Friday, April 04, 2008

You want to know what I think? I'll tell you what I think!

Yes, it's time again for My Opinions on Publishing.

I saw this article on Gawker this morning, and of course rushed right over to Galley cat to see their take on it. (In a nutshell, there's a new sherriff in town at HarperCollins, and he's planning a new imprint. This imprint will "will publish approximately 25 popular-priced books per year in multiple physical and digital formats including those as yet unspecified, with the aim to combine the best practices of trade publishing while taking full advantage of the internet for sales, marketing and distribution. Authors will be compensated through a profit sharing model as opposed to a traditional royalty, and books will be promoted utilizing on-line publicity, advertising and marketing."

In other words, there will be no advances. The author will get a much larger percentage of royalties (this article at the NYT suggests 50%) instead, and Miller is hoping to do away with returns.

The idea of no advances seems to have set a lot of tongues angrily wagging, but I have to say, I don't see this as such a terrible thing. I don't know that I would necessarily want to sign on to this imprint (not like I'm being offered the chance, we're just playing Devil's Advocate here), but really, I'd be awfully tempted to take 50% royalties over an advance, for a number of reasons. One, because I am a nervous nellie and the idea of not having to worry about earning out would soothe me. Two, because it's conceivable this arrangement would make me a LOT more money.

Let's say for the sake of simplicity (because my math skills are the suck) that you sign a contract with a 10k advance--an average advance for a first book, as far as I've heard. Your book sells for $20 and 10,000 copies are printed. Your royalty rate is 15%, (the $20 and 15% are from the Times article).

So. 10k advance. At 15% of $20, you need to sell 3,333 copies to earn out your advance. You earn 3 dollars on each remaining copy, leaving you with a royalty total of $20,000. So you've made a total of 30k on your book.

Now let's take the same figures but no royalty. You make $10 per copy on 10,000 copies. Um. That's $100,000.00. To me the difference between $30k and $100k is pretty clear, and waiting for the money would be worth it.

Of course, these figures aren't perfect and don't take into account reprinting or larger advances, especially not the number of books that never earn out their advances. But if less books are losing money on their huge advances, isn't that a good thing for the industry? Don't we want publishing to make money and thrive?

Like I said, I don't think we have enough information yet on whether or not this new imprint will work, how it will be marketed and promoted, distributed, all kinds of important things. But I do think it's a little early to start panicking that the sky is falling and writers will never be able to make money. This actually seems to me like a solution to some of the industry's problems, rather than a deeper problem. Hey, the only one of my books I've ever gotten an advance on is Personal Demons, and I can assure you that while the EC stuff isn't making me rich--especially with the crushing exchange rate--it's not terrible by any stretch; I've had a few fantastic months.

And while we're on the subject of the industry itself, and (sort of) on ebooks and money and all that...

I know I made this point, in a slightly roundabout way, back in my publishing series. But I want to say it again. Quit gambling with your work. Do NOT submit to that start-up epublisher whose editors and administrators have no experience, and are basically the tech equivalent of Andy Hardy and the gang putting on a show in the garage. Just...don't. Don't figure you'll give them a shot and see what they do. Don't figure everybody has to start somewhere. Yes, they do--usually as interns at an established publishing company. As has been said on Absolute Write, "'Publisher' is NOT an entry-level job."

The same goes for agents. Having an agent does you no good at all if the agent doesn't know what they're doing or have the necessary connections. So the lady setting up the agency is really nice, and worked in marketing, and loves books? Yeah, so? What has she sold? What is her previous experience in publishing? I don't care if she made a mint selling ice in Alaska, because publishing is a different beast entirely. I swear it honestly makes me feel a little ill when I see people squeeing over their new agent, when the new agent is a housewife from Oklahoma (no offense, Oklahoma) who "really loves books" and so decided to start an agency. Publishing contracts are complex; even if the agent manages to sell your work, the odds that you'll get as good a deal as you would have with a decent agent are slim. Don't take a chance on this. Don't waste your work!

An agent should have sales, verifiable sales to royalty-paying publishers. Sure, you can look at and submit to a new agent--a new agent at an established agency, for example, already has credentials simply because of the name on the door. An agent leaving an established agency and striking out on his or her own is also an excellent bet, provided they've made sales in the past. But Peg from Omaha who sets out her shingle and loves your work is NOT a good bet. STOP DOING THIS! Experience counts. Contacts count. Please don't assume that because the business card says "Literary Agent", that this person can sell your work. Chances are, unless they've got experience, they CAN'T.


Robyn said...

"Housewives in Oklahoma."

You realize I'm going to have to start an agency with that title, right?

As far as I know, don't most e-pubs have no advance, bigger royalties? Seems to be working out pretty well for them.

kirsten saell said...

I was given the option for a small advance at Samhain. I didn't bother. Even if it was more substantial, there would always be that worry: "What if I don't earn out?" One reason epubs can take chances on new authors and unconventional books is that the potential for loss is so low.

Of course, in the print world, even without considering the advance, taking a chance on a new author can mean big losses for the publisher. Anything to mitigate that is going to be good for the industry--and like you, I'll take 50% over 15 any day of the week, thanks, although is that 50% of gross sales, or 50% of profits?

As for newbie agents and epubs--heck, if you're Portia da Costa, you can afford to sell a story to a start-up, just to experiment. But for a new author, you need someone who can put your work in front of the customers and present it in the best way possible.

Samhain might be a relatively new company, but the name Crissy Brashear made up for that, let me tell you.

Seeley deBorn said...

From the NY Times "The new group will also release electronic books and digital audio editions of all its titles"

From Graphic Arts Online "Combining Bob's creativity with HarperCollins' sales acumen and digital leadership, this new entity will create a unique publishing platform to incubate a new publishing paradigm-- one that is unparalleled in the industry"

My response:
Effin Eh!!

They may be cutting advances, but it looks like they're doing it to move toward the same format as most existing epubs. Low advance, high royalty.

This rocks (IMO)

And maybe once they stop getting advances and have no choice but to see their books in eformat, the dinosaurs at RWA will catch on.

Format is my only question with this announcement. Sony has their own, Kindle has their own, pdf, secure pdf, Mobi, Palm...maybe HarperCollins will have the pull to standardize the industry. I think the variety or formats and requirment to convert is very off-putting for people new to ebooks.

Devon Ellington said...

I think there should be advances, even if they're not huge.

What they're doing is offering revenue sharing instead of paying for work. If I don't do revenue share for my freelance writing, why would I accept it for a novel?

From the articles I read, it also sounds like the ENTIRE promotion and everything else is also dumped on the writer.

Now, I'm all for parity in advances -- there's no need to pay one author $1000 and another (especially untried) $2 mil. But we should be paid TO work, not paid AFTER we work.

This is our business, not our hobby. We should be paid while we're sitting at the desk writing, so we can afford to pay our bills and not have to worry while we write the best darned book possible --that's what an advance is -- paying you AS you work.

The plumber, the lnadlord, the phone company expect to be paid regularly. Why shouldn't I?

kirsten saell said...

The phone company provides a service for a flat fee, but you don't pay for your long distance until after you've made the calls. Anyone who pays a plumber anything more than a deposit before he's finished the job needs to have their head examined.

In my day job, I don't get paid until after I've worked my shift. I don't get a tip until after the customer has paid and left. IRL, people get paid for work they've done--not for work they might do, or are in the process of doing, or will eventually get to--unless they have a proven ability to get quality work done on time.

I have never submitted a book for consideration until it was already finished. You have to have a good track record to be able to sell a novel on proposal, and if you're a proven seller, a publisher should pay you a decent advance.

But looking at Anna Genoese's bit on profit and loss, gambling on unknown authors they way the industry currently does is just that--gambling. As much as people might wail about change, I can see this new paradigm benefitting newer authors and the industry as a whole tremendously.

Promo is another matter altogether. I hate promo--can't even begin to tell you how much. But if I'm making a higher percentage, I'd be willing to consider doing the work myself or possibly paying someone to do it for me.

December/Stacia said...

Lol Robyn! And yes, that's basically how epubs work.

Exactly, kis. I never did submit to Samhain, but I remember when they first announced they were opening thinking they were going to do very well, simply because they had the experience to do it. And yes, it is a gamble for publishers to buy debut novels; which is fine, and they obviously have to do so. The thing is, it's not that I'm sold on this idea, I just don't think it's time yet to start crying foul because it *could* be a good thing for everyone.

Yeah, I know Seeley, I thought the same thing--this isn't new. A lot of it depends too on how quickly they can get the books out.

*shrug* I do see your point, Devon, but most of my work has been sold after it was written, and as I said, with one exception I've never gotten an advance. So I come to it from a different angle, I guess. And I really can't believe they're going to put books out there and let authors do ALL of the promo, without doing anything themselves--you can'y "profit-share" if there's no profit to begin with, and even if they're not paying an advance they're still paying for editing, cover, production, bookstore placement, etc. etc. Besides, it's one experimental imprint, it's not HC retooling their entire business. I'm not thinking it's the greatest thing that could ever happen, I just think it's not something to panic over yet.

See above, kis. :-)

Michele Lee said...

On one of the boards I frequents there's a thread heralding this as the end of publishing and an attempt to essentially rape authors.

I found myself rolling my eyes. It does sound like an epublishing set up. And they do state that it's experimental, and I support that. I do have a problem with profit sharing. I know novels and anthologies don't play by the same rules, but profit sharing is a common payment for anthologies, and there is a very slim chance that you ever see any of that. The chances plunge the smaller the press and it's the small, tiny, micro presses that offer profit sharing as a way to keep upfront costs down.

But royalties is a completely different beast, and I have heard no complain about the people making a career out of legit-published e books.

Bernita said...

I'm cautiously optimistic about the venture.

Charles Gramlich said...

It's certainly a complicated issue and one I have to give more thought too. As you say, it "could" end up generating a lot more money for an author, or almost none at all.

December/Stacia said...

*nods* And what it really comes down to, Michele, is that it's an experiment. 25 or so titles at one new imprint. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. I just think it COULD work, and I wish people wouldn't leap on the "It's EVIL" bandwagon so quickly. I like to keep an open mind. Sometimes.

Exactly, Bernita. There's no point in being anything else yet, right?

Oh, of course, Charles. It could be the naysayers are right and this will be disastrous for writers. I think it's more likely that it will be a medium improvement or a medium loss for writers, and will ultimately not change the industry as a whole very much.

writtenwyrdd said...

Good thoughts. I don't think the new scheme would bother me, either. And, if you are the self-flagellating type who does self promotion, you might up your earnings treeee-mendously. *eyebrow waggle*

BernardL said...

Thanks for the information, D.

Anonymous said...

Isn't change in the publishing industry at least 25 years over due? I think bernita is right. Approach with cautious optimism.

Think about anything that changes, the first step often isn't the best step but what is important is that a step was taken. -V95