If you read books, write books, or collect books, or like, love, or hate books, if there is one (long) blog post about the Book Business you need to read, this is it. It’s a conversation between writers Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath at Konrath’s blog A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.
Here’s an excerpt,
Joe: You and I and our peers are essential. We’re the writers. We provide the content that is printed and distributed.
For hundreds of years, writers couldn’t reach readers without publishers. We needed them.
Now, suddenly, we don’t. But publishers don’t seem to be taking this Very Important Fact into account.
Barry: Well, again, I think they’re taking it into account, but they’re drawing the wrong conclusions. The wrong conclusion is: I’m in the paper business, paper keeps me essential, therefore I must do all I can to retard the transition from paper to digital. The right conclusion would be: digital offers huge cost, time-to-market, and other advantages over paper. How can I leverage those advantages to make my business even stronger?
Currently, my novel The List is the #15 bestseller on all of Amazon. I wrote that book 12 years ago, and it was rejected by every major NY publisher. I self-published it on Amazon two years ago, and it has sold over 35,000 copies.
Barry: That is insane. Aside from some major external event–a big movie release, something like that–it’s almost unheard of for a backlist paper book to suddenly become a bestseller. Yet that’s exactly what just happened to The List.
Joe: Because I dropped the price.
Barry: Well shit, legacy publishers use dynamic pricing to move books all the time.
Joe: Sorry, I just spewed beer all over my monitor.
Barry: I apologize.
Joe: No problem. But right, with digital you have the option to put an ebook on sale. I originally self-published The List in April of 2009. It went on to sell 25,000 ebooks at $2.99. Now, two years later, I lowered the price, and it’s selling 1500 copies a day. Things like that don’t happen in paper. But in self-publishing, I’m seeing more and more books take their sweet time finding an audience, then take off.
Joe: But even if we set aside the money, the Times has ample motive for not putting indie authors on their bestseller list. Newspapers, like Big 6 publishers, are remnants of the analog age. Printing and shipping paper is an antiquated form of distributing media. These companies are trying to stay relevant in a digital future, and aren’t doing so well at it. Certainly the fact that I can sell more books than most bestselling Big 6 authors shows how ineffective the Big 6 are. So publishers, both newspaper and book, have an aligned interest in keeping digital at bay. Keeping it out of the public eye is one way to forestall things.
Barry: Right. Look, if the Times bestseller list were really just about sales–you know, if it were really just about the books that were “selling” the “best”–than you and a lot of other indie authors would be on it, because your numbers inarguably put you there. But the Times won’t allow it. What we can infer from the Times’ behavior, therefore, is that what they call a “bestseller” list is in fact a “those bestselling books we believe have been properly vetted and blessed by trusted establishment players with whom we see our interests as aligned” list.
I could keep excerpting, but just go and take the time and read the whole thing. It’s an insightful look at the current state of publishing involving one indie writer (Konrath) and one (Eisler) who just turned down a six-figure deal from a publishing house. As I contemplate yet another rejection letter from an agency, going indie sounds far more appealing.