The New World of Publishing: Some Perspective On 2012

Interestingly enough, 2012 was the first seemingly stable year in the new normal we are all living in the publishing industry. 

Does that mean that nothing changed? Of course not. Some things changed, but not like 2009-2011.

And some things will continue to change. But when you step back and look at the business in general, the changes in 2012 were pretty minor and predictable and normal.

So just for fun, I thought I would go over what I consider the fairly major changes in publishing that happened so far in 2012.

And try to give a little perspective from the advantage of watching and living inside of publishing for thirty-five years now.

Traditional Publishing

In 2012, traditional publishers were in a normal state of flux. They cut warehouses and printing costs as a reaction to reduction of print sales. That move has been expected for decades. They are adding in more ways to get books into electronic editions where more profit-per-unit-sale lives. Just normal “run to the money” thinking of all publishers.

A number of them are in lawsuits with the DOJ over agency pricing, but all the short-term repercussions of that suit are already worked into the systems. So nothing new. We eventually return to the old system that worked just fine for many, many decades.

Traditional publishers have already started the expected cutting of book lines and mergers. They are also starting new book lines. This will happen at both large and small scales. Smaller publishers will continue to grow into the areas left behind and become big publishers over the years. This has been the nature of publishing for longer than any of us have been alive, so nothing new there at all.

And following the trend that started three or four years ago, they are working to tie down as many writers’ books as possible, and control as many rights. So their contracts in 2012 overall continued to become less and less writer friendly.

So for the most part, traditional publishers are just on cruise control and doing fine.

Traditional publishing “impact events” that might happen in the near future…

— The US or European courts start messing with the “First Sale” doctrine of copyright law. There are a bunch of cases in courts right now around the world that could cause all sorts of issues with big publishers and small and indie publishers as well, depending on the rulings. Right now, electronic books are not sold, they are licensed. (The person buying the book license has no rights to do anything with the book except read it.) But if the courts rule that an electronic book sale is an actual “sale” and “First Sale” applies, then things will shift dramatically in many, many areas. (The very least of which is “used electronic books.”) There are other aspects of “first sale” rulings coming as well that could affect international sales.

— Traditional publishers catch a clue and go vertical, meaning opening stores and selling direct to customers instead of direct to the distribution chain only. That will shift everything, but so far I see no major publisher doing that at all, or even talking seriously about it, even with the distribution chain shrinking and moving to a more direct-to-customer approach in many other areas. They will be forced to face this new sales world at some point, but it might be years.

Indie Publishing

More and more writers, both new and established, moved to indie publishing in 2012. Or more accurately, electronic publishing of their own work. Very, very few indie publishers bother with paper editions, even though sales of electronic books are around the 25% of all trade sales number, with the remaining amounts being paper.

And many US indie publishers also stay with just one bookstore, (Amazon) which has around 55-60% of the US market now of electronic books sold in 2012 and very little percentage overseas outside a few countries.

So the indie publishing movement near the end of 2012 is still in some flux, as it should be after only three or so years in this new electronic-added world. Many writers are doing books or backlist titles themselves, but at the same time indie publishing is seeing the early adaptors starting to get discouraged and dropping out.

Again, this is nothing new in publishing. To make a career in publishing, you have to be ready for a long haul, often over decades. Most writers who went indie two years ago didn’t want to do that, didn’t find the “gold” they were promised after a ton of wasted promotion efforts, and have stopped. Nothing unusual at all. Writers starting off and then quitting was always the way it was even when I came into publishing back in the dark ages. Nothing different. But now it’s not quitting after fifty rejections, it’s quitting after three books up and very few sales.

At the end of 2012 we are also seeing a rise in larger indie presses and indie distributors. No surprise there. There is a need and gaps to fill as traditional and mid-range publishers shift around. Again, this movement to fill a void has been standard in publishing over the decades.

In 2012, indie publishers had to grapple with Kindle Select and the value of that system. I doubt it will have much impact going forward.

Indie publishing got a huge gift from Kobo with the opening of their direct portal.

Smashwords, the largest distributor of indie work, got faster and cleared out a bunch of bugs in 2012, but still have a horrid accounting system that will eventually drive all but the erotica authors away. But it seems from the outside that Smashwords clearly had a good year even though the Kobo move had to really have hurt them.

During 2012, indie publishing also got to experience (for the first time) the normal fluctuations of publishing seasons, since the explosion of electronic sales no longer masked the standard ups and downs of the publishing sales cycles. This, of course, drove a ton of beginning indie writers (who watch every sale) completely nuts and sent off waves of conspiracy theories.

Also in 2012, the early adaptor price of 99 cent ebooks caused that price range to become a no-mans’ land for most regular book buyers who came into the market last fall and Christmas. That helped indie writers make more money by getting their prices up just under traditional publishers electronic prices.

During 2012, indie publishing also got a huge gift and allowed indie writers to easily go international. IBooks is in over 50 countries, Kobo is even more, B&N electronic got a foot into England, and Amazon expanded to both India and Japan in a very limited fashion.  And both the major POD distributors, CreateSpace and LightningSource are selling in Europe.

Also, the world is one more year farther away from the stigma that used to be attached to self-publishing your own work. There are still idiots out there holding on to that old belief, but they are few and far between and have no power to influence anything.

Indie publishing “impact events” that might happen in the near future…

— See the comment above about “First Sale” court cases. Major impact if that goes in a number of different directions for indie publishing. We can only wait and see.

— A rise of major indie publisher distributors… When indie publishers ban together for paper books, they can easily get their books into any major box store. This will take a few years to develop fully, and there will be fits and starts and some distributor failures, but watch it. It will be very large very shortly.

— The Kobo move into indie bookstores. This is huge and mostly behind the scenes so far. Kobo is running free classes for indie bookstore owners on how to profit from selling electronic books. And through the ABA (American Booksellers Association), Kobo will be putting Kobo reading devices on consignment into most major indie bookstores. Kobo is the next major player because they are both international and will be vertical, allowing electronic books to be sold through cash registers in brick and mortar bookstores. They also, with the merger with a company from Japan, have very deep pockets and money to spend. Watch this one closely. Kobo selling electronic through brick-and-mortar bookstores is a world-changer if it works. We’ll get a glimpse of it starting up in 2013.


Agents had a horrid year in 2012 and the future does not look bright for an area of publishing that, for the most part, seems to have outlived its value. Many agents, ignoring any hope of pretending to be an actual “agent” under agency law, opened up their own publishing arms to take care of writers too lazy or afraid to do electronic backlist publishing themselves. Many other agents just turned themselves into scams to make a living off of taking writers’ money.

There are still a ton of great agents out there, but often they work for agencies that have sticky-finger issues with client’s money.

Agents started spreading the myth in 2011 and increased the push in 2012 that writers needed agents to sell movie deals and overseas deals. A total myth, of course, in this new world of world-wide email. But it helped agents feel relevant to focus on an area that before was only a sidelight for them.

And the traditional publishers still have on their guidelines that you need an agent to sell a book, even though most smart writers have figured out that guideline is just a tissue paper roadblock to ignore. Just like the old “no unsolicited manuscripts” was when I came in.

Also, with traditional publishing contracts getting so nasty over the last four years as publishers made rights grabs, agents can’t negotiate a contract anymore. They are not lawyers. These days you need an IP attorney familiar with publishing contracts to even get close to a decent contract.

This area is the buggy whip area of publishing and I sure can’t see much that will save most agents over the next decade or so.

Agent “impact events” that might happen in the near future…

— Many large traditional publishers are in the process of setting up direct submission systems. Because of the draconian contracts that take all rights from writers, it is in traditional publishers’ best interests to get as many books headed their way as possible and not stopped by agents. Electronic submissions systems direct to traditional publishers (already going in a number of smaller genre lines) will put the final coffin nail in the agent world. This is happening fast in many major companies and you will start seeing these new systems appear in late 2013 and the year beyond. And that will start killing the “you need an agent to be published” myth.


For writers, 2012 has just been another great year in the second golden age of fiction. Writers, both new and old-timers like me, have discovered indie publishing. Many writers are working both sides of the fence just fine, as I am. And as my wife is. But now we don’t have to wait on late contracts, late payments, and agents if we don’t want.

And the strange or cross-genre work we produce now can get to readers.

2012 was a year that started to prove that being able to sit in a chair and produce is a valuable skill in writing once again, just as it was in the first golden age of fiction in the 1930s and 1940s.  Readers want more books and stories from favorite authors and don’t understand the “only one book per year” thinking of traditional publishers.

Writers can now get direct feedback at times from readers, something that was almost impossible under the old system.

But in 2012, there was also a split between writers, people who write, and authors, people who have written and like to promote. A ton of myths have sprung up around promotion and what works and what doesn’t. We’ve had some of those discussions here as well. This silliness will continue.

But thankfully, the war between traditionally published writers and indie writers started to sputter in 2012, flared up a few times, and then mostly just vanished as more traditional writers started to work their backlist into indie. There are still a few idiots on the traditional side who flat haven’t bothered to get their heads out of dark places and look around, but they will go away with time. And there are the hotheads on the indie side who look down on traditional published writers. They are usually beginning writers afraid of the larger world.

The main word I heard this last year from writers was “freedom.” It seems that suddenly we all feel free to write what we want, not what we think some editor and sales force might like. That’s great fun and really became a clear force in 2012.

We also have the freedom to not take bad contracts from traditional publishers if we don’t want. That’s a fantastic bargaining chip in a negotiation, so smart writers gained power over the last year. And now writers who care about their work have an option.

“Control” was a word I also heard a great deal from writers in 2012. Control of covers, control of the proofing, control of the quality, control of the rights. All that control became very important and part of many conversations for writers this year. And that is, let me simply say, fantastic!! I expect those conversations to continue and increase in the coming years.

So writers (with all the changes becoming normal) gained control and freedom. 2012 was a year for writers to try to figure out what each of us wanted to do with that new control and that new freedom. Every writer is different and every writer this last year seemed to react in a very different way. It’s going to be great fun to see how those two words keep pushing the conversations over 2013.

Control and freedom. A real golden age in writing for writers.

Writer “impact events” that might happen in the near future.

— See the discussion about the “first sale” under traditional publishing above. I have no idea how that’s going to be ruled on in all the different cases, but it’s important to writers. Watch the cases, folks. I will try to report on the important ones here.

— Scams are going to take out more and more writers in the coming years. The scams that take writers’ money are becoming so thick it’s hard to tell the good players from the scammers. From “publishers” willing for a percentage fee to put your book up to “editors” willing for a fee to read a writer’s work to “agents” willing for a percentage fee to help you try to sell your book. And so much more. A lot of writers will lose their dreams or a number of books or at least a lot of money before this trend calms down again. It has gotten beyond ugly and I see it only getting worse before it gets better.

— Writers are going to lose all rights to millions of books (traditional publisher’s rights grabs and writers signing something because they feel desperate).  Many writers will be sued by publishers and publishers will be sued by writers as more and more writers try to break out of horrid contracts they signed.  The writers will lose most of the cases because they signed the contracts. Over the next five years a lot of case law will be built on all this. And most of it won’t favor the writers I’m afraid.


2012 was the first “new normal” year we have been through. Publishing sales trends have now applied to indie press work, and a vast majority of established writers are moving some backlist or all of their work to their own press.

Traditional publishing is going along just fine, taking and controlling more and more book rights from poorly represented writers who don’t know what they are signing. Traditional publishers face some major changes, but not in the near future. Profits right now are solid in almost all the major corporations’ quarterly reports. But they will be faced with more and more writers turning away from bad contracts. A few of the smaller imprints and publishers and a few editors might start the process of pulling that trend back. But it will take years.

Writers are not used to the “control” and “freedom” concepts just yet. Old myths die very, very hard. So agents will keep taking advantage of new writers, and new writers will continue to sell all rights to their novels for next to nothing.

When boiled down, it is a game of control here at the end of 2012.

— Traditional publishers want to control all rights and the writers that work for them.

— Agents feel their control and place in the industry slipping away.

— And writers are learning how to use the control and freedom they have gained over the last few years.

But even with all that, 2012 has been a pretty stable year. I have a hunch that unless one of the major impact events actually happen, 2013 will be about the same.

And that’s great fun.

Stay tuned.


Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

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99 Responses to The New World of Publishing: Some Perspective On 2012

  1. Ferran says:

    “A total myth, of course, in this new world of world-wide email.”

    With all respect, something’s weird when e-mail is new. Late 90s, ok (in mainstream). 2000s, kind of. 2012?

    • dwsmith says:

      Tell authors that who still believe they need an agent to sell overseas rights. (grin)

    • In the short science fiction world, Analog and Asimov’s (two of the big three traditional markets) only started accepting electronic submissions last year. The third, Fantasy & Science Fiction, still only accepts paper submissions.

      One thing I’ve learned reading from Dean and others is that publishing has lagged in adopting new technology on the editorial side. So although they have had email for a long time, they have been very late in effectively using it.

      • Ferran says:

        I can, kinda sorta, accept that. It still bugs me to think about SASEs, but…

        However, that was regarding overseas submissions. Ever tried finding if your country’s USPS and another country’s post had common SASEs?

        Take care.

      • Betsy Dornbusch says:

        It’s not just a lag in how they do things, it’s to cut down on the landslide of submissions.

    • Marc Cabot says:

      I had e-mail when I was in high school, for reasonable values of email (I graduated in 1988.) You’re right, it’s not new. For people for whom it is not new.

      OTOH, I frequently talk to regulatory agencies and when I ask about emailing them documentation, they say, “We don’t have email. I can give you my fax number!” To them, I kid you not, that’s high-tech. These are regulatory agencies inside the United States of America. I would hope that publishers would be a little more advanced, but given their other general resistance to change, that might be a little generous.

      • dwsmith says:

        Marc, a little more advanced, but not much. I actually said that almost in a jabbing way to the writers who still think they need an agent to contact someone overseas. To those writers who don’t realize they can go direct to any overseas publisher, I just assumed they didn’t understand that email exists. I have no other way of explaining their actions of thinking agents have this magic phone line to overseas publishers or something. (grin)

  2. The times, they are a’ changing. I for one am glad to see how open the world of publishing has become since the arrival of ebooks. Yeah, we get some junk, but many writers have begun rising to the top, who might never have had a chance.

    If I’d chosen to go through the traditional route of agent —-> publisher in today’s world, I might have given up. Instead, I can control my career in the way I feel is best for me. If I make mistakes (and that’s pretty much a given), it’s all on me. And I can fix it!

    Come on, 2013!

  3. Alan Spade says:

    Hello Dean,

    For the french readers of this blog, I’ve talked about my experience with Createspace which I begun to use in 2012 and compare it with Lightning Source which I use since 2010 :

    I use the two of them now, and will continue. Even if I just handsell 30 books a month, it’s a thing I think that give me a bit of control, and it’s comforting (yes, my electronic sales have dropped between september and november, which you said was frequent in this period of year).

    I have to say with all due respect you didn’t say a word about the merger of Random House and Penguin, and even if it has not happened yet, it has been announced, and it’s a big thing to come.

    Another thing I believe you missed, because it’s kind of a natural thing, and we are used to it, is the technological breakthrough with ebooks in 2012. I love what Kobo does, and I think you are right when you say it will become a major player. But I think Kindle paperwhite is a great evolution, and it will drive many more people to ebooks, especially here in Europe where there is more resistance to ebooks (still 78% of people who don’t want ebooks in France).

    The touch screen for ebooks combined with the new lightning feature is really really great, because it will drive many more people to ebooks. I think it will be the same phenomenon we have seen in Europe with iPads and iPhones. No less. Now ebooks have really the means to compete. By the way, Kindle Paperwhite is unavailable in France until February, 3, due to strong ordering.

    • dwsmith says:

      Alan, I mentioned, in passing, the merger as just a merger and nothing new. Won’t change a thing. Honest, it won’t. Other companies will come up. I’ve been through fifty of these “mega mergers” over the last 35 years and all amount to business as normal.

      And any new device now means nothing much will change. The change was in 25% of readers going to electronic devices in general. Now it’s just a game of numbers and slight movements.

      • Alan Spade says:

        Interesting thought by David Gaughran on Passive Voice’s commentaries about the preliminary merger talk between Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins : “Hey, it’s not price-fixing if they are all one company. Right?” (

        Contrary to you, I believe those mergers from such huge companies are not things which happen every two days : their model business has to have been hurt very badly for them to react in such a drastic way.

        • dwsmith says:

          Sorry, Alan, it happens every few years and for varied reasons. I don’t suppose anyone here remembers the Bantam mergers, or the Ace/Berkley/NAL mergers that had writers all upset and had the sky falling. (grin) And, of course, that happened before companies like Sourcebooks even snuck up under the radar and became a major publisher and so on.

  4. Barb Hendee says:

    Lots of good thoughts and info here, Dean. I always enjoy reading your posts. While JC and I just this year launched into some indie publishing–which we are enjoying very much–I would still counsel writers to do a “mix” between traditional and indie publishing for now.

    We published our first novel in 2003 (traditionally). We are not as prolific as you, and since then between the two of us, we’ve only published seventeen novels in total (traditionally). I’ve found that I can’t properly research more than two novels a year. All seventeen are still in print.

    On the indie side, at present, we have seven of the “Noble Dead Tales” published and up for sale (but only in electronic format). JC handles the publishing aspects himself, and he has these up at all the usual venues. These started earning money in May, and we’re averaging about $400 a month.

    I’m prepping some early tax stuff, and it looks like we’ll make about $2,400 from the indie sales this year, and about $60,000 after agent fees (but before taxes) from our traditionally published novels. So, although I do see a point in the future where we might be publishing our own books entirely, at present, it seems best to continue doing “a mix” of both.

    • dwsmith says:

      Barb, I agree if you can get decent contracts. That’s the key. All in the contracts these days. If not for that, I would be shouting authors go both ways. But contracts that take all rights and control author’s output make that difficult for most.

  5. moi says:

    Way to stress a girl out, Dean. I really hope the courts decide the First Sale rule in the only way it can be rightly decided. In my mind, there is no physical medium in a digital download (there is “space on a drive” but that would be akin to selling space on a shelf). So it’s the intangible being sold, and I’m the only one with the right to sell my intangibles. If the courts decide First Sale in favor of the buyer, I’ll have to go back to law (which, while the money was uber-great, the work/life balance was non-existent).

    While the mere thought of a wrong decision stresses me out completely, I think the courts will not decide in favor of the buyer. It would seem to cripple not only entertainment fields, but the big database companies (Lexis/Westlaw and same for other fields) and news outlets (Reuters/AP/Bloomberg) and similar. If they did decide unfavorably – Congress would have to step in and legislate against the buyer in First Sale. They would, too, because otherwise they lose significant revenue from the content creators/legitimate distributors AND have a massive number of industries filled with the recently unemployed. Really, I wish they would have done that already. (Or do you think that scenario is too Chicken Little????)

    • Why should I be able to resell a paperback, but not an e-book?

      You’re already losing money because readers can’t resell e-books and other digital downloads. It’s one reason why I won’t pay hardcover prices for e-books, and rarely pay more than $5 for a digital download PC game when I used to pay $50 for a new game on DVD.

      • dwsmith says:

        Edward asked, “Why should I be able to resell a paperback, but not an e-book?” Edward,if you want to be a writer, you need to start learning copyright. If you are reader and not a writer, then the answer is the “first sale” aspects of copyright law allow a person to resell the product they have bought without owning the words in the product. Like a paperback. You bought the book, not the words in the book. You can sell the book to a used book store, but not the words. But electronic books were ruled a while back as to not come under the “first sale” rules of copyright, but that were instead just licensed. So you, the buyer, never own an electronic book when you “buy” it, thus can’t resell it.

        • Oh, I understand the rulings, I was just pointing out that they make little sense to a reader, and they reduce the value of the books we sell to those readers so we probably don’t make any more money as a result.

          Also, EU law seems to be heading in the opposite direction, so there’s a strong possibility of a future where some countries claim you don’t own your e-books and come countries say you do.

          • dwsmith says:

            Ah, but Edward, if they switch the ruling that ebooks are actual books and not just a license, all hell breaks loose. In about twenty different areas, not the least of which is the DRM silliness. If that happens, it’s a major shift that, to be honest, I can’t see where it will go. Good or bad.

  6. Vera Soroka says:

    My biggest complaint in the indie publishing is with the payout system that Amazon and Smashwords have for non-Americans. I wish Amazon would follow Kobo and pay in the authors country of origin. Kobo will pay me Can. dollars. The other two want to pay me in American dollars making me go through an exchange rate which makes me lose money. I would love to find others avenues in my own country but haven’t found any.

    • Daniela says:

      Yes, that. The exchange rate, but also the fact that and insist on sending cheques. I’m sorry, but what millenia are we living in again?
      It especially makes no sense in the case of Amazon UK and continental Europe where there’s a European agreement that banks can’t charge for EFTs. An EFT would cost no fees, a cheque costs me between 10€ or roughly 2% of the cheque-amount.

      It’s really hard to get that one of the biggest internationally active companies still insists on paying by cheque.

      • dwsmith says:

        Daniela, you said “one of the biggest internationally active companies”… Uh, nope. Not even close in publishing. The reason they do that sort of practice still is that they are very small internationally.

        They are a large bookstore in the US. Outside of the US, they are not a blip I’m afraid. They are growing, but a long ways from a large company, or even a middle range international company. Even in publishing.

        • Jane says:

          Amazon is HUGE in the UK. The market leader by far — certainly online and probably overall. No one talks about selling books in this country without mentioning Amazon. A lot.

      • Josh says:

        Amazon may also have its payments structured for their own tax avoidance reasons.

      • Cora says:

        Yes, this.

        I can get around the cheque payments for Amazon UK, because I still have a UK bank account from my student days, but the cheques (and 100 USD payment threshold) for drives me nuts.

        Paper cheques are obsolete in the EU, because they create unnecessary paperwork and are unsafe to boot (I’ve never had cheques getting lost in the mail, but I know authors who have). And dealing with them is a hassle, never mind the cashing fees.

        Besides, I do have a US-dollar foreign currency account at my German bank, so why can’t I receive EFTs there?

    • Alan Spade says:

      Strangely, I’ve noticed the ebooks I sell on are only paid 35%, even with their price at 2,99 $. I think it’s because I’m in Europe, but I don’t see the reason for that. These are ebooks sold to american people by an american company. So why only 35 % ? To cover cheque postage in France ?

      • C. R. Reaves says:

        Is it possible that you’re not actually selling to Americans? Some of my sales are at 35% because they’re not selling to Americans, but outside those 70% zones.

      • John says:

        Actually, they do pay 70% if the sale is in one of the covered countries (US, Canada, UK, France, etc…) but pay only 35% if sold to someone in another country around the world. People in the UK or France or Germany buy from the Amazon store in their country, but if someone in Russia, or Dubai, or Morrocco buys a book, it is sold by the US store and you only get 35%.

        • Alan Spade says:

          C.R. Reaves and John, you are right. I have sales in july in America paid 70%.

          I think the two sales I made in october must have been in another country like India. That’s thrilling ! But that’s also confusing, because of the lack of information in the reports.

          There’s a feature in Author Central with BookScan that allow tracking of sales, but only in America and only for physical books.

          Regarding ebook sales to foreign countries, Apple is much more accurate than Amazon.

          John, where can I get the list of countries covered by (like you said, Russia, Dubai…) ?

          • John says:

            Try this link:


            If you choose this Royalty option for your Digital Book, it will apply to sales of your Digital Book to customers in the following Available Sales Territories:

            San Marino
            United Kingdom (including Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man)
            United States
            Vatican City

            Your Royalty on sales to customers outside the Available Sales Territories will be as provided under the 35% Royalty Option (i.e., at the 35% Royalty Rate calculated as indicated for that Royalty option).

  7. One of the things I’ve been hearing about in private this year are publishers denying reversion requests on the basis of “reprinting” old o.o.p. books to which they hold ONLY print rights. (“Reprinting” in quotes because, in a number of examples recounted to me, the sipposedly “reprinted” books are virtually unfindable, and the authors strongly suspect that “reprinting” hasn’t occured at all, just relisting, or that the publisher printed 50-100 copies and stuck them in the back of a warehouse.)

    I don’t believe publishers think that print will make a big comeback and it will suddenly be fiscally worthwhile for them to reprint books in 2012-2014 that they did NOT think it worthwhile to reprint in the precedning 5-10-15-20 years.

    Instead, in clinging to titles/contracts for which they ONLY licensed print rights, I assume publishers are working on one or both of the following strategies:

    Harper Collins has a big lawsuit in play in which it claims (through what can only be described as magical thinking) that the phrase “in book form” in old contracts INCLUDED digital form… even though digital form is not mentioned anywhere in the licensing language or royalties schedules which are traditionally spelled out in excruciating detail in such language, and even though digital rights didn’t exist when those old contracts were signed. If the judge who rules on this case (and then the court which rules on the appeal) is having a series of undiagnosed ministrokes and rules in Harper’s favor, then publishers who’ve retained the rights to tens of thousands of old titles signed for in the 20th century will be sitting on gold mines. So they want to hold onto those rights while awaiting the outcome of this case.

    A parallel/complementary strategy is by retaining print rights, publishers can then claim that any author excericising digital rights of those same titles if violating the non-complete clause in the publisher contract and thus CANNOT self-publish (or license to an epublisher) ebooks of those titles. This effectively FORCES writers to turn over the digital rights to those old books to the publisher which holds the print rights–and for lousy terms, since if this strategy is successful, it will ensure that no digital or ebook format can be released any other way BUT via the old print publisher. (This strategy has already been successful in individual cases of bullying writers who don’t want to be sued or hock their houses to hire a lawyer. If practiced on a widespread basis, it will eventually have to be decided in the court system.)

    I got the last of my old books reverted to me a few months ago, and BOY, was I relieved. Because publishers are indeed aggressively clinging to old rights now, and I think the situation will only get worse until those two above issues are determined not just by a court, but by an appeals court.

    The obvious solution to avoid such a costly, pointless MESS–the soloution that would put money in bother the publishers’ and the writers’ pockets, RATHER THAN putting it all into LAWYERS’ pockets, which is where it’s going now in the paths that publishers have chosen to take in the digital age… would be for publishers to go to every under contract writer or estate and negotiate a fair and attractive offer for the digital rights, and then abide by the decisions which the authors or their estate beneficiaries make.

    But, good God, man–doing business in a sensible, sane, and professional manner is NOT the way of big publishers! That would just be INSANE. It’s MUCH better to spend years in court trying to screw the writers!

    • dwsmith says:

      Not anything I don’t agree with there, Laura. Backlist is always an issue. Luckily, Kris and I got everything (but one) back that we could get back. And a lawyer is going to deal with the one remaining pretty soon. (grin)

  8. “There are still a ton of great agents out there, but often they work for agencies that have sticky-finger issues with client’s money.”

    Well, I really disagree with that premise. IMO, there were NEVER a ton of great agents out there. There were never more than a few, and there are still only a few.

    “Also, with traditional publishing contracts getting so nasty over the last four years as publishers made rights grabs, agents can’t negotiate a contract anymore. ”

    I agree. As early as 2007, I was astounded as how much BETTER a contract I got as a result of having a literary lawyer negotiate on my behalf rather than an agent. And now, with contractual negotiations being so much more complicated due to all the new and arising rights issues… You really need a lawyer for negotiating your legally-binding agreements, not someone who became an agent (a position with no training, licensing, formal qualifications, oversight, or standardized training of any kind) after being laid off as an assitant editor, or falling into agenting with a vague idea of becoming a novelist someday, or choosing this profession because s/he likes to read and was thinking of turning the back bedroom into a home office anyhow, or is a family member of a writer and thinks agenting looks easy, etc., etc. (all of those examples taken from real-life agents).

    Moreover… it’s happening over and over and over and over this past year or so that writers having problems with their publishers (which, these days, most often means a rights dispute) say that, now that there’s a dispute, their agents are admitting they dosn’t understand the contracts they “negotiated” for their clients and advised the clients to sign—and therefore can’t actually tell the writers what the legal clauses mean or give the clients informed advice about the current disputes. (Despite all this, the agent invariably DOES, of course, keep collecting 15% of all the writer’s earnings for the contract the agent doesn’t understand and can’t assist with or advise on.)

    “And that will start killing the “you need an agent to be published” myth.”

    I think the myth may weaken, but I don’t think it will die, and I think there will always be agents (possibly lots of them) in the field—perhaps many of them still inept and/or unethical—precisely because there still are (and perhaps always will be) SO many writers and aspiring writers (a) who refuse to think about business or deal with it, and therefore turn over all their business to someone! anyone! in the crowd who agrees to handle it for them, and/or (b) who are dying for someone to say “I believe in your and will champion you”—even if they run through 3-5-6-7 such agents without getting a sale (or, indeed, as too often happens, without even getting their work in submission).

    • dwsmith says:


      Well, I personally know three great agents. Two are stuck inside of agencies that have accounting issues. One I would trust now completely if I ever had a reason for an agent again, which I can’t imagine to be honest. IP lawyers work so much better as you said. The rest I agree with.

  9. Sasha says:

    Great post, Dean.

    Those are interesting stats on the % of books sold on Amazon vs other platforms, as ebooks vs other formats and so on. I haven’t got to the publication stage of my book yet but have read up on it a bit and wonder if more authors don’t go beyond KDP because they have to do separate formatting for each (I think). Do you think that’s part of the issue?

    A friend mentioned Scrivener to me, which is software used for writing long documents, including novels. He said that if you do your book in Scrivener, there’s basically an “e-publish” button that you can hit and your book is ready for publication in lots of formats. I’m wondering if anyone has tried this or any other software that takes some of the pain out of the process of preparing your book for multiple formats.

    • C. R. Reaves says:

      Yes. I use Scrivener and it’s very, very easy. The only problem I currently have is getting it to save as a DOC so I can upload to Smashwords in their (currently) obligatory format (it saves as a DOC variant, but not one that Smashwords will accept and running it through Word or OpenOffice doesn’t fix it, even if I save as an RTF and then save as a DOC through the other programs).

      I’m sure that is just a matter of taking the time to figure it out or just doing it the hard way (nuclear option and all the coding by hand), but as I hate DOC format, I’ll just replace those files when Smashwords accepts EPUB format (as they said they will by the end of the year).

      I love Scrivener as a writing program overall. It has a lot of bells and whistles, but I only use a few of them and I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be able to reorganize my windows (this is how I have mine formatted) or (occasionally) just drag and drop a chapter into a new place when I realize I mixed up a scene. I also love their “typewriter” feature, where it’ll scroll the text up like you were writing on a typewriter instead of it only scrolling up when you reach the bottom of the page. (And if you mess with your settings, you can put the typewriter button on the task bar and turn it off and on when you edit.)

      It’ll all come down to your own writing preferences. But the trial ought to help you make your decision. :)

    • I, too, use Scrivener for everything. I must concur with C.R. It is the BOMB. Or at least, the Mac version is. I’ve heard not-so-awesome things about the PC version, though.

      Unlike him, I’ve never had a problem with exporting to .doc and getting Smashwords to like the output. Of course, I go in and manually enter a few things, like tables of contents, and maybe the small changes I make while doing that makes a difference. But really, I find formatting for Smashwords to be bloody easy.

      But yeah, it’s GREAT to, with just a few clicks, compile the document in whatever ebook format I want and have it look nice. Granted, there’s a learning curve to figuring out the settings you have to use to make it look nice, but the curve’s not all that steep.

      So yes, Scrivener good. :)

      • Sasha says:

        Thanks, C.R. and Michael – good to hear from someone who’s actually used it. That’s good news that Smashwords is planning to move from DOC to epub – standardisation of formats is in the interests of both writers (less work) and distributors (they won’t get left out by writers).

        Apparently the Scrivener people put some effort into not overloading it with features, which I think is a good thing. I will give the free month’s trial a go!

      • Carradee says:

        I, too, use Scrivener for everything. I must concur with C.R. It is the BOMB. Or at least, the Mac version is. I’ve heard not-so-awesome things about the PC version, though.

        This. I use it for fiction, non-fiction, scripts, “canned” tutorials I’ve written (because the project’s easy to search)… Everything.

      • Josh says:

        If you use Scrivener’s “Scrivener Link” function (in the edit menu), you can build a table of contents in Scrivener that when exported to Word format, the meatgrinder will digest properly. In the mac version, you can also create styles to apply so the Word document comes out standardized. Unfortunately, the PC version hasn’t implemented styles yet so you have to manually adjust everything.

        • C. R. Reaves says:

          Thank you! I’ll try that tonight!

          • Josh says:

            I happen to own both the Mac and PC version, but primarily use the Mac version. Anyway, I discovered that the PC version does not export Scrivener Links to Word. Maybe I’m missing a setting. The Mac version does export Scrivener links to Word as bookmarked HTML links. The Meatgrinder should happily gobble them up.

    • Lee McAulay says:

      Scrivener’s a very useful tool for those of us who used to write on loose-leaf paper. It has a lot of clever features which let you shuffle your work around and add notes/character sketches/pictures like a pinboard; and it can produce export files in a number of formats – and automatically makes a backup of your work when you shut the program down. Nifty.
      (I’m working on a blog post to describe how I use it when writing novels so I won’t fill Dean’s blog up with a huge reply, just wanted to add my tuppence worth to the Scrivener debate.)

  10. Lynn Mixon says:

    “Smashwords, the largest distributor of indie work, got faster and cleared out a bunch of bugs in 2012, but still have a horrid accounting system that will eventually drive all but the erotica authors away.”

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but as a erotica writer I’m examining my options, too. We’re not so different than other authors. Really.

    It isn’t just the accounting system that drives me crazy. The poor site construction works very poorly to recommend other works to readers. Other sellers have good recommendations that can lead a reader to similar titles or authors that they might like.

    I jumped on Kobo the moment it became an option and have been pleased with the increase in sales and better reporting. Now that Apple no longer requires an ISBN, I’ll be getting a Mac and going direct next year. I know that a number of my compatriots have either already jumped ship, or plan to in the not so distant future.

    Smashwords filled a need, but in my opinion, they coasted too long on their success. I’m very much afraid they waited too long to try to keep themselves relevant and will vanish in the next few years. And that’s a shame.

    • dwsmith says:

      Lynn, never underestimate a business person like Mark Coker. Except for the accounting (which made sense in the beginning but now needs to be changed to monthly), he has built Smashwords perfectly. Sure, there have been issues along the way, with any small business, but he has built the business in a sane manner. Granted, he will have to make changes to stay alive. So many people are leaving because he holds money on a quarterly system when the companies he supplies pays him monthly. But he provides a great service and has been great to us. He just needs to make that one more major change and he will be fine into the future. So the jury is out. If this time next year he’s still paying quarterly, then he will be in major trouble. But not yet.

      • Mark Pfeifer says:

        Interesting commentary here on Smashwords. I am currently looking at both Smashwords and bookbaby as first novel alternatives (alongside Amazon and B&N). (I note bookbaby just began offering editing services to writers via a company called FirstEditing). I can’t recall seeing you or anyone else opine on bookbaby recently, so was wondering if you, Kris or any readers feel strongly about the company as an option in the same vein as Smashwords.

        • dwsmith says:

          Bookbaby is a pay-for-services site from what I understand. They charge you to put things up on Amazon and Smashwords and places like that, where you can do all that yourself for free. They are a flat fee service (as far as I see, which is good) but they are set up for people who don’t understand that getting books to Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords is free. And they have other hidden costs from what a few people have told me. So not saying they or other places like them are bad, as long as there are no percentages. I’m just saying be careful, and make sure the money from the sales comes to you directly and not through them in any fashion.

    • gingeroni says:

      As a reader there is one feature I absolutely love about SmashWords – favorite authors. I can go to ONE page and find the latest works by all the authors I’m following.

    • I started out with Smashwords and will probably stay with them, but honestly, they have got to fix their meatgrinder. Using “.doc” format because many first-timers know no other word processor than MS Word? Really? It’s become the mark of an amateur. Coker really needs to get his act together and allow us to upload in epub formats. I’ve been creating technical manuals for years in InDesign and other professional programs; I can produce an .epub book with my eyes closed. Requiring me to use Word is like asking me to get out of my car and use a skateboard to get to work.

      I know many writers use Word. It’s ubiquitous. It used to be the default standard. And I know many writers will never write more than one book, or never use any other program. Fine. Let them wrestle with the demons of Microsoft’s hidden codes. But for those of us who use more professional tools, who have used them for years, there should be another track. I really do not have time to waste converting clean text into the babble that is MS Word.

  11. Steven Mohan says:

    Hey, just wanted to say thank you for this post, Dean! Really appreciate getting the point of view of someone who has so much experience in the publishing world!

  12. J.J.Foxe says:


    Great overview of what’s going on – some interesting predictions too.

    Got a question if I may. You mention that many indie publishers don’t bother with print books…I’ve spoken to some who’ve sold what I consider are decent numbers and admittedly it’s a small sample but they’ve ‘not bothered’ with print.

    So my first story goes live on/around Dec 4th – and one of the things I want to do is to do a print version too. Is Create Space the way to go in your opinion – or Lightning Source? Would you mind sharing your thoughts on that please?

    • dwsmith says:

      J.J, early on, CreateSpace is the way because they are very friendly and they are completely free until you pay the $25.00 extended distribution. And they have methods of telling you something is wrong in formatting and so on before you even order a proof. But the key is free, so you can make mistakes and it doesn’t cost you. Lightning Source costs. Practice on CreateSpace, then learn both is my suggestion to people, to see which is better.

      There are some aspects of the two that are different. More advanced publisher stuff. For example, CreateSpace is only trade paper and only POD, while Lightning Source allows you to do hardbacks with dust jackets and also use the publisher warehouse method if you want. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, so you are linked there at once. LightningSource is owned by Ingrams, a major distributor.

      • Josh says:

        Createspace is great and I will continue to use them purely because of cost. However, I recently had a few proofs of my short stories printed by Lightning Source (through DrivethruFiction’s POD service so I didn’t pay setup fees) and the printing quality is markedly better. The binding is tighter, the inks are richer, and the text is sharper. The cuts were crisp too. My cover colors were skewed a bit dark, but I wasn’t using inDesign to prepare my files. Lightning Source is notorious for being particular about their color requirements. If cost isn’t a factor, Lightning Source is superior. Createspace is good enough for most jobs.

  13. Christian K says:

    Fantastic information and I agree with almost all of your analysis, but I am a analytics nerd so the following quote bothers me, even though it is likely that you are correct.

    “Very, very few indie publishers bother with paper editions, even though sales of electronic books are around the 25% of all trade sales number, with the remaining amounts being paper.”

    As a pure datapoint, AAP numbers do not include self published authors. So it really cannot speak to the actual experience of indie authors. Yes, the inference is likely true, but could easily be quite wrong for any number of reasons.

    The potential market for indie print books is unknown as their market reach in print is significantly less than traditional publishers. They do not have access to many books stores and retail outlets. If they are e-retailer only, are enough of their customers looking for print books or as Amazon has reported most customers are moving to Kindle.

    Not saying your wrong, I am just wondering if, for most self published authors, Print books are a distraction rather than a income source.

    • dwsmith says:

      And Christian, you expressed the very justification that indie writers think about print books, even though completely wrong. Indie publishers can get into bookstores easily and their market reach isn’t less than traditional publishers. Indie publishers just think it is.

      My data comes from just talking with hundreds and hundreds of indie publishers. And doing POD workshops here. And having a network of professional writers. Not even half of the professional writers on lists I am on go indie, and fewer than 5% of that half bother with paper.

      The indie print distributors coming in will help solve this perception problem of difficulty getting into bookstores. The new distributors will make it easy for indie publishers to sign up. But that’s a new world that will start to happen in the next year or so. But the truth is that an indie publisher can get into any chain or bookstore. Do they have to know business and understand the markets? And have enough product to make it worthwhile? Yes. And that is the second problem indie publishers have. Most don’t understand business and even fewer understand the publishing distribution business. So it seems hard or impossible from the outside. So they don’t bother to learn.

      With indie distributors, they may not ever have to learn much.

  14. blitchfield says:

    Under the agents section: ignoring or bypassing the traditional publishing company “no unsolicited manuscript” guideline . . . how? At the risk of being dense, if I go to any large publisher’s website and search for submission guidelines (Simon and Schuster, for instance), it says they only take manuscripts from literary agents. So what other avenue does a writer have for getting their work in front of one of those editors? I suppose one could find out email addresses or print the whole thing out and send it snail mail–ignoring their guidelines–but that doesn’t seem too promising.

    Don’t get me wrong–I’d love to bypass getting an agent if possible. I’m just not seeing how that’s doable without abandoning the traditional publishing route altogether.

    Are you saying that in the future, big publishers will actually have online submission systems available? If that’s true, I would definitely consider ditching the agent query letter process and just waiting for that.

    • dwsmith says:

      blitchfield, oh, my. You would NEVER send an entire manuscript to an editor. But you would send what is called a “submissions package.” I have talked about this a great deal on fifty or so posts over the last two years. Basically what a submissions package consists of is a business cover letter with your bio, a very short pitch for the book, and your contact information. Then you include the first two or three chapters of the book, then a short (five pages or less) synopsis of what the book is about including the ending. Then if snail mail, include a SASE to get an answer back. If email, never attach anything, just include all that in the letter body.

      You find editors any number of a thousand ways. Go to conferences and meet them instead of meeting agents. Subscribe to Publisher’ and research which editors are buying what is similar to your book and then get their address from there and mail it directly to them.

      What do you have to lose? Worst they can do is not respond, second worse is a form rejection saying get an agent (that’s a standard rejection because at the moment corporate requires it). But what might happen is that you wrote a great book, and it hits what the editor is looking for and they call you or e-mail you. Then you go get an IP Lawyer (Laura Resnick’s site has a list of vetted lawyers) and let the lawyer negotiate the deal.

      What I find interesting is that well over half of the writers I am in touch with these days are selling to traditional editors without agents now. And getting better deals and making more money.

      • Ty Johnston says:

        Just in case, for any non-believers, what Dean says here is solid advice. I’ve not sent out anything unsolicited to a traditional book publisher in a couple of years now, but there toward the end I was doing just what Dean has suggested, sending a “submissions package” that included a one-page business letter, a one-page bio, the first few chapters (usually 25 to 50 pages, depending), a two-page story synopsis, and an SASE. No, I didn’t make any more sales, but I had a TON more responses than usual. And honestly, I stopped submitting unsolicited manuscripts about that time because of the changes in publishing; my thinking today is that if I’d continued what I had been doing, I would have eventually broken through some doors.

  15. Mark Young says:

    Dean: You wrote, “When indie publishers ban together for paper books, they can easily get their books into any major box store.” Can you clarify what you mean by this? Are you talking about indie publishers, who contract with writers to publish their works,, or are you talking about writers–like myself–who employ free lance editors, cover designers, formatters, , etc.,and publish on their own? Thanks.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mark, talking about any indie publisher, no matter who does the work. That sentence you quoted was in regards to indie distributors starting up. A bunch are. And basically, that’s indie publisher’s banding together, distributing through distributors.

      This is normal in all of publishing. Places like Tor and St Martins and Baen and others don’t distribute there own books. And there have been talk among some indie publishers of just making distribution deals. That’s what I am talking about as well. All standard stuff in publishing.

      • Mark Young says:

        Thanks, Dean. This helped to clarify. Now, I’ll start searching for other indies to band with. Strength in numbers.

        • dwsmith says:

          Mark, it’s not so much you searching for other indies to band with, but watching for the indie distributors coming up. That’s the key. You don’t want to be come a distributor, trust me. But there is a need and people who know how to distribute at one level or another are flocking into the gap. So don’t look for other indie publishers, watch for the indie distributors to pop up. We have one starting here, actually, next year, called Ella Distributions Inc. It will be distributing WMG Publishing books and in some manner other indie publisher’s books as well. I’ll talk about it as it gets off the ground.

  16. Hi Dean – what a wonderfully informative post.

    I had to laugh, seeing myself in a few of your comments. I am a new indie writer and publisher, and sales have slumped in the last two weeks. Panic! Despair! Not to mention that my day job is driving me crazy and after having some repairs done at home the plumbing leaked and ruined the ceiling of the floor below.

    It’s four a.m. and I just read your post – particularly about staying in for the long haul (which I plan on doing but have moments of discouragement)- and feel a lot better. Even about the ceiling! :)

    Many thanks for your helpful advice!

  17. David Bain says:

    I do exactly what you mention – use self-publishing tools to publish other writers for a percentage of their sales – and I certainly don’t consider myself a scammer. I’m extremely selective about projects, and many writers don’t have the computer skills, the savvy, the time, or perhaps they just don’t have the inclination to do everything required to self-publish their own work.

    Or perhaps they feel more comfortable being part of a cadre of other quality work – I feel that part of the appeal for authors is that being under the same umbrella as, say, Stoker nominee Wayne Allen Sallee or some of the authors in my anthologies benefits everyone else under the umbrella.

    For the agreed-upon percentage, I do all the formatting, the cover, editing, posting, accounting, etc. I guarantee creative freedom – I don’t make a move that the authors don’t approve. I push the works on every venue I can.

    I hope I’m not sounding off-base here. Even though I only use self-publishing tools, I do consider myself a publisher, sans quote marks – but I do understand there are degrees of this. For example there are many wonderful webzines. But then there are also endless “webzines” – anyone with a Gmail account can make one.

    • dwsmith says:

      And David, I let your post through not because I endorse what you are doing. I DO NOT. Let me be clear here. In this modern world, I think you are flat taking a wrong approach and heading for trouble. You could do the EXACT same thing without trying to take a share of profits by simply charging a set fee.

      And I want to know how your heirs in 50 years are going to be trusted to still split the profits. And I want to know if you would send the money to the authors even if your house was being taken from you. Most in history would not. It’s the same thing. Best of intentions don’t mean crap when problems come. Splitting percentages of work is a relic of old publishing and traditional publishing and agents and no longer required. There are a bunch of really fine organizations that help writers get their stuff up and out for a flat fee.

      So sorry to lump you into the scammers, as I called them. Clearly right now, when times are good, you have the best of intentions. It always starts that way. Always. Which is why I warn writers away from contracts like you must have to set up the accounting. And why do you even bother? After fifty or sixty projects, the accounting is going to be a nightmare to say the least.

      And I’m assuming you are doing this because you don’t have the money to pay advances to writers. Sigh.

      • David Bain says:

        Hi Dean.

        It looks like your main argument is the handling of payment – advance and royalties.

        The flat fee is definitely something to think about. I suppose, under that model, that I’d do the formatting and set up Amazon/Pubit/Kobo/Smashwords accounts for the authors. That aspect’s a big part of what the handful of writers I’m associated with don’t want to do. They’d have to trust me with bank accounts, credit card numbers, initial passwords and the like in order for me to set up their accounts, but it would indeed be workable.

        Definitely food for thought.

        One argument for my model, however, is that I’m invested first-hand in the continued success of the book – always willing to tweak cover art, publicity, blurb copy, etc, in dialogue with the author(s) – two heads better than one and all that. This is also why I’m all for shared royalties in an anthology – whether or not there’s up-front payment. Everyone involved wants the book to keep succeeding. Not that I would ever want slipshod work associated with my name, but I could see the flat fee model leading to apathy in some hands – some hasty work to get the ebook posted, then wash your hands of it. (Which would, of course, lead to a bad reputation, less clients, etc., but still.) Continued publicity could be worked into the flat fee contract, but then I think we might be back in the realm of good intentions.

        Under my current model, the accounting is minimal work via spreadsheets and Paypal, hardly overwhelming – at this point, at least – but it would indeed be easier to set authors up with their own accounts.

        Regarding good intentions, I don’t think I’m currently much different from the various small presses I myself receive royalties from. That said, yes, I have ancient work out there for which I should be receiving royalties but … “publisher” interest in the project seems to have waned. No answer to emails, no website, etc. And yet, *someone’s* still getting a trickle of cash from Amazon, right? So I definitely see your point. So, given, there are good small press publishers and bad, those who have their affairs in order, those who don’t.

        I hope I’m not sounding contentious. I certainly don’t mean to. I’m fascinated by this new publishing world and am interested in a productive dialogue regarding its possibilities. The flat-fee model definitely has its pros – but I also feel thrilled to be invested in a book’s success on down the line, in perpetuity (or at least for as long as I’m able to be invested in it).

        And, perhaps even more to the point than any of the above, I truly don’t think there are many authors out there who want or need the middle man services I’m offering – and I think there’ll be even less in years to come, as self-pubbing continues to become more the norm.

        • dwsmith says:

          David, I don’t think you are being contentious at all. And I hope I’m not either. I just want to be clear on where I stand and what I back on this site.

          I have zero doubt you are doing the work with the best of intentions and more than likely doing a great job for your clients. Not the issue.

          But let me point out something that just happened in publishing. Tekno Books, owned and ran for three or more decades by the fantastic Martin H. Greenberg, is still going and part of Hollywood Media.

          But Tekno was always a one person show, and when Marty was in charge, you could trust them. Period. They had fantastic people working for them as well. Editors like Denise Little and John Helfers. They bought stories for a set fee plus a percentage, and I wrote a number of novels for them with small advances and a promise of royalties. And I trusted Marty. Period. End of story.

          Then Marty got sick, the good people left, and finally Marty died. I haven’t seen a royalty statement since Marty started getting sick on anything and I have no idea how much of my money they are still holding. In fact, on a major thriller I wrote for Random House through Tekno, I HAVE NEVER SEEN a royalty statement. Ever, even though I have asked and demanded and threatened. Nope, not a one. And another writer who wrote in the same project series hasn’t seen one either.

          That never would have happened if Marty was alive. But sadly, Marty is dead.

          So here on this blog I tell writers to never put yourself into a situation like I did, where all was based on trust and good intentions of one person. Think down the road.

          As Kris said in her last blog, her blog and my blog are based on hard knocks.

          So what happens to your writers, David, if you got sick? Who would send them checks? Just easier to do it for a flat fee. And with that, I rest my case.

    • No offence, but the cover quality shows it’s a budget job. It reminds me of the old covers I used to do. Mine are so much better now. Follow Dean’s advice in this post to improve: The New World: Publishing: Killing Your Sales One Shot at a Time

      Did you shorten your publisher’s web address in your name’s link? And the free website is troubling. Web hosting is so cheap there’s no excuse for having a free website.

  18. Lee McAulay says:

    One you missed (being in the US an’ all) – a backlash against Amazon in the UK and Europe, just as the ebook market starts to heat up.
    I have seen more e-readers this last year than I did in 2011, and most of them were Kindles, but in the UK most people seem to read on their smartphone or iPad. Maybe the new £10 e-readers will change that (the Textr Beagle)…

    • dwsmith says:

      Lee, all that’s just minor shaking out of the market. Nothing major at all, even though people sure tend to get upset when corporations do legal tax dodges. (grin) And cheaper prices are expected on devices as we move forward. So nothing worth mentioning as far as industry changing in 2012. (grin)

  19. C Brook says:

    Dean- thanks as usual.
    Quick Kobo question- I haven’t set up an account with them yet; I’ve just been going through Smashwords but have had glitches like missing cover image and loss of paragraph breaks in book description (same with iTunes book description). Kobo’s FAQ’s said you needed your own eISBN. Is that true? Do you have to buy your own?

    Also, a previous comment said iTunes would be open for direct submissions without needing your own ISBN. Accurate?

    • dwsmith says:

      C Brook, you need an ISBN to hit all of the Kobo retailers, but when you dig deeper, you realize that without an ISBN, you are going to only miss one minor one. No big deal. So going without one is fine at Kobo.

      As for iTunes, I’ve been hearing the same thing but haven’t seen anything on it yet that feels concrete. Anyone?

      • Josh: “I’ve just been reading their iTunes Producer manual and they state that ISBNs are recommended in order for sales numbers reporting to Bookscan and the like, but are not required.”

        Anthea Lawson: “as Josh said, it’s in the iTunes Producer info, but hasn’t filtered out to the general FAQ info yet.”

        Thanks for the kobo info. I worried about missing out on retailers. Getting fed up with the 10 week wait for my book details to be updated via Smashwords. Those ugly covers have to go…

        • Josh says:

          Thanks for the quote Zhane/Zia.

          Prior to discovering that iTunes no longer required an ISBN, I had recently requested to open an account. (Not sure why because I had no intention of obtaining my own ISBNs). Anyway, I uploaded my first short story direct to iTunes yesterday. So, yes, I can indeed confirm that no ISBN is required now. I left the field blank and hit the deliver key–off it went.

          You need a Mac to submit to the iBookstore. Apple does not have a web interface to upload books–you have to use a peice of software called iTunes Producer, which is Mac only.

          The good thing about iTunes Producer is that you can build your submission package without an internet conection. You can also build a template to speed your process with subsequent books with common fields.

          iTunes Producer is pretty easy to use. The only hangup I found that wasn’t readily apparent is that you may need to make the release date in the future. I tried to select a release date of the same day, and I couldn’t set the royalties. I got a cryptic error message too.

          Another plus of the software is that it has lots of options. You can attach print ISBNs and related ISBNs to your books. It even had a “replacement of” field, which I used to indicate an ISBN of edition (that I delisted from the iBookstore first) from another ebook distributor.

          You can, if you want, create your own preview of the books rather than the default fron 10-20%–I don’t think any other store offers such an option. You just build and attach a separate “preview” epub file to the submission package. If you don’t provide a preview file, the iBookstore will generate one automatically.

          Support for targetting age groups/grade levels under multiple standards is provided, e.g. UK and US grade levels, age groups, etc. Also, very comprehensive categorization; BISAC and other category systems you can mix and match. There didn’t appear to be a limit.

          You can set pre-order dates and release dates in the future — you can do this on a country-by-country basis if desired, which seems to include everywhere in the world. Pricing can be set individually or globally too. The iBookstore does follow its pricing tiers, though, of 99 cent increments.

          The program also allows you to skip around while building the submission package.

          If you have a Mac, I suggest self-publishers look into going direct. If you have a decent size backlist, I would suggest looking into buying a Mac to go direct. An $599 investment in a base model mac mini may pay itself over.

          • dwsmith says:

            Thanks, Josh. All great to know. Very much appreciated for the very clear description.

          • Josh says:

            After further pocking around, what I thought was a template system, unfortunately, really isn’t. It’s geared more for a large publisher that can export meta-data from their own system that can be imported into the iTunes producer.

            Another thing to consider whether to switch is the $150 royalty-threshold for a payment from iTunes. Yes, you read that correct–iTunes will not pay you until you earn $150 in royalties. So, if your iTunes royalties are really small, you may want to stay with a distributor until your volume increases in order to get paid sometime this century.

            Another note–remember a while back when Apple started requesting higher resolution cover art? I dutifully upgraded all my covers to 1600×2400 during that time period. Well, that requirement is for the iTunes store itself. The maximum resolution for cover art embedded in the epub file is 2 million pixels (multiply height x width). Consequently, I now have a high resolution image for submission to the store pages, and a lower resolution image I embed in the epub. (In my case, I opted for 800×1200 — which is under a million pixels, but you could go higher). The good thing is that my epub and mobi files are a bit smaller now (some significantly because I have interior art in my books), which should save me a few pennies in download fees.

  20. I think you are missing a huge issue, which is the ever more strident efforts of many entities, but libraries in particular, to pass laws to allow mass digitization without the consent of copyright owners, then to declare as many works as possible “orphaned” and legally cut off all opportunity for their owners to sue for copyright violation, possibly by awarding a minimal payment, identical for all books, through a mandatory collection agency that takes a hefty cut just to operate itself. See the latest preparation for what is likely to be a third round at passing an “Orphan Works Act,” sponsored by the US Copyright Office itself:

    We should all worry about our works being declared orphaned, because it is in the interest of entities who want to use our work without payment to declare them orphaned. This is a huge problem for photographers and many illustrators whose works are typically not signed.

    Another thing we should worry about is library consortiums of e-books, including but not limited to the Hathi Trust. Library consortiums purchase *one* copy of the book for the entire consortium, and consortiums are by no means limited to one city or state library system. The Hathi Trust is aiming to grow as large as possible. So in the near future, you could be selling *one* copy of your $9 or 99-cent e-book to a consortium, through say Amazon, and the consortium posts it on the net for “loan” to as many readers as possible, without anyone needing to ever set foot in a library, and without the e-book ever wearing out and needing replacement. This would be massively detrimental to sales. It would be, in effect, a giveaway rather than a loan–especially since a copy is necessarily downloaded onto the individual’s e-reader.

    • dwsmith says:

      The fights you mention (orphaned book” are important, no issue, and have been doing on now for at least two decades in one fashion or another. No ending in sight and a decade more lawsuits to deal with before that even pretends to get settled.

      The ebook as a library lending book is part of what is at state with the “first sale” court cases I talked about. If licensed, then a library can’t buy and lend as you suggested without running into issues with the license. If ebook is sold as a book (if first sale gets changed to apply to ebooks) then what you suggested will be a problem. But it all boils down to first sale as I talked about.

  21. Robert Nagle says:

    Serious book critics are the last holdouts against ebooks. My small epublishing press finds that many respected critics haven’t even bothered to purchase an ebook reader. Since they are used to receiving promo copies and Amazon Vine copies, they don’t have any special reason to venture outside familiar territory. This is both irritating and frustrating to me as a writer, critic and publisher.

    One trend you didn’t mention (which I think is a real way to compete with Amazon’s Most Favored Nation clause) is book bundling — selling more than one ebook together for discount.

    Finally, let me throw out this idea for any enterpreneur type reading this Amazon allows you to email ebooks directly to your device. What’s to keep a publisher from offering to email you directly to your kindle device after you make a purchase. Sure, the consumer needs to add the publisher’s email to the kindle’s safe list and if it’s not over Wifi, there’s a 15 cent charge, but that would be an incredible convenience for consumers…. Of course, Amazon could shut it down if a publisher becomes too successful doing that. But I think that once Amazon offers such a feature, they really can’t take it away without looking evil.

    • “Serious book critics are the last holdouts against ebooks.”

      At the risk of sounding crass, who cares?

      Seriously, who pays attention to book critics, and especially “serious” book critics? No one I’ve ever met or heard of. I am aware that, for instance, the NYT reviews books, but I’ve sure never read one of those reviews. Nor has anyone else I’ve ever met. Ever.

      Maybe it’s just that I’m not an English major who “always dreamed of being a writer since I was three years old”, to paraphrase the gagger I hear so often from writers, but seriously, I think concern about book reviews and reviewers, or at least the professional, serious book reviewers, extends precisely to the edge of the book publishing community and the English departments at university community. And no further. The average Joe or Jane on the street – the people who, you know, actually READ books – has never heard of these supposedly serious and powerful book reviewers, and could care less what they say. Why? Because they are the same as movie reviewers. EVERYONE knows the movie that gets spat on by reviewers is the one you want to see, because it’s more than likely a hell of a lot of fun, while the one that gets critical praise is, more often than not, something you can barely stay awake through. I’ve never read a professional, “serious” book review, but I’ll wager good money it’s the same with them.

      Long story short. “Serious” book reviewers: F#$% ’em. Not worth worrying about, in the real world.

      CUSTOMER reviews, from actual, real people (ala the reviews on Amazon) – THOSE have value. To other customers. But again, not worth a writer’s effort to stress over, IMHO.

      • dwsmith says:

        Ahh, thank you, Michael. Said exactly what I was thinking. When you start worrying about critics in any world, you are doomed as a writer. Only readers matter. Thank you.

        • Robert Nagle says:

          A point of clarification: when I say “critics,” I don’t merely mean newspaper critics, I mean bloggers who write reviews on their blog (and elsewhere). These are people who are usually unpaid and doing this as a matter of love.

          Not that it matters, but I was speaking with my publisher’s hat on, not my writer’s hat. I can name hundreds of books that are overlooked because the author is old, old-fashioned or writing in a genre that is crowded or too general. Most of the reviews I write on Amazon are for books that have never received comments on Amazon. My favorite writer, an author of 20 fiction titles, has never received a review on Amazon (though it has a lot to do with their being out of print for a while). I ended up writing a profile of this author’s fiction and ultimately agreeing to start a company around publishing his old and new titles as ebooks. With his last novel (which I didn’t publish), 4 critics from lit mags said great things about it, and on Amazon, there were no Amazon reviewers and puny sales. I believe that this novel was probably the best thing written in the last decade.

          So yes, there are cases where critics matter. I always love it when an excellent novel captures the public imagination, but you would be naive to believe that this happens often enough to render critics unnecessary. In my opinion, a book critic’s first responsibility is not to excoriate, but to discover.

          • dwsmith says:

            Robert, that sounds wonderful, but makes you more of a cheerleader or fan than a “critic” by the definition of the word. What I object to with critics is simply the person doing the critical review is usually a person who couldn’t write the book if their life depended on it. Usually they are acting like they know what they are talking about instead of simply stating their taste issues.

            I have zero issue with people who push and support books they love. Zero issue. I do it all the time. So does my wife. But you will never see a critical word about another writer or another writer’s work from us.

  22. Kim Antieau says:

    Great post, Dean. We’ve been doing strictly indie publishing for about 2 years (although we did traditional and indie for about 7, I believe). We put out a bunch of books and short stories this year. We’re very happy about the process–yes, freedom is the word!–although our sales really aren’t going up (at least not much), which is what we anticipated would happen once we got more titles up. So next year, we’re looking at a reboot. We’re not sure what that will mean yet, but we’re excited by the prospects. By the way, we are writers who do print and e-books. Although I would love to sell more e-books, the money I make from sales is about 40% print, 60% e-books. And I’m glad to hear that the nastiness between trad writers and indie writers is dying down. I haven’t seen it, at least not from trad writers. Especially on FB. There is so much snark and nastiness toward indie writers–and it’s not from newbies; it’s from more established writers. The snot factor is high. (I just hide their feeds and move on…) (Love to you and Kris. Have a great holiday.)

  23. Jennings says:

    Just found your blog – great “year in review” article!

    I am new to the publishing world (first book in July, then one in Sept and one in Oct), but when I discovered the realm of indie publishing (through Joe Konrath’s blog) that was it. I didn’t query, didn’t worry about all that one bit, and wouldn’t go traditional if asked (not that they’re lining up!). I’ve owned a business 20 years, so indie publishing suits me. I didn’t start publishing until I knew I could get several books out quickly, and I’ve got 2 more coming in Jan and March.

    I spend a good amount of time promoting, and figuring out what works as far as advertising, but I’d much rather be in control of my career than agents and publishers. This way I can write what I want, have the cover I want, format as I want, and whatever happens is on me. And, as one commenter said, if something’s not working, I can fix it in a matter of days (for instance, I changed the blurb on one of the books). It’s a lot of work, writing and marketing, and marketing isn’t my strong suit. But it suits me this way, and I couldn’t be happier!

    • dwsmith says:

      Welcome, Jennings. A strong suggestion: go back and read my two fairly recent posts about promotion. They are both labeled “New World of Publishing.” You can find them just by scanning back some. They might help you get your promotion stuff into a balance. Have fun.

  24. Randy says:


    Can you elaborate a bite more on why Kobo is a big deal? All my work is on Kobo thru Smashwords but it probably accounts for one percent of my overall sales. What’s the real difference in putting it up directly on Kobo or having it end up there via Smashwords?

    • dwsmith says:

      Randy, you second question first. What is the real difference between putting it up directly on Kobo or through Smashwords. “Contol.” If you go direct, you have more control. Things like cover changes actually get done. And even more importantly, you get paid every month instead of letting Smashwords hold your money for two months before bothering to pay you. So control and direct and decent accounting are the two main areas. If it were only control, I would say it’s a toss-up, but that accounting problem really tips things to going direct. Then toss in not having all your eggs in one basket and direct wins completely.

      Kobo, after it got unhooked from the Borders mess, has the widest international reach of any of the companies, rivaled only by iBooks. And when it went into partnership with the Japanese firm, it suddenly has very deep pockets. All that is fine and good but not worth talking about actually except for one major move they are making. They have, behind the scenes in most cases, partnered with the ABA (American Booksellers Association) to train indie bookstore owners how to sell electronic books through their cash registers. (New systems being put into indie bookstores.) Also Kobo is basically allowing any indie bookstore they are dealing with to sell all Kobo devices on consignment. In other words, they are giving the stores the devices and displays for free and will only charge for a device the store sells. And customers can get discounts on ebooks sold through the store or the store device and the bookstore gets a percentage of the sales as well.

      In business terms, Kobo is going vertical. There are thousands of indie bookstores they are or will be working with in the States. They are actually paying for the indie bookstore owners, through the ABA, to take training classes. They have the long outlook. They will be in brick and motor stores, they are international already, and they take the long sales approach. Unless something goes ugly wrong for them, they are the next major player in this publishing world.

    • J.A. Marlow says:

      Dean gave good reasons to go direct with Kobo. I’ll add one more: Professional presentation.

      By going direct with Kobo you are able to format your book description. When I distributed to Kobo through Smashwords the description always came out in one block lump, no matter how I formatted it at Smashwords. It looked horrible. It looked amateur, no matter if it was good or bad. It was no wonder I sold so little.

      On top of that, for a while, my book listings even had Smashwords listed as publisher when they were not. I was using them as a distributor (I had to play customer service tag to get that fixed, and even then it didn’t fix all the ebooks).

      And now? Good book description formatting. The publisher field saying what it should each and every time. The book product page looks professional now. That’s worth a lot. It’s not at all surprising that sales are better for me at Kobo than they were when I went through Smashwords.

      Add on top of that an easy upload process, and why not go direct?

  25. Re the licensing of e-books on the agency model–Apparently, publisher-fixed prices for books are common in Germany and some other European countries, and work to the benefit of everyone. See:

    • Eric says:

      Agree on most parts of the article. We got “Buchpreisbindung” – fixed agency pricing as an agreement between bookstores and publishers – and therefore attractive profit margins for anyone who sells books. They guarantee to have your book ready for pickup the very next day, if they don’t have it in stock.
      The downside is that it’s quite expensive to maintain a reading habit in Germany. I spent much of my childhood in libraries and later raided ebay…

  26. Jacintha says:


    Possibly a left-field question: When you do up a physical book through Create Space or a similar company, are you obliged to list them as the publisher in the front matter, or do you list your own (and KKR’s) company as publisher and the paper book producer as something else?

    • dwsmith says:

      Jacintha, you can list any publisher name you want. In all our books, we are contracted with WMG Publishing Inc. and they are our official publisher, even though I do the work on most of my own short stories. (It doesn’t make any financial sense for them to do my short fiction, so only way it’s getting done is if I do it. Advantage of working with a publisher I am part owner of.)

  27. Ron says:

    The New World in Publishing — From A Reader’s Point of View

    As one who enjoys reading, here are my thoughts on these revolutionary times in publishing:

    A percentage of readers prefer paper. Paper books will still be available, from traditional publishers and bookstores.

    Nevertheless, ebook sales as a percentage of total book sales will continue to grow. Almost all ebooks will be cheaper than paper books.

    Readers will have more choice. A paper book that one might want to read, but is out of print, or is too expensive (I’ve even seen expensive used books), might be a quite affordable ebook.

    Technological innovation in ereaders will continue. Some possibilities: color illustrations, animation, and hyper-text.

    For readers, its caveat emptor. There are, and will be, ebooks which are drek. Readers will consult internet book review sites in order to avoid drek.

    Readers will see more books published from their favorite writers. When traditional publishing was the only game in town, a publisher might have decided that some books were not economically worthwhile to print. Now, a writer a low but devoted fan base can even make a living.

  28. Josh Wagner says:

    My god, I love your insight! Definitely recommending this to friends
    Gives me some optimism about continuing down the indie path too :)

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