I read (okay, sometimes skim) Joe Konrath’s blog the way I occasionally listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio–because even though he pisses me off, it seems like a good idea to know what different people are saying. Not that I want to compare Joe Konrath to Rush Limbaugh as a person. I mean, Rush is a crazy, mean, asshole. Joe’s just a bit of a curmudgeon. But sometimes, like I said, he really can piss me off. Like this post, “The Acquisitions Editor” from two weeks ago (look, I don’t check it everyday).
Okay, so what’s wrong with this picture? Well, let’s start at the beginning. I’ve worked at a lot of publishing houses and visited a lot more. Let me just say: none of them are in hip happening buildings, and at none of them are Editorial Assistants expected to get coffee for anyone. What is this, Madmen?
Okay, yeah, I know, it’s not literal. I’m over it.
The top five infuriating inaccuracies in this article are as follows:
5. ebooks rights only?
On what planet are publishers contracting exclusively for e-rights? According to current estimates, ebook sales represent 6% of the total book market–a lot more than I would have thought, but hardly enough justify going through the whole manuscript process. Especially when whoever owns the print rights could presumably undercut your price at any time, or even just do something as simple as creating market confusion with a new edition.
4. The implication that publishers came up with the $9.99 ebook price point.
It may be shooting myself in the foot to mention this one, but the $9.99 price point is Amazon’s. It wasn’t created by publishers. In fact many publishers prefer a price point closer to the $14 trade paper standard, which is why so many ebook prices are going up now that publishers have a say. I can sort of understand this. Cheapo mass market paperbacks have always been my personal favorite book format as a consumer, but traditionally publishers only release those for their most popular books, so they can make up in volume what they loose in price.
The thing is, I really liked the $10 price. It’s equivalent to eating lunch out or going to a movie. That is, it’s the kind of little splurge I can indulge in on a semi-regular basis. More than that, it struck me as pretty fair–$5 more expensive than say, renting a movie, $5 less expensive than buying a trade paper you could potentially resell. RIP.
3. “Well, we could spend two or three weeks working on a single title in order to get it ready.”
All I can say to this one is, “I wish.” The standard time-table for publication, from the time the author turns in their finished manuscript to the day it goes up for sale is more like six or seven months. True, about six weeks of that is time spent at the printer and in transit to the warehouse–but that still leaves five months. What happens in that time? Well, copyedit, author review, integrating changes, design, proofs (2 rounds), author review again, another round of proofs, cover copy, author review, cover design, author reviews that, too, endorsements, putting the ebook in different formats as needed, and QC-ing the ebooks formats.
Keep in mind that all this happens after the author has turned in a first draft, received feedback, and made revisions. If you count the developmental process it’s closer to ten months.
2. “But paper books cost money to create.”
Not as much as you might think. The unit cost of a standard black and white 6 x 9 paperback is really, really low. Like really low. They are made in China.
Making a book does cost money, but the costs are mostly stacked on the content creation and vetting end of things. For instance, you have to pay for developmental editorial work, design, acquisitions and marketing time, and you have to all the production staff (mostly freelancers) like the copyeditor, copywriters, the pager, the person who handles the QCs, etc.
To be fair, old Joe does mention these costs. Based on his estimates, I guess he really doesn’t like designers.
Yeah, that was a joke. More seriously, when you go with a traditional publisher, one of the things you’re getting is experience and expertise. Konrath argues that publishers don’t product test, but actually the whole (failing) publishing business model is one big product test–basically you just throw everything at the wall, see what sticks, and then try to recreate it. Not the most refined approach, but over time it has let publishers build up a strong good body of market knowledge and, yes, actual data. From this article, and this whole blog actually it’s clear that Konrath prefers to go his own way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that 200 years of industry experience are wrong–just that this guy prefers his own title and cover.
1. “Do you know how much it costs to rent this office? We’re paying $25k a month, and that doesn’t even include utilities. I’ve got three assistants. We all have health insurance and 401k. Expense accounts. Do you have any idea what it costs to take agents out to lunch?”
Delusional. Seriously. Delusional. Everyone working in publishing, and I mean everyone, is overworked and underpaid. Literally everyone in the business, the designers, the tech people, the editors, the finance people, the publishers, everyone, could make more money working elsewhere. The only exceptions are the executive teams at the big six, and perhaps one or two other large houses.
Assistants are shared, offices are eclectic at best, there are no admins at all, there are a ton of temps (that means no health care, son), and lots of people, (especially editors and marketers) put in free nights and weekends. These are not the fat cats of the literary world (I’m really not sure who those would be. Critics, maybe? Or Madona, when she wrote that children’s book?). They are mid-level (at best) professionals who’ve invested their careers, hearts, minds, blood, sweat, and leisure-time in making art happen. Essentially, they are good, hardworking advocates who don’t deserve a bunch of shit from the likes of this guy.
I’m not saying prices couldn’t get lower. I’m not saying the royalty split is perfect, or that it’ll fall out that way in the end. I’m not saying the system is efficient, or the business plan is a good one. I’m not saying authors can’t double as agents and micro-presses.
I’m just saying: publishers aren’t the enemy; they just may not be your solution.
And you don’t have to be such a feakin’ jerk all the time.