The E-Book Experiment: Relationships with Product Sources

* Keep a good relationship with your wholesale/product resources. If you don’t have a product to sell, you don’t have a business.

Underpaid, under supported, and overworked employees usually do not result in a good successful business. Throw in a general feeling of being cheated, and forget about having any loyalty!

But, with the writer it gets even murkier.

You see, in traditional business, a customer is sold on a brand. You go into a store for a certain item and there may be a company brand you prefer. You head right for it.

With a book it’s different.

A reader doesn’t walk into a bookstore or browse online for a book that is by a certain publisher (well, except sometimes Harlequin. But they knew they needed branding before most other publishing companies woke up to the 20th, much less the 21st, century). What do readers look for? What do readers ask for?

The author name.

The author is the brand, not the publishing company.

The author is the one who has an exclusively unique product that no one else has. You can’t ask a new author to come in and replace that person (instead what you get is a brand new product that is different, and is once again unique).

We are not talking about building a new mold to pour plastic into or stamped duplicate shapes in metal. A book, and its author, cannot be simply replaced with an identical product.

Considering the branding of the author, you would think that the publishing companies would be careful about nurturing and exploiting those brands as much as possible. But, what do we see?

The author has little to no control over: title, cover, biography, jacket copy, and where and when a book will be released. These things are decided by the publishing company, either by one person, a sales team or a committee.

We’ve mentioned marketing before, but we’ll talk about it again.

You do not throw a product out there and tell the engineer who designed it that they have to go out and sell it with the money out of their own pocket and if it isn’t successful they will fire the engineer and go find a new engineer…

Oh, and by the way, the engineer has nothing to say about what the product is called, what the packaging looks like, what promotion was done to support it, to who and where it’s offered for sale and in what formats…

Not a perfect example, but hopefully it makes the point.

As a company, if you have a new product, you are suppose to be behind it 110%. Otherwise what was the point? Why even do it? Why not just stay with your old products?

Yet, the publishing industry thinks that’s a good idea. I think it’s boneheaded and a self-fulfilling dire prophecy of doom.

Time and again ‘traditional’ publishers say it only makes sense to put their promotional money behind the bestsellers. For a new book or for a mid-lister, they toss the book out, send out a few review copies, and then it is up to the author and a whole bunch of luck on if it sinks or swims.

If it sinks, so then do the odds of the author making another sale under that brand (penname).

It’s not as if the publishing companies are providing more of a royalty percentage to compensate the authors to provide the marketing. No, royalties are going down. Some companies have even been trying to grab rights they have no right to, as they see it’s possible to make a little bit of money in e-books. (Now, wouldn’t it be interesting if there were a standard of say how many royalty points would go to either the author or publisher depending on which one provided the marketing service? I know, keep dreaming.)

Authors are expected to take their minuscule below-minimum-wage advances and do the job OF THE PUBLISHERS MARKETING DEPARMENT! If the book doesn’t do well, forget about the royalties royalties.

Dean Wesley Smith once said (marketing) to someone in the comments to one of his Self Promotion posts: “…your question assumes authors need to promote their own books. If that is the case, why bother signing a contract with a New York publisher? It is their job to promote your books, internet or no internet. Your job is to write them. The line is the contract between the two parties.” This from someone who has sold around 100 books. He gets it. Publishers more and more do not.

Authors and the books they produce are expendable. The book didn’t do as well as they hoped (because of the lack of support)? No big deal. Fire them, don’t renew or make a new contract, and hire a new writer. Writers are a dime-a-dozen. There is always someone else in the wings to fill that spot and provide content for a book-slot.

The writer is left with a damaged brand. Some authors can pull themselves out of it. Keep the old brand penname and find another publisher. Or, change to a completely different name and build a new brand from scratch. Or, some throw up their hands and don’t want to deal with the big whole mess that blames them for so many ‘wrongs’ while they had no power to make decisions for the better.

To me this sounds like a really bad deal for the author. A really REALLY bad deal. The writer is the content producer. The writer goes to the publisher for editing (read post concerning Quality), distribution, and marketing. Traditionally this is what they are suppose to be experts at.

Marketing: No, the author should do that with no increase in royalty percentage.

Editing: No, editors are for the most part now acquisition and new talent scouts.

Publishing the book itself: Yeah, with cheaper paper each year (has anyone noticed how some of it literally stinks now?).

So, now they just want to be distributors?

Well, that was the past. This is the present. And the times, they are a-changin’!

In this day and age the author, themselves, can find the distributors, if they are willing to think outside the box. Such as going digital and POD.

Amazon allows small publishers and Indi authors to sell books directly. Barnes and Nobles just announced a similar program to start in late summer. With sources such as Smashwords a small publishers or Indi authors can have access to Sony, Kobo, the iBookstore, and many others.

An author can go from 6-8% paperback and 10-20% hardcover royalties from the list price to 40-70% percent of list price. At that kind of increase in percentage an author wouldn’t need to sell near as many books to make as much, if not more, money than if they go ‘traditional’.

If they have researched their niche.

If they have the quality.

If they have the right price-point.

If they have the right availability.

If an author has all of the above points covered, then why put up with a printer/distributor that takes a majority of the percentage of a sale, who is known for rights grabs, penalizing the content producers for mistakes not of their doing, and a general lack of support for your product?

That just doesn’t make sense. As someone in the business of writing, does this sound like a profitable proposition for you?

There has been anger and animosity towards the ‘distributors’ for a while now. For decades there was no choice but to put up with them and their demands. It’s been the only deal in town. Take it or there’s the door and don’t let it hit you on the … well, you get the point.

That is no longer the case.

Opportunities are out there for an author to find their own readers. To publish books that weren’t big enough for the commercial trade publishers and to prove they can find an audience. To keep their rights and a bigger percentage of the sales. To devote the marketing time and money they would have spent making the Publisher richer and instead make themselves richer.

J.A. Konrath once mused about what the publishers will do when authors wise up and refuse to put up with it anymore because they have other options. While I don’t think big publishers will go away, I do think we will see a shift and change in the publishing landscape because some writers are going to refuse to play ‘traditional’. Too many are ticked off about being kicked to the curb or taken advantaged of. Some, like me, who are about to jump into the business are looking at the big huge mess and wondering why they should even want anything to do with the dysfunctional mess.

More and more writers are going to tell their distributor they aren’t willing to play the game by their rules any longer. There is a new game in town, and it consists of the writers themselves.

I want to share my writing and make a living while doing it. If I can do the distribution myself and cut out the middleman standing between me and the readers, why not do it? Why not try?

As a content producer, I want to try.

NOTE: For an author who has another means of support, it is possible to make a living ‘traditionally published’, consisting of careful business attention to the selling of the various rights of a written work. See Dean Wesley Smith’s blog for more information on how this works. For someone just starting out, um, well, good luck at hitting that lottery.

NOTE 2: The business of publishing might change in the future and my views of how the publishing industry exists as stated above might change. As a business person I reserve the right to alter and adjust to market forces. That’s business: willingness to change to market changes (see a later blog post). Every writer should pay attention to the business of their writing!

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“The E-Book Experiment” chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

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