Thursday, May 7, 2015

Self-Publishing on the Rampage

Take a gander at this Author's Earning Report: It's a mind-blower.

Big 5 Amazon bestsellers fell 26% in the last quarter. At the same time, self-published ebooks shot up to 44%. Those are insane numbers--not wholly expected by anyone! Ebooks account for 1/4 of  of all the Amazon bestseller lists combined. A quarter! Major publishers have 14% of those lists. 

Take a look at the graphs and line charts. They're very revealing and more than likely very accurate. 

The Big ebook unit sales have plummeted another 18%. This seems to have resulted, or is a direct cause of the return to agency pricing. Sales are drastically impacted for the Big legacy publishers. Self-published authors are squeezing into and taking over that lost market share, with an increase in daily revenue of 12.4% as of Jan 2015. This whole agency ball of wax has meant decreased sales for authors, lofty prices for consumers and lower sales for publishers. This gap has been filled by self-published authors. This happened because many campaigned for publishers, so they could get their way. The Big 5, it appears, made a foolish and unexpected blunder.

Declining publishers resulted in 20 cents profit on each dollar, as opposed to 52.5 cents on ebooks. Author earings were 8-15 cents per dollar verses 17.5 cents for eboooks. At these higher ebook prices, the large and medium sized publishers are responsible for a lesser amount of books that get read and sold for the authors. The number of books on the bestseller lists spiraled downward 26%. No new fans were eager to pick up the rest of a series or even the next standalone title by the most popular bestselling authors.

It's now very evident that pricing control is astoundingly powerful The A-List publishers and the biggest retailers are in a squabble and fight for this power. Authors who like to have complete control over their pricing, avoiding the entanglements of the huge publishers and retailers, are given a very clear message:
SELF-PUBLISHERS WILL CONTINUE TO TAKE MARKET SHARE FROM THOSE FRUSTRATED READERS. They'll do this every quarter, with basically no constraints or competition. Self-published authors will have, and do have complete control over their careers.

Summation: Greed is doing in the Big Five and all those big independents who followed in raising their prices to fit their bloated needs. The average Big Five ebook is around $10, while the self-published authors have titles ranging from $3 to $3.50. Quality, bestsellers, coupled with high prices does not guarantee increased sales. Could it be that the huge publishers feel vastly superior over all other publishers and publishing methods? Kind of looks that way, doesn't it? 

I've only self-published one title myself. With this kind of Author Earnings Report news, I'm going to self-publish all my out-of-print back-list titles for a start. I also have some new stuff that deserves to hit Amazon, and I found a trustworthy publishing service that can handle any phase of the task. Their team resumes are more than impressive. 

I'm a complete dolt when it comes to editing, proofreading, formatting and creating cover art. You might check them out and see what I mean. Any author thinking of self-publishing at this time or in the future would be wise to read their website and then shoot them an email.

New Standard Publishing Group:

Take care. And take all the money you deserve for your hard work.



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Has Your Small Press Sales Dumped?

I don't want to offend anyone. And I don't think my opinion is written on gold tablets and from upon high.

I truly believe, after exhausted investigation of my gradual sales slump to nothing, and given the fact that I am a relentless and heavy promoter (for all my books) who belongs to nearly 30 sites and writing groups, it is my opinion that the readership or fan base has switched in a huge way from small press to self-publishing.

The self--pubbed author population is incredibly huge now and growing by leaps and bounds every day. They are close-knit--almost a rebel faction. They loyally support each other. They make many, if not most, book purchases withing their own group: It would not surprise me that the majority of them buy from each other exclusively. I'm a self-published author BTW, and it allowed me to tune in on all discussions at the most exclusive self-publishing sites. And I'm rather proud of my tiny self-publishing company!

Back to bidness...

Just one example of their camaraderie: Look no further than the Kindle Boards to see a massive population of self-published authors who are making fairly decent wages across the board for dozens of non-fiction books--shorts, poetry, novellas and novels. Most of their sales numbers hose the average small press right out of contention because their royalties are so much higher than what a small press could offer.

They have a vested interest in promotion and marketing because everything falls on their shoulders. They are damn good at selling their brands. They discuss various and unique tactics for selling books (ways you've never heard of before) and gathering more readers than any other group of authors I've ever seen.

Is it at all possible that self-publishing has affected commercial publishing? This could be a tie-in factor. Well, the Big Five juggernauts simple try to buy up the most popular self-published authors who have best selling status and miraculous breakouts. They watch Wattpad, Booksie and other display sites for huge page views and followers. Both of these (share your writing) sites are responsible for launching some ginormous best sellers that have gone on to hit the wide screen.

Twilight, The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades really stood out as success stories. Where are the small press movie contracts? What can we boast about? Selling 75 to 150 copies in the lifetime of the book? I do believe all of these movie deals came from self-published authors in some form or another. I could be wrong, and then I could be leaving many others out too.

Small press does not have the financial means to pull in a best-selling self-published author. And many, if not most, self-published authors view small press contracts as a joke. I'm talking about the diehards here. BTW, this faction includes hybrid authors who publish in both venues--they are, for the most part, neutral in their views but very supportive of self-publishing. However, the big money motivates and dominates because the self-published sales figures that I've see don't lie. The line between the best-selling outliers and the medium to heavy sellers is starting to blur.

I can't say that I blame them at all. Many of them view commercial publishing as biased and unfair. Many of them have suffered years and years of writing with no recognition/contracts from agents or publishers. Zip. I know that feeling. Been there done that with nearly 4,000 rejections spanning 27 years.

I've heard the term "The "O-niners" bandied about in the self publishing forums. It appears as 09ers as well. In 2009 self publishing really started to make a huge impact on the industry. It started to come on really strong, and those that got in on it at that time are sitting very pretty right now. Really, some astonishing sales numbers! Their worst writers and tepid sellers smoke my book sales. They've also blown away to shreds my grand prize winner. And I've been told by dozens of people that I have one of the most beautiful covers in the industry.

The self-published motto is write one book after another 'til hell won't have it, and when you're done with that, write more books and stories, only faster.

When media or publishing professionals say the industry has changed or is rapidly transitioning, they primarily mean the e-book phenomenon. But right on its tail is the ravenous self-publishing trend and there are not too many commercial publishers willing to admit that they have taken some lumps because of it.

It was less than a year ago when I saw all my books and shorts slump and go to zero. I had been selling 2--3 books or stories a week for a very long time. I've also seen this with other small press authors who wrote fantastic books and wonderful series.

Don't get me wrong, we do have some very successful small presses and independents out there that have dug in their heels and come out shinning. Entangled, Bookatour, Poisen Pen, Story Plant and many more notables. Start up small presses today are nearly obliged to suffer doom if they don't have pro experience and don't know what they're doing.

Anyway, there might be a number of other factions that have slowed comercial sales in the past few years. And combined with self-publishing and its popularity, it could account for this slump that I see. If someone were to tell me that this was a flash-in-the-pan or a temporary trend, I would ask them where the upswing was.

I'm not blaming small press for all of this. I just think is has had an enormous influence. Phuck, I admire the hell out of them. I think they are going to gain more and more ground and swing additional readership in their direction.

Now, take this overview with a case of salt. It might help if anyone were to reveal that their sales have mysteriously slowed or stalled out. Not holding my breath, because such admittance is rather embarrassing. But if you have, then investigate and see what you come up with. I would be glad to hear any other theories. I don't mind trying to answer further questions on the matter.

Read this report. It's staggering in it's implications about the future of the book industry. I couldn't quite wrap my head around it, and didn't believe it at first.


ETA, Summation: Self-publishing has taken, and will take a huge amount of market share without doing it vindictively. Many of the self-published authors are teenagers or NAs, and they're like kids in a candy store, both in a reading and writing sense.

Ya know, I wish I felt that way.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Picking a Decent Publisher--Part Two.

 Below is a comment from a concerned writer about publisher picks:

My longer fiction is reserved for genre publishers my agent and I trust, after seeing their longterm performance.

My comments and experience:

Yes, mine too. She definitely storms the doors of the large, well known commercial publishers and independents. However, my agent (when it comes time) must diligently work a small press contract with much more scrutiny than the larger pub houses. It's because there is so much variation in small press contracts. I've seen 7.5% net on paperbacks and 20% net on e-books, with others offering slightly higher royalties. Heh, this is an outright holdup.

Some e-book publishers actually insist that the author do ALL the formatting of the book, e-book and paper, for retail placement. And they claim that an author is responsible for supplying the blurbs--front and back matter. Some small press owners are the sole editors of the book because they cannot afford outside professionals.

Some will not make an expenditure for copyright, leaving that to the author.

Others SPs want World Rights for the life of the book or for unusually long contract durations, like six, eight or 10 years

I actually think that my small press credit history, which is very sizable, hurts my chances for larger deals because after reviewing my stats for any given book they show lackluster or even close to non-existent sales. In the eyes of NYC publishers I've tanked with every one of my books and their risk of publishing me are much higher. And if you don't believe that a large house won't do a deep probe on your publishing history, you have another thing coming.

A small press publisher might make some money if their author stable comprises 30 to 50 (I've seen triple digit) individuals who sell in low but consistent numbers. It adds up because the emphasis is on quantity. This is where you approach or end up in an author mill. Mundania is a prime example of a publisher who has an excess of authors, while they do not invest in any significant marketing or promotion. With the profits Mundania has made over the years there has been no attempt at legitimate distribution outside of the Internet. I know dozens and dozens of these small publisher types.

Distribution is critically important for the success of a book, along with submissions to important and well known review sources that have large and influential readership bases.

I am relatively stuck in the small chasm for a few titles. They've come to the end of their agent sub trail. For 16 contract offers over a year for both books, 14 of them have been kicked to the curb. The highest advances won out. This might tell you something about the quality and fairness of their contracts.

Advances say something about a publisher--they are equally, if not more invested in the sales of your book. Royalty only publishers claim that they pay no advances because they offer the highest royalty rates, which is habitually untrue because these percentages are all over the map and most of them are on Net proceeds which can vary in the extremes and conditions.

Small press publishers might give wings (so to speak) to a breakout book while they leave the majority of birds languishing in the nest.

Small press has a terrible time managing their money and paying their editors and cover artists a decent wage for work performed. Many of them are late on royalty payments when the retail numbers have been turned in. Lots of small presses flat-out fold within a year or two. Some can go for several years and then have a catastrophic meltdown, filing for chapter 13 and tying up copyright by failing to provide reversion.

Is there any wonder why self-publishing has skyrocketed in the past five-six-seven years or so?

In short, small press must shine and have, at least, nearly all their ducks in a row. Then comes some notoriety. An expanded readership base results--and this translates to sales. It IS all about money, to keep a publisher afloat and their stable of authors happy

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Picking a Decent Publisher

I don't think I have to mention any of the Big Five giants out there. They always have some type of legitimate distribution, like APG, IPG, Midpoint Trade, Consortium and others. These distributors actively represent publishers and send or hand deliver publisher catalogs, especially new releases. The Big Five and all their imprints usually get some book shelf stocking because they can afford the price of a legitimate and effective book distributor who contacts the stores and chains directly. They also have personal sales teams that directly solicit used and privately owned book stores. Their publicity departments can be quite huge and involved, in seeking out TV air time, radio and national and local newspapers and review persons. For that reason, we'll concentrate on the small and medium presses which might not have these amenities.

On a side note: If you get an offer from a ginormous publishing house, breathe into a paper bag, throw your shoulders back and smile. You've accomplished something incredible.

Small press publishers are usually start-ups by mom and pop operations. They can be started by author and writer group ventures, self-publishers or even birthed by editors. There is a finite limitation on what they can provide. For the most part, small press publishers don't require agents (although it not uncommon for some of them to welcome one), don't provide advances and have a very limited publicity department or even none at all. They rarely, if ever have any hard distribution behind their books and must rely heavily on the author's sales participation. Some small presses might buy ads, sponsor and arrange books signings, blog tours, video presentations, reviews and inclusion in a few or many online distributors. 

If a small press publisher spends money or goes to extraordinary lengths to spotlight a book, it is called "marketing." Anything else by the author is considered promotion, unless the author spends money on banner and placement ads, sponsors their own book signings (buying the books) or gives lectures at meeting halls or libraries that allow the title to be sold there. BTW, don't expect tons of sales at a book signing if you are new to the game or not a heavy seller with multiple break-outs. You can reasonably expect to sell a 12 to 15 books for your first outing--more if you have a huge friend, family, coworker and relative base. You might unload 30 books in that case.

If you can find a small press that provides hard distribution to book stores and offers an advance, which could be a token $100 up to $2,000, you should submit to them first. They are highly sought after and very popular. They usually have huge fan and readership bases. Many of them are award winners. Most of them have glowing sales stats on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and the like. They may frequently land in the top 10 or top 100 consistently. 

Some of these lofty small presses or medium houses can require an agent, so find out about that up front. An agent can work miracles with a publisher that has worked with agents in the past. It is not unusual for an agent to get a $500 or more advance from a plain, ordinary small press publisher--this has happened to me. If the publisher wants the book bad enough, or several offers have come in, they'll buckle and come up with the cabbage. But an offer will have to earn out before getting any royalites. 

Evaluate a small press by the number of years they have been in business. Two to three years is a fairly good indicator that they've survived the hardships and weathered any financial storms. But not always. A seven to 10 year longevity record is much better.  Although they can fold up at any time for any reason. Check out their website hits for very high numbers--in the millions would be considered fantastic.  Low thousands or hundreds indicates a lack of presence. If nobody visits their site and knows about them, they won't know about you.

How many books do they have? Are they an "author mill" that grinds out a dozen or more books a month and have a huge backlog? If they are, they should be avoided--they don't have the time or finances to spend on promoting or marketing any title. They make money with hundreds of books in the stream while the individual author suffers because of small or non-existent sales. Google their name. Do they appear on multiple Internet distribution sites? If they appear on six or more, they are doing their job in bang-up fashion in getting the word out. Three or four online distributors is about average across the board.

Negotiate the contract if you don't have an agent. Don't shy away from putting a red line through any clause or confusing phrase that seems like a rights grab. If they are an e-book only publisher, why would they want the rights to POD (print on demand) or mass-market paperback? Don't sign all your rights away--especially world rights covering all foreign countries. All publishers, great and small, benefit by having you sign fast, and sign fast on a non-negotiable or boilerplate contract. If you find a publisher that won't budge--walk. Put out some more queries and play the field some more. You don't have to take what you don't like or understand. 

It goes without saying that you and your publisher/editor should click and at least like each other. little disputes over cover art, editing and marketing is not a good starting point in a relationship with a publisher. Don't make things hard on them--their job is difficult enough--they're dealing with many authors just like you. Open your ears and listen. Keep your yapper from interrupting or crowding the conversation. Your editor/publisher just might have something very vital and important to say. Learn from them; you'll use that knowledge with future publishers. Praise and support your publisher in the world of ether. Try to avoid smearing their name in public venues. We all have our little quirks and ticks, and sometimes things just don't work out. Attempt to be civil in all your correspondence. And for gawd's sake be patient. 

Don't publish with a small press house because you are smitten with the process and the promise of holding a book in your hand. Forget about bragging rights with an e-book publisher. There are hundreds of thousands of authors out there who have signed with an e-book only small press. Although those hundreds of thousands of authors are not really competing with you directly, they sure are diluting the pool and making it harder for your book to be discovered in the vast sea of titles out there.

I have nothing against self-publishing--I've done it with a back list title. However, for a new book, understand that you will be responsible for formatting, editing and creating the cover art. You'll also be the sole promoter and marketer. If you have these resources and the energy, go for it--many small press and display site authors have hit the big time. But don't do it for this reason. Those authors that break sales records are the outliers. It very difficult to get that type of recognition and success.

The best way to increase your odds at acquiring a decent and well respected publisher is to seek out an agent. Always go the agent rounte first. If you've exhausted 30 or more queries without a bite, rework your query until your fingers bleed. A boring query that seems static and familiar is the surest way to get the agent boot. 

Whatever you decide, keep writing and enjoying the process. We are the creators and the dream makers.

Remember that:

A Writer is…
A humble, receptive student and negotiator
But the heart that beats within his breast
Is a determined savage
Unfamiliar with surrender

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I Have an Agent--Why am I submitting?


I’ve been asked this questions until my head spins, but I’ve brought it on myself. Once again, my writing group peers have asked for an answer, including publishers that don’t feel like working with agents. 

I expect that there are a lot more publishers out there that want to avoid agents. Most publishers will straight up tell you that they'll deal with agents or un-agented authors--that's the majority. The gun-shy publishers will often not put that kind of information in their guidelines--I didn't see both options with this one publisher who offered me a contract until after I re-visited their site. That was an "Aha" moment. There was little or no mention of agents. Note: This is a pink or full-on red flag that the publisher really doesn’t have the advance money for the author, nor do they want their boilerplate contract shredded by a literary contract professional.

My Double Tap Procedure:
When any of my books start to wind down with my agent's submissions, I have permission to get proactive and query the smaller presses and independents. Primarily, I go after those who offer a token or small advance. This takes the workload off my agent. But I must swap info with her and give her my list so we don't have any head-on crashes (double submissions). If I make a sale--she gets notified and then examines the contract. If she can work/mold it for us, and we are down to the dregs as far as publishers, she'll make contact with them. On the other hand, if she advises against it, we both strike them from our list and politely decline. Then the search continues.


In some cases we find we're on the fence with a potential publisher, and we ask them to be put on their back-burner for future consideration on down the road--this tactic has worked remarkably well--we're not promising, but we're not declining either and it doesn't tie up the publisher. I'm on a few back-burners right now. So I know this book will be published no matter what. It’s just that I’m not signing a contract that I'm really searching for—mostly an advance in the $300 and up range.

Again, this only works well when the sub trail begins to dry up for the agent. I call it a "double tap" when I jump in to help out. I've got a blog post about this back in my archives and it explains the theory and process more thoroughly. It worked out well with my last book--I found a potentially good publisher and then my agent came in and doctored the contact and garnered a nice advance.

I can’t say that I recommend doing this. It's a fine balancing act that requires calm under fire and tactical negotiation. Try it out if you like, but get permission from your agent and hammer out the logistics first. All three of my past agents since 1989 have enthusiastically agreed and welcomed my participation. All you have to do is ask them. Even if you’ve just acquired an agent, bring the topic up and see what the agent’s opinion is on the matter.

Write on...and don't stop....