Ebooks and Stuff!

Good news potentially, from the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Apparently agents are warning of a reckoning to come, because of the low royalties paid to authors. If you want to read more, go and look at The Bookseller for the full article here: http://www.thebookseller.com/news/agents-warn-e-book-reckoning.html

Many people have asked me in the last few months why so few of my books are available on Kindle or other ebook formats. Well, the answer’s very simple. I am a firm believer in getting paid for what I do. I know that many agree with Michael Joseph’s words: “Authors are easy to get on with – if you are fond of children.” However authors tend to be rather serious-minded individuals who gamble their lives on the dream of a best seller that will repay years of poor income. Authors don’t earn massive fortunes. Only a tiny percentage manage that.

The reason is easy. Publishers do not like to waste their hard-saved money on undeserving souls just because without the said undeserving souls they’d have no products.

So, thus it was that on ebooks, my old publisher originally tried to persuade me to accept a flat 10% royalty across my backlist. I was not keen. I said “no”.

After some months telling me the offer could not be improved upon, they added 5%. A little – but not enough. So I refused again. And a third time, and a fourth. By this stage the publishers were finally up to the industry norm at 25%, but I wasn’t keen to take it. Why?

Well, you may think I’m just a typical greedy author, but I think I was being rational for once. It doesn’t come easy to me.

If I had accepted that deal, I would have to expect that my old publisher would put in exactly the same amount of effort as they always have to sell my books – as little as possible. They would do a little work to convert the book (and since it’s held digitally already, that would take minimal effort), and then leave it sitting on a digital bookshelf until someone decides to buy it. No marketing, no effort, but the company value would be increased by the addition of almost thirty titles.

What I am pretty sure would not happen is that there would be any marketing or publicity to push the sales up. Mainly because there has never been any marketing or sales campaign to push the paper copies with my old publishers, so why should I expect them to try more from a digital version?

In order to try to persuade them to do some work around this, I suggested an advance on royalties which they would pay per book. That way I’d at least know they were investing some money in my backlist as a project – but I was told that this would set a precedent, and they’d not consider it.

So, as matters stand, all the backlist’s in limbo. The publisher won’t sell the books, and I won’t give up the backlist for nothing.

I know authors can sound pretty boring when they talk about their work. I rather like D’Israeli’s words: “an author who speaks about his own books is as bad as a mother who talks about her own children” – but there is something different about a businessman trying to get a reasonable return for his efforts. And that’s the position I am in now.

I have seventeen years of my life invested in my thirty-two stories. I have not been able to enjoy the lifestyle of a millionaire – or even a bank clerk. The money earned per book is risible. That being so, the only investment I have for my future is those titles.

If I was to give them up to the publisher and agree that they could own them as ebooks, I would be giving away my entire career. That ain’t going to happen.

So, for those who have asked why my books aren’t yet on ebooks, there is your answer. I haven’t been offered anything for them yet. As soon as a publisher makes me a serious offer for the electronic rights, I’ll be happy to sell them. And the way things are, I think it may be better to sell them in the US rather than UK.

And I’ll be very happy to watch what happens to the royalty payments as well.

I think that there could be a brave new world of publishing on its way. It’s not here yet – too many authors are tied to infinitely restricted contracts that deprive them of any real income. If they bypass their publisher, they don’t get the (usually miserly) advance up front, but then again, they can earn in excess of 50 pennies per sale. Compare that with the author who is privileged to be paid, say, £5,000, but has to repay that advance on royalties based on 7.5% of net receipts (the industry norm in the UK). Each book the writer sells is likely to win between 6 pence and perhaps 24, in the best possible case. So the best possible case is half that of the straight to eprint author.

There are downsides, sure. The biggest is that the author going straight to ebook will never have a marketing campaign behind the book. True. How many authors actually have the benefit of marketing? Not many. Most are expected to sink or swim. Only the ready supply of celebrity authors ever see adverts for their books.

Still, I know too many good authors who have to spend hours each day promoting their work: blogging, tweeting, facebooking and God alone knows what else, to be worried about that.

View over Thames walking back to my hotel

Of course some elements of marketing can be huge fun. Many thanks to my new publishers Simon and Schuster for allowing me to travel up to London to Goldsboro Books the week before last. Not only did I get the chance to mingle and chat with my friends in the Historical Writers’ Association, Medieval Murderers and CWA, but also with readers. One lovely lady with her daughter had flown over especially from Ireland just to meet me that evening. It is massively head-expanding to meet such dedicated readers! Thanks to you both.

Thanks too, of course, to Goldsboro in Cecil Court, London. They do a huge amount for book collectors and readers, and have a growing international business, providing signed first editions.

However, I am tied up just now, with new projects.

There is an ever-expanding number which is growing to take over all my time. Meetings with companies about writing concepts, meetings with others to develop ideas for my own stories, and also planning for a series of creative writing courses. This last could be one of my biggest challenges so far. Not sure about it, but there is definite potential. Apart from anything else, it would do me a lot of good to get out and about in the real world occasionally.

And having said all that, it’s probably about time I got back to book 31 and the copyedit of City of Fiends. I have to say, I’m enjoying it a great deal just now!

11 Responses to “Ebooks and Stuff!”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    “The biggest is that the author going straight to ebook will never have a marketing campaign behind the book. True. How many authors actually have the benefit of marketing? Not many. Most are expected to sink or swim. Only the ready supply of celebrity authors ever see adverts for their books.

    Still, I know too many good authors who have to spend hours each day promoting their work: blogging, tweeting, facebooking and God alone knows what else, to be worried about that.”

    While that is true Michael we who use ‘small press’ publishers have to do 90% of the marketing too, for not much return. These days writing a book is barely 10%. The real hard work begins once it has gone to the printers.

    I’d far prefer to be writing constantly rather than having to spend so much time doing what my publisher should be doing, wouldn’t you?


    • Absolutely, Jack. I know so many really good, hard-working professionals now who’ve never seen a decent advance. What is sad is how many writers are ditching their careers now. Many of them very good writers, who just find it impossible to make enough money to live on.

      I think that the same problems will exist for small press authors as much as all others, which is why I made no distinction between them.


  2. i think it must be harder to market historical mysteries because they don’t have type and size of online communities that exist for other genres. The general historical fiction genre contains so much romance that it is difficult to find what I am interested in. I am a big fan of historical mysteries and had never even heard of you until I came across a book in a charity shop. To make a success of your books online requires the development of communities of readers based around the historical mystery genre so that people that are looking for books like yours will know that you exist. This is currently lacking. Another of my favourite authors susanna gregory does not even have a web site and it was only through another chance discovery in a charity shop that i found her. Collaborative work should be done among authors, artists, editors and others to produce an updated daily sites of reviews, news, interviews etc for all authors of historical mysteries so that we readers can more easily find out what is available and what is good


  3. and just to test the market try self publishing some .99p short story ebooks


    • Thanks for your comments, Helen. And I’m working on the idea of packaging up some of my shorts into an anthology and putting that out as a taster, as you suggest. My only concern is, doing that before there is a ready supply of actual novels, so that after the taster, the readers can go to the real thing! Hopefully it’ll work, though.


  4. Metoo says:

    This may be redundant (in that I may have written to you on the subject) but I am just going touch on the subject of “celebrity authors.” I am amazed at what poor writing there may be seen under a “celebrity author’s name” (whether they actually wrote or used the offices of a “ghost writer”). I recently borrowed some old titles by a “celebrity author” and physician. After reading a select number of them (that touched on a subject of interest as well as places, etc. that I was familiar with, i.e. one location was once a relatives farm in a bygone era), it was akin to doing an equation. Highly formulaic to the point I could just about tell you what was going to happen on various pages. I knew what a main character was going to do before he did it as he / she did the same thing in preceding titles (of the series). The “author” even took license in some affairs that were impossible yet claims that he is helping to teach the public. The “celebrity author” has made quite a success from his titles over the years which proves that there are more than a few readers who are not discerning. He has had one or two movies out there “based upon [title].” Considering the one local that he lives at at least part of the year, he is doing much better than a “clerk.” Then I look at your writing skills and research and say to myself, “How can the “celebrity author” get away with it?” I look, too, at Bernard Knight (MD, etc.) whose tales of forensics old and new are far superior and more accurate than the “celebrity’s and ask why both you and he have to struggle along. Once again, discerning readers need to take the time to pass along the word about titles by you and Bernie, and other good authors, if they really want to continue reading good work or just waste their money on tripe. It is their decision to make especially if they enjoy chatting with you on FB, etc.


    • Many thanks, PrussBlue – and I agree. I am never less enthused about publishing than when I see the ludicrous advances paid to celebs that can never be earned out. The sole reason for paying so much has to be a daft perception that it adds to the publisher’s macho reputation. Why the reputation for paying over the odds for the mindless witterings of the famous, perhaps a biography of a twenty two year old for half a million, is beyond me. But then, jealousy is a terrible thing!


  5. Having been involved in publishing and been lucky enough to have had the odd (non-fiction) book published (apart from the huge privilege of being married to Marcia who is a far better writer than I shall ever be) I can see the problem from all sides.

    There are two, as I see it.

    As far as general fiction is concerned, book prices have not kept pace with inflation. I have done some calculations on paper back printed in the 1960’s and 70’s which indicate that a paperback today should be costing in the order of £24.They are not and publishers are facing higher costs against diminishing returns (think the deals they are forced to accept by people like Tesco and Amazon). This limits their ability to offer decent authors decent advances.

    The other is, of course, the celebrity author. My guess is that they exist because publishers know that the author will attend to all the marketing and that it makes good business sense even if the advance is huge. Why do we all whoop with joy when such a deal comes unstuck?

    So, yes, we are back to marketing our own books whether we like it or not. Perhaps the time has come for a writers’ association formed to offer and market ebooks. I am told it would be technically possible and obviously a lot of authors blogging, tweeting and generally making nuisances of themselves could cause a bit of a stir. Now, if I were not so damn busy and a lot younger …


    • Interestingly after I started thinking about launching a publishing house on the web, today I heard that Allan Guthrie has created just such a firm. I’m too often slightly ahead of the game . . .


  6. knotrune says:

    From all I’ve read I’m really not convinced it’s worth going down the route of traditional publishing, if I ever manage to finish writing a novel that is. If I have to do all my own marketing anyway, I might as well self publish and get 100% of the sale price (less what Paypal might take I suppose). I could be wrong, but I can’t help feeling that the amount of effort spent jumping through publishers’ hoops would be better spent on improving my product and learning about how to market it.


    • Cannot disagree – but I’d epublish rather than go self-published, purely because the set up investment in paper is so much more expensive. If you have to do all marketing and PR effort, there really is little advantage in going to a publisher!


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