Home > Writing > Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…


I hate it when I find myself writing about posts on someone else’s blog, but I’ve got to hand it to Adam Pepper who’s got a guest post up at Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing:

I’ve seen many friends land deals and I’ve been nothing but happy for their successes, but I won’t concede they were better writers than me. Their work simply resonated with one person in a position of power who was able to make it happen. The question that I asked myself wasn’t how can I be the next Konrath or Locke, but simply what was best for my career? Put the preconceived notions aside and truly be objective. I’ve watched this industry and see what goes on. There’s no vast conspiracy to see Adam Pepper fail; there’s merely apathy. The only person I can truly count on to build my career is me.

That should be a “Shazam!” moment for a lot of folks. Like Pepper, I was always in a high-energy right orbit around the publishing biz, trying to get in through the usual methods–writing like a mofo, sending out queries, hoping against hope that an agent or a publisher or even some really, really, almost-hot chick would get interested. And I actually landed wheels-down twice with City of the Damned, only to have the hierarchy at the publishers shake out and the offers retracted (though I did get to keep what little advance cash I’d received). But those were still near misses–or what the late George Carlin would call a near-hit–and since no book was released, since it didn’t skyrocket to the top of the NYT bestseller’s list, and since Neve Campbell (who was the It Girl when this book was written) never booty-called me, I hadn’t found any measure of success.

Things have changed. I may not have realized any of the above goals yet, but now I have the opportunity to do so. Realistically, honestly, I never had a chance in hell going through the traditional publishing field. The odds were just stacked too high.

And as more and more data comes out, we begin to discover that the traditional publishers and their cronies, literary agents, aren’t really much interested in what writers do. They’re only interested in separating as much profit from the writer as possible. Which kind of flies in the face of the oft-touted axiom on places like Absolute Write: “Money always flows to the writer.”

Yeah, right after the publisher and agent.

In a normal traditional deal, I might get a $20,000 advance (minus 15% for the agent, and another couple of hundred bucks for an IP lawyer to do a contract review). If sales earn that out, then I would get a remarkable 6-8% royalty against the cover price of every unit sold, presuming there were no returns, remainders, or great conjunctions or something like that. Oh…and minus 15%. And the agent gets my money first. Who knows what he or she is doing with my money?

Or yours?

For me, this is no longer an issue. I’ve had agents before, and I never much liked them, never really understood their utility beyond being a possible connection between me and an editor who might buy my works. And now that I’m Master of my Own Domain, I don’t have to worry about agents, or what they might think, or what they might do or not do. They no longer cross my professional event horizon. Neither does mainstream publishing, though I do intend to resource one remaining component of that ailing industy: Lightning Source, for paper versions of my books.

I still hear or read about “professional” authors who counsel up-and-comers to go the agent route first before self-publishing. These are guys and gals who have been around for some time, and they still place books on shelves in bookstores, and wonder why their $9.99 Kindle ebooks are being pirated through every Warez and torrent site out there. I can understand that sometimes, it’s tough for an old dog to learn new tricks. I get that, because until 2011, I was one of the old dogs too–just without much to show for it.

Now I know these authors who cling to the old ways are essentially ignorant. They’re not paying attention to the changes going through the industry, they don’t and won’t recognize they’ve superglued themselves to the hull of any number of literary Titanics, and they’re either too set in their ways or too fearful about taking steps to reinvent themselves. To paraphrase one supposed sage, “Changes in the publishing industry are a danger to all writers.”

Obviously, this guy’s full of shit.

The change is here, and it’s now, and it’s going to continue to twist and mutate over the next few years. Right now, there is no downside–unless you’re surgically sealed inside the belly of a traditional publisher–so striking out and taking advantage of these changes is nothing short of sensible action. Even if you’re an old hand–do you have a big name? A big fan base? Release a new novel, price it at $2.99, $3.99, $4.99, whatever–and see what happens. What’s the worst thing that could occur? (Your publisher takes you to court? Were you stupid enough to sign a non-compete contract? Then your problems aren’t with self-publishing, your problems stem more from the fact that either your IP lawyer is a moron. Or maybe you are. Just sayin’.)

At it’s core, the indie surge is one thing: Change you can believe in…if you’re smart enough to see it.

  1. October 21, 2011 at 12:01 pm


  2. joshlangston
    October 21, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Well said, Stephen. The publishing industry has thrived on a mixture of fear and false pretenses for too long, and too many good writers have given up while playing by the industry’s old rules. The new reality involves a completely different set of rules, and while I’m encouraged by the changes for the good, there is one major change for the worse: we’ve traded a poorly run and dreadfully unfair and inefficient mode of gatekeeping for no gatekeeping at all. The biggest problem with the tidal wave of indie books being published is that far too many of them just aren’t very good.

    It appears to me, based solely on the reading I’ve done, that while many indie writers do have something to say, and many could likely learn to say it in a compelling fashion, most of them don’t want to take the time or make the effort. That results in a greater quantity of “stuff” through which dedicated readers must wade in order to find worthwhile content. And that applies to both fiction and non-fiction.

    Wish I had an answer for that, but I don’t. Eventually, however, the market will find some way to police itself. It must, or we run the risk of drowning in dreck.

    • October 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm

      Bad stuff doesn’t sell. Well, almost never. Occasionally some piece of crap tickles the public’s fancy, and if they want to buy it, let ’em have it.

      I prefer the readers to be the gatekeepers, not a bunch of pretentious snots who want to make money…but don’t know how to. Publishing’s become like Hollywood, where it will release properties that are only superficially different from the First Big Thing. It works out sometimes, because the industry makes enough cash to keep on keeping on, but it can be wearisome.

      Writers need to get their stuff betaed, edited, and then proofed again just for the sake of consistency. This can be expensive, but if you’re a professional, you’ll do it. And readers will still bitch about a typo here and there, of course. 😉

      So when are you and Barb going to go for the self-pub gold and release a book direct? 😀

  3. Nathan
    October 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I’m glad you’ve got this outlook; not enough writers do. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay over 10 bucks for a digital book, the same price as the print! There’s too much good stuff out there, and it’s much easier to justify a few dollars on a new author than to drop a large wad of cash. Plus, I’d much rather pay a few dollars, and have a lot of that go to the author, than pay more and you get less. You did the work. You should get the payout (as meager as it is).

    Good luck Stephen. You’ve put out some great books; I’ve bought them all. And I’m looking forward to the next one. Hopefully you’re making enough to pay the bills!

  4. October 21, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Thank you, sir! There’s a lot writers need to do to hold up their end of the bargain, of course–they can’t just write, they need to ensure their manuscripts are as picture-perfect as possible, and that means paying other professionals to vet prior to publication. But you can get soaked big time for that; not everyone is very trustworthy, and while I view agents as the apex predator of this paradigm, they might be displaced by so-called editorial wizards who are looking to prey on the unsuspecting novelist.

    But if writers keep their powder dry and remain knowledgeable about what’s going, they might just make it through all right. And even have some dollars left over for something other than bills.

  5. October 22, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Hey Stephen,

    The power of the mighty google has led me here. Thanks for the kind words. If you found my blog piece helpful or inspiring, I think that’s awesome! Good luck with your writing.


    • October 22, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      You Googled yourself? Fucking narcissist!

      It was a fantastic post. These are interesting times to be a writer, and the shifting of the goal posts is a great thing. Your guest shot on Konrath’s blog went to further illustrate that, and I hope a great many people read it…and get some inspiration from it.

  6. October 22, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Doesnt everybody Google themselves? Smelling my own farts, now that’s narcissistic!

    • October 22, 2011 at 10:22 pm

      Outgassing and then being taken aback when someone else doesn’t favor the fine, fragrant bouquet is utter and complete narcissism. A lot of literary agents do that, I understand.

  7. zombiemutts
    October 24, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    “the late George Carlin ”

    Ok…I have waited to leave this comment because I didn’t want to derail a new topic by going off topic….

    I feel really dumb here

    But I had no idea George Carlin died! I don’t follow many comedians and he was one I loved . In fact I just saw a stand up of his on netflix a month or so ago. We had to put one of our pets down a week ago (and old cat) and on the way home I repeated a wildly inappropriate joke by George about pets dying. Even as a dog person I loved that cat but it was a good joke. At least I thought so.

  8. October 24, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    He died like 3 years ago! My God, man…what, do you think Reagan is still president?

    • zombiemutts
      October 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm

      Reagan…..the actor!??!?! A President?! You jest!

      I bounce between loathing and apathy for politics so in the end I think I just tune out too much of everything else that’s a news source. Pretty easy when you watch everything on your DVR or Netflix.

      @ 2 minute mark

  9. Dave
    November 18, 2011 at 10:41 pm


    Something I’ve found this interesting since I started following the Indie blogs…years prior when I followed legacy blogs, religiously, I honestly think i learned more about the real nuts and bolts of publishing than i did after some 20 years of buying Writer’s market’s every year, publishers weekly, “how to” get published books etc. Blogging changed all of that and the kind of nitty gritty you never hear form those traditional sources started coming out.

    Post 2009, Indie publishing begins to take root and indies and former mid-listers alike start making money and having their lives changed. Then Joe, D.W. Smith and many others, who’ve effectively cut their legacy ties and can speak freely, start blogging about the stuff we were never told about;

    How publishers have been treating writers on the inside for all these years while us out on the sidewalk were staring, googley eyed, through the shop window at all the shiny stuff they put up front.

    But now we’re learning what life was like was back in the stock room all these years.

    Amazing time to be a writer.

    • November 19, 2011 at 1:42 pm

      Exactly so! Dean and the ineffable Ms. Rusch have been pretty instrumental in showing us exactly where the fault lines are. Reading their stuff really opened my eyes. Not sure why others are still refusing to accept it, but hey…to each his own.

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