“We Needed Them”

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?

and another,

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.

and another,

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.


8 thoughts on ““We Needed Them”

  1. When will you self publish?

  2. I hear you I was turned down by houses, agents, representatives the whole lot. I finally found a small publishing company to take me on, not without a lot of drawbacks… I hope you find success and keep on writing, because at times it is the only thing that keeps us sane!

  3. Thanks for alerting us about this great article. Certainly worth considering for us who self-publish. There is one e-publisher Books for a Buck, I think they would agree with. I am wondering if a lot of Barry’s success is that he let the “legacy” publishers, as he calls them, establish his name for him, and now he can ride on being a known quantity. Would a really good book by an unknown author do well as an e-book priced very, very low?

  4. Interesting read.

    14.5% of DIGITAL books goes to the author? That’s fucking insane! Why buy into that?
    I especially liked the feudal lord/serf analogy.

    Rich, I think you should think twice about trying to find a traditional publisher. Especially if that means giving up digital rights.

  5. @Cynthia, having been published by “Legacy” publishers definitely gives Barry Eisler a definite advantage. But there are new writers like Amanda Hocking who have never been published by a traditional publishing house and are making a lot of money as an indie writer. For indie writers, it really is DIY; you have to write, edit, and promote your writing.

    Success is still a crapshoot. But when you look at the numbers, especially for digital books as transientreporter pointed out, keeping in mind that advances for new authors are shrinking with every day, the incentive (need) to work with a big publishing house is being diminished. Going indie makes more sense for a lot of writers.

  6. Perusing the blog you linked to above, I eventually find this gem:

    “You do not pay a royalty to anyone who is doing day-labor. All book production should be done for a flat fee (and there are plenty of folks who will do it for very reasonable fees). Paying a royalty to someone for prepping an ebook is akin to paying the kid who cuts your grass a percentage of the purchase price when you sell your house.”


    The link is here.

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