Wednesday, January 22, 2014


These days, authors are falling into three categories depending on how they offer, and subsequently publish, their books. In the bad old days, there was one way only: traditional publishers of the New York variety, plus a few small companies (offering no advances) which sprang up with the invention of POD (Print on Demand). Finally, Amazon not only presented the Kindle e-reader, but also allowed any writer to be published by them independently at virtually no cost.

So then there were two avenues: Trad or Indie. And now there’s a third, the Hybrid, consisting of authors who publish both Traditionally and Independently. Although this third group is, early reports show, making more money than the other two, my post today isn’t about which track you, as an author, should pursue. It’s about a long-overdue dialogue between the two sides.

If you follow a few popular blogs, you already know about what happened last week: a marathon post between Steven Zacharius, CEO of Kensington Publishing and Joe Konrath, an Indie proponent, who has earned millions of dollars from his books by switching from traditional publishers to go it alone.

To bring you at least slightly up to date on how this happened, it seems a woman novelist posted an article about her earnings, which led to Mr. Zacharius writing an article about the pitfalls of self-publishing. At this point, Joe Konrath stepped in to answer the CEO’s questions and ask a few of his own. (“A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing”) The points raised in this exchange were enlightening to say the least.

After three generations and forty years of traditional publishing in his family-owned company’s operations, the Kensington CEO cannot, or so far, will not, understand why authors turn down Trad contracts in favor of DIY. I give him credit for trying and, possibly breaking the ice in a relationship that should be more partnership than it has been since book publishing began.

For instance, were you aware that before we adopted Copyright laws, Charles Dickens came to the U.S. to protest the “pirating” by American publishers of books published in Europe? They simply boarded a ship in New York, bought copyrighted books, returned home and then reproduced them here and paid the authors nothing.

Yes, we’re now protected by Copyright, but Trad contracts are still heavily weighted in favor of publishers, not writers who actually produced the product. Harlequin’s rating dropped from ten to one when the lawsuit against them revealed they "screwed" (the judge’s word) the authors by taking away in a later contract clause what authors were given in an earlier clause.

My favorite part of the dialogue between Zacharius and Konrath was when the publisher said they couldn’t pay authors royalties more often than four times a year because of the time required to deal with “thousands of books and hundreds of authors.” Konrath’s reply was one line:

“Amazon handles hundreds of thousands of books and pays monthly.”

I’m an optimist, so I think something good will come of this. If not Kensington, then some other “big” publisher will wake up to the present and realize that without change, they have no future.

Joe Konrath
The Passive Voice

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