Odds, Ends and Interviews

23 Feb

As you know, I was interviewed last week by Brady Dale (here). The interview was picked up on Instapundit and The Passive Voice; I also wrote a short follow-up article here. The comments posed a number of questions and points I felt deserved answering, but not in their own blog posts. (Time is not on my side at the moment.) Therefore, I decided to attempt to answer the points in a single article. Unsurprisingly, it’s become something of a ramble.

As always, comments are warmly welcomed.

A couple of readers pointed out that ‘a-list’ authors weren’t the only ones being published by Big Publishing. This is self-evidently true. However, it is also true that b-list and below authors get much less promotion from their publishing house, at least partly because they don’t have the clout of a-list authors. Furthermore, as publishing contracts, there is less money and resources for b-list authors who are forced out of the business. There was a great deal of buzz about the agreement between Tor Books and John Scalzi to pay a colossal advance ($3.4 million) for 13 books, delivered over a 10-year period; that money will not be available for other authors. This places a great deal of pressure on Scalzi to deliver.

This leads to a point I noted earlier. There’s no such thing as an exclusive writing fan. People who read George RR Martin’s books are not going to sit and twiddle their thumbs while waiting for the next doorstopper. They’re going to go looking for other books to read. If Big Publishing isn’t delivering, why should they not look at Indie?

As a reader, I have grown to detest overlong novel series where each book is really just an oversized chapter. The endless wait for a payoff is frustrating. (That’s why I work hard to ensure that each book in a long-running series is effectively a story in its own right.) I think – I can’t prove it – that editors push authors to expand their word count and extend the series as much as possible, if only to milk it for all its worth. But this is actually bad for authors as well as readers – someone who loses interest in an extended series isn’t going to keep following the author, if there’s nothing else for them.

(And, as has been noted by others, The Winds of Winter has been delayed significantly. That’s going to have an effect on Tor Books.)

It is true – as Larry argued – that overheads in Big Publishing are higher than overheads for Indie Publishing. However, this justifies neither the expensive costs of eBooks nor the very low royalties paid to authors. (I have a feeling that someone back at the dawn of Big Publishing took the concept of ‘keep them hungry’ to heart.) Frankly, I suspect there are too many staff involved trying to make themselves useful. Realistically, lowering eBook prices would probably lead to higher sales and greater customer involvement.

Speaking of useless (or harmful) staff, traditional authors often run into gatekeepers who either think they know how to improve a book or refuse to publish it on a minor detail. See CTRL-ALT-REVOLT for details. There’s also the risk of an ‘editor behaving badly’ situation that leads to boycotts, which will harm your career even though you had nothing to do with it. Being an indie author means being able to avoid the gatekeepers and get your work out there.

There are quite a few things that Big Publishers do better than Indie, to be fair. They can afford large print runs that keep prices for mass market paperbacks down (CreateSpace isn’t cheap, even for paperbacks.) In theory, they can also offer promotional campaigns – but again, these are really only for the a-list authors.

Overall, Big Publishing is in trouble – and it won’t save itself by burying its head in the sand and pretending the world hasn’t changed.

A reader asked why indie authors such as myself don’t set up our own servers and keep all the money for ourselves. It sounds ideal, but there’s actually two separate problems with it. Being on Amazon allows plenty of exposure (as another commenter noted) that we wouldn’t have on private servers. (Someone who reads John Ringo might be directed to one of my books.) In addition, there are … issues … with VAT online these days. Letting Amazon do the hard work is probably more efficient in the long run.

I don’t think a private server would work unless the author had something truly unique to sell and a colossal global reach. I recall some gloating about how POTTERMORE had managed to force Amazon to redirect readers to its site for eBooks (a unique deal, as far as I know) rather than selling the books through Amazon itself. And yet, it was really too little, too late. POTTERMORE debuted in 2012, years after pirate sites had uploaded plenty of copies of all of the Harry Potter books. JK Rowling and her publishers, I suspect, simply didn’t understand that Harry Potter was a global story – and what readers couldn’t get by fair means, they’d get by foul. To add to these problems, Harry Potter’s story had come to an end. Driblets of background information aren’t enough to keep the site going indefinitely.

Another reader discussed price and said he would be happy to pay $10 for my books. Selling 10 books at $3 apiece would have the same profits as selling 3 books at $10 apiece. That’s true, on the face of it, but (at best) I would only get three reviews as opposed to ten. (In my experience, only one in ten readers bother to leave a review.) There’s also the problem that each of the three readers, having invested more in the book, would have more reason to give up on me if the next book failed (thus costing me a third of my readers.) Lower prices make it easier to buy in bulk and evade pirates.

(But if you want to pay more, I do have a tip jar <evil grin>)

Brady did ask about writing software, including programs intended to help writers organise their thoughts. I’ve tried a couple, but … well … they don’t do the work for you. Things like computers and suchlike are all very well and good (I couldn’t work without my computer) yet a writer needs a writing mindset to work. I’ve come to think of such programs as largely useless. Even something as basic as a spellchecker can give a writer a false sense of confidence about his ‘clean’ manuscript.’’

I stand by my statement that reviews from ordinary people are worth more than famous endorsements (although, to be fair, I’ve only ever had one famous endorsement.) The problem with literary elites is that they’re jaded, to a very large extent; they look for something new (or something that ticks the right buttons) rather than solid and entertaining stories. I suspect that most of the problems with the Hugo Awards originated with this attitude, rather than the Sad Puppies; the elites looked for different markers than the ordinary readers. A book with hundreds of reviews on Amazon, I suspect, will help boost an author more than anything else.

Realistically, Amazon is the only game in town. And part of the reason it’s the only game in town is because every other attempt to set up an indie-publishing site (or even an eBook site) has been blighted by problems. (Baen Books is the only large-scale exception.) Sites like Smashwords have too many problems to be practical – I’ve experimented with a couple of other publishing services, but I found them awkward. Amazon has chosen to abjure the role of gatekeeper, something that Big Publishing finds incomprehensible.

In reality, those who worry about Amazon extending itself into every last corner of the world – and eliminating its competition – would do better to present Amazon with some genuine competition, instead of complaining. Change is a fact of life …

… And those who can’t adapt go the way of the dinosaurs.

11 Responses to “Odds, Ends and Interviews”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard February 23, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

    The sad thing is that there are potential competitors for Amazon (as far as indie publishing goes).

    While Chris likely knows more about this than me, the problem is that places like the B&N Nookstore & KoboBooks have made it harder for the indie publisher than Amazon does.

    I’ll end by stating that as a purchaser of eBooks (indie or otherwise), B&N & Kobo have done a “good job” of pushing me to Amazon.

  2. Rob Godfrey February 23, 2016 at 8:59 pm #

    Good on that editor, took courage to call out VD as what he is, a racist, homophobic far right extremist. His own words make it clear.

    • Rob Godfrey February 23, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

      On the subject of indy publishing: I prefer a world with more authors in it, doesn’t matter if I love them or loathe them, (for the record communists annoy me S much as the far right), more stories cannot be a bad thing, they are not entitled to awards or 5 star reviews, or to be sticked by retailers, they are entitled to exist.

      • Andrew February 23, 2016 at 9:21 pm #

        More stories does make for a richer universe I think. As for reviews, I often fine the 1 or 2 star reviews most helpful, they often tell you what a book isn’t and so you end up knowing exactly what you are getting. Also they are quite often entertaining pieces of prose in themselves.

  3. duncancairncross February 23, 2016 at 9:22 pm #

    I prefer BAEN – but I still end up buying more at Amazon – I wish there was at least one real competitor to Amazon – just to keep them honest

  4. Mike February 23, 2016 at 11:17 pm #

    A couple of random thoughts from a consumer.

    I’m much more likely to take a chance on a new author if the price is under $4, much as you have said. If the author produces several great books (Like your SIM series ) I’ll more than likely pay higher prices for future installments.

    One down side to Indie publishing that I’ve noticed is the greater number of word, spelling, and grammar errors. I’ll never claim to be an expert grammarian, so when I can spot grammar errors it’s bad. ( I can’t think of any I’ve seen in your books)

    On the subject of amazon. Really the only complaints i have is with their search options both on the site and how the Kindle Reader App operates. I find the Nook App much easier to organize and search for books, and keep hoping that amazon updates the kindle app with more features.

    Anyway just my $0.02, I enjoy your blogs almost as much as your books. keep writing.

  5. Sara King (author) February 24, 2016 at 4:27 am #

    My thoughts exactly. One of my fans sent me this link, and I was THRILLED to find another indie who thinks the same way I do, rather than feels like they’re scrabbling for scraps that the Big Publishers leave them. Thing is, the fight’s already won–the Big Publishers just don’t know it yet. Big Publishers are clinging to old ways of doing things that are dragging them down, and the indie authors who realize that are going to utterly blow them out of the water. And, once the behemoths finally fall, they’re going to be the only ones standing. I couldn’t have said it better. LOVE your take on it all. We should definitely talk sometime about indies taking over the world. kingnovel@gmail.com

  6. shrekgrinch February 25, 2016 at 11:24 pm #

    Dunno why having your own server would lead to VAT probs. VATs are not applied for international orders, right? So if you set up a e-commerce server in the US — where the purchase actually happens but the downloads happen globally — the UK nor anyone else can really go after you for VAT.

    It’s like Brits using Amazon.com instead of Amazon.co.uk to get around VAT for eBook downloads, right? Amazon.com isn’t set up to handle VAT as the US doesn’t have any.

    • chrishanger February 28, 2016 at 6:45 pm #

      Yep, but you have to sort out different taxes for different countries, i think.

      Chris

  7. New Class Traitor February 28, 2016 at 3:46 am #

    Reblogged this on Spin, strangeness, and charm and commented:
    Chris Nuttall on how traditional book publishers are making themselves irrelevant, and how for indies, Amazon is basically the only game in town.

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