Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Will Authors of the Future Make Money?

So! We have spent author monetization week talking about some newfangled ways authors can make money, from self-publishing to blog ads and merchandising to using Kickstarter to fund a book project.

And what's funny about those three posts is that they're actually just new versions of very old traditions. Ben Franklin used his own printing press for Poor Richard's Almanack, Mark Twain made money from the ancillary lecture circuit, and Kickstarter is just a new version of the patronage system.

So. All that said, how do you think authors of the future will and should make money? Should it come from the books? From secondary streams? Will that whole moneymaking thing go away entirely?

And in case you're curious about my attempt at selling t-shirts and mugs, so far I've sold 1 t-shirt and 0 mugs. Zero mugs!! And everyone needs mugs.

Making money? It ain't easy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to Use Kickstarter to Fund a Self-Published Book

It's Day 3 of Author Monetization week! First we looked at making money from books, then from an author's web presence.

I've known author and podcaster Mur Lafferty around the Internet for several years. She's the editor of Escape Pod, the host of I Should Be Writing, and the author of The Afterlife Series. You can find her projects at

Mur has taken an innovative approach to using grassroots funding for her new self-publishing project, and she was gracious enough to guest blog about her experience. Take it away, Mur!

First, a little backstory. I've been podcasting my fiction for a while now, a sort of serialized audio self-publishing tool. Back in 2006 I started a little series I called Heaven about two friends who die, are dissatisfied with their afterlife, and then go wandering. The episodic tales spanned five seasons, ending in 2010. Many listeners asked for me to bring it to print, but I felt confident in it enough to try to shop it to publishers. I was wrong. After exhausting all outlets for publication, I decided to bring it to ebook and do a sort of limited edition self published hardcover (a la Cory Doctorow). I didn't want to do a crap job myself, so I decided to hire someone. The Afterlife series is five novella-length books, so doing it right was going to cost me. Then, I heard about Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a patronage site where you can post information about your creative project and ask for people to fund you within a fixed time period. People pledge money, and if you meet your goal, they pay. If you don't meet your goal, then they lose no money (and you have to find another way to support your creative endeavors.)

I wanted to tell you about my Kickstarter experience: First, I checked around for advice. Neil Gaiman had posted something about Kickstarter and so I followed that link. There are a lot of key factors listed there, but to me, there seemed to be three keys to a successful Kickstarter campaign:

Set a realistic goal, not too high, not too low: So I took in my costs: $1600 for the ebook conversion, but I had to remember there would be costs for Kickstarter (They get 5% if you're successful) and the cost of the rewards (more about that later.) I also needed some software to transcribe Book 3, because I've lost that manuscript and have only the audio file. Lastly, I had to remember postage for reward fulfillment. OK, so I figured I'd shoot for $2000, counting on the fact that I could probably make more than that because of my established audience who wanted the books, in case my math was wrong. (In retrospect, this was likely too low! Your goal is very important, and you need to remember all the details.)

Offer good rewards: People who pledge need incentives, they're not just supporting your awesomeness. So you need to set levels of pledging, and offer different rewards for different levels. For me, I offered to put everyone who pledged in the book, then at $5 they could get a signed postcard from me with a book cover on the other side, and then on up I offered the ebooks for free, a custom thumb drive with the ebooks AND the audio books, and then higher up, the limited edition hardcovers. The whole set of hardcovers, plus the thumb drive, I priced at a $164 pledge. I figured I'd throw in a crazy "brass ring" level at $1,000, saying whoever got that would get me to write the sixth story in the series (as well as all the other goodies.)

Use video to promote: Kickstarter pages have a spot for video in the center of the page; it's more prominent than the area to write about your project. Now this was the weird one. Writing is not a visual activity (prose, not comic books, I mean) and I wasn't an animator, so a hot book trailer was out of the question. But I've heard that video is key to projecting your image, so I got my camera and filmed me talking about the project, its history, the plot of the books, and the incentives. I threw in some art for the book covers (My ebook designer was already at work) and some blurbs I'd gotten from listeners and other authors.

So I had my video, I had my rewards set out, I had my kickstarter page. It was Friday, March 11. I was impatient, but my husband suggested I sleep on it, look over the project in the morning, and then launch it. So at 8:00 am on Saturday, I launched it. Then I put it on Twitter, my two blogs, and Facebook.

I was fully funded by 10:00am. By bedtime I had $5,000.

I was a bit shocked. OK, utterly flabbergasted. Someone had even grabbed the brass ring, a longtime listener of mine, which was vital to pushing it so high so fast. I had people grabbing up the full set of books and several shooting for the $44 pledge to get the copy of the first book.

So then I texted my ebook designer, who was at SXSW, and told him what was going on. He wrote back that we would chat when he got back about how to make the project even more awesome. So now we're talking illustrations, better covers, marketing for the ebook, and he's going to be doing the work for the hardcover book layouts.

Naturally, as the days went on, it slowed down. I tried not to give Twitter "Mur Fatigue" and hawk my campaign too much. I did an update for the campaign, explaining why you'd want to pledge since I was already funded (in short, Kickstarter is the only way to get the hardcovers, and pledges will make the ebooks and the eventual softcovers even cooler). On March 20 I did bang the drums a little on Twitter to push the project over $10,000. Some days I have no pledges, some days I'll be surprised by three people wanting the whole set.

We're halfway through the campaign now, and I'm trying to gather the lessons I've learned so far:
  1. Don't expect this kind of success for every project. I read somewhere (sorry, source lost) that about 40% of projects are successful on Kickstarter. As I said, this is my most loved work of all the stuff I've released in the past 5 years. There was a built in audience for it. If I launched a new project today, I don't know how many of my listeners would go for an unknown project. So even though my eyes are glazed over by the sheer surreality of having my project be 562% funded as of March 24, I have to know I can't expect this rate of success for every project.
  2. People can, and do, withdraw pledges. I had someone pledge at the $300 level (wow! yay!) and a day later, remove it (...poo). I have no idea how to factor this reality into your planning, but be aware it could happen.
  3. People want 1 book, 2 books, or 5 books. I have almost no pledges for the 3 and 4 book offers. If you're thinking of pushing a series, consider that most people are either a little in, or all in. 
  4. Your fans/followers are your key to success. I had people retweet my news, put it on facebook, and blog about it, bringing new people to check out my work because of it. If you don't think you have fans, don't discount any social media following; still promote like mad. You never know who will pick up your project and promote it (there was one project that, on its last day, was promoted by Neil Gaiman on Twitter. Dude was looking for $8500, and he was at only $6000 with hours left. Gaiman's tweet pushed him easily to over $10,000.)
  5. It doesn't stop when you're fully funded. As I understand it, you wait for the whole period of funding (April 11 for me), then the money takes about a week to go from Amazon Payments to you. Then you need to keep in touch with your backers to get their addresses and any personalization info you require -- Kickstarter provides an excellent tool for that, allowing you to contact people who have pledged at different reward tiers. This way I can ask the people who pledged $200 questions that are moot to people who pledged $9. Then you must fulfill. I don't think Kickstarter has a tool for punishing people who don't fulfill, but they do hint that you could be in for some legal badness from your backers.
    For me, fulfillment means having the illustrators get to work, having the ebook designer finalize the covers and conversions, do the hardcover designs, and order the books. I'm frankly terrified at the actual physical act of fulfillment, but I have local friends who have volunteered to help me ship books.

And then I can't forget to actually launch the ebooks, the real reason I'm doing all of this!

To say I'm glad I used Kickstarter is like saying puppies are kinda cute. This monstrous success is giving me hopes in my future of self-ebook publishing, and I will use it again.

Kickstarter is a fantastic took for anyone doing creative stuff. I've backed journal makers, comic book artists, dice makers, and an iPhone app. People use it for film, movies, music, handmade instruments, and more. The site has a fantastic FAQ, and I'm available for questions if anyone wishes to discuss further. And if you want to support my Kickstarter project, well, that's cool too. :)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Make Money From Your Web Presence

It's Day 2 of Author Monetization Week! Yesterday we looked at, you know, making money off that whole book thing. But come on, that's SO 2007.

Even as early as 2008, Paul Krugman was wondering if authors would soon find that the ancillary market is the market. With the advent of the Kindle he saw low prices coming, and with low prices comes pressure to find new ways of making money, much as musicians turned increasingly to live venues to make up for plummeting music sales.

But non-celeb authors aren't exactly selling out nightclubs. So how about making a penny or two from ye olde blog?

Here are some ideas. Note that I am not currently monetizing my blog at all, unless you count my books (which we don't). But the gears, they are turning IN MY HEAD.


The most obvious way to make some dinero from your web presence is through advertising. Now, there are lots and lots of ways of going about this. Some blog platforms, such as Blogger, offer integration with advertisers like Google's Ad Sense. It's pretty easy to set up by adding Ad Sense widgets/banners to your site, and the amount you earn will vary depending on your traffic and the number of people who click on your ads.

If you have very consistent traffic and/or a specific focus for your blog, you can also apply to join an ad network like BlogHer or Federated Media, which offer higher returns, sometimes as high or higher than $10 per thousand page views.

And if you get really huge and you're extremely in-the-know, you can sell those ads yourself.

Also, advertising doesn't stop with the blog! You can work through RSS feeders like Feedburner to add ads to your RSS feed and you can advertise in a newsletters as well. And don't forget about photos and slideshows, which can significantly increase your number of clicks.

Affiliate Marketing

Another way to make money from a web presence is with Affiliate Marketing.

What is affiliate marketing? Well, basically whenever your recommend a product (or book or movie or lawnmower), you can link to a vendor like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's, or WalMart. Whenever someone clicks through that link and buys something (and often even when they buy more than the thing you linked to), you get a commission.

Before you go slapping links everywhere and Tweeting how much you love Three Wolf Moon T-shirts, remember that the FTC says you need to disclose your participation in the programs when recommending stuff, even via Twitter. (Disclosure: I don't participate in an affiliate program and find Three Wolf Moon T-shirts awesome)

How much can you make? As always, it depends on how much you sell, but some programs offer upwards of 6% or more on sales.


And, of course, you can sell stuff.

It's extremely easy to get set up in CafePress and design and start selling t-shirts, mugs, and more, especially if you are artistic. On every sale you get a 10% commission. You know you want a T-shirt that says "What do you have against rhetorical questions?"

With Merch, the sky is seriously the limit. You can use your presence to sell goods through Etsy or work with a store platform like Open Sky to create your own merchandising outlet. 


We're all good hearty Ron Swanson-style capitalists, right? Welllll... not so fast.

Author website monetization is not without its discontents, and there have been articles decrying the practice of book bloggers receiving money for the books they're reviewing. And some people feel there's a certain unseemliness to authors milking their web presence for all it's worth.

Doesn't it affect their impartiality? Shouldn't it be all about the readers?

I have lots of questions:
  • Do you think authors should open up the money-making spigot or does it corrupt the experience for readers?
  • Do you find blog ads obtrusive? How much is too much?
  • Do you think certain affiliate programs are better than others? 
  • Do you still trust a reviewer when you know they're participating in an affiliate program?
  • What are some other ways authors can monetize their web presence?
  • Do you want the rhetorical question t-shirt so badly you may die of want or just really really REALLY badly? No? What about a mug?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Which Way Will You Make More Money?

It's author monetization week! Monday through Thursday this week I'm going to have a series of posts on a crucial topic for the modern writer: How to make money.

Today we'll start with the books themselves. With the e-revolution (e-volution?) well underway, print sales are declining and there's a great disparity between the amount an author can make per-copy with a self-published e-book vs. a traditionally published e-book. Authors are taking a hard look at their balance sheets.

How is it that authors are making more per copy from $2.99 e-books than traditionally published are with $10.99 e-books? Does it mean everyone should self-publish?

First, some important background information to start:

Standard royalties via traditional publishers (note: these may vary):
Hardcover: 10% retail, sometimes escalating to 15% after sales thresholds are met
Trade paperback: 7.5% retail
Mass market: 8% retail
E-book: 25% net (usually translates to 17.5% retail)

Kindle revenue share for self-published authors (source):
Priced higher than $9.99: 35% retail
Priced between $2.99-$9.99: 70% retail
Priced below $2.99: 35% retail

B&N revenue share for self-published authors (source)
Priced higher than $9.99: 40% retail
Priced between $2.99-$9.99: 65% retail
Priced below $2.99: 40% retail

E-distribution fee:
Smashwords: about 15% (explained here). Usually translates to about 60% of the retail price.

Approximate E-book market share (source):
Amazon: ~55%
B&N: ~25%
Others (Kobo, Apple, Google, Sony, etc.): ~20% combined

So. Now that we have those numbers, the real question is: How do you use them? Especially when you don't know the variables of how many copies you're going to sell in which formats at which prices?

Well, here's how. Start running various scenarios:

Scenario #1: Barry Eisler

Thanks to Barry's wonderfully transparent conversation with Joe Konrath, we know he was offered $500,000 for two books, turned it down, and currently plans to (I believe) self-publish his e-books on Amazon with a price around $4.99, or via Smashwords.

Assuming he doesn't also work out a deal with Amazon (or B&N, as Shatzkin suggests) for the print component, the math is relatively simple: How many e-books do you have to sell to make $250,000?

If he self-publishes only via Amazon he'll make 70% of $4.99, or roughly $3.49 per copy. His break-even point would be 71,633 e-books. (UPDATE: Barry notes that his break-even point is actually $215,000 since he isn't using an agent to self-publish).

If he self-publishes via Smashwords, he'll make roughly 60% of $4.99, or $2.99 per copy. His break-even point would be 83,612 e-books.

Or he could deal directly with Amazon and B&N, and use Smashwords to reach the other 20% of the market (UPDATE: this paragraph and the next one was updated based on feedback from Cameron Chapman)

All things being equal, let's say he sold those 71,633 e-books to break even at $250,000 with Amazon (with 55% market share). In that case he'd sell an additional 32,560 copies through B&N for earnings of $105,608.36, and about 26,048 through Smashwords for earnings of about $77,884.61. Getting the e-book out there widely is the way to go.

Lastly lastly, if he does work out a print component that would be a bonus to the above depending on the printing costs and level of distribution. But if he doesn't work out a print deal, he's essentially betting he can sell more than 70,000 e-books.

Scenario #2: Amanda Hocking

Amanda Hocking recently agreed to a rumored $2 million deal for four books from St. Martin's Press. Assuming the royalty levels are standard, she's giving up quite a bit per copy on e-book sales in order to break out in the print world. Was it worth it?

First, as Hocking herself writes, her reasons go beyond monetary, and she states that her desire to focus on writing was her primary motivation for going with a traditional publisher. But let's take a look at what has to happen in print in order to make up for what she's giving up in e-book royalties.

Now, a lot of this depends on St. Martin's pricing decisions. But let's say they decide to keep the same $2.99 price point for her e-books, which has worked very well so far. In that case, the amount she earns per e-book sold plummets from $2.09 as a self-published author (70% of $2.99) to $0.52 (17.5% of $2.99) as a traditionally published author. So assuming St. Martin's doesn't dramatically boost her overall e-book sales numbers, she needs to make $1.57 in print sales for every e-book sold to break even on a per-copy level. Is that a good bet?

Well, right now when e-books represent approximately 20-30% of the market, it's somewhat of a safe bet. Hocking will likely sell, I'd predict, a mix of hardcover and mass market paperback. Over the lifespan of her books, let's say 75% of those print sales are mass market (priced at $7.99, 8% royalties) and 25% are hardcover (priced around $22.00, 10% royalties). In that case, the average print sale would generate about $1.03 in royalties.

Assuming she sells eight print copies for every two e-books sold, she makes way more in print royalties than she loses in e-book royalties. Two e-books sold as a self-published author equal $4.18. Two e-books plus eight print books as a traditionally published author equals $9.28 (minus commission). But if she sells, say, six print books for every four e-books traditionally ($6.18), compared to four e-books as a self-published author, those gains evaporate ($8.36).

If she breaks out in print or if St. Martin's boosts her sales significantly, the decision will definitely have been worth it (not to mention that she has a guaranteed $2 million that she gets no matter what). But if the bulk of her sales continue to be in the e-book format, she may lose money per copy sold.

Scenario #3: The Law of Averages

So, this following scenario doesn't really exist. Authors tend to be either hardcover/trade paperback or hardcover/mass market or straight trade paperback or straight mass market authors with a mix of e-books thrown in. And authors who deeply discount their e-books can sell a very disproportionate number.

But let's say that you're the perfectly average author and you're deciding between traditional publishing and self-publishing. And we'll use the January revenue numbers as a (very rough) guide.

I don't know the average hardcover/trade paper/mass market/e-book prices, but let's say $24.99/$14.95/$7.99/$10.99 and the net to publishers is 50%/50%/50%/70%

That means your sales will be about:

11% hardcover
33% trade paperback
29% mass market
27% e-book

If you're a traditionally published author with books available in all channels, you'll make about $1.35 per copy sold across all formats: [($24.99*.10 royalty*.11 share)+($14.95*.075 royalty*.33 share)+($7.99*.08 royalty*.29 share)+($10.99*.175 royalty*.27 share)].

If you're a self-published author working with Smashwords and selling your e-book for $4.99, you make about $2.99 per copy sold, but are only reaching 27% of the market, so an effective hypothetical-per-copy revenue of $0.81 across all formats.

So it really comes down to whether you can move print copies. My ultimate conclusion:

If you can sell print copies, all things being equal there's still the bulk of the money to be made there. 

But if you're not going out in print in a big way, a self-published e-book is absolutely the way to go.

If you'd like to play around with some of these numbers, please check out Ted Weinstein's very helpful spreadsheet (and thanks to John Ochwat for pointing it out).

Also, if any of this math is wrong (and there's a lot of it), please correct me!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

This Week in Books 3/25/11

This week! Books! On Saturday!

Huge news this week, as a federal judge rejected the Google Book Settlement. If you recall, Google had scanned basically every book in the world and was hoping to make them all available. But there are a ton of old books where the rights situation is uncertain. Technically the books are under copyright, but who knows where the rightsholders are. The judge ruled that the settlement effectively gave Google a de facto monopoly over those books. The Author's Guild and the AAP are hoping to amend the settlement to pass legal muster.

It was the tale of two authors this week. First came news that, as mentioned on Wednesday, bestselling author Barry Eisler passed up a $500,000 deal from a major publisher in order to self-publish. Among Eisler's reasons were frustration with traditional publisher's royalties and pricing model, and a desire to get his book out earlier. Industry sage Mike Shatzkin calls it "a key benchmark on the road to wherever it is we're going."

Meanwhile, self-published superstar Amanda Hocking went the opposite route and decided to move to a major publisher, to the tune of a $2 million deal with St. Martin's. Among Hocking's reasons were wanting to reach readers through bookstores and more editing.

So... who's right and who's wrong? As Kassia Krozsser says: they're both right. And that's the great thing about this new era. Authors with a following now have a choice about which route they want to pursue. My colleague David Carnoy, author of KNIFE MUSIC, talked about his own move from self-publishing to traditional publishing in a recent interview.

Meanwhile, John Ochwat passed me this link first: E-book Publishing Bingo

Also, Barnes & Noble is still looking for a buyer, and the Economist had an interesting article on the decline of Borders and of bookstores in general.

Introverts unite! Shrinking Violet Promotions had a great post on dispelling myths about introverts.

And agent Jane Dystel has a helpful list of pet peeves, which serve as a guide to a productive relationship between author and agent.

This week in the Forums, how to get your writing mojo back after a long break, discussing the services provided by publishers, story goals changing midstream, and of course, March Madness!

Comment! of! the! Week! There are two comments I wanted to highlight this week. First, the incomporable Bryan Russell on balance:
I think balance, for most people, is a fairly amorphous thing. It's not something that you have, or don't have, but something that you are always working toward, something that is always evolving, always shaping itself around new experiences and new parameters in your life.

It's a matter of degree. Life is always changing, and so the goal of balance, and the processes for finding it, are in constant flux as well. A new concern, a new need, a new friendship, a new hobby, a new responsibility - these things will all transform your idea of balance. They'll transform, whether to a small degree or a large, what you need, what you want, and, simply, what you can actually accomplish.

And this last point, it seems to me, is important. That evolution toward balance is an evolution toward meeting goals that are within reach, that we can actually accomplish. A plan is great, but if it depends on things out of your hands it's going to be hard to find balance. You'll always be needing to do one more thing, and other activities will be pulled along in your wake like a rusty old tailpipe; you might hear the rattle sometimes, but you've forgotten how to get to the mechanic's garage.
And a publishing insider sheds some light on some of the day-to-day irreplaceable elements that keep publishers in New York.

And finally, a video that's just as mesmerizing now as when I saw it when I was five... crayons! (via Mashable)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why (Most) Publishers Are Still In New York

When publishing outsiders are suggesting cures for what ails the business, one very common suggestion is that publishers ditch their New York real estate and head for the sticks. Why do they need to pay Manhattan rent?

Why indeed?

Well, first this ignores that there are actually quite a few publishers outside of New York. You have Sourcebooks in Chicago, Chronicle in San Francisco, and many many more.

And there's a historical explanation as well: New York has been an important center of the American publishing world since the early 1800s.

But setting that aside, why are the Big Six all still in New York? Why don't they hightail it to South Dakota?

The same reason Apple and Google are in Silicon Valley, Wall Street is on Wall Street, and Hollywood is in Hollywood: Industries tend to cluster in certain areas and derive more benefit from drawing upon a talent pool and networking than they lose in increased rent.

You can actually observe this on an individual store level (think: the Diamond District in New York). Shops cluster together and derive benefits from the increased traffic. But that's retail.

Urban studies theorist Richard Florida has written about the power of industry density. He writes:
Density makes it easier for people and firms to interact and connect with one another, and it reduces the effort, friction, and energy that's used to make these connections. Density increases the speed at which new ideas are conceived and diffused across the economy, accelerating the speed with which new enterprises and new industries are created.
In New York, publishers can draw upon being close to the other major media outlets, they can draw upon a highly educated and creative workforce, are more likely to attract executive talent, draw upon the cachet of being one of the New York publishers, and network with writers themselves, many of whom live in New York.

And to a certain extent publishers have already moved to Scranton: one of the jokes on The Office was that they were trying to win HarperCollins' business. Well, Scranton really is where HarperCollins' accounting department is located. What's in New York? Editorial, art, marketing, sales, executives.

It's easy to just say, oh, well, all those people can up and move, or you can find people with those qualifications elsewhere. But moving carries its own costs, and the people working at publishers are highly skilled. It would be extremely difficult to migrate those operations elsewhere on a major scale.

All that said: Things do change!

Los Angeles and New York used to be the center of the music industry, but no longer. Now Nashville is growing in clout. Detroit used to be the undisputed center of the auto industry, but now plants are increasingly opening in the Deep South.

Could publishing be forced from NYC? Random House recently saved "millions" of dollars by downsizing its footprint, and these days millions isn't anything to sneeze at, but we're talking about a company with revenue in the billions. "Millions" is not exactly the difference between wild profitability and turning out the lights.

And then there's this: Publishers are able to draw upon a tremendous wealth of publishing talent in New York, and if there's one thing publishers need to weather this massive transformation: it's talent.

What do you think? Is it NYC or bust for publishers?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What Will the Publishing Industry Look Like in Five Years?

Things are definitely changing fast. With some authors already making a major splash with e-publishing, this week came news that bestselling novelist Barry Eisler passed up a $500,000 book deal from a major publisher in order to wade into the self-publishing waters.

E-books are become more and more a part of the landscape, though how quickly they become more than 50% remains to be seen.

My question for you this Wednesday: What do you think the publishing landscape will look like in five years? Will e-books have taken over? Will publishers be struggling or thriving? Do you think the future for books looks bright or bleak?

In 2016, how will things look for publishers, agents, bookstores, and, oh yes, authors and readers?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cutest Baby Ever

So! In my neverending search for balance... Well, I didn't balance my way to a blog post for today.

Instead... I give you... the world's newest viral star:

(If you're reading in a feed or via e-mail please click through to see the video)

Happy Tuesday!

(via Mashable)

Monday, March 21, 2011

How to Find Balance?

There's a joke at every college that you can study, sleep, and have a social life, but only two out of three. And when you're out in the real world and trying to build a career at whatever you're doing, that may as well be two out of three of work, sleep, and a social life. And yet we writers with day jobs are trying to cram a hugely time-consuming fourth task in there: writing. There's never enough time.

These past few years I was on a treadmill that I know many writers can relate to. If it wasn't working, writing, blogging, or watching the occasional TV show or basketball game at the end of the night, chances are I wasn't doing it. I lived for the vacations I took every six months or so - those were my breaks.

The time I took for doing purely fun things slipped away, and the day when I was going to slow down kept receding in the distance. It was a bit of an unsustainable course. Now, I didn't go Britney Spears and shave my head or anything like that, but something had to give, which is partly why I craved a fresh start and a new challenge in a new career. I knew I had to find a different balance.

This all came to a head the past few months. I was starting a new job as I was trying to finish up WONDERBAR #2 (which I'm now editing), starting WONDERBAR #3, spending time with family around the holidays, dealing with a sick dog who wasn't sleeping through the night (he's fine now), and other assorted massively time consuming travails.

The thing about this is that I know full well these are the problems of someone who is very blessed and fortunate, and I'm not asking for, nor do I deserve, sympathy. I know I'm lucky! Oh - gee, my hobby that I love is too time-consuming. Woe is me. There are people out there who are working far harder and who are struggling and for whom the idea of finding "balance" in their life is an abstraction.

But I also know that's the guilt of the ambitious writer talking, and it's a great justification for running yourself into the ground. Someone out there is always working harder and more successfully and look like they have it made in the shade. I have to remind myself to ignore that. If you have the luxury of time: It really behooves you to take some of it for yourself.

So these past few months I've been searching for a new paradigm. No longer am I working late into the night; I'm trying to spend my weeknights hanging out with friends. No longer am I spending every single Saturday and Sunday writing; I'm trying to spend at least one of those days doing something fun. My new job is going great and I'm trying to get out of the apartment more and reengage with the world. One day I went to the Steinhart Aquarium and just stared at the fish, which made me feel slightly crazy, but hey, what can I say world, I'm back!!

Have you ever gone through a similar rebalancing of your life? How did you find the right mix, and are you happier as a result?

Friday, March 18, 2011

This Week in Books 3/18/11

The Books! This Week!

First up, one of my blog readers is an editor in Egypt, and as there aren't many/any agents in Egypt (but there could be), she's hoping to work as a virtual intern at a literary agency to learn more about the trade. I know we're all rooting for Egypt after the revolution, any agents out there who could help her out

There was a very interesting discussion over at All Indie Publishing triggered by the always-interesting Zoe Winters. The topic: Do 99 Cent E-books Attract the Wrong Kind of Reader? Now, at first blush, your answer might be, as John Ochwat put it on Twitter, "If readers are wrong, I don't want to be right." But Zoe's thoughts are worth a read in full. Does the price affect a reader's loyalty and the perception of value? (via OtherLisa)

Is all publicity really good publicity? Well, according to a study spotted by The Millions: It all depends. For established writers, bad publicity can hurt sales. For new writers: Bad publicity actually helps.

Very smart editor Cheryl Klein has self-published a guide to writing called SECOND SIGHT, definitely check that out!

The New York Observer took an anthropological look at the "Assisterati," the collective of extremely smart assistants who are reading many of your queries and performing essential tasks behind the scenes at agencies. And yes, the "Assisterati" Twitter account was started just a week later.

What do you get when you take an author's first novel, which is the first sale by her agent and the first acquisition by her editor? Well, in this case you get THE TIGER'S WIFE by Tea Obreht, currently the toast of the literary scene.

In writing and publishing advice news, guest blogging at Pimp My Novel, Brad Philips offers nine ways to give a better reading, Finslippy gives advice on attending conferences, and agent Rachelle Gardner had three great publishing mythbusting posts here, here and here.

And in so wrong it's right news... real life re-creations of romance novel covers. (via Stephen Shankland)

This week in the Forums, March Madness is so on, can social media self-promotion be a bad thing, an authors for Japan benefit auction, the Great Gatsby mansion is going to be razed, and does grammar matter?

Comment! of! the! Week! Again, another great week for comments, but I had to go with Melissa Romo, who had a great metaphor on the way building a social media following works:

...I'm working on a novel (about to query) and I liken the entire project, including social media, to the formation of a planet. It takes time to form a center if gravity that will start attracting sizable enough chunks of dirt to form anything of a meaningful size.

And finally, it's been an incredibly difficult week for a lot of the world. Which is why we all need a little more Flight of the Conchords in our life. Frodo, don't wear the ring!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Social Media: There's No Such Thing as Too Early

Author friends and casual acquaintances often express to me a reluctance to wade into the Bloggy Facebooky Twittery waters. I hear many reasons, but the top one is usually:

"But shouldn't I wait for when I need to promote something/when my book comes out/when my book is popular/when I already have a following/some arbitrary point in the distant future?"

Nope, nope and nope. There's no such thing as too early.

Seth Godin famously said (the things Seth Godin says usually become famous) that for authors, the best time to start your promotional efforts is three years before your book comes out.

Why? Because it takes "three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you'll need later."

If you start when your book comes out you're way, way too late.

Promotion vs. Social

Seth's bit of (famous) advice is often applied to social media. It's great advice, and even Seth's explanation has a social component, but note that Seth is talking about promotional efforts. Not social media as a whole, which to me has no timeline at all. You should just start now.

Because if you're using social media solely to promote, well, chances are you're doing it wrong.

My new favorite catch phrase, which I have trademarked, patented, and have paid to have etched into the moon, is this: Social media is social.

It's not about promotion, it's not about broadcasting, it's not about you you you. It's about connecting with people.

Do you need to be famous to connect with people? Do you need to have a book to connect with people? No! You just need an Internet connection, dedication, an open-mind, and a willingness to reach out.

It takes time to build up those connections, and eventually, if you're providing good content or a good experience, those one-to-one connections transition into a following.

But make no mistake: It's still about making a personal connection with your audience and being a part of real lives. It's still social.


In our hyper-connected time, social media is not only increasingly how word of mouth spreads and how we connect with one another, it's almost becoming a new kind of currency.

In Cory Doctorow's uber-prescient novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, money has been replaced with "whuffie," a reputation-based currency that rises and falls based on what people think of you. Basically, if people like you you're rich and you can get all the best tables in restaurants. If they don't like you, an unfortunate scandal can send you to the poor house.

We're obviously not there yet (and thank goodness), but just look at the measures of "influencers" (social media buzz word for someone with a high following) that are cropping up right and left. Sites like Klout and Peer Index are hard at work trying to quantify online popularity and influence, and the idea of offering special perks to people with high influence scores is starting to percolate. The Sacramento Kings, for instance, invited 25 fans and business leaders with top Klout scores for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now, the idea that you're going to be objectively judged someday on your Twitter presence may well send a chill down your spine, but I wouldn't read that much into it. It's more of a sign of the omnipresence and future of social media and how the ability to broadcast is a kind of currency.

Blogs and Twitter and Facebook... those are just the tools. What we're building is a network. And what was once ephemeral (reputation) can now be sort of kinda quantified.

Whuffie has basically become real.

What are you waiting for?

But aside from all that buzz about influencers and reputational analysis, let's not forget that whole social is social thing. And the thing about being social is that it's fun!

Sure, you may be an introvert like me, but you can pick and choose your experiences. You can make reach out to people, and soon enough those virtual friends may become your real friends. This is increasingly how we connect with like-minded people, and the best part is that it works.

It's really fun to do, and you can make the experience whatever you want. If you like Twitter, do that. If you like blogging, do that. If you are a Facebook maven, go for it. There's no right or wrong way to go about it and you can invent your own way if it doesn't exist.

But what it all comes down to is this: Social media is the future, and the time to start is now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Is Your Advice to Bookstores?

We've talked a whole lot about e-books this past week, about the new Kindle millionaires, how e-books are priced relative to hardcovers, and I even confessed that I find e-books superior to paper (but still buy paper books, swear!)

What would you tell a bookstore owner in this landscape?

What could they be doing to survive or even thrive amid the chaos?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The 3rd Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!!

It's on. It's SO on.

It's NCAA tournament time, and we're back with the 3rd Blog Bracket Challenge! Just like last year we shall determine who among us is the literary bracket picking champion OF THEM ALL.

In case you've never participated in a bracket challenge or don't know what an NCAA is: You're absolutely going to win. Basketball knowledge is not required to win, and in fact is often considered an impediment.

All you have to do is pick winners in a tournament field of 64 (er, 65, er, 68) and you're probably better off picking based on colors and/or mascots and/or funny names than stats.

The winner with the most points at the end of the NCAA tournament will win a query critique and a signed galley of JACOB WONDERBAR!!

Here's how to enter:

1. Go to the front page of the ESPN tournament challenge:

2. Make your picks.

3. If you have an ESPN username and password you can log in when you submit your picks, otherwise you may need to create a new user ID and password. But don't worry, it's not onerous and you can decline to receive updates in case you're spam conscious.

4. Hover over the link that says "My Groups" and then click "Create or Join a Group"

5. Search for "Bransford Blog Challenge." Enter the password, which is "rhetorical" and then click Join Group.

Then you're all set! You can make changes to your bracket by clicking on it until it locks on Thursday (and yes, there are play-in games before then, but the bracket still doesn't lock until Thursday).

Please limit yourself to one entry

All updates/trahstalking will occur in this dedicated thread in the Forums, so make sure to join us there.

Good luck!!

Photo by Rick Dikeman via a Creative Commons license

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Is the Future of the Book Review?

Friend of the blog Stephen Parrish passed along a PW link about Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles and his popular (and funny) video reviews.

Here, for instance, is his review of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen:

It got Stephen (and me) to thinking... what is the future of the book review? Do you read reviews? And which kind?

Is Charles' embrace of a non-print format a further sign this is the end of the road for the print review? Or is he breathing new life into them?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

This Week in Books 3/11/11

This week in books! Just a little late!

I wasn't able to get this up on Friday as I was watching the fabulous Stringer Belle and todayokay at the Hotel Utah Thursday evening, but I saved up lots and lots of links for your weekend! Oh, and if you want to see Stringer Belle yourself, I shall see you at Cafe du Nord on April 21st. In the meantime, give Take This Song a listen. Good stuff!!

This week I also had the pleasure of participating in a podcast with Mike Wolf, in which I talk about what I do in my new job, what it was like leaving agenting, and some talk about the future of publishing. (Check out Mike's awesome interview with Seth Godin as well)

The YA Mafia wars heated up around the blogosphere as people wondered: Is there a YA Mafia? Who's in it? How do I avoid swimming with the YA fishes? Basically, accusations of cliquishness have been flying and hashtags were formed. YA Highway has a helpful summary, and Jenn Laughran, Ally Carter and Natalie Whipple were among those weighing in. My response: Yes, there are cliques on the Internet. No, it's not a conspiracy. Yes, I'm in a top secret underground blog alliance. No, we won't kill you. Yes, I'm kidding.

If you sold 40 million books would you keep your day job? Jeff Kinney did! The author of the Wimpy Kids phenomenon has kept up on the website Poptropica, a virtual website for pre-teens that he developed the idea for. Pretty cool.

Blogging. Does it help your writing career or is it a waste of time? Should I stop here and call it an afternoon? Well, Justine Musk wrote a pretty cool defense of blogging that has some very good blog advice mixed in as well. Basically: be patient, don't obsess over your stats, and write some epic $*#& (via Jenn Laughran)

Ever wonder how a book-to-film deal happens? Agent Rachelle Gardner wrote a great two part series explaining how it works.

Problem: Authors can't sign Kindles. Solution: Invent a really cool app that does just that.

The newest publishing phenomenon isn't vampires. Instead: A book about an eleven year old who had a near death experience and met Jesus. The New York Times took a look at the story behind HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, which has sold 1.5 million copies and counting.

What's in a name? Well, for Hadley Freeman the answer is: A lot. She wrote a fascinating article on her obsession with the other Hadley (Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife), the burden Hadley Richardson represented for her, and how she ultimately came to appreciate Richardson thanks to a new bio.

And in couldn't-fit-it-elsewhere news, Ward Shelley created an amazing science fiction flow chart, and the people behind Funny or Die are launching a book imprint.

This week in the Forums, I launched a new forum dedicated to social media, so if you have social media news, want to talk blogs or Facebooks or what have you, please stop by! It's way easier to register for the forums than it used to be, so don't hesitate to register. Also being discussed: dystopian book recommendations, sex in fiction, writing in a genre that's been "done," and, of course, crayons!

Comments! of! the! Week! This has truly been one of the great comments week in this blog's history. THANK YOU so much to everyone who has weighed in, it's been completely fascinating. I already highlighted some great comments on Tuesday, but wanted to post two more. First, Jim Duncan talks about some of the benefits of traditional publishing (which he expanded on in his own post):

Such an interesting topic. The one thing that struck me most about Hocking's post is that she stated how much her efforts at trying to make success have cut into her ability to have time to write. For me, this is the biggest drawback to the whole self-publishing business. I love the idea. I cringe at the massive amount of time and effort required to have any chance at success.

Honestly, I'd rather be writing. My chances overall are still greater through a publishing house, and they do their best to take care of things I'd rather not take the time and effort to deal with. I'm not a full-time writer. I work, have a family, and such, so writing is not a full-time job. Self-publishing is not a "do it on the weekend" gig, not if you want to have a chance at success. It is it's own business, and unless you can afford to hold down two jobs, I still don't recommend this as a first or best option for writers.

Sure, it's fine if you are just wanting to get your story out there, and yes, good things can happen. They do and will continue to do so, but I don't believe a lot of writers get how much beyond the writing it can be to deal with all aspects of putting a well done story out there.

For now, I'm very happy letting others take care of many of the things I don't want and can't afford to be involved in. Perhaps one day, if I'm selling well enough to cover the costs of living, raising kids, having insurance, and so on, I'll delve headfirst into this realm, but for now, I'm content with a paper publisher (and yes, they'll have an e-version available), and having the time to write more stories.
And Karen Wester Newton on Thursday's post about the pricing curiosities of e-books vs. hardcovers:

I really think publishers are missing one key fact with their current strategy. In the past, they would put out the hardback first, then a year or so later the paperback. Readers who didn't want the hardback, either because of cost or space issues, would notice the paperback on the New Releases table when they went to the book store, and say, "Great, it's out; now I'll buy it."

A lot of eBook buyers don't go to the bookstore anymore. There won't be new reviews when the paperback comes out, and the publishers lower the price on the ebook (if they remember; it does not always happen). How will the ebook reader know the book he was interested is now a more reasonably priced ebook? Generally speaking, he probably won't know. So publishers may be protecting the revenue they get from the reader who will buy the hardback instead, but they are also losing revenue from the reader who doesn't want the hardback at all and will only buy the ebook. It's question of which number is greater. As the number of ebook buyers grows, publishers need to find a way to not only manage price changes but let readers know about the changes.

And finally, here's an incredible glimpse at the future, courtesy of Corning Glass. My favorite YouTube comment: Our future will be vulnerable to rocks.

Have a great weekend! Which is already here!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why Some E-Books Cost More Than the Hardcover

The good people at Reddit recently noticed something peculiar and engaged in a spirited debate about it. The topic? A bete noir for many an e-book reader:

E-books priced more than their print edition.

How could this possibly be? Paper costs more than electrons, so surely e-books should be cheaper, right?

Believe it or not, this isn't a glitch. And it's not happening because publishers are asleep at the wheel either.

Come down the rabbit hole with me into the wholesale/agency tunnel, and I'll tell you why this is happening.

Ye Olde Wholesale

First, as always, we have to start with some dry background information. For a very long time publishers have had a system where they set the suggested retail price and take roughly half of that. Whatever the bookseller wants to charge from there is their business.

So, napkin math, if a book is listed with a $24.99 cover price the publisher would get about $12.50 of that, which they would split with the author, cover their costs, hopefully make a profit, etc. (Further background here.)

If the book sells for $24.99 the bookseller also gets $12.50. Or, if the bookseller discounts it to $19.99, well, that comes out of the bookseller's take and and the bookseller gets about $7.50. Heck, the bookseller could charge the consumer $10.00 and take a loss. That's their business. The publisher still gets their $12.50.

For a long time this system worked without too much disruption. Then came Amazon.

Enter the Kindle

A couple of things happened in the past couple of years that had publishers rather nervous.

First came the Kindle, which enabled Amazon to jump out to a massive early lead in e-book market share. For a while there it looked like Amazon was going to win the e-book war going away, and they were using their massive scale to help further that process.

Originally Amazon was selling e-books based on the wholesale model. So take that $24.99 hardcover. For every new e-book, Amazon was paying publishers roughly 50% of the hardcover price, or $12.50. Only... for some popular titles they were selling those e-books for $9.99. They were taking a loss on some titles in order to sell Kindles, build market share, and establish a massive early lead with their proprietary e-book format.

And then during the holiday season of 2009, Amazon engaged in a price war with WalMart, Target and others, and discounted some very popular hardcovers to $9.99. Again, at a loss.

This created several very pressing concerns for publishers. For one, Amazon was helping devalue consumers' notion of what a new book "should" cost. And two, they were growing extremely, extremely powerful. Bookstores definitely couldn't compete with $9.99, and neither could many other e-book sellers, even massive corporations.

Publishers badly wanted to level the playing field to make sure there was competition in the marketplace. They didn't want Amazon creating a monopoly and turning up the screws on their terms.


Publishers Say Homey Don't Play That

Enter the agency model.

When Apple entered the e-book fray with the introduction of the iPad, they brought with them the app store model: Publisher sets the price, Apple gets 30%, publisher gets 70%. Publishers, who wanted a way to slow down all the deep discounting and create a create a leveler playing field, say heck yeah, and they tell Amazon that's the new game in town. They raise prices to somewhere between $10.99 and $14.99 for new e-books, and e-booksellers aren't allowed to discount off of those prices.

Makes sense, right?

Well, here's the thing that's kind of wacky about the wholesale model vs. the agency model: the publisher made more money per copy with the wholesale model. 

Again, napkin math for a $24.99 hardcover. Let's say the e-book would have sold for $9.99 at Amazon in the old days but now the publisher charges $12.99:

Wholesale model e-book:
Publisher: $12.50 (roughly 50% of $24.99 hardcover retail price)
Amazon: - $2.50 (selling at $9.99)

Agency model e-book:
Publisher:  $9.09 (70% of $12.99)
E-bookseller: $3.90 (30% of $12.99)

See what's happening there? Publishers left money on the table to have more control over pricing and so more e-booksellers could compete with the elephant in the Amazon.

The result: It actually seems to have worked. B&N now claims 25% market share in the e-book world, and with iBooks also going strong the competition in the e-book marketplace that publishers wanted appears to be taking place.

Where We Are Now

So now there's a system in place where print books are still sold based on the wholesale model and e-books are sold on the agency model. This results in.... curiosities.

Let's take one of the examples that had Reddit perplexed. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is selling on Amazon for:

E-book: $11.99
Hardcover: $11.89

Doesn't make sense, right?

Well, here's how that breaks down between publisher and Amazon:

E-book: $11.99
Publisher: $8.39 (70% of e-book price)
Amazon: $3.60 (30% of e-book price)

Hardcover: $11.89
Publisher: $13.95 (50% of $27.95 list price)
Amazon: - $2.06 (customer price minus $13.95 paid to publisher)

So... unless there's some sort of special arrangement there, Amazon is using the hardcover as a loss leader.

And the publisher would tell you: we can't control that. All we can do is set our own prices, and what Amazon charges the consumer for print books is their business. Publishers make more money on the hardcover sale, they set the list price for the hardcover at $27.95 and the e-book at $11.99, and they don't have much incentive to discount the e-book any further than it already is.

I'm not privy to the strategic discussions at publishers, but if this also has the effect of slowing down the rate e-book adoption or steering people toward the print editions.... I'm guessing they're probably okay with that. They have print operations to consider and bookstores that they'd like to survive as long as possible. As long as it's still primarily a print world (and it is), publishers have many rational incentives to protect their print sales.

But the biggest problem, as that Reddit discussion illustrates, is that it creates a great deal of consumer confusion and angst. It doesn't make any intuitive sense for e-books to cost more than paper. By keeping e-book prices high, it opens up a huge opportunity for the 99-cent Kindle bestsellers to exploit. Also: As the music industry found out, annoy digital consumers at your peril.

And it just took almost a thousand words to explain why it's happening.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Could Publishers Experience an E-Book Replacement Boom?

I know I'm not normal. I know that. I am inordinately obsessed with the weather, I get giddy every time I see L'Oreal spokesman Collier Strong appear on a reality television show, and I watch this video every time I need a laugh.

And lately I've been doing something else that may be a tad out of the ordinary.

Booksellers, please cover your eyes...

I have gotten rather obsessed with reading on my iPad. I love reading e-books on my iPad. At night. On the train. At lunch. Upside down. In space. YOU DON'T KNOW.

I genuinely feel like reading on an iPad is a superior experience to reading on paper.  There. I said it.

Reasons: No nightlights or bookmarks needed. I can instantly buy new books. I can highlight passages without breaking out a pen and look up words without grabbing a dictionary. I can set it down on the table while I'm eating lunch without the pages going crazy. It doesn't take up much space. Yes, I can't read as easily in the sun, but have you been to San Francisco? We do fog and rain, not sun.

I don't know if I can go back to paper.

Okay, booksellers, you can open your eyes now.

I still buy print books because they are beautiful and permanent! I love bookstores and buy from them accordingly. I do.

But when I wanted to read Into the Wild... I paid for the e-book. A PAPER COPY IS SITTING ON MY SHELF. I bought the e-book anyway. I'm that attached to reading on my iPad.

Now, like I said, I'm not normal. As an author and former publishing employee I have no qualms about sending my hard-earned money back over to the publishing industry and to authors no matter what's in my bank account. Jon Krakauer deserves every penny I'm sending his way and then some. I know this isn't a situation for everyone.

But the movie industry reaped huge rewards when everyone replaced their movie collection with DVDs. The music industry had a boom when people switched over to CDs.

Could something similar happen to the book world? Could people grow attached enough to their devices that they might replace their book collections? Could planned obsolescence come to the publishing world?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Further Thoughts on the Kindle Millionaires

Thank you so much to everyone who weighed in on yesterday's post about Amanda Hocking and the e-book self-publishing success stories!! It was a fascinating discussion, and I'm going to call out a few of my favorite comments in a second.

But first, I wanted to clarify a few things from the post.

- As Amanda Hocking pointed out to me via Twitter, I actually have read her work. When I was an agent I requested a full manuscript for Switched. I ended up passing, but suggested some changes (which she took and was super-gracious about yesterday, as is her wont). I had thought this was the case, but since I don't have access to my old e-mail I wasn't able to confirm. Well: confirmed!

- Some people were asking about the $1.50 figure for print and distribution. I was going off of my (possibly hazy) memory for that one, and it may be a tad on the low side for your average hardcover, though it may be in the ballpark for one with a very high print run. Back when they were blogging, HarperStudio pegged the average amount around $2.00 and Mike Shatzkin recently posted about how per-unit cost will inexorably go up as print runs fall.

But the general point remains: whether it's $1.50 or $3.00, in the grand scheme of things losing paper/shipping isn't saving publishers a boatload of cash when we're talking $24.99 vs. $9.99.

Now then! Here is some more awesome food for thought from the comments section about what the self-publishing upstarts mean for the future of publishing:

Anonymous @ 7:28:
I'm prognosticating that it's not Nora Roberts and James Patterson who will consider leaving traditional publishing first. They have so much penetration into the print market, with their books in every corner grocery store, that it won't make any sense.

It's the midlist mass market authors who have the most to gain from this. Because, see, that 25-30% figure of print--that varies per author. For Nora, it's probably closer to 5% (guessing), just because she is EVERYWHERE.

But for your midlist author who is no longer being carried in Walmart because Walmart halved their book section? The author who used to be in Target, but isn't anymore because Target's shifted more to trade paperbacks? The midlist author whose books may disappear from Borders? The midlist author who isn't in the grocery store or the pharmacy?

For that author, electronic sales might end up close to 50-60% of her sales. For some authors, that point has already come. For others, it'll be here in a few years.

If you get $1.40 from your publisher selling your e-book at 25% of agency net, and you get $1.99 selling your e-book yourself at $2.99, assuming that you sell as many copies of your book at $2.99 as at $7.99, you make more in royalties when e-books make up 53% of the market.

Of course, you may sell fewer copies because you don't have a NY house behind you. And you may sell more, because your book is $5 cheaper.

Of course, you'll have more expenses (like editing and covers). But you'll also save on some of the money you spend on print promotion.

When USA Today Bestselling author Julianna Maclean/E.V. Mitchell announces that she has made more on her self-published book than she makes on a print book, print publishing is in very real danger of losing its midlist.

So, no. I don't imagine that Nora Roberts will walk. What I do wonder is... Where is the next Nora Roberts going to come from?

Anonymous @ 9:55:
I think the big problem with traditional publishing is they seem dead-set on making themselves irrelevant. You get several things with traditional publishers that are difficult to get self-publishing:
1) Professional editing
2) Placement on brick-and-mortar store shelves
3) Marketing
4) An advance
5) Cover design (art and copy) and layout
6) Stamp of approval

Well, more and more we're being told that publishers don't have time to edit books. We have to self-edit before sending them in.

Brick-and-mortar stores are going away.

The marketing budget of a book basically goes entirely into store placement (and maybe not for *your* book). Authors have been taking an increasing role in marketing for years and years—and it's getting worse.

Advances are getting smaller and smaller.

It's basically coming down to cover, layout, and that stamp of approval.

Cover and layout I can take care of if I need to. It won't be as good as a publishing team, but they mess up sometimes, too. I'll at least control the process.

I think it's still worth it to go traditional—though having never been through it, I can't say for sure—but it's rapidly becoming a bad deal for authors who are not automatic best-sellers. The amount of work looks the same to me: I have to market my book single-handedly no matter what.
Sommer Leigh:
I think there is another perception to take into account as well- most authors currently perceive being published traditionally as providing the validation that self-publishing does not yet offer. However, as more authors head out west into the self-publishing unknown and strike it rich, the perception of self-publishing as a 'last resort' is going to wear away.

What I think all this means is that everything is going to shake up and shake out in the next couple of years. When I hear stories about the big publishers trying to nickle and dime libraries (of all buyers!) and holding out e-book releases for more hard back sales, I get the mental picture of a bunch of old dudes sitting around great marble tables clutching at piles of money ala Scrooge McDuck and bemoaning all those "meddling self-publishing upstarts."

I think these old publishing dudes are going to have to start injecting some Apple innovation and imagination into their business images. Part of the reason consumers love buying Apple products when they could be paying lots less and why so many love Google is because of the inspired and creative image these businesses project.

"We are always changing and thinking up new ideas" seems to be the motto of the current beloved brands. Consumers want this and I think the image of the moneymongering old publishing dudes holding onto the old ways is going to have to give way to something young and new and embracing of technology and change. Right now it seems like everyone else is changing the publishing field with new gadgets, applications, and ideas and publishers are being dragged along by their dentures. I wonder how much better it might be for them if they took control of the innovations and forced distributors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, self-publishing authors) to chase after them instead?

(UPDATE: By request) Elizabeth C. Mock:
I'm a self-published author at the beginning of my career and I decided to self-publish right out the gate. I never searched for an agent or a publisher. It wasn't necessarily because of the money I thought I could make, but because I have some friends in the industry and I know how much of getting published has to do with luck and timing. I just wanted to be able to share my story. I didn't really care how. Less than a year ago, I published my debut novel (the first in a trilogy) and last month I breached 100,000 downloads/sales. My decision to self-publish had everything to do with wanting to publish on my terms. I don't mean that to sound petulant in any way nor do I mean to demean traditional publishing in any way. I just love my day job and want the freedom that self-publishing affords me. I definitely agree with the sentiments that have already been voiced. I know a lot of self-published authors who have only sold a hundred or so copies of their books. I really think that with this low-priced e-book movement we're seeing market forces determining the success of the self-published authors. People want good stories and if a story resonates with people, then it will sell regardless of its origins in traditional publishing or self-publishing. If a story isn't good, it won't sell. I will freely admit that it is a lot of work and requires the backing of a lot of good people to put out a good product with self-publishing. Though the name is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion. I just know that I have been extremely happy with my results and look forward to see what my sales look like this summer when I release book two in the series. I think when weighing self-publishing and traditional publishing what a person needs to ask is what their priorities are in telling their stories. I think both venues have strengths and weaknesses and that while Hocking's story is not the norm, the potential is out there. As with any entrepreneurial venture, however, you have to be prepared to put in the long hours to reap the potential benefits.

Any more thoughts on these comments and where the future is headed?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Amanda Hocking and the 99-Cent Kindle Millionaires

As Amanda Hocking said herself, "I don't understand why the internet suddenly picked up on me this past week, but it definitely did."

And how.

The writing world is abuzz about Amanda Hocking, the 26-year-old self-published author who sold over 450,000 copies of her e-books in January alone, mostly priced between 99 cents and $2.99. She's now a millionaire. The writing world has been abuzz for a while about J.A. Konrath, who has very publicly blogged about the significant amount of money he has made selling inexpensive e-books.

Many people in the last week have sent me links about these authors, wondering...

What exactly is going on here? How in the heck are these self-published authors making so much money? Is this the future? And does this mean the end of the publishing industry as we know it?

The News That's Fit to Print

Before we delve into what this means for the world of books, I feel like it's important to take a deep breath and splash some cold water on our faces.

The reality: This is still a print world and probably will be for at least the next several years. Even as some publishers report e-book sales jumping to between 25% and 35% in January, the significant majority of sales are still in print. As I wrote in my recent post about record stores, over a decade after the rise of the mp3 the majority of revenue in music is still in CDs.

So let's not get out of hand (yet) about the scale of this e-book self-publishing revolution, if it is indeed one. Yes, this is real money we're talking about. Yes, these authors deserve all the credit in the world. And yes, these authors are also making money in print as well.

But we're still a ways away from self-published Kindle bestsellers making Dan Brown, James Patterson, Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling kind of money, the old-fashioned way, through paper books in bookstores. It's not as exciting a story to remember that traditionally published franchise James Patterson made $70 million between June '09 and June '10, but it's still worth keeping in perspective.

Let's also not forget that Hocking, Konrath and a couple of others are the tip of a very large iceberg of self-published authors, the overwhelming majority of whom are selling the merest handful of copies. As Hocking herself writes:
I guess what I'm saying is that just because I sell a million books self-publishing, it doesn't mean everybody will. In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books. I don't mean that to be mean, and just because a book doesn't sell well doesn't mean it's a bad book. It's just the nature of the business.
Yes, it's new, it's a big deal, it's seriously awesome for Hocking, who seems like a super nice and humble person. But let's not also lose our perspective about the scale of the shift taking place. The book world is changing in a big way, but it still ain't done changed just yet.

The War Between the Worlds

So. Now that we are all sober and erudite, let me shock us back to life with this statement: Hocking and Konrath and others like them represent an existential threat to traditional publishers.

To understand why, we're going to need to take a look at how much it costs to make a print book vs. an e-book.

There is a perception out there, repeated endlessly around the Internet, that e-books should cost almost nothing. Electrons are (basically) free, so why should an e-book cost $11.99?

The reality, which I shall bold, italicize, and underline for some emphasis: Paper doesn't really cost very much.

Let's start with your basic $24.99 hardcover, the most profitable format. Of that cost, only approximately $1.50 goes toward the paper, printing, and distribution and all the stuff that publishers save with e-books. Repeat: $1.50 out of $24.99. E-books just don't save publishers gobs of money.

Let's look at a back-of-a-napkin breakdown of a print book vs. an e-book (all numbers approximate):
$24.99 hardcover:
$12.50 to the bookstore (roughly 50% retail price)
$2.50 to $3.75 to the author (between 10-15% of the retail price)
$1.50 for paper, shipping, distribution (again, approximately. UPDATE this would be for a high-print-run book, HarperStudio cited $2.00 as average)
Around $8.00 to the publisher, which is split between overhead (rent, paying editors, copyeditors, etc.), marketing, other costs, and hopefully some profit assuming enough copies are sold.

$9.99 e-book (agency model):
$3.00 to the bookseller (30% of the retail price)
$1.75 to the author (25% of the publisher's share)
Around $5.24 to the publisher, split between overhead, other costs, and hopefully some profit

You can see why publishers aren't exactly leaping onto the cheap e-book bandwagon when there are hardcover sales to be had. They make a lot less money per copy sold. They're worried about cheap e-books eroding their more profitable print sales. Electrons aren't saving them much money.

Print is still where it's at for them, and they're not crazy to behave accordingly.

For now.

Here Come the Insurgents

That $8.00 vs. $5.24 per-unit print vs. e-book consideration? Overhead? "Other" costs?

Hocking and Konrath don't care.

They don't have overhead, unless you count rent, an Internet connection, the services they contract out, and a laptop. They're not paying for an army of editors, assistants, lawyers, marketing teams, sales teams, and executives. They're not beholden to shareholders.

They write books, they figure out the editing and cover design on their own, they blog to try and spread some buzz, and word of mouth does the rest. They can afford to sell their books at a low price.

And because they cut out the middle man (and because publishers' e-book royalties are low), self-published authors make more from self-publishing a $2.99 e-book (70%, or $2.10) than a traditionally published author makes from a $9.99 e-book (25% of the publisher's share, or $1.75).

You read that right. More money to the author per copy at $2.99 than a traditionally published e-book at $9.99. Many self-published authors are laughing their way to the bank on that one.

If you aren't going to be published in print in a big way and you have an entrepreneurial spirit, what's the point of going with a traditional publisher? Why not undercut the competition and make more money?

The Perception of Value Problem

And yet...

Despite the glaring e-book royalty situation and some notable authors opting for self-publishing (such as Seth Godin), there has not yet been a mass exodus to self-publishing. Most of the biggest bestselling authors are sticking with traditional publishers. Not only is print still where the bulk of the audience is, publishers still provide an indispensable array of services that many authors (such as yours truly) simply don't have time to handle on their own.

But there's a problem that publishers are up against as we move inexorably into the e-book era: Perception of value. 

Publishers can explain their costs and how e-books don't save them much money until they're blue in the face, but on a gut level many people simply don't believe an e-book should cost $12.99. It feels too expensive. A lot of people will simply not buy one or even go and pirate a copy because they feel like they're being ripped off.

Why could that be? Yes, you can't put your hands on an e-book or resell it, but people willingly plop down $12.99 to go to a movie and you can't put your hands on that or resell it either. Why have books suddenly become exorbitant at $12.99? Why is that too much to pay?

Well, it's partly because $12.99 is competing against the upstart $2.99 Kindle bestsellers and some other lunatics named Charles Dickens and Herman Melville and Jane Austen, who are giving away their books for free!! (Which, ahem, may be because they're long dead and in the public domain).

And therein lies a big challenge for publishers.

The Price of "Good Enough"


On the one hand you have publishers who are clinging onto the print world as long as possible and literally can't afford for prices to erode. They're counting on their quality control, their marketing, and their curation of what they feel are the top books in order to charge consumers a premium and hopefully instill a perception of value that new e-books "should" cost between $10.99-$14.99.

And on the other hand you have the self-published upstarts, who are willing and able to undercut publishers' e-book prices all the way down to 99 cents or even free.

Will publishers be able to maintain their prices or will they have to come down? And if they have to come down, how far will they have to go?

As always, the answer will be determined by consumers and their individual choices.

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight for $8.99 or Amanda Hocking's Switched for $0.99?
Harlan Coben's Live Wire for $14.99 or J.A Konrath's Shaken for $2.99?

Different people will make different choices, and I don't presume to know how that will play out (and for the record, I haven't read any of the prominent self-published authors).

Some consumers are more than willing to pay a premium for their favorite authors. I'm reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer right now, and it's so unbelievably incredible that no matter what I paid for the e-book it wasn't enough.

For other consumers, no book is ten times better than the other and they aren't willing to pay a premium. Many consumers just aren't that worried about the writing quality (as perceived/judged by the publishing industry), don't need the publishing industry deciding what to read for them, and just want a good story.

When the world moves toward e-books and print distribution is no longer where it's at, publishers are going to have a fight on their hands justifying the cost of their services to authors at their current e-book royalty rates.

They'll have a second fight on their hands as they try to adapt to a world where there are good books for sale for just 99 cents or less.

What do you think about the new Kindle millionaires, and what do you think it means for the future of books?

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