The state of publishing 2017

Larry Correia fisks a minor author who appears to be hell-bent on convincing herself that mainstream publishing is the only way to go despite having sold fewer books than every single Castalia House author:

I realized that Laurie wasn’t providing writing advice for people who actually want to make a decent living as writers. She is providing advice to people who want to be aloof artistes at dinner parties, before they go back to their day job at Starbucks.

As for what Laurie says about gatekeepers, it is all horse shit. She has no flipping idea what she’s talking about.

Publishers are the “gatekeepers”. If they like you, you’re in, and if they don’t like you, you’re out. Problem is, at best they only have so many publishing slots to fill every year, so they cater to some markets, and leave others to languish. And at worst, they are biased human beings, who often have their heads inserted into their own rectums.

Agents represent the author. Their job is to find stuff they think they can sell to a publisher, and then they keep 15%. So “good” is secondary to “Can I sell this to the gatekeepers?” And then we’re back to slots and rectums.

Editors try to make the author’s stuff better. Period. They aren’t gate keepers, because it is their job to make the stuff that got through the gate suck less (seriously, the HuffPo should hire one).  Only self-published authors can hire editors too. Andy Weir hired Bryan Thomas Schmidt to edit the original self-published The Martian. Last I heard that book did okay.

“National and international reviewers” are on the wrong side of the gate, and I’m baffled why she included them. Reviewers come along after the fact, some are useful, but most aren’t. Even though I was ignored or despised by most of the big review places for most of my career, they haven’t made a lick of difference to my sales.

These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good.

The problem is that “good” is subjective. What you personally think is “good” is irrelevant when there are a million consumers who disagree. I wouldn’t buy a copy of Twilight, but the author lives in a house made out of solid gold bars. “Good” is arbitrary. The real question is whether your product is sellable. (and yes, it is just a product, get over yourself)

Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.

It was the only system we had before technology came along and upset their apple cart.

When only the gatekeepers could vet what was “good”, sometimes they were right, but since often the “professionals” were 20 something lit majors just out of college, or some clueless weasel who had spent his whole existence in the echo chamber of Manhattan publishing, often the system fed its own tastes and ignored vast swaths of the market.

And when you neglect a market, it will spend its entertainment dollars elsewhere. So in this case, competition is good. Because the real competition isn’t between traditional and indy publishing, it is between reading and movies and video games and streaming. Ultimately the market decides who wins, not some self-appointed gatekeeper.

As Larry correctly observes, her atttitude is that of an author who is more interested in personal validation than professional status. The viability of independent publishing doesn’t mean there isn’t some advantage to publishing with the Big Five, especially if your name happens to begin with MILO. But, as in so many other things, what works for Milo is very unlikely to work for you. He’s a genuine star. Regardless, even very successful independent writers who sell millions of copies don’t hit #1 on Amazon months before release.

Nor is print anywhere close to dead. It’s not really fair to compare our print sales to our digital sales, since less than one-third of our books are in print yet and we have even fewer audio books out, but the breakdown of Castalia’s 2016 book sales is as follows:

  • 67.8% ebook
  • 20.5% print edition
  • 07.5% Kindle Unlimited
  • 04.2% audiobook

That’s unexpected, since we originally assumed Castalia would be an ebook-only publisher. But the real game changer, where the mainstream publishers are concerned, is KU. They don’t play there and they can’t afford to play there. And since publishing is a negative sum game, every $12 million paid out per month by Amazon probably represents at least another $48 million in revenue lost to the major publishers plus around $10 million lost to the authors published by them. It’s my suspicion that Amazon tries to set the KU compensation so that an author will make roughly the same amount from a KU sale-equivalent that he’ll make from conventional publishing sale, rather than the same amount he’ll make from an ebook sale.

KU isn’t great for independent publishers even though some of our big books pay out more per book equivalent than we make per sale. For reference, the average KU payout per page was $0.004848 in 2016. But at least we can afford to be there.