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Sunday, January 01, 2017

The state of publishing 2017

Larry Correia fisks a minor author who appears to be hell-bent on convincing herself that mainstream publishing is the only way to go despite having sold fewer books than every single Castalia House author:
I realized that Laurie wasn’t providing writing advice for people who actually want to make a decent living as writers. She is providing advice to people who want to be aloof artistes at dinner parties, before they go back to their day job at Starbucks.

As for what Laurie says about gatekeepers, it is all horse shit. She has no flipping idea what she’s talking about.

Publishers are the “gatekeepers”. If they like you, you’re in, and if they don’t like you, you’re out. Problem is, at best they only have so many publishing slots to fill every year, so they cater to some markets, and leave others to languish. And at worst, they are biased human beings, who often have their heads inserted into their own rectums.

Agents represent the author. Their job is to find stuff they think they can sell to a publisher, and then they keep 15%. So “good” is secondary to “Can I sell this to the gatekeepers?” And then we’re back to slots and rectums.

Editors try to make the author’s stuff better. Period. They aren’t gate keepers, because it is their job to make the stuff that got through the gate suck less (seriously, the HuffPo should hire one).  Only self-published authors can hire editors too. Andy Weir hired Bryan Thomas Schmidt to edit the original self-published The Martian. Last I heard that book did okay.

“National and international reviewers” are on the wrong side of the gate, and I’m baffled why she included them. Reviewers come along after the fact, some are useful, but most aren’t. Even though I was ignored or despised by most of the big review places for most of my career, they haven’t made a lick of difference to my sales.

These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good.

The problem is that “good” is subjective. What you personally think is “good” is irrelevant when there are a million consumers who disagree. I wouldn’t buy a copy of Twilight, but the author lives in a house made out of solid gold bars. “Good” is arbitrary. The real question is whether your product is sellable. (and yes, it is just a product, get over yourself)

Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.

It was the only system we had before technology came along and upset their apple cart.

When only the gatekeepers could vet what was “good”, sometimes they were right, but since often the “professionals” were 20 something lit majors just out of college, or some clueless weasel who had spent his whole existence in the echo chamber of Manhattan publishing, often the system fed its own tastes and ignored vast swaths of the market.

And when you neglect a market, it will spend its entertainment dollars elsewhere. So in this case, competition is good. Because the real competition isn’t between traditional and indy publishing, it is between reading and movies and video games and streaming. Ultimately the market decides who wins, not some self-appointed gatekeeper.
As Larry correctly observes, her atttitude is that of an author who is more interested in personal validation than professional status. The viability of independent publishing doesn't mean there isn't some advantage to publishing with the Big Five, especially if your name happens to begin with MILO. But, as in so many other things, what works for Milo is very unlikely to work for you. He's a genuine star. Regardless, even very successful independent writers who sell millions of copies don't hit #1 on Amazon months before release.

Nor is print anywhere close to dead. It's not really fair to compare our print sales to our digital sales, since less than one-third of our books are in print yet and we have even fewer audio books out, but the breakdown of Castalia's 2016 book sales is as follows:
  • 67.8% ebook
  • 20.5% print edition
  • 07.5% Kindle Unlimited
  • 04.2% audiobook
That's unexpected, since we originally assumed Castalia would be an ebook-only publisher. But the real game changer, where the mainstream publishers are concerned, is KU. They don't play there and they can't afford to play there. And since publishing is a negative sum game, every $12 million paid out per month by Amazon probably represents at least another $48 million in revenue lost to the major publishers plus around $10 million lost to the authors published by them. It's my suspicion that Amazon tries to set the KU compensation so that an author will make roughly the same amount from a KU sale-equivalent that he'll make from conventional publishing sale, rather than the same amount he'll make from an ebook sale.

KU isn't great for independent publishers even though some of our big books pay out more per book equivalent than we make per sale. For reference, the average KU payout per page was $0.004848 in 2016. But at least we can afford to be there.

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54 Comments:

Anonymous Genera January 01, 2017 1:20 PM  

"And when you neglect a market, it will spend its entertainment dollars elsewhere."

I think there is a niche in the music industry that is being neglected, as well,and that this would be an opportunity for someone. Most of today's music seems pretty bad.

Anonymous Genera January 01, 2017 1:25 PM  

I think there would be demand for musicians who tap into the malaise and frustration with how things are going that a lot of Trump voters probably feel. Where is today's Bruce Springsteen or Midnight Oil, U2, etc.

Blogger Otto Lamp January 01, 2017 1:35 PM  

Larry's advice wasn't needed.

The commenters at HuffPo (which includes several well know authors) are ripping her a new one.

Anonymous grey enlightenment January 01, 2017 1:43 PM  

Isn't Castalia a publisher? Self-publishing means you do the publishing yourself rather then through an intermediary. Castalia books are probably a cut above than your typical self-published book. The odds stack poorly for the typical self-published author...the typical book sells zero copies. Mike Cernovich can sell thousands of books, but he already had a huge personal brand when he began publishing. Traditional publishers give exposure to authors who don't already have large brands. I discuss in detail http://greyenlightenment.com/the-stark-realities-of-self-publishing/

Blogger Trid January 01, 2017 1:45 PM  

The niche is pretty well filed by older music, I think. It's not like music expires.

Anonymous Jack Amok January 01, 2017 1:52 PM  

But the real game changer, where the mainstream publishers are concerned, is KU.

Does KU basically cut the legs out from under the mid-list generic mainstream genre writers? The sort of stuff people churn through, like women's romance novels?

Blogger GracieLou January 01, 2017 1:54 PM  

This is good advice even in relation to fine art. Even as late as '09 my art school was teaching how to get into a gallery, what pleased gallery gatekeepers, how to create slides (actual slides!) and portfolios--for the gatekeepers.

Absolute waste of time. Nobody sells art like that anymore! I've had to learn everything from YouTube videos. And there's a lot to it; marketing, websites, pricing, packaging, shipping...basic entrepreneurship.

The thing is, artists I know ARE making money AND making things people actually want to buy. Quality is up, BS is down. It's a win-win for everyone.

Anonymous Jack Amok January 01, 2017 2:00 PM  

I think there is a niche in the music industry that is being neglected, as well,

Mixcloud and Soundcloud, plus you can self-publish music on Amazon. There have also been a bazillion indie music publishers for a while now.

Anonymous Genera January 01, 2017 2:01 PM  

Tried,

Exactly. But if someone were so inclined, (s)he could probably make a lot of money creating new music that would fill this niche.

Blogger Danby January 01, 2017 2:02 PM  

Genera wrote:I think there is a niche in the music industry that is being neglected, as well,and that this would be an opportunity for someone. Most of today's music seems pretty bad.

Books are more ephemeral than recorded music, so the book publishers haven't tailored the legal and copyright system to their upkeep the way the music publishers have.

Anonymous Genera January 01, 2017 2:02 PM  

@Trid, not Tried. (Aurocorrect)

Anonymous Marvin Boggs January 01, 2017 2:02 PM  

Thanks for the insights into publishing. Although I have no asperations as a writer, I am a significant consumer and I'd like to tune my consumption, to the extent possible, to best support the authors and publishers I like.

Does one format (e.g. ebook or dead-tree) make a big difference in favour of the authors?

Blogger Otto Lamp January 01, 2017 2:12 PM  

@Genera,

Historically, most musicians made their money not from album sales, but from concerts. Record deals were usually structured so the record company (on paper) took a loss on the recording and distribution of the album, meaning the musicians got nothing. Only the big name artists could negotiate a deal that made them money on album sales.

Viewed from that standpoint, indie music today (like albums of the past) should be viewed as a promotional vehicle to get people into your live concerts--where you can actually make some money.



Blogger pyrrhus January 01, 2017 2:17 PM  

When you look at the number of massive bestsellers that were rejected by dozens, even more than a hundred, publishers, from 'Interview with a vampire' and 'The Thorn Birds' to many nonfiction works, it's hard to take the legacy Publishers' expertise very seriously.

Blogger Dave January 01, 2017 2:20 PM  

Otto Lamp wrote:Larry's advice wasn't needed.

The commenters at HuffPo (which includes several well know authors) are ripping her a new one.


Otto is spot on; one of the top comments:
Laura Kaye · NYT Bestselling Romance Author at Laura Kaye
Is it possible this post was written in 2009 and got caught in some sort of digital time warp that delayed its publication until now? There's some real irony in talking about insulting the written word in a piece so woefully outdated, willfully uninformed, and intentionally divisive.
Like · Reply · 1078 · Dec 29, 2016 8:38pm

OpenID sigsawyer January 01, 2017 2:23 PM  

Mainstream publishing is dominated by 25-year-old jewish lesbians. Self-publishing is pissing into the ocean.

What's an aspiring writer to do, besides publish with Castalia?

Blogger Danby January 01, 2017 2:27 PM  

sigsawyer wrote:What's an aspiring writer to do, besides publish with Castalia?
There's this guy out there, you may have heard of him, Mike Cernovich, who has a lot of advice on building your brand and promoting yourself.

Anonymous Kell January 01, 2017 2:27 PM  

Um, speaking of audiobooks...do you have plans to expand your offerings there? I'd very much like to hear A Throne of Bones as an audiobook. Also Iron Chamber of Memory.

Anonymous Stickwick January 01, 2017 2:31 PM  

The problem with self-publishing is that it requires zero gatekeepers.

Wow, is she ever locked into an outdated paradigm. Gatekeepers mattered when there were limited slots and limited man-hours to edit and produce marketable books, but now that there are no limits, who cares if dreck is getting published? The market will sort it out. Her response is that this somehow insults the written word, which as Larry explains is nonsense.

When I'm deciding whether or not to buy a particular book, I consider the following:

- Reader reviews
- Who the author is (important only if the book lacks reader reviews)

Things I never consider:

- Who the publisher is
- What professional reviewers think of it

Self-publishing is a wonderful thing in part because it allows niche books to get published that would never have gotten past the gate-keepers in the old paradigm, and not unreasonably so. Some of these niche books serve a very small segment of the market that a traditional publisher is probably wise to ignore; but the self-pub author is happy if only ten people buy his book, and those ten people are happy that someone wrote it. Other books might have been seen as an unreasonable gamble in the old paradigm given that the author is completely unknown and lacks credentials. But what does a self-pub author have to lose except for his own time? A while back I bought a self-published book on the mathematics of general relativity that was written by a nobody with no credentials, but it got great reviews by readers, so I took a shot and it was worth my money. The market sorted it out.

Blogger The Other Robot January 01, 2017 2:32 PM  

My only request is MOAR Kratman! And, not this sort of Kratman or this sort of Kratman

Blogger seeingsights January 01, 2017 2:36 PM  

I'm in agreement with Larry. I'll jut add some points which I think are congruent with Larry's view.

Defenders of traditional publishers make the point that there's a lot of drek self-published, and traditional publishers thus serve a gate-keeping function.

My reply: The judgment of traditional publishers are not perfect either. They have published drek too. They have published books that were commercial flops. They have turned down books which later proved to be commercially and critically successful.

I have seen two mid-list career writers wonder out loud, "How many good, or even great books, were never published when traditional publishing was the only way?"

To avoid self-published drek, there are two ways: 1. Read a sample, which is usually offered by Amazon. 2. Read reviews, especially from those with tastes similar to yours.

This is the invisible hand of the market place at work.

Blogger Brian Niemeier January 01, 2017 3:01 PM  

"It's my suspicion that Amazon tries to set the KU compensation so that an author will make roughly the same amount from a KU sale-equivalent that he'll make from conventional publishing sale, rather than the same amount he'll make from an ebook sale."

That makes a lot of sense.

"KU isn't great for independent publishers..."

Can confirm. I've tried KU twice with two different books. The results were mixed.

Enrolling Nethereal when it was my only book just cannibalized sales and contributed to my least profitable month ever.

Enrolling Souldancer also cannibalized its sales. However, using all of my KDP Select free days at once moved enough copies to get SD onto Amazon's top 100 free list, effectively gave Nethereal a mini-Book Bomb, and won SD the Dragon Award.

But in dollar terms, yeah, I probably made about the same from KU during that period as I would have from a comparable number of tradpub sales. Meanwhile, my indie non-KU title raked in the equivalent of roughly 3000 conventional sales.

Based on this experience, my advice to indie authors considering KU is this: KU is not a panacea. Have a plan in place before you use it.

Anonymous Bob Just January 01, 2017 3:15 PM  

Vox - similar quetion to @18 Kell -

for some of your larget tomes you're looking at upwards of 24 hours (800+ pages) for an audiobook (assuming a similar speaking rate per page as TIA).

I know you don't like to go into specifics but can you generalize on the cost and time differences (multiple voice performers or one perfromer doing multiple voices, recording time, editing time) between creating a Fiction vs Non-fiction audiobook?

Do the voice performers record all the parts for character 1 - then all the parts for character 2 or do they generally record it as written?

For your giant books (20+ estimated hours of audio) would crowdfunding help (perhaps ranging from a discount on the audiobook to a spoken shout-out/acknowledgement - "Hey, Vox mentioned me in his book") ?

Anonymous Marvin Boggs January 01, 2017 3:18 PM  

@19: um, now that you've got my attention, could you please provide a link to the book on the mathematics of relativity? Thanks.

Anonymous Anonymous January 01, 2017 3:23 PM  

While true, there is likely value in the market to be gained by making something new and novel.

Anonymous Bob Just January 01, 2017 3:26 PM  

@22 Thanks for the post and strategy - I had never heard of KDP select days - sounds like a "loss leader type of strategy"

@Vox have you run models (no joke) on which days/months are the best?

VD was also saying how an announcement lik Milo's provided a bounce for SJWAL

Anonymous Stickwick January 01, 2017 3:33 PM  

Marvin, the book is A Most Incomprehensible Thing: Notes Towards a Very Gentle Introduction to the Mathematics of Relativity by Peter Collier. I have the old edition. The updated 2014 edition appears to have errata and some of the equation and image issues fixed.

Anonymous Writing is just typing for profit January 01, 2017 3:49 PM  

Housewives writing part-time who self-publish outsell Cernovich. They write romance, fantasy, or sci-fi, in order of frequency. Men writing part-time who self-publish also do thousands of sales a month writing thrillers, sci-fi and fantasy. 10-20 hours per week in both groups.

This isn't a knock on Cernovich at all (he's doing non-fiction, which is harder to rack up sales in compared to fiction), it's simply noting that the whining about how haaaaarrrrrrdddddd it is to sell books as a self-publisher is just that, whining. Because there's always the option to avoid the hard thing Cernovich did (try to sell a lot of nonfiction) and instead write fiction in the big four fiction categories (romance, thrillers, sci-fi and fantasy).

Blogger Jon Mollison January 01, 2017 4:09 PM  

There isn't that much difference between reading fiction and non-fiction. You want to capture the tone and rhythm established by the author, so it's a straight read through. It's just like you would read a bedtime story to your kids.

Blogger Dave January 01, 2017 4:25 PM  

Housewives writing part-time who self-publish outsell Cernovich. They write romance, fantasy, or sci-fi, in order of frequency.

Not sure how Cernovich became the measuring stick. Erotic fiction outsells everything else by a wide margin. Doesn't mean most people can or want to write it.

Blogger The Other Robot January 01, 2017 4:29 PM  

Housewives writing part-time who self-publish outsell Cernovich. They write romance, fantasy, or sci-fi, in order of frequency.

I can see it now: List of housewives who write sci-fi part-time and outsell Cernovich

Can you supply some names so I can start the list?

Blogger Dave January 01, 2017 4:42 PM  

Can you supply some names so I can start the list?
Just search for space romances and space alien romances for the truly adventurous at heart.

Anonymous grey enlightenment January 01, 2017 4:50 PM  

Housewives writing part-time who self-publish outsell Cernovich. They write romance, fantasy, or sci-fi, in order of frequency. Men writing part-time who self-publish also do thousands of sales a month writing thrillers, sci-fi and fantasy. 10-20 hours per week in both groups.

Unless you're hugh howdy or one of a dozen other names, no they don't. The average book sells zero copies. Gorilla mindset has 700 reviews on amazon alone, indicating sales of at least 40k copies on mzon

here is some more information https://kdp.amazon.com/community/message.jspa?messageID=802460

another author who has 50 books on Amazon in the Erotic genre and makes $1-2k month. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJl8yPvXxN4

Not a ton of money for the effort involved. I think there's more money to be made writing technical books, such the one about general relativity, than fiction. The reason is because textbooks are very expensive. If you can write a better textbook for 1/2 the price, people will buy yours.

Blogger The Other Robot January 01, 2017 4:58 PM  

So, I checked. Cernovich's Gorilla Mindset is at 5,168, while XXXperiment - Book 5: Lust In Space (Science Fiction Romance Space Alien Contemporary Fantasy Short Story Series) is at 687,000+.

(Admittedly I did search for "Dildo's in Space" and that was the best Amazon could come up with.)

So, I think the premise that housewives writing sci-fi part time can outsell Cernovich is just wrong.

Blogger David The Good January 01, 2017 4:59 PM  

One of my self-published books sells an average of 7 copies per day, every day. The royalties from that book alone pay my rent.

The books I sell through Castalia House also do quite well.

The gates have been blown open and the wall destroyed. Modern publishers are like the lawyer in Jurassic Park sitting on the toilet after the T-Rex has ripped the walls and roof off.

Anonymous GRY January 01, 2017 5:08 PM  

@26 This is an example of what a successful self published non-fiction book should look like, at least IMO. I have a Physics degree and the way this volume was written cuts through the BS you find in typical senior undergraduate level "academic" textbooks on GR.

I got it at literally a steal($14 CDN from Amazon.ca at the time I bought it) and it outclasses almost all the dry academic textbooks which go for 10x that price from so called academic publishers like Springer or Wiley.

Collage/University level academic publishers are complete rip off artists when it comes to peddling overpriced "textbooks" to a captive audience at extortion level pricing.

I would love to see more self published textbooks like Collier's book used in collage curricula while cutting out the fat middlemen publishers.

Anonymous Mike January 01, 2017 5:15 PM  

18 months after its release, Gorilla Mindset sells thousands of copies a month between Kindle, print, and audio. Current copies sold of all units is 53,599. Check the Kindle sales rank and you see GM stays at between 8,000 and 12,000 - and when I'm posting actively to D&P, the sales rank is 5,000 to 8,000.

Vox has seen my sales data. Anyone claiming to know my books sales # who isn't named me for Vox is a fraud.

Danger & Play the book - which is merely an edited selection of my blog posts - sold 300 copies between Kindle and paperback last month. The royalties from D&P the book are a M4 lease payment. Maybe some of you are rich, but to me, that's real money!

Lots of gossip girls gossiping about me non-stop. It's a testament to my success and character that people have to lie about me to make a "hit" come close to landing.

As Trump might say, "These people are lying about Cernovich's book sales, which can be verified and are a matter of objective fact. Imagine what else they must be lying about!"

Blogger Dave January 01, 2017 5:24 PM  

One of my self-published books sells an average of 7 copies per day, every day. The royalties from that book alone pay my rent.

That's around 2,555 copies/year by my calculations. Impressive. But you didn't just write a book and disappear; you're active on social media and putting out vidoes and self-promotion.

@27 says there's an easier way: Men writing part-time who self-publish also do thousands of sales a month writing thrillers, sci-fi and fantasy. 10-20 hours per week in both groups.

Blogger Brian Niemeier January 01, 2017 5:31 PM  

@25: My pleasure.

@33: Glad to have you here on the J-list, man!

*Hearty handshake that lasts just a little too long*

Blogger Cataline Sergius January 01, 2017 5:38 PM  

@Stickwick

Wow, is she ever locked into an outdated paradigm

It's not really that.

She's published three books in the last 15 years.

Which means, she isn't making a living as a writer, she just wants to surround herself with the trappings of being an author.

Nothing makes a "nobody" feel more important than being able to walk through a locked door marked "Keep Out."

She got to preen for a few years but now there is a doorway right next to that one and not only is it not locked, there's not even a door on it.

It's a little hard to feel soooper special about being published author, if the only trappings you are left with are self-hatred and alcoholism.

OpenID randkoch January 01, 2017 5:43 PM  

On KU, it looks like John Birmingham started out his two indie novellas on KU for just one or two cycles. The first went into the general marketplace after that, and I suspect the second may follow.

He's not really an indie writer, but I think it's a good way for indies to start.

Blogger Jew613 January 01, 2017 5:52 PM  

As far as I can tell to make it in self-publishing you have to be an excellent promoter. There's lots of books out there and a finite number of readers. But a lot of people aren't good at self-promotion even if they are very good writers.

Blogger David The Good January 01, 2017 5:56 PM  

@Dave

Correct - the interaction with an audience is huge. I am my own PR department, for good or ill.

@Brian Niemeier

As a Sigma UHIQ, I'm used to people longing to touch me.

Blogger Brian Niemeier January 01, 2017 6:01 PM  

@41: That's true. But it's equally true of trad and nontrad-pub. Even if you land a book deal with a Big 5 publisher, promoting your brand will still be mostly up to you--unless your name is J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin.

Blogger Happy LP9 January 01, 2017 6:06 PM  

I adore the C.house writers, amazing work, I am super thrilled about any Crevald's to Larry to Wright to Everyone's work!

Just thrilled! Alt Tech, Alt Publishing, I am beyond proud of everyone! You all inspire me to greatness!

Blogger J Van Stry January 01, 2017 6:09 PM  

I would not call sci-fi a 'big four category'. Sci-fi is not a big category at all, and it's very hard to make it in sci-fi when you consider the state of it today.

BTW, I sell at least 50 copies a day, of all my stuff combined. More when a new book releases. And yes, it takes a lot of work, not just writing, but trying to network and promote.

As for 'housewives' sell huge amounts? Not really. Yes there are million dollar self-pubbed authors out there. Most of them (almost ALL of them) are in Romance, and there aren't as many as you might think. They also work very hard at what they do.

Blogger Duke Norfolk January 01, 2017 7:34 PM  

Next up, the university system. Just wait until you hear the wailing of thousands of pampered profs! (and the grossly fattened administrative sector, of course)

And then there's K-12.

Blogger VD January 01, 2017 7:52 PM  

For your giant books (20+ estimated hours of audio) would crowdfunding help (perhaps ranging from a discount on the audiobook to a spoken shout-out/acknowledgement - "Hey, Vox mentioned me in his book")?

That may be the only way. It's too long for anyone sane to do the revenue share plan.

Blogger VD January 01, 2017 7:53 PM  

Vox has seen my sales data. Anyone claiming to know my books sales # who isn't named me for Vox is a fraud.

Can confirm. SJWAL has done very well, but it has sold less than half as well as Gorilla Mindset.

Anonymous SciVo de Plorable January 01, 2017 8:11 PM  

Does one format (e.g. ebook or dead-tree) make a big difference in favour of the authors?

No, IIRC VD had explained that it depends on the title. Some will do better going into print, some will do better on Kindle Unlimited, whatever.

Anonymous Bz January 02, 2017 3:49 AM  

Someone reading 206 pages of your work on KU will thus yield a payment of $1. This is equivalent to a normal Kindle sale price of $1.43, if I've understood correctly.

Presumably, either the KU authors were previously in the $0.99 game, or they are relying on the KU market being different from the regular Kindle market somehow.

I assume the total KU payout is related to the KU subscription payments, perhaps at 0.70 of the incoming. The page payout is then assumed to be the remaining pool divided by number of pages read.

Can KU authors expect improving conditions in the future? The page payout will only increase if subscribers read less while retaining subscriptions (at current cost). The total payout will increase with the number of subscribers, but one would expect more authors to enter KU if the page payout increases too far. Based solely on these calculations, the answer would be no. But again, perhaps there are different dynamics in the KU market that can be exploited.

Blogger Shimshon January 02, 2017 4:43 AM  

Disrupt and Destroy is the new Embrace and Extend. This is all great stuff.

OpenID drmauser January 02, 2017 7:48 PM  

I took a slightly different angle on my critique of her screed. The Gatekeeper function has been crowdsourced.

Anonymous B Day January 02, 2017 11:45 PM  

I'm working on something that is specifically for the frustrations of men today, but it is really hard work and I'm on a shoestring budget. But if you're curious me up. find me on gab @elitefitrea

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