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05 April 2013 @ 01:45 pm
Traditional V. New Digital Publishing: Fight!  

I have a perpetual case of “Ooh, shiny!” in terms of wanting to do new projects; everyone, I think, knows that at this point. (And I am doing my damndest to keep it under control, but nevermind that right now.) Part of this is because new things are fun; part of it is unquestionably financially motivated.

At EasterCon, I was talking with Walter Jon Williams about selling through Amazon (“I get a nice check every month from them,” he said. “It’s a bit like receiving your pension from Darth Vader, but at least they pay on time.”) and other online retailers. He’s got a 20-book backlist that he’s been able to put back into circulation on his own, which is obviously one of the most awesome aspects of the brave new digital world.

I confess that in some ways I’m a little envious of that. Which is silly: my books are still in print, which is clearly the ideal situation. Still, I dearly love the idea of having things out there digitally that will result in a monthly check arriving on the doorstep. I haven’t gotten paid that regularly for the considerably better part of a decade now.

To clarify, in case it needs clarification: at the moment, I can only be certain of getting a royalty statement 4 times a year, and those can be accompanied by (historically) anything between $0 and $15K or so. I have no idea how much I’m going to be paid until the check actually arrives. This year, for example, I also have two books to deliver, and I’ll be paid for those when I deliver them. Then I’m out of contract, which means the four annual royalty payments are the only money I can count on for the next while. So the idea of having digital projects out there to help smooth that over is pretty enticing.

Now, I suffer from perpetual confidence and the belief that nearly anything I write could be sold to a traditional publisher. This (to me) makes the idea of writing something just for digital publication a little…bonkers. Because unless I reach some kind of critical mass (or unless B&N goes bankrupt, but let’s not go there now), more people are still going to look for, find, and buy my books in a bricks-and-mortar store than will look online for them. OTOH, let’s say I’ve written an entire book on spec and submit it to a publisher today. And then let’s say what follows happens in a bizarrely perfect and ideal world:

My editor has the time and reads the book this week (never happens). She loves it. She takes it to the next sales meeting. Let’s pretend the sales meeting happens to be next Friday, so she brings it in and pitches it. Everybody else loves it too. In fact, they love it so much they immediately make an egregious offer, which I accept without quibble (this is, after all, fantasy). It takes a month to get the contract ironed out, and six weeks after that to cut the on-signing portion of the advance check. It has now been three months since I submitted the book and I’ve been paid once.

The book is slotted into the production schedule, and will come out thirteen months from contract, which is pretty fast. They give me the rest of the advance money when the book comes out. So now I’ve gotten paid twice in fifteen months.

Then there’s no more money from that book until and unless it earns out, which means it makes the publisher all the money they advanced to me. Only after that do I see any royalties, and in my personal best-case scenario there, it takes a year to start getting royalties checks.

I have now gotten paid 3 times in 2.5 years.

If I write a whole book and put it up on the e-retailers today, I start getting checks 60 days from the end of this month, and keep getting them monthly unless the book earns under $100 in a month’s sales.

That’s, um. A lot easier to live on. Even if it’s a small number of sales and therefore money, guessing that you’ve got (even say) $500/m to rely on makes budgeting considerably easier.

So although as a rule, I’m not convinced writing for a strictly digital audience is really the way to go, at the same time, I’d really kind of love to have another book or two that I could produce for digital and print on demand, just to ease the way.

Of course, that way lies crowdfunding, and we’re not going there today. :)

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

Chrysoulachrysoula on April 5th, 2013 04:11 pm (UTC)
So... here's what gets me about the traditional publishing situation;

Nobody seems to talk about how egregious the _standard_ contracts are. A month to get the contract ironed out? Really? Because, presumably, the contract has all sorts of things in it that publishers slip in as a matter of course and a contract-expert needs to slip right out again, etc, etc, yes?

I say this from the perspective of having signed three contracts now with quite simple terms. Admittedly, no money up front, yadda yadda, you can assume they're terrible no-advance publishers if you want, but... the first one, which I went over with a fine-toothed comb and Absolute Write open beside me, took me a week and that was with some mild fixes to the language.

And I'm currently working on a project that is technically on-spec but approved, with a contract and an advance at the end, and from what I understand their contract is much more like the micro-press style than the big house: taking only minimal rights required to put out the specific material.

I'm not trying to get into an argument about indie vs trad, because I don't have a hill I'm invested in defending. It's just that people talk about various aspects of trad. publishing and why they simply _have_ to be the way they are (or occasionally, why tradition has made them that way and momentum makes it hard to change) but nobody ever talks about the contract wrangling that seems so standard. I noticed this with the recent dust-up over Hydra. Hydra was called out for especially egregious terms which resulted in a lot of conversations across the divide like 'they want terms for life of copyright? monstrous!' 'oh no that's normal, it's just most contracts have reversion terms too'. It's weird, you know?
kitmizkit on April 5th, 2013 05:12 pm (UTC)
A month to get the contract ironed out? Really? Because, presumably, the contract has all sorts of things in it that publishers slip in as a matter of course and a contract-expert needs to slip right out again, etc, etc, yes?

Yes. And publishers are not above handing a boilerplate contract out in hopes of slipping one past one's agent, even if said agent always makes *at least* the same changes--a boilerplate of her own--and so on and so forth. And there are at least three people involved, generally: writer, agent, editor, where 'editor' may involve 'entire publishing team', as far as I can tell.
Lola: Meidancewithlife on April 5th, 2013 06:46 pm (UTC)
Off topic (sort of), but I wanted to tell you that I backed _No Dominion_ because it sounded interesting. Before I read ND, I got all the rest of the Urban Shaman series on audiobook and *LOVED* them. They had twists I didn't expect, I wasn't sure until it happened who she was going to hook up with (although I suspected and hoped), the friendships in them are amazing, and the portrayal of magic is positive and accurate (based on the reading I've done) without being "cultist" in any way. My favorite was probably _Spirit Dances_ because...well, Morrison as a wolf...but also because of the whole idea of the dances as a way to heal society. I finished all of them in a couple of weeks and am now going through severe withdrawal waiting for the next one (I did find and read the shorts, also). I plan to read your other books as well (or listen to them), but I just wanted to fangirl squee a little, and tell you I'd certainly back any crowdfunding project you do for Urban Shaman, and probably for anything else at this point :-)
kit: walkerpapersmizkit on April 6th, 2013 07:47 am (UTC)
Oh, <3. That is so cool. There's no real way for me to tell (unless someone like you tells me!) whether completely new readers came in through NO DOMINION, so wow, that's *awesome*. Thank you! <3

Truth is, aside from something as unique as NO DOMINION, anything Walker-Papers-related is likely to be sold to my publisher, rather than crowdfunded. :)
Lola: Meidancewithlife on April 6th, 2013 08:26 am (UTC)
I'll read them no matter how you get them to us. :-)
Deborah Blakedeborahblakehps on April 5th, 2013 07:15 pm (UTC)
Publishing. Oy. A whole lot of hurry up and wait :-)
A large duck: booksburger_eater on April 5th, 2013 07:37 pm (UTC)
I think one of the benefits of putting out a book by yourself is that you can time it with a traditional release. Self-publish a month before your next NY book and let the backlist bump put extra dough in your pocket from that other new book.

Alternately, self-publish a month or two after the NY book and puff up the sales for your publisher.

As Tim Pratt said on Twitter, his traditionally published books are becoming loss leaders for his self-published ones.
kitmizkit on April 6th, 2013 07:48 am (UTC)
I've seen Tim say that too, yeah. That's kind of crazy. Welcome to the future. :)