Saturday, September 17, 2011

Readers with Short Attention Spans, Beware

...'cause this will be a longer post than usual.

I'm reading everywhere that the publishing industry is changing. This is no great surprise -- it's been in the process of changing since Urgh the Neanderthal first chiseled his name on a rock (don't worry, it's okay, he didn't get an advance either). What interests me is the speed at which change is happening; the anguish some folks seem to feel that their crystal ball won't tell them exactly where it's going; the all-of-a-sudden respect e-publishing has gained in some quarters; and the apparent desire of the print industry to either ignore it all or figure out how to keep the print market exactly as it is today.

Speed of change: it's mind-numbing. When I sold my first e-book in 2002, people asked me when it was going to be a "real" (i.e., print-and-paper) book. They also intimated that I should come back and talk about my writing when I'd made a real sale, that meaning a sale to a real, live publishing house with a New York City address. What could one do but grit the teeth and say something on the order of: "It's a real book because I have a real contract and they send me real royalty checks."

Fast forward 9 years. Now according to their own blogs, many established authors who've sold to the same real, live NYC publishing houses are embracing e-books: so much so that they're going direct-to-reader and e-publishing on their own. From one level of ignominy to another! What are they thinking?

Easy. Why let a publisher keep between 92% and 65% of the monies earned when you can keep a higher percentage yourself? Granted, these direct authors have costs: they must buy editing, cover design, and perhaps set-up. But once these costs are cleared, all the proceeds are the author's. Given the right kind of name out there with readers, why wouldn't they go this route?

Speed of change, yes.

Anguish? You betcha. It's out there. People who used to sniff at e-books are now having their stuff released that way. Sometimes the e-version releases simultaneously with the print version, sometimes not. I have resolved to be gracious and not ask any of these folks whether their e-version is a real book....

Scrambling: One author who recently signed a contract with an advance I wouldn't turn up my nose at, is now being told that since she went direct to readers and self-pubbed short stories that house had already rejected, she's in breach of her contract and must give the money back. I wouldn't want this kerfuffle for the biggest advance on the planet. I sense some frantic thinking on the part of this (unnamed) house: "Oh, no! We can't put a stranglehold on our authors' work anymore. What then must we do?" And some beancounter decides, "We won't let her get away with this! We'll yank her contract."

The truth is that nobody really knows how this is going to shake out. People who are taking their work direct to their readers are likely braver than I am.

But I find myself thinking about it.


Janny said...

Ahhh, yes. Why let the publisher keep 92% to 65% of the profits? Well...if the publisher actually KEPT that much of the profit off your book, you'd have a good jumping-off point. Fact is, they don't.

Amazon is strangling publishers' budgets to the screaming point. Their discounts START at something like 45% before they'll even condescend to list your book on the site, and that's for the big boys. Once you lop off 45% of the sale price and start computing expenses from there...the differences between what you keep as an independent author and what you keep as an author contracted with a publishing company start to narrow. When you factor in purchasing the ISBN, doing all the formatting yourself, hiring the cover designers and book designers if need be, copyright expenses, and then realize that your sales price is largely set by Amazon or the site in question where you're publishing...


Self-publishing is an extremely attractive alternative to giving away ANY of the royalties, that's for sure. But it's a lot more headaches up front. PLUS...don't forget carrying a personal indemnity insurance policy for that nutcase who thinks you're libeling him with your third-rate villain. Yes, I know you're basically liable for most of that with the "hold-harmless" clauses in publishing contracts...but to get to that stage in the process, your publisher is also already involved. If you're self-publishing, there's no shield of ANY kind, however flimsy. When there's no shield, someone will see that as a golden opportunity...and I'm wondering why and how that hasn't been addressed much by the self-publishing advocates out there yet.

Maybe because no one's lost his shirt?

It's something to think about, in any case.

Contrary as usual,

Deb said...

I'm not sure the wack job out there is going to be keeping folks from publishing their stuff. The scale dips too heavy on the other side, IMO. As I say, we'll see how this shakes out. Amazon even keeps 30% of the cover price if you self-pub with there's still a piper to pay. It's just that this industry is morphing in some really strange (wacked in their own sense) ways and I'd love to know how it's going to develop over time...just like the rest of us.