Self-Publishing: Amateurs versus the Pros

There’s a war going on right now. Hachette vs Amazon is the big battle du jour. You can read all about it here and here and here. That’s not the real war. The real war is being fought against indie writer/publishers. It’s being fought mainly with propaganda pushed by the big publishing houses (who are part of a HUGE media conglomerates) aided by agents and big-name writers.

In a perfect world (okay, in my perfect world) there would be a separate section on Amazon or B& for self-published e-books, maybe even separate websites. I truly believe that it would help the reader distinguish the books as well. Readers don’t purchase books based on who the publisher is and don’t necessarily care. As a result, they might not even know if they’re buying a book that was professionally edited versus one that was self-published...” –Steven Zacharius, CEO, Kensington

(How about professionally formatted, Mr. Z.? When I purchase a trad pubbed ebook, I do so knowing that being highly annoyed by the sloppy, disrespectful ebook formatting is going to make me grind my teeth.)

ebook design by JW Manus

ebook design by JW Manus

I wish I could say with reasonable confidence that all errors have now been caught, but I reckon that’s unlikely. Hopefully, though, there are no more than a bare few, and minor ones at worst. I guess that’s an advantage of ebooks and POD, that small errors can be fixed and the files reloaded for future purchases… –J. Harris Anderson, author and publisher of THE PROPHET OF PARADISE

Amazon only appears to be the target. Except, it’s not competing against the big publishers. Amazon is a distributor. Sure, they have a publishing wing, but the big pubs don’t care about that. What they really care about is their real competition. That’s you, folks.

ebook formatted by JW Manus

ebook design by JW Manus

“Everything looks great to me. Just one thing to change and one question. In the author’s note, it should say Chesnut Hill (insert comma) Massachusetts. This was an error in the original book.” Kim Ablon Whitney, author and publisher of BLUE RIBBONS

The theory of propaganda is this: Tell a lie often enough and loudly enough and eventually it will morph into the “TRUTH.” Pretty soon, the actual truth is considered a lie and any exceptions to the established “truths” are considered flukes or outliers or aberrations. What the big publishers and agents and bestselling authors would have you, the indies, believe (because trust me, the readers don’t care and 99% of them are probably not even aware that this war is going on) is that your work is sub-par, that the only reason you self-publish is because you can’t hack it as a “real” writer, and that you’re lazy and amateurish.

“Amazon pays amateur authors, often unedited, who upload files not yet ebook-ready to them and don’t know anything about marketing or metadata, as much as 70 percent of retail if they meet certain exclusivity and price stipulations. (Obviously, there are great gems among those, but they are still mostly unproven, unknown, and unsuccessful.) They are apparently fighting hard to avoid giving Hachette — which invests substantially to be consistently superior to a fledgling author on all these counts — the same cut.” –Mike Shatzkin, The Shatzkin Files

ebook & POD design by JW Manus

ebook & POD design by JW Manus

“I have to find it. Once it says Theo instead of Thea. How do I fix that on the kindle? Can I edit the content just for that one word or do I have to upload a new file?” –Julia Rachel Barrett, author and publisher of WINNERLAND

I work with several new-to-self-publishing writers, but I wouldn’t call them amateurs. They’re in this to produce the very best books for their readers as it is possible for them to do. They care deeply about their work and care deeply about satisfying their readers.

cover, ebook, & POD design by JW Manus

cover, ebook, & POD design by JW Manus

“...kindly see below a letter I just got from The National library of Israel in Jerusalem advising the book … has been accepted and listed with the library!” –Anna Aizic, author and publisher of THE CIRCLES OF LIFE (a memoir)

One of the things that really has the big pubs in a dither (or a tizzy or a dizzying meltdown) is how many traditionally published authors are self-publishing their back lists. Many of the big pubs just scan old books, convert them (errors and all), and slap them up on sell sites (usually with the original covers, many of which are entirely unsuitable for ebooks), and call it good. The writers I work with do not do that. They see reissuing as an opportunity to fix old mistakes and to update covers or create brand new covers.

cover, ebook, & POD by JW Manus

cover, ebook, & POD by JW Manus

Thanks for the two PDFs. Both sailed right through CS absent objection – but, with apology, I did catch one little detail that we’ll have to change (a web address). I’ll be getting an email off to Erin right after this, since how we’ll change that will depend on her answer. I’ll copy the email to you so you can see what needs doing.” –Jerrold Mundis, author and publisher of SLAVE

The real fear is that those authors self-publishing their back lists will realize that the process is the same for publishing new releases and it’s not an impossible task and not only can the writer/publishers do an excellent job, they can do it faster and even better than the trad pubs can. The media is still pretty much ignoring self-published titles, and that’s a downer, but it’s slowly, slowly changing and eventually self-pubbed titles will receive their due. If you don’t think that doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of the trad pubs…


ebook, cover & POD by JW Manus

My decision to self-publish The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons has had gratifying results, but there’s been a downside: self-pubbed titles don’t get much media attention or store distribution. Well, Orion’s UK edition just came out, and here’s Geoffrey Wansell’s lovely review in the Daily Mail...” –Lawrence Block, author and publisher of THE BURGLAR WHO COUNTED THE SPOONS

The bottom line is, as always, money. Lots and lots of money. Every time you self-publish a book or a short story or an instruction manual or get together with like-minded writers to produce an anthology, you–yes, YOU–are costing the big pubs money. Have you been following the Author Earnings reports produced by Hugh Howey and Data Guy? If not, you should, if only to understand the scope of this situation and to understand why the big pubs and their minions are hitting back so hard. They need you to line up (quietly, hat in hand, head bowed respectfully) to provide them with vast amounts of materials from which they can pick and choose. If you don’t, well, that must mean you’re an amateur, right?

ebook design by JW Manus

ebook design by JW Manus

Love the edit. Jessica frowned at the little notebook though. She said it doesn’t fit in with the rest of my books and I have to agree with her. Can we do something in black/white under the chapter heading like all the others? Something reporter-ish?” –Randall Wood, author and publisher of INSIGHT

The big pubs and their minions want you to believe that you’re helpless without them. That you need nurturing and someone to hold your hand and to take care of all that nasty business-y stuff. Because, you know, writers are such idiot savants that accounting is waaaaay over their heads. Far better to let the grown-ups take care of that.

ebook design by JW Manus

ebook design by JW Manus

I was wondering if part of your illustrious services include helping with HTML descriptions?  I.e., when inputting product descriptions on Amazon, it is much better if the text is in HTML rather than, say, Word.” –Layton Green, author and publisher of THE METAXY PROJECT

To go for a publishing contract or to self-publish, either way is your choice. As a reader, if I like your stories or the information you’re putting out, it doesn’t matter a rat’s patoot who publishes it. And many, many other readers feel the same way. Sure, there are some who are loyal to a particular publishing house or imprint, but the majority are interested only in the authors. If their favorite authors goes indie, they follow. The big pubs know that, too. One of their responses has been even more draconian contracts which include life-of-copyright terms and non-compete clauses. AND, a propaganda campaign to convince you–YOU!–that self-publishing means you’re an amateur and a loser and you’ll never be successful and you’ll regret your foolishness to the end of your days…

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return to proofreading an ebook for a self-publishing author who cares very much that his text and formatting are professionally polished.



49 thoughts on “Self-Publishing: Amateurs versus the Pros

  1. All I can say is yes. This. I love the ability to correct mistakes, no matter how minor– even a single mistake. Thank you. I can’t do that with the books still with a small publisher. The mistakes stay mistakes… Until the day I get the rights back!

  2. Something finally clicked for me after reading this. I’ve been following the Hachette/Amazon story and I couldn’t figure out why Hachette authors–bestsellers and midlist alike–were foaming at the mouth, calling Amazon a bully and acting as if Hachette is their savior. The facts say just the opposite, so what was going on? How could they hate Amazon? Amazon gets their wonderful books into the hands of their wonderful readers. What’s not to like?

    Then I got it. “Amazon” is a code word. When traditionally-published authors say “I hate and fear Amazon,” what they are really saying is, “I hate and fear indie authors.” They are using Amazon as a proxy. They can’t come right out and admit that they’re terrified because indie authors are eating their lunch, so they go after the “face” of indie authors.

    Thanks for clearing this up for me, Jaye. As this story unfolded and I read more and more articles, I got more confused. But this makes a lot more sense to me now.

    • I wish I could remember the source who said, “Follow the money.” Woodward?

      The last time I was in a publishing house, I saw manuscript submissions stacked to the ceiling and wild-eyed little interns and editorial assistants frantically trying to manage the flood. That was years ago. I’d love to see those same offices now and see if, as I suspect, far fewer submissions and editors nervously twiddling their thumbs and wondering how they will fill their catalogs next quarter.

  3. In the first paragraph you failed to mention the most disappointing mouthpiece for Hachette, Steven Colbert. He torched Amazon the other night with typical Colbertian wit, but of course he’s parroting what his editor at Hachette and agent are feeding him. Massively disappointing and, with hordes of rabid followers, no way to fight back (this coming from a big fan of his).

    • I failed to mention many, many stooges and lackeys who are noisily parroting the publishers’ line. I do read about them, though, and it makes me question their intelligence. And their integrity. But hey, they have as much right as anyone else to say what they want. If it makes them feel better to trash Amazon rather than honestly taking a look at what their publisher is doing, then… shrug,

  4. This is really narcissistic. Hachette doesn’t care about self-published authors. They care about the profits (and losses) from the books they publish. Their model is built on subsidizing a large number of unprofitable authors in order to find the few authors who will sell millions of dollars of books. If you finance their acquisition process by hiring editors and designers, and taking care of all of the promotion yourself, that’s a win for them. Once you’ve proven yourself and are ready to go to where their expertise can amplify the profits, they’ll be ready with a sweet contract. Its a win-win for them.

    What’s not a win for them is Amazon having more leverage over their pricing. Amazon is estimated to sell 50% of all books in the U.S. That gives them an uncomfortable amount of leverage. Hachette is fighting against this.

    In the end, neither Amazon nor Hachette care about you. Odds are, nobody in either company knows you exist. If Amazon suffers a set-back in another area of their retailing and need to boost their profits, they’ll change the terms they offer (not sure if they can retroactively change the terms of existing contracts). They’ll do whatever makes sense for them to turn a profit, because you have zero leverage. You’re already locked in and aren’t going to defect to another platform because they own your audience. Hachette is slightly more invested in their authors, but only as long as it serves their bottom line.

    These companies aren’t your friends. They aren’t your allies. You’re their tool if you treat them as such.

    Self-publishing is a great venue for some authors; for other authors, traditional publishing is a better venue. The smart writer figures out how their skills, time, and finances match up with the options and go with the best one.

    • So you think it’s about Amazon? Nope. It’s about competition. The big pubs do not know how to compete. They haven’t had to compete in decades. And they aren’t competing against Amazon. How can they? Amazon just sells the goods. Hachette and Amazon are in negotiations. Nothing unusual, and certainly not newsworthy. I look at all the noise and hoorah and the increasingly nasty attacks coming from some quarters directed at self-publishers, much of it under the guise of attacking Amazon, and have to ask myself Why?

      It only makes sense if the publishers are looking at self-publishers as competition. One little indie doesn’t threaten anybody. But thousands? Tens of thousands? Yeah, there’s a threat there. Amazon has leveled the playing field. Take them down and it removes the indie threat.

      Do I think Amazon cares about me? As a customer, yes, indeed, they very much do. Every time I click the BUY button I get proof of it. As a vendor, not so much. We have a business relationship. As for what Amazon may or may not do in the future, well, I can’t predict that. I can only gowith my experiences. (I don’t indulge in socialist wetdreams where it’s a given that every person lusts to become the oppressor so they can destroy their enemies).

      As for what Hachette is fighting for, look more closely. If I were a stockholder, I might appreciate their efforts. If I were under contract to them as an author, I’d be squirming like a little bug because nothing and I do mean NOTHING Hachette is doing is going to benefit authors. It might not hurt them, but given my own history with NY publishers, I wouldn’t bet on it.

      On a personal level, this current situation irks the shit out of me. I’m tired of hearing how self-publishers are amateurish and unprofessional. I’m tired of hearing how indie books are sub-par. I’m tired of the unwarranted attacks and dumbassery.

      • I follow self-publishing authors from their intelligent comments on blogs – to their websites, where their books are mentioned.

        Unfortunately, I am constantly finding things that make me 1) not buy, and 2) not go back, and 3) rethink the whole intelligence thing. A former lawyer’s book – justified in Courier type. Another? Says his book is available on Amazon – no link on his site, no blurb, no excerpt; I leave after far more clicks than I would have spent on most books; oh, and he brags about not using quote marks.

        Me, I read everything, compare everything to the best I grew up with, to the traditionally-published books I have in my house, to all the information about their books that is on Amazon (just for one): so I can LEARN, and be at least as good, if not better, when I publish.

        I read your blog (and many other self-publishing ones) religiously. I will agonize over each tiny detail (or make someone like you do it). I educate myself, I keep up. It’s not that hard, people! Do your due diligence.

        Listen to Jaye. Aargh!

      • Alicia,

        Quality is a huge factor for me. It’s why I admire so much the writers I work with. I’m willing to run files as many times as necessary until the writer is satisfied. It doesn’t bother me in the least for someone to come back post-publication and ask me to fix a typo or update links or add material.

        On the flip side, I’ve no patience for slap-dashery and laziness. My reward to anyone like the author you mention is to ignore them completely. They aren’t worth my time or attention.

  5. You can be annoyed that people don’t think self-published books are amateurish. Some are, some aren’t. The ones that are will undermine the ones that are. Neither that, nor your experience as a mid-list author who wasn’t treated well, are relevant to Hachette and Amazon’s decision making.

    For your argument to work, you’d need to show that the Big five are losing money from self-publishing. I’ve never seen any credible arguments thats the case.

    Their models are predicated on subsidizing a large number of unprofitable or marginally profitable authors to find the small number of authors they are very skilled at working with: the best sellers. The fact that they’re struggling with new distribution models doesn’t make them any less skilled at their core competencies. They have many people who are good at placing books in books stores, getting reviews written, the logistics of printing and distributing books, etc. Those talents benefit people who can move many, many books, but are wasted on people who don’t.

    When you self-publish, you’re taking on the financial risks for production they used to subsidize. That doesn’t hurt them at all. The only way you hurt them is if you take sales from the authors they have under contract. And, in most cases, the indie authors who become successful enough to be a threat can be brought under contract. It’s no different than celebrities and political figures who are considered sure things. They get bigger advances and better terms because their is less risk.

    Traditional publishing didn’t or doesn’t work for you, and publishing with Amazon does. That’s great. But that doesn’t make Amazon your friend. It doesn’t make the publishers your enemy. It just means one huge corporation that doesn’t care about you suits your needs better.

    If I were self-published, I would be far more worried about Amazon than I would be traditionally published. The large houses have leverage. It will be difficult due to device lock-in, but they can set-up new distribution channels if Amazon pushes them too far. They’re large enough to hire lobbyists and lawyers. You’ve got nothing. As long as Amazon controls the large majority of your market, as an individual, you’re powerless to walk way from any change in terms they demand. That would scare the crap out of me much more than Hachette scoring a win on pricing.

    PS Amazon has demonstrated they don’t care about customers so much. They’ve demonstrated that clearly in this dispute.

    • And, in most cases, the indie authors who become successful enough to be a threat can be brought under contract.

      This is one place where I think it’s hurting them, London. Because the big pubs are being told no far more often than they’d like to admit. I don’t have access to their financials (except through the Author Earnings reports, which are, to say the least, mind boggling), and I don’t know how many times they are being told no, but I hear it’s happening quite often. There are many, many self-publishers who have zero interest in a publishing contract. They would have to give up too much–not just money, but control over their own property.

      I’m not rah-rahing Amazon. I don’t really care about Amazon. I’m just pointing out that I don’t think they are the real target.

      As for being scared of them? I’m not. They might be the biggest player, but they sure aren’t the only one. Guppies who yearn to be sharks are circling the waters, looking for the first sign of weakness so they can dive in and take a bite. If Amazon gets too weak, those guppies will grow. Amazon is well aware of it and know how tenuous their position is. As for screwing over indie authors, why should they? It would be Bad Business, and that’s not something Amazon likes to do. In exchange for extremely cheap “real estate” Amazon makes a lot of money–and they also get a whole lot of voices directing business their way.

      Back on point, there is a reason for the recent spate of indie-bashing. It’s not coming from readers. It’s coming from high up the food chain in the publishing industry. I think my theory as to why is sound.

      In some ways I take it personally. The writers I work with are talented and very hard-working. The books I produce for them meet and often exceed anything coming out of a NY publishing house. The disparagement of their efforts coming from so many sources pisses me off. It’s unfounded and it’s uncalled for.

      • I’m scared for me, not Amazon. I’d love the more-or-less level playing field that exists now in principle when I finish the darn thing.

        Please don’t break the new model before I have a chance to use it.

      • The gate is open, Alicia, and it would take a planetary reboot to ever close it again. One thing you and anyone else can count on is that it will change and keep changing rapidly for some time to come. What was true yesterday probably won’t be true tomorrow. It will be quite a while before anyone can take anything as a given. My advice to any writer is to stay flexible and be prepared to move at a moment’s notice.

      • “This is one place where I think it’s hurting them, London. Because the big pubs are being told no far more often than they’d like to admit. I don’t have access to their financials (except through the Author Earnings reports, which are, to say the least, mind boggling), and I don’t know how many times they are being told no, but I hear it’s happening quite often.”

        So very true, Jaye. I know several indies who have been approached by trad pubs with contract offers. All but one have opted to turn them down. The one who took a trad pub contract demanded better contract terms and got them, including giving the publishers the print rights only – the author kept e-book and all other format rights. The others chose not to relinquish their creative freedom, rights to their work, and such.

        Honestly, I think that’s part of the reason some trad pubs are having such fits about the indie movement. It’s changing the face of publishing in more ways than one. One of those the fact that authors now know they have other alternatives, which gives them more power in contract negotiations. The “gatekeepers” have lost some of their control, and they really aren’t liking it. Rather than adapt to the changes in the publishing industry, and figuring out how to appeal to authors more than indie publishing does, some of them are pitching a fit. The great thing is that some of them ARE observing, learning, and adapting, and that’s good for them AND the authors that work with them.

      • Thanks for the input, Dawn. I’ve been watching the public information about writers taking more power in contract negotiations, including walking away. It makes me wonder how many are not posting and just going on about their business.

  6. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Amateurs versus the Pros | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

  7. Jaye, after I got more email notifications about this thread, I thought about it before. I presented my objection poorly: the problem with your thesis is that Hachette and Amazon are negotiating over royalties on sales for Hachette titles. E.g., when Amazon sells a book for $10, does Hachette get $3 or $2.50, with Amazon taking the difference (or whatever the actual numbers are). None of this impacts self-published books or even titles being sold by the other big 5 publishers.

    Imagine you’re a Hachette executive and you’ve just seen figures that show (as you believe) that Hachette is suffering growing financial losses to self-publishers. How would negotiating this deal be part of your strategy to combat that loss? I can’t think of any way in which this particular dispute has anything to do with self-publishing. I can’t even think of how it might impact self-publishers, beyond either increasing or decreasing Amazon’s control over pricing. Perhaps in the long-run, if publishers are forced into worse terms, they’ll reduce the number of new writers and give mid-list writers worse terms, which would increase the number of people who self-publish. Or, if Amazon wins, they increase their leverage and demand terms for self-publishers, taking more money from the process from everybody. Maybe.

    Re: changing distribution/sales from Amazon if they abuse their monopsony. I believe (but don’t have numbers—maybe this is wrong) that the majority of Amazon eBook readers are Kindle owners. Kindles only allow Amazon formats. Lets say you sell 70% of your ePubs through Amazon and 70% of those purchasers use Kindles. Now imagine Amazon makes the terms 15% worse. Do you stop selling on Amazon and lose 50% of your customers? If they make the terms 30% worse, do you switch? At what point do you risk losing half or more of your sales to avoid a change in terms?

    That’s why you and every self-publisher should be worried about Amazon’s dominance of the eBook market. Amazon isn’t any better or worse than the other publishers (although I suspect they’re employees are, on average, significantly less passionate about books). They will do what they need to serve their stakeholders. Writers are very far down on that list.

    • Actually, London, I have no real idea what Hachette and Amazon are negotiating about. I do know that negotiations are business as usual and every business entity does it and it rarely makes the news beyond narrowly focused trade journals. Which is what leads me to ask, Why is this big news? And why is there a concerted effort by so many publishing muckety mucks, including authors, pulling self-publishing into the fray?

      There are a lot of things Amazon could do. If I spent all my time worrying about what could happen, I’d be curled in a fetal ball under my desk. I instead look at what people and/or businesses have actually done and base my judgements upon that. I have seen a lot of nasty business, first hand and some of it is in writing, in publishing. I know first hand that the big publishers (and some smaller publishers) are NOT good business partners. I have a drawer-full of publishing contracts chock full of gotchas and ridiculous terms, and those are contracts I signed because they seemed so much better (at the time) than others I declined. I’ve been told by an editor that if it was so important that I receive a check on time, I should get a day job. I heard a publisher (Steve Z knows him well :)) boast that he didn’t give a shit if his books were edited as long as they had half-naked people on the cover and he had a lot of them. I talked to a writer who made the New York Times best seller list and never saw a penny because of basket accounting and the first book in her four-book contract didn’t earn out. Another writer had his career totally tanked because of a vindictive editor who used the terms of the options clause to force the writer to make endless revisions, which were ultimately rejected, but then he was held in limbo because he was unable to submit to another house until he provided a manuscript that was suitable. I could go on and on, but the real point is, my experience has been that NY publishers are bad business “partners” and thus far, Amazon has been a very good “partner.” Thus far, they’ve done exactly what they’ve promised, and that’s all I ask for. Should they start with the creative shit, we’ll be through.

      The point of this post was to express my pique over the shabby way indie publishers are being talked about. And to point out that I think the Amazon bashing makes no sense–unless there is something else far bigger behind it. Can I PROVE my suspicions? No, other than the extrapolations I can glean from the Author Earnings report and the fact that some very highly placed people are making some very strange appearances and saying some very weird things. I might be a book producer now, but at heart I’m a writer and it’s in my nature to ask why.

      By the way, I love my Kindles. I have three. And you’d be surprised what I can load onto them.

      • I should never comment on the internet because I always learn that in some way I am wrong, and I don’t like learning that. I missed you’re larger point. I can’t argue that some authors have been treated very poorly by their publishers, nor that many self-publishers like Amazon.

        That said, I don’t see the connection to the Hachette-Amazon disagreement (and the bile directed by other commentators towards people like the deals they have and resent Amazon for screwing them over; which, if you’re, say Stephen Colbert, is what Amazon is doing). I get that you had a terrible experience and have met other people who also had such bad experiences with traditional publishing that you would never go back. What I don’t get is how the traditional publishers are doing anything to screw over indie authors. Publishing competing books? What are they doing to you and other self-publishing authors that is objectionable?

        Likewise, I don’t see how self-publishing is a threat to traditional publishing. The challenges they face are changes to their traditional distribution models, not new competition. I suspect the people who are purchasing indie ePubs aren’t deciding to do so over a book from a traditional publisher, anymore than somebody picking up a $4 album from sound cloud are doing so instead of buying Beyoncé. Either they don’t like the music on major labels, or get both. I don’t work for any aspect of the publishing, distribution or book selling trade, so perhaps I’ve missed something, but self-publishing should be a huge boon for traditional publishing. Let first-time authors take the financial risks of publishing, then, if they’re successful, figure out a mutually profitable deal. For publishers, that’s a win-win. (It’s worth noting, though, that there are many authors who lack either the non-writing skills/judgement or the financial resources to properly produce and promote a novel that this model will push out.)

      • Hi London, History will prove if one of us is right and the other wrong. If Amazon suddenly morphs into many-armed beast out to devour the world and suck all our souls, feel free to pop back over here and give me a “neener neener.”

        Truly though, I believe the Big Pub conglomerates (which, by the way, are MEDIA conglomerates who own and control countless news outlets, so the machine is geared toward propaganda) and their minions are involved in a propaganda campaign. (I fought in the Cold War, I know it when I see it.) The hearts they are trying to win (Phase 2 is the grabbing the minds) are the writers. Propaganda is all about making the Lie the new Truth.

        They don’t want currently contracted writers “defecting” to the indie trenches. The want indie writers to rejoin the submission/rejection queue. They don’t want low-cost indie ebooks cutting into their profit margins. They have a specific goal in mind: Bring back the status quo when they were in charge and controlled not only content, but the producers of content, the distribution and the retailers. Their current BIG problem is that they cannot control Amazon. One way to control Amazon is to convince the writers that indie publishing is less than and undesirable and only losers choose that path.

        The real REAL problem is, we are NEVER going back to the status quo. Readers won’t tolerate it. If not Amazon, they will find something else.

        At least once a week I get an email from someone asking me my opinion about Kindle Select. I tell them all the same thing, it’s a tool that some have found useful, while others have not. What I should tell them is this: Consumers are not loyal to corporations. In fact, they are incredibly fickle and one should never, ever count on “brand loyalty” to keep the sales rolling in. Readers do, however, grow fiercely loyal and emotionally attached to writers. Focus on earning, nurturing and building that kind of loyalty, and in a few years you, too, can someday be an overnight success.

        And, London, lest you think I am just some Amazon shill, take a quick tour around this blog. The underlying message in just about everything is: Get Better, Do Better, Kick up Your Quality, Think About Your Readers, Show Respect For Your Work. I keep plugging away because my message is getting out. I SEE it when I buy new ebooks. (Heh, last month I saw one of MY little formatting tricky tricks in a trad pub ebook. Coincidence? Maybe…)

        So I will repeat: The propagandists are LYING. Indie writers are NOT less than. They are not amateurs. They are not losers.

      • Hi Jaye,

        There wasn’t a reply button on your last comment, so this will be out of place. I don’t think you’re an Amazon shill anymore than I’m an industry shill. We both probably have our biases that limit our perspectives, but I take you as sincerely trying to sort out the new world of publishing.

        What I’m missing from what you’re writing is where this cold war campaign is happening. Maybe I’m reading the wrong things, but I haven’t encountered a huge bias against self-publishing. The blogs I read have accepted it as an option a professional author might take. None of the editors I know dismiss self-publishing (one even self-published her own writing book). Most of the agents I follow now take on clients who want to self-publish, but need guidance.

    • London,

      You have a few misconceptions about publishing that are preventing you from understanding what is really going on. The primary bone of contention in the Hachette-Amazon dispute is who sets the retail price of ebooks, not what the split between Amazon and Hachette is. I have explained this at length elsewhere (Konrath’s blog). Also, Hachette’s model is NOT “built on subsidizing a large number of unprofitable authors in order to find the few authors who will sell millions of dollars of books.” That is one of the more bizarre myths of publishing. It would be more accurate to say that their business model is based taking sales away from “unprofitable” authors and funneling those sales to the authors who sell millions of dollars of books.

      The real threat from indie authors is not to near-term profitability. Hachette is negotiating for an agreement that would bring them (and their authors) less money from ebooks. They are doing that to protect their ability to extract more money from buyers of hardcover bestsellers. Imagine that Big 5 profits are an artificial lake created by a dam. The dam is their lock on “front table” print distribution and the rise of the indie author is slowly eating away at that dam. When the dam bursts, the profits will dry up overnight. You don’t have to believe me about this. Go read the documents that were released in the ebook antitrust case. Hachette and the big publishers know what the threat is.

      • Hi William,

        I’m aware that the Big 5 make more profits on hardcovers and want to protect that. What I don’t grasp is how their model could be taking sales away from “unprofitable” authors to shore up the big sellers. As a business model, that doesn’t make sense (even as a legacy model). Why bother with unprofitable authors at all, unless you’re doing so because knowing what will sell big isn’t a science and you need a large pool to draw from. I read your response at the beginning of my train ride into work this morning and couldn’t come up with anything that would make sinking the costs of acquisition, editing and printing people who you expect to lose money as a scheme to sell more of your known profit centers.

        I’m honestly curious about how you think this works. How do they funnel sales to best-selling authors and, if they do, why do they bother having low-selling authors?

      • I can answer that, London.

        The simple fact is, the Big 5 publishers do NOT have a viable business model. To understand why, you have to look at the history.

        Up until the 1960s publishing was pretty much a “gentleman’s” game, almost an indulgence. Nobody expected to become fabulously, ridiculously rich selling books. Lots of people made a living, sure, but it wasn’t a big deal and nobody in publishing was a power-broker. Then a curious thing happened. One of the publishers produced a mega-blockbuster. Not a best seller, a MONSTROUS BLOCKBUSTER novel (and I believe it was THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS). The publisher made enough money so that everyone in the company could have retired comfortably to Aruba. And of course, publishers said, “Holy shit, we can make REAL money with books!”

        That’s when publishing started to change. Instead of a gentleman’s game, it became serious business and the goal was to produce mega-blockbusters. Not mere best sellers, not award winners, not serious literary “culture”–blockbusters. In other words, it became gambling.

        The trouble is, gambling is never a good business strategy because the house always wins. In the case of publishing, the “house” are readers. So the big publishers tried to fix the odds. They began merging, growing bigger. They took control of distribution. The encouraged the growth of big book chains such as B&N and Borders, and then they did their best to control them. In some ways, it worked. The publishers produced blockbusters and got richer and richer and bigger and bigger and they tightened the controls.

        Blockbusters pay for the executive salaries, the Manhattan offices, and the expensive lunches. So the Big 5 chase blockbusters, much the way gamblers flock to Vegas in hopes of the big score.

        The underlying problem is this: They couldn’t control the readers. They tried. They tried very hard. It’s impossible. Since it’s impossible, there is no way to predict when a book will turn into a blockbuster, so the publishers gave up on readers as something they could manipulate directly and put all their focus on the things they could control. It’s tricky business and failure always lurks right around the corner. It involves a lot of unpredictable factors and market manipulation and careful timing. In the ’90s, the business grew increasingly shaky because even though blockbusters were still making a lot of money, they were not making enough. There was too much competition from television, movies and other media. High prices were driving consumers out of the retail market. So the merging increased, the distribution narrowed further, the book chains got bigger, and the BPH became more dependent than ever on the blockbusters.

        Then along comes Amazon and those rat bastards turned internet retailing into a viable business model. Not only that, being consumer-centric, Amazon wanted no part of the blockbuster game. I imagine the publishers pretty much dismissed Amazon at first, thinking they were a flash in the pan and of no consequence. After all, they weren’t part of the publishing elite and they didn’t play along the way the big book store chains did. Then came Kindles and ebooks and that consumer-centric business model suddenly became a force to be reckoned with. The big publishers do not know how to compete in a open marketplace. They’d lost touch with their readers (if they ever were in touch in the first place).

        When William says, “It would be more accurate to say that their business model is based taking sales away from ‘unprofitable’ authors and funneling those sales to the authors who sell millions of dollars of books,” what he’s stating is the simple fact that blockbusters are a very expensive gamble and the money to fund their pursuit has to come from somewhere. That somewhere is every book that is NOT a blockbuster.

      • Hi Jaye,

        Once again, this comment is misplaced in the thread because I’m not getting a reply button under your response 😦

        I don’t want to be a troll, but your conclusion doesn’t make any sense to me. Unless you assume that publishers are deeply stupid, they wouldn’t focus on best sellers unless they were making a lot of money from best sellers. Since I have a friend who used to work on the printing side of the publishing industry, I know that they are professional and MBAized enough to be running a lot of data analysis. Unless there is some aspect of their business where sales aren’t actually the main profit center (aka, like Amazon, where they can lose money on certain categories to gain loyalty, and thus long-term customer lock-in), they are going to put the majority of their sales efforts towards the products most likely to make them the most money.

        I can’t think of any way they would come up with a model where they depend on books that don’t make money to support books that do, which is what you seem to be suggesting. Or perhaps you mean there is no money to be made in best-sellers?

      • Yeah, the reply button is sorta arbitrary, isn’t it…

        Anyway, to answer as best I can, how the Big Publishing Houses (and there is a difference between the Big 5 and the independent and smaller publishers) “rob” some authors to pay for blockbusters.

        First, you have to understand who creates blockbusters. Casual readers, limited readers, and gift buyers. The people who might purchase one or two books a year. They will pay $30 for a hardcover. And they are most influenced by whatever is placed right in front of them. They don’t browse for new reads. They might not be comfortable in book stores. They want whatever is hottest (according to marketing and promotion) and easiest to get hold of.

        What the Big Pubs do, if they suspect/wish/hope they have a blockbuster on their hands, is use all their resources to push that book. It goes into airports, front tables in bookstores, “best seller” slots in grocery stores, and in massive shipments to bookstores. Ads are purchased, the author is sent on book tours, a lot of noise and hoorah ensues.

        Ever wonder why some books appear as a NYT Number One Best Seller before they’re even released? It’s because the list includes bookstore orders–not sales to actual readers. (Because the books are returnable, there is absolutely no risk to bookstores who play along with the publishers. They can order a thousand, sell a few copies, then ship the rest back without even opening the cases.) Remember those casual readers? They want the best book, so a quick look at the NYT best seller list, and there you go.

        All those best seller slots cost money. Front tables cost money. Noise and hoorah and book tours cost money. And it doesn’t always work. When it does, rejoicing and celebration because one mega blockbuster can pay for a helluva lot of champagne.

        Where does the money come from? Best sellers do make money–they just don’t make the kind of panty-wetting money the Big Pubs want. The mid-list used to make money. But the Big 5 aren’t satisfied with that anymore, so they’re letting it die through neglect. Those books are given minimal attention, minimal marketing and promotion (if any), and if they do well, hooray, if not, churn out another.

        When a hoped-for mega blockbuster fails to materialize, well, the publisher has paid a lot of money–A LOT–and that money has to come from somewhere. Ever read Animal Farm? Non-blockbuster authors are Boxer. They work and work and work, and when they can work no more, off to the knacker they go. It’s not just hard cash where the non-blockbuster gets hit. Their books get lower print runs and less distribution. They have less time to “prove” themselves. Much like the family of a compulsive gambler, they are the ones forced to live on the edge, insecure and neglected, while the gambler is off trying for the next big score.

        Doesn’t make business sense? It does if you can consistently produces mega-blockbusters. Therein lies the rub. Nobody knows exactly why a book becomes a mega-blockbuster. They can only guess and hope and wish and pour as much capital into the venture as possible to help it along. Since it takes scale to play this game, the big players merge and pool resources. They make deals with each other and do their best to clear out the riffraff who might get in their way.

      • I think the reply button works to a certain point of hierarchy, then just puts everything at the bottom. Which isn’t a hinderance for this conversation 🙂

        What you describe is pretty much how I think of the business as working, except I view that as a reasonable business decision, and believe that process subsidizes lesser-selling authors rather than rob from them. To clarify, the rational business decision is to throw your marketing resources towards where they will generate the most returns (actually, this is true of all of your business expenses). As an indie publisher, if you write romance, you’re not going to put much effort into reaching people who read thrillers (unless you have cross-over appeal). Publishers are going to act exactly the same. Since Amazon and large bookstores require payments for prominent placement, they’ll only make those investments for books they expect to reach a broad (and casual) audience. It would be a poor use of resources to push a book that isn’t likely to have broad a appeal.

        The fact that they don’t know what book/author will hit big means they have to invest in a broad catalog of less profitable titles. Those titles aren’t subsidizing the blockbusters, they are feasible to publish in large numbers because the blockbuster model both funds their publication and demands a pool of potential hits to draw from. When you complain that these publishers are foreclosing on mid-list authors when the blockbusters fail, what you mean is that they are no longer subsidizing lesser sellers. Nobody is going to cut a profitable product unless they have a product they believe will be more profitable to replace it. That’s especially true of MBA types. So an author whose book isn’t earning back or isn’t making much money might get cut to make room for new authors the company believes could make more money.

        I happen to like the kind of small films that rarely get financed anymore. I like a lot of literary fiction that isn’t particularly profitable. I like music that isn’t supported by major labels. So I’m not especially happy about the turn towards the blockbuster model. But its a sensible strategy and I can’t think of why mid-list authors deserve to be published if they’re not profitable, or even if they’re not profitable enough to justify the resources within the publisher’s business plan.

  8. Big publishing houses ran the bookstores out of business, as far as I’m concerned. All I saw in the fronts of bookstores were sections devoted entirely to the best seller of the month and its clones. Sure, the prices had been slashed dramatically on those best sellers, but, eh, I wasn’t often interested. Most of the books I wanted were lumped together under “Fiction,” and it was impossible to browse unless I wanted to spend hours randomly pulling out books with attractive spines. I remember racking my brain, trying to come up with the names of authors whose works I’d previously enjoyed, which basically meant I was browsing in my own head, and success meant I wouldn’t be discovering a new author. There were books all around me, and I couldn’t find anything to read. If bookstores aren’t places where readers can dig up treasure, they are nothing, and big box bookstores became nothing because their focus was what publishers were convinced would sell. I stopped shopping in bookstores long before I bought a Kindle. I had just as much chance finding something to read at a yard sale. I realize now that I’d almost stopped reading.

    I miss bookstores, but I miss the bookstores I remember from 30 years ago. I do shop in independent bookstores, but the internet is where it’s at, when I’m looking for reading treasure. I read more now than I ever have. I am in heaven! Part of it is technology. It’s so easy to browse, so easy to buy, all from the comfort of my home. Additionally, I’m enjoying a much larger selection. Small publishers, Indies, even The Big Five…they’ve all entertained me, recently. And, yes, I made all of my purchases through Amazon, and I read them on my Kindle.

    So, what, we desperately need to go back to the bad old days? So The Big Five can go back to making sure we mostly see only the books they most want to sell? There should be laws to control the company that is providing readers with lots of reading material? No thanks. What I see are companies struggling to keep their own tunnel vision business model alive, and they want to force another business to help them do it. Are publishing companies afraid of Indies? Heck, yeah. They stand not only to lose future cash cows to self publishing, but their current cash cows, as well. Big publishing houses have been all about control for a long time, and now they not only can’t control readers, they can’t control writers. So, there is hysteria and there are accusations and there is squirming. Publishing companies would do far better to change with the times and focus on providing variety to readers, because not doing that is what has landed them where they are.

    • Good points, Marina. I went for several years buying barely any books. Buying. I still read as much as ever, but I couldn’t afford my habit at retail prices. I wasn’t all that enchanted with the increasingly narrow selection either. Or the dreary sameness of editorial lines. Indie publishing has changed all that. I buy ebooks now, and many of my favorite writers are putting out their back lists and I can actually find them without having to root through dusty used book stores.

      People seem to forget what was happening in the ’90s. Chain bookstores, high prices, publishing mergers, and steadily downward sales. I remember well when authors (and publishers) were in a major panic over used book sales, to the point where there was talk of hiring lobbyists to induce Congress to make a law mandating royalties for used book sales. It never went anywhere, thank goodness. The rise of Amazon was a response, not a cause.

  9. I recently bought a series by one of my favorite authors that had finally been made available as ebooks. Big publishing house (DAW – Random Penguin). Atrocious editing. Tons of misspelled words – two of the characters speak with a pronounced accent, and nobody bothered to fix the scanning mistakes in their speech. It seems indeed as if the print version was simply scanned and slapped into a file. At least the font is nice to read.

    This is sad, just as you say. It is a clear a sign of no respect, even for a mega-bestselling author who has been with them for decades. And it shows exactly how big publishers tread their authors. (I wish she could cut free and be a happy indie.)

    • I hear ya, Hannah. I am wildly, at times irrationally passionate about books and stories and writers. Any sign of disrespect (including writers who disrespect their own work) makes me a little nuts. Occasionally a lot nuts.

      What really chaps me about the poor attention given many ebooks by far too many trad pubs is the disrespect they show for readers. I shouldn’t be surprised by their shabby disregard for their own product. I stopped buying mass market paperbacks a few years ago because they were so poorly produced. Text running into the spine; shoddy bindings that popped; haphazard editorial. Inexcusable. Hell, I own 50-year-old pulp paperbacks that are still in readable condition and their original prices range from 35 cents to two bucks. They might have been “cheap” but they were well made.

      • This is something I’ve been seeing more of the last couple or so years – shoddy editing from trad publishers. It blows my mind that indies are so often demolished in the media, blog posts, and such for bad editing when even the big boys of trad publishing apparently aren’t doing their due diligence anymore. Are indies guilty of that? Some segment of them, absolutely – mostly because they don’t have a clue. But I’ve been reading indie novels who are, quite honestly, better edited than some of the books I’ve been seeing from trad publishers. I only read paperbacks, incidentally, so these aren’t scanning errors that I’ve heard numerous complaints from folks with e-reading devices. There are just flat out bad editing – typos, bad grammar, word substitutions, improper punctuation, things of that nature. The only thing I can figure is some trad pubs are getting lazy about editing because they’re realizing some readers won’t care (thus the popularity of some of the worst written indie novels *G*), regardless of how other readers desire well-edited books. At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with.

  10. Pingback: Hachette v. Amazon | Runnin Off at the Mouth....

  11. Nice post, Jaye. Back in the years (decades) when I was being published traditionally, my goal when I sent a manuscript off to an editor, of which there were a rotating number over time, was that she, to say nothing of the proofreader, shouldn’t be able to so much as blunt a pencil on it.

    I don’t see any reason why I should approach self-publishing any differently, swapping in reader for editor and making that pencil a kind of mental check-off.

    And, mirabile dictu, you always help me hone in on that.

  12. Pingback: Are Indie Authors Hurting Publishers’ Pockets? | WriteGear

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