Thursday, May 24, 2012

In Defense of Harlequin...

So I was incredibly disappointed that I couldn’t post last week on the heels of Maureen’s post about Owning your own Decisions. (Darn day job!) But I have to say I was startled by the Peterson blog. Yes, I think it’s great she wanted to share her numbers, but I feel that new authors reading that post might not have all the facts and without them could be making the wrong decision to go with self-publishing vs being published through a traditional publisher.

Now, I don’t know this author and don’t know her work. I think it’s great she was able to sell through her advance on all her HQ books the first time out and was actually earning out at such high numbers. Truth – I’ve never earned out more than 20K on an HQ book.

But I would contend that the only way she is going to make any money in the self-publishing world is if she takes the readers and fans she’s cultivated through traditional publishing with her. And in my opinion it’s totally uncool to have the advantage of writing for HQ and building a following from those books, to then turn around and call them a crummy company because of contract rates she agreed to. Sorry.

Harlequin is a business. Its purpose is to make a profit. It offers writers contracts which we choose to sign or not. My agreement with them - I write a good book on time. Their agreement with me - they content edit it, copy edit it, design cover art, brand it with the HQ label and put it in stores and make it digitally available so people will buy it.

If a writer thinks she can make more self-publishing go for it. But let’s look at the facts. I don’t know the actual numbers (I’m sure it’s out there somewhere) but I have to believe the mass majority of previously unpublished ‘self-publishers’ will make SIGNIFICANTLY less than what they could earn with HQ. I know RWA did a study to show how significantly less “digital only publishers” ultimately paid out rather than traditional publishers.

I know this sounds harsh - but I think Konrath is selling some kool aid folks.

I spent 6 months writing a book, months beyond that editing a book. I had beta readers (at no cost to me – but cost in time to them – thanks DWT). I spent $400 plus dollars on a copy editor. $150 dollars on an ad at Goodreads. I blogged. I tweeted. My agency spent ad dollars at Smart Bitches and sent my book to Netgalley for reviews.

Ask me how much money I’ve made in the near 6 months since its release.

I’m a traditionally published author. I’ve written fourteen books for Harlequin. I’ve won an RT award and have been a Top Pick twice. Ask me again how many people rushed out to buy my self-published book? A book I priced (I thought fairly) at $4.99 given that it was 90 thousand plus words. Which is now on sale for $3.99.

Okay I’ll tell you. In 6 months I’ve sold less than 75 books. I’m just about to crack over $125 dollars with my next month’s sales. Let me say that again $125 dollars!

Now the traditional publishing critics I’m sure will abound. Maybe I wrote a book no one wants to read. Maybe it’s the cover. Maybe I didn’t do enough publicizing. I recognize all those things.

But here is the kicker do YOU want to do those things? Do YOU want to spend every 30 minutes tweeting and promoting when you could be writing? Do YOU want to constantly be giving away FREE material in an attempt to attract readers to your PAID material? Do you want to compromise your craft by rushing feverishly to produce content in order to build momentum and attract enough readers that will finally make your self-publishing efforts worth it?

Last time I checked Harlequin never asked me to write anything for free.

When I read the comments on that post – I was amazed at the numbers I was seeing. People talking about hundreds of thousands of copies sold. And maybe it’s true, but if you’re selling those kinds of numbers it’s because either a) you have some built in platform/fan base already b) you’re doing absolutely everything you can to promote/push your books including writing A LOT for free c) you’re focusing on erotica which is still the best money maker in ebooks. Or d) you’re damn lucky – which I know happens.

If you’re not one of those things – if you are a newbie – then you have to ask yourself is it worth taking 6% 15,000-20,000 sold or 70% digital only of 100 books sold?

What’s misleading I think is for an HQ author who is consistently selling 15,000 copies per book, who has been released consistently maybe two or three times a year, who then decides to migrate to self-publishing - to say how much more money they are going to make self-publishing. Obviously their numbers are going to be better! They have a following. 70% of that following is better than 6% of that following. And truthfully if you’re willing to take on the risk, be your own editor, do your own cover art and your own promotion then you deserve 70% of that money. But to suggest that Harlequin or any other publishing company is out to rob, cheat or give you a bad deal is just not accurate. They gave you a great deal. They gave you a leg up in the self-publishing world.

Newbies beware! Is Harlequin perfect – hell no. Is any option perfect - hell no. But when someone starts throwing around numbers like all anyone has to do is put a book up on Amazon and start raking in the dollars – I’m here to tell you – that just isn’t true.


Molly O'Keefe said...

Excellent post - Steph, thanks for sharing your numbers. It will be interesting to see if Harlequin will budge any with all the options now open to category length fiction. they just don't have the same number of people clamboring to write for them - or frankly, maybe they do, I don't really know.

Proving once again, knowledge is key to decision making in this business and steph, thanks for adding to that...

Eileen said...

Great post telling it like it is. I hate self-promotion. THe only thing vaguely close to it that I do enjoy is this blog.

Your point out establishing that platform and having readers who follow you already is a good one. It's hard enough to establish that even when you're consistently publishing in traditional formats. Doing it as a brand new voice in electronic format? Not so easy!

Stephanie Doyle said...

And I'm not going to lie. I thought there would be at least a return on my investment if not a small profit. Maybe I thought I would sell a couple hundred copies Maybe make $1000 - $2000 (keep in mind my agency takes 15%) and that is still less than HQ but would make the effort worth it.

Obviously I've got a long way to go!

So I learned this...

1. People don't automatically find all self-published books.

2. I didn't have enough of a following through HQ (and with good reason given my inconsistency with the different lines) to make SP worth it.

I'm sure Sarah Mayberry is going to have a much different result. And to me - that kind of SP is SMART and a good business decision.

But you don't have to call out HQ because you've made that decision. It's like building a client base at company A - only to then leave and start your own company and taking all the clients with you.

Happens all the time in business - but nobody turns around and slams the company the company that established them in the first place.

Maureen McGowan said...

Well said Steph. I actually think Peterson's post was great too. It was how it was framed that bothered me. And that was Konrath.

I admire Konrath in many ways. He's taken a strong stand and gets a lot of mileage out of it. And I do learn a lot reading his blog. I also did back 5 or so years ago when his main message was: You can't sell to NYC? Then write a better damn book! He was as religiously against self-pubbing and/or whining about NYC publishers back then, as he is the opposite now. (Not calling him a hypocrite. Things have changed and he has explained why/how he changed is opinions well.)

You're so right that saying negative things about a company who launched your career is bad form. But on the other hand, authors need this kind of info... Hard line to walk.

Maureen McGowan said...

"But you don't have to call out HQ because you've made that decision. It's like building a client base at company A - only to then leave and start your own company and taking all the clients with you.

Happens all the time in business - but nobody turns around and slams the company the company that established them in the first place."

I think that really sums it up, Steph. She could have shared the facts without making it sound like they were greedy crooks out to rip authors off. Or implying one was stupid to publish with them. But I still think that tone was mostly Konrath. Would have to re-read to be sure. She let him do it, in any case...

Stephanie Doyle said...

Maureen - that's true. Part of how the blog was framed was within his context. And I did feel there was some condesension - as if you silly writers taking pennies from HQ when you could be self publishing.

But I think what worried more was the commenters - "Oh thank you. Now I know never to write for HQ. What a mistake that would have been. I'll just SP instead."

It was that tone that had me wanting wave my arms and scream and say - someone correct these peole!

Beth said...

I'm pretty sure you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned Erotic. I'm putting a book out in June and I'm nervous about it. i want to sell a gazillion copies...

Wouldn't that be nice?! :D

But I'm newbie author who doesn't have a naked couple/person on the front. It's not going to be easy. I keep my fingers crossed and pray for the best and promo like crazy. Also, I keep writing... and yes, submitting to publishers. NOt because self-publishing is second best. But because getting published elsewhere can only help. Just think! IF you weren't a HQ author, maybe your SP would have sold a lot less.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Bethanne - I want you to sell a zillion copies too. And it CAN happen. It's just harder I think than some people are making it sound.

And I agree with you. Both can be very profitable and one type of publishing can help the other.

I know about 20 people. So 55 "other" people - who probably read me in HQ bought that book.

Anonymous said...

Steph, such a great, great post. There are so many black and white opinions out there, when the issue is go grey for most. Without a platform, how do readers find self-published authors?

And I think that's the issue that does not get discussed in so many of the conversations...

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those waiting for the door at Harlequin to open for me. I heard about the contract issue prior to reading Ann's blog (from other blogs). Why do I still want to be pubbed by them? Because of one of the reasons you stated - because they will help me get my name out there. If I go in eyes wide open, and I know there is stuff I don't know, then there won't be as many surprises.

I do know this - you really shouldn't burn your bridges. What if the self-pub doesn't work? Will another traditional pub be willing to take you on if you're already known for airing dirty laundry?

p.s. I have your Super in my TBR pile!!


Maureen McGowan said...

Fingers crossed for your submission, Marcie!

Stephanie Doyle said...

Marcie - ditto what Maureen said. Fingers crossed for getting the "call".

Anonymous said...

Excellent post - I'm a big believer in "don't pee where you play" - in other words, don't be burning bridges if you can help it.

Hopefully Peterson will do well in self-publishing - but what trade publisher would want to do business with her knowing she has no qualms about dishing up bad publicity about them if she feels like it?

And, as I've told others, I can't afford to self-publish. I'd have as much luck putting that money into lottery tickets.

Konrath has a cult following around him that encourages people to self-pub and if they fail, they're called out and derided for not doing enough. I can't afford to fail. I'll take my checks from small epubs and Carina and be happy without going into debt to publish.

Again, excellent post!

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Love this post - echoes so much of my own thoughts. Konrath has a great gig going, but it does bother me that part of his self-promo are the promises he implies for SP efforts. I know lots of established writers, with good followings, not selling thousands of copies, much less hundreds of thousands. As with all publishing venues, mileage varies - and it's disingenuous to frame it otherwise.

Lynne Scott said...

I was well aware when I read the blog that it was Konrath's words, and I really felt that she wasn't doing the bashing - he was. She openly said that she was where she was because of HQ and appreciated them, but she wanted to try something else. I felt that he and the commenters were doing the bulk of the bashing. I'm appreciative that someone was willing to share their numbers so openly. She will do well, and you are completely correct, if she does well it will be because of her HQ background.

Others authors have walked away because the return is not as "fair" as it could be, but she allowed Konrath to make her departure public. This also plays into a lot of attention to the release of their new books. And they are using this event for promotion. Sadly, it's a rather ugly way to do it, but hey, they're out there to sell books and any publicity... well some folks will always use everything to their advantage.

The other thing I wondered if she was really aware of the costs of self-publishing. If you can't afford braces, how are you ging to pay the upfront costs of editing and cover design? Also, I wondered if she had really thought through the costs - not just financially, but emotionally, and the toll on her time with her family. I appreciate that you pointed out that an author who has to spend all their time promoting is probably not writing. And editing is expensive and time consuming. At HQ they are watching the content and tone. On your own, you have to make sure the editor is doing their job - they work for you. It's a whole different world when you are responsible for the content.

The reality is that everyone is pushing their own Kool-Aid so they can feel better about their choices. If you like your gig at HQ or Samhain then you're going to say so. I had a friend who wrote for Sapphire Blue and promoted them at the top of her lungs right up until they went out of business without notice. She's not finding it too easy to start over as an indie. I read the blogs of indies that swear they're moving several hundred books a month at $3.49. They also give away THOUSANDS of their books to draw readers. All of those give-aways to self-promote have devalued their work and ours and taken away thousands of buyers. Fewer buyers means fewer contracts from the big-boys and fewer sales for all of us.

Self promotion is a tough slog and I hate it. I blow at it. I'm with you - I don't mind the blogging, but I'm a fail at all the rest. So I just keep writing and trying. I'm a newbie with five books out and I SP. I pay for the editing, the covers, and I don't do enough selp-promotion. I write a decent book that's well worth the $3.99-$4.99 I charge. But I'm one of hundreds of thousands in the pile of books - how do I get you to choose me without throwing more money and time at it?

The bottom line is that you have to choose what matters. I'll still try for a publisher, but I'll keep doing my own SP thing even if the return is minimal. Lord knows, I would give my left breast for a publisher to pick me up for a book or two. It would be nice to have someone do the heavy lifting for a while. But I'm no novice thanks to the blogs and information out there about the contracts. I'll read mine carefully and there will be no "surprises." My bucket list was always "write a novel." No where was the word, "publish."

Thanks for a great blog.

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