Home > Writing > New York Times: Amazon Signs Writers, Cuts Publishers Out

New York Times: Amazon Signs Writers, Cuts Publishers Out

Oh boy, like it’s something a zillion people didn’t already know.

But when the Gray Lady herself starts covering it, then you know it’s got to be the real deal…finally.

Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal

But there’s still tons of denial out there. Just recently, I watched from a near distance as a veteran horror author cautioned a fledgling writer to find an agent, and not self-publish. He didn’t mention the years of waiting that would be involved; the months waiting for an agent to read and agree to represent, the months of trying to sell the manuscript to an editor, the time it would take for the editor to sell the product internally–it has to have the blessing of the marketing department, you know–the edits, the rewrites, the acceptance, the printing, the distribution, and finally, if all goes well, the earn out. We’re talking years.

And at no time did the veteran mention to the newcomer that the agent will be helping him/herself to 15% of all earnings–forever. And that 15% of a 6-8% royalty is a lot of work for doing nothing.

I know several published authors–some big names, too–who are trying self-publishing. They’ll release old or maybe even new short stories, and then bitch that they’re not raking in the money across the transom. Readers want novels, not short stories, but these big guns give up their novels to the publishing industry (and 15% of all proceeds to agents) instead. I don’t get it, myself. There are most certainly instances where individuals have gone to win the publishing gold doing it their way–hell, see the NYT article–but I guess once you’re set in your ways, there’s no going back.

Fine by me, I guess. I’m digging the whole self-pub cycle, even though it’s a hell of a lot of work. But the best guy I’ve ever worked for is myself, so I’m unusually motivated to keep my boss happy.

  1. October 17, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Awesome post! I don’t get it either. I feel like we hold a secret key and even when we share our own successes and those who have gone before us, people don’t want to believe it. Why give your hard earned money to someone else? You’re right…pubbing the traditional way takes years and years to see the money. Too long for me and though it is a hell of a lot of work, I like being my own boss.

  2. October 17, 2011 at 10:21 am

    And if I remember correctly–and forgive me for “outing” you–your self-pub sales essentially dwarf your so-called “professional” publishing sales, right?

    I’m not sure why there’s such an angry backlash against self-pub…it’s just another avenue. If Hachette offered me a $4 million deal, I’d have to take it. But I’d still self-pub. I wouldn’t allow myself to get gang-raped like the author in the article when she self-pubbed a short story collection that (I’m presuming) Penguin didn’t have the rights to anyway.

    • October 17, 2011 at 10:38 am

      Out me all you want. That’s right. I had six novels at three publishers over a span of four years. I made less money than I made by indie pubbing ONE NOVEL!!! That same novel was rejected by many, many traditional houses and has been a bestseller in Amazon US and UK. I also don’t understand the anger against those who choose to take this route. Gang-raped is the perfect word. I have never ever heard of another industry where people do ALL the work and make such a tiny percentage. The traditional pubs need a total revamping to pull them out of the dark ages but I’m not waiting for it. Oh wait…I have heard of a profession like the writing industry in which the workers do 99% of the work and see a tiny amount of money…SHARE CROPPING. My grandma was a sharecropper kid. She lived in a house with a dirt floor and nine brothers and sisters. The busted their butts from dawn to dusk and had to dig a potato out of the ground for dinner. Glad I’m no longer a share cropper. Those seven dollar royalty checks really sucked!

  3. October 17, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Share cropping–HA! A great comparison!

  4. October 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    The biggest danger of self-pub I see is, every Tom, Dick and Harriet thinks they are writers.

    I have bought some H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E books through Amazon. Thank God they have a good return policy.

    If you are going to be a writer, I think you should have a good grasp of the language first. Anybody else ever hear of spell-check?! PUNCTUATION people! The correct usage of words…I.E. they’re, their and there. USE THE APOSTROPHES especially when the contraction creates another word. Perfect example….were we’re. If you’re going to self publish, have somebody edit for you PLEASE!!

    Present company excluded of course…unless you need a beta reader Mr. Knight ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Just my2cents

  5. Jon
    October 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Interesting NYT piece. The part about Penguin getting pissy and dropping Kiana Davenport was especially funny. They still don’t understand that they need writers a whole lot more than writers need them.

    • October 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      Well, if there was a contractual obligation on her part NOT to publish something without giving Penguin first right of refusal, then it might not be as bad as it sounds. But if there was no such obligation, then their response was entirely juvenile–and like they want to burn up money in legal proceedings? I have to cast doubt on their expertise in this regard.

  6. October 17, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    And how does the system handle stuff that just plain out sucks? Well, they get tons of 1 and 2 star reviews, maybe a 3 here and there. Prospective buyers read the scathing reviews, perhaps view the free sample, and say…”Maybe not.”

    Alternately, Amazon pulls the title after receiving X number of complaints. This is starting to happen, and Neal Stephenson actually had a book pulled by his publisher for such a thing.

    But yes, there is a lot of shit out there. (I know this, because I’ve written some of it.) But the stuff that sucks almost never EVER sells well. Sometimes, the buying public does some odd stuff and infact they DO buy a really crappy title, but by and large? Bad books don’t sell.

    And Paul, if I add another beta reader for TRH, then there will be no one left to buy it! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • October 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      NO WAY that could happen. I’ve got the other 2 on my kindle and am seriously considering getting the hard copies of both, since they are finally available. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Even as a beta reader I would want a finished product–(unless you give your Beta readers free copies ๐Ÿ˜› )

      While I love my Kindle, there is still that extra “something” that holding a book gives me, ya know?

      • October 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm

        BTW—I’d take the “signed copy” as a beta reader..but I’d still need another to actually read, just so you know ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. October 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I think too many Writers are intimidated by digital publishing. Considering all of the time we put into our work, I think that racking up a few hours to see what Amazon brings to the table is brilliant advice.

  8. October 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I can understand a lot of “traditionally published” writers being gun shy–they already have a lot of time invested in business relationships, be it with their agents, editors, what have you. But new folks starting out? I just don’t see a downside, and you can start making money in two months. Not a lot, most likely…maybe not any. But the experience would be good to have. Take it from me, that’s how I did it.

  9. October 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    I have not yet decided what route I will take. I may dabble in trying both. I think both have advantages and disadvantages. Certainly indie publishing gives avenues to authors that did not exist before. Certainly this allows great books that were unpublishable for marketing reasons to be seen. Unfortunately, it cuts both ways and allows an awful lot of truly dreadful crap to also be published. While I am ambivalent about both publishing routes as a writer, my experiences as a reader have left me feeling disappointed by indie publishing. I am sure there are good indie authors. But they are very hard to find. My time is limited and I would rather invest $22 (the standard rate for a paperback in Australia) in a traditionally published paperback which I will almost certainly enjoy than a much cheaper indie book. That’s not fair to the good indie authors, but that’s not my fault – that’s the fault of poor quality indie authors who have left me disheartened.

  10. October 17, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Sure, that’s fair. No reason to be wedded to either route; as I said before, if the cash is good–and it would have to be–I’d go traditional as well. But otherwise–why? Too many hands out, too many more mouths to feed. And I note your point about crap, but you can read the samples before you buy. And I’m certain you’ve bought a lot of truly bad traditionally published books before, yes? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Lord knows I have.

    But keeping your options open is fine and well. Yet, you’re ambivalent about both avenues? That’s an interesting way to phrase it…

    • October 17, 2011 at 10:11 pm

      The ratio of bad indie books has been much higher than the ratio of bad traditionally published books. In the hundreds of traditionally published books I own, a handful are bad, and they weren’t so bad they were intolerable or unenjoyable. I finished them all. The proportion of bad indie books I have read is much higher (more than 50%) and many were so bad I didn’t finish. In one case, didn’t make it past chapter 1. Yes, there are samples, but why waste time reading a sample when I can just buy something else? In a business, you need to make your product as appealing and convenient for the consumer as possible, and having to read a sample is not convenient for me. I am time poor, and that is time I can spend on something else.

      Yes it is possible to ambivalent about both routes. I don’t need to publish though I might like to but there are many factors that go into that decision. I don’t think people consider closely enough the reasons why they want to publish. If they are not expecting a return, then what is the motivation? Wanting to share with other people? There are other ways to do that. Are they writing for commercial gain or fun? Publishing is not necessarily the ultimate conclusion for every work ever written.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think indie publishing has massive potential. But that potential is not currently being realised, it lacks standards and too many indie authors impose none on themselves. Indie publishing should not just be a vanity outlet for people who land on traditional publishing’s slush pile for good reason e.g. the inability to string together a coherent sentence. It should be for people who have quality product to offer but who can’t or won’t traditionally publish for various valid reasons.

      Selling a book is a business regardless of the means of publishing.

  11. October 17, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    It’s very much a business, you’re right about that. It might not seem that way to everyone, but it sure is to me.

    For those authors who put out shit: so be it. If they don’t learn, they won’t succeed.

    One of the great things about shopping for books online–at least on Amazon–is that you can read the first few pages, just like you might if you picked up the book in a bookstore. I’m as time poor as anyone, but I still do that before I make a purchase–it only makes sense these days, and taking the time to read a page or two isn’t going to delay me all that much. But I used to do that in bookstores, too!

  12. October 22, 2011 at 10:54 am

    The biggest problem with self-publishing is self-editing. Getting rejected over and over again helps you to hone your craft. Self-publishing is like buying your own professional basketball team and making yourself a starter in order to avoid those years of training in high school and college and to make sure that if you get to the draft you don’t wind up on the bench. At least, writers (even well-established professional writers) should hire a professional editor if they’re going to self-publish.

    The other thing is that established writers with an established fanbase will do better publishing themselves than they would with a mass-market publisher. Writers just starting out will sell a few copies to their closest friends unless they spend a fortune on marketing.

    • October 22, 2011 at 11:40 am

      Preaching to the choir about editing…have written posts about it before.

      Don’t know how getting rejections can fundamentally help a writer hone his craft, since most rejections are of the form variety and are essentially meaningless other than to communicate the answer of the sender: No.

      I’m not a self-pub evangelist, but I don’t track most of your first paragraph. Do you self-publish, or are you strictly a traditional pub advocate? If so, do you not recognize the fact that the publishing industry has 99% of the working writers–note I said “working”, those who get published–over a barrel with regards to payments, rights assessments, proliferation of works, etc., etc.?

      And by the by, I had no fanbase, but have sold thousands of books in 2011 alone so far.

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