Thursday, 10 March 2016

Big Publishing, Kindle Scout, and the next Lee Child

Lee Child and his publisher, Bantam Press (a Random Penguin imprint) have done well for each other. There's no reason Child would want to jump ship. But what about the next Lee Child? Let's imagine Lee Child 2 has written a gritty, compelling thriller. What would he do with it?

He could self publish. But he's a newbie, and like all newbies, thinks traditional publishing is the real deal. He wants to be able to answer, when friends ask who his publisher is, with the name they'll have heard of, Penguin or Harper Collins. He has visions of his book stacked in the windows of book shops; a desk, a queue, a pile of books, a pen. He doesn't know his vision is twenty years out of date.

So he buys a copy of Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, and sends out his three chapters to agents. One of two things will happen:
  1. An agent will think she can sell his book to a publisher. She will sign him up, and maybe get him a publishing deal. Unless he is insanely lucky, the advance is likely to be modest, and his royalty will be around 8% for print, 25% for ebooks, paid twice a year, out of which he will pay his agent 15%. The ebook will be priced high, to protect print sales. The print version will have only a few months in bookshops to find its readers before being returned and pulped - but the publisher retains the rights for the length of the copyright, 70 years after the author dies. There won't be much in the way of marketing. If the book does not perform well the publisher will not want his next book, and he will have to change his name and start again.
  2. More likely though, he will not be able to find an agent to take him on. After a frustrating year or so, he'll look at other options.
Self publishing can seem daunting. It's a steep learning curve. While Lee Child 2 is poking around the internet looking for guidance, he'll probably come across Amazon's Kindle Scout. Advantages from LC2's point of view: unlike submitting to agents, it's a quick process, less than 45 days to get a decision. If chosen, his book will be on sale in two or three months. He'll receive $1,500 advance immediately, and a royalty of 50% paid monthly, for all rights but print. If sales earn him less than $25,000 in five years, he can get his rights back. And best of all, Amazon will market his book. All he needs is a good cover, and he's discovered while prowling round the internet that good covers are readily available and affordable.

I think, as Kindle Scout gets bigger and better known, and some Kindle Press authors become best sellers, it will become the first place an ambitious new writer will try. Amazon will corner the market in fresh talent. And this might just be the coup de grĂ¢ce for Big Publishing, who now account for less than a quarter of ebook purchases on Amazon, while indies are closing in on 45% (see Author Earnings). Compare and contrast Harper Collin's now defunct Authonomy with Kindle Scout - I could write a whole other blog post about this. Amazon has a sense of purpose and direction Harper Collins woefully lacks.

The Big 5 should make the most of their big hitting authors, because once they are gone, there probably won't be any more coming their way.


  1. Please do write a blog post about Authonomy. I tried that some years ago and found the whole process appalling.

    1. Perhaps I will. I wrote a lot about Authonomy at the time, pre-2010, but what strikes me now is the opportunity Harper Collins missed to do, years ago, what Kindle Scout is doing now. Why don't publishers realize that they need authors, really quite badly, for the success of their business?

      It seems so obvious...

  2. Loved this post ,like David above, I also wish you'd blog about Authonomy. I really don't understand how they could have had so little idea of what they were missing.

    1. I put it down to immense arrogance, with a side helping of stupidity :o)

  3. The trad pub option isn't quite as bleak as the picture you paint here, Lexi.

    It's interesting you should mention Penguin Random House.

    The Hydra imprint of PRH offers a a digital first option for authors, no agent required, and offers a 50% royalty.

    No, no advance, but with Hydra the ebook is not limited to the Amazon store, meaning access to 100% of the ebook market rather than just the 65%-70% of the market dominated by Amazon in the US.

    Hydra commit to up to $10,000 worth of marketing, and of course the prospect of a print edition if the book does well.

    That's an important consideration. Indies may or may not be mopping up 45% of Amazon's ebook sales (Author Earnings findings remain contentious) but Amazon'e ebook sales are not all ebook sales by a long shot (if we take the 70% guestimate then 300,000 out of every 1,000,000 ebooks are not sold on Amazon), and all ebook sales ignore by far the larger percentage of the book market, which is still print, in which indie authors and Amazon imprints have very little share.

    Plenty of other digital-first options available for authors who want the best of both worlds.

    And plenty of reasons for wannabe authors, indie authors and existing trad pub authors to chase the dream of a big pub deal.

    A hybrid future is the best bet for most authors, whatever stage they are at in their careers.

    1. An interesting view from the other side, Mark. You are too modest to mention that your books are doing very nicely with a trad pub deal :o)

      Many, many good authors (me included) have been shut out by big publishers, however. And the standard contract terms are unfair to authors.

      I hadn't heard of Hydra, and will look it up.

    2. LOL! Perhaps your confusing me with the other Mark? :-)

      I've sold a million ebooks with no help from trad pub, the biggest selling UK indie in 2011, have topped the charts in the UK, and the only indie to hit #1 on Kindle China.

      My only trad pub deal was for a single title in France, where 50,000 hard-cover sales came in that as an indie I would never have had. In book terms that makes me as trad pubbed as you with the deal in Hungary (which I'm still insanely jealous of! :-)).

      I steer a middle ground course, equally happy to go with Amazon (White Glove and a special UK 5th anniversary deal), take a sensible deal from a big publisher, or play the wide game with truly global sales.

      Good luck with Kindle Scout. If I had a suitable title I might well consider it. From a commercial perspective it's a no-brainer in that Amazon will make sure it gets the visibility needed to succeed.

      But I write series and locking the first into Amazon effectively locks in the series. Not much point having the sequels wide if Book 1 is exclusive.

      I'l be watching progress with interest and all best wishes.


    3. Yes, I'm getting you mixed up with Mark Edwards - sorry.

      Congratulations on all those sales.

    4. I've just looked up Hydra (a Random Penguin imprint) and am not impressed. Its initial contracts were so appalling it had to alter them in the face of public criticism. The deal is still, in my opinion, vastly inferior to what's on offer from Kindle Scout.

  4. Lexi, excellent post. I'm in the middle of a Scout campaign myself after having queried about 40 agents.

    Karol Lagodzki

    1. Good luck, Karol. You forgot the link to your book on KS - never miss an opportunity :o) - so here it is: