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Category : The Business of Writing
In this week’s issue of Publisher’s Weekly, they have their annual report on the bestsellers of the previous year. I always enjoy reading about it and discussing it with authors, because nothing gives perspective more than a number. You see, authors like to talk about having books “sell a million copies,” and I’ve frequently seen proposals in which writers make wild promises about selling millions, since the audience for a particular topic is considered huge. (“There are 246 million people with dandruff in this country! There’s a ginormous market for my book on hair care!”)
But then every spring PW releases its report, and everyone gets a dose of reality. How many hardcover novels sold a million copies in 2013? One — Dan Brown’s Inferno. How many hardcover nonfiction books sold a million copies? Three — Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus and two of the “Duck Commander” books, Happy, Happy, Happy and Si-Cology. How many trade paper books sold a million copies? One — and it was released decades ago… F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. There was only one mass market book that sold a million copies, proving that this formerly big-number format is quickly dying off, replaced by digital books — George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.
On the children’s side, there were a handful of books that passed the million mark. Jeff Kinney’s Hard Luck: Diary of a Wimpy Kid #8 sold more than three million copies, and was the biggest seller in one format of any book sold last year. But Veronica Roth’s Allegiant and Insurgent, Rick Riordan’s The House of Hades, and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars also hit the mark. (Two other titles probably did: Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham, but the numbers are unclear because of several factors.) Still, when it comes to print copies, that means there were
by Ghostwriter [While this says it’s written by Chip MacGregor, it is not. It’s written by a professional collaborative writer who is a friend — Chip just posted it.]
Hi. I’m Ghostwriter and I’m the collaborative author of an engineered bestseller.
The news that Mars Hill Church paid ResultSource about $200,000 to get Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list shocked a lot of people. For me, that news solved a mystery.
As I already mentioned, I am a collaborative author and occasionally a ghostwriter. Although I am a published author in my own right, I learned long ago that I could earn a much better living helping other people write their books. It’s a good life, and I enjoy my work. Nevertheless, I still hope that someday I’ll see one of my books on a bestseller list—any bestseller list.
This explains my obsession with Amazon rankings and sales figures.
I know, I know…
You have to take Amazon numbers with several hundred grains of salt. I get that. But I still enjoy checking my author page and seeing how many copies of my books have sold in the previous week. Generally, the numbers are unremarkable. Sometimes they are depressing. But a while back those numbers astonished and mystified me.
I’d collaborated on a book with a megachurch pastor and, although it was a contract job for which I received a flat fee and no royalties, I asked for and received cover credit. Because my name was on the cover, I was able to list the book on my Amazon author page and track its sales statistics. Even though I wasn’t going to receive royalties for the book, I was still curious to see how well it was selling.
So I set the book up and waited for the launch date. The first week’s sales stats took my breath away. The book went from zero
I was once let go from a job in publishing for “creative differences,” the same week another guy was let go, at another company, for some very different reasons. We worked in the same industry, are the same race and age, and he lived in a city where I had once lived. Several people got our stories mixed up. I had a writing conference cancel my participation at their event, saying they had heard rumors that cast me in a bad light, and that they didn’t want me coming. You can imagine my surprise when I was told they were un-inviting me, since none of what they’d heard was actually true. I invited them to call my former boss, to talk with the people around me, and to check my references. But I also got angry — I mean, they made their decisions based on a RUMOR? They’d never even called me to ask about it? They never checked facts with anyone at my former employer? Nope. They just heard a story and took it as gospel … and, to make matters worse, the other guy (the one who had actually been fired from that other house) was scheduled to speak at their conference. (I didn’t mention that to the conference director. I figured she could figure out the truth on her own damn time.)
I’ve never gone back to that conference, and I’ve never forgotten how much that error hurt. It’s why I want to make sure I get my facts straight on the stories I write, so that I don’t share something hurtful about somebody unfairly. I don’t mind offering bad news, and I realize some people will read my blog to get some information that publishers are too frequently reluctant to share, but I want to make sure I get my facts correct.
Here’s why I mention all of this: I got a couple of phone calls
Last week I made a point of saying that I think a guy who buys his way onto the bestseller lists is a weasel, and I had a bunch of people write to ask me why. This is a worthwhile topic for everyone in publishing, so let me offer some background…
Mark Driscoll pastors a large church in Seattle. Last fall he was accused of plagiarizing the words of another author, Peter Jones, in his latest book, and in addition there were other examples given of him plagiarizing, including pages of text recreated word-for-word from a Bible commentary and stuck into one of the church’s publications. The people at Driscoll’s church made the situation worse, first claiming it was okay because one of the obviously plagiarized documents had never been sold, then changing their story when it turns out it had indeed been sold, but saying they hadn’t made much, then blaming it all on un unnamed research assistant (even though it had Mark Driscoll’s name on it), then taking pains to criticize the “haters” instead of owning up to their own ignorance and laziness. The whole thing was a mess. Driscoll clearly plagiarized (whether you want to cut him slack and call it something else), and his publisher examined the book and released a statement that admitted there were “inadequate citations,” but defending him for handling the situation well. In the end, the entire mess faded away. I was a bit surprised, since I’ve seen books get cancelled and editorial careers get ruined over less than this. Still, we all moved on.
Until last week, when it was revealed that Rev. Driscoll had paid a marketing firm, ResultSource, more than $200,000 to get his book onto the New York Time bestseller list. The scheme included hiring people to purchase 6000 copies of the book in bookstores, then ordering another 5000 copies in bulk. They even made sure to use
There has been a ton of discussion over a report on author earnings by ebook authors (which you can find here: http://authorearnings.com/the-report/), the response to it (http://tinyurl.com/pcebsd5), and the responses to the responses (two of the best are http://tinyurl.com/kbjts5s and http://tinyurl.com/omkjz6v ). If you follow this discussions in our industry, you already know what’s going on: successful self-published author of Wool, Hugh Howey, did a bunch of research and came to the conclusion that self-published authors are selling more books and making more money than those publishing with traditional publishers. It was quickly pointed out that there were some problems with Howey’s work — he sells his books on Amazon, did all his research on Amazon, and (surprise!) came to the conclusion that Amazon is a great place to do your ebooks. Nevertheless, there were really some interesting things that showed up in his research:
—Indie-published ebooks have generally higher ratings on Amazon than Legacy-published ebooks.
—Indie-published ebooks generally cost less than Legacy-published ebooks, possibly leading consumers to the sense of getting better value from indies.
—Indie-published ebooks may be outselling Legacy-published ebooks (this is more inferred than proven).
—Indie-published ebooks constitute a larger percentage of books sales than we’ve been led to believe in the past (Howey estimates it’s more than 50% of all book sales, though his methodology lacks stringent validity testing).
—Indie-published authors of ebooks are earning more per book than Legacy-published ebook authors. (Though his argument that Indie-published authors are making more overall is based on very shaky evidence.)
It’s all fascinating stuff, and I believe his conclusion that publishing’s brightest days are ahead is spot-on. As an agent, I’ve never felt I was one of the people who needed to protect the status quo — the fact is, I believe in authors self-publishing.. Unfortunately, the debate that arose after Howey released his findings was considerably less than insightful. It’s become a fairly
A couple of people read my Tuesday blog and asked me, “What does a writing budget look like?”
Here’s the basic idea…
1. The author sets a financial goal for the year. It’s got to be something that is livable (if the writer is attempting to make this a full-time job) and reachable (so there’s no setting a goal of “a bazillion dollars”). Let’s say, for someone just moving into full-time writing, the goal is $24,000 per year. Skinny, but a real wage for most writers. So figure out how much you need to earn in a year from your writing.
2. I encourage an author to break that annual figure into monthly chunks — so in our example, the author’s goal is $2000 per month.
3. The next step is to add up what the author expects to earn on the writing they are doing. How much in contracts does she already have? What other writing does she know she’ll be doing and getting paid for? That will help her figure out how much money is coming in, and how much she needs to add. Let’s say an author has a royalty check coming in May, expects to have completion money on a book contract in July, has a couple of self-published books releasing in April and August, and is expecting to sell a project in October. All you have to do is to figure out the amounts and write them onto your writing calendar. Nothing will give an author more clarity than hard numbers written down on a calendar — it’s a way of saying, “I’m making this… so now I need to work to make that.”
4. The obvious thing to do next is to match up dates and amounts. If you know you’re going to be working on a book in March/April/May, you can write down how much you’re making on that project. By
If you are unaware, there is a ton of discussion going on right now over a report on author earnings done by a self-published author, what he discovered when he did some research, and how authors, agents, and publishers have responded to his findings. I’m in the midst of studying the whole schlamozzle before I respond, but all the discussion basically comes down to this question: How can an author have a career in today’s publishing climate?
I have a background in organizational development — that is, the study of how an organization grows and changes over time. My graduate training was in organizational theory, and during my PhD studies at the University of Oregon, I had a Graduate Teaching Fellowship to work at the Career Planning office, helping create tools to assist those graduating, particularly those getting graduate degrees in the arts. During my studies at the U of O (Go Ducks!), the focus eventually was on helping people in the arts map out a career plan, and that experience allowed me the opportunity to apply the principles of organizational theory to the real-world setting of trying to make a living via one’s art. In my job as a literary agent, I’ve found that experience has proven helpful when talking to writers about their careers. You see, my contention is that some people pay lip service to “helping with career planning,” but many don’t really have a method for doing that. (Actually, from the look of it, some don’t even know what it means. I think “having a career plan” to some authors is equivalent to “having a book contract.”) So here are a few things I like to consider when talking with a writer…
First, I want to get to know the author. Who is he (or she)? What’s the platform she brings to the process? Does she speak? If so, where? How often? To whom? To how
I was on a long plane flight last week, and the guy next to me found out I was an agent, told me about the lousy book contract he’d received for his non-fiction book, and asked me, “Does a publisher lose money if a book doesn’t earn out?”
I get this question a lot, and to answer it I need to beg your forebearance… Let me answer this with hard numbers, so that I can make my case. It will take a couple minutes to run the numbers.
Remember, every business can lose money. Retail shops, service business, even publishers. I mean, if you own a shoe store, you order in shoes that don’t sell, and you have to drastically reduce prices, you can lose money on each pair of shoes sold. Publishing is no different. The publishing house pays out advances, they pay an editor, hire a cover designer, buy ink and paper, then pay a printer, and cover overhead such as the light bill and the editor’s long distance phone calls. A lot of expenses are involved in every book. I like and respect publishers, and as a longtime agent, I WANT them to make money and stay in business. So I’m just answering a question, not writing a polemic.
That said, the argument put forth that an unearned advance equals a loss for a publisher just isn’t true. (Or at least not the whole truth.) All you have to do is look at some math…
Let’s take some big book the publisher is doing with a celebrity. She’s created a $25 hardcover book, and the publisher has paid her a $100,000 advance. The average discount a bookstore gets when ordering a book is roughly 50% — so they’re paying the publisher $12.50 for that book. (In reality, it could be less, and there are a thousand factors determining that amount, but let’s use a conservative 50% for
BY CHIP MACGREGOR
I’m one of those agents who believes in the future of publishing. I respect the past, but I understand that the old way of doing things won’t work today — everything has changed, we’re in a state of revolution, and people who want to make a living in this business will have to adapt or die. I know that’s true of agents, who must change the way they’re doing things if they expect to make a living in 2014. I think that’s true of publishers, who are big and successful for a reason, and who will continue to try to change their models to remain in business and make money. And I believe it’s also true of authors, who simply have to accept the world has changed and look to the future with a new plan.
The old plan for most authors was clear: write a great book, find an agent, and let him help you land a deal with a publisher. Most authors relied on an advance to make a living, and the full-timers tended to live from one advance check to the next. Royalties were great, when they showed up once or twice per year, but could barely be counted on. The power was in the hands of publishers, and there were a number of middlemen (distributors, retailers, agents) intruding on much of a relationship that SEEMED like it should have been simply “author-to-reader.” In that old system, the roles were clear: the authors wrote books, the agents negotiated books, the publishers produced books, the marketers promoted books, the distributors provided books, and the retailers sold books. Sometimes it didn’t seem fair — as though the authors who were churning out the art didn’t have much control, and were at the mercy of a sometimes fickle or arbitrary system.
Then things changed. Amazon came along and, in essence, removed many of the middlemen. An author
AGENT and VICE-PRESIDENT at MACGREGOR LITERARY
Glad to be back. I’m excited to start the year with a monthly blog series, HERE’S THE DEAL.
I often find the story behind the deal – the journey to publication – as exciting as making the deal itself. Given that, on the first Friday of each month, I’ll be offering glimpses into the backstory of how a particular book came to be published. And not from hearsay, but directly from the perspective of the acquiring editor.
Of course it is a big day when an author hears those long-awaited words from their agent “we have a deal!” But as anyone who works in traditional publishing knows, getting to that point is rarely quick and never, never easy. And it’s not just the author and agent who labor to sell a book, but also the acquiring editor who works diligently to champion and support a project all the way through, from initial discovery all the way through acquisition, editing, marketing, release, and beyond.
To kick things off, I interviewed Marc Resnick, Senior Editor at St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan. In addition to having an office in the Flatiron – one of the coolest buildings in New York City – Marc is a pretty cool guy himself, and we’ve kept in touch since first meeting at a conference a few years ago.
Though he and I have yet to do a deal together, we share an affinity for military topics. So, when we spoke for this interview I wasn’t surprised he chose to tell me the story behind the acquisition and success of the 2011 title SEAL TEAM SIX by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin.
The Team Behind SEAL TEAM SIX
Marc told me that when he received the proposal, originally titled Confessions of a Navy Seal Sniper, he read it immediately. A big part of his motivation