How Indie Bookstores are killing Indie Books

The last sacred cow of the book world is planting the seeds of its own irrelevance. The untouchable, most holy of institutions, hailed as the prime literary taste-maker and engine of new discoveries, no longer holds its touted powers, yet none dare voice out loud that the ‘Emperor’ is no longer wearing their clothes.

Until now.

Once upon a time, in the blissful days of the pre-Internet literary world, local independent bookstores played a crucial role in discovering and publicizing new books. Great books on small presses could win the attention of literary agents and major publishers, and the then-Big-Six’s ‘hidden gems’ could find the accolades they deserved.

For the last fifteen years, the Web has been usurping the indie bookstores’ ‘power of influence’. Countless literary review sites and blogs, and book retailers’ online reviews, have, for the most part, taken over the role of “taste-maker and engine of discovery”. Yet, everyone in the literary world still treats the local indie stores as the most sacred of cows.

They shouldn’t.

indie-bookstore-meme

Yes, one of their biggest issues can be summed up nicely in a meme. Yet, the problems here go much deeper than that. Indies are backing away en-masse from “local author” programs and even stocking any books released by small presses. With the Big Five’s ever-increasing risk aversion, and honing of commercial formulas, how much “literary discovery” can the local indie stores really do, when they restrict themselves to carrying only major-publisher books?

Soon, the indie bookstores will be forced to recommend books by “James Patterson” his hired writers, because they’ll be the only titles left on their shelves.

james-patterson

A slight exaggeration, but you get the point.

Due to the aforementioned risk aversion, increasing numbers of excellent books will never be published by the Big Five. And those books have to go somewhere.

Over the last five years, many have headed for self-publishing. The preponderance of best-selling self-published books has long since proven that the Big Five’s commercial formulae are missing many #1 New York Times (e-book) best-sellers, and even “The Martian”, a novel that served as the genesis of a hit movie. No indie bookstore could have discovered or championed “The Martian”, because it was never on their shelves in the first place.

And the indies’ lack of shelf diversity is creating an even bigger problem for themselves.

Given the relative ease of self-publishing, it is safe to say that any author who signed to an independent publisher after, say, the year 2010, was an author who was committed to having print versions of their books available for sale at bookstores.

With the local stores turning a blind eye to small press books, in the process they also shelf-block the authors who committed themselves to the more difficult path of traditional publishing, just to have print versions of their books, that the typical indie bookstore will now no longer stock. In other words, the indies won’t stock the books by the authors who gave up full creative control and self-publishing’s higher royalty rates, just to get print editions for stores that will no longer carry them.

Not a great way to make friends of those authors. Or, for that matter, their independent publishers.

In the face of this trend, some great small presses have had to shut down (R.I.P. Booktrope). Others, like my own publisher PDMI Publishing, LLC, have moved on to targeting large book retailers. For the last several years, PDMI has been holding its author signings at major chains such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, which have proven to be more receptive to the small press, its authors and its books than the typical local indie bookstore.

Other small presses still vainly holding out hope for the indie shelves will probably go the way of Booktrope, sad to say. And once all of their authors realize the “local indie Emperor” is no longer wearing their shiny book-championing armor, they’ll be free to move on.

Once again, their books will have to go somewhere.

“Yes, self-publishing,” you say, “but what about print? Print isn’t dead.”

Which is precisely why Amazon is venturing into brick-and-mortar book retailing. If the indie bookstores thought CreateSpace was bad, “they ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Once Amazon’s brick-and-mortar infrastructure is in place, any “Kindle” that catches fire can be on Amazon’s bookshelves in a couple of weeks. Are the Big Five and their self-appointed ‘indie’ taste-makers ready for a world where books that bypass them entirely can become #1 New York Times PRINT best-sellers?

Another hypothetical question: What would happen if more independent publishers followed the path of PDMI and focused on large retailers? Unlike the Big Five, smaller publishers could sign exclusive deals with large retailers, in return for print book shelf space. A “Barnes & Noble Exclusive” title could easily reach #1 NYT best-seller status, if carried in enough stores.

And, given the local stores’ current exclusionary climate, would any of the publisher’s authors really object if their publisher went “Barnes & Noble Exclusive”, especially if it meant their book got shelf space at B&N’s across the U.S.?

One thing is sure to continue. Once Amazon entries are regularly populating several places of the Top Ten New York Times print best-seller list, the indie stores will whine and complain about it. Yet much of the ‘blame’ will rest with themselves, for turning a blind eye to the smaller publishers and their authors, all parties involved who had dedicated themselves to the difficult task of producing print books, only to be rebuffed at virtually every turn. Killing off some of the geese that laid the golden eggs, but those eggs have to go somewhere.

Straight to Amazon’s waiting nest. 😈

UPDATE 9/08/16: A quote from this excellent Observer article The Truth About The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists :

“(For the N.Y.T. list) a hardcover copy of your book purchased on Amazon.com is counted differently than the same hardcover book purchased at indie bookstore X.”
Here may be a more valid reason why people are still treating indie stores like sacred cows.
Yet, if you could sell a million books at Wal-Mart alone, you may not make the N.Y.T. list, and you definitely wouldn’t make the W.S.J. list, as Wall Street Journal doesn’t even tally Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club sales, which is a ‘hole’ big enough to drive literal semi-trailers full of books through….

UPDATE Aug. 2017: Alas, PDMI Publishing, LLC also fell victim to the realities of the book-retailing climate, but their later focus on major retailers was the correct thing to at least attempt to do, even if it didn’t save the company.

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Serial Killer: How The Binging Culture Affects Serial Fiction And Its Authors

The blogging world seems to agree on one thing: Pay the writer.

And we should. Without fiction and its authors, what sort of “culture” would exist?

There are plenty who won’t pay the writer, but even those who pay the writer can cause problems.

I’m talking about the practice of waiting for a book series to be completed, before buying it.

The Netflix Binge-Watching Culture has begun to bleed into the book world, and authors and publishers are already feeling the effects of this change.

Would we be able to read the Harry Potter Series today if everyone had waited until J.K. Rowling had finished writing “Deathly Hallows” to buy the series?

No.

If “The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone” had not sold as well as it did, Rowling’s publisher likely would have dropped her, and the rest of the series might have ended up in the endless lower reaches of Amazon KDP, waiting an eternity to be discovered.

Of late, a few people have even had the nerve to suggest that, in this binge-reading climate, that publishers should not acquire trilogies and the like, until the author has finished writing the entire series. I guess these people would have wanted Joanne to stay on the dole for years and years more than she had to. 😈

In these days of shrinking advances, almost all authors have to work a day job, which consumes a large amount of time that could otherwise be spent writing. The general readership, by and large, seems to be blissfully unaware of this situation, and expects authors to crank out a 100,000 word masterpiece of a sequel in a few weeks.

Holding off on buying the first volume of a series “until the author is finished”, therefore insures the author has to continue to work their day job, slowing down the writing of the sequels, and may even doom the series outright if the publisher sees this as simply “bad sales”. Publishers are becoming more risk-averse by the minute, and they want results. The Big Five New York publishers were once known for developing properties they believed in, and giving them time to grow. Nowadays, you’re lucky if any publisher will ‘invest’ in further series development if the first volume doesn’t take off immediately.

All this notwithstanding, there are some compelling arguments for authors not to shop a series around until they’ve completed writing it. Prospective publishers will know in advance 😉 exactly how the series ends, and they don’t have to ‘worry’ about the author going off on some unforeseen wild tangent. Which makes me wonder if The Twilight Saga would have ever been picked up if they had been able to read the completed “Breaking Dawn” manuscript, replete with its gory birth scene, Jacob’s questionable imprinting, et cetera. Even if publishers reject the author’s completed series, the author can upload the whole series at once to Amazon KDP and (if nothing else) satisfy the “binge-reader” contingent.

We live in an impatient, instant-gratification culture, where authors and publishers will have to adjust their perspectives to stay relevant. We do need to educate the reader body that creating a series under these constraints in never easy, and on how readers’ early sales support keeps the books flowing. Publishers also need to keep in mind how the “binge-reader” culture affects early volume sales of serial fiction.

We may be heading for “don’t quit your day job until after you’ve finished your series” territory, nonetheless….

I drove a thousand miles to catch my muse!

Joel Eisenberg Banner June 2015Catching Your Muse: How To Claim Your Artistic Spirit

Snead State Community College and Tyward Books, in conjunction with PDMI Publishing, LLC, are proud to present a very special workshop with producer/screenwriter/author Joel Eisenberg. Join us on June 15, 2015 at the Fielder Auditorium for “Catching Your Muse: How To Claim Your Artistic Spirit.”

In addition to numerous film and television projects, Eisenberg is the co-author of the eight-part epic fantasy series,”The Chronicles of Ara”. The first volume, “Creation,” launched March 15, 2015 at a standing-room-only event at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, California. Eisenberg and his co-author Stephen Hillard are presently developing a television project based on this series.

Joel and the Mayor of Boaz, AlabamaJoel and the Mayor of Boaz, Alabama

Joel with Andrea Zug (l) and Greta King (r)Joel with Andrea Zug (L) and Greta King (R)

Joel (r) with Chrystian McKinneyJoel (R) with Chrystian McKinney

Ben Trexel, guitarist and music producerBen Trexel, guitarist and music producer

Joel Eisenberg speakingJoel Eisenberg speaking

LaWayne Orlando Childrey, Author and JournalistLaWayne Orlando Childrey, Author and Journalist

Daven Anderson (l) with Joel (r)Daven Anderson (L) with Joel (R)

Tc McKinney (l) and Greta King (r)Tc McKinney (L) and Greta King (R)

Virginia Jennings (l) and Tc McKinney (r)Virginia Jennings (L) and Tc McKinney (R)

Tc McKinney, Founder/CEO of PDMI Publishing, LLCTc McKinney, Founder/CEO of PDMI Publishing, LLC

Stacey Brewer (l) and Tc McKinney (r)Stacey Brewer (L) and Tc McKinney (R)

Clay Gilbert (l) and Tc McKinney (r)Clay Gilbert (L) and Tc McKinney (R)

Joel (l) and Clay Gilbert (r)Joel (L) and Clay Gilbert (R)

 

Update Aug. 2017:
Clay Gilbert, LaWayne Orlando Childrey and myself have signed television development deals with Joel. It all started right here, on this fateful day.

Why PDMI Publishing, LLC (Still) Matters To Me

As “Vampire Conspiracy” (book two of the Vampire Syndrome Saga) hits the editing room of PDMI Publishing, LLC, I think this is the perfect time to reflect on how I got here, and why I’m still here.

Back in the last days of 2012, a tiny upstart publisher by the name of PDMI Freelance Publishing was beginning to put some big plans into motion. PDMI sought to change its business model from “freelance” publishing (publishing books by commission of their authors) to a full-line traditional publisher. A small company, with a big dream.

My experiences with submitting my work to the Big Five in 2012 showed me that New York Publishing’s ever-narrowing marketing criteria was leaving a void in the literary marketplace, enough to support dozens of independent traditional publishers of the size PDMI has since become. So what I was searching for was a company with a vision for literary quality and originality, where my work would truly be at home. The size of the company didn’t matter, their mission was what mattered to me.

By the end of 2012, PDMI had signed two authors under traditional publishing contracts. Emily Guido, and myself. By September 2013, PDMI’s transition to PDMI Publishing, LLC, an independent traditional publisher, was complete.

Not that there haven’t been a few rocky paths along PDMI’s hike up the “mid-size” publisher mountain. The transition to traditional publishing was carrying some baggage from PDMI’s old freelance days. Some “squeaky wheels” needed new bearings, or even outright replacement. A few of the “freelance” authors were not happy with PDMI’s transition to traditional publishing, as can be expected.

Once PDMI fully transitioned to traditional publishing, they have grown by leaps and bounds. The dozens of people now with PDMI realize the company’s mission is to grow into a publisher big enough to be reckoned with. Something that will not happen overnight, or without a few growing pains at crucial stages.

I bring this to your attention, because of late there have been a few scattered voices of dissent, of the opinion that PDMI is “growing too fast.” The Big Five’s ever-contracting business models make me extremely happy that I’m with a publisher that’s willing and able to grow, one with a true mission to put authors’ personal visions into print, a company not afraid to take a few risks that must be taken, to achieve the “big dream” and a brighter future. The Big Five’s contractions leave more and more room for those “proud few” who have the vision to grow.

PDMI has charted their growth course very well, but not without having to pass through some rocky waters. The Editorial Department has had to be beefed up to cover the additional workload, by hiring new editors, and also hiring a software developer to design custom programs to facilitate much faster author/editor communications, with both parties working on the same Office 365 manuscript to make sure authors and editors are (literally) on the same page.

I signed with PDMI in December 2012, because even then, the company’s mission showed me they were on track to become what they are now, and are still on the right path to the right future. A few may have taken an Editorial backlog as a sign of “too-rapid expansion”, but I know such problems are akin to raising children. Even a child who grows to surpass your wildest dreams will not have a perfect childhood. We all have rocky paths along our roads to achievement. You can see the rocks as insurmountable boulders, or see them for what they really are: A life experience we must learn from and overcome, to get to the peak of the mountain.

PDMI Banner 2014

Update Aug. 2017:
I’m sad to report that PDMI will be closing down on Aug. 15th.
I’d like to thank everyone involved with PDMI in any way for all their great work and commitment to making our literary dreams come alive in print.
Three authors under the PDMI umbrella (Clay Gilbert, LaWayne Orlando Childrey and myself) are now signed for TV development deals with Joel Eisenberg’s Council Tree Productions.
A great testimony for the originality and quality of PDMI’s published works.

The Main Premise of Star Wars – A Hard Sell to New York

I recently read a literary agent’s page wherein they commented on the sameness of the YA dystopia queries they were receiving. Specifically, this agent received a large number of manuscripts where the protagonist is an assassin protecting their family.

Of course, authors submitting manuscripts to agents are also mindful of the marketing whims of major publishing houses. The implication here is that over two dozen authors all came to a “realization” that a YA assassin protagonist protecting her family would be a good foundation for a solid story, and a “safe bet” to market to agents and the Big Five publishers.

My reply comment suggested that the best, most tense foundation for a story would actually be a teenage protagonist battling a dystopia controlled by her close family member(s). One of my “fan theories” about the Hunger Games trilogy is that President Snow may be Katniss Everdeen’s secret grandfather. He banishes his son to District 12 and later has him killed. In a case of perfect karma, that son’s daughter ends up being the leader of the rebellion against Snow’s regime.

I further commented that this specific plot might be a “hard sell” to the Big Five, as evidenced by the agent’s mass of querying authors taking a (literally) more family-friendly route.

The “hard sell” plot = A young protagonist ends up leading a large-scale rebellion against a regime controlled by a close family member their senior.

Q: Would such a plot work?

A: “Star Wars”

That’s right, the basic premise of the original Star Wars Trilogy is now something the pack of querying YA dystopia authors has ruled out, as being too hard to sell to the major New York publishing houses. 😈

The Rejection Window, Part II

Back in October 2011, I wrote “The Rejection Window“, a treatise about the big publishing industry’s future.

The rejection window is the length of time an author will keep submitting and revising their unpublished manuscript to agents and large traditional publishing houses.

What will define the future of the major publishing industry is the length of time for which the authors who do still submit manuscripts to agents and publishers will keep their rejection windows open.

The Big Five’s traditional position of strength, even as Amazon KDP and Smashwords were building their e-book empires, was that the major publishers got the first shot at the “quality” pre-published manuscripts. In other words, prospective authors submitted their queries to the major houses first, then they would pursue alternatives after the Big Five’s rejection of their work. I know this very well, for I was one of those authors. 😉

Of course, even back in 2011…

Some authors are already slamming the rejection window completely shut. They aren’t even bothering to submit their manuscripts to agents and publishers. These authors upload an eBook the moment it’s finished.

Their numbers now include many former Big Five mid-list authors (such as Joe Konrath) who are now making more money from e-books than they ever did when they wrote for the major publishing houses.
These romance writers ditched their publishers for ebooks — and made millions

(if only people gobbled up like sci-fi like they do romance… *sigh* 😉 )

2011:

The sea change I predict is: If the traditional industry rejects a first-time submission, they’ll never “sea” it again. 😉 In other words, if the publisher said “We love your story, but we want you to re-write one of your characters,” few if any authors would bother with such re-writing.

By then, the majority of authors will be likely to e-publish their manuscripts immediately after the major publishing industry’s first rejection. Revisions of manuscripts just to fit the ever-changing whims of agents and large traditional publishing houses will increasingly be seen as a waste of time and effort.

This one didn’t take five years to come true. Even the relative few authors left who won’t settle for anything “less” than being published on the Big Five will most likely start working on a new story they think will be more to the agents’ and publishers’ liking, rather than revising any existing stories. Any authors still patient enough to slog through the old-line process of querying agents before they do anything else, would also be willing to devote the keyboard hours necessary to charm their would-be masters with a story hewing as close to Big Five “formula” as possible.

Back here in the real world, the situation is now evolving beyond “the Big Five will never see the manuscript again”, to “they’ll never even see the author again.” Authors’ prose tends to improve along the lines of the “ten thousand hours of writing” rule. Years ago, if an author’s first “green” submission to the Big Five was mediocre, this was not an important factor. The author would take the rejection in stride, then query their newer and better works, until one of those works was of sufficient quality to pass muster. This archaic process was called “author development.” 😉

Now, the “newbie” author, whose first work has been rejected by the Big Five, is much more likely to head straight for the “greener” fields of Amazon KDP and Smashwords, taking all of their future works with them. Their better future works. Thus, the Big Five lose the author’s “dynamite” second or third novel, and the author is able to sell the e-books of their first work while they wile away their typing hours on the better work they had inside them all along..

Another big problem the Big Five now has, that I did not foresee in 2011, is of their own making: The narrowing of categories that they will even consider for publication. I recently read an interview with a Big Five editor where he spelled out what categories were being considered by his company, and those that were not. The shocker was that over two-thirds of the titles issued by my publisher, PDMI Publishing, LLC, are in categories his large company was no longer accepting submissions in! PDMI is, of course, reveling in the opportunities presenting themselves, now that entire categories of books are essentially being handed to them on a silver platter. PDMI was even forced to cancel their most recent open submissions period, due to the overwhelming number of manuscripts awaiting review in the system. The irony of this situation is not lost on me. 😈 When the potential exists to build a fairly large publishing operation simply by publishing books in categories that the Big Five are rejecting, something in the major houses’ system is obviously broken.

And that “something” would be their formulas. So we now have a few authors still trying to hew to the Big Five’s formulas, even as top-selling e-books continuously disprove the validity of these same formulas. And, to be fair, could anyone in New York have predicted the commercial success of the Fifty Shades trilogy? The same series Random House turned to for a quick and easy cash grab, because none of their “formula” books were selling as much as Fifty Shades?

Now, I ask you, what happens if you are a pre-published author, and someone in the Big Five thinks you should change your book to suit their formulas? Think of Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey, who got their Big Five contracts precisely by proving they didn’t need them. Hocking and Howey would almost certainly still be “not-yet-published” if they had waited for the Big Five to accept them through the age-old traditional vetting system. Hocking and Howey didn’t meet the Big Five formulas, and (better yet!) they still don’t, contracts notwithstanding. 😈

2011:

The more this happens, the stronger the case will be for major traditional publishers to accept novels they would have rejected before. The old business model of waiting for the author to re-write a rejected manuscript over and over again will no longer work. This is when the wall of large traditional publishing house formulas will at first start to crack, then finally crumble under the increasing pressure of the marketplace’s realities. The large traditional publishing houses will have to evolve, or die alongside their old business models.

Hocking, Howey, E.L. James et al have backed the Big Five into a corner, and forced them to publish novels that would not have passed the traditional vetting system. In the case of Amanda Hocking, they were also forced to publish several works they had rejected previously. The Big Five still lack the intestinal fortitude and vision to break out of the “formula” pattern on their own, ensuring more cracks will permeate their walls. So far, they have only “evolved” when forced to, resorting to base tricks such as suckling on the revenue streams of Fifty Shades, just for a quick infusion of life support. The day will come, however, when the Big Five approach a best-selling author, and said author will want nothing to do with them, no matter how much money they offer.

Kristen Lamb: Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World

Yes, Officer, I’m An Author.

Here at PDMI Publishing, LLC, our Authors are a most diverse lot, covering a wide social spectrum within the diverse halls of our company. Our Authors create oil paintings, host Civil War re-enactments, work with film producers, roleplay at Science Fiction conventions, host educational events for children, caregive for the homebound, and cruise around in loud musclecars.

Wait a minute, did I just say “cruise around in loud musclecars?” Yes, I did. For, you see, I, PDMI Publishing, LLC Author Daven Anderson, am a lifelong “gearhead”, as devoted to the piston as I am to the keyboard.

Many outside our supercharged world of cruising machines view us “gearheads” as being barely above the status of motorcycle gangs, and cast many churlish presumptions our way. Least not of which is a predisposition that our social circle can barely read books, let alone write them.

Earlier today, I joined a few dozen of my “tribe” for a cruise. Two of the cruisers found themselves subject to some heated discussions and even group ridicule for their actions. One unfortunate petrol soul admitted to filling his vintage musclecar with regular-grade gasoline, and then asked for help with his car’s resultant degraded performance.

Another car owner had placed a most indefatigable brand of braggart lettering on his trunklid, advising cars behind him that they could not defeat his “unbeatable” street machine. His car did indeed look the part, with a fiberglass hood and racing tires usually found only on the very fastest of street cars. Alas, under the mighty hood rested a tired engine that would not be able to beat the average Joe’s V6 Honda Accord.

These two car owners were forced to endure some harsh critiques of their rolling stock. These most animated discussions soon reached the point where some “innocent bystanders” decided to summon the local gendarmes to ascertain the true nature of these dialogue exchanges.

One such official representative of the community offered an informed critique regarding the modifications of my car. I agreed with Mister Officer’s opinion that my car’s flat black hood and A-pillar gauge cluster did, in fact, contradict the “sleeper” customizations on the rest of the car. I further clarified that I was “a man of contradictions,” stating that I was not just a “gearhead”, but a published Author as well.

Mister Officer read the back cover of Vampire Syndrome, as I read its book blurb aloud, stating “Daven’s love of musclecars and the open road led to the Vampires’ high-octane adventures all across the beautiful state of Colorado.”

Much to my delight, I overheard Mister Officer explaining to some of the “innocent bystanders” that one of the ransacking Vandal Visigoths before them was, in fact, a published Author.

One of the main missions of my Vampire Syndrome saga is to combat prejudice. My protagonist Jack Wendell, a Vampire with Down Syndrome, helps others to overcome their prejudices against his kind. Jack would be proud that today, I did my part to vanquish some negative assumptions people make about my “tribe.”

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