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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Nathan Bransford’s Decision, Self-Published Kindle books, and You

Everybody who reads this blog probably knows I’m an obsessed long-time fan of Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford. When I read his Friday post saying he’s left the publishing business, I felt a personal loss. I know he promises to keep up his blog, and I’m not losing my agent, like Natalie Whipple, Lisa Brackman, Kristi Marie Kriddle and so many others. But “knowing” somebody with Nathan’s kindness and integrity in the business always made me hopeful.

The news that he’s leaving for a more lucrative position at the tech news site CNET seemed like more bad news for kindness and integrity at the end of a disastrous week.

I was helped a little by the hilarious post from The Rejectionist suggesting “reasons” why Nathan has left us (one of which involves Jonathan Franzen’s fear that Nathan might make the cover of Time.) It had me laughing through my tears.

But now I’ve thought it over, I’m not sure the news is all bad. When I spoke with Nathan at the Central Coast Writers’ Conference last September, he said electronic publishing will dominate the business sooner than people realize—and self-publishing will be a strong factor. Most people in the traditional publishing world have poo-poo’ed the electronic self-publishing movement, but not Nathan. He said we’re at the dawn of a wonderful new era when writers will have control over our own careers.

Maybe that’s partly why Nathan left agenting. I’m sure there’s more money in reviewing and advertising e-readers than representing people who write for them. Crystal-ball watchers are pretty sure agents will still figure into the new publishing paradigm, but chances are they won’t be making the kind of money they used to. The days of big advances are pretty much gone, and fifteen percent of a $500-$1000 advance isn’t going to pay for a lot of New York office space.

The Pied Piper of the electronic self-publishing movement is mystery writer J.A. Konrath. His plan and subsequent success are detailed on his blog A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. Every writer should read it in order to understand our current choices.

What Konrath is doing works, as you can see detailed on his blog. He’s making real money while long-time traditionally published writers are going back to their day jobs.

The reason is this: traditional publishers charge a lot for e-books—especially those written by superstars—basically treating them like hard-cover releases.

But Konrath and his disciples charge $.99 to $2.99.

How do they make money?

They get big royalties—ones they don’t have to share with anybody. Amazon offers a 70% royalty on a $2.99 Kindle book. Compare that to a 5% royalty on a standard paperback…well, you do the math. And, selling at those prices, they sell A LOT. Konrath is now outselling Dan Brown, Janet Evanovich and Jonathan Franzen.

Everybody’s argument against his plan is, “He’s Konrath—an established author; that would never work for an unknown.”

But this simply isn’t true. Many writers are having success with it. And the generous-spirited Konrath helps by posting about other self-Kindlized books. Two writers I follow—Karen McQuestion and Elisa Lorello—have had such fantastic sales with Kindle that now Amazon is publishing their books in hard copy through Amazon Encore. Elisa Lorello had never been published before when her romantic comedy Faking It made it to #6 on the Kindle bestseller list a month after release.

Yes, of course there will be a boatload of crap books dumped on Kindle, just as there have been with self-published books since POD technology came along. And please, PLEASE don’t throw your NaNo book out there before you do LOTS of revision, or you’ll end your career before it starts. You’ll thank me later. I promise.

Readers will probably depend on review sites to choose reading material. There are already e-book review sites springing up, like Dirt Cheap Kindle Books. The cream will rise. As best-selling author Dean Wesley Smith said in a Friday blogpost   “A book WILL NOT SELL at $2.99 or even $.99 if it sucks. Readers have taste that won’t be overpowered by simple low prices.”

Of course, to succeed as a self-publisher, you’ll have to spend more time polishing your work than ever. You won’t have the agent/editor process to get it up to professional quality. I'm sure that independent editors with good track records will be much in demand. Every writer needs an editor. Even Jane Austen depended more heavily on an editor than people realize.

Of course, everything could change in a nanosecond, especially if prices of traditionally published ebooks come down. And as Dean Wesley Smith said in the same post, “This new world is changing so fast, nothing that I say here could be valid by this time in 2011.”

In fact, even the argument that quality will rise to the top may be wrong. On Karen McQuestion’s blog yesterday, author Scott Nicholson offered what he calls “the worst novel ever written” (his own first book) for $.99. He wants to see how many people will read a book that costs less than a dollar, when even the author admits it’s terrible. I don't predict major sales, but then, I wouldn’t have given much hope to the Bridges of Madison County, either.

I’m following all this with fascination. I’m working on cover design ideas for my two backlist titles. And maybe the rest of them. Since we have to promote our own books and design our own advertising campaigns anyway, why not get paid a reasonable percentage of the profits?

Nathan Bransford is carving out a new place for himself in this brave new e-publishing world, and maybe we all should be considering it, too.



Blogger Clarissa Draper said...

This is an absolutely amazing post and confirms what I think about the publishing world. I'm going to tweet this.


November 7, 2010 at 12:10 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

I'm posting this for Judy Salamacha of the CC Writers Conference. Apparently Blogger is being a brat today. If it's blocking you, just email me at annerallen.allen@gmail.com and I'll post for you.

"Here, Here! Enjoyed the dialogue--and kudos to you for getting past your "pain" and quickly realizing there is life after Nathan Bransford, Agent, for Nathan and the rest of us.

I guess if we had listened in between his words at the 26th Annual CCWC at Cuesta College, we would have heard clues that he was wandering.

Wishing him much, much success and would love to see him return to the Conference with his Tech hat...what an asset - combining love of writing and writers with first hands-on the cutting age of the technology that rules us. He is capable of keeping ahead of this evolving technology and writing in context of our interests. Nathan, keep holding our hands!

Judy Salamacha

November 7, 2010 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Emily Cross said...

It's sad that world of publishing is losing such a great agent. His advice is invaluable.

Your post was excellent. My opinion, is I have none at the moment - but like you, I'm going to watch what happens with interest :)

November 7, 2010 at 12:18 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for the Tweet, Clarissa!

November 7, 2010 at 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Sue McGinty said...

I'm absolutely stunned.

November 7, 2010 at 12:31 PM  
Blogger KLM said...

Anne, I have to admit, reading your post here, this is the first time I've ever seriously considered the possibility that self-publishing may eventually become anything other than a dirty couple of words. I still think publishers and agents will find a way to make money, just as record producers and their labels still make money in the aftermath of file sharing and iTunes. But still. The future is now, I guess.

Great post.

November 7, 2010 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger PV Lundqvist said...

I'm glad you wrote about this, Nathan's departure made me feel the same way: missing somebody who promises to stay in touch. Will he?

I will add that I can't see how agents make money in the new world of publishing. Not in the present incarnation, I think. Often my internal counter argument was, 'Well, Nathan can." Yeah.

Though, I don't believe that is necessarily his reason for changing careers: I come down on the side that Nathan is an evolver — first agent, turned writer, turned pundit. He strikes me as needing regular change.

November 7, 2010 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

KML-self-publishing scares the hell out of me, too--being lumped together with those clueless, narcissistic dweebs who print up their rambling first drafts and push them on their friends--but it may work better for us in the long run.

PV--you make a very good point. Nathan is an evolver. Maybe this is as much about him as it is about the business. But he has a pretty clear eyed view of the future, so I pay attention to what he told me.

November 7, 2010 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Fantastic post, Anne. You already know how much I support the indie movement and ebooks. It's sad to see Nathan go, but I think he's right about electronic publishing changing the future. I think it already has. It has changed my life, at least. :)

November 7, 2010 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Liz Fichera said...

I think that it's a brave new world too for readers. Readers will also have more choice and why shouldn't they? Why should a handful of editors get to decide what the rest of the world should be reading?

November 7, 2010 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger Judy Croome said...

Yes to everything! Great post Anne.
Judy(South Africa)

November 7, 2010 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger Solvang Sherrie said...

Great post, Anne. I think people need to get past the stigma of self-publishing and accept that the whole industry is changing and just like any other industry, the people who are willing to take risks are the ones who will succeed.

November 7, 2010 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger Tara Maya said...

Very interesting. I admit, the thought crossed my mind as well. But you explained it better.

November 7, 2010 at 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Ruth Harris said...

I've always been a what's-new-what's-now slut & am in the process of putting my backlist on Kindle. Over the years, my publishers have done nothing to exploit these rights but until now there's been no way for me or any other author to do it for her/himself. I'm curious to see what will happen & since, after an early start in textbook publishing (at the time the only job I could get), I gravitated to mass market paperbacks & I see parallels between the excitement & experimentation then possible in mmp and epublishing now.

The backlist novel I'm starting with is HUSBANDS AND LOVERS, a NYTimes bestseller. I will add a link as soon as it's up on Kindle.

November 8, 2010 at 4:31 AM  
Blogger Terry Odell said...

Very interesting post (although I think Konrath is still an 'exception'). I think a large backlist of previously published works helps, as does name recognition. I have my backlist book up on Kindle and Smashwords, and I'm not paying any bills with my royalties. I plan to add more, however, as I garner rights to other books. There's even a new "sub-store" at Amazon for "Backlist Ebooks" where authors who their have previously published back list books for sale.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

November 8, 2010 at 5:06 AM  
Blogger Karen McQuestion said...

Terrific post, Anne! Thanks for mentioning me.

Publishing is definitely going through some growing pains. Self-publishing has worked out for me, so I may be biased, but overall I think having more ways to get your work out in the world can only benefit writers.

November 8, 2010 at 5:38 AM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

I can't get my head together to write a response, but know that I read this post and appreciate it.

November 8, 2010 at 6:20 AM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

This is fascinating. At this point I would certainly agree with your advice to get a good editor or a few editors and /first,second/third/fourth/fifth, etc. readers, and re-write and re-write and polish, polish, since it may be that you get one shot at your customer, one shot at rising above the "amateur" bad stuff,one shot to catch he attention of a book reviewer,so your Kindled POD better be outstanding.

Plus, I wonder, if all this will give rise to more "review" publications/blogs to help readers through the winnowing process? Sorta like movie reviews, since there's so many books and too little time.

On the other hand, this seems to be pretty exciting. Instead of toiling away in the garret hoping for that one in a trillion "Big Win" (cover of Time!) one can toil away and, with luck, create a modest career doing what you love (writing) and making enough money to pay the bills, since the odds may now be more in your favor -- as in, Is it better to sell ONE item in ten years for $50,000 or 100,000 items each year for 99-cents each?

November 8, 2010 at 6:20 AM  
Blogger Florence said...

As always Anne, this is a thoughtful and informative post. Thanks :)

I have one thing to add to the mix ... and that mix includes almost every major literary agent who has a blog ... every publishing expert and even our witty Eric from Pimp My Novel.

Currently, there is a hoopla of opinions and being the true conflicted Virgo/Libra Monkey child in the middle ... I have to agree with both sides.

What is important for all of us to remember is be careful about e-rights. They are becoming as valuable as other "rights" in your contracts with agents and publishers. You would never sign over your screen rights, so why sign over control of your e-rights?

The scenario I found that I can live with is to do it all, be versitile and stop trying to put yourself into any kind of mold. You can publish through an agent with a traditional publisher, you can self-publish what they don't want, you can write for e-pubs or through Smashwords via Kindle.

Earlier in the year I wrote to Konrath and a few others. His response was a bit arrogant, but Joe has always had a rep for being a bit arrogant. What he said, however, rang true.

What good is any kind of publishing if no one knows you or your work? I know several people who walk around with a trunk full of their self-published books.

Refer to another block of posts done by Nathan, Faust and web sites devoted to "trends" and what you will find is solid advice about developing your own readership, learning how to network and getting name recognition.

While the debate goes on, those of us who can read between the lines, can benefit from being at the beginning of a new and exciting time in publising.

Be a hog and do it all, but before you do, make someone knows who the heck you are. If you don't do the hard work, you will have a trunk of books, or a list of e-pubs and you'll still sell under a thousand copies.

In order to have any kind of hope of making it as an e-pub only ... you need (for example) a following of over 5-10K people on Twitter.

Learn as much about this as passive verbs, how to write a query, or how to build a network that can sell for you.

By the by ... remind your readers Joe Konrath has been out there for years, has a blog following of hundreds of thousands and is read as much as Nathan. It was people like Joe who influenced Nathan (look back at his last year's posts and you'll find several referrals to Joe on Nathan's blog) and the reason Joe is now outselling major authors is that he positioned himself to undercut the competition and cash in on his widely known blog and rep.

Take a deep breath folks, this is the beginning of a new day. Don't rush or you'll miss the sun rising.

November 8, 2010 at 7:47 AM  
Blogger fatcaster said...

I'd like to add my thanks, Anne, for this post and for your having mentioned NB's new tack on JAK's blog. NB's decision is a sign of the times. Now, I've got you bookmarked!

November 8, 2010 at 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

Really enjoyed this post. I'm not sure, yet, what I believe about the future of the publishing industry, but you have chosen to take the "half-full" outlook. I think that's an excellent road to travel on.

Happy to find your blog today!

November 8, 2010 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Awesome to get new commenters, including Karen McQuestion herself--and Ruth Harris!

Ruth, I loved Husbands and Lovers and Modern Women. Engrossing, fun reads from a time when fun reads didn't have to involve re-living your high school years and/or creatures with fangs. Glad you're re-releasing them. I really have to get a Kindle, don't I?

Amanda and fatcaster, welcome.

November 8, 2010 at 10:50 AM  
Anonymous The Damsel In Dis Dress said...

Thanks for letting me know the sad news. With my head down in my horrible NaNo novel, I hadn't kept up with my blogs.

Sad for us, happy for Nathan.

November 8, 2010 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger Sierra Godfrey said...

I'm sad Nathan is leaving agenting, too, but it doesn't herald the dawn of the downfall of agents. There are tons of fabulous agents out there. Important to remember that. (Not saying you made that point, but just saying it.)

I still can't yet imagine what ebooks and self publishing will do to writers and the industry. Meaning, I need to know how people plan to trawl through the dreck. Personally, I'd like agents and publishers there for quite a while in order to weed it all out. for me.

November 8, 2010 at 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Ruth Harris said...

Anne, thanks for the kind words...I'm so glad you loved H&L and MW. I'm following H&L with DECADES, the first of my novels that made a bit of a splash. I'm currently trying to revert the MW erights from St. Martin's.

I hope this doesn't sound obnoxiously self-referential but must say I miss that vintage of diverting, entertaining yet intelligent novels about grown up women and their place/struggles in the world. I'm wondering if that audience still exists. The success of books like PREP & WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN suggests to me it might...

November 8, 2010 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

A great and informative post, again. It all sounds pretty darn intimidating to me! And time consuming. Maybe some up and coming career choices will be "Blog assistant" or "Twitter aide" or "Editor & on-line handy-person".

November 8, 2010 at 1:12 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Damsel--my blog readership went down by 75% the first week of NaNo. You're not alone.

Sierra--you're right. I'm sure agents and publishers will always be around. The nimble ones, anyway. They'll just re-define their roles a bit. At least that's what Nathan says.

Ruth--Stay in touch! I know so many women who are starved for smart, grown-up women's fiction. It's being quietly published here and there, but it's hard to know where to look. We might have to start a grown-up fiction blog?

Florence, thanks for your long and thoughtful comment. I'll bet you'd go along with a grown-up fiction blog, too?

Christine--Brilliant! I see a real future for the Social Networking Assistant. I don't see how a successful writer can do all that by him/herself indefinitely. Younger bloggers out there--it might be a nice part time job while you're establishing yourself, no?

November 8, 2010 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks so much for all your kind words, Anne (and everyone!). It was also really great meeting you in SLO.

I'm planning to post a bit more about where I think things are headed in the coming weeks. In short though I both think e-publishing is great and think traditional publishing will also be fine, and I wouldn't want to overstate the extent to which the present and future of the business factored into me leaving - this was really more of a individual decision.

But I'll try and articulate some coherent thoughts on that when I have had a chance to catch my breath from these last few weeks.

November 8, 2010 at 8:15 PM  
Blogger SAMUEL PARK said...

Very good post, Anne. It is very hard to read the tea leaves, and it'll be exciting to see what the next ten (or even 5) years lead to.

November 8, 2010 at 9:43 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nathan--thanks for visiting my blog! I look forward to reading more. I suppose we're all projecting our own stuff onto your decision.

Samuel--Yeah, my crystal ball isn't all that reliable. I should probably call tech support.
(That's my major personal argument against getting an e-reader. Too much technology to go wrong. I've never had to spend an hour on hold waiting to talk to an Indian call center for a defective paperback book.)

Terry Odell--thanks for the info on Amazon's backlist ebook store!

November 9, 2010 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Nathan Bransford said...


Well, I don't think you're entirely wrong about I stand actually, but more on that soon.

November 9, 2010 at 6:45 PM  
Blogger Lola Sharp said...

I too will miss Nathan in the publishing/agenting world. His warmth radiated. Losing him leaves the industry a colder place to circumnavigate.
I wish him well on his journey.

I found this post interesting, but I'm not sure I entirely agree. I think it's changing, yes, but I don't think we're losing agents or publishers or printed books.

November 10, 2010 at 7:22 AM  
Blogger Creepy Query Girl said...

NB leaving feels kind of like the pope has decided to take a new career path. So much of what NB's put out there was gospel to me. And it also kind of feels like your parents are getting divoroced. After all that time, all those great posts, the giving, advice, comments and information...he didn't love it enough to stay? I mean, I always thought he LOVED agenting. Like, lived for it. And that's why there was so much 'umph' to his posts. But apparently that was just his online persona. Mom and dad aren't in love anymore honey, but that doesn't mean they don't love you...*sigh*

November 10, 2010 at 7:52 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nathan, we'll sure be watching for further info. Thanks for stopping by again.

Lola, I'm not suggesting the demise of literary agents--but their roles will be a little different. Just as they're different now from what they were 25 years ago before they became editors. And I sure hope we don't lose printed books--I hate being that dependent on technology (and call centers in India!) But what I see happening is a shift in the center of power. And that's a good thing.

CQG--Brilliant! Nathan has kind of been our Daddy figure hasn't he?

November 10, 2010 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Katrina L. Lantz said...

Cool! I never thought about his choice in this way, and I appreciate all the informative links you included. This post was very well done. I'm glad I took the time to read the comments b/c it was really cool seeing Nathan Bransford's cameo on your blog!

I'll be looking for his thoughts on this subject as well. I'm timid about self-publishing becoming THE WAY because it feels like a lonely path for a writer like me who has never been a great sales person. I hope there will still be options for me in the future of publishing.

November 11, 2010 at 1:37 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Katrina--"lonely" is a good word for it. Lonely and scary. I'm definitely not ready. I'm still querying like mad. But Karen McQuestion just made Amazon's top 100 for the year. She was never published before she self-published. New York wouldn't touch her stuff because it's grown-up-lady, zombie-free fiction. That's what I write, too.

November 11, 2010 at 4:20 PM  
Blogger Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Anne,

What a thought-provoking post! I'm new to your blog--found out about it through Florence (Ramblings).

It will be interesting to see how Nathan's new journey pans out as well as the future of publishing. As a newly contracted author and avid reader, I hope to never lose the option of printed books. I think there's room for all delivery methods. :)

November 12, 2010 at 6:12 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Congrats on the contract, Tracey!

I'm with you--they'll have to pry my books out of my cold dead hands. But I think there will soon be many legitimate roads to publication, and not all will have to go through those snarky trust-funders in the Big 6 New York offices. I think that has to be a good thing for writers (and readers!) in the long run.

November 12, 2010 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Anne, outstanding post. Thanks for all the information you shared. I am completely clueless about Kindle, e-books and self -publishing. My only connection with Nathan was that I used to love reading his blogs. I found your take on electronic self - publishing very interesting. Hope you write more about it in future posts.

Thanks for your insightful comment and sharing your thoughts on my post on humor. I agree that a book pitched as just a humorous book will be a hardsell. It has to have more going for it than just humor.

November 13, 2010 at 1:42 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Rachna--It took me a long time to learn to keep any mention of humor out of my book pitches. I still think it's the most important thing my books have going, but now I'm calling them romantic suspense.

Kindle is changing all our lives, whether we like it or not. I'm just beginning to understand it all myself.

For more, very positive info on Kindle self-pubbing, I recommend Karen McQuestion's blog, "McQuestionable Musings."

November 13, 2010 at 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Meghan Ward said...

Great post, Anne. I think you and Nathan are correct in believing that e-publishing is going to take over faster than we want to believe. Right now it's still all so new and scary that most writers prefer to go the traditional route. And there are many who self publish who don't do well at all, so until there are more success stories coming from first-time authors who self-publish, I think writers will continue to query agents.

I don't know that I agree that your work has to be MUCH more polished if you self-publish, though. From what I've heard, manuscripts have to be really damn perfect even if you're going the traditional route or an agent won't even look at it. It seems that both agents and editors at publishing houses are doing much less hand holding than ever before. Still, you're right that every self-published manuscript needs to be really clean, and (IMHO) every writer should hire a professional editor/copyeditor before self-publishing. Good news for those of us who are making a living as freelance book editors. There will be more work for us in the future!

November 13, 2010 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger J.L. Campbell said...

An enlightening article. E-publishing is certainly rocking our world and I think social media goes hand in hand with this. It's amazing what a writer with a support base can do - certainly more than I ever imagined.

February 2, 2011 at 3:38 AM  

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