Thursday, April 14, 2011

Choice, Change, and the eRevolution

I've been thinking recently about the magnitude of change in publishing and trying to make sense of it all. The most striking aspect to me in what is going on is the importance that there are now more choices....more choices for the authors...and more choices for he readers.

Up until recently (Fall 2010) traditional publishing really was the only game in town. And more specifically if you wanted to have a serious writing career that meant being published through a big-six. Yes, I know there are exceptions to this but if we apply the 80/20 rule or even the 90/10 rule (and possibly even 95/5) this was the case. This is not to say that I don't like or appreciate small presses (I run one after all) but most small presses offer small or no advances and are happy if a few thousand books sold.

Advances in technology (ebook and POD) has brought to the stage successful self-publishers and small press publishers that are now able to get their books in front of thousands, and tens of thousands of readers. I've noticed a recent trend in the Top 100 List where there are now a few small-press entries there (which was once dominated only by big-six, then big-six and some self-published, and now all three). The most recent success story is Vincent Zandri, who joins Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and JA Konrath in he top of the list. He has two books put out by Stonegate Ink, The Innocent at #5 and Godchild #70).

Another small-press offering which has been on the list for some time is Live Free or Die by Jessie Crockett put out by Mainly Murder Press which only recently fell of the list after months in the top 100.

Making self-publishing and small press publishing more successful is without a doubt a huge boon for the author but it is maybe even more important for the reader. When traditional big-six publishing was the only game in town the reader only had options from books that they put out. Sure that still was hundreds of thousands of titles but each and every one of them was carefully analyzed not by "how good" the book was but by "how much" they thought it would sell for. This skewed many of the offerings toward those with mass appeal. One of the major problems with big-six traditional publishing (imo) was that limitation of the number of slots available for any given catalog period. Orbit just released their Fall 2011 Catalog (in which my husband Michael received a very nice two-page spread) but there were only 20 or so titles coming out in this period. This meant that many "worthy" books had to be turned away and can now be free to find their own audience. With the gatekeepers gone readers will now have a larger pool to draw from.

Katherine Rusch said it very nicely on her blog:
What all of this means is that readers now control what kind of content they consume. Instead of easy access to the bestsellers and blockbusters, limited access to all other titles, and no access to the quirky unusual title, readers can now read whatever kind of book they want.

What is even more important than the choices, is the convenience factor afforded by ebooks. I've seen a tremendous amount of Michael's fan mail that repeat themes such as:

"As soon as I finished the the book, I immediately downloaded the next. I tore through all five of them in just a few weeks and am no anxiously awaiting the final book of the Riyria Revelations series."

The ability to immediately read the next book in a series is definitely coming into play with authors like Hocking, Locke, J.R. Rain (who is the first to have a Top 100 that is priced over $2.99 (The third in his Vampire for Hire currently sells for $3.99).

This brings me back to thinking about the big-six. Many are predicting its decline and eventual doom. There is no doubt that the viability of small presses and self-published books will certainly cut into their monopolistic hold of the industry but I don't think they will vanish completely. In fact, I'm counting on their ability to expand an author's brand by having Michael sign with Orbit.

I think the big-six need to wake up and realize that they are no longer the only game in town and adjust their business practices accordingly. This means

  • Shortening the time to market for a book -

  • Shortening the wait between books in a series

  • Using low-cost ebooks as audience builders

  • Developing a fair e-royalty split (52.5% to publisher and 14.9% to author is not fair)

  • Encouraging writers to write more (not less) by doing away with non-compete clauses

I'm happy to say that Orbit is proving themselves to be one such publisher. While Michael still hasn't officially signed yet (just received the official contract a few weeks ago - after 4 months!! - and his agent (who has been at the London Book Fair) is just now sending back the revised edition. Some things they've done:

  • Fast tracked his release (editing, covers, catalog, arcs are already done (well still a bit of editing but the "major edits" are complete) if we sign in May that means his time to market will be 6 months - much quicker than the 15-18 typical cycle for a newly acquired author.

  • The entire series will be out in 3 months rather than 3 years. Book 1: Nov, Book 2, Dec, Book 3, Jan

  • They recently put Iain Bank's Consider Phlebas at $0.99 and got it into the Amazon Top 100.

  • Still using industry standard of 75%/25% but their contract does concede that if the industry standard changes then Michael's share will increase to that new number

  • Jury is still out on the last point - their non-compete severely limits Michael's ability to put out other books but this was boilerplate language that is being countered and based on their willingness to allow a Percepliquis only version of the sixth book, I'm confident we can get a contract that works for both them and Michael.

So things are changing...and choices are greater. I've sad it before and I'll say it again - now is a great time to be a writer.


Unknown said...

Wonderful points, Robin. I agree with all, especially the bit about skewed royalty rates. It's high time we quit hearing about all of the expenses, etc. that go into traditional publishing that supposedly warrant such skewed rates. The reality is, that for eBooks, it's not fair to the author.

Furthermore, I completely agree that this by far the best thing to ever happen for readers.

Good stuff, as always!


Robin Sullivan said...

Thanks E.J. - as writers we sometimes get so wrapped up in the effects changes have for us we overlook the readers - I so agree!

Vincent Zandri said...

Great Post Robin...It might have helped that I've been published by the biggies in the past, but no doubt that indie presses and self-published authors are making a huge splash and giving the Big Six nightmares...All I'm hearing now from my agent is that we'll probably be entertaining another big 6 offer sooner or later. So choices will have to be made. But one thing is for sure, I'm always going to publish with indies like StoneGate...

Unknown said...

I like how you pointed out the split is not fair that Big 6 offers on ebooks.

When I first sought publication I googled sample contracts and learned several key elements about traditional publishing. Such as advances and how you have to make up what you get if you ever want anymore. Oh how easy it would be for a publisher to start increasing material costs. After seeing that I decided that was not for me. I'm not saying that a large publisher does that but I'm saying anything is possible and I like to be in as much control as possible. Especially of my own creation.

Jacquelyn said...

It's encouraging to hear that Orbit is shifting gears to adjust. Hopefully other houses will follow their example. Thanks for the post!

Robin Sullivan said...

@Vincent thanks for stopping by. To be honest I didn't know you were published by a "biggie" in the past - I'd love to do an interview with you sometime about your publishing path. Congrats on the great sales with your current works - they are selling very well - now we just got to keep those high rankings with bigger price tags to make it all that much better for the writers. Send me an email at if you'd be willing to do a guest/blog - insterview.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Bri - it's interesting that you mention "sample contracts" - as soon as Michael's is finsied (assuming the publisher doesn't have some form of gag order) I intend to publish his contract so authors can see what types of things to expect. Michael and I were just discussing over lunch today how helpful it would be if all authors would publish their contracts (minus advance numbers if they don't want to expose that) so we can see examples etc. For instance...Michael's contract has no guarantee print run. While an author friend we were talking to over the weekend has a specified print run in their contract. It would be interesting to see the various differenes between them.

One thing you mentioned...."Oh how easy it would be for a publisher to start increasing material costs."

This makes me think that the contracts you were looking at were based on "Net profit" rather than "Net Sales" or "List Price". I need to do a whole thing on contracts and will start some of them but a few things off the top of my head.

a) Never sign a contract that mentions net profits as they can (and do) manipulate the costs so there are no profits. Net Sales i permissible IF the definition of net is very clearly stated. It should be what the publisher brings in (i.e. minus the discount of the distribution patners) but not include things like costs to produce (printing, editing, etc, as now you are getting into profits again). Most contracts are on "List price" for print and "net" for ebooks.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Jacquelyn I agree it's nice to see movement and another indication that we chose a good partner when we selected Orbit. People signing contracts now are a bit "ahead" of the curve. I think as more traditionally published authors leave the major houses the contracts will get more and more author friendly going forward.

Donald Wells said...

Robin said: The ability to immediately read the next book in a series is definitely coming into play with authors like Hocking, Locke, J.R. Rain

That is a huge advantage with ebooks.
Another great advantage is that when a reader does buy the next book in a series, he's buying it from the author and not from a third party selling used books. Years ago, before there was even an Amazon Marketplace, I fell in love with a series of books (I think there were over thirty in all.) and it took me months to track down every book, and every single one of them was a used copy bought from a third party. Today, if I discover an author I love, I immediately buy every thing he has written, and with ebooks, the author gets a part of every sale. Now, more than ever, your backlist equals future money.

Kate said...

As a reader, these two please!!:

Shortening the time to market for a book

Shortening the wait between books in a series

As a writer, I just can't wait to see where the chips land! Great blog, as usual.

Robin Sullivan said...

Thank you Kate - I feel this way as well - I actually posted this same post on AW and here is what someone said....

"I have yet to see a good argument as to why speed is of the essence in fiction. In non fiction, definitely - and publishers can already knock a book out in days when required. The only reason I can think of to bring a book forward in the publishing schedule is if it's a trend book and the trend is fading fast."

Boggle !!

Robin Sullivan said...

@Donald - Great point - with a year or more between releases the chance of finding book 2 on the shelf when book 5 caught your eye is slim at best.

Alex F. Fayle said...

For years I was looking for some sort of passive income that would give me more time to write.

Now, thanks to the eRevolution, I will be using my fiction to create that passive income which will then allow me to write more, which will create more passive income which will... well, you get the picture.

I love the new paradigm!

Robin Sullivan said...

Good for you Alex - I wish you much success.

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