Monday, February 6, 2012

The Difference A Year Makes.

So me and the family were in NYC this past weekend just for the fun of it. We didn't see any shows or events and as we're Philly Eagles fans we most definitely WERE NOT there to soak up NY Giants Superbowl fever and/or atmosphere. Oddly enough we hardly saw any of it.

Long story short; our kids think that staying in hotels overnight is the greatest thing in the world. It's up there with Disney, the beach or Six Flags. For our son's birthday this year he begged and pleaded to stay overnight in NYC. My wife and her sis, our family's event planning dictators, had little hesitation at getting out of their houses and seeing some sights and some stores so off we went up I-95 packed into a mini-van.

Great trip, lots of fun. Ice skated in central park, saw the WTC memorial, filled up on great pizza (Maryland pizza just blows, Dominoes is your best bet). Good times for all.

What does any of this have to do with a writing blog?

Interesting thing: we're pacing around the blocks by our hotel (as tourists are apt to do) looking for a diner we had seen earlier and while I'm ensuring that our three year old doesn't bolt in front of trucks, town cars and SUV taxis speeding by at only arms length my wife asks, " this a publishing place?"

I turn around and am stunned by the glorious bookstore themed wood and glass lobby of  Random House's NYC building.

And my wife says: "Stand there for a picture! We'll save it for when you're published here someday."

What came out of my mouth next would have burned the ears shut on 38 yr old Dave, the lifelong aspiring writer, like the Lords Prayer would do to a possessed teenage girl. You don't know how old I am so I'll tell you it would have been a year ago. It was almost a year ago, while perusing my daily kick of traditional agent and editor blogs, that I started hearing about "those indie guys".

That D.W. Smith guy. That Barry Eisler guy and that new Dave Gaughran guy. Most notably there was that Hocking girl and that Locke guy. Even that Bob Mayer guy (whose Area 51 paperback I had read a long time ago!) were all talking about the latest indie publishing thing.

And of course, that fucking vitriolic, big mouthed Konrath guy that everyone in "real publishing" seems to despise so much.

Independent publishing. Been around forever. Vanity presses courting loser wannabe's, paying to print their own sad books nobody would ever read. That's all I'd ever heard or read. Nothing good was ever said about it. Ever.

Then why all this noise?

Curiously I went on a Google quest and started reading what all these new experts had to say. Of course they'd all been shouting their messages longer than this last year. Konrath's been the outspoken indie-pub pundit leader since 2009. Others have been successful at it for longer but PW and legacy blogger's never  mentioned that kind of stuff.

Being in my hole in the ground I hadn't noticed any of this until the widely publicized Hocking and Locke deals. Then EVERY one of my pro-traditional agent, editor and writing blogs was talking about all those "sell-out" Kindle authors.   

I shouldn't have to draw you a picture of what happened next.

Flash back to last Saturday night in front of the Random House building on Broadway when I replied to my wife's optimistic statement:

"Fuck that! I'm gonna indie publish."

"Why are you trying all that stuff again? Remind me."  

I pointed to the glittering splendor of the lobby and the towering building situated on insanely prime Broadway real estate. "Y'see all this?" I asked.    

We both looked up at the fifty-two story opus of glass.

"Let's say, hypothetically, I write a bunch of books that sell well. Crazy runaway bestsellers."

"Hypothetical, sure."

"No matter how much I sell or make this is were the bulk of the money will always go."

"And if you you e-pub yourself and your books do really well?"

"Then I keep almost all the money for myself. I also have control over everything else involved which is about a two hour long discussion. If something doesn't work I can change it. I can write what I want when I want and as much as I want."

"Why would you be limited to what and how much you can write? Don't they want lots of books from you?"

"Long story hon, but for some insane reason, no, they actually don't. A related item is called the 'no-compete clause', almost every writer has to sign one, especially an unknown newbie. Let's just say when you're trying to make a career as a writer it's a living hell." 

"But don't they do things it's impossible to do on your own."

"Traditionally, yeah. They always did with paper books. I never thought there would be another way but just like with hundreds of other industries digital tech and the internet has changed everything. The reader of the future isn't someone driving around to bookstores and browsing for hours. They're sitting on their couch with their device, downloading instantly and for a lot less money because they don't have to cover the shipping costs for millions of tons of paper and they don't have to pay for this" I pointed up at the magnificent building a chip shot from Central Park. "Things have really changed."

"But isn't there a movie coming out from that new big writer, they're saying it's the new Twilight? That was done by a big publishing house wasn't it? 

"Oh yeah, they're still in business and they have all the top name writers still writing hits but if you look at the percentages those writers are lottery winners. I'm talking about statistics, not luck. Those writers are the Tom Brady's, Mark Zuckerberg's and Lady Gaga's of publishing. They get taken care of and they make a ton of money because of how popular they've gotten but you have to look at the other 99.9% of writers out there. That's not reality for most people, the vast majority of writers are lucky if they make 30-50k to live on but almost all of them still have to teach or work another job. If I did get accepted by a big publisher as an unknown nobody I'd get printed and have one copy stuck sideways on a shelf in a bookstore. That's about it.

"But bookstores are closing. I read that Barnes and Noble is in trouble now."

"Yup, when Hechinger's and Builder's Square died Lowes and Home Depot bought up their locations but no one's ponying up a half billion to put new bookstores in all the Borders locations and no one will do the same if Barnes and Noble goes down.

"Ok, but not every writer who puts their book online is making millions."

"Oh God no! Very few are making a fortune. But would you mind if I made, say, 20-30k a month after I have a dozen books published?"

"Hell no!" She laughed.

"Well, a lot more writers are doing that now where before they barely made enough in a year to cover their car payments. It's possible where before you got a 5k advance, if that, and most people never sell enough to earn it back. They basically "owe" the publisher throughout their careers. A lot of writers with traditional publishing experience are calling it indentured servitude now that they can e-publish on their own." 

"That's pretty harsh."

"That's what they have to say about it."
She thought for a second and then asked. "But don't a lot of people still think that "real writers" only come from publishers?"

"Oh yeah, lots. But that's changing. quickly actually. Read some reader blogs, people who swore they'd never use a Kindle or ipad get one and never touch a paper book again. Publishers can only put out so many books a year so they're very selective but there's a lot of great writers out there who write outside of the molds, the trends and the formula's. Whenever a reader finds an indie book they love, that a big NY house would never have touched, it's more money they'll never make and another tiny nail in their coffin."    

"Your mom will never use a Kindle. I asked her if she wanted one and she said "heck no"."

"Probably. But she hasn't actually seen one yet. If you told me she'd get a Wii for excercise or a Nintendo DS for playing games I'd call you crazy. I gotta say, finishing that new King paperback that's 800 pages is taking me forever. I just can't do it, I'm too used to a device. It's a big change. Amazon sold tens of millions of Kindles this last year and tablets are still a relatively new thing. There will be hundreds of millions more e-readers and tablets, as many as there are cell phones, before you know it. More and more people are getting hooked on them. Paper book sales are dying and readers don't really seem to care. A whole generation is being raised on using devices for everything, not just sending texts and playing games. I hate to say it but paper books are essentially dead, it's just a matter of time."

"No one knows that for sure?"

"When's the last time we bought a CD or a DVD? How about a VHS tape? Is the internet going away?  Is anyone getting tired of mp3's, boycotting itunes and paying for the big casette tape comeback? The future of books will definitely be digital, one way or another."

"Good point, we download everything now."

"So you take away that huge, expensive paper printing and distribution process and all publishers will do for writers in the future is put their books online for them."

"What about marketing? Guys like Grisham and King have sold hundreds of millions of books. I've never heard of any of those independent writers you like."

"Yeah, the really giant sellers have always been with traditional. But, except for a handful like Rowling and Meyer's, the huge sellers all took decades to get there. Kindle publishing's only been here a few years, it took paper publisher over a hundred years to get where they are now. The popularity of e-books has multiplied in only a couple of years where it's already more profitable than paper and it's everyone's focus now.Will some new writer put out something that catches on with readers and takes off and sells tens of millions and gets a movie deal? I don't think it will be a matter of if but when and from who. They're called viral hits for a reason. There's hundreds of millions of  young people in India and Asia reading on their phones right now. Who do you think will find a way to connect with them? Dead tree pushers who think it's still 1986, where anything different is just a silly fad to be ignored, or Amazon and Apple?

"Ok, so there's no point in getting on a bookshelf if they're going away but if you want to be published digitally, if that's the future, then they can do it for you. Isn't that what you want?"

"Yeah, but for editing, doing a cover and uploading I'll only get about 17% of the money because they'll take over 50 and Amazon gets their 30 off the top. Plus I would never deal with a big publishing house all alone so I would get an agent. That's another 15% of my cut. All that money gone for things I'm perfectly capable of doing myself when e-pub becomes the majority of book sales, which they will."

My wife, the business school grad, thought for a second and said: "Well that's a shitty deal! If it was money for the family, even a little, and you signed a deal like that I'd be furious with you."


I snapped the pic you see above and turned and walked away from one of publishing's Mecca's without another glance and only thought about finding my next slice of NYC pizza.

A year ago God knows what I would have done instead; cried from an overwhelming sense of reverence, gotten on my knees and forehead and solemnly hummed, pounded on the class and screamed like Dustin Hoffman in the wedding scene from The Graduate, pressed something against the glass and gyrated until I left a stain?

Who knows.

But I never would have had a dismissive conversation about traditional publishing and then went looking for more of the worlds best pizza.

What a difference a year makes.   


  1. Hi David!

    Ah, Random House. Remind me to tell you my Random House story some time. Long story short, those guys kicked me in the dangly bits.

    You have a great blog here. Now back to writing, you!

  2. Mike

    Thanks for the visit and the follow, I'm up to 9 now, moving up in the world! Appreciate the compliment in the e-mail as well.

    About Random House, wasn't meant as a rip on them, just a little ironic after a lifetime of paper dreams. Love to hear your story.

    I'm pretty much coming out of the obligatory 8-12 month long "Damn you Big-6, Damn you all to hell!" phase that everyone seems to go through once they get the indie mindset. I had to remind myself that, having no traditional experince, that I should stay objective but this year should say a lot about the future.

    Funny thing about the Blog-O-Sphere, after said lifetime of paper dreams (and absorbing half a library's worth of "how-to" publishing books and pub trades) a lot of us are only now learning things about how publishing has worked all along that those of us on the outside (without a real clue) never would have imagined were taking place.

    An industry with a code of silence. What should that tell those of us with no experience?

    Related; just read a blog post from Piers Anthony on his new publishing service site, Premiere Digital. He's one of many authors who I've been wondering when they'll show up on Kindle. I expected to hear about how much he loved the independence, control, out of print books being available, etc.

    Nope. None of that. He BLASTED the Big-6! He was bullied, exploited, coherced, sued, blacklisted...etc. He was pissed, worse than anything I've ever heard from Konrath.

    I was floored. Piers-f&$king-Anthony! A Grand Master with 150 books whose been around FOREVER, treated like that? Are you kidding me?

    Worlds full of surprises these days. Good times.

    All the best.

  3. Oh, I remember those days when I also though that real writers could only have a hope of making it big by going with a big publisher.

    So true about the large sum of those lovely book sales going back to the publisher - paying for that designer paint on the walls and such. And to think of all that work authors go through to land and agent just be published by someone who takes all of your freaking book's money.

    I am so happy that things are turning around for writers so we can indie publish so easily and affordably - and keep much more of the profit from our hard work!!

  4. Sara

    Like I said, going to staying objective (and professional) here so in hindsight I guess we can chalk everything up to good old fashion capitalism, you're free to get what you can get within the boundaries of the law.

    More power to them I guess.

    That said, you reap what you sow and the legions of alienated and disgruntled mid-listers combined with the much larger pool of aspiring newbs, increasingly dispassionate from their paper dreams, abandoning traditional publishers will begin to take some kind of toll.

    The future bestsellers, that everyone in publishing seems to be so dedicated to finding, have to come from somewhere and they'll be knocking on their doors a lot less it seems.