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2Apr/110

A frontlist first: Amazon.com took part in the Amanda Hocking book auction

Crain’s New York Business reports that the multi-publisher auction that resulted in Amanda Hocking signing a two-million-dollar four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press had one unexpected participant—Amazon.com. Although Amazon has worked several exclusive deals to publish backlist books or specialty projects (most recently signing the Catherine Cookson estate for a 95-book deal), this is believed to be the first time the company actually competed for the right to publish frontlist titles.

If Amazon had won the auction, the print editions of the books would have been published by Houton Mifflin Harcourt, which could theoretically have meant the books would be carried by Amazon competitor Barnes & Noble, too (though there is some doubt that B&N would have been willing to play along knowing who the “real” publisher was).

Perhaps most interestingly, Amazon actually made the highest monetary offer for the book, according to insiders, but insisted on being the exclusive outlet for the e-book edition. Hocking and her agent reportedly found this offer less attractive.


“[Amazon] has less than 65% share of the e-book market and dropping, and 20% to 30% of the print market,” the executive said. “[The author and agent] would have anticipated significant lost sales.”

If Amazon wants to get into the frontlist publishing game, the company may have to compromise on the exclusivity part of the deal. Amazon might be an 800-lb gorilla, but it doesn’t entirely rule the jungle. It seems unlikely that contract terms reducing overall availability will be popular with most authors and agents.

25Mar/110

Amanda Hocking explains the reasoning behind her publishing deal

In light of the official announcement of her seven-figure publishing contract, Amanda Hocking wrote a longer blog post going into complete detail about why she wanted the deal. She notes with more than a little irony:

[It] is crazy that we live in a time that I have to justify taking a seven-figure a publishing deal with St. Martin’s. Ten years ago, nobody would question this. Now everybody is.

Her reasons boil down to getting her work out to readers who want to get her works from bookstores, readers have complained about the quality control in some of her works, and she writes fast enough that she’ll still have plenty of works she can self-publish even in light of this deal.

She explains that she’s not really taking the deal for the money—given her past record, she expects that if she kept working as hard as she has been, she could match that million on her own. But she doesn’t want to have to keep working as hard as she has been, and she wants the additional exposure that comes from traditional publishing—bringing up the example of James Patterson, whose books sell like hotcakes even when they’re demonstrably awful.

She also notes that she has a knowledgeable staff including lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors who will help her look over the contract, and that she was not pushed or coerced into the deal. And she has no plans to stop self-publishing. And her decision to sign a contract is one that is made not out of desperation but from a position of financial strength.

What happens if they screw you over in a contract, steal all your money, and keep your erights forever? Then they do. I like the books St. Martin’s bought. And I believe in them. But if I lose money on them, I lose money on them. That’s the risk I’m taking. And I do know this is a risk. But it’s a calculated risk, and if it works out, the payoff could be enormous. But I’m making enough money on my other books – and I will continue to make enough on my self-published books – that I can afford to take this risk.

From these blog posts, Amanda Hocking impresses me as the sort of person who puts a lot of thought and attention into her career, and is not one to jump into anything this big without putting a lot of thought into it. And since she already has a good career as a self-publishing writer, this is not a case of “jumping ship”—it’s more a case of not putting all her eggs in one basket. It will be interesting to see how her career as a published writer goes.


(Found via another self-published-to-traditional-published discovery, John Scalzi.)

25Mar/110

50K Audible Audiobooks direct to Kindle via WiFi. – Hocking signs ~$2M deal

New York Times's Julie Bosman reports that self-published Amanda Hocking has signed a four-book deal with St. Martin's (Macmillan).

Hocking, the 26-year-old author, who sold over a million copies of her self-published e-books (Amazon, Barnes & Noble), has signed up with the Big6 traditional publisher for her next series.  Who wouldn't? assuming the terms are good.  I guess the large publishing house couldn't ignore this success story which happened without any traditional publisher marketing, backing, etc.

  They'll publish her “Watersong” series, four books in the young-adult paranormal genre, Bosman wrote.
  See the earlier article here for background on her rise.

  What a scene.  Kudos to her.

' A heated auction for the rights to publish her books began early last week, and several major publishers, including Random House, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, dropped out as the price climbed into the seven figures.

The bidding eventually rose beyond million for world English rights, said one publishing executive familiar with the negotiations. (St. Martin’s declined to comment on how much it agreed to pay.)  Ms. Hocking was represented by the literary agent Steven Axelrod.


The first book in the series will be released in fall 2012, a spokeswoman for St. Martin’s said. '

  As Hocking reported on her blog Tuesday, in response to news stories that she was shopping her series to traditional publishers, Hocking explained her thinking (and activity) to her readers:

' “I want to be a writer,” she said. “I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.” '

The Bloomberg Businessweek/AP story by Tara Bannow the other day has a good backgrounder on Hocking's story, from last year to the signing.
  She's written only one of the four books so far, so there'll be a bit of pressure, which probably won't have much effect on her.

  Bannow also writes, "Earlier this year, Terri Tatchell, co-screenwriter of the 2009 science fiction film 'District 9,' agreed to adapt the books from Hocking's Trylle Trilogy as a screenplay."  
  There's a bit on how she's adjusting to all this, and you should read it there.

In the meantime...
If you want to check out her existing e-books while they are still available and at a good price, see her Amazon author's page.

AUDIBLE AUDIOBOOKS NOW DIRECTLY DOWNLOADABLE TO KINDLE-3 WIFI
Amazon announced on March 24 that:

' ...more than 50,000 Audible Audiobooks are available for download on the latest Kindle (UK: K3) via Wi-Fi delivery.
  Of course, owners of any Kindle device can continue to purchase Audible audiobooks from Audible.com and transfer the titles to Kindle via USB. '

  To find out more about how to do this, go to Audible Audiobooks, where they offer a 30-day free trial that includes "two free audiobooks."  The page will give an idea of what's available.  Those already subscribing to Audible Audiobooks they can listen to while on the go will probably welcome this news, as it frees you from the USB cable transfer in that you can download large-file Audible book whenever you are connected to a WiFi network, whether at home or at work or in a cafe somewhere.

Kindle 3's   (UK: Kindle 3's),   DX Graphite


Check often: Temporarily-free late-listed non-classics or recently published ones
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers.
UK-Only: recently published non-classics, bestsellers, or highest-rated ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers.

24Mar/110

Self-published writer Amanda Hocking signs seven-figure four-book publishing deal

In an update on a story from a couple of days ago, the New York Times reports that self-publishing star Amanda Hocking has signed a four-book contract with St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan.

The Times reports that bidding eventually rose beyond million, though St. Martin’s declined to reveal the exact figure. The first book in the 4-book “Watersong” series should be released in fall, 2012.

Responding to the rumors on her blog a couple of days ago, Hocking explained that she wanted to be able to spend more of her time writing, and less taking care of other chores that a traditional publisher could manage for her. Self-publishing was a full-time job, and took away from her time to write, as well as do other things she enjoyed.

There’s several factors that go into my decision making about any possible future endeavors. The biggest factors are my readers and the longevity of my career. My goal has always been to put the highest quality product I can out in a way that is the most accessible to readers. My goal has never been to be the "darling" or the "poster child" for any movement.

Certainly, a traditional publisher will be able to help her put a greater polish on her work, as well as make it available to a wider audience (albeit at higher e-book prices). And getting an advance in excess of 0,000 per book means she’ll be able to afford to take it easy for a while—when she’s not busy writing, anyway.

(Found via GalleyCat.)

22Mar/110

Barry Eisler turns down $500,000 advance to self-publish, as Amanda Hocking negotiates with major publishers

Barry-Eisler-197x300Hot on the heels of Microsoft vs. Barnes & Noble vs. Apple vs. Amazon comes another interesting juxtaposition.

Today on J.A. Konrath’s blog, Konrath interviewed pro-published writer Barry Eisler, who has just turned down a 0,000 offer from a mainstream publisher in favor of self-publishing his own book. Eisler explained that this level of advance would take forever to earn out at the royalty rates paid by traditional publishers—and by selling through Amazon, he can charge less and keep 70% of the proceeds.

There’s a lot of discussion about how the traditional publishing market is falling behind the times and failing to keep pace with the electronic world, and how paper is going to recede into a niche market just like LP records, You could fill at least a couple of rows of Scalzi’s bingo card just from this article alone. For example:

Joe: I believe [publishers have] gotten their business model mixed-up. They should be connecting readers with the written word. Instead, they’re insisting on selling paper.

Barry: Yes. There’s a saying about the railroads: they thought they were in the railroad business, when in fact they were in the transportation business. So when the interstate highway system was built and trucking became an alternative, they were hit hard.

Likewise, publishers have naturally conflated the specifics of their business model with the generalities of the industry they’re in. As you say, they’re not in the business of delivering books by paper–they’re in the business of delivering books. And if someone can do the latter faster and cheaper than they can, they’re in trouble.

Joe: You say they’re aware of it, and some evidence points to that being true. The agency model is an attempt to slow the transition from paper to digital. Windowing titles is another one. So are insanely high ebook prices.

Barry: All signs that publishers are aware of the potential for digital disintermediation, but that they don’t understand what it really means.

It’s all very fascinating to read, and I’m certainly not going to argue against the idea that publishers could do a better job connecting with readers, but as often as the same points they make get raised here over and over, it would be a little redundant to recount it in too much detail. And it’s worth pointing out that, due to his existing name recognition, Eisler is one of perhaps a few hundred authors on the planet who are in a position to turn down a half million dollars with the knowledge that they could readily make it back in self-publishing. Not every self-publishing writer is going to be a Barry Eisler—or even an Amanda Hocking.

And speaking of Amanda Hocking, here’s the other half of that juxtaposition: as one well-paid professionally-published author moves into self-publishing, Amanda Hocking—the recent nine day wonder of the self-publishing world—is rumored to be shopping a four-book series to major publishers, with advance bids reportedly in excess of million for worldwide English rights. Undoubtedly, that is going to confuse those fans who saw her as Dorothy vs. the publishing industry’s Wicked Witch of the West.

What are we to take from this? It seems pretty clear that publishing is no longer going to be an “either or” proposition. Just as some authors start in pro-publishing and move to self-publishing (such as Konrath and Eisler), others will start in self-publishing and go pro (like Hocking and, for that matter, John Scalzi). And it’s conceivable that authors could dabble in both.

I’m not so sure that I’d count traditional publishers out of the running yet. Konrath and Eisler make some salient points, but Hocking made some points of her own in her misconception-clearing post the other day:

And just so we’re clear – ebooks make up at best 20% of the market. Print books make up the other 80%. Traditional publishers still control the largest part of the market, and they will – for a long time, maybe forever. Ebooks will continue to gain ground, but I would say that we have at least 5-10 years before ebooks make up the majority.

Saying traditional publishing is dead right now is like declaring yourself the winner in the sixth inning of a baseball game when you have 2 runs and the other team has 8 just because you scored all your runs this inning, and they haven’t scored any since the first.

And all ebooks aren’t self-published. Even if ebooks end up being 80% of the market, at least half of those sales will probably come from traditionally published ebooks. So publishers will still control the majority of the market.

Publishers may be struggling right now, caught between the waning paper and nascent electronic markets, but sooner or later at least some of them will figure out how to make the transition—and will be stronger for it than the ones who end up going bankrupt. As Mike Shatzkin pointed out the other day, paperbacks started as a specialty item and took a pretty long time to catch on in their day—but now everybody does them. It could be the same for e-books.

14Mar/110

Best-selling Amazon self-pub author Amanda Hocking clears up misconceptions

Amanda Hocking, who I mentioned the other day as an example of a best-selling self-publishing e-book writer, has an interesting and long blog post in which she tries to clear up some misconceptions in the way that Internet media have been covering her story.

She worries that people seem to think she has some kind of a magic bullet—that she’s making money hand over fist for just writing some stuff down. In fact, she explains, there’s actually a lot of hard work involved.

I don’t think people really grasp how much work I do. I think there is this very big misconception that I was like, "Hey, paranormal is pretty hot right now," and then I spent a weekend smashing out some words, threw it up online, and woke up the next day with a million dollars in my bank account.

This is literally years of work you’re seeing. And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.

She is also bemused by seeing people claim that publishers are “terrified” of her, as this new force in self-publishing e-books that somehow demonstrates publishers are no longer necessary. She points out that e-books are only 20% of the market at most, and not all e-books are self-published in any event.

I just don’t understand writers animosity against publishers. So much of what I’ve been reading lately has made me out to be Dorothy taking down the Wicked Witch.

Publishers have done really great things for a really long time. They aren’t some big bad evil entity trying to kill literature or writers. They are companies, trying to make money in a bad economy with a lot of top-heavy business practices.

She notes that even she isn’t sure exactly why her books are so popular—she points to one of her own favorite self-publishing authors who isn’t doing as well as she is—but he’s doing exactly the same sorts of things she does, in the same genre. Nobody knows what makes any given book a bestseller, she explains—because if there was some way for publishers to tell in advance, they’d only publish bestsellers.

And she warns that a lot more people will sell less than 100 self-published e-books than will sell 10,000, let alone a million.

Self-publishing is great, but it’s not easy. Most people who do it will not get rich, just like most authors signed up at [J.K. Rowling’s US publisher] Scholastic books aren’t billionaires. Traditional publishers are not evil any more than Amazon or Barnes & Noble are evil. Things are changing, hopefully for the better, but it is still hard work being a writer.

Words to remember. I suspect that there’s a tendency on many people’s part, including my own, to assume that there’s some sort of magic formula for success: you write something good, then you turn around and sell it on-line. And then, as the South Park joke goes, “PROFIT”. It’s actually kind of refreshing to see that Amanda Hocking is no exception to the truth that behind every bestselling author lies a whole lot of work.

10Mar/110

Fear not publishers, Amanda Hocking is not a monster

Amanda Hocking

Amanda Hocking has become something of a celebrity. A part of that celebrity is also the unique ascription of harbinger. The popular theory about Hocking is that she is anathema to publishing and a prophet of the unfettered vistas of the book’s electronic future. Funny thing: Hocking thinks that’s a lot of nonsense.

Recently on her blog, Hocking posted a very clear-eyed and somewhat stern assessment of her current rise to literary stardom and the circumstances that have surrounded her fledgling celebrity. Namely misconceptions about the process. You see, apparently there’s a few steps she has to take in order to churn out her books. Hocking explains:

I don’t think people really grasp how much work I do. I think there is this very big misconception that I was like, “Hey, paranormal is pretty hot right now,” and then I spent a weekend smashing out some words, threw it up online, and woke up the next day with a million dollars in my bank account.

At a later point in the post she morbidly sums up the pressure she feels to produce while the audience is still there for her.

I also have this tremendous sense of urgency, like if I don’t get everything out now and do everything now, while the iron is hot, everything I’ve worked for will just fall away. For the first time, I truly understand why workaholics are workaholics. You can’t stop working, because if you do, it unravels all the work you’ve already done. You have to keep going, or you’ll die.

Or at least that’s how it feels.

A bit melodramatic, but Amanda Hocking has obviously done just fine with that coin. More than anything she comes off as a “pack-your-lunch” sort of writer, which is the kind of attitude and productivity required to chase the sales rankings in this literary culture. In her post she also laments that her books are not edited as well as they could be, despite having gone through a large number of freelance editors. Even after second and third revisions (a process uniquely accelerated by the ebook format) she still finds mistakes and though she forges ahead these errors still bother her. The picture she paints is one of long hours, tireless effort and a feeling that nothing is ever actually done. Sounds a bit like publishing.

The fact is Amanda Hocking has to work harder and longer than a typical writer because she also has to publish the books. Sure, Amazon is now a powerful publicity force working for her and probably a source of some of the anti-publisher spin being put out there, but at the end of the day it is Hocking that has to shoulder the management of her books. It is she that must look over the copy one last time or write to a new editor, media outlet and probably now translators. That’s a lot for one millionaire to do. If she were writing elaborate historical fiction that required months of research and preparation she might find herself a little more inclined to go the route of traditional publishing.

This brings me to the aspect that I most enjoyed in her post, namely her confusion over why she is being dubbed as “scary” for publishers. Hocking writes:

Here’s another thing I don’t understand: The way people keep throwing my name around and saying publishers are “terrified” of me and that I really showed them.

First of all, no publisher is afraid of me. That’s just silly. I’m one girl who wrote a couple books that are selling well. That doesn’t scare them – they just want to be a part of it, the same way they want to be a part of any best seller.

Later on, after giving an example of a perfectly good writer not succeeding with the same platform that is making her a millionaire,  she adds this reality check:

Nobody knows what makes one book a bestseller. Publishers and agents like to pretend they do, but if they did, they would only publish best sellers, and they don’t.

I guess what I’m saying is that just because I sell a million books self-publishing, it doesn’t mean everybody will. In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books. I don’t mean that to be mean, and just because a book doesn’t sell well doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It’s just the nature of the business.

Self-publishing and traditional publishing really aren’t that different. One is easier to get into but harder to maintain. But neither come with guarantees. Some books will sell, some won’t.

There is something irrational and ahistorical contained in the Hocking as foe to publishing arguments. She doesn’t represent a new paradigm in publishing nor a threat to it. Erma Rombauer‘s The Joy of Cooking was self-published. A Time To Kill by John Grisham was as well. James Redfield‘s The Celestine Prophecy is another astounding seller. Not to mention the legion of bestselling self-help books that were self-published. Chicken Soup For The Soul and What Color Is My Parachute? come to mind. Let’s not forget Dianetics, but really who wants to linger over that. There are literary titles too. Huckleberry Finn was self-published by Twain and James Joyce self-published Ulysses. I ask you though, what would the fate of Joyce’s masterpiece be if it were published exclusively for the Kindle?

Would some of the large publishers love to have Hocking among their ranks of authors? Sure. Just like those publishers looked on Scholastic’s J.K. Rowling days with green eyes. That’s nothing new. Even indie publishers look at a fellow small press’ coup with tinges of envy (no one here at Melville House does that of course).

It is refreshing to see that Hocking, who could very well have borrowed the limelight to rouse her fan base, instead maintains an even keel. She’s not reinventing the game. But she will play it for all it’s worth.