Mark Terry

Monday, March 21, 2011

4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse: JA Konrath, Barry Eisler, Amanda Hocking, Lee Goldberg..

March 21, 2011
I imagine that most of my readers--yes, both of you--are already aware of today's blog post by JA Konrath in which he has a very, very, very lengthy discussion with Barry Eisler. I haven't read all of it yet (did I say it's very long?)

Here's one of the key things to take away from it. Barry Eisler, who is a New York Times Bestselling author, has declined a $500,000 book deal to self-publish.

Okay. Let's take a deep breath and wait for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to pass by. (And to think, I always thought the Four Horsemen were Conquest, War, Famine and Death. Now we come to learn that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, Amanda Hocking and Lee Goldberg. Who knew?)

One reason this feels like a tipping point to me is because of who Barry is. He's a very successful writer. No, he's not a James Patterson, Stephen King, John Grisham, or Janet Evanovich. Although King is often happy to play around with different types of story delivery, as far as I know he hasn't given up on traditional (legacy) publishing just yet.

And although Barry and Joe have always seemed like an odd pair (I've met both, interviewed both, read a great deal by both, both blogs and fiction), one thing they have in common is a fairly deep understanding of the business aspects of publishing and an intensity about their marketing efforts.

A couple other things to consider about Barry in the context of giving up a legacy publishing contract. His wife is a literary agent. (Not his, I don't believe). He's a former attorney. And until quite recently, he's been an advocate of legacy publishing. But clearly for him, something turned. I don't know exactly what that is, but I can guess.

First, Barry dabbled in e-self-publishing this year with a short story. And if sales continue as they are, the short story will make $30,000 this year alone.

Which, were I the swearing type (okay, I am), would make me say, "Jesus! Are you shitting me?" A short story?

And second, as I've noted to-date, e-books seem to keep on selling. Paper books seem to go quickly for 6 weeks then peter out. E-books seem to build and although I question whether the build will continue forever (unlikely), it does seem likely that a typical e-book will continue to bring in money to the author (and publisher, if that's your route) long after a publisher would traditionally have had your book go out of print. (Which in my case, with the first two Derek Stillwater novels, was within about a year of publication).

I'm sure Barry has his reasons, but I was frankly very, very surprised by this. I'm sure at least part of it has to do with what is the traditional publishing industry's current offerings on e-book sales--25% royalty. Forever.

The 25% e-book royalty is a joke, frankly, if you can self-publish with a 70% royalty. And secondly, what agents and writers need to push for if they're going to go along with this 25% charade is a time limit. That is to say, something like, Year One: 25% e-book royalty; Year Two-Three: 50% E-Book Royalty; Year Four: 75% E-book Royalty; Year Five: 90% E-book Royalty. After 5 years, e-book rights revert solely to author.

That kind of thing would at least create a possible incentive for authors to stick with legacy publishers, although it still sucks, frankly.

Anyway, this is a big deal.

P.S (Addendum:Oh, and I would also say that if a publisher were to offer me--today--a 2-book publishing deal for $500,000 I would take it with very little contemplation or analysis. Because where I am now at this point in my career, that would be a win-win. And no, Joe could not talk me out of it with any arguments he's given so far. My situation has not applied to any of them.

Hell, if someone were to offer me a 2-book contract for $50,000 or less, I'd probably take it.

But if they offered me one with the same contract terms I've had for my last 2 books ... much harder to say.)


Blogger Travis Erwin said...

I too have met Barry. Hosted him at our local writers conferences a number of years back and he is a shrewd marketer and business man if nothing.

Very interesting indeed.

6:30 AM  
Anonymous Mike Dennis said...

Big deal, indeed. I read the Konrath-Eisler blog and it was stunning, both in Eisler's ballsiness for turning down the $500,000 and in its insightfulness. They made their point in the first 3000 words, and they could've done without the subsequent chitchat, but those 3000 words were golden.

6:47 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

What occurs to me is this: Barry Eisler has name recognition because of the efforts of his major league publisher. So if the new career model is for authors to get a publisher to promote their books and then when the publisher gets them sufficiently recognized to leave the publisher to make a killing on their own...well, where does that leave publishers? And so how long can the Eisler strategy last if it kills off the publishers? Oh wait, I know, lets all say it together:

*Amanda Hocking* Amanda Hocking* Amanda Hocking*

10:45 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Although I came up with the title of the blog post secondary to actually writing the post, I've been musing a bit that there's an awful lot of truth to it, although I'm not sure how Lee fits in just yet.

I would say that JA Konrath represents a specific type of writer - a reasonably successful midlist writer. And by "midlist" I mean not bestseller. He was making a decent living as a novelist.

Barry Eisler represents a bestseller, although I'm not going to call him a blockbuster or name brand bestseller, ala Stephen King, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich. Barry sells a good number of books and hits the bestseller lists and I find it interested as I continue to read through the article that it was $500,000 for two books. I also find it interesting that his first published novels, which are still in print, are only now starting to pay through after earning out the advance--that's like a decade or so.

Amanda Hocking represents the self-published out-of-nowhere mongo success.

Which leaves Lee, who I just threw in there. He's a lot closer to Joe Konrath. What we probably need to round out the 4 Horsemen is either a Name Brand Bestseller like Stephen King or somebody that EVERYBODY knows, say, "I'm done. I'm doing it myself, bye, bye." I think one probably will, although at the moment I'm not sure what their incentive would be. It's a little doubtful if those level of bestsellers ever earn out their advances, but they're worth the money to their publishers, so they're treated differently than the rest of us are.

Perhaps another possible Horseman would be someone who has been published for a while, struggles, doesn't make a living at it, probably can't be really called "midlist" but who has the same or better results from e-self-publishing than they do through legacy publishing. I may or may not qualify and I expect a lot of other authors will, too, at least if the definition is "same as."

10:55 AM  
Blogger Lee Goldberg said...

I'm "just thrown in?" Gee, thanks :-)

Where I differ from Joe is that my success on the Kindle has been based on my out-of-print work...proving there is a very lucrative second life for books long since considered dead-and-buried.

I haven't been nearly as successful as Joe or Amanda...but I think earning $80K annually on my previously published work (as I am on course to do this year)has demonstrated to scores of midlist writers, many of whom have been dropped by their publishers, that they are already sitting on tens of thousands of dollars.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Aw, you're special, not just thrown in. I'd be ecstatic with $80G a year off my e-books. My 2 OOP books are my bestsellers, such as they are. That said, in order for my e-books to make as much money as Barry's advance, I would have to sell at my current sales rate for 500 years.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Come to think about it, with e-pubbing some authors are selling like crazy and most aren't and who can say why. Pretty much like regular publishing.

Also, shouldn't that be Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse?

4:20 PM  
Blogger Laura Howard said...

This issue is so interesting to me. I'm working on my first ever ms, and I wonder what is going to happen in the publishing industry... I read a letter from Stephen King's agent written in 1998, predicting a large dynamic shift in publishing with the uprising of the Internet... I think I'll have to find this agents blog and bet on what he says :)

4:23 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I had to google Amanda Hocking and I just found this, from 7 hours ago

6:47 PM  
Blogger rkfinnell said...

I'd just be happy to sell even an eBook of my novel to someone I don't know personally. Okay, it isn't that bad. I have my novel in a few libraries, but still.

12:48 AM  

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