Tag: Publishing (page 1 of 2)

If you’re not frontlist, you’re not . . .

1st-cav-patchIn the 1st Cavalry Division, the one battalion that was actually ‘armored cavalry’, 1/9 Cav, used to boast to the rest of us Infantry and Armored grunts: “If you ain’t Cav, you aint shit!”

And I used to respond: “Exactly.”

The traditional midlist is getting crunched big time. Less shelf space is a harsh reality. Any midlister who isn’t already hybrid is in trouble.

However, the person most in trouble in the coming years is the high end, but not quite always on the airport rack, author. Who is well known, consistently hits the bestseller lists, but isn’t what I label an “airport” author. There are not many of the latter. There are quite a few of the former. They make a very comfortable living right now from advances and, if they have an extensive backlist and have earned out, on royalties.

But. Spend two years without a new title and those authors will sink under the waves without a trace. Their publisher will have no commitment to market and promote them. Without frontlist, readers will quickly forget they exist, and more importantly, they won’t acquire new readers. The publisher also will never let go of the backlist.

There is an interesting conundrum among many traditionally published authors that I haven’t seen brought up: the incentive to wish for failure of their backlist. If an author has not earned out, and sees no prospect of that based on recurring sales, they have absolutely no incentive to promote that title. In fact, they want it to fail so badly that it falls below whatever sales threshold they didn’t pay attention to when they signed their contracts years ago.

With eBooks, that isn’t going to happen. The publisher doesn’t even have to go back to print.

While I believe most midlist authors who aren’t already hybrid have woken up to the need to do so, the people who really should do that NOW are these bestselling authors who see no immediate need to do so. Because they really have little idea how few sales they are going to be making once they’re off that radar.

Random House dumped my Area 51 series, even after selling over a million copies. I understand the business reasons for it. Sort of like Denzel Washington in Man on Fire: “I’m just a professional.”

Of course, some might wonder if I’m Denzel Washington or the man with the bomb up his butt tied to the car’s hood.

I managed to wrangle the rights to Area 51 back, using Jon Fine’s advice of being persistent and aggressive. And before publishers understood the value of backlist. When I got the rights, I told my wife “I just got my retirement.” Since then I’ve more than doubled the sales, to somewhere around 2.5 million copies sold. A nice check comes in every month on those sales. On something that would have moldered in Random House’s backlist, selling a thousand or so a year.

Agents and high-selling authors focus far too much on the advance money and far too little on the back end money. Those monthly checks. At Cool Gus we’ve been close to working with a couple of bestselling trad authors and re-pubbing backlist they had the rights to, but every time the author said they wanted to run it by their agent, we knew it was over. Because agents tend to only see that advance money. They want to repackage the backlist, sell it to a trad publisher–usually the one that has the current frontlist– and get up front checks. But once those checks are cashed, they’re gone forever. And so is that backlist revenue. And so are those rights. We’ve got two bestselling hybrid authors, and both very much like their monthly checks from Cool Gus on the back end. What was even more fascinating is this: one got an offer from Amazon Publishing for a title we were doing for him. He wanted to do it and we said go for it, because we believe what’s good for an author is good for us in the long run. He did. And regrets it. We were surprised when he told he was making more with us than with AP on that title.

I’ve been predicting this for five years but I can say with all sincerity the time is now for a high end author who wants to protect their future revenue stream. Shelf-space is shrinking. Fewer and fewer books are getting racked. Less deals are being made. When the day comes that you aren’t frontlist, you aint–

Publishing: Everything old is new again.

publishingA couple of weeks ago I had a startling realization about publishing. You’ll have to excuse my tardiness, I’m a bit slow.

I was chatting with some of the writers here for our Write on the River Retreat about the current state of publishing. How the golden age of the indie author was over, how the golden age for every writer seems to be over, and I said: reminds me when I was surviving as a midlist author in traditional publishing. Everyone said I couldn’t do what I did, but I did it.

And it hit me.

Everything old is new again.

Most things go in cycles. We end back where we were, we just see it differently. Publishing has gone through a cycle. I don’t see blogs any more from indie authors crowing about how much money they’re making and how many eBooks they’re selling. I don’t see much boasting coming from anywhere in publishing.

Why? Everyone is heads down working; or they’re looking for a job. There are a number of indie, traditional and hybrid authors who were doing really well three years ago. Not so much any more.

The marketplace is saturated. Over a half million titles uploaded to Amazon last year. 95% sell less than 100, but still, there’s a lot of good stuff. Then there are so many cheap eBooks. Between Bookbub, first in series free, Kindle Unlimited, you name it, it’s never been a better time for the reader. Bookbub used to be the province of the indie/hybrid author but now we see #1 NYT trad author populating it consistently. You want to have someone pay $4.99 for your eBook against a .99 John Grisham backlist they haven’t read?

What are indie authors doing? Writing faster, trying to put out more titles. But unless they have a dedicated following, they’re part of the content flood. Colleen Hoover had an interesting blog titled What Happened to This Industry

She mentions an important thing: she sells 1/10th of the books she used to sell, but has a much larger audience than she did. I don’t think she’s alone in that. A dedicated readership is key.

I started thinking about the two decades I spent in traditional publishing pursuing a path that the gurus and pundits all said couldn’t be followed: being a mid-lister. If I wasn’t supposed to exist, how did I succeed?

Sorting through all the ups and downs, the bottom line was: I worked really hard.

I never believed I “had it made”. Every author I knew—the moment they thought they had it made, they were gone. I think that’s happened to a lot of indie authors who saw that monthly income stream and thought it would continue forever.

Even if I was under contract for three books a year, I wrote four. I always stayed a spec manuscript ahead. In that way, I stayed a publisher ahead. 12 books with Random House, over a million paperbacks sold, and they say “Later dude. You’re not frontlist any more. We didn’t spend any money or time promoting or marketing you, but you failed.”

But by then I had a new series going with a different publisher. And thus it went.

And we’re back there again. Consistency. Hard work. Keeping a positive attitude when you fall into what I always called the “black pit”. Where all the news is bad, nothing good is going on, but you just keep doing it. You change things, you re-evaluate. You modify your business plan. Most importantly, you learn to be a better writer. Or is that gooder writer?

I recently wrote a blog reference an article titled “I published my debut novel to critical acclaim—and then I promptly went broke.”

The title tells you everything you need to know—who cares about critical acclaim? That doesn’t equal sales. The author thought that she had it made before her first book even came out. I mean, seriously? She isn’t alone; she was just brave enough, or foolish enough, to put it out there.

Colleen Hoover was brave enough to say publicly what other indie/hybrid authors won’t say: sales are down. Mine are down, not anywhere near as much, but that’s because mine are spread across over 70 titles in several genres. I’ve got a lot of eggs in a lot of baskets so things are good; not as great as they were, but I’ll take it. And it’s going back up because I’ve retooled, re-evaluted, and adjusted.

nick-rowe_0008When I had this realization that things were back to where I was in some ways, it made me feel good. For several reasons:

  1. I’d succeeded where others said I’d fail. Sort of like all the tough military school I went through where they’d say, look to you left, look to your right, one of you isn’t going to be here in a week. It never occurred to me that the person was me. I was thinking, well, hate to see ya’ go fella. Actually, honestly, I didn’t think that; it just sounded good when I wrote it. I was actually focused on what I needed to do to succeed. Their success of failure was their deal. I can’t waste time worrying about other writers and their success or failure. I try to help writers with this blog at times (slideshow every Saturday on the craft of writing and other things), with my workshops and presentations, but everyone is in their own unique situation.
  2. Don’t listen to the gurus and pundits unless they’re doing it themselves. I’ve seen several pundits try their hand at making money with something written on line and seen them fail. But they’re still punditing. I read them, evaluate, take what I need, leave the rest.
  3. I’m in a much better place now because I’m indie. I don’t have all those people standing between me and the reader. The readers determine my fate and my paycheck. I determine what the readers get. So while I have less help, I have total responsibility. I value that responsibility because it means control, especially since I can remembers all those years when I had no control.
  4. I can reach readers via the Internet. One time, during my trad career, I mailed out 3,400 letters, individually addressed to every indie bookstore in the country. I included sign book stickers in every letter. Means I signed a shitload of stickers. I heard back from 3 stores. Now, I can reach readers directly and with a message I can tailor.

While everything old is new again, there are some changes. I still believe it’s the best time ever to be a writer. But if you want to succeed in this new world, it means doing the same thing it required to succeed in the old: Be serious, work hard, be professional, and remember the most important person is the reader.


PS: 8-9 October is the last Write on the River Workshop for the year. Limited to four, I’ve got one slot left. Email me more info and a cut rate at this late stage.

“I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke”

The article with the above title from Marie Claire has been making the rounds on social media. It’s by an author who had one book published and then crashed on the harsh rocks of reality. The sub title is “On the dark side of literary fame.”

Take a moment to read it, then join me back.

Okay. Your reactions?

Here’s mine:

  1. Who cares about ‘critical acclaim’? As Ms. Tierce has learned, that doesn’t pay the bills. I’ve had some great reviews in my time and some terrible ones. I’ve noticed they matter little in terms of sales. Ms. Tierce spends time letting you know what these reviews are and also the awards won. Which means she still thinks those will sell books. We used to joke at the Maui Writers Conference that they give awards to literary books and checks to professional writers.
  2. She does finally accept publishing is a business. It has moved on. The problem is she hasn’t. She mentions that she probably should have taken a two book deal. She mentions quitting her day job. But what she doesn’t mention is what she did in the year while that book was in production. Apparently not write another book. I’m not sure what she was waiting on. Every author I’ve ever met who thought they had it made? That was the moment their career as a writer was over. I stayed alive in traditional publishing in a place they (they being the gurus who know all but don’t do it) said didn’t exist. As a midlist author for over two decades. How? By staying one book ahead of my contracts. I had a three book deal? I wrote four. I wrote under five pen names when publishers only wanted a book a year. A book a year didn’t pay the bills or the kids’ medical insurance.
  3. I went hybrid, actually sort of think I invented the term in a blog in 2010, when I looked to the future and revamped my business plan, forming Cool Gus Publishing. If I had not, I’d probably be gun slinging somewhere in the world, falling back on my previous career in Special Ops. Pays more than carrying letters.
  4. She didn’t ask for a two book deal because she didn’t want to owe “anyone anything.” As an author there is someone I owe everything to. The reader. They’re the ones who pay my salary. Not the publisher. Not Amazon. Readers. I owe them everything.
  5. cool-gus-ying-and-yangShe also felt writing a book under contract would cause the book to feel “contrived”. I call this the ‘black beret, cigarette-smoking, standing on the street corner, poet’ syndrome. Where one writes when inspired. When the muse is whispering sweet nothings in one’s ear. I got Cool Gus and Sassy Becca snoring at my feet right now. They need to be fed. They don’t get fed, they get ornery. That’s my muse.
  6. Missing in the article is what she was doing from the time she quit her day job to the time she went to hauling letters. She ‘wonders’ if her publisher considers the book a failure. Has she asked? Does she have an agent? She says she does, but one would think the agent is giving some sort of feedback?
  7. She didn’t earn back her advance. She didn’t want a two book deal, which is going against the norm. Here’s a thing– the publisher had less of an investment in her with a one shot deal. So she ignored the business, and didn’t think through another basic fundamental for a new author: earning back your advance is more a sign of success than total copies sold at that level.  So sometimes it’s better to take less up front. I did that numerous times through my 42 traditionally published books. Take a $15,000 advance and earn $14,000 you failed. Take a $10,000 advance and earn $12,000 and you’re more a success than the first author who actually earned more. Crazy? Sorta. But publishing doesn’t make sense because it’s part of . . .
  8. The Entertainment Business. Entertainment is emotional. Business is numbers. They don’t mesh. But they do. I now have over 70 books published. That’s a number. It leads to emotion, which is my appreciation for the checks that come in every month.
  9. Even she realizes it when she says she’d sign a contract in blood for $40,000. These days, what one can do is earn $40,000 by writing your ass off and self-pubbing. Nowhere does she mention leveraging those great reviews and rewards (they actually could be useful, but not in the way she’s doing it, looking backwards, but moving forward) to become a hybrid author. One wonders if she even knows what that is.

To sum up the last paragraph with the real truth?

The reality about making money as a writer is your work your ass off, you write all the time, whether you’re tired, sick, or the muse is taking a crap, sometimes on your head. You learn the business and run a business. 

Her last sentence is backwards and modified. Here’s mine:





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