As mentioned in my previous post, Amazon recently announced the launch of another imprint – Thomas and Mercer. This imprint is for mysteries and thrillers, and joins their list of four other genre imprints.
So what does this news mean for us aspiring authors? Sadly, I think it makes the journey ahead even harder.
As far as I can tell, Thomas and Mercer are signing authors who are already top sellers on Amazon, including authors who have previously had traditional publishing deals, and those who have built success by self-publishing. As well as promoting these author’s eBooks, Thomas and Mercer will also be printing books and distributing them to bookstores. I haven’t seen how the figures work with royalties etc, but judging by Eisler’s statements, it looks like Amazon are probably continuing with their fixed 30% commission, which they take from every eBook sold on their site. I don’t know if this is the same percentage they will receive for the print books as well.
The disheartening news for newbie self-publishers is that Thomas and Mercer don’t appear to be accepting submissions for new work. They are cherry picking authors who are already successful on Amazon. This makes perfect business sense. They are only investing in authors who they know are popular and in high demand already. All these authors will have worked for years and years to get in the position they are now in, so of course they deserve all their success and the spoils that will come with Thomas and Mercer’s backing. Success breeds success. But you can bet that when you go into the Amazon eBook store, the books that will be promoted front and center, at the top of the page, will be Amazon imprint signed authors. I realise that Amazon was never a level playing field where all books were equal. But the bad news is that this playing field is now even less equal. It is now harder than ever for the crème of new self-published authors to rise to the top.
Barry Eisler, now famous for turning down a $500,000 publishing contract, was fleetingly considered the hero of the indie authors. In this interesting conversation with Joe Konrath, he describes the self-publishing movement as a peasant uprising against the kings of the publishing industry. It’s hard not to be a little bit inspired by this notion. I think I speak on behalf of all aspiring authors when I say that all we really ask of the publishing industry (which includes Amazon whether we like it or not) is to have an equal chance to market our work, regardless of the desires and opinions of a small monopoly of publishing heavyweights. We want out work to be given a chance to sit beside established authors who have publishing deals, and for consumers to judge based on the quality of the work, not the size of the publisher’s investment. Eisler’s decision to turn down a massive publishing deal, to me, was the tipping point for the industry. It showed that self-publishing was not only a viable alternative, but that it was actually preferable to the legacy publishing path.
But there’s a small problem with Eisler’s position now. I don’t think he can quite count himself as ‘one of the peasants’ anymore. He might look like a self-published author, but with Thomas and Mercer’s backing, he most definitely is not one. Joe Konrath, his partner in the conversation, has also been signed by Thomas and Mercer and has received quite a backlash from supporters who feel he has ‘sold-out’ from his position as rebel leader of indie authors. There are even calls for indie book stores to boycott his new Thomas and Mercer book. His response to this criticism can be found here.
Both Eisler and Konrath, quite rightly, are doing what is best for their careers. And I don’t in any way resent them for their decision to join forces with Amazon. They worked tirelessly for many years to make a good living from their writing, and just like any business, they have to be profitable to survive. They never advocated self-publishing as an ideology – they advocated it as a viable way to make a living as an author. In saying this, I might not begrudge them their success, but I sure feel disheartened that my wave of optimism about a peasant uprising against traditional publishing, has been so quickly trodden on by the rise of a new publishing monopoly – Amazon.
Two authors, both success stories, with very different paths. Just a note here that Barry Eisler writes the sort of books I like to read (thrillers and fast action plot driven drama) and Amanda Hocking writes books that don’t interest me (young adult paranormal romance and urban fantasy). But I’m not letting this get in the way of my analysis of the facts of these two stories.
To summarise for those who haven’t heard about Eisler and Hocking:
Eisler has had a successful career as an author with legacy publishers, including stints on the NY Times Bestseller list. He has recently turned down a $500,000 two book deal, in preference for self publishing. He has even more recently decided to sign a deal with Amazon’s new imprint – Thomas and Mercer. More about this in my next post.
Hocking has had a huge amount of success in self publishing (digitally) and has recently landed a seven figure four book publishing deal with St Martin’s Press (a Macmillan imprint).
To read more about these authors, I have included links to their blogs above.
When I first heard about Eisler’s decision, I saw it as THE tipping point in the self-publishing vs traditional publisher debate. As someone who knows what it is like to approach traditional publishers, and quickly decided to bypass this torture and self-publish my book Times of Trouble, I was incredibly impressed with Eisler’s courage. As I have talked about previously on this blog, self publishing doesn’t have the stigma it once did – it is no longer seen as the last resort for authors who have tried every other avenue possible to get a deal with a publisher. But, even after all the success that self-published authors have had, I still thought that authors who were embedded in the traditional publishing industry, and were being offered $500k for a two book deal, would see this path as far preferable to going out there alone.
Eisler’s success in self-publishing is obviously given a major boost by his success as a best selling author under the traditional model. His name is known, his protagonist’s name is known and people already love his books. But it is still fascinating that he has ‘done the math’ and worked out that he is far better off self-publishing and contributing a percentage of his revenue to Amazon, than giving the majority of revenue to his publisher. I would have thought that publishers would be horrified by Eisler’s decision, but as far as I can tell, it’s still business as usual in the agent/publishing industry.
Hocking is also an interesting case. She says she decided to take the book deal with a major publisher so that she has more time to write. It is true that self-publishing does take up a lot of your time; time that could be spent writing. You have to manage your own editing, artwork and publicity. This includes faithfully staying in contact with your fans via social media and organising your own publicity campaigns.
There are only two problems with this reasoning. The first is that, unless a publisher has invested millions in your book deal and has their profit for the year riding on the success of your work, they don’t do your marketing for you. They might give you some pointers as how to best sell yourself, but you still do all the selling! This even includes, for most authors, setting up your own website (and paying for it), as well as organising your own publicity tour. You would also, I assume, spend a lot of time working with editors personally through the editing process etc. So what time is the publisher really saving you, which gives you more time to write?
This brings me to my second issue with Hocking’s reasoning. She wants time to write. Won’t she have plenty of time to write in the year or so that it takes her publisher to release her newest book? This factor was also a contributor to Eisler’s decision to self-publish – he knows he can get his work to the market many months before a traditional publisher could so he can start reaping the rewards straight away. Makes sense to me!
Hocking has also reasoned that a publisher can better distribute her work to readers who aren’t interested in eBooks. This idea relates to my earlier post about publishers and their most useful service – printing and distributing books to book stores.
So where do Eisler’s brave decision, and Hocking’s interesting justifications for taking a publishing deal leave me in my journey to connect readers with my new book, Conspire? I have always said I was going to try to get a traditional publishing deal before I decide to self-publish once and for all. But now I’m not so sure. I like the idea of managing the marketing process myself. I am a marketer by trade and I enjoy this part of the process, but not as much as I enjoy writing. Decisions, decisions, decisions….
In this wonderful post by Michael A. Stackpole, he compares self published authors to farmers who sell their produce from roadside stalls. Those who have traditional publishing deals are the farmers who sell their products in the grocery store.
Stackpole used the comparison to point out: “Many authors are resisting or denigrating the idea of digital self-publishing. This is like a farmer saying that the produce sold from his roadside stand just isn’t as good as the stuff you buy in the grocery store. It’s nonsense.”
This metaphor really stuck with me, because it is fitting in so many ways. Imagine a farmer spending weeks and months growing his produce, lovingly tending to it, picking it right when it’s ripe to be eaten, loading it into his truck and driving to a busy motorway to set up his roadside stand. We will need to assume at this point that there are reasons why the farmer chooses this method of distribution. He’s obviously decided not to sell his goods through a traditional grocery store for any number of reasons:
- Perhaps the grocery store already had enough other farmers supplying them with produce, and there was no room for our farmer’s stock.
- Maybe the grocery store manager only lets his friends stock him with goods, friends he’s had for years who he doesn’t want to upset by introducing more competition.
- Perhaps the farmer grows a particularly rare and special fruit, such as Tangelo, a mix between grapefruit and tangerine. The grocery store might not think there is any demand for Tangelo, so rejects the farmer’s innovative marketing proposal, in preference for the fruit people have been buying for hundreds of years.
Either way, the farmer is happy, because people are stopping by his roadside stall and love his fresh produce. The Tangelo is particularly popular. ‘Why can’t we buy this in the grocery store?’, one enthused buyer asks. The farmer starts to realise he is making more money now than he would by selling his fruit at a far cheaper price to the grocery store. He gets to keep all the profits, he mixes directly with his customers and by the time they get to the grocery store, they’ve bought enough fruit and vegetables already, so don’t even need to visit the grocer. They start to tell their friends about this wonderful little road side stall, and soon demand gets so high, the farmer opens his own market at his farm, where queues of cars line up every Saturday morning….. Ahem. I’m getting ahead of myself.
It is clear there are two important factors in the farmer’s success.
- He supplies produce that, once trialled, is instantly popular and worthy of word of mouth promotion. A author who self-publishes MUST provide work that is absolutely spot on brilliant. If someone buys a rotten apple from the farmer, his reputation is ruined. He’s no longer the popular alternative to the grocery store; he’s just the weird little man on the side of the road who marks down his fruit until he has to give it away for free. You must reward those consumers who take the time to pull over and check out your produce. Your work must be sensational.
- You have to set up your stand on a busy highway, where consumers have ample time and opportunity to pull over and purchase your product. Are you advertising your book in a place readers can find it? Or have you just plonked it on Amazon and you’re waiting for a consumer to scroll through a thousand other books before they accidently come across yours? This would be like the farmer putting his roadside stall on a road travelled by only three locals a day. Get it out there people! Find that traffic and then sell, sell, sell!
That’s all from me for now. I have to go and water my crops. I’ll be inviting you trial my Tangelos soon.