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Best Selling Author Turns Down Half A Million Dollar Publishing Contract To Self-Publish

from the leaping-into-the-future dept

Joe Konrath, who we’ve written about numerous times, and Barry Eisler (who we haven’t…), contacted me late last week to pass on the fascinating news that Eisler, who has been a NY Times Best Selling author of a variety of thrillers, has turned down a $500,000 publishing deal from a mainstream publisher, in order to self-publish his next book. That’s a lot of money to give up. The link is to a (long, but fascinating) dialog between Konrath and Eisler, discussing the thinking behind passing up that kind of money to go the self-publishing route. The key takeaway: the $500,000 comes with strings (as does any publishing deal), and in this case, Eisler feels he’s likely to be better off on his own.

Konrath, of course, has spent a lot of time sharing real world data on why the math works for people to self-publish digitally, pricing the book cheaply, but making much, much higher royalties per book sold. I’m still not convinced this move is right for everyone yet, but if you can handle the key functions that a publisher provides (things like editing, marketing, etc.) it can work out quite well. Publishers used to also be key for distribution, but that’s less and less an issue these days, when physical book stores are less and less important, and online/digital is key. But you don’t need a publisher for those things. Marketing is still the big issue for many, so this depends on how well you can market yourself, or work with someone else (perhaps the person who used to be your “agent”) to market the work. And, of course, it’s entirely possible that even if you went with a publisher, they’d do an awful job of marketing your book anyway (happens more times than you’d like to believe).

And, of course, the money in that deal is really an advance, that needs to be earned back. As we’ve discussed with RIAA accounting, earning that back is a lot more complex than it may sound — and the gatekeeper (the publisher or the label) gets to reach a level of profits way, way, way before the content creator ever does (if they ever do). This part of Eisler and Konrath’s discussion is instructive:

Joe: What was the ultimate basis for your decision? Did it come down to pure dollars and cents?

Barry: Financial considerations were a big part of it, yes. You and I have discussed various models to understand what a publisher’s advance represents: a loan, an insurance policy, a bet. On the loan model, the first place I heard the concept articulated was in an extremely ballsy and persuasive blog post by Terrill Lee Lankford.

Joe: I like that analogy. I also believe signing with a big publisher is like signing a life insurance policy, where the payments keep getting larger while the payoff gets smaller as time goes on.

Barry: Yes. Now, of course there are numbers where the loan, the insurance, or the bet would make sense. If the loan is so big that you don’t think you’d ever be able to make that much on your own, plus you won’t have to pay it back, then sure, take it. If the insurance payout is so big that it eclipses the event it’s supposed to protect against, okay. And if you find a publisher willing to put down so much money upfront that you feel they must be stoned because no one could ever earn that much back, then by all means, take the bet.

But short of that, you have to wonder if the person you’re betting against isn’t yourself.

Anyway, yes, much of this was financial. A lot of people don’t realize–and I probably wouldn’t have realized myself if you hadn’t pointed it out–that the appropriate measure for determining how much your books can earn you in digital is forever. In paper, with rare exceptions, there’s a big upfront sales push, followed by either total evaporation or by years of low backlist sales. Digital isn’t like that.

Joe: Time is the ultimate long tail. Even with a big wad of money upfront, if something sells forever, the back end is what ultimately counts.

Barry: Right. So if you think you’re going to die on Tuesday, for sure take the advance on Monday. If you think you’re going to stick around for a while, though, and you have resources to draw on such that you don’t need that expensive loan, don’t take it. You’ll be better off without.

Joe: Or to put it another way, getting half a million bucks and 14.9% royalties, forever, isn’t as lucrative as no money up front and 70% royalties, forever.

Barry: Yes. Especially because you first have to earn out the half million at 14.9% per book. That could take a while. After which, as you note, you’re still only earning 14.9% rather than 70%. You need to move five times the volume at 14.9%.

Of course, the conversation doesn’t just focus on Eisler and his decision to turn down half a million dollars up-front. It talks about the publishing industry as a whole, and how it — like so many other industries — is struggling to recognize that it’s moving away from being a gatekeeper business, and needs to start becoming an enabler business. Instead, it’s trying to hang onto the gatekeeper side of things for as long as possible (again, like some other industries we’re familiar with).

Joe: I also love print books. I have 5000 of them. But print is just a delivery system. It gets a story from the writer to the reader. For centuries, publishers controlled this system, because they did the printing, and they were plugged into distribution. But with retailers like Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, the story can get to the reader in a faster, cheaper way. And publishers aren’t needed.

Do you think publishers are aware of that?

Barry: I think they?re extremely aware of it, but they don’t understand what it really means.

Joe: I believe they’ve 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.

Joe: Because they still believe they’re essential to the process.

Barry: I would phrase it a little differently. They recognize they’re becoming non-essential, and are trying to keep themselves essential–but are going about it in the wrong way.

Joe: You and I and our peers are essential. We’re the writers. We provide the content that is printed and distributed. For hundreds of years, writers couldn’t reach readers without publishers. We needed them.

Now, suddenly, we don’t. But publishers don’t seem to be taking this Very Important Fact into account.

Barry: Well, again, I think they’re taking it into account, but they’re drawing the wrong conclusions. The wrong conclusion is: I’m in the paper business, paper keeps me essential, therefore I must do all I can to retard the transition from paper to digital. The right conclusion would be: digital offers huge cost, time-to-market, and other advantages over paper. How can I leverage those advantages to make my business even stronger?

Now, I know we have some publishing folks among the readership here, and I’m sure they’ll disagree, but there’s clearly some truth to this. And, in fact, there may be many individuals within the various publishing companies who do get this. But institutionally, they seem to be reacting to try to hold back the tide, rather than embrace the tide. This is a pretty standard reaction, and we’ve seen it in other industries before. One typical response that we hear when pointing this out is that these publishers don’t want to make that “leap” to really embrace the new until they know that it’s sustainable and that it can work. But the key lesson that we’ve learned over and over and over again in other industries is that if you wait for such things, it’s too late. In ceding that leadership position, you give up on being the enabler, and what’s left for you is often… not much.

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Comments on “Best Selling Author Turns Down Half A Million Dollar Publishing Contract To Self-Publish”

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Jesse Jenkins (profile) says:

Barry Eisler

I’ve enjoyed Mr. Eisler’s books over the last few years and also respect that he likes jazz and single malt scotch – two of my personal earmarks for a good writer. I hope that he is successful with his future endeavors, and I was always amazed at how much Barry seemed personally committed to the success of his books. He has an extensive blog, where he give “nuts & bolts” advice to other writers, which is good for the community and his audience.

Personally, I published a single book about 18 years back, and learned a lot about the details of working with a publisher. I wrote a technical book that only sold a few thousand copies, and the publisher was “easy” to work with (good editor support, nice cover art, etc.) The biggest misgiving I had was with respect to marketing. I think the total marketing was to list it in an academic newsletter for a single issue, sprinkle a few copies onto the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and “step back”. My discovery that they were out of the book occurred when some of my own students were unable to get copies of the text about 18 months after it was published. They had run out, and never bothered to tell me. Since that time, I’ve written more, but haven’t published. I make more money from teaching courses using my texts, and I just give ’em away. Maybe I’ll follow Barry’s lead and self-publish! Sounds like fun.

Kathryn Robyn (user link) says:

Re: Barry Eisler

Nothing was preventing you from self-promoting or participating in the marketing of your book 18 years ago — that means investing in advertising, setting up promotional events like readings, media interviews, writing articles for newspapers. But you didn’t, so think about why you didn’t. It wasn’t the publisher’s fault that you didn’t. Keep in mind, whether you “get published” or self-publish, you have to do all of that. If it’s hard to do, it’s that much harder as a self-published author. Eisler knows his books sell themselves; that’s not true for most authors or most books. Most authors would and should grab that 500K advance and run.

Anonymous Coward says:

Now publishers won’t just have to compete with only other publishers but with other writers, as well? And the Internet, with it’s free writing done by free authors writing freely for the fuck of it?

So can we expect the next ten years to be dominated by the publishing industry complaining about being decimated by piracy?


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I wonder what copyright lawyers are going to end up doing? I mean, if you’re self-publishing then it’s cheaper to engage with pirates and try to convince them to purchase your work then it is to pay a lawyer to try and sue a few low-hanging fruit.

Or you’ll do that calculation where you figure out how much money you’re losing to piracy vs. how much you would lose on lawyer fees.

Interesting times indeed.

Michael Long (profile) says:


A few years back, a friend was shopping a new book around to publishers. Several were interested in the book, but each one wanted a detailed marketing plan from my friend on how *he* was going to market *his* book for them.

If you’re a top name (or famous for some reason), then the publishers may market your book. Otherwise, their “marketing” seems to consist solely of putting the title of your book on their list and taking orders… if any.

So if you’re going to be doing their work for them anyway….

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Marketing

“Several were interested in the book, but each one wanted a detailed marketing plan from my friend on how *he* was going to market *his* book for them.”

That’s actually really common. The key part you’re missing is that they want to know how the author will get engaged on the marketing side, but they will also do their own marketing. Publishers just want to know an author is willing to tour, do signings, get engaged on social media, etc….

J M Cornwell (profile) says:

Re: Marketing

After all, famous people or people with recognizable names don’t need marketing plans. They didn’t get famous by marketing themselves. That’s what the little people are for.

A lot of good writers are not getting the kind of attention or publishing contracts they deserve unless they have done the hard work first, like for instance Amanda Hocking, who just signed a $1M+ publishing contract for three books or M.J. Rose who had to self-publish “Lip Service” and sell like hotcakes before a publisher would even talk to her. It’s all about risk and the publishers aren’t willing to take the risk for nobodies. That’s why so many established and midlist writers are beginning to publish their own work in e-book and POD so they get to keep more of their own earnings and have some control. Publishers are being controlled by salesman and shelf space in bookstores, bookstores that are rapidly going under because they refuse to see the writing on the wall.

Anonymous Coward says:

He is in an enviable position (like, say, Radiohead) to be able to sell his products based solely on his name, as a result of the fine works that he has written and were published, distributed, and marketed by a publishing company.

It’s is proof that once the star is made, you don’t need as much marketing.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It also nicely crystallizes the change in media creation. Previously you let a big firm do most of the marketing and you got the contract to get some of the proceeds.

Now, you get ~100% of the proceeds, but you have to do pretty much all of the work. Certainly helps if you already have a name or some other sort of wide recognition. But you can make the recognition for yourself, or if you want a big platform, you either pay for that privilege or go the Huff Post route and give it away to drive sales to other things you offer.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

mostly because, if the star is any good and not an arse, they’ve basically got a head start on the ‘cwf+rtb’ element of things. doesn’t change the equation, so much as you only start looking at the process half way through.

so, yes, stars have it easier if they start going it alone, assuming they’re stars based on some degree of merit and not pure label/publisher hype. doesn’t mean no one else can do it though. just have to work harder to get going in the first place.

so… your point is valid. the usually implied and/or stated conclusions drawn based on that point… not so much.

pringerX (profile) says:

Just some speculation

It sure feels like Mr. Eisler has hit the nail on the head. The gatekeeper industries, by and large, realize that they are becoming obsolete, but rather than harness the new technology, they try to slow it down in hopes of maintaining their current, temporary dominance.
On the other hand, based on the “disruptive innovation” argument, it is not strictly their fault for failing to adapt- the disruptive innovation, by definition, is basically the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. It’s not that they haven’t tried to adapt; in many cases, constrained by the existing paradigms, they simply aren’t able to adapt.

Planespotter (profile) says:

Re: Just some speculation

and with their inability to make leaps and innovate/adapt we only have to wait for their eventual demise.

I was taking stock yesterday and realised that I haven’t purchased a single album/song from a label this year, all direct from bands and artists. Books still get bought from publishers so I hope that more writers start to release themselves.

Stephen says:


From the editor’s point of view, I don’t have much to add. Re #4 and #5, the truth is somewhere in between: in some cases publishers expect authors to do all the work for the simple fact that they are already strongly connected to the book’s target audience so the author’s appeal to them would be stronger for being more direct. #8 is correct: Eisler has the luxury of self-publishing because his name has already been made and his fanship, built. If he can count on a certain amount of sales, then the profit he’d realize will make up for the costs he’ll generate and time he’ll need to create the ebook himself. He might take into account, though, that Stephen King, the first major established author to do an ebook exclusively, is still wedded to paper (and buy-the-world-a-coke advances).

I’m not as gloomy on publishing. We aren’t in the business of selling paper. As my company, arguably the most business-minded of them all, sees it, we sell information. The issues now are the same as always: (1) what do consumers want; (2) how do we reach them; (3) and how do we make money doing so? Publishers are not quick to adopt new tech if only because they’ve been burned so many times before (remember CD-ROMs?). But as the data comes out to justify certain positions, they’ll adjust accordingly. Unlike the record company execs, who just want as much money as they’ve ever had for hookers and blow.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Eisler

He might take into account, though, that Stephen King, the first major established author to do an ebook exclusively, is still wedded to paper (and buy-the-world-a-coke advances).

Except when Stephen King did his “experiment”, he only released a chapter at a time and said he would stop if not enough copies sold. Plus he also released it at a time when there were no real e-readers. I don’t know about anyone else but I had some problems with this. First I wouldn’t buy portions of a book knowing that the author will stop publishing the book if some unknown amount isn’t met in a certain time period. Second, at a dollar a chapter, I think it would have cost too much for the book when it was done. Many of his books have a lot of chapters, it would have cost 3 to 5 times what I would have paid for the book, the physical copy anyway. A digital book should just cost less in my opinion.

Stephen says:

Re: Re: Eisler

That is true. But in defense of that strategy, Stephen King was just coming off another successful experiment with a similar strategy: the 6-book mass market serialization of his novel THE GREEN MILE. Of course that’s the way all books used to be sold, as serials (why are Dickens novels so long? because he was paid by the word). In fact, that’s how Bonfire of the Vanities got its start, as a serialization in Rolling Stone. I think there’s a future in ebook serialization, although maybe for $.49 a chapter or $10 upfront.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Paper publishing will never disappear...

… but much Like the buggy whip, the horse and carriage, vinyl record, bung hole borer, paper books will slowly become niche markets items. e-readers and tablets will come down and cost, the instant gratification of getting the book now will drive sales, and make paper books less relevant. On christmas, your birthday, or some other day deemed important, someone may gift you a “Paper” book. Which you will promptly scan or copy into your e-reader. After which you will toss the book on a shelf only to see it gather dust and eventually be used to prop up the leg of an antique table you got at a garage sale. Many years later one of you grandchildren will find the book and ask “if this is a book where is the power button?”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Paper publishing will never disappear...

How come when I mention that “paper books will slowly become niche markets items”, it is something that is nay-sayed? There are a couple of logical conclusions here:

1 – paper books are going away.

2 – people will use e-readers and digital files.

3 – digital files are infinite, and therefore the desire to pay for them goes away because they have no market price,


4 – being a professional writer will in the future be nothing more than a hobby, something done at night while working a day job.


Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Paper publishing will never disappear...

No, great writers, or at least really popular ones, will still make money–probably not by solely depending on sells of infinite goods though. What will change is that you will no longer be assured an income by simply being a “writer”. Or, to put it differently, being a “professional writer” will no longer mean getting paid just to write. If you’re still expecting that to work, then you better learn to like living in your mom’s basement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Generation Gap?

With the “greening” of American industry, you’d think there’d be a harder push toward digital versions. Compound that with the fact that kids graduating high school this year have never known a world without cellphones and internet and are used to getting their media in a digital format. Perhaps the Publishing Industry’s reluctance to embrace e-books is a generational one that will change once the old guard ages out.

As a 30 something with an e-reader, I can honestly say that I don’t like reading “dead tree” books anymore. I much prefer e-books for several reasons, not the least of which is being able to enlarge the text for my aging eyes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Generation Gap?

E-readers are “green”? From mining scarce elements in third-world, war-torn countries, transporting materials to other third-world countries where workers are worked to the point of suicide, to shipping that product to you on diesel-powered container ships, to constantly recharging those batteries (electricity from a coal-fired power plant isn’t green) to having to replace it every time a new version comes out or another one for those “other” file formats.

I’ll take a paper book (they do come in large-print formats or hey, glasses work too) made from a renewable, recyclable resource any day.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Generation Gap?

books can be recycled. books never become obsolete due to changing tech. books do not have their contents taken off you because some corporate arsehole decided you didn’t own it anymore, books do not require the mining of exotic minerals. books left in the countryside will decay into the enviroment naturally (well, if they’ve not had the paper treated too heavily), books can be lent, resold, or given away once you’re done with them. books do not require a constant supply of electricity (which causes it’s own enviormental issues). oh, and if the company cutting trees to make the paper has any concern for their own continued profitability they will be replanting the trees used to make the paper.

so… one point of using chemicals in the manufacturing process (which can be pretty bad for the local enviroment) vs many points of lesser contamination in the manufacturing process, more points of greater and irreprable destruction in raw materials aquisition, and a large quantity of non-recyclable, non-enviroment absorbable waste at the end point of the product’s use.

yeah, ‘green’ would push us towards paper with a greater emphasis on replanting, control of chemicals used, and recyling/reusing the end product. not tech where the various substances involved are so mixed togeather that attempting to refine teh raw materials back out of them is more likely to explode than give you anything useful :S

(also, if this shows up twice, it’s because techdirt gave me an error the first time i tried to post it)

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Generation Gap?

that being a whole different argument reguarding the use of diesel powered container ships, in some ways.

ultimately it’s not, though that’s just one more factor to weigh up, and given the nature of container ships, they just load something else up anyway. (which might reduce the number of trips per year by one or two i suppose, but in most cases, so far as i can tell and where possible, it’s cheaper to send the data accross the oceans and print more locally, thus eliminating that cost. other wise the books tend to make up a very small part of a mixed shipment to the destination in question.)

Stephen says:

one more thing

Actually, I do have something to add. GalleyCat combined Eisler’s story of self-publishing with that of self-publishing queen Amanda Hocking getting bids up to $1 million from treeware publishers:


Why are publishers making these bids? Because they want her following. Just as newspapers and journals from zines to the New Yorker are about serving a community, if not creating and binding one together, publishers serve followings, groups of people dedicated to a topic or type of entertainment, however nichey. That’s why we put on our sales sheets, “this book by X (who is unknown) is for readers of Y (who is a bestseller),” “for Civil War buffs” or “for the 3.5 million people who watch his cable show each night.” It’s not about pushing paper.

The problem with publishers, which don’t have the huge marketing resources of Hollywood or Big Pharma, is that they can’t create followings on any reliable basis. And with the exception of romance readers, no one really cares about the publishers themselves. It’s all about the author.

Which explains why some publishers can take chances on terrible books: because they have a dozen authors whose followers will snap up their books reliably each year. And it explains why people like Sidney Sheldon are still being published in their dotage: because the publishers can’t quit them even after their sales declined because those sales are still probably better than those of most of their new books.

Russ (profile) says:

Consulting Business

This actually is nothing new, many businesses face these choices today and have for years. That publishing game simply had a high barrier to entry that has gone away. This is the classic employee or free lance conundrum.

Reminds me of the consulting business. Free lance has better upside returns with higher risk. employee had some stability but traded that for no big rewards. Both of them depended on the marketing of the consultant. It just depended on who was doing the marketing.

Deirdre says:

Re: Book signing

I knew there was a reason I remembered this– there is indeed an app for that:

Enter Tom Waters, stage right. He has, according to Nawotka, come up with a brainchild of a brainstormed idea and he calls it “autography”.

Say again?

“It’s computer application that allows writers using a stylus to sign a blank page which is then delivered via e-mail and can then be inserted behind the title page of almost any e-book,” according to Nawotka. “Autography has initially been developed as a iPad app which works with the iBookstore, although Waters says the final service will
be device and format agnostic.”

I found it here: http://plogspot101.blogspot.com/2010/11/sign-my-kindle-please-e-autographs-in.html

Brian Meeks (profile) says:

I thought this was a great article and even better discussion afterwards. I am a new writer, who started a blog 14 months ago. In that time I have found I quite like it and have a respectable 2500 unique readers per month. This has led to finishing two novels and working on a third, all as blog posts. Each post is a 1st draft and requires a goodly amount of spit and polish, before it is ready to be published, but it allows people to read along.

I agree with the various comments about marketing, as I see this as a difficult task for a self publisher, but certainly not impossible. Over the 14 months I have worked to build a solid base of twitter followers (real people, not just spammers…I block the spammers from following), nurtured my FB relationships, and done a fair job with Linkedin. When the day comes that I lauch my first book on Kindle, Nook, and maybe Sony, I will be ready to start a campaign. It takes 250 sales in a week, or so I am told, to land in the top 100 for Kindle. If this is true, then having a social media launch, with a big push from day one, may help one get in to the mix.

Because I have already 500-600 people who have read my book in it’s first draft form, I hope to be able to call upon them to give a review and add tags. My network of blog friends is solid as well, and with 20 plus guest blog posts written, I am hopeful to get some help from these friends too.

I don’t know if I will succeed, but at the end of the day, I don’t care so much. I have discovered that writing isn’t only done when being punished by your evil 8th grade English teacher, but can be enjoyed.

Thanks to everyone for your comments here and this wonderful discussion. It has been helpful.


Brian Meeks
“Henry Wood Detective Agency”

Doug says:

There are still publishers

This idea that publishers will go away is silly. There are still publishers. They have just changed form. Amazon is a publisher. Barnes and Noble is a publisher. They can and have refused to publish certain types of books, and delisted others.

What is changing is not the publisher, but who the gatekeepers are, and the barrier of entry.

m3mnoch (profile) says:

but what about the cottage industries

for every dinosaur publisher that goes tits up, there’s another 10 service shops that cater to authors opening up.

createspace.com for example:

all the services you might need, ala carte, as you need them. and at very reasonable prices.

those dinosaurs are about to get eaten alive by a plethora of quick, nimble author services centers.


Anonymous Coward says:


Not all of the major publishers are opposed to trying new things or experimenting with new models … my personal favorite is my favorite for exactly that reason – Baen (www.baen.com for those who want to look). They’re nowhere near as big as the biggest names in publishing, but they at least seem to be up there with the other major publishers of SF&F. I’m also pretty sure they fall into the “big” model that includes prepublication advances.

Though in truth, for them, epublishing is *not* a new thing. They’ve been publishing and distributing ebooks (DRM-free, available in multiple formats) for years. I think the most recent innovation (or at least the most recent one I noticed!) was providing people who buy the novel electronically before it comes out an early copy – which may well *not* be the final edited copy. When the final edited copy becomes available, that becomes the one the early buyers can then download. This was *also* years ago …

They provide the first 1/3 to 1/2 of most of the novels they publish for free online prior to publication. This tends to be a very bad thing for me because I have this bad habit of picking up the ones I like as soon as I can, even though if I were a bit more patient I could get them elsewhere (my local library is very good).

They also have a rather significant “Free Library” available on their website, consisting mostly of novels (and short stories) from their back catalog (many of which are out of print, though some were added around the time they were published). The statements on why it was established – and some of the results – are really quite interesting.
It has unfortunately not been updated much lately; even so, it has well over 100 novels or short stories in it and it useful for learning about the authors that are in it. I suspect that one reason it hasn’t been updated much in the last few years is that Baen has been including “Free Library CDs” with many of its hardcovers, which they encourage you to copy and give away (not available on Baen’s site but they can be found at baencd.thefifthimperium.com).

I could gush a bit more and talk about personal lost sales of other publishers or the experience of going elsewhere, but I already feel a bit like a markething (typo, but it fits so I’ll leave it), so it looks like it’s time to stop.

It would be nice, though, if I could get the same level of service from other publishers … while I like what Baen publishes, it’s nowhere near everything I enjoy reading – or would enjoy, if only I could find it.

Russ (profile) says:

Baen Fan

I think that Baen represents many of the ‘new’ business models that Mike and others discuss. You failed to mention that they also have a web board that you can connect with many of the authors and over the years has been the source of about 25% of the publishers author stable.

Baen also demonstrates the advantage of market focus. Not big in absolute terms but within it’s niche, it has a strong following.

A Cautionary tale; several of the authors will not participate in the web boards because of some trolls accusing them of stealing ideas.

The vision that Jim Baen showed in building his publishing house has waned somewhat in the last few years since his death. I know that Eric Flint who is a strong advocate for what Jim was trying to achieve took over after that but as a working author, I don’t think he has the same skill set Jim had.

steve davidson (user link) says:


What I’ve been wondering since reading about this elsewhere, here and working my way all the way down through the comments is this:

why was the decision an “either/or” one? Why – take the advance OR self-publish?

Why wasn’t the answer “do both”?

The author in question has obviously demonstrated the ability to write content that others will buy.

Surely he doesn’t believe that the book in question is the last one he’ll be capable of writing for now and evermore.

Me? I’d have recommended taking the half million and plowing all of that into establishing my personal brand and setting things up for the self-publishing effort with the next book. Kind of fitting, having the gatekeeper publisher’s money funding the other effort…

(with 500k you could: hire a publicist, set up an awesome website, purchase a huge number of ISBNs and start manufacturing premiums in China)

Rob says:

Re Re Re Paper publishing will never disappear...

If living in your mother’s basement is the expectation of an author that brings years of knowledge and experience to their writing then many books will never be written. Some authors write on a subject they have studied or practiced for decades. If they will not be compensated for sharing their knowledge they simply won’t write the book.

There will be lots of second rate novels and instructional books by people that desire to see their name in print but experts will simply take their knowledge and experience to their grave.

I spent over 40 years studying and practicing my passion, and received honors for my effort. I estimated a cost of a quarter million dollars to acquire the knowledge I would write about. I’ve been writing a basic text for the last year, and planned the advanced text to follow. If I must sell it for 10 cents a copy I’ll delete the files and be on my way. It’s insulting to think that 40 years of study and a couple years of writing and editing is worth several hundred dollars in royalties.

I’m sure others like myself that study a couple topics their entire adult life will choose not to pass along their knowledge if the return is an insult. The knowledge will die with them. The future libraries may become second rate information. It’s a rather frightening possibility for the future. The expert and advanced reference texts produced in the past may not exist for future generations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re Re Re Paper publishing will never disappear...

… so, basically, you fail as a human being and expect the rest of the world to conform to your standards?

seriously, those 40 years of studying are NOT part of the cost of the book. one ASSUMES you did all that studying so you could learn skills and actually preform a productive task in society, for your own financial gain and enjoyment as well as, one hopes, the betterment of the world around you as a whole, if only indirectly. the book is (or should be) secondary to that, and half the point in such books is making sure such knowledge Doesn’t die out.(this was the entire point behind the creation of copyright in the US in the first place, after all, nothing to do with fiction.) that is, you’d have payed that whether you were writing the book or not, so it’s irrelevant.

now, the actual writing and editing work, that’s straight up cost for the book, yes. if your target audience is small enough that ten cents a copy Plus whatever recognition is attached to it Plus the contribution to society and the global knowledge base as a whole are insufficient compensation for that work… charge more!

just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t take long for people to start pirating it if you charge hundreds of dollars per book (not uncommon with textbooks, i understand?), particularly if one Doesn’t need to be an expert to understand them and it’s on a subject of general interest.

also consider that, for hard copy, your creative work is not the product from the publishers point of view. it’s the added value/advertising they use to persuade people they want to buy paper and ink. from the customer’s point of view, the Vast majority of the cost of any given individual book is the paper and ink. additional cost for books with small target audiences is assumed to be compensating for the lack of the usual cost reduction inherent to large print runs. now, when you start selling in digital form… there Is No Per Item Cost. no paper, no ink, no difference in cost to the creator/publisher/retailer if they sell one copy or one thousand. therefore, the cost of the book in qustion in digital format represents only the value of the work put in by the author, divided over an unknown but technically potentially infinite (at least over time and for the purpose of the exercise) number of sales.

basically, at ten cents a copy, the only reason you’re only making ‘a few hundred dollars’ is: your target audience is small (probably small enough that a personal appeal would be all it would take to get people to pay more per copy if that’s how you make your money), you, or whoever you delegated to, suck at publicizing your work (admittedly, doing so generally ups that initial cost, but it’s still not a Per Copy cost increase.), or your work is just so bad that no one wants it.

things to keep in mind.



Hi my name is adekunle adebayo i have a request to make i have seen your website and its good but before engaging in anything iwould like to clear out some crucial things which are not clear to me iwant to know if after sending my book for publication, and it is agreed to be published, by your company can I recieve my royalty through WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFERE or probably through MONEY GRAM MONEY TRANSFERE or through a DIRECT BANK TRANSFERE in which the money would be deposited into my personal bank account because I operate a savings account right here in NIGERIA I insist on this so as collect the money easily thanks lastly the name of my bank is ECOBANK NIGERIA LIMITED

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