E-Publishing and The Writer's Business Model
February 16, 2011
Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview bestselling author Harlan Coben about his upcoming novel, Live Wire. Harlan's a nice guy and I've met and interviewed him a couple times over the years. His last several books have debuted as #1 on the New York Times Bestseller Lists and he's an international bestseller. Anyway, part of our conversation touched on all the changes in the publishing industry and e-books and Harlan basically said he doesn't worry about it, he just concentrates on writing the best book he can. Although the overall philosophy makes sense to a writer, I think not engaging with e-publishing is a luxury that Harlan can afford, but not that many other writers can.
I was reminded again, of a series of highly recommended posts about the publishing industry and writers by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I didn't track down the specific post, but somewhere among all the posts she comments on how Scott Turow, who is president of the Authors Guild, expresses a lot of concern about e-publishing and how it's detrimental to writers, etc. Rusch said something that I've thought about a lot, which is that for Turow, that's probably absolutely correct. It is detrimental to him. And that, as I think everyone reading this blog post knows, Joe Konrath is going full-blast into e-self-publishing to the extent that he's apparently even turning down traditional publishing contracts because he can make more money at self-publishing. And she notes that for Joe, that makes perfect sense.
Which begs the question, I think: does it make sense for you?
And as Rusch is pointing out, different writers at different points in their careers (or who have different types of careers), have different needs and business models. Turow, she notes, is a guaranteed bestseller who writes a novel about every four years or so, plus he's never had a book go out of print. Joe Konrath was a solid midlist novelist with a book or two a year and was making a living at it, but was spending huge amounts of time and energy on promotion and he now finds himself making more money writing e-books and self-publishing and doing very little promotion in the process.
And thinking about Harlan, he doesn't have a lot to gain--yet, anyway--by e-self-publishing. Here's an example, a little personal story. Yesterday I commented about how the playing field isn't level. Harlan's publicist emailed me last week asking if I wanted a copy of Live Wire. I said sure. THE SAME DAY I received a delivery of the book. The publicist and publisher felt it was worthwhile to spend the money to get me a copy of that book the same day I said yes. Harlan is treated by his publisher in a way that few writers are--even bestselling writers. His relationship with his publisher is different than that of most writers. He's in a very different space than Joe Konrath or me, for that matter (who is in a different space than Joe, but I'll get to that in a moment).
Some bestsellers are playing around with the e-book self-publishing phenomenon. David Morrell, for instance, released THE NAKED EDGE as an e-book, which I believe is a sequel to THE PROTECTOR (I bought it, but haven't read it yet). I don't know all the details about why he did that and most everything I said would be a guess, but David, who I believe is still a bestselling author, is not necessarily a name brand bestselling author, or what Rusch refers to as a "guaranteed bestselling author." I've also been surprised that some of David's books have gone out of print. It makes complete and total sense for ANY WRITER whose books go out of print and they have the rights to, to re-release them as e-books yourself. Two of my books, THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT'S KISS went out of print after only a couple years and I've released them as e-books. Out of the thousands of traditionally published authors out there in the world, I'm far more typical than Harlan Corben or David Morrell.
But how do I stack up against Joe Konrath? Why has Joe gone basically to being totally self-published while I still seek traditional publishing contracts as well as self-publish e-books?
I can't lay it all out, but two ideas strike me. First, Joe's e-books simply make more money than mine do. Joe routinely touts how successful his e-books are, and brings on many guest bloggers who are making tons of money with their e-books, and although mine sell and I manage to spend the money they make, if Joe's in the major leagues, I'm down in the minors--way down in A ball or college baseball or even some local softball league sponsored by the local auto supply parts shop.
To-date I make more money off my traditionally published books. Will I in the long run? Don't know. Secondly, for the most part, Joe was just about successful enough to get most of his books published traditionally. Not all of them, and he's been very honest about that. For me, the most successful books have been the Derek Stillwater thrillers, but other books just haven't gained traction with traditional publishers. So I decided to go ahead and publish some (not all) of them.
I also don't make a living as a novelist. I make my living as a freelance writer writing magazine articles, website content, corporate communications, market research reports, etc. I'm diversified in a way a full-time novelist isn't, and for me that's mostly a good thing. I would have to make quite a bit of money off novels to want to put all my eggs in a single basket. Your mileage may vary.
Which in many ways is where I'm at. I write it and if it doesn't get picked up by a traditional publisher, I self-publish it instead of doing nothing with it. I have two projects that will come out sometime this year as an e-book--a short story anthology titled DEADLY BY THE DOZEN and sometime when I finish it, a nonfiction e-book about FREELANCE WRITING FOR A LIVING. There may be a couple other projects, but I haven't decided yet. Because I've got two novels that I'm intending for a traditional publisher, including a Derek Stillwater, as well as a nonfiction book proposal that my agent is starting to market.
The point of this is that for different writers, e-publishing means different things. Depending on where you are in your career, the type of books you write, and your creative and financial needs and goals, this may be the right business model for you. Or it might not.