Monday, April 25, 2011

The Mistake of John Rector

By Steve Weddle

Imagine the horror that author John Rector felt this week.

Not too long ago, he was on top of the world, ma. His two novels have been well received. His newest novel, THE COLD KISS, published by one of The Big Six New York publishers, was named to Suspense Magazine's 'Best of 2010' list and has been optioned for one of those Hollywood movies. His novel before that, THE GROVE, was so popular as an indie publication that it got the AmazonEncore treatment in re-release. And last fall he got to sit within robe-touching distance of yours truly. Rector had it all.

Then last week someone on the internet pointed out what a failure he has become. Where did it all go wrong?

Is it the writing? No. According to the posting, he has "very good books."

Did he fall prey to alcoholism? Drugs? Does he lock himself in his hotel room to work on novel edits while I'm keeping him a seat warm at the bar and texting him and calling him to come back down and hang out? And how did the internet even find out about that?

Maybe it's even worse. Did he commit the cardinal sin of crime fiction writers? Did he go an entire week without tweeting about bacon?

No. It's worse.

Allow me to quote from the blog post that explains The Failure of John Rector:
There’s no other way to put it – Signing a book deal was a huge mistake. John Rector could have been a Top 100 Kindle Store Author.
Oh. My. Gracious.

He signed a book deal? With a publisher? What in the name of Wendy Everly was he thinking?

According to the post, Rector was On The Charts at the Amazon website. He was on his way to being able to see his name in the TOP 100 Kindle authors. And yet, he chose to sign THE COLD KISS over to Macmillan/Forge. How could he have made such a mistake? As the post author elaborates in the comments:
The very act of signing up with a Publisher is the equivalent of saying – I’m going to focus less on readers.
Yes. That is exactly what it is saying. Not long ago, John Rector would spend his time and energy writing a novel. Then he would upload it for the Kindle. Now he has signed with a Publisher. Which clearly shows that he doesn't care about the readers. Um, I'm not sure how that follows, exactly. But I read it on the internet. From what I've seen, publishers of books do tend to focus on the readers of those books. And the last I heard, Rector was still writing. And editing.

What's interesting to me isn't making fun of that post (well, maybe a teensy-weensy bit). Rather, what interests me is how we define success. And how others try to define it for us.

For the author of that blog post pointing to Rector's 'mistake,' success is clearly being a "Top 100 Kindle Store Author." William Shakespeare is a Top 100 on the Kindle list, probably because he offers his books for free. James Patterson, whose books aren't free, is also a Top 100 Kindle Store Author, meaning he is successful.

Let me check THE WOLVES OF FAIRMOUNT PARK, our DSD Book Group read. Hmm. Seems that Dennis Tafoya's excellent novel is #135,270 Paid in Kindle Store. Damn. Poor guy. And I liked that book, too.

Dennis Lehane's MOONLIGHT MILE? 1,090.
And speaking of Noircon:
Laura Lippman's GIRL IN THE GREEN RAINCOAT? 4,473.
George Pelecanos's SHAME THE DEVIL? 12,883.
And speaking of Do Some Damage, how about Friend of the Blog Brad Parks. He won the Shamus and the Nero for the same book, right? Let's see how his newest is doing.

Oh. My Gracious.

And here I thought these people were successful authors.

I suppose John Rector will just have to console himself with the thought that some pretty damn good career-novelists have made the same 'mistake' he did.

Let's see if I have this right -- If you sign the deal with The Publisher, then you don't focus on the readers and you fall down the Kindle Top Authors list.


As I understand it, when you sign with Macmillan or Penguin or FSG to print your book, one of the things they do, and I'm no expert here, but one of the things they do is that they, under most circumstances, print your book. Which means people sell them in stores. And, again, I'm not an expert in anything but mediocre whiskey and quantum mechanics, this means that those sales do not count in your Kindle sales.

So it seems odd to me to judge an author by Kindle sales when that author's books are available a thousand other places. Rector's books are available in print and he's selling fewer Kindle copies. Seems to me like that is sorta how it's supposed to happen.

It's kinda like using the Gran Turismo video game as proof that the Ferrari 458 Italia is a better-selling automobile than the Honda Accord.

Not that THE COLD KISS is a Honda Accord. Hell, Rector's writing is more like a tricked-out herse, corpse-full and flame-spewing.

So it seems to me that if you want to list authors who sell on the Kindle, well, make a list. But being on that list isn't a measure of success for most authors. Or it isn't the only one.

Rector's "mistake" would be publishing a book that doesn't kick as much ass as his first two have. That would mean he's no longer focused on the readers. Not being on the Top 100 Kindle Authors list just means he isn't focused on that list. Other than that, it doesn't mean much.

Unless you're the kind of person who judges the quality of an author by whether he/she is on a list. In that case, the list probably means a great deal to you. Too bad the books themselves don't.


Kathryn Peterson said...

I love this post. I think I'm going to put it on a list. ;)

Travener said...

The way things are going, I'm not going to "fail" like Rector any time soon.

Hah. Funny post. We should all fail so miserably.

Paul D Brazill said...

Top post, Steve. .

Benjamin Sobieck said...

With so many ways to measure sales, you have to look at the larger picture to determine success. Having a great Kindle ranking is definitely a good thing, but it's not the only thing. And why the top 100? Why not 500? Or 1,000?

And about signing with a publisher, there are two conflicting points of view: 1) A stigma against self-published books, and 2) "Selling out" if an indie author signs with a publisher.

Which is it? You can't have it both ways.

At least in Amanda Hocking's case, she had great success self-publishing but wanted to focus less on marketing. She signed with a publisher to concentrate more on writing.

chad rohrbacher said...

Well, maybe he'll learn from that mistake as he's writing his next book and doing readings and such.

Nice post, boss.

John McFetridge said...

John Rector is a terrific writer and this is a good move for him.

But signing with a big publisher isn't the slam dunk it once was. Or, maybe, let me put it like this, once you do sign with a big publisher if it happens that you fail to sell as may books as tey'd hoped and you get dropped (like I did, twice) it's good that there are now other options.

Unknown said...

Rector, what a fucking looser. I mean seriously the guy has solid print numbers on top of his already massive Kindle success, ppfffffttt, the guy's completely screwed himself. Plus he deleted his faceybook account, so how is anyone even going to know who he is on the interwebs now?
(Kidding, of course. The 'Kindle nation' people are assholes--no, I'm not above name calling--who could only wish they were in the same position as Rector.)

Thomas Pluck said...

I hope I can make such a terrible mistake someday soon.

Molly's Mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric Beetner said...

Steve - Do I detect some sarcasm in this post? So unlike you.
The only justice to come out of this post for Rector is the old "There's no such thing as bad publicity" and his books take another jump on the list. Any list.
And as a reader - John did the best thing he could for me. He entertained the hell out of me.

Anonymous said...

That's like saying Brad Pitt's a failure because he went Hollywood and turned his back on community theater. And there's a piquant irony in an anonymous blogpost calling anyone a failure. And that chance to make "hundreds of thousands of dollars" from Kindle? I'll stick to Illinois lottery tickets.

Steve Weddle said...

Kathryn, Then I'll know I've made it.
Travener, Amen.
Paul, Thanks.
Benjamin, Miss Hocking made a lovely case that moving to a publisher meant that she would 'focus' more on readers. Can't see why that won't work out for her.
Rum, Yup.
John, Less a slam dunk every time, right? Still you gotta take your shots.
Keith, Yeah. Many of these 'self-publishing rules' post have the fragrance of sour grapes.
Tommy, Best of luck.
Eric, Right. Rector entertains the reader. He's just reaching more of them now.
Malachi, esq. - I've often compared Bradd Pit to John Rector.

John McFetridge said...

Community theatre, ha, that's funny.

But people have been accused of "going Hollywood," as if it's a bad thing.

It does kind of sound like the old argument people used to hve about musicians going commercial or selling out.

For all I know that argument still happens in the music world.

But publishing still seems different to me, it still seems like it's good that a writer - if they get the chance - can make decisions based on what's best for themselves and not have to consider all this extraneous silliness.

I think there are still some old guys out there who haven't forgiven Dylan for going electric.

Steve Weddle said...

John, I think that's part of it -- the people who think they're Indie Authors sometimes see it as a betrayal. Hell, the Indie Readers probably do, at least some of them.
And I was going to make a joke that Rector's next book is called Positively 4th Street, but thought people would take me seriously and bug John for it.

Josh Stallings said...

My son punk guitarist that he was said that any band with a record deal had sold out. That was until he hit 18 and had to knock out his own bills. Then he fought hard to try and "sell out". Me, I think you're right on, any way we get our stores into reader hands works. And if along the way we can cobble together enough cash to write full time, that only benefits our readers, cause like, um, we can write more.

-Josh Stallings

Nigel Bird said...

i wish i could slip on that banana.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is increasingly hard to gauge success, so why don't we just stop trying to define or assess it?

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Mathematically, it's quite possibly a "mistake," depending on his net royalty. I'd guess at the rank of around 12,000 he's selling about three or four kindle books a day. (Making around $5 or $6).

In the Top 100 he'd be selling 100 times that amount, at least, and earning 70 percent. Several hundred bucks a day at $2.99. But that all depends on pricing, etc.

Of course, all that is probably offset by the print income--probably. And then there's what happens after the print version is no longer available. Too many variables to make any kind of call.

But as many have pointed out, "success" is not a zero-sum game. If John is happy, it is a success and not a mistake. And he's the only one that needs to know or, really, care. I wish him both happiness and success.


abhi said...

Thanks for your post. It's very well written. I was laughing despite myself at the intricate sarcasm.

I think one of the things you misunderstand is that the post is about an indie author who is doing well turning his back on what made him successful and noticed and signing with Publishers and ignoring the readers that got him noticed.

When I write - Signing a book deal was a huge mistake.

It's more about 'being a mistake to turn your back on readers'.

It's also a discussion of 'the act' and not the person. I can understand that it makes for more enthralling commentary if you can claim that I called John Rector a failure - but I didn't. All the post has said is that he made a mistake.

Anyways, in a few years we'll know whether it's the people's champions who are seeing huge success or it is the Publishers's champions.

If Publishers kill the revolution then everyone signing deals now will look like winners. If Publishers die then they take down a lot of published authors with them.

The sales ranks in the Kindle Store for a book mean nothing if we assume that ebooks are NOT going to take over. However, if we assume that ebooks will take over, then doing well in the biggest ebook store becomes rather important.

Again, thanks for a well written post - It's nice to see one author stand up for another author. It's just unfortunate that you misunderstood the post since it wasn't attacking any authors. No authors were harmed in the making of the post - except for those who didn't really read it and jumped to conclusions. ;)

John McFetridge said...

If Publishers kill the revolution then everyone signing deals now will look like winners. If Publishers die then they take down a lot of published authors with them.

It isn't really an either-or situation, though. Publishers and self-publishing can co-exist.

In fact, some authors will publish both through traditional publishers and self-publish. Not every piece of writing is suited to both methods.

S.S. said...


I just checked, and Rector's books are available for anyone who wants to buy them.

It sounds like the only readers he turned his back on are the ones who think books should only cost $.99.

David Cranmer said...

My thoughts follow Patti.

Good post, Steve.