Please Don’t Feed the Monsters …by Josh Lanyon

josh logo - martini glassIf you’ve done any financial investing – and if you’re planning to write for a living, I sincerely hope you have – you know one of the secrets to success is diversity. It’s common sense. One of the earliest bits of homespun wisdom we receive is don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Whether forming lunch room friendships or sending out college applications, we’re cautioned not to pin all our hopes for success on one single person, place, or thing.

So it is fascinating to watch so many authors falling headlong into the trap of exclusivity.

No matter if it’s working with one publisher or signing up for Amazon’s KDP Select program, many, many – maybe even most – authors seem strangely willing to trust their fortunes to someone else’s vision and diligence. For all we talk and blog about taking control of our careers and treating writing like a business, an awful lot of us seem peculiarly eager to have someone else – some one else – be in charge.

Part of that dependency is a holdover from traditional publishing. In the old days you signed on with  a publisher and that was pretty much that, unless you were dropped, or your editor left, or you got a much, much better offer somewhere else.  Of course, in those days most authors were only writing one or two – at most — books a year.

Part of the dependency is due to the fact that it’s just easier and simpler if we’re dealing with a smaller cast of characters. It’s certainly less complicated to keep track of the stylistic idiosyncrasies and personalities of one publishing house versus five. And there are practical reasons for building a solid backlist with one publisher; not least is the hope that our loyalty will be rewarded with good release slots and promotion dollars.

And the final part of that dependency is likely due to the writer temperament. When you consider what a writer does all day – dreaming and imagining and then trying to formulate those dreams and imaginings into stories others can understand and enjoy – well, it’s not surprising to hear that a lot of writers are more creative and emotional than they are shrewd business people.  Submitting to another publisher – or any publisher — means taking the time to put together a proposal, it means risking rejection. Writers prefer to write. That’s one thing that has never changed and never will.

So if you’re happy with your publisher or with self-publishing, why do you have to have to worry about diversifying?

First, because things change.  Think about how much publishing has changed in the last six years. If you weren’t publishing six years ago, that’s your answer right there. It’s also the reason you want to be careful about signing any lengthy contracts right now. Publishers come and go very quickly these days. Granted, Amazon isn’t going anywhere, and most of us are earning most of our income from Amazon, but both Apple and Amazon recently applied for patents to sell used books. That may be another game changer. The fact is, none of us know what the future of publishing looks like. The only thing we know for sure is that publishing is changing and will continue to change. You want – need — to have some options.

Secondly, when you’re first published – in fact, this will remain true for most authors in any genre for the majority of their career – you don’t have an author brand. You have a genre and you have your publisher’s brand. Even now, with Amazon dominating the digital market, a significant percentage of readers shop their favorite genre through their favorite publishers, even if they ultimately buy those titles through All Romance Ebooks or elsewhere. Think about the type of books Carina Press puts out versus Loose Id. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but from cover art to copyediting, both houses have their own distinct style.  They have a readership, and that readership really likes the flavor of that particular publisher.

On the other hand, you have readers and reviewers who don’t like a particular publisher. Whether that bias is fair or right is beside the point. If you want to reach those potential readers and reviewers, you’ll do it by publishing with other houses. It stands to reason that the more exposure you can get, the more readers you’re likely to find. Being published by a variety of top notch publishers gives you credibility and visibility. The very act of being published by a good publisher is in itself promotion. Add to that the promo efforts of each publisher, even if minimal, and you can see why diversifying is to your advantage.

We all want and need more readers.

You might be thinking that it’s disloyal to write for somebody else after your publisher has been so good to you. Well, keep this in mind. You’re writing for yourself. Your publisher accepted your manuscript – and continues to accept your manuscripts — because your work is worth investing in. It’s a business arrangement, and should your work no longer sell, your publisher will be the first to remind you that it’s nothing personal, it’s simply business. The good news is, you build your personal brand by publishing widely and getting known for all that makes your work unique. Once you do establish your author brand, all your books sell better – and that’s good for all your publishers.

I’m not saying all your publishers will have the wisdom to see it this way. Even Amazon and Apple don’t have the wisdom to see it this way. Which brings us to reason three for diversifying – which is a mix of the practical and, well, the philosophical.

It’s no news that Amazon wants all the marbles in the publishing game. They give considerable incentives for publishing exclusively through the Kindle Select program (though data increasingly suggests that freebies and dirt cheap pricing no longer guarantee transitioning to regular priced purchases). And as they add new countries into their global distribution, they are limiting the seventy percent royalty to titles exclusive to Amazon.

Apple is just as bad (and with fewer author incentives) but in the case of Apple, it’s moot because no one else supports .ibooks format.

I’ve listened to authors on a number of publisher lists fretting about the fact that publisher site royalties are way, way down – and of course Amazon royalties when received through a publisher are much less than Amazon royalties when you publish direct, making it harder for our indie publishers to compete with the Zon either as retailers or publishers.

I’m not going to be hypocritical and pretend I’m not grateful for my Amazon royalties. The royalties off my backlist were what enabled me to afford last year’s sabbatical. But there’s a reason I’m preparing submissions to publishers right now rather than choosing to self-publish all my new work.

Partly it’s a relief once in a while to let someone else worry about cover art and formatting and distribution; partly it’s because continuing to work with good publishers gives me credibility and visibility; and partly it’s because I’m not comfortable having Amazon control my entire financial future. I don’t do Amazon Select. None of my titles are exclusive to Amazon. I do not believe the sales that I would lose by removing my titles from other platforms would be made up at Amazon.

Mainstream publishing got into trouble because of its stupidity and greed, and it became greedy and stupid because there were no other options for authors. There was no real competition. Everyone in mainstream publishing operated the same way. But then along came epublishing and Amazon, and the playing field was leveled. It’s an exciting time in publishing and it’s a lucrative time for authors. More authors are earning a living writing fiction than ever before. I would like it to stay a lucrative time, and I believe the most likely way that will happen is if Amazon continues to have strong and viable competition. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s no different in publishing than anywhere else.

So, yes, my position is a philosophical one, but it’s also a practical one. In the long run, it’s in my best interests – as it is in yours — to do what I can to help keep competition alive and all my options open.  Don’t succumb to the pressure to go exclusive. Diversify, diversify, diversify.

Josh Lanyon’s Contact Information

email: josh.lanyon@sbcglobal.net
Twitter: Twitter: @JoshLanyon
blog: http://joshlanyon.blogspot.com/
website: http://www.joshlanyon.com/

 

34 comments

  • Josh, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences and your advice, is truly priceless. I also enjoyed the blog you wrote about the process of creating and distributing audiobooks, it contains lots of information I didn’t have any idea existed.

    Wave, I’m looking forward to read that article about self-publishing.

    Reply
  • “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”
    The problem is not only what Amazon does to the authors. Amazon bought Goodreads so they can work with the readers reviews.
    In Germany there are fixed book prizes. Every book costs the same in every shop. Amazon.de is not an exception. I know Americans hate regulations. But I think it is a form of justice. Amazon and the ebooks here have not ruined as many bookshops as anywhere else.
    Sorry, my English is not good enough to write about all the things going around in my head to this subject.
    Thank you for this article.

    Reply
    • I think that’s very interesting — in fact, I believe Canada may have some of those same protections in place.

      The Goodreads situation is interesting. It seems clear to me that Amazon must have some practical application in mind for GR, but who knows. It may have been a move simply to circumvent GR moving toward bookselling (a rumor that was flying around for a couple of months before the buy out).

      Reply
  • Another reader here – thank you, Josh, for an interesting article!

    I suspect that loyalty to the publisher who (I’m sure many think “who” rather than “which”) was first to recognise their work is the main reason why many authors don’t submit to other publishers, coupled with a memory that “real” authors always used to be exclusively contracted to one publisher. That and the fear that a different publisher might reject them – something I suspect few could take in their stride they way you suggest in comment 5.1!

    In addition, many think of what they are doing as “art” rather than work or business. Being business-like about their books might somehow diminish the quality or aesthetic value of them.

    As readers begin to understand that buying from different sites has an effect on the author’s return they are prepared to go through the extra steps to do so and forgo the (very real) convenience of being told whether or not they have already purchased the book! However, I agree with Graeme that it’s not always easy to know the best place to buy so as to benefit the author the most. Do they get penalised if they don’t put the Amazon buy-link first? – assuming they’ve already taken the hit for being non-exclusive!

    Reply
    • It’s always nerve-wracking submitting to a new publisher, yes. I don’t think that ever changes. And I think it is very much human nature to stick with the devil you know versus risking the unknown. This is why people patronize chain restaurants even when they complain about the chain restaurant food. 🙂 We all get in those ruts, and writing takes a ton of mental energy anyway, even without adding in the practical side of things.

      Plus I think writers forget that a publisher doesn’t go into the business planning to fail and mess up people’s careers. Those things happen because people get in over their heads. So it’s not like an instinct for evil would kick in and warn a writer not to sign with a particular publisher. 😉

      Reply
  • Hello, Josh.
    Compliments on laying out the changing landscape.
    I agree, multiple publishers is a good way to go, especially in the beginning. It’s good to have more than one option when it comes to placing a story. Too many authors have been left adrift after their sole publisher went under. I see it as a personal challenge to meet the criteria of an unfamiliar publisher. That said, it’s important to research any publisher before submitting to them (predators and editors is good for this, and asking friends).
    Placing the link to the publisher first (before Amazon) on the buy link can help steer people that direction. It is better for the author and the publisher financially. And…Books from the publisher are yours. They can’t be taken away–but Amazon has the right to do that (as they can on Kindle–it’s in the fine print!)
    As a technophobe, the thought of self-pubbing makes me break out in hives. 🙁 Maybe someday on the backlist–but I’ll likely have to hire out the formatting, etc. I admire your fortitude getting through that. I do appreciate what a publisher does, and it makes me feel unburdened to know I’ll have professional editing, art, and formatting.
    Thanks for a great article.

    Reply
    • Oh me too, Kelly. I don’t try to do any of that stuff myself. I commission the covers, the copyediting, and the formatting. It’s hard enough writing the books. Having someone else deal with all that is worth its weight in gold — at least some of the time. Certainly when you’re first starting out and trying to build a name for yourself. At least in my opinion. I think I am successful at self-publishing because I got to work for a good stretch with good publishers. I had established my brand before I tried to go it alone. I don’t know that things would have turned out so well if I was still struggling for name recognition with readers.

      Reply
  • Another reader here!, and an Aussie one at that. I found Amazon to be my only viable purchase point, firstly for MM print titles not released in Australia, then for MM eBooks and I had grown accustomed to their “product” As I have delved into more publisher sites, and “listened” to some of the debates Amazon vs Publisher vs self-published I find I no longer know what is the best I can do for an author. I cant easily find when a publisher is the authors own selef-selling site, I hear some complain about non payment of royalties so avoid that site, I hear others describe amazon no different to other multi-publisher selling options.
    And then to manage my own (mis)spending I now have to remember that Amazon will not show me that I own something if I bought it elsewhere.
    I almost need a table of what author to buy where if I am to support the author as directly as possible. And then there is where there is an Australian release, so it will be print, so I would prefer my local (and extremely loyal) indie bookseller (which is 100km away!)
    Don’t have an answer, dont have a question, but wanted to say there are some readers here who wish they could do more for the creators of their reading fix!
    Graeme

    Reply
    • Well, I kinda think you’re doing it, Graeme. Buying books, however and wherever, is the first and biggest part of supporting authors you enjoy. And then when readers take the time to share their enjoyment with other readers, word spreads and more books get sold and writers are able to continue to write.

      So thank you for buying those all those books!

      Reply

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