Mark Terry

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Adjustments

January 24, 2012
You've no doubt heard the statement that doing the same thing over and over again in hopes of a different outcome is the definition of insanity? I don't know who said. I seem to recall it credited to Albert Einstein, but I probably read it on Facebook, which has a bit of a credibility problem when it comes to passing on inaccurate information.

I don't know if it's the definition of insanity, but I think sometimes you have to step back and say, "So, how's that working for you?" (I've heard this credited to Dr. Phil, but then again, who cares?)

Which is a long ways of saying, er, I parted ways with my literary agent yesterday (again). Yes, again. We parted ways a year or two ago, and then about two days later I got an offer for which I needed her services. So we decided to give it a go (again) and frankly...

Well, as I told her yesterday, the publishing industry has changed so dramatically in the last two years that I just don't foresee writing anything in the next year (or even two) that that will be offered to her to market or, for that matter, offered to a legacy publisher.

Unlike, say, Joe Konrath, who argues you should never go to a legacy publisher (unless that "legacy" publisher is Amazon, but that's a discussion for another day), I think a more reasonable response is: It depends.

I think there are authors out there that have reasonably effective careers with legacy publishers. I think there are clearly some self-published authors these days who are breaking out in the new e-book self-publishing environment (not necessary as many as you might think, given the deluge of titles being e-self-published). And I believe there are many so-called mid-list authors who are doing at least as well, and oftentimes better, by self-publishing than they were with their legacy publishers.

If I fall into any of these categories, it's this last one. I've never particularly felt like I was successful enough to be called "mid-list," but the fact is, over the last several months I've made more money off my Kindle and other e-book sales than I've made off any of my other book sales. Enough, in fact, that I can conceive of it actually being a reasonable part of my yearly income, at least if it continues the way it has lately. Which prompted my wife, something of a publishing agnostic (or perhaps even fiction publishing atheist), to say, "E-books are the way to go." She also said, "When are you going to let your agent know?"

I think it's possible that in the future I will write something that I want to show to a legacy publisher, assuming that in that time frame there are any legacy publishers around whose contracts won't seem like a joke. A friend commented to me yesterday that he bought THE FALLEN for $1.98 and wondered what the royalty must be like, then joked that "they say publishing is a low-profit business." Well, let me put it this way.

If I had self-published THE FALLEN as an e-book and were pricing it not at $1.98, but at $2.99, my royalty would have been $2.04 per copy sold. If I had self-published it at $1.98, that would have qualified for the 30% royalty rate, which would come to 59 cents ($0.59) per copy. As it stands, due to the contract I had with the publisher (negotiated by my agent), and which fell into the nebulous period before anyone started to dig in on e-book royalty rates (or, perhaps, my agent just didn't know any better and neither did I), the e-book royalty rate is, I believe, identical to my hardcover royalty rate, i.e., 10%. That is to say, when it sells for $1.98, I get, well, $0.198, or about 20 cents per copy. (And for the hardcovers, which have only sold a few hundred copies, as far as I know, I get 10% of $25.95, or $2.595).

There's another factor, and it's not insignificant. My publisher writes royalty checks once a year. Last year I believe I got paid in May. That did not include sales from that year, but were for the previous year.  It also gets routed through my agent, who takes 15%. Then I get a check and pay the federal government 24% and Michigan 4%.

For the most part (not Smashwords), with Kindle and Barnes & Noble, I get money direct-deposited into my checking account at the end of each month. I'm not 100% sure with B&N if there's lag time, I'll have to check. With Kindle, the deposit into the account runs 60 days behind, so, for example, my payment at the end of January reflects sales from November.

So, there were financial reasons, for sure. There are plenty of marketing reasons as well.

There are creative reasons, too. Here's some truth. I've written any number of non-Derek Stillwater things over the last few years that my agent didn't like or even refused to market. And this goes to other issues of personality and approach to business, but sometimes the feedback I got was, "I hate it. Try something else."

Except you know what? I didn't hate it. I thought it was great. And I want to write them and complete them. Let the readers decide. And several of the projects I have planned for this year are works my agent didn't like, so I knew that even if I did want to market them, she wouldn't (which begs the question of who works for who, but this post is long enough already).

So, to get to the point. I've made some adjustments. I've tried not to burn any bridges. There's a film agent still dealing with my works and she would probably be interested in looking at any future ones I write and publish. If I get into a contract negotiation that is over my head, I'm going to take the advice of Dean Wesley Smith and hire an IP attorney to negotiate it - for a flat fee.

Times have changed. I expect they will continue to change. But I'm trying to adapt with those changes.

Thoughts?

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

It all sounds reasonable to me and I wish you luck. I can't decide what I think about self-publishing. For most of my life -- before the advent of ebooks and the Internet -- it was clearly the refuge of delusional wannabes, so it is hard for me to shake off the feeling that to self-publish would be an admission of defeat. Clearly, though, things have changed. I need to change my ingrained ways of thinking.

The best book Mary and I have written -- not a Byzantine mystery -- has come nowhere near selling. I know it is our best work. We have a top notch agent who still swears she will sell it. It took us years and years to find an agent. Remember when that was a big deal for an aspiring author also? So we are reluctant to tell her to forget it, we'll publish it ourselves.

Right now we're halfway through another non-Byzantine mystery. We're really excited about the book. What do we do when it is finished? Throw it out into publishing world limbo for years, or perhaps forever?

I always wrote amateur stuff for fun and sent it out to a mailing list and then got on to the next thing. I am used to that model. Maybe I'd write more if I knew that as soon as I finished I could get the book out there and go on to the next idea. If it sells it sells. If it doesn't....well, we'd be out a little money but not enough to change our lives.

Anyway, maybe by next year you'll be laughing at the publishing industry. But try not to gloat as much as Joe Konrath, okay?

7:52 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I've been doing the agent debate with myself for quite awhile now. I'm not sure whether it's worth it or not. I flip back and forth all the time.

Right now I might be leaning "for" just because I just got a publicist and it's such a relief to have so many duties off my shoulders. I would hope an agent would provide the same thing.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I'm not making enough money from it to gloat. But the last 3 months has been significantly different from the 2 previous years. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a trend.

On the other hand, for me, the clear trend was that the Derek Stillwater novels, though popular among their readers, didn't sell very much in paper. And, my agent can't sell my other work and the predominant theme of the rejections is, "In this publishing climate..." which of course they've been using for at least 50 or 60 years.

There's a lot to be said about just doing it yourself, but I hesitate to advocate it for everybody. You've got to be clear on your reasons for doing it, and I'm not convinced that it's the road to riches that Joe seems to think it is, even if it clearly is for him.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Betsy,
Every agent is different. My agent did absolutely nothing in terms of marketing/publicity/career suggestions, or, for that matter, selling things. She came up with the idea for Midnight Ink, the publisher of the first two Derek Stillwater novels, but I came up with Oceanview and suggested we try them. It was MI's foreign rights person that made the French, German and Slovak sales. So, as I said, there were a lot of factors.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

As it stands, due to the contract I had with the publisher (negotiated by my agent), and which fell into the nebulous period before anyone started to dig in on e-book royalty rates (or, perhaps, my agent just didn't know any better and neither did I), the e-book royalty rate is, I believe, identical to my hardcover royalty rate, i.e., 10%. That is to say, when it sells for $1.98, I get, well, $0.198, or about 20 cents per copy. (And for the hardcovers, which have only sold a few hundred copies, as far as I know, I get 10% of $25.95, or $2.595).

I wish we were getting that much. Royalties are based on the publisher's net receipts, not the list price.

6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been wondering when in hell you were going to come to your senses and ditch the agent and the tradi pub route and epub on your own. Your writing is excellent. There is no reason why you won't hit it out of the ballpark on your own. You are a better writer than many out there who are having phenomenal success. It will be exciting to see how far you can go on your own.

8:18 AM  

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