think there’s a systemic problem there, too.

    Reasoning by analogy is a dangerous past time.

    New writers are published every day who aren’t writing “what’s hot” and schmoozing people to get ahead is what happens in Hollywood, not in publishing. I’d never met or spoken with my agent or editor before my book deal came about.

  210. Scott Sigler had an interesting event for his book Ancestor. He asked everyone who was interested in buying his book to simply wait until noon on a certain Saturday to buy it. All that sudden movement in sales bumped him onto Amazon’s best-seller list, which attracted readers who shop the best-seller list. An interesting way to use the system to your advantage.

  211. Yep, Dave. The Amazon Book Blitz is an increasingly used strategy. And the real benefit is that the higher you get on the lists at Amazon the more exposure you get to readers shopping at Amazon. Which increases your sales, increases your ranking or maintains your ranking. If you’ve got something really good, then the blitz will have a longterm positive effect on your rankings. If you don’t, the hype will fade away and you’ll drop back into ranking obscurity.

  212. @Harry Connolly (286): It was Josh’s analogy. I was just pointing out that systems can be flawed, and that maybe his prescription for “making it” (selling what’s hot & schmoozing) wasn’t the only or best way.

    I think you gave us excellent advice in #275. No matter what path to publishing works for you, if you’re not a good writer, people won’t want to read what you write. Zoe’s post #288 seems to reinforces that same idea from the perspective of a self-publisher. No gimmick is going to give you lasting success. You gotta have the goods.

  213. @Xopher —

    Thanks — I really wasn’t offended and was trying to make a point in a fun way — so my apologies too.

  214. Seriously, I’m humbled by your graciousness…which proves even more that I was wrong to call you a flaming asshole. Thanks.

  215. I think that some of the commenter are missing the point: it’s not that it is impossible to self publish but that is a pain in the butt.

    How many of you change your own oil? You can do it. But… you need to make time during your weekend that could be spent doing something else. You need to find your tools (or run to Sears and buy them). You need to find someplace other than the storm drain, that spot behind the garage, or a mason jar in the garbage can to put the oil (please, please, please). But you can do it.

    Self publishing takes time that could be spent writing. Plus money, which is risk. You pay an editor etc. and the book bombs! Yes, being in print is better than a rejection letter, but what are you going to do with a basement full of books you can’t sell. (Don’t shake your head, it happened to Thoreau).

  216. #178 Xopheron 04 Feb 2010 at 2:09 pm
    “Chad: you don’t seem to understand the job that editors and copyeditors do. It’s not something you can do for yourself.”

    Not a fiction example, but when I was writing my Master’s thesis, I would make the same mistake over and over and read right over it (replacing the word ‘slit’ for ‘silt’), because I knew what I had meant to say. A fresh set eyes (my advisor) caught it.

  217. (replacing the word ’slit’ for ’silt’)

    “…the slit at the bottom of the river…” Yeah, I can see how that would be really, really bad. Even if your thesis was about the Rhine Maidens, or maybe especially if it was.

  218. #237 # Lee on 05 Feb 2010 at 5:30 am
    “Poets have long accepted that they can’t make a living by writing poetry.”

    There’s a reason you don’t see many poets and a lot of poetry. Poets need to feed their cats just like regular people. Making takes up most of their time, leaving little for writing.

    While it is not poetry, I have written… well smut and have published it free on usenet. It was well received but it is just a hobby so when work, school, wanting to write ‘real’ stuff, and just about anything else comes up, I quit writing because in the end all I get in reader feed back. If ‘real’ fiction went to this model, you would see a huge drop in quality and a very haphazard publishing schedule. I have the flame mail to prove that most people would not tolerate either. They want it done and in professional quality even if all the writer gets back is a stroked ego.

    This would satisfy no one longer term. Writers would drop out like flies because it isn’t really worth the personal cost,

  219. Dude- I love your writing but you’re whistling past the graveyard.

    Any high school student can create cover art. Don’t like what you see? Conduct try-outs over any 3 high schools.

    You place a premium on Editors and Copy Editors. I kinda’ understand Editors. Once in a while I DO catch an error an Editor should have caught. Perhaps they catch so many more that I never notice. I don’t know what Copy Editors do (vice Editors).

    But I’m reminded of stories about Clancy being rejected multiple times; makes me wonder if the damage Editors (Publishers?) do by acting as screens is more than the value they presumably provide in ensuring consistency (story-line and all that).

    Model going forward?

    Publishing Industry just declared war on Amazon. So they can align themselves with Apple? Music Industry have any insights on that particular move? iTunes is the channel.

    But ok- War on Amazon. What’s to stop Amazon from becoming a publisher? They ARE the channel for books. They give the author $6 out of $9.99 per book. An industry springs up- I’LL (personally) EDIT for 50 cents per copy sold. Give up another 50 cents per copy for advertising. Spend 50 cents per copy for the guys who arrange the book tour (expenses to be negotiated-). And why are we flying anywhere to conduct interviews onsite after God invented networks?

    At the end of my math You The Author get $4.50 per copy sold via Amazon. JS, do you get $4.50 per copy now? Even on $29.99 list for hardcopy at Barnes and Noble? And what would that $4.50 look like if you got the same amount for all electronic copies? Has your publisher broken that math out for you? The opportunity?

    I’m not suggesting that hardcopy will go away. But I could see it becoming an adjunct to the Vanity Press. In years to come. People who want physical books can pay (a premium-) for them. Handled through any given specialized (computerized) press-

    Apples’ iTab is flawed compared to Kindle; I won’t go into reasons why here.

    I don’t think iTab is a Kindle-killer. Amazon is holding the stronger hand. The Publisher Guys should be careful what they wish for-

    I own 2 Macintoshs and a Kindle2. I’ve bought 5 times the titles on Kindle that I ever did hardcopy; I deliberately wait on paperback versions. But not on my Kindle.


  220. Dude- I love your writing but you’re whistling past the graveyard.

    Any high school student can create cover art. Don’t like what you see? Conduct try-outs over any 3 high schools.

    Have you ever DONE this?

    Conducting try-outs might get you what you need…but it might not. And it takes TIME to get it done, it takes time to get it right. That time is better spent writing. Or hiring someone to do it for you and not bother you with the details of getting it just right and negotiating THEIR contracts. You know…someone like publishers.

    I think you totally missed the point.

  221. Kenny, I’ll never have a basement full of books I can’t sell. I sell in ebook and my print editions will be trade paperback using Lightning Source for POD which is a POD printer, NOT a POD vanity press, meaning the profit margins are much higher for me plus I get into many more distribution channels, many of them direct-to-consumer like amazon.ca, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and barneandnoble.com

    There is no reason for me to ever have a big stockpile of books in my basement. I’ll order small numbers at a time to fulfill any orders that come through my personal website, which will be a discount on the cost for them on the print-on-demand model. This really doesn’t have to be that complicated or insane. I understand if you don’t want to self-pub. That’s cool. No one should self-pub unless they have a passion for both that AND writing. But at the same time, it’s not “that” insane. There are many ways to skin a cat.

    Though some day in the far off distant future, if I built the kind of audience to sustain it, I would LOVE to do a print run of very NICE hardcover books where hardcover becomes a work of art again. Because I think as E becomes more popular those types of “collectible” looking books will become more popular sort of like Vinyl has re-emerged in music for collectors.

  222. KatG:

    I really don’t appreciate being referred to as a “casual reader” who comes and goes.

    If you were to step into my bedroom right now, you’d see a wall covered with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, with books two rows deep on those shelves. Nary a best-seller amongst them.

    I find it interesting that you and other team-Macmillan members pick one comment I make and choose to use it to discredit me, and yet completely ignore the substantive points regarding the eBook format as being inherently different from the physical book. None of you have yet commented on that, and I can only presume that’s because you have no argument to make.

    To the anti-eReader luddites, you’re the people fifteen years ago who defended the $18 CD versus digital downloads, because you preferred the physical product. We were told then that MP3 players were the province of gadget-freaks and early adopters, accounted for a small percentage of the music market, and would never, ever be the way that the majority of people experienced music.

    Yeah, we saw how that one turned out. It’s funny how science fiction readers, whom one would assume would be supportive of new technologies, are the ones here who are fighting eReaders and eBooks so heartily.

  223. yet completely ignore the substantive points regarding the eBook format as being inherently different from the physical book.

    Which is why Macmillan seems to be aiming to price it at $12-15 new, as opposed to the $30 hardcover.

  224. silbey

    This is really unfair.

    You might give the rest of us a chance to jump on, sorry, educate, persons passing through…

  225. Bill@297

    I suppose in your alternate timeline the North started the Civil War by firing Fort Sumter at the Southern cannonballs.

    The thing stopping Amazon from “just becoming a publisher” is that they’d be terrible at it. There’s a massive conflict of interest between the roles of retailer and publisher. The retailer wants to maximize total profits only on the stuff sold through them. The publisher want to maximize profits on the books they publish.

  226. Will McLean:

    “The thing stopping Amazon from ‘just becoming a publisher’ is that they’d be terrible at it.”

    I’d note here that Amazon is actually a publisher, at least via its Audible audiobook arm; Audible’s published original fiction, and will occasionally buy the audio rights for books published elsewhere (they’ve done both with me). That said, Amazon bought Audible rather than built it from the ground, and so far as I can see their philosophy with Audible has been “buy it and let it do its thing.”

  227. This is really unfair.

    You might give the rest of us a chance to jump on, sorry, educate, persons passing through…

    Sorry. Pile on at will.

  228. Jeff,

    This is why I love romance, lol. Romance readers and writers have been some of THE most forward-thinking people when it comes to ebooks and e-readers. There is already a very big market of ebook readers in the romance genre. Though SOME sci-fi writers have been very forward thinking about the ebook thing. Podcasters in that genre, as well as folks like Cory Doctorow. I think there are only pockets of people really fighting it.

  229. Will,

    Actually when Barnes and Noble first started in the 1800’s they started out by printing books. If I’m not mistaken, Barnes was more of a book printer, and Noble was more of a book seller. It was the perfect marriage. So the idea of a bookstore that also publishes, did exist and worked out fine. I personally thing that’s a better model, but what do I know?

    As for conflict of interests, why? One of the primary problems as I see it with mainstream publishing is that publishers look at bookstores as their customers, instead of end readers. In fact, John Sargeant with Macmillan stated that Amazon was and would continue to be, one of their most important CUSTOMERS. Um no, epic fail. The READER is your customer, bookstores are just a distribution point. This confusion of who the customer is wouldn’t exist if publishers had their own bookstores. (And it’s not a conflict of interest when the Gap has their own clothing store.)

    Also, publishers would be okay seeing bookstores as their customer IF sales to bookstores were final sales like all other retail businesses, but they are not. The asinine bookstore returns system makes it inexcusable that most publishers with a few notable exceptions, aren’t really marketing directly to the end reader outside of bookstore placement.

  230. John,

    They’ve also got the encore thing, where they publish promising self-published books that have done well in their store. (Not sure what the status on that program is, but last I heard they’d at least selected the first book they were publishing.)

  231. Jeff @300:

    Oh, you. You were one of those people back in 1998 crowing about the death of the brick-and-mortar store, right? And about how the future was all e-commerce? And that the rules of economics had changed?

    Perhaps I’m just getting old and dim, but as one of those brave early adopters, I sure don’t remember anybody fifteen years ago claiming that only geeks would ever use an MP3 player. I do remember that Napster (the first one) was hugely popular and that the iPod revolutionized the market. I also remember that the music-publishing industry kinda freaked out about the fact that their untenable business model was unraveling, but I’m not sure who “we” were supposedly “told” by in your they-laughed-at-the-Wright-Brothers rant up there.

    I’m a little over people screaming “luddite!” anytime someone won’t dry-hump their latest favorite gadget. Really, it is possible for people to decide ‘a dedicated e-book reader is not a good choice for me’ without believing that e-books are generated by Satan, and it’s also entirely possible to criticize the current iteration of e-books and the marketing thereof without being morally opposed to the existence of the Kindle.

  232. I’ve just learned that Boyd Morrison and John Rector, as well as others, have posted books to Kindle while searching for an agent or editor. So there have also been some successful cases like that.

  233. Standing ovation!!!!!

    (I’d say more, but after the first fifteen words my fee-per-word kicks in.)

  234. Michael Stackpole is really on a roll right now. He’s got a bunch of recent blog posts that are related to things we’ve been talking about here.

  235. bill slocomb @ #297

    If you want to see a true ‘see what no editor can do’ horror story, take a look at the last couple of Clancy books, written after he became to big to edit.

    Beyond awful. Waaaay beyond.

  236. @silbey
    “Which is why Macmillan seems to be aiming to price it at $12-15 new, as opposed to the $30 hardcover.”

    Please when was the last time you actually spent $30 on a Hardcover? I haven’t in the past 6 years. Go to ANY major bookstore and they are (as best sellers) 40% off.

    I personally read well over 100 books a year. I have since I was about 5. Try growing up in Laos and Iran. I own 2 eReaders. A Kindle1 and a newer Cooler. I love books but the simplicity and convenience of the eReaders means that I have not purchased a “tree” book in months and don’t plan to either. I have read “tree” books since I bought the readers since my library is soooooo close.

    I personally don’t care what MacMillan charges for their eBooks. I have already communicated that I won’t buy them above $9.99. And on my economy driven book budget the MacMillan authors better hope that I haven’t already spent my book money on other publishers works. Books are a luxury item with all the free books and library books out there I can pick and choose to whom I should give my money. And I will.

    Perhaps the publishers and authors who rely on readers shouldn’t be so fast to alienate the readers spending the money. I know that I think MacMillan is dumb and their email reply to me showed what they think of readers and book purchasers. Based on their email to me, I can’t see myself spending money on their doorstep anytime soon, even if I lost both my eReaders today.

    As for the future of publishing. I teach in a public high school. Reading is becoming a lost art. No matter how hard we try to encourage it. And we are. But the reading kids all want eReaders. They like the fact that they can get the books in a few seconds. The portability. The fact that having an electronic book is “cool” even to non-readers. Geeee don’t guess we know what the next gen of readers wants do we?

  237. Please when was the last time you actually spent $30 on a Hardcover? I haven’t in the past 6 years. Go to ANY major bookstore and they are (as best sellers) 40% off.

    I was waiting for someone to make that argument. Now, setting aside that you have just consigned every local bookstore in your region to outer perdition, I would note that quite a few hardcovers in places like Barnes & Noble and Borders are not, in fact, discounted. So, it’s quite possible to pay full price.

    But even if it’s not, even the discounted $30 hardcover is likely to end up more expensive than what Macmillan wants to charge. Stephen King’s latest is listed at $35; Amazon has it for $17. A $15 ebook version of it would *still* be cheaper.

    Geeee don’t guess we know what the next gen of readers wants do we?

    You misspelled “Gee.” And I would like for our next generation of readers to have a wide choice of ebooks available to them. That strikes me as more likely if the publishers can make at least a minimal profit.

  238. #277: “If bright and talented writers can’t get noticed because they simply don’t know how to “write what’s hot” or have no opportunity to schmooze with people in the publishing industry, then I think there’s a systemic problem there, too.”

    Well, you’re in luck since book publishing doesn’t work that way for fiction. Please stop confusing it with Hollywood.

    #300: “I really don’t appreciate being referred to as a “casual reader” who comes and goes.”

    If you aren’t a casual reader, than the threat that you’ll stop buying books, print or e-books, is an empty one, now isn’t it? So stop making it all the time.

    I am not on Team Macmillan and find that whole idea asinine. What I am is anti-hysteria, especially from people who think that the whole world lives like they do from their comfortable consumer bubbles. To whit, that e-books will wipe out print books. That the electronic reader market is about books. That e-book customers are the most important customers in the world and should have all their Candyland requests instantly granted, and that if they threaten to leave, we should all be very scared. That book publishers will disappear. That bestsellers will magically all want to be self-publisher/distributor/bookstore owners of all their work. That self-publishing electronically doesn’t cost money. That e-books cost nothing to produce on a wide scale, and e-books should all be cheap or free for their $500 gadgets. That the entire book industry is only about bestsellers. That e-self-publishing will become the new business model because there is no world beyond the Net (even though only 25-33% of people buy anything on the Net in the U.S. and less in other countries.) That small presses are good and big ones are bad. That people who have no involvement in e-publishing or book publishing think they know all about it because they read an article on someone’s blog or a quote from a tech conference. That Amazon is either a big, soulless, cold-hearted corporation that cares nothing about the books upon which they built their brand, or the underdog champion pioneering the brave new world of electricity uber alles. And so on.

    E-books is and is going to be a wonderful market. It’s going to increase the number of books sales, and most importantly, the awareness of books as an entertainment option and resource, get more media coverage of books, help out-of-print works, attract more young people to reading, provide an even wider array of titles available even more globally. But it’s not going to be all the market because we do not live in a utopia where they hand out computers, Net service, and e-readers to all the populace. And it has to go through the normal development stages like any emerging market. This is just a stage, the negotiating as we become a big consumer market stage. During a recession in the biggest book territory and globally as well. Stop expecting Tinkerbell to spread pixie dust and make everything perfect instantly. Stop trying to come up with Hollywood villains who are attempting to ruin Nirvanna. It was a business spat that got nasty and it’s already over. And if you want e-books, you’re going to have to pay for them, just as you already pay for the equipment and service that enables you to read this blog, and as Scalzi pays to have this blog in equipment, etc., and advertisers pay him or his server. As I said in another thread, book publishing doesn’t have the margins to greatly overinflate or greatly undercut their prices, for print or e-books. And they can’t charge designer prices. So you’ll get a decent price with bargain options.

    As I also said in another thread here, there was a flourishing self-publishing industry before the existence of the World Wide Web. And there will continue to be one on and off the Net, with a whole other array of tools. Self-publishing authors will often come up with the most inventive promotion techniques that published authors can learn from. Some of them do great stuff. Some of it is awful. All of them have to hustle and expend great effort to replicate the things a publisher does and be successful. Because it does not have the stamp of an independent third party — the publisher — self-publishers have to prove themselves more, and they have to accept that not all vendors will be like Amazon and throw open their doors to all self-publishers. (Actually, even Amazon doesn’t do that.) If you’re going to go out into the market, as published or self-published, it’s work and not everyone will love you. Nobody is trying to stop you, however, so stop pretending that you’re Frodo trying to return the ring against Sauron’s armies.

    With Scalzi’s permission, here are some good blog entries on the particular issue of his play:


  239. LMAO @ “Nobody is trying to stop you, however, so stop pretending that you’re Frodo trying to return the ring against Sauron’s armies.”

    While that’s really funny, it’s not entirely true. A LOT of people tried to stop me from self-publishing. Now did they have any real power to stop me? Of course not. But a lot of people told me not to do it, and trotted out the “average self-pubbed book sells 150 copies” drivel. And how I really needed to submit to a traditional publisher.

    Now because I take responsibility for my own life choices, I didn’t listen to people who aren’t me, don’t know my temperament or the inner workings of my brain on what I should do as a publishing route. But the people out there who are actively “trying to stop people from self-publishing,” even though it’s just peer pressure and naysaying, is a pretty powerful force in a world where writers so desperately seem to crave the validation of their peers. So it shouldn’t be wholly discounted. It’s a real phenomenon and it does take some time for most to get past it to the “pffft I don’t care I’m doing my thing” stage.

    And I do find it a little annoying that some who probably would be happy self-publishing never take the plunge because of this. Then again it could be argued, if you can’t get past the hurdle of “what your writing peers might think if you want to self-publish” then maybe it’s really not for you. Because if you can’t make confident decisions on your own… as an indie you’re sunk.

  240. #321: “Then again it could be argued, if you can’t get past the hurdle of “what your writing peers might think if you want to self-publish” then maybe it’s really not for you. Because if you can’t make confident decisions on your own… as an indie you’re sunk.”

    Exactly, and the same for authors trying to get published with publishers and out in the market that way. Ignorant people advised you not to try something. Happens for many things. But they didn’t physically try to stop you. No one can prevent you from self-publishing. Publishers are not out to get you and drive you from the market if you self-publish. Vendors may not trust you like they do publishers who can offer better terms, but that doesn’t mean the doors are all shut or that you even have to use them to sell.

    You know what a lot of self-publishing authors used to do back before e-publishing, when it was all print? Sell their books from the back trunk of their cars at festivals, events and conventions. So the e-publishing self-publishers are a bit on the whiny side, but then it’s a bigger pool to swim in, a global or national market instead of a largely regional one, and the tech infrastructure is still developing. But it’s not Mordor either. :)

  241. Kat,

    I’m pretty confused by why so many self-pubbed authors want to start out trying to market in a brick-and-mortar environment anyway. The returns system will cannibalize your sales. And when they send a print copy back to you, usually you can’t sell that as new. Lots of things you CAN do with it (free giveaways, review copies, library donations — librarians talk) but still.

    I’m thinking any self-pubbing author who has reached the 3,000 print copy sales mark on any given title, and can provide sales proof won’t have “that” much trouble getting into bookstores if that’s what they really want. Though… seriously, the Interwebz they iz big. (Channeling my inner LOLcat.)

    And agreed many e-publishing self-publishers are a bunch of whiners. A lot of this just isn’t that hard. It’s a lot of work, and it’s very slow, but it’s not like we’re kidney harvesting here. I mean come on.

  242. Getting into brick and mortar stores can mean a solid increase in sales and it can be a critical point for non-fiction titles, but it’s not always the best method for everyone.

    There seems to be a lot of resentment towards publishers even if they aren’t trying to get into stores, but that’s an unrealistic view of first off publishers’ lists, which are far more varied than most people claim, and second of the sheer numbers involved. U.S. publishers put out about 45,000 titles a year. Let’s bump that up to an even 50,000 to be on the safe side with the small presses. Less than half is fiction, but let’s say half, 25,000 fiction titles. That’s a lot of books, many say too many for publishers to effectively sell.

    But about 5% of the population wants to do a book. (And that’s a highly conservative estimate.) That’s 15 million people. But lets go further and drop it to 10 million people. Most of them want to write fiction, but lets again say only half, at 5 million. Of those, many will never write or at least market a fictional work, so let’s say one fifth — 1 million. 1 million works out there versus 25,000 published — quite a difference, isn’t it? Even if you drop it all the way down to only 100,000 fiction writers versus 25,000, it’s a big difference.

    So there’s lots of screaming about how publishers are the horrible corporate gatekeepers, but they aren’t because there’s nothing to guard. They simply aren’t able to do what it is that people want them to do — publish 100,000-1 million novels. Publishers deal with a large pool of potential books, many of them very good, but they can only take 2-5% of them. So they chose not what is mindlessly commercial, because then they lose paying audiences, but whatever they think is going to work best and reads best for them, that tiny percentage. It’s long odds, but not impossible.

    So of course we need a self-publishing marketplace, in which the authors will have many different goals. And they are going to feel outside because they are the bigger sea and have to work harder to distinguish themselves in that giant marketplace. It’s long odds, but not impossible.

    Book people are not antagonists. Everybody is joined in the idea of keeping the written book unit (whatever the format) alive because that way they make a living. Fiction authors, self-published or published, never directly compete with each other, and help each other sell symbiotically. And publishers will pick up successful self-publishers for reprint. Different trees, same orchard.

  243. Hey Kat,

    Very interesting comments, and I agree with what you’re saying. Also agreed on the thing about authors not really directly competing with one another. Nobody reads “just one book” and so authors should be cross-promoting whenever possible (and probably should stop spending all their time marketing to other writers). I think the real challenge isn’t to get a reader interested in your book, it’s to be compelling enough that they move you to the top of the list of all the “books they want to get around to reading,” because otherwise even with the best intentions of readers, you slip down their increasingly big list of books to read.

    I also think when it gets to the much bigger scale of the really big success that are really long odds, whether you’re self-pubbing or trad pubbing, your odds of getting crazy big famous or whatever are about the same no matter where you started out at. Because if you have the goods, eventually doors start opening that widen your exposure. If you don’t have them being trad published won’t make you famous or even necessarily procure you a living as a writer.

  244. Mike T@146 wrote:

    “If I buy a digital textbook from certain pubs, for example, it updates when new information becomes available, which is nice for, say, nursing books.”

    I used to work as a proofreader and typesetter in a publishing house that updated loose-leaf format documents. We charged subscribers a pretty penny for the privilege of having their books updated frequently. I can’t imagine electronic updates to technical books will have any different model. There’s a big difference between errata and information currency.

    There’s also a significant downside to this — I don’t *want* the publisher to be able to seamlessly retract and revise documents that I have bought from them. I don’t want my history books edited every few years to fit the current political climate. I don’t want to suddenly find that my Biology textbook no longer has a chapter on evolution because the state of Texas objected (*). I don’t even want my fiction edited to current standards of political correctness.

    (*) When I was in high school, we switched from version 2 to version 3 of a standard mainstream biology book. While the new version was better in many ways, the chapter on evolution had been removed. On the other hand, the ability to sell a version of a bio textbook that omits evolution in some states, and a version that covers it in other states, has some merit; current hardcopy economies of scale dictate one version for the whole country.

  245. It occurred to me last night/this morning while I was having some insomnia, that this would work great with muppets.

    Just thought you’d like to know that. For some reason. >.>

  246. @silbey

    “Now, setting aside that you have just consigned every local bookstore in your region to outer perdition, I would note that quite a few hardcovers in places like Barnes & Noble and Borders are not, in fact, discounted. So, it’s quite possible to pay full price.”

    1. The part of Houston that I live in has zero local bookstores other than used bookstores. And I don’t drive over an hour to the nearest one when there are B & N and Borders around the block.

    2. It may be quite possible for YOU to pay full price but not for me. Not in my budget. $35 is not acceptable for me to pay for a book. The only books I have ever paid that much for were textbooks. That $35 price is why so many of them go back or end up on the $5 rack in B&N. If I have a huge need to read a certain book and I know it’s going to be too expensive. I already have it on hold at the library. They let us know what books they have on order.

    Publishers can price books at any price they want. That doesn’t mean anyone HAS to buy them. Even as a bookaholic I find pleanty to read that fits my budget. You can’t set your price point super high and then complain that sales are slipping. Well I guess you can complain, but who’s going to care?

  247. 1. The part of Houston that I live in has zero local bookstores other than used bookstores. And I don’t drive over an hour to the nearest one when there are B & N and Borders around the block.

    I see. And your situation is the center of the universe, is it?

    It may be quite possible for YOU to pay full price but not for me. Not in my budget. $35 is not acceptable for me to pay for a book

    And luckily for you, both paperbacks and digital books are cheaper than that. But your point was not that you wouldn’t pay list price, it’s that nobody would. And that’s just not true.

    Publishers can price books at any price they want. That doesn’t mean anyone HAS to buy them.

    Sure. And yet people in this thread–including you–seem to be acting like they have a God-given right to get a book at a certain price.

  248. @silbey #329

    a God-given right to get a book at a certain price.

    To be fair, I don’t think anyone
    thinks that Amazon is a God.:) But Amazon did have an unspoken contract with Kindle buyers: you pay $260 for the Kindle, we will sell you $9.99 ebook versions of bestsellers in perpetuity. So when one made the decision to buy the Kindle, one compared the upfront cost of the Kindle to the expected savings on hardcover books.

    How long would it take to break even? I looked at Amazon bestselling hardcovers that were published in the last 30 days and were published by major publishers.

    Title/ Publisher (Price: Retail, Amazon, Kindle)
    Game Change /Harper Collins ($27.99, $13.00, $8.61)
    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks / Random House ($26.00, $14.30, $9.99)
    On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System / Hachette ($28.99, $14.00, $9.99)
    Worst Case /Hachette ($27.99, $14.00, $8.55)
    The Politician: An Insiders Account of John Edwards… / Macmillan ($24.99, $12, $8.55)

    Total savings for five books: $21.81
    Average saving per book: $4.362
    Cost of Kindle: $260
    Number of books to break even: about 60
    If you buy 5 books a month, you break even in a year

    If you wanted immediate gratification, and the choice was an independent bookstore or Amazon Kindle version.

    Total savings for five books: $90
    Average savings per book: $18
    Cost of kindle: $260
    Number of books to break even: about 14.5
    If you buy five books a month, you break even in three months!

    By those calculations, Kindle owners who have bought 60 books have already broken even. But there is still that unwritten expectation that books would never rise above $9.99. I don’t agree with other points made by outraged Kindle owners (e.g. our legal eagle torgeaux), but I understand why they are upset.

  249. But Amazon did have an unspoken contract with Kindle buyers: you pay $260 for the Kindle, we will sell you $9.99 ebook versions of bestsellers in perpetuity

    I’m pretty sure that that “unspoken contract” and $3 will get you a latte at Starbucks.

  250. I’m late to the debate, as usual. Many things to catch up on.
    Mr. Scalzi, your story is amusing and proves that given total control over place, character and dialog, you have the skills to make any position reasonable.
    I don’t think publishing is going away anytime soon, either. But not because of cover art, proofreading and editing. Frankly, to judge by some of the books I’ve read recently some publishers aren’t bothering to provide that anyway. (I’m pointing at YOU, ibooks. The 2002 trade paperback edition of Greg Bear’s “Blood Music” {ISBN 978-1-59687-106-9} was horrible. And you, Nation Books. Publishing Peter Biskind’s “Gods and Monsters” with typos galore. {ISBN 1-56025-545-5} Be ashamed)
    You hint at the single important service publishers provide to authors in your story, but you don’t develop it.
    In journalism school, the 101 course professor always asks the students, “What is a newspaper’s purpose?” The answers range from practical (“To tell people what happened”) to liberal (“To help the oppressed”) to Fox News (“To spread their Godless homosexual liberal agenda.”) Once the students quiet down, the professor informs them they’re all wrong. The purpose of a newspaper is to make money.
    A publisher’s purpose is to make money. Selling books just happens to be the chosen business model.
    Publishers make money by taking on risk for authors. The publisher evaluates submissions, decides which are the ones are worthwhile risks, and buys those manuscripts. Then, to manage the risk, the publisher brings in copy editors and proofreaders to fix up the words. It puts on some cover art and design to catch the eye. And then the publisher arranges publicity, etc., and throws the book out the door.
    The company’s not doing that to perfect a piece of art. The publisher wants it to sell.
    (Individuals within the company may be doing it for art and/or quality. There’s no reason to sell their motivations short.)
    Just like an insurance company, the publisher can spread its risk across a variety of investments. Profits in one area cover losses in another. How many first-time authors has J.K. Rowling covered?
    The deep pockets to take on risk is what separates you, the individual writer, from the publisher. There’s no reason you can’t hire professional editors, proofreaders, artists, publicity agents, etc. All you’d have to do is risk mortgaging your future (and house, and car, possibly cat) on the chance your book will sell well enough to pay you back.
    Whatsa matter, chicken?
    Yeah, me too. Most people would be. So publishing isn’t going away. It’s actually a valuable service.
    But that doesn’t mean publishers have the pricing model right. I haven’t bought an e-reader because I’m not going to buy the books to fill it. Also because color screens are coming. I like color.
    There are other models for electronic distribution than charging $9.99 or $14.99 for a book. It’s a hard sell when it’s more expensive than the paperback. The paperback requires manufacture, shipping and storage. Electronic distribution requires bandwidth and some electricity. Is the additional overhead for convenience? Digitally-delivered music is cheaper than physical CDs. Why can’t books be?

  251. Jon,

    One of the biggest errors people make in starting a business, is overspending in the beginning and running out of cash flow. It’s become en vogue to take out big business loans and to spend outrageous sums of money to start a business, but with the advent of the Internet and no need to buy and stock a lot of inventory in a physical location, the costs drop DRASTICALLY.

    Consider the small press publisher whose successful books are likely to sell 500-3000 copies. You can’t HAVE high expenses to make a profit on that. You have to keep low expenses.

    Indie authors shouldn’t try to act like they have the expense accounts of big NY publishers, they should be acting like small press publishers and figuring out how to turn a profit on 500-3000 copies sold. If they think that way they won’t lose their house, car, or anything else of major value due to an investment mistake. The idea is to start and build slowly. As you grow, “then” and only then do you amp up your financial investment.

    Now I realize a NY publisher has greater reach and distribution and marketing funds etc, but a big corporation and a small business are not run in the exact same way. And an indie author is running a small business. Later, over many years and many books that small business may grow as the author’s brand grows, but I think it’s a mistake to assume that anyone who goes indie is mortgaging their house. You’d be shocked by how little I’ve financially invested so far in what I’m doing.

  252. “Macmillan is certainly telling Amazon and everyone else how to sell its ebooks — that is what the Agency model is about, after all.”

    Marvel Comics was sure they knew more about distribution and promotion than distributors with scores of warehouses and decades of experience. To this end they bought the third largest distributor, converted them to Marvel only, and put their theories into practice.

    The result was 3-12 hour holds on the problem phone line, Marvel lost over a billion dollars, got thrown off the NYSE, and almost singlehandedly destroyed the comic book market.

    There’s a reason for specialization.

  253. You, sir, have made your wife out to be a total badass!! Could you see that she tries out for the inevitable Predators sequal, Predatorseses VII!

  254. Some lawyers will take a case and agree to only get paid a percentage of whatever they win. If they don’t win, they don’t get paid. And they cater to clients who can’t afford a flat $300 an hour rate and may not win the case.

    Publishing is a lot like that.

    It’s a kind of business transaction geared towards people with specialized skills. And it’s structured so that the person with specialized skills is incentivized to make their client succeed. Contrast that to the real-world experiences that commonly happens around print on demand or even vanity press style transactions: they take your money, and have no interest in whether you actually sell a book or not.

    Saying old-school publishing is going to disappear because of print-on-demand and electronic publishing/ebooks and (insert new technology here) is like saying no one needs to hire a lawyer ever again because all the law books are available online.

    It ignores that specialized skill and experience can’t always be replaced by google. And it ignores that the old-school business transaction for publishing is actually structured to give the publisher incentive to make the author succeed.

  255. “KRISTINE clocks STRAÜMANN in the head, stunning him, then rips off his testicles, stuffs them into his mouth and sets him on fire while he chokes on them. STRAÜMANN dies. ”

    Remind me to never anger your wife! :)

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