Writers Are Losing the Fight Again

Because of sheer stupidity, writers once again are losing a major fight that they don’t even realize they are in.

In today’s news there was an announcement of yet another agent setting up a publishing company “for their clients.” These agents, of which there are many around the world now, are settling on certain terms for their new publishing business.

The terms from agency to agency are pretty much as stated in this new article today.

Three scary quotes from just today:

“…we are becoming partners with our writers.”

“…will recoup expenses first…”

“…then share net reciepts 50/50.”

In just the last few months many agencies have decided to go this way. Many others have been on this road for a time. One major agency has been doing this for over ten years now. In this new world this path is just about the only way agents can see to stay in business.

Also, more head-shaking, a number of major bloggers have been pushing this for some strange reason as if it’s a good thing for writers.

Okay, let me talk math here. Then ask a few questions.

Do it yourself

You put up your own book and you get around 70%, give or take, of the money.

Price your book at $4.99 and you get $3.50 per sale.

Yes, you might have  to learn a few new things, hire someone to help you with a cover, but folks, this is not rocket science.

Make Your Agent Your Publisher

Now, go with agents doing the same thing you could do because YOU WANT TO HAVE SOMEONE TAKE CARE OF YOU.

The agent puts your book up for sale for $4.99.  How much will you get????

Let’s do the math.

— At first NOTHING. “…will recoup expenses first…”

That’s right. Whatever the agent sees fit to call expenses, those come off the top FIRST.

So more than likely that includes the salary of the person doing the work, the cover art, and so on and so on.  You get nothing. And that’s if the agent is actually being fair to you. We are talking about agents here, remember. (For a lesson on agents, see Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog last week.)

And remember, that amount for expenses comes out of your share.  (See below.)

And wait, do those expenses count the accounting department’s expenses every time a new check comes in? Who pays for the accountant’s salary?

When do the expenses stop????

—- Second, “…then share net receipts 50/50.”

That’s right, you get 50/50 split of net after those unknown “expenses.”

What the hell is “NET?” How is that defined?  Does that deduct the assistant’s lunch and everyone’s coffee every day???

So being nice and assuming that “net” means the amount they say they got from Kindle, then you sell the book for $4.99, money comes in at $3.50.  You give your agent $1.75 of that and you get $1.75 of that.  So from getting $3.50, you get no money for a time to clear expenses and then get $1.75 per sale.

Of course, at $1.75 per sale, it might take you years to just work off the “expenses.” Because that’s how much goes against expenses. Not the agent’s half.

All because you were too lazy to learn a few new things, hire someone for a flat fee to do stuff you didn’t want to do, and take control of your own career.

But now I have questions. Let me just toss them out for general thought.

HOW LONG IS THIS GOOD FOR?

ACCOUNTING? (How will the agent split out all your income every month from every other client, and how are the “expenses” and “net costs” spread as well over 40 or 50 other clients and maybe five hundred books?)

WHAT HAPPENS IF HOLLYWOOD OR OVERSEAS COME CALLING? STILL SPLIT?

I am getting so disgusted at writers, I’m thinking of going back and playing poker for a living. At least in poker, if a player is being stupid, I just take their money. (WAIT!!!  That sounds exactly like what agents are doing.  Oh, I get it now… They are taking money from stupid writers who just hand it to them right along with their book rights. Wow, I wish it were that easy on a poker table.)

There is a simple alternative

Writers, if you need help, go to the services that charge a simple lump sum for the service provided. Those services are professional designers instead of agents.  The services, for a set fee, not a percentage, can even put the book up for you.  You keep the control. You get all the money.

Writers, just pay for any service you need from a menu. Many, many services with this structure are springing up. If you need a cover, shop services for a cover. If you need scanning or layout help, shop for that. Flat rate.

Do not give a percentage to someone who doesn’t know any more than you do.

Look down the road at where this is heading.

So writers are all excited that we get to take control back, that we don’t have to wait on publishers. Then, as a group, we turn around and make our unregulated agents not only into our publishers, but we let them keep all the money first, before we see it.

Same problems as we have had for twenty years, only worse. Now writers are signing over copyright and control to their agents.

So here come the myths. Can’t you just imagine them? Ten years from now a new writer coming in will be facing what exactly????

Myth #1 in ten years: You need to get an agent to put your book up for you electronically and POD. Then, if New York likes the book, the agent can sell it to New York. (And, of course, these same agents have done such a good job for us of getting us 14.8% of the electronic sales (25% of net, whatever net is) that we should just keep on trusting them with that part as well.)

Myth #2 in ten years: If you do it yourself, you are just asking for trouble. You need someone who knows what they are doing and your agent has a card telling you that they know what they are doing and can design covers that sell, write blurbs that attract readers, and get your book up on all new devices. Even though they are also still selling to traditional publishers and also doing the backlist of forty other clients.

Myth #3 in ten years. By letting our agents do everything, that leaves us poor, innocent, stupid, business-ignorant writers free to just worry about our pretty sentences. Right?

This is not a Gold Rush.

Folks, this is the future. This is the new normal, and right now the fights are for that new normal.

Many bloggers seem to think that we would all be better served to get up everything quickly.

I do not agree, especially if that means shifting over 50% to an agent. Sure, I might lose a little money by not getting up one of my 700 backlist titles right now. But that loss of short-term cash flow will be a great deal less than the long-term loss I would take if I hired one of these scam agents and gave my rights and money to them.

I believe that any agent should be avoided right now at all costs. Writers no longer need them.

And if you have an agent and they approach you with this, fire them instantly.

This is a Scam!!!

I said that once already, but I feel it’s time to start calling this new idea in agents exactly what it is.  It is a scam.

It is designed to take a writer’s work, control their work, and make more money off that work than the writer does. It will be frighteningly easy to just not pay writers even the small amount they should get in this deal.

There is no other way to define a scam. This is taking advantage of the uninformed to make money.

Writers, stop being the poor, uninformed person who people in publishing laugh at and take from.

A Fight

So let this be the opening shot on the new war. The war between lazy writers who want someone else to take care of them and writers who don’t mind doing the work themselves, who want the extra money and control that doing it themselves gives them.

You sign up for this scam with an agent, any agent, and you deserve how little you get in money.

And remember, agents are unregulated. Don’t expect to go to some regulation board or the police to help you when these agents take your money.

Remember, you signed up and allowed them to do that. Contract law always wins.

Fight this now, folks. Otherwise, if we all sit back and let these new scam-agents get a foothold, we will all pay the price down the road. It may already be too late.

And if I made you mad with this post, then great. It’s about time some writers and writer’s organizations got angry at all this.

To Be Clear!

This is our future we are fighting for.

Take control of it.

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133 Responses to Writers Are Losing the Fight Again

  1. Dean —

    Fair point re: net. I’ll definitely bear that in mind as I face similar considerations in the near future. Thank you! :-)
    -Dan

  2. Carradee says:

    Just a comment for those wondering how to get a cover, etc, w/o the start-up capital, though I realize it’ll probably get lost in the mess here (and I’m not sure what Dean will think of it): Be a guinea pig.

    Sometimes artists offer free or dirt cheap covers to build their portfolio. AbsoluteWrite, NaNoWriMo, other forums I’m not even familiar with—keep your eyes peeled. Or ask around. Sometimes an artist is interested in trying to make a cover but wants a guinea pig.

    Just make sure you get in writing that you have rights to use or modify the cover as you like, for commercial usage.

    In my experience, your online game community can also be a good resource for finding graphic artists. Granted, it depends on the online game—if you even play one—but I know a few graphic artists that way. Whenever I make a cover, I can always find somebody willing to critique it for me.

    Also, on the entire e-book formatting thing… It isn’t hard. Really. It isn’t. Microsoft Office has this fantastic function called something like “Find… Replace” (the punctuation varies with different programs), and it even lets you search for and replace specific formatting within the file. (Like find all size 10 Courier and replace it with size 14 Garamond.)

  3. Great post, Dean. Thanks so much. I sent it to my RWA chapter mates, but it probably was a waste of time. *sigh*

    I love being an indie author.

    Being a techno-klutz, the Smashwords Style Guide was a leetle bit intimidating. After I read it numerous times, I dived in and started formatting my manuscript. The first time was difficult.

    But each one got easier. And if you have a question, Google it!!! There are numerous explanations and videos out there explaining almost anything you need to know.

    After uploading 3-4 books, I finally simplified the process to 25 “easy” steps. I posted them for anyone who needs them.

    You can find HOW TO FORMAT EBOOKS FOR THE TECHNO-CHALLENGED over on my blog:

    http://justwritewithannemarienovark.blogspot.com/2011/04/how-to-format-ebooks.html

    Sorry, I don’t know how to make a link here because I am techno-challenged, you know.

    I have seven books up. I’ve sold over 17,000 books since January. I write the stories, make the covers, format the insides and share them with readers.

    I’m loving it!!!

  4. Tom G says:

    I only have 3 professionally published short stories, and even I can see what a ripoff this is. You’d think these writers good and clever enough to get an agent (which isn’t easy), would be more business savvy than me.

    In my head I hear Bill Engvall saying, “Here’s your sign.”

  5. JA Konrath says:

    I know a few agents who are becoming estributors. They cover all costs, and only take 15% (and they don’t recoup their investment first.)

    Right now I’ve got 32 self-pubbed books available on 8 platforms (soon to be 10). It’s a full time job just dealing with properties that already exist.

    I just released a new ebook, which took dozens of hours to launch–hours I could have spent writing.

    I don’t have a problem giving an agent 15% for negotiating a contract. That’s worth it to me.

    Doing the cover art, formatting, and uploading, along with all of the potential benefits of a vetted imprint, is a lot more work, and also worth 15% to me.

    It isn’t worth 50%. That’s a rip off.

    But I already hire folks to help me: My cover artist, and formatter, and proof reader, and then I upload them myself. This is a time suck.

    I wish I didn’t have to deal with all of that. I wish I could just write the book then pass it on to an estributor.

    Which, in fact, I’m going to do. And the time it saves me should more than make up for the cost.

    One day, I plan on building a house. I have a specific idea in mind of what I want to build. But I DO NOT want to micromanage the building process and hire/oversee every individual contractor. The thought of spending all that time doing mundane things like picking out pvc pipe or getting permits would make me want to shoot myself.

    Instead, I’ll hire someone I trust to do the overseeing. It’s worth it to me.

    Ditto estribution. I’m making so much money, I’ll gladly pay someone to do the things I hate.

    I suppose I could hire someone fulltime to oversee the freelancers and run the ongoing business, but I believe that the estribution model will allow for greater ongoing opportunities and ultimately higher income. Group advertising, imprimatur, excerpt exchanges, marketing, and a centralized author hub, to go along with continued subsidiary rights sales and translations, is worth 15%.

    If you don’t think it is, don’t do it. But understand you’re taking time away from your writing to do it on your own, which is a very high cost indeed.

    • dwsmith says:

      Joe, I too gladly pay someone to do tasks I don’t want to do. Where you seem to be missing my point on this is GIVING AWAY A PART OF THE PIE for the help. Either 15% or 50%, why do that??? Why are you and so many other writers STUCK on this notion of percentages???? I am just lost.

      I like keeping 100% of my work. I like that a lot.

      And you say that doing your books is a full-time job. Okay, so you are going to hire an agent to do your full time job and also do thirty or forty other writer’s full-time jobs. All for 15%??? Not sure how the math of time works on that. Let alone the math of money for the agent. 40 full-time jobs????

      And then you said “Hire someone you trust.” And you said, “Vetted imprint?”

      Excuse me???? You are saying that these agents will start their own publishing company, take on clients, and THEN TURN DOWN BOOKS from their clients?? Or make writers rewrite books?

      What happened to letting readers decide what was good or not good. You are just putting yourself right back into the situation you had at St. Martins. Someone becomes the “head of taste” on your book and you’ll end up publishing it yourself and be right back to where you are at now, only after being angry at some agent for turning down one of your books. You go on and on about this aspect of indie publishing and how books turned down or killed by New York can now make money, good money.

      And yet you are going to put yourself into this same problem again with an agent turned publisher???

      Joe, you make a ton of sense on so many things, why are you stuck on this? Why not just tell writers to stand up on their own two feet? Why not tell writers to trust their own work? Why not tell writers to take responsibility for their own work? Why are you so locked into having an agent vet something, have an unqualified agent try to become a book designer, have an unqualified agent handle all your money.

      And the bottom line…. I have no idea why you would want to toss your wonderful books back into a pool with thirty or forty other writers when they are doing so well standing alone? That is what makes no sense to me.

      I am just completely confused on why you have such a blind spot for agents. And why you are telling writers to jump into this scam.

  6. Rick Novy says:

    Bottom line is that it’s getting easier and easier to create electronic books.

    I know of at least one publisher who is married to a programmer. Their ebook conversion is 100% by script, output in all known formats. Nice if you can spend the time to write the software and probably eliminates the conversion of a boat-load of clients a non-factor.

    But as with many publishers, the electronic terms were not acceptable to me. When I spoke to them during a recent con, they recognized that I can do my own electronic versions and didn’t even attempt to interest me in that aspect.

    Print is the part I have no real interest in handling myself, but I haven’t researched CreateSpace deeply enough to form an opinion or make a cost-effectiveness comparison yet.

    But, debut novel will be released electronically by the end of the month and I’ll be researching print options immediately on the heels of that release.

  7. Rick Novy says:

    Sorry, I strayed from the agent topic. Feel free to delete that.

  8. We’re not actually a co-op, but I know what you mean. Lucky Bat Books is most definitely a company. But we do work with a variety of professionals in a bunch of fields to offer writers everything they might get from traditional publishing. We have a huge menu of services. People can pick one thing or dozens, whatever level of help they want. But we’re just helpers. Not creators. Helpers don’t own a piece.

    We are happy to take care of a writer if that’s what they want. We’ll do everything a traditional publisher would do. Even the handholding. But we do it for flat fees or hourly fees. No royalties, no commission, no percentage, none of this net BS. The accounts with kdp, Smashwords, Pubit, etc are in the author’s name so the money goes straight to them. That just seemed the simplest way to do it.

    We’re also happy to do just a cover or just an edit or even a web site or a publicity plan or even set up a corporation. I guess we’re the middle ground between writers who want to do everything themselves and writers who want everything done for them with no financial risk (although I saying giving away half or more of every sale is a pretty risky proposition).

    Through LB Press, we’ll help them start their own publishing house. Every writer who makes money self-publishing or through a fee-based company chips away at the wall between writers and their ongoing income.

    Lucky Bat Books does have submission guidelines, and we are vetting the books, building a brand that carries some weight. By having a bunch of good writers under one press, they all cross-promote simply by being together. But we’re not closing the door to anyone who wants to go their own way. By having LB Press be a non-submission press, it doesn’t leave out people who really don’t care what one of our editors thinks or don’t want to be tied to a press name or just have a different idea of how to do things. More chipping at that wall.

    For Judith and I, it is about the kind of press we wished was out there, but also what we saw was a unique moment in publishing history where writers could demand to keep more of their own earnings. Film pooched it; music just switched to smaller businesses pulling the same old crap. Publishing has a chance to be different.

    Ethics isn’t that hard. Nor is publishing. We don’t do anything that can’t be learned pretty quickly (though there are things we are particularly good at, having done them for years). We know net is nebulous, so we don’t use it.

    We’re a small company (two owners and dozens of professionals we sub out to in areas in which they are experts), so our overhead is low, so our prices are too.

    The person taking the financial risk is the author. Always has been. The author is the one who took the time to learn a craft, came up with an idea, researched, WROTE, worked their magic at translating their story to strangers. All that time is time that could’ve been used making money in another way. Kind of like college. Now, I don’t know about other people, but when I got out of college, if someone had offered to find me a job and they’d take 50% of what I earned at that job forever, I would’ve slugged them, at minimum.

    It just seems wrong to take a piece of someone else’s work. So we don’t.

    And we’re not alone. We’re one-stop shopping, but there’s lots of freelancers and smaller groups (and maybe even bigger; I don’t know) who do the fee-based model instead of the royalty-based model. Keeping royalty money on an ebook is easy money. We all know we’re losing money short-term, but it’s worth it to change how things are done. We’re trying to take big chunks out of the wall.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Cindie, for explaining what you and others are doing. Makes a ton more sense for the writers who feel like they need help. Thanks.

  9. Loren says:

    I”m sorry, but I heard some people whining about the penniless authors out there.. and -I- considered going to play professional poker.

    The days of starving writers in a garrote are gone. If you are writing, you likely have another job. Even if you don’t, you are investing hundreds if not thousands of dollars in a computer, printer, postage, and books. I don’t know a writer in this industry who doesn’t travel, go to movies, go out to dinner (even if it’s McDs) or have cable (among many other optional expenses). (And if you are one of those writers who ARE broke, homeless, and putting everything you can into your prose, I apologize to the five of you who are left out there.)

    I’ve been taking a hiatus from writing, and came back pretty fresh just a few months ago. I started from scratch with my ebook plans. I put my first story up in 90 minutes, at a cost of $2.50 for cover art. (okay, I invested $25 in the website, but I still had 8-9 more covers I can buy with this money). My second story took me 45 minutes. It now takes my 20-30 minutes to format a short story, design a basic cover, and upload. Novellas take longer. SOmetimes I spend more time on the cover for a ‘special” story. But man, this was the easiest learning curve I’ve ever been on. and it costs next to nothing.

    Don’t want to mess with it, and don’t want to pay $50-100 to hire a freelacner to give you a basic cover or format your story. Try poker.

  10. Edwin Mason says:

    Mary, I don’t mean to gang up on you, but some things just have to be said.

    First, I’m one of those writers you’re talking about: working long hours for not much money and not much better than broke. I’m also a bit of a technophobe.

    Worst of all, I just want to write.

    But that isn’t an option anymore, if it ever really was. Now I can go through traditional publishing and maybe be scammed, or go to an agent who wants to be a publisher and certainly be scammed, or self publish. I choose to self publish.

    That means I have to learn a lot of things I don’t want to learn (including not rewriting) but I can learn whatever I have to learn. And so can anyone else here.

    Mary, you’re right that being scared and broke doesn’t make me stupid. If I were stupid I’d be hanging out at Conflict Of Interest Literary Agency and Publishing House holding a sign that says “scam me first.” Instead I’m writing and learning .

    I’ll say it again: I can learn whatever I have to learn.

  11. Dean,
    Great post, and kudos for calling a scam a scam. I think it’s important to clarify around one of your points, though.

    I see this as no different than the kind of alerts you’d see on “Writer Beware” at SFWA. I completely agree that they should be avoided at all costs. I don’t see how they’re harmful to a writer who is smart enough and willing to embrace self publishing as you advise.

    Scammers are always going to be around, and they’ll always evolve with the market and the opportunities it creates. I do computer security for a living, and we have a maxim that “attacks never get weaker”. The only way to stay ahead is to continue to get smarter, because the bad guys are always trying something new.

    I think you’re 100% right that publishing as you describe is the new normal. I think it’s important to recognize that a new scam, built around a general lack of understanding of the new normal, is part of the old normal. It’s a part that’s always going to be with us, but the idea is old. It’s just the details that are new.

    • dwsmith says:

      Rich, it can hurt us all if we let this new agent way become the new normal. It might not bother us who are already here and watching the scam develop, but writers like Joe Konrath (see his post below) still think this is a good idea and are still pushing this scam to young writers. And if this scam takes hold and enough do it, it will become the new accepted norm, the thing taught at writer’s conferences, just as only going to agents is all that is taught today, even though that’s totally stupid as well. Agents don’t buy books, editors do. (Or at least agents didn’t buy book until this scam started.)

      The key is to try to head this off at the pass. I’ve seen these myths start over the last thirty years in publishing and I almost turned away from this one just shaking my head. And honestly, at first, it was so stupid, I figured only the writers who deserved to get screwed would be screwed. Sort of like believing that the best publisher was set in a courthouse in a small town in Washington. On the back of Writer’s Digest for thirty plus years there was one of the worst vanity press scams ever that just kept showing in their add a picture of the courthouse of Colfax, Washington like it was their world headquarters. Not kidding.

      So why from mid-1940s until two years ago was vanity publishing looked down upon?? Because of those scams. So you want the fact that you can indie publish looked down on and avoided by readers? Just let this agent scam keep spreading.

      That’s what this new agent as publisher thing is. If it gets accepted, it changes everything for all of us. And that hurts even the smarter writers who know better. It hurts our business.

      Right now I wish writer’s organizations and places like Writer’s Beware would come out against these agent as publisher scams. But they won’t. And eventually I’ll get worn down and Kris will get worn down and we’ll stop as well. But right now we have to call it as we see it.

      And here is what I want from one of these agent scammers. Explain how they are going to do 500 novels or more for all their clients. Explain how they have the talent to design book covers. Explain how they are going to keep track of all the income flowing. Explain expenses and net.

      This entire idea falls under the sheer weight of the stupidity of the idea. And yet, writers will scurry to get on board and if we don’t fight this, all of us fight this, it will hurt this business down the road. And that will hurt all of us.

  12. LynW says:

    Dean said: “…Cindie, isn’t that similar to what you are doing as well? Lynn? Chime in those of you who are offering flat fee, one-time help on projects….”

    Thanks, for the invite, Dean. I see Cindie already commented above about Lucky Bat Books and the a la carte services they offer.

    At Camden Park Press, I’m primarily focusing on providing freelance proofreading/line-editing services for indie writers at affordable rates ($4/1000 words, which equates to $1/standard, 250-word manuscript page). I’ve seen editors arguing about rates all over the map, and it just made more sense to me to keep the prices reasonable than to try to gouge another writer.

    Other a la carte, flat-rate services I’ve provided for my authors have included writing back-cover blurbs, and formatting manuscripts for epublication – and then sending the formatted file back to the author so they can post it themselves (that’s *not* a task I’m willing to take on through CPP for the myriad accounting problems we’ve been discussing). I do cover art, too, but only for friends at this stage – but I have to agree with the others who have said that it’s really not rocket science. Any of it.

    And to Sam Lee – wonderful breakdown on the *required costs* to epublish! I have to admit, that’s almost exactly what I’ve spent per project, myself — a little sweat-equity there. And coffee. Lots of coffee :)

    Lyn Worthen
    Editor
    Camden Park Press
    http://www.camdenparkpress.com/author-services

  13. Dean, you aren’t allow to disagree with me when I’m away from my computer all day. There are rules, by god! If I’d managed to catch your reply earlier, I would have made a snarky remark about how I’ve already seen royalties (through the small press, not an agent-press *scary* or a giant one). But, alas, the time difference in our disagreement has taken the wind out of my fire.

    Sigh.

    ;)

    Dan and Dean – I get paid my royalty off of the net price of my books listed at 3rd party distributors. I don’t have my contracts on the computer I’m using, so I can’t quote you. But, one states something like my royalty rate is factored differently from sales made on amazon (ie.) then off the publisher’s website. So, I still get 40%, let’s say, but I get 40% gross if it’s bought from the publisher’s site and 40% off whatever the publisher makes if the same book is sold on Amazon.

    It’s outlined rather clearly, both in the contract and on the royalty statement. It clearly states all of the places I’ve sold and the rate calculation used.

    Another only occasionally does print runs of books. They are e-focused, but will do some POD prints of the longer length novels that are doing well. In my case on that one, the print book net also includes the POD costs through Lightingsource with a higher than usual royalty rate. The publisher provided the cost breakdown for the books, so that there was, again, no confusion whatsoever. It was also possible to opt out of selling the print rights and DIY. I opted in, since most of my sales were going to be ebooks anyway for that particular project. For another project or a different publisher, or another list of reasons as long as my arm, I would not have signed that contract.

    Again, I think we are all agreeing on the main point: authors really need to understand what they are doing and *why* they are doing it. People get confused when I say that I’ve gone with publishers for some projects and I’m self-publishing others. They get even more confused when I state that some projects are for small press, micro regional press, and larger commercial presses. It’s almost like I’m speaking another language.

    Like I said, for other projects and with different publishers, there’s no way in hell I would have sign the same rights contract. However, with that particular one and the terms laid out, it worked really, really well for me.

    YMMV – and that’s a good thing :)

    • dwsmith says:

      Sorry, Krista, got to warn me when you are away. (grin)

      Krista, sure, net can work if a few things happen, which you described. Net defined well, and as I said and you said, if you go in with your eyes open.

      And folks, you all need to remember that I am not only indie publishing, but both Kris and I still work with traditional publishers. We swing both ways, as they say. (grin)

      But, after these last few posts trying to help writers, it’s lucky that most of my books are under pen names. (grin)

  14. LynW says:

    I did have one question for JAKonrath
    Joe – right now you’re hiring out your covers, formatting, etc. and paying each of these people a flat fee, but finding that managing the work is eating into your writing time. Okay. I can understand that, if you’re producing a lot, and constantly putting up new products. So you want someone else to manage the individuals performing those tasks for you. I understand that, too. But why pay an agent (or estributor as you call them) a percentage of your earnings? Why not simply hire a manager for a set salary – someone you can dismiss if the work isn’t to your liking, someone who, presumably, has the management and business skills to do the job you need done?

    And, for the average writer, why suggest that they give away a percentage of their work for the duration when they could work with a group like Cindie’s (Lucky Bat) or Jaimie’s, or mine, where it’s a one-stop shop, and fees paid only for services rendered and nothing more? I just don’t understand the logic in handing over the percentage.

    You mentioned that when you build your house, you’ll hire an overseer to manage the various contractors on the project. That just makes good sense. But will you give that overseer a percentage of your house? Because that’s what your analogy implies, when you replace “overseer” and “house” with “estributor/agent” and “book.”

  15. russ says:

    Dean et al,

    I am a client of Cindie Geddes and Lucky Bat Books. I paid them a flat fee for the work I wanted done. LBB did not, and will not take, a percentage of the royalty ever!

    Am I happy with work Cinde’s company did? A BIG YES! The art is as good as anything I’ve seen out of NY, and the editing is as good as anything I’ve received from traditional publishers (in some cases better!)

    On what planet does it make sense to give someone 15% royalty share forever when I can hire someone to provide the exact same service for a flat fee?

    Would someone pay a portion of their royalty for a lawyer, or an accountant, or any other service provider?

    Then again it’s probably normal on planet rocksinmyheadinsteadofbrains.

    Now I’m just getting cranky.

  16. Thank you, Dean, for this post and all the others.

    I know I’m gullible. I never know when people are lying. I would be the worst prosecutor in the world. I’m an innocent. A lamb.

    So I assumed I would need an agent once my books were ready to be published. When I saw the traditional model started falling apart last year, I began thinking about going indie. But as late as this January, I still thought I’d want an agent for any deals that I’d be lucky to have, even after I began self-publishing.

    My first toe in the water was February (a novella), my second in late April (a novel.) I’m learning so much by knowing there is nobody holding me up but me. There is no net–as in a mesh safety thing under my tightrope–and nobody is going to fix my story or my ideas but me. I wish I were a more meditative, spiritual person, because I believe if I could tap into this one-ness more when I write, I’d be a hell of a lot better (and productive.)

    Long way to say I’m thinking very hard about what you say about agents and others who want a piece of your work in exchange for taking care of you. There are other pitfalls to this mentality, not just financial. Artistic pitfalls. It’s exciting to think today’s $0 publishing cost (and yes, folks, it is as free as reading this blog) might lead to some genuine innovation in content. The art itself.

    I’m still a gullible lamb, but now I’ve got a better idea of who the wolves are.

    • dwsmith says:

      Wow, Gretchen, great thought. And I agree completely. By knocking down all the gatekeepers and making the cost to get your work to an audience totally free, this could very well lead to genuine innovation in content and art. Spot on. Thanks for bringing that up. Made my day, actually. I just had never thought of that.

  17. joemontana says:

    With all due respect to Joe (and that isn’t a bullshit opening shot disguised as a nicety – I read Joe’s blog religiously and have learned a TON from him) I have to go with Dean here.

    15% forever is too damn much. If it were 15% capped at X amount – fine. But 15% of everything? Ehhhh….

    If the opportunity cost of a 5 hour session to prep the book for epub is 10,000 words (2k per hour – I am pulling that number out of my butt btw) and a writer pubs 5 books per year (obviously if you have a DWS size backlist that is low – some of us are mortal though!) and we are assuming 100k wors per book (to make it easy division!) We are sacrificing 1/2 of one book worth of writing every year to pub our own stuff. (50k words).

    I’m not sure I follow me there, and I wrote it…. So your 5 5-hour blocks of time to put your books up is 25 hours in which you could have written 50k words.

    If each book is making you $50,000 (again, I am making that number up), then you are ‘losing’ 25k per year by doing all of this stuff by yourself vs having an agent take 15% of 50k five times per year on you. $7500 x 5 books is 37,500. On paper, you make 12,500 bucks per year more if you have an agent take 15% of your money.

    Except that it may not really be so simple. What if one of your books makes 100k? It still took 5 hours to publish and the agent gets 15k. Now you can argue that once you sell that much, your time is even more valuable, but we all know that just because you have one hit doesn’t mean they are all hits. No one knows what makes book #4 a $500/year earner and your 15th book a $75,000/year earner.

    Also, I am not sure the time for $$ dynamic is so simple. We all have jobs (not you Dean, we know you’re an alien and books fall out of your nose. Not you either Joe, we’ve seen the cape in your closet ;P ) and we work 7 or 8 or 12 hours per day. Then we go home and do something else.

    I dunno about you, but after 50 hours a week at the ‘main’ job, I’m done with that shit. I *can’t* do it anymore. I could force it, but I;d do half assed work. Writing is the same for me. I can write about 2-4k words a day before I’m pretty much done with it. Dean or Joe might do three times that, but I gotta figure they have their limits too. So the five hours dean spent uploading a book probably ate through his NBS playoff time or NCIS time or cleaning the cat box time or whatever.

    I could be wrong – I certainly don’t mean to tell Dean or Joe their business and apologize if I came off that way, I just think the time = money bit might not be so black and white.

    Thanks Joe, Dean, Laura, etc for your time and knowledge.

    • dwsmith says:

      Joe, I think you are correct. I love getting paid for my time.

      And how I look at it with this new scam setting up is my time to put up my work is worth 50% in the new scam world, or 15% in Joe’s world. Either way, I’m getting paid and keeping all control and NOT HAVING TO DEAL WITH ANOTHER PERSON in my career.

      And trust me, the moment I kicked everyone out of my office, my editors, my agents, my English teacher, and just wrote what the hell I wanted to write when and how I wanted to write it, I’m writing more and having more fun. If I had kept the agent, I wouldn’t be saving money, I would be earning nothing because I wouldn’t be writing.

      So if you buy the time is money argument, then just remember you have to deal with others to get them to work for you. And as a boss in many businesses over the years, I have learned it takes time to be a boss. And most of it I’d just rather do myself.

      So I am making money doing the work myself by not spending 15% or 50% and then having to watch the person doing it.

  18. Joe,

    I disagree with your 15% idea give-away. You so eloquently point out on your website to do the math of traditional versus indie, proving time and time again that in many cases, indie is the better path.

    I’m not quite sure why you don’t perform the same mathematical ledgermain on the 15% forever versus the one-time flat fee. Even comparing the time spent converted to an hourly rate, your math is way off.

    Also, you use the analogy of hiring someone to build your house and compare that to the publishing business. I think you’re spot on, but not in the way you expect. House building like any business requires someone to watch the books. If you give up that oversight your house by letting the builder sign all checks, you’re doing the same thing as hiring an edistribuiter or publisher.

    By giving them the access and control to your accounting system, you’re giving them access to your money. I’m sorry to say that even the most honest and well meaning people will stoop to skimming your money when they get into a pinch. Besides, the mathematics of the problem, there’s a serious issue in allowing the employee who is only earning 15% to control your accounting system.

    As the saying goes, “A fool and his money soon part ways.”

    Tom

  19. Mark says:

    @Laura Resnick: “If your agent IS your publisher… then who will represent YOUR interests in these transactions, and who will advocate on your behalf when problems arise between you and the e-publisher-which-is-your-agent.”

    How is an agent going into publishing any different from a writer dealing directly with a publisher? Once your agent becomes your publisher your agent is no longer your agent. This seems like a non-problem to me. It’s up to the writer to be diligent.

    @Dean: I see your reluctance to give up a percentage and certainly understand it, but you’re happy to let Smashwords take 10% to simply upload your work to Apple rather than invest in what it takes for you to do it yourself (Macintosh, ISBN). Why give Smashwords 10% for doing something trivial, especially when you will upload over 100 products this year? Seems silly to give away that slice. Buy a Mac and buy your ISBNs and enjoy that extra 10% this year and year after year.

    • dwsmith says:

      Ahh, Mark, from a person who has never done it. I know exactly what it would take to get my books up on ibooks, and trust me, I have zero problem paying the 10% distributor costs. Zero. And I work on Macs and have ISBNs. (grin)

      Might want to set it up yourself before being critical next time.

  20. Dean,
    I’ve been thinking about this whole scheme and decided it’s not a scam at all. It’s actually a terrific idea, with only one slight flaw.

    All that it needs to make it a fair deal is to make it symmetrical. In particular, the agents have the right idea about expenses. This is a business, and it’s quite right that the partners in such a deal should be reimbursed for their expenses before any royalties are distributed.

    So, I’m looking for an agent who will write a contract with me where s/he gets expenses and so do I. Let’s see, what are my expenses?

    Well, there’s toner for my printer.

    And several reams of paper.

    And the printer itself.

    And the computer.

    And the software.

    And my office, and its furnishings.

    Let’s see. What have I forgotten. Oh yes, there’s about 20 years of schooling so I could learn how to write. Let’s figure conservatively about $50,000 per year. It’s probably a lot more, but we don’t want to take advantage of the poor agent, so we just have $50,000 times 20, which seems to come to $1,000,000 before I could write a word.

    Now of course, my schooling was a long time ago, so if I hadn’t spent that money learning how to write, I could have put it into US Treasury bonds and easily earned, say, 6% on the average. And I finished my schooling roughly 50 years ago, which means the $1,000,000 would have doubled roughly 4 times since then, making $16,000,000 today.

    Don’t you just love this calculating “expenses”?

    The way I figure is I’d happily sign with an agent who’d give me $16,000,000 up front to cover my expenses.

    Or, since I’ve published roughly 100 books, I’d be willing to take $160,000 up front from any agent wanting to contract with me to handle a book of mine.

    So, agents, if you’re reading this, better hurry and get your cash in hand and contact me before all those other agents beat you to the punch.

    Yes, Dean, I’m sorry, but you’re just going to have to write a retraction saying what a good deal these new agent ideas are for writers. Agents, please insist on it.

    • dwsmith says:

      Gerald (Jerry), LOL!!

      Yup, what is right for one side is right for the other. I completely agree.

      I have said now for years that the new agent model needs to be the “shopping agreement” as is done in Hollywood.

      Say I publish a new novel indie publishing and it’s doing well. Some agent contacts me and wants to shop it around to a traditional publisher.

      I say sure to the agent. “Pay me a $2,000 shopping fee for the right to shop that one novel for six months. I won’t let anyone else shop it during those six months.”

      Right now Kris and I have have numbers of shopping agreements working just fine in Hollywood. Some agent wants to make money off of you, as Jerry said, make them pay up front.

      I agree completely.

  21. With regards to the percentage issue, here’s my thing:

    In the old days, when an agent took 10 or 15% off the top of a deal, it was a sales commission and it ended when that contract ended. It might have been quite steep for what a given agent did, but it’s still just a sales commission. There is no question about them owning a piece of the property.

    Similarly, a publisher or a distributor gets money when they sell your book–but again, it’s a sales margin thing. It’s per-unit. They don’t own the copyright (assuming the author didn’t sign a very stupid contract), they merely get to take a slice of the sale price because they provide market access–and they only take that slice at the moment the sale happens. This is payment for services, and is not perpetual.

    There is only ONE legitimate way that someone should get a perpetual percentage of your work:

    If they helped create it.

    I don’t mean they beta read for you, or they made you coffee, or they provided technical assistance. I mean if they sat down and wrote a chapter. If what appears in the book would not be there except through the creativity of another person, then that other person might be a co-author, and therefore entitled to own a slice of the pie.

    There is a group of artforms in which this kind of arrangment is standard: The Performing Arts.

    In movies and TV and theater and music, actors and camera men and sound engineers and other crew get a percentage and/or a flat fee every time one of their movies (or songs) plays, because they contribute creatively to the property. Those forms are collaborative, and everyone who puts something on screen (or in the speakers) is, in a very real sense, one of the authors of the piece. Because they contribute creatively, they’re entitled to reap the benefits in whatever small measure is proportionate (and those proportions have been worked out by the unions for decades).

    But books don’t work that way, unless it’s a collaboration. Your agent (if you have one) is a salesman. Your cover designer is another artist who is licensing their work to you. Your layout technician is not a creative contributor either–they’re more like the guy who puts books in a package (and keep in mind, I’m speaking AS someone who does layout and design as a business). This is ALL day labor. All of it. Every last bit of creating a book except for the cover art (which you license) and the text (which you write and therefore own) is day labor.

    The house analogy is a good one. If you remodel a house, you license a design from an architect (who will then recycle that design or pieces of it for other houses, unless you pay him enough to buy the designs outright). You hire the labor to implement the design. Those people all get paid.

    But when you sell the house, or rent it out, do they get a slice of those checks? Hell no! They don’t own the house.

    Similarly, your day labor, your agents, your sales force, even the book packager you hire–none of them ever EVER should get to own your property. ONLY a co-author gets a slice of that pie.

    And if you are really broke (and hey, as a freelancer for 11 years now, I *know* broke), then you put the books up with shitty covers and wait until you’ve earned $500 to get someone to come on for day labor rates–or you work-in-trade with a friend. But for Pete’s sake, don’t give the property away.

    Why not? Isn’t it a time savings?

    If you want time savings, hire a professional packager who will manage the project for a fee (not a percentage). There’s a lot of them around.

    But if you give away a piece of the book, you’re asking for trouble. After all, what if foreign rights come knocking? Or Hollywood? Do you have in writing that you maintain full business control, and that the other party doesn’t get a vote?

    Worse, what happens when your agent dies? Do they pass the percentage on in the will? Do you then have to do the bookkeeping to pay several of their children shares? What about when YOU die? Copyright lasts for 70 years after you die–do you really want YOUR great-grandchildren paying THEIR great-grandchildren royalties? Do you want to impose that tax and liability burden on your kids/heirs? Or, if your agent is maintaining control of the money (WHY?), do you want your heirs to depend for their inheritence on the children and grandchildren who might not yet exist, and whose ethics and integrity you can’t vet?

    The deeper you get into the fine points of even a basic percentage share, the worse it gets. Period. There is no happy way out of this kind of arrangement (for anyone, the agent included). The ONLY time to ever do something like this is on an honest-to-goodness creative collaboration. And then, in the interests of protecting the amicability of the relationship, make sure you get the contract looked at by a lawyer.

    -Dan

  22. oh, Jerry – I almost fell off my rolling-chair at that! Thank you!

    Of course, I’d have to add to your list the cost of my time (at my usual consulting rate), for:
    – travel expenses to do location research
    – web-browsing and interviews (additional research)
    – the hours I spent outlining the book, creating character sketches, and scribbling notes all over my whiteboard while I figured out what I thought the story might be about (and had it tell me otherwise)
    – the hours I spent actually *writing* the book
    – the hours I spent fixing things my first readers said had to be fixed (like un-killing the damn dog…)(you know who you are, dear first readers, and yes, you were right)
    – the fees I paid my massage therapist to keep my hands from turning into useless knots after all those hours at the keyboard

    And they say it doesn’t cost anything to write a book.
    Yeah, right.
    No agent-publisher/estributor is getting 50% of *my* 70% for an afternoon’s effort on their part. Not happening.

  23. russ says:

    One more thing. Dean hit on a very good point. I worked for other people for 40 years (some of that I managed people for my employer), now I work for myself.

    Do I really want to have employees? (agents) Do I really want to work for someone else and lose a large share of my percentage for my work? (the oft discussed 25% in NY contracts)

    Do I want someone telling me what I can write and what I can’t?

    Sorry, I signed up for this new career to be a freelance writer in charge of my career. I don’t want to go back.

    From what I hear some writers are dependant on their career advice (disguised as suggestions from their “business partner”) from their agent and rewriting /editing for their agent. Agents are employees.

    When I was in charge I NEVER took instructions from an employee. I listened to their advice and opinion, but the decision was mine, period.

    Now, Joe and others want to turn over all of their career, publishing, editing, handling the money etc to an agent? What? My employee is in charge of everything? What? And for this my employee gets a portion of my profits forever? What?

    And this employee is unlicensed, unregulated, and could so easily embezzle from you it would make your head spin. I know some writers will let the agent get the royalty statements etc and they’ll never see anything to support the payments (if they see any $ at all once the agents expenses are re-paid.)

    This is about as backwards as it gets. Makes zero sense.

  24. Mark wrote: “Once your agent becomes your publisher your agent is no longer your agent. This seems like a non-problem to me. ”

    But the writers will THINK the agent is still their agent, and will erroneously imagine that agent is protecting their interests, etc.

    Sure, a writer should be smarter than that.

    But the fact that someone gets mugged because they’re silly enough to walk through a dangerous neighborhood alone after dark doesn’t EXONERATE the behavior of the person who mugs them.

  25. I wonder how long it will be before agent/publishers start charging writers up front as well. If, as they say, they are going to go into this without hiring staff, who’s going to make the covers, and edit, and copy edit? Say an agent has fifty properties to put up and have to hire freelancers to do 50 covers, 50 copy edits, 50 formats and uploads, which could easily run the agency $50,000. How long before they decide that don’t really need to outlay that much for books that don’t have a sales record yet (these are the same folks who give up on marketing a ms. traditionally after 2 – 5 editors after all) and decide that they need to charge the writer of each book an advance of $1000 per project.

    • dwsmith says:

      Michael, I’ve been afraid of that happening. Over the years, agents charged “reading fees” for a chance to be in an agent slush pile. Not kidding. Most famous of this was the Scott Meredith agency, who famously trained a number of todays’ working agents. And many writers got their start reading those manuscripts, from Robert Bloch, Barry Malzberg, and so many others. Actually, it was Scott who took the construction of story apart to make it easier and more standard for his readers to respond to writers. I only heard of a very, very few of the millions who paid those reading fees ever being moved from the reading fee program to the agency program. But there were a few.

      So sure, I can see agents charging “placement fees” for the work and THEN TAKING 50%.

      And I can see new writers lining up around the block for the right to pay the fee and 50% of the net income after expenses.

      Sadly, that’s exactly what I am trying to head off at the pass with these columns. And get writers thinking of charging agents shopping fees. Imagine how much Amanda Hockings could have gotten FROM ANY AGENT for the right to shop her books for six months. If she had only thought of it, she could have had a bidding war among agents. And I wouldn’t be writing these columns worried about the image I just outlined above.

  26. LP King says:

    Apologies, as my question to Laura Resnick (Thanks for your answer, Laura!) was viewed as derailing things.

    However, I would like to thank Jamie, Dan, Cindie, and Lyn for mentioning your services, and others like Anne Marie and Rick for offering links to your resources, too.

  27. Nathan Wrann says:

    Konrath, You make a ton of money from your self-pubbed books. Why not just hire a full time employee at $50k per year to manage all of the minutia? It’ll probably come out to less than 15%, and you can make sure they’re skilled at and focused on what they are supposed to be doing.

  28. Joe Cron says:

    I don’t have the writing experience of many here. Fortunately, though, this is about business, and I have a long history working in business.

    If giving someone a percentage (don’t care what number) is “worth it,” fine. If that’s the only possible way to get these things done, and it’s worth it, then that’s the route. Plain and simple.

    When it’s not the only way, and the other available ways leave so much more money and control and peace of mind with you as the writer, giving someone a percentage is stupid. I don’t know what else to call it. Just because it would be worth it to give someone a percentage doesn’t mean you should choose to when clearly superior options are so easily available. That’s just flat-out bad, stupid, dangerous business strategy.

    In fact, it’s so obviously inferior that it just highlights the more frustrating aspects of this, which have to do with fighting the myths. People who are exposed to the logic and still cling to this irritating (and ever-worsening) agent/publisher scenario are stuck in a place where they need to protect themselves from something – fear, embarrassment, whatever has them in its grip – and it’s so powerful it overtakes straightforward, common sense.

    Let it go! Embrace the empowerment! Own your career!

    Dean, the persistence and patience with which you and Kris help guide writers through their own psychoses (and I know because I have so many myself) is nothing short of saintly. My venting serves at least as much to strengthen my own resolve as to encourage others, and as always, I appreciate the opportunity. Thanks for this post!

  29. Dean,

    I’ve had a very strong reactions to your and Kris’ posts over the last week. I guess you might describe it as righteous indignation. I won’t rehash it here, and I know you’ve already read my blog post. But I’ll go ahead and point folks here to it, just to maintain the conversation (and for a bit of shameless self-promotion).

    http://michaelkingswood.com/2011/05/12/and-the-scams-just-keep-on-coming/

    Thanks as always for the information, and the great discussion.

  30. Tori Minard says:

    For anyone who is interested, I have a step by step guide to formatting a Word file for conversion to an ebook on my blog. I wrote it with the computer semi-literate in mind, so you don’t have to be a geek to understand it.
    http://toriminardwrites.wordpress.com/

  31. dwsmith says:

    A.J.

    That would be nice, and please point that service out when it comes along. But so far agents are still thinking “forever” and 50/50 split. And, of course, they don’t know jack about doing any of this. So especially interested in the professional level part. (The fine folks who put up what they offer for flat fees all work professional level, but you were talking about an agent offering this with a cap on percentage and professional service.)

    And say there was an issue like I have. 170 products up now at WMG Publishing, but some of them, not all, but a few, have the Kindle word.doc formatting problem of paragraphing, so I’m slowly going through and uploading new files for all of them that are holding formatting. 170 files. Now, would an agent do this for you? Stopping work on all other clients to do this because of a computer problem? That’s only an example of the many problems not covered in this silliness agents are trying to start.

  32. Sabrina Chase says:

    Mike, shouldn’t you be writing? (Big Evil Grin)

    I think the standard old warning which I heeded lo these many years ago, that Money Flows Toward the Writer, will help inoculate the over-eager and desperate writers. There were lots of scams before the Ebook Revolution, and there will be scams when we get the brain-book implants. The other thing to put on a banner is if an agent or epublisher or whatever thinks so little of you and your work they need money up front, they are telling you they believe they will not make money on you any other way. Ergo, *you* won’t be making money by going with them.

    BTW I am allowed to nag Mike who is a very, very good writer and yet in the same crit group as I am ;-). He needs to write more, though.

  33. dwsmith says:

    A.J. Yes, most agents will have to do something different. Buggy whip factory owners had to do something different. Some agents will remain. Why, I have no idea, but some will. But not many when all the dust clears in ten years. Unless this scam takes hold. Then publishing will look a lot like the movie industry with the artists making no money because everyone else along the line is scamming off pieces. That’s what a number of us are trying to stop in its tracks.

  34. J. Daniel Sawyer’s comment on collaboration reminded me of a niche where a “percent forever” could make sense if set up correctly: anthologies.

    One of my stories is currently included in an ebook anthology. There are seven other authors in the anthology, and it is published by a small ebook publishing company. They are paying royalties to us instead of flat fee, and so every quarter, I get a royalty check. They take the sales on Amazon et al, take a percentage cut for themselves, and then split the rest between us eight authors. I get an email every time there’s a sale of the anthology and I have an author’s page on the publisher’s site that looks much like the Amazon Reports page that lets me see the sales of the anthology.

    There are two key reasons I think this makes sense. First, it’s pretty clear that the fact that the stories are grouped together makes it a stronger seller than any of the stories would likely do on their own (the stories are in a very narrow erotica fetish niche and an anthology draws attention that individual stories would not). Second, the rights are non-exclusive, so I could publish my story on my own as well.

    So the collaborative effort gets me “advertising” (fans of the other authors in the anthology get introduced to me), it gets me a small royalty, and I believe it is more marketable than my story by itself. So giving the publisher who pulled it together a “percent forever” just doesn’t bother me.

  35. dwsmith says:

    AJ said… “Call me new, call me crazy, but it seems pretty simple to me. If a reputable/honest publisher/agent/businessperson approached me and offered me professional cover artwork, copy editing, and ebook formatting services (not a simplistic Smashwords formatting process, but rather a professional, high quality ebook formatting process ala Guido Henkel’s process) for no up front costs but instead for a percentage UP TO A GIVEN DOLLAR AMOUNT, I’d take it in a heart beat (as long as that dollar amount is only 10-15% higher than what an upfront flat-fee service costs).”

    I would say, AJ, that it would depend on the contract. And who gets to see the money first, and how the accounting was done, and how many others the person was working with, and so on and so on.

    I would not jump in a heart beat, and maybe not at all. Any kind of percentage play NEEDS ACCOUNTING. And even though a number of us have been working on the accounting problem now for almost a year, none of us can figure out a simple way to do it without vast data entry and other problems. So that leads me to believe that no agent has figured out 500 books spread over a dozen income streams all with different data entry needing to be spread out every month to fifty different writers.

    It can be done, sure. We’ve talked about it before here on different blogs. But it will not be cheap or easy. And publishers and agents have enough problems with the simple aspects of books now. They will fail completely under the weight of the new stuff.

    So I wouldn’t jump at what you suggest because I just don’t think it can work. I don’t think anything on a percentage basis can work at this point. Maybe down the road, but not yet. Pay the fees up front, folks.

    And if you can’t pay the fees up front, for heaven’s sake, put the story up on your own cheaply and then save the sales for the next book and so on. You know, learn how to be a business and handle cash flow. Sigh.

  36. Jodi says:

    JA Konrath:

    I’m trying to understand both your and DW Smith’s points of view on the issue of estributors. My question is, what is the estributor doing that is worth 15% for life per book? Is this estributor doing more than something that can be just covered by a one-time or occasional fee? If so what is it?

    Or is it mostly going toward putting someone on retainer to make sure he or she is always available whenever you need that person?

    Not picking at either side, but I’m just wondering what this person is doing that is worth more than the occasional service fee?

    Thanks,
    Jodi

  37. LP King says:

    A possible way the estributor could work: a small group of successful authors get together to engage and supervise this person. That way, the worry about dilution of attention is taken care of, and the estributor has some minimal assurance of making a decent living.

    Laura Resnick provided the names of a couple of author co-ops. I wonder if any of them have ventured down this path.

    Coming up with a contract to govern the relationship between the estributor and a group of authors could be interesting.

    These sorts of relationships are handled in other business situations. Coming from an accounting background, I think of public practice partnerships. However, they have the advantage of comprising individuals who are regulated. One does hear regularly of other business partnerships that blow up.

    Bit of a risk vs. return calculation for everyone involved, really.

    • dwsmith says:

      LP, sounds possible until you really look at it. First off, what skills does this “estributor” bring to the mix that the authors don’t have? Second, who does the accounting, how does the money flow???? Does the money flow directly to the writers and then the “estributor” has to trust them to pay up the percentage? Or does it go into a giant account and someone has to take charge of the thing. And then who runs the business and tells who what to do? What structure is the business set up. What happens when two authors get into a fight?? And so on and so on and so on. Ugly problems.

      This model doesn’t work, no matter how twisted it becomes, I’m afraid.

  38. D.S. says:

    It’s such a nice feeling of accomplishment when you realize you can self-publish with top quality results!

    There is a slight learning curve to publishing your own work, but it’s not that bad. I taught myself how to do it recently, and I have 3 short stories now for sale as ebooks, with a novel on the way shortly (plus a few screenplays that are written that need to be formatted). I’m pretty computer savvy, so it was not a big stretch for me.

    Previously, I put a DVD of one of my documentary films up for sale on Amazon.com via CreateSpace. While that was a bit more work setting up than an ebook, it was quite straight-forward as well. I was really impressed with the professional results when I received some DVD copies! It’s also now available as an instant rental and download.

    For some folks who are not as good with computers, I can see it being a challenge to publish on their own. So, they can hire the work out for a one-time fee. Simple.

    In fact, this could be a nice side-business for enterprising self-publishers. I know my publisher is offering this service. ;)

  39. There is only one reason I would give a estributor, or anyone else for that matter, a percentage.

    If they could bring me tons and tons of readers that I couldn’t get myself.

    I don’t think any of these guys can guarantee that. Of all these agents/publishers (not naming names, but some of the ones that are already doing this are in business over a year), have any of them had a big hit? Have any of them broke a new star?

    Trade publishers have. Indie presses have. Self-publishers have done it themselves.

    Not one coming from an agent/publisher stable.

    Also, have you seen the work they are putting out? It is awful. Terrible covers, terrible formatting, as bad as the worst self-published stuff.

  40. Wonderful article. Thanks for writing it! I’m a recently self-published writer, as of two and a half weeks ago, with two books. Without much publicity, I’ve sold almost 200 books. If I can do it, anyone can! I had the covers designed and I LOVE THEM. $75.00 each. Paid someone $20 each to convert them to ebook form. They were written and edited several years ago, but I did another read through. I put them up on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords myself. Just follow the steps.

    They are sweet historical Westerns that my agent(s) couldn’t sell because they aren’t sexy. Even though the first one is a Romance Writer’s of America Golden Heart winner. Now, I’m SO glad they didn’t sell. Self-publishing is a blast! Hopefully soon, I’ll get over the compulsion to check my numbers all the time! Best of luck to everyone wading into the SP waters!

    • dwsmith says:

      Hey, Debra, way to go! It is great fun, isn’t it? Enjoy. And those sales are great numbers. Remember, that through Smashwords and B&N and now Kindle, it is a big and growing world. What I have observed with our sales and numbers of other authors is that if you sell 20 copies in one month on Kindle, by the time six month later all the numbers come in from around the world, you will sell between 40 and 50 total across all platforms. That ratio does change from book to book, of course, but has turned out to be a pretty good rough average figure.

      So fantastic numbers.

  41. Dean, you are saying all the things I’ve been thinking as my friends seem so very pleased their agents are offering them this kind of deal. I lost my agent (to cancer) a few years ago, and since then have been agentless so nobody’s invited me to the party anyway. But I’ve discovered the Kindle route via Kris’ blog and managed to put up one of my own backlist titles. It’s not really selling yet (it’s a children’s book, and I can’t get an answer on the sublicensed US rights so it’s only available in the UK at the moment) but I can certainly see the possibilities.

    So rather than being upset I don’t have an agent, I am now celebrating! I’m starting up a joint UK Kindle blog, and the two manuscripts I didn’t manage to place with a publisher last year are just begging to be turned into e-books… meanwhile, I have managed to place a new series with a children’s publisher by myself, so having an agent does not seem to be essential anyway. I’m quite excited by the new world of publishing.

    • dwsmith says:

      Katherine, exactly. It is a wonderful and exciting time for writers. We have options, we don’t have to be controlled or screwed by anyone in this industry anymore.

      As I told a large group the other night of professional writers, get started on the indie publishing. (Half already had, the other half were working toward it.) In ten years, every writer coming in will automatically be doing this. What we are looking at with indie publishing is the new normal coming at us. Every writer will be indie publishing and many will also be using New York publishing at the same time.

      Agents trying to insert themselves into the mix when they don’t have the skills or the talent is just trying to play off the myth that so many writers believe that they need an agent. And by playing off that myth, they have a large group of willing victims.

      Why do I call this a scam? A thousand reasons, actually, not the least of which is the conflict of interest.

      But what this agent as publisher scam reminds me of the most is the scam construction workers going around to neighborhoods and finding the homes of elderly uninformed and promise them to do housework or fix their roof for a very small amount of money. And “of course” they will guarantee their work. So the scammers take the money, start the work and then vanish with no recourse for the poor victim. That’s what is happening to writers. Agents promise so much, take the money and the copyrights, do very little with no follow-up, and then vanish with the money with no recourse for the writer left high and dry and destroyed.

  42. Thank you, Dean. I’ve been publishing my own ebooks of former NY published historical romances for 7 months now, and couldn’t be happier. Never going back.

  43. Viv says:

    In some ways, this is more about authors feeling insecure and needing the validation of someone else with status. It’s because there is still such negative images of independent publishing, which is equated still in many minds as being VANITY publishing. The line goes that you weren’t good enough to get a proper publisher or agent, you had to do it yourself.
    You know what, the biggest proponent of this view seems to be the agents and publishers.
    I released my first novel last year, not huge sales, but enough to make me smile and they continue. I’ve just made a non fiction book(on meditation) free to download, as a taster, and also as a gift to my readers(blog readers etc). It was tough to do it without help but I did it and have plans for plenty more.
    But writers are generally not blessed with massive self confidence and bravura, so it’s not surprising that they are being targeted in this way.
    You’ve said what I’ve been thinking, but you at least have a decent sized audience to hear it. Thank you.

  44. Kevin Cullis says:

    Hi Dean,

    Oh, I’m SO glad my writer’s group posted your wife’s post and her post lead me to you.

    I’m an Indie writer as well. I had a book idea and I did it mostly myself. Spent GOBS of hours reading, doing, and learning. Found out after much time that there’s the craft of writing, then there’s the business of your craft, i.e. “Net” versus everything else. I’m still learning the business of writing, but your post has moved me along farther.

    I use a Mac. I could not afford the use Adobe’s InDesign or any other package or much help, so I used Apple’s iWork Pages to write the interior file. I hired a friend to help with my cover, but they got “lost” in life and I had to hire another graphic artist, who “lost” some time trying to hit my deadline. I ended up doing my book cover myself taking the PDFs and mimicking their efforts. It took me a whole weekend of trial and error, but I was able to even do the cover in Pages. I use Createspace.com to publish it. I’m hooked with my progress thus far and will never go back.

    What a journey, for sure. Still have lots to learn, but I’m still kicking. Here’s a quote that fits this group, “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, totally worn out and proclaiming, ‘WOW, WHAT A RIDE!!!'”

    Thanks Dean.

  45. There are more sharks in the industry than one can imagine – and at every step of the way. I was lucky to get honorable people in the publishing process. But, I purchased marketing services based on their years of experience and expertise, and got nowhere. It was a waste of money. And, now I facing the sharks in the retail business – they are listing “USED” copies of my “almost like new” book so that they do not have to pay me royalties. It never ends. In this day and age of GPS and digital tracking systems perpetrators can be easily tracked and held accountable. Perhaps the Internet will help us win this fight.

  46. This scam is one of the reasons I chose to self-publish using a POD. I have control of my work from the inception to the retail side. Of course, I have worked with Pagemaker from 1.1a through 7.1 so it gives me a bit of an advantage over someone just starting out on the road to self-publishing.

    For those interested, I have written Need A Job? Publish A Book! with OpenOffice. It explains the True Value of a Copyright, how to layout your book, as well as how determine a retail price for your book as well as the wholesale and consignment discount prices.

    For those not interested, the pricing formula is Cost of the Print Job times 3.0 to 3.5 and lower or raise to the nearest 95¢. Consignments require a contract and get 30% discount. Wholesale get 45% discount with money up front.

    Steve

  47. Monica Rodriguez says:

    Wow. Found your blog & post through your wife’s post. I think you just saved my life.

    Since I know I’m a newbie to writing and publishing, I have been reading all I can on writing, marketing, and the publishing industry. And trying to find time (after my day job) to write.

    But I was learning the myths.

    I was still under the impression that, as long as you checked them out through “Preditors and Editors” or “Writers Beware,” you could–and should–find a reputable agent. After all, most publishers won’t blink at unagented submissions, right?

    And up until a few weeks ago, maybe a month, I thought the traditional publisher was still a writer’s best bet. Bigger name, better chance at getting into a bookstore, “clout.”

    And while I’ve been willing to learn all I can about marketing, the one thing for which I was hanging on to the need for an agent was the dreaded “contract.” What do I know about contracts? I can’t speak legalese, can barely read it. Won’t I need an agent to make sure I’m not taken for a ride?

    Then I found Kristine Rusch’s blog post, which lead me here. And my eyes have been opened.

    “Thank you” doesn’t seem like enough.

  48. Hey, Dean — I’m late to this conversation and I apologize. I’m doing the e-publishing thing with my OOP backlist. I’ve got a guest post on the SinC blog about the process thus far here, http://sisters-in-crime-sinc.blogspot.com/2011/07/selling-your-own-e-books-dana-stabenow.html.

    I told Scott Gere that I regarded Gere Donovan Press as the Underground Railroad for writers.

    • dwsmith says:

      Dana, welcome aboard. Great fun this indie publishing stuff, isn’t it. Very different from the New York route that’s for sure. (grin) Check out the series I did on How to Think Like a Publisher (tab at the top of the page) for all the basics and then a ton of more advanced ideas.

      We’re right in the middle of a workshop here with twenty-five professional writers in town just doing this e-publishing stuff and learning about being a publisher. Great fun.

  49. plcrompton says:

    Dean – you are my idol.

    Thank you for drawing our attention to what is going on. It adds validity to my decision.

    I gave up messing about with agents and publishers two years ago. I self-published and I’m very happy with the outcome and the royalties.

  50. Mira Draken says:

    My German small print publisher found cover pictures by contacting artists on DeviantArt. The artists were glad to see their artwork in use, and the price was affordable.

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