The other day, I wrote that my candidacy appeared to have annoyed the folks over at The Write Agenda. They’ve written to explain that no, not only have I not annoyed them, they’re actually pleased with my candidacy, wishing me the best of luck and describing me as “a potential Moses.”
First of all, I was shocked to discover that, despite having three different names, those comments appeared to have come from the same person! What a shocking twist. And the IP address puts this individual on a computer at Matawan Aberdeen Library–
HOLY CRAP, IT’S ANOTHER TWIST!!! By an incredible coincidence, Matawan also happens to be the home of “literary agent” Barbara Bauer:
Barbara Bauer Literary Agency, Inc.
Now, according to a great deal of research by Writer Beware, The Write Agenda appears to be associated with Robert Fletcher and Strategic Book Publishing, a.k.a. Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency, along with a number of sockpuppets.
While the Write Agenda seems to have a fairly cozy relationship with Ms. Bauer, it’s also true that The Write Agenda have their own sockpuppets, like “Nick Caruso” and “Lizzy Greenberg” and “Michael Sigvagni.”
Ms. Bauer–or whoever from Mattawan, NJ happened to be posting those comments–seems to have adopted a different approach, using the names of authors and others she feels have wronged her for her sockpuppetry.
I’ve watched enough Criminal Minds to realize what this meant. The signatures didn’t match, and I was accusing the wrong unsub!
Man, do I have egg on my face or what? I MIXED UP THE SOCKPUPPETS! Mea culpa, and I apologize to Robert and everyone else at The Write Agenda for getting their sockpuppets confused with those of Ms. Ba–I mean, the “anonymous” commenter from New Jersey.
Last month, I wrote a blog post looking at my early numbers for The Snow Queen’s Shadow [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. Based on those early numbers, the print sales seemed pretty much in line with what I’d seen for other books.
“If you eliminate Red Hood, then according to Bookscan, the new book sold more print copies in its first week than any of my previous books … What does this all mean? Not too much, to be honest. I’m one author, and there could be any number of factors going on here.”
It’s almost two months since Snow Queen came out. Since then, Borders has officially gone into bankruptcy. George R. R. Martin’s new book came out, which I’m told cannibalized some fantasy sales across the board. And B&N has started cutting back on their orders.
So I put together a comparison of total print sales for the first eight weeks of each of my books:
Keeping in mind that Red Hood got some additional display space and advertising push, this is … still better than I was expecting to see. Snow Queen has slipped behind the other princess books, but continues to outsell the goblins. Not too bad.
On the other hand, the numbers for Snow Queen include a visible boost in sales when Borders declared bankruptcy and people started rushing out to buy books at 40% off. That’s a short-term gain, and I expect to see another dropoff once Borders closes its doors for good.
And of course, I won’t know how the e-book is selling for quite some time.
In conclusion … I don’t know. I’ve been pointed to more “Publishing is DOOMED!!!” articles recently, and all I can think is “Bored now.” I don’t see publishing disappearing any time soon.
Changing, yes. Continuing to work toward an equilibrium point between print and e-books, sure. Causing some people to freak out like poo-flinging monkeys on crystal meth, absolutely.
I don’t know what publishing is going to look like five or ten years from now. I don’t know if the death of Borders will lead to a resurgence in the independent bookstores, or if brick & mortar stores will continue to decline. I don’t know whether the mass market format will go away, replaced by print-on-demand and e-books. I don’t know.
But then, if I wanted a stable, secure, unchanging career, writing fiction might not have been the best choice.
I do know that people enjoy stories. Publishing is changing, but love of story has been a core part of our species for as long as we can remember. While the delivery of those stories will continue to evolve, the demand for those stories isn’t going away.
So as for me, I’m just going to keep writing, and I hope y’all will continue to read and enjoy those stories with me.
There’s been a fair amount of discussion in writing circles about agents taking on the role of publisher, stepping in to help clients self-publish their work. When I published Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu], I did the majority of the work on my own, but my agent posted it for sale at Kobo and iBooks (taking their usual 15% commission on sales through those outlets).
Joshua and Eddie at JABberwocky have a post about the issue here, wherein Eddie says, “I think the decision to help an author self-publish a book, after failing to place it with a real publisher, is rooted in hubris.”
Keep in mind that JABberwocky has e-published several books already. The difference being that JABberwocky is publishing out-of-print backlist titles as opposed to releasing original work. Is that a significant difference? I think so. Does it eliminate any ethical conflicts or problems? That’s a better question.
Joshua asks about the agent’s role in the ever-evolving world of publishing. Personally, I want my agent to do several things for me:
That first point is huge, especially when agents go into self-publishing. If an agent e-publishes a client’s original work, is that really the best possible deal? Personally, if I have a book that doesn’t sell, I’d be tempted to wait a few years and come back to it. For the most part, I’m skeptical that self-publishing an original book through your agent is the best possible deal for the author.
Some of the questions I’m asking as I try to sort out the ethics and potential conflicts of interest for myself…
People have asked, “Why give your agent a cut for something you could do yourself?” But that holds true for agents in general. If you’re savvy enough, you can represent yourself, negotiate your own deals, sell your own work overseas … all it takes is time and expertise.
Some of us don’t have the time. Others lack the expertise. While I enjoyed putting together Goblin Tales and Kitemaster, I want to spend most of my time writing, not publishing. That means hiring someone else to do the work.
There are services out there that will do it for you. Is it better to keep those services entirely separate from agents? Maybe … here are a few things to consider in any case.
I think it’s an important conversation, and as always, I’d love to hear thoughts and discussion from other folks.
I’ll be the first to admit there’s been some bad news for bookstores lately. Borders is facing liquidation. Barnes & Noble is doing better, but they’ve had a few speed bumps as well.
So what does this all mean? Are we seeing the long-predicted Death of Print Books? Are the folks who claim New York publishers are dinosaurs, and everyone should run to self/e-publish instead, actually right?1
I did see a dropoff in my Bookscan numbers when Borders closed a group of their stores earlier this year. Maybe doomsday is finally here. Maybe the print book is finally going the way of the 8-track.
The more speculation I read, the more eager I became to see my Bookscan numbers for Snow Queen’s Shadow, which came out at the start of this month. Maybe the end of print, which I’ve been told is just around the corner for roughly a decade now, had arrived at last.
Behold, my print sales for each of my books after release week:
The first thing most folks will notice is the big jump from Red Hood’s Revenge, and the dropoff when Snow Queen came out. Aha! Print is dying!
Actually, Red Hood is an anomaly. Penguin/DAW arranged to get that book included in a riser display in Barnes & Noble, which means the biggest chain in the U.S. ordered more copies and displayed the book more prominently, leading to much higher early sales.
If you eliminate Red Hood, then according to Bookscan, the new book sold more print copies in its first week than any of my previous books, just edging out Mermaid’s Madness.
What does this all mean? Not too much, to be honest. I’m one author, and there could be any number of factors going on here. Maybe I’ve been getting more popular, and the increase in my readership was significant enough to offset dwindling print sales. Maybe because this was the last book in the series, everyone rushed out to get it right away, and I’ll see a faster dropoff in future weeks’ sales. Maybe my Mom bought 1000 copies because she loves me.
But the fact that my print sales are continuing on this curve suggests to me that despite some problems, print ain’t dead yet.
Sure, that doesn’t mean paper books won’t go belly-up tomorrow. But I’ve been hearing predictions of the end of books and commercial publishing for a long time, and I’m just not seeing the data to support it. A new equilibrium between print and e-books, absolutely. The death of print? So far, not so much.
Several people have e-mailed me about Robin Sullivan’s Midlist Author Comparison, wherein she compares my writing income to that of e-published author David Dalglish.
Tangential disclaimer: back in January, I pointed out some errors in Sullivan’s guest post at J. A. Konrath’s place. She recently responded that the errors were part of Konrath’s introduction, and were his mistakes, not hers. Konrath’s post was edited within 24 hours of my post, but looking at it now, it does appear that the mistakes I pointed out are Konrath’s, not Sullivan’s. My apologies to Sullivan for that.
Sullivan’s new post has its own erroneous details, like “Thomas Buckell’s” survey on advances, or my book “Step Sister Scheme” being book #2 of the Faery Taile Project. But the numbers she gives regarding my writing income look correct. I assume the numbers she cites for Dalglish accurately reflect his self-reported sales as well.
I initially planned to ignore the post. I’m getting more and more bored by the “Indies vs. Traditional” thing. I’ve got a friend whose updates have turned into nothing but advertisements of his own books, retweets of other self-pubbed authors, and slams on commercial publishing. It’s tiresome.
My guess is that people who want to believe Sullivan’s conclusions will do so. But here are some of my thoughts as I read her post…
Some of her comments about commercial publishing also jumped out at me:
Draw your own conclusions.
Before I go any further, let me state for the record that MacDonald knows his stuff. He contributes good writing advice at Making Light, Absolute Write, and elsewhere.
That said, I’m gonna argue with a few of his points now, ’cause what fun would it be if we all agreed with each other?
To be a writer, you must write. Absolutely, 100%, yes! However, MacDonald goes on to give the oft-repeated advice, “Write every day.” Good advice, but not an iron-clad rule. I write five days a week, but generally don’t write on weekends. I believe writing every day is a good goal, but ultimately, it’s important to find the schedule that works for you. The important thing is that you’re writing.
On the day you reach THE END, put the book aside for six weeks. Let me put it this way: I wrote, revised, and started submitting Goblin Quest [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] over the course of six weeks, and that seems to have worked out pretty well for me. Distance can be a very good thing, and these days I usually try to do a short story or something else between drafts/books as a palate-cleanser. But once again, writing is like the Matrix: some “rules” can be bent, while others can be broken.1
Now find a publisher. This is exactly what I did when I finished Goblin Quest, actually. It’s not the path I’d follow if I had to do it all over again today. Publishers are slow to respond (2.5 years in one case), and they ask for exclusivity. Personally, I would go directly to querying agents, and let them submit to the publishers. Authors have sold books both ways, as you can see in that First Book Survey someone did earlier this year.
I remember being a new author trying to break in, and assuming that Advice = Law. If a pro said I had to sell short stories before selling a novel, then by Asimov’s Sideburns, that was what I must do!
It messed me up more than once. So while I think it’s incredibly important to listen to authors who have this sort of knowledge and experience, it’s also important to remember that none of us have the Gospel of Getting Published. (And I don’t believe MacDonald is trying to preach Publishing Gospel, but I know how easy it is for new writers to take things as such.)
That said, MacDonald gives some good advice, and those working to break in could do much worse than to take a few minutes to read his post.
I’ve updated the Reporting Sexual Harassment in SF/F page with a link to the Geek Feminism Wiki’s Sample Convention Anti-Harassment Policy. I particularly appreciate the internal guidelines for convention staff.
Months ago, when I was talking about how my e-book sales were about 3-5% of my print sales, a champion of self-publishing said my problem was that my $6.99 e-books were too expensive, and if I dropped the price to $2.99, I’d have better sales.
I posted my first week’s results, and said I’d follow up in a month or so. Well, over the past weekend I came across a post that mentioned the “great success” authors like Jim Hines and others have had putting their own work out through Amazon, which told me it was definitely time for a follow-up.
I’ve got about six weeks worth of data now. Are you ready to see what my great success looks like? B&N doesn’t give a nice week-by-week breakdown, but here are my weekly Amazon Kindle sales.
All total, I’ve sold 21 copies through Amazon. Add in the 4 copies sold through Barnes & Noble, and I’ve made about $70, selling an average of about 4 copies a week.
For those keeping score at home, this would not even cover the conversion costs for having the files prepped. (You can do this yourself, of course, if you have the time and the know-how. I suspect I could have taught myself the tech side, but time is another issue…)
I should note that I’ve done nothing to promote this particular book. I’ve been busy attending cons, working on short stories, revising Snow Queen, and also doing the day job and taking care of the family as my wife recovers from knee surgery. But it’s pretty clear to me that simply putting a book out there isn’t enough.
By contrast, I haven’t really been promoting my books with DAW very much these past weeks, either. In those same six weeks, my books with DAW sold around 2000 print copies (averaging about 300/book), which translates to about a thousand dollars in royalties … $850 for me after my agent takes his cut. (I have no access to the weekly e-book sales for the DAW books.)
I know there are people making self-pubbed e-books work for them. My friend Sherwood Smith has been successfully selling some books this way. I suspect that if I released one of my fantasy titles, either a reprint or an original goblin/princess book, I’d do a lot better. But Goldfish Dreams is a mainstream title, so doesn’t necessarily tap into my preexisting audience.
I also know that an ongoing, persistent sales effort can drive sales. I have friends who keep up a pretty constant sales push to sell their e-books, and it does seem to help them sell more books.
But I barely have time to keep up with the blog. I’d rather keep writing new books and the occasional short story, and let my publisher do most of the work to actually get my books into the hands of readers.
I’ll keep checking in with further data, but my conclusions so far?
Thoughts and comments are welcome, as always!
Reminder – tomorrow is the last day to enter to win books by Tanya Huff and Marie Brennan!
Joshua (my agent) e-mailed me after Monday’s blog post to tell me I should really stop calling myself a midlist author. Personally, I’d rather call myself Segway Ninja and Tribble Juggler Jim C. Hines. But his e-mail got me thinking, and I realized I don’t even know what “midlist” means.
Oh, I know the term originates from publishers’ catalogs. The Big Names are there at the front of the list. Older and poorly-performing books get tucked away in back. The rest get tossed somewhere in the middle of the list, ergo midlist.
Years ago, I remember Elizabeth Bear commenting that to be a midlist author, you have to have five books in print. This isn’t an official Law of Publishing or anything, but it stuck with me. Getting my fifth book into print was a nice little milestone.
But am I a midlist author now? I have six books in print, so maybe I’m upper midlist? Lower frontlist?
Joshua said my sales continue to improve and my backlist is selling well, and these things propel me past midlist status. Maybe I should start calling myself a Future Frontlist Author?
It was also pointed out that, at certain publishers which will remain anonymous, the fact that I’ve made the Locus bestseller list with my past four books would get me billed not as a midlister, but as National Bestselling Author Jim C. Hines.
Pardon me while I choke on my Diet Cherry Pepsi.
I know this much: I’m not about to start slapping “Bestselling Author” onto my business cards. While technically true, it feels deceptive. Like certain self-published authors who make it into the top 10 of some obscure Amazon subcategory and immediately dub themselves “Bestselling Author Spock T. Pizzatrousers” or whatever.
In some ways, this is pointless navel-gazing. Who cares what I call myself, as long as I keep writing, selling, and enjoying it? But the discussion brought something into focus: in certain respects, midlist feels like a relative term, a comparison of your own success to that of other authors … and I have no clue where I fall on that continuum.
I know I’m not selling like Gaiman or Rowling or Harris, or any of those NYT Bestselling authors. But that only tells me I’m not in the very top percentile. Am I in the top ten percent? Twenty? At least in the upper half?
Again, in some respects, it doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to compete with my peers (except maybe that Anton Strout fellow), and as long as DAW keeps buying my books, I’m happy. But I feel like I’m in the dark here. If I’m future-lower-front-and-slightly-off-center list, should I be pushing for larger advances or better/bigger deals? How confident should I be in my long-term career?
It reminds me of karate. In Sanchin-Ryu, I’ve never been told what the requirements are for any given rank. I had to teach myself not to worry about it, and to just concentrate on improving. Let my sensei decide when I’m ready for the next rank. But then, I’m not trying to make a career out of Sanchin-Ryu…
What do you think midlist really means? Who do you think of as midlist authors? And for the published authors, am I the only one who feels clueless about how successful (or not) I really am?
I’ve talked a bit about e-books and self-publishing. There are folks like J. A. Konrath who claim to make it work. When I posted about my electronic royalties, Konrath was one of the first to jump in and say flat-out that $6.99 was too much, and I would make more if the books were cheaper.
I decided to experiment. I’ve taken my mainstream novel Goldfish Dreams and have released it in Amazon’s Kindle store. There’s no DRM, and I priced it at $2.99 for worldwide distribution. I’ve also uploaded it to B&N. (The B&N version is still being processed.)
I intend to be 100% transparent about this, sharing sales and royalties and the rest. I’m as curious as anyone to see what happens.
Here are the advantages I believe I have, going into this:
On the other hand, this is a mainstream book, so I’m not sure how much my stature as a fantasy author will help. And as a reprint of an out-of-print book, I lose the initial friends & family sales, because many of them already have the printed book.
My investment so far:
I honestly don’t know what to expect. I imagine there will be some initial sales, but how many? I couldn’t say. And what will happen in the long term? Will sales grow over time or die off? I keep reading arguments about how e-books can be so much more profitable for authors. Will I actually see a significant profit? Your guess is as good as mine.
I am not going to start going all-out on advertising and self-promotion. For one thing, I don’t have the time. For another, that sort of thing gets annoying fast. I’ll post updates about the experiment, but I’m not going to become That Guy.
Let the experiment begin!
Where to purchase:
Description: Eileen Greenwood’s first year at Southern Michigan University means freedom: freedom from the brother who molested her, freedom from the father who refused to believe her, and freedom from the sister who turned her back on it all. Eileen desperately wants to escape the past and live her life, but nightmares and flashbacks make it impossible to forget what she endured. Instead, she becomes obsessed with learning what transformed her brother into a predator. In the effort to understand, she risks her health, her friendships, and her future. She will face both her own memories of the past, and a monster far worse than her brother … if she can find the strength to confront him.
My post on royalties earlier this week generated some interesting responses, particularly with regard to e-book sales. My e-book sales were, at best, 4.3% of my total sales (for The Stepsister Scheme).
Well … sure. And if the price of the paperback were cheaper, I’d sell more of those. That’s basic economics.
Beneath those responses is, I think, the belief that e-books just aren’t worth $6.99. We’re still arguing over the value of an e-book, meaning both how much does it cost to produce, and how much are people willing to pay?
There’s an assumption that e-books should be cheap because there’s no printing cost. But printing costs are only about 8-10% of the overall cost of producing a book. Shipping and storage are also a factor, but the majority of the costs aren’t about the physical book.
For the sake of argument, I’m talking about professional, commercially produced books. You have to pay the author’s advance and royalties, the cover artist, the editor, the copy editor, the typesetter, the sales force, and that doesn’t even get into distributor costs or the percentages taken by retailers.
“But then how do you explain all of those cheap/free e-books on Amazon, Jim? If they can do it, why can’t you?”
I can, actually. I’m planning to re-release Goldfish Dreams as an e-book, and it will be significantly cheaper than my other books. This book has already been commercially published once, and the rights have reverted to me. So a lot of the professional work has already been done.
When the rights revert to me for my other books, I may consider doing something similar. Cheap e-books seem like one good way to keep an author’s old backlist in print.
But those initial production costs have to get covered somewhere. Sure, I could skip straight to self-publishing for my next book and bypass the publisher, but I don’t have the expertise to produce a good product, and I don’t have the sales force or distribution to get that product out there.
One thing I’ve considered is that it might be cool if the e-book price dropped 50% a year or two after a book came out, assuming the book earned back most of its costs in that first year. But then, why couldn’t you do the same with the print book? (I’m sure there are reasons; I’m just letting my mind wander a bit now.)
I don’t know what the “right” price for an e-book is, or if there’s one correct, fixed price point. $6.99 seems reasonable to me, but it’s obvious some people disagree. I’m personally reluctant to buy an e-book for more than $10 … but if the alternative was a $25 hardcover or waiting a year for the paperback, I might go for the e-book.
I know this is an old and ongoing debate. But I wanted to put a few of my thoughts out there as to why “Just make the e-books cheaper!” doesn’t strike me as the answer.
Discussion welcome, as always.