As 2015 is peering around the fringe of the dusty black curtain, waiting for its time on stage, I figured that, as I am a loud, tap-dancing asshole on the stage of writing and publishing, I could get away with mouthily shouting my wishlist for the realm of writing and publishing into the air and hoping someone will listen.
So, this is me, doing exactly that.
*tap dances and shouts*
Yes, Amazon, you know I have to start with you, first. How can I not? You’ve dominated the 2014 news-cycle, haven’t you? Amazon is increasingly the Wonka Factory of publishing: calliope music drifting from its colorful chimneys as great burping tubes upchuck new programs and initiatives and algorithms into the river. Sometimes we stare in wonder at your multiplying glories, basking in the power you’ve given us. Other times we regard you with alien horror, and we whisper to one another, I think they make Kindles out of little dead girls. We know you do amazing things. And we’re also really worried about the things you might do.
So, here’s my 2015 wishlist for you.
1.) Drop the exclusivity on Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited. Here’s how you keep people publishing with you: just be awesome. Do no evil and be continuously aggressive in being better than everyone else. But forcing exclusivity — and worse, doing so by making the authors (effectively) pay a cost — is really weird, and sounds like you’re hoping folks will buy in without realizing what they’re doing. It’s corrosive and erosive and, ennh.
2.) Okay, let’s say you still wanted to do exclusivity? Fine. Make it a real benefit. Simple and concrete: give better royalties to those who commit only to you. Either bump the current royalty rate or offer some other genuine benefit that is tied explicitly to money.
3.) Kindle Unlimited? That dog isn’t hunting, yet — at least, for my mileage. Sounds like readers aren’t finding what they want there. Writers are finding that their hamstrings have been cut. All of it tied to dubious algorithms that operate behind a very thick veil of smoke and mirrors. The NYT has kind of a hate-boner for you, dear Amazon, but just the same: this article is pretty good at articulating the problem with KU (and the inimitable Scalzi is good at articulating why subscription models for writers make us pee a little in fear). (Or: read this one by Mike Underwood.) If you’re going to keep Kindle Unlimited around, okay — but again, kill the exclusivity, and instead of a generic pool of random made-up money, just pay authors their proper 70% cut (though okay, maybe you increase the “read-through” rate of the book to somewhere between 25-50% in order to make the rental more quantifiably meaningful).
4.) Your pricing window is artificial. Stop forcing it. $2.99 to $9.99 is fine, but you don’t need to restrictively force that pricing window — just give the 70% on everything. The price of e-books will shake out fine because buyers and publishers will wibble-wobble until they find What E-Books Should Cost At This Moment. And besides, you muddy your own pricing waters with Kindle Unlimited. “Keep the price between $2.99 and $9.99,” you say, “unless of course you’re in Kindle Unlimited, in which case do the opposite because that’s the only way you earn well per download.”
5.) The shit volcano is bubbling. This maybe isn’t your fault or responsibility, but the numbers of e-books released on Amazon in particular is increasing at a spectacular rate (and Kindle Unlimited encourages this — because now some authors are breaking their novels apart into bite-sized serial components to take advantage of the smaller payout). I know digital books are not physical books, but it does feel like the metaphorical dam is about to break, here. At the very least, discoverability on your site is pretty fucking close to zero. (And now rumors suggest that those in Kindle Unlimited are given favor in the recommendation engine, which hones the discoverability — but in a very biased direction.)
6.) Speaking of that, your website needs an overhaul. You wanna be Facebook, but you’re looking like Myspace. I half expect blinky glitter fonts. You are the e-commerce site, so — maybe this is just me — but I’d say your shit needs an overhaul. Wanna stay the leader? Look like the leader.
7.) You have so many conflicting, bewildering publishing programs that at this point, I think you’re just disrupting yourself. Focus, Daniel-son. Focus. Sweep the leg! Crane kick! You’re the best around! And other assorted Karate Kid references!
8.) Books are not loss-leaders. That just makes my heart hurt. *one lone tear rolls down cheek*
Dear Big Publishers:
You poor bastards get a bad rap, too. Despite being populated with folks who genuinely love books and, further, being responsible for the larger bulk of meaningful book culture, you catch a helluva lot of flak. Except, sometimes? Sometimes you earn the flak. Sometimes you do things to writers — we, who are supposed to be your business partners, not your employees — that are downright exploitative. So, that means you get a wishlist, too! It’s like Oprah, except instead of handing out Cadillacs, I’m handing out cranky, petulant demands that will surely be ignored!
1.) Quit the sly wink-wink vanity publishing. That time has come and it reeks of sinister mustache-twirling authorial sweat-shops. I’m not saying there’s not a place for you in the interstitial author-publisher realm, but charging exorbitant fees for essentially nothing is Not How Publishing Should Work. You know it, and you’d never tell an actual author friend to do it, so stop doing it. Stop it! Bad Author Solutions! Bad.
2.) Okay, the 25% e-book royalty thing? Gotta change. Someone, please please please, take the move to to change this. Up it. You’ll be heroes. We’ll carry you around the city square — ticker tape and flung candy and consensual sexual favors, ahoy. You make more money on e-books while we, the author, make less. Either up the rate or make it based on list price rather then net price (“net” meaning, on the money after lots of other little fees and percentages whittle it down). If you want to counter self-publishing, and polish your own apple a little: make this one change. We will sing paeans to you. You have my sword. And my axe. And my sweet kisses.
3.) DRM, no. DRM is dum-dum. DRM is that line from Star Wars about how the tighter you close your fist, the more star systems slip through your fingers. Don’t be Darth Vader. Why would you wanna be Darth Vader? Redeem yourself and throw the Emperor that is restrictive Digital Rights Management into the… well, wherever it was that Darth threw the Emperor. The Death Star’s galactic laser toilet? I dunno. DRM, by the way, is how you increase piracy, not decrease it. If you make it easier to pirate e-books instead of buy them and use them however you want — well, what do you think people are gonna go? (Here I will casually note that one of my awesome publishers, Saga S&S, has chosen to go DRM-free going forward.)
4.) It’s time to talk about non-compete clauses. I understand why they exist. I do! You’re still beholden to physical print books and the bookstores that sell them. I understand that if your author, Damien Caine, releases one supernatural thriller with you and a different supernatural thriller with a separate publisher — and these releases happen fairly close to one another — that someone like Barnes & Noble may make the difficult call of stocking one book over another. Still, a lot of your non-competes are overly restrictive — they’re like, YOU CAN’T PUBLISH A TWEET WITHOUT CHECKING WITH US FIRST and it’s like, hey, whoa, ease off the stick, hoss. Writers these days need to make a living and that sometimes means writing diversely across genres, age ranges, publishers, and formats. You gotta allow that or we can’t fucking eat. Okay?
5.) I still feel like there’s a big opportunity for you and independent bookstores. I’m gonna float this idea again in the hopes someone listens: produce special edition copies of some books by some authors, and allow only indie bookstores to sell them. Listen, indie stores are the beating heart of book culture. I believe this. Not all of them are created equally, and some are downright shitty, but the ones that rule are so vibrant and so amazing — they are the petri dishes for book bacterial spread. Sounds gross. Isn’t gross. Is totally awesome. Partner with them. In a big, interesting way. Give them something nobody else does. Reward them for being who they are. Give them a little boost. They need the boost, goddamnit. You need them, too. This math is easy.
6.) When I buy a physical copy of your book, I also want the digital copy. Just… full stop. No more ninnymandering, no more wafflepantsing, no more flimsyjibbing. Yes, sure, okay, I did indeed just make those words up, but you know what I’m saying. Stop delaying this. I know it’s easier said than done. I know I’m just the loud asshole tap-dancing over here in denial of the complicated realities of your business. And I don’t care. Just do it. Get it done. Make it so. Do it. Do it. Doooo. Eeeeet. *bites belt* *gnashes teeth* *drinks whiskey* *punches dolphin*
And finally, to you, my dear penmonkeys. You bring good things to the world, but so many of you (me sometimes included) have the business sense of a shit-covered brick.
1.) Exclusivity is to someone else’s benefit, not yours. Meaning: they should be paying you for the privilege. That’s true of Amazon and their programs, and that’s true of big publishers and their non-compete clauses. Big companies are not your pals and you need to approach all these deals accordingly. So many authors are so emotionally invested and excited just to be published that they forget they’re also supposed to be paid.
2.) Hybrid publishing is rad. Do it. Do it now. Don’t wait. Both traditional publishing and self-publishing each come with a set of disadvantages unique to each that are often off-set by the advantages unique to each. Example: traditional pays slow, but self-publishing pays regularly, so money earned as an author-publisher fill the valleys between the larger paychecks handed out from traditional. Another example: it can be hard to generate attention with self-publishing, but in traditional some attention is automatically generated — and it can draw people to your self-published work, too. The two sides feed each other. Like sexy dates on Valentine’s day spooning chocolate mousse into each other’s mouths. Yeah. Like that. Lick the spoon. Do it. Nnnngh. Now put on the pony costumes and join Satan’s orgy room and WHOA THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY.
3.) To reiterate: get paid. Try to walk that line between I want to be read and I want to be paid. I don’t mean to suggest that every word you write should be a quarter flipped into your wishing well — I just mean, the overall goal is to make it somehow sustainable. Writing means being a writer, full stop. Professional writing means getting paid for it. You know how great it is to pay bills with Writer Money? It’s basically the best thing ever. Even better than Satan’s pony-show orgy hour.
4.) Give your work the time that it needs. I know the trend is more faster better now, but seriously: your work takes the time that it takes, and the best work is rarely work that floods the market. At the same time, I do recognize that writing a lot helps you get paid. Again: find the line, but above all else, make sure the books don’t suffer from over-acceleration. Don’t rush. Rushing rarely results in anything good. It’s how you choke, or trip, or ruin your butthole with furious pushing.
5.) Be wary of subscription services. They ain’t all bad, and the idea is sound and maybe good for readers — but we all need to join hands and stand against the evil of the Infinity Stone. … uhh, I mean, against the market force of ‘reducing the value of books to such a state that it’s just a bubbling pot of soup that requires only a cheap ladle for scooping.’
6.) Signal boost others as much as — frankly, more than — you boost yourself. This thing we do is a thing we do alone, at first. But then we have the opportunity to be something larger than ourselves. To join with others and to become a kind of community. YOU CAN BE VOLTRON. Well, okay, maybe not Voltron. But something like Voltron. WRITETRON. COFFEETRON. BOOKOTRON. I dunno. Shut up. No, you shut up. *smacks the keyboard off your desk*
7.) Like I said yesterday: be big and be small.
8.) Be optimistic! After all — evidence shows the book universe is expanding, not contracting. I’ll still posit that this is the best time to be a writer. So many options — so, let’s keep them all in play by exercising as many of the damn things as possible, yeah?
So. With all my flim-flammery out of the way…
What’s your wishlist for 2015?