Friday, June 24, 2011

A Little Honesty Please

Finally, the impact of self-publishing digitally cannot be ignored. John Locke, the author not the character on "Lost", is eighth on the list of authors who have sold over a million copies of their novels on Kindle. It's official. Don't believe me? It's in the Los Angeles Times, so it has to be true.

I have some problems with the article. Carolyn Kellogg, the writer of the piece, gives you straight facts in the first two paragraphs: Locke is from Kentucky, he's the eighth writer to achieve this milestone and the first to do so without a traditional publisher behind him. All true and all nice to know. But this is where the news ends and the scorn begins.

Observe the slant of the press in action: First sentence of paragraph three is "But at what cost?" Either it was intended as a nice pun, or Kellogg is just sour. The rest of the third paragraph and the fourth are more facts. She discusses Locke setting his price at 99 cents, Kindle Direct Publishing allowing authors to set their own price, the royalty rates of 70% for ebooks between $2.99 and $9.99, as well as the 35% you get for books lower or greater than that range.

Kellogg then writes "Which means Locke receives slightly less than 35 cents per Kindle ebook he sells." This sentence is by itself, in its own little paragraph. Anyone who writes knows that if you do that, you want the reader's eyes drawn to that sentence. She goes on to say, "Locke makes money with his 99 cent gambit than he would selling the same number of books with a traditional publisher."

Hey, Carolyn... sorry, Ms Kellogg, as that's how respected journalists want to be addressed, I have a response to your statement:

So freaking what?!

And yeah, I put that by itself; I want Ms Kellogg's eyes drawn to it. So what if Locke, or Amanda Hocking or I want to sell our books for 99 cents? So what if we don't go the way of the "traditionally published" authors? Why should we do it? Just because you want us to?

Let me get off the rant for just a second to continue the analysis. Don't worry, I'll come back to it. She goes on to say that Lock "puts a downward price pressure on Kindle ebooks in the process." Really? He does? So because he prices his books at 99 cents, that means that everyone who publishes through KDP has to do the same thing right? Apparently, Donovan Creed, Locke's hero in his under-priced books, has a gun to the head of every self-published writer in the world.

According to the logic of Ms Kellogg's column (and yes, it's a column, Carolyn, not a news piece), the only reason a reader buys the Creed books is because Locke prices them at 99 cents. And you won't buy a book priced at $2.99, or $3.99, or $12.99 will you? Oh, damn... wait. There's seven other people who have sold a million copies of their books on Kindle and none of them has a single book priced at 99 cents. Wonder how come readers are buying those books? Maybe Donovan Creed really can't be in more than one place at a time.

And this "downward price pressure" you talk about, Ms Kellogg? Price, as you should have learned in basic economics, isn't "set" by the producer. It is set by the consumer, in this case the reader. If readers didn't buy Locke's books at 99 cents, then he'd change the price. I know that because I'm going to assume he's a smart guy. He did write a few books.

Sorry, Ms Kellogg, I forgot. The only reason Patterson, Connelly, Charlaine Harris, Steig Larsson and the other traditionally published authors got to the hallowed million-sales pedestal is because they have a publisher behind them. Nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that they are good writers. Nope, its not that.

Look at this statement: "If he sold a million Kindle e-books at 99 cents, he'd clear $346,500 -- nice work if you can get it. But if he were working with a traditional publisher, that $346,500 might be a lot closer to $1 million." Yes, it would be closer to a million. And the publisher would be raking in about ten to twenty times that million that Locke would be receiving... or the million the other seven on the list are getting. With Locke, he's keeping a larger percentage of the money.

Why the focus on money, Ms Kellogg? If writing were just about money, then everyone would be pumping out vampire novels. Yes, there's a lot of them. But people are devouring George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice novels and there's not a vampire or sparkling teenager to be found. What's number one in fiction right now according to traditional sources? Tom Clancy's Against All Enemies. My Lord, Clancy is soooo 80's! Spies and espionage and right-wing crazies trying to destroy the world, right? How could he be number one if the focus is only on money and what sells, Ms Kellogg? Number two is a love story from a thriller writer, David Baldacci. Yeah, that's money-driven isn't it? A guy turning his back on all his fans just to write something from his heart. Give me a break. (Disclosure: I like Clancy, and his spies and espionage and right-wing heroes saving the world.)

To justify her position, Ms Kellogg invokes the name of self-published royalty, none other than Amanda Hocking, she of the instant success that make legends. "not everyone can sell 1 million e-books in five months. "In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books," cautioned one observer. Who? None other than Amanda Hocking, who was the first self-published million-seller to make headlines."

Did Amanda Hocking say that? Yes. Is it true? Yep, it is. But here's a few dirty little secrets for you: 1) not everyone who signs with a traditional publisher will sell more than a few hundred books; 2) those people who don't sell with traditional publishers can turn themselves into successes with hard work in the self-published world; and 3) its okay if you only sell a hundred books, because you are doing something you have wanted to do, not sitting on your tail wishing you had.

That is really what is bothering Ms Kellogg and the rest of the naysayers. We are doing something that has been a dream for a long time. For a lot of us, we have wanted to create a world, spin a yarn and have someone else read it. We are, to paraphrase my buddy Mark Terry, arrogant enough to think that someone might want to read our dreams. But we are doing it ourselves, not relying on someone else.

To Ms Kellogg and those like her, publishers sitting in New York are the ones who should determine what books sell. John Locke, Amanda Hocking and those of us who are self-publishing think that the readers should determine that. They are the ones we write for ultimately, right?

One last thing, and it a glaring case of not only how biased Ms Kellogg is, but also how arrogant she is. I'll quote her again: "not everyone can sell 1 million e-books in five months. "In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books," cautioned one observer. Who? None other than Amanda Hocking, who was the first self-published million-seller to make headlines."

I added the bold and italics to emphasize the mistake. If Amanda Hocking is the "first self-published million-seller", then how come there's not nine authors in the hallowed list that sparked this article in the first place. Could it be that with Locke, the media had to reluctantly admit that someone who didn't go the traditional route has done what they thought was impossible? So why isn't Hocking in there?

Because Carolyn Kellogg, the Los Angeles Times and the media do not want self-published authors to be a success.

They want us to fail.

News flash, Ms Kellogg... we've already succeeded.


  1. that was great!

    I needed to read this, thanks for a fun to read rant that made me feel better :) A person has to dream and if I only sell 100 of my novel, that I Am going to e-pub later this year. It's soooo much better then yet another manuscript in a case box on my shelf. Forget the agony of waiting for another rejection slip. The time to be a writer is now, and yeah, we have already succeeded.

  2. The major irony here that you didn't mention is Clancy. Clancy was John Locke of the 1980s - even down to selling insurance part.

    The Hunt For Red October was effectively self-published. It was done by the Naval Academy press. I believe only because Clancy knew someone there and they would do a small run for him since academic presses typically don't do fiction.

    Clancy then worked his butt off to get the book in front of people he knew. And one of them managed to get it to Reagan. And Reagan said he loved the book.

    Finally - you don't have to sell a million books to be successful. Once you have books out there and let's say you're able to sell them for $2.99 -that's about $2 a book. If you just spend say a day a week on Twitter promoting - you could easily sell a couple of thousand a year. That's an extra $4K. Won't retire on it, but I bet most people can find use for it.

    great post.


  3. I've given up yelling. We know they're wrong and they know they're wrong, but there isn't a dead dog's chance in hell that they're going to admit it.

    Or maybe they will and I'm totally wrong. I'd love to be wrong, but I can't see it happening anytime soon. Not on this subject, anyway.

  4. Great post! I find it hard to believe the "world" will change its view for a while...unfortunately. But, it's time they did! Self-publishing, and e-books are truly the future.

    As you said Todd, we've stood up for ourselves, and our dreams, our books are available for people to read - what can be greater than that?

    And also, publishing traditionally doesn't guarantee success (as you mentioned as well). I think it's time for the people to awaken to this new reality. Self-publishing isn't going away. In fact, it's growing strength.

    As writers seize control of their works, and seek to hone and refine their craft, bringing out high quality work, the world will notice. They will be forced to acknowledge self-published, as well as indie authors. Of course, this too is just an opinion.

  5. What I don't understand is how you can argue that he'd be giving up millions to a publisher when he's giving up the money to Amazon instead. How is that better? In fact, even if he only got 8% for a paperback book, he'd still be getting $.70 for each copy sold. So even if he was giving away millions to his publisher, he'd still be making double what he has selling on Amazon.

    Is your argument that he's better off taking a smaller paycheck because it's not fair for a publisher to make more than he does? I don't get it. Especially considering in this case Amazon is the one making a killing.

  6. The point of my post was not about money, and how much Locke would be giving up. Yes, Amazon makes money off books sold on their site; why shouldn't they?

    My argument is that Locke is doing it his way, he is in charge of his own fate, and that the readers decided that Locke should be a million-seller. Not publishers, not Carolyn Kellogg, no one other than Locke and the readers. Which is as it should be.