Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Book sales and earnings - the numbers

Last week I read a fascinating post by Stroppy Author on earning out - including the information that just because the author's royalties never add up to the advance (earn out) this does not mean the publisher is not making a fat profit. This is because the publisher makes so much more per book than the author. Obvious when you think about it, but something I'd never considered. (Tell me I'm not alone, please.)

This got me thinking about sales and earnings in general. It is often asserted that most indie authors make negligible sums, with a few famous exceptions, Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, John Locke et al.  Should we attempt to correct this misinformation, we are accused of bragging. Chuck Wendig said, "Stop using your sales numbers as a bludgeon. BUT I SELL FOUR BILLION EVERY TEN MINUTES may or may not be true, but what it most certainly is is irrelevant." In what way irrelevant, Chuck? Isn't it what the discussion is about?

I've noticed that traditionally-published writers are far more reticent about their sales and earnings than indies. They will tell you if they have just got a six-figure deal, but that's about it. The exception to this is when trads go indie, and blow the gaffe about the appallingly stingy royalties and advances they have decided to leave behind.

What writers as a group need is more openness from the traditionally published. As long as they keep quiet about the measly nature of the contract they have just signed, focusing instead on the fact that they are about to be published at all (Squeeeeeee!) then publishers will continue to get away with offering the same stringent terms and low pay. Terms that, spookily, are identical among all the big publishers, almost as if they'd got together to agree on them...

But publishers would never behave like that, would they?

Monday, 21 May 2012

The One Question to ask a prospective agent

Ah, I remember those long ago days when I used to submit to agents; how young I was, how naive, how filled with hope. It was a frustrating business - enough to make a writer get a bit sarky. I spent a surprising amount of money on paper, ink cartridges and postage, plus time researching which agents to approach, and the differing submission requirements of individual agents. I had faith in Remix (then called Catch a Falling Star or Heart of Rock) so I also spent time working out Questions to Ask an Agent ready for when I got The Call. I bookmarked several sites that dealt with this topic, and followed agents' blogs.

I now know there is only one question you need to ask a prospective agent:

What can you do for me?

And if the answer is not precise, persuasive and pretty damn exciting, forget it. Keep your 15% (notional if she doesn't find you a publisher). You don't need that agent. In the great upheaval that is going on in publishing today, agents will have to make drastic changes to the way they work in order to stay in business. Some are. Trident Media in New York is signing successful indie authors, a sensible change of approach. Some are turning e-publisher for their clients, with varying success. Others get defensive, expending energy assuring the world how essential they are.

Remember that although you pay an agent to work for you,  so she should be on your side, maintaining a good relationship with the publishers she knows is more important to her than any individual contract. She makes her money from the advance, so a poor royalty rate will not affect her as it will you. And she is unlikely to want to rock the boat on your behalf.

Illustration by LittleBluePaws on Deviant Art

I love this quote from Tom Simon, commenting on Passive Guy's blog: 
"What was that story I read in Aesop the other day?
There was this wolf, see, and this sheep, who needed to do business with the wolf but knew it was going to be dangerous. So the sheep hired a fox to be her agent.
The fox got 15 percent of the sheep."

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Publishing Myths Versus Reality

  • Publishers actively seek new, exciting authors. Publishers will always choose the safe over the adventurous, the well-known non-writer over the talented unknown writer, the book a bit like last year's surprise hit. Brace yourself for a flood of soft porn after the success of Fifty Shades of Grey.

  • Self-publishers, except for a few outliers, don't sell books to anyone except their friends and relations. While we are not all Hugh Howey, who has just announced his novel Wool is to be made into a film by Ridley Scott, many indie writers are selling well and making money.

  • All self-published authors need professional editing and proofreading. Some do, some don't. Check the sample before you buy.

  • Don't self-publish, as you will use up the first rights to your book, after which no publisher will touch it. Too many indie books have been snapped up by publishers after selling well for anyone but the most credulous to believe this any more.

  • Publishers will market your book, saving you the trouble. Publishers will market the socks off your book if they have paid a big advance for it. Otherwise, you are likely to find yourself on your own, just like an indie author.

  • Agents are looking for books they love. Agents are looking for books they can sell to the publishers they work with, as they occasionally admit in rave rejections.

  • Your book will be on sale in bookshops as long as there is a demand for it. After a few months, copies of your book will be returned to make way for newer books. But this does not mean you can easily get the rights back, as it will always technically be available as an ebook and online.

  • Amazon is bad because it is selling books cheaper than publishers want them sold, and in the end this will make books more expensive, which is bad for readers and authors, so publishers want to sell books more expensively now, which will be good for us all in the long run Who knows what will happen in the long run? I'll take cheaper books now, please.

  • If you have written an excellent book, it will find a publisher. Alas, not necessarily. If this were true, there would not be any successful indie authors.

  • Readers need publishers to tell them what to read. Curating is an important part of what publishers do. Readers are quite able to select the books they want to read, and have always done this. Now they have a bigger selection to choose from.

  • Ebooks cost as much to produce and supply to the customer as print books. Yeah, right, course they do.
Have I missed anything?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Amazon's doing well - heave half a brick at it

Recently, indignation at and vilification of Amazon has reached surprising levels; a member of the American Booksellers Association referred to it as 'the great Satan', an immoderate term more frequently used by Al-Qaeda to describe America. This article poses the question, does Jeff Bezos understand what he is doing? (For those in doubt, going by the evidence, the answer is Yes.) Scott Turow ranted here - doomed, we're all doomed! And for sheer batty bigotry, you can always rely on the membership at AbsoluteWrite.

These are but a tiny sample of the outraged huffing and puffing going on in the publishing industry about Amazon. One feels their energy would be better used in making their businesses more efficient and author- and reader-friendly in order to compete.

Here is the man himself in extracts from an interview. Note, no horns.