Sunday, 4 September 2011

Revenge of the Rejected

Anyone who has tried to get a publishing deal knows it's currently harder than ever. If you succeed, the advance is likely to be small and the contract all-inclusive ( just in case something unforeseen like holograms or brain implants become the dominant format some time in the future.) I've speculated before that all this rejected talent may come back to bite the publishing industry on the bottom, and with so many indie books in the Kindle charts, I think there is now evidence this is happening.

It's easy to say when JK Rowling chose to e-publish Harry Potter herself via Pottermore that with her money and clout, she can do what the rest of us can't. But there's more. Mostly in America, publishers have picked up the best-selling indies - at a price. (If they'd had the wit to sign Amanda Hocking when she was submitting the year before, they'd have got her for much less than the two million dollars they paid.) Barry Eisler turned down half a million dollars from St Martins to stay indie. John Locke, a prolific and successful indie writer, has just signed a deal with Simon & Schuster. But it's a pretty unusual deal - it's just for print books. He retains ebook rights.

No eager publisher has contacted me. But in the unlikely event of this happening, would I be interested? I'd love a print-only deal that would get my novels into the bookshops, and handle foreign and film rights for me. This is improbable, though; I imagine they'd want full control, with a modest advance of five or ten thousand - and I've earned more than that on my own in one year of self-publishing. Add the loss of control, a delay of eighteen months before publication, and paper book sales dropping all the time as digital rise, and I'd feel a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

Bob Mayer, a New York Times best selling author, has been approached three times in the past month by trad authors asking him how ebooks work. He says, "Frankly, I don’t think anyone in NY Publishing really understands the big picture of ebook publishing from writer to reader." I'm not sure they get the small picture, either. Inexcusably, some formatting is  carelessly done. I often notice blurbs on Amazon for mainstream published ebooks with duplications, stray bits of HTML, or missing punctuation. Sometimes the author's page is left blank. When I told an author friend I'd noticed mistakes in his blurb, he said that was the responsibility of the marketing department, and it was difficult to get them to change things.

So: we have good books the public wants to read being rejected by publishers. Midlist authors are treated badly by their publishers. Bookshops are struggling, closing or changing hands. A growing indie movement has proved astonishingly successful over the last year. Writers and readers have more choice and opportunity.

Vive la ré


  1. Lexi,

    Very good informative piece, especially for those of us not yet in the phase of trying to get a book published.

    I don't expect that phase to be easy. Frankly I often have difficulty convincing myself to publish my stuff in my own blog!

    And glad to see you are well on your way to becoming rich, as I once predicted...

  2. And I have first editions Lexi Revellian print books too! Hooorah!!! I'm happy!!!


    Take care

  3. Perry, anyone reading your blog realizes how high your standards are - and I'm richer than I was, which is nice.

    Kitty, I hope you like the cross cat in the picture, though he's not a patch on Charlie for looks.

  4. A very interesting view point, Lexi.
    It very hard to know which way to turn, mainstream or ebooks.

  5. Jamara, most of us don't get a choice these days :o)

    Hi Bob, thanks for dropping by.

  6. The traditional print market may be struggling, but clearly doom about "the death of publishing" is premature. It's good to hear that the essential business of writing and reading books is thriving.

    I think my only motivation for still trying the traditional route (for now, anyway) is a primal desire to see my book in print on bookshelves. But my thinking is shifting...

  7. Ah, that dream of books in a bookshop window (my dream was more ambitious than yours) dies hard...but as Douglas Adams presciently said about digital books, don't mistake the plate for the food.

    I'm not sure a lot of the publishing industry has accepted times are changing, even, which makes them more vulnerable.

  8. I love the pic!

    Agree completely with Douglas Adams.

  9. After some 4 months as a digital indie I feel a certain personal satisfaction that my sales are continuing to steady improve. Even more so considering my miniscule advertising and promotion. The irony of course is that like so many others I'd been rejected as unworthy for representation or publishing. I could gloat, but instead I shake my head at the acts of hubris and continue my developing and writing of more stories. I commend Lexi for the quality of her blog and the success of her excellent novels but I think as Indie writers we need to push on and ignore the hysteria of the publishing industry. It is the quality of our work that readers find so attractive, not the hype.
    Regards Greg

  10. Glad it's going well, Gregory.

    Re publishers, I feel they asked for the problems they are now experiencing. With luck, when the current turmoil is over the survivors will be more responsive to a public they have treated with arrogance - and maybe even remember they would be nowhere without authors.

  11. Vive la révolution!
    Lady Godiva rides again, sans white stallion! LOL

    Actually it feels to me that the whole of civilisation is in turmoil, not just the publishing industry. Perhaps the Mayans knew something when they predicted the end of time, i.e. a new beginning, in 2012!

    I have started reading/listening to Roger Zelazny's fantasy 'Chronicles of Amber' and was fascinated to note that Zelazny is the narrator for his own novels. He does a really good job!

    Lexi, If you have a clear expressive reading voice I would love to listen to you reading Remix or Replica or your Dragon books.

    In this way you could help your readers to decode and' get' your work. You can charge more for audio books as well. *grin*

  12. Zelazny is a cool name (why do I think names with Zs in are cool? And Xs).


  13. The question is...

    Would Amanda Hocking have been a bestseller if she'd gone the traditional route? So much of her success seems to have been a combination of getting in early (even a year ago, there weren't nearly the options in the Kindle ebook store) and having priced so much lower than was popular at the time.

    If I were a publisher, I'd do the same thing. Wait to see if an author can make a success for themselves and then sign them. ;) Sure it costs more, but you're not taking a chance on an unknown.

    Of course, it'll be interesting to see if some of these authors who sell so well at 99 cents (and, hey, I've got a 99-cent novel too) will succeed at the $7.99 and up the traditional publishers are sticking to.

  14. I would say yes, Amanda Hocking would have been successful if she'd been mainstream published first. Readers are always looking for books they love, and there aren't that many of them when you get down to it. The number of titles for sale and the slush pile give an illusion of plenty.

    If I were a publisher, I'd trust my gut and publish the books I thought special. Publishers' pursuit of money above all else has led them to their current dodgy position.

  15. Vive la révolution!

    Indeed :)

  16. I suspect if your sales had been in the US you would have been approached plenty of times by now.

    It seems the British publishers are stil stuck with their head in the sand.

    We've been approached by several big American agents but the seem not to understand what it means to be indie, and why handing over control to some New York agent for 15% after we've done all the hard work, taken all the risks and established a brand, is just not gonna happen.

  17. What about a print-only deal like John Locke's got with Simon & Schuster? Let's hope it's not a one-off, and more of these are offered to successful indies.

  18. That would be seriously interesting. No question there are still a lot of readers out there who want paper, but could anyone trust a trad publisher to get it right?

    Just look at poor Nathan Bransford, totally stitched up by his publisher, with a Kindle ebook three dollars MORE than the hardback.

  19. Goodness, so it is. How could that happen to Nathan Bransford when he's worked in the publishing industry for years very successfully?

    He hasn't blogged about it...