Monday, March 28, 2011

Hocking, Eisler, Keene: One side to the other

By Steve Weddle

Dang, is this week going to be as busy as last week?

1. Amanda "I'm Not Your Damned Self-Publishing Poster Child" Hocking got a multi-million-dollar deal from one of the Big Six up there in New York City, New York State.

2. Barry Eisler reportedly turned down a $500,000 book deal to self-publish.

3. Brian Keene took public this "Boycott Dorchester" fight.

Photo from
So, Amanda Hocking writes a dozen-ish paranormals, ups them on the Kindles, and works her tail off promoting them. The books find a huge following. Though some of the numbers track a bit slower than most would like, the rough estimate as of noon on Friday is that her books have sold a total of seventy-nine kazillion copies, making her richer than Pope Alexander VI or that guy from Mexico with all the cell phones.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the bank. Hocking shopped her next books the traditional/legacy way. (Is 'Legacy Publishing' pejorative? I never know about these things.) And, as she is now a proven commodity, she was a hot auction item.

She was immediately pounced upon by folks who said she was "selling out" and not being "true to herself." (I remember Jerry Garcia, during the "Touch of Grey" nonsense, saying that The Grateful Dead had been trying to sell out for decades, but no one was buying.) Which makes sense. People who can't sell their own work  complain about those who "sell out." Hocking,  to her great credit, seemed pretty damned honest when she said she signed the deal so that she no longer had to work day and night on promoting and marketing and could instead use much of that time on writing, leaving other business matters to her new publisher.

So, we have the inevitable "Big Publishing is Back" yodelers because a self-published "success" only became a "real success" when she signed a deal with The Big Six. Now, she's a "real" author.

And then there's Barry Eisler. According to a much-discussed blog posting over at Mr. Konrath's blog, Eisler said "Nopers" to a half-million dollar deal from Big Six publisher. He wants to release his books himself, keep the money and the control.

So, we have the inevitable "Big Publishing is Dead" yodelers because a "real" author is turning down mega-bucks to self-publish.

Do these cancel each other out?

Everything is relative. All things being equal, etc. Your mileage may vary. Etc, etc.

Seems to me that a "publishing deal" with someone other than Kinko's or Your Name Here Kindle Publisher helps add some "credibility" to your books, your (ugh) brand.

Awards do this, too. (We talked about that here.)

Recommended by a friend.

Published by a publisher you like or respect.

A book club choice.

A New York Times Number One Bestseller.

Books get credibility from many places.

Amanda Hocking has tons of fans. As they say in The Lost Boys, "Can a billion Chinese be wrong?" She must be worth reading. Barry Eisler had a deal with Big Publishing and sold tons of books. He must be good.

Arguing the Big Publisher vs. Self Publisher in these news items is certainly interesting and can help one spread one's own bias.

The thing is you need, and this is the technical term, you need something. Something that sets you apart. I've said in this space that what you have to do is write a damn good story. That Platform is crap. That Brand is crap. Blah blah blah. Look, everything is crap except the writing. All of it. On Sunday, Joelle blogged about author web sites, which I think we all know are crap. Everything is crap except for the writing. But once you have the story down, the slap-ya-mama awesome story, then you do the web site. Teaser chapter? Yes, please. Then the blog you've spent eleven years on -- Ogre Sculptures and Chimera Talons -- matters to your book.

Someone sent me a link last week to what he called the worst writing advice ever. The author hadn't been published. Not Big Six. Not Kindle. Not 20 copies at Kinko's. In fact, there was no evidence that the author had ever written a novel that anyone had read. Yet, the author had a list of twenty tips every novelist should follow. The sixth tip was that you should go to the library and check out books on writing.

You know what, I've never published a novel, either. Having me offer tips about getting a publishable novel is like having Grammy-Award winner Marc Anthony offer you beauty tips. We have no credibility.

But you know who does? Amanda Hocking. Barry Eisler. They know how to write books. Sell books. Engage a fanbase. The news stories last week would have you believe that they're opponents in some battle over publishing, each changing sides in the same month. Which misses the point.

The point is to write something people want to read. To get that story into people's hands, by recommendations or awards publicity or Big Publishing marketing or cult-like followings. Whatever it is, you have to have that something. But the first something you have to have is still the story. The writing.

And once you get that Big Deal, you'll want to talk to Brian Keene.

By the way:
The DSD Podcasting Machine knocked a couple out of the park, chatting with Seth Harwood and Russel D. McLean about their books. Check that out here.


UPDATE: Nathan Bransford does some calculations on Eisler/Hocking today.


Naomi Johnson said...

You nailed it.

John Hornor said...

Awesome thoughts from your brainpan, as usual, Steve.

Did you throw some D&D references in there?

Steve Weddle said...

Thanks, folks.

D&D references? Didn't want to draw in the wrong type of reader, you know.

Don Lafferty said...

I've read and listened to hundreds of opinions on these three topics over the past few days and, like you, have come to the conclusion that, well, everybody has an opinion.

But nobody has an answer.

So despite most writers’ obsession to want to outguess the market, the conclusion is, as you point out, always to write a good story - and then hope you get picked to play on a team, or make up a team of your own.

Those in the most precarious positions in this shifting model are not authors with nothing to lose, like Hocking, or authors with legacy publishing success, like Eisler, but traditionally published authors on the verge of the next big jump in numbers.

Authors with a solid following, who get just enough attention from their publisher that they're scared shitless to abandon the path they've been on – some for many years - to take a chance on creating their own publishing machine – especially all the parts that have nothing to do with writing. Especially after seeing what's happening with Scott Sigler. But many of these hardworking authors will continue to leave money on the table until this really shakes out. Or until the math is undeniable.

Either way, the Hocking and Eisler [Konrath] stories are stories of Hope for ALL authors.

Every author can be published now, and if your story is good, and your writing is okay, you might even be able to make some money in this formerly one-sided publishing game. So for authors, it’s all good.

If an author’s only self publishing option was a $17-$20 paperback, I’d say reader beware, but for a couple of bucks a download, it's possible to give a bunch of authors a shot and hope that among them I can find something I like.

And I’ll know they’re getting paid.

This is awesome.

John McFetridge said...

I think you left out an essential word; genre. "Write a damn good genre story."

Maybe this will change, but right now the big-selling self-published books are very genre. In many ways this feels like the early days of the pulps, the straight-to-mass-market publishers like Gold Medal Books, the kind of books that Hard Case Crime has been reprinting.

They're often good books and some very good writers started out in pulps but pulp publishers didn't replace the big publishers at the time and for many readers today what's being self-published isn't going to replace the books they're buying from publishers.

I found it interesting that in Amanda Hocking's blog post about why she was moving to St. Martins (and I understand totally that they'd drop me and give her a couple million bucks, this isn't sour grapes at all ;) she never mentioned the input a great editor would have on her work (she mentioned her problems with the copy editors she hired herself but not editorial input).

Publishing may have done this to itself by marginalizing the input from editors but a good editor is still what makes a good publisher. We sure see that with small presses - I wonder how many of the Do Some Damage Book Club picks, for example, we would have found if they were self-publshed and what shape they'd be in without the input from editors?

Steve Weddle said...

Don, Yeah. Being able to discover an author for a few bucks does make a difference.
And you're absolutely right about those writers who have had just enough traditional attention that they're scared to change anything.

John, Great point about genre and pulps. And maybe we could pick a self-pubbed book at some point. After the Elmore Leonard book of stories, which I'm anxious to get to.

David Cranmer said...

You're spot on, amigo.