books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Is the E-book the New Query?

If you’re like me, you’re getting a little bored with the indie vs. legacy publishing debate. People are talking a lot of crap on both “sides” of what shouldn’t be an either/or argument in the first place. (See sci-fi author Jeff Carlson’s great post on the subject here.)

But this week I heard some fairly earth-shaking news I figured I’d better share.

It came in an email from a self-published Brit friend who’s been having some success in the UK Kindle market.

He needed advice. He’d been approached by somebody claiming to be from a U.S. literary agency. He’s savvy enough to know agents don’t approach writers—it’s the other way round. So he figured this must be some bogus scam. But just in case, had I ever heard of these blokes?

Then I read the name of the agency.

It isn’t only legit—it’s big. Huge. Major prestige. They rep some of the most famous names on the planet.

And they were approaching HIM: a first time, never-before-published, single-title, self-pubbed author.

The great world spins.

I wrote back and told him to run, not walk to sign up with them.

Thing is, he’s doing quite well on his own, thank you very much. It’s fair for him to ask—does a writer even need an agent when he’s bringing in good money on his own? This guy has already done the work. Why give 15% to anybody?

My advice was—good agents earn their percentage, and usually a lot more. Even indie god Joe Konrath is represented by a prestigious New York agency. Agents provide contacts and legal and career advice a writer can’t get otherwise. (And—contrary to what author Stephen Leather said on Konrath’s blog on Thursday, they’re mostly helpful, and not entirely without social graces.)

Plus, the publishing world is changing so rapidly, the paradigm may have shifted entirely by the time the writer finishes his next book.

But regardless of whether or not he signs, this is big news: A major New York agency approached a first-time, self-published novelist to offer representation. A writer on another continent, no less. And this isn’t an Amanda Hocking or Karen McQuestion, with a half dozen books that have been flying off Amazon’s cybershelves for months. He’s got one book. Just released.

Of course, that one book has rocketed into the top ten on the UK Kindle bestseller list.

My friend says he was as surprised as anybody when the book took off. But he’s got social media and marketing savvy, a great online network—and a very tight, well-written novel. And it's not the first book he's written.

But you know what else? HE DOESN’T FOLLOW THE RULES. His book is not a copy-cat of the books on the bestseller list. It’s dialogue-heavy. It has multiple points of view. It’s also very dark and edgy. Too over-the-top to be publishable—or so he was told over and over again by agents.

That’s why he self-published.

And now the agents are coming to him.

This confirms rumors I’ve been hearing: some agents are no longer looking for new clients in slush piles, because editors will not take chances on anything new. They only want stuff with a proven sales record.

And where do agents find proven sales records? On the Kindle bestseller lists. Even ones in other countries. (Makes sense: look at how the US bestseller list has been dominated by Europeans in the past few years.) So that’s where they’re looking for fresh blood. Kindle lists provide the names of new writers who have proved they can sell.

But—doesn’t that mean they’re choosing books by sales numbers instead of content?

Yup.

I know. It makes me throw up a little too. But I suppose it could be called democracy at work. Once The People have spoken (even if they’re Swedish or English people) you get a New York book deal.

So what does this mean for the Great Unpublished out here?

After hearing my friend’s news, I went through my list of queries, partials, and fulls that are out with agents right now—some for more than six months—and wondered if there’s any point in continuing this endless, grueling query process.

What if nobody’s even reading slush any more?

What if the ebook is the new query?

Should we all be learning to design covers and getting our books coded for Kindle instead of researching more agents and rewriting that query for the 100th time?

I wish I knew the answer to that.

But here’s my thinking: a rejected manuscript can be tweaked and re-queried ad infinitum. But a bumbling beginner’s ebook that has only sold three downloads, all to your Mom, is not going to attract any agents. And a bunch of negative reviews about your lack of writing skills could pretty much put the kibosh on a career.

And I heard of one e-book self-pubber who was told by an agency: “Don’t come to us until you have sold 20,000 books.”

For fence sitters, Writer’s Digest’s Jane Freidman had a helpful post on her “There Are No Rules” blog last week. It includes a check list for people trying to decide if they’re good candidates for self-publishing.

And Stephen Leather’s post I mentioned above did offer some solid, reality-check advice to potential self pubbers.

What their advice boils down to is this:

DO consider self-publishing if you’ve been writing for many years, have several super-polished, critiqued and edited books in the hopper—plus a marketing plan—and LOVE SOCIAL MEDIA.

DON’T consider self-publishing if you don’t have a large online network in your genre and don’t have time to blog or tweet. And (in Jane’s words) if “it's your first manuscript and you don't want to see all that work go to waste. If that's the case, wait until you've written book #2 or #3 or #4 before you decide to release that first one.”

I’ve also made some observations of my own that keep me in the legacy publishing camp--

Some genres do a lot better than others in the Kindleverse. It seems to be a great place for gritty crime stories and thrillers (especially those that appeal to men: the tech has made reading fiction macho again) plus paranormal romance, erotica, and fantasy/scifi.

But literary novels, cerebral mysteries, memoirs, and women’s fiction seem to do better with legacy publishers. This may be because these are genres where craft is more important than story, and with a legacy publisher, buyers know a book has passed muster with a lot of picky readers.

I think that’s why Book Country—Penguin’s experiment in creating its own self-regulating slush pile—is only looking at genre fiction. Readers take chances on “pulp fiction,” but they want the industry’s seal of approval on more serious stuff.

So the old order changeth. But it ain’t dead yet.

I get Publisher’s Lunch and see traditional deals being made every day. Big ones. Some for debut novelists. A few don’t even involve zombies and/or Snooki. So some agents must still be reading slush. And at least a few editors must be taking their calls.

So I guess I’ll keep querying agents.

But another alternative exists that’s looking attractive to me again. Not all publishers are greed-based conglomerates unwilling to take chances. There are thousands of small and medium-sized independent presses out there, and many are thriving. Author Michelle Davidson Argyle wrote a wonderful series on the subject that’s a must-read. Her publisher, Rhemalda, is doing lots to help promote her books, including a high-tech Skype booksigning. Try getting that kind of innovative help from a Big Six publisher.

Also, some smaller presses are much more savvy about Kindle than the Big Six. If a company does all the design work and editing (worth $1000 at least) and charges customers a reasonable price for the ebook (under $6) and splits the royalties with you, that’s a way better deal than you’ll get from the Big Six. Plus, they’ll publish a suitable-for-bookstore-shelf hard copy, too.

So some of my next queries are going out to small presses.

What about you? If it turns out e-books are the best way to get an agent’s attention, will that change your attitude about self-pubbing? Or are you like me: still fantasizing that some agent, somewhere is actually going to read your query? Have you looked into smaller presses?

Next week, while I’m off celebrating my mom’s birthday in San Francisco, I’ll have another guest post from a bestselling author: Ruth Harris. Ruth has not only had many books at the top of the NYT Bestseller list, but she also worked as an editor at several Big Six Publishers, so she has all the inside skinny. She’ll blog about REJECTION, and what it really means. May 22. Watch this space!

59 comments:

  1. I think this post has a great deal of truth in it. Self-publishing an ebook would certainly entail some risk to one's reputation, but after following the blogs of many agents and getting a feel for how the traditional query system works, I can see how an older writer like me might just decide that the potential rewards justify the risk. We don't have the luxury of time that younger people do, and if, as I have read in some of these blogs, agents judge us partly on how many books we might "have in us", I might query the rest of my life without getting a positive response. I say "might" because I'm sure not all agents are like this, but I do think it's true that the odds are "stacked" against older writers in the traditional publishing environment.

    Allowing the public, rather than an agent or publisher, to either buy or pass on one's work is the ultimate form of democracy in action. It's frightening to contemplate, but also very energizing, and for someone like me, it could be the best thing I could do.

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  2. As the one who self-published through Kindle and was told by a literary agent to call her once I'd sold 20,000 books, I ask myself that question a lot. Was it the right move? You've made very good points. Anyone can self-publish so quality control is an issue. On the other hand, genre-readers seem willing to drop $1 on a title that sounds interesting, especially if it's got a 4-star or 5-star rating beside it. It's too early to tell, but I suspect that eventually the Star Rating and Amazon Ranking will mean a lot more than whether a book is house-published or self-published.

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  3. And to get back to the point I dropped, agents and publishers will likely become more and more interested in a self-published ebook's Star Rating and numbers.

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  4. Anne, I want to add a few notes of caution.
    1) I agree it's a thrill to get a "big agent" but, beware: said agent is "big" because he/she reps million$ authors & once the initial thrill of the chase wears off & you're all signed up, you might find said agent doesn't return phone calls. (Unless, of course, you're now the million$ author.) Believe me, it happens. Think of the champagne & roses before the wedding & the laundry and dirty dishes after the ring is securely in place. Same deal.

    2) Publishing has changed & so have agents. If you are considering signing with an agent, you must understand what you are signing. Do nothing until you read this article about agents & conflict of interest issues -- http://bit.ly/jWMvCQ Also read "Don't sign a dumb contract" on the same blog.

    3) Even if someone uploads a crappy ms (& hopefully realizes it later), it can be "unpublished" and rewritten/revised. Since reviews are hard to come by, I wouldn't worry too much about getting a deluge of negatives. Most authors are thrilled to get any attention at all.

    OK, off my soapbox.

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  5. Steps back on soapbox.

    On 3), I forgot to add that negative comments can be very helpful & point the way to needed rewrites & revisions.

    4) Anne, agents do not offer legal advice, nor should they. Agency contracts are written by the agency's lawyers & therefore serve the agency's interests. This is not some evil conspiracy, it's just business. I would advise any writer about to sign any kind of publishing contract, to hire his/her own lawyer to represent his/her own interests. Seriously. (Or at least to contact the author's guild for advice.)

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  6. Small indies are getting a lot of attention from me these days. I don't think agents are really hitting anything anymore...they're all waiting for the next big shoe to drop themselves. Now with everything going to e-format, I'm sure contracts and royalties and just the BS of all that is driving half of them over the edge and they can't be bothered looking for new authors because they don't know what to do with them.

    Hopefully, by the end of the summer, I'll have enough information to figure my next move.

    Have a great time with your Mom. Can't wait for Ruth. Her last post was awesome.

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  7. The job of the writer is to write and get the "word" out to the reader. I think it's fair to say, you need to find the best way to do that based on who YOU are and WHAT you wrote.

    I have one book (might become a trilogy) that is "agent" suitable. There is another that is not and a third that is on its way to indie pubs.

    Let your readers also know ... three indies ... Poison Pen, Midnight Ink and Kensington take unagented work, have great track records for quality editing and exposure and have also been instrumental in introducing many of their writers to agents.

    Being in a hurry to get the word out there can result in the same blunders many "newbies" made going with self-pub'd and not ready. It's like believing you can pub the product you get from a NANO in November.

    As for your fortunate Brit friend ... good for him! There are so many stories out there of how writers have snagged an agent, why not through an e-book?

    Wonderful post as usual. Look forward to your guest blog next Sunday :)

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  8. David--you make a valid point. I think trad. publishers aren't much interested in the older reader, either, even though most book buyers are over 50. That's because the real money is in film adaptations, and US films are always aimed at the 12-22 demographic.

    MG--Good to hear from you! Interesting prediction, and I think you're right: reviews will be more important than the trad. pub. "stamp of approval."

    Ruth--Shows what I know. I thought agents were all about contracts and stuff. Lots of reasons to go indie here.

    But I'd caution newbies NOT to use their ebook reviews as a critique forum. Those negative reviews will live forever in cyberspace.

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  9. Interesting post - the Kindle has brought self pubbing into a whole new light and it's nice to hear about someone who knew his stuff finding success with it. I'm a writer who uses smaller pressed for both the genres I write in (erotic romance and YA, seperately). I'm a big fan of good small presses and all they have to offer, and many of my romances especially are writen with them in mind, not one of the 'Big 6'. I'd much rather spend my time writing than doing all the necessary other work to prepare a book for publication, so that makes using a small press attractive to me. That and the fact that there's no way I'm publishing something without it being professionally edited, and if I self-pubbed I'd have to fork out the cash to pay an editor. lol

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  10. Ruth--About agents and contracts: Author's Guild does not take writers who have not been previously pubbed in the US, and they're kind of nasty about it (were to me) so that advice is only for published US writers.

    Anne--From what I've seen, you're absolutely right: agents don't know which way to go and they're furious with publishers.

    Fois--Good advice: Midnight Ink (Llewellyn) Poison Pen and Kensington are mid-sized US publishers who still take unagented work. Harlequin/Mills and Boon also takes unagented work for certain lines. Only drawback--they all have a very long reading time and don't allow simultaneous submissions, so your ms. can be out of commission for up to a year while they sit on it. I don't think any of them except Harlequin are up to speed on ebooks. (But their Carina press is e-pubbing and takes unagented work.)

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  11. You know what's funny? I've had your blog in the blogroll on my blog for weeks, but never clicked your "follow" button. Got that one, now, as well as the Twitter follow. Don't know what I was thinking. (Ahem. Wasn't.)

    I really hope it never gets to the point that new authors have to demonstrate their book's marketability BEFORE the publishing house will help market it! That's scary, that is.

    Love your blog!

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  12. So are you saying that it would be better for me, unless I'm writing for the 12-22 demographic, to self-publish eBooks rather than pursue the traditional route? I'm not trying to put you in a corner, but I would like the input. You can P.M. me on Twitter or email on my site.

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  13. Ranae--I'm so glad to hear from a happy small press author. Your thinking is kind of like mine at the moment

    Robin--I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for the follow. I agree it's very scary. And it seems to be happening. Let's hope we'll always have alternatives.

    David--Since I can't make the decision myself, I won't try to give anybody advice on this. I'd read Stephen and Jane's posts and then go with your gut.

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  14. This is a good question; one I've considered. I've read plenty of agent comments on the subject that state that they are not opposed to signing up inde authors, but their sales numbers are the problem. No you're published, with a poor sales record.

    So I can envision Agents browsing the Kindle listings like a slushpile for new talent. As your links suggest, many of todays authors are willing and able to do their own promotional work, and with the popularity of writing blogs, you can build quite a large readership.

    I've queried several agents, but I know without some form of publishing credentials its highly unlikely I'll ever get an acceptance. Which is why I'm focusing on short stories for a while. No, its not high paying; but the point is to have a publishing entity take a chance on my stories and publish them.

    Then I pretty well got my mind set on querying small presses instead of agents.

    The world of publishing is so uncertain right now though, I have another reason not to quit my day job. Once the questions of e- and - inde - publishing settle themselves, who knows with querying criteria will be required.

    Yep, a very good topic for discussion. I'm eager to return for Ruth's interview. From reading her last two comments, I really like her spunk.

    .........dhole

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  15. I have thought about the smaller presses and self-pub. but haven't given up on the traditional route. I checked out Book Country and was surprised they're limited to genre fiction. I write women's fiction or what I used to think as simply mainstream, so I knew that wasn't for me which makes me wonder if the e-book, kindle thing is. I wonder about that a lot. Thanks for the post. I've bookmarked it.

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  16. Donna--I've been so impressed to see you're working on short stories. If you write literary, women's or what used to be called "mainstream" I kind of think you're better off going the traditional route. And the best way to do that is publish short stories. I wish I'd worked on that more before I plunged into my first four novels.

    Yvonne--My comment to Donna probably applies to you, too. My fiction is sort of on the cusp of genre and mainstream, so I'm going through the same thing. I'm not sure women's fiction is doing that well on the Kindle lists. I'd love to hear from somebody who has info on that.

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  17. Fascinating post, and great comments, too. You can't blink these days because you're going to miss something!

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  18. Great post, Anne!

    The question you pose is one I've been asking, too. Your examination of it, as well your references to the pros/cons of self vs legacy publishing, is thought-provoking and should be considered by writers (such as myself) who are trying to find the best path to follow.

    I'll add a link to your discussion on my next e-Watch.

    Thanks for keeping us updated on some of the breakthroughs happening in the industry.

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  19. Monica--You're so right!

    Roh--Thanks. It's happening so fast, I don't know if anybody can make solid predictions. This morning the top deals in Publishers lunch included one debut novel and one self-published just bought by a Big Six. Legacy and self-pubbing are both making waves.

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  20. Anne, your blog is so worthwhile, I congratulate you.

    Like David, I'm getting on (not retired, by any means, but definitely not going to be named for any Best Writers Under-30 lists. I am sick to death of the query-writing, the waiting, the near-misses, and the ones that slipped off the hook. Fortunately I have had teaching, book reviewing, and editing to keep my hand in the writing biz. But I've had some heartaches when it came to my novels, and I gave up writing for a long time as a result.

    Last week I published When I Am Singing to You on Amazon, PubIt (Barnes and Noble), and Smashwords. It was represented by a major house and sent out at the height of the Great Recession. Not a commercial bone in its body (about a poor Mexican girl kicked out of home and ending up a Y with other "troubled" teens). Got lots of great feedback but no bites. Now it's "ruined" because it's been seen by too many editorial eyes who didn't see profit in it, or didn't like the fact it wasn't set in contemporary times (vs. the 80s, a time I was hands-on familiar with both field work and the YWCA of the setting).

    I still believe in my novel and don't want to consign it to a file in the ether (or spend the next 3 years searching for a small press publisher). But it's categorized in women's fiction and teen fiction (amongst all the vampires, wombats, and shopping porn), and I agree with you that genre fiction is what seems to sell online. Maybe books like mine will just have a long word-of-mouth and require vastly more marketing. One thing I do know, though, is that it will be online "forever," unlike many paper books that get remaindered quickly and never see the light of day again. That to me is a sadder fate by far!

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  21. Speaking of women's fiction on Kindle, I wonder how many women even have ereaders yet? I haven't bought one myself even though I now have an ebook published. I plan to, of course, but am not in any rush. Maybe lots of these genre ebooks that are flying off the virtual shelves are bought by all the early adopters out there, many of whom are probably male. I only know a handful of people with Kindles or Nooks, so I can't even make my own family and friends buy my book (unless they want to download a file and read it on their computers or iPhones...which would be kind of silly--I could just send them my file if they're going to do that).

    As always, "I could be wrong about this!"

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  22. Anne, I think you raise some very thought provoking points, but I would caution anyone who might think that you now need to have an e-pubbed book in order to catch an agent's eye, or that agents aren't signing clients through slush anymore. YES, things are changing, but also things stay the same too. The only thing absolute right now is that there are no absolutes.

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  23. Just wanted to also add that anything that relies on the results of what is essentially a popularity contest -- such as Klout, or e-book numbers, always rubs me the wrong way.

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  24. 200,000 sold e-books a bestseller? 20,000 to even get an agent's attention? No wonder the agents are looking at e-books instead of slush piles. Although the figure is juggled about by publishers, media, etc. popular information would have it that 5000 hardcover print books sold in a week would be a standard publishing best seller and that a total of 12,000 hardcovers would qualify a standard print book for that category.
    The Times (Book Review) certainly are a 'changin'.

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  25. Rebecca--Thanks for your thoughtful comment(s) I hear so many agents lamenting the fact wonderful books like yours don't sell. Those are the ones that need to be out there, whatever the means--and you're so right "it will be online "forever," unlike many paper books that get remaindered quickly and never see the light of day again."

    But you're right: I don't think women are warming to e-readers the way men are. Even my women friends who have Kindles prefer paper. Maybe that will change slowly and your sales will grow along with the market. I hope so. Your book sounds great.

    Sierra--As I say, the old order changeth, but it ain't dead yet. Some agents are still signing the old fashioned way. And a few are even making sales. I agree--the greed-based, lowest-common-denominator approach to publishing is kind of sickening. Snooki gets a book deal. We don't.

    Anon--The Big Six are setting the stakes so high, they may be pushing themselves into total irrelevance. I kind of hope so.

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  26. One question: If you've sold 20,000 copies of an ebook, why would you WANT an agent to try and sell it to a print publisher? Look around, the print publishers will want to tie up the e-rights, and it's a deal-killer right now. No e-rights, no deal.

    So you take down your e-pub, let a print publisher take it over for a royalty rate that's a fraction of what you've been getting, AND you wait months (or more) for them to put it through their in-house process before you see another penny.

    I understand the agent's position: a sales record has to be at a certain level before it becomes a selling point to a print publisher. Makes sense if you're an agent or a publisher. Doesn't make sense if you're a writer, IMNSHO.

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  27. I HEART Rhemalda Publishing. This post is fantastic, Anne! You've nailed some things on the head about what an author should ask themselves about publishing. It's a different path for everyone. I honestly think small publishers are the way to go for a lot of us. Still, one must be wary about those, as well. Not all are created equally.

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  28. Yeah the problem is you have to have a social network and such to be successful. I mean I've sold about 340 eBooks in 2 years with little marketing but no agent is knocking on my door.

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  29. Anon--What an agent can help with most is 1)obtaining foreign and translation rights (a biggie) and 2) sales of future books. People with only one book aren't as likely to benefit.

    Michelle--Thanks. I've been admiring the wonderful promotion Rhemalda is giving you--and all its authors. But you're right. They're not created equal. Some small publishers are essentially a vanity press where the author takes on one or two other writers to look more legit. Others are living one step ahead of the creditors at all times. It's good to do your research.

    Rogue--Social networking seems pretty much essential to big book sales these days--no matter where you are in your career. I "friend" lots of my favorite authors on FB and Twitter. And it probably prompts me to buy. I know when the new book is out and what it's about. But 340 books is a good record if you haven't done any promotion.

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  30. Great article. I don't prescribe to the 'sides': we're all just part of the same literature-loving, publishing-searching fraternity after all...! Like the idea of an indie published eBook as the new query.

    Will tweet to our followers.

    Thanks

    Adam Charles

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  31. Anne - Great post about the ever changing landscape. I've been wanting to read stories and meet "Literary" short story writers who are putting out e-books. They are few and far between. When I look at the Amazon lists it is practically all crime, fantasy and romance. I hope the wall between legacy and self publishing will crumble. I think we see signs writers will play in both camps - like actors/directors make studio pics that appeal to the masses and then small independent films for their own soul. :-)

    Enjoy your trip to SF!

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  32. Holy cow, I can't believe what happened to your friend! Wow. Things are changing so fast I can't keep up. I say we're writing at a great time with limitless opportunities.

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  33. Well, I imagined this sort of thing was bound to happen. Just think as an agent. If I were an agent, I would check for authors on Amazon; it is a great filter.

    It is really cool to be here, in this shift of things, being a witness of this process of changes.

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  34. Adam--Love your site. What a great forum for writers in all genres. I'll go later when I have time to look around. But everybody--go check it out if you're thinking of self-pubbing. It's a way to reach readers directly.

    Jim--Thanks. Short story collections are hard to publish anywhere, and self-pubbing does seem a poss. alternative. But literary doesn't seem to sell as well in any form. People are afraid they'll have to work too hard, I guess.

    Julie--I know. He's debating now whether to sign, and give up all those royalties. I love your positive take on all this.

    Natalie--Yes. We're living in "interesting times." They might even be good times for writers in the long run.

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  35. Hi Anne--thanks for the great post, and wonderful thread of comments! I have had 3 agents and when my last one became a 'victim of the economy' last Fall, (once I got out of my funk) I pushed to get my book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords, accompanied by a novella, to help with promotion. I can't tell you how much fun I am having with this digital revolution! I just released a third novel, and am working on another for this summer. (I can't seem to stop writing, either, so this avenue has been amazing!)

    Also, please don't count women out--if they don't already, they will eventually love eReaders--there is plenty of room for both! (Although I must admit, I am biased--Free the Tree!) BTW--I did just treat myself and got the new $114 kindle with ads--awesome, the advertising is SO not an issue. Thanks again and take care, Dee

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  36. I had numerous agents love my manuscripts, but I heard that my stories were "just too different" over and over again.

    I considered self pubbing, but honestly, I'm a writer. Not a publisher. I didn't want to do all the formatting, pay for an editor, pay for a cover, and then watch it languish.

    Plus, I wanted to see my book on bookshelves. In real stores. When I started subbing to small publishers, Rhemalda snatched it up in my first batch of submissions (and another wanted it too).

    It's due out in about three months, and it's getting all sorts of attention.

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  37. Dee & Amber--It's so great to hear from two writers who have been through the agent mill and found greener pastures. So self-pub or small press--there are ways to be happily published that don't involve the Big Six machine. That gives us all hope!

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  38. That's an amazing story about your friend. Things are changing rapidly for sure.

    I think all of this change is scary but exciting. I can tell you it's made me look at some of the completed things I have written and eyeing them again. (Things that my current "legacy" publisher doesn't handle.)

    But one thing I can say is that I know MY agent is still reading slush, signing new authors, and selling debut authors (like me!) So querying can still get you there.

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  39. THis is great info. I'm epubbing a YA story for a teen self-esteem campaign in the next month. It won't be marketed as my personal work, because I'm not looking for credit as an author, but hoping to encourage teens to find their self worth by reading the story.
    I'm so surprised by the agency contacting your friend. That's really encouraging to hear. I'm seeking traditional publishing with my other work, and would really love an agent to help me along, but it's nice to know the alternative exists if we choose to work hard for it.

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  40. Roni--Yes, and I just heard the details of his offer this AM and they're awesome. Lots of creative, new stuff going on. Mostly very beneficial to the author.

    But I'd still rather have Sarah Megibow and the Nelson agency on my side and go the traditional way. You have your own great success story.

    PK--Like you, I'm still hoping for an agent, but I may have to stop hoping soon. Gotta say my friend's success is making me rethink things.

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  41. Hey that's great! I guess Mr Leonard's rules might be losing their grip on the literary world after all!

    Yeah! To hell with the rules! Woooohooo!

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  42. If this is the way of the future, then writers can finally provide the vision for the book-buying landscape as opposed to agents and editors who choose who/who not to publish. And isn't that the way it should be??

    Very interesting post, Anne!

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  43. Fascinating stuff. I must admit I've pretty much come to the same conclusion, although I'm hoping to be published with a smallish indie publisher myself. It feels a bit like a half-way between self-publishing and the traditional approach.

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  44. Great article :)

    I am tired and bored too, of the never ending debate over traditional vs. indie publishing. If the time and energy consumed by the two camps' advocates lashing out at each other, was used in a productive way, it would have generated a large profit...

    There is no right or wrong way. Authors should use what fits them and use any of those ways or a combination of both, if that will get them published and generate a profit.

    I'm not surprised about the approach to your friend. Writing is business (I know that many authors cringe on this statement) and such is publishing. Since his book is sellable and he already has succeeded to penetrate the market share, then of course agents and publishers will try to get him contracted. They want sales and his book is already generating good figures. They want a good business deal and they have a proven good business deal, based on real numbers, not on projected ones.

    I like your view as a "query" very much.

    Thank you for the very interesting post :)

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  45. I'm on both sides. Just had a major paperback release from St Martins and have 10 indie published titles in their top 100 genre lists on Kindle. As far as agents approaching. Okay. Yes, they have something to offer. I say this having an agent who I love. Foreign rights. Other subsidiary rights. Etc. But they're going to run into a problem. For every Amanda Hockings going one way, there are ten mid-list authors going the other. I'm looking at my numbers this month and an agent and publisher would have to put a pretty sweet deal on the table to earn their keep.
    I read PW every day and see all the deals and honestly I think it's kind of sad in a way. Because it says traditional publishing is still working on an outdated production schedule and pretty much business as usual. They're buying books for publication in 2014. How many bookstores will be around in 2014?
    I think that self-publishing for a new author has as much a success rate at submitting to agents. Which means very, very low. It's just another route.
    And I'm not sure I'd have told your friend to 'run' to sign with the agency. Depends on what they're putting on the table. My UK sales as a US author are pretty nice. If a major UK agency approached me, we'd have some negotiating to do.
    It's the Wild West in publishing right now. There are no rules. Every one is in a different situation. Except a bunch of authors I know stuck with multiple book contracts with traditional publishers who are slowly sinking and won't give up backlist rights. Might want to check out my blog about the new career path of writers at Write It Forward.

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  46. I keep hearing more stories like this. I mean, Amanda Hocking is the most obvious example, but it's happening for other people as well. The market is changing faster than big companies can keep up with and most readers don't care who published the book as long as it's good. Those star ratings can make a huge difference in sales. Great post!

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  47. I don't understand why you would want an agent if your self published ebook is doing well. If a publisher was interested, okay, but I have an agent (luckily, we didn't sign anything) but she's having trouble selling my book.

    If she exhausts all her contacts without a sale, then I'm saying goodbye to her and self publishing. Having got an egent, I figure the book is good enough and I'll hire my own editor to make sure before I publish.http://tahlianewland.com/2011/04/02/indie-authors-please-pause-before-you-publish-for-all-our-sakes/

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  48. I've found that small press is an easy way to get published, without the personal expence of becoming a publisher yourself (which is the only way to self-publish correctly).

    Just remember, when you self-publish you become the smallest of small-press publishers, so why not try someone bigger than you first? Just watch for someone with a success history from which you can surmise (and learn) a little market saavy in your genre and who might have little money jingling in their pockets.

    Also, if your marketing plan leans heavily on signings at bookstores (like mine does) be very careful about POD. It can make it hard for stores to order your book, even if they like you and want to hold a signing for you.

    And Anne, you're right. The Indie vs. Legacy publishing rivalry is silly. There is room in the industry for both print methods/marketing approach/distribution paradigms.

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  49. Knowing who the friend is, Anne, and knowing of his self-motivated success, one would wonder at the value of signing away the profits that he is already making.
    But then no doubt he will write another book and then maybe another still. Might not an agent be helpful in selling those titles on... for foreign rights as you say or for TV, movies... freeing him up to do what Amanda Hocking says one doesn't have time to do when one is chief cook and bottle washer? That is to write? I can't wait to see what he decides to do and why. It'll make good reading!

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  50. Stephen—I love rules. If they weren’t there, I couldn’t break them, and I’d miss out on all that fun.

    Liz—You’re right. I think readers will really benefit from all this.

    Simon—Me, too. Small presses are looking good to me.

    Jacqvern—Great thought. Find a way to make money off the silly “debate” and you’d rally have something.

    Bob—Love “Write it Forward!” Thanks for visiting. You’re right that authors without backlist rights are hurting the most right now.

    Sherrie—Yes. I think we’ll be seeing more Amanda Hockings all the time.

    Tahlia & mesmered—From what I’m hearing, it looks as if agencies are getting creative in the sort of help they’re offering the successful indie writer/publisher. Their roles are changing. Everybody can use somebody in their corner, if agents are clever they can boost the author’s income enough to earn their keep and then some.

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  51. Hmmm this is very interesting. What I`ve pretty much learned from all this is that going with a small publisher would be the best choice for authors that can`t land an agent and don`t want to risk their name with e-publishing.

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  52. Interesting article. I wish some of that kind of luck would come my way.

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  53. Fantastic post, thanks so much for sharing...!

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  54. Great post, especially when I'm sitting on some partials out there and wondering what I do next. Thank you for the thoughts.

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  55. That said, I love print books but read mostly ebooks on my Torch for many of the reasons listed: easily portable, have lots of selection at hand, can read in the dark easily.Programming

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  56. I just couldn’t leave your website before telling you that we really enjoyed the quality information you offer to your visitors… Will be back often to check up on new posts.

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  57. Great discussion, Anne. Marvellous blog. Stumbled over here from a click on LinkedIn to your blog tips (I sort of don't, or not where and how I should) and found this intriguing discussion. I figure it's pretty discussed out by now, but your comments on genre e-book sales being probably largely younger male, due to women and older men being later adopters (I know, you didn't exactly say that, but the gist...) left off the point that over 80% of workers in trade(legacy - never heard that before. Like heritage rock) publishing are female (due, I'm told, to the comparatively low pay). This may also be part of the reason women's and mainstream fiction are still selling better through trade houses, and a reason many 'macho' writers have turned to e-pub. I had a pair of ex-special op clients a few months back who queried HarperCollins on their military action adventure thriller series, got a yes, but rejected HC as 'inefficient' and went it alone. That's special ops for you!

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  58. Tom, it's strange to revisit this post. I wrote it only seven months ago, but so much has changed. Now I think all genres are doing pretty well in indie ebooks, and I've personally turned down several offers of representation in the interim. Since September, I've published four of my mysteries with small publishers who are more "indie" than "legacy." (Those are Konrath/Eisler terms.) I'm really happy about my decision. I love it that special ops guys agree with me. Too funny they found HC inefficient and turned THEM down. The old order changeth way faster than any of us imagined!

    I think you're right about legacy publishing being dominated by women--at least for genre fiction. We still have the "middle aged academic with prostate issues" New Yorker/NYT BR literary stuff which is male dominated, but everything else had become pretty girly. One of the reasons I turned down an offer of representation: I was asked to rewrite my noir mystery, The Gatsby Game, as a category romance.

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  59. I just couldn’t leave your website before telling you that we really enjoyed the quality information you offer to your visitors… Will be back often to check up on new posts.

    ReplyDelete

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