Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Publishing changes: whiplash ahead?

I don't know if you've noticed, but the publishing industry is changing as we speak. If you're a reader, you may not be aware of all the subtle undercurrents. If you're an author and you read any industry blogs, the wave of change must be surprising, especially if you've been in the biz for any length of time.

Authors are bypassing the agency model and pairing with Amazon (and soon, Barnes & Noble) to put their back lists on assorted e-devices. Some authors are going straight to Amazon (witness Joe Konrath's startling news recently). I am still skeptical about Joe's assertion that if the marketing is right and the price is right, an author can make beaucoup bucks on Kindle. I don't have the time to spend that he does on marketing and schmoozing my books, but I'll give it a try in the future, probably, with some books whose rights will be returned to me soon. I'll report back on what I find.

A friend and I had coffee last night and she said, "Look at how much publishing has changed since you started three years ago. Do you have any idea where it will be in three years?"

I never thought it would change as much as it has so quickly. I knew I was on the inside track of the New Wave by going with small publishers, but I thought it might take a decade or more for e-sales to take off the way they have. I always thought that at some point I might re-approach a NY house and look for that "real" publishing contract.

But I don't have that inclination any more. I've seen how authors have to compete for those rare publishing slots. I've been to quite a few mystery conferences lately, and I've heard about it, believe me. A NY contract gives me access to walk-in sales at a bookstore. From what I've heard from other authors -- that isn't much. Only a rare few get some promotional help from their publisher. The rest of the authors are mostly on their own.

I know of a handful of authors who make their living as writers. By 'make a living' I mean those who have no spouse to provide a backup income or who can provide medical coverage. These are people who make enough money to support themselves now -- and of course, their future is dependent on more books and more sales. All of them have a 'side job' as an editor or speaker to supplement their writing income. I can think of maybe ten or so who don't have a side job.

I like my 'side job'. I'm a writer (technical) and I make good money doing what I do. I'm disciplined and I can juggle both jobs: fiction and non-fiction writing. Some day I may walk away from one or the other, but for now they peacefully co-exist. I have 15 books out, I have 3 more coming this year, I have 5 for next year, and who knows what will happen after that?

The way publishing is changing, it's anybody's guess...

28 comments:

J L said...

And even as we speak, things are getting Shaken (sorry for the pun). Publisher's Weekly critiqued Joe's contract with Amazon. And Joe replied, right here:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/05/publishers-weekly-epic-fail.html

Interesting. Very interesting.

Lynne Connolly said...

I write for my main job, but I'm making enough from the epublishers that I'm with not to worry about the big houses. I have an agent, and if it happens, it happens, and it's a new adventure. Stellar. But I remember that my core business is writing, and trying to write a good book every time. Let others worry about the industry. I keep an eye on what's going on, but otherwise, nah.

Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

I work full time and write at night and every waking hour and teach online writing courses. But I couldn't make it on writing alone!

Mia Watts said...

I write, edit, and have a side job. The biggest problem with ePub, in my opinion, is the ePiracy. We do make a bigger percentage of royalty on a smaller sales market. The world is just waking up to us and the potential of eBook readers. Once the bang happens, I can see the sales picking up for all of us. What keeps us low to the ground in royalties at this point is the piracy. I'm hopeful that someone out there will follow the Kindle idea and put a digi lock on our books to keep it from happening. I suppose that means there will be a digi hack too. JL, being techie, could probably speak to that.

But here's the thing. Whether or not Joe sells 1 book or 1,000 books, his take is bigger than it could have been. Kudos to him for that. I hope he doesn't burn any bridges.

His is similar to another trend: eSelf-pub through venders like 1RomanceEbooks and Silver who loads them for a nominal fee. The access for writers is growing exponentially. We're ABLE to get our stuff out there faster. The public is ABLE to buy our books on larger sites whether we are represented by a publisher or ourselves. That's pretty huge. It's exciting. It's worrying. But it's also huge.

It may even make it possible to actually make a living on our craft. Novel concept, pardon the pun.

J L said...

Joe had a recent blog about piracy that attracted a lot of comments. I think he can be more blase than us because he's selling more and I personally think he's selling more because he has that name recognition (which we don't get with smaller publishers).

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/05/piracy-again.html

J L said...

Terry, I've often wondered about authors who say they make a good living from their writing -- does that include all the benefits our day job gives us? Or do they have a spouse in the wings who handles mundane things like medical benefits, retirement, etc.? Like you, I juggle both and have no hope that I can drop one and just do the other.

Mia Watts said...

Feel free to pop over to www.WritersEvolution.blogspot.com. We're having a similarly related discussion but involving the older print pub group at RWA and epubs. Similar only because I digressed, but still...

JL, other than Ms. Roberts, I can't think of another person who can live on royalties alone. The health benefits alone would tank my reserves. I'm sure there are people who can, out there. There's another author who writes full time and does it, but she's barely hanging on.

Maybe we can stand behind people like Joe as a forum leader in the discussion about royalties, print vs epub, selfpub benefits and the changing spectrum of publication. He's not afraid to speak his mind and even if we don't always agree, that's pretty brave.

Someone recently asked me about my work and how I'd become "such a recognizable force" in the emarket. That's mostly flattery, but even if it were true, I guarantee you that if I posted a submission to NY, they'd be all, "Mia Watts who?"

While I'm told that NY likes to pull their authors from the epub pool for their lines, I suspect that it's only a handful and we are mostly overlooked as a group.

anny cook said...

Too bad real numbers aren't available somewhere--even if they were anonymous numbers. Based on my personal numbers there's no possible way I could survive on my royalties alone.

At the moment, my writing is close to falling in the "hobby" category as far as income...not exactly what I dreamed about.

J L said...

Anny, I complained about this on Joe's blog: it's hard to get real data from anywhere (Show Me the Money is okay, but it's from those who self-report). As Joe pointed out, PW had the facts wrong, too.

And Mia: I wonder sometimes if NY isn't really watching what's going on in the e-world. Watching, but not acting, if you know what I mean. I get the feeling agents and Big Houses are going to become extinct in our lifetimes. It's all evolution, after all.

Mia Watts said...

Possibly. I'd still like to get an offer from NY. Would be nice to know my work is recognized somewhere. Writing epub AND m/m puts me squarely in the "can't see her, don't wanna" category.

J L said...

Oh, I hear you, Mia. I'm in a bit of a better spot since I write mystery combined with romance. Mystery fans don't really care who your publisher is. They just want the book. So I've done well at mystery conferences where small publishers are welcomed.

Mona Risk said...

Jl what a good discussion. I enjoy ebooks and think they are gaining bigger recognition each day. But the income...phtt...Let's say my check can buy us a nice dinner from time to time after a lot of promotion. But promtion takes so much time, I have to stop promoting, blog, and be active on ten loops if I want to get some writing done.

Beth Trissel said...

JL and others, hi Terry and Mona!, what a fabulous discussion.

J L said...

Mona: from what my friends with Harlequin, Pocket, etc., say: they have the same problem. They have to do the lion's share of promotion, too.

Here's a statistic to make us all take notice (from Publisher's Weekly):
--------------
in traditional publishing—i.e. the “success” stories of those who got contracts with publishing houses—7% of the books publish generate 87% of book sales. This means that 93% of all published books sold less than 1,000 copies.
-------------------

I don't feel so bad now....

Brenda Whiteside said...

I just published my first book, e-book with POD. What has been such a surprise is the amount of time I have had to put in to promote it. I expected to do this but not prepared for the time it eats up. Thanks for this info, JL. Scary but also comforting in a warped kind of way.

Amy said...

Hi!
Last year, RWA had a group formed to look at e-publishing. I was on the group and although we did not send out any final information, one member did collect as much hard evidence on earnings as she could. Sadly, at this point in time, authors who are with small publishers of e-books are not earning what "traditionally published" authors are earning, even with smaller traditional publishers such as Five Star/Gale or Avalon.
But on the bright side, it is another route to go and if you bust your hump like J. Konrath, you can increase your earnings.
My only worry is the lack of strong editorial support. I, for one, need a good editor because my mind is only too eager to show me what I expect to see, rather than what is really there on paper. :-) And every time I work with a good editor, my own editing skills improve, as do my writing skills.
That's where traditional publishers have the edge--they can create much more highly polished, smoother books than those who go the self-published route (or some of the smaller e-book companies that have limited editorial capabilities). That isn't to say that there aren't badly edited books from the traditional publishers, but...
Anyway, this is an interesting topic, for sure.

J L said...

Brenda: the promotion time can be a shocker. Remember: you're in this for the long haul. You can promote your book a little bit every day. It all adds up.

Amy: I've had excellent editing from my publishers, so I agree -- that's key to having a good product. And I know some e-authors who make more than traditionally publisher authors, and vice versa. If Konrath is to be believed, there's a market out there. Time will tell, I guess!

Mia Watts said...

Interestingly, I counter the findings. I may not make an advance or the traditional immediate sales, but I make great long term sales and know many who do. I also find it an awesome thing for my wallet that my books never, ever, ever go off backlist. Can't say that about NY.

The criteria provided for ebook writers to prove was limited to the established NY market earnings expectations. You can't rate bananas by oranges. They are different.

Is ePublishing such a threat? Really?

@ Ms. Whiteside, go check out the evo blog for some ideas. I posted the link earlier. This whole week is dedicated to telling newer authors things that will help them.

Jill James said...

It is a brave new world we are entering. I never thought I would like ereaders and then I got one. I love my nook. I have a submission out with The wild Rose Press. I'm ready to embrace the new and see where it goes.

J L said...

Jill: I'm a great cheerleader for Wild Rose. I have 8 books out with them, 6 more coming, and hope to have more in 2012. I've been very happy with all aspects of publishing with them. I hope you get to join our 'garden'.

Mia: I, too, love that my first book released in 2007 is still selling. It seems like when readers 'discover' me, they go back and re-discover my old books. I love getting royalties on those 'old' titles!

Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Interesting discussion. I have to admit, as an unpublished writer, all of this makes me really nervous.

Dawn Marie Hamilton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J L said...

Dawn: if you're in FTH, then you're with a great group of people who will share knowledge. Many in RWA are willing to share. So you won't be alone!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hey JL, What a timely topic. All of us in start out mode seem to have NY in the back of our minds as "hitting the big time." I think there are challenges with any model and no one can sell any books without marketing. Now maybe if there's been previous marketing and you've been around enough to have name recognition you'd be okay. But still, whatever publishing model a writer uses, just getting the book printed isn't the whole story. It's the first step.
Maggie
www.maggietoussaint.com

J L said...

Maggie, you're absolutely right: publishing is the start of a new and crazy ride!

Mia Watts said...

Maggie, you said it perfectly. :)

Donna Caubarreaux said...

Great discussion...it does make you think about the different opportunities that are open today and what will things be like down the road.

Joanne said...

Interesting premise, and one I have never thought about. Maggie, you are so right.