Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Since I posted about this last week, Hugh Howey issued two more reports, one about the fact that, unlike the 7,000 best-selling books that were analyzed in the first report, the second analyzed over 50,000. The third report analyzed Barnes & Noble’s sales.

But before commenting on those, I’ll repeat some of the complaints put forth by BPH (Big Publishing Houses) insiders and friends, and compare them to the facts those earnings reports revealed.

* Digital Book World reluctantly admitted that self-published writers now had access to distribution of their work. However, they believe authors “hope” to have influence with BPH or even manage to be offered a contract.

The hundreds of comments posted thereafter seem to show the truth is that more and more traditionally-published authors are leaving BPH and newer, younger ones don’t want to go there at all.

* DBW also said that “only authors at the very top can afford to quit their day job.”

The Passive Voice blogger disagrees. “If it were worded, ‘Many authors who can’t quit their day jobs in traditional publishing, can do so when they self-publish,’ he would agree.” And PG’s figures prove his point.

* Phil Ebersole’s Blog compared Amazon to Walmart and stated, “First you gain an initial advantage through economies of scale. squeeze your suppliers to keep prices low so you knock out small competitors and keep new competitors from emerging. Meanwhile, you treat your ... employees like dirt.”

I don’t know what Walmart does, but the 78 comments that followed that outburst revealed plenty of facts to dispute such a claim as well as huge numbers of writers reporting gratitude to Amazon.

* * *
Howey’s second report looks at 54,000 titles of which 60% were non-fiction, 2% were literary fiction and 20% were children’s books. A mere 22% were genre fiction (which was the only category used in the first report). Nevertheless, that category comprises 69% of the best-sellers and 61% of the daily sales. As for revenues, while the Big Five collect 55% of it, their authors only get 39% of that and Indie authors get 61% of theirs.

* * *
In the Barnes & Noble report, Howey studied 54,000 best selling books in the same genres as before. Of those, Indie published books represented 53% of the best sellers, and books from small or medium-sized publishers another 23%, leaving only 26% for the Big Five publishers.

Indie titles made up a third of B&N e-book sales, and, together with smaller publishers, equaled half of them, the same as all Big Five combined. It’s only when you look at publisher income that the Big Five show 70%, and that’s because BPH books cost more than self-published ones and publishers take most of the profit. However, on a daily sales basis, author income matches publishers’ income more closely: 48% to 52%. Contrary to what BPH leaders say, readers choose to buy almost as many Indie books.

In this last report, Howey discussed something he wrote in the first. Because of the numbers, it appeared possible readers rated BPH books lower than Indie-published because they resented the BPH books’ higher prices. That may not be true: instead, higher ratings may simply mean the readers liked those books better.

* * *
This post is already too long, but you can find lots more pro-and-con on the Internet yourself. I’ll close with a post from the blog of Eoin Purcell, Editorial Director at New Island Books, an Irish publisher.

* “...the truth is, if there was a war between self-publishing and publishing, it’s over because authors (who are the major self-publishers and hence the foot-soldiers...) have won it. Yes, many people are still fighting that war on both sides of the debate, and it may well be some time before the most reluctant publishers realize that their cause is lost, but the gains made by self-publishing have been so pronounced, so rapid, and what is most important, so irreversible, that it’s time to call it done.”

Personally, I’m calling it done.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Last week’s brouhaha was about Hugh Howey’s post with a survey done by a computer-expert friend who managed to take Amazon’s data and turn it into numbers that revealed self-publishing is already overtaking the Big publishers. The report is titled “Author Earnings” and is at Last week the survey, as well as the blog posts which copied it, were so popular that many sites crashed temporarily.

Besides the mind-boggling information, the survey author provided links to where he got his data, so others could replicate--or put their own interpretation on--what he’d done. In addition, Howey cautioned viewers that the sample used was relatively small, and that further work would be done to improve the accuracy of the results.

Nevertheless, the data shows several things which Indie authors have known or suspected for a long time, so joy spread throughout the Blogosphere.

I’m a relative newcomer to self-publishing, but, although not one of the 100 Amazon best-sellers whose statistics were used, I could relate to a lot of what was shown in those great pie charts and graphs.

1. The first thing I appreciated was Howey reminded us some people (traditional publishing insiders and their fans) keep saying very few authors who self-publish ever sell many books or make any money, especially compared to “six-figure advances” offered by the Big-Five. Yet, how many writers are offered those advances, and, even more important, how many writers who try for such contracts ever get published AT ALL. As others have pointed out recently, self-publishing is a “shadow industry” because no one, until now, had data to show how big it really is.

2. The Value Ratio was another eye-opener. This chart showed the e-books with the highest prices (Big Five publishers) received the reviewers’ lowest scores. I think Howey is right when he assumes readers resent high prices and might give low-point reviews because of perceived value for the money spent. High prices not only cause lower ratings, but may drive readers to cheaper books, namely the self-published. Are the Big Five actually empowering the Indie revolution?

3. The data surveyed was based on the three most-popular genres in Fiction: Romance, Mystery/Thriller and Science Fiction/Fantasy. Why not? They make up 70% of the Amazon top 100 best sellers. And guess what? Indie authors are outselling the Big Five. COMBINED. It turns out 92% of the 100 best-selling books are self-published, and 86% of the 2500 best-sellers are.

There’s lots more to discuss, and next week I’ll comment on the backlash the survey produced and the responses those received from top-selling Indie authors such as Hugh, Joe Konrath, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith and others.

* * *
CORRECTION: I was mistaken last week when I said the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo were in 1994. It was actually 1984, and, this being the 30th anniversary of the event, on February 14, 2014, Torvill and Dean returned and repeated their seven-perfect-scores performance to Ravel’s “Bolero.” Had I not been following them via the UK, I’d never have known because no one in this country--or in Sochi, Russia--mentioned it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


The winter Olympics are stealing my writing time. Thank goodness it only happens once every four years. And I’m not even interested in winter sports. I grew up in Illinois and I hated winter because I was always cold. Now you know why I currently live in the Coachella Valley east of Los Angeles, where summer temperatures are in the triple digits. However, right now the temperature is in the 70s and 80s and the snowbirds have returned from where they spent their summers. Maybe Illinois.

Actually I don’t lose as much time as I might. Ever since about the late 1980s when we suddenly had two television sets and two VCRs (remember those?) we’ve always taped the current day’s Olympic events and watched them the following night. That way we could Fast Forward through all the commercials, the interviews with athletes we knew nothing about, and skipped events we didn’t want to watch (Luge, anyone?) And, trust me, you haven‘t seen speed skating until you fast-forward through it on an old VCR. True, we were always a day late, but who cares.

Summer Olympics are a different matter, because, although I never skiied or ice skated as a child, I did swim and dive (I did a passable Jacknife) and envied people with incredible gymnastics skills. In fact, we attended the Closing Ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. I won’t repeat that here, but, if you’re interested, click over to my website, click on “Beyond Writing” and then “1984 Olympics.”

If I’m not mistaken, 1994 was the year of the Winter Olympics in which the incredible British ice-dancing team of Torvill and Dean won Gold along with the hearts of the audience. Their Olympic win was for their skating to Ravel’s “Bolero,” but we also got to see their World Gold medal performance to the music from MAC AND MABEL, a Broadway musical. At one point, their originality and skill brought the audience to its feet, screaming. I had a strong feeling that if the judges hadn’t given them the Gold, they’d have been attacked by an angry mob.

That was a tape I never erased and, now transferred to a DVD, I can replay it whenever I like. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll watch that this week, too.


As I write this post, I’m learning that a new survey, comparing Self-Publishing to Trad Publishing, is sweeping the Internet and being reproduced on several writers’ blogs. In order to do the subject justice, I’ll discuss it next time.

And for readers in Wisconsin, my dear friend, Brad Schreiber, is giving a one-week course at the University in Madison, June 16-20. The title is “The Writer’s Toolkit for Improving Fiction and Non-Fiction,” and Brad has been teaching writing and Screen Writing in Los Angeles for twenty years.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Recently, I read that a couple of well-known authors (one of them Philip Roth) have decided to stop writing novels, presumably because of advancing age. That was in 2012 when Roth was 79 years old. The other author, a woman whose name escapes me now, was slightly older. It made me sad to think they believed their age would prevent them from writing good fiction in the future.

Then, on January 27, 2014, The New York Times ran an article, “The Older Mind May Just Be a Fuller Mind,” which pointed out that the studies we’ve been reading for years about how our brain declines with age, may be just - well, wrong.

Surveys are only as good as the questions they ask and the persons they ask them of. My favorite example of how misleading that can be deals with a survey linking alcohol consumption with shorter life spans. It said that people who drank “moderately” lived longer than teetotalers, those who didn’t drink at all. A later study pointed out that the wrong question had been asked. Instead of “Do you consume alcohol heavily, moderately or not at all?” they should have asked, “Have you ever consumed alcohol?” Why? Because the earlier survey question ended up including members of AA and people whose doctors had recently advised them to quit. “Have you ever consumed alcohol?” revealed lifetime teetotalers actually lived longer than anyone else.

Scientists who were questioned for the New York Times article pointed out that earlier studies had asked the wrong question or the wrong people. The newer studies revealed that older people don’t have to lose brain function with age. When a survey used words and phrases that a 70-year-old educated person would likely know, and a separate set of words that 20-somethings would know, 75% of the difference between the groups disappeared.

Older people have lived longer (duh!) and therefore know more. That is to say, the larger the library in your mind, the longer it might take you to find a particular word. It goes without saying that many people remain quick-witted into their 90s, so individuals’ rapid (or slow) decline may have less to do with them than the study method used. For instance, early studies didn’t measure the effects of pre-symptomatic Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Laura Carstenson, a psychologist at Stanford University, found that people develop a bias toward words that have a positive association for them. Therefore, just asking them to memorize random word pairs, like “ostrich and house,” don’t reveal the actual memory of many patients and “put older people at a disadvantage.”

This digital-age challenge to “cognitive decline” serves as an explanation for so-called “senior moments.” It’s not that you’re slow. It’s that you know so much.

So, give me a minute and I’ll remember the name of that other author I mentioned in the first paragraph.