Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Big Gun Walks Away from a Huge Trade Deal to Indie ePub & Other Explosions from Publishing’s Front Lines

Yes, it’s true, successful thriller author Barry Eisler just walked away from a hefty 500K deal with Minotaur Books in a decision to self-publish his next novel, The Detachment. He had apparently been talking heatedly with self-pubbing guru, and fellow thriller writer, Joe Konrath, in order to learn all the digital angles before he took the plunge. In Eisler’s words: "it wasn't just that the 17.5% ebook royalty publishers are offering was looking less and less attractive compared to the 70% I can make on my own. It was that, combined with the way I saw the industry changing, along with my growing understanding of the overall longterm value of a legacy publishing deal vs the overall longterm value of going it alone."

Makes horrible sense. Publishers Weekly reported that there’s been a definitive rise in eBook sales. Bookstores can’t seem to sell enough books to stay out of financial trouble, and more and more folks are buying kindles, iPads and the like. I feel the burn too. In the Catskills, where I often go to escape the frenzy of NYC, the last great indie bookstore, Hamish & Henry is closing shop. I can’t find even a cruddy bookstore within a 50 or 60-mile radius. This lovely bookstore was the lifeblood of the western Catskill community. They hosted readings and talks and all kinds of fun parties. No holding back “progress” I guess. Ebooks are a sensible answer to the many, many people who love to read, and happen to live in places lacking a decent bookstore.

I’m a person who sees the glass half full, though. I see the revolts in the Middle East as exciting (not the bloodshed, but the overthrow of the 30 and 40-year stranglehold on the people)—a true reformation of the people, by the people. I also see this revolution in the book industry as potentially exciting, albeit scary.

Trade publishers are handing out less contracts as their budgets shrink. Smaller advances too. Bookstore chains are suffering. And forget about the smaller mom & pops. If amazon offers a 70 percent royalty on indie eBooks, why would an author be so incredibly excited about a much lower eBook royalty from a trade publisher? This phenom is similar to what happened in the music industry. You can’t find a good CD store anymore. If you want to buy an album (an old term already!), you head on over to iTunes and download one for half the price. The musicians still get paid (mainly earning their keep from touring anyway), and without all the middlemen.

On the flip side, self-pubbed superstar, Amanda Hocking is headed in the exact opposite direction. Grass is always greener, right? Word has it that she’s shopped around her new series to trade publishers. To quote the New York Times article: “On the same day Barry Eisler turned down half a million dollars from Minotaur to self-publish, news emerged publicly that Amanda Hocking appears to be doing the exact opposite. Yesterday afternoon we finally caught wind of what many in the industry have known about for weeks now, which is that agent Steve Axelrod is shopping her new four-book series to publishers, attracting bids of well over $1 million for world English rights."

Lastly, read the link about another self-pubbed book, Faking It by Elisa Lorello, that has caught fire.

Still, it’s a serious leap of faith for anyone who has struggled and sweated to finally land a book contract, or two, or three… and get published the traditional way, to even think about going rogue. As of now, I’m just a very interested bystander. Print will be around for a long time. Or, in Amanda Hocking's own words, "I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret: This isn't an either/or situation (print vs digital). You guys are both on the same team - Team Writer."


  1. An interesting debate, huh, Catherine?
    We had a great discussion on self pubbing and e-Books last night on #kidlitchat and will do it again on #yalitchat tonight with Shannon Delany.

    I will miss the paper book and I could live in a bookstore but hey we have to evolve.

    Hopefully see you tonight!

  2. I believe the ONE and only major change is that authors and the industry are starting to see that there are more choices for our works. An author should evaluate their own personal goals, ability, desires and if they don't want to do the lions share of marketing and pushing of their books, and if they want to work with a trade publisher for one work and self-pub another the author has choices. Who says you have to pick one or the other? Being an author is owning a business and the assets of that business is your work. Therefore, an author may chose to self pub their shorts, and a few of their other works, while trade publishing another. What's wrong with that? It's the way things are supposed to be. Why does everyone in this business think you have to take sides. Every other business seeks every opportunity to sell their stuff, why shouldn't authors.

  3. Wow. Interesting about Amanda Hocking. A friend kept using her as my inspiration not to give up, that I could do it on my own. I don't judge either writer for their decisions. Everyone's situation is so nuanced that we could never truly know how we'd react in the same context. Regardless, I'm sure they'll both be doing fine for themselves. I'd be thrilled with a sliver of their success.

  4. Brilliant post, especially the bit about Amanda Hocking. Hers is a truly inspirational story.

  5. Allison, I'm sure they will! And LM, I do agree with you. Personally, I'd like to eventually do both. The keyword is eventually.

  6. This certainly is interesting. I can see people doing as Amanda Hocking is suggesting--both! If you have a manuscript that is being turned down by the big NY houses, maybe self-pubbing isn't a bad idea. Why shouldn't we are writers try to be part of both worlds?

  7. Very interesting! I'm curious to see how the routes Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking chose will work out for them.

  8. Good, timely post. I think all of us aspiring authors need to carefully consider our objectives and figure out which route works best.

  9. Yes, yes, yes to both Samantha and Bryan's questions! It will be very interesting to watch both cases. Personally, I'd love to eventually try both.

  10. Go Team Writer!!!

    I'm excited to see what Hocking comes up with for her new book series. As long as it's done well, I don't have any problem with how it's made.

  11. Great post Catherine. You know self publishing seems to be becoming a more viable option, especially for people who have the ability to hire an editor and cover designer. (And w/ Kickstart I think more ppl have that ability).