Thursday, November 10, 2011

What's wrong with traditional publishing and how to save it

So as you no doubt can tell from my lack of posts I'm REALLY REALLY busy with some projects I'm trying to get out for X-mas buying. But posts elsewhere on the web is making me weigh in on something.

I've found myself in the unique position of defending traditional publishing lately. Mainly because of the absolutely wonderful job that Orbit has done rolling out my husband's Riyria Revelations books. I'll admit I expected the worst (too many war-weary veterans whispered in my ear to tell me to "be very very afraid"), but my pleasure is not just a matter of them jumping over a low expectation bar. They are smart, savvy, hardworking and I'm such a perfectionist that I'm usually very critical so if I say they are doing "things right" they are exceptional.

I do want to circle back to what they have done someday as there are things I've learned from them that other authors can benefit from but that's for another day.

The real reason I'm here has to do with a comment made by Barry Eisler on Joe's Blog. He asked...

"If there's a better way than Amazon to reform New York’s previously unassailable quasi-monopoly and all the suboptimal business practices the monopoly has enabled, what is it?"
And later went on to say

"But if you accept my "Suboptimal New York business practices are the result of a lack of competition" premise, then what I'd like to hear is your solution for getting New York to improve."

Well since I run a publishing company and I have a MUCH different model than any of the others I would like to address Barry's Question.

The problem with the current model is not one of of "lack of competition" it is because it is based on a "venture-capital" model. I talked about this a bit in my previous post but let me explain further.

In venture capital the "investor" is taking a HUGE risk. They are putting a great deal of money on the line and know that there is a pretty good chance that they will lose some or all of it. They usually will do several projects expecting some percentage to fail and will take a large cut on the ones that succeed to help offset. I don't begrudge the "bigger cut" after all he who bears the greatest risk should get the greatest reward.

Personally, from a business perspective I believe in a partnership model. Both parties invest something (sometimes it's money, sometimes it's time) and they each bring their talents, intelligence, experience to try apply these attributes to make the project as successful as possible. If they are good at what they do - there is profit and they both win. If not, there is failure and they each share the pain.

In the "old book business" with no ebooks, brick and mortar stores, large print runs, high advances, warehousing fees the only system available was venture-capital. But in the "new book business" we have print-on-demand and ebooks and companies, like mine, are being run out of people's homes rather than high priced New York offices. (I think many people working in those offfice would prefer to telecommute rather than brave the traffic/subway but that's another story).

Each book I put out from Ridan costs me a ton in "sweat equity" (my time, intelligence, and experience) but very little in out of pocket money (Create Space setup fees, ISBN purchase). Covers are done by my husband, editing and formatting by myself, interns, and relatively inexpensive freelancers. A Ridan book is profitable after just a few sales. And from that point out it's all "gravy" as it were.

Ridan pays higher than average royalty fees. The standard contract is a 70/30 share (70% to author 30% to Ridan) since I consider the author has more "sweat equity" put into the project than I will.

I don't "lock in" my authors. They can leave anytime they want...because I don't have that big capital investment this is possible. My thought process is if they like what I'm doing - they'll stay and not begrudge me my cut. If they don't then they have every right to find a better way to go. Could I put in a lot of work just to have someone leave and then I'm left with nothing? Sure...but it's a risk I'm willing to take. And so far no author has ever left Ridan so it is a moot point.

I don't offer advances. This would seem like a negative from the author's perspective but if I did then I would have to change the split % and force them to stay with me until the advance is paid back - it breaks the model so I don't do it.

Ridan's model is good for me, good for the authors, and ultimately good for readers as I can bring in new talent with little fear of failure. I can also bring back their favorite out of print titles such as Joe Haldeman's Forever War or A.C. Crispin's Starbridge series because of the large width of virtual shelf space.

So there you have it - my solution to how to save publishing. If more presses adopted such a model I think it would benefit all parties involved.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Change is never easy...but usually a good thing

Sorry, I've been so "quiet" lately guys. There have been several contributing factors: Extended tax return due on Oct 15. Trips to New York for Self Publishing Business Expo and to San Diego for World Fantasy Convention. End of the quarter and having to get royalty statements and checks out (some VERY nice income coming to Ridan author's - yeah that makes me happy). And most importantly being heads down on trying to get a number of titles out for the X-mas season. But there is a topic that is flaming hot right now so I'll take just a few minutes to comment on it.

There have been a number of recent posts about authors and the choices they are making. In general it arises from the push/pull between those staying with traditional publishing and those who evangelize self-publishing. In particular there were these posts:

The best thing that happened to me while at WFC was a patio conversation with industry legends such as Stackpole and Jeter discussing the advent of ebooks and the changes occurring in the publishing business. It was not overlooked by anyone at WFC that while NONE of the programming covered either of these topics it seemed to be the subject of every hallway exchange or dinner conversation where authors gathered.

It was a surreal experience to be "the veteran," having been involved in indie publishing since 2007, (a lifetime in the compressed world of the fast moving changes) when surrounded famous authors who have sold millions of books, been on the New York Times Bestsellers list and are regarded as founders of movements (such as Jeter is to Steampunk). Both Stackpole and Jeter have put up some self-publishing titles, but my little unknowns (Nathan Lowell, Marshall Thomas, Leslie Ann Moore, Michael J. Sullivan) have pulled in impressive sales that (I would venture to guess) have eclipsed their sales. And my one peer of theirs, Joe Haldeman's Forever war sold 7,100 copies in October and as it is is ranked #1 and #2 on the Amazon bestseller lists I'll believe Jeter when he says that The Forever War is the poster child for "backlists done right".

As has happened in the past...and will happen again. The rhetoric is getting pretty heated. I actually like that. It shows passion, and those without passion are missing out on both the joy and the pain that strong emotions brings.

As frequent visitors to this site know...I'm a proponent of authors...all authors and helping them to choose the path that is right for them. Like Michael Stackpole, I want first and foremost for them to be educated on the choices and make informed decisions...and that's the beauty of the time we are living in now...there ARE CHOICES!!

Draconian publishing contracts are nothing new...and I'll even defend the publishers a bit here by saying they are not done in an Snidely Whiplash, evil-for-evil's sake. They are a result of a flawed system. The traditional publishing model mimics that of venture capital investing. The publishers pony up huge sums of cash (for advances, print runs), and have high overhead costs (large corporate offices, well paid professionals, warehousing fees, money set aside for returns) and must make additional investments for promotion (co-op fees, catalog printing, ARC distribution). In such an environment they impose "controls" to help ensure a profit and they must take a proportionally larger cut because most venture capital ventures fail so the "winners" have to "cover" the losers.

But change is coming...the free market will win out. Even those that are published traditionally will see better contracts because publishers will have to change in order to keep and retain top talent. Don't believe me? Well I can offer up my husband's own contract as living proof. He would never have signed the first contract we received, and because he was already making good money in self-publishing he had the freedom to walk away if it wasn't changed. This is an option that would not have existed for him 3 - 5 years ago...and guess was changed and as I said to many at the WFC convention - I can find no fault with how Michael has been treated by his big-six publisher.

Want another example? Look at all the people being signed by Amazon's new publishing companies: Thomas and Mercer, 47 North, Amazon Encore, Montlake, and on and on. Many who are going that route have their eyes wide open to the pluses and minuses of both paradigm (traditional and self) and by putting pen to paper are endorsing a "new model". I only wish that Amazon would be more transparent about their contracts - they have a very restrictive NDA and I don't see why there shouldn't be transparency. These must be more "author friendly" for the people who are signing them to do so.

So, I guess my message for today is the same I've said many times before. There has never been a better time than now to be an author. Choices abound...opportunities exist. Go out and grab hold of your future - you have more power now than you ever had when traditional publishing was the only game in town.