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Best-Selling Author Refuses $500k; Self-Publishes Instead 290

Last week we discussed an IT book author's adventures in trying to self-publish. Now, an anonymous reader points out an article examining another perspective: "Barry Eisler, a NY Times best-selling author of various thriller novels, has just turned down a $500,000 book contract in order to self-publish his latest work. In a conversation with self-publishing aficionado Joe Konrath, Eisler talks about why this makes sense and how the publishing industry is responding in all the wrong ways to the rise of ebooks. He also explains the math by which it makes a lot more sense to retain 70% of your earnings on ebooks priced cheaply, rather than 14.9% on expensive books put out by publishers."
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Best-Selling Author Refuses $500k; Self-Publishes Instead

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  • by decora ( 1710862 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @12:30AM (#35568502) Journal

    editors, working for publishers, are behind a lot of the great literary works of the united states.

    philip k dick's "a scanner darkly" comes to mind. there are many others.

    publishers also deal with libel and defamation lawsuits for you.

    they also set up junkets so you can market your book.

    im not saying theres no point to self publish, but there are many differences between music industry and book industry.

    • by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @12:45AM (#35568590) Journal

      Absolutely, and for someone new to writing and/or short of capital, the only reasonable way to afford editing, marketing, and so forth is to go with a publisher; thing is, the author is then beholden to the publisher - it's a very old fashioned, paternalistic relationship. Not to mention the fact (brought in to evidence here) that they take a bloody substantial cut of the sales.

      If the author has some cash behind them already, and an established 'brand', then paying for an editor and a PR firm up front may well be far easier, more pleasant, and more profitable in the long run, than signing their creation away to someone else. The publisher is just a middle man, working between the retailers, the editors, the printers & distributors, and the author - not to say that a middle man with knowledge and experience doesn't provide value, but they need to learn that they are employed by the author to provide a service, and not a patron to which the author is beholden. Of course, the fact that publishers traditionally act as initial 'investors' in the process muddies the waters a bit, but as I said, that only applies in the case that the author needs that investment, and even if that is so, there's no reason it needs to come from the publisher, nor are the upfront expenses quite so onerous now that the need to predict the market, print, and ship large amounts of physical inventory is diminishing.

      • Not to mention the fact (brought in to evidence here) that they take a bloody substantial cut of the sales.

        50% of the retail price goes to the bookseller.
        If you want your book in the window or on the table in a large chain store, then the publisher pays extra for that.

        The publisher must take all his costs, including the author's royalty out of the remainder. That includes production costs, warehousing, distribution; as well as all your staff who do the editing, marketing, and sales. Most publishers have a team of salesmen who schlep around book stores/chain asking if sellers will take their books.

        A book is on

        • I'm actually all in favour of self-publishing, but it is not a magic bullet. If you think you can market and sell 1000s of copies, then off you go. But for the vast majority, they'll be sitting in the attic for years to come.

          They were discussing self-publishing e-books. So they don't have to worry about storing copies that don't sell.

        • Which illustrates perfectly why ebooks change everything.

          Amazon (and other ebook sellers) is only 30% not 50%. Bookstores will need to adapt or they will lose even more business. There is no publishing risk because there is no cost per title.

          I think ebooks will drive self publishing and that will drive an evolution in the book business model. You will see editing and PR shops spring up to provide services to independent authors. Some will provide services for upfront fee some for cut of royalties, some

      • I'll give you a little insight into the publishing industry ... the editor/author relationship is becoming a thing in the past. Publishers these days tend to want to publish "the best" instead of growing a writer. I'm not saying these types of relationships no longer exist, rather they are no longer the norm. These days, publishers are looking for books ready to print.

        That said, marketing dollars for a non published writer is pretty much non-existent. Marketing dollars are generally reserved for the Ste

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Publishers also give advances, which lets authors concentrate on writing their book rather than working at a different job while they try to finish the book in their spare time.

      The whole conversation/interview/article seems to entirely ignore the new author perspective and focus solely on the perspective of authors that have an existing fan base, connections to one or more editors they're comfortable with and enough of a bank account to focus on writing full-time.

      But the similarities to the music industry a

      • Actually they did spend time discussing new authors self publishing. Specifically when they were talking about the "yea, buts" from the industry types who say "Sure Konath can do it but.." Then they go on to point out that there are people are who have no history with legacy publishing who are doing well, and the more of those there are the less clout the "yea, but" argument has.

        As an aside to that, they also discuss how long it took for the NY Times to add e-books to the bestseller list, and even then onl

    • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @01:12AM (#35568748)

      Lies Incorporated springs to mind. Another PKD novel.

      First few chapters are relatively sane. As are the last few chapters. In the middle is pure PKD weirdness, only even more directionless and bizarre than usual (IMHO). Then I noticed that the weirdness and the last few sane chapters start with the same paragraph.

      So then I finally read the introduction, that says the book was originally published after a brutal pruning by the editor. Later, when PKD got a bit more famous, he managed to get the middle stuffed back in for future print runs.

      The editor was definitely right that time.

    • I am inclined to agree with the strong analogies brought up by the sibling commenters, however.
      I could easily read them with music-industry-specific words plugged in (will, with a similarly weird analogue to the Phillip K. Dick example; there's got to be something.)

    • Self-publication works for this guy because he already has his name out there and a base of readers. If you're just starting out and you have a choice between a publisher deal and self-publishing, the publisher would probably be a helluva lot better in the long run. You don't get much of anything in the way of marketing when you self-publish. Also, like you said, EDITORS. Your "final draft" might still need some editorial touches that can make a major difference in a book. If you get a decent readerbase wit
    • With regards to marketing junkets, this blog does cover that. Both authors state that they are convinced that the #1 best thing you can do market your books is to write another one. Each one catches a few new eyes and prompts new readers to go back and see what else you've written. The time spent in Book stores signing the occasional copy is time that could be much better spent writing. Not only is it more productive with regards to output, but with regards to marketing as well -- or so they believe.


    • editors, working for publishers, are behind a lot of the great literary works of the united states.

      philip k dick's "a scanner darkly" comes to mind. there are many others.

      publishers also deal with libel and defamation lawsuits for you.

      they also set up junkets so you can market your book.

      im not saying theres no point to self publish, but there are many differences between music industry and book industry.

      It's certainly true that publishing companies server useful purposes... But so do recording companies. Different useful purposes, but useful none the less.

      In publishing you've got an editor to trim things down, streamline, bounce ideas off of you, and basically get your book into proper shape. In the recording industry you've got various mixing engineers who do similar work with the music. Both industries have lawyers to protect their clients. Both industries do a lot of PR work for their clients.


    • editors, working for publishers, are behind a lot of the great literary works of the united states.

      True, but publishers have been giving authors less and less editorial support as the continue to cut costs. The theory is that the slush pile is so deep that, if they dig enough, they can find a manuscript that doesn't need significant editing. Or they wait until a new author has some proven success before investing in editorial assistance to take him or her to the next level.

      publishers also deal with libel and defamation lawsuits for you.

      Possibly true. Most contracts I've seen say that the writer is ultimately responsible. Even so, in fiction (which is what Barry E

  • I figured publishers screwed over the authors, like artists and record labels, but DAMN... Good for him!
    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      His friend Joe Konrath seems to think copyright is "forever" - note his remarks about grandchildren, royalties, "forever".

      Give them enough power and it may be their turn to screw the readers too :).
  • When he publishes a paperback version, I might even consider getting it. While I understand the convenience of Ebooks, the readers give me a headache if I try to read for too long and I'm prone to marathon reading sessions.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by MoonBuggy ( 611105 )

      ...the readers give me a headache if I try to read for too long...

      Have you had a chance to try an e-ink device? I understand the price may not be attractive for a single purpose device, and that's a fine point, but I'd be very surprised if they affect you any differently than paper. The image is absolutely static and not backlit, so shouldn't be any different on the eyes; admittedly they tend to be somewhat lower DPI than normal printing, but I can't see that causing a headache.

      • While reading on an eInk device may not affect you any differently than reading paper (which I'm sure is subjective), the screens are still _vastly_ inferior to reading paper due to the horrible contrast ratio. My Kindle 3 is 'good enough', but nowhere near where I want it to be.

        • Once you have very black blacks the only way you can improve contrast is whiter whites. The whiter the white the more light is reflects. As an experiment print something on ultra bright paper. The good stuff. Tuck it into your paper back novel and next time you are on the beach, next to the pool, or in the park try reading both side by side.

          You don't want excessive contrast in a book. Digital or otherwise. Textbooks are often printed with higher contrast because rarely is someone reading by the pool w

    • by Timmmm ( 636430 )

      LCD tablets don't really count. Get a kindle.

  • by blanchae ( 965013 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @12:41AM (#35568564) Homepage
    Back in 2000, I contacted several publishers about publishing my 500 page book "Introduction to Data Communications", pretty much all declined stating that it was not specific enough. I wrote it specifically because at the time there wasn't an introductary level book. One major publisher had the following conditions that I would have to do in order for them to publish it:

    1. Add another 200 pages
    2. Create an online website
    3. Create an online test bank
    4. They would forward $5,000 of my expected earnings in order to perform the years worth of work.
    5. Hand over complete copyright to them
    6. If they decided that any changes were required, I would have to pay for the changes regardless if I agreed with them or not.

    I told the VP what I thought in the most appropriate terms and stated that I would give the book away rather than have anything to do their company. So since 2000, the book Introduction to Data Communications [] has been free online to anyone who wishes to use it. I used to make pocket change from the Google adds and for the last couple of years, instead of Google adds, I advertise the programs that I teach for at the post-secondary institute.

    • by SpottedKuh ( 855161 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @12:50AM (#35568618)
      You, sir, have the finest licensing agreement [] that I have ever seen in the introduction of your book. I was genuinely moved.
      • All looks good except for #2.

        Damn, and I was interested, too. :P

      • [OFFTOPIC]
        One of your licensing requirements "That you will respect the rights of others in their sexual orientation." Reminded me of a conversation with my mother many solar cycles ago.

        She opposes gay marriage; when I point it out for her that she's forcing her beliefs on others she says that she isn't forcing them to believe what she wants.

        But you are still forbidding them to marry? Of course not, they can marry whatever woman they want. She replies... I've tried this many times. She seriously thinks she

      • by Jiro ( 131519 )

        Because we all love it when we are prohibited from copying a book because we don't like illegal immigration.

        Not to mention that copyright violation is something handled in a court. When you say that I can copy it if I try to be a better person (etc.), what you are really saying is that if I am in a court accused of copyright violation, and I prove to the judge and jury that I have tried to be a better person (etc.) I am free. Can you see why I might not want to have to prove such a thing in a court, under

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @12:50AM (#35568614) Journal

    I should have figured it'd be a tech-savvy writer.

    When I realized that Neil Gaiman was getting perhaps $2 out of that $20 new book, I thought, 'hell, I wish I could just buy any book he writes directly from him - I'd pay him $6, he gets triple times as much and I get it for 1/3 price'.

    Kudos to him, I hope he's successful against the publisher blacklisting he's going to suffer....

    • Out of the $20, there's approximatively $6-8 for the library (amazon being the worst there, they want $10 iirc), $3-4 for printing, $2-4 for shipping and the distributor if there is one (and in NG's case, I'm sure there is). So that's $4-9 left, i.e. $2-7 for the publisher (and closer to $2 than to $7). The publisher is definitively not ripping him off.


  • by Anonymous Coward

    Editors are a necessary part of any form of writing that isn't purely artistic (poetry, etc). Creating a piece of writing is a two-step process: first, you come up with the idea that you want to convey, but then you need to convey it in a manner in which people can understand. Even the best writers can be great at the former, but less so on the latter. It's the editor's job to think of the reader, and to put himself in the shoes of the public. Ironically, the same eccentricities that some great writers have

  • Maybe the infrastructure for downloading music for free is too entrenched, but I'm glad to see this starting to happen; not just for my savings but for the artists. The publishing industry might have legitimate costs, but when I read that Konrath [sic] article I was horrified by the crappy cut the authors were getting. I thought only unsaavy or unestablished bands were getting exploited like that.

  • by SpectreHiro ( 961765 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @01:08AM (#35568728) Homepage

    Hmmmm... Slashdot appears to have eaten my original comment. I hope my comment was yummy and filling, Slashdot.

    Anyway... I read the interview earlier today and it's a pretty good read, if a bit long at somewhere over 13,000 words. Konrath is preaching his usual gospel, but it was nice to get Eisler's perspectives on the publishing industry and its inner workings. He drops a few entertaining links as well; one chronicles his struggles with a French publisher who bought the rights to one of his books. They went to the hassle of translating the book, only to put a cover on it that depicted a chartreuse garage door with a security camera. I have no idea what sort of through process led to that decision, but I'd kind of like to know.

    I'm actually pleased as punch to see Barry Eisler doing so well, and doubly pleased that he's shifting to self-publishing and being so vocal about it. I met him back in 2003 shortly after his first book, Rain Fall, came out. I was working at a bookstore a few miles from his house, and he'd drop through to sign copies and urge us to sell more. I got the impression he was just a genuinely nice guy, and he even humored me when I asked for advice in getting an agent.

    That said, I'm more than a bit jealous, too. He released a short story on Kindle this year, and it's apparently on track to make $30,000, while I'm struggling to sell a dozen copies of my sci-fi novel [] a month. He's a really good guy, though, and I wish him the absolute best as he dives head first into the self-publishing world.

    • With the decline and fall of the outlets for actual paper books, comes exactly the dilemma you are in. I am actually not interested in how some previously established writer decides to feel all bold and self publish. I am more interesed in cases like yours - how do I as a user decide whether to download such books? Rather than my typical 4 paragraph posts, since people have told me I kept getting whooshed on this thread, I'll leave it as the rhetorical but honest question.

      • by geek ( 5680 )

        You can download the first chapter of almost every ebook for free to decide if you like it. You can even keep it indefinitely. Try ripping the first chapter out of a paperback at your local book store and walking out with it. There is your difference.

        • The first chapter is rarely enough for me to determine if I like something. I much prefer scanning a book at a store because I am good at getting the overall flow of a text by flipping through it. The good stuff in most books starts about chapter 3.

          • Then take a risk.

            I read first chapter and look at amazon reviews. 90% of the time if it is a bad book I know it in the first chapter. Hell sometimes I know it in the first dozen pages. If not then put your money where your mouth is and take a risk. Most new authors have books for $0.99 to $2.99. Hardly a significant investment. If 3/4ths of them don't pan out well who cares. The 1/4th is what I am interested in. Have a couple authors I wish they would release a new book because I would gladly buy it

      • by rwv ( 1636355 )

        How do I as a user decide whether to download such books?

        I think you asked a wonderful question. Right now, I believe the best answer is to go here [] but that answer is not very useful.

        Another answer is to go here [] but that isn't terribly useful either.

        Another resource is here [].

        I agree with you, though. Being able to answer the question "How to I find talented, yet undiscovered authors so I can read their work?" is a question that begs to be answered.

  • Apple is now the publisher du jour. The old publishing industry being taken over by the new. Can't say we didn't tell them... The old publishers wanted to keep their paradigm... and now they will go out of business. But I think this will go beyond apple. I don't like apple, never have, never will but I have always recommend their products for those that are looking for a more consumer experience rather than a do for yourself one...

    I think in the end the writers that do well will get together and form a

    • Apple sells a negligble amount of books.

      Hell more kindle books are sold on the ipad than ibooks on the ipad.

      Think about it....
      Why would anyone who has a brain buy ibooks over kindle version EVEN IF they have an ipad.

      Have an iPad. Buy kindle version - works on ipad, android (phones and future tablets), kindle, blackberry, iphone, PC & Mac.
      Have an iPad. Buy ibooks version - works on ipad.

  • by Deb-fanboy ( 959444 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @03:43AM (#35569494)

    Barry: This is a critical point. There’s a huge data set proving that digital books are a price-sensitive market, and that maximum revenues are achieved at a price point between $.99 and $4.99. So the question is: why aren’t publishers pricing digital books to maximize digital profits? Joe: Because they're protecting their paper sales. Barry: Exactly. Joe: It's awfully dangerous for an industry to ignore (or even blatantly antagonize) their customers in order to protect self-interest.

    This is one thing that puts me off buying ebooks. At the moment they are overpriced.

    Another problem is that they come with DRM, and running a free operating system I cannot read them and have to resort to other methods to obtain a free copy. I would much rather purchase a reasonably priced ebook with no DRM so that some money goes to the author.

    We are left with the same untenable situation with ebooks as there was with the music industry, that is that you get a better ebook for free which is flexible and can be read on any ereader than you get by purchasing for £12 from an official ebook retailer.

    • I used to read a lot of fiction. I started when a paperback was $1.95. Got to know the SF/Fantasy section fairly well, and could quickly scan to see what was new. and had an idea what was coming, Then they began raising prices in $0.50 increments every 6 to 12 months. When the average paperback exceeded $5, I quit. And my familiarity faded. Now the selections available are almost all strange to me.

      Digital might persuade me to read fiction again. But only if the prices are sane and they lay off the

    • by rwv ( 1636355 )

      I would much rather purchase a reasonably priced ebook with no DRM so that some money goes to the author.

      The self-publishing eBook market is fairly defined these days. Amazon is the one that offers 70% royalties for sales that go through its own site. I believe they also offer POD which provides 70% of MSRP for each softcover or hardcover sale an author generates. To sign up for this, authors need to shell out a few hundred dollars (which is pretty reasonable).

      On the other hand, another "sales" method that I think would really work for self-published eBooks is the "Give them away for free and accept donat

    • by ProppaT ( 557551 )

      And they're overpriced because major publishing houses are still involved and they're trying to use this as a way to offset their losses on hard and soft bound books. Every ebook bought is a hardbound book not bought, which means more inventory on shelves and eventual losses. It's basically throwing a monkey wrench into an already broken, antiquated system. This will be fixed overtime (publishers will have to change their infrastructure or become irrelevant), but it's going to be a bit of an uphill battl

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"