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.