questions about self-publishing and e-publishing

Joe Konrath: "Amazon Will Destroy You"


Here’s an interesting blog post by Joe Konrath. It’s not a long post; it gets right to the point. I recommend reading it, especially if you’re a new author.

I agree on some things, I’m not sure about others. I’m not sure because I still haven’t tried out self-publishing with Amazon. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t one of the first to get into e-publishing. I don’t know when Konrath started looking into digital publishing, but I started with one e-publisher nine years ago who was bought out by someone else. Three years after that, I moved on to loveyoudivine.com (where I remain), and then started writing genre fiction for ravenousromance.com. Including all the work I’ve had published with traditional publishers over the years, I have about 90 different published works out there (I’m honestly not completely sure about the exact number), most with my real name.

I have no regrets. I’m glad I made the switch to e-publishing in spite of more than one piece of advice from publishing professionals who told me not to waste my time with e-publishing. I’m glad I didn’t listen. The switch to e-publishing has allowed me to write more, release more, and build my reader base.

My overall experience with e-publishers has been very positive. Even though I’m not self-published and I don’t have complete control, I don’t have any complaints. More often than not the advice I receive from my publishers has been something that has helped me move forward. I’m not sure I could have done that alone. This doesn’t mean I’m still not curious about the self-publishing program at Amazon.

Books, Agents, Amazon, and Self-publishing

I thought this article was interesting for several reasons. It definitely shows that times are changing. The people at Amazon, like them or not, clearly know what they are doing.

It’s still too soon to tell how all this will turn out. I wouldn’t even begin to predict the future in this sense. But I do find it interesting that the very people who were laughing at e-books and self-publishing are now starting to embrace it…with the mindset that they are going to control the industry, continue to be the gatekeepers, and dictate what they think should be published instead of what the readers think should be published.

If I were a self-published author, I’d be forming a group of some kind and reminding everyone that I was one of the people who paved the way for Amazon, e-books, and digital publishing. I’d be looking for ways to empower myself through a larger organization. Because without these brave self-published writers none of this would be happening right now. The same goes for all the hard-working start up e-publishers who’ve been working their tails off, while large publishers and some (not all) literary agents have been sitting with their thumbs up their behinds waiting for e-books to disappear.

Here’s some copy from the article, below, and here’s a link. There’s also an interesting disclaimer at the bottom I didn’t publish in this post. It’s worth reading the entire piece.

Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of DealBy DAVID STREITFELD

SEATTLE — Amazon.com has taught readers that they do not need bookstores. Now it is encouraging writers to cast aside their publishers.

Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times
Laurel Saville’s memoir about her mother was self-published at first. It is scheduled to be published by Amazon next month.

Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer’s fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers.

It has set up a flagship line run by a publishing veteran, Laurence Kirshbaum, to bring out brand-name fiction and nonfiction. It signed its first deal with the self-help author Tim Ferriss. Last week it announced a memoir by the actress and director Penny Marshall, for which it paid $800,000, a person with direct knowledge of the deal said.

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.

Several large publishers declined to speak on the record about Amazon’s efforts. “Publishers are terrified and don’t know what to do,” said Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, who is known for speaking his mind.

“Everyone’s afraid of Amazon,” said Richard Curtis, a longtime agent who is also an e-book publisher. “If you’re a bookstore, Amazon has been in competition with you for some time. If you’re a publisher, one day you wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out.

“It’s an old strategy: divide and conquer,” Mr. Curtis said.

Amazon executives, interviewed at the company’s headquarters here, declined to say how many editors the company employed, or how many books it had under contract. But they played down Amazon’s power and said publishers were in love with their own demise.

“It’s always the end of the world,” said Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon’s top executives. “You could set your watch on it arriving.”

He pointed out, though, that the landscape was in some ways changing for the first time since Gutenberg invented the modern book nearly 600 years ago. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in.

Publishers caught a glimpse of a future they fear has no role for them late last month when Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, a tablet for books and other media sold by Amazon. Jeffrey P. Bezos, the company’s chief executive, referred several times to Kindle as “an end-to-end service,” conjuring up a world in which Amazon develops, promotes and delivers the product.

For a sense of how rattled publishers are by Amazon’s foray into their business, consider the case of Kiana Davenport, a Hawaiian writer whose career abruptly derailed last month.

In 2010 Ms. Davenport signed with Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin, for “The Chinese Soldier’s Daughter,” a Civil War love story. She received a $20,000 advance for the book, which was supposed to come out next summer.

If writers have one message drilled into them these days, it is this: hustle yourself. So Ms. Davenport took off the shelf several award-winning short stories she had written 20 years ago and packaged them in an e-book, “Cannibal Nights,” available on Amazon.

When Penguin found out, it went “ballistic,” Ms. Davenport wrote on her blog, accusing her of breaking her contractual promise to avoid competing with it. It wanted “Cannibal Nights” removed from sale and all mentions of it deleted from the Internet.

Ms. Davenport refused, so Penguin canceled her novel and has said it will pursue legal action if she does not return the advance.

Question and Answer…

I receive a lot of questions from new writers and other authors. Once in a while, readers have questions. Sometimes the questions are private and other times they are more generic. I’d never mention any names on this blog. But I’ve decided to answer a few of the generic questions because I think most people are curious about them.

So many writers seem to be getting into self publishing now. I see all of them on facebook and twitter promoting books of non-fiction and fiction novels. Does this mean it’s a waste of time to query agents?

Like most questions about getting a book published, there is no easy answer to this. I wish there were, but there isn’t. I can only talk about my own personal experience and how I feel about querying agents.

First, I think it depends on the book you’re writing. If you’re writing m/m erotic fiction or m/m romance, I don’t think querying agents is the best route to go. This is based on my past experience, and someone else might have had a different experience. But I never got anywhere pitching m/m anything to literary agents. In fact, I’ve had some reply with scathing e-mails, insinuating they are far too grand to represent m/m erotica or romance. Those agents who say they represent “gay/lesbian” authors are usually looking for more literary novels…the arty, sad-sack, novels where gay people are repressed and helpless, where gay people are bullied, kicked, and discriminated against in society. I call them quasi emotional novels, kind of like when you know a popular talk show host on TV is exploiting a serious issue to get ratings. And I don’t write novels like that. I don’t exploit the gay community ever. I also know one or two agents out there are gay, but not openly gay. Ironically, they represent mostly mainstream straight fiction. I’m not fond of that kind of insincerity either.

But if you’re trying to get something more mainstream published (in any genre), I certainly don’t think it can hurt to query agents. A good agent will guide you and nurture you, and set you on the right path toward publication. I do think it’s important to research each agent you do query to make sure they represent the kind of book you’re pitching. I also think it’s important to follow each agent’s query guidelines to the last letter because it will give you a better shot at getting their attention…and respect. And please be sure you never use the term “fiction novel” like in the question above. They don’t like this; they will penalize you for this. And you always want to make a good impression up front with the query letter. These days, there’s enough information on the web about most literary agents to get a feel about what they are like. Do the research.

One common factor I’ve always seen about querying agents is that writers tend to obsess about it a little too much. I’ve known writers who would spend weeks working on one query letter instead of working on their books. I know it takes time to write a decent query, but if you’re spending more time writing the query than you are writing the book, there might be something wrong with the way you are going about things. And the ironic part of it all is that it’s really the writing that’s going to impress the agent in the end, the query letter is just the vehicle that’s going to get you there.

As far as self-publishing goes, I know a lot of authors who are doing it. I haven’t, but I’ve thought about it many times. I do applaud all these authors for taking their own careers into their own hands. The Internet has opened up opportunities for authors in ways that couldn’t have been imagined ten years ago. And if you’re not taking advantage of all the opportunities out there, it might be time to take a step back and evaluate what you’ve been doing. Self-publishing used to be what writers did when all else failed. I think that’s changed now, and I think self-publishing is something writers do now when they want to empower themselves and control their own careers.

To sum it up, do it all. Query agents, query publishers who take unagented submissions. Contact all the wonderful e-publishers out there. And don’t get hung up on rejection for too long. When you hear that publishing is a subjective business, it’s not someone being polite.

Questions About E-publishing and Self-Publishing E-books…

I’m not trying to step on any toes here. But I wrote a post about the difference between self-publishing and e-publishing, and I’ve had a lot of e-mails because people didn’t feel secure leaving comments on the thread.

I’ve answered them all. I don’t know much about self-publishing because I’ve never done it. But I do know the process for e-publishing very well because I’ve been doing it for seven years now. And the I know the basic difference between the two, at least enough to help steer a new author in the right direction.

So please feel free to use this open comment thread to ask questions anonymously and I will answer them the best I can. I hate to see authors and readers confused, especially when it involves money out of their own pockets. And if I can help with some of the misinformation out there, I will. And If I don’t know, I’ll admit it and try to point you in the right direction to someone who does know.

All comments will be treated with absolute discretion and you can comment a year from now if you’d like.