Okay, folks, major turning point today. Established New York Times bestselling author, Barry Eisler, turned down a $500,000.00 advance. Why would he do something like that? To self-publish his own book, that’s why.
Now, if that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will.
He walked away from a half million.
Let me simply say, “Wow!”
And no, he is not crazy. In fact, in my opinion, after listening to him, I think he’s making one of the smartest moves I have seen in a long time.
Now understand, Barry Eisler is also one of the smarter business people working as a writer. He has studied the publishing business and has fought against some of the insanity going on in publishing over the last decade or more. And he’s talked and blogged about it a great deal over the last few years.
J.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler sat down together to talk about the decision. And for the rest of us, they recorded it and you can now read that conversation. And let me tell you, if you have ever wondered what professional writers sound like sitting in a bar talking, or over lunch, read this. It can be found on J.A. Konrath’s Blog and on Barry Eisler’s blog.
Trust me, it will be worth every minute of your time to read it. I have read it twice. I don’t agree with every word, but I do agree with 99% of it.
Barry and Joe and the others who have turned away from traditional publishing are not going to be the last writers to do so. I’m pretty much moving in that direction completely myself, and I know many, many midlist writers who are also moving away from traditional publishing quickly.
This is only the beginning and Barry is the first big gun to move.
And to be honest, I agree completely with his reasons.
Granted, a half-million advance is a lot of money to turn down. But it really isn’t when he knows that he can make more than that, more than likely in the year before the book would even come out of a traditional publisher, by doing it himself.
And keeping the control himself.
And that control aspect is the key.
Before I talk about more details in the discussion between Barry and Joe, let me be clear about my opinion about indie publishing in general. It is slightly different than both Joe and Barry, and they do not always agree either. That’s why opinions are opinions. (grin)
First, do I believe the indie publishing movement is important? Yes, critically.
For the first time, traditional publishers have lost their hold on the distribution system, and over the last decade have been offering less and less value in what they give in return to writers. Traditional publishers are holding a number of very silly lines in the sand that Barry and Joe talk about. The train has left the station and traditional publishers are still thinking they can dig up the track to stop the train from leaving. Clearly, that is not working.
Second, do I believe that traditional publishing will vanish? Nope, not in the slightest.
But as I have said in other places, I believe there will be a war between the writers who want agents and traditional publishers to “take care of them” and indie writers who want to control their own careers. I am clearly on the side of taking control of my own career completely. And because of these changes, for the first time in a very long time, I am enjoying writing again.
But that said, traditional publishers, unless they only want to work with really, really stupid writers, must start making some changes. As electronic distribution becomes more and more common, trying to hold a line where a writer basically gets 14.9% of the electronic money is just suicide for traditional publishers. (If you get in your contract a 25%/75% split with the publisher on your e-rights, you are effectively getting after agent fees 14.9% versus 70% indie publishing.) This has to change or any writer with a brain will move, as Barry and Joe and I are moving.
And many others.
Third, do I believe every writer who goes to indie publishing will make a lot of money? No.
But I do believe that books find their own level. I believe that most books can make more money over a period of time indie published than an advance the book might have gotten from a traditional publisher. And if you count the life of the contract, meaning about ten years or longer, an indie-published book will make many times an advance, even selling very few copies.
Fourth, am I a complete believer in indie publishing? Yes, for me, now. But not for all writers.
Some writers will not be able to handle the responsibility of taking control of their own work. Some need the pretend protection of being taken care of by agents and traditional publishers. No issue by me.
Fifth, do I believe electronic publishing will only make paper books a small part of publishing? Maybe in 50 years. But not in ten or twenty.
Bookstores are still going to be around for a long time and indie publishers need to learn how to drive their books to those bookstores now that traditional publishers have released the hold on their distribution systems. It is very, very simple, actually. (I will write about that in a coming chapter or two in Think Like a Publisher series.)
I agreed with most of what Barry and Joe were talking about in their long discussion I linked to above. In fact, I kept underlining areas in the paper print-out I did of their discussion (yeah, I know, sort of ironic, huh?). In fact, I found myself agreeing completely with both of them far, far more than I expected to. I’m not sure who should be more worried, Joe and Barry or me? (grin)
A couple areas I agree so much I said, “Yes!” loud enough to turn heads in the restaurant where Kris and I were reading. One such area was when Joe said, “In other words, the more stories and novels you have available, the more you’ll sell.”
And Barry responded with, “Gotta just jump in here to point out the significance of this: It means that a writer’s best promoting tool is once again her writing. Advertising costs money. New stories make money.”
And then Barry Eisler went on to say, “Now, with digital books, once again there’s no more profitable use of an author’s time than writing.”
That sound familiar folks?? (grin)
But I have a slightly different take on a few areas that I want to be clear about (beyond Joe and my thinking on pricing).
First, I do not believe traditional publishing will quickly be marginalized. But I have zero doubt that it has to change and change quickly, and so far the moves traditional publishing has been making are not good ones. That I agree with. Completely. And the traditional publishers who do start moving will survive and those that hold old lines will soon be gone.
But I am back a few steps from the feeling that both Barry and Joe seem to have about all books in the future being electronic. Maybe in the distant future, but not in the next ten to twenty years. And paper books will always be around, as they say. But I feel that indie publishers will be driving the paper books more than both Barry and Joe talked about. Indie publishers will quickly start catching onto ways to drive their POD books to indie stores. (I did it as an indie publisher in 1987 with Pulphouse. It is not hard. Honest.)
Both Barry and Joe have had no reason to pay attention at this point to that area. Joe has just been putting his books up on CreateSpace like it’s an electronic site and ignoring them, for the most part, instead of taking some of the good qualities of traditional publishing and incorporating them into his indie publishing program and driving his paper books to the paper readers. I am sure he will change that with time.
How is this done in a short sentence? Same as traditional publishers do it. Book catalogs. A book catalog out of an indie press, mailed to the ABA list of top indie stores with decent discounts will drive more books than can be imagined. With no real extra work. Barry Eisler has a lot of readers that may switch from paper to electronic to read his next book, of that I have no doubt. Or they may order his POD book through Amazon. But thousands of independent bookstores will want to have his next paper book on their shelves as well. And that’s a key factor both Joe and Barry seemed to play down.
So Joe and Barry, for your paper-reading fans, just because you are going indie publishing and electronic focus, don’t ignore us.
I will be talking about how to do that in detail in the Think Like a Publisher series, so hang on, folks.
Second, Joe thinks that agents will start being publishers and taking a percentage. Everyone here knows how I feel about giving a percentage of any kind of your property for day labor. (Such as giving the gardner a percentage of your house for trimming a hedge.) That’s back into the area that Kris talked about, the “must be taken care of” aspect of writers’ belief systems.
How to avoid this: As Barry said he did with his short story. Pay a day job labor fee to have someone for a set price do the things you don’t want to learn how to do yourself, such as covers and launching and so on. One time fee. No issue. My opinion is that a writer should never pay anyone a percentage of their property that lasts for the life of the publication. Joe, we can talk about this area later, and will. Stay tuned, folks. (grin)
Beyond those two minor points, I agreed completely with what both Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler were saying.
And I want to commend Barry Eisler on the pure guts and being the first of the bigger advance writers to jump.
One more belief, folks for the record. I think this is a turning point. A major one.
Just as last month Amanda Hocking helped writers understand that real money, meaning half-million per month and more, could be made indie publishing, Barry Eisler just helped many, many writers snap out of the thinking that traditional publishing is the only way.
Barry, my hope is that between now and the day your book would have been released through traditional publishing, you make four or five times that advance you walked away from. And had fun doing it.
So once more, thank you Joe Konrath, for leading this charge and making writing a ton more fun for all of us. And thank you Barry Eisler, for the strong signal to both traditional publishing and the rest of us that this is a way worth going.
Have I said lately how much fun this new world is?